Saturday 31 August 2013


In that case, we need a collective Presidency.

To exercise the powers that, as we have somehow managed to convince ourselves, the whole point of the Queen is that she does not actually exercise, even though she has them. I know.

The seat-taking members of the House of Commons could elect seven, the number in Switzerland, by each voting for one candidate from outside Parliament, with the seven highest-scorers elected for the duration of that Parliament. Ties for seventh place could be settled by a division of the whole House.

Four of them would then have to approve any exercise of the Royal Prerogative, including the granting of Royal Assent to any legislation, with the approval of all seven required for military action.

Or the seat-takings MPs from each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could elect one, of whom the one for England would have four votes, the one for Scotland three votes, the one for Wales two votes, and the one for Northern Ireland one vote.

It would take six of those 10 votes in order to approve any exercise of the Royal Prerogative, including the granting of Royal Assent to any legislation, with all 10 required for military action.

Or both.

The monarchy would of course continue to exist for ceremonial purposes. As at present.

Hard-Headed Multilateralism

Boiled down, this means that, other than as a direct act of self-defence (wildly improbable over the Falkland Islands, even less likely than that over Gibraltar, not even suggested in any other case), Ed Miliband would never permit British military action without at least the approval of all four of the other Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council.

And that will never happen. The Security Council is specifically designed in order to ensure that that can never happen. Miliband can make ritual references to Libya and to the ancient history of Kosovo, but on his own propagated doctrine, Britain would have had no part in either of them.

Indeed, we are not even restricting ourselves to the countries that were given Permanent Seats in the 1940s. We are really also including anywhere that would be given one if the thing were being started from scratch at the given time. Germany, say. Or India. At the very least, we must be talking about all of the other members of the G20.

It need not end there, either.

All in all, Miliband has declared for an isolationist, strictly self-defensive foreign and security policy while bowing reverently to the UN. There is a reasonable argument to be made that that is more faithful to the original intention of the UN than anyone in a comparable position has ever articulated. A Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who took that view could have a very dramatic impact indeed on geopolitical affairs.

In this, Miliband has the full support of his party. No Labour MP voted for war against Syria, and Dame Margaret Beckett, Chris Bryant, Dai Havard, Jim Murphy, Gisela Stuart and Derek Twigg all voted against it even while continuing to be listed as members of the Political Council of the Henry Jackson Society. As, indeed, did the Conservatives David Amess, David Davis and Julian Lewis, and the Liberal Democrat Dan Rogerson.

Those seem the obvious nucleus, not least because Dame Margaret is a former Foreign Secretary while Murphy is on course to become Secretary of State for Defence, of an alternative to the HJS, as much a product of these times as the Scoopies were of a decade ago.

A Statement of Principles might read:

We support the maintenance of a strong British military capability while rejecting its deployment for any purpose whatever other than the defence of British territory or of British citizens.

We set that within an uncompromising defence of the national and parliamentary sovereignty of the United Kingdom against any and all challenges, whether from the Executive or from the Judiciary, whether from the United States or from the European Union, whether from the State of Israel or from the Gulf monarchs, whether from the rising powers of Asia or from the Russian oligarchs, whether from money markets or from media moguls, whether from separatists or from communalists, whether from anything or from anyone, including from the importation of essentially alien features of the political cultures of the Old Dominions. This list is not exhaustive.

Essential to that defence and to that sovereignty is the protection of the British economy by means of central and local government action, including pragmatic public ownership, as well as by the actions of mediating institutions beholden neither to the market nor to the State, including trade unions.

Most Labour MPs could sign that these days, and most of the rest will retire at the next General Election. Jon Cruddas could have written it.

And the Tories? Welcome though this week's rebellion was, it was tiny, especially by comparison with the Labour one over Iraq. It succeeded only because it joined itself to the entire Official Opposition, unlike in the case of Iraq. 10 years and two General Elections after that, it was made up of people elected for what their voters will have assumed was the party most monolithically and outspokenly supportive of the neoconservative agenda; it is no wonder that there is serious talk of deselection in several cases, whereas no Labour MP was ever deselected over Iraq.

Especially unlike France, as we shall see very clearly in the days to come, since the middle of the nineteenth century or even earlier, conservatism has been almost, if almost, as much of a fringe oddity in Britain as it is in the country where the legacy of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams may not be questioned. Which is to say, in the country other than Britain where the legacy of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams may not be questioned.

There has never been a starker manifestation of that fact. 30 MPs. Not even one in 20. And they were elected as liberals. Including as liberal interventionists. Leaving aside the scores of extraparliamentary parties, none of which deserves any more attention than any of the others, the only way to vote against that is now to vote for the only party in which Postliberalism is taken seriously, or in which anyone has ever even heard of it.

No MP from that party voted for war this week. Not a single, solitary one. That is what "hard-headed multilateralism" looks like, not merely on the page, but in the flesh.

Friday 30 August 2013

Everyday People

Today's G2 contains an extended interview with Sly Stone. He is 70. Seventy. Sly Stone. Exactly how fast do you have to live in order to die young?

For that matter, exactly how slow do you have to live in order to be sure of not dying young, or at any rate of not entering middle age with all manner of aches, pains and malfunctions?

I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.

The Night That Blairism Died

Every Labour MP who could get back for the recall voted against war last night. Every single one.

It is the Conservatives who privately call Blair "the Great Man" and "our real Leader". He is undeniably the latter. I doubt that he is even a member of the Labour Party anymore.

Demonstrably and manifestly, his word now counts for nothing with even so much as one Labour MP.


Any use of our bases in this war, such as for refuelling, must not happen, and Parliament must make sure that it does not happen.

More than that, we want American bases off our soil. Why are they here, anyway? Not, "Why were they ever here?" Why are they still here? Nor have they ever received the slightest parliamentary authorisation.

And that means our soil anywhere in the world. This way lies justice for the dispossessed British Chagos Islanders and for the disenfranchised British Ascension Islanders.

From Here To Eternity

The last time that a Prime Minister was defeated on a war motion was in 1782, when Parliament voted to stop fighting the American War of Independence.

A little over 24 hours ago, at long, long, long last, Parliament voted to assert British independence from America.

American politicians, who never talk of a Special Relationship with Britain, talk routinely of an Eternal Alliance with Israel.

Israel has never fought alongside America in any war, has no treaty relationship with the United States, and maintains an enormous spy network on American soil, including well within the national security apparatus, entirely at the American taxpayer's expense, because Israel itself exists entirely at the American taxpayer's expense.

America may now enjoy this Eternal Alliance to her heart's content, with no deluded wannabe tagging along and making three a crowd. Britain has finally snapped out of it and acquired some self-respect.

