Wednesday 30 September 2015

The Road to Damascus Is Paved with Good Intentions

It is entirely unsurprising that Russia can identify its side in the five-way or more civil war in Syria.

That is Russia's judgement.

But I cannot see our side.

No, He Went of His Own Accord

David Cameron can find £25 million for a prison in Jamaica.

But he cannot find one penny piece for Redcar.

In this, he is cheered on by Nadhim Zahawi, who claimed parliamentary expenses in order to heat his stables.

Brutal, Indeed

Alexander Adams offers an interesting defence of Brutalism, which is currently the subject of a series of events by the National Trust, entitled Brutal Utopias. I do not always agree with Jonathan Meades. But I always watch him, because he takes his audience seriously. Last year, his BBC Four programmes on Brutalism were very much in that spirit.

However, his subject, like Modernism generally, was still not theologically suitable for the Catholic ecclesiastical commissions that it received in the immediate post-Vatican II period, since it did not express, for example, that continuity with the Middle Ages which is expressed by Gothic architecture, or that continuity with the Catholic Reformation which is expressed by Baroque architecture, or that Petrine Unity of Eastern and Western Churches which is expressed by Byzantine architecture.

Moreover, his residence in Corbusier's Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles may blind him to the real problem with British Brutalism, namely the simple unsuitability of unclad concrete to the climate of these Islands.

There was what I might call a certain cognitive dissonance, if I ever used that term, about his scorn for the "provincial councillors and planners" who either resisted or demolished Brutalist buildings, when the latter was of course only possible because "provincial councillors and planners" had commissioned, or at the very least permitted, them in the first place.

He seemed to revile local government while cheering on its historic role in housing, and he seemed unable to criticise it, as such, in London, where exactly the same things had happened. He condemned those demolitions and non-constructions, too. But he did not blame the councillors or the planners for them. Whom, then, did he blame, and why? The Age of Demolition has been the age in which local government has been eviscerated. The Age of Construction was the age in which local government was mighty and strong.

I ought to hate Brutalism. For more than the significant meteorological reasons, it was wildly unsuitable to certain uses and places to and in which it was put. There was outright corruption in relation to certain projects, not least here in the North East, and by no means only in relation to the political party that was made to carry the can.

But Meades was right about so very, very much. How the hippies became the Thatcherites, without any kind of reaction against their former views, but rather as the logical and inevitable outworking of them. How people originally wanted to live in the new municipal housing developments, with their bathrooms, their inside lavatories and their central heating; it is breathtaking, but correct, to consider that in the late 1950s there were still people in Britain, in the Severn Valley, living in caves. The urban slums rivalled anything in the developed world, and not a few things in the undeveloped world, at the time.

Meades considered that cooling towers made the East Coast Main Line interesting as one passed through the flatlands, and any lover of what was then still that last great publicly owned British railway, that social-democratic steel backbone of the Union, was and is fundamentally on the side of the angels, whether or not an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society would wish to be.

The cooling towers also speak of secure, high-waged, high-skilled, high-status employment, and that at once guaranteed by the State and guaranteeing the energy independence that is integral to the national and parliamentary sovereignty which is itself, with municipalism, the democracy in social democracy. The social part is indeed the mastery of the earth and of the elements in the service of human demographic, economic and cultural expansion, as well as that expansion itself.

Meades has also written of his enchantment with Durham, after he spoke on the atheist side of a debate here some years ago. That debate was held on Palace Green, between the Cathedral and the Castle. I have never known anyone to visit that World Heritage Site and fail to fall in love with it. I cannot imagine how such a failure could be possible.

A short distance from it, and blessed with phenomenal views of it, are the Hill Colleges. I hope that Meades also had an opportunity to take a look at those. He would have loved them, too. And they speak of an age of dazzling expansion in educational opportunities within the inheritance of excellence.

The hatred of Brutalism is starting to look like the thin end, the cutting edge, the soft target identification, of the hatred of social housing, of confident municipal autonomy, of public ownership, of public transport, of full employment, of educational expansion, of coal-fired power stations powered by our own vast reserves of coal, and therefore also of everything from national and parliamentary sovereignty, to the Union, to the economic basis of paternal authority.

It is starting to look like the thin end, the cutting edge, the soft target identification, of the Sixties Swingers' ungrateful hatred of the great Labour Governments of the past. For, as well as loathing Harold Wilson fanatically, they associated the Attlee Government with their despised parents as much as they did the War. That despising, that loathing, that ungrateful hatred, became Thatcherism, and then it became New Labour.

Brutal, indeed.

It's All Blowing Up Now

Would David Cameron ever press the nuclear button? Has anyone ever asked him? When will they?

It would be a great deal worse to have on that button the finger of anyone who might ever consider pressing it. By definition, such a person is a psychopath.

Enoch Powell said to vote Labour in 1987 because of nuclear weapons. People remember the 1974 exhortation to do so because of the EU, but not that. Nevertheless, it happened. 

If Germany does not need these things, then why do we? If the Germans are relying on ours, then why do we have to pay for them, when the Germans are far richer than we are?

Trident submarines are in any case tracked by the Russians. So the whole thing is useless, at least if that is the target.

And it is not ours, anyway. Trident cannot be used without the permission of the President of the United States, no matter who or what that might be. We merely foot the bill.

Trident might very soon belong to Donald Trump or, far more probably, to Hillary Clinton. At our expense.

How have "our" nuclear weapons ever worked to keep the peace? This country has been at war for almost the whole of the present century, which is most of my adult lifetime, and I am starting to get on a bit.

Look at the enemies against which and whom we have fought wars. Not only was none of them deterred in the slightest by "our" nuclear weapons, but if we did not use them against any of those, then against whom or what, exactly, might we ever conceivably use them?

The whole world knows the answer to that one, and it behaves accordingly.

We have Trident instead of an Army, a Navy or an Air Force.

We had the mightiest Navy that the world had ever seen, before nuclear weapons were thought of. But now, we have Armed Forces so run down that they could fight almost nothing and almost nowhere.

Never mind, though. At least we still have Trident.

Becoming A Social Movement

Owen Jones rightly advocates beating the Conservatives at their own game, since they do this kind of thing routinely (and I do not question their humanitarian motives or effects), and they thus dominate great swaths of the country: 

Let’s be honest: not many people will have watched Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader in its entirety. Those who caught glimpses will have had it filtered through, shall we say, not very sympathetic media.

So we shouldn’t overestimate the effect of Corbyn’s performance in Brighton. Nonetheless, speeches help to set narratives, and Labour’s narrative holds promise.

Corbyn’s commitment to stand up for self-employed people represents a willingness to depart from “old Labour” comfort zones. This is a genuine opportunity for his promise of a new politics to be more than a slogan.

Tuesday’s speech needs to be seen within the context of wider political trends. Democracy across the western world is in decline, or so we are told.

Party membership will dwindle, they say; political disengagement is the future. Rampant individualism means we have become a society of consumers, not voters.

We no longer believe in collective solutions to our problems. As governments surrender their power to the markets, the realm of policy is shrinking anyway.

