Tuesday 30 April 2013


Brooks Newmark, whose business it is not, demands that Ed Miliband remove Ken Livingstone from the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party for his unremarkable remark that the Boston Bombers were motivated by American foreign policy.

A remark made on the only television station that, inter alia, reported the student demonstration in London on 9th November, which both the BBC and Sky News blacked out. That station, although still available on the Internet, has since had its British broadcasting license revoked because it is not free from overseas editorial control. Unlike Sky News. Among others available on Sky, such as Fox News, CNN and Bloomberg. All under strictly British editorial control. Indubitably.

Livingstone holds an elected position on the NEC, an election in which he topped the poll. But he could be expelled, although only by the NEC, for having brought the Labour Party into disrepute. However, it is also expulsionable to "adhere" to any non-Labour against any Labour candidate for public office. What about those who publicly endorsed Boris Johnson against Ken Livingstone?

Moreover, not only is Livingstone right, but this country currently harbours Akhmed Zakayev, to whom these bombers undoubtedly owe allegiance. The bombers of 9/11 and 7/7 made no bones about the fact that they were motivated by American and British foreign policy respectively. Of course they were. Ken Clarke warned of that in the Commons debate on the Iraq War, and he was proved right.

And of course, so were these.

Internal Review

On a site close to the Labour Whips' Office, the valiant old warhorse John Mills has attracted only positive comments:

As a committed Labour supporter who has been immersed in the political and economic arguments over Britain’s place in the European integration project for some forty years  - from my role in overseeing JML expand its business beyond Britain to acting as Secretary of Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign since 1975 – my views have evolved as the European Union has radically changed form.

There is a perception that the question of Europe is a settled one within the Labour party. But as the EU hurtles down the path towards federalism, I am convinced more than ever that this question still has to be subject to much soul-searching and internal review.

As the poll on the in last week’s Guardian demonstrates, trust in the European project is falling across the continent and is now at an all-time low. With the Euro tanking and southern Europe in its current malaise, it’s easy to understand why some people would prefer to be out than in, and many businesses are wondering how life could look outside the EU. Yet, with the prime minister’s speech in January, a clear process has now been put in place to get a better deal for Britain in the EU. Most people in the business world now see the UK’s best interests being served by engaging in substantial renegotiation to turn the EU into the flexible, adaptive structure it needs to become if it is to survive and thrive. To that end, I am delighted to be co-chairing the new Business for Britain campaign aimed at mobilising and better reflecting the interests and opinions of the business community in the great EU debate to secure a better deal for Britain in Europe.

At a time when this government and governments across Europe are having to mete out painful austerity, working people find it incredibly frustrating that we seem to have little control over ever-increasing payments to the EU. Labour wisely got behind the push for a real-terms cut to the EU’s next long-term budget, but we need to do far more to show we are serious about far-reaching reform to get Britain’s relationship with Europe onto a long term stable footing.

While we differ on other policy areas, David Cameron should be congratulated for laying down markers on how the EU needs to change along the lines of flexibility and fairness to boost competitiveness, principles I was heartened to see Douglas Alexander and Labour endorsing. In recent years, the debate has fallen squarely along in vs out lines. The reality is, however, that the majority of Labour members, the electorate and those in business favour a more nuanced view – being prepared to give our membership of the EU a chance provided that significant changes to our terms of that membership are made. The test now is whether this can be made to happen.

Above all, Britain needs to be in a relationship with the EU where the costs don’t outweigh the benefits. SMEs and start-up’s, who employ hundreds of thousands of the UK’s workforce, find themselves paying significant compliance costs attached to EU regulation, whose one-size-fits-all approach seems to forget the smaller businesses who don’t benefit as much from cross-border legislation. To boost jobs and growth, British business has to be competitive, and it is with this aim in mind that Business for Britain is seeking a better EU deal to help pave the way towards economic prosperity. 

John Mills is co-chairman of Business for Britain and the chairman and founder of JML – the consumer products and shopping channel company. John stood for the Labour party in the 1974 general election and for the European parliament in 1979. He was the national agent for the referendum campaign in 1975 and has been secretary of the Labour Euro-safeguards campaign since 1975.

All Roads Lead

BBC Two's Young Margaret made it perfectly clear what a self-regarding and rather unpleasant person its subject was even as a schoolgirl. It also put to bed the myth of her closeness to, or even concern for, her father. By the time that he died, he did not even have her telephone number.

Attending his memorial service, during which a lectern was dedicated to his memory in the chapel where he had preached, itself in the town of which he had been Mayor, she demanded a better seat than that allocated to her, on the grounds that she was a Cabinet Minister. Her elder sister Muriel had to point out that, "This service is not for you."

Still not the best line in it, though. That was when we were told by the BBC that Grantham, "was built on the A1." Look out for the BBC's next documentary on the Royal Family, during which the narrator will wonder aloud why Windsor Castle was built so near to Heathrow Airport.

Imperil The Yellow

If UKIP survives another year, then between them, it and Labour should be able to ensure that neither Con Dem party returns any MEPs from any of the three Northern regions. So UKIP is not without its uses. But it needs to forget about televised debates in 2015. Simply because there should never have been any last time. There are certainly never going to be any again. Not after what happened in 2010.

Nick Clegg might see himself as permanently in Government. But Labour would never touch him or his party, even if it needed to do so. A position in which it is not going to find itself in 2015. Labour is going to win, anyway. But probably without making very much of an effort in, say, the West Country, or the North of Scotland. That is a mistake.

Those are areas suffering greatly under the Coalition (there are several more, especially in the traditionally Tory countryside and in certain historic centres of the industrial working class in the South East, in East Anglia and along the South Coast), and there is only one way of voting against the Coalition.

Labour's biggest ever number of raw votes was in 1951, when almost every result concluded that, "The Liberal candidate lost his deposit." However, there were still National Liberals to put Churchill back into Downing Street despite his party's having polled fewer votes than Attlee's. In 2015, there will be no National Liberals.

The key to an even greater triumph will be the selection of the right candidates. For example, take the definition of marriage. That free vote which saw at least one Shadow Minister, who has not lost his position, go into the Division Lobby to retain the traditional definition. Another made a strong speech to that effect, before abstaining for tactical reasons. And that is before we start about PPSes.

Sir Alan Beith's Labour opponent needs to be as old-school Methodist as he is, or else a farming Anglican of the same view, not only on this but also on pro-life issues, on which Sir Alan has been a parliamentary stalwart for 40 years. John Pugh's Labour opponent needs to be another staunch Northern Catholic, with whom the Labour Party is replete at local level in the North West, and most especially on Merseyside. Gordon Birtwistle's Labour opponent needs to be the same. And Sarah Teather? She probably fears an intervention by one of the mighty black pastors of Brent. Let her fear be proved well-founded.

Monday 29 April 2013

Fragrant Wobblies

A recent update on the Hong Kong dockworkers’ strike - the Wobblies’ International Solidarity Commission has set up an online fund for overseas sympathisers to show their support for the strike, here. All funds raised go to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, which is providing logistics, getting out the message about the strikers’ demands and pulling their weight with politicians both in the Fragrant Harbour and beyond. Please do join us!

A Fairer Society In Rural Areas

In some ways, Tom Williams was an unlikely hero of British agricultural workers. After all, as a coal miner, he was associated with heavy industry before entering parliament for the Don Valley seat in 1922. As a cabinet minister, however, he made his name at agriculture, a post he held throughout the period of Clement Attlee’s Labour government from 1945 to 1951.

Williams’ flagship piece of legislation was the 1947 Agriculture Act. The first section was clear in its objectives:  ‘The following provisions of this Part of this Act shall have effect for the purpose of promoting and maintaining, by the provision of guaranteed prices and assured markets for the produce mentioned in the First Schedule to this Act, a stable and efficient agricultural industry capable of producing such part of the nation’s food and other agricultural produce as in the national interest it is desirable to produce in the United Kingdom, and of producing it at minimum prices consistently with proper remuneration and living conditions for farmers and workers in agriculture and an adequate return on capital invested in the industry.’

