Tuesday 28 February 2023

Drawing The Sting

I rarely write about the WASPI campaign, because I am a bit of a heretic on that one, to the point of finding it misnamed.

It seems to crowdfund remarkably successfully from people who are supposed to be so hard up.

Anyway, no one gets £30,000 for maladministration. You might get a third of that if it had caused a death.

But £58 billion was a big sum of money when Labour proposed spending it on this in 2019. It's not now.

Are Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt this ruthless? What do you think?

Universal Credit Changes Are Going To Kill People

The mighty Ricky D. Hale writes:

I’m a recent Universal Credit escapee and it’s just as well because new rules are about to make life even more miserable for struggling families. These Tory bastards just love kicking people when they’re down, don’t they?

If you’re not up to date on what’s happening, I will be glad to explain, but first of all, let me tell you what my recent Universal Credit experience was like because it will help you understand the bullshit people are facing.

As a family on a fluctuating income, we’ve found ourselves claiming Universal Credit three times in recent years, and apart from a nice period during the pandemic when the bastards eased off a bit, it was a nightmare.

At the end of last year, the Jobcentre kept booking appointments so they could notify me of new commitments they’d already notified me about online. They were ordering me to attend a Jobcentre in person when I was working from home with a baby beside me. Even worse, they didn’t book me into the nearest Jobcentre that I can travel to by bus. Instead, they booked me into another Jobcentre a mile further away, meaning I would have to get the bus and walk the extra mile.

When I didn’t attend the appointment for reasons I fully notified them about, they booked two replacement appointments while I was working, despite knowing that attending would’ve meant a loss of income. It actually worked out cheaper for me to just accept the damn sanction.

If it wasn’t for the cost of living crisis, I honestly wouldn’t have bothered claiming because I was in a constant state of anxiety that I had to take medication for. Their strategy is to force people off Universal Credit, regardless of how badly they need it - and when they’re harassing and threatening people who are working and just want to eat, how is this anything other than abuse?

When you are claiming Universal Credit, it feels like the DWP owns you. Thankfully, our earnings took us just above the maximum earnings threshold in January and I’ve never felt more relieved because the crap they are unleashing on people would’ve made me close our claim. I would probably not have had any other choice.

A new minimum income threshold of £617 for individuals and £988 for couples came into effect on January 30th and anyone who fails to meet this threshold will have their Universal Credit cut. Have you ever heard of anything so perverse? In a cost of living crisis when they could very easily tax the rich, this is what they are doing to people instead.

It gets worse. The unemployed will be forced to visit a Jobcentre every day for two weeks as part of a pilot scheme by the government, and if they fail to do so, they will face sanctions. Meanwhile, doctors are being pressured by the government to not sign people off sick and Jobcentre staff will be given £250 vouchers for bullying people back into work. This is the kind of crap that will lead to suicides and I’m sure they know this.

Self-employed people who are not earning enough to be considered “gainfully self-employed” can be forced into “intensive personalised employment support” where they are expected to search for work for 35 hours a week.

At times, my earnings were too low for me to be classed as “gainfully self-employed” and I’m unsure if they would’ve forced me onto this “scheme”, but it would’ve made no sense. They would have taken me from self-employed to unemployed and that’s something I never want to go back to.

The government is bullying the poor to score political points with its extremist base and they do not care how many people they hurt. No matter what the problem is, their answer is to punish the poor even harder for the crime of being poor.

A study has shown Universal Credit claimants are worse off than they were before the pandemic and are paid £35 a week less than they need to survive (£66 a week less for couples) and that’s a low estimate.

Just stop and think about that: they’ve taken at least £35 a week from 5.7 million claimants and their families, many of who are probably using food banks. Nine out of ten families on low incomes are going without essentials such as food, utilities and vital household goods according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. If our welfare system is not covering the cost of essentials, it’s not really a welfare system, is it?

Currently, 40% of Universal Credit claimants are in work as are 68% of people who are living in poverty. Meanwhile, Tory MPs are complaining about their “desperation” living off £84,144 plus expenses and second jobs - that’s money most of us could only dream about. Universal Credit is typically only a few thousand pounds a year - obviously, it varies depending on your income and the number of people in your family.

Given how tight money is for some people, I honestly don’t know how the unemployed are surviving, and I say that as someone who is adept at surviving on almost nothing. Back when I was a single lad on Jobseeker’s Allowance, I was paid £80 a fortnight and lived off little more than a 50p bag of porridge oats and diluted milk. I’ve been known to make a fiver last a fortnight and while it was possible, this lifestyle should certainly not be encouraged. That level of poverty stops your body and mind from functioning properly. It’s dangerous.

It makes me physically sick to think people are still going through this crap and in many ways, it’s even worse now. It’s all completely unnecessary too. Countries across northern Europe have a more generous welfare system and do you know what they find? That people get back into employment quicker. Not only is our welfare system cruel, it’s self-defeating.

Monday 27 February 2023

Fix It Instead

Bernie Sanders is a warmongering corporate shill, yet even he is better on the National Health Service than Keir Starmer or Wes Streeting is. Streeting may think that Donald Trump would have beaten Sanders, but what makes him think that that would have been worse than the Biden Administration? Mere tribalism is for football, not politics.

The opinion polls bear no resemblance to real votes cast, and in any case even the Labour poll lead has halved since Rishi Sunak took over. Halved. The Labour vote has gone through the floor at all but one by-election since Starmer became Leader, with one of those recording Labour's lowest ever share of the vote. Council seats that were held or won under Jeremy Corbyn have fallen like sandcastles, taking control of major local authorities with them. That is the bread and butter of the party's right wing, who are not the most employable of people.

With nearly two years still to go until the next General Election, Starmer's personal rating is negative not only nationally, but in every region apart from London, and it is still in decline. Starmer's dishonesty is becoming a story. He lied to his party members to get their votes, so he would lie to anyone else to get their votes. We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Live Well For Less?

Not that I had expected The Observer to publish this:

It is such a pity, because I often like Sonia Sodha. But while I do not wish to know where she lives, if it is not in Islington North, then it will not be far away. The Labour Party is not going to be inundated with applications to come fourth or below in an English constituency, or to lose the deposit for a seat that had returned a Labour MP at every election since 1937. Take one for the team, Sonia. Put up or shut up.

Well, things have been rather overtaken by events, what with the return to Labour Party membership of the ineligible Luciana Berger, by personal invitation of Keir Starmer. If this is how he runs his party, then imagine how he would run the country.

Most people assume that Berger has been brought back in order to contest Islington North, so if she did not, then she would have run away scared. As she did from deselection for having been, not a Jew, nor even a right-wing Jew, but just a rubbish constituency MP. 

Jeremy Corbyn had promoted her, and when she resigned from his frontbench, then she mentioned neither bullying nor anti-Semitism. Labour is now shot through with both, with Starmer's having expelled more Jews than all previous Leaders put together.

And what of Lord Sainsbury? In late 2018, he donated £25,000 to the Conservative MP Luke Graham. In 2019, he donated eight million to the Liberal Democrats, over half their General Election funding, making their donations larger than the Labour Party's. He has been promised something by Starmer. What is it? Keep in mind that Sainsbury was also a colossal donor to the Remain campaign.

Berger and Sainsbury have got their party back, and they are welcome to it. The opinion polls bear no resemblance to real votes cast, and in any case even the Labour poll lead has halved since Rishi Sunak took over. Halved. The Labour vote has gone through the floor at all but one by-election since Starmer became Leader, with one of those recording Labour's lowest ever share of the vote. Council seats that were held or won under Corbyn have fallen like sandcastles, taking control of major local authorities with them. That is the bread and butter of the party's right wing, who are not otherwise the most employable of people.

With nearly two years still to go until the next General Election, Starmer's personal rating is negative not only nationally, but in every region apart from London, and it is still in decline. Starmer's dishonesty is becoming a story. He lied to his party members to get their votes, so he would lie to anyone else to get their votes. We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Sunday 26 February 2023

Semper Aliquid Novi

This is your weekly reminder that there has been a liberal coup in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. Over the last month, we, and I have to say that that mostly means I, have worn down the official version of these events until nothing remains. Not a thing.

As well as that first link, see also this, this and this. The Oxford Oratory has friends who could afford any lawyer in London, so Bishop Robert Byrne CO should sue for defamation. But as all four of those posts set out, the damage has been done.

Still, I am in a good mood with the Church today. If you know, you know. Let nothing you dismay. Even so, though, read the links.

This Is Fake Severity

If you thought that it was bad to have the power to revoke citizenship in the hands of Suella Braverman, or even if you thought that that was good, then imagine it in the hands of Yvette Cooper. With Labour at least as enthusiastic as the Conservatives, Peter Hitchens writes:

You may think I am pretty bad now, but you should have seen me when I was 15. I said, did and thought terrible things, which are now hateful to me. The memory of them is pretty much unbearable. I can still shudder at the remembrance of them. But there it is, nasty actions once done cannot be undone, cruel words cannot be cancelled.

