Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Little Read

I doubt that Shanghai George has read The Little Red Book. He has read almost as little as Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher ever had. In any case, people have been punning on its title since time immemorial. Why, I myself have just kept up that tradition.

But John McDonnell was right. If he had not given the source of his quotation, then the man who believes in state control of British industry only if that state is not Britain, and preferably if it is China, would have agreed with every word of it. As phrased, he does agree with every word of it.

We trust that there will be no ridicule of John in tomorrow's Telegraph, which is desperately hawking itself around China, India, Russia and Arabia in search of a new proprietor. I still say that the trade unions ought to buy it.

None Due

Almost all of the tax credit cuts are built into Universal Credit. They are still coming.

And imagine if a male comedian had joked on television that the tampon tax ought to be used to fund women's refuges, rape crisis centres, and so on. Yet that is actually going to happen.

And Stands To Lose Everything

Ed West writes:

Actress Frances Barber has complained about her taxi driver after a night out in town, tweeting: Just had a sharia Uber driver, first time in London. Shocked. Reported.

The man had allegedly told her she was ‘disgustingly dressed’ and that ‘women should not be out at night’. This was after she had remarked about the weather being cold. 

That’s the problem with liberalising the taxi market to let any random person drive you around – it reduces the level of trust. 

As Rory Sutherland explained in this magazine a couple of years ago, trust is extremely important to capitalism and that’s why having hurdles such as the Knowledge is necessary:

‘Reciprocation, reputation and pre-commitment are the three big mechanisms which add to trust. You can use a small local firm which needs your loyalty. You can use someone larger with a brand reputation. Or you can trust someone who has made a big investment in getting a badge, and stands to lose everything if caught cheating.’ 

On the other hand perhaps technology, and the universal system of rating each other online, has changed all that, and we should just accept that Uber is the future. 

But, and I know I’m a hopeless reactionary who’s on the wrong side of history, and it’s 2015 and everything, but if people want a fully-trained driver who knows what he’s doing, has invested both his time and money in his career, and is licensed, then get a black cab. 

Uber is not a taxi service; it’s merely a mechanism to hire some random guy to drive you around for a pittance – don’t be surprised if he’s not quite possessed of a Morgan Freeman level of repartee and diligence. 

There is also the ethical question. Janice Turner recently pointed out  in The Times that her friends ‘wouldn’t grind an unfairly traded coffee beam, they champion the living wage and want to tax global evaders like Starbucks and yet Uber leaves such principles squished in the road’. 

Like all Silicon Valley companies, Uber promotes fashionable social justice causes while in practice doing the most un-left-wing thing possible: doing skilled working-class people out of jobs. 

So why isn’t there wider sympathy for cabbies? Is it that middle-class preference for having more deferential and undemanding foreign workers serving them? If it is, then that’s pretty short-sighted. 

Black cab drivers have always been the butt of humour because of their supposedly lower-middle-class right-wing views, although in my experience I can only remember one cabbie being very political and it was to express his disgust for the royal family. 

English lower-middle-class bigotry is a legitimate target for humour, but has anyone engaged in political debate with mini cab drivers from the second world? 

I’ve had some interesting chats – most recently there was a lovely Iranian guy who hated the religious authorities and wanted to restore the Shah, which I’m totally down with – but I’ve also spoken to people who believe the Mossad were behind 9/11. 

Imported prejudices are not so much a target for Radio 4 comedy, but as Europe is finding out, these days they are much more extreme and dangerous.

Anyway, I had that al-Baghdadi in the back of my cab recently – lovely bloke.

Continue To Press

John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning, has released new analysis showing the Chancellor’s housing announcements are already starting to unravel.

An ‘increase’ in housing investment that is still a cut

The Chancellor said that “I am doubling the housing budget”, but new analysis shows that it has almost halved compared to the investment plans that he inherited from Labour. 

‘New’ homes that are not new 

The Chancellor promised “400,000 affordable new homes”, but he’s double-counting 250,000 which have been previously committed.

‘Affordable’ homes that will not be affordable

The Chancellor promised that his investment would build homes that are “affordable” but so-called ‘starter homes’ could require first time buyer incomes of £100,000 a year, and new analysis from Shelter suggests that shared ownership properties could be unaffordable to more than half of all households across the country.

Commenting, John Healey said: 

“The bluster of George Osborne’s statement masks the reality that his housing pledges are actually a huge cut in investment compared to the plans he inherited from Labour and that most of the so-called ‘new homes’ he has announced today have already been committed.

“After five years of failure from the Tories, with home-ownership having fallen each and every year since 2010 and house-building down to its lowest level since the 1920s during George Osborne’s time at the Treasury, we needed much better from the Chancellor.

“Labour will continue to press the government to build more homes that are genuinely affordable to young people and families on ordinary incomes, to rent and to buy.


I do not yet know, but I strongly suspect and I intend to find out, exactly what marker was being put down by the six Labour MPs who voted for the SNP's motion against Trident.

Only half of them were uncomplicatedly, if at all, of the Left, and the most striking thing about all them was the sheer length of their service.

Kelvin Hopkins and Graham Stringer were first elected in 1997, an electoral generation ago now. Roger Godsiff in 1992. Ronnie Campbell in 1983. Geoffrey Robinson at a by-election in 1976, before four of the 14 pro-Trident rebels were born.

And Dennis Skinner as long ago as the General Election of 1970, when Liz Kendall and Chris Leslie were likewise not even glints in the milkman's eye.

Yet ask yourself this: when have you ever seen on television, or heard on the radio, or read in a newspaper or magazine, anything by or about Kelvin Hopkins, or Graham Stringer, or Roger Godsiff, or Ronnie Campbell?

Or anything other than snide and baseless financial innuendo, and even that quite a long time ago, about Geoffrey Robinson? Or anything relating to Dennis Skinner, other than class-based ridicule?