The twin aims are laudable. On the one hand, Williams sought to produce a sustainable business in agriculture, but, on the other, to ensure that those who worked in the industry were able to do so in good conditions. Williams then created the Agricultural Wages Board in 1948, which not only protected wage levels, but also ensured that workers were provided with accommodation. Thus, in the postwar era, it was a Labour government that sought to create a fairer society in rural areas, not the Conservatives.

Indeed, in the modern day, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government wants to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board as part of the enterprise and regulatory reform bill. The Tory environment secretary Owen Paterson dismissed Williams’ creation as: ‘the last throwback to an era where these councils did a worthy job’. But the Agricultural Wages Board is not some sort of historic relic. It still sets wage levels for over 150,000 workers.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh accurately summed up the problem: ‘We don’t want to see either a race to the bottom on wages or a great increase in the amount employers charge workers for their tied accommodation …’ She added: ‘It means lower wages for farm workers, and a hit to the countryside’s economy of £260m out of village high streets over 10 years. The Tories and Lib Dems are creating a race to the bottom in rural wages, hitting living standards and increasing social deprivation. We in the Labour party believe that the people who grow and pick our fruit should also be able to afford to buy it in the shops. We a need a One Nation plan for the countryside to tackle the rural cost of living crisis, protect buses and public services, and invest in rural jobs and growth.’

If this bill receives royal assent and is implemented, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will have forfeited any claim to speak for farm workers. Not content with squeezing living standards, the coalition government is allowing wages to be driven down, and in doing so seeking to reverse gains made by working people over 50 years ago.

An Attack On Us All

Owen Jones writes:

Britain’s welfare state is under such a sustained attack from so many directions, it is difficult to know where to begin a defence. The latest volley – yet another assault on the principle of universalism from Iain Duncan Smith – may, at first, seem more more challenging to take on than, say, the scandalous kicking of the working poor, disabled and unemployed people. Duncan Smith argues that wealthy pensioners who don’t really need benefits such as the winter fuel allowance or free bus passes should hand them back. How is unclear; as Ken Clarke quickly pointed out: “You can’t... I don’t think it has a system for doing that.” But it’s clear where this is all heading: the Liberal Democrats already favour stripping these benefits from middle-class people, and a large chunk of Tories would like to do the same, too.

On top of the chaotic withdrawal of child benefit for higher earners, Duncan-Smith’s intervention is consistent with the gradual chipping away of the very foundations of the welfare state. It’s a clever ruse, too. It seems to reverse the positions of left and right. How is it defensible for low-paid workers to cough up to pay for frivolous benefits that multi-millionaires simply do not need? It even taps into widespread discomfort with the very inequality promoted by right-wing policies: why on earth should some of the country’s wealthiest people get free TV licences?

It is certainly true that members of Britain’s booming rich elite have lots of money they simply don’t need, whether they have retired or not. That’s one reason we have this thing called tax. What it does – in theory, any way – is take money from you based on your income, in order to pay for a functioning, civilised society. Rich people have benefited from this more than most: they need workers trained by a state-funded education system and kept healthy by a state-funded healthcare system; they depend on lending from banks rescued by the taxpayer; they rely on state-funded infrastructure and research, and – like all of us – on a society that does not collapse. Whether they like it or not, they would not have made their fortunes without the state spending billions of pounds.

The universal basis of social security is this: “Everyone pays in, everyone gets something back.” It should be seen as inextricably linked with citizenship: that all of us have access to certain rights, whoever we are. On technical grounds, universalism works: it is the most efficient, cheap, easily understandable and simple way of administering the welfare state. Take a look at a Scandinavian country like Sweden. The wealthiest pay one of the highest tax rates in the world – nearly 57 per cent – and get the same excellent cradle-to-grave benefits as everybody else. Sweden, of course, is one of the most equal, best-functioning societies on earth, as nations with universal welfare states tend to be.

But what the assault on universalism really means is the further destruction of Britain’s already-collapsing social cohesion. The Tory strategy since coming to power has involved the most shameless attempt to turn large sections of the electorate against each other since the Second World War. If you’re a low-paid worker suffering cuts to your pay packet and tax credits then you are encouraged to be enraged that the less deserving unemployed “scrounger” is not being mugged sufficiently. Stripping the welfare state of its universalism will breed a middle-class that is furious about paying large chunks of tax, getting nothing back and subsidising the supposedly less deserving. It will accelerate the demonisation of the British poor.

It is easy to see where it is leading. Low-earners are being taken out of income tax, even if they are being left poorer overall by increased indirect taxes and the slashing of both in-work and out-of-work benefits. But remember when Mitt Romney damned the 47 per cent of Americans who supposedly paid nothing in, while benefiting from supposed state largesse? That is where the shredding of universalism ends up, promoting poisonous ideas of an undeserving poor, where the wealthy resent paying taxes in exchange for zilch.

Given the explosion in the fortunes of the wealthiest 1,000 Britons since Lehman Brothers collapsed is bigger than our annual deficit, the case for the rich coughing up more money is unanswerable. That means an all-out war on the £25bn lost each year through tax avoidance, increasing tax on both income and wealth, clamping down on tax relief on pension contributions for the wealthiest, hiking capital gains tax, and so on. If a pensioner is well-off, then they should pay more proportionate to their wealth and income. That’s how we get money from the wealthiest without undermining universalism in favour of an inefficient, socially destructive alternative.

As ever, the Tories are setting the terms of debate on social security in the absence of an effective response from the Labour leadership. All too often, Labour’s leading lights have refused to take on – or have even endorsed – Tory attempts to set people against each other. Their most recent proposals included a contributory system – that is, you get back depending on what you’ve put in. It would discriminate against the million young people currently languishing in unemployment; women, who are more likely to take time off work to look after children; disabled and ill people; poorer people; and those with the misfortune to live in areas of high unemployment. Labour has finally started accepting that low wages are being subsidised courtesy of the taxpayer, but has yet to consistently make the same argument about landlords charging extortionate rents.

The universal welfare state is under siege; it needs a confident, coherent defence. Talk of reform must surely centre on the subsidising of bosses and landlords. The case for tax on the basis of wealth and income desperately has to be made. As Britain’s finest Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, put it: “If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.” If Labour fails to do its job and drive the Tory onslaught back, our already deeply fragmented society will face even further social destruction. It must not be allowed to happen.

TNT Explosive

Paul Mills writes:

Last week marked the formal announcement by the Minister for Business and Enterprise Michael Fallon that the Royal Mail will be sold off by next April, setting the ball rolling on what is set to be the biggest privatisation for over 20 years.

This follows the deregulation of postal services in 2006, which has allowed companies such as TNT post to win contracts to deliver mail on behalf of private and public sector organisations. TNT post are in a pilot phase in West and Central London this year, providing competition to Royal Mail to deliver letters directly to the doorstep for the first time in Royal Mail’s 360-year history. They intend to expand their operation across the country in the coming years, aiming to employ up to 20,000 postal workers.

In light of recent changes in the postal system, upon hearing of problems with mail turning up late and sometimes not at all, I went undercover as a delivery operative for TNT post for Channel 4 DispatchesSecrets of Your Missing Mail (airing at 8pm tonight) to examine the quality of service provided by privately owned companies. I found cause for concern on several fronts, arising from the profit-driven privatisation of an industry that remains an important public service; the contracts up for grabs include the delivery of crucial letters for hospital appointments, benefit assessments, credit cards statements and household utility bills, so it is paramount that these letters are delivered reliably, punctually and securely.

However, I found that the important task of getting crucial and confidential letters to people on time jeopardised by profit-oriented thinking that prioritises getting postmen back to the depot to meet targets. On several occasions, I was called back to the depot in the early afternoon with bundles of mail left to deliver, frustrated as there were no logistical reasons as to why these letters couldn’t be delivered that day. This attitude, combined with the fact that TNT only deliver to each address every other day, means members of the public can be kept waiting unnecessarily for days or even weeks before receiving crucial letters. One of our contributors, for example, missed an appointment for a cancer test due to the late arrival of a letter from TNT Post, and was then made to wait agonisingly for three weeks to receive the letter with his results. Whilst TNT have not confirmed the reason for this delay, it is clear that if they are handling letters of this importance, mail should only be returned to the depot if there’s absolutely no other alternative.

