Saturday 29 September 2012

A Leader Of Whom It Can Be Proud

No wonder that the media have to ignore Labour's role as the principal force both for the repatriation of powers from the EU and for a referendum on continuing membership, and no wonder that Boris Johnson's fanzines, the Evening Standard and The Spectator, have to spread transparent nonsense about whipping Labour MPs to vote in favour of same-sex "marriage, when, as David Clark writes:

I got a taste of how established opinion would react to Ed Miliband’s leadership within minutes of his election in Manchester two years ago when I bumped into a News International journalist of my acquaintance at the conference bar. He told me quite abruptly that he “couldn’t care less” who the Labour Party was “foolish” enough to choose as its leader.

At a basic level he was telling the truth: this was not someone with Labour’s best interests at heart. But the finger-jabbing aggression of his body language suggested something else. This person cared very much and he wasn’t just disappointed by the result; he was personally affronted. The subtext of his response could not have been clearer – “How dare you think that politics can be different?”

A consensus developed in the 1990s about where the limits of feasible change lie in British politics. It defined the boundaries of acceptable ideological difference and embraced a set of assumptions about what parties had to do to win elections. They had to be against raising the top rate of tax, put our ‘wealth creating’ financial elite on a pedestal, dismiss concerns about inequality as the politics of envy, accept that markets are superior to governments, adopt a deferential attitude to America and win the approval of Rupert Murdoch.

News International did more than anyone else to codify and enforce the new rules of the game, but it didn’t pluck them out of thin air. They reflected genuine electoral pressures with their origins in the battles of the 1980s and the setbacks experienced by the left. And as Steve Akehurst pointed out yesterday, they were adopted by a new caste of political technicians who eventually secured a dominant role in all three of the main political parties and equated the new orthodoxy with professionalism and success. Although Labour initially resisted, it eventually succumbed in the face of repeated defeat. New Labour was the result.

The reason why Ed Miliband’s leadership victory was so provocative and controversial is that he won by urging Labour to break free of those constraints. While his brother insisted that the established rulebook would continue to apply, the younger Miliband said that the party should once again care enough about inequality to want to do something about it, that the claims of market supremacy should be properly challenged, that the better off should pay their fare share of tax whether they liked it or not and that Britain’s alliance with America should be a means not an end.

The reaction among the technicians and like-minded parts of the media to Miliband’s victory was one of fury that Labour had slipped the leash, hence my encounter at the bar. They considered it a personal humiliation that their preferred candidate had lost and set out to right what they saw as a grievous wrong. Their approach was passive-aggressive in public, but behind the scenes they were on full attack mode. Labour was rudderless, it had no ‘narrative’ (a favoured buzzword of the technicians) and was too far to the left. Its leader was failing to make a connection with voters or land a punch on David Cameron at PMQs. A successful leadership challenge to restore the natural order of our political universe was surely only a matter of time.

The fact that Miliband has come through all of this to make himself today the most secure of the three party leaders is a huge testament to his skill, nerve and perseverance. A lesser person would have folded a long ago and sought to buy off dissent by giving in to the dissenters. But Miliband decided to suffer the brickbats and forge ahead on his own terms.

Remember, Miliband has had precious little support from the establishment of his own party which, until the spring of this year, remained completely unreconciled to his leadership. From the small insurgent band of his campaign team, he has built an effective and clear-minded private office; he has changed the face of the Shadow Cabinet, bringing in talent like Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves and Jon Cruddas; he has set the agenda on phone hacking, banking reform and the budget; and he has chalked up a clear and consistent lead in the polls, along with solid gains, North and South, in the local elections.

From the wreckage of a party that was organisationally and politically broken two years ago, Miliband has forged an effective opposition that has a real chance to succeed at the next election. More impressive still is the fact that he has achieved all of this without compromising the radicalism of his vision.

In some senses politicians are defined by the enemies they pick. It has always been an article of faith among the technicians that this must involve beating up the weak to impress the strong. So Tony Blair’s targets of choice were welfare recipients, a battered trade union movement, low paid public sector workers and asylum seekers. As a friend of mine (who will not thank me to remind him) once asked: “When is Blair going to pick on someone his own size?” Compare that to the people Miliband has been willing to take on: the Labour establishment, Rupert Murdoch, predator capitalists and the City of London. Miliband has the courage to be David against Goliath. Blair was always Goliath’s little helper.

I don’t doubt that Miliband’s leadership remains a work in progress and that there are areas where he needs to carry on improving. He needs to find a way to project himself more effectively to the British people and convince them of his leadership qualities. Part of the reason is that he rejects the leadership style of contrived machismo favoured by the technicians and chooses instead to win colleagues round through a process of persuasion. That means people often don’t see the real toughness that lies beneath. But against those of us who urged him to break more crockery in his efforts to reshape Labour, Miliband has been proved right. His reward is a party that is happier and more united than at any similar point in its history.

Against the predictions of failure and disintegration of two years ago, Miliband returns to Manchester with the doubters confounded. He has put Labour back on its feet and he has done it his way. These are all reasons why Labour should be grateful to have a courageous, principled and thoughtful leader of whom it can be proud.


