Thursday 27 February 2014

The TTIPping Point

It is now as good as certain that Labour will vote en bloc against an EU treaty, in order to protect the NHS from the American healthcare companies.

But what will the "free"-marketeering "Anglospherists" do then?

Whisper it not, but has their made-for-television eccentricity never amounted to the slightest opposition to anything that the EU has ever actually done or sort to do?

Think it not, but might it be time to let back on the real critics, who have been banished in the 20 years since the Maastricht debates due to being boringly serious figures, and who are on the other side of the House?

Ms Hewitt Was Unavailable For Comment

More old news. The Thatcher Government funded the Paedophile Information Exchange. Next week's revelation is to be the death of Queen Anne.

Or the goings on at Elm House. Remember that name: Elm House. Tom Watson deserves the presently vacant spot in the Order of Merit, which was previously disgraced by Baroness Thatcher of Elm House.

In its opposition to what became the Protection of Children Act 1978, the National Council for Civil Liberties, under Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt, was opposing the Labour Government of the day. It had been taken up and given Government time, but it had begun as a Private Member's Bill, introduced by a Conservative MP who was to go on to become one of the Thatcher Government's most dedicated critics.

There was really no dividing line whatever between the strongly anti-worker, or at any rate anti-working-class, New Left and the "libertarian" New Right, so that the New Left's eventual capture of the Labour Party after the death of John Smith wholly predictably entailed a full capitulation to the Thatcherism that the New Right had defined, although the New Left had named it.

Patricia Hewitt is a key figure in that whole story. She it was who told speakers at Labour Conferences, "Do not use the word "equality"; the preferred term is "fairness"." She it was, a mere Press Officer, who, in a sign of things to come, was not told where to get off for having presumed so to instruct her betters.

She went on to help found the Institute for Public Policy Research, and then, soon after Tony Blair became Leader, to become Head of Research at Andersen Consulting, a position for which she had no apparent qualification beyond her closeness to the Prime Minister in Waiting.

In 1997, she entered Parliament, he entered Downing Street, the Labour commitment to regulate such companies was dropped, and so was the previous Conservative Government's absolute ban on all work for Andersen in view of its role in the DeLorean fraud.

Andersen paid just over £21 million of the £200 million that Thatcher and Major had demanded, barely covering the Government's legal costs.

It went on to write, among other things, a report claiming that the Private Finance Initiative was good value for money, the only report on the subject that the Blair Government ever cited, since the only one to say that ridiculous thing.

As Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Hewitt tried to give auditors limited liability. It took the Conservative Opposition and the Bush Administration to see her off.

But ignore the attempts to drag Bryan Gould into the PIE business. It had framed itself in terms of equalisation of the age of consent (he cannot have been expected to have been familiar with the P word, which was barely used in those days), but he still managed to fob off its approach with "don't call me".

Herewith, his commendation of my Confessions of an Old Labour High Tory, which was published two years ago this week, and in which appears, among many other things, the story of Hewitt, Harriet Harman, and the PIE:

"Current orthodoxy – both in economic policy and right across the board – has so manifestly failed us that we desperately need some fresh thinking and a different way of looking at our problems. That is precisely what David Lindsay provides in this stimulating book."

By the way, the BBC, like the Daily Mail, has always known everything that it now claims to have "uncovered".

Magpie, in which Hewitt's and Harman's NCCL advertised underneath sexualised pictures of young boys and alongside advice to buy The Brownie Annual for the photographs, was not even a subscription-only publication. In London, at least, it was sold in newsagents.

Those were the times. As politely as he could have done in those times, Bryan said no to the PIE. He deserves every credit for that. But the people who went on to become New Labour did not, and do not.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Taking Liberties

That Tom O’Carroll was on a sub-committee of the National Council for Civil Liberties in its Hattie and Pattie days is not remotely news to anyone who knows, well, anything at all about the subject, really.

From the BBC to the Daily Mail, they have all known all of this for 30 years and more, a fact worth setting in the context that Harriet Harman entered Parliament as long ago as the Peckham by-election of 1982.

There was never anything speculative about any of this. It has never been a matter of rumour or conjecture. There has never been any gap in the paper trail. Nothing like that.

They all knew it. Until now, though, they have all chosen to ignore it.

As they are still ignoring, for example, the fact that O’Carroll’s Paedophilia: The Radical Case remains a set text in Criminology at Cambridge.

So much for Jack Dromey’s assertion that no one could possibly pay the slightest attention to O’Carroll. Dromey did, back in the day. The University of Cambridge still does, even now.

Come to that, I am not aware that O’Carroll has ever killed anyone. Whereas enormous numbers of people were killed by the Government in which Harman and Patricia Hewitt were Cabinet Ministers. There is no moral high ground here.

Within the Labour Party, Tom Watson is making the running, at least where public pronouncements are concerned.

He has been trying for some time, including at Prime Minister’s Questions, to expose the sensational complicity of the Thatcher Government in the case of Peter Righton and the waves leading out from it.

The media silence has been deafening.

But the Daily Mail, knowing that that biggest scandal in many decades was likely to come out this year, has got a retaliation in first.

Righton, Orgreave, Hillsborough, the Golden Temple, and who knows what else: 2014 is shaping up to be the year in which all public images of Margaret Thatcher are removed and destroyed. She died in the nick of time.

It also seems fitting that the reality, both of the New Left that became New Labour, and of the Thatcherism that the New Left named and to which New Labour was the capitulation, should become apparent in all its horror in this twentieth anniversary year of the death of John Smith.

Is Harman going to address Saturday’s Labour Special Conference? Seriously?

To describe Watson as “making the running” seems about right. With no shortage of more than credible candidates, the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party is effectively vacant.

Feeling Mutual

The problem with the Co-op Bank was precisely that it never was a proper mutual.

It was just a bank that happened to be owned by the Co-op Group. Banks may not, legally, be co-operatives.

Then it demutualised the Britannia. We all know what happened next.

Still, not a penny of public money has been needed in order to rescue it.

Onwards to the solution, then: full mutualisation.

The Co-op Group might stop donating money to the Labour Party, just because it no longer had any to spare. But as soon as it did again, then those donations would resume.

