Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Never Themselves Alone Again

Although I am not convinced that "Sinn Féin" means "Ourselves Alone". It is too short.

Surely, "Sinn" means "nous" and "Féin" means "mêmes", so that "Sinn Féin" means "nous-mêmes", "ourselves", written as two words in many languages?

But be that as it may.

Once Sinn Féin enters government, then it will never again allow any government without Sinn Féin in it.

That is the whole point of the present governing structures of Northern Ireland, on the principle that the alternative not only would be a lot worse, but was a lot worse, and was so for a very long time.

The governing structures are not, however, set up on any such principle in the Irish Republic, where people need to take note.

Once you have Sinn Féin, then you will never, ever, ever get rid of Sinn Féin.

You just need to know.

A Very Eighties Hairy Hunt

The Ivan Test

Yes, David Cameron, you did indeed claim everything on behalf of your late, disabled son.

Rightly so.

Now, however, you are taking away that provision from other people's children.

Who now remembers, or cares, what Tony Blair's Euan Test was? But we now have the Ivan Test. Let it be applied.

All It Seams

No, there is no seamless garment that requires supporters of Tom Watson to oppose Julian Assange.

The print and broadcast media outlets accessible in the United Kingdom that have been, and remain, most supportive of Assange have been the Morning Star and RT, especially the Sputnik programme.

That paper, that station and that programme have also been, and remain, the most open to the indefatigable work of Exaro News.

By contrast, at today's Prime Minister's Questions, Assange was tediously denounced by Victoria Atkins MP.

Her behaviour towards Tom when he appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee was disgraceful enough at the time, never mind knowing what we know now.

How does the Government Whip still extend to her?

Apparently, she is a barrister. Imagine being represented by her in court.

All attempts to track down anyone who had ever been represented by Tony Blair proved fruitless. Perhaps RT or the Morning Star should try and track down any past clients of Victoria Atkins?

There ought to be plenty of them languishing innocently in prison.

Doctoring The Language

"A deal may be imposed"?

Then it wouldn't be a deal.

Northern Poorhouse

There are 44 Conservative seats in the North of England.

Even adjusting for the boundary changes, there will not be in 2020.

And so what if they kept all their seats in the South?

If you are going to buy votes, then at least have the wit to buy the right ones.

Dare You Watch?

Dare you not?

Better Late Than Never?

I find it baffling enough that Adam Johnson was in that particular nightclub at all at his age.

But to have been reported by a 15-year-old's dad?

Nice of the patriarch to turn up eventually, I suppose.

Marked With A Very, Very Cross

I have been enjoying myself with the people who are insisting that the story of New Hampshire was Donald Trump and his circus sideshow.

When it is pointed out to them that it is now impossible for any Republican to win the Presidency, and that being the Republican nominee is now nothing more than being the Leader of the Lib Dems, then they start off about Trump's alleged appeal to Reagan Democrats.

Voting, in that case, must be from beyond the grave. Most of the Reagan Democrats have gone to their rest. 

But the Republican Party remains convinced that the office of President of the United States is in the gift of elderly, uneducated white men with grudges against the world.

When Chesterton talked of "the democracy of the dead", then he did not exactly have that in mind.

The Day After Tomorrow

We didn't learn much from that Prime Minister's Questions.

But we did learn that, to the increasingly obvious frustration of his own side, David Cameron had no idea when he was ever going to hold the Commons vote on Trident, which ought to have been held in the last Parliament. 

Is he just hoping to be able to wake up one day and announce that it was now too late, and, "Oh well, I'm sure that we can find something else to do £180 billion"? 

I wouldn't put it past him.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Known Unknowns

The economy is about to crash again.

Putting the world at the feet of the first politicians in 35 years to bother to maintain any contact with top flight economists, and in fact to have given them a central role in policy formulation.

Those politicians are Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Unlike the present Government and Tony Blair, they were not brought up to believe that they were born to rule.

Unlike New Labour more generally, they were not told from the cradle that they were always the cleverest people in the room.

We have seen where both of those ended up.

As for Trident, David Cameron needs to be asked the Yes-No question, "Would you ever launch a nuclear strike?"

He needs to be asked it, without embellishment, until he answers it. Answers it, that is, with one word.

As do each and all of Corbyn's internal Labour opponents.

The Labour Party that endorsed Trident renewal was a different party, half the size of the present one.

The Scam Goes E.On

The same product, via the same wires or pipes: how can it possibly cost different amounts from different companies? It can't. Of course it can't. 

If people realised that, though, then they might ask why the utilities were delivered by cartels of pretend-competitors, instead of being where they belonged, in public ownership. 

And that would never do. 

Oh, no. That would never do at all.

Never The First Lady

When has Hillary Clinton ever been popular?

For her Senate seat in New York, she beat no one worth mentioning.

For the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008, she was beaten by an almost complete novice.

And in 2016, she looks set to be beaten by a 74-year-old self-professed Socialist who joined the Democratic Party for the first time in his life last year.

A Billion-Pound Codpiece To Hide Our Total Emasculation

Matthew Norman writes:

Just when Labour must have thought the storms had abated and it was safe to go back into the water, the nuclear submarines resurface and all hands brace for impact once again.

You almost feel a grudging respect for the party’s endless capacity for self-harm. 

With the EU referendum reopening deep Tory wounds, here was a chance for Labour to take a refreshing break from smashing one another to pieces and enjoy some skirmishing on the other side.

But not a bit of it. 

Since Jeremy Corbyn’s election, Parliamentary Labour Party meetings have neatly combined the hysterical screeching of medieval bedlam with the guilty pleasure gawkworthiness of a 19th-century Bavarian travelling freak show. 

So it was on Monday, when the renewal of Trident enticed various self-dramatising nebbishes – the ones who confuse histrionics with importance – to make a din in inverse proportion to their relevance. 

The drama queens’ latest target is Emily Thornberry, the anti-Trident shadow Defence Secretary. 

