Sunday, 29 January 2023

Soli Deo

There has been a liberal coup in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. Deep down, we probably knew that there would be one from the day that Bishop Robert Byrne CO was appointed.

There may or may not have been a lockdown-breaking social event at the Cathedral. If so, then it will have been nothing on the ones for which the then Prime Minister and the present Prime Minister had received fixed penalty notices. There was certainly no "sex party". The allegation against the late Canon McCoy is false, and if there really is one at all against Bishop Byrne, then, it, too, is a lie.

Entertain no other possibility. Hold fast to these truths through "inquiries", civil actions, financial settlements, criminal convictions, guilty pleas, the lot. For behind all of this is the shock troop unit of liberal enforcement, the Diocesan Safeguarding Office, a source that, at least under the regime then in place but I doubt that anything has changed, was not merely tainted, but Satanic. That is why I have no doubt that Canon McCoy committed suicide. It would have been considered too little fun to have murdered him. I can hear the cackling glee at having got inside his head and made him take his own life. 

The biggest regret of my life is that I pleaded guilty at around that time. For the record, I absolutely deny those charges, but it is in practice impossible to be acquitted of harassment, which was why the right wing of the Labour Party and its domestic chaplaincy, the liberal wing of the Catholic Church, used the Labour Right's paramilitary wing, the Crown Prosecution Service, to bring those particular charges against me. The prominence of Nazir Afzhal in "investigating" this Diocese is not a coincidence. The Blairite Deep State is a small world.

I was told in writing that I would not get a lawyer if I pleaded not guilty to harassment, but I still should have done it and represented myself, thereby forcing my accusers to submit to my cross-examination. I would have gone to prison for longer, but that would only have increased my political kudos. As it was, I was released after three months to find that they had all moved out of the North East, in one case presumably due to having caused, as an employee of the Church, the suicide of a senior priest. That move is itself now being avenged against the Bishop. If anything, he is getting off lightly. The last Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle to have upset that faction dropped dead out of the blue at the age of 57. Has there ever been an inquest?

Disregard the possibility that any of this might be genuine, and do not allow any development whatever to dissuade or distract you. Pray for the repose of the soul of Canon McCoy. Pray for Bishop Byrne. And console yourself that the Evil Ones may not be praying, but ought at least to be hoping, that there will be a liberal Pope after this ailing 86-year-old, because otherwise the Oxford Oratory would be as well-connected as it was possible to be, and there would be hell to pay for what they had done. As there should be.

Saturday, 28 January 2023

Of Protest

What was rejected in 2019 was Jeremy Corbyn's capitulation to Keir Starmer over a second referendum on EU membership. Without that, then there would never have been a General Election in 2019. Had Starmer never inserted that into his Party Conference speech at the last moment, or had Corbyn sacked him for it, then the Election would have been in the spring of 2022, and it would have resulted in a hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party. Heaven knows what would have happened then, but that would have been the result.

Still, now you have it from the horse's mouth. "Labour is not a party of protest." It is not for people who dislike things the way they are. It is for people who just want the status quo to be run better, mostly by those who were not quite so flagrantly crooked financially. There is plenty of time for Labour to lose its poll lead, which is not based on any policy difference with the Government.

Since you almost certainly can see the problem with Britain as it is, then you have absolutely no reason to vote Labour. That party does not even want power, which can be wanted only in order to do something with it. It wants the trappings of office, which Starmer and his circle could afford anyway, but which they want everyone to pay for them to have. The last Labour Government was no less sleazy than this one, and nor would a Starmer Government be.

But Starmer's dishonesty is becoming a story. He lied to his party members to get their votes, so he would lie to anyone else to get their votes. We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Not With A Bang?

Noticeably still including Jeremy Corbyn, there remain 35 MPs in the Campaign Group. Claudia Webbe is also still an MP. If those 36 did not oppose British military intervention in Ukraine, and that is what sending tanks is, then what has any of them ever been for?

While anti-war Conservatives are like leprechauns, believe in them when you see them, Corbyn and John McDonnell are the last of the 11 MPs and two tellers, all 13 of them Labour, who voted against the war in Kosovo, on 19 April 1999. Thus began the long, hard slog against neoconservatism, with Corbyn's name uniquely appearing in the right column of every Division List. At least in Britain, though, is this how that slog is going to end? Faced with the one that really could lead to a nuclear war, are they going to back down and back out?

But we are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Significant

Rishi Sunak is not lying.

He was told that HMRC was investigating Nadhim Zahawi in relation to "a significant sum of money".

To Sunak, £2.7 million is not a significant sum of money.

Maxwell House

Of course that Daily Telegraph front page is bizarre, in the way that the Daily Telegraph itself is bizarre. But the photograph does indeed prove that, unless she can demonstrate that there had been significant changes to it in the meantime, Virginia Giuffre's description of Ghislaine Maxwell's bathroom, which is highly pertinent to Giuffre's allegations, bears no resemblance to reality.

After Alan Dershowitz, Giuffre's credibility was already in free fall. The prosecuting authorities in the United States did not prosecute Maxwell in relation to Giuffre. Prince Andrew should never have given her a penny, and he should get back with interest, costs and a penalty every penny that he had given her. 

People who did not happen to think that they were somehow advancing their republican principles by joining in the vilification of Prince Andrew would be fighting his corner just as tenaciously if he were anyone else. Giuffre had to file a civil suit because she would have stood no chance of winning a criminal case in a jurisdiction that still had a proper burden of proof, unlike England and Wales, where, in my direct personal experience, the concept of conviction beyond reasonable doubt has been unilaterally abolished by the judiciary.

