Tag Archives: European Union

corona marginalia: “Operation Last Gasp”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Update: Proof that the government lied

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

7 Comments

Filed under Britain

coping with corona: assessing the NHS, the UK govt and Eurogroup responses

Last night’s episode of Novara Media’s Tyskie Sour, with hosts Michael Walker and Aaron Bastani, who were joined by NHS doctor Rita Issa, was such an excellent broadcast that I have decided to post it without further description other than to say it covers all the relevant questions about the coming crisis, focussing on the NHS, but also considering the economic implications in the medium and longer term. Near the end of the show they compare the West’s inadequate response to what has been done in South Korea.

[Warning: strong language]

*

To complement the analysis above, which very much centres around the situation facing Britain, I have decided to republish below the latest piece by Yanis Varoufakis (published today) in which he criticises the failures of the Eurogroup and offers his own solutions.

[All highlights are preserved as in the original.]

*

The Eurogroup fails Europe once again. Brace for a hideous EU recession | Yanis Varoufakis

The Eurogroup met yesterday, Monday 16th March, to hammer out its coordinated fiscal response to the massive recession already in progress following the lockdown of much of Europe’s society. The task they faced is enormous: If sales, tourism, services etc. fall by 50% for just one month (which is certain), and then by 25% for only two more months (i.e. the best-case scenario), then annual growth will be -10%. Across Europe!

So, what was the Eurogroup’s duty to announce? An immediate massive fiscal boost, its purpose being to reassure people that they will not be poorer. E.g. the government of Hong Kong that ploughed $10 billion immediately into the economy by ordering the tax office to credit every household’s bank account with $1250 immediately.

Not expecting such swift action from the Eurogroup, the fact remains that nothing short of a 5% fiscal injection was needed to reduce the calamity from -10% of GDP to, say, -3% (assuming a very large multiplier effect).

So, what did the Eurogroup decide?

Here is their official communique, announcing some impressive numbers. Commentators spoke of a bazooka aimed at the recession. In reality, the bazooka was a pathetic water pistol. Once again, the Eurogroup proved itself to be, not just dysfunctional, but a clear and present danger for Europeans.

The first thing to note is what they did not do. As everyone knows, eurozone governments live in the straitjacket of the so-called fiscal compact that allows next to zero room for fiscal expansion. This fiscal compact does, however, contain a clause that can be activated in times of emergency that released, temporarily, governments and allows them to throw money at an unexpected crisis. Before yesterday’s meeting, almost everyone expected the Eurogroup to announce the triggering of this clause. THEY DID NOT!

What they did do was to announce two things:  First, a bevy of loans for the private sector. Secondly, they referred to the utilisation of the so-called automatic stabilisers and also on unspecified measures of 1% of GDP. Let’s take these two separately:

LOANS

  • The European Investment Bank will offer €8 billion of working capital lending for 100,000 European firms, promising to try to this sum to €20bn
  • The Eurogroup toyed with the idea of calling upon the bailout fund (the European Stability Mechanism) to use its unused lending capacity of €410 billion

Before losing ourselves in the detail of this €430 billions of potential loans, it is crucial that we stick to the important point: Loans are useless when the problem is, not illiquidity but, insolvency. It is a pointless gift to lend money to a firm whose customers have disappeared and which know that, when the customers return, it will be next to impossible to repay the new and old debts. What companies need now is either the government to act as a buyer of last resort or a haircut of their liabilitiesnot new loans.

Looking now at the particulars, the EIB loans are a drop in the ocean. Moreover, they fail the speed test, as anyone who has had to apply to the EIB loan knows. As for the ESM, this would be a joke if the situation were not so serious. Why a joke? Because any loan by the ESM comes with so-called ‘conditionalities’. What are these? The government receiving it will need to sign an MoU (like Greece did in 2010) that involves massive future austerity and, thus, become even more of a vasal state of Brussels. Can anyone seriously see the Italian government signing up to its own decapitation by signing such an MoU?

TAX DEFERMENTS plus a 1% of GDP FISCAL ADJUSTMENT

The headline number that newspapers today lead with is a 1% of EU GDP fiscal measures. But when we look at these measures, we find that they lack any detail. The only tangible thing they mention is tax deferments: letting businesses and households not pay VAT and other taxes until the end of the year. But this is also, like the loans to business, a failed policy. Even when the lockdown ends, and business-as-almost-usual returns, Europeans will not earn enough to pay belatedly the deferred taxes plus the new ones. Especially given that many businesses and jobs will have disappeared by then.

In short, Europeans needed a tax haircut. Instead they got a deferment, a kind of state loan by which to repay their taxes later. Yet more spectacular proof that the Eurogroup has not learned its lesson from the 2010 euro crisis: Loans to the bankrupt do not help!

DiEM25’s answer to: What should they have done?

At the very least, the Eurogroup should have recommended to the European Council that the European Investment Bank is given the green light to issue EIB bonds worth €600 billion with the stipulation that, as part of its ongoing and recently enhanced quantitative easing program, the European Central Bank will support the value of these bonds in the bond markets. That €600 billion should be spent directly to support national health services and also be invested in sectors of the economy badly hit by the lockdown – while also nudging our economy toward greener forms of transport, energy generation etc. Additionally, the fiscal compact should be immediately side-lined and governments should effect a tax haircut for small and medium sized firms, households etc.

The above would probably be enough not to avert but to contain the recession to something like between -1% and -2% of GDP. To avert it completely, the Eurogroup should have decided to mimic Hong Kong and have the European Central Bank mint an emergency fund from which every European household is given between €1000 and €2000.

SUMMARY

Those of us who know how the Eurogroup works were not holding much hope yesterday. Nevertheless, Europe’s finance ministers managed to do even less than what we feared: They failed to use the fiscal compact’s proviso for loosening up fiscal policy across the euro area. They continued with the tragic error of treating a crisis of insolvency as a crisis of liquidity. And they failed to recognise that some countries, in particular those savaged by the never-ending euro crisis, need a great deal more support than others.

In short, the Eurogroup’s bazooka is no more than a pathetic waterpistol. It is time that Europeans pushed for something better than this. It is time that we organise at a transnational, paneuropean level to replace this instrument of austerity-driven recession, the Eurogroup, with an institution that can work for a majority of Europeans everywhere.

APPENDIX: The Eurogroup’s telling reference to “automatic stabilisers”

The Eurogroup communique referred to the “full use of automatic stabilisers”. What did they mean?

Here is an example of an ‘automatic stabiliser’: When people lose their job, they go on unemployment benefit. This means a transfer of money from the better off to the worse off. As the worse off, who are now unemployed, save nothing and, therefore, more of the money of the better off enters the markets. That’s what economists refer to as an ‘automatic stabiliser’ (‘automatic’ because no government decision was needed to activate it – the loss of jobs does it automatically | and ‘stabiliser’ because the higher portion of spending relative to savings boosts GDP ).

Can you see dear reader what the Eurogroup are really saying when confessing to relying to the ‘automatic stabilisers’ in the absence of concerted fiscal expansion? They are saying: Don’t worry folks. While it is true we, the finance ministers, are doing almost nothing to avert the disaster, when the disaster comes your job losses and poverty will trigger some automatic mechanism that will break the economy’s fall. A little like consoling the victims of the plague with their thought that their death will, through shrinking the labour supply, boost future wages…

Click here to read the same piece on Yanis Varoufakis’ official website.

Note that: Not all of the views expressed above are ones necessarily shared by Wall of Controversy.

*

Update:

If you would like regular information on the spread of Covid-19 and the measures being taken in countries across the world, then I very much recommend the down-to-earth daily updates provided by Dr John Campbell. Today he begins by reading one of the most heart-rending letters imaginable from a nurse working on the frontline in Italy:

*

On March 15th, George Galloway invited NHS Consultant, Dr Ranjeet Brar, to speak about the threat posed by a rapidly accelerating number of coronavirus cases and difficulties now facing the health service. He also talks at length about the Malthusian ethos informing the government initial decision to sacrifice numbers of our elderly and infirm for the sake of developing ‘herd immunity’ (something that may not even be achievable for a coronavirus outbreak):

*

On March 18th, Going Underground invited Professor Rupert Read, Associate Professor of Philosophy and spokesman for Extinction Rebellion (an organisation I do not have a great deal of time for – for the record) to discuss the British government’s lamentable response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Read also expresses his dismay at Boris Johnson’s decision to adopt a ‘herd immunity’ response knowing it would inevitably result in hundreds of thousands of Britons dying. They also talked about how the UK government response is completely at odds with the rest of the world and how the British population is actually leading the government in terms of its own response to tackling the spread of coronavirus infection:

*

On March 18th, Novara Media invited Steve Turner, Assistant General Secretary (AGS) of Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union, Unite the Union, to join them in an extended discussion about the potential economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, how it impacts working class people, and how organised labour needs to respond:

*

On April 8th, Yanis Varoufakis joined Aaron Bastani and Michael Walker on Novara Media’s Tysky Sour to discuss what he calls “the tragedy of errors”:

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Europe, Korea (North and South)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing:

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

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

And concluding:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot of the BBC election  night motif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Additional: My correspondence with Shadow Brexit Minister Paul Blomfield

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

Jan 10th (contacted through 38 Degrees)

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

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

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

*

Jan 15th

Dear James,

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

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

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

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

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

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

With best wishes,

Paul

*

Jan 15th

Dear Paul,

Thank you for replying promptly and in full to email.

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

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

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

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

Thank you again for replying. Best wishes,

James

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

 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

*

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]

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain

John Pilger on war with China, the West’s loss of perception, and how “many journalists have simply given up”

“When I first went to Hiroshima it was just over twenty years after the bomb was dropped and it had an extraordinary effect on me. I saw on the steps of a bank in the middle of Hiroshima, the shadow of a woman. She’d been sitting there, apparently preparing her lunch, sitting on the steps when the flash happened. The bomb dropped on August 6th 1945 and her image was burnt into the steps of the bank.

“I remember looking at this image of this woman – you could see her shape, her arms, almost her relaxed position – and the impact that had on me was quite profound actually. And it obviously had an impact on many people because they got rid of it. They got rid of the shadow. Japan under US pressure got rid of this extraordinary shadow and it’s not there anymore.

