Tag Archives: Boris Johnson

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.

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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”

*

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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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain

the rise of UKIP calls for new strategies from the left

Behold the rise of Ukip: an Alan Partridge thought experiment that has broken out of the lab and infected millions. Yes, millions. I’ve just read that Ukip have utterly triumphed in the local elections, and are now in full control of the government, the police, the NHS and the armed forces. Nigel Farage is scheduled to be coronated at Westminster Abbey tomorrow afternoon live on BBC1, complete with Dimbleby commentary and Red Arrow fly-past.

So begins Charlie Brooker’s razor-sharp lancing of the hype surrounding UKIP’s unexpected gains in last year’s local elections, published May 5th 2013 in the Guardian‘s “Comment is Free”. And for all those dismayed to see the spectre of small-minded xenophobic conservatism making its stealthy return, I thoroughly recommend reading the whole piece, not only because it will very likely put a smile back on your face (if only briefly), but also because beneath the comic veneer Brooker brilliantly exposes a deeper malaise. That, as Brooker puts it (and it would be a shame to try to paraphrase and loose the vim of his original):

There’s something fundamentally unconvincing, not to mention nauseating, about the wet-eyed brand of pleading and apologetic earnestness repeatedly adopted by Miliband and Clegg. It’s as though, having accurately detected a general level of public revulsion with politics, they have decided the best tactic to worm their way back into our affections is to repeatedly say sorry for existing while tugging at our sleeves. Brr. Horrible. In the words of Ferris Bueller: “You can’t respect somebody who kisses your ass. It just doesn’t work.”

Already seen by most people as incompetent and ineffectual, our would-be leaders have presumably been advised (since, after all, they can’t tie their own shoelaces without advisers to guide them) to present themselves as pathetic and joyless to boot, and so, as Brooker further notes, nothing like as attractive as those more loveable chumps Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, who are in the habit of bumbling around like a couple of jaunty Mr Toads:

By contrast, Farage, like Johnson, appears to be genuinely enjoying himself most of the time, like a delighted Aquaphibian guffawing in a bumper car. And this enjoyment instantly endears him to a huge section of the population on a level that transcends – or at least sidesteps – politics. Many people who hate Nigel Farage the reactionary throwback find themselves liking Nigel Farage the chortling oaf. Being a chortling oaf not only makes you critically bulletproof – oafish chortling being a perpetual escape pod – it functions as a kind of cloaking device, somehow obscuring the notion that you’re a politician at all.

All of which is totally bang on the nail in our postmodern, and, superficially, post-ideological age. A time in history when ideology, by which I mean “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy”1 has not literally been abolished – since this is impossible – but monopolised. Captured to such an extent that holding any semblance of an alternative that is antithetical to the neo-liberal hegemony is assiduously avoided by all career politicians. “There is no alternative” being pretty much all that any of them have to say to us, and the only differences being tone. Would you prefer to have the pain soothed away, or would you like us to hit the pain hard where it hurts and get on with your lives! It’s all a matter of PR, and in these days when politicians are justly reviled – as loathed and distrusted as double-glazing salesmen once were – then as Brooker goes on to say, “the best way to succeed as a politician is to pretend that you aren’t one.”2

On the one hand then, UKIP’s success might be judged as just the latest indication of a growing popular disaffection with the established Con-Dem-Lab triumvirate. A protest vote that was additionally amplified thanks to an exceptionally low turnout, which BBC news reported as being down 10% from the previous local elections in 2009, but equally because a great deal of the polling took place in Conservative heartlands. In other words, here was a protest vote against all the parties although most especially the government. A shot across the bows from the traditional Conservative base.

So why did the results in May appear to be such a big surprise? After all, as George Galloway memorably remarked following his own more stunning victory in the previous year’s Bradford West by-election, our mainstream parties represent little more than “three cheeks of the same arse”. The local election results were merely illustrating, therefore, how Galloway’s analysis chimes not only with voters sold-out by New Labour, but across the entire political spectrum – Middle England beginning to feel almost as disaffected and disenfranchised as the Old Labour north has felt for decades.

And sharing in this common resentment, neither group is mistaken, for we have all been abandoned to a small crony capitalist elite: the corporations and the less than one-percent who own them. Both working classes and middle classes alike being wrung out and hung up to dry. Of course, the squeeze is tightest at the bottom, and unquestionably so, but this is usual. The poor and the destitute always hit earliest and hardest whenever depression comes to the door; those at the bottom unlucky enough to be our canaries in the pit. And we have three parties prepared to let those at the bottom perish – the Tories doing what comes naturally, and the others sheepishly still towing the neo-liberal line. Our race to the bottom is, however, a trickle up process.

