Monday 29 February 2016

Eton Mess, Indeed

Does anyone on Fleet Street or in Parliament fancy looking into what 18-year-olds were sent down for, in the week that Andrew "Picard" was not?

A suspended sentence, and not even much of that. A pocket money fine towards the prosecution's costs, effectively an insult to the taxpayer.

Nothing under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Not even a requirement to sign the Sex Offenders Register. Read that last part over again.

He was even tried under his mother's maiden name, in order to protect the reputation of his father's law firm. How is that legal?

Andrew Boeckman could not have accessed those sites using the server of any state school. Get your act together, Eton.

The laxity in these matters of at least one, extremely expensive and world famous, fee-charging school calls for a further investigation into that sector by journalists and parliamentarians.

Not that I normally engage in that type of politics.

I leave it to people who have nothing else, because the real political difference between them and their targets is discernible barely, if at all.

They hate "the Tories" because they know that they lack the class to have made it in that party.

There were more Old Etonians in Attlee's Cabinet than in the present one. The George Orwell Society at Eton is well worth a look.

The PFI-loving warmongers who rant on Twitter that George Osborne's collapsing economic policies are better than the academically rigorous alternatives proposed by the attentive John McDonnell, are most unlikely ever to be invited to address that Society.

More widely, earlier this month, George Galloway was very well-received at Winchester.

But no institution is beyond question. Not a parallel school system that leaves a legal minor (Boeckman was 17 at the time) exposed to material such as he viewed in this case.

And not a court system that hands down far harsher sentences to youths convicted of relatively minor, or even relatively major, offences, than it imposes on one of their immensely privileged peers.

An immensely privileged youth who was not even required to give his real name at his trial, nor to sign the Sex Offenders Register upon his conviction, but who had made and distributed real-life images that included the rape of a two-year-old by a pack of dogs.

Trump: The Republican Hillary Clinton

Tim Stanley is the sympathetic and semi-official biographer of Pat Buchanan.

But he is 44 years younger than Buchanan, and yet still quite old by post-Paul paleo standards.

He brands Donald Trump "the Republican Hillary Clinton, an epic fraud," and he implores Republicans to "vote for anyone else."

Turning The Spotlight

When is there going to be a Spotlight on the sexual abuse of children in Hollywood, where it has always been rife?

Taking A Leap

We are all working for free today, you know. It is amazing, and yet strangely not, that that has carried on for as long as it has.

Oh, well, I have just remembered that I have in fact been engaged since 29th February 1992. I ought to sue her husband and their children.

Although civil marriage, at least, is not as it once was. Ladies may now legally marry other ladies. But may they propose to each other only once every four years?

Sunday 28 February 2016

Who Benefits?

Who Guards?

The renunciation of even the hypothetical possibility of nuclear weapons has won popular electoral approval in Iran. Yes, Iran.

So the renunciation of an actually existing nuclear weapons programme could certainly win electoral approval in Britain, if the argument were allowed to be made properly.

But then, in Iran, would-be legislators have to make it past nothing more than the Guardian Council.

In Britain, we must endure the yoke of Rupert Murdoch. Whom EU membership has done nothing to restrain. Nor Trident anything to deter.

They Are The Dinosaurs

Zoe Williams writes: 

Reassuringly, at the anti-nuclear demo in London on Saturday, Jeremy Corbyn was wearing the same beard he had a generation ago. 

His speech had changed. He described nuclear warheads as “weapons of mass destruction” whereas we used to talk about mass annihilation. 

Broadly, though, he still passed as that creature the anti-nuclear campaigner has always been: the throwback; the person whom voters have rejected, modernity has superseded, real life has rendered obsolete. 

You could say the same about Caroline Lucas; Greens have been anti-nuclear since before we discovered climate change and all we worried about was acid rain. 

And yet, there were disturbing new elements to the demonstration, breaches in the image of anti-nukery as nostalgic and irrelevant. 

First, the presence of a stack of people who weren’t born in the 1980s, making arguments that didn’t exist at that time. 

Second, the sight of the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, a walking, talking contradiction of the maxim that Trident is electorally essential (this has now had to be amended to read: “abolishing Trident – polling booth kryptonite to the British people in perpetuity, except the Scottish, who appear to take to it pretty quickly, all things considered”). 

Finally, there’s the fact that the demonstration happened at all; we gave up protesting nuclear proliferation because the norm was too well-defended. 

You might not feel safer with a seat at the nuclear table, but your countrymen do; so just deal with it. Concentrate on the fights you might win. Have a climate march instead. 

Yes, it was defeatist, but it was an untroubled defeatism – there was never any shortage of things to march against. Taking Trident off the table wasn’t the end of the world (until it was the end of the world). 

Some of the new energy comes from the injection of fresh blood: people politicised by student fees, junior doctors’ contracts, or any one of the so-called austerity measures that have caused us all to think more deeply about public spending and what its priorities do to the lives we lead. 

There is also the fact that the marginalisation of this issue relied on a deliberate misrepresentation of the implications of opposing Trident. 

This was, and continues to be, portrayed as a value of the hard-left; as such, it was part of the extreme socialism that made Labour unelectable for so long, and from which Tony Blair gallantly and generously rescued the party. 

In reality, of course, it is a legitimate moral and philosophical position to say that the threat to life contained within this weaponry is too great to be justified by the interests of any nation or any ideology. 

Trident is like the death penalty: to be in favour of these things is quite hard-right authoritarian; to be opposed is really very soft left, if not pretty centrist. 

The love affair in some quarters of the Labour party with nuclear arms is more about their crisis of confidence than proof that nuclear capacity is essential to the social democratic project. 