Jon Cruddas writes:

What is the modern Conservative party? How coherent is its ideology? Is it united? Not in the sense of the day-to-day policy skirmishes around David Cameron, but rather at the party's deeper levels, the real potential source of prime ministerial instability.

The central paradox facing the modern Tory party is obvious. On the one hand, Cameron carries it all pretty lightly; he enjoys, and is pretty good at, the job. He purports to lead a modern, liberal, cosmopolitan government – all mainstream politicians now tend to call themselves "progressive". He presides over a radical, reforming administration – think deficit reduction, health reform and the overhaul of welfare – and faces an opposition recovering from arguably its worst ever election defeat. Not a bad place to be. All other things being equal, the party should be united behind the leader.

Yet the hallmark of the modern Tory party is fragility. It is a dangerously brittle thing. After 13 long years of opposition, and barely two years into government, it appears to be sinking, devoid of pragmatism. The recent reshuffle exposed its inner wiring – a medium-term modernisation strategy surrendered before the concerns of day-to-day party management. Cameron is captive and weak. Boris is mean and hungry. New right-wing factions are launched almost weekly. Hostility to the Liberal Democrats is simple transference; real venom is directed in private at the Tory leader. Is there any better example of a new government stalling so dramatically after initial suggestions of energy and vitality?

The leadership response from Westminster is to paper over the cracks – to remind us these are the usual mid-term travails ramped up by sacked or passed-over MPs and the pathologically oppositional. Meanwhile, from the grassroots, the admirable Tim Montgomerie of the influential website Conservative Home calls for renewed vigour on the part of Osborne, Hague and IDS in drilling into Ed Miliband's leadership, and a focus on immigration and welfare. Both sides look to the impressive 2010 intake to square the circle; to import grit, ideas and rigour into the Tories, and to deal with the pesky Lib Dems.

All roads lead to Britannia Unchained, the short tract written by a group of young, right-wing Tory MPs that is considered a route map to political renewal. Forget the small beer, shallow-end stuff of the news cycle: real unity is to be secured through rallying to the ideas in this book, and its generation of Tory "stars" putting a spark into their party and securing outright victory in 2015. That is quite a task for the MP authors Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss, yet they appear up for it. The book received some unfavourable attention before it was published – newspapers picked up on the suggestion that the British people are "among the worst idlers in the world", too many of whom "prefer a lie-in to hard work". But first things first: there is still much here that we can agree on.

The task at hand is to rebuild this country. We start with an extraordinary economic history, but one we cannot simply rest on. The reality is that Britain does, as these authors suggest, face a fundamental choice – whether to manage decline or confront today's global challenges. How can we do this and build a successful 2020 Britain? Many of the remedies put forward here are pretty self evident: good quality childcare, applauding hard work, high quality education and skill formation, embracing risk and innovation, regional balance, cutting unnecessary red tape. The comparisons the authors make are also of interest – praise is given not just to the usual Singapore and South Korea, but also to Brazil and even parts of Europe. The authors demonstrate their socially liberal credentials on race, sexuality, gender and identity, and they make other interesting arguments: for example, they question the cult of celebrity, and emphasise the importance of virtuous parenting and the nurturing of appropriate attitudes in our children.

Yet at its core this book is not about social liberalism. Scratch off the veneer and all is revealed: a destructive economic liberalism that threatens the foundations of modern conservatism. The state is assumed always to be malign, and it's taken for granted that the labour market is not flexible enough (is it ever?). For reform read marketisation and intensified commodification. In this world, safety nets stifle a "can-do" culture, weakening our work ethic and muscular individuality. Banking crises are simply part of the natural order of things; Britons are working fewer hours because they can't be bothered or are wilfully avoiding work. The role of politics and public policy and the impact of structural problems in markets and institutions are absent from the analysis.

For these authors – all members of the party's right-leaning Free Enterprise Group – it is a binary world, where everything is forward or back, progress or decline, sink or swim, good or bad. They do not appear to see the world as a complex place. The choice is between regulation and dynamism: their ideal worker is one prepared to work long hours, commute long distances and expect no employment protection and low pay. Their solution to the problem of childcare is unregulated, "informal and cheap childminders". We need dramatic cuts in public expenditure, they argue, to be matched by equivalent tax cuts. The demonisation of the welfare recipient continues apace; a broad dystopian worldview dominates the future. The bottom line for these Tory radicals is that the notion of community, society or indeed country is always trumped by textbook economic liberalism.

A few years ago I asked a high-flying commentator about the notion of "compassionate conservatism". This young columnist is hardwired into the project set out in Britannia Unchained and gives his readers a weekly report from the frontline. His contempt for the compassionate version of Tory ideology was total. Why, I asked. Because "we" are "liberals organising within the Conservative party," he replied. It is this economic liberalism that has sought, albeit in vain, to sell off our forests. It seeks a planning free-for-all; it celebrates chaos. It would dismantle valued national institutions – in broadcasting, policing, transport and health. Such libertarianism is unpatriotic – the nation's best interests wouldn't be pursued in industrial strategy, defence or indeed Britain's place within Europe. It threatens the "national-popular" foundations of the Thatcher revolution; it is a brutal and destructive creed at odds with national interest as she understood it.

