Sunday, 20 April 2014

Christus Surrexit, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Surrexit in vere, alleluia, alleluia!

Nine adult (dare I say it, very adult) receptions at the Easter Vigil. Not bad going for little Lanchester. Entirely typical of this parish at Easter, though.

Three quarters of this country's cradle Catholics are lapsed. 80 per cent of the rest are in favour of assisted suicide and of same-sex "marriage". But hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Green Shoots And Leaves

A 0.1 per cent increase in "wages" that include bonuses.

Hang out the bunting, Mabel.

At this stage in the 1992 Parliament, all manner of economic "good news" was being pumped out.

No one believed a word of it, and it was all universally assumed to be outright lies, because it bore no resemblance to anyone's lived experience.

In any case, the electorate had made up its mind during the autumn after the previous General Election, four and a half years before the next one. Absolutely nothing could have changed the inevitable result.

Elections next month, then. We shall see how good anyone is feeling towards the Coalition parties.

At the point at which there ought to have been a General Election.

So that after which, psychologically and culturally, the public mood will not alter until there has been a General Election.

I think that we all know what the result is going to be.

1991 And All That

NATO is moving troops into Eastern Europe for what, exactly? Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and has never stood the slightest chance of becoming one.

There is literally more likelihood of Russia’s becoming a member of NATO than there is of Ukraine’s. There always has been.

We are not going to war with Russia, and that is just that. The idea is too preposterous for words.

Therefore, we are never going to contract a defensive arrangement with anywhere that might conceivably go to war with Russia.

Again, that is just that. It always has been.

Or, at any rate, it has been since 1991. The wonder is that the post-1991 situation has lasted an entire generation. It will not last another one. As we now see.

We ought never to have indulged the absurd notion of the “sovereign nationhood” of the purely administrative units that merely happened to be in place when that of which they were the purely administrative units, the Soviet Union, happened to collapse.

But we did.

However, we are not going to have to do so for very much longer. And even our having done so in the past has never entailed any military obligation towards them. No such obligation has ever existed.

Ask almost anyone in the West where Ukraine was, and they would give a one-word answer. We all know what that one word would be.

As for the Baltic States, the fact that they were ever allowed into NATO, unnecessarily provocative to Russia thought that was, demonstrates that Russia has no territorial designs on them.

If there had been any chance of a war with Russia over them, then they would never have been let in. Even now, we would not actually go to war with Russia over them.

Some get-out clause would be found, if necessary. But without or without that, the essential message would be, “Because we are not going to do it, so there.”

We are not going to war with Russia, and that is that. The idea is too preposterous for words.

Speaking of the Baltic States, even if the large and mistreated Russian minorities, especially in Latvia, really were products of the Soviet Period only, then that would still mean that they had existed for as long as, or longer than, most of the non-white population of the United Kingdom, much of the Hispanic population of the United States, most of the Australian population (now more than half the total) that is not of British or Irish extraction, a fair chunk of the population of post-independence India, a very sizeable minority of the population of Pakistan, most of the Jewish population of what is now the State of Israel, and practically the entire Jewish population of the West Bank.

It is no wonder that Israel abstained rather than vote to condemn the reincorporation of Crimea into Russia, of which it was part until six years after Israel’s creation. The loonyhawks really have lost when they have lost Israel, and Netanyahu’s Israel at that.

Even on the loonyhawks’ own terms, the stateless Russian minority in Latvia is therefore also far, far, far older than most of the Polish minority in Britain. As is the stateless Polish minority in Latvia; like the Russian one, it is in fact far, far, far older than the loonyhawks will allow.

As is the stateless Belorussian minority in Latvia. As is the stateless Lithuanian – yes, Lithuanian – minority in Latvia. As is the stateless Jewish minority in Latvia. As is the stateless Roma minority in Latvia. And as the stateless, er, Ukrainian minority in Latvia.

All of which gives some context to the half-educated attempts to suggest that is un-Catholic not to side with the loonyhawks against Russia.

They have been trying that one for years in the Middle East, hoping that no one would notice the existence of the ancient indigenous Christian, not least Catholic, and not least (as in Ukraine) Byzantine Rite Catholic communities.

Byzantine Catholics, the Melkites, are especially numerous in Syria and among the Palestinians. Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross is a Palestinian Melkite working in Syria.

Any ostensible loonyhawk concern for Catholics of the Byzantine Rite elsewhere may therefore be described using various terms, none of them complimentary.

For that matter, so is their concern for Jews.

They screamed “anti-Semitism” at the slightest questioning of the Iraq War, thereby significantly cheapening the word.

They are now doing the same over Iran, a country with a reserved parliamentary seat for its extremely ancient Jewish community.

Yet it is 20 years since they demanded military action to support a state, of questionable legitimacy in the first place, which constitutionally barred and bars Jews and Gypsies from the Senate and from the Presidency, having been created by blackshirted heirs and even veterans of the SS.

It is almost as long since they secured such action in the same interest elsewhere in what was once Yugoslavia.

Today, they want to intervene in support Svoboda and Pravy Sektor, and in principle in defence of a country which imposes a constitutional ban on citizenship for its Jews and Gypsies while holding annual parades and wreath-laying ceremonies in honour its SS Division.

Those parades and wreath-laying ceremonies are organised by David Cameron’s allies in the European Parliament. How long before those allies are joined by Svoboda, by Pravy Sektor, by the Jew and Gypsy-excluding heirs of Alija Izetbegović, and by the rather worse supporters of Hashim Thaçi?