Furthermore, operating as private company - free from many of the regulations that bind the Royal Mail - allows TNT to operate on an uneven playing field. TNT are not obliged, like Royal Mail, to provide a universal service: Royal Mail are committed to delivering post up and down the country, six days a week, whether in Sheffield or the Shetland Islands, with a uniform pricing system allowing equal access to its services for everyone in the country. TNT, however, can simply cherry-pick highly profitable areas in which to operate, bidding only to deliver in dense urban areas such as West and Central London. There is a genuine concern amongst organisations such as the Communications Workers Union that this universal service will no longer be possible if private companies undercut Royal Mail for lucrative contracts, as it will leave Royal Mail unable to foot the bill for costlier deliveries in rural areas. Individuals and small businesses will be hardest hit, whilst the winners will be the large organisations that need to send out huge batches of mail.

Unlike Royal Mail, TNT have no obligation to meet the targets set by Ofcom, the independent regulator for the communications industry, so are not required to publish statistics or results on the quality of their service. Security practices were extremely poor at the depot in which I worked, as we delivered mail on bikes with no locks on the panniers containing the letters, leaving the bikes unattended in busy areas for lengthy periods of time whilst we walked large sections of our round. TNT hires temporary staff and students on zero-hour contracts and, whilst most of my colleagues were conscientious and honest, a combination of poor training, low pay and a transient attitude towards the job can only increase the likelihood of postal workers taking shortcuts and dumping mail, a practice that Channel 4’s Dispatches also exposed in this investigation.

Our investigation highlights worrying problems with privatised postal services; not only is our much-valued universal service under threat, but also the quality and integrity of services provided. If, as expected, privatisation continues to be rolled out across the country, the 29 million homes and businesses that rely on the service are entitled to expect better. 


"TNT scum! How dare you set foot in the Post Office? Get the f*** out!"

This was the hostile introduction I got on my first day working undercover as a TNT postman for Channel 4's Dispatches investigation, Secrets of Your Missing Mail.

A weathered old-time postman was visibly irate when he saw me in the distinctive orange uniform of Royal Mail's rivals TNT, venturing on to his patch as I delivered a letter to a Central London Post Office . While this postie had picked the wrong person to do battle with – after all, I was just another guy trying to do a job – I soon understood his angry reaction to the imminent privatisation of the Royal Mail. Apart from the obvious threat to universal service, privatisation represents a direct affront to the working conditions that have been so hard-fought for by workers and unions over the years.

Last week marked the formal announcement by Michael Fallon, the minister for business and enterprise, that the Royal Mail will be sold off by next April, setting the ball rolling on what is set to be the biggest privatisation for over 20 years. This follows the deregulation of postal services in 2006, which allowed companies like TNT Post to win contracts to deliver mail from the supplier all the way to the letterbox on behalf of private and public sector organisations. TNT Post, who I worked for over the course of a month, are in a pilot phase in West and Central London this year, providing competition to deliver letters directly to the doorstep for the first time in Royal Mail's 360-year history. If successful, TNT will expand its operation across other parts of the country in the next five years, aiming to employ up to 20,000 postal workers.

So what does this mean for the 134,000 postal workers represented by the Communication Workers Union? And what can these changes in the postal industry teach us about how ongoing privatisations affect workers? As postal worker and blogger Roy Mayall points out, private companies are allowed to bid for these contracts with no obligation to meet the pay and conditions that Royal Mail workers have fought for over the years. During the time I spent as a TNT postman, I was able to see firsthand the ways in which widespread privatisations are leading to regressions in working conditions, with private companies exploiting the large numbers of desperate young unemployed to offer employment packages far inferior to their Royal Mail counterparts.

I was one of a growing number of workers on what is known as a "zero-hour contract". This term is used to describe an extremely precarious form of contract, in which workers are not guaranteed any hours of work. The number of major employers hiring on zero-hour contracts has risen from 11% in 2004 to 23% in 2011, with unions blaming government privatisation of services for this rise, denouncing these contracts as a throwback to the Victorian era.

Denied any fixed hours of employment, I was forced to hustle for my next day's work on an almost daily basis. Sometimes I took a gamble to come in as a "relief worker", arriving at the depot at 7.30am in the hope that someone would have dropped out so I could cover their rounds.

While zero-hour contracts prove convenient for students and part-timers, the reality is that these groups make up the minority of the workforce. For most workers, it proved to be a myth that zero-hour contracts translate to greater flexibility; I was advised by several colleagues that I should be ready and available for work whenever called upon if I hoped to get more regular shifts. It became clear that the balance of power in these arrangements is heavily weighted in the favour of employers.

Indeed, bosses are inclined to over-hire staff to ensure that they will always have enough staff for any given shift, which can leave workers without enough hours to make a sufficient living: on £7.10p/h (with London weighting), it is nearly impossible to make ends meet if you miss out on shifts for just a day or two. Workers are left walking this financial tightrope on a week-by-week basis.

This kind of "underemployment" is particularly insidious considering the fact that many of those recruited come off benefits upon gaining employment, only to earn an insufficient salary to adequately live on once they are actually in work. Official statistics of course show these people as being employed, despite the fact that in reality they are denied regular hours. This leaves workers obliged to navigate an uncomfortable no-man's land between secure work and benefits.

Furthermore, these kinds of contracts leave workers almost entirely at the whim of their bosses. With the decision as to who gets given shifts ultimately resting with the supervisor, workers are left vulnerable to favouritism. Employers do not need to find a reason for dismissal; they can simply phase out shifts until employees find themselves with little or no work.

A growing private sector workforce is being forced to live with no guaranteed level of earnings, unpredictable schedules, weak employment rights and precarious conditions.

In light of this, I can't say I blame the Royal Mail postman for losing his rag with me.

Sunday 28 April 2013

The Smear Test

From James Delingpole to the National Secular Society, the cry is that the economy in general and the organisation of banking in particular are none of the Archbishop of Canterbury's business. But he is a Member of Parliament and of the Privy Council, unless Delingpole would like that to change, or even if he would.

And if the churches are not going to create things like regional banking, or alternatives to usury, or financial institutions in which retail and investment banking are strictly separated while only provenly prudent persons are allowed anywhere near either, then no one else will. No one else ever has. How, where, when, why and by whom does anyone think that mutual building societies, credit unions, mutual guarantee societies and trustee savings banks were ever founded?

If the national consolidation of that last is to be revived, then I propose that the trustees be appointed by four bodies that recently issued an excoriating collective denunciation of the present Government's un-Christian persecution of the poor: the Church of Scotland (a minister of which founded the first ever trustee savings bank), the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, and the Baptist Union.

It never occurs to someone like Delingpole that it was the Conservative Party, and not the Church of England, that moved and changed, destroying the alliance that he recalls as such an unquestioned constant of his childhood and youth. Like so many people, he has managed to convince himself that anarcho-capitalism is Toryism, and to convince himself of that within an inherited intellectual and emotional paradigm in which Toryism is Christianity, or at least C of E Christianity.

In reality, that economic system has no Tory roots whatever, and has a long, continuing history of opposition to any religious involvement, as such, in public policy. An opposition which Delingpole is now voicing as fiercely as, say, Nick Cohen, who needs to answer the questions asked above.

Anarcho-capitalism has an infinitesimal following, actual or potential, in this country. That following is made up only of people at the odder end of the spectrum, to put matters at their very politest. But the Conservative Party no longer has the rather un-Friedmanite monopoly even on that. Another UKIP scandal, or at least embarrassment, now presents itself whichever political website one visits, and on each occasion that one visits any of them.

