Sunday, 4 October 2015

Honest and Straightforward

Peter Hitchens writes:

I don’t think the British or American governments really want to fight the Islamic State. They just want to look as if they are doing so.

I judge these people by what they do, not by what they say. And in recent months I have noticed them doing – and not doing – some very interesting things.

The White House and Downing Street both seethe with genuine outrage about Russia’s bombing raids on Syria.

Yet the people Vladimir Putin bombed have views and aims that would get them rounded up as dangerous Islamist extremists if they turned up in Manchester.

So why do British politicians call them ‘moderates’ when Russia bombs them? It’s not as if London or Washington can claim to be squeamish about bombing as a method of war.

We have done our fair share of it in Belgrade, Baghdad and Tripoli, where our bombs certainly (if unintentionally) killed innocent civilians, including small children.

Then there’s the curious case of Turkey. Rather like Russia, Turkey suddenly announced last summer that it was sending its bombers in to fight against the Islamic State.

But in fact Turkey barely bothered to attack IS at all. It has spent most of the past few months blasting the daylights out of the Kurdish militias, a policy that Turkey’s President Erdogan has selfish reasons for following.

Yet the Kurds, alongside the Syrian army, have been by far the most effective resistance to IS on the ground. Why then does a key member of the alleged anti-IS coalition go to war against them?

Turkey, a Nato member, is not criticised for this behaviour by Western politicians or by the feeble, slavish Western media.

These geniuses never attack our foreign policy mistakes while we are making them. They wait until they have actually ended in disaster. Then they pretend to have been against them all along.

I’ve grown tired of people impersonating world-weary cynics by intoning the old saying ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ as if it were a new-minted witticism.

But in this case, this sensible old rule seems to have been dropped. Instead, our enemy’s enemies – in the case of the Kurds, Syria’s government and the Russians – are mysteriously our enemies too.

Meanwhile the Turkish enemies of our Kurdish friends are somehow or other still our noble allies.

Compare our weird attitude towards Syria’s horrible but anti-IS president, Bashar Assad, to Winston Churchill’s wiser view of Stalin.

Stalin became our ally when the Nazis invaded Russia. Churchill, a lifelong foe of Soviet communism, immediately grasped that times had changed.

‘If Hitler invaded Hell,’ he said ‘I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.’ 

That is because, in body, heart and soul, sleeping and waking, with all the force and spirit he possessed, he was committed to the fight against Hitler above all things. So he would have accepted any ally against him.

Is this true of our leaders, who constantly portray Assad (and Putin) as Hitler, who imagine themselves as modern Churchills and condemn their critics as ‘appeasers’?

No. They play both ends against the middle.

Their anti-extremist rhetoric, turned up full when confronting Birmingham schoolteachers or bearded preachers, drops to a whisper when they want to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, the home of Islamist fanaticism.

Things are not what they seem to be here.

Russia’s action may be rash and dangerous. It may fail, especially as we are obviously trying so hard to undermine it.

But at least it is honest and straightforward.

Opportunities, As Well As Complications

Russia’s military intervention in Syria, although further internationalising the conflict, does however present opportunities, as well as complications.

There are no simple solutions to this terrible war which has destroyed Syria. Out of a population of 22 million, four million Syrians are refugees abroad and seven million have been displaced inside the country.

I was recently in Kurdish-controlled north-east Syria, where the bomb-shattered ruins of Kobani look like pictures of Stalingrad after the battle.

But equally significant is the fact that even in towns and villages from which Islamic State (Isis) has been driven, and where houses are largely undamaged, people are too terrified to return.

Syrians are right to be afraid. They know that what happens on the battlefield today may be reversed tomorrow.

At this stage, the war is a toxic mix of half a dozen different confrontations and crises, involving players inside and outside the country.

Intertwined struggles for power pit Assad against a popular uprising, Shia against Sunni, Kurd against Arab and Turk, Isis against everybody, Iran against Saudi Arabia and Russia against the US. 

One of the many problems in ending, or even de-escalating these crises, is that these self-interested players are strong enough to fight their own corners, but too weak to ever checkmate their opponents.

This is why the involvement of Moscow could have a positive impact: Russia is at least a heavy hitter, capable of shaping events by its own actions and strongly influencing the behaviour of its allies and proxies. 

Barack Obama said at a news conference after the Russian airstrikes that “we’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia”. 

But the US-Soviet Cold War, and the global competition that went with it, had benefits for much of the world. 

Both superpowers sought to support their own allies and prevent political vacuums from developing which its opposite number might exploit. 

Crises did not fester in the way they do today, and Russians and Americans could see the dangers of them slipping wholly out of control and provoking an international crisis.  

This global balance of power ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and for the Middle East and North Africa this has meant more wars. 

There are currently eight armed conflicts raging, including Pakistan and Nigeria (the figure jumps to nine if one includes South Sudan, where the renewal of fighting since 2013 has produced 1.5 million displaced people). 

