Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Long's Two Short Planks

Camilla Long is the film critic of the Sunday Times.

Yet, or perhaps therefore, she sincerely believes that until she panned it behind a paywall, no one had ever heard of the winner of this year's Palme d'Or, the superlative I, Daniel Blake.

Does she know what the Palme d'Or is? Until this week, had she ever heard of Ken Loach? I do not ask these questions rhetorically.

Still, I am not aware of any suggestion that Long was admitted to Oxford only after her father had telephoned the place to insist.

She, after all, is a proper toff whose admission was strictly by hereditary right. The spawn of a mere Fabian grandee was, and is, Toby Young.

There is all the difference in the world between "You'd get in if your Daddy asked specifically" and "You'll get in because you were born to get in."

Both Young and Long see it as self-evident that because they do not know any people like the characters in I, Daniel Blake, then such people cannot possibly exist in real life.

Both Young and Long see it as self-evident that because Britain is a very rich country overall, then it cannot contain any abjectly poor people, not even those who have been sanctioned for the purpose in pursuit of a target.

And both Young and Long see it as self-evident that because I, Daniel Blake does not resemble the execrable Benefits Street, then it cannot be an accurate portrayal of even such relative poverty as they might be prepared to concede, very grudgingly indeed, might exist "Up North".

Young is clearly fishing for a spot on the Question Time panel next to Loach tomorrow. He must not get one. Nor ought he to be allowed to settle for The Agenda with Loach next week.

And for all the sheer comedy value of hearing Long's political opinions, that temptation, too, must be resisted.

Spanish Practices

For all his faux Officer Corps demeanour, the 64-year-old Sir Michael Fallon has never worked outside politics. Not one day, in his entire life.

The strategic interest of the United Kingdom is to stay out (in other words, to get out) of the war in Syria.

But all opponents of the Islamic State should applaud the decision of Spain to refuel the Russian warships on the way there.

Spain. Of course. Spain.

Was it Chesterton who said that some things were too big to see?

Spain. Of course. Spain.

In The Face of Repeated Atrocities

Peter Oborne writes: 

The opposition Labour Party is to use a debate in the British parliament on Wednesday to call the Conservative government to account over British support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called a full-scale "Opposition Day" Commons debate into atrocities committed by all sides in the civil war in Yemen.

Corbyn's intervention comes in the wake of a recent Saudi coalition attack on a funeral in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, which killed more than 140 mourners.

Corbyn has ordered the debate as the blanket support offered by Britain and America for Saudi Arabia has become hard to defend in the face of repeated atrocities apparently carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. 

The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, will use the debate to demand an independent investigation into violations of international humanitarian law by all sides in the Yemen conflict.

It will, however, stop short of demanding a halt to British arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Britain has sold billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia as the Yemen war has raged.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has won the right for a judicial review of sales to Saudi Arabia, with a hearing expected in February.

A spokesman for Thornberry told Middle East Eye that the purpose of the debate was to put the government on the spot for its reliance on the Saudis themselves to investigate atrocities against civilians.

He said that out of more than one thousand incidents of air strikes on civilian sites, the Saudis have completed reports on just nine. 

Speaking on the BBC’s Daily Politics last week, the Middle East minister, Tobias Ellwood, said that the Saudi-led coalition air attack on the Sanaa funeral was a case of "deliberate error" and a "gross breach of standard operating procedure". 

A Labour Party spokesman said Elwood's remarks "raised the question of how many other deliberate errors have been going on". 

Labour is also likely to try to expose the Tory double standards over Yemen at a time ministers have repeatedly condemned Russian air attacks in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Voters Should Not Be Fooled

You can never have too much Peter Oborne:

Very rich men who go into politics almost invariably turn out to be duds.

There are a handful of exceptions to this rule, such as Michael Heseltine, who made a fortune in publishing before becoming a Tory MP. 

However, in my experience, the rule is immutable when it relates to those who inherited family wealth rather than made their own successful way in life. 

Inevitably, they fail to understand the daily struggles of voters. 

In short, they are spoilt brats, self-indulgently playing politics because they think they have a God-given right to rule. 

Zac Goldsmith is a prime example of spoilt brat syndrome.

His father, tycoon-turned-politician Sir James Goldsmith, sent Zac to Eton for the best start in life. 

There is, it must be admitted, no question that Zac Goldsmith is charming, with an affable self-deprecating manner. 

You can meet plenty of men like him in London’s clubland, on exclusive golf courses and in overseas tax havens. 

Easy-going and none too bright, they live agreeable but empty lives. 

Zac Goldsmith, who gives the impression he’s bestowing a favour on his fellow MPs by joining them in the Commons, differs from most idle rich in one unusual way. 

Along with his wealth, he insists he is a man of virtue and high principle. 

Voters should not be fooled. 

It is easy to be as virtuous and principled as Zac Goldsmith portrays himself to be if you can afford it.

Most Tory MPs are not wealthy enough to risk their careers by resigning and then standing as an independent.

To be fair to Mr Goldsmith, he promised in his manifesto last year that he would precipitate a by-election if a Tory Prime Minister decided to build a third runway, in support of constituents opposed to extra aircraft noise and pollution.

Mr Goldsmith is entitled to argue that he would have been breaking faith with his constituents if he went back on his promise.

He’s also entitled to argue that this kind of principle is all too rare in the increasingly sordid world of high politics.

So far, so good!

However, Mr Goldsmith was elected as an MP on the Tory ticket.

Plenty of other Tory MPs have constituencies close to the airport.

Yes, Boris Johnson (Uxbridge) and Justine Greening (Putney) have fought Heathrow expansion, but Mr Goldsmith was the only one who drew attention to himself by pledging a by-election.

There is, furthermore, a price to be paid for his apparent heroic self-sacrifice.

That price will not, needless to say, be paid by Mr Goldsmith himself.

It will be paid by his fellow Tory MPs, who must now add the challenge of Heathrow to a growing list of issues as they battle their way through one of the most testing periods in recent political memory.

Prime Minister Theresa May enjoys a tiny majority as she fights to press through with Brexit. 

At a time when she needs every last Tory vote in the Commons, Mr Goldsmith has selfishly quit the fray.

To put it brutally, he’s placed his own vanity above loyalty to his colleagues.

But there is a darker reason why Mr Goldsmith’s act of treachery is hard to swallow.

Although keen to present himself as a highly principled moral crusader, it should not be forgotten that last summer he fought one of the nastiest political campaigns in recent history.

He stood as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London against Sadiq Khan, a well-respected Labour MP. Mr Goldsmith didn’t fight solely on the issues affecting Londoners, as any decent politician would have done.