Fundamental changes are driving the revival of this movement, which are far more profound than the Labour party’s new leadership, although that has doubtless brought it into focus. 

The context that built the pro-nuclear argument no longer exists. Nowadays we are not nation states pitted against one another, our aggression held at bay by a rational understanding of mutually assured destruction. 

Our enemies – at least if we are to believe the rhetoric of our own heads of state – are death cults, to whom the possibility of a nuclear attack would be not so much a deterrent as an incentive. 

We have a different understanding of the planet now, even if we can only intermittently demonstrate that in our behaviour. 

The cosy glow of security you get from having a nuclear capacity only works if, in the final analysis, you can conceive of an attack on another territory as their problem, not yours. 

As soon as you start to consider the global consequences, any hostile nuclear event – anywhere – is a tragedy for all of us. It would be as painful to bomb as to be bombed.

This puts us in a hall of mirrors, watching the solidity of deterrence disintegrate.

And while no defence programme has ever been formulated in a time of limitless public spending, the current economic context exposes the expense of Trident to ridicule. 

Can a nation whose health service, its pride and joy, has become “unsustainable” (Jeremy Hunt’s implication, not mine) really afford to spend so much deterring an enemy it can’t even identify, whose susceptibility to such pressure is impossible to know or to guess? 

Does a nation really need international status as a potential bringer of Armageddon more than it needs to educate its citizens, freely, at a tertiary level? 

It’s possible that there are people answering these questions with a throaty “yes”, but you don’t need to be very far to the left to answer “no”. 

The Trident lobbyists may get new arguments – “what about the jobs?” one hears a bit these days, as though this awesomely expensive build-up of destructive power were really just a useful labour market lever. 

But their old lines have stopped working. The world changed and they didn’t.

They are the dinosaurs; they are the warhorses; they are the dreamers, living with yesterday’s truths.

To Go Back To Their Paradise Lost

John Prescott writes:

There’s nothing British ­politicians like more than a legally-binding referendum 

In the past five years we’ve asked the Scots if they want ­independence, Brits if they’d like to change the voting system and ­Falklanders if they want to stay part of Britain. 

Now for the next four months you’ll be bored silly by politicians asking if you want to leave or remain in the European Union. 

But for 50 years we have failed to ask one group of British subjects one simple question: Do you want to go back to the island home we forced you from? 

This year is the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest human rights injustices Britain has ever committed. Forcing the people of the Chagos Islands from their ocean paradise as part of a squalid arms deal with the US. 

Up to 2,000 men, women and ­children had to flee their British Indian Ocean territory after Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson leased the islands to America so it could be used as a military airbase during the 1960s cold war. 

In return, we got a cheaper deal on Polaris nuclear weapons. 

The islanders were all expelled, most fled in fear after their dogs were rounded up and slaughtered by US military contractors. 

The implicit threat was that if you don’t leave, you’ll be next! Forget the Scottish Referendum. This was a real Project Fear. 

Most are now living as stateless second-class citizens in poverty across the world. Many settled in Britain. A Government survey of ­Chagossians living here found 98 per cent still want to return home. 

Not only were their human rights breached but their home, Diego Garcia, was used by the Americans to carry out acts of illegal rendition and bombing missions during the so-called War on Terror. 

That 50-year lease runs out this year. 

William Hague, when he was Foreign Secretary , started the process of consultation on future settlement of the Chagossians, to be completed before any further lease to the US was considered. 

A parliamentary group of nearly 50 MPs and peers from 10 different political parties has constantly pressed the Government to consider the rights of the islanders before any decision is made. 

The chairman Andrew Rosindell has written on behalf of the group to both President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron to finalise a proper agreement, which recognises social justice and the human rights of the Chagossians. 

It is understood the Americans are quite prepared to play a positive role in the issue of resettlement. 

Obama, in his last year of office, has now sought to resolve the dispute between Cuba and America after 60-odd years. That includes a commitment to shut down the island’s US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. 

Our prime minister must now intervene, especially as there are significant differences between the Foreign Office and the Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon. 

It didn’t help when Fallon visited the Falklands to stir up dissent between Britain and Argentina. This Cold Bore Warrior Fallon chose to justify his visit in the name of security and defence in view of the Falklanders’ referendum to remain part of Britain.

If it is right to hold a referendum on the Falklands, why doesn’t our Government agree to a legally-binding referendum asking the Chagossians if they want to go home? 

That should be the sole criterion for deciding whether we continue to lease the islands to the US. 

We forced these people to leave the home they loved. So, 50 years on, let’s finally give them the chance to go back to their paradise lost.

Become A True Superpower of Global Influence

On Conservative Home, Nicholas Mazzei writes: 

The debate on Trident’s replacement in our party has, frankly, been terrible. In fact, it could hardly be called a debate, as we have simply assumed that replacing Trident is a necessity. 

I’m going to argue not only that we need a better debate on the issue; I’m going to stand up and say: “We no longer need nuclear weapons.”

I want to make it clear that this has nothing to do with pacifism. The Corbynistas [no pacifists they; it is called the Hard Left for a reason] opposition to Trident, being ideologically based rather than on any pragmatic argument, is poorly constructed and leaves no options for protecting Britain from future strategic threats.

But let’s start with the basics.

In 2013, the Royal United Services Institute estimated that a new system would cost between £70 billion and £80 billion for its lifetime and would need to be ready to take over from the current generation of submarines and missiles around 2030. 

The argument for the deterrent is that there are many countries which are a threat to the UK and are, or aspire to be, nuclear states. 

