Monday 30 June 2014

Health and Social Care

Clive Efford's Private Member's Bill to repeal the Health and Social Care Act will be introduced, with the full support of the Labour front bench, in the next few days.

The Second Reading debate and vote will be on 21st November.

Does that leave enough time for the BBC to tell the voters that the Health and Social Care Act existed in the first place?

Refusing To Leave

No Sweet Charity

Andy McSmith writes:

The Big Society that David Cameron once described as his “passion” is a “sham”, which is hurting small charities increasingly having to work with powerful corporations in running services, campaigners have said.

Two new reports paint a grim picture of the fate of local voluntary groups in the market being created by the contracting out of public services.

Where charities once worked alongside government officials, many now have to answer to private companies that have taken over functions once run by the state.

The National Coalition of Independent Action claims two studies found the farming out of public services is effectively turning some charities into sub-contractors for private firms.

Its founder Andy Benson argued the policy of encouraging competition had made charities “more self-interested and less likely to work collectively”.

He claimed volunteers were less willing to speak up where they encounter mismanagement, in case they lose a contract.

In one instance, a voluntary sector worker who criticised a council for not following its own policy on domestic violence was told by a council official: “Do you want funding for next year? Then I suggest you shut up.”

Mr Benson said:

“Despite protestations by the Government that it is interested in small-scale activity, which is the essence of the Big Society, the small amounts of money that could make all the difference are drying up at a hugely alarming rate. The Big Society is a sham. It’s a slogan.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said:

“Over the past few years we have supported a bigger, stronger society. More people are volunteering. Charities have more powers and say over public services, and we are seeing more community organisers. On top of this, more than £600m has been set aside for Big Society Capital, the first social investment fund of its kind in the world.”

This Government has form here. It tried to change the tax system so as to close down the charitable sector more or less entirely.

That, the similar attack on churches, Royal Mail privatisation, toll roads, the end of all remaining controls on Sunday trading, and much more besides: this Government is the enemy of Tory Britain.

The Church Bells of Mosul

Last Sunday, for the first time in 1600 years, no mass was celebrated in Mosul.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized Iraq’s second largest city on June 10, causing most Christians in the region to flee in terror, in new kinship with the torment of Christ crucified on the cross.

The remnant of Mosul’s ancient Christian community, long inhabitants of the place where many believe Jonah to be buried, now faces annihilation behind ISIS lines.

Those who risk worship must do so in silence, praying under new Sharia regulations that have stilled every church bell in the city.
The media has largely ignored the horrifying stories that are emerging from Mosul.

On June 23, the Assyrian International News Agency reported that ISIS terrorists entered the home of a Christian family in Mosul and demanded that they pay the jizya (a tax on non-Muslims).

According to AINA, “When the Assyrian family said they did not have the money, three ISIS members raped the mother and daughter in front of the husband and father. The husband and father was so traumatized that he committed suicide.”

Several days later ISIS conquered Mosul.

For a second time, Steven and Babyl, now eight months pregnant, fled their home. Their harrowing escape to Erbil has ended in a precarious and hardscrabble existence.

They fear for their unborn child, a baby girl who will be born into a family with no belongings, no money, and little food.

Steven summed up the situation at the end of an email: “I just want to get out of this hell.”
This human tragedy has its foundation in political instability.

The idea of Iraq was conceived of by foreign policy elite in London; the last to cling to it are the foreign policy elite in Washington.

As the Obama administration and State Department scramble to save Iraq, a reality that many on the ground have known for years is coming into focus: Iraq is falling apart. In the north, Kurdistan—a nation that may not be found on any western map—holds the greatest hope for those who seek the most fundamental freedoms.

Since 2003, Christians have been fleeing to Kurdistan’s Nineveh plain. The Sunni Kurds, who tend to be secular in their politics, have offered them a helping hand in recent years. 
As the horrors unfolded in Iraq, back in Washington, in the briefing room of a presidential hopeful, an Iraqi bishop made a desperate plea for help via phone as a delegation of Iraqi Christians seeking greater support for the Kurds.

“We have no food, no petrol, no [means] to protect ourselves. Where are America’s values? Where is our dignity?”

Many in Washington are keen to see greater Kurdish autonomy, viewing them as the prudent third way between the Sunni states that have supported Islamist militants (Turkey, Saudi, Qatar) and Shia Iran and its puppets.

The Kurds represent not only the best hope for an American ally in an increasingly Islamist-dominated region, but also the best hope for the survival of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.
Just a few years ago, no one could have imagined a militant Islamist emirate stretching across the Fertile Crescent, threatening to expand into neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan.

