Saturday 28 February 2015

Putin It In Perspective

Putin's faults do not cancel out those of his opponents. 

The totally unreconstructed Communist Party of the Russian Federation, notable for its Soviet flags at demonstrations.

Those who on those occasions wave the equally ubiquitous black, yellow and white of Russian ultranationalism in all its anti-modern, anti-urban, anti-scientific and anti-Semitic awfulness.

The Caucasian Islamists.

The National Bolsheviks, whose flag is that of Nazi Germany, but with a black hammer and sickle in place of the swastika.

Pussy Bloody Riot.

And now, a Western neocon stooge for whom next to nobody in his own country voted.

In fact, it is difficult to see why anyone in Russia would have considered Boris Nemtsov important enough to kill. Except to get a reaction in the West.

I Feel Nice

Sugar and spice.

I am watching BBC Two's documentary on James Brown.

As he lay dying, he laid one hand on each of my shoulders and named me the new Godfather of Soul, the new Soul Brother Number One, the new Hardest-Working Man in Showbusiness, the new Mr. Dynamite, the new King of Funk, the new Sex Machine, the new Mr. Please Please Please Please Her, and the new Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk.

With that, he passed on.

I closed his eyes, and then a white stretch limousine took me to the Harlem Apollo for my inaugural gig in each and all of those capacities.

What a night.


And so, Saudi Arabia has granted Israel permission to use Saudi airspace in order to bomb Iran.

Iran is many horrific things. But she is not Saudi Arabia.

Now Then, Now Then, How's About That, Then?

Jimmy Savile was the poster boy for the last programme of NHS privatisation, the attempt to make its funding dependent on private charity. The result was inevitable.

Not restricted to, but nevertheless including, his spending of every New Year's Eve with Margaret Thatcher, her eventual overriding of the entire vetting process in order to have him knighted at her fourth attempt, and her fawning video tribute to him during his second appearance on This Is Your Life.

Expect a lot more of this sort of thing in the privatised NHS that is already very far advanced due to the refusal of the BBC to report the process, a fault of which we might hope for some correction while Nick Robinson is incapacitated.

Likewise in the schools.

Take as deep a breath as you need to, and I know whereof I speak on that score. But take it, and then vote Labour.

Union of Right Forces, Indeed

Boris Nemtsov's party has one seat in a regional parliament, and that is it.

He was one of those figures in non-Western countries, such as we insist on defining Russia, whom Westerners wish that their own people liked a lot more than they do.

Westerners, and especially neocons, including those who prefer the term "liberal interventionists", or who insist that they are somehow "the decent Left". Those last tend to go on about Orwell. Quite.

Some person from MI6 was "interviewed" on this morning's Today programme. He managed to state, scandalously unchallenged, that Russia had sent "nuclear-armed planes over the Cornish coast".

Such is the level of falsehood, hysteria, and media collusion to which we must now accustom ourselves.

Notice, however, that neither the British, nor the American, nor even the Israeli spooks have managed to save the Telegraph. Or have they? Might they be the reason why it has not already gone under?

What times we live in. The Guardian is sitting pretty. So is the Morning Star. So, even, is the Socialist Worker. But the Daily and Sunday Telegraph live only in hope that one or more of those might buy them.

Black and White

At least four times, and probably five times, as many people demonstrated against the Elderly Far Rightists' Reunion in Newcastle today as turned up to that forlorn event itself.

Newcastle is about six per cent Muslim. I am not wishing Pegida on Bradford, Oldham, Birmingham or Tower Hamlets. But, tellingly, nor is it.

The Price of Kippers

That Nigel Farage went anywhere near Sarah Palin strongly suggests that Patrick O'Flynn must be on holiday. That Farage used the word "liberal" in a positive sense to such an audience strongly suggests something a great deal worse than that.

UKIP is now riven between at least one of its two MPs and everyone else in it. Not only on immigration, which no longer matters in the way that it did before we moved into a General Election year. But also on health, which really and truly does.

However, the big story about the little party is that it is committed to the Conservatives' programme of cuts. In that case, you might as well just vote Tory.

Vita, Dulcedo, Spes

The death of Fr Ted Hesburgh CSC has put Notre Dame in the news.

The best story about there goes back to the days of Italian immigration. A local Klan leader came along and assured them that, "We have nothing against Irish Catholics, it's those Roman Catholics we can't stand."

George McGovern seriously considered Fr Hesburgh as his running mate, and Blessed Paul VI would probably have let him do it. In the end, both Thomas Eagleton and Sargent Shriver were pro-life Catholics.

"McGovernization" is the opposite of what has happened to the Democratic Party since 1972. Has it become more concerned with issues of social justice and of peace than it was when it nominated McGovern?

But the tide may be turning at last.

Disgust is deep and wide at the acceptance of donations from foreign states and governments by the Clintons' "Foundation" even while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Is there not a word for that?

Alongside her record in Libya and especially in Benghazi, this may be enough to prevent the nomination of a person whose economic views are now on the Outer Right of the party and whose foreign policy views are simply outside it altogether.

She merely happens to support abortion in the way that the last two Republican Presidential nominees did. She merely happens to have undergone a very belated and half-hearted conversion to the same-sex marriage that Barack Obama opposed well into his time as President.

Eagleton and Shriver both lived long enough to have expressed views on same-sex marriage. We can guess, of course. But does anyone know of anything on the public record? The same goes for McGovern.

He, moreover, refused to have a pro-abortion plank in the 1972 platform, taking a "leave it to the states" view that is pro-life today, and which at least arguably would have been even then.

"Amnesty"? Yes. "Acid"? Possibly up to a point. But "abortion"? No, not really at all.

