Thursday 31 July 2014

Gaza, Of All Places

The early Zionists barely wanted it. Recent ones gave it up with very little fuss. Nor has Palestinian identity ever focused on it. Two thirds of its inhabitants' families only went there because they had nowhere else to go.

Yet it has become the heart and soul of Palestine, the only territory where Palestinians comprise the entire permanent population (indeed, almost the entire population at any given time), and the home of a very high proportion of all the Palestinians on earth.

Meanwhile, look how important the place now is to the Zionist aspiration.

How the world turns.

Money Back Guarantee

They have not been affiliated to the Labour Party since the High Blair Period. But both the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and the Fire Brigades Union, are affiliated to the Labour Representation Committee. That is constitutionally committed to the election of a Labour Government.

I do not know about the FBU, but every April a ritual is performed between Labour and the RMT. The union sends in its affiliation fee, and the Party Treasurer sends back the cheque uncashed. Yet the High Blair Period was a long time ago.

Or was it? Labour is perfectly happy to take Blair's blood-soaked Kazakh money, and prefers it to the small voluntary donations that their trade unions collect from millions of ordinary working people in the United Kingdom.

The RMT is clearly collecting what would be its affiliation dues. Perhaps the FBU is also doing so. Together, they ought to say that they would match any donation that Blair sought to make to Labour, provided that the party rejected his offer in favour of theirs.

That could take some doing. But they might be surprised at how much appeal among the public a public appeal might have.

The Occultation of UKIP

Well, of course.

The influence of the Moonies through The Washington Times and Nile Gardiner.

Sharron Angle’s links to Scientology. Christine O’Donnell’s dabbling in witchcraft.

Rand Paul’s Aqua Buddha. Paul Ryan’s Ayn Rand.

David Tredinnick’s advocacy of astrologically-informed homeopathy on the NHS.

And now, this.

Welcome to the Loony Right.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Libya and Hawkish Revisionism

Daniel Larison writes:

Max Boot indulges in some convenient revisionism:

Saturday was the day the State Department ordered the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Libya. Only three years ago, Obama helped NATO allies overthrow Moammar Kadafi as part of his “lead from behind” doctrine, but he has done little to help the resulting democratic government secure its authority.

Not only did the U.S. not support sending international peacekeepers[bold mine-DL], it didn’t mount a serious program to train a new Libyan army.

This is the standard hawkish critique of the Libyan intervention, which pretends that the flaw in the administration’s policy was in being too hands-off after the regime had been toppled.

It conveniently omits the fact that the interim Libyan government wanted no part of any foreign stabilization force in late 2011 or early 2012 when it mattered, and ignores that there was no government anywhere interested in filling a peacekeeping role once the old regime fell.

The intervening governments were never willing to participate in a significant post-war role, and made that quite clear while the war was still going on.

Indeed, it was an essential part of the argument that American interventionists made at the start of the war: there would be no U.S. ground forces deployed to Libya to fight, nor would there be any deployed to a post-Gaddafi Libya.

Interventionists don’t get to have the domestic political advantages of avoiding a prolonged occupation while disavowing the consequences of the regime change they supported.

Libya is in chaos in large part because outside forces aided anti-regime rebels in destroying the existing government, and the governments that intervened are at least partly responsible for what they have wrought.
It doesn’t follow from this that the solution for Libya was or is to increase the involvement of outside governments in misguided efforts to stabilize the country.

Having seen what a “serious program” to train local forces produced in Iraq, it is far from obvious that a more concerted effort by the U.S. to train Libyan government forces would have changed much of anything for the better.

Similarly, the presence of foreign troops in Libya would more likely have triggered armed resistance against the new government, which would probably have then turned into another ill-fated attempt at counterinsurgency to shore up an increasingly unpopular government.

The Libyan war was a serious blunder, but it was not one that would have been undone by committing more resources and risking more lives.

Boot’s criticism is mostly just another desperate effort to try to deny that military intervention and regime change are primarily to blame for Libya’s current state.

This is akin to the arguments we heard from liberal hawks when the conditions began to deteriorate rapidly in Iraq: “yes I supported the invasion, but I don’t agree with how Bush has handled things after that.”

They evaded responsibility for their support for the invasion by faulting the Bush administration for its poor management of the war, which presupposed that there was a realistic way to destroy another government without unleashing the chaos and violence that inevitably followed.

