Monthly Archives: February 2011






24 February 2011

It is to be hoped that the ghost of Robin Cook is haunting the Prime Minister: his proclamation that Britain has been wrong to back authoritarian regimes, while defending Britain’s arms exports industry deserves a savage quip from the former, late Foreign Secretary.

Cook’s fate confounds the idea that foreign policy is somehow made up as it goes along, framed by personal affinities and pragmatism, enunciated this week by the amiable and clever Conservative columnist Daniel Finklestein on the Today programme.

It was only in the field of foreign policy and international relations that Labour appeared, albeit briefly, radical, democratic and progressive after the May 1997 election victory.

With Cook in the Foreign Office and Clare Short in international development (not to mention Mo Mowlam handling Northern Ireland), the possibility of an approach to international diplomacy grounded in human rights seemed uniquely possible.

That  prospectus was swiftly quashed by Tony Blair. When Cook launched his maxim: an ‘ethical dimension’ to foreign policy – quckly spun into ‘an ethical foreign policy’ – it was unceremoniously binned by Blair.

Read John Kampfner’s shocking account in Blair’s Wars of how Tony Blair and his aide de camp – and mentor – Jonathan Powell humiliated Cook and adopted instead the ‘new imperialism.’

Kampfner explains that Blair went to war five times in six years, and it was that statistic that impelled him to write the book.

Although Cook’s approach – to base foreign policy on human rights – had been cleared with Downing Street, it was not to Blair’s taste.

The tactical difficulties of re-orientating Britain away from arms exports to repressive regimes -  and rupturing the historic intimacies between Downing Street and the arms manufacturers -  gave Blair a weapon against Cook. The Foreign Secretary’s detailed plans for releasing Britain from contractual obligations to dictatorships buying arms from Britain  were scrutinised by Blair’s men.  The scowlers vetted line by line his criteria for arms sales – Cook’s template for a new ethic in one of Britain’s foremost export industries.   Before the year was out the ‘ethical dimension’ faded  and Blair himself promoted the  ‘hug ‘em close’ mantra that sealed a UK-US united, imperial front.

The arms exporters were safe, and supported by the Prime Minister. Wars would be waged. Indecent tyrannies would be re-armed and reassured.

All until 2011 when New Labour’s New Imperialism and the special relationship between the UK and the US, and the West and Israel, began to shudder in the astounding aftermath of the largely secular people’s revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

Downing Street and the White House were scandalously slow to welcome the revolutionary uprisings. The new imperialist rhetoric of humanitarian warfare was suddenly exposed: the West appeared befuddled.

Secular or sectarian, it didn’t matter – Downing Street has sponsored muslimists and their enemies – the specialist relationship has nurtured, funded, armed them all in the name of stability, the cold war, Israel and above all ‘our interests’.

Cameron has been scorned for the arms traders who have been his cohorts during his Middle East tour. ‘Shameful,’ protests War on Want. It is.  ‘Stop it,’ insists the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. Yes!

David Cameron lanced embarrassment by insisting on 21 February that the arms trade ‘is very much in Britain’s interests.’

No doubt he feels comforted by his new friend, the Observer’s   Nick Cohen, who’s commentary on the Middle East uprisings has been, yet again, to rant about muslim clerics – surely the least influential or interesting presence on the streets of Tunisia or Egypt so far. Cohen couldn’t see the heroic and secular wood for his islamist trees.

Cohen wrote in the Observer on 6 February that ‘David Cameron seems to be prepared to stand up for elementary principles. He was almost pitch-perfect in his speech in Germany as he rejected with the required scorn the right’s argument that a clash of civilisations made Muslims and democracy incompatible and the double-standard of the multi-culturalists, who hold that one can oppose fascistic doctrines when they are held by white-skinned demagogues but not when they are propagated by brown-skinned reactionaries.’

How does any of this blether clarify the Western powers’ complicity in hollowing out civil society and radical, democratic political movement is the Middle East, and how they should make amends.

Blair should be ashamed. David Cameron should be ashamed.

Robin Cook is dead. Long live Robin Cook.

Friday February 18 2011 Hello, I’ve been out of it for a while. Writing my new book whilst catching up with the news in the Middle East – humans being amazing, again.

February 18 2011


Kick OUT Sexism in football – its been a long time coming, but its moment has finally arrived – marked beautifully by Philosophy Football’s nice new T-Shirt (got one on order!) and a mug.

This is great for those people, like me, who feel oppressed by the way that football takes up all the space, with its rude intrusion into our sitting rooms, the news, kids bedrooms, TV schedules and even the sounds of the cities.

Despite ourselves we know about football because there is no escape from it. So Kick it Out enables us to contribute to the reform of football’s ugly culture.

The Sky row provoked by Andy Gray and Richard Keys giving out yards against women exposed a fascinating cleavage in football culture between the men who love its macho scaffolding and men who don’t.

And it offered men the opportunity to take the side of women and repudiate the grand masters of the ancien regime.

That, of course, was an effect of the curious contradictions in football culture that have been created by women’s presence in a man’s game.

Football was formerly a pleasure put beyond the reach of women in a segregated social space in which men could relish the sound of their own voices singing, soaring over the fence, invading the soundscape of the cities.

For women that exclusivity presented a crisis – be beaten (because we could not beat it) or join it. So, in their thousands, nay millions, women began to play it, watch it, know it, heaven forfend ‘commentate’ on it, manage it and referee it.

That somehow confirmed its warrant in popular culture. But that in turn created a crisis for as football as uniquely a man thing,  as a ‘pageant of masculinity’, as uniquely a man thing, in which men kiss, cry, sing, scream, and in which they harbour hatred and violence, all as a way of being men, and all by themselves.

Women’s presence (plus a few catastrophes caused by total disrespect for fans) encouraged a cultural revolution in the conditions of the sport,  that – no doubt – many men endorsed..

But it had not been echoed by the proprietors of the public game. Lord Triesman complans that it is the country’s worst managed sport.

We could add that even the best of their managers  rely on hapless masculine intuition to sort out the lads. This tradition is exemplified by Sir Alex Ferguson and his treatment of Wayne Rooney.  He assumed that marriage would sort out the lads’ morals, that ‘settling down’  and domestication would somehow keep them off the streets and sort out their sexism.  Ferguson was wrong and he was irresponsible. He gave to the WAGs the problem  he would not, could not address professionally or politically.

The outcome of his strategy has been a tragedy for Rooney and his family, and a ruinous contribution to sexism in the city: everyone knows that girls sell themselves in faux knocking shops.  Football offers its players as commodities in a celebrity market in which both men and women are objectified.

The Sky row takes the crisis to a deeper place: here were men watching from the sidelines, spilling out pious, sexist and above all WRONG homilies about the expertise of a woman actually on the field.

That took the ignobility of their sexism to another level.

It was the moment when women became more than merely an audience, and took themselves into the field, so to say, that the old football fogeys were confronted by a great challenge to the security of their chauvinism.

There have been great wranglings over whether these men were sexist or stupid. They were both. The social media and mass media commentaries and the larger conversations they have joined, have disclosed  a sophistication in popular culture that was traduced by Gray and Keys..

Their behaviour relied on a sense that they had critical mass, an omnipotent fantasy that they were the voice of the people. They were clearly mystified and tongue tied by the discovery that they weren’t.

What would be wonderful would be if the fans – and their alienated friends – kept on creatively crying foul against sexism in sport.