Category Archives: Europe

yesterday’s election was a (predictable) horror show for Labour, so what next?

If you really want to understand how Labour lost yesterday’s election so badly I strongly recommend watching this. It covers all of the deeper reasons without fear or prejudice:

Jeremy Corbyn was by no means fully responsible for yesterday’s disaster and John McDonnell is greatly more to blame. As Patrick Henningsen summed up on Friday’s UK Column News (embedded above – the remarks are about 14 mins in) after Corbyn had been softened up with relentless body blows in coordinated efforts to weaken him – the nonsensical smears that tarred him as antisemitic combined with establishment lies that made him out to be a Russian dupe and a security threat – then, having been backed into a corner, he was browbeaten to reverse the party’s stance on Brexit and ready to offer a second referendum. This would be the coup de grâce.

Had Corbyn been allowed to honour the referendum, and had Labour’s manifesto offered instead to renegotiate with Brussels or even the deal previously secured when they had talks with May (a plan that Stephen Kinnock proposed and backed) then the election horror show would certainly have been avoided. Indeed, it is not at all inconceivable that fighting the election on his otherwise very popular anti-austerity, pro-nationalisation, “for the many” platform, Corbyn could have beaten Johnson and secured an overall majority. After all, what did Johnson bring to the table except for his vague, unreliable, but extremely jingoistic populist pledge to “Get Brexit Done”.

Some commentators on the left continue to suggest that Corbyn might have done better to campaign for remain whereas the likelihood is that Labour would have tanked as badly or worse (just ask Jo Swinson). Such an alternative strategy would also have lost the Labour heartlands. In fact, drawing any equivalence between leave and remain positions in this regard is really just the last vestige of wishful thinking from diehard remainers to whom I make this modest proposal: please wake up and take the blinkers off. Moreover, everyone who pushed for Corbyn and Labour to frustrate Brexit in the months prior with the overarching aim of forcing a second referendum (a vote that would have settled nothing in any case) inadvertently (or not in the case of some Blairites) helped Boris Johnson sweep to victory. Sorry, but that’s the truth folks and I take no pleasure in saying it.

What now? We are about to enter an historically dangerous period. The forces of unrestrained neoliberalism are straining and about to be unleashed. They will deeply harm millions of the very people who voted to put Johnson into power. In response there will be growing numbers amongst the poorest strata of our society becoming inclined to turn harder to the right. This lurch rightward is now much harder to stop because although Johnson will certainly betray them, they will feel still more embittered by Labour’s betrayal over Brexit. These are desperate and dark days.

What must Labour do? Stand firm. The media is already trying to rewrite the narrative. They will be determined as far as possible to shift the blame from Labour’s Brexit shambles and on to Corbyn and his very progressive shift in Labour’s policies. Hopefully Labour members will not be fooled. Neither must we be hoodwinked into believing a centrist like Jess Phillips or Kier Starmer (both immediately touted to be Corbyn’s successor) or, more feasibly, a compromise candidate such as Emily Thornberry or Barry Gardiner, might help to realign the party to make it electable. In the event Labour will continue to atrophy, shedding more and more of its working class base who will feel ever more disenfranchised by mainstream politics. Tommy Robinson is still waiting in the wings.

I have written these words in haste and with a certain agitation constantly driving my thoughts. For the sake of timeliness I will forgo the usual attempts at editing it into better shape. It is not my intention to rile those who broadly share my own politics but to speak plainly about the situation we suddenly find ourselves in so that we can hold firm in pursuit of a kinder, fairer and more just future for all.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain

The Great NHS Heist

“Once judged as the finest, most cost efficient health service in the world, the NHS is now in mortal danger – due to ruthless government privatisation plans. Are the British people fully aware of this? Or have they been sidetracked by the propaganda of so-called austerity. A group of doctors and health care professionals are dedicated to getting the truth out. Please support this film.” — John Pilger

THE GREAT NHS HEIST is an independent production designed to expose the covert destruction of the English National Health Service. Post-war Atlee’s government implemented Aneurin Bevan’s ambition of an NHS in July 1948. It meant everyone in Britain could get free medical care and this successful revolutionary social advance was copied across the world.

From the beginning there was strong political opposition and from the British Medical Association. Throughout Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, forces determined to replace the NHS with an American style, profit making, private insurance-based system gathered momentum.

In Britain’s Biggest Enterprise (1988) Oliver Letwin MP outlined the plan which required stealth, complexity, deception and co-operation of consecutive governments to avoid a public backlash. We witnessed the new corporate managerialism and marketisation of healthcare, shrinkage of the NHS bed capacity, and transfer of assets into the private sector using Private Finance Initiative and NHS land sales. Private operators expanding their grip on the NHS, securing contracts for the provision of ancillary and then clinical services, rapidly accelerated by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act.

The privatisation lobby crafted effective cover stories and carefully managed the national debate to maintain public ignorance and remained largely unchallenged by a compliant mainstream media. Successive reforms were presented as essential improvements while disguising the reality of creeping privatisation. The stage was set for the heist of NHS land, patient medical data, and the £120 billion annual tax-funded budget for US corporate raiders.

Screenshot from the documentary ‘The Great NHS Heist’

The American medical-industrial complex is expensive, dysfunctional and endemically fraudulent yet it is the model being replicated in England. Over thirty million Americans have no medical insurance or government funded care, millions more also financially ruined by medical bills despite having insurance. Hospital providers over investigate and over treat to increase profits by defrauding and potentially harming the sick – while insurers try to avoid seriously ill and expensive people and deny payments when policyholders become too costly. In America, life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality measures are much worse than in other countries where expenditure on healthcare is vastly lower.

Nevertheless health policy in England has accelerated in the wrong direction under the cover of austerity. Chief Executive of NHS England, Mr Simon Stevens, former head of global expansion for US health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, has progressed the insurance industry designed changes in the NHS, introducing their personnel, IT systems and business methods. The final legal changes to create American Health Maintenance Organisation models, called Integrated Care Systems, are underway. Aligning financial incentives for providers with those of insurers to increase profits by the denial of care to the sick.

In the documentary, patients, health professionals, campaigners and experts from England and America including former Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson, filmmaker Ken Loach, Anthropologist David Graeber and economists Yanis Varoufakis and Steve Keen deliver a comprehensive exposé of the three-decade long heist of our nation’s proudest achievement, as summed up in this warning from former US insurance industry executive turned whistleblower, Wendell Potter:

“In this country we scare people by saying we don’t want to go down the slippery slope to socialised medicine. Well I tell you something, (what) scares me even worse is going down the slippery slope to the American healthcare system.”

The notes above are adapted from those available on the official website for the documentary.

The full documentary is now uploaded on youtube and embedded below:

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Filed under Britain, did you see?, neo-liberalism

What do those leaked documents actually say about our NHS?

The following article was produced and published on Tues 3rd by the campaign group We Own It, which is committed to the renationalisation of public services in the UK.

On 27th November 2019, Jeremy Corbyn revealed unredacted documents from secret talks about a US-UK trade deal following Brexit.

If you’re confused or uncertain about what the 451 pages of leaked US-UK trade documents mean, and whether it actually shows that our NHS is ‘on the table’, this summary from the Keep Our NHS Public sub-group on trade deals, with the help of a briefing from Global Justice Now* should help.

Whose papers have been leaked?

The papers report on a series of meetings held by the UK-US Trade and Investment Working Group (TIWG).  These talks, essentially scoping exercises, appear to represent the first stage of ‘conversations’ about a deal. They took place between July 2017 and November 2018.

Participants included staff from the UK’s Department for International Trade, the British Embassy in Washington, and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) (the body responsible for developing international trade and overseeing trade negotiations).

What progress has been made?

The talks are described as well advanced in some areas (such as services, intellectual property and agriculture). In some sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, they have reached a point that might usually be expected after one year of formal negations.

What do the leaked papers show?

  1. The United States expects a trade deal very much on its own terms.
  1. The US dominates the talks at every level, dictating what is discussed, what they want included and how the deal should be done.
  2. The US sees there is “all to play for in a No Deal situation” and is using the talks to push the UK government towards as hard a Brexit as possible.
  3. Preliminary economic modelling suggests the trade deal may offer little value to UK consumers, or to UK businesses in terms of market access. Gains are greater for the US.
  4. A UK-US deal of this nature would be good for Trump’s re-election.
  1. The US wants a ‘total market access’ approach, which puts the NHS and other public services at risk

There are two ways of defining what is included in a trade deal. In a positive list approach, the types of goods and services for inclusion must be specifically listed (or ‘put on the table’). In a negative list approach, everything is on the table, unless explicitly named and excluded.

The US wants a form of negative listing, making total access to UK markets the baseline for trade negotiations. The UK appears open to this approach.

As the NHS has already been turned into a market, NHS services are vulnerable to being included in the deal, unless they are clearly and comprehensively excluded. In previous EU trade negotiations using a negative list approach, the UK government chose not to adopt this option. In the US-UK discussions, there is no evidence so far that the UK wants to ring-fence the NHS and keep it out of trade discussions.

The US wants to lock in both existing market access plus any future opening up of markets, so that access cannot be reversed. This would prevent the re-nationalisation of the NHS.

Documents from meetings in March/April 2018 show that the US side has been asking about the NHS in talks specifically focusing on ‘state owned enterprises’. In comments for the eyes of the UK side only, there is reference to a query by the US team about health insurance. This query was seen by the UK side as ‘likely a fishing expedition to check the tone of our response”, but it was also noted that the UK team will in future need to go into more detail about the functioning of the NHS and, for example, whether it is engaged in commercial activities (p.53).

  1. Medicine prices for the NHS are already ‘on the table’  

The reports show that discussions on medicine prices are relatively advanced. There have also been meetings with lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry. Preliminary negotiations have reached a point at which the two sides are now ready to begin agreeing the text for the final deal.

Proposals include the strengthening of intellectual property over new drugs and extending monopoly protection for big pharmaceutical companies (particularly for new ‘biologic’ medicines used to treat cancers and autoimmune diseases). This could mean massive increases in the cost of medicines for the NHS, delays in patients’ access to cheaper alternatives, and bigger profits for drug companies.

  1. The papers point to the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)

ISDS is an investment protection measure that allows foreign corporations to sue governments in corporate courts, rather than through a state’s legal system. The US wants to include a form of ISDS in a US/UK trade deal that is particularly pro-business and has a high success rate for claimants.

ISDS would allow US corporations to sue the UK government on a wide range of issues if they consider government actions have reduced company profits (or the profits companies had anticipated receiving). The compensation awarded by these ad hoc tribunals can be massive and even the threat of such a case can cast a chill on policy making, including on policies aimed at improving the public’s health.

  1. Reduction in standards and regulations

The US wants the UK to adopt US standards and regulations to enable US corporations to move easily into the UK market: this requires the UK to break with the EU’s (higher) standards.

In addition, the US wants the UK to stop using the ‘precautionary approach’ (where products need to be proved safe before released on the market) and to adopt the US system (where products are assumed to be safe until proved otherwise).

The US has a preference for voluntary standards, created by corporations rather than government regulation.  In the US this has allowed practices such as industrial–scale farming where conditions are atrocious and animals are pumped with steroids, other hormones and antibiotics. The US is against warning labels on tobacco and alcohol and wants less nutritional labelling on food.

A shift to less rigorous assessments of safety, voluntary regulation, and a lack of public information are bound to have an impact on the public’s health.

  1. The US has banned any mention of climate change in a US-UK trade deal. 

The UK inquired about including reference to climate change in a future agreement but was told that Congress has banned the USTR from mentioning greenhouse gas emissions. This is despite the way trade deals can increase trade in dirty fossil fuels or block climate action.

What does this mean for the NHS?

  1. Because of the requirement for ‘negative listing’ (as in 2 above), NHS services are at risk of being included by default in a US-UK trade deal.
  2. If the NHS were unambiguously a publicly provided service it might be safe. However,  the legal complexity around how a public service is currently defined, and how it might be redefined in a deal with the US, makes it vulnerable to inclusion in a US-UK trade deal.
  3. If the US succeeds in its aim to ‘lock in’ existing market access and have guaranteed access to future services (as in 2 above), any attempt to return the NHS to real public ownership would appear to be impossible.
  4. Returning the NHS to public ownership would be challenged via the ISDS’s corporate courts (as in 4 above), because re-nationalising the NHS would interfere with health corporations’ profits.
  5. The price we pay for medicine is already on the table, and talks are at an advanced stage (as described in 3 above). The NHS can’t afford to pay US prices for drugs.
  6. If the US deal means lower UK standards and deregulation (as in 5 above), this will affect the NHS, its users and staff in a range of ways. It could mean, for example, poorer environmental, food and safety standards impacting on wider public health; reduced employment rights for staff; and loss of patient privacy due to a US right of access to personal medical information and research data.

* “Leaked papers from the US-UK trade talks: A guide to the revelations.” Global Justice Now, November 2019

https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/news_article/gjn_leakedusuktradedocsbriefing_nov2019.pdf

Additional:

The notes below are taken from an email received today from We Own It.

Will your next MP be committed to defending our NHS?

With less than a week to go, and the polls tightening, it’s more important than ever to find out which election candidates are on the side of the NHS. We want the new Parliament to be full of MPs who are willing to stand up for our NHS against Trump’s trade deal.

Check here to see if the candidate you’re voting for has signed the pledge to protect the NHS from trade deals by ending privatisation.

If they haven’t:

Ask them to sign it now.

In this election, candidates can choose to stand up for our NHS, or bow down to Donald Trump. Which side are your candidates on? If they haven’t signed this pledge, they’re not on the side of the NHS.

Over 500 candidates have signed so far, from all over the country.

  • Labour candidates are currently in the lead, closely followed by Greens.
  • The SNP and Plaid are backing the pledge, and a fair few of their candidates have signed.
  • The Lib Dem leadership has not endorse our pledge, but despite this, a few Lib Dem candidates have signed up.
  • Conservatives have been instructed not to sign at all – but two have broken ranks!

Are you voting for someone who has signed the pledge?

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Visiting Assange, Britain’s Political Prisoner | John Pilger

The following article was originally published by Counterpunch on Mon 2nd.

I set out at dawn. Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh is in the flat hinterland of south east London, a ribbon of walls and wire with no horizon. At what is called the visitors centre, I surrendered my passport, wallet, credit cards, medical cards, money, phone, keys, comb, pen, paper.

I need two pairs of glasses. I had to choose which pair stayed behind. I left my reading glasses. From here on, I couldn’t read, just as Julian couldn’t read for the first few weeks of his incarceration. His glasses were sent to him, but inexplicably took months to arrive.

There are large TV screens in the visitors centre. The TV is always on, it seems, and the volume turned up. Game shows, commercials for cars and pizzas and funeral packages, even TED talks, they seem perfect for a prison: like visual valium.

I joined a queue of sad, anxious people, mostly poor women and children, and grandmothers. At the first desk, I was fingerprinted, if that is still the word for biometric testing.

“Both hands, press down!” I was told. A file on me appeared on the screen.

I could now cross to the main gate, which is set in the walls of the prison. The last time I was at Belmarsh to see Julian, it was raining hard. My umbrella wasn’t allowed beyond the visitors centre. I had the choice of getting drenched, or running like hell. Grandmothers have the same choice.

At the second desk, an official behind the wire, said, “What’s that?”

“My watch,” I replied guiltily.

“Take it back,” she said.

So I ran back through the rain, returning just in time to be biometrically tested again. This was followed by a full body scan and a full body search. Soles of feet; mouth open.

At each stop, our silent, obedient group shuffled into what is known as a sealed space, squeezed behind a yellow line. Pity the claustrophobic; one woman squeezed her eyes shut.

We were then ordered into another holding area, again with iron doors shutting loudly in front of us and behind us.

“Stand behind the yellow line!” said a disembodied voice.

Another electronic door slid partly open; we hesitated wisely. It shuddered and shut and opened again. Another holding area, another desk, another chorus of, “Show your finger!”

Then we were in a long room with squares on the floor where we were told to stand, one at a time. Two men with sniffer dogs arrived and worked us, front and back.

The dogs sniffed our arses and slobbered on my hand. Then more doors opened, with a new order to “hold out your wrist!”

A laser branding was our ticket into a large room, where the prisoners sat waiting in silence, opposite empty chairs. On the far side of the room was Julian, wearing a yellow arm band over his prison clothes.

