one year of Keir Starmer and his open war on the Labour left: my exchange of letters with constituency Labour MP Paul Blomfield

Keir Starmer became Labour leader one year ago today, having comfortably won the leadership race against Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, gaining an unassailable 56.2% of the vote in the first round of the election. As leader, Starmer has since failed to offer any effective opposition to what has been and continues to be an incompetent, corrupt, reactionary and increasingly authoritarian Tory government.

Moreover, rather than unifying the Labour Party as he pledged to do, under the guise of tackling antisemitism, Starmer set his sights instead on crushing the progressive wing with a series of attacks to undermine those closest to former leader Jeremy Corbyn, promptly sacking Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet. Starmer’s war on the left culminated with his full endorsement of the decision to suspend Corbyn, who is yet to have the whip re-instated and now sits as an independent backbench MP, where even in this diminished capacity he still offers more effective opposition than Sir Keir:

And here is Corbyn speaking out to protect our civil liberties and democratic right to protest at yesterday’s #KillTheBill rally:

On Wednesday 24th February inspired by a short interview featuring the editor of Tribune, Ronan Burtenshaw (embedded below), I penned a quick letter to my local MP Paul Blomfield, the former Shadow Minister for Brexit and EU Negotiations, inviting him to watch the video in question. Reproduced below is the full exchange of letters unabridged and augmented with further links and additional video:

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Dear Paul,

I think you should know how I and many other members of the Labour Party are feeling at this moment. I encourage you therefore to spend just ten minutes watching this short film:

Ronan Burtenshaw speaks for literally hundreds of thousands of us, some of whom have already torn up their membership cards and walked away from the party in disgust.

If the leadership and the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] continue to act in this way then Labour will lose many more members. Its grassroots base will very likely collapse. And if this isn’t already concerning enough, then I ask you also to consider the broader impact on our democracy once the party is divorced from the people, and the electorate again stops trusting our politicians. Look at the effects in America.

I cannot put my true feelings into words here which is why I very sincerely encourage you to watch the film.

Hope you are well in these difficult times.

Kind regards,

James

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Respectfully he did watch the video and replied to me on Friday 5th March:

Dear James,

Thanks for your email sharing your views about Keir’s leadership of the Labour Party.

I watched the video, but I don’t think it provides a very accurate picture of what’s happening in the party at the moment. I find it extraordinary that it criticises the current party leadership for serving in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet while disagreeing with some of his policies. It suggests that this is duplicity, where actually it’s loyalty to the Labour cause. We come together in political parties around shared values, with lots of different views; we make our arguments on specific policies but back what is agreed.

I’ve disagreed with every leader of the Labour Party on something, but we should always work positively to engage, not simply look to oppose at every turn which I fear that some in the Party are seeking to do at the moment. You’ll know that Jeremy’s suspension is due to his refusal to apologise for his comments on the EHRC report, not to do with his leadership or any other issue.

I also don’t recognise your characterisation of the huge loss of members during Keir’s tenure either. In November 2019 (the last set of NEC elections during Jeremy’s leadership) there were around 430,000 members. In January this year there were around 459,000.

You’re right that it’s a serious problem for democracy when people stop trusting politicians; and turning to populism – of the right or left – is not the answer. We obviously lost the trust of a significant section of our traditional supporters in recent years, leading us to the worst electoral defeat since 1935. It’s a long haul back, but we have picked up more than 20 points in the polls since last April and Keir is rated as the most popular Labour politician (see more here).

I’m a bit puzzled by your comments about the USA where there has been a troubling polarisation of politics, with the left losing some of its traditional base, but people put their faith in the biggest charlatan in the country’s history. Let’s take comfort from the fact  that Trump lost the Presidential election, and the Biden Administration has used its position to begin to set right some of the most divisive policies – such stopping the ‘building of the wall’, launching a government initiative on racial equality, cancelling the racist ‘Muslim ban’ and rejoining the Paris Climate Accord.

Thanks again for writing and for your good wishes. I hope you’re keeping well too.

With best wishes Paul.

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I then replied to Paul Blomfield the same day but at greater length – supporting links with URL addresses are as in the original but I have also included further links and Youtube clips including the interview with Andrew Feinstein:

Dear Paul,

Thank you for watching the video I sent and for your thoughtful and full reply.

Firstly, I would like to address the issue surrounding membership. Since I do not have access to the Labour database I am forced to rely on what I hear from fellow members and from the most recent newspaper reports. Regarding anecdotal evidence, it is very clear to me that I am not alone. Of the members I know personally or know through social media, many have resigned their membership; countless others feel betrayed and deceived by Keir Starmer’s calls for unity and reconciliation; and the vast majority are now terribly demoralised. As for reliable numbers:

LABOUR has lost over 50,000 members since Keir Starmer became leader, according to the party’s own election records.

UK Labour held its National Executive Committee (NEC) elections this week, which was won by the party’s left-wing faction.

In the NEC election, 495,961 members of the party were listed as eligible to vote.

When Starmer was elected to the leadership position after Jeremy Corbyn stood down, there were 552,835 registered Labour party members.

Those figures mean the party has lost 56,874 members since April

From an article published on November 14th by The National: https://www.thenational.scot/news/18871910.labour-nec-vote-reveals-drop-party-membership-since-keir-starmers-election/

When it comes to Labour’s electoral chances, if this decline is true then, as I wrote before, it will have a devastating effect on doorstep canvassing. The drop in revenue also means that the party will now have to become increasingly reliant on wealthy and corporate donors.

You say that “we obviously lost the trust of a significant section of our traditional supporters in recent years, leading us to the worst electoral defeat since 1935. It’s a long haul back, but we have picked up more than 20 points in the polls since last April and Keir is rated as the most popular Labour politician.”

Labour lost its traditional base once it came to be seen as untrustworthy. This happened when it flip-flopped over Brexit and moved from its successful stance of accepting the referendum vote in 2017 (losing by the tiniest margin of just 2.5%) to its slow adoption of calls for a second vote. Many on the left forecast this repercussion; as you may recall, I was one [see here]. The chief architect of Labour’s Brexit strategy was Keir Starmer, so he must take some of the responsibility for Labour’s dreadful 2019 defeat.

I don’t trust opinion polls very much and I think that constantly relying on them to guide us is a bad habit, and indeed one that smacks of populism. That said, at the time of the last election, the Tories won with short of a 12% lead over Labour whereas the latest opinion poll currently gives them a 13% lead. This evaluation comes after a truly disastrous year when abject incompetence and corruption in the government’s handling of the pandemic has resulted in more than a hundred thousand deaths and will leave millions of people unemployed or otherwise desperate. Of course, Corbyn’s popularity figures remained comparatively low throughout his leadership (for reasons I shall come to), but Starmer’s figures have recently nosedived too and now fallen below Corbyn’s peak. Perhaps the latest report from Yougov is illuminating in this regard:

“Starmer’s main cause for concern is that a quarter (24%) of those who voted Labour in 2019 have an unfavourable view of their party leader, although 60% still hold a favourable opinion. In fact, his personal approval rating is now better amongst 2019 Lib Dem voters, who have a favourable opinion of him by 68% to 19%. He also has the support of one in five (21%) 2019 Conservative voters.”

That he is most favoured today by Lib Dem voters certainly does not support the view that he will begin winning back traditional Labour supporters any time soon.

Keir Starmer’s decline in net satisfaction over first 12 months image

Click here to find the same graphic on page 15 of the Ipsos MORI report from March 2021.

You write that: “I’m a bit puzzled by your comments about the USA where there has been a troubling polarisation of politics, with the left losing some of its traditional base, but people put their faith in the biggest charlatan in the country’s history.” The point – not really my point – is that when people lose faith in democracy they often seem to turn to fascism. And I think we may agree that with the election of Trump, America has already moved to the cusp of turning fascist.

The difference here is that I put no faith in Biden at all because I see no reason to do so. Under Biden I fully anticipate a return to the kinds of policies that we had under Obama and without going into the details of what was wrong with Obama’s domestic and foreign policy, I would simply make the obvious point that Trump’s success followed immediately on the heels of Obama’s two terms in office. Clearly those eight years of “hope and change” left many Americans feeling little more than despair and desperation. After Biden, the same will very likely happen although with still more dangerous consequences because the situation gradually worsens with each cycle of neoliberal failure.