Without a superpower rival, the US, and its allies such as the UK and France, largely ceased to care what happened in these places and, when they did intervene, as in Libya and Iraq, it was to install feeble client regimes.

The enthusiasm which David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy showed in overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi contrasts with their indifference as Libya collapsed into criminalised anarchy.

Overall, it is better to have Russia fully involved in Syria than on the sidelines so it has the opportunity to help regain control over a situation that long ago spun out of control.

It can keep Assad in power in Damascus, but the power to do so means that it can also modify his behaviour and force movement towards reducing violence, local ceasefires and sharing power regionally.

It was always absurd for Washington and its allies to frame the problem as one of “Assad in or Assad out”, when an end to the Assad leadership would lead either to the disintegration of the Syrian state, as in Iraq and Libya, or would have limited impact because participants in the Syrian civil war would simply go on fighting. 

The intervention of Russia could be positive in de-escalating the war in Syria and Iraq, but reading the text of President Obama’s press conference suggests only limited understanding of what is happening there. 

Syria is only one part of a general struggle between Shia and Sunni and, though there are far more Sunni than Shia in the world, this is not so in this region

 Between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – there are more than 100 million Shia and 30 million Sunni. 

In political terms, the disparity is even greater because the militarily powerful Kurdish minorities in Iraq and Syria, though Sunni by religion, are more frightened of Isis and extreme Sunni Arab jihadis than they are of anybody else.

Western powers thought Assad would go in 2011-12, and when he didn’t they failed to devise a new policy. 

Peace cannot return to Syria and Iraq until Isis is defeated, and this is not happening. The US-led air campaign against Isis has not worked.

The Islamic militants have not collapsed under the weight of airstrikes, but, across the Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish regions, either hold the same ground or are expanding.

There is something ludicrous about the debate in Britain about whether or not to join in an air campaign in Syria without mentioning that it has so far demonstrably failed in its objectives.

Going into combat against Isis means supporting, or at least talking to, those powers already fighting the extreme jihadis. For instance, the most effective opponents of Isis in Syria are the Syrian Kurds.

They want to advance west across the Euphrates and capture Isis’s last border crossing with Turkey at Jarabulus.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, said last week he would never accept such a “fait accompli”, but it remains unclear if the US will give air support to its Kurdish allies and put pressure on Turkey not to invade northern Syria. 

The Russians and Iranians should be integrated as far as possible into any talks about the future of Syria.

But there should be an immediate price for this: such as insisting that if Assad is going to stay for the moment, then his forces must stop shelling and using barrel bombs against opposition-held civilian areas.

Local ceasefires have usually only happened in Syria because one side or the other is on the edge of defeat. But wider ceasefires could be arranged if local proxies are pressured by their outside backers.

All these things more or less have to happen together. A problem is that the crises listed above have cross-infected each other.

Regional powers such as Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies do have a strong measure of control over their local proxies.

But these regional actors, caring nothing for the destruction of Syria and still dreaming of final victory, will only be forced into compromises by Washington and Moscow.

Russia and America need to be more fully engaged in Syria because, if they are not, the vacuum they leave will be filled by these regional powers with their sectarian and ethnic agendas.

Britain could play a positive role here, but only if it stops taking part in “let’s pretend” games whereby hard-line jihadis are re-labelled as moderates.

As with the Northern Ireland peace negotiations in the 1990s, an end to the wars in Syria depends on persuading those involved that they cannot win, but they can survive and get part of what they want.

The US and Russia may not be the superpowers they once were, but only they have the power to pursue such agreements.


But better late than never, say I.

Once in each decade, I stand for the National Executive Committee of the Fabian Society. Here is this year's 70-word statement.

It is very much like the last one. But now, I submit, it is entirely of the times, which have finally caught up with me:

Born in 1977. Writer and activist based in Lanchester, County Durham. Disabled. Mixed-race. Born abroad. Entirely state-educated, entirely in County Durham.

Our social democracy is both the basis and the product of our patriotism and of our commitment to the family.

In order to defend and rebuild it, we need a broad alliance across all ethnic groups, across all social classes, and across all parts of the country: One Nation.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Eyebrows Raised No More

Diego Garcia.

And that IMF business, which introduced monetarism to Britain.

Still, he said that he could never have pressed the nuclear button.

And, never keen on the EU, he became more and more critical of it, advocating withdrawal by the end.

Whitewashing War Crimes

The Dutch government has withdrawn its proposed resolution calling for a U.N.-sponsored mission to investigate war crimes in Yemen:

Human rights groups expressed disappointment with the withdrawal of the proposal. “The question is really what happened — and why is Saudi Arabia simply off the hook for massive bombing affecting civilian life and (that) probably may constitute war crimes?” said Philippe Dam, deputy director for Human Rights Watch in Geneva.

The U.S. briefly expressed support for the Dutch resolution, but it seems that this support was meaningless.

In its place there will be a Saudi-sponsored resolution that calls for providing “technical assistance” to the Hadi government, which will then report back on the situation.