Perhaps everyone else is so much better than this, and so pure in heart, that they do not think there is something a bit merciless about the British state’s vindictive treatment of Shamima Begum. I agree with everyone else, especially my colleague Sue Reid, that her behaviour was idiotic and that she said and did things which she will be ashamed of until the end of her life. Meanwhile I would think that the deaths of her three infant children, something none of us would wish on anyone, should be punishment enough for anybody.

I don’t like the look or sound of her. I suspect her basic problem is that she is not very bright. I hope never to meet her. But if anyone has any evidence that she committed a crime, then let them accuse her of it in a court of law, before an impartial jury. And if she is then found guilty I will cheerfully support the punishment she is awarded according to law.

But this cannot happen, as long as she is condemned to spend the rest of her life in some Syrian slum. This is thanks to a cancellation of her citizenship which reminds me of the thuggish old Soviet Union at its worst, a despotic third world measure which this ancient civilisation should be ashamed of wielding. She has, as is all too common these days, been punished without trial.

Maybe Sajid Javid, the politician who first condemned Begum to lifelong exile, has a totally clear conscience about his youth, which he is said to have spent reading the Financial Times and watching Grange Hill on the TV. Maybe he cannot conceive that the lives of any of his children or grandchildren might go so wrong, as life went wrong for ‘Jihadi Jack’ Letts, another of these idiots.

And maybe the members of the Special Appeals Immigration Commission have likewise lived lives of blameless sweetness from their infancy upwards. We must, it seems to me, have some really pure and wonderful people doing these jobs. The same no doubt goes for all the politicians and journalists who have applauded the decision to confirm the revocation of Begum’s citizenship.

But all I see is a nasty sort of mob justice. The British government claims to be so very tough on terror, but in fact is pretty useless at preventing it, and actually helped support an Al Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front, in a cynical operation in Syria.

They claim to be keeping us safe from Begum, who cannot come here again. And yet if she somehow managed to get on one of those dinghies from France, she could walk ashore on a Kentish beach one afternoon and vanish into our unpoliced cities, along with the thousands of others now doing this without let or hindrance from this supposedly tough government. This is fake severity, a hunk of meat flung to the angry crowd by a scared and weak state.

And it is also merciless, the lifelong relentless punishment of a lonely, bereaved woman. Is this a thing to be proud of? Those who have done it should remember the ancient, simple Biblical advice to us all ‘What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God’, and ask if they are obeying it.


Whenever I take part in debates about the Ukraine war (quite a few recently), I find significant numbers of people who do not necessarily share the simple-minded, ‘Gandalf versus the Orcs’ view of this conflict promoted by the BBC. Well, King Charles is their King as well, and so he should refrain from contentious (and in my view incorrect) claims such as the one that the Russian attack was ‘unprovoked’.

This is not the universal view of those who understand the issue, and his advisers should draw to his attention the article in Foreign Affairs last March by the leading anti-Russian neocon thinker in Washington, Robert Kagan. Kagan clearly states that it was provoked. He does not excuse or defend it in any way, any more than I do, but simply recognises the historical fact.

No One Is Buying At The Berger Bar

Many thanks to everyone who has been in touch to check that I was fit and well in view of the silence on here in recent days. I am happy to confirm that I have not been better in many, many years. In my absence, I trust that you have all been enjoying the best marketing ploy in ages, the pretence that Roald Dahl's books were going to be rewritten. Both versions will now be published. And both with sell healthily. As has always been the intention.

Now, back to business as usual. They'll wish they'd given us tomatoes when we start pelting them with turnips. And by "them", I mean all of them. Say what you like about Tony Blair, but his pledges were specific policies. Keir Starmer's "missions" are vague, vacuous bilge. Moreover, everyone knows that he is not a man whose word is to be trusted, and even BBC interviews are now so impertinent as to say so.

Not that anyone at all picked him up on his astonishing assertion that the NHS had to be privatised because of Ukraine. Yes, Starmer really did say that. Like "Covid" and "Brexit", "Ukraine" is now the excuse for absolutely everything. See instead Paul Knaggs here and here, Thomas Fazi and Peter Hitchens well and truly getting the better of the debate here, Fiona Hill setting Freddie Sayers and everyone else straight here, and George Galloway delivering the anti-war speech of the present era here. Knowing that George was going to deliver that, Ben Wallace, who like Starmer enjoys prancing around in military fancy dress, did not turn up. A lady whom I did not know from Adam stopped me in the street in Durham on Friday and asked me when I was going to post it on here. I am delighted to oblige.

Recent days have seen good publicity for the four-day week and for universal free broadband. An editorial in The Guardian, which did more than any other publication to bring down the man who had brought those ideas into the mainstream, more or less admitted that he had never been an anti-Semite after all. What next, some examination as to who the members of the Equality and Human Rights Commission had been, and who had appointed them?

There was a bit of foot-stamping on the letters page, but while I have always been the first to criticise Jeremy Corbyn's appeasement of them, the likes of Julia Neuberger, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Mike Katz, the EHRC, the Board of Deputies and The Guardian have to face up to what they have inflicted on Britain because, while they had not particularly wished to be governed by either semidetached or country house Tories with whom they had felt little social or cultural affinity, they had far more strongly not wanted to pay tax, least of all to elevate the condition of the beastly little common people, some of them Negro. The Guardian, at least, may have begun the journey, although in that case, then it could do with sacking Rafael Behr, and with giving due coverage to The Labour Files and to the Forde Report.

"Labour anti-Semitism" made no electoral difference, except insofar as the party staffers behind the hoax threw the 2017 General Election so as to prevent their own party, their employer, from being the largest in that hung Parliament. The 2019 Election would not have happened if Corbyn had not capitulated to Starmer over Brexit. The Election early in 2022 would, again, have delivered a hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party. Heaven knows what would have happened then, but that would have been the result. People whose gender identity does not conform to their biological sex are half of one per cent of the population, and so are Jews. Think on.

Anything up to half of British Jews do not agree with the interfering Israeli Embassy, the Chief Rabbinate, the Senior Rabbinate, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Community Security Trust, The Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish Telegraph, and the Jewish News. Most of Britain's very few Jews have voted Conservative for decades, even when the Leader of the Labour Party has been Jewish, and most of the rest will have supported Corbyn if only for the want of anyone more left-wing, so Starmer will already have lost Labour more Jewish voters than he might ever have hoped to gain it. He has certainly expelled more Jews from the Labour Party than all previous Leaders put together.

Such is the party that Luciana Berger has been permitted to re-join barely three years after she stood against it at a General Election. All the people cited as martyrs of the Corbyn years were and are thoroughly unimpressive. Berger had danced around a room in Parliament as she had watched Palestinian children being bombed, but her disregard for her constituents had exhausted the patience of the Constituency Labour Party on which she had been imposed as her reward for having taken the virginity of Tony Blair's eldest son, so she responded to imminent deselection by screaming, "Hitler! Hitler!"

Until Corbyn had arranged for her to be made a Dame, then Louise Ellman had been most notable for the fact that at the low turnout General Election of 2001, the constituency that had reelected her had had the lowest turnout in the entire country. In 22 years in Parliament, what did she do? List her accomplishments. Ruth Smeeth managed to lose her seat to Jonathan Gullis before taking a peerage at the age of 43 rather than dare face him again at the ballot box.

And Dame Margaret Hodge was and is a tax-avoiding squillionaire who has hated Corbyn ever since he stood up to her over the rampant child abuse in Islington's children's homes when she was the Leader of the Council. She filed hundreds of complaints of anti-Semitism by Labour members, 90 per cent of which turned out to be against people who were not party members at all, yet she called at least one Corbyn-supporting party member "a second class Jew".

They have got their party back, and they are welcome to it. The opinion polls bear no resemblance to real votes cast, and in any case even the Labour poll lead has halved since Rishi Sunak took over. Halved. The Labour vote has gone through the floor at all but one by-election since Starmer became Leader, with one of those recording Labour's lowest ever share of the vote. Council seats that were held or won under Corbyn have fallen like sandcastles, taking control of major local authorities with them. That is the bread and butter of the party's right wing, who are not otherwise the most employable of people.

With nearly two years still to go until the next General Election, Starmer's personal rating is negative not only nationally, but in every region apart from London, and it is still in decline. Starmer's dishonesty is becoming a story. He lied to his party members to get their votes, so he would lie to anyone else to get their votes. We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

Saturday 25 February 2023

America Owns Germany

On 10th October 2014, I spoke at the Durham Union Society, proposing the motion, "This House would not police the world." I was opposed by Kevan Jones MP, who was seconded by a hardcore young neocon called Sohrab Ahmari. I knew at the drinks afterwards that we would bring him over eventually. Sohrab, that is. Not Kevan, although hope springs eternal.