Today, it is difficult to imagine how ISIS will be defeated. Iraq's post-colonial borders have collapsed over the past two weeks as ISIS has consolidated and expanded an emirate from the Euphrates to within striking distance of Bagdad.

Now it commands territory nearly as vast as that of either the Iraqi or Syrian governments. Barbarism and strategy are not mutually exclusive.

ISIS will likely consolidate its gains near Baghdad, waiting for either the Maliki government to crumble or for the Shia militias to leave the capital.

The crisis of Iraqi Christianity precipitated by ISIS’s advance, which is critical in areas like Mosul, is the latest chapter in the dramatic decline of Christianity in the Middle East.

Muslim (let alone Islamist) homogeneity in the region would be a cultural catastrophe with global consequences and national security implications for America.

Lack of attention in the Western press is an indictment of a journalistic and political establishment that is mostly indifferent to one of the great human rights crises of our time.

The story of Christianity in Iraq is long and has entered its most difficult chapter to date.

But ISIS will not have the last word.

Although the future appears bleak, Steven and Babyl hope for the day when they can return home—the day when the church bells of Mosul can ring out once more.

Sunday 29 June 2014

An Election On Labour's Ground

The Conservatives cannot win on the NHS.

They know that perfectly well.

They are no longer even trying to try.

They actively want to lose.

The Lanchester Review: Understanding Our Economy and How To Change It

Andrew Fisher challenges everyone.

"The causes of the economic crash are presented by the Westminster politicians in glib terms for short-term political gain."

"The US bank crashed in 2008, but here in the UK Northern Rock had collapsed in 2007."

"We have to accept responsibility. And that means looking beyond glib banker-bashing, too."

"The crash was the inevitable consequence of the structural weaknesses in our economy."

"Actually, the economic crisis is and always was a political crisis, a crisis of democracy."

"If we want not only a moral economy, but also a stable one, then we have to redistribute wealth and power."

Read it.

And follow the link from it, so as to buy Andrew's  excellent book.

The Return of The Baghdad Caliphate

Oo, er, missus.

All episodes of Whoops Baghdad survive. The BBC ought to rebroadcast them.

And then remake the thing, with Frankie Howerd's part taken, so to speak, by the far camper Tony Blair.

Whoops, indeed.

Must Be Tempted

Peter Hitchens, who has been dropping hints throughout this Parliament, is now pretty much there:

The shameful and childish personal abuse directed against Ed Miliband has now reached a point where honourable Conservatives must be tempted to vote Labour in protest against it.

Rooted In Pirate Radio

Jimmy Savile's crimes are rooted in pirate radio, explains Joan Smith.

What isn't?

The Sixties Swingers hated with a burning passion the Labour Government of 1964 to 1970.

The pirate radio stations were their revolt against its and the BBC’s deal with the Musicians’ Union to protect the livelihoods of that union’s members.

Behind this union-busting criminality was Oliver Smedley, later a key figure behind the proto-Thatcherite Institute of Economic Affairs.

Viewers of The Boat That Rocked, now a mainstay of late night television, should consider that the Postmaster General so mercilessly ridiculed in it was in fact Tony Benn, and that the Prime Minister who legislated against pirate radio was Harold Wilson.

Those Swingers used the lowering of the voting age to put what they thought were the Selsdon Tories into office in 1970.

They then went on to entrench their own moral, social and cultural decadence and libertinism, first in the economic sphere during the 1980s, and then also in the constitutional sphere under Tony Blair.

David Cameron accepts uncritically the whole package: moral, social, cultural, economic, and constitutional. Indeed, he embodies it.

When is this country going to wake up to what has really been happening over the last 50 years?

Non-Existent Moderate Forces

Defenders of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, sometimes concede that he is a well-meaning windbag but argue that, if he does little good as he rushes around the world, he has done little real harm.

But going by his latest foray to Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East, this estimate may have to be revised.

As the situations in Iraq and Syria deteriorate after the fall of northern Iraq to jihadis, Kerry brings to these twin crises a shallowness of understanding that can only make them worse.

Take the Secretary of State's latest idea about what to do in Syria and Iraq, expressed at the start of a meeting with the Saudi-supported Syrian opposition leader, Ahmad al-Jarba, in Jeddah last week.

Kerry said that "obviously, in light of what has happened in Iraq, we have even more to talk about in terms of the moderate opposition in Syria, which has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against the presence of Isis and to have them not just in Syria, but also in Iraq."

The fogginess of the sentence probably reflects Kerry's befuddled thought processes about what is happening.