Nothing could be better designed to ensure that the report on human rights abuses in Yemen will whitewash the Saudi-led coalition’s crimes and cover up for the campaign that is aimed at putting Hadi back in power.

It took just a few days for the Saudis to make a mockery of Samantha Power’s assertion on Sunday that Saudi Arabia’s position on the Human Rights Council was purely a “procedural” one that would have no bearing on “anything the United Nations does on any human rights issue.”

The Saudis won’t have to worry about the Hadi government reporting on their crimes, since it has every incentive to deny them or pin them on the government’s opponents.

Meanwhile, human rights organizations and journalists will continue to document what the coalition is doing to Yemeni civilians with the Obama administration’s backing.

The Indispensable Nation, Exploded

Americans like to think that we revolted against injustice, embraced liberty, and became a model for a new republic in 1776. 

The ideas of that experimental, tiny precursor to the modern American empire have been lost in translation over the centuries. 

Human tendencies to love liberty and decentralization, to crave personal independence and the right to build and create their own legacies, to be kings of their own castles, remain, but they are in the mist in 2015 America.

For well over a dozen decades, the mythology that we live in the best, most powerful, most influential, and most envied nation that has ever existed has been force fed to a billion past and present Americans. 

These beliefs are part and parcel of a century of neoconservativism

These beliefs unite what remains of the Tea Party movement, and the Reform and the Bull Moose Parties before that.  They underpin the popular rhetoric of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. 

The Clinton and Bush dynasties embrace and evoke these beliefs, and have substantial fundamental legitimacy among the population as a result – regardless of how we distrust these particular candidates. 

The rhetoric of populist Democratic-Republican Donald Trump harmonizes perfectly with deeply held beliefs about American exceptionalism and militarism.

The 2016 choice is clear, singular, and irrelevant – anyone leading in the polls today would make an acceptable President, and both parties are united in state worship, couched in the idea of Washington, DC as the center of the universe, the indispensable capital of the world. 

When the population is asked, “What kind of ice cream do you like?” the real question, impossible to ask but necessary for our very survival, is “Do we want any more?” 

Many Americans still do want more, and the crony capitalist class, government-connected bankster class, and the staggering array of government dependencies throughout the country certainly do want more. 

They need more, and face an early and painful extinction if they don’t get more. Our Depression era grandparents would squeeze a lemon dry and use the rind. 

And so will the modern D.C. dependencies, that exist on redistributive allocations of stolen GDP and subsidized borrowing against future stolen GDP.

These organisms –sustained  by tax-eating and unwise borrowing – will squeeze that fount dry and consume the remainder, before they give up the ghost.

When the entities finally do say die, they will mean it.  In the battle for bureaucratic survival, the odds will favor the armed and popular, i.e. the armed.  This is always the end of tyrannies, and of empires. 

The present day public popularity of military and police may reveal a subconscious sense that here is where survival power is, that in the military state many will find protection, as dog eats dog.

Thus, we see both government welfare and conservative “values” advocates boldly embrace the use of state force, and instinctively refuse to threaten the existence or even the budgets of the massive and growing armed bureaucracies.

The bureaucratic wolves, sensing a cold winter approaching, have prepared, by expanding the wars overseas while expanding domestic presence, through militarized policing, massive and pervasive government surveillance and documenting of citizen movements, investments, and transactions, and a wholly incompetent but incredibly useful “homeland” security infrastructure.

As our subconscious sense of a “need” for state survival impresses on us the value of the militarist and force heavy state, the current ongoing wars in a dozen countries – mysterious in detail, convoluted in motive, reported mechanically if at all, celebrated by all major political parties or voices  — are losing moral ground and physical territory in all cases. 

The Pentagon moans at loss of its “war” budget justification and cries at what sequestration has done to its “regular, non-war” and continually expanding operating budget.

The very fact that this third century of America has not only blown in with the world’s largest standing military, but that this institution budgets for war separately (and unarguably) from its own existential maintenance as the largest military on earth.

The indispensable nation today is not centered in Washington, DC or even NYC.  Today, for today, it is centered in Moscow. 

How fascinating that a former Soviet man, a modern-day dictator by most reports, a man who faces down domestic antiwar sentiment and critiques with prison sentences, has shown the decisiveness and will in stomping the named American enemy of the moment. 

Putin’s successful air attacks on the dread pirate ISIS in Syria have provided a big ideological challenge to American fantasies and frightened the deciders in Washington to their very core.

In calling the neoconservative, Republicrat bluff that ISIS is an enemy of the US (rather than the US-facilitated means for toppling the last independent secular leader in the Middle East, setting the stage for endless wars, reliable higher oil prices, and a ballooning US national security budget into the next several decades), the new indispensable nation (or at least Putin and his military) has inadvertently exploded the driving and unifying myth of American indispensability. 

He has, in one swift move, both clarified the issues and exposed the D.C. mob.

In another era, the shrieks from Washington about the cheeky Putin and the potentially cheeky Chinese, might have worked to turn the herd.