Six is the right number for a weekly column each on a national daily newspaper. I do not know whether they would all want one, and Skinner has turned down such offers in the past because he believes in a certain distance between politicians and the press. But even so.

Credible and Radical

Stella Creasy writes:

With the spending review looming there is one budget cut we should all get behind. Britain is paying out £10billion a year on PFI loans taken out to build schools and hospitals.

With so many public institutions in financial difficulty, tomorrow Labour needs to offer both an expose of Osbourne's fiscal callousness and credible and radical alternatives for securing value for money for the British public.

Renegotiating repayment of these debts could not only save money - it could also be an opportunity to protect public services from privatisation.

Just as we took on the payday lending companies, so now Labour should lead the fight against those bleeding our public sector dry.

The sums involved are eye-watering.

Currently UK PFI projects are worth £57billion, for which the Government is committed to paying back £232billion by 2049/50.

The Treasury Select Committee concluded borrowing in this way was double the cost of the long term government gilt rate.

And it is not just the interest that is extortionate. Once these companies have a contract, most squeeze more money out of the public sector in overpriced service charges and maintenance.

One hospital was charged £52,000 to demolish a £750 shelter for smokers. Another school had to pay £302 for a new plug socket, five times the cost of the equipment it wanted to plug in.

In total PFI will cost every household £4,000 a year for the next eighteen years - equivalent to the entire school refurbishment programme budget, or the gap between local and national government spending itself.

Barts Health Trust in East London has the largest UK PFI deal made at £1.1billion. By 2049 the amount paid back will total £7billion.

Last year alone the Trust shelled out £148million - equivalent to the salaries for 6,000 nurses - of which half paid for interest accrued on the loan alone.

Barts has a deficit of £90million which lead managers to downgrade nursing posts - little wonder the CQC placed my local hospital into special measures as the quality of care has declined and it struggles to fill vacancies.

But whilst Barts faces an uncertain future, its creditors do not.

Innisfree owns 50% of the Barts deal and expects to make £18billion from eighteen different PFI projects across Britain.

It has just twenty five staff, one of whom earned £2million last year alone.

If Labour can be fairly criticised for using PFI, the sight of hospitals struggling with such debts make the lack of the current Government's action all the more galling.

Their own review failed to secure any savings in 82% of deals.

Little wonder some are taking matters into their own hands - Northumbria Council took out a loan to buy out Hexham hospital's PFI, and in doing so has saved £3.5million every year over the remaining 19-year term.

Some argue for these deals to be written off altogether - risking the chance no one would ever lend to the public sector again lest it defaults or higher rates of interest in future to compensate.

Instead, we need to give local communities the tools - and money - to renegotiate these debts in the best way for them.

This means exploring how and if we could convert the Public Sector Works Board into a credit union for the public sector.

This could then offer PFI stricken institutions loans at lower rates of interest.

Turning these into Cooperative trusts as a condition of such a bailout could give local residents the power to borrow and buy out services directly and own them - thus also putting them in the hands of their users and beyond any possible future threat of privatisation.

The experience of the cooperative finance sector shows renegotiation of debt is both possible and effective.

If the Chancellor is serious about sorting out public finances he would pilot a scheme to enable this in the public sector to demonstrate the wider potential of such models.

Reforming PFI to make it better value for money and people led is just one of many examples where applying insights from the co-operative movement offers a way forward.

When it comes to slashing public spending, tackling these loans is one change we can all sign off.

Why Did Turkey Attack A Russian Plane?

Philip Giraldi knows the answer:

The shooting down of a Russian fighter plane by a Turkish F-16 is an extremely disturbing turn of events.

Turkey claims that the SU-24 aircraft had violated its airspace and had not responded to repeated warnings before the armed response took place.

The Russians for their part claim that they were operating in Syrian airspace with the concurrence of the Damascus government. 

President Vladimir Putin appeared on Russian television shortly after the plane went down and was clearly furious, denouncing a “stab in the back by the terrorists’ accomplices” and warning that there would be “severe consequences.” 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled a planned Wednesday visit to talk with his counterpart in Ankara. The shoot down will have repercussions.

It will inevitably involve some kind of response from NATO while also rendering the creation of any grand alliance against ISIS much less likely.

Turkey has produced a map indicating where the violation of airspace allegedly took place. If the map is accurate, it was over a finger of land two miles wide that juts into Syria.

The map and Turkish commentary relating to it suggest that the incursion occurred when the Russian plane crossed the border, but there is perhaps inevitably a problem with that account.

A fighter traveling at even subsonic speed would have passed over the Turkish territory in roughly twelve seconds, which rather suggests that there would not have been time for any “repeated warnings.” 

Then there is the problem with where the plane actually came down.

Admittedly the aircraft would not necessarily plummet straight down to mark the spot where it was hit, but the remains appear to have wound up comfortably inside Syria.

A video of the plane’s downing also seems to show it being hit and then going directly down. There is also the question of who gave the order to fire—and why.

The Turks have been complaining about Russian aircraft coming too close to the border and there has been inflammatory media coverage about alleged bombings of the ethnic Turkish Turkmen tribesmen who live in the area on the Syrian side. 

But given the political sensitivity of what is occurring along the Turkey-Syria border, one would have to suspect that any decision to take decisive action came from the top levels of the government in Ankara. 

American, British, French and Russian airplanes are all operating over northern Syria. None of those planes can be construed as being hostile to Turkey while the terrorist and rebel groups have no air forces. 

Why a relatively minor incursion, if it indeed took place, would warrant a shoot down has to be questioned unless it was actually a Turkish plan to engage a Russian plane as soon as it could be plausibly claimed that there had been a violation of airspace.

Why would the Turks do that?

Because Russia is supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, apparently with considerable success, and Turkey has been extremely persistent in their demands that he be removed. 

