Friday, 25 July 2014

Economic Recovery Blah Blah Blah

Look, it might even be true. Substantially, it was true when Norman Lamont was going on about his greens shoots.

But nobody believed him, and he has never lived down the gales of derision, nor will he ever do so.

In any case, recovery from what? There was no recession on the day of the last General Election. It was over. Until Osborne came in.

The popular mind no longer associates the Conservative Party with anything apart from recession, sleaze, and posh boy incompetence.

It doesn't have to be true. It does not matter one jot whether or not it is true. It is what everyone thinks, and it how they are going to vote.

Yew Kip Tee Tip

Well, there you are, then.

UKIP, like Daniel Hannan, is in favour of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

So much for national sovereignty.

So much for parliamentary democracy.

Labour must declare its absolute opposition to the whole principle of the thing, and force a Commons vote immediately after the current recess.

One Nation, Indeed

A party funded by Russian oligarchs and by the Gulf princelings whose money created ISIS?

Or a party funded by millions of ordinary working people within, through and as the British trade union movement?

It is perfectly obvious which is the patriotic choice.

And which is not.

Arms On Its Last Legs

From Tim Stanley to Owen Jones, the tide is turning against the arms trade. It is time to put the B back into 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.

Family Values

Julie Burchill makes some important points.

But I don't know when pop music, even if it did not used to be the 60 per cent privately schooled that it is now, has ever been working-class.

Neither John Lennon nor Mick Jagger came from that background, for a start.

And the industry has always been run by toffs, as correctly depicted in This Is Spinal Tap. But then, Nigel Tufnel was played by the fifth Baron Haden-Guest, who knew what he was satirising.

Every sport has become posher in its talent pool, with one exception.

Football has gone in the opposite direction, bestowing obscene amounts of money on very young men who would otherwise be unemployable as absolutely anything at all.

Go through the 1966 World Cup winners. They were not like that. The deterioration of footballers has been at least as marked as the gentrification of everyone else.

Neither pop music nor sport, nor the modelling to which Burchill also refers, ever owed much, if anything, to the grammar schools, before anyone starts.

Acting? Perhaps a bit more so. But mostly in relation to middle-class actors. The stage has always covered the entire class system, and replicated it with added emphasis among actors themselves.

The working classes rarely attended grammar schools and were very rarely able to stay all the way through to 18, situations that continue to obtain where those institutions still exist.

No, beyond sport and the rest of showbusiness, the ladder of working-class advancement was the trade union movement, and to an extent local government.

The evisceration of both since 1979 has been what has caused the present baleful situation.

Double Standards

Neil Clark on the totally different reactions by the same people to MH17 and to Gaza.

It Couldn't Happen To A Nicer Bunch

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Back On Thursday

The Cavalry and Guards Club, and then the House of Lords, tomorrow.

See you there?

Broken Cable

After the Royal Mail privatisation scam comes the Student Loans privatisation fiasco.

How is Vince Cable still in his job? He is bad as Iain Duncan Smith. Yes, as bad as that.

Parliament was today informed, on the last day before the recess, that 45 per cent of student loans would never be repaid.

That is very close to the 48.6 per cent at which tuition fees would become more expensive to administer than they would be to abolish.

As I tried to explain to Hilary Armstrong would happen. Before this autumn's freshers were born.

Stopping The DRIP

Tom Watson and David Davis are to sue the Government over the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers legislation.

Assisted by Liberty.

I have a feeling that the year when Tom addressed the Durham Miners' Gala was also the year when Shami Chakrabati did so.

I have a feeling that they will both be back.

Ready For It

Leaving aside that Owen Paterson is an Alan Partridge-like Walter Mitty of whom almost no one in rural England has ever heard and whose departure is being mourned only by the county set, George Monbiot, for all his faults, writes:

Beware the self-pity of the governing classes.
Ministers of the crown might look powerful and oppressive to us; often they see themselves as lonely heroes confronting a sea of troubles.
That has been Tony Blair’s schtick from the month he took office. We now see him dripping with other people’s blood but he appears to perceive only the scars on his own back.
The whingeing begins as soon as they are free to speak.

Michael Gove, demoted as education secretary but still in government, has said little, but his emissaries are wailing loudly on his behalf.

Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, can speak directly, and he now lambasts the “green blob”, against which he nobly fought and lost.

As one of those he blamed for bringing him down in his wild, minatory article on Sunday, I’m happy to join Blob Pride.

But I also see something new emerging in his position and that of other disaffected rightwingers. It looks like the development of a Tea Party faction within the Conservatives.

Tea Party politics can be defined as the interests of the ultra-elite cleverly repackaged as the interests of the common people. Here are its essential elements.

The first is a sense of victimhood. Never mind that those who make such claims are the least likely victims.

They must find common cause with people who feel passed over or pushed out or ignored: the motivating themes of the radical right.

In Paterson’s case, he made it up, stating: “I was burnt in effigy by Greenpeace as I was recovering from an operation to save my eyesight.” Greenpeace did no such thing.

The second requirement is an out-group, an enemy responsible for this victimhood.

As the writer and campaigner George Marshall points out, it’s not enough that the out-group causes harm; the harm must be intentional.

In this case, green movements oppressed Paterson and the hard-working, country-loving people of this nation in order to “keep each other well supplied with lavish funds”, he claimed.

They know nothing about the natural world, he says; their leaders “could not tell a snakeshead fritillary from a silver-washed fritillary”. All they want is “to enhance their own income streams”.

