Thursday, 26 April 2012

Don't Hold Your Breath

A kind reader drew my attention to the following article which appeared in the Daily Record yesterday - a somewhat desperate appeal by Scottish Labour leader  - Johann Lamont - for the votes of trade union members.

The laugh is that I've yet to hear Johann Lamont - or any other Labour MSP for that matter - say anything remotely supportive about the fight for equal pay in recent times - or the role played by the big Labour run councils which has been a disgrace in my opinion.

For years Scotland's Labour-run councils - Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire - were guilty of widespread pay discrimination against the lowest paid council workers - the great majority of whom are women of course.

Yet for years the trade unions in Scotland turned a blind eye to what was going on - they kept their low paid women members completely in dark - because union leaders didn't want to face up to what was going on.

Since that would have meant the Labour-supporting unions calling a spade a spade - and standing up to the political leadership of these large Labour-run councils. 

But they chose not to - the trade unions just chose to look the other way - at a time when council budgets in Scotland doubled in size over the ten years from 1997 to 2007.

So forgive me if I tale these claims about Scottish Labour's crusade against injustice and inequality - with a giant pinch of salt.

Because all the evidence points in the opposite direction - of cosy relations between Labour run councils and tame trade unions - which have worked against the interests of ordinary union members on issues such as equal pay.

I resigned from the Scottish Labour party in 1999 because of the corrupting nature of this relationship - which continues to bedevil the work of the trade unions - whose leaders still put party political interests above those of their own members - especially when crucial issues come to the fore.

I am not a member of any political party these days - nor do I support any particular party when it comes to local or national elections - I make up my mind on the issues of the day and by weighing up all of the candidates.

To my mind that is exactly how the trade unions in Scotland should behave - because their historical love affair with the Labour party is not in the best interests - of ordinary union members.

Which leads me to conclude that Johann Lamont is not just wrong - but that she is deliberately ignoring Labour's track record - all the evidence of her own eyes and ears - for these past ten years and more.

So if you're waiting on the Scottish Labour crusade arriving anytime soon - my advice is both simple and clear - don't hold your breath. 

Johann Lamont: Trade union members should vote Labour, not SNP

Scots Labour leader Johann Lamont yesterday launched a bid to win back trade union memmbers who backed the SNP at the last election.

She vowed her party would listen to the unions and accused the SNP of “deceit”, warning they would never make the battle for a fairer society top priority.

Addressing the STUC annual congress in Inverness, she said: “The Scottish Labour Party, while I have breath in my body, will listen to the views of trade unionists.

“I am already trying to reach out to those of your members who found themselves voting nationalist at the last election to ask them to be part of our crusade.

“My Scottish Labour Party is a crusade – to fight poverty, inequality and injustice.”

Tens of thousand of union members who support Labour financially through a levy on their membership fees voted for the SNP in last year’s Holyrood election.

Lamont urged the STUC to reject the “student politics” of independence which, she claimed, were already being watered down by Salmond in the face of weak public support.

She described SNP plans to join NATO and keep the monarchy, the pound and British-issued driving licences – if the country splits from the UK – as a “PR strategy to save their own skins”.

She added: “Progressive politics is not something to be bolted on to another cause.

“It’s our inspiration. It’s why trade unions were founded. It’s why trade unionists founded their own political party – the Labour Party. That is our pulse. Our heart.”

Lamont also launched an attack on the “deception and deceit” of the SNP Government.

She said: “They are a Government who tell us they are radical about childcare but we must wait seven years before – maybe, perhaps – it will be delivered.

“They trumpet new investment for four months after they have been told it has been withdrawn.

“The accuse others of lying when we expose the obscenity of NHS patients sleeping without blankets.”

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Labour's Double Standards

I sent a letter by e-mail to the Scottish Labour Leader last Thursday - following Johann Lamont's pointed comments at First Minister's Questions.

Having heard nothing for the past week - not even an acknowledgement - I think it's fair to share what I had to say with readers of the blog site in South Lanarkshire - and elsewhere.

To my mind Scottish Labour's double standards are shameful and spectacular in equal measure - because while they have plenty to say about other people when it comes to Freedom of Information - party leaders turn a blind turn a blind eye when it suits their purpose.

No wonder people get cynical about politics and politicians, but Scotland's voters get a chance to have their say - at next week's local council elections on 3rd May. 

Johann Lamont, MSP
Scottish Labour Leader

Dear Johann

Labour in South Lanarkshire

Please find attached a copy of a letter I sent to the Labour leader of South Lanarkshire Council, Cllr Eddie McAvoy, on 10 May 2011.

As things turned out, the Labour leadership of the council failed to listen to my advice but, as I predicted, the decision to appeal the adjudicated decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner has come back to haunt Councillor McAvoy and his colleagues.

Because in a landmark ruling recently, three judges at the Court of Session dismissed South Lanarkshire Council's appeal and in their detailed written decision Lords Marnoch, Mackay and Brailsford said:

"We say that because, having regard to the Commissioner's findings looked at as a whole, we are satisfied that even applying the stricter test the Commissioner could only have concluded that necessity (of publishing the information) was made out. In particular, he held that the Requester's own interest coincided with a widespread public interest in the matter of gender equality and that it was important to achieve transparency on the subject of Equal Pay. No better means existed to achieve that goal than by releasing the information in question."

In my view South Lanarkshire Council's behaviour is a cynical abuse of the FOI process and a terrible waste of taxpayers' money into the bargain.

I recall that your predecessor as Scottish Labour leader - Iain Gray - was quick to criticise the Scottish Government for failing to immediately comply with a previous adjudication of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

And at First Minister's Questions (FMQs) today in the Scottish Parliament, you referred to this previous FOI case and also accused the Scottish Government of suppressing information ahead of the local council elections on 3 May 2012.

Yet here we have a much better example and one that is far closer to home: a major Labour-run council in South Lanarkshire has been suppressing public information for years, then makes a fool of itself by pursuing the issue to destruction at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, and all at huge public expense.

Up till now Scottish Labour leadership has said nothing about this scandal, despite all the brave words spoken at FMQs, and to many people, myself included, this looks decidedly odd, if not downright hypocritical.

The irony is, of course, that similar pay information is freely available in other Scottish councils without the need even to resort to a formal FOI request.

I believe the voters in South Lanarkshire are entitled to know where the Scottish Labour party stands on these issue before the local elections on 3 May 2012 because - to my mind - the political leadership of South Lanarkshire Council is bringing the Scottish Labour party into disrepute.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Councillor MaAvoy
Labour Leader - South Lanarkshire Council

Dear Councillor McAvoy

Freedom of Information

I refer to our exchange of e-mails yesterday - 9 May 2011.

I heard subsequently from a council official, as you will know, and have since been advised that South Lanarkshire Council intends to appeal the decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

I have to say I find this an astonishing decision - one which will comeback to haunt the council in future, I hope - not least because it is another cynical delaying tactic as well as a complete abuse of taxpayers money, in my opinion.

No other council in Scotland behaves in this furtive fashion over the pay levels of its male dominated council jobs - such as refuse workers and gardeners.