Al-Assad is seen by Turkey, rightly or wrongly, as a supporter of Kurdish militancy along the long and porous border with Turkey. 

This explains why Ankara has been lukewarm in its support of the campaign against ISIS, tacitly cooperating with the terrorist group, while at the same time focusing its own military effort against the Kurds, which it sees as an existential threat directed against the unity of the Turkish Republic.

Would Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan do something so reckless?

Only he knows for sure, but if his objective was to derail the creation of a unified front against terrorist and rebel groups in Syria and thereby weaken the regime in Damascus, he might just believe that the risk was worth the potential gain.

The Emirati Plan For Ruling Egypt

David Hearst writes:

A top-secret strategy document prepared for Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan reveals that the United Arab Emirates is losing faith in the ability of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to serve the Gulf state’s interests.

The document, prepared by one of Bin Zayed’s team and dated 12 October, contains two key quotes which describe the frustration bin Zayed feels about Sisi, whose military coup the Crown Prince bankrolled, pouring in billions of dollars along with Saudi Arabia.

It says: “This guy needs to know that I am not an ATM machine.” Further on, it also reveals the political price the Emiratis will exact if they continue to fund Egypt. 

Future strategy should be based on not just attempting to influence the government in Egypt but to control it. It is summarised thus: “Now I will give but under my conditions. If I give, I rule.” 

Egypt, which has recently tried to stem a run on the Egyptian pound, is heavily dependent on cash from the Emirates, which has become the largest foreign direct investor. 

At an economic conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in March, the prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, revealed the UAE had already given Egypt $13.9bn and he pledged $3.9bn more. 

The real amount of aid Sisi got from the Emiratis is thought by analysts to be closer to $25bn, around half of the total Gulf aid to Egypt. 

Only $16.4bn remain, and of those only $2.5bn are in gold, according to a former Egyptian official who spoke to MEE on the condition of anonymity. 

The rest is in the form of loans. This is insufficient for covering the import of basic commodities for two months.

The document, seen exclusively by MEE, questions whether bin Zayed is getting a proper return on his investment.

It also reveals unhappiness with the Egyptian officials the Emiratis thought they had recruited, because it became clear to them afterwards that they were not as loyal to the Emirates as they were to Egypt.

The strategy paper says that in future the Emiratis should select their partners in Egypt with more care.

In a reference to the current campaign in the Egyptian media against the new Saudi ruler, King Salman, and his son Mohammed - which has seen the kingdom attacked for its role in Syria and allegedly over-bearing control of Egypt - the document says they will have to stop the war of words because it hurts Emirati interests.

Three phases

The strategy document outlines three phases of investing in Egypt which will start early next year. In the third phase, the Emirates will seek to move from financier to "full partner".

The Emirates should recruit and finance Egyptian think tanks, universities and media outlets, the document says. It goes on to state that these direct investments should have a clear strategy and vision and that every down-payment should be tested for the benefits it will bring Abu Dhabi.

The paper spells out in blunt terms Emirati ambitions to control Egypt.

This aim is inherent in a section recommending three conditions for continuing the bailout of Sisi's government.

Those conditions are: removing the petrol subsidy over the next three years by respectively cutting it by 30 percent, 30 percent and then 40 percent annually; demanding that the Emirates should set the strategy for the price of the Egyptian pound in comparison with the US dollar, which would be tantamount to controlling Egypt’s monetary policy; and cutting bureaucracy. Each of these are domestic policies.

The document further reveals the extent to which Sisi has let down his paymasters. One analyst who has been studying the deteriorating relationship between the two countries said:

“The criticism indicates that they are not happy with Sisi and that he is not serving their purpose. The main idea the Emiratis have is that MBZ [bin Zayed] should be the real ruler of Egypt and whoever is in charge must do what he is asked to do by them.”

Cause for concern 

There are three reasons for Emirati concern.

First, the Emiratis think the media war that has broken out between Egypt and the Saudi kingdom is hurting Abu Dhabi’s interests.

Last month the Egyptian newspaper al-Youm al-Sabea reported a row between the chairman of the state owned al-Ahram media group Ahmed el-Sayed al-Naggar and the Saudi Ambassador to Egypt Ahmad Qattan, which ended with al-Ahram claiming that “even a building in central Cairo” is older than the kingdom.

A pro-government TV anchor, Ibrahim Eissa, accused Saudi Arabia of funding terrorist groups in Syria, called on Sisi to stop being “a captive to Riyadh,” and urged Egypt to be liberated from the relationship of gratitude to Saudi Arabia.

Second, the Emiratis are unhappy about Sisi’s broken promises to send ground troops for the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, a war in which the UAE was forced to commit troops.

Sisi used the expression in Egyptian Arabic “masafah as-sikkah,” meaning it would take him the time it needs to cross a road to come to the aid of the Gulf states if they needed military aid.

So far, no Egyptian troops have materialised on the ground in Yemen.

Third, they complain that Sisi is not listening to them when they ask for economic and administrative reform or when they demand that good governance be used as the basis of a stable state.

“From Abu Dhabi’s point of view, Sisi has not performed. He does not have a strategy for economic reform. Services are very bad. So from the Emirati perspective Sisi is not doing what he is told to do,” the analyst, who spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity, said.

“In the coming phase, starting early next year, the Emirates are planning this extensive campaign. They are not deserting him [Sisi] and he is still their man, but nor are they happy with him. They want total submission, so that they are the real rulers.

Relations with Riyadh

Sisi’s relations with Riyadh also worsened after he discovered that a rival Egyptian army general has been in the kingdom for the past two weeks holding private talks.

Sources close to the kingdom reveal that Egyptian military intelligence asked the Saudis why Sami Anan, a former chief of staff, was there.

They were told Anan was there on a private visit and in an individual capacity and there was nothing the government in Riyadh could do to stop it.