What is happening to Labour is the latest challenge to this assessment – a narrative already disrupted by what happened in Scotland, where the referendum on independence politicised a nation.

The Labour party conference reveals a party in transition, from a technocratic organisation into something else: what, exactly, is still unclear. Many of the delegates were selected early in the year, before the great influx which has transformed Labour.

That doesn’t mean their allegiance is to Labour’s old political order. It was, after all, existing activists who handed Corbyn the most nominations of constituency parties.

In an insightful piece last month, Michael Harris, a Blairite former Labour councillor, wrote that there was a new leftwing political party in Britain which was, “for now”, called the Labour party.

When he was selected as a Labour candidate in Lewisham, his “local party had 80 (mostly quite old) members”. That number had surged to 250.

The new members were “young” and “diverse”, he noted. The party was becoming something else, organically, from the bottom up.

This year’s conference certainly seems younger and more diverse than any I’ve seen, and many in attendance have an infectious, boundless enthusiasm. The danger is that their excitement could dissipate.

Labour faces months of being bloodied by virtually the entire media, and it would be easy to end up feeling impotent in the face of such an onslaught.

If Labour has a chance of surviving the merciless attacks that are headed its way, it needs a sophisticated media strategy.

But survival also depends on the grassroots movement that gave Corbyn the greatest democratic mandate of any British party leader in history.

In the week following Corbyn’s victory, more than 50,000 people joined the Labour party; 150,000 had joined as members since Labour’s election defeat, and during the contest 100,000 signed up as supporters.

It is a remarkable triumph for democratic revivalism. But I suspect they are not joining to while away their time in meetings discussing resolutions, or simply knocking on doors for voter ID.

Britain has, thankfully, not suffered the plight of hyper-austerity-ravaged Greece. But Labour needs to still learn from the Greek experience, from the social movements that emerged before Syriza’s victory, and which played a key role in the party’s triumph.

Kitchens, legal aid centres, food banks, soup kitchens and free education classes were set up across the country.

Labour has a similar kind of army – engaged people who are brimming with enthusiasm, rather than simply grumpily opposed to the Tories – and it needs to use them to build a genuine social movement.

Why not, for example, start opening food banks – but with a difference? Instead of acts of charity, what about trying to organise those who, in the fifth-biggest economy on Earth, have been left unable to feed themselves.

Britain has up to 11 million private renters, often being charged rip-off rents and deprived of basic housing security. Why shouldn’t Labour set up private tenants’ associations, again to help organise people?

The party is talking about the rights of self-employed workers who value their independence, but not the insecurity of those with no pension and limited social security. Why not try to organise them, too?

After the London riots, a young community organiser in Tottenham told me about his strategy to engage with young people. Not with top-down meetings but football matches.

Afterwards, he got the players to talk with community figures and politicians about their concerns and ambitions.

Youth services are often the first to be slashed by Britain’s hammered local authorities, and leisure activities with a political edge could prove attractive.

That’s surely the approach this changing Labour party must have: politics made fun, rather than stale and dreary.

Labour needs to win over older people and combat the threat of intergenerational conflict. Why not set up schemes where young party activists spend a couple of hours a week with older people who lack company?

Why not establish community centres offering a diverse range of activities? Social enterprises could be set up.

With the Tories trying to stitch up the electoral system in their favour, Labour must surely begin the biggest electoral registration drive in British history.

By becoming a social movement, Labour could make its already booming membership soar: 1 million members must surely be the party’s aim.

But being an active presence in the community is surely more effective than simply knocking on doors. It could win over those who feel alienated from politics. It could attract those voting Ukip because of their unanswered concerns on everything from housing to public services.

Those joining Labour are being patronised and infantilised, the subjects of diagnoses from cod psychologists. But what has happened in Scotland and with “Corbynmania” at least has the potential to be the beginning of a democratic renaissance.

There is a growing well of excitement that Labour can draw on. It should not miss this opportunity, or wait until enthusiasm turns into pessimism.

This is not a personality cult in action: Labour has been inflated by people who genuinely want to change things.

The future of the party rests on their hope. It would be fatal to squander it.

The Ongoing Unfolding

Rowan Williams writes:

Perhaps the first thing that needs to be said about Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment is that it is an entirely natural development not only of the theology of Evangelii gaudium but also—as the extensive citations show—of the theology of Pope Benedict, especially as found in Caritas in veritate.

Both the pope’s critics and his supporters have often missed the point: Benedict’s Christian humanism, his consistent theology of the dignity of the human person, his concern for a culture in which there is no longer a viable understanding of any given order independent of human will—all this is reiterated with force and clarity by Pope Francis.

This encyclical is emphatically not charting a new course in papal theology, and those who speak as if this were the case have not been reading either pope with attention.

What is uncomfortable for some is that a number of points clearly but briefly made by the previous pontiff have been drawn out in unmistakable terms.

The fact that we live in a culture tone-deaf to any sense of natural law is here starkly illustrated by the persistent tendency of modern human agents to act as though the naked fact of personal desire for unlimited acquisition were the only “given” in the universe, so that ordinary calculations of prudence must be ignored.

Measureless acquisition, consumption, or economic growth in a finite environment is a literally nonsensical idea; yet the imperative of growth remains unassailable, as though we did not really inhabit a material world.

It is this fantasy of living in an endlessly adjustable world, in which every physical boundary can be renegotiated, that shapes the opening reflections of the encyclical and pervades a great deal of its argument.

The paradox, noted by a good many other commentators, is that our supposed “materialism” is actually a deeply anti-material thing.

The plain thereness of the physical world we inhabit tells us from our first emergence into consciousness that our will is not the foundation of everything—and so its proper working is essentially about creative adjustment to an agenda set not by our fantasy but by the qualities and complexities of what we encounter.

The material world tells us that to be human is to be in dialogue with what is other: what is physically other, what is humanly other in the solid three-dimensionality of other persons, ultimately what is divinely other.

And in a world created by the God Christians believe in, this otherness is always communicating: meaning arises in this encounter, it is not devised by our ingenuity.

Hence the pope’s significant and powerful appeal to be aware of the incalculable impact of the loss of biodiversity: it is not only a loss of resource but a diminution of meaning.

“Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us” (33).

 The argument of these opening sections of Laudato si’ repeatedly points us back to a fundamental lesson: We as human beings are not the source of meaning or value; if we believe we are, we exchange the real world for a virtual one, a world in which—to echo Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty—the only question is who is to be master.

A culture in which managing limits is an embarrassing and unwelcome imperative is a culture that has lost touch with the very idea of a world, let alone a created world (i.e., one in which a creative intelligence communicates with us and leads us into meanings and visions we could not have generated ourselves).

The discussion in Chapter III of the obsessive pursuit of novelty in our lives draws out very effectively how the multiplication of pure consumer choice produces not greater diversity or liberty but a sense of endless repetition of the same and a lack of hope in the future.