An unstable Pakistan, a dangerous North Korea or a regionally powerful Iran are all potential threats to the UK [how?], and therefore a nuclear deterrent is necessary.

The problem with this argument is that nuclear weapons are not only generally useless – since their use would be likely to provoke the destruction of the nation who uses them as well as the one against which they are used – but that nuclear weapons are last generation’s weapons. 

They are not a weapon of the 21st century, and should be consigned to history, along with strategic bombing, chemical and biological warfare. 

By 2030, technology and cyber space will have changed warfare to such an extent that spending billions of pounds on nuclear weapons will look practically pre-historic. 

The 2015 National Security Strategy itself recognises this, but Britain’s Armed Forces have not geared themselves towards focusing on cyber threats and new, high-end technologies. 

Cyber warfare is already becoming a critical activity: for example, the Stuxnet virus, which destroyed Iranian centrifuges and held back the development of their nuclear programme, was a more effective weapon than any Special Forces operative or missile. 

Powerful cyber defences will be needed to protect power plants, trains, aircraft and communications equipment. 

The defence of our financial centres will be critical, as any damage to them could destroy Britain’s economy. 

Then there is the development of the ‘internet of things’ – the billions of devices connecting our homes, cars, laptops, smartphones and places of work. 

Even our kettle, our fridge and our TV will communicate with each other. 

This environment is at huge risk of infiltration by hackers, and any good hacker will tell you that, to penetrate a secure environment, you only need to find one weakness in the network to get access. 

It might scare you to know that the vulnerability could be the blue tooth connection in your pacemaker. 

Nikolas Katsimpras, in his future warfare article Coffee, Wi-Fi and the Moon, discussed a war beginning in 2020 through the assassination of Vladimir Putin by the hacking of his pacemaker.

While I would never encourage assassination, we must have a cyber defence capability capable of preventing such actions against our own leaders.

There are other technologies which are also of growing importance.

Swarms of micro-drones are one – objects as as small as insects, but able to penetrate and destroy enemy installations, including nuclear weapon sites.

Why spend billions on weapons that could be rendered useless by drones costing a few thousand pounds, or by a hacker thousands of miles away who has infiltrated the computer system with an advanced virus?

If I haven’t convinced you yet, there’s an even more terrifying technology that is in development.

Nano-technology, the ability to build molecular machines, could rewrite your DNA or literally eat organic or metallic material.

It could target people with certain genes, wipe out every human in a country, and then self-destruct after a certain period of time, allowing an enemy to occupy territory unopposed.

A nuclear deterrent would be of no use at all against these threats.

This isn’t science fiction: this technology has been in development for years and is beginning to mature.

Spending £80 billion on weapons so cumbersome that any use would end civilisation as we know it is illogical.

It reflects an arrogant desire to remain on the ‘top table’ of states, able to compete militarily against Russia and China. But both have as little interest in nuclear conflict as we do.

Even if North Korea or a rogue Pakistan threatened the UK with nuclear weapons, we wouldn’t need the USA to come to our aid. China and Russia have as much to lose economically from nuclear conflict as everyone else.

The threat of nuclear war after the Second World War existed in the wake of Russia and China’s experience of destruction in their country.

In 2030, these countries will have no memory of surviving such destruction and the population, used to living in relative luxury, will have no desire to endure such horrors.

The last argument is that the USA would want Britain to retain its deterrent.

But a Britain which uses that £80 billion more wisely could develop exceptionally powerful cyber capabilities, and become a true cyber super power.

It could also invest better in its conventional forces, improving an army that is barely scraping 75,000 soldiers at the moment.

Furthermore, Britain is listed as the number one soft power nation in the world; this is not to be dismissed.

With globalisation and inter-locked financial markets, the ability to influence puts Britain truly at the top table of power.

This is of far more use to the USA than a UK with a useless deterrent.

Some of all this may seem far-fetched – and I haven’t even got into the subject of laser technology. It will be claimed that nano-technology is a dream and cyber threats will disappear.

I disagree.

The future of warfare will not be nuclear: it’ll be fought by robot soldiers so tiny we can’t see them and fought on the internet (I could argue the internet is already the most important battle-space).

So we have a choice. Go backwards – replace Trident and waste an opportunity.

Or go forwards, and become a true superpower of global influence in 2025.

My vote is for the latter.

Thirty Years On

Reagan: "Is Palme a Communist?" 
Aide: "No, Mr President, he's an anti-Communist." 
Reagan: "I don't care what kind of Communist he is."

Neil Clark writes:

Thirty years ago today, Swedish PM Olof Palme, one of the true giants of post-war European democratic socialism, was shot dead in Stockholm. 

The assassination shocked the world. Today, theories still abound as to who was behind his killing. 

Palme’s death was a major blow to progressive, left-wing politics, coming as it did during a decade when the left was retreating in the face of neoliberal onslaught. 

You could argue that the European left has never really recovered from the loss of Palme – and that post-war western European socialism itself was murdered on that cold February night in Stockholm. 

Palme served as Prime Minister of Sweden from 1969-76 and then again from October 1982 until his death. 

At home, the “revolutionary reformist” greatly extended Sweden’s welfare state and improved health care and child care provision. His tax policies were redistributionist. 

Sweden pursued full employment policies under Palme and living standards rose. It was a great time to be a Swede – and particularly a working-class Swede. 

Internationally, Palme supported the Non-Aligned Movement and was a champion of oppressed peoples the world over. 

He was a strong critic of apartheid South Africa and the Western-backed Fascist dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. 

He supported the Palestinian cause, and opened direct links between the Swedish government and the PLO. He railed against the US’s imperialist war on North Vietnam. 

