Friday 31 January 2014

1914 And All That

It is a very strange thing to wish to commemorate the centenary of the start of a war, rather than, as is usual, the centenary or other anniversary of its end.

But 11th November 2018 will be three and a half years after the next General Election.

During a recent edition of Start the Week, Michael Gove described himself as a Whig, and that is precisely what he is.

The First World War was a Liberal war, the prototype neoconservative military intervention far more than the usually cited Second World War was.

Why, throughout the First World War, Britain still had a Liberal Government. It stood alongside the French Radicals against the German National Liberals.

British Liberalism, French Radicalism and German Liberalism were not, and are not, exactly the same thing. But there was, and there is, a pronounced family resemblance. And they all have the same enemies, just as they did a hundred years ago.

The principle of National Liberalism, of the singular mission of a particular Great Power to conform the world to the Liberal vision even by the force or arms, was not in dispute. The only dispute was as to which Great Power had been entrusted with that mission.

But there was a Germany before Unification, and even as part of Unification Germany had to retain many decidedly pre-Enlightenment features. There was a France before the Revolution, and anyone may still see all manner of aspects of her. We all know about the United Kingdom and her predecessor-states.

In the end, of course, only one Great Power, and arguably only one political entity at all, has ever been founded specifically as the Liberal one, expansionist and interventionist accordingly. That is the one to which Michael Gove owes his ultimate allegiance.

Sadly, however, that is not the one of which he aspires to become the Prime Minister.

Guns of August

I’m pleased to see that the historian Niall Ferguson here is saying that Britain had no need to enter the First World War, and in fact that it was a terrible mistake for us to do so.

Good.  This seems to me to be the only worthwhile debate we can have about that conflict.

If it were true that it was some sort of struggle between freedom and tyranny, or civilisation and barbarism (which it wasn’t), then the excuses made for the generals and the politicians might have some validity.

If the stake truly had been that high, then all kinds of incompetent fumbling, and trial and error with thousands of men’s lives at stake, might just be excusable.

But as soon as it is reduced to a mere war of choice, into which this country for one fell through error, scheming, or simple panic, then the colossal butcher’s bill is plainly unjustified.

I’d add that there’s no real doubt that Germany began the war.

I really don’t know why anyone bothers to argue otherwise. The great German historian Fritz Fischer established this beyond all doubt in his unmatched work of 1961, Griff nach der Weltmacht: Die Kriegzielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914–1918.

This was published in English with the emollient and evasive title, Germany's Aims in the First World War. A more accurate, if slightly sensational translation, as the word ‘grab’ is slightly more violent and demotic than ‘Griff’, would be A Grab for World Power - The War Aims of Imperial Germany 1914-1918.

Perhaps Grasping for World Power would be more accurate, if less literal, as is often the case in translation. This article is also helpful in explaining the situation.

Barbara Tuchman’s marvellous Guns of August is also quite plain that Germany had been aching to march through Belgium into France for years, and had all but openly begged the Belgians to allow this to happen.

At the same time France, burning with the desire to revenge her (deserved) defeat in 1870, was virtually desperate to drag Britain in this futile conflict, and actually pulled its troops back from the German frontier in July 1914 to avoid any possibility of an incident allowing the Germans to portray France as the aggressor, in which case Britain would have stayed out.

Meanwhile British and French soldiers had been in secret talks for years, more or less committing Britain to march in the event of war, without the knowledge of the British government.

Quite why so many members of the Liberal government fell in so quickly with a war they initially opposed, I’ve often wondered.

It certainly wasn’t some kind of bankers’ conspiracy. The City of London, and most of the British economy, were aghast at the prospect of a European war.

I think we just have to put it down to stupidity, cowardice and human weakness, the things which explain so much of history.

Why wasn’t it, as my Grandfather’s old medal says, in words engraved on one whole side of the bronze disc he and many others were given when it was all over, ‘The Great War for Civilization’?

Well, it obviously didn’t work out that way. It probably put paid to Western Christian civilization, though it has taken about a century to die.

But even at the time, our side wasn’t that marvellous.

Experts on suffrage have pointed out that Imperial Germany, in 1914, had a broader suffrage than Britain. The mighty German Social Democratic Party, then still a united force, was growing constantly in power and strength.

Austria-Hungary, our other enemy, was a surprisingly liberal empire, almost multicultural in modern terms, and heartbreakingly civilized, in cultural and scientific terms, compared with the horrible things which would follow in the regions it governed.

As I’ve noted here before, Stefan Zweig’s World of Yesterday portrays a nation which, at the time, seemed stuffy and oppressive, but on which millions would look back fondly after it had vanished from the earth.

Belgium, well, I suggest those who are interested study Paul Belien’s A Throne in Brussels, for an unsentimental, and very Flemish, look at that artificial country and its very odd monarchy.

I don’t, by the way, endorse Dr Belien’s political position, or approve of his party, the Vlaams Belang.  But it’s a fascinating book.

We’ve discussed here before the supposed ‘commitment’ of Britain to rush to Belgium’s defence, which is a) nothing quite as clear as is claimed, and b) was the sort of commitment Britain had oiled out of in the past when it was foolish or inconvenient to fulfil it.

(This casts a flickering yellow light on the clinically mad guarantee to Poland of April 1939, in which we actually invented, quiet needlessly, a dangerous commitment to defend an unlovely country which we couldn’t in any case save, thus once again giving someone else the right to decide when, where and about what we entered a global war -  as if we actually desired to repeat the disaster of 1914 in detail.)

France had recently recovered from the Dreyfus affair, but remained a profoundly divided and often bigoted society, by no means friendly to Britain.

Russia, our other ally, was an autocracy, barely beginning to reform itself into a modern state, having abolished serfdom only a few decades before.

By the way, how France managed to survive the first months of the war, I still cannot fathom.

Its armies were so incompetently led, and so many men needlessly sacrificed in moronic frontal charges,  that it is a matter of amazement that Germany’s professional soldiers did not manage to roll them up in a matter of weeks.

By the way, the idea that plucky British soldiers saved the day is not borne out by the facts. The Old Contemptibles fought bravely, but made only a marginal difference to the speed of the German advance.

Quite possibly, the Belgians’ futile but courageous defence of Liege probably prevented a swift German triumph.

Tuchman’s book is terrific on this part of the war, and on the astonishment caused when Germany unveiled its enormous mobile siege guns, ominous and disturbing weapons unlike anything ever seen before in human history, foreshadowing all the mighty works of perverted science which have been such a feature of the modern world.  

