Monday, 1 September 2014

Blue Labour News

From the organisational linchpin, Ian Geary:


'Blue Labour and education' by Michael Merrick:
http://michaeltmerrick.blogspot.co.uk/2014_07_01_archive.html

An article on the ILP website:

A paper I gave at a recent conference 'entitled Post-liberalism, Individualism and Society' organised by the Lincoln Theological Institute. The paper's title is 'Reflections on post-liberalism and post-liberal politics':

Finally, I enclose details of a forthcoming event taking place in Manchester on 20 September; 'Should Labour oppose individualism?' organised by the Lincoln Theological Institute:

An Attack On British Democracy Itself

Peter Oborne writes:


George Galloway, a 61-year-old, six-times-elected politician was beaten up for three minutes by a brutal and determined assailant in broad daylight, and was admitted to hospital as a result.

There are grounds for assuming that the motive was political, and the assault occurred due to Galloway’s criticism of Israeli actions in the Middle East.

The assailant was reportedly shouting comparing Galloway to Hitler, and shouting about the Holocaust.

There is something very disturbing about the response to this event by the mainstream British political establishment.

Mr Galloway has received no public message of sympathy from a single MP from any party – nothing from Speaker Bercow, from the Prime Minister, or from any of the other elected political leader.

I know that Mr Galloway is a very controversial figure and that many people, for honourable reasons, disagree very strongly with his views.

Yet that is irrelevant. The attack on Mr Galloway is beyond doubt an attack on British democracy itself.

It is a basic principle of our political culture that men and women must be able to speak up for the causes they believe in without threats or violent reappraisal.

This attack on Mr Galloway comes just days after the Labour MP Jim Murphy was forced to abandon campaigning in Scotland for the No campaign.

He cited intimidation and was advised by police to end his campaign.

Had an MP been attacked by some pro-Palestinian fanatic for his support of Israel, I guess there would have been a national outcry and rightly so.

Why then the silence from the mainstream establishment following this latest outrageous assault on a British politician?

More Dangerous Still

Tim Black writes:

The mainstream story of the conflict in Ukraine is mind-meltingly simple: it was Russia wot dunnit. Since the fall of its Russian puppet of a president, Viktor Yanukovych, Russia has ceaselessly and relentlessly pursued a policy of military aggression against Ukraine.

It really is that simple.

Everything that is happening in Ukraine, from the displacement of over 300,000 people, to the killing of 2,500 more, is the fault of Russia and its chest-beating throwback of a president, Vladimir Putin.

Just listen to what Western politicians are saying.

US president Barack Obama’s administration has talked darkly of Russia’s ‘pattern of escalating aggression’; Republican senator John McCain has spoken explicitly of the Russian ‘invasion’ as the work ‘an old KGB colonel [who] wants to restore the Russian empire’; and German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier admitted at the weekend that thanks to Russia’s ‘border infringements’, ‘the situation is slipping out of control’.

Little wonder that The Times editorial talks in concerned tones of ‘Mr Putin’s war’. Because that’s what it looks like: a war planned out and pursued by Putin.

And why might Putin be waging this massively costly, destabilising war? Because, so the story goes, he and his cronies want to create a new Russian empire.

This is clearly what one Guardian columnist has in mind when he writes that Putin has ‘a long-term plan to recreate a greater Russia by regaining control of Ukraine and other states in the “near abroad”’. According to a US academic in the Globe and Mail, it’s all part of Putin’s ‘dream of imperial restoration’, his ‘delusionary imperial ambitions’.

And why the additional adjective ‘delusionary’? Because the key character in this brilliantly simple story of Russian aggression, Putin, is also undeniably mad. Why else would he be trying to act out his imperial dreams, runs the logic, if he didn’t have a screw loose?

‘Mr Putin is not rational’, states a New York Times op-ed: ‘Any rational leader would have reeled from the cost of Western sanctions.’ Slate goes further: ‘[Putin’s] actions are certainly consistent with the portrait of an enraged, hypernationalist, conspiratorial madman who is heedless of the consequences to Russia and to himself.’

So there you have it. The situation in Ukraine is the product of the machinations of the Moscow madman, and his circle of ex-KGB macho men. It is Russia’s fault. The bloodshed in Ukraine, its fragmentation, its region-shaking instability – all of it can be laid at Russia’s feet.

Or at least it could be if any of this were true.

Yes, Russia did annex Crimea, a region of Ukraine with a mainly ethnically Russian population. Yes, there clearly are Russian soldiers operating in eastern Ukraine (reports estimate 1,000). And, yes, the pro-Russian separatists in places like Donetsk will have had support from Russia.

But none of this is the result of Putin’s ‘dream of imperial restoration’, or his ‘hypernationalist, conspiratorial madness’. Russia is not realising any sort of pre-meditated plan at all. In fact, it is not determining events; it is responding to them.

