Saturday 31 October 2015

The Lanchester Review: The Foreign Policy of Montenegro and the Question of Military Neutrality

"It would make Montenegro into the place of reconciliation and credible cooperation between the West and the East. It is therefore a humane and rational and wise foreign policy choice," explains Filip Kovacevic.

Embrace Your Orthodoxy

I have no doubt that Ross Douthat would sign the Catechism of the Catholic Church, laid upon an altar for the purpose during Mass.

Let his critics do likewise, and let them then all receive Communion together.

If not, why not?

Bishop Robert Barron could celebrate and preach.

Only Corbynomics Can Reverse The Economic Slowdown

Michael Burke has all the graphs and everything.

Health Tourism Bored

“One of the consequences of the universality of the British Health Service is the free treatment of foreign visitors.

“This has given rise to a great deal of criticism, most of it ill-informed and some of it deliberately mischievous.

Why should people come to Britain and enjoy the benefits of the free Health Service when they do not subscribe to the national revenues? So the argument goes.

No doubt a little of this objection is still based on the confusion about contributions to which I have referred.

The fact is, of course, that visitors to Britain subscribe to the national revenues as soon as they start consuming certain commodities, drink and tobacco for example, and entertainment.

“They make no direct contribution to the cost of the Health Service any more than does a British citizen.
“However, there are a number of more potent reasons why it would be unwise as well as mean to withhold the free service from the visitor to Britain.

How do we distinguish a visitor from anybody else? Are British citizens to carry means of identification everywhere to prove that they are not visitors?

For if the sheep are to be separated from the goats both must be classified. What began as an attempt to keep the Health Service for ourselves would end by being a nuisance to everybody.

Happily, this is one of those occasions when generosity and convenience march together.

The cost of looking after the visitor who falls ill cannot amount to more than a negligible fraction of £399,000,000, the total cost of the Health Service.

It is not difficult to arrive at an approximate estimate.

All we have to do is look up the number of visitors to Great Britain during one year and assume they would make the same use of the Health Service as a similar number of Britishers.

Divide the total cost of the Service by the population and you get the answer. I had the estimate taken out and it amounted to about £200,000 a year.

Obviously this is an overestimate because people who go for holidays are not likely to need a doctor’s attention as much as others.

However, there it is, for what it is worth, and you will see it does not justify the fuss that has been made about it.

“The whole agitation has a nasty taste.

Instead of rejoicing at the opportunity to practice a civilized principle, Conservatives have tried to exploit the most disreputable emotions in this among many other attempts to discredit socialized medicine.

“Naturally when Britons go abroad they are incensed because they are not similarly treated if they need the attention of a doctor.

But that also I am convinced will come when other nations follow our example and have health services of their own.

When that happens we shall be able to work out schemes of reciprocity, and yet one more amenity will have been added to social intercourse.

In the meantime let us keep in mind that, here, example is better than precept.”

Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear: A Free Health Service, 1952.

Robust Evidence

Tom Copley writes:

News that the capital’s private sector rents have risen by 4.1 per cent this year will sadly not come as a huge surprise to most renting Londoners, who have become miserably accustomed to rent rises outstripping wage growth in recent years.

Despite that acceptance, private renters in the capital will undoubtedly be left reeling from this fresh hit on their disposable income.

With rents soaring ever higher the spotlight should turn to the absence of safeguards to protect against the rocketing cost of renting in London.

There’s no getting away from the fact that London’s sky-high rents are mainly the result of a chronic shortage of housing. Ultimately the solution to unaffordable rents is to build more homes.

Yet even if we began a mass house building programme tomorrow, it would be years before the effects were felt in lower rents.

In the meantime, something has to be done to help prevent rent rises that outstrip growth in wages. Unfair rent rises and insecure tenancies afflict the lives of so many Londoners.

Yet, for too long, opinion formers – most notably private landlords and some politicians – have perpetuated the fable that giving renters more security of tenure – through rent controls – poses a threat to the health of the Private Rented Sector (PRS).

For too long, we’ve have lacked the robust evidence needed to dispel this myth. That is, until now.

Recent findings from a report commissioned by the London Assembly Housing Committee reveal that under virtually every model of rent control, the PRS in the capital would still experience significant growth.

This should reassure those who fear a sudden mass exodus of landlords from the market, and a resulting rise in homelessness.

It’s shameful that we have some of the weakest protection for private tenants in Western Europe.

Renters can find themselves subjected to short-term tenancies, unpredictable rent rises, and eviction without cause.

In contrast, many of our European neighbours enjoy a more equal balance of power between landlord and tenant.

This balance often brings with it indefinite tenancies and caps on rent increases, and gives tenants the necessary powers to ensure their homes are properly maintained.

There has been a renewed and concerted effort to replicate that balance here in the UK.

Earlier this month, Karen Buck MP’s private member’s bill, which sought to make it illegal for landlords to let out any property that is not fit for human inhabitation, was debated in the House of Commons.

Sadly it was talked out by a Tory MP, who is also a private landlord, before it could be voted on.

It is extraordinary that legislation of this kind does not already exist, and equally disturbing that some landlords remain unashamedly willing to rent a property in such a dire state, most often at the expense of vulnerable people.

Though most landlords do the right thing and ensure their tenants are housed well, it is the behaviour of their disreputable colleagues which has resulted in this refocus on improved improved protection and regulation.

A shift in the status quo will be met with alarm from some politicians and landlords, and the usual cries about Venezuelan-style rent control will, as always, be used to whip up fear of change.

But this latest report suggests the panicked rhetoric may well be unfounded.

The report takes the forecasted growth in London’s PRS over the next ten years and examines the potential impact of six individual rent regulation models.

Under all but the hardest model, the research predicts that the PRS would still grow between 35 per cent and 49 per cent during that period, in line with expectations that the sector in its current form will grow by 49 per cent.