Clueless Cameron, Playing PR Politics

Tara McCormack writes:

On Tuesday, UK prime minister David Cameron announced that Britain would be sending 75 military advisors to Ukraine.

The announcement, which came out of the blue, seemed to have been an ad hoc and last-minute decision.

What probably motivated it was last week’s House of Lords report on the situation in Ukraine, in which it was suggested that Britain should take more of a diplomatic role in the crisis.

It is also notable that the recent Minsk ceasefire was brokered by Germany and France – and did not involve Britain.

The decision to send 75 trainers is, in military terms, meaningless. It can have little effect on the ground.

What it does do, however, is contribute to increasing hostility and tensions.

The Guardian editorial on the topic tied itself in knots acknowledging the futility of the move, yet at the same time attempting to applaud the gesture.

This is exactly what it is: a form of gesture politics that demonstrates with utmost clarity how unhinged, dangerous and immoral our current government is when it comes to foreign policy.

Sending several military advisers to Ukraine is gesture politics at its very worst.

It helps complicate the Ukraine crisis for no reason other than to make Cameron and pals feel as if they are doing something.

But, make no mistake, our government will take us further into conflict and sacrifice lives without a thought.

A Worrying Pattern

David Davis writes:

It is extraordinary that  Mohammed Emwazi, a man as evil and delusional as it is possible to be – a man who so callously beheads innocents in pursuit of flawed beliefs – escaped the attentions of the security services.

But the fact is, we now know that he didn’t: he was known to MI5, he was known to be associating with fanatics, and he was even on a terror watchlist.

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group.

Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, 

Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5.

Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance.

And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services.

He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies.

After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

The problem is not new. The fact is that the intelligence services have long utilised tactics that have proved ineffective.

The issue dates back at least to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, where the intelligence agencies relied on disruption and interference more than prosecution and imprisonment.

One of the results of this policy is that it leaves known terrorists both to carry out evil deeds and to recruit more conspirators.

As a result, the problem on the street grows progressively larger.

So every time this policy is pursued by a counter-terrorist or counter-insurgency organisation, it leads to greater risk to the public and a progressively more difficult task for agencies.

The number of “persons of interest” who remain in circulation grows beyond the ability of the agencies to monitor them.

When this happens, some slip through the net, as seems to have happened with Emwazi.

This policy also leads to a confusion of aims, with a conflict between the desire to keep sources in circulation, and pursuing and removing dangerous people from circulation.

A much better method is that currently used by the Americans, whose laws require them to pursue, convict and imprison those who endanger the public.

Unfortunately, for a variety of institutional reasons Britain has never been quite so robust in its counter-terrorism policies.

As it stands, there is little chance of any reform or review of our current tactics.

Parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) has announced that it will be looking into how Emwazi slipped so easily out of the country, and why MI5 didn’t act sooner to prevent him becoming radicalised.

But there are significant questions as to whether the ISC is capable of effectively investigating this latest failure.

To start with, the committee is currently leaderless now the chairman, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has stood down after being named in the latest cash-for-access allegations.

But the sad truth is that the committee has shown itself to be incapable of holding the intelligence agencies to account.

Whether it is the ISC’s review of the intelligence on the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005, which required a second report to deal with the first’s failings; its inability to detect the UK’s complicity in torture; its failures to correct Tony Blair’s dodgy dossier; or its lack of insight, let alone oversight, into the surveillance programmes revealed by the Snowden revelations – the ISC has been too timid and unwilling to criticise.

The time has come to learn from the pattern of failures across the globe and apply the appropriate lessons: namely that we need to prosecute, convict and imprison terrorists, and that all our policies should be bent firmly towards that end.

We should use “disruption and management” only as a very poor second choice.

As the US experience shows, this policy is both safer for citizens in the short term and more effective at destroying terrorist organisations in the long term.

Why We Need Blue Labour

Jon Wilson writes:

Opposition is the most intellectually creative time for any political party. But Blue Labour has been the only significant movement of new ideas to emerge during the last five years.

It began with Maurice Glasman’s anger one evening about Phillip Blond’s act of intellectual larceny, stealing ideas central to Labour’s tradition to forge his ‘Red Tory’ political brand.

Blond had a point of course. Glasman and many of the rest of us believe the Labour Party had been taken over by technocrats and neoclassical economists, and had abandoned its historic purpose of organising people to challenge the unrestrained power of capital.

In a series of conversations between politicians and academics from 2010 onwards, Blue Labour developed into a rich and well thought out set of political propositions.

Its point was to reassert the place of reciprocity, solidarity and, above all, friendship and conversation to Labour politics.

Never quite breaking through into the Labour mainstream, Blue Labour nonetheless simmers on.

There are annual conferences in Nottingham, and a strong network of supporters and sympathisers, most importantly the head of Labour’s policy review Jon Cruddas.

The volume of essays edited by Ian Geary and Adrian Pabst published next week, Blue Labour. Forging A New Politics is a good summary of the place the movement has ended up.

For serious ideas capable of renewing Labour’s politics, Blue Labour is still pretty much the only game in town.

Blue Labour too often gets reduced to a bid to win back Labour’s traditional working class, or to ‘family, faith and flag’. Both, as Rod Liddle points out in his comments on the book’s cover, fundamentally miss the point.

Blue Labour is more than a pitch to disgruntled voters or a pithy slogan. It is an attempt to fundamentally renew our political community.

Let me put it like this: it isn’t just that politics in Britain now is unpopular and out of touch.

It’s far more serious than that. Life in this country is good for many, OK for most, tough for lots; we get on with our everyday lives as usual, in many cases we have better living standards than thirty, forty, fifty years ago.

But we have no sense of being able to shape, collectively or individually, our own destiny.

Much of the time, what we now call ‘politics’ are a series of trivial arguments about minor differences in the rules the state uses to manage public institutions and distribute resources.

