Friday, 6 May 2016

Scotland Is As Northern Ireland Was

When the only debate is on the issue that divides the SNP from the party that is still quite popularly known as the Unionists, then what is the point of the Labour Party?

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, the People Before Profit Alliance has beaten Sinn Féin to the top of the poll in West Belfast (yes, that is so, since voting is for candidates), while also taking a seat in Foyle. Tiocfaidh ár lá.

Sinn Féin signed up to austerity, and it has paid the price.

In order to get back in the game, the SDLP needs to move to the economic Left, a position routinely filled by socially conservative Irish Catholics on every continent.

Give it 20 or 30 years, and the economic Left might feature in Scotland, too.

As I Was Going To St Ives

Splendid news from the referendum there.

Now, on to a statutory requirement for change of use before a main home could be turned into a holiday home.

Set within the abolition of delegated planning decisions, itself set within the restoration of the traditional committee system in local government.

Make A Mark

With the elections out of the way, even The Sun and the BBC are mentioning the Conservatives' electoral fraud in 2015.

Mark Clarke was always going to write his name in the history books, one way or another.

At the end of all of this, I doubt that he will come out as anything like the worst offender. And there is no shortage of pundits' positions these days, including for people who have done far worse.

Now, on to a hung Parliament this year.

The polls were right last year. If the General Election had been conducted according to the law, then there would have been a hung Parliament.

Based on yesterday's votes, cast on every inch of the United Kingdom, there would be a hung Parliament in 2020, with Labour as the single largest party.

Whether it came in a few months or in a few years, this would be a hung Parliament in which both main parties were themselves riven from top to bottom.

Consider the potential power of even one MP who was not beholden to either of them and who had a strong enough personality to make something of it.

Tartan Tories

I did say that giving both votes to the SNP was effectively voting Conservative on the list.

I was right.

Narrowing

I have just had a very odd discussion on Sputnik with an academic who was worried that leaving the EU would lead to the introduction of student fees, with a consequent narrowing of the social base of the conversation.

Hello?

Resultant

Labour as an English and a fairly Welsh party is a reversion to its historical norm.

The fact that Scotland was really full of Tories should have come as no news to anyone who had ever been paying proper attention.

But, for sheer hilarity, nothing tops the fact that UKIP is now a peculiarity of Wales.

Ask its online army of inexplicably frustrated cosmic overlords with all the time in the world, a world against which they bear an endless list of grudges, what they think of the Welsh.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Concilio et Labore

A vacancy for Shadow Home Secretary.

And a by-election at Leigh.

Both opportunities to strengthen Jeremy Corbyn's hand even further after the retention of power in Wales, the retention of Official Opposition status in Scotland, and the capture of the London Mayoralty for the first time ever by the Labour Party as such, rather than by a Ken Livingstone machine that would have won anyway in 2004, just as it had won anyway in 2000.

When all three of that Welsh retention, that Scottish retention and that London capture have occurred, then David Cameron should resign.

Unitas Efficit Ministerium

As they say in Barnet.

But not as they do there.

It is "a private sector council". And look at the result.

Pass The Mayo

The supermarket chains already claim that one in six people in Britain now keeps Thanksgiving. Utter bilge, of course. But they are determined to make it happen, not least for the sake of Black Friday.

Now that Cinco de Mayo is so much a part of mainstream American culture that even Donald Trump tweets a picture of himself eating tacos on it, then look out for that over here in the very near future, too.

Party Pooper

Neither of the Presidents Bush will endorse Donald Trump, and Mitt Romney is not even going to the Convention.

Incumbent Senators up for re-election this year are beside themselves at association with He Who Must Not Be Named.

Trump can afford to run as an Independent, and that is effectively what he is doing.

The Republican Party denies any connection to him.

Numerous of its luminaries, great and small, are going to endorse Hillary Clinton. Someone has to, I suppose.

Donald Trump has killed the Republican Party.

Have Always Been Linked

Following Peter Oborne's astonishing appearance on Channel 4 News, comes, in a sign of things to come, this move of unwavering Scargillism into the mainstream broadsheet commentariat. Ken Capstick writes:

Just eight miles separates the patch of ground on the outskirts of Sheffield where Orgreave coking plant once stood from Hillsborough stadium, where 96 people were unlawfully killed on 15 April 1989.

To those of us involved in the miners’ strike in south Yorkshire in the 1980s, the so-called “battle of Orgreave” and Britain’s worst football disaster have always been linked.

It was a glorious summer’s day on 18 June 1984.

With my son and other mineworkers, I set off for Orgreave to take part in a mass demonstration to try to stop coke being moved from the plant to the steelworks at Scunthorpe.

The miners were in a jovial mood, dressed in T-shirts and plimsolls. To save on petrol most of us travelled four or five to a car.

We had been on strike for more than three months, had very little money and relied on the £2 picketing money from the union to pay for petrol.

Our destination was to be the scene of one of the bloodiest battle grounds in Britain’s industrial history.

We went to Orgreave to fight to save our industry from what has since been revealed, following the release of cabinet papers in January 2014, as a government plan to kill off the coal mining industry, close 75 pits at a cost of approximately 75,000 jobs, and destroy the National Union of Mineworkers. 

The battle of Orgreave was a one-sided contest, as miners suddenly found themselves facing not a police force, but a paramilitary force dressed in riot gear, wielding long truncheons, with strategically placed officers with dogs, and a cavalry charge reminiscent of a medieval battleground.

For those of us who were there when the ranks of police suddenly opened up and launched the charge on horseback, it felt like civil war.

Miners had no defence other than to try and outrun the horses.

Furthermore, we had to run uphill.

Many miners were caught and battered to the ground with truncheons, then outnumbered by police on foot before being roughly handled as they were arrested.

Those of us who made it to the top of the hill found refuge in a supermarket or in the nearby mining village. 

No one died at Orgreave, but it was clearly the intention of the police to create what felt like a life-threatening situation.

The police faced no threat from the miners at Orgreave that warranted such a violent response, but it was obvious to those present that the police knew they could act with impunity.

Following the battle, 95 miners were charged with riot, an offence which could carry a life sentence.

