Tag Archives: Boris Johnson

coronavirus marginalia: “Operation Last Gasp”

It is ten days since the UK government took its first steps to tackle the shortage of NHS ventilators, when Boris Johnson, along with Michael Gove, “joined a conference call with more than 60 manufacturing businesses to rally them in a national effort to produce more equipment.”

Politico reported at that time that the government’s aim was to have the necessary ventilators “on stream” within two weeks. We also learned that Johnson had joked about how this request to build more life-saving ventilators might be remembered as “Operation Last Gasp.” 1

Yesterday another reason behind the government’s delay in the procurement of essential medical equipment was revealed by the Guardian, when it reported (initially at least):

Downing Street has declined to take part in an EU scheme to source life-saving ventilators to treat coronavirus because the UK is “no longer a member” and is “making our own efforts”.

Critics accused Boris Johnson of putting “Brexit over breathing” after No 10 said it did not need to participate in the EU effort to procure equipment to fight coronavirus.

The EU has said it is open to the UK taking part in the programme, which seeks to use its bulk-buying power to get new ventilators at the best price.

The UK has instead chosen to source ventilators from British manufacturers who have never made the products before, ordering 10,000 machines from the household appliance firm Dyson.

Asked why the UK was not taking part, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We are no longer members of the EU.” He also stressed that the UK was “making our own efforts” in this area. 2

However, this Guardian article was quickly reedited, and replaced with a different version that retains the same URL whilst providing (as of writing) no notification of any update.

According to the revised account, the government’s failure to cooperate with the EU scheme had never been a policy decision, but was simply “a mix-up” over an email and that the government “would consider participating in future”:

Downing Street has claimed it failed to take part in an EU scheme to source life-saving ventilators to treat coronavirus because it accidentally missed the deadline.

No 10 initially said it did not take part because the UK was “no longer a member” and was “making our own efforts”.

But after critics accused Boris Johnson of putting “Brexit over breathing”, a No 10 spokesman clarified that it had missed out because of an error and would consider participating in future. It is understood the UK claims not to have received an email from the EU asking it to participate.

The mix-up means the UK has missed out on benefiting from the collective buying power of the EU. The bloc is seeking to use its clout to source large numbers of ventilators and protective equipment.

A UK government spokesperson said: “Owing to an initial communication problem, the UK did not receive an invitation in time to join in four joint procurements in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As the commission has confirmed, we are eligible to participate in joint procurements during the transition period, following our departure from the EU earlier this year.

“As those four initial procurement schemes had already gone out to tender, we were unable to take part in these, but we will consider participating in future procurement schemes on the basis of public health requirements at the time.” 3

Click here to read the revised Guardian article freshly titled “No 10 claims it missed deadline for EU ventilator scheme”.

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Update: Proof that the government lied

Shortly after posting this it came to my attention that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had already confessed to knowing about the EU ventilator scheme because he drew attention to it on last week’s BBC1 Question Time (March 19th). So it wasn’t “a mix-up” after all – that was just fake news:

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Further evidence has since come to light “that heap doubt on government claims of missing an email” in a subsequent Guardian article published on March 30th:

EU minutes seen by the Guardian show that a British official joined eight out of 12 EU health security committee meetings dedicated to the Covid-19 outbreak since the group was set up earlier this year, shortly before China’s Hubei province was put into lockdown.

At least four of those meetings discussed EU procurement schemes on: 31 January, 4 February, 2 March and 13 March.

While the government marked Brexit day on 31 January, a British representative joined EU member states and commission officials to discuss what was then called “the cluster of pneumonia cases associated with novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China”.

At this meeting, four EU member states said the virus could require increased stocks in Europe of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks and goggles, and the commission said it was ready to help if asked.

The EU executive stated it was ready to help countries bulk-buy medical equipment on 4 February. By 2 March, officials at the commission’s health department reported that 20 EU countries wanted to join a procurement scheme for personal protective equipment, such as overalls, gloves and face-shields. Later that month, on 13 March, EU officials discussed the combined purchase of ventilators.

Peter Liese, a German MEP and medical doctor who sits on the European parliament’s public health committee, said there had also been telephone calls between British and EU officials about the EU procurement scheme. “I know that they [British officials] were at a working level interested in joint procurement,” he told the Guardian.

The veteran German MEP dismissed UK government claims they missed an email. “It was not that they were not aware, but it was a decision not to participate,” he said. “If you are interested you don’t wait for an email.”

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “UK discussed joint EU plan to buy Covid-19 medical supplies, say officials” written by Jennifer Rankin, published on March 30th.

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1 From an article entitled “POLITICO London Playbook: The age of corona – Rishi leads the fightback – Commons rule change” written by Jack Blanchard, published in Politico on March 17, 2020. https://www.politico.eu/newsletter/london-playbook/politico-london-playbook-the-age-of-corona-rishi-leads-the-fightback-commons-rule-change/

2 From an article entitled “No 10 accused of putting ‘Brexit over breathing’ in Covid-19 ventilator row” written by Rowena Mason and Lisa O’Carroll, published in the Guardian on March 26, 2020 (10:31 EDT) https://web.archive.org/web/20200326170654/https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/26/no-10-boris-johnson-accused-of-putting-brexit-over-breathing-in-covid-19-ventilator-row

3 From an article entitled “No 10 claims it missed deadline for EU ventilator scheme” written by Rowena Mason and Lisa O’Carroll, published in the Guardian on March 26, 2020 (18.25 GMT) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/26/no-10-boris-johnson-accused-of-putting-brexit-over-breathing-in-covid-19-ventilator-row

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Filed under Britain

in search of the truth about this new coronavirus, Covid-19

Like most people, when it comes to coronavirus Covid-19, I’m no expert on the relevant scientific fields of microbiology, infectious diseases or epidemiology. Complete absence of knowledge in such a highly technical issue can seem like a good reason not to enter into the debate at all and why, until now, I have chosen to avoid writing on this subject. The change of heart happens because, like you too, I have a serious, since vested interest, not only in trying to determine the truth, but also in sharing the fruits of my own investigations.

Before I come to the science or discuss the UK government’s response, I wish to make clear that although I believe the government has acted recklessly by playing down the seriousness of SARS-CoV-2 (the technical name for the virus itself), parts of the media have been reckless in a different way: rushing around like a clucking flock of Chicken-lickens (dare I add) with their heads cut off, all clamouring in that ostentatious 24/7 rolling news coverage way of theirs to reinforce the opinion that “the sky is falling in”. Some of this febrile media panic has become so bad that other more reserved news reports have actually confirmed that a mass hysteria is being irresponsibly (if fortunately to great extent ineffectively) whipped up:

University of California, Irvine associate professor E. Alison Holman, who has published research on media exposure to mass-trauma events, said the toilet paper scare appeared to have originated with articles about stocking up before the virus’ spread.

“A week ago, there were a handful of articles in major newspapers saying, here’s what you should do to prepare for the coronavirus. And one of the top things that was listed on at least two or three websites — major media outlets — was: Buy toilet paper,” Ms. Holman said. “I think some of the freak-out about getting toilet paper has to do with that.”

She described the media-fueled worry as “a little overblown,” while others have gone so far as to accuse the press of sensationalizing the virus to juice ratings. 1

Liberally mixed into this whole confusion is the swirling uncertainty of an aggregate of internet information, misinformation and disinformation (or ‘fake news’ if you must – as if propaganda is only the product of our internet age). It ought to go without saying really that you shouldn’t automatically trust anything you read, with the original source of the story key to understanding any subsequent interpretation of it – a caveat that in no way excludes the articles on my own blog, but also applies to mainstream broadcasters and newspapers.

I try to take great care with the inclusion of references wherever relevant, always doing my best to navigate a course to avoid any deliberate lies and well-intentioned misunderstandings and errors. Sometimes this puts me at odds with the stance taken by other researchers, journalists and bloggers whose views I ordinarily subscribe to. Right now, there are many who justifiably are alerting their own audiences to the danger that measures rolled out to contain this disease ranging from increased surveillance and the introduction of cashless exchange 2 to lockdowns, curfews, and arrest and detainment, which may be difficult or impossible to rollback. In the notorious words of Rahm Emanuel: “Never let a crisis go to waste”. Not wishing to downplay this very real alternative danger, I therefore encourage readers to follow the work of investigative reporter Whitney Webb who explains in her latest article:

The decision to classify government coronavirus preparations in mid-January, followed by the decision to coordinate the domestic response with the military and with intelligence deserves considerable scrutiny, particularly given that at least one federal agency, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), will be given broad, sweeping powers and will work closely with unspecified intelligence “partners” as part of its response to a pandemics like COVID-19.

The CBP’s pandemic response document, obtained by The Nation, reveals that the CBP’s pandemic directive “allows the agency to actively surveil and detain individuals suspected of carrying the illness indefinitely.” The Nation further notes that the plan was drafted during the George W. Bush administration, but is the agency’s most recent pandemic response plan and remains in effect.

Though only CBP’s pandemic response plan has now been made public, those of other agencies are likely to be similar, particularly on their emphasis on surveillance, given past precedent following the September 11 attacks and other times of national panic. Notably, several recent media reports have likened coronavirus to 9/11 and broached the possibility of a “9/11-like” response to coronavirus, suggestions that should concern critics of the post-9/11 “Patriot Act” and other controversial laws, executive orders and policies that followed. 3

Click here to read the full article entitled “US Intel Agencies Played Unsettling Role in Classified and ‘9/11-like’ Coronavirus Response Plan” published by Mint Press News.

I would also point you to the research of John Whitehead who writes of the current crisis:

Don’t go underestimating the government’s ability to lock the nation down if the coronavirus turns into a pandemic, however. After all, the government has been planning and preparing for such a crisis for years now.

The building blocks are already in place for such an eventuality: the surveillance networks, fusion centers and government contractors that already share information in real time; the government’s massive biometric databases that can identify individuals based on genetic and biological markers; the militarized police, working in conjunction with federal agencies, ready and able to coordinate with the federal government when it’s time to round up the targeted individuals; the courts that will sanction the government’s methods, no matter how unlawful, as long as it’s done in the name of national security; and the detention facilities, whether private prisons or FEMA internment camps, that have been built and are waiting to be filled.

Now all of this may sound far-fetched to you now, but we’ve already arrived at the dystopian futures prophesised by George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Coronavirus vs. Mass Surveillance State: Which Poses the Greater Threat?” published in Counterpunch.

It is wise to be cautious. The remedy can often be worse than the disease; however, this is no excuse whatsoever to downplay the threat once we understand that the threat is real.

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Science, what science?

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, said Europe – where the virus is present in all 27 EU states and has infected 25,000 people – had become the centre of the epidemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined apart from China. […]

Tedros stressed that countries should take a comprehensive approach. “Not testing alone,” he said. “Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all. Find, isolate, test and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission… do not just let this fire burn.5

[bold highlight added]

Click here to read the full Guardian report published on Friday entitled “‘Do not let this fire burn’: WHO warns Europe over Covid-19”.