Finally, I shall address the most contentious of the points you have raised. To those on the left of the party the suspension of Corbyn is very evidently a politically-motivated act. In the statement in question, Corbyn said anti-Semitism was “absolutely abhorrent” and “one anti-Semite is one too many” in the party. These views are ones he has consistently upheld and are views that most of us share.

He then went on to say: “The scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.” There are actually two issues here. Firstly, on what grounds is it improper for him to defend the party and himself against perceived smears by political opponents and the media?  Secondly, is his opinion false? What is the available evidence here?

I refer you to Al Jazeera’s undercover investigative series “The Lobby” broadcast in 2017. In light of Al Jazeera’s revelations, then-shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry called on the government to launch an immediate inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics”.

She said in parliament: “The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing.”

Note that: Thornberry’s statement can also be found on the Labour Party website: https://labour.org.uk/press/reports-of-israeli-embassy-official-discussing-how/

Although this story briefly hit the headlines, the main focus of Al Jazeera’s investigation and its disclosure of a dirty tricks campaign against both pro-Palestinian Labour members and also to subvert Corbyn’s leadership has been quietly buried by the media.

Moreover, in January 2017, BBC Trust felt obliged to issue a retraction and an admission that it breached its own accuracy and impartiality rules during a news report about Jeremy Corbyn’s view on shoot-to-kill policy, writing: “The breach of due accuracy on such a highly contentious political issue meant that the output had not achieved due impartiality.” Here is another indication of the media’s hostility toward Corbyn, and I will add that in response, James Harding, Director of BBC News, remained unapologetic saying (as the BBC itself reported): “While we respect the Trust and the people who work there, we disagree with this finding.”

I remind you that Keir Starmer also sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey merely for retweeting a quote with a link to respectable newspaper article on the grounds that it promoted a “conspiracy theory”.

Below is the first part of Rebecca Long-Bailey’s Twitter thread apology and retraction:

Without wishing to get into the weeds, the claims made in the article in question were untrue only in the specific case of the George Floyd killing, because it irrefutably is the case that police officers in the US are being trained by Israel Defense Forces [as Amnesty International reported in 2016] and that the IDF does use a similar kind of neck restraint against Palestinians [as Jonathan Cook reports here]. As you are no doubt aware, they also routinely shoot at unarmed protesters using live ammunition.

Here is a video report also posted by Amnesty International:

And here is a video showing an IDF soldier using the same neck restraint against a Palestinian man:

Going back to Corbyn’s statement, in my view he is justifiably defending himself against an attack-dog media and those who were actively working within the party to undermine him. But my own central points are actually these: Firstly, that Corbyn is not and has never been a racist. Indeed, even his fiercest opponents have never seriously charged him with racism and that is because his antiracist position is active, long-standing and unimpeachable. Secondly, and more broadly, we must never allow criticism of Israel to be suppressed on the totally spurious charge of antisemitism. I fear that even writing this may put me somehow in breach of the party’s current position, since I fail to understand how Corbyn’s statement is more sanctionable than any of the thoughts expressed here.

Embedded below is an interview with Andrew Feinstein, former South African MP who served under Nelson Mandela and author of “The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade”, discussing Keir Starmer’s ‘New’ New Labour, how the factional and weaponised use of ‘antisemitism’ is used to purge the left from the Labour party:

In this regard I stand with Jewish Voice for Labour who released the following statement:

We are appalled that Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended and had the whip withdrawn. He has a proud record of fighting all forms of racism including antisemitism. We call on Labour Party members to protest against this unjustified outrage in the strongest terms and through all channels available to us. This is an attack not just on Jeremy, but on the party membership. Do not leave, organise and fight back.

You can read their views on the EHRC report here: https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/statement/the-ehrc-report-an-interim-response/

Very glad to hear that you are well and I’d like to thank you again for taking the time and trouble to reply to my letter.

Best wishes,

James

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I received a reply from Paul Blomfield on Tuesday 16th March:

Dear James

Thanks for your further email. I just wanted to respond on a couple of your points.

Membership numbers fluctuate and, while the figures showed some decline from the highest-ever level in January 2020, they are still well above the 430,359 in November 2019. Any decline in membership is clearly disappointing, but the increase in public support is encouraging. I don’t know the potential negative affect this might have on canvassing teams. After the mass influx of new members in 2015 and 2016, there was no noticeable increase in campaigning members, so I’m not sure there’s a direct correlation.

You also make the point that Labour is in danger of losing more of its ‘traditional base’ voters, or not winning them back soon. It is a real issue; democratic socialist parties across Europe have faced a gradual loss of this support over at least the last 15 years, and in the UK this far pre-dates Brexit. In 2017, under Jeremy’s leadership, the trend continued and, while we won seats in metropolitan areas, we lost Mansfield, North East Derbyshire and other such ‘traditional Labour’ seats. Bringing together a winning electoral coalition is a complex challenge – but one that we have been considering and working on for a decade. I would also point out that our 2019 Brexit policy was not Keir’s, but one that Jeremy wanted and was secured at Conference with the support of Len McCluskey, who later wrote this piece claiming that it “should be a vote-winner”.

I agree with you that over-reliance on polls outside election periods isn’t always helpful, but as you will recognise, in the days before Keir became leader we were 20 points behind and we’re now in a much stronger position – while Johnson enjoys a current ‘bounce’ from the successful vaccination programme (which is frustrating as it’s the hard-working NHS staff that his Government has denied a fair pay settlement to who are rolling it out!)

With best wishes

Paul

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My final thoughts: Although I reject Paul Blomfield’s contention that “our 2019 Brexit policy was not Keir’s, but one that Jeremy wanted…” I have not replied to him since it seemed that our sequence of correspondence had run its course. I’d like sincerely to thank him again for taking such trouble to reply in fullness to my concerns.

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Additional:

Michael Walker and Aaron Bastani of Novara Media marked the anniversary with their own review on Friday 2nd:

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5 former OPCW officials join prominent voices to call out Syria cover-up

Reprinted below is the full ‘Statement of Concern’ signed by more than twenty prestigious academics, journalists and leading weapons experts including five former OPCW officials who are named as Dr. Sabine Krüger, former OPCW Inspector 1997-2009; Dirk van Niekerk, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader & Head of OPCW Special Mission to Iraq; Dr. Antonius Roof, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader; Alan Steadman, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader & UNSCOM Inspector; and José Bustani, first Director General of the OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France. The full list of signatories is attached at the end of the statement.

Click here to read the same statement as it originally appears posted on the Courage Foundation website on Thursday March 11th.

Embedded below is the latest broadcast of The Grayzone’s ‘Pushback’ in which Aaron Maté details the letter and airs clips of his and Tulsi Gabbard’s recent ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ appearance discussing the OPCW controversy:

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Statement of Concern

The OPCW investigation of alleged chemical weapons use in Douma, Syria

We wish to express our deep concern over the protracted controversy and political fall-out surrounding the OPCW and its investigation of the alleged chemical weapon attacks in Douma, Syria, on 7 April 2018.

Since the publication by the OPCW of its final report in March 2019, a series of worrying developments has raised serious and substantial concerns with respect to the conduct of that investigation. These developments include instances in which OPCW inspectors involved with the investigation have identified major procedural and scientific irregularities, the leaking of a significant quantity of corroborating documents, and damning statements provided to UN Security Council meetings. It is now well established that some senior inspectors involved with the investigation, one of whom played a central role, reject how the investigation derived its conclusions, and OPCW management now stands accused of accepting unsubstantiated or possibly manipulated findings with the most serious geo-political and security implications. Calls by some members of the Executive Council of the OPCW to allow all inspectors to be heard were blocked.

The inspectors’ concerns are shared by the first Director General of the OPCW, José Bustani, and a significant number of eminent individuals have called for transparency and accountability at the OPCW. Bustani himself was recently prevented by key members of the Security Council from participating in a hearing on the Syrian dossier. As Ambassador Bustani stated in a personal appeal to the Director General, if the Organization is confident in the conduct of its Douma investigation then it should have no difficulty addressing the inspectors’ concerns.

To date, unfortunately, the OPCW senior management has failed to adequately respond to the allegations against it and, despite making statements to the contrary, we understand has never properly allowed the views or concerns of the members of the investigation team to be heard or even met with most of them. It has, instead, side-stepped the issue by launching an investigation into a leaked document related to the Douma case and by publicly condemning its most experienced inspectors for speaking out.