Gareth Peirce, one of the defending solicitors in the abortive trial that followed, wrote in the Guardian in 1985: 

“Orgreave … revealed that in this country we now have a standing army available to be deployed against gatherings of civilians whose congregation is disliked by senior police officers. 

“It is answerable to no one; it is trained in tactics which have been released to no one, but which include the deliberate maiming and injuring of innocent persons to disperse them, in complete violation of the law.”

I wasn’t in court when the prosecution of the Orgreave miners was thrown out because the evidence did not stack up

But the trial revealed the way police would collaborate and coordinate evidence in order to get convictions or cover up the truth. 

In this sense, Orgreave can be seen as a dry run for what happened after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. 

Had the South Yorkshire force not been allowed to get away with what they did at Orgreave, perhaps Hillsborough would never have happened. 

As the Hillsborough inquest verdicts have shown, we cannot have an unaccountable police force charged with upholding the rule of law but immune to it. 

We need to know which politicians or officials gave such immunity to the police, if it was given.

Only a full public inquiry into Orgreave will get at the truth, an inquiry to which all documents must be revealed in unredacted form. 

This inquiry would not just be in the interests of the miners injured on that day, and in the interests of their families.

It would be in all our interests, because we all need to understand how a police force came to believe it was a law unto itself.

If we don’t, we risk creating the conditions in which another Hillsborough or Orgreave could happen.

In 1985 the miners shouted from the rooftops, but we weren’t heard. Ignored by the media, many gave up. 

What happened at Orgreave was not a human tragedy on the same scale as Hillsborough. 

But now, thanks to the tremendous campaign by the Hillsborough families who lost loved ones, and who refused to give up their fight for justice, we have the chance to discover the truth about what happened at Orgreave too.

To Relish, And Build On

Owen Jones writes:

For those of us who want societies run in the interests of the majority rather than unaccountable corporate interests, this era can be best defined as an uphill struggle. 

So when victories occur, they should be loudly trumpeted to encourage us in a wider fight against a powerful elite of big businesses, media organisations, politicians, bureaucrats and corporate-funded thinktanks. 

Today is one such moment. 

The Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) – that notorious proposed trade agreement that hands even more sweeping powers to corporate titans – lies wounded, perhaps fatally. 

It isn’t dead yet, but TTIP is a tangled wreckage that will be difficult to reassemble. 

Those of us who campaigned against TTIP – not least fellow Guardian columnist George Monbiot – were dismissed as scaremongering. 

We said that TTIP would lead to a race to the bottom on everything from environmental to consumer protections, forcing us down to the lower level that exists in the United States. 

We warned that it would undermine our democracy and sovereignty, enabling corporate interests to use secret courts to block policies that they did not like. 

Scaremongering, we were told. 

But hundreds of leaked documents from the negotiations reveal, in some ways, that the reality is worse – and now the French government has been forced to suggest it may block the agreement. 

The documents imply that even craven European leaders believe the US demands go too far.

As War on Want puts it, they show that TTIP would “open the door” to products currently banned in the EU “for public health and environmental reasons”. 

As the documents reveal, there are now “irreconcilable” differences between the European Union’s and America’s positions. 

According to Greenpeace, “the EU position is very bad, and the US position is terrible”. 

The documents show that the US is actively trying to dilute EU regulations on consumer and environmental protections. 

In future, for the EU to be even able to pass a regulation, it could be forced to involve both US authorities and US corporations, giving big businesses across the Atlantic the same input as those based in Europe. 

With these damning revelations, the embattled French authorities have been forced to say they reject TTIP “at this stage”. 

President Hollande says France would refuse “the undermining of the essential principles of our agriculture, our culture, of mutual access to public markets”. 

And with the country’s trade representative saying that “there cannot be an agreement without France and much less against France”, TTIP currently has a bleak future indeed. 

There are a number of things we learn from this, all of which should lift hopes. 

First, people power pays off. European politicians and bureaucrats, quite rightly, would never have imagined that a trade agreement would inspire any interest, let alone mass protests. 

Symptomatic of their contempt for the people they supposedly exist to serve, the negotiations over the most important aspects of the treaty were conducted in secret.

Easy, then, to accuse anti-TTIP activists of “scaremongering” while revealing little of the reality publicly. But rather than give up, activists across the continent organised. 

They toxified TTIP, forcing its designers on the defensive.

Germany – the very heart of the European project – witnessed mass demonstrations with up to 250,000 people participating. 

From London to Warsaw, from Prague to Madrid, the anti-TTIP cause has marched. 

Members of the European parliament have been subjected to passionate lobbying by angry citizens. 

Without this popular pressure, TTIP would have received little scrutiny and would surely have passed – with disastrous consequences. 

Second, this is a real embarrassment to the British government. 

Back in 2011, David Cameron vetoed an EU treaty to supposedly defend the national interest: in fact, he was worried that it threatened Britain’s financial sector. 

The City of London and Britain are clearly not the same thing. But Cameron has been among the staunchest champions of TTIP. 

He is more than happy to undermine British sovereignty and democracy, as long as it is corporate interests who are the beneficiaries.

And so we end in the perverse situation where it is the French government, rather than our own administration, protecting our sovereignty. 

And third, this has real consequences for the EU referendum debate. Rather cynically, Ukip have co-opted the TTIP argument

They have rightly argued that TTIP threatens our National Health Service – but given that their leader, Nigel Farage, has suggested abolishing the NHS in favour of private health insurance, this is the height of chutzpah. 

Ukip have mocked those on the left, such as me, who back a critical remain position in the Brexit referendum over this issue. 

But if we were to leave the EU, not only would the social chapter and various workers’ rights be abandoned – and not replaced by our rightwing government – but Britain would end up negotiating a series of TTIP agreements. 

We would end up living with the consequences of TTIP, but without the remaining progressive elements of the EU. 

Instead, we have seen what happens when ordinary Europeans put aside cultural and language barriers and unite. Their collective strength can achieve results. 

This should surely be a launchpad for a movement to build a democratic, accountable, transparent Europe governed in the interests of its citizens, not corporations. 

It will mean reaching across the Atlantic too. 

For all President Obama’s hope-change rhetoric, his administration – which zealously promoted TTIP – has all too often championed corporate interests. 

However, though Bernie Sanders is unlikely to become the Democratic nominee, the incredible movement behind him shows – particularly among younger Americans – a growing desire for a different sort of US. 

