Category Archives: Britain

no war with Iran: protests taking place across the country

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The following statement from Stop the War Coalition was recieved today:

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani last week has made the world a more dangerous place. That is the only conclusion we can draw from the further threats by Donald Trump to attack Iranian sites, including cultural ones, and now the retaliation by Iran with missile strikes on US bases. We do not know what further escalation there may be but we do know that any war in the Middle East will have a deadly impact on the ordinary people there.

Trump’s behaviour has frightened even many of those close to him, but it is clear from the response of Boris Johnson that the British government is also terrified of offending Trump. We can therefore expect Johnson to follow the line, as when he justified keeping British troops in Iraq.

The demonstration in London on Saturday, which is co-organised by CND, and those taking place across the country are vital in rejecting our government’s policy and in asserting opposition to yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East

We must do everything we can to oppose war with Iran and attacks on Iraq. This begins with a public meeting tonight (8th Jan) in London and a demonstration on Saturday.

On Saturday, we are marching from the BBC (Portland Place) to Trafalgar Square where the demonstration will be addressed by a wide range of speakers including Stop the War President Brian Eno and Joe Glenton from Veterans for Peace alongside Iranian and Iraqi speakers as well as notable Labour Party figures including Diane Abbott. Please do everything you can to get along to the demonstration and spread the word amongst family, friends and colleagues.

We also need volunteers to help out with stewarding and facilitating the demo. If you can help please email office@stopwar.org.uk as soon as possible.

Here is a list of protests and events taking place across the UK:
·  08 Jan | Cardiff | No War with Iran!
·  09 Jan | Birmingham | No War With Iran, US/UK Troops Out Of Iraq – Protest
·  09 Jan | Edinburgh | No to War on Iran Vigil
·  11 Jan | Chesterfield | No War on Iran
·  11 Jan | Manchester | No War with Iran
·  11 Jan | Newcastle | Don’t Attack Iran Rally
·  11 Jan | Liverpool | Don’t Attack Iran
·  11 Jan |Bristol | Don’t Attack Iran: Protest at Donald Trump’s Act of War
·  11 Jan | Sheffield | No War With Iran
·  12 Jan | Bradford | No War with Iran – Demonstration
·  18 Jan | Swansea | Don’t Attack Iran: Protest at Donald Trump’s Act of War
·  18 Jan | Canterbury | No War on Iran
·  19 Jan | Warrington | No War With Iran

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Update:

We are pleased to announce that our former Chair and leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, will be speaking at the ‘No War on Iran’ demonstration taking place this Saturday in Central London. He has been steadfast in his condemnation of Donald Trump’s assassination of Qasem Soleimani and US aggression towards Iran more widely, as he has been for the past decade and more.

The demonstration in London on Saturday, which is co-organised by CND, and those taking place across the country are vital in rejecting our government’s policy and in asserting opposition to yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East. Please do everything you can to get along to the demonstration and spread the word amongst family, friends and colleagues.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at London’s ‘No War on Iran’ rally:

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Craig Murray on why the assassination of Soleimani was “act of state terrorism by the USA, pure and simple”

In one of the series of blatant lies the USA has told to justify the assassination of Soleimani, Mike Pompeo said that Soleimani was killed because he was planning “Imminent attacks” on US citizens. It is a careful choice of word. Pompeo is specifically referring to the Bethlehem Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Self Defence.

Developed by Daniel Bethlehem when Legal Adviser to first Netanyahu’s government and then Blair’s, the Bethlehem Doctrine is that states have a right of “pre-emptive self-defence” against “imminent” attack. That is something most people, and most international law experts and judges, would accept. Including me.

What very few people, and almost no international lawyers, accept is the key to the Bethlehem Doctrine – that here “Imminent” – the word used so carefully by Pompeo – does not need to have its normal meanings of either “soon” or “about to happen”. An attack may be deemed “imminent”, according to the Bethlehem Doctrine, even if you know no details of it or when it might occur. So you may be assassinated by a drone or bomb strike – and the doctrine was specifically developed to justify such strikes – because of “intelligence” you are engaged in a plot, when that intelligence neither says what the plot is nor when it might occur. Or even more tenuous, because there is intelligence you have engaged in a plot before, so it is reasonable to kill you in case you do so again.

I am not inventing the Bethlehem Doctrine. It has been the formal legal justification for drone strikes and targeted assassinations by the Israeli, US and UK governments for a decade. Here it is in academic paper form, published by Bethlehem after he left government service (the form in which it is adopted by the US, UK and Israeli Governments is classified information).

So when Pompeo says attacks by Soleimani were “imminent” he is not using the word in the normal sense in the English language. It is no use asking him what, where or when these “imminent” attacks were planned to be. He is referencing the Bethlehem Doctrine under which you can kill people on the basis of a feeling that they may have been about to do something.