The surprise, if any, is how UKIP have convinced enough of the public that they represent any kind of alternative at all, let alone one worth voting for. And it is interesting perhaps that UKIP are more and more frequently compared to the “Tea Party” in America. A comparison that is, in many ways, a good one. The “Tea Party” having been promptly and effectively co-opted by the Koch Brothers, and thereby steered back into line behind the rest of the reactionaries in the Republican Party. Its supporters slowly ditching their more serious and justifiable grievances and fighting on only to protect the constitutional right to bear arms, whilst simultaneously leading the call for extreme measures as advocated by the discredited Austrian School economists and mad proto-fascist patron saint, Ayn Rand. The “Tea Party” suddenly leading the call for “austerity” like a bunch of turkeys demanding to have Christmas every day.

At the beginning, however, (and you need to rewind many years) the “Tea Party” were offering a more serious alternative: the emphasis of the movement initially placed not on ultra-extreme free market economics, but on the reestablishment of constitutional rights undone by the Bush administration, of bringing the troops home from the wars, and of fundamentally challenging the Federal Reserve system. To my memory, UKIP has never argued for anything half so significant or genuinely progressive. In fact, it has never remotely challenged the status quo other than in its stated demands for a fast-track out of Europe.

Indeed, scratch the surface, and leaving aside for a moment their stance on Europe and European (specifically Eastern European) immigration, there is barely a pimple’s worth of difference between the Tories and their lesser rump UKIP. Just take a peek at UKIP’s hastily cobbled together manifesto (something I imagine few bothered to do, including the millions who eventually voted for them) and judge for yourself.

What you’ll find is that UKIP are certainly extreme, but this extreme is mostly a matter of degree rather than programmatic difference. More eager to slash state spending than the Conservatives – aside, that is, from military expenditure which UKIP somehow proposes to increase by 40% in order to buy three new aircraft carriers and to arm four new submarines with US nuclear missiles. And keener on “austerity”, with welfare cuts and more privatisation, especially of the NHS, ensuring an altogether speedier strangulation of the public sector. Finally, and presumably for good measure, UKIP say they intend to be tougher on the sentencing of offenders with boot camps and more prison places. Of course, there is no specific targetting of the white collar criminals still loose inside the City of London (as if there might be!) and no indication whatsoever of any effective measures for resolving the deepening financial crisis. They are, to extend Galloway’s metaphor, the fourth and most grotesque cheek of that same arse.

Understandably, there are many who now fear a knee-jerk reaction and a consequent lurch to the right, with both the Tories and New Labour expected to fall into line when it comes to tightening restrictions on immigration more generally and to “reviewing arrangements” for already residing immigrant populations. The justification routinely trotted out, that such actions are needed to keep in check the potential rise of the far right, and so this mainstream shuffle to the right just the necessary compensation.

One person who spent many years studying the European extreme right is Daniel Trilling, journalist and author of “Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far Right”. In an interview with Greek Independent Press he explained how his own research and analysis brought him to a subtly though substantially different conclusion:

But [Ukip’s] real effect lies in pushing the whole of mainstream political discourse to the right. We saw this with the BNP, where government ministers would make increasingly reactionary statements about immigration the more success the BNP had. And it’s happening now with Ukip – all three main party leaders (Cameron, Miliband, Clegg) have recently made speeches where they promise even tougher restrictions on the rights of migrants than Britain already has. But it’s a vicious circle: far from neutralising public concerns over immigration, this merely antagonises them.

[Interviewer:] Do you have fears that the far-right ideology will become even more well-established in Europe?

I do, but the point is this ideology does not come from the far right itself. What far right parties do is parasitical on mainstream ideology. They exploit the resentments, and the racism, and the political disillusion that circulates among the rest of society. And they do not need to be in power to have an effect: what far-right parties can do is provoke our liberal elites into taking ever-more authoritarian positions. That’s the situation we find in many countries, from Britain, which detains more refugees than any other country but Australia, to Greece, where the Samaras government is pursuing a crackdown on leftists and on independent media and telling people “you have to trust in us otherwise extremists will come to power”. We should oppose fascists, but we should also fight against the pressure to let technocrats take control of our lives.

In the same interview, Trilling also outlined why he believes UKIP should not be muddled together with other far-right groups:

Ukip employ a similar discourse to the BNP, but their underlying ideas are different. They’re not fascists, but a break-away section of the centre-right Conservative Party who think Britain should leave the EU and are exploiting anti-immigration sentiment to achieve this goal.

Ukip’s appeal comes from posing as an alternative to the current, “corrupt” political elite. Many people vote for them to send a message to the mainstream – that they’re not happy – but would never realistically expect Ukip to be a party of government.3

Click here to read the full interview.