Having completed what Boris Johnson and the UK government have comically, bordering on the self-satirical, described as the “containment” phase – a period in which countless people who arrived in Britain from infected areas were permitted entry without quarantine and never tested or traced – we have now reached the “delay” phase, which will, they say, “flatten the curve” to slow up the rate of hospital admissions, whilst permitting the development of herd immunity.

On paper, such a lassez-faire approach might have merits. In the long run, it will certainly mean the population becomes resistant to this particular strain of virus, lessening concerns of another outbreak once the current one has passed. Meanwhile, any slowing down of transmission of the virus will save lives. In fact, this approach would be commendable for an outbreak of flu, but unfortunately what we are dealing with isn’t flu. It isn’t even the same virus; this is a SARS-like virus and comparisons to flu are misleading for many reasons (pictures sometimes tell a better story than words):

Now for some figures: as of March 9th, South Korea had tested 190,000 people, with 7,478 confirmed cases and 51 deaths. 6 That equates to a 0.7% mortality rate, which matches what has also been reported outside of Wuhan in China. This is the best estimate of the mortality rate we currently have – for comparison, the rate is around 0.1% for seasonal flu. That represents a hugely significant difference. Of course, the death rates and hospitalisation rates can only be based on confirmed cases, which means that the recorded figures can be high because there is insufficient testing of non-serious cases. The positive here is quite obvious, but there is also a negative to consider: that the spread of this disease is already far more widespread than any current data indicates.

On top of this, Covid-19 is highly transmissible. Best estimates indicate that is may be 3-4 times more infectious. As the spread is exponential and this is the base multiplier, the rise in the number of cases can be expected to far exceed a typical rise in cases of flu, putting an enormous extra strain on any health service. It accounts for why China has locked down a city, constructed new hospitals and flown in some 50,000 extra medics. It also explains how the situation in Italy has become so desperate.

Indeed, if transmission in the UK or elsewhere is not sufficiently slowed, then we can expect to see scenes like those in Italy where the health system has been overwhelmed with so many serious cases requiring intensive care. So what measures have we taken that Italy did not? Or Spain (which is also beginning to see a dramatic spike in cases)?

Richard Horton is the Editor of ‘The Lancet’. This is just one of many tweets he has recently put out highly critical of government inaction:

 

There are two further points about the threat posed by this new coronavirus that really need clearing up. Firstly, it continues to be intimated that just the elderly and those with underlying conditions should be concerned about contracting the disease, which is true up to a point. Thankfully, children and very young adults seem to be hardly affected at all. Although again this presents another risk since these asymptomatic groups can also be carriers, spreading the disease within communities. It should also be stressed however that the median age of fatality is 65 years old (this seems to be confirmed across all regions). Median means that half of the cases are below 65, with many of the victims sadly in their 50’s and younger. For some as yet unknown reason, they are also disproportionately male.

Secondly, although the mortality rate is below 1% (high nonetheless), what we are slowly learning is that about 10% of cases suffer a very severe form of pneumonia which can leave serious and long-term damage. To reiterate: this is not flu. I have included interviews with medics working on the frontline in Italy in an addendum below.

The government’s official stance is very obviously contrary to the stringent measures that were enforced by China and more humanely in Singapore and South Korea, where coronavirus epidemics have been quite rapidly contained; it is also in outright defiance to current World Health Organisation guidelines, as summarised above. The fact that there is no testing of anyone who doesn’t present symptoms and no contact tracing whatsoever means we cannot accurately keep track of the disease, and in the words of Tedros, “you can’t fight the virus if you don’t know where it is”.

In the same briefing statement given on March 12th, Tedros also said this: “To save lives we must reduce transmission. That means finding and isolating as many cases as possible, and quarantining their closest contacts. Even if you cannot stop transmission, you can slow it down and protect health facilities, old age homes and other vital areas – but only if you test all suspected cases.” 7

And here again, the UK government is completely remiss. As of now, the government is making no efforts to find and isolate anyone at all. From one perspective, this also looks like it is being deliberately allowed to spread, or rather more generously and less conspiratorially, that it is a clear dereliction of duty to protect its citizens.

The bewildering aspect of this clear failure to comply with WHO guidelines is that Johnson insists he is just following ‘the science’. Well, if Johnson’s advisors disagree with WHO then surely it is incumbent on them to acknowledge and justify their variance, rather than simply ignoring it.

On BBC’s Question Time broadcast on March 12th, Professor John Ashton, former Director of Public Health, was also highly critical of the government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak which he described as “paternalistic, old-fashioned and top-down”:

Moreover, and despite how Boris Johnson and the UK government have chosen to present and justify their current strategy, as always flanked by medical and scientific experts, there is far more to address here than simply ‘the science’ (as if the definite article somehow makes it more scientific). Thankfully, we do not as yet live in a technocracy, and potential crises like the one we may now face provide another good reason to avoid ever becoming one. Why? Because the approach we adopt to tackle any public health issue, and especially one that is urgent and potentially serious, is inherently political – it is immediately informed by what government and to a lesser degree our society values most, which are seldom the same given that our governments are beholden more to special interests than the electorate. There is no single scientific answer; no technocratic short-cut. Do we care more about people or profits? It is a question the government ought to be asked more often.

Here is Health Secretary, Matt Hancock speaking yesterday on BBC’s ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ appearing to be completely out of his depth and making no real sense:

Remarkably the upload has been removed already (within 24 hours!) – but you can still watch the whole interview on BBC iplayer here.

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Final thoughts

There is no question the banksters and the rest of the vulture capitalist class are rubbing their hands at the prospect of fire sales and super-charged deregulation – that is the nature of disaster capitalism. And more immediately, public hand out for emergency contracts that always pay above the odds. I also see every reason to be suspicious that two of the countries most affected right now are China and Iran – the origins of this disease remain a mystery. It is also the case that the media is hyping this. Why the hell do people panic buy in the first place, except when they start seeing images of empty shelves? On top of all that, there is every reason to be suspicious of a UN body like the WHO.

Embedded below is a powerful investigative documentary entitled ‘trustWHO’ (available on Vimeo for a small rental fee) made by filmmaker Lilian Franck, who went on a quest to discover what lies behind the altruistic façade of the world’s largest public health body. What she uncovers is an alarming picture of corruption and opacity. She also covers the recent change to the classification of what  a pandemic is and when the WHO should announce a pandemic, an announcement that triggers a world wide pandemic response by nation states, the kind of which we have been seeing in recent days since the WHO finally announced it:

Assuredly Covid-19 is not as virulent as the Spanish Flu which I believe had an estimated death rate of about 20% (there is an interesting article on how Wikipedia recently altered their entry to reduce this figure). It is now evident, however, that it is far more deadly than regular flu. It should also be noted that many more people are made seriously ill than this death rate. Lastly, the infectiousness of Covd-19 is also much higher than flu – possibly as much as 3-4 times higher. For all these reasons it is entirely misleading to compare Covid-19 to flu.

The NHS here in Britain barely copes with the annual winter flu rise. To be honest, although originally I dismissed this as merely media hype, I am now anticipating that Britain will be hit by a crisis the NHS is unprepared to deal with: a situation at least as dire or possibly worse than the one happening in Italy. My hunch is that this will likely happen within the next fortnight (we shall see – fingers crossed that I’m wrong). I would also be concerned about the same situation subsequently happening in America – not because Covid-19 is as deadly as Spanish Flu but because it is bad enough, spreads astonishing rapidly and none of our terribly under-funded public health systems are ready for it. Of course, I really hope this turns out to be wrong and yes, the vultures are already circling whatever happens.

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Addendum

Giacomo Grasselli, a senior Italian government health official who is coordinating the network of intensive care units in Lombardy, spoke about the “critical” situation in Italy on C4 News broadcast March 10th:

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Giovanni Guaraldi discusses lessons being learned by Italian doctors about the new virus on CTV News broadcast on March 4th:

On March 14th Sky News interviewed anaesthetist Marco Vergano who works in Turin, Italy:

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Additional: What are the origins of Covid-19?

The world has been given to believe that this novel form of coronavirus Covid-19 is an entirely accidental mutation. To begin with, at least in the West, we were also expected to swallow the unsubstantiated but widely publicised assertions that its occurrence was due to the bizarre eating habits of the Chinese and cross-contamination from a wet market. Unsettling images of ghastly bowls of bat soup were featured across the newsstands – pictures almost certainly not taken in China but never mind.

Beneath the frankly xenophobic headlines, there is another side to the story that has received considerably less attention: just how strikingly novel the new virus really is. This is from an article entitled “Why COVID-19 is more insidious than other coronaviruses” published by Salon magazine in late February:

While there are many known viruses in the same class of coronavirus as COVID-19, some of its peculiarities — including its infectivity — are perplexing researchers. Now, a recent research paper viewable on the Chinese research site Chinaxiv.org and previously reported on by the South China Morning Post notes that the new coronavirus has an “HIV-like mutation” that gives it novel properties.

“Because of this mutation, the packing mechanism of the 2019-nCoV may be changed to being more similar to those of MHV, HIV, Ebola virus (EBoV) and some avian influenza viruses,” the English abstract of the paper states.

The same article continues:

Though the paper is yet to be peer-reviewed, the scientists involved hail from Nankai Unviersity in Tianjin, one of the top universities in the world’s most populous nation.

The paper adds to the crucial body of research around COVID-19, which still includes more unknowns than knowns. Currently, scientists still do not know COVID-19’s origin, though suspect it is zoonotic, meaning it likely started in an animal before spreading to humans. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note on their website, COVID-19 is an “emerging disease,” and much of what we do know is “based on what is known about similar coronaviruses.” 8

Keeping this in mind, I recommend listening to a short interview with esteemed human rights lawyer and Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois, Francis Boyle. It is important to understand that Boyle has significant expertise in this field having drafted legislation for the Biological Weapons Convention, known as the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989.

Boyle is adamant that Covid-19 is a leaked bioweapons agent and given his standing, one might imagine that informed opinion of this kind with the submission of supporting evidence, deserves a more public platform. Instead, as he says, no mainstream journalists have come forward to speak with him. I do not, of course, leap to the conclusion that his account is the correct one; only find it curious that most journalists, who for their part invariably have little to no expertise in this field, are so eager to either ignore him altogether or undermine his authority in hit-pieces that consistently dismiss Boyle merely as “a lawyer”.

Furthermore, there is an additional piece of evidence that appears to be in favour of Boyle’s claims. It appeared in an article published by the highly respected scientific journal Nature back in November 2015. Entitled “Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research”, the piece begins:

An experiment that created a hybrid version of a bat coronavirus — one related to the virus that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) — has triggered renewed debate over whether engineering lab variants of viruses with possible pandemic potential is worth the risks. 9

For the record, the bats in question were Chinese horseshoe bats.

I shall not reproduce a larger extract because there is an ominous ‘rights & permissions’ caution, and so for the purposes of fair use I will also reprint in full the editors’ cautionary note prefacing the article:

Editors’ note, March 2020: We are aware that this story is being used as the basis for unverified theories that the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 was engineered. There is no evidence that this is true; scientists believe that an animal is the most likely source of the coronavirus.

Having no expertise in this field, I merely present evidence for others to judge.

Click here to read the full Nature article.

