Fred Halliday, 1946-2010

The death of a great internationalist.

Fred Halliday, the writer and academic who, in the last two decades of his life, became one of the most interesting and heterodox voices on the internationalist left, died last week. Our good friend Anthony Barnett has written a tribute to Halliday over at Open Democracy:

He was a like a one-man international: dedicated and passionate in the cause of justice; hard-headed in insisting upon the obstacles that had to be overcome; scathing about the stupidities of those who proclaimed they were the force of progress; constantly aware of the deeper levels of cultural and religious irrationality and its shaping power -- and capable of making astoundingly well-informed judgments about almost anywhere on the planet.

Halliday's appreciation of religion as a political force was unmatched by any of his contemporaries. In February 1979, he wrote for the New Statesman about the incipient Shia revolution in Iran:

The visage of Ayatollah Khomeini, bearded and frowning, has become the focus of the nationwide protest movement that forced the Shah into exile on January 16. Yet beyond his evident hostility to the Pahlavi dynasty and his emphatic invocations of a traditional Islam, this strange and long obscure 78-year old leader has evaded conventional categorisation. The roots of Khomeini's personality and of his appeal lie in the history of the Shi'a brand of Islam to which an estimated 93 per cent of the Iranian population subscribe, and in the intermittent history of opposition to the monarch which the Shi'a clergy, the mollahs or ulema, have shown in the past century. Given the absence of any authoritative hierarchy in Islam, the dominance of one or other leader depends on his personal influence and character and on shifts of power at any one time. The 180,000-odd mollahs have no coherent form of expression at a national level, but traditionally they have looked to the ten or so leading officials known as Ayatollah or Sign of God. These Ayatollahs, located in major cities such as Tehran, or in pilgrimage cities such as Mashad and Qom, are, for want of a better word, the cardinals of Shi'a Islam.

You can read the rest of that article here.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Commons Confidential: What happened at Tom Watson's birthday party?

Finances, fair and foul – and why Keir Starmer is doing the time warp.

Keir Starmer’s comrades mutter that a London seat is an albatross around the neck of the ambitious shadow Brexit secretary. He has a decent political CV: he was named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie; he has a working-class background; he was the legal champion of the McLibel Two; he had a stint as director of public prosecutions. The knighthood is trickier, which is presumably why he rarely uses the title.

The consensus is that Labour will seek a leader from the north or the Midlands when Islington’s Jeremy Corbyn jumps or is pushed under a bus. Starmer, a highly rated frontbencher, is phlegmatic as he navigates the treacherous Brexit waters. “I keep hoping we wake up and it’s January 2016,” he told a Westminster gathering, “and we can have another run. Don’t we all?” Perhaps not everybody. Labour Remoaners grumble that Corbyn and particularly John McDonnell sound increasingly Brexitastic.

To Tom Watson’s 50th birthday bash at the Rivoli Ballroom in south London, an intact 1950s barrel-vaulted hall generous with the velvet. Ed Balls choreographed the “Gangnam Style” moves, and the Brockley venue hadn’t welcomed so many politicos since Tony Blair’s final Clause IV rally 22 years ago. Corbyn was uninvited, as the boogying deputy leader put the “party” back into the Labour Party. The thirsty guests slurped the free bar, repaying Watson for 30 years of failing to buy a drink.

One of Westminster’s dining rooms was booked for a “Decent Chaps Lunch” by Labour’s Warley warrior, John Spellar. In another room, the Tory peer David Willetts hosted a Christmas reception on behalf of the National Centre for Universities and Business. In mid-January. That’s either very tardy or very, very early.

The Labour Party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is a financial maestro, having cleared the £25m debt that the party inherited from the Blair-Brown era. Now I hear that he has squirrelled away a £6m war chest as insurance against Theresa May gambling on an early election. Wisely, the party isn’t relying on Momentum’s fractious footsloggers.

The word in Strangers’ Bar is that the Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock held his own £200-a-head fundraiser in London. Either the financial future of the Aberavon Labour Party is assured, or he fancies a tilt at the top job.

Dry January helped me recall a Labour frontbencher explaining why he never goes into the Commons chamber after a skinful: “I was sitting alongside a colleague clearly refreshed by a liquid lunch. He intervened and made a perfectly sensible point without slurring. Unfortunately, he stood up 20 minutes later and repeated the same point, word for word.”

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era