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A Pete Smith Selection

Pete Smith was a prolific writer with insight and humour - here we present just a few quotations from articles, many of which can be read in full on the Chartist website.

In 2000, Pete saw, very early on, where new Labour was heading:

"New Labour's friendships with the rich and powerful seem to have ruled out any attempt to redistribute income or wealth from the have lots to the have nots. In [Italian writer Norberto] Bobbio's "axiological" distinction, movements and parties must be either of the right or of the left, and the distinction is rooted in attitudes towards equality and inequality. If this is the case New Labour seems determined to place itself on the right and not the left. The human heart is, of course, on the left."

In the same year, new Labour's attempts to manipulate the election for London Mayor were clinically analysed:

"An electoral college, to choose the official Labour candidate for Mayor, was created in which Frank Dobson won with 25,000 votes to Ken Livingstone with 75,000 votes. Labour returned to its worst instincts and traditions of block voting, smoke-filled rooms and deals struck behind closed doors."

At the end of 2000, Pete spotted another sign of things to come:

"In the run-up to Christmas the government was intending to spend an estimated £250,000 on an advertising campaign to persuade us not to give money to beggars, vagrants, homeless people, rough sleepers etc. O tidings of comfort and joy!. Obviously the Good Samaritan should have waited for the representatives of Social Services to turn up."

In 2001, Pete confronted one of the most difficult questions, 9/11 and the refusal of some on the left to condemn it:

"The scandal on the left is that inveterate anti-Americanism, confused pacifism and unwillingness to face up to hard choices has led some to opt for excuses for what happened. Scratch the surface and there might be some grim satisfaction. The Yanks have finally got their comeuppance."

Pete wrote frequently about America, often seeing portents for our own future, as this article in 2003 about consumer alienation shows:

"In terms of contemporary capitalism the shopping mall is more emblematic than the factory, apart from anything else there are fewer factories and more malls. The largest enclosed shopping mall in the world, in Edmonton in Canada, actually has its own airport to service the shoppers as well as a string of hotels and motels. People vacation in order to shop, and when they vacation they are relentlessly sold to. The distinction between malls and theme parks begins to blur and we take days out shopping, so consumption becomes entertainment."

Pete liked to review popular culture:

"There is no way back from The Office. Although there is a way back from Slough. The opening titles are so bleak, as the camera tracks towards the Slough trading estate that one cannot help being reminded of the John Betjeman, 'come friendly bomb' and so on."

In 2002 Pete wrote about Philip K Dick, the science fiction author (Pete was quite a fan for SciFi and clearly had a soft spot for Dick):

"Dick was able to survive his dysfunctional life and relationships and his prodigious intake of all types of drugs. It is clear from some of the later books that his recreational use of various forms of narcotics did not improve his creative powers. As often happens when people think that what they are taking is improving their literacy output, the reality is often so different."

Even football came under Pete's scrutiny as he reviewed Roy Keane's autobiographical thoughts about the Ireland manager:

"As for Mick McCarthy, or Captain Fantastic as Keane calls him, there is nothing but vitriol and bile. The very first description of an encounter between the two ends with Keane suggesting McCarthy do something that with even my limited grasp of human biology I know is physically impossible."

In 2006 Pete analysed the new Tory leader David Cameron, summing up his predecessors in typical style:

"William Hague, who is not a stupid person, but someone who has spent too much time listening to recordings of Winston Churchill's speeches, intermixed with the cheeky chappy persona of George Formby, wasted his chances by going down the route of 'save the pound'. The average person in the saloon bar of the proverbial Dog and Duck is only in favour of the pound if they have enough of them. To be blunt, [Michael] Howard had all the manner and charm of an undertaker mixed with that of an absconding bookmaker."

On Cameron himself, Pete spotted some early signs of opportunism:

"Cameron is, in many respects, an interesting figure: after all, he had a main role in drafting the Howard manifesto of 2005. He has now, by deed if not always in word, repudiated that manifesto. [Cameron] seems inspired by the Tory tradition: he is trying to modernise the party by taking it back to the future, back to its pragmatic and paternalistic roots."

But Pete's greatest fear what was how new Labour was 'reforming' the Labour Party itself, writing in September 1999:

"The first post-modern party is born. It does not have any members, or at least none that you would notice. It does not have any policies, except those defined by the latest focus groups. Its leaders are people who have never had jobs outside the charmed world of politics and politicians' hangers on. Welcome to my nightmare."