And here and here to read articles published in 2013 about attempts by scientists based in The Netherlands to weaponise bird flu.

Correction:

In the original version of this article I incorrectly stated that SARS-CoV-2 was “the technical name for the disease itself”. It is instead the name of the virus whereas Covid-19 is the name of the disease; just as HIV is the name for the virus that causes the disease AIDS.

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1 From an article entitled “’Inducing panic’: Media under fire for driving coronavirus hype to epidemic levels” written by Valerie Richardson, published in The Washington Times on March 11, 2020. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/mar/11/media-fueling-coronavirus-panic-under-fire/

2 Arguably this is purely for hygienic reasons right now and not intended as a long term plan – a measure to protect workers on the frontline such as those needed on supermarket checkout. Obviously they do not need coronavirus to enact such regulation.

3 From an article entitled “US Intel Agencies Played Unsettling Role in Classified “9/11-like” Coronavirus Response Plan” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on March 13, 2020. https://www.mintpressnews.com/us-intelligence-unsettling-role-classified-9-11-like-coronavirus-response/265687/

4 From an article entitled “Coronavirusvs, the Mass Surveillance State: Which Poses the Greater Threat” written by John W. Whitehead, published in Counterpunch on March 12, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/03/12/coronavirus-vs-the-mass-surveillance-state-which-poses-the-greater-threat/

5 From an article entitled “’Do not let this fire burn’: WHO warns Europe over Covid-19” written by Jon Henley and Sam Jones, published in the Guardian on March 13, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/13/european-countries-take-radical-steps-to-combat-coronavirus

6 Based on figures reported in an article by New Scientist entitled “Why is it so hard to calculate how many people will die from Covid-19?” written by Michael Le Page, published in New Scientist on March 11, 2020. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24532733-700-why-is-it-so-hard-to-calculate-how-many-people-will-die-from-covid-19/  Here is a fuller extract of the piece:

Last month, a study estimated that the fatality rate when infected people without symptoms are included in the case count is around 1 per cent, and this is still thought to be in the right ball park.

It is clear that some countries, including the US and Iran, are missing cases as so few people are being tested. South Korea, by contrast, had tested 190,000 people as of 9 March, with 7478 confirmed cases and 51 deaths.

This means 0.7 per cent of reported cases in South Korea have died so far, which matches what we have seen in China outside of Wuhan. If these places are detecting most cases, the fatality rate will not be much lower than this, though it could be higher if many recently infected people die.

The fatality rate for covid-19 isn’t fixed, and will vary based on many factors. Age is one, with the rate rising from around age 50 and reaching 15 per cent in over-80s, according to data from China. Countries like Niger, with many younger people, may fare better than Japan, where more than a quarter are aged over 65.

7 https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-mission-briefing-on-covid-19—12-march-2020

8 From an article entitled “Why COVID-19 is more insidious than other coronaviruses” written by Nicole Karlis, published by Salon magazine on February 28, 2020. https://www.salon.com/2020/02/27/why-covid-19-is-more-insidious-than-other-coronaviruses/

9 From an article entitled “Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research” written by Declan Butler, published in Nature on November 12, 2015. https://www.nature.com/news/engineered-bat-virus-stirs-debate-over-risky-research-1.18787

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, China, Italy, police state

Julian Assange will face a show trial in the United States says UN Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer

[The current hearing is] about whether this show trial should go ahead, because there’s going to be nothing else than a show trial in the US. There’s no chance he’s going to get a fair trial.

It’s not just about Julian Assange. This really is a battle over press freedom, over the rule of law, over the future I would say even of democracy. Because democracy, which means that the people control governmental power; this cannot exist with secrecy. You deprive the public of the right to know, and you deprive them of the tools to control the government.

—  Nils MelzerUN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

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When Nils Melzer visited Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison during May last year, he afterwards reported that “Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma”, describing the evidence as “overwhelming and clear”. He also made an official appeal to the British Government not to extradite Assange directly to the United States or to any other State failing to provide reliable guarantees against his onward transfer to the United States.

Melzer concluded: “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” adding simply, “The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”

Embedded above is a short interview with Nils Melzer broadcast on today’s ‘Going Underground’. The full transcript below is mine:

Afshin Rattansi: Special Rapporteur welcome back to Going Underground. Before we get to issues around the court case at Woolwich Crown Court – the Belmarsh crown court – we are hearing from people from the Labour Party, pretty mainstream, now coming onboard to support Julian Assange. Is what you have been saying since your report into the alleged persecution of Julian Assange becoming more mainstream?

Nils Melzer: I think that’s a fair assessment, yes. I’m actually surprised to see, compared to last June, which is about a month after my visit when I tried to place an op-ed on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture [June 26th] in the mainstream press around the world, I was unable to place an op-ed demasking the torture of Julian Assange: after having visited and examined him with medical experts.

I contacted The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Australian mainstream media, the British mainstream media. It was impossible to place it.

Today what we see is really that the mainstream press starts to realise through publications in alternative media that they probably got it wrong. And so they get more interested in discovering the truth about the story.

AR: Less face saving and more they know that if Assange is convicted, the next people could be them?

NM: Well, we do have indicators of that and perhaps they start to, as we say, smell the coffee. After the raids on the ABC headquarters and after Glenn Greenwald was arrested in Brazil and is being accused, you know according to the same kind of playbook that we see playing out with Assange. And also public funds being cut from mainstream broadcasters. Perhaps they start realising that they really did first come for Assange, then for Greenwald, and now they may be coming for the BBC.

AR: Okay, but Boris Johnson is on the record for saying it is only right that Julian Assange finally faces justice. That was when he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy and thrown into jail here.

NM: I think we all agree it would be about time for him to face justice, it’s just that what he’s facing here in Britain is not justice. And what he would be facing in the US is not justice.

AR: Well, Johnson went on to say, “It was a credit to Foreign Office officials who worked tirelessly to secure this outcome” meaning the dragging of him [out of the embassy] the pictures of which were caught by Ruptly, the news agency. I mean are you saying every one of those Foreign Office officials has facilitated what could amount to torture and arbitrary detention?

NM: You see Julian Assange has been expelled from the embassy based on a decision made by the President perhaps even with the support of the parliament in Ecuador. But it was communicated to him on the morning that he had been deprived of asylum status and deprived of his citizenship, because the Ecuadorian Constitution does not allow the extradition and expulsion of nationals, without any due process. And the British police just went in and dragged him out without any…

AR: So what do you make of the now Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying ‘credit to foreign officials’ for that?

NM: Well he’s crediting that because he likes the outcome. It certainly has nothing to do with the rule of law.

AR: Well, Amnesty International, they’ve refused to make him a Prisoner of Conscience. Why do you think there are still other NGOs who refuse to take onboard the Julian Assange cause?

NM: I very much support Amnesty International when they try to protect people by declaring them Prisoners of Conscience. But when they use their worldwide influence to exclude individuals from that category, I think then it becomes very problematic. Especially when we are talking about a journalist who has been exposing grave violations of human rights, and who is prosecuted precisely because he has exposed violations of human rights.

AR: And this is political? I mean in your view you don’t think that if a whistleblower exposed alleged crimes say in the Russian government who had found asylum here, there would be no chance of extraditing them to Moscow?

NM: Well the first issue is the one of the whistleblower. There’s Snowden who’s now in Russia, or if you have an equivalent, let’s say a Russian whistleblower who has asylum in the West – and there are people like that. But Julian Assange is not a whistleblower. He did not leak information. It was leaked to him.

AR: Okay. You don’t think this anymore has anything to do with what you call ‘fabricated rape allegations’. In fact, you believe those allegations could be linked to the Afghan war logs: revelations of Anglo-American/Nato troops in Afghanistan.

NM: Yes, well, I’m not in a position to you know confirm or deny whether there has been some kind of a sexual offence at some point between the women and Julian Assange. All I can say [is] I have seen the original Swedish police documents where the women are not claiming to have been raped.

But you can see even the woman sitting in the police station sending a text message to her friend saying ‘I don’t want to accuse Assange of anything – I just want him to take an HIV test’. But the police wants to get their hands on him. So I mean who would write a message like that? Not a raped woman.

Then you see a consecutive series of grave violations of due process in the Swedish case. And all of this happens within a month of the publication of the Afghan leaks. So where the US has asked their allies to initiate prosecutions against Assange wherever possible.

So you know the choreography of this – how it plays out and how Sweden actually at no stage in the proceedings really tries to protect the women’s interests, refuses to question Assange when he is still in Sweden, and offers and actually demands to be questioned, but the day he leaves Sweden, and he receives written permission by the prosecutor to leave Sweden, they issue an arrest warrant against him for trying to evade justice.

So there is a series of contradictions that is clear.

AR: Which was acted upon by the now supposedly leading candidate to take over from Jeremy Corbyn in this country: the then- Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer.

NM: Yeah, I’m not aware of who exactly acted at the time, but clearly that plot then played to push Assange into corner where everybody had this image of him. And I was influenced by this image as well, beginning with this narrative of him being a suspected rapist, being a hacker, being a narcissist, being a spy. And as soon as you scratch the surface a bit of this case, you realise, there is nothing to back it up.

AR: Okay, you also discovered the trail that led to Swedish Justice Minister, Thomas Bodström, the former Justice Minister, who you claim effectively supervised a kind of rendition/torture that was perhaps documented by Wikileaks.

NM: Well, he was the Justice Minister when Sweden, and the security police of Sweden, kidnapped two people – who were registered asylum-seekers in Stockholm – and handed them over to CIA without any due process. And they were immediately ill-treated on the airport territory and then flown to Egypt where they were tortured and detained arbitrarily.

Of these two people we know because they survived. Both of them filed complaints with the United Nations, and Sweden was obliged to pay them, I think, each of them about half a million dollars in compensation.

AR: So you think that when the rape allegation was used to smear Assange, it was an admission of guilt on the part of Sweden when it dropped all the allegations?

NM: Well they admitted that they never had any evidence that was sufficient to even press charges against him. Five days later, the leading prosecutor of Stockholm closed the case saying ‘I believe these women, but nothing they said indicates a crime’.

There could be an explanation but when I asked Sweden formally in a formal letter as I am mandated to do by the United Nations – I submitted all the contradictory evidence to them and said please make sense of this; explain to me how this complies with human rights law before I draw my conclusions – and now the first response of Sweden was ‘you’re criticising the judiciary which is independent from us and we’re the government so we can’t comment of this’.

I wrote back to them and said please, you know, you’re my counterpart but please transmit my concerns to the judiciary and let them answer to me. On which they then responded in a one-page letter saying ‘we have no further observations’.

My experiences where states don’t want to respond to my questions, then probably they have something to hide.

AR: As the court case gets underway here in London in two parts – another part in May – Chelsea Manning, who was let out early by President Obama, a source for Wikileaks, has been virtually bankrupted by the United States for refusing to testify against Julian Assange. So UK authorities here, are they basically deciding on whether a show trial should go ahead?

NM: Absolutely, yes. It’s about whether this show trial should go ahead, because there’s going to be nothing else than a show trial in the US. There’s no chance he’s going to get a fair trial.