It saw anti-Russian protesters in Kiev violently replace Ukraine’s democratically elected leader, Yanukovych, with a pro-Western government complete with a faction of bona-fide neo-fascists in February. And it watched on as Western leaders serenaded Ukraine’s new government with songs of approval.

And seeing what happened, seeing Ukraine transformed into a strategic threat right on its own borders, Russia responded by swiftly taking back Crimea, and then attempted to shore up other parts of eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine isn’t madness; it’s a rational, realist response to what it correctly perceives as a geopolitical threat right there in its own backyard.

In fact, as we have consistently argued on spiked, the crisis in Ukraine owes far more to Western meddling than Russian. In fact, for the past 20 years, Western leaders have thoughtlessly, blunderingly provoked and frightened Russia over Ukraine.

They have tried to pull Ukraine into the orbit of the EU, if not the EU itself. They have issued the half-baked offer of NATO membership to Ukraine, while simultaneously withdrawing it. And they have persistently, and self-aggrandisingly, talked of ‘promoting democracy’ in Ukraine and promulgating ‘Western values’.

And what has made this so dangerous, what has led the region to the precipice, is that those selfsame Western actors pushing this policy-triad in the Ukraine don’t even recognise their intervention, their meddling, their clueless interference in Russia’s neighbour and one-time ally, for what it is: a provocation and a threat to Russia. 

But that is precisely what it must appear as to Russian eyes.

From Bill Clinton’s US administration of the mid-1990s pushing for NATO expansion (which led to the incorporation of such Eastern bloc stalwarts as Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Latvia between 1999 and 2004), to the Bush administration’s 2008 half-promise to Georgia and Ukraine that they ‘will become members of NATO’, Western leaders have long looked set on turning Ukraine into a military adversary of Russia.

Then there’s the EU’s march eastwards, with its 2008 initiative, the Eastern Partnership scheme, designed to integrate Ukraine into European economy.

And to ice these two layers of a distinctly Western cake to be served out on Russian borders, there has been the constant drum of pro-democracy rhetoric from the West, in which Ukraine is posited as an eastern outpost ripe for transformation into a Western-style liberal democracy.

Indeed, US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland has estimated that since 1991, the US has spent upwards of $5 billion on pro-democracy initiatives in Ukraine.

What happened at the end of last year, when anti-Russian, pro-EU demonstrators converged on Maidan Square in Kiev, and eventually drove the elected president from office, was not the beginning of Ukraine’s current conflict.

Rather, those protests were fuelled by years of Western interference in the region, years of ‘pro-democracy’ propaganda, and years of economic / military promises.

Given the West’s semi-unwitting role in fermenting the unrest, it is unsurprising that Western leaders blithely endorsed the protests and celebrated the downfall of Yanukovych. This, after all, was what they had long wanted.

That is why then German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, thought nothing at the time of announcing that ‘the hearts of the people of Ukraine beat for the EU’. This is why Senator McCain happily undertook a backslapping tour of the protest camps in December, before declaring ‘We are here to support your just cause’.

This is why then UK foreign secretary William Hague unthinkingly praised Ukraine’s anti-government protesters: ‘It is inspiring to see these people standing up for their vision of the future of Ukraine: a free, sovereign, democratic country with much closer ties to the European Union.’

It was the culmination of a years-long, blundering, blustering attempt to turn Ukraine Western. Not because it served a particular geopolitical purpose, but because it just seemed right.

And with little really at stake in Ukraine, why not? All this righteous posturing certainly plays well to a domestic audience.

Now, tragically, the reason why not is painfully clear.

A whole nation is being torn asunder as Russia desperately tries to manage the chaos the West has unleashed on its borders.

This is not to endorse Russia’s response; its interventions are understandable, but they’re not helpful. Its continued military incursions are acting as a block to the one possibly useful and peaceful solution - a federal solution within Ukraine itself.

Be that as it may, there’s no doubt where the finger of blame should really be pointing as Ukraine continues to unravel.

And that is to those Western leaders who continue to provoke Russia. And what makes this all the more dangerous is that they do so blindly, with little sense of geopolitics or strategic interests – indeed, with little sense of the real stuff of international politics.

They continue to talk of Ukraine’s NATO membership; they continue to pull what’s left of Ukraine’s economy towards the EU; and they continue ever more shrilly to counterpose Western values, and Western progressiveness, to the dark un-PC traditionalism of their imagined Russia.

And on top of that, they continue to paint Russia as the aggressor, as the source of all Ukraine’s problems.

Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine is dangerous; but more dangerous still are the Western drivers of regional instability who time and again intervene with no sense of consequence and no sense of responsibility.

Getting On

Putting The Anglo Into Saxony

Yes, AfD is anti-euro.

So is Die Linke. So are the Greens.

This is not a breakthrough. At least, not for German opposition to the euro. The BBC cannot admit that that was already there, lest it have to admit where such views have always also been found in Britain.