As a remand prisoner he is entitled to wear his own clothes, but when the thugs dragged him out of the Ecuadorean embassy last April, they prevented him bringing a small bag of belongings. His clothes would follow, they said, but like his reading glasses, they were mysteriously lost.

For 22 hours a day, Julian is confined in “healthcare”. It’s not really a prison hospital, but a place where he can be isolated, medicated and spied on. They spy on him every 30 minutes: eyes through the door. They would call this “suicide watch”.

In the adjoining cells are convicted murderers, and further along is a mentally ill man who screams through the night. “This is my One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” he said. “Therapy” is an occasional game of Monopoly. His one assured social gathering is the weekly service in the chapel. The priest, a kind man, has become a friend. The other day, a prisoner was attacked in the chapel; a fist smashed his head from behind while hymns were being sung.

When we greet each other, I can feel his ribs. His arm has no muscle. He has lost perhaps 10 to 15 kilos since April. When I first saw him here in May, what was most shocking was how much older he looked.

“I think I’m going out of my mind,” he said then.

I said to him, “No you’re not. Look how you frighten them, how powerful you are.” Julian’s intellect, resilience and wicked sense of humor – all unknown to the low life who defame him — are, I believe, protecting him.  He is wounded badly, but he is not going out of his mind.

We chat with his hand over his mouth so as not to be overheard. There are cameras above us. In the Ecuadorean embassy, we used to chat by writing notes to each other and shielding them from the cameras above us. Wherever Big Brother is, he is clearly frightened.

On the walls are happy-clappy slogans exhorting the prisoners to “keep on keeping on” and “be happy, be hopeful and laugh often”.

The only exercise he has is on a small bitumen patch, overlooked by high walls with more happy-clappy advice to enjoy ‘the blades of grass beneath your feet’. There is no grass.

He is still denied a laptop and software with which to prepare his case against extradition. He still cannot call his American lawyer, or his family in Australia.

The incessant pettiness of Belmarsh sticks to you like sweat. If you lean too close to the prisoner, a guard tells you to sit back. If you take the lid off your coffee cup, a guard orders you to replace it. You are allowed to bring in £10 to spend at a small café run by volunteers. “I’d like something healthy,” said Julian, who devoured a sandwich.

Across the room, a prisoner and a woman visiting him were having a row: what might be called a ‘domestic’. A guard intervened and the prisoner told him to “fuck off”.

This was the signal for a posse of guards, mostly large, overweight men and women eager to pounce on him and hold him to the floor, then frog march him out.  A sense of violent satisfaction hung in the stale air.

Now the guards shouted at the rest of us that it was time to go. With the women and children and grandmothers, I began the long journey through the maze of sealed areas and yellow lines and biometric stops to the main gate. As I left the visitor’s room, I looked back, as I always do. Julian sat alone, his fist clenched and held high.

Click here to read the same article in Counterpunch.

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Filed under Britain, John Pilger, police state

colour revolution or not: with protests in Catalonia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Haiti and Hong Kong, what are the tests of authenticity?

When the Ukrainians gathered in the square in 2014, the stage had been set for a bloody coup. Today ‘the Maidan’ or ‘Euromaidan’ is seldom if ever mentioned and a false impression is often given that the subsequent Ukrainian civil war was sparked by a Russian invasion of Donbass and its annexation of Crimea. However, at the time of the Maidan, western media featured the Ukraine’s fascist-led colour revolution on a nightly basis: the use of catapaults to launch rocks at the police then applauded by BBC and C4 correspondents alike, as more judiciously were the Molotov cocktails laced with polystyrene for extra adhesion.

Even as it became abundantly clear that leading perpetrators of the violent disorder were neo-Nazi brown-shirts Svoboda and their paramilitary comrades Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector), who were engaged in arson attacks on union buildings and ultimately shooting live ammunition into the square, our media maintained the official charade that this was all part of a ‘pro-democracy demonstration’.

In Venezuela we have been presented with a different fictional account by the same media outlets as once again the US ramped up its repeated efforts to overthrow the elected President, Nicolás Maduro; on this occasion, manoeuvring to replace him with the hand-picked puppet Juan Guaidó. Thus, during another ‘popular uprising’ horrifically violent acts by anti-government thugs that included the burning of opponents alive, went unreported as the corporate media once again parroted the official line that consistently portrayed the perpetrators of these crimes as ‘pro-democracy demonstrators’ fighting against ‘a regime’ and ‘a dictator’.

Today we have the so-called ‘pro-democracy demonstrators’ in Hong Kong who are again lauded for their commitment, courage and ingenuity; even when it comes to smashing up buildings, and hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at police lines. And when considering the authenticity of any uprising, our media’s characterisation of rioting as ‘protesting’ must always be considered a red flag. But besides the one-sided media coverage that quickly prioritises and magnifies the events on the ground (numbers, or rather the perception of numbers matters greatly) and makes this its nightly headline, there are further clues we can look for that help with spotting colour revolutions and distinguishing them from authentic uprisings.

By definition, colour revolutions are driven and directed by outside interests that steer the movement both by means of financial support and by way of official legitimisation (hence the unduly favourable media coverage). And whenever the US State Department issues statements that acknowledge its backing of any protest movement – but especially protests that destabilise states labelled hostile or ‘rogue’ – it is more than likely meddling directly in events on the ground.

In former decades it was left to the CIA to foment uprisings to topple unwanted governments or otherwise unfavourable ‘regimes’, but that role has today been passed over to its soft power agencies USAID and the GONGOs – government-organised non-governmental organisations. Amongst today’s prime movers we find the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which describes itself as “a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world” and that, in turn, funds think tanks and private NGOs. In their 2012 report, NED indicated that it spent more than $3 million on programmes in the Ukraine alone. It had previously spent millions more in US attempts to destabilise Chevez in Venezuela. As author and historian William Blum writes:

How many Americans could identify the National Endowment for Democracy? An organization which often does exactly the opposite of what its name implies. The NED was set up in the early 1980s under President Reagan in the wake of all the negative revelations about the CIA in the second half of the 1970s. The latter was a remarkable period. Spurred by Watergate – the Church committee of the Senate, the Pike committee of the House, and the Rockefeller Commission, created by the president, were all busy investigating the CIA. Seemingly every other day there was a new headline about the discovery of some awful thing, even criminal conduct, the CIA had been mixed up in for years. The Agency was getting an exceedingly bad name, and it was causing the powers-that-be much embarrassment.

Something had to be done. What was done was not to stop doing these awful things. Of course not. What was done was to shift many of these awful things to a new organization, with a nice sounding name – The National Endowment for Democracy. The idea was that the NED would do somewhat overtly what the CIA had been doing covertly for decades, and thus, hopefully, eliminate the stigma associated with CIA covert activities.

It was a masterpiece. Of politics, of public relations, and of cynicism.1

Click here to read the full piece which provides details of NED’s meddling in elections across the world on William Blum’s official website.

Alongside the dirty hands of in-house agencies USAID and NED there is also the closely aligned and US government-funded NGO Freedom House which claims to be “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world” and “a catalyst for greater political rights and civil liberties”. Habitually too, we will find the involvement of similarly deceptive ‘independent’ ‘pro-democracy’ organisations more than likely funded by or closely associated with billionaire George Soros.

As the Guardian’s Ian Traynor wrote at the time of America’s first soft coup in Ukraine, the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004, in an article entitled “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev”:

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

But experience gained in Serbia, Georgia and Belarus has been invaluable in plotting to beat the regime of Leonid Kuchma in Kiev.

The operation – engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience – is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people’s elections.

He continues:

In Ukraine, the equivalent is a ticking clock, also signalling that the Kuchma regime’s days are numbered.

Stickers, spray paint and websites are the young activists’ weapons. Irony and street comedy mocking the regime have been hugely successful in puncturing public fear and enraging the powerful.

Last year, before becoming president in Georgia, the US-educated Mr Saakashvili travelled from Tbilisi to Belgrade to be coached in the techniques of mass defiance. In Belarus, the US embassy organised the dispatch of young opposition leaders to the Baltic, where they met up with Serbs travelling from Belgrade. In Serbia’s case, given the hostile environment in Belgrade, the Americans organised the overthrow from neighbouring Hungary – Budapest and Szeged.

In recent weeks, several Serbs travelled to the Ukraine. Indeed, one of the leaders from Belgrade, Aleksandar Maric, was turned away at the border.

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute. 2

Click here to read Ian Traynor’s full article.

Applying these criteria, it is possible to test the ongoing protests around the world to ascertain the likelihood and scale of outside interference. In the following sections I provide a brief overview region by region. In summary, those pursuing anti-austerity objectives are almost certainly the least susceptible to external manipulation; these include the mass uprisings in Chile, Ecuador, France and Haiti. The unrest in Catalonia is a consequence of a different form of state repression with historical roots and the mainly peaceful protests are the spontaneous response of a mostly genuine pro-democracy grassroots movement. The situation in Hong Kong is more complicated and compelling evidence of western interference is presented below.

Update:

Press TV compares western media coverage of the protests in Hong Kong, the Gilets Jaunes in France, and the Great March of Return in Gaza:

*

Hong Kong

As the initially peaceful protests and mass demonstrations rapidly turned into riots and highly coordinated pockets of violent resistance, it also became increasingly clear that contrary to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s, and US government denials, the unrest had indeed been actively fomented by agencies acting on behalf of American foreign policy agenda. The following extended extract is taken from an assiduously referenced investigative piece written by geopolitical researcher and writer Tony Cartalucci:

US policymakers have all but admitted that the US is funnelling millions of dollars into Hong Kong specifically to support “programs” there. The Hudson Institute in an article titled, “China Tries to Blame US for Hong Kong Protests,” would admit:

A Chinese state-run newspaper’s claim that the United States is helping pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong is only partially inaccurate, a top foreign policy expert said Monday. 

Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Fox News National Security Analyst KT McFarland the U.S. holds some influence over political matters in the region.

The article would then quote Pillsbury as saying:

We have a large consulate there that’s in charge of taking care of the Hong Kong Policy Act passed by Congress to insure democracy in Hong Kong, and we have also funded millions of dollars of programs through the National Endowment for Democracy [NED] … so in that sense the Chinese accusation is not totally false.

A visit to the NED’s website reveals an entire section of declared funding for Hong Kong specifically. The wording for program titles and their descriptions is intentionally ambiguous to give those like US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plausible deniability.

However, deeper research reveals NED recipients are literally leading the protests.

The South China Morning Post in its article, “Hong Kong protests: heavy jail sentences for rioting will not solve city’s political crisis, former Civil Human Rights Front convenor says,” would report:

Johnson Yeung Ching-yin, from the Civil Human Rights Front, was among 49 people arrested during Sunday’s protest – deemed illegal as it had not received police approval – in Central and Western district on Hong Kong Island.

The article would omit mention of Johnson Yeung Ching-yin’s status as an NED fellow. His profile is – at the time of this writing – still accessible on the NED’s official website, and the supposed NGO he works for in turn works hand-in-hand with US and UK-based fronts involved in supporting Hong Kong’s current unrest and a much wider anti-Beijing political agenda.

Johnson Yeung Ching-yin also co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post with Joshua Wong titled, “As you read this, Hong Kong has locked one of us away.”

Wong has travelled to Washington DC multiple times, including to receive “honors” from NED-subsidiary Freedom House for his role in leading unrest in 2014 and to meet with serial regime-change advocate Senator Marco Rubio.

It should also be noted that the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum also sits on the NED board of directors.

This evidence, along with extensively documented ties between the United States government and other prominent leaders of the Hong Kong unrest reveals US denial of involvement in Hong Kong as yet another wilful lie told upon the international stage – a lie told even as the remnants of other victims of US interference and intervention smolder in the background.

The direct ties and extreme conflicts of interest found under virtually every rock overturned when critically examining the leadership of Hong Kong’s ongoing unrest all lead to Washington. They also once again reveal the Western media as involved in a coordinated campaign of disinformation – where proper investigative journalism is purposefully side-stepped and narratives shamelessly spun instead to frame Hong Kong’s ongoing conflict in whatever light best suits US interests.

What’s worse is big-tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google purging thousands of accounts attempting to reveal the truth behind Hong Kong’s unrest and the true nature of those leading it. If this is the level of lying, censorship, and authoritarianism Washington is willing to resort to in order for Hong Kong’s opposition to succeed, it begs one to wonder what this so-called opposition is even fighting for. Certainly not “democracy” or “freedom.” 3

Click here to read Tony Cartalucci’s full article.

Here to read a follow up piece in which Cartalucci explains how Twitter “not only has taken no action to expose and stop US interference in Hong Kong, but is actively aiding and abetting it” by “target[ing] accounts within China itself to disrupt any effort to expose and confront this US-backed unrest unfolding in Hong Kong.”

And here to read an earlier post which provides further background to the current uprising in Hong Kong.

Note that: on Wednesday 23rd, HK’s security chief John Lee announced that the bill that had triggered the initial demonstrations by allowing for the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China – legislation that protesters feared Beijing may use to target dissidents – was officially withdrawn. In response, several opposition lawmakers tried to heckle Lee’s speech, demanding his resignation:

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Haiti

Mass demonstrations demanding the resignation of the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, began in July 2018 following disclosure of the embezzlement of $2 billion in Venezuelan oil loans when “former Presidents René Préval and Michel Martelly, declared states of emergency, allowing their respective prime ministers — Jean-Max Bellerive and Laurent Lamothe —to approve projects using PetroCaribe funds”:

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti had accumulated more than $396 million in debt to Venezuela, which the South American nation forgave. But in the last seven years, it has wracked up [sic] almost $2 billion in new debt as Martelly’s government ministers traveled the globe promoting a new image of a post-quake Haiti while reconstruction projects languished and tens of thousands continued to live in camps. As of October, more than 37,000 Haitians still lived in 27 camps, the International Organization for Migration said. 4

Click here to read the full report published in the Miami Herald.

Although it was the PetroCaribe scandal that sparked the initial unrest, there are many related concerns about government corruption that continue to fuel the protests:

But the anger isn’t just over squandered money. It’s also directed at Haitian politicians and their privileges in a country where two out of three people live on less than $2 a day and concerns are increasing over the potential for more social unrest.

During recent political mudslinging, the president of the Haitian Senate and an opposition senator accused each other of corruption. Sen. Ricard Pierre said Haiti’s cash-strapped government was paying $115,500 to rent a residence for the head of the body, Sen. Joseph Lambert. Lambert in turn accused Pierre of stealing the chamber’s generator.

Pierre denied the accusation. Lambert announced that the Senate would cancel the lease and curtail lawmakers’ privileges. The damage, however, was already done.

“They were not even ashamed,” K-Lib, 37, [whose real name is Valckensy Dessin] said, adding that it’s time for Haitians to stop accepting “corruption and impunity” as normal.

“After the last events that happened to Haiti, the Haitian population understands the necessity for them right now to take part in everything that is happening in the country,” he said. “What’s happening is a movement of massive collective consciousness.” 5

Click here to read the full report published in the Miami Herald.

On Valentine’s Day Al Jazeera reported the deaths of “at least” nine people and “dozens of others injured”. 6 The deaths received very little coverage in either the corporate or alternative media.

Here is a report uploaded by The Real News Network on October 22nd, featuring political economist Keston Perry, who says the Trump administration is propping up the Haitian regime:

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France

Many thousands of Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) anti-austerity protesters will once again peacefully take to the streets in Paris and other cities across France tomorrow for the fiftieth consecutive weekend.

Last weekend’s ‘Acte 49’ protests took place in Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon, Toulouse, Lille and Bordeaux and looked like this:

And like this – met by a very heavy-handed police response which includes the deployment of water-canon, flash grenades and tremendous quantities of teargas (some dropped from helicopters), while the corporate media generally ignores these protests altogether:

One of the first political commentators to understand the significance of the Gilets Jaunes movement was American author Diana Johnstone, who is based in Paris and wrote in early December:

Initial government responses showed that they weren’t listening. They dipped into their pool of clichés to denigrate something they didn’t want to bother to understand.

President Macron’s first reaction was to guilt-trip the protesters by invoking the globalists’ most powerful argument for imposing unpopular measures: global warming. Whatever small complaints people may have, he indicated, that is nothing compared to the future of the planet.

This did not impress people who, yes, have heard all about climate change and care as much as anyone for the environment, but who are obliged to retort: “I’m more worried about the end of the month than about the end of the world.”