South Lanarkshire Council's behaviour is epitomised by secrecy and obfuscation - in my experience - yet the council proclaims to support openness, transparency and freedom of information.

To my mind South Lanarkshire Council is putting itself in exactly the same position as the House of Commons when - a few years ago - it tried to prevent the public from learning the truth about Westminster MPs and their expenses - unsuccessfully as it turned out in the end.

I will have more to say on the subject in the weeks ahead and no doubt many other people will as well - including the 2,000 plus South Lanarkshire Council employees who are still fighting for equal pay.

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Monday, 23 April 2012

What's the Big Rush?

Lots of readers from North Lanarkshire have been in touch in recent days - because the council has now issued settlement offers - to some of the many council workers who have outstanding equal pay claims.

But only to a relatively small number of men in predominantly male jobs - such as school janitors - a much greater number of women workers have been left deliberately out in the cold.

The strange thing is that although these offers must have been approved by the relevant trade union - the trade unions appear to have nothing to say - by way of giving proper advice to their members.

Apparently union members are being told that they have only seven days to accept the offer - or they are on their own - which sounds very off-hand and unreasonable.

Why should people be forced into making such an important decision - in such a short space of time - when this whole business has been dragging on for years? 

Is North Lanarkshire Council laying down - or are the trade unions trying to put undue pressure on their own members?

A similar thing happened in Glasgow years ago when the Labour council - having first denied that many people had valid equal pay claims - then tried to bounce the workforce into accepting poor settlement offers.

The maximum offers at that time were just over £9,000 - much less than the true value of people's claims - but the unions looked the other way and didn't create a fuss.

Quite cynically Glasgow City Council encouraged its own lowest paid workers to accept what was on the table - otherwise 'you might end up with nothing at all' - was the council's  unsubtle and alarming message.

Of course that was nonsense - and the people who pursued their claims with Action 4 Equality Scotland - were not taken advantage of or exploited in this way.

As far as North Lanarkshire is concerned - I can't advise anyone who is not an Action 4 Equality Scotland client - but if I were in your shoes, this is what I would do:

1 I would refuse point blank to be pushed around
2 I would reject any artificial deadline for acceptance of an offer
3 Seven days - or anything like it - to say Yes or No is a complete disgrace
4 I would demand a proper explanation as to how the settlement offer is calculated 
5 I would demand this information in writing from my trade union
6 I would also insist on a meeting with my union - if any issues require clarification 
7 I would want to know whether my union has agreed to dilute the value of my claim - without discussing this with me and other union members.

In short I would insist that my trade union does its job properly - by looking after my interests first and foremost.

The fact that Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council is up for election in a few days time - should be completely irrelevant. 

You're Fired

For some time I have believed that Ken Livingstone is the wrong Labour candidate to be running for Mayor of London.

Everyone I know in London - who would otherwise be a natural Labour supporter - has deep misgivings about voting for the man - some have even said they won't support Ken under any circumstances.

That's certainly my view - and if I had a vote I certainly wouldn't be casting it in Ken's favour - because he's a dud.

Ken has been droning on for years about the need for more women - and more people from ethnic minority backgrounds - to occupy prominent positions in the Labour party. 

Yet when push comes to shove - he doesn't step aside himself. 

No, not a bit of it - Ken and his supporters find any old excuse for keeping their man in the ring - even though his sell by date was up long ago.

The final nail in Ken's coffin might well have been driven in by Lord Alan Sugar - a well known Labour supporter - who has come out and said publicly that Livingstone won't be getting his support.

Sugar's logic is impeccable - the voters of London have already fired Ken once - he's had his chance - now it's time to move on.   

Do the Right Thing

I wrote the other day about the spineless behaviour of the trade unions - at the Scotttish TUC in 1999. 

And what do you know - I came across a diary I kept at the time - which explains how the trade unions betrayed their own members over the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

Now PFI was by far the hottest political issue of the day.

Yet when push came to shove - union bosses pulled their punches and acted in the interests of the Labour party over PFI - with the first Scottish Parliament elections only weeks away. 

Instead of standing up for their members and facing the Labour party down - union bosses did Gordon Brown's bidding - because they didn't want to rock any boats with an important election on the horizon in May 1999.   

All this time later things look very different - the trade unions are a mere shadow of their former selves - while Gordon Brown proved not to be up to the job as Prime Minister.

I wonder what would have happened if people had stayed true to their beliefs - and resisted the temptation to do a grubby deal - a quick political fix?

After all, as Martin Luther King Jnr once said - 'The time is always right - to do the right thing'.    

Sunday 18 April 1999

UNISON’s STUC delegation met on Sunday 18 April 1999 in the Central Hotel, Glasgow. Having dispensed with the normal housekeeping arrangements the discussion moved on to a main item of debate, which was PFI. The Convenor, Mike Kirby, gave a brief introduction and invited Matt Smith to offer a more detailed report.

The report from Matt, stripped to its essentials, was that earlier in the day the STUC General Council had agreed a statement on PFI .The statement was intended to offer some comfort to the Government and to take the heat out of the PFI debate scheduled for Wednesday .The statement was not so much peace in our time, as the elevation of Labour Party interests over those of our own members .The statement read:

“Congress, recognising the serious under-investment which has damaged the public service infrastructure over many years, welcomes the commitment by the Government to tackle this, including the doubling of public sector capital investment over the next three years.

Congress continues to have serious concern over the funding mechanisms being utilised to deliver this investment through PFI, including the major issues relating to staff pay and conditions of service.

Congress recognises that on these issues, initiatives such as the provision of proper framework agreements, may offer a way forward and calls for further discussions with the Government and the new Scottish Parliament to ensure that common principles, based on best practice, apply across the public sector.”

Although not a General Council Member, Matt then invited John Lambie to speak in support of the STUC’s position and to give some flavour of the discussions, which had apparently been taking place with Government and senior Labour figures in Scotland. John proceeded to lecture the delegation on his view of the realities of PFI, in the context of the election.

The delegates reacted badly and felt they were being patronised. None of these discussions had taken place inside the Scottish Management Team, nor had I been consulted about the views of the local government service group, which had the major membership interest.

The hostile reaction of the lay members was predictable, although some failed to realise that the General Council statement was already a done deal. UNISON’s General Council Members, without dissent or any indication that UNISON could not be party to such a weak, insignificant statement, had agreed the position.

No details were given about discussions with Government figures, but later it emerged that the Regional Secretaries of the GMB, T&G and UNISON had met over the weekend with the Chancellor, Gordon Brown. Gordon was also overseeing the Scottish Labour Party’s election campaign. All those present would have been individual members of the party. Talk about conflicts of interest.

A number of UNISON lay members rubbished the General Council Statement and argued initially that it should be amended and strengthened. When it became clear that this was not possible, the delegates’ attention switched to the likely way in which Government spin-doctors would use the statement.

One delegate predicted that the Daily Record, the next day, would be full of headlines about the unions’ caving in and the Government securing a peace treaty over PFI. It was then moved that UNISON put out a statement of its own proclaiming our ongoing and steadfast opposition to PFI, but this was narrowly defeated on being put to a vote.