Instead, he and his allies targeted Mr Khan, shamefully trying to exploit his Muslim religion.

Leaflets sent out by Mr Goldsmith’s campaign accused Mr Khan of being a ‘divisive and radical’ politician — seen as a coded message directed at those who might be uncomfortable with the prospect of a Muslim mayor.

These tactics, profoundly at odds with British tradition of not attacking a rival’s private faith — even indirectly — were pretty unpleasant and, ultimately, Goldsmith failed.

The Guardian wrote that: ‘Goldsmith is no decent man of principle. He’s a discredited politician who ran a vile racist campaign and he deserves only contempt.’

On this occasion, I believe The Guardian was right.

Only two British political campaigns since the Second World War bear comparison with Zac Goldsmith’s unscrupulous attempt to capture City Hall.

One was the Bermondsey by-election of 1983 when Peter Tatchell, the Labour candidate, was relentlessly targeted on account of his homosexuality.

The other was the Smethwick campaign in the West Midlands in 1964’s general election, when the Conservative candidate, Peter Griffiths, campaigned on the disgraceful, racist slogan: ‘If you desire a COLOURED for your neighbour, vote Labour’. 

Griffiths’s revolting campaign was successful, but he was ostracised by MPs for the rest of his career. Tory MPs may think Mr Goldsmith should be, too.

Even his much-vaunted green credentials are suspect.

Ten years ago, David Cameron gave Mr Goldsmith a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by putting him in joint charge of a Tory commission to shape its policies on the environment.

However, Mr Goldsmith was too lazy to take advantage — putting no obvious effort into the task and failing to force through his green agenda.

Cameron soon abandoned the green policies that will forever be associated with his egregious Arctic huskies photo-shoot stunt.

If ever there was a principle for environmental-campaigner Zac Goldsmith to champion, Cameron’s betrayal of his green crusade was it.

Yet, as far as we know, there were no resignation threats.

Maybe Zac Goldsmith didn’t want to rock the boat because, as a fellow Old Etonian, he was one of Cameron’s allies.

Indeed, it was a result of Cameron’s backing, that Mr Goldsmith was chosen to fight the prize seat of Richmond Park — which enjoys a considerable Tory majority — ahead of more deserving candidates. 

Today, Mr Goldsmith has repaid that privilege by turning on the party which launched his political career. 

Ultimately, the livelihood of millions of British citizens depends on the third runway at Heathrow being built. 

The rest of us should applaud the decisive act of Theresa May after more than ten years of indecision from the Blair, Brown and Cameron governments.

Yet, Zac Goldsmith, at Mrs May’s time of need, has stabbed the Tory Party in the back in a gesture of grandstanding self-indulgence.

No Newsnight

I am still getting over last night's Newsnight.

Two worthy pieces, on Russian Eurasianism and on the Turkish AKP's questioning of the Treaty of Lausanne, were run on the same night.

Followed by a feature on Danish cinnamon buns, and then by a discussion of staffing issues at the Globe Theatre.

Yesterday, the man who in May was the governing party's candidate for Mayor of London resigned both from that party and from the House of Commons.

He will contest the consequent by-election as an Independent, in opposition to what is by far the Government's biggest policy of any kind.

But you would never have known any of that from the BBC's flagship news and current affairs programme.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Chagos Test

The Chagossians had their day in the House of Commons again this afternoon.

Theirs is one of the truly good causes, and Jeremy Corbyn has been active in it for decades.

Although it has never been partisan.

All three governing parties of the last 50 years are at least complicit in the mistreatment of the Chagossians, while their supporters have come from all parties, and continue to do so.

Still, Corbyn is the first Leader of any party to be drawn from among those supporters.

There is a Chagos Test to be applied to noisy supporters of the Falkland Islanders, whose eviction no one has ever suggested, not even when Margaret Thatcher was preparing to sell very sovereignty over those Islands to the highest bidder.

If they do not also support the Chagossians, whose cause is active and whose case is pressing, then they deserve to be disregarded with contempt.

This broadly applies to loud invocations of "self-determination" in general.

Take Back Control

For many Labour supporters in the Deep South or in the deep countryside, and for many Conservative supporters in very urban areas or in the old heartlands of heavy industry, a Member of the European Parliament is the only person whom their vote has ever elected.

Some will say that the solution is Proportional Representation for the House of Commons.

But the preposterously enormous constituency boundaries proposed for Scotland illustrate why many of us have never quite come round to that one. It could only be made to work in those very urban areas.

That, though, is an aside.

The main point is that the matter is finally about to come to a head, after at least 40 years, that we can have our national sovereignty, or we can have the House of Lords, but we cannot have both.

Tony Benn always said that the Lords would never permit withdrawal from what he always understood was really the European Union, and that was always his principal reason for wishing to abolish the Lords.

He is about to be proved right. Indeed, he is already being proved right.

“Brexit means Brexit,” says the Prime Minister. The democratic will must be respected, says the Leader of the Opposition.

They need to confront the mounting anger about the ballooning size of the unelected House of Parliament while the elected House is being cut, and that despite the growing population.

The powers of the House of Lords could be transferred to a new Senate, the members of which would be remunerated in the same way as MPs were.

Ministers would not be drawn from the Senate, but they would appear before it. Even the Prime Minister might.

The Senate’s term of office would be six years.

Each of the nine English regions would elect 30 Senators, namely six Conservatives, six Labour, six Liberal Democrats (which party would in return be banned from contesting elections to the Commons), six from other registered political parties that did not contest Commons elections, and six Independents to sit as Crossbenchers.

In the first three cases, any member of the relevant party who was a parliamentary elector within the region would be eligible to stand.

As electors, each of us would vote for one candidate, with the top six elected at the end. Casual vacancies would be filled by co-opting the next candidate down who was willing and able to serve.

The fourth category would use party lists, again requiring candidates to be from within the region. The fifth would replicate the first three, but for Independents.

Scotland and Wales would each elect 30 Senators.

Five each from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP in Scotland or Plaid Cymru in Wales, other registered political parties that did not contest Commons elections, and Independents to sit as Crossbenchers.

Like the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and Plaid Cymru would in return be banned from contesting Commons elections.

Northern Ireland would elect 30 Senators.

Three each from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, other parties that did not contest Commons elections, and Independents to sit as Crossbenchers.

The Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the UUP, the SDLP and the Alliance Party would be banned from contesting Commons elections.

The SDLP has three seats in the Commons and no real chance of any more, while such a figure is beyond the wildest dreams of any of the others.