In a worrying recent development, a draft letter falsely alleged to have been sent by the Director General to one of the dissenting inspectors was leaked to an ‘open source’ investigation website in an apparent attempt to smear the former senior OPCW scientist. The ‘open source’ website then published the draft letter together with the identity of the inspector in question. Even more alarmingly, in a BBC4 radio series aired recently, an anonymous source, reportedly connected with the OPCW Douma investigation, gave an interview with the BBC in which he contributes to an attempt to discredit not only the two dissenting inspectors, but even Ambassador Bustani himself. Importantly, recent leaks in December 2020 have evidenced that a number of senior OPCW officials were supportive of one OPCW inspector who had spoken out with respect to malpractice.

The issue at hand threatens to severely damage the reputation and credibility of the OPCW and undermine its vital role in the pursuit of international peace and security. It is simply not tenable for a scientific organization such as the OPCW to refuse to respond openly to the criticisms and concerns of its own scientists whilst being associated with attempts to discredit and smear those scientists. Moreover, the on-going controversy regarding the Douma report also raises concerns with respect to the reliability of previous FFM reports, including the investigation of the alleged attack at Khan Shaykhun in 2017.

We believe that the interests of the OPCW are best served by the Director General providing a transparent and neutral forum in which the concerns of all the investigators can be heard as well as ensuring that a fully objective and scientific investigation is completed.

To that end, we call on the Director General of the OPCW to find the courage to address the problems within his organization relating to this investigation and ensure States Parties and the United Nations are informed accordingly. In this way we hope and believe that the credibility and integrity of the OPCW can be restored.

Signatories in Support of the Statement of Concern:

José Bustani, Ambassador of Brazil, first Director General of the OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France.

Professor Noam Chomsky, Laureate Professor U. of Arizona and Institute Professor (em), MIT.

Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor, Harper’s Magazine.

Daniel Ellsberg, PERI Distinguished Research Fellow, UMass Amherst. Former Defense and State Department official. Former official of Defense Department (GS-18) and State Department (FSR-1).

Professor Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University.

Tulsi Gabbard, former Presidential candidate and Member of the US House of Representatives (2013-2021).

Professor Dr. Ulrich Gottstein, on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW-Germany).

Katharine Gun, former GCHQ (UKGOV), whistleblower.

Denis J. Halliday, UN Assistant Secretary-General (1994-98).

Professor Pervez Houdbhoy, Quaid-e-Azam University and ex Pugwash.

Kristinn Hrafnnson, Editor in Chief, Wikileaks.

Dr. Sabine Krüger, Analytical Chemist, Former OPCW Inspector 1997-2009.

Ray McGovern, ex-CIA Presidential Briefer; co-founder, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (rtd); member, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

Professor Götz Neuneck, Pugwash Council and German Pugwash Chair.

Dirk van Niekerk, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader, Head of OPCW Special Mission to Iraq

John Pilger, Emmy and Bafta winning journalist and film maker.

Professor Theodore A. Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Antonius Roof, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader and Head Industry Inspections.

Professor John Avery Scales, Professor, Pugwash Council and Danish Pugwash Chair.

Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator (Iraq).

Alan Steadman, Chemical Weapons Munitions Specialist, Former OPCW Inspection Team Leader and UNSCOM Inspector.

Jonathan Steele, journalist and author.

Roger Waters, Musician and Activist.

Lord West of Spithead, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff 2002-06.

Oliver Stone, Film Director, Producer and Writer.

Colonel (ret.) Lawrence B. Wilkerson, U.S. Army, Visiting Professor at William and Mary College and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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Filed under John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Syria

10 years through the looking-glass: reflections on writing this blog and plans to mark the anniversary

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

From Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

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Today marks the tenth anniversary of this blog and first and foremost I would like to take the opportunity to thank all my subscribers and readers. As the tech giants continue to do everything in their wide-ranging powers (including algorithmic adjustments, shadow bans and more forthright content removal) to hammer alternative sites like this one – January saw the third blow in four years as levels of site traffic plummeted almost overnight to all-time lows – it is only subscribers like you who motivate me to continue adding new content.

Unfortunately, while I noticed this anniversary was looming, somehow its arrival has nonetheless caught me a little unprepared. So like the hapless best man at a wedding who has forgotten to bring his speech, I must ask you to forgive this rather extemporised offering and in the tradition, I shall try to keep it short!

A decade that began with Cameron, Merkel, Sarkozy and Obama has somehow, and in spite of everything that happened during the interim, such as the rise and fall of the Occupy movement, and the false dawns of Syriza, Sanders and Corbyn, ended up with Johnson, Merkel, Macron and Biden. Plus ça change.

Ten years ago we also witnessed the so-called “Arab Spring” that resulted in the bloody assassination of Gaddafi and ensuing chaos to Libya, including the return of slave markets and warlords. Meanwhile, the notorious lies about WMDs that falsely accused Saddam and gave a pretext for the “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad in 2003 are today routinely compounded with comparable lies about alleged gas attacks in Syria. Lies that are upheld by the majority of our snivelling mainstream journalists. Fake news did not begin with “Russiagate” although it was indeed another hoax, but is readily traced back to the toppling of Saddam’s statue, “babies out of incubators”, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, the sinking of the USS Liberty, the Battle of Orgreave, the Hillsborough Disaster… this list goes on and on and on.

Bush and Blair’s illegal invasion (Operation Iraqi Liberation or OIL for short) had enabled Salafist terrorists to get their foothold in Iraq, and then following the “Arab Spring” uprisings, these same factions were enabled to cross the porous border back and forth into Syria, as a new Takfiri gang called ISIS sprang up and menaced the region. Timber Sycamore, a covert CIA-led operation, also helped to train and supply weapons to many of these so-called “rebels” in Syria.

In the real battle to defeat the spread of ISIS and al Qaeda, Iran remains, of course, solidly committed to the cause, at the same time it has remained solidly in the crosshairs of Israel and the US, who last year murdered Qasem Soleimani, the foremost Iranian general fighting against these terrorist factions. The duplicitous nature of the US-led foreign “interventions” and occupations in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond (including Western meddling in Ukraine and Venezuela) are all issues I have returned to.

At home, the decade has been punctuated by terrorist attacks that in turn furthered the growth and expansion of a tightening network of surveillance systems, while western nations have simultaneously been in the grip of stringent “austerity measures” inflicted on the back of the 2008/9 banking collapse. This neoliberal assault is now set to be extended thanks to repeated government failures to tackle the current pandemic, when rather than instituting appropriate public health measures and timely border controls that might have kept the economy open and avoided 130,000 excess deaths, Johnson instead forced us into nationwide lockdowns.

On a more personal note, twelve months ago I contracted covid and found myself utterly abandoned by a government that offered no support whatsoever. It didn’t even provide a means of testing and at that time it was almost impossible to check whether my own strange symptoms fitted this novel disease. I went into self-isolation (in accordance with regulations) but then had to rely entirely on my family for support. The symptoms were frightening at times and it took fully eight weeks to properly recover. I have since received no financial support in spite of reduced hours at work. Now I am one of millions of course – while many others stricken with the disease in those first weeks actually died at home for want of medical attention. Millions more have since fallen between the multiple cracks of Rishi Sunak’s convoluted and unfair furlough scheme.

This second round of disaster capitalism – the first took place in the shadow of the banking crisis – already involves massive transfers of wealth from the public purse into the pockets of the major corporations and their presiding oligarchs. The next steps as jobs are lost, whether through automation or more straightforwardly due to rapid economic decline, will enable fresh opportunities for privatisation, the accelerated dismantling of the welfare systems, and the continuing immiseration of the ninety-nine percent. Already this shift is being cleverly rebranded under the Davos-inspired banner of “The Great Reset”.

Over the years I have tried to cover all of these issues and many others including environmental ones. For instance, I first highlighted the threat of the fracking industry long before most people in Europe had heard anything about it and wrote extensively on the serious dangers posed by nuclear power during the time of the Fukushima disaster; a forgotten horror which is still haunting that region of Japan with a cost to human life that will never be fully counted.

One of my constant aims here has been to provide in-depth coverage as well as support to burgeoning protest and political movements as they have arisen. Beginning with Los Indignados in Spain, which then sparked the more widespread Occupy movement, I followed both from their inception and tried to issue warnings once I saw how Occupy was being sidetracked by internal squabbles and with its failure to make firm political or economic demands; finally reporting on its last vestiges before the tents inside Zuccotti Park were completely smashed to the ground by Obama’s law enforcement thugs.