But for all their wooliness, Kerry's words reveal that he is the victim of two important misconceptions about what is happening in Syria and Iraq.

The extent of American policy failure, which led to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (variously called either Isil or Isis) taking over a great swath of territory since the fall of Mosul on 10 June, has been understated.

For 18 months, Iraqi leaders having told anybody who would listen that the opposition in Syria was dominated by jihadis such as Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra (the official al-Qa'ida representative) and Ahrar al-Sham. 

The Iraqis expressed complete conviction that unless the US did something to close down the civil war in Syria then this would inevitably destabilise Iraq.

Over the past week, everybody in Western capitals and many people in Baghdad have been blaming Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, for the present disaster – and with good reason.

But what really destroyed the political and military status quo in Iraq was not Maliki's misdeeds but the civil war in Syria and the fact that the predominant military force in the Sunni opposition since the end of 2012 has been al-Qa'ida-type groups just as opposed, for sectarian reasons, to the government in Baghdad as to the one in Damascus.

The moderate Syrian military opposition scarcely exists inside the country any more and the Free Syrian Army is losing rather than gaining ground.

There is no substance to Kerry's idea that it, or other, armed moderates are important players in Syria or that they are in a position "to push back" against Isis's ferocious battle groups, not only in Syria but in Iraq.

At the same moment as Kerry was lauding the potential of the moderate opposition in Syria, a much more accurate description of the real situation was being told to a news agency by Abdullah, a 27-year-old former Free Syrian Army fighter, who said he left the FSA when Isis overran his hometown of al-Bab in northern Syria in the spring, killing two of his friends.

He said he quit because "I realised that our uprising has been hijacked by others, and that nothing will be settled unless there is an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia: that's not worth dying for".

The "moderate" opposition in Syria was crumbling long before the fall of Mosul, but Isis's victories in Iraq have given it a tremendous boost in prestige, morale, money and equipment. It holds parades in Syria with tanks and Humvees captured in Iraq.

In the past two weeks it has besieged Deir ez-Zor, whose capture would leave it in control of the whole Euphrates valley from Fallujah through western Iraq and eastern Syria to Jarabulus on the Turkey border.

In another important development, besieged Jabhat al-Nusra fighters in the town of Boukamal, on the border with Iraq, defected this week and joined Isis which already holds the Iraqi side of the border.

The crucial point here, one that Kerry and Washington should try to grasp, is that the opposition in Syria is controlled by jihadis, and within the jihadi constellation it is Isis that dominates more than ever.

Yet it is at this moment that President Obama is asking Congress for $500m (£300m) to equip and train "appropriately vetted" opposition fighters who are supposedly going to fight both Bashar al-Assad and Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and the other jihadis.

And, of course, these fighters will be seen by all sides as mercenary pawns of the Americans, Saudis and Qataris.

Again, the idea is so silly that maybe the US administration is only pretending to have a policy in Syria and Iraq.

Maliki has openly identified Saudi Arabia and Qatar as funding terrorism in Iraq so one more Saudi-backed Sunni gang playing a role will be wholly unwelcome in Baghdad.

Kerry's faith in the Syrian moderate opposition is reminiscent of Alden Pyle, the undercover CIA agent in Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American, who believes in a "Third Force" in Vietnam in the 1950s that is neither colonialist nor Communist.

In fact, the Third Force is wholly an American creation.

Kerry has been searching for a Third Force in Iraq, in this case in the shape of moderate Sunni leaders to be included in a new Iraqi government to be led by somebody other than Nouri al-Maliki.

That may be easier said than done, since the Sunni leaders on offer are discredited politicians regarded by their own community as agile in feathering their own nests but not much else.

Maliki should go, not only because he is a hate figure for the Sunni, but because he is catastrophically incompetent and incapable of directing a war against Isis.

And war there is bound to be, because Isis is not in the business of negotiating compromises but of building a sort of religious fascist state in which Shia and Christians will be killed or expelled.

The time for genuinely inclusive governments and power sharing between communities was five years ago. Both the Sunni and the Kurds have now taken by force what they could not obtain by constitutional means.

They are not going to reverse course into a united Iraq from which they have just escaped.

If the US seriously wants to combat Isis it will have to look beyond non-existent moderate forces.

On This Rock

Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam Meam. 

Considering the claims that the See of Rome makes, then, while individual Popes might be or have been charlatans or lunatics, the institution itself is either telling the truth in making those claims, or else it is indeed the Antichrist, and any professing Christian who does not submit to Rome on Rome’s own terms must believe it to be so.