We will, of course, continue to hear the scare stories from landlord associations about the horrors of a regulated sector.

This research should calm the nerves of those who fear that rent control may have too many unintended consequences.

Those who continue to be plagued by doubts about the feasibility of this approach need only look so far as Germany, whose private rented sector is significantly bigger than our own while being subjected to comprehensive regulation.

Rent control is not a panacea, and ultimately we need a huge increase in house building.

But for too long British governments have shied away from offering private tenants real protection against unfair rent rises, insecure tenancies and the threat of eviction without reason.

When you consider that almost a third of Londoners now rent privately, including a growing number of families with children, the current system of six-month to one-year tenancies as standard is neither suitable nor fair.

The data we now have suggests that under all but the most stringent rent control regimes the rental market in London would continue to grow significantly over the next decade.

With this in mind, time is up on the old fable that you cannot offer tenants stability and security without causing a mass exodus from the market.

In Compliance With His Own

Only 13 days after John Kerry, the US secretary of state, opined that the Egyptian military was “restoring democracy”, a bullet missed my head by inches when that same military opened fire on peaceful protesters in the heart of Cairo.

Another bullet on this day in August 2013 did not miss, however, striking my arm and shattering my bone. My US passport (I am an Egyptian-American) was no protection.

This came only a few minutes after two cameramen, including the Briton Mick Deane, received fatal shots to the head in what Human Rights Watch described as“the bloodiest day in Egypt’s modern history”

I, alongside many journalists and camera operators, was targeted merely for covering the Egyptian military’s efforts to “restore democracy” by violently dispersing a peaceful sit-in organised to protest about the coup d’état of 3 July against Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

Twenty-five days after Kerry’s statement, I was arrested at my family home along with three journalists.

For the next 21 months I and my fellow political prisoners were subjected to systematic physical and psychological torture, the nature of which I have yet to begin to come to grips with, even five months after my release. 

In overcrowded dungeons “welcoming parties” of guards and officers lined up in two rows; they made us run in between them, Soul Train-style, only we were greeted with batons, whips and belts, and I was beaten on my still-healing broken arm for two hours.

A few months later I underwent impromptu surgery to extract two metal plates from my arm; my cellmate served as my jailhouse doctor, using a razor blade and pliers as his surgical instruments.

After beginning an open-ended hunger strike to protest at my illegal detention, I was placed under “medical supervision” in a solitary confinement cell in the maximum-security prison.

I nearly died on 10 occasions, suffering multiple hypoglycemic comas as well as a pulmonary embolism. I was then placed in a windowless room, just 2.5m x 3m, in the far corner of the prison.

Here I underwent 163 days of psychological torture with no human contact – apart from officers inciting me to commit suicide by passing me razor blades and exposed electrical wires, all the while shouting explicit verbal directions on how best to accomplish the feat.

My father – also a political prisoner – was used as a weapon against me.

Six-hundred-and-forty-three days after Kerry’s declaration, I was released and deported back to the United States.

Due to the notoriety of my case and international efforts, everything I had to endure occurred with US embassy awareness.

For the unfortunate 40,000-plus political prisoners who are not known or have no international connection, there is no oversight or accountability at any level: NGOs and human rights organisations have all been driven out of Egypt; and journalists are subject to a fine and imprisonment if they report facts that depart from the narrative of the state.

Thirty days after my release, David Cameron announced his strategy to counter extremism in Britain, yet failed to see how rolling out the red carpet for General Sisi in the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy is fuelling the very fires we need extinguished.

I know first-hand the feeling of desperation that takes over in the confines of Egyptian captivity, and have also been on the receiving end of mocking reports from Egyptian officials stating that the developed world has abandoned its ideals and values and has turned a blind eye to the abuses of the military-run state.

Sixty-one days after my release, I briefed Kerry on the conditions of the prisons.

I urged him to consider a change in policy that would slow the diminishing confidence in the democracy and freedom model felt by Arab spring political prisoners.

In Egypt the regime has polarised the country and suffocated all avenues of peaceful expression and dissent through politics, civil society or media, leaving many dead, disappeared, imprisoned, hiding or exiled.

The anti-protest and anti-terrorism laws have left no space for any meaningful dialogue in Egypt, let alone dissent.

This is not only true for the demonised Islamist camp: the crackdown has reached every voice of opposition across the ideological and political spectrum.

However, the current environment is fertile ground for radicalisation, as many disenfranchised young Egyptians find themselves questioning the ideals of freedom and democracy that they once cherished when they see the free world silent in the face of Sisi’s repression.

The government continues to allocate every resource to suffocating any political opposition instead of effectively combating extremism.

The hunger strike I staged gave me a positive outlet to resist oppression and radicalisation simultaneously, but for thousands of prisoners that is not the case, although they cling on to hope.

Sisi’s visit to the UK will not only undermine the values and principles of the modern world, but also threaten the security, economic and political interests of the UK and the dominant players investing in the future of Egypt.

If Cameron does not wish to un-invite a guest out of principle, he should do so in compliance with his own counter-terrorism strategy.

Exposes This Country To International Contempt

Nearly two decades have passed since Robin Cook — then newly installed as Foreign Secretary — called a now-infamous press conference in the Locarno Suite of the Foreign Office.

Mr Cook proudly announced that Tony Blair’s government, which had just scored a famous election triumph, would pursue an ‘ethical Foreign Policy’.

There is no doubting Robin Cook’s decency — or his naivety. History relates that his well-meaning policy ended up with the foul morass of the Iraq invasion of 2003.

Today, David Cameron is constructing his own approach to foreign affairs.

Unlike Robin Cook, he has not announced it publicly, perhaps because Mr Cameron’s version is the exact opposite of the ethical model trumpeted by Cook.

