Thursday, 31 March 2011

Where Is Ananias of Damascus When You Need Him?

How glorious to watch Sami Khiyami, His Excellency the Syrian Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, slap down some insolent presenter on Newsnight. If you wouldn't take it from Davina McCall, then don't take it from Jeremy Paxman, either.

Something similar applies to the Today programme lot and other disc jockeys. If you wouldn't take it from Chris Moyles, then don't take it from John Humphrys. If you wouldn't take it from Chris Evans, then don't take it from Jim Naughtie. None of them is a patch on Fern Britton, who got Blair to admit that he would have invaded Iraq anyway.

Of course Israeli opponents of the Syrian-led land for peace scheme might very well be behind the trouble in Syria. As His Excellency was trying to convey, so might militant Islamists, partly, though not entirely, for the same reason. No one else is, or could be. So, which do we prefer, and why? Which does the BBC prefer, and why? Which does Jeremy Paxman prefer, and why?


Like everyone else in the media, Newsnight's Stephen Smith used Ed Miliband's forthcoming wedding as an excuse to go on, and on, and on about the groom-to-be's brother, whom our lords and masters in Fleet Street and the BBC had specifically instructed the Labour Party to elect as its Leader, but the uppity oiks failed to do as they had been told.

An interviewee described that brother as "in the front rank of politics". He is no such thing. He was Foreign Secretary for a mercifully brief period. But he is now just another ex-Minister on the backbenches, generally expected to stand down at the next General Election, and widely expected to be deselected if he doesn't. Get over him.

Ex Nihilo?

"Cherie Blair made it from nothing", gushed Jamie Oliver. No, she did not. She was brought up by her mother, a travel agent. Not the background of David Cameron, or even of Tony Blair. But hardly "nothing". What's that you say? She's from the North? Oh, well, then, I stand corrected.

Known Unknowns

"Well, we do not approve of Mr Moussa Koussa", one of my political heroes, Peter Shore, long ago had cause to tell the House of Commons. Nor will a lot of people approve of Moussa Koussa soon enough.

To their credit, the Police know how to look after their own. So they have never closed the file on the murder of Yvonne Fletcher in the line of duty. But these things are not decided by them, in principle drawn from and accountable to the whole community.

After all, Koussa knows the truth about Lockerbie, and we can't have that coming out, can we? Koussa also knows all about Gaddafi and the IRA, which could prove very embarrassing indeed for certain people who are now pillars of the London, Dublin and Washington Establishments. And speaking of Washington, he knows all about who else was funding the IRA at the same time.

Or will those now handling him end up telling everyone else that he really doesn't know anything at all? To whom are they ultimately loyal, and why?

The Turn of The Screws

Twice in as many days, events call for the reprinting here of an old article by the justly ubiquitous Neil Clark, who in July of last year graced The First Post with this:

This has been a year of surprises. Leeds knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup. Tomas Berdych beating Roger Federer at Wimbledon. But now perhaps we have the biggest turn-up of them all: Labour attacking a Conservative-led government for being soft on crime.

Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke's dramatic reversal of the Tories 17-year-old 'Prison Works' policy has not only left grassroot Tories fuming: it's upset Labour too.

Writing in the Daily Mail, former Home Secretary Jack Straw accused Clarke of returning to the flawed liberal "hand-wringing approach to crime", which marked a succession of post-war Home Secretaries before Michael Howard.

Straw praises Howard, a one-time bogeyman of the liberal left, for ushering in a new get-tough era where an increased number of offenders were sent to prison and, according to Straw, crime rates consequently declined. Now it seems those days are gone.

While David Cameron tries to persuade Tory voters that not much has changed, there's no denying that Kenneth Clarke's anti-prison pronouncements amount to a massive U-turn.

As yesterday Daily Mail editorial reminded us, during the election campaign, the Tories repeatedly spoke of the need to put more offenders behind bars and pledged to create 5,000 more prison places.

And on one of the head-to-head television debates David Cameron expressly criticised the Liberal Democrats' opposition to short prison sentence terms.

For Jack Straw, the Tory U-turn on prisons is another example of the 'crazy world of coalition government', coming not long after the Liberal Democrats' U-turn on VAT rises.

But it could also be argued that the anti-prison stance is consistent with the socially and economically liberal ethos of the new government.

For what unites both David Cameron's Conservatives and Nick Clegg's Orange Book Liberal Democrats is their anti-statism. Both men are using the need to cut the deficit to roll back the frontiers of the state, much further than even Margaret Thatcher would have dared.

Leftists who find themselves nodding in agreement with Kenneth Clarke’s anti-prison statements are well advised to read the small print.

The Justice Minister’s proposed reforms, in which the private sector will be paid to rehabilitate prisoners, are only the latest in a series of measures announced by the coalition designed to weaken state agencies and allow the private companies to do jobs traditionally done by government. The Royal Mail, in state hands since its inception in 1516, is being lined up for sale. The Government's new Work Programme, announced earlier this week, will be run by private firms. While the police, the most visible arm of the state, face major cutbacks in numbers.

Traditional conservatives who want to see more bobbies on the beat, more criminals sent to jail and who have no great desire to see the Royal Mail - or indeed their public libraries - go the way of Britain’s railways and public utilities, are likely to be enormously disappointed by what a Conservative-led government, tied to social and economic liberalism, has in store for them.

But for Labour, the coalition's assault on state provision presents a great opportunity.

To capitalise, the party needs to ditch Blairism and oppose any further privatisation of the public sector. And it needs to appreciate that the truly progressive stance in British politics today, is paradoxically a 'conservative' one. It's progressive - and conservative - to defend the NHS, the Royal Mail and public libraries.

It's progressive - and conservative - to say that British troops should be used to defend the Realm and not take part in pre-emptive strikes on countries that have done us no harm. It's progressive - and conservative - for the state to continue to provide services for the public and protect its citizens from violent crime.

A Labour Party that opposed Kenneth Clarke's prison plans, the potentially disastrous cutbacks in police numbers and the sell-off of the Royal Mail would find itself in tune with vast swathes of 'conservative' Britain.

The prospect of the Daily Mail endorsing Labour at the next election might seem far fetched. But then who'd have thought that less than two months on from the last election, the same newspaper would be praising a former Labour Home Secretary in its editorial and slamming a Conservative one? If Labour play their cards right, and work alongside the 'forces of conservatism' in opposing the extreme economic and social liberalism of the coalition, the rewards could be huge.

An attack on Her Majesty's Prisons, like an attack on the Royal Mail, is an attack on the place of the monarchy in the life of our communities. Profiting from crime is morally wrong in the way that taxing drugs or prostitution would be morally wrong.

As Shadow Home Secretary in the run-up to the 1997 Election, Jack Straw personally campaigned for the votes of prison officers by promising to give them the right to strike. And, to his credit at the time, he did indeed give them that very right once he became Home Secretary. A decade later, what ridiculously still purported to be a Labour Government repealed that legislation of its own. And the Cabinet Minister responsible was, once again, Jack Straw.

His primary objective was to smash the emerging new Triple Alliance of the Prison Officers' Association, the Police Federation (whose members, being civilians, really should have either the right to strike or their long-established pay deal
in lieu) and the Fire Brigades' Union (whose members really do need to watch out, because they are next on the hit list). But it won't end there. Aren't NHS staff essential? Aren't teachers? Aren't train, bus and tram drivers? And so on, and on, and on.

Even A Stopped Clock

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Rep. Michele Bachmann, continuing her drumbeat of criticism of President Obama’s policies and priorities, ripped his rationale Wednesday for intervening in Libya, arguing that it isn’t justified by any compelling national interest.

The Tea Party stalwart, riding a wave of national attention since aides said she may be on the cusp of a presidential run, also said she opposes giving military assistance to the rebels fighting Libya strongman Moammar Gadhafi, saying she believes al Qaida fighters have infiltrated their ranks.

“I would not have gone in” to Libya, Bachmann said on NBC’s “Today” show.

Bachmann said what she calls the “Obama doctrine” provides a misguided rationale for the United States “to enter into one country after another.”

It really has come to something when she is the voice of reason. But here we are. Whose fault is that?

Meanwhile, has anyone to whom it might listen been onto the Wisconsin Synod about her Christian Zionism, which depends on a Dispensationalism to which Confessional Lutherans cannot, by definition, subscribe?

An Urgent Appeal

Alongside the Vatican's exposure of 40 or more civilian dead as a result of the bombing of Tripoli, comes this:

“The Holy Father's appeal was wonderful news and gives us great comfort. The Pope spoke words that affirm the need for reconciliation, peace and dialogue,” said Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli. On Sunday, March 27, upon praying the Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI launched “an urgent appeal to international organisations and political and military leaders for immediate dialogue, to suspend the use of arms.”

“We have translated today's appeal by the Holy Father into Arabic and we will send it as a voice message to the Libyan Foreign Ministry, for their information,” says Bishop Martinelli. The Apostolic Vicar states that he did not participate in the event of Saturday, 26 March (see Fides 26/03/2011), and that in any case, as he explained to Fides, he would join in only if it had been a peace rally. “They have not asked again for our presence,” says Bishop Martinelli. “It was a manifestation to reaffirm the national unity of Libya. We have joined the tribal leaders, intellectuals and other personalities. I do not think either side wants a divide in Libya. However, this emphasises the need for dialogue to end the crisis,” says the Vicar Apostolic of Tripoli.

Archbishop Martinelli also announces that “from yesterday, police have been stationed in front of our church, officially charged with protecting us. Perhaps to avoid attack, which according to some simple. We are beginning to run low on petrol. There is a two hour line to fill up the car's petrol tank. And there is even difficulty to buy food.”

“Tonight we did not hear the bombing. We know that struck near Sirte. In recent days there have been civilian casualties. I know of at least one person died of a splinter in the skull, perhaps produced by a blow to the anti-aircraft exploded at a very low altitude,” concluded Bishop Martinelli.