Who will call good evil by pointing to the Papacy’s defence and promotion of metaphysical realism, of Biblical historicity, of credal and Chalcedonian orthodoxy, of the sanctity of human life, of Biblical standards of sexual morality, of social justice, and of peace, and by then saying, “Behold, the Antichrist”? That is the question.

Ah, Faith of Our Fathers. Father Faber was the son of the Rector of Stanhope, and, like a striking number of Tractarian or Tractarian-influenced converts, his ancestry was largely Huguenot (as is part of mine, although another side is Highland Catholic).

So his “fathers chained in prisons dark” were not quite as his thoroughly rousing hymn would suggest.

Regenerate Our Villages

Just as key workers are finding it impossible to buy or rent in cities, families and young people are losing the struggle to stay in their "idyllic" rural communities ("Sun, sand and inequality", In Focus).

If a levy were added to the purchase price of a second home based on the cost of replacing a dwelling, this fund could be ploughed directly into new housing projects.

These could be in the form of grants for small-scale self-build or affordable housing for local people. 

Alternatively, a massive hike in council tax for owner-unoccupied dwellings could be considered.

If people could better afford to live and work in their locality, it would strengthen communities and regenerate our villages.

It would arguably help to combat social problems associated with unsatisfactory housing and the lowered expectations highlighted in your article.

Sean Geraghty

Even  more urgently, we need to abolish the delegation of planning decisions from Councillors to Officers, and to require change of use in order to convert a main home into a second home.

The SPAD Apples

John Prescott writes:

The conviction of David Cameron’s former media adviser Andy Coulson over phone hacking highlights growing concern about special ­political advisers – SPADs.

They are supposed to be their ministers’ eyes and ears in ­government, helping to deliver policy and giving good advice. But they are now wielding far too much power.

Labour had 74 special advisers in the last government. Cameron and Nick Clegg said they’d cut the number and save money. What did they do? They increased them to 98.

When I was Deputy PM I had two SPADs. My successor Clegg now has 18, costing more than £1million.

Even Jesus capped his advisers at 12.

The total pay bill for special Advisers now exceeds £7.2million a year. All funded by the taxpayer.

Advisers can do a good job. Harold Wilson introduced them to offer a different view to civil servants.

But their growth in number and influence has become much more political – less about policy and more about getting good PR for their bosses.

They have too much power over civil ­servants, government ­departments and even elected ministers.

When the coalition got in I was targeted by Tory SPADs from Eric Pickles’ office, who accessed records of government credit cards from my department and gave them to the Press – even though I never personally used the cards.

And when they were warned in a letter by Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell over the incident, Pickles’ people simply re-edited it, took out the warning and sent it – without Gus’s knowledge.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s SPAD Adam Smith was forced to resign after he became “way too close” to a Murdoch lobbyist when News International was making an £8billion bid for BSkyB.

The other week we saw Theresa May’s SPAD Fiona Cunningham sacked after briefing against Gove, no doubt to help her boss become the next leader.

Then Gove’s former SPAD Dominic Cummings attacked the PM as a “bumbling man with no sense of purpose”, Nick Clegg as “a goner” and Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn as a “classic third-rate kicked-down sycophant presiding over a shambolic court”.

He still advises Gove and ­allegedly signs in to No 10 as Osama Bin Laden.

These advisers are out of control and few checks are made on them.

Even Cameron’s ­ hiring of Coulson was done with the lightest of security checks – despite the fact he’d left the News of the World after a reporter was jailed for phone hacking.

Increasingly we’re seeing more of these appointed and unaccountable advisers bullying their way around government, thinking they’re better than the elected bosses they’re supposed to work for.

This Government must do all it can to protect the impartiality of the civil service to crack down on these SPAD apples once and for all.

Those guilty of bullying and ­malicious briefing should be banned from Parliament and all Government departments.

I also note that many of these special advisers come straight from university after working for an MP, with no real life experience. 

They then go on to become members of ­Parliament too.

I like the suggestion that before becoming a parliamentary candidate you should do at least five years working outside the Westminster bubble.

But don’t worry – I wouldn’t make it retrospective.

Just Say Naw

George Galloway writes:

On Monday last week,  I was in Coatbridge in Scotland, ‘gie’n it laldy’ as we say north of the Tweed, speaking to another packed house, laying into the Scottish nationalists and the independence movement.

Then, in the feisty question- and-answer session, one of the small number of Yes voters present had clearly had enough. He got up and as he marched to the door shouted ‘Go home’ at me.

Now I’m used to being told to go back to Russia or Ireland – ‘the famine is over, why don’t you go home?’ in the words of the loyalist song – but where did he mean?