Britain's referendum on the euro was in 1997. If Kenneth Clarke had remained Chancellor of the Exchequer, then we would have joined. But Gordon Brown became Chancellor instead, so we did not.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Easy Come, Easy Go

UKIP is not going to make Douglas Carswell its Leader, so he is not going to stay long in it. File under Robert Kilroy-Silk.

If Carswell's published views are UKIP policy, than it has almost nothing in common with, say, Peter Hitchens.

The whole of the Hard and Far Left, for example, also wants to withdraw from the EU.

In fact, the SLP, the Morning Star and others also uncomplicatedly want to renationalise the railways and the utilities, and to rebuild council housing, just as Hitchens does.

A long, long, long way from The Plan. How many UKIP members or voters have read that? They should. They would get quite a surprise. Roger Lord ought to be making capital out of this. The Conservative candidate at Clacton doubtless will.

(By the way, in the poll giving Carswell a 44-point lead over no Conservative candidate, 10 per cent of the sample "remembered" having voted UKIP at the last General Election. There was no UKIP candidate at Clacton at the last General Election.)

The Conservative Party, a deliberately broad affair, found it difficult enough to accommodate Douglas Carswell. UKIP, which people only join or support in the interests of their own ideological purity, stands no chance.

A Stern Reminder

He was wearing an IDF shirt.

A uniformed operative of another state has attempted to murder a Member of Parliament on the soil of the United Kingdom.

Somehow, though, there is other news.

Think The Thinkable, Say The Sayable, Do The Doable

Much mirth at Melanie Phillips's denunciation of the Board of Deputies of British Jews for its apparent deviation from the script.

Call it a very guilty pleasure, but I have a soft spot for Melanie Phillips. She is catastrophically wrong about a very great many things, of course. But she is right about some others, notably drugs.

She decries the evisceration of civil society by Thatcherism as surely as Rod Liddle and Peter Hitchens do, and that aspect of her work, like that aspect of each of theirs, is completely ignored. As are her acceptance of the existence of the Palestinians as a distinct people with national rights, and her criticisms of West Bank settlement activity.

The overused charges of misogyny and anti-Semitism seem genuinely applicable to much of the abuse that Phillips receives. That is not explained by the fact that she used to be on the Left. A lot of her generation used to be on the Left, and she was never as far Left, indeed Far Left, as many of them were until only about 20 years ago. 

(Watch out for the new trend of people who are starting out as libertarians at home and possibly as neoconservatives abroad, but who will grow into a broadly Disraelian position as mediated through post-War British social democracy and its general restoration under Ed Miliband as Prime Minister.

That process will be greatly assisted by their One Nation Labour voting habits all along, since it would simply never occur to almost anyone below a certain age to vote any other way if they were going to vote at all, no matter what their political opinions might happen to be.)

It may surprise you to lean this, but I have for some time wondered at Melanie Phillips's lack of ambition.

Her e-publishing venture has produced nothing in well over a year, and all of the ebooks before then, including her own autobiography, would have had no difficulty in finding mainstream publication in both print and electronic formats.

There was always something ridiculous about the claim to have been excluded by the gatekeepers of public discourse on the part of a then Daily Mail columnist who remains a panellist on The Moral Maze and a fairly regular panellist on the mighty Question Time.

As at a push she might still be able to do from The Times, she could from the Daily Mail have created a qualification in social policy, advertisements for positions requiring which that newspaper would have carried for free.

Even lists of endorsed parliamentary candidates would not have been out of the question. Or an alternative A-list (the M-List?) of aspirants to Conservative nominations, effectively endorsed by the Mail.

Phillips was and is the only person in Britain who could have set up a Weekly Standard here, and a monthly review called Commentary. The latter's original was founded, and was published until 2007, by the American Jewish Committee.

Bringing us back to Phillips's pronounced disillusion with the Board of Deputies. She is the only person who could set up an alternative British Jewish Committee, simply inviting each of the synagogues and agencies represented on the Board to send someone, and individual members to do so where those bodies, as such, declined or did not reply.

What is stopping her?

Not The Same Beast

John Clarke writes:

It was only when I arrived in the UK that I became politically active.

The first step was handing out anti-BNP leaflets for Unite Against Fascism outside Brixton tube station. It was the 2008 London Assembly elections and it was part of the campaign to stop the BNP from winning an assembly seat.

I’d never been involved in political activity before that and like a lot of people wanted to stay away from anything involving politicians.

But I felt this had to be done. Racist and fascist parties need to be kept out of our public life.

The fact that the BNP is now a spent force has much to do with the great work that has been carried out by organisations like Unite Against Fascism, Searchlight and Hope Not Hate over the years.

Their campaigns have highlighted the real nature of the BNP to a British electorate that is overwhelmingly not racist and strongly anti-fascist.

This work needs to continue as recent action against the South East Alliance demonstrates.

To the minds of some on the left the BNP has now been replaced by UKIP and needs to be combated as such. To do this we need to put together an ‘anti-UKIP’ coalition, even in the Clacton by-election.