Let’s be honest, the difference between an Academy and Free School are marginal; Labour’s plans on the NHS are not radically different from the Tories.

Britain is stuck in a low-wage, low-skill economic trap, and there’s no sign institutions to get us out are going to come soon.

Every kind of organisation, whether big business or the public sector is governed by a kind of amoral managerialism that leaves no room for public discussion or argument.

The end of political community in Britain came with the extinction of places in which it was possible for different interests to meet, to debate, and from their differences forge some kind of common good.

Blue Labour wants that political community to be renewed through a reconfiguration of political and economic institutions, so our schools and hospitals as well as businesses and banks are ruled by negotiation between otherwise conflicting interests.

The Blue Labour ‘vision’ is of a polity ruled by conversation in which the sense of mutual responsibility can develop.

For me, the key Blue Labour ‘policy’ is worker representation on company boards.

If a third of directors in big firms were elected by employees, a lot that’s wrong with the British economy would come right.

As David Lammy puts it in his piece in the book, it’s about creating institutions where a mutual sense of obligation can emerge: ‘Workers taking responsibility for the success of firms. Firms taking responsibility for the well-being of workers.’

Blue Labour’s greatest challenge comes with its critique of the belief that a supposedly enlightened elite (from the left or right) can dominate the rest of the population for our own benefit.

Blue Labour’s radically democratic instincts means it takes seriously what’s close up, and that often means the ‘conservative’ themes of work and family.

Most of us don’t want an abstract idea of progress, we want things more immediate and real: we want to be treated like free, dignified human beings, to have a satisfying job that enables us to make our own course in life to some extent, to have fun and have the chance to look after our families.

Having your school assume that your child can do as well as the posh kids, not being humiliated by your boss, and instead having your firm invest heavily in vocational training all take negotiation by people who share our interests nearby.

The Blue Labour argument is that you can’t have collective action without conversation. Britain’s institutions need to be rebuild so elites manage them in dialogue with the rest of us.

If the question was merely to persuade a mythical lost demographic to change parties, all Labour need do is release a few reassuringly socially-conservative sound-bites.

That isn’t Blue Labour, it is a far more important challenge.

At its core is something that matters beyond the missing C2s – the renewal of Britain as a political community, in which people are collectively capable of shaping our destiny, through debate, conversation and argument.

If politicians are bold enough, that surely has far wider appeal.

Best Tackle Insecurities

Thom Brooks writes:

An election is brewing, but will it be the public’s cup of tea?

It seems everyone knows that May 7 will be unlike any other general election in recent memory. But where most disagree is why.

Some point out rising support for newer parties or to the public’s growing disillusionment with politics as usual.

But new parties tend to lose support when elections draw closer and voters examine such groups more closely.

High turnout in Scotland’s independence referendum vote showed that people care – and especially when there’s something worth caring about like keeping the ‘United’ in the ‘United Kingdom’.

So what’s really different about the general election later this spring?

One difference is we’ve known the date for nearly five years because of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act.

This has had the unwelcome effect of ensuring we’re in for a dull few weeks as the government virtually waits out its remaining legislative timetable to get on with election campaigning.

Surely priorities are in the wrong order here.

A second difference is we can expect a longer than usual campaign. But when did the public call out for more campaigning?

Someone in the coalition government is clearly not listening. Or perhaps enjoying the sound of their own voices too much.

What makes 2015 unlike past elections is the increasing rejection of the status quo.

Keeping calm about carrying on is no longer in season. Change is now in fashion.

Voters are looking for something new – and pollsters are desperate to uncover what this is.

So let me offer some advice free of charge to them. For now.

The big election issue this year can be summed up in one word: Insecurity.

The party that best tackles the insecurity voters have about the future will enter 10 Downing Street this May.

Insecurity is found everywhere. Ask around. The economy is a real concern for a lot of people.

We’re told there is a recovery under way, but the only recovery many can find is a return to the big bonuses for the few at the expense of the many.

Maybe the government was right to say ‘we’ are all in this together. But they should have said ‘we’ does not include most of us.

People have real concerns about remaining in work our finding a new job.

The government might say unemployment is down, but you hear little about what kinds of jobs are on the up such as zero-hour contracts and work paying below a living wage.

Job insecurities like these are not always the good news the Chancellor is too quick to trumpet, sometimes hitting a sour note (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

An economy working for all. Now that’s a campaign slogan worth chanting loudly.

Insecurity extends to other issues, too.

The sudden changes to education policy including how schools are funded and assessed nationally are a real concern for parents, children and teachers alike.

And that’s before we turn to the major changes introduced to how higher education is funded by trebling student fees.

Remember when Nick Clegg argued in 2010 he’d lead a party of no more broken promises? The problem for Liberal Democrats is many of us do.

Immigration might rank high because it encapsulates so well many of the insecurities people have about other things.

The evidence makes clear migrants are job creators bringing much needed skills and experiences supporting economic growth.

But many continue to fear they bring the opposite adding to general insecurities about finding affordable housing, decent jobs and threaten local economies in addition to additional insecurities about integration.

Tackling voter insecurity about the future is about addressing concerns in these areas and more.

It is this deeper need for a politics that can rise to meet the aspirations that citizens have for the short-term and beyond.

Policies by alternative parties in the political wilderness can be easy to sell where there brands have been neither tested nor tasted.

Insecurity can be overcome by improving confidence.

This is about more than making people more confident about their present, but offering a future worth looking forward to.

Voters don’t want more of the same. David Cameron hasn’t got this message.

The Tory billboards show a bumpy road slithering into the future asking us to vote for them if we are happy with things as they are.

They should show greater care for what they wish for.