Notice, though, that the New York venture capitalists who now own the Co-op Bank have not called in the Labour Party's unlimited overdraft, an act which would bankrupt that party on the spot.

Nor will they.

Even they feel the need to keep in with the party that is certainly going to form the British Government for 15, 20 or more years from May 2015 onwards.

If you still doubt that for one second, then consider that even the New York venture capitalists who now own the Co-op Bank have not called in the Labour Party's unlimited overdraft, an act which would bankrupt that party on the spot.

Nor will they.

The Tariffic Realisation

The same product, via the same wires or pipes: how can it possibly cost different amounts from different companies?

It can't. Of course it can't.

If people realised that, though, then they might ask why the utilities were delivered by cartels of pretend-competitors, instead of being where they belonged, in public ownership.

And that would never do.

Oh, no. That would never do at all.

A No-Conviction Politician, For Now

On last night's Newsnight, Edwina Currie, who appointed Jimmy Savile to run Broadmoor, laughed along as Rory Bremner told the oldest joke in the world, the one about "conviction politicians". Herewith, an extract from Private Eye, 18th September 2012:

We know know that Sir John Major lied in his 1993 libel actions against the New Statesman and Scallywag, when he instructed his lawyers to say that there was “no truth whatsoever” in the allegation that he had had “adulterous relationships”.

Since the cases never went to trial, concluding with an out-of-court settlement, a perjury prosecution would be a non-starter. What, however, of his former lover Edwina Currie, whose latest diaries were serialised in the Daily Mail last week?

Tear-jerking testimony

Interviewed by the Observer magazine in 1989, the actress Charlotte Rampling said that while preparing for her role as a Tory MEP in the film Paris By Night she had watched videos of female politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Edwina Currie.

Edwina promptly sued, saying readers would infer that, like the Rampling character, she had an extra-marital lover, whereas in fact she had been happily and faithfully married to Ray Currie for 17 years.

“It was outrageous,” she told a high court jury. “It upset me very much. I have tried hard to make sure my home and family are secure.” Ray Currie testified on her behalf, confirming what a loyal wife she was.

Her tear-jerking testimony convinced the jury. The Observer had to pay £5,000 in damages plus tens of thousands in costs for casting aspersions, however invisible to the naked eye, on her monogamy.

Boasting on oath of marital fidelity

“Newspapers must be careful what they say about public figures and their private lives,” Edwina declared triumphantly after the verdict.

“I have shrugged off most of the junk written about me over the years. This was different, because it referred to my marriage… The divorce rate among my colleagues is higher than the national average… I wanted to point out that I am aware of these pressures and I did not want them to affect my family. I hope I have had reasonable success.”

While boasting on oath about her marital fidelity she omitted to mention that she had recently ended a four-year affair with John Major, and had had another lover. For several years afterwards she maintained this pretence.

“It does seem a very solid marriage,” a Daily Mail interviewer noted on 19 October 1992. “Even when Edwina was working 16 hours a day as a health minister she says they still had a sex life: ‘You’ve got to develop a lot of stamina’.”

Compare and contrast that with her latest volume of diaries. “I wonder why I stay with him; we seem so out of sympathy,” she writes of Ray on 24 June 1992.

“I stay because no one else has ever come along offering me a home (not just no one better – no one else at all. Ever. And Ray took some persuading).”

‘I have a good-looking husband’

On 30 January 1994, in an interview with The Observer – the paper from which she had obtained £5,000 by deception – Currie said that the sex scenes in her latest novel made a serious point about the strain politics can put on marriages.

“I was lucky,” she added, explaining why she and Ray were still devotedly attached.

“The real temptation is that you spend so much time here that you find your family has disintegrated. I have a good-looking husband, and that helps.”

The new diaries give a rather different picture, full of complaints about their empty, loveless marriage.

“I’m preparing to fly to France tomorrow to join Ray, who went out yesterday with the car,” she writes in March 1994, weeks after that interview.

“But I really don’t want to go – much of the time I’m devising excuses for sleeping in a different bed, or pushing him away, or lying still in the hope he’ll go to sleep.”

Sex-free confinement in the slammer

In June 1994 Currie failed to win election to the European parliament.

“A bitter blow,” she writes in the new diaries. “Brussels would have solved a lot of problems – plenty of money, a good lifestyle, new friends, a new role in life, a lover or two.”

Lest we forget, it was the fact that Charlotte Rampling’s MEP character had taken “a lover or two” that prompted Currie to sue the Observer, insisting on oath that such an idea was not only unthinkable but devastatingly defamatory.

With this latest wodge of evidence, supplied by the woman herself, isn’t it time Edwina Currie followed her former Tory colleagues Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken into the dock on a charge of perjury – followed by a long and sex-free confinement in the slammer?

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Five Years' Time

Tweets Neil Clark: 

Old Labour writer has been blogging about PIE/NewLabour for years.Read his blog for stories that'll be in MSM in 5yrs time.

Five years ago was 2009. That was the year in which I had a Telegraph Blog.

That this story did not appear above the line on there years ago, take up with Damian Thompson.

And ask yourself why.

Dear Kamm

He seems to be at it again. So, for avoidance of any doubt, the following was sent to the warmongering, hedgefund-trading non-journalist (see this site's links) on 5th of this month:

Dear Kamm,

I delete your emails unopened, and I should therefore delete unopened any reply to this email.

But in view of the title of the latest one ("Durham"), I suggest that you visit, type in Lindsay, and see the first result that comes up.

Try using the contact form. It works. I do have a University email address, but I suspect that your activities are the reason why the University no longer gives it out. Otherwise, I should just tell you to use that. It works, too.

For some years, it worked even though I was not in the Online Directory, so even if I were not there, then that would not mean that I was not here. It did not in the past, and it would not in the future.

Then again, I am quite busy enough on that account without you. Indeed, I am quite busy enough in general without you. Hence my lack of a staff profile: I honestly would not have the time to write one. Whereas you obviously have all the time in the world.

My latest staff card in valid until 30th November 2017, so you could always try harassing people here about me again in three and a half years' time.

But, not for the first time, you would be wasting the time that you obviously have in abundance, unlike the rest of us. I have been a feature of the life of this University for many years. I shall be a feature of the life of this University for many, many, many more years yet.