One of the most powerful speeches he ever made came in December 1972, when speaking on Swedish radio, he made clear his utter disgust with the US bombing of Hanoi. 

“We should call things by their proper names. What is going on in Vietnam today is a form of torture. There cannot be any military justification for the bombings …. 

People are being punished, a nation is being punished in order to humiliate it, to force it to submit to force. That's why the bombings are despicable. 

Many such atrocities have been perpetrated in recent history. They are often associated with a name: Guernica, Oradour, Babi Yar, Katyn, Lidice, Sharpeville, Treblinka. Violence triumphed. But posterity has condemned the perpetrators. 

Now a new name will be added to the list: Hanoi, Christmas 1972.” 

Can you imagine any western European leader denouncing a US bombing campaign in such strong terms today? It’s unthinkable. 

But it wasn’t back in 1972, when Europe had leaders like Palme who weren’t afraid to speak their minds. 

And while Palme’s Sweden did co-operate with NATO, European subservience to the superpower, as I argued here has made Europe – and the world – a much more dangerous place. 

Palme returned to power in Sweden in 1982, at a time when the forces of reaction were gathering strength. 

Ronald Reagan, a Cold War hawk, was the new American president. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher – who Palme called a ‘true extremist’ – had already begun work on dismantling the progressive achievements of the post-war era.

Palme said: “I know that the Thatchers and the Reagans will be out in a few years. We have to survive till then.” Tragically, Palme did not survive Thatcher and Reagan. 

The early 80s saw a worsening in US-Soviet relations as Reagan took a more aggressive stance to what he called The Evil Empire”.

Palme though stayed committed to détente and trying to build better relations between East and West.

In October 1985, just four months before his death, he decided to ban the visit of two US Navy ships to Sweden, on the grounds that their presence would be seen as provocative measure by the Soviet Union. 

That decision came just one month after Palme had been returned to power in the election of September 1985. In that poll, Palme’s Social Democrats received 44.7 percent of the vote. 

“One of Prime Minister Palme's long-range goals is to be able to point to a Social Democratic victory as evidence that Sweden examined the arguments of neo-liberalism in the 1985 campaign and rejected them. 

The election can thus determine whether neoliberalism will be politically viable in Sweden in coming years,” noted one Swedish political journal.

Palme was only in his late fifties and, such was his popularity, could reasonably have expected many more years at the helm in Sweden.

But it was not to be. 

On the evening of February 28th 1986, the Prime Minister of Sweden went to the cinema with his wife Lisbet, to watch a comedy film, The Mozart Brothers.

While the couple were walking back home together, Palme was shot in the back by a mystery assailant at close range. His wife was also shot, but survived. 

That evening, Palme, the man of the people, had gone out without a bodyguard. 

In 1988, a drug addict called Christer Pettersson was arrested, tried and convicted for Palme’s murder. But in 1989, his conviction was overturned on appeal. 

So if Pettersson didn’t do it, who did? One theory is that Palme’s killing was ordered from South Africa.

Colonel Eugene de Kock, a South African police officer, gave evidence in Pretoria in 1996 that Palme had been shot because he “strongly opposed the apartheid regime and Sweden made substantial contributions to the ANC.”

The Pinochet regime in Chile has also been linked with the killing. The New York Times reported on Friday: 

“Only this week, a witness at the cinema that the prime minister attended the night he (Palme) was killed claimed to have seen a man resembling a known American agent working for the Chilean secret services under Gen. Augusto Pinochet.” 

Another theory holds the CIA and the Italian Masonic lodge Propaganda Due responsible. This was based on a telegram from P2’s Licio Gelli which said that, “Tell our friend the Swedish palm will be felled.”

In 1990, an Italian television documentary claimed that the CIA paid Gelli to foment terrorism- but the CIA denied any involvement in Palme‘s death.

In 2014, there was another development as it was revealed that the Swedish crime author Stieg Larsson  - who died in 2004 - had sent the police 15 boxes of files in connection to his own investigation into Palme’s murder. 

The newspaper which was given access to Larsson's files found that a suspect for the killing - a right-wing activist who had links to a man who had close links to South African security forces - did not, after all, have an alibi for the time of the murder.

Swedish police have interviewed thousands of people but 30 years on, the murder of Olof Palme remains officially unsolved.

Probably we will never find out for sure who killed Palme. A man who always stood up for the underdog, certainly had plenty of powerful enemies, at home and abroad. 

“People love conspiracies because there are good reasons to be suspicious. My father had enemies who were prepared to act,” said Joakim Palme, Mr. Palme’s eldest son, was quoted as saying in the New York Times. 

At Palme's funeral, his successor as Swedish PM, Ingvar Carlsson, said peace was Palme’s “most important task, because he saw war as the greatest threat to humankind.” 

What is clear is how Europe desperately needs a politician like Olof Palme today. 

Across the continent, neoliberal policies have destroyed many of the achievements of the post-war era. Welfare provision has been cut, and publicly owned enterprises have been privatized. 

The Age of Greater Equality has been replaced by a new Age of Inequality. 

Parties of the left, which stood up unequivocally for working-class interests in the era of Olof Palme have moved to what is misleadingly called “the center ground,” but really means acceptance of neoliberal/neocon extremism. 

Instead of championing the underdog domestically and internationally, European parties nominally of the left became the champion of elite interests. 

We saw the most grotesque example of this in the phenomenon of Tony Blair’s pro-war, neocon and hedge-fund friendly New Labour Party in Britain.

It’s important that we don’t forget Olof Palme, as his career shows us that there is an alternative to the current international finance capital-friendly policies of austerity, privatization and war.