We are expected to believe that Maxwell trafficked all those women and girls to nobody. Even from his cell, Jeffrey Epstein was still making donations to "Petie" Mandelson. Hey ho, like Epstein before her, Maxwell is now on suicide watch.

Prince Andrew is an utterly unimportant person. Epstein's British connection that matters is to Mandelson, who pretty much ran the Labour Party when it was last in government, and who is back running it now, having solicited a large donation from Epstein's cell as a convicted and incarcerated paedophile.

In the meantime, Mandelson has been European Commissioner for Trade, President of the Board of Trade, Lord President of the Council, and First Secretary of State. In all but name, he was Deputy Prime Minister under Gordon Brown, and arguably under Tony Blair as well. Prince Andrew has never even run his own bath.

Mandelson, however, is now running Keir Starmer, who is the most inexperienced politician ever to have become the Leader of the Opposition. Starmer was the Director of Public Prosecutions when the decision was made not to prosecute Jimmy Savile. Due to Savile's fame and connections, of course it is inconceivable that that decision was made by anyone other than Starmer, just as of course he was sly enough not to have left a paper trail.

And there are the Royal Family and the political elite again. The rest of us live our entire lives without ever encountering a paedophile, yet our betters have the misfortune to trip over them every time that they go out. As with illegal drug use, they extrapolate from their own experience and present such behaviour as normal, not even so much because they want it to be, as because they sincerely believe that it is.

Although every specific allegation that Jeremy Corbyn was an anti-Semite has been easily refuted, the idea lingers in the air. It never made any electoral difference. Starmer's change to Labour's Brexit policy caused both the 2019 General Election and its outcome, or else an Election last spring would have delivered a hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party. But it was there, and it still is.

The lingering idea of Starmer and "oh, something to do with paedophilia" would, however, have a great deal of electoral cut-through if anyone were prepared to push and twist the knife hard enough. Between Savile and Mandelson, that ought not to be difficult to do. Why did Starmer let Savile off? Why is Starmer so dependent on Epstein's closest associate in Britain, indeed one of Epstein's closest associates in the world? What sort of person therefore wants Starmer to become Prime Minister?

The age of consent in London was and is 16. In New York, it was and is 17. And how prepubescent does the then Virginia Roberts look in the infamous photograph of her with Maxwell and with Prince Andrew? How genuine does that photograph itself look? It has never been tested in court. The more you look at it, the more you think that expert witnesses called by Prince Andrew's London barrister or New York attorney would tear it to pieces.

In relation to Dershowitz, the now Virginia Giuffre has effectively admitted her own incredibility. Prince Andrew should sue everyone who had called him a paedophile, a paedo, a nonce, or anything in that vein. And he should demand the late Queen's money back.

Friday, 27 January 2023

Parties To The Conflict

Colonel Jacques Baud tells it like it is about Ukraine. "We are at war with Russia," said the German Foreign Minister today, and that is obviously true. But, "We are not at war with Russia," "clarified" the German Foreign Ministry. Which is it? We all know the answer.

That Minister, Annalena Baerbock, is a Green. This is what Greens are, at least in government. The ones in government in Scotland are belligerent in the extreme. Greens are like the Liberal Democrats, who opposed the war in Iraq when they thought that they were always going to be in Opposition, but who waged the war in Libya once they had attained office. As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we know that one day, and pretty soon, everyone will claim that they had always agreed with us about Ukraine. For now, though, not a single MP is opposed to this madness. Not one.

But we are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Frozen Gold

John McEvoy writes:

In late December, Venezuela’s leading opposition parties voted to oust Juan Guaidó as “interim president” and dissolve his parallel government.

This was clearly not the ending the UK government had in mind.

Four years ago, the British government made the bold decision to recognise Guaidó as Venezuelan president, and proceeded to facilitate his legal battle to seize roughly $2bn of gold held in the Bank of England.

Indeed, the UK government insisted at every turn that it recognised Guaidó – and not Nicolás Maduro – as Venezuelan president. In turn, Guaidó’s lawyers argued that he was authorised to represent and control the assets of the Central Bank of Venezuela held in London.

Throughout this time, Guaidó paid his UK legal costs by drawing on millions of dollars of his country’s assets originally seized by the US government. In other words, Guaidó tried to seize Venezuelan state assets with looted Venezuelan state assets.

Meanwhile, it seems certain that the Foreign Office also used a significant amount of public funds to sustain its backing of Guaidó.

Now that Guaidó has been ousted, the legal argument for transferring the gold to the Venezuelan opposition has effectively disintegrated. Despite this, the gold remains frozen in the Bank of England, with no clear resolution in sight.

Whatever happens next, this case sets a precedent which could have far-reaching consequences: the UK’s coup weapons now include asset stripping a foreign state, and transferring those assets to political actors engaged in regime change.

This will surely serve as a warning to any state which plans to store its gold in the Bank of England.

Recognising Guaidó

The recognition of Guaidó was a key prerequisite for the Bank of England’s refusal to release Venezuela’s gold.

Guaidó had never run for presidential office. Yet on 23 January 2019, he swore himself in as Venezuelan “interim president”, using Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution to declare that Maduro had abandoned his post and thereby left an “absolute vacuum of power”.

This vacuum, claimed Guaidó, would have to be filled by the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly – a post occupied by Guaidó.

Without the support of the US government, Guaidó’s legal gymnastics would probably not have gotten him very far. However, the Donald Trump administration moved quickly to recognise Guaidó, and began pressuring the so-called “international community” to follow suit.