Boot is much the same: he was all for intervening in Libya, but he doesn’t want the negative consequences of that policy to be linked to the Republican hawks that backed yet another ill-conceived war.

One would have thought that the experience of occupying Iraq would put an end to the fantasy that a prolonged foreign military presence in these countries ensured stability and security, but it seems not.

Sackcloth and Ashes?

I have seen some political hypocrisy in my time.

But the sudden concern of the neoconservatives and of their fellow-travellers for the ancient indigenous Christians of the Middle East?

That really is something else.

Bye, George

While The News Discusses Skinny-Dipping

CND has slammed David Cameron’s ‘sinister sidestepping’ of Parliament over a secret, decade-long, nuclear agreement with the United States.

The amendment and extension of the Mutual Defence Agreement, which was first signed in 1958, is fundamental to the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system: allowing for the transfer of information relating to nuclear technology and US-UK collaboration over their nuclear weapons programmes.

Yet the British Government has not only denied Parliament the opportunity to discuss it, it will not even disclose the content of the agreement.

Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, said:

‘Parliament has not been informed. Whitehall has remained silent. Yet David Cameron’s Government has just waved through a 10-year extension to a nuclear cooperation treaty with the United States.

‘The Mutual Defence Agreement flies in the face of the UK’s commitments as a signatory the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

‘The Government says the MDA is perfectly in keeping with its multilateral disarmament obligations: but then again they could say anything they want about the agreement, because they’re keeping the contents secret.

‘In no other area of government would such a sinister sidestepping of democratic process be tolerated.

‘The fact that we had to be told of our own Government’s actions through President Barack Obama’s words to Congress marks a dismal day for British democracy. It’s also a worrying sign of how the Government fights dirty when it comes to challenges to its talismanic nuclear weapons programme.’

Jeremy Corbyn MP, CND Vice-Chair, said:

‘The news that David Cameron has renewed the Mutual Defence Agreement with the United States shows he holds Parliament in contempt. The Treaty locks us into US foreign policy and military adventures and the nuclear weapon technology sharing it delivers exposes the lie that Trident is an independent weapon.

‘I, on behalf of Parliamentary CND, had requested a debate on the renewal of this treaty before it went through, yet the Prime Minister has carried it out in secret. No proposal has been put before the British Parliament. This is a travesty of democracy.’

Saying Something Different

Jon Wilson writes:

It’s not just Ed.
There’s something profoundly weird about our political class. Labour, LibDem and Tory, politicians seem to move in packs.

They feel safe only they use the same ideas and language as the rest of the Westminster village, even when what they say makes no sense to the rest of us.
The idea that competition between corporations is the answer to our society’s problems is a good example of this kind of bad political groupthink.
The idea began life in the 1980s.

A politicians’ commitment to competition showed they were tough and serious, and didn’t mind cracking a few eggs – and closing a few factories – in the interests of reversing Britain’s long-term economic decline.
Since then, competition has become the politicians’ answer to everything, from school performance to energy companies over-charging.

As a recent book puts it, ‘elite responses have become an echo chamber reverberating with one simple message endlessly repeated regardless of circumstances’.

The resurgent hard-right of the Conservative party pushes faith in competitive forces to the limit.

The idea that performance improves when institutions compete was behind Michael Gove’s school reforms, David Willetts’ education policy, and the recent, disastrous reorganisation of the NHS.

Our attack is weak because our politics is framed by the same argument.

Our answer to rip-off Britain is – more competition. Ed Miliband has, bravely, and rightly, argued that we need to break up the massive concentration of unaccountable power in the banks and energy firms.

But then we seem to lose our bottle, and argue that the answer comes from more competition. The cap on energy prices will give us time to ‘reset the market’ so it’s more competitive. The answer to bad banks is more challengers.

Competition is still central to the way we talk about Britain’s place in the world, too.

We insist, as Ed Balls did in an otherwise very good speech last month, on retaining a ‘competitive’ tax regime.

We talk about Britain being in a ‘global race’, although unlike the Tories we should be ‘competing in a race to the top’.

By championing competition as the solution to everything now, we are stuck solving today’s problems with a tool that’s forty years out of date.

With their continued insistence on competition as the solution, Cameron and Miliband both demonstrate they are Thatcher’s sons, and haven’t cut the apron strings.