There are plenty of racists and fascists in UKIP ranks who need to be exposed. But to think we can fight against UKIP in the same way we have fought against the BNP is a big mistake.

UKIP as a party has gone out of its way to distance itself from the BNP and its policy platform.

Despite having significant policy overlap with BNP policy in the past UKIP is now in the process of developing a platform that is non-racist but in favour of stronger immigration controls.

Despite containing some nasty stuff this is a platform that will eat into Labour’s vote in many constituencies that we have often thought of as ‘safe Labour seats’.

Campaign strategies that countered the BNP will not work against UKIP because they are not the same beast.

The difficulty in some on the left realising this is the unfortunate tendency of some to think that anyone who wants to change immigration policy is probably a racist.

They aren’t and most people don’t see UKIP as this.

With nearly three quarters of the electorate wanting immigration reform this sort of approach insults the intelligence of voters and forces Ed Miliband to start every speech about immigration with a phrase along the lines of, ‘It’s not prejudiced to be concerned about immigration but…’

Britain is a very tolerant country. There are racists out there but not in the numbers that are considering voting UKIP.

The most worrying aspect of this is that Labour appears to be in the process of a messy divorce from its traditional heartlands.

Faffing around in Clacton-on -Sea and misrepresenting the UKIP threat isn’t going to help anyone, not least the people of this country who need a Labour victory in 2015.

There are other ways to respond to the concerns UKIP are taking advantage of.

Take for instance the GMB’s recent call for Labour to advocate for Fair Movement of people in Europe. 

This is a position that has developed in response to its members concerns about the impact free movement of labour in Europe is having on wages and conditions. [If anyone ever reported trade unions or anything even vaguely left-wing, then, as with TTIP or the People's March for the NHS, everyone would already know about this.]

As the GMB’s Kathleen Walker Shaw puts it, ‘When are politicians going to acknowledge that migrant workers aren’t stealing our jobs – they are being actively recruited by employers who want to exploit cheap labour, and, as things stand, they are allowed to get away with it.’

Labour needs to stem the flow of voters leaving the party for UKIP.

Crucial to this is understanding the concerns people have, and addressing them, and ensuring that we have the right candidates in place to get the message across.

The GMB has actively listened to what is concerning its membership and is looking for real solutions.

Labour’s policy review, led by Jon Cruddas, is doing this more widely at the moment.

This is how we deal with UKIP, not be pretending they are something they aren’t.

Dirty Politics Down Under

The International Patron of the One Nation Society, Bryan Gould, writes:

Judith Collins’ resignation has, it is suggested in some quarters, allowed a line to be drawn under the whole dirty politics saga.

We can, it seems, get on with the “real issues” of the general election (due on 20 September). Such optimism, however, seems entirely misplaced.

First, there can surely be no more important issue that the fitness to govern of some of these pretending to office.

What could be more serious than the abuse of power – its use, not to serve the interests of the country, but to discredit and destroy, in an unfair, vicious and underhand way, those whom the government sees as its opponents?

In other countries and at other times, such abuses have led to those responsible being dismissed from office in disgrace – Richard M. Nixon is one obvious example.

Are we really to say that, whereas the Americans thought such behaviour worthy of impeachment, we will set it aside as no longer among the “real issues” of our general election campaign in New Zealand?

And could there be a clearer example of that abuse of power than the apparent secret complicity by a minister with a notorious muckraker and practitioner of the dubious art of destroying reputations with the intention of “gunning for” the chief executive of an important agency for which she had ministerial responsibility?

National Party prime minister, John Key, tells us that he retains an open mind about the truth of these serious allegations.

What is beyond doubt, however, is the close relationship between Judith Collins and Cameron Slater (a NZ equivalent of Guido Fawkes – Ed) – the one treated by the other as his confidante and mentor – and her willingness to use his services in order to further her political goals.

The inquiry announced by John Key into the whole rotten business may well be designed to serve the usual purpose of such inquiries – the deferment of any conclusion about guilt or innocence until after the crucial date – in this case, election day – by which time memories are less clear and it will in any case be too late.

And what the inquiry will presumably not do is take a wider view of the involvement of the National Party, at every level, including the very top, with such disreputable people and practices.

Yet it is the very integrity of the government as a whole that is the “real issue”.

It beggars belief that, in a government and a party so much dominated by its leader as to warrant the sobriquet “TeamKey”, John Key did not know and did not therefore, tacitly at least, approve the use of the special skills of the likes of Cameron Slater.

He virtually admits as much.

His principal defence against the charge that he is personally involved is that “this is the nature of modern politics” and “everybody does it”.

It is only the nature of modern politics because people like John Key allow it and like Cameron Slater make it so.

In the excitement of the moment, as well, let us remind ourselves of the bizarre nature of John Key’s announcement of Judith Collins’ resignation and the holding of an inquiry.

It is only a week or so ago that another inquiry was announced into yet another aspect of the dirty politics saga.