The day after Guaidó’s self-swearing in, then UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt visited Washington and met key members of the Trump administration including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

The political crisis in Venezuela was high on the agenda. Before meeting with Pompeo, Hunt told the press that “the United Kingdom believes Juan Guaido is the right person to take Venezuela forward. We are supporting the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina to make that happen”. This was a strong statement – but not yet recognition.

Documents obtained by Declassified show that Hunt was privately thanked by Pompeo and Bolton for this. However, Britain’s contribution to toppling Maduro would go further.

‘Delighted’ to freeze Venezuela’s gold

The Foreign Office is refusing to say whether its officials or ministers have had discussions with counterparts in the United States on the Venezuelan gold stored in the Bank of England since 2019.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, it also claimed that “the release of information relating to this case could harm our relations with the United States of America and Venezuela”.

Yet according to Bolton, Hunt was “delighted” to help with Washington’s destabilisation campaign in Venezuela, “for example freezing Venezuelan gold deposits in the Bank of England”.

The Bank’s directors, however, were uneasy about the legal implications of freezing a foreign state’s assets. The Bank of England had already refused to release Venezuela’s gold in 2018, citing doubts over the legitimacy of Maduro’s government, though they were on shaky legal ground.

The Foreign Office worked to ease their nerves. On 25 January 2019, Alan Duncan, the minister of state for Europe and the Americas, wrote in his diary that he held a phone call with Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, about Venezuela’s gold. He wrote:

“I tell Carney that I fully appreciate that, although it’s a decision for the Bank, he needs a measure of political air cover from us. I tell him I will write him the most robust letter I can get through the FCO lawyers, and it will outline the growing doubts over Maduro’s legitimacy and explain that many countries no longer consider him to be the country’s President”.

In other words, the Bank of England required a robust legal rationale for keeping Venezuela’s gold frozen, and the Foreign Office was happy to provide it with one.

One week later, on 4 February, Hunt went one step further by issuing an official statement recognising Guaidó “as the constitutional interim President of Venezuela, until credible presidential elections can be held”.

With this, the UK government had committed to the Washington-backed coup effort. Hunt apparently declared: “Venezuela is in their back yard, and it’s probably the only foreign adventure they might just pursue”.

When the Foreign Office was asked in parliament this month whether it received legal advice in recognising Guaidó as president, it replied “We do not comment on when legal advice has been received”.

The legal battle

The UK’s recognition of Guaidó triggered a protracted legal battle over the gold.

In May 2020, the Maduro government sued the Bank of England over its refusal to release the gold. The issue then moved to the courts, centring on whether the UK government recognised Guaidó, and if the Bank of England could therefore act on instructions from his “ad-hoc board” of the Central Bank of Venezuela.

Throughout this time, the UK government consistently supported Guaidó’s case by emphasising its recognition of him.

In 2020, for instance, the Foreign Office provided a written certificate to the courts to confirm that the UK still “recognises Juan Guaido as the constitutional interim President of Venezuela”.

In 2021, the Foreign Office even acquired the services of Sir James Eadie QC and Jason Pobjoy (of Blackstone Chambers) and Sir Michael Wood and Belinda McRae (of Twenty Essex) – some of the country’s top lawyers – to present its case on recognition of Guaidó at the Supreme Court.

It thus looks certain that the UK government has spent a significant amount of public funds on this case. This casts obvious doubts on the UK government’s claim that this is merely a matter for the Bank of England or the courts: the UK has invested both political and seemingly financial capital into this case, with the explicit intention of overthrowing the Maduro government.

Declassified asked the Government Legal Department how much was spent in legal costs on this case. A spokesperson for the Department said: “We will not comment further due to ongoing legal proceedings”.

With each hearing, Guaidó and his representatives also incurred substantial costs. Recently published accounts suggest that Guaidó’s team spent over $8.5m on legal fees – roughly £7m.

Remarkably, Guaidó’s UK legal fees were paid with money which was originally appropriated from the Venezuelan state in the US. 

Guaidó gone

Guaidó and his representatives never managed to get their hands on the gold.

In the most recent hearing, in October 2022, judge Justice Cockerill granted the Maduro board permission to appeal, declaring that the issues at stake were “effectively unprecedented”, and that “the consequences of the decision have the potential to affect all the citizens of Venezuela”.

Indeed, the freezing of Venezuela’s gold has served as a form of collective punishment.

In 2021, United Nations special rapporteur on sanctions, Alena Douhan, urged the UK “and corresponding banks to unfreeze assets of the Venezuela Central Bank to purchase medicine, vaccines, food, medical and other equipment, spare parts and other essential goods to guarantee humanitarian needs of the people of Venezuela”.

With the issue still in the courts, Venezuela’s main opposition parties voted in December 2022 to remove Guaidó as “interim president” and dissolve his parallel government.

The UK government announced that it would “respect the result of this vote”, adding that: “The UK continues not to accept the legitimacy of the administration put in place by Nicolás Maduro”.

The legal basis for freezing Venezuela’s gold and transferring it to the Venezuelan opposition has therefore largely crumbled. Further hearings are expected later this year.

Whether the gold will remain frozen until Venezuela holds elections which are to the satisfaction of the UK government, or the courts will find that the case for freezing the gold has now collapsed, remains unclear.

The issue would be immediately resolved if the UK normalised relations with the Maduro government – though this would entail an embarrassing climb-down and would have to be worked out alongside Washington.

What’s clear is that the sanctions regime against Venezuela has failed to remove Maduro, but has harmed ordinary Venezuelans.

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Just A Thought

It is just a thought, but in relation to Ukraine, how about listening to those of us who had been right about every war of at least the last 25 years, rather than to the people who, if they were anything under 60 at the youngest, had been wrong about every war of their adult lifetimes?