Anyway, enough opinion. Let’s test his proposition.

I challenge Mr Paterson to a kind of duel: to walk through the countryside together, with independent experts, and see who can correctly identify the greatest number of species across all classes: birds, insects, spiders, plants, fungi and the rest.

Will he take up my challenge?

The third element is a reframing of where power lies.

People working on behalf of billionaires and corporations project themselves as horny-handed sons of toil while casting their enemies as an aloof intellectual elite.

Paterson lists his opponents as “rich pop stars”, “rich landowners”, “a dress designer” and “a public school journalist” (me), who “don’t represent the real countryside of farmers and workers”.

So who is this voice of the workers?

Paterson is a millionaire, educated at Radley College and Cambridge, who owns a large country estate on which he lets buildings and agricultural land

While in office, he doubled the public subsidy for grouse moors. He also defeated an attempt to limit the amount of public money rich landowners can receive. As a result, the dukes and sheikhs and oligarchs who own England’s biggest estates each receive millions of pounds in subsidies.

He appointed as chair of Natural England – which is supposed to defend wildlife – a multimillionaire house-builder, Andrew Sells.

And he ignored his civil servants to take advice instead from his brother-in-law, Viscount Ridley, described by ConservativeHome as “Paterson’s personal thinktank”.

That’s another thing this putative movement has in common with the US radical right: discredited figures (think of Oliver North and G Gordon Liddy) are feted by powerful industrial interests and able to develop a new career as commentators.

Matt Ridley inherited (along with his estate, his opencast coal mines and his vast wealth) the chairmanship of Northern Rock, whose collapse under his reckless and incompetent oversight was the catalyst for the British financial crisis, which impoverished so many.

Yet, while the misdemeanours of Fred Goodwin – the son of an electrician who became head of RBS – were rightly condemned, Viscount Ridley’s have been comprehensively airbrushed.

Rupert Murdoch used his first tweet to praise him, and he has worked as a columnist for The Times ever since.

Unlike Goodwin, he is of use to the elite, as he has helped to formulate its talking points, arguing for deregulation and denying environmental problems.

The fourth element consists of shifting the spectrum of political thought by planting your flag on the outer fringes of lunacy.

It’s a tactic often used in the US by people such as Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann.

Paterson’s contribution is to identify the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, and the Canadian premier, Stephen Harper, who have arguably done more harm to the living planet than anyone else alive, as champions of environmental protection.

In other words, Paterson has positioned himself as a spokesman for a new strand of conservatism that is likely to consolidate as David Cameron seeks to distance himself, before the election, from his party’s whackier fringes on the radical right.

In a furious row with Cameron after he was told he had been sacked, Paterson is reported to have shouted: “I can out-Ukip Ukip … You are making a big mistake.”

Now, choked with resentment and self-pity, apparently convinced that despite a life of wealth and power he represents the whipped and wounded, he has spelt out the essential components of something that might soon become familiar to us.

Tea Party politics were bound to reach these shores eventually, and they will be lavishly financed by the very rich.

It won’t be pretty, but we should be ready for it.

Out From Its Shadow

The American right’s relationship with Israel has gone through several phases marked by distinct turning points. During the Cold War 1950s, Israel was not especially favored by the right.

It was perceived as vulnerable and somewhat socialist, and even conservative publishing houses like Regnery produced books sympathetic to the Palestinians.

But the 1967 war transformed Israel’s image for conservatives—as it did for other groups, American Jews especially.

By 1970, the Nixon administration and many on the right had begun think of Israel as a useful Cold War asset. The Jewish state had demonstrated it could fight well against Soviet allies.

The idea of Israel as a strategic asset was always somewhat problematic—it would be called into question when America suffered the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, and there were sharp disagreements over Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s.

But one could safely generalize that most conservatives considered Israel an asset—a proposition that the neoconservatives, valued newcomers to the conservative movement, pushed enthusiastically.
When the Cold War ended, this became more complicated.

Israel proved useless when Iraq invaded Kuwait: American diplomacy had to devote much time and energy to ensuring that Israel did not enter the conflict, as Israeli involvement would have blown up the anti-Saddam coalition President George H.W. Bush had painstakingly constructed.

What good was a regional ally that must be kept under wraps when a regional crisis erupts?

More generally, once Americans began to see their Mideast problems as originating from within the region, rather than from Soviet meddling, issues such as Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians became salient.

For a brief time, the place of Israel in the conservative mind was in flux.
Yet out of this flux arose neoconservative hegemony over Republican discourse about the Mideast.

How this happened is a broad and multilayered story, reflecting shifts in power among and within various groups in American society as much as anything that happened in the Mideast. But it also has turning points where individual decisions had lasting consequences.

None of these was more significant than William F. Buckley’s reluctant but unmistakable accommodation to the neoconservatives, allowing them in effect to regulate the terms of Mideast discussion in his own magazine, National Review.

This development was signaled by his treatment of senior editor Joe Sobran and his denunciation of syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan.
Buckley is rightly credited with pushing hardcore anti-Semitism out of the American right.

As recently as the 1950s, it was widespread on the right: one of most popular conservative books of that decade was The Iron Curtain Over America, which purported to describe how Khazar Jews were taking over the Democratic Party. It went through 14 printings.

National Review, founded in 1955, sought to break from this kind of nuttiness.

As editor, Buckley excluded writers from the American Mercury, which had become increasingly anti-Semitic, from contributing to National Review.