Although of course, in Northern Ireland as anywhere else, parties that did not contest Senate elections would be free to stand for the Commons, as would Independents.

This would give 360 Senators, representing a very broad range of political opinion.

UKIP, or whatever came after it, would happily exchange the off-chance of one Commons seat for the effective guarantee of 11 Senators and the serious possibility of 12.

The same would be true of the three Green Parties in different parts of the United Kingdom.

The Liberal Democrats would always have 79 Senators.

And practically every elector would be able to point to at least one Senator for whom he or she had voted.

I, Patrick Cockburn

The Great Man writes:

I was in Iran in early 2011 when there were reports from opposition sources in exile saying that protests were sweeping the country.

There was some substance in this.

There had been a demonstration of 30,000 protesters in north Tehran on 14 February – recalling the mass protests against the allegedly fixed presidential election of 2009 – that had caught the authorities by surprise.

There was hopeful commentary from Western pundits suggesting that the Arab Spring uprisings might be spreading to Iran.

But, by the time I got to Tehran a few days later, nothing much appeared to be going on, though there were plenty of bored looking riot police standing around in the rain doing nothing.

It looked as if the protests had dwindled away, but when I checked the internet I found this was not so. Opposition spokesmen were claiming that protests were taking place every week not just in north Tehran but in other Iranian cities.

This account appeared to be confirmed by videos running online showing protesters resisting baton-wielding riot police and militiamen.

I met some friendly Iranian correspondents working for the foreign media and asked why I was failing to find any demonstrations.

The reporters were well informed, but could not work because their press credentials had been suspended by the Iranian authorities.

They laughed when I described my vain pursuit of the anti-government protests, explaining that I was failing to find them because they had ceased earlier in the month.

One journalist usually sympathetic to the opposition said that “the problem is that the picture of what is happening in Iran these days comes largely from exiled Iranians and is often a product of wishful thinking or propaganda.” I asked about the videos online and he said that these were mostly concocted by the opposition using film of real demonstrations that had taken place in the past.

He pointed to one video, supposedly filmed in the middle of winter, in which trees covered in leaves were clearly visible in the far background.

I asked the journalists if this was not the fault of the Iranian government which, by suspending the credentials of local reporters who were credible eyewitnesses, had created a vacuum of information which was swiftly filled by opposition propagandists.

The stringers agreed that to some extent this was so, but added gloomily that, even if they were free to report, their Western editors “would not believe us because the exiles and their news outlets have convinced them that there are big protests here. If we deny this, our bosses will simply believe that we have been intimidated or bought up by the government.”

It is a salutary story because later the same year in Libya and Syria opposition activists were able to gain control of the media narrative and exclude all other interpretations of what was happening.

In Libya, Gaddafi was demonised as the sole cause of all his country’s ills while his opponents were lauded as valiant freedom fighters whose victory would bring liberal democracy to the Libyan people.

Instead, as was fairly predictable, the overthrow of Gaddafi rapidly reduced Libya to a violent and criminalised anarchy with little likelihood of recovery. In present day Syria and Iraq one can see much the same process at work.

In both countries, two large Sunni Arab urban centres – East Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq – are being besieged by pro-government forces strongly supported by foreign airpower.

In East Aleppo, some 250,000 civilians and 8,000 insurgents, are under attack by the Syrian Army allied to Shia paramilitaries from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon and supported by the Russian and Syrian air forces.

The bombing of East Aleppo has rightly caused worldwide revulsion and condemnation.

But look at how differently the international media is treating a similar situation in Mosul, 300 miles east of Aleppo, where one million people and an estimated 5,000 Isis fighters are being encircled by the Iraqi army fighting alongside Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia and Sunni paramilitaries and with massive support from a US-led air campaign.

In the case of Mosul, unlike Aleppo, the defenders are to blame for endangering civilians by using them as human shields and preventing them leaving.

In East Aleppo, fortunately, there are no human shields – though the UN says that half the civilian population wants to depart – but simply innocent victims of Russian savagery.

Destruction in Aleppo by Russian air strikes is compared to the destruction of Grozny in Chechnya sixteen years ago, but, curiously, no analogy is made with Ramadi, a city of 350,000 on the Euphrates in Iraq, that was 80 per cent destroyed by US-led air strikes in 2015.

Parallels go further: civilians trapped in East Aleppo are understandably terrified of what the Syrian Mukhabara secret police would do to them if they leave and try to pass through Syrian government checkpoints.

But I talked earlier this year to some truck drivers from Ramadi whom I found sleeping under a bridge in Kirkuk who explained that they could not even go back to the ruins of their homes because checkpoints on the road to the city were manned by a particularly violent Shia militia.

They would certainly have to pay a large bribe and stood a good chance of being detained, tortured or murdered.

The advance on Mosul is being led by the elite Special Forces of the Iraqi counter-terrorism units and Shia militias are not supposed to enter the city, almost all of whose current inhabitants are Sunni Arabs.

But in the last few days these same special forces entered the town of Bartella on the main road twelve miles from Mosul in their black Humvees which were reportedly decorated with Shia religious banners.

Kurdish troops asked them to remove the banners and they refused.

An Iraqi soldier named Ali Saad was quoted as saying: “(T)hey asked if we were militias. We said we’re not militias, we are Iraqi forces and these are our beliefs.”

It may be that Isis will not fight for Mosul, but the probability is that they will, in which case the outlook will not be good for the civilian population.

Isis did not fight to the last man in Fallujah west of Baghdad so much of the city is intact, but they did fight for Khalidiya, a nearby town of 30,000, where today only four buildings are still standing according to the Americans.

The extreme bias shown in foreign media coverage of similar events in Iraq and Syria will be a rewarding subject for PhDs students looking at the uses and abuses of propaganda down the ages.

This has been the pattern of reporting of the wars in Syria and Iraq over the last five years.

Nothing much has changed since 2003 when the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein had persuaded foreign governments and media alike that the invading American and British armies would be greeted with rapture by the Iraqi people.

A year later the invaders were fighting for their lives.

Misled by opposition propagandists and their own wishful thinking, foreign government officials and journalists had wholly misread the local political landscape.

Much the same thing is happening today.

Taking Off

Crawley is a Labour target seat, and rumour has it that Jeremy Corbyn intends to impose the whip for Gatwick.

As for Richmond Park, the decision of the Conservatives not to field a candidate makes a nonsense of Zac Goldsmith's entire gesture.

The Greens are also highly likely to endorse him, effectively making him the joint candidate of what, at that eco-toff level, have always been those two very close connected parties.