There is no point crying about "smears". This is called politics, and the UKIP lot wanted it. If they really would rather talk about policy, then they might like to talk about how, on this week's Question Time, Nigel Farage gave up the flat tax, one of the very, very few policies that his party had. Yet again today, Godfrey Bloom took to the airwaves to say that women of child-bearing age ought to be refused employment simply on that basis.

There will be more. There is evermore, and more, and more, and more, and more.

Droning On

I am indebted to my friend Dr Tomasz Pierscionek for much of the information set out in this post.

Although, at least officially, it was not until yesterday that drone attacks came to be controlled from the United Kingdom (there are RAF wings for that - can you believe it?), the NATO drone bombing of Pakistan has been going on since 2004, that of Yemen since 2008, and that of Somalia since 2009. There were 50 or 60 strikes against Pakistan under Bush. There have been 300, five or six times as many, under Obama, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. There is now talk of drone bombing Mali, if that is not already happening.

There have been three to four thousand deaths as a result of drone strikes since 2004. Any military-aged male, itself loosely defined, is defined as a military target. Only two per cent of those targeted have been senior "al-Qaeda" figures. After all, how many of those are there? All men carry guns in, for example, Waziristan, so anyone can be deemed to "look suspicious". Imagine if that were applied in parts of the United States.

Drones are war without risk to the perpetrator, and a regression to the nineteenth-century view that anything goes, "as long as our people are not killed." The bodybags and the wounded changed public opinion on Vietnam, and Wooten Bassett is having a similar effect. But drones carry no such risk. They can be operated from seven thousand miles away, and we could not have intervened in seven countries since 2001, with more on the hit list, without that capacity. The 2010 Strategic Defence Systems Review called for drones to be given an increasingly larger role, since they are so much cheaper than F16s, and we are not exactly in the midst of an economic boom.

In 2001, the United States gave itself the right to bomb "al-Qaeda" everywhere. And there is someone who does not like America anywhere. What if Cuba were to say that, and launch a drone strike against Miami? What if Russia were to say that, and launch a drone strike against the Chechens in London? 74 countries already have drones, with Russia, China, India, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates known to be developing armed drones.

However, the United States Congress will not allow armed drones in Turkey, a member of NATO, since only Israel is allowed to have them in that region. But there are 700 bases worldwide where drones could be stationed, with a deal only just having been struck to construct one in Niger as part of the New Scramble for Africa that has already seen more Chinese than anyone else evacuated from Libya.

As for the kill list, some pretence at a concept of due process is now being concocted. The terms in circulation are "imminent threat" and "negative predispositions towards the United States".

The Strange Death of the Tory North

This article of mine appears in the London Progressive Journal:

Congratulations to the Conservative Party on having delivered its South Shields leaflets in Jarrow. Everywhere beyond the Mason-Dixon Line that runs from the Bristol Channel to the Wash is now just "the North, and we know absolutely nothing about it" to the Tories, isn't it?

Let us meander the physically short but otherwise longer distance to leafy Lanchester. I am standing down from the Parish Council here after 14 years, seven as Labour, seven as an Independent. Until 1995, the Conservative Party massively dominated the Parish Council from the Dawn of Time, while the place returned two Tories out of three to the old District Council. Think of a smaller version of Hexham, or Altincham, or Harrogate. Think of the North depicted on Last Tango in Halifax.

Yet Lanchester has not elected a Conservative above Parish level since 1991. That party has not had a significant presence on the Parish Council since the elections in 1995. It returned only one, a sound Tory farmer, to the Parish Council in 2009, our term of office being then extended by two years in line with that of the new unitary County Council.

The sole Conservative candidate for this two-member County Ward comes from as far away as Gateshead, which is not even in County Durham, never mind here in the middle of it. One of the two UKIP candidates lives in the Ward, although not in Lanchester as one would expect; the other does not even live here. There is no Lib Dem.

For the Parish, following the withdrawal of a Labour candidate who is standing for the County elsewhere, there are now 15 nominations for 15 seats, and therefore no election. The only Tory is the one who was already on. In Lanchester. A farmer, not someone from the commuting, middle-class, once ardently Thatcherite village, where they always saw Labour as integral to everything that they had gone up in the world in order to escape.

One of the Independents was first elected as Labour and is a millionaire businessman to whom the Conservative Party is clearly of no interest even after his having broken with Labour, while another was at least a Labour voter until the Iraq War. In Lanchester. There is a third Independent. Plus 11 Labour. Eleven. More than two thirds. Elected unopposed. In Lanchester.

The minimum age having been lowered, my record as the youngest ever member has been beaten by a full two years. It had stood since the last century. But a 19-year-old who works in the office of the local Labour MP, who herself lives here and whose husband has also just got back on, has now been elected. Unopposed. In Lanchester. This time last year, he was a schoolboy. Good for him, say I. Remember the name of Philip Richardson. No Paris Brown, he. But this would have been unimaginable in the very recent past.

I cannot believe that Lanchester is an isolated, or even a terribly unusual, example among the many similar communities in the North East, the North West and Yorkshire. Across the rural and the middle-class North, including among people who even throughout the Blair era loathed Labour as they loathed their own former accents or the people whom they had felt obliged to invite to their children's weddings, the Conservative Party has become only the faintest shadow of a shade, while UKIP is not really getting anywhere, either.

In each case, if it cannot take, or even fight, the likes of Lanchester, then it has no constituency in the North. Without which, it simply cannot win a General Election.

At The Cliff Edge

Peter Hain writes:

The secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, says in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph that he "would encourage" better-off pensioners to pay back their taxpayer-funded benefits voluntarily. This follows Nick Clegg calling for the means-testing of a range of benefits for pensioners, and Paul Burstow, the former Liberal Democrat minister for care services, suggesting the money saved should be channelled into elderly care reform.

There's clearly a rising call, either to abandon pensioners' winter fuel allowances, free TV licences and bus passes, or to means-test and tax them. Austerity, an ageing society and acute public spending pressures are cited in justification. This is simply mendacious, because the savings proposed would be a drop in the ocean compared with the overall welfare budget. The winter fuel allowance costs between £2bn and £3bn a year; so, unless the threshold is so low as to be worthless, there's not a chance of being able to fund a new elderly care programme.

Means-testing TV licences and bus passes would raise little more than £1.4bn a year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. If, as the government has done with child benefit, benefits are removed from pensioners in the top tax bracket, the amount raised would be even less – about £250m, which is less than 1% of the total welfare budget (about £160bn) or 0.1% of total government spending. Frankly, the cost of all these pensioners' allowances is peanuts. To lower the threshold for means-testing would be administratively costly, time-consuming and inefficient because of the many varied combinations of assets, capital and earnings among pensioners.

It will also create real unfairness at the cliff edge for pensioners on modest or low incomes – especially those in need of more fuel or frequent travel because of illness, who could lose a key component of their independence in old age. Thousands of such people in my constituency alone have been liberated by free bus travel. While these benefits are trivial relative to the whole budget, the social and political cost of taking them away could be huge: what would this say about a society of soaring bankers' bonuses?

For lower earners these benefits are a few comforts guaranteed to them in old age, for middle to higher earners one of the few rewards received for consistent contributions to the welfare pot throughout their working lives. They are a symbol of senior citizenship and social cohesion.

Arguing that Sir Paul McCartney and other pensionable millionaires are receiving free bus passes at the expense of lower- or nil-rate pensioner taxpayers wilfully misses the argument for universal benefits. I doubt that Sir Paul uses his entitlement to a free bus pass – but, even if he did, he pays for it many, many times over in high taxes.

The worry is this: if middle Britain ceased to benefit from the welfare state through at least some universal benefits, why would they still finance the lion's share of it? The danger is a US-type system of poor law, from which President Obama has struggled to escape with his health reforms.

The attack on pensioners' allowances leaves a big question hovering over the future of the welfare state: is it for everyone, or just for the poor? In his epoque-defining report in 1942, William Beveridge advocated a universal and contribution-based welfare state in the laudable hope of cementing social solidarity. Now, 70 years later, that hope of cohesion is disintegrating as the Tory-Lib Dem government dismantles the very universalism upon which that solidarity relies.