In any case, UKIP has always and only ever really been a one-trick pony – the rest of their manifesto stuffed together simply to plug up the holes. And so I feel that Charlie Brooker is particularly astute in drawing his comparison directly between Farage and Johnson, since above and beyond their similarly oafish exteriors, the similarities extend, as with the parties they represent, and hugely outweigh any differences – differences being more to do with timescales, if anything, than actual agendas – UKIP ready to lead us into a more authoritarian and socially unjust future, and in half the time of the Tories.

All that said, in a twisted kind of way I must confess that a part of me was rather pleased to see the mainstream parties all take a hit in the council elections, and obviously the Conservatives especially so. It reminded me of the election of Rosie Barnes in the famous Greenwich by-election of February 1987, except in a better way. That Greenwich by-election being a signal moment when the short-lived breakaway SDP made their first genuinely impressive gain, and thereby inflicted such a terrible injury to the Labour Party they’d grown out of. A gaping wound and sustained internal bleeding from which it has never properly recovered. Maybe these latest election results will be similarly remembered: as the moment the Tories suffered an equivalent blow. The opening up of a similarly festering wound, and one that has been ripe for a very long time.

After all, the Conservative party and its base support have been deeply riven for more than twenty years, with the almost but never quite fractured halves mostly bickering over questions relating to Europe. Irreconcilable divorce between the europhiles and the eurosceptics having been on the cards ever since Thatcher was ousted, and the biggest surprise being how such a clearly disjointed party have managed to sustain apparent cohesion for so long. A more acrimonious schism perpetually waiting in the wings, but never the sufficient push to cause the ultimate break up. But now, and all of a sudden, it seems as if just such a blow might finally have been landed, and especially so since Old Tory stalwart (emphasis on whichever syllable you prefer) Lord Lawson added his own considerable weight to further exacerbating the internal discord:

His intervention is sure to further embolden eurosceptic MPs demanding a tougher line to halt the rise of Nigel Farage’s rampant anti-EU Ukip in the wake of last week’s local elections.

Farage has said Lord Lawson’s comments “legitimises the Ukip position and exposes serious divisions in the Tory Party”.4

Click here to read the full article published by the Huffington Post.

So hopefully then, the Conservative Party is about to rupture once and for all. Meanwhile, and if it turns out that UKIP’s minor success also more broadly helps to reinvigorate the old debate over our membership of the European Union, then this too, I very much believe, is greatly to the good. The pity being that it has taken a party as odious as UKIP to raise the profile of what is indeed an important issue, and, most unfortunately, by flying the divisive banner of anti-immigration above their own brand of euroscepticism, UKIP’s position very much detracting from and altogether hampering what needs to be a more serious and rounded debate.

In saying this, I appreciate that some readers will recoil almost as a reflex from my own euroscepticism, but then I am happy to jump out of my allotted box as a liberal leftie (or should I say democratic socialist? – both labels having been equally sullied). In any case, I recognise that it is nowadays a fashionably held opinion that those who are “anti-European” (which incidentally I am not) must all be alike, think alike and even look alike. That any objection to the grand designs of the European Union should be left to little Englanders and modern-day Colonel Blimps. But actually such stereotyping is wrong and not only for the usual reasons that stereotyping goes wrong. Such pigeonholing on this occasion happening to rather conveniently shut out much of the opposition that would otherwise come from the disgruntled left.

Since when it comes to deeper consideration of the EU and of our membership within it, the debate should more properly focus on the capture of the political system itself. A transfer of power away from independence and democratic governance and into the hands of unelected technocrats. This is actually the nub of the European issue, rising high above and far beyond any smokescreen about immigrant numbers coming from Bulgaria. Indeed, the loss of democratic national sovereignty is obviously affecting residents all across the EU member states, including those only recently liberated from the former Eastern Bloc. So if we are ever to seriously challenge the rot at the heart of the EU there needs to be greater solidarity between its peoples rather than renewed infighting.

I think that it is helpful at this juncture to retrace the history of Britain’s entry and EU membership so far. Not only to reveal how perceptions of ‘Europe’ have been significantly altered over the decades, but also to illustrate more clearly, and to back up what I merely claimed above, that many aspects of permissible political alignment come down to little more than slavishly riding on the popular bandwagon of whatever happens to be the trend of the day. Those on both sides of the political spectrum being guilty of this, since, after all, most people are highly susceptible to manipulation of this kind. But losing our way to such political peer pressure is surely one of the biggest reasons we happen to find ourselves in an increasingly terrible mess.

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 serving to highlight what many progressives had 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.5

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.6 The EU – as it exists, rather than how we might like it to be – 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!