Right Minds, Indeed

The Mail newspapers and their RightMinds site have had a good war. Telegraph Blogs and its parent-papers can now see even more clearly where the dead wood is; let the pruning begin. And The Times stands exposed as a waste of the profits from Sun Bingo.

If yesterday was Labour's Christmas Day, then today is Labour's Boxing Day, with the, er, "evacuation" of Dan Hodges. He has now lost his USP, as they say. It is impossible to see why he should still be employed if he no longer technically holds Labour Party membership.

Hodges, alas, is not on Any Questions this evening. But Diane Abbott and Nigel Farage both are, against Shirley Williams and that Henry Jackson Society stalwart, that Michael Gove fan boy, Nick Boles. Eight o'clock. Radio Four. Well worth missing EastEnders for. For the unmissable Coronation Street, there is of course ITV1+1.

19:30: No Corrie! Some football match, instead! Oh, well, even less excuse for not listening to Any Questions, then.

The Road To Damascus

Or not.

David Cameron told Ed Miliband that "you are letting down America," when he was informed over the phone on Wednesday that Labour would not be voting for his motion on Syria.

We have a Prime Minister with an overriding allegiance to a foreign power, up to and including sending our Armed Forces to war. He simply has to go.

Three cheers, then, for the MPs from 10 parties and an Independent who acknowledged Ed Miliband as the United Kingdom's real national leader. If UKIP is serious about being an anti-war party, then it ought not to field candidates against them.

The North East provided half of those Labour MPs who, because Miliband's amendment failed to rule out military intervention absolutely, voted against that before voting against Cameron's motion.

If UKIP is serious about being an anti-war party, then it certainly ought not to field candidates against Ronnie Campbell, Jim Fitzpatrick, Stephen Hepburn, Siân C. James, Grahame Morris or Graham Stringer.

Some people know what a sectarian civil war looks like. No MP from Northern Ireland voted with the Government last night. Not a single one.

Nothing Special

America entered the Second World War for her own reasons, and on her own strictly businesslike terms with us.

Nothing wrong with that.

But it gives the lie to the popular fantasy of a "special relationship", a term which no American has ever used.

We went to Korea, but so did a lot of other people. The Americans opposed us in Suez (when they were right, but that is not the present point), and did not go to Malaya. We stayed out of Vietnam.

They were practically on the other side in the Falklands War, when, apart from ever-reliable Portugal, our nearest thing to an ally was France. And the first Gulf War was much like Korea.

All in all, there is simply no factual basis whatever for the warmongering lie that we have an unbreakable military alliance with the United States. Or, at any rate, unbreakable until last night. We have not.

If you do not believe me, then just ask the Americans themselves.

Shock And Awe

By all accounts, Michael Gove has lost it in the Parliamentary Lobby, screaming at his colleagues in a very high-pitched voice that they were supporters of Assad.

Postliberal Parliament

Practically all Tories are really Whigs. There is a continuous tradition of intellectuals corresponding to that of the Right on the Continent, and especially in France, with Roger Scruton as the pre-eminent living bearer of it. But its political influence is negligible.

At least, it is within the Conservative Party, which has been defined by the takeover of the bovine Tory machine by successive waves of Country Whigs, Patriot Whigs, Liberal Unionists, Liberal Imperialists, National Liberals, the Institute of Economic Affairs, Alfred Roberts's daughter, and now the Liberal Democrats.

On the other side, however, the pronounced turn to Postliberalism includes a decided openness towards the continuous critique of the liberal project (individualist, capitalist, imperialist, and so on) in Britain, in Canada as heirs of American Loyalism, and on the Continent, especially in France.

Tonight's Labour vote was a highly practical expression of that. I hope, against hope, that the Tory rebellion really was precisely that. That would be a truly seismic shift if it were.

In fact, why not? Tonight's victorious alliance manifests profound shifts on the Left over the last 10 years, and I am increasingly convinced on the Right, too.

The new centre ground is emerging, where the never-remotely-Marxist Left agrees with a non-Whig Right which hitherto hardly realised that it existed.

Opposition to wars simply to put the world to rights, is fundamental to that.

But it is not the only thing that is.

1778 And All That

America looks likely to resume the Special Relationship that she has ever really had (whereas she has never had one with Britain), namely her Special Relationship with the European power that bloodily secured her independence. From Britain.

In the meantime, that power has reinvented herself, at least in theory, as the purely Enlightenment project that the American Republic has always been, but which Britain has never been.

"Liberal interventionism", such as in this case, makes sense entirely and exclusively in those terms.

But France is a fascinating polity and culture, in which full-blown Marxists and full-blown anti-Revolutionaries are both still integral parts of political and intellectual life. And not averse to agreeing with each other.

As on this, for example.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Happy Days Are Here Again

I am aglow with delight.

My mother is back safely from Saint Helena.

And the House of Commons has defeated the Government Motion on Syria.


It is perfectly clear: if a Prime Minister cannot persuade the House of Commons that he would be right to exercise the Royal Prerogative to take this country to war, then he has lost the confidence of that House in him as Prime Minister.

He ought therefore to resign.

That this particular Prime Minister recalled Parliament for this, is just a bonus.

Not "Now The Anti-War Party"

UKIP is merely one among numerous parties with no MPs rightly to oppose any British war against Syria.

The Green Party, meanwhile, does have an MP. Respect has one. The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland has one. Plaid Cymru has three. The SDLP also has three. The SNP has six. The DUP has eight.

And the Labour Party, which has just kept the United Kingdom out of this war, has 257.

Collectively, they have a total of 280 more MPs than UKIP has.

That is to say, 280 more than none.

The Independent MP Sylvia Hermon, who voted against the Government, also holds one more seat that that. Indeed, no MP from Northern Ireland voted for this war. Not a single one. Over there, they know what a sectarian civil war looks like.

When Even He

Jim Fitzpatrick, who has just resigned from the Labour front bench because Ed Miliband's amendment on Syria was insufficiently anti-war, was the man who, boundary changes having shunted their constituencies together, removed George Galloway from Parliament in 2010.

Wednesday 28 August 2013


Following today's spectacular triumph, Ed Miliband ought to use his Conference speech to promise to save what little remains of Sunday trading restrictions after Thatcher and Major, which is already declared Labour Party policy in this Parliament.

To promise to renationalise the Royal Mail, thus killing its privatisation stone dead, because no buyer would take the risk.

And to promise to take each of the rail franchises back into public ownership as it came up for renewal, thus renationalising the railways at no cost.

All while demanding a straight In-Out referendum on the day of next year's European Elections, which only the Government could deliver.