“Now I would suggest that that shadow represents something ahead of us unless we start understanding the true dangers of the recklessness of our own governments.” — John Pilger

*

On today’s season finale special episode of Going Underground, Afshin Rattansi speaks to award-winning journalist and film-maker John Pilger in an extended interview about the current state of global affairs as it enters what Pilger describes as a state of world war: the ‘Coming War on China’ that he had warned about in an earlier documentary (embedded within the transcript below) has already arrived he says.

He also discusses his concern with John Bolton being at the ear of Donald Trump amidst the collapse of the global nuclear arms control framework that saw the end of the INF Treaty and the beginning of a new arms race with Russia; a situation where Washington’s goal is to break up the Russian Federation under Putin. He likewise sees a growing risk of war between other nuclear superpowers, most especially Pakistan and India.

Pilger also talks about western sanctions imposed on Venezuela and Iran and how they are deliberately bringing suffering to the citizens of those countries; how Brexit has provided a distraction from the most pressing issues at home (such as austerity and the NHS) and abroad; and finally, he provides an update on the condition of Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange, after he visited him recently in Belmarsh prison:

The full transcript of the interview is my own [interview begins at 2:30 mins]:

Afshin Rattansi: John thanks for coming back on. Boris Johnson [is] in Germany today. All eyes on the G7 at the end of the week: Russia not invited, China not considered by the IMF to be an advanced economy, but they will be talking about China apparently – we are being led to believe that Hong Kong is the centre of this weekend’s negotiations or talks.

John Pilger: Yes – what are these talks about? Excluding two of the most interesting developed powers in the world, China and Russia. I mean you know the truth is – what nobody is talking about – is there is a world war. It’s not a shooting war. But it could easily become a world war. There is a war already on China.

There has been a war of attrition against Russia for some years now: breaking up the Russian Federation is an American objective. Maintaining the supremacy of the US in all areas of human affairs – economic affairs, cultural affairs – is what particularly this regime in Washington is committed to. All regimes have been committed to.

It’s now reaching a head because they see a challenge in China. A challenge, and undoubtedly it’s an economic challenge, but it’s not a military challenge. This Nineteenth Century view of the world that permeates Washington and has returned to this country, the United Kingdom, has now created a war situation with China.

Very few know that China has now changed its nuclear posture from low alert – that is separating the warheads from missiles – to high alert – putting them together, the same as the United States. That’s something China didn’t do for many, many years, but they are clearly worried there now.

AR: You’re documentary was “The Coming War on China”, but you’re saying it is a war: we’ve seen colour revolutions thwarted – some successful against Putin in Russia. Is Hong Kong – millions of pounds have gone in from the National Endowment for Democracy – does Beijing understand what Hong Kong is?

JP: Oh yes. Yes, I think Beijing understands perfectly. The reason there is a rebellion in China is complex, of course, the people in Hong Kong do have a grievance. There is an inequality. But really what has happened is that manufacturing has moved to the mainland. The interference in Hong Kong, the subversion in Hong Kong by the US through the National Endowment for Democracy, through its local agents… and by all the others who make regular pilgrimages to John Bolton. Of course they are part of the war on China.

That’s not to take away from the fact that there are grievances within China – within Hong Kong – but Hong Kong didn’t sign up for two countries, two systems. It signed up for one country and two systems. And I find it almost grotesque the whole idea [that] the Union Jack should be draped over the speaker’s chair in the assembly in Hong Kong, when it was the Union Jack over hundred that represented an oppressive system.

I went to Hong Kong several times to write about the oppression of the police under the British. A corrupt police force led by British officers. A brutal police force. There was never any democracy.

AR: Even up to the 1990s?

JP: Right up to the 1990s. What there was – Hong Kong has been a business island. Well one could say that perhaps China is a business nation. And the mainland has usurped this special role of Hong Kong.

AR: So why here are we treated to endless images – as you say, no doubt some of these protesters have justification for opposing what is going on in Hong Kong – but yet the Gilets Jaunes protests are probably not going to be discussed in Biarritz this weekend at the G7?

JP: Because never before have people been called upon to think within such a narrow spectrum. And we could sit here all day talking about the iniquities of the media and so on, but it’s even wider than the media. There is a spectrum in which we are, if you like, allowed to think.

The news is dominated by Hong Kong and yet 29 miles from England there’s France, and this extraordinary rebellion of the Yellow Jackets, which has produced the most equally extraordinary violence from the state, has been virtually ignored. The same is true of Kashmir. I mean Kashmir was a fleeting moment, if you like, allowed into our perception. And here is a country bigger than Belgium, bigger than Portugal – 30 million people – where people are denied everything by the Indian state: denied food, freedom of movement, freedom of expression. India’s been doing this for a very, very long time. But India is our friend – the world’s greatest democracy and so…

AR: Trump says he’s being even-handed on it. China, of course, which has an interest there – another nuclear power apart from the other two – has taken it up at the Security Council.

JP: It’s our perception, I suppose, that we’re thinking about here… the way people are concerned that we’re going to run out of medicines after October 31st. We have no perception of the way the people of Iran are suffering under the sanctions that deny cancer drugs almost entirely because of these sanctions.

We have no perception of the way the people of Venezuela are suffering under sanctions. We have absolutely zilch understanding of how the people of Gaza continue to suffer in their open prison, as that has been obliterated almost from the news agenda and by extension from our perception. So within this spectrum – this narrow spectrum – the manipulation of people is probably the most extraordinary I’ve know in my career as a journalist.

AR: But obviously it’s not a physiological problem amongst journalists in newsrooms around the world that they can’t understand say Brexit no deal – there’s going to be problems here with medicines and food – and not understanding Yemen.

JP: I think journalists have given up. Many journalists have simply given up. There is a so-called mainstream, which is a misnomer: it’s not a mainstream at all, it’s an agency of extreme economic policies, policies that produce 4.1 million children in poverty in Britain.

AR: Four million children, two million under the age of five in Britain.

JP: Yes. And the kind of suffering that has come out of these extreme policies – called neoliberalism or whatever you want to call it – is echoed through our media in the same way that the whole absence of a warning that these virulent campaigns against China and Russia (particularly against the nuclear armed countries) could actually lead to something.

The abandonment by the United States of the INF treaty – the most important anti-nuclear war treaty ever signed – and here we had yesterday, I think it was, the US now testing again these intermediate-range nuclear weapons. And Russia, Putin, saying well yes of course we’re in an arms race again. The dangers of this. The dangers of accidentally, mistakenly beginning a nuclear war are not known to most people. That’s left out of this spectrum.

AR: Some say the INF treaty had to be revised because China was always opposing and violating the terms… in which the INF treaty was originally negotiated between Gorbachev and…

JP: That would come out of Washngton. And even if that treaty did need revision, then revise it. I remember those discussions and I interviewed a number of the American negotiators, extraordinary men… who sat down and negotiated with the Russians these complex treaties. They were serious people. We are not dealing with serious people.

AR: Some school textbooks in this country still say that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the prices to pay for ending the Second World War. You went there.

JP: You only have to read the US Air Force bombing survey and it’s very clear that that wasn’t the case.

When I first went to Hiroshima it was just over twenty years after the bomb was dropped and it had an extraordinary effect on me. I saw on the steps of a bank in the middle of Hiroshima, the shadow of a woman. She’d been sitting there, apparently preparing her lunch, sitting on the steps when the flash happened. The bomb dropped on August 6th 1945 and her image was burnt into the steps of the bank.

I remember looking at this image of this woman – you could see her shape, her arms, almost her relaxed position – and the impact that had on me was quite profound actually. And it obviously had an impact on many people because they got rid of it. They got rid of the shadow. Japan under US pressure got rid of this extraordinary shadow and it’s not there anymore.

Now I would suggest that that shadow represents something ahead of us unless we start understanding the true dangers of the recklessness of our own governments.

AR: Well, John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, who advises Trump we are led to believe, says that all options should be on the table against dictators like Maduro, against people in Iran who lead their government – attacking all these different places.

JP: I’ve interviewed John Bolton. John Bolton comes as close to being a political lunatic as you can get.

AR: He had friendly conversations with Boris Johnson here just the other week.

JP: Often political lunatics can have a very friendly conversation with others if they recognise similarities. But Bolton particularly is a man absolutely salivating it appears – and I don’t think I’ve ever said this about any politician of this kind – for a war. Or for an attack. Or for an overthrow. Or for a coup. That he is in the position he is in is the most terrifying thing.

AR: In foreign policy terms you see the European Union, which completely backs John Bolton’s view on Venezuela – Britain and Brussels completely aligned with Washington saying Juan Guaidó is the real leader of Venezuela. The EU is an arm of Nato?

JP: Well, you see the problem with the whole Brexit nonsense – this utterly almost internecine struggle of wills following the referendum in 2016 – is how much it excludes. There is no public debate, certainly no parliamentary debate – probably there never would have been – no public debate on the fact that the European Union is an agency of Nato. And Nato is, almost by definition, certainly by example, a nuclear war fighting provocative organisation. All this is supported by the EU. It should be part of our debate about the EU. I have no doubt there are great virtues in some things about the EU.

AR: Of course it’s the kind of thing Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party here in Britain, used to talk about. Is there reason why he perhaps has been on the fence – or is regarded as being on the fence about Lexit versus Brexit, because he understands that?

JP: Jeremy Corbyn seems to have become so overwhelmed by Brexit, whereas the country – this country – in which so many people are suffering is as a result of this hideous ideology “austerity”. One only has to drive outside London as I’ve done in making the film I’ve made about the National Health Service. And drive into rather nice places like Wiltshire and see the boarded up towns. This needs a Labour leader.

Now Jeremy Corbyn has presented himself as that Labour leader, but Brexit seems to have overwhelmed every party, anyone who steps anywhere near Parliament or this subject – it’s a very important subject, of course. No deal or not no deal. But what is most important is whether the National Health Service will survive, not Brexit, but will survive the ideological attacks on it. Whether people will survive this hideous mutation of welfare called Universal Credit.

In Durham, a father of three killed himself because he had no money anymore, it hadn’t come through under Universal Credit. The suffering of people in this developed country, which is now the sixth or seventh richest country in the world, is obscene.