Anan was second only to Mohammed Hussein Tantawi when Mubarak was ousted in 2011. He was sacked by Mohamed Morsi when the latter became president in 2012.

However, when Morsi was in turn ousted by a military coup a year later, Anan announced his ambition to be a presidential candidate. 

He is 70 and is regarded as close to Washington; he was in the US at the time of the 25 January revolution.

According to the informed Saudi sources, Anan is one of three names being considered to replace Sisi.

The others are Ahmed Shafiq, a former general who is at present in exile in Abu Dhabi, and Murad Muwafi, a former head of the General Intelligence Directorate, who like Anan was sacked by Morsi. Both Shafiq and Muwafi are regarded as close to the Emirates.

In his conversations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, King Salman has made no secret of his wish to keep the military in charge of Egypt. 

Saudi Arabia regards the Egyptian military as the only guarantor of the country’s stability, and it is stability rather than democracy that concerns Riyadh.

However, that calculation has changed in the past three months to the extent that Salman no longer regards Sisi as a stable leader of Egypt.

They think Sisi’s term as leader has expired, so they are examining who within the military could take over, as well as reaching out to all sections of the Egyptian political opposition, most of whom are in exile.

Anan, regarded as a calm but wily leader who is naturally risk averse, is a leading candidate for Saudi favour. 

He has a strong claim to represent the Egyptian military, although those very credentials render him suspect to Egyptian opposition forces, who recall his time in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which ruled Egypt from Mubarak’s overthrow to Morsi’s election and oversaw the country while the blood of protesters was being spilled in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

“If they are looking for a military figure, Anan is the best option. But someone accepted by the military is not going to be accepted by the majority. That is where Anan’s problem would be,” said one member of the Egyptian political opposition.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Majority Report

As a proportion of Labour Party members, rather than of everyone eligible to vote in a Leadership Election, 66 per cent is seventeen points ahead of Jeremy Corbyn's result in that election.

If there is a party within the Labour Party, then we can all see who and what it is, and is not.

The Incredible Shrinking Party

With the demise of the Lib Dems, the SNP is by some distance the most sanctimonious party in British politics.

But for how much longer?

That said, look what shenanigans have failed to improve the Lib Dems on that score.

Oh, well, these things happen in all one-party petrostates.

Lost In The Post

So Alan Johnson doesn't like "middle-class intellectuals" in the Labour Party?

Well, fill in the blank: "... is safe on both counts, then."

Welcome to Austeria

Aditya Chakrabortty writes:

A familiar dance begins on Wednesday, as soon as George Osborne reveals his blueprint for Britain. The analysts immediately begin poring over his plans for the next five years.

They tell us how deep are the cuts in neighbourhood policing, how tight the squeeze for your local school – and the knock-on effect for the Tory leadership hopes of George and Theresa and Boris.

But many will miss the backdrop forming right behind them.

Britain is now halfway through a transformative decade: staggering out of a historic crash, reeling through the sharpest spending cuts since the 1920s, and being driven by David Cameron towards a smaller state than Margaret Thatcher ever managed.

None of this is accidental.

While much commentary still treats the Tories as merely muddling through a mess they inherited, Osborne proudly promises a “permanent change” and “a new settlement” for the UK.

The chancellor has the ambition, the power and the time – 10, perhaps 15 years in office – to do exactly that.

Between 1979 and 1990 Thatcher permanently altered Britain and, going by what we already know, Osborne is on course to engineer a similar shift.

I think of the country we are morphing into as Austeria.

It has three defining characteristics: it is shockingly unequal, as a deliberate choice of its rulers; it looks back to the past rather than investing in its future; and it has shrunk its public services for the benefit of its distended, crisis-prone banking sector.

Let’s start with the unfairness.

Remember Osborne’s promise, “we’re all in it together”? He is ensuring the opposite.

Wanting to make massive cuts without rendering his party unelectable, the chancellor is deliberately targeting austerity at those sections of society where he calculates he can get away with it.

That means slashing local council funding, hoping angry voters will turn on their town halls rather than Whitehall. It means running down prisons.

What may be clever Tory politics is desperately unfair policy.

The Centre for Welfare Reform calculates Osborne’s austerity programme has so far hit disabled Britons nine times harder than the average, while those with severe disabilities were 19 times worse off.

Watch for them to be punished again on Wednesday, as the government looks to cut welfare and local government again.

The same welfare cuts mean that Austeria also has a very lopsided geography.

It’s the south-east that gets the Olympics, Crossrail, the bulk of the infrastructure projects and the property speculators’ cranes.

It’s London that attracts the foreign cash. Whatever the pledges about northern powerhouses, they have been completely undercut by its policies.

According to Steve Fothergill and Christina Beatty, economists at Sheffield Hallam university, the past five years of welfare reforms have hit parts of the post-industrial Labour-voting north up to four times harder than the true-blue heartlands.

Take Blackpool, which has lost £863 a year for every adult of working age. In Cameron’s backyard of west Oxfordshire, that loss shrinks to £290.

The academics’ list of the areas least troubled by the welfare cuts could be a rollcall of Tory safe seats: Richmond, Epsom, Windsor, the Cotswolds …

On the flipside, individual families and entire local economies in southern Wales, the old seaside towns and holdouts of the northern working class will emerge from the end of this decade as battered as they were under Thatcher.

Remember these cuts were meant to shield the young from an ever-growing debt burden? Cameron’s policies mean the asset-poor young suffer most.

I remember a post-budget briefing a couple of years ago when a well-known political analyst noted that he was the oldest person in the room and sardonically thanked everyone for protecting his pension payments.

Meanwhile, young people will have to contend with cash-starved further education colleges, an unsustainable university system and a jobs market that is becoming a place of permanent precariousness.

They will also be working in an economy that isn’t interested in the future: where big firms sit on piles of cash that they won’t invest but merely return to shareholders.