Change is what voters want. The best cure for disillusionment and alienation is to give people something to believe in again.

Something we can all connect with. A politics of hope that’s realistic and credible could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

This political vision is best promoted by the Labour Party although it remains to be seen if it can provide the cure for voter insecurities it promises.

Ed Miliband has defended a One Nation politics that’s about a vision to be shared by all citizens in all communities to change our country together.

He was first to identify the squeezed middle many of us find ourselves in and the cost of living crisis we endure under the current government. Working hard doesn’t pay like it used to.

Miliband acknowledges the voter insecurity that is clearly present, but so often overlooked. He deserves more credit for this than he receives. Knowing is at least half the battle.

There is a long election campaign kicking off next month

The key to which party will win might be decided by which can best tackle insecurities across a range of issues – and Labour currently holds an advantage that it must work hard at to maintain.

It may be too early to call, but if I’m right I told you so.

Thursday 26 February 2015

Britain’s Many Wars of Choice

Marc Champion bemoans the shrinking U.K. military budget:
Perhaps this rapid British retrenchment was inevitable given the severity of the financial crisis and the still raw memory of overreach in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet defense budgets should be determined by security needs, not the other way around [bold mine-DL].

With no political party arguing for U.K. defense ahead of May’s election, the outcome is likely to be a weaker, more insular Britain [bold mine-DL], increasingly undeserving of its permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

It’s true that military budgets should be determined by security needs, but then the British military hasn’t needed to be involved in any of the fights it has been in over the last fifteen years.

British security wasn’t actually threatened by Iraq, but that didn’t stop its government from more than a decade-long involvement in the “no-fly zones” and its participation in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Likewise, it didn’t need to aid in the overthrow of the Libyan government, but Cameron pushed for intervention there.

Once again, Britain is involved in a new war in Iraq, this time against ISIS, that it doesn’t need to be fighting.

The problem here isn’t that its contribution is a token one, but that there is no reason for Britain to be participating in the first place.

All of Britain’s wars over the last two decades have been wars of choice that it could have avoided, but which it chose to fight for what were usually dubious or bad reasons.

That has understandably made the British public sick of military action overseas, and has made it much easier politically to cut funding for the military.

If Britain were interested in improving its conventional capabilities, the first thing it ought to do is to scrap a costly nuclear arsenal that it also doesn’t really need, but which it hangs on to for reasons of prestige and status.

Of course, this is the last thing that British hawks would ever consider doing, and so the cuts come at the expense of Britain’s conventional forces.

Blue Labour: Forging a New Politics

Despite not being published until Saturday.

"#1 Best Seller," according to Amazon. Quite right, too. All the usual suspects, all on fine form.

The circle with the most intellectual influence on Ed Miliband promises to make his one of the great Premierships.

Read it.

Not Nat

Have you ever seen an interview with Iain Duncan Smith? They are extremely rare, because he is so bad at them.

Even when they occur, such as some months ago on Newsnight, he is never asked about his own area of responsibility.

The same was true when he was on Question Time last year. There were no questions on his supposedly popular benefits policies. Not one.

Come to that, it is clear, on the rare occasions that Prime Minister's Questions is still held, that David Cameron cannot even go through the motions of defending what is in any case his indefensible record.

That is why he, too, almost never gives interviews, and is running scared of the Leaders' Debates.

No one from his party would appear on this afternoon's Daily Politics to answer Andrew Neil's questions about immigration.

But we are told that Natalie Bennett is the one with the problem? Of course she is. Of course.

The End of Thatcher, The End of Thatcherism

After today, she ought to have no remaining reputation whatever.

The story is being underplayed in order to protect every official and unofficial Tory club in the land from having to burn its picture of her.

But then, the owner-occupying majority of households has turned out to be a single-generation aberration.

More than anything else, this is the end of Thatcherism.

If even that can fall, then there is no reason to fight shy of the reversal of any other aspect.

Let the Counterrevolution begin.

No Ifs, No Buts

The reduction of net immigration per year "to the tens of thousands" was David Cameron's own choice of ground.

On that ground, he has been beaten to a pulp.

There is no other way of looking at this. None.

Clean As A Whistle

Whistle-blowers are worth their weight in gold, though governments certainly don’t think so.

Some of the most important things we’ve learnt about the nature of the societies we live in have come exclusively from whistle-blowers, without whose help the democratic holding of governments to account in critical areas of policy would have been impossible.

The Wikileaks release of classified diplomatic and military data, mass surveillance of Western populations, systemic tax evasion via establishment banks, the MPs’ expenses scam, and now the leaking of hundreds of dossiers and cables from the world’s major intelligence services – let alone dozens of smaller leaks by principled individuals scandalised by the behaviour of superiors – have all exposed a shocking misconduct by State institutions which would have gone unaddressed but for the bravery of a few honest persons who are then rewarded for their pains by being hounded out of a job, threatened, and even prosecuted.

Since whistle-blowers are far more effective than parliaments at exposing serious misconduct in State or quasi-State fora, let alone in a wide variety of private workplaces,assuring whistle-blowers of full protection becomes a crucial part of the democratic audit.

The relevant UK law today, the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) 1998, brought about a 11-fold increase in public interest disclosures to 1,761 by 2009, but at the same time employees lodged over 9,000 claims alleging victimisation for whistle-blowing.

That suggests that victimisation against genuine whistle-blowers should be made a criminal offence.

A series of recent cases illustrates this.

A lawyer at HMRC found that his boss, David Hartnett, was having ‘sweetheart’ sessions with Goldman Sachs allowing the bank to be relieved of £10m in tax and using PIDA wrote privately to the National Audit Office.

But when HMRC found out they went berserk and using the anti-terrorist Regulation of Investigatory Powers act (yes!) had his belongings, emails and phone calls searched, suspended him from his job and left him a broken man.