With the far-right making major advances on the continent, the left needs to make a clean break with neoliberalism and neoconservatism, and adopt the populist, anti-war, anti-imperialist, pro-worker policies that Olof Palme espoused. 

Some will say that the forces of global capital are simply too strong to be defeated, and will point to the fate of Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party as an example. 

But Greece’s mistake was to put staying in the Eurozone above ending austerity.

Left-wing populism can succeed, but only if the leaders of the movement are strong and fearless and brave enough to “call things by their proper names,” as Palme was. 

And there’s one more lesson that we can learn from the career of Sweden’s greatest socialist.

For leaders who want to challenge privileged interests and make the world a better place for the majority, bodyguards and bullet proof vests are probably a very good idea. 

At all times.

Gael of Laughter?

I am taking this opportunity to tell one of the old jokes for the last possible time:

Q. "What is the difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael?"

A. "One is the Government, and the other is the Opposition."

After Neoliberalism

The American Conservative editorialises: 

This year is shaping up to be the most unconventional moment in American politics in a generation. 

A race that mere months ago seemed to promise yet another Bush vs. another Clinton has so far given us instead the populist insurgencies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. 

Whether or not either of them gets his party’s nomination, the neoliberal consensus of the past two decades seems about to shatter. 

Free trade, immigration, waging war for democracy, and even the relative merits of capitalism and “democratic socialism” have all come into question. 

Perhaps more fundamentally, so has the right of Clintons and Bushes—and those like them—to rule. 

Trump is a billionaire, but his base of support rests among the people once identified by the sociologist Donald Warren as “middle American radicals.” 

Nearly 40 years ago, Warren’s idea was adapted by the hard-right political thinker Sam Francis as the basis for paleoconservatism—a conservatism very unlike that of the postwar conservative movement, one that would champion the class interests and cultural attitudes of middle- and lower-income whites. 

The Pat Buchanan presidential campaigns of 1992 and 1996 put Francis’s ideas to the test. 

They fell short of propelling Buchanan to the GOP nomination, and by the end of the 1990s there was nary a trace of paleo ideology to be found among conservatives or Republicans. 

The return of the Bush family to power in 2000 seemed to confirm that nothing had changed after a decade of skirmishes. 

Now suddenly there’s Trump. And on the left, there’s Sanders, a throwback to a time when progressives embraced the socialist label. 

That had fallen out of fashion even before the end of the Cold War—indeed, the Democratic Leadership Council, the policy group that paved the way for Bill Clinton’s nomination, was founded in 1985 precisely to move the Democratic Party toward “market-based solutions.” 

That economic populism should find a foothold in both parties after the Great Recession and eight years of lagging prosperity under Barack Obama is not entirely surprising. 

What is more remarkable is the weakness of the bipartisan establishment, whose conventional wisdom is no longer meekly accepted by the rank and file of either party. 

Every Republican except Trump has tried, to one degree or another, to present himself as a champion of conservative orthodoxy. 

But that orthodoxy no longer commands the loyalty of a sufficient number of voters to preclude a phenomenon like Trump. 

Nor does DLC-style neoliberalism appear to be the consensus among Democrats any longer. 

A void is opening in American politics, and Trump and Sanders are only the first to try to fill it. 

Neither of them may succeed. Yet it is hard to see any source of renewal for the crumbling establishment they are fighting to replace. 

Just as the end of the Cold War marked the passing of an era, and partially or wholly transformed the left and right alike, so another era is drawing to a close now, with further political mutations to come. 

Trump and Sanders need not be the future, but what Bush and Clinton represent is already past—no matter who wins in November. 

Conservatives of Burkean temperament view all of this warily. 

There is an opportunity here to replace stale ideologies with a prudence that is ultimately more principled than any mere formula can be. 

But there is also the risk that the devil we know is only making way for another we don’t. 

At times like these, it is important to know what to conserve, which is not a label or ideology, but a healthy and humane republic.

Call of Duty?

Paul Wood writes:

On Nawroz, the Persian New Year, last March, Isis sent a holiday greeting to the Kurds.

They published several videos of Peshmerga fighters, now prisoners, kneeling, handcuffed and wearing the usual orange jumpsuits.

In one video, a prisoner is shot in the back of the head; the rest have their heads sawn off with a knife. In a deliberate twist, no doubt relished by the leadership of the so-called Islamic State, the killers were themselves Kurds. 

‘You all know the punishment for anyone who fights the Islamic State,’ says one. ‘It is death.’ The executioners did not wear masks and were quickly identified by Kurdish intelligence.

Retribution followed. In an incredibly risky operation, a small team of Kurdish special forces slipped into Isis-held Mosul and killed one of the men who had wielded the knife. 

‘We sent them a message,’ said the Kurdish official who told me about the hit, a tight smile of triumph on his face. The Kurds are ‘our plucky allies’, often outgunned by Isis yet still taking the fight to the enemy.

If you visit Kurdish northern Iraq, the politicians and their commanders are not just accessible but hospitable. Many speak English, having been refugees in Britain or the US in Saddam’s time.

Everyone loves the Kurds and so they have benefited from uncritical, sometimes fawning, coverage of their war with the jihadis. This has led to serious problems being glossed over. 

The war against Isis began badly. During the Isis blitzkrieg two years ago, the vaunted Peshmerga — literally ‘those who face death’ — fell back again and again. 

A western diplomat told me the first to run were the officers, ‘some with quite famous names’. They fled Sinjar, leaving the Yazidis to their fate. 

