Sunday, 27 February 2011

On Not Blogging

It's been a fortnight since I last sat down in front of my computer and wrote something for this here blog. And, if I'm honest, I don't know when my next foray into topical commentary is going to be. For three and a bit years I have blogged continuously. On days I didn't write a post I was invariably thinking about doing one. Throughout that time it was as if an opinionated coal was burning in the centre of my brain, and that coal was the fuel for hundreds of posts about nearly every topic under the sun. And now, I'm afraid to say, I think it's gone out.

Instead of feeling a desire to mouth off I just want to spend some of my free time reading books and following what other bloggers have to say. In other words, I have rediscovered the pleasures of not blogging. So, I think it's time for an extended break similar to the one I had in 2007. I could finally get round to using my time for papers I've been meaning to write but failing to deliver for a long time. I might also start penning that novel.

But I can't see myself staying away forever. Accusations of selling out, of orientating to 'useless layers', of being a stooge for the Labour Party's regional office, all this exercises a pull no one could resist indefinitely. So I'm going to retire to my sofa with a cuppa and a selection of other bourgeois comforts for a wee while knowing I'll be back for another stint.

See you in the next blog post, whenever that will be.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Slowing Down

Unfortunately I'm going to have to slow down my rate of posting for the foreseeable future. I've been working since mid-November and after increasing my hours I am finding it very difficult to summon the time and motivation to keep abreast of everything that's going on and come up with something half-decent to write. Now I'm moving into a period where my political and trade union activity will be ramping up I can't justify spending most nights churning out my bits 'n' bobs.

But for those who think I've betrayed my class by joining Labour, or imagine I spend my time plotting the return of the elected mayoral system in Stoke-on-Trent, I'm sorry to say I ain't giving up completely. As the blog downshifts into a more sedate pace of life hopefully I can take my time and offer up smarter, better, and deeper posts. There is, for instance, still the
series on Gramsci to polish off - a series that has never lent itself well to knocking out something in 90 minutes. And there are plenty of debates about socialist strategy still to be had, theoretical issues to be addressed, historical developments to be commented on, and a constantly mutating popular culture to be critiqued.

I may not be able to respond to recently broken stories or whatever crap in the
Daily Mail has outraged the Twitterati that morning, but with a dash of luck and a bit of effort I'll be able to weave some Hegelian magic and manage the tricky passage from quantity to quality.

"Better fewer, but better", one of the Old Beards once said. Fewer? Yes. But better? We shall see.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Labour's Policy Review

As readers will doubtless be aware, Labour has instigated a two year root and branch review of party democracy and policy. This hasn't gone down well with everyone as there's a general unease that Labour have little to say while the Tories and LibDems launch the most vicious attack on working class people since the 1980s. Nevertheless the policy review offers an opportunity for the party as a whole to reflect on 13 years of government and, more importantly for the left, allows us to agitate for the kind of party and politics we need. The 'fresh ideas' website (okay, not the best of names) is available here.

As part of the policy process around 50 members of North Staffordshire CLPs met at the
Unity building in Hanley a week last Saturday to kick it off locally. In an interesting departure from the labour movement practices I'm most familiar with, there was a top table but it didn't dominate the afternoon's discussion.

After a brief introduction by West Midlands MEP Michael Cashman, Stoke South MP Rob Flello provided us a bit of context. He said the current political situation was marked mainly by anger toward the "too fast, too deep" cuts. It also seemed as if the Tories were becoming emboldened by each cuts announcement, driving them to make ever more outrageous and damaging proposals. But because of the callous and devastating nature of the attacks "our people" face the Labour party does not have the luxury of time. They cannot afford to have the party out of power for a generation, therefore we need to learn the lessons of 13 years of government now to prepare us for victory at the next election.