It’s not just about Julian Assange. This really is a battle over press freedom, over the rule of law, over the future I would say even of democracy. Because democracy, which means that the people control governmental power; this cannot exist with secrecy. You deprive the public of the right to know, and you deprive them of the tools to control the government.

AR: But you know we have a supposedly independent judiciary here. Having said that, the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, newly-elected Prime Minister, has previously expressed reservations about the conduct of the Iraq War and wars after 9/11. Can you even call on Boris Johnson to do anything in the case of Julian Assange?

NM: The Home Secretary of the previous government [Sajid Javid] signed the extradition request, and granted it. And that was now challenged at the court, and that’s why it’s with the court. If it had not been challenged he’d just be extradited.

AR: Although that tends to be just a formality when it’s the United States, one of Britain’s closest international partners.

NM: Well, I think to be fair there have been individuals that have not been extradited to the United States by Britain. Which I believe is one reason why they wanted to go through Sweden, because Sweden has a track record of extraditing just about anybody to the United States, with or without due process. Now that is obviously off-the-table with the case being closed in Sweden, and now they’ll just go through the British system.

AR: Special Rapporteur, thank you.

NM: Thank you.

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Additional:

Also broadcast to coincide with the start of this week’s hearing in London, The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté spoke with political satirist, broadcaster and a friend of Assange, Randy Credico, who issued a stark warning:

“The message is, if this were to work: if, in fact, he’s extradited here. That particular case leans into fascism; if they can bring a journalist over here and put him in jail. I mean you get to that point, that long reach of the US government where the laws internally don’t apply to the people externally. This is something like in Rome – the citizens of Rome, they enjoyed the laws that protected them, but nobody in Egypt did, in Mesopotamia did, nobody throughout their empire did except for the citizens in Rome.

“I mean if this happens, I’m telling you that it’s just put most of the nose inside the camel’s tent and people had better stand up for Julian Assange. You know, I’m not a Julian Assange fanatic, but I’m a free speech and First Amendment fanatic. This is bigger than Julian Assange. This is about protecting free speech and the First Amendment… This is the First Amendment at stake. The very core of this democracy, what’s left of it, really functions on a free press. Without a free press there is no chance, no hope of a democracy continuing.” [from 1:05 mins]

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And from Craig Murray’s latest post published on his official website yesterday and entitled “Roger Waters on Julian Assange”:

Roger Waters has become one of the most eloquent and persistent supporters of Julian Assange. He is prepared to challenge the propagandists of the mainstream media head-on in a way that many more people should do.

For yesterday’s rally for Assange Roger had prepared a talk putting Julian’s persecution in a global context. He did not have time to give the whole speech, and so I asked him if I could publish it:

WE ARE HERE TODAY FOR JULIAN ASSANGE.

But I have four names on this piece of paper.

The First and last of course is Julian Assange, A Journalist, a courageous shiner of light into the dark places from which the powers that be would dearly like to have us turn away.

Julian Assange. A name to be carved with pride into any monument to human progress.

Julian is why we are here today, but this is no parochial protest. We are today part of a global movement, a global movement that might be the beginning of the global enlightenment that this fragile planet so desperately needs.

Ok. Second Name. Sent to me by my friend VJ Prashad.

Second name is Aamir Aziz, Aamir is a young poet and activist in Delhi involved in the fight against Modi and his rascist Citizenship law.

Everything Will Be Remembered

Kill us, we will become ghosts and write
of your killings, with all the evidence.
You write jokes in court;
We will write ‘justice’ on the walls.
We will speak so loudly that even the deaf will hear.
We will write so clearly that even the blind will read.
You write ‘injustice’ on the earth;
We will write ‘revolution’ in the sky.
Everything will be remembered;
Everything recorded

This out pouring of the human spirit from India is taking place in a time of revolt, when the fetters of propriety are set aside.

As we meet here in London, across the Atlantic in Argentina thousands of women are taking to the streets to demand the legalization of abortion from President Fernandez.

It’s not just Argentina. This last year we have seen major protests erupt across the whole world against neoliberal/fascist regimes. In Chile, The Lebanon, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti,France and now, of course also in Bolivia fighting the new US imposed military dictatorship there.

When will we see the name of England appended to that noble list? I sense the scratching of heads in drawing rooms across the home counties, “What’s he talking about, the man’s a bloody pinko pervert, bloody antisemite, what’s he talking about? We don’t live in a dictatorship, this is a free country, a democracy, with all the finest traditions of fair play, pah!”

Well, I’ve got news for you Disgruntled of Tunbridge Wells. We’d like to think this is a free country, but are we really free? Why, when Julian Assange is brought to the dock in the tiny magistrates court inside Belmarsh prison are so many seats occupied by anonymous American suits, whispering instructions into the attentive ear of the prosecution’s lead barrister, James Lewis QC?

Why?

Because we don’t live in a free country, we live in a glorified dog kennel and we bark and/or wag our tails at the bidding of our lords and masters across the pond.

I stand here today, in front of the Mother of Parliaments, and there she stands blushing in all her embarrassment. And just upstream from here is Runnemede, where in 1215, we, the English, laid out the rudiments of common law. Magna Carta, ratified in 1297 article 29 of which gave us Habeus Corpus. Or did it? It stated:

“The body of a free man is not to be arrested, or imprisoned, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way ruined, nor is the king to go against him or send forcibly against him, except by judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Sadly, Article 29 is not enforceable in modern law. Magna Carta is only an idea, and in this propaganda driven modern world, it provides no check in principle to Parliament legislating against the rights of citizens.

We do however have an extradition treaty with the USA and in the first paragraph of article 4 of that treaty it states. “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.” Julian Assange has committed no crime but he has committed a political act. He has spoken truth to power. He has angered some of our masters in Washington by telling the truth and in retribution for the act of telling the truth they want his blood.

Yesterday in front of Battersea Power Station I did a TV interview for SKY news to promote this event, there was no visual link, so my only contact with the lady asking me questions was via an ear bud on a curly wire. I learned something about telling truth in the phrasing of her questions to me. She came at me like some crazed Don Quixote every question laced, thick with the smears and innuendo and the false accusations with which the powers that be have been trying to blacken Julian Assange’s name. She rattled off the tired, but well prepared narrative, and then interrupted constantly when I made reply. I don’t know who she is, she may mean well. If she does, my advice would be to stop drinking the Kool-aid, and if she actually gives a fig for her chosen profession get her sorry ass down here and join us.

So England. I call upon our prime minister, Boris Johnson, to declare his colours, does he support the spirit of Magna Carta? Does he believe in, democracy, freedom, fair play, free speech, and especially the freedom of the press? If the answer to those questions is yes, then come on Prime Minister be the British Bulldog you would have us all believe you are? Stand up to the bluster of American hegemony, call off this show trial, this charade, this kangaroo court. “The evidence before the court is incontrovertible.” Julian Assange is an innocent man. A journalist doing very important work for “we the people” by exposing the crimes of powerful sociopaths in the corridors of power.

I call on you to free him today.

I cannot leave this stage without mention of Chelsea Manning, who provided some of the material that Julian published.

Chelsea has been in a federal prison for a year incarcerated by the Americans for refusing, on principle, to give evidence to a grand jury specifically convened to make an example of Julian Assange. What courage. They are also fining her $1,000 a day. Chelsea yours is another name to be carved in pride, I’ve been reading the latest on your case, it looks as if your legal team are finding light at the end of the tunnel, please god, you get out soon back to your loved ones, you are a true hero.You exemplify the bulldog spirit that I was talking about a few moments ago.

Also Daniel Hale

Daniel is a whistle-blower you may not know yet. He was in a great documentary movie National Bird, made by my good friend Sonia Kennebeck. He was part of the US drone program targeting Afghans in their own country from some mobile command center in Navada. When his stint in the USAF was over. Daniel’s good heart refused to edit out the burden of remorse he carried and he very bravely decided to tell his story. The FBI/CIA have pursued Daniel remorselessly ever since and he is now in prison awaiting trial. Daniel’s is another name to be carved in pride. Those of us who have never compromised our liberty in the cause of freedom, who have never picked up the burning torch and held it trembling over the crimes of their superior officers, can only wonder at the extraordinary courage of those who have.

There are other speakers here, so I will make way, I could stand here all day railing against the dying of the light should we not stand Bulldog like, with arms linked, ranks closed in front of our brother and comrade Julian Assange. And when the lackies of the American Empire come to take him, to destroy him and hang him in the hedge as a warning to frighten future journalists, we will look them in the eye and steadfast with one voice we will intone.

“Over our dead fucking bodies.”

Roger Waters Feb 22nd 2020

You can see Roger delivering the truncated version, with force but still self-deprecation, on this video of yesterday’s event. You can also see great speeches including by Yanis Varoufakis and Brian Eno.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s piece in full.

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Filed under Britain, Craig Murray, internet freedom, Sweden

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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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, Iran, Iraq, USA

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.

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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

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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Jewish Voice for Labour deplores the suspension of Chris Williamson

On February 27th, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) issued the following statement in support of Labour MP Chris Williamson.

We are shocked at the suspension from the Labour Party of Derby North MP Chris Williamson, despite his apology.

As a Jewish organisation we condemn antisemitism unreservedly. And, of course, we support robust measures to deal with any instances.

Like Chris Williamson we stand in a long tradition of opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism. We support the statement in which he apologised to anyone hurt by his words. But we agree with him that the number of instances of antisemitism in the Labour Party, though small relative to its size, is still too high. Any antisemite in the Party is one too many.

Williamson based his statement on the official statistics published by the General Secretary of the Party, Jennie Formby. They confirm that over the last 10 months complaints received led to 453 cases being investigated for antisemitism. This represents 1/12th of 1% of the membership. There is no wave of antisemitism in the Party.

The existence of antisemitism in the Party, as everywhere in society, is not in doubt. It needs to be contested, and the Party’s beefed up disciplinary processes are doing just that. But these figures, and the experience of the hundreds of our Jewish members in the Labour Party, give the lie to the false narrative that the Party is rife with antisemitism. Such a description bears no resemblance to reality.

The flood of exaggerated claims of antisemitism make it harder to deal with any real instances of antisemitism. The credibility of well-founded allegations is undermined by the less credible ones and real perpetrators are more likely not to be held to account. Crying wolf is dangerous when there are real wolves around the corner.

This was the reality that Chris Williamson was drawing attention to. His suspension from the party is unjust and should be rescinded.

Click here to read the statement on the JVL website

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In Summary: the truth behind the stats [on cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party]

On February 24th, Labour Briefing published an article by Glyn Secker, secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour, and Dr Alan Maddison, a solidarity member, that looked into the data recently released by General Secretary of the Labour Party, Jennie Formby. The article is reproduced in full below.

FROM THE MOMENT Jeremy Corbyn emerged as leader of the Labour Party a barrage of allegations of antisemitism was levelled at him and the party. These allegations have tarnished the party’s image and deflected it from promoting its core programme of anti-austerity and redistribution of wealth.

Representing several hundred Jewish members of the party, Jewish Voice for Labour from the very start challenged the existence of this antisemitic wave. Never denying for a moment the existence of serious, isolated expressions of antisemitism, none of us – many with decades of party membership – experienced anything at all resembling such undercurrents. Why was Labour singled out for such interrogation, and was antisemitism really more prevalent in the party than elsewhere?