It even seemed as if the Kurdish capital, Erbil, might be abandoned; it was saved only when the US began airstrikes. 

One analyst explained it by saying that Peshmerga recruits, just like teenagers anywhere, were now more likely to have played Call of Duty than to have fired a real weapon. 

To some, the myth of the Kurdish mountain warrior was just that. I’ve seen the reality first-hand. 

That summer, while filming a report at a little town called Jalawla, I found myself cornered with half a dozen Peshmerga fighters in a filthy, rubbish-strewn basement, Isis on both sides of the building. 

For an agonising 15 minutes, it seemed we would be overrun. I crouched on the stairs, looking up in terror. A fighter next to me was shot in the thigh. 

If we survived the gun battle, all of us expected to end up in the orange jumpsuits. At times, the Peshmerga seemed gripped by panic. I can’t blame them. 

But such a firefight would probably look very different today, with the Peshmerga’s two years of combat experience. 

The Kurds have pushed Isis back, taking territory they hope will one day form the borders of an independent state. The Arabs who live there are seen as a threat to that ambition. 

A report from Amnesty International last month is a reminder to western governments that in supporting the Kurds they are intervening to help one side in a civil war. 

Amnesty accuses Kurdish forces of ‘destroying entire villages’ in areas captured from Isis in northern Iraq, something it says may amount to war crimes. 

‘When the Peshmerga retook the village the houses were standing,’ one Arab resident tells Amnesty’s researchers. ‘Later they bulldozed the village. There is nothing left.’ 

There are dramatic satellite pictures: one before-and-after image of a village shows 95 per cent of the buildings razed. 

The report details such destruction in the countryside around Jalawla, where our frightening brush with Isis took place. 

A Kurdish general there told me the town and its villages were 90 per cent Arab because Saddam had colonised the place in the 1970s. And most of the Arabs sympathised with Daesh (Isis), he said. 

He was probably right on both counts. But that makes it no less of a crime that, as one recent visitor to the region told me, houses are daubed with graffiti saying ‘Kurds only — Arabs out.’ 

The Kurdish representative in Washington, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, is acutely aware that the West went to war twice, in Bosnia and in Kosovo, over ‘ethnic cleansing’. 

Brought up in the UK, she was a journalist on the Observer in London at the time. 

She tells me that where damage has been done, ‘in all cases, either the village has been destroyed by Daesh or by airstrikes.’ 

She also says that many Arabs chose to leave voluntarily ‘because frankly they know they shouldn’t have been there in the first place’. 

She points out that Kurdish northern Iraq is sheltering more than a million displaced Arabs. 

Sometimes, ‘the men have gone to the Daesh side and they have sent their women and children to the Peshmerga. They know we will put their women and children somewhere safe and leave them alone… 

‘Kurdistan is a multi-ethnic, multi–religious society. Whether we’re part of Iraq, whether we’re independent, we have to live with the Arabs, the Turkmen and everybody else.’ 

The Peshmerga are really two different forces loyal to the main Kurdish parties, the KDP and the PUK, which fought each other in the 1990s: ‘the darkest and most shameful period of our history’, Ms Abdul Rahman calls it. 

There are once again tensions between the two factions. ‘I am not at all convinced that the Kurds’ own civil war is over,’ says Professor Gareth Stansfield, an expert on the subject. 

This doesn’t mean they are about to stop fighting Isis and (absurdly) start fighting each other. But ‘they’re just a quick step away from reverting back to their old command structure. 

‘Everybody knows who is KDP and who is PUK. That’s a very big problem.’ 

The fragile accord was nearly ripped apart in the autumn when President Masoud Barzani of the KDP decided to remain in office, despite his second and ‘final’ term having expired in 2013. 

There were street protests — though they were as much about salaries as the political crisis. 

The Kurdish economy is in trouble. Oil, the main source of income, has fallen to $30 a barrel, from around $100 when Isis was on the offensive. 

The central government in Baghdad has stopped sending money to the Kurds. Wages for government workers, including the armed forces, haven’t been paid in months. 

A foreign visitor attended a dinner recently hosted by some senior Kurdish officials.

He watched as they uncorked several bottles of Château Margaux, a wine that costs anything from £200 a bottle to £1,200, depending on the vintage.

‘We’re sitting there drinking the Château Margaux and a minister says to me: “We don’t have enough money to pay our Peshmerga.” ’

The dinner had both members of the KDP and the rival PUK present — it’s no surprise that the street protests are directed in part at the whole political class as much as any one party.

Diplomats refer delicately to ‘transparency issues’ — that is, corruption.

There has yet to be a ‘Kurdish spring’, says Professor Stansfield. President Barzani has seized the opportunity presented by Isis, promising to go ahead with a referendum on Kurdish independence.

This might have been an attempt to distract people from their economic misery — or he might have been acting on the long-held and deep desire of Kurds for the safety of their own state.

Regardless, western governments hope he is not serious, because they have always insisted on the territorial integrity of Iraq. ‘This leaves British policy in a shambles,’ says Professor Stansfield.

Iraq, though, is simple compared with Syria.

There, the US-led coalition is bombing in aid of a Syrian Kurdish militia called the YPG, the most effective ground force against Isis.

But the YPG are in a tacit alliance with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. They are advancing not just against Isis but against a range of rebel groups, including some armed by the Americans.

In Syria, the US is involved in a proxy war against itself.

The Turks — whose chief fear is not Isis but Kurdish nationalism — have been shelling the advancing YPG. Which means that the US is backing both a Nato ally and the militia that ally is attacking.

The YPG, for its part, may not be too keen on Kurdish independence in Iraq, because they hate President Barzani — who would be father of this new nation — and are allied to the rival PUK.