Once again, the underlying issue is the loss of meaning. It is fully in keeping with this general perspective that what Pope Francis has to say about the rights and dignities of the unborn (120) is seamlessly connected with the dangers of a culture of “disposability” in which the solid presence of those others who do not instantly appear to contribute to our narrowly conceived well-being can so readily be forgotten.

Ultimately, as the pope lucidly puts it, “when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided” (123).

Battling about legal controls is pointless unless we are able to persuade people of the human richness of a culture informed by that radical openness to meaning that is ready to leave behind the calculations of profit and public utility as the only tests of success and political viability

 The encyclical makes various points in its later sections about the need for a robust international legal framework for addressing our environmental crisis, but its focal concern is that we should face the need for “a bold cultural revolution” (114).

Because of the eagerness of some commentators to stir the pot of controversy over the causes of climate change, this appeal for cultural revolution has been pushed to one side in a predictable flurry of what it’s tempting to call counter-pontification.

Some have said indignantly that the pope has no charism of authoritative teaching on scientific matters, and so have excused themselves from thinking about the underlying theological point (rooted, as I have already said, in the same theology as Pope Benedict’s, a theology of human vocation in a limited material world and the decadence of a human culture incapable of facing non-negotiable truth).

In fact, of course, no one, least of all the pope, has claimed or would claim such a magisterium; but what the pope actually says on this subject is grounded, entirely justifiably, in two things—first, a massive professional consensus on the rate of climate modification; and second, the direct experience of those living in the world’s most vulnerable environments, who will bear witness to the measurable effect of desertification or rising sea levels.

In such a situation, if it is rationally arguable (as it unquestionably is) that certain modifications in human behavior can alter the situation, even marginally, for the better, and if it is theologically arguable (as it unquestionably is) that our habits of consumption reveal a spiritually disastrous condition, then it is frankly a diversionary tactic to make debating points about the pope’s non-infallibility on scientific affairs.

Also striking is the encyclical’s consistent emphasis on solidarity as a rule-of-thumb test for the moral defensibility of this or that policy.

In Chapter IV especially, the pope reflects on the inseparability of social health and cohesion on the one hand and harmony with the environment on the other (yet again, there is conspicuous reference to Pope Benedict’s thought, as in 142).

Pope Francis comes back here to the question of law: in many settings, the rule of law is a sorry fiction, with an administrative elite exploiting public process to advance private interest; and even in less corrupt environments, the law loses credibility when the social order manifestly fails to protect the poorest.

In a passage clearly marked by Pope Francis’s experience as a pastor in Latin America, he lays out the connections between a lawlessly drug-abusing culture in a wealthy society, the toxic social and political distortions imposed by this on poorer societies, the economic and environmental degradation produced by the requirements of drug supply, and the resultant decay of the rule of law all round (142).

The pope’s vision—crucially—holds together what the rule of law is about (the security of persons from harm and the possibility of equal access to redress for all) with the acceptance of a world of mutual respect and the understanding of limits.

Here, as at several points, Pope Francis makes it clear that his commitment to environmental justice is not in the least an advocacy of political primitivism or benign anarchy. Indeed, you could fairly say that he is suggesting that only when his “cultural revolution” is in hand can we properly understand politics itself.

If our thinking and sensibilities are wedded to the will and its dramas, politics slips toward that marketized condition that increasingly dominates electoral campaigns—tell us (aspirant politicians) what you want and we shall argue about which of us can give it to you most effectively; never mind what our social life might be for.

Solidarity with the world we’re part of and solidarity among us as its inhabitants belong together; environmental justice (justice for the poor, justice for the next generation, as spelled out in 159–60) teaches us about ordinary justice and lawfulness between citizens—and vice versa.

So it is no surprise that the argument returns more than once to the question of how local cultures are to be heard, respected, and given real agency (144); how we escape from the assumption that the discourse of the “developed” world is the only unchallengeable orthodoxy around the globe today.

Change involves valuing the local, and so valuing the apparently modest gesture, the symbolically weighty but practically limited action that simply declares what might be done differently. St. Thérèse of Lisieux is invoked to good effect here (230), and this is a very significant issue if we are to avoid giving the impression of a crisis so intense that no small gesture is worthwhile.

And it is with this in mind that the encyclical in its final pages (233–7) sets out a strong theology of the sacramental life, underlining not only the way in which the Eucharist reveals the inner energy of all material creation by the grace of the Incarnate Word but also the “sabbatical” vision of time made spacious in the celebration of God’s gifts.

“We are called to include in our work a dimension of receptivity and gratuity” (237); and, strikingly, St. John of the Cross is cited (234) as establishing the continuity in absolute difference that is God’s presence in the created order.

Ignoring or distorting our responsibility in the material world is ultimately a denial of that eternal relatedness that is God’s own trinitarian life: we need to discover a spirituality rooted in “that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity” (240).

 In short, this is more than an encyclical on the environment: it has clear and provocative things to say about our environmental responsibility and our current cultural malaise in this regard, but, by grounding its environmental critique in a critique of the soul of the contemporary developed world, it presents a genuinely theological vision with implications in several distinct areas.

It was, for example, good to read (149 ff.) a brief but penetrating reflection on the actual geography of our urban environments, on how we display what we think matters in the way we design our civic spaces.

These paragraphs should be a powerful diagnostic tool for understanding better what has to be done to rescue urban society—not only what support services should be available but what absolutely practical considerations should enter into the design of shared space, even the materials used in building.

And, again echoing things that have been said from the Vatican often enough in the past decade, the issues around environmental risk prompt some hard questions about how a world still passionately committed to a model of absolute state sovereignty (except where globalized finance is concerned, of course) devises effective instruments for international monitoring and sanctioning of ecological threats.

This is one area in which the encyclical—like earlier papal pronouncements on the subject—will inevitably feel over-idealistic: we are not going to have a world government any time soon, and the problems in creating any such entity are pretty well insurmountable.

The truth is that we are pretty much condemned to an endless and generally frustrating series of arguments over where any authority might lie for the monitoring of the environmental record of sovereign states—looking ultimately, perhaps, to a regime like the UN nuclear inspectorate.

There could be more about the UN in these pages, though it is true that this is not a period where high expectations of that body are easy to sustain.

And there is one other area where I feel more nuance could be added, though I mention it in full awareness of its delicacy, and of the fact that, as a non–Roman Catholic, I do not have exactly the same specific commitments about the ethics of birth control.

I entirely agree that identifying a rising birth rate as the root of the problem or suggesting that ecological crisis is best resolved in terms of population limitation is often another displacement activity on the part of developed cultures unwilling to adjust their behavior (50): the burden on the planet represented by large poor families is incomparably less than the burden of the lifestyles of “developed” economies, and we need to be reminded unsparingly of this bald fact.

But is there a question, in the longest view, about what population the earth can sustain? All the arguments about living in a limited environment (which make it clear that unlimited economic growth is nonsense) bear eventually on the issue of unlimited population growth.

The pope has given indications that he is not insensitive to this question, but there is more to do here, I suspect, in clarifying what a response that was grounded in Catholic theology but clear-eyed about the challenge might look like.