Dundee, where I was born? Glasgow, where I was an MP for 18 years? Bradford, where I’m an MP now? Westminster? He answered just as he was going out of the door: ‘Tae England.’

He didn’t wait for my response which was cheered to the echo. Which was that I’ll go wherever I like in these islands or anywhere else and speak my mind.

This was par for the course in Alex Salmond’s Brigadoon Scotland that the nationalists want to create – as anyone subject to the cyber-nat hornet attacks will know.

Some, as Nigel Farage found last year, are even driven out of town – in his case in the back of a police black maria.

Like JK Rowling, I’ve been called quisling, traitor and much worse on social media, so clearly my message is getting through, which is that we have been together for more than 300 years in this union which has worked successfully for most of that time.

We’ve mingled, married, succeeded, failed, occasionally fallen out, made up and got on. As equal partners.

So why divorce now?

I know about divorce, believe me.

It is never amicable, however reasonable the arrangements seem to be – the division of the record collection, the dog, the car – you can give everything, but the one thing you will never give is the right to continue to use  the joint account and credit cards.

And that’s the nationalists Plan A. They have no Plan B.

They want to use the currency issued by the Bank of England, the clue being in the name, and they believe the people who issue it will allow them to – to keep using the joint credit card when they walk out the door.

There will be no pound in an independent Scotland.

So what will it have. The euro? How’s that doing? The groat, based entirely on a commodity, oil, which will disappear by 2050?

In my lifetime, oil has been as low as $9 a barrel and as high as $156.

Who wants to mortgage their children’s future on a finite resource that is diminishing and whose value  is incalculable?

Even the SNP’s ‘chancellor’ John Swinney admitted privately that if the oil price nosedives, an independent Scotland wouldn’t be able to pay pensioners in groats or anything else.

If Britain’s so bad, how come Salmond wants to keep so much of it – from the Queen to the Bank of England?

If Scotland and Britain needs the EU so much, why should we risk not being admitted to it by the vote of even just one EU country out of half a dozen with separatist movements threatening their own states?

If we don’t get to keep Britain’s pound, and we won’t, and don’t get into the EU, Scotland would be stepping off an ocean-going liner and into a Para Handy Clyde puffer, put forth on to a cruel sea.

It wouldn’t be a very ‘canny’ Scot doing that.

And there will be border guards and posts, if not wire, because Scotland and England will have different immigration policies.

Scotland needs more immigrants, England, this Tory England, wants to shut the door on them. So you’ll have to pull up south of Gretna, and hand over your passport, before getting on your way.

If redistribution of wealth is what’s needed, as the SNP on Clydeside keep saying (though not I expect so often in their Angus, Perthshire and Banff and Buchan heartlands), let’s redistribute the wealth of 65 million people rather than five million (the wealthiest of whom would decamp south unless we promised not to touch their wealth. In which case, what would be the point of ‘independence’?).

Contrary to the claims of the cybernats, Scotland is not an occupied country. Rather, Scotland and England together occupied most of the world.

The Scots are not denied self-determination and could have voted at any time in the past century for independence and had it.

I was one of the leaders in the movement for Scottish devolution. It was right to set up a Scottish parliament and it is right that it will be given more powers.

What the SNP is proposing isn’t even proper independence, it’s the so-called devo max, with gunboats, and underwritten by the UK Treasury.

Recently, I spoke at a school in Ruislip in outer London, cheek by jowl to RAF Northolt.

I recalled those midsummer days when our RAF came together to save us at a moment of supreme national peril. The Battle of Britain was fought by Brylcreem boys from all classes and every part of our land.

If we had flinched or miscalculated in those months, I’d have been speaking to them in German, or more likely not at all if our country had been over-run by the fascists.

It was our finest hour.

And we did it together, without a care for the differences in the twang of Suffolk or Sutherland. We were better together then and we can and must be again.

We will need to pull together as one mighty effort employing every sinew of our strength.

As with the last, if this Battle of Britain is lost then they can bring the curtain down. At least on the ideals I and many others in Scotland and Britain still believe in.

I’ve now put my Just Say Naw message to thousands of voters across Scotland in more than a dozen packed meetings and debates.

My speech in Edinburgh was said by some to have been the speech that could save the Union. And I have more lined up in the run-up to the September vote.

Old-school public meetings, no quarter given. There’s a real appetite for it.

I’m not part of the official Scotland Together outfit, whose slogan ‘No, thanks’ will hardly warm the heather, never mind set it alight.

The cybernats and those brave enough to face me can say what they like, call me what they want, but I’m with J. K. Rowling.

Just say naw.