Professor Ferguson says, in my view quite rightly, that we would have lost nothing significant by staying out of war in 1914, and might well have saved much that is valuable.

If this is true, and it is, then Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War! is more truthful and moral than an awful lot of respectable history.

And the triumvirate of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen, whose literary and poetic accounts of that war I tried so hard, for so many years, to resist, were right.

Thursday 30 January 2014

One Nation Taxation

Callum Anderson is right about the need for a Land Value Tax, although not to see that as an alternative to the 50p income tax rate.

Kevin Meagher is absolutely right about the need to restore Child Benefit for top-rate taxpayers.

All At Sea

There are those who gorge themselves on the products of sow crates and battery chicken farms, but who pick up their skirts in horror at hunting and shooting.

Those same people either say nothing about, or else positively approve of, the Common Fisheries Policy, which is opposed by only one of the three main parties, the only one that one is not in the Coalition. But they pick up their skirts in horror at whaling.

What, exactly, is so horribly wrong with whaling, by which the Norwegians have been feeding themselves and their families since the ninth century, while the Japanese have been doing so since the twelfth century, and while the latter's Korean neighbours have been doing so for eight thousand years?

And why, at a push, is it more or less all right for scientific research, but never, ever for food?

Dan Hodges: Put Up Or Shut Up

One and all are welcome to join the Facebook Group, Dan Hodges Should Contest Doncaster North, which is Ed Miliband's seat.

It is time for Hodges to put up or shut up.

Informing Labour's Rural Agenda

The splendid Jack Eddy has sent me this: 

Dear comrades!

I am proud to announce that Labour: Coast & Country, in association with Central Suffolk & North Ipswich CLP, will be holding its first major event:

"Informing Labour's Rural Agenda" at Stradbroke High School, Stradbroke, Suffolk on Saturday, 22nd Feb 2014, 10.30-3.30pm, Lunch and conference fee £10.

All places must be booked in advance. If you are interested in booking your place, please contact Garry Deeks at: 

If you can make the journey to Suffolk, then we would be most grateful if you can come and contribute to proceedings.

The Planned schedule and latest line-up is:

9:45-1030: Arrival & Reception

10:30: Welcome: Jack Eddy, Labour: Coast & Country

10:35 – 11:30: Rural Poverty – the consequences of the Cost of Living Crisis in the Countryside
Richard Howitt, MEP & Lord Jim Knight
Chair: Lara Norris

11:30 – 12:30: Break-out Sessions

Rural Youth, Education & Aspiration
James Hallwood, Young Fabians Chair
Matthew Percy, YMP for Suffolk
Chair, Jack Abbott, PPC for Central Suffolk & North Ipswich

Delivering high quality transport in rural areas
Lara Norris, PPC for Gt Yarmouth
Nigel Gibson, Aslef
Sandra Gage, Suffolk County Council
Christian Wolmar, Transport Commentator and Author
Chair, Jess Asato, PPC for Norwich North & Chair for the Fabian Society

More than just Farming and Tourism: Businesses & Employment
Bryony Rudkin, Deputy-Leader for Suffolk County Council Labour Group
Dr Wil Gibson, The Plunkett Foundation
Geoffrey Bray, The Rural Shops Alliance
David Webb, Federation of Small Businesses (Invited)
Chair: Jane Basham, PPC for South Suffolk

12:30 – 13:30: Lunch

13:30 – 14:30: Break-out Sessions

Dr Marion Ravenhill

Kate Godfrey, The Fabian Society and PPC for Stafford
Bernard Williamson, Gt Yarmouth Borough Council (Invited)
Chair: Deb Sacks, PPC for South Norfolk

Policy-making and proofing
Helen Goodman MP
Judi Billing, Association of Labour Councillors
Daniel Zeichner, PPC for Cambridge and NPF Member
Chair: Hywel Lloyd, Labour: Coast & Country

Agriculture & Food
Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian (Invited)
Sally Webber, Labour: Coast & Country
Unite RAAW National Committee Member
Chair, Garry Deeks, Central Suffolk & North Ipswich CLP

14:30 – Closing Plenary: Labour in the Countryside: Informing Labour's Rural Agenda

15:30- End
(More to follow)

I hope to see as many of you there as possible. I know that the rural Labour movement will do its utmost to make this an event of note!

Many thanks, 
Jack Eddy
Labour: Coast & Country

117 High Road
IP20 0EN

Tuesday 28 January 2014

There Is No Recovery

If it does not correspond to anyone's experience, then, when you think about it, it cannot possibly be happening.

In any case, recovery from what? There was no recession on the day of the last General Election. There was one again very soon after it.

It was not a joke that thousands, even millions, of Romanians and Bulgarians were supposed to turn up in Britain on New Year's Day. The BBC, ITN and Sky News sent film crews to meet them. MPs turned up at the airports to do so.

Nearly a month later, where are they? Especially since Romania has the highest growth in the EU, they have decided that they can do without the rickets, the tuberculosis, the Red Cross parcels, the foodbanks, and the prosecution of people who have to eat out of the skips at the backs of supermarkets.

The Romanians and Bulgarians would be here if we had a recovery. Demonstrably, we do not. Nor does anyone believe that we do. Nor, therefore, will anyone vote as if we did.

So the Lib Dems are finished. The Conservatives are finished. And UKIP, today announcing that it alone "dares cut spending on the NHS and on pensions", is not finished, because it has never begun.

Equality Now

I am all in favour of Equality Now's campaign through the United Nations for a global end to marriages before the age of 18.

The Catholic Church makes it a specific canonical offence for clerics or Religious to engage in sexual acts with persons under the age of 18, even if the age of consent in the territory in question is lower. Hundreds of priests who engaged in such acts were laicised by Pope Benedict XVI.

In Italy, the age is consent is 14. But in the Vatican City State, the age of consent is 18, a full four years higher. And the four years between 14 and 18 are four very full years indeed.

The Holy See was recently lambasted by and before the United Nations over the sexual abuse of children, almost without exception adolescent boys engaging in consensual homosexual acts.

However, the Church's mishandling of these matters in former decades does at least contrast favourably with, say, Britain in the 1970s. Sexual acts between adults of either sex and adolescents of either sex were then illegal but very common, both of which they still are.

But unlike today, they were wholly respectable, with a universal expectation that the laws against them would very soon be repealed, with a huge volume of academic literature actively encouraging them, and with the mass celebration of them in both high and popular culture, something of which there is still quite a lot.