A FINAL POINT: If I had a single reservation about the theology of Evangelii gaudium, it would have been that an understandable desire to avoid any churchy preciousness about liturgy made the brief remarks about the sacramental life in that document feel just a little perfunctory.

This encyclical more than makes up for that in the eloquent reflections on the sacraments in its concluding pages.

It is interesting that the theologian most often quoted in the document, apart from previous pontiffs, is Romano Guardini—not only a writer admired by Pope Benedict, but one who represents just that ecclesially and liturgically informed theology which came to fruition in Europe on the eve of Vatican II, presenting a coherent, imaginatively vivid, socially and politically critical worldview profoundly rooted in a highly traditional dogmatics, looking back to those patristic and monastic sources in which ethics, liturgy, spirituality, and doctrine were not separated.

It is this hinterland that makes Pope Francis so hard to categorize in the eyes of those who think only in terms of left and right as conventionally imagined. And that is, I believe, a very healthy place for a theologian, a pope, or indeed a church, to be.

If we can lift our heads from the trenches of contemporary media-driven controversy, what we are being offered in this encyclical is, in the very fullest sense, a theology of liberation, drawing our minds and hearts toward a converted culture that is neither what T. S. Eliot called “ringing the bell backwards,” pining for a lost social order and a lost form or style of authority, nor a religiously inflected liberalism, but a genuinely ecclesial vision.

The pope’s cultural revolution is about restored relationship with the creation we belong with and the creator who made us to share his bliss in communion; it is about the unbreakable links between contemplation, eucharist, justice, and social transformation.

It constitutes a major contribution to the ongoing unfolding of a body of coherent social teaching, and a worthy expansion and application of the deeply impressive doctrinal syntheses of Pope Benedict’s major encyclicals.

The Full Text, Indeed

The complete Corbyn speech is here.

Richard Heller's reaction to the use of his work is here. What was Corbyn supposed to do, read out a footnote?

The Daily Politics had to come off air a quarter of an hour early, with BBC Two showing a filler and BBC Two HD a blank screen, because the audience had reacted so angrily to its biased coverage.

Lance Price was the only guest. We look forward to Lord Ashcroft as the only guest when The Daily Politics covers David Cameron's speech next week.

Not that any real lesson had been learned.

Come Newsnight, and on came Allegra Stratton, who is the Political Editor of that programme because her husband is the Political Editor of The Spectator and she dines with the Camerons at home. James Landale, an old schoolmate of the Prime Minister's, is similarly blessed.

Stratton banged on about "Corbynistas", while dismissing the speech as "not a programme for government". Apparently, as a BBC staffer, it is her place to say that.

In the midst of all of this, the polls have loved the speech, and the no-dog-in-the-fight foreign coverage has been uniformly favourable.

Look Left

It is good to see the Gramscian, Eurocommunist roots of New Labour explored at such length in The Guardian. John Harris has written a very interesting and important article.

Alongside Marxism Today on the newsstands and in the newsagents that even I can remember, sat the Living Marxism to which Brendan O'Neill clearly remains faithful.

When I asked on Twitter which Revolutionary Communist Party candidate had ever won a quarter of a million votes, as Jeremy Corbyn recently did, then Jon Holbrook told me that Spiked no longer held the RCP position.

Well, it seems from Brendan's post that, however glad you might be that you never married that first proper girlfriend, nor do you ever quite get over her.

Meanwhile, I love the way in which Jeremy Corbyn will not expel John Mann or Simon Danczuk, or even withdraw the Whip from them, no matter how desperately they beg for it.

He is forcing Lance Price and John McTernan to stay, too, or else go of their own accord. I do not know whether or not Philip Collins is still in the Labour Party, but Dan Hodges is not, and he ought not to be treated as if he were.

Mann criticises "former Trots and members of Socialist Action", but I doubt that the old Trotskyists in question are Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers.

Socialist Action began in 1982, when the International Marxist Group, which had been a mainstay of campus Trotskyism in the 1970s (everyone from Alistair Darling, to Kate Hoey, to the future Cameron Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne, had been in it), rather disarmingly declared its open and public adoption of entryism in relation to the Labour Party.

Members did end up on Ken Livingstone's staff when he was Mayor of London, and some of those are now advising Corbyn. But at least one of them had in the meantime been kept on by Boris Johnson, and has therefore gone from Johnson's employ to Corbyn's, a move that has been remarkably little noticed.

Johnson has also been, and remains, very close indeed to the old RCP gang that is now organised around Spiked and various other projects, and which routinely secures paid work on the right-wing papers that are now vilifying Corbyn. Unless he is also a Co-operative Party member, Corbyn has never been a member of any party other than Labour.

I should have to check any links between Johnson, or the Government, or both, and figures from the old Marxism Today wing of the Communist Party. But I bet that they are there. And I bet that both they and the Socialist Action brigade, although certainly not the Spikies, also have some kind of contact with Zac Goldsmith.

Forget Militant and its Tendency. Forget the International Socialists, who became the SWP, and who were at one time noted for their Romeo and Juliet student romances with IMG members. Forget the Tankie wing of the Communist Party. Forget, if you ever remembered, the Maoist communes. And take a proper look.

Listen To Putin

Simon Jenkins writes:

Putin is right.

Everyone knows Putin is right, that the only way forward in Syria, if not to eternal slaughter, is via the established government of Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese and Iranian allies. That is the realpolitik. That is what pragmatism dictates.

In the secure west, foreign policy has long been a branch of domestic politics, with added sermonising. “What to do”, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, even Ukraine, has been dictated not by what might work but what looks good. The megaphone is mightier than the brain.

The result of American and British grandstanding at the UN this week – seeing who can be ruder about Assad – is that Vladimir Putin has gathered ever more cards to his pack.

Putin has already performed the two primary duties of a Russian leader, bringing stability and pride. He now faces turbulent Russian minorities across his European frontier and a serious menace from Muslim states to his south.

He is perforce becoming a player on a wider stage. He has read Iran, India and Syria correctly. He is no fool.

On a visit to London last June, the veteran diplomat Henry Kissinger pleaded with his audience to see Russia as an ally, not an enemy, against Muslim fundamentalism. Russia and the west shared a civilisation and long-term interests, he said. They had to work as one.

It is easy for western democracies, centuries in the making, to sneer at Russia’s imperfections and at Putin’s cynical antics in Ukraine. But the idea that economic sanctions were going to change Moscow’s mind or weaken its kleptocracy was idiotic. 

Syria is experiencing the most ghastly anarchy anywhere on earth. If ever there were a case for humanitarian “troops on the ground” it must be here. 

Those who seek this end cannot pick and choose their merchants of atrocity. All sides in war kill innocent people, including western addicts of air bombing (such as Hilary Benn at the Labour party conference yesterday). 

Russia has accepted that the forcible toppling of Assad – which Britain has predicted since 2011 – is not a realistic path to peace. If he is to go, it will be after his enemies have been driven back, not before.