Jonathan Bartley is not an aberration. David Cameron's "Vote Blue, Go Green" was not an aberration, either.

Remember his profound scepticism about the nuclear energy that the previous Labour Government had strongly supported.

Samantha Cameron used to vote Green. Perhaps she does again?

Goldsmith's mother's family made their money as ever so Green mineowners in County Durham, but never mind.

He himself ran a squalid campaign, belonging not in the gutter but in the sewer, for Mayor of London. He deserves to lose his seat.

We have yet to see a complete list of candidates.

But, while I remain as suspicious as ever of the Whig tradition, I am already supporting the re-election of all of the Lib Dem (and Independent) members of Durham County Council, because of their support for the Teaching Assistants.

Goldsmith does deserve to lose to someone.

Conviction Politics

David T.C. Davies is so unremarkable a person that he cannot even manage the distinction of being the Member of Parliament whose status as such was the greatest national embarrassment.

That accolade goes to Jess Phillips.

She is at it again today, cantering her hobbyhorse that the acquittal of Ched Evans proves that the law itself is wrong.

Phillips and Evans richly deserve each other. They would make a lovely couple.

Of course sexual history is pertinent to whether or not a person may or may not have consented to sex at all. Never mind consented to exactly the same startling variation on the theme, as was the case here.

If anything, the ban on the admission of such basic testimony under almost all circumstances raises serious questions about a great many convictions in the last 13 years.

Had the whole truth been given in evidence, then how different might the verdicts have been?

But Phillips is backed in this, with truly jaw-dropping shamelessness, by Harriet Harman.

Harman wrote the current law, and she railroaded it through a Parliament as supine on this in 2003 as it was on the Iraq War in the same year.

Of course, what she really wanted, and what she will not rest until she gets, were "trials" without juries. Heard only by "specialist" judges who would be bound to convict, due to having had "the training".

Thus, with a little bit of decoration, mere accusation would become conviction. Especially since the burden of proof would also have been reversed.

Phillips's class war position in this is the same as Harman's.

Phillips grew up between two houses, one of them in France, and her mother ran both the local NHS Trust and an events company that that Trust engaged. That company employed young Jess.

Harman is fairly unlikely to contest the 2020 General Election. But Phillips intends to be in Parliament for 30 or 40 years yet. Her removal at the ballot box is now absolutely imperative.

She owes her elevation to another of Harman's pet projects, the system of all-women shortlists.

Similarly, the application of that device to this constituency is certain to produce one or the other of two kinds of Labour candidate.

Most probably, an upper-middle-class girl out of the typing pool who had never previously set foot here.

Or, as an outside chance, an ageing 1970s feminist caricature who perfectly embodied that most abiding legacy of Thatcherism, the transfer of power to such types from and over working-class men.

Of course, Neil Fleming, who will by then be back from London with his tail between his legs (a work in progress, so to speak), could always declare himself to be a woman for this purpose.

No one would find that remotely difficult to believe. There really ought to be one woman in his relationship, and he is the only credible candidate for the position.

To put matters at their mildest, beating any of those would hold no terrors for me.

Salus Populi Suprema Lex

Hearing John Rees on The Jeremy Vine Show, telling Vanessa Feltz about his forthcoming book on the Levellers, made me realise quite how the election and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn had transformed the debate in this country.

Even Counterfire, even the Stop the War Coalition, and even the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, are now as mainstream as this.

We are talking about Vanessa Feltz. We are talking about The Jeremy Vine Show. We are talking about Radio Two, the most heard radio station in Europe. On the BBC.

The regime that executed Charles I also persecuted the Levellers and the Diggers for their appeals to “the Ancient Constitution” and to “time out of mind”.

That regime anticipated the bourgeois capitalist Revolutions of 1688, 1776 and 1789. Our own Radical tradition does not derive from those Revolutions.

Rather, it predates them, and it opposed them and their consequences, making common cause with Tories for the abolition of slavery (by very specific appeal to the Ancient Constitution), for factory reform, for the extension of the franchise, for action against substance abuse and gambling, and so on.

Something similar presents itself in opposition to the neoconservative war agenda, and through that to the neoliberal economic order.

We Should Not Collude

Chris Bambery writes:

Last week we saw the British media issue dire warnings that the UK was at threat from a Russian flotilla which was sailing through the Straits of Dover en route to the Eastern Mediterranean for operations in Syria. 

One tabloid ran a headline saying Russian guns were targeted on Dover.

Reading the story it turned out they were talking about a sentry on board one warship armed with an AK47. Dover was not under threat. 

All of this is set against a growing freeze on relationships between the US and its allies, and Russia. 

The debate on Syria in the House of Commons a few weeks ago made my hair stand on end with Tory MPs thinking it would be acceptable to shoot down Russian war planes operating over Aleppo in order to enforce a no-fly zone.

No matter what position you take on Syrian civil war - mine is to want an end to all foreign intervention as a first step towards a possible solution - the idea of going to war with Russia is not very clever. 

Just how badly things might fare is illustrated by the fact that all the Royal Navy could muster to shadow the Russian flotilla last week was one destroyer. 

Clearly the US and the West don’t want Russia exerting itself in the Middle East. 

Clearly too they want Nato to continue to expand eastwards, this time into Ukraine. 

Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea and his support for the rebels in East Ukraine have to be seen in the context of Nato's expansion along Russia’s Western and southern border, and, by the fact that a Nato member - Georgia - launched a war against Russia in 2008. 

In the dying days of the old Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, agreed to German re-unification in return for the promise Nato would not expand into the former Stalinist states. 


You cannot understand the government of Vladimir Putin without understanding it is in many ways a reaction to that broken promise, to the way Russia felt slighted over the Nato occupation of Kosova in 1998/99, and both Putin and the Chinese government felt deceived after agreeing to a UN resolution allowing Nato to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. 

Moscow and Beijing abstained on that vote, rather than use their veto in the UN Security Council. Both believed they had been told the intervention would not be used to achieve regime change. 

Putin has strived, despite very limited economic resources, to restore Russia as a world power. 

But internally he benefits simply from the fact he is not Boris Yeltsin. 

Aside from the fact he was re-elected on the basis of a rigged election in 1996, the Yeltsin years were socially and economically disastrous. 

Yeltsin pushed through a rapid privatisation programme which effectively became a giveaway of state owned assets at knocked down prices to a small group of ex-members of the old Soviet elite who amassed huge fortunes. 

These are the people who became known as the “oligarchs”. 

Many, incidentally, now live in London. 

Western capital has also benefited from these changes. 

In one notorious case, a deal was signed with the EU to supply Russia with apples, despite these being more expensive than home grown ones. 