No stigma attached to their practitioners at any economic, social, cultural or political level. Quite the reverse, in fact.

At least, by moving the guilty priests around, the Church acknowledged that there was a problem. That was a very great deal more than many Social Services Departments, secular state schools, or non-Catholic commercial schools ever managed.

Even now, no jurisdiction has any right to comment, either on the Catholic Church, or, more narrowly, on the Vatican City State, if that jurisdiction itself has an age of consent lower than 18.

For example, the United Kingdom.

This Is Just Cruel

But the vain old bag walked right into it.

Naughty Spectator.

Naughty, naughty, naughty...

Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis

Saint Augustine of Hippo, whose Wikipedia entry in Slovene is for some reason a major source of traffic to this site, is an important forebear of the Dominican tradition in which some of us stand.

His Rule remains part of the Constitutions to this day, and his influence suffuses the great theologians and spiritual writers of Dominicanism.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, whose Feast is today, was a Dominican.

Therefore, far from being the rupture with Augustinianism that is often asserted, his thought is wholly within it, and indeed utterly incomprehensible apart from it.

Other attempts to affirm the Augustinian vision of all knowledge as divine illumination are not necessarily in opposition to Thomism; rather, under the Magisterium, which its own point of reference and correction, it provides their point of reference and correction.

This applies to the entire rational and empirical systems, since, at least in the context of those who devised these systems in Early Modern Europe, the very belief in the possibility of true knowledge by rational or empirical means - indeed, of true knowledge at all - is Augustinian, and indeed Thomist.

Blessed John Paul the Great, in Fides et Ratio, commended at once Thomism in paragraphs 43 and 44, and the works of Blessed John Henry Newman, Blessed Antonio Rosmini, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Russians of various stripes alongside Maritain and Gilson in paragraph 74, not to mention engagement with Indian and other non-Western philosophies in paragraph 73.

Alas that Chesterton defines Aquinas against the Christianised Neoplatonism of the Augustinian illuminist tradition, rather than recognising Thomism’s Christianised Aristotelianism as nevertheless belonging within, and greatly enriching, that tradition.

Had Chesterton done this, then he would have been quite astonishingly prescient in this as in so many other areas.

However, what Chesterton writes about Thomism as the definitive philosophical articulation of the worldview that he shares is of course entirely correct.

In Saint Thomas Aquinas (1933), he sets out that “the primary or fundamental Part” of Thomism “or indeed the Catholic Philosophy” is “the praise of Life, the praise of Being, the praise of God as the Creator of the World.”

Precisely so. 

Ora pro nobis.

The Right Spot

Although she is wrong about the EU (the people who will decide these things in the next Parliament aren't; in fact, the Commission openly dreads a Labour victory in 2015), Polly Toynbee writes:

If it's not hurting, it's not working. The pain is a price worth paying, so said Tory chancellor Norman Lamont once, intensely relaxed about hurting those at the bottom.

Labour should enjoy the same relish at pained squeals of the top 1% who call themselves "business". Every yelp and yowl shows a 50p rise in top tax hits the right spot.

Guardian readers may have missed some howling: 24 captains of industry wrote to the Telegraph claiming the tax rise will "have the effect of discouraging business investment in Britain" and put the "recovery at risk and would very quickly lead to the loss of jobs".

The Times calls it "downright perverse". The Mail calls it "sheer economic vandalism", "aiming an arrow at the heart of enterprise" and damaging "business people from the smallest corner shop to the biggest corporations". (Really? A corner shop owner on £150,0000 a year?)

Only the Mirror says "most people would gladly pay 50p income tax in return for a salary topping £3,000 a week".

Indeed, most people do agree: a Survation/Mail poll finds 60% of voters – even a majority of Tories – support raising tax on the richest.

Boris Johnson in the Telegraph calls for the government to cut the rate to 40p to "open up more blue water". Bring it on, Labour should hope. This government's most self-harming act was that top tax cut.

What everyone can hear, loud as a burglar alarm, is the shriek of self-interest dressed up as national interest. 

The astronomical rise of super-earnings among a few top earners, very few of them real entrepreneurs, damages every aspect of British life.

Shareholders, the good governance of companies and even the future functioning of capitalism is put at risk by this swelling kleptocracy, unchecked by anyone.

The New Statesman revealed that the 24 writers to the Telegraph between them contributed £776,111 to the Tories. Virtually all big business always has and always will support the Tories, for this one reason: more money for them personally.

If a Labour win looks inevitable, a few offer grudging acquiescence, but it took maximum schmoozing with Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson's authentic worship of wealth.

If highly paid executives sincerely guarded their companies' interests, they would flock to Labour to repel a Tory party putting British business in jeopardy by risking withdrawal from the EU.

The CBI may argue for staying in Europe, but you can bet their members will still finance and vocally support the Tories because they will put their personal incomes well ahead of their companies' wellbeing or Britain's economic future.

These are custodians not of British business, but of their own usually unmerited fortunes.

Let's quickly dismiss their threats and warnings.

Will leading businesses flee – not because companies face a tax rise, but because their executives must pay more? All the evidence says no, according to the High Pay Centre.

Higher tax doesn't make executives uproot their families, not even from one US state to another. Less than 1% of leading global business has lured a CEO from a rival with extra pay.

Nor is there a tiny talent pool of suitable CEOs: these leaders are not irreplaceable.

What's more, companies whose top executives are paid many multiples more than their lower-paid staff suffer the most strikes and high staff turnover.

Skyrocketing pay shows no correlation with companies' improved performance either: these are the real something-for-nothing takers. But humans take what they can when no one stops them.

Johnson dusts down the old Laffer curve – a long discredited theory convenient for the rich, suggesting lower tax brings in more revenue.

But the IMF – no lefties – studying revenue-maximising rates finds virtually all countries could raise top rates considerably higher and bring in significant extra sums: the UK and the rest could raise their rates to an optimal 60% or more before they lose more than they gain.

The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, reviewing all the research, finds Laffer doesn't kick in until about 75%. But don't expect Laffer to disappear from the lexicon of bad reasons why the rich should pay less.

Much-quoted recent research by Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty shows countries that cut their top rates had more sluggish growth: it stimulated worthless rent-seeking, not enterprise.

The argument will rage on about how much a 50p rate brings in: a Labour government will need every penny. 

But the real reward from this popular gesture is the chance to open a national debate on what's happening to wealth and incomes.

