Thursday 31 August 2017

Bailout, Indeed

And Texas should have it, of course.

There are no "free" marketeers in a crisis.

But a state and a federal government that have allowed their infrastructure to rot to this point must not be given the unconditional and unmonitored rescue package that the rotten banking system was wrongly given when it, too, inevitably collapsed.

Decision Time

Of course neither Boris Johnson nor Jacob Rees-Mogg could win a General Election.

The question is whether the Conservative Party is a serious political organisation, or a public school lark.

If it could consider either Johnson or Rees-Mogg as Leader, then it is the latter.

Just as Labour had to decide whether it was a machine for elevating the next bland technocrat in line, or a party of the Left.

It made its decision. The Conservatives must make theirs.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

The Living Daylights, Indeed

Here is Timothy Dalton as James Bond in 1987's The Living Daylights.

With whom was he fighting in order to drive the Soviets (who also ought not to have been there) out of Afghanistan?

And here is the closing frame of 1988's Rambo III.

Whatever happened to "the brave Mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan"? By what name are they now known?

Workfare Not Welcome

To hell with this.

If there is work to be done, and if there are people looking for work, then pay those people to do that work.

Class Clown

Never mind trying to imagine the reaction if the words of Boris Johnson were uttered by Angela Rayner, or Laura Pidcock, or Jess Phillips.

Read any selection of those words while imagining that they were being spoken in a male voice with the accent of the South-Eastern middle class.

The voice and accent of, say, Philip Hammond.

The point is made.


How long have some of us, and not least my old mate Jonah Fisher, who is a very great man, been trying to tell you about Aung San Suu Kyi and the Rohingya?

Next up, Google “Dorje Shugden” for, to put at its mildest, some balance to the media portrayal of the present Dalai Lama.

Or read what remains the greatest hit of The Lanchester Review. Beyond that venerable journal, we never hear from Dorje Shugden practitioners.

Just as we never hear from the loyally Chinese Hui Muslims; I have tried, repeatedly.

Moreover, the Dalai Lama has never condemned either the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq.

Despite what seems to be taught at GCSE RE, Buddhism is not pacifist as a first principle. Very far from it, in fact.

For more on Buddhism as no more a religion of peace than Islam is (no less so, but no more), then see Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, and beyond.

In fact, an examination of the relevant texts shows that violence in general and war in particular are fundamental to Buddhism. Tibet is particularly striking for this.

Nothing To DeActivate

Six months ago, people who enjoy handsome remuneration and coverage as serious opinion-formers were telling us that the Conservative Party was going to be in Government for the next 40 years.

What, so that I would have entered my dotage with this lot in the Cabinet? Thank goodness that the electorate had other ideas, and still has. 

Anyway, they have missed the main point. The very un-slick and un-techy Jeremy Corbyn came before Momentum.

It did not create him as a political phenomenon. He, as a political phenomenon, created it.

The Red Lion Rampant

It is a disappointment that Neil Findlay has ruled himself out as a candidate for Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.

But support whoever he supports.

If you are in Scotland, then join the Labour Party for that purpose.


I have not always been disabled, but I always will be. I will always be mixed-race, too.

In both of those capacities, I am struggling to find the words to express my disgust at the lack of outcry over the recent remarks of Jess Phillips, and at the lack of action against her by the Labour Party.

When Parliament resumes next week, then the Labour whip needs to be suspended from her, and a Labour Whip needs to propose the motion that she be in some way censured by the House.

Or is it acceptable to say that British Pakistanis import wives for their disabled sons?

No Time For Chatting On

"It never did Dennis Skinner any harm" is all well and good. But Skinner has never held a front bench position in 47 years and counting. Whereas the Constituency Labour Party here in North West Durham is accustomed to Ernest Armstrong, Hilary Armstrong and Pat Glass.

That CLP is now fairly left-wing, having nominated Ed Miliband in 2010, Andy Burnham in 2015, and Jeremy Corbyn in 2016. But it had no say in the selection of Laura Pidcock, and it barely campaigned for her.

Instead, she bussed in the members of various Hard and Far Left networks, some of whom prided themselves on never having been members of the Labour Party.

And now, this.

North West Durham is a mostly rural constituency in which the largest town has steelworking rather than mining roots that in any case ended several years before Laura was born. I am sitting in that town as I write, mere yards from Laura's constituency office.

This constituency's, and not least that town's, population is still fairly fixed, but it is now vastly more fluid that it was even at the turn of the century, and it is becoming more so all the time.

While obviously the area is nowhere near back to its pre-Thatcher levels of prosperity, nevertheless it is visibly becoming more affluent, and it always did have quite sizeable pockets, so to speak.

Although, thanks to a Corbyn effect that benefited candidates across the Labour Party, Labour just about won over 50 per cent of the vote this year, that had not happened since 2005, and thumping great majorities have not been seen since 2001.

In the area of the old Consett Urban District Council, Labour's performance at local elections has been downright poor since as long ago as 2003. As a result, in its last years, Derwentside District Council remained under Labour overall control due to the Stanley wards in neighbouring North Durham.

That authority was run in practice, and rather well, by a de facto coalition between the mainstream left-wing Labour Leadership in Consett and the countryside, and a body of broadly Tory-inclined Independents. All of those Independents were in North West Durham.

Their Leader kept his deposit when he contested this parliamentary seat in 2005 and 2010. In 2005, in fact, he took 9.8 per cent of the vote. He remains a member of what is now the unitary Durham County Council, fewer than half of the members of which for this constituency are members of the Labour Party.

Of course, all that a parliamentary candidate needs to be is the First Past the Post. But having been imposed rather than selected in the first place, and then having made such a start in office, it is very far from clear that Laura Pidcock can expect to be even that for the six, seven or eight electoral cycles that she and her social media cheerleaders seem to presuppose.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Demand The Real Thing

Over to Labour to demand the real thing.

A statutory ban on any company's paying any employee or contractor more than 10 times what it paid any other employee or contractor.

A statutory insistence on a binding vote of the shareholders before any increase in executive pay.