To this end every member of the shadow cabinet is heading up a section of the policy review. The party as a whole needs to hear members ideas on how to grow the economy and strengthen society, and how more power can be devolved into the hands of the people themselves. This extended dialogue with and between members has to examine previous mistakes. In Rob's opinion, Labour were wrong to tilt the economy in finance's direction. It was also wrong to appear overly technocratic and push through policies that struck out people's basic senses of self security. Labour must recognise people were working harder than ever but had little extra to show for it. And the party was too blasé about people's alienation from the policy making process and politics generally. That said, there were successes too - but these are now in the Coalition's firing line. If the Tories are successful in carrying through their programme, the next Labour government will inherit a weaker society, a low growth economy, and a divided country.

After Rob's talk, we split into breakout sessions. We were all issued with copies of the review booklet, which formed the basis of the subsequent discussion (it is hoped members will fill it out with their policy preferences, suggestions, ideas etc.). Our table spent the next hour or so discussing the economy, communities and party structure.

On the economy, the overall theme was on the need to provide an alternative to Tory economic strategy (in as far as it exists - it appears little more than cutting and hoping for the best). Nation-wide issues got a good airing - opposition to privatisation, media support for cuts, the lessons of the 1930s, strategies for 're-balancing' the economy, and the promotion of advanced manufacturing and "new industries". Locally, we looked at how Tory-run Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council had frittered away funding surpluses and reserves on council tax freezes, the lessons of pottery firms who who didn't outsource their manufacturing but had stuck it out in Stoke-on-Trent with some degree of success, and the level of local business rates.

On communities there was a consensus around giving greater powers to local authorities, a need for them to access the sorts of expertise available to government, time to build up their own stores of knowledge (over 25 years of continuous attacks on local government have seen a stripping out of specialist knowledge and an increasing dependency on costly consultancies), and strike a better relationship between local and parliamentary representatives.

In the last section on party structures, we visited the much-mooted
Movement for Change (the David Miiband/Jon Cruddas brainchild aiming to rebuild Labour as a community-based organisation), the need to stop treating the unions as a piggybank, ways of promoting trade unionism, creating and atmosphere and implementing a strategy for recruiting more union activists to the party,and generally taking them more seriously as a source of policy generation. They should not be locked under the stairs like an embarrassing relative.

The tables then fed back into general contributions from the floor. Issues that came up were the role of trade unions, the hidden costs of the cuts, the assault on the NHS, the leadership's track record of distrusting local government, abolishing Trident, the need for a strong party identity, efforts to improve communication within the party, and a 'new narrative' with radicalism and idealism at its heart.

Returning to the top table, Rob Flello reiterated some of his earlier points and spoke of areas where Labour had delivered locally - the first new hospital since the 19th century, Surestart centres, more police, and a regeneration process finally beginning to bear fruit. He also added that, in response to some criticisms made of the LibDems, Nick Clegg was being used as the handy human shield for Tory policies. Labour should not fall for the strategy concocted by Number 10 and concentrate its critical fire on the main enemy.

Tristram Hunt (who has subsequently been appointed a parliamentary private secretary with special responsibility for the policy review) said our starting point has to be the loss last May. He said Labour has to take the South East so it can deliver in its heartlands. But that doesn't mean we should eschew creativity or radical ideas. While we got things wrong Labour needs to be forward thinking and realise the battlefield of 2015 - assuming the Coalition lasts - will be different from the one we're fighting on now. The policy review is our chance to be creative and forge a new vision for Labour.

Wrapping up, Michael Cashman added that even though Labour lost in 2010, the party as a whole didn't feel defeated. Far from it, if anything the defeat and the Coalition government had invigorated the membership.

Of course, there will be comrades reading this who believe the policy review won't change a thing. And after 16 years of New Labour authoritarianism, who can blame them for thinking this way? But cynicism is no substitute for analysis, and I think there are two reasons for cautious optimism.