Cutting or means-testing pensioners' allowances risks turning young against old and rich against poor while making negligible savings for the Treasury. All parties should be challenged to maintain them in their 2015 manifestos, as they did in 2010, and Labour should certainly stick by the policy.

Primarked Pits

Not only is Britain's only remaining clothing factory in Weatherfield, while the garments worn in the real world are produced in the sweatshops of places like Bangladesh.

But for decades now, this island standing on centuries' worth of coal has instead been importing that fuel, in such quantities as to have provided over half of the power during the recent, if concluded, harsh winter.

Imported it from, among other things, child and slave labour in South America. Anything, anything at all, to break the miners at home.

These matters are now being discussed in earnest. Let that discussion range far and wide.

What Independence

Punctuation to this title is available on request.

Gareth Shanks was elected unopposed as National Treasurer of Young Independence, the youth wing of UKIP. However, he has been removed by that party's National Executive Committee.

He has, you see, dared to question the wisdom of having Neil Hamilton on that Committee, and doubtless as a European Parliamentary candidate next year. Hamilton was also recently a panellist on Question Time.

And young Shanks chairs Friends of Palestine in UKIP. Ah, there's the rub. There is the rub, indeed.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Left And Right Must Unite And Fight I

Peter Oborne writes:

I have been studying Sir Lewis Namier’s essay on diplomacy, to be found in his wonderful volume In the Margin of History, published on the eve of the second world war. It contains some important advice:

‘No man is lightly to be chosen for the post of British Foreign Secretary who speaks any language but English; or at least, a man burdened with such accomplishments should be made to take a vow never to speak any other language.’

Here is the great historian’s reasoning:

‘He is certain not to know every foreign language which matters; and if he is familiar only with one, he tends to develop an undue bias in favour of that particular nation. But if, worst of all, he prides himself on such knowledge, and finds pleasure in jabbering that foreign lingo, then he is lost and essential British interests are in jeopardy.’

Namier cites approvingly the example of Lord Salisbury, who ‘knew French, but never talked anything but English to foreign statesmen or diplomats’.

Namier assumes throughout, however, that Britain is an independent nation. As a result, his thesis — compelling in 1938 — is no longer applicable. Our current crop of foreign secretaries (David Miliband and William Hague are good examples) tend to be useless at foreign languages.

But this has caused a problem that Namier, writing in 1938, could not have anticipated. Fundamentally they only really understand American, and so tend to do whatever the USA wants.

This brings me on to my book, published last week and co-written with my friend David Morrison. We demonstrate how our US allegiance has distorted the British attitude to Iran.

Viewing the country through US lenses, we uncritically accept the bellicose proposition that Iran is an aggressive power ruled by irrational clerics, hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, which they would use to bomb Israel.

We show that every part of this thesis is nonsense. Iran has not invaded another country for 200 years, it has never threatened its neighbours, and (according to US intelligence) does not even possess a nuclear weapons programme, let alone nuclear weapons. Again and again (as we prove) Iran has offered a settlement with the West, and been rebuffed.

Once we accept that Iran has every right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, under close safeguards, we may find it surprisingly easy to strike a deal that can satisfy all sides. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate, and unnecessary.

Left And Right Must Unite And Fight II

Peter Hitchens writes:

A word of praise here for The Guardian which has once again shown the value of a diverse and adversarial press. Earlier this week The Times carried reports which suggested that there was now credible evidence that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels.

This view is pretty much shared by the BBC (which has in my view been running a disgraceful and unbalanced campaign for intervention in Syria for many months, way beyond the remit of its Charter obligations) and by many newspapers and politicians. Regular readers here will know that it’s not shared by me, but forget that for a moment and examine the matter for yourselves.

This is important because if such an action could be proven, the USA, Britain and France could get round the difficulty that the UN Security Council will not currently permit intervention in Syria, thanks to the vetoes of Russia and  China. Moscow and Peking both feel their goodwill was abused in Libya, where an operation said to be aimed at protecting civilians ended in the overthrow of the Gadaffi state, and its replacement,  as it happens, with a lawless chaos, which nobody mentions.

Also, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as I have pointed out before, has a shrewd feeling that the trend towards over-riding national sovereignty could one day soon be used to overthrow him and his government. Russia is unique in the modern world in not being a global superpower, but in having enough military, economic and diplomatic power to continue to behave as a sovereign nation.

This was Britain’s position till the unhinged Suez episode of 1956. After that, we became a sycophantic client of the USA, which showed its gratitude for our loyalty by ushering us brusquely into EU servitude, and backing Irish nationalist revolts against our internal national authority. What a terrible tangle this gets us into, especially when EU and US interests don’t coincide.

I don’t know if Mr Putin cares about what would probably happen to Syria if the rebels won, though if he doesn’t, he should. I fear for the Christian and Alawi minorities if Sunni Muslim radicals, backed by Sunni Saudi Arabia and Sunni Turkey, take over. And who knows what would then happen in precarious Lebanon, where the Shia Muslim Hizbollah would then be in a very sensitive position, deprived of a major ally, presumably next on the Saudi target list,  yet still powerfully armed and well-trained?

And then there is Shia Iran - Syria’s principal ally and Saudi Arabia’s principal hate-object, and probably the real target of all this fuss. Much could follow from an Assad defeat, and much of it could involve violence and danger. It is time people realised that the Sunni-Shia split, in which Syria is embroiled whether she likes it or not, is now a more dangerous fault-line in the Middle East than the stalemated Arab-Israeli conflict.

Anyway, Friday’s edition of The Times carried a frightening and distressing despatch from Anthony Loyd in Aleppo, which began ‘The chemical attack that killed Yasser Yunis's family was a small, almost private affair. Had the 27-year-old car mechanic not managed to struggle out of the doorway of his home in Aleppo on to the street in the darkness of night, clutching his infant son to his chest, no one might have ever known what wiped out the family. They died twitching, hallucinating and choking on white froth that poured from their noses and mouths. Their doctors believe that they were killed by nerve gas.’

Mr Loyd, like other Times writers who send despatches from that country, is a fine and brave reporter. And I’ve no doubt that the Syrian civil war has caused a great deal of pain, grief and loss. This is why I hate war. I’ve seen the fringes of this sort of thing and it is intensely dispiriting and gloomy, as one has no comfort to offer, and often yearns for ‘something to be done’ in an irrational way.

After seeing Soviet special forces go mad in Vilnius, Lithuania, in January 1991, and observing a few of their victims with various bits of their heads and bodies absent, and then having attended a grotesquely dishonest press conference at which these actions were justified by uniformed officers,  I was for weeks afterwards in a  state of dark, angry despair and rage.

From having been sympathetic towards my Russian neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances, I grew testy with them. The tone of my writing and my conversation changed. I lost objectivity and detachment, and took many months to regain them. Another odd effect was that for about ten years afterwards I could not bear firework displays, as the noise is so similar to that of real guns being fired, and it would instantly remind me of dark, dangerous nights in Vilnius.

My point is that anyone reporting on such things is entitled to his feelings. More, we should be glad that he is engaged, and ready to risk himself in the general cause of revealing the true face of the world. But his editors at home need to be cooler and more dispassionate, especially when so much is at stake.

This is where The Guardian comes in. In Saturday’s edition, Julian Borger (the paper’s Diplomatic Editor) wrote a crisp question-and-answer summary of the position, which makes it clear that things are not as clear-cut as you might have thought, if you depended on (say) the BBC for your view.

‘The letter issued by the White House to two senators on Thursday [on Syrian use of chemical weapons] makes it clear the evidence is far from conclusive. There are questions over the "chain of custody" of the physical evidence - ie the US analysts cannot guarantee the provenance of the samples they have been given because they were collected and handed over by someone else, either another government or an opposition faction.’

According to a report by the McClatchy news agency in the US, the soil sample examined by American experts is minuscule and contains a byproduct of sarin that could also be from fertiliser production. Some of the videos in circulation online show alleged victims foaming at the mouth, but that is not listed as a sarin symptom on the website of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Richard Guthrie, a British chemical weapons expert and former head of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said: "That [foaming at the mouth] would not be indicative of use of nerve agents but is more likely to be a sign of a choking agent such as phosgene being used, if anything."