When the PAC chair then asked Lin Homer, head of HMRC, never again to use anti-terror laws against whistle-blowers, she refused.

It’s not just HMRC or the gagging clauses in the NHS.

The policeman who blew the whistle in March last year on the Met police’s massaging of crime figures was driven to resign, citing his ‘treatment as a result of making disclosures in good faith and in the public interest’.

He had been placed under police investigation for ‘misconduct’.

Or take the case of the Mid-Staffs whistle-blower, Julie Bailey, who had to move home after being insulted, threatened and attacked as a liar.

Her dead mother’s grave was desecrated because she had ‘brought shame on the town’.

A Failed, Pariah State

Henry Williams takes apart the notion that IS is going to invade Europe through Libya, while Brendan O'Neill writes:

There are many good reasons to boot David Cameron out of Downing Street in May. Here’s one of the best: Libya.

In September 2011, Cameron, flanked by then French president Nicholas Sarkozy, gave a speech in Benghazi at which he congratulated both himself and the Libyan people — but mainly himself — for liberating Libya.

NATO airstrikes, which had started six months earlier, had helped rid Libya of Gaddafi and created the conditions for ‘building democracy’, said Cameron.

Where Gaddafi had threatened to turn Libya ‘into a hell’ and a ‘failed pariah state festering on Europe’s southern border’, our airstrikes saved it, unleashing a ‘new era’, Cameron trilled — to the cheering not only of Gaddafi-hating rebel groups, but of the British press, too.

The Guardian congratulated Cameron for ‘changing the course of history’. ‘It is [now] difficult to argue with the stance Britain and France took on Libya back in March [2011]’, said its chief political correspondent.

And now?

Three-and-a-half years on, how’s life in the nation which, according to Conservative Party insiders, the PM thought of as his ‘happy place’, the one unquestionably good thing he did in power?

It isn’t happy, that’s for sure. It’s a disaster zone, a deeply divided, collapsing state in which vast swathes of territory are controlled by Islamists and even groups with links to the Islamic State.

It is, in short, the very thing Cameron said he’d prevent it from becoming: ‘a hell’, a ‘failed pariah state festering on Europe’s southern border’.

The recent beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by a Libyan group claiming links with the Islamic State, and the subsequent Egyptian airstrikes, have focused global eyes on ‘liberated Libya’.

The same narrative is being pushed in much of the Western media and by Western politicians: a story of the spread of the Islamic State, its leaking from Iraq across the Middle East and north Africa, as if it were a Crusades-in-reverse, marching, black flag in hand, across the Muslim world towards the top of Libya and the Mediterranean, eyeing Europe.

Such a narrative misses the real dynamic here, which is not the strength of the Islamic State but rather the vacuum-generating interventionism of the West, the gaping absences of power left by strategy-free Western action, most recently in Libya, into which Islamist forces gratefully and opportunistically move.

The hell of Libya isn’t a story of an IS takeover, but one of the West’s evacuation of the one solid source of authority in Libya, which acted as a green light to all kinds of divergent actors to make a stab for influence.

If IS is now active in Libya, this represents merely a mutation of a situation that’s been brewing in the three years since Cameron’s ‘liberation’, rather than signifying any dramatic new development.

The new era in Libya is one of vicious factionalism, war and a massive exodus — it’s estimated that, incredibly, almost a third of the country’s population has fled to Tunisia over the past 18 months.

Libya now has two governments, with a third possibly emerging.

Libya Dawn, an Islamist-dominated outfit, rules in Tripoli, the capital, and considers itself the legitimate government.

Dignity, a largely secular grouping, is based in the eastern port city of Tobruk, and claims to govern the country from there. Dignity is recognised as the legitimate government by the international community.

This despite the fact that the June 2014 election that it won had a turnout of 18 per cent, down from the 60 per cent of the first post-Gaddafi elections of 2012 (‘reflecting growing disgust with the authorities’ failure to govern’, said The Economist), and despite the fact that many Libyans were prevented from voting in that election for ‘security reasons’: conveniently enough, these were mainly Libyans based in unstable Islamist strongholds, very unlikely to vote for Dignity.

As of May 2014, these two ‘governments’ have been at war, with an incredible patchwork of armies and militias pitched against each other.

Everything you need to know about the West’s favoured government, Dignity, and about the West’s creation of a ‘new era’ in Libya, is contained in the fact that Dignity now meets in a heavily guarded former Greek car ferry in Tobruk harbour.

It’s far from dignified.

Then there’s the third ‘government’, the radical Islamist one.

Based in Benghazi, this is a self-styled emirate, declared by the jihadists of Ansar al-Sharia after they seized Benghazi last summer.

Elements of Ansar al-Sharia now swear loyalty to the Islamic State and control some important zones, including the eastern coastal city of Derna — hence this development being more a mutation of the post-2011 disarray rather than an IS takeover.

As of summer last year, the West’s favoured, ferry-dwelling government of Dignity has been locked in a brutal conflict with both the Islamist-leaning Libya Dawn ‘government’ in Tripoli and with the emirate of Benghazi and numerous other jihadist forces in the east.

Three thousand people have died; millions have fled.

All of this is a direct consequence of the West’s bombing campaign.

In sweeping aside the one force that had, for better or worse (worse, in spiked’s view), demonstrated a capacity over 40 years for holding together the various tribes and groupings of Libya under a system of three-pronged federalism — that is, the Gaddafi regime — without giving a moment’s thought to what system might replace it, Britain, France and the US turned Libya from a functioning authoritarian state into a gaping hole in north Africa, bereft of the old institutions and open for power grabs of an inevitably violent nature.

This was entirely predictable.