The wave of allegations swamped the party machinery. After Jennie Formby became General Secretary, the implementation of some of the Chakrabarti recommendations and expansion of staffing levels, it is clear that this wave of reported allegations is being managed promptly, with only 24 cases outstanding.

And a clear picture has finally emerged. Jennie Formby’s data confirms that the grounds for the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour have indeed been grossly exaggerated, and in some cases fabricated. Over the last ten months there were:

» 1,106 referrals of antisemitism allegations;

» 433 of these had nothing to do with party members, leaving 673 to be investigated;

» 220 of these were dismissed entirely for lack of evidence;

» this left 453 cases;

» 453 is 0.08% of the party’s 540,000 members – that’s about 1/12th of 1%;

» 96 of these resulted in suspensions – that’s 0.01%, or 1/100th of 1% of members;

» there were twelve expulsions – that’s 0.002%, or 1/500th of 1% of members!

By no stretch of the imagination can a 0.08% incidence support the claim of a ‘”rampant problem in Labour”. Of course, even one case of antisemitism is one too many. But these are vanishingly small statistics, especially when you consider that 2-5% of the general population are considered to be antisemitic.

This is not a wave, it is not even a ripple. In nautical terms it’s almost a dead flat calm.

Furthermore, there is no record of the thousands of abusive messages MPs like Ruth Smeeth claimed to have received, alleging most emanated from the Labour Party. The source of these might well have been traced to the ten fake twitter accounts masquerading as Labour Party members, unmasked by journalist Asa Winstanley. But to our knowledge, such numbers have never been submitted for investigation.

Margaret Hodge MP was informed by Jennie Formby that of the 200 dossiers of cases of antisemitism she had submitted, only 20 were found to be by Labour Party members. In other words, her allegations of antisemitism in the party had been exaggerated tenfold. And single handedly she accounted for approaching one fifth of all referrals.

Headlines proclaiming there was “no safe place for Jews in Corbyn’s Labour”, or that Labour needed, in the words of Marie van de Zyl, when vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, to “drain the cesspit of antisemitism”, have been shown to be contradicted by the evidence.

When the Shami Chakrabarti inquiry was presented we learned that there was no evidence of widespread antisemitism in Labour, but there were some offensive comments often borne out of ignorance. In cases such as these 146 written warnings were issued.

If the facts are at such odds with the accounts of leading politicians and mainstream media, there can be only one explanation – these accounts are driven by ulterior political agendas. Other forms of racism, for which manifestations in the UK are 70 times more prevalent than those for antisemitism, barely get a mention.

At the last election Labour fell short of becoming the government by a few percentage points. The next election is predicted to be as close. The damage to the party inflicted by the allegations of antisemitism is calculated to impact on this tipping point – to keep the party out of office. Ironically, the Labour Party is the only party in western Europe which has both the programme and the potential to govern, and thus the power to address the economic and political causes of the very real rise of fascism across Europe. The stakes couldn’t be higher!

Click here to find the original article entitled “Labour antisemitism: the Truth Behind the Stats” written by Glyn Secker and Alan Maddison published by Labour Briefing.

And here to read the same article with a brief introduction on the JVL website.

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Additional: The Boris Johnson Supporters’ Group

While every fresh accusation of Labour Party antisemitism makes headline news, our media shows a deplorable lack of interest when it comes to reports of racism within the Conservative Party. The following extract is part of a report published today by Evolve Politics about The Boris Johnson Supporters’ Group on facebook:

The group appears to have been ostensibly set up to support the current Tory MP and former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, in his bid to become the leader of the Conservative Party.

However, a huge amount of the posts use unashamedly racist, far-right language – especially ones lambasting immigration, refugees, minorities, and in particular, Muslims.

Amongst the disgustingly racist posts and comments that the Tory-led administration team have failed to remove, and in some cases even endorsed, are:

At least 7 comments that describe Muslims and immigrants as “ragheads”

There is also a comment that describes BAME people as “wogs“; another telling a black British soldier to “p**s off back to Africa”; another telling an EU immigrant to “f**k off back to Poland”; a comment directed to Bradford-born Labour MP Naz Shah telling her to “p**s off to [her] own country”; another that describes London Major Sadiq Khan as a “conniving little muzrat”; one comment calls black Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler “monkeys”; another says black former Labour MP, Fiona Onasanya, should be “put on a banana boat back home”; there is a joke about bombing mosques; numerous jokes about shooting immigrants and their families; and lastly, numerous posts spreading white-genocide conspiracy theories.

I shall not include any images of these facebook posts, however they can be found embedded in the original article.

The most incriminating revelation is that one of the people running ‘The Boris Johnson Supporters’ Group’ is a serving Conservative Party councillor:

Among the people running the Boris Johnson: Supporters’ Group are a current, serving Tory Councillor in Wellingborough, Martyn York (Moderator), and a failed Conservative Party Council candidate in Newcastle Under Lyme, Dorinda Bailey (Administrator).

In addition to these two Tory politicians is another Administrator called David Abbott. Abbott currently serves as an Independent Councillor and is the Deputy Mayor of Houghton Regis.

Click here to read the full article entitled entitled “Tory Politicians are running a VILE Facebook Group where members joke about BOMBING MOSQUES and SHOOTING IMMIGRANTS” written by Tom D. Rogers published on March 1st by Evolve Politics.

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Update:

Back in June 2018, former Conservative co-Chair Baroness Warsi gave an exclusive interview to Business Insider in which she accused the party leadership of ignoring “widespread” Islamophobia, and of deliberately stirring up anti-Muslim hatred to win elections. She told Business Insider:

[T]he “poison” of Islamophobia had now affected all levels of the party.

“It’s very widespread [in the Conservative party]. It exists right from the grassroots, all the way up to the top.”

Adding:

“It has been a classic case of ‘we’re not racist — we like brown people but we like this kind of brown people as opposed to this kind of brown people.”

“It’s saying ‘these are the acceptable brown people and those are the unacceptable brown people’ and I think that is really dangerous.”

The article continues:

She cited the example of the 2016 London mayoral election where the party was condemned for targeting Hindu voters with leaflets suggesting that the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, who is a Muslim, was attempting to take away their jewellery.

“We specifically went out for Hindu voters saying Sadiq’s after your jewellery and I love Modi and by the way, Sadiq is an extremist. It was really amateur dog whistle politics,” Warsi told BI.

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Islamophobia scandal in the Conservative party goes ‘right to the top’” written by Adam Bienkov, published by Business Insider on June 11th, 2018.

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On March 2nd, the Guardian published an article by Miqdaad Versi in which he details “A litany of unpunished bigotry by [Conservative] MPs”. Here is an excerpt:

An unbelievable 42% of Tory voters have a positive view of the way Yaxley-Lennon [aka Tommy Robinson] highlights issues ignored by the media (compared with 18% of Labour voters).

One might have assumed that such a positive view about a widely reviled and hateful figure would not have any place in a modern Conservative party membership.

But the problem seems to be far worse.

The Conservative MP Bob Blackman retweeted an anti-Muslim post from Tommy Robinson, yet he did not even get a slap on the wrist from the party. In fact, depite having subsequently hosted anti-Muslim extremist in parliament (Tapan Ghosh), shared an Islamophobic story on Facebook, and been found as a member of a number of Islamophobic social-media groups, the party seems to have no real concern and the prime minister even chose to campaign with him.

He’s not alone. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries shared a tweet from Tommy Robinson before using far-right tropes against Sadiq Khan, Yasmine Alibhai-Brown and Muslims more generally and – despite being personally against same-sex marriage – weaponised gay rights to attack Muslims. Unlike Blackman, she didn’t even apologise once she was found out.

And I could go on – whether it is Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell’s Facebook account being found to have joined a “Free Tommy” group, or Conservative MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson meeting Steve Bannon, who famously praised Tommy Robinson as representing the working class. Johnson’s burqa comments have led to many claiming that he is using Islamophobia as part of a populist, Trump-like appeal to anti-Muslims in the party.

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Tories’ response to raging Islamophobia? Turn a blind eye” written by Miqdaad Versi, published in the Guardian on March 2nd.

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Craig Murray cross-examines the official ‘Novichok’ story

Former ambassador and independent journalist Craig Murray is no friend of Russia or Putin but has been outspoken in his doubts over UK government allegations relating to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. In series of recent articles reprinted in full below he now cross-examines the government case point by point.

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The terrible death of Dawn Sturgess casts a new shadow over the Salisbury Affair. Dawn appears to have been a popular and well grounded woman with close friend and family ties, whose life had taken a downward turn before being cruelly ended.

The illogical, inconsistent and shifting government narrative over events in Salisbury and Amesbury had appeared so ludicrous as to be tragi-comic. Any sense of amusement is now abruptly dispelled. But less us take a serious and sober look at the government case.

Sajid Javid stated today:

We know back in March that it was the Russians. We know it was a barbaric, inhuman act by the Russian state. Again, for this particular incident, we need to learn more and let the police do their work.

Actually, we know no such thing and, contrary to Javid’s deliberate insinuation, the police have adduced no evidence that it was the Russian state.

The media appear to have entirely excluded from the narrative that Porton Down specifically stated that they cannot determine the origin of the poison that attacked the Skripals. Nor has the OPCW. There are scores of both state and non-state actors who could have produced the nerve agent. No evidence has been produced as to the physical person who allegedly administered the poison. In short, nothing so far has been shown which would lead any reasonable person to conclude a case against the Russian state was proven.

I believe this following is the government narrative currently. I hope I am not mistating it:

Russia has a decade long secret programme of producing and stockpiling novichok nerve agents. It also has been training agents in secret assassination techniques, and British intelligence has a copy of the Russian training manual, which includes instruction on painting nerve agent on doorknobs. The Russians chose to use this assassination programme to target Sergei Skripal, a double agent who had been released from jail in Russia some eight years previously.

Only the Russians can make novichok and only the Russians had a motive to attack the Skripals.

The Russians had been tapping the phone of Yulia Skripal. They decided to attack Sergei Skripal while his daughter was visiting from Moscow. Their trained assassin(s) painted a novichok on the doorknob of the Skripal house in the suburbs of Salisbury. Either before or after the attack, they entered a public place in the centre of Salisbury and left a sealed container of the novichok there.

The Skripals both touched the doorknob and both functioned perfectly normally for at least five hours, even able to eat and drink heartily. Then they were simultaneously and instantaneously struck down by the nerve agent, at a spot in the city centre coincidentally close to where the assassins left a sealed container of the novichok lying around. Even though the nerve agent was eight times more deadly than Sarin or VX, it did not kill the Skripals because it had been on the doorknob and affected by rain.

Detective Sergeant Bailey attended the Skripal house and was also poisoned by the doorknb, but more lightly. None of the other police who attended the house were affected.

Four months later, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were rooting about in public parks, possibly looking for cigarette butts, and accidentally came into contact with the sealed container of a novichok. They were poisoned and Dawn Sturgess subsequently died.