It is no wonder that Israel abstained rather than vote to condemn the reincorporation of Crimea into Russia, of which it was part until six years after Israel’s creation. The loonyhawks really have lost when they have lost Israel, and Netanyahu’s Israel at that.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Real Value

The Royal Mail served the nation for over 500 years; however a Government fire sale not only privatised this prize asset but also short changed the public.

Last week, the National Audit Office (NAO) delivered a damning report showing that the Government’s rush to privatise the Royal Mail cost the taxpayer £1.4 billion.

In fact, following the first day spike in the share price, the NAO found the Government could have made an additional £750 million if it had priced the sale at the first day closing price of 445p rather than 330p.

Business Secretary Vince Cable dismissed the first day rise as “froth and speculation”, however, since then the share price rose to a peak of 618p in January, and today still remains 70% higher than the flotation price.

Royal Mail privatisation was a policy that nobody voted for, and nobody except those in the City wanted.

A third share went to 16 priority investors with an agreement they would be long term investors.

Prior to the flotation these priority investors warned they would not buy shares at any more than 330p, however, once the price range was set, city institutions scrambled for these shares, with the offer being 24 times oversubscribed, clearly showing the Government had undervalued the Royal Mail.

Throughout the privatisation process the Government repeatedly promised that the Royal Mail would be owned by long term share holders rather than hedge funds.

However, within weeks, the “long term investors” broke their agreement, selling almost half of the shares allocated to them, and within the first month seven had sold their entire allocation, banking profits of between £10 and £36 million.

These profiteers are now being protected by the NAO and the Government, who are refusing to name the companies that short changed the taxpayer, and allowed the Royal Mail to be left at the mercy of hedge funds that have significantly increased their holdings.

The taxpayer not only lost out on the sale price, stamp prices are due to rise with first and second-class stamps going up to 62p and 53p respectively, and 1300 job losses have also been announced.

Fears remain that the universal delivery obligation will be threatened sooner or later.

Even if the Government had achieved the real value of the Royal Mail, privatisation would have still been wrong.

The Coalition Government is ideologically blinkered and they could not accept that Royal Mail could succeed in public hands.

This is despite the Royal Mail trebling profits last year and returning £440 million to the taxpayer prior to privatisation.

The private is best mantra has failed to deliver results when it comes to our public services.

The public are right to question how successful privatisation and competition have been when looking at rising energy prices, or commuters paying thousands of pounds a year to use the rail network.

We now see the Royal Mail following a similar path.

Whether it is energy, rail or mail, these are vital public services that should be run in the best interests of public, not private profit.

Still Possible To See

At the end of the month former popes John XXIII and John Paul II will be canonised and I am eagerly counting down the days!

The excitement isn’t merely due to the weekend itself, which promises to be one of the Catholic highlights of 2014, with millions of the faithful due to assemble in Rome, nor the sheer colour of the ceremonies.

Actually what I am looking forward to is once again seeing the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, take centre stage with his successor Francis in celebrating the Church’s official recognition that his former much-loved master is indeed in heaven in the company of all the angels and saints.

An unfortunate tendency amongst Catholics of all flavours is to attempt to divide people into camps, expressing an admiration for Benedict is taken to mean that you regard the allegedly more liberal Francis with suspicion, whereas any support for Francis means that you are glad that the supposed old dinosaur Benedict is no longer in charge!

An affection for both men is not mutually exclusive. Francis is not actually saying anything doctrinally different from Benedict.

His style of papacy may be entirely different, but it’s still possible to appreciate that both men are assets to the Church.

The prospect of seeing Pope Benedict once more causes my heart to skip a beat, because this time last year we were led to believe that we would never again see him in this life as he would live out his last days in prayerful retreat.

I remember on his last day in office, I was called by Sky News to be the ‘presenter’s friend’, sitting on the sofa offering commentary as he departed by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo.

I was disappointed to be unable to accept the offer as my husband had an important seminary interview and we had no available childcare.

But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because, instead of offering some sage or informed insights, I would have instead been a blubbering wreck.

Watching the footage a year later has lost none of its potency – one of the things that Pope Benedict was so frequently criticised for was his apparent lack of media savvy, and yet as we saw him joyfully state “I am simply a pilgrim beginning his last leg of his pilgrimage here on this Earth”, it would have taken a heart of stone not to be moved by his sincerity, warmth, humility and love.

Probably not the most apt comparison and quite ironic in the light of the later conclave, but it brought to mind the moving closing scene in Evita where Eva Peron sings “while it may get harder, for you to see me, I’m Argentina and always will be”.

Benedict was expressing the same sentiment, he would always love the Church and would continue to work for and be a part of the Church but in a very different way.

It’s wonderful therefore that Pope Francis has enticed his predecessor out of self-imposed exile on big occasions such as the recent consistory of cardinals, which was billed as being a ‘dress-rehearsal’ for the canonisation Mass.

While one can understand Benedict’s reasons for wanting to withdraw from public life, not wishing to be seen to be influencing or undermining the current Pope, persuading him out of seclusion was a wise move by Francis, for more than one reason.

Firstly, it shows the continuation of the papacy, it’s hard for critics of Francis to claim that Benedict ‘would be spinning in his grave’ were he to have continued at the helm until his death.

Benedict’s presence signals both continuity and, in the case of the consistory of cardinals, even approval.

His physical presence is a concrete reminder to the faithful that he is still there praying for the Church and he is not some sort of outcast, having been left to rot away, forgotten.