Nevertheless NR published some pretty odd material: Peter Novick concludes in his book The Holocaust in American Life that no general-interest magazine in the early 1960s wrote more frequently or more vehemently against Israel’s bringing Adolf Eichmann to trial.

In numerous articles and editorials, National Review stressed that communists would profit from what it called the “Hate Germany” movement. “The Christian Church,” stated a National Review editorial in 1961,
focuses hard on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ for only one week of the year. Three months—that is the minimum estimate made by the Israeli government for the duration of the trial—is too long. … Everyone knows the facts, has known them for years. … The counting of corpses and gas ovens … there is a studious attempt to cast suspicion on Germany. … It is all there: bitterness, distrust, the refusal to forgive, the advancement of communist aims.
Twenty-five years later, in 1986, Bill Buckley was presented with a dossier compiled by the neoconservative Midge Decter and her husband,  Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz: six syndicated columns by Joseph Sobran, then a senior editor at National Review, accompanied by a tough letter by Decter accusing Sobran of being a naked anti-Semite.
Who was Joe Sobran?

A conservative Catholic who came to Buckley’s notice in 1972, when as a graduate student at Eastern Michigan University he wrote a letter to the student newspaper opposing a professor who had said Buckley shouldn’t be invited to speak on campus.

Sobran’s polemical power and grace made an impression, as they would on a generation of his future readers.

Soon Sobran was flying to New York fortnightly to write editorials for National Review, and he quickly rose to become a senior editor.

Decter sent her indictment to a few dozen of Buckley’s allies in the conservative coalition. She was trying to expel the popular Sobran from a movement in which she herself was a relative newcomer.
It’s possible to have different interpretations of the six columns, which were not published in National Review.

Clearly Sobran was willing to take on the Israel lobby—“the most powerful lobby in America”—lamenting its power as the reason
why Congress so quickly endorsed a direct military strike against Libya while it quibbles endlessly about whether aid to the contras in Nicaragua might lead, someday, to American military involvement in Central America. Quadafi is an enemy of Israel. Communist Nicaragua isn’t. … So we fight Quadafi, and maybe the administration hints, Syria and Iran as well. Ostensibly the issue is ‘terrorism’ but that sounds more and more like a surrogate word for enemies of Israel.

Another column attacked those opposing President Reagan’s decision to accompany German chancellor Helmut Kohl on a visit to a veterans’ cemetery in Bitburg where several Waffen-SS were interred. A third column argued:
If Christians were sometimes hostile to Jews, that worked two ways. Some rabbinical authorities held that it was permissible to cheat and even kill Gentiles. Although the great theologian Moses Maimonides insisted it was as wrong to kill a Gentile as a Jew, it seems strange that this should even have been a matter of controversy.
Sobran’s views about it were not without precedent among foreign-affairs experts.

But his insinuation that Christian-Jewish antagonism had been or could be anything other than a one-way street was simply not part of mainstream American discourse in the post-Holocaust era.

The columns were clearly the work of a man who wanted to start an argument.

But by my reading, at least, these columns contained less of an anti-Semitic tone than National Review’s editorial complaints about Israel’s capture and trial of Eichmann.
Buckley responded to the Decter-Podhoretz démarche by speaking privately to Sobran, with whom he was quite close, and holding several lengthy meetings with the NR senior staff.

He then published an editorial disassociating the magazine from the “tendentiousness” of the columns, while simultaneously asserting that those who knew Sobran knew he wasn’t an anti-Semite.

Buckley also required Sobran to read him over the phone anything he wrote mentioning Israel for pre-publication approval.

According to Podhoretz, Buckley assured him that Sobran would not write in National Review at all about the Mideast.

Whatever the case, what Buckley clearly did not do was tell Midge and Norman to pay attention to their own magazine.
The arrangement stumbled along for several years. When Sobran became an impassioned opponent of the first Gulf War, he and NR reached a breaking point.

Buckley prepared a letter asking him to step down as a senior editor while remaining as a contributor. Sobran resigned completely.
A more politically important side of this story concerns Pat Buchanan, not a colleague of Buckley’s at NR but America’s most prominent media conservative in the 1980s.

Buchanan had begun to re-evaluate his views of Israel, which had once been very warm.

He too hadn’t liked the attacks on President Reagan over his visit to Bitburg, and he too opposed the first war with Iraq.
The campaign against Buchanan began in 1990, instigated not by Decter and Podhoretz but by New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal, using a dossier of Buchanan columns prepared by the Anti-Defamation League.

The indictment turned on several phrases: Buchanan had claimed there were only two groups beating the drums for war, the Israeli defense ministry and its Amen Corner in the United States; in another column he had named four commentators, all Jewish, who favored the war, and none who were not; in a third he listed four representative names of likely casualties—McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales, and LeRoy Brown.

On a TV show he referred to Congress as “Israeli-occupied territory.” Rosenthal asserted, with the hyperbole typical for such charges, that the things Buchanan was saying could lead to Auschwitz.

A large controversy among journalists and pundits ensued.

Buckley initially weighed in by stating that while most of Buchanan’s points were defensible, his rhetoric was insensitive.

As the fray continued, Buckley published a lengthy essay in National Review, “In Search of Anti-Semitism,” and later gathered it, along with a dozen or so responses, into book form.

In the 10,000-word section on Buchanan, Buckley went back and forth weighing the arguments of Buchanan’s attackers and defenders, finally coming to the tortured conclusion: 

“I find it impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that drove him to say it: most probably an iconoclastic temperament.”
Buckley’s essay and subsequent book were nuanced and remain interesting to this day, perhaps most of all because of the inclusion of remarks by other journalists and friends of National Review.