“Tonight we didn't hear any bombing. We know that it occurred near Sirte. There have been civilian victims in recent days. I know of at least one person who died of a splintered skull, perhaps produced by a blow from an anti-aircraft which exploded at a very low altitude,” concludes the Bishop.

Meanwhile, “The Bishops of Northern Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya), who are faced with the processes of historical development concerning Arab countries and especially the Maghreb, wish to reaffirm our urgent appeal to find an end to this painful conflict, just and dignified for all. To this we add the appeal made by Pope Benedict XVI, on Sunday, March 27,” said a statement signed by Archbishop Vincent Landel of Rabat (Morocco), President of CERNA (the Episcopal Conférence des régions de l'Afrique du Nord).

The Bishops of CERNA recognise that during the recent events that have occurred in the Maghreb countries, there has been a “legitimate claim for freedom, justice and dignity, particularly by the younger generations. This demand translates into a desire to be recognised as responsible citizens with the opportunity to find a job that allows them to live decently, excluding all forms of corruption and cronyism.”

“Today,” continues the statement, “this wind of change passes through Libya. And we especially unite with our brother Bishops in Tripoli and Benghazi, and with all communities in the Country.”

The Bishops of Northern Africa also reaffirm their opposition to violence and war: “We know that war solves nothing, and when it breaks out, it is just as uncontrollable as the explosion of a nuclear reactor! The first victims are always the poorest and most disadvantaged. Moreover, whether we like it or not, the war in the Near East, and now in the Maghreb, will always be interpreted as 'a crusade'. This will have inevitable consequences on the friendly relations that Christians and Muslims have woven and continue to weave in the newspaper.”

The Bishops of CERNA call for a diplomatic mediation, and appeal for humanitarian aid. “We pray to the Almighty to inspire the leaders of nations to find the path that leads to Justice and Peace,” the statement concludes.

Light In The East

Here, here, here and, within the Latin Church, here.

Nevertheless, there are certain pernicious tendencies within some Eastern Catholic Churches. There is the widespread excision of the filioque clause. There is a dangerous Christological imprecision in statements made jointly by Chaldean Catholics and by the Assyrian Church. There is the practice of "delatinisation': consider that Ukrainian Catholics must now have recourse to Lefebvrist bishops if they are to secure the ordination of priests prepared to continue Eucharistic Adoration, the Holy Rosary, and the Stations of the Cross.

And there is the increasing prevalence among the Melkites of the more-than-familiar concepts of a "bridge church" and of only the "Undivided Church" of the first millennium as normative and definitive. As orthodox Catholics have always reacted to those theories when professed by Anglo-Catholics, who do not necessarily seem to be recanting them by joining the Ordinariate, so orthodox Orthodox will react to them when professed by Melkites, who will negate their own position by caring as little as Anglo-Catholics have cared. But the Undivided Church still exists and has always existed, without interruption. The recognition of this fact was the basis of the Melkite, as of every other, unia. Is it the basis of the Ordinariate?

There is, however, nothing in the theory that the Maronites were once Monothelite. There are only two "arguments" ever advanced for it: that it was alleged by their bitterest opponents, and that the Maronites themselves believe that they have always held fast to Petrine Unity and to everything that it entails, as if their believing it about themselves meant that it must be false. In fact, Monothelitism is a recurring, baseless allegation against those who have been steadfast in Roman Orthodoxy, including the Holy See.

Not So Happy Birthday

John writes:

While I am certainly no great fan of the former Soviet Union, I can't help but feel sickened by this article on Mikhail Gorbachev’s 80th birthday party. Apparently Gorby was thrown a huge birthday party in London. The event was attended by business moguls, Hollywood actors, and various other pop celebrities. But as Bridget Kendall notes at the end of her article, many Russians would not be singing "Happy Birthday to You" to the former Soviet leader. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought immense suffering to millions of Russians as neoliberal shock therapy resulted in much of the economy being handed over to gangster-like oligarchs while the Russian people saw their living standards plummet dramatically.

In his defense, Gorbachev has also criticized the Washington Consensus model of neoliberalism that has brought so much suffering to millions around the globe. Unfortunately, Gorbachev's own country did not escape the ravages of the Harvard Boys and other neoliberal technocrats who replaced the failing system of communist central planning with a kind of vulture capitalism. Keeping these realities in mind, it is difficult for me to avoid becoming angry witnessing all of this cheesy sentimentality and hallow glitz poured out over the collapse of communism and the current revolutionary waves in the Middle East when it is painfully obvious that the global elite is only interested in trendy revolutionaries that won't harm the interests of global capital.

For example, one of the hosts of Gorbachev’s party, Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, characterized the current world protests as people "… fighting for the very kind of freedoms and access and ability to cross borders that Mikhail Gorbachev did so many years ago." Spacey apparently fails to take into account the problem of massive unemployment and underemployment that is likely fueling much of the rage across the Middle East and elsewhere. If anything, young people are likely to have many opportunities to cross borders as they leave their homelands to look for work in foreign countries.

Russia is now emerging from the gangster capitalism that has followed Communism ever since the events that John describes set the unhappy, unnecessary pattern. She once again recognises herself as pre-eminent among the Slavs in their mission as the age-old gatekeepers of our Biblical-Classical civilisation, whether against Islam, against Far Eastern domination, or now also against the godless, rootless, stupefied, promiscuous, usury-based, metrosexual, war-hungry pseudo-West that holds up Israel, Georgia and Taiwan as supposedly plucky and inspiring outposts.

Attempts to drag Russia into the pseudo-West were not only always doomed, although guaranteed to cause immense pain in being proved so, but they also failed to take account of the seeds of hope even within the Soviet system as such, notably the strong patriotism, and the very traditional system of education, in which teachers who were universally assumed to know more than their pupils stood in front of orderly rows of uniformed young charges and simply imparted their knowledge, with the result that, once the veneer of Marxist vocabulary was stripped away, that system's products were often significantly better-educated than many of their Western contemporaries.

And just as pre-Communist Russia always remained the country’s true character, so very pre-Communist China remains the country’s true character. That character reveres tradition and ritual, upholds government by moral rather than physical force, affirms the Golden Rule, is Agrarian and Distributist, and has barely started an external war since China became China five thousand years ago. It is especially open to completion by, in, through and as classical Christianity. China has already moved from Maoism to the equal repressiveness of unbridled capitalism. The reassertion of her own culture is to be encouraged by every means of "soft" (in reality, truly hard) power, and the same is true of the wider Confucian world. But economic, or any other, dependence on a foreign power remains totally unacceptable.

The Carter Administration, whence came Madeleine Albright and the late Richard Holbrooke, was particularly bad for abusing the noble cause of anti-Communism by emphasising Soviet human rights abuses while ignoring Chinese and Romanian ones. It even happily allowed the Chinese-backed Pol Pot to retain control of the Cambodian seat at the UN after Phnom Penh had fallen to the rival forces backed by Vietnam and therefore by the Soviet Union. Similar paw prints were also evident on Margaret Thatcher’s holding out for the Chinese-backed Robert Mugabe, for whom she arranged a knighthood, as if he would have been any better than the Soviet-backed Joshua Nkomo.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Romania was not part of the Soviet Bloc. She had a ghastly regime, not least from the point of view of the valiant Byzantine Rite Catholics. But not a Soviet satellite one. In fact, that regime had particularly close ties to Britain (we knighted Ceausescu, too). To our shame, but there we are. English and French, rather than Russian, were taught in schools. No Romanian troops participated in putting down the Prague Spring. More than once, the Soviet Union came to the brink of invading Romania. There was absolutely no question of giving back what is now the Romanian-speaking western part of the cut-and-shunt state of Moldova.

Which bring us to the National Salvation Front, overthrowers of Ceausescu, and originators of the present political class in Romania. Their objection to Ceausescu was not that he was pro-Soviet. It was that he was anti-Soviet. They emerged out of the Moscow-backing, because Moscow-backed, faction within the Communist Party. In 1989, the Soviet Union still had two years left to go, and few were those who thought that it would collapse entirely.

When a kangaroo court convicted and executed the Ceausescus for the "genocide" of 34 people and for having dared to throw parties at their house on major holidays, it was not just the beginning of dodgy "genocide" convictions: of García Meza Tejada for fully eight people, of Pinochet for under a hundred, of Mengistu in absentia, of his opponents even including aid workers, and of Kambanda without trial, with Milosovic never actually convicted at all. It was also, as it turned out, the last great triumph of the Soviet Union, taking out a man who was vicious and brutal in himself (like García Meza, or Pinochet, or Mengistu), but who was nevertheless a dedicated opponent of Soviet power. Those who took him out have run Romania ever since.

The Basques' Big Society

Randeep Ramesh writes:

When Javier Larañaga wants to relax, he shuts up his bar in the Basque heartland of Guernica and walks up the street to join his friends in the txoko, a gastronomic society only open to male members who come together to cook, drink and socialise.
Along with 100 other men Larañaga, 50, pays €15 (£13.20) a month to rent a local restaurant and stock it with food, wine and spirits. Spanish law ends at the front door. Unlike nearby restaurants smoking is permitted inside the txoko – and women are barred. "We cook Basque food, drink, play cards. It's only for members. It is run democratically and we elect a president. Some modern txokos let in women but we are more traditional," he says.

Txoko, pronounced "chock-o", is derived from the Basque word for nook and represents one of the key building blocks of this rugged, hilly society. Although the private dining clubs began in the 19th century, this form of social solidarity took off during General Franco's postwar dictatorship. Txokos were one of the few places where Basques could legally gather, talk in their distinctive language and sing songs. Such associations – which are owned by their subscribers and run democratically on the principle of one member, one vote – have sunk deep roots into the region's loamy soil.