Secondly, Francis has alluded to the fact that Benedict’s unprecedented retirement may not be an isolated occurrence.

The office or institution of Pope Emeritus has now been created which is something to which the faithful need to acclimatise themselves.

The sight of two living popes side-by-side together will perhaps in a few generations no longer seem so historic or unusual.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Francis has once again modelled an example of Christian and familial values.

Age does not preclude wisdom and, in speaking about Benedict, Francis refers to Benedict’s wisdom as a gift from God.

Comparing Benedict to an elderly (although there is not that much difference in their ages) and respected grandparent, he said that their wisdom and advice should be much valued, it gives strength to families and they do not deserve to end up in a nursing home.

It’s a theme he echoed earlier in this week when he was interviewed by a group of five young Belgian Catholics in the Vatican.

“The elderly are pushed away, many elderly die because of a sort of hidden euthanasia, because no one cares for them and they die.”

Pope Benedict has contributed so much to the Catholic Church.

It is a measure of Francis’ all-encompassing Christ-like love which ensures that his predecessor remains centre stage and at the heart of every family gathering.

France Is The Linchpin

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes:

Britain is marginal to the great debate on Europe.

France is the linchpin, fast becoming a cauldron of Eurosceptic/Poujadist views on the Right, anti-EMU reflationary Keynesian views on the Left, mixed with soul-searching over the wisdom of monetary union across the French establishment.

Marine Le Pen’s Front National leads the latest IFOP poll for the European elections next month at 24pc.

Her platform calls for immediate steps to ditch the euro and restore the franc (“franc des Anglais” in origin, rid of the English oppressors), and to hold a referendum on withdrawal from the EU.

The Gaullistes are at 22.5pc. The great centre-Right party of post-War French politics is failing dismally to capitalise on the collapse in support for President François Hollande.

The Parti Socialiste is trailing at 20.5pc. The Leftist Front de Gauche is at 8.5pc and they are not exactly friends of Brussels.

The heirs to Charles de Gaulle are watching their Right flank peel way to the Front National, just as the Tory flank has been peeling away to Ukip.

Needless to say, they don’t like it. A party gathering over the weekend was a hubbub of Eurosceptic dissent.

Xavier Bertrand, the former employment minister, said it is time to abandon the Franco-German axis that has been the guiding principle of French foreign and economic policy for half a century.

“It’s important but it shouldn’t be the alpha and omega of France’s vision,” he said.

“How can we pursue an energy policy if the interests of France and Germany are so different. It is better to work with the English on this subject, and the same goes for European defence. Let us recognise that the alignment with Germany is stopping us pushing for another ECB policy, one that favours growth and jobs,” he said.

This refrain was picked up in an astonishing column in Le Figaro by former editor Philippe Villin last Friday in which he called for a Latin front led by France and Italy to blow up the euro.

In an open letter to Italian leader Matteo Renzi – just 17 years old at the time of Maastricht, and therefore uncompromised and free of EMU’s Original Sin – he warns the young leader that there is no hope of lifting Italy out of its low-growth debt-trap without a “return to the lira.”

Even if the euro fell to 1:1 against the dollar it still would not be enough to save Italy – says Mr Villin – since the intra-EMU gulf with Germany would remain.

He tells Mr Renzi to undertake a tour of southern capitals to forge a Latin alliance, then march on Berlin to inform Chancellor Angela Merkel that monetary union has become untenable.

He should warn her that the end has come unless Germany does more than the bare minimum to keep EMU afloat.

She will of course refuse to budge – says Mr Villin – but that is not the point.

The young Italian’s actions would set off market alarm, causing a precipitous drop in the euro and a bond crisis.

This would be deliberate, if dangerous. It would force Germany to face up the choice it has so far evaded: accept a genuine fiscal/transfer union, or leave EMU.

Mr Villin obviously prefers the latter. (So does the Bundesbank in my view.) “By precipitating this drama, you would save Europe and the Europeans”, he said.

I pass this on so readers can make their own judgment, reserving my own.

What is striking is how such thoughts are gaining currency (excuse the pun) in the French political debate.

Three books have recently appeared arguing that the euro must be broken up in order to clear the way for genuine economic recovery, or even to save the European Project.

1. François Heisbourg, “La Fin du Rêve Européen
2. Coralie Delaume, “Europe Les Etats désunis
3. Steve Ohana, “Désobéir pour sauver l'Europe
A further book by statesman Jean-Pierre Chevènement — “1914-2014: L’Europe sortie de l’Histoire?” – makes a fascinating case the EU has lost its way because it wrongly blamed “nationalism” for causing the two world wars. It has tried to build a superstate edifice by denying the nation-state soul of the European peoples (plural). Fine stuff.

France is a country “animated by a spirit of rational liberty”, to borrow from Edmund Burke, and it has always seemed obvious to me that it would not fore ever tolerate mass unemployment, fiscal infeudation to Berlin-Brussels, and a state of affairs that has become so noxious in so many ways. It is hardly surprising that it is at last in the grip of a fresh revolution.

The Gaullistes are divided.

The old guard will of course yield no ground on EMU. They cannot do so because they have worshipped at this altar all their lives. Some relative reformists are now clutching at the flimsiest of straws.

Laurent Wauquiez – a former Europe minister, no less – has just written a book “Europe, il faut tout changer” (Europe, we must change everything) in which he calls for a return to a euro hard-core of Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Holland.

This strikes me as unworkable.