One can read there Bob Novak’s wry account of the pressures brought to bear on newspaper editors by members of the Israel lobby to drop his and Rowland Evans’s newspaper column, as well as Eric Alterman’s amusing description of AIPAC efforts to organize “readers” to pressure papers to drop Pat Buchanan’s column.
Buckley’s depiction of the power of the Israel lobby to break people’s reputations is perceptive and unequivocal.

Describing his first private dinner with Joe Sobran where they discussed the Decter/Podhoretz charges, Buckley relates that he told the story of William Scranton, a governor of Pennsylvania who was considered presidential timber in the 1960s.

Nixon sent him on a fact-finding mission to the Mideast and he came back with a recommendation that the United States be a little more evenhanded, and… no one ever heard from him again.

Buckley writes: “We both laughed. One does laugh when acknowledging inordinate power, even as one deplores it.”
In the book are many such observations. One belongs to Sobran, quoted from a private letter to Buckley: 

“When I talk to a Palestinian for an hour or two, I am struck at how absolutely bizarre it is that an editor of Commentary or the New Republic can buy a plane ticket to Tel Aviv and instantly benefit from a whole range of rights denied to the native Arabs.” 
So far as the public resolution of the issue was concerned, however, none of Buckley’s ambivalence or ability to see to see the questions as nuanced mattered.

Buckley did cut Sobran loose from National Review, and Sobran’s career subsequently deteriorated into the indefensible.

Buckley did conclude that what Buchanan wrote “amounted to anti-Semitism,” and even if he appended a highly qualifying clause and defended most of what Buchanan said, Rosenthal got the guilty verdict he had sought.

This verdict could then be simplified by the neoconservatives contending for power on the right: “Buchanan anti-Semitic, says Buckley.”

And then it could be repeated tens of thousands of times in newspaper columns and soundbites over the next decade, and a lesson would sink in: Buchanan, because of his Israel-related views, had been rightly banished from the ranks of establishment conservatism.

For years hence, young conservatives with professional ambitions would draw the necessary conclusions.
Thus exclusion of Sobran and Buchanan represented something much larger.

National Review had long been a clearing house for diverse conservative voices.

James Burnham, for instance, a major figure in the magazine’s foreign-affairs coverage until his retirement in the late 1970s, had long opposed close American ties to Israel for reasons of realpolitik.

Would he have been purged too, had he been writing in 1990?
By the mid-to-late 1990s, National Review became monolithically neoconservative on all questions related to Israel and the Mideast, publishing nothing that would distinguish it from Commentary and the Weekly Standard.

This was surely unfortunate for National Review readers, but it also had baleful consequences for the conservative movement and the Republican Party—this chorus of echoes was responsible in no small measure for encouraging George W. Bush to march the country into Iraq without hearing any dissent that might have made him pause.

Because of Buckley’s capitulation, issues that should have been robustly debated were closed off. 

Henceforth, only one view of war, peace, Israel, and the Mideast was considered respectable.

Are there signs that this may be changing? There are some.

The Internet may be over-touted, but it certainly means that National Review has nothing like the hegemony over conservative opinion it did 20 years ago.

Former congressman Ron Paul, whose views on the Mideast are little different from Buchanan’s, built a new faction within the Republican Party.

Sen. Rand Paul, accused of being sympathetic to his father’s views, is a major Republican presidential contender.

Neoconservative hegemony over the right’s Mideast discourse, responsible in great part for the Iraq War, has generated its own antithesis in a conservative movement not exempt from America’s general war weariness.

The clampdown signaled by the campaigns against Sobran and Buchanan probably couldn’t be carried out today, and conservatives may finally be moving out from its shadow.

Monday, 21 July 2014

1994 And All That

What are you doing to mark this twentieth anniversary of Tony Blair's election as Labour Leader, and why?

On the day of the 1997 General Election, Blair added 0.7 per cent to the commanding Labour poll lead on the day before John Smith died.

0.7 per cent.

Today, Ashcroft has Labour on an eight-point lead. Enough for an overall majority of over 80.

Of Pillars and Fifth Columns

What do you expect now, a war with Russia? Even if the thing could be pinned with certainly on Vladimir Putin, there would be absolutely nothing that anyone could realistically do.

What a far less hysterical time the Cold War was. Everyone with any sense knew that it was all lies, that the Soviet Union had neither the will nor the means to invade Western Europe (never mind the United States), that it had no desire whatever for alternative centres of Communist power, and that it would in any case collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, exactly as and when it did.

People who fret about Russian and other influence, or sympathisers, or broadcasting networks, or what have you, need to consider quite what Britain was like in those decades without the world's coming to an end, or the United Kingdom's constitutional order collapsing, or either party of government's adopting Marxism-Leninism, or anything like that.

The intelligence services were so riddled with Soviet agents from top to bottom that it was a standing joke even among the general public.

Such penetration extended to the Royal Households. As the exposure of two dead Ministers as Czechoslovak agents demonstrated, it also extended to the very right-wing elements both of the Labour Party (John Stonehouse) and of the Conservative Party (Ray Mawby).

Professing oneself a Communist was always perfectly respectable at the very highest levels of British society, where it was treated as just another aristocratic eccentricity.

Wogan Phillips, second Viscount Milford, sat for the Communist Party in the House of Lords for 31 years until his death in 1993: throughout most of the 1960s, and throughout all of the 1970s and the 1980s.