Ed Miliband calls for "predistribution" to redress falling low pay with a living wage, relying less on tax and benefits to paper over this great economic failure.

Now he can show how GDP growth sucking upwards to a top few is just as unsustainable. The rich need "predistribution" too, curbing their pay, relying less on tax to redirect it downwards.

This row helps Labour make sure voters understand the high pay/low pay crisis.

Polls show how little people know about pay scales and where they stand, how little they realise that top and bottom are tearing apart as the social fabric stretches to breaking.

As fourth most unequal of all 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, in the past 30 years the UK's top 1% has moved from taking 6% to 14% of national income, while middle to low wages fell.

People wildly underestimate the growing gap: rich and poor alike think they are more middling than they are. 

The top fifth takes 60% of income, the bottom fifth a hundred times less. As growth resumes, this is the time to ask how it should be shared.

How do you turn this into politics?

No two people will agree on exactly what's "fair": most think a measure of inequality is essential.

But once presented with the frightening trajectory showing how much worse this will get, people right across the political spectrum take fright. Labour's first message should be: don't let inequality get any worse.

Just holding it steady will be immensely hard: Labour's 13 years raised a million children and a million pensioners from poverty, with tax credits and fairer tax – but even so, inequality still grew a little.

In hard times sharing more fairly feels more politically vital. The 50p tax rate helps, but above all it levers open a public conversation New Labour avoided.

Does Britain want to grow ever more socially unjust?

Labour may still have ground to win on economic credibility but yesterday, when David Cameron said a 50p rate would be "very, very bad for the economy", he may find that defying it proves very, very bad for his party.

Mot Juste

I have argued for some time that London is the fifth state in the United Kingdom, almost completely separate from England, and more important than Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, which is in any case a provisional (mot juste) member of the UK, its sovereignty transferable to the Irish Republic by referendum at any time.

And now we have begun to see reports that, rather predictably, there is supposed to be a ‘brain drain’ from the provinces to London, and that the supposed economic recovery (how funny that phrase will sound in three years or so) is largely limited to the capital and its surrounding satellites.

Well, I never. Actually, London has almost always dominated Britain, especially since the coming of the railways created national newspapers and national politics. It’s partly because of our compact size and our long unified history.

Compare other countries such as Germany, Italy or the USA, where there are many major cities of equal standing, and the capital is at most first among equals and often less than that.  Even centralised France probably has more distinct provincial power bases than Britain does.

But something has happened to make the division between London and the rest much, much more important.

It’s mainly de-industrialisation, which has also affected London. My own daily journey from London to Oxford is a good illustration of this – once it took me past the AEC factory that made proper London buses, Huntley and Palmer’s Biscuits, Sutton’s Seeds and Ideal Casements in Reading, all now gone, and the coal-fired power station at Didcot, now a sort of tomb, closed by insane regulations and awaiting demolition.

Or take York, where I was at university. When I arrived there in October 1970 it had a huge railway workshop, a major glass factory, and several British-owned chocolate works – but not a single chain supermarket.

Travelling from Oxford (which then had an ironworks, a cake factory,  a car factory and pressed steel plant, a brewery and a cattle-market, and now just assembles German cars) to York by train took me through the vast industrial zones of Birmingham, Derby and Sheffield.

When I see Sheffield now I simply cannot believe the transformation, and sometimes wonder if I am imagining the great steelworks. As for the coalmines, it is astonishing how they too have disappeared as if they had never been.

As for Glasgow, when I go back there now I feel like Doctor Who, returning to a place he hasn’t visited for about a thousand years. Look carefully and you will find traces of what was once there.

Instead, the City of London, again transformed by vainglorious architects, has become a huge smokeless factory turning out funny money by the ton.

Even there, I can remember, back in 1977, the thrilling sight of scores of delivery vans beginning to line up in Fleet Street towards 11.00 pm, as the giant presses began to hiss and thunder deep down beneath the newspaper offices, still in all their shabby grandeur.

It makes me think back to that period in the early 1980s when ITN’s old News at Ten programme had a nightly feature on job losses and job gains. The losses, shown in red figures, were almost always factories. The gains, shown in blue figures, were almost always new supermarkets.

They were exciting, unsettling times but I didn’t truly understand how much of a transformation was going on.

I think that was because by then I was living, as I did for seven bizarre years, in London. How I used to long to live there. How glad I now am that I don’t. Unbelievably, I paid rent of about £60 a month (out of a pre-tax annual salary of £5,500) on a small but perfectly pleasant top-floor flat in a late 19th century street between Finchley Road and West Hampstead, quite close to the famous Abbey Road zebra crossing.

I still remember the thrill of having my own phone, with a number beginning, as they still just did in those days, 01.  Later, after some frantic saving and a family loan, I managed to find an even smaller leasehold flat in a 1930s block mainly inhabited by Austrian refugees from National Socialism, for £29,000, which meant taking out a huge loan, though by then I must have been up to more like £8,000 a year.

I mention these figures because they now seem so utterly ridiculous, and bear no known relation to anything today. Like most people of my age, I gasp to think that these properties have now risen in price to such an extent that I couldn’t afford to live in them now, though I am far better-paid, in real terms as well as in raw figures, than I was then.

London has become a mad city, its centre entirely inhabited by the absurdly rich, and serviced by the absurdly poor.

It isn’t quite a Third-World city, partly because so many people work in London who don’t live there, and trail in and out each day from commuter towns and obscure, distant suburbs. They pay the appalling fares, and endure the disagreeable conditions, because they really have no choice.

(By the way, I was surprised to find the word ‘suburbs’ in the 1611 Authorised Version of the Bible the other day, the 23rd Chapter of the Second Book of Kings since you ask, in a passage about the stamping out of pagan idols. I had always thought of it as a 19th-century invention.)

These daytime inhabitants give London a middle class clientele, moderating the extreme divisions between the super-rich and their super-poor servants.

Also, central London still has the physical shape of a mixed city in which ordinary people actually lived.

It will take a while for its new role to turn it into something more like what it really is, a super-glossy, unaffordable heart, fringed by overcrowded dormitory zones for service workers, while real life retreats outwards.

What will happen if the Funny Money Factory fails, I tremble to think. Detroit may offer some lessons, but London is unique, and its decline will be unique too.

As it is, I feel a sense of crossing a frontier each morning and evening, somewhere in the wilderness between Slough and Southall.

England, for all its many problems caused by de-employment, overcrowding, insane overuse of motorcars, globalisation, commercial cloning and mass migration, is a different experience from London and feels different while you are there.