Peter Taylor-Gooby at the University of Kent points out that the UK spends less on research and development as a proportion of its national income than America, China and the EU (which includes, lest we forget, countries such as Slovenia and Bulgaria).

That fits with the national motto of Austeria. “Backwards, not forwards!

It’s a place where the past is honoured – as represented by the elderly or those who own houses, shares and other assets – while the future is ignored.

Again, this makes perfect political sense for Osborne: it’s the elderly and the wealthy who turn out to vote, after all.

Analysing the chancellor’s tax-and-spend plans for this decade, the Resolution Foundation (chaired by Tory big beast David Willetts) observes the government is increasing “the share of overall spending on older people and health while reducing the share going to working-age families and economic growth”.

The Austeria of 2020 is a country that has hacked back public spending in order to insure itself against another banking crash.

That trade-off was made starkly clear by Osborne himself in parliament just a few weeks ago.

Accused by a former head of the Treasury of using alarm about debt as a “smokescreen”, the chancellor replied:

“If tomorrow the financial crisis were to hit us, we would have a lot less firepower than we would have if our debt was half [he presumably meant twice] what it is today … I think it is a responsibility to prepare your country for whatever the global economy throws at it … ”

I recommend you watch the entire exchange from 15:56:50 onwards. Rewind those words.

Osborne is no longer claiming that his cuts are to stave off a credit downgrade or to encourage growth. His justification now is that Britain needs to have spare cash for when the next meltdown comes.

The chancellor who promised to sort out the bankers is now doing the opposite.

He is making bank bosses less, not more, accountable for their errors, he has yanked tough-talking regulator Martin Wheatley out of his job, and he has appointed as his top central banker a man who wants the UK to have a banking sector as big as Iceland’s before its crash.

Since Big Finance always means Big Crash, the rest of us will have to go without funding for schools, local government and the rest of the public sector.

In 2008 Britain’s bankers plunged the rest of the country into a crisis.

What followed was austerity: the policy where those most responsible for the huge bill looked for the working and middle classes to pay for it.

By the end of this decade, that policy will have become a regime, Austeria.

In it most of us have to make do with less money in our pockets and dilapidated public services, to allow those at the top to continue as though nothing has happened.

Because for them, very little has.


I probably wouldn't have participated in some stunt by the SNP.

But I still tip my hat to the six Labour MPs who have just voted for the non-binding motion against Trident.

They are Ronnie Campbell, Roger Godsiff of the Lanchester Forum, Kelvin Hopkins, Geoffrey Robinson (a bit of a surprise), Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer.

Sound Eurosceptics, too, every one of them.

In Plane Sight

I hope that this time, even David Cameron will face facts.

If we are at war with IS, then we are at war with Turkey, with Saudi Arabia, with Qatar, with Bahrain, with Kuwait, with Oman, and with the Emirates.

But we are at war alongside (indeed, for) Assad, alongside Russia, alongside Iran, alongside Hezbollah, and probably alongside China.

So, in the light of these facts, are we at war with IS? That is not a rhetorical question.

Monday, 23 November 2015


Up, and up, and up the cost of Trident soars.

On each occasion, the increase is astronomical.

What is going on here?


All this fuss about The Sun.

It is given away free these days, and it has had to take down its paywall.

All that, and the Hillsborough Report is coming.

Unchecked and Unbalanced

3.5 per cent of the MPs elected for the SNP in May are now under Police investigation.

Imagine if Natalie McGarry had been a member of any other party. There would already have been mass marches through the streets.

The three MPs, not quite one twentieth of the total, whom Scotland returned under any other colours, now struggle to hold or attend constituency events, due to the mobs that turn up when they do.

The SNP is vexatiously seeking to remove one of those three through an electoral court.

Meanwhile, the Police are beating at more and more of the Nationalists' doors. Anyone would think that their party had let pretty much anybody put up for Parliament this year.

Conversions on the Road to Damascus

I told you that they would be along soon, and here they are.

Like the Communist Party in 1941, which became gung-ho for the War the moment that the Soviet Union was invaded.

The people who used to scream abuse at Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-British sympathiser with terrorism, and at those of us who made occasional appearances on RT, are now hailing the gallant allies in Damascus, Moscow, Tehran and Beirut.

In terms that we would never use of any of those regimes.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Lanchester Review: Hell Comes To Paris

John Wight makes a powerful case. As does Maurice Glasman.

But then, so does Peter Hitchens (whose call for an inquiry into the connection between drug use and terrorist violence is echoed by Christopher Booker). And so does Thom Brooks.

I used to want to be an MP. In the meantime, I have stood down from Lanchester Parish Council due to ill health, and it has worsened since. But even so, I did used to want to be an MP.

Now, though, I think that I might have had a lucky escape. I have never been so conflicted, or seen the people whose judgement I most respected so divided.

Turn Again

Both of the realistic outcomes to the London Mayoral Election would be beneficial to Jeremy Corbyn.

Even if Zac Goldsmith were to top the first preference vote, which promises to be close, then most of Sadiq Khan's second preferences would go to George Galloway, or at least far more than would go to Goldsmith, while the huge majority of Galloway's second preferences would go to Khan.

Either Galloway or Khan will win. Either of those victories would amount to a victory for Corbyn.

If Galloway won, then Khan would be free to return as Shadow Justice Secretary. If Khan won, then Galloway would seek to return to the House of Commons in 2020; I have a hunch, although nothing more than that, as to which seat he would seek, and why.

But only a Goldsmith victory would endanger Corbyn. That is not going to happen.

Ground Zero

"Boots on the ground"?

What boots?

And on whose feet?

Cult In Contempt

Above local government, the SNP has 121 elected representatives.

Not one of them dissented in any way from the old policy on Syria. And not one of them dissents in any way from the, almost diametrically opposed, new policy on Syria.

It's a cult.