If Britain is on the way to getting a "big society", the Basque country has already got one. While London urges communities to take over local pubs and run their own public services, Basques already do so with gusto – rather than relying on the state. One does not have travel far in Guernica to find groups of teenagers – or cuadrillas – turning disused shopfronts into youth clubs. Britons by contrast seem only to band together when they want to oppose something.

Tellingly, two proud symbols in the Basque country are not businesses but social enterprises managed and owned by their members. La Liga club Athletic Bilbao is the property of its football fans, while Mondragón is the world's largest industrial worker co-operative. This region is an extreme example of Spain's love affair with co-operatives. Today's Spanish constitution explicitly recognises that co-operatives encouraged democracy after Franco – and as a consequence pay lower rates of tax.

But what happened here in northern Spain was nothing short of a revolution. Twenty years ago the Basque's country's traditional industries of shipbuilding and steelmaking collapsed. To revitalise the economy without putting profits above people, the regional government threw its weight behind worker co-operatives – businesses owned by staff which supported social goals.

Hundreds of co-ops were set up all over the region, attracted by generous tax allowances in return for investing 10% of their annual surpluses in the local community to support cultural activities, education and to tackle unemployment. While unemployment runs at 20% across Spain, here it is half that. In an article last year, the Basque region's former president Juan José Ibarretxe Markuartu wrote: "The model [was] built on three principles: the ethical principle, the democratic principle and sustainable human development."

He pointed out that despite being splattered for decades by the bloody violence of separatist Eta gunmen and bombers, the 2 million people of the Basque Autonomous Community are today not only richer than Britons, they also live longer and are better educated. The region's most important city Bilbao, once a mephitic industrial hole, now bristles with civic pride. Dominated by the spectacular titanium-clad Guggenheim museum on the site of an old shipyard, its citizens whizz around metro stations designed by Norman Foster.

The biggest Basque success story is undoubtedly Mondragón, which began life 50 years ago and is now Spain's seventh largest business group, with a €14bn turnover and 85,000 people employed globally in more than 250 companies. It accounts for 15% of the total number of workers in Spain's 25,000 co-operatives. Mondragon employees wear their conscience on their sleeves. Bosses earn on average five times the salary of a worker, staff vote to take pay cuts, strikes are almost nonexistent and around half the profits go towards employee healthcare and pension funds.

It mixes workers' rights and global profits. The group's brands include the £11,000 Orbea bicycles which won Olympic gold in Beijing, Spain's third largest supermarket chain Eroski, one of its largest banks and a university with fees a third that of private rivals. Mondragón operates 75 plants in 16 countries. But it is more movement than multinational, accounting for 4% of Basque GDP. Mondragón was founded by a young priest, José María Arizmendiarrieta, who arrived in the valleys in 1941 to find civil war had left the Basque country desolated – a destruction immortalised by Picasso's masterpiece showing the bombing of nearby Guernica

Inspired by British co-op pioneer Robert Owen, Arizmendiarrieta began by forming a technical school to teach unemployed youth. He then convinced villagers to pool funds for a credit union and lent cash to the school's first five graduates. They started a co-operative producing kerosene stoves in 1956. From these humble beginnings sprang Fagor, Mondragón's kitchen appliances division, which today employs 4,000. Mondragón is now a collection of 120 co-ops. So when the recession saw it lose 14,000 jobs and cut pay by 8% in 2009, there was barely a murmur from staff.

Mikel Lezamiz, its director of co-operative dissemination, says that co-ops handle recessions better because members don't really receive a salary. They receive an advance of what they expect the company to earn, so wages fall alongside performance. "We don't need trade unions because staff know if profits fall so do their wages," he adds. The upside of worker power is a striking equality in pay. The highest paid chief executive in the group, the boss of the bank Caja Laboral, received €112,000 last year – eight times Mondragón's minimum wage. By contrast the average top pay among Britain's 100 biggest firms is more than 200 times the minimum.

To become a member of Mondragón, workers have to pay €14,000, which can be borrowed at low rates. Once in they have a job for life as it cannot make members redundant or sell off divisions. Losses in one unit are covered by the others. Unviable co-ops can be closed, but members must be re-employed within a 31-mile radius. Daniel Martinez, director in innovation at Orbea, said his co-op had to send half its 150 staff to other parts of Mondragón during tough times. "It was a very difficult. People had technical jobs and went to do paperwork. But it was necessary. Once we got [Orbea] working again sales doubled to €70m a year and we are back employing 150 staff."

Mondragón's utopian ideal, however, is tempered by the fact that only half of staff are co-op members and their vote decides the future of the other 50%. The result is a two-tier system. During the recession it was non-member staff who suffered, losing jobs as temporary contracts were not renewed. None of its foreign divisions have become co-ops, stymied by a lack of profits and trade unions abroad suspicious of worker ownership. Carlos Fernández Isoird, a former manager who left to set up social enterprises, says Mondragón is too large, too multinational and too capitalist in outlook: "Mondragón stopped forming co-ops years ago. They have 6,000 workers in China and just opened two factories in India. Tell me when will a Chinese get to be president of Mondragón?"

When they choose to join it. Although, yes, this does want watching.

The football club ownership model is well worth exploring in this country, as is the municipal relationship also common on the Continent. Some combination of the two might very well be the game's last hope in Britain.

As for bringing Mondragón to Britain, one for the Catholic Church, I feel. With any luck, the orthodox section (not, please note, "the conservative wing") will seize this and other opportunities. Of course, Fr Arizmendiarrieta celebrated what we now know as the Extraordinary Form. Anglo-Catholicism has a history of this sort of thing, so this an chance for the Ordinariate to prove its usefulness to the wider Church. Communion and Liberation is much concerned with Social Teaching. And then there is an apostolate with its roots in Spain...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Secondary, Modern

On last night's Silk, Maxine Peake's character contrasted herself with a colleague and rival, who had been to Harrow and Cambridge, by claiming to have been educated at "a Secondary Modern, and various nightclubs in Manchester". Ha, Ha, Ha. But not for the reason that you might be thinking. Maxine Peake was born in July 1974. How many Secondary Moderns were there in and around Manchester in September 1985?

Speaking of education matters, today's particularly heavy reliance on other people's material is because what used to be known as the Easter Vacation, even aside from the fact that some bright spark has arranged for Term to recommence on Easter Monday this year, is now known to some of us as the reference season, when our lives are not our own.

And I don't just mean proper jobs. Internships, stewarding at festivals: it is amazing how essential they are now seen as being, how competitive access to them now is, and how exacting are the demands for institutional headed paper (yes, just to referee certain summer jobs) and what have you.

I remember when tutoring was easy, often done by people (all now retired, dead, just plain gone, or in some cases sacked en masse) who really did do very little indeed, while the rest of us came in periodically to dine, drink, and check up on people, and that was about it. Apart from much lighter reference-writing, often not until after the exams had finished. But then, I remember when student life was easy, and the holidays were the holidays. Ah, when I were a lad...

Still, be the position ever so great or ever so small, I have a one hundred per cent success rate as a referee, and I have no intention of losing it. So, back to the grindstone.

Something In The Air

Not only have I Neil Clark to thank for drawing my attention to this initiative against the Coalition's unmandated resumption of Tony Blair's and David Miliband's war to destroy the NHS, but today's news that, in another echo of the Blair years, BAA is being compelled to sell Stanstead and one or other of Edinburgh and Glasgow calls for a reprinting of Neil's Comment Is Free article from December:

"The government's objective with this bill is to liberate airport management from political interference … to enable airport operators to respond to the needs of their customers, rather than to the shifting priorities of politicians and officials," declared the Earl of Caithness as he moved the Thatcher government's 1986 airports bill in the House of Lords, which was soon to become the 1986 Airports Act. The privatisation of the state-owned British Airport Authority (BAA), we were told, would ensure that "better services are provided for all airline passengers".

I wonder if the Earl of Caithness (or even Margaret Thatcher herself), would have the courage to pop down to Hounslow and tell that to the tens of thousands of holidaymakers stranded at the BAA-owned Heathrow airport for the past three days. Even before this week's events, our privatised airports, with their shortage of public seating, their lack of reasonably priced food and drink outlets, and their depressing, unfriendly atmosphere, were an international disgrace.

But their spectacular failure to adequately deal with recent snowfalls has surely exposed to all but the most fanatical free marketeers, the enormous price we pay for having our infrastructure in private ownership.

Writing in the Guardian in 2007, the designer Sir Terence Conran told a story that illustrates perfectly the difference between the ethos of a publicly owned infrastructure company and a privately owned one.

Conran revealed that when he was working on the design of the state-owned Heathrow Terminal 1 and the North Terminal of Gatwick airport in the 1960s, he was pressed to make sure that he provided "lots of seating" for the public. Conran contrasted the concern the state-owned airports authority in the 1960s showed for the comfort of the travelling public, to the much more commercial attitude of BAA today, where "every square inch must be turned over to retail space".

Unlike its state-owned predecessor, the privately owned BAA is seemingly guided by just one concern: maximising profits for its Spanish-owned parent company, Ferrovial. That means out with public seating areas, and in with forcing people to pay to sit down in rip-off cafes and restaurants. And it also means, as we saw this week, not ordering anywhere near enough snow ploughs to keep the runways open in the case of extreme weather. BAA is on course to post record profits of over £1bn this year – yet only spent £500,000 on materials and equipment to help clear the runways.

Other privately owned airports have fared poorly, too, this winter: earlier this month, the ex-BAA-owned Gatwick airport – now owned by Global Infrastructure Partners, a private equity fund – closed for two days because of a foot of snow.
It's revealing that one major airport in Britain that does manage to keep its passengers happy is one which is in full public ownership. Manchester airport, owned by local councils, was crowned best regional UK airport earlier this year and currently holds four out of the five major travel awards in the airport industry. And earlier this year, the Guardian reported that it was voted the world's best airport on Twitter.