She was heckled in a style which reminds me of a night’s professional wrestling at the Albert Hall long ago, when a battalion of white-haired old biddies scuttled in formation to the edge of the ring to wave handbags at Mick McManus. 

In defence of these pipsqueak narcissists, Thornberry’s presentation seems to have been no better than on the subsequent morning’s Today programme interview, when she fixated on spurious technological concerns (will underwater drones make it impossible for nuclear subs to hide?) rather than the grand big argument Labour needs to have. 

That grand argument is not about the viability of submarines, or whether American approval is required before the launch codes are activated, or the horrendous cost, or how many jobs would be lost were Trident cancelled.

It certainly isn’t about whether the absence of Trident would compromise national security.

If that were a genuine issue, Hilary Benn, being a humanitarian and a good European, would be leading a “Labour 4 Nukes” coach tour of European capitals. 

He’d head first to Berlin to explain to Angela Merkel why Germany, as a non-nuclear state, should be quaking in Armageddon’s shadow and begging her to commission a deterrent before Bavaria is turned into a giant radioactive crater. 

Mrs Merkel might dredge up some daffy objection to the case made by the de facto president of the Labour’s Trident Fan Club. 

Something daft about the threat having changed since the Cold War ended a quarter century ago, perhaps. 

She might even hint at a “nuclear umbrella” meshugas, asking Benn why any hostile power would use the first-strike option knowing the French and Americans are treaty-bound, as Nato allies, to counterstrike and remove that aggressor from the planet? 

If it’s all the same with you, she might conclude, and thanks a million for popping along, I’d rather spend the hundreds of billions on girly stuff such as schools and hospitals. 

Non-nuclear Britain would be just as safe as Germany. 

That grand argument is all about defining what kind of country we mean to be. 

For Britain, after all, a nuclear arsenal is not a show of strength. Quite the reverse; it is the clearest imaginable sign of weakness. 

It’s a huge red arrow pointing at the emasculation of a nation which had its imperial nethers chopped off, and has, ever since, paid way over the odds for a nuclear codpiece to stuff down its knickers to look and feel bigger. 

If Corbyn wants a proper debate leading to a clear policy (which he doesn’t, of course; he wants to submerge this problem in meandering debate and eventually find some pitiful fudge), he would ask this: do we want to cling to the decayed edifice of long-lost great power status? Or finally, after decades in denial, embrace our diminishment in the world? 

Get rid of Trident and its partner in the struggle for self-delusion, the permanent seat on the security council, would also have to go. 

Giving the seat away (preferably to India) would be barely less terrible short-term politics than scrapping Trident. The tabloid headlines would be hideous. 

Nonetheless, the correct long-term decision is to have the Trident fight with Benn and Burnham now because, like the bad general of cliché, they are fighting an old war. 

It is the war of the 1983 election, in the frozen depths of the Cold War, when a unilateralist manifesto seemed dangerously utopian. 

To the new and future voters Corbyn must inspire if Labour is to have a future, spending tens of billions on a uranium-enriched merkin must seem deranged. 

Their childhoods were free of that recurrent nightmare, when you looked up to see the giant phallus with Cyrillic lettering on its undercarriage bringing the apocalypse at 5,000mph. 

Since the threat of nuclear attacks means as little to the young as the Empire, they can no more be scaremongered into supporting Trident than tempted to do so by the façade of global importance it confers. 

This debate has dribbled on for an entire generation. 

The absurdity of Trident was neatly satirised 30 years ago in “The Grand Design”, a 1986 episode of Yes, Prime Minister.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Britain should have the best. In the world of the nuclear missile, it [Trident] is the Saville Row suit, the Rolls-Royce Corniche, the Château Lafitte 1945. It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you. What more can I say? 
Jim Hacker: Only that it costs £15bn and we don’t need it. 

The times have changed, the cost has increased and the Soviets have vanished. Trident is more unnecessary and less affordable now than then. 

So let Labour’s zombie narcissists heckle and spit. 

Jeremy Corbyn was given a decisive mandate to save a dying political movement from the feckless and follies of its parliamentary party. The Trident addiction is one of those follies. 

Even at risk of mutually assured destruction, he should go to war to end it.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Beyond The Grave

Tom Watson has been vindicated over Leon Brittan.

When will The Observer sack Nick Cohen? When will The Times sack David Aaronovitch and Alice Thomson? When will David Cameron withdraw the Whip from Victoria Atkins?

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has been caught massively overspending at by-elections.

On the age-old principle that if wrongdoing is sufficiently flagrant, then no one will point it out, because everyone will wonder why no one else had noticed it and assume that it must just be them.

But on what did Newsnight concentrate? On how a dead woman would have voted in the EU referendum. As if anyone cared.

What About The Workers? I

What About The Workers? II

Dave Smith is a very great man. He insisted that my M&S summer suit was Italian designer. And he got the beers in.

Behind The Label

Bryan Gould writes:

An amazing thing is happening in the primary elections for the American presidency – and it’s not Donald Trump.

Mr Trump, in any case, “doesn’t like losers” and, having lost in Iowa, should presumably now be “re-considering his position”. 

The amazing thing is happening on the other side of the political divide. 

The Iowa primary ended in a virtual dead-heat between Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner and assumed shoo-in, and 74 year-old Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont, who started the race as a virtual no-hoper. 

Hillary Clinton, by far the best-known of the Democratic candidates, carries some baggage as a consequence, and there will be those who claim to have foreseen that her less than spotless record would eventually catch up her. 

But the real surprise is not her relatively poor showing, but the rise to prominence of the elderly and hitherto little-known Bernie Sanders.

It has been widely assumed that Senator Sanders is to all intents and purposes unelectable.

His age and relative obscurity would in any case count against him, but the real disqualification, it is believed, is that he is a self-declared socialist. 

It is hard to think of a label that would more surely destroy a candidate’s chances in an American primary election. 