Are they going to relegate the Slovenes, Slovaks, Finns, Latvians or Portuguese to non-voting status, or freeze them out of EMU altogether?

You cannot run Europe on that kind of capricious basis. Such thinking does however show the intellectual policy swamp that has engulfed the grand venture of monetary union.

In the meantime, of course, we are assured that the EMU crisis is entirely behind us. Sunlit uplands lie ahead. This moment of malaise will pass.

Yes, and pink elephants will fly over Mare Nostrum.

Can Anyone Help?

Neil Clark writes:

I'm confused. A few weeks ago we were told in the West that people occupying government buildings in Ukraine was a very good thing.

These people, we were told by our political leaders and elite media commentators, were 'pro-democracy protestors'.

The US government warned the Ukrainian authorities against using force against these 'pro-democracy protestors' even if, according to the pictures we saw, some of them were neo-Nazis who were throwing Molotov cocktails and other things at the police and smashing up statues and setting fire to buildings.

Now, just a few weeks later, we're told that people occupying government buildings in Ukraine are not 'pro-democracy protestors' but 'terrorists' or 'militants'.
Why was the occupation of government buildings in Ukraine a very good thing in January, but it is a very bad thing in April?

Why was the use of force by the authorities against protestors completely unacceptable in January, but acceptable now?

I repeat: I'm confused. Can anyone help me?

The anti-government protestors in Ukraine during the winter received visits from several prominent Western politicians, including US Senator John McCain, and Victoria Nuland, from the US State Department, who handed out cookies.

But there have been very large anti-government protests in many Western European countries in recent weeks, which have received no such support, either from such figures or from elite Western media commentators.

Nor have protestors received free cookies from officials at the US State Department.

Surely if they were so keen on anti-government street protests in Europe, and regarded them as the truest form of 'democracy', McCain and Nuland would also be showing solidarity with street protestors in Madrid, Rome, Athens and Paris?

I'm confused. Can anyone help me?

A few weeks ago I saw an interview with the US Secretary of State John Kerry who said, “You just don't invade another country on phony pretexts in order to assert your interests.”

But I seem to recall the US doing just that on more than one occasion in the past 20 years or so.

Have I misremembered the 'Iraq has WMDs' claim?

Was I dreaming back in 2002 and early 2003 when politicians and neocon pundits came on TV every day to tell us plebs that we had to go to war with Iraq because of the threat posed by Saddam's deadly arsenal?

Why is having a democratic vote in Crimea on whether to rejoin Russia deemed worse than t he brutal, murderous invasion of Iraq – an invasion which has led to the deaths of up to 1 million people?

I'm confused. Can anyone help me?

We were also told by very serious-looking Western politicians and media 'experts' that the Crimea referendum wasn't valid because it was held under “military occupation.”

But I've just been watching coverage of elections in Afghanistan, held under military occupation, which have been hailed by leading western figures, such as NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen as a “historic moment for Afghanistan” and a great success for “democracy.”

Why is the Crimean vote dismissed, but the Afghanistan vote celebrated?

I'm confused. Can anyone help me?

Syria too is rather baffling.

We were and are told that radical Islamic terror groups pose the greatest threat to our peace, security and our 'way of life' in the West.

That Al-Qaeda and other such groups need to be destroyed: that we needed to have a relentless 'War on Terror' against them.

Yet in Syria, our leaders have been siding with such radical groups in their war against a secular government which respects the rights of religious minorities, including Christians.

When the bombs of Al-Qaeda or their affiliates go off in Syria and innocent people are killed there is no condemnation from our leaders: their only condemnation has been of the secular Syrian government which is fighting radical Islamists and which our leaders and elite media commentators are desperate to have toppled.

I'm confused. Can anyone help me?

Then there's gay rights.

We are told that Russia is a very bad and backward country because it has passed a law against promoting homosexuality to minors.

Yet our leaders who boycotted the Winter Olympics in Sochi because of this law visit Gulf states where homosexuals can be imprisoned or even executed, and warmly embrace the rulers there, making no mention of the issue of gay rights.

Surely the imprisonment or execution of gay people is far worse than a law which forbids promotion of homosexuality to minors?

Why, if they are genuinely concerned about gay rights, do our leaders attack Russia and not countries that imprison or execute gay people?

I'm confused. Can anyone help me?

We are told in lots of newspaper articles that the Hungarian ultra-nationalist party Jobbik is very bad and that its rise is a cause of great concern, even though it is not even in the government, or likely to be.

But neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists do hold positions in the new government of Ukraine, which our leaders in the West enthusiastically support and neo-Nazis and the far-right played a key role in the overthrow of Ukraine's democratically elected government in February, a ‘revolution’ cheered on by the West.

Why are ultra-nationalists and far-right groups unacceptable in Hungary but very acceptable in Ukraine?

I'm confused. Can anyone help me?

We are told that Russia is an aggressive, imperialist power and that NATO's concerns are about opposing the Russian ‘threat’.

But I looked at the map the other day and while I could see lots of countries close to (and bordering) Russia that were members of NATO, the US-led military alliance whose members have bombed and attacked many countries in the last 15 years, I could not see any countries close to America that were part of a Russian-military alliance, or any Russian military bases or missiles situated in foreign countries bordering or close to the US. Yet Russia, we are told, is the aggressive one.

I'm confused. Can anyone help me?

UKIP Is Bent

In other news, the Pope is a Catholic, and we all know what bears do in the woods.