Corruption, a feature of the old system, went out of control. 

Unemployment and poverty grew massively, with life expectancy falling sharply. 

On the international stage the alcoholic Yeltsin was treated with derision. 

When Yeltsin was eventually forced to resign in 1999, his successor was the ex-KGB man, Vladimir Putin. 

It is worthy recalling that at the outset of Putin’s rule he was a strong supporter of the USA, one of the first to rally behind George W. Bush after 9/11, allowing Russian airspace and territory to be used to supply Nato forces in Afghanistan, and not complaining much about Nato expansion into the Baltic States. 

But this was always combined with a determination that Russia should be treated with respect. 

At home he went after a few of the most powerful oligarchs, creating a case against them for plunder and corruption was not difficult. 

This was not about expropriating the wealth of all the oligarchs but rather sending them a signal that if they wanted to keep their loot they must tow the Putin line. 

For the US and its allies, Russia could not be a democracy because that required signing up to their economic and military agenda. 

Of course, there are limits to parliamentary democracy in Russia and clearly the 2011 election was manipulated to bolster the ruling party’s flagging vote. 

Yet Putin survived in part because the protests were too socially stratified, relying on young educated middle-class Muscovites. 

Moreover, Western support for the protests was seen as a threat to Russian sovereignty. 

That last word is important to Putin, and to the West. 

He wants to uphold it; they want to waken it decisively. 

And here is the sticking point. 

That is why Putin switched from backing the USA at the onset of the War on Terror to seeking ways of re-establishing Russia as independent, sovereign state. 


In their usual ludicrous way the British media loves to portray him as a new Mussolini, or even Hitler.

The latter is remarkably insensitive to the size of Russian losses in its war with Nazi Germany following Hitler’s June 1941 invasion.

Yet there is freedom of expression, and although the state-run media is 100 per cent pro-Putin, there is lively criticism and debate on the internet.

The Yeltsin-founded constitution - lauded by the West at its inception - remains in place, and Moscow accepts the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. 

I am not trying to paint a glowing picture of burgeoning democracy, but in any global league table of rights, Russia would be in the top half, not that far behind many European states. 

It certainly isn’t Saudi Arabia. 

Russia has, of course, waged a series of brutal wars in the Caucuses, but the West chooses to regard those as internal matters largely because they target jihadist groups.

Its current intervention in Syria is costly and invokes memories of its disastrous occupation of Afghanistan. 

Russian power is very, very limited in comparison to America.

But what the West doesn’t seem to realise that coverage and commentary like we saw last week over the Russian flotilla sailing down the Channel is greeted with amusement and contempt by many Russians, and benefits Putin rather than harms him.

Anti-capitalists could compile a far more serious critique of Putin, and he deserves that, but the way Russia is currently being painted is very dangerous and we should not collude with it.

Royal Flight

A third runway at Heathrow? How much does the Queen want for Windsor Castle? Anything that anyone would now pay for it, I expect.

It was bad enough spending the week in what the West End had become, but she's not spending the weekend under those same people's sodding aeroplanes, too.

She remains the Head of State of eight independents countries in the Caribbean, plus another with a Caribbean coastline.

That sea also washes four British Overseas Territories, and then there is Bermuda.

She's off.

Of course, if she still wants to avoid aviation altogether, then she should move to St Helena.

Speaking of small islands, that is what lies behind today's decision.

If you have a British concept of distance, then Gatwick is a long way from the centre of London.

But it isn't if you are American, or Continental European, or Russian, or Indian, or Chinese.


So, Labour got its electoral paperwork wrong.

But it didn't win.

It is now possible to walk from Land's End to the Scottish Border without leaving the areas of Police Forces that were investigating electoral fraud by the party that did win.

Boris Johnson Takes Flight

Ever since Theresa May came out as a Left Christian Democrat, I have suspected that she would be only the second of this Parliament's three Conservative Prime Ministers.

And so it begins.

As early as this, the presenting issue has presented itself.

Our Boys?

So, these "moderate rebels" whom we are arming and training, at least, in Syria?

Any chance that a British radio or television station might interview one or more of them, in order to ascertain exactly what it was that they wanted, and why?

I only ask.

Seconds Out?

If there had been a Remain vote in the EU referendum, then would Nicola Sturgeon not have bothered with a second referendum on Scottish independence?

I only ask.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Fly The Flags High

"Why Are They Coming To Britain?"

We bombed Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

We are at the very least supplying the bombing of Yemen, and there is considerable evidence of rather more involvement than that.

This is our responsibility.

The dental tests have been illegal in Britain since 1982, they would be against medical ethics anyway, and they do not work.

The British Dental Association is truly aghast to find people who still believe in the efficacy of such a practice. What next, leeches?

But there is no way of telling anyone's age for certain. That was no small part of why we never promised to take only children.

In any case, those boys look like the (white) teenagers up here, all right.

You may be used to the Bullingdon Club's unlined faces well into middle age, but no one here in the old coal and steel belt looks like David Cameron or George Osborne.

They are here now. The door is already open. You have already lost.

This Government, this Conservative Government with an overall majority, has in any case never expressed anything other than scorn for your Posh Alf Garnett routine.

You were never going to win. It was inconceivable.

Day and Age

How are we supposed to tell the ages of refugees, should we wish to do so?

I don't think that you can tell age with certainty.

But a pub won't serve anyone who is obviously underage or who, being on the cusp, cannot produce ID.

That is the best that anyone can do.

In that situation. Or in this one.

Expect A Lot of Trouble

As a comment on a previous post puts it, referring to the possible resignation of Philip Hammond:

The Three Brexiteers will go first, by a combination of resignation on principle (Davis), resignation that's really sacking (Fox), and undisguised sacking (Johnson). They'll all be replaced with supporters of the May project of never quite leaving the EU. Hammond, a very long-standing and close ally of the Prime Minister's, is indispensable to that project.

I would of course agree with every word of that. But little bits of red meat to the dogs, such as classifying students as immigrants, do not help matters.

People expect a Blairite secession from the Labour Party. But it has yet to materialise, and they might be looking in the wrong place.

As another comment points out:

There are more Blairite Tory MPs than Blairite Labour ones. They're a smaller proportion of Tory than Labour MPs because there are more Tory MPs in total. But they are still the majority and they thought Theresa May was their candidate. They haven't got what they expected at all, whether it's workers on boards or it's this. Expect a lot of trouble for a PM with a wafer thin majority.

Until her elevation to the Premiership, no one had had the faintest idea that those were Theresa May's views. She was assumed to be really very right-wing indeed.