The Coalition of The Willing

Country Matters

This site moans about the BBC. But the Corporation is self-aware and self-critical like no other part of the media. Of course, it ought to be. Nevertheless, it is.

Where it often falls down is on what to do about the problems that is quite capable of identifying in itself.

No, the concerns of rural England hardly ever do make it onto the national news. Stories from the rest of the Kingdom that attract attention outside their respective jurisdictions are rarely rural, either.

Coverage of the countryside does concentrate on environmental rather than on economic and social questions, with a heavy dependence on certain grand, and rather politicised, charities.

Not mentioned in the BBC's internal report, but no less important, is the complete failure to reflect the political diversity here.

All of these criticisms apply to the media at large.

Look at the areas that were recently found to be poorer than Eastern Europe: the Highlands and Islands, East Yorkshire, County Durham, South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Devon, Cornwall, West Wales, the Welsh Valleys, Merseyside, and Northern Ireland.

Only Merseyside is heavily urban, and most are very rural indeed.

In the Highlands and Islands, County Durham and the Welsh Valleys, three of the most socially conservative rural areas in Western Europe never return so much as one Conservative MP, with two of them voting Labour as a kind of ethnic or religious identity, simply not open to question. The old coal belt of South Yorkshire is in a very similar position.

But the Highlands and Islands have never returned many Labour MPs, either, and currently have none. The same or similar is true of East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Devon, Cornwall (the poorest place of all, and with no Labour MPs), and West Wales.

Northern Ireland is of course a thing apart. But by no stretch of the imagination is that thing less than interesting socially, culturally or politically.

Yet look at that list of localities, and then look at the entire media. We might as well be on the moon.

That is not because we are poor.

Rather, we are poor because we might as well be on the moon.

In Their Own Words

Neil Clark writes:

Iraq is in turmoil - with ISIS controlling large areas of the country - but the truth is that it's been in turmoil since the illegal 2003 invasion.
2013 was Iraq's bloodiest year since 2008, but as I wrote here members of the elite political class and warmongers in the West weren't interested.

Iraq post-invasion had become the greatest non-news story of the modern era.

The people who could not stop talking about Iraq in 2002/3 and telling how much they cared about ordinary Iraqis were strangely silent.

Instead they were devoting their energies into propagandizing for another Middle Eastern military 'intervention', this time against Syria.

Now that Iraq is back in the western news headlines again, with calls for 'intervention' to counter ISIS, it's worth bearing in mind what the architects of the Iraq war and the cheerleaders for it said in the lead up and during the invasion about the 'threat' from Saddam's WMDs and how toppling a secular dictator would help the so-called 'war on terror' and bring peace and security to the region.

Do we really want to take these people's advice on what 'we' should do now in Iraq?

Up to a million people have been killed since the illegal invasion and as critics predicted at the time, the war led to enormous chaos and instability and boosted radical Islamic extremism.

By their own words, let the warmongers be damned.

“He (Saddam) is probably the most dangerous individual in the world today.
Interviewer: Capable of?
Capable of anything. Capable of using weapons of mass destruction against the United States, capable of launching other military maneuvers as soon as he thinks he can get away with it...”
Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, mid-October 2001
The threat is very real and it is a threat not just to America or the international community but to Britain.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, 7th September 2002
And every indication we have is that he (Saddam) is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.
Benjamin Netanyahu, (then former Israeli Prime Minister) testifies to Congress, 12th September 2002
The document discloses that his (Saddam's) military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them.
Tony Blair foreword to the infamous 'dodgy dossier': 'Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, The Assessment of the British Government, (24th September 2002
The evidence produced in the Government's report shows clearly that Iraq is still pursuing its weapons of mass destruction programme...The Government dossier confirms that Iraq is self-sufficient in biological weapons and that the Iraq military is ready to deploy these and chemical weapons at some 45 minutes' notice'
British Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan-Smith, 24th September 2002.s from 2nd Battalion, 7
The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary, he is deceiving.
US President George W. Bush, State of the Union address 28th January 2003.
For Churchill, this apotheosis came in 1940; for Tony Blair, it will come when Iraq is successfully invaded and hundreds of weapons of mass destruction are unearthed from where they have been hidden by Saddam's henchmen."
Andrew Roberts, British neo-con historian, February 2003.
He (Saddam) claims to have no chemical or biological weapons, yet we know he continues to hide biological and chemical weapons, moving them to different locations as often as every 12 to 24 hours, and placing them in residential neighbourhoods
Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense, Press conference, 12th March 2003.
We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years—contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence—Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd.
Tony Blair, House of Commons, 18th March 2003.
But if we leave Iraq with chemical and biological weapons, after 12 years of defiance there is a considerable risk that one day these weapons will fall into the wrong hands and put many more lives at risk than will be lost in overthrowing Saddam.
Former US President Bill Clinton in article, 'Trust Tony's Judgement', 18th March 2003.
Saddam Hussein is there- and he's a dictator and he has weapons of mass destruction and are you going to do something about it or not?
William Kristol, neo-con pundit, chair of The Project for the New American Century and editor of the Weekly Standard, as quoted on BBC Panorama programme, The War Party, broadcast May 2003. Commanding General 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in the Kuwait desert, March 14, 2003 (Reuters)

And when the WMDs did not turn up?