This is a country in whose politics even the term “liberal” is a dirty word and is used as an attack weapon in much of the political discourse. 

A “socialist” is even further beyond the pale. 

The political right in the US has invested huge effort and resources in convincing American voters that socialism is akin to – even identical with – communism, and is fundamentally un-American. 

No candidate in his or her right (or even left) mind would willingly allow even a whiff of such a label to taint their campaign. 

So how does a candidate who not only embraces it and uses it proudly as a banner manage to do so well with the voters – in Iowa and possibly elsewhere as well? 

He is, after all, flying in the face of conventional wisdom, not only in the US but in much of the English-speaking world. 

Left-of-centre politicians in New Zealand, the UK, Australia and Canada, long ago conceded that to be labelled as a socialist is the kiss of death. 

That concession is, of course, all of a piece with the loss of intellectual self-confidence that has afflicted the left in the English-speaking democracies. 

Not content with failing to challenge the right on their analysis of what constitutes a successful economic policy, or of how a strong and healthy society can tolerate growing inequality, or of what is the proper role of government, left politicians have conceded the language of politics as well. 

The banner that was once flown proudly by those who proclaimed the virtues of greater equality, of a fair deal for all, of an inclusive economy that allows everyone to contribute and to derive the benefit from being members of society has now been fearfully disowned. 

So, what explains the surprising courage that Bernie Sanders has shown, and the success that, so far at least, he has enjoyed? 

Even if his campaign were to stall from this point on, and he were to return to decent obscurity, how are we to account for the fact that his willingness to describe himself as a socialist did not immediately knock him out of the race? 

The answer lies in listening carefully to what he says. He hasn’t used his socialism as either a sword or a shield. He has instead carefully explained what he means by it.

He has assumed, rightly it seems, that people are willing to look behind the label – a label whose meaning has consistently been misrepresented to them – and to understand what it really means. 

When Bernie Sanders says he wants “an economy that serves the interests of working people and not the billionaire class”, when he laments the plight of graduates who end up with low-paid jobs and deep in debt, when he commits to equal pay for women, he recognises that the natural tendency of a “free-market” economy is to concentrate wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands, leaving the majority to fight amongst themselves for what is left. 

His message – that unless democratic government intervenes to regulate the “free” market and its outcomes, the rich will get richer and the poor poorer – is, it seems, well understood by a large swathe of more thoughtful voters. 

In describing himself as a socialist – someone who sees that we are all in this together and that there is such a thing as society – he also creates the advantage for himself of pointing up how much he differs from Donald Trump. 

Trump is of course the archetypal “free” marketer. He is a cartoon version, a parody, of what the “free “market means. 

He is a self-obsessed “winner”, he hates “losers”, and he is used to grabbing what he can and devil take the hindmost.

Bernie Sanders shows that people will respond to his very different message, but only if they hear it – and that requires someone with the courage to deliver it to them.   

Some of that courage would not come amiss in other western democracies.

A New Cold War? Not Quite

Tara McCormack writes: 

Earlier this month, James Clapper, US national intelligence chief, announced that US intelligence agencies would be conducting a major review of alleged Russian funding of opposition parties in Europe. 

Russia, a senior unnamed British government official claims, is trying to destroy European unity on several political, social and military matters. 

Now, it may well be the case that Russia has given money to Front National or Golden Dawn or UKIP or Jeremy Corbyn for all we know. 

After all, funding other nations’ opposition parties has always been bread-and-butter work for foreign powers, including the US secret service – it funnelled money into the so-called Colour Revolutions and armed groups in Ukraine and the Middle East. I’ve no doubt Russia does it, too. 

However, the idea that Putin is behind the current refugee crisis and the longer-term political problems in the Eurozone is simply ludicrous. 

Not even the flimsiest understanding of the history of the past decade could support such a proposition. 

From the financial crisis to the crushing of the Greek economy to Angela Merkel’s unilateral decision to allow a million refugees into Germany, these developments can’t be put down to the actions of Russia. 

Perhaps Russia is also behind the EU’s current headache, Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party, which is currently subject to an unprecedented inquiry into whether new Polish laws break EU law.

The only problem is the Law and Justice Party is one of the most rabidly anti-Moscow parties out there. 

Perhaps Cameron has also been receiving Moscow gold in exchange for pushing the UK towards a Brexit? I doubt it. 

It’s a fantasy that we are in some kind of Cold War situation, with Moscow funnelling gold into various groups with the aim of toppling the EU and creating discord.

If only it were that simple. 

Thanks, Putin, but save your money for the crashing Russian economy. The EU is managing to disintegrate entirely on its own. 

These overblown claims are part of a trend. It has become common for politicians and the media to discredit Putin with tales of corruption and murder. 

The Litvinenko farce and Clapper’s comments show that the Western propaganda mill is once again cranking into action. 

Why is this happening? 

For several years now, military and political tensions between Russia and the West have been growing. 

The Ukraine crisis, rather than being the cause of worsening tensions, actually represents the emergence of these tensions. 

But these tensions are not the result of Russian revanchism or aggression. Much of the blame lies with Western foreign policy. 

Over the past 20 years, several developments have worried Moscow – particularly the rise of Western military intervention. 

The intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was a decisive moment: NATO acted outside of its mandate, becoming a kind of free-floating Western military force. 

The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were also catastrophic: the US, UK and other allies destroyed two countries without fully understanding what they were doing. 

The intervention in Libya, although originally supported by Russia, soon tipped over into incoherent regime change, the consequences of which are still unfolding. 

If anyone is to blame for overturning the postwar international order, it is the West. 

NATO has expanded relentlessly, first taking in the Baltic republics, then Albania and Croatia in 2009. Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Georgia are now in the waiting room.

A strategic alliance should be just that: strategic. Would the West seriously want to go to war over any of these states?