At that point, even if it were not already, as some of us maintain that is and that has now been for years, then the paleocon case for endorsing Labour at the next General Election will become unanswerable.

It will then be over to Stephen Glover, Max Hastings, Philip Johnston, Peter McKay, Peter Hitchens (who has already been on record for a year that he will endorse any party committed both to the Sunday trading point and to rail renationalisation), Tim Stanley, Freddy Gray and all the rest of them.

They have done sterling work on Syria. The electoral consequence of their position is now obvious.

Fifty Years On

I do have to admire some people's brass neck. In April 1976, Jimmy Carter told the New York Daily News that, "I see nothing wrong with ethnic purity being maintained." And having laid many a wreath at Arkansas's Confederate monuments, Bill Clinton told Ted Kennedy of Barack Obama, "That boy should be getting us coffee."

If Martin Luther King were alive today, then he would still be younger than Bruce Forsyth. I'm not joking. But King's memorable turns of phrase were mostly borrowed from the Old Testament prophets. They lacked, not the poetry, but nevertheless the originality of "nice to see you, to see you nice."

The Gathering Storm

From Stephen Glover to Robert Fisk.

Daniel Hannan tweets:

Let me get this straight. We dislike the use of gas because it kills indiscriminately. So we'll respond by raining missiles on Syria?


If, as the PM says, the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on 10 previous occasions, why does this one uniquely invite retaliation?

The Liberal Democrat MP on Newsnight, Sir Menzies Campbell, as good as said that he would vote against this war. The Conservative, Crispin Blunt, said so directly.

We can win this one.

The Fantasy of The Grand Alliance

This Michael Ledeen column from last week is amazingly confused and incoherent:

There’s an alliance plotting against us, bound together by two radical views of the world that share a profound, fundamental hatred of us.

If they win, it’s hell to pay, because then we will be attacked directly and often, and we will be faced with only two options, winning or losing.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that they’re divided, and slaughtering each other.

It must be a very strange alliance if its members are slaughtering one another. That would almost suggest that there is no alliance at all, and that it is just the product of someone’s fevered imagination.

This is only one of several glaring problems with Ledeen’s alarmist fear of “a global alliance of radical leftists and radical Islamists,” but it is most important flaw.

Belief in such a “global alliance” is a forced attempt to lump together various authoritarian regimes and Islamist groups in order to exaggerate the threats from all of them, and it suffers from all the same flaws as such nonsense ideas as “Islamofascism” and “the authoritarian axis.”

It treats disparate and sometimes diametrically, violently opposed groups as if they were on the same “side” in a global conflict against us, when the reality is that their interests are often at odds.

It is not even possible that this “alliance” can win, because its supposed members aren’t all seeking the same goals and don’t cooperate with one another to achieve them.

The only thing linking them together is that they are at odds with the U.S. over issues specific to them in their respective regions of the world, but any cooperation between them is typically opportunistic and quite limited.

The idea that the U.S. is opposed by such an “alliance” is the result of constant and absurd threat inflation combined with a misguided yearning for a titanic global struggle against a major foe, and it should be flatly rejected by anyone who wants a foreign policy dedicated to securing the interests of the United States.

Or, indeed to securing the interests of the United Kingdom.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

The Coalition of The Willing

From Max Hastings to Giles Fraser.

Daniel Hannan is not convinced, as of course one would have to be under circumstances such as these.

Whereas Owen Jones has been taken to task by a man who tweets as @Shachtman.

And Israel has granted the first Golan Heights oil drilling license, to a company which has links to Dick Cheney and which has Rupert Murdoch as a shareholder.

Over the years, I have been as critical as anyone of the Stop the War Coalition. But it has an emergency demonstration on the Embankment at 12 noon on Saturday. No one else has.

Sir Max should make it his business to get along to that, and then to get himself onto the committee of the Stop the War Coalition, doing both along with Peter McKay, Mic Wright and Peter Hitchens.

Plus, of course, Patrick Cockburn, Owen Jones and Giles Fraser.

We should never have left it to the SWP a decade ago. We actually cannot leave it to the SWP this time.

By His Enemies

Ed Miliband must be doing something right, to have been attacked by Michael Gove.

True To Ourselves, Develop Our Beliefs

It is one thing never to have mentioned God, but it is quite another to have removed Him.

The Guides cannot now expect, or even want, to enjoy the use of church premises.

Beyond The Fringe

Another year, another coming and going of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and of the Notting Hill Carnival without any mention of the political organisation that very largely called them both into being.

I pass no comment here on that organisation, save that it has been very largely written out of history.

Although not nearly so completely as the one from which it seceded.


"I spent 18 years campaigning against them," was Victoria Gillick's response to the mere mention of the Conservatives in the one conversation that I have ever had with her, which I doubt that she would remember. And that was before 2010.

With Neil Wilson's sentence to be reviewed, it is very high time for a review, to put it no more strongly than that, of Gillick competence, which Wilson's victim would undoubtedly have been deemed to have possessed, and by all accounts probably already had been.

The only possible reason to provide a contraceptive to a person under the age of consent is to facilitate the commission of an imprisonable offence.

If this girl could have been given the Pill or a packet of condoms, and certainly if she already had been, then ... well, we can all see where this is leading.

Don't lower the age of consent. Raise it, in fact. Throw the book at Neil Wilson.

And abolish Thatcher's Gillick competence.


In the Sunday Express, the justly ubiquitous Neil Clark writes:

It started with a chicken drumstick. I was chewing away quite happily on a bone dipped in delicious barbecue sauce when, oh dear, my upper right tooth cracked and bits started coming out. 

It wasn’t in the best of shape beforehand but it was the bone that delivered the killer blow. A sharp piece of tooth remained, digging into the inside of my cheek. It was all very painful, even after taking paracetamol. So what to do?

I am not registered with a dentist so I called NHS Direct on an 0845 number and was asked several questions. I was told that my local NHS emergency dental centre would call me back shortly and arrange a time within the next six hours when a dentist could see me. About an hour later, after I had paid an £18 fee, I was lying in the dentist’s chair ready for treatment.

“Open wide and relax your tongue,” the dentist said. She began to get a bit snappy, in a good humoured way, as I clearly wasn’t opening wide enough or relaxing my tongue sufficiently.

“I can see you’re out of practice,” she said. “When’s the last time you had a dental check up?”

The answer was several years ago. In fact so long ago I couldn’t remember.

Like many others I can’t afford to pay for private treatment and there’s a paucity of NHS dentistry locally.

Waiting lists are long. Last autumn I called a dentist who does NHS work and was told to call back in the spring. When I called back they said to call again in a few months.