In the coming months, those Europeans who have campaigned against TTIP should surely reach out to their American counterparts. 

Even if TTIP is defeated, we still live in a world in which major corporations often have greater power than nation states: only organised movements that cross borders can have any hope of challenging this unaccountable dominance.

From tax justice to climate change, the “protest never achieves anything” brigade have been proved wrong. 

Here’s a potential victory to relish, and build on.

God Is Gone Up

Allelúja, allelúja. Ascéndit Deus in jubilatióne, et Dóminus in voce tubæ. Allelúja.

Except that, for yet another year, we have to endure the Biblical disobedience, the international eccentricity and the ecumenical humiliation of pretending that this is not Ascension Day.

There are ecclesial bodies in this country, including within the boundaries of this diocese, that variously ordain women, allow divorce and remarriage practically without limit, perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, and allow people with no ministerial status whatever to preside at Communion services.

Yet they all manage to keep Ascension Day on the correct day. 40 days after Easter, it says in the Bible. So 40 days after Easter, it is. The question does not even arise. 

Any more than it arises for the Pope, who most certainly does not move it to the nearest Sunday.

In the United States, bodies closely related to the Church of England, the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church manage to maintain this even while blessing abortion facilities.

But in the Catholic Church in England and Wales, it is, apparently, beyond us.

All of those bodies also join the Pope in keeping the Epiphany on 6th January, so that they have something called the 12 Days of Christmas. 

More of them than one might think also keep Corpus Christi, invariably on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, the day on which, again, it is also kept by the Pope. 

Speaking of Trinity Sunday, the downright bizarre practice has very recently crept in, of using the Apostles' Creed rather than the Nicene Creed at Mass, for no better reason than that it happens to be a couple of seconds shorter.

It is almost physically painful to try to explain why such use is historically, liturgically and theologically illiterate. If anyone has to ask that question, then there would seem to be little point in telling them the answer. 

To use the Apostles' Creed at Mass on Pentecost or Trinity Sunday is to recite an incomplete account of the doctrines to which the day bears witness, since ... well, if you have ask, then there is no point telling you. 

The same is in fact true of every Mass, as such. 

Our separated brethren would never do this, because they do not give the impression of being run by people who, rather like footballers, gave up formal education at a very early age in order to pursue something else entirely.

The Pope would never do it, because he is the Pope.

None of this, none of it, would ever arise if there were proper catechesis in Catholic schools.

As things stand, 16-year-olds are taken away from quadratic equations and from Shakespeare in order to spend an hour of each day colouring in pictures of nothing very much, while learning by some sort of osmosis that Christianity is about being a nice person, since Jesus gave such wise advice for practical living that people started calling him "the Son of God" as a kind of nickname.

But, of course, if they were taught Doctrine and Scripture instead, then they might start asking why their parishes were keeping the Ascension on the wrong day.

G4S Need Detain Us No Longer

Nor need Serco.

Or Capita.

The great age of renationalisation begins today.

The "commissioners, not providers" squatters on the Labour benches need to get the hell out of the way.

Clinical Climbdown

But remember, the person whom Jeremy Corbyn appointed as Shadow Health Secretary without ever having met her, and whom no one I know can remember at Durham even though she graduated the year before I did (and I knew all the political hacks, from Jonathan Ashworth to Mark Clarke), wanted to "pilot" this wretched contract that the Government has now as good as abandoned.

Drag


Imagine using the politics of fear to try to get elected in a city as buzzing and optimistic as London.

Imagine if the only way you felt you could appeal to Londoners was by making them feel petrified and promising that you, a decent, caring, saviour-style politician, would keep them safe from the myriad harms that surround them.

That’s lame politics, isn’t it? It’s sad, downbeat, depressing politics.

Oh, and I’m not talking about Zac Goldsmith, by the way. I’m talking about the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), whose peddling of fear makes Zac look like a rank amateur in the doom-spreading stakes. 

In recent days the liberal press has featured finger-wagging editorials about Zac’s fearmongering about Islamist terrorism and gushing accounts of the WEP, which was founded last year by Radio 4 comic Sandi Toksvig and other movers and shakers in the elite media set. 

Which is weird, because all the criticisms being made of Zac and his fear card could just as easily be made of the WEP. 

Where Zac has used the spectre of terrorism to try to get into City Hall, not least in that notorious Daily Mail article with the photo of the blown-up London bus, the WEP uses the spectre of rape.

One of its posters bellows: ‘230 RAPES EVERY DAY? WHO GIVES A DAMN? WE DO.’ 

No one else cares about rape, of course; just the WEP. If you don’t want to get raped, vote WEP — that’s the grotesque, fear-exploiting message.

Where Zac has hinted that there are loads of Islamists in our midst waiting to harm us, and that Sadiq is mates with some of them, the WEP goes one better: it suggests every aspect of everyday life is harmful, primarily for women. 

Because of ‘catcalls in the street’ and ‘everyday sexism’, ‘millions of women feel unsafe every day of their lives’, it says

This is worse than anything Zac has hinted at. 

Sure, he might suggest that some Muslims pose a threat to London life, but the WEP hints that everyone — well, men — make London scary and unpleasant. 

Want to stop feeling freaked out whenever you leave the house? Vote WEP.

And don’t think you can avoid the terrors of daily life by staying home and browsing the internet or flicking through a magazine.

Nope, that isn’t safe either.

Magazines are full of ‘adverts telling us to starve ourselves’, says the WEP.

And then there’s the ‘trolling, abuse and violence perpetrated on social media that never seems to get taken down’.

Leaving aside the question of how violence can be perpetrated in a virtual space between people who are miles apart, the message here is pretty clear: the internet is terrifying and some of it needs to be ‘taken down’.

Want to feel safe online? Want censorship to deal with trolls? Want to be saved from harmful words by politicians who know what’s good for you? Vote WEP.

What a soul-crushing message to go into an election with.

Violence is everywhere, streets are unsafe, people are sexist, the internet is dangerous, and magazines will turn you into a sad puddle of self-doubt.

The WEP’s campaign confirms that the new feminism is just another strand of the politics of fear.