The YPG is more concerned about Turkey than Iraq, which is not surprising given that it is effectively the same organisation as the PKK, the Kurdish nationalist group inside Turkey.

Because the PKK is internationally proscribed as a terrorist organisation, Britain and other western governments have to pretend the two — the PKK and the YPG — are different.

That is a fiction, as Iraq is itself these days, and Syria too.

But Iraq is a necessary fiction. The alternative might be truly bloody ‘sectarian cleansing’. One Sunni tribal leader told me he feared the genocide of millions of Sunnis in Baghdad.

The truth is that both Iraq and Syria long ago ceased to exist as nations. ‘Iraq is broken,’ says Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman.

‘People talk about, “Oh the Kurds want to break up Iraq…” First of all, it’s broken already, and second, we didn’t break it. It was broken from the day it was created. It’s never worked as a country.’

The Kurds are putting that belief into action in the disputed territory of their future border.

Consumed by the battle against Isis, all that western governments can do is to avert their eyes.

Friday 26 February 2016

Bag Ladies

From tomorrow, the Daily Mail is offering its readers the opportunity to win one of Margaret Thatcher's handbags.

Yes, really. This is not a joke. Or, at any rate, it is not intended to be.

Second Thoughts

As Michael Howard makes clear, almost all Conservative advocates of a Leave vote, including Boris Johnson and the Cabinet Five-and-a-Half, want nothing more than a second renegotiation, leading to a second referendum and a vote to Remain.

The true number of Conservative Outers is no larger than the number of active Labour Outers.

Of course, the people who are now running the Labour Party also want an entirely different European Union from that which has been proposed by David Cameron.

Therefore, should a vote to Leave lead to a second renegotiation, as it certainly would under the Conservative Party, then there ought to be an immediate General Election to determine who was to conduct it.

Jeremy Corbyn needs to demand now that that would be the case.

All opponents of the present Government, and everyone else who does not want Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, ought to vote to Leave, even if only to bring about that General Election.

The Last Crusader, The Lost Crusader?

Today's paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians are a very youthful lot, formed by opposition to the neoconservatives' wars.

With all the alliances that that entailed, with the lead into a searing critique of neoliberal capitalism, and with the formative political campaigns having been, if anything, those of Ron Paul.

They scarcely know who Pat Buchanan is, and they regard it as self-evident that they would never vote for Donald Trump, who embodies literally everything that they define themselves by despising.

To a man, they are of the view that, with Rand Paul out of the running, the only candidate worth considering is Bernie Sanders, even if only as the best of a bad lot.

Thursday 25 February 2016

The Last Trump

Like all the paleo boys whom he so very largely turned into a movement, Ron Paul would rather die than vote for Donald Trump.

Well, of course.

But the whole thing is ultimately academic. Trump could not conceivably win a Presidential Election.

After Romney, McCain, and the decidedly Pyrrhic Dubya, a Trump nomination would be the fourth and final nail in the coffin of the Republican Party.

At best, from its own point of view, it would be beaten to a pulp by Hillary Clinton. But any Democratic nominee would defeat Trump just as comprehensively.

Including, just imagine it, Bernie Sanders.

The Bernie Sanders whom the paleo boys are going to have to back, if they are not already doing so, in the absence of Rand Paul.

I told you so. I told you at least seven years ago that all of this would happen.

The Lanchester Review: Apple Versus The FBI

As Loz Kaye explains, this case shows that the surveillance lobby will break any business.


"We'd get TTIP anyway"?

The same people said that about the euro.

No, we didn't.

And no, we wouldn't.

Bound But Ungagged

The proposed new constituency boundaries are so ridiculous that there would almost certainly be enough Conservative votes to prevent the Government’s crude gerrymander.

Labour needs to press that advantage by proposing a reduction to 500 equally sized constituencies, accompanied by 180 additional members.

Each of the 11 areas of Great Britain that were used for European Elections would elect 15 additional members: three Labour, three Conservative, three Liberal Democrat, three from other parties that would not then be permitted to contest constituency seats, and three Independents.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would each submit their locally determined shortlists of five to the electorate at large.

Each of us would vote for one candidate on each list, and the three highest-scoring candidates on each list would be elected. Any casual vacancy would be filled by the next candidate on the list.

Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat voices would thus be heard from all parts of Great Britain, as would the diversity within those parties.

The Liberal Democrats would not then be permitted to contest constituency seats, their “major minor party” role as the repository of certain perennial traditions within the polity having been duly recognised by the guarantee of 33 MPs.

For the fourth category, the simple party list system would be employed.

For the fifth, each of us would vote for one Independent candidate who had met a basic nomination requirement, and the highest-scoring three would be elected, with casual vacancies filled as for Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat additional members.

In Northern Ireland, the places of Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats might be taken by the SDLP, the UUP and the Alliance Party, none of which would then contest constituencies.

Three is as many MPs as the SDLP has at present, 50 per cent more than the UUP has, and 300 per cent more than the Alliance Party has.

Otherwise, the system would be as in Great Britain. There is an argument to be made that it ought to be so across the board.

The Green Parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland are distinct, but Greens in general could hope for 12 seats rather than one, and UKIP could hope for at least 11.

The SNP, the DUP and Sinn Féin would not forego possibly or certainly larger representation, and Plaid Cymru probably would not do so, making room for a broader range of perspectives.

Going, Going, Gove

Michael Gove to be sacked again?

He is becoming one of the Great Unemployables.

He is wildly unlikely to contest the 2020 Election. A comfy chair in Fleet Street beckons.