Into The Mix

Matthew Parris writes: 

I awoke in the small hours last week and began worrying about the Ukraine war. A friend had earlier taken me to task over the airy way I’d introduced an argument with the words ‘Once we’ve won the war in Ukraine’ – as though this was a simple matter and just a question of ‘when’. But what does ‘win’ mean? Does the searchlight of our intelligence, backed by what we already know, really illuminate the landscape ahead? Might things come to pass that we just haven’t thought of?

Even people as old as me remember wars that, though bloody and protracted, were fairly straightforward as narratives, with clear and final objectives and, in story terms, a reasonably clear-cut ending. The second world war is an outstanding example; the Falklands a more minor but equally clear case. We knew what winning meant. Hitler and Galtieri knew what losing meant. Even after the Korean war there was a simple and permanent partition. These were proper endings, followed by a stable state. 

We imagine, I suppose, that the present Ukraine business will turn out like one of those. Crudely, I thought at first that the Russians should just be pulverised, Putin humiliated into personal collapse and all the territory Moscow had stolen returned to Kyiv. After that, I thought, Europe would be at peace again: stabilised, sorted and ready to help rebuild Ukraine.

But will it be anything like this? Let me throw into the mix of your own thoughts some doubts among mine.

Everyone is speculating on Putin’s leadership – will he be overthrown? Is his presidency strong enough to survive a peace deal with Ukraine and the West? Might he be replaced by a yet fiercer militarist? Good questions, but there’s another we don’t seem to be addressing: is Volodymyr Zelensky secure? Admittedly, my time spent travelled in Ukraine was short, and it was about 15 years ago, but it left me with a more jaundiced view of that country than one hears in these blue-and-yellow-flag-waving days.

Ukraine is very populous, very poor and very far from the model of a modern, liberal, democratic western state that we might lazily suppose its people could skip happily towards ‘once the war is won’. Before Zelensky, we saw Ukraine’s political and business culture as hopelessly steeped in corruption, from the top down. Infrastructure and manufacturing (even before the Russian bombardment) were rusty and obsolete, making the country an industrial basket case utterly dependent on its most-favoured status with the old Soviet Union. Look at footage of the Ukrainian steel industry in the Donetsk region and remind yourself what a massive headache West Germany found it to drag East Germany into the modern European economy: talk about ‘levelling up’! Wealthy Germany is still wrestling with the cost, cultural as well as economic. We may one day wonder why we cheered the Ukrainian struggle to keep that Russian-speaking eastern rust belt.

It’s hard to see how Ukraine could stand up in the winds of free-market competition without a Herculean measure of assistance from the West. With a population exceeding 43 million (larger than Poland’s and not far short of Spain), a great mountain of support over many years will be essential if we’re to fortify democracy there once the Russian prop is withdrawn.

Western voters may enjoy watching the flashes and bangs of Ukraine’s valiant efforts in self-defence; we may cheer as British-donated weaponry arrives there. But once the pyrotechnics cease and our taxes rise to pay for reconstruction – and if there are more fake stories about Mrs Zelensky going on shopping expeditions to Paris, while rumours about where western money goes once it reaches Kyiv creep into the media – the spirit of unquestioning generosity may flag across the European continent.

Ukraine’s rapid accession to EU membership is surely for the birds. Free movement, with millions seeking better opportunities, would become a huge headache. One thing we and the EU single market could do to help, though, would be to extend a generous free trade deal to their emerging economy. The US did something similar for Mexico, but it caused fury as the American motor industry began to emigrate. Fasten your seat belts for something similar here as companies switch their manufacturing to low-wage Ukraine.

And is the country now – or could it fast become – a proper democracy, enjoying the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a professional civil service culture and vigilance over political corruption? Has everything about it changed just because one man, Zelensky, is in charge? You have to be a considerable devotee of the ‘Hero in History’ school to believe that a single individual can do so much. Heroes rarely last. Heroic though I do believe this Ukrainian president to be, his predecessors weren’t, and the political and business culture wasn’t. There was a chronic shortage of good, honest men and women at the top. If Ukraine was a rotten state, then in many ways it still will be, the suffering and sacrifice of its ordinary citizens notwithstanding. All-out war suppresses doubts about the polity whose preservation is being fought for. I don’t believe in transfiguration.

Let me leave you with a Grimms’ fairy tale no less implausible than today’s Walt Disney version. Imagine. It’s the winter of 2023/24. Putin or his successor inch towards a deal. Whispers of a compromise ceding Crimea to Moscow, or some such, circulate. Kyiv cries ‘Never!’. Biden, Scholz, Macron and perhaps (more quietly) Sunak/Starmer privately urge Zelensky not to make Crimea a deal-breaker. He hesitates, because a new ‘Ukrainian Patriot’ party is emerging on his militaristic right. ‘No surrender!’

Trapped, Zelensky begs western powers for cover. We want to save him but after nearly two years of war we need these ruinous hostilities to end and believe Ukraine’s people do too. Ordinary Ukrainians, cold and hungry, are desperate for emergency western aid on an ever costlier scale, while Kyiv – where domestic politics is beginning to fracture – clamours for more tanks and missiles to retake Crimea. Western patience grows thinner.

And we look back on this winter with, yes, almost nostalgia. A time when it all seemed so simple. ‘Winning’, it turns out, was the easy bit.

Isla Be Damned

I first thought this in relation to Eddie Izzard, who used to say that, "They are not women's clothes, they are my clothes, I bought them." Who could have argued with that? Yet now he called himself "she". He did not do so as a harmless quirk. To be polite or compassionate, some of us might have indulged that. Male transvestism is one of the most venerable of British eccentricities.

