Politics & Current Affairs

James McClean: Resisting the Poppy Fascists

james mcclean ireland photo

Wigan Athletic winger and Irish international, James McClean, has released a statement – in the form of an open letter to his club chairman – explaining why he won’t be wearing a poppy during this year’s 100th anniversary of WW1.

He writes:

Dear Mr Whelan

I wanted to write to you before talking about this face to face and explain my reasons for not wearing a poppy on my shirt for the game at Bolton.

I have complete respect for those who fought and died in both World Wars – many I know were Irish-born. I have been told that your own Grandfather Paddy Whelan, from Tipperary, was one of those.

I mourn their deaths like every other decent person and if the Poppy was a symbol only for the lost souls of World War I and II I would wear one.

I want to make that 100% clear .You must understand this.

But the Poppy is used to remember victims of other conflicts since 1945 and this is where the problem starts for me.

For people from the North of Ireland such as myself, and specifically those in Derry, scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, the poppy has come to mean something very different. Please understand, Mr Whelan, that when you come from Creggan like myself or the Bogside, Brandywell or the majority of places in Derry, every person still lives in the shadow of one of the darkest days in Ireland’s history – even if like me you were born nearly 20 years after the event. It is just a part of who we are, ingrained into us from birth.

Mr Whelan, for me to wear a poppy would be as much a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles – and Bloody Sunday especially – as I have in the past been accused of disrespecting the victims of WWI and WWII.

It would be seen as an act of disrespect to those people; to my people.

I am not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past. I am a peaceful guy, I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs which I respect and ask for people to respect mine in return. Since last year, I am a father and I want my daughter to grow up in a peaceful world, like any parent.

I am very proud of where I come from and I just cannot do something that I believe is wrong. In life, if you’re a man you should stand up for what you believe in.

I know you may not agree with my feelings but I hope very much that you understand my reasons.

As the owner of the club I am proud to play for, I believe I owe both you and the club’s supporters this explanation.

Yours sincerely,

James McClean

The man should be commended. Not only for an action that is brave, principled and honest but for one that contains a degree of risk; both to himself and his career. Unthinking soldier worship and poppy fascism are now disturbing aspects of the collective British psyche; it’s a courageous or reckless individual who bucks the trend of this particular brand of what is now almost mass hysteria.

The poppy and Remembrance commemorations – along with the hideously mawkish Help for Heroes – have been hi-jacked by politicians intent on equating the imperial bloodbath of WW1 with a noble sense of patriotism and duty; all the better to justify current and future wars. As with so much of British history, or rather establishment propaganda, these things are really about the present and the future; not the past.

The cynical usurping of the poppy’s original symbolism – peace, end to imperialist killing etc – for purposes of justifying the government’s appalling murder-fests elsewhere around the globe is truly repellent.

It is now utterly tainted and beyond redemption as any kind of worthwhile symbol.

Just try explaining to someone why you don’t wear one to find out exactly what that means. Try being a TV presenter who refuses to wear one. Try even wearing a white poppy and explaining why…

Sadly, it is rarely worn by its supporters to commemorate working-class canon fodder who died in an ugly and immoral dust-up between capitalist powers, scrapping over markets and territory. No, it’s an expression of militarist jingoism. They’ll tell you they’re honouring the ‘fallen’ who died so that we might be free. In reality, armed forces are usually the enemies of freedom. As James McClean clearly understands; as did the invaded and subjugated millions who suffered under the jackboots of the British Empire. The same British Army went into Tonypandy ready to shoot striking miners on Churchill’s orders. They rolled their tanks down the streets of Glasgow, prepared to crush the resistance of their own people. In reality we owe our freedom to those who opposed the state’s armed might – the suffragettes, the Chartists and the Tolpudlle Martyrs, to name but three.

It’s a depressing truth that we can’t wear a poppy and have people immediately know that we feel WW1 was futile and that every single dead soldier was a wasted life. Their deaths meant nothing, achieved nothing and changed nothing.

Remembrance Sunday is offensive not least because it paints an entirely false and dishonest picture; that those who died did so for ‘their country’ and that that’s somehow noble. It isn’t. It’s the Big Lie.

If we wore poppies and held Remembrance Day parades to apologise to those slaughtered, if such events were collective acts of penance and regret for the sheer pointless waste of human life, for industrial-scale mass-sacrifice on the alter of selfish economic gain, then they would be truly worthy.