And a statutory requirement of German-style elected workers' representatives on Boards of Directors.

Let those proposals be brought to the floor of the House of Commons in this hung Parliament.

Laura Pidcock, over to you.

But not over to Jess Phillips, whose receipt of the Labour Whip makes me glad that I am no longer a member of the Labour Party, and proud that I never will be one again.

"British Pakistanis import wives for their disabled sons" has it all.

Imagine the reaction if Phillips's good friend Jacob Rees-Mogg, or any other Conservative MP, or anyone from UKIP, had said that.

Not Soft In The Head

From Counterfire to the Morning Star, they are raising concerns that deserve to be taken seriously.

But I have not been a member of the Labour Party in many years, and I never will be again.

If I thought that Keir Starmer had pulled a fast one on Jeremy Corbyn and committed Labour to the Single-Market-and-Customs-Union-forever that is favoured by most of the Cabinet, then I would say so.

I am not saying so, because I can see no evidence whatever that that is so.

None of the several key policies in Labour's 2017 manifesto that were absolutely incompatible with Single Market membership has been abrogated in any way.

Several of those policies, such as the renationalisation of the railways, were and are immensely popular, and it is undeniable that everyone who voted Labour this year did at some level vote for that manifesto.

Therefore, it simply cannot be the case that the majority of those voters was in favour of "Soft Brexit".

Sunday 27 August 2017

There At All

Peter Hitchens writes: 

So, here we go back to Afghanistan, to make war on the people we armed and trained, 30 years ago, to drive the Soviets out of… Afghanistan. 

Neither the West nor the Soviets ever really explained why they were there in the first place, and it’s still a mystery to me. 

How much time and trouble, and lives, we’d all have saved if we’d never gone there at all.

Local Knowledge

Laura Pidcock is almost certain to be my MP until I am well over 70, and very probably until I am 80. I have no ill will towards her.

My heart bleeds for the people of Birmingham Yardley. Here in North West Durham, we are getting off very lightly indeed by comparison.

But no, she is not "local". She is very audibly from Northumberland, and this is County Durham, where we can hear the difference instantly. 

Nor does that accent make her "working-class". She is at least a second generation university graduate. She was at least the second generation of her family to have managed to make a living as a charity worker.

And she was at least a second generation member of Northumberland County Council until she lost her seat to a Conservative, by which time she had been wafted into a parliamentary seat at the age of 28.

The problem is that she has yet to acquire any understanding of how things work here.

She now lives here in Lanchester, where Labour retains the Chair of the Parish Council on the vote of the sole Conservative, who is by happy coincidence the Vice-Chair.

In 2013, Labour, the Conservatives and the Independents managed to nominate 15 candidates for 15 seats. What were the odds?

As a Group Observer, I heard the then Leader of the old Derwentside District Council, a man of the mainstream Left, tell the right-wing faction on the Labour Group that he had the votes to remain Leader whether or not the Group, as such, voted to renominate him.

That was right there in the ward that now contains Laura's constituency office. And it was because of his and his supporters' highly fruitful relationship with the Independents, most of whom were more or less Tories of one sort or another.

He remained Leader until the day that that authority was abolished, at which point that right-wing faction and its allies in the same parliamentary constituency took over the running of the new unitary County Council.

And so on.

She'll learn.

The Acceptable Face?

Purely because Jeremy Corbyn is the Leader of the Labour Party, and not for the first time, Theresa May talks a good game on tackling corporate greed and irresponsibility. Believe her when she does anything about it, and not before.

Not very long ago at all, hers were the agenda of workers' and consumers' representation in corporate governance, of shareholders' control over executive pay, of restrictions on pay differentials within companies, of an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme, of greatly increased housebuilding, of action against tax avoidance, of a ban on public contracts for tax-avoiding companies, of a cap on energy prices, of banning or greatly restricting foreign takeovers, of a ban on unpaid internships, and of an inquiry into Orgreave. 

Every point of which she had only ever adopted because Jeremy Corbyn was there. But even so. Oh, well, if you want any of those things, then you are just going to have to vote for him after all.

May could only have got this programme through with the votes of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, the DUP, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP (which had MPs at the time), the UUP (likewise), Caroline Lucas, and Sylvia Hermon.

But she could have got it through. And it still needs to happen. Labour, in particular, still needs to find ways of proposing each of these measures in order to invite all MPs to vote on them. It also needs to bring the matter of arms sales to Saudi Arabia back to the floor of the House of Commons.

In Transition

Staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union during the transition period is the merest trifle compared to staying in them forever, as advocated by Theresa May and Peter Hitchens.

Single Market membership is absolutely incompatible with key points of this year's Labour's manifesto. So a Corbyn Government would have to leave in the end. At the end of the transition period, in fact.

Whereas a May or other Conservative Government would never have any reason to do so. Everything about it suits them down to the ground.

By the end of 2019, it will have required even the privatisation of the French and German railways, the public ownership of which is cited by the illiterate as some sort of riposte to the fact that the EU forbids the renationalisation of anything that has ever been privatised, including the British railways.

Today, the Labour Party stated the obvious: that, in accordance with the clearly expressed views and the obvious interests of the Labour heartlands that delivered the Leave vote, a Labour Government will eventually withdraw from the Single Market and from the Customs Union.

But the Conservative Party has never given any such assurance, and it never will. Why should it? Its heartlands mostly voted Remain in what was, 33 years late, the Labour victory of 1983, when the areas that had been mostly badly damaged by all Governments since that point finally got their well-deserved revenge.

Saturday 26 August 2017

Not Going Soft

And so, Keir Starmer expresses the view of between 60 and 100 Conservative MPs as a bare minimum (those are just the ones who are opposed root and branch to Brexit), including the Prime Minister, most of her Cabinet, and the whole of her entourage.

The view, moreover, of Peter Hitchens in his column last week.

But most certainly not the view of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Seumas Milne, Andrew Fisher, the Morning Star, Counterfire, and so on.