AR: This is a week when the Childhood Trust has said that in Britain children are eating toilet paper to stave off hunger. Is this in a sense, when you talk about the United States or Germany, is this the Achilles heel? Because, of course, Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, there are people heading to 2020 to overthrow, democratically, Donald Trump, who seem to have a different vision. And is the 2008 crisis the context: the foreign policy, the home policy, the starvation?

JP: I mean I think Sanders and the rest of them are social democrats rushing to catch up with a kind of social democracy which has been in Europe and is now being rapidly extinguished. But their foreign policy doesn’t change. We had two of the leading socialists – at least they are members of the Democratic Socialists of America – vote for Donald Trump’s 738 billion arms budget recently in Congress. That should concern us in the outside world, that Sanders and the others – which they interestingly call “the left” in the United States – okay, but they’re social democrats – whether they bring some form of civilised life to a country where now up to half the population are suffering some form of impoverishment (in the United States).

AR: You certainly won’t hear them defending Julian Assange of Wikileaks. If anything they might arguably be seen as part of those people who consider Wikileaks a Russian cut-out of an organisation. You met Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison not far from this studio. Chelsea Manning of course is refusing to testify against Julian Assange. She’s in solitary in the United States. Tell me first of all about Julian’s health.

JP: Can I just say very quickly, first you know we’ve been talking about censorship by omission on a huge scale. A federal court ruled that there was no Russian connection with Julian Assange. That he had constitutional rights to do as he did as a journalist and as a publisher, and that has been completely ignored.

Julian’s own condition is, how do I put it, very dangerous. When I last saw him about ten days ago I was shocked because he’d lost more weight. He was isolated. They seemed to be imposing a regime that must be punitive on him of isolation. He’s in the health wing – what they call the ‘healthcare wing’ or ‘hospital wing’ – of Belmarsh prison, but he’s in a single cell and he told me that I see people walking by and I’d like to talk to them but I can’t.

Category A prisoners, murderers and others who have committed serious crimes, are allowed to fraternise; Julian is not allowed to fraternise. He’s not even allowed to telephone his American lawyers and he’s facing extradition to the United States. He had to wait two and a half months to see an optician and then when he got his glasses one of the lens didn’t work.

He’s being denied the right – the right – to prepare his own defence. He’s denied access to documents. Access to the library. A laptop. His lawyer, his solicitor Gareth Peirce spoke to the governor on the fourth of June about this and received no reply. What’s going on?

We understand if there is no basic justice in the treatment of somebody like this, who is in prison because he infringed bail – that is just about the merest – it’s not a crime actually – it is about the merest thing that the law can nail you for (and that is infringing your bail). He is there also, of course, because he is facing US extradition. But primarily he is there for this minor offence and he has been treated in the way that political prisoners are treated all over the world. That’s a moniker that won’t be appreciated, but it applies.

AR: Have his previous partners, the Guardian newspaper in London, The New York Times, have they helped to seal his fate?

JP: Yes they have helped to seal his fate. Mind you they’re worried. They’re worried because in the federal court ruling it was made clear by the judge in this very considered judgement that newspapers like The New York TimesThe New York Times and the Guardian published the war logs in 2010 – the war logs from Iraq, the war logs of Afghanistan that Wikileaks had been the conduit for, had passed to them – they published them first, before Wikileaks.

In law, and that’s what he [the judge] was saying, they are as liable. But they are also, as Julian is – and this was the point he was making – are protected by the US Constitution. Now the US Constitution is being torn up by the Trump administration. That’s why Julian, basically, is in the trouble he is.

All these charges that he’s meant to be facing in the United States are concocted. They’re ridiculous. They don’t apply. They are charges against a journalist and a publisher, but they would apply equally against the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, the editor of The New York Times, and the editor of El País, the editor of Der Spiegel, the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. They know this and they’re worried.

But they’re in such cahoots, they collude so deeply with the establishment of their country, and that now means the intelligence agencies – they have the power now in western societies – they collude so deeply with them that they dare not speak up. I suggest that as this whole grotesque charade against Julian Assange goes on, they should speak up pretty quickly.

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

1 Comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, austerity measures, Britain, China, John Pilger

Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tells BBC: “you see it’s called Persian Gulf for a reason”

On July 16th, BBC HARDtalk’s Zeinab Badawi visited to New York to interview Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who was attending high level talks at the UN. Hostilities between Iran and the US are at a historic high; after the recent shooting down of the US drone, President Trump said he was “ten minutes away from war with Tehran.”

Asked by Zeinab Badawi whether he accepts that America doesn’t actually want war, Javad Zarif replied:

“I accept that President Trump doesn’t want war, but I know that there are people in his administration who are crazy for war. Who thirst for war.” [from 10:10 mins]

With regards to how he assesses the likelihood of war, Zarif says:

“You see it’s called Persian Gulf for a reason. It’s next to our coast. We have almost 1,500 miles of coast with Persian Gulf. It’s not the Gulf of Mexico. We are there protecting our territorial waters and if this drone had been shot in international waters – over international airspace – why did we get to pick up the pieces?” [from 10:30 mins]

The pretext for war with Iran is a familiar one – Iran is constructing weapons of mass destruction. In fact, for decades hawks in the West have echoed the claims made by Netanyahu that Iran is on the brink of building the bomb. This month we even heard Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt state without evidence that Iran is just a year away from developing a nuclear bomb.

In response to claims that Iran is a year away from making a nuclear bomb, Javad Zarif says:

“If Iran wanted to build a bomb, we would have built a bomb a long time ago. We could have built a bomb a long time ago. We do not want to build a bomb because we believe that a nuclear bomb will not augment our security. But if the Europeans are serious about a nuclear weapons free Middle East, there is somewhere else that they need to be looking and that is Israel where they have at least 200 warheads.” [from 9:20 mins]

Zeinab Badawi then poses the questions another way, suggesting that Iran might “stumble into a war”, to which Zarif replies:

“Well again, it’s the Persian Gulf because it’s next to our borders. It’s a body of water that Iran has protected, Iran has maintained the security and freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz for millennia, and we will continue to do that. We are the major power in that region… Those who have brought their naval vessels to Persian Gulf are not helping to secure this body of water. […]

“Of course there is a possibility of accidents, but we cannot leave our own neighbourhood. Those who have come from outside have to decide why are they in that neighbourhood? And whether their presence in that neighbourhood is helping stability and security in that neighbourhood?  […]

As President Trump has said we were ten minutes away from war, because had they taken measures against Iran, President Trump had been told that Iran would be taking measures in self-defence.”

[from 11:55 mins]

Adding:

“The united States is right now engaged in economic war against Iran. There are countries that are providing the United States with logistical support, with reconnaissance; that means they are participating in the war… If there is a war then I do not think anybody will be safe in our region, but let us all try to avoid one. We don’t need a war; we’ve gone through eight years of war; a war that was imposed on us with the help of everybody.” [from 13:30 mins]

Javad Zarif is also highly critical of Europe and the easy way it has capitulated to US sanctions:

“If the Europeans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians, all of them try not to allow the united States to bully them into abiding by its decision, would the United States be able to destroy the global economy and put sanctions on all of them?” [from 4:10 mins]

Continuing:

“So you want to accept US dominance in global economy even to your own detriment? Unfortunately, this is what they’re saying and I don’t think this way they can resolve this crisis or any crisis. The Europeans and the rest of the global community are strong enough to withstand this… People are dying from cancer. Kids are dying from EB. People are dying from MS. Just because there are a very limited [range] of pharmaceuticals that we cannot produce in Iran and the United States says that they are exempt from sanctions but financial transactions in order to purchase them are not exempt.” [from 5:10 mins]

Asked why Iran has begun to enrich uranium to higher grades than those sanctioned under the JCPOA ‘Iran deal’, Javad Zarif says:

“We implemented the agreement fully. IAEA made 15 reports from the beginning: 5 of them after the US withdrawal; and all of them indicated thatIran was fulfilling its commitments fully. Unfortunately, the Europeans could not take advantage of this and just dragged their feet. It won’t happen again. You know Iran is a country with an old civilisation. For us the dignity of our people is extremely important. [from 7:25 mins]

Pressed by Zeinab Badawi who asks “so why enrich the uranium… partial compliance is not acceptable”, Zarif responds:

“The Europeans cannot say whether partial or full compliance is acceptable or not. It’s the deal itself. Paragraph 36 of the deal says that Iran or the other side – if we are not satisfied with the implementation of the deal by the other side, we can take some measures within the deal. That is in order to keep the deal surviving: to keep it from going totally dead. […]

“This deal was written based on total mistrust. Neither side trusted the other side. That is why we put everything in black and white. Very clearly stated that if we don’t comply, what they can take. If we are the initial breakers of the deal, they can take measures. If they are the initial breakers of the deal, they can also take measures.” [from 8:15 mins]

And later in the interview:

“Look we did not leave the negotiation table. It was the United States that left the negotiating table… You see this deal was the subject of twelve years of negotiations, two years of which were intense negotiations. I spent days, months, negotiating this. We spent a lot of time with the United States negotiating this deal. It’s about give and take… if you allow a bully to bully you into accepting one thing, you’ll encourage him to bully you into accepting other things. We negotiated this deal. We did what we were supposed to do; the US did not do what it is supposed to do. The United States is working on the policy line that what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable.” [from 16:50 mins]

In response to broader Western accusations that Iran’s meddling has destabilised the region, Zarif says:

“Did we support Saddam Hussein when he attacked Iran? Did we support ISIS? I mean President Trump himself said Iran is fighting ISIS. Are we bombing the Yemenis? Did we invade Yemen? Was it Iran that basically arrested the Prime Minister of Lebanon and kept him in prison for three weeks? If the United States is looking for those responsible for malign behaviour in the region the United States needs to look at its own allies. […]

“President Trump has said that I am not engaged in military war against Iran that I am engaged in economic war against Iran. What does it mean to be engaged in economic war? Economic war targets civilians, military war targets military personnel, civilians are sometimes collateral damage. But an economic war targets civilians. The United States Secretary Pompeo has said that we want the Iranian people to change their government. So putting these two together, that means the United States is terrorising Iranian people in order to achieve political objectives. That’s the classical definition of terrorism. […]

“Mike Pompeo’s allies in our region, Saudi Arabia, spend 67 billion dollars a year on military equipment. They are bombing the Yemenis. Are we doing that? We only spent 16 billion dollars last year on the entire military budget.”