After the second Yellow Vest Saturday, November 25, which saw more demonstrators and more tear gas, the Minister in charge of the budget, Gérard Darmanin, declared that what had demonstrated on the Champs-Elysée was “la peste brune”, the brown plague, meaning fascists. (For those who enjoy excoriating the French as racist, it should be noted that Darmanin is of Algerian working class origins). This remark caused an uproar of indignation that revealed just how great is public sympathy for the movement – over 70% approval by latest polls, even after uncontrolled vandalism. Macron’s Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, was obliged to declare that government communication had been badly managed. Of course, that is the familiar technocratic excuse: we are always right, but it is all a matter of our “communication”, not of the facts on the ground.

Maybe I have missed something, but of the many interviews I have listened to, I have not heard one word that would fall into the categories of “far right”, much less “fascism” – or even that indicated any particular preference in regard to political parties. These people are wholly concerned with concrete practical issues. Not a whiff of ideology – remarkable in Paris! 7

Click here to read Johnstone’s full article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron”.

And here to read my own assessment of the Gilets Jaunes movement from an article published on March 25th entitled “Gilets Jaunes, Avaaz, Macron & Facebook (or when grassroots ‘populism’ meets controlled opposition”.

It is difficult to find up-to-date figures of casualties for the full year of Gilets Jaunes protests but as of July, Spiked online magazine was reporting:

The gilets jaunes have been protesting in France – week in, week out – for over six months. They have had to run the gauntlet of tear gas, police batons and rubber bullets every weekend. And yet there has been barely any coverage of the police’s actions – let alone condemnation.

As of this week, the French police stand accused of causing 861 serious injuries to yellow-vest protesters: one woman has been killed, 314 have suffered head injuries, 24 have been permanently blinded, and five have had their hands blown off. Police have attacked disabled people and the elderly. 8

Click here to read the full report published by Spiked online.

On February 23rd, French lawyer and former gendarme, Georgia Pouliquen, produced and uploaded an impassioned video testifying to the brutal treatment meted out against Yellow Vest protestors by President Macron’s French government. In May, Pouliquen travelled to England for the first time in order to help spread the truth about Macron’s assault on the French people. The following upload begins with her original video and afterwards features an extended interview she gave to Brian Gerrish of UK Column News:

Update:

Images from Gilets Jaunes Acte 50 on Saturday Oct 26th:

On the same day, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Priscillia Ludosky, one of the founders of the Gilets Jaunes movement, on RT’s ‘Going Underground’. They discussed the French police’s use of flash-ball riot control guns against protesters, the massive amount of injuries recorded among the Gilets Jaunes protesters, as well as the European Commission’s role in permitting state repression:

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Ecuador

In common with the Gilets Jaunes protests in France, it was the raising of fuel prices that ultimately sparked the ongoing crisis in Ecuador, in this case following President Lenín Moreno’s announcement that his government was intending remove subsidies on petrol. However, the underlying reason for the protests traces back to just a few days earlier when on October 1st, Moreno was quick to capitulate to IMF demands for the imposition of severe austerity measures and a raft of neo-liberal conditionalities following the acceptance of a $4 million loan:

Protests began on October 3 when President Lenin Moreno cut petrol subsidies that had been in place in the country for 40 years. The cuts saw the price of diesel more than double and petrol increase by 30 percent, overnight.

The government also released a series of labour and tax reforms as part of its belt-tightening measures it was forced to undertake when it agreed to a $4.2bn loan with the IMF.

Some of the more controversial reforms include a 20 percent cut in wages for new contracts in public sector jobs, a requirement that public sector workers donate one day’s worth of wages to the government each month, and a decrease in vacation days from 30 to 15 days a year. 9

Click here to read the full report published by Al Jazeera.

At the height of the protests, Moreno decided to relocate his government to the coastal city of Guayaquil before sending armoured cars onto the streets of the capital Quito in desperate attempts to quell the disturbances:

Tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of people participated.

They were massively disruptive, and the government response was fierce. Security forces killed at least seven people, arrested about 1,000, and injured a similar number. Moreno had declared a “state of exception,” a curfew beginning at 8 pm, and yet still had to flee the capital—temporarily moving it from Quito to the port city of Guayaquil.

writes Mark Weisbrot in The Nation magazine, adding:

Amnesty International had demanded “an immediate end to the heavy-handed repression of demonstrations, including mass detentions, and…swift, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment.” The level of police repression shocked many in a country where security forces are not known for the use of excessive force.

The government also raided homes to arrest political allies of former president Rafael Correa, including Paola Pabón, the governor of the province where the capital, Quito, is located. This continues a disturbing crackdown, which has included trumped-up charges against Correa himself and a number of former officials and the abuse of pretrial detention to force them into exile. On Monday, the Mexican embassy in Quito offered protection to a number of pro-Correa political dissidents, including legislators. 10

Click here to read Mark Weisbrot’s full report entitled “Ecuador Reaches a Deal – but Unrest May Return” published in The Nation magazine.

In the midst of Moreno’s state of emergency crackdown on October 11th, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an official statement that begins:

“The United States supports President Moreno and the Government of Ecuador’s efforts to institutionalize democratic practices and implement needed economic reforms.” 11

On October 10th, The Real News Network spoke to representatives of two of the largest indigenous organizations CONAIE and CONFENAIE:

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Chile

Protest in Chile erupted a fortnight ago, again in response to unsustainable increases in the cost of living but also with charges of government corruption hovering in the background. In response last Friday [Oct 18th], President Sebastián Piñera announced a state of emergency, and began sending in troops to disperse the demonstrations. As in Ecuador, a curfew was soon put in place. CBS News has since confirmed “at least 18 dead and thousands arrested”:

Approximately 20,000 soldiers are patrolling the streets. Nearly 200 people have been injured, and some 5,000 have been arrested.

Human rights groups expressed concerns about how security forces have handled the protests after the government ordered a military curfew. It was the first such curfew — other than for natural disasters — imposed since Chile returned to democracy in 1990 following a bloody 17-year dictatorship.

“We’re worried,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press. “The images that we’ve received from credible sources, trustworthy sources, show that there has been an excess of force both by police as well as some soldiers.” 12

Click here to read yesterday’s full report published by CBS News.

Al Jazeera‘s Manuel Rapalo reported from Santiago on October 23rd:

And this is footage of protests that took place yesterday:

Update:

Scenes from Chile’s capital Santiago on Friday [Oct 25th] with police firing tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators:

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Catalonia

On October 6th, author, political activist and commentator Chris Bambery, published an extended piece that put into historical context the rise of the Catalan independence movement and the likelihood of heightened protests in the coming weeks. His piece begins:

Catalonia awaits the verdict in the trial at the Spanish Supreme Court of 12 political and civic leaders charged with ‘rebellion’ and ‘sedition’ for their part in the 1 October 2017 referendum on Catalan independence. That verdict will be delivered before 17 October, the judges say. Brace yourself for a wave of non-violent direct action in response across Catalonia.

Continuing:

In Catalonia hundreds of mayors and councillors face trial for crimes such as keeping council buildings open on Spanish holidays or not flying the Spanish flag on those days, while others face trial for ripping up pictures of the King.

However offensive or outrageous you find such things it is hard to imagine them reaching the courts in Germany, France, the UK or other Western European states. The UK is no paragon of liberty and its democracy is flawed but its handling of the Northern Ireland peace process stands out well in comparison to Spain’s dealings with ETA and the offer of peace. Why are things different in Spain? 13

Click here to read Chris Bambery’s full article.

A few days later the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and EuroMed Rights issued a joint report accusing Spain’s Supreme Court of “serious irregularities” in the trial of the Catalan independentists:

The two organizations alleged that judges didn’t do enough to ensure that lawyers could shed light on the alleged facts—for instance, when they prevented defense teams from contrasting the testimony of some witnesses with actual footage from the scenes they were describing.

Observers from the two organizations, who attended the Supreme Court hearings in person, said that prosecutors called witnesses whose testimonies offered “stereotypical” narratives and didn’t guarantee the right to defense. 14

Click here to read the full report in Catalan News.

In light of the Supreme Court verdict and the imprisonment of nine independentist leaders, protesters then took to the streets of Barcelona:

By late afternoon, thousands of protesters had answered a call from the Tsunami Democràtic movement designed to bring the airport to a standstill.

Thousands set off by car, train and metro. When police closed the station, even more made the three-and-a-half hour journey on foot. Several people were injured as police baton-charged protesters on the concourse of Terminal 1, the main international terminal. Foam bullets were reported to have been fired and video emerged of national and the regional Catalan police beating demonstrators and attacking journalists.

Thirteen people received medical attention and more than 60 flights were cancelled. 15

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

However, the real struggle for independence in Catalonia had already reached its crisis point two years ago on October 1st 2017 when, as eyewitness reporter Kevin Buckland testified:

[A]ll across Catalunya ballot boxes were ripped from people’s hands by masked police and a dangerous violence was unleashed, at random, upon some of the 2,262,424 people who stood in long lines to cast their vote. The repression dealt by the Spanish State to prohibit the Catalan Referendum, in every bloodied baton and ever rubber bullet, transformed the day from a question of independence to a question of democracy. People were voting for the right to vote. 16

Click here to read more from my October 4th post entitled “reflections on October 1st 2017: the day when tyranny returned to Catalonia”.

As a friend living in Barcelona reported on the eve of the Catalan elections just a few weeks later:

Things are rather complicated at the moment. We’ve had a “coup d’etat” by the Spanish state (government and lawcourts working together; no independent judiciary here), although of course from their point of view, it is the Catalan side that have staged one of those.

Whichever way, I don’t think the Catalan leaders deserve to be in custody (this could mean up to four years before trial), and even less go to prison for up to thirty years if found guilty (which they might well be). To me this means that anybody, not just them, can be put in prison for their political ideas, whether they’re peacefully demonstrating, or striking, or whatever. Anything can be judged as “sedition” these days.

Something else that has happened is that Catalan self-government, which is in fact older the Spanish constitution, has been suspended, and we may not get it back after the election. The Spanish government have made it clear that it all depends on whether the “wrong” side win or not. Rigging is definitely on the cards.

In the meantime, freedom of expression is being curtailed, sometimes in bizarre ways: for example, yellow lights in public fountains have been banned, because they evoke the yellow ribbons that independentists wear as a protest against the arrests. And school teachers who dared hold debates in class about the police violence on October 1st have been taken to court for it. What gets to me is that many people refuse to see how worrying these things are. I suppose normalizing it all is a survival strategy, since the alternative, i.e. being aware of what’s going on, makes one anxious and afraid.

Click here to read more of my original post “notes from Catalonia on the eve of tomorrow’s elections” published on December 20th, 2017.

But the struggle over Catalonian independence cannot be understood without considering the broader historical context including concessions made following the death of Franco in 1975 and Spain’s transition to democracy. As Chris Bambery explains:

The European Union is very proud of Spain’s Transition and held it up as a model, for instance in the former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe. That in part explains its silence on what Spain has done in Catalonia, even its moves to stop three Catalan prisoners and exiles being able to take their seats in the European Parliament after they were elected this year.

When Franco died in 1975 a mass movement of anti-fascist resistance had grown up, strongest in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Madrid. The May events of 1968 had set in motion a chain of events where the left seemed to be in the ascendant.

In ruling circles in Bonn, Paris, London and Washington there was concern that Franco’s death might unleash a mass movement moving in a revolutionary direction. Many on the revolutionary left confidently predicted that the regime could not be reformed but must be toppled.

In Portugal that is precisely what had happened.

Bambery concludes as follows:

It is very clear that the limits imposed on Spanish democracy during the Transition of the late 1970s need to be addressed. But that is something which is near impossible in the current atmosphere in Spain. A conviction for the Catalan 12 will only increase the alienation of that nation from the Spanish state. 17

Moreover, one of the side-effects of the 2008 financial crisis was that it opened up old wounds.

Back in October 2012, I reposted an article by journalist and pro-independentist Esther Vivas entitled “When will we see tanks in Barcelona”. She begins:

“Independent Catalonia? Over my dead body and those of many other soldiers”. It was with these words that on August 31, retired infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro referred to the possibility of an independent Catalonia.

Continuing with tremendous prescience:

The current crisis is not only an economic and social crisis, but really an unprecedented regime crisis that calls into question the state model that came out of the Transition, its “pacts of silence” and the very shaky democratic system that we have today.

In the middle of this mess, we must support all democratic demands that come up against the monarchical corset of the Transition, starting with the right of the Catalan people to decide its own future. Who is afraid of such a referendum in Catalonia? Those who are not willing to accept its result.

And concluding:

Infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro said that “the current situation resembles that of 1936”. That is quite a declaration of intent. Today, as then, our democracy, our rights and our future are threatened. What is at stake is important. When will we see tanks in the streets of Barcelona? It would not be the first time. But there is one thing I am sure of: the people will not remain silent.

Appended to Esther Vivas’ piece I added my own “words of caution” that begin:

The situation Esther Vivas describes is obviously a very troubling one and I fully appreciate that recent history makes the political situation in Spain more complex than in other luckier regions of our continent – Franco having died in 1975, and thus fascism in Spain lasting well within living memory. However, and in view of what is currently happening across Europe and the rest of the world, I feel it is important to also consider the issue of Catalan independence within a more global context.

The break-up of states into micro-states is a process that has long served as a means for maintaining imperialist control over colonised regions. This strategy is often called Balkanisation, although in general only by its opponents.

Click here to read to read all parts of the post entitled “on the struggle for an independent Catalonia”

In short, what is happening today in Catalonia is the almost inevitable consequence of multiple misguided actions by the Spanish state in its attempts to repress the independentist cause which has deep historical roots and was reignited by the austerity measures imposed during the 2008 debt crisis. The decision two years ago to crush a referendum on the spurious grounds that any vote on independence immediately violates the constitution and the draconian sentences issued to pro-independence leaders meant to quell support for the movement has instead emboldened opposition to Madrid and set in motion a potentially unstoppable revolt.

It is curious that some pro-independence sections of the Catalan protests have begun reaching out to pro-western Union Jack waving protesters in Hong Kong given how the colonial ties are in effect reversed, but the fact that tactics employed in Barcelona have copied those tried in HK does not mean the two movements share anything else in common. It is a mistake to confuse these movements.

Update:

Live feed of peaceful protests taking place on Saturday 26th in Barcelona calling for Catalan independence leaders to be freed:

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Final thoughts

There are mass demonstrations in two states that I have avoided discussing for quite different reasons: Palestine (specifically Gaza) and Lebanon.

In the case of Lebanon, where demonstrations began little more than a week ago, I am as yet disinclined to discuss the movement until I have a clearer understanding of its background and goals. Regarding Palestine, on the other hand, the case is absolutely open and shut and I have already posted many articles in support of the Palestinian struggle for recognition and full right to return to their land.

The Great March of Return protest that began in Gaza in March 2018 is the single longest running of all the uprisings in the world today. It is also the most dangerous and the most underreported. Dozens are wounded every single week and a great many of the victims are innocent bystanders and children, while our western governments remain impassive and the corporate media maintains an almost unbroken silence.

The Palestinian Center For Human Rights (PCHR) has documented 214 killings by Israel since the outbreak of the protests on 30 March 2018, including 46 children, 2 women, 9 persons with disabilities, 4 paramedics and 2 journalists. Additionally, 14,251 have been wounded, including 3,501 children, 380 women, 245 paramedics and 215 journalists – it also notes that many of those injured have sustained multiple injuries on separate occasions. 18

Today marks the 81st Friday of the mass demonstrations in Gaza. If we wish to hold up a standard against which all other popular uprisings might be gauged then it must surely be the Palestinian Great March of Return. If there is any flag to be waved today and any cause to stand firmly in solidarity with, it is for the freedom of the Palestinian people, and most especially those trapped within the open air prison of Gaza.

