Wednesday 29 July 2015

The Lanchester Review: Jeremy Corbyn and the Revival of the Labour Right

My take:

I had wanted to support Andy Burnham. But I am disabled, and he did not think me worth voting for. So, Jeremy Corbyn it is, then. The personal is political. What is more, the score between New Labour and the Conservatives now stands at a mere 3-2. The last New Labour victory was 10 years ago, or 15 years before the next General Election. It is time to try something new.

On the scale of public ownership and on the extent of trade union power, Corbyn is well to the right of Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home. That is not hyperbole. It is fact. As it is that Margaret Thatcher presided over publicly owned railways, and over a 60p top rate of income tax well above that proposed by Corbyn. And as it is that Tony Blair promised to renationalise the railways in the 1997 manifesto and in several speeches leading up to that General Election.

Why would Corbyn’s position not be the centre ground? You can have all the private health insurance that you like. But if you were hit by a car, or if you collapsed in the street with a heart attack, then someone would call 999, and an NHS ambulance would take you to an NHS hospital.

That that call would certainly be made, even by a perfect stranger, is testament to the definition of the United Kingdom’s culture by the social democratic legacy of previous Labour Governments, supremely that which was elected in 1945. Everyone benefits, of all classes and in all areas. Such was always the intention behind it. This is the only British identity that almost anyone alive can remember, or that almost any of the rest would wish to have.

Today, however, it is under threat as never before. Even in the 1980s, nothing came close to the scale of the attack, not merely since the recent General Election, but since that of 2010; under the Liberal Democrats, who never moderated a thing, as much as under the Conservatives. The election of Tim Farron augurs well, as does the vote of all eight Liberal Democrat MPs against the Welfare Reform Bill. But we must not let that recent party of government off the hook for its numerous offences.

Labour grew from many and various roots. Trade union and co-operative. Radical Liberal and Tory populist. Christian Socialist and Social Catholic. Fabian and even, in the space both on Labour’s fringes and on Marxism’s fringes, Marxist, subject to the balancing and moderating influences of the others. Giving the wrong answers does not preclude asking the right questions. Much of the Fabian tradition also gives the wrong answers.

We need a broad alliance between the urban and the rural, the metropolitan and the provincial, the secular and the religious, the socially liberal and the socially conservative. An alliance including all ethnic groups, all social classes, and all parts of the country: One Nation.

Labour has always had a right wing. It always will have. It always should have. People who would prefer the purity of a Stalinist, Trotskyist or Maoist groupuscule have never been short of options. The point is to have a right wing of the Labour Party, and not merely a right wing in the Labour Party. The Leadership of Jeremy Corbyn will achieve that.

Who are the hundreds of thousands who have signed up in order to vote for him? Are there that many Stalinists, Trotskyists and Maoists in Britain, collectively more numerous than the entire membership of the Conservative Party? Are there that many sad acts who do whatever Toby Young tells them? Of course not. And if they are not already, then most of these mainstream, moderate centrists will become full members of the Labour Party once the mainstream, moderate and centrist Corbyn is Leader, involving themselves fully in local party activity even where they have to organise it entirely from scratch.

By Christmas, every Constituency Labour Party will contain a majority that had joined specifically because of Jeremy Corbyn. Abstentionist MPs who had thought that you had meal tickets for life, you need to start looking for jobs. Although good luck to most of you with that. Tony Blair used to talk about “literally a new party”, but it is Corbyn who has already created one.

From the Trade Union Bill, to public ownership, to the proper centrality of rail and coal, to foreign policy and wars, to Trident, to civil liberties, to the case against the EU from the very start, Corbyn’s views are the views of Peter Hitchens. Many of them are also shared by Peter Oborne and by several other commentators who could hardly be described as “Loony Left”.

Furthermore, they are popular. For example, the renationalisation of the railways is consistently supported by between 65 and 70 per cent of the population, stable across all parts of the country and across the electoral bases of all parties. There is strong public support for rent controls, and for a mandatory Living Wage properly so called. Defending the NHS is massively popular.

But even if none of those things were the case, a political party does not exist purely in order to follow public opinion. What would be the point of the Labour Party if it did not campaign for such policies as these? Or if it did not vote to defend the best legacy of Blair, his drastic reduction in child poverty?

Figures of such Olympian self-regard as to profess that they “would not serve under Corbyn”, as if they would have been asked, need to be made aware that plenty of people without a Marxist bone in their bodies would be more than happy to do so, and would merrily relieve them of the parliamentary seats that they obviously would not be needing. Any seat that was Labour in 2015 will always be Labour.

Corbyn’s position on Northern Ireland has been that of the Conservative Party since 1993 in principle, and since well before that in practice. There are people in Northern Ireland who dissent from it, but for whom do they vote? With their Confederate, apartheid and Nazi flags, they identify publicly as one Lost Cause among many.

Whereas Corbyn will soon speak at a Sinn Féin-associated cultural festival alongside a Democratic Unionist MP and former Lord Mayor of Belfast who was 13 at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. The most controversial thing about the entire week is the question of whether or not Frankie Boyle will appear.

On the Falkland Islands, I am as fierce as Michael Foot was on the right of the inhabitants to self-determination. But I doubt that much of the British population would share that view in practice if this tiny community a very long way away were to take this country to war for the second time in 40 years.

I was born in St Helena, but the employment of St Helenians on the Falklands is not necessarily conditional on British sovereignty. Believing that having once been invaded qualifies them for every conceivable goodie, the Falkland Islanders are the kind of entitled lot whom Thatcherites would ordinarily despise. Even with the impending airport, St Helena makes do with much less for more people. The treatment of the British community on Ascension Island is a national disgrace. The only strategic interest in the Falkland Islands is in the defence of the Falkland Islands.