The delegation agreed to come back to a further meeting the next evening at 6pm to review the position in advance of the PFI debate on Wednesday. I had deliberately stayed out of the discussion, but to any experienced negotiator it was all too obvious that our General Council Members had bought UNISON a poke, without holding on to the pig.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Conflict of Interest

Here's an article I wrote for The Herald newspaper back in the year 2000 - which focuses on what I believe is an essentially corrupting relationship - between the Labour party and the trade unions.

My objection to the Labour/union link - especially in Scotland - is that it has become completely dishonest and undemocratic - since union leaders, being almost entirely and sometimes slavishly pro-Labour, don't reflect or represent the views of ordinary union members.

Which is what trade unions are supposed to do - they should should not become the industrial wing of the Labour party - because they take their eye off the ball, as we've seen all too clearly over equal pay.

I resigned my membership of the Scottish Labour party in 1999 - in what many people regarded as a protest over PFI - and I have highlighted a section of The Herald article which explains the grubby deal that Scotland's union leaders did with Gordon Brown back in 1999. 

A deal which was intended to spare Labour's blushes and Gordon Brown's obsession with PFI - in the run up to the first Scottish Parliament elections in May 1999 - by which time I was no longer a Labour party member of course.

So I laughed like a drain the other day when I heard union spokespeople condemn a PFI contract at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary - after the lights went out in an operating theatre.

Because union leaders made a rod for their own back long ago - when they chose to cuddle up to Gordon Brown and the Labour Government - and put party interests before the interests of their own members.

But things are changing - ordinary union members are no longer willing to be treated like fools - the penny has finally dropped, I'm pleased to say.

All members are equal, but….

Hands up! Who knows a full-time trade union official (FTO) who supports a party other than the Labour Party? Step forward the SNP, Scottish Lib Dems, Scottish Socialist Alliance, Greens, or the Scottish Conservatives. Even one of the smaller fringe parties! No takers? Hardly surprising. The fact is that almost all FTO’s are members of the Labour Party, and for good reason. The job does not openly demand slavish loyalty to Labour, after all the members reflect all political views and none. But anything else is a clear risk to your continued employment, and to your prospects of future promotion.

The trade unions in Scotland are at an historic crossroads. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament less than 40% of those who voted supported Labour. All the evidence is that a minority of union members supported Labour as well. Modernising the relationship between the unions and Labour would benefit both sides. The unions would re-assert their primary role, of agitating and organising on behalf of their members. A healthy, transparent system of one member one vote would result preventing union bosses acting as second rate politicians, as wild-eyed revolutionaries or just willing dupes of the Party leadership.

The creation of a national parliament has broken the mould of Scottish politics. Political tolerance and pluralism inside the unions is a long way off, but the Rubicon has been crossed. The trade union establishment has to listen to its members whose views are meant to be paramount. The umbilical link with Labour isn’t working anymore and, in a Scottish context, it is deeply undemocratic.

Not all trade unions are affiliated to Labour. The STUC is not an affiliated organisation (although the big unions call all the shots). Neither are the teachers’ or the journalists’ unions. The GMB is affiliated, so is the TGWU. UNISON, the biggest union, has a split personality.

Only part of UNISON is affiliated. Individual members who pay the Labour Party political levy join what is known as the Affiliated Political Fund (APF), but UNISON as a whole is not pledged to Labour. As an independent trade union UNISON should put the interest of its members first, and last. Every other consideration is secondary.

In the new politics of Scotland the employment practices of trade unions will become a cause for embarrassment, possibly shame. The unions need to practice what they preach by adopting professional recruitment strategies, or they will expose themselves to ridicule and legal challenge especially with the law strengthening in the filed of human rights.

For years trade unions have urged employers to adopt an equal opportunities approach to recruitment and selection, but unions are employers too! The unions demand that a workforce must broadly reflect the gender, ethnic and wider social mix of the community from which it is drawn. The self-same arguments applied to Scotland’s trade unions would produce a quite different, much fairer picture. A wider gene pool for selection would create a healthier species in the long run. Ultimately the members would benefit because they would be properly represented and reflected in the workforce.

Wearing your equal opportunities heart on your sleeve is no defence. Results matter. What matters is what doesn’t work, to paraphrase Tony Blair. If particular individuals or groups cannot get on the employment ladder, or become segregated into the less well paid less influential jobs, discrimination is taking place; no matter how well hidden, or subtle. If the same test is applied to the employment practices of unions in Scotland, non-Labour supporters are about as common as unicorns in George Square.

When groups of people are deliberately excluded the facts never lie. Positive action is the only solution. The first step is to acknowledge the existence of a problem. Change will only happen if the prevailing culture is exposed to the light and challenged, if those who do the challenging are protected from victimisation.

All unions have political views and rightly so. Politics is the stuff of life and trade unions must engage the political process if they are to represent members properly. The real question is whether the relationship with the Labour Party in Scotland can be defended in a modern political setting.

Relatively few trade unionists in Scotland are individual members of the Labour Party, but thousands support it financially through their subscriptions. Why? Because members are not encouraged to understand how the political levy operates. Most fail to appreciate that part of their union dues is being siphoned off for their leaders to dispense political largesse, which is not surprising since the system is hardly open and transparent. It is also extraordinarily difficult to stop paying the levy once you have started. Witness the following extract from one union rulebook –

4.1 A member of the union may at any time give notice on the form of exemption referred to in J.4.2 below, or by a written request to like effect, that she/he objects to contribute to the Political Fund. A form of exemption notice may be obtained by, or on behalf of, any member either by application at, or by post from, the Head Office or any branch office of the union…………………..”

4.4 – on giving such notice a member of the union shall be exempt, so long as her/his notice is not withdrawn, from contributing to the Political Fund of the union as from the 1st day of January next after the notice is given, or, in the case of a notice given within one month after the notice given to members under Rule J.3 hereof or the date on which a new member admitted to the union is supplied with a copy of these rules under rule J.4.11 hereof, as from the date on which the member is given.”

This helpful advice could be in Latin for all the sense it makes to ordinary members. The reality is that most pay the political levy unknowingly and unwittingly. Thousands of people every week or month, many part- time and low paid, hand money over to a party they do not even vote for, never mind actively support. Individual members are milked by their own organisation without having the faintest clue about what is really going on.

Union leaders use the enormous sums of money raised to gain influence and preferment inside the party, but the present system cannot be justified in a modern political setting. Time for a bit of good old-fashioned modernisation!

The central issue is about democracy; unions should be broadly representative of their members. To achieve this goal employment practices must reflect the best, not the worst. Equal opportunities is an empty phrase if the internal culture punishes dissent by bullying and intimidation. Even questioning the unwritten rules can be very difficult in the face of an established orthodoxy. Canteen cultures come in many different forms. Institutionalised hostility towards non-Labour views is the issue that dare not speak its name.

Different political views should to be a fact of life inside trade unions; otherwise they represent only a narrow cross section of their own members. All those who speak for the members must champion agreed policies, but this should not stifle free speech. Democracy inside a democratic organisation is about more than votes or standing for election. It is about freedom of expression; the right not to be punished for views which others find challenging or uncomfortable.