Firstly, if members take it up in large numbers the upwelling of ideas from below cannot be ignored - especially as Ed Miliband's position in the party isn't entirely secure. The leadership have therefore created an opening through which they can be pressured. It would be completely daft for the left not to take this up. And second, the exercise should not purely be seen in terms of getting better policies in the next manifesto. To mangle Bernstein, the process is everything, the end nothing. The review is an opportunity for party members to talk and debate among themselves. It gives us an opportunity to examine not just the lessons of the New Labour era but critically reflect on the history of Labourism as a whole. In the parlance of Leninist politics, Labour has committed itself to becoming a 'cadre school' for members and activists. And with a growing mass membership of a clear social democratic colouration, socialists need to be fully part of the process.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

New Left Blogs

Here are the clutch of new left blogs that have crossed my desk this month. Enjoy!

1.
.Zeitgizzed (Australia - Unaligned)
2.
Clare Short (Unaligned)
3.
Cllr Steve Reed (Labour)
4.
Clydebank Trades Union Council (TUC)
5.
Collective Resistance (Unaligned) (Twitter)
6.
Dr Matthew Ashton's Politics Blog (Unaligned) (Twitter)
7.
Exposing the EDL (Unaligned/Anti-Fascist) (Twitter)
8.
Glasgow Against Education Cuts (Unaligned/Anti-Cuts)
9.
Latent Existence (Unaligned)
10.
Little Miss Wilde's World (Unaligned) (Twitter)
11.
Network X (Unaligned/Anarchist)
12.
Passing Nightmare (Unaligned) (Twitter)
13.
People Before Profit Mid-Ulster (Ireland - People Before Profit) (Twitter)
14.
Radical Dandy (Unaligned/Anti-Cuts) (Twitter)
15.
Shabogan Graffiti (Unaligned) (Twitter)
16.
Small Nation (Unaligned)
17.
Socialist Doctor (Unaligned) (Twitter)
18.
Student Theory (Unaligned)
19.
The Opinionated Northerner (Labour) (Twitter)
20.
The Radical Left (Unaligned)
21.
Thought Things (Unaligned) (Twitter)
22.
To Future Humans (Unaligned)
23.
Tunisia Scenario (Tunisia - Unaligned)
24.
What Would Clement Do? (Labour)
25.
WilliamBowles.info (Unaligned/Anti-Imperialist)

That's your lot for January/February. If you know of any new blogs a year or less old and haven't been featured before, drop me a line via email, the comments or on
Twitter. The new blog round up is posted on the first Sunday of every month.

Go See This Play

Nottingham. Home of Rock City, Robin Hood, and The Pink Windmill Show. And now a subject of a play by local boy and all-round good egg, Daniel Hoffman-Gill. Our Style is Legendary is about growing up in the grim surroundings of 1980s Nottingham - a place that made the contemporary Stoke-on-Trent look like boom town Beijing. Maybe. More details are available on the dedicated blog, or simply scroll down to view the flyer.





Statement of the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt

The statement below was first posted on Socialist Unity by johng here. The Revolutionary Socialists are a current unaligned with any international tendency but are influenced by and have friendly relations with the SWP's International Socialist Tendency. For an overview of how they have related to the thorny issue of the Muslim Brotherhood, see here. And John Rees of Counterfire has recently returned from Tahrir Square in Cairo - you can view his talk here.

Statement of the Revolutionary Socialists Egypt:

Glory to the martyrs! Victory to the revolution!


What is happening today is the largest popular revolution in the history of our country and of the entire Arab world. The sacrifice of our martyrs has built our revolution and we have broken through all the barriers of fear. We will not back down until the criminal ‘leaders’ and their criminal system is destroyed.

Call to Egyptian workers. Statement from the Revolutionary Socialists, Egypt:

The demonstrations and protests have played a key role in igniting and continuing our revolution. Now we need the workers. They can seal the fate of the regime. Not only by participating in the demonstrations, but by organising a general strike in all the vital industries and large corporations.

The regime can afford to wait out the sit-ins and demonstrations for days and weeks, but it cannot last beyond a few hours if workers use strikes as a weapon. Strike on the railways, on public transport, the airports and large industrial companies! Egyptian Workers! On behalf of the rebellious youth, and on behalf of the blood of our martyrs, join the ranks of the revolution, use your power and victory will be ours!

Form revolutionary councils urgently.