Corbyn, Parliament’s doughtiest battler for the Chagossians and a scourge of the tax havens beloved of the Conservative Party’s paymasters, will take a more rounded and balanced view of the Overseas Territories. The Falkland Islanders, among others, will need to up their game from “Because we’re worth it”, never mind “Good old Maggie Thatcher”.

Corbyn once hosted Hamas, with which the Israeli Government negotiates all the time, and Hezbollah, alongside which our Armed Forces are now at war, a war that Corbyn was one of very few MPs to vote against. It was not he who lowered the flag over the Palace of Westminster when King Abdullah died.

Corbyn is in favour of the abolition of the monarchy in Britain, but it is inconceivable that he would ever press that issue. There would simply be rather more immediate calls on his time, and his side would be guaranteed a crushing defeat in any referendum. This question is never asked of those who identify with either or both of Thatcherism and Blairism. Yet the Thatcher and Blair Projects were both incompatible with the monarchy in principle, and, using and used by the Murdoch media, they were both extremely hostile in practice to the Queen and to the Royal Family.

What of the SNP, that collection of former Tory candidates, youthful Tory-Nationalist dynasts, and erstwhile speechwriters for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, none of whom is ever asked when he or she mysteriously became a figure of the radical Left? It has done as well as it ever possibly could, and it is therefore no longer any kind of threat to Labour.

Labour is bound to regain a few seats in Scotland, and probably quite a few, because the only way for the SNP is down. For differing but not unconnected reasons, the factually baseless existence of some special relationship between Labour and Scotland has long been a staple of Scottish Labourites, Scottish Nationalists and English Tories.

But Scotland now returns exactly as many Labour MPs as Conservatives or Liberal Democrats, while the Labour Whip is at least informally accepted by three times as many MPs from Northern Ireland, where Labour does not even stand candidates, as from Scotland, with a fourth Northern Irish MP also a kind of Labour supporter. Labour has barely noticed this “loss” of Scotland.

The SNP would only have mattered anywhere outside its increasingly curious fiefdom if there had been a hung Parliament. But there is not. Moreover, it has already proved wholly incapable of dealing with the media scrutiny to which it is unused. It is time to turn that on its disastrous record of running Scotland’s health and education, and on its downright corrupt relationship with Brian Souter over transport policy.

Speaking of transport, if recall elections are introduced, then the rail unions, affiliated and otherwise, need to fund Labour’s petitioning for them, and then winning them, across all 44 Conservative seats in the North of England, three in North Wales, and one, precisely one, in the South of Scotland.

The pre-Blairite right-wing faction Labour First professes to believe that “The unions are an integral part of our party” and to favour “More power for local councillors, not unaccountable community groups and quangos”. Yet it is campaigning for tactical voting against the only candidate who shares those views. Its unbending support for Trident, ostensibly in order to protect vastly fewer jobs than have been allowed to go to the wall elsewhere, now makes it more belligerent than Michael Portillo. Like its hardline neoconservatism, that stance alienates it from at least one MP who is a veteran of the traditional Labour Right.

Even before he becomes Leader, Corbyn needs to announce a bank of independent policy advisors including all MPs who nominated him, all MPs who signed the uncalled Goodman Amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill, all Labour MPs who voted against Second Reading of that Bill, all signatories to this, all signatories to this, all contributors of essays or commendations to this, all non-Labour MPs who voted against war in Syria in 2013, all MPs who voted against war in Iraq in 2014, and all seat-taking MPs from Northern Ireland.

Although not affiliated to the Labour Party since the High Blair Period, the RMT and the FBU remain affiliated to the Labour Representation Committee, which is constitutionally committed to the election of a Labour Government. They ought to undertake to pay all election costs of Labour MPs or candidates in any of those categories, as well as of candidates selected in place of prima donnas who thought that they were indispensable.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

It Gets Up Your Nose

If illegal drug use is a bar to office, then only Jeremy Corbyn is fit to lead the Labour Party.

Now, when is anyone going to go after George Osborne, also a frequenter of prostitutes as well as a user of such substances?

The Lanchester Review: The Trial, by Franz Kafka


If I collapsed in the street, then I would expect an NHS ambulance to take me to an NHS hospital.

Apparently, that means that #ImHardLeft.

Monday 27 July 2015

Listen To The Families

Mark Jefferies writes:

Marijuana should not be legalised in America or the UK, says Sharon Osbourne.

The former X Factor judge, 62, said making it no longer a crime in some US states will be disastrous.

She doesn’t want the law to be extended to the UK either.

Sharon believes that governments will reverse their laws to legalise the drugs in the next few years.

She told American CBS TV: “I have big resentments that this is happening.

“Anything that alters your mental state I don’t think should be allowed.

“You can say prescribed medication can alter your mental state but I don't agree with it all."

The star added: “The next thing I am waiting for is when someone is working heavy machinery, when they are driving a car. It is all going to end in tears.”

And she predicted that relaxation of the laws will one day be reversed.

She said: “In years to come there will be new laws for those who are smoking and using marijuana.

“This will end not the way everybody thinks it will.”

Labour Can Win In 2020

Kevin Maguire writes:

Labour can win in 2020.

There, somebody’s said it.

I’m not claiming it will, but the party could realistically pull off a victory of sorts in five years.

The prospect is sobering when Labour resembles a drunken pub brawl, leadership gangs hurling glasses and throwing chairs at each other in a riot that would have cops demanding the local licensing committee shut the unruly party joint down.

An overall majority in the Commons may be a mountain peak too high to scale when David Cameron’s Conservative coup involves cutting 50 mainly Labour elected MPs under electoral boundary changes.

And putting Tory cronies in the unelected House of Lords for good measure.