The idea that killing an individual who you have received information is going to attack you, but you do not know when, where or how, can be justified as self-defence, has not gained widespread acceptance – or indeed virtually any acceptance – in legal circles outside the ranks of the most extreme devoted neo-conservatives and zionists. Daniel Bethlehem became the FCO’s Chief Legal Adviser, brought in by Jack Straw, precisely because every single one of the FCO’s existing Legal Advisers believed the Iraq War to be illegal. In 2004, when the House of Commons was considering the legality of the war on Iraq, Bethlehem produced a remarkable paper for consideration which said that it was legal because the courts and existing law were wrong, a defence which has seldom succeeded in court.

(b)
following this line, I am also of the view that the wider principles of the law on self-defence also require closer scrutiny. I am not persuaded that the approach of doctrinal purity reflected in the Judgments of the International Court of Justice in this area provide a helpful edifice on which a coherent legal regime, able to address the exigencies of contemporary international life and discourage resort to unilateral action, is easily crafted;

The key was that the concept of “imminent” was to change:

The concept of what constitutes an “imminent” armed attack will develop to meet new circumstances and new threats

In the absence of a respectable international lawyer willing to argue this kind of tosh, Blair brought in Bethlehem as Chief Legal Adviser, the man who advised Netanyahu on Israel’s security wall and who was willing to say that attacking Iraq was legal on the basis of Saddam’s “imminent threat” to the UK, which proved to be non-existent. It says everything about Bethlehem’s eagerness for killing that the formulation of the Bethlehem Doctrine on extrajudicial execution by drone came after the Iraq War, and he still gave not one second’s thought to the fact that the intelligence on the “imminent threat” can be wrong. Assassinating people on the basis of faulty intelligence is not addressed by Bethlehem in setting out his doctrine. The bloodlust is strong in this one.

There are literally scores of academic articles, in every respected journal of international law, taking down the Bethlehem Doctrine for its obvious absurdities and revolting special pleading. My favourite is this one by Bethlehem’s predecessor as the FCO Chief Legal Adviser, Sir Michael Wood and his ex-Deputy Elizabeth Wilmshurst.

I addressed the Bethlehem Doctrine as part of my contribution to a book reflecting on Chomsky‘s essay “On the Responsibility of Intellectuals”

In the UK recently, the Attorney General gave a speech in defence of the UK’s drone policy, the assassination of people – including British nationals – abroad. This execution without a hearing is based on several criteria, he reassured us. His speech was repeated slavishly in the British media. In fact, the Guardian newspaper simply republished the government press release absolutely verbatim, and stuck a reporter’s byline at the top.

The media have no interest in a critical appraisal of the process by which the British government regularly executes without trial. Yet in fact it is extremely interesting. The genesis of the policy lay in the appointment of Daniel Bethlehem as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Chief Legal Adviser. Jack Straw made the appointment, and for the first time ever it was external, and not from the Foreign Office’s own large team of world-renowned international lawyers. The reason for that is not in dispute. Every single one of the FCO’s legal advisers had advised that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, and Straw wished to find a new head of the department more in tune with the neo-conservative world view.

Straw went to extremes. He appointed Daniel Bethlehem, the legal ‘expert’ who provided the legal advice to Benjamin Netanyahu on the ‘legality’ of building the great wall hemming in the Palestinians away from their land and water resources. Bethlehem was an enthusiastic proponent of the invasion of Iraq. He was also the most enthusiastic proponent in the world of drone strikes.

Bethlehem provided an opinion on the legality of drone strikes which is, to say the least, controversial. To give one example, Bethlehem accepts that established principles of international law dictate that lethal force may be used only to prevent an attack which is ‘imminent’.

Bethlehem argues that for an attack to be ‘imminent’ does not require it to be ‘soon’. Indeed you can kill to avert an ‘imminent attack’ even if you have no information on when and where it will be. You can instead rely on your target’s ‘pattern of behaviour’; that is, if he has attacked before, it is reasonable to assume he will attack again and that such an attack is
‘imminent’.

There is a much deeper problem: that the evidence against the target is often extremely dubious. Yet even allowing the evidence to be perfect, it is beyond me that the state can kill in such circumstances without it being considered a death penalty imposed without trial for past crimes, rather than to frustrate another ‘imminent’ one.

You would think that background would make an interesting story. Yet the entire ‘serious’ British media published the government line, without a single journalist, not one, writing about the fact that Bethlehem’s proposed definition of ‘imminent’ has been widely rejected by the international law community. The public knows none of this. They just ‘know’ that drone strikes are keeping us safe from deadly attack by terrorists, because the government says so, and nobody has attempted to give them other information

Remember, this is not just academic argument, the Bethlehem Doctrine is the formal policy position on assassination of Israel, the US and UK governments. So that is lie one. When Pompeo says Soleimani was planning “imminent” attacks, he is using the Bethlehem definition under which “imminent” is a “concept” which means neither “soon” nor “definitely going to happen”. To twist a word that far from its normal English usage is to lie. To do so to justify killing people is obscene. That is why, if I finish up in the bottom-most pit of hell, the worst thing about the experience will be the company of Daniel Bethlehem.