Likewise I had supported the equivalent protest movement in Greece before switching my backing to Syriza under its charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras. This was a mistake and following the referendum to end the imposed neoliberal reforms of “the Troika”, seeing how that vote was immediately betrayed, I freely admitted my own error of judgement. With greater circumspection, I also lent support to Bernie Sanders’ first campaign in America and later disclosed how his Democratic nomination was stolen during the US Primaries, while still castigating Sanders for his pitiable capitulation as he lent his unqualified support first to Clinton and then Biden.

My endorsement of Corbyn was different. I always backed him enthusiastically and on countless occasions exposed the dirty tricks used by enemies both inside the Labour Party and within the liberal media (including such ludicrous smears as labelling him a soviet spy, terrorist sympathiser, and antisemite) initially in their failed attempts to undermine his bid to be leader, and then more successfully, to demoralise his base and frustrate his leadership.

Caught up in an ongoing Blairite war against the left, Corbyn eventually lost his way and having graciously stepped aside was swiftly suspended by Starmer, the Blairite continuity successor, who seized the opportunity with Machiavellian zeal. I remain supportive of Corbyn’s project to democratise the party, though in truth it appears to be a lost cause. Notwithstanding the many setbacks, I will continue to support those on the left including Chris Williamson, Moshé Machover and Jackie Walker who all fell victim to this Labour witch hunt.

In ten years I have published or reposted more than five hundred articles and though a great deal of the writing and small parts of the research are my own, I certainly owe a huge debt of gratitude to many alternative and independent voices for providing in-depth research, on-the-ground reporting or just for receiving such well-informed opinion. These include Eva Bartlett, Vanessa Beeley, Cory Morningstar, Whitney Webb, Abby Martin, Esther Vivas, John Pilger, Jonathan Cook, Craig Murray, Peter Ford, Charlie Skelton and at The Grayzone, Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton and Aaron Maté. I hope that my own lesser contribution has in some way helped to promote and to widen their audiences a little too.

A few years ago, I was invited to complete an interview by Jerry Alatalo who runs The Oneness of Humanity website. The first question asked about my primary motivation for beginning the blog and I replied as follows:

The brief answer is that after years of insouciance following the end of the Cold War, I had a rude awakening upon realising where we were actually heading: the perpetual wars, the rise in surveillance, the hardening of the police state, allied to a correspondent immiseration of our already fractured and terribly unequal Western societies. After the initial trauma (trauma is really no exaggeration), I felt the need to speak out and the internet provided a platform. This is half of the story.

The other half is that I had been in the midst of writing a book when a friend suggested posting up chapters by way of a blog. Purely as a test run we set up a WordPress website and uploaded a short travelogue about my adventures in Tanzania. I kept the travelogue and began adding articles about current affairs and this is how the blog steadily evolved. Eight years on, the book (a quirky, stream-of-consciousness treatise on life, the universe and making things better!) remains a work in progress, and though some of its chapters have since been uploaded, I devoted my spare time instead to expanding the main content of the blog, which is journalistic, since this seemed a far more urgent project.

The completion of the book remains long overdue, but during the course of next few months and to mark this anniversary properly, I am determined to upload its outstanding chapters, releasing them month by month as I did before. Another idea is to repost a few of the older articles – ones that failed to receive much attention at the time of publication but remain pertinent – supplying brief updates to give them a more contemporaneous flavour.

This is what I have in mind for the immediate future as well to continue with my attempts to provide interesting and insightful content so that hopefully you will continue to follow my work.

Finally I would like to offer my best wishes to all the readers who got this far and please allow me raise a virtual glass to clink with yours!

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these materials may have been obtained through hacking…

After The Grayzone‘s Max Blumenthal reported on newly leaked documents exposing a massive UK government propaganda campaign against Russia, Twitter added an unprecedented warning label that “These materials may have been obtained through hacking.” Although Twitter may have intended to restrict the article, the warning had the opposite effect: it quickly went viral.

Here Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté discuss the suppression effort and the damning UK government leaks at the heart of it. After years of fear-mongering about Russian interference in Western democracies, these UK government files expose a sprawling propaganda effort that explicitly aims to “weaken” Russia. The documents reveal that this propaganda campaign has also enlisted major media outlets Reuters and the BBC, as well as the NATO member state-funded website Bellingcat.

Click here to full the original article entitled “Reuters, BBC, and Bellingcat participated in covert UK Foreign Office-funded programs to ‘weaken Russia,’ leaked docs reveal”.

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Additional:

In the video below, Jimmy Dore outlines Twitter’s new rules and explains how in an absolutely Orwellian twist they are now literally redefining the word ‘hack’ to make it apply to all leaked materials. He also speaks to Max Blumenthal and they discuss an attempted policy reversal when Twitter briefly decided to remove their warning label [caution: strong language]:

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when hate speech is just dandy: release of CCE report throws into light the strange liberal love affair with Alexei Navalny

If I was to describe Muslim migrant workers arriving here from the south as cockroaches and then go so far as you recommend eradication as a solution, not only would I expect my readers to be absolutely disgusted, but I would think it quite justifiable for WordPress, Facebook and Twitter to censor such incendiary racist content. And I say this as an ardent proponent for free speech who fully supports the right for others to hold and spread contemptible opinions, not even debarring vile racism so long as it is within well-established restrictions that make it illegal to incite violence.

With this in mind, now watch “Alexei Navalny Certified Nationalist” (as his own caption reads) rallying his base by speaking to supporters in precisely this way in a political promo broadcast from 2007:

Click here to find the same content uploaded on the Internet Archive.

Ten years later in 2017, Navalny, already the darling of western liberals, was featured by the Guardian in an interview with Shaun Walker. A perfect opportunity to issue his apology and express some modicum of regret (even if phoney) for what the article lightly describes as “a number of disturbing videos, including one in which he is dressed as a dentist, complaining that tooth cavities ruin healthy teeth, as clips of migrant workers are shown.” Instead, however, we learn, Navalny remains “unapologetic”:

He sees it as a strength that he can speak to both liberals and nationalists. But comparing migrants to cockroaches? “That was artistic license,” he says. So there’s nothing at all from those videos or that period that he regrets? “No,” he says again, firmly.

Well hey ho, Navalny may speak in terms no different from Le Pen and Trump and with less restraint and worse manners, and be unrepentant in his choice of rancid language and imagery so long as it appeals to a slavering nationalist base, but quite unlike Le Pen and Trump he somehow still manages to tick all of the liberal boxes; his single discernible quality being his hostility towards Putin, which is evidently all that finally counts. The Guardian certainly gives Navalny a pass, Shaun Walker continuing:

Perhaps he has a cynical belief that, with the support of the liberal elite sewn up, the anti-migrant rhetoric can potentially help him appeal to a broader audience. Certainly, most opposition politicians, even if they don’t like Navalny much, are aware that he is the best hope for swelling anti-Putin sentiment. 1

However, not everyone is so forgiving. For perfectly understandable reasons therefore, and with public pressure mounting, on Tuesday Amnesty International quietly downgraded the status of Navalny, determining that he no longer fits their criteria for “prisoner of conscience”.

In dismay, the BBC yesterday reported:

A spokesman for the human rights organisation in Moscow told the BBC that he believed the wave of requests to “de-list” Navalny was part of an “orchestrated campaign” to discredit Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic and “impede” Amnesty’s calls for his release from custody. 2

To be honest, I am absolutely sick and tired of hearing about Alexei Navalny, and though our own liberal media has got into the unfortunate habit of fawning over Russia’s own Trump, his “anti-corruption” shtick (to drain the Kremlin swamp presumably!) seems to strike less of a chord with the average Russian. In the west, Navalny is endlessly held up as the poster child of Russian opposition, and yet in truth his political sideshow is seen more as a dubious irrelevance and especially by those on the left who are actually taking the battle to the oligarchs.

To better gauge Russian public opinion and hear a genuine left-wing take on Alexei Navalny, I recommend this recent Grayzone interview in which Katya Kazbek, the editor-in-chief of arts and culture magazine Supamodu.com; and Alexey Sakhnin, activist and a member of the Left Front, who was one of the leaders of the anti-Putin protest movement from 2011 to 2013, spoke with Aaron Maté:

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Unrelated but with perfect timing, the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) yesterday released its long-awaited report. In it they are calling for new laws to tackle the spread of hate speech and the glorification of extremism.