Yet it’s conceivable Labour might be the largest party when it starts with 232 seats, almost three dozen more than the 198 the Tories held at the 2005 election before Cameron staggered into Downing Street in 2010.

Scotland’s gone from Labour stronghold to black hole in the blink of a poll and the SNP won’t be rolled back soon, if ever, while the UKIP Purple Shirts and the woolly Greens nibble away.

But a Tory Party gloating over a flukey majority on the back of 24% of the electorate is far from impregnable.

Labour’s vote increase was nearly double that of the Cons – up 1.5% against their 0.8% – and Cameron owes his extended tenancy to the Tory cannibalisation of coalition Lib Dems.

Conservatives will eat themselves in the schismatic referendum on Europe and struggle to repair the split party.

Austerity – biting into public services this Parliament much deeper than in the last – will revolt the public. We’ve already had a taste with the broken promise on social care for the vulnerable and elderly.

Decent people everywhere will unite in revulsion at welfare cuts when they wake up to George Osborne slashing living standards of hardworking families and destroying the aspirations of students from poorer homes.

Robust political and policy debate is healthy between the contestants for Ed Miliband’s tarnished crown.

There are genuine differences and disagreements between Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Jeremy Corbyn. 

Bloodletting is inevitable when the party is angry, confused and dazed so soon after losing an election that many of its leading figures and activists expected to win.

But the four should sit down and jointly appeal for cool from rabid supporters. Or whoever wins will lack respect and be unable to impose her or his authority.

No wonder Cameron and his heir apparent George Osborne are sitting back, sipping champagne and enjoying the Labour fracas. Labour may yet wipe the smile off the faces of the Tory Buller Boys.

To win in 2020, however, Labour must be credible – and the party’s doing itself no favours at the moment.

That Has Always Been The Way

Michael Meacher writes:

The arrogance and intolerance of the Blairites is breathtaking.

Faced with the prospect of a runaway victory for Jeremy Corbyn, who has come from repudiated outsider to frontrunner in the Labour leadership race in scarcely more than a month, their sole response is to prepare a coup against him if he is elected leader under the section 47 procedure of the Labour Party rules.

It is hard to exaggerate the folly and selfish indulgence of such a move.

For the party to spend three months in continuous debate and hundreds of hustings in accordance with the legitimacy of party democracy, and then have an insider palace coup seek to overturn it via back-room intrigues within the Parliamentary Labour Party would be utterly disreputable.

It would split the PLP and likely also the Labour Party as a whole.

Maybe that is what they want — if they cannot get their own way, they would prefer to bust the party rather than accept democratic choice.

That has always been the way.

The right has always used the party as a base for its own domination and access to government, while the left has always remained loyal to the party it seeks to represent.

Of course the Blairites think their clinching argument is that if the party moves away from their chosen course — or as the obsessive and delusional Blair himself has said: “a millimetre from my path” — Labour will lose.

They like to recite endlessly that Blair won three elections (though he lost five million votes along the way), but what they never draw attention to is that his regime, copying the Tory one of course, led to the most cataclysmic collapse of the banking system and the global economy for 100 years — not something to write home about, apparently, particularly when Blair himself played a major part in causing the collapse by his so-called “light regulation” (ie let the markets rip and hands-off laissez-faire).

What the Blairites can’t get their heads around is that there is now a monumental continent-shaking tide of public opinion building up against the cruel ideology of austerity that the right, including the Blairites, have inflicted on the public.

It is happening in Greece, Spain, Italy, and even France, and it is now in full swell in Britain.

Corbyn is its champion here, and he has the further advantage — as his appearances have repeatedly shown — of manifesting conviction, principle, integrity and, above all, authenticity.

Nor is this just about austerity alone, though that is central.

It is also about sweeping away the right-wing ideology of financial deregulation, market fundamentalism, privatisation of all public services and suppression of all institutions that truly represent real working people.

The road to a Labour victory at the next election does not — repeat not — lie through continued austerity and an utterly discredited ideology.

It lies through growth, the revival of wages and the restoration of public services.

The National Education Service

Someone on Conservative Home has already gone to the trouble of disagreeing with Jeremy Corbyn:

When we fail to invest in people their potential is wasted and our economy underperforms. The more we empower people with the skills they need to succeed the stronger the economy we build.

Education is not about personal advancement but is a collective good that benefits our society and our economy. We all benefit from a more educated and skilled workforce.

Earlier in the campaign I set out how we could scrap fees and restore grants, now I want to widen that vision and set out a plan to move towards a National Education Service.

We start a long way from where we want to be: George Osborne is taking us in entirely the wrong direction. The adult skills budget has been slashed by 40% since 2010.

The cuts are staggering not only in their scale, but in their gross irresponsibility too.

The savage cuts to further education courses are also narrowing the opportunities of those now awaiting their GCSE results.

A country that doesn’t invest in its people has taken the path of managed decline. The only global race we will win is to the bottom.

In a fast-changing world where new technology is making new industries and making others obsolete, we need an education system – a lifelong learning service – that offers new skills and understanding throughout our working lives.

The UK already lags behind countries like the US, Germany, Japan and France on productivity.

How can we build and expand the sectors of the future, with the skilled workforce that requires, if we cut back on opportunities for lifelong learning?

Fifty years ago, the Labour government of Harold Wilson sought to address this problem for its time, and under Jennie Lee in 1965 started the work to establish the Open University – one of the most under-rated achievements of Labour in government.

Fifty years on, it is time to start putting the case for investment in learning from cradle to grave.

A National Education Service would be every bit as vital and as free at the point of use as our NHS, and should be delivered by the end of the next Parliament.

Tony Blair famously said Labour’s top three priorities were ‘education, education, education’.

From Sure Start, to smaller class sizes to new school buildings, those investments continue to pay dividends today in improved exam results and more young people in university.