Let us now move on to the next lie, which is being widely repeated, this time originated by Donald Trump, that Soleimani was responsible for the “deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans”. This lie has been parroted by everybody, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Really? Who were they? When and where? While the Bethlehem Doctrine allows you to kill somebody because they might be going to attack someone, sometime, but you don’t know who or when, there is a reasonable expectation that if you are claiming people have already been killed you should be able to say who and when.

The truth of the matter is that if you take every American killed including and since 9/11, in the resultant Middle East related wars, conflicts and terrorist acts, well over 90% of them have been killed by Sunni Muslims financed and supported out of Saudi Arabia and its gulf satellites, and less than 10% of those Americans have been killed by Shia Muslims tied to Iran.

This is a horribly inconvenient fact for US administrations which, regardless of party, are beholden to Saudi Arabia and its money. It is, the USA affirms, the Sunnis who are the allies and the Shias who are the enemy. Yet every journalist or aid worker hostage who has been horribly beheaded or otherwise executed has been murdered by a Sunni, every jihadist terrorist attack in the USA itself, including 9/11, has been exclusively Sunni, the Benghazi attack was by Sunnis, Isil are Sunni, Al Nusra are Sunni, the Taliban are Sunni and the vast majority of US troops killed in the region are killed by Sunnis.

Precisely which are these hundreds of deaths for which the Shia forces of Soleimani were responsible? Is there a list? It is of course a simple lie. Its tenuous connection with truth relates to the Pentagon’s estimate – suspiciously upped repeatedly since Iran became the designated enemy – that back during the invasion of Iraq itself, 83% of US troop deaths were at the hands of Sunni resistance and 17% of of US troop deaths were at the hands of Shia resistance, that is 603 troops. All the latter are now lain at the door of Soleimani, remarkably.

Those were US troops killed in combat during an invasion. The Iraqi Shia militias – whether Iran backed or not – had every legal right to fight the US invasion. The idea that the killing of invading American troops was somehow illegal or illegitimate is risible. Plainly the US propaganda that Soleimani was “responsible for hundreds of American deaths” is intended, as part of the justification for his murder, to give the impression he was involved in terrorism, not legitimate combat against invading forces. The idea that the US has the right to execute those who fight it when it invades is an absolutely stinking abnegation of the laws of war.

As I understand it, there is very little evidence that Soleimani had active operational command of Shia militias during the invasion, and in any case to credit him personally with every American soldier killed is plainly a nonsense. But even if Soleimani had personally supervised every combat success, these were legitimate acts of war. You cannot simply assassinate opposing generals who fought you, years after you invade.

The final, and perhaps silliest lie, is Vice President Mike Pence’s attempt to link Soleimani to 9/11. There is absolutely no link between Soleimani and 9/11, and the most strenuous efforts by the Bush regime to find evidence that would link either Iran or Iraq to 9/11 (and thus take the heat off their pals the al-Saud who were actually responsible) failed. Yes, it is true that some of the hijackers at one point transited Iran to Afghanistan. But there is zero evidence, as the 9/11 report specifically stated, that the Iranians knew what they were planning, or that Soleimani personally was involved. This is total bullshit. 9/11 was Sunni and Saudi led, nothing to do with Iran.

Soleimani actually was involved in intelligence and logistical cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan post 9/11 (the Taliban were his enemies too, the shia Tajiks being a key part of the US aligned Northern Alliance). He was in Iraq to fight ISIL.

The final aggravating factor in the Soleimani murder is that he was an accredited combatant general of a foreign state which the world – including the USA – recognises. The Bethlehem Doctrine specifically applies to “non-state actors”. Unlike all of the foregoing, this next is speculation, but I suspect that the legal argument in the Pentagon ran that Soleimani is a non-state actor when in Iraq, where the Shia militias have a semi-official status.

But that does not wash. Soleimani is a high official in Iran who was present in Iraq as a guest of the Iraqi government, to which the US government is allied. This greatly exacerbates the illegality of his assassination still further.

The political world in the UK is so cowed by the power of the neo-conservative Establishment and media, that the assassination of Soleimani is not being called out for the act of blatant illegality that it is. It was an act of state terrorism by the USA, pure and simple.

Click here to read the same post entitled “Lies, the Bethlehem Doctrine, and the Illegal Murder of Soleimani” published yesterday on Craig Murray’s website.

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Additional:

Yesterday’s The Jimmy Dore Show welcomed independent journalist Max Blumenthal to discuss the illegality of America’s drone assassination of Qassam Soleimani and the “laughably horrible” news coverage [warning: strong language throughout]:

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no war with Iran: call for action from Stop the War Coalition

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Stop the War is asking all its members and supporters to step up organising now against the threat of war on Iran.

As Lindsey German’s statement says, the drone attack that killed Qassem Soleimani is an act of war by Donald Trump which risks creating a cycle of violence.  Both Iran and Iraq are likely to retaliate and it will draw in other players across the region and beyond.

The anti-war movement needs to respond strongly and quickly. In London we have called a protest outside Downing Street at 2-3pm tomorrow (Saturday).