Set up by Theresa May’s government back in 2017 in the shadow of the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, the “independent” CCE, “a statutory body to help fight hatred and extremism in the same way as we have fought racism,” 3 was headed up by a little-known activist called Sara Khan and ex-senior police officer, Sir Mark Rowley. At the time, the appointment of Khan came as a shock to many and was heavily criticised by anti-racist voices as politically diverse as former Conservative minister Baroness Warsi, Labour MPs Naz Shah and Diane Abbott, as well as the Muslim Council of Britain, and CAGE, the London-based advocacy group for Muslim detainees.

Writing in Middle East Eye, Siema Iqbal expressed her own outrage at Khan’s appointment as follows:

An article Khan wrote that was published in a report by Hope Not Hate in 2017, which amounts to a collection of smears directed at dissenting Muslim individuals and organisations, is just the tip of the iceberg.

The broad-brush strokes with which she portrayed these organisations, many of which are stalwarts of the community, does not command confidence. It is true that Khan is from the Pakistani and Muslim communities, but without legitimacy and without trust, this amounts to little.

Continuing:

[W]hat is more extraordinary, is that the government has launched a Commission to Counter Extremism when there is no actual legal definition of the term itself. How is it possible to work on something the government has failed to define?

Instead, why not engage more widely with Muslim community organisations and address the concerns around Prevent and the lack of transparency around the Home Office’s Extremism Analysis Unit and its work?

Numerous academics, organisations and individuals have expressed their concerns around the discriminatory aspects of the Prevent policy and its pseudo-scientific basis, yet the government still refuses to call an independent enquiry.

The government may have found itself a Muslim woman to serve as a “mouthpiece” for the Home Office alongside others. However, she is outnumbered by those who will not. 4

Click here to read Siema Iqbal’s full article entitled “I am insulted at Sara Khan’s appointment”.

The details of this new CCE report recommend the further tightening of controls on activities the commission describes as “hateful extremism”, which according to Mark Rowley is “where one group targets another to ‘to advance a political, religious or racial supremacist ideology’ and wanting ‘to create a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence’”:

It is based on a concept already in use in terrorism trials, the “mindset material” where extremist material, such as from the far right or Islamist terrorist videos, are accepted as evidence of pre-existing extremism. […]

Rowley said a tougher approach for the internet was needed but technology companies had pointed out there was little more they could do until they [sic] was an accepted definition of what counted as extremism: “The magnifying effect of social media had transformed it from a sideshow to a major threat.”

The report said there were worrying signs the young were being duped by extremists.

From an article in the Guardian which also includes a response from a spokesman for CAGE – an organisation Sara Khan now claims could meet ‘the threshold for action’ – who in turn accuses the commission of “implementing an ‘official’ state-sanctioned policy of ‘cancel culture’ arguing for further restrictions on lawful speech”:

“After 3 years, and at great taxpayer expense, the CCE concludes its work without any further clarity on what ‘extremism’ is. Instead it promotes ideas from some of the most stridently Islamophobic and censorious organisations in the industry.” 5

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

While seemingly unconnected, the latest twist in the Navalny saga and the concurrent release of the CCE report throw abundant light on the double standards we see operating throughout the media. More alarmingly, the difference in the way cases are being treated seems to be indicative of a divergence at the level of law: what is deemed politically acceptable potentially informing what kinds of freedom of speech will be legally sanctioned in the future.

On the one hand, anyone in Britain presumed to be creating “a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence” may soon find themselves faced with the threat of prosecution. The big question is, of course, to whom will this legislation actually apply? Muslims understandably fear that once again they will be the ones targeted.

Meanwhile, censorship on the grounds of such vaguely defined infringements as “hateful extremism” provides yet another pretext to deplatform alternative opinion, which is deeply worrying at a time when freedom of speech, especially on the internet, is already under sustained attack and unwanted alternative opinions are already subjected to unprecedented levels of censorship.

On the other hand, describing Muslim migrant workers as cockroaches and openly calling for their eradication will doubtless continue to be passed over as a minor indiscretion and more actively defended as a justifiable ploy for gaining political traction against the enemy, just so long as your name is Alexei Navalny.

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1 From an article entitled “Alexei Navalny on Putin’s Russia: ‘All autocratic regimes come to an end’” written by Shaun Walker, published in the Guardian on April 29, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/29/alexei-navalny-on-putins-russia-all-autocratic-regimes-come-to-an-end

2 From an article entitled “Amnesty strips Alexei Navalny of ‘prisoner of conscience’ status” written by Sarah Rainford, published in BBC News on February 24, 2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-56181084

3 From Theresa May’s statement following the terrorist attack near a mosque in Finsbury Park, London, published in full by BBC News on June 19, 2017. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40327996

4 From an article entitled “I am insulted at Sara Khan’s appointment” written by Siema Iqbal, published in Middle East Eye on January 29, 2018. https://www.middleeasteye.net/fr/node/68777

5 From an article entitled “New UK laws needed to stop hate speech and extremism, says report” written by Vikram Dodd, published in the Guardian on February 24, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/feb/24/new-uk-laws-needed-to-stop-hate-speech-and-extremism-says-report

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‘Coup 53’: or how British intelligence enabled the CIA to take over the empire

Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.

One specifically American contribution to the discourse of empire is the specialized jargon of policy expertise. You don’t need Arabic or Persian or even French to pontificate about how the democracy domino effect is just what the Arab world needs. Combative and woefully ignorant policy experts, whose world experience is limited to the Beltway, grind out books on “terrorism” and liberalism, or about Islamic fundamentalism and American foreign policy, or about the end of history, all of it vying for attention and influence quite without regard for truthfulness or reflection or real knowledge. What matters is how efficient and resourceful it sounds, and who might go for it, as it were. The worst aspect of this essentializing stuff is that human suffering in all its density and pain is spirited away. Memory and with it the historical past are effaced as in the common, dismissively contemptuous American phrase, “you’re history.” — Edward Said

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When democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, took the fateful decision to nationalise his nation’s oil reserves, thus depriving BP – known then as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company – of its primary revenue stream, the West quickly retaliated, first with sanctions and then with a full-fledged colour revolution and coup carried out in 1953 to ouster Mosaddegh and usher in a quarter century-long brutal dictatorship and repressive police state under the Shah.

The American role in what was codenamed Operation Ajax is comparatively well documented and those familiar with the story will already be aware of the central role played by Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, who afterwards wrote a book entitled Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran in which he described how he and the CIA carried out their operation. By contrast, far fewer details are known about British involvement.

A Radio 4 documentary broadcast in 2005 finally revealed evidence that not only was the BBC World Service prominent in a campaign to flood Iran with anti-government propaganda, but also disclosed how the World Service is directly implicated in the coup by signalling British support to the Shah. As notes on the BBC website state:

“Even the BBC was used to spearhead Britain’s propaganda campaign. In fact, Auntie agreed to broadcast the very code word that was to spark revolution.” 1

Curiously, the BBC has since refused to comment on its own disclosure!

The pivotal role played by MI6 remains to this day a very closely-guarded secret, however in a newly released documentary Coup 53, British-Iranian filmmaker Taghi Amirani has managed to piece together fragments to tell the story of one British secret service officer called Norman Darbyshire – a man whose existence had been almost entirely erased from history:

Coup 53 is the result of years of sleuthing from Amirani, and he has been helped by the legendary editor and sound editor Walter Murch, who is co-writer. Also on board is actor Ralph Fiennes. In a dramatic reconstruction, he plays real-life MI6 agent Norman Derbyshire [sic], who in 1985 gave an interview to the Granada TV documentary End of Empire in which he rashly asserted that the whole thing was effectively being run by the British – by him, in fact. Coup 53 concludes that his appearance was cut at MI6’s insistence but the transcript survived. 2

Click here to read the full Guardian review by Peter Bradshaw.

Although centred around redacted transcripts from just a single television interview, Coup 53 is a quite brilliantly constructed and important documentary, which by the end leaves the audience to consider what might have been had the plot to remove Mosaddegh failed – as it so very nearly did. Besides a more hopeful future in a Middle East with Iran permitted to develop as an affluent, democratic and progressive power, it also seems unlikely, as the film intimates, that the CIA would have gone on so avidly to pursue future campaigns of destabilisation beginning with the toppling of democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala the very next year.