For all its pretensions to radicalism, for all its hinting that it’s the heir to the women’s lib movement, the WEP is really just a slightly sassier, slightly younger version (though only slightly) of Mary Whitehouse.

Men are rapacious, the media will warp your mind, ‘taking it down’ is the best approach to dodgy commentary — you couldn’t fit a sheet of Rizla between the outlook of the WEP and the censorious fear once promoted by the blue-rinse lobby.

The WEP may have made waves in the Guardian and among the Twitterati, which isn’t surprising considering it is chattering-class to the core.

But it seems to have made almost no impact on the public consciousness, including on women’s consciousness.

That isn’t surprising either: the new feminism, with its narrow obsession with getting more female voices on the Today programme or ensuring Twitter is safe for plummy feminists to chat to each other without a gruff bloke saying ‘Bollocks’ at them, has nothing whatsoever to say to most women.

The WEP might view the streets and the internet and the media as dangerous, but most normal women don’t.

Most women like life, and public space, and unpredictable interactions, and they believe they can handle themselves without needing Mary Whitehouses in women’s libber drag to chaperone them from morning to night.

In Your Heart?

So much for 52 years of popular conservative insurgency in the United States.

It was Clinton who was a Goldwater Girl. But no more.

While this year's Republican nominee has never been anything other than a New York liberal plutocrat.

On The Receiving End

Vikram Dodd writes:

A public inquiry should examine the way Margaret Thatcher’s government used the police to occupy communities during the 1980s miners’ strike, a former chief constable has said. 

Sir Peter Fahy said the police attitudes that caused public outrage last week, following the Hillsborough inquest verdicts, were fostered by events such as the government using officers to crush one of Britain’s bitterest industrial disputes. 

Fahy retired in 2015 as chief constable of Greater Manchester police, one of Britain’s biggest forces. 

He said the use of police to serve a political agenda in the 1980s created a “them and us” culture, evident in the police response at Hillsborough. 

The legacy was still causing damage to the reputation of the police today as well as grief to families on the receiving end, he said. 

Fahy said: “It’s time for a public inquiry into the policing of the miners’ strike, not just Orgreave and the role of the police, but also the role of politicians.

“We need to look at the wider context of the way the police were used and the agenda set for them by government.

“Clearly it was about, in effect, national control of the police, in pursuit of a political agenda at the time. 

“We need to look at the way police in those communities were used as an army of occupation, created a culture of them and us – which people are concerned about at Hillsborough. 

“The way the police force was used at that time helped to create a damaging culture. 

“The concern about Hillsborough is that the police saw it as an enforcement role and not public safety.

“If you are wondering how that came about, it’s about the culture created in the 1980s, from the inner city riots, to the policing of the miners’ strike, where the police then saw it as about enforcement and controlling role rather than a public safety role. 

“Where did those attitudes [at Orgreave] come from? If you want to look at Orgreave you need to look at the wider context.”

Fahy’s comments came as critics of the police action confronting workers at the Orgreave steel production coking plant in 1984 called on the new interim chief constable of South Yorkshire police to open up the force’s archives.

The challenge from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign came the day after Dave Jones, chief constable of North Yorkshire police, marked the moment he took over temporary control of the South Yorkshire force by offering to listen to activists, as well as to the families of the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough football stadium disaster.

Barbara Jackson, secretary for the campaign, said campaigners would take up the offer from Jones but said they did not want it to be a token gesture.

She said they wanted the chief constable to intervene in their legal effort to persuade the home secretary, Theresa May, to hold a public inquiry into the events at Orgreave 32 years ago.

Arthur Scargill, the politician and trade unionist who led the National Union of Mineworkers in the 1984-85 miners’ strike, and was arrested during the disturbances, has also called for a public inquiry into the events.

The rare public intervention by Scargill, 78, came as the Yorkshire Post said it had seen redacted sections of an Independent Police Complaints Commission report that the paper said revealed that the same senior officers and solicitor were involved both in the aftermath of Orgreave and Hillsborough in 1989.

South Yorkshire police referred itself to the IPCC in 2012 over allegations that officers colluded to write court statements relating to Orgreave.

The IPCC later said the passage of time prevented a formal investigation but said there was support for the allegation that senior police exaggerated pickets’ use of violence.

The commission said on Tuesday it was now considering whether an unredacted version of the report could be made public.

Jackson said: “We would be prepared to meet with Dave Jones if it’s going to be a productive meeting, and not just a token gesture.”

The events of the “Battle of Orgreave” at the coking plant on the borders of Rotherham and Sheffield came to symbolise the miners’ strike.

Large numbers of pickets were confronted by about 6,000 police from across the UK.

Police charged 95 miners following the disturbances but the workers’ trial collapsed.

Virtually all traces of the coking plant and the pit next to it have since been eradicated.

Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, said: “As I’ve always said, we won’t have the truth about Hillsborough until we have the full truth about Orgreave.

“Finally, this report provides proof of what has long been suspected – that underhand tactics were used first against South Yorkshire miners, before being deployed to much more deadly effect against Liverpool supporters.”

Burnham added: “Like the people of Liverpool, the mining communities of South Yorkshire now need to be told the truth about their police force and the policing of the miners’ strike.

“On the back of these revelations Theresa May must now order a disclosure process not just on Orgreave but on the policing of the miners’ strike.”

The appointment of Jones follows the suspension of the South Yorkshire chief constable David Crompton, following the Hillsborough inquests, and the short-lived tenure of his deputy, Dawn Copley, who stood down from the temporary role after it emerged she was under investigation by her previous force for alleged misconduct.

The Home Office said: “These powers are only to be used once an individual has been arrested on suspicion of having committed a criminal offence.

“They are reactive in nature and should not negatively impact community relations.”

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Taking Over The Asylum

David Cameron's humiliation over the refugee children is complete.

Silly Smearmongers


Labour is going to remain the Official Opposition in Scotland, remain in power in Wales, and, on the second preferences of George Galloway's supporters, win back the London Mayoralty after eight years.

The smearmongers are then going to look very, very, very silly, indeed.

The BBC is already gearing up for that inevitable state of affairs.

Today, a mere 86 days after the Conservative electoral fraud story broke on Channel 4 News, Grant Shapps was finally given the full Andrew Neil about it.