Put simply, Margaret Thatcher knew she had to meld together the economic liberalism of the new right and the traditional, patriotic sentiment of both her party and the country. This was never framed as "either-or". Her pragmatic brilliance built a coalition that contested the centre ground and bolted in parts of the working class.

In contrast, although claiming to be the true descendants of Mrs T, the authors of Britannia Unchained represent a project that is extreme and destructive, and which threatens the essential character of our nation. It is because this faction is in the ascendancy that Cameron is actually failing; he remains captive to an economic reductionism that could well destroy conservatism – in the proper sense of valuing and conserving the nature and assorted institutions of the country.

Cameron is not one of this crew. Tactically, in the short term he might survive; but in the medium term he is toast. The economic liberals' march through the Conservative party will continue; every day there is less and less opposition, and they will eventually win. The coalition with the Orange Book Liberals in Clegg's party might well stumble on. But the cost, over time, will be two lost traditions: a recognisable conservatism and a recognisable social liberalism.

One Hundred Years On

And the other 26 Counties' definition of "independence" is that a newspaper can face the serious threat of closure on the instructions, not of the British Government, not of the British Parliament, not of a British court, not even of the British monarch, but of one or more other members of the British Royal Family.

That is not even colonial status. For example, it could not happen in Saint Helena. And it certainly could not have happened if there had been no partition of the United Kingdom and of the Irish Catholic ethnic group within the United Kingdom, as the greater part of it remained then and remains now.

Rather, the whole of Ireland would have received the National Health Service (still not in place in the Republic, nor ever likely to be), and a generation later would have saved the whole of these Islands from the abortion and divorce free-for-alls.

No wonder that support for the Union among Northern Irish Catholics is now proportionately higher than among the English.

A New Regulator


Public ownership.

Safeguarding the Union and restoring national sovereignty.

Ed Miliband, over to you.

Auntie Is Unwell

Shantel Burns writes:

OpenDemocracy’s ourBeeb project have published a report which details how the BBC has failed in its responsibilities to inform the British public about the truth surrounding the highly controversial NHS Bill. Titled: How the BBC betrayed the NHS: an exclusive report on two years of censorship and distortion, it gives a thorough account of a silence around the NHS bill within the BBC.

It details the apparent keenness of the BBC to follow the government’s positive privatised NHS spiel (The…Bill will allow GPs to get control … of the NHS budget) and ignore the many reports that tell a whole new, accurate story. They say that on the day the Health and Social Care Act was approved and passed through the House of Lords (19th March 2012), not one article was published on the BBC’s online news page on the NHS.

Similarly, the BBC failed to report that former Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, received £21,000 to his personal office from John Nash the then chairman of Care UK – a health firm with a substantial income from the NHS. Nash also founded Sovereign Capital which runs a number of private health firms. The Daily Mail reported on the business activities of Andrew Lansley’s wife, Sally Low. ‘Low Associates’ which was found to be boasting of its ability to help ‘make the link between the public and private sectors’ – sounds familiar.

Labour MP Grahame Morris said it constituted a “clear conflict of interest” and suggested Lansley’s position was no longer tenable. This still failed to make a ripple of news within the BBC. A number of unreported stories follow a similar tone including a story from Liberal Conspiracy which reported that the University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UNSH) had been charging A&E patients for any drugs they needed.

The report notes the BBC have refused an FOI request to find out how many complaints have been made about the lack of news surrounding the NHS bill. The report also highlights a strange influx of reports from the BBC after the NHS bill had safely been passed through the House of Lords. Besides the live streams on Democracy Live, the climax of one of the most controversial bills in recent history merited not a single article. With the bill safely passed, however, the next day saw a stream of seven articles.

The report focuses on mainly the output of BBC Online, in its news and analysis. It concludes: “It is not in the government that the strength of the BBC lies – a parliamentary system captured by forces inherently opposed to its existence – but in the British public, the support of which it should rigorously protect.”


Fiona Fox writes: 

Eight years ago I wrote a piece for the Observer entitled It's time to stand up and be counted, referring to the failure of the scientific community to speak on the issue of animal research. Looking back at the piece now it is clear I was in despair, describing the scarcity of scientists' voices as "the biggest collective failure of nerve in our society".

The familiar, solitary face of Professor Colin Blakemore staring out of the page illustrated my complaint: two years earlier the Science Media Centre (SMC) had been set up to encourage more scientists to face the media on controversial science stories such as GM crops, MMR and animal experiments, and yet Blakemore remained one of only a handful of scientists prepared to say anything in public – on the latter topic especially.

While I was busy raging at scientists for being silenced by animal rights extremists, researchers were reeling from a now infamous series of violent attacks on science. These were the days when the managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences was beaten with a baseball bat, Cambridge University abandoned plans to build a new animal research facility and extremists dug up the grave of a relative of a family breeding guinea pigs for research. The combined effects sent a chill wind through the scientific community, which retreated further into its various ivory towers than ever.

On Friday, however, we woke up to the news that Leicester University had thrown open the doors of its new animal research facility to the media to coincide with its grand opening. So what has changed since 2004?

Seeing the threat to UK bioscience, the then science minister, David Sainsbury, took action, setting up units inside government and the police force and ordering a successful crackdown on the extremists. A wave of arrests emboldened scientists to speak out.