With Matthew Schmitz and Edwin Aponte, Sohrab has recently founded an online journal, Compact, which announces that, "Our editorial choices are shaped by our desire for a strong social-democratic state that defends community—local and national, familial and religious—against a libertine left and a libertarian right." Initial offerings also, and of course some of us would say necessarily, display a strong aversion to military adventurism abroad. For example, Peter Hitchens writes:

Who blew up the Nord Stream pipelines? I suppose one day we may actually find out, though Seymour Hersh’s interesting recent speculation is just that, and establishes nothing for certain [Hardly]. The best clues are, as so often, circumstantial. Who would be pleased? It is laughable to imagine that Russia, which spent so much on the project and which has now lost the power to turn it off and on at will, would wreck its own property and destroy its own power. Whatever for?

Former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, connected through his wife, Anne Applebaum, with the Washington foreign policy establishment, tweeted a picture of the foaming sea after the sabotage, with the words, “Thank you, USA.” So that may tell us something, as does the fact that he soon afterward removed the tweet. There seems to be a rule about major anti-Russian actions outside Ukraine itself, such as this and the blowing up of the Kerch Bridge, that nobody takes responsibility for them. Even if the answer is pretty obvious, actual gloating could result in retaliations beyond the main war zone. And then what?

I cannot say who did it, because I do not know, though it is not the toughest conundrum the world has faced. The most interesting question is whether it was aimed mainly against Russia, or mainly, through Russia, against Germany. Some might see in this crude piece of destruction a warning to Berlin, that it is not as important or as independent as it thinks it is. If it wants any relations with Russia, it will have to have only those that Washington permits. And this raises the question: Whatever happened to Germany, once a great carnivorous power, now seemingly a docile and bovine nation, large and fat?

After Bismarck’s victory over France in 1870, again at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, and yet again after Berlin violated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1941, the two great contestants for mastery in Europe were Germany and Russia. I know my own countrymen (preoccupied with Flanders) find this hard to accept, but the two great European wars of the 20th century were essentially Russo-German conflicts, in which what are now Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and the Baltic States were the main field of battle.

The parade in Brest-Litovsk that celebrated the defeat of Poland in 1940 was a joint affair, in which Red Army and Wehrmacht officers together took the salute from German and Soviet soldiers. Astonishing photographs survive. Yet while the two tyrannies got on surprisingly well at this level, Germany’s actions in destroying France and driving Britain from the Continent, and especially its temporary friendship with Stalin, were preparations above all for an attack on the Soviet Union.

Then, in 1945, a defeated Germany mysteriously disappeared from European geopolitics. It was still there on the map, huge, potentially rich and populous. There was still a government, run by the ancient, cunning Konrad Adenauer, but hidden away in the “Federal Village” of Bonn, a twee university town on the banks of the Rhine, chosen to emphasize the modesty of the new nation. The wealth quickly became a reality. The new Germany even maintained sizable armed forces until the end of the Cold War.

But this revived country was horrified by any suggestion that it might actually use these forces (apart from one brilliant defeat of terrorism at Mogadishu airport in 1977). Its apparently permanent foreign minister of the time, Hans-Dieter Genscher, was a kind of jet-powered olive branch. He whizzed about the world and ceaselessly assembled diplomatic packages aimed at relaxing Cold War tensions, even pouring subsidies into the neighboring prison state of East Germany. He did this in the well-founded hope of stirring reform in Moscow itself, and so bringing about German reunification. There is a reasonable case for saying that he helped create Mikhail Gorbachev.

But even after the triumph of reunification, Germany was far bigger but just as invisible. I recall driving into Germany from Poland in 2001, near Frankfurt on the Oder, a few years before Warsaw joined the European Union. At the side of the road, we first met a huge sign proclaiming “Welcome to the European Union!” A little further on, a more modest marker announced “Welcome to the State of Brandenburg.” It was only because I was looking for it carefully that I soon afterwards spotted the small metal plaque, half-hidden by vegetation, which muttered “Welcome to the Federal Republic of Germany.”

I have never seen a better example of the rather slippery idea that, instead of seeking a German Europe, Berlin would (after 1945) seek a European Germany. This does not mean, as some have thought, that Germany would not be powerful. It means that German power issues its instructions tactfully and offstage—and it is impolite for others to mention this publicly.

Germany, of course, has never ceased to exist. It has just submerged about 90 percent of its former characteristics in a European sea, so appearing nice and harmless. And yet it has accrued huge power of the real sort. Its domination of EU economies through the euro is all the greater because it is exercised in near-silence. Greece and Cyprus, when they were foolish enough to challenge this arrangement, found themselves facing naked power that simply was not interested in anything they had to say. All others took note.

The abolition of almost all continental frontiers, robbing most EU members of a major aspect of practical sovereignty, also gives the Continent the air of being somebody’s empire. But whose? I have strolled into France and the Netherlands from Germany, as if crossing from one county to another, and traveled from Berlin to Warsaw and Prague (surely two of the world’s most sensitive journeys) without any need for a passport.

I am reminded, by such things and by the general shape and nature of the modern European Union, of the brilliant scheme put forward by Imperial Germany’s subtle foreign minister, Richard von Kuehlmann, in 1917 and 1918: “limited sovereignty.” It was a key feature of the unwisely forgotten 1918 Peace of Brest-Litovsk, which so very nearly decided the shape of modern Europe. And as the Great War historian Fritz Fischer explained, it placed a bomb under the old Russian Empire by offering Petrograd’s subject nations all the baubles of independence.

But “Germany’s aim was not to confer independence and national liberty on Poland, Lithuania, Courland, Livonia, Estonia, and the Ukraine, but on the contrary to fetter them closely to the German Reich and to Mitteleuropa by treaties which were only nominally international personal unions, economic and customs unions, and military conventions.”

Kuehlmann’s ideas have been restored to life, especially in the rush into the European Union by former Soviet subject nations. It is easy to see why they have accepted their new conditions, but it would be wrong to pretend that they have no strings. Whatever it is they have now, and however much it is preferable to Soviet imprisonment, it is not national sovereignty. In a superb and cogent book on modern Germany, Berlin Rules, a former British ambassador to that country, Sir Paul Lever, remarks that, just as NATO will never do anything the US does not want it to do, the European Union will never do anything Germany does not want it to do.

Yet at the same time modern Germany pretends to be nobly uninterested in power. It has almost wholly renounced its own history, apart from a creditable, honest, and effective examination of the Hitler era. And having all but denied its own existence or importance, modern Germany dissolves itself into a Euro-mist. As Lever says, “The more that [the European Union] becomes the vehicle through which identity is expressed, aims pursued and influence exercised, the less important is the historical baggage of its individual members.”

German leaders used to defend the European Union, Lever notes, on the grounds that it was “the only way to accommodate the reality of German power.” Now, they do not even do that. Though very occasionally German leaders irritably hint at what might happen if the rest of Europe neglects its side of the bargain—the pretense that it follows German wishes by accident, or voluntarily.

In February 1996, in Leuven in Belgium (a city twice devastated by German invasions), the then-German chancellor made an astonishing speech that even one of Britain’s most liberal newspapers described thus: “Chancellor Helmut Kohl yesterday warned in the most strident terms that a retreat from further political integration in Europe could plunge the continent into new ‘nationalist’ wars. … The German leader proclaimed: ‘The policy of European integration is in reality a question of war and peace in the 21st century.’”

I go into all this because the odd—and so far successful—relationship between Berlin and Washington has shown grave strains during the Ukraine crisis. Berlin wants a stable, prosperous Europe largely under its control. But Russia can never be part of this, though Germany, understandably, remains deeply interested in influencing events in Russia and in exploiting its economy. This means compromise with Moscow, and major trade with Russia. It has meant the creation of the Nord Stream pipelines between Russia and Germany.

But Washington seems to want a confrontation with Russia, and has chosen Ukraine as its site. Instead of being content with a largely peaceful and prosperous Continent, some strategists in Washington appear to have a policy of aggressively marginalizing and perhaps diminishing Russia. This has been especially active since 2008, when NATO almost split over the suggestion that Ukraine should be offered membership.

For the European nations, this is an utter change. Since the 1940s, the United States has pursued and supported a policy of European integration that has meant European domination by Germany, sweetened by unprecedented economic and social stability. France put up with it by continuing to pretend to be a world power. Britain did roughly the same, but also claimed, for the sake of its own pride, to be the extra-special friend of America (which it is not). The rest of the Continent was happy to be spared any more explosions or conquests.

Until the collapse of the USSR, Germany was very much under the American thumb, and also restrained by Britain and France. The two aging powers tried feebly to stop German reunification after 1989, but had no power to prevent it. Since that failure, the project of a “European Germany” has been an economic and political success. Many of the objectives proclaimed as war aims in Berlin’s “September Programme” of 1914 have been peacefully attained. Even the old diplomatic preoccupations of Wilhelmine Berlin—in Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Romania, the Balkans, the Baltic coasts, and Poland—are now pretty much fulfilled through European integration.