Opening The Orgreave Files

Before the end of this Parliament, mentioning the name of Margaret Thatcher by anything other than spitting it will be unacceptable in polite society, by definition.

This is the day on which Arthur Scargill, up to now almost a recluse for many years, returned to public life like a long exiled or imprisoned resistance leader.

Now 78, he will die a vindicated man, a folk hero, a National Treasure. For all practical purposes, he is, as of today, all of those things.

So much, then, for New Labour.

And so much for the enemies of Seumas Milne, the author of the superlative The Enemy Within.

Every word of that is now well on the way to being accepted as nothing more, nor less, than the simple facts of the matter about the Miners' Strike.

"The Chief Rabbi"?

The what?

The head of the single largest of the several sections of the Orthodox minority within this country's tiny Jewish minority. Nothing more than that.

Is this one even a British Citizen? He certainly did not move to this country until he was 36.

He is late to this story, anyway.

Meanwhile, although I am not a supporter of the academic and cultural BDS movement, I am truly astonished that British local authorities are being taken to court to compel them to buy the produce of West Bank settlements.

That is a kind of force-feeding.

But such is now the law under the present, fraudulently elected Government. Israeli Occupied Territory, indeed.

Explaining To Do

Peter Oborne, let the reader understand, writes:

This week’s coroner’s court verdict has exposed at last the dreadful role of the police — helped by some in the Press — in spreading lies about what really happened at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground. 

However, many questions still surround what Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham has rightly called the greatest miscarriage of justice in our time.

These relate to the role of politicians. 

I am certain that the truth about Hillsborough would have been made public much sooner had it not been for a first-class political cover-up. 

This is a scandal which stretches right to the top of both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. 

The Thatcher government still ran Britain at the time of the tragedy in 1989. 

Did Margaret Thatcher and her ministers protect the police after 96 football fans were killed?

Did they intervene to restrict the terms of the Taylor Inquiry, set up in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy? 

What were the communications between the South Yorkshire Police and Downing Street? 

Did the government use its muscle and influence to shape the false narrative of events as it went to the media. 

The relevant Cabinet Office papers relating to all this have never been released to the public. 

This must happen urgently.

Mrs Thatcher had what amounted to a blood debt to the Yorkshire Police for their hugely supportive role in the miners’ strike five years earlier.

So Mrs Thatcher had every incentive to protect the force. She was always loyal to her allies. 

Don’t forget we got an inkling of her government’s attitude from her Press Secretary Bernard Ingham’s later remark that Liverpool fans were ‘tanked-up yobs’. 

There are equally serious questions to be asked about Tony Blair’s Labour government. 

In opposition, Tony Blair had promised that Labour would institute a full-scale inquiry.

However, he failed to do this after winning the 1997 General Election. 

Andy Burnham is on record as saying that Tony Blair did not order an inquiry because he did not want to offend Rupert Murdoch, whose Sun newspaper had accused ‘drunken’ Liverpool fans of attacking rescue workers. 

Can this really be true? 

Had Blair gone ahead and launched his inquiry, Liverpool fans would not have had to wait nearly two decades more to learn the truth. 

Had the Thatcher government done its job properly, they would not have had to wait at all. 

Both main political parties have a great deal of explaining to do.

America First Deserves Better


When Donald Trump applied the label "America First" to the mix of half-formed thoughts he calls foreign policy last week, I was sad. 

First because he had associated his obnoxious thoughts on dipping bullets in pig's blood with a proud foreign policy tradition. 

And second because columnists would lazily malign the America First Committee (AFC) of 1939-1941, a noble if misunderstood cause. 

America First was a young, politically diverse, and surprisingly well-lettered movement that wanted to keep America neutral (like Switzerland or Ireland) as Europe descended into World War II. 

Though it started on the East Coast, it was concentrated in the Midwest and had over two million members nationwide. 

It counted major American political figures, Democrat and Republican, in its ranks, as well as many men of letters. 

You probably remember the Clinton years. The America Firsters remembered World War I. 

Members of the AFC over 30 would recall that the last European bloodbath had some deforming effects on liberty at home. 

These included America's experiments in mass wartime censorship, stirred up-hatred of German-Americans, and the legal suppression of the German language that was used commonly in the Midwest and Great Plains.

The governor of Iowa told reporters, "There is no use in anyone wasting his time praying in other languages than English. God is listening only to the English tongue." 

America Firsters also remembered British intelligence planting false and insane stories in the American press during World War I, accusing the German army of marching with Belgian babies impaled on their bayonets. 

They remembered that Woodrow Wilson's government had employed a small army of government-licensed demagogues, the Four Minute Men, who got their speeches from the proto-fascist Committee on Public Information. 

They also recalled that the peace imposed at Versailles had been vengeful and its reparation schemes so entangled that they contributed to a global economic depression just a few years earlier. 

Naturally, some of them wanted to restore America's foreign policy of maintaining the Monroe Doctrine in our hemisphere and not intervening in others. 

The modern charge against America First is that it was made up of people obsessed with Jews. 

In her denunciation at CNN, Susan Dunn says that Charles Lindbergh, a famous pilot, anti-Semite, and popular AFC speaker, "put American Jews on notice that America's 'tolerance' for them rested upon a fragile foundation.'" 

McManus says that Lindbergh's "followers included more than a few pro-Nazis and anti-Semites." 

This has been rebuffed by historians Wayne S. Cole and Justus Doenecke

The AFC, understanding that it was in tension with the Anglophile elite on the East Coast, tried to police anti-Semitism in its ranks. 

General Robert Wood, a distinguished veteran of America's war in the Philippines and the First World War, told the followers of the openly anti-Semitic radio priest Father Coughlin, "We don't want you people." 

The powerful industrialist Henry Ford was ejected from the board of America First for his anti-Semitic views. 

And when Lindbergh included, for the first time, anti-Semitic lines in his infamous Des Moines speech, he was drowned out by boos and catcalls. 

The AFC had Jewish staffers like James Lipsig and Sidney Hertzberg. 

All in all, the America First Committee put considerably more effort in removing the anti-Semites from its ranks than the Roosevelt administration did in ejecting Stalin's agents from its own. 

The Roosevelt White House's case against America First is barely repeatable in polite circles today. 