I realise that you struggle to comprehend this, but not everything or everyone in the world is obedient to Oliver Kamm. Get over it.

David Lindsay

I now realise that my University email address, the same as it has been since 30th September 1997, is accessible from a University computer. You can tell when I am working at one of those, since the shade of blue is different when I link to other sites in the course of posts on here.

Begging The Question

Moazzam Begg is accused of aiding the side in support of which the Government had wanted to intervene militarily.

What's that about?

Time To Shoot The Deputy

I can assure you that Harman is in it up to her neck.

Tom O’Carroll was the chairman of the Paedophile Information Exchange. In 1981, he was convicted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals through the contacts section of that organisation’s magazine.

A year later, that conviction was attacked in the journal of the National Council for Civil Liberties by O’Carroll’s barrister, Peter Thornton, who is now a Queen’s Counsel and a senior circuit judge.

The then Legal Officer of the NCCL was Harriet Harman.

A Labour Deputy Leadership Election has been due throughout this Parliament. This is the chance, even if four years late, to make extinct the last of the Blair Period dinosaurs.

The true character of the New Left that became New Labour has never been more devastatingly exposed than in the last week.

Watch out, as Anne McElvoy has already hinted, for the true character of the New Right that still entirely defines the Conservative Party.

That also wanted to legalise sex with children, and through the Gillick case it effectively did so. 

That Government and that Prime Minister were cheered on, as they still are even in death, by the Daily Mail. The petition to which to stop sexualising children is here.

A Strong, Unambiguous Message

It is no wonder that Labour, never as pro-EU as the extremely pro-EU Conservatives like to pretend, is reverting more overtly to its historical norm, when the people who most aggressively want into the EU are Ukrainian neo-Nazis, and when, as Steven Donlon writes:

Across Europe, opposition to the looming US-EU trade deal is growing.

The ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ potentially hands big business unprecedented power to resist the policies of elected governments in a wide range of areas, from product safety standards and fracking to the role of profit-driven firms in the NHS.

Quietly published last November, a barely noticed official report commissioned by the Department of Business, Skills and Innovation offers the best analysis of the deal, systematically demonstrating a devastating attack on democracy and progressive politics.

The report chillingly argues that “an EU-US investment treaty would impose costs on the UK to the extent that it prevents the UK government from regulating in the public interest”, focusing on the effects of ‘investor-state dispute settlement’.

International tribunals would be created through which US companies could sue the UK government for lost profits if policies and regulations deviated from broadly defined ‘free trade’ standards.

The likely scope is incredibly broad in the absence of safeguards for policy areas such as healthcare and utilities.

The sheer scale of US-UK trade means that “the likelihood of disputes between US investors and the UK government is high”, especially because “American investors tend to be the most litigious in the world…including in politically sensitive cases”.

Consequently, the authors predict that “the UK would be regularly faced with US investors opposing new UK government policies on the grounds of the treaty”.

Although these disputes would often be settled in the UK’s favour, the mere threat of legal action would sometimes be enough to change policy since the government has clear incentives “to settle the case, even if only to avoid litigation costs”.

The concept of “reduced policy space” is used to summarise this impact, an Orwellian way to describe the extent to which the ability of society to collectively achieve certain social goals would be put beyond the reach of the ballot box.

Disturbing international precedents justify these fears: tobacco giant Phillip Morris sued Australia for introducing plain-packaged cigarettes; a Dutch insurer successfully sued Slovakia for reversing health privatisation; and there have been scores of challenges against Canada under NAFTA on issues ranging from electricity regulation to export bans on hazardous waste.

The report’s conclusions about the over-hyped economic benefits of investor dispute mechanisms are equally compelling, bluntly stating that “in sum, an EU-US investment chapter is likely to provide the UK with few or no benefits” since “investors have generally not taken much notice of investment treaties in the past when deciding where, and how much, to invest abroad”.

Basic democratic principles could be sacrificed for negligible economic benefit. Campaigners justifiably fear that the deal amounts to a ‘Corporate Bill of Rights’, giving big business entrenched legal rights whilst further eroding the ability of citizens to democratically choose the type of society they wish to live in.

The deal should therefore concern everyone who believes in democracy, but it should be particularly unsettling for the Left as the potential for progressive politics is quietly smothered under a layer of anodyne, technocratic jargon like ‘harmonisation’ and ‘streamlining’.

Despite the far-reaching consequences of the deal, this vital European issue has been drowned out in the UK by the noisy debate about an in-out referendum.

Most Conservatives are unlikely to criticise a business-friendly EU initiative which fails to conform to their image of Europe as a socialist conspiracy, whilst UKIP have been remarkably quiet on the issue so far.

Labour is left with an opportunity to seize on the issue and secure a democratic mandate to alter the deal in the upcoming European election, a concrete example of a progressive and constructive role for Britain inside the EU.

There have already been encouraging hints of unease within the party, such as Andy Burnham’s call to exclude the NHS from the deal.

This trade deal should be made the central issue of the election – not the in-out debate – especially since it coincides with the European Commission’s concession of a three month ‘consultation’ phase due to “unprecedented public interest”.

Past European elections have tended to be almost apolitical affairs, typically lacking debates about specific policies or even serious dividing lines between the major parties

However, if Labour allied itself with the European-wide movement opposing the deal, these elections would be different.

May 2014 would become a chance to send a strong, unambiguous message to negotiators who would let big business regulate and restrain the ability of the ballot box to achieve social change.

Independent Critical Thinking

From Dennis Skinner's denunciation of William Hague for "taking money from flood-stricken and austerity-ravaged to Britain, to give it to EU fanatics in Ukraine," to Sir Edward Leigh's warning against Russophobia, and caution to remember that only Russia can bail out Ukraine, which is the birthplace of Russian civilisation and which remains in the natural Russian sphere of influence; and from Tim Stanley to Brendan O'Neill:

Even in this era of rampant political spin and platitudes, where George Orwell’s claim that political language is used and abused to ‘make lies sound truthful and murder respectable’ has never been truer, the commentary on Ukraine stands out for its dishonesty.