Our trouble now is not that industry is sluggish and inefficient, but that institutions work without being forced to answer to citizens.

The problem isn’t with the market, but with the business model of firms within it. The answer is to change the way our institutions are run, not competition.

Too often, big business sucks resources out of our towns and cities, and gives workers and citizens too little negotiating power.

Firms are too centralised, disconnected from the communities they are part of. In most sectors the search for short-term financial gain has undermined coordination between different parts of the supply chain. 

Competition simply threatens to replace one big, out of touch corporation with another.

As Aditya Chakrabortty asked this week ‘what is the point of having more competitors if they’re all doing the same thing?’

Competition is the wrong frame of reference for thinking about Britain’s place in the world too. Our economy is far less globalised than people imagine.

We spend most of our money on housing, food and transport and there can be no global market in any of these things.

Most workers, even the richest bankers, are highly immobile.

Much of the time, as Kevin Doogan argues, the idea of global competition is just an excuse to drive down wages.

Of course, all this is common sense.

Competition is not common in ordinary life. Most of the time, in our jobs or family life, we get on by working together.

Competition has a rare, special place, on sports days, exams, bidding to buy a house. These kinds of thing are important, but we divide them off from ordinary life.

Very few compete even on their salaries (bankers are the exception). Most of us think people who treats every part of their lives as a competition are weird.

But it’s amazing how often politicians ignore things that are obvious.

Now is the time for Labour to reconnect with the way real life works.

We need to jettison this rhetoric, tell a clear story about how a Labour government will stop the corrosive effects of obsessive competition, and rebuild Britain’s economy and society to creating institutions where people work together.

That means insisting companies are run through negotiation between workers and managers; giving power over jobs and training to local communities which can allocate resources to meet common needs; putting the voice of service users, rather than the notional ability to choose at the centre of public service reform.

The groundwork for all this is being done by Labour’s policy review, with its emphasis on devolving power to institutions in towns and cities where people work together for the common good.

But the argument being made in the policy papers Jon Cruddas is coordinating needs to be brought together in a compelling story told by Ed and the rest of the shadow cabinet.

That story needs to challenge the Thatcherite consensus in a way we haven’t seen yet. It must champion the idea and practice of the common good in place of competitive strife.

The argument isn’t the tired old one about state against market.

It’s about creating an economy based on cooperation not competition, a politics where power is radically decentralised, a society founded not on transactions and targets but local institutions of mutual support.

It’s only politicians’ fear of saying something different which holds them back.

But unless Labour makes a break, and have enough confidence to make its own arguments at last, we are doomed.

Nineveh and Tire

The hypocrisy of Damian Thompson is utterly stomach-turning. I realise that that is not exactly news. But even so.

He cheered on everything that has caused the fate of the Christians of Iraq and Syria. Their blood is on his hands.

And, like the Americans now affecting to care about them rather than the Americans who always really did, he undoubtedly thinks that they are white, anyway.

Oh, and very, very, very pro-Israeli and anti-Arab. That the idea of an Arab nation was invented by the Christians of the Middle East would actually cause poor old Mabel to die.

All the more reason to tell her, then.

The Christians of the Middle East do not deserve what is happening to them. But Damian Thompson does.

Auntie Must Be On Holiday

The BBC has been mentioning NHS privatisation.

Only in order to deny that it is happening. But even so. Things are moving.

With the Conservatives 16 points behind where they would need to be for an overall majority of one, and on their worst rating since 2010, the acceptance of reality is slowly but surely spreading.

Tuesday 29 July 2014


Tried, in those almost pre-Internet days, to tell you at the time.

Still, in this and in several other countries, the fact that this was an actual war, which tended to focus the mind, made it the beginning in earnest of the encounter between the traditional Left and the traditional Right, each of which found itself excluded from the debate and vilified, and both of which opposed the intervention for nearly or entirely identical reasons.

Those reasons were correct. Even the EU now admits it. We may look forward to that admission about other matters on which we have been agreed. Including the EU.

Increasingly Heated

"As scientists by training, we do not dispute the science of the greenhouse effect - nor did any of our witnesses."

"However, there remain great uncertainties about how much warming a given increase in greenhouse gases will cause, how much damage any temperature increase will cause and the best balance between adaptation to versus prevention of global warming."