Or It Would Have Been Boering

I hear that Gerrie Nel has concluded his cross-examination of Oscar Pistorius.

The cross-examination of one Afrikaner by another Afrikaner, in Pretoria.

In English.

Global television rights always come first, don't they?

The B In BAE

This Government hates Britain, ending 800 years of shipbuilding in England, 500 of them at the oldest dry dock in the world, the one at Portsmouth.

Of course no contracts would go to the Clyde, or anywhere else in Scotland, if Scotland became independent. That is a statement of the blatantly obvious. But it ought still to be written into the contracts themselves: that they would be void in that event.

Defence procurement is an integral part of defence. Bring it all in-house, to a BAE restored as the publicly owned monopoly supplier to our own Armed Forces, accompanied by a total ban on the sale of arms abroad and the use of government action to preserve the skills base while diverting its application to other uses.

Like renationalising the railways, or forcibly splitting retail and investment banking, you will say that I am mad and illiterate until it happens. Then you will pretend to have thought of it yourselves.

That said, the people now running the party that is guaranteed to win the next General Election, the party that has voted against this Government's defence cuts and which has sought to moderate the effects of its persecution of military families, have never accused me of being either mad or illiterate.

Vote UKIP, Get Anything

Sean Kippin and Richard Berry write:

Party-switching has been relatively common among British MEPs in recent years.

In the past ten years, 13 MEPs have ended their term of office in a different party to the one they started it in, 9 per cent of all those elected.

That is equivalent to almost 60 MPs changing allegiances in the House of Commons between elections, which is unheard of.
When we look closer at the figures we see that this phenomenon is largely down to one party in particular: Ukip.

Ukip has been very successful in recent European Parliament elections, winning 12 seats in 2004 and 13 in 2009.

But following both elections, the party struggled to keep hold of its MEPs. In total, eight UKIP MEPs have left the party while still in office since 2004.

This means that in the past decade an MEP elected for UKIP has had a 1 in 3 chance of leaving the party, through defection or sacking, before the next election.

In contrast, only 6 per cent of Conservative MEPs have changed parties, while no Labour or Liberal Democrats have done so.

Out of all party changes among British MEPs since 2004, 62% have been MEPs leaving Ukip.

Two Ukip MEPs – Marta Andreasen and David Campbell Bannerman – have defected to the Conservative Party. Others, most notably Robert Kilroy-Silk but also Nikki Sinclaire and Mike Nattrass, have formed their own parties after falling foul of the Ukip party leadership in one way or another.

Various forms of impropriety did for Ashley Mote and Tom Wise. Godfrey Bloom, meanwhile, has been on a one-man mission to discredit both himself and his party in the most spectacular of fashions, a crusade which saw him eventually resign his membership.

Ukip have, however, gained one new member in the European Parliament via the defection from the Conservative Party of the noted climate sceptic Roger Helmer.

At first glance, the omens for the May elections are not good. Ukip is going into the election with just six candidates that have previously served a full term as a Ukip: the same number of full-term incumbents with which they fought in 2009, when they were a rather smaller outfit.

Given that Ukip look set to either win or finish second, the spectre of more defections should be upmost in the party hierarchy’s mind.

However, the elections may instead mark a move towards a further professionalisation of their operation.

Patrick O’Flynn, for example, is the party’s leading candidate in the Ukip-friendly East of England constituency, and as the party’s Director of Communications is said to have toughened its message discipline and modernised its internal communications procedures.

Ukip may be attempting to move away from their image as a gaggle of un-PC campaigners and individuals, and towards a more traditional political party with vetted policies, a degree of collective discipline, and strong leadership from the centre.

Making this transition may help stem the flow of defections, but it may also dilute their appeal as a party which embodies anti-establishment sentiment.

Today Really Matters

Today really matters.

It marks 25 years since 96 innocent men, women and children were killed at the Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield.

It marks 25 years since the orchestrated campaign to denigrate the memory of the deceased began.

And it marks 25 years of totally preventable pain, anguish and heartache for the families of the victims and the survivors of that fateful crush.

September 12, 2012 was a landmark day for Britain as the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel was published.

It exposed one of the greatest injustices in British peacetime history and revealed for the first time since that fateful day, the undeniable truth about Hillsborough.

The investigations that emanated from that report and which are focusing on the circumstances preceding, during and succeeding the events of the day are still ongoing.

The potential consequences for each of the organisations and individuals involved have yet to be determined.

The inquests, which began on 31 March 2014 in Warrington, have already proven to be a remarkably powerful reminder of just how enormous a human tragedy Hillsborough was.

The pen portraits of the victims, which have been read to the Jury by the victims' families, reveal an array of talented individuals.

The depictions are far from the image of the victims that certain sections of the establishment used as a smokescreen to deflect blame away from themselves immediately after the disaster.

One group of people that knew the truth all along were the peoples of a City which, for a quarter of a century, stood as a lone voice in a sea of apathy, wronged by those with the ability to flex the might of their financial, judicial and political muscle.

The consequence for the City of Liverpool is that it is now synonymous with a unique kind of solidarity. Put simply; Liverpool is the city that dared to fight back.

That matters too.

Because as we gather at Anfield this afternoon for the 25th anniversary of the deaths of 96 of our own, we do so, for the first time, under the umbrella of a collective hope.

In 2009, Andy Burnham stood before the Kop and was shouted down by the crowd who made one simple plea: justice for the 96.

Andy went back to Westminster and told the cabinet and prime minister Gordon Brown that this needed to be looked at again.