And London is also the first part of the country to have an explicitly republican form of government with a directly-elected chief executive, elevated above the common herd, and a (currently) weak and subservient legislature.

I am perpetually amazed that more people aren’t interested by this. Constitutional flux, leading first to disorientation and then to radical change, is one of the great ‘achievements’ of the Blair-Campbell government.

Readers here will know that I suspect the next 2015 United Kingdom general election, if Scotland has not by then seceded, will be the last to be held under clear first-past-the post rules.

Almost every new political formation created in the last 30 years from the EU Supreme Soviet to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, and the weird Belgianised construct which sort-of governs Northern Ireland, has used some kind of proportional method.

Oddly enough, the London Mayoralty, alone, has taken a partly American, rather than a European direction. Even that contains a form of transferable vote if there are more than two candidates for mayor (as there always have been) , and a party list system as well as direct constituency elections for the GLA.

True, some other lesser cities have also chosen to have mayors, but they simply lack the London Mayor’s powers and status, especially powers over the police, and access to the national media.

The Mayor of London is supposed to face question time before the GLA, in theory like PMQs, but in fact not.

The session hardly ever attracts any attention. They don’t elect him. He has his own independent mandate and can ignore them if he wishes.

In fact it will probably be in his interest to do so some of the time, just as Governors of US states often make their names by defying,  or defining themselves against,  their own legislatures.  He is also a national politician, whereas they are not.

The other interesting thing is the way in which the post de-politicises its holder.

Neither Ken Livingstone nor Al Johnson have much connection with the parties they nominally belong to, and Mr Livingstone was actually chucked out of his party.

The Mayor of London lacks rural constituents, or many elderly ones, and is compelled to be economically and socially liberal, keen on multiculturalism, a booster for big buildings and grand projects.

If he doesn’t like such things he had best not stand for the post, because there would be no point in holding it. The post holds him, rather more than the other way round, which is actually the case with an awful lot of supposedly desirable jobs.

The only significant difference between the two incumbents so far is the extent of the congestion zone in which cars are charged for entry. The other difference is that Mr Livingstone’s political career was ending when he got the job, whereas Mr Johnson’s may be just beginning. Or it may not.

Both men, being strong individuals better suited to Presidential politics, found the House of Commons, a very jealous place, hard to handle, and performed disappointingly in it.

I wonder if Mr Johnson really does have that much of a future there, especially since the Tory party is (alas,  too late) on the slide towards the great skip where it has long belonged.

Perhaps we shall have an enjoyable paradox, if Scotland and Northern Ireland, and surely then Wales too, leave the Union, of London doing the same, and Mr Johnson becoming (oh, irony of ironies) a major figure in the politics of the EU.

What, then, of the  rump of England, shorn of London and cut off by bristling frontiers from Wales and Scotland? Shall we have our capital in Milton Keynes and make Sailing By our national anthem? Or will it be even worse than that?

An independent Cornwall beckons. Time I started learning my ancestral tongue.

Monday 27 January 2014

Community Policing

I am all in favour of the enforcement of the drugs laws. But I would not have started on Benefits Street.

Speaking of the Midlands, if Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary is aware of a murder, then no one has more means, motive or opportunity to report it to Her Majesty's Constabulary.

But why the Midlands? If he means who he seems to mean when he talks about communities that police themselves, then why not London? Or the belt stretching almost, but not quite, from Hull almost, but not quite, to Liverpool?

In any case, what he seems to be describing is the kind of thing that always unnerves middle-class people a bit, because we do not really quite have it, but which has always been normal among both upper-class people and working-class people.

Doctors, headteachers, vicars and so on played that kind of role to some extent among the middle classes, and to a very limited extent they still do.

But never to anything like the extent that they did among the working classes, which also always had their own internal authority figures: trade union officials, local councillors in wards where many or most people were council-housed, Methodist ministers, Catholic priests, the committees of the workingmen's clubs.

So the Police were barely called to certain areas. But (and there is a very genuine problem to be addressed here) in an era when domestic violence against women, and all violence that was purely among working-class men, were not treated witth the seriousness that they deserved, there was almost nothing to which to call the Police.

However, the economic basis of the unions and of the clubs has been eviscerated, as have the powers of local government.

Catholicism has declined considerably, and Methodism has declined dramatically. The embourgeoisement of both has made their clergy, and also other figures within their structures as such, more hands-off in the style of the Church of England, rather than bringing their old ways into bourgeois society along with many people who had come of age in and through those ways.

The same may be said of trade union activity: it has conformed itself to what are now the middle-class manners of most of its members and, almost by definition, nearly all of its functionaries, rather than changing those manners to what were once its own.

The communities that Tom Winsor, who has no background in policing, now suggests are scarcely making contact with the Police are doubtless manifesting the same features as of old. The bad ones. But also the good ones.

Well done to them, that they can still manage to do so.


Peter Oborne pretty much says that proper Tories ought now to vote Labour:

Ed Balls has been the object of widespread attack and ridicule since his weekend move to raise the top rate of tax to 50p.

However, I am certain that the shadow chancellor is right to make his 50p pledge, and furthermore there are solid Conservative reasons to justify his action.

It is very important to remember that the Conservative Party is not an interest group which represents only the very rich.

In fact it should not be a class-based party at all. The Conservative Party has always claimed to represent the nation as a whole.

As someone who voted Conservative at the last election, I therefore found it profoundly shaming and offensive when George Osborne lowered the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p two years ago.

The Coalition government has devoted a great deal of effort to lowering the living standards of the poor. I support this project because I believe that Gordon Brown’s welfare state forced some people into a life of dependency, thus taking away their human dignity.

There have been many people on welfare who need much more of an incentive to return to work.

But to make the rich richer at the same time as making the poor poorer – what George Osborne has been doing – is simply squalid, immoral and disgusting.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is leading the fight inside the cabinet to strip a further £10 billion of welfare payments for the very poorest.

Any decent human being must surely feel sick in the stomach that he is taking this action at the same time as cutting the amount of tax paid by people earning more than £150,000.

Conservative HQ claimed this morning that Mr Balls move "takes Labour back to the 1970s". This claim is pure bilge, and suggests that the Conservative Party has lost the plot.

Back then the Labour chancellor imposed a tax rate of 83 per cent, which was clearly stupid, wrong, driven by socialist envy, and a disincentive to hard work.

Raising taxes to 50p in the pound for the highest earners is a completely different matter.