That inquiry was, in effect, into John Key’s own conduct.

The inquiry will attempt to answer the question – did John Key know that the Security Intelligence Services, for which he is the responsible minister, would release a secret report, denied to all other media, but released with unusual alacrity to – that name again – Cameron Slater?

That released report involved, of course, the then Leader of the Opposition and was used by Cameron Slater to denigrate him as a general election campaign got under way.

John Key attempted to deflect attention about his involvement in this episode to the quite separate and much less important question as to whether he had been told in person by the Director of the SIS that the release had been made, after the deed had been done.

We must hope and expect that Inspector-General, in her inquiry, will focus on the real question – did John Key know (and almost certainly approve) that the release should be made when Cameron Slater was tipped off that he should seek it?

Given the National Party’s close reliance on Slater for such purposes, does it not again defy belief that, on such a sensitive matter, John Key was not kept in the loop?

Are the allegations against John Key any less serious than those against Judith Collins?

Is the willingness to use the country’s secret services for the partisan (and distasteful) purposes of the responsible minister not the most serious breach of proper practice that could be imagined?

So why is the case against Judith Collins enough to warrant her resignation, while John Key, subject to no less serious allegations, sails serenely on?

Is there not a dreadful irony in seeing one of those subject to serious allegations of dirty politics (John Key) accepting the resignation of the other (Judith Collins).

As no doubt intended, the inquiries may not report till after the election.

But the election does provide the opportunity for an earlier day of reckoning.

Complicity With Terrorism

Owen Jones writes:

The so-called war on terror is nearly 13 years old, but which rational human being will be cheering its success?

We’ve had crackdowns on civil liberties across the world, tabloid-fanned generalisations about Muslims and, of course, military interventions whose consequences have ranged from the disastrous to the catastrophic. 

And where have we ended up?

Wars that Britons believe have made them less safe; jihadists too extreme even for al-Qaida’s tastes running amok in Iraq and Syria; and nations like Libya succumbing to Islamist militias.

There are failures, and then there are calamities.

But as the British government ramps up the terror alert to “severe” and yet more anti-terror legislation is proposed, some reflection after 13 years of disaster is surely needed.

One element has been missing, and that is the west’s relationship with Middle Eastern dictatorships that have played a pernicious role in the rise of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism.

And no wonder: the west is militarily, economically and diplomatically allied with these often brutal regimes, and our media all too often reflects the foreign policy objectives of our governments.

Take Qatar.

There is evidence that, as the US magazine The Atlantic puts it, “Qatar’s military and economic largesse has made its way to Jabhat al-Nusra”, an al-Qaida group operating in Syria.

Less than two weeks ago, Germany’s development minister, Gerd Mueller, was slapped down after pointing the finger at Qatar for funding Islamic State (Isis).

While there is no evidence to suggest Qatar’s regime is directly funding Isis, powerful private individuals within the state certainly are, and arms intended for other jihadi groups are likely to have fallen into their hands.

According to a secret memo signed by Hillary Clinton, released by Wikileaks, Qatar has the worst record of counter-terrorism cooperation with the US.

And yet, where are the western demands for Qatar to stop funding international terrorism or being complicit in the rise of jihadi groups?

Instead, Britain arms Qatar’s dictatorship, selling it millions of pounds worth of weaponry including “crowd-control ammunition” and missile parts.

There are other reasons for Britain to keep stumm, too.

Qatar owns lucrative chunks of Britain such as the Shard, a big portion of Sainsbury’s and a slice of the London Stock Exchange.

Then there’s Kuwait, slammed by Amnesty International for curtailing freedom of expression, beating and torturing demonstrators and discriminating against women.

Hundreds of millions have been channelled by wealthy Kuwaitis to Syria, again ending up with groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.

Kuwait has refused to ban the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, a supposed charity designated by the US Treasury as an al-Qaida bankroller.

David Cohen, the US Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, has even described Kuwait as the “epicentre of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria”.

As Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, an associate fellow at Chatham House, told me: “High profile Kuwaiti clerics were quite openly supporting groups like al-Nusra, using TV programmes in Kuwait to grandstand on it.”

All of this is helped by lax laws on financing and money laundering, he says.

But don’t expect any concerted action from the British government. Kuwait is “an important British ally in the region”, as the British government officially puts it.

Tony Blair has become the must-have accessory of every self-respecting dictator, ranging from Kazakhstan to Egypt; Kuwait was Tony Blair Associates’ first client in a deal worth £27m.

Britain has approved hundreds of arms licences to Kuwait since 2003, recently including military software and anti-riot shields.

And then, of course, there is the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia.

Much of the world was rightly repulsed when Isis beheaded the courageous journalist James Foley.

Note, then, that Saudi Arabia has beheaded 22 people since 4 August. Among the “crimes” that are punished with beheading are sorcery and drug trafficking.

Around 2,000 people have been killed since 1985, their decapitated corpses often left in public squares as a warning.