Within Montenegro itself there have been serious protests against joining NATO. Of course, for the likes of the BBC, this fact is presented as yet more evidence of Russian subversion. 

The fact that, in 1999, Montenegro, then part of former Yugoslavia, was bombed by NATO can’t possibly be of any relevance. 

In Ukraine, the EU more or less staged a coup by going to Kiev and ordering the elected Ukrainian government to go. 

This precipitated the most dangerous crisis in Europe since the Cold War. 

This was not a deliberate attempt to stoke war, but a kind of accidental foreign policy in which the complex and genuine political and social disagreements within Ukraine itself were ignored (despite decades of excellent British and European scholarship on post-Communist Ukraine). 

The EU’s moral grandstanding over Ukraine was a catastrophic mistake. There has been a relentless rise in NATO and Russian military exercises, and a frightening increase in the number of near-misses

The European security order (to the extent that it exists) is currently under threat from US plans to return troops to a number of former Warsaw Pact states. 

President Obama has just announced that his new budget will include a request to quadruple US military spending in Europe, with plans for heavy weapons and troops to be stationed along Russia’s borders. 

Turkey’s frankly deranged decision to shoot down a Russian jet in December, in the hope of sabotaging US and Russian talks over Syria, shows us just how unstable things are at the moment. 

Turkey is, of course, a member of NATO and therefore governed by Article 5, the principle of collective defence. 

So is this a new Cold War? Not quite. 

While there are rising military tensions, there are many factors at play that were not present in the Cold War. 

For example, there is disagreement within the EU about Russian sanctions and the increase in the US military presence in Europe. 

This isn’t anything to do with Russian plotting – these are genuine political disagreements. 

Unless, of course, one happens to think that politicians such as Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer, long-term opponent of Russian sanctions, is in the Kremlin’s pay.  

A very important difference today is the lack of public discussion about the rise in military tensions, and the potential for the crisis to escalate. 

Would anyone in the UK seriously want to go to war with Russia because Turkey chooses to take potshots at Russian planes? 

Would anyone in the UK want to go to war with Russia over Ukraine? It’s time for an open discussion about foreign policy. 

Do we want a new Cold War, with all the misery, expenditure and ever-present threat of a nuclear holocaust?

The idea that we have divergent interests from Russia simply cannot be sustained. 

At least in principle there were different ways of organising society at stake during the Cold War. This is not the case today. 

We have no divergence in interests with Russia; in fact, we have common interests – tackling ISIS, ensuring European security, maintaining oil prices, and so on. 

Russia doesn’t want to invade Lithuania or Poland or Latvia. Russia does not want to invade Ukraine. Russia does, however, have legitimate interests, and we need to take these seriously. 

We need to accept that Russia is a real country with real interests, just like our own, and not the pantomime villain the media are presenting it as at the moment.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

In Polite Company

From Tom Harris to George Galloway, these are the people who ought to be leading the campaign against the EU.

Instead, we get old women of both sexes, in funny hats accordingly.

Galloway is saying what the people who are now running the Labour Party obviously think.

In the privacy of a polling both, they, too, will vote against David Cameron and the memory of Margaret Thatcher, and in favour of the memory of Tony Benn. Of course they will.

Galloway has form. He toured Scotland making the traditional left-wing case for the Union, and who knows what effect his remarkable oratorical skills might have had? Perhaps he intends to repeat the trick?

And Harris? Labour Leave is run by John Mills and Brendan Chilton, who both supported Liz Kendall for Leader. Tony Blair thought little of the EU in practice, and Gordon Brown thought even less.

There was no doubt about the fundamental scepticism of John Prescott, Robin Cook, Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett, David Blunkett, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, the anti-Maastricht Peter Hain, and plenty of others besides.

New Labour kept Britain out of the euro and out of the Schengen Agreement. The war in Iraq had a pronounced Eurosceptical dimension to it, positively revelling in standing with America against France and Germany.

Like Neil Kinnock's, Peter Mandelson's mind was only really changed by the employment opportunities. Alastair Campbell's and Charlie Wheelan's probably never have been. John Rentoul remains bracingly critical of the EU.

And so on.

None of this necessarily adds up to a desire to pull out of the whole thing. And there were plenty of people in and around New Labour who were very enthusiastic indeed about the EU.

But there were plenty of people who were not. And that had enormous ramifications in policy terms.

Crash Course

In Fact, It's The Opposite

Speaking on Sky News today, the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, declared:

"North Korea seem to think possessing a nuclear weapon makes them safe. In fact, it's the opposite. Having a nuclear weapon makes them a target."


Don't Korea Off

I remain unperturbed by any "threat" from North Korea.

Either it is the country that satellite photographs show to have almost no electricity. Or it is poised to obliterate us all from space. It cannot be both.

As for spending money on giant vanity weapons systems while allowing people to starve to death, imagine living in a country like that.

The intense loyalty exhibited when, for example, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il died, is neither fake nor forced.

The participants' point of reference is not South Korea, about which they know nothing beyond what they have been told by people whom it is more than reasonable to assume believe exactly what they are saying.

Rather, North Koreans' point of reference is Korea as it existed before and, heaven help them, during the Second World War.

From the day-to-day, bread-and-butter perspective of most people, and especially of those who are now living in Pyongyang, the DPRK really is an almost unspeakable improvement on that.

The conquerors were not welcomed as liberators on the streets of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And that was an almost incomparably more open and outward-looking society than North Korea.


Or not.

Who are these "rebels" in Aleppo? They are Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. Look them up.

Even if partly by proxy for the time being, Russia is fighting a real war in Syria: on land, sea and air; morning, noon and night, until one side wins.

That side is the anti-Wahhabi side. All of it. Against all of the Wahhabi.

If we were doing that, or even proposing to do so, then some of us might be a lot more open to persuasion.

Bad Housekeeping

A charge used to be made, that the Left believed that the amount of money in an economy was limited and finite. It didn't, but the charge used to be made that it did.