The dentist put a temporary filling over my cracked tooth and also pointed out that the tooth in front of it was cracked too. My teeth are in a poor state.

That’s what comes from not going to the dentist.

But I’m not alone in this. In the 24-month period leading up to March 2013, 43.9 per cent of people in England didn’t see the dentist.

How did we get to this stage?

When I was growing up in the Seventies it seemed that everyone went for regular check-ups.

Living in Northwest London my family and I used to go to a dental surgeon called Mr Mistlin who lived just down the road from us. He could be quite forbidding as I remember, as dentists of that era tended to be, but the important thing was he treated us all on the NHS and my father didn’t need to take out a bank loan in order to have our teeth filled.

I kept going to the dentist regularly up until the Nineties when my local practice, like many others in Britain, stopped treating NHS patients.

The Government cut the fees they paid to dentists who did NHS work by seven per cent, leaving many to concentrate purely on private work. The situation got even worse with the growth of private dental chains which didn’t take on any NHS patients.

For governments, whether Conservative or Labour, supporting NHS dentistry no longer seemed to be all that important.

In November 2004 a report revealed that whereas there had been a general 75 per cent increase in overall NHS spending per head of population since 1990/1, the increase in spending on NHS dental services was only nine per cent.

The full extent of the damage caused by the decline of affordable dental care became apparent.

In 2008 it was revealed that more than 11 million British adults couldn’t afford to go to the dentist and more than half the population had teeth missing.

All this in one of the richest countries in the world.

Things have hardly improved since then. The percentage of people seeing a dentist in England in the two years up to March 2013 is just 0.3 per cent up from March 2006.

The percentage of children seeing a dentist is actually down. Earlier this week it was reported that over three-quarters of NHS dentists in Greater Manchester were refusing to take on new patients, meaning people having to travel long distances to find affordable care.

Why should it be so difficult?

If we could afford a comprehensive system of NHS dentistry up to the early Nineties, why can’t we now? And if NHS medical treatment is free at point of use, why isn’t dental care?

Our politicians today seem to prefer focusing on international affairs rather than on “bread and butter” or, rather, “tooth and gum” issues at home.

I would rather they prioritise on restoring NHS dentistry so that everyone has access to good quality dental care.

Thirty-odd years ago the only thing we feared when we had toothache was the dentist’s drill, not the damage to our wallets.

Until those happy days return, take very good care as you chew those chicken bones.

Monday 26 August 2013

Heed The Lesson

Of 1914, says Peter McKay.

"Only a peace conference, not air strikes, can stop further bloodshed," explains Patrick Cockburn.

"In a lecture theatre somewhere, men and women from our Armed Forces are getting a refresher course in horror," is one of the remarkable lines in this piece by Mic Wright.

Before we bomb Syria, then we should seek proof of guilt, insists Peter Hitchens.

And I wonder if William Hague could tell us how acting "without complete unity on the UN Security Council" worked out 10 years ago?

Sunday 25 August 2013

Water On A Chip Fat Fire

Owen Jones writes:

Four years ago, a woman in her mid-thirties took to CNN to savage Israel’s offensive against Gaza in an impeccable English accent. “The Israeli barbaric assault on innocent civilians” was “horrific”, was her passionate plea; the numbers of dead “continuously increase”. Occasionally she seemed almost overwhelmed with emotion as she spoke of mothers unable to even give their children a glass of milk.

What rationalisations, what self-justifications must now be going through the mind of the Syrian dictator’s British-born-and-raised wife Asma al-Assad – notoriously described as a “rose in the desert” by Vogue magazine months before Syria’s uprising began? Perhaps she has other concerns: recent photos uploaded by the regime’s Instagram account reveal her wearing a Jawbone UP, an upmarket activity tracker that monitors meals, sleep and exercise.

It is nearly two and a half years since her husband’s regime plunged Syria into an unspeakably brutal civil war by firing on what began as a secular movement for democracy: if Israel’s cruelty was “barbaric” and “horrific”, what words are left to describe her husband’s crimes? More than 100,000 dead, millions displaced, and now evidence pointing towards the firing of chemical weapon-laden missiles that suffocated families in their beds.

We don’t know the emotional response of this glorified gangster’s wife at children fitting and foaming at the mouth. Neither are we sure who fired the chemical weapons at eastern Damascus. Initial doubt that Assad’s thugs could be responsible were hardly the preserve of conspiracy theorists.

Why would the regime unleash nerve gas just as UN weapons inspectors were checking into their hotel a few kilometres away? Why use them now as the dictatorship has gained the upper hand in the civil war? Why attract the threat of Western attack just as interest in Syria had waned, and the rebel forces had become so discredited? Have we not already established that al-Qa’ida elements – increasingly prominent on the rebel side – are capable of anything?

But experts with no ulterior motive simply do not believe the rebels capable of unleashing such a targeted strike, even if they had the desire and possession of some chemical agents. Syria’s dictatorship has only just allowed the UN to inspect the site after dragging its feet. Attention has been drawn to Assad’s brother Maher, a notoriously sadistic general who once ordered troops to shoot unarmed protesters in the head and heart.

Whatever the truth behind this unforgivable crime, the likelihood of some form of Western intervention is greater than ever, as David Cameron, Barack Obama and France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius have made clear. The Cruise Missile Liberals, who casually call for other people’s children to fight their wars and for bombs to fall on the heads of those they will never meet, are beginning to cry for military action.

It is perplexing indeed: these are the sorts of people who generally favour bombs to be dropped on the sorts of Islamist fighters taking on Assad’s forces. But it is a perfectly human response to look at toddlers in bodybags and want to do something. No dictatorship is a legitimate form of government – it is a gang of thugs whose violence begins with depriving the people of the right to choose who rules them.

But Western intervention would surely be disastrous. When protesters first took to the streets of Damascus, they were heavily secular and democracy-orientated. There are still such elements, such as the Syrian Democratic People’s Party. But rebel forces have become increasingly taken over by Islamic fundamentalists, bolstered by prestige in their courageous fighting and aid from wealthy Gulf elites.

It is the region’s Western-backed fundamentalist monarchies such as Saudi Arabia who have armed the rebels. Remember Abu Sakkar, the rebel commander filmed cutting out and apparently eating the heart of a government soldier while ranting against Syria’s Alawite minority? His forces, the Farouq Brigades, are actually among some of the more moderate Islamist groupings.

There are now two powerful al-Qa’ida groupings operating. One is Jabhat al-Nusra, originally a spin-off from al-Qa’ida in Iraq, a resurgent movement responsible for some of the worst atrocities in the neighbouring country’s sectarian bloodbath. It took the first provincial capital, the city of Raqqa, earlier this year, giving it huge sway in the country’s north-east. It swiftly imposed strict Islamist laws, intimidating women and smashing up shops selling alcohol.