*

Final thoughts on Clegg v. Farage:

I actually wrote the above article just over a year ago, but then decided to hold it back. However, with the forthcoming Euro Elections and in the aftermath of the well hyped Clegg v. Farage tallest dwarf competition, now seemed an opportune time to post it.

When Nick Clegg originally challenged Nigel Farage to debate on our membership of the European Union, he was basically on a hiding to nothing. Whereas Farage clearly relished the invitation to steal a little of the media limelight again, as Clegg crossed the stage to his podium, the diminishment of his own political standing was instant. But worse was to follow. In this latest and seemingly most desperate attempt to reverse his party’s fortunes, Clegg’s performance has instead accelerated their transformation back into political minnows.

In truth, the downfall of Nick Clegg began long ago with his failings as a politician and party leader becoming quickly apparent once he conceded to the (unduly) prompt signing of the Coalition pact. After all, prior to the election, the Lib-Dems had been gaining considerable ground on both of the major parties, and largely by virtue of winning over disaffected voters who had been traditional Labour supporters (such as myself). However, by immediately committing his party to its role as silent partners in a de facto Tory government, we all felt betrayed.

During the lead up to that last General Election, support for the Lib-Dems was also bolstered thanks in part to the lasting legacy of their former leader Charles Kennedy who had maintained a principled stance on the Iraq War. On top of which, the Lib Dems were gaining popularity with many voters because of their perceived honesty when it came to “tackling the financial crisis” – or perhaps more accurately, Vince Cable was then trusted as someone more economically literate than any of our other foremost politicians. Back then, Cable was a rare exception – a politician the public actually warmed to.

But Clegg, with the assistance of weak and disingenuous Vince Cable himself, has since managed to lose all of that hard-won goodwill by completely selling out. On health “reforms”, on welfare “reforms”, on privatisation schemes, and on their support for drastic cuts to our few remaining public services, all made worse again after the party’s complete acquiescence when it came to voting in support of air strikes against Syria… and sorry, but did I mention university tuition fees? For any who may have forgotten, here is Nick Clegg’s most heart-rending and sincere apology to us (in the form of a musical remix obviously!):

Prior to taking office, the Lib-Dems had also been synonymous with one electoral issue above all others – their call for significant changes to the democratic process as such, with future elections made fairer under a Proportional Representation (PR) system; a proposed change that was obviously very much in their own self-interest of course. Had Nick Clegg, by more carefully brokering the Coalition deal, succeeded in negotiating and then winning a referendum on PR, rather than losing the chance forever after a quickly forgotten poll on some unheard of compromise called AV (Alternative Vote), his own party might still be sitting closer to the political high table. So here he sold out even those most loyal to his party.

The reputation of the Lib-Dems is now damaged almost beyond repair. They have become the scrawny bully’s mate who hangs around and simpers to their overbearing and obnoxious mate. They are not merely unpopular, but deeply distrusted, and most especially by those whose support they captured over the years, switching allegiance out of frustration, and then finally getting a nasty taste of what they inadvertently voted in.

So in response to their continuing decline in recent polls, the party’s bigwigs evidently felt that they needed a serious makeover – a new focus of some kind and a distinguishing policy that could mark them out as being different from their big Tory buddies. Advocacy of the European Union was that the singular issue, if only because it was one policy area where political differences between the Coalition partners remained intact. Clutching at straws, the party has therefore decided to concentrate on EU membership and move to promote this as their electoral issue of greatest importance, which given the general level of apathy surrounding British attitudes to the EU was a strange decision under the best of circumstances. And how deeply Clegg and his beleaguered party must be regretting their strategy move right now.

In any case, Nigel Farage won the recent debates comfortably, but this had less to do with Farage himself arguing the anti-EU corner effectively, and was mostly down to Clegg’s failure to show up. Rather than pointing to the wonderful benefits of EU membership (and no doubt there are some benefits, although the positives are, in my opinion, far outweighed by the negatives), he instead warned us repeatedly in the debates that “we can’t turn the clock back”, that “an exit would cost jobs”, and moreover, that Britain (or whatever remains of it after the Scottish referendum) might lose much of its political clout. Tired, old rhetoric that plays solely to people’s anxieties.

But then, of course, if the EU was half as good for us as Nick Clegg believes, after more than forty years of membership shouldn’t the debate be settled by now. So Clegg’s own position is most untenable because of his determined preference not to allow a long overdue national referendum and thus his refusal to allow any real contest over Britain’s membership of the European Union. If he actually believed he could win in such a genuine debate – one that puts more on the line than his already dismal ratings in the opinion polls – surely he would jump at the opportunity… as would Ed Miliband.