Have a look at the lists of people complaining today – they are mainly the very rich.

As we learnt during the Blair years, the very rich tend to support the government of the day. Some of them shamefully avoid paying tax.

A Conservative Party with decent values should not reward these people. It should support hard-working, honest people.

If the Chancellor understood this point, he would have taken middle earners out of the top rate of tax, not given a bonus to people who are already affluent.

So well done Ed Balls, who has had a hard time lately.

He has given ordinary, decent people a serious reason for voting Labour at the coming election.

Which Side Are You On, Boys?

This absurd Government now proposes to prosecute British passport-holders who have been to Syria in order to participate in the Islamist invasion and insurrection that this same Government wanted to send Her Majesty's Armed Forces to assist.

Prosecutions are mercifully not in its power. Unless it intends to use your money and mine to bring them privately?

General Election.


Happy Holocaust Day

If you find the title of this post offensive, then so you should. But what else is one supposed to say? The whole thing is as ridiculous as it is revolting.

For one thing, why is it on 27th January, the day that Auschwitz exchanged mass-murdering Nazi tyranny for mass-murdering Soviet tyranny?

Why not 15th April, the day that Belsen really was liberated, and that by the British? In some years, that would even coincide usefully with Easter.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Candidate Connections

Rufus Hound has been tweeting, and using The News Quiz, with some valour in order to publicise the privatisation of the NHS. I do not see how or why he is any less qualified than anyone else to be a candidate for the European Parliament.

Nor is it the case that the NHS has nothing to do with the EU. On the contrary, its privatisation is in no small measure pursuant to EU competition law, and that is even before the monstrous Transatlantic "Trade and Investment" "Partnership".

But with Labour now committed to repeal of the Health and Social Care Act, and on course to vote against the TTIP, what is the remaining purpose of the National Health Action Party?

Arguments against the EU on the part of people who have any objection to anything that it does are not allowed to be heard in this country. That is why the threat to the NHS is not huge news, while the idiotic utterances of the UKIP clowns are news morning, noon and night.

20 years ago, the media decided that the likes of Peter Shore, Roger Berry and Bryan Gould did not make the entertaining television that was provided by the likes of Tony Marlow and Teresa Gorman.

So the three times as many Labour MPs as Conservatives who voted against Maastricht were treated as if they did not exist, and the anti-Maastricht cause was instead depicted as a peculiarity of buffoons.

During John Redwood's Leadership campaign, he was asked by Jeremy Paxman which of his supporters was going to be in his Cabinet. He had no answer, because the idea of such persons as Cabinet Ministers was so utterly absurd. Just as the idea of a UKIP Cabinet, or of a Cabinet including any of its nominally Conservative fellow-travellers, is utterly absurd today.

By contrast, several of the anti-Maastricht Labour MPs had already been Cabinet Ministers, and many more would have been in any Labour Government in the 1980s. At least one went on to sit in the Cabinet under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (having previously been Blair's Europe Minister), while at least one more would have done so if he had not voted against the Iraq War.

A generation later, and the real, serious, politically coherent opposition to the EU continues to be ignored completely. Nigel Farage and Godfrey Bloom are just funnier, as are their tribute acts on the Conservative benches. That is the criterion: public amusement.

Peter Shore's former election agent, John Rowe, was a No2EU candidate in 2009, as was the trade union counsel John Hendy QC, who in 2012 spoke on the same Durham Miners' Gala platform as Ed Miliband. But we now know from his published diaries that, until talked out of it by Hilary Benn, Tony Benn had also seriously considered being such a candidate.

That would have sent shockwaves through the Labour Party, in which Benn the Elder occupies a position unparalleled by anyone alive, and quite possibly by anyone in the whole of the party's history.

The media blackout of No2EU, which extended to the heavy editing of a Question Time European Election Special when a member of the audience dared to mention it, would have been completely impossible if one of its candidates had been one of the most famous politicians in the country, who has probably appeared on Question Time more often than anyone else who is still breathing, or indeed than anyone else at all.

Never mind the audience. His seat on that panel would have been assured. The Conservative defectors to UKIP and the BNP in Wales and the North would have been easily outnumbered by the Labour supporters who lent their votes to No2EU, and UKIP would not have done anything like as well as it did in the Midlands, either. Here in the North East, the third seat would have been No2EU, not Liberal Democrat.

Labour would have had to have abandoned any expulsions of people who had campaigned for No2EU, or even who had signed its nomination papers, simply because there would have been so many of them.

After all, it never expelled the Blairite ultras who used their newspaper columns to urge a vote for Boris Johnson. Nick Cohen, who he is no Blairite but who also took that view, is using his Observer column this very day in order to urge a Lib Dem vote in Hampstead and Kilburn. Dan Hodges's mother is retiring, so there is no trouble in Paradise.

If Labour cannot expel Nick Cohen for demanding the Lib Dem gain of a Labour seat at the 2015 of all General Elections, then it simply could not have processed the paperwork necessary to expel everyone who had campaigned the real, live, actual Tony Benn.

Oh, well, it was not to be.

But Leeds East has selected, to succeed the pretty sound George Mudie, the decidedly leftish Richard Burgon. Just as the Right now means Mike Kane, recognisably Labour Right, so the Left now means Richard Burgon, recognisably Labour Left.

Thus defined, the Left's capture of the seat of the Armstrongs père et fille ought to have been newsworthy enough. The capture of Denis Healey's old citadel is a triumph. Burgon should involve himself in the cause of justice for the British Chagos Islanders.

The Heir To Macmillan

Owen Jones.

Apart from the last one (there are better ways of approaching that, although they also require State action), these are exactly what the 1950s Tories would have done, or did do.

Upon Inspection

Ofsted was created by the Conservatives.

No one who was a mainstream Tory 20 years ago could be a member or supporter of that party today.

Economical With The Truth

This country now contains more than one thousand food banks, and the proposed 50p tax rate on incomes above £150,000 is supported even by the majority of Conservative supporters, with the Mail on Sunday finding only 17 per cent of the electorate opposed to it.

The top rate was considerably higher under Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson. Labour announcements about loophole-closing are to follow this week, apparently.

Lord Myners and Lord (Digby) Jones were Ministers under Gordon Brown, when the 50p rate was introduced. In any case, are they even members of the party as spokesmen for which they are presenting themselves today? If the 50p rate would not raise much revenue, that what are they and their mates worried about?