Jean-Pascal Zanders, an expert at the EU Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "It's not possible that what is being shown to the public is a chemical weapons attack. The video from Aleppo showing foaming at the mouth does not look like a nerve agent. I'm wholly unconvinced." Alas, I cannot link to Mr Loyd’s report in The Times, as it is behind a pay-wall.

Personally, it strikes me that President Assad would need to be exceptionally stupid to use chemical weapons. They are tricky things to use anyway, unstable, hard to transport, apt to decay in storage, unsafe for their users as well as for their victims.  That, rather than international convention, is the reason why they have been used so rarely since they were introduced in the 1914-18 war.

Mainly designed to be used on battlefields (where by forcing the use of cumbersome and hot protective clothing they can gravely hold up an advancing army) they would provide him with little advantage in the sort of urban war he is fighting. He knows perfectly well that their use would be the pretext for a Western intervention.

On the other hand, the rebels, many of whom aren’t much nicer than Mr Assad, would see many advantages in suggesting to outside observers that such weapons had been used. I have no idea of the truth, but I would examine the evidence on that basis, and informed by the knowledge we all gained during the Iraq war run-up, that governments don’t always tell the truth.

Shocking, I know, like the fact that statistics aren’t always wholly right, and may be influenced by those who compile them.  But you need to know.  

Friday 26 April 2013

Through The Net

Sue Bowen's past BNP activism was well-known in and around Tintagel. It is inconceivable that the local UKIP operation was ever anything less than fully aware of it, whatever form might have had to have been posted off to London in order to keep the city suits sweet. How many more of these people are there in UKIP? An awful lot, I expect.

Among others. UKIP colludes with the SWP in order to remove its own endorsed candidates, whom it seeks to bribe in cash to withdraw from elections to which they are duly nominated.

UKIP has given council nominations to any and everyone, an approach wholly unbefitting a party which is therefore contesting two thirds of the available seats, and which enjoys lavish coverage on the BBC, with Farage on Question Time yet again last night, when he abandoned the flat tax policy.

UKIP is not going to do very well at these, the English county council elections, the ones at which they would have been expected to do best by their own standards. Other than the Euros, of course. But they are not going to do very well at those, either.

Having gone around ever since the last ones saying that it was going to win these outright, UKIP is now competing with the Conservatives for a second place 10 points behind Labour. And that is before another year of exposures of UKIP's amateurism, with its magnetic effect on cranks and worse.

Meanwhile, the Cameron courtier newspapers are having fits of the vapours that, of the 42 people who have so far been selected as Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, 23 have "links to the unions", defined as being trade union members.

In which case, how have the other 19 slipped through the net? According to Chapter 2A, Part 6b of the Labour Party Rule Book, a party member must:

"if applicable, be a member of a trade union affiliated to the Trade Union Congress or considered by the NEC as a bona fide trade union and contribute to the political fund of that union (a person who does not contribute to the political fund of her/his trade union may not be an individual member of the party)."

Who, then, are these 19? Are they all retired? Unemployed? Self-employed? Full-time students? Full-time homemakers? I really do only ask.

Or is it possible that they, nearly half of Labour PPCs already selected, are either not Labour Party members, or else hold party cards while ineligible to do so?

This baleful state of affairs might be ameliorated up to a point by the selection of a proper, and properly local, Labour candidate at Newbury, where the MP has told people who use food banks that they need to practice "better fridge management".

He is Richard Benyon, whose inheritance of £100 million makes him the richest member of the House of Commons.

No Labour candidate could ever win Newbury? Against this, against the formerly incumbent Lib Dems, and, should it still exist by 2015, against UKIP-SWP-BNP, why ever not? It would depend on the candidate, and on how hard the party bothered to fight the seat.

As well as scores of other previously unimaginable seats that must not be permitted to slip through the net.

Don't Be Terrorised

Remember, those convicted today have been just that. Convicted. Without having put their plot into action. There is no need of any further erosion of liberty. Neither the shoe bomb, nor the ink bomb, nor the underpants bomb was ever detonated. Always remember these things.

And always remember these people's motivation, about which they are entirely candid. That to which they object is not our "way of life" or our "values". It is our foreign policy. Stay out of Syria. We are being bounced into intervention in support of an Islamist invasion of and insurrection in that last great outpost of pan-Arab pluralism.

Nor ought we to console ourselves that by backing the jihadis, we might somehow be protecting ourselves against their future actions. That has never worked anywhere else. Think of Afghanistan. What goes around, comes around. We do not want, we could not stand, we will not tolerate the possibility of, any more of its coming around here.


An over-cosy relationship between Departments of State and the accountancy cartel? That never used to be a Conservative problem. After the DeLorean fraud, the Thatcher Government banned Arthur Andersen from any British Government contracts. The Major Government continued that policy.

Therefore, Arthur Andersen became a major corporate sponsor of New Labour events in Opposition, Patricia Hewitt was made Head of Research at Andersen Consulting in 1994, and papers were produced on the cheap setting out how to pursue the Marxism Today crowd's pet policies.

Labour's policy of banning accountants from selling extras to their clients, a flagrant conflict of interest, was dropped and has never been implemented, any more than John Smith's signature policy that employment rights should begin with employment and apply regardless of the number of hours worked.

In November 1997, the Treasury Solicitor barely covered his own costs when he allowed Andersen to pay a mere £21 million of the £200 million that the previous Conservative Government had demanded be reimbursed to the defrauded taxpayer. And away things went.

Andersen duly took over providing the supposedly professional cover for the ripping up of the London Underground, for the running of Railtrack until that very management necessitated renationalisation, for the Millennium Dome, and for the Private Finance Initiative.

All the while, it was signing off the accounts of Enron. Blair and Hewitt even wanted to give accountancy firms limited liability for that sort of thing. It took the Bush Administration to stop them. The Bush Administration.

Truly, the Conservatives have become New Labour.


Rand Paul would win any Republican primary in New Hampshire if it were held now.

Eric Margolis for Secretary of State.

Michael Scheuer for Director of the CIA.

Mark Almond or John Laughland for whichever job Romney was going to give to Nile Gardiner. You could probably do it on Skype these days.

Vote Republican? If it were this versus Hillary Clinton, if it were almost anything or anyone at all versus Hillary Clinton.

In that case, as they say across the Pond, hell, yeah.

Nothing To Offer

On the five pound note, indeed! This is the dry run for putting Thatcher on our currency in the next few years. We have been warned.

In the 1930s, there were two British threats to constitutionality and, via Britain’s role in the world, to international stability.

One came from an unreliable, opportunistic, highly affected and contrived, anti-Semitic, white supremacist, Eurofederalist demagogue who admired Mussolini, heaped praise on Hitler, had no need to work for a living, had an overwhelming sense of his own entitlement, profoundly hated democracy, and had a callous disregard for the lives of the lower orders and the lesser breeds.

So did the other one.

Far more than background united Churchill and Mosley, originator in English of the currently modish concept of a Union of the Mediterranean. In Great Contemporaries, published in 1937, two years after he had called Hitler’s achievements “among the most remarkable in the whole history of the world”, Churchill wrote that:

“Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism.”

That passage was not removed from the book’s reprint in 1941. In May 1940, Churchill had been all ready to give Gibraltar, Malta, Suez, Somaliland, Kenya and Uganda to Mussolini, whom he had called “the greatest living legislator”.

All sorts of things about Churchill are simply ignored. Gallipoli. The miners. The Suffragettes. His dishonest and self-serving memoirs. The truth about the catastrophic humiliation at Dunkirk. The other one, at Singapore, which as much as anything else has been an inspiration to the vociferous anti-monarchist minority in Australia ever since: “Why should we bother with them after that?”