Though the Prime Minister does not say so, Cameron’s Britain now pursues what the late Mr Cook would term a ‘venal foreign policy’.

There is almost no torturer too brutal, no mass-murderer too bloodthirsty nor dictator too autocratic for David Cameron not to extend an invitation to visit Britain.

Let’s examine the PM’s busy autumn schedule.

Earlier this month, the president of China — a country notorious for human rights abuses and the suppression of minorities — arrived in Britain on a state visit.

Most Britons felt that the spectacle of Xi Jinping staying at Buckingham Palace, and being grovelled to by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, was a little shaming.

But worse is to come. Much worse. This coming week, President Field Marshal Sisi of Egypt arrives in Britain on an official visit. 

It is just more than two years since Sisi seized power in a military coup d’état from a democratically elected government.

Since then, an estimated 1,500 protesters have been shot dead in the streets by security forces, while an estimated 41,000 protesters have been arrested.

The past few months have seen a disturbing new trend as Egyptian citizens are seized in the streets, in some cases never to be seen again.

Despite all the horror, Britain has remained firm friends with Egypt.

Nearly three months ago, Michael Fallon, David Cameron’s underpowered Defence Secretary, paid a sycophantic visit to the country to praise Sisi’s ‘vision of a more prosperous, more democratic society’.

Indeed, the Cameron government has been so afraid of upsetting the Sisi regime that not once has a minister called his bloody military takeover by its true name: a coup.

According to the respected Reporters Without Borders organisation, 46 journalists were arrested in Egypt last year — more than any other country with the exception of the Ukraine, where 47 journalists suffered the same fate.

Some of these journalists still rot in Egyptian jails.

Why in God’s name has this bloodthirsty man of violence been invited to Britain to be fêted and flattered by our Prime Minister?

By any standards, Field Marshal Sisi is a torturer, a mass-murderer and a tyrant.

David Cameron loves to talk about what he calls ‘the British values’ of decency, compassion and tolerance. His invitation to Sisi makes a mockery of that sort of language.

And we now hear reports that the President of Kazakhstan, a bestial creature called Nursultan Nazarbayev, is soon to come to London — which would complete an unedifying hat-trick of despotic guests for the PM.

As a British patriot, I hope this is not true.

All one needs to know about the Kazakh president is that he is one of those from the select group of torturers and murderers advised by Tony Blair’s flourishing political consultancy (Blair advises Sisi, too).

The appalling Prince Andrew is another friend of President Nazarbayev. Indeed, in 2007, the President’s son-in-law purchased the Prince’s former marital home, Sunninghill, near Windsor, for the suspiciously large sum of £15 million.

This extremely dubious transaction occurred not long after a senior member of the Kazakh opposition, his bodyguards and his driver were all shot dead, allegedly by members of the Kazakhstan Security Service.

Reports of torture are commonplace in Kazakhstan. The mere thought of President Nazarbayev coming to this country fills one with disgust.

To be fair to the British Prime Minister, there is a strong pragmatic argument for inviting the Chinese President on a state visit.

Like it or not, China has emerged as the largest and most dynamic world economy, and there is no avoiding doing business with the Chinese.

Inviting Sisi or Nazarbayev to London is another matter entirely.

Before entering No 10, the PM’s understanding of ‘abroad’ was confined to comfortable family holidays in southern European villas.

Since then, he seems to have concluded that it is best to base his decisions on commercial interests and nothing else.

Don’t believe me? Last week it emerged that the Ministerial Code — which guides government members on ethics and integrity — has been quietly changed.

Mr Cameron has removed the requirement that his ministers should obey either international law or Britain’s international treaties in order to uphold justice.

Morality is thus thrown out of the window.

In retrospect, Robin Cook’s attempt to place virtue at the heart of our foreign policy was doomed. The world is an ugly place, and no substantial trading nation can afford to cut itself off from the world.

So there is something to be said for Mr Cameron’s pragmatism. My own view is that he has gone too far.

By inviting President Sisi to London, he does more than launder the reputation of one of the world’s most unsavoury tyrants.

He makes a mockery of British values, and exposes this country to international contempt.

A Slow-Burning Fuse

Nigel Nelson writes:

Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to ­power began at exactly 8.34am on March 20, 2003. But even he would have been shocked and awed if anyone had told him at the time.

That was the moment US president George Bush launched his “shock and awe” bombardment of Baghdad, which would lead Corbyn to the Labour crown.

The Iraq War turned the Labour Party and the country against Tony Blair and everything he stood for.

The legacy of Labour’s most successful PM in the party’s history was blown to smithereens by the Tomahawk Cruise missiles which rained down on the Iraqi capital that morning.

And even achievements such as rescuing Kosovo from Serb genocide and bringing peace to Northern Ireland would count for nothing.

Also forgotten are Blair’s reforms of public services and schools, or that he was the man who brought devolution to Scotland and Wales – the PM who left Britain a happier place than he found it.

Until Iraq, Blair was destined to go down as one of the 20th century’s great PMs along with Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher.

Instead he is at the bottom of the heap. Blair is the warmonger, shouldering the blame for his part in 600,000 deaths, 179 of them British servicemen and women.

But the vilification of Blair did not go off like a rocket. It was a slow-burning fuse.

After all, he claimed Labour’s third General Election victory on the trot in 2005, two years after invading Iraq.

But by the time it came to choosing a new Labour leader this year, Blair and New Labour were dead and buried with stakes through their hearts.

The Blairite candidate Liz Kendall had no chance and Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper precious little.

Jeremy Corbyn shambled on to the scene as Labour’s unlikely new messiah backed by six in ten party members, his anti-war, anti-Blair and anti-austerity credentials sweeping him to victory.

Blair can comfort himself with the £60million fortune he has amassed since leaving Downing Street.