Thatcherite Conservatives, of course, are not best pleased that this hugely successful airport remains in public ownership. "Next door to my Greater Manchester constituency there is a thriving modern PLC worth £3bn, which remains in the public sector without anyone batting an eyelid," complained Tory MP Graham Brady in the Spectator, adding that "the idea of the state running our utilities, airlines or railways now seems archaic and even faintly ridiculous".

Sorry, but the ridiculous thing is to have profit-hungry multinational companies running things that really are best left to the public sector. Even in capitalist America, airports are run as not-for-profit publicly owned entities. And America's airports, despite having to deal with far more extreme conditions, cope considerably better.

While we can't expect the current pro-privatisation coalition to take the requisite action, there's no reason why Labour – if it is genuinely on the lookout for sensible, popular policies – shouldn't reconsider its position and support the re-nationalisation of our major airports (as well as our equally inefficient privatised railways, which have also come up short in the current "big freeze").

By doing so, the party would be making a clear rejection of the hugely damaging principle that everything in Britain should be run for profit. That principle might work well enough when we're talking about grocery shops in Grantham, but when applied to a country's infrastructure and transport, the results, as we've seen again this week, can be catastrophic.

What Is A Front Line Police Officer?

Peter Hitchens writes:

Here we go again. I have just watched a BBC report on the alleged threat to 'Front Line' police officers. We were shown a policewoman driving a car and speaking urgently into her radio, perhaps about to race at speed to an incident the police had failed to prevent, and could do little about when they got there. And we were told some stuff about 'Bobbies on the Beat'. Look, for the nine millionth time, there are no 'Bobbies' and there is no 'Beat'. The 'Beat' was abolished by the Home Office in 1966. Despite immense increases in their numbers (only on show at demonstrations or football matches) the police have never been so absent from our midst.

The police officers we have today are not 'Bobbies' but sedentary bureaucrats who react to crime and disorder after it has happened. The occasional concessionary foot patrol (almost invariably in pairs, chatting to each other and oblivious to what is going on ten feet away) is exactly that, a temporary concession to public demand, viewed by Chief Constables as a diversion away from the real work of political correctness and managing crime. The use of the words 'Front Line' is pretentious and grandiose.

And wasn't the performance of the police during last Saturday's TUC demonstration rather feeble, given their macho self-description as a 'Front Line' and their dismissal of the rest of us as 'Civilians'? Some 'Front Line'. They certainly appeared to be backing away from demonstrators outside the Ritz Hotel. Several other rather obvious (and in some cases predicted) targets for exhibitionist vandals and show-offs (sorry, 'anti-capitalist protestors') seem to have been poorly and unintelligently defended.

And how did the plinth of the Achilles statue, in Hyde Park, where the peaceful demonstrators were congregated, come to be daubed with moronic spray-paint scribblings (which I saw being washed off on my way to an appointment in London on Monday morning)? Could neither the march stewards, nor the police, have prevented this expensive, moronic dirtying of one of the pleasanter parts of the capital? Judging by how much of it there was, it must have taken a long time to accomplish the damage. And it is a monument to the Duke Of Wellington's military victories, nothing whatever to do with the subject of the march. Not that these people will ever have heard of the Duke of Wellington. They just recognised it as a traditional work of art, and so instinctively identified it as a thing to be damaged and diminished.

The Failure of Shareholder Capitalism

Even if he does call Margaret Thatcher "a head of state", Michael Lind writes:

The verdict is in: The Thatcher-Reagan-Blair-Clinton model of capitalism is a failure. By cutting taxes, slashing wages and destroying unions, the U.S. was supposed to lead the world in high-tech industry. But a recent study by the Asian Development Bank found that the majority of the added value of iPhones assembled in China come from high-tech companies in Japan, Germany and South Korea, whose inputs dwarf those from American companies. For a generation we've been told that the European and Asian capitalist countries were doomed by statism and high wages. Instead, they dominate global high-tech industrial production, while the U.S. continues to be deindustrialized.

Oh, well, who needs manufacturing, anyway? Let the rest of the world make things; we'll invent them and live off the royalties. Right? Wrong. The tech sector employers only a tiny number of Americans -- and offshoring the production of goods invented here will only shrink that number further. Most Americans work in the nontraded service sector. In the last decade, as the economist Michael Mandel has pointed out, almost all of the new jobs have been created in health, education and government, which share one characteristic in common: low productivity and rapidly escalating costs.

The other big growth area, before the 2008 crash, was in the largely unproductive FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector, where high salaries enticed smart young Americans who might have manufactured useful goods and services into manufacturing the toxic financial products that brought down the world economy. The homeland of Margaret Thatcher became even more dependent on a bloated financial sector than the over-financialized U.S.

Still not convinced that the Anglo-American model of the last generation is a failure? Orthodox economists recite the dogma that if productivity goes up worker compensation will follow. But according to the economist Alan Blinder in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed titled "Our Dickensian Economy" last year, since 1978 productivity in the nonfarm business sector has grown by 86 percent, while real compensation -- wages plus benefits -- has grown only 37 percent. Take out the increased benefits, which tend to be eaten up by cancerous health insurance costs, and the real average hourly wage has not increased in 35 years.

Where have those missing gains from productivity growth gone? To a small number of rich American shareholders, CEOS and highly paid professionals, thanks to "shareholder capitalism." Shareholder capitalism is the doctrine that companies exist solely to make money for their shareholders. It is frequently contrasted with stakeholder capitalism, which holds that companies exist for the benefit of their customers, workers and communities, not just for ever-fluctuating number of mostly remote and unengaged passive investors who just happen to own stock in them, often without even being aware that they do.

The rise of shareholder capitalism in the U.S. is often dated to an influential article in the Journal of Financial Economics in 1976, titled "Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure" by Michael C. Jensen and William H. Meckling. They argued that shareholders should demand higher returns from complacent corporate managers. The idea of shareholder value was publicized by a 1981 speech in New York by Jack Welch, who had just taken over General Electric, and by Aflred Rappaport's 1986 book "Creating Shareholder Value."

The shareholder value movement sought to persuade corporate managers to ignore the interests of all stakeholders like workers, customers and the home country, other than shareholders. Granting CEOs stock options, in addition to salaries, was supposed to align their interests with those of the shareholders. The theory had an obvious problem: Who are the shareholders and what are their interests? Most publicly traded companies have shares that are bought and sold constantly on behalf of millions of passive investors by mutual funds and other intermediates. Some shareholders invest in a company for the long term; many others allow their shares to be bought and sold quickly by computer software programs.

Unable to identify what particular shareholders want, CEOs with the encouragement of Wall Street have treated short-term earnings as a reliable proxy for shareholder value. According to shareholder value theory, breaking up a firm and selling its pieces might maximize shareholder value in the short run more than long-term investments that would not pay off for many years. So could shutting down factories in the U.S. and turning the American branch of a global manufacturing company into an importer and vendor finance company. While the shareholder value theory had some influence in Europe and East Asia, it never displaced the stakeholder models of capitalism that exist outside the English-speaking world. As the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf observes:

"...[T]he idea that a company is an entity that can be freely bought and sold is culturally specific. It is the view, above all, of Anglo-Americans. It is not shared in most of the rest of the world. The reason for this divergence is that, for many cultures, a company is viewed as being an enduring social entity. I once read that, for many Japanese, one can no more sell a company over the heads of its workers than one can sell one's grandmother. In this view, goods and services can be bought and sold. Companies, like countries (or, as we all now agree, people), must not be."

Only in the English-speaking world, with its tradition of radical libertarian ideology, could a head of state like Margaret Thatcher declare: "There is no such thing as society." According to a 2007 article in the Journal of Business Ethics, 31 of 34 corporate directors, each of whom served on an average of six boards of Fortune 200 corporations, agreed that their duty to shareholders would require them to cut down a mature forest or allow a dangerous, unregulated toxin into the environment, if that increased shareholder value.

Because they never wholly accepted the shareholder value ideology, other capitalist nations have not seen fit to follow the Americans and British in steering most of the gains from economic growth away from workers to CEOs and shareholders. In Europe, average CEO pay is half the American level. The average European CEO makes 25 times as much as the average employee in the same company. The ratio in the U.S. is 100 to 1.

America's most dysfunctional industries have the best-paid CEOs. The U.S. spends twice as much on healthcare as other developed nations, with no better results, and the runaway cost of medicine in the U.S. is the biggest threat to the economy in the long run. And yet a Wall Street Journal CEO compensation study in 2010 found that healthcare CEOs did much better than their equivalents in more productive industries like energy, telecom and consumer goods.

The disproportion between the compensation of American financiers and their foreign equivalents is even more grotesque. In 2008 Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the world's fourth largest bank, was paid $19.6 million. Jiang Jianqin, the head of the world's largest bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, earned $234,000 -- 2 percent of Jamie Dimon's compensation.

Shareholder value capitalism in the U.S. since the 1980s has even failed in its primary purpose -- maximizing the growth in shareholder value. As Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto points out in a recent Harvard Business Review article, between 1933 and 1976 shareholders of American companies earned higher returns -- 7.6 percent -- than they have done in the age of shareholder value from 1977 to 2008 -- 5.9 percent a year. For his part, Jack Welch has renounced the idea with which he was long associated. In a March 2009 interview with the Financial Times, the former head of GE said: "Strictly speaking, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world."