But they aren’t. The whole sickening jamboree is a carnival of dishonesty, hypocrisy and reaction. We should play no part in legitimising that. We should not be complicit in brainwashing future generations. We should reject absolutely that invading and then perishing in foreign lands, purely to further US-Brit geopolitical interests and control of other’s resources, is a worthwhile and moral objective.

harry patch

Politics & Current Affairs

Never Again


You parade those poppies with unthinking zeal,
Knowing nothing of how we feel.
We, the unseen and now untouched,
Who bought their lies and paid so much.
We, the dead, are always here
And we awake this time every year.
To watch with sadness and dismay
The flowers placed where we lay.
And still their lies are bought and sold
And still you keep doing what you’re told.
“Support our boys,” They say you must,
But They are unworthy of your trust.
Their poppy fascism seeks to make
A noble case for all they take.
The Afghan bleeds when he’s shot
And never asked for what he got.
The Iraqi, too, bleeds when cut
And her child’s blood spills from his gut.
Commemorate us not by lies and hate,
Make a stand; it’s not too late.
Do not kill or die for the boss,
Their profits are not worth the loss,
Of a single life for a blood-stained Crown,
Instead, burn their palaces to the ground.
Repay us best, erase our stain,
Say and mean ‘Never Again.’


Culture Politics & Current Affairs

All That is Solid

Phil BCeditfinalAll That is Solid is one of the left’s most widely-read blogs. It’s the baby of Phil Burton-Cartledge, former aid to Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt.

As well as managing the aforementioned blog, the good Doctor also lectures at Derby University.

In recent weeks he’s penned a very positive review of my book, which you can read here and last night he published an interview I did for his site, which was a lot of fun. You can read that here.

I’d recommend Phil’s blog to anyone interested in politics, current affairs and related matters with a sociological twist.

Culture Politics & Current Affairs

Way Beyond (The Sea)

clacton pic

Nursing home piss and jerking knees
Retired colonels feeling pleased
Johnny Foreigner just got told
Essex masses’ fool’s gold
Flocking, flooding over ‘ere
Send the message loud and clear
Carswell’s smug he just won
Him wot won it not The Sun
Xenophobic Eurosceptic
Noxious creed long turned septic
“Bongo bongo land” was such a laugh
Howler, clanger followed gaffe
But it’s not funny anymore
For non-white faces or the poor
Or the working toiling class
Turkeys queuing up for Christmas
Ed, you and yours can take the blame
You ought to die from burning shame
Oh what a lovely place to be
Welcome to toxic Clacton-on-Sea

Politics & Current Affairs

‘Touts Will Be Shot’


It is believed that the deaths yesterday of three high-ranking commanders of Hamas’s military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, were facilitated by intelligence given to Israel by Palestinian spies inside Gaza.

The trio are Raed Attar, imprisoned for five years by Israel and who, Israeli intelligence sources claim, was the mastermind behind Hamas’s tunnel network, as well as overseeing the operation that led to the 2006 capture of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Abu Shamala, South Gaza Military Operations Commander and Mohammed Barhoum, a senior quartermaster and finance chief.

US news agencies also report that the targeted strikes killed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades Commander-in-Chief, Mohammed Deif. While Hamas have yet to confirm this, it is known that Deif’s wife and baby son perished in the attack.

In response Hamas has executed a number of people in retaliation for allegedly spying for Israel. Twenty-one suspected informers were executed in three batches with a Hamas spokesman stating that “The same punishment will be imposed soon on others.”

A press release issued in the name of the ‘Palestinian Resistance’ said the executed were “collaborators who betrayed their religion and sold their people and land for a cheap price, and achieved many missions for the enemy”.

As with much surrounding the conflict, these events have been liberally seasoned with predictable cant and double-standards.

Hamas has been condemned in Western media outlets and by various human rights organisations yet many of these same organisations have remained silent on Israel’s extra-judicial murders.

It would be naïve to automatically assume Hamas has ensured a strict application of due process and natural justice for the accused spies, prior to their executions, and should such be the case, then the organisation will be in contravention of the relevant international statutes governing conduct during times of war. That said, the New York Times quotes a Hamas official saying, “The judiciary procedures and measures were completed against the accused.” However, much of the outrage is focused on the executions themselves, as much as the presumed absence of fair trials for the accused.