Interviewer: Is it curious to you that given how much control U.S. and coalition forces now have in the country, they haven't found any weapons of mass destruction?
Not at all...We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.
Donald Rumsfeld, US Defense Secretary, 30th March 2003
Before people crow about the absence of weapons of mass destruction I suggest they wait a little bit. I remain confident they will be found.
Tony Blair, 28th April 2003.

Saddam and the war on terror

There can be no victory in the war against terrorism if, at the end of it, Saddam Hussein is still in power
Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, mid-October 2001
Interviewer: If we go into Iraq and we take down Hussein?
Then I think it's over for the terrorists.
Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, mid October 2001.
I have certainly made up my mind, as indeed any sensible person would that the region in the world, most of all the people of Iraq, would be in a far better position without Saddam Hussein... It will be far better if he was not leading Iraq; the whole of the world would be safer if that were the case.
Tony Blair, television interview, May 2002.
If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.
Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing Congress, 12th September 2002.
We know that Iraq and al-Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade...We've learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.
George W. Bush, 7 October 2002.
Some have argued that confronting the threat from Iraq could detract from the war against terror. To the contrary; confronting the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror. When I spoke to Congress more than a year ago, I said that those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves. Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror, the instruments of mass death and destruction.
George W. Bush, 7th October 2002.
The idea that this action (war vs Iraq) would become a recruiting sergeant for others to come to the colours of those who are "anti" any nation in the west is, I am afraid, nonsense. The biggest recruiting sergeant of all has been indecision, and the failure to take action to show that such resolve matters.
Iain Duncan-Smith, 18th March 2003


I feel no doubt that he (Saddam) has stockpiled some of the most vile weapons known to man. They include nuclear material. Saddam wants to dominate the Middle East, he wants to terrorise the world.. I would lay my life savings in a bet that information will emerge which proves Iraq helped al-Qaeda in the orchestration of September 11.
Ex-SAS Major Peter Ratcliffe, in the interview with the pro-war British newspaper The Sun, 4th April 2002.

Economic benefits of the war

The greatest thing to come of this to the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax cut in any country.
Pro-war media mogul Rupert Murdoch, interview with The Bulletin magazine, February 2003.

The new Hitler

Saddam is no Bismarck. He is more a Hitler. As his fate closed in, Hitler dreamt of terrible weapons. Saddam has done more than dream. He already possesses biological weaponry, including botulinum and anthrax. He does not yet have a missile system which could deliver a biological attack, but hideous damage could be inflicted by a single suicide agent with a suitcase.
Pro-war commentator Bruce Anderson, July 2002.
A majority of decent and well-meaning people said there was no need to confront Hitler and that those who did were war-mongers..
Tony Blair, 28th February 2003.


What a wonderful, magnificent, emotional occasion – one that will live in legend like the fall of the Bastille, V-E Day, or the fall of the Berlin Wall..... All those smart Europeans who ridiculed George Bush and denigrated his idea that there was actually a better future for the Iraqi people – they will now have to think again...Thank God for Tony Blair and those other European leaders who defied the axis of complacency
William Shawcross, Wall Street Journal, 10th April 2003 on the toppling of the statue of Saddam.

Saturday 28 June 2014

His Vanity and His Folly

Although he marrs it with a gratuitous and unfair attack on Peter Oborne, with whom he disagrees for other reasons, Nick Cohen writes:

At a time of miserable conditions for the poor, sick and disabled people, the administration of the welfare state is a disaster.

The grand projects the Department for Work and Pensions has launched since the general election have been bureaucratic fantasies and practical catastrophes.

Ministers have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds of public money – Tory ministers, mark you, who pose as the defenders of hard-working taxpayers.

For all that, Iain Duncan Smith tramps on without a thought of changing his ways: a character study in destructive pig-headedness.

At some level, he must know he is failing on all fronts.

He and his state-sponsored propagandists pulsate with aggression. Anyone who tries to investigate his department is met with obfuscation and intimidation.