In the aftermath of the failed 40-year experiment in shareholder capitalism, Americans need not look solely to other democratic nations for models of successful stakeholder capitalism. The U.S. economy between the New Deal and the 1970s was a version of stakeholder capitalism, in which the gains from superior growth were shared with workers, CEOs were moderately paid and the rich engrossed far less of the economy. In reconnecting with America's native tradition of stakeholder capitalism, American companies can learn from the example of Johnson & Johnson, whose credo was written by Robert Wood Johnson in 1943:

"We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services....We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world....We are responsible to the countries in which we live and work and to the world community as well...We must be good citizens....and bear our fair share of taxes....We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural resources....Our final responsibility is to our shareholders....When we operate according to these principles, the shareholders should realize a fair return."

From Tyranny To Anarchy

William Lind writes:

As the American foreign-policy establishment drools about “democracy,” the U.S. position in the Middle East is collapsing. Its three legs are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Two of those are disintegrating. One-legged stools make unstable seats.

The likelihood of any of the countries in the region becoming thriving, secular democracies is about equal to the probability we will balance the federal budget with bars of gold brought by flying monkeys. In the Middle East as in most of the world, the two options are tyranny and anarchy. When tyranny fails, anarchy moves in.

Establishment analysis perceives the possibility of disaster but does not grasp its potential dimensions. It sees the worst possible outcome as the rise of Islamic governments hostile to Israel, friendly to Iran, unwilling to cooperate with the United States in the “war on terror,” and dismissive of such “universals” as feminist definitions of women’s rights.

However, if we look at unfolding events through the lens provided by Fourth Generation war theory, a darker picture emerges. Fourth Generation theory says that what is at stake is the state itself.

Behind the events in the streets, the fundamental contest will be a war for legitimacy between non-state actors and the aspiring governments of states. As states all over the world become private preserves of a “new class” who use politics only to serve themselves, people are transferring their primary loyalty away from governments to a wide variety of other entities: religions and sects, races and ethnic groups, gangs, ideologies, and so on. For these new primary loyalties they are often eager to fight; this is especially true where there are large surpluses of young men with nothing else to do. Think of it as supply-side war.

From this perspective, the worst possible outcome of revolutionary events in the Middle East is the disintegration of states and their replacement either by statelessness—as we see in Somalia—or by fictional states, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Within the territories that were formerly real states, power devolves to many non-state entities. Internally, war becomes a permanent condition, while externally there is no one with whom other states can deal. In the case of oil-producing areas, the flow becomes erratic at best.

What is the likelihood of such Fourth Generation outcomes? It differs place to place. Egypt has had a strong central government for some 5,000 years and will probably retain one. In Libya and Yemen, the state is fragile. Pakistan was a real state but is one no longer. Saudi Arabia is a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Iraq’s fictional state could vanish with the rub of a lamp.

The states most likely to survive are those such as Syria and Iran where the government is openly anti-American. Here we see the price, most of it yet to be paid, of the folly of the Bush years. Where the quest is for legitimacy, nothing is more corrosive than being seen as the servant of a foreign power, especially one that is widely hated. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the endless war in Afghanistan made America into the “Great Satan” in the eyes of Muslims everywhere. At the same time, successive American administrations have openly given orders to our “allies” in the region and forced their compliance. We not only let the strings show, we painted them red, white, and blue. Now, in terms of legitimacy, America has the reverse Midas touch.

The foreign-policy establishment can grasp none of this because to do so it would have to see itself as others see it. Washington is a hall of mirrors.

What should our policy toward new entities in the Middle East be? If we understand we have the reverse Midas touch, we will also understand we should assume the lowest of possibilities. First, remove the irritants. End the war in Afghanistan, close the American bases, shrink the embassies, and stop legitimizing Likud’s expansionism.

Then work to have what happens in the Middle East stay in the Middle East. Lower the profile of our relationship with Israel. Be careful whom we admit within our own borders, including as refugees. (There may be millions.) Reduce our dependence on imported oil by raising the gas tax and using the revenue to bring back passenger trains.

In short, come home and close the gate. Leave our good Muslim friends to wage jihad on one another.

Libya: France's Grudge Match

Not much good appears on Frum Forum; ex-Canadians naturalised as American citizens have a long history as a rum lot. But, although dangerously oversimplistic about Rwanda, and although flat wrong about Lockerbie (it is France, not America, and barely Britain since we surrendered to the American-backed side in Northern Ireland, that really does have a grudge against Libya), Jonathan Foreman writes:

Many commentators seem surprised by France’s enthusiastic leadership of the intervention in Libya. They should not be. It arguably makes perfect sense that the French, so rigidly opposed to the overthrow of Saddam, and so reluctant to do any real fighting in Afghanistan, should be champing at the bit to send bombers to Benghazi and Qaddafi packing.

It is not simply a matter of Sarkozy opportunistically jumping into the hegemonic gap left by a feeble, ideologically torn American president. And it hardly needs to be said that it may have little to do with principle, or an urge to defend an oppressed people against a brutal tyrant.

But then France’s criteria for taking military action abroad, with or without UN approval, tend to be radically different to those of their fellow Western countries, with pride, prestige and cultural issues playing as important a role as economic self-interest or self-defense.

For instance, in the 1990s France supported the Hutu government in Rwanda and then sent troops to protect the fleeing Hutu Genocidaires, because it saw that regime as a French-speaking bulwark against the Anglophony of the invading Tutsi RPF.

When these odd – to British and American understanding – criteria are not at stake, French participation in allied interventions tends to be notably ineffective or even counter-productive, as in Afghanistan, or in Bosnia, where French officers actually warned Serb paramilitary forces of imminent NATO air strikes.

France’s conspicuous role in pushing for the current intervention in Libya no doubt had many motives, some of them conceivably quite altruistic, others less so. But two of the latter probably have much to do France’s ongoing quasi-imperial role in North Africa, and a Gallic hunger for vengeance – the latter being a phenomenon that seems particularly hard for contemporary Anglo-Saxons to appreciate.

Put simply, France is finally taking revenge for the Libyan terrorist bomb that brought down UTA Flight 722 in 1989 – long forgotten everywhere but Paris – and for Muammar Qaddafi’s repeated military attempts to establish Libyan control over Chad and other French-speaking neighbors.

Even before the current crisis, a measure of Paris’ ongoing hostility to Qaddafi was the fact that France, normally so quick to befriend the most ruthless and murderous third world dictators, especially those with oil wells, surprised its Western allies when it opposed loosening sanctions on Libya in 2003.

To understand why French air force bombers tore into a column of Libyan army vehicles on Friday, it helps to know where some of those jets are based. It was not the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, but the dusty, sunbaked base in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital. The landlocked country that sits south of Libya and smack in the middle of the continent became a French colony in 1920. Though it theoretically achieved independence in 1960, if you go to Chad, there is little to indicate that it is no longer an imperial possession.

At the swimming pool of the Novotel, shaven headed Foreign Legionnaires flirt with the wives of French officials. The currency is the French-African franc, excellent croissants may be bought all over the capital, there is a daily flight from Paris. The French embassy is like a fortress, and still the largest establishment in the country. Every morning and every evening the Mirages roar off from the airport to remind the natives who is really in charge here.

Since uranium and oil were discovered here, the French have become even more reluctant to leave, as the former dictator Hissene Habre discovered to his cost. He made the mistake of entertaining overtures from American oil companies. As a result, when the inevitable coup attempt came, with one of his former generals Idriss Deby leading a column of pick-up trucks from across the border in Sudan’s Darfur province, the French ensured his defeat.

I heard the story of what happened from a former soldier in Habre’s army, while we were driving by a long line of wrecked and rusting armored vehicles. He described how he had been in a column of (French supplied) tanks and armored personnel carriers heading to meet Deby’s rebels. A French Army helicopter landed in front of the column and an officer told the Chadian general in charge that a ceasefire had been signed and that the force should return to the capital. As the column turned back in the direction it had come, more French helicopters appeared. And opened fire. With his armor thus shattered Habre was finished, and Deby took power. He too has faced rebel invasions speeding towards the capital, but so far the French have used their Mirages to give him early warning of their arrival.

For more than two decades the biggest threat to French dominance of Chad – and other Francophone countries in Central and West Africa has come from Libya. Qaddafi’s forces have battled those of Chad four times since 1978. During the first three invasions, in 1978, 1979 and the winter of 1980-81, the Libyans allied with local rebel forces, supporting their infantry with armored vehicles, artillery and air support. The third invasion resulted in the de facto partition of Chad in 1983 with Libyan forces controlling the country’s northern half, above the 16th parallel.

Fighting broke out again in 1986. But this time, in what was called the Toyota War a French-backed and equipped Chadian army was able to check the 300 tanks and Soviet-supplied helicopters of Libya’s expeditionary force. Stunned by the reverse, Qaddafi sent his elite Revolutionary Guard into action and dispatched bombers into the south of Chad. The French responded with air strikes on Libyan airbases and Chad’s army proceeded to smash the Libyan force, eventually crossing into Libya itself. The French forced a ceasefire on their Chadian clients — who were also receiving American intelligence and advice — before they could launch their own invasion of Libya proper. By then Libya lost almost a tenth of its army, with some 7,500 troops killed, and Chad’s President Hissene Habre found himself in control of the long disputed, uranium rich Aouzou strip between the two countries.

In an act of revenge similar to the Pan Am 103 bombing over Libya, Qaddafi’s secret service apparently arranged the bombing of UTA flight 772 which was scheduled to fly to Paris from Brazzaville via Ndjamena on September 19, 1989. It blew up over Niger, forty-five minutes after leaving Ndjamena, killing all 115 passengers.

A French investigation found evidence of Libyan involvement and a French court later convicted in absentia six Libyan agents, including Qaddafi’s brother-in-law and deputy head of intelligence, Abdullah Senussi. Qaddafi of course refused to extradite them to France. Their getting away with mass murder has rankled the French state ever since.

Though it is twenty-one years since that act of lese majeste and mass murder, revenge must indeed be sweet. And the French can also enjoy the rare satisfaction of knowing that unlike the British they did not betray themselves or the victims of a blown-up airliner by the kind of deal with Qaddafi that saw Abdelhasset Megrahi released.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Britain's Better Side

Look at the people advocating a No vote on AV.