This revolution has surpassed our greatest expectations. Nobody expected to see these numbers. Nobody expected that Egyptians would be this brave in the face of the police. Nobody can say that we did not force the dictator to retreat. Nobody can say that a transformation did not happen in Middan el Tahrir.

What we need right now is to push for the socio-economic demands as part of our demands, so that the person sitting in his home knows that we fighting for their right. We need to organize ourselves into popular committees which elects its higher councils democratically, and from below. These councils must form a higher council which includes delegates of all the tendencies. We must elect a higher council of people who represent us, and in whom we trust. We call for the formation of popular councils in Middan Tahrir, and in all the cities of Egypt.

Statement of the Revolutionary Socialists, Egypt, on the role of the army:

Everyone asks: Is the Army with the people or against them?
The army is not a single block. The interests of soldiers and junior officers are the same as the interests of the masses. But the senior officers are Mubarak’s men, chosen carefully to protect his regime of corruption, wealth and tyranny. It is an integral part of the system.

This army is no longer the people’s army. This army is not the one which defeated the Zionist enemy in October 73. This army is closely associated with America and Israel. Its role is to protect Israel, not the people. Yes we want to win the soldiers of the revolution. But we must not be fooled by slogans that ‘the army is on our side’. The army will either suppress the demonstrations directly, or by restructuring the police to play this role.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Daily Mail Caught Distorting MPs' Expenses

If you dipped into the pages of The Daily Mail yesterday, you might have caught this story about MPs' expenses. As you might expect they've all got their noses in the trough again, according to the anonymous reporter who threw the piece together. Despite being on a hefty salary, we're told Stoke North MP Joan Walley claimed £4.95 for a map of the constituency she's been representing for 24 years. Sheryll Murray had the nerve to claim for 20p parking costs outside a surgery. And, most relevant to my interests, my local MP - Tristram Hunt - claimed 4p for 'travel within the constituency'.

Read that again. 4p. Four pence. 4% of one pound. Claimed by someone on £65,738/year.

It's an outrage!

Now, I wouldn't believe
The Mail if it told me I was on fire, so I checked the story out for myself. And what a surprise. At best you could describe the 4p claim a deliberate distortion. At worst, it's an outright lie.

The 4p was part of a *breakdown* of mileage claimed by a member of staff from the Stoke Central constituency office. It works like this. If a meeting has been arranged with someone around the corner before a surgery at the other end of the constituency, instead of claiming for the total mileage of the trip the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority rules state this should be treated as two separate journeys.
This is exactly what happened here. In fact, I believe the total claim was something in the region of 20-odd quid.

So there you have it.
The Daily Mail have massively distorted a non-story in a rather desperate attempt to cash in on anti-politics cynicism. Seeing the 4p bit of their feature is complete bollocks, what's the betting the rest of it is little more than a colourful interpretation of the facts?

Friday, 4 February 2011

PR Against AV

The Labour No2AV campaign launched today and thought I'd reproduce the below piece from their site while I muck around writing another blog post.

Socialism is, among other things, about organising society along democratic lines. In the here and now that means favouring more democratic systems of governance so the state becomes more amenable to the pressures and aspirations stemming from below. This is the reason why I favour the proportional representation generally and the single transferable vote in particular (see
here). The first pass the post system we have now has the distinction of having only one voting system worse than it from this standpoint. And that is the system we're having a referendum on on May 5th.

What about Proportional Representation

It is important to remember this referendum is about the Alternative Vote system. NO to AV does not take an official position on proportional representation.

Some of our supporters back PR – such as Labour MP Margaret Hodge – while others prefer the current system.

There are strong principled arguments for and against PR, and it’s a debate worth having. The Alternative Vote, however, is a step backward rather than a step forward.

AV combines the weaknesses of both systems; it is less proportional than First Past the Post, and AV ensures that the BNP will gain more votes and more legitimacy, while not giving any help to small parties like the Green Party.