In point of fact, that party was a moderating force, especially over and against sections of the Labour Left, which contained people whose views, Trotskyist and otherwise, were far more extreme.

Throughout its history, the Communist Party of Great Britain was avowedly and actively opposed to a violent revolution in this country, holding, as Lenin had done, that its objectives could and should attained wholly within and through the British constitutional and parliamentary process.

By the 1970s, especially, by no means everyone on the Labour Left took that view. Most still did. But by no means all. And Labour had had a problem with Trotskyist infiltration for as long as there had been Trotskyists at all.

The CPGB was full of intelligence agents, but the intelligence agencies were full of Eastern Bloc agents, and so on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

We shall never know the extent to which the turning of those wheels within wheels prevented or resolved industrial disputes, precluded those disputes' escalation, and so on.

Certainly, the CPGB was capable of highly fruitful co-operation with the trade union and Labour Right, much of which was very Right indeed and had all the British and American connections to match.

Compare and contrast the successful partnership between Mick McGahey and Joe Gormley in 1972 and 1974 (against a Conservative Prime Minister loathed by the overlapping worlds of MI5, MI6 and his party's own right wing) with the failure of McGahey and Arthur Scargill in 1984 and 1985.

The Communist had wanted to hold a national ballot, and had always remained open to compromise. He had wanted to reintegrate the UDM without rancour once, as he correctly predicted, its patrons had discarded it.

He always called Scargill "that young man", and he declined ever to write his memoirs or to authorise a biography, since "differences must remain within the family," which said it all.

McGahey used to appear on things like Any Questions.

His union, with the closest ties of any to his party at home, and with an unmatched internationalist tradition stretching deep into the Soviet Bloc, effectively controlled around 85 per cent of the nation's energy supply for many decades.

It did not strike at all between 1926 and 1972, or between 1974 and 1984, an extremely unusual approach during those periods even for trade unionists with vastly less, quite literal, power.

The NUM was also a huge voting bloc at Labour Party Conferences, joined by the numerous Constituency Labour Parties that it effectively controlled.

It sponsored enough MPs to make a significant difference, considering the normal size of Labour Governments' majorities, if any, historically.

For almost the whole of that period, only MPs had a vote in Leadership Elections. Look at the Leaders elected.

Like those on the mainstream Labour Left Tribune, certain staffers on the Morning Star were and are members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, as their Daily Worker predecessors also were.

Such membership required and requires full security clearance to go about the Palace of Westminster on terms denied even to members of MPs' own staffs, and gives access to twice-daily briefings by the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman.

The Daily Worker and then the Morning Star participated in all of that throughout the Cold War, as did Tribune. Did the Realm fall? Well, there you are, then.

Joan Maynard managed to sit not only as a Labour MP but as a member of that party's National Executive Committee while also, with several other MPs, on the Editorial Advisory Panel of Straight Left, which had been set up because of the feeling that the Communist Party was going soft. In 1979.

She served with distinction on the Agriculture Select Committee. Her Straight Left colleague James Lamond was on nothing less than the Public Accounts Committee, and for many years, all of them under a Conservative Government and most of them under Margaret Thatcher, he was on the Speaker's Panel, chairing Standing Committees of the House. Parliament survived.

Pat Wall sat as an MP while probably the single most important Trotskyist thinker in the world at the time. His fellow-Militant Dave Nellist won Spectator Backbencher of the Year. Mildred Gordon was an MP while the widow of a leading American Trotskyist and the wife of Trotsky's bodyguard, who as her husband presumably held a House of Commons pass.

None of this is to condone any of these positions or factions, or others besides.

But all of it does provide some context for considering the present hysteria about the power of Russian oligarchs (about which I am not very happy myself, as I should not have been very happy about much of the above), or about RT, the critics of which need to explain what they are doing to cover certain events, views and concerns in this country and beyond.

If you buy the City and London high society, then the Conservative Party comes as part of the package, whether or not you ever wanted it, and whether or not you ever even thought about it. It is just part of the deal.

By having bought the City and London high society, the princes of the Gulf and the oligarchs of the former Soviet Union, not all of whom are pro-Putin, have acquired the Conservative Party, and heaven help them with it.

That is far more pernicious than any influence that anyone associated with the USSR might ever have had in Britain. With one exception.

The friend and confidant of Margaret Thatcher who was a lifelong member of the Labour Party despite attempts by the unions representing his sacked employees to expel him, who gave pots of his ill-gotten gains to maintain the Labour Leadership of the same period, and whose newspapers printed lies against the NUM as the Soviet leadership made nice with Thatcher.

Robert Maxwell was openly and flagrantly on the payrolls of intelligence agencies from the United Kingdom, to the Soviet Union, to the Israel that eventually gave him what amounted to a state funeral. He acted as their go-between.

He published English translations of absurd Eastern Bloc scientific works. He wrote and published fawning biographies of obscene Eastern Bloc political figures. Maggie loved him, and he loved her. Neil Kinnock depended very heavily on his press.

When he died, the unanimous view was that we should never see the like again.

Oh, yes, we shall.

And sooner rather than later.

A Calm and Cautious Reponse

Daniel Larison writes:

Last Thursday’s downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was an inexcusable crime. It fully deserves to be condemned, as the U.S. and other governments have already done, and there seems little doubt as to who the responsible parties are.

Available evidence tells us that rebels opposed to the Ukrainian government and supported by Russia shot down the plane, and they did so with weapons that they would almost certainly not have had if Russia were not providing them with arms and support.