And some of the questionable clients he has acquired along the way, including corrupt regimes like Kazakhstan, and countries such as Sierra Leone and Rwanda, which got British taxpayer money when he was PM.

Yet the truth of what went wrong in Iraq has been a long time coming. And it promises to be longer yet.

Sir John Chilcot began taking evidence for his inquiry in 2009 and the families who lost loved ones have been waiting for his verdict ever since.

Former Labour law officer Lord Morris said: “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Chilcot has at last promised to publish his two-million word report – but not until next June at the earliest.

Blair launched a pre-emptive strike last weekend by apologising. Well, sort of. He said he was sorry for the mistakes of the war but not for the war itself.

The BBC said this was nothing more than “apologising for the things he’s already said sorry for”. But Blair did admit that getting rid of Saddam Hussein paved the way for the rise of Islamic State.

And Britain’s streets are now less safe because of that. Former US State Department official Fred Hof, who knows about these things, said: “First, it’s a matter of time before transnational operations are launched. Second, nationals who return home pose a threat.”

On Wednesday, MI5 boss Andrew Parker revealed that threat is at a level he has not seen in his 32-year career.

Six major plots against Britain were thwarted last year but Parker warns we haven’t even reached “the high-water mark” yet.

Last August, MI5 raised the threat level to “severe”, which means another 7/7-type incident is “highly likely”.

And social media spreads the jihadi message in a language which appeals to young Muslim recruits. At the heart of it is an apocalyptic prophecy in which Muslims and their enemies will meet for one final conflict.

This goes far beyond politics. They are goading the West into an end-of-the-world confrontation.

Unforgivably, Blair and Bush had no plan for rebuilding Iraq after conquering it. Iraqis were so fed up with what Blair did to their country 250,000 of them now live in ours.

The domination of IS cannot all be blamed on the power vacuum we left in Iraq, though it is hard to see how Saddam would have allowed them a foothold.

The virtual defeat of al-Qaeda, British intervention in Libya and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, hostilities between Israel and Palestine all play their part in strengthening IS resolve to be the British public’s enemy number one.

Blair cannot dodge the fact that he took Britain to war on a lie.

He claimed Saddam had 20 chemical missiles on standby which could be readied in 45 minutes to hit British bases in Cyprus. That was not based on evidence and no such weapons were ever found.

The most charitable explanation for the grotesque error that was this nasty little war is that Blair was doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

At a meeting with Bush a year before war began, Blair not only wore a pair of embarrassingly tight jeans but made an embarrassing pledge.

That he would stand with America in the invasion of Iraq – no matter what.

A top-secret memo from then US Secretary of State Colin Powell says: “On Iraq, Blair will be with us should military operations be necessary.”

Having given his word, Blair would not break it. It was a matter of honour. But his greatest mistake was to make the promise in the first place.

And it is on that history will judge him.

Friday 30 October 2015

The Dead Have No Deadline

Chilcot is going to write the whole of the Chilcot Report the night before it is due in.

Old habits die hard.


"Turnips!" to the whole thing, say I.

Pumpkins? Pumpkins? We'll be keeping Thanksgiving next.

As well we should, to give thanks for the fact that the Puritans left England. Have the kiddies carve little Puritans' heads and make little hats for them.

But do not carve those heads out of pumpkins.

Carve them out of turnips.

Thursday 29 October 2015

This Is What A Prime Minister Sounds Like

Peter Oborne's Chilcot Report

Eight o'clock this evening. Radio Four.


Eastern Promise

China's change from a one-child policy to a two-child-policy is limited progress, but it is progress nonetheless.

We need a celebration of the full compatibility between the highest view of human demographic, economic, intellectual and cultural expansion and development, and the most active concern for the conservation of the natural world and of the treasures bequeathed by such expansion and development in the past.

The problem with the world is not that it has people in it. Which people, exactly? We all know the answer to that. Rather, people produce wealth, material and otherwise. People are wealth, material and otherwise.

Of Pronouns and Sentences

More than half of people change their names at least once in their lives, and many of the rest are known by nicknames or what have you. So Tara Hudson is Tara Hudson. I have no problem with that.

But I have every possible problem with the suggestion that a violent offender with male genitalia might be sent to a women's prison.

And as female prisoners, even those in an institution deemed appropriate to Hudson's offence, are entitled to protection from prison rape, so, too, are male prisoners.

If it is not just part of doing the time for the crime in the first case, then nor is it in the second.

The Deciders

Important stuff from John Hay.

The Neo-Mercantilism of David Cameron

While Tim Montgomerie calls for State action to "tame the worst excesses" of capitalism.

Assisted-Suicide Bombers

Kevin Yuill writes:

Despite the crushing parliamentary defeat for the Assisted Dying Bill last month, the right-to-die campaign continues.

But it’s no longer a struggle fought out in the democratic arena; it’s now a guerrilla war. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the rise of assisted-suicide bombers.

These are the individuals who kill themselves in a blaze of publicity, blasting out emotional shrapnel in an effort to inflict maximum damage on those opposed to legalising assisted dying.

In the past week, Simon Binner, a UK citizen, press-released his suicide at the Eternal Spirit clinic in Switzerland. Binner, who suffered from an aggressive form of motor neurone disease, announced on LinkedIn that he had chosen to die on 19 October.

He used the occasion to record a video with the British Humanist Association (BHA) in which he called for assisted dying to be made legal in the UK.

He said that, had it been legal, it would have allowed him to extend his life and spend one last Christmas with his family.

There are obvious differences between Binner, and others who have decided to use their deaths to publicise the right-to-die cause, and terrorist suicide bombers.

Most importantly, the individual committing assisted suicide lacks the murderous intent of a suicide bombers. There are other differences, too.

Binner has been called ‘brave’ for his actions, but this stretches the meaning of bravery beyond recognition. To kill oneself to avoid future suffering may be understandable, but it is hardly brave.