1 Definition taken from online Oxford Dictionary. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ideology

2 From an article entitled “Nigel Farage – or how to succeed in politics without really trying: Many people who hate Nigel Farage the reactionary throwback find themselves liking Nigel Farage the chortling oaf – they can almost forget he is a politician at all” written by Charlie Brooker and published by the Guardian on May 5, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/05/nigel-farage-succeed-politics-charlie-brooker

3 From an article entitled “Bloody nasty people: British journalist Daniel Trilling explains the Golden Dawn conundrum in the context of the European far right” published by Eleftherotypia’s Epsilon magazine on May 7, 2013. http://www.enetenglish.gr/?i=news.en.politics&id=831

4 From an article entitled “Lord Lawson Slams Nick Clegg’s European Union ‘Poppycock’” published by the Huffington Post UK on May 7, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/05/07/lord-lawson-european-union-nick-clegg_n_3229023.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

5 Not that Britain is as yet signed up to the Schengen Agreement. And it is worth noting that France and Germany, countries that did join the Schengen Area, unlike the UK, did not then give full access to migrants from the ten countries (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) after they entered the EU in May 2004. Indeed, only the UK, Ireland and Sweden immediately opened their doors to Eastern European workers.

6 The European Commission, which is the EU’s executive body, is comprised of an appointed cabinet of 28 “commissioners” with administration provided by a further 23,000 civil servants.

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how can there be any talk of recovery in this “age of austerity”?

Toffed up to the nines and luxuriating in five-star privilege, David Cameron recently told a gathering of fellow ministers and lords during the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the Guildhall in London that the devastating “austerity” will be “permanent”:

The age of austerity is not just a passing phase and Britain should get used to having a ‘permanently’ smaller state, David Cameron said last night.

The Prime Minister used one of his most significant speeches of the year to say that low public spending and a ‘leaner, more efficient state’ would have to be maintained permanently in order for the UK to succeed.

He said the country would have to rediscover its traditional ‘buccaneering’ spirit for private enterprise in order to generate wealth instead of relying on the state.

His remarks are a significant shift for a leader who said in 2010 that he ‘didn’t come into politics to make cuts’, insisting: ‘We’re tackling the deficit because we have to – not out of some ideological zeal.’1

Tory cuts, ideological? Come, come…

If you can stomach any more of it, the full Daily Mail article is here.

Curiously, chief political correspondent at the Guardian, Nicholas Watt, lets Cameron and his Coalition government off the hook too, accepting his pleading that the cuts are “not out of some ideological zeal”:

In a change of tack from saying in 2010 that he was imposing cuts out of necessity, rather than from “some ideological zeal”, the prime minister told the Lord Mayor’s banquet that the government has shown in the last three years that better services can be delivered with lower spending.

Watt adding that:

The remarks by the PM contrasted with his claim after the 2010 election. In his New Year’s message for 2011, issued on 31 December 2010, he said: “I didn’t come into politics to make cuts. Neither did Nick Clegg. But in the end politics is about national interest, not personal political agendas.” […]

A few months earlier that year, in his first Tory conference speech as PM, Cameron said he would have preferred to tackle the deficit in ways other than public spending cuts.2

Click here to read the full article.

Yet this declared “change of tack” is absolute nonsense and easily refutable nonsense at that. Here, for instance, is what Cameron promised back in April 2009 at the party’s spring conference when he was a mere leader of the opposition:

A Conservative government would usher in a new “age of austerity”

So begins a rather different Guardian article, this time from politics editor, Deborah Summers, reporting on what she (and others) then described as Cameron’s ‘age of austerity’ speech. Her article continuing:

The Tory leader insisted greater transparency would help to get Britain’s finances back on track as he used his keynote speech to the Conservative party forum in Cheltenham to pave the way for sweeping cuts in public spending.

“Over the next few years, we will have to take some incredibly tough decisions on taxation, spending and borrowing – things that really affect people’s lives,” Cameron warned.3

So for the record then, Cameron has never changed tack at all. Neither for that matter have their Coalition ‘partners’, the spineless Lib-Dems, or even the supposedly left of centre Labour government. None of our main parties ever seriously discussing real alternative economic strategies, with policies differing purely in terms of how savage the cuts would “need to be”. The Tories, once in office and free to wield the axe thanks to the quiet complicity of their Lib-Dem lackeys, cutting deeper and faster because, in truth, they love nothing better than hounding the lower classes and impoverishing the poor.