But Izzard was using feminine pronouns as a pretext for accessing women's single-sex facilities. Therefore, and however regretfully, we did have to insist against it. And now, this. A rapist in a women's prison. Keep saying that until it quite sinks is. A rapist in a women's prison. Concede the pronouns, and you would be conceding this. Therefore, we must resist without compromise.

Oh, and why did Adam Graham become Isla Bryson rather than Isla Graham? As well as having been born in the wrong sex, had he also been born into the wrong family? The ones who turn out to be wrong 'uns have a strong propensity to having changed their surnames as well. Watch out for that one.

Rumble In The Jungle

I never thought that I would say this, but good luck to Andrew Bridgen. He is at least less objectionable than Matt Hancock. After all, so far as I am aware, Bridgen has never killed anyone.

It is seven and a half years overdue that someone sued the metropolitan liberal elite over its use of the charge of anti-Semitism to silence dissent. By "someone", we all know who that should have been.

It still should be. Let's see how heated the battle for the parliamentary seat of Islington North is going to get. In the meantime, though, and I say this without an anti-vaxxer bone in my body, good luck to Bridgen.

Yet Another Escalatory Step


From day one of the war in Ukraine, the most powerful argument against unrestrained western intervention in the conflict has been the danger of catastrophic escalation into an all-out war between Nato and Russia.

So far, western governments have shied away from a truly existential confrontation with Russia. But the threat remains that continuing western military aid to Ukraine will provoke Russian countermeasures that could turn Moscow’s proxy war with Nato into a direct military conflict.

Western hawks have long argued the danger of escalation is illusory. In an op-ed for the New York Times, former British diplomat Nigel Gould-Davies claimed “Putin has no red lines” and that, far from being deterred by fear of escalation, the West should call Putin’s bluff and threaten Russia with nuclear retaliation if he overreacts to western support for Ukraine.

Gould-Davies provides no hard evidence for his insights into Putin’s mind. His argument is pure speculation, and prompts the question: what if Putin won’t back away from a major war with the West? Should Nato be taking even a small risk of igniting a larger conflict that could kill millions?

Recent decisions by western governments to supply Ukraine with many more tanks and armoured vehicles suggest that the materialisation of such a scenario is not so far-fetched.

The United States has decided to give Ukraine a Patriot missile defence system as well as 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles. France has promised to send light tanks and Germany has undertaken to send armoured cars. British will dispatch a dozen or so Challenger heavy tanks, while the Germans have been under increasing pressure to supply Ukraine with its heavy tank, the Leopard 2.

According to British historian Lawrence Freedman, writing in the Financial Times, these new supplies reflect western belief that Ukraine needs to win back more territory before Putin will be prepared to make peace.

However, the quantity in question is relatively small. The Russians have already destroyed thousands of Ukrainian tanks and armoured vehicles. A few hundred additional western armoured units will do little or nothing to change the strategic situation. Russia’s war of attrition will grind on. In all probability, Moscow will complete its conquest of the Donbass region, thereby achieving the main goal of the so-called special military operation launched by Putin a year ago.

The real purpose of sending this western armour to Ukraine may be to provide political cover for politicians who fear the blame game that will erupt if and when Russia wins in Ukraine.

Western hardliners know this, which is why they are campaigning for large-scale supply of western military equipment to Ukraine, even if that means depleting Nato’s reserve stocks. In an article for the Washington Post, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and former defence secretary Robert Gates argued that a military stalemate would suit Putin just fine since it would give him time to wear out Ukraine military while strengthening his own armed forces. The way to avert that appalling vista, they argue, is an urgent and dramatic increase in military supplies to Ukraine.

Disturbingly, these latest developments are merely the most recent iteration of a persistent pattern of escalating western military aid to Ukraine. Nato states began by sending large quantities of ammunition, small arms and defensive weaponry, then came long-range howitzers and Himars. Now it is air defence systems, tanks and armoured vehicles.

The psychological consequences of these latest western decisions on arms supplies may prove more lethal than their immediate material impact, because yet again the West will have crossed its own red lines on military aid to Ukraine.

There has been much talk of a possible coalition of the willing led by Poland and the US sending troops into western Ukraine or using their air power to establish no-fly zones. Such an intervention would be camouflaged as humanitarian aid, but the inevitable clashes with Russian forces would soon escalate.

However, the real danger of existential escalation comes from incremental steps, not a giant leap directly into the battle.

What will the West do next? There are reports that Britain is considering giving Ukraine long-range missiles that can strike targets deep inside Russia. Another possibility is American supply of swarms of long-range drones. Most worrying is the prospect of western military technicians operating and maintaining Nato equipment in Ukraine, something that would take months of training for the Ukrainians to master.

Putin’s restraint in the face of massive western military aid to Ukraine has been remarkable but his forbearance may not be boundless. If the West goes too far, he may be tempted to risk a degree of escalation himself by, for example, interdicting western supplies before they arrive in Ukraine, or by neutralising the Nato surveillance systems that provide Kyiv with intelligence that enables deadly strikes on Russian targets.

Such actions by Putin would be shocking to those western decision-makers who have become accustomed to the idea that only they can act with impunity when it comes to escalating the Ukraine war.

Never has the world witnessed such a proxy war as that being waged in Ukraine by the West, the overarching aim being to cripple Russia as a great power.

In pursuit of this aim the US and other western governments have showered Ukraine with more than $100 billion worth of military, humanitarian and financial aid. Nato has scoured the globe for old Soviet ammunition and weapons systems that can be readily utilised by the Ukrainians. Western financial institutions have seized control of Russian foreign currency reserves and imposed sanctions designed to destabilise the rouble and collapse Russia’s economy. The West is also working to turn Russia into a pariah state internationally.