Update:

Palestinians gathered in the east of the blockaded Gaza Strip for the 80th consecutive Friday [Oct 25th] to demand the right of return to their ancestral homes. They also called for an end to the illegal Israeli blockade on the enclave, which according to the United Nations amounts to collective punishment:

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1 From an article entitled “Trojan Horses and Color Revolutions: The Role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)” written by William Blum, published in Global Research on August 7, 2017. https://www.globalresearch.ca/trojan-horses-and-color-revolutions-the-role-of-the-national-endowment-for-democracy-ned/5515234

2 From an article entitled “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

3 From an article entitled “US is Behind Hong Kong Protests Says US Policymaker” written by Tony Cartalucci, published in New Eastern Outlook on September 9, 2019. https://journal-neo.org/2019/09/09/us-is-behind-hong-kong-protests-says-us-policymaker/ 

4 From an article entitled “Haiti owes Venezuela $2 billion – and much of it was embezzeled, Senate report says” written by Jacqueline Charles, published in the Miami Herald on November 15, 2017. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article184740783.html

5 From an article entitled “’Where did the money go?’ Haitians denounce corruption in social media campaign” written by Jacqueline Charles, published in the Miami Herald on August 23, 2018. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article217110220.html

6 “Death toll rises in Haiti protest crackdown” published by Al Jazeera on February 14, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/death-toll-rises-haiti-protest-crackdown-190214174428945.html

7 From an article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron” written by Diana Johnstone, published in Consortium News on December 5, 2018. https://consortiumnews.com/2018/12/05/yellow-vests-rise-against-neo-liberal-king-macron/ 

8 From an article entitled “So now you care about France’s brutal treatment of protesters?” published by Spiked magazine on July 2, 2019. https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/07/02/so-now-you-care-about-frances-brutal-treatment-of-protesters/ 

9 From an article entitled “Ecuador unrest: What led to the mass protests?” written by Kimberley Brown, published in Al Jazeera on October 10, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/ecuador-unrest-led-mass-protests-191010193825529.html

10 From an article entitled “Ecuador Reaches a Deal – but Unrest May Return” written by Mark Weisbrot, published in The Nation magazine on October 16, 2019. https://www.thenation.com/article/ecuador-protests-imf/

11 https://www.state.gov/united-states-response-to-protests-in-ecuador/ 

12 From an article entitled “At least 18 dead and thousands arrested in Chile protests” published by CBS News on October 24, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/chile-news-santiago-at-least-18-dead-and-thousands-arrested-in-chile-protests-2019-10-24/ 

13 From an article entitled “Flawed transition: why the Spanish state is repressing the Catalan independence movement” written by Chris Bambery, published in Counterfire on October 6, 2019. https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/20589-flawed-transition-why-the-spanish-state-is-repressing-the-catalan-independence-movement

14 From a report entitled “Human rights groups denounce ‘serious irregularities’ in Catalan trial” published by Catalan News on October 9, 2019. https://www.catalannews.com/catalan-trial/item/human-rights-groups-denounce-serious-irregularities-in-catalan-trial

15 From an article entitled “Violent clashes over Catalan separatist leaders’ prison terms” written by Sam Jones and Stephen Burgen, published in the Guardian on October 14, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/14/catalan-separatist-leaders-given-lengthy-prison-sentences

16 From an article entitled “Disobeying Spain: the Catalan Referendum for Independence” written by Kevin Buckland, published in Counterpunch on October 3, 2017. https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/03/disobeying-spain-the-catalan-referendum-for-independence/ 

17 From an article entitled “Flawed transition: why the Spanish state is repressing the Catalan independence movement” written by Chris Bambery, published in Counterfire on October 6, 2019. https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/20589-flawed-transition-why-the-spanish-state-is-repressing-the-catalan-independence-movement

18 https://pchrgaza.org/en/?p=13019

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Chile, China, Ecuador, Esther Vivas, France, Haiti, Palestine, Ukraine, Venezuela

on the show trial of Julian Assange — Craig Murray, John Pilger and Chris Williamson speak out

The following post is based around a piece written by former UK ambassador Craig Murray that he published on Tuesday 22nd. It is interspersed with interviews of investigative journalist John Pilger and Chris Williamson MP that were featured on Wednesday’s episode of RT’s ‘Going Underground’.

I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.

Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and sceptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.

The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.

The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.

The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.

Furthermore, the defence argued, they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defence against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in the USA since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. Incidentally I learnt on Sunday that the Spanish material produced in court, which had been commissioned by the CIA, specifically includes high resolution video coverage of Julian and I discussing various matters.

The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the US authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in the United States. Julian’s team explained that the Spanish legal process was happening now and the evidence from it would be extremely important, but it might not be finished and thus the evidence not fully validated and available in time for the current proposed timetable for the Assange extradition hearings.

For the prosecution, James Lewis QC stated that the government strongly opposed any delay being given for the defence to prepare, and strongly opposed any separate consideration of the question of whether the charge was a political offence excluded by the extradition treaty. Baraitser took her cue from Lewis and stated categorically that the date for the extradition hearing, 25 February, could not be changed. She was open to changes in dates for submission of evidence and responses before this, and called a ten minute recess for the prosecution and defence to agree these steps.

What happened next was very instructive. There were five representatives of the US government present (initially three, and two more arrived in the course of the hearing), seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into huddle with the US representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates.

After the recess the defence team stated they could not, in their professional opinion, adequately prepare if the hearing date were kept to February, but within Baraitser’s instruction to do so they nevertheless outlined a proposed timetable on delivery of evidence. In responding to this, Lewis’ junior counsel scurried to the back of the court to consult the Americans again while Lewis actually told the judge he was “taking instructions from those behind”. It is important to note that as he said this, it was not the UK Attorney-General’s office who were being consulted but the US Embassy. Lewis received his American instructions and agreed that the defence might have two months to prepare their evidence (they had said they needed an absolute minimum of three) but the February hearing date may not be moved. Baraitser gave a ruling agreeing everything Lewis had said.

At this stage it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The US government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defence. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defence ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm.

The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Washington dictated timetable. Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defence, what makes the February date so important to the USA? I would welcome any thoughts.

Baraitser dismissed the defence’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, without bothering to give any reason why (possibly she had not properly memorised what Lewis had been instructing her to agree with). Yet this is Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007 in full:

On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offence – if this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.

Just in case anybody was left in any doubt as to what was happening here, Lewis then stood up and suggested that the defence should not be allowed to waste the court’s time with a lot of arguments. All arguments for the substantive hearing should be given in writing in advance and a “guillotine should be applied” (his exact words) to arguments and witnesses in court, perhaps of five hours for the defence. The defence had suggested they would need more than the scheduled five days to present their case. Lewis countered that the entire hearing should be over in two days. Baraitser said this was not procedurally the correct moment to agree this but she will consider it once she had received the evidence bundles.

(SPOILER: Baraitser is going to do as Lewis instructs and cut the substantive hearing short).

Baraitser then capped it all by saying the February hearing will be held, not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading. I will probably be unable to get in to the substantive hearing at Belmarsh.

Plainly the authorities were disconcerted by the hundreds of good people who had turned up to support Julian. They hope that far fewer will get to the much less accessible Belmarsh. I am fairly certain (and recall I had a long career as a diplomat) that the two extra American government officials who arrived halfway through proceedings were armed security personnel, brought in because of alarm at the number of protestors around a hearing in which were present senior US officials. The move to Belmarsh may be an American initiative.

Assange’s defence team objected strenuously to the move to Belmarsh, in particular on the grounds that there are no conference rooms available there to consult their client and they have very inadequate access to him in the jail. Baraitser dismissed their objection offhand and with a very definite smirk.

Finally, Baraitser turned to Julian and ordered him to stand, and asked him if he had understood the proceedings. He replied in the negative, said that he could not think, and gave every appearance of disorientation. Then he seemed to find an inner strength, drew himself up a little, and said:

I do not understand how this process is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t even access my writings. It is very difficult, where I am, to do anything. These people have unlimited resources.

The effort then seemed to become too much, his voice dropped and he became increasingly confused and incoherent. He spoke of whistleblowers and publishers being labeled enemies of the people, then spoke about his children’s DNA being stolen and of being spied on in his meetings with his psychologist. I am not suggesting at all that Julian was wrong about these points, but he could not properly frame nor articulate them. He was plainly not himself, very ill and it was just horribly painful to watch. Baraitser showed neither sympathy nor the least concern. She tartly observed that if he could not understand what had happened, his lawyers could explain it to him, and she swept out of court.

The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did.

In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.

I have been both cataloguing and protesting for years the increasingly authoritarian powers of the UK state, but that the most gross abuse could be so open and undisguised is still a shock. The campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society.

Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?

UPDATE I have received scores of requests to republish and/or translate this article. It is absolutely free to use and reproduce and I should be delighted if everybody does; the world should know what is being done to Julian. So far, over 200,000 people have read it on this blogsite alone and it has already been reproduced on myriad other sites, some with much bigger readerships than my own. I have seen translations into German, Spanish and French and at least extracts in Catalan and Turkish. I only ask that you reproduce it complete or, if edits are made, plainly indicate them. Many thanks.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s piece on his official website.

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Update:

On Saturday 26th, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters on RT’s Going Underground about Julian Assange’s latest extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court and why it makes him ashamed to be English. They also discussed the mass protests in Chile against the neoliberal US-backed President Sebastián Piñera and how the military crackdown is reminiscent of the Pinochet era:

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Filed under Britain, Craig Murray, John Pilger, police state, Spain

the united colours of Bilderberg — a late review of Montreux 2019: #1 status quo warriors

This is the first of a sequence of articles based around the ‘key topics’ to this year’s Bilderberg conference discussed in relation to the prevailing political agenda and placed within the immediate historical context.

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Smoke on the water

We all came out to Montreux, on the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile, we didn’t have much time

— Deep Purple 1

Is it any exaggeration to say that western civilization is in the midst of an existential crisis? No longer tethered by the old sturdy belief in post-Enlightenment progress, at best we seem to be drifting aimlessly, and at worst, lost at sea and beginning to take on water.

Amongst the young especially, a common view has developed that we are living through a uniquely historical moment. The quickening sense that unless the current socioeconomic course can be abruptly diverted, not just the human species, but the biosphere as a whole, will be dashed to pieces as together we plunge into a vortex of our own making. Some prospect of an environmental catastrophe on a truly planetary scale is now top of many people’s concerns, and understandably therefore, a commensurately international environmental resistance movement has been actuated. A few are even asking whether we need a global dictatorship to solve the environmental problems of the twenty-first century. Of course, we should always careful what we wish for!

The gross flaws inherent in our prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy present us with a still more immediate and thus more daunting threat. Vast disparities of wealth and income have been rupturing our societies as the impact of perpetual “austerity” impoverishes millions and spreads untold misery. Inequalities that have lain partially dormant during the decade since the last crash are now beginning to feed an upcoming breed of far-right demagogues and more overt fascists. But the political centre cannot hold for a reason: by adopting right-wing economic policies, it too became virulently extreme. In fact, the measures that brought us to a crisis point remain wholly endorsed by today’s extreme “centrists” perhaps best exemplified by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Finally, a less spoken-of, if occasionally numbing dread, is felt somewhere in the back of all our minds, as Nato powers drag the world unsteadily into the era of a new Cold War and we once again glimpse the unfathomable absurdity of nuclear obliteration. Oddly, this time around, the unspeakable apparitions of apocalyptic doom seen glinting occasionally across Mike Pompeo’s sociopathic gaze, or else blurted spasmodically in the nocturnal delirium of Trump’s presidency-by-Twitter, seldom shock us because we have all but forgotten how to be more seriously afraid. Our conscious minds are so thoroughly distracted whether by the material consumerism of our nonstop Black Friday (in societies that know nothing about thanksgiving) or the more ethereal dopamine rewards of social media, whilst abandoned and denied, yet still lurking unconscious, is a kind of clammy white vertigo of impossible horrors.

On September 28th, Chris Hedges spoke on his RT show “On Contact” with fellow journalist Stephen Kinzer about efforts by Riyadh and Washington to cripple Iran’s economy, inevitably putting Saudi Arabia, its Gulf allies and Washington on a collision course with the Islamic republic that could end in war:

When Bush and Blair were about to deliver their “shock and awe” bloodbath to capture the non-existent weapons of mass destruction operated by Saddam, in London alone two million gathered on the streets to shout truth to power. The antiwar message was loud and clear. How many will gather with placards if Trump and Johnson now decide to send our forces to bring down Iran? The marginalisation of the antiwar movement very much in the midst of the 21st Century’s war without end, with its frontline stretching through the Middle East, Central Asia and more insidiously spreading across Africa, is another disturbing trend.

For these and other reasons, the call for sweeping changes is on the rise in many quarters, and who can deny that western civilisation is in need of swift and sweeping transformation? The old capitalist system is dying, and the elites, the establishment, the globalists (alternative labels for the class of oligarchs who carelessly own and exploit more than half the planet and its “resources”) understand this better than anyone. After all, potentially at least, they stand to lose most in its demise. As the Guardian’s token Bilderberg correspondent Charlie Skelton observed sardonically reporting from this year’s conference in Montreux:

A crisis is looming for Bilderberg, and not merely because of the rise in anti-globalization movements and a creeping loss of faith in the EU project. It’s a crisis of leadership. With the Brexit, Frexit, Grexit and even Polexit dominoes threatening to fall, Bilderberg needs to gird its loins for the long haul if it wants the transatlantic alliance to thrive and its beloved EU to survive. But who’s going to be doing the girding?

The problem Bilderberg faces is a loss of quality, of intellectual backbone. With David Rockefeller tucked away since 2017 in his cryogenic pod, and Henry Kissinger knocking on hell’s door, you realize that Bilderberg is facing a generational crisis. You might not like or admire Henry Kissinger, you might want him strung up for war crimes, but you have to admit he’s a heavyweight statesman and historian. He’s a psychopath with vision. Where will Bilderberg find the serious ideologues to lead them into the 2020s? 2

Click here to read Skelton’s full article published by Newsweek.

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Non-violent totalitari­anism

“By means of ever more effective methods of mind-manip­ulation, the democracies will change their nature; the quaint old forms— elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts and all the rest—will remain. The underlying substance will be a new kind of non-violent totalitari­anism. All the traditional names, all the hallowed slo­gans will remain exactly what they were in the good old days. Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial—but democracy and free­dom in a strictly Pickwickian sense. Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of sol­diers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit.” — Aldous Huxley 3

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Born in Boston in 1910, Carroll Quigley read history at Harvard University, afterwards going on to teach history, first at Princeton, before returning to Harvard to lecture in Government, History and Politics. Later again, he moved to Georgetown University, where he became one of its most eminent professors. 4 But there were also other strings to Quigley’s prodigious bow.

Quigley had worked for the House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration. He became a consultant for the Navy, advising on the development of weapons systems. He had even advised the Smithsonian Institution on the layout of their Museum of Science and Technology.

An exceptional polymath, Quigley was respected and influential. Bill Clinton famously singled him out for special mention during his acceptance speech to the 1992 Democratic National Convention, saying:

“As a teenager, I heard John Kennedy’s summons to citizenship. And then, as a student at Georgetown, I heard that call clarified by a professor named Carroll Quigley, who said to us that America was the greatest Nation in history because our people had always believed in two things – that tomorrow can be better than today and that every one of us has a personal moral responsibility to make it so.” 5

In 1966, Quigley wrote a remarkable if little known book. Entitled Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in our Time, it recounts the central role played by Cecil Rhodes, English imperialist and founder of the De Beers diamond company (which had at the time a virtual monopoly in the diamond mining industry) and the societies and associations established by Rhodes – the so-called Round Table Groups – extending influence and bringing to fruition his and others’ ambitions for expanding the British Empire. 6

“The Round Table Groups”, Quigley explains, “were semi-secret discussion and lobbying groups whose original purpose was to federate the English-speaking world along lines laid down by Cecil Rhodes.” 7 To what political ends? Quigley is quite clear: irrespective of what the John Birch Society afterwards claimed, this was very far from a communist plot:

“…there is no evidence of which I am aware of any explicit plot or conspiracy to direct American policy in a direction favorable either to the Soviet Union or to international Communism.” 8 In fact, Quigley unequivocally dismisses all theories of a communist conspiracy as a “Radical Right fairytale”; before he goes on to make his more important and eye-opening assertion:

“There does exist, and has existed for a generation, an international Anglophile network which operates, to some extent, in the way the radical Right believes the Communists act. In fact, this network, which we may identify as the Round Table Groups, has no aversion to cooperating with the Communists, or any other groups, and frequently does so. I know of the operations of this network because I have studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960’s, to examine its papers and secret records. I have no aversion to it or to most of its aims and have, for much of my life, been close to it and to many of its instruments. I have objected, both in the past and recently, to a few of its policies (notably to its belief that England was an Atlantic rather than a European Power and must be allied, or even federated, with the United States and must remain isolated from Europe), but in general my chief difference of opinion is that it wishes to remain unknown, and I believe its role in history is significant enough to be known.” 9

The part of this network which Quigley says he had the greatest access to was the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Founded in 1921, as “a nonpartisan and independent membership organization”, Quigley tells us that it was actually set up as “a front for J.P. Morgan and Company in association with then very small American Round Table Group”, and that by 1928, “the Council on Foreign Relations was dominated by the associates of the Morgan bank.” 10 Indeed, Quigley later informs us that funds for all these Round Table activities came primarily from Cecil Rhodes himself, alongside J.P. Morgan, the Rockefeller and Whitney families and associates of bankers Lazard Brothers and Morgan, Grenfell and Company. Apparently their design was to be a grand one:

“The powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent private meetings and conferences. The apex of the system was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basle, Switzerland 11, a private bank owned and controlled by the world’s central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world.” 12

A world controlled by international banking interests – who would have thought so? A world of “cooperative politicians” coerced to do their bidding by offers of “subsequent economic rewards in the business world” – oh, come on now… is there even a shred of evidence?