Indeed, we at spiked, on the very day the bombing started in 2011, described this act of Western intervention as ‘the barbarism of buffoons’ and said it would be ‘bad for the Libyan people and for global stability’.

This is not because we held a candle for Gaddafi — far from it — but because we recognised that external powers’ overnight removal from power of a man and a system that influenced every aspect of politics and public life in Libya, with no devotion of resources to the cultivation of any convincing alternative, was a recipe for profound disarray.

The intervention in Libya exposed the extent to which Western foreign policy has become unanchored, cut adrift from any clear strategies or aims on the part of Western governments or from any cool calculation of what is in their best geopolitical interests - hence the Libya venture benefitted neither the Libyan people nor Western powers.

But it’s even worse than the West creating the ground for war: the West has also exacerbated the war now ripping Libya in two.

The Dignity ‘government’ on its ferry is cajoled both directly and indirectly by Western forces.

When it launched Operation Dignity in May last year — its large-scale assault on Islamist groups, primarily the ones in Benghazi — the US ambassador to Libya said ‘[Dignity’s] enemies are our enemies’.

Dignity also receives weapons and air back-up from America’s allies of Egypt and the UAE, most likely with America’s approval.

Having created the conditions for instability, outside forces now deepen that instability through pushing their preferred Libyan element to push into Benghazi and then after than onwards to Tripoli.

So, this is Cameron’s ‘happy place’.

This is the humanitarian interventionists’ latest humanitarian achievement: a torn-assunder nation in which thousands are dying and millions are fleeing.

If your ‘humanitarianism’ creates such spectacular humanitarian crises, you need urgently to rethink everything about your life.

And it isn’t only Cameron: 557 MPs voted for his Libya campaign, with only 13 rejecting it - so all the parties backed the bombing.

Both the right-wing and liberal media backed him, too — the former hoping this would be the Tories’ ‘Blair in Kosovo’ moment, the latter believing we were seeing a return to what they view as the pre-Iraq, pre-Bush ‘good wars’ which, in the words of the Guardian, mean it is often ‘right to intervene in the affairs of a sovereign state’.

All these people, all these nodding MPs and iPad imperialists, have big, bloody questions to answer.

But they aren’t answering them. Or even asking them.

This is perhaps the most shocking thing about the Libya disaster: the lack of debate, its glaring absence from the pre-election discussion.

To plummet a country into a nightmare of war and exodus is bad enough — to fail to take responsibility for having done so is worse.

This unwillingness to reckon, to discuss, to admit, cuts to the immoral heart of ‘humanitarian interventionism’.

Such meddling is driven, not by realpolitik or clear, self-interested geopolitical aims, but by narcissism, a need among both Western politicians and observers for some momentum in this era of otherwise flat politics and unstable public life.

With domestic public life increasingly bereft of the old certainties, and even of any accepted view of what’s right and wrong, many in the West seek to perform big, meaningful politics on the rubble-strewn stage of other people’s conflicts — ‘we intervene not to save others, but to save ourselves’, as Michael Ignatieff put it.

And when that’s the driving force — the short-term need for a moral thrill among at-sea Western observers, not any longer-term plan for reorganising foreign affairs to old-style Western interests — then no reckoning is necessary, or even possible.

For in terms of providing the iPad imperialists of the West with some momentary meaning, a brief ‘happy place’, the attack on Libya was, perversely, a success.

For spiked, the problem with such ‘humanitarianism’ is that it’s the polar opposite of humanism.

Humanism recognises that people, being conscious agents of change, subjective actors, have it within their power to transform their circumstances and create new, better, democratic nations; indeed, democracy is precisely something that a people creates for itself, in the very act of fighting for and designing it.

‘Humanitarianism’, in stark, bloody contrast, treats people not as the subjects of history but as the objects of misfortune, battered beings in need of saving by outsiders.

It reduces them to the geopolitical equivalent of those white-furred seals requiring rescue from the hunter’s club.

It’s paternalistic, anti-human, and far from saving the objects of its globe-trotting pity it condemns them to yet more war and illiberalism, as in Libya.

It has dire, barbaric consequences that we should be talking about.

Forget the NHS [steady on, now], the tax-dodging controversy, and all the small-fry stuff — if you want to punish Cameron, punish him for this, for destroying a country, condemning its inhabitants to live in chaos, and then not even having the moral backbone to talk about it.

Most Labour MPs voted for this war. But Labour did not actually do it, just as the Conservatives, most of whom voted for the Iraq War that would not have passed without them, did not actually do it.

Saint Porphyry of Gaza

"Quod Scripsi, Scripsi"?

Manuscript amendments are necessarily rare, but yesterday saw what looked like a textbook example of one.

That was the attempt to insert into the proposed ban on MPs' paid directorships and consultancies, a ban on MPs' working as paid trade union officials.

In point of fact, no MP is a paid trade union official. On that one, David Cameron is living in the fairly distant past.

But the Speaker refused to accept a manuscript amendment by the proposer in order to give the Prime Minister his stated price for his support.


A Burning Issue

You probably did not see on television yesterday's huge demonstration against the Government's theft of the firemen's pensions and against Penny Mordaunt's flagrant lying to Parliament about it. You would have had to have watched RT.

But it happened. Kate Hoey addressed the rally and called for Labour to make a manifesto commitment to right the wrong. Quite right.

The FBU, like the RMT not affiliated to Labour since the Blair Dark Age but affiliated to the LRC that is constitutionally committed to the election of a Labour Government, ought to promise to fund any Labour candidate who made that commitment in his or her Election Address.

As should the RMT, on the renationalisation of the railways and on various matters of dispute with, especially, Transport for London, at least in that latter case with regard to those seeking election in London.

Now, when are the unions going to buy the Telegraph?