There is a reason why Leave won in, and was won by, Wales and the North, with Conservative-voting areas mostly voting Remain in 2016, and with Remain-voting areas mostly voting Conservative in 2017.

If Laura Pidcock wants an opportunity to differentiate herself from "the enemy" on the benches opposite, then here it is.

As for "You should have voted Tory for a Hard Brexit", even had that party been offering such a thing, then this issue has been irrelevant to General Elections since the result in 1983.

Hence the referendum, for all the difference that it looks like making.

General Elections, by definition, are about other things. If that were not so, then there would never have been a referendum.

Whatever Type They Are?

My MP, Laura Pidcock, considers it impossible to have good personal relations with those with whom one disagrees about the ever-overlapping principles and tactics that are politics.

I disagree profoundly with that view, which I regard as wrong tactically as well as in principle.

She and I get on personally.

I'll leave that there.

Declaratory Power

Do you have to live in Scotland in order to bring a case before the High Court of Justiciary, asking it to exercise its declaratory power?

If so, then over to the SNP to prove that it is really any use to anyone, by seeking to have Tony Blair's, Jack Straw's and Lord Goldsmith's crime of aggression in 2003 declared to be so, and dealt with accordingly.

Or if not, then over to General Abdul Wahed Shannan Al Rabbat, or to anyone else with the money and the profile. Had I both, then I would do it myself.

But I do not have, for example, the salary of a Member of Parliament. Nor do I yet have the salary of a Police, Crime and Victims' Commissioner.

I Beg Your Pardon

By all means be outraged at the pardoning of Joe Arpaio.

But only if you were, and are, just as outraged at the policies of the Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump Administrations, and which were and are advocated by Hillary Clinton, in relation to Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Honduras, Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria and Yemen.

Just as silence on Libya gives the lie to anyone's claim to believe that "Black Lives Matter", so silence on either or both of Honduras and Venezuela gives the lie to anyone's claim to be concerned for the lives of Latinos.

As Cause For Withdrawing?

As an anonymous comment puts it:

The Christmas rollout of Universal Credit is happening anyway, so much for Laura Pidcock. And her political advisor is the man who put the kibosh on Mr. Lindsay's call to vote for no Labour candidates for the county council. As a result Labour kept control and the Teaching Assistants are still denied justice. Thank you, Laura Pidcock's political advisor.

Or, in the words on Facebook of my solidly (and quite well-connectedly) Old Right friend, Adam Young, who lives in this constituency: 

Though not of the modern left, though my paths cross with traditional left wingers, I'd much rather have a left winger like David Lindsay who would listen to my concerns (not just the ones he agrees with me) than Laura Pidcock who seems to suggest that because I'm not apart of her ideology, a one I find fundamentally wrong, I have no worth listening to or discussing with. As Jefferson said, "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend".

Friday 25 August 2017

Understandably Defensive

Russia and Belarus are indeed conducting exercises in the latter.

Given the buildup of NATO forces next door, who can blame them?

Neither Putin nor Lukashenko comes close to the dangerous wickedness of Erdogan, around whose regime NATO very largely revolves.

The Alliance with Turkey is as dangerous as the alliance with Saudi Arabia, and for very much the same reasons.

Whereas Russia and Belarus, the Belarus that lost a third of its population during the Second World War, are once again on the right side.

Not "perfect". But "on the right side".

The October 2017 Revolution

53 Conservative MPs have signed a letter attacking Theresa May for having broken her promise of an energy cap.

And South Wales Police is carrying out an investigation of “scale and significance” into allegations that the Conservative Party broke data protection and election law during the General Election campaign with its use of a call centre, Blue Telecoms, in Neath.

Do not bet against a second General Election this year.

Voyage of Discovery

There would only be a case for taking down statues of Captain Cook in Australia if the Aborigines had defeated him, but statues of him had nevertheless been put up to make political points between 55 and 110 years after that event.

Confederate monuments would be comparable to Second World War ones only if there had been scarcely any Second World War monuments until around the year 2000, and we were still waiting for most of them to go up from around 2040 onwards.

Oh, and only if they were statues, not even of Mosley, but of Hitler. And no, that is not because Hitler was nasty in general, although of course he was. It is because Hitler waged war on the United Kingdom.

In view of the German declaration of war against the United States on 11th December 1941, there is exactly as much reason for statues of Hitler to stand on the soil of the American Republic as there is for statues of Confederate politicians and military commanders to do so.

Of course, the United States defeated the Confederacy, and it played no small part in defeating the Third Reich. It is no coincidence that those who would march under the flag of one would also march under the flag of the other.

But it is absolutely hilarious, not only that they regard themselves as the most patriotic of Americans, but also that they regard their banners as the badges of invincibility. Confederates and Nazis are no more invincible than Hillary Clinton.

Whether in 2016, in 1945, or as long ago as 1865, "You lost, get over it."

Thursday 24 August 2017

Bench Marks?

If it's not Jess Phillips, then it's Laura Pidcock.

When is there going to be any attention paid to those members of the 2015 and 2017 intakes who are now on the Labour front bench?

Weed Killer

Durham County Council will not let you read an article in The American Conservative about the continued centrality of Afghanistan to the global trade in heroin.

Meanwhile, cannabis has been effectively legalised in County Durham and Darlington by the Police, Crime and Victims' Commissioner.

But that will not be the approach of the next Police, Crime and Victims' Commissioner for County Durham and Darlington.


The Field Will Be Open To Harvest

Andrew Grice writes:

Every new economic statistic is now seized on by supporters or opponents of Brexit, either as a boost for their cause or a setback for their enemy as they continue their neverendum campaign.

They miss the big picture: the Brexit vote and the June election were both rejections of the economic status quo

No wonder: a decade of wage stagnation means the crisis that began in 2007 is not over for millions. 

Yet the political class has been remarkably slow to realise it, as epitomised by Theresa May’s disastrous decision to call the election and then barely mention the economy during the campaign. 

She should have known better; she recognised after last year’s referendum that the vote was not just about the EU, but also the “left behind” and “just about managing.” 