Now, however, the same people castigate the Left for not believing that. They regard as the last word Margaret Thatcher's illiterate comparison of the economy to a fixed household budget.

The next Crash is coming, and there will be no way of blaming Labour for it this time.

Primary Purpose

Nowhere knows better than Britain that simply being a woman is neither here nor there politically.

Twice in my life, I have nearly died. But I have been spared to see the House of Bush and the House of Clinton fall more-or-less simultaneously.

I had been hoping to see them both go down in one night in Iowa. I am still hoping to see that in New Hampshire.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

"Councils Should Run Local Services"

The Government's extremely loony scheme for a directly elected Mayor covering the area from Berwick to Barnard Castle is designed to abolish local government in the North East altogether.

With this Mayor and his little Commissioning Board doing nothing more than commission services from private companies, then who would need Councillors?

Including Conservative or Independent Councillors.

The battle lines are well and truly drawn. Let battle commence.

Without So Much As A By-Your-Leave

The Labour Left was often far madder, both personally and politically, than the Communist Party, and that could be pretty far gone.

In the same way, the Conservative Right is often, and even normally, far madder than UKIP, which is itself pretty far gone.

Entirely predictably, the involvement of the pair of them is wreaking havoc in the campaign to leave the EU.

They were both going to vote Out anyway, so there was never the slightest need to have them as active participants.

But they are, so we are going to have to prepare ourselves for defeat.

The key is now to maximise the anti-EU vote, in the hope of being able to force something even after we have lost the referendum.

The opposition to the Iraq War paid a terrible price for allowing Trots and Islamists to make the running. 

That mistake is being repeated here.

Friday, 5 February 2016

When The Little Red Was Much-Read

I hate to admit it, but this is well worth a listen.

Most people know that Trotskyism was a fashionable way of being very left-wing but anti-Soviet in Britain, but they do not know about the admittedly much smaller Maoist subculture.

Many people know that Maoism fulfilled that function on the campuses of West Germany, but not that it had an underground appeal to youth in East Germany, too.

If there was one thing of which East Germany, like the Soviet Union, could never have been accused, then it was a Cultural Revolution. There were no Swinging Sixties there. There was Bach, not the Beatles.

And I expect that very few people in Britain, and relatively few in America, will know what an inspiration Maoism was to the most radical black activists in the United States.

They saw a revolution in the most populous country on earth, non-white, and setting off anti-colonial struggles all over the world.

Nothing ever came of any of this in the West in the end, of course. It is a fascinating historical curiosity, but it is nothing more than that.

Unlike David Aaronovitch's Eurocommunism. How about a programme on that?

Or how about a programme on the Loony Right? Recent tragic events have seen that emerge from the shadows, essentially unchanged.

Yet it is at the very centre of power in this country, just as it was in the 1980s.

Justice Is His Right

Leave aside whether or not you would care to be stuck in a lift with Julian Assange. Rather, look at who is against him, and then consider that he is supported by the man whom the likes of David Aaronovitch, Oliver Kamm and Nick Cohen hate because they cannot be him, the great John Pilger:

One of the epic miscarriages of justice of our time is unravelling.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention — the international tribunal that adjudicates and decides whether governments comply with their human rights obligations — has ruled that Julian Assange has been detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden. 

After five years of fighting to clear his name — having been smeared relentlessly yet charged with no crime — Assange is closer to justice and vindication, and perhaps freedom, than at any time since he was arrested and held in London under a European Extradition Warrant, itself now discredited by Parliament. 

The UN Working Group bases its judgements on the European Convention on Human Rights and three other treaties that are binding on all its signatories. 

Both Britain and Sweden participated in the 16-month long UN investigation and submitted evidence and defended their position before the tribunal. 

It would fly contemptuously in the face of international law if they did not comply with the judgment and allow Assange to leave the refuge granted him by the Ecuadorean government in its London embassy.

In previous, celebrated cases ruled upon by the Working Group — Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, detained Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian in Iran, both Britain and Sweden have given support to the tribunal.

The difference now is that Assange’s persecution and confinement endures in the heart of London. 

The Assange case has never been primarily about allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden — where the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the case, saying, “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape”, and one of the women involved accused the police of fabricating evidence and “railroading” her, protesting she “did not want to accuse JA of anything” — and a second prosecutor mysteriously re-opened the case after political intervention, then stalled it. 

The Assange case is rooted across the Atlantic in Pentagon-dominated Washington, obsessed with pursuing and prosecuting whistleblowers, especially Assange for having exposed, in WikiLeaks, US capital crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of civilians and a contempt for sovereignty and international law. 

None of this truth-telling is illegal under the US Constitution. 

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistleblowers as “part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal”. 

Obama, the betrayer, has since prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the US presidents combined. 

The courageous Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years in prison, having been tortured during her long pre-trial detention. The prospect of a similar fate has hung over Assange like a Damocles sword. 

According to documents released by Edward Snowden, Assange is on a “Manhunt target list”. Vice-President Joe Biden has called him a “cyber terrorist”. 

In Alexandra, Virginia, a secret grand jury has attempted to concoct a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted in a court. 

Even though he is not an American, he is currently being fitted up with an espionage law dredged up from a century ago when it was used to silence conscientious objectors during the First World War; the Espionage Act has provisions of both life imprisonment and the death penalty. 

Assange’s ability to defend himself in this Kafkaesque world has been handicapped by the US declaring his case a state secret. 

A federal court has blocked the release of all information about what is known as the “national security” investigation of WikiLeaks. 

The supporting act in this charade has been played by the second Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny. 

Until recently, Ny had refused to comply with a routine European procedure that required her to travel to London to question Assange and so advance the case that James Catlin, one of Assange’s barristers, called “a laughing stock … it’s as if they make it up as they go along”. 

Indeed, even before Assange had left Sweden for London in 2010, Marianne Ny made no attempt to question him. 