The people who want Tories to continue to have no one to vote for except them and theirs. Their definition of conservatism is whatever social and cultural consequences unbridled global capitalism happens to have. Their definition of Toryism is the willingness to die (or, at least, to send other, lower people to die) for America in a war against Britain or for Israel in a war against either.

Plus John Reid and Company Limited, who want Labour people to continue to have that same non-choice, which is the logical culmination of longstanding trends in academic Marxism.

Vote Yes.

Whither Syria?

Whither the Christian-majority provinces, the Christian festivals as public holidays, the well-maintained Christian and other pre-Islamic sites of importance, and the large government programme of restoring synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, an expense which gives the lie to the claims of a certain neighbouring state as to quite how few Jews are still living in Syria?

Why is no one bothering to ask any of this?

A Step In The Right Direction

Patrick Wintour writes:

Members of the public registering as individual Labour supporters could be given a vote in leadership elections and possibly at party conference. The proposals for reforming the party's structure and culture, to be outlined by leader Ed Miliband and the chair of the national policy forum, Peter Hain, are potentially far broader than expected, according to Hain.

"They are designed to give Labour the chance to leapfrog the other parties and become a new party for a new political age," he said. "Politics has changed, but parties have not. It is about being a more pluralist party offering a more pluralist politics in tune with a more pluralist Britain. We need to be the party most willing to extend our reach to broad social movements beyond the immediate boundaries of Labour. This will make Labour's borders more porous."

Hain, who said the plans could represent the biggest change to party organisation since its formation, added: "The halving of union affiliated membership means our reach into the workplace has diminished, and we have to address that. There are hundreds of people out there who could be attracted to signing up as supporters, but do not see themselves as joiners or full members. These ideas are designed to create a very big debate, with the idea of changes going to conference this September."

How registered supporters could be involved in leadership elections will not be detailed tomorrow, but Hain said they could be given their own section in the electoral college of MPs, individual members and affiliates. Or they could be put in the section for unions and socialist societies, indirectly diluting union influence and putting them under pressure to recruit. A new category of affiliated consultee might give pressure groups such as Mumsnet, or pensioners' groups, a formal voice in policymaking.

The idea of registered supporters has been canvassed before, but Miliband is the first leader to suggest giving them a vote. Hain said: "We need to be a party that reaches way beyond its formal borders, including giving registered supporters, a new category of membership, a vote in leadership elections. So you would not only have 200,000 party members, 2.5m affiliated members but also a new category registered supporters". Such supporters would pay a nominal £1 fee as opposed to the full membership rate of £41 annually.

Hain said the plans should be seen in the context of Miliband speaking to Saturday's TUC march against the cuts, and his decision to speak at a cross-party event with Green leader Caroline Lucas and Lib Dem president Tim Farron on the alternative vote. Miliband will say: "The Tory-led government and its current alliance of power with the Liberal Democrats does not change my belief that there is a progressive majority in this country."

In a 10,000-word paper, Refounding Labour: a Party for a New Generation, Hain warns that "declining individual and affiliated membership has narrowed the range of voices heard within the party's discussions and reduced the chances of a voter hearing the party's policies advocated in everyday life". Setting out the case for widening the range of voices in the party, he says unions now represent only a quarter of people in work and just 15% in the private sector. "If unions could rebuild their membership they would speak with a stronger voice in society," Hain writes. "Despite improved union recognition rights under Labour they have been unable to do so."

Union-affiliated membership has fallen by more than a half from a peak of 6.5m in 1979 to 2.7m, of whom nearly 10% voted in the Labour leadership election. Union mergers, he adds, "have significant implications for the party leadership and in the leadership election for what used traditionally to be a much more diverse sector industrially and politically. Where once there were numerous activists, in almost all constituency Labour parties now, they are now few and far between." The paper says: "Party membership has more than halved since 1997 to just over 150,000. We are still spread thinly on the ground with a weak base from which to develop contacts in the community and build popular support. In too many constituencies where Labour's vote is small, our party barely functions."

The Hain paper says the "party has to be frank about weaknesses inherent in Labour's organisation, culture and outlook which amount to more than simple wear and tear that can be patched up with a bit of make do and mend." He adds: "The worse we do in elections, the weaker our party organisation becomes and more daunting the next electoral challenge appears. By 2005 only 1.3% of UK voters were members of a political party down from 4% in 1983. The widespread disengagement from party politics can partly be explained by the rise in the consumer sociarty and competing pressure on peoples' time from work and study obligations to family and leisure or sport interests."

Away with this union-bashing, and with all talk of mumsnet. But it is amazing how long-lived is the fantasy that the "major" political parties are still mass membership organisations, and are also still largely financed by small-scale local fundraising. In reality, they are kept going by gigantic subventions from the State and the supper-rich, and most of their tiny remaining memberships is made up of the starstruck elderly who will swoon over Liam Byrne's coffee waiter or Jeremy Hunt's typist. If there is any local involvement at all in candidate selection, that is. Very often, there is none. In David Miliband's constituency, there is no longer even any local involvement in the selection of candidates for the local council; his London office does the lot.

So, by no means only in order to annoy the potential beneficiaries of this sorry state of affairs, although there is certainly that: in the course of each Parliament, each party should submit to a binding ballot of the whole constituency electorate its locally, internally determined shortlist of two for Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, just as each should submit to a binding ballot of the whole constituency electorate its internally determined shortlist of two for Leader. Many a stalwart of the Council or of other aspects of the local Big Society (trade unions, co-operatives, and so on) would then beat many a Westminster Village boy or his girlfriend. And our Parliament would be infinitely better for those victories.

As to policy-making, each party should also hold such a national ballot the 10 policies proposed by the most of its branches, including affiliated branches where applicable, with each voter entitled to vote for up to two, and with the top seven guaranteed inclusion in the subsequent General Election manifesto.

If one party made these changes, then they would all have to. By all means, let Labour take the lead. But will it? Dare it?

The Road To Serfdom

Although he makes the usual mistake of the lazy with regard to Britain in the 1970s (where, in that case, was Thatcher's landslide in 1979?), Andrew Orlowski writes:

Something interesting is happening in politics at a quite seismic level, and as usual, the professionals haven't noticed. Let's start with the details. Last week, Chancellor George Osborne announced a new body that would make loans and issue debt. In a harkback to the 1970s, poorly performing and deeply unprofitable businesses will be the beneficiaries – and investors in them will be rewarded for their poor judgement. So much for moral hazard. The Chancellor even found an unexpected £775m from the Government's sale of the HS1 rail link to kickstart the venture. £3bn has been pledged: £2bn from the sale of publically-owned assets, and £1bn from taxes. This is a considerable sum that could alternatively be used to pay off the government borrowing, or pay for public services.

Osborne also announced measures to increase the cost of electricity for consumers and business. This has been described as a "suicide note" for British manufacturing. In short, Osborne's measures benefit a small elite at the expense of the many. There are principled reasons to object to these measures across the traditional Left-Right axis. You may wonder why you haven't heard these, particularly, when a small elite benefits from them at a time when the country is being asked to make sacrifices. The phrase "we're all in it together" takes on quite a hollow, even ironic ring.

The body bailing out the basket-cases is a "Green Investment Bank", and the remit was written largely by a group of bankers themselves, called the Green Investment Bank Commission. Led by Bob Wigley, formerly head of Merrill Lynch's European investment side, the Commission included executives of Goldman Sachs, Citibank, and management consultancies Logica and the Oliver Wyman Group. The Commission reported last June, and saw an ambitious role for the new quango:

• Unlocking project finance through equity co-investment, first loss debt and insurance products for low carbon technologies and infrastructure.
• Creating green bonds to access the very large pools of capital held by institutional investors. Such products would fit with the long-term investment horizons of pension funds and life insurance companies and would provide the scale of capital needed to fund the low carbon transformation.
• Selling green ISAs, which would be an important and visible way for retail investors to make a contribution to the funding of green infrastructure.
• And, in light of the recent National Audit Office report entitled "Government funding for developing renewable energy technologies", the GIB should use the potential rationalisation of quangos and their funds to radically improve Government support for low carbon innovation and commercialisation.

Osborne said he wanted to send "a clear, long term signal to energy investors". He's right that investors in environmental projects are nervous. They've lost half a wardrobe, for very little return. Alternative energy stocks ranked 39th out of 39 industrial sectors examined by the FT in 2010, as the chart shows. They fell by a staggering 52.3 per cent over the course of the year. The best performing sectors were "automobiles and parts" and electronic and electrical equipment, where equities gained almost 90 per cent and 81 per cent respectively. This is throwing good money after bad, and as we saw in the 1970s, leads to long-term stagnation and decline. Quite why a classic liberal might back such intervention is a mystery.

But the principled Right aren't the only people traditionally opposed to corporate welfare. Enlightened parts of the Left are, too. For the Left, it's even harder to swallow. Osborne's programme - really a continuation of his predecessor's as he invented very few of the policies – is a set of deeply regressive measures at which the Left has traditionally bridled. The Left has historically thought of itself as being on the side of the poor, and opposed measures which hurt the poor disproportionately. It likes to think of itself as being on the side of the weak against the strong, and so has traditionally favoured a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Yet the policies depend heavily on regressive taxation and more expensive essentials.

Forty per cent of the cost of a carbon floor price is paid for by consumers, the Treasury's own documents suggest. The Budget measures alone add £17 to a family's household energy bill. As even climate Jacobin George Monbiot has noticed, green measures distribute wealth from the poor to the middle classes: FITs are "extortionate, useless deeply regressive". Not all on the Left are happy with this. Graham Stringer MP said Parliament needed to look much more closely at the policies, and the justification for them, because the measures hit the poorest people in the country. (He is MP for the North Manchester constituency of Blackley and Broughton.)