Let us build on that legacy.

The case for investing in early years education towards universal free childcare is overwhelming.

A study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers a decade ago told us that in the long-term universal childcare would more than pay for itself – due to extra tax revenues from those in work and productivity gains.

Politicians like to dress up in hard hats and hi-vis jackets on their pet construction projects, but lack the same enthusiasm for investment in social infrastructure.

In 2020 we should start by reversing the cuts to the adult skills budget and expand it into a lifelong learning service by adding 2% to corporation tax (still comfortably the lowest in the G7).

This funding would be hypothecated to expand adult learning into a lifelong learning education resource.

The extra tax revenues brought by a high skill, high productivity and high pay economy will fund further expansion.

A National Education Service will give working age people access throughout their lives to learn new skills or to re-train.

It should also work with Jobcentre Plus to offer claimants opportunities to improve their skills, rather than face the carousel of workfare placements, sanctions and despair.

We need a return to ambitious joined-up government.

While slashing college funding, George Osborne boasts of increasing apprenticeships. Yet too many are low quality, failing to give young people the transferable skills they need to get on.

It is clear that some employers are using apprenticeships and traineeships as a means of circumventing minimum wage legislation. This has to end.

The minimum wage must be equalised across the board – with no poverty rates like the current £2.73 per hour apprenticeship rate.

Under a National Education Service, colleges should work in partnership with employers to mutually accredit apprenticeships and courses that offer high quality transferable skills.

Councils and government agencies should also use public procurement contracts to guarantee good apprenticeships.

The best employers understand the business case for investing in staff – in increased employee productivity and staff retention – and that’s why it is right to ask business to pay slightly more in corporation tax to fund it, while still leaving UK corporation tax the lowest in the G7.

Government must play a strategic co-ordinating role in a modern economy. For too long the UK approach has been to stand back, ‘let the market decide’, then hope for the best.

A National Education Service will be a lifelong learning service for a lifetime of opportunity.

A Case In Point

Making a case that differs from the one allowed a public hearing in that its decades of predictions have all come true, whereas the claims of Tories in funny costumes, and of the defunct UKIP, about straight bananas and about being made to drive on the right did not even the deserve the one seat out of 650 that they won under their own colours in the end, the strikingly young Carl Packman writes:

For a long time it was assumed the bulk of British lefties were idly pro-EU.

As Mark Wallace, of these quarters, put it in the Guardian last year:

“The prominent Eurosceptic voices [exactly; the ones allowed on the airwaves] today are almost universally those of the centre-right – not because it is a rightwing pursuit, but because the left has failed to uphold its own beliefs.”

Clearly things are beginning to change.

Doyen of the left, Owen Jones, recently penned a scathing opening salvo for modern British leftists who don’t view the European project through rose-tinted glasses, calling for the rather catchy ‘Lexit’.

Jenny Jones, former Green mayoral candidate, also wrote about the rotten pursuit of ‘neoliberalism, austerity, and capital’ in the EU, which should spur the left to switch sides in the ‘in/out’ debate.

Euroscepticism, at long last, is no longer the preserve of the right.

But what exactly is the left-wing case against the European Union, and why must more left-wingers sign up to it?

Firstly there is the secretive decision-making at the heart of the European project.

Take TTIP for example, or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

This revealed the risk of backdoor privatisation deals made through totally above-board bilateral trade agreements between the EU and the US.

One principle of the agreement is to indefinitely open up public services to competition from US firms where privatisation is already established.

Given that privatisation is already present within the NHS, British health services are exposed.

Did we have a say over this?

Despite UK politicians all making claims to protect our health service, we might ask why something decided in Brussels, locked away from public scrutiny, might not require the validation of the British electorate.

The second point is the dominant financial programme of the European project.

The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (or the Fiscal Stability Treaty), effectively enshrines into law balanced budgets and near-zero structural deficits, which in turn outlaws expansionary fiscal policy.

But any left-winger worthy of the name would ask: is it sensible for the European institutions to outlaw a mechanism to stimulate growth in the economy, even if it sticks in the throats of fiscal conservative lawmakers?

On occasions governments will need to temper the risk of an economic downturn with temporary increases in spending.

You don’t just need to be on the left to realise that. But this is common sense too far for the EU.

The EU Fiscal Compact is a legal requirement on eurozone states to slash their public debt (by 1.5 per cent of GDP in France, two per cent in Spain and 3.5 per cent in Italy and Portugal) every year for the next two decades.

In any case whatever fiscal conservatives may think, is it fair for the economic programmes of elected political parties in Europe to be swayed like this? And by law?

Thirdly, there’s the social impact.

The point of the European project was to provide socio-economic harmonisation to European nations. However in recent times the status of some European countries as richer, more solvent creditor nations looming over debtor countries has created unhealthy tension.

While in principle the left advocates internationalism on progressive terms between European nations, we hardly see evidence of this between France and Germany, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland today.

One of the supposed principles of integration was to see the North of Europe become more like the South and vice versa, but where is this in practice?

In what way can europhiles say Northern European is more Southerly today?

Let’s look at Greece for example.

Simply put, the troika has sought to make an example of a government, within the eurozone, who want to disrupt the dominant European economic programme.

Loans made to Greece, happily underwritten by European creditors to the previous Pasok government and protested at by current and former Syriza ministers, were unsustainable.

The austerity medicine for the Greek economy made things even worse, shrinking the economy by 25 per cent from 2007-2014.

Greeks voted out Pasok and for a national programme of anti-austerity and debt write down.

Did the institutions listen to the democratic will of Greeks? No.

The message is clear: the will of people in sovereign nations count for less than the will of the unelected European Commission, the European Council, and the Council of Ministers.