However, those who blow themselves up to further their cause cannot be accused of lacking courage. But there are similarities, too.

First, both suicide bombers and assisted-suicide bombers like Binner become martyrs to very questionable causes.

The lives and deaths of suicides, including the most intimate details, are used and distorted by propagandists (in Binner’s case, the BHA) to further a particular agenda.

They are transformed from active agents into victims of an ‘oppressive regime’ that forced them to kill themselves.

So Binner, according to the BHA, is a victim of an oppressive law, which ‘heaps unnecessary suffering and trauma on to families like the Binners’.

Second, both suicide bombers and assisted-suicide bombers are groomed.

Those who doubt this should read the chilling account by Binner’s wife, Debbie, of how, having had initial qualms about her husband’s planned suicide, she was convinced that his assisted death was for the best by the director of the Eternal Spirit clinic.

According to Debbie, the director asked ‘Do you want Simon to stay alive so you can have a human pet?’ She says: ‘That put me in a very difficult position. Because did I want Simon to stay alive just for me?’

Human pet? Is this really how we should view disabled people?

The Eternal Spirit clinic effectively dismissed the Binners’ many happy years of marriage, the tragedies and triumphs that marked their lives, and reduced Simon Binner to the status of a dog or parakeet.

And third, both suicide bombers and assisted-suicide bombers use their deaths for public, propagandistic ends.

After all, it was Binner himself who decided to take his own life. It was Binner who decided that his suicide could be used to further the campaign for a change in the law.

While normally it is difficult to judge the actions of individuals who kill themselves, individuals who have politicised their deaths are different.

They have laid out the reasoning for their acts, made themselves part of a cause, and demanded that we support both their actions and their cause. They are there to be publicly judged. 

Sainted for a suicide

It is possible to see in suicide bombers and assisted-suicide bombers a shared quest for significance.

As philosopher and psychologist William James noted, ‘no matter what a man’s frailties otherwise may be, if he be willing to risk death, and still more if he suffers it heroically, in the service he has chosen, the fact consecrates him forever’.

Here, I think, we have an answer to the question, ‘Why couldn’t he have committed suicide at home?’.

Suicide is legal and Binner had the means and ability to make it happen. But martyrs are remembered not for their lives but for why they died. To die simply to avoid the depredations of disease lacks the significance of dying to further a cause.

We can expect many more assisted-suicide bombers to be paraded in front of us over the coming years.

These tactics have always been important to organisations such as Dignity in Dying and the British Humanist Association.

The undoubted suffering of those who choose to end their days at Dignitas or the Eternal Spirit clinic lends an emotional force to campaigns to legalise assisted dying.

How could anyone let someone suffer outside the law when all they want is a peaceful death?, runs the argument.

These highly emotional tactics, complete with deathbed videos, have always covered over the gaping holes in the logic of legalising assisted dying.

Why, for instance, should an act that anyone can accomplish be seen as medical treatment? How can one base the argument for legalising assisted suicide on autonomy, yet deny a perfectly healthy 21-year-old the right to an assisted suicide?

No one wants to heap further misery on the families of those who choose to travel to Switzerland to kill themselves in a blaze of publicity.

But, sadly, these individuals have, through their deaths, drawn public attention to their actions and cause. Their emotional stories should not put their suicides beyond criticism.


Every so often a society decides which of its citizens really matter. Which ones get the star treatment and the big cash handouts – and which get shoved to the bottom of the pile and penalised

These are the big, rough choices post-crash Britain is making right now. A new hierarchy is being set in place by David Cameron in budget after austerity budget.

Wealthy pensioners: winners. Young would-be homeowners: losers. Millionaires see their taxes cut to 45%, while the working poor pay a marginal tax rate of 80%. Big business gets to write its own tax code; benefit claimants face harsh sanctions. 

When the contours of this new social order are easy to spot, they can cause public uproar – as with the cuts to tax credits

Elsewhere, they’re harder to pick out, though still central. It is into this category that the crisis in the British steel industry falls. 

It would be easy to tune out the past few weeks’ headlines about plant closures and job losses as just another story of business disaster. 

But what’s happening to our steelworkers, and what we do to protect them, goes to the heart of the debate about which people – and which places – count in Britain’s political economy.

If Westminster lets the UK’s steel industry die, it’s in effect declaring that certain regions and the people who live and work in them are surplus to requirements. That it really doesn’t matter if Britain makes things. That the phrase “skilled working-class jobs” is now little more than an oxymoron.

That’s the criteria against which to judge MPs, as they continue to take evidence today on the crisis and then debate options.

What does this crisis look like? Imagine coming to work on a September morning – only to find that you and one in six other employees in your entire industry face redundancy before Christmas. That’s the prospect facing British steelworkers.

Motherwell, Middlesbrough, Scunthorpe: some of the most kicked-about places in de-industrialised Britain now face more punishment.

Mothball the SSI plant in Redcar and it’s not just 2,200 workers that you send to the dole office and whose families you shove on the breadline.

An entire local economy goes on life support: the suppliers of parts, the outside engineers who used to do the servicing, the port workers and hauliers, the cafes and shops. Within days of SSI’s closure, one of Teesside’s biggest employment agencies went into liquidation. 

Steel is a fundamental part of manufacturing, so that the closure of a handful of steelworks in Scotland and the north endangers businesses in Derby and Walsall. 

At the West Midlands Economic Forum, the chief economist Paul Forrest calculates that about 260,000 jobs in the Midlands rely on steel for everything from basic metals to car assembly and aerospace engineering.

He believes that the closures at Tata, SSI and Caparo leave 52,000 local manufacturing workers at direct risk of losing their jobs within the next five years.

That’s just after the past few weeks – the UK Steel director Gareth Stace thinks that more plants face closure “within months”.