Then there is ISIS, an even more zealous al-Qa’ida formation that has fired on secular protesters and harassed the civilian population of Aleppo. A “civil war within a civil war” beckons: members of the Farouq Brigades have spoken of a second revolution against al-Qa’ida if Assad falls, and Free Syrian Army Military Council member Kamal Hamami was allegedly killed in July by such elements. No wonder many of the secular Syrian activists who first took the streets now fear the revolution has been hijacked, and even fear the fall of Assad.

There is a frightening precedent. In the 1980s, Western arms to Afghan jihadis were funnelled by the Pakistani secret services to the most radical groups. When the Soviet-backed Afghan regime fell in 1992, the victorious rebel groups collapsed into internecine conflict, reducing Kabul to rubble and leading many to welcome the Taliban as restorers of order.

Iraq’s government fear that a Syrian opposition takeover would plunge Lebanon and Iraq into civil war. The conflict has already contributed to Iraq’s descent back into chaos: more than 1,000 died in the country in July, the highest toll since 2008. An attack could invite retaliation from Iran and an escalation of Russian’s support for Assad’s thugs, helping to drag the region even further into disaster.

And then there’s the legacy of Western intervention in the region. The West props up numerous Middle Eastern dictatorships, including the fundamentalist House of Saud. Bahrain’s pro-democracy activists are battling a Western-backed dictatorship, and in 2011 suffered a tacitly Western-backed Saudi invasion. Western protests over the Egyptian’s junta massacre of the Muslim Brotherhood were muted indeed, and the US provides the military with $1.2bn of annual aid. US drone attacks provoke widespread fury.

The Iraq war led to a sectarian bloodbath, Western crimes such as the use of white phosphorous in flattened Fallujah and a shift in regional power that favoured Iran. The US were driven out of Lebanon in the early 1980s and Somalia in the early 1990s. Twelve years on, Afghanistan remains an intractable, bloody mess. Libya is often cited as a rare success story but – despite being infinitely less complicated than Syria – it led to horrendous atrocities against black Libyans, and the country is now an anarchic state ruled by militias on the brink of conflict.

It would be perverse indeed if the West ended up the de facto allies of al-Qa’ida, though it would mark a return to a disastrous dalliance with international Islamic fundamentalism. There’s no question that those who use chemical weapons must be arraigned in an international court. But a UN-brokered peace process involving all the local and regional players remains the only solution.

It may not satisfy the understandable impulse that “we have to do something”. After all, throwing water on a chip-fat fire is “doing something”. Syria’s nightmare looks as if it could not get worse: the truth is it could, with calamitous consequences for the whole Middle East.

Sovereign Integrity?

"The sovereign integrity of the nation state, opposition to European federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity," is the fifth of the 10 principles set out in the Prague Declaration, the constituent declaration of the European Conservatives and Reformists.

26 of the 56 MEPs in the ECR are British Conservatives, a twenty-seventh is drawn from their Ulster Unionist allies, the Chairman is the North East's very own Martin Callanan, and the Secretary-General of its Europarty is none other than Daniel Hannan.

How odd, then, that Callanan and Hannan should both be among the 12 ECR MEPs, seven of whom are British Conservatives, to be members of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

There is also a UKIPite who was elected as a Conservative, a Swedish Moderate who is therefore a member of the European People's Party, and a Flemish separatist whose party's roots are in the Flemish Division of the SS, which is at least some riposte to those who blah blah blah that such things were and are left-wing. For example, Daniel Hannan.

ALEC, you see, claims to be "federalist" but seems to have adopted the European rather than the American definition of the word. It is a body of State Legislators who undertake to ensure that their respective states all adopt identical legislation drafted by that body's corporate backers.

A handful of Democrats does belong to this thing, raising serious questions about the limits of the diversity of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party having arrived at the opposite extreme, with club rights extended only to those who subscribe, and that with sufficient fervour, to each and all of dozens of shibboleths.

But all except two of the State Chairmen are Republicans, and those two hold the office jointly with members of the other party. What was once the GOP provides all of the "Public Co-Chairs" of ALEC's policy task forces that write the legislation, on which they enjoy no veto power, since that attaches only to the "Private Co-Chairs" who not merely come from, but explicitly represent, their own corporations.

The one for International Relations, which are constitutionally outside the province of State Legislatures but on which work is clearly being done, has as its veto-wielding Private Co-Chair a senior executive of Philip Morris International. To ALEC, the whole of foreign policy is subordinate to the interests of big tobacco.

So much for Hannan's Anglosphere, since ALEC contains one Australian Senator, as well as one Georgian MP and one Pakistani Assemblywoman. All of its other "International Delegates" sit in the European Parliament. There to enact legislation written by giant American corporations, as if the European Parliament were an American State Legislature, with the United Kingdom having much the status of an American county.

Eight of those MEPs sit for the United Kingdom. Seven of them are members of the party led by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and all eight were elected for that party; the eighth is now a member of an entity which laughably calls itself "the United Kingdom Independence Party".

And no fewer than 12, four fifths of the total, belong to the Group, and include both its Chairman and the Secretary-General of its Europarty, the creation of which was supposed to have been David Cameron's great EU-level triumph in the cause of the sovereign integrity of the nation state, opposition to European federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity.

A Credible Account

The priority for Syrian foreign policy for the past two-and-a-half years has been to avoid foreign military intervention on behalf of the rebels.

By the same token, the opposition has tried by every means to secure armed intervention by the US and its allies sufficient to win the war.

The action by the Syrian government most likely to push an unwilling White House into military involvement has been the open use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Damascus has furiously denied in the past that it had done so and proof has been lacking. Rebel accusations might have been fabricated and claims by Western governments were tainted by propaganda.

Experts specialising in chemical weapons had hitherto expressed scepticism, even derision, at supposed proofs of chemical weapons use in the media.

CBRNe World, a journal specialising in chemical and biological weapons, asked of one alleged sarin gas attack: "Could it be real – possibly. Could it be misdiagnosed and something other than sarin – possibly. Could it be fake – possibly."

Considering the question two months ago of whether chemical weapons had been used in Syria, Professor Julian Perry Robinson of Sussex University, a renowned expert, concluded: "Onlookers can as yet believe the reporting only if they are willing to trust unsubstantiated assertion or incomplete evidence."

So it is difficult to think of any action by the Damascus government more self-destructive than the Syrian army launching a massive chemical-weapons attack on rebel-held districts in its own capital.