According to Amnesty International, the death penalty “is so far removed from any kind of legal parameters that it is almost hard to believe”, with the use of torture to extract confessions commonplace.

Shia Muslims are discriminated against and women are deprived of basic rights, having to seek permission from a man before they can even travel or take up paid work.

Even talking about atheism has been made a terrorist offence and in 2012, 25-year-old Hamza Kashgari was jailed for 20 months for tweeting about the prophet Muhammad.

Here are the fruits of the pact between an opulent monarchy and a fanatical clergy.

This human rights abusing regime is deeply complicit in the rise of Islamist extremism too.

Following the Soviet invasion, the export of the fundamentalist Saudi interpretation of Islam – Wahhabism – fused with Afghan Pashtun tribal code and helped to form the Taliban.

The Saudi monarchy would end up suffering from blowback as al-Qaida eventually turned against the kingdom.

Chatham House professor Paul Stevens says:

“For a long time, there was an unwritten agreement … whereby al-Qaida’s presence was tolerated in Saudi Arabia, but don’t piss inside the tent, piss outside.”

Coates Ulrichsen warns that Saudi policy on Syria could be “Afghanistan on steroids”, as elements of the regime have turned a blind eye to where funding for anti-Assad rebels ends up.

Although Saudi Arabia has given $100m (£60m) to the UN anti-terror programme and the country’s grand mufti has denounced Isis as “enemy number one”, radical Salafists across the Middle East receive ideological and material backing from within the kingdom.

According to Clinton’s leaked memo, Saudi donors constituted “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.

But again, don’t expect Britain to act.

Our alliance with the regime dates back to 1915, and Saudi Arabia is the British arms industry’s biggest market, receiving £1.6bn of military exports.

There are now more than 200 joint ventures between UK and Saudi companies worth $17.5bn.

So much rhetoric about terrorism; so many calls to act.

Yet Britain’s foreign policy demonstrates how empty such words are.

Our allies are up to their necks in complicity with terrorism, but as long as there is money to be made and weapons to sell, our rulers’ lips will remain stubbornly sealed.

Taken For A Ride

In the newspaper that I own, Neil Clark writes:

It’s good to see that more and more media commentators and pundits are boarding the “Renationalise The Railways Express” to join those of us who’ve been calling for such a move for many years. 

Calling for the railways to be renationalised 10 years ago had one marked down as a hard-core Marxist or political extremist.

Now it’s perfectly mainstream — as even the supporters of privatisation find it hard to make any kind of case for keeping the status quo. 

However, when it comes to renationalising bus transport, it’s rather a different story. 

More people travel on buses than on trains, and bus passengers have been ripped off by privatisation just as much as train passengers have, yet despite this there’s been a dearth of articles to highlight the disastrous way that bus travel has been affected since deregulation and privatisation of the industry in the mid-1980s. 

The high cost of bus travel and the reduction of services across the country has had an adverse affect on the lives of millions, yet the issue gets nowhere near the coverage that it should. 

This week, a new report Greasing the Wheels, from the Institute for Public Policy Research by Mark Rowney and Will Straw, gives us an answer as to why that is. 

The report found low-paid workers make more than three times as many bus trips per year than the rich — which explains why you don’t see too many tweets or columns about bus fares and poor services from elite establishment journalists and wealthy politicians.

Buses? — they’re those red things the plebs travel on, aren’t they? 

The IPPR report also showed us once again the  enormous price ordinary people are paying for the privatisation of public transport. 

Non-London bus fares in England rose by a whopping 35 per cent above inflation  between 1995 and 2013 and by 34 per cent in Wales and 20 per cent in Scotland. 

Unsurprisingly, given the spiralling prices and deteriorating services,  bus patronage outside London — where there has been greater regulation — has fallen by 32.5 per cent since privatisation came into effect in 1986.

In some areas, for instance Yorkshire and Humberside, it has more than halved.

“The bus is therefore not fulfilling its potential in terms of relieving congestion, increasing access to jobs and public services, and reducing the carbon emissions of transport,” the report says. 

Its authors  want to make it easier for local authorities to take on “regulatory powers known as quality contract schemes.”

It calls for the creation of “regional transport bodies” and for the DfT to “put together a national transport strategy.” 

All very worthy no doubt, but the trouble with the IPPR report is that it overlooks the obvious solution to the problems it has identified.

Its findings reveal that things were much better before deregulation and privatisation, but it doesn’t draw the logical conclusion.

One very important recommendation is missing from the report: “renationalisation.” 

The fact is that bus passengers and taxpayers were by any objective assessment better served when we had a state-owned monopoly provider of bus services, namely the National Bus Company, whose various regional subsidiaries operated services across the country.

Supporters of privatisation said that it would usher in a new “golden era” of bus travel, but the golden era was actually in the years just prior to privatisation, when a record number of people were travelling by bus. 

In 1984, the last year before Thatcher’s Transport Act was passed, the number of passenger journeys by bus was 5,65 billion.