Thus have two members of the House of  Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee dissented from its report on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

One is Peter Lilley. The other is Graham Stringer, a Labour MP who has been expressing these views for many years.

Remember, a party's members of Select Committees are now elected by a secret ballot of its MPs. In the privacy of the polling booth, Labour MPs' choice for Energy and Climate Change was Graham Stringer.

One to watch, on both sides of the coming General Election.

Who Governs?

On a very telling choice of website, Jim Sheridan writes:

It’s a question that has grown in importance as we see multinational corporations casting their net across the globe. Who, in reality, makes the rules we live by?

Big business is often at the heart of some lobbying scandal or conspiracy theories about who is at the top of the chain.

But we are currently seeing a real-life attempt by companies to wield excessive influence over national governments.

The transatlantic trade and investment partnership agreement (also known as TTIP) is being negotiated in secret between the EU and US.

Those in favour of the agreement say it will bring jobs and growth to both sides of the Atlantic. But there is a growing body of people who are concerned about some aspects of the agreement.

TTIP will set up secret courts which will allow multinational corporations to sue governments if they think a law might harm their profits.

This is a feature of many trade agreements, but when the US and EU states all have robust judicial systems in place, we must question why such courts are needed.

Negotiators insist that these courts are precautions, that it would not affect governments’ ability to govern. But we are already seeing these courts in action in other trade agreements.

hen Australia started looking at introducing plain packaging of tobacco, cigarette giant Phillip Morris was already suing the government for billions and seeking to have the legislation repealed.

When Germany began its nuclear phase-out, Swedish energy company Vattenfall announced that it was suing the government for 3.7 billion euros.

hen Slovakia moved to restrict the powers of private insurance firms in the public health system, a number of insurance companies successfully sued the Slovak government.

These examples strike a chord, and highlight real concerns.

Just two of Labour’s key policies, a reversal of NHS privatisation and an energy price freeze, could cost the government billions in a world with TTIP.

Even UK companies could set up subsidiaries in the States to sue their own governments for decisions such as these.

This is just one of the concerns I have about these negotiations, and the reason I have tabled almost fifty questions to ministers for them to answer over the recess.

Lobbyists have been arguing for TTIP for years, and a key reason is the power that these secret courts will give them.

We now need the public and members of EU parliaments to scrutinise this agreement in detail.

So I hope over the summer, ministers will answer my questions and ease my concerns about secret courts. And I hope they will answer my call for MPs to see the agreement.

Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, it is important we respect our democracies, and leave governments free to make the best laws for their citizens.

Co-op Trains?

Do not be distracted by this, for such is its intention.

Some things belong in mutual ownership. Some things belong in private ownership. And some things belong in public ownership.

One of those last is the railways.

So do not speculate that these co-ops might be run by the relevant trade unions. They are strongly in favour of a nationalised (and thus national, not regional) railway service. They are right.

Cameron Not Quite Talking Balls

Ed Balls set this out better more than two months ago, and not for the first time.

The Lanchester Review: In Defence of the Experts

Fergus Butler-Gallie covers a very wide area in this important contribution.

Monday 28 July 2014

And So To Beds?

The New Statesman's article on the rise of Evangelical churches as local voting blocs that Labour needs to mobilise, not news to longstanding readers of this site, is not yet online.

But its account of the remarkable manner in which the unexpected selection of Gavin Shuker as the Labour candidate at Luton South led to the unexpected Labour retention of that seat, both due to the activities of his congregants, ought to attract the attention of Martin Bell.

Although it is now hardly remembered, Bell sought in 2001 to unseat Eric Pickles at Brentwood and Ongar (which latter Bell could not pronounce correctly) due to the "infiltration" of the local Conservative Association by a Pentecostal church.

Pickles had never been a member of the Peniel Pentecostal Church in Pilgrims Hatch. Whereas until his election at the age of 28, Shuker was the pastor of the City Life Church in Luton, and another member of it now chairs his Constituency Labour Party in place of a party machine stalwart who had not wanted him as the candidate.

All to the good, say I. Of course a figure like that (who is white, if it matters, as I expect are most or all of the members of his church) is Labour, and is already a Shadow Minister, for the sake of retaining whom and others variously Evangelical and Catholic on the front bench no whip was imposed on the definition of marriage. Such is their clout within Ed Miliband's Labour Party, however modest their numbers may be.