Of course, the unions are not operating under the direct orders of the Labour Party, but union leaders are rewarded for doing the party’s bidding and, sometimes, its dirty work. The honours system is alive and well, despite being condemned under the Tories. Having spent millions ingratiating themselves with the party some of the brothers are desperate for their gongs and other favours, as history shows and continues to demonstrate. Arise Lord Gormley, the miners’ friend! Arise Sir Ken Jackson, wielder of the block vote in the party’s hour of need!

At the 1999 STUC Congress one event stuck in my mind. The President’s Address condemned the Government’s PFI policy as a costly and divisive form of privatisation. In the process possible alternatives, floated by the Lib-Dems and the SNP were comprehensively rubbished, though without debate or consideration. Just before the election a UNISON publication described the other parties Public Service Trust proposals more generously; as a genuine, if flawed attempt to address trade union concerns. This sort of behaviour is the opposite of partnership; it is about using the unions for one-sided political ends.

The day before the STUC got underway a handful of union leaders met the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, secretly to devise a way of taking the heat out the PFI debate, which threatened to dominate the Congress. The key players were all individual card carrying members of the Labour Party whose main purpose was to avoid embarrassing the Government in the run up to the Scottish Parliament elections. In any other walk of life they would have been ashamed of their clear conflict of interest. Their cunning plan involved writing up an STUC statement praising the Government’s spending plans, which would leave the Congress facing both ways by criticising the Government and praising it at the same time. In effect the unions shot themselves in both feet at the behest of the Labour Party, which says it all really. Gordon Brown rewarded the great sacrifice of those involved by making an unscheduled appearance at the President’s dinner, which was nice of him. After all one good turn deserves another.

Much of the union support to the Labour Party is hidden and undeclared. At election times staff are seconded to the Party on a fulltime basis, often working out of Labour Party premises rather than their own union offices. A blind eye is turned to staff devoting their energies to the Labour Party campaign instead of their members’ interests. Staff are allowed routinely to campaign in support of their own political views at the members’ expense. In the Neil Committee climate of public accountability and public standards, this hidden subsidy to the Labour Party ought to be costed and declared. Providing support in kind makes no difference.

If a member of staff tried to engage in such activity on behalf of the Lib-Dems or SNP, they would be given short shrift .If a member of staff engaged in such activity without authority or approval, they would leave themselves open to disciplinary action, big time.

Michael McGahey’s name was invoked many times at the 1999 STUC in Glasgow. He was revered as the workers’ friend, as an uncompromising negotiator on behalf of Scotland’s miners. Of late the political establishment had grown fond of Michael. Many of his new found admirers would have demonised his Communist beliefs when he was alive, but now queued up to pay homage to his independent mind and fighting spirit .A lion praised by donkeys, to miss-quote a phrase used during the 1985 strike. It is often the fate of heroic figures to be lionised by the establishment, but only after they no longer pose any threat.

The new politics in Scotland demands a new trade unionism. The unions must learn to deal with issues on their merit, not on the basis of an entrenched political culture which reflects the views of only a small section of the membership. Tony Blair has shorn New Labour of any sentimental attachment to trade unions, rightly so in many ways given where the Prime Minister is coming from. New Labour has reinvented itself to placate the fears of voters in middle England, plain common sense from a UK perspective. In Scotland the position is fundamentally different; Labour is the party of the establishment and has been for generation. The response of the trade unions should now be equally pragmatic and hard headed. The unions should reassert themselves as truly independent organisations that will stand up for their members’ interests whether an election is underway, just finished or just around the corner.

In the elections to the Scottish Parliament, the SNP and Lib Dems both campaigned on a more progressive social programme than the Labour Party. Faced with this reality the trade unions had an opportunity to box clever; to temper their pro-Labour bias; to help build a wider political consensus; to become more become professional and even-handed. Instead they pursued an unrequited love affair with Labour, hoping for a return of modern day equivalent of beer and sandwiches, the odd power breakfast with the Chancellor perhaps. Modernising the relationship is about democracy and doing the right thing. Labour is not an enemy of the trade unions, New or Old. Replacing one tyranny with another is not the answer. A government should be treated as a potential partner, whatever its colour, but it should still be treated as a government.

Acting as though it was part of the government, as an alternative government in some ways, cost the trade unions dear in the 1970’s. Acting as a cipher for government as we enter a new millennium is equally short sighted. The unions have an important social function to fulfil, one that should transcend party politics and complement the new political settlement in Scotland. The future does not lie in a strategy that would turn the unions into the industrial wing of the Labour Party. Mick McGahey would not hesitate. Neither would Tony Blair for that matter. The unions have nothing to lose but their chains!

Mark A Irvine

14 February 2000

NB Mark Irvine was UNISON’s Head of Local Government in Scotland and its chief negotiator until November 1999. He is now an independent adviser and commentator.

Labour Cooncils

My jaw dropped last week - and not for the first time - when I read this story by Paul Hutcheon in the Sunday Herald.

How low can you go? - was my immediate reaction.

Because these big Labour-run councils behave as if they're a law unto themselves - they dream up reward schemes - which look like old-fashioned bonus payments to the rest of the population.

Then the Labour run council has the brass neck to say that it's proud of their bonus schemes - even though the truth of what was going on was dragged out of North Lanarkshire Council - only after a hard fought Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Who do these peope think they are kidding?

Not me, that's for sure - and it's just the same in Glasgow where the Labour council paid hundreds of thousands of pounds in 'top-up' payments to councillors - sitting on arm's length bodies or ALEOs.

ALEOs such as Cordia to which thousands of Glasgow's home care and education staff were transferred - only to find their pay and conditions under attack.

The same cynical behaviour is to be found in Labour run South Lanarkshire Council - which has abused the FOI process and spent huge sums of public money - trying to keep people from understanding the big differences in pay between traditional male and female council jobs.

I loved the quote towards the end of Paul Hutcheon's piece - in which some anonymous union person comments adversely on North Lanarkshire Council's bonus scheme - reserved for only the most senior council officials, of course.

Have you ever heard such a weak, pathetic comment in your life - how about calling a spade a spade - how about standing up for ordinary union members and saying the whole, all too cosy business is a complete disgrace?

But then again these are the same unions that are out campaigning for Labour - in the local council elections which will be held on 3 May - the same unions that turned a blind eye over equal pay for so many years.  

So don't expect the trade unions to lead any charges against these big Labour councils - because they are hopelessly compromised by their 'far too close' political connections - to be able to see the wood through the trees. 

Council chief receives payout despite failings

North Lanarkshire Council's chief executive was awarded a £12,050 bonus-style payment, months before his department failed to hit a key target on leadership.

Gavin Whitefield's office fell short on four vital management areas last year, but the CEO still pocketed over 90% of his performance "top-up".

Central Scotland SNP MSP John Wilson criticised the cash boost at a time when other council employees faced pay freezes and redundancy.

The Labour council, one of the country's largest authorities, was criticised recently for trying to block the release of details of performance-related payments (PRP) to senior officials. Following an appeal by this newspaper to the Scottish Information Commissioner, the council confirmed doling out nearly £200,000 to around 30 officials.

