Opinion

Ken and Barry Go Off

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Who will miss the trade unions' lousiest right wing double act?

So, off you go then Ken and Barry, quite possibly the lousiest double act ever to have trodden the boards. Mercifully yanked off stage by the great umbrella handle of history. All that's left is to look forward to your villas in Marbella, your bolthole of choice. The rather flustered-looking stage manager, Mr Blair, will no doubt be hoping that the rest of us put the miserable duo to the back of our minds ASAP.

The Recession Strikes Back

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Chris Harman wonders whatever happened to the US economy's 'new paradigm'.

Some people lose valued possessions. Some people lose their memories. But it is not often that people lose an economic crisis. Yet this is what happened to many mainstream economic commentators a few months ago. Now they have found it again, and some are absolutely terrified.

Travelling Lite

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Holidays promise imagined places but only give us the familiar.

The postcards have started arriving--and it's incredible how similar they look to the covers of holiday brochures. The single palm bending slightly over a coconut or two, the still lake with snow peaks standing out against a blue, almost cloudless sky. Or there are the views of cathedrals, monuments and museums--the Amsterdam Van Gogh, the Louvre, the Bilbao Guggenheim. The bizarre thing is how close these views are to what we see on the endless holiday programmes where bronzed TV newsreaders take a holiday in the Bahamas and try very hard to look as though it's hard work.

The Great Firewall of China

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The Guardian has been running a series investigating the extent to which our lives are recorded and analysed (see www.guardian.co.uk/bigbrother/privacy).

Of particular interest is the capabilities of governments and companies to view and read e-mails, and to log websites visited. Several e-mails have asked about the hushmail e-mail account I use for this column. Well, www.hushmail.com offers a free e-mail service with the ability to encrypt and protect your e-mails so that they can't be read.

Public Money, Private Grief

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Will the last privatisation fiasco please turn off the lights?

For how much longer, one wonders, can New Labour cling to its fixation with privatisation? In the last year alone we have had two really spectacular disasters--with Railtrack steaming off into oblivion and the part-privatisation of National Air Traffic Services taking a nosedive within weeks of taking off. But we have also watched incredulously a whole procession of PFI calamities, of which a Capita-inspired cock-up over the vetting of teachers and a complete balls-up over A-level results are but two examples in the past few weeks.

Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game

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Watching the world cup was a game of two halves.

As I watched the England-Denmark game, my daughter asked me why I was so 'anti-English'. Another friend looked at me in that 'you miserable killjoy' sort of way, and reminded me that it was just a game, and the whole thing was pretty harmless. And I have watched the games, and enjoyed them. But I don't think it's quite that simple.

Down and Out in Havana

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Is Cuba free from capitalism? Chris Harman looks at the novels of a writer who does not think so.

Sometimes a novel can engross and repel you at the same time. Certainly that's what happened to me with Pedro Juan Gutiérrez's 'Anclado en Tierra de Nada' ('Anchored to the Land of Nothing')--the first part of his 'Dirty Havana' trilogy.

It repelled me because it belongs to the genre of what might be called 'lower depths' fiction. This wallows in the dirt, squalor, drunkenness and mechanical, dehumanised sexuality of those who live on the margins of society, where the artistic petty bourgeois merges with the lumpenproletariat.

Blair's Paranoid Androids

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New Labour stooges appear to be incapable of winning a trade union election.

Something of a pattern appears to have been emerging in recent elections for the top positions in key unions. For an organisation which feigns indifference to anything which might be going on in such supposedly obsolescent realms, New Labour has developed a fixation with the outcome of these votes bordering on the paranoid. In the process, it has resorted to a degree of trickery worthy of old Uncle Joe.

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