And this is the main point: normal Europeans cannot get rid of these people, and if the principle of democracy and national autonomy mean anything – which they ought to for left-wingers within the democratic tradition – then the European Union is a case in point for everything we should stand against.

How do you think these people would fare measured against Tony Benn’s five essential questions of democracy and power?

As a last ditch, leftists might argue that the European Union offers some social good that arbitrarily blocks the excesses of the Tories. The European Working Time Directive, for example.

But the sticking point is this: if maximum working hours are something worth fighting for then they are worth doing so with the backing of the British electorate.

The right have had euroscepticism covered exclusively for too long; we on the left must pursue the case for sovereignity, too, recalling Hugh Gaitskill in 1962 at Labour Party Conference in Brighton: “European integration would mean the end of a thousand years of history”.

This is why the left should vote to leave.

So Much For “Civilisation”

Robert Fisk writes:

Hitler set a bad example. He was evil. His regime was evil. His Reich was destroyed, the Nazis vanquished, the Fuhrer dying by his own hand in the ashes of the European nightmare.

Bad guys lose. Good guys win. Morality, human rights, law, democracy – though with the latter, we should perhaps speak carefully – will always prevail over wickedness. 

That’s what the Second World War taught us. 

We have grown up in a Western society that believes in such simple, dodgy, history lessons.

The world’s major religions teach us about goodness, humility, family, love, faith. So why should we not – however liberal, agnostic, cynical – cling on to our fundamental belief that violence and torture and cruelty will never outlast the power and courage of the righteous?

Isis is evil. It massacres its opponents, slaughters civilians, beheads the innocent, rapes children and enslaves women. It is “apocalyptic”, according to the Americans, and therefore it is doomed.

Better still, Ash Carter – the US Secretary of Defence who accused the Iraqis of running away from Isis – lectured the Iraqi Prime Minister last week.

His message – I could hardly believe this naivety – was Hollywood-clear. “Civilisation always wins over barbarism.” 

But does it?

We only have to go back to the lie about the Second World War in my first sentence. Sure, Hitler lost. But our ally Stalin won.

The 1917 Russian Revolution gave rise to one of the Gorgons of our age: Soviet dictatorship, the mass starvation leading the to death of millions, barbarism – on an Ash Carter scale – and evil incarnate ruled in Russia and Eastern Europe for more than 70 years, 40 of them after the Second World War.

The Romans kept “barbarism” at bay for almost a thousand years, but in the end the Goths, Ostrogoths and Visigoths – the Isis of their time – won.

Unless you were opposed to Rome, in which case Roman barbarism – crucifixion, slavery, torture, massacre (the whole Isis gamut minus the videotapes) – was victorious for almost a thousand years.

Attila the Hun, the Scourge of God, destroyed almost everything between Persia and the Mediterranean.

Ghengis Khan, an inevitable actor in this sordid drama, kept going until his death in 1227 – 30 years longer than Isis has so far ruled.

His grandson Hulagu was invoked by General Angus Maude when he “liberated” Baghdad in 1917 and brought “civilisation” to Mesopotamia.

Ash Carter should read Maude’s proclamation to the people of Baghdad:

“Since the days of Hulagu, your citizens have been subject to the tyranny of strangers, your palaces have fallen into ruins, your gardens have sunken in desolation and your forefathers and yourselves have groaned in bondage.”

Pretty much like Isis, in other words. But, by Maude’s count, this “tyranny” lasted for around 700 years.

Now let’s go forward to the years immediately after we brought “civilisation” – again – to Baghdad, by illegally invading Iraq in 2003.

Between daily trips to the city mortuary and visits to tents of mourning, angry families would tell us that the “freedom” we brought had given them anarchy.

They hated the dictator Saddam who slaughtered his opponents – and who imposed 24 years of “barbarism” on his people – but at least he gave them security.

If you have children, these people would tell us, you want them to come home from school. You do not want them to be murdered.

So which do we prefer, they asked us? Freedom or security? Democracy or Saddam?

Fearful of the Shia-dominated Iraqi government, whose militias slaughtered them, and the corrupt Arab dictatorships, who suppressed them, many hundreds of thousands of Sunni Muslims appear to have found security under Isis.

Not the Shias, nor the Christians, nor the Yazidis. There is no “freedom”, as we would call it.

But Sunni Iraqi men in Beirut, for example, regularly travel to and from the Isis Syrian capital Raqqa and report that – provided they don’t smoke or drink alcohol, their women are covered, and they do not oppose Isis – they are left alone: to do business, to visit families, to travel in safety.

Much the same applied under the Taliban in Afghanistan.

ID cards are issued in Isis-land, the river police have newly-painted boats, taxes are raised, and yes, punishment is barbarous.

But that does not mean the “Islamic Caliphate” is going to be conquered by “civilisation”.

And how can we believe that it will, when our own public-relations boss raves on about “British values” – and at the same time worships the venal, hypocritical, immensely wealthy and dangerous men who have helped to inspire Isis.

I refer, of course, to those Saudis whose crazed Sunni Wahhabist cult has encouraged Isis, whose grotesque puritanism has led them to adopt a head-chopping extremism, which lies at the heart of Isis’s own “barbarism”.

Sure, the Saudi state arrests Isis cells. But these same Saudis are now killing thousands of Shia Houthis in Yemen in a bombing campaign supported by our Western nations.

And what does David Cameron do when the desiccated old king of this weird state dies? Money talks louder than “civilisation”.

So he orders that British flags should be flown at half-mast. Now that’s what I call British values! Poor old Dave. He loathes Isis but adores one of its elderly “facilitators”.

Yet fear not. “Civilisation” may yet win over “barbarism”.

My own suspicion is that Ash, Dave and the rest will try to buy up Isis, split them into factions and choose the “moderates” among them.