The true nature of the west’s commitment in Syria was revealed in Barack Obama’s remark to the UN that “because alternatives are surely worse” is no reason to support tyrants. In other words, American feelgood is more important than Syrian lives.

That cosy maxim has guided western policy in the region for over a decade. It has been a disaster. If we have nothing more intelligent to say on Syria, we should listen to Putin. He has.

It Leads To The Farce

Michael Meacher writes:

Osborne has always had an overweening arrogance as he plots his path to the premiership before 2020. But his calculation is beginning to desert him.

It is extraordinary that he has spent a week sucking up to China, accompanied by six ministers in his retinue, when everyone else is fleeing the country as being in deep economic trouble.

The idea that hooking up to China today puts Britain in prime economic position is absurd.

What China is exporting is not the world’s manufactured products, but deflation risk – domino devaluations, layoffs and recession. Cosying up to China in today’s conditions is not a smart idea.

Then there’s the lack of reciprocity in Osborne’s dealings with China. He seems prepared recklessly to throw open Britain’s doors to any Chinese company for investment in almost any sector.

By contrast China closes off many industrial sectors to foreign investors and imposes limits on ownership in many others.

It leads to the farce that a foreign state is welcome to invest in British industry, but British state investment in British industry under the Tories is strictly taboo.

Then there’s the question of undermining UK national security, a charge which Cameron has been quick to throw at Labour, but which with much more substance his own chancellor is guilty of.

By pleading with the Chinese to cut the deal over Hinkley C, Osborne is making a double mistake.

He is allowing Chinese companies to operate at the heart of Britain’s nuclear industry, he is certainly putting at risk UK national security in the future. He is also subsidising the biggest white elephant in modern politics.

Hinkley, if it is ever built, will be far and away the most expensive nuclear plant ever built. It will be more expensive than Crossrail, the London super-sewer and the Olympics all combined.

It will be subsidised up to the hilt by the taxpayer to guarantee EDF a 10% return on capital into the indefinite future, and there will be contractual protections again underwritten by the taxpayer against any unpredictable downsides throughout the life of the plant.

The idea that Osborne and the Tories can be trusted for efficiency and cost-competitiveness is blown sky-high by this shibboleth alone.

Then there’s austerity. Osborne has so far got his way over this because New Labour colluded with the government in pretending that there was no alternative.

Now that the Corbyn revolution is making clear that there is a much quicker, more efficient and better way to reduce the budget deficit, Osborne may now begin to encounter heavy resistance if he tries to force through the huge welfare and public expenditure cuts he’s promised.

He will either have to back down, which would be a huge political humiliation, or he will find deficit reduction – the centrepiece of his economic programme – in free fall.

Rhetoric and Reality

Grahame Morris writes:

There is no better illustration of the gap between the rhetoric and reality than the Government’s failure to support our steel industry. The UK steel industry is in crisis.

While George Osborne was in Shanghai this week selling the UK energy sector to the Chinese Government, steel production on Teesside could come to an end after 160 years.

One of the main reasons cited for the steel crisis is the action of China dumping excess steel onto international markets.

Eurofer – the organisation that represents European steel producers, stated:

Chinese import pressure and unfair trade practices are certainly the root causes underlying the pressures that steel plants, such as Redcar, are facing. China now sells its excess steel to the EU at prices that do not even cover the costs for raw materials and material transformation.

The closure of the UK steel industry would result in the direct loss of 30,000 skilled jobs as well as impacting thousands of jobs in the supply chain.

The loss of steel production in the UK would be acutely felt in our industrial heartlands, which are already blighted with high unemployment and a lack of highly skilled jobs.

The North East would be particularly vulnerable, with steel production already suspended on Teesside.

There will be irrecoverable damage to our regional economy with the weakening of our manufacturing sector undermining efforts towards rebalancing the economy.

The UK Government cannot continue to watch from the sidelines uninterested. Other countries have recognised the importance of steel.

In Italy the steel industry has been nationalised, while other countries have addressed issues relating to costs, taxes and imports.

While other countries intervene to support their industry, UK steel producers face a financial penalty in excess of £400 million a year compared to competitors due to exchange rates, energy costs, air pollution targets and business rates.

These additional costs, alongside Chinese steel dumping have limited the export market, while also undermining the UK’s domestic market.

Despite promising to rebalance the economy, the financial and service sector led recovery has left steel consuming sectors like construction at below recession levels. A failed unbalanced recovery has left UK steel demand at 75 per cent below pre-recession levels.

The Government’s insistence on a fully open domestic market has left UK steel production vulnerable to unfair trade practices and a refusal to support the industry by promoting smart local procurement to address the decline in domestic use of UK steel which now accounts for only 20% of the market, compared to 90% in the 1970s.

The loss of UK steel would further erode the UK’s manufacturing base and leave the Government’s promise of a Northern Powerhouse in ruins.

The economy will never be rebalanced if the Government sits idle during a crisis in UK manufacturing and allows the long-term competitiveness of the UK economy to be undermined.

It would cement the decline of UK manufacturing, resulting in the further loss of skilled employment, as well as damaging research and development within the UK, which is nearly wholly based in the manufacturing sector.

The Chancellor has chased headlines with his Northern Powerhouse rhetoric and now families in steel producing communities are demanding real action.

Therefore, I would urge the Chancellor to use his time in China to do more than just sell off UK energy production and access to our financial markets, but to support and promote the real economy and ensure the UK retains what is remaining of our manufacturing base.

Standard Practice

Owen Bowcott brings us the story of the year:

Britain conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council (UNHRC), according to leaked diplomatic cables.

The elevation of the Saudi kingdom to one of the UN’s most influential bodies in 2013 prompted fresh international criticism of its human rights record. 

This week, a new diplomatic row has erupted over a Shia activist, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who faces death by crucifixion after being convicted at the age of 17 of joining an anti-government demonstration.

Riyadh has sanctioned more than a hundred beheadings so far this year – more, it is claimed, than Islamic State.

The Saudi foreign ministry files, passed to Wikileaks in June, refer to talks with British diplomats ahead of the November 2013 vote in New York.

The documents have now been been translated by the organisation UN Watch – a Geneva-based non-governmental human rights organisation that scrutinises the world body – and newspaper The Australian.

The classified exchanges, the paper said, suggest that the UK initiated the secret negotiations by asking Saudi Arabia for its support.

Both countries were eventually elected to the UNHRC, which has 47 member states. The Saudi cables, dated January and February 2013, were translated separately by the Australian and UN Watch. One read: 

“The delegation is honoured to send to the ministry the enclosed memorandum, which the delegation has received from the permanent mission of the United Kingdom asking it for the support and backing of the candidacy of their country to the membership of the human rights council (HRC) for the period 2014-2016, in the elections that will take place in 2013 in the city of New York. 

“The ministry might find it an opportunity to exchange support with the United Kingdom, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would support the candidacy of the United Kingdom to the membership of the council for the period 2014-2015 in exchange for the support of the United Kingdom to the candidacy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” 

Another cable revealed that Saudi Arabia transferred $100,000 for “expenditures resulting from the campaign to nominate the Kingdom for membership of the human rights council for the period 2014-2016”.