Join up these predictions, and Britain is entering the early stages of yet another industrial catastrophe. It could finally sink a sector, steel, that actually helps reduce the country’s gaping trade deficit.

With that will go another pocket of well-paid blue-collar jobs. Chuck in employer contributions to pensions and national insurance, and the total remuneration per SSI staffer is £40,000 a year. Just try getting such pay in a call centre or distribution warehouse, even as a manager.

Imagine what would happen if manufacturing were centred around the capital, and its executives had Downing Street on speed dial.

Actually, you needn’t imagine – merely remember the meltdown of 2008.

Then Gordon Brown was so desperate to save the City that the IMF estimates he propped it up with £1.2 trillion of public money.

That’s the equivalent of nearly £20,000 from every man, woman and child in the country doled out to bankers in direct cash, loans and taxpayer guarantees.

That’s what the state can do when it decides a sector matters.

In 2011 David Cameron stormed out of a Brussels summit rather than agree to more regulation on the City. When it comes to steel, his ministers shrug at the difficulties posed by the EU’s state-aid rules.

Michael Heseltine even declares this a “good time” for Teesside’s workers to lose their jobs in Britain’s “exciting” labour market. Let them eat benefits!

True, the problems in the steel industry aren’t confined to these shores. They’re driven by a world economy coming off the boil and China dumping its excess steel output on the global market.

Yet other European governments are being far more aggressive in confronting them. Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, bailed out a huge steelworks last December. 

Germany’s Angela Merkel ensures that steel producers are cushioned from higher energy prices. Just how lame, by comparison, is Cameron? 

Here’s an example: the European commission runs a publicly funded globalisation adjustment fund that can grant over £100m a year for precisely the sort of situation British steelworkers now face.

The Germans, the French, the Dutch: they’ve all drawn down many millions apiece. The British? European commission officials told me this week that they had never so much as seen an application from the UK.

Here’s a giant pot of money – into which Whitehall can’t even be bothered to dip its fingers.

Once our steel capacity is gone, it’s gone – and with it goes a big chunk of what’s left of our manufacturing base.

Whole swaths of the country that have only just got off their backs after Thatcher’s de-industrial revolution will be knocked to the floor all over again.

The choice is stark.

Westminster can sit on its hands, pretend it can’t do anything about the supposedly free market in steel (in which the single biggest player is the Chinese Communist party), and let tens of thousands of families go to the wall.

Or our political class acts as if its job is actually to protect people from market fluctuations – and keep the steel industry afloat by extended bridging loans and capital investment in return for public stakes.

A return to British Leyland? No: a far cheaper and smaller rescue than RBS and HBOS

Free-market fundamentalists will decry this as a wage subsidy to steelworkers. But the alternative is to wind up paying far more in benefits to thousands of unemployed workers and their families.

Besides, the state already shells out billions in hidden wage subsidies, through the tax credits and housing benefit that taxpayers give to employees of poverty-pay firms such as Sports Direct and Amazon. 

What’s being proposed here is open, transparent support to employees in normally high-paying and high-skilled jobs.

To keep a vital industry from disappearing for good. And to show that it’s not just the City that matters.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Altogether Better

As they used to say back in 2009.

On what, exactly, are we in County Durham going to be asked to vote, perhaps to be joined by others elsewhere in the North East?

The very right-wing Simon Henig, never mind the eye-wateringly right-wing Nick Forbes, may want to carve out some fiefdom in order to run it as a Blair Era theme park, semi-detached from Jeremy Corbyn's Britain.

But that would hold absolutely no attraction for the rest of us.

Chamber Service

People abroad must sometimes wonder why we do not riot against the existence of the House of Lords. But we are not much of a riotous lot.

And if we were going to have riots, then they would be far more likely over the tax credit cuts that the Lords have just voted down, than over the House of Lords itself.

Why do people think that that House is still full of toffs? That is the House of Commons.

Britain is about to complete 35 years of Marxism in reverse: Thatcher and Blair defeated the proletariat on behalf of the bourgeoisie, and now Cameron and Osborne are planning to defeat the bourgeoisie (the businesspeople, academics, and senior public sector managers in the Lords) on behalf of the aristocracy.

We have all mused on potential alternatives to the second chamber, and I myself have occasionally even been paid to do so, when there was no possibility that any of it might ever come to anything.

Now, however, the threat is from that which is always the most ruthless section of our body politic, namely the Tory upper classes when they have been denied their own way.

This time, therefore, it could happen. Almost certainly, that would mean a county-based House, elected by First Past The Post. An alternative really does need to be in place.

Every six years, let each of the 99 lieutenancy areas elect three Senators, one Labour, one Conservative, and one Lib Dem, with each of those parties submitting its internally determined shortlist of two to the judgement of the electorate at large.

A week later, or a week earlier, let each of the nine English regions elect 30 Senators, namely six Labour, six Conservatives, six Lib Dems, six from other parties that did not thereafter contest elections to the House of Commons, and six Independents to sit as Crossbenchers.

Any member of the relevant party would be eligible to contest the first, second and third categories of election. Each of us would vote for one candidate, and the top six would be elected.

The fourth category would be elected by party list, and the fifth by the same means as the first three, but open only to people who were members of no party.

On the same day, let Scotland and Wales each elect five Labour, five Conservative, five Lib Dem, five Nationalist, five non-Commons other party, and five Crossbench Senators.

And let Northern Ireland elect three from Labour, three from the Tories, three from the Lib Dems, three from the UUP, three from the DUP, three from the SDLP, three from Sinn Féin, three from the Alliance Party, three from non-Commons other parties, and three Crossbenchers.

A grand total of 657 Senators. Quite large, but necessarily so, and much smaller than the House of Lords.