Embedded below is George Monbiot’s short guide to why everything you know about the British Empire is a lie:

Instead, the imperialist success of the Iranian coup simply marked the passing of the baton from the British establishment more firmly into American hands with the major difference in the running the empire owing much to differences of national character: the British eager to hide their dirty secrets to the extent of completely erasing the historical record (and the main Wikipedia entry still makes little mention of Norman Darbyshire) while the Americans appear happier to brag.

Click here to view the official Coup 53 website and here to watch the film.

In January 2020, Codepink’s Jodie Evans spoke with Taghi Amirani shortly after the original release of the Coup 53:

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Correction:

In the original post I incorrectly wrote Norman Derbyshire rather than Darbyshire (the same mistake appears in the Guardian review) and wrote that “the main Wikipedia entry still makes no mention of Norman Derbyshire”. If you search the current Wikipedia entry you will however find the following inclusion (with all links and footnotes retained):

Robert Zaehner alone spent over a £1,500,000, smuggled in biscuit tins, to bribe Iranians, and later his colleague Norman Darbyshire admitted that the actual coup cost the British government a further £700,000.[48]They hoped to fill the Majlis with deputies who would vote to depose Mosaddegh. It would be a coup carried out by seemingly legal means.”[18]:135

Although not linked from this article, there is also a separate entry for Norman Darbyshire that read as follows (again with links retained):

Norman Darbyshire (1 October 1924 – 17 June 1993) was the British MI6 operative who led the 1953 coup d’état that overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically-elected prime minister of Iran. Credit and blame for the coup has long been attributed solely to the United States CIA, while the dominant role of the British, and MI6 operative Darbyshire in particular, has been hidden. Among other things, he was involved in the kidnapping, torture, and assassination of General Mahmoud Afshartous, Mossadegh’s chief of police,[1] and bribed the twin sister of Shah Reza Pahlavi to play a key role in the coup and to eventually become a power behind his resulting dictatorship.[2]

Darbyshire died in 1993, aged 68.

In the 2019 documentary Coup 53 by the British-Iranian film-maker Taghi Amirani about the 1953 Iranian coup d’état – in USA, the coup was known as Operation Ajax, while in Britain it was Operation Boot – actor Ralph Fiennes plays the part of Darbyshire.[3]

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Quote taken from the 2003 Preface to the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition of Orientalism by Edward Said, first published in 1978. https://www.princeton.edu/~paw/web_exclusives/plus/plus_110503orient.html

1 From BBC notes to Document: A Very British Coup broadcast on Monday August 22, 2005. Even the BBC was used to spearhead Britain’s propaganda campaign. In fact, Auntie agreed to broadcast the very code word that was to spark revolution. https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/document/document_20050822.shtml

2 From an article entitled “Coup 53 review – riveting documentary on a very British coup” written by Peter Bradshaw, published in the Guardian on August 20, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/aug/20/coup-53-review

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Sorry’s not good enough. Boris Johnson you’re a disgrace | Prof John Ashton

Update:

On March 9th, following the government’s derisory 1% pay increase offered to NHS nurses and in the midst of “the royal circus” surrounding Harry and Meghan, John Ashton spoke again to Double Down News:

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John Ashton, who was Regional Director of Public Health for North-West England for thirteen years, has been a consistently outspoken critic of the government’s ineffective response to Covid-19. As the official death toll passed hundred thousand deaths, he was invited to speak on Double Down News and the interview is embedded below with my own transcript also provided:

A hundred thousand deaths and more. A hundred thousand grieving families. The Prime Minister says he’s sorry for the deaths and he gives a half-hearted apology for what’s gone on, but doesn’t admit any mistakes – any errors – “we did what we could”, he said, despite the litany of errors. I’m sorry Boris Johnson, it doesn’t wash with me and it won’t wash with all those grieving families out there who’ve lost loved ones for no fault of their own, but because of your arrogance, your pathetic incompetence, and your unwillingness to learn from experience. I’m sorry Boris Johnson, you are a disgrace!

I really take no pleasure in saying these were all things I’ve warned about all the way through and that the fact that there have now been a hundred thousand-plus deaths is no surprise to me – it’s actually well over hundred thousand: the Office of National Statistics [ONS] came out yesterday with I think 104,000 and that I think was from up to the 7th of January. There’s been about 7,000 deaths a week during the rest of January so it’s probably somewhere between 120 and 130 thousand.

Latest graph showing excess deaths in UK released by ONS up to January 15th

One of the really telling statistics is that during the pandemic of influenza in 1918–19 the number of deaths in the United Kingdom accounted for 1% of the total deaths worldwide. This 100,000 or 120,000 is now approaching 3% of the worldwide number of deaths. And you know in those days virology was new science – we’re now supposed to have world-beating science and medicine – and we’ve neglected our public health system in the way I’ve just described over and over.

My heart goes out to all the families, all the relatives who’ve lost loved ones. And there’s more come. You know some of the commentators yesterday suggesting between 30 and 50 thousand more deaths are likely before we might get proper control over this terrible situation. And then the Prime Minister has the gall to say sorry for the deaths but not really apologising, not admitting that he’s got so much wrong. “We did everything we could”, is what he said. But the list of things they got wrong – the list of omissions as well as commissions is so long.

At the heart of this there’s been a failure of leadership. We know that public health in England has been allowed to run down over ten years: that they stopped doing regular training exercises for pandemics; that they never learnt the lessons from the 2016 exercise which showed all the weaknesses.

But the leadership is where this comes to in the end: failure to get a grip in the beginning. Boris Johnson’s preoccupation with Brexit; his distraction by his mistress and having a fortnight’s holiday with her in February; not attending five meetings of Cobra; not getting on top of the testing and tracing, of the PPE; adopting an approach to messaging that was confused and highly political; messing about with the numbers, massaging the figures; not setting a good example himself (shaking hands with people and getting infected); and then his lieutenant Cummings and many other prominent people [Robert Jenrick for instance] not doing what they were telling other people to do; so that the trust has gone, people are not following the rules – if you look at the traffic now, the traffic is much higher than it was in the first lockdown – it’s very difficult to get people to do the right thing because they’ve been let down by abysmal leadership and hypocrisy.

The litany goes on and on, you know. All those contracts given to their chums: millions and millions of pounds; putting somebody who’s a horse jumper but with no experience in charge of the testing and tracing – Dido Harding; eat out and help out and spread the virus. You know don’t listen to the scientists when they talk about having a firebreak in the Autumn half-term. Let’s have five days for Christmas! It goes on and on and on. And what does Johnson say? “We did our best.” God help us if he’d not done his best. Just think what the numbers might have been then.

I just hope that they’re held to account at some time in the future, but I don’t have much faith in our system because it seems to cover up for them. And many of the senior medics and people have been very reluctant to criticise the government even after a year of this and I’m sorry [but] unless the lessons are learnt we’ll continue to make mistakes, and it’s really important to call a spade a spade and to identify what they’ve got wrong.

We’re still on 1,500 deaths a day, that’s likely to go on for some days, we don’t know how the vaccine story’s going to play out – there are supply chain rows now emerging [and] we’re being asked to take a nationalistic stance on that again, whereas you know Europe ordered vaccines and they’re being asked to let vaccines being made in European countries come to the UK because of failure of supply in particular countries – but we’re putting too much hope on the vaccine. You know the vaccine is very important but we have to keep up with all the traditional public health measures as well. We have to environmental measures, social distancing, hygiene, mask-wearing behavioural stuff. We’ve got to do that for the foreseeable future.

It’s a very bleak day today and yesterday to hear this news. My heart goes out to the families and I just hope that at some point in the future there will be justice for those families. We must all think about these families – these hundred thousand-plus families – hundreds of thousands of people have been affected. Most of us now know somebody who’s been seriously ill or who’s died from this disease. This is a terrible tragedy. There are many more people who’ve died than died during the war as civilians. This is unbelievable and terrible tragedy. We must think about people and we must support them. We must pull together. We must get through this. But when it’s all over we must make sure there’s justice for the families who’ve been treated so badly by Boris Johnson and his second-hand, second-rate lieutenants.

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corona marginalia: origin unknown

In an article published today [Tuesday 19th] by Wired magazine, Roger Pielke who is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, writes:

There are now two major efforts to investigate where Covid-19 came from: one set up by the World Health Organization and the other organized by a leading medical journal, The Lancet. The investigations are expected to take months or even years to complete, and, given the many challenges involved, they may never deliver conclusive answers. It’s already clear, however, that both are compromised by a lack of clear procedures to manage conflicts of interest and questionable independence. Now it is imperative that governments and the scientific community act quickly to improve them.