Moreover, that cult is in contempt of Parliament. Nicola Sturgeon is not a member of the House of Commons, yet she is publicly declaring  that she will be dictating the votes of 55, and in practice 56, people who are.

Saturday, 21 November 2015


I shall be remaining as critical as ever of Assad, Putin, Iran and Hezbollah.

I look forward to being called every name under the sun by people who, barely a week ago, were calling me every name under the sun because I did not want to nuke Assad, Putin, Iran or Hezbollah.

All sorts and conditions have been bombing Syria for quite some time now. And for what?

At the very least, how would their battle against IS be assisted by the addition of what little remained of the British Armed Forces under this Government?

France is not at war because Paris was attacked. Rather, Paris was attacked because France was at war, as Beirut was attacked because Hezbollah was at war, and as a Russian airliner was attacked because Russia was at war.

The attack on Paris was a calculated attack on the beating heart of European high culture, on the capital of Europe's most abiding state (the eastern border has shifted a bit from time to time, but there has always been France), and on the citadel of the Frankish Crusaders.

In no sense were the Frankish Crusaders being attacked as purely an historical memory.

Spooky Whigs

More and more, I am starting to think that John McDonnell was right the first time.

MI5 is now a complete anachronism, where the posh boys get to be in overall charge of the plebs in the Police, who are the real intelligence gatherers and who are being cut to the bone.

And those posh boys' mentality is still that of the Whig oligarchy, in which even the Crown is subordinate to what is fundamentally and ultimately their own class interest.

In that interest, their ancestors just changed the Royal dynasty, as if it were nothing.

In that same interest, they themselves would have no compunction about just bumping off the Prime Minister chosen by, after all, merely the Head of their own contrived choice of ruling House.

That would be nothing to them, either.

Not A Peep

On Robert Webb, see here.

Jeremy Corbyn will be vindicated when Labour wins the Oldham West and Royton by-election; even a reduced majority would be par for the course when the previous MP had been of quite such long standing.

Then the tax credits cut will kick in, hitting exactly the people whose votes decided General Elections, and Labour will have won the 2020 Election, regardless of the Leader.

Corbyn works closely with a Deputy from the traditional Right, meaning that Labour is led by a balanced ticket.

Corbyn has appointed a Shadow Cabinet that is drawn overwhelmingly from the traditional Right and from the Soft Left, with a disproportionate number of Kendall supporters as Shadow Ministers generally. He has even given a job to Blair's old flatmate.

Blair was never remotely that inclusive, and nor would Burnham, Cooper or Kendall have been. People who are complaining are nothing more than spoilt children who object to anything for anyone else, ever.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The Lanchester Review: Ordeals of Whistleblowers in a “Democracy”

Victor Wallis is on powerful form.

This is becoming one of the Review’s principal themes, and rightly so.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Lanchester Review: Labour Holds the Future of Surveillance in its Hands

Loz Kaye makes a powerful, and a vitally important, case.

Tripoli Truth

Even if the invasion of Libya has led indirectly to the apprehension of Yvonne Fletcher's murderers (living in Britain!), then that invasion was still wrong.

Disarming To Know

If John McDonnell wants to disband MI5 and disarm the Police, then who does he think that he is? Peter Hitchens?

MI5 told Tony Benn to his face that it would murder him if he ever became Prime Minister, an office to which he would have had to have been appointed by the Queen.

It devotes much of its time to harassing and intimidating trade unionists, as do the existing armed sections of the Police.

Those are not necessarily arguments for disbandment. But they are concerns. And those concerns are now shared and expressed at the very highest levels of the Official Opposition.

Sleazy Jet

A private plane for another Prime Minister who thinks that he is the Head of State.

The offspring of Thatcher and Blair, indeed.

The Boss Lady

The New York Times is given a glimpse of things to come.

She is overrated.

Themselves Alone

It looks as if concessions have been made to the DUP at Stormont in order to change the votes of their MPs at Westminster, especially on Syria.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has given up all pretence to be anti-austerity, and has handed welfare policy back to Westminster in the process. Dissident Republicans have noticed, especially the Irish Republican Socialist Party.

The IRSP is really the INLA, which recently staged a very considerable show of strength at a funeral in Derry City, of a kind that had not been seen anywhere in Northern Ireland in decades, and which featured dozens of very young uniformed marchers. By contrast, it is probably now impossible to join the Provisional IRA.

Austerity is a political choice. And cuts cost lives, indeed.

Not Safe, Only Sorry

Gary Younge writes:

The descriptions varied

Officer Frank assumed he was “a white man”, but thought: “It would be worth somebody else having a look.” 

Officer Ivor believed he had “Mongolian eyes”; Officer Harry said he was “acting in a wary manner”; Commander Dick thought him “very, very jumpy”. 

But a consensus soon emerged: he was a jihadi about to blow up London’s tube.

Within an hour the descriptions were unanimous. He was a dead man. How could he not be? The police had put seven bullets in his head. 

Within 24 hours a new consensus was taking hold. They had all been completely wrong.  He was not off to spread terror through the capital, but to fix a broken fire alarm in Kilburn. 

He was not a terrorist, but a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician. His name was Jean Charles de Menezes.

Any shoot-to-kill policy inevitably rests on the presumption of guilt, often of a crime that has not yet taken place. 

In the most literal sense of the word, such policies are based on prejudice – a judgment made about who someone is and what they might do, prior to any evidence about either. Those presumptions do not come from nowhere. 

They are rooted in an array of received wisdoms – a constellation of probabilities, generalisations, bigotries, calculations, likelihoods, falsehoods, archetypes and stereotypes.

Judgments are made through the crosshairs of a firearm. The verdict is always the same – death. There is no leave to appeal.

In the stampede to defend and extol western values – whatever they are – against the onslaught of barbarism, it should be recognised that the principles of freedom and equality have never applied to all in the west except in the most formal sense.