The Lancastria. The men left behind in France. The refusal to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz, which caused Menachem Begin to inform Thatcher that her country and her hero had been responsible for the deaths of two million Jews; she had not wanted to meet him, on account of his anti-British terrorist past, and she was left wishing that she had, so to speak, stuck to her guns.

Both the fact and the sheer scale of Churchill’s 1945 defeat while the War in the Far East was still going on, when Labour won half of his newly divided seat, and an Independent did very well in the other half after Labour and the Liberals had disgracefully refused to field candidates against him. His deselection by his local Conservative Association just before he died.

And not least, his carve-up of Eastern Europe with Stalin, so very reminiscent of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He borrowed the phrase “the Iron Curtain” from Goebbels and used it to mean exactly what Goebbels had meant by it, just as he had previously coined the name “Uncle Joe” for Stalin himself. In reality, the Soviet Union that had been broken by the War had neither the means nor the will to invade Western Europe, still less to cross either the Atlantic or the Pacific.

But the electorate was under no illusions while he was still alive. His image was booed and hissed when it appeared on newsreels. He led the Conservative Party into three General Elections, he lost the first two of them – the first, I say again, while the War was still going on – and he only returned to office on the third occasion with the support of the National Liberals, having lost the popular vote.

In the course of that Parliament, he had to be removed by his own party. It went on to win comfortably the subsequent General Election, just as it was to do in 1992 after it had removed Thatcher.

And we have not forgotten the truth about him in the old mining areas. Nor have they in the places that he signed away to Stalin, including the country for whose freedom the War was fought, making it a failure in its own terms.

We condemn genocidal terrorism against Slavs and Balts no less than genocidal terrorism against Arabs, or the blowing up of British Jews going about their business as civil servants, or the photographed hanging of teenage British conscripts with barbed wire.

Churchill’s Zionism was precisely that of the BNP, seeing the Jews as not really British, and therefore wishing to transport them to Palestine. On this, if on nothing else, Nick Griffin is right: if Churchill were alive today, then he would be in the BNP. It would be welcome to him.

We Must Not Miss The Chance Again

Frances O'Grady writes:

When Clement Attlee died Harold Wilson commented: "Fainter hearts than his would have used the nation's economic difficulties as a reason for postponing social advance. He felt, on the contrary, that the greater the economic difficulties, the greater the need for social justice."

Britain's problems today may not be those of a country recovering from total war, but a future Labour government can learn a great deal from Attlee's determination. Of course our expectations need to be realistic. What we cannot expect from Labour is the political equivalent of a videotape played backwards: a new government has to recognise the damage and missed opportunities of the coalition and move to put them right – but it will begin from a very different starting point.

The TUC's relations with Labour are not always easy, but we have a shared interest in creating a fairer, more equal Britain that recognises the tough times austerity has created for millions of ordinary families.

If our analysis of the 2008 crash recognises that a bubble delivering fake prosperity burst, then we know that money will be tight, even after reversing self-defeating austerity. But that is not an argument for ministers to be timid. On the contrary, they will need to be more radical in delivering structural change and shaking up the economy, redefining the role of state and markets. For example, rather than being prepared in perpetuity to use tax credits to subsidise insecure and low-paid work, we need action to create good, sustainable jobs, spread the living wage and create modern wages councils to set fair rates in industries that can easily afford to better the minimum wage.

In any case our problems are urgent. The need to decarbonise the economy grows by the day, but this environmental imperative can spur the industrial investment and infrastructure spend that drives jobs and growth.

A broken banking system needs rebuilding – with regional banks and both a green and a state investment bank. Active industrial policy with a strong regional dimension already has wide support among employers and unions. The need to invest in a major programme of social and affordable housing can kickstart growth and meet huge social need. Public ownership of railways will be cheaper than the huge corporate welfare bill paid to private operators at the moment.

But unions must learn too from the mistakes of the Attlee period. This was when we made our key strategic error in not going down the European route of what is called co-determination on the continent, and we describe as industrial democracy. We opted for the important but limited role of securing better terms and conditions instead of pressing for workers to have positions on the board and taking up every chance to democratise economic relationships. If we stand aside as we did then, this time history will pass us by.

As even some Conservatives acknowledge, industrial relations in many companies are good. Of course there are differences of interest and opinion, and there needs to be power on both sides of a negotiating table. But there is also a recognition of a long-term mutual interest in generating rewarding jobs, stimulating skills and tapping the undoubted expertise of the workforce.

Unions and working people need to be at the heart of the economy, giving a voice, winning fairness and shaping business decisions that will deliver sustainable prosperity in the decades to come. That poses a challenge to business after decades of shareholder supremacy and the manager's right to manage. But I make no apologies for that: too much power in the hands of too few people got us into this mess. Giving workers a say can help get us out of it.

But this poses equally big challenges to trade unionists. It implies a role that is not just more ambitious, but more demanding, than the one we have now. It means accepting responsibilities for the greater good and moving out of a comfort zone. However, we already play that higher role in the best workplaces and in policy areas such as the environment, pensions, skills and health and safety, where common advantage is clear to all.

Of course none of this means giving up on our defining purpose of winning a better deal for workers. The majority of EU countries now guarantee workers seats on the board. It has not stopped their unions from fighting maltreatment and exploitation, or prevented them from taking industrial action when left with no other option.

But what about Labour? It needs to recognise that some of the electoral tactics and approaches that worked 10 and 15 years ago are now as much old Labour as what worked in 1945. Instead, the party needs to start where people are: the problems of stagnation, declining living standards and poor prospects now afflict a huge majority of the electorate – whether they tick the traditional supporter box or not.

And rather than a rainbow coalition of different promises and messages for different groups, Labour needs a compelling vision and lived values that show how much better Britain could be.

And while prospective ministers do of course need to be clear what they will do when the red boxes arrive, the challenge is not to build a huge Labour policy encyclopedia, but to set a clear sense of direction and rediscover the inspirational language of progressive change.

Attlee's political genius was to give people a sense of hope, a clear route map out of depression, war and austerity towards the social and economic justice they craved. His government rebuilt Britain, and the next government needs the political courage to do the same – including giving working people a voice so we can help build a more equal, more democratic country. We must not miss the chance again.

All Aboard The Triple Dip

Maybe not now. But soon. Very, very, very soon.

0.3 per cent growth? All aboard the Triple Dip.

Maybe not now. But soon. Very, very, very soon.

Lost Mandate

This evening, BBC Four was supposed to show Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery. It was mysteriously cancelled. Why?

Meanwhile, a treaty with Jordan, indeed! Why did we ever leave what, after the manner of British Guyana or British Honduras, ought most obviously to have been called British Syria? Only because we were bombed out by the founders of modern terrorism. Those did not go on to found the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. But even so.

The whole of the British Mandate of Palestine ought to have become a Dominion called the Kingdom of Jerusalem, with the Jerusalem Cross on a Coat of Arms defacing (the technical term) either the Red or the Blue Ensign, that Coat of Arms itself being surmounted by Saint Edward's Crown as still shown on police cap badges and other things in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The continued use of the ancestral title "King of Jerusalem" by the Head of the House of Hapsburg could have been tolerated in the way that the use of the ancestral title "King of England, Scotland, Ireland and France" by the Head of the House of Wittelsbach is tolerated.

Just think of the problems that would have been prevented.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Snoopy In The Doghouse

With legal caste discrimination, and with most of the doolally shares-for-rights scheme. The Labour Lords are on fire these days. Also in there are the attempt to abolish the House of Lords, and the proposal to replace Burkean parliamentary constituencies with those designed by and for sophists, economists and calculators.

To be joined, we trust, by the putative departure from the definition of marriage as only ever the union of one man and one woman, the dropping of which after next week's election results has the advantage, not common to other failed policy, of being free of charge to drop.

Alas, though, the kennel, as of course we call it in this country, does contain the disastrous dismemberment and flogging off of the NHS in England. That was passed this week on the votes of the Lib Dems Peers. I hope that their party is very, very proud. Question Time from Worcester Cathedral has just blacked out this massive, and massively unpopular, change. Complain here.

Who's Sorry Now?