I am going to leave you to mull over that story yourselves for a while. I believe it is a fair statement of the British government narrative. I also believe almost (but not quite) every single sentence is very obviously untrue. I hope tomorrow to publish a detailed analysis explaining why that is, but want you to look at it yourselves first.

One final thought. I trust that Dawn Sturgess will get a proper and full public inquest in accordance with normal legal process, something which was denied to David Kelly. I suspect that is something the government will seek to delay as long as possible, even indefinitely.

Click here to read the same article published on Craig Murray’s website

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In my last post I set out the official Government account of the events in the Skripal Case. Here I examine the credibility of this story. Next week I shall look at alternative explanations.

Russia has a decade long secret programme of producing and stockpiling novichok nerve agents. It also has been training agents in secret assassination techniques, and British intelligence has a copy of the Russian training manual, which includes instruction on painting nerve agent on doorknobs.

The only backing for this statement by Boris Johnson is alleged “intelligence”, and unfortunately the “intelligence” about Russia’s secret novichok programme comes from exactly the same people who brought you the intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s WMD programme, proven liars. Furthermore, the question arises why Britain has been sitting on this intelligence for a decade and doing nothing about it, including not telling the OPCW inspectors who certified Russia’s chemical weapons stocks as dismantled.

If Russia really has a professional novichok assassin training programme, why was the assassination so badly botched? Surely in a decade of development they would have discovered that the alleged method of gel on doorknob did not work? And where is the training manual which Boris Johnson claimed to possess? Having told the world – including Russia -the UK has it, what is stopping the UK from producing it, with marks that could identify the specific copy erased?

The Russians chose to use this assassination programme to target Sergei Skripal, a double agent who had been released from jail in Russia some eight years previously.

It seems remarkable that the chosen target of an attempt that would blow the existence of a secret weapon and end the cover of a decade long programme, should be nobody more prominent than a middle ranking double agent who the Russians let out of jail years ago. If they wanted him dead they could have killed him then. Furthermore the attack on him would undermine all future possible spy swaps. Putin therefore, on this reading, was willing to sacrifice both the secrecy of the novichok programme and the spy swap card just to attack Sergei Skripal. That seems highly improbable.

Only the Russians can make novichok and only the Russians had a motive to attack the Skripals.

The nub of the British government’s approach has been the shocking willingness of the corporate and state media to parrot repeatedly the lie that the nerve agent was Russian made, even after Porton Down said they could not tell where it was made and the OPCW confirmed that finding. In fact, while the Soviet Union did develop the “novichok” class of nerve agents, the programme involved scientists from all over the Soviet Union, especially Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia, as I myself learnt when I visited the newly decommissioned Nukus testing facility in Uzbekistan in 2002.

Furthermore, it was the USA who decommissioned the facility and removed equipment back to the United States. At least two key scientists from the programme moved to the United States. Formulae for several novichok have been published for over a decade. The USA, UK and Iran have definitely synthesised a number of novichok formulae and almost certainly others have done so too. Dozens of states have the ability to produce novichok, as do many sophisticated non-state actors.

As for motive, the Russian motive might be revenge, but whether that really outweighs the international opprobrium incurred just ahead of the World Cup, in which so much prestige has been invested, is unclear.

What is certainly untrue is that only Russia has a motive. The obvious motive is to attempt to blame and discredit Russia. Those who might wish to do this include Ukraine and Georgia, with both of which Russia is in territorial dispute, and those states and jihadist groups with which Russia is in conflict in Syria. The NATO military industrial complex also obviously has a plain motive for fueling tension with Russia.

There is of course the possibility that Skripal was attacked by a private gangster interest with which he was in conflict, or that the attack was linked to Skripal’s MI6 handler Pablo Miller’s work on the Orbis/Steele Russiagate dossier on Donald Trump.

Plainly, the British governments statements that only Russia had the means and only Russia had the motive, are massive lies on both counts.

The Russians had been tapping the phone of Yulia Skripal. They decided to attack Sergei Skripal while his daughter was visiting from Moscow.

In an effort to shore up the government narrative, at the time of the Amesbury attack the security services put out through Pablo Miller’s long term friend, the BBC’s Mark Urban, that the Russians “may have been” tapping Yulia Skripal’s phone, and the claim that this was strong evidence that the Russians had indeed been behind the attack.

But think this through. If that were true, then the Russians deliberately attacked at a time when Yulia was in the UK rather than when Sergei was alone. Yet no motive has been adduced for an attack on Yulia or why they would attack while Yulia was visiting – they could have painted his doorknob with less fear of discovery anytime he was alone. Furthermore, it is pretty natural that Russian intelligence would tap the phone of Yulia, and of Sergei if they could. The family of double agents are normal targets. I have no doubt in the least, from decades of experience as a British diplomat, that GCHQ have been tapping Yulia’s phone. Indeed, if tapping of phones is seriously put forward as evidence of intent to murder, the British government must be very murderous indeed.

Their trained assassin(s) painted a novichok on the doorknob of the Skripal house in the suburbs of Salisbury. Either before or after the attack, they entered a public place in the centre of Salisbury and left a sealed container of the novichok there.

The incompetence of the assassination beggars belief when compared to British claims of a long term production and training programme. The Russians built the heart of the International Space Station. They can kill an old bloke in Salisbury. Why did the Russians not know that the dose from the door handle was not fatal? Why would trained assassins leave crucial evidence lying around in a public place in Salisbury? Why would they be conducting any part of the operation with the novichok in a public area in central Salisbury?

Why did nobody see them painting the doorknob? This must have involved wearing protective gear, which would look out of place in a Salisbury suburb. With Skripal being resettled by MI6, and a former intelligence officer himself, it beggars belief that MI6 did not fit, as standard, some basic security including a security camera on his house.

The Skripals both touched the doorknob and both functioned perfectly normally for at least five hours, even able to eat and drink heartily. Then they were simultaneously and instantaneously struck down by the nerve agent, at a spot in the city centre coincidentally close to where the assassins left a sealed container of the novichok lying around. Even though the nerve agent was eight times more deadly than Sarin or VX, it did not kill the Skripals because it had been on the doorknob and affected by rain.

Why did they both touch the outside doorknob in exiting and closing the door? Why did the novichok act so very slowly, with evidently no feeling of ill health for at least five hours, and then how did it strike both down absolutely simultaneously, so that neither can call for help, despite their being different sexes, weights, ages, metabolisms and receiving random completely uncontrolled doses. The odds of that happening are virtually nil. And why was the nerve agent ultimately ineffective?

Detective Sergeant Bailey attended the Skripal house and was also poisoned by the doorknob, but more lightly. None of the other police who attended the house were affected.

Why was the Detective Sergeant affected and nobody else who attended the house, or the scene where the Skripals were found? Why was Bailey only lightly affected by this extremely deadly substance, of which a tiny amount can kill?

Four months later, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were rooting about in public parks, possibly looking for cigarette butts, and accidentally came into contact with the sealed container of a novichok. They were poisoned and Dawn Sturgess subsequently died.

If the nerve agent had survived four months because it was in a sealed container, why has this sealed container now mysteriously disappeared again? If Rowley and Sturgess had direct contact straight from the container, why did they not both die quickly? Why had four months searching of Salisbury and a massive police, security service and military operation not found this container, if Rowley and Sturgess could?

I am, with a few simple questions, demolishing what is the most ludicrous conspiracy theory I have ever heard – the Salisbury conspiracy theory being put forward by the British government and its corporate lackies.

My next post will consider some more plausible explanations of this affair.

Click here to read the same article originally posted on Craig Murray’s website.

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I would like to thank Craig Murray for allowing the reproduction of these articles.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily ones shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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“no-fly zone” means escalation of war, and this time it will be against Russia… are you ready for that?

Update:

It is abundantly clear from our dark alliance with Saudi Arabia and our conduct in support of jihadists in Syria that our current leaders have learned nothing from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya as we prepare to plunge head-long into the abyss of a world war.

The warning comes from former Democrat presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in an article published on October 21st by Counterpunch.

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On every occasion it goes like this. Firstly, a pretext – an outright and convenient lie that justifies invasion. A lie to be repeated again and again until it sticks; so better to make it sound plausible (although even plausibility is not as important as it might first appear). Then the military offensive and a regime change – the true intention. And lastly, there follows an absolute collapse of law and order and the breakdown of civil society in a once stable, perhaps even relatively prosperous nation. The repeated outcome is a failed state and a puppet regime, overrun with Jihadist terrorists, but not to worry – the only cameras left at this stage of events will be the ones used for targeting drone-strikes.

So here’s a quick recap:-

Afghanistan – fifteen years ago the pretext was Bin Laden, of course, wanted dead or alive. Then, once the place had been bombed to hell, with the Saudi-backed Taliban overthrown thanks to the assistance of warlords of the so-called ‘Northern Alliance’, a pro-western government led by Hamid Karzai was briskly installed. (Tremendous news if you happened to be building oil pipelines – remember Unocal? – or for those in the business of smuggling opium.)

Iraq – here it was ‘babies out of incubators’ first time around (a since discredited story about a non-existent atrocity scripted and staged by PR firm Hill & Knowlton 1) and then came those still more infamous missing WMDs which the weapons inspectors led by the exemplary Hans Blix simply couldn’t uncover any evidence of, but which, as Bush Jr. joked later, “gotta be somewhere”. He even had the temerity to say it during the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner. And the press just lapped it up, as he knew they would:

The WMDs were a fiction, of course, as Bush was later forced to admit more soberly 2, but so what – those admissions came much too late to change anything. A million people had died already and millions of other disposable lives are still being quietly destroyed thanks to the use of chemical agents like white phosphorous and the misleadingly named ‘depleted uranium’ (DU). Read more here.

With Libya, there was a different Commander-in-Chief and a new twist: the UN’s ‘responsibility to protect’ invoked to deal with freshly concocted stories of regime-supplied Viagra and mass rape. A more nonsensical fiction than before – but never mind that, the press dutifully lapped it up.

Gone too was ‘shock and awe’ (at least in name). The bombs tearing up Libyan lives were more lovingly delivered since dropped under the guise of a “humanitarian intervention”. A “no-fly zone” that Russia and China very reluctantly sanctioned (having eventually succumbed to hysterical and sustained criticism across the western media) which immediately paved the way to more expansive (and wholly unsanctioned) “kinetic action” as Nato supplied air cover to the bloodthirsty Salafist militias on the ground.

The slaughter of innocents by those same ‘moderate’ al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists, and especially the widespread lynching of black Africans, was barely reported upon in the western press – the greater truth is unlikely to ever come out. But you can read more about it here – and here in an earlier post.

Today we have more of the same in Syria – once again, the intention was always regime change and indeed there is rather more candour in admitting this than on past occasions. However, the movable official narrative and the facts on the ground quickly diverge thereafter.

The West and its Middle East allies have covertly backed a mix of al-Qaeda factions from the very earliest days of the Syrian conflict, precisely as they did in Libya. In both instances, when it comes to western-backing, use of the term ‘moderate’ is next to meaningless. Here is an article I posted in August 2012  as news of Islamist infiltration was first beginning to leak into mainstream articles. And here is a more intensively documented piece put together a year ago and closely detailing our clandestine support of al-Qaeda factions and their splinter group ISIS.