None of this is remotely surprising to anyone who knows which way the wind blows. It is anything else that would be flabbergasting. Shuker and I have mutual friends, and I strongly suggest that you do not take your eye off him.

But where does it all leave Martin Bell, himself originally from the East of England, where the two Luton seats are Labour's only remaining redoubts in this Parliament, with one of them having been held by these means?

Bell is getting on a bit. But his nephew, who wrote his totally cynical election address at Tatton in 1997, is still only 50 or 51. I refer to Oliver Kamm.

To Kamm's mind, the situation at Luton South, and the influence of figures such as Gavin Shuker within the Labour Party, must be utterly egregious. The idea of the erstwhile pastor of the City Life Church as an International Development Minister must be as horrific to Kamm as it is exciting to me.

Following this week's New Statesman article, if Oliver Kamm does not announce his candidacy at Luton South, then there will be no remaining reason to take with even so much as the slightest seriousness anything that he might ever say on any subject whatever.

Don't Be Fracking Silly

The irreconcilable opposition to fracking is mostly motivated by the identities of the strongest proponents.

In the same way does the British (unlike, say, the Australian or the American) Right hate coal. By its own logic, it ought to love coal, as its Australian and American brethren do. But these things are not always about logic.

I still suspect that this shale gas business is all just wishful thinking bordering on superstition, and that the gas is not there, or at least not in anything like the quantities alleged. We all know why anything sounds too good to be true.

The people who are most pro-fracking are so besotted with America that they now even imagine Britain to have the same geological features. But if it is there, then by all means use it.

We need nuclear power, which was strongly supported by Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband when David Cameron called it "a last resort".

And we need coal.

Not necessarily in that order.

All else is ancillary to those two. Including shale gas. If anyone really wants to go about extracting it. And if it is really there.

Taking Steppes

Yes, the Conservative Party, which has always had a striking aversion to raising funds in the country that it aspires to govern, is heavily dependent on Vladimir Putin's courtiers and their consorts. That is before we even mention the Middle East.

But in order to make up any loss of union funding on account, so to speak, of certain constitutional changes that the unions ought in fact to use to their own considerable advantage, the Labour Party cheerfully takes oodles of lucre from Tony Blair.

"Ah," I hear you cry, "but Blair does not make a penny from his work as a de facto member of the military regime in Egypt." Indeed, he does not. Or, at least, not directly.

But he is handsomely remunerated for his work on behalf of the dictatorships of Central Asia. That is where his money comes from, everyone knows this, and Labour, in that full knowledge, takes that money.

Anything, absolutely anything at all, other than the purely voluntary contributions (anyone who is paying unwittingly cannot read a simple form) of millions of working and thus tax-paying Britons right here in the United Kingdom.

Don't TTIP Our Education System

James Elliott writes:

Over the last year the student movement has seen something of a comeback from the low ebbs of 2012 and early 2013, with new waves of occupations, landmark campaigns such as Occupy Sussex, the inspirational militancy of the 3Cosas cleaners, and a renewed conflict between students and workers’ right to organise, and the management’s will to stifle dissent.

What is encouraging about many of these new struggles is that they are organic, creating new campaigns centered on building student-worker solidarity, such as those of the SOAS cleaners and King’s College London’s union-run Living Wage Campaign.

Yet one issue could pass students by altogether, and represents arguably the greatest single threat to hopes of a free, democratic and public education system in the UK.

That is of course the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a colossal EU-US trade deal, that has been slowly gathering union and civil society opposition over the last few months.

TTIP is an attempt to remove ‘non-tariff’ barriers to trade, supposedly to grow the economies of both the EU and US, yet in reality it poses threats to public service, workers’ rights and our democracy.

A recent LSE report commissioned by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, concluded that looking at existing patterns of US-UK trade, there was “little reason to think that an EU-US investment chapter will provide the UK with significant economic benefits, yet there is much it will destroy.

The secret negotiations over TTIP are believed to include talks on ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ apparatus, which could see private companies successfully suing democratic governments for exercising certain policy choices, on the grounds they represent a threat to profits.

These ISDS mechanisms already exist, and have been used by US companies to mount legal challenges to governments that try to regulate or take industries into public ownership.

This alarming use of international courts to reject any right to oppose privatisation has already taken place. 