Before it became the principal financial and logistical backer of the Yes to AV campaign, the Electoral Reform Society (who were previously called the Proportional Representational Society) said of AV:

"AV is thus not a proportional system, and can in fact be more disproportional than FPTP... It does very little to improve the voice of traditionally under-represented groups in parliament, strengthening the dominance of the 'central' viewpoint."

This is the wrong referendum at the wrong time, and risks saddling the UK with a system that even the supporters of the Yes2AV Campaign don't want.

Nick Clegg has acknowledged that there won't be another change in the voting system in the foreseeable future, saying:

"you can't constantly ask people. Referendums have a fairly definitive feel to them...I wouldn't be expecting another one."

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Cooperative Councils?

It's not very often this blog features material from Progress, but the post reproduced below from last Friday is very interesting. As readers may or may not be aware, Lambeth Council is embarking on an experiment to become Britain's first 'cooperative council'. It certainly sounds worthy but whether such an ambitious plan like this can be delivered in the context of £37m worth of cuts and an increasingly gloomy economic situation remains to be seen. In other words, if Lambeth communities are going to suffer in terms of fewer local government jobs and the decline of businesses that depend on them, you've got to question where the resources are going to come from to fund some of these mutualised schemes.

Nevertheless while socialists should approach the experiment with a critical eye, no doubt many valuable lessons are about to be learned on creating more participatory and democratic forms of local governance. '
Lambeth Launches the Cooperative Council' is by Council Leader Steve Reed.

NB: Readers interested in a critical Marxist appreciation of cooperatives would do well to consult Arthur Bough's
blog posts on the subject.

...

Today Lambeth council launches plans that detail how we will become Britain's first cooperative council. So why are we doing it, what difference will people see, and are there wider lessons for Labour politics?

Public services in Britain have reached a tipping point. They are under attack from a rightwing government that wants to marketise services using, where possible, the language of empowerment to mask what they are up to. But public services are also under threat from falling public confidence which, if it is not addressed, will create the space the right needs to implement large-scale privatisation. Falling confidence in services as different as the health service and the police, despite massive investment in recent years, arises from a sense of disempowerment and remoteness people feel in the face of top-down public services that owe their shape to the Beveridge-inspired postwar settlement. To give public services a sustainable future we need to combat that loss of confidence by handing more power to individuals and communities as part of a rebalanced settlement between the citizen and the state. In handing more power to the people we can expect public services to change dramatically as they shift to meet people's real needs.

That's the theory and the purpose, and we explored it in detail through Lambeth's Cooperative Council Commission. The Commission consulted with over 3,000 Lambeth residents and heard from over 50 organisations nationally that have experience in delivering services in ways that put the users rather than the providers in control. But people want to know what difference they will see, so here is some of what we plan to do.

Youth services will be run by the community using a model called ‘community-led commissioning'. That involves the council supporting communities to decide what kind of youth services will best meet their needs, then helping them buy the appropriate services from whoever is best able to provide them. Sometimes that will mean community involvement in delivering the services - such as running groups or activities. Sometimes the services will be delivered by qualified professionals or voluntary organisations, depending on the needs the community identifies.

Adults receiving care services will have more control of their own budgets, and some buildings - such as Lambeth's Disability Resource Centre - will be transferred to mutual ownership including service users. That means people who are supported by services including home helps, respite care, day centres or support for disabled people to live independently at home, will decide what help they need and where they get it from using their own personalised care budget. They will be offered professional guidance to take their decisions, but the key is that the people using the services will be in control of their own lives instead of finding themselves under the control of others.

Lambeth will encourage local schools to become cooperative trusts, forming strong bonds with the local community and other schools in the area. This gives the local community a bigger say over how the school is run, and it creates communities of schools that can share or pool resources so children at each school benefit.

We are exploring putting all our libraries into a trust owned and run by the local community. This model works well in the borough of Queens, New York, where the foundation library attracts outside investment and provides services that better meet the needs of local people. Any libraries that have to close because of government funding cuts will be offered to the community as a standalone mutual or trust.