Russia appears to bear significant responsibility for what has happened in two ways: by encouraging rebellion inside Ukraine, and by providing rebels with advanced weapons and assistance.

The downing of the plane was presumably unintentional, since neither the rebels nor Moscow could be so stupid as to have done this knowingly, but that doesn’t change the fact that this horrific mistake killed almost 300 civilians who had absolutely nothing to do with the conflict below them.

The Ukrainian authorities shouldn’t have been letting the plane fly there, but that hardly absolves the killers of their guilt.

It would be much wiser for Moscow to denounce the act and accept some responsibility for helping to create the conditions that led to this disaster, but it appears that the Kremlin would prefer to make lame attempts to shift the blame onto others.

It would also be wise for Moscow to take this opportunity to withdraw or at least significantly reduce its support for rebels inside Ukraine, but I wouldn’t expect this to happen, either.

It would be ideal if the disaster served as a catalyst to bring the war to an end, but that seems least likely of all.

Fortunately, it also isn’t going to serve as the spark for a larger conflict, because no one’s interests are served by escalation.

The arguments against supplying U.S. arms to Ukrainian forces remain just as persuasive as they were several months ago and may even be a bit stronger now.

If there is one thing that can be learned from this awful slaughter, it is that providing weapons to proxies can have dangerous and unexpected consequences, and it makes the patron complicit in whatever the proxies then choose to do with the weapons they receive.

On top of that, providing arms doesn’t necessarily mean that the patron has the ability to control the proxies, which can drag the patron deeper into a conflict that it might prefer to avoid.

As Joshua Keating argued last week, in spite of all the claims that the destruction of MH17 will be a “game-changer,” it will probably change very little:

When the story eventually falls out of the headlines—and it certainly already has competition—the conflict will likely remain.

I should note that while all the examples of passenger planes being shot down mentioned in my last post raised global tensions, none of them actually led to a war, or ended one.

The U.S. shouldn’t rush to take any action, and it should coordinate its response with its allies in Europe, especially the Dutch, since they have suffered the greatest loss and have the most at stake in this case.

Russia should be called on to make a formal apology for the downing of the plane, and it should be expected to make restitution to the families and the countries of the victims. 

Slapping more sanctions on Russia will be as useless as ever, and pushing for additional sanctions is more likely to fracture whatever unity the U.S. and its European allies have in the wake of the disaster.

There will understandably be a strong temptation to take some “tough” but foolish action now, but this is exactly the sort of outrage that requires a calm and cautious response so that it does not become the cause of even more bloodshed and conflict.

Pinning Everything On Putin Is Too Easy

ME Synon writes:
The British newspapers, like the British government, are pinning the blame for the Malaysian Airlines disaster on Putin.
Most Americans, whether Democrats or Republicans, would see things the way these UK headlines do:
 "Putin is a pariah – he must be treated as such"
"Britain and America implicate Russia in Flight MH17 missile attack
"Two British families killed by 'Putin the terrorist'"

And over a column written by Prime Minister David Cameron, this headline: "This is an outrage made in Moscow"
However, some well-informed conservatives in Britain are pointing the finger for the war in Ukraine not at Putin, but at the empire builders of the European Union.

Peter Hitchens, a leading British conservative commentator, summed up the argument in yesterday's Mail on Sunday

"those who began the current war in Ukraine – the direct cause of the frightful murder of so many innocents on Flight MH17 on Thursday – really have no excuse.

"There is no doubt about who they were. In any war, the aggressor is the one who makes the first move into neutral or disputed territory."

"And that aggressor was the European Union, which rivals China as the world's most expansionist power, swallowing countries the way performing seals swallow fish (16 gulped down since 1995)."

"Ignoring repeated and increasingly urgent warnings from Moscow, the EU – backed by the USA – sought to bring Ukraine into its orbit.

"It did so through violence and illegality, an armed mob and the overthrow of an elected president."

As for the question of Vladimir Putin arming the pro-Russian militia with Buk missiles – one of which may, or may not, the evidence is not clear yet, have downed the Malaysia Airlines flight – evidence points in another direction: that the missiles were not supplied by Putin, but were among the arms stolen by the militia from a Ukrainian military unit at the end of June.

British defence analyst Richard North in a post on July 18 disclosed evidence many American conservatives (but not Breitbart London) chose to ignore.

North wrote: "The [Buk] missile is on the Ukrainian Army inventory, it has been reported in the area... Breakaway fighters have claimed to be in possession of them, after Military unit A1402 (Donetsk SAM regiment) was captured on 29 June or thereabouts..."

"The missile itself is sophisticated, but comes in a ready-to-launch package, typically on a tracked vehicle. It can also operate with a radar tracker on a separate vehicle.

"But, although the launcher is a substantial piece of equipment, it is a semi-automatic system and simple to operate."

At the end of last month, Russia media reported that the pro-Russian separatists had seized control of substantial Ukrainian arms:

"The self-defense forces of Donetsk People's Republic seized control of a Ukrainian anti-air military installation…'The forces of Donetsk People’s Republic assumed control of A-1402 military base,' the militia's representative said."

"According to him, it is an anti-aircraft missile forces facility equipped with Buk mobile surface-to-air missile systems.

"During the last several days the militia took control of two internal security troops' installations in eastern Ukraine."

In other words, if it were pro-Russian militia who shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight, and so far the facts are not yet established, the evidence is that the missile involved was indeed supplied by Russia, but supplied to the Kiev government, not to the militia.