The animal research story started to change. Instead of pictures of activists in blood-spattered lab coats wielding "animal abuser" placards, the media filmed thousands of scientists taking to the streets in support of building a lab in Oxford, and reported on a new petition in support of animal research.

Not everyone has embraced the new climate as an opportunity to open up. Those companies and universities that were forced to fight back in the glare of the cameras were left exhausted and keen to return to talking about science in general rather than their animal work. Others conclude wrongly that keeping their heads below the parapet is the best way to escape a similar fate. And there are other hurdles.

Earlier this year we learned that all ferry companies and the UK's airlines have stopped transporting animals for research after campaigning by animal rights groups. Defending their actions, the companies cited the lack of public support for animal research. In fact, repeated surveys show that the majority in the UK do accept that, as long as there is no other alternative and the research is heavily regulated, we still have to use animals in the pursuit of better treatments and cures for devastating diseases. But the perception of public opposition reminds the scientific community that we cannot take public support for granted.

Nonetheless I am certainly less pessimistic than I was eight years ago. The fact that Leicester University put the "A word" at the heart of its media strategy is one sign of a warmer breeze. As the SMC reaches its 10th anniversary we now have a library of case studies showing that those who are proactive and brave reap the rewards.

I know many scientists who work on animals. They are not motivated by cruelty but by a powerful desire to push the frontiers of medical research and develop therapies for debilitating diseases. Each one of these scientists is proud of the work they do and, like Leicester University, they are starting to show that pride to the world.

Friday 28 September 2012

Using The Word

David Cameron has not used the word “referendum”. It would be a tactical master-stroke if that were instead to be promised by the only party ever to have held one on the Eurofederalist project, which is also the only major party ever to have fought a General Election on a commitment to withdrawal. The bluff of the Eurosceptical commentariat, and of the UKIP that promised to dissolve itself in 2010 if the Conservatives made this very pledge, would then be called. But the provision for it must be only the sixth clause of a six-clause Bill, the other five clauses of which would come into effect anyway.

First, the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, and its use to repatriate agricultural policy and to restore our historic fishing rights (200 miles, or to the median line) in accordance with international law. Secondly, the requirement that, in order to have any effect in the United Kingdom, all EU law pass through both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or other of them. Thirdly, the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meet in public and publish an Official Report akin to Hansard. Fourthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament.

And fifthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons. Thus, we should no longer be subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, of neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, of members of Eastern Europe’s kleptomaniac nomenklatura, of neoconservatives such as now run Germany and until lately ran France, of people who believe the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, or of Dutch ultra-Calvinists who will not have women candidates. Soon to be joined by Turkey’s Islamists, secular ultranationalists, and violent Kurdish Marxist separatists.

Ed Miliband and Jon Cruddas, over to you.

Conrad Chekhov

The maker of Innocence of Muslims, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is now in custody because that unauthorised Internet use was a breach of the terms of his parole as a convicted fraudster.

He is, by the way, Coptic as a kind of ethnic identity and nothing more, although do not try and tell that to the BBC. His film has been roundly condemned by the Coptic Church both in Egypt and in California.

But Auntie is determined to aid and abet the scapegoating of that church and community in order to make of them the bait in a Straussian game of cat and mouse such as has already been played, again with the ancient indigenous Christians as the bait, in Iraq.

The breathtakingly dishonest Today programme tried to suggest that there was no connection between his film and his present incarceration.

But then it also failed to point out that the Awami National Party of Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, the Pakistani Minister who has offered a reward of a hundred thousand dollars for the murder of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is an extreme left-wing party economically and an organ of Pashtun nationalism, but the latter in competition with "the Taliban" by defining that nationalism in strictly secular terms.

Until he made this offer, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour was a declared "Taliban" target. His party is also in a bit of electoral trouble, and he himself, being the Minister for Railways, is regularly burned in effigy, a practice which might reasonably be adopted in relation to his counterparts over here.

His party's spokesman in Britain was interviewed on a defective telephone in order to detract attention from his condemnation of violence, and there was no mention whatever of the fact that this threat had come from our ally, Pakistan. Not Morsi's Egypt. Not Assad's Syria. Not Ahmadinejad's Iran. Zardari's Pakistan, and specifically from within that country's governing coalition.

Speaking of Iran, the world and all four of his wives are going bananas over the new memoir by Sir Salman Rushdie. Read the likes of The Spectator and the Daily Telegraph, now uncritically pro-Rushdie both above and below the line.

Then try to remember that, as the Daily Mail still manifests up to an admittedly limited point, there were once writers in this country, and not least under those mastheads, who, whether or not they had any affiliation to that relatively recent and largely Liberal thing, the Conservative Party, gave voice to that far older and far deeper phenomenon, the Tory sensibility: Hugh Trevor-Roper, John le Carré, Roald Dahl.

They knew nothing of the absurd fiction of absolute "freedom of expression", which is certainly not guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, not that that would have any application outside its own country even if did say such a thing.

They had no time for a man who very openly hated this country but who had moved here in order to avail himself of her genuine historic liberties.

And they felt no sympathy for him when he got exactly what he had wanted after publishing a wholly cynical device to make himself, previously a well-regarded but by definition fairly obscure author of high literary art, into the most famous living writer in the world, fabulously rich from the colossally increased sales of a book which hardly any of its new legion of purchasers would have read to the end.