There are a range of different models for cooperative housing, which makes up a tiny fraction of the housing market in the UK compared with other countries including Germany, Sweden and Canada. The options range from tenant-managed estates where ownership remains with the council, through to shared equity models where the housing is owned by a company in which every resident owns a share. This model allows mixed-income communities to develop where people on lower incomes can own shares in their own home without running the risk of defaulting on a mortgage if their income suddenly collapses as, in that case, they can simply reduce their monthly equity purchase rather than lose their home. Lambeth's estates will be able to choose which housing model best suits them.

Local communities will be encouraged to develop neighbourhood micro-plans and to help take decisions over how their share of the council's overall budget is spent in their area. The council will make sure that all parts of local communities are listened to so the plan isn't run in the interests of only one part of the community.

Residents will be encouraged to take part in shaping or running local services through a Lambeth Cooperative Incentive Scheme. This will take the form of credits that people can use for discounts in local shops, for local leisure or sports facilities, or as a council-tax discount. To make sure the money is spent locally, any credits will be awarded in a new local electronic currency, building on the success of the Brixton Pound that already operates in the borough and is the UK's only local currency in an urban area.

What's clear from this small sample of services is that the model operates quite differently in different services but the principles of empowerment and cooperation remain the same. Local communities and the people who use services will be in the driving seat instead of the people who deliver those services. In this way services will become more accountable to local people, and more responsive to local need. By allowing people to exercise more choice we expect both better services and higher levels of confidence in those services. This transformation offers a radical new vision of what Labour local government can become by supporting the development of cooperative communities.

There are similarities with some of the rhetoric of the ‘big society'. That is inevitable because the Tories are deliberately stealing Labour's language to mask their cuts agenda. It is imperative that Labour reclaims that language and shows what empowerment really means. A quick look at Tory councils like Barnet or Suffolk shows that while they talk about empowerment all they're really doing is privatising services and dumping unprofitable services on communities ill-equipped to manage them. The Tories want to roll back the state, while Labour's task is to change the role of the state by putting it under the control of local people. That is true empowerment. It offers us the chance to rebuild confidence in public services while making a reality of that long-held rallying cry of progressive politics: power to the people.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Egypt: Revolution, Democracy, and Stability

As I write hundreds of thousands of people have poured into Tahrir Square in Cairo to demand the resignation of the increasingly beleaguered and pathetic-looking Hosni Mubarak. When a people have lost their fear there are few things more wretched than a tyrant clinging on to power while it crumbles away beneath his grip. With over a million out on the streets across Egypt and a pledge by the army not to intervene, surely even Mubarak has to realise the writing's on the wall. Things just cannot carry on as they are. With mass mobilisations, an army refusing to follow presidential orders, a general strike crippling the country, and international calls for him to step down in the name of stability, something has got to give. If the army aren't backing the regime the only social forces with a direct interest in the dictatorship - big business, police (both overt and secret) and other dependents of the security apparatus - appear to lack the weight necessary to drown the uprisings in blood.

Unsurprisingly there has been some talk of what comes next. Assuming Mubarak and his regime are swept away by the end of the week (protesters have given him until Friday to leave power), who will fill the vacuum? While there are reports of the formation of neighbourhood committees, a development ironically spurred on by the random violence of National Democratic Party thugs, we are not in a situation of dual power. Yet. As the movement continues to grow and the labour movement revives off the back of strike action, these community defence organisations could put on more flesh as they organise to meet food shortages and make up for the collapse of local governance. Clearly for the revolution to assume a socialist colouration leftists on the ground will likely be doing everything they can to participate in them and encourage their development further.

All this represents a massive headache for the US and the main European powers. They neither want Egypt to fall to the Muslim Brotherhood in a latter day repeat of the 1979 Iranian revolution (which doesn't look all that likely anyway given the character of the protests so far and a
certain reluctance by the Brothers to get stuck into recent social struggles). Nor a prolongation of the stand off between the Mubarak regime and the people. The more it carries on, the greater the likelihood of civil war and/or the return of the spectre manifesting itself in embryo in the neighbourhood committees.