But Germany is still a diplomatic and military dwarf. And it does not quite seem to have realized that the price for its European supremacy is continued subservience to American priorities. The irritated explosion by US official Victoria Nuland, snarling “Fuck the EU!” in a leaked telephone conversation, revealed this tension. Her outburst was recorded during the days in February 2014, just before Ukraine’s legitimate leader, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in a lawless putsch. Nuland, in her tapped conversation with the US envoy to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, was rather outrageously discussing the make-up of a new cabinet for a supposedly sovereign Ukraine. Its planned membership was so nationalist that it was hard to believe it would have served under Yanukovych.

Yet European foreign ministers, presumably working with the knowledge and approval of Berlin, were at the same time making strong efforts to keep Yanukovych in office. They actually brokered a treaty between him and the leaders of the “Revolution of Dignity,” involving major concessions and early elections. They thought they had a deal. But when the Kiev mob rejected it, the nationalist leaders did little to save it, instead claiming that they regretted even having shaken Yanukovych’s hand. Did the US deplore the deal’s collapse, or welcome it? Who can say?

But the United States, which has for many years used German power to stabilize Europe, is now pursuing a quite different objective. Germany matters less. France matters hardly at all. Britain, as usual, wags its tail and puts its head forward to be patted, offering bits of its underpowered military inventory to Ukraine. Strongly anti-Russian nations, especially Poland and the Baltic States, demand pure, relentless support for Ukraine. How very odd it is that American power, which was used so effectively for so long to keep Europe free from conflict, is now being used to extend and deepen the worst European war for nearly 80 years.

Wednesday 22 February 2023

With Bite

Today, I became, to the best of my knowledge, the only convicted international terrorist ever to have scored 100 per cent on a Prevent qualification. I have certificates, and everything. Not bad on a day of fasting and abstinence. I do not know what that poor bus driver must have thought when I said, "Goodnight, have a good night." I needed to eat. Ash Wednesday, so no meat. Plateau de fruits de mer, and then Lobster Thermidor. The homard à la parisienne will have to wait until Good Friday, since I am mortifying the body to purify the soul. Herewith, the face that strikes terror into the hearts of the Deep State.

Again I say that Prevent is based on a proven hoax. And I bring you the news that in order to be certified competent in it, then you are required, among other things, to identify the only accurate or reliable sources of information from a set list as being the BBC and an advertisement for toothpaste. The State cannot be wrong, the corporations cannot be wrong, and there is no meaningful distinction between the two, to the point of branding everyone else a liar, a form of violence that is likely to incite worse forms against divergence from this merger of state and corporate power. There is a word for that.

Thus Far and No Further?

You must be in favour of same-sex marriage, which the Blair Government repeatedly ruled out on the floor of both Houses, but you must not be, or at least you need not necessarily be, in favour of gender self-identification, a concept that did not exist in those days.

And you may oppose assisted suicide, at least on balance, but you have to be in favour of abortion on demand at every stage of pregnancy. The latter would have been too bad for John Smith, Charles Kennedy or Christopher Hitchens, but fine by Margaret Thatcher.

If in doubt, Sonia Sodha.

The argument is that same-sex marriage, and the abortion up to birth that was one of Thatcher's last acts as Prime Minister, are already the law, whereas gender self-identification, and assisted suicide, are not. I would have no interest in repealing same-sex marriage, nor do I know of anyone, including Kate Forbes, who would. But how does one begin to construct an answer to the argument that all that matters is that something happens to be the law at this moment in time?

Great Concern and Difficulty

As ever, there is no time more remote than the recent past. Sajid Javid will be standing down at the next General Election, but four years ago he wanted to be Prime Minister. Certain newspapers demanded at least the denaturalisation of Shamima Begum, and he duly delivered it. The courts move at their own pace, so what feels like a good 10 years later, they have at last confirmed that without having to give a reason, the Home Secretary can now revoke the citizenship of anyone whom she thought ought to be eligible for another nationality, whether or not they were. Bangladesh has consistently and understandably refused to have anything to do with the London-born Begum.

The present Home Secretary is herself a persistent and flagrant security risk, but what sort of permanent member of the United Nations Security Council claims that its national security is threatened by Begum? Nothing about her story surprises me, yet it still has the power to shock. Undoubtedly with the full cooperation of its British counterparts, Canadian intelligence was trafficking British girls to Syria to join the side that we were aiding and abetting there while bombing it across the Sykes-Picot Line in Iraq, where our intervention had created it in the first place.

The 15-year-old Begum was married almost immediately upon her arrival in that country, and pregnant almost immediately after that. "She wanted it" is not an argument that would normally be admitted under such circumstances. All of this had the enthusiastic support of the Liberal Democrats, of the Labour Party until 2015, and of more than 90 per cent of Labour MPs, as well as the whole of the party's staff, to the very end, if it is not still going on. Both economically and internationally, and the connection between the two has never been more glaring, Labour is now far to the right of the Conservatives.

Begum ought to be tried by a jury that, unless it were unanimously convinced beyond reasonable doubt of her guilt, ought to deliver a verdict of not guilty, which should be an enduring verdict, affording lifelong protection from double jeopardy. In the event of such a conviction, then like a 15-year-old runner for county lines, she would not be blameless, but like a 15-year-old runner for county lines, she would not be the most to blame.

Keep saying it until in quite sinks in. Even while bombing the IS that it had created in Iraq, NATO was so committed to the victory of IS in Syria, as in principle it remains to the point that sanctions are severely hampering relief and rescue there after the earthquake, that via the NATO member state of Turkey, it trafficked British schoolgirls to Syria to hand over to IS. In at least one case, a 15-year-old was pregnant almost immediately, having been married so soon after her arrival that the arrangements had clearly been made in advance.

Via the NATO member state of Turkey, IS fighters are now being brought in as part of NATO's side in Ukraine, where they carried out the suicide bombing of the Kerch Bridge under British direction. Russia has long been bringing in Assadists against them. IS is now part of the side that we are backing in Ukraine, while, yet again, everyone who knows anything at all about the subject is pointing out that our position is suicidally insane. Our rulers never learn.

And do we know that our girls are not being smuggled into Ukraine, which is itself a global centre of sex trafficking, in order to be handed over to IS? Or our boys, come to that, to be sent to the frontline? If you are brown and working-class, then at 15 you can be trafficked to IS. If you are black and working-class, then at 15 you can be strip-searched at school. If you are white and working-class, then at 15 you can very possibly be trafficked to something like the Azov Battalion. But if you were posh, and probably white although that is not quite the point, then at 15 you could last summer vote on who the Prime Minister should be, even if she did not remain the Prime Minister for very long.

It is still British Government policy that IS should have won in Syria, yet under Shamima's Law, if the Home Secretary thought that you would merely qualify for another nationality, whether or not you held it, wanted it, or were really eligible for it, then your British citizenship could now be revoked at a stroke of the Home Secretary's pen. If you are one of the huge proportion of the population of Great Britain with an ancestral connection to Ireland, or if you are almost any of the current inhabitants of Northern Ireland, including all of the DUP's MPs, then your British citizenship could now be revoked at a stroke of the Home Secretary's pen. 

Saint Helena will never become independent, so I am all right this side of Scottish independence. But beyond the fair South Atlantic, most of Britain's former colonies in the Caribbean are independent now. And 50 per cent of people in Britain with an Afro-Caribbean parent also have a white parent. If you are in that position, even if your other ancestors have been Anglo-Saxon for as long as there have been any Anglo-Saxons, or even if Julius Caesar heard them speaking the language that was now Welsh, then your British citizenship could now be revoked at a stroke of the Home Secretary's pen. And if you would qualify under Israel's Law of Return, which is considerably looser than the Rabbinical definition of who is Jewish, then your British citizenship could now be revoked at a stroke of the Home Secretary's pen. How's that for anti-Semitism?

Yet does Yvette Cooper strike you as the Home Secretary to put this right? Does Keir Starmer strike you as the Prime Minister to do so? But thankfully, the opinion polls bear no resemblance to real votes cast, and in any case even the Labour poll lead has halved since Rishi Sunak took over. Halved. The Labour vote has gone through the floor at all but one by-election since Starmer became Leader, with one of those recording Labour's lowest ever share of the vote. Council seats that were held or won under Jeremy Corbyn have fallen like sandcastles, taking control of major local authorities with them. That is the bread and butter of the party's right wing, who are not otherwise the most employable of people.

With nearly two years still to go until the next General Election, Starmer's personal rating is negative not only nationally, but in every region apart from London, and it is still in decline. Starmer's dishonesty is becoming a story. He lied to his party members to get their votes, so he would lie to anyone else to get their votes. We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.

The Modi Question

India is under attack by foreign powers. Specifically the United Kingdom and the United States. Or so our government would have us believe. Why? Because former colonialists and neo-imperialists cannot tolerate our prosperity and good fortune. The attack, we are told, is aimed at the political and economic foundations of our young nation.

