Daily archives: November 30, 2007

Harry Barnes’ Critique

Certainly one of the most interesting and thoughtful critiques of Murder in Samarkand has been posted by Harry Barnes on his blog. For those who don’t know, Harry is a recently retired, long-serving Labour MP. He represents strongly the origins of that party as an organisation dedicated to improving the lot of working people, both in the UK and worldwide. His perspective casts new light across several aspects of the book, including this extract:

In particular, I found Craig’s description of Claire Short’s visit to Tashkent when she went to Chair a conference of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development to be highly revealing.

Claire did a fine job in standing up for human rights against the Uzbek regime. As soon as she returned home she resigned her post as Secretary of State of Overseas Development over the Government’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

I had been amongst those who criticized Claire for not resigning earlier when Robin Cook went. Yet what she stood out for in Uzbekistan was of great importance and is a justification in itself for the delayed resignation. Her period at Overseas Development was also one of the limited avenues of achievement of the Blair Government.


A comment on a couple of Harry’s points. yes, of course I oppose political violence by state and other terrorists. I am not a closet al-Qaida supporter, or even al-Qaida denier.

Secondly, I am indeed no socialist. But I am only “the strongest possible advocate of privatisation” in the context of Uzbekistan, where state ownership of pretty well everything is a device used ruthlessly by the elite to exploit an enslaved population. In a developed economy like ours, I believe that natural monopolies should be in public hands, as should essential services like health and education.

Direct observation has convinced me that public services are best delivered by public organisations. The so-called efficiencies of privatised provision of public services are a myth, with any beneficial effect more than outweighed by the removal of public resources as private profit, and the skimping and shoddiness on the service designed to increase those profits.

In developing economies, I am completely opposed, for example, to IFI pressure to privatise and charge for water and other essential human needs. But I think purely commerial activity is best conducted by individuals and companies in market conditions, and there should be plenty of space for it..

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Scare Early for Christmas

Don’t look over here! Look over there!

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith made today the most cynical – and least convincing – move yet to exploit “terror” politically in the UK. On the day that New Labour hit a twenty year low in the opinion polls and Harriet Harman blamed Gordon Brown’s office for her dodgy donations, we now have the first headline on the television news as a government announcement of the threat of a “Dirty Bomb” over Christmas.

I cannot say this loudly enough. I have checked with my own contacts and there is NO specific or new intelligence indicating a threat of a terrorist dirty bomb – or any other terrorist threat – this Christmas. Doubtless that will not stop Frank “Goebbels” Gardner appearing any minute now nobly to warn us of the grave danger we face.

Interestingly, even my friends in the Security Services – who normally are pretty happy to see the threat exaggerated, thus adding to their ever increasing budgets and career prospects – this time are sickened by the cynicism of the timing of this “Christmas Warning”.

Incidentally, there is no track record of an attack on “Christmas” and no actual reason to believe that a terrorist attack is more likely to occur at Christmas than any other time of year. The notion is based on a rather simplistic notion of the “Clash of civilisations”.

I have a lingering personal faith which won’t quite die, irrespective of the continuing evidence on the Dawkins side of the equation that the religious, given any power, are evil and dangerous. George Bush did no harm when he was just a parasitic alcoholic, then he discovered Christ and look what happened. Which just goes to show that alcohol is a much more benificent social force than religion.

Blair has revealed he didn’t tell us about his religious faith while in office in case people thought he was a “nutter”. If he thinks we didn’t notice he was a nutter, he is more deluded than I thought – plainly religion hasn’t helped his thought processes. Finally we have the vile authorities of the Sudan. I am of course outraged by their action against a British teacher, but compared to the appalling actions of that bunch of theocratic arseholes against their own people, it is minor indeed.

I had occasion to read General Gordon’s original diaries in the course of researching my master’s thesis. I found it an extraordinary thrill to hold in my hand the paper he had held and decipher his increasingly shaky handwriting. Gordon was a religous fanatic in the Blair mode; portraits show a remarkable similarity of “look” to Blair in the fixated gaze of the eyes. Gordon had a similar approach to Blair, from the same motivations, to bringing the benefits of civilisation to what he viewed as benighted peoples. But unlike Blair, Gordon was a man of incredible personal courage who paid the price for his beliefs. Blair just condemned countless (literally) thousands of other people to death, while shamelessly devoting his own life to raking in the cash.

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