In the years since, she has never properly explained, even to her own judicial authorities, why she has not completed the case she so enthusiastically re-ignited — just as the she has never explained why she has refused to give Assange a guarantee that he will not be extradited on to the US under a secret arrangement agreed between Stockholm and Washington. 

In 2010, the Independent in London revealed that the two governments had discussed Assange’s onward extradition. 

Then there is tiny, brave Ecuador. 

One of the reasons Ecuador granted Julian Assange political asylum was that his own government, in Australia, had offered him none of the help to which he had a legal right and so abandoned him. 

Australia’s collusion with the United States against its own citizen is evident in leaked documents; no more faithful vassals has America than the obeisant politicians of the Antipodes. 

Four years ago, in Sydney, I spent several hours with the Liberal Member of the Federal Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull. 

We discussed the threats to Assange and their wider implications for freedom of speech and justice, and why Australia was obliged to stand by him. 

Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia and, as I write, is attending an international conference on Syria hosted the Cameron government — about 15 minutes’ cab ride from the room that Julian Assange has occupied for three and a half years in the small Ecuadorean embassy just along from Harrod’s. 

The Syria connection is relevant if unreported; it was WikiLeaks that revealed that the United States had long planned to overthrow the Assad government in Syria. 

Today, as he meets and greets, Prime Minister Turnbull has an opportunity to contribute a modicum of purpose and truth to the conference by speaking up for his unjustly imprisoned compatriot, for whom he showed such concern when we met. 

All he need do is quote the judgement of the UN Working Party on Arbitrary Detention. Will he reclaim this shred of Australia’s reputation in the decent world? 

What is certain is that the decent world owes much to Julian Assange. 

He told us how indecent power behaves in secret, how it lies and manipulates and engages in great acts of violence, sustaining wars that kill and maim and turn millions into the refugees now in the news.

Telling us this truth alone earns Assange his freedom, whereas justice is his right.

State Blindness Isn’t Helping

Giles Fraser writes:

On Monday morning, without warning, a group of heavily armed French police descended on the Calais refugee camp to flatten a 100-metre buffer zone between the camp and the motorway.

A church and a mosque were torn down, despite promises that they wouldn’t be touched. 

It’s all part of a wider effort by the French authorities to shift refugees into a new camp of numbered shipping containers, surrounded by a large wire fence. 

This new camp affords the French a greater degree of administrative control – with biometric handprints being introduced as passes – and sucks refugees further into the French system. 

This can be seen as a tacit acknowledgment that the French have responsibility for processing their asylum claims in France. 

But why don’t the refugees want asylum in France? 

One reason is because many of them perceive Britain to have a stronger tradition of religious tolerance than France. 

And this often surprises the French, because they pride themselves on their much-discussed notion of laïcité – roughly, secularism plus – so sacred a notion that it’s enshrined in article one of the French constitution. 

For its defenders, laïcité is a way of ensuring the state’s systematic blindness when it comes to religion. It is an official pretence not to notice whether or where somebody prays.

For its detractors, this supposed neutrality is nothing of the sort, but rather a cover for the eradication of religious visibility, indeed religious rights, from the public sphere.

This week, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned the French police’s human rights violations against Muslims. 

Laïcité began as justification for eradicating the influence of the Catholic church – and involved the murder of thousands of priests during the revolution. It continues as a cover for discrimination against Muslims.

It is no coincidence, for example, that the ban on the wearing of headscarves in public schools, a ban which also included Jewish boys wearing their kippot and Sikhs wearing their turbans, followed the electoral success of the far right in April 2002.

Just as colour-blindness with respect to race is not the same thing as being anti-racist, so too laïcité is not the same thing as being anti-discriminatory.

Indeed, this whole neutrality-as-blindness philosophy means that the French state won’t even collect statistics about ethnicity or religion, thus refusing to evaluate, or even face, the extent of their problem.

For example, how many North Africans are there in top positions? The French state won’t say. Indeed, it won’t even ask.

And it’s this same official “blindness” that led the French police not to notice that the buildings they were destroying in Calais had any religious significance.

As the Ethiopian pastor looked on, clutching a blue wooden cross he’d salvaged from the wreckage, the Gallic Robocops trampled all over his church, treating it as of no more emotional consequence than the disgusting Portaloos they were also removing.

Religion’s comfortable despisers may sneer, but faith is one of the few things that people in the camp have to cling on to. Not noticing this is not a form of neutrality.

Secularism can mean many different things.

For some it is the simple separation of church and state: no bishops in the House of Lords, no religion test for political office etc.

For others, secularism is something much more: purging religion from the public sphere. It’s a bit like the Victorian attitude to sex: if you must do it, do it privately and don’t talk about it.

Here, secularism treats religion as a dirty little secret, and manifests itself as a restriction of public prayer or the open expression of religious identity.

And that’s about as neutral as the attitude to God taken by state communism.

In a recent survey in Le Journal du Dimanche, 56% of people said they would react badly if their daughter married a Muslim, 91% of people said that Jews in France “are very insular”, and 56% that they “have a lot of power”.

State blindness isn’t helping. Laïcité doesn’t eradicate religious hatred. At best, it simply camouflages it. At worst, it provides it with an alibi.

Buchananite Bernie

The Republicans are now the party of not terribly American people who believe in their own idea of the place rather than in any kind of reality.

Therefore, here is even Pat Buchanan's highly sympathetic, semi-official biographer as good as endorsing Bernie Sanders.

Tim points out that Sanders supports immigration controls and opposes gun controls. As for foreign policy, Sanders is persuadable, and certainly a lot better than anyone else in the race since the withdrawal of Rand Paul.

It is impossible to understand the American opposition to gun controls, in the way that it is impossible to understand the German insistence that there be no speed limits on the Autobahn, and impossible for anyone outside ever quite to understand the British class system. Some things about other people just have to be accepted.