Roosevelt aide Harold Ickes was smearing America First as Nazi sympathizers and Japanese lovers. 

Whatever the imagined dangers of Lindberg's Des Moines speech, it was the war effort — not the pacifists and beatniks — that revealed the "fragile foundation" of America's tolerance.

Roosevelt set up 10 interment camps to hold 110,000 Japanese-Americans. No trials, no charges. Just internment based on ethnicity. 

Who was in America First? 

John F. Kennedy donated money to the AFC.

Gerald Ford was one of the first members of America First after it was formed at Yale; he was assisted by Potter Stewart, a future Supreme Court justice. 

The movement included a number of powerful literary voices including e.e. cummings, Jack Kerouac, Sinclair Lewis, Robinson Jeffers, and Kurt Vonnegut. 

After the Pearl Harbor attack, the America First Committee dissolved of its own will. 

America's honor and resources were now at stake, and war on the Axis Powers was just. Charles Lindbergh flew missions in World War II.

Kurt Vonnegut fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was captured. Taken to Dresden, he got a first-hand look at America's militarily useless fire-bombing of the city, which killed 25,000 people, mostly civilians.

America First deserves better than the posthumous smear of Dunn or McManus. 

And its banner deserves a better political champion than an oaf like Donald Trump.

America First wanted peace, prosperity, and America's liberty. Trump just wants America to be feared.

This Twittersphere Slumber Party From Hell

Reprinted today, Ella Whelan writes: 

British politics got a bit more girly at the start of this week, with the official launch of the Women’s Equality Party. 

Garnering support with the versatile hashtag #WE, the party was pleased with the 1,000 supporters it gained during its first day. 

‘If #WE’re honest, some of us are a little bit teary’, said a post on Facebook. 

For those not on social media, the Women’s Equality Party is a non-partisan party that campaigns against inequality for women ‘at home, at work, in politics and in public life’. 

The party is currently fundraising and boasts some tempting offers in exchange for your cash – £250 will get you a copy of founding member Sandi Toksvig’s book,Girls are Best, while £5,000 will get you dinner with the author herself. 

However, the party does not seem to recognise its own contradictions. 

Not only is there a mismatch between the party’s appeals to radicalism and its knitting-circle vibe, cosy tweets and general air of loveliness, but the party’s slogan, ‘Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue’, also jars, given the party is being marketed solely at women. 

On the surface, the Women’s Equality Party seems like nothing more than a politically correct sorority, with matching #WE phone stickers and smug grins. 

However, there is something very sinister about Toksvig’s project. 

Appearing on The One Show earlier this year, the former News Quiz presenter stated, ‘We’re not going to fight with each other. When you watch Prime Minister’s Questions, you’re sort of embarrassed. PMQs couldn’t be more bad-tempered if it was called PMT. It isn’t the way to get things done.’ 

If relating politics to periods wasn’t bad enough, Toksvig seems hell-bent on making clear that women are somehow not up to the cut and thrust of modern politics.

Let’s get one thing straight: this is not a party for all women, it is a party for media women. 

Both of its founding members, Toksvig and journalist-cum-royal-enthusiast Catherine Mayer, realised they shared an ‘appetite for change’ when they shared a platform at the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival. 

The driving force behind this party is a feeling that politics is vulgar, but rather than do what people disgusted with politics used to do and vote Lib Dem, the commentariat is now taking to creating its own parties – just without the politics. 

When an organisation says it is non-partisan, what it really means is that it is non-committal. 

As Toksvig said when she unveiled the party’s new logo, ‘you can be Tory, you can be Labour – let’s all work together instead of fighting each other’. 

This is the pinnacle of middle-class feminism, a club for women who want to jazz up their image with a little politics, darling. 

The party’s objectives state a desire for ‘women to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men’, but, as Joanna Williams has pointed out on spiked, women, on the whole, already do. 

What is the point in creating a sisterhood of victims? 

The Women’s Equality Party is yet another sign that contemporary feminists are uncomfortable with the fact that women in the West are doing just fine, choosing instead to imagine women as helpless creatures in need of empowerment. 

This otherwise laughable organisation is a prime example of the long-drawn depoliticisation of women in British politics. 

The celebration of Blair’s Babes, New Labour’s record-breaking number of female MPs after the 1997 election, spoke to a sense that female representation, in and of itself, was positive and would attract more female voters. 

During the recent General Election campaign, Labour MP and Blair Babe Harriet Harman released a fleet of Barbie buses to encourage women to vote. 

At no point did these efforts try to engage women about what they thought, instead they used pink-coloured ploys to try to make politics look a bit more female-friendly. 

What’s more, while mumsy middle-class feminists may seem more agreeable than blue-haired campus radicals, they still attach themselves to trendy feminist campaigns, like educating men who think tampons are icky, banning adverts that tell us we shouldn’t have another tea cake and promoting a Mary Whitehouse attitude to sex. 

The hashtag used by the Women’s Equality Party is misleading; #WE really means #US – that is, the the feminist commentariat, which dictates what women should do and think.

It is time for women to take a stand and kill off feminism as we know it.

It is the only thing truly holding women back in the West today, reducing us to little more than our biology. 

The ideas of individual autonomy and free thinking have taken a beating recently, with the surge of patronising identity politics that judges us all on appearance rather than substance.

But enough is enough.

Women, if you truly value your brains over your bodies, you should have nothing to do with this Twittersphere slumber party from hell.

Who Started The Second Cold War?


Friday, a Russian SU-27 did a barrel roll over a U.S. RC-135 over the Baltic, the second time in two weeks. 

Also in April, the U.S. destroyer Donald Cook, off Russia’s Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, was twice buzzed by Russian planes. 

Vladimir Putin’s message: Keep your spy planes and ships a respectable distance away from us.

Apparently, we have not received it. 

Friday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work announced that 4,000 NATO troops, including two U.S. battalions, will be moved into Poland and the Baltic States, right on Russia’s border. 

“The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises right up against the border with a lot of troops,” says Work, who calls this “extraordinarily provocative behavior.” 

But how are Russian troops deploying inside Russia “provocative,” while U.S. troops on Russia’s front porch are not? 

And before we ride this escalator up to a clash, we had best check our hole card.

Germany is to provide one of four battalions to be sent to the Baltic.