The Conservatives backed Labour's spending pound for pound until the end of 2008. Do they think that we are stupid? Yes. Stupid people always do think that the rest of us are stupid. But we are not.

They are now telling us that they were already committed to a budget surplus during the next Parliament. Did you hear that before today? No, of course not.

Next, they will be telling us that there is an economic recovery that everyone in the real world has somehow failed to notice, just as everyone in the real world somehow failed to notice their commitment to a budget surplus during the next Parliament.

Or they will be telling us that there was still a recession on the day of the last General Election, when it was long gone by then, as we all remember.

They are so unused to being questioned, that they honestly believe that they can just make it up, and that no one will dare gainsay them. Oh, yes, we will. And we do.

Friday 24 January 2014

By-Election News I

As expected, Mike Kane of Movement for Change has been selected to succeed Paul Goggins as the MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East.

On Twitter, he describes himself as "Catholic, Man City supporter, Labour Party member, flautist".

In that order.

Plenty of Catholic Social Teaching ought to absolve his past connection with James Purnell.

By-Election News II

"Labour Holds Cowdenbeath" is not much of a headline.

But "11-Point Swing From SNP To Labour" is.

Letting The Side Down

UKIP voters from 2010 are now homeless.

Come on, Ed Miliband, commit Labour to uniforms for taxi drivers, to repainting the trains in traditional colours, to making the Circle Line a circle, and to "encouraging a return to proper dress for major hotels, restaurants and theatre." That last is very Old Labour.

But between them, UKIP and Labour could this year have cost the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats all of their European seats, certainly in the three Northern English regions, and possibly also in Scotland.

UKIP is letting the side down.


Slowly, but surely, Douglas Carswell is getting there:

In Davos, Hassan Rouhani is mounting a formidable charm offensive. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reckons that "the 30-year US vendetta with Iran is over in all but name".

This prompts a wider question. Are we about to see a radical realignment of the West's relations in the Middle East?

Or, more specifically, are the United States – and possibly Britain – about to recalibrate their relationships with various regional players?

Since the 1930s, there has been one constant in US-Middle Eastern policy: a close alliance with Saudi Arabia. Relationships with other countries might have ebbed and flowed, but that alliance has remained strong.

I just wonder if things are about to change.

To some extent, international relations in the Middle East today are defined by a rivalry between two camps: one led by Saudi Arabia, the other by Iran.

In Syria, we can see the Iran-led and the Saudi-led blocks fighting what is – in effect – a proxy war.  It is significant that the West did not enter that conflict, de facto, on the side of the latter.

So where does the US stand in relation to this power play? Until recently, I would have said “certainly not with Iran”. But I just wonder if this will always be the case.

Imagine if – heaven forbid – Iran and Saudi were to come to blows. On which side would the United States, or Britain be?

Even a year ago, I would have thought the answer would be pretty obviously the Saudis. Today I am much less certain.

Which of the two states is more liberal? There’s a strong case that it is Iran, actually. Which is more democratic? …. not the Saudis, for sure. Iran, with a large, educated middle class, perhaps has more potential for reform.

The United States dependence on oil might in the past have helped cement her friendship with Saudi Arabia. Thanks to shale gas, the United States will soon be a net energy exporter.

If I was in London or Washington, looking for a regional player with whom I could deal, might I be tempted to take a second look at Iran?

Until 1979, Iran used to be a close ally of Britain and America. Might it be so again?

Of course, several issues would need to be addressed before there could be an chance of a rapprochement with Iran.

That thorny nuclear issue would need to be resolved. Iran would have to make it clear that she was no longer any kind of threat to Israel – and Israel would need to feel secure that Iran was not any kind of threat. 

Internally in Iran there would have to be some serious, irreversible progress towards liberal reform.

Perhaps all that makes any sort of realignment impossible. I am not so sure it is quite as impossible as it once seemed.

During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain seemed pretty solid …

Thursday 23 January 2014

Sale and Return

The all-local, mostly municipal shortlist for the safe seat of Wythenshawe and Sale East is a splendid bloody nose for those who had been planning to parachute in Euan Blair.

On this, at least, the Labour Party's fifth column of Blairite, and therefore pro-Cameron, pro-Coalition and anti-Miliband, staffers is well and truly under the control of an NEC Sub-Committee with, as it goes, more than one of my friends on it.

I did try and talk several of my other friends, worthy successors to Paul Goggins, into giving it a go. But the timetable was a bit tight, and there is not necessarily anything wrong with that.

John Battle's niece has made it through, which is more than promising. As has the man who ran the splendid campaign against loan sharks at Movement for Change, of which I am a member.

I do not know very much about the others. Apart from the fact that they have come up through the Labour Movement in the area. And that will do nicely.

In which spirit, having wound up in the Number One Club in relation to a funeral on Tuesday, I have just about recovered from the sight of women at the bar there. It had been a long time between drinks.

But I might take slightly longer to process the fact that one of the political godfathers of the Consett Irish was introducing me as, "the man who should have been our MP."

I had thought that I had become a forgotten cripple. But perhaps I have become only one of those things?

Votes At 16?

Ed Miliband seems not to have noticed that, whereas most of his Conference speech was rapturously received, great swathes of the hall declined to applaud this little surprise, which he had sprung out of nowhere.

Does he not remember what it was like to be a politically active Sixth Former? It is not an experience that I shall ever forget.

Based on it, I know with absolutely certainty, as I cannot believe that he does not, that next to no one in that age bracket would vote, and in fact that people who were known to do so would have an even rougher and tougher time than people like that have had since time immemorial.

Would most of those who did vote, vote Labour? What if they did? Their number would always be too small to make any difference, and the trends guaranteeing semi-permanent, if not permanent, Labour government from 2015 onwards have been building up since 1955, which was around the time that some of the present generation of 16-year-olds' grandparents were being born.

In the second half or so of John Major's Premiership, the unemployment figures and other favourable economic indicators were universally assumed to works of pure, politicised fabrication, such that they eventually came to have no electoral impact whatever in the Conservatives' favour. The same is true now.

But then as now, we were made to wait for five years, rather than four, in order to get rid of what we were then innocent enough to believe was the worst Government imaginable.

If Miliband wants to do something in this vein, then he ought to promise to repeal the provision for fixed-term Parliaments, the effect of which is that the present Government cannot think of anything to put into a Queen's Speech, while even the legislative business that has already been announced has all but ground to a halt.

Yet there are still 16 more wretched months of this left to go.

