Sunday, 31 May 2009

Chinese leaders: Children should be successors to socialist cause 2009-05-30 15:15:17 Print

BEIJING, May 30 (Xinhua) -- Sixty years make a child an old man. But the expectation held by the Chinese leadership for the country's younger generation remained the same since the founding of New China in 1949.

The Outlook Weekly magazine carried a report recalling Chinese leaders' expectations for children as successors to the cause of socialism on Saturday, two days ahead of the international Children's Day.

In April 1942, late chairman of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Mao Zedong wrote an inscription for the children's day, calling on kids to "unite and learn to become the masters of new China."

Six years later, China officially designated June 1 as the Children's Day of the People's Republic of China.

In late September 1951, Mao wrote eight words in a notebook presented to a children's representative in Beijing, which read "study diligently and make progress everyday."

The eight Chinese characters quickly spread around the nation. The words can still be seen in most primary school classrooms.

Deng Xiaoping, core of the second generation of China's leadership, also stressed that teenagers should be cultivated as qualified builders and the successors to the cause of socialism.

In November 1979, Deng cautioned all CPC members that "picking the right successors is a major strategic issue that can affect the long-term interests of the Party and the country."

In a congratulatory letter for the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Young Pioneers of China sent by Jiang Zemin, core of China's third-generation leadership, Jiang highlighted that "the cause of proletariat revolutions must be carried forward through unremitting efforts of generations."

"The children today would have to shoulder the responsibility to build our socialist motherland in the 21st Century," Jiang said in the letter, "The cultivation of our successors must begin from their childhood."

At a work conference held in May 2004, Chinese President Hu Jintao urged the whole Party and the whole society to highlight "education on children's ideology and ethics and cultivate the builders and successors to the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics."

"Children are the hope of the Party and China," Hu said, "They are the hope of the Chinese nation."

Editor: Deng Shasha

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Exposed: ugly face of BNP's leaders

* Jamie Doward, home affairs editor
* The Observer, Sunday 31 May 2009
* Article history

Prominent members of the British National party are today revealed as Nazi-sympathisers and racists with abhorrent views on such diverse issues as teenage violence, David Beckham and even David Cameron's deceased son, Ivan.

The revelations undermine the party's attempts to paint itself in a more moderate light before the local and European elections and threaten to derail the electoral ambitions of its leader, Nick Griffin, who is standing as a prospective MEP.

At a time when BNP activists are claiming a surge in support in the polls, a reflection, they say, of mounting public outrage over MPs' expenses, the party has been keen to portray itself as a viable alternative to mainstream political parties.

The BNP website boasts that money is flooding into its campaign headquarters. Its administration consultant, Jim Dowson, claims the party's call centre alone received just under 12,000 calls in the first 15 minutes following the BNP's first national television broadcast. And in emails to supporters - or "patriots" as the BNP calls them - Griffin claims almost £400,000 has been stumped up by supporters to help fund the party's European election campaign.

It claims the apparent groundswell in support is down to the "British public waking from the long, deep sleep". Much of the BNP's recent success has been down to its ability to shake off the patina of far-right extremism that has alienated most voters since its inception. But this month the veneer slipped when it emerged that a Salford-based BNP candidate in the European elections had set his Facebook status to read "Wogs go home". Eddy O'Sullivan, 49, wrote: "They are nice people - oh yeah - but can they not be nice people in the fucking Congo or... bongo land or whatever?" O'Sullivan, who also joined an internet group called "Fuck Islam", denied that the comments were racist and insisted they were made in private conversations between individuals. "I also may have had a drink at the time," he added.

Amid the furore, the BNP's leaders promised an investigation into O'Sullivan's comments. The party's officials also circulated urgent emails urging its members that "particular care should be taken when making comments on chat forums and other sites such as Facebook. Do not make the mistake of thinking that comments posted on these sites are secret or hidden. Making inappropriate comments on these sites will be regarded as a very serious disciplinary offence. Please ensure that this message is passed quickly to all members in your area and that it is acted upon. We are entering a very critical time in our party's history and cannot afford careless and stupid talk that can undermine the hard work of our activists."

But the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight has spent months infiltrating the far right's network of websites and chatrooms and found that many BNP activists share O'Sullivan's views.

They include:

• Jeffrey Marshall, senior organiser for the BNP's London European election campaign. Following the death of David Cameron's disabled son Ivan, Marshall claimed in an internet forum discussion: "We live in a country today which is unhealthily dominated by an excess of sentimentality towards the weak and unproductive. No good will come of it."

Later, in response to comments made by others on the site, Marshall is alleged to have written: "There is not a great deal of point in keeping these people alive after all." He said the comments were private and some had been paraphrased and taken out of context. He admitted making the former comment, but said he could not recall making the latter one in an email to the forum, a copy of which is in the Observer's possession.

• Garry Aronsson, Griffin's running mate for the European parliament in the North West, posts an avatar on his personal web page featuring a Nazi SS death's head alongside the statement, "Speak English Or Die!" Aronsson proclaims on the site: "Every time you change your way of life to make immigrants more comfortable you betray OUR future!" He lists his hobbies as "devising slow and terrible ways of paying back the Guardian-reading cunts who have betrayed the British people into poverty and slavery. I AM NOT JOKING."

• Barry Bennett, MEP candidate for the South West, posted several years ago under a pseudonym in a white supremacist forum the bizarre statement that "David Beckham is not white, he's a black man." Bennett, who is half-Jewish according to the BNP's deputy leader, Simon Darby, continued: "Beckham is an insult to Britishness, and I'm glad he's not here." He added: "I know perfectly respectable half-Jews in the BNP... even Hitler had honorary Aryans who were of Jewish descent... so whatever's good enough for Hitler's good enough for me. God rest his soul."

• Russ Green, MEP candidate for the West Midlands, posted recently on Darby's web page: "If we allowed Indians, Africans, etc to join [the BNP], we would become the 'British multi-National party' ... and I really do hope that never happens!" Darby said he echoed Green's sentiments.

• Dave Strickson, a BNP organiser who helps run its eastern region European election campaign, carried on his personal "Thurrock Patriots" blog a recent report of the fatal stabbing of a teenager in east London beneath the words "Another teen stabbed in Coon Town". The site also carried a mock-up racist version of the US dollar entitled "Obama Wog Dollar". Darby said the BNP did not endorse these comments and described them as "beyond the pale".

When confronted in the past about the extreme views of some of its members, the BNP senior hierarchy has often tried to dismiss them as unrepresentative of the party's core membership. But it appears that they run right to the top of the party.

Lee Barnes, the BNP's senior legal officer and one of Griffin's closest allies, has posted a video on his personal blog of a black suspect being beaten by police officers in the US and describes it as "brilliant". Barnes adds: "The beating of Rodney King still makes me laugh."

Barnes told the Observer his comments were "nothing to do with colour" but were merely a reflection of his belief that the police should have more powers to punish perpetrators of crime by "giving them a good thrashing".

But anti-fascist groups said such comments portrayed the BNP in its true light. "This is the face of the modern BNP," said a spokesman for Searchlight. "The comments of Nick Griffin's candidates and officials are sickening beyond belief. They have tried to hide their agenda of racism and hate from the voters, and they have failed."

Separately, concerns exist about the historic links between the BNP and extremist groups. Gary Pudsey, a BNP organiser running the Yorkshire and Humber campaign, was once a regular at National Front meetings. A young Pudsey was also photographed with the late Max Waegg, a Nazi second world war pilot who wrote articles for the white supremacist magazine Spearhead

Martin Page is a BNP treasurer and his wife Kim is a senior fundraiser for the party. Both have been photographed alongside Benny Bullman, the lead singer of Whitelaw, the white supremacist band whose songs include Fetch the Noose, We're Coming for You and For White Pride.

And Dowson, the BNP's senior administrator, who appears on the party's website talking about the success of its call centre's fundraising activities, has also been dogged by allegations that he has enjoyed close relationships with hardline loyalist groups in the past. The 45-year-old has also been the public face of the LifeLeague, the militant anti-abortion group that has hijacked Britain's pro-life debate. He has regularly appeared on television to pronounce terminations a sin and has published the names of abortion clinic staff, placing many in fear for their personal safety.

That the BNP has become a magnet for extreme-right sympathisers is understandable given Griffin's own background. The Cambridge graduate was himself a member of the NF before going on to form the International Third Position, a neo-fascist organisation with links to the Italian far right.

But aware of the party's need to raise funds from middle England, Griffin has repeatedly attempted to portray his party as the "reasonable" face of patriotism in its bid to broaden its appeal. The approach has paid dividends, with the party having gained 55 seats on local councils, including a seat on the Greater London Authority. This June it is contesting every UK seat at the European elections and there have been predictions it could win overall control of Stoke City Council.

Darby, Griffin's deputy and the BNP's spokesman, accused Searchlight of "distorting the BNP's message" in a bid to derail its political ambitions. He accused the organisation of being "merely a front for the Labour party, paid for by National Lottery funds". Darby said: "When you put it in the context of what's been happening at Westminster, a few scribblings on Facebook hardly seems something to get worried about."
Previous convictions

Nick Griffin, convicted of violating section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986, relating to incitement to racial hatred. He received a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

Kevin Scott, a BNP supporter and former North East regional organiser, has convictions for assault and threatening behaviour.

Terry Collins, a party member, was jailed for five years after waging a year-long terror campaign against Asian families in Eastbourne.

Joe Owens, a former Merseyside BNP candidate and bodyguard to Nick Griffin, served eight months for sending razor blades to Jewish people and another term for carrying CS gas and knuckledusters.

Colin Smith, former BNP south-east London organiser, has 17 convictions for burglary, theft, stealing cars, possession of drugs and assaulting a police officer.

Tony Lecomber, a former BNP propaganda director, was jailed in 1985 after a nail bomb exploded as he carried it to the Workers' Revolutionary party offices. Jailed again in 1991 for assaulting a Jewish teacher on the Underground.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Police 'could have stopped sectarian killing'

By Steven McCaffery, Press Association

Friday, 29 May 2009

The sectarian attack that saw a Protestant mob beat a Catholic man to death in Northern Ireland could have been prevented by police, the victim's family claimed today.