It's a hard one for many on the Left [Who, exactly? Not for me, it isn't?]. The number of households in "fuel poverty" – where energy swallows up more than 10 per cent of household income – has trebled. In Wales, more than one in four households is in fuel poverty, according to Wales Online. Left to the market, energy prices would plummet: even with profiteering and heavy Government duties. Gas is cheap, and set to be even cheaper for years to come; gas requires no subsidies. Greedy Greens want even more, though. Penny Shepherd MBE, who is head of the "finance and sustainable investment association" UKSIF, complained that that it wasn't enough.

Actually, we've been here before, but not for several hundred years. It isn't new to have a small elite in society that rips up the rules to suit itself, and that makes heavy, continuing demands on the poor to ensure its wealth, without fear of criticism. Almost every country had one, once. This was a feudal nobility, and when they were challenged, they would make a very interesting defence. The word "nobility" derives from "noble", and the idea that the elite was more moral and virtuous than you are I. It had a higher calling. Today, it's Greener-than-thou.

Caught In The Act

Nadine Dorries gets a bad press, which I assume is because she defends council housing from David Cameron. Frank Field gets a bad press for sounding like a Labour MP from back in the days when there were such people, who had never been Trots in their lives. Neither is a fully signed-up pro-lifer. But their baiters will make a great deal of hay over their proposed amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill. Good. "Blessed are you", and all that. Not to say, "Woe unto you".

But what if these amendments, requiring pre-abortion counselling by a body which did not provide abortion, and transferring responsibility for the abortion guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (which used to be against abortion) to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, were to be passed? How, then, ought we to regard the Bill as a whole, which in all other respects is a perfectly ghastly attempt to dismantle the NHS, contrary to the specific manifesto commitments of both Coalition parties?

Saint Hilda, Shouldst Thou Be Living At This Hour?

If the Ordinariate followed the general pattern of Anglo-Catholicism, then, beyond London and the South Coast which have histories of their own, it would become thicker on the ground the further north or west you went, with a strong showing in Wales. The alleged Catholic sympathies of the Episcopal Church in Scotland have always been rather more complicated than has often been suggested, Scotland having been telling one of those Anglican Provinces, along with Canada and New Zealand, where hardly any opposition to the ordination of women has ever been expressed. But even so, three or four groups might have been expected to show interest.

Yet the opposite is the case. The Ordinariate is concentrated heavily in the South, and very heavily in the South East. At whatever stage, while it does exist, it does so only barely in Wales, or Scotland, or old citadels such as Devon, Cornwall, and South Yorkshire. Or, indeed, in the Diocese of Durham, which has been in something approaching a state of civil war ever since November 1992, and where Forward in Faith holds three of the six lay seats on the General Synod, but where interest has been expressed by precisely one parish, a legendary, and undoubtedly thriving, "shrine" with no discernible "Anglican patrimony".

There are also a good many such "shines" in and around Sunderland, for example. But even they have shown no apparent inclination to join the Ordinariate. The incense belt either side of the Tees, partly in Durham and partly in York, has no Ordinariate take-up whatever. All Saints, North Street in York itself, one of extremely few places where they really are still using the sort of Tridentine Rite translated into Cranmerian English for which the Ordinariate was conceived, is also conspicuously absent, as is the very similar Saint Stephen On-The-Cliffs in Blackpool. And as, indeed, is the entire Diocese of Blackburn, into which East Lancashire parishes currently under Bradford are resisting transfer because it is so High and because two out of the three bishops, including the diocesan, do not ordain women to the presbyterate.

One could go on. Meanwhile, the recently resigned Bishop of Fulham joins his most recent predecessor among the Monsignori, the recently resigned Bishop of Richborough becomes Ordinary to his only predecessor, and the recently resigned Bishop of Ebbsfleet is set to be joined in the Ordinariate by the Folkestone final parish of the more recent of his two deceased predecessors (my father's successor but one in Saint Helena, although he certainly did not use the Roman Rite there). But the Bishop of Beverley and the Retired Bishop of Beverley, neither of them anything less than the most dyed-in-the-wool of Anglo-Catholics, both remain in the Church of England.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Price Of Everything

"Monetarism can be harsh, but it keeps down inflation." Yer what? Real terms wages have gone down by twenty per cent, a whole fifth, since 2009. Can you think of anything significant that has happened since 2009? A change of Chancellor, perhaps?

Tripoli Truths

Most people probably thought that the whole point of the intervention in Libya was to aid the rebels. David Cameron clearly did. No doubt, so did Colonel Gaddafi. When he wins, as it looks more and more likely that he will, then he will not forget this.

'Ello, 'Ello, 'Ello

Would you believe it? Saturday's events in London call for ... more draconian Police powers! Whatever next? That the solution to any and every economic problem is always more unemployment?

Blue Labour

Peter Hitchens writes:

I thought this phrase referred to David Cameron's eviscerated Tory Party. But I learned last night on BBC Radio 4 that it is also applies now to a group of Labour Party thinkers who want their movement to stop ignoring the British working class on such subjects as mass immigration and sexual politics - concentrating instead on the conditions of the working poor.

This was discussed at length by David Goodhart on the Analysis programme, which I think is available on iPlayer (as is my appearance last Friday with David Aaronovitch on the TV programme The Daily Politics, which some of you may enjoy). If such a tendency took off, it could revolutionise the political battle in this country, putting Labour on the side of social conservatism and leaving all the green and pink stuff to the Tories.

Set it alongside an interesting article by Martin Ivens in yesterday's Sunday Times, in which Mr Ivens argues that in many ways the Coalition is now to the left of Labour. (He mentions taxation, inflation, forced egalitarianism in the universities, law and order and foreign aid). Commenting on the moment when Nicholas Clegg admitted he had no disagreements with Mr Cameron any more, Mr Ivens says: 'It actually implies that the Prime Minister has so diluted core Conservatve beliefs that he is acceptable to the Lib Dem leader'. And he says (correctly) that 'Fleet Street's hounds are led off the scent by the privileged background of the government's leaders.'

I wonder if the things I explained in my book The Cameron Delusion last year are at last beginning to penetrate the world of conventional commentary. I do hope so.

The Alternative To The BNP

Contrary to the ridiculous claims of the ridiculous No campaign, the BNP wants a No vote, since it recognises that its candidates would all be eliminated in the first round and that its voters would all have expressed no second preference. AV would be the end of the BNP, even more quickly than anything other than First Past The Post would be the end of the Lib Dems.

Following electoral reform, at least one, and possibly both, of a social democratic, socially conservative, patriotic party and a rural-based (and therefore very open to State action), socially conservative, patriotic party would always be in government at any given time. At the very least, no Leader of the Labour Party could ever hope to become or remain Prime Minister without the support of a possibly small but certainly permanent body of MPs from the first of those parties, nor could any Leader of the Conservative Party ever hope to become or remain Prime Minister without the support of a possibly small but certainly permanent body of MPs from the second.

Vote Yes. For a start.

"Dissident Republicans"

If they were really any such thing, then they would be dead by now.

But if they fail, not merely to contest, but to win the West Belfast by-election, then Irish Republicanism no longer exists as a serious political force in Northern Ireland.

The former MP's election in County Louth is only because his party in the South long ago gave up anything more than the merest pretence of attachment to that cause.

Brassed Off No More

There is an only slightly tongue-in-cheek view, widely held in County Durham, that the Big Meeting is a lovely family day out which is only spoiled by the attendance of politicians. Even so, Blair's refusal to attend was always recognised for what it was: a studied insult to the former mining communities.

I confess that, what with one thing and another, I haven't been for years. But I might just this year. Since Ed Miliband will be among the speakers. (His brother, with a constituency within the historic County of Durham, appears never to have attended it.)

Miliband himself should make a television programme about the banners, with their Biblical scenes and characters, their historic local landmarks, their tributes to the dead of the two World Wars, and so on. You don't get any less New Labour than that.

Das Neue Herz Europas?

What does it mean that Baden-Württemberg has kicked out the CDU and its FDP allies, and has instead put in the Greens, with the SPD as their coalition partners?

In part, it is in reaction against nuclear power after the disaster in Japan. If the SPD takes either its name or its history remotely seriously, then it will have no part in such scaremongering, and will instead insist on the use of the fully panoply of government action in order to secure high-wage, high-skilled, high-status, unionised work such as safeguards independence from despotic regimes and volatile regions.

But it was just as much because the CDU had ceased to take its name or history with any real seriousness at all, and had largely become a carbon copy of the far less popular FDP. This or any other old heartland of the staunchly Catholic Centre Party, from between the Wars and before the First one, does not want neoliberal economics, social liberalism, and neoconservative foreign policy. Staying out of Libya, though welcome in itself, has proved to be too little, too late.

Baden-Württemberg is not the only State where people are thinking like that. Nor is Germany the only such country.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Blue Is The New Black

Read the comments below, and very often above, the line on the more rightish websites. Then ask yourself exactly how these obsessive enemies of any and all State action differ in the slightest from those who wave black flags and who daub anarchist symbols on the property that they have damaged or destroyed. There is no difference. They even come from much the same background. Yesterday's vandals were not marching with Ed Miliband. They were marching against him, and, in their view that the problem with the cuts was that they did not go far enough, they were marching in support of his brother. Though also, provisionally, in support of the Coalition.

The Higher You Build Your Barriers

If the Coalition does not like Ed Miliband's comparison of the anti-cuts protesters to the American Civil Rights movement and to those who campaigned against apartheid, then it ought to consider whether the ideal person to put on the media yesterday, or any other days, was or is Michael Gove, the old P W Botha cheerleader who is now backing Toby Young's (darkie-)free schools while withdrawing the Educational Maintenance Allowance from the kaffirs. Gove is also a huge admirer of Tony Blair, Stephen Byers and Alan Milburn. Of course.