French transnational Veolia challenged the Egyptian government’s increases in the minimum wage; tobacco giant Philip Morris challenged Uruguay and Australia over anti- smoking laws; and Achmea, one of the largest suppliers of financial services in the Netherlands, challenged the Slovak Republic’s reversal of health privatisation policy.

The specific threats to UK healthcare have already been laid out. Len McCluskey, addressing Unite’s recent policy conference, correctly warned that TTIP would make NHS privatisation ‘irreversible’, while Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has pledged that Labour would exempt the NHS from a TTIP deal.

With the end of negotiations and the finalisation of the TTIP deal due to take place sometime at the end of 2015, there is hope that a Labour government could veto what amounts to neoliberalism made permanent in international law, but current noises from the Opposition bench have remained quiet.

Certainly the German and French governments have gone further in stating their desire to see ISDS mechanisms removed altogether, which would be a good start.

The threat to education sits around the partial privatisation of Higher Education carried out by the current coalition.

As UCU have stated:

the education sector is also directly threatened by this treaty; for-profit education companies have become bigger and more powerful lobbyists in national and transnational political spheres.

Underhand privatisation of HE has been going on since 2010.

While students were alarmed at the headline £9,000 fees, markets were created, the block grant to public universities slashed to create a ‘level playing field’ for private providers, with students not the state becoming the funder, while private providers operate outside of regulations and monitoring.

The entry of private capital into the HE sector is brilliantly documented in Andrew McGettigan’s The Great University Gamble, which explores the creation of internal markets, the changing university structure to reflect corporate interests rather than public value and the setting up of overseas campuses to draw in revenue.

McGettigan spells out a negative future for UK HE, as we head down the road of American universities such as Phoenix, which is owned by Apollo, who have now acquired BPP university in the UK (one of six private institutions with ‘Degree Awarding Powers’).

Apollo are also known to have had meetings with David Willetts. Without rehearsing the calamitous policy of privatised education in the US, it’s suffice to say it is a model the Tories have been keen to import into the UK, with scant opposition from Labour.

As Willetts put it himself:

The global higher education providers that operate in many countries from India to Spain to the USA need to know that we will be removing the barriers that stop them operating as universities here as part of our system.
The threat that TTIP poses is to make all this permanent.
Should a Tory government be re-elected and TTIP go through unimpeded and as it stands, students and workers in the UK would not be able to achieve a public education system without undoing what will be the biggest free trade deal in global history.
Opposition has already come form the European Students Union and the education committees of the European Trade Union Confederation.
It’s now well past time for UK students, workers and their unions to join the campaign to stop this monster free trade deal and the threats it poses to our struggle.

Sunday 27 July 2014

"Public PMQs"?

A bloody stupid idea.

The only people who could possibly participate would be those with nowhere else to be on a midweek afternoon.

Not even, most probably, at very short notice.

I can reasonably claim to be loyal to my Leader, as he is, since I am an affiliated member several times over. I am a great deal more loyal to him than much of the party's paid staff is.

But he is too surrounded by them, by the interchangeable London think tank boys, and by refugees and wannabes from The West Wing.

Hence, among other things, this silly little gimmick.

Instead, let him codify the powers of Parliament as they existed in 1978, and write up that codification as a Bill to restore all those powers which have been lost.

As well as to add a few more. Indeed, as well as to add a very great many more.

He might more than usefully do the same with the powers of municipal institutions.

Such is the democracy in social democracy.

The Lanchester Review: Our Christian Coronation

Philip Benwell's talk given at the House of Lords on Wednesday 23rd July 2014, by courtesy of The Lord Stoddart of Swindon.

Friday 25 July 2014

Economic Recovery Blah Blah Blah

Look, it might even be true. Substantially, it was true when Norman Lamont was going on about his greens shoots.

But nobody believed him, and he has never lived down the gales of derision, nor will he ever do so.

In any case, recovery from what? There was no recession on the day of the last General Election. It was over. Until Osborne came in.

The popular mind no longer associates the Conservative Party with anything apart from recession, sleaze, and posh boy incompetence.

It doesn't have to be true. It does not matter one jot whether or not it is true. It is what everyone thinks, and it how they are going to vote.

Yew Kip Tee Tip

Well, there you are, then.

UKIP, like Daniel Hannan, is in favour of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

So much for national sovereignty.

So much for parliamentary democracy.

Labour must declare its absolute opposition to the whole principle of the thing, and force a Commons vote immediately after the current recess.