Yet after more than three years of “taking our medicine”, a collective punishment very eagerly dished out by the Coalition government, there has basically been no recovery at all in any meaningful sense. Yes, GDP growth has been positive for three quarters, but even this is only at levels comparable to the end of 2009 and beginning 2010 – in other words, growth equivalent to that achieved during the last few months of the admittedly wretched and incompetent Labour government.4 So no improvement, whatsoever, and this is after three years of stagnation. On top of which, all these figures are “real” and thus “adjusted for inflation”. But then, of course, the inflation rate itself is already rather carefully finessed. Henry Blodget of businessinsider provides a helpful explanation of the effect of this adjustment, although here writing about US GDP growth back in May 2011:

The way the government calculates real GDP is to start with nominal GDP – the actual change in the output of the economy as measured by adding up all the actual sales prices (“nominal”) – and then “deflating” this number by subtracting an estimated inflation rate. Thus, the government backs into the real GDP growth number, starting with nominal prices and then adjusting for inflation.

Well, the “GDP deflater” the government is using right now – the estimated rate of inflation – is only 1.9%. As anyone who has been to a supermarket or gas station recently can attest, this assumption is preposterously low. But the effect on “GDP growth” of using a very low inflation estimate is helpful, in that it makes real GDP growth look bigger.5

Click here to read the full article.

GDP is regularly and rather casually accepted as an indicator of “standard of living”, although actually it measures something entirely different and far more abstract: the monetary value of all goods and services produced within national borders. “Standard of living” is therefore better assessed on the basis of a variety of alternative indicators including the quality of healthcare, standards in education, income growth inequality and so forth. That a string of successive governments have failed us in all these regards is widely acknowledged.

I know many who work in the NHS and can’t recall anyone ever telling me that services were getting better or their jobs any less stressful. More personally, I have worked in education for more than fifteen years and standards have unquestionably declined, whilst grade inflation is absolutely real. But then, we can all see how our public services, and the NHS especially, have become infested with managers; whilst our teachers, healthcare professionals (doctors excepted) and many other public sector workers have been put under increasing pressure, and further demoralised thanks to deteriorating pay and contractual conditions alongside flexploitation. Meantime our entire society is being steadily ripped apart by the ever-widening gulf in wealth and incomes. Much of this, of course, is Thatcher’s legacy.

Now I accept that there is indeed a great deal of waste in public spending, and pruning out levels of superfluous management as well as trimming salaries at the top could be beneficial as well as cost effective. But these are not cuts of the type being made on the ground. If the government were seriously intent on cutting back only on real waste, then it would apply its measures with something like surgical precision, but instead it brings the axe. Waste being just a smokescreen. And as with any axe, it hacks away at the bottom of the trunk. Making the most vicious cuts to welfare, which means deliberately snatching a little public money from those who can least afford to lose any, whilst simultaneously targeting the soft underbelly of our few remaining public services, which is also as deliberate as it is ideologically driven. Lastly, when it’s not cutting services, it’s selling them off instead – lowest prices, because everything must go…

Our government is now so openly committed to establishing its permanent “age of austerity” that for millions of people no hope survives that their standard of living will ever improve again – with the proposed £20bn cuts to the budget of our already broken and terribly overstretched NHS being nothing short of a final swing of the wrecking ball through Britain’s most treasured national institution.6 Indeed, a friend who is a dedicated political activist in London recently sent me a distressing email that put into better perspective (since it was founded on her own personal experience) how this talked-up “recovery” is absolutely nothing of the sort. She wrote:

Life is already unbearable/intolerable for many people in the UK on sick benefits having their benefits cut off or cut in half to £49 a week to live on, left with no money to pay bills or the water rates part of their rent, means eviction and out on the streets, living with no heat, no light, no gas, no electricity; or mental breakdown and in a mental hospital; or taking their own lives as they have nowhere to turn and an uncaring society that goes on about benefit scroungers. These people are too sick to work. This is pure fascism and no one is making a fuss in the UK – why? Where is the anger, where are the activists? Why aren’t they doing something? People who are too sick to work are being killed by this government.

Yes, as Cameron entertains an equally pampered audience from behind his gilded lectern, talking without a hint of irony about all the “hard choices” and “tough decisions” he has to make in this new age of perpetual “austerity” — does one use the fish knife for spreading one’s caviar? — people less than a mile away are already struggling to find a few coins for the electricity meter or food for the next meal. All of which elegantly sums up the age we are already living in: an age not of shared “austerity”, where “we’re all in this together” (even if we know it was the bankers who caused the crisis), but of “let them eat cake” disparity. Times, for instance, when super rich Premier League footballers (super rich by ordinary standards that is) wear shirts emblazoned with the name of payday loan sharks Wonga and no one seems to notice, no one feels ashamed, and so one begins to wonder, as my friend wrote: “Where is the anger, where are the activists? Why aren’t they doing something?”