After All These Years

Due to an organised Conservative no-show, which is not what MPs are paid for, the House of Commons has just voted by 120 to three to release all papers relating to the conspiracy against the Shrewsbury 24. 

But that has no legal force, so we shall see what happens, both this year and, after the General Election, next year.

The Shrewsbury case is utterly flabbergasting. After all these years, what could there possibly be about it that is so dangerous?

If nothing else, it gives the lie to the claim that the Heath Government was even relatively left-wing.

And it is the sort of cause with which paleoconservative upholders of traditional civil liberties ought to be involving themselves.

The convictions were obtained only by a majority verdict, and even then only because the court ushers had assured the jurors that there would be nothing more than a £50 fine, which the men's union would have paid.

Crawling Towards A Curb

Not much has really happened at the European Parliament on the subject of prostitution today.

A committee with Mary Honeyball on it, and which broadly exists in order to provide a platform for old-school feminism (although that has a lot to be said for compared to several of the newer variants), has endorsed a report by Honeyball.

That endorsement has no practical effect. Nor will the probable its ratification by the full Parliament at some time or other in the future. But at least the debate is now open.

By all means let it be made a criminal offence for anyone above the age of consent, raised to 18, to buy sex. And, with exactly equal sentencing, for anyone above the age of consent, raised to 18, to sell sex.

Are women morally and intellectually equal to men, or not?

United Kingdom Independence, Indeed

When, and only when, UKIP or the Conservative Eurosceptics say the same things as Seumas Milne, then they will be entitled to as much coverage as the SLP, or No2EU, or those Labour MPs who say these things, or Seumas Milne:

It's almost never discussed in the political mainstream. But thousands of foreign troops have now been stationed in Britain for more than 70 years.

There's been nothing like it since the Norman invasion. With the 15-month Dutch occupation of London in 1688-9 a distant competitor, there has been no precedent since 1066 for the presence of American forces in a string of military bases for the better part of a century.

They arrived in 1942 to fight Nazi Germany. But they didn't head home in 1945; instead, they stayed on for the 40-odd years of the cold war, supposedly to repel invasion from the Soviet Union.

Nor did they leave when the cold war ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, but were invited to remain as the pivot of the anti-Soviet Nato alliance.

A generation later, there are still nearly 10,000 US military personnel stationed in Britain, based in dozens of secretive facilities.

Most of them are in half a dozen major military bases – misleadingly named RAF this or that, but effectively under full American control: Lakenheath, Croughton, Mildenhall and Molesworth among others – along with the National Security Agency and missile defence bases such as Menwith Hill in Yorkshire.

British troops are now finally being pulled out of Germany. There is not the slightest suggestion, however, that US forces will be withdrawn from Britain in the forseeable future.

But what are they doing here? Who are they supposed to be defending us from?

A clue as to what's at stake was given last week by Robert Gates, a former US defence secretary, when he warned that cuts in Britain's defence spending – still the fourth largest in the world – threatened its "full spectrum" military "partnership" with the US.

He's not the first American official to play on the neuroses of the British security elite, for whom the preservation of a lopsided "special relationship" with the US is the acme of their aspirations for the country.

The London establishment's fear of US rejection reached fever pitch last year when parliament finally represented public opinion over military action and rejected what would have been a catastrophic attack on Syria.

Elite anxiety over risking American displeasure or neglect is matched by a growing fear that the British public will no longer tolerate the endless US wars it has dragged them into over the past 15 years.

General Sir Nick Houghton, the chief of the defence staff, last month declared that the nation had become "sceptical about the ability to use force in a beneficial way", and must not lose its "courageous instinct".

He was echoed by the Commons defence committee, which claimed that "one of the greatest strategic threats to defence" is the public's "lack of understanding of the utility of military force".

No wonder the government has been clamping down on protest rights at bases such as Menwith Hill, a key link in the US missile defence and drone programmes.

And it's hardly a surprise that the British public – as in the US itself and other Nato states – has hardened against continued western warmaking, given its record of bloody failure.

Since the post-cold war world gave way to the war on terror, after all, Britain has joined the US in one war of aggression after another – in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – with disastrous results.

Military operations have been punctuated by campaigns of kidnapping, torture and murderous drone attacks. 

Nato has morphed from a self-declared defensive alliance into a latter-day colonial expeditionary force, under the cover of increasingly discredited humanitarian rhetoric.

Of course, Britain is very far from unique in hosting US bases. It is part of a global archipelago of American military garrisons, now present in a majority of the world's states: a modern-day empire by any other name. 

But along with France, Britain is the only US ally still able to "project force" globally and has long played the role of unsinkable aircraft carrier: a US forward base, from which military operations are routinely launched across the globe.

But whose interests are actually served by such a role? No doubt arms contractors are delighted, but it's hard to argue that it benefits the British people – let alone those on the receiving end of the US and British military.

Politicians and securocrats claim it gives them influence over US policy, but they struggle to produce the evidence on the rare occasions they're asked to explain how.

"The foreign policy elite still have a strong idea," as the Chatham House analyst James de Waal puts it, that intervention based on "values" is an "innate part of what the UK is all about".

In fact, what successive governments have done is mortgaged Britain's security and independence to a foreign power – and placed its armed forces, territory and weaponry at the disposal of a system of global domination and privilege, now clearly past its peak.

As was made clear by ministers more than a decade ago, there are now no circumstances in which British governments envisage the use of military force, except in harness with the US.

Even Britain's own colonial-era overseas bases, such as Diego Garcia, have long been handed over to the US military, while its inhabitants were expelled.

Britain's fake patriots who bleat about the power of the European Commission are more than happy to subordinate the country's foreign policy to the Pentagon and allow its forces permanent bases on British soil.

From the American point of view, its network of intelligence and military bases in Britain may help keep the country tied to the US global network.

There's no doubt that would be difficult to disentangle, and there is no shortage of pressure points to discourage even a modest disengagement.

The idea of a British Rafael Correa – the Ecuadorean president who closed the US Manta airbase in 2007, saying he'd reconsider the situation if the Americans let Ecuador open a base in Miami – is still political science fiction.

But the withdrawal of British troops from Germany and this year's planned renewal of the US-British defence agreement offer a chance to have a real debate on the US military relationship – and demand some transparency and accountability in the process.

There is no case for maintaining foreign military bases to defend the country against a non-existent enemy. They should be closed.

Instead of a craven "partnership" with a still powerful, but declining empire, Britain could start to have an independent relationship with the rest of the world.