Then we’ll have a new, liberal Isis – people we can do business with, the sort of chaps we can get along with, sins forgotten – and we can then establish relations with them as cosy as those the Americans maintained with Hitler’s murderous rocket scientists after “civilisation” conquered “barbarism” in the Second World War.

So much for “civilisation”.

The Centre of Public Opinion

Aaron Bastani writes:

When Jeremy Corbyn first announced his candidacy for the Labour leadership nobody, including the man himself, thought he could win.

Viewed by most as a relic of the party's radical past, his role was a simple one: appease the large but relatively powerless left-wing of its membership and, most importantly, lose.

How things have changed. Corbyn, who began the campaign as the 100-1 outsider, is now – according to a survey conducted by polling gurus YouGov – the odds-on favourite to win

Those who viewed his candidacy as no more than a sop to the party's socialist wing are rattled.

The perennial rebel of the Labour benches, he has defied the wishes of his party leadership more than 500 times, is a genuine contender.

That has led to a barrage of criticism directed at Corbyn and his increasingly febrile base of support.

Appearing on BBC Newsnight John McTernan, a former adviser to Tony Blair, described last week's YouGov figures as indicative of how Labour activists are "suicidally inclined".

Soon enough his former boss weighed in, speaking of how the "debilitating feature" of the race was how it was being presented as a choice "between the heart and the head".

Blair kindly added that those who say their heart is with team Corbyn "should just get a transplant"

And yet neither critic, or indeed any of the several dozen others who spoke out against Corbyn last week, mentioned a specific policy they disagreed with him on.

That's because on a number of issues, Corbyn's thinking actually aligns with a growing, unspoken consensus among the general public.

When you take a deeper look, Corbynomics appeals to both the head and the heart. You might even call it "the centre" of British politics.

Take the country's railways. Despite the fact that they are meant to be in private ownership, the public still pays multi-billion pound subsidies to the operating companies

Astonishingly, much of that money doesn't pay for cheaper tickets, new trains or better infrastructure but goes directly to shareholders in the form of profits.

British rail privatisation is one of the biggest scams going and research last December revealed that taking the railways back into public ownership would save the taxpayer more than £350 million a year.

The trademark of New Labour was that it did "what works" regardless of fusty old ideology. Re-nationalising Britain's railways would appear to be precisely that.

That Corbyn's rivals refuse to even consider it, despite all the evidence, shows they are more tied down to an ideology than the MP for Islington North is.

As well as making economic sense, re-nationalisation is also popular. 

Six in ten Brits in favour of it and even Tory voters evenly divided on the matter.

Perhaps more than any other policy, train de-privatisation would represent an easy win for Labour, bringing down costs for the public and reducing the deficit in the process.

It's the centre of public opinion, and yet only Corbyn is staking a claim to it.

In a similar vein, Corbyn also wants to re-nationalise Britain's energy utilities. He explicitly said as much on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning.

And who could disagree with him when energy companies have overcharged consumers by billions of pounds a year while seeing a ten-fold increase in profits since 2007?

Research last year demonstrated that the public would save an amazing £4.2 billion a year if the energy companies were brought into public ownership – £158 for every household in the country.

It's no surprise then that 68 percent of the public already think that doing it would be a great idea.

Its the same story with the country's nuclear deterrent.

One of the hallmark issues of May's general election, Ed Miliband's flip-flopping on it summed up his problem as Labour leader: in trying to please everyone he persuaded very few.

In stark contrast, the Scottish National Party made a principled case against renewing Trident, in the process aligning themselves with public opinion which, for the most part, views it as a giant waste of money.

Just like renationalising the railways, not renewing Trident represents the unspoken centre-ground of British politics with poll after poll showing a clear majority against it.

In a 2009 survey for the Independent 58 percent of respondents said the Government should scrap the programme and not replace it.

Importantly, that figure keeps growing with 79 percent telling a Guardian poll in April 2014 that they did not think the country needed to replace Trident with a new nuclear capability.

In fact rather than renewing Britain's nukes, most people want the government to use the country's platform on the world stage for good, with a recent ComRes poll showing that more than six in ten Brits would like to see an international deal banning nuclear weapons altogether.

Most people know that spending £100 billion on genocidal lumps of metal is really stupid. The fact that scrapping it is off the table for most politicians shows that austerity is more about priorities than necessity.

People can go hungry or homeless but the at least nation maintains the capability to wipe out waste swathes of humanity.

On housing Corbyn, again, is the only candidate offering bold policies which are actually popular.

He believes that introducing rent control – legal caps on how much rent you have to pay – is the only means to bring down the costs of housing benefit in a fair way.

Not only would such a measure actually reduce public spending and be in the interests of the less well-off but, again, it would be popular with 60 percent of the public in favour of rent controls and only 25 percent opposed to them.

Presumably some of those are landlords.

Corbyn is the only candidate who understands that the housing crisis doesn't just affect those who want to be homeowners, but that private renters are more pissed off than anyone.

That's important because it's the latter whose numbers are rising, with 5.4 million households now in the private rental sector – double the figure for 2001.

A decade from now, that is set to rise to 7.2 million households, more than the number of households projected to have a mortgage.

With rents rising faster than wages and more people renting a home than owning one, if you haven't got a plan that will get the backing of private renters, you can wave goodbye to forming a Labour government in five or ten years time.

Only Corbyn is capable of reaching out to this crucial and rapidly growing section of the electorate, most of whom did not vote last time.

The truth is that on many of his policies, while he is presented as a dinosaur stuck in the ways of the 1980s, Corbyn is less ideological than his opponents. 

The likes of Kendall, Cooper and Burnham aren't "pragmatists" who prefer whatever works, but pursue the policies they do out of a commitment to free-market principles even when, as with housing, energy and the railways, they obviously don't work.