Without western support Ukraine’s war effort would have collapsed months ago. The continuation of the war has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Russian and Ukrainian casualties. Ukraine’s economy has been laid waste, while millions of its citizens have fled the country, and many more have been displaced internally

As Putin creeps closer to some kind of military victory in Ukraine, the voice of those urging western restraint will be needed more than ever. The more territory Ukraine loses, the more casualties it incurs, the greater will be the West’s temptation to take yet another escalatory step towards all-out war with Russia.

Geoffrey Roberts is emeritus professor of history at UCC and a member of the Royal Irish Academy

Whistling Dog

As with Nicola Sturgeon, merely stating the obvious does not make Yvette Cooper anything less than a monster. Cooper claimed benefits when she was unable to work due to ME. Years later, she introduced the Work Capability Assessment. I have met some of the people with ME who were among the huge numbers of seriously ill and disabled people who were thus denied benefits, including benefits that they had already been receiving. In the midst of that, Cooper and Ed Balls flipped their home three times during the expenses scandal.

On this morning's Today programme, Cooper did not object to Nick Robinson's description of the missing refugee children as having "want[ed] to be trafficked" and, as if it had mattered, as "mostly Albanians". Later, on Good Morning Britain, she was unable to say to Adil Ray's face why she thought that refugees from Ukraine should be treated so much more favourably than refugees from Afghanistan, instead dog-whistling about how Ukrainians "wanted to go home" while Afghans did not, about how Ukraine was "a European country", and about "people in my constituency". Thankfully, her majority there has gone through the floor. One more heave.

Otherwise, she thinks that she is going to be Home Secretary. But we are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

The Point of Need

David Blunkett was right about the unacceptability of sending a rapist to a women's prison. While the Government in which he was Home Secretary was awful in many ways, it never did that. But he was wrong to agree with Ann Widdecombe that they should voluntarily forego free dental treatment, and in her case also free eye tests.

A former Shadow Health Secretary, Widdecombe made the entirely false statement that the National Health Service had never been intended to provide, "free healthcare for everyone, including billionaires." Blunkett effectively endorsed that. Welcome to the Labour Party that no policy reason has placed 20 points ahead in the polls, mercifully 23 months before the next General Election.

We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

No Disinformation Here

German tanks are rolling east. What could possibly go wrong? In my native Saint Helena, can you hear that laughter in the air? That is the ghost of Napoleon, as we prepared to invade Russia in the winter. The nuances in Central and Eastern European public opinion are not due to "Russian disinformation", but to a knowledge of the subject necessarily far greater than that of most people farther west.

In Ukraine, they are running out of schoolboys, old age pensioners, and the Carpathian Magyars whose press-ganging has enraged the Hungarian Government. That is why they need German tanks, either directly or via Poland and elsewhere. Openly or otherwise, Poland still wants a huge tract of Ukrainian territory, and this is its chance. The Ukrainian Government that we have canonised is falling apart due to the corruption that some of us have been trying from the start to point out. Ukraine is as corrupt at Russia. Yes, as corrupt as that.

Like Mali before it, Burkina Faso has just expelled the forces of the old French colonial power and undertaken to fight the Islamist insurgency without them, but with the Wagner Group still very much on the ground. After all, against men inspired, funded and directed by the House of Saud, what use are men answerable to one of that House's neoconservative courtiers such as Emmanuel Macron?

Rishi Sunak's permission of Yevgeny Prigozhin to circumvent sanctions and sue Eliot Higgins indicates that on these matters, Sunak is less of an opportunistic fanatic, and what a thing it is to be both, than Boris Johnson is. It also bespeaks the welcome willingness even of the Johnson Government to hedge its bets, before Johnson was sent to his Elba to plot his Cent-Jours.

Prigozhin and Bellingcat, the Wagner Group and the Azov Battalion, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, Andrew Tate and Greta Thunberg, Jeremy Clarkson and the Markles: "It's a pity that only one of them can lose" is usually attributed to Henry Kissinger in relation to the Iran-Iraq War. I have no doubt that he said it, but it is far too obvious never to have been uttered before the 1980s. Whoever coined it, I salute you. Outside the Bible, it is my favourite quotation of all time.

Sadly, the Labour Party of Keir Starmer sides with Bellingcat, with the Azov Battalion, with the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, with Greta Thunberg, and with the Markles. But Starmer's dishonesty, his disinformation, is becoming a story. He lied to his party members to get their votes, so he would lie to anyone else to get their votes. We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Would You Credit It?

What was the repayment plan for this "loan"? And why did Boris Johnson need £800,000? What for? School fees? Even at Eton rates, not even he has more than 50 children. Does he?

As an aside, if this was only a credit facility, then Johnson could in principle have signed on if he had had no other income. You cannot be more than £9,000 in the black, but you can be as far into the red as anyone will let you go.

The point is that he did have at least two other incomes, his parliamentary and Prime Ministerial salaries, together amounting to nearly a quarter of a million pounds.

Yet, as the serving Prime Minster and thus required to pay for almost nothing out of his own pocket, he still needed this gargantuan personal piggy bank? What for?

Richard Sharp and Nadhim Zahawi are both Johnsonites rather than Tories; there may also be Trussites rather than Tories, but then again there may not be.

So the well and truly restored Tories are throwing both Sharp and Zahawi to the wolves. That's politics.

Soixante-huitards?

No pension until you were 68? My father died when he was 68. These increases in the pension age are based on average life expectancy, even though the difference in the life expectancies of the richest and of the poorest has more than doubled under the preferred economic system of all political parties. This is class war by all of them against us.