Western observers tell us there has been a revolution in that benighted nation. They claim revolutionaries have overthrown a dictator. They say the people of Ukraine have risen up and deposed their despot, and are now ‘experiencing the intense emotions expressed so eloquently by Thomas Paine in 1776 [in his writings on the American War of Independence]’.

It is hard to remember the last time political language was so thoroughly used to obfuscate reality, to impose inappropriate historical narratives on to a messy modern-day event. For what we have in Ukraine is not revolution, but regime change, set in motion far more by the machinations of Western politicians than by the stone-throwing of Ukrainians.

Orwell was right – too much political writing is less about clarifying real-world events than it is a collection of pre-existing phrases ‘tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse’. So it has been in relation to Ukraine, where the words selected by Western observers tell us more about them and their prejudices than they do about events in Kiev.

So the word ‘meddling’ is used to describe Vladimir Putin’s interventions in Ukraine, but never to describe Angela Merkel’s or John Kerry’s cultivation of the oppositional forces – that is ‘mediation’.

Ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich is now widely referred to as a ‘dictator’, confirming how exhausted and meaningless that word has become through overuse: unlike serious dictators like Gaddafi or Assad, Yanukovich won a free and fair election, in March 2010.

As for the word ‘revolution’ – that has been knackered by misuse for decades, but its deployment in Ukraine takes its bastardisation to a new low: there has of course been no replacement of one social order by another in Ukraine, or even the instalment of a people’s government; instead various long-established parties in parliament, some of which are deeply unpopular among certain constituencies in Ukraine, are forming an interim government.

Revolutionary? Hardly.

The Western debate and coverage of Ukraine has cast a massive political fog over events there. It may not have quite made ‘murder seem respectable’, but it has certainly made externally generated regime change seem revolutionary, and the Western-assisted anti-democratic removal of an elected leader seem like an act of people’s democracy.

It has exposed a severe dearth of independent critical thinking among the Western commentariat. Even those on the right who are normally passionately anti-EU are now lining up like lemmings behind Brussels’ dishonest moral narrative about being a mere observer to a glorious revolution in the East.

And even those on the left who condemned regime change in Iraq or Libya are buying the idea that Ukraine has undergone a revolution of Paineite proportions, with the Observer giddily declaring that Ukraine is currently experiencing ‘an intoxicating sense of liberation from an old guard’.

Across the political spectrum, narratives about Ukraine that don’t add up, and which are being promoted by people normally seen as untrustworthy, are being accepted as good coin – among both a right excited by the prospect of a return of the neat Cold War-era divide between good West and bad East, and a left so desperate for evidence of revolutionary behaviour in the twenty-first century that it will lap up even staid, grey, distinctly unrevolutionary Brussels’ claims about a revolution being afoot in Ukraine.

The truth of what has happened in Ukraine is this: the EU and Washington have effectively brought about regime change, replacing an elected pro-Russian regime with an unelected, still-being-formed new government that is more amenable to the institutions of the West.

Yes, there have been very large protests in Ukraine for many months now, packed with people who are genuinely and passionately opposed to Yanukovich on the grounds that he is authoritarian, illiberal and hostile to the EU. But these have been fairly disorganised, Occupy-style gatherings, peopled by various opposing forces, from pro-EU urbanites to far-right and even anti-Semitic loathers of Yanukovich.

These rather chaotic, ideology-lite camps were no more capable of ousting Yanukovich than Occupy Wall Street could have deposed the Obama administration. The regime change that occurred this week would have been unthinkable without something else, without an additional force - outside pressure.

That has unquestionably been the decisive factor in the removal of Yanukovich and his replacement by a Western-friendly interim government.

Western governments did not send fighter planes or soldiers to Ukraine, as they did when pursuing regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan. But they did pretty relentlessly pursue what the press euphemistically refers to as ‘international mediation’ (‘political language has to consist largely of euphemism’, said Orwell) but which I think would better be described as delegitimisation of Ukraine’s government.

That is, they both undermined the legitimacy of the Yanukovich regime and conferred political and moral authority on to the protest camps.

They did this firstly through issuing statement after statement over the past three months about the out-of-touchness of Yanukovich, with US President Barack Obama going so far as to compare Ukraine with Syria (that is, both are governed by illegitimate rulers) and to call for the formation of a new ‘transitional government’; and secondly through imbuing the protest camps effectively with the right to rule Ukraine.

The camps were visited by leading European and American politicians, who told the protesters theirs was a ‘just cause’ and that they have ‘a very different vision for the country’ to Yanukovich – a better one, of course.

The consequence of such ‘mediation’ (meddling) was to isolate Yanukovich and embolden the protesters, creating the space for anti-Yanukovich politicians to manoeuvre themselves into positions of power.

And one of the most striking things about the events of the past week is just how these parliamentary actors in Ukraine positioned themselves for the take-up of power – they did it not through appealing to the Ukrainian masses but rather by meeting with Western leaders, most notably Merkel.

Vitali Klitschko, leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, has had extensive discussions with Western leaders, even before Yanukovich was ousted, and declared himself ‘very pleased’ with European politicians’ efforts to remake Ukraine as a ‘political and economically stable country’.

One of the first things the Ukrainian Fatherland leader Yulia Tymoshenko did when she was released from jail this week was speak to Merkel. Merkel said Tymoshenko’s ‘return to political life [would] contribute to preserving the unity of Ukraine and help it along the path of European reform’. That is, she’s a politician who can be trusted to make Ukraine less Russian and more EU, less a friend of Putin and more a satellite of the EU.

Whatever euphemisms are used to describe Western leaders’ effective selection of the new rulers of Ukraine – whether it’s ‘mediation’, ‘democracy promotion’ or ‘talks’ – there is no escaping the fact that what we have witnessed is a campaign of Western delegitimisation of a national leader whose interests run counter to the EU’s, followed by the handpicking, the political christening, of an apparently legitimate new interim government.

Western forces have just done to a European country what they more usually do in the Third World.

Of course, there are numerous and crucially important local factors that have impacted on events in Ukraine over the past three months, including the divisions between west and east in that nation, its longstanding political tensions, and the extraordinary internal weaknesses of the Yanukovich regime, which seem to have been a key contributor to the relative ease with which outside forces have now effectively determined Ukraine’s political fate.