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Bilderberg is a key part of an extensive network of loosely affiliated private groups, institutes, ‘think tanks’ and other organisations that include, in descending order of secrecy, the Trilateral Commission, the US Council on Foreign Relations, its UK cousin the Royal Institute of International Affairs (better known as Chatham House), and not forgetting the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Bilderberg is arguably the most prestigious and is certainly the most “private” of all these.

It is the place (so far as we know) where our own class of oligarchs, those we might usefully distinguish as Atlanticists (plutocrats in the Anglo-American sphere and those who serve them), meet annually to discuss business and to make arrangements with their political go-betweens. This is all done in strict adherence to Chatham House Rules which means we can never know for sure who said what to whom, and thus importantly, who was receiving instructions and who was giving them. We do however know that Bilderberg isn’t managed according to egalitarian principles, and no great leap of imagination is needed to recognise the entrenched internal hierarchy with its top-down steering committee to decide the agenda, topped again – we learn this year – by a managerial board: in effect this is Bilderberg Inc. Quelle surprise.

There are many reasons why Bilderberg operates in darkness, but the semi-official one is that the delegates hide out to avoid the prying gaze of public attention, i.e., they don’t want to have the likes of us looking over their shoulders when they are in the process of trying to run things. In fact this repeated assertion is hardly worthy of doubting.  That ‘the great and the good’ of Bilderberg are the best and most worthy leaders is perfectly self-evident – how else did they rise to such prominence if not because of their exceptional calibre? It follows as a matter of course that they eschew, as they see it, the incompetent meddling of the public.

Its (reliably incomplete) list of participants also provides insight into Bilderberg’s political leanings and this year was interesting not just for inviting representatives from both sides of the mainstream political aisle (the usual practice in fact), but with the more surprising appearance of a representative for the Greens: the attendance of Dutch MP Kathalijne Buitenweg was indeed a novelty.

I have highlighted this bringing into the fold of a Green MP because it is revealing. Not only should it challenge a widely held opinion that the greens are inherently anti-establishment, but it also shines light on the peculiar nature of Bilderberg, which aims always to cover all available political bases, and thus perennially invites a mix of individuals feigning to be conservatives and progressives when Bilderberg is by its peculiar nature neither conservative nor progressive, but a phoney amalgam – so we need another word: I tentatively propose “congressive”.

I need to expand on this point a little. Bilderberg is not strictly conservative due to its efforts to keep ahead of the curve, proactively (a horrible word too, but an equally appropriate one) guiding and railroading future advancements under its broad remit to concentrate and centralise existing power. It is this forward-looking, and in some respects pioneering outlook – which is seldom if ever progressive in any recognisably leftist sense – that helps to preserve the status quo; a feature of Bilderberg that is readily apparent once we consider their annual agenda, and especially this year’s list of ‘key topics’. Here’s my own schematically enhanced version:

Notice first how many of the listed items completely transcend the everyday concerns of the industrialists, defence contractors, financiers and bankers, heads of intelligence, and military top brass who make up its main contingent.

Why are they even discussing “the ethics of artificial intelligence” or “the importance of space”? In fact, in both cases another cursory glance down the list of participants elucidates one of the likely reasons…

That’s Matthew Daniels, Technical Director for Machine Learning and AI Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering at US Department of Defense having a good old natter with Patrice Caine, Chairman and CEO of Thales Group, the French multinational that designs and builds electrical systems and provides services for aerospace, defence and security.

And here’s Admiral (Ret) James Ellis, former Commander of US Strategic Command and current Director of Lockheed Martin leading the way for Jānis Sārts, the Director of NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. Can you feel the breeze from those revolving doors?

And there is a second reason to welcome the Greens into the Bilderberg fold. It is arguably the most brilliant ruse of the ruling class: the ability to maintain the illusion of electoral free choice. A ploy I first understood during a spell I spent in retailing: that expanding product lines reliably boosts overall sales and turnover. The same is true when it comes to political choice: by giving the impression of a greater variety of political alternatives, public interest is maintained and electoral turnout is bolstered, all of which serves to maintain the semblance of democracy.

But it is a difficult process, of course, to manufacture political alternatives out of whole cloth. Successful newcomers such as Macron’s neoliberal relaunch under the Vichyesque banner of En Marche! tend to be the exceptions – incidentally, Macron attended Bilderberg in 2014 and became President of France in 2017 (one of many Bilderberg success stories!).

Other comparative newcomers include the quick-to-sell-out Syriza coalition in Greece; Spain’s more honourable leftist alternative Podemos; and its Machiavellian centre-right adversary Ciudadanos (Citizens), whose leader Inés Arrimadas joined President of mainstream conservatives Partido Popular, Pablo Casado, at this year’s Bilderberg conference.

Italy’s noxious, if more enigmatic, Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement); and Nigel Farage’s opportunistic Brexit Party are also notable exceptions to the rule. And of all these new political players, Ciudadanos and En Marche! are unusual in that they receive annual invitations to Bilderberg. 13

Contrast these few successes with the more typical death spiral perhaps best epitomised by already defunct wannabe centrists Change UK and it becomes clear how prefabricated parties only seldom succeed. Instead, the promotion of special interests is more reliably achieved through the capture of established political parties, as well as the infiltration of grassroots movements.

In Britain for instance, takeover of the Labour Party was negotiated by Peter Mandelson (a Bilderberg grandee), its rebranding achieved under Neil Kinnock’s leadership, and the hijacking thereafter concluded under Blair (another Bilderberg attendee). Corbyn’s attempt to undo this process is hampered at every step by the same Blairites who having seized control of the party machinery, remain ensconced at all levels beyond the rank and file of ordinary membership. Here is Labour peer, Lord Adonis, the consummate Blairite, speaking live on an LBC radio phone-in last September, encouraging the British public not to vote Labour:

And here is Lord Adonis enjoying his minibreak in Montreux:

Outstanding amongst this year’s crop of nominally leftist progressives is Stacey Abrams, a former member of the Council on Foreign Relations, who as then (at the time of Bilderberg) was being touted to run as a Democrat presidential candidate in 2020. 14 Mary Kay Henry, the International President of Service Employees International Union, was another other of this year’s cohort who must account for her glaring conflict of interests, about which she instead prefers to remain tight-lipped [from 15:15 mins]:

So where is this leading? Democracy is always a moveable term. On the one hand it has become more or less synonymous with mere electoral procedure, and on the other, it is held up as a shining western standard, especially so when it comes to imposing American-led versions of it throughout the world. American democracy – well, that’s one word in case you didn’t know!

Trojan Liberty by Anthony Freda

Thus democracy as we authorise it, can also be gauged negatively. Any government acting against the interests of western – specifically US foreign policy – will be singled out and rebranded “a regime” irrespective of the transparency and rigour of its electoral procedures. These days the West alone is sanctioned to decide on who is and isn’t “a dictator”. Yet even when we judge in accordance with its own definition of the word, the United States provides military assistance to more than 70% of the world’s dictatorships – what better measure of double standards and flagrant hypocrisy?

Empire of Chaos – Liberty Bomb by Anthony Freda

In short, whether the determination of democracy is applied to foreign or domestic governments there is never recourse to the neat definition proffered in the Gettysburg Address: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Why? Because set against this measureable benchmark of popular sovereignty, there never has been true democracy, whether in America or elsewhere. No government has ever served the common interests of the people. As French democratic socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon reminded us in a recent interview:

“[T]he French Socialist Jean Jaurès once said, the only question posed in politics is that of the people’s sovereignty. All the rest depends of that, including the question of the distribution of wealth, for this is a matter of reasserting democracy.” 15

Indeed, if we are to take Lincoln’s words seriously and judge historically, there have only ever been better or worse regimes that asymptotically approach or recede from his laudable ideal of true democracy.

Bilderberg is a thoroughly anti-democratic entity, of course, whose operation seeks to gnaw away at structures and institutions that serve true democratic interests. It ought to go entirely without saying that Bilderberg doesn’t gather in tight secrecy to serve the public good, so why am I saying it again? Because the media owners, newspaper editors and other senior staff, whose crucial role ought to hold corporations, institutions and politicians to democratic account, have been instead lodged inside Bilderberg for decades and have chosen to function as its willing agents.

Perhaps the most lurid example of the cronyism at this year’s meeting was the surprise appearance (to some) of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kushner’s appointment to Trump’s cabinet is an instant measure of how undemocratic US politics has become:

Today the tide of democracy is receding again and as it recedes so too do our individual freedoms. Restrictions on free speech and free assembly were first tightened by the terrorism bills introduced after 9/11, but the chilling effect of total surveillance is more insidious, as is the clampdown on alternative voices by virtue of deplatforming, shadow bans, and algorithmic discrimination, all of which is carried out by the tech giants who dominate proceedings at Bilderberg.

James Corbett on how tech giants like Google envision the search engine of the future:

The steady militarisation of policing provides a further means for quelling popular resistance, as evidenced by the brutal suppression of the French Gilets Jaunes movement (read more here).

Free Speech Zone by Anthony Freda

At another level, all democracies are highly vulnerable to infiltration within existing parties and through the hollowing out of extant political institutions; a process nearing its completion in America and ongoing throughout Western Europe. In all instances, of course, our political systems have managed to retain the outward appearance of democracies. In other ways too, they satisfy the democratic duck test: first and foremost, they still quack like democracies, and are belligerent in quacking that this is the only way to be a democracy. Meanwhile, the power to take decisions that is ostensibly placed in the hands of our elected representatives, shifts incrementally to the technocrats – the appointed experts. This is the preferred end game for the bigwigs at Bilderberg.

In the interim, and faced with a genuine crisis at least in terms of western confidence, Bilderberg, which exists and operates solely to promote the interests of established structures of privilege and power, is now hunkered down to such a degree that it has very nearly disappeared from sight again. For their part, the media, which is reliably obedient to the same insider interests, have purposefully let it disappear.

Image based on a work by Anthony Freda called Presstitute

This year’s location was announced at the eleventh hour thanks to the charade of their annual “press release”: a nod to transparency since they already know the press has no interest whatsoever in reading and reporting on it. And top of this year’s ‘key topics’ (attached to the same press release) was how a system that serves their own plutocratic agenda can survive, or, put in the language of Bilderberg, how to maintain “a stable strategic order”. When it comes to confessing their priorities, could they be any more frank with us?

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1 Opening lyrics to the famous track “Smoke on the water”. The inspiration for the song was a fire inside a casino that the band had witnessed across the water of Lake Geneva. Here ‘mobile’ actually refers to a type of recording studio although given today’s context seems to fittingly allude to more contemporary methods of audiovisual recording.

2 From an article entitled “Silicon Valley in Switzerland: Bilderberg 2019 and the High-Tech Future of Transatlantic Power” written by Charlie Skelton published in Newsweek on June 1, 2019. https://www.newsweek.com/silicon-valley-switzerland-bilderberg-2019-and-high-tech-future-transatlantic-1441259

3 Quote taken from Brave New World Revisited (1958), Chapter 3, by Aldous Huxley.

4 Georgetown University awarded Quigley its Vicennial Medal in 1961 and also the 175th Anniversary Medal of Merit in 1964.

5 http://www.4president.org/speeches/billclinton1992acceptance.htm

6

“In 1891, Rhodes organized a secret society with members in a “Circle of Initiates” and an outer circle known as the “Association of Helpers” later organized as the Round Table organization… In 1909-1913, they organized semi-secret groups know as Round Table Groups in the chief British dependencies and the United States. In 1919, they founded the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Similar Institutes of International Affairs were established in the chief British dominions and the United States where it is known as the Council on Foreign Relations. After 1925, the Institute of Pacific Relations was set up in twelve Pacific area countries.”

Extract taken from Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in our Time written by Carroll Quigley, The Macmillan Company, 1966, pp131-2.

7 ibid. p. 950

8 ibid. p. 946

9 ibid. p..950

10 ibid. p. 952

11 “The Bank for International Settlements was established in 1930. It is the world’s oldest international financial institution and remains the principal centre for international central bank cooperation.” taken from current BIS website.

12 ibid. p. 324

13 In 2018 (Turin) then-President of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera Díaz, (ESP) joined Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Sáenz de Santamaría, Soraya of Partido Popular. Rivera Díaz also attended in 2017 (Chantilly) this time alongside then-Minister of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness, Luis de Guindos (Partido Popular), soon after appointed Vice President of the European Central Bank. In 2016 (Dresden), Bilderberg welcomed Luis Garicano, Professor of Economics, LSE and Senior Advisor to Ciudadanos.

14

Stacey Abrams announced on Tuesday that she would not run for Senate in 2020, denying Democrats their favored recruit for the race in Georgia. She did not say if she planned to run for president, which she has also been considering doing.

From an article entitled “Stacy Abrams Will Not Run for Senate in 2020, written by Alexander Burns, published in The New York Times on April 30, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/30/us/politics/stacey-abrams-2020.html

15 From an interview with Jean-Luc Mélenchon conducted by David Broder for The Tribune, published under the title: “Everyone should know – I am very dangerous”. [I am currently unable to find an upload of this piece]

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colour revolution comes to Hong Kong

Watch the video here.

The Hong Kong protests represent a major challenge not only to the authorities of Hong Kong itself, but also to Beijing, due to both their protracted nature and a high level of organization resembling the Kiev Maidan of 2013/14.

The Hong Kong rioters have gone so far as to produce and disseminate a veritable urban warfare manual describing in detail the division of labor between the close-combat fighters, ranged-weapon fighters, as well as various support roles. Their “Plan A” appears to be, as cynical as this may sound, to provoke bloodshed by inducing local law enforcement to use firearms against the rioters.

Thus far this has not come to pass. On the one hand, Hong Kong police has displayed considerable self-restraint, and their rules of engagement seem to favor withdrawal and disengagement when faced with superior numbers of rioters. On the other hand, irrespective of the will of the riot planners, the actual rioters have, again thus far, displayed healthy self-preservation instincts. In the few cases where firearms were brandished by Hong Kong police, usually in cases of police officers finding themselves surrounded by the raging mob, the sight of weapons proved enough to compel the rioters to withdraw. That by itself, however, will not solve the problem of riots because there also seems to be a “Plan B.” Whereas, for example, the Kiev Maidan was largely confined to the Maidan Square itself, the geography of Hong Kong riots is much more extensive and unpredictable. Hong Kong rioters have not shrunk from attacking strategic infrastructure, including the now-infamous occupation of the Hong-Kong International Airport that caused massive air traffic disruptions.

Likewise the violent riots in popular malls and tourist destinations all over the Hong Kong area have had the effect of depressing tourism and even prompting fears of a capital flight. While so far there are no indications of a lasting effect on the enclave’s economy, this is due to the still-lingering perception the unrest is a temporary phenomenon. Should it continue with present intensity, or, worse, escalate in terms of numbers of participants and methods used, there will be severe negative effects. For these reasons, China’s authorities cannot hope to win through a war of attrition, or expect that an escalation of violence will somehow cure this problem. There are genuine underlying problems in Hong Kong which have made themselves visible through these demonstrations.

What ails Hong Kong?

As with other “color revolutions”, the Hong Kong protests have tapped into a deep vein of discontent within the population. In this instance, rather than poverty or corruption or even the institutional design of Hong Kong’s government, the banal problem facing the average Hong Kong resident is the extremely high cost of living combined with the highly visible class divisions. Since this “special administrative region” of People’s Republic of China represents a major concentration of financial industries, it is also home to massive wealth which, alas, does not appear to be trickling down. While there is also considerable wealth inequality in China proper which is expanding its list of billionaires at a steady pace, the less well-off Chinese urban-dwellers have the option of migrating from city to city in search of better opportunities. But that option is not one the average inhabitant of Hong-Kong is likely to adopt. Moving to China proper would run counter to the strong local Hong Kong identity, and moreover represent a move to a considerably less wealthy part of the world. Thus while the average Chinese citizen is unlikely to exhibit much sympathy for the plight of the protesters from the special administrative area, Hong Kong residents do not evaluate their well-being in comparison with mainland China. For them, the only relevant reference is Hong Kong itself.