There is nothing "aspirational" about spending a hundred billion on nukes or having the taxpayer subsidise private train operators, energy companies and landlords.

While there are areas where much of the public disagrees with Corbyn, most notably on Britain getting rid of its monarchy and becoming a republic [which he would never give Murdoch the satisfaction of attempting to do, which would never pass a referendum anyway, and isn't it funny how only the Labour Left is ever asked this question?], more and more people are realising that this Labour-lefty is the only politician offering solutions to the biggest challenges of our time: low pay, high bills and not much of a future for young people.

Corbyn might win the leadership and never become Prime Minister, but if he prevails this September it will be the beginning of a realignment in English politics.

The old guard of New Labour, meanwhile, has never looked more out of touch with the public.

There Will Be No Regime Change In Russia

Neil Clark writes:

As events in Syria have proved, Russia is the biggest block on the endless war lobby’s plans for world domination, which is why the removal of Putin and his replacement with a marionette who will do exactly what the neocons want is their overriding objective.

However, the chances of them achieving their ambitious goal are as slender as was the prospect of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs turning up in Iraq.

The new neocon instigated ‘Cold War’ on Russia, which was supposed to weaken the Russian economy and lead to Maidan-style anti-government protests in the country, has actually boosted President Vladimir Putin’s popularity, as new polls show.

The approval ratings of the man who Western neocons have demonized for the last twelve years is at record levels - with almost 90 percent of Russians saying they had a positive view of the president.

Support for President Putin’s foreign policies is also strong - with 70 percent supporting him on Ukraine.
As British antiwar politician George Galloway tweeted:

Popularity of Putin reaches record highs with almost 90% of the people approving his handling of events. Another NATO success story!

It’s not only Putin’s popularity that is the stumbling block to neocon plans for ‘regime change’.

The main opposition to Putin and his United Russia party, are not pro-NATO, pro-Israel ‘liberals’, but the Communist Party, which is the second most popular party in the country.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov polled over 17 percent in the last presidential election, while the Communists won 92 seats in the 450 State Duma elections in December 2011.

The Communists have urged Putin to be even more assertive against those they regard as Russia’s enemies.

In May 2013, they called for Russia to convene a meeting of the UN Security Council after Israel had illegally bombed Syria.

Syria is not the first, and obviously not the last victim of the global expansion of the US and its NATO allies. Events of the past twenty years show that Russia is also in the crosshairs.

Therefore, our country borders’ protection passes through the Syrian cities, which have now become the scene of fierce fighting.

The Russian side should not turn a blind eye to the subversion of America and its satellites directed against our allies,” the Communist Party Central Committee statement declared.

The serial regime changers in the West are faced with a situation that the most credible opposition to the person they want to see toppled would actually follow policies that they would hate even more.

So what do they do?

With breathtaking disdain for the views of the Russian people, they completely ignore the fact that the Communists are the second largest party in Russia - and instead portray so-called ‘liberals’ - who have minimal levels of popular support (currently around 1 percent), as the ‘democratic opposition’.

The neocon line is: ‘In the name of democracy, the parties whose views are the most unpopular with the electorate, should be running Russia.’ Their interpretation of the word ‘democracy’ is beyond Orwellian.

Although ‘regime change’ has become a dirty phrase, the best thing that could happen to Russia, its neighbors and the world would be a change from Vladimir Putin’s brand of strongman authoritarianism to some form of democracy,” opined Alexander Motyl in Newsweek in January.

The article first appeared on the Atlantic Council’s blog.

So, in other words, the man with sky-high approval ratings needs to be toppled, so someone much less popular can rule Russia. And all in the name of spreading “democracy”!

In any case, the neocon plans for promoting their form of undemocratic democracy in Russia face another big stumbling block, namely Russia’s foreign agents law

This legislation requires all NGOs which receive funding from abroad and that engage in political activities to register as ‘foreign agents’.

Russian political parties are also forbidden to receive sponsorship or enter into any business deals with NGOs that have ‘foreign agent’ status.

This makes the possibility of a foreign-funded ‘color coded revolution’ in Russia much harder to pull off. Neocons, needless to say, don’t like the law:

Anne Applebaum @anneapplebaum

Putin's "foreign agent" law is now destroying some of the best civic organizations in Russia

The neocon plans for regime change in Russia predate the current Ukraine crisis and the conflict in Syria.

They be traced back to 2003 when it became clear that Vladimir Putin would stand up for Russia’s legitimate interests, in contrast to the more compliant Boris Yeltsin.

The first post-Perestroika president stood by, vodka bottle in hand, and brown envelopes in pocket, as NATO illegally bombed Yugoslavia and Western-supported oligarchs plundered the country, impoverishing millions of ordinary Russians in the process.

As I argued in a previous Op-Edge, the turning point was the action taken against corrupt oligarchs who had strong links to the West.

Rebuilding the economy and improving living standards for ordinary Russians inevitably meant action being taken against certain oligarchs, who had made vast fortunes in the Yeltsin years.

These oligarchs, such as Boris Berezovksy and Mikhail Khodorkovsky had powerful supporters in the West.

As I detailed in an article for the New Statesman in November 2003, influential neocons in Washington, who had links to Russian oligarchs, used the arrest of Khodorkovsky for fraud and tax evasion to push for a hardening of US policy towards Moscow.

The arrest of Khodorkovsky led to neocon calls for sanctions on Russia - calls which were to be repeated over the following years.

This anti-Putin crusade was ratcheted up to a new level when Russia had the temerity to block ‘regime change’ plans for Syria.