But that assumption was based on her hardline approach at the Home Office. That was itself a continuation of the New Labour programme that had in turn continued that of the Major Government, and especially of Michael Howard, long before any talk of Islamist terrorism.

Opposed all along the way, of course, by Jeremy Corbyn, by Diane Abbott and by Shami Chakrabarti.

Having borrowed numerous of Corbyn's domestic policies, May will need Labour votes in order to carry them, against the opposition of much of her own party.

But it will be worth watching to see whether any Labour MP continues to oppose workers' representatives on boards, restrictions on pay differences within companies, a crackdown on tax avoidance, a ban on tax-avoiding companies from public contracts, a huge programme of infrastructure spending in general and of housebuilding in particular, a cap on energy prices, a ban on foreign takeovers, or an inquiry into Orgreave.

The Work Capability Assessment that May has abandoned was introduced by Yvette Cooper, who was no defender of civil liberties when she was Shadow Home Secretary, and who, despite being a trained economist, was no opponent of the sacked George Osborne's austerity programme.

Think on.

He Says, She Says

He says that he is going to put her in jail. Yes, those words.

She says that he is an agent of a foreign power. Yes, those words.

We are going to be talking about this election for a very long time.

Enoch Was Right

Even Enoch Powell said that students were not immigrants.

Philip Hammond ought to resign in disgust.

To Get On With Politics Instead

Wherever you are, raise a glass at some point today, on this tenth anniversary of my expulsion from the Labour Party.

Banned for life.

I look at the people who are now back in it, or who are in very promising negotiations about various kinds of comeback, and I love the idea that I am more dangerous than all of them put together.

A Matter of Life and Death

I am completely unsurprised that anti-Corbyn Labour MPs wished death on Jeremy Corbyn in yesterday's Sunday Times.

I have heard the calmest people I know, men and women of vast political experience, tell me that they fully expected Jeremy to be murdered.

After all, a certain political tendency does have form, doesn't it?

Many years ago, that tendency's local operation here, which was extremely well-connected at national level (the then MP was the Government Chief Whip at the time), did make a full-blown attempt on my life.

I can still feel the hands around my throat.

The Police are among those who know all about it, and the political power of those who planned and perpetrated it is long gone.

I will be a County Councillor for this ward from May of next year. And a member of the Parish Council again, having stood down voluntarily in 2013.

I will be the Member of Parliament for this constituency from May 2020.

Neil Fleming will never again be elected to anything, or hold any public appointment.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Parliament Act, Indeed

For at least 40 years, since long before the changes wrought by the Blair Government, it has been a question of national sovereignty or the House of Lords, "but you can't have both."

That that House would certainly block withdrawal from what Tony Benn always understood and said was really the EU, was his principal reason for wanting to abolish it.

The Conservative Party could not find a thousand new pro-Brexit Peers, and in any case it would not want to.

This whole matter is about to come to a head. Not before time.

Through The Cracks of A Cruel Sytem

Mark Kermode reviews I, Daniel Blake:

Ken Loach’s latest Palme d’Or winner, his second after 2006’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, packs a hefty punch, both personal and political. 

On one level, it is a polemical indictment of a faceless benefits bureaucracy that strips claimants of their humanity by reducing them to mere numbers – neoliberal 1984 meets uncaring, capitalist Catch-22

On another, it is a celebration of the decency and kinship of (extra)ordinary people who look out for each other when the state abandons its duty of care. 

For all its raw anger at the impersonal mistreatment of a single mother and an ailing widower in depressed but resilient Newcastle, Paul Laverty’s brilliantly insightful script finds much that is moving (and often surprisingly funny) in the unbreakable social bonds of so-called “broken Britain”. 

Blessed with exceptional lead performances from Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, Loach crafts a gut-wrenching tragicomic drama (about “a monumental farce”) that blends the timeless humanity of the Dardenne brothers’ finest works with the contemporary urgency of Loach’s own 1966 masterpiece Cathy Come Home.

We open with the sound of 59-year-old Geordie joiner Daniel Blake (standup comic Johns) answering automaton-like questions from a “healthcare professional”.

Having suffered a heart attack at work, Daniel has been instructed by doctors to rest.

Yet since he is able to walk 50 metres and “raise either arm as if to put something in your top pocket”, he is deemed ineligible for employment and support allowance, scoring a meaningless 12 points rather than the requisite 15.

Instead, he must apply for jobseeker’s allowance and perform the Sisyphean tasks of attending CV workshops and pounding the pavements in search of nonexistent jobs that he can’t take anyway.

Meanwhile, Squires’s mother-of-two Katie is similarly being given the runaround, rehoused hundreds of miles from her friends and family in London after spending two years in a hostel.

“I’ll make this a home if it’s the last thing I do,” she tells Daniel, who takes her under his wing, fixing up her flat and impressed by her resolve to go “back to the books” with the Open University.

Both are doing all they can to make the best of a bleak situation, retaining their hope and dignity in the face of insurmountable odds.

Yet both are falling through the cracks of a cruel system that pushes those caught up in its cogs to breaking point.

“We’re digital by default” is the mantra of this impersonal new world, to which carpenter Daniel pointedly replies, “Yeah? Well I’m pencil by default.” 

Scenes of Blake struggling with a computer cursor (“fucking apt name for it!”) raise a wry chuckle, but there’s real outrage at the way this obligatory online form-filling has effectively written people like him out of existence. 

Yet still Daniel supports – and is supported by – those around him; from Kema Sikazwe’s street-smart China, a neighbour who is forging entrepreneurial links online (the internet may alienate Daniel, but it also unites young workers of the world), to Katie’s kids, Daisy and Dylan – the latter coaxed from habitual isolation (“no one listens to him so why should he listen to them?”) by the hands-on magic of woodwork. 

Having lost a wife who loved hearing Sailing By, the theme for Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast, and whose mind was “like the ocean”, Daniel carves beautiful fish mobiles that turn the kids’ rooms into an aquatic playground. 

Meanwhile, their mother is gradually going under.

A scene in a food bank in which the starving Katie, on the verge of collapse, finds herself grasping a meagre tin of beans is one of the most profoundly moving film sequences I have ever seen.

Shot at a respectful distance by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, the scene displays both an exquisite empathy for Katie’s trembling plight and a pure rage that anyone should be reduced to such humiliation.

Having seen I, Daniel Blake twice, I have both times been left a shivering wreck by this sequence, awash with tears, aghast with anger, overwhelmed by the sheer force of its all-but-silent scream.

“They’ll fuck you around,” China tells Daniel, “make it as miserable as possible – that’s the plan.”