Duncan Smith denounced the BBC for publishing a leaked memo, which showed that the costs of his employment and support allowance were growing at a formidable pace.

The corporation was a more committed opponent of welfare reform than Labour, he cried (knowing how quickly the BBC folds under accusations of political bias).

He hired Richard Caseby, a former executive at Rupert Murdoch's News UK, as a civil service spin doctor. "That corporate rightwinger is no more a civil servant than I am Miley Cyrus," I thought at the time.

So Caseby proved when he went on to splutter denunciations of the Guardian that had no connection I could see to his new brief or a civil servant's duty of impartiality.

Duncan Smith has targeted the Trussell Trust, an exemplary Anglican charity, which has mobilised the conscience of the nation and fed the hungry.

He and his sly ministers suggested that visitors to food banks were freeloaders, rather than victims of poverty and the incompetence of Duncan Smith's department.

As they did it, they were sitting on a government report, which showed the Trussell Trust was right. Low incomes and benefit delays were compelling hundreds of thousands of hungry people to beg for food as a "last resort", it said.

There is a journalistic scandal here.

The Mail and the Telegraphattacked New Labour for its manipulation of the media, with considerable justification.

But now their friends are playing the same tricks, where are the Paul Dacres and Peter Obornes defending honest reporting from governmental attack?

The journalistic scandal hides the greater public scandal. Duncan Smith and his placemen have to intimidate because his department is the administrative equivalent of a failed state, a collapsed institution, where ministers mouth promises that never and can never come true.

Earlier this year, with barely concealed incredulity, Nicholas Wikeley, a judge at the Administrative Appeals Chamber, dismissed an attempt by Duncan Smith to keep secret a government report on the risk to public funds and public provision for the needy his vainglorious plans for universal credit could bring.

He could see "no support" for Duncan Smith's argument that the electorate should know nothing about them. Outsiders could see every reason why Duncan Smith would want to censor, however.

Only a few thousand people are on a new credit that is meant to cover millions. Its computer systems have failed.

About £140m has been thrown away and Margaret Hodge of the public accounts committee expects that many millions more will vanish.

The DWP, she said, embarked on a £2.4bn project "with little idea how it was going to work".

It is not only the universal credit.

If you think I am being too harsh, the Department for Work and Pensions annual report, published last week, said that Duncan Smith's Work Programme was "only helping one in 20 recipients of disability benefits find a job".

The public accounts committee said Duncan's Smith personal independence payments scheme had been "rushed" through and the consequences for terminally ill and disabled people had been "shocking".

Too often you see the sick and the ill-educated being told to log on to computers they don't have, to fill in forms they can't understand for IT systems that don't work.

Duncan Smith will not change.

He is a neurotic authoritarian who wants to be powerful and expects to be obeyed, while living with the fear that everyone will dismiss him as a clown if he shows the smallest weakness.

Those fears were amply realised in 2003.

You may have forgotten that Duncan Smith was once leader of the Conservative party and saw himself as a future prime minister.

Then his colleagues showed that, while he thought of himself as a statesman, they thought of him as an abject failure, a man who could not distinguish between reality and whatever ideological programme was animating his mind.

As Michael Gove wrote in the Times in the weeks before his downfall, whenever he heard Duncan Smith repeating the same tired slogans, without giving the slightest indication of self-doubt, Kipling's lines on know-nothing, learn-nothing stupidity came back to him.

"The Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire, And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire."

By the time the Conservative party deposed him, Duncan Smith had barely an ally left. With singleminded fortitude, he rebuilt his career.

He presents himself now as a great reforming minister rather than a prime minister, but his vices remain unchanged.

Labour politicians tell a story that captures both his vanity and his folly.

A few years ago, Duncan Smith met Douglas Alexander, Rachel Reeves and Stephen Timms. He enthused about his belief in a universal credit that would merge taxes and benefits.

He would free 6 million people from the poverty traps of welfare dependency and show them that work made them better off.

The Labour politicians admitted that universal credit was a fine idea. They had thought about implementing it many times.

But you had to merge incompatible IT systems and find a way of updating the information on millions of people so that Whitehall knew almost instantaneously how much they were earning, what taxes they should pay and what benefits they should receive.

Reforming a complex system would take years.

If Duncan Smith rushed it he would be engaging in the vast and self-defeating social engineering the right accused the utopian left of forcing on the human race.

Duncan Smith would have none of it.

The technicalities were trifles. All that was needed was the political will.

And he, Iain Duncan Smith, the man of destiny, had the will to make it work.

"We looked at him as if he was mad," one of the participants told me.