It was unclear where or how this money was spent. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, told The Australian:

“Based on the evidence, we remain deeply concerned that the UK may have contracted to elect the world’s most misogynistic regime as a world judge of human rights.

“UN Watch finds it troubling that the UK refuses to deny the London-Riyadh vote-trade as contemplated in the Saudi cable, nor even to reassure the public that their voting complies with the core reform of the UNHRC’s founding resolution, which provides that candidates be chosen based on their human rights record, and that members be those who uphold the highest standards of human rights.”

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said:

“As is standard practice with all members, we never reveal our voting intentions or the way we vote.

“The British government strongly promotes human rights around the world and we raise our human rights concerns with the Saudi Arabian authorities.

“We regularly make our views known, including through the UN universal periodic review process and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual human rights and democracy report.” 

The revelation follows Saudi Arabia’s appointment this week as chair of a UNHRC panel that selects senior officials who draft international human rights standards and write reports on violations.

Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs Allan Hogarth said:

“If the UK is doing back-room deals with Saudi officials over human rights, this would be a slap in the face for those beleaguered Saudi activists who already struggle with endemic persecution in the kingdom.

“People like the blogger Raif Badawi, who is still behind bars, have paid a heavy price for speaking about democracy and the need for tolerance in Saudi Arabia, and now the young activist Mohammed al-Nimr is also facing execution. 

“The UK should be supporting the rights of Badawi and Al-Nimr, not pushing the non-existing human rights credentials of the Saudi Arabian authorities.” 

Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said the cables raised serious questions about the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. 

“What secret back-room deals has Britain done to help the Saudis whitewash an international image tarnished by gross human rights abuses?

“The government needs to come clean about why it is refusing to stop a Ministry of Justice bid that would make us complicit in the worst abuses of the Saudi ‘justice’ system.

“Instead of cosying up to this repressive government at every opportunity, the UK must urgently withdraw the MoJ bid, and use our obvious influence to halt Ali’s execution.”

Deal A Fatal Blow

Nick Dearden writes:

Canada and the EU signed a deal last year. It had been kept a secret from the public right until the final stages.

Once passed into law, it will allow the British government to be sued in secret tribunals by multinational Canadian and American businesses, under a system so arcane that even those who negotiated the deal have admitted that it needs to change.

Despite this, the deal is about to start being pushed through the European Parliament, and then our own parliament, where our representatives are not even allowed to amend it.

But they will have a yes or no vote. And they need to vote no.

What is CETA?

CETA – or the Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement – is  a trade deal between Canada and Europe. It’s part of a new generation of deals, which includes the controversial TTIP.

The thing is, it’s not really a trade deal at all. It's more of an investor’s charter, which gives big business and big finance huge new powers and rights.

The one positive thing about CETA is that it’s no longer secret. It’s already been signed and that means that we’re allowed to see it.

Its 1,500 pages of text show us that it's not only a threat to our food standards, but also our battle against climate change, and ability to regulate big banks.

What's more, it could even threaten our our power to renationalise industries, such as the railways.

At the heart of CETA is a new legal system, open to foreign corporations but not ordinary people.

Let’s say the British government makes a decision. This could be to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety, put cigarettes in plain packaging, or protect a place of natural beauty from fracking.

Under the deal, a Canadian company, or any company with a Canadian subsidiary, can sue the British government if it thinks that the decision is unfair.

And by unfair we simply mean they can’t make as much profit as they expected to make. The trial would be held as a secret tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers, and without any right of appeal. Canadian companies are already doing this all over the world.

A company called Gabriel Resources recently announced it was suing the Romanian government for damages, after parliament blocked the development of one of their gold mines over environmental fears. They now face a compensation claim for possibly billions of pounds.

CETA would open this system to thousands more companies, including  US companies with subsidiaries in Canada, like Wal-Mart, Chevron, Coca Cola and Monsanto. It is inconceivable that Britain wouldn’t face a case.

Such a furore has been created around these “corporate courts” that the European Commission itself has said they are outdated and need to be reformed.

In a consultation last year, 97 per cent of the 150,000 respondents to a consultation exercise said they didn’t want such a system.

Yet it’s in CETA – and there’s nothing we can do to remove it short of rejecting the whole thing. And rejecting the whole thing is exactly what we need to do. Here are some of the reasons why:

It will allow toxic tar sands to flow into Europe

Tar sands oil is one of the most environmentally destructive fossil fuels in the world, and the majority of this oil is extracted in Alberta, Canada.

The impact on the climate of tar sands is much higher than conventional oil, not to mention the complete devastation it leaves when it’s extracted.

There is currently little tar sands in use in the EU, but that’s changing.

When the EU proposed prohibitive new regulations to effectively stop tar sands flowing into Europe, Canada used CETA as a bargaining chip to block the proposal

Now, if CETA passes, that decision will be locked in. Any attempt by the EU to revisit the question would undoubtedly see the EU facing a massive compensation claim from the tar sands industry.

CETA does have a sustainable development chapter, which is a positive move for a trade agreement. But this chapter focuses on fisheries and forests, and doesn’t cover mining, energy or transportation.

No wonder the campaign group Council for Canadians says the chapter is “largely aspirational and lacks any effective enforcement mechanism.”

Financial regulation will be weakened, and workers rights threatened 

The whole purpose of CETA is to reduce regulation on business. The idea is that will make it easier to export. But it will do far more than that.

Through the pleasant sounding “regulatory cooperation”, standards would be reduced across the board on the basis that they are “obstacles to trade”. 

We’re looking at a race to the bottom in areas such as food safety, workers’ rights and environmental regulation. 

The ability of governments to regulate financial services would be impaired. Limiting the growth of banks that have become “too big to fail” could land a government in a secret tribunal.

Through something called a “ratchet clause” current levels of privatisation would be “locked in” on any services not specifically exempted. 

If Canadian or EU governments want to bring certain services back into public ownership, they could be breaking the terms of the agreement.

Britain could lose its culinary identity

The UK has failed to protect UK food standards and labelling while negotiating CETA.

The EU has a system for protecting regional food quality and benefiting local economies. That’s why only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne and Cornish pasties can only be be made in Cornwall.

With CETA, France and Italy have negotiated 42 exemptions to protect local products from Canadian imitations, including brie and parmesan cheese.

But the UK has failed to protect any of its regional products. Under CETA, we could be eating Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese produced in Ontario and Cornish pasties from Nunavut.

CETA is expected to be ratified by the European parliament in 2016. It’s by no means a done deal, with significant numbers of MEPs baulking at agreeing to such a deal.

Nearly three million people across Europe have signed a petition calling on the EU to halt CETA, and the better-known TTIP.

In Canada, a campaign has been waged by trade unionists and environmentalists for several years to stop the deal, because it threatens to bring their own country under similar attack from European corporations.

A looming election could change the balance of forces for the better there.

CETA will be the first trade deal of its kind to come before the European and British parliaments.