But as with the era that preceded the British loss of the American colonies, the current king in the United States, a modern George III, is widely believed to be crazy, obsessed, wasteful, debt ridden and unlikeable.

His popular opposition – while statists and militarists all, owe their popularity to how well they articulate (without really believing it themselves) the growing and real perspective that the king is a naked, lying, incompetent puppet and should be overthrown. 

But popular politics in an empire is no match for bureaucratic survival of an all consuming and powerful central state.  

Putin’s move has delivered the happy and undeniable rationale for the immediate end of the U.S. warfare state, and has in one act, collapsed the core tenet of neoconservatism, the RNC and the DNC.  

But the word on this isn’t yet out to the hinterlands, and we must expect that it will be directly suppressed and creatively propagandized by government media outlets as a rationale for even more Washington, D.C. spending, assertiveness, and militarism.  

The leading presidential candidates will predictably use their platforms to articulate the needs of the state, over all else. Washington D.C. is preparing to be burned.  

The state’s terror may be due to how they learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, or growing fear of domestic revolts against the symbols of overweening government. 

I suspect that the state’s terror is the result of internecine bureaucratic warfare gone hot in a collapsing Empire’s desperate capital. Terror within the (deep) state has an immediate symptom, and it is state terror. 

With Russia directly and successfully exploding the myth of America the indispensable nation, we may cautiously celebrate the long contest for real liberty.

But we should expect the very worst in immediate outcomes, and not underestimate the fury of our faltering and desperate central government in coming months.

Orbiting The Earth

There are those who criticise me for having appeared on RT.

But later today, you can watch John McTernan on it.

Interviewed by George Galloway.

Get out of that one.

Who Worships His Maker

Bruce Anderson repeats the lazy theory that Jeremy Corbyn's supporters are all extremely young.

In reality, it is the neoliberal or the right-wing libertarian position that is almost never held by anyone who is not only in the first flush of youth, but also from an extremely privileged background, adding up to practically no life experience whatever.

It is possible that that has not always been the case. But it certainly is so today.

Moreover, this delusion about Corbyn's base of support is routinely held alongside the fantasy that it is made up of veterans of the Far Left from the 1970s and 1980s.

Not only is it impossible for those things both to be true, but it was in fact Tony Blair who was surrounded by what were then very recent veterans of the Gramscian wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain, plus a smattering of similarly minded old Trots, while it is Boris Johnson who has hugged close the graduates of the Revolutionary Communist Party and of Socialist Action, which was previously the International Marxist Group.

Anderson, however, is most revealing in this article. He lays bare how utterly unconservative and un-Tory the Thatcherite position is, always has been, and always will be. He analysis is entirely economic and materialistic, and he quotes Marxists favourably.

In so doing, he bemoans the fact that Britain never had a full-blown bourgeois revolution on the French, German or American model, meaning that historic institutions remained essentially intact, or at least recognisably continuous.

"As the English bourgeoisie never reshaped institutions and society in their own image, they may not have the self-confidence of their equivalents in France, Germany and America," Anderson regrets, so that this is, "the only country in the world where a self-made millionaire would feel socially uneasy in the presence of a retired major and a country clergyman."

Is it? Even if it is, then so much the better. A certain deference to at least the embodied aspiration to gallantry and godliness, flag and faith (and family), makes possible the civilised and civilising acquisition and application of the self-made man's millions, rather than the alternative that Anderson would only too obviously prefer.

Also, note that spitting of "country", as well as of "retired", even though Anderson himself is now no spring chicken.

Like almost everyone who is even in the broadest sense an intellectual on the British Right, Anderson was a Marxist in his youth, something that almost no one in the population at large has ever been; the inability of this country's historically dominant and presently governing political subculture to grow its own intelligentsia is very striking indeed.

And like most people, although not quite all, who were Marxists in their youth, Anderson is incapable of understanding the world in any other terms. In that great scheme of things, it is the most minor of details merely to change the ending so that the bourgeoisie wins, and it is nothing at all to hold, if Anderson does, that in Britain only the parliamentary system is to be used.

That latter was held by the Communist Party of Great Britain throughout all 71 years of its existence, in accordance with the view of Lenin himself, and it remains the position of the Communist Party of Britain, which is by far this country's largest and which is the one associated, although the two bodies are strictly independent of each other, with the Morning Star.

Yet to Anderson, this ideology makes him a Tory. Not only that, but these days, and for several decades now, almost all of the Tories agree with him.

More Relevant and Much Harder

Diane Abbott writes:

This week Jeremy Corbyn restated his well-known position on nuclear weapons.

Asked if he would ever use the nuclear button, he replied: “No. I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons.” 

Nobody should have been surprised. He has held this position all of his adult life. What would have been absurd would be for him to say anything else.

So Corbyn will have been as taken aback as anyone else by the kerfuffle this caused in some quarters of his shadow cabinet.

His statement was described as unhelpful, although no one explained who it was unhelpful to. Arms dealers, perhaps?