Representation of the rural Labour vote, which would pose quite a challenge to many a local Tory oligarchy. Representation of the Unionist majority in Scotland. And representation of Northern Ireland within the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem bodies at Westminster.

The aristocratic wing of the Conservative Party has been crossed, and it is merciless when that happens. It is going to propose some elected alternative, to its own satisfaction. That would not constitute an improvement.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Save The Pitmen's Parliament

An absolutely vital part of the North East's heritage, and of the nation's.

Two million pounds. That's all it needs. Two million pounds.

Virgin Vice

Richard Branson understands: there can be no "free" market if not in drugs and prostitution.

Capitalism is not conservative. Conservative of what?

Of what, indeed?

Feel The Burn

Role Call

By far the most famous, and one of the richest, almost never attends. He has been a member for 14 years, during which he has voted 30 times out of a possible 1,898. He had flown in from New York.

100 new Peers? Jeremy Corbyn should have some fun with that one.

In each of the 99 areas having a Lord Lieutenant, the local Labour Party ought to compile a shortlist of two working-class women (concepts that are officially now as fluid as each other, but most of us do still know them when we see them), to be submitted to a ballot of all registered voters in the area, with all 99 of those ballots to be held on the same day.

Corbyn ought then to demand to know why the 99 winners of those ballots were not being given peerages, and that David Cameron explain exactly what was undeserving about each of them in turn.

They would thus become public figures even without the ermine. The women of the rural working class? National political discourse would not know what had hit it.

When Lloyd George wanted to swamp the House of Lords, then the King told him that he had to have a General Election on the People's Budget first.

Is David Cameron going to have General Election on the tax credit cuts, if he intends to proceed with them? He certainly did not have one in May.

And the Lib Dems, like the Liberals before them, have never felt bound by the Salisbury Convention, which they see as purely a bipartisan deal between Salisbury and Attlee.

Presented with that argument, many Crossbenchers would doubtless also agree with it.

Hold on to your coronets.

Concerned To Hear


We are concerned to hear that the government has invited the Egyptian dictator, Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, to visit the UK.

We believe it violates the British values which the government claims to champion to welcome a ruler who has overthrown an elected government and instituted a regime of terror which has thrown back the cause of democracy in Egypt and the wider Middle East many years.

While not necessarily supporting deposed President Morsi or the policies of his Freedom and Justice party, we note that he was democratically elected, and that his removal from office was effected by means of a military coup led by Sisi.

Since then Sisi’s military-directed regime has massacred thousands of civilians. Hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, including President Morsi, have been sentenced to death in mass trials that were a travesty of justice. Almost all independent political activity has been suppressed, including that of liberal and leftwing organisations. Women’s rights have been violated across the country.

Sisi was “elected” president in 2014 in a vote that did not meet the most minimal democratic standards. The parliamentary elections currently taking place in the absence of any real opposition have been shunned by the vast majority of Egyptian voters with record low turnout, in the expectation that the new Egyptian parliament will be no more than a fig leaf for Sisi’s authoritarian regime.

Meanwhile, security and police forces have illegally arrested, detained and tortured Egyptian citizens, media freedoms have been suppressed and many journalists arrested and abused.

Such renunciation of democracy and human rights has surely contributed to the upsurge of terrorism in Egypt, which we repudiate but regard as a consequence of, rather than a justification for, Sisi’s barbarism.

Under these circumstances, we regard any visit to the UK by this despot as an affront to democratic values. No considerations of commerce or realpolitik can justify such an invitation. We urge the government to withdraw it.

Evan Bartlett writes:

Two senior figures in Jeremy Corbyn's Labour shadow cabinet have added their names to a letter calling on the government to withdraw its invitation to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, and Diane Abbott, the shadow secretary of state for international development, are among 55 signatories to an open letter in Tuesday's Guardian newspaper.

The letter states that the signatories - which include politicians, journalists, activists and academics - are "concerned to hear that the government has invited the Egyptian dictator, Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, to visit the UK" which could happen as early as next week.

"We believe it violates the British values which the government claims to champion to welcome a ruler who has overthrown an elected government and instituted a regime of terror which has thrown back the cause of democracy in Egypt and the wider Middle East many years."

Corbyn is also believed to be opposed to the invitation of Sisi . Speaking to Middle East Eye in August, the Labour leader said:

"I would not have invited [Sisi] to the UK because of my concerns over the use of the death penalty in Egypt and the treatment of people who were part of the former government of Morsi, which was elected, and the continued imprisonment of President Morsi."

The Labour leader was criticised by the Saudi ambassador to London on Monday, in an article for the Telegraph that human rights campaigners called "disingenuous, evasive and intimidatory", for apparently "breaching respect" after calling on the Conservative government to cancel a prison training contract with the Saudi regime - which it did last week.

The invitation to Sisi was extended in July, the day after the Egyptian regime upheld a death sentence on former democratically-elected president Mohamed Morsi.

Prevent Is A Problem

Maria W. Norris writes:

We were overdue a new counter-extremism policy. Not because we particularly needed a new one, but because new counter-extremism strategies tend to be released every three years.

We had the first version of Prevent in 2006, then an updated version in 2009, followed by the 2011 Prevent review.

The government has been aware for a long time that the Prevent strategy is controversial and unpopular, and yet the only thing different about the new strategy is its name.

Much has already been written about how the new strategy will affect free speech and how it will continue to target Muslims.

This targeting is inevitable for terrorism, in the UK, is perpetually associated with the Muslim community. Nowhere is this more visible than in the Prevent funding processes up to 2011.

The Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics.

Any Local Authority with a Muslim population of at least 5% was automatically given Prevent funding.[i] Basing funding priorities on demographics is a clear example of a narrative which places Islam and Muslims at the heart of the story of terrorism.