In his article ‘How war on Syria lost its way’, former CIA officer Ray McGovern told of how he was in the same CNN studio as two uberhawks Paul Wolfowitz and Joe Lieberman, after the US’s plans to bomb Syria in 2013 had been dropped.

McGovern described the atmosphere as “distinctly funereal.”

I felt I had come to a wake with somberly dressed folks (no pastel ties this time) grieving for a recently, dearly-departed war.”

After Damascus avoided airstrikes, a wave of full-on attacks on Russia appeared in the elite media.

British ‘left’ neocon Nick Cohen, who in 2012 had written a piece on Syria entitled ‘Russia is playing Western democrats for dupes’ complained that Putin had made Barack Obama “look like a conman’s stooge.”

His thoughts echoed those of Michael Weiss, who, writing for the ultra-neocon Henry Jackson Society in 2012, berated the Obama administration for “still trying to woo the Kremlin” after Russia had vetoed two attempts to pass a UN Security Resolution “condemning the Assad regime.”

Ukraine was where the neocons sought to get their revenge for being thwarted on Syria. As I argued in an earlier op-edge piece:

The US sponsored regime change in Kiev, an enterprise in which the State Department’s Victoria Nuland, the wife of the Project for a New American Century co-founder Robert Kagan, played a prominent role, finally enabled the hawks to get what they been dreaming of for over 10 years – the sanctioning of Russia.

The ‘get tough with Russia’ stance they’ve long been calling for has finally become the official policy of the US and leading EU countries.

The demonization of President Putin in the West has become ‘mainstream’.”

Neocons were banking on sanctions leading to mass protests against Putin’s rule.

But as we see from the polls the opposite has occurred and Putin is more popular than ever.

The bullying of Russia has only made the Russian people more determined than ever not to do what the Western hawks want.

The question is now - what will the neocons do next?

There have been calls for even tougher sanctions on Russia - sanctions that would ban Russia from the SWIFT banking system.

Ben Judah @b_judah

Ex-MI6 Boss: "At the moment we seem to be powerless to shift Russia away from a de facto situation, which they have largely created."

shay culligan @shaymultimedia

@b_judah Deploy SWIFT ban on Russian banks. Send Putin's Russia back to the Middle Ages. They'll be threatening the West with bows & arrows.

In February, an editorial entitled “No More Appeasement” in the Rupert Murdoch owned Times, Britain’s most hardline neocon newspaper, declared its support for “tougher sanctions than those already in force.”

Meanwhile, Victoria Nuland warned a few days ago that “the costs will go up” for Russia if violence increases in Donetsk and Lugansk, although of course she did not mean violence initiated by Kiev, or violence between the Kiev authorities and the Right Sector.

However, the problem for Ms Nuland and the London Times is that European countries are itching for sanctions on Russia to be eased, not intensified, as their economies are hurting due to counter-measures taken by the Kremlin.

How much longer will leading Western Europeans companies allow their profits to be hit because a bunch of political extremists have an obsession with toppling Putin?

And how much longer will European governments sign up to a sanctions policy clearly not in their countries’ interest?

Some believe that fanatical neocons would even go as far as provoke war with Russia to get their way.

“The most determined push for war in 2015 will come from neocons and interventionists who want a US-Putin confrontation and regime change in Russia,” warned America paleoconservative commentator, Patrick J. Buchanan earlier this year.

Certainly, during the worst of the fighting in Ukraine, it has seemed that escalation is what some in the West desired.

“Putin must be stopped. And sometimes only guns can stop guns” was the title of a bellicose piece by Timothy Garton-Ash. who praised the serial warmongering US Senator John McCain for spurring on US Congress to pass the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which allocated funds for the supply of military equipment to Ukraine.

It’s worth noting though that neocons like to attack countries that are weak and not ones that are strong. Iraq got ‘Shock and Awe’ not because it possessed WMDs, but because it didn’t.

Libya was vulnerable because its defenses were weak and Muammar Gaddafi had surrendered his WMDs. Russia, by contrast has a large nuclear arsenal, up-to-date conventional weaponry, and 771,000 active military personnel.

A neocon-instigated military attack on Russia is unlikely, but we can’t rule it out completely, given the fanaticism of the people we are dealing with.

In December, Robert Parry wrote of the insanity of the neocon-driven regime change scheme to take down President Putin.

What we’re seeing here is the usual step-by-step progress towards a neocon regime change scenario, as the targeted foreign ‘demon’ fails to take ‘reasonable steps’ dictated by Washington and thus must be confronted, with endless escalations, all the more severe to force the demon to submit or until ultimately the sufferings of his people creates openings for ‘regime change’”.

Perry warned that “the future of the planet” was at stake if Western efforts to ‘regime change’ in Russia continue.

Veteran award winning journalist John Pilger has warned of a ‘new holocaust’ if the serial warmongers aren’t stopped.

Their man in Moscow used to be Boris Yeltsin, a drunk who handed his country’s economy to the West. His successor, Vladimir Putin, has re-established Russia as a sovereign nation, that is his crime.”

A few days ago the New York Times published an op-edge by Yelstin’s former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, entitled ‘Russia‘s coming regime change’.

Kozyrev said that regime change was “inevitable, maybe imminent.” But polls showing the country’s leader with 90 percent approval ratings don’t really back that assessment up.

Despite all their obsessive efforts, pulling off a regime change in Russia does look too big a project even for the neocons.

The Russian people don’t wish to the return to the 1990s, and they quite clearly don’t want a neocon-approved puppet to lead them.

And Russia is ready and able to defend itself if the nightmare scenario of war does come to pass - just take a look at the pictures of the Victory Day military parade if you have any doubts.

As to how we can end the ‘new Cold War’, it’s not up to Russia to change its stance, as it has done nothing wrong, but the neocons in the West.

What part of ‘Nyet’ don’t these people understand?