The payments, for 2009-10, included £12,050 for Whitefield on top of his £136,848 salary. He was awarded a further £12,050 in the following year.

An email obtained by the Sunday Herald reveals the chief executive was given the sum, despite his own department's shortcomings.

In 2008, every part of the council was awarded Investors In People (IIP) accreditation, which is linked to business improvement. Subsequent reviews have confirmed that the departments merit their IIP status.

However, an email from Whitefield this month shows his office, which has around 50 staff, was judged to have failed in key areas during last year's IIP assessment. He said the CEO's department had not met the requirements in "effective leadership", "team development", "meeting learning and development needs" and "fair and equal access to support and opportunity to learn".

Although the office kept its IIP status, Whitefield said measures such as planning sessions and workshops were needed to address the shortcomings.

A further IIP assessment is due later this month.

While senior officials have continued to receive PRP, council workers have had their pay frozen.

Wilson said: "The failure of the chief executive's office in the area of effective leadership once again casts doubt on the decision to award PRP."

A spokesman for public-sector union Unison said: "We don't believe PRP is a good or effective use of public money."

A council spokesman said a large number of areas of excellent practice were identified in the last assessment, while some areas required improvement. "We have focused on those areas as part of an action plan," he said.

Friday, 20 April 2012

An Honest Friend

The events of recent weeks have been completely tumultuous - life-changing in all probability, I suspect.

The sudden death of my younger brother, Kevin, came like a bolt out of the blue - and since my last post on the blog site I have been to Canada (and back) - where family and friends said their final farewells to Kevin - following his fatal motorbike accident in Bolivia.

Yet what started as a terrible tragedy - turned out to be a hugely positive, uplifting experience - which is not at all what I imagined.

Because while there were tears of sadness, for sure - what shone through in the end were all the funny stories and happy memories - as people spoke from the heart of their friend and a life well-lived.

At the packed celebration of Kevin's life in Whistler - instead of a minute's silence we had a really noisy, raucous minute of applause - which went down an absolute storm with the Canadian audience - who clapped and cheered and hollered their enormous love and affection - for their fallen friend.

And now as the dust begins to settle - I know within myself that things have changed - quite possibly forever.

Now how things will change I'm not sure at the moment - all I can say is that this feels like one of life's great crossroads - so it's time to take stock and think before taking the next step. 

Kevin was the youngest of our family of five boys - a grown man of course, a very experienced traveller - more able than me in all sorts of ways - well able to look after himself even in difficult situations.

Yet for all that there is still a huge sense of remorse at losing the 'baby' of the family - a strangely powerful and painful emotion - no doubt borne of the fact that Kevin's four 'big' brothers were all completely powerless to do anything - to save or help their younger sibling.

I suppose it's all part of the grieving process - of coming to terms with the loss of someone whose life ended so abruptly and unexpectedly - so very far away and all on his own - without that one final chance to say goodbye.

So if there's a lesson for me in these events it is to enjoy life's journey - to stop fretting about  some goal or final destination - and make the most of what you've got now.

Because that's what Kevin was all about - and here's a poem from Robert Burns that describes my younger brother perfectly - in fact to a tee.

A Bottle and and Honest Friend - by Robert Burns 

Here's, a bottle and an honest friend!

What wad ye wish for mair, man?

Wha kens, before his life may end,

What his share may be of care, man.

Then catch the moments as they fly,

And use them as ye ought, man:

Believe me, happiness is shy,

And comes not ay when sought, man. 

My sincere thanks to all the readers who sent their condolences in recent days - your kind words were greatly appreciated. 

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Spirit of Adventure

Kevin Irvine

Spirit of Adventure
Born: 12 August 1967
Died: 29 March 2012

Kevin John Irvine died on his beloved Buell motorbike in Bolivia on Thursday 29 March 2012 while undertaking a dream trip from Whistler in Canada to Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago off the southernmost tip of South America.

Kevin left Scotland in 1989 on a family sponsorship scheme following in the footsteps of his  parents (Adam and Sheila Irvine) who emigrated to Canada in 1952 before returning to Glasgow some years later, where the Irvine family grew up. 

Kevin went to the Glasgow Nautical College with dreams of travelling the world, but after two tours of duty he decided that a seafaring life was not for him, not what he expected, because he got to see so little of the exotic ports and locations where his ship dropped anchor.

So being a resourceful, flexible young man, Kevin changed direction completely and after working in Bishopbriggs Sports Centre for two years to save up the money he needed, Kevin made the jump to Canada, where he lived in Toronto for six months before heading further west to Whistler, a fast growing ski resort in British Columbia.

Whistler turned out to be the place where Kevin found his true spiritual home; where he became a first-class skier who loved nothing better than being dropped off by helicopter in some remote location before making his way back off piste, often with friends, but sometimes with clients as a tour guide.       

Like so many people in Whistler, Kevin had to turn his hand to a variety of jobs to make a living and he soon became one of Whistler's best known bar staff with regular customers and locals referring to him as 'Scottish' Kev. Over the years Kevin worked in lots of different bars and restaurants where his charm, good looks and easy manner won him many lifelong friends.

Kevin later added another string to his bow, by becoming a highly skilled masseur who was proficient in a wide range of massage techniques, such as Thai and Sports Massage, which helped to soothe the aches and pains of the many skiers and visitors to Whistler, including the odd famous name such as the Hollywood actress Halle Berry. 

In short Kevin became something of an institution in Whistler, a highly popular and well-known local figure, so much so that it was impossible to walk through the Whistler village or any of its ski centres without a journey being interrupted several times, by people keen to stop, say hello and shoot the breeze with Scottish Kev. 

Another defining aspect of Kevin's life was his passion for motorbikes and the great outdoors; he became renowned for his epic journeys: across Canada and America, Australia and the Far East, Scotland and Ireland (where his great grandparents came from), the rest of Britain and latterly much of Europe including Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland and Croatia - where he  biked along some of the most spectacular touring routes on the planet.

Kevin revelled in the wonderful scenery, the many incredible sights to be seen on his journeys but, most of all, in the companionship of the people that he would meet on the road, often other bikers, whom he would stay in touch with via Facebook by posting wonderful pictures and scenes for others to share.

Kevin's last great adventure took him to South America where he was heading to the bottom of the world, Tierra del Fuego, which would have been his journey's end. En route through Bolivia and heading south outside the town of Potosi, Kevin was stuck by a 'volqueta'  (a large mining truck) and died from his injuries at the scene on Thursday 29 March 2012.      

Kevin was the 'baby' of the Irvine family, the youngest of five sons, but he was the one in whom the spirit of adventure burned most brightly.

Kevin will be missed terribly by his four brothers - Paul, Brian, Mark and Ian - also by his 'family' in Whistler, British Columbia where he lived and worked for over 20 years - and by his many close friends back in Scotland where he was born.

Representing the Members

Since Ed Miliband became leader of the Labour party - in September 2010 - the big three public sector trade unions (GMB, Unison and Unite) have poured £10 million of their members' money - into Labour coffers.

To do so lawfully, the trade unions have to conduct a political fund ballot (PFB) - but only once every ten years - a process which very few ordinary union members bother to take part in.