No one could have imagined that five years later, we would have made the progress in the campaign that we have.

In 1989 when the Hillsborough campaigners and the people of Liverpool made allegations of suspected collusions between the police, senior politicians and the press, we were ridiculed.

In today's Britain, when we consider events such as the phone hacking of a murdered schoolgirl's telephone, the chief spin doctor at Downing Street arrested on phone hacking charges, the seemingly endless number of girls abused by Jimmy Savile at the BBC for decades, and the surveillance of the family of Stephen Lawrence, we should recognise the claims of a quarter of a century ago and ponder why it took so long to uncover the real story of the Hillsborough disaster.

In fact, as we gather for the commemorative service for the 25th year, it is both interesting as well as encouraging, to now hear some of the conversations on tube trains in London, on buses in Leeds or in bars and restaurants in Leicester.

It's no longer the faint, lonely cries of Liverpudlians of alleged malpractice on the part of organs of the state and British establishment.

It is now the majority of the country that knows about it, accepts what really happened and who are appalled by the injustice of it all.

It feels for the first time, that Liverpool is isolated no more.

No one (including people like me who were present in the Leppings Lane End that day) could fail to be shocked by what we have learnt about the tragedy and the decades that followed; the amendment of more than 200 police statements, the fans safety compromised according to the report at "every level" and the harrowing truth that more than half of the victims could, according to new medical evidence examined by the HIP Panel and Attorney General, have been saved had a proper emergency plan been deployed.

This anniversary is symbolic in what it demonstrates about the British criminal justice system.

Hillsborough has uncovered a dark underbelly within the mainstream of British society.

Despite a general harbouring for a more equal and democratic existence, for many years there has been an unquestionable imbalance in the pursuit of truth with one version peddled by those in authority who have time, money and resource behind them, versus the authenticity of ordinary people fighting to expose wrongdoing and corruption.

For too long the wrong version of the truth has been allowed to win on the basis of the wealth of the proponents of a particular account of events rather than on the merits of their story.

I say this with confidence because in the case of Hillsborough, absolutely nothing which was revealed in the HIP report in 2012 was new evidence.

It had existed for more than two decades but was never published or used in a criminal court.

I hope that its eventual publication will be a 'line in the sand' kind of a moment; where the thirst for real truth is promoted instead of the favouritism that is often shown by the British judicial system to cases which are well-connected, well-funded and well-resourced.

My belief 25 years on, is that as a result of what these remarkable families - ordinary women and men doing an extraordinary thing on behalf of their lost loved ones - have undertaken, never again should a police officer, journalist or politician underestimate the unyielding bond of a parent's love for their lost child, or the fortitude of a city wronged.

The heroines and heroes of the Hillsborough campaign have shaken the very foundations of our political and judicial establishments, forever.

The legacy of the 96 is, in many ways, still to be fully appreciated. I believe history will judge it positively. It is one of police reform, political modernisation and ultimately a more meaningful concept of justice.

This is a legacy that will outlive the families and campaigners but one which has positively changed this country forever.

That's why today matters.

Gerry Marsden's anthem of Anfield, calls on us to "Walk on, with hope in your heart", and that is exactly what we will continue to do, until at long last, we finally achieve justice for the 96.

Donkey Droppings

The seat of Shropshire North has returned a Tory MP since 1835. Eighteen thirty-five. That was before the accession of Queen Victoria.

Yet no one accuses its voters of being prepared to vote for a donkey if that donkey had the right colour rosette pinned to it. Even though they do in fact give a majority of 15,828 to Owen Paterson.

David Davis's Haltemprice and Howden has been held by the same party since 1837. That party has held several more seats continuously since the nineteenth century.

However, if a seat has been Labour since 1945, or in some cases since as recently as 1966 or later, then its inhabitants can expect a torrent of abuse.

The fact is that the Conservatives honestly believed that Britain had become an elective one-party state in 1992.

Between that General Election and Britain's departure from the ERM, that expression really did used to be employed, even by the BBC.

But they have not won a General Election since, and they do not a stand a cat in hell's chance of winning the next one, or the one after that, or the one after that.

Privately, their leading figures aspire to nothing more than the "triumph" and the "moral victory" of holding the Labour majority below 100. One hundred.

So all that the rest of them have left is Bullingdon bellowing at the plebs for our daring to exist, and for our failure to acknowledge spontaneously the grandeur of our betters.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Respice, Aspice, Prospice

The admirable Joe Benton has declared his intention to continue as the MP for Bootle.

The only other name in the frame is that of the Leader of the Council.

Ask the London media echo chamber to name that Council.

Ask the London media echo chamber whether, until someone mentioned Euan Blair on no basis whatever, it had even heard of Bootle.

Ask the London media echo chamber, even now, to locate Bootle on a map.

And ask the London media echo chamber to tell you anything, anything at all, about Joe Benton, who has been the MP for Bootle since a by-election as long ago as 1990.

There are 650 Members of Parliament. Almost none of them is ever given the slightest national coverage. Even comedians are preferred.

Those few MPs whose existence is acknowledged tend not to have attended the Bootle Municipal Technical College before serving apprenticeships as fitters and turners.

But then, nor do the comedians.

Funny, that.

The Rape of Justice

If you are acquitted, or if your conviction is overturned on appeal, then the Crown Prosecution Service ought to be liable for your entire costs that had not already been met by Legal Aid.
Just as there must be no reversal of the burden of proof or abolition of the right to conduct one’s own defence in rape cases, changes frequently demanded by certain campaigners, so there must be no extension of anonymity to adult defendants.