If America does have a role as in any sense the leader of the West, then that role is wholly incompatible, either with the absence of the universal healthcare that Sanders proposes, or with the presence of the capital punishment that Sanders opposes.

Both that first absence and that second presence now place America almost outside the West altogether.

Nowhere would have abolished the death penalty by popular vote at the time. But, for all the bluster from people who need to get out more, nowhere that has abolished it would now bring it back.

And nowhere with universal healthcare would consider for one second regressing to life before it.

But Little Else

Although he badly needs the New Statesman to give him a new byline picture, Owen Jones writes:

After Jeremy Corbyn scraped on to the Labour leadership ballot with seconds to spare, he joked to an ally: “Now, make sure I don't win.” 

A seasoned, experienced frontline politician with backing from their parliamentary party would have found the last months beyond gruelling: and Corbyn only stood out of a sense of duty, to prevent the leadership campaign becoming a stampede to the right, rather than out of personal ambition, and without any apparent realistic prospect of victory.

But here's the thing. 

Many of his opponents on the right of the Labour party pride themselves on their electability, on being good at politics, but show little understanding about why they lost so badly in their own party. 

It baffles me. Without such a post mortem, involving contrition and political self-awareness, how do they expect to win back the leadership? 

As my colleague Stephen Bush puts it, anti-Corbyn Labourites are “keener on rubbing the lessons from the general election in the faces of the left, rather than subjecting itself to a painful post-mortem following Corbyn's own landslide.” 

The right of the party is composed of two factions. 

The New Labour wing – chiefly represented by Progress – are in retreat after their candidate's disastrous showing in the leadership election. 

Their views can be summed up (with the caveat that, yes, this is a generalisation) as follows: hawkish on defence and foreign policy, passionately supportive of the alliance with the US, sceptical about Labour's trade union link, less interested in the concept of social class, more open to electoral reform, supportive of market ideology, and committed to LGBT rights. 

The Old Labour Right – in the shape of the ascendant Labour First – share the foreign policy stance, but are more supportive of the trade union link, are more social democratic in their economic outlook and opposed to markets in public services, more tribal, more interested in social class (particularly if it helps to portray their left-wing opponents as bohemian effete bourgeois liberals), more sceptical about (or outright opposed to) electoral reform, and more open to social conservatism. 

The Old Labour Right often have a more macho quality (some Blairite critics even privately opt for “thuggish”), though their political outlook represents a genuine current in particularly Northern and Midlands working-class communities. 

But – with honourable exceptions – neither faction seems that interested in addressing why they lost: that they lacked any meaningful vision, leaving a vacuum that could be – and indeed was – filled. 

Their failure is, in part, a failure to learn from Tony Blair of all people. 

Towards the end of last year's leadership race, Liz Kendall appeared to show regret at how she had approached the Labour membership. 

Indeed, a campaign that seemed to finger-wag at members, suggesting that much of what they believed was rubbish and delusional (Labour was “behaving like a petulant child who has been told you can't have the sweeties in the sweetshop” and who were now “running around stamping our feet”, as Kendall ally Chuka Umunna put it) was doomed to failure. 

That wasn't Blair's approach in his successful 1994 leadership campaign. 

He liberally used the word “socialism”; he recruited the support of soft left luminaries like Robin Cook; he ran a positive, feel-good, optimistic campaign, and was rewarded with a surge in Labour membership after his victory.

Someone who has embraced the role of anti-Corbyn Labour pundit is John McTernan, former chief of staff to ex-Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy. 

McTernan is the sort of man who seems to relish antagonising those who disagree with him, particularly if they are to his left. The louder they boo, the more pleasure and vindication he derives. 

But McTernan seems to have no analysis of the rise of Corbyn, merely contempt. 

The prescriptions he offers for a Labour vision including privatising the National Health Service, opposing public ownership of rail (he thinks rail privatisation is a resounding success), and merging the fire service with the police. W

With all due respect to McTernan – he has always been civil to me – if the likes of him become identified with the modern Labour right, they are doomed. 

The Labour right is at risk of becoming defined by a contempt – or even loathing – of the left and little else. 

Old Labour right types who would – rightly – urge understanding of what drives working-class people to vote UKIP show no such intellectual curiosity about what made 6 out of 10 voters in the leadership election opt for Corbyn. 

Sometimes their analysis seems to boil down to believing a bunch of sandal-wearing pinko Islingtonistas have overrun their party. 

This has often been their approach to the left: the embattled Simon Danczuk, for instance, once amusingly accused me of hailing from the “posh part of Stockport”

Some bitterly plot revenge: a counter-revolution to suppress the Labour Jacobins. 

You do not need to be a political genius to guess the identity of the then-Shadow Cabinet minister who, in the immediate aftermath of Corbyn's victory, promised a reckoning that “will have to be brutal, putting the left in a box for 30 years or out of the party.” 

Take the recently-sacked Michael Dugher, martyrised in the eyes of the Old Labour Right. 

An interview with this week's Mail on Sunday emphasised what a ruddy bloke he was - “his idea of a night out is six pints of Guinness with his muckers” - and he was at pains to promote a slightly contrived “I say it how I see it” demeanour. 

How he believes a strategy of attacking his party's leadership in right-wing papers will persuade – rather than antagonise – the party membership is unclear.

This column risks being dismissed as unhelpfully fuelling a prospective civil war.

But the interventions of the likes of Dugher are perplexing: they are feted by the right-wing press for a reason, and although they may inflict damage on the party, they only alienate the membership, including those frustrated with the leadership. 

There are darker murmurings: some MPs talk of the inevitability of a split, with speculation about how the right could take the Labour brand with them. 

A more constructive approach would be to focus on developing the political vision that is currently missing. As Stephen Bush notes, some non-Corbynites are trying to do this. 

Take Liam Byrne's speeches calling time on neo-liberalism; Rachel Reeves' critique of George Osborne's economic model; Jonny Reynolds on electoral reform.