The problem starts with the nature of the inquiries, which must determine, for starters, whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus went straight from wild animals to the population (the likeliest scenario, per most experts) or perhaps escaped from a laboratory setting. But many of the people who are most qualified to look into this question—the ones with the most relevant technical knowledge—also happen to be the ones who work in those very laboratory settings or have close professional ties with the people who do.

In other words, they’re exactly the people who might themselves be blamed (either directly or as part of a research community) if the virus were ever traced back to a lab.

Roger Pielke then highlights comparisons with prior instances of conflicts of interest when scientists with known ties to tobacco firms were given prominent roles on health advisory committees, before continuing:

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that either of the leading investigations into the pandemic’s origins is following the relevant best practices.

For instance, both investigations include Peter Daszak, disease ecologist and president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit with a history of conducting research into SARS-related coronaviruses and their effects on humans, including collaborative work done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Wuhan Institute happens to be the only laboratory in China that is allowed to work with the world’s most dangerous pathogens, and it’s located at the apparent ground zero of the current outbreak.

If there were a lab leak—and, again, most experts do not believe that the available evidence points in this direction—then both the Wuhan Institute and its US partner would be on a short list of candidates to investigate. It should be obvious that no one with any connection to either organization can play a formal role in any truly independent investigation into the pandemic’s origins.

Moreover, as Pielke points out, Peter Daszak was amongst the co-authors of a formal statement submitted to and published by The Lancet in March “in solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China who continue to save lives and protect global health during the challenge of the COVID-19 outbreak” including “our Chinese counterparts in the forefront”.

Their statement includes the following line:

We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. 1

It has since been disclosed from emails obtained through Freedom of Information requests that this Lancet statement was prompted and organised by employees of Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance:

The emails obtained via public records requests show that EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak drafted the Lancet statement, and that he intended it to “not be identifiable as coming from any one organization or person” but rather to be seen as “simply a letter from leading scientists”. Daszak wrote that he wanted “to avoid the appearance of a political statement”. […]

Although the phrase “EcoHealth Alliance” appeared only once in The Lancet statement, in association with co-author Daszak, several other co-authors also have direct ties to the group that were not disclosed as conflicts of interest. Rita Colwell and James Hughes are members of the Board of Directors of EcoHealth Alliance, William Karesh is the group’s Executive Vice President for Health and Policy, and Hume Field is Science and Policy Advisor.  2

Click here to read the full report posted by US Right to Know in November 2020.

Since Daszak has never contradicted this initial stance, we must presume that he still holds the firm belief that Covid is a zoonotic pathogen that crossed from animals to humans by purely natural means, which obviously casts serious doubt on his presumed impartiality as both a member of the WHO’s 10-person investigatory team as well as Chair of the 12-person task force set up by The Lancet.

Regarding The Lancet study, Pielke says:

Among the other members are five more signatories to the EcoHealth Alliance letter from last February, which means that fully half of this team had already suggested that any lab-leak hypothesis was a “conspiracy theory” months before their work began.

And more damning still when it comes to WHO’s mission to China, Pielke writes:

The WHO committee’s guidelines say nothing about the disclosure or management of actual or perceived conflicts of interest, but they do say that “the final composition of the international team should be agreed by both China and WHO.” We have no idea whether other conflicts of interest could apply to the committee’s members, since their public disclosure is not required. The WHO does not appear to have explicit procedures for managing such disclosures, even when they’re made on a voluntary basis. The WHO’s apparent lack of routine processes like these weakens the integrity of the investigation before it has even started.

Pielke concludes:

There are, in fact, dozens of laboratories around the world—some supported by the US government—that work with live SARS and SARS-related viruses and where a laboratory accident might be catastrophic; and, as Baker pointed out at length in his much-maligned New York magazine story, scientists have warned for years of just this possibility. If a formal investigation into the pandemic’s beginnings were to take the lab escape hypothesis seriously—let alone find suggestive evidence in its favor—it could seriously threaten this research. […]

If an essay like Baker’s plays into the disinformers’ hands, then so does an easily contested official process to investigate the origins of Covid-19. Fears of conspiracy theorizing should not scare us away from asking uncomfortable questions. They should do the opposite, and motivate us to ensure that our investigations into the origins of this pandemic are as open, independent, and trustworthy as possible.

Click here to read Roger Pielke’s full article entitled “If Covid-19 Did Start With a Lab Leak, Would We Ever Know?” published by Wired magazine.

1 From a “Statement in support of the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of china combating COVID-19” published by The Lancet in Volume 395, Issue 10226 on March 7–13 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673620304189

2 From an article entitled “EcoHealth Alliance orchestrated key scientists’ statement on ‘natural origin’ of SARS-Cov-2” written by Sainath Suryanarayanan, published in US Right to Know (USRTK) on November 18, 2020. https://usrtk.org/biohazards-blog/ecohealth-alliance-orchestrated-key-scientists-statement-on-natural-origin-of-sars-cov-2/

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reflections on 2020 and forecasts from Chris Williamson and Michael Hudson

On January 4th, Ross Ashcroft host of Renegade Inc invited ex-Labour MP Chris Williamson and economist Michael Hudson to review the past year and make forecasts for the year ahead. The full episode is embedded below:

On the question of what has been revealed to him by the events of 2020, Hudson says [from 17:35 mins]:

“Well, it’s obvious that the economy never had recovered from the Obama depression, when he bailed out the banks not the economy. So the question is how long can the economy limp along without recovery.

Well, it’s obvious now that the debts can’t be paid, but the coronavirus has only catalysed all of that; it’s made it even clearer. So in a sense the Biden administration is going to be picking up just where the Obama administration left off, namely with huge evictions.

Obama evicted about 10 million families. Most of them were black and Hispanic – lower income families – who were the victims of defaulted mortgages.

Biden’s going to start his administration by kicking out probably another five million families – again, black and Hispanic families are going to be the big losers because they were the people who had the highest [levels] of coronavirus and were the first to be laid off…

You had the trend in home ownership going up to about 2008 and now it’s been going down and this is just going to continue. And people somehow imagine there’s going to be a recovery. People imagine that somehow we can recover from the post-2008 breakdown and [in fact] it’s obvious we can’t recover. You’re going to have the polarisation of the economy that has been occurring for the last 12 years simply accelerate.”

Reflecting on the inevitable fall of Bernie Sanders and the selection of Kamala Harris as Biden’s running mate, Hudson says [from 21:20 mins]:

“The surprise that I really shouldn’t have been surprised at is how naive Bernie Sanders’ supporters were in thinking that they were going to get a fair deal and that the elections were going to be fair… so what happened to Sanders is the same as what happened to Corbyn at the hands of the Labour Party.

So Tulsi Gabbard’s takedown of Kamala Harris was absolutely wonderful. Everybody just broke out laughing and of course that’s why she was marginalised and now we have Kamala Harris as the senior Vice President.”

[Inserted clip of] Tulsi Gabbard:

“Senator Harris says he’s proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she’ll be a prosecutor president, but I’m deeply concerned about this record. She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana. She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labour for the state of California. And she fought to keep the cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worse kind of way.”

Meanwhile, Chris Williamson, a close ally of Corbyn and prominent victim of the Labour witch-hunt, explains how under Keir Starmer’s leadership Labour is already facing an existential crisis [from 3:40 mins]:

“I think it’s in terminal decline actually. It’s gone from a hopeful vehicle, a vehicle that I think a lot of people (when Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader) thought would bring about real transformational change in the country, but as a result of the dirty tricks, the smears, the negativity in the media, throughout the establishment [and] in the Parliamentary Labour Party’s bureaucracy, [this has] completely derailed it.

And regrettably, Jeremy listened to advisors who I think were giving him duff information, duff advice, and rather than challenging those who were seeking to smear and undermine him, he sought to appease them, and to capitulate to them, and that simply meant that his allies were being systematically thrown under the bus one by one. I mean well, on an industrial scale in reality.

Now with Keir Starmer at the helm people are leaving [the party] in their tens of thousands. People really do feel politically homeless and I think it’s an existential crisis facing the Labour Party right now.”