One should also note that the violent component of Hong Kong protests is disproportionately composed of young men in their late teens and twenties suggesting the influence of a generation gap and the breakdown in the intergenerational social contract. While Hong Kong, if it were a sovereign state, would have one of the world’s highest life expectancies, its population is rapidly aging due to the low birth rates of the past several decades. A large age cohort is nearing the retirement age, placing a significant financial burden on the considerably smaller younger generation.

Pining for Tiananmen

Further complicating matters for Beijing is Western powers’, and principally the US, interest in using Hong Kong as an instrument in the gradually escalating confrontation between East and West. The rioters’ awareness of their foreign audience was made plain by the displays of US flags as well as the flags associated with Hong Kong’s British colonial past. From the US perspective, crippling Hong Kong economically would inflict serious damage to China’s economy and also badly dent its political image.  Entirely unsurprisingly, Western governments and media wholeheartedly endorsed the protests while turning a blind eye on the increasing violence perpetrated by Hong Kong’s urban warriors who make no bones their aim is to provoke security forces to spill demonstrators’ blood. It is not difficult to predict what kind of Western reaction would follow: sanctions on Hong Kong officials, financial institutions, perhaps even on top Chinese leadership.

Update: For some reason Twitter censored this interview, however, it has also been uploaded on Youtube:

The media outcry would be so large that countries thus far unwilling to jump on the anti-Huawei bandwagon would find it difficult to maintain that position. It is evident the Trump administration is raring for a pretext to break as many ties between United States and China as possible, and also to force third countries, most notably the states of the European Union, to choose continued economic integration with United States or with China—but not both.  Furthermore, Hong Kong’s financial institutions have played an important role in furthering China’s economic objectives in the last several decades. In addition to playing a role of a major supplier of financial investments, they also  are China’s “invisible hand of the market”. While today China’s economy is far less dependent on Hong Kong, thanks to several “special economic zones” such as Shenzhen located only a short distance from Hong Kong itself, a major crisis in Hong Kong would reverberate throughout China.

Fortunately, there appears to exist a key difference between the Kiev Maidan and the Hong Kong protests, namely the absence of a wealthy oligarch or oligarchs pursuing a reactionary political agenda. None of the Hong Kong business elite have given any indications of supporting the rioters’ more radical agenda, nor is there evidence of their contacts with Western diplomats or intelligence services. It is doubtful such contacts would escape the attention of China’s counter-intelligence services, and China’s political leadership is unlikely to show the sort of timidity Ukraine’s President Yanukovych did in a similar situation, to his own chagrin.

One Country, One System?

The current “one country, two systems” paradigm unfortunately lies at the core of Hong Kong’s current troubles. The establishment of an economic enclave, with little labor mobility across this veritable intra-Chinese border, turned Hong Kong into a political pressure cooker. Its political autonomy in turn meant policies that favored the economic elite, causing the growth of wealth inequality which contributes to the high level of the local government’s unpopularity, to the point it has become a liability for Beijing itself. In the short term, Beijing will likely be forced to funnel considerable financial resources into Hong Kong to relieve the social pressures. In the longer term, however, a lasting solution will require not only a more close oversight of Hong Kong’s social policies, but also promotion of two-way migration between China proper and Hong Kong.

Note to readers: please click the share buttons above or below. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.

Click here to find the original version written and produced by J.Hawk, Daniel Deiss, Edwin Watson and published by South Front.

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Additional: the major role of the National Endowment for Democracy

“Another video to counter the relentless lies disseminated by the US Empire and its “democracy” allies. It’s elementary stuff to those who follow Hong Kong affairs, but a useful and revealing summary for interested others.  The video, made by a HK lawyer, contains many key details and other evidence of the plentiful links between Washington and HK’s turmoil. A message from the producers:

“The video below was produced by a lawyer in HK who is very angry at the reporting done by the Western media. She asked to show it to people all over the world so they know the truth of what is happening in HK. Please take a few minutes to watch the truth. Thank you.”

Via: https://www.facebook.com/100007410134…

Also Raed Saleh of UK FCO-incubated White Helmets – Al Qaeda auxiliaries in Syria – seen in Berlin at a conference organised by BILD with Joshua Wong.  I had predicted the White Helmet global franchise in early 2018.

Joshua Wong posed with the “White Helmets” head Raed Al Saleh (L), Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko (R) and Iranian-Austrian political activist Mina Ahadi. © Reuters / Hannibal Hanschke

Click here to find the source of these notes as originally posted by Vanessa Beeley on her website The Wall Will Fall.

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Brexasperation! or why I cannot campaign for Labour but I will cast my vote again for Jeremy Corbyn…

The recent European elections in Britain were never supposed to happen. The deadline had passed – twice. Understood in this context, it was inevitable, therefore, that the contest would be fought as a second EU referendum. The Lib Dems admitted as much in their election pamphlet; something they afterwards tried to downplay (along with the fact that they had branded both Labour and Tories as pro-Brexit choices):

The outcome of this second vote was another close tie and more or less along the lines of the first referendum. Overall the pro-Brexit parties narrowly defeated the anti-Brexit parties, something apparent to anyone with an impartial eye and hard to disguise although some media outlets did indeed contrive to gloss over this inconvenient fact:

Both sides claimed victory, of course, when what was largely overlooked was the exceedingly low turnout. The turnout was low in part simply because European elections have low turnouts – this applies to electorates across the continent and is rather indicative of a deep democratic failing of the EU.

Leaving these matters aside, the actual result across the various regions and nations of UK should not have surprised anyone very much but mostly proves how remarkably few have actually changed their minds at all about Brexit. Instead, opinions have become entrenched.

My own stance is unchanged and remains the same as I outlined in a sequence of articles posted in the weeks leading up the referendum (here is the first). Now as then, I advocate for Britain to leave the EU – and if Northern Ireland wishes to remain and rejoin a united Ireland then this too should be settled with a border poll.

Disconcertingly, my own standpoint is at odds with the position held by most of my friends, although allied broadly with my family. Indeed, as with the indyref in Scotland, a generational political decision has sadly cost friendships and divided families. Some of my own friends look upon the prospect of any form of Brexit with total dread and thus regard my own stance on the scale of deeply regrettable to unforgiveable. As emigrants to countries inside the EU, three of my closest friends are understandably upset by the potential long-term repercussions of Brexit. In this regard, of course, both the British government and the EU were at liberty to issue unilateral pledges to uphold the rights of migrant citizens from the start of the process, but chose instead to hold back assurances, using the fear of repatriation as a bargaining chip. Playing politics in this way is deplorable, but I suppose it was to be expected.

Other friends and colleagues who do not live so directly under the same shadow cast by Brexit are concerned for different although understandable and perfectly legitimate reasons too. None of us knows if or how badly the economy could be hit. Nor can we be certain of knock-on effects either in Britain or abroad. On the eve of the referendum, we all had the same concerns which the doom-mongers did their best to ramp up. Chancellor George Osbourne had promised an emergency budget the next day, but afterwards resigned instead. Those who voted leave mostly didn’t believe him, and tend not to believe the naysayers today. On the other hand, those who still desire to remain take the threat more seriously. This is actually just another measure of how entrenched positions have become.

Just a year prior to the referendum, as ‘the Troika’ of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF ganged up to apply neoliberal ‘shock therapy’ to Greece and the rest of “the PIGS”, with the imposition of “austerity” cuts to public services and demands for the privatisation of state assets, progressives and even a few liberals had been tweeting (quite correctly) “This is a coup”. During that period, political columnist for the Guardian, Owen Jones, wrote the following in an article entitled “The left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda”:

Other treaties and directives enforce free market policies based on privatisation and marketisation of our public services and utilities. David Cameron is now proposing a renegotiation that will strip away many of the remaining “good bits” of the EU, particularly opting out of employment protection rules. Yet he depends on the left to campaign for and support his new package, which will be to stay in an increasingly pro-corporate EU shorn of pro-worker trappings. Can we honestly endorse that?

Continuing:

Let’s just be honest about our fears. We fear that we will inadvertently line up with the xenophobes and the immigrant-bashing nationalists, and a “no” result will be seen as their vindication, unleashing a carnival of Ukippery. Hostility to the EU is seen as the preserve of the hard right, and not the sort of thing progressives should entertain. And that is why – if indeed much of the left decides on Lexit – it must run its own separate campaign and try and win ownership of the issue.

Such a campaign would focus on building a new Britain, one of workers’ rights, a genuine living wage, public ownership, industrial activism and tax justice. Such a populist campaign could help the left reconnect with working-class communities it lost touch with long ago. My fear otherwise is a repetition of the Scottish referendum: but this time, instead of the progressive SNP as the beneficiaries, with Ukip mopping up in working-class communities as big businesses issue chilling threats about the risks of voting the wrong way. Without a prominent Left Out campaign, Ukip could displace Labour right across northern England. That would be the real vindication of Ukippery.

And concluding:

Lexit may be seen as a betrayal of solidarity with the left in the EU: Syriza and Podemos in Spain are trying to change the institution, after all, not leave it. Syriza’s experience illustrates just how forlorn that cause is. But in any case, the threat of Brexit would help them. Germany has little incentive to change tack: it benefits enormously from the current arrangements. If its behaviour is seen to be causing the break-up of the EU, it will strengthen the hand of those opposing the status quo. The case for Lexit grows ever stronger, and – at the very least – more of us need to start dipping our toes in the water. 1

Click here to read Owen Jones’ full article published in July 2015.

But Owen Jones was never one for consistency, and soon he was backing the remain campaign:

And saying this instead – a forecast that has to some extent been vindicated:

Having ditched Lexit in order to jump aboard the ‘Remain and Reform’ bandwagon, Owen Jones then correctly foretells the coup against Corbyn (it wasn’t difficult) and also envisions Johnson as Prime Minister surrounded by a gaggle of maniacal right-wingers. However none of this had been the inevitable outcome of a referendum vote to leave. In fact, an awful lot of water passed under the bridge in the interim period before Johnson managed to regain any momentum. It was a period when the left needed to consolidate behind Corbyn, especially in the aftermath of the extraordinary reversal during the 2017 General Election, but instead, Jones and other prominent leftists actually drove a wedge between themselves and the traditional Labour base. By January 2018, Jones was writing:

If only Brexit would go away. It sucks the political oxygen away from the issues we should all be discussing: like low wages, insecure jobs and the housing crisis. It is a rallying cry for a noxious alliance of anti-immigrant demagogues and regulation-stripping free marketeers. The bigotry, xenophobia and racism stirred up by the official leave campaigns injected an ugliness into British politics which never dissipated, and left hate crimes surging. And, frankly, Brexit is just mind-numbingly, painfully, excruciatingly dull. So yes, if there was a big red button to make it all just go away, I’d enthusiastically push it. 2

Click here to read Owen Jones’ full article entitled “I don’t like Brexit – I just don’t see how it can be stopped”.

Owen Jones is all-too typical of today’s left. Such inconsistency on the EU would be understandable, but for his spinelessness and abject lack of coherence. One minute he is throwing up his hands and reminding us (correctly) “just how forlorn” the cause of trying to reform the EU is, whilst urging fellow progressives that “the threat of Brexit would help them” (meaning the disadvantaged countries of Europe) and in the next breath he’s saying that he has been persuaded “to stand together to reform and change the EU” because “another Europe is possible”.

So let us cast our minds back further. Back to the 70s and early 80s when we find that the most radical voices, with Tony Benn, Peter Shaw, Barbara Castle, and Michael Foot very much in the vanguard, were likewise the most serious and committed Eurosceptics in British politics*, whereas the Europhiles tended to look and sound more like this:

Jeremy Corbyn is another on the left of his party who has never been a friend of the EU. Until very recently the same was true of John McDonnell. Relentless attacks of every kind – most effectively the media-led weaponisation of claims of antisemitism – have weakened Labour’s leadership and Corbyn especially. He has also been forced into submission by the pro-EU allegiance of the PLP and leaders of the trade union movement, as well as by grassroots Labour Party membership.

Many of Corbyn’s staunchest supporters – those who have backed him to the hilt on every other major issue – take a diametrically opposed stance on the EU, and few in his base dwell upon the cause of Corbyn’s single-issue divergence, preferring to gloss over the underlying problems with the European project. Nor do many ask, as one of the guests did on BBC’s election night programme, regarding the bright, shiny Euro-mobile backdrop:

Screenshot of the BBC election  night motif

“It’s a little like your lovely picture. You see all the smaller baubles and you know what they represent – France, Germany, Ireland, Spain – but then there’s the much larger blue ball with its ring of stars, and you wonder what does that represent?” (I am paraphrasing but hopefully you get the point)

In fact the better question perhaps is not what does the central hub represent, but whom does it represent? For evidently it does not represent the people of Greece or the other PIGS, or most of the rest of the European population. Instead it works for corporate interests – and again I refer you to an excellent investigative documentary called The Brussels Business.

Moreover, would a purely internationalist collaboration have much need for its own flag and anthem, unless the agenda was for outright unification? Arguably, a fully federalised United States of Europe is a grand and worthwhile project, yet advocates with the power to actually bring it about are also in the habit of denial. They know that they dare not allow the people of Europe to choose, because each past occasion they did, the people said no. Rather than seeking popular consent, therefore, the consistent approach is to forge closer union by stealth and subterfuge.

In fact, the trouble with the ongoing European project stems from its beginnings as a political collaboration that was established primarily to protect business sections, rather than as a union of nations formed to promote human rights and ensure peace. The EU still puts profits first.

Q. During the EEC membership referendum in 1975, which of these images formed the background to the official campaign poster to remain and which was to leave? Answer at the end of the post…

How the left gradually softened its position toward the EU, and has latterly become enamoured with Brussels, is a subject I addressed in earlier posts (see here), so rather than repeating myself, I offer instead an answer given by former Syriza MP (elected as a member of the Greek Parliament in January 2015) and Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (SOAS), Costas Lapavitsas, during an interview with judicious Europhile and host of Novara Media, Aaron Bastini, when asked in what ways he thought firm advocates for “remain and reform” like his former Syriza colleague Yanis Varoufakis are mistaken [from 27:15 mins]:

“The thing that is absent in what Varoufakis is saying is in understanding the class nature of this, because these are not class neutral institutions. In the end they are institutions serving the interests of big business and big capital against labour… And when you’re confronting these institutions class interest will manifest itself clearly and forcefully.

“You might give the best arguments in the world. You might be able to tell them “look austerity doesn’t work”. And you might be able to write a very good academic paper on that, which might get published in a very good academic journal, but in the realm of politics that’s not how it works, because class interests will tell in the end and your argument will be dismissed. […]

“The class interests… are ruthless and unbending and that’s obvious from how they’re behaving. Ten years into the [banking] crisis, nothing’s changed. Nothing.”

Costas Lapavitsas, who is also author of “The Left Case Against the EU” was also recently interviewed by ‘Labour Leave’:

*

Did you ever watch one of those shows in which stage magic is exposed? I confess that this is a guilty pleasure of mine perhaps due to my irresistible urge to find out how things work – the same urge that led me to study science. However, the big problem with such shows, besides the obdurate tackiness, is that the tricks presented are in any case third-rate imitations of the best grand illusions. The eponymous star of the most popular of this genre is the Masked Magician, and he is the most ham-fisted conjuror you have probably ever seen. His props are as rickety and his illusions as unconvincing, as his sleight of hand is amateurish and clumsy. But, if you’re like me, then you find yourself going back again and again, and cringing throughout. You want him to fool you, but he’s simply not good enough, and the illusion is usually broken long before the big reveal.

Well, enough about the Masked Magician – I wish him no ill will – he just serves as a fitting analogy for what I see as the contemporary state of politics in Britain. All of it is clunky, amateurish, and utterly unconvincing. Long gone is the conviction of Churchill, Atlee, Wilson, Foot, Benn or even Thatcher; gone too, the slicker gloss of Blair and Cameron. Today’s politics are unvarnished again, but not in a good way. It has become a very, very sorry spectacle indeed.

