THE firefighters' dispute has highlighted the depth of opposition to New Labour among ordinary people. But it has also shown that opposition needs to be much more sharply focused and organised.
THE MEDIA have made much of Gordon Brown's admission in last week's pre-budget report that he had got his sums wrong. Most notably the government is going to have to borrow £20 billion this year and £24 billion next year - nearly twice the amounts Brown forecast only seven months ago.
YEARS AGO there was a cartoon that did the rounds. It showed a galley ship, with hundreds of galley slaves rowing away like crazy. Standing over them was an overseer with a whip in his hand urging on the slaves with, "We're all in the same boat." What a perfect picture of how politicians talk about society. Yes, we all live in the same country, in the same world, we are all born and we all die. But the vital thing is that in the time between birth and death we find that the way we live is structured.
"THIS IS a strike you can't win." That was Tony Blair's message to the firefighters this week. And the Sun pushed the same argument. No one should fall for this bluster. Blair may want to present a tough image. But in reality his government is totally split over the firefighters.
ONE PERSON you won't see running into burning buildings to rescue people is Jean-Pierre Garnier. He's the boss of the British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline who has achieved notoriety by announcing that he can't survive on his £7 million annual salary. It's not enough, he says, to "keep him motivated". He wants more to continue running the company from his penthouse in Philadelphia. That's global capitalism for you - a British drugs firm run by a French man from the US.
"SCARGILLITE" is how Tony Blair attacks the firefighters' union. But it is not Scargillism that is threatening our livelihoods and public services - it is Thatcherism, the doctrine of Blair's New Labour government. On every front those at the core of this government are pushing right wing policies animated by the spirit of the former Tory leader. Education secretary Charles Clarke and his sidekick Margaret Hodge are two of New Labour's "ultras". They are determined to force students to pay "top-up" fees of up to £10,000 to go to some colleges. Clarke also wants to force every student to pay fees, regardless of their or their parents' income.
IN THE aftermath of the United Nations Security Council resolution authorising the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, many people have deluded themselves that this makes war less likely. Even Richard Perle, the ultra right wing adviser to the Pentagon, argued on BBC News 24 last Sunday that the aim of Bush's administration was no longer "regime change" in Iraq but the removal of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. This apparent shift in US objectives may only be a figleaf covering the administration's real intentions.
THE PETER and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg was once a prison but is now a museum. You can wander round its cells and see grainy photographs of its former occupants, political prisoners under the old Russian Tsars 100 years ago. A large number are women-revolutionaries usually from middle class backgrounds who braved torture and exile for their cause.
THE WORLD is much closer to a terrifying war after the United Nations Security Council vote last week. "Senior British and US officials say that both George Bush and Tony Blair privately regard war against Saddam as inevitable," reported the Observer on Sunday.
<blockquote>"I'm just an American boy, raised on MTV and I've seen all those kids in the soda pop ads but none of them look like me so I started lookin' around for a light out of the dim and the first thing I heard that made sense was the word of Mohammed, peace be upon him." </blockquote>
FORMER MI5 officer David Shayler was jailed for six months on Tuesday for revealing state secrets. He should have been congratulated for shining a tiny bit of light on the stinking covert forces whose existence subverts any notion that we live in a real democracy.
THE "social explosion" which the International Monetary Fund and the Turkish employers' organisation have long been worrying about has, in a sense, expressed itself in the general election in Turkey on Sunday. The centre ground of established politics in a key US ally and NATO member has collapsed. The three parties which formed the coalition government of the past three and a half years have been decimated.
I LISTENED a week ago to some radio programmes about people affected by the Falklands War in 1982. We heard from a woman whose husband was a computer technician in the navy. It was clear from the way she spoke that she admired and loved him.
NEW LABOUR presents itself as a party that won't be pushed around. But over the last week we have seen how it can be forced to change its tune. First the government insisted it would not be influenced at all by the firefighters' threat of strike action. Blair resorted to the same sort of language Thatcher used against the miners.
WHATEVER THE ups and downs of media coverage, the planned war on Iraq remains top of the Bush administration's agenda. Once the United States went to the United Nations Security Council for authority to attack Iraq the immediate drama went out of the story. There have been weeks of negotiations over the text of a resolution.
I WENT away for a couple of days over half term, and when I came back I found that Estelle Morris had resigned. Or at least I thought it was Estelle Morris. Reading the papers and watching the news, it appeared that the carping, nasty, vicious education secretary, a figure prompting contempt and ridicule in my school - and thousands of others, no doubt - had become Saint Estelle the Humble. The media claim she was an honest victim of the bullying Mr Fixits of Downing Street.
I AM a bit of a fan of the TV programme The West Wing. In it a fictional president of the US often has emergency meetings in the war room, where military advisers turn up and talk tough. Radio 4 had a great, if alarming, programme on last week about what these meetings are like in real life. It went through just how close the world was to nuclear war 40 years ago in October 1962.
NO ONE should have any doubt why the government is refusing to budge in the face of the firefighters. Andrew Rawnsley, the well connected political commentator of the Observer newspaper, reported on Sunday a discussion he had with "a member of the New Labour high command just before they came to power":
TONY BLAIR last week gave a speech blaming the IRA for violence in Northern Ireland. Yet just the day before, a former soldier gave shocking evidence at the Bloody Sunday inquiry which graphically illustrated the responsibility of the British state.
George Bush and Tony Blair claimed that their "war on terror" would make the world a safer place. The horrific bombing of the Sari nightclub in Bali last weekend shows that they were lying.