But above all this, we have just witnessed European and American leaders remove an elected politician and replace him with a friendlier new government.

You might not like Yanukovich; I certainly do not, being a believer in free speech, open political life and universal justice, all of which seem to have been alien to authoritarian Yanukovich. But he and his party were democratically elected by a majority in Ukraine, both in the 2010 presidential elections, when Yanukovich won 49 per cent of the vote to Tymoshenko’s 45 per cent, and in the 2012 parliamentary elections, when Yanukovich’s party won 187 seats and Tymoshenko’s won 102.

That’s enough euphemisms. Stop making the external usurping of Ukrainians’ expressed democratic will seem respectable.

We are watching, not a revolution, but rather something that has a very strong whiff of Euro-imperialism to it.

Monday 24 February 2014

Quam Bonum in Unum Habitare

Good luck to Chelsea Independents.

But this is what the local Labour Party ought to be doing. Especially at the General Election.

An unwinnable seat? Why? If the local Conservative Party is so heavily favouring people who do not even really live there, and who might not be eligible to vote even if they did, then the seat is eminently winnable.

With enough effort. And the right candidate.

Have A Hart

The most desirable place in Britain is apparently the Hampshire town and civil parish of Fleet, in the District of Hart.

With a  population of 31,687, Fleet has three foodbanks.


One for every ten thousand people. In a place with average earnings a third higher than those in the nation at large.

What the hell must everywhere else be like? Dear, sweet, gentle reader, some of us do not need to ask.

The Borderland, Indeed

The Jews are fleeing Ukraine. The war memorials are being torn down. The banners bearing the face of Stepan Bandera are being hung from the town halls.

Svoboda has been given the Office of Prosecutor-General. That is Svoboda, scourge of "the Muscovite-Jewish Mafia".

As far afield as Spain, neo-Nazis are demonstrating in support.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, how many "Last Dictators" has Europe had? It feels like a dozen.

And which is receiving more coverage in the United States? Ukraine? Or Venezuela? The answer to that is the key to understanding which and what country America now is.

Information Exchange, Or Not

Learn from my long and bitter experience, Daily Mail: you are just going to have to let this one go.

As for the lack of coverage on the BBC, that is simply because it knows that Labour is bound to win the next General Election. A fact about which, in itself, I am very happy.

So, like everyone and everything else, the BBC has to keep in with the Labour Party. Even if that notionally still includes keeping in with Harriet Harman.

Having done more than anyone else on this story in the last 10 years, even I have to admit that it now involves has-beens, of whom Patricia Hewitt once again lives as far away as Australia.

Where was the Mail when she and Harman were in the Cabinet?

Although, and indeed because, I was still a Labour activist in those days, I was trying to do something about this then.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Those Falling Statues of Lenin

No one in the Opposition stronghold of Lviv has torn down the statue of the Opposition's hero from the 1940s, Stepan Bandera, who proclaimed that, "We shall lay the heads of the Jews at the feet of Hitler."

We are accustomed to thinking that the alternative to the Soviet Union was something like Simon Hughes. It was not.

These statues are being torn down by people, representative of no one but themselves, who think that the anti-Soviet side was right during the War, and we all know who and what that side was.

They had stood for a generation after the fall of the USSR in order to make the contrary point.

Just as there are still a few streets in Britain named after Stalin; as far as I am aware, and although I am open to correction on this point, there are still as many as there have ever been. After all, he really was our ally during the War.

The questions raised by those street names are questions about the War itself.

But we cannot be asking any of those, now, can we? What is this, the ILP?

That Divide Is Now Opening Up

Mark Almond writes:

Television pictures of revolutions can make them seem like a spectator sport.

Having Vitali Klitschko, the world heavyweight boxing champion, playing a starring role in the events in Kiev reinforces that impression.

But the implosion of the Ukrainian state in the last 48 hours is a political earthquake. Chaos in Kiev could set off a tsunami that will toss Western Europe from its moorings too.

It is a mistake to think we are watching from a safe distance.

Maybe Ukraine is as foreign to the British people today as it was when an obscure crisis on its southern coast in Queen Victoria’s reign became the Crimean War. But not since the 1850s has this country come so close to colliding with Russia.

Ukraine sits on the fault line dividing Eastern Europe between pro-Western and pro-Russian views. Her people are split over attitudes to the old imperial capital, Moscow.

That divide is now opening up as pro-Russian districts in the East such as Kharkov and Crimea refuse to accept the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych celebrated in Kiev.

Civil war would be a tragedy for Ukraine’s people. But what makes the crisis so dangerous is the international dimension.

Since the collapse of Communism in 1991, the US and its European allies have seen keeping Ukraine independent of Russia as a key result of victory in the Cold War.

For Russians, losing Ukraine was a huge blow.

Ironically, Russian culture and its Orthodox Church were born in Kiev 1,000 years ago. Moscow is a new capital. The Kremlin has always regarded bases in Ukraine, like its naval hub at Sevastopol, as key to security.

Now Russia’s military presence could be questioned by the revolutionaries swarming through the abandoned government buildings in Kiev.

Nato has never wanted Russia’s forces in the Crimea, but nor does Washington want to see any violent effort to force them out.

Bill Clinton famously declared that keeping Crimea in Ukraine and away from Russia was in America’s national interest. But he hoped that over time Russia would accept an independent Ukraine and withdraw its fleet.

Today, when ethnic Russians are rallying in Crimea and other parts of Eastern Ukraine, the risk of a clash between radicals on both sides is rising.

If Ukrainian nationalists, for instance, shoot at Russian soldiers in the south, local civil disorder could drag the Kremlin in as it did five years ago across the Black Sea in Georgia.

Already the West has been sparring with Putin’s Russia over everything from energy prices to gay rights, but a good old-fashioned tug of war over territory is now under way.

This crisis began when Yanukovych backed out of a deal to associate his country with the EU last November.

Putin saw this as a back door to getting Ukraine into Nato and turning a neutral neighbour into a US ally. Pro-Western Ukrainians hoped that would be the case, confirming the Kremlin’s worst fears.

Given Ukraine’s desperate economic mess, meeting the EU’s requirements was not really an option. Worse still, Kiev needed billions of dollars to service its huge debt to Western banks. But the West wasn’t willing, or able, to lend any more.