Palestinian law provides for the execution of spies and traitors, in much the same way as many states around the world. The Geneva Convention allows the execution of spies as do The Hague Convention and the International Criminal Court. All of which state that non-uniformed combatants engaged in espionage shall not be treated as prisoners of war and may be prosecuted by the country against which they are spying. This can include the death sentence for those convicted.

Regarding any abuse of due process, one can only wonder at Israeli and Western bourgeois hypocrisy. After all, if true, Hamas is merely emulating the governments of Israel, the UK and USA. Extra-judicial killings, rendition flights, torture and detention without even charge, never mind trial, at Guantanamo Bay, all appear to be perfectly acceptable.

Interestingly, Israel’s use of Palestinian collaborators is widely known to rely on extreme pressure and blackmail. Which in itself is a serious breach of Article 82(b)(XV) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which explicitly proscribes, “… compelling the nationals of a hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country.”

All the above aside, the issue, in essence, can be reduced, yet again, to oppressors insisting that those who they oppress follow rules advantageous to their oppressors. Israel and its Western allies aren’t satisfied with occupation, murder and imprisonment of the Palestinian people; they even want to dictate how the Palestinians resist.

Under the circumstances, there is only one rule that should morally inform Palestinian resistance and that can be summed up by the following slogan – By Any Means Necessary. If that means, to borrow an old Irish Republican slogan, that touts will be shot, then so be it.

Culture Politics & Current Affairs

Darkness, Darkness

photo 1One of the more enjoyable aspects of the promo work for my book, earlier this year, was crossing paths with other writers whose work I admire. One such was John Harvey. Connoisseurs of British crime fiction will know Harvey well, of course. In a lengthy and impressive career, taking in poetry, broadcasting and much else, John is, perhaps, most celebrated for his creation Detective Charlie Resnick, the Nottingham-based copper,  who I can’t help thinking of as the English John Rebus.

I met John in May when he was speaking at Waterstone’s in Nottingham about his final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness. I’d held a signing there myself, a couple of weeks previously, and the Events Manager, knowing of my fandom, generously furnished me with some tickets for John’s event.  Mr. Harvey was a delight; witty, engaging and interesting. The event was pretty much sold out and he fielded a variety of questions from the punters before concluding with a long queue of eager readers clutching copies of Darkness, Darkness to be signed.

My publisher, Ross Bradshaw, the Managing Editor of Five Leaves Publications (and, more recently, the proprietor of the thoroughly excellent independent and radical Five Leaves Bookshop) has had a long professional relationship with John. When the two did a couple of additional promo events in the County, Ross very kindly had John sign me a shiny 1st edition of Resnick’s last case and his dedication very kindly references my own book; a great honour!

photo 2Of both personal and professional interest to me, the book is set during the miners’ strike, thirty years ago. The research is first-rate and John conveys an authentic and accurate flavour of the times. That said I was amused when Ross observed, “It’s not often I can say that I changed the course of literary history, but after I read a proof copy of John Harvey’s book I emailed him to say he had got a small but important detail of the aftermath of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire wrong and that he was not as conversant with the history of the local Robin Hood Railway Line as he could have been.

John received the comments on the last day it was possible to make changes, and, rather than responding “nobody likes a smart-arse, especially one who knows about trains”, he was able to get the publisher to make the changes. There we have it then, another novel saved from sin… or at least two small sentences amended that perhaps nobody else would have noticed, but still.”

It falls to me, then, to point out that both John and Ross still managed to miss a couple of things. Firstly, no Notts strikers marched back to work behind a brass band, with the Area firmly under the control of the scabs. And secondly, John cites the Area as having twenty-five pits; it actually had twenty-seven, at the time of the strike, with a further four workshops, making a total of thirty-one NUM Branches.

Neither of which detracts from what is a superb swansong for Charlie Resnick. Nuanced, rich and beautifully evocative, Darkness, Darkness is easily among the finest British crime novels published this year. Highly recommend.

Life Politics & Current Affairs

Black Dog

black dog

Following the death of Robin Williams, it’s been truly moving to see the outpouring of compassion, empathy and understanding with regard to depression.

I clearly underestimated the well-informed nature and generosity of spirit of the average person in the street.

Which is nice because now we can all look forward to an immediate cessation of the attacks on and sanctions of ‘benefit scroungers’ suffering from exactly the same condition, right?