But we are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Monday, 23 January 2023

Rallying Cry

It gladdens my heart that my old friend Maurice Glasman is coming round on Ukraine. Boris Johnson's Daily Mail front page article is of course the latest stage in his campaign to return as Prime Minister.

And whatever the failings of either of them, Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are unique among each other's opponents in being anything more than purely parochial and factional figures. People are always going to turn up to hear them, whether in huge numbers in Corbyn's case or for huge fees in Johnson's. Books by or about them are always going to sell. There will be films and television programmes about them from time to time for the rest of all of our lives.

Johnson could wipe the floor with Keir Starmer, but as it is, we are still heading for a General Election between Starmer and Rishi Sunak, certainly leading to a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Terms of Reference

You read it all about Nadhim Zahawi in the second paragraph of this, a good 24 hours before the huddle let you know in any detail. Since HMRC has already investigated Zahawi, what is Sir Laurie Magnus supposed to be investigating? I mean, it could not possibly be that, oh, I don't know, the 30 per cent penalty, the one for mere carelessness, was a lot less than should have been imposed? The Chairman of the governing party, Zahawi's tax affairs led to his being blocked for a knighthood in the New Year's Honours List. Get out of that one.

If Sam Blyth gave Boris Johnson a loan, then what was the repayment plan? This was not a loan. This was a bribe. On the combined salaries of a Member of Parliament and of the Prime Minister, a total of £248,224, Johnson needed another £800,000 to get by. He needed it so badly that he was prepared to sell the Chair of the BBC for the arrangement of it. Ministers advised potential candidates other than Richard Sharp not to bother applying. This was well-organised. Johnson's chaotic persona has always been largely an act.

Was this even Johnson's only such arrangement? What else did he sell? And what did he spend it on? Remember this when the poor, most of whom are in full-time work, are told to budget properly, in which they are in fact the experts, literally counting every penny. Nurses would indeed not be using foodbanks if they had interest free overdrafts, never to be called in, of up to £800,000. Nor if they only had to pay as much tax as they felt like paying, and only when they felt like paying it.

As for more than half of households getting more from the State than they paid in tax, if you contrive a society of extreme economic inequality, then that is what is bound to happen. What did you expect? In "you", I include Keir Starmer, Rachel Reeves, and that Yvette Cooper, the Wicked Witch of the Work Capability Assessment, whose familiar, Ed Balls, has today taken to the airwaves to defend Zahawi.

But Starmer's dishonesty is becoming a story. He lied to his party members to get their votes, so he would lie to anyone else to get their votes. We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Keir Starmer The Shapeshifter

Mark Seddon writes:

Dogged by the Covid lockdowns and hamstrung by no discernible charisma quotient, Keir Starmer has spent the best part of his nearly three years in office telling voters what was wrong with his own side, while attacking the Government without ever really explaining what the cure might be. Now, as the party that Starmer now portentously refers to as “my Labour Party” becomes accustomed to a double-digit poll lead, the question is: what does he really believe in?

Starmer and his Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, spent the past week in the somewhat unlikely setting of Davos in Switzerland. Their reason for attending the World Economic Forum — that exclusive club of business magnates and like-minded politicos — was clear: to demonstrate that Labour had moved back to what is euphemistically described as the “centre ground” (the “centre” is wherever an exclusive set of pundits and politicians decide it to be). Clearly now in better, more refined company, Starmer, in an interview with Emily Maitlis, rather let the cat out of the bag: “Westminster is too constrained,” he said. “Once you get out of Westminster, whether it’s Davos or anywhere else, you actually engage with people that you can see working with in the future. Westminster is just a tribal shouting place.”

I have known every Labour leader since James Callaghan (who gave me my first job interview and then thought better of making an offer), worked for one (Gordon Brown in his UN capacity), and for a number of years shared an office with another (Michael Foot). In that time, I have voted for every Labour leader who attained the office bar one, Tony Blair. I thought the latter was a phoney the moment I met him for a coffee in his Islington home shortly after he became leader. That feeling about Blair never escaped me in the years I spent on the party’s ruling National Executive Committee, before the disastrous Iraq war forced me to quit.

When running for the party leadership, Starmer was asked which former leader he most identified with. He settled on Harold Wilson, who still holds the record for winning four out of five General Elections for Labour. Wilson was, of course, the consummate party manager. On occasion he would do battle with the Left, but essentially took his cue from the inimitable Ian Mikardo, the Jewish Tribunite MP and the Commons’ resident unofficial “bookie”. The Mikardo maxim was that “in order to fly, Labour needed both a Left and a Right wing”. Sadly, few leaders have been able to free this old bird as Wilson once managed. But following the extraordinary toxicity that had characterised the relationship between the parliamentary Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn, Starmer’s call for “unity” and his commitment to broadly social democratic policies was enough to persuade many, including me, to vote for him. Since then, however, he has picked his side and is ferociously pinioning the Left of the party.

“These are my principles,” Groucho Marx is said to have remarked. “If you don’t like them, I have others.” Starmer, after being reminded recently by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg of some of the pledges he had made when standing for leader (or which there were at least ten), looked her in the eye and said: “When I was running for leader, I made pledges reflecting my values. Since then, a lot has changed.”

Indeed it has. Each of his pledges, let alone his values, has since been discarded, along with the party’s former leader and a significant portion of its fee-paying membership. Most political leaders U-turn to an extent, but few with such lack of guile and poor dexterity as Starmer. Take Brexit: first he accepted the referendum result, before demanding a second one, and now apparently accepting it (at least for the time being). His interview in March 2020 with Andrew Neil will doubtless be mined to exhaustion by his opponents for maximum effect ahead of the next election.