In 1989-90 the number had declined to 5,074bn — by 1992-3 to 4,483bn. Bus journeys accounted for 9 per cent of all journeys in 1984, but just 6 per cent in 1990.  

Ironically, in the week of Thatcher’s death last year, ITV3 was re-showing the classic 1970s comedy On the Buses.

Thanks to her government’s reforms it really has been a case of “Off the Buses” — or rather “Priced Off the Buses.”  

Yet when Maggie died, I don’t recall a single “establishment” commentator mentioning the negative impact of the 1985 Transport Act.

As with the railways, we’ve been hit three times by bus privatisation.

The first hit is having to pay much higher bus fares. The second is the reduction in services. The third is the vast amount of taxpayer subsidies that go to the privately owned bus companies — a total of £2.19bn went to bus companies in England in 2012/3 according to the IPPR. 

Last year, it was revealed that subsidies account for an enormous 45 per cent of all bus companies’ revenues.

Imagine running a business where almost half of your revenue came from government subsidies. And all after what was hailed as a “free market reform” to “roll back the frontiers of the state.”

It’s not just direct subsidies and funding for concessionary fares that the companies receive: under the Bus Service Operators’ Grant, they get a very generous 70-80 per cent fuel duty rebate — which is paid to them regardless of how many passengers they carry — worth bearing in mind when  you next hear a bus company spokesperson claim that the reason fares are being hiked above inflation (yet again) in your area is because of “fuel duties.”

Unsurprisingly given the huge handouts they’ve been getting, and the year-in-year-out above inflation price hikes, the profits of  bus companies who operate services in Britain continue to rise. 

In June it was announced that the operating profit of Stagecoach’s UK regional bus division had risen from £143.2m to £147.4m. Go-Ahead, London’s largest bus operator, saw their half-year bus operating profits rise by 14 per cent to £40.6m. 

It’s not just privately owned companies who have been raking it in.

While having a state-owned British bus operator is a “no-no” for neoliberals, bus companies owned by the governments of other European countries can operate services and receive generous taxpayer subsidies too.

Last year it was revealed that Arriva — owned by the German state-owned railway company Deutsche Bahn — received £330m from Transport for London to run bus services in the capital, but despite its two subsidiaries making an operating profit of £31.6m it paid no corporation tax. 

The more one examines the figures, the more one is struck about what an almighty rip-off bus privatisation has been.

But it’s not just about figures, it’s also about the disastrous impact the so-called “free market” reforms  enacted in the 1980s have had on our communities. 

Having cheap and reliable public transport is not only good for the environment as it gets us out of our cars, it’s also good for our mental health as it helps us get out and about and connect with other human beings. 

But as services are cut and prices hiked people without cars face growing social isolation.  

The IPPR report cited a study from the University of Leeds which found that 19 per cent of workers had turned down a job because of poor quality bus services.  

Pensioners have been hard hit too.

“Older people in rural areas face the double challenge of having many services and amenities centralised in towns and cities that they now can’t access because they simply can’t get to them. It undermines the whole idea of providing free bus travel when there’s no bus to travel on,” says Gillian Merron of Bus Users UK.

The answer to the problem of falling bus usage is not ploughing taxpayers money into the coffers of private bus companies in order for them to keep services going, but to end the neoliberal madness once and for all and bring bus transport back into full public ownership. 

We can do that by simply ending all subsidies to private bus operators and using the money to re-establish the National Bus Company and its regional subsidiaries. 

We had a perfectly good system of public transport in the years before ideologically blinkered Thatcherite “reformers” wrecked it and there’s no reason why we can’t have the same again. 

The benefits to our communities, to our economy and to the public finances would be considerable, so what on Earth are we waiting for?  

See also Neil's splendid new RT op-ed on the trouble with David Cameron.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The End of the Party

It is rumoured that some Conservative MPs are going to refuse to campaign against Douglas Carswell. If theirs were a properly run party, then it would kick out anyone who said things like that.

Thatcher certainly would have done. The friends of Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler, say.

Major would have kicked out anyone who had said that they were not going to campaign against Emma Nicholson, Peter Temple-Morris, Alan Howarth or Hugh Dykes. Or against George Gardiner, come to that.

Anyone promising not to campaign against Shaun Woodward or Bob Spink would also have received short shrift.

Likewise, if UKIP were a properly run party, then the Roger Lord situation would never have arisen.

Nor would Lord be on the brink of being the Conservative candidate if either party were anything other than a complete and utter shambles.

Gorgeous, But Not Grateful

A terrorist attack on a Member of Parliament, and that in the interests of a foreign state, demands to be investigated as a matter of the utmost seriousness.

At Bradford West, George Galloway put up as exactly what he was, and he not only won, but he topped the poll in every ward, including the ones that were over 90 per cent white. Bradford West had been a Conservative target seat in 2010.