Related articles

* Webpage supports loyalist mob murder of Catholic

Kevin McDaid, 49, was killed when a loyalist gang attacked Catholics in the Somerset Drive area of Coleraine, Co Londonderry, when violence flared after Rangers beat Celtic to the Scottish Premier League title on Sunday.

Mr McDaid's family has lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman claiming that officers in negotiations with loyalists prior to the attack were warned there would be violence if loyalist demands on the day were not met.

And while the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde has already referred the case to the Ombudsman, the McDaid family today claimed the Catholic community was not given adequate protection.

Six men were charged yesterday with Mr McDaid's murder during a series of court appearances at Ballymena. The suspects denied the charge.

They, and another two men, also denied the attempted murder of Damien Fleming, 46, who was critically injured in the attack.

Today the McDaid family issued a statement which said: "The family do seek to make a formal complaint to the Police Ombudsman.

"We are appreciative that of his own volition the Chief Constable has already referred this matter to the Police Ombudsman for investigation.

"Kevin's murder should not have occurred and these tragic circumstances surrounding his murder and the attack on Damien Fleming need not have occurred."

The PSNI has already defended the handling of events on Sunday, but today it said it could not comment further since the issues were now being examined by the Ombudsman.

Officers have said they were involved in talks with members of the Catholic and Protestant communities in Coleraine on Sunday in a bid to defuse tensions before violence flared.

But today Mr McDaid's relatives added: "The family are concerned that the PSNI were involved in negotiations with a number of persons perceived to be from the loyalist community on Sunday May 24.

"There are concerns regarding the nature of these negotiations and the attendant risk that threats were made by individuals from this background to police that unless certain conditions were met or adhered to there was a risk of violence.

"It is a fundamental tenet of society that individuals such as these should not bear undue influence and dictate the terms of law and order.

"We are further concerned that given the knowledge of the threat, we and our neighbours were not properly protected.

"We want the community to support the police, but police must also support the community.

"In the aftermath of this heinous murder and given the fragility of Mr Fleming's condition, tensions are extremely high.

"A further death threat has also been served on our family.

"This should not be the legacy of Kevin's death and it is not what he would have wanted.

"Kevin lived helping others, trying to bridge the divide that exists in our community and trying to join it together, in death it should not be pushed further apart."

The family thanked the officers who came to Mr McDaid's aid and praised the efforts of hospital staff to help the injured.

Meanwhile police are questioning another man today about the murder.

The 33-year-old being quizzed is one of two men arrested yesterday in connection with Sunday's killing.

A 53-year-old man was released on bail last night pending further inquiries.

Mr McDaid's widow was also attacked by the mob on Sunday, as was a pregnant neighbour.

The men who were charged yesterday were aged between 18 and 50.

They appeared one after the other handcuffed to guards at Ballymena Magistrates' Court where district judge Philip Mateer was told all denied the charges.

They were remanded in custody to reappear at Coleraine Magistrates' Court by video link on June 8.

More than 30 armed riot police ringed more than 70 loyalists who filled the public benches as the men appeared.

The McDaid family today added: "The family are grateful to members of the PSNI who attended to Kevin after this horrific assault and who attempted to administer CPR as he lay dying at our feet.

"We would appeal to all persons to assist the police investigation into this murder and the attack on Damien Fleming in whatever way possible.

"The people involved in this murderous attack and who entered Somerset Drive on Sunday night do not deserve any form of protection, nor are they friends of any community."

Meanwhile the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has backed plans by the Derry Trades Council to hold an Anti Sectarianism Rally in the city today.

ICTU President Patricia McKeown said: "A few short weeks ago in public demonstrations laid by the trade union movement in response to the murders of two soldiers (Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar) and PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll the Irish Congress of Trade Unions stated that there could be no going back.

"Equally while this society continues to be riven by sectarian hatred there can be no moving forward.

"Kevin McDaid was murdered because he was a Catholic. His colleague was seriously injured because he was a Catholic and his wife was badly beaten because she was a Protestant married to a Catholic.

"This is sectarian hate crime of the worst degree.

"It cannot be dismissed as the work of hoodlums. The police and the judiciary must see it for what it is. We need the rule of law enforced."

She also called for a clear response from the Northern Ireland Executive.

"Words of condemnation must be matched in actions and resources particularly at community level to challenge sectarian divisions if our society is to move forward," she said.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Abu Ghraib abuse photos 'show rape'

Photographs of alleged prisoner abuse which Barack Obama is attempting to censor include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse, it has emerged.

By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent and Paul Cruickshank
Last Updated: 8:21AM BST 28 May 2009

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

The graphic nature of some of the images may explain the US President’s attempts to block the release of an estimated 2,000 photographs from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan despite an earlier promise to allow them to be published.

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.

“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.

“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

In April, Mr Obama’s administration said the photographs would be released and it would be “pointless to appeal” against a court judgment in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

But after lobbying from senior military figures, Mr Obama changed his mind saying they could put the safety of troops at risk.

Earlier this month, he said: “The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”

It was thought the images were similar to those leaked five years ago, which showed naked and bloody prisoners being intimidated by dogs, dragged around on a leash, piled into a human pyramid and hooded and attached to wires.

Mr Obama seemed to reinforce that view by adding: “I want to emphasise that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”

The latest photographs relate to 400 cases of alleged abuse between 2001 and 2005 in Abu Ghraib and six other prisons. Mr Obama said the individuals involved had been “identified, and appropriate actions” taken.

Maj Gen Taguba’s internal inquiry into the abuse at Abu Ghraib, included sworn statements by 13 detainees, which, he said in the report, he found “credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses.”

Among the graphic statements, which were later released under US freedom of information laws, is that of Kasim Mehaddi Hilas in which he says: “I saw [name of a translator] ******* a kid, his age would be about 15 to 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his **** in the little kid’s ***…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.”

The translator was an American Egyptian who is now the subject of a civil court case in the US.

Three detainees, including the alleged victim, refer to the use of a phosphorescent tube in the sexual abuse and another to the use of wire, while the victim also refers to part of a policeman’s “stick” all of which were apparently photographed.

60 years on, Communist-ruled Shanghai is robust economic hub 2009-05-27 22:59:51

SHANGHAI, May 27 (Xinhua) -- From the Bund to Pudong, from colonial-era apartments to modern-day skyscrapers, from "red capitalist" Rong Yiren to NBA star Yao Ming, Shanghai has caught the world's attention over the past 60 years as a showcase of the achievements under the rule of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

China's largest city, home to 20 million people now compared with 5 million in 1949, Wednesday marked the 60th anniversary of its liberation from the Kuomintang (KMT) Party, the CPC's former rival.

No special celebrations were held by the city authorities, except for an evening gala broadcast by a local TV station and an exhibit on the city's history from 1949 to 2009 that drew tens of thousands of spectators over the past three days.

"The world is looking at Shanghai as the government is developing the country's biggest commercial port into an international financial center and shipping center," Zhang Zhongli, a 90-year-old renowned scholar on economics and history, told Xinhua at the exhibition.

"I hope to live 10 more years to see new changes in Shanghai," he said.

Also Wednesday, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index closed at 2,632.93 points, up 44.36 points, or 1.71 percent.

"I earned about 20,000 yuan (2,941 U.S. dollars) in a day alone, which put me in a great mood for the coming three-day holiday of the traditional Dragon Boat Festival," investor Cheng Dongli told Xinhua while walking out of the stock exchange.


After CPC troops liberated Shanghai six decades ago, almost nobody believed that CPC officials, who were mainly from the countryside and known for combat, could manage the city, then Asia's biggest and the economic lifeline of the KMT regime.

The city was in disarray: soaring inflation, chaotic markets, scarce factory supplies, even bandits and spies.

The KMT said it thought the CPC could only stay in Shanghai -- also the birthplace of the 88-year-old CPC -- for no more than three months. Local business owners said the CPC could get a mark of 100 in military affairs but a zero in economics. The whole world was also watching.

"We tried to light cigarettes with light bulbs and wash rice in toilet bowls. You know, many of our officers and soldiers came from rural areas and hadn't seen such things when we first arrived in Shanghai," said 85-year-old Feng Bingxing, a veteran.

The first thing the CPC administrators did in Shanghai was to impose price controls and crack down on speculative hoarding.

"The illegal merchants came to know the CPC's capability of controlling the economy, and prices began to stabilize," said Yan Aiyun, a CPC history expert in Shanghai.

Many considered it a "miracle" that the CPC could take complete control of Shanghai within three years and bring political, economic and social stability.

"The liberation of Shanghai was a signal that the CPC's focus had begun to shift from the countryside to the cities, and China began its socialist modernization, which was determined by Shanghai's important position," said Yu Weimin, director of the History Department at East China Normal University.

In the following decades, the CPC stressed economic construction in the city, despite twists and turns.

Government statistics show that Shanghai's economy grew 9.7 percent in 2008 to almost 1.4 trillion yuan (about 206 billion U.S. dollars), though it was the first time for the city to post a growth rate below 10 percent since 1992 amid the global downturn.

Turnover on the Shanghai Stock Exchange was the second-heaviest in the Asia-Pacific region and seventh-largest in the world in 2008. The financial sector contributed 10.5 percent of the city's economic growth last year.

In 2008, the Shanghai port kept its world's largest position in terms of cargo throughput and second largest in terms of container throughput.

With 60 years having passed, Shanghai has witnessed tremendous changes with an expanding urban area, burgeoning skyscrapers and as welling population.

"Take Pudong, for instance. It used to be a rural area where we fought battles. Now, it seems like Manhattan," said former serviceman Feng Bingxing whose wife has just paid a visit to their daughter in the United States.

The international metropolis is gearing up for the World Expo from May 1 to Oct. 31 next year, which is expected to draw 70 million visitors and again attract the world's attention.