[from 19:00 mins]

Finally, regarding the seizure of the oil tanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar by British Royal Marines who boarded the ship on July 4th, Zarif says bluntly:

“It’s piracy plain and simple. First of all there are EU sanctions against buying Syrian oil, not against selling Syria oil… but we announced from the very beginning that that ship was not destined for Syria. […]

“The Tanker is not Iranian. It was carrying Iranian oil, which we had sold, and it was going to a place in the Mediterranean other than Syria. We made it clear. You know that we are under sanctions from the United States [and] their objective is to bring our oil sales to zero. That is why we will do whatever we can to avoid the United States knowing what we are doing.

“One more thing. The United Kingdom, by taking our ship – by confiscating our ship – is helping the United States imposing its illegal oil sanctions against Iran. This is not about EU sanctions against Syria, this is about Iran. That is why John Bolton thanked Great Britain for giving them the best Fourth of July present possible.

“If the UK wants to serve US interests they should not be talking about trying to preserve the JCPOA.”

[from 14:30 mins]

All transcriptions above are my own.

Click here to watch this interview uploaded on BBC iplayer, which is available for 11 months.

1 Comment

Filed under Britain, did you see?, Iran, USA

censorship in the name of copyright: stop the EU turning the internet into a ‘tool for surveillance and control’

The internet as a public forum is coming under attack once more. In the name of protecting intellectual property rights, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee today voted for legislation first proposed by the European Commission in 2016 which requires the installation of filters that will highly restrict the inclusion of news snippets in internet content, thus overhauling the existing copyright principle of ‘fair use’.

An open letter signed by seventy tech experts including Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, was sent to the President of the European Parliament in June. It begins:

As a group of the Internet’s original architects and pioneers and their successors, we write to you as a matter of urgency about an imminent threat to the future of this global network.

The European Commission’s proposal for Article 13 of the proposed Directive for Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive was well-intended. As creators ourselves, we share the concern that there should be a fair distribution of revenues from the online use of copyright works, that benefits creators, publishers, and platforms alike.

But Article 13 is not the right way to achieve this. By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.

It concludes:

We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online. But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks. For the sake of the Internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal.

Another provision in the proposed legislation is a so-called “link tax” that will force all of us who use news snippets (as I am about to) to obtain a licence:

The aim is to generate income for publishers from aggregators such as Google and Reddit. Since readers usually want to know what a link leads to before clicking, most websites include a snippet of the linked-to content. Any limitation on snippets is hence also a limitation on linking.

The proposal would potentially restrict not just big players but smaller sites and individuals who publish news snippets. Germany and Spain have introduced similar laws, which have failed badly and been disastrous for publishers, the very group the EU seeks to protect. 1

Click here to read the full Guardian report by Kenan Malik.

Here’s another link to a different part of the story (and separate article) that the EU also wants to prevent me from quoting:

[Green MEP Julia] Reda argues that the “link tax” would drastically curtail internet users from sharing news stories and even holiday photos on the internet. Under the proposals, “such snippets would require licensing, including even short and purely factual headlines like ‘Angela Merkel meets Theresa May’”, she wrote ahead of the vote. 2

*

Click here to add your name to a petition against the introduction of Articles 11 and 13 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive:

The proposed law includes powers for media giants to charge licensing fees for posting links, through a new type of copyright, aka the link tax. 3 It would also demand websites install bots to monitor your posts, and censor them, if copyrighted content is detected. 4 We know these rules impact how many of us work on a day to day basis: from journalists looking up sources, to professional reviewers discussing the latest films. 5

*

1 From an article entitled “A fairer deal on web copyright doesn’t need the bovver boots from Brussels” written by Kenan Malik, published in the Guardian on April 8, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/08/fairer-deal-on-web-copyright-eu-free-speech-open-access

2 From an article entitled “EU votes for copyright law that would make internet a ‘tool of control’” written by Jennifer Rankin, published in the Guardian on June 20, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/20/eu-votes-for-copyright-law-that-would-make-internet-a-tool-for-control

3 Ancillary Copyright, Publishers’ Right, Link Tax: a bad idea under any name. Source: Communia Association

4 Killing parody, killing memes, killing the internet? Source: EDRi

5 Help our link tax impact research AND speak to your MEPs. Source: OpenMedia

4 Comments

Filed under campaigns & events, internet freedom

reflections on October 1st 2017: the day when tyranny returned to Catalonia

*

A day of tyranny

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

writes independent journalist Kevin Buckland, who provides eyewitness testimony of the Spanish government’s savage determination to thwart Sunday’s referendum in Catalonia.

He continues:

I am sitting on the floor of the polling station in central Barcelona, a long line has grown behind us. We have been here for hours already, but it doesn’t bother us. Just by being here we are useful. The rain has slowed to a drizzle and faces are emerging from beneath the umbrellas. It could be the line of people waiting to see a movie, young couples, the middle-aged with their adult daughters, families with children — these are not protestors, these are people.

There is a nervous tension, as we wait we are seeing realtime images of polling stations that look exactly the same as ours having their doors kicked in, people pulled away by their hair, elderly women thrown down stairs; twitter is a scroll of police clubs and rubber bullets. In some places the hundreds of people, with arms linked or hands in the air are enough to turn back the police, in others masked men walk out of schools holding half-filled ballot boxes.

Please take a second to imagine this: you go to your usual polling station and, as usual, you wait in a short line to vote. As you wait, masked men in dark armored suits smash their way in, pushing the elderly, clubbing your neighbor and firing rubber bullets into the crowd. They grab the ballot boxes and march out. They steal your vote; steal your voice. Twitter says there are 234 people injured.

This is the largest act of civil disobedience I have ever seen, and the bravery it required of the everyday people should not be diminished. Just by standing in that line we were all risking great harm. We wait our turn, patiently and calmly, but nervously. We pass the time by chatting to those next to us in line. The woman in front of us tells us of the first time she voted after fascism ended; of the student protests and the police brutality. In a country with such a recent history of dictatorship, voting means something different for the older generation.

The crowd cheers after an elderly woman walks past the long line after voting, she claps her hands in joy and the crowd joins her. Having spent most of her life under fascism, democracy must taste sweeter. I see the woman in front of me wipe away a tear. The crowd cheers next for a old man in a wheelchair and a young couple with their baby, the noise follows each of them from the polling station. We cheer for everyone, not for how they voted, but becausethey voted. This has become about more than independence, it is about the right to vote; the right of a population to ask itself a question and to answer it.

Click here to read Kevin Buckland’s full report of the day.

*

*

Richard Sudan was another journalist who encountered the brutality first hand. The following extract is drawn from an article published by RT:

I witnessed for myself police trying to control the flood of people entering one polling station in Barcelona, only to fail due to the sheer numbers of those present. A number of videos showed police entering separate polling stations and seizing ballot boxes full of votes that had been cast. Were it not for the large amounts of people occupying the polling station where I spent the afternoon, I believe the same thing would have happened there too.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter: Spain, or any other country, cannot claim for itself the status of ‘a democracy,’ while repressing the fundamental democratic freedoms of its people, in this case, the Catalans. Personally, the situation brings to mind the plight of the Palestinians, who are routinely attacked by the Israeli state while Israel harps on about being a democracy. Hypocrisy of the highest order.

Now, we’ve all the seen the images of the Spanish police beating Catalans, shutting down polling booths, and seizing ballot boxes. What I didn’t see, however, and which is a stark paradox in my mind, were gatherings of neo-Nazi nationalists who were openly doing Nazi salutes in Catalonia Square being challenged with the same vigor, by the very same police who were attacking the polling booths. Why? How can this possibly make any sense?

How can the Spanish police justify their crackdown on voters while allowing neo-nationalists to make open Nazi salutes and parade in Barcelona unchallenged? Are the Spanish authorities really more afraid of the ballot box than neo-Nazis?

Entitled “Deafening silence: EU must condemn Spain’s Catalonia crackdown”, the same piece continues:

The only thing worse than this violence and hypocrisy is the deafening silence from other European and world leaders. The EU as a bloc has failed to take a formal stand against the brutalization of the Catalan people, who are, after all, citizens of the EU. Now, I’m not a fan of the neo-liberal economic program that underpins the EU, and I’m even less of a fan of the ‘leave’ campaign in Britain.

But it cannot be right, that the leadership of the EU is silent on this issue of Catalonia when it is so willing to criticize human rights abuses elsewhere.

Click here to read Richard Sudan’s full report.

*

Media silence and complicity

In the days leading up to the referendum, corporate media outlets with few notable exceptions (RT, Al Jazeera and to some extent the Guardian), uncritically repeated the pro-Madrid mantra that the independence election was unconstitutional and thus illegal. Here was the patina of legitimacy for what would quickly follow. Repeating it meant promoting the Spanish government’s pretext for violent suppression. It justified the media’s collective decision to downplay an already impending paramilitary crackdown against a peaceful movement.

Of course the full shock of Catalonia’s bloody Sunday could hardly fail to make headline news across the mainstream. That said, the media is well-honed in methods for spinning half truths and so although widely reported, the true picture was obscured nonetheless: voters became “protesters” with Madrid’s armoured enforcers portrayed as “the security cordon”. Reprinted below is part of an excellent post put together by Craig Murray which summarises the propaganda techniques used across the British media:

This was a headline on the Guardian front page at 10.29am today. The people who wrote it are highly educated media professionals. The misleading impression a natural reading gives is absolutely deliberate.

Maintaining the Establishment line in face of reality has been a particular problem for picture editors. The Daily Telegraph has produced a whole series of photos whose captions test the “big lie” technique to its limits.

Note the caption specifically puts the agency for the “clash” on the people. “People clash with Spanish Guardia Civila…”. But the picture shows something very different, a voter being manhandled away from the polling station.

Actually what they are doing is preventing voters from entering a polling station, not preventing a riot from attacking a school, which is the natural reading of the caption.