*

Yesterday, I received a new article from journalist and political activist Esther Vivas, which is appended below. In it she details the growing despair of the people of Spain as they suffer even more severe “austerity” bringing with it the inevitable mass unemployment, frozen salaries and escalating costs of living. Broadly, what she says about Spain sadly applies to nearly every corner of the western world and beyond.

Spain in 2014: Not a Prosperous New Year
Esther Vivas

We have entered 2014 a little poorer. For those of us with a job, our salaries have been frozen, or even cut; only a few can expect a rise in the New Year. Furthermore, the price of electricity, public transport and water are increasing.

2013 ended with the controversy over a threatened increase in electricity bills by 11%, leaving Spaniards paying well above the European average and Spain ranking the third most expensive electricity in Europe. So, Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) government intervened and stopped this rise by decree. As you can see, if the PP wants to, it can intervene. But overall, there is little willingness to confront the interests of multinationals. For now, the government has limited the rise to 2.3%, and we are expected to be thankful.

The rising price of public transport is another traditional New Year scam. Train tickets, are up nearly 2%, and in Barcelona, not to be outdone, the fare raises on the subway are an abusive 5% with the most popular travelcard, the T-10. However, if you usually take the high speed train (AVE) , which is only used by a minority of citizens, do not worry, because the price has been frozen . Lucky too, are the drivers who use the highways from Castelldefels to Sitges and Montgat to Mataro, where the tolls have been reduced by 30% and 10% respectively, provided they use teletac card, the automatic payment system. Lower the cost of private transport and increase the cost of public transport – that’s the approach of Catalonia’s [right-wing nationalist] CiU government.

And in Barcelona, we face further rises, for water too, even if money appears to be in plentiful supply, especially for the city council, as we saw with the celebrations on New Year’s Eve at the Montjuïc fountain. The tourists are happy at least. But for the rest of us, water bills will be going up by 8.5 % on average in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, thanks to the votes of CiU and [Catalan Socialists] PSC, and the abstention of the [left nationalists] ERC. In the end, those who criticise the cuts are the first to sharpen the scissors. We will not forget.

Meanwhile, the minimum wage remains frozen, as was the case last year, leaving it at a meagre 645 euros per month, while public sector workers remain on the wages they received in 2010. Pensions of those ten million retirees who worked all their lives, will see their incomes hit by a change in indexation that means rises are tied to below inflation (CPI ); this year they will rise by just 0.25% , the minimum set by the Government. An increase that will barely buy a cup of coffee.

We enter this 2014, a little poorer. Our purchasing power slowly falls. Every year that passes we have less. They want to make poverty normal. Do you remember those stories, not so long ago, of those struggling on 1000 euros a month? The new precariat. Today an employer offering a job paying a thousand euros monthly would be swamped by curriculums. And yet some, like the Prime Minister, dare to say that 2014 brings “the beginning of the recovery.” What a bunch of thieves and liars.

*Article published in the Spanish digital newspaper Público.es, 02/01/2014. Translated by Revolting-Europe.com.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english/

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

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

*

Update:

On January 6th, Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered a New Year economy speech at the West Midlands headquarters of Sertec in which he continued from where Cameron had left off, announcing that:

If 2014 is a year of hard truths for our country, then it starts with this one: Britain should never return to the levels of spending of the last government.

We’d either have to return borrowing to the dangerous levels that threatened our stability, or we’d have to raise taxes so much we’d put our country out of business. Government is going to have to be permanently smaller – and so too is the welfare system. […]

We’ve got to make more cuts. £17 billion this coming year. £20 billion next year. And over £25 billion further across the two years after. That’s more than £60 billion in total.

Click here to read a full transcript of George Osborne’s speech at gov.uk

From a report in the Guardian published the same day (co-authored by Nicholas Watt and Rowena Mason), we also learn that:

In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, Osborne said he would seek to achieve some of the £12bn savings by targeting housing benefit for under-25s and by means-testing people on incomes of £60,000 to £70,000 who live in social housing. But one Whitehall source said that targeting those two areas would produce “laughable” savings. Department of Communities and Local Government figures show that the 11,000 to 21,000 council tenants, who earn more than £60,000 a year, each cost the taxpayer £3,600 a year. Targeting this group would produce savings of £40m-£76m a year.

No doubt desperately intent to put some clear blue water between his own party and the truer blue Tories in the run up to the 2015 general election, the same article reports on Nick Clegg’s entirely belated fightback against what are in any case his own government’s “austerity measures”:

Clegg chose to describe Osborne’s plans to target cuts on the working-age poor – while ruling out tax increases – as “lopsided and unbalanced”. In a sign of how coalition relations will remain fractious until the election in May 2015, the deputy prime minister said: “You’ve got a Conservative party now who are driven, it seems to me, by two very clear ideological impulses. One is to remorselessly pare back the state – for ideological reasons just cut back the state.