Rather, there should be no anonymity for adult accusers, either. We either have an open system of justice, or we do not.

The specific offence of rape serves only to keep on the streets people who should certainly be taken out of circulation.

Instead, we need to replace the offences of rape, serious sexual assault and indecent assault with an aggravating circumstance to the ordinary categories of assault, enabling the maximum sentences to be doubled.

That way, those poor women with broken bones and worse, whose assailants were never convicted of anything, really would have received justice.

But can anyone explain to me how the conviction rate for rape is demonstrably wrong? What, exactly, would be the correct rate? And why, exactly?

That a woman has had a most unpleasant experience of this kind, the far greater likelihood of which is a direct consequence of the unquestionable Sexual Revolution, does not necessarily mean that she has experienced the offence of rape as the law defines it.

Either that, or the real scandal is that there are so few prosecutions for what is clearly very widespread perjury, attempting to pervert the course of justice, and making false statements to the Police.

Not that those two possibilities are mutually exclusive.

On A Financial Knife-Edge

New figures from Shelter demonstrate just how precarious the economic recovery still is for many people, with 3.8 million families ‘one paycheque away from losing their home’, according to the homelessness charity’s new report.

A massive third of families now say they would be unable to make their next rent or mortgage payment if they were to lose their job this month.

What this shows is that, despite coalition rhetoric, there is still a long way to go before people feel like the economic recovery is benefitting them.

Not only that, but it is a reminder of just how long it took George Osborne to turn the economy around (the intervening period can’t simply be wiped from the record).

Indeed, what’s increasingly forgotten is that many people are still paying for the three years in which the chancellor struggled to bring growth back into the British economy.

15 million working age adults in the UK have no savings at all, according to Shelter’s report; and presumably some of these people spent their savings trying to bridge the gap between falling earnings and inflation during the period when the economy was flatlining.

What’s so telling about some of the examples of hardship provided by Shelter is that they completely discredit the idea that those falling behind are ‘shirkers’ as opposed to ‘strivers’.

As Liz Clare, a Shelter helpline advisor puts it, millions of us people find themselves living on a “financial knife-edge” through no fault of their own.

“Every day we see how just one piece of bad luck, like a sudden job loss or illness, could put the family home at risk,” Clare adds.

One example cited by Shelter is a lady called Kate Murray: Kate said: 

“They hadn’t been paying me properly, so I’d begun to fall behind on my mortgage. Then I got the letter through the door saying they wanted to take my house back. I was petrified. I thought what am I going to do? How am I going to tell my daughter and my mum that we have to move out?” 

So what has the government been doing to reassure the new ‘precariat’?

Only chipping away at the welfare safety net that might otherwise have acted as reassurance for those families one paycheque away from the streets.

The coalition has targeted the social security budget with unprecedented cuts totalling £22 billion a year by 2014-15, with very little end to the austerity in sight according to the chancellor.

While wages have been stagnating, one thing which has been rising, however, is the cost of housing, for both renters and those looking to buy.

House prices in London are up a whopping 11.6 per cent from just a year ago, with the average price (which currently stands at £458,000) expected to hit £600,000 by 2018.

The outlook is just as bleak for renters, with private rents in London double those in the rest of the UK.

It’s easy to blame foreign buyers for this predicament (and the public do), but the government is culpable because of its unwillingness to build enough new homes (one of Labour’s best pledges is the promise to build 200,000 new homes a year).

The Tories talk a lot about the so-called global race, but they would do well to recognise that people want economic security just as much as they want ‘dynamism’ and ‘striving’.

The disappearance of many people’s savings during the downturn, coupled with the seemingly unstoppable rise in insecure employment and spiralling rents, ensure that there is some way to go before this can be called a genuine recovery.

No Delight

The US's Secretary of State John Kerry and its UN ambassador, Samantha Power have been pushing for more assistance to be given to the Syrian rebels.

This is despite strong evidence that the Syrian armed opposition are, more than ever, dominated by jihadi fighters similar in their beliefs and methods to al-Qa'ida.

The recent attack by rebel forces around Latakia, northern Syria, which initially had a measure of success, was led by Chechen and Moroccan jihadis.

America has done its best to keep secret its role in supplying the Syrian armed opposition, operating through proxies and front companies.

It is this which makes Seymour Hersh's article "The Red Line and The Rat Line: Obama, Erdogan and the Syrian rebels" published last week in the London Review of Books, so interesting.

Attention has focussed on whether the Syrian jihadi group, Jabhat al-Nusra, aided by Turkish intelligence, could have been behind the sarin gas attacks in Damascus last 21 August, in an attempt to provoke the US into full-scale military intervention to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

"We now know it was a covert action planned by [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan's people to push Obama over the red line," a former senior US intelligence officer is quoted as saying.

Critics vehemently respond that all the evidence points to the Syrian government launching the chemical attack and that even with Turkish assistance, Jabhat al-Nusra did not have the capacity to use sarin.

A second and little-regarded theme of Hersh's article is what the CIA called the rat line, the supply chain for the Syrian rebels overseen by the US in covert cooperation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The information about this comes from a highly classified and hitherto secret annex to the report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee on the attack by Libyan militiamen on the US consulate in Benghazi on 11 September 2012 in which US ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed.

The annex deals with an operation in which the CIA, in cooperation with MI6, arranged the dispatch of arms from Mu'ammer Gaddafi's arsenals to Turkey and then across the 500-mile long Turkish southern frontier with Syria.