We are asking our groups, members and supporters to help in the following ways:

– Organise protest where you are.
– Use the statement signed by Jeremy Corbyn as the basis for a petition in your workplace, university and community.
– Pass resolutions against war with Iran in your union branch, Labour Party or student union.
– Organise a public meeting locally or invite a Stop the War speaker to your union, campaign group of Labour Party branch.

Don’t hesitate to e-mail us or phone if you need advice or help.
Phone 020 7561 4830 office hours or 07930 536 519 otherwise.
Email office@stopwar.org.uk

The statement is here:

The US assassination of Qasem Soleimani is an extremely serious and dangerous escalation of conflict with global significance. The UK government should urge restraint on the part of both Iran and the US, and stand up to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the US.

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Update:

We must do everything we can to oppose war with Iran and attacks on Iraq.

This begins with a public meeting in London on Wednesday and a demonstration on Saturday.

Other protests and events will be taking place across the country and you can stay notified of them on our events page here.

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evaluating Corbyn’s defeat after a long week in politics: Labour supporters speak to mistakes over Brexit and the unprecedented level of media bias

Introduction: my own reflections

On January 15th, I wrote to my constituency MP and Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union, Paul Blomfield, expressing my deep concerns over Labour’s repositioning on Brexit:

[T]he 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.

In March I wrote to him again:

[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 [Brexit Party was yet to be formed], 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.

The exchange of letters between us ended in May. The full sequence is appended to an earlier post entitled “Brexasperation! or why I cannot campaign for Labour but I will cast my vote again for  Jeremy Corbyn” This was my final remark to Paul Blomfield:

I regard this change in policy [Labour’s commitment to back a second referendum] as entirely dishonourable, but worse than that, it will be electorally disastrous.

Last Thursday night’s election results came as a shattering blow to all Labour supporters. Tormented by the drip, drip, drip of miserable news, I’d waited up well into the small hours feeling little more than a mix of dismay and anger as the dim forecast determined by the exit poll refused to budge. We had sacrificed the Left’s best chance of instituting real and lasting reform under the most principled Labour leader in my lifetime and all in a failed bid to stop Brexit. Defeat was both predictable and avoidable, but the victory instead went both to the Tories and to the Blairites who had forced the issue of a second referendum quite deliberately to box Corbyn in.

Today, Brexit is almost behind us. Not in actuality, of course, but in terms of how we might influence it and how its once overwhelming presence seems already to have waned. Britain is destined to leave the EU, and in the manner that now will be determined solely by Johnson, the Conservatives and their corporate backers. This is extremely bad news and yet for many (Labour supporters and remainers included) it also feels like a painful boil has been lanced at long last: in fact a sense of relief that the nation will not have to tear itself apart all over again throughout the weeks and months of a second referendum is palpable.

Indeed, a political row that had engulfed all of us suddenly is confined within the constituency of the Labour Party itself, where civil war has yet again begun to rage between old enemies. Seizing upon this exquisite moment of vulnerability, the Blairites’ strategy is to wreak as much havoc as they possibly can; their intention, as always, is to sink the Corbyn project once and for all.

But I can also sense an awakening, and while the establishment media continues to do its utmost to blame Corbyn, the real debate on the Left (away from the headlines), disengages from scapegoating and is impelled more by regret and self-reproach for its own mistakes in shaping Labour’s Brexit policy. While the other central issue is the decisive role played by the media and most specifically the BBC; its thin veil of neutrality cheaply abandoned and perhaps unrecoverable. The analysis and opinions that follow are very much in this vein, and, amongst those on the Left, I would say representative of the prevailing mood in Britain at this uncertain time.

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Owen Jones

Those who read this blog regularly will know that I have very little time for political analyst and Guardian columnist Owen Jones. However, in his latest opinion piece entitled “Brexit and self-inflicted errors buried Labour in this election” published yesterday, he does correctly acknowledge that Labour’s U-turn on Brexit with its call for a second referendum (a policy shift that he had previously endorsed) was the main reason for the collapse of the Labour vote:

The decisive failure – yes, with hindsight – was that the Labour leadership did not use the political capital of the 2017 election to make a principled case for a Norway-style soft Brexit, and definitively rule out any future referendum. If that message had been held with stubborn discipline, a perception of weakness and dithering would have never set in. Whether it was truly politically feasible – and whether Labour’s membership could have worn it – is another question. The failure to move swiftly created space for the fantasy that the 2016 result could simply be reversed – and leading remain campaigners relished the opportunity to bully the Labour leadership and insult leave voters as gullible bigots.

The left needs to own its failure in this election, but those who spent two years claiming Labour shifting to remain was a cost-free exercise, blocked only by Corbyn’s stubborn Euroscepticism, might consider entering their own period of introspection. Brexit is now settled: Labour must decisively rule out the prospect of rejoining the EU in its current form ever again.

Click here to read the full article published in yesterday’s Guardian.

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Craig Gent

Craig Gent is head of articles at Novara Media and lives in West Yorkshire. The following extract is from an article entitled “Learning the Lessons of Labour’s Northern Nightmare Will Take Longer Than a Weekend” published on Dec 17th by Novara Media. I encourage readers to follow the link and to read the article in full.