It has all been part of what Hitchens calls "a filthy little war has been under way in Eastern Ukraine. Many innocents have died, unnoticed in the West.

"Neither side has anything to boast of – last Tuesday 11 innocent civilians died in an airstrike on a block of flats in the town of Snizhne, which Ukraine is unconvincingly trying to blame on Russia.

"So PLEASE do not be propagandised by Thursday's horrible slaughter into forgetting what is really going on."

As For Anyone Else

Mary Dejevsky writes:

Ever since the Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down in eastern Ukraine last Thursday, the pressure has been on Russia – and on President Putin – to admit guilt at least by association, and do something to remedy the situation.

Instead, what the West has heard has been one long denial and attempts by Russia to transfer all the blame on to Kiev.

In judging Russia’s response, however, it is important to consider how the present set of circumstances might look from the Kremlin, and indeed at what Russian officials have actually been saying.

And the first thing to recognise is that there is no way that Mr Putin or anyone else would have rubbing his hands in glee.

The downing of a civilian airliner over Ukraine is at least as much of a catastrophe for Russia as for everyone else.

Implicit in much of the Western commentary has been the idea that Putin’s Russia had been egging on Ukraine’s rebels to produce some macabre “spectacular” and supplying them with the wherewithal to do just that.

But Putin is in a cleft stick.

The Western assumption is that he controls what happens in eastern Ukraine, even if Russia has not actually invaded. It is not at all clear, however, that this is so.

The military hardware the rebels have at their disposal, including the missile launcher believed to have shot down the Malaysian airliner, could equally have been found in Ukraine.

And appeals from Moscow to the rebels to observe a ceasefire after the Ukrainian presidential election were ignored.

Yet there is a sense in which it suited Putin not to contest this view too categorically – for the sake of his domestic public opinion and the image of his own authority.

Russians would expect their leader to be supporting the rebels in Ukraine against what they see as a Western-backed government in Kiev.

All the signs are, however, that since the election of President Poroshenko two months ago, Mr Putin has progressively abandoned the rebels in the east.

All their appeals for Russian help have gone unanswered and there was no assistance forthcoming when they lost their military stronghold at Slovyansk.

The shooting down of MH17 is not just a human tragedy, of which Mr Putin is well aware: Russia was prompt in its expressions of condolences.

But it is an acute political embarrassment to the Russian President. If he was supplying and can control the rebels, he is complicit. If not, his impotence in Ukraine is exposed.

In these circumstances, it is a wonder that he has said as much as he has.

As well as expressing condolences, Russia has also said it will co-operate with any international investigation and pledged to ensure that the black boxes – if they come into Russian hands – are returned to the relevant authorities.

The one thing Putin has not done is to acknowledge guilt.

But his initial statement – that responsibility rested with those in Kiev and those in control on the ground – was widely misinterpreted as assigning blame to Kiev.

It may rather be seen as underlining Russia’s recognition of Ukraine’s sovereignty, stating the judicially correct position that responsibility for keeping order, securing the crash site and opening an investigation lies with the authorities of the country where the plane came down.

And here, Moscow might see a bitter irony.

Ever since Russia annexed Crimea, illegally, the West has warned Russia of the consequences of invading eastern Ukraine.

As Putin might see it, his reward for not doing so has been to be held responsible for the continuing civil war in the east which ultimately produced last Thursday’s atrocity.

Since Thursday, the West has been begging Russia to intercede with the rebels and blaming it for apparently not doing so.

Putin might well ask whether the West wants Russia to accept Ukraine’s independent sovereignty or not.

The West's Cynical Milking

There are rumours that individuals in eastern Ukraine have looted some of the belongings of the 298 people who died in the Flight MH17 tragedy. If that’s true, it is despicable.

But they aren’t the only ones exploiting the dead of this terrible incident. So is pretty much every politician and media outlet in the West.

From Washington to London to Brussels, leaders and hacks have spent the past three days milking the MH17 tragedy, marching the dead to their cause of dividing the world once more between a fundamentally decent, honest West and a malevolent Russia led by the epitome of wickedness, Vladimir Putin.

Where some east Ukrainians are alleged to have exploited the MH17 dead for financial gain, Western leaders are doing something just as foul, if not worse: they’re exploiting the dead for moral and political gain.

Taking chutzpah to new heights, Western leaders are wringing their hands over a tragedy that their own actions did a great deal to make possible.

The moral script being foisted on us is that Putin is responsible for what happened to the Malaysian Airlines flight, which was allegedly shot down by pro-Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine.

Reading the hotheaded media coverage and listening to Western politicians’ hyperbolic speeches, you could be forgiven for thinking Putin had prior knowledge of the tragedy, and maybe even okayed it.

‘Putin the terrorist’, scream frontpage headlines. Some accuse the Russian leader of ‘mass murder’, implying he not only knew that these 298 souls were going to perish but intentionally assisted with their perishing.

What we have here is an attempt to squeeze what looks like a terrible mistake by Russian separatists into a moral script about murder.

We’re witnessing the treatment of an error as an act of evil, the transformation of an accident into an act of malevolency by a wicked regime.

Even worse, the very Western leaders now treating this tragic mistake as a conscious crime were the ones who created the space for such chaotic acts to occur, through their destabilisation of Ukraine and their tipping it over the edge from political unrest into all-out civil war.

The speed with which Western politicians and observers turned the MH17 crash site into a soapbox from which they might proclaim their own decency in contrast with Putin’s wickedness has been extraordinary.