Yet the evidence is piling up that this is exactly what happened last Wednesday and that the Syrian army fired rockets or shells containing poison gas which killed hundreds of people in the east of the city.

The opposition may be capable of manufacturing evidence of government atrocities, but it is highly unlikely it could do so on such a large scale as this.

President Obama's security advisers were meeting yesterday in the White House with the strong possibility that there will be a US military response, such as missile strikes from outside Syrian airspace on Syrian military units or bases from which the chemical weapons may have been launched.

No doubt Obama would like to keep out of a full-scale intervention, as he made clear last week, saying of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that people who "call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region".

Nevertheless, the blatancy of the poison-gas attacks will make it difficult and damaging for him not to react militarily.

If the Syrian leadership knew that chemical weapons were going to be used, what could be their motive? They may be so convinced of American weakness and so confident of the backing of Russia and Iran that they feel they can ignore international condemnation.

They may have seen Egypt's security forces shoot down hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters on 14 August and thought, "If they can get away with it, so can we." Even so, the benefits of such an operation were always going to be outweighed by political costs abroad.

Other factors, too, may have been at work. The Middle East has been bubbling, this past year, with exaggerated talk of US political and military decline, pumped up by visits from US politicians such as Senator John McCain denouncing White House "cowardice".

No doubt the US has a weaker position in the Middle East because of the Iraq and Afghan wars, when its army failed to defeat limited guerrilla forces. But US and Nato intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was cited last week as an example of interventions that succeeded.

Still, the Balkans are different from the wider Middle East where American interventions have usually brought disaster.

There was bloody failure in Lebanon in 1982-83 and in Somalia in 1993; and even the one exception, the First Gulf War in 1991, did not turn out so well for the US in the long term.

Moreover, the failure of the Iraq war of 2003 and the ongoing Afghan conflict have soured American voters' enthusiasm for other Middle East ventures.

Syria's conflict differs from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya in another respect: Moscow is back as a world power and cannot be ignored or intimidated.

One of the reasons Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 was the calculation that the fall of the Soviet Union would leave the US as sole superpower and cramp independent action by Iraq or other regional powers.

Russia is back for the first time in more than 20 years as a powerful player, embittered by what it understandably sees as a double-cross over Nato intervention in Libya and determined not to let that happen again.

Russia's re-emergence is not the only factor restraining America. For all the wringing of hands in Washington and Western Europe about the human tragedy, the present situation is not entirely against their interests. 

Syria, so long the heart of opposition to the West and Israel in the Arab world, is, for now, fragmented and weak. Any decisive outcome ending the war carries with it clear risks for Western interests. If President Bashar al-Assad wins then this is a defeat for them and a success for Iran and Hezbollah.

If he is defeated then al-Qa'ida-linked organisations, such the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – increasingly the most effective military component of the opposition – will be among those who replace him.

The US, Britain and France may want the war to end but only on their own terms – probably involving the decapitation of the government, but stopping well short of revolutionary change.

What will be the impact of the chemical-weapons attack within Syria? It will frighten people further in rebel areas and will show the utter ruthlessness of the government, something scarcely in doubt.

But the action is also a sign of weakness, suggesting the Syrian army cannot capture with conventional arms districts such as Jobar close to the centre of Damascus.

Plenty of Syrian officials can see the criminal stupidity of using chemical weapons, so experts are asking if some state faction might want to sabotage possible peace talks by deploying them. A problem with this scenario is nobody else has noticed peace talks getting anywhere.

The Syrian government denies it had anything to do with the gas attack, but it has not given a credible account of what did happen.

Initially, there was disbelief that it would do something so patently against its own interests, but all the evidence so far is that it has done just that.

Cry If They Want To

You would cry too,
If it happened to you.

The Chief Executive of UKIP, Will Gilpin, has resigned because he cannot cope with the rank amateurs and the certifiable lunatics, and he cannot see anyone else in the thing.

Nigel Farage wants to replace him with Neil Hamilton. Yes, you read aright. Neil Hamilton.

Meanwhile, UKIP's former Deputy Leader, Mike Nattrass, is to go to law over his removal as a candidate at next year's European Elections.

That removal, in itself, might indicate either utter amateurism, or else the utterly cynical hyper-professionalisation at which what was once the amateurish SNP seems to have arrived.

The case of Bill Walker is political dynamite. The Scottish Labour Party lacks neither the means nor the will to make it explode.

For Communities, For Workers, For Families

The website of the Democratic Labour Party of Australia is having problems (I have been in touch), but note the recent change in the name of that party. From that change comes the slogan, "Putting You Back Into Labour". See what they did there?

The Australian Labor Party, which is older than the British Labour Party, is a very rare, and now possibly unique, exception to the Australian preference for British over American spellings. Just as the spelling of "neighbours" in Australia is "neighbours", as in Neighbours, so the ordinary spelling of "labour" in Australia is "labour". As the DLP now observes.

Winning back that Senate seat in Victoria last time was a magnificent achievement, and John Madigan has not let the grass grow under him.

Katter's Australian Party is pretty good, and it is an interesting phenomenon. Its preference deal with Labor in Queensland is remarkable, not least for bringing rural Queensland, and the concerns articulated by the KAP, into play both in general and, specifically, at the very highest levels of the ALP.

But it has to be the DLP. The Labor Senator Jacinta Collins of Victoria also richly deserves to be re-elected this year, and it is perfectly possible to vote for her as well as for both of Senator Madigan's partisans. Just as it is to vote for all three KAP and both DLP candidates in Queensland. Imagine that.

If Tony Abbott does win, and if Bill Shorten does take over from Kevin Rudd, then both main Party Leaders would have been educated by the Jesuits. And between them, they would constitute the most spectacular manifestation of the need for the Democratic Labour Party.

A Lot To Fear

John Prescott writes:

When it was revealed the News of the World hired a private investigator to hack into the Dowlers’ mobile phone messages, there was public outrage.

It set off a chain of events that led to the paper closing, former editors being charged and the Met Police reprimanded for not doing their job.

The Leveson proposals, if backed by the papers, will go some way to make sure we get a fair and free Press that doesn’t abuse people’s rights. Because I passionately believe in a free press.

Whether it was the Mirror’s striking front page picture of those poor children who died in a gas attack in Syria or the exposure of law-breaking MPs abusing parliamentary expenses, it’s important that our media can speak the truth.

But our security services, especially GCHQ, have become a glorified private investigator, paid by a client – the US National Security Agency – to hack into everyone’s emails, texts and other personal data.

When it was exposed, did our Government and the US set up an urgent Leveson-style inquiry to get to the bottom of this massive violation of human rights and privacy? 