Telling You So

Peter Hitchens writes:

David Cameron's war of personal vanity still rages on, its aim and its end unknown. Our ludicrous Libyan allies – who may in fact be our enemies – fight each other as we protect their so-called army from Colonel Gaddafi. If we don’t send weapons and troops to help them, they have no hope of winning. Will we? Or will we, in desperation, wink at an assassination of the Colonel, an action that will take us close to his moral level?

Or will we, by then, be too busy bombing our way to the Big Society in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe, China and anywhere else where government doesn’t reach our leader’s alleged high ethical standards? Nobody knows. Ministers, apparently with no idea of the forces they have unleashed, drawl that it’s as long as a piece of string. Ho ho. Or maybe it’s as long as the rope needed to hang themselves. Yet the House of Commons endorses this leap in the dark with a vote so overwhelming that you wonder if they put something in the water, or whatever it is they drink. What are all these costly people for?

Last year we worried about their expenses. This year we should be worried about their salaries. We hired them to question and watch the Government, not to do what the Prime Minister tells them. Aren’t we still recovering from the gullibility of MPs (and the media) over Saddam Hussein? Do we learn nothing from experience? Are too many of us, and them, just too thick to be in charge of a small nuclear power? It seems so.MPs should be reminded they are not the employees of Downing Street, but of us.

I am quite sure that a huge number of British people do not want this war, and for good reasons. It is not in our national interests. We can’t even protect old ladies from rapists in our own country, and perhaps we should sort that out before reforming Africa. They correctly think it is not our affair. After being told that we can’t even afford public libraries, they have to watch Liam Fox burning great mounds of banknotes (provided by us) as he rains costly munitions on Tripoli. They are baffled to see the remains of our naval power towed surreptitiously to a Turkish scrapyard, because we allegedly cannot afford it. And meanwhile, an obscure public relations man who has never fought in a war poses as the saviour of Benghazi.

Where was the British people’s voice in the Commons on Monday? I don’t care much what the UN, that rabble of torturers and tyrants, thinks. I would cheerfully see it abolished. I have no idea why we still need Nato 20 years after the threat it was formed to face vanished for ever. The fact that it has endorsed Mr Cameron’s adventure doesn’t comfort me. What really troubles me is that Parliament wasn’t asked its opinion until after the missiles were launched. It was treated, contemptuously, like a neutered chihuahua, a pitiful yapping thing to be pushed about by the Premier’s polished toecap, and patted as long as it fawned. And if it doesn’t now revolt against this treatment, then that is what it will have proved itself to be.

I believe that the Government knew by Friday, March 18 that it was more or less certain it would begin military action on the evening of Saturday, March 19. There was time to call a special session of the Commons. And there was a precedent – the Falklands. The first motion before the House on Monday should have been a censure of the Government for launching a war of choice without seeking Parliamentary approval. Yet, while the whole engine of British diplomacy was devoted to getting Mr Cameron’s war past the UN, Nato and (of course) our ultimate rulers in the EU, Westminster was forgotten. And so were we.

This is wrong. Those involved should not get away with it. Later on, I shall say I told you so. Just now, I’m telling you so.

Proper Tea Is Theft?

Not according to this:

Against the backdrop of today’s protest march, which may be up to 250,000 strong (more on that in a separate blog post), UK Uncut have thrown a curveball and occupied Fortnum & Mason. Now the occupation itself should come as no surprise – from the outset UK Uncut’s actions have been rooted in taking their protest against tax dodgers and the banking system into the very places that they believe are the cause of the current climate of spending cuts and tax increases. However, the occupation of Fortnum & Mason is a mis-step by the normally on-message and on-target group.

To prove some background, Fortnum & Mason is recognised internationally as a high-end retailer who stock everything from basic provisions to more exotic goods. Their store is a favourite of the ‘rich and famous’, as well as being a celebrated supplier of high quality tea. Fortnum & Mason is privately owned by Wittington Investments Ltd, who also have a majority stock holding in Associated British Foods, who in turn are responsible for some of Britain’s best known brands such as Ovaltine, Ryvita and Twinings, and in turn have subsidiaries such as Allied Mills, British Sugar plc and Primark. Still with me?

However, and this is where is gets slightly more interesting, Wittington Investments Ltd is itself majority owned by someone else, in this case the Garfield Weston Foundation. Originally formed by a Canadian business, W. Garfield Weston, this charity is the 14th largest charitable foundation in the world, with assets estimated to be in the region of £3.5 billion.

So, back to UK Uncut, who today released this press release detailing their occupation of Fortnum & Mason. Now, I’ve done some digging, and I cannot within this press release find any verifiable sources as to how Fortnum & Mason has dodged any tax. As a reminder, Fortnum & Mason are privately owned by Wittingham Investments.

The press release states the following however: "UK Uncut, the anti-cuts direct action group, are currently occupying Fortnum & Mason over the tax dodge of over 40 million by its owners Whittington Investments which have a 54% stake in Associated British Foods who produce Ryvita, Kingsmill and others and own Primark. ABF have dodged over £40 million in tax."

The above statement is contradictory; either Wittingham Investments have dodged £40 million in tax, or ABF have? Which is it; I’m not clear. In fact, a search for more information on tax dodging or tax avoidance by either ABF or Wittington Investments via Google curiously doesn’t reveal much on this either. As you can see, the number one search result for tax avoidance is actually the UK Uncut press release itself. Curious indeed. The UK Uncut press release also includes this: "We are not all in this together – the government, big business such as ABF, banking sector and the wealthy who shop here are in it together and are choosing to make everyone else pay the price for the banks greed and wreckless gambling."

Now this is definitely not what UK Uncut should be about; going after the wealthy just because they choose to shop somewhere that is expensive? Again, as a reminder, ABF, Fortnum & Mason and Wittington Investments are all ultimately owned by the Garfield Weston Foundation, the 14th largest charitable foundation in the world. So when you put this together, you’ve got a lack of verifiable sources on tax avoidance, a store targeted simply because it is owned by a group that has a majority shareholding in another group that might be dodging tax, and ultimately everything is all under the control of a charitable foundation.

Sorry, UK Uncut, but you’re off message here and you’re not providing enough information to justify what you’re doing at all.

The Euro Is Dead, Long Live Europe

He co-founded the French Socialist Party. He resigned as Defence Minister in order to oppose the Gulf War. He campaigned against Maastricht and against all subsequent European integration. He refused an alliance with those who were prepared to appease Corsican separatism. And now, Jean-Pierre Chevènement writes:

In the past 60 years, two major choices have shaped French foreign policy while pulling France and the UK apart: the European project begun after the second world war and built in accordance with Jean Monnet's conception,; and national independence, as sought by Charles de Gaulle after his return to power in 1958. These two paths were contradictory, the first only comprehensible because France, having twice nearly perished during the first part of the 20th century, had such profound doubts about itself that it chose to make Europe a substitute for the nation. The UK, however, could not come to terms with having to fade within a "supranational" Europe.

This view was shared by De Gaulle: the general did not believe in supranationality, but he did want to build a "Europe of nations". Beyond this, he defined his objective as the emergence of a "European Europe" – agent of its own destiny. This was a bitter pill to swallow for the UK, which was attached to its special relationship with the US.

Today, the crisis of the euro reflects the impasse reached by supranational Europe. The French project of burying German reunification within a federal Europe – the idea behind the Maastricht treaty – ended long ago. And curiously, it is this moment which President Sarkozy has chosen for France to rejoin Nato, under the bizarre pretext of facilitating the emergence of "European defence".

French diplomacy thus has a double hangover. Germany has dragged Europe, or in any case the eurozone, into a bidding war of economic rigour leading to a historical dead end. France does not dare to challenge Angela Merkel's policy, because it is reluctant to question the rules of the game accepted by François Mitterrand when they were set out, back when he thought he could modify them when the right moment presented itself. They have now proven to be inadequate and impossible to change in substance: thanks to the rules imposed by Maastricht, the European central bank does not believe it has the authority to intervene in debt markets in order to smash speculation and save the euro. The currency is doomed – it is smothering every economy in Europe, except Germany's. Floating between the dollar and the Chinese yuan, we are, in effect, caught in the jaws of the G2, or "Chinamerica".

This is all the more worrying because, in addition, French diplomacy has recently followed in the wake of US diplomacy. But the US is less and less concerned about Europe; it is increasingly turned towards the Pacific and China. While French diplomacy has lost its bearings, it could find them anew if it returned to De Gaulle's Europe of nations, whose vocation is to exist between the US and China. Is this the path laid out by the Anglo-French agreements of November 2010? It is too early to say, however desirable the prospect may be. Relations with Barack Obama are no longer a bone of contention between the two countries. The UK is seeking to influence the US by remaining close to it, France is pursuing the same objective by opposite means: independence, but within an alliance. And as for Nato? Yes, but only on the condition that we do not compromise our influence in Arab countries.

In recent weeks, the US has only allowed France and the UK a hand in Libya, nothing more. Our two long-lived nations must, together, represent the aims of the US leadership while also taking care to work within a frame of legality in an international context, keeping the protection of civilians in mind. We must respect the democratic will currently expressed by the Arab world, and gather a maximum number of Arab, African and developing countries around a strategy which should only seek to establish the conditions of self-determination for the Libyan people. This is how we will, together, best prepare the future of a great democratic Europe of the nations – one stretching from the Mediterranean to Russia.

The UK has to consider its future with Europe. Our two nations could help set Europe back on her feet. We could do Europe this service at the same time as we do it for ourselves.

They would have to get rid of Sarkozy, of course. But no one needs to make that point to Chevènement. Personally, I will believe in a new Franco-British Alliance when it gives me the ability to say that I have lived on not one, but two World Heritage Sites.