One Nation, Indeed

A party funded by Russian oligarchs and by the Gulf princelings whose money created ISIS?

Or a party funded by millions of ordinary working people within, through and as the British trade union movement?

It is perfectly obvious which is the patriotic choice.

And which is not.

Arms On Its Last Legs

From Tim Stanley to Owen Jones, the tide is turning against the arms trade. It is time to put the B back into BAE.

This Government hates Britain, ending 800 years of shipbuilding in England, 500 of them at the oldest dry dock in the world, the one at Portsmouth.

Of course no contracts would go to the Clyde, or anywhere else in Scotland, if Scotland became independent. That is a statement of the blatantly obvious. But it ought still to be written into the contracts themselves: that they would be void in that event.

Defence procurement is an integral part of defence. Bring it all in-house, to a BAE restored as the publicly owned monopoly supplier to our own Armed Forces, accompanied by a total ban on the sale of arms abroad and the use of government action to preserve the skills base while diverting its application to other uses.

Like renationalising the railways, or forcibly splitting retail and investment banking, you will say that I am mad and illiterate until it happens. Then you will pretend to have thought of it yourselves.

That said, the people now running the party that is guaranteed to win the next General Election, the party that has voted against this Government's defence cuts and which has sought to moderate the effects of its persecution of military families, have never accused me of being either mad or illiterate.

Family Values

Julie Burchill makes some important points.

But I don't know when pop music, even if it did not used to be the 60 per cent privately schooled that it is now, has ever been working-class.

Neither John Lennon nor Mick Jagger came from that background, for a start.

And the industry has always been run by toffs, as correctly depicted in This Is Spinal Tap. But then, Nigel Tufnel was played by the fifth Baron Haden-Guest, who knew what he was satirising.

Every sport has become posher in its talent pool, with one exception.

Football has gone in the opposite direction, bestowing obscene amounts of money on very young men who would otherwise be unemployable as absolutely anything at all.

Go through the 1966 World Cup winners. They were not like that. The deterioration of footballers has been at least as marked as the gentrification of everyone else.

Neither pop music nor sport, nor the modelling to which Burchill also refers, ever owed much, if anything, to the grammar schools, before anyone starts.

Acting? Perhaps a bit more so. But mostly in relation to middle-class actors. The stage has always covered the entire class system, and replicated it with added emphasis among actors themselves.

The working classes rarely attended grammar schools and were very rarely able to stay all the way through to 18, situations that continue to obtain where those institutions still exist.

No, beyond sport and the rest of showbusiness, the ladder of working-class advancement was the trade union movement, and to an extent local government.

The evisceration of both since 1979 has been what has caused the present baleful situation.

Double Standards

Neil Clark on the totally different reactions by the same people to MH17 and to Gaza.

It Couldn't Happen To A Nicer Bunch

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Back On Thursday

The Cavalry and Guards Club, and then the House of Lords, tomorrow.

See you there?

Broken Cable

After the Royal Mail privatisation scam comes the Student Loans privatisation fiasco.

How is Vince Cable still in his job? He is bad as Iain Duncan Smith. Yes, as bad as that.

Parliament was today informed, on the last day before the recess, that 45 per cent of student loans would never be repaid.

That is very close to the 48.6 per cent at which tuition fees would become more expensive to administer than they would be to abolish.

As I tried to explain to Hilary Armstrong would happen. Before this autumn's freshers were born.

Stopping The DRIP

Tom Watson and David Davis are to sue the Government over the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers legislation.

Assisted by Liberty.

I have a feeling that the year when Tom addressed the Durham Miners' Gala was also the year when Shami Chakrabati did so.

I have a feeling that they will both be back.

Ready For It

Leaving aside that Owen Paterson is an Alan Partridge-like Walter Mitty of whom almost no one in rural England has ever heard and whose departure is being mourned only by the county set, George Monbiot, for all his faults, writes:

Beware the self-pity of the governing classes.
Ministers of the crown might look powerful and oppressive to us; often they see themselves as lonely heroes confronting a sea of troubles.
That has been Tony Blair’s schtick from the month he took office. We now see him dripping with other people’s blood but he appears to perceive only the scars on his own back.
The whingeing begins as soon as they are free to speak.

Michael Gove, demoted as education secretary but still in government, has said little, but his emissaries are wailing loudly on his behalf.

Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, can speak directly, and he now lambasts the “green blob”, against which he nobly fought and lost.

As one of those he blamed for bringing him down in his wild, minatory article on Sunday, I’m happy to join Blob Pride.

But I also see something new emerging in his position and that of other disaffected rightwingers. It looks like the development of a Tea Party faction within the Conservatives.

Tea Party politics can be defined as the interests of the ultra-elite cleverly repackaged as the interests of the common people. Here are its essential elements.

The first is a sense of victimhood. Never mind that those who make such claims are the least likely victims.

They must find common cause with people who feel passed over or pushed out or ignored: the motivating themes of the radical right.

In Paterson’s case, he made it up, stating: “I was burnt in effigy by Greenpeace as I was recovering from an operation to save my eyesight.” Greenpeace did no such thing.

The second requirement is an out-group, an enemy responsible for this victimhood.

As the writer and campaigner George Marshall points out, it’s not enough that the out-group causes harm; the harm must be intentional.

In this case, green movements oppressed Paterson and the hard-working, country-loving people of this nation in order to “keep each other well supplied with lavish funds”, he claimed.

They know nothing about the natural world, he says; their leaders “could not tell a snakeshead fritillary from a silver-washed fritillary”. All they want is “to enhance their own income streams”.

Anyway, enough opinion. Let’s test his proposition.

I challenge Mr Paterson to a kind of duel: to walk through the countryside together, with independent experts, and see who can correctly identify the greatest number of species across all classes: birds, insects, spiders, plants, fungi and the rest.

Will he take up my challenge?

The third element is a reframing of where power lies.

People working on behalf of billionaires and corporations project themselves as horny-handed sons of toil while casting their enemies as an aloof intellectual elite.

Paterson lists his opponents as “rich pop stars”, “rich landowners”, “a dress designer” and “a public school journalist” (me), who “don’t represent the real countryside of farmers and workers”.

So who is this voice of the workers?

Paterson is a millionaire, educated at Radley College and Cambridge, who owns a large country estate on which he lets buildings and agricultural land

While in office, he doubled the public subsidy for grouse moors. He also defeated an attempt to limit the amount of public money rich landowners can receive. As a result, the dukes and sheikhs and oligarchs who own England’s biggest estates each receive millions of pounds in subsidies.

He appointed as chair of Natural England – which is supposed to defend wildlife – a multimillionaire house-builder, Andrew Sells.

And he ignored his civil servants to take advice instead from his brother-in-law, Viscount Ridley, described by ConservativeHome as “Paterson’s personal thinktank”.

That’s another thing this putative movement has in common with the US radical right: discredited figures (think of Oliver North and G Gordon Liddy) are feted by powerful industrial interests and able to develop a new career as commentators.

Matt Ridley inherited (along with his estate, his opencast coal mines and his vast wealth) the chairmanship of Northern Rock, whose collapse under his reckless and incompetent oversight was the catalyst for the British financial crisis, which impoverished so many.

Yet, while the misdemeanours of Fred Goodwin – the son of an electrician who became head of RBS – were rightly condemned, Viscount Ridley’s have been comprehensively airbrushed.

Rupert Murdoch used his first tweet to praise him, and he has worked as a columnist for The Times ever since.

Unlike Goodwin, he is of use to the elite, as he has helped to formulate its talking points, arguing for deregulation and denying environmental problems.

The fourth element consists of shifting the spectrum of political thought by planting your flag on the outer fringes of lunacy.

It’s a tactic often used in the US by people such as Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann.

Paterson’s contribution is to identify the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, and the Canadian premier, Stephen Harper, who have arguably done more harm to the living planet than anyone else alive, as champions of environmental protection.

In other words, Paterson has positioned himself as a spokesman for a new strand of conservatism that is likely to consolidate as David Cameron seeks to distance himself, before the election, from his party’s whackier fringes on the radical right.

In a furious row with Cameron after he was told he had been sacked, Paterson is reported to have shouted: “I can out-Ukip Ukip … You are making a big mistake.”

Now, choked with resentment and self-pity, apparently convinced that despite a life of wealth and power he represents the whipped and wounded, he has spelt out the essential components of something that might soon become familiar to us.

Tea Party politics were bound to reach these shores eventually, and they will be lavishly financed by the very rich.

It won’t be pretty, but we should be ready for it.