The criminalisation of communities of colour (and the Irish in Britain) long preceded the war on terror and will, unfortunately, survive it.

Fascism is once again a mainstream ideology in Europe, and Muslims are among its principal targets. 

Knowing what the odds are for black and Muslim people to be stopped and searched, the ramifications of a “don’t stop, just shoot” policy do not bear thinking about. 

“Terror,” explains the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, in Fear of Small Numbers, “opens the possibility that anyone may be a soldier in disguise, a sleeper among us, waiting to strike at the heart of our social slumber.” 

If such an atmosphere prevails, every brown skin will be just a “cleanskin” (an undercover terrorist not known to the police) waiting to happen – and the#blacklivesmatter slogan will shift from an issue pitching civil rights advocates against local and federal US law enforcement to one of global, geopolitical inequalities.

Those who might insist that racial sensitivity is a luxury we cannot afford at such critical times should realise that it is precisely the trust of black and Asian communities that is most needed to combat this particular fundamentalist scourge. 

Moreover, if unity against terror is genuinely what we are aiming for, it cannot be achieved by forcing some to live in terror of the state so that others can enjoy the illusion of security – we’re either all in this together or we’re not. 

Finally, the murder and humiliation of innocent people abroad at the hands of western forces is partly what has brought us to this point, helping to mobilise large numbers of disaffected Muslim youth. 

Being as callous and careless at home as we have been abroad will hurt, not help.

In moments that are clear cut – where a terrorist is pointing a gun at civilians or stands up, shouts a slogan and pulls a cord from a smoking vest – few (including, I would imagine, Jeremy Corbyn) would argue with the proposition that they should stopped by any means necessary, including lethal force. 

British police already have the right to use reasonable force if they believe somebody poses a threat to his or her life, or to the life of others.

But it is worthwhile pointing out that in the most high profile of such moments that have occurred, the assailants were apprehended (usually by civilians) using non-lethal means.

The shoe bomber of 2001, the underwear bomber of 2009 – both of whom were caught trying to blow up aeroplanes in mid-flight – and the man who opened fire on a train in France in August this year were all overpowered by other passengers or crew.

All were stopped and could expect to stand trial. If it is a way of life that we’re defending, then – even when it is not possible – this must nonetheless be the preferred outcome.

But situations are rarely that clear. 

The young Asian man running through the city with a backpack might be late for a football match; the woman in the hijab on the bus looking nervous and talking to herself might be on her way to an interview or an exam. 

You just don’t know. And once they’ve been shot, it’s too late to find out.

Police officers thought that De Menezes looked suspicious because he changed buses and looked fidgety, which is apparently how a well-trained terrorist would behave.

It turned out he switched buses because the tube stop was closed, and was on edge because he was running late for work.

And when people are refracting their impressions through a lens of fear they rarely see straight. 

De Menezes was shot two weeks after jihadis had attacked tube trains and a bus in central London and a day after the failure of another plot. People were understandably jittery.

Initial witness reports said that De Menezes was wearing a suspiciously large padded jacket on a hot day, had vaulted the ticket barriers, and kept running when asked to stop.

Anthony Larkin, who was on the train, said he saw “this guy who appeared to have a bomb belt and wires coming out”. 

Mark Whitby, who was also there, thought he saw a Pakistani terrorist being chased and gunned down by plainclothes policemen.

Less than a month later, Whitby said “I now believe that I could have been looking at the surveillance officer” being thrown out of the way as De Menezes was being killed.

The Pakistani in a padded jacket turned out to be a Brazilian in a light denim jacket who picked up a free paper and swiped his Oyster card.

We would all rather be safe than sorry.

The problem with a policy such as shoot-to-kill is that its potential to make us safe is dwarfed by the likelihood that it will make us sorry.

False Positive

Waldemar Ingdahl writes:

The reactions to the barbaric Paris attacks are starting to follow a worrisome pattern.

After the initial shock, there is a public expression of horror over the deed and solidarity with the victims.

Twitter hashtags are adopted, Facebook profile pictures are changed and declarations are made: the core of Western culture – democracy, free speech and liberty – is under attack, and the best way to fight terrorism is to emphasise the importance of a free society.

Fear, we say, is the main weapon of terrorism.

But, such is the moral disarray of the modern West, no sooner have such fine words been uttered, than intelligence agencies, from the US National Security Agency (NSA) to the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), are provided with a raft of new mass-surveillance powers.

So, as part of a post-attack effort to fight terrorism, civil liberties are trampled over. This is already happening in France.

In May, in response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings at the start of the year, the French parliament approved a new law that provided sweeping new powers for the security forces.

These powers include allowing the authorities to tap into the digital and mobile-phone communications of anyone linked to a terrorist inquiry without prior approval from a judge.

Internet service providers must also provide data at the request of the authorities.

Other provisions include the power to bug private homes and install keyloggers in computers to track users’ keystrokes.

And the law allows the authorities to collect and store for five years the metadata of sites people visit, and contacts people make.

There is even the option, under certain circumstances, to use ISMI-catchers to intercept and track communications from mobile phones.

And yet, despite the vast array of new powers granted to security agencies over the past 15 years, they still find it difficult to connect the dots in the lead-up to a terrorist attack.

In fact, the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the London bombings in 2005 were undertaken despite the fact that some of the perpetrators were already under surveillance.

Data mining is said to enable surveillance agencies to connect these dots, and foresee terrorist attacks.

But, while mining personal data may be useful in order to personalise advertising to the right customer, detect credit-card fraud or identify tax evaders, it is failing to pick up terrorists.

There are good reasons for this.

Most data mining is used when there is a clear sign of aberrant behaviour – a credit card, for example, might be suddenly used in a very different manner, implying it has been stolen.

The signs of a potential terror attack are far less clear, so error rates are high. And the costs of false alarms can be prohibitive.