Putin’s huge oil and gas revenues seemed to give Russia the trump card. The Kremlin offered Ukraine a soft loan but on condition it stopped associating with the EU. This was a red rag to the pro-Western Ukrainians.

But what complicates matters and makes them so dangerous now is that the most militant pro-Western protesters are violently anti-Russian.

Many Ukrainians want to join the EU and Nato – not for reconciliation but to recruit allies against their old enemy.

This combination of a looming Ukrainian default threatening West European banks and a potential conflict with the EU’s major energy supplier, Russia, means that Ukraine’s troubles are not only on our doorstep but threatening to flow across it.

The violence in Kiev and inflammatory rhetoric of the hard core of the Ukrainian demonstrators now met by pro-Russian groups in the East shows that no one has things under control.

Putin had hoped to manipulate events through backing the ousted president, but the West has a problem with its vocal supporters too.

The paramilitaries who toppled Yanukovych pay lip-service to the new European values of integration but they mask loyalty to the older European demons of nationalism and anti-Semitism.

Sadly, Ukraine’s peaceful protesters are being marginalised by the reality that in a revolution, political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

When Klitschko tried to persuade them to accept the EU-brokered compromise deal, he was booed off the stage in Kiev.

The West might have hopes that the release of ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko will restore her status as the people’s darling that she enjoyed during the Orange Revolution a decade ago.

Her dramatic re-appearance in a wheelchair in front of the crowds fresh from prison recalled her firebrand role back then.

She lashed Yanukovich’s record but also tried to reach out to Ukrainians who feel that the heroes of 2004 wasted their opportunity then.

Timoshenko’s apology for the political class’s poor performance since then might gain her support. But it was painfully obvious that none of her potential rivals for the presidency from the opposition were on the platform with her.

Worse still her former ally, Viktor Yushchenko who defeated Yanukovich in 2005, is now a bitter enemy. After all, he was the star witness against her at her trial in 2011.

Uniting the opposition will be a tricky task. The capacity of Ukrainians to flout their Western well-wishers was shown when the protesters ignored that EU-sponsored deal to seize control of Kiev.

The radicals might ignore the West, but the West cannot ignore the consequences of letting them run riot into a conflict with local Russians or the Kremlin itself.

If political and economic chaos leads to civil war in the country lying between Nato and Russia, Yugoslavia’s break-up would seem like a vicarage tea party.

But as disaster looms, there is a glimmer of hope. Russia and  the West have a common interest in avoiding a geo-political fight.

Both Moscow and Washington should make it clear they will not tolerate either side causing more violence. Nor will they stand by their self-proclaimed friends if they do.

Otherwise, East and West could find themselves dragged on to the slippery slope of confrontation for causes that are not their own.

Mark Almond’s Post-Communist Ukraine – A Short History will appear in the summer.

Carpeted With Unquiet Graves

A month ago I warned that simple-minded Western intervention in Ukraine risked provoking civil war in that dangerous, unstable region.

Now I repeat the warning. Our encouragement of this post-modern putsch now threatens the worst civil violence  in Europe since similar lobbies sponsored the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Worse may be on the way. Ukraine is steeped in blood and carpeted with unquiet graves.

Twice in the past century it has been the scene  of terrible wars, and also the site of a hideous man-made famine and of genocidal slaughter.

It is also a great strategic prize – fertile wheat  fields, coal mines, the crucial warm-water naval port of Sevastopol.

Now it is the gateway for the colossal new gas and oil fields around the Caspian Sea.

Most Western politicians and commentators seem to assume that the Kiev mob are democrats. Are they? In what way?

They demanded the resignation of the Ukrainian government, because they said so. They wouldn’t go home until they got their way.

How is that democratic? President Yanukovych is certainly no saint. But he came to power legitimately.

In 2010, Yanukovych won office for five years with 12.5 million votes (48.9 per  cent) against 11.6 million votes  (45.5 per cent) for Yulia Tymoshenko.

That’s rather better than David Cameron (10.7 million, 36.1 per cent) did against Gordon Brown (8.6 million,  29.0 per cent) in our 2010 poll.

So what precisely is ‘democratic’ about demanding the immediate removal of a lawfully elected head of state, who has a year of his mandate still to run? It sounds more like mob rule to me.

And yet, on the BBC’s supposedly enlightened and thoughtful World Tonight radio programme, an academic was allowed to describe this government as a ‘regime’ without challenge, and a series of politicians from Eastern Europe were brought on to demand sanctions against Ukraine, while no voice was heard from the other side.

Anyway, who are these demonstrators?

There is no doubt that police have been injured by petrol bombs thrown from the crowd, and shot at with guns. Yet the reports seldom seem  to ask who is doing the throwing and the shooting.

Nor do they often mention the Pravy Sektor (Right Sector),  a nasty formation of violent football fans, prominent in the riots. These ‘democrats’ consider the larger Svoboda party as too namby-pamby. But you wouldn’t.

Svoboda (Freedom)  is led by Oleh Tyahnybok. He was once expelled from the Kiev parliament for claiming that a ‘Muscovite-Jewish Mafia’ controlled the country. Charming, eh? Kiev was the scene,  in 1941, of the Babi Yar massacre of 30,000 Jews by German troops.

Many of the more fervent Ukrainian nationalists, especially those from the Western city of Lviv, are keen worshippers of the memory of a character called Stepan Bandera, who collaborated with the Nazis on and off between 1941 and 1945.

It is these people who  have been receiving the support of the United States.

Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland  is famous for her ‘****  the EU!’ statement in a bugged phone conversation in which she discusses naked intervention by the USA in Ukraine’s affairs.

But last December she trotted round the main square of Kiev with a little plastic bag, handing out biscuits and buns to demonstrators.

Other outsiders  who have sided with the anti-democratic mob have included German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton.

Didn’t these people realise what effect their endorsement might have? Do they know what ghosts they may raise?

If they don’t, they are ignorant and rash.

If they do, they should remember what happens to children who play with fire.

Washed Out

Neil Clark writes:

The terrible impact that the ongoing floods have had over large parts of Britain - and the government response to the disaster - tells us much about the political system we now live under and in whose interests our government acts.