At the election, Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message caught the public mood; not only have people’s incomes and benefits been squeezed, but their public services have deteriorated. 

Above all, the fruits of the so-called recovery since the financial crisis have not been shared fairly. 

Young people are poorer than their parents; many have little hope of getting a toe on the housing ladder. 

The London-centric political class kept the economy unbalanced; the North is still fighting for its fair share of investment. 

No region outside London and the South East has seen output per person return to its peak before the crisis. 

The economy isn’t working. 

Corbyn departed from the Tory-Labour consensus on the economy that has existed since the Margaret Thatcher era. 

But Labour’s manifesto, inevitably thrown together for the snap election, did not offer fundamental reform. 

Reversing Tory privatisations was hardly a new idea. Indeed, since the 1980s, Labour has been more interested in social rather than economic change. 

To meet the huge challenges of Brexit, an ageing population and automation, the country needs a new economic policy that turns into reality our politicians’ rhetoric about “an economy that works for all” (Tories) and one “for the many, not the few” (Labour). 

Radical reforms after the Second World War and then under Thatcher did last but the failure to achieve prosperity and fairness since the crisis shows that another rethink is needed. 

Thankfully some fresh ideas will be offered early next month in an interim report by a Commission on Economic Justice set up by the IPPR think tank. 

It will contain a powerful analysis of the failings of the British economy and will set out a new vision for it. 

The commission includes the Archbishop of Canterbury; the bosses of John Lewis, Siemens and McKinsey; City of London representatives; entrepreneurs; academics and trade unionists. 

That its impressive 24-strong cast list all recognise the need to rewrite the economic rules is quite a comment on the state we’re in. 

It will produce its final report next year, and aims to be the most significant review of economic policy outside of government this decade. 

Although the IPPR has always been close to Labour, there was a time when Theresa May looked more likely to pick up and run with the commission’s ideas. 

Her guru Nick Timothy, who resigned after the election disaster, had been taking a close interest in the commission’s work. 

It dovetailed with his striking language in the Tory manifesto, which declared: 

“We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality.” 

Timothy’s departure, May’s fight for her very survival, the all-consuming Brexit process and her lack of a Commons majority mean that such words will not be turned into action. 

A promised cap on energy prices has been dropped and next week May is expected to dilute proposals to force company boards to hold binding votes of shareholders on executive pay. 

A progressive social care funding plan was abandoned after it was appallingly presented. 

May’s brief tack to the left seems over; the Tory right is in the ascendancy again, declaring that capitalism is working and demanding yet more tax cuts – even though the £9bn frittered away in corporation tax cuts would have been better spent on the NHS, social care and education. 

Perhaps May’s successor as Tory leader will be more interested in the commission’s blueprint. 

The younger generation of Tory MPs are more open to radical thinking than their elders and know the party must appeal to younger voters.

In the short term, the field will be open for Labour to harvest the commission’s work. 

It might just provide the first draft of the new economic settlement we need.

Now We Have The Proof

Perhaps it will soon be time to consider forgiving Little Owen:

Ever since the banks plunged the western world into economic chaos, we have been told that only cuts offer economic salvation.

When the Conservatives and the Lib Dems  formed their austerity coalition in 2010, they told the electorate – in apocalyptic tones – that without George Osborne’s scalpel, Britain would go the way of Greece

The economically illiterate metaphor of a household budget was relentlessly deployed – you shouldn’t spend more if you’re personally in debt, so why should the nation? – to popularise an ideologically driven fallacy.

But now, thanks to Portugal, we know how flawed the austerity experiment enforced across Europe was.

Portugal was one of the European nations hardest hit by the economic crisis.

After a bailout by a troika including the International Monetary Fund, creditors demanded stringent austerity measures that were enthusiastically implemented by Lisbon’s then conservative government.

Utilities were privatised, VAT raised, a surtax imposed on incomes, public sector pay and pensions slashed and benefits cut, and the working day was extended.

In a two-year period, education spending suffered a devastating 23% cut. Health services and social security suffered too.

The human consequences were dire.

Unemployment peaked at 17.5% in 2013; in 2012, there was a 41% jump in company bankruptcies; and poverty increased.

All this was necessary to cure the overspending disease, went the logic.

At the end of 2015, this experiment came to an end.

new socialist government – with the support of more radical leftwing parties – assumed office.

The prime minister, António Costa, pledged to “turn the page on austerity”: it had sent the country back three decades, he said.

The government’s opponents predicted disaster – “voodoo economics”, they called it.

Perhaps another bailout would be triggered, leading to recession and even steeper cuts.

There was a precedent, after all: Syriza had been elected in Greece just months earlier, and eurozone authorities were in no mood to allow this experiment to succeed.

How could Portugal possibly avoid its own Greek tragedy?

The economic rationale of the new Portuguese government was clear. Cuts suppressed demand: for a genuine recovery, demand had to be boosted.

The government pledged to increase the minimum wage, reverse regressive tax increases, return public sector wages and pensions to their pre-crisis levels – the salaries of many had plummeted by 30% – and reintroduce four cancelled public holidays.

Social security for poorer families was increased, while a luxury charge was imposed on homes worth over €600,000 (£550,000).

The promised disaster did not materialise.

By the autumn of 2016 – a year after taking power – the government could boast of sustained economic growth, and a 13% jump in corporate investment.

And this year, figures showed the deficit had more than halved, to 2.1% – lower than at any time since the return of democracy four decades ago.

Indeed, this is the first time Portugal has ever met eurozone fiscal rules. Meanwhile, the economy has now grown for 13 successive quarters.

During the years of cuts, charities warned of a “social emergency”. Now the Portuguese government can offer itself as a model to the rest of the continent.

“Europe chose the line of austerity and had much worse results,” declared the economy minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral.

“What we are showing is that with a policy that restitutes income to the people in a moderate way, people get more confidence and investment returns.”

Portugal has increased public investment, reduced the deficit, slashed unemployment and sustained economic growth.

We were told this was impossible and, frankly, delusional.