Fine tuning the research to avoid false results can be very difficult because of the false-positive paradox. A false positive occurs when a detection system mistakenly identifies someone, in this case, as a terrorist.

The false-positive paradox runs as follows: let’s say that one in a million people are terrorists, and you have a test for terrorism that’s 99 per cent accurate.

Out of a million people tested, it will be positive for around 10,000 of them – because for every hundred people, it will be wrong once (hence the phrase ‘99 per cent accurate’).

Yet, statistically speaking, we know that only one person is a terrorist in the entire sample of 10,000. That means that a test that is 99 per cent accurate is wrong 9,999 times out of 10,000.

The paradox highlights the flaws in some surveillance tests for terrorism that seem highly reliable but do not have very reliable results. 

This is because the tested occurrence – in this case, a terrorist plot – is so rare. 

As a result, general data-based terrorism-detection systems produce a huge number of false positives that require costly and lengthy investigations to corroborate. 

If finding terrorism can be compared to finding a needle in a haystack, mass surveillance is equivalent to adding more hay to the stack.

Instead, intelligence and law-enforcement agencies need to collaborate better, not amass more and more data. 

And they need to pull together specific information about specific terrorist suspects, not general information about everybody. 

Mass surveillance can use up already scarce resources and personnel.

Sweden and Belgium are considered rest-and-relaxation areas for some terrorist organisations because mass surveillance has left police resources so thinly spread.

We need intelligence analysis that focuses on interpersonal contact not indiscriminate mounds of data.

Data mining and increased surveillance come at a high cost, not just to out pockets, but also to our liberties.

Suicide and Fatherhood

The Lanchester Forum's Andy Walton has managed to find something good to say about International Men's Day:

Men have run most of the world for most of its history.

Men make up the vast majority of members of Parliament, Congress and just about every other political power base across the globe.

Men are paid more than women. In parts of the world, men are granted rights that women can only dream of. Men are over-represented in media, the arts, sport and finance. Men dominate boardroom by a ratio of three to one.

So why on earth should we give any space to International Men's Day, which takes place today?

A day celebrating men seems like an extravagance at best, even an insult to everyone's intelligence, given the litany of disadvantages that billions of women face day after day.

We must support campaigns against those issues which disproportionately affect women – the horrors of domestic violence and sexual assault, alongside the more ingrained systemic sexism of pay inequality, lack of opportunity and severe under-representation in positions of power.
But this isn't a Zero Sum game. Supporting equality for women doesn't mean we need to be silent on men's issues.

In fact, I want to proudly proclaim from the top of my Adam's apple that we should use International Men's Day to talk widely and freely about them.

Not because men are better than women, nor because men need to be recognised by a specific day in the calendar. Not even because a special day really changes anything in and of itself.

But I'm keen to use today to spark conversations because there are some challenges and issues which seem to affect men more acutely than women.

There are also issues which affect many men but just aren't talked about widely.

And if International Men's Day gives us a chance to focus on them and even play a part in addressing them, then we need to take any chance we can get.
International Men's Day may not be perfect – identity politics of any kind makes me nervous – but we can use the springboard offered by the day to talk about some awkward issues.

We could focus on educational attainment, where girls outperform boys, body image, which is reported to be a concern for large numbers of men, or general health complaints, with men being 33 per cent less likely to visit a doctor than women.

There may well be many more, but today, let's focus on just two. Suicide and fatherhood.

Simply put, men are far more likely to kill themselves than women. This is a stark and sobering fact.

In 2013, 78 per cent of suicides in the UK were men. Thirteen men kill themselves every day in the UK, making suicide the biggest killer of men under 44. These are devastating statistics. 

Until recently this phenomenon has been talked about very little in public. Fortunately, this is beginning to change. Journalist Owen Jones is among those who've started speaking out

Mainstream media is now describing this as a public health crisis, which hopefully means a wider conversation on the issue, followed by some concrete attempts at improving it are on the way.

We've got to talk openly about these horrendous statistics. We've got to demand more from ourselves – to open up those awkward conversations about mental health with friends, family and churches.

We've also got to demand more from those in power, as a coalition of leading suicide prevention charities are doing

They say, "Every year thousands of men take their lives, more than 4,600 last year alone. Yet the way we respond to each incident has changed little over the last four decades... there are no national plans to act to 'contain' the issue and support those impacted by or enforce suicide prevention plans across the country."

Fatherhood is the second area where we really have to open up a conversation.

Around a quarter of children in Britain are now being raised in single parent homes. Fewer than ten per cent of these families are headed by a single father

In other words, in more than nine out of ten cases, children in those homes are growing up without their father under the same roof. 

Of course, this could be for a number of reasons, and it doesn't mean that every man who leaves the home has done so for dishonourable reasons. 

However, it's perfectly clear why Pope Francis recently spoke about the existence of a 'fatherhood crisis'"Fathers are so necessary as examples and guides for our children in wisdom and virtue," said the Pope. 

"Without father figures, young people often feel orphaned, left adrift at a critical moment in their growth and development." 

This is no criticism of single mothers, but is certainly born out by statistics which suggest children in single parent homes can be disadvantaged compared to those with both parents still present. 

Of course, many, many children from single parent families grow to be well-adjusted and happy. But this doesn't mean that there isn't a big issue here.

The so-called crisis in fatherhood is something precipitated by men leaving. We must begin to talk about why so many men now don't live with their children and the impact that can have in society as a whole. 

A man's decision not to commit to his his child and the child's mother is a life-changing one – and one that it seems not enough men are taking seriously.

There are, of course, no easy answers to this issue – relationships break down. But men must be confronted with the consequences of their actions.

So, three cheers for International Men's Day, not in and of itself, but because we have to talk about this stuff.

And if one extra conversation happens today by the water cooler, at a bar, in the school canteen, on a building site, or on the trading floor, then that's good enough for me.