While it is true that January was Britain’s wettest winter month in nearly 250 years, the floods would not have caused the enormous damage and disruption that they have if successive governments in Britain had not cut back on flood defenses and put free market dogma before protecting ordinary people from natural disasters.

Over 5,000 homes and businesses have been affected, rail services have been cut and thousands of roads closed. And the danger is far from over yet.

At the time of writing severe flood warnings remain in place along the River Thames and in Somerset, a large county in south-western England.

It’s revealing to compare the attitude of the authorities in Britain to such matters in the pre-neoliberal era, to today.

In 1974 work began on the Thames Flood barrier, to protect London from flooding. It was opened in 1982. 

It was a great engineering project-typical of the sort of work that public bodies undertook in the post-war era when our politics was more democratic.

In recent years however flood protection has been very low down on the list of priorities for the government.

The Thatcher government, on an ideological mission to privatize and deregulate, started the rot by easing planning restrictions.

That led to hundreds of thousands of houses being built on flood plains, a recipe for disaster at a time when climate change was leading to milder, wetter and stormier winters.

The Labour government which came to power in 1997 did increase funding for flood protection but not by the amount that experts had called for.

A 2008 report by the National Audit Office found that 63 percent of Britain’s flood defenses were not being properly maintained.

Meanwhile the building on flood plains increased - between 2001 and 2011 around 200,000 homes were built on flood plains in the UK.

Things got even worse when the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition came to power in 2010. 

They slashed funding on flood defenses by about 100 million pounds (US$167 million) a year and money given to the Environment Agency.

Important schemes which were shelved included a 2.2 million pound plan to improve flood management on the River Parrett, which flows through the Somerset Levels, the area worst affected by the current floods. 

“There is no excuse. In 2010 the coalition slashed spending on flood defenses when it should have gone up,” former Minister for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne admitted this week.

Not only did it cut spending, but the government has eased planning restrictions still further, meaning yet more building on flood plains.

In November 2012, Planning Minister Nick Boles, a free-market zealot, called on the amount of Britain that was built on to be increased from 9 percent to 12 percent - equivalent to around 1,500 square miles (2,414 sq km) of open countryside being concreted over - but didn't say that the new developments wouldn't be on flood plains. 

“[The government] are encouraging building on floodplains because what they are saying is ‘We need new houses for economic growth and by the time things flood we’ll have more money to cope with it,’” says Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

The tardy government response to the current crisis also speaks volumes about how seriously the government treats the problem.

It took Prime Minister David Cameron all of six weeks to make his first visit to Somerset to see the damage. And even then he - unlike the Royal princes who helped with sandbagging - didn't visit the worst-affected village, Moorland.

Environment Minister Owen Patterson only visited Somerset in late January, where he got an angry reception from locals as did the head of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith, a former Labour minister, who only visited on February 7.

It’s all rather reminiscent of the leisurely way that President Bush responded to the havoc caused by Hurricane Katrina in the USA in 2005.

That showed us what his priorities were, and the government’s response to the flood crisis in Britain tells us the same about them.

Cameron, the man whose government has slashed spending on flood defenses and canceled crucial projects now tells us that ‘money is no object’ to repair the damage from the floods.

But money clearly was an object when it came to flood defense spending in 2010.

We don’t have to look far for an example of how things should be done: we only have to get on a ferry across the North Sea to The Netherlands. 

“The difference in spending between the Netherlands and the UK shows the attitude the two nations have to flooding,” says Sunday Express City Editor Geoff Ho.

“In the decade up to January 2013, total spending on defenses on the east coast, in Lincolnshire Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, came to 250 million pounds. Over the same period, the Dutch spent double that amount and are looking to spend more in the future.”

If only we could ‘go Dutch’ and invest the proper amounts, but our political elite isn't interested. Cameron has now pledged an extra 130 million pounds for flood defenses.

But that is still a woefully inadequate amount given that the Environment Agency has said that we need around 500 million pounds a year to be spent just to maintain and repair existing infrastructure.

The trouble is that today, in the neoliberal era, politics is more about repaying rich party donors and special interest groups with policies that will benefit them, rather than spending money on things which would benefit ordinary people, and the country as a whole, such as flood defenses.

It was revealed in September 2011 that over half of the donations the Conservative Party had received came from individuals and businesses working in finance, with over a quarter of all its private donations coming from hedge funds, financiers and private equity companies.

Overall, City funding of the Conservative Party has more than doubled since David Cameron became leader in 2005. That explains why the government’s priority has been ‘City friendly’ policies such as privatization and cutting the taxes of the richest 1 percent. And not protecting people in Somerset and elsewhere from flooding.

With the Met Office warning that climate change is only going to increase the chances of extreme winter rainfall in the years ahead, we urgently need a change of politics.

I’m sure those Britons currently flooded out of their homes would much rather that we had a UK government which spent the proper amounts on flood defenses, instead of one which funds violent rebels in Syria, or which launches an expensive legal challenge to the EU‘s plans to cap bankers’ bonuses, but that‘s what our neoliberal political elite prefer to do with our money.

Until we get the radical, democratic reform of UK politics which is long overdue, we need to make sure we’re adequately stocked up with sandbags.

And pray that it finally stops raining.

Saturday 22 February 2014

Katie Hopkins: An Apology

Yesterday, I drew a comparison between you and a far more downmarket person, who lacks your charm, your grace, your intellect, your compassion, your humanity, or your class.

The Raven In The Tower

Sitting here at one of the dear old University of Durham's computers, I have checked my own privilege, and it is coming along nicely.

Human Persons Born Alive

Dr Peter Saunders writes:

The problem of how to deal with babies born alive after abortion has been highlighted by a question asked at the Council of Europe.

The Committee of Ministers has been asked to act ‘in order to guarantee that foetuses who survive abortions are not deprived of the medical treatment that they are entitled to - as human persons born alive - according to the European Convention on Human Rights’.

The question is highly relevant in view of a story in the Daily Mail which claimed that 66 babies survived NHS termination attempts in one year alone.