"A Friend In Need"?

How is Ukraine any such thing? She last did anything much, if at all, for us 70 years ago. When, for fairly obvious reasons, so did Russia.

But, unlike the Russians, there were an awful lot of Ukrainians on the other side. In recent weeks, those who revere that memory have marched to our Cenotaph and laid a wreath at it in honour of their heroes. Give that a moment to sink in.

If anything, Russia's support for the war in Afghanistan (whatever one might think of that in itself), and for the general struggle against the Islamist terrorism of which she is a major target but which in its Crimean Tatar form actively supports the coup in Ukraine, makes Russia a far more recent, and arguably an ongoing, ally.

In 1945, it mattered to us whether the swastika or the hammer and sickle, both of which flags have been dug out by people who had clearly never stopped having them to hand, flew over the Donbass. But that is not at all our concern in 2015.

The coup-installed President of Ukraine has been to Abu Dhabi to see about buying weapons from the Emiratis who have given up bombing the IS that, with the other Sunni monarchies, they were so instrumental in creating.

A dozen years ago, certain newspapers, at least one of which is now fighting for its life, poured scorn on schoolboy demonstrators against the Iraq War very soon after having gleefully published pictures of tiny children waving placards in support of foxhunting.

But that, grave though it was and right though the youths were, was as nothing next to the prospect of everlasting involvement in The War Among The Wahhabi, or, without exaggeration, to World War Three against Russia.

We now see the emerging connections between those for whom we should be fighting in those two ostensibly distinct conflagrations.

We are already providing air support to one lot of the Wahhabi (while continuing to define as our enemies the Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese fighters on the ground in defence of Christians and others), and we are now, in time-honoured fashion, sending our troops to "train" the blackshirts who have taken power in Ukraine.

No one is more entitled than teenage boys to object most vigorously to these actual and putative developments. I am starting to wonder what is taking them so long to do so. I am even starting to wonder whether these follies would be considered at all if the voting age were to be lowered to 16.

BBC Trust

The television license fee should be made optional, with as many adults as wished to pay it at any given address free to do so, including those who did not own a television set but who greatly valued, for example, Radio Four.

The Trustees would then be elected by and from among the license-payers. Candidates would have to be sufficiently independent to qualify in principle for the remuneration panels of their local authorities. Each license-payer would vote for one, with the top two elected.

The electoral areas would be Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and each of the nine English regions. The Chairman would be appointed by the relevant Secretary of State, with the approval of the relevant Select Committee. And the term of office would be four years.

One would not need to be a member of the Trust (i.e., a license-payer) to listen to or watch the BBC, just as one does not need to be a member of the National Trust to visit its properties, or a member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to be rescued by its boats.

The Quacks Are Showing

Since David Tredinnick believes in homoeopathy, he must also believe in astrology.

But then, Jeremy Hunt is another enthusiast for homoeopathy, while support for it is also the formal policy of UKIP. So much so, that  Tredinnick, who was long ago one of the original cash-for-questions MPs, has openly worried in the past that the Conservative Party was being “outflanked” on this issue.

At least, in itself, homoeopathy usually does no harm, although of course harm can be and is done by a refusal to use real medicine in preference for plain water. But UKIP is also in favour of herbalism, which is a whole other story. And of Traditional Chinese Medicine, but that, as we shall see, is different.

There can be no such thing as “complementary medicine” or “alternative medicine”. If it works, then it is just medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is medicine, correctly so called. It has nothing to do with philosophical systems that, as set out below, are inimical to science and depend on the concepts the condemnation of which, by the Church as such, uniquely made possible the emergence of science.

Rather, it expresses a philosophical culture particularly open to completion by, in, through and as classical, historic, mainstream Christianity. Its ethos of treating the whole person used to be called “General Practice” not very long ago. Unlike quackery, it not only requires for public safety, but demands of its own merit, to be regulated by statute.

The current popularity of such things as homoeopathy and herbalism is, like so much else, the result of our culture’s having moved away from the uniquely Christian rejection of humanity’s otherwise universal concepts of eternalism (that the universe has always existed and always will), animism (that the universe is a living thing, an animal), pantheism (that the universe is itself the ultimate reality, God), cyclicism (that everything which happens has already happened in exactly the same form, and will happen again in exactly the same form, an infinite number of times) and astrology (that events on earth are controlled by the movements of celestial bodies).

Science cannot prove that these closely interrelated things are not the case; it simply has to presuppose their falseness, first established in thirteenth-century Paris when their Aristotelian expression was condemned at the Sorbonne specifically by ecclesial authority, and specifically by reference to the Biblical Revelation.

This is why science as we now understand the term never originated anywhere other than in Medieval Europe. And it is why science did not last, or flower as it might have done, in the Islamic world: whereas Christianity sees the rationally investigable order in the universe as reflecting and expressing the rationality of the Creator, the Qur’an repeatedly depicts the will of Allah as capricious.

Although Arab science led the world between the eighth and the thirteenth centuries (above all in astronomy, mathematics and medicine), it then went into sharp decline as Christian Europe surged ahead at the start of the process that is still going on, and which has now spread throughout the world, including to the Arabs. How and why did this happen?

In part, it was because the Catholic Church insisted on Her independence from the Sate, initially with regard to the appointment of bishops, but rapidly, once the principle had been established, in other areas as well. Under Her aegis, universities, cities and what we would now call professional bodies became legal entities in their own right, providing forums for free discussion. Islam simply did not, and does not, work like that.

But mostly, there was the impact of theological beliefs on the ability to do science. Many of the Arab scientists were in fact Christians, even if heterodox ones such as the translator ibn Masawagh of Baghdad, and his pupil Hunayan, who translated all the known Greek works into Arabic and Syriac, as well writing many medical treatises. The Christian physician ibn al-Quff of Damascus wrote one of the first treatises on surgery.