Le Carré and Dahl had a particularly legitimate grievance. If you want sheer fame and the attendant wealth, then you should write Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory followed by the screenplays to a Bond film and to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Getting it for the heady brew of magic realism and postcolonial politics is having your cake and eating it. That is what posh awards are for. Not chat show appearances, universally instant recognition in the street, and automatic conveyance to the best table in any restaurant on earth.

Bin The Bomb

Peter Hitchens writes:

Long ago, before I grew up, I was a great enthusiast for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I had lots of badges. I was once in trouble for trying to get into a secret government nuclear fallout shelter (Regional Seat of Government) in Cambridge.  I went on CND marches – I remember in particular one in Easter 1966, one of the last of the old Aldermaston marches, though by then they started in the Berkshire village where our deterrent is made, and finished in Trafalgar Square, rather than the original plan  when they did it the other way round. I think there was a big puppet show, featuring figures drawn by Gerald Scarfe, and shouted, inaudible speeches in the March wind and we all sang a song, to the tune of ‘Jerusalem’ , the only line of which I recall is ‘…. And that the bland shall lead the bland’.

It was all a bit like a church outing, including sleeping on the floors of church halls, proclaiming our faith  and a sharing a feeling of uplift. I think it was later the same year that I went on a  much smaller march to the Polaris warhead factory in Burghfield, near Reading. I have never got so wet in my life, but we glowed with righteousness as we trailed past the fenced-off hummocks, amid the piney heathland, where the engines of mass death were made. Soon after that came Vietnam which took our minds off the Bomb, and then the thrills of Bolshevism in the International Socialists.

I can’t recall exactly when I realised that it was all drivel. Some time in my post-university years, I think when, beneath the leaden skies of chilly Swindon, I confronted reality for the first time in many years. It came to me that deterrence actually worked, was working, protected me personally and that I really ought to support it. I suspect my Bolshevik training helped me along. There were many disputes among the comrades about the Soviet bomb, with the orthodox Communists torn on the issue, as they had tagged along with CND in the hope of picking up members (and because British nuclear disarmament suited Soviet foreign policy). But it was of course ludicrous, as the Soviet fatherland had its own engines of mass death, pointed at us, and – as I would personally discover years later in the secret H-Bomb town of Kurchatovsk –did a handy line in pro-Bomb propaganda for home consumption.

For us Trotskyists, who evaded any kind of Soviet loyalty it was easier (well, mostly, there was a deep difficulty about this for some of us, who insisted that the Soviet state, though corrupt, was a ‘degenerated’ or ‘deformed’ worker’s state, and so ultimately to be defended against capitalism).  I remember a mocking chant, to the tune of ‘The Red Flag’ which ran (I think) ‘The Workers’ Bomb is deepest green, it’s not as black as it might seem, degenerated though it be, it’s still the People’s Property, so raise the Workers’ Bomb on high, beneath its shade we’ll live and die, and though our comrades all shout ‘b***s’ , we’ll stand beneath it when it falls’. As indeed we would have done. It all faded away until, back in the early 1980s, the cruise and Pershing Missile controversy erupted. It was important.  The USSR had begun to position ‘Pioneer’ or (as we called them) SS-20 medium range nuclear missiles in European Russia, capable of reaching Western European targets. So what?

Well, so quite a lot. NATO, in those days a real alliance designed to deter a Soviet advance into Western Europe, was conventionally feeble. Its troops were poorly co-ordinated (the only standard equipment across all armies was the official NATO sickbag), hugely outnumbered by the mighty GSFG (the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, so vast that East Germany all but sank under their weight. You could hardly move in the GDR without meeting them). Our forces were also  in the wrong places, for insoluble political reasons. US troops, for instance, the biggest and best-equipped, were in the US zone of West Germany. But the main Soviet thrust, had it come, would have gone across the North German plain where the smaller, less powerful British and German armies were mainly to be found.

In any case. We relied on the following calculation. If the GSFG ever did advance, we would be bound to counter with tactical nuclear weapons. The USSR would then either have to give up, or respond by going Ballistic, and launching a strategic attack against the USA, so inviting Mutual Assured Destruction (the famous, and misnamed MAD, which stopped even the silliest of politicians from contemplating war in those days, because it would obviously be insane to start a war. Look at them now. They can’t stop starting wars). Well, if Chicago were incinerated, the USA would be bound to retaliate, and the theory worked. But what if the Soviet response to battlefield nukes was instead to fry Frankfurt, Munich, Lyon and Manchester, using the SS-20s? Would the USA risk Chicago, or Kansas City, for Europe then? Doubtful.

The SS-20s broke the chain of MAD.  Destruction wasn’t mutually-assured any more.  In which case it wasn’t as mad to start a war in Europe as it had been. And who was going to do that?  Well, guess. A Soviet conventional advance across Europe had become thinkable for the first time in decades. In that case, the countries of Western Europe, fearing this possibility and (having no realistic defence against it which didn’t involve a European nuclear war) would be under pressure to accommodate themselves to the Soviet will in a way that had been unknown since the founding of NATO. Hence the decision to deploy American-controlled, but European-based weapons which could retaliate against Soviet cities if Western European cities were attacked by SS-20s. This, by the way, was the context for the now-famous argument I had with my brother in 1984 or thereabouts, during which he said that he didn’t care if the Red Army watered its horses at Hendon. It was, in my view, the defeat of the SS-20 ploy that led to the end of the USSR.