In fact the firemen are trying to shield people walking to vote from the paramilitaries. The firemen were attacked by the Guardia Civilia shortly after that.

Sky News every half hour is repeating the mantra that the Catalan government claims a mandate for Independence “after a referendum marred by violence”, again without stating what caused the violence. In general however Sky’s coverage has been a great deal better than the BBC; Al Jazeera has been excellent.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article.

*

What next?

When Spanish President Mariano Rajoy deployed thousands of police forces to Catalonia to repress an illegal referendum for independence, he probably thought it would bring some closure to an open issue. Perhaps, enforcing the law violently on peaceful citizens who just wanted to cast a vote, and doing it on the global stage would finally convince those rebellious Catalonians that their cause was lost.

Far from closure, the events of 1 October 2017 will cause more consternation in Catalonia than ever before. It is fair to question if Catalonians live in a 21st Century democracy, whether their most basic human rights are going to be respected and whether there is any room for political dialogue. Many of those who were not pro-independence before yesterday but supported a referendum, are probably wondering today whether there is any point in even considering staying in Spain, after all.

writes journalist Victor Lasa in another article published by Counterpunch.

Lasa continues:

Make no mistake, this is not a symptom of political idiocy, but a well-thought, effective strategy. Surveys are already showing the PP [Partido Popular, the ruling party in Madrid] would win the government again, by a landslide. The PP thrives in conflict, and Catalonians served them one on a silver platter. Why resolve a conflict when you can benefit from it instead?  This is classic Real Politik applied within its own borders. By simplifying and trivializing, they polarize the electorate, perhaps leaving almost no chance for those who show moderation and relative impartiality, like center-left PSOE and Podemos. On the other hand, this conflict is the perfect attention deviation device. One they desperately need to divert attention from hundreds of cases of rampant corruption, which include the political manipulation of the same national police they sent over to Catalonia.

Madrid’s iron-fisted suppression of Catalan nationalism plays well as a populist strategy in many quarters of Spain, however as Lasa points out, this latest display of force was so excessive that it has altered the political landscape more emphatically. He adds in conclusion:

The next time they have a chance, Spaniards and Catalonians will vote with their guts rather than their brains. Nevermind that PP will be reduced to political irrelevance both in Catalonia and the Basque Country. They will have the rest of Spain, drawing a map that paradoxically will make borders ever more obvious. One more question to answer now is how far the PP will go with this strategy. How much can the conflict be managed for political benefit before it explodes into an uncontrollable succession of violent events. It looks like we could find out soon, as the Generalitat [government of Catalonia] prepares itself to unilaterally declare Independence in the following days.

Click here to read Victor Lasa’s full article entitled “Catalonia and the Unsustainable Strategy of Conservative Spain”.

*

Update:

On October 2nd, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, was interviewed on BBC2’s Newsnight by Mark Urban. Here is part of that interview [from 0:50 mins]:

MU: But do you think the police in every case – pushing women downstairs, firing rubber bullets into polling stations – do you think they have used proportionate and legitimate force?

AD: Yes I do.

However, when interviewed more recently (Sunday October 22nd) on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Dastis’ position had completely changed. Where previously he tacitly acknowledged the extreme police brutality and defended it as legitimate, he now claimed it was “fake news” [from 6:45mins]:

AD: No I don’t think there is any brutal situation – look, I think by now many of those pictures have proven to be fake pictures…

AM interjects: Really?

AD: And if there was any use of force it was a limited one and prompted by the fact that the law and order agencies were prevented from discharging the orders of the courts.

AM: You’re saying that those pictures that people saw of Spanish police intervening aggressively in polling stations are all fake pictures – they didn’t happen?

AD: I’m not saying that all are fake pictures but some of them are. And you know there has been a lot of alternative facts and fake news here. And as I said, if there was at all – and according to the pictures there was – some use of force it was not a deliberate use of force. It was a provoked use of force.

Unfortunately I cannot embed the interview because that option has been made unavailable but you can watch it by following this link: https://youtu.be/wuIAx_oQ-Ss

You can also watch the same interview on BBC iplayer by clicking here.

1 Comment

Filed under campaigns & events, Craig Murray, police state, Spain

Madrid’s crackdown means Catalonian referendum is now about much more than independence

Last June, a referendum was called on whether Catalonia, an autonomous region of the northeast of Spain, should declare itself to be a fully independent country. On September 6th the Catalan parliament approved this referendum and set the date for October 1st. It also introduced a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority. The Spanish government has ruled the referendum illegal.

*

The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, writes in the Guardian that “a de facto state of emergency” has ended Catalan home rule just weeks ahead of a planned referendum on independence. Madrid appears deaf to the argument that its heavy-handed attempts to stop the vote will only ultimately strengthen support for secession. A judge sent in the police to arrest a dozen local officials; the Guardia Civil seized millions of ballot papers; the central finance ministry took over the region’s finances to prevent public money from being used in the vote. All the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has achieved by being so oblivious to public sentiment in Catalonia is to harden opinion in the region and draw thousands onto the streets.

The paragraph above is taken from the Guardian editorial published last Thursday [Sept 21st] entitled “The Guardian view on Catalonia: step back from the brink”.

As a friend in Barcelona confirms, not only is pro-referendum opinion being suppressed, but democracy has effectively been suspended:

About reports that a state of emergency has been put in place, they’re not totally wrong. Officially, such a thing hasn’t happened, because it would require approval by parliament, and Partido Popular [the governing party in Madrid] haven’t got enough of a majority to push this. But in practice civil liberties are being trampled on in various ways. Fourteen officials working for the Catalan government were detained yesterday, and interrogated for a whole day without the presence of their lawyers. The headquarters of an independentist party were surrounded for eight hours by the Guardia Civil (Spanish military police with an infamous Francoist past) without a court order.

The Catalan government’s finances have been forcibly put in the hands of the Spanish government. The banks have connived in this, blatantly against the law, since no there is no court order to close down the Catalan government’s accounts.

Although by law we have our own Catalan police, we have been invaded by the Guardia Civil and the Spanish Policía Nacional, who have arrived in large numbers; and more are stationed in boats in the port waiting to act. A few days ago over 700 town mayors were simultaneously indited for their support of the referendum, and now face criminal charges, like the arrested officials. Freedom of expression has been curtailed, since it is now a crime to publicly call for participation in the referendum, though Catalan public media keep ignoring the order.

The latest news is that school directors (most polling stations are schools) have been declared liable if they allow the vote by handing in the keys to the buildings, and police will be sent to each individually in the next few days to threaten them with criminal charges if they don’t comply. Also, school directors are supposed to inform against their superiors in the Catalan Department of Education, and again, they’re liable if they don’t.

Further restrictions are also in place to censor the internet:

All websites informing about how and where to vote have been seized by the Guardia Civil. Even printing voting cards has become illegal, and private printing presses have been raided, the material confiscated and the owners indited.

I find that one of the most depressing aspects of what’s going on here at the moment is censorship, which everybody looking for information on the referendum has experienced in the last few days. It feels weird to look up a website and find it has been replaced by the threatening logo of the Guardia Civil (complete with an axe and a sword) and a message in Spanish and English informing that the website has been “seized pursuant to a warrant by the Judicial Authority”. And just this morning I heard that charges are being brought against activists who set up mirror websites to circumvent the ban on referendum advertising.

Click here to read more about Spanish government’s denial of access to a free and open internet.

More positively, my friend says that resistance to the crackdown continues to be diverse and strong:

Public statements condemning the crackdown have been made by many civil society institutions (Barcelona football club among them), and Podemos and other associated left-wing parties (both here and in Madrid) have done likewise and are now backing the referendum as a protest act, although they are not independentist and would prefer an agreement with the Spanish government.

Also, a lot of ordinary citizens are defying the Spanish government’s ban on referendum advertising, by pasting home-made posters wherever they can. The Catalan trade unions are beginning to talk of a general strike. The Catalan government and the pro-referendum parties have called for peaceful resistance and so far there hasn’t been violence on the part of protesters, except for a couple of minor incidents last night that have been wildly exaggerated by the Spanish media. But the situation is tense since a lot of us feel outraged by the totalitarian measures imposed by the Spanish government.

*

Now they’re calling us seditious. They accuse us, all of us, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people that have protested in support of Catalan institutions, of being agents of sedition. This is what the assistant state prosecutor, Miguel Ángel Carballo Cuervo, has said in a document destined to inhabit the precincts of judicial infamy. He, of course, will never understand it, but his accusation, is for me at least, an honor.

So writes Vicent Partal defiantly under the headline “Proud to be an Agent of Catalonian Sedition.” He continues – and his polemic is reproduced below in full:

Why? Because I believe it is an honor to be accused of sedition by an authoritarian state that violates its own laws to cancel democratic rights. It is honorable to be accused of sedition by those that arrest politicians, threaten media outlets, spy on personal correspondence, close down websites, invade government offices, enter into print shops without warrants, and threaten high school principals. In these circumstances and before these behaviors, I do not want to be among the defenders of their order: I prefer to be an agent of sedition.

To be accused of being an agent of sedition is a privilege when the accuser is someone obsessed with using the law to confront democracy, when he seeks refuge in an article of the constitution, number 155, brought in an envelope to the authors of the constitution by Franco’s military, when they say to us, whatever we decide to do, their documents will always carry more weight than our hands. It could very well be that we’ve waited too long to confront them. Be that as it may, the taboo of burying our differences can no longer hold up. It is the people that decide such things, not an old and decrepit law that we neither respect nor recognize as our own.

I’ll go even further. To be a seditious person today is, for them, to take an unforgivable position. Those that accuse us of sedition in this way or that  are really only trying to maintain the privileges of a corrupt regime that is, for the first time, being seriously challenged.  I’ll never be able to close ranks with people that say things like, “he who breaks it,  pays for it” as they cynically cover up the fact that their party is the most corrupt political party in Europe, while among their ranks are hundreds of people that have never been held to account  for  the things they’ve done, while they break the hard drives where the evidence of their crimes are hidden without the least fear of consequence,  while they violate the Constitutional separation of powers and use state institutions not only to serve the needs of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, but even worse, the proprietary needs and desires of the their party.