Egypt is, of course, home of the strategically crucial Suez Canal. An Egypt opposed to Western interests, be it Islamist, nationalist or, (dare we say it?) socialist, would represent a major defeat of their geopolitical strategy as it would restrict access to Middle Eastern oil and the markets of India, China, and South East Asia. I imagine there's been a few sleepless nights at the US State Department.

Amid much handwringing and the semi-ritualised "Egypt's government is a matter for the Egyptian people" (an oft-quoted principle that got stuck down the memory hole in the lead up to the Iraq war),
Hillary Clinton and Alistair Burt have been singing from the same hymn sheet. They of course "deplore" the violence and call for the return of stability.

It's stability that's the key here. Political revolutions against corrupt and authoritarian regimes are not a rare occurrence in the era of declining American hegemony. They come with the geopolitical territory. Provided they're relatively quick and don't challenge US and Western interests, the State Department has learned to live with them (how different it was before the collapse of the USSR). But the longer the Egyptian uprising goes on, the more worried the US will be. This is why it is very keen to encourage an "orderly transition" from the
ancien regime to some form of democratic governance.

One of the key lessons the global ruling class have learned is liberal democracy remains the best and most stable forms of government for the continued rule of capital. Over a century's experience in its heartlands has demonstrated its effectiveness incorporating and blunting radical challenges to the prevailing order. In Western Europe and North America liberal democracy in the post-war period has more or less successfully contained religious, regional, racial, and class contradictions. Dictatorships on the other hand are very brittle. They're good for a short sharp fix, like seeing off mass communist parties or other undesirables, but ultimately instability will return to haunt them. This maybe a reality the US has learned to live with, but it is also one they'd rather do without. Hence Western powers' warm words about democracy and human rights aren't just ideological window dressing for resource and market grabs in the developing world. They're also about propagating the political, institutional, and cultural underpinnings that can sustain the rule of capital over the long term.

With this in mind, it's perhaps a little bit more than coincidence that a lot of media attention has been showered on Mohamed ElBaradei (
this report is typical of the coverage). Of all the leaders of the domestic opposition ElBaradei is a known quantity to North American and European foreign ministries. As a former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and recipient of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, he is a safe pair of hands. And his intransigence in the face of the US case for Iraqi WMD is a boon for those who wish him to oversee a transitional government. Despite making his career outside Egypt, that episode demonstrates he's no American puppet.

ElBaradei however appears to have few supporters in Egypt - there is no social movement as such with which his name is associated. The 'National Association for Change' of which he is head has a minimum
programme for democratic change but is itself an umbrella organisation set up by various opposition leaders and civil society actors. He is therefore a figurehead nominated by social movement organisations and parties rather than a leader in his own right. That said this could be his strength in any post-Mubarak carve-up. Without a firm base of his own he could be seen as a neutral figure above existing and emerging political factions. Ahead of presidential elections his person is the perfect stop gap acceptable to Islamists, liberals, and sections of the left.

While the importance of ElBaradei to a slow transition scenario (outlined
here) is obvious, I very much doubt the revolution will accept nothing less than Mubarak's resignation with immediate effect followed by the formation of a provisional government. That outcome, which seems most likely at the moment, could still see the West-friendly ElBaradei play the role outlined above.

After Egypt the question is whether revolution will spread. Given the pivotal cultural and economic position Egypt occupies in the Arab world it's hard to see how it cannot. North Africa and the Middle East are almost exclusively ruled by dictators and self-styled monarchs, and frustration and anger from below is in anything but short supply.
Some have taken action to head revolution off at the pass. Others are sitting and waiting to see if the fire catches their countries. It will also be interesting to see if it spreads northwards into a European Union being forced fed a diet of unnecessary and ideological cuts. This isn't to say the likes of Ireland, Greece and Britain are staring revolution in the face. But I would be very surprised if numbers taking to the EU's streets aren't swelled by hundreds of thousands inspired and encouraged by the scenes from Suez, Alexandria, and Cairo.