At that time, I had a pro-NATO sticker on my car , mainly to annoy my Oxford neighbours, who all had CND stickers on theirs, opposing what they called ‘cruise’. This was the time of Greenham Common and the Greenham Common Women, and also for a revival of CND, which had almost vanished in the 1970s. This time it even had membership cards, which it never had the first time round. There were special showings of Peter Watkins’s gritty propaganda film ‘The War Game’, stupidly refused a showing by the BBC when it was first made in the 1960s. This shows, in the style of a documentary, the effects of a nuclear attack on parts of Southern England. And the panic infecting the country in the days before. It’s rather a charming period-piece now, with its pre-metric measurements, helmeted bobbies, phone boxes, vicars and BBC accents.

But like all such films (think also of the slicker American film ‘The Day After’) its scenario for the outbreak of war is unbelievably feeble and incredible.  The truth was that, after the Cuba standoff had ended in compromise, it was hard to see what could actually bring about a superpower nuclear exchange. ‘Dr Strangelove’, with its (credible but false) suggestion that most of those involved were unhinged, probably persuaded more people. All I needed to do, when ‘The War Game’ was shown near me, was to get up during the post-film discussion and point out the obvious but neglected fact that the nuclear explosions we had all just watched were the explosions of Soviet weapons, aimed at us.  From then on, the CNDers didn’t really recover. I recall (after one such showing in Hampstead), infuriating my defeated opponents by cheerily helping them stack the chairs after the confused audience had gone.

Well, all that’s over now. The GSFG, the Soviet Army, the Warsaw Pact armies, are just so much scrap and reminiscence. The USSR is gone, the last SS-20 is in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, Greenham Common has gone back to the land,  and Russia has about as much interest in invading Western Europe as I have in developing an enthusiasm for Glam Rock. So why do we continue to main this vast apparatus for destroying Moscow, called Trident? I have no idea.  The ideologies, the rivalries, the ideas that caused it to be built are now so much yellowing paper in an archive. The conflict it was designed to prevent never took place and never will. Our significance in the world has shrunk in spite of our missiles . Ernest Bevin wanted a British bomb so that the USA wouldn’t order us about. Perhaps he was right in those days, but it seems to me that we would be better able to resist American pressure if we’d spent the money on building an economy instead.

So why not get rid of it? Because Labour is still afraid that if it bans the bomb, people will realise just how radical it is. And because the Tories have long relied on a noisy fake patriotism to cover up the fact that they have sold the country to the European Union, the greatest British diplomatic defeat of modern times. Did Trident preserve us from that? Will it help us get out? Will it keep us warm when we can’t afford the imported gas anymore?

Thursday 27 September 2012

The Hypocrisy of Harriet Harman

Daring to bang on about child abuse to the Question Time audience.

To get it out of the way, few, if any, of the Police Officers, the Crown Prosecution Service staff or the social workers involved in the Rochdale case were Muslims, any more than that teacher from Sussex who has eloped with one of his pupils is a Muslim. Their attitudes came, and come, from somewhere else entirely. As some of us have been saying for years, and even putting into print. Along with our no-holds-barred criticisms of Islam, in fact. But fair’s fair.

Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt ran the National Council for Civil Liberties when it was passing resolutions in support of the Paedophile Information Exchange and Paedophile Action for Liberation, and when it was publishing calls to legalise and destigmatise sex between adults and children. Hewitt went on to have overall responsibility for every social worker in England, while Harman’s pro-pederast past was explored in detail by Martin Beckford in the 9th March 2009 edition of the Daily Telegraph, but that newspaper was too spineless or too compromised to put it on the front page where it belonged, so the story was allowed to die, at least for the time being. Neither Harriet Harman nor Patricia Hewitt is a Muslim. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a Muslim on the editorial staff of the Daily Telegraph.

Peter Tatchell, who would lower the age of consent to 14 and thus legalise almost every act of which any Catholic priest has ever been so much as accused, wrote in The Guardian (26th June 1997) that:

The positive nature of some child-adult relations is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of 9 to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy. While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful. 

The Guardian printed that. In 2010, David Cameron offered Tatchell a peerage. Neither Peter Tatchell nor David Cameron is a Muslim. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a Muslim on the editorial staff of The Guardian. I very much doubt that there was one as long ago as 1997.

For many years, the recommended reading for postgraduate students of Criminology at the University of Cambridge included the 1980 book Paedophilia: The Radical Case, by Tom O’Carroll, chairman of the Paedophile Information Exchange, whose 1981 conviction for conspiracy to corrupt public morals through the contacts section of that organisation’s magazine was attacked a year later in the journal of the National Council for Civil Liberties by O’Carroll’s barrister, Peter Thornton, who is now a Queen’s Counsel and a senior circuit judge. The University of Cambridge is not exactly run by Muslims, and His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC is not a Muslim. Tom O’Carroll is not a Muslim, either.