Like Boris Johnson, the Cabinet Five-and-a-Half have nothing to do with the real campaign to Leave.

They don't even want to Leave. They just want a second referendum, on terms agreeable to themselves.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Percentage Points

If it is not the EU telling us how much we may spend, then it is NATO telling us on what we may spend it.

We should meet the two per cent defence spending target when Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia do so. They spend virtually nothing on defence. Ask yourself why not.

And we should stay in NATO if Finland joins it, but not otherwise. Not unless Turkey leaves, either.

With an 833-mile land border with Russia, Finland is not, and has never been, a member of NATO. But Turkey is.

Doubly, then, why the hell are we?

Now Is The Time

No one takes Gove, or Grayling, or IDS seriously. Nor should they. No one believes Johnson. Nor should they. No one can even name any of the others. Nor should they. But, for all his faults, David Owen writes:

The vision of a European Common Market was a good one when in 1962 membership was first envisaged for the UK.

Nevertheless, we were rightly warned even then by the leader of the Labour Party, Hugh Gaitskell, that a federal Europe lurked in the background. 

As far back as 1971 Edward Heath’s White Paper on entry misleadingly promised ‘no erosion of essential sovereignty’. That was untrue then and is much more so today. 

European law does override British law and David Cameron has failed to achieve any Treaty amendment to change this. 

What we have contrived in the EU is the pretension that you can be partly a country and partly not a country. 

Today, in 2016, disillusionment in the present EU can be found in varying degrees in every country within it, and it has stretched to breaking point the wishes of a large part of the population of the UK. 

The flaws of the single currency are there to be seen: a broken-backed euro, high youth unemployment in countries unable to devalue; continued austerity and structural inertia within an EU that resists change, particularly any treaty change. 

In my view the advantage of David Cameron’s negotiation is that it has shown up why it is now too late to reform the EU from within in any significant way. 

This UK referendum is, like all previous referendums, a once-in-a-generation opportunity. 

There are many positive aspects to leaving the EU. We will make our own laws again in our own parliament. We will rediscover the skills of blue-water diplomacy and rise to the challenge of global markets. 

It could be the spark we need to re-energise our nation: a challenge and an opportunity. 

To remain in the EU is in my judgement a more dangerous option for British security in its deepest sense – economic, political, military and social – than remaining in a dysfunctional EU dragged down by a failing Eurozone. 

Remaining in the EU is risking more than leaving. Our most important and urgent duty is to strengthen NATO [oh, well, you can't have everything].

Restoring a greater measure of self-government and full control over who comes into this country are significant gains, and the UK would once again be doing things its way and accepting that when the electoral pendulum shifts inside our country real changes can be made that make a difference to people’s lives and aspirations.

My decision is a confident one: now is the time to vote to leave the EU.

How It Always Ends

But either he or George Osborne will be Prime Minister in this Parliament.

Osborne would remain Chancellor under Johnson. Johnson would become (or perhaps, by then, remain) Foreign Secretary under Osborne.

Yes, you did read that second part correctly.

This is how Conservative Governments always end.

In 1945, 1964, 1974 and 1997, the public jeered out the spiteful, sneering Flashmen and the PG Wodhouse buffoons.

Even including David Cameron, there could not be a more spiteful, sneering Flashman than George Osborne.

And there could not possibly be a bigger buffoon than Boris Johnson, whom Wodhouse himself would have struggled to have invented.

Roll on 2020.

Occupation, Not Preoccupation

How many people in Britain have ever sung the National Anthem in their lives?

Even footballers with a dozen caps for England routinely do not know the words.

Purely as a matter of fact, the National Anthem is no part of mainstream culture. Was it ever?

By contrast, it must be said that everyone playing for Scotland always knows the words to Flower of Scotland.

It turns out that our fashion-policing Prime Minister spends more on one suit than he expects a sick person to spend on food in an entire year.

But this is all fluff.

The real story of this week's PMQs was Cameron's fulsome denunciation of the Israeli settlements in what he did not hesitate to call "Occupied East Jerusalem".

A Hidden Class of Family

Javed Khan writes:

Today sees a watershed moment in the way that the UK Government deals with child poverty, as MPs decide whether to give final assent to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill [they did]. 

There are 3.7 million children in the UK living in poverty, made more shocking by the fact the majority – over 60 per cent - of their parents are in paid work. 

Currently, how well the UK is tackling child poverty is measured by how much income families have, and the Government must report on its progress. 

In the future, the Government will only have to report on how children are doing in school and if their parents are “workless”. 

This change will create a hidden class of family, who are too poor to make ends meet, but are not visible to policy makers because a parent is in paid work. 

Money is crucial to determining children’s opportunities. 

How much money your family has, how well you do in school, then what kind of work you do are still very much entwined. 

Despite decades – if not centuries – of policy-makers trying to make Britain fairer, children born in poverty are often trapped in a low waged, low opportunity area when leaving school. 

From talking to families, Barnardo's knows that losing even a small amount of money could mean some have to choose between heating or eating this winter. 

We help a mum of five who is skipping meals because she can’t afford to feed both herself and her family, despite working full time. Hungry children don’t concentrate well in the classroom.  

Income-related poverty is a very real problem for many UK families, so the Government must continue to measure, report on, and eliminate. 

Improving income poverty and fighting the underlying cause of disadvantage are not mutually exclusive – both are significant for improving children’s life chances.

If the Prime Minister wants to achieve his ambition of improving the life chances of the most vulnerable, he must send a clear message that the Government’s duty is to tackle income poverty now, as well as preventing it in the future – and urgently rethink this legislation.