The truth is that the complainers say more about political attitudes during the New Labour era than about defence policy.

On the specific issue of Trident, three senior military officers, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham and General Sir Hugh Beach, summed up the case against it in a letter to the Times in 2009.

Among other things they pointed out:

“The force cannot be seen as independent of the United States in any meaningful sense. It relies on the United States for the provision and regular servicing of the D5 missiles.

“While this country has, in theory, freedom of action over giving the order to fire, it is unthinkable that, because of the catastrophic consequences for guilty and innocent alike, these weapons would ever be launched, or seriously threatened, without the backing and support of the United States.”

This shows how utterly pointless the “finger on the button” question is.

And the generals went on:

“Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently, or are likely, to face, particularly international terrorism; and the more you analyse them the more unusable they appear …

“Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics.” 

The uselessness of Trident has been long understood. So clinging to it as a Labour party commitment is all about presentation and nothing to do with serious defence policy.

Yet renewing Trident will cost £100bn. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has admonished us all that we have to live within our means.

So why spend billions on a cold war weapons system that is effectively useless?

There are more general questions, too, raised by the response to Corbyn setting out his views on Trident. The first is: have colleagues really learned the lessons from the leadership campaign?

One of those lessons is, surely, that people are tired of obfuscation and spin. They want politicians who believe in something and who set out those beliefs honestly.

But there is also an issue about what constitutes leadership.

Critics of Corbyn on Trident seem to think that leadership consists of a willingness to press a button and incinerate millions of people, or even to send thousands of British troops to risk their lives in wars of dubious legality.

I suspect the public is weary of this kind of so-called leadership.

Instead, Corbyn is trying to offer leadership on issues such as putting human rights at the top of our foreign policy agenda, even if it involves challenging allies like Saudi Arabia.

In the world we face in 2015, that kind of leadership is both more relevant and much harder.

And It Should Scandalise Us

Owen Jones writes:

Wanted: somebody who can explain why this story is not being reported as a national scandal.

There are English GP practices being paid money not to refer patients to hospital, including cancer referrals, in order to cut costs.

One clinical commissioning group reportedly offered more than £11,000 to slash everything from follow-ups and emergency admissions; another more than £6,000 to GP surgeries to bring their referrals down to practices at the bottom of the league for referral rates.

This is playing with people’s lives.

Britain is already languishing up to two decades behind the survival rates of other European countries. The NHS should be encouraging more referrals, not incentivising fewer.

The inevitable risk, of course, is that early symptoms of cancer will be missed, leading to even more unnecessary deaths.

If you want to look for other evidence of a healthcare system increasingly under strain, it won’t take you long.

Hearing aids break the solitude of those who are hard of hearing, giving them independence and the ability to carry on life as normal.

But North Staffordshire’s clinical commissioning group is to stop giving free hearing aids to its predominantly older patients.

Again, here is an attempt to save costs in a way that undermines the NHS’s central mission of defending the wellbeing and health of the British people.

Difficult though some will find it to listen to advice from the Liberal Democrats, the ex-health minister Norman Lamb should be listened to when he warns the NHS could face a crash without an emergency injection of billions of pounds.

It is worth considering what the NHS is going through. It has experienced the most protracted squeeze in funding since its foundation in 1948. Cuts to local care services are piling on extra pressure.

It suffers from the combined legacy of private finance initiative (PFI) and the chaos of the Tories’ current marketisation drive, effectively stripping the “National” out of National Health Service.

Despite the Tories’ gimmicky and vague election promises of extra money, our healthcare system is in great danger.

But where is the debate or the scrutiny? It will be health and lives imperilled without an NHS that is properly integrated and resourced.

It would be naive to believe that incentives not to refer cancer patients and the scrapping of free hearing aids is the end of it.

The direction of travel is clear, and it should scandalise us.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Contributory Causes

Michael Meacher writes:

The basic reason why UK wage growth has been virtually flat for a decade, at a level still 6% below pre-2008-9 levels, is Osborne’s relentless squeeze on benefits, tax credits, low pay and public expenditure.

But there are two other very important contributory causes.

One is that the proportion of our national income which we invest each year rather than consume is far too low.

Since the onset of the crash in 2007 UK investment as a proportion of GDP (excluding R&D) has fallen from 18.2% to 14.5% now.

Not only is this a drop of a fifth, which is a very serious shortfall, it is also barely half the world average which remained at 25.5%.

As ONS figures show that depreciation of existing UK assets is running at about 11.5% per year, only 3% of the current total of 14.5% is left, which is not even enough to keep up with our population growth of at least 500,000 a year, let alone sufficient to build up our total assets per head of the population.

Crucially, also what little we do invest does not go to where it will produce the highest returns. Only just over a quarter of our total investment (28%) goes to manufacturing.

Almost all the rest is devoted to other forms of investment – roads, schools, hospitals, industrial and commercial buildings, housing, ports, airports, etc. – all of which are important, but almost none which provide anything like the total return to the economy which comes from manufacturing.