So the turnout is poor, dreadful in fact - in single figures.

If I recall correctly the turnout in the last Unison PFB was only 8% of the total union membership - which means that 92% failed to return their ballot papers.

To anyone interested in trade union democracy that is very worrying.

Because 100% of union members who pay into the union's Political Fund at the time of the ballot - keep doing so once  the vote has taken place.

Which means that the vote - or ballot - is completely unrepresentative.

Now the reason for this is that the PFB passes most union members by - they don't really know what it's all about - so they don't bother to vote and once the ballot is over things just continue as they were.

The same is true when most union members sign an application form - to authorise the deduction of union contributions from their pay.

No one explains the details of the 'political levy' - or the fact that a relatively small amount of money is 'top sliced' every week or month from their contributions - then handed over to the Labour party.

Because the truth is that very few union members support the Labour party - and if they really understood what's going on, they'd choose to hang on to their money - or perhaps donate the funds elsewhere.

So the Political Fund is a con - a scam - a 'milch cow' for union leaders to raise money for the political party that they support - but which ordinary union members don't support in anything like the same numbers.

My solution to this problem of 'big money' unduly influencing UK politics - is to cap donations from the trade unions - and everyone else.

The way to do that is to simply say that union members have to 'opt in' to pay a political - as they do in Northern Ireland, for example - perhaps at the time of the Political Fund Ballot.

In which case the authentic voice of union members would be heard - the role of trade unions inside the Labour party would be legitimate - instead of completely disproportionate which is the case now.

More importantly an 'opt in' scheme would be good for our democracy - and the body politic.

Especially if ordinary union members had the choice of  making a small donation to another political party - as well as the option of paying no political levy at all.

'Now what's wrong with that?' - I hear you say.

Nothing - absolutely nothing at all.

The Last Laugh

A friend of mine sent me this joke - a friend born into the Jewish faith - a faith which he outgrew long ago.

Nowadays my friend doesn't believe in the literal word of God as espoused in many different holy books - all the way from the Torah, the Bible, the Koran - and the Book of Mormon. 

Although even that short list does not do justice to more ancient belief systems - which have gone out of fashion these days.

But my friend can laugh and poke gentle fun at his own religious background - because what's important is not what people believe or say they believe - but how they live their lives and whether they are tolerant of others.  

The Last Laugh

A well known Anti-Semite, walks into a bar and is about to order a drink when he sees a guy close by wearing a Jewish cap/kippa, a prayer shawl/tzitzis, and traditional locks of hair/payos.

He doesn't have to be an Einstein to know that this guy is Jewish. So he shouts over to the bartender so loudly, that everyone can hear,

"Drinks for everyone in here, bartender, but not for that Jew over there."

Soon after the drinks have been handed out, he notices that the Jewish guy is smiling and waving to him and says “Thank You” in an equally loud voice, so that everyone can hear.

This infuriates the Anti-Semite and in a loud voice, he once again orders drinks for everyone except the Jew.

But as before, this does not seem to worry the Jewish guy who continues to smile, and again says, "Thank you."

So the guy asks the barman, "What's the hell is the matter with that Jew? I've ordered two rounds of drinks for everyone in the bar except for him, and all that the silly bugger does is to smile and thank me in such a loud voice. Is he nuts?”

"Nope," replies the bartender.

He owns this place."

Hitchens on Galloway

Here's an article by the late Christopher Hitchens from 30 May 2005 - which lays bare the ugly political project that is George Galloway.

Unmitigated Galloway

Saddam's favorite MP goes to Washington

Every journalist has a list of regrets: of stories that might have been. Somewhere on my personal list is an invitation I received several years ago, from a then-Labour member of parliament named George Galloway. Would I care, he inquired, to join him on a chartered plane to Baghdad? He was hoping to call attention to the sufferings of the Iraqi people under sanctions, and had long been an admirer of my staunch and muscular prose and my commitment to universal justice (I paraphrase only slightly). Indeed, in an article in a Communist party newspaper in 2001 he referred to me as "that great British man of letters" and "the greatest polemicist of our age."

No thanks, was my reply. I had my own worries about the sanctions, but I had also already been on an officially guided visit to Saddam's Iraq and had decided that the next time I went to that terrorized slum it would be with either the Kurdish guerrillas or the U.S. Marines. (I've since fulfilled both ambitions.) Moreover, I knew a bit about Galloway. He had had to resign as the head of a charity called "War on Want," after repaying some disputed expenses for living the high life in dirt-poor countries. Indeed, he was a type well known in the Labour movement. Prolier than thou, and ostentatiously radical, but a bit too fond of the cigars and limos and always looking a bit odd in a suit that was slightly too expensive. By turns aggressive and unctuous, either at your feet or at your throat; a bit of a backslapper, nothing's too good for the working class: what the English call a "wide boy."

This was exactly his demeanor when I ran into him last Tuesday on the sidewalk of Constitution Avenue, outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where he was due to testify before the subcommittee that has been uncovering the looting of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program. His short, cocky frame was enveloped in a thicket of recording equipment, and he was holding forth almost uninterrupted until I asked him about his endorsement of Saddam Hussein's payment for suicide-murderers in Israel and the occupied territories. He had evidently been admirably consistent in his attention to my humble work, because he changed tone and said that this was just what he'd expect from a "drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay." It takes a little more than this to wound your correspondent--I could still hold a martini without spilling it when I was "the greatest polemicist of our age" in 2001--but please note that the real thrust is contained in the word "Trotskyist." Galloway says that the worst day of his entire life was the day the Soviet Union fell. His existence since that dreadful event has involved the pathetic search for an alternative fatherland. He has recently written that, "just as Stalin industrialised the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted Iraq's own Great Leap Forward." I love the word "scale" in that sentence. I also admire the use of the word "plotted."

As it happens, I adore the street-fight and soap-box side of political life, so that when the cluster had moved inside, and when Galloway had taken his seat flanked by his aides and guards, I decided to deny him the 10 minutes of unmolested time that otherwise awaited him before the session began. Denouncing the hearings as a show-trial the previous week, he had claimed that he had written several times to the subcommittee (whose members he has publicly called "lickspittles") asking to be allowed to clear his name, and been ignored. The subcommittee staff denies possessing any record of such an overture. Taking a position near where he was sitting, I asked him loudly if he had brought a copy of his letter, or letters. A fresh hose of abuse was turned upon me, but I persisted in asking, and after awhile others joined in--receiving no answer--so at least he didn't get to sit gravely like a volunteer martyr.

Senators Norm Coleman and Carl Levin then began the proceedings, and staff members went through a meticulous presentation, with documents and boards, showing the paperwork of the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization and the Iraqi Oil Ministry. These were augmented by testimony from an (unnamed) "senior Saddam regime official," who had vouched for the authenticity of the provenance and the signatures. The exhibits clearly showed that pro-Saddam political figures in France and Russia, and at least one American oil company, had earned the right to profit from illegal oil-trades, and had sweetened the pot by kicking back a percentage to Saddam's personal palace-building and mass grave-digging fund.