But a Bertelsmann Foundation poll last week found that only 31 percent of Germans favor sending their troops to resist a Russian move in the Baltic States or Poland, while 57 percent oppose it, though the NATO treaty requires it. 

Last year, a Pew poll found majorities in Italy and France also oppose military action against Russia if she moves into Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia or Poland.

If it comes to war in the Baltic, our European allies prefer that we Americans fight it.

Asked on his retirement as Army chief of staff what was the greatest strategic threat to the United States, Gen. Ray Odierno echoed Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, “I believe that Russia is.” 

He mentioned threats to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine.

Yet, when Gen. Odierno entered the service, all four were part of the Soviet Union, and no Cold War president ever thought any was worth a war.

The independence of the Baltic States was one of the great peace dividends after the Cold War. But when did that become so vital a U.S. interest we would go to war with Russia to guarantee it?

Putin may top the enemies list of the Beltway establishment, but we should try to see the world from his point of view.

When Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik in 1986, Putin was in his mid-30s, and the Soviet Empire stretched from the Elbe to the Bering Strait and from the Arctic to Afghanistan.

Russians were all over Africa and had penetrated the Caribbean and Central America.

The Soviet Union was a global superpower that had attained strategic parity with the United States. 

Now consider how the world has changed for Putin, and Russia.

By the time he turned 40, the Red Army had begun its Napoleonic retreat from Europe and his country had splintered into 15 nations. 

By the time he came to power, the USSR had lost one-third of its territory and half its population. 

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were gone.

The Black Sea, once a Soviet lake, now had on its north shore a pro-Western Ukraine, on its eastern shore a hostile Georgia, and on its western shore two former Warsaw Pact allies, Bulgaria and Romania, being taken into NATO.

For Russian warships in Leningrad, the trip out to the Atlantic now meant cruising past the coastline of eight NATO nations: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Great Britain. 

Putin has seen NATO, despite solemn U.S. assurances given to Gorbachev, incorporate all of Eastern Europe that Russia had vacated, and three former republics of the USSR itself. 

He now hears a clamor from American hawks to bring three more former Soviet republics—Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine—into a NATO alliance directed against Russia.

After persuading Kiev to join a Moscow-led economic union, Putin saw Ukraine’s pro-Russian government overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup.

He has seen U.S.-funded “color-coded” revolutions try to dump over friendly regimes all across his “near abroad.” 

“Russia has not accepted the hand of partnership,” says NATO commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, “but has chosen a path of belligerence.” 

But why should Putin see NATO’s inexorable eastward march as an extended “hand of partnership”? 

Had we lost the Cold War and Russian spy planes began to patrol off Pensacola, Norfolk and San Diego, how would U.S. F-16 pilots have reacted? 

If we awoke to find Mexico, Canada, Cuba, and most of South America in a military alliance against us, welcoming Russian bases and troops, would we regard that as “the hand of partnership”? 

We are reaping the understandable rage and resentment of the Russian people over how we exploited Moscow’s retreat from empire.

Did we not ourselves slap aside the hand of Russian friendship, when proffered, when we chose to embrace our “unipolar moment,” to play the “great game” of empire and seek “benevolent global hegemony”?

If there is a second Cold War, did Russia really start it?

Incumbent Insurgent Illusion

Although many of us never did fall in love with the SNP, Jade Azim writes:

After a kerfuffle on Twitter the other night, I am all too aware that writing something even mildly questioning of the SNP government is the British equivalent of approaching a lion pride on a kill. 

Nevertheless, seeing the almost hero-levels of mental gymnastics tweeted by Mhairi Black, in the week of the Hillsborough inquiry whereupon Nicola Sturgeon posed with a copy of The Sun endorsing her re-election, prompted me once more to consider just how spectacular the distance has become between the SNP that stood against Ed Miliband versus the SNP today and in government. 

Mhairi tweeted: “So Kezia wants to put up the taxes of Scottish people to subsidise Tory cuts that her party supported in Westminster?”.

Confused? So am I.

This follows in a series of SNP revisionism on what austerity is and the excuses the SNP has hidden, not quite so conspicuously, up its sleeve to not act on its new tax powers, so as not to break its bond with Middle Scotland.

They insist that Labour’s plans for a penny tax are not progressive, and have framed it in such a way that an anti-austerity plan has now become a subsidy for cuts Labour actually haven’t supported for more than a year now.

Just like that, the SNP is a low-tax mimicry of Toryism.

But it isn’t ‘just like that’. The SNP have governed from an economically cautious stance for seven years.

For a brief period, they borrowed Ed Miliband’s clothes.

But once the Red Wedding had been completed, they returned back to where they started: as successors to New Labour, though that is hardly fair: they are far, far less redistributive.

So why is it, in the 2015 election, and even today, many of us on the left in England still entrust our faith in SNP rhetoric?

Still beat the drum for an electoral ‘progressive’ coalition with a party that doesn’t seem very happy to embrace even the concept of higher taxes?

My theory is that the SNP have successfully, indeed more successfully than any party in Britain, adopted the prime hobby of much of the Left: ‘againstism’.

‘Againstism’, clumsy I admit, is to be against everything.

This can include a negative framing of being anti-austerity but not pro-anything in its place. But in this instance, it means to be anti-establishment.

The latter, the establishment, is what Labour as a party of government always has aspired to be in competing to be the national government in Westminster - which is why elements of the Left will always hate it and will always vote against it.

In a way, some of the left is suspicious of governance.

This is occasionally healthy, until it prevents real progressivism from ever being elected.

While in government, Labour could be seen as sell-outs, rightly or wrongly, because they became the establishment and had no one but themselves to blame.

The SNP are the establishment, in Scotland, but can nevertheless exercise ‘againstism’, even with new tax powers.

They always will so long as Westminster exists, and so long as their main motivation is independence.

This is why the bogeymen that sustain nationalism are not natural allies of social democracy; to achieve social democracy would be to remove the bogeyman.

This means that the Lesser New Labour tradition within which they govern will continue to go unnoticed, nor be doomed to eventual death as New Labour itself suffered, nor be looked back on as an era of neoliberalism.

The SNP can just avert attentions back to the Westminster establishment. ‘Againstism’.

Paradoxically, the way the SNP have managed to come to exploit this is because of New Labour's devolution.