Take Boris Johnson’s recent visit to Wakefield when he delivered an electioneering speech in front of a phalanx of police cadets, who had been waiting for over an hour for his bumbling appearance. When one of his unwitting backdrop props fainted in the heat, Johnson was left to make a disingenuous apology, before blustering on regardless. His cheap stunt had backfired – but what a stunt… how blatant, shambling, and frankly Trump-like. It’s almost as though he and his advisors simply don’t care whether they manage to impress many viewers or even how unprofessional they appear. The association, in this case of Johnson with the police, is enough to appeal to the target audience.

Likewise, shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, on last night’s BBC Question Time, when asked what Labour’s position on Brexit will be in the near-certain event of a forthcoming general election. We will negotiate a new deal with Europe and then hold another referendum with choices to accept Labour’s new deal or else to remain, she told us. “Will you be campaigning against your own deal, a deal you have negotiated?” she was asked, at which point she lost her bearings entirely and after an excruciating pause, admitted that she would! This is not a credible position – this is not serious politics: it’s an embarrassment.

There isn’t time here to go through all the reasons we have reached this dire state of affairs. I mean where would we ever begin? With Cameron’s original decision to call a referendum; or the series of slips and the rise of Ukip that forced his hand; or the EU’s lack of flexibility when he tried to negotiate the original deal; or May’s electoral ineptitude that reduced a working Conservative majority to a hung parliament; or the chicken coup of Labour MPs who sought to destroy Corbyn and inadvertently (or not) led May to call that election (an election she had vowed never to call); or the subsequent years of Conservative shilly-shallying, and the steady drift of Labour towards an undemocratic second referendum; or the return of Farage and Conservative Party’s nuclear option election of Johnson as leader? Such a catalogue of backstabbing, procrastination, vacillation, and sheer betrayal! – even judged against their usual ghastly standards, the Brexit debacle has shown us the worst of the political establishment and the media.

In an interview with ITV news on September 16th, David Cameron talked about Johnson’s decision to front the leave campaign saying, “Boris thought Brexit would be lost”:

Unfortunately, we are where we are. The Conservatives are stuck with Johnson the remainer and his Old Etonian chums rallying the country to his sham anti-establishment cause and persuading the gullible that he is a staunch leaver, while Corbyn, the life-long Eurosceptic, who has been browbeaten into submission, enters a marriage of convenience with the equally sham pro-nationalist SNP and overtly anti-democratic Liberal Democrats, to carry the flickering torch of remain. All sides have given up on principle – in fact, and this is what is truly astonishing, they have largely given up on the pretence of principle. Both sides are simply hoping their opponents are more deeply fractured than they are. This is how they seek to regain power under our ludicrous and dysfunctional first-past-the-post system.

Counterfactually, had the Labour Party endorsed Corbyn in the days following the referendum and endorsed his call for the Conservative government to trigger Article 50, then Labour would very likely be leading the polls, if not already in government. But any promise of Lexit was dashed instead once the PLP ‘rebels’ launched their attacks on the party’s leadership. Then Labour missed the boat a second time in the chaotic aftermath of the 2017 general election, and once again the fault must be laid at the door of the majority of PLP and Corbyn’s own base who wasted the opportunity. Instead, little by little they have completely boxed him in over Europe, and in consequence we stand on the brink not only of a no deal Brexit under Johnson’s reactionary government, but prospect that the project Corbyn started, with its noble aim of steering the party back to the left, will also be ruined on the back of electoral defeat.

Which is why at length, and in spite of everything, I shall still vote for Corbyn at the next election and encourage others to do likewise, but it is also why I feel unable to canvass on the doorsteps for the Labour Party as I did during the last campaign. My hope is that by some miracle Corbyn can recover ground and win office, and for this I am prepared to sacrifice leaving the EU. Labour’s electoral success may very well rest on how many others will also put aside the desperate failings of the party, and stick to backing Corbyn.

*

Additional: My correspondence with Shadow Brexit Minister Paul Blomfield

Appended below is an exchange of letters with Paul Blomfield, who is MP for Sheffield Central (my constituency) and became Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union in October 2016. Paul Blomfield has always replied at length to all of my correspondence which is greatly to his credit.

Jan 10th (contacted through 38 Degrees)

As your constituent I’m emailing you to let you know where I stand on Brexit ahead of the vote on Tuesday the 15th of January.

Theresa May’s deal is a terrible one and unless she can renegotiate a compromise agreement with Brussels I want a clean break from the EU. This respects the result of the referendum. I believe we should leave as soon as possible even though I accept this could mean people’s jobs and wages take a hit. Any reversal of the referendum vote to leave the EU will be regarded by many (far more than the 17 million who voted leave) as a denial of the will of the people and dictatorial.

Please let me know how you’ll represent my views in Parliament.

*

Jan 15th

Dear James,

Thank you for your e-mail setting out your views on the Government’s Brexit deal.  I value my correspondence with constituents and do appreciate you taking the time to write. I try to keep constituents in touch with my views and activities, including my work as a Shadow Brexit Minister, through a monthly e-newsletter. If you don’t already receive it, just reply ‘yes’ to this email and I’ll add you to the mailing list (see here for my data privacy policy).

As a Shadow Brexit Minister I was closely involved in drawing up the six tests against which Labour has consistently said that we would measure the deal. Our six tests were based on the Government’s own stated objectives and the Prime Minister said that she was determined to meet them. When the deal was published in November we were clear that it did not meet those tests and we will therefore vote against it today.

Labour has always been clear that we respect the result of the referendum, but believe that people voted to get out and not to lose out. I appreciate that you say you would be prepared to take a cut in your income or lose your job, but most leave voters I’ve spoken to wouldn’t agree; indeed they felt that leaving the EU would improve their position. We do not think that people’s living standards should be sacrificed for a hard Brexit.  Labour respects that we have financial commitments to the EU to meet before we leave. It is not a ‘fee to leave’, but settles outstanding financial obligations to which we committed ourselves as a member. If we do not meet our legal obligations, no country would trust us in any negotiations over future trade agreements.

So, we will vote against the Withdrawal Agreement today and seek to ensure that the chaos and civil war in the Tory Party does not result in us crashing out of the EU without a deal; and therefore, with no transition period. We will continue to press for the most beneficial deal with the EU, which means a close relationship, and we will seek to amend the Government’s proposals to that effect.

As you will know, we are not alone in voting against the deal. We will be joined by all opposition parties and a large number of Conservative MPs. In fact, it looks clear that it will not receive a Parliamentary majority. At that stage, all options will have to be available to avoid the consequences of no deal, as we set out at our Conference.

You can read more in my regular update on my website – see the latest one here.

With best wishes,

Paul

*

Jan 15th

Dear Paul,

Thank you for replying promptly and in full to email.

May’s deal is the worst of all worlds and I am pleased that Labour will be voting against it. I also agree of course that we must seek the best deal for Britain since this is a no-brainer. However, if we refuse to entertain the option of no deal then in effect the EU holds all the cards. As Digby Jones put it: “When you have a Parliament turn around and saying ‘we’re going to say there’ll be no deal’ – it’s like saying I’ll buy a house for less but if I won’t, I’ll buy it for more.”

Regarding the ‘divorce bill’, again I fully acknowledge that Britain should fully settle any financial obligation, but this is not the same as paying May’s agreed “financial settlement” of £39bn which is conditional. This conditionality was made clear on September 7, 2018, when Michel Barnier conceded that the EU would allow a future trade agreement to be linked to the payment of the divorce bill.

Like most leave voters I too feel that leaving the EU will ultimately improve my position, although I did not vote to leave purely for economic reasons. Instead I voted to leave because I do not wish to live in a federalised Europe under centralised bureaucratic governance. Neither do I wish to see the formation of an EU army, a goal that was until very recently denied outright. I also wish to leave Europe because of the way it treats its poorest members (the so-called PIIGS) with the cruel imposition of unremitting austerity. Others voted to leave for reasons I actually deplore, but I am a democrat and respect the fact that they have as much right to vote as I did. To reiterate my previous points, the danger facing Labour is that so many of its traditional voters, in the North especially, will feel betrayed if the referendum vote is not respected. Unknown numbers will be recruited by the far right. Indeed, I fear that Labour may lose so much of its traditional support that it could easily enter into the wilderness once again.

So although I respect your alternative opinion on this issue, I do not believe Labour should engage in fearmongering. “Crashing out of the EU without a deal” is emotive language, and I feel that I must remind you that we did not vote for a deal but only to leave. Indeed at the time of the referendum we were warned that voting to leave would involve exit from the single market and customs union, yet we voted to leave nonetheless. I believe that people did not in fact prioritise economics in the vote, but made their choice for other reasons. This is all the more reason to fear the consequences of a U-turn on the referendum decision, and all the more reason to doubt that people can be won over by economic arguments now.

Thank you again for replying. Best wishes,

James

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Feb 13th

Dear James,

Thanks for your further note. I really appreciate hearing constituents’ views so I’m grateful for you taking the time to write and set out your thoughts on the issue. Another way I try to keep in touch about my views and activities, including my work as a Shadow Brexit Minister, is through a monthly e-newsletter. If you don’t already receive it, just reply ‘yes’ to this email and I’ll add you to the mailing list (see here for my data privacy policy).

On the financial settlement, you’ll know that Michel Barnier said such a link could be explored but that it would depend on the legal implications. Even the former Brexit Secretary and Brexit campaigner, Dominic Raab, conceded that we would still have financial obligations in the event of no deal.

In terms of the EU’s treatment of poorer countries and political integration, the UK was a leading member with significant influence and say in the EU, which we will lose on exiting.  It is always easier to influence and shape direction from within. You’ll also know that all the PIIGS countries supported the UK remaining within the EU.  The rise of ring-wing populism across Europe is extremely concerning and EU Parliament will have a very different configuration after the elections in May. I think it is extremely unfortunate the UK Labour MEPs will not be there to counter this. I have to say that I don’t recognise your description of the EU’s “bureaucratic governance”; decisions are made through co-decision making involving the Commission, the elected members of the Council of Ministers and the elected members of the Parliament. Indeed, in many ways, it’s a stronger democratic model than the UK’s governance. I know that the ‘European Army’ was a popular myth in the referendum campaign, but it doesn’t stand up to examination.

You mentioned the prospect of Labour losing voters who voted in favour of Brexit. I would challenge the idea that Labour voters are pro-Brexit; 2/3 of Labour voters backed remain, while 2/3 of Tory voters backed leave. It’s true that many in some Labour areas (although not primarily our voters) did vote leave, but it was the Tories that delivered Brexit. That shouldn’t be a surprise as it was a campaign led by the hard right neo-liberals opposed to the development of social Europe and what they see as regulatory constraints on free markets. Labour campaigned to remain in the EU, but we respect the result of the referendum. However, voters would not thank MPs who delivered Brexit on a false prospectus and politicians must be honest with the people who elect us, about the impact of different Brexit options on jobs and the economy and about the fact that we will have to reach agreement on common rules with countries with which we want to trade.

Therefore, warning about the effects of leaving without a deal is not fear mongering. The Treasury’s own analysis indicates that it would hit our economy by a massive 10%. No deal would be disastrous for jobs and the economy. I spoke to motor manufacturers in December and they made it clear that they rely on the seamless flow of goods across borders and that the Government’s advice to stockpile just isn’t a viable option for their ‘just-in-time’ supply chains. Our universities, a sector that is crucial to Sheffield and supports 944,000 jobs across the country, recently described ‘no deal’ as one of the biggest threats they have ever faced. I also spoke to motor manufacturers in December and they made it clear that they rely on the seamless flow of goods across borders and that the Government’s advice to stockpile just isn’t a viable option for their ‘just-in-time’ supply chains

Despite spending £4.2 billion of public money that could have been spent on our NHS, schools and other public services, the Government is totally unprepared for ‘no deal’, most memorably demonstrated by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to award a £13.8m ferry to a company with no ships. On top of that, they have at least half a dozen Bills and swathes of secondary legislation to get through the House to fulfil the most basic requirements of leaving without a deal

‘No Deal’ was not on the ballot paper and several leading Brexiteers spoke about the favourable trade deal we would secure with the EU before the referendum. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, also said that it would be the “easiest [trade deal] in human history”. Interpretations of what the Brexit vote would mean also vary. The Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, a longstanding Eurosceptic, repeatedly said that it would not mean leaving the single market: “Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market”. So how the Brexit vote should be interpreted is debatable, but MPs have a responsibility to mitigate the damage as much as possible.

Thanks again for your email and you can keep up to date with all of my work on Brexit on my website.

Best wishes,

Paul

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March 1st

Dear Paul,

Thanks again for your full and detailed reply to my previous email. I shall briefly respond to some of the points you raised before coming to the main issue of Labour’s decision to support a second referendum.

Firstly, and I quote, you describe the formation of a ‘European Army’ as “a popular myth in the referendum campaign, saying that it doesn’t stand up to examination.” (With the link provided.) I have followed this link to fullfact.org which states in its main summary under the heading ‘Conclusion’ that:

“EU member countries work together on military matters, but the EU doesn’t have its own military capabilities. At least a few European politicians do support the creation of an EU army, but that would need unanimous approval.”

I fail to see in what way this refutes claims that the EU is seeking to form its own army. Moreover, those “few European politicians” happen to include EC President Jean-Claude Juncker who has repeated called for widescale military unification. Prominent Belgium MEP Guy Verhofstadt is also outspoken in demanding “real EU defence and foreign policy”. There are countless other examples I might add here.

Secondly, you dismiss all the criticism of the EU’s ‘democracy deficit’ and argue, and again I quote, “it’s a stronger democratic model than the UK’s governance”. Leaving aside the constitutional arrangement that gives the unelected EC greater powers over the elected parliament (small wonder most voters in Britain are unable to name their own MEPs), the callous response of the EC and ECB (two branches of the so-called ‘Troika’) to the Eurozone financial crisis is fully indicative of the anti-democratic nature of the project. In a conversation with Noam Chomsky, former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who headed negotiations with the Eurogroup (and who has since advised Jeremy Corbyn), said this:

“The European Union doesn’t suffer, or the Eurogroup, from a democratic deficit. It’s like saying that we are on the moon and there is an oxygen deficit. There is no oxygen deficit on the moon. There is no oxygen, full stop.” You can find the quote here: https://www.yanisvaroufakis.eu/2016/06/28/full-transcript-of-the-yanis-varoufakis-noam-chomsky-nypl-discussion/

Lastly, and most urgently, I wish to address Labour’s unfortunate decision to support a second referendum. In your reply you said: “Labour campaigned to remain in the EU, but we respect the result of the referendum.” So if there is a second referendum what choices will be put to the electorate?

If this is simply a second referendum on the deal to leave then I will reluctantly support Labour’s position. However, if remaining in the EU is one of the choices on the ballot paper then a second referendum will be an affront to 17.4 million Brexit voters – the largest number of people who have ever voted for anything in all of our history. Furthermore, a second referendum with ‘remain’ on the ballot breaches Labour’s election manifesto pledge, which is less than two years old and which you reiterated, that you accept and will respect the result of the first referendum. This will cause untold damage to Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation for authenticity, believability and honesty. It will also reinvigorate Ukip, and provide ammunition to far right extremist Tommy Robinson. Like many people inside the party and outside, I believe that such a U-turn will very likely ruin Labour’s electoral chances for decades to come.

Thank you again for replying. Best wishes,

James

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April 15th

Dear James,

Thanks for your further note and apologies for the delay in getting back to you. As you can imagine, the past few weeks have been exceptionally busy for me as a Shadow Brexit Minister so although I read your email at the time, I am just now getting a chance to respond.

I’m a bit puzzled by your interpretation of the quotation from FullFact as I don’t see how it refutes the claim that the EU is seeking to form a European army. On the contrary, it confirms that only “a few European politicians” do support this but, as it also states, it would require unanimous approval of every member state, which does not exist.

I disagree with Yanis Varoufakis. Our Parliament has always been sovereign as the Government confirmed clearly in their White Paper on leaving the EU and even outside of the EU, the UK will have to work with other countries, including the EU27, to achieve common aims. According to the House of Commons library, 13% of our laws ‘come from Brussels’ (where we do of course have a say in how those laws are made). In many instances, where rules are agreed at the European level, the UK has flexibility in how to implement what is agreed.

In the modern world, nations’ interdependence and cooperation is inevitable and something to be celebrated rather than regretted. You are right that the European Commission is unelected, but so is our civil service and neither make laws, although both draft them. Laws need agreement of both the Council of (elected) Ministers and the European Parliament (more here). Moreover, votes in the Council are weighted according to population, although usually reached by consensus, and of course each country has a veto in key areas. You might also note that the European Parliament has the power to dismiss the Commission. On democratic credentials, the EU does far better than international organisations like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, for example.