And so British workers endured the longest squeeze in wages since the 19th century, while the coalition did not even come close to meeting its commitment to eradicate the deficit by 2015.

Why? In part, because low pay means workers paying less tax, receiving more in-work benefits, and spending less money.

Portugal is increasing demand; the Tories suppressed it.

Portugal’s success is both inspiring and frustrating. All that human misery in Europe – and for what?

What of Greece, where over half of young people languished in unemployment, where health services were decimated, where infant mortality and suicide increased?

What of Spain, where hundreds of thousands were evicted from their homes? What of France, where economic insecurity fuelled the rise of the far right?

Portugal and Britain offer lessons for social democracy too.

In the aftermath of the bankers’ crash, social democratic parties embraced austerity. The result? Political collapse.

In Spain, support for the socialists fell from 44% to the low 20s as the radical left Podemos ate into their vote. In Greece, Pasok almost disappeared as a political force.

In France, the Socialists achieved little over 6% in the first round of this year’s presidential elections. And in the Netherlands this year, the Labour party slumped from a quarter of the vote to less than 6%.

By contrast, the two social democratic parties that have broken with austerity – in Portugal and Britain – are now performing better than almost all their sister parties.

Indeed, polls show Portugal’s Socialists now 10 points clear of the country’s rightwing party.

Europe’s austerity has been justified with the mantra “there is no alternative”, intended to push the population into submission: we have to be grownups, and live in the real world, after all.

Portugal offers a powerful rebuke.

Europe’s left should use the Portuguese experience to reshape the European Union and bring austerity across the eurozone to a halt.

In Britain, Labour can feel more emboldened in breaking with the Tories’ economic order.

Throughout Europe’s lost decade, millions of us held that there was indeed an alternative.

Now we have the proof.

Foolish Virgin

The people who are now claiming that Jeremy Corbyn's vindication over Virgin Trains has nothing to do with anything are the same people who banged on about it for a week at the time.

A prominent politician was called a liar by a major corporation that received lavish public subsidies to operate a service that that politician wanted to renationalise.

That corporation is also stealthily taking over the NHS, also in the face of strong opposition from the politician whom it has devoted considerable effort to defaming.

This is a serious scandal.

Theresa May Is The Only Overstayer

Or as good as.

She has built her Ministerial career on what turns out to have been a lie.

It is high time for her to be made to go home.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Laughed Out Of Court

This business with the ECJ is why we need a Prime Minister and a Prime Ministerial entourage that are genuinely opposed to the EU, and which know why they are.

We need Jeremy Corbyn.

Destination Reached

Seize this opportunity to demand that increases in train fares be subject to a division of the House of Commons.

They're Bad People

Remember when Putin and Assad were "worse than ISIS"?

Yes, you did say that, and we remember you saying it. You know who you are. And so do we.

No one doubts or disputes that Pakistan has problems. I hold no brief for its present Government.

Burt when is President Trump going to remove Saudi Arabia as a Major Non-NATO Ally?

When, and not least after last night's courageous BBC News report from Yemen, is Britain going to stop arming Saudi Arabia?

The matter of the continued arming of Saudi Arabia needs to be brought back to the floor of the House of Commons.

England Expects?

The British, or at least a certain type of them, have an odd relationship Trafalgar, which was an indecisive battle at which our Admiral died.

It is not remembered in France as having been a great defeat.

But Nelson never committed treason, as Robert E. Lee did. That is the point.

Freeborn, Indeed

In the words to me today of Alex Nunns, the Labour Left's pre-eminent present chronicler of itself: "John Lilburne himself would pull down the statue of Cromwell, if he were not 350 years dead."

Visceral, Indeed

Laura Pidcock, we have always got on, and I am one of extremely few people in this constituency who already knew you when you were imposed as the Labour candidate.

But I'm sorry, over half the County Councillors for North West Durham are not Labour, as are nearly half the members of Lanchester Parish Council, and you now live here in Lanchester.

Unless I am very much mistaken, then your constituency office is in Consett North, which has not returned a Labour Councillor in quite some years.

This is just not the kind of place where the MP can be politically sectarian and separatist.

And frankly, you might understand that a bit better if you had a Political Advisor from within the Constituency Labour Party.

At least to balance the one, who is also an old friend of mine, whom you have appointed from within the wider Left.

His advice is doubtless invaluable on national and international matters, but he has no prior connection to this constituency, and I believe that it is correct to say that he still does not live here.

Never mind the Blairites. If the rules really were changed so that reselection would kick in unless two thirds of the CLP voted otherwise, then you would be in more danger than anyone else in the entire Parliamentary Labour Party.

I have no desire whatever to see someone from the horrific world of the municipal Labour Right in County Durham as my MP, or as anyone's MP.

But think on.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Off His Trolley?

Someone needs to stage the debate that Sir Stephen Hawking has offered Jeremy Hunt on the NHS.

With an empty chair if Hunt does not turn up.

Or an empty hospital trolley, perhaps?

Productive Thinking

Unless you stood out against the cry that, "We don't need to make things, we can just import them," then you cannot stand out against the cry that, "We don't need to make people, we can just import them."

Or, of course, vice versa.

All Along

Captured by the military-industrial complex (a term coined by Eisenhower, in case you didn't know), and in order to save himself from domestic political collapse, Donald Trump has effectively declared war on Pakistan.

The only Western leader who still stands out as an opponent of the neoconservative war agenda is Jeremy Corbyn, who is the undisputed Leader of that global Opposition.

Still, opposing Trump has been made so much easier now that the grounds for doing so are the plain old grounds for opposing Clinton, Bush, Obama, and the other Clinton.

Meaning that the less heard from her, the better.

If she is trying to jump on some bandwagon against white supremacy and in defence of black lives, then remind her, and everyone else, of the forces that she unleashed in Libya.

Far too few people opposed the war on Libya. But of those who did, by far the most prominent today is Jeremy Corbyn.

A man who has also been right all along about Afghanistan.

Let's All Go On A Donkey Ride

If Tony Blair and George Osborne did succeed in getting their new party started, then we should all join it.