Again, ONS figures show that much the largest contribution to increased Gross Valued Added – 26% – came from manufacturing, even though it accounted for just under 12% of GDP over the period.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution it has been the combination of mechanisation, the application of technology and the efficient use of sources of power which are the key factors in increasing output per head. So how do we overcome these problems?

Clearly we have to invest a higher proportion of our GDP and then devote a higher share of what we do invest in the future into manufacturing.

We have to produce conditions which make it profitable for investment to be undertaken in a wide swathe of manufacturing, including low and medium-tech industries, where because at present they are unable to compete internationally investment in them is so low.

That immediately raises another key issue.

The UK exchange rate is far too high, making it far more expensive to produce most products in the UK rather than elsewhere.

Only if we get manufacturing back to around 15% of our GDP rather than the current 10%, will we be in a sustainable position both to pay our way in the world, to avoid endless deflationary balance of payments problems, and to attain a reasonable growth rate and steadily rising wage levels.

A Moral Arbiter

The government sells vast numbers of weapons to the Saudis; relations are so cosy that when Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah died, Whitehall flew their flags at half-mast.

David Cameron rejects any of this as a problem. The British state is a moral arbiter – but far more often in words than in deeds.

In his leader’s speech to Labour party conference, Jeremy Corbyn’s first message to Cameron went straight to the heart of this issue.

He told the Prime Minister in no uncertain terms that it was time to intervene in Saudi Arabia, to stop the beheading and crucifixion of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was imprisoned in 2011 at the age of 17 for joining anti-government protests.

Corbyn highlighted this case because it embodies the intensely corrupt nature of Britain’s dealings with Saudi Arabia and other countries across the globe.

Despite countless allegations of human rights abuses, Britain has continued to replicate the Al-Yamamah arms deal, originally signed by the Thatcher Government in 1985, which sees the government trade arms for oil.

Over twenty years this brought in £43bn in revenue for BAE. Such deals continue.

After uprisings started in 2011, bloody state oppression of dissent rose and so too did Britain’s arms sales to the country.

The contradictions run deep, but that doesn’t bother Cameron; when there’s money to be made, democracy is low on the agenda.

The latest development to prove the suspect nature of this international affair surfaced just yesterday when it emerged that it looks as if UK has been vote-trading with Saudi Arabia so that both states make it onto the UN human rights council.

The British state isn’t interested in witnessing democracy flourish in areas of the global south where it’s absent; it doesn’t fit with foreign policy.

That’s part of the reason why the Government put in a bid for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to train the Saudi Arabian prison service. This is a contract that would be highly lucrative, earning the department £5.9 million.

But as ‘Jack of Kent’ blogger, David Allen Green has pointed out it’s wrong for the state to supply a customer in this way for profit, particularly as the MoJ oversees our law system.

Corbyn demanded termination of this bid, the Government refused. Earlier this month they said they had to uphold the bid otherwise they’d face“financial penalties.”

The British state preaches belief systems it doesn’t live by, codes of practice it flouts in favour of flexing its power in the world.

It’s refreshing that a Labour leader has lifted the lid on this.

History – both present and long past – tells us that too often human rights are important to the state when it’s convenient.

Britain’s foreign policy, its dealings with other countries and the way it conducts itself abroad, has to change.

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Uber

Ruby Stockham writes:

Taxi-hailing app Uber has been taken to the High Court by Transport for London (TfL) to determine whether it is lawful.

TfL has also announced a public consultation on better regulating the service, with proposals including English language requirement for drivers and stricter controls on insurance.

Uber says this will damage public interests – but doesn’t care so much about the interests of its drivers.

Here are five things you didn’t know about Uber:

1. It asserts that its drivers are ‘partners’, meaning they are not entitled to normal worker’s rights.

Uber has contested claims that this is exploitative, claiming that it is allowing its drivers to work as independent contractors in the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Currently an Uber driver does not have rights to holiday pay, or the right to properly challenge a discipline or grievance notice before being dismissed.

There have been reports from drivers that they have been dismissed for making complaints about unfair treatment.

2. If a driver’s rating falls below 4.6 or 4.2 (there are varying accounts) they risk being sacked (or ‘deactivated’ to use the Uber euphemism).

There is no way to properly regulate ratings and protect them from the caprice of a customer.

If a driver pick up a passenger who wants a conversation and their English isn’t great, or a passenger in a bad mood, or a passenger who wants help moving house, they are risking their job.

3. Uber deducts a fifth of a driver’s income, which is already low.

According to the GMB Professional Drivers’ Union, a GMB member who works exclusively for Uber in London was paid £5.03 net per hour for 234 hours driving during the August calendar month.

This is £1.47 per hour below the current national minimum wage of £6.50 per hour. For each hour he worked, he paid  £2.65 to Uber, equating to 53 per cent of his net pay per hour.

GMB has urged all Uber drivers to keep detailed records of the pay they receive.