"We Shanghai citizens will be good hosts for international guests during the Expo," said 30-something local resident Zhou Ting.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

Monday, 25 May 2009

Socialism is healthier

In the 50 years since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Cuba has shown what is possible when society’s priority is not profit, but the needs of the people, and when those needs are met not through the anarchy of the market, but through a democratically planned economy. Without socialist planning, Cuba’s staggering achievements in health care both domestically and internationally would have been impossible. Capitalism has failed the overwhelming mass of the people in oppressed nations, leaving millions to die every year of preventable diseases. It is now failing increasing numbers in the advanced capitalist countries as well. HANNAH CALLER reports.

In 1978, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Alma Ata Declaration set down 38 targets for health improvement to be met by 2000. The only country to meet these targets was Cuba. Approximately 1.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion people lack access to sanitation services. The result? Half the hospital beds in the world are occupied by people suffering from water-borne illnesses. About 200 million people are infected with dysentery. Worldwide, diarrhoea and vomiting illnesses kill five to eight million people per year, and these are leading causes of death among children under five.

Half a million women die every year from pregnancy and childbirth related problems. Globally, the annual death rate from malaria is well over one million; 3,000 African children die every day from this largely preventable and treatable disease. Despite the WHO pledge to cut the number of malaria deaths by half by 2010, the number of victims continues to grow. In sub-Saharan Africa, millions are dying from HIV/AIDS.

And in Britain
If you are poor in Britain, you will live five to seven years less than if you are rich. Access to health care is now being rationed and its quality undermined as hospitals seek to meet government targets which promote privatisation.

In 2004 and 2005, there were two outbreaks of Clostridium difficile at Stoke Mandeville Hospital resulting in the deaths of 30 people. A 2006 Healthcare Commission investigation found that the deaths were avoidable and that senior managers were concentrating on controlling finances and meeting waiting time targets. The Commission reported a similar story at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust where at least 90 patients died as a result of the infection between 2004 and 2006.
Nothing changed. On 17 March this year, the Commission reported that over a three-year period there had been between 400 and 1,200 more deaths than should be expected at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The trust had become obsessed with meeting targets and saving money at the expense of patient care. Three days later, yet another Commission report decided that managerial incompetence and under-staffing had undermined patient care at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Privatisation of the NHS is leading to deteriorating health care for the poor, for the working class, and for those who are of no consequence to capitalism – the elderly. Week after week sees further examples of discrimination in the health care of elderly people, such as inadequate treatment of Alzheimer’s and of fractures arising from falls. Yet in November 2008 the government announced the postponement of promised legislation against age discrimination in health and social services. Cuts in health care spending that will inevitably accompany the deepening crisis will result in an even worse service.

Socialism’s human priorities
The contrast with Cuba is stark. Cuba has established a system where health care is inseparable from politics, education and society. The approach is encapsulated in the Cuban medical graduate’s oath:
‘We pledge to serve the revolution unconditionally wherever we are needed, with the premise that true medicine is not that which cures but that which prevents, whether in an isolated community on our island or in any sister country in the world, where we will always be the standard bearers of solidarity and internationalism.’

Che Guevara’s vision of medical solidarity as a revolutionary weapon has been put into practice through the priority given to health in Cuba. Its achievements in critical health indicators such as infant mortality, life expectancy, HIV infection and low birth weight infants are the best in Latin America and as good as or better than those for the richest countries. Cuba’s infant mortality is an astounding 4.7 per 1,000 live births; it has fallen dramatically since the Revolution in 1959 when it was 60 per 1,000.

Cuba’s planned economy allowed the country to continue its health care developments throughout the Special Period when its economy was devastated with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tightening of the US blockade. Between 1990 and 2003, the number of doctors increased by 76%, dentists by 46% and nurses by 16%. Family doctor coverage expanded from 47% in 1990 to 99.2% in 2003. Over the same period the number of maternity homes rose by 86%, elderly day care centres by 107% and homes for the disabled by 47%. In 2007, Cuba had 6.5 doctors per 1,000 people. The figures for Western Europe are 3.1 per 1,000, and for the US, 2.4 per 1,000.

International co-operation in health
Cuba sees its international health programmes politically as tools to promote international solidarity and to spread the influence of socialism through example. Cuba’s capacity at home is the basis for its international work. By November 2008, Cuba had more than 70,000 doctors, allowing it to send 17,697 abroad to serve in 75 countries, along with 20,847 other Cuban health professionals.

Cuba has medical brigades in 27 countries, including Guatemala, Haiti, Belize, Honduras, Botswana, Ghana, Mali, Gambia, Namibia, and Timor Leste. Its programmes use Cuban doctors who are then replaced over a ten-year period by students from the host country who have been trained by Cuba. All such students are on full scholarships which include tuition, board, food and a living allowance. Cuban doctors abroad work under local direction but the Ministry of Health in Cuba encourages them to work in rural areas, prioritising areas where primary care is absent and focusing on preventative health care. Where necessary, a literacy programme runs alongside the health programme.

Cuba’s co-operation programme with Bolivia is the largest after Venezuela with more than 1,000 Cuban doctors; 5,000 Bolivian medical students are training in Cuba. There are also over 100 Cuban doctors in each of Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Timor Leste, Ghana, Namibia, Gambia, Belize, and Mali. In areas served by Cuban medical teams between 1999 and 2003, infant mortality rates showed significant falls: from 45 to 16.8 per thousand live births in Guatemala, 121 to 61 in Gambia, and 59.4 to 33 in Haiti. Between 2003 and 2008, the Cuban medical brigade in Timor Leste is estimated to have saved over 11,400 lives and contributed to a significant fall in infant mortality.

Disaster response contingents
The first Cuban disaster relief medical team went to earthquake-devastated Chile in 1960; relief was provided to another 16 countries over the next 20 years. Cuba offered help to the US following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, an offer the Bush administration ignored. Cuba’s largest disaster relief programme has been in Pakistan and followed the earthquake that killed 75,000 people and left hundreds of thousands injured and homeless in October 2005. The first Cubans arrived within six days of the earthquake, entering areas where previously there had only been one doctor for a population of 25,000 people. Overall, 2,500 Cuban health workers went to Pakistan. They set up 32 field hospitals within five months of the disaster, treated over one million people, performed over 10,000 operations, and carried out almost half a million rehabilitation treatments. They outstayed all other international agencies. 1,000 scholarships were offered to poor Pakistani students to study medicine in Cuba and a number of Pakistanis with limb loss were flown to Cuba for rehabilitation.

Battle of Ideas
The Battle of Ideas, initiated in 2000, represents a revalidation of socialist principles. As Abel Prieto, Cuban Minister for Culture, said in 2004:

‘What should be globalised, are not bombs or hatred, but peace, solidarity, health, education for all, culture etc. That is why, when our physicians go to help in other countries, although their mission is to work for medical attention, they are also bearers of our values and our ideas of solidarity. This is the essence of the Battle of Ideas.’

The expansion of international health work and the role of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) were part of this. At the inauguration of ELAM in 1999, Fidel Castro said ‘This institution is an attempt at a modest contribution by Cuba to the unity and integration of the peoples of Latin America.’ Since 2005, 1,500 students from over 40 countries have graduated every year. Everything is free to the students for six years; in return they agree to return to work in marginalised areas in their own countries. There are also about 100 US medical students in Cuba on Pastors for Peace scholarships.

Cuba’s medical programmes contribute to the revolutionary process in Venezuela. In 2003, a strike by the Venezuelan Medical Federation threatened the breakdown of medical services. Venezuela sought help, and within months hundreds of Cuban doctors arrived and the Caracas pilot programme Barrio Adentro (‘Within the Neighbourhood’) was extended across Venezuela. By mid-2004, 10,000 Cuban doctors were working nationwide. When Chavez became president in 1999, only 4,000 of 35,000 Venezuelan doctors were family doctors, and most were concentrated in the cities. Since then, the number has increased from one primary care doctor per 17,300 people to one per 3,400 and infant mortality has fallen from 21.4 per 1,000 live births to 13.9.

When Cuba began a literacy programme in Venezuela, the number of people who could not begin to learn to write because of eyesight difficulties led the two countries to set up Operation Miracle. There were an estimated six million people with reversible blindness in Latin America and the Caribbean, most too poor to pay for surgery. Since July 2004, over 1,300,000 people from 32 countries have had corrective operations in Cuba and in the 59 eye hospitals Cuba has donated under the programme.

Revolutionary training
Cuba is conscious of the need to continue to train doctors, nurses and allied health workers, as well as ensuring that they are equipped to deal with their national and international challenges. In 2004 Cuba started a new type of medical training – the University Polyclinic Medical Training Programme; Venezuela followed in 2005. Cuba’s revolutionary vision for this programme was to create a ‘medical university without walls’. The bulk of the teaching occurs in clinical situations with small group teaching covering traditional subjects. This encourages poor students from rural communities to train as doctors locally. Over 12,000 Cuban students are enrolled alongside the 17,000 Cubans taking the traditional medical course. The course lasts six years and exposes students to the human aspect of health care and the needs of local communities. In Venezuela, 20,000 students are enrolled, with 5,000 entering the fourth year in early 2009.

Venezuela is also starting a branch of the Latin American School of Medicine and has enrolled 800 students from abroad. Cuba and Venezuela are now training more doctors than the whole of the US. The doctors who graduate have no personal debt, come from the communities they will serve, are politically conscious, understand humanity and the ravages of imperialism, and are the ideological opposite to the doctors formed under capitalism. They, along with the nurses and health workers trained in the same context, are an international revolutionary army with humanitarian weapons. Socialist planning has created this.

As the crisis deepens, the contrast between this and the contempt capitalism has for the health of the mass of the people even in the richest countries will become more apparent. For the mass of the working class, proper health care is possible only under socialism.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Ken Gill - Obituary


Ken Gill was born on August 29 1927 in Melksham, Wiltshire. During the second world war, aged 15, he became an apprentice draughtsman.