Not for any higher political purpose. Just for a laugh.

All right, they would probably never let me in. They would certainly never let in, say, Rod Liddle, or George Galloway.

But plenty of you are sufficiently under the radar to have plenty of fun with this.

They have forgotten, if they ever knew, that "the Democrats" was a short-lived name for what are now the Lib Dems, at the insistence of former SDP members.

And they choose not to notice that it is the name of what is not currently a very successful party in the United States.

Still, they have decided to take that party's name.

And under that name used to congregate everyone who was not part of, or in some way connected to, what is now the unimaginable WASP elite centred on the American Northeast.

Thus, at the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, names placed in nomination for President, and for which votes were cast from the floor, included, to give only the four highest scorers, George McGovern, Scoop Jackson, George Wallace and Shirley Chisholm.

George McGovern and Scoop Jackson were the two biggest names in the same party. George Wallace and Shirley Chisholm were the next two biggest names in that same party.

And that is before beginning to look at the mind-blowing contest for the Vice-Presidential nomination.

Blair and Osborne as very much in the mould of what is now the unimaginable WASP elite centred on the American Northeast.

For one thing, Blair is an arriviste while Osborne is the heir to an Anglo-Irish baronetcy, so neither of them is quite what that elite sought to emulate in this country.

But, like the characters in that vanished world of F. Scott Fitzgerald, each of them is trying desperately hard to be so.

Yet the American party of yesteryear that they wish to re-create over here is apparently not the Republicans, but the Democrats.

We should all join it. Not for any higher political purpose. Just for a laugh.

Warts And All

"What about that statue of Cromwell, eh, eh?"

Well, what about it?

The proposal to erect it nearly brought down the Liberal Government of the day.

It went up only because the Liberal Unionists decided that making a point against the Irish Nationalists was even more important than making a pro-Tory one.

So they voted for it against the ferocious opposition both of the Irish Nationalists and of their own Tory allies.

It is pointedly not inside the Palace of Westminster, and not a penny of public money was spent on putting it up even where it is.

In fact, it exists only because of a donation by the Liberal former Prime Minister, Lord Roseberry. He then gave an address at its unveiling.

But almost no one knew that that was why he was the speaker. His donation had had to be made anonymously.

Marriage Lines

While we should care nothing for the joy of those who assault and murder Muslims and Christians while enforcing the caste system with at least equal violence, it is excellent news that the Supreme Court of India has banned the un-Islamic triple talaq.

In so doing, it has extended to that third or so of the South Asian "Muslim nation" the protections already enjoyed in what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh since as long ago as 1961.

We could do with that spirit over here.

Any marrying couple should be entitled to register their marriage as bound by the law prior to 1969 with regard to grounds and procedures for divorce, and any religious organisation should be enabled to specify that any marriage that it conducted should be so bound, requiring it to counsel couples accordingly.

Statute should specify that the Church of England and the Church in Wales each be such a body unless, respectively, the General Synod and the Governing Body specifically resolved the contrary by a two-thirds majority in all three Houses.

There should be similar provision relating to the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, which also exist pursuant to Acts of Parliament, as well as by amendment to the legislation relating to the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy.

Entitlement upon divorce should be fixed by Statute at one per cent of the other party's estate for each year of marriage, up to 50 per cent, with no entitlement for the petitioning party unless the other party's fault were proved. 

There is a perfectly reasonable case for civil partnerships to be available to opposite-sex couples. It is not as if those couples would otherwise be getting married.

Civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples would mean that no one would get married unless they very explicitly wanted to be married, in preference to a specific alternative.

That could only strengthen marriage.

For one thing, divorce could be made far more difficult, at least for people who had chosen marriage after this new arrangement had come into force.

After all, if they had not wanted that, then they could always have had a civil partnership instead.

Unmarried opposite-sex partnerships are not some recent innovation. They are this country's historical norm.

Most legal marriages used to last to the grave, if only because they could not be dissolved.

But everyone who knows the first thing about the subject knows that between the Reformation and the late nineteenth century at the absolute earliest, relatively few people in Britain ever were legally married.

They lived together, they had children, women often took men's names. But there was no marriage certificate, and it was quite normal to have several such arrangements over the course of a lifetime. 

When people sought the validation of the State (as much local as national) and of its Established Church, then they really did want that validation. And, of course, they could afford to obtain it.

The near-universality of marriage probably did not last 100 years, and it tellingly collapsed under Margaret Thatcher, when the economic order to which it was integral was dismantled.

The introduction of opposite-sex civil partnerships would once again create the space in which the only people who got married were the people who really meant it. 

There might not be very many of those on these shores. But there almost, if almost, never have been.

And never having needed to be consummated, civil partnerships ought not to be confined to unrelated couples.

Am I trying to go back to the 1950s? To which features of the 1950s, exactly? Full employment? Public ownership? The Welfare State?

Council housing? Municipal services? Apprenticeships? Free undergraduate tuition, once other, rather more pressing needs had been met?

All of those things were bound up with things like this. That they have all been eroded or destroyed together has not been a coincidence.

It is not called neoliberalism for nothing.

Reform, Prosperity and Peace?

The truth must be known, and justice done, for the crew of the USS John S. McCain.

And the truth must be known, and justice done, for the crew of the USS Liberty.

Who will make that case? It is certainly not going to be John S. McCain.

1066 And All That

951 years on, and still, "It's pronounced "Shap-elle"."

Only here could the joke about Hyacinth Bucket's name have worked.

All sorts of things about these Islands can be understood only by understanding that.

Monday 21 August 2017

Too Weak And Self-Serving

Daniel Larison writes:

Robert Merry sums up Trump’s weakness: 

He is merely a battery of impulses, devoid of any philosophical coherence or intellectual consistency.

The president could hardly be anything else, since the only things that seem to concern him are how others treat him and the status of his brand. 

He makes no firm commitments, and he reverses himself according to whatever is most expedient to him at the time. 

It is almost inevitable that he is winging it because he has no relevant experience or knowledge that would keep him from doing so. 