Politics & Current Affairs

Israel: You Only Sing When You’re Winning


They say you should never meet your heroes. As a man in his forty-seventh year, I reckon I’m a little long in the tooth and too world-weary to have heroes anyway.

Having said that, there are those who once were but are now simply people I admire and respect. Usually for the integrity, honesty and high-quality of their work. Mainly writers – both fiction and non-fiction writers – and would include people like Mick Wall, Seumas Milne, John Harvey and David Pratt. To name just a few. Some of these I’m proud to call close friends and their work and their friendship enriches my life.

Charles Shaar Murray, who I won’t insult by introducing here, is also someone who I’ve grown to hugely respect. Obviously the man’s work is an important part of our cultural landscape and is as innovative and influential as anything by, say, Lester Bangs and, for the most part, superior to that of most of his contemporaries. Certainly enough there for a writer to admire and respect.

However, there is a further reason. CSM consistently displays great humanity on wider social and political questions. A Jew himself, he consistently defends the Palestinian cause and has been principled and consistent in his unsparing critiques of Israel.

It was, then, as disappointing as it was disgusting to see the man insulted to a particularly appalling degree by none other than Nick Cohen.

Cohen has certainly been no hero of mine and his previous makes it a cast-iron certainty that he never will. His bizarre insistence that the left is anti-Semitic, his support for the invasion of Iraq and his US apologia place him in a political space somewhere to the right of Blairite fundamentalists. Which, as you might have noticed, isn’t really how I roll.

Even so, to brand CSM a “… fascist-loving fucker” during a Facebook exchange, earlier today, was unworthy even of the red-baiting Islamophobic Cohen.

On one level, it’s just Facebook though, right? Not a medium renowned for inculcating sober and reflective contemplation of weighty geopolitical issues. On the other hand, however, Cohen’s outburst is typical of the increasingly hysterical denunciations meted out to those who oppose the brutality, immorality and illegality of the Zionist terror state. They’re desperate to make Jews synonymous with Israel; ergo any criticism of the latter is de facto anti-Semitism. Look no further than the Zionist outrage currently levelled at the hapless members of the Tricycle Theatre Company.

Notwithstanding the discomfort and upset caused to the Charles Shaar Murrays and Tricycles of the world, in one sense all this is actually good news. The increasingly shrill protestations of Israel’s apologists are because the mask has slipped. They’re losing the PR war and they know it. When even natural allies like Boris Johnson are forced into making criticisms of Israel’s literal and figurative overkill, you know the tide is turning.

You only sing when you’re winning and you’re not singing anymore.

Not singing but whining.

Politics & Current Affairs

When Pigs Fly

Good evening and here is the news from the BBC.

Talks between Palestine and Israeli militants are entering their second day.

But Likud, whose armed wing continues to bomb Gaza, says there is no agreement and there is a big gap between the two sides’ positions.

The armed wing of Likud – the Israeli Defence Force – has warned of renewed fighting if Palestine does not end its resistance to the blockade of Gaza’s port. Four weeks of fierce fighting between Palestinian forces and Israeli militants has claimed more than 1,900 lives.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State told the BBC, “The armed wing of Likud – the Israeli Defence Force – is a terrorist organisation and Palestine has the right to defend itself. We support that right. Meanwhile, we are hopeful that progress can be made by continuing dialogue over the next seventy two hours.”

The issue of human shields continues to cause controversy. BBC reporter, Jeremy Bowen, recently returned from Gaza, said, “I saw no evidence of Palestinian forces using Israelis as human shields.” By contrast, Israeli militants have been condemned for their use of human shields. Recent photos of a captured Palestinian teenager, handcuffed to the bonnet of an IDF vehicle, drew statements of condemnation from several world leaders.

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said, “Any organisation which exploits and abuses civilians in this way is a terrorist organisation and until such people renounce violence and these heinous acts there can never be a lasting peace.”

In other news Oceania is still at war with Eurasia.


Politics & Current Affairs

The Moral High Ground

As a writer, I have an almost instinctive objection to the old cliché, a picture paints a thousand words. Sometimes, though, one encounters just such a picture. This example, by Peter Brooks, which appeared in The Times on August 1st, justifies every letter of that trite and hackneyed old saying. No further explanation is required.

the moral high ground