With regards to the new Labour leadership, Williamson says [from 5:00 mins]:

“The fact that the Labour Party has elected a knight of the realm tells you a story doesn’t it…

Here we have the leader of the party, who is a pillar of the establishment. And not only is he a knight of the realm, but he’s also a member of the Trilateral Commission, which was a shady organisation set up nearly fifty years ago by a bunch of [neo-]liberals who were concerned by an ‘excess of democracy’ in the 1960s: people getting ahead of themselves and using democracy to assert their rights which was seen as unconscionable to them.

Now, Keir Starmer is the only parliamentarian in Britain who is a member of this shady organisation. What on earth is going on?”

On the question of who’s behind Keir Starmer, Williamson says [from 5:50 mins]:

“Well I think it’s very clear that the wealthy elites – the establishment in Britain – support Keir Starmer. The military-industrial complex backs Keir Starmer. The Murdoch press, you know, and the wider gutter press back Keir Starmer.

The people who have got concerns about Keir Starmer are trade unionists. People who use the Labour Party as a vehicle hopefully to deliver some form of socialism are concerned about Keir Starmer…

And his only hope really I think of winning an election as leader of the Labour Party is if the establishment media get behind him – that might give him a fighting chance of success. But the number of activists who will be prepared to go out and campaign for him are very few and far between now.

People have been really demoralised by what’s happened; even people who actually voted for him in the hope that he would maintain the Corbyn principles, but he’s jettisoned them all and it really doesn’t bode well I think.”

He continues [from 9:40 mins]:

“Jeremy Corbyn represented a dramatic shift from the political consensus which has held sway for the last thirty years at least, probably longer than that. This was a man who was interested in a socialist alternative that really wasn’t acceptable to the capitalist vested interests in this country, and he was somebody as well – and this troubled them more than anything – someone who was promoting peace and disarmament and a genuinely ethical foreign policy.

He even had a Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament – I mean that would have been an incredible sight to see: a permanent member of the Security Council with a Minister for Peace and Disarmament.

Official portrait of Fabian Hamilton, Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament appointed by Jeremy Corbyn in November 2016

I was hoping that Britain would get a reputation for spreading peace around the world rather than arms sales and war.”

Regarding the growing divide between the Labour Party and the Labour movement, Williamson says [from 10:50 mins]:

“The Labour Party, particularly the parliamentary party, is entirely divorced I think from the Labour movement and can no longer claim to be the political voice of the organised working class. It is a voice, I’m afraid to say, of the corporate vested interests and they’ve really desperately lost their way. And I firmly believe therefore that we need to push for a new political vehicle to replace the Labour Party in the coming years.”

Finally, looking forward to 2021, Williamson says [from 12:25 mins]:

“Let me give you one prediction which I think is almost bound to some true and that is Jeremy Corbyn will be expelled from the Labour Party and a new political vehicle will be established in 2021.”

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John Pilger’s New Year message: “Break the silence, support Stop the War”

I often use the example of Stop the War as a movement as a reason for optimism for whatever happens in the meantime, in Parliament, Whitehall, wherever; Stop the War has gone on indefatigable and I’m really delighted to be doing this because I much admire everything that Stop the War has done, there’s no equivalent actually in any other country and so congratulations on tonight.

I wonder how many of you have been to the National War Memorial in Staffordshire. It’s fairly recent, that is it was only finished about 2007. It’s an enormous place, it has 30,000 trees, rolling hills and monuments scattered throughout it. I mean in some ways it’s quite hauntingly beautiful, it’s a very unusual place: there are 350 memorials set in manicured lawns and thousands of trees and at the centre is the armed services memorial with its list of 16,000 British servicemen who it says, and I quote: “Died in operational theatre or were targeted by terrorists”.

Now on the day I was there a stonemason was actually adding two more names. There isn’t I should point out a cenotaph here to the fallen of two World Wars, there are many of those throughout the country, but these soldiers here died in 50 operations across the world during what we call peacetime. So, the people whose names are engraved on the memorials have died since the Second World War in these special operations and fighting terrorism which I think to most of you sounds like quite a euphemism – [for instance] Ireland, Kenya, Hong Kong, Libya, Iraq and many more including secret operations.

Not a year has passed since peacetime was declared in 1945 – official peacetime – that Britain has not sent military forces to fight its wars of empire. In country after country, the British arms business has furthered these wars of empire. Empire: it’s extraordinary even using the word. What empire? The investigative journalist Phil Miller recently revealed that Britain has 145 military sites, let’s call them bases, in 42 countries. Boris Johnson has boasted that Britain is to be, and I quote the foremost naval power in Europe.

In the midst of the greatest health emergency in modern times, with more than four million surgical operations delayed indefinitely, Johnson announced a record rise of £16.5 billion in so-called defence spending – a figure that would restore the NHS many times over. But the 16 billion is not for defence. Britain has no enemies other than those who betray its ordinary people, its nurses and doctors, its carers, its elderly, its vulnerable, its youth.

Amidst the solemn landscape of the National War Memorial there’s not a single monument, not one plaque, not one rose bush, in memory of all the civilians who died as a result of many of these so-called peacetime operations. There’s not a word of remembrance of the Libyan civilians killed when their country was wilfully destroyed by Cameron, Obama and [correction: Sarkozy] in 2011. There’s not a weasel word of regret for the Serb men, women and children killed by British bombs from RAF planes flying high courtesy of Tony Blair. Or the Yemeni children now being killed by rampaging Saudi pilots with logistics supplied by British officers in the air-conditioned safety of Riyadh. There’s no monument, of course, to the Palestinian children isolated and murdered with Britain’s connivance.

Two weeks ago, Israel’s military Chief of Staff [Aviv Kohavi] and Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff [Sir Nick Carter ] signed an agreement and I quote ‘to formalise and enhance military cooperation’. That means more and more British arms and logistical support for the lawless regime in Israel. Perhaps the most glaring omission at the national war memorial is an acknowledgement of the million Iraqi’s.

A million men, women and children whose deaths were the direct result of Britain and America’s invasion of their country – an invasion based as we well know on outright lies. How does this country’s war-making elite sustain such a lethal silence? Why are we living with not just colonial wars but the threat of nuclear war?

Russia, a nuclear power, is encircled by America and Europe right up to the border where Hitler invaded. China, a nuclear power, is the brunt of unrelenting provocation with strategic bombers and drones constantly probing its territorial space. There are 400 American bases circling China like a noose, all the way up from Australia, through the pacific to Asia, and across Eurasia. This is almost never news. Why do we allow this lethal silence?

The answer lies in one word, propaganda. Our propaganda industries both political and cultural and that includes most – if not almost all – of the media are the most powerful and refined on earth. Our big lies can be repeated over and over and in comforting BBC voices. What is the propaganda aimed at? I would think it’s aimed at ensuring that we, who live in this country, never look in the mirror. Most of us never look in the mirror and see what we do in other countries.

A few years after the invasion of Iraq I made a film called The War You Don’t See [embedded above] in which I asked leading American and British colleagues and TV news executives why and how the Bush and Blair governments were allowed to get away with an invasion based on lies. The journalists said that had they and others challenged governments and exposed their lives, instead of amplifying and echoing them, the invasion of Iraq might not have happened – and perhaps a million people would be alive today. It’s an extraordinary admission, but coming from senior journalists in the United States I think it has more than just an element of truth, it was certainly the view of the CBS anchorman Dan Rather who told me that.

An Observer journalist described in my film and I quote him – his name is David Rose – “the pack of lies fed to me by a fairly sophisticated disinformation campaign”. Rageh Omaar, then the BBC’s man in Iraq, said and I quote “we failed to press the most uncomfortable buttons hard enough”. I must say I admired these journalists who broke the silence, but they are honourable exceptions.

Some years ago, I interviewed the former head of the CIA in Latin America, Duane Clarridge. He was refreshingly honest, he said that America the superpower could do what it wanted, where it wanted. His words were, and I quote: “get used to it world”. But we don’t have to get used to it, do we?

That’s why I’m supporting Stop the War whose tireless campaigning is breaking the silence – continues to break the silence – that war dominates us even in so-called peacetime.

I’ve reported a number of wars all over the world. I’ve seen the remains of children bombed and burned to death and whole villages laid to waste, trees festooned with human parts and much else. Perhaps that’s why I reserve a special contempt for those who promote the crime of war in whatever form, having never experienced it themselves. Break the silence, support Stop the War. Thank you.

Click here to read the original transcript in full at Stop the War Coalition website.

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