To come back to the question of a further referendum: as I’ve made clear in previous emails, I campaigned to remain but accept the result of the referendum. What I do not accept is the interpretation that it was to rupture all ties with the EU. It was clearly a vote to leave but it was a narrow win and, numerically, roughly in line with the numbers that voted ‘Yes’ in the 1975 referendum (17,378,581), which was proportionally a much more resounding victory to remain at 67.5%.  Labour accepted the result of the first referendum by voting to give the Prime Minister the authority to trigger Article 50 and have been pushing for a Brexit deal that both respects the result of the referendum and protects jobs, the economy and our national security. I recognise the risk that it would present an opportunity for the far right, but if we limit our political choices on that basis where does it end?

Labour has urged the Prime Minister to step away from her red lines and are currently engaging in talks with the Government to press them to bring back a deal that can command a majority in Parliament and in the country by forging a close relationship with the EU. We have called on the Government to introduce primary legislation for a mandate to negotiate changes to the Political Declaration to secure a permanent and comprehensive customs union with the EU; close alignment with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations; dynamic alignment on rights and protections; commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in areas such as the environment, education, and industrial regulation; and unambiguous agreement on the detail of future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and vital shared databases. We must do all we can to protect jobs and the economy, which is why Labour has supported a confirmatory public vote – giving the British people a choice between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU – to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit. This is in line with our 2018 Party Conference motion, which was passed unanimously, and, as you’ll know, is overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Labour Party members.

Thanks again for getting in touch and you can find all of my blog posts and speeches on Brexit on my website.

Best wishes,

Paul

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April 15th

Dear Paul,

Thanks again for your detailed reply and I do appreciate your efforts in this regard. I shall try to keep my reply very short. You write that you now support “a confirmatory public vote – giving the British people a choice between a credible leave option and remaining in the EU –  to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit” and that this is in line with the Party Conference motion. What you have failed to address, however, is my point that such a “confirmation public vote” (second referendum – why can’t we call it what it is?), as I wrote, “breaches Labour’s election manifesto pledge, which is less than two years old and which you reiterated, that you accept and will respect the result of the first referendum”.

A second referendum between the proposed options will disenfranchise millions of voters who want neither to remain nor to accept May’s deal. In effect, although they voted to ‘leave’, they are instead being told that this is impossible and asked in what way they wish to ‘remain’. In the event of such a referendum I would expect a deluge of spoiled ballots (mine will be one). Indeed, the inclusion of ‘remain’ as an option in a second referendum will be seen as a betrayal of democracy because it is one. Lastly, as a Labour member myself, I fail to see how a conference motion can override a manifesto pledge. What precedent does this set? I campaigned on the manifesto and will feel ashamed of the party if it follows this course. Finally, if Labour does force a second referendum then it will anger millions of former voters, many of whom (as you do acknowledge) are likely to flock to the far-right. The point is that this abandonment of the left will be understandable in such circumstances. So this is not a matter of limiting our political choices, as for instance the calling for tighter immigration controls under former leader Ed Miliband was. This is not about pandering to extremists, but straightforwardly honouring a referendum result and Labour’s election promises. If we cannot even do this, then how in good faith can I campaign for Labour again?

Thanks again for taking such trouble to reply to me.

Best wishes,

James

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Follow up in response to a request to help with campaigning in European elections

May 8th

Dear Paul,

As I understand you, Labour is now seeking a “confirmatory vote” (i.e., second referendum) before the first referendum result has been enacted and contrary to the election manifesto pledge to honour the referendum result. This is certainly the case if, as you have given me to understand in previous correspondence, the proposed second referendum is to include ‘remain’ on the ballot. With due respect therefore I find myself unable to campaign for the Labour Party (of which I am a member) in the forthcoming European elections. Moreover, I shall not vote for Labour in those elections.

Best wishes,

James

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May 9th

Dear James,

Thanks for getting back to me.

I am sorry that you do not support the party policy endorsed unanimously at our Party Conference last September:

“Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no-deal, Conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the Government. In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate General Election that can sweep the Tories from power. If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote. If the Government is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy and communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.”

As we have already discussed, Labour did accept the outcome of the referendum and we voted to trigger Article 50. We confirmed that in our 2017 manifesto, but also said that we rejected the Tories’ approach and wanted a close economic relationship with the EU seeking to retain the benefits of the customs union and single market, as well as alignment on rights and protections (see here). We have always been clear that we will not give the Prime Minister a blank cheque to harm our economy and people’s jobs and livelihoods.

Best wishes,

Paul

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May 9th

Dear Paul,

Thanks again for your prompt reply. I am sorry to write again and shall keep my own response as brief as possible. You say that Labour did (past tense) accept the outcome of the referendum adding that “we voted to trigger Article 50”. However, the country voted to leave (whereas triggering Article 50 is procedural) and in spite of this, and though the deadline has since passed, Britain remains inside the EU. Backing a second referendum with an option to ‘remain’ is a more or less open call to revoke Article 50. Thus, if triggering Article 50 means that Labour accepted the outcome, then, by the same reasoning, revoking Article 50, which overturns the referendum result, will represent a clear betrayal of our manifesto promise. In this regard the policy endorsed by the party conference is an irrelevance since it is incompatible with manifesto pledges on which all Labour MPs were elected and on which we all campaigned. I regard this change in policy as entirely dishonourable, but worse than that, it will be electorally disastrous.

Best wishes,

James

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May 28th

Hi James,

Thanks for your response. Please don’t apologise for writing again; I appreciate you sharing your views.

Clearly the situation has developed further since you wrote, with last week’s European elections. Indeed, here in Sheffield and in the country as a whole, the combined vote of those parties committed to a further public vote and remaining in the EU beat that of the those opposing a vote and leaving the EU at any cost. Labour was punished for an ambiguous message and lost votes to the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. So we have to look seriously at the issue of a further public vote, which I don’t think would be dishonourable or electorally disastrous.

Party policy has evolved and developed and the latest Conference policy surpasses the two-year-old manifesto. Your suggestion that revoking Article 50 would be overturning the referendum result does not take into account that we would seek a fresh mandate. We have made every effort to push the Government to get a deal that would work for the country but it is clear that there is an impasse in Parliament and support for a vote to give people a final say is surely not anti-democratic. Indeed, there have been MPs and others who have been campaigning to leave the EU since the 1975 referendum. Campaigning to persuade people is a fundamental characteristic of democracy.

Nor do I agree it would be electorally disastrous. 65% of Labour voters voted remain and recent polling indicates that 72.5% Labour voters would back remain in another referendum. Clearly there would be some votes lost and have been already, but these are far outweighed by those lost on the other side.

Above all though, we have to do what we think is right to resolve the crisis. There were big variations in different areas, but with the country and Parliament divided, there is no option but to give the people a final say to break the impasse.

Best wishes,

Paul

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 Answer:

 

1 From an article entitled “The left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda” written by Owen Jones, published in the Guardian on July 14, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/14/left-reject-eu-greece-eurosceptic

2 From an article entitled “I don’t like Brexit – I just don’t see how it can be stopped” written by Owen Jones, published in the Guardian on January 3, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/03/stop-brexit-campaign-vote-leave-populist

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The following is taken from the Wikipedia entry on the 1975 EEC membership referendum (as it was captured on March 16th with footnotes retained)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_United_Kingdom_European_Communities_membership_referendum#Campaigning

The referendum was called in April 1975 after the renegotiation was formally concluded. Since Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s cabinet was split between supporters and opponents of the Common Market, and since members of each side held their views strongly, he made the decision, unprecedented outside coalition government, to suspend the constitutional convention of Cabinet collective responsibility. Cabinet members would be allowed to publicly campaign against each other. In total, seven of the twenty-three members of the cabinet opposed EC membership.[10] Wilson’s solution was that ministers speaking in the House of Commons should reflect government policy (i.e. support for EC membership), but would be allowed to speak freely elsewhere, thus avoiding a mass dismissal of Cabinet ministers. In spite of this, one minister, Eric Heffer, was obliged to resign after speaking against EC membership in the House of Commons.

Yes campaign (Britain In Europe)

The “Yes” campaign was officially supported by Wilson[11] and the majority of his cabinet, including the holders of the three other Great Offices of State: Denis Healey, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; James Callaghan, the Foreign Secretary; and Roy Jenkins, the Home Secretary.[citation needed] It was also supported by the majority of the Conservative Party, including its newly elected leader Margaret Thatcher — 249 of 275 party members in Parliament supported staying in the EC in a free vote in April 1975[11] — the Liberal Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party.

No campaign (National Referendum Campaign)

Tony Benn, Secretary of State for Industry, was one of the senior figures in the No campaign.

The influential Conservative Edward du Cann said that “the Labour party is hopelessly and irrevocably split and muddled over this issue”.[11] The “No” campaign included the left wing of the Labour Party, including the cabinet ministers Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Peter Shore, Eric Varley, and Barbara Castle who during the campaign famously said “They lured us into the market with the mirage of the market miracle”. Some Labour “No” supporters, including Varley, were on the right wing of the party, but most were from the left. The No campaign also included a large number of Labour backbenchers; upon the division on a pro-EC White Paper about the renegotiation, 148 Labour MPs opposed their own government’s measure, whereas only 138 supported it and 32 abstained.[3]

“Many Conservatives feel the European Community is not good for Britain … The Conservative party is divided on it too”, du Cann — head of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee — added,[11] although there were far fewer Eurosceptic figures in the Parliamentary Conservative Party in 1975 than there would be during later debates on Europe, such as the accession to the Maastricht Treaty. Most of the Ulster Unionist Party were for “No” in the referendum, most prominently the former Conservative minister Enoch Powell, who after Benn was the second-most prominent anti-Marketeer in the campaign.[12] Other parties supporting the “No” campaign included the Democratic Unionist Party, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and parties outside Parliament including the National Front and the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Official party positions

Conservative and Liberal Party conferences consistently supported EC membership for several years up to 1975. At a Labour Party conference on 26 April 1975, the Labour membership rejected continuing EC membership by almost a 2:1 margin. Tony Benn said, “We have had a conference and the decision is clear … It is very clear that there now must be a move for the Labour Party to campaign.” The majority of the Labour Party leadership was strongly for continuing membership, and the margin of the party vote was not a surprise, since only seven of forty-six trade unions present at the conference supported EC membership. Prior to the conference, the party had decided that if the conference voted by a margin of 2:1 or more in favour of a particular option, it would then support that position in the referendum campaign. Otherwise, the ‘party machine’ would remain neutral. Therefore, the Labour Party itself did not campaign on either side.

The campaign, funding and media support

The government distributed pamphlets from the official Yes[13] and No[14] campaigns to every household in Britain, together with its own pamphlet which argued in support of EC membership[15].[16] According to this pamphlet, “the most important (issues in the renegotiation) were FOOD and MONEY and JOBS”.[citation needed]

During the campaign, almost the entire mainstream national British press supported the “Yes” campaign. The left-wing Morning Star was the only notable national daily to back the “No” campaign. Television broadcasts were used by both campaigns, like party political broadcasts during general elections. They were broadcast simultaneously on all three terrestrial channels: BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV. They attracted audiences of up to 20 million viewers. The “Yes” campaign advertisements were thought to be much more effective, showing their speakers listening to and answering people’s concerns, while the “No” campaign’s broadcasts featured speakers reading from an autocue.

The “Yes” campaign enjoyed much more funding, thanks to the support of many British businesses and the Confederation of British Industry. According to the treasurer of the “Yes” campaign, Alistair McAlpine, “The banks and big industrial companies put in very large sums of money”. At the time, business was “overwhelmingly pro-European”,[17] and Harold Wilson met several prominent industrialists to elicit support. It was common for pro-Europeans to convene across party and ideological lines with businessmen.[17] John Mills, the national agent of the “No” campaign, recalled: “We were operating on a shoe-string compared to the Rolls Royce operation on the other side”.[18] However, it was also the case that many civil society groups supported the “Yes” campaign, including the National Farmers Union and some trade unions.

Much of the “Yes” campaign focused on the credentials of its opponents. According to Alistair McAlpine, “The whole thrust of our campaign was to depict the anti-Marketeers as unreliable people – dangerous people who would lead you down the wrong path … It wasn’t so much that it was sensible to stay in, but that anybody who proposed that we came out was off their rocker or virtually Marxist.”[18] Tony Benn said there had been “Half a million jobs lost in Britain and a huge increase in food prices as a direct result of our entry into the Common Market”,[17] using his position as Secretary of State for Industry as an authority. His claims were ridiculed by the “Yes” campaign and ministers; the Daily Mirror labelled Benn the “Minister of Fear”, and other newspapers were similarly derisive. Ultimately, the “No” campaign lacked a popular, moderate figure to play the public leadership role for their campaign that Jenkins and Wilson fulfilled in the “Yes” campaign.[citation needed]

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Sheffield City Council to formally recognise the state of Palestine

The following is a press release by Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine published on 01.09.19

On Wednesday 4th September, Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council, will present a motion that if passed will make Sheffield the first UK council to formally recognise the state of Palestine. This follows a petition presented to the Council in July. The Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot, will be present to mark this historic event.

At 1 p.m. there will be a flag raising event in front of the Town Hall conducted by the Ambassador with senior Councillors in attendance. From 2 p.m. the motion will be debated by the full council.

Palestinians live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, under siege in Gaza, and 5 million are living as refugees, many within their ancestral lands. Appalling human rights abuses take place under the occupation, including the incarceration of 500-700 Palestinian children per year. Schools and homes are regularly demolished as acts of collective punishment and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have no citizens’ rights. Gaza has been under siege since 2007 and has experienced prolonged blanket bombing on several occasions, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries. The UN has declared that Gaza, with two million people crammed on this tiny strip of land, will be unfit to support human life by 2020. Unarmed protests against being forced to live in ‘the world’s largest open air prison’ resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of mutilations from Israeli live fire.

From the end of World War 1 to 1948, Britain occupied Palestine, paving the way for the establishment of the state of Israel. Our country has a particular responsibility to make amends for great harms done in the process. Many of the abuses carried out by the Israeli state today were originally introduced under the British ‘Protectorate’. British governments have continued to give military, economic and diplomatic support to Israel despite its violations of countless UN resolutions calling for the right of return for the Palestinian refugees and for the right to Palestinian self-determination.

Recognition has huge symbolic meaning to a people denied their homeland and their identity. The announcement that Sheffield City Council would be taking this step and the image of the Palestinian flag raised in front of the Town Hall on 3rd July led to great rejoicing and media coverage in Palestine. Formal recognition by the Council has strong support within the city, which has a historic tradition of standing up for human rights and justice. It is to be hoped that other councils will follow Sheffield’s leadership and that a strong show of solidarity up and down the country will persuade the UK government to enact a policy it says it supports.
Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign also welcome the fact that Sheffield City Council is taking this step, commenting:

“Sheffield PSC welcomes the Council drawing attention to the continuing denial of self-determination to the Palestinian people. We know from our campaigning activities that most people in the city will welcome the Council’s position. We hope that this initiative will be followed by measures aimed at ending British military and economic collusion with Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land.”

For more information contact Julie Pearn, chair@slfp.org.uk

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Notice of Motion Regarding “Recognising Palestine as a Full State”: Given by Councillor Julie Dore and to be seconded by Councillor Adam Hurst

That this Council:-

(a) believes that there must be recognition of the rights of Palestinians to their own state, and thanks the petitioners for bringing this important issue to Full Council in July;

(b) notes that 138 nations of the UN, out of 193 (71.5%), recognise Palestine as a state and in 2012 the UN General Assembly moved to do so – though this was blocked from full UN membership by the Security Council;

(c) notes that the current UK Government appears to have no intention of recognising Palestine, and notes that this is in contrast to the Labour Party’s commitment to recognise Palestine as a full state as part of the United Nations and under UK law;

(d) believes that the recognition of Palestine as a state is one step towards a genuine two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict;

(e) believes there has to be a peace process and there has to be a right of the Palestinian people to live in peace and security as well as the right of Israel;

(f) believes that whilst Sheffield is just one city, it is important to make this symbolic gesture to formally recognise Palestine as a full state, and hope that this will increase pressure on the UK Government to do likewise; and

(g) requests that this Motion is submitted to the Foreign Office, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Click here to read the same press release at the Sheffield Friends of Palestine official facebook page

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Update:

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