For Loach and Laverty, this is the dark heart of their drama, the use of what Loach calls the “intentional inefficiency of bureaucracy as a political weapon”, a way of intimidating people in a manner that is anything but accidental.

“When you lose your self-respect you’re done for,” says Daniel, whose act of graffitied defiance becomes an “I’m Spartacus!” battle cry that resonates far beyond the confines of the movie theatre.

Expect to see it spray-painted on the walls of a jobcentre near you soon.

Line of Fire

Neil Clark writes:

The Times used to be regarded as Britain’s newspaper of record. But in recent years, the historic title, once renowned for its sober and balanced coverage, has morphed into a crude neocon propaganda organ.

It is shilling endlessly for US-led wars and ‘interventions’ and attacking - often in the most obnoxious way possible - those who dare to question the War Party narrative.

Needless to say, RT - which urges its viewers to ‘Question More’ (a very dangerous thing in an age of Imperial Truth Enforcement) - has been in The Times’s line of fire.

In fact, over one weekend at the end of July and the beginning of August - a time when most normal people turn their mind to things like ice cream, sun loungers and beaches - the Murdoch-owned newspaper ran at least six articles on RT.

And attack pieces on Russia’s Sputnik news agency too, making it a total of seven Russian media-focused hit pieces in just two and a half days.

These pieces are not just about criticizing RT, which of course everyone has the right to do.

They also seem to be about trying to exert pressure on regulatory bodies to go after RT and take action against a channel that doesn’t toe the neocon editorial line.

One of the articles was an opinion piece claiming that RT was a “fake news channel” which had no place on our screens”.

The author, one ‘Oliver Kamm,’ has been in the forefront of The Times’s campaign, and, based on the tone and the general take, might have been the author of otherwise authorless introduction editorial to the aforementioned seven-piece Times slam.

Earlier, in October 2014, Kamm wrote a hit piece on the launch of RT UK in which he urged UK media regulator Ofcom to take action against what he called “a den of deceivers”.

Kamm‘s anti-RT diatribe was cited by the BBC and subsequently even made it to a prominent placement on Wikipedia’s page about RT UK.

This week, he was at it again.

One day after the news broke that NatWest was to close RT UK’s bank accounts, Kamm declared in a furious Times column that denying RT a bank account was “the least of the problems we should be making for it.”

“It’s past time that Britain’s civil society, broadcasting regulator and elected government ceased pussyfooting around with RT,” he thundered.

Once again, Kamm’s piece made it to a prominent placement on RT UK’s Wikipedia page.

But who is this ‘Oliver Kamm’, the man who sets himself up as a media censor and an arbiter of journalistic standards?

Based on my personal experience, he seems to be more an obsessive and extremely creepy cyber-stalker, rather than a journalist.

Kamm’s Internet behaviour, which involves the relentless hounding of principled anti-war activists, is truly shocking.

But no less scandalous is the way that powerful and influential members of the UK’s neocon establishment have promoted and protected him.

Having been digitally stalked and defamed by Kamm for over 10 years, after I critically reviewed his pro Iraq War book for the Daily Telegraph in 2005, I decided earlier this month to publish a detailed 6,000 word expose of Kamm’s very disturbing and very vicious stalking campaigns, prior to launching a crowd-funded legal action against him and his employers.

Rather than reining Kamm in after detailed evidence of his stalking was presented to them, The Times instead clearly decided to make the ex-banker and hedge fund manager, who had no background in journalism before he was appointed a leader writer on the paper in 2008, the man to spearhead their attacks on RT.

By doing so, the credibility of the paper has been tarnished still further.

Kamm tweets obsessively about RT, denigrating it as a ‘fake’ station that hardly anyone watches

But if it were true that hardly anyone watched RT, then the obvious question would be: why does The Times’s leader writer devote so much time and energy to attacking it?

The answer is clear: Kamm targets RT not because it’s unpopular, of course, but because too many are watching.

A European Parliament briefing paper from last November admitted that RT had “garnered a huge global audience.”

“It is estimated to have 2.5 million viewers in the UK (year-on-year, a rise of 60%) and 3 million in US urban areas, while in South Africa it is by far the largest European news channel.”

The paper also conceded that: “Russian-language media broadcast from Western countries do not enjoy the same popularity in Russia as RT does in the West.”

In 2014, we were told that the BBC World’s Service feared losing ‘the information war’, because of the expansion of RT.

Meanwhile, the journalist Glenn Greenwald has noted Kamm’s prominence in the anti-RT campaign and highlighted the double standards involved:

“The most vocal among the anti-RT crowd - on the ground that it spreads lies and propaganda — such as Nick Cohen and Oliver Kamm — were also the most aggressive peddlers of the pro-U.K.-government conspiracy theories and lies that led to the Iraq War.

“That people like this, with their histories of pro-government propaganda, are the ones demanding punishment of RT for “bias” tells you all you need to know about what is really at play here,” Greenwald wrote.

The good news for those who want to see a media landscape where a wide range of views are heard, and not just neocon and ‘liberal interventionist’ ones officially approved by The Times, is that the attacks seem to have been counterproductive.

Establishment gatekeepers who think they have the right to tell us what channels to watch and which to boycott are finding that their influence is on the wane.

RT’s popularity, despite the relentless neocon campaign against it - or perhaps partly because of it - continues to grow.

Kicking In The Teeth

Old Blair hand though he is, I do feel genuinely sorry for someone like Duncan Enright, who has to look at the likes of David T.C. Davies in Parliament when he himself is not.

The one thing to be said for a Conservative Government is that the nation gets to be entertained by that party's rich seam of loudmouthed loonies on the backbenches.

Davies himself professes to be only 46, leading one to suppose that he would be better off in UKIP, the members of which always look 15 years older than they really are.

In my time, I have been out with girls who had been born before Paul Nuttall. Yet he looks as if he could be my father. Something that, flabbergastingly, even Nigel Farage could not quite legally be.

The solution to such suspicion is not, however, dental tests.

Those were banned for that purpose in this country as long ago as 1982 (remind me who was the Prime Minister in 1982), and in any case the British Dental Association is adamant that they do not work.

The BDA seems to be amazed to find people who are still alive and who think that dental tests for age do work. Never mind people like that who claim that they themselves were only 12 years old in 1982.

As to whether that picture in The Sun was of an interpreter, enough people believe it that it might as well have been, and politically that is what matters.

The Sun has this week been confronted with the fact that the general population now automatically believes in the falsehood of anything that it prints.