Trump believes in himself and nothing else, and Chesterton observed long ago that asylums were full of such people. 

If Bannon et al. thought they could use him as a vehicle to advance their agenda, they failed to see that he was using them only as long as they could be valuable for helping him. 

The trouble for many Trump supporters is that Trump has never believed in any of the things they thought he represented, and so they were backing a leader who had no intention of risking anything on their behalf. 

This was especially true on matters of foreign policy, where Trump’s instincts for plundering and bullying could easily be directed toward conventional hawkish goals if they weren’t already heading that way. 

Merry sums up the results of Trump’s foreign policy thus far: 

On foreign policy he has belied his own campaign rhetoric with his bombing of Syrian military targets, his support for Saudi Arabia’s nasty war in Yemen, his growing military presence in Syria, his embrace of NATO membership for Montenegro, his consideration of troop augmentations in Afghanistan, and his threat to consider military involvement in Venezuela’s internal affairs. 

Trump has certainly governed as more of a conventional hawk than his campaign suggested he would, but his actions have been quite consistent with the blundering aggressiveness that he has displayed for years. 

His support for the war on Yemen, for example, is entirely in keeping with the rather deranged view that Obama was not pro-Saudi enough

Even though Obama backed the war on Yemen to the hilt for years, Trump was always going to be more supportive and less critical because he faulted Obama for not backing so-called “allies” as much as he should have. 

On NATO expansion, Trump doesn’t care if the alliance takes on new and unnecessary members.

All that interests him is whether they pay what they supposedly “owe,” and even if they don’t he doesn’t seriously propose dissolving the alliance or withdrawing from it. 

As for Syria, his decision to order an attack on their government lines up with his contempt for international law and his desire to seem “tough.” 

He has no problem initiating illegal hostilities against other states, but he doesn’t like it when the U.S. is expected to clean up the mess afterwards.

Trump’s foreign policy has become almost entirely one favored by Republican hawks because the president doesn’t hold firm convictions on these issues and yields to what his hawkish advisers want. 

He has accepted a foreign policy of endless war because he is too weak and self-serving to pursue any other course.

No Less Than Benedict Arnold

(Note to readers: Colleges and universities have presidents. Military units have commanders. At the nation’s service academies, the Superintendent—known colloquially as the Supe (rhymes with “soup”)—combines both functions. At my alma mater West Point, the current Superintendent, the 59th since the academy’s founding in 1802, is Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen, USMA Class of 1975.) 

Dear General Caslen: 

No doubt you get plenty of unsolicited advice from crotchety Old Grads and I apologize if this missive should prove annoying. 

It is not my intention to add to your burdens. 

I write concerning our fellow West Pointer, Robert E. Lee, Class of 1829. From 1852 to 1855, Lee preceded you, serving as the 9th Superintendent. 

He subsequently achieved renown while commanding the Army of Northern Virginia from June 1862 until its dissolution in April 1865. 

Back in my own cadet days during the now-distant 1960s, I readily imbibed the line that assigned Lee a place of prominence among West Point’s most illustrious and revered graduates. 

He had, after all, graduated near the top of his class, served with distinction in the Mexican War, and during the Civil War won a series of spectacular victories against the larger and better equipped (but ineptly led) Army of the Potomac. 

As a compliant young Catholic, I had learned to recite a Litany of the Saints, soliciting the favor of Joseph and John, Peter and Paul, Andrew and James, and so on, all the way to Cosmas and Damian. 

As a compliant young cadet, I had embraced a secular equivalent, a litany that included Grant and Lee, Pershing and MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton, Omar Bradley and Matthew Ridgway. 

No one in that hierarchy of honor and accomplishment outshone Robert E. Lee. 

That the West Point campus (in our lingo, the “post”) should, therefore, feature a Lee Gate, Lee Road, Lee Hall, and Lee Barracks seemed not only unobjectionable but entirely appropriate. 

So too with various Lee portraits on prominent display in the Cadet Mess, the Supe’s quarters, and elsewhere. 

As for the Robert E. Lee Memorial Award for excellence in mathematics, my only complaint was that I never came within a mile of winning it. 

Lee embodied the values that West Point seeks to inculcate in its graduates: Duty, Honor, and Country. 

So I was taught and so I believed.

It is my fate to be a quick study and a slow learner. 

Not until I was in my thirties, therefore, did I begin to wonder how it was that West Point should elevate to the status of role model a serving officer who had abandoned his country in its time of maximum need. 

My complaint about Lee—I admit this to my everlasting shame—was not that he was a slaveholder who in joining the Confederacy fought to preserve slavery. 

It was that he had thereby engineered the killing of many thousands of American patriots who (whatever their views on slavery and race) wished simply to preserve the Union. 

At the beginning of the Civil War, Lee famously remarked that he could not bring himself to take up arms against his home state of Virginia.

This obliged him to take up arms against the very nation that as a serving officer he had sworn to defend? 

No less than Benedict Arnold, Robert E. Lee was a traitor. This became, and remains, my firm conviction. 

As a result of recent events in Charlottesville, our fellow graduate has now returned to the limelight. 

General Lee has suddenly become a controversial figure. 

Proponents of white supremacy venerate his memory and the cause for which he fought.  Others are keen to banish Lee (or at least his image in granite or marble) from public view.

In this dispute, little space for compromise exists. 

I’m guessing that you are already reflecting on what all of this might mean for West Point, where Lee remains an inescapable presence.

If not, you ought to. Indeed, for the academy’s sake, you need to get in front of this controversy. 

That requires preemptive action. 

Don’t wait for the proponents of changing political fashion to come after you, especially given the fact that their case is unimpeachable.

Here’s my suggestion: Keep the portraits. Nobody looks at them anyway. Truth to tell, the standards for having your image hanging on a wall at West Point are not terribly high. 

The Supe who presided over my graduation in 1969 was Samuel Koster, soon thereafter reduced in rank and forced into retirement for his role in covering up the My Lai massacre.

Yet Koster’s portrait remains in Washington Hall alongside the rest of your predecessors.