In moments like this, everyone has to have a take. The unrelenting tempo of social media feeds won’t allow otherwise.

Of course, people are more than entitled to air their reflections and opinions about what went wrong, how we got here, and how the disparity between hope and reality got so wide. But it is galling to see people who were sideswiped by the result – who had largely written off the crumbling of Labour’s ‘red wall’ as a myth – now speaking in authoritative tones about how shit really went down, as explained by this one handy graph.

The bare facts are these: Labour’s election campaign did not look the same across northern towns as it did on left Twitter. Swathes of towns that said they wanted Brexit in 2016 still want Brexit. Those towns by and large felt patronised by the offer of a second referendum, a policy whose public support has always been inflated by the gaseous outpourings of its most ardent supporters. And two years on from 2017, the novelty of Corbynmania had thoroughly worn off, with his increasingly stage-managed media appearances beginning to rub people up the wrong way.

Naturally, people are now rushing to say why the result confirms their long-held suspicions that X needs to happen. Chief among delusionists within this deluge are the centrists whose core contribution over the last two years was the very policy that proved Labour’s undoing. I am not a habitual lexiter, but the idea that the second referendum offer had nothing to do with the result is completely detached from reality. More still is the idea that Labour could have won by backing an outright remain position sooner. To understand this election, context is everything, and I’m afraid those who conveniently point to data sets comparing 2017 and 2019 as proof that they were right all along are lacking it in spades. […]

Rightly or wrongly, Brexit offered enough people an antidote to years of feeling defeated and defeatist – the experience of finally winning something. Labour’s prevarication since the 2017 election left many people feeling ‘let down by Labour’ – a sentiment which propelled a number of independents and right-wingers into local councils, and which propelled the Brexit party to first place in the European elections.

Let’s be real – these signals were written off as a protest vote, or likely to be statistically insignificant come a general election. Doing so was a failure to recognise the political journey many former Labour voters were on. While the Conservatives and Brexit party fanned the confidence delivered by winning the referendum for their own cynical purposes, Labour became the party of ‘steady on’, asking leave voters to gamble their sacred victory in order to appease a bunch of hard remainers who never accepted that they lost, and worse yet, appeared to think their votes ought to have been worth more than the votes of leavers.

Click here to read the article in full at Novara Media.

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Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a British political activist and founder member of the Stop the War Coalition serving as National Officer and Deputy Chair of the Stop the War Coalition in the UK. He served under Jeremy Corbyn from 2011 to 2015. On December 14th he shared his views with Douglas Lain for the youtube channel Zero Books.

If you want to know what I think the absolutely central issue is for election and the fundamental reason why Labour did so badly – and it was a terrible result really for Labour – I think it’s Brexit.

I think it’s the fact that Labour went from a position in 2017 of saying that they were going to respect the referendum result, which was to leave, and that there was going to be an attempt to negotiate a Brexit which benefitted working people, which tackled inequality, which was good for the majority and not for the few. That was line in 2017, which by-the-by meant that Brexit wasn’t really an issue in that election.

Fast-forward to now. Or to this election just gone. You have a situation where Labour – the Corbyn leadership – has been forced into a position of saying they are going to have a second referendum: that they were perceived to be essentially supporting a ‘remain’ position, trying to overturn the previous result. And the Johnson Tory Party could pitch itself as being insurgent against the liberal elites. And also, amazingly, Johnson could pitch himself as being a defender of democracy, because that was the way the referendum went in 2016 and he was going to respect that.

So that was a really massive turnaround and I think it became totemic – the Brexit issue – because what it said to people is that, whereas in 2017, Corbyn was beginning to establish himself as someone who was breaking from the consensus, breaking from the Westminster elite, breaking from neoliberalism. Honest, democratic, listening to ordinary people. Not out of touch like the rest of the politicians. Suddenly that narrative no longer looked plausible.

Now we were in a position where the Labour leadership was turning its back on the referendum result, was – I mean to all intents and purposes – taking the ‘remain’ position (however much Jeremy Corbyn himself tried to resist that) and therefore looking more and more like the other politicians.

There’s such a deep sense in British society, particularly amongst those parts of the working class that have been most attacked and most under pressure, that the political class don’t give a shit. That Westminster is another world from most people’s reality. That it took an awful lot to begin to overcome that and those gains that were made in 2017, I think were lost over the last two years, because of mainly – there are other factors – but mainly because of the change of line on the Brexit question. [from 8:25 min]

The transcript above is my own.

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Jonathan Cook

The following is a short extract dealing with media bias and specifically the role played by the BBC from an excellent piece of analysis entitled “Corbyn’s Defeat has Slain the Left’s Last Illusion” written by independent journalist Jonathan Cook published in Counterpunch on Dec 17th. I encourage readers to follow the link and to read the article in full.