In several cases, the documents suggested that a man named Fawaz Zureikat, a Jordanian tycoon, had been intimately involved in these transactions. Galloway's name also appears in parentheses on the Zureikat papers--perhaps as an aide-memoire to those processing them--but you must keep in mind that the material does not show transfers directly to Galloway himself; only to Zureikat, his patron and partner and friend. In an analogous way, one cannot accuse Scott Ritter, who made a ferocious documentary attacking the Iraq war, of being in Iraqi pay. One may be aware, though, that the Iraqi-American businessman who financed that film, Shakir al-Khafaji, has since shown up in the captured Oil-for-Food correspondence.

After about 90 minutes of this cumulative testimony, Galloway was seated and sworn, and the humiliation began. The humiliation of the deliberative body, I mean. I once sat in the hearing room while a uniformed Oliver North hectored a Senate committee and instructed the legislative branch in its duties, and not since that day have I felt such alarm and frustration and disgust. Galloway has learned to master the word "neocon" and the acronym "AIPAC," and he insulted the subcommittee for its deference to both of these. He took up much of his time in a demagogic attack on the lie-generated war in Iraq. He announced that he had never traded in a single barrel of oil, and he declared that he had never been a public supporter of the Saddam Hussein regime. As I had guessed he would, he made the most of the anonymity of the "senior Saddam regime official," and protested at not knowing the identity of his accuser. He improved on this by suggesting that the person concerned might now be in a cell in Abu Ghraib.

In a small way--an exceedingly small way--this had the paradoxical effect of making me proud to be British. Parliament trains its sons in a hard school of debate and unscripted exchange, and so does the British Labour movement. You get your retaliation in first, you rise to a point of order, you heckle and you watch out for hecklers. The torpid majesty of a Senate proceeding does nothing to prepare you for a Galloway, who is in addition a man without embarrassment who has stayed just on the right side of many inquiries into his character and his accounting methods. He has, for example, temporarily won a libel case against the Daily Telegraph in London, which printed similar documents about him that were found in the Oil Ministry just after the fall of Baghdad. The newspaper claimed a public-interest defense, and did not explicitly state that the documents were genuine. Galloway, for his part, carefully did not state that they were false, either. The case has now gone to appeal.

When estimating the propensity of anyone to take money or gifts, one must also balance the propensity of a regime to offer them. I once had an Iraqi diplomat contact in London, who later became one of Saddam's ministers. After inviting him to dinner one night, I noticed that he had wordlessly left a handsome bag, which contained a small but nice rug, several boxes of Cuban cigars (which I don't smoke), and several bottles of single malt Scotch. I was at the time a fairly junior editor at a socialist weekly. More recently, I have interviewed a very senior and reliable U.N. arms inspector in Iraq, who was directly offered an enormous bribe by Tariq Aziz himself, and who duly reported the fact to the U.S. government. If the Baathists would risk approaching this particular man, it seems to me, they must have tried it with practically everybody. Quite possibly, though, the Saddam regime decided that Galloway was entirely incorruptible, and would consider such an inducement beneath him.

Such speculation to one side, the subcommittee and its staff had a tranche of information on Galloway, and on his record for truthfulness. It would have been a simple matter for them to call him out on a number of things. First of all, and easiest, he had dared to state under oath that he had not been a defender of the Saddam regime. This, from the man who visited Baghdad after the first Gulf war and, addressing Saddam, said: "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability." How's that for lickspittling? And even if you make allowances for emotional public moments, you can't argue with Galloway's own autobiography, blush-makingly entitled I'm Not the Only One, which was published last spring and from which I offer the following extracts:

The state of Kuwait is "clearly a part of the greater Iraqi whole, stolen from the motherland by perfidious Albion." (Kuwait existed long before Iraq had even been named.) "In my experience none of the Ba'ath leaders have displayed any hostility to Jews." The post-Gulf war massacres of Kurds and Shia in 1991 were part of "a civil war that involved massive violence on both sides." Asked about Saddam's palaces after one of his many fraternal visits, he remarked, "Our own head of state has a fair bit of real estate herself." Her Majesty the Queen and her awful brood may take up a lot of room, but it's hardly comparable to one palace per province, built during a time of famine. Discussing Saddam's direct payments to the families of suicide-murderers--the very question he had refused to answer when I asked him--he once again lapsed into accidental accuracy, as with the Stalin comparison, and said that "as the martyred know, he put Iraq's money where his mouth was." That's true enough: It was indeed Iraq's money, if a bit more than Saddam's mouth.

At the hearing, also, Galloway was half-correct in yelling at the subcommittee that he had been a critic of Saddam Hussein when Donald Rumsfeld was still making friendly visits to Baghdad. Here, a brief excursion into the aridities of left history may elucidate more than the Galloway phenomenon.

There came a time, in the late 1970s, when the Iraqi Communist party realized the horrific mistake it had made in joining the Baath party's Revolutionary Command Council. The Communists in Baghdad, as I can testify from personal experience and interviews at the time, began to protest--too late--at the unbelievable cruelty of Saddam's purge of the army and the state: a prelude to his seizure of total power in a full-blown fascist coup. The consequence of this, in Britain, was the setting-up of a group named CARDRI: the Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq. Many democratic socialists and liberals supported this organization, but there was no doubting that its letterhead and its active staff were Communist volunteers. And Galloway joined it. At the time, it is at least half true to say, the United States distinctly preferred Saddam's Iraq to Khomeini's Iran, and acted accordingly. Thus a leftist could attack Saddam for being, among other things, an American client. We ought not to forget the shame of American policy at that time, because the preference for Saddam outlived the war with Iran, and continued into the postwar Anfal campaign to exterminate the Kurds. In today's "antiwar" movement, you may still hear the echoes of that filthy compromise, in the pseudo-ironic jibe that "we" used to be Saddam's ally.

But mark the sequel. It must have been in full knowledge, then, of that repression, and that genocide, and of the invasion of Kuwait and all that ensued from it, that George Galloway shifted his position and became an outright partisan of the Iraqi Baath. There can be only two explanations for this, and they do not by any means exclude one another. The first explanation, which would apply to many leftists of different stripes, is that anti-Americanism simply trumps everything, and that once Saddam Hussein became an official enemy of Washington the whole case was altered. Given what Galloway has said at other times, in defense of Slobodan Milosevic for example, it is fair to assume that he would have taken such a position for nothing: without, in other words, the hope of remuneration.

There was another faction, however, that was, relatively speaking, nonpolitical. During the imposition of international U.N. sanctions on Iraq, and the creation of the Oil-for-Food system, it swiftly became known to a class of middlemen that lavish pickings were to be had by anyone who could boast an insider contact in Baghdad. This much is well known and has been solidly established, by the Volcker report and by the Senate subcommittee. During the material time, George Galloway received hard-to-get visas for Iraq on multiple occasions, and admits to at least two personal meetings with Saddam Hussein and more than ten with his "dear friend" Tariq Aziz. But as far as is known by me, he confined his activity on these occasions to pro-regime propaganda, with Iraqi crowds often turned out by the authorities to applaud him, and provide a useful platform in both parliament and the press back home.