Many Uber drivers are recent immigrants with poor English which may prevent them from getting other work in the UK, and which means they are not familiar with pay law.

Far from offering freedom, the Uber business model exploits people who cannot get better jobs. 

4Uber’s tax arrangements are highly contested.

Uber processes its jobs through its Dutch subsidiary, Uber BV, which allows Uber to charge a lower VAT rate. 

The Dutch VAT rate is Dutch VAT is 0 per cent for entrepreneurs conducting foreign businesses from the Netherlands; in the UK it’s 20 per cent.

This allows Uber to offer super-low prices.

5. There are no limits on the number of cars Uber can operate.

The company says it currently has more than 15,000 drivers in London, and its chief executive Travis Kalanick has said he expects that to rise to 42,000 in 2016.

Not only does this have implications for London’s already terrible air quality – a TfL- commissioned study found that nearly 9,500 people die each year in the capital because of pollution – it means there will be less and less work for drivers who have made Uber their full-time job.

Uber is also ruining the livelihoods of other drivers. Over a two-year period, roughly coinciding with the explosion of Uber in London, the number of minicab companies has fallen by 5 per cent.

Uber is so much cheaper than black cabs and private companies that people who have worked their whole lives as drivers no longer have a chance.

It is true that other taxi companies need to reconsider their pricing, but the Uber boom happened so quickly that they were caught off guard.

Plus, Uber cannot take the moral high ground on affordable taxis when they operate theirs on the backs of unprotected workers.

Boris Johnson’s Lost Generation

With some of the world’s best universities, museums and a capital immersed in culture, London should be awash with opportunities for young people.

In reality, for many it’s a tough time to be a young Londoner.

Despite the opportunities on our doorstep the capital struggles with youth unemployment higher than the national average, significant levels of youth under-employment, a growing skills gap, a school places crisis, and spiralling living costs which are hitting young Londoners hardest.

This is particularly true when it comes to the anxiety over finding an affordable place to live.

In spite of his recognition that ‘London’s future growth depends on its young people’, London mayor Boris Johnson has consistently failed young Londoners during his term in office.

Primary school places crisis 

One of the most obvious failures is the growing pressure on primary school places. 

The shortage, identified years ago, has continued to grow and is now extending to secondary education but continues to be ignored by the mayor. 

It’s a toxic mix if not addressed, with rapid population growth leading to a swelling of school student numbers at a time of dwindling local government resources. 

Despite the challenge, leadership from City Hall working with the boroughs to find solutions has been unashamedly absent. 

Thanks to years of progress, reform and the successes of the ‘London Challenge’ between 2003 and 2011, the capital’s schools became some of the best in the country. 

That progress is now in jeopardy as the mayor treads water, failing to act on this most predictable of crises.  

Every London borough is feeling the pressure. London Councils calculate over 100,000 new places are needed when primary schools are included – all before 2018. 

Ignoring the future skills needs of London 

Things are made worse by the free school free-for-all, a policy the mayor wholeheartedly champions. A patchwork of new school proposals popping up across the capital is not the way to plan strategically. 

The future education and skills base upon which London and the national economy will be built needs to be coordinated, but Johnson seems happy to wash his hands of the problem. 

Instead he focuses his efforts on supporting already successful schools and ignoring unfairness, lack of resources and wider school place pressures.

Move beyond schooling and young people face the dual challenges of vastly inflated living costs and an uphill struggle to break onto the career ladder. 

The competition for apprenticeships, hailed as a key way to lower youth unemployment, illustrates the scale of the problem.

The latest figures show that 17 people chase each and every apprenticeship in the capital, with demand far outstripping supply.

Until this imbalance is corrected many will continue to miss out. 

Apprenticeship promises broken

The demand for apprenticeships is nothing new, which is why the mayor raised expectations, pledging to create 250,000 apprenticeships by 2016.

With only a year to go he’s well off track with just 117,530 so far.

At this rate it looks increasingly likely the mayor will be lucky to achieve little over half his 250,000 target by the time he leaves office.

Even if you are one of the lucky few who manage to get an apprenticeship the daily anxieties continue.

Young apprentices still have to balance an especially low minimum wage of £2.73 per hour with the high cost of living and travel to work costs, despite no guarantee of a full time job at the end.

If we are to see the revolution in apprenticeships many people hope for, we need them to be high quality, reasonably paid and widely available.

Without more government action to make that happen the potential will only ever be half realised.

Huge rise in university fees

Take the alternative route, via university, and you’ll find funding declining, the cap on tuition fees removed and maintenance grants soon abolished for Londoners from low income backgrounds.

In all, the next generation of young people coming to study in London are likely to rack up an overall debt of £59,106 before interest as a result of attending one of our world class universities.

Despite knowing they are the future, Boris Johnson breaks his commitment to young people without a thought of the impact either on their lives or on the future success of London.

Young people need a mayor who believes in them and who provides them with the guidance, support and opportunities required to turn them into the next skilled workers, entrepreneurs, artists and leaders.

With increasing focus on further devolution to London, the mayoralty has opportunities.