The ‘moderate rebels’ are mixed in with al-Qaeda terrorists, the official story now openly confesses – an incremental shift from outright denial to open admission of terrorist ‘links’ that accidentally provides a measure of just how far the mask of the West’s legitimacy has fallen. It has shifted out of desperation, as the strategy for overthrowing Assad and the Syrian government began to falter.

So the clamour again is for another “no-fly zone”; a more overtly aggressive act of war-making, necessarily portrayed as an act of peace. That “no-fly zone” always means ‘war’ is unarguable as I have already pointed out on a number of occasions during the lead up to the bombing campaign in Libya (here is one post). But why trust me, when you can hear it straight from the horse’s mouth:

The issue is not complicated. As today’s leaks show Hillary Clinton laid it out back in 2013 when she said, “To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defenses, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk— you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.”

The quoted reminder is courtesy of a piece by Chris Nineham of the Stop the War Coalition. His article, published on Tuesday 11th, continues more alarmingly:

Or, just last month, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff admitted, “right now, for us to control all of the air space in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia; that’s a pretty fundamental decision”.

‘Fundamental’ is putting it lightly – but let’s go on with Nineham’s excellent analysis of the likely consequences for the Syrians (I’ll come back to consider the prospect of apocalyptic madness in a moment):

The situation in Aleppo and other parts of Syria is desperate. The idea of a no-fly zone can seem attractive because people rightly want there to be an effective humanitarian response. But as these two quotes outline, a no-fly zone would need to be secured by Western forces against opposition from Syria and Russia. Air defenses would have to be taken out and Syrian and Russian planes shot down. In the end a no-fly zone in Syria would work the same as the no-fly zone in Libya did, as a corridor for western military bombing. […]

People say the situation in Syria can get no worse, but they are wrong. As Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary explained today in parliament, “in a multi-playered, multi-faceted civil war such as Syria, the last thing we need is more parties bombing”. Such action will inflame and escalate an already desperate situation leading not just to more agony on the ground in Syria, but almost certainly to the break up of the country.

It is quite amazing that the views of MPs like Boris Johnson and Andrew Mitchell are taken seriously at all on issues of foreign policy. Andrew Mitchell voted for the Iraq War, for the intervention in Libya and twice for bombing in Syria. Johnson too has voted for every war he has been able to. If the daily reports of carnage and chaos in the news are not enough to convince people of the catastrophic effects of these escapades, they have been roundly condemned as chaotic disasters in a series of official reports, including Chilcot, the Select Committee Report on Libya, and the House of Commons Defence Committee report on the intervention in Syria. 3

Click here to read Nineham’s full article.

But here’s the mystery – it’s not really a mystery, but let’s pretend for just a moment. When the modus operandi becomes this transparent, how come it still works as effectively as it does? How do good people fall into the belief time and again that the next bombing campaign will be different – will result in a better outcome and not perpetuate the carnage of this monstrous “war on terror”?

And how do our western powers manage to stake a claim to having any kind of humanitarian agenda whatsoever, especially when simultaneously they are aiding the despotic regime of Saudi Arabia in its genocidal bombing of Yemen? Are we supposed to believe that the powers-that-be – our marvellous military-industrial complex – really love Syrians so much more than Yemenis?

There’s actually no mystery at all. The war party is extremely adept at playing on and manipulating our good conscience. It operates by unabashed deceit and by virtue of the largesse of foundation funding – these two go hand-in-hand in fact. If you want some names of our deceivers then read this earlier article and this one too. In short, beware the pressure groups and NGOs – take care to follow the money. But most importantly of all, beware the corporate media. The corporate media has taken us into each and every one of these disastrous wars and without its relentless, monotonous and insidious manufacturing of our consent there would be no “war on terror” at all:

In the video embedded above, independent journalist James Corbett exposes Channel 4 news as they are caught lionising the very same criminal gang (literally the same men) who filmed themselves beheading a twelve-year old boy.

For it is an easily corroborated fact that the West and its allies have a long and sustained history of manipulating gangs and insurgents, and most notably Islamist factions, to achieve their desired geostrategic objectives, yet this irrefutable truth must never be widely disseminated. Amnesia is vital, therefore, and thankfully the media is highly dependable when it comes to aiding our forgetting. But then, every atrocity the West commits is simply a cock-up; our enemies alone commit all the war crimes (with the singular exception of the crimes of Tony Blair).

Meanwhile, compliance of the press is likewise assured whenever it comes to pushing buttons readying us for the next war. Allowing an occasional embarrassing truth to dribble out now and again serves to regain some public trust – just enough to convince us of how the media maintains a vital role in holding power accountable rather than simply operating as a propaganda arm for the establishment. In this regard Blair serves the cause as a wonderful decoy too – his own unprosecuted crimes taking much of the heat off Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama.

Moreover, to those who in any way sponsor our perpetual “war on terror” yet talk freely and hypocritically about the ‘war crimes’ of others please do reflect on the Nuremberg rulings which deem every war of aggression “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” 4

But here is the truly startling difference today: these purveyors of war appear to have become more irresponsible and reckless than ever before. Indeed, it seems that many in our press corps are finally losing a grip on reality. Inevitable perhaps, once groupthink takes such a hold of you.

This “no-fly zone” in Syria, if launched, means war not just against Syria and its already deeply committed ally Iran, but also and unavoidably against Russia. Yet voices across parliament and throughout the media are cheering on this unthinkable act. Do these same low-grade politicos and media hacks feel so assured of their place hunkered down in some impenetrable secret bunker, tucked up with the Strangeloves? Or do they feel rather unconcerned about the catastrophic potential of a war with Russia, imagining it will somehow remain contained like all our other ongoing wars – faraway and in someone else’s backyard? In short, are they blasé or just plain stupid? I confess to feeling contempt either way. Contempt combined with a growing sense of bewilderment and dread.

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1 Nayirah al-Ṣabaḥ (Arabic: نيره الصباح‎), called “Nurse Nayirah” in the media, was a fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl, who gave false testimony before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990, stating that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, take the incubators, and leave the babies to die. The testimony was widely publicized, and was cited numerous times by United States senators and President George H.W. Bush. In 1992, it was revealed that Nayirah was the daughter of Saud Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, and that her testimony was scripted as part of a PR campaign run by Hill & Knowlton for the Kuwaiti government. Her story was initially corroborated by Amnesty International.

2

3 From an article entitled “Don’t believe the Start the War Coalition – Ask Libyans About No-Fly Zones” written by Chris Nineham, published by Stop the War Coalition on October 11, 2016. http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news-comment/2208-don-t-believe-the-start-the-war-coalition-ask-libyans-about-no-fly-zones

4 http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/judnazi.asp#common

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this is the EU – so take it or leave it… #1. a leftist case for Brexit

The question of Brexit contains many interrelated issues that are both complex and far-reaching. I have therefore decided to present a sequence of shorter articles tackling specific topics. This one is a general plea to wavering leftists…

Four weeks today on June 23rd, Britain goes to the polls to decide on whether our collective future lies inside or outside the European Union. Whatever the outcome, our decision will very likely reshape the political landscape, not only inside Britain but also beyond our borders, for decades to come.

I have been trying to construct a short article outlining my own position favouring Brexit for many weeks now. But shortly after I begin, the doubts set in. Not doubts about leaving the EU, but doubts about how best to broach a frank and honest leftist argument in its favour?

At the heart of this difficulty is the nature of the debate itself. A debate – and I use the term loosely – that is necessarily being held at breakneck pace due to Cameron’s call for such a snap referendum and one wholly dominated by the most loudmouthed opinions of his Conservative Party…

In the blue corner “call me Dave” Cameron and in the other blue corner “The Boris” Johnson. Two of Bullingdon’s finest slugging it out for king, country and globalisation. It’s a spat that is about as phoney as any WWE wrestling bout and (for me at least) an even bigger turn-off.

So let’s be clear, neither Cameron, well-remembered for reneging on his “cast iron” Lisbon Treaty referendum pledge back in 2006 1, nor Johnson, who always hedges his bets on Europe, are fighting for what they believe in. They are not men of actual conviction, but political opportunists, and I am very far from alone in believing that Johnson’s lead role in the ‘Leave’ campaign was always part of a “choreographed game” stage-managed by Downing Street 2 (so desperate to maintain a modicum of cohesion within the warring Tory party ranks but also determined to win the vote).

Yet rather than forcing our politicians to face up to a fuller debate, the media mostly lends its considerable powers to keeping it shut down. Deflecting public attention away from the important issues and persuading us instead to fixate on the latest posturing of each side’s leading personalities as well as the nonsense they are endlessly spouting. And since there are deeply divisive and unpleasant characters talking rubbish on both sides, I strongly advise the undecided to ignore all the grimacing and the cacophony of half-truths, outright lies and utterly risible innuendo – al-Baghdadi cares not one jot about your vote and neither does Vladimir Putin!

Which brings me to the next difficulty faced by all left-leaning proponents of Brexit, and this involves recognising and surmounting a peculiar, since unfamiliar, sense of shame. The shame one feels at letting the side down. That we are apparently cheering on the nationalist cause when we ought instead, by rights, to adhere to a more internationalist stance. We even hear the ugly accusation raised against advocates of Brexit that, presumably by virtue of sharing this single opinion with holders of entirely obnoxious political outlooks, we may likewise be adopting an inherently a racist position. Which is another desperate slur intended to suck the air out of any serious debate over the essential and quite legitimate questions about independence and sovereignty.

That said, there is also a genuine concern that needs addressing, although in order to grapple with it sincerely we must first issue a full admission of guilt. So here it is: the left has been duped. It became hooked on a pipedream after mistaking the European project for an antidote to Thatcherism. Having been, for many years, a staunch advocate of “Europe” (the project not the geographical region), regrettably I was one of the many who were duped.

For whereas true internationalism – the internationalism of the old left – is predicated on an political ideal of extending democratic freedom throughout all nations of the world, the EU was deliberately constructed to function as a constraint against those democracies. And it is baloney to claim (as many do) that the EU “pools” our sovereignties, when in truth it erodes them down to nothing. This is the raison d’être of globalism as opposed to internationalism.

“The leftwing case for Brexit is strategic and clear,” writes Paul Mason in a Guardian opinion piece published Monday 16th, adding:

The EU is not – and cannot become – a democracy. Instead, it provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organised crime.

Mason, the former Economics Editor for BBC’s Newsnight and Channel 4 news, who more recently resigned to become an independent voice, continues:

Its central bank is committed, by treaty, to favour deflation and stagnation over growth. State aid to stricken industries is prohibited. The austerity we deride in Britain as a political choice is, in fact, written into the EU treaty as a non-negotiable obligation. So are the economic principles of the Thatcher era. A Corbyn-led Labour government would have to implement its manifesto in defiance of EU law. 3

I have strongly criticised Paul Mason for fence-sitting on related issues in an earlier article, but here, in three tightly constructed paragraphs, he makes the most succinct and, as he says, “principled leftwing case for Brexit” I have yet to read. And yet, and yet… Mason then swivels on a sixpence to reverse his position, saying:

Now here’s the practical reason to ignore it. In two words: Boris Johnson.