There has to be a recognition that Corbyn won because of a thirst for a genuine alternative to Osbornomics; a contempt for the established political elite (a phenomenon sweeping the Western world); and a desire for a foreign policy that doesn't produce the calamity of the Iraq war and its ISIS offshoot.

Politically savvy Labour opponents of Corbyn would surely ask how they could satisfy these desires and attempt to offer an inspiring vision in response.

If they don't, they will certainly provoke much bitterness, but little else.

The Day Before Yesterday Programme

And so it begins.

The Today programme could not be bothered to find any supporters of leaving the EU from among its own listeners.

Instead, it treated us to a quarter of an hour of uneducated, racist halfwits who sounded as if they had been created by Catherine Tate.

The item began with the bald assertion that the only people who wanted to leave the EU were those with no academic qualifications whatever, especially those among them who were, as they do tend to be, extremely old.

What are in fact those quite rare people had been assiduously tracked down in order to illustrate the point.

The Radio Four audience must have thought that it was listening to a report from an entirely foreign and utterly unattractive country. In a way, it was.

Will the selected voices of ordinary voters who wanted to stay in the EU be remotely comparable to these? No, of course not.

This is all the fault of framing the debate in terms of immigration, and of giving UKIP a role of any prominence whatever.

Un-American Activities?

In their own terms, yes.

A Hispanic who, having been born elsewhere in the Americas as so many Hispanics were, is ineligible to become the President of the United States.

The son of a first generation immigrant, making him an anchor baby who has been an anchor husband twice; his campaign caps are made in China, whereas those of Bernie Sanders are made in the United States.

And another Hispanic, neither of whose parents was an American citizen until four years after his birth.

Sanders's father was also an immigrant, but Sanders is 30 years older than Rubio, making him a link to a very different period in America's formation.

I give you the Republican Party in 2016, profoundly un-American in its own terms.

Unlike the Democratic Party, which is really very American even in those terms.

Realism, Indeed

Would you have voted for Rand Paul?

If so, then your only remaining option is to vote for Bernie Sanders so that he can pursue his foreign policy.

While, in that case, voting Republican for Congress in order to restrain or prevent his domestic policies.

If there is still time, then you might even register as a Democrat for the purpose.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Mother Tongue

Following tonight's Question Time, I quite agree that an inability to speak English can trap people in the house.

But there are not mothers bringing up children while speaking only a language that their children cannot speak.

There may be fathers like that. There always have been. That is not ideal. But it is believable.

Most people never think about it, because most people's parents both had the same first language, but the mother tongue is called that for a reason.

How did these women's children ever learn to speak at all? It is obvious that this whole suggestion is as preposterous as it is pernicious.

What Remains

I am still going to vote to leave, but what matters now is what comes after the vote to remain

That vote to remain will be because the anti-EU franchise had been stolen by people who were all in favour of the EU until the day that Thatcher fell, or sometimes even after that, and who were notable for nothing apart from their personal eccentricities.

Peter Hitchens says today that he is going to abstain.

UKIP and the Tory Right are toxic. So expect to see an awful lot more of them, funny Union Jack costumes and all.

The media, pretty much all of them, want to discredit the anti-EU side.

And nothing discredits anything more than associating it exclusively, or even at all, with the middle-aged, lower-middle-class, white, male foghorns that we all know so very, very, very well.

Those foghorns will be at full blast between now and the referendum.

Having Farage on Question Time, if he turns up, is only the beginning.

The Price of Milk

And you know what? I believe that he forgot a mere four hundred grand. That really is nothing to him. 

Whereas extremely rich men routinely dry out their tea bags to reuse them, and what not. They would never let 49p go.

Only Making Plans?

Nigel Farage is back on Question Time tonight.

But he is tweeting that he is stuck in traffic and may not make it.

Will they find another seven-times failed parliamentary candidate to take his place?

Panel Beating

I hope that those who are lining up against Julian Assange are exactly as proud as they should be.

They are siding with old New Labour against Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Tariq Ali, George Galloway, and the ghost of Tony Benn.

As of today, they are siding with old New Labour against the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, too.

It is time for Parliament to tidy up the shambolic laws on sexual offences.

It must then be made impossible for anyone to be extradited to face charges that fell short of those standards, or for such convictions to have any legal standing in this country.

A man ought no more to be extradited to face a rape charge as defined in Sweden, than a woman (or anyone else) ought to be extradited to face any charge in Saudi Arabia.

Like several others on the more-or-less Corbynite Left at and around the University of Durham, I am proud to call the staunch Tory, Louis Richardson, my friend.

The Crown Prosecution Service has recently been crowing about thousands more prosecutions for rape with no prospect of conviction, because the verdict is not the point.

It now has an open policy of always pursuing these cases to the bitter end, entirely regardless of any likely outcome.

In other words, it is openly engaged, on an organised basis and on an industrial scale, in the Common Law intentional tort of malicious prosecution. At public expense, and indeed formally in the name of the Queen.

All But

"The Daily Mail all but backs Out," as any and everyone is saying today.

Quite. All but. Even today, it has not quite said the words.

And it will back a Conservative Prime Minister in the end, because it will back a Conservative Prime Minister in the end. Like all the rest of them.

Apart from the Express, and Peter Hitchens resigned from that as long as 16 years ago; he can now barely bring itself to utter its name, because of what it has become.

It is the only newspaper, as such, ever to have advised its readers to vote UKIP. But who buys it for the politics?

Speaking of Hitchens, as an obvious outrider, the Mail on Sunday is backing In from the start.

If you wanted an anti-EU columnist, then you could buy any paper, including Giles Fraser's Guardian. He is on the Editorial Board, no less.

Owen Jones has also yet to declare his hand definitively, and may still be persuadable to vote as Tony Benn would have voted.

But if you wanted an anti-EU paper, then you could buy only the Morning Star. There is no "all but" in that.