A no vote would also make sure it was the last, as it would deal a fatal blow to the corporate lobby’s offensive.

Let’s make sure that happens.

At The Centre

At the Labour Party conference in Blackpool exactly 40 years ago this week, then prime minister Harold Wilson made one of the most prophetic speeches any politician has ever made.

He warned of the extremist direction that the Conservative Party under its new leader Margaret Thatcher was heading in, and how, if her party was elected, Conservative policies would adversely affect Britain.

“I want you to mark this,” Wilson declared.

“The party which a century ago Disraeli committed to the cause of ‘One Nation’ is now proclaiming across the world their resentment at what they regard as ‘the rich becoming poorer and the poor becoming richer.’

“The political philosophy of a once-great party has now been asserted. Not a claim to unite the nation, but a policy to divide it.

“We have been told, on impeccable and undeniable authority, that the pursuit of inequality for its own sake is now to become an end in itself.

“It is now to become the altar, the deity, before which they seek to prostrate themselves — and the country.”

To some, Wilson’s warnings in 1975 might have sounded far-fetched. But Thatcherism, as he so correctly pointed out, did mark a real and radical break with the egalitarian politics of the post-war era. Too many on the left did not appreciate just how much of a threat Thatcher posed, until it was too late.

40 years on from Wilson’s speech, there are at last signs that this incredibly regressive chapter in our history may be coming to an end.

In Jeremy Corbyn, Labour now has a leader who wants to break with the neoliberal policies first introduced by the Conservatives in 1979 (and continued by Labour when in office from 1997-2010), and which have done so much harm to our economic and social fabric.

Of course, New Labour politicians in the Blair years talked the language of progressives. They assured us their aim was to reduce inequality and fight for “social justice.”

But the give-away that these people were not on the real anti-Thatcher left was their opposition to public ownership and their acceptance of the privatised economy that they inherited.

In fact, this support for a largely privatised economy, along with support for Western military interventions against countries which resisted finance capital-friendly globalisation, became integral parts of a phoney elite consensus which emerged in the 1990s.

Labour and the Conservatives converged around a neoliberal-neocon programme of wars and privatisation which made the super-rich even richer. Disillusioned with what “mainstream” politics had to offer, millions of Britons stopped voting altogether.

However, as Corbyn’s stunning success has shown, this elite consensus — laughably called the “centre ground” by members of the punditocracy who themselves share these extremist far-right views — is most certainly not where public opinion is in 2015.

The Labour candidate most committed to public ownership in the party’s leadership election, Corbyn won a landslide victory. Andy Burnham, who had pledged a publicly owned railway, came second.

Yvette Cooper — who had scoffed at Corbyn’s renationalisation plans — trailed in third, while Liz Kendall, the uber-Blairite candidate cheered on by members of Britain’s “elite journos” club, was routed in fourth, scoring just 4.5 per cent of the vote.

Support for public ownership undoubtedly helped to propel Corbyn to the Labour leadership. It can also help him and Labour return to power in 2020. For it’s not just Labour members who have had enough of privatisation.

Polls carried out by the Money Saving Expert website, founded and edited by Martin Lewis, found large majorities in favour of public ownership earlier this year.

A poll in late January showed that 86 per cent of the 10,742 people who voted were in favour of nationalising the railways. And 75 per cent supported renationalisation of the gas and energy companies.

Corbyn has already pledged his support for bringing these sectors back into public ownership, but what is interesting is the level of popular support for other renationalisations, too: 84 per cent want private water companies to be renationalised, 81 per cent want the Royal Mail to return to public ownership, 61 per cent want the same for bus services, and 51 per cent want directory enquiries (118 numbers) to be renationalised.

Just about the only sector where support for the privatised status quo significantly exceeded support for renationalisation was aviation, where only 18 per cent wanted to see British Airways renationalised.

But in every other field, the public opposition to privatisation was striking.

These and other polls should encourage Corbyn and Labour to put public ownership at the centre of their programme for government. The case for bringing back Clause Four, or something very similar to it, is overwhelming.

For not only is public ownership clearly very popular, it would also enable a Corbyn-led Labour party to achieve some of its other important goals.

Take the reduction of inequality.

It’s no coincidence that in the period when the level of public ownership in our economy was at its highest — the mid to late 1970s — we also had the smallest gap between the rich and poor in our history.

Private ownership of property is one way in which wealth inequalities grow. The more of an economy that is in private hands, the more unequal that society becomes. Conversely, the greater the share of public ownership, the lower the inequality.

Anyone who talks about reducing inequality in Britain without calling for a programme of renationalisation is being intellectually dishonest.

A Labour Party pledged to reduce inequality, but which doesn’t have Clause Four, is bound to fail in its goal — whatever promises its leaders make.

Just compare the record of Labour in government in reducing inequality when it had Clause Four with its record when it didn’t.

A commitment to a major programme of renationalisation would have other benefits too. It would mean that the cost-of-living crisis could finally be tackled at source.

A hallmark of the privatisation era is the public paying far more for basic services than they would do if the services were provided directly by the state with no shareholder dividends to pay.

We’ve had year-in, year-out above-inflation increases in rail and bus fares, gas, electricity and water bills.

Bringing all these services back into public ownership will enable prices to be lowered and make everyday life less hard for the millions of Britons currently struggling to make ends meet.

Support for renationalisation would also allow Corbyn to counter Tory criticism that he is “unpatriotic.”

The fake patriotism of the neocon Tories sees them wrapping themselves up in the Union Jack while selling off British infrastructure to foreign-owned companies, some of which are owned by governments of other countries.

It’s totally unacceptable for George Osborne and co that the British state runs train services in Britain — but it is OK for the German state.

It’s considered “extreme” to call for renationalisation of energy companies, but not extreme to allow strategically important national assets fall into foreign ownership.

While the Tories will of course denounce any plans to renationalise, the biggest barriers to Corbyn will come from Blairites within his own party.

These neoliberal cuckoos in the Labour nest will do all they all they can to derail renationalisation plans and maintain the status quo.

But as the Labour leadership election has shown, the Blairites, while still popular among the punditocracy, have miniscule support among the Labour membership.

The more party decision-making is democratised, the greater the chance of Labour making a clean break with the Blair-Brown years and restoring its historical support for public ownership.

The hard-right extremists that Wilson warned us against 40 years ago are now warning us of the “extremism” of Corbyn, claiming that he wants to “take us back to the 1970s.”

The only sensible response of any true progressive should be: “Bring it on!”

Monday 28 September 2015

The Lanchester Review: David Lindsay Interviews Andrew Jordan

Andrew Jordan recently resigned as President of the Socialist Labour Party that was founded by Arthur Scargill in 1996, and joined the Labour Party.

Gave Without Taking?

The towns along the Tees make the city-states of Ancient Greece, or of Medieval and Renaissance Italy, look like models of mutual affection and respect.

But since the erstwhile MP for Hartlepool has chosen to return to the public eye, then he ought to make himself useful.

Peter Mandelson's 2009 scheme to bail out the car industry was a great success, and this country is once again a world leader in that industry.