But let me say above all that being an agent of sedition today is, in my view, a moral necessity. I am an agent of sedition because I am taking a position, because I cannot believe in the idea of a middle ground that requires me to equate ballots with armed police, politicians elected by popular vote with attorneys general and martial-law courts, a peaceful people with the coercion of a state shorn of its legitimacy.  And still one more thing. I am an agent of sedition, and quite proud of it, because I learned when I was young something that I have believed in ever since: that when one is confronted by the possibilities of both liberty and tyranny there is never, ever, any need for deliberation.

Click here to read the same article (translated by Thomas Harrington) in Counterpunch.

*

Before deciding to reprint the article above I forwarded it my friend in Barcelona who wrote back as follows:

I agree with the sentiments in the Counterpunch article, and the facts reported in it are true as far as I can tell. What I find missing is some criticism of the independentist side, especially of the Catalan government’s strategy, which has been rather questionable, and of their ulterior motives, which are not being discussed enough. But I guess having reached this wretched point, any democrat’s priority should be to denounce the Spanish state’s totalitarian measures, rather than point out the wrongs or the weaknesses of the more vulnerable side.

My position at the moment is that of Podemos and other associated left-wing parties: the referendum must be held because this has become a question of civil liberties and human rights. However, under the current circumstances, it will be impossible to hold it with all the proper guarantees, so it should be considered a protest act rather than a binding vote. In my case, if polling stations are open, I’ll try to go and put in my vote, even if it is a blank one, just to affirm the sovereignty of the Catalan people and my individual freedom of expression. But whether this will happen at all is looking less and less likely.

*

Update:

On September 27th, the Guardian published an op-ed written by the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, entitled “Europe must act to protect the rights and freedoms of Catalans”.

She writes:

By proving itself incapable of finding a solution during all this time, the Spanish government has allowed the Catalan conflict to escalate from an internal dispute to a European conflict…  Europe cannot allow itself to adopt a passive position over the Catalan question, seeing that the events going on in Barcelona are affecting Paris, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin alike.

The European Union came about as a project to safeguard and guarantee our rights and freedoms. Defending the fundamental rights of Catalan citizens against a wave of repression from the Spanish state is also the same as defending the rights of Spanish and European citizens.

Those of us who are committed to advancing towards a democratic, social and freedom-loving European project find it hard to believe that the European Union’s institutions would not only back a situation that jeopardises fundamental rights and freedoms but also fail to commit themselves to finding the means for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

It is for this reason, given the seriousness of the situation in Catalonia, that it is my obligation as mayor of its capital, Barcelona, to call on the European commission to open a space for mediation between the Spanish and Catalan governments to find a negotiated and democratic solution to the conflict.

Click here to read the full article by Ada Colau.

Another article published the same day by the Guardian reports that an official letter of protest has been sent to the European Commission calling for action to stop internet censorship:

“What they’re doing by blocking domain name servers is doing what Turkey does and what China does and what North Korea does,” said the spokesman [for the Catalan government]. “No western democracy does that. The internet is the kingdom of freedom.”

The letter says the online crackdown is part of “the ongoing unlawful repression of the institutions of autonomy of Catalonia” and calls on the commission to act as “the ultimate guardian of the open and free internet, which is truly at stake now”.

Asked about the legality of the Spanish authorities’ actions, the commission referred the Guardian to remarks made by its chief spokesman on Tuesday.

“We don’t have anything to say other than to reiterate our respect for the legal order – the constitutional order – within which all these measures have been taken,” Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Tuesday.

Spain’s interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full article entitled “Catalan leaders compare Spain to North Korea after referendum sites blocked”.

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, internet freedom, police state, Spain

NATO, the EU, and peace in our time…?

In 2003, the British government published a Defence White Paper entitled “Delivering Security in a Changing World”. Chapter 3 was headed “Further Requirements for Defence”; it opens as follows:

There are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or NATO – but the threat from proliferation and international terrorism remains very real and in the worst case could result in serious casualties and significant disruption to the national economy and our way of life. 1

[bold emphasis added]

However, more recently, following Nato’s deployment of thousands of troops to the Baltics and Poland, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg defended his decision telling German newspaper Bild, “[it] is an appropriate response” to Russia’s “aggressive actions”:

“We want to show our partners that we are there when they need us. And we want to show potential attackers that we react when they threaten us.” 2

[bold emphasis added]

To understand this extraordinary and troubling volte-face from “no major conventional threats” (2003) to the current ‘new Cold War’ hostilities and Russia singled out as a “potential attacker”, it is helpful if we retrace the steps just a little further again. Back to the early ’90s as the rubble of the Berlin Wall lay strewn and the dust had barely settled.

*

Nato’s chequered retreat

Once the Cold War ended (officially at least), Nato’s raison d’être was inevitably thrown into question. If it was to re-establish its role in the world, then it urgently needed to rediscover a purpose. The breakdown of Yugoslavia and the ongoing civil war between the republics perfectly served these ends. Nato became the peacemaker.

With UN Security Council Resolution 816 calling for the enforcement of “a no-fly zone” over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nato entered the conflict in April 1993. For the first time in its history, it was directly engaged in combat. (Note the bold highlight – it will be repeated later.)

The Bosnian War (1992–1995) happened during an unprecedented period of modern history. In the immediate wake of the West’s “victory” in the Cold War, anti-imperialist voices were at their weakest. Consequently, with anti-war opposition stifled, there was almost nothing by way of countervailing analysis or commentary.

By the time of the Kosovo War (1998–1999), the silencing of dissent became more intense again. The proclaimed success of Nato’s earlier intervention ending the Bosnian War with the negotiated settlement of the Dayton Accords had engendered an atmosphere in which anti-war sentiment had been completely marginalised and opposition voices were quiescent.

As in Bosnia, Nato’s campaign in Kosovo was presented as a purely “humanitarian intervention” – a phrase that pre-Iraq and -Libya did not possess such a deathly, hollow ring. It was a propaganda line that would be adopted as an article of faith, particularly, it seemed, within ranks of the liberal left. And those who protested too loudly against the bombing were judged to be appeasers – there was little outcry at the time.

One journalist who spoke up against the official narrative was John Laughland. The following extract is taken, however, from a later article published in 2007 by the Guardian: it is Laughland’s response to the now largely forgotten verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), after it ruled that Serbia was not guilty of the massacre Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995. 3

In the piece, Laughland challenges some of the half-truths that had inculpated the Serbs and their leader, “the Butcher of the Balkans”, Slobodan Milošević:

The international court of justice (ICJ) did condemn Serbia on Monday for failing to act to prevent Srebrenica, on the basis that Belgrade [Milošević] failed to use its influence over the Bosnian Serb army. But this is small beer compared to the original allegations. Serbia’s innocence of the central charge is reflected in the court’s ruling that Serbia should not pay Bosnia any reparations – supplying an armed force is not the same as controlling it. Yugoslavia had no troops in Bosnia and greater guilt over the killings surely lies with those countries that did, notably the Dutch battalion in Srebrenica itself. Moreover, during the Bosnian war, senior western figures famously fraternised with the Bosnian Serb leaders now indicted for genocide, including the US general Wesley Clark and our own John Reid. Should they also be condemned for failing to use their influence? 4

Click here to read John Laughland’s full article.

This is Noam Chomsky, another critic of the Kosovo war, answering questions regarding the guilt or otherwise of Milošević and the Serbian forces:

Investigative journalist John Pilger was another who spoke out strongly at the time and continues to do so now:

Milosevic was the victim of war propaganda that today runs like a torrent across our screens and newspapers and beckons great danger for us all. He was the prototype demon, vilified by the western media as the “butcher of the Balkans” who was responsible for “genocide”, especially in the secessionist Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Prime Minister Tony Blair said so, invoked the Holocaust and demanded action against “this new Hitler”. David Scheffer, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes [sic], declared that as many as “225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59” may have been murdered by Milosevic’s forces.

This was the justification for Nato’s bombing, led by Bill Clinton and Blair, that killed hundreds of civilians in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and television studios and destroyed Serbia’s economic infrastructure. It was blatantly ideological; at a notorious “peace conference” in Rambouillet in France, Milosevic was confronted by Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state, who was to achieve infamy with her remark that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were “worth it”.

Albright delivered an “offer” to Milosevic that no national leader could accept. Unless he agreed to the foreign military occupation of his country, with the occupying forces “outside the legal process”, and to the imposition of a neo-liberal “free market”, Serbia would be bombed. This was contained in an “Appendix B”, which the media failed to read or suppressed. The aim was to crush Europe’s last independent “socialist” state.

Once Nato began bombing, there was a stampede of Kosovar refugees “fleeing a holocaust”. When it was over, international police teams descended on Kosovo to exhume the victims of the “holocaust”. The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines”. The final count of the dead in Kosovo was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the pro-Nato Kosovo Liberation Front. There was no genocide. The Nato attack was both a fraud and a war crime.

All but a fraction of America’s vaunted “precision guided” missiles hit not military but civilian targets, including the news studios of Radio Television Serbia in Belgrade. Sixteen people were killed, including cameramen, producers and a make-up artist. Blair described the dead, profanely, as part of Serbia’s “command and control”. In 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, revealed that she had been pressured not to investigate Nato’s crimes. 5

Click here to read John Pilger’s latest article [August 23rd] in full.

For an alternative perspective on Nato and the West’s involvement in the breakup of Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia, I also recommend Boris Malagurski’s controversial Canadian documentary The Weight of Chains which is embedded below – although the style is light, the content is serious and, on the whole, well-documented:

*

The West’s about-turn

But then came the attacks of September 11th, which presented the Nato alliance with a fresh threat – purportedly of existential proportions. Overnight, everything was changed. Indeed, on September 12th, Nato met in emergency session and, for the first time in its history, invoked Article 5  of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack against one is an attack against all.

The “Global War on Terror” was thereby launched with Nato at the helm, although during the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (OEF-A), of course, only America and Britain sent out forces to overthrow the Taliban. The other Nato allies looked on and waited. Meanwhile, Canadian and US forces were jointly mobilised under Operation Noble Eagle (ONE) around the North American continent.