Overall Mason’s article is an impressive one and I very much encourage everyone to read it in full. Like Mason, I too am deeply concerned that a person as slippery as Boris Johnson might soon hold the reins of power in Westminster, but then Johnson has been lined up for succession long before Cameron felt so electorally cornered by UKIP that he bought victory in the General Election at the cost of this unwanted (from his position) EU referendum.

As a self-confessed pro-Brexit leftist, Mason’s broader concern is that leaving the EU now may inadvertently supply ammunition to our enemies. This is a valid point and one that Mason rightly raises, however, I find little reason to dwell on it. Do we cut off our nose to spite our face? Or, more specifically, to dent the prospects of a clownish would-be Tory leader, who seems in any case to be Teflon-coated – and frankly is Johnson actually any more dangerous than Cameron and their other Bullingdon buddy Osborne – a leadership rival – who together head ‘Remain’?.

Interestingly, when Mason concludes his piece saying “the political conditions for a left Brexit are absent today”, he has already somewhat undermined that position in the preceding paragraph:

The EU’s economic failure is fuelling racism and the ultra right. Boris Johnson’s comparison of the EU with the Third Reich was facile. The more accurate comparison is with the Weimar Republic: a flawed democracy whose failures fuelled the rise of fascism. And this swing to the far right prompts the more basic dilemma: do I even want to be part of the same electorate as millions of closet Nazis in mainland Europe?

It is as if he cannot keep a lid on his own frustration – anti-EU passions that he had even greater difficulty holding in check during last week’s [Thurs 21st] appearance on BBC Question Time:

Click here to read Paul Mason’s full article

The trouble is that the left have been caught on the hop. As the EU dropped its liberal veil, a great many of its supporters hesitated and keep a respectful silence. This failure to react opened the way for right-wing forces to gain much of the ground the liberal left once occupied. Two years ago, back in May 2014, I posted an article entitled “the rise of UKIP calls for new strategies from the left”. Unfortunately, such new strategies are still to be properly delineated by the mainstream left, which makes the need more urgent than ever before

It is unlikely that we will have another opportunity to vote on our EU membership in the foreseeable future (and given that the EU appears bent upon its own destruction perhaps we may never get one) and so rather than leaving it to the paleoconservatives and ultra-right to campaign for Brexit, isn’t the better strategy to refrain from playing politics, and stand firm for what we actually believe? If we find ourselves disenfranchised and alienated by the Eurocrats in Brussels then we should speak up and boost the left campaign for Brexit (as Corbyn almost certainly would too, if he hadn’t been muzzled by the PLP 4). If enough of us do, we will steal the thunder of our enemy.

Traditionally, the left in Britain – the democratic socialists and not the social democrat usurpers of “The Third Way” – have consistently and solidly opposed the EU’s monolithic and anti-democratic institutions and their bureaucratic takeover of our society. So what has changed?

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Additional: a background on Brexit

When the UK first joined ‘Europe’ in January 1973, the decision had been a purely executive one; the agreement signed behind our backs by the Conservative government of Edward Heath. But then the European Economic Community or EEC (as the organisation was originally known) was merely a burgeoning association of trading nations, and usually known more simply as the “Common Market”. So this was not a change affecting our rights or our constitution, certainly not to begin with, but apparently little more than an expanded free trade zone – and after all, the UK were already founder members of the European Free Trade Association or EFTA, along with Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland. The United Kingdom along with Denmark only ceased to be EFTA members when both then joined the EEC in 1973.

In these early days of EEC membership, the British public was just as divided on the issue as they are today, and, for the most part, this division in opinion fell along the traditional political fault-line of left against right. Back in the 1970s, however, it was socialists and trades unionists who, concerned by the top-down rule of bureaucrats in Brussels, were the most outspoken opponents. It was then much harder to find opposition within the rank and file of either Conservatives or Liberals (the Liberals being the only party to remain consistently “pro-European”).

A few years on, and with the 1975 referendum, the British electorate were at last given the chance to formally express their support or otherwise for the European project. Not to vote on whether or not to join, of course, since by then it was already a done deal, but on whether or not the UK should leave. So a loaded question obviously, and one further biased due to emphasis on the purportedly grave economic risks of an exit. Thus, with the deck fully stacked in favour of EEC membership, the nation went out to vote, and hardly surprisingly chose to stay put. 67% voting in favour, out of a 65% turnout.

But then something strange happened. Gradually, and throughout the following decade, the political poles were shifted around. The left becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of forming greater ties with our European partners, whilst the conservative right have grown ever more concerned and disaffected. The reason for these shifts actually aren’t hard to understand at all.

Thatcher loathed Europe, although what she really despised was the worker rights and other guarantees of social justice being snuck in through Europe’s backdoor. As a consequence, her almost rabid hostility towards European federalism (federalism being the big new F-word of the 1980s) being almost sufficient in itself to bring many on the left on board when it came to recognising the virtues of the fledgling union. Surely if this was the only route to achieving social justice then it was better to have more of it. Yet even so, a few on the left held on to their previous mistrust of Brussels. Tony Benn offers perhaps the best example, having remained unflinching in his objection to Europe’s inherent lack of democratic process. And here it is worth remembering that the “No” campaign of the ’75 referendum had been backed not only by Benn by other significant members on the left wing of the Labour Party, including cabinet ministers Michael Foot, Peter Shore and Barbara Castle.

More recently, the EU (which was formally established to replace the EEC after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, and again without any national referendum in Britain) has revealed how the organisation’s fundamentally neo-liberal credentials never went away. Barely disguising its own shameful part in the agonies of “austerity” now being foisted on Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy, with these measures insisted upon by “the Troika” of which two of its three parts are the EU itself. These actions serve to highlight what many progressives have failed to understand (and for many years, myself included), which is that the EU was never intended as a socialist project at all, or even an inherently ‘liberal’ one. Rather, and primarily, it has been a vehicle for concentrating power to the advantage of an already powerful financial and corporate elite. Which is why some on the left have remained just as strongly opposed to the EU as many on the right.

The following is NOT taken from UKIP’s manifesto:

Membership of the European Community/Union has contributed substantially to the unprecedented decline of industries in Britain, mass long-term unemployment and inability to trade on the world market. Besides huge contributions to the EU budget we have to purchase high priced food, thanks to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Because of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) we no longer have control over the fishing grounds around Britain with consequent loss of most of the fishing industry and fish stocks and pollution of the sea. Membership of the EU has entailed a switch away from taxing income and profit to consumption through the imposition of VAT. The burden of these costs and taxation is mainly carried by ordinary people especially those with low incomes or the unemployed.

The Treaty on European Union, Euro-federalism and EU Constitution will guarantee further decline as a result of which Britain will become an offshore area of a supranational state. The aim of European Union to be consolidated through the EU Constitution is to have its own military forces and be ruled in secret by unelected governors of an unaccountable European Central Bank, an appointed Commission and committees such as the European Council. These bodies consist of a majority of representatives of member states not answerable to our Government, Parliament or electorate and would be taking decisions which may not be in the interests of Britain.

Rather, it is taken from the “Statement of Aims” of a lesser know left-wing organisation called the Campaign Against Euro-federalism or CAEF. A statement that continues as follows:

Corporatism and fascism are also menaces which emanate from the drive to a European Union. Racism has been encouraged by the Schengen agreement which is now part of EU law with parallel legislation on immigration and asylum in Britain.

Yes, not everyone who opposes the EU is automatically against international cooperation. Nor is everyone who opposes the open border Schengen Agreement a rabid nationalist.

In any case, internationalism, as CAEF correctly point out, is quite different to European federalism. Internationalism involves the strengthening ties between sovereign nations, rather than the more aggressive dissolving away of borders between them. And European federalism further undermines the independence of the people of those nations (its member states) by passing executive powers that were held by democratically elected governments into the technocratic hands of an appointed commission. The EU – as it exists, rather than how we might like it to be – is better understood, not as a grand project for furthering international cooperation, but as one of the vital organs of a fully globalised world.

CAEF write:

Internationalism means the right to self determination and national democracy for all nations and nation states of the world which includes close relations with our friends in EU states and co-operating with peoples in all countries of the world.

And hear, hear to that!

The passage above is reprinted from an article posted in May 2014 entitled “the rise of UKIP calls for new strategies from the left”

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1

In an article for the Sun on 26 September 2007, Cameron wrote: “Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations. No treaty should be ratified without consulting the British people in a referendum.” […]

Barry Legg, co-chair of the Eurosceptic Bruges Group, said: “David Cameron needs to come clean with the British people: why is he breaking his pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty?”Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, told Sky News: “It looks as if that cast-iron guarantee has become very rusty indeed. I don’t think he’s being entirely honest with the British people.”

From an article entitled “David Cameron to shed ‘cast iron’ pledge on Lisbon Treaty” written by Nicholas Watt and Patrick Wintour, published in the Guardian on November 3, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/03/david-cameron-lisbon-treaty-referendum

2

Many of Mr Johnson’s closest allies are shocked that he made the decision to campaign for out.

One close political ally as recently as Wednesday said he believed speculation over Mr Johnson backing “Leave” was a “choreographed game” managed by Downing Street.

Although a committed Eurosceptic since working as Brussels correspondent for this newspaper in his twenties, Mr Johnson has always been known among friends as a Europhile and internationalist.

From an article entitled “How Boris Johnson came down on the side of a Brexit” written by Peter Dominiczak, published in The Telegraph on February 21, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/boris-johnson/12167603/How-Boris-Johnson-came-down-on-the-side-of-a-Brexit.html

3 From an article entitled “The leftwing case for Brexit (one day)” written by Paul Mason, published in the Guardian on May 16, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/16/brexit-eu-referendum-boris-johnson-greece-tory

4

During the Labour leadership campaign, Corbn said he was ready to join an ‘Out’ campaign if David Cameron trades away workers’ rights, environmental protection and fails to crack down on Brussels-backed tax havens.

Late on Sunday evening Corbyn began assembling his shadow cabinet. The key position of shadow chancellor has been handed to his close ally John McDonnell. Benn was reappointed to the shadow foreign secretary job.

Several senior figures who served under Ed Miliband have either refused to join the team or have not been offered positions. In his resignation letter, Umunna said he would find it “difficult to abide by the collective responsibility that comes with serving in the shadow cabinet”.

He said: “That is why Jeremy and I have agreed I can more effectively support his leadership from the backbenches. In particular, it is my view that we should support the UK remaining a member of the EU, notwithstanding the outcome of any renegotiation by the Prime Minister, and I cannot envisage any circumstances where I would be campaigning alongside those who would argue for us to leave – Jeremy has made it clear to me that he does not wholeheartedly share this view.”

Emma Reynolds, who served Miliband as shadow Europe minister and shadow housing minister, also quit the frontbench citing concern about Corbyn’s position on the EU.

From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn Will Campaign To Stay In The EU, Insists Hilary Benn”, written by Ned Simons, published in The Huffington Post UK on September 14, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/09/14/jeremy-corbyn-will-campaign-to-stay-in-the-eu-insists-hilary-benn_n_8132078.html

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