The covert operatives are the BBC, which in January broadcast a two-part documentary called India: The Modi Question, and a small US firm called Hindenburg Research, owned by 38-year-old Nathan Anderson, which specialises in what is known as activist short-selling.

The BBC-Hindenburg moment has been portrayed by the Indian media as nothing short of an attack on India’s twin towers – Narendra Modi, the prime minister, and India’s biggest industrialist, Gautam Adani, who was, until recently, the world’s third richest man. The charges laid against them aren’t subtle. The BBC film implicates Modi in the abetment of mass murder. The Hindenburg report, published on 24 January, accuses Adani of pulling “the largest con in corporate history” (an allegation that the Adani Group strongly denies).

Modi and Adani have known each other for decades. Things began to look up for them after the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom, which raged through Gujarat after Muslims were held responsible for the burning of a railway coach in which 59 Hindu pilgrims were burned alive. Modi had been appointed chief minister of the state only a few months before the massacre.

At the time, much of India recoiled in horror at the open slaughter and mass rape of Muslims that was staged on the streets of Gujarat’s towns and villages by vigilante Hindu mobs seeking “revenge”. Some old-fashioned members of the Confederation of Indian Industry even made their displeasure with Modi public. Enter Gautam Adani. With a small group of Gujarati industrialists he set up a new platform of businessmen known as the Resurgent Group of Gujarat. They denounced Modi’s critics and supported him as he launched a new political career as Hindu Hriday Samrat, the Emperor of Hindu Hearts, or, more accurately, the consolidator of the Hindu vote-bank.

In 2003, they held an investors’ summit called Vibrant Gujarat. So was born what is known as the Gujarat model of “development”: violent Hindu nationalism underwritten by serious corporate money. In 2014, after three terms as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi was elected prime minister of India. He flew to his swearing-in ceremony in Delhi in a private jet with Adani’s name emblazoned across the body of the aircraft. In the nine years of Modi’s tenure, Adani’s wealth grew from $8bn to $137bn. In 2022 alone, he made $72bn, which is more than the combined earnings of the world’s next nine billionaires put together.

The Adani Group now controls a dozen shipping ports that account for the movement of 30% of India’s freight, seven airports that handle 23% of India’s airline passengers, and warehouses that collectively hold 30% of India’s grain. It owns and operates power plants that are the biggest generators of the country’s private electricity. The Gujarat model of development has been replicated at scale.

“First Modi flew in Adani’s plane,” the bitter joke goes. “Now Adani flies in Modi’s plane.” And now both planes have developed engine trouble. Can they get out of it by wrapping themselves in the Indian flag?

Episode one of the BBC film The Modi Question (I appear briefly in the documentary as an interviewee) is about the 2002 Gujarat pogrom – not just the murdering, but also the 20-year journey that some victims made through India’s labyrinthine legal system, keeping the faith, hoping for justice and political accountability. It includes eyewitness testimonies, most poignantly from Imtiyaz Pathan, who lost 10 members of his family in the “Gulbarg Society massacre”, which was one of several similarly gruesome massacres that took place over those few days in Gujarat.

Pathan describes how they were all sheltering in the house of Ehsan Jafri, a former Congress party member of parliament, while the mob gathered outside. He says that Jafri made a final, desperate phone call for help to Narendra Modi, and when he realised no help would come, stepped out of his home and gave himself up to the mob, hoping to persuade them to spare those who had come to him for protection. Jafri was dismembered and his body burned beyond recognition. And the carnage rolled on for hours.

When the case went to trial, the state of Gujarat contested the fact of the phone call, even though it had been mentioned not just by Pathan but several other witnesses in their testimonies. The contestation was upheld. The BBC film clearly mentions this. Vilified though it has been by the BJP government, the film actually goes out of its way to present the BJP’s point of view about the pogrom, as well as that of the Indian supreme court, which on 24 June 2022 dismissed the petition of Zakia Jafri, Ehsan Jafri’s widow, in which she alleged there was a larger conspiracy behind the murder of her husband. The order called her petition an “abuse of process”, and suggested that those involved in pursuing the case be prosecuted. Modi’s supporters celebrated the judgment as the final word on his innocence.

The film also showcases an interview with the home affairs minister, Amit Shah, another old pal of Modi’s from Gujarat, who compares Modi to Lord Shiva for having “swallowed poison and held it in his throat” for 19 years. After the supreme court’s “clean chit”, the minister said: “Truth has come out shining like gold.”

The section of the BBC film that the government of India has acted most outraged about was the revelation of an internal report commissioned by the British Foreign Office in April 2002, so far unseen by the public. The fact-finding report estimated that “at least 2,000” people had been murdered. It called the massacre a preplanned pogrom that bore “all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing”. It said reliable contacts had informed them that the police had been ordered to stand down. The report laid the blame squarely at Modi’s door. It was chilling to see the former, but obviously still cautious, British diplomat who was one of the investigators on the fact-finding mission choosing to remain anonymous, with his back to the camera.

Episode two of the BBC documentary, less seen but even more frightening, is about the dangerous divisiveness and deep fault lines Modi has cultivated during his tenure as prime minister. For most Indians it’s the texture of our daily lives: sword-wielding mobs, saffron-clad god-en routinely calling for the genocide of Muslims and the mass rape of Muslim women, the impunity with which Hindus can lynch Muslims on the street, and not only film themselves while doing it but be garlanded and congratulated for it by senior ministers in Modi’s cabinet.

Though The Modi Question was broadcast exclusively for a British audience, and limited to the UK, it was uploaded by viewers on YouTube and links were posted on Twitter. It lit up the internet. In India, students received warnings not to download and watch it. When they announced collective screenings in some university campuses, the electricity was switched off. In others, police arrived in riot gear to stop them watching. The government instructed YouTube and Twitter to delete all links and uploads. Those sterling defenders of free speech hurried to comply. Some of my Muslim friends were baffled. “Why does he want to ban it? The Gujarat massacre has always helped him. And we’re in an election year.”

Then came the attack on the second tower.

The 400-odd-page Hindenburg report was published on the same day the second episode of the BBC film was broadcast. It elaborated on questions that had been raised in the past by Indian journalists, and went much further. It alleges that the Adani Group has been engaged in a “brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud scheme”, which – through the use of offshore shell entities – artificially overvalued its key listed companies and inflated the net worth of its chairman.

According to the Hindenburg report, seven of Adani’s listed companies are overvalued by more than 85%. Based on these valuations, the companies reportedly borrowed billions of dollars on the international markets and from Indian public sector banks such as the State Bank of India and the Life Insurance Corporation of India, where millions of ordinary Indians invest their life savings.

The Adani Group responded to the Hindenburg report with a 413-page rebuttal. It claimed the group had been cleared of wrongdoing by Indian courts and that the Hindenburg allegations were malicious, baseless and amounted to an attack on India itself.

This wasn’t enough to convince investors. In the market rout that followed the publication of the Hindenburg analysis, the Adani Group lost $110bn. Credit Suisse, Citigroup and Standard Chartered stopped accepting Adani bonds as collateral for margin loans. The French firm TotalEnergies has paused a $4bn green hydrogen venture with the Adani Group. The Bangladesh government is reportedly seeking a reworking of a power purchase agreement. Jo Johnson, a former minister in the British government, and former prime minister Boris Johnson’s brother, resigned as a director of London-based Elara Capital, one of the companies mentioned in the Hindenburg report as tied to the Adani Group.

The political firestorm caused by the Hindenburg report brought squabbling opposition parties together to demand an investigation by a joint parliamentary committee. The government stonewalled, alarmingly indifferent to the concerns that managers of international finance capital might have about India’s regulatory systems. In the continuing budget session of parliament, two opposition party MPs, Mahua Moitra of the All India Trinamool Congress, and Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress, both of whom have raised questions about the Adani Group years before the Hindenburg report, stood up to speak.

Among the questions Moitra raised were: how did the home ministry give security clearance to the “A” Group for operating ports and airports while refusing to divulge the identity of one of its shareholders? How did the group amass about $5bn in foreign portfolio investments from six Mauritius-based funds, all which have the same address and company secretary? On what grounds did the public sector State Bank and the Life Insurance Corporation continue to anchor investments in the group?

For his part, Gandhi noted the prime minister’s travels to Israel, Australia and Bangladesh, and asked: “In how many of these countries that you visited did Adani-ji get a contract?” He listed some of them: a defence contract with Israel, a billion-dollar loan from the State Bank of India for a coalmine in Australia, a 1,500MW electricity project for Bangladesh. Last, and most pertinently, he asked how much money the BJP received from the Adani Group in secret electoral bonds.

This is the nub of it. In 2016, the BJP introduced the scheme of electoral bonds, which allow corporations to be able to fund political parties without their identities being made public. Yes, Gautam Adani is one of the world’s richest men; but if you look at its rollout during elections, the BJP is not just India’s, but perhaps even the world’s, richest political party. Will the old friends ever let us look at their account books? Are there separate account books?