The figure came from the CEMACH 2007 Perinatal Mortality report which covers the year 2005. It carries the said figures on page 28. I quote:

‘Sixty-six of the 2,235 neonatal deaths notified in England and Wales followed legal termination (predominantly on account of congenital anomalies) of the pregnancy ie. born showing signs of life and dying during the neonatal period. Sixteen were born at 22 weeks’ gestation or later and death occurred between 1 and 270 minutes after birth (median: 66 minutes). The remaining 50 fetuses were born before 22 weeks’ gestation and death occurred between 0 and 615 minutes after birth (median: 55 minutes).’

I have checked the CEMACH reports for 2009 and 2011(covering 2007 and 2009 respectively) and found no similar reference, but in the latter a diagram on page 51 (figure 6.2) does say that figures of early neonatal deaths following termination of pregnancy have been (deliberately) excluded. The strong implication is that they are still happening, but just not being reported.

An article in Prolife Ireland this week reports that the problem also exists in other countries, including Sweden and Italy, where in 2010 a 22 week ‘foetus’ was found alive 20 hours after being aborted. The baby was then placed in intensive care, where he died the next day. It further reports:

‘Another child in Florence survived three full days after having been aborted. Such events are happening everywhere that late term abortions are allowed, but are rarely reported and made public…. To prevent these situations, Norway decided at the beginning of January to prohibit abortion completely after 22 weeks, the threshold of viability outside the uterus as determined by the World Health Organisation.’

The Committee of Ministers will provide a written response to this question in the coming weeks.

But given that abortion is legal up until 24 weeks in Britain, it seems inconceivable that babies are not still being born alive after abortion here. But clearly whoever knows the facts is keeping quiet.

Perhaps someone should ask some questions in the Westminster parliament too.

Sochi and Syria

James Carden writes:

As momentum once again picks up for an American-led intervention in Syria, it might be worth our time to examine some of the commentary emanating from prominent American neoconservatives over the past few weeks with regard to Russia.

Not a week into the Sochi Olympics, in the pages of Foreign Policy magazine, foreign affairs analyst James Traub confidently predicted:

Putinism is bound to fail; it is, as widely noted, already failing. Twenty-five years ago the United States had the good sense to help the Soviet empire fall as gently as possible. Some time, perhaps not long from now, the United States will have to engage in the same act of deft diplomacy.

The neoconservative and LGBT activist Jamie Kirchick took to London’s Spectator to proclaim:

…as bad as things have become for gay people in Russia, they are hardly the most downtrodden group in that benighted land.

In October, a Moscow mob perpetrated what can only be described as a good old-fashioned Russian pogrom against migrant workers, calling for a Motherland cleansed of Central Asians and people from the Caucuses.

Racial hatred is hardly new to Russia, of course, and in recent years Putin and his cronies have cynically fuelled it.

This is the same armchair warrior who, at the end of a lengthy screed attacking actual conservatives in The Daily Beast, noted that Putin’s Russia is “a brutal society marked by violent nationalism, social breakdown, domestic authoritarianism, and foreign aggression.”

This sort of stuff—invective passing for analysis—continues unabated into the second week of the Games.

In the pages of the formerly conservative National Review, online editor-at-large and noted cliché collector Jonah Goldberg wrote a column expressing—in the sort of faux outrage that has become the dominant tone of the media’s coverage of Putin’s Russia—bewilderment at the fact that the Opening Ceremony wasn’t dedicated to an extended examination of Stalin’s crimes and the horrors of the Gulag and Holodomor.

Walter Russell Mead took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal last weekend to assure readers that, though it may appear that Mr. Putin’s Games are succeeding, never fear:

The Russian president’s biggest problem is simple: Post-Soviet Russia is a weak state. Take away its gas and oil resources, nuclear arsenal and Cold War-era intelligence networks, and there is not much of a there there.

Yet we should not lose sight of the fact that Putin’s ultimate goal is to “reconstruct the Soviet empire in a post-communist world.”

What is the intention of these writers? Ostensibly it is to poison U.S. public sentiment and elite opinion against any attempt by the Obama administration to construct a viable working relationship with Russia. And their efforts have largely succeeded.

Consider the results of a recent Gallup poll, released on February 13. It shows American public opinion towards Russia is at its most negative in two decades. The unfavorable ratings of Putin and Russia have hit new highs of 63 percent and 60 percent, respectively.

The effort to poison American public opinion towards Russia has—in reality—very little to do with Putin or his domestic policies; in fact—as was trenchantly noted in Forbes recently, Putin’s domestic turn rightward dovetails nicely with the American religious and neoconservative Right’s own domestic proclivities.

But I would contend that what all the criticism toward Russia really amounts to is an extended display of pique at the Russian government for having the temerity to stand in the way of American military action against Syria.

As we have seen in just the past few days, the Obama administration is now revisiting its options with regard to Syria.

This coincides with renewed calls for action from stalwarts of the neocon-Right; this week in the Washington Post, George W. Bush’s former chief speechwriter pleaded for the administration to put aside negotiations in favor of a military strike against Assad, while Bush’s UN Ambassador wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

Obama argued for three years that Russia shared his objective of a peaceful transition from the Assad regime in Syria to something else. This was never true. Moscow’s support for Assad (as well as Iran’s, directly and through Hezbollah) guaranteed he would only depart feet first.

As all of the aforementioned writers have long recognized, if a strike is to take place it will necessarily be done in the absence of authorization from the UN Security Council. Therefore, they have collectively spilt a considerable amount of ink denigrating Putin, Russia, and the Sochi Games.

Hence the following post from The American Interest: “Syria and Ukraine – Is Obama Waking Up?” After citing a New York Times story indicating a possible change in direction in administration policy on Syria, the writer expresses hope that:

…at some point President Obama decides to change course. It seems clear that the strong pressure inside the Administration against the President’s chosen policy mix continues and has gained force as it becomes less and less possible to pretend that the “partnership with Russia” is anything but a sham.

It’s clear that what really has been bothering this influential segment of American opinion all along has been Russia’s refusal to help oust Assad by use of force.

And the downturn in American public opinion towards Russia serves their purposes; the denigration of Russia serves to devalue the authority of its UN veto, rendering it largely meaningless in the eyes of the American public and thus easing Obama’s path to military action against the Assad regime.

And that, I would submit, has been their intention all along.

James Carden served as an advisor to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the State Department from 2011-2012.