The real revelation of this election, however, has been the BBC, the most well concealed of all those illusion-generating machines. The BBC is a state broadcaster that has long used its entertainment division – from costume dramas to wildlife documentaries – to charm us and ensure the vast majority of the public are only too happy to invite it into their homes. The BBC’s lack of adverts, the apparent absence of a grubby, commercial imperative, has been important in persuading us of the myth that the British Broadcasting Corporation is driven by a higher purpose, that it is a national treasure, that it is on our side.

But the BBC always was the propaganda arm of the state, of the British establishment. Once, briefly, in the more politically divided times of my youth, the state’s interests were contested. There were intermittent Labour governments trying to represent workers’ interests and powerful trade unions that the British establishment dared not alienate too strongly. Then, countervailing popular interests could not be discounted entirely. The BBC did its best to look as if it was being even-handed, even if it wasn’t really. It played by the rules for fear of the backlash if it did not.

All that has changed, as this election exposed more starkly than ever before.

The reality is that the corporate class – the 0.001% – has been in control of our political life uninterrupted for 40 years. As in the United States, the corporations captured our political and economic systems so successfully that for most of that time we ended up with a choice between two parties of capital: the Conservative party and New Labour.

Hollowed-out society

The corporations used that unbroken rule to shore up their power. Public utilities were sold off, the building societies became corporate banks, the financial industries were deregulated to make profit the only measure of value, and the NHS was slowly cannibalised. The BBC too was affected. Successive governments more openly threatened its income from the licence fee. Union representation, as elsewhere, was eroded and layoffs became much easier as new technology was introduced. The BBC’s managers were drawn ever more narrowly from the world of big business. And its news editors were increasingly interchangeable with the news editors of the billionaire-owned print media.

To take one of many current examples, Sarah Sands, editor of the key Radio 4 Today programme, spent her earlier career at the Boris Johnson-cheerleading Mail and Telegraph newspapers.

In this election, the BBC cast off its public-service skin to reveal the corporate Terminator-style automaton below. It was shocking to behold even for a veteran media critic like myself. This restyled BBC, carefully constructed over the past four decades, shows how the patrician British establishment of my youth – bad as it was – has gone.

Now the BBC is a mirror of what our hollowed-out society looks like. It is no longer there to hold together British society, to forge shared values, to find common ground between the business community and the trade unions, to create a sense – even if falsely – of mutual interest between the rich and the workers. No, it is there to ringfence turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism, it is there to cannibalise what’s left of British society, and ultimately, as we may soon find out, it is there to generate civil war.

Click here to read the full article on Counterpunch.

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John Pilger

Yesterday’s episode of RT’s ‘Going Underground’ was dedicated to an extended interview with award-winning journalist John Pilger. In the first half they discussed Pilger’s latest documentary film “The Dirty War on the NHS” which was broadcast yesterday on ITV (available on ITV hub). In the second half, discussion moves on to last week’s General Election calamity; the reason why Brexit has been taken over by the extreme right since 2016; anti-Semitism allegations against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party; and allegations of BBC bias against the Labour Party in the election.

Asked by host Afshin Rattansi, why so many working class voters throughout the Labour heartlands switched to vote for the Conservatives, John Pilger replies:

“I can’t explain that. But I can say that there was a democratic referendum in this country in 2016, and it was won by those wishing to leave the European Union. And also from a minute after that election, there was a massive campaign to deny the legitimacy of that democratic referendum, and the whole issue of Brexit then fell into, bizarrely, but very significantly, into the hands of the extreme right in Britain of which the Prime Minister is one.

“I can only guess that people who voted to leave the European Union for all kinds of reasons felt that their voice had been treated with contempt, as indeed it was. In many ways, there was a class war. And why, as somebody said to me the other day, the poor should vote for more poverty, the sick should vote for more sickness, I can’t answer that question, but that’s certainly happened.” [from 16:50 min]

The upload embedded below is cued to start at the point when their discussion moves on to the General Election.

Regarding allegations of institutional antisemitism within the Labour Party, Pilger says:

“The story you get from the BBC is not to be believed. And there’s plenty of evidence why it should not be believed. However, there’s no question that the whole question of antisemitism [inside the Labour Party], by and large is a bogus issue, an utterly bogus issue: accusing somebody like Jeremy Corbyn of being antisemitic – or even others of being antisemitic – that he, perhaps unwisely, allowed to be expelled from the Labour Party. It was just absurd that it became an issue.

“Perhaps it says something about today that we’re consumed by this thing [the media and social media] that [puts out] propaganda – whatever you want to call it (fake or whatever) – that was the most brilliantly successful piece of propaganda aimed at one political group. And I don’t think the Labour Party fought it.” [from 18:35 min]

And on the implications for the Bernie Sanders campaign, which is suddenly dealing with similarly bogus allegations of antisemitism; claims that are all the more ludicrous for the fact that Sanders is the Jewish son of Holocaust survivors:

“What should they learn? They have to stand up and oppose it. They have to resist. They have to understand that there are powerful political forces that do not want them to take power democratically.” [from 20:05 min]

More specifically on subject of BBC bias and Laura Kuenssberg’s flouting of election laws, he says:

“[Laura Kuenssberg] is only part of the system. She wouldn’t be in that system, as Noam Chomsky once famously said, unless she did that. So there is nothing extraordinary about what she has done particularly. But the whole system… and then for [Director-General Lord Tony] Hall to come and point at the easy [target] social media, when the BBC is probably the most powerful, refined propaganda system in the world, [with] nothing like it.