Stephen Fry’s books, The Liar and The Hippopotamus, glorify sex between men and teenage boys, exactly the acts that have brought scandal on the Catholic Church. Stephen Fry is not a Muslim. In its dramatic output, Channel 4 has been and remains a relentless, publicly owned campaigner in favour of such acts. No Muslim has ever been the Chairman or the Controller of Channel 4.

Germaine Greer’s The Boy is a celebration of the sexual fetishisation of the adolescent male both by men and by women. Germaine Greer is not a Muslim. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins describes having been sexually abused as a child as “an embarrassing but otherwise harmless experience”. Richard Dawkins is not a Muslim.

Philip Pullman’s famous trilogy concludes with sexual intercourse between two children aged about 12, and he has repeatedly denounced the absence of sexual content in the Narnia novels. Philip Pullman is not a Muslim. Geoffrey Robertson QC made his name defending the Schoolkids’ Edition of Oz, while his wife, Katthy Lette, made hers writing explicit depictions of teenage sex. Geoffrey Robertson QC and Kathy Lette are not Muslims.

Few, if any, Muslims have rushed to defend and to laud Roman Polanski. Muslims can hardly be said to control Internet pornography, which is the principal, and highly commercial, sexual abuse of teenage boys in the world today.

The war in Afghanistan is a war in defence of the endemic abuse of boys, an abuse to which, whatever else may be said of “the Taliban”, they were very actively opposed and not without success in seeking to eradicate, whereas the regime that we have installed in their place actively colludes in it as surely as in the heroin trade. The people who took us to war in Afghanistan were not Muslims. The people who keep us at war in Afghanistan are not Muslims. The child molesters whom we are fighting that war in order to defend are significantly less Muslim than the people from whom we are fighting that war in order to defend them. Not least, they are significantly less Muslim in that they practice pederasty.

And then there are the numerous Social Services Departments that ran homes where at the same time as the Church was hushing up sex between men and teenage boys on the part of a small number of priests – and thus, however imperfectly, indicating disapproval of it – such behaviour was absolutely endemic, with major figures in that world publishing academic studies, used for many years in the training of social workers, which presented it as positively beneficial to both parties and therefore actively to be encouraged. Clearly, that became the same view of girls. We now see the consequences.

Plus the police, who long ago stopped enforcing the age of consent from 13 upwards; as with their non-enforcement of the drugs laws, one really does have to ask for whose benefit that is.

Among many, many, many others.

What’s that you say? They do not purport to be moral authorities? Really? Yes, they do. Harriet Harman, for one, is doing so in my ear as I write.

Buy the book here.

The Standard

Ed Miliband has done nothing more than repeat his own, oft-expressed, support for same-sex "marriage". A London-only newspaper, effectively published out of Boris Johnson's office, has added a piece of pure conjecture in accordance with its own editorial position.

But there is absolutely no suggestion from Miliband's own mouth that Labour is going to impose the whip in the unlikely event that this ever makes it to the floor of either House. Even the Standard's codswallop merchants have felt obliged to give themselves a get-out clause, that their Labour sources cannot say for certain until they have seen the text of the Bill.

He knows perfectly well that, far from the Evening Standard, at least 50 Labour MPs owe their selections and reselections to certification by the local Catholic machines, with a smaller but still noticeable number similarly related to the Pakistani and Bangladeshi tribal and clan machines. Some of those latter are indeed in London, about a mile or less from the Standard's office. Or on a different planet, depending on how you look at it.

Then there are the previously Lib Dem voters of the West Country, Mid Wales and elsewhere, not least the North of Scotland, where this issue also absolutely precludes their voting for the SNP even before it descends into chaos following its heavy defeat in the independence referendum several months before the next General Election.

Labour will not whip any vote on this proposal during this Parliament, a parliamentary division which in itself would cause pigs to stage a flypast. Whereas both Coalition parties are effectively obliged to include a commitment to this change in their respective manifestos in 2015, Labour need say nothing more than that there would be a free vote if anyone tried to bring it in as a Private Member's Bill. What would not be said, because it would not need to be said, would be that there would be no chance of government time for any such Bill, without which it would stand not the slightest realistic chance of success.

By the General Election after that, the Conservative Party will either have been replaced formally, or else taken over in such a way as to amount to the same thing, in both cases making Labour's position that of the other side as well.

Same-sex "marriage" is not going to happen. Forget about it.

Quis Custodiet

Very many thanks to, shall we say, the insider who has been in touch to suggest that a revived Daily Herald be funded by advertising from Labour local government, and after 2015 from Labour central government, previously published in the Lib Dems' in-house newspaper. Nice to see that we are, so to speak, on the same page...

The Strange Death of Social Democracy?

Bill Mitchell is well worth a read.

The Day Nor The Hour

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has treated the UN General Assembly to an articulation of Twelver Shi'ite eschatology, his adherence to which has hardly been a secret hitherto.

Who is complaining about this? People who used to want Pat Robertson to become the President of the United States. And people who now want Mitt Romney to do so.

In other words, those who would have wished to have heard Dispensationalism preached from that very podium, and who would now wish to hear the eschatological aspects of Mormonism.