In Christianity, it is because God is both rational and free that His universe is both orderly and contingent.

Since God is free, the universe is not necessary, and could have been otherwise: He need not have created it, and He might have created it any other way that He chose.

If God were rational but not free, then His universe would be necessary and could not be other than it is, so that there would be no need to conduct experiments in order to understand it.

Or, if God were free but not rational, then His universe would be so chaotic that there would be no observable order within it, and so science would again be impossible.

In Islam, however, everything is directly dependent on the will of Allah, a view that weakens any expectation to observe rationality and order in the universe, even before considering how capricious that will is presented as being in several verses of the Qur’an.

Thus was science arrested in the Islamic world even as it soared away in Christendom. The contemporary resonance could not be clearer to and for those of us who care profoundly about science.

For the same reasons, there never really was all that much scientific progress in the Soviet Union.

No less ruinous than the capriciousness of the Qur’anic Creator was dialectical materialism. It begat Lysenkoism, Japheticism, and Kuznetsov’s 1952 attempt to enforce “the total renunciation of Einstein’s conception, without compromise or half-measure.”

It was practically impossible for Soviet scientists to communicate or interact with those from several major countries. There was a heavy dependence on Western equipment. Even the atomic bomb and the space programme relied greatly on previous American and German work. We all know about Soviet computers, and about Soviet attempts to copy Concorde.

When British scientists were at work on penicillin, their Soviet counterparts were actually boasting that they were close to perfecting a synthetic drug “likely to have curative properties not inferior to those of Peruvian balsam.” Balsam of Peru was introduced to Europe by Nicholas Monardes of Seville. In 1560.

Forget the earth’s being flat. No one ever believed that, at least until the rise of modern Flat Earth Societies. The suggestion that this was the Medieval view can be dated precisely to January 1828, which saw the publication of The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.

That was as highly fictionalised an account as one would expect from its author, Washington Irving, who also gave the world those noted works of historical realism, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as well as popularising the use of “Gotham” to refer to the City of New York.

Forget Galileo, who was never imprisoned, who was never excommunicated, who died professing the Faith, the daughter who cared for whom in his last days became a nun, and so on.

His error was not to say that the earth moved around the sun (although he could not prove that scientifically at the time - we happen to know, centuries later, that he was right, but that is not the same thing), but that the Church should teach heliocentrism as proved out of Scripture, which is in fact silent on the subject.

His was not an erroneously low, but an erroneously high, doctrine of Biblical and ecclesial authority.

In the absence of scientific proof in his own age, he wanted his theory, which turns out to have been scientifically correct but which neither he nor anyone else could have known to have been so in those days, to be taught and believed on that authority, the authority of the Bible as interpreted by the Catholic Church.

That, the Church refused to do. Who was on the side of science in that dispute? I think that we can all see the answer to that one. As, in the end, did he, dying as he did a Catholic in good standing.

Whereas the abuses of the Soviet system really did happen. Well within living memory.

By turning away from ecclesial authority’s articulation and protection of the Biblical Revelation, and by turning away from the Biblical Revelation itself, the civilisation that these things called into being has turned away from science and towards eternalism, animism, pantheism, cyclicism and astrology, to the extent that a few years ago a Doctorate of Science was awarded to François Mitterand’s astrologer by, of all institutions, the Sorbonne.

Furthermore, eternalism, animism, pantheism, cyclicism and astrology, inseparable from each other, underlie, among so very much else, each and every form of “alternative medicine” or “complementary medicine”, contradictions in terms that these are.

But homeopathy, at least, is still being funded by the NHS. Allegedly, we cannot afford various actual medicines. Yet somehow we can afford this.

And IVF, women on which very occasionally become pregnant for no other reason than that they would have done anyway, just as people taking homoeopathic very occasionally get better for no other reason than that they would have done anyway.

And embryonic stem cell “research”, which has never yielded the slightest thing, whereas ethically unproblematic adult and cord blood stem cell research is working wonders, and would work who knows how many more if it did not struggle so hard to secure funding.

And Ritalin, the definition of simple maleness as a medicable condition to match the definition of simple femaleness as a medicable condition to be treated by means of the Pill, which on any objective analysis is a poison rather a medicine, since it stops health body parts from doing exactly what they are supposed to do.

It does so, moreover, purely so that women might be permanently available for the sexual gratification of men, a level of misogyny matched only by the definition of the preborn child as simultaneously insentient and “part of a woman’s body”.

Is it the whole of a woman’s body that is insentient? Or it is only the parts most directly connected with reproduction?

Jeremy Hunt is manifestly happy with all of these, too. As is David Tredinnick. No doubt, so is UKIP.

The  position of all of them is that of Islamic fundamentalism avant et après la lettre; the position of the Soviet Union: the exaltation of ideology, in this case that “the market” must have what ever “the market” wants, over science.

That exaltation is always and everywhere the ruin of the latter. Since it rejects the only intellectual and cultural framework within which science has ever been possible. Or ever can be.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Something To Mill Over

George Galloway was promised what amounted to a clear run at Bradford West if he stayed out of the London Mayoral Election. 

In return, the braderi, almost certainly in the patient person of Imran Hussein, would have been given the seat via the local Labour Party when Galloway retired, probably in 2020.

But somehow, mostly by means of an all-women shortlist, a London Somali ally of Oona King's was selected instead.

Wheels have turned at the speed of light, and she has withdrawn within a couple of days of selection.

The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party will now put things back in their allotted place.

But if any of this sounds murky, then check out what is going on in the Conservative Association in Kensington.

And remember, or even just try to comprehend, that Bradford West was a Conservative target seat as recently as 2010.