In the 2007 Prevent policy document, British Muslims were considered targets of counter-terrorism strategy based solely on their presence in a local authority area – whether or not there was any evidence of violent extremist activity.

The implication is clear, the bigger the Muslim population, the bigger the threat.

The demographic basis for the allocation of Prevent money was supposedly abolished by the 2011 review conducted by the coalition government of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

That review also pledged that Prevent would address far-right extremism as well as al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism, and remove community cohesion work from the strategy. Community cohesion work that targeted the Muslim community was the bread and butter of Prevent prior to 2010.

As a result Prevent funding was consistently spent on community cohesion projects affecting the Muslim community.

For example, the London Borough of Merton received a total of £394,596 Prevent funding from 2008 to 2010 (Merton Borough Council 2010).

Some of this money was spent on funding for cultural and identity projects in Ricard’s Lodge High School, a Sports day run by the South London Tamil Welfare Group and after-school lessons to the South London Refugee Association.

Merton also funded a Muslim Heritage Project run by the Asian Youth Alliance, Islamic Awareness Workshops and work with Muslim girls and young women.

Prevent also had a strong surveillance aspect.

In the funding period of 2008-2009, Bromley Borough Council used Prevent money to buy an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system as well as a CCTV System (Bromley Borough Council 2013 ).

The lack of ring-fencing allows for this type or purchase, but there is no denying the suggestion of spying on communities when counter-terrorism money is used to purchase methods of surveillance.

In 2010, it was revealed that hundreds of (ANPR, CCTV and covert) surveillance cameras were targeted at two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham in a West Midlands Police led project called Project Champion.

About 150 ANPR cameras were installed in these areas, three times the number of cameras used to monitor Birmingham’s city centre.

The cameras were purchased with a £3 million grant administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers: Terrorism and Allied Matters (ACPO (TAM)).

ACPO (TAM) drew down Home Office counter-terrorism monies to fund the scheme, and it was not a Prevent project as such.

Launched ostensibly under the Safer Birmingham Partnership, it was argued that the cameras were to be used to monitor general criminal activities and anti-social behaviour, but the funding criteria used by ACPO (TAM) states that the police force must prove a project will deter, prevent or help to prosecute terrorist activity.

Following public outcry, Project Champion ceased within a few weeks and the cameras were hooded and then eventually removed.

All of this was supposed to have ended with the 2011 Prevent review, and yet, information on the application of Prevent has been almost impossible to find. I have been researching Prevent for several years and I find it concerning that as Prevent has become more and more entrenched in British society, it has also become more and more secretive.

Previous to the 2011 review, information on Prevent was relatively easy to find.

For example, between 2008 and 2009, I lodged over 20 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to priority local authorities, requesting information on Prevent funding and implementation, all of which were successful without the need for an appeal process.

However, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests lodged to mostly the same priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism.

My goal was to find whether or not the pledges of the 2011 review had been met. All but one of the requests were denied.

Firstly, I tried to find out how Prevent priority areas were being selected, now that the demographic criteria had been abolished. The Home Office responded with the following:

“Prioritisation is based on an assessment of the risk of exposure to radicalisation in specific local areas, rather than simple demographics. The prioritisation also takes into account activity we have seen by terrorist organisations and terrorist sympathisers. The prioritisation process is reviewed regularly.”

However, no more information was forthcoming and the fact remains that the current list of priority local areas is almost identical to the one before the 2011 review.

Further, apart from one request, every single FOI to a local authority was denied. The language in the denials is almost identical. 

Stoke on Trent City Council argued in its refusal that to release information on Prevent ‘would prejudice the detection of a crime’.

Several councils refused to release information, arguing that showing detailed information regarding Prevent funding would identify areas in the UK where the threat is greatest.

All claimed that information on Prevent action plans is exempt from disclosure by virtue of section 24(1) and 31(1)(a) (national security and law enforcement respectively), of the Freedom of Information Act and redirected me to the Prevent Annual Report, which actually contains very little information.

In regards to the question on far-right extremism, the answers repeated that Prevent targets all forms of extremism, but refused to reveal any details.

But what is most striking is that three of the responses directly stated that releasing this information would result in aiding terrorists.

Redbridge Council, for example, argued that the information could not be released because “Terrorists can be highly motivated and may go to great lengths to gather intelligence. This means there may be grounds for withholding what seems harmless information on the basis that it may assist terrorists when pieced together with other information they may obtain.”

Similarly, Camden Council justified its refusal to release information by arguing that “Provision of detailed information about Prevent would increase the likelihood of terrorism being promoted and vulnerable individuals being recruited and thereby hinder the prevention or detection of crime.”

Prevent is a problem.

For almost a decade NGOs, academics, politicians and Muslim communities themselves have been writing and speaking out about how damaging a strategy it is.

But these warnings have fallen on deaf ears: not only does Prevent remain government policy, but since the enactment of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, it is now part of the statute books.

And now, not only is there a complete lack of accountability regarding the application of the Prevent strategy, but releasing this information apparently amounts to aiding terrorism.

This means that a wide-ranging, controversial and problematic community intervention project, for this is what both Prevent and the new counter-extremism strategy are, is now outside of public scrutiny.

This is problematic because not only does the evidence suggest that Prevent continues to disproportionately affect the Muslim community, but it also places those who are investigating Prevent in a position of vulnerability.

Moreover, it is notable that the new counter-extremism strategy contains no information on funding or delivery.

Surrounding counter-extremism projects in secrecy and suggesting that investigating it could aid terrorism casts a net of suspicion over NGOs, campaigners and academics committed to shedding light on the murky world of British counter-extremism.

It turns the very act of asking for information disclosure into a request that that potentially aids extremism.

Terrorism thus acts as a magic word, a blanket defence against any attempt by the public to scrutinise the proportionality and legality of the government’s counter-extremism strategy.