Moitra’s questions were ignored. Most of Gandhi’s were expunged from parliament records. Modi’s reply lasted for a full 90 minutes.

He did what he does best – cast himself as a proud Indian, the victim of an international witch-hunt that would never succeed, because he wore the protective shield made up of the trust of 1.4 billion people that the opposition could never pierce. This figure (a politician’s equivalent of inflating the value of his shares) peppered every paragraph of his spongy rhetoric, ridden with derision, barbs and personal insults. Almost every sentence was greeted with desk-thumping from the BJP benches accompanied by the chant of “Modi! Modi! Modi!”

He said that however much filth was thrown at the lotus – the BJP’s election symbol – it would bloom. He never mentioned Adani once. Maybe he believes it’s not a debate that should concern his voters because tens of millions of them are unemployed, live in abject poverty on subsistence rations (delivered with his photograph on the packaging) and will not remotely comprehend what $100bn even means.

Most of the Indian media reported Modi’s speech in glowing terms. Was it a coincidence that in the days that followed a number of national and regional newspapers carried a front-page advertisement with a huge photograph of him announcing another investment summit, this one in the state of Uttar Pradesh?

Days later, on 14 February, the home minister said in an interview, on the Adani matter, that the BJP had “nothing to hide or be afraid of”. He once again stonewalled the possibility of a joint parliamentary committee and advised the opposition parties to go to court instead.

Even as he was speaking, office premises in Mumbai and Delhi were being surrounded by police and raided by tax officials. Not Adani’s offices: the BBC’s.

On 15 February, the news cycle changed. And so did the reporting about the neo-imperialist attack. After “warm and productive” meetings, Modi, President Joe Biden and President Emmanuel Macron announced that India would be buying 470 Boeing and Airbus aircraft. Biden said the deal would support more than a million American jobs. The Airbuses will be powered by Rolls-Royce engines. “For the UK’s thriving aerospace sector,” Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, said, “the sky is the limit.”

So the lotus blooms on, in a bog of blood and money. And the truth most definitely shines like gold.

And Kenan Malik writes:

In January, the BBC broadcast a two-part series, India: The Modi Question, which looked forensically at the role of Narendra Modi in fomenting the Gujarat anti-Muslim riots of 2002 in which at least 1,000 people were killed. Now the prime minister of India, Modi was then the chief minister of Gujarat.

The response in India was swift. Kanchan Gupta, an adviser to the ministry of information and broadcasting, called the documentary “propaganda and anti-India garbage” that “reflects BBC’s colonial mindset”. The BJP government invoked emergency laws to ban the documentary and any online links to clips. When students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University tried to screen the documentary, the university authorities cut off electricity to the whole campus.

Then, last week, the authorities raided BBC offices in India, supposedly to investigate “tax evasion” by the corporation’s Indian operation. On Friday, the government claimed to have discovered “evidence of tax irregularities”. Most local journalists are deeply cynical. The raid on the BBC, the Press Club of India observed, was “a clear cut case of vendetta”.

The cynicism about Delhi’s motives is well earned. Since Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party came to power in 2014, he has pursued a relentless campaign to curb the independence of India’s media. “Criticise us and we’ll come after you,” is the banner under which the government operates. As the Editors Guild of India put it, the BBC raids (which the government, in BJP Newspeak, calls not “raids” but “surveys”) are part of a well-established “trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organisations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment”.

The government – and many BJP-controlled state administrations – have also sought to intimidate journalists through the use of sedition and national security laws. In 2020, Siddique Kappan, a journalist from Kerala, reporting a story of a 19-year-old Dalit woman who died after being allegedly gang-raped by four men, was charged by police in BJP-controlled Uttar Pradesh with sedition, promoting enmity between groups, outraging religious feelings, committing unlawful activities and money laundering. Still awaiting trial, he was finally released on bail this month after two years in jail.

The editor of a Gujarati news website was charged with sedition for writing an article critical of the government’s Covid policy That same year, Dhaval Patel, editor of a Gujarati news website, was charged with sedition for writing an article critical of the state government’s Covid policy. In 2021, the journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem was charged under the National Security Act by the BJP-led Manipur government for writing that cow dung does not cure Covid; he spent nearly two months in jail before being released by the courts.

India’s ministry of information and broadcasting blocked the television channel Media One for 48 hours because it had covered mob attacks on Muslims in Delhi in 2020 “in a way that seemed critical toward Delhi police and RSS”. The RSS is a paramilitary Hindu-nationalist movement with close ties to Modi and the BJP.

In 2021, as Delhi was rocked by huge farmers’ protests against new agricultural laws, prominent journalists, including Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of the digital website The Wire, and Vinod Jose, Anant Nath and Paresh Nath, editors and publishers of Caravan magazine, were charged with sedition for reporting on the death of one of the protesters. As Hartosh Singh Bal, Caravan’s political editor, observed, the targets were not surprising: the farmers’ protest was the biggest challenge to the BJP since it came to power, while The Wire and Caravan are “among the few media organisations willing to look at the ruling government critically”.

These are just a handful of the cases that Indian journalists have faced in recent years. Charging someone with sedition has become the weapon of choice, especially for BJP politicians and administrations when faced with criticism.

Journalists, especially female journalists, and those critical of Hindu nationalism, have not just been censored, they have been assaulted, even killed. Journalists like Gauri Lankesh, shot dead by three assailants in Bangalore in 2017. In 2021, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) named India as one of the five most dangerous countries for a journalist.

Many media bosses have been only too happy to comply with government strictures. In 2020, during the Covid pandemic, hours before he announced the world’s largest coronavirus lockdown, Modi met senior news executives and urged them to publish only “inspiring and positive stories” about the government’s efforts. As Caravan noted, Modi’s intervention ensured little critical coverage of the government’s Covid failures. The supreme court, however, denied the government’s request for prior censorship of news stories, ordering the media to “publish the official version” of pandemic developments. Unsurprisingly, India has plummeted in the global press freedom rankings compiled by RSF. In 2002, India stood 80th in the world. Today it stands at 150th out of 180 countries, below nations such as Turkey, Libya and Zimbabwe.

Repressive censorship did not originate with the BJP. India has long had a vibrant media culture; it has also long had a culture of censorship and repression. The most despotic moment came with the imposition of the Emergency between 1975-77, when prime minister Indira Gandhi cancelled elections, suspended civil liberties, rounded up political opponents and muzzled the media. She expelled the BBC from India after it refused to sign a censorship agreement.

Nevertheless, the BJP under Modi has helped remake the relationship between the media and the state, and, outside of the Emergency, has imposed the tightest leash on the press.

While many media owners and big-name editors have toed the government line, smaller fiercely independent outlets and individual journalists have pushed back against the climate of censorship and borne the brunt of the repression. What many now fear is that the geopolitical importance of India, especially as a counterweight to China, is muting the western response, particularly after the assault on the BBC. While western governments lecturing other nations about freedom and liberty is often an unedifying sight, many fear the silence of London and Washington “could pave the way for more ‘brazen’ action… by the Modi government”.

As rightwing populists do in many other nations, the BJP presents its battering of the media as a challenge to the “elite”. It is, in reality, an attack on any criticism of the elite. The slow strangulation of a free and independent media is a catastrophe for India. But not just for India. It is a development that should trouble all of us.

Tuesday 21 February 2023

The True Picture

If your full-time job is still sending you to the foodbank, then you cannot afford the passport photographs that you would have to provide at your own expense in order to be issued with "free" voter identification by the council.

So yes, this is the suppression of the votes of the poor.

The Nuance That We Need To Capture

Whether in Scotland, or in the United Kingdom as a whole, Kate Forbes's views would certainly disqualify her from the Leadership of the Conservative Party, and probably from being a first time parliamentary candidate for that party these days. Oh, well, Jesus told us to expect far worse, and of course He has been as good as His Word.

That said, Angela Merkel voted against same-sex marriage. The Clintons, the Obamas and Joe Biden were all expressly opposed to it far more recently that it is now polite to mention. Neither Gordon Brown nor Charles Kennedy, both of whom were MPs at the time, ever voted for it at any parliamentary stage. Humza Yusuf's excuse for having missed the key Holyrood vote on it is laughable. Ian Blackford is an elder of the Free Church of Scotland. And so on. By the way, abortion is not devolved, so I have no idea why Forbes is being asked about that. You may as well ask it of a candidate for Lanchester Parish Council.

It remains the position of the Church of England that marriage can be only between a man or a woman. The Church of Scotland permits its clergy to perform same-sex marriages, but it does not require them to do so. The Church of England still forbids such ceremonies outright; blessings are something else. At the age of 54, Tony Blair voluntarily acceded to a body that will never and can never permit even those. Since you ask, I am broadly with Peter Hitchens on this one where the civil law is concerned, that it hardly matters in the midst of the destruction of marriage between a man and a woman.