The mayor could choose to lobby for funding from the Skills Funding Agency to invest in creating future London jobs.

The mayor could choose to help coordinate and assist the boroughs with strategic school place creation, safeguarding the future of our schools for young Londoners. 

He could choose to invest in an apprenticeships programme focused on results not rhetoric.

Instead, too often Boris Johnson has taken the path of least resistance, letting opportunities pass him by and dodging the tough decisions.

On Balance

Mark Steel writes:

We knew Jeremy Corbyn was mad, but now we know he’s psychotic.

It turns out he won’t press the button to annihilate cities in a nuclear holocaust. How could anyone be that mentally unstable? 

Corbyn revealed himself as a danger to us all by saying quietly “no”, in response to a calm and measured radio presenter yelling “Would you be prepared to press the button?” at him.

This should be a test in institutions for the criminally insane, to check whether an inmate should be released back into the community.

If they suggest that, on balance, they wouldn’t obliterate a geopolitical region in radioactive firestorms slaughtering millions of civilians and rendering a continent uninhabitable for 50 billion years, they should go back in a straitjacket like Hannibal Lecter.

Only when they’ve learned to shout “I WANT TO PRESS THE BUTTON AND MAKE EVERYONE’S SKIN DISSOLVE” should they be let free to mix safely with their fellow citizens.

Next week he should be exposed even more, with an interviewer asking: “Would you personally, Mr Corbyn, attack Putin with a chainsaw? Answer the question, Corbyn, yes or no?

If someone mocked you at a United Nations conference, would you sever his head and shriek like a hyena as you smeared his blood on your bare torso or can you not be trusted with our security?

“What about crocodiles, Mr Corbyn, would you release them at the French if necessary? If you knew a wizard would you get him to turn the Iranian ambassador into a centipede, or are you too soft? Would you be prepared to laugh as you used a Death Star?

Even if you did press the button to launch nuclear missiles, would you sing the national anthem as you did it, or would you do it silently because you hate Britain?” 

This is just one more consequence of Labour choosing an extremist as a leader.

It’s such a shame they didn’t select a moderate who would be prepared to press the button, such as Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

The shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle said Corbyn’s answer “wasn’t helpful”, and you can see why she was so shocked by it.

He sprung this idea of opposing Trident on his party with no prior warning – except for a lifetime of vocal support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and campaigning to be Labour leader on the policy of opposing Trident.

He would have come across as far more trustworthy had he said: “Having spent my life opposing Trident, of course I’ll press the button. I’ll do it now by practising on Weymouth, if you like.” 

Now we’ve established that the country would be in terrible danger without Trident, the biggest worry is that only a few countries have nuclear missiles at all. All those places must be living in constant terror.

Not only should we renew Trident, we should make extra Tridents, for all the countries that don’t have them, starting with Iceland and Vanuatu, or we’ll never be able to relax.

But the main reason we must keep making weapons that could blow up the planet is to preserve jobs.

The Conservative Party is especially anxious about this, which you can understand, because for the past 40 years it thought about little else apart from making sure everyone has a job.

When the minimum wage was suggested, the Conservatives opposed it because it would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. They were the same with the fox-hunting ban, which they said would cost thousands of jobs.

It’s the same with Trident; if there was a nuclear war there would be loads of work to be had sweeping up, so we’d all feel the benefit.

They care so much about jobs they’re prepared to pay £100bn for Trident, so you’d think for that amount of subsidy, they could be paid to carry out any number of useful acts, such as teaching wasps to dance, turning old nuclear warheads into luxury apartments for Russian businessmen, or spending all day trying to annoy Noel Edmonds.

Then, when he complained, the Conservatives could say, “Mr Edmonds’ outrageous demands will cost this country 40,000 jobs.”

Unfortunately, these moderate policies haven’t been explored much, as the media seems to lag behind changing attitudes.

For example, after Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, the TV coverage turned to three “experts”, for their analysis – all of whom were fans of Tony Blair, whose favoured candidate won 4.5 per cent of the vote in the election for leader.

This would be like following a Blair speech in 1997 by saying: “Now let’s turn to our panel to see what they thought. With me are experts Jeremy Corbyn, along with an anarchist in a black mask from Arson Unite, Hugo Chavez, and the deputy leader of the Peruvian Marxist Peasant Army of Pure Hatred.

Let me turn to you first, deputy leader, did this speech reach out to your guerrillas or was it only aimed at the people in the hall?”

But, together, we can all address Corbyn’s difficulties. Because as with any mental health issue, maybe his problems can be resolved with therapy.

An analyst could show him film of Hiroshima exploding, and ask in a soothing voice: “Why do you feel uneasy about firing missiles 100 times more powerful than that? Is it because you had an argument with your father?”

Then he could be gently coaxed back to rational behaviour.

He could start by injecting kittens with radiation, then spray plutonium around a school until the happy day when he answers a question about pressing the button by screaming “yes, yes, YES” like decent, normal, moderate people.