No – they persecuted whistle-blower Edward Snowden for leaking the information to the Guardian and then stopped and searched David Miranda, partner of the journalist who wrote the story.

This Government and the US were notified he was going to be targeted and did nothing to stop it, even though it’s been argued his detention was potentially ­illegal.

GCHQ spooks also went to the Guardian’s offices and forced its journalists to smash the computer hard drives containing Snowden’s leaked information, saying: “You’ve had your fun.”

As Deputy Prime Minister I was asked by GCHQ to sign phone tap orders in order to trace the terrorists behind Omagh. I later discovered GCHQ had been tracking these individuals for weeks and my ­signature simply legitimised this State-backed phone hacking.

In Government I questioned the £100million overspend on GCHQ’s accounts which the public auditor had ­rightly refused to sign off.

Now we discover from Snowden’s leaked documents that GCHQ was paid £100million by the US to access Britain’s intelligence gathering programmes.

So why are we doing America’s dirty work? As GCHQ has allegedly boasted, the UK has a “light oversight regime compared to the US”.

They couldn’t do it because they have “constitutional rights”. So they outsource it to us!

We need a close look at the accountability of GCHQ.

A parliamentary committee doesn’t have the resources, powers or inclination to oversee these complex activities.

Our Parliamentary committee system needs to be given the powers of subpoena to make them much more effective in holding these organisations to account.

We need a Royal Commission to recommend a proper and definable balance between our human rights and the need to protect the public.

It’s no good William Hague saying “the innocent have nothing to fear” when the very spooks violating our human rights and freedoms are hiding the truth.

We’ve all got a lot to fear.

Stand Up For Civilisation

Ever since poor old  Ann Widdecombe tried to tighten the dope  laws rather mildly a dozen years ago, lofty Establishment figures have taken to confessing that they took drugs at university.

Half of William Hague’s Shadow Cabinet did so, in what looked like a well organised scheme to destroy Miss Widdecombe’s plan.

 These confessions are rarely coupled with any expressions of shame. They ignore the growing correlation between cannabis use and incurable mental illness, and the thousands of quiet personal tragedies that have resulted, and will result, from this.

Any intelligent person must surely see what the effect will be when a prominent figure reveals such a past crime and does not condemn it.

 It will weaken the enforcement of the anti-cannabis law (already feeble), and fuel the potent and well-funded international campaign to make this frightening poison legal.

 So what should we make of the behaviour of Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer of England?

She went on to BBC Radio 3 (so civilised!) to discuss her taste in music.

 In the course of this, Dame Sally admitted she was shy of giving interviews. Yet it was clear from the conversation  that Michael Berkeley, the presenter of the programme Private Passions, knew she was going to talk about drugs. In fact, about halfway through the discussion, he made it clear that the subject would come up later.

Is it possible that this had actually been negotiated? Who can say? Dame Sally, a member of the 1960s campus radical generation, also revealed that she had been ‘very lively’ in student politics. Tell us more, Dame Sally. And then it came – the confession that Dame Sally, a virtuous non-smoker of tobacco, had guzzled a number of hash cookies, until, rightly alarmed by hallucinations, she ceased.

What conclusions did she draw from this? That drugs are a medical problem rather than a legal one, together with some excuse-making guff about ‘addiction’, something for which there is no scientific evidence at all.

This just happens to chime with the line being taken by every lobbyist for weakening what’s left of our laws against drugs, especially the unpleasant alleged comedian Russell Brand.

 This is the sort of company the opera-going, fine-wine-loving, smoke-free Dame Sally is keeping (though she says she is careful not to be photographed holding a glass of wine, lest she sets a bad example).

She did accidentally manage to say one genuinely moving and powerful thing, quoting  her late father, an ordained minister of the Church and Professor of Theology at Birmingham University for 26 years, who warned her: ‘Drugs decivilise you. You stop being a civilised person.’

They also decivilise those societies that allow them to spread, as we see every day.

 If people like Dame Sally won’t stand up for civilisation, who will?

Friday 23 August 2013

Big Break

When is the author of those works of child pornography, The Liar and The Hippopotamus, going to be subjected to anything like the same treatment as has been meted out to another gameshow-presenting comedian, but to one who has turned out to have had absolutely no knowledge of or interest in child sex?

And when are Rotherham Social Services and South Yorkshire Constabulary, among numerous others in each category, going to held to anything remotely approaching the standard rightly expected of the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, and of Saint Benedict's Abbey, Fort Augustus?

The Peter Hitchens of The Left

A long time ago, someone called me that.

But is Owen Jones now the titleholder, as suggested by Nick Cohen in the latest edition of The Spectator?

Well, why not?

They are both opponents of the neoconservative war agenda, unlike Nick Cohen.

They are both enemies of the erosion of civil liberties.

They are both hostile to the EU, or at the very least to any EU that is ever going to exist in actual fact.

They are both in favour of publicly owned railways and utilities.

And they are both defenders of council housing.

Call it the centre ground.

A New Act of Union, Indeed

Establishing the Crown as the guarantor of the Welfare State, workers’ rights, full employment, a strong Parliament, trade unions, co-operatives, credit unions, mutual guarantee societies, mutual building societies, and nationalised industries, the last often with the word “British” in their names, were historically successful in creating communities of interest among the several parts of the United Kingdom, thus safeguarding and strengthening the Union.

The public stakes in the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland are such permanent, non-negotiable safeguards of the Union. Any profits from those stakes ought therefore to be divided equally among all households in the United Kingdom.

There is no West Lothian Question, Michael Fabricant, since the Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate supremely in any policy area for any part of the country, and the devolution legislation presupposes that it will do so as a matter of course.

It never, ever need do so and the point would still stand, since what matters is purely that it has that power in principle, which no one disputes that it has, or else there would be no perceived need, either of the SNP, or of a referendum on independence. Anyone who does not like that ought to have voted No to devolution. I bet that they did not.

But the grievance of England, and especially of Northern and Western England, concerns, not some “West Lothian Question”, but cold, hard cash.

Each of the present or, where they have been abolished in the rush to unitary local government, the previous city, borough and district council areas in each of the nine regions must be twinned with a demographically comparable one (though not defined in terms of comparable affluence) in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland, and in each of the other English regions.

We probably have to talk about the English regions, even if we would prefer to talk about the historic counties from before an unprotesting Thatcher was in the Cabinet.

Across each of the key indicators – health, education, housing, transport, and so on – both expenditure and outcomes in each English area, responsibility for such matters being devolved elsewhere, would have to equal or exceed those in each of its twins. Or else the relevant Ministers’ salaries would be docked by the percentage in question. By definition that would always include the Prime Minister.