“Secondly – and I think they are making a monumental mistake in doing so – they say the only people in society, the only section in society, which will bear the burden of further fiscal consolidation are the working-age poor.”

Signalling how he will waste no time in publicly criticising Tory plans over the next 16 months, Clegg later added: “I literally don’t know of a serious economist who believes that you only do it from that lopsided, unbalanced approach. Almost all serious economists say you have some kind of mix.”

Meanwhile, professional clown and London Mayor, Boris Johnson, managed to upstage both Osborne and Clegg on LBC radio by comparing Nick Clegg to a condom, describing him as “David Cameron’s lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device”.

This is taken from The Mirror, published January 7th:

The London Mayor likened the Deputy Prime Minister to a “prophylactic protection device” as relations between the Tories and Lib Dems sank to a new low. The tirade came during a radio phone-in after Mr Clegg claimed George Osborne’s “extreme” plan to cut £12billion from welfare was a “monumental mistake”.

Furious Tory MPs called on the Lib Dem chief to apologise. Leading the backlash on LBC radio slot Ask Boris, jabbering Johnson said: “Clegg is there to perform a very important ceremonial function as David Cameron’s lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device for all the difficult things that David Cameron has to do.

“He is a lapdog who’s been skinned and turned into a shield.”

You can listen to Boris Johnson’s latest rant against Coalition teammate Nick Clegg embedded below:

 

*

Additional:

On November 27th, Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza in Greece, wrote an op-ed for the Guardian entitled “Austerity is wreaking havoc, but the left can unite to build a better Europe”. Here are a few pertinent extracts:

Those European leaders who claim that the current medicine is a “success” are hypocrites. For millions of people, the European dream has turned into a nightmare. Eurobarometer surveys show the growing crisis of confidence in the EU and the catastrophic rise in the popularity of far-right parties. What should give us hope is the emergence of new solidarity groups and community-based movements. They can and will lead to greater democratic participation and control. […]

Europe needs an anti-austerity and anti-recession front, a solidarity movement for its working people, north and south. This could deliver a pact for democracy, development and social justice. We must rebuild solidarity among the young, the workers, the pensioners and the unemployed to break down the new dividing line between Europe’s rich and poor, the “mur d’argent” to use a historical phrase that has become topical.

Click here to read Alexis Tsipras’ full article.

*

1 From an article entitled “Cameron: Austerity should last for ever and Britain must get used to being a ‘leaner, more efficient state’” written by James Chapman, published in the Daily Mail on November 11, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2501697/Cameron-Austerity-Britain-used-leaner-efficient-state.html

2 From an article entitled “David Cameron makes leaner state a permanent goal” written by Nicholas Watt, published in the Guardian on November 12, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/nov/11/david-cameron-policy-shift-leaner-efficient-state

3 From an article entitled “David Cameron warns of ‘new age of austerity’” written by Deborah Summers, published by the Guardian on April 26, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2009/apr/26/david-cameron-conservative-economic-policy1

4 A comparison can be easily made from studying a graph published by the BBC in late October. Figures from the ONS for UK GDP growth are as follows: 2009 Q4, 0.4%; 2010 Q1, 0.5%; 2010 Q2, 1.0% compared against 2013 Q1, 0.4%; 2013 Q2, 0.7%; 2013 Q3, 0.8%. Indeed, the accompanying article begins: “The figures mean that the economy grew at its fastest pace for three years.” After three years of Coalition government, in fact! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10613201

5 From an article entitled “Check Out What GDP Growth Would Look Like If The Government Were Using The Right Inflation Numbers” written by Henry Blodget, published by businessinsider on May 30, 2011. http://www.businessinsider.com/gdp-adjusted-for-inflation-2011-5

6 In October 2011, Denis Campbell and James Meikle investigated and reported in an article published by the Guardian entitled “£20bn NHS cuts are hitting patients, Guardian investigation reveals”.

They write: “This Guardian investigation details the latest evidence of increased cuts – the cuts that, according to the government, should not be happening – being implemented across a wide range of the NHS’s many care services. With £20bn due to be saved by 2015, and the NHS receiving only a 0.1% budget increase each year until then, experts predict that tough decisions – about the availability of services and treatments, staffing levels and which clinics and hospitals provide care – will become increasingly common.”

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/oct/17/nhs-cuts-impact-on-patients-revealed

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Filed under austerity measures, Britain, Esther Vivas, Spain