Gill was politicised at an early age, having experienced poverty in his childhood during the Great Depression and having lost his older brother Lesley, who was an airman in bomber command, during a raid over Germany.

During the war, his family took as a lodger a Welsh miner and Communist, who convinced the young Gill of the cause of socialism. At the end of the war, he became an election agent for the local Labour candidate in Melksham.

Gill was well known for his ability as a caricaturist, but his artistic talent was not limited to cartoons. As a child, his entry to a Daily Sketch competition of children's art was disqualified because the judges did not believe that a child could produce a work of such maturity.

As a working-class lad at that time, artistic talent was not a path to a creative career but to a seat in a drawing office and he duly "did his time" at a mechanical handling firm.

He continued in this field of engineering when he came to London, using his artistic skills to provide prospective customers with freehand perspective drawings.

In 1949 at the end of his apprenticeship, he moved to London and in 1950 he married Jacqueline Manley (nee Kemellardski), the former wife of Michael Manley, who later became prime minister of Jamaica.

In his early thirties, Gill became a director of a successful engineering firm, proving his skills as a salesman and negotiator.

However, his political commitments and involvement in trade unionism led him in a different direction.

He was elected as a regional official of the Draughtsmen's and Allied Technicians Association (DATA) in 1962 and was posted to Liverpool, with responsibility for Merseyside and Northern Ireland.

A wave of industrial militancy was sweeping both regions at the time, and Gill found himself leading workers in a series of industrial battles.

His success as a persuasive, militant but shrewd union official brought him higher office in 1968, when he was elected as deputy general secretary.

Two years earlier, he married Tess Gill, a civil rights lawyer and leading figure in the British women's movement. They had three children, Joe, Tom and Emma.

In 1974, Gill became general secretary of DATA's successor, the Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Staffs Association (TASS).

Faced with technological change and industrial decline during the 1980s, Gill reinvented TASS during the early part of that decade, taking in a range of unions, such as the Gold and Silver Workers, the Metal Mechanics, the Sheet Metal Workers and the Tobacco Workers Union.

In 1988, Gill and his long-time rival for the leadership of "white-collar" unionism Clive Jenkins - who was Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs general secretary - buried the hatchet and brought their two unions together to create one new union, Manufacturing, Science and Finance (MSF), with each as a joint general secretary.

Jenkins retired first and Gill became general secretary, serving from 1988-92. By the time Gill retired in 1992, it had become a large multi-industry union, eventually joining Amicus.

In 1974 Gill was the first and only Communist to be elected to the TUC general council with over seven million votes. He joined other leftwingers there and led a militant broad left grouping which spearheaded a number of ideological and economic battles during the militant '70s.

He was one of the most prominent members of the so-called "awkward squad" who made the industrial relations work of successive governments such a difficult task.

With the election of a number of leftwingers to the leadership of the big trade unions during the '70s, there was an expansion of "broad left" grass-roots groups, dominated by the Communist Party, particularly in the AEU, ACTT, TASS, ETU and UCATT. These groups worked around rank-and-file papers such as Engineering Voice, Flashlight and the Power Worker.

Gill spearheaded trade union opposition to the Labour government's demand for a social contract at the 1974 TUC and mass demonstrations against Barbara Castle's contentious industrial relations Bill, In Place Of Strife.

He was instrumental in promoting the Communist Party's alternative economic strategy within the trade union movement. This proposed a more radical socialist agenda as the answer to the economic woes and serious attempts were made through the trade unions to make it Labour Party policy.

There were strong fears within the Labour Party that this new militant trade unionism would seriously undermine the party. Prime minister Harold Wilson alluded to leaders like Gill when he spoke of "a tightly knit group of politically motivated men" out to undermine democracy.

In 1985, Cathy Massiter, a former MI5 officer who had resigned from her job the previous year, appeared on a Channel 4 documentary detailing how the security services had phone-tapped the homes of trade unionists, peace campaigners and civil libertarians, including two senior members of the current government - Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman, who both happened to be close friends of Tess Gill - despite the fact they had done nothing illegal.

In Gill's case, they burgled his home to plant a bugging device. The allegations were confirmed in Peter Wright's book Spycatcher, when the former intelligence officer boldly wrote that "we bugged and burgled our way across London at the state's behest."

Gill actually raised the issue directly with then home secretary Leon Brittan to little effect.

Despite being among the most prominent Communists in the country, Gill always saw himself first of all as a trade unionist.

The Communist Party at the time still played a powerful role on the industrial stage even though it had declined as a political force.

Gill fought within the TUC for the trade union movement to take more progressive positions internationally, and to support anti-racism and equality within the movement itself.

He and his union were active supporters of the fight against South African apartheid.

On Gill's initiative in 1988, the union paid the deposit for the stadium concert that celebrated Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday while he still languished on Robben Island, placing the issue of apartheid in front of the British people as never before.

This was acknowledged by Mandela when, after being freed and on his first British visit, he chose the union's conference hall to meet and thank ANC exiles and activists.

Gill hardly fitted the cliche image of a Communist. While he could be forceful and committed, he was rarely dogmatic or unnecessarily aggressive. He was tall, with a rugged handsomeness and his soft Wiltshire drawl and ready laughter belied his steely determination. His charm and persuasiveness easily disarmed many of his harshest critics. He was always a popular and well-liked member of the general council even if the colour of his politics weren't.

Gill believed vehemently that the unions were a necessary basis of any radical social change. But he also believed that the Labour Party was central.

"If you cannot win back the (Labour) Party," he said, "then you are certainly not going to be able to start another mass party."

He never relinquished his hobby of cartooning and drew his colleagues during the interminable speeches and discussions at union conferences. They captured the idiosyncrasies of their subjects and they now form a unique archive. The TUC in 2007, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, held an exhibition of his work.

Gill retired as a trade union official in 1992. But this didn't mean withdrawing to a country retreat or taking a seat in the House of Lords. He continued campaigning on radical issues, marching and speaking out against the Iraq war, right up until his illness confined him to his home.

He was particularly keen on promoting solidarity with Cuba. For over a decade, he was chairman of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in Britain and met Fidel Castro on several occasions.

As chairman of the People's Press Printing Society management committee, he was expelled from the Communist Party of Great Britain for defending the Morning Star against the Eurocommunist leadership of the party.

He was later active in formulating the paper's broader appeal.

After his divorce from Tess Gill, in the '80s, he married Norma Bramley, a politically active teacher with whom he lived happily until the end of his life.

It was Norma who cared for Gill during his long battle with cancer, which he met with good humour to the last.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Wen rules out 'G2' proposal

By Cong Mu

In the wake of the debate among scholars and observers as to whether the US and China, the so-called Group of Two (G2), will monopolize world affairs in the future, Premier Wen Jiabao dismissed the claim as groundless Wednesday, seemingly drawing a line under the argument.

"Some say that world affairs will be managed solely by China and the US. I think that view is baseless and wrong," Wen told reporters at the end of a China-EU summit in Prague, according to a Xinhua report.

It is impossible for a couple of countries or a group of big powers to resolve all global issues, Wen said. "Multipolarization and multilateralism represent the larger trend and the will of the people."

China is committed to an independent foreign policy of peace and pursues a mutually-beneficial strategy of opening up, Wen said. "China stands ready to develop friendly relations and cooperation with all countries and it will never seek hegemony."
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU welcomes China's role in tackling major global issues such as the financial crisis, climate change, energy and development, Xinhua reported.

Not seeking hegemony

"Neither politicians nor scholars have given a clear definition to G2, but this time, Wen made clear in the international arena that the notion doesn't include the monopolization of world affairs by the two countries," said Niu Xinchun, a researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR).
"This is helpful to relieve the worries, of the EU and other countries, on China's rise. It is also in line with China's traditional foreign policy – never seeking hegemony," he added.

The notion was invented by some US scholars, including Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Bergsten wrote an article in Foreign Affairs in July, proposing that China and the US should form a 'G2' to share the leadership of the global economy and make China partially take over the status of Europe.

The proposal didn't draw much attention at first, but as the global economic crisis worsened, the notion resurfaced as a hot topic in world politics, with some prominent politicians such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski promoting the idea.

However, many Chinese officials, scholars and Web users dismiss the notion. Outlook Weekly magazine, published by the Xinhua News Agency, rebuffed the idea, as it "would do harm rather than good."

Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, writing on the Newsweek website Wednesday, said Americans were made jittery by China's moves over the past two months, which "could be interpreted as a challenge to the American-led economic and financial order."

"For now, however, China's GDP is still less than half that of America's. It will be some time before Beijing catches up to Washington," Drezner wrote.

"The suggestion of China ruling the world with the US is highly impractical, and such a suggestion will only lead to negative consequences," Niu said. "China has neither the power nor the will to rule the world."

"Sino-US relations are extremely important, but they are not the whole picture," echoed Yang Bojiang, a professor at CICIR, adding that the improper connotation "will mar China's diplomatic relations with the world's major nations, neighboring countries and the developing world."

An online survey of 2,778 participants yesterday on showed that more than 80 percent don't believe the G2 will rule the world, and fewer than 10 percent believe China will take over the current position of the US.

China a responsible player

"Worries over China are unnecessary, as the country has taken actions to show it's a responsible and active player in maintaining a healthy world order. For example, the nation didn't dump its dollar assets during the financial crisis but decided to purchase more US Treasury bonds," Niu said. "Besides, China is active in preventing protectionism."
Greg R. Lawson, a blogger at, wrote, "The US needs China to buy our debt in order to fund our domestic spending habits while they have required us to purchase their exports to maintain high employment so as to avoid political unrest."

Lawson described the Sino-US relationship as "strange and symbiotic" but also the core for "a new global architecture that will keep economic integration from breaking apart due to political contingencies."

"Most of China's recent actions have actually been quite modest in scope" and "do not constitute a real threat to the US; indeed, to the extent that China helps boost the economies of the Pacific Rim, they are contributing a public good," Drezner wrote in his article.