It was later, in October 2003, under the mission title International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) when Nato forces stepped fully into the fray. Here is how BBC news had then reported the story:

Nato is repositioning itself for a future as a key force in the “war on terror”, according to its US ambassador, Nicholas Burns.

The organisation has been struggling to define its role in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat from which was the basis of its foundation. […]

Questions have been asked about Nato’s role in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although the alliance intervened in Kosovo, it did not formally operate in the military campaigns in either Iraq or Afghanistan.  […]

“Nato’s purpose is to be on the front lines, to fight the war on terrorism for Europeans, and for Americans and Canadians.

“That’s where we’ve turned the organisation, that’s how we’ve transformed it over the last two years.”

In particular, Mr Burns stressed the role the newly-established rapid response force would play.

The force is designed to be able to deploy within days to anywhere in the world if needed, with between 20,000 and 30,000 troops.

Mr Burns refuted suggestions that it would merely be a tool of American foreign policy. 6

[bold emphasis in original]

A decade on and, after the 2014 Wales Summit, that same Nato Response Force (NRF) has been enhanced with the formation of a “spearhead force” or Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) within it. And the prime target is no longer “terror”, but Russia instead (already by 2014, history had turned full circle):

At the 2014 Wales Summit, NATO agreed the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) to ensure the Alliance is ready to respond swiftly and firmly to new security challenges. This is the most significant reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence since the end of the Cold War. The RAP addresses risks and threats from the east and the south. […]

Due to the changed security environment on NATO’s borders, the RAP includes ‘assurance measures’ for NATO member countries in Central and Eastern Europe to reassure their populations, reinforce their defence and deter potential aggression. 7

This is taken from Nato’s official release on its Readiness Action Plan (RAP) and note that references to Russia remain oblique throughout – although you certainly don’t need to be a mind-reader to understand the real message, which goes on as follows:

To facilitate readiness and the rapid deployment of forces, the first six NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) – which are small headquarters – were inaugurated in Central and Eastern Europe. Two more NFIUs are being set up in Hungary and Slovakia. Headquarters for the Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland and the Multinational Division Southeast in Bucharest, Romania were also established. In addition, a standing joint logistics support group headquarters is being set up.

And whereas Nato (at least in their public documents) are timid when it comes to mentioning the name of their latest (and oldest) enemy, the closely-affiliated think tank Atlantic Council  is altogether brazen:

Firstly, the VJTF’s size does not pose a credible deterrent to Russia, particularly with regard to the Baltic States, which are widely viewed as the flash point for any potential NATO-Russia confrontation. Russia has undertaken massive impromptu military exercises involving up to 100,000 troops along its borders with the Baltic States. It would be difficult for a NATO force of 5,000 to deter Russia from afar. […]

The VJTF should be high on the agenda of the Alliance’s seminal Warsaw Summit in July, and for good reason. Russia has become emboldened by its military forays in Ukraine and Syria. In the unlikely event it sets its sights on NATO territory next, NATO must ensure its spearhead force is sharp enough to respond. 8

Likewise, following a meeting of Nato ministers of defence last February, Nato released this more coded announcement:

“NATO Defence Ministers agreed on an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our Alliance,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. The enhanced forward presence will be “multinational, to make clear that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all Allies, and that the Alliance as a whole will respond,” he stressed. 9 [bold highlight added]

Stoltenberg is thus invocating Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – Nato’s call to arms.

In short then, the “War on Terror” has allowed Nato’s existence to be kept on ice. Ready for when the Cold War could begin again in earnest.

*

Nato and the EU pincer

At last month’s Warsaw summit [on July 8th], Nato issued a official joint declaration with the EU for the first time in its history. The declaration begins:

We believe that the time has come to give new impetus and new substance to the NATO-EU strategic partnership.

Continuing:

Today, the Euro-Atlantic community is facing unprecedented challenges emanating from the South and East. Our citizens demand that we use all ways and means available to address these challenges so as to enhance their security.

Now let us unpick this opening statement. Firstly, notice the fig-leaf of democratic legitimacy. After all, “our citizens” did not get a vote on the actions of the long-standing Nato-EU strategic partnership and we certainly have no say whenever it comes to Nato’s long-standing meddling in “the South and East”.

In fact, contrary to this official statement, “the Euro-Atlantic community” (presuming this uncertain label attaches to the people of Europe and America) has been consistently opposed to the post-9/11 spate of wars. Our only consistent and clear demand having been for a cessation to hostilities. Yet in spite of the wishes of the “Euro-Atlantic” majority, a perpetual “Global War on Terror” is ravaging Central Asia, the Middle East and (though rarely if ever reported upon) many territories in North Africa. This extended warzone – reduced in the Nato-EU lexicon to ‘the East and the South’ – involves multiple interconnected battles which spill over into each other causing incalculable misery to some of the poorest people on earth, and very much to the detriment of our own western security.

We read on:

The substantial cooperation between NATO and the EU, unique and essential partners, established more than 15 years ago, also contributes to this end.

In light of the common challenges we are now confronting, we have to step-up our efforts: we need new ways of working together and a new level of ambition; because our security is interconnected; because together we can mobilize a broad range of tools to respond to the challenges we face; and because we have to make the most efficient use of resources. A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing. Together they can better provide security in Europe and beyond. [bold emphasis added]

This post-Brexit statement signed by Presidents of the European Commission and European Council, Jean-Claude Junker and Donald Tusk, and Secretary General of Nato, Jens Stoltenburg, is all about a deepening collaboration between the two organisations. An arrangement that, amongst other things, will involve “Facilitat[ing] a stronger defence industry and greater defence research and industrial cooperation within Europe and across the Atlantic.”

Is this the same EU that proponents say brings peace in our times?

*

James Baker’s booby trap

For those puzzled by the relationship between Nato and the EU, here are a few vital statistics – encyclopaedic background details. Firstly, the EU and Nato individually comprise 28 member countries. Of these countries, 22 are joint members of both bodies. A club of nations including many that once fell behind the Iron Curtain: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, plus the formerly occupied Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. 10

As Soviet satellites under Moscow’s thumb, these states were once the buffer zone between the USSR and the West. Today there is no buffer.

And here is another piece of the historical geostrategic jigsaw, albeit a forgotten one – at least in the West – that Nato membership of every one of these former Eastern Bloc countries is in contravention to Western promises made shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall; a deal (declared though never formally signed) that if Russia acceded to the reunification of Germany then the old Eastern Bloc would remain non-aligned:

What the US secretary of state [James Baker] said on Feb. 9, 1990 in the magnificent St. Catherine’s Hall at the Kremlin is beyond dispute. There would be, in Baker’s words, “no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east,” provided the Soviets agreed to the NATO membership of a unified Germany. Moscow would think about it, Gorbachev said, but added: “any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.” 11

The West’s double-dealing, though a dusty footnote in the West, is very well-remembered in Russia. The loss of twenty-four million lives during the Second World War (one third of the total fatalities) gives Russians good reason to fear an invasion – especially one from the west – its concerns about Nato’s eastward expansion are perfectly understandable.

*

Encirclement

During the last seven decades of the post-war nuclear age, a fragile peace held out. Just. As much, if not more, by sheer luck than judgement. Indeed, our world very narrowly escaped all-out thermonuclear obliteration on numerous occasions – two of the best known incidents remembered in an earlier post. Here is a more detailed overview titled “Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew” written by Gunnar Westberg and published in Counterpunch.

We did not need hindsight to see that the first Cold War was an era of astonishing madness, but with the aid of hindsight we do know that the madness itself was premised on a wholly non-existent threat of Soviet invasion. The Kremlin had no plans to launch an attack and there never had been a “missile gap” of any kind. Instead, the USSR was mainly preoccupied with quelling dissent amongst its own downtrodden population (or crushing those desperate to flee the occupation of its Eastern Bloc satellites).

Yet, in spite of the lack of an authentic communist threat, the superpowers repeatedly went to the brink of Armageddon, and had it not been for the remarkable courage and cool-headed reason of (at least) two men (both Russians – or, more accurately, Soviets) who held their nerve during moments of extreme crisis, there would be little that remains of our wonderful and shared European heritage besides a few smouldering mounds of rubble.

So what of Russia today? Is it planning to invade the West? Let us consider the evidence as dispassionately as we can.

Eighteen months ago it was widely reported (and believed by most in the West) that Russian battalions and, even more crucially, columns of tanks had begun crossing into Eastern Ukraine. At one point, Poroshenko held up Russian passports as evidence – there were six. 12 The principle claims, however, turned out to be completely bogus, though retraction by our media has been understandably muted. Russia did not invade Ukraine, and there is literally no evidence that it had any intention of doing so. (Crimea was not invaded, and though the territory was annexed following a referendum that was never legally sanctioned, the majority of Crimeans evidently welcomed the return of their territory to Russia – the reason there was no bloodshed.)

It is undeniable that Russia has covertly aided the ‘rebels’ in Eastern Ukraine (or the ‘separatists’ – both labels are propagandistically skewed and there is no absolutely neutral alternative), just as America has provided military assistance to Kiev. However, when the ‘rebels’ held a referendum of their own, the Russians ignored the results. They preferred not to be dragged directly into a war with Kiev. Meanwhile, while some Russians did indeed cross the border to fight, so did many westerners – individuals in fact joined the armed factions on both sides in the conflict.

Perhaps more revealing was Russia’s judicious response when Turkey shot down one of its jet fighters flying close to the Syrian border last winter. Was their jet violating Turkish airspace? The Russians said it didn’t; the Americans said it did – no evidence was ever released to prove the Russians guilty:

Either way, if Russia was wishing to spark a wider war, then what better provocation could The Kremlin find? In refraining from a retaliatory strike, however, Russia was careful to avoid a potential tripwire and an escalation into a full-blown war against a Nato member.

By contrast we have recently seen Nato forces, with the EU’s mutual aid and consent, engaged in one of the largest military exercises since the end of the first Cold War:

For more than 10 days, 30,000 troops backed by large numbers of vehicles, aircraft and ships will be deployed in one of the biggest exercises on NATO’s eastern flank since the end of the Cold War, a move likely to put further strain on the already-tense relations between the Kremlin and the West.