They didn’t wait for facts to emerge, or for studies to be carried out, or for the contents of the airplane’s blackbox recorder to be analysed; instead they rushed in, like political ghouls, to declare the crash site a murder scene and Putin the embodiment of everything the West finds foul.

As a consequence of this speedy, and some might say inhumane, elevation of the narrow needs of our political elites over any attempt to get to the truth of what occurred during this tragedy last Thursday, lots of questionable claims have been made about the terrible events.

So hours after the jet came down, Western media outlets were claiming that the blackbox recorder may have been ‘spirited away to Moscow’ as part of some sinister ‘cover up’. We now know the blackbox recorder is in Donetsk, whose leader has said he will only hand the recorder over to the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

One of the main claims made about the tragedy – that it was carried out with a ground-to-air missile supplied to the rebels by Russia – is currently entirely speculative. As a writer for the Spectator put it, it simply ‘has not been established’ that the missiles came from Russia; they might have been ‘looted from Ukrainian army stocks’.

Most importantly, the idea that the rebels in the east of Ukraine are Putin’s puppets, doing his murderous bidding, is called into question by Russia’s failure to come to the rebels’ aid when they lost two of their cities to west Ukrainians earlier this month.

As one report says, following the election of Petro Poroshenko as president of Ukraine it is possible that Putin is ‘tacitly switching [his] support to Kiev’ and ‘hanging the rebels out to dry’.

So a great deal is simply unknown right now, from what missile was used to who actually fired the missile to the broader question of how much Putin is supporting the rebels or shifting his political focus elsewhere.

But such potential complexities have not been allowed to stand in the way of the great milking of MH17, the transformation of this messy incident into a simplistic morality tale starring ostentatiously outraged Western politicians on one side and evil Russian politicians holding still-smoking missile launchers on the other.

The misinformation about the blackbox recorder coupled with the casual disregard for finding out the truth about other claims bring to mind the dodgy-dossier era of the early 2000s: just as that was a clear instance of politicians moulding the ‘evidence’ to make it fit a preordained moral script – that Saddam was evil and possessed WMD – so has the milking of the MH17 tragedy involved the squeezing of a terrible, still-unclear incident into an already-written script about Putin’s poisonous influence on world affairs and the need for the West to stand up to him.

So it was that the foreign minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt, wrote a piece titled ‘Putin’s credibility lies amid the wreckage of Flight MH17’. British PM David Cameron echoed this sentiment in a piece for the UK Sunday Times.

Headlined ‘This is an outrage made in Moscow’, it cynically combined personal disgust (‘the images of the burnt-out Malaysian plane will never leave me’) with political tub-thumping (‘Europe and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia’).

Cameron explicitly uses the MH17 tragedy to try to reassert the moral and political virtues of the West by juxtaposing them to the wicked, warped outlook of Putin’s Russia.

His piece captures perfectly what motors modern-day Russia-bashing: a desire among Western leaders to make the West feel purposeful once more through posturing against a faraway leader whom they claim is a source of moral and political instability.

Post-MH17, it is ‘time to make our power, influence and resources count’, said Cameron, to recognise that ‘our economies are strong and growing in strength’ and ‘Russia needs us [more than we need Russia]’.

What we have here is an attempt by a morally at-sea West to magic up the old black-and-white certainties of the Cold War era, through once again casting Russia as the villain of world affairs and the West as good, influential, resourceful, powerful and morally on-message.

Is there not something a little grotesque in Cameron’s attempt to rebuild Western prestige on the still-burning debris of Flight MH17?

Yes, a handful of eastern Ukranians might have searched the crash site for things they could sell, but Cameron is doing something worse: metaphorically scrabbling about in the crash site for evidence of Russian evil and, by extension, of British decency and fair play.

If Western leaders and observers were just exploiting the MH17 tragedy, that would be bad enough. But it gets worse.

These same weepers over MH17 helped to make such a terrible incident a possibility in the first place. According to Cameron, the MH17 tragedy is a ‘direct result’ of Russia ‘destabilising a sovereign state [and] violating its territorial integrity’.

In truth, our own leaders did a great deal to propel Ukraine from political unrest into civil war.

They continually stirred up tensions in Ukraine in late 2013 and early 2014, through visiting the Occupy-style protest camps in Kiev, telling the inhabitants that theirs was a ‘just cause’, holding high-level talks with opposition leaders and even advising them on how and when to form a new government that might eventually replace President Viktor Yanukovich’s.

All of this had the predictable impact of emboldening the protesters, isolating Yanukovich, and turning a pretty everyday political conflict into a bloody street battle in which Yanukovich was eventually ousted and replaced by leaders effectively handpicked by John Kerry and Angela Merkel.

National divisions intensified, war ensued, and in war there are always terrible events, including catastrophic mistakes, like that which occurred on Thursday.

It is simplistic in the extreme for Cameron to call the MH17 tragedy ‘an outrage made in Moscow’, considering it occurred as part of a war thoughtlessly provoked in London, Washington, Berlin.

In Ukraine over the past nine months, Western leaders effectively sleepwalked their way into a serious war, thinking little about the consequences their political interventions in Kiev would have on the integrity of the Ukrainian state.

And now, as their destabilisation of a European state has terrible consequences not only for the inhabitants of that state but for others, too, they thoroughly rewrite recent history, washing their hands of responsibility and pinning the blame entirely on Putin.

That is, they both pushed Ukraine into war and now try to make moral gains from some of the horrors of that war.

International politics doesn’t get much lower than this.