Devolution has created, for the first time, the perfect environment for an establishment in one part of the country to blame the establishment in another.

It has allowed for the rise of an incumbent insurgent. The SNP can campaign as insurgents while still being incumbents.

It is a spectacular contradiction that they alone can manage.

Insurgency and anti-establishment politics are not, of themselves, a bad thing. We on the Left all dip our toes in it. It is a joy. It is even more fun for us to be successful.

Which is why the celebratory mood that surrounded the SNP gains in Scotland, a paradigm shift against one incumbent for another, is, objectively, understandable.

But these insurgents are not actually insurgents; they are the illusion of one, and they have had the reigns of power, greater now for the Scotland Bill, for seven years.

And they have done little radical with it.

The aim of an anti-establishment politics is to replace an establishment with something better. All the SNP have done is inherit an establishment.

They are simply in the fortunate position of managing to rhetorically distance itself from it due to the unique nature of devolution.

This is why some of the Left still loves them, despite everything.

They can remain ‘againstists’ regardless of their incumbency. They do not have the stench of government as a national Labour government did and inevitable would have.

So the English Left still dream.

But now, with this mounting evidence and the SNP’s clumsy revisionism, it is up to the English Left to distinguish between genuine leftism and empty anti-establishmentarianism, and to see the establishment - via governance - as something to define for itself, to reshape as something better, rather than something to be continuously against.

This is, after all, what Attlee's government did.

The SNP have not defined the establishment, they have continued someone else's. It's up to us to recognise that and fall out of love with the SNP.

In The Age We Live

Randeep Ramesh writes: 

When it was revealed that Google’s London-based company DeepMind would be able to access the NHS records of 1.6 million patients who use three London hospitals run by the Royal Free NHS trust – Barnet, Chase Farm and the Royal Free – it rang alarm bells. 

Not just because the British fiercely guard their intimate medical histories. Not just because Google, a sprawling octopus of a company with tentacles in all our lives, wishes to “organise the world’s information”. 

Not just because patients are unlikely to have consented to Google having this information. The issue for many is the intertwining of these concerns with the idea of artificial intelligence (AI). 

DeepMind is no ordinary company. It specialises in AI, developing technology to exhibit something like intelligent reasoning. 

Last year its engineers produced a research paper showing it had created a program that could replicate the work of a “professional human video games tester”. 

In March, Google’s DeepMind made history by creating a program that mastered the 3,000-year-old Chinese board game Go, thought to be beyond current technology because of the number of possible moves. 

In what was considered a computing milestone, the company’s AlphaGo program beat the world Go champion 4-1. 

Now such a company has a database containing detailed, private, albeit anonymised, records of all these people’s medical history, including HIV status, past drug overdoses and abortions. 

DeepMind says it needs the data to produce medical alerts for hospitals attempting to prevent acute kidney injuries. 

The fear for some is that DeepMind’s database could allow for much more than the original stated purpose. 

The public is no stranger to the fact that NHS patient privacy has not been safeguarded – in 2014 the government was forced to halt and then scale back its proposals to produce a single English medical database over concerns that medical confidentiality could be put at risk. 

DeepMind has not hidden its work with the NHS, announcing in February it was working with the health service to build an app called Streams to help doctors and nurses monitor kidney patients. 

What it did not reveal was the extent of its data haul, which encompasses historical patient records. 

Instead of the few thousand patients with kidney injuries, DeepMind got all the patient records of all three hospitals. 

That’s millions of confidential documents.

It says it needs the entire patient database to make Streams work. Backers of such databases claim that with such data powerful software packages can be created to diagnose diseases sooner. 

The New Scientist magazine obtained the data-sharing agreement between DeepMind and the NHS, which revealed just how much information was being made available. 

The Google company’s skill is to discern complex patterns in huge quantities of data – and the NHS is a goldmine for such “deep learning”. 

In this treasure trove of data are logs of day-to-day hospital activity, such as records of the location and status of patients – as well as who visits them and when. DeepMind will also obtain pathology and radiology test patient records. 

As well as real-time data, DeepMind has access to the historical records from critical care and accident and emergency departments. 

Crunching this information, so the theory goes, allows DeepMind to develop predictions based on data that is too broad in scope for any one person to assimilate and analyse. 

By comparing patient data, DeepMind might be able to predict that someone is in the early stages of a disease that has not yet become apparent. 

This is the medical holy grail: not treating a patient when they are ill, but treating them before they become ill.  

Utopian? Perhaps. Behind the promise of these technologies lies the crux of the dilemma in the age we live. 

Google, Facebook and others feed on the fact we suspend our privacy rights in return for new technology built with our data.

Like Apple, Google is building a reputation in medical apps. It is also true that the use of machine learning in medicine by academics is nothing new. 

However this data is being passed to and controlled by one of the world’s biggest and most powerful companies. 

It raises questions over whether it might quickly become the biggest player, a de facto monopoly, over NHS health analytics. 

AI also represents something new, a promise that a program could improve itself – and very quickly surpass human intellect. 

This is the so-called “intelligence explosion” – a point where humanity courts its own destruction. 

We are some way off this. No one has built a machine that respects social and ethical norms, even at the expense of its goals. 

It’s difficult enough to get humans to do that. Some may say such extrapolation is ridiculous. 

After all Tay – the “intelligent” Twitter chatbot from Microsoft – lasted a few hours until she “learned” to become a racist, genocidal tweeter and was killed off. 

However as Elon Musk, the inventor who originally invested in DeepMind, said, it was worries over “Terminator” technology that drove him to warn about its dangers.

For perhaps sound commercial reasons, DeepMind operates under the radar. But this often raises more questions than answers.

Google’s AI ethics board, established when Google acquired DeepMind in 2014 for £400m, remains one of the biggest mysteries in technology, with both companies refusing to reveal who sits on it.

Artificial intelligence needs data to learn. Hence the sucking up of all those patient records by Google’s DeepMind.

So why the secrecy? 

If patients had been told what was going on and why, they could make informed choices. 

If they think the potential risks of Google dominance over a new critical technology for the NHS are outweighed by the benefits, then let’s have that debate. 

But if the company does not explain and carries on in secret, the public will rightly not go along with such plans.