“Now whether it swayed [the result]… you know we have to be careful listing all the excuses. The Labour Party sure contributed to their own electoral demise. There’s no question about that. But the fact that one side in the election campaign had powerful establishment forces – especially the media arranged against them – is extremely important to understand.” [from 20:05 min]

Continuing:

“The fact that Andrew Neil is considered some kind of BBC icon is amazing. Those of us who remember him as Murdoch’s editor at The Sunday Times, and [yet] there he is, he’s on the state broadcaster, as… [and] you must be interviewed by him if you’re running for Prime Minister. That, almost in itself, tells us all we really know about bias within the BBC.” [from 22:35 min]

Afshin Rattansi then asks about the NHS leaked documents and the immediate allegations that they may have been released by Russia. John Pilger replies:

“Well my breakfast emanated from Russia. The sky emanated from Russia. Rain emanated from Russia. I joke but it is a rather grotesque joke now. And I’ve read some of those documents. What they say is devastating. I wish Jeremy Corbyn and others had made much more of that.

“You have a Department of International Trade official, obviously a senior official, not a junior official, as they tried later to say, and a US trade representative talking to each other. And the British official is – and I paraphrase, I hope accurately – saying ‘Look just be patient, all sorts of promises have to be made now – brackets: (in the election campaign) – but later on there shouldn’t be a problem.’ Absolute duplicity. Duplicity, that’s how power works. And that’s why Julian Assange and wikileaks have been targeted, because they have revealed that underside of power.” [from 23:30 min]

Finally, he shares his thoughts about how people should interpret Johnson’s new “people’s government”, saying:

“Well, you see in propaganda terms – you go back to Edward Bernays, the father of modern public relations, who invented the term ‘public relations’, the respectable word for propaganda, and even [back to] Goebbels, but the British were much better at it than Goebbels – using good words such as ‘people’s’, ‘democracy’, ‘reform’. You look at all the corporate words that are [used as] propaganda now, drained of their meaning [such as] the word ‘reform’. That used to be a very positive word; it’s no longer a positive word… I’m just making this wider point because there is a task for people now to try and decode the propaganda that they’re getting. Because [Johnson’s new “people’s government”] that’s propaganda. ” […]

“Unknown to most of the public, around the Houses of Parliament, are the offices of so-called ‘think tanks’, lobbyists and professional propagandists. All of them with one target: the National Health Service.

“They are actually clustered around the Department of Health. And there’s a revolving door between them and parliament and the Department of Health. But their vocabulary is a deceitful one. They use words like ‘reform’ [and] ‘partnership’. None of these positive terms have any real meaning any more. What they mean by ‘reform’ is privatising and destroying.

“They would deny that but they have created this extraordinary vocabulary, as they have created their own persona, they hope, of legitimacy, because they have so many people within parliament, and so many people from the private healthcare industry within the Department of Health, they feel they can get away with this. Broadening it out, this is modern corporatism. It’s how it works. Its greatest and least understood weapon is propaganda.” [from 25:20 mins]

The transcriptions above are my own.

Click here to watch John Pilger’s film The Dirty War on the NHS on ITV Hub.

And here to watch the same interview on RT’s official website.

*

Neil Clark

Neil Clark is an independent journalist, political writer, broadcaster and blogger. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. The following extract is taken from an op-ed entitled “Destroyed by appeasing his enemies: The Shakespearean tragedy of Jeremy Corbyn published by RT on Dec 14th. Again, I encourage readers to follow the link and to read the article in full.

Jeremy Corbyn was never in a stronger position than on the morning of the day after the general election of June 2017. Against all the odds and punditocracy predictions, he had taken Labour to the brink of a stunning victory. The 40 percent of the vote Labour attained in that election represented the biggest increase in the share of the popular vote the party had achieved in over 70 years. But fatally, Corbyn didn’t take the tide at the flood. He should have used the moment to move swiftly and decisively against his ‘centrist’ enemies in the party who had done so much to undermine him. Instead, he held out an olive branch to them. They repaid his magnanimity by plotting the downfall which came to a head so spectacularly this week.

Phase One of the plan was to get Labour to sign up to an electorally suicidal shift on Brexit. Labour did so well in 2017 largely because it gave a clear manifesto commitment to respect the result of the 2016 referendum. But great pressure was exerted on Corbyn to agree to a change in policy and pledge Labour to support a second referendum. Years earlier, Corbyn had, quite rightly, attacked the EU for making the Irish vote again after they had rejected the Lisbon Treaty. But asking Labour Leavers to vote again on whether to leave the EU is precisely what Corbyn was doing in the 2019 general election. It’s true that others were constructing his political coffin, but it’s also true that Corbyn handed them the nails.