It would be interesting to see any of the Henry Jackson Society lot, or the Conservative Friends of Israel that include David Cameron and 80 per cent of his party's nominal MPs, put up openly for Likud and be elected anywhere in Britain.

Never mind top the poll in every ward, including those which were over 90 per cent Pakistani or Bangladeshi (or non-white of any kind, come to that), of what had been a Labour target seat at the preceding General Election.

All of that said, I find that, in what must have been a very recent move, I have been blocked on Twitter by George Galloway. If certain things turn out in the next few weeks, then all that I shall be able to say will be, "There's gratitude for you."

As soon as she had resigned, I tweeted George, to his great approval, to suggest that he invite Baroness Warsi to join his parliamentary inquiry into the BBC's coverage of Gaza. The details of that inquiry ought to be announced in the near future. Look out for Lady Warsi.

Also for those whom I emailed him to suggest: "Sir Nicholas Soames MP, an Old Right commentator (Peter Oborne, Andrew Alexander, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Stephen Glover, Christopher Booker, Peter McKay), a rabbi, and an Evangelical minister and theologian (Dr Stephen Sizer - stephen@sizers.org, or ask him to suggest someone else)."

I had two exchanges of emails with my associates in New York, one in search of a Liberal or Reform rabbi, and the other in search of an Haredi, but most certainly not Neturei Karta, rabbi.

As with the above, look out for Rabbi Dr David J Goldberg OBE of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John's Wood, or for anyone whom he might have suggested in his stead, and look out for anyone linked to True Torah Jews, who even offered through me to fly over someone suitably experienced if they could not find such a person in Britain.

I did not have to do any of this, you know, George. And no one is indispensable, or bigger than the Movement. Not even someone who was once seconded in a debate by my erstwhile housemate, Dr Tom Hamilton, who is now the Head of Research for the Labour Party but who in those days was most certainly not a member of it, and whom you congratulated on having made "the speech of the night".

Get well soon.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Stemming The Tide

Welcome To The British Labour Market

Exactly What We Need

While the Eurosceptics leave the Conservative Party (at the highest estimate, there were only about half a dozen of them in it, anyway), Matthew Ward gives New Statesman readers this long-overdue article. I suspect that he is quite young. The plates are shifting. Good stuff:

Friends of the political establishment should be disturbed by Douglas Carswell’s defection to UKIP this morning.

It was a surprise to all; unaccompanied by the familiar rumours and cryptic-burblings in the media that normally precede major political "moments".

The announcement was bold and resolute, made in considered and perspicuous language, and formulated to persuade rather than deceive.

In short, it was the antithesis of the type of politics it was designed to subvert.

It is nothing new to say that Cameron’s brand of Toryism is vapid; without serious intellectual heritage or direction.

Radically undermining the family unit through cruel and sadistic benefit and tax changes, whilst simultaneously increasing the public debt, Cameron’s administration has been a clumsy experiment in neoliberal political management, utterly devoid of ideological guidance, relying on specious sound-bites to spasmodically jitter from crisis-to-crisis.

We all know this and Carswell critiques it more brilliantly than I ever could so I refer you to him.

What I am more concerned about are the consequences of Carswell’s arguments for the Labour Party, where my allegiances lie.

I fear that in the long run Carswell’s announcement will reveal less about the internal struggles of the Tory Party than it does about the intellectual inadequacies and impoverishments of the Left.

In his announcement this morning Carswell took a decidedly un-conservative position.

He rejected the assumption that consensuses are the product of collective reason and experience – they are simply constructions that serve a sectional interest.

Invoking Paine more than Burke, Carswell noted how his party sustains itself on this myth. 

We might be told that certain constraints are non-negotiable, and certain assumptions must be held, but this is just a rhetorical guise to conceal their partial and transient character.

On Carswell’s account the cross-party deference towards the financial services, or to the EU, says less about the philosophical or economic merits of such a position than it does about the insular world of modern British politics.

Put simply, there is an alternative to the status quo.

A familiar trope of the Left, you might say. But then why has it been left to an irritable right-winger to state it?

How confused have our politics become when Labour are arguing that our relationship with Europe should roughly remain the same?

That, while the EU may be a Hayekian fantasy of unaccountable bureaucracy and anti-inflationary consensus, we should stick with it for the sake of economic stability.

And that we should be grateful for the occasional token directive enforcing gender equality or upholding workers conditions – as if these social rights were the invention of a benevolent Belgian bureaucrat, rather than the product of a long and bloody struggle in this country which often meant rejecting our European neighbours for a genuinely internationalist outlook.

If we had a referendum on the EU we would be seen as eccentric and esoteric, the argument runs, unable to deal with "modernity".

We should be big enough to take that criticism.

Like Carswell I remain optimistic. Consent for the consensus, even the passive variety, is waning.

As ever, Labour is one step behind the electorate; the glib New Labour promises of consistency and competence are insufficiently rousing to achieve major electoral success.

It might just be that an irritable right-winger is exactly what we need to shake up the Left.