The annex refers to an agreement reached in early 2012 between Obama and Erdogan with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supplying funding.

Front companies, purporting to be Australian, were set up, employing former US soldiers who were in charge of obtaining and transporting the weapons.

According to Hersh, the MI6 presence enabled the CIA to avoid reporting the operation to Congress, as required by law, since it could be presented as a liaison mission.

The US involvement in the rat line ended unhappily when its consulate was stormed by Libyan militiamen.

The US diplomatic presence in Benghazi had been dwarfed by that of the CIA and, when US personnel were airlifted out of the city in the aftermath of the attack, only seven were reportedly from the State Department and 23 were CIA officers.

The disaster in Benghazi, which soon ballooned into a political battle between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, severely loosened US control of what arms were going to which rebel movements in Syria.

This happened at the moment when Assad's forces were starting to gain the upper hand and al-Qa'ida-type groups were becoming the cutting edge of the rebel military.

The failure of the rebels to win in 2012 left their foreign backers with a problem.

At the time of the fall of Gaddafi they had all become over-confident, demanding the removal of Assad when he still held all Syria's 14 provincial capitals.

"They were too far up the tree to get down," according to one observer. To accept anything other than the departure of Assad would have looked like a humiliating defeat.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar went on supplying money while Sunni states turned a blind eye to the recruitment of jihadis and to preachers stirring up sectarian hatred against the Shia.

But for Turkey the situation was worse. Efforts to project its power were faltering and all its chosen proxies – from Egypt to Iraq – were in trouble.

It was evident that al-Qa'ida-type fighters, including Jahat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) and Ahrar al-Sham were highly dependent on Turkish border crossings for supplies, recruits and the ability to reach safety.

The heaviest intra-rebel battles were for control of these crossings.

Turkey's military intelligence, MIT, and the paramilitary Gendarmerie played a growing role in directing and training jihadis and Jabhat al-Nusra in particular.

The Hersh article alleges that the MIT went further and instructed Jabhat al-Nusra on how to stage a sarin gas attack in Damascus that would cross Obama's red line and lead to the US launching an all-out air attack. 

Vehement arguments rage over whether this happened. That a senior US intelligence officer is quoted by America's leading investigative journalist as believing that it did, is already damaging Turkey.

Part of the US intelligence community is deeply suspicious of Erdogan's actions in Syria.

It may also be starting to strike home in the US and Europe that aid to the armed rebellion in Syria means destabilising Iraq.

When Isis brings suicide bombers from across the Turkish border into Syria it can as easily direct them to Baghdad as Aleppo.

The Pentagon is much more cautious than the State Department about the risks of putting greater military pressure on Assad, seeing it as the first step in a military entanglement along the lines of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel are the main opponents of a greater US military role.

Both sides in the US have agreed to a programme under which 600 Syrian rebels would be trained every month and jihadis would be weeded out.

A problem here is that the secular moderate faction of committed Syrian opposition fighters does not really exist.

As always, there is a dispute over what weapons should be supplied, with the rebels, Saudis and Qataris insisting that portable anti-aircraft missiles would make all the difference.

This is largely fantasy, the main problem being that the rebel military forces are fragmented into hundreds of war bands.

It is curious that the US military has been so much quicker to learn the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya than civilians like Kerry and Power.

The killing of Ambassador Stevens shows what happens when the US gets even peripherally involved in a violent, messy crisis like Syria where it does not control many of the players or much of the field.

Meanwhile, a telling argument against Turkey having orchestrated the sarin gas attacks in Damascus is that to do so would have required a level of competence out of keeping with its shambolic interventions in Syria over the past three years.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Left Behind?

I am not entirely sure why, in this age of fixed-term Parliaments, we continue to have weekly opinion polls. But we do.

They include the unsuitable Americanism that is a question about impressions of the Leader, whereas only the question about voting intention matters tuppence in a parliamentary system.

This week, that only question which matters gives Labour a six-point lead over the Conservatives.

In the last couple of days, a senior Conservative languidly assured me that Labour could expect, "only a small majority of about 70."

A Labour majority of 70 is now considered "small", and something of a Conservative triumph, by the Conservatives.

As for UKIP, a consensus seems to be emerging that it represents "the left behind", or, as even the Mail on Sunday put it a few months ago, "life's losers".

That is an awfully long way from the ethos of Thatcherism.

Those who once powered that, now define themselves as objects of pity, and have organised a self-understood Pitiables' Party on that basis. How the world turns.

Anyway, like the BNP before it, UKIP or anything else is only a party of the white working class if it makes any headway in the Pakistan of the white working class, namely County Durham.

More than any other, this is the area that is inhabited by hardly anyone else. The other old coal and steel areas come close. But nowhere else quite matches the situation here.

So far, unless I am very much mistaken, neither the BNP nor UKIP has ever won so much as a Parish or Town Council seat here. Certainly, neither has ever come close to capturing anything above that level.

How much better, if at all, does UKIP do in South Yorkshire, or in the South Wales Valleys, or in the old coal belts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, or in Fife, or in the vicinity of Ravenscraig?

Does it hold even so much as one elected public office in any of those places, either?

Whoever the left behind are, they are not the white working class. They are the people who, well under a generation ago, thought that they had permanently defeated that class.

Yet the party for which that class votes has a six-point lead over its nearest rival, which consoles itself with the prediction of "only a small Labour majority of about 70".