"Some of the stories have been hyped beyond the actual data," he explained. "The doubling of China's gold reserves, for example, does not demonstrate diversification away from the dollar. Since the total value of China's foreign-exchange reserves has increased ten-fold during the same time period, the percentage of its total reserves in gold has fallen to 2 percent. Beijing has actually diversified away from gold."

Guo Qiang also contributed to this story

Friday, 22 May 2009

Young, gifted and red: the Communist party's quiet revolution

World's largest political party has consolidated its iron grip by transforming itself and its relationship with the Chinese public

Tania Branigan in Beijing, Wednesday 20 May 2009 22.00 BST

Jerry, a bright undergraduate, has been trying to join for three years. Hope, pursuing a philosophy doctorate, dreams of changing society. Tina just wanted a job.

These young, well-educated, cosmopolitan women are the new face of the Communist party: an institution popularly regarded abroad as ageing, male and moribund.

It's become commonplace to contrast China's economic revolution with its lack of democratic progress. Since the bloody suppression of 1989's student protests, political reform appears to have stalled.

Last week, in posthumously released secret memoirs, Zhao Ziyang – the reformist leader ousted due to that movement – warned that China must move towards western-style democracy.

But the party's number two, Wu Bangguo, ruled that out this spring. Censorship is increasingly sophisticated. A groundbreaking intellectual call for reforms, Charter 08, gained thousands of signatures and was quashed; five months on, one of its authors, Liu Xiaobo, remains in detention. Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer, gave a detailed account of torture by the authorities. Now he has simply disappeared.

But behind this apparent stasis lies a more complex tale: of an evolving party that has consolidated its iron grip precisely by transforming itself and its relationship with the public.

With more than 74 million members – up from 50 million in the early 1990s – it is the largest political party in the world. There are millionaire members, branches in Wal-Marts and plans to open a branch on the first Chinese space station. Senior cadres remain overwhelmingly male, but there is now a compulsory retirement age and even (very low) quotas for women.

In recent years, it has concentrated on targeting the best and brightest. The party has largely transformed itself "from a mass organisation designed for mass mobilisation and ideological campaigns, into a technocratic leadership corps", said Professor Jeremy Paltiel of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Paltiel, an expert on party membership, said that in the 1980s recruits were looked down on by peers as careerists and probably second-rate students.

Some elite students still consider the party – with its attendant political meetings – boring and irrelevant. But between 30% and 50% apply to join the party. An approval rate of about 5% reinforces the desirability of membership: recruiters seek those with top grades, leadership potential and youthful idealism – albeit feigned in some cases.

To rise through the governmental hierarchy, membership is a must.

But it shines out for other employers, too. The draw was not your ideological purity, explained Tina; more the evidence of your accomplishments.

"To be honest I'm a bit embarrassed," the graceful 24-year-old admitted with a blush, twining a long strand of hair around her finger.

"Other people joined because they wanted to help the party and country … My main reason was because it was very hard to find a job."

Spin and polling

Outwardly, the party remains rigidly ideological; members are drilled in Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Three Represents and current president Hu Jintao's Scientific Development Outlook. Hu has, in fact, stepped up political education – perhaps because of an evident disconnect: to many, what the party really stands for is personal advancement, social stability and national unity.

"There's a difference between believing in Marxism and being a party member," one said drily.

For the last two decades, the party's mission had been to "maintain the brand but change the content", suggested Anne-Marie Brady, associate professor of political science at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Experts have been called in to study political change overseas, culling lessons from New Labour and French and German socialists – and using Gorbachev's reforms as an example of what not to do.

"That learning from the west has been brought back into China and used to maintain and enhance the strength of the current political system," Brady said.

The government has modernised its techniques as well as its cadres.

It is now an assiduous user of opinion polling and sophisticated spin techniques, showing greater responsiveness to public opinion. Unlike its models overseas, it does not require votes: but it needs at least tacit support.

Allowing people more space to challenge the status quo may, in fact, help to perpetuate the system, providing outlets for frustration and dissent – as long as there are no attempts to organise independently; what the party fears most are alternative power structures.

When public outrage becomes widespread and dangerous – over tainted baby milk, for example – authorities often seek to assuage it before stamping it out. Bloggers may be allowed to have their say before the shutters come down. Official heads may roll. New initiatives may be announced.

The demands of Chinese citizens have carved out greater – albeit variable – space to criticise lower-ranking officials or hold them to account, engage in public affairs, debate ideas and take part in an emerging civil society.

Yet lawyers, activists and dissident intellectuals are routinely harassed and threatened. Even parents who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake have been bullied and detained for protesting about shoddily built schools.

"If [people] don't touch the line, they can do a lot of things. But there is a line there," said Hope.

She's a softly spoken, thoughtful young woman, who chooses to meet in an artsy cafe near one of the country's top universities, where as many as two-thirds of her classmates are party members.

Like others, she asks to be identified only by her English nickname. But she is candid about her initial hesitation when invited to join, and her ultimate decision to do so.

"It's easy to be a critic, but then maybe you can't change society. You can do more inside the system than without," she said.

"Students can see its problems, but still think China can do much better under its leadership. They want to go into the system and maybe make a little change. Maybe some people have an underlying motive: more desire for power. But quite a lot really want to do something to change the country."

For most, she thought, a priority was freedom of information and the rule of law; only some wanted multi-party elections.

"Chinese people don't hope to go the western way – but hope for a powerful government to restore social justice," she suggested.

Using the D-word

It is hard to generalise about what a diverse nation of 1.3 billion people without freedom of expression really think; and impossible to know what they might believe without government censorship and propaganda.

But the Asian Barometer study of political attitudes, the most comprehensive to date, came up with some surprising findings. In mainland China, 53.8% believed a democratic system was preferable.

Then came the kicker. Asked how democratic it is now, on a scale of one to 10, the Chinese placed their nation at 7.22 – third in Asia and well ahead of Japan, the Philippines and South Korea.

"Chinese political culture makes people understand democracy in a different way, and this gives the regime much manipulating space," concluded Dr Tianjin Shi.

To the confusion of some western observers, Hu's speech to the last party congress used the D-word more than 60 times.

"They would like to talk about democracy with Chinese characteristics. My problem is that no one really can offer a definition of what that is," said Dr Yawei Liu of the Carter Centre's China Programme, which works with Chinese officials to improve elections and civic education.

"If you look at civic activism, what's taking place in cyberspace and what's going on in 600,000 villages in China [with grassroots elections] they all seem to indicate there's still a push from the top and most importantly from the bottom to expand political reform … The problem is how grassroots efforts could be elevated to a higher level and whether the leadership has the wisdom and courage to move forward with an agenda."

Since the mushrooming and then suppression of the Tiananmen democracy protests amid a split between reformists and conservatives, China's leaders have concluded that cracks at the top can only lead to disaster.

Maintaining consensus – at least in public – has been central to their operation. If anyone is pushing for major reform, it is not evident.

Hundreds of millions in China already go to the polls to choose low-level representatives. But efforts to promote and expand village elections – widely lauded in the 1990s – appear to have stalled.

Recent experiments, such as the use of deliberative democracy in setting budgets and awarding a greater say in the selection of local party secretaries, offer clues to possible routes towards or alternatives to a multi-party system. Yet so far, they stand alone.

Optimists suggest that economic rights lead inevitably to greater hunger for political freedom. But others fear that capitalism has created vested interests that entrench the system.

Professor Sun Liping, a sociologist at Tsinghua University – and the doctoral supervisor of vice-president and heir apparent Xi Jinping – warned earlier this year that China's greatest danger was not social instability, as authorities say, but instead "social decay", with rising inequality and alienation.

"The fundamental cause … is the marriage between political power and capitalism," he wrote.

"The two have joined hands in China … We thought power would be constrained in a market economy. But we have now seen that power has acquired higher value and greater space for exertion."

If you can't beat 'em

"The economy is improving, society is improving but there is no improvement in elections," complained Yao Lifa. He could be the mirror image of Tina and Hope: a 50-year-old, largely self-educated man from the provinces who tried to beat 'em, not join 'em.

He began competing for a seat in his local people's congress in Hubei in 1987, when the election law was first promulgated. After 12 years of harassment and dogged campaigning as an independent candidate, he won. Later he was turfed out again. He has been detained on "at least" 10 occasions, often for promoting voting rights.

The elections are fake, he argues, because the system can't tolerate genuine democratic contests.

"The law only states that people have the right to vote; there are no rules to protect this right. When your right to vote is harmed, you can't even set up a case in the court," he said.

"But there is no reason to say western democracy does not fit China. Chinese authorities say people's education level is too low and our economy is still not developed. But how was the economic and educational situation in the west hundreds of years ago?"

How many compatriots share his views is another matter.

People in China complain bitterly about official corruption, inefficiency and brutality. But – as the government reminds them – multi-party elections do not guarantee good governance or stability. After decades of turmoil, many seem willing to settle for a quiet life and economic wellbeing – at least for now. There's little sign that the current economic downturn is leading to widespread social unrest – still less open opposition to the government.

"Basically, I think they're doing a very good job," Tina said earnestly.

"China's so big, but it's not wealthy. The leadership have helped it develop fast. I looked at the G20 meeting in London and felt kind of proud of the government; foreign countries really hope that China can help.

"Maybe other people think oh, China, there's no freedom. But it's not easy to make everything perfect."

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Just the sort of place the BNP loves

Daniel Trilling
Published 21 May 2009
New Statesman

Stoke is a town in decline and it is in declining towns that the far right is taking hold. Daniel Trilling reports from the English Midlands

‘‘They’re a bunch of robbin’ bastards and I’m not voting for any of them,” spits a passer-by in his fifties, in typically blunt Midlands fashion. Sheltering from the rain in the porch of a defunct Woolworths in Hanley, the main retail district of Stoke-on-Trent, anti-racism campaigners are doggedly trying to convince Saturday morning shoppers to vote in the imminent European elections. They are one of many local groups across the UK taking part in Hope Not Hate, a drive to keep the British National Party from gaining a seat – and several hundred thousand pounds of funding – in the European Parliament on 4 June. Thanks to the unfolding MPs’ expenses scandal in Westminster, the campaigners’ task has just got a lot harder.