Let the cake be iced when more people vote to give Gary Lineker that National Television Award, sponsored by The Sun, than the entire circulation of The Sun itself.

And then let that publication shriek on to its heart's content that it was right about the picture. Nobody cares, dear. They care only about hating and humiliating you, your former editor, and your proprietor.

If you want reasons for that, then there are 96.

Or count the dead in Iraq.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Not Age Specific

You do realise, don't you, that we never specified any ages of the refugees that we would accept?

And I do hope that you are enjoying the setting Sun's new advertising slogan: "No need to check, you just know that it's a lie."

If The Sun claimed that the sky was blue, then would anyone now believe it?

Plucky Little Wallonia

A remake of Passport to Pimlico could satirise the Britain of 2017, as the original satirised the Britain of 1949.

Containing the first fully industrialised area of Continental Europe, Wallonia used to be rich.

It was perfectly willing to use its economic clout to overtly political ends, such when strikes were called in the successful struggle for universal suffrage.

But now, Wallonia is poor. And poverty is powerlessness.

Libertarians, take note.

A person, a family, a community or a country cannot be both free and poor, since there is no freedom without security.

A state or a world with unfree people in it is itself unfree. And the poor, being insecure, are always unfree.

But someone finally asked the areas of Britain like that, not merely left behind but actively betrayed, what they thought of a key part of the new economic order that had impoverished them.

And they answered.

Likewise, someone has finally asked Wallonia, not merely left behind but actively betrayed, what it thinks of a key part of the new economic order that has impoverished it.

And it has answered.

Dorsale wallonne, indeed.

"The Truth"

The day after yet another of its staff has been sent to prison, this time under circumstances that could bankrupt the entire paper, The Sun is instead having a little tantrum about something else.

Specifically, it is doing so about the fact that far more people now think that its picture was of an interpreter than ever saw it when it was published as an image of a purportedly bogus teenage refugee.

Not for the first time, "The Sun lied" is now the story. And these days, it is universally believed as a statement of the obvious.

The shadow of Hillsborough is very long indeed.

Now, vote for Gary Lineker for Best Presenter at the National Television Awards. Sponsored by The Sun.

Swinging Statements

As a comment on a previous post puts it:

I'll always be grateful to you for pointing out that hardly any MPs voted one way or the other on the Jenkins social changes, they formed no part of his reputation until 20 years later when he was out of the Commons (courtesy of a left-wing, pro-life mate of yours), that reputation was all about his time as Chancellor not his time as Home Secretary, the social changes were barely reported at the time except in specialist Catholic papers, and they still had no impact at all on Catholics overwhelmingly voting Labour.

And why would they have had any such impact?

Such Conservatives as voted at all on these measures, mostly voted in favour of them. For example, Margaret Thatcher.

The big two, which really changed this country and which ought really to have been contentious, were the 1967 Abortion Act and the 1969 Divorce Reform Act.

She voted for both of those, as did almost everyone else who turned up in the first place.

It is completely inconceivable that a Conservative Government at the same historical juncture would not have enacted them.

Or that it would not have decriminalised male homosexual acts between consenting adults in private; again, that was opposed by almost no one, it was actively supported by hardly anyone, and it was barely reported anywhere with a general audience.

Such a Government would probably also have enacted the Race Relations Act, the only one of these things about which Harold Wilson truly cared.

It might have had to rely on Labour votes in order to do so, although even that would have been fairly improbable.

There would have been a rebellion, but it would have been quite small, and easily seen off.

And a backbench amendment or a Private Member's Bill to abolish capital punishment would most likely also have passed a predominantly Conservative Parliament by then.

It was little more than a tidying up exercise, dispensing with something that had scarcely been used in years, and which the previous Conservative Government had drastically restricted even as an option.

Few people realise that that, and not any later measure, was the reason why Ian Brady and Myra Hindley could not have been executed. But such was in fact the fact.

The death penalty was already as dead as that. Thanks to the Tories.

Although no thanks to Thatcher.

She voted against abolition, unlike Enoch Powell, who was as strong an opponent of capital punishment as he was of nuclear weapon.

And she continued to defend the death penalty in the same autobiographical chapter that defended abortion and much easier divorce.

Think on.

Civil Right

Good luck to Martin Loat and Claire Beale of Ealing, who are having their civil partnership registered in the Isle of Man even though it would still not be recognised on the Mainland.

There is a perfectly reasonable case for civil partnerships to be available to opposite-sex couples. It is not as if those couples would otherwise be getting married.

Never having needed to be consummated, civil partnerships ought not to be confined to unrelated same-sex couples, or even to unrelated couples generally.

That would be a start, anyway.

Any marrying couple should be entitled to register their marriage as bound by the law prior to 1969 with regard to grounds and procedures for divorce, and any religious organisation should be enabled to specify that any marriage that it conducted should be so bound, requiring it to counsel couples accordingly.

Statute should specify that the Church of England and the Church in Wales each be such a body unless, respectively, the General Synod and the Governing Body specifically resolved the contrary by a two-thirds majority in all three Houses.

There should be similar provision relating to the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, which also exist pursuant to Acts of Parliament, as well as by amendment to the legislation relating to the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy.

Entitlement upon divorce should be fixed by Statute at one per cent of the other party’s estate for each year of marriage, up to 50 per cent, with no entitlement for the petitioning party unless the other party’s fault were proved.

Am I trying to go back to the 1950s? To which features of the 1950s, exactly? Full employment? Public ownership? The Welfare State? Council housing? Municipal services? Apprenticeships? Free undergraduate tuition?

All of those things were bound up with things like this. That they have all been eroded or destroyed together has not been a coincidence.

It is not called neoliberalism for nothing.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Blithely, Profoundly

Lord Hill blithely told the Today programme what everyone who was anyone already knew, and what the rest of us could have worked out.

Namely that no one who matters in the institutions of the EU expects Britain ever to go through with withdrawal.

But that programme was very hostile to Tom Watson when he came on to discuss Labour's deprivation of all Far Right challengers of their deposits in the industrial North on the same night as it held its share of the vote deep in the leafy South.

Instead, he was harangued about the child abuse inquiry, as if its failures were somehow his fault.

But he had been a hero to the newspapers and websites that now castigate him, right up until attention turned to the Thatcher Government.

Suddenly, then, it all became "McCarthyite" and "a witch hunt".

Watson, though, need not take it too much to heart, and he is most unlikely to do so.

Just as Theresa May cared profoundly about Hillsborough, so she also cares profoundly about child abuse. 

And her Party Conference speech made it perfectly clear that she was no friend whatever of the legacy of Margaret Thatcher.