I thought of the Church of England when I heard this week's edition of Radio Four's Sunday programme. A government official from Ukraine justified the outlawing of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on the grounds that a soldier who belonged to it was unable to receive Communion alongside his brothers in the same unit who were members of the state-sponsored Orthodox Church of Ukraine. But of course the same would apply to a soldier who belonged to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which was once the largest underground church in the world, and which, for all that Stepan Bandera's father was a priest of it, is now vociferously opposed to the proscription of the UOC, just as Martin Luther and William Tyndale supported Catherine of Aragon, leading the supporters of Lady Jane Grey to write Elizabeth as well as Mary out of the Succession. 

Henry VIII lives, both on the banks of the Dnieper and on the banks of the Thames. The Church of England knows that it will have same-sex marriage or its bishops would be out of Parliament and Charles III's would be its last Coronation. Earlier monarchs demanded far worse of the church that the State had created. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is in that position right now. It is not acquitting itself any better.

Police Infiltration of Unions: We Need the Truth

After years of delays, and costing over £60 million to date, the public inquiry into undercover policing finally reaches the end of its first tranche of evidence gathering this week. While the women activists deceived into sexual relationships by undercover officers and spying on the family of Stephen Lawrence made headlines, the targeting of trade unions is less well known.

Early on, the inquiry created a specific category to investigate hidden state surveillance of trade unions, with the Fire Brigades Union, National Union of Mineworkers, UNITE, and the rank-and-file union campaign the Blacklist Support Group as ‘core participants’. Now, eight years since Theresa May announced the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI), what have we found out?

To start with, we know that ever since the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was set up in 1968, targeting trade unions has been an important element of the political police unit’s work. The SDS annual reports reveal that industrial disputes, such as national strikes by miners, dockers, and building workers in 1972 were of key interest to the SDS.

Intelligence on leading union activists and union-led campaigns was recorded on SDS files. One such campaign was the Shrewsbury Two Defence Campaign calling for Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson to be released from prison. The two construction workers were jailed following the national building workers strike (and their convictions were finally quashed in the Court of Appeal in 2021.)

Another particular target of the SDS was the historic Grunwick dispute in West London (1976-78), involving predominantly Asian women workers who stood on a picket line due to victimisation, working conditions, and low pay. During the strike, the Daily Express ran a front page with ‘The Secret Demo Squad, Special Branch men to join pickets’:

‘The undercover men already have thick dossiers on extremists. The authorities are anxious to establish whether there are links with political organisations whose aim is solely to disrupt industry.’

Unfortunately, this clipping is not amongst the files the Inquiry disclosed. The chair, John Mitting, chose not to investigate the Grunwick dispute, even though it features as a major public order event in the SDS Annual Report 1977, and despite the fact that at least four undercover officers attended the pickets.

Police were not merely attending public events such as picket lines and protests; undercover SDS officers joined unions, and in some cases played influential roles. The inquiry has confirmed that police spy Mark Jenner, using the false name ‘Mark Cassidy’, infiltrated the Union of Construction Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT). He attended the Hackney Branch, voted in union elections and participated in grass roots initiatives such as the Building Workers Safety Campaign. Throughout his five-year deployment, Jenner had a relationship with ‘Alison’, a member of the National Union of Teachers.

SDS officers using the cover names ‘David Hughes’ and ‘Barry Tompkins’ both joined the Transport & General Workers Union during their deployments from 1971 to 1983. Another SDS spy using the name ‘Jim Pickford’ attended Battersea & Wandsworth Trades Council meetings in 1975.

Police infiltration of trade unions was so obvious in the 1970s that Labour MPs (including John Prescott) met with Home Secretary Roy Jenkins and demanded a special inquiry. Instead, in response to the MPs voicing concerns, Michael Hanley (MI5 Director General) decided to remind all Special Branches of ‘the particular need for care and discretion in the industrial field’.

At inquiry hearings, SDS managers confirmed that for much of the time, the SDS took direct instructions from MI5 on the targeting of specific individuals. This is evidenced by ongoing requests from the Security Service and copies of SDS documents being referred to Box 500 (code for MI5) appearing in ever-increasing numbers of disclosed documents.

Another aspect that has come under scrutiny at the Inquiry is what exactly happens with the intelligence gathered by the SDS and MI5. We now know that the information doesn’t just sit in archives.

Part of the answer is in memos disclosed by the Inquiry. It shows in the liberal use of the anodyne terminology of ‘vetting’ to justify the sharing of information about union activists with major employers such as the civil service, NHS, BBC, Post Office, British Airways, British Steel, and British Leyland.

‘Vetting’ gives the impression that such intelligence sharing is similar to checking on a worker’s qualifications. But in reality, people were being sacked or denied promotion because of their political and trade union activities. One disclosed report describes what would happen to a member of the Socialist Workers Party spied on by SDS: ‘it was likely that her employment with [a government body] would be terminated’. This is blacklisting—plain and simple.

Campaigning by the Blacklist Support Group to expose this collusion eventually led to the police investigation Operation Reuben. Only a heavily redacted version of the report was eventually disclosed, but the conclusions were clear: it was proven that both the security services and Special Branch provided information to the construction industry blacklist, and:

‘Special Branches throughout the UK had direct contact with the Economic League, public authorities, private industry and trade unions.’ (Operation Reuben Paragraphs: 4.2 and 13.1.2)/ One example of the direct contacts was via the Special Branch Industrial Unit (set up in 1970 specifically to spy on unions), which had an official liaison with the Economic League. Furthermore, one of the undercover officers giving evidence at the hearings let slip that his former boss at Special Branch, Bert Lawrenson, upon retirement immediately took up a senior role in the blacklisting organisation.

Cabinet papers from around the same time reveal how easy it was for the chairman of Massey-Ferguson to get access to the then-Prime Minister Edward Heath. While senior civil servants as well as the head of MI5 did not think it was a good idea, the captain of industry managed to get a private briefing from the permanent secretary about potential troublemakers at his plant. The file also confirms that the policy of referring ‘the enquiring industrialists to unofficial sources’ was ‘well accepted’.

In this case, however, the PM thought ‘Mr Powell of Massey-Ferguson too serious a person to be dismissed with a reference to the Economic League’. John Mitting, leading the public inquiry, decided not to add this file to the evidence bundle, missing a crucial opportunity to investigate the hidden links between corporate power and the UK’s secret state. (Fortunately, it was found by the Undercover Research Group found in the National Archives: CAB-301-661.)

The British state is complicit in the blacklisting its own citizens. Honest working men and women lost their jobs and suffered long periods of unemployment. Marriages ended, families lost their homes, blacklisted workers committed suicide. This is unacceptable: those responsible need to be held to account. Core participants in the union strand of the public inquiry do not believe it will provide justice. But campaigning has finally started to expose the hidden underbelly of the British political police.

This is the end of Tranche 1. There are seven tranches in total. The fight to expose the truth continues.

Let Them Have Better

Ricky D. Hale is glorious:

When I got involved in politics in 2017, I felt hope that things could get better for the first time since I was a teenager when Tony Blair was elected in 1997. But it was a cautious optimism.

The experience of the Blair years taught me not to pin my hopes on any politician because they can and will let you down in the most devastating ways.

Fortunately, I wasn’t old enough to vote for the man with a body count of one million, but I was old enough to remember the speech of the man who predicted exactly what would happen. A man who fell off my radar for a long time, but found himself Labour leader to the surprise of everyone, including himself, in 2015.

Two years of hearing his Nordic-style social democratic goals convinced me this man who put substance before style and principle before popularity was different, and if ever I was going to give a politician the benefit of the doubt, it had to be now. The alternative was to accept a life without hope.

I never considered myself party-political (people like that were weird to me), but I wanted to address issues that had left us in a permanent crisis. My involvement in politics was never about ideology, it was simply about the 99% versus the 1%. In fact, it wasn’t even about that at first, it was about better living standards. That was it.

My enthusiasm for Corbyn was not because I was “hard left” or “dogmatic” (I was the very opposite of dogmatic and had not read a page of Marx at this point), it’s because I was treated like a human being after years in a dead-end job where I needed permission to take a piss.

It’s hard to explain to middle-class centrists who love to tell me I’m wrong just what a relief that was. Imagine your head being held underwater your whole life and suddenly someone lifts you up so you can breathe. That first breath was an immense relief and I was scared of being ducked underwater again.

When you say our ideas are “unelectable”, you are telling us our needs can never be addressed, and not only is that nonsense, it’s not something I could ever accept. Imagine telling someone it’s unelectable to fight racism or homophobia, that’s no less acceptable than telling us it’s unelectable to fight classism.

In 2015, it felt like we were entering a new period in which people like me were allowed to be part of the conversation. I once assumed the problem was that politicians weren’t hearing from people like me, and while I knew many hated us, I thought others just never understood. Now that we were entering the conversation, I thought that would change.