“This has come at exactly the wrong moment for us – people are now saying they won’t vote at all,” says Olwen Hamer, chair of the North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, which is run by a handful of committed – and, right now, soaking wet – volunteers. Fringe parties such as the BNP benefit from a low turnout; in the West Midlands region, of which Stoke is a part, the far-right party needs only 11 per cent of the vote to win a seat. Voters, who are lukewarm towards European elections at the best of times, now express an unprecedented anger at the political system.

The BNP sees this as an opportunity to expand its support, with a campaign slogan inviting the electorate to “punish the pigs” (an irony, considering the well-documented track record of corruption among the party’s councillors). Its leader, Nick Griffin, may boast about the BNP being about to go mainstream, but in reality it remains tiny, having attracted fewer than 200,000 votes in the 2005 general election. Stoke, however, provides the strongest example of how the party, which is desperate to hide its roots in racist violence and appear respectable, has become adept at exploiting apathy. Nine BNP members sit on the city council; Griffin describes it as his party’s “jewel in the crown”.

While the media and politicians have had their eyes trained on Islamic extremism during the past decade, the far right has consolidated its position in local politics. Peter Hain, the former Labour minister and veteran anti-apartheid campaigner, confirms this. “It’s crept up on everybody. It’s been very evident for a number of years that the BNP have got a serious strategy for establishing a platform for racist and fascist politics in suits. People in the mainstream parties, with the odd exception, have tended to be very complacent about that.”

Received wisdom says that the BNP does well in deprived former industrial areas, capitalising on the prejudices and frustration of the white working class. Stoke would appear to fit the bill. The city, a conurbation with a population of 250,000, was once supported by ceramics and coal mining (“pots and pits”, as it’s known locally). The pits were killed off in the 1980s – people here still talk about the miners’ strike as if it were yesterday – and the pots have been depleted by overseas competitors. Now, the landscape is dotted with the towers of derelict bottle kilns and factories. Sandy McLatchi, an unemployed pottery worker, tells me that racism is endemic in Stoke, mainly directed against the city’s 9,000 inhabitants of Asian descent, many of whom moved here in the 1960s. “The city is split and completely insular, each town is like a tribe of its own, and the culture lends itself very well to the BNP. They don’t like outsiders here.”

The local MP, Mark Fisher, is a rebellious Labour backbencher and former arts minister who has represented Stoke Central since 1983. When we meet, I ask if his constituency has been badly hit by the recession; he half-jokes that it has never recovered from the last one. Unemployment has been high since the 1980s and manufacturing jobs have been replaced by service industry jobs that come and go with the fluctuations of the financial markets.

But this tells only part of the story. I suggest voters in towns like Stoke are angry at the expenses scandal not because of the sums involved, but because it is yet more evidence that Westminster politicians think of themselves as a class apart, deserving of a lifestyle comparable to that of bankers and “wealth creators”. He agrees: “We’ve got a new class of politicians who are

careerists. MPs are younger now, they come straight from university to being a research assistant to becoming a candidate to becoming an MP. Everyone wants to be a minister.”

Meanwhile grass-roots support for mainstream parties has declined as ordinary people feel increasingly cut off from politics. This is particularly true in Labour’s case, where membership has plummeted from over 400,000 in 1997 to well under 200,000. The collapse is keenly felt in Stoke, which has been dominated by the Labour Party for decades. Effective opposition from the two other main parties is non-existent – the Conservative party branch is rumoured to have as few as 17 members.

Fisher points to two factors that have increased the rate of decay: Margaret Thatcher’s reform of local government, which transferred more power to Westminster, and New Labour’s enthusiasm for elected mayors, which he derides as a Blairite gimmick.

“I never felt that Blair had anything except the most superficial media-grabbing interest in elected mayors. He was never interested in local government; he didn’t understand the checks and balances that it requires.”

As a result, Stoke has a political culture that wouldn’t look out of place on The Wire. I wanted to speak to the mayor, Mark Meredith, but he has been charged with corruption and is on bail, along with Roger Ibbs, the former leader of the council’s Conservatives, and Mo Chaudry, a swimming pool owner who once appeared on Channel 4’s reality show The Secret Millionaire. On 8 May, the local government minister John Healey intervened with a series of measures intended to repair the “damaged” council.

It is in this context that the BNP has stepped in to fill a gap. Its activists have attracted votes in council wards neglected by other parties, in many cases by offering to cut residents’ lawns or collect their rubbish.

Alby Walker, the owner of a small joinery firm, and his wife, Ellie, are councillors in the Abbey Green ward of the city and candidates for the European Parliament. The BNP is hoping voters will find them the acceptable face of the far right. Sitting in their shared council office, calmly extolling the virtues of hard work, they could pass for run-of-the-mill Tory councillors, were it not for the wall plastered with far-right propaganda (“People like you – voting BNP”) and anti-Muslim headlines torn from the Sun and Daily Express newspapers.

Alby chooses his words carefully (“Oswald Mosley? Who’s that, Daniel?”), insisting that accusations of racism are slurs against the BNP. Ellie is less adept at staying on-message. Last year, interviewed on local television, she described herself as “racialist but not a racist”. Yet even Alby admits that when he first became a councillor, three years ago, “I didn’t fully understand the role. I’d just got the political ideology.”

The BNP’s ideology, he insists, is nationalist, rather than racist or fascist. But it is a nationalism based on race – only white people have the right to be British. Any non-whites, even if their families have lived here for generations, “can never be British, they are guests of Britain”.

The atmosphere in the wider community is more openly sinister. Mohammed Khan, a taxi driver whose parents migrated from Pakistan in the 1970s, tells me there are parts of the city he won’t visit for fear of being attacked. And the anti-racism campaigners I met speak of a pervasive atmosphere of intimidation. Black-suited bodyguards accompany BNP councillors on election platforms and fraternise with police at demonstrations. An often-used tactic for sowing disharmony is for a BNP activist to turn up at a pub and befriend regulars by talking about football, before moving on to untrue stories about preferential treatment for foreigners.

Most worrying is the party’s involvement with education. In May 2001, the BNP distributed a leaflet outside Longton High School, a Stoke comprehensive with a large contingent of Asian pupils, that spoke of a “race war” between children. Challenged by journalists from the local newspaper, Michael Coleman, the BNP’s branch secretary, acknowledged the leaflets were racist. He is now a councillor who sits as chair of the children and young people’s overview and scrutiny committee. Since June 2008, he has also been a governor at Longton High.

Ivan Hickman, secretary of the Stoke branch of the National Union of Teachers, confirms that the BNP has been making a determined effort to get its members elected to governing bodies of schools in order to look like a respectable political party. And a shortage of ordinary people willing to take up governors’ posts means that there are plenty of opportunities.

The evidence from Stoke suggests that the far right is being allowed to wrap its tendrils around the roots of democracy, helped by the collapse of public enthusiasm for its institutions. After 12 years in government, Labour can point to various attempts to promote “community cohesion”. But, says Fisher, these have been largely cosmetic. “We’ve done incredible things in

this city. We’ve got 90 new primary schools, a really good Sure Start programme. But that’s not community cohesion. We’ve been good on spending the money, but we’ve been bad at grass-roots politics and empowering people at

a local level.”

Rather than confront the problem, however, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, tells me curtly that her government “has always been building strong communities”. By contrast, her Conservative shadow, Paul Goodman, identifies a need to “focus more rigorously on the extremism that underlies violence”.

Nor is Blears’s view shared by some of her colleagues. Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP who has made a name for himself by fighting the BNP in his Essex constituency, Dagenham, is adamant that, despite the public’s anger at mainstream politics, the BNP need not profit – but only if politicians acknowledge their mistakes.

“Voters have material frustrations around housing and work and take offence that all political parties are preoccupied with Middle England,” he says. “But we are witnessing the biggest anti-fascist mobilisation ever seen – thousands of people are pitching in.

It’s about not resigning ourselves to accepting that they will win.”

Back in Hanley, the sky has cleared a little and the campaigners are attracting a steady stream of people. A youthful organiser of the city’s Gay Pride festival drops by to lend his support. “The BNP try and stop us marching,” he says. “But we take that with a pinch of salt – we don’t care what they think.” Politicians may have written off the city, but its people certainly haven’t. If the left is going to rebuild itself, Stoke-on-Trent wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Tigers leave unfinished business

By Sudha Ramachandran

BANGALORE - In a nationally televised address from parliament on Tuesday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa hailed "a day which is very, very significant - not only to us Sri Lankans but to the entire world", and declared the country "liberated" from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after a 26-year war.

The myth that the LTTE is militarily invincible has now been laid to rest, along with its chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and the entire Tiger top brass.

In a cry for unity, Rajapaksa said, "We must find a homegrown solution to this conflict. That solution should be acceptable to all communities."

And therein lies the rub for a nation that has been torn apart by the years of civil war, with more than 70,000 people killed and thousands displaced in a struggle that pitted the majority Sinhalese against the minority Tamils.

Prabhakaran was said to have been shot dead by the armed forces on Monday morning as he attempted to escape the war zone in a convoy that included an ambulance. On Tuesday Sri Lankan television showed grisly pictures of a body it claimed was Prabhakaran with a massive head wound, suggesting he was not fleeing as the government had said but either shot himself or was shot at point-blank range.

Prabhakaran's death is said to have come shortly after soldiers stumbled on the bodies of several key LTTE leaders, including his son and heir-apparent Charles Antony, LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman, naval chief Soosai, the head of the political wing Balasingham Nadesan, and the head of the defunct peace secretariat, Seevaratnam Puleedevan.

A day earlier, the LTTE's chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, conceded defeat in a statement on Tamilnet. The LTTE was silencing its guns, Pathmanathan said.