Elsewhere, however, quietly expunge Lee’s name from gates, roads, halls, barracks, and awards handed out to cadets.

To put the matter kindly, he doesn’t deserve the recognition.

As with General Koster, there’s no way to excise Lee from the Academy’s history.

That he should occupy a place of honor in the Long Gray Line is something of an obscenity, however. 

Far better, it seems to me, to remember West Pointers who do exemplify Duty, Honor, and Country. 

That said, please suppress any inclination to replace Lee Gate with David Petraeus Gate or Lee Road with Raymond Odierno Road. 

You get the picture: Enough with memorializing generals. It’s time to honor lieutenants and captains. 

Consider, for example, the graduates who have given their lives in the preposterous and utterly thankless wars that our nation has waged since 9/11. 

Far better than Robert E. Lee—far better than the various generals who have presided over those wars without achieving success—they model the values to which West Pointers should adhere.

Don’t you agree?


Andrew J. Bacevich 
Class of 1969 

P.S.: Just one more thing. According to press reports, you were on the short list of candidates interviewed to serve as President Trump’s national security adviser. Congratulations on having dodged that bullet!

Which Is Better? Idiots Or Crooks?

The government’s failure to clamp down on fixed-odds betting terminals must be down to stupidity or corruption and I’m not sure which of those I hope it is. 

Which is better? Idiots or crooks? It would make a good parlour game.

It’s possible that I’ve spent more time among sick gamblers than you have (and if that’s not the case, we probably know each other). 

But if you’ve popped into a friendly high street bookmaker’s any time in the last 10 years, to bet on the FA Cup final or get some change for the parking meter, then you’ll have seen a “FOBT”. 

A FOBT is a sort of glorified fruit machine with a choice of games (roulette, virtual sport, novelties) and a massive possible loss rate. 

The biggest difference between the old fruities and these devices, waved through by the Blair government of 2001, is that you can lose £500 a minute on a FOBT. 

And people do. 

How many times, in the year ending September 2016, do you think somebody lost more than £1,000 on one of these machines? Have a think. 

We aren’t talking about rich people, glitzy casinos or friends having a big night out. 

We’re talking about people on their own, playing the slots on regular, trafficky, local streets.

Poor people. Bored people. Sometimes desperate, sometimes ill. Lonely old men. Women with their babies locked in the car outside. 

The average national wage is about £25,000. 

How many times, over a year, do you think £1,000 or more was lost in a single gambling session, on a local high street, in these circumstances? 

No. You’re wrong. It was 233,071 times. I mean, for fuck’s sake. 

Let me confess: I myself have, often, lost more than £1,000 in a single gambling session. 

But when I’m losing £500 a minute, this is what I’m getting: A high-end Las Vegas casino has sent a limousine to collect me from the airport. 

I’ve got a complimentary hotel room with a view of the iconic Vegas Strip. 

I’ve got free meals, free cocktails and a cabana (a sort of shady little house with loungers and a drinks cabinet) by a luxurious swimming pool. 

This doesn’t make me clever. It makes me a mug. 

This is what casinos give you if they think you can afford to lose the money. 

But your man down the Kilburn High Road, losing at the exact same rate because he’s depressed, lost, stuck, sad and has nowhere else to be, gets the square root of sod all.

He gets monotony, shame and kicked out at 10pm. 

This guy (or girl) hasn’t opted in consciously. They never meant to get involved for those hours or play for those sums. 

They didn’t join a casino, they wandered into the bookies: outlets once considered cheery and welcome on British high streets because betting on horses is traditional, fun and, to a great extent, social. 

But in 2001, a black hole was unrolled in the middle of them.

FOBTs are demons, succubi, squatting between the chemist and the bus stop like a pile of heroin on a cheese trolley. 

UK city dwellers complain that there are now dozens of bookies in their nearest shopping street where there used to be one. 

But most don’t know why that is. It’s because the government capped the number of FOBTs at four per shop. 

But these things are free money to their owners. Punters lose and lose and lose.

And when they disappear, or kill themselves, or their child is taken into care and they start self-medicating with drugs instead, someone else steps blindly up to feed the monster. 

So, if you’re only allowed four per shop, open more shops!

What optimistic fool, no doubt some well-meaning MP or civil servant, thought up that “four max” rule? 

Did you think you were smarter than the bookies, love? We’ve all been there. That’s the fast route to eating cat food out of the tin.

But the latest government move can’t be about optimism. 

Everyone was expecting the betting cap (or possible loss) on these machines to be slashed.

Labour and the Lib Dems went into the election actively promising it; the Tories hadn’t yet committed, but John Whittingdale warned the Association of British Bookmakers

“I can’t say I would be surprised if there are quite radical measures produced… You should brace yourself.” 

And then, last week, Philip Hammond decided there would actually be no curb at all – because, according to a Whitehall source in the Daily Mail, the attendant loss of tax revenues would be “financially crippling”.

Is this bent or just stupid? The shops pay 25% duty on FOBTs (it’s much cheaper for them than horseracing).

In return, we get an expensive rise in crime, theft and embezzlement, family breakdown, costly court proceedings and criminal damage as the machines are often smashed up

Meanwhile, many FOBT addicts are on welfare, so 100% of the money they put into the machines goes out of the Treasury and 25% comes back. 

Well done everybody. 

Let’s say it’s not bent. The lobbying and hospitality for MPs is massive and rising, but I’d hate to suggest any impropriety. 

So that suggests a moronic misunderstanding of the true maths in play. The argument is not being had on moral grounds.

If our government said they were libertarians, planning to decriminalise all drugs and abolish income tax alongside this invitation to go skint in 10 minutes at teatime in the shop next to Tesco, we could have an interesting debate. 

We could weigh up that freedom against the depression and suicide, the abandoned children and associated crime, and really challenge ourselves.

But they argue this situation is financially profitable for us, as a nation? They think we make money from it? Jesus.

That’s their understanding of economics? As professional gamblers say about chumps: I’d like to be locked up with them.