Phase Two of the plan to ‘Get Corbyn’ was to promote a narrative that Labour under his leadership was absolutely awash with anti-Semitism. Corbyn’s enemies wanted us to believe that Labour, a party which always prided itself on its anti-racist credentials, and which had a Jewish leader as recently as 2015, was in fact a racist party. Incredibly, this audacious campaign succeeded because Corbyn failed to call it out. The level of actual anti-Semitism in Labour was tiny, but the Labour leader accepted the narrative that there was a big problem to deal with. The result of his continually going on the back-foot was that he and his party were denounced as ‘anti-Semitic’ on an almost hourly basis. Chris Williamson, a loyal Corbyn ally, was thrown under the bus on trumped-up charges. But this appeasement only led to the campaign being ratcheted up still further.

Corbyn paid a very heavy price for the mistakes he made in the period 2017-19. The party’s backtracking on Brexit saw them haemorrhage support in their traditional pro-Leave Northern heartlands and lose working-class seats in the election that they had held for generations. Labour lost Blyth Valley for the first time ever. Wrexham in North Wales went Conservative for the first time ever. Great Grimsby was lost by Labour for the first time in 74 years. 71 percent of voters there had voted Leave in 2016. Yet Labour was asking them to vote again, next year. How absurd.

Click here to read the full article by Neil Clark published by RT.

*

Additional:

Last Thursday former trade union leader, Ian Lavery, was returned as the Member of Parliament for Wansbeck in Northumberland, but he watched as the so-called “Red Wall” of traditional Labour constituencies running from Wales to the North-East had collapsed around him. On Tuesday [Dec 17th] he joined Michael Walker and Ash Sarkar in another episode of #TyskySour to discuss the cost of a Second Referendum, and what next for Labour:

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, John Pilger

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 Kremlin dupe and a security threat – then, having been backed into a corner, he was browbeaten to reverse the party’s stance on Brexit with the manifesto pledge of a second referendum. This would be the coup de grâce.

Had Corbyn instead been allowed to honour the referendum result (as Labour did in 2017), and had Labour’s manifesto offered the deal previously secured when they had talks with May (a plan that Stephen Kinnock proposed and backed), or even to renegotiate a deal with Brussels, 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 ideological 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 ready 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 radicalised 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 reshaping of 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 more than ever will feel 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.

*

Update:

On BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show [Sunday 15th] John McDonnell cited Labour’s muddled policy on Brexit as the foremost reason for Labour’s defeat. He also put the blame squarely on four-years of relentless mainstream media bias saying:

Let’s have the debate about the nature of our politics, the nature of the reportage of our politics, and I think the way they treat individuals. Because it wasn’t just Jeremy, they did the same to Ed Miliband, they did the same to Neil Kinnock.

Andrew Marr interrupts: So you don’t think it’s anything to do with the actual characters at the top of the Labour Party?

McDonnell replies: I think it’s anyone who challenges the establishment will be portrayed in this way. Why? The establishment own the media in this country. [from 5:40 mins]

Click here to watch the same interview on BBC iplayer.

On Monday evening [Dec 16th] Novara Media straightforwardly asked the question “What went wrong?” The discussion between host Michael Walker; NM co-founder, Aaron Bastani; and Huda Elmi, a Constituency Labour Party representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and a regional board member of West Midland’s Labour; was a little bit of a slow burner and so we have to wait about 15 mins for the other shoe to drop. I have embedded the video to start around the time when they more candidly speak about the real causes of Labour’s electoral failure:

Huda Elmi: This election essentially was a de facto second referendum in my view. [17:05 min]

Aaron Bastani: “My one regret is I caved on a second referendum basically after the European elections. I should have stuck to my guns and said ‘It’s a f–king daft idea.’

Why? Two-thirds of Labour seats were ‘leave’ voting. Two-thirds of Labour target seats voted ‘leave’. So of course, 65 percent of the Labour vote voted ‘remain’, but we know because of the way first-past-the-post works 400 seats voted ‘leave’. You don’t want to be in a situation like Hillary Clinton, where you win the popular vote but it’s all concentrated in certain areas. And so there’s where I think Brexit was the major issue.

Look that shouldn’t be controversial. There’s I think about 100 new Tory MPs. There’s an article on Conservative Home listing them. Go, read that article, get their names, put those names into Facebook, look at the Facebook pages for their campaigns: all of them – their final video before the General Election was ‘Vote for me. Let’s get Brexit done. Let’s turn to really important things like the NHS.’

No mention of Corbyn. It’s about Brexit and not in the formulation we saw previously, but actually as a way of attending to erosion of public services, austerity, etc. And Get Brexit Done!’ Action verb. What does that remind you of? Take back control!

And we were so stupid to fall into the precise trap that Dominic Cummings and the Tory’s high command wanted. The exact same trap to the extent where they used a three-part word – Get Brexit Done – Take back control – It was the mirror image. So anybody saying that it wasn’t the major factor I think is being silly.”  [from 18:20 min]

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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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, campaigns & events

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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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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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’:

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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