With the death of Prabhakaran and the defeat of the LTTE, a momentous chapter in Sri Lanka's history has come to an end. Fifty-four-year old Prabhakaran was no ordinary guerrilla leader. A military genius and a brilliant strategist, Prabhakaran transformed the LTTE from a ragtag band of boys into a formidable fighting force that was able to stand and confront armies far better equipped than his own.

Until two years ago, the LTTE controlled almost a third of Sri Lankan territory. It ran a parallel administration in parts of this territory, one that included legal courts, a police force, a tax system, even a bank. The LTTE had a powerful army, a navy and even a nascent air wing. It is the only insurgent organization in the world to have possessed and used aircraft of its own.

The LTTE survived over three decades. Skillful maneuvering out of tight corners, even reaching out to one enemy to get rid of another, was responsible in part for its survival. That skill, however, was finally exhausted.

From July 2007, the LTTE began losing territory, first in the east and then the north. Its political headquarters, Killinochchi, fell to the armed forces in January this year. Then it lost the strategic Elephant Pass, and following that Mullaitivu, its military stronghold. The Tigers were restricted to a shrinking sliver of territory on the east coast over the past month. They lost that over the weekend.

Throughout the past year, the LTTE appealed to the international community to intervene. It hoped that parties and politicians in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu would put pressure on the Indian government to bail it out and that the plight of civilians would prompt India, the West and aid agencies to push for a ceasefire. But all these attempts to pull itself out of a corner came to nothing.

The Tiger chief has often been described as a cat with nine lives, having escaped capture and assassination attempts several times. Even a month ago, the Sri Lankan army chief admitted his troops had missed capturing him "by a whisker". On Monday, Prabhakaran's luck finally ran out.

But it isn't luck, or rather the lack of it, that is responsible for the defeat of the LTTE. Several factors contributed to bringing about its decline in recent years.

One is the hostile international environment that all non-state actors engaging in armed struggle encountered after the terror attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

Already tagged with the terrorist label by several countries, the LTTE's global fundraising, its front organizations and the logistical network came under immense pressure. The impact of a split in the LTTE in 2004 was even more devastating, with the breakaway faction under its former eastern commander, "Colonel Karuna", joining hands with the government in the military operations against the LTTE.

And then in 2005 Rajapaksa became president. A hardliner, his orders to the armed forces were unambiguous: they were to fight the LTTE not to merely weaken it but to defeat it, to "finish it off" once and for all. And that was what the military, better equipped than ever before, set out to do.

However, the seeds of the LTTE's destruction lay in the organization itself, in decisions that would come back to bite it in subsequent years.

Its decision to assassinate former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu 1991 was perhaps its biggest blunder. That killing not only earned the LTTE the terrorist label from India, but also made India a permanent enemy. Its support base in Tamil Nadu was eroded and its logistical network dismantled. And worse, it had to contend thereafter with a robust military cooperation and other links between Delhi and Colombo.

Another blunder was its misreading of the potential of the 2002 ceasefire and the talks that followed. Instead of seeing this as a chance to reach a settlement of the conflict, the LTTE saw it as an opportunity to rearm and regroup. It walked out of the talks and did everything possible to make the peace process fail. The war that followed was disastrous for the Tigers.

It gravely miscalculated when it called on Tamils to boycott the 2005 presidential poll. The impact of that boycott saw Rajapaksa win by a wafer-thin majority. Perhaps it thought that Rajapaksa as president would result in rallying Tamil support around the Tigers. It did not foresee that Rajapaksa would prove to be their nemesis.

The LTTE appears to have believed its own propaganda. It believed it was militarily invincible. Its closing of the sluice gates of Mavil Aru in July 2006, inviting the vastly stronger armed forces to launch an offensive and at a time when international sentiment was not in its favor, can only be described as suicidal.

The LTTE's use of suicide bombings, its intolerance of dissent, the recruitment of children and its utter disregard for human lives severely undermined support from foreign governments. It is proscribed in 32 counties. This contributed to international reluctance to call for a ceasefire as this would have let the Tigers off the hook. When the calls for a ceasefire came eventually, they were too weak, too half-hearted and too late to save the LTTE and its top brass.

The LTTE overestimated itself, even when its military capabilities were waning. It was losing territory and fighters over the past year and should have reverted to guerrilla warfare. In its desperation to hold onto territory and perceiving itself as a conventional army, it fought a defensive war when it lacked the numbers and the firepower for such a strategy. In the circumstances, defeat was inevitable. The LTTE defeated itself.

Prabhakaran was uncompromising in his commitment to the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam. Perhaps too uncompromising for the good of the LTTE or the Tamil people whose interests he claimed to protect.

There were political solutions, like the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 that provided the Tamils with a measure of autonomy. But such solutions Prabhakaran rejected as inadequate as they provided for "less than Tamil Eelam". Prabhakaran preferred returning to the battlefield time and again, uncaring of the large number of Tamils who were getting killed in the bloody wars. Over 70,000 people are said to have died in the 25-year-long insurgency. This might have been avoided had Prabhakaran been realistic and seriously explored a political solution.

The LTTE no longer exists as a military organization and its military assets and capabilities have been destroyed. But the LTTE is defeated, not dead. Several Tigers would have escaped the armed forces and they will be thirsting for revenge.

Both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have declared the war over. But the ethnic conflict is not over yet. The grievances of the Tamils, and their alienation and anger that gave rise to militancy and organizations like the LTTE in the first place, remain unresolved. The issues that kept the insurgency alive for three decades are very much alive.

The irony of Prabhakaran and the LTTE is that even as they strengthened the bargaining position of Tamils, they were simultaneously the biggest obstacle in the path of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

With Prabhakaran's exit, Tamil obstruction to a negotiated settlement has been removed. But the obstacles to this among Sinhalese - Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists, the military and Rajapaksa's hardline regime - continue to exist and have emerged stronger from the war.

If and when Rajapaksa opens negotiations with the Tamils, the latter will be in a weak position, weakened not only by the absence of the LTTE but also undermined by it. The LTTE systematically decimated a generation of Tamil moderate leaders and intellectuals. The input of people like Neelan Tiruchelvam and Ketesh Loganathan, intellectuals who were assassinated by the LTTE for daring to differ with its methods, will be sorely missed.

The LTTE, which waged a war ostensibly to protect Tamils, has left them more vulnerable than ever before.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A 'perfect storm' for the BNP to make gains in the European elections?

The BNP could win as many as seven seats in next month's European elections. Nigel Farndale watches its supporters in action.

Nigel Farndale
Last Updated: 9:47AM BST 17 May 2009

When you contact the British National Party you cross over to the political dark side, a shadowy world over which neither Gordon Brown nor David Cameron hold dominion. There is paranoia behind the voice telling me that I, as a member of the press, will be allowed to attend the launch of the BNP's European election manifesto, but that I will not be told where or when it is, not until a few hours beforehand. I will also have the chance to interview Nick Griffin, the BNP leader but, again, the timing of this will remain vague for fear of "sabotage".

So it is that I find myself at a "redirection point", the Aldi carpark in Grays, Essex, from where I will be taken on to the secret venue. A "Truth Truck" is being unveiled, its billboard showing a white family, all smiles, and a slogan: "People like you voting BNP". The none-too-subtle subtext is that the BNP is not for "people like them": black people, people from ethnic minorities, immigrants. Almost immediately, the police arrive. There has been a complaint from the manager of Aldi. The Truth Truck is covered up and moved on.

The venue turns out to be a theatre in the town, a 10-minute walk away. Men and women with red, white and blue BNP rosettes are milling around outside, quite openly. One wears a smart tie and blazer with the insignia of the Merchant Navy. It reminds you that when details of the 10,000 or so members of the BNP were leaked last year, some turned out to be retired policemen, ex-servicemen, solicitors, teachers, even a ballerina – as well as all the white van men and nightclub bouncers you might expect.

There are no protesters today, thanks presumably to the secrecy. Councillor Robert Bailey, an ex-Royal Marine, is the BNP candidate for London. "Most of us are ex-Labour," he tells me. "The Labour Party used to stand for what we believe in. Now, no way. It's not just immigration that has changed; it's our way of life. We're becoming a Third World country in Europe with no influence, no power and the people not knowing anything about their own history."

When I talk to other members, they don't want me to use their names. Is this because they are ashamed? "No, it's because of the intimidation and threats. Because we might lose our jobs." A retired man in a trilby tells me that, according to YouGov, many of the people who are intending to vote BNP on June 4 won't say they are for that same reason, but in the anonymity of the polling booth the true scale of BNP support will be revealed.

Worryingly, he may be right. It is predicted that the BNP may win not only its first seat in the European Parliament but, because of the proportional representation system of voting, as many as seven. To win in the North-West it needs just 8 per cent of the vote, barely 1.5 per cent more than it got in 2004. Griffin is calling it a "perfect storm". He believes that the combined effects of the credit crunch, the perceived lack of control over immigration and, most significantly, the perception that all of the mainstream parties are corrupt – thanks to the MPs' expenses scandal – will mean a big turn-out for the BNP. "Journalists are going to say it was a protest vote: well, that is fine with us," he tells me later in the day. "The British public have a lot to protest about."

The Conservative Party is so concerned about the BNP benefiting from the expenses scandal that it won't even discuss the party by name for fear of giving it publicity; in one of his few comments on the subject David Cameron has dismissed the BNP as an "evil party". Lord Tebbit's intervention last week was not helpful: he argued that people should punish the main parties in the European elections, though he was at pains to add that he did not mean vote BNP (he meant Ukip, presumably).

Labour, meanwhile, has gone on the attack, mobilising at local level wherever there is a sign of heavy BNP activity. National funding has been provided for "Stop the BNP" leafleting. Cabinet ministers have been warning disillusioned Labour supporters not to vote BNP. They would rather they voted Tory.

That is the peculiar thing about the BNP: it seems to be an amalgam of extreme Left and Right. Its policies include taking Britain out of the EU, deporting all illegal immigrants (and offering legal immigrants money to return home), and bringing back not only hanging and the birch but also National Service and imperial measurements.