The same needs to be done for steel.

In Terms of Military Use

It might be perfectly understandable why Labour party delegates decided to bottle out of a conference debate on Trident, Britain’s most powerful, most expensive, most irrelevant and most useless weapon.

Yet the attempt to suppress debate on the utility of Britain’s nuclear arsenal is undemocratic. And a discussion is needed, desperately.

“The question of Trident renewal becomes a symbol for Britain in the world, for patriotism, or for enlightened foreign policy,” says Michael Clarke, director general of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) thinktank.

He adds: “The one thing that politicians don’t address when they talk about Britain’s nuclear weapons is how they do, or don’t, actually figure in practical defence policy for the next 10 or 20 years. It is really very depressing.”

In his memoirs, Tony Blair said of Trident: “The expense is huge and the utility … non-existent in terms of military use.” 

He said he could clearly see the force of the “common sense and practical argument” against Trident, but in the end he thought that giving it up would be “too big a downgrading of our status as a nation”. 

It is about symbols and sacred cows.

The arguments are not simply ones of left versus right. In Brighton on Sunday, unions who are pro-Trident on employment grounds voted against a debate, though their skilled workforce could readily switch to building submarines or warships that are not armed with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.

Crispin Blunt, the Tory chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, says: “It is no longer sensible to put aside the money [for Trident] for the size of nation we are. At what point is it no longer value for money for the UK? In my judgment we have reached that point.” 

Max Hastings, a historian and respected commentator on military affairs, chastised the government in yesterday’s Sunday Times, accusing it of “indefensibly” ruling out of the debate on the forthcoming strategic defence and security review (SDSR) “the huge commitment to replace Trident”.

Hastings added that the navy’s new aircraft carriers might have provided jobs for Scottish shipyards but were “less relevant to Britain’s security needs than is the Great Pyramid”.

“When you are short of money, you should put everything in the melting pot,” says Major General Patrick Cordingley, former commander of the 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats.

He argues that Trident should not be ringfenced and the costs should be weighed up against new ships, planes, tanks and infantry.

The defence secretary, Michael Fallon, made clear in a keynote speech to RUSI last week that the SDSR would, as he put it, “certainly be confirming the importance of a nuclear deterrent”. 

Yet he also made plain that no agreement had been reached on such urgent problems as the shortfall in the number and capabilities of RAF strike aircraft and skilled navy personnel. 

According to the latest MoD figures, the navy is short of 620 specialists, including submarine engineers who would be needed for Trident. 

Costs of US F-35B Lightning II fighter jets planned for the carriers have soared and numbers have been drastically scaled back. 

The RAF is having to rely on 30-year-old Tornados against Isis fighters because its newest strike aircraft, the Typhoon, is not yet equipped with Brimstone missiles, the most accurate weapon in the RAF’s armoury.

Ministers say that Trident, estimated to cost £100bn over a 30-year lifespan, will be needed as merely as an insurance policy in an “uncertain” world.

Yet would a similar argument ever be used for hospitals, or for any civil, as opposed to military, contingency?

Trident is supposed to be a deterrent: the point is, it is there so it would never be used.

Yet its credibility depends on whether a rational British prime minister would ever take an independent decision to order Trident submarine commanders to launch a nuclear weapon.

That belongs to the realm of fantasy.

Very Shrewd

Martin Coulter writes:

Jeremy Corbyn was widely mocked for making his friend and fellow rebel MP John McDonnell the shadow chancellor.

But in McDonnell's speech today, he proved that Corbyn had made a very shrewd decision indeed - here's why.

He is above spin

My speech is going to be stultifyingly boring, like talking to your bank manager in the old days.

Long-winded discussions of economic policy can be dreary, to say the least.

Yet the political class so often refuses to admit its inherent dullness, injecting eye-catching headlines and superfluous catchphrases wherever they can.

Some have criticised John McDonnell for ‘living down’ to expectations by delivering a speech which, rather than bursting with pomp and circumstance, instead simply laid out how a Labour government would seek to tackle the challenges faced by the British economy.

But politics doesn’t have to be the flashy “showbiz for ugly people” as it has for the last few decades and he knows it.

After announcing the last budget, George Osborne said he was offering Britain “a new contract”, a statement which comes with the underlying assumption that the British people work for the good of the treasury - and not, as John McDonnell outlines, the other way around.

He is true to his convictions

“We will not tackle the deficit on the backs of middle and low earners and especially not by attacking the poorest in our society.”

McDonnell has been a member of parliament for almost twenty years and has never sought to trade in his principles for political power.

He hasn't been afraid to rebel against the party line, casting opposing votes against the invasion of Iraq, the introduction of student top-up fees and Tony Blair’s invasive anti-terror laws.

Even when it would have been much easier to exchange these values in order to gain favour with the party leadership, McDonnell has stuck to his guns and sought to represent the views of his constituents.

He and Jeremy Corbyn have that in common.

He believes in the voice of the people

“I believe the British people are fed up of being patronised and talked down to by politicians with little more than silly slogans and misleading analogies.”

Modern British politics is dogged by the belief, held by many working people, that “politicians are all the same”.

Save for some funny-haired buffoonery or pint-swilling banter from the likes of Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, normal people are fed up of Slick Oxbridge Politician #2873.

They want to empower people genuinely seeking to represent their voice.

The right-wing press has already gone to town on McDonnell for saying, “Sometimes, in addition to parliamentary debates, we do need a bit of protest in this country”, but such an admission should not be taken lightly.

Unlike Boris Johnson, McDonnell doesn’t dismiss his critics as “tossers” (be they left or right) but instead advocates trying to understand what they want to change.

McDonnell is trying to address the disconnect between the everyday man and the political class that has been infecting British politics for decades – and, considering how many people don’t even make it to the polling station to vote, ridding the public of political disillusionment has huge potential.

He is willing to make a stand against the big companies

“We will force people like Starbucks, Vodafone, Amazon and Google and all the others to pay their fair share of taxes… There will be cuts to the corporate welfare system.”

At last a mainstream politician tackles an issue which has been bubbling away for years head-on.

No more obvious is HMRC’s ‘one rule for them, one rule for us’ ethos than in its collection of tax.

Thousands of people are forced to cough up income tax every year after inadvertently underpaying; all the while big businesses file their earnings offshore and reap the benefits of a flawed legal system.

Critics say an overhaul of the system is too complex to effectively reclaim the enormous sum of tax left unpaid by these multinational corporations.

But the key difference between McDonnell and his counterpart Osborne is that he actually wants to try. 

He is not afraid of change

“After clearing the debris from our path, we are opening up a national discussion on the reality of the roles of deficits, surpluses, long-term investment, debt and monetary policy.” 

Ultimately McDonnell, like his colleague and party leader Corbyn, does not want to dictate to his party - or the country - what is best for them.

He wants an open forum in which people can share their thoughts and help to create a fairer and more equal society.

No longer do we need the Tories telling us what’s good for us, he says.

If we work together, we can come up with an adequate, and perhaps even better, solution ourselves.