The Sixth Party System

A number of communications in response to yesterday's post about American politics. Yes, I accept that the Senate, in particular, will continue to contain enough Republicans to make that party look like a reasonably viable national force. The question, then, is which of the two Democratic Parties, competing in the bitterest of terms within that body, will partly subsume and partly be subsumed by the rump of the GOP.

Will it be the economically populist and even social democratic, morally and socially conservative, largely black one (the Republicans having been historically the party of the blacks) which is also sufficiently "white ethnic" to speak and act for the ancient indigenous Christians of the Holy Land and the wider Middle East, but which otherwise represents Republicans' own historical norm of more or less isolationist foreign policy together with a strong pursuit of global nuclear disarmament?

Or will it be the economically neoliberal, socially liberal one with a largely Hispanic electorate but with its direction set from the liberal Jewish salons of Hollywood and New York, giving it a strong and active commitment to the secular Zionist project of old and to a wider liberal interventionism throughout the world?

These will be the two main formations in American politics before very long at all. America does not really do third parties. So, the remnant Republicans can find a home in one of them, or they can find a home in the other. Which is it to be? And why?

In the meantime, might not a party on the first model be set up for ballot line purposes in New York State?

Let Battle Commence

Sir Nick Harvey is clearly positioning himself, no doubt with cause, as the Minister who was sacked because he was about to recommend the cancellation of Trident. That is no less clearly a pitch for what is effectively the vacant Leadership of the Liberal Democrats. Labour needs to recover what is in fact its own (and a section of the Lib Dems’ own) social democratic tradition, with considerable crossover to British paleoconservatism, if it is not to have a march stolen on it. 

Far from representing national pride or independence, our nuclear weapons programme has only ever represented the wholesale subjugation of Britain’s defence capability to a foreign power. That power maintains no less friendly relations with numerous other countries, almost none of which have nuclear weapons. Like radiological, chemical and biological weapons, nuclear weapons are morally repugnant simply in themselves. They offer not the slightest defence against a range of loosely knit, if at all connected, terrorist organisations pursuing a range of loosely knit, if at all connected, aims in relation to a range of countries while actually governing no state, with the possible exception of our supposed ally, Pakistan. Where would any other such organisation keep nuclear weapons in the first place?

Furthermore, the possession of nuclear weapons serves to convey to terrorists and their supporters that Britain wishes to “play with the big boys”, thereby contributing to making Britain a target for the terrorist activity against which such weapons are defensively useless. It is high time for Britain to grow up. Britain’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council could not be taken away without British consent, and so does not depend in any way on her possession of nuclear weapons; on the contrary, the world needs and deserves a non-nuclear permanent member of that Council.

Most European countries do not have nuclear weapons, and nor does Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Are those therefore in greater danger? On the contrary, the London bombings of 7th July 2005 were attacks on a country with nuclear weapons, while the attacks of 11th September 2001 were against the country with by far the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The only nuclear power in the Middle East is Israel. Is Israel the most secure state in the Middle East? It is mind-boggling to hear people go on about Iran, whose President is in any case many years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and in any case only wants one (if he does) to use against the only Middle Eastern country that already has them. What does any of this have to do with us?

Numerous Tories with relevant experience – Anthony Head, Peter Thorneycroft, Nigel Birch, Aubrey Jones – were sceptical about, or downright hostile towards, British nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. In March 1964, while First Lord of the Admiralty and thus responsible for Polaris, George Jellicoe suggested that Britain might pool her nuclear deterrent with the rest of NATO. Enoch Powell denounced the whole thing as not just anything but independent in practice, but also immoral in principle. The rural populist John G Diefenbaker, who opposed official bilingualism in Canada’s English-speaking provinces, and who campaigned for his flag to remain the Canadian Red Ensign with the Union Flag in its corner, also kept John F Kennedy’s nukes off Canadian soil.

Gaitskell’s Campaign for Democratic Socialism explicitly supported the unilateral renunciation of Britain’s nuclear weapons, and the document Policy for Peace, on which Gaitskell eventually won his battle at the 1961 Labour Conference, stated: “Britain should cease the attempt to remain an independent nuclear power, since that neither strengthens the alliance, nor is it now a sensible use of our limited resources.” Although the SDP was in many ways a betrayal of this heritage, it is nevertheless the case that nuclear weapons were not mentioned in its founding Limehouse Declaration, and that David Owen did have to act at least once in order to prevent a unilateralist from being selected as a parliamentary candidate. In an echo of Head, Thorneycroft, Birch, Jones, Jellicoe and Powell, even that strongly monetarist SDP MP and future Conservative Minister, John Horam, was sceptical about the deployment of American cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe. Shirley Williams has long been doing sterling work in the field of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament; it is inconceivable that she, or indeed Bill Rodgers, Gaitskell’s right-hand man in the CDS, really wishes to “renew” Trident. It is even difficult to believe that of Owen these days.

There could not be bigger and more unwise spending, or a more ineffective example of the “Big State”, than nuclear weapons in general and Trident in particular. Diverting enormous sums of money towards the civil nuclear power that is the real nuclear deterrent, towards public services, towards the relief of poverty at home and abroad, and towards paying off our national debt, precisely by reasserting control over our own defence capability, would represent a most significant step towards One Nation politics, with an equal emphasis on the One and on the Nation. It is what Disraeli would have done.

Ed Miliband, over to you.