I believed the politicians who never understood (the centre) would be happy to hear from people like me, grateful to hear new perspectives. I mean why wouldn’t they? I was a well-intentioned person who was capable of articulating the concerns of myself and other well-intentioned people. I was an expert in the working class struggle because I was living it, and instead of hearing me out, they told me I was “hard left”.

Back then, I couldn’t have told you what “hard left” meant (and still couldn’t actually) and had just assumed we would be treated with respect. After all, it shouldn’t be hard for people who consider themselves “the grownups in the room” to treat others with respect, should it?

I never dreamt of the hatred I would receive from those who I thought were on my side. I never dreamt a Labour MP of all people would publicly ridicule me, just because I asked if she would push for a snap election *cough* Jess Phillips. I never dreamt I would be called an idiot by Dom Joly (you probably don’t remember him). I never dreamt I would be seen as the enemy because I hoped I might someday have reasonable living standards. Clearly, I never understood what a monster I was.

I started a Facebook page with the idealistic goal of embracing free speech and pluralism, engaging with as wide a variety of people as possible and racking up millions of impressions. I was like a small-town kid from a Disney movie who suddenly found himself in the big city and wanted to be everyone’s friend, only to find out many people hated him for no reason.

I remember being warned how dangerous politics could be and asking myself what was the worst that could happen? I remember being called a “tankie” for saying I liked Corbyn and having no idea what that meant! I remember being called a brownshirt for suggesting we nationalise some of our public services so we could be more like Scandinavia. And I quickly discovered the attacks were not just aimed at me.

There was a coordinated strategy to crush the optimism of any ordinary person who dared involve themselves in politics, to bully them, humiliate them, smear them, even sue them. I saw good people have their names dragged through the mud with outright lies. I saw friends receive vexatious legal threats from those with deep pockets. I received threats of violence and others received actual violence. And I realised those who want change are not welcome in politics.

The working class are not allowed to have a voice. There are powerful forces who will silence us any way they can.

There is a reason both parties only consider the right wing to be working class (even though they are a minority) and that’s because those people will never call for change and will vote against their self-interest.

There is an accepted way of doing politics and that way involves ensuring people with popular ideas are marginalised. Only those with the deepest pockets have representation no matter if team red or blue wins because we are only allowed to vote for who the corporate spokesperson will be.

The so-called party for workers is saying 2/3 of the public who support policies such as nationalisation are “too left-wing”. It’s telling its members to leave because the party is never going back to the democratic organisation it was a few years ago. It’s laughably claiming to be neutral while insisting that organised labour will never have political representation again. Are you okay with this? Do you support marginalisation?/ I thought everyone understood the essential ingredient of democracy is pluralism and an attack on pluralism is an attack on democracy itself.

It’s clear as day that in the endless battle of capital versus labour, we now have two parties under the control of the 1%. We have a Labour leader who sneers at working-class concerns and sucks up to CEOs, who promised to renationalise the NHS and advocates for further privatisation, who expels people for talking to socialist publications and writes for The S*n and the Daily Mail, who boasts of his antiracist credentials and ignores racism and Islamophobia, who argued members should have more democratic say and U-turned just as hard he U-turned on pledges he made to win their vote.

We have a Labour leader who told these people “I will represent you and give you a louder voice” and then said “get out of my party”. In short, we have a Labour leader who is not interested in leading organised labour so where does the left go from here? Do we stay and fight? Do we fall silent? Do we hold our noses and vote for further corporate control? Do we start a new party? A revolution?

All I know is something has to change because you can’t disregard a huge section of society and not expect a reaction.

The left has put forward many ideas to fix this country - introducing proportional representation [why?], renationalising our public services, banning private schools [why?], rejoining the EU [what were things like when we were in it?], getting big money out of politics, democratising our corrupt media - and you might not agree with all of those ideas, but Sir Keir Starmer does not agree with any of them. Surely you must agree this is not good enough.

I’m just an ordinary person who wants and deserves better and there are millions more like me who want politicians to address our concerns, treat us with respect and do their best to solve the problems we face. We do not expect perfection, we certainly do not expect ideological purity (whatever that means), but we do expect representation.

My politics can be summed up as follows: working-class people should not be living in poverty.

If you still doubt it, then see here:

The Labour Party has announced its new strategy for dealing with a “shocking rise” in anti-social behaviour over the past year. That strategy includes tough new measures designed to appeal to people who’ve never lived in social deprivation with disregard for those who do.

Social deprivation is defined by the Dictionary of Psychology as:

1. limited access to society's resources due to poverty, discrimination, or other disadvantage. See cultural deprivation.

2. lack of adequate opportunity for social experience.

There is a lack of understanding among our politicians that those who are guilty of anti-social behaviour are so often victims themselves. Does it not occur to these galaxy brains the 30% rise in anti-social behaviour coincided with everyone becoming so poor they couldn’t afford electricity? 13,000 new police officers and patrols in every town are really going to reassure women at a time when every other cop seems to be a rapist.

When our prisons are massively overpopulated and our imprisonment rate is the highest in western Europe, you’d think the penny would drop that ever-tougher action is not going to solve this problem. The Tory approach has left us in disarray, the last thing we need is a tougher Tory approach with more investment in punishment.

I was exactly the kind of kid Labour wants to crack down on and that’s why I know their plan is unlikely to succeed, but even if it does, it won’t get to the root of the problem: poverty. They’re going to need an entirely separate plan for that, one which involves the kind of investment that will not appeal to the voters Labour is courting. In other words, it’s not going to happen so super-Asbos it is.

Now I’m not entirely against punishment, but I can tell you now that giving “community leaders” (local busybodies with a sense of self-importance) the power to hand out overly harsh punishments to me and my friends would not have made us behave better, it would have fuelled resentment and turned us into the bad lads they already thought we were.

What we needed was positive forms of stimulation in a pleasant environment with a sense of hope which would alleviate a lifetime of resentment. Growing up in the ruins of Thatcherism meant we were only going to turn out one way and criminal punishment would’ve meant we were being punished twice for a situation we never caused.

From the day our playgrounds were torn down, you could hear the shattering of windows and the laughter of children who had nothing better to do. We were loud enough for the entire neighbourhood to hear, but you wouldn’t see us stuffing sweet packets up our jumpers and blending into the crowd because we could hide as well as we could stand out.

A car park with a No Ball Games sign was our football pitch, an abandoned school was our first hideout and a corn field represented the edge of our world - a deprived estate of crumbling tarmac and thorny bushes with overcast skies and seemingly constant drizzle.

We were leaping between rooftops and tree branches before the media decided parkour was a thing because we refused to be confined by our post-industrial shithole and we were having fun any way we could. Instinct would not have let us do anything else.

We were a nuisance met with overreaction and adult fists slamming into a child’s face were not an uncommon sight. The police did nothing when a grown woman left my nine-year-old self with a burst nose, despite the evidence of my blood-soaked t-shirt. We had no choice but to be tough and we grew up into the generation that those who lived sheltered lives call “snowflakes”? What a joke.

As teenagers, we hung outside shops on winter nights until a passerby bought us cheap alcohol and we filled the subway with blood, spit and plastic bottles. The concrete walls bore our names and the ground was covered in a perilous layer of ice which stank of piss the moment it started to thaw.

It wasn’t long until green smoke was trailing through the cemetery as we wandered among gravestones like we’d just risen from the dead. Our half-closed eyes were glowing red in school classrooms until truancy became the norm and we’d vanish across disused railway lines, throwing rocks at bottles until the day police from a nearby tower intercepted us in a pincer movement. This taught us to hide better and we stayed out of everyone’s way for a while until a thoughtless match left an old warehouse in flames and our gang in search of a new hideout. So we were back to being a nuisance again.

The soundtrack of motorbike engines and electronic music could be intoxicating, but none of this was glamorous as my dead best friend would testify.

We were not unusual or bad: the hard part for politicians to grasp is we were perfectly normal kids in a bad situation and our behaviour was typical of social deprivation. No amount of parenting classes was ever going to fix that.

Clearly, our behaviour was not good enough, but ordering us to behave would have been ordering us to live a life without stimulation and accept the boredom that could drive people to suicide. Kids have needs even more than adults do and one way or another those needs are going to be fulfilled.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a few genuinely nasty kids and some dreadful parents, but for the most part lack of parenting skills is not the issue, lack of resources is. Middle-class kids don’t behave this way because their parents have the resources working-class parents don’t.

Almost no one wants to have a negative effect on their neighbourhood and they certainly don’t want to face the wrath of the law, yet people commit crimes even when they know the punishments are severe. This tells you that from their perspective, the alternative to crime is misery and almost all of these people will take a better option if it’s given to them.

We could end 95% of crime by ending poverty and if that message does not appeal to you, then I’m afraid you are to blame for the anti-social behaviour you wish to prevent. If you want people to behave better, you’ve got to let them have better.