In any policy area devolved to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, no legislation must apply in any of the English regions unless supported at Third Reading by the majority of MPs from that region. Since such legislative chaos would rightly be unconscionable, any Bill would in practice require such a consensus before being permitted to proceed at a much earlier stage of its parliamentary progress.

No one would lose under any of this: there would be no more politicians than at present, and both expenditure and outcomes would have to be maintained in, most obviously, Scotland and the South East for the twinning system to work.

Is it conceivable that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would not also insist on full incorporation into it, with their own areas thus also guaranteed expenditure and outcomes equal to or exceeding those in each of those areas’ respective twins?

Or else the relevant Holyrood, Cardiff Bay or Stormont Ministers’ salaries would be docked by the percentage in question. By definition that would always include the First Minister, and in Northern Ireland also the Deputy First Minister.

By all means, let these be the terms of a new Act of Union.

The Stocks Were Sold; The Press Was Squared

The Middle Class was quite prepared.

The idea of the monarchy's political neutrality is original to the present Queen, who acceded as a 26-year-old woman in 1952 when the Prime Minister was Winston Churchill.

Do those demanding that a generation be skipped imagine that, even if he were to succeed tomorrow, Prince William would thus comport himself, over 30 and possessed of a good degree, an Officer's Commission, and a Y chromosome which he had successfully passed on?

Yet still they agitate for a second Williamite Revolution. Or a third one, if you count 1066.

Henry Tudor, whose line was specifically barred even from the Lancastrian succession, was invited back from exile by an alliance of Lancastrians and dissident Yorkists because the latter regarded his betrothed, Elizabeth of York, as the rightful monarch, a view from which they never deviated.

William of Orange was invited over by an alliance of Whigs and dissident Tories because, to the latter's satisfaction, he was already married to the next Protestant heiress, with whom he was to reign as joint monarch.

And now, a scion of perhaps the greatest of all the Whig dynasties, which once bankrolled its dissolute Hanoverian creatures and which is as convinced as ever of its own superiority over them, is being lined up to leapfrog his father by an alliance between that perennial interest and the mighty bourgeoisie into the upper echelons of which he has contracted a marriage which has lately produced an heir.

Not for nothing has an ebook on the arrival of Prince George entitled Diana's Baby been published by, and with a preface by, Melanie Phillips. We have been warned.

A Glimmer of Hope

Conrad Landin writes:

For those of us who constantly despair over the Labour front bench’s failure to fight back against this government’s disastrous neo-liberal programme, today offers a glimmer of hope.

The shadow cabinet are opposing a privatisation programme with more than vague platitudes – and initiating a campaign to save Royal Mail from the profiteers and asset-strippers.

Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow post minister, has initiated a petition on the Labour party website to save the daily delivery and oppose the sale. You can sign it here.

This follows months of sustained campaigning from the Communication Workers’ Union. Meanwhile the non-TUC affiliated National Federation of SubPostmasters has urged its members not to stock brochures advertising the privatisation.

Anyone who doubts the disaster that would follow privatisation need only read James Meek’s account of the catastrophe of postal services in the Netherlands, published in the London Review of Books two years ago. 

But it’s worth remembering that the last Labour government – in the form of a re-incarnated Peter Mandelson – proposed a part-privatisation itself.

That Ed Miliband’s front bench opposes privatisation in principle, and not simply the way it is being handled, should be welcomed.

Now how about a pledge for the next Labour government to reverse the Tories’ privatisation if it cannot be stopped in time?

A Battle That Can Be Won

Although he is wrong that it need necessarily take several electoral cycles (unfortunately, it looks as if it is going to), Jack Eddy writes:

Between April and September 2012, nearly 21,000 people used food banks in the south-west of England, while, in this year alone, 5,000 people have regularly used food banks in the county of Norfolk.

These figures are both an irrefutable sign of a growing rural poverty and a call to Labour to reach out to rural Britain in a way it has not attempted since the 1920s.

There is an ever-increasing problem of living standards in the rural world. For a start, we are suffering from a housing crisis different to our urban cousins. The issue of house affordability, which is worsening everywhere, is particularly acute in the south.

In order to secure a typical mortgage, a rural resident needs to earn at least £66,000 a year. With the average income in rural areas standing at just over £20,000 a year, you can see the problem. This is only made worse and more widespread by the prevalence of second homes throughout the UK – but especially in Norfolk, the Lake District, Northumberland and the south-west.

There is also far less social housing in rural areas (13 per cent compared to 22 per cent in cities). The situation is compounded further by protectionist planning laws and a general urban containment, so the few houses that are built are rarely in the rural areas that need them most.

The net result of the rural housing crisis is that the countryside is an increasingly unaffordable place to live for rural Britons, with severe potential effects on rural communities and local identities as more and more rural natives are forced to relocate.

That said, there are many other issues that are worthy of mention – rural fuel poverty, rural public transport and infrastructure, unemployment, small businesses, rural health and social care, to name just a few – all of which are important contributors to rural poverty.

Yet, the reason I talk about housing is that this issue has technically already been met with an ambitious response from Labour. Ed Balls has outlined a new national policy that will instigate a massive housebuilding programme of 400,000 new homes. So, what’s the problem?

This policy, and others like it, does not have a rural dimension. In this case, greater detail is needed:
  • How many of the 400,000 new house builds will be where the rural housing crisis is most acute?
  • Will planning restrictions be modified or lifted? How will Labour ensure that building is environmentally friendly?
  • What proportion of these new homes are to be ‘affordable housing’ and social housing?
  • How will Labour prevent new rural builds becoming second homes?
The second problem is that, quite simply, Labour’s message does not carry in rural areas, where the population – used to being ignored, especially by what they see as an urban Labour party – is disinclined to vote Labour to begin with.

A Rural Manifesto with a broad and ambitious mandate provides the answer to both problems. First, such a document, which would enable the Labour party to take a big view of the difficulties facing rural Britain, provides the medium to give national policy that specifically rural dimension that the Labour movement has hitherto lacked.

Moreover, a project of this scale, sympathetically developed from the viewpoint of rural voters, with the extensive involvement and contributions of every rural CLP and other rural groups, will enable Labour to reach out to new voters in the countryside in a way that no other political party has attempted.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have fundamentally failed their rural constituents, and UKIP would be a disaster for the rural voter. However, Labour cannot win in rural Britain overnight. We must build rural support slowly over several elections.

But some unexpected rural seats can be won at the next general election and the rural vote can make a significant contribution to Labour party victory in 2015. The Rural Manifesto represents the best way to achieve both a short-term election contribution, as well as a long-term ambition to appeal to and win the rural vote.

This is a battle that can be won. We must now start preparing for that victory.