Yet it is also, fundamentally, Old Labour. It would take the railways back into public ownership. It rejects globalisation. It believes in strong trade unions and that as much of industry as possible should be owned by those who work in it. In these respects it reminds you that Oswald Mosley left the Labour Party in 1931 to form the party that ultimately became the British Union of Fascists because Labour had rejected his plan to defeat mass unemployment with a programme of public investment. It is no coincidence that campaign leaflets in white working-class areas describe the BNP as "the Labour Party your grandfathers voted for".

Before she will talk to me, one BNP rosette-wearing woman from Epping Forest, who works for the NHS, wants to know who I will vote for. When I decline to tell her, other than to say it is certainly not the BNP, she takes this in good part and tells me the reason she votes BNP. She is worried that if Turkey is allowed to join the EU, Muslims will be in a majority here within 20 years. "They are going to take us like an army. It's the way they breed." They. Them. Always the language of otherness, of fear.

Inside the theatre, Vera Lynn is playing over the sound system. I'm asked not to mention this because she has complained about being used by the BNP in the past. There are speakers and film clips which reveal that the BNP is proud of its new call centre and the row of computers it calls its data processing unit. A suited man who sounds like Charles Kennedy explains the finances of the party and claims that it now has funds of £2million and that "this will send a shiver up the spine of the main parties". It will be contesting every region in this upcoming election. Simon Darby, the deputy leader, refers to "the greedy, lying, treacherous bunch of swine in Troughminster".

But the theatre is only half full, with about 100 people, and there is an amateurish feel to the presentation, with slides not coming up and sound systems not working. There is also a propaganda stunt worthy of Maoist China. Three "politicians", wearing suits, pig masks and rosettes of the main parties, come on the stage and guzzle money out of troughs, before being chased off the stage by construction workers waving banners saying "British jobs for British workers". This is the slogan the BNP is fighting on –one they had first, as they are delighted to remind me. Gordon Brown, they claim, nicked it from the BNP.

By now the leader is running half an hour late. This, I discover later, is because he has been interviewed by Andrew Neil on The Daily Politics in London. "First time I've been allowed into a BBC studio," he is to tell me. "When I was interviewed by Paxman I had to be filmed somewhere other than in the building."

When Griffin arrives and makes his stump speech it is in front of a poster of a Spitfire. He is greeted with a standing ovation. "We are not going to Brussels to get our noses in the trough but to become whistle blowers about the corruption there," he says. "We are going to throw some rusty spanners in the works."

Although it wants to leave the EU ultimately, for now, he says, the BNP will oppose the entry of Turkey into the EU – because otherwise this country will be flooded with "low-wage Muslims". Someone behind me shouts "Never!" and is rebuked by the Charles Kennedy sound-alike in front of me who turns and silences him with a finger to his lips. Clearly they have been told to tone down the thuggish image for this conference.

Grotesquely, given the British were fighting the Nazis in the war, Griffin compares June 4 to D-Day, a chance for the BNP to get a bridgehead into Europe. And he ends his speech by giving a Churchillian two-finger salute.

It is time to meet. The Labour leader has something other than a slogan in common with the leader of the BNP. They both have a glass eye. I think Julie Burchill's description of Griffin takes some beating. "To look at, he's like a plain man who is halfway through eating a handsome one; to listen to, sometimes he sounds sensible, sometimes completely mad. I've never seen a face so asymmetrical as Mr Griffin's. You can actually see his Mr Nice/Mr Nasty sides jostling each other for dominance."

He is 50 this year, married to a nurse, and the father of four. They live in a remote part of rural Wales with guard dogs and security cameras. His father, a farmer and Tory councillor, met his mother while heckling a Communist Party meeting in north London in 1948. When everyone else has gone, apart from his bodyguards, we wander into the town to find a café. When he offers me a coffee, he says: "With milk? Not white coffee. Can't say that." He is wearing a tiny metal poppy in his lapel – the British Legion sign – and cufflinks that have a griffin on them, the crest of Downing College, Cambridge, where he read law.

I tell him that most of the activists I have talked to seemed more concerned with race than the BNP's official slogan. "The British jobs for British workers slogan has become a way to openly and legitimately express concern about the multicultural transformation of Britain," he says. "And that is the core of our vote, the reason we are here."

When Griffin became leader in 1999 he began to change the BNP's stance on racial issues. He claims to have repudiated racism now, instead espousing what he calls "ethno-nationalism". But the fact remains that in 1998 he was convicted for incitement to racial hatred for denying the Holocaust. More recently he was acquitted on two charges of incitement to racial hatred against Muslims, after describing Islam as "vicious" and "wicked".

When he refers to "low-paid Muslims entering Britain from Turkey", he is presumably, I suggest, blowing a dog whistle to potential supporters who are racist. "No, we're talking about Turkey because there is a serious plan afoot by our liberal elite to give 80 million Turks the right to come here. Their culture is very different to ours; we find some of their culture thoroughly unpleasant. Giving them the right to come and settle in Britain is a huge issue. I think if British people really understood that was one of the consequences of our membership of the EU, then I think you would find that 95 per cent of the population of this country would want us to leave the EU. It wouldn't just be the native Brits; it would be the Sikhs, the Hindus, the Christian West Indians, even the moderate Muslims not wanting to be part of an Islamic state."

So he accepts there is such a thing as a moderate Muslim? "There is, and he is effectively a bad Muslim because Islam is fundamentally intolerant of all other religions. Someone who really follows the Koran is obliged to be a bad neighbour; that is what the Koran tells them."

The BNP's "People like you" whites-only billboard, I ask: does it mean that if you are black you are meant to think you are one of "them" and therefore you don't belong in this country? "I'd never thought of that billboard in a racial sense. What that is portraying is ordinary, happy, family people and not strange people on the fringes of society. Now there may well be people from ethnic minorities who would like to feature on our poster because they don't want to see any more immigration either, but we think it would send out a confusing and mixed message if we had black faces on that poster – because people would think even the BNP is politically correct these days."

He claims his is not a racist party, yet he won't have black or ethnic members: isn't that as good a definition of racism as any? "It could change but at present, because the BNP is defined ethnically, any discrimination against the BNP is indirect racial discrimination, so members who feel their job is threatened because of the membership can say to their employers if you sack me I will go to a tribunal for racial discrimination."

Under a European law? "Yes, funnily enough. The other thing is that every other ethnic group in this country has a large number of groups representing their interests – the Black Police Officers Association, Muslim Lawyers Association, Bangladeshi Women's Association – there are hundreds of them. You try and form an English Lawyers Association and you would be thrown off the Bar Council, or a White Policeman's Association: you would be up for racism. So the only group that the white, indigenous population of this country has to speak up for them is us."

If he doesn't think he is racist, I say, I'd like to know what his definition of racism is. "It's a term invented by Trotsky to demonise political opponents and, if it means anything, it is about exercising power to disadvantage or hurt other people just because they are from a different racial or national or cultural group, and I think it is wrong. I think there is racism in this country and most of it is directed at the indigenous population. On the streets of Birmingham and Bradford there is an epidemic of racist violence against young white males."

There are probably a lot of racist people in this country, so might there not be some votes in admitting it is a racist party? "I don't think so. We almost put on our poster 'BNP. I'm not racist but ...' because that is what everyone says. They don't want to be perceived as racist, they don't feel they are racist but they know there is deep unfairness going on, directed against the native Brits. There are racists out there. The National Front is still out there and that is a rival organisation; it's very much unreconstructed, hardcore racist and no one supports it. But even if there were votes to be had in racism I would not want those votes because we are not a racist party."

Is that why he left the National Front? "I realised it was unreconstructable. Tainted goods. I walked away."

Griffin has become a skilful interviewee. He has learnt to sound reasonable, arguing that any racist or anti-Semitic quotes from the past have been "taken out of context". (He now accepts that millions of Jews were killed, but claims that some historians still question whether it was deliberate genocide.)

I gather that over the next three weeks the party will be running ad campaigns in newspapers – something it has not been able to do much of in the past. "Last time we did this was two years ago; half the papers said yes, half said no. There are more this time saying yes because newspapers need the money."

So does he feel he is now coming in from the cold? "We patently aren't more mainstream. There are politicians queueing up to denounce us. You can usually cut the atmosphere with a knife when our councillors arrive on the first day [they have 56] but after a year or so, when other councillors see that we are just trying to help things improve, they relax a bit. I wouldn't want to be too normalised, though, because I think that is what has happened to Ukip's vote. It's seen to be sleazy as well. When they are treated well by the BBC, that goes against them, because we are both competing for the same anti-establishment vote. When I get on the BBC, they want to rough me up and we have a good old ding-dong and voters realise we are not the same as the others. Very beneficial for us. But we do want to do some of the things the other parties do, like hold a meeting in a public venue and advertise it, like go on The Daily Politics without having a gang of Labour goons waiting for me outside."

Sounds like he enjoys the ding-dongs. "Yes, I boxed at university and I still enjoy a good scrap."

A bodyguard tells us we need to move: we're attracting unwanted attention. A final question, then. What about the argument that Griffin is a liability to his party because of his Holocaust-denying past? "Because of my talent for horrifically vicious sound bites that come back to bite me, you mean? That's as maybe. I can probably take the party to an 18 per cent threshold but the final step to power will have to be taken by someone else. Before long things that nationalists said when they were young may become like John Reid saying he was a member of the Communist Party when he was young."

I doubt it. Griffin doesn't seem to appreciate quite how beyond the pale he is and his views are. The British are a tolerant people. The cloven hoof of fascism does not suit our national temperament. I've been trying to work out how the BNP is different from the National Front of the Seventies and the British Union of Fascists in the Thirties and the answer is that it is now playing the victim. The white working class it represents felt superior before. Now they feel inferior and victimised.

The final word should go to the black man who was working on reception at the theatre. I asked him what he made of all these rosette-wearing supporters strutting around his theatre. He shrugged and said: "Seems a shame."

A shame is exactly what it seems.