After today's apology by the President of Serbia for something for which the holder of that office, as such, arguably has no responsibility of even an historical kind, when is anyone going to apologise for or on behalf of the acts perpetrated by the neo-Ustasha, or by black-shirted Wahhabi SS nostalgists, or by those who combined and combine that latter with Albanian Maoism, with heroin-trafficking and with pimping?

The Blog That Likes To Say Yes

There is no point bringing back the TSB name without reconstituting the Trustee Savings Bank. I am available to be a Trustee.

Seriously, who are they going to be? And why? As with HBOS, RBS or the East Coast Main Line, which has twice been renationalised yet which is to be privatised for a third time, no sane person is going to want to buy the TSB.

The suggestion that any would, like the refusal to consider renationalising the railways across the board, or to renationalise the utilities, indicates the wholly irrational and doctrinaire nature of the opposition to, not of the support for, public ownership.

Those who hold that utterly unpragmatic position are now even trying to flog off the postal service, a privatisation which even Margaret Thatcher explicitly ruled out. Nor did she privatise the railways. That was done by the men who had removed her. Reversing it would be one in their eye. Yet still there is an absolute refusal to consider doing so.

TSBs, before they all merged, and the TSB, after they had all merged, were very strong in Scotland (where they had started) and in Northern Ireland, quite strong in the North of England, and relatively strong in Wales, the Midlands and the West Country. But they barely existed in the South East.

They were very much expressions of the culture of the British Transleithania, and that culture is if anything more different now than it was when shares in the TSB Group PLC were first floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1986.

Trustees of the reconstitution should be drawn from each of Scotland, Wales, the North East, the North West, Yorkshire, the East Midlands, the West Midlands and the West Country. The London Stock Exchange must be allowed absolutely nowhere near it.

Time To Press On

The principle of a Royal Charter has been conceded, then.

The call for industry representation on a regulatory body could easily be accommodated, and could only happen if there we to be such a body. As could be the desire for trade approval before changes to the Royal Charter, which likewise necessitates that there be one, and which could coexist perfectly well with a further requirement of parliamentary approval. Unless they really do believe that the monarch ought to obey the Press? Perhaps they do.

The game is up. Rupert Murdoch's extremely conspicuous absence from Margaret Thatcher's funeral told the world that he can no longer visit this country for fear of arrest. The Sun is setting fast. The Daily Mail, although it does provide an important platform for broadly or strongly paleoconservative perspectives (the Mail on Sunday, even more so), may yet die of measles, or certainly suffer severe debilitating effects of that disease. One could go on. All in all, the Press is suing for peace.

Parliamentary sovereignty can now be reasserted, and with it national sovereignty against a highly politicised transnational empire headed by a man who renounced his allegiance to the Queen. Simple "citizens with typewriters", to use the old-fashioned expression, would not need a Parliamentary Press Gallery. They ought to have to seek tickets to the Public Gallery, like anyone else.

But the Press are not such simple citizens, nor ought they to be. They are necessarily a privileged class, and need to be reminded of the responsibilities that come with their privileges, as well as of the identity of the body by which those privileges are granted.

Next up, then, the opening up of the Lobby to all and only those individuals certified by one or more seat-taking Members of either House, and the extension to Members' staff of the same rights of access as those enjoyed by members of the Lobby. Who is in charge here?

Not Minor Issues

Of course 17-year-olds should be treated as children when they are held in police custody. For the perfectly good reason that they are children. As, therefore, are 16-year-olds, who are already so treated.

And children ought not to have the vote. While adult society has a responsibility to protect children from, for example, the predatory sexual attention, which by definition such attention must be, of irresponsible adults.

So, no lowering of the voting age. But a raising of the age of consent.


Farewell, then, to the Act of Settlement, and to male primogeniture for the Throne, though not for estates, nor for the hereditary peerages that continue to elect 92 members of the House of Lords.

Which Realm or Territory was considering leave the family defined by our shared monarch unless these changes were given effect, though not otherwise? Even if any had been, then it would still have been wrong.

There is a certain Spot The Deliberate Mistake quality to attempts to make the monarchy more egalitarian or, heaven help us all, “meritocratic”. The Act of Settlement reminded us that we were different, and it did us the courtesy of taking our beliefs seriously by identifying them as a real challenge.

I question the viability of a Catholic community which devotes any great energy to the question of ascending the throne while the born sleep in cardboard boxes on the streets and the pre-born are ripped from their mothers’ wombs to be discarded as surgical waste. The rubbish passed as RE in this country’s Catholic schools would not be permitted, even now, in any other discipline. These should be our priorities.

Far from being a term of abuse, the word “Papist” is in fact the name under which the English Martyrs gave their lives, and expresses the cause for which they did so, making it a badge of honour, to be worn with pride. The Protestant tradition is a fact of this country’s history and culture. No good purpose will be served by denying it its constitutional recognition.

We must never countenance alliance with those who wish to remove Christianity as the basis of our State. Parties, such as the Lib Dems or the SNP, that wish to abolish Catholic schools need not imagine that repeal of the Act of Settlement somehow makes their position any better.

Forget, though, talk about how the children of a Royal marriage to a Catholic would have to be brought up as Catholics. It is always fascinating to observe people who assume their own cultural norms and political prejudices to be the Law, even the Doctrine, of the Church.

When the Stuarts married Catholics, then their children were still Protestants until Charles II converted on his deathbed after the future James VII and II had converted in adult life. They were the sons of a Catholic mother

Both of James’s surviving daughters by his first wife, who converted long before he did and very soon after their marriage, were themselves lifelong Protestants. Each eventually acceded to the Throne for precisely that reason. The rules have always been different above a certain level. When they have really been what people often thought were the rules in the first place.

Anglican and Catholic bishops are now routinely so close that they play golf together or what have you. The Anglicans ones are often less posh and less starrily academic than used to be almost uniform (the present Archbishop of Canterbury has no doctorate); the Catholic ones are far more likely to have been to university before they entered the seminary, and within a generation anything else will be unheard of, while the old working class that used to produce most of them hardly exists these days.

On each side of the Tiber, there is an unmistakeable look of bishops, and a characteristic tone of voice. On both sides of the Tiber, it is the same look, and the same tone. Don’t worry about it. Arrangements will be made.

Turning to male primogeniture, it sent an important signal: that the male line mattered meant that fathers mattered, and that they had to face up to their responsibilities, with every assistance, including censure where necessary, from the wider society, including when it acted politically as the State.

Today, we have lost a significant part of our argument for a legal presumption of equal parenting. For restoration of the tax allowance for fathers for so long as Child Benefit is being paid to mothers. For restoration of the requirement that providers of fertility treatment take account of the child’s need for a father.

For repeal of the ludicrous provision for two women to be listed as a child’s parents on a birth certificate, although even that is excelled by the provision for two men to be so listed. And for paternity leave to be made available at any time until the child was 18 or left school.

That last, in particular, would reassert paternal authority, and thus require paternal responsibility, at key points in childhood and adolescence. That authority and responsibility require an economic basis such as only the State can ever guarantee, and such as only the State can very often deliver. And that basis is high-wage, high-skilled, high-status employment.

All aspects of public policy must take account of this urgent social and cultural need. Not least, that includes energy policy: the energy sources to be preferred by the State are those providing the high-wage, high-skilled, high-status jobs that secure the economic basis of paternal authority in the family and in the wider community. So, nuclear power. And coal, not dole. We can and must continue to argues for these things without the constitutional principle of male primogeniture. But its loss is a grave one to our cause.

As it is to our struggle for no more fathers’ wars, not least since those sent to war tend to come from working-class backgrounds, where starting to have children often still happens earlier than has lately become the norm. Think of those very young men whom we see going off or coming home, hugging and kissing their tiny children. Paternal authority cannot be affirmed while fathers are torn away from their children and harvested in wars.

You can believe in fatherhood, or you can support wars under certainly most and possibly all circumstances, the latter especially in practice today even if not necessarily in the past or in principle. You cannot do both. After today, do we still do either?