Neil: “You made 10 policy pledges — including that energy, rail, water, the Royal Mail will be taken into common ownership; so, will they all be in Labour’s next manifesto?”
Starmer: “I’ve made that commitment — the pledges I have made indicate the direction of travel.”
Neil: “So, those four industries will be in the Manifesto, for nationalisation, in 2024?”
Starmer: “They will. They are baseline indicators for where we are going. I think that we’ll need to think about how we will do it.”
Neil: “What about abolishing university tuition fees then?”
Starmer: “They are all pledges, Andrew, so the answer to these questions is ‘yes’.”

On the privatisation of the NHS (firmly ruled out), Starmer now looks to the private sector to remedy the crisis. Elsewhere in recent months, the shapeshifting has moved with some abandon. Having garnered union votes for his election, Starmer subsequently criticised Shadow Ministers joining picket lines. Someone could have shown him the pictures of Labour Ministers, Shirley Williams, Denis Howell and Fred Mulley, no militants they, on the Grunwick picket line in the late Seventies, or a photo of Harriet Harman and the sadly missed Jack Dromey, in matching duffle coats, doing the same.

Can Starmer pull off his Jekyll and Hyde act? Here he is when he was questioned about his predecessor during the leadership contest: “I want to pay tribute to Jeremy Corbyn, who led our party through some really difficult times, who energised our movement, and who’s a friend as well as a colleague!” Fast forward a few years, and Corbyn has become the object of the now-obligatory “six minutes of hate”; doubtless we shall soon hear that he has been blocked from standing in his Islington constituency.

The Forde Report, commissioned under Starmer into allegations of bullying, racism and sexism during the Corbyn era, produced enough uncomfortable truths that the leader and his consiglieres want to see buried. For instance, after claims of antisemitism dogged the Labour Party, Starmer resolved to tackle the crisis. So, according to Jewish Voice for Labour, under Starmer, an entirely disproportionate number of Jewish members, some 59 in total, are currently suspended, have now resigned, been expelled or been auto-excluded. A few were “cleared” and others received a “reminder of conduct”. Most have been investigated for allegations of antisemitism, which often means that they have been critical of Israel. The party membership, as a whole, is under unprecedented surveillance.

Members seeking selection locally or nationally have always been vetted for the more obvious misdemeanours that could rebound on the party. But, as Michael Crick has observed, the process has taken a sinister turn, with a number of individuals being blocked from standing for seemingly minor infractions, such as wishing Nicola Sturgeon a swift recovery from a bout of ill-health, or for once liking a post from a proscribed organisation before it had actually become proscribed. This process of filtration has been remarkably successful. Crick recently observed that out of the more than 70 or so parliamentary selections so far, only one contender from the Left of the party has managed to get through.

Under Starmer, it is estimated that 137,000 fee-paying members have either left, been suspended or expelled. There may be more, since the party is slow to cancel direct debits and we have less of an idea of how many new members may have joined. Practically, with fewer members and unions issuing blank bank transfers, Labour is potentially being led down the Tory route of “dark money”, with all of the pitfalls. Look no further than the recent row involving Wes Streeting, Dan Jarvis and Yvette Cooper, who all denied they did anything wrong by accepting tens of thousands of pounds from a company, MPM Connect, which is part-owned by Peter Hearn, a Labour donor, but does not have any obvious line of business. Meanwhile, Starmer is insistent that all Front Benchers now contribute to fundraising efforts. He has also recently recalled the services of Blair’s former chief fundraiser, Lord Levy, who was the centre of a “cash-for-honours” investigation in 2006. What could possibly go wrong?

Starmer has wisely drawn from Gordon Brown’s work around further constitutional reforms, and he is coming under pressure from his MPs to offer a Green manifesto. But where are the meat and potatoes; the bold vision that was at least encapsulated in Wilson’s promise of the “white heat of the technological revolution”? There are still two years until a General Election, one that comes with boundary changes that do not work in Starmer’s favour, a Scotland that has stopped sending large numbers of Labour MPs to Westminster, and an economy that may be beginning to recover. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde may be able to control the Labour Party, but that doesn’t mean they are certain to win an election.

Questions That Need Answering

"Clearly, in this case, there are question that need answering," says Rishi Sunak. That means, "Nadhim Zahawi's answers to me have been unsatisfactory, but as the Prime Minister, I am a busy man, so I am passing this on to the Independent Ethics Adviser." What is there left to discuss, Zahawi? Get out.

Likewise, if the BBC Board needs to "review any potential conflict of interest" relating to the appointment of Richard Sharp as its Chairman, then that conflict must have existed. Just as HMRC could not have given Zahawi a penalty for nothing, so the BBC Board cannot review nothing. For a position such as this, unless there is obviously not a conflict of interest, then there is one. It's tough at the top.

Zahawi should be gone by Prime Minister's Questions, but even if he were not, then someone should stand up and ask Sunak something rather more pressing, namely whether he agreed with the Wes Streeting and Keir Starmer about privatising hospitals while nationalising General Practice, and with Sajid Javid about charging for GP appointments and for visits to A&E?

Streeting has given permission for proposals such as Javid's to be made by the people who had spent 50 years itching to make them. As Health Secretary, Streeting would not abolish such charges if they were already in place. NHS privatisation would now face no Official Opposition. By endorsing Streeting's views, Starmer has effectively named him as his successor in the course of the next Parliament, at the end of which Starmer will be 67 to Streeting's 46.

But Starmer's dishonesty is becoming a story. He lied to his party members to get their votes, so he would lie to anyone else to get their votes. We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.