However, his friend and business partner, Fawaz Zureikat, didn't concern himself so much with ideological questions (though he did try to set up a broadcasting service for Saddam). He was, as Galloway happily testified, involved in a vast range of deals in Baghdad. But Galloway's admitted knowledge of this somehow does not extend to Zureikat's involvement in any Oil-for-Food transactions, which are now prima facie established in black and white by the subcommittee's report. Galloway, indeed, has arranged to be adequately uninformed about this for some time now: It is two years since he promised the BBC that he would establish and make known the facts about his Zureikat connection.

Here then are these facts, as we know them without his help. In 1998, Galloway founded something, easily confused with a charity, known as the Mariam Appeal. The ostensible aim of the appeal was to provide treatment in Britain for a 4-year-old Iraqi girl named Mariam Hamza, who suffered from leukemia. An announced secondary aim was to campaign against the sanctions then in force, and still a third, somewhat occluded, aim was to state that Mariam Hamza and many others like her had contracted cancer from the use of depleted-uranium shells by American forces in the first Gulf war. A letter exists, on House of Commons writing paper, signed by Galloway and appointing Fawaz Zureikat as his personal representative in Iraq, on any and all matters connected to the Mariam Appeal.

Although it was briefly claimed by one of its officers that the Appeal raised most of its money from ordinary citizens, Galloway has since testified that the bulk of the revenue came from the ruler of the United Arab Emirates and from a Saudi prince. He has also conceded that Zureikat was a very generous donor. The remainder of the funding is somewhat opaque, since the British Charity Commissioners, who monitor such things, began an investigation in 2003. This investigation was inconclusive. The commissioners were able to determine that the Mariam Appeal, which had used much of its revenue for political campaigning, had not but ought to have been legally registered as a charity. They were not able to determine much beyond this, because it was then announced that the account books of the Appeal had been removed, first to Amman, Jordan, and then to Baghdad. This is the first charity or proto-charity in history to have disposed of its records in that way.

To this day, George Galloway defiantly insists, as he did before the senators, that he has "never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anybody on my behalf." As a Clintonian defense this has its admirable points: I myself have never seen a kilowatt, but I know that a barrel is also a unit and not an entity. For the rest, his defense would be more impressive if it answered any charge that has actually been made. Galloway is not supposed by anyone to have been an oil trader. He is asked, simply, to say what he knows about his chief fundraiser, nominee, and crony. And when asked this, he flatly declines to answer. We are therefore invited by him to assume that, having earlier acquired a justified reputation for loose bookkeeping in respect of "charities," he switched sides in Iraq, attached himself to a regime known for giving and receiving bribes, appointed a notorious middleman as his envoy, kept company with the corrupt inner circle of the Baath party, helped organize a vigorous campaign to retain that party in power, and was not a penny piece the better off for it. I think I believe this as readily as any other reasonable and objective person would. If you wish to pursue the matter with Galloway himself, you will have to find the unlisted number for his villa in Portugal.

Even if the matter of subornation and bribery had never arisen, there would remain the crucial question of Iraq itself. It was said during the time of sanctions on that long-suffering country that the embargo was killing, or had killed, as many as a million people, many of them infants. Give credit to the accusers here. Some of the gravamen of the charge must be true. Add the parasitic regime to the sanctions, over 12 years, and it is clear that the suffering of average Iraqis must have been inordinate.

There are only two ways this suffering could have been relieved. Either the sanctions could have been lifted, as Galloway and others demanded, or the regime could have been removed. The first policy, if followed without conditions, would have untied the hands of Saddam. The second policy would have had the dual effect of ending sanctions and terminating a hideous and lawless one-man rule. But when the second policy was proposed, the streets filled with people who absolutely opposed it. Saying farewell to the regime was, evidently, too high a price to pay for relief from sanctions.

Let me phrase this another way: Those who had alleged that a million civilians were dying from sanctions were willing, nay eager, to keep those same murderous sanctions if it meant preserving Saddam! This is repellent enough in itself. If the Saddam regime was cheating its terrified people of food and medicine in order to finance its own propaganda, that would perhaps be in character. But if it were to be discovered that any third parties had profited from the persistence of "sanctions plus regime," prolonging the agony and misery thanks to personal connections, then one would have to become quite judgmental.

The bad faith of a majority of the left is instanced by four things (apart, that is, from mass demonstrations in favor of prolonging the life of a fascist government). First, the antiwar forces never asked the Iraqi left what it wanted, because they would have heard very clearly that their comrades wanted the overthrow of Saddam. (President Jalal Talabani's party, for example, is a member in good standing of the Socialist International.) This is a betrayal of what used to be called internationalism. Second, the left decided to scab and blackleg on the Kurds, whose struggle is the oldest cause of the left in the Middle East. Third, many leftists and liberals stressed the cost of the Iraq intervention as against the cost of domestic expenditure, when if they had been looking for zero-sum comparisons they might have been expected to cite waste in certain military programs, or perhaps the cost of the "war on drugs." This, then, was mere cynicism. Fourth, and as mentioned, their humanitarian talk about the sanctions turned out to be the most inexpensive hypocrisy.

George Galloway--having been rightly expelled by the British Labour party for calling for "jihad" against British troops, and having since then hailed the nihilism and sadism and sectarianism that goes by the lazy name of the Iraqi "insurgency" or, in his circles, "resistance"--ran for election in a new seat in East London and was successful in unseating the Labour incumbent. His party calls itself RESPECT, which stands for "Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environment, Community, Trade Unionism." (So that really ought to be RESPECTU, except that it would then sound less like an Aretha Franklin song and more like an organ of the Romanian state under Ceausescu.).

The defeated incumbent, Oona King, is of mixed African and Jewish heritage, and had to endure an appalling whispering campaign, based on her sex and her combined ethnicities. Who knows who started this torrent of abuse? Galloway certainly has, once again, remained adequately uninformed about it. His chief appeal was to the militant Islamist element among Asian immigrants who live in large numbers in his district, and his main organizational muscle was provided by a depraved sub-Leninist sect called the Socialist Workers party. The servants of the one god finally meet the votaries of the one-party state. Perfect. To this most opportunist of alliances, add some Tory and Liberal Democrat "tactical voters" whose hatred of Tony Blair eclipses everything else.

Perhaps I may be allowed a closing moment of sentiment here? To the left, the old East End of London was once near-sacred ground. It was here in 1936 that a massive demonstration of longshoremen, artisans, and Jewish refugees and migrants made a human wall and drove back a determined attempt by Sir Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts to mount a march of intimidation. The event is still remembered locally as "The Battle of Cable Street." That part of London, in fact, was one of the few place in Europe where the attempt to raise the emblems of fascism was defeated by force.

And now, on the same turf, there struts a little popinjay who defends dictatorship abroad and who trades on religious sectarianism at home. Within a month of his triumph in a British election, he has flown to Washington and spat full in the face of the Senate. A megaphone media in London, and a hysterical fan-club of fundamentalists and political thugs, saw to it that he returned as a conquering hero and all-round celeb. If only the supporters of regime change, and the friends of the Afghan and Iraqi and Kurdish peoples, could manifest anything like the same resolve and determination.

Christopher Hitchens