The Anakonda-16 exercise, which includes manoeuvres such as a night-time helicopter assault and the dropping of US paratroopers to build a temporary bridge over the Vistula river, is being held one month before a NATO summit in Warsaw that will approve more troops to be stationed in eastern Europe. 13

Stretched out for 450 miles across the length of Poland, more than 30,000 troops from 24 nations played out war games on Russia’s borders. These forces actually included German tank divisions; the first to move in sight of Russia’s border since 1941. According to The Independent article quoted above, this sent out a “clear message to Russia”.

Is there also a clue in the name of this “clear message” too? After all, an anaconda is a snake, but not just any old snake, the largest snake in the world – and it kills its prey by constriction.

At the same time, Nato formally switched on the first stage of its $800 million state of the art “missile defence” shield in Romania and broke the ground on a sister site in Poland. Ostensibly to protect Europe against Iranian nukes, which are, of course, non-existent, the system is rather blatantly directed against Russia’s security. Understood in terms of the twisted but unavoidable logic of nuclear deterrence, this becomes a far greater provocation than mere tanks rolled up to the Russian border. For if Russia’s deterrent is effectively defused, then, rendered defenceless, Russia is de facto under attack.

Indeed, to better navigate the geopolitical landscape of today, rather than hastily dismissing the Russian outlook as deeply paranoid (as we are encouraged to view it), we might try to step into their shoes for a moment. Suppose, for instance, a potentially hostile power – let’s say China – deployed thousands of troops to Ireland. Would Britain raise any concern? Or suppose China built bases in Mexico… there are none but that doesn’t stop the howls of red scare rumour-mongering. And we do not even need imagine the response were Russia to install its latest “regional missile defence system” in Cuba… Another missile crisis, anyone?

But then, Russia is routinely portrayed as the aggressor by the western media, so now consider these further incontestable facts:

Russia has two bases in the Middle East and a handful in Central Asia. The U.S. has 662 bases around the world and Special Forces (SOF) deployed in between 70 and 90 countries at any moment. Last year SOFs were active in 147 countries. The U.S. is actively engaged in five wars and is considering a sixth in Libya. Russian military spending will fall next year, and the U.S. will out-spend Moscow by a factor of 10. 14

On July 6th Sibel Edmonds’ alternative outlet ‘Newsbud’ broadcast a discussion with Montenegrin author, political activist and university professor, Filip Kovacevic, who had recently authored a piece published by ‘BoilingFrogsPost’  in which he analyses “The Travels of NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg”.

Here Kovacevic explains why he believes Nato’s influence is undergoing serious decline, and the danger this poses of more widespread international conflict:

*

America über alles

The Russian army can outgun British troops on the battlefield, according to a shock Ministry of Defence report.

So begins a flabbergasting article even by Daily Mail standards entitled perhaps even more hilariously “Shock Ministry of Defence report warns Russian forces could defeat us on the battlefield… [blah, blah, blah]”

This same piece continues:

The leaked assessment warns that rocket launchers and other weapons at Moscow’s disposal were superior to ours – while its mastery of electronic warfare technology was ‘game changing’. 15

Well, I say “blah, blah, blah” although the headline actually reads “… as Theresa May bids to thaw relations with Vladimir Putin”.

If true, then surely that represents a move to the good? Or is the Daily Mail and the MOD proposing that Britain might one day wish to test its relative might on the battlefield against Russia?

The peace we have enjoyed in Europe is becoming extremely fragile again. Outside Europe, after two decades of sustained neo-imperialist adventuring, we have destroyed lives and devastated ancient civilisations, spreading only chaos and pandemonium. The havoc we have wrecked is certainly coming back to haunt us, both directly and indirectly. But far more dangerous to the West is the immediate threat we pose to Russia. If Russia fights back, then everything is lost.

To prevent the unthinkable, there has to be a rollback. Our perpetual meddling in “the South and East” is already generating a crisis close to Russia’s borders. If this meddling moves along to Iran (as is being mooted again), then Russia will be directly drawn into conflict against the West.

Equally pressing, however, is the requirement to normalise diplomatic relations with Russia. Sanctions historically are a precursor to war, but surely even the biggest warmongers cannot seriously contemplate war with Russia. So why inflict such counterproductive damage on our own European economies when this tactic of isolation achieves nothing except to serve the vested interests of neo-cons in Washington? There has to be rapprochement with Russia.

With relations between Russia and Europe (or, better still, the West) restored, the resolution of many conflicts and international disputes becomes foreseeable again. It also becomes possible to end the overwhelmingly dire threat of thermonuclear exchange, accidental or otherwise. Such a genuine commitment to multilateral disarmament could and should have happened long ago – shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the official ending of Cold War hostilities. Instead, as we know, Nato and the West opportunistically pressed eastward.

Nato was inaugurated to confront a perceived communist threat – a threat, largely imagined, that has since been vanquished altogether. In light of this irreversible change in international relations, Nato’s dissolution ought thereafter to become a final peacetime objective. For what function does Nato serve in any truly post-Cold War world? To ensure its own survival it will always look for enemies elsewhere.

In an extended piece recently published in The Atlantic arguing the case for Nato, former Fulbright Professor of Political Science at Moscow State University and ardent globalist, Ira Straus, writes candidly that:

The main, but unstated, reason the U.S. has troops in Europe nowadays is not for the defense of Europe but because it is a cheaper, more convenient location for getting to the Mideast than the continental U.S. It costs us more, not less, when we keep all our troops at home.

We have an irrationally small number of troops in Europe today (64,000). It would be cheaper for us if we put three times as many of our troops in Europe.

Under the heading “The [American] people support NATO as a plus for American power, and they’re right”, Straus continues:

Most people have the common sense to support their own society and their own power. NATO is the greatest extension that America has in the world. It is a kind of Greater America (and so is its informal additional wing in the Pacific). Trump likes American greatness and building big. This is the place for it.

The Alliance is what has preserved America’s greatness no matter how weak or incompetent its leaders. 16

So yes, Nato is “a kind of Greater America” although in reality they operate together as a sort of ‘good cop, bad cop’ team. America lost its reputation long ago and is less squeamish about getting its hands bloodied. Nato generally turns up afterwards and mops up.

Meanwhile, the more soft-spoken but firm Atlanticist alliance between Nato and the EU, with neighbouring HQs in Brussels and joined-at-the-hip foreign policy agendas (EU foreign policy is totally reliant on Nato), has also been instrumental in expanding post-9/11 Western influence militarily into Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, throughout many other regions of North Africa, into Syria, and within Ukraine. And whatever the EU may have dreamed of becoming — no matter how many Nobel Peace Prizes it receives! — it is no longer tenable to claim that it is in the business of making peace.

Ties between the EU and Nato ought now to be loosened rather than strengthened, as is actually happening. Last month’s joint statement supplying further proof, if any were needed, that the EU is really just a different arm of our aggressively expanding military-industrial complex:

A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing.

Is this the Europe we were hoping to build?

*

 Additional:

Afshin Rattansi spoke with John Pilger in an extended interview broadcast on RT’s Going Underground on August 31st. The subjects covered included the last days of the Obama presidency, the race between Sanders, Clinton and Trump, and the looming threat of global conflict. Pilger says:

“The United States is in a frenzy of preparation for conflict of some kind. And conflict of some kind can lead to war of the real kind – against China and against Russia – on two fronts. The greatest build-up of forces since the Second World War has happened in Eastern Europe and in the Balkan states.” [from 9:00 mins]

“The full American so-called “interest” has gone to a country [Ukraine] that means ‘borderland’ and through which the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the early 1940s at the cost of something like 27 million lives. Imagine – and this is something that we’re not allowed to imagine – imagine the equivalent in the United States. The border with Mexico. The border with Canada. Well, we can imagine it because it happened when the Russians unwisely put missiles into Cuba, and we almost had then World War III.

“But I think what is striking in a country like the United States which has constitutionally the freest media in the world. These war preparations against Russia and against China have not been mentioned. A great silence covers them.

“When China is mentioned it’s about its aggressive moves in the South China Sea. It’s very interesting to see how the American public is being primed to accept so-called “aggressive moves” by China when in fact they are clearly defensive moves. The United States has something like 400 major bases encircling China like a great noose. Well, actually it’s an arc: it starts in Australia, it goes all the way through Asia – the Philippines (where they’re back – were thrown out a few years ago, but they’re back now), Thailand, Japan and Korea.

Looking straight at Shanghai is Okinawa. Okinawa has 32 American military installations. Japan has 130 in all. Okinawa is interesting – it’s about the size of Long Island. If you imagine Long Island as a Chinese base looking straight at New York, that’s the equivalent. [from 10.50 mins]

*

1 From a 2003 British government white paper entitled “Delivering Security in a Changing World”, Ch3, p. 11. http://archives.livreblancdefenseetsecurite.gouv.fr/2008/…/whitepaper2003.pdf  

2 From an article entitled “Jens Stoltenberg: NATO troop deployment right response to aggressive Russia”, written by Hanne Cokelaere, published in Politico.eu on June 6, 2016. http://www.politico.eu/article/jens-stoltenberg-nato-troop-deployment-right-response-to-aggressive-russia/ 

3

THE HAGUE, Feb. 26 — The International Court of Justice on Monday for the first time called the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 an act of genocide, but determined that Serbia itself was not guilty of the enormous crime.

Nonetheless, it faulted Serbia, saying it “could and should” have prevented the genocide and, in its aftermath, should have punished the Bosnian Serbs who systematically killed close to 8,000 men and boys in July 1995.

The ruling resulted from a civil lawsuit Bosnia had brought against Serbia, the first in which one country sued another for genocide. […]

The ruling appeared to give some satisfaction — and frustration — to both sides. It freed Serbia of the stigma of being a genocidal nation and absolved it from having to pay war reparations, as demanded by Bosnia.

At the same time, Bosnia obtained what it said it wanted from the outset: a recognition of Serbia’s guilt.

From an article entitled “Court Declares Bosnia Killings Were Genocide” written by Marlise Simons, published in The New York Times on February 27, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/27/world/europe/27hague.html?ref=world&_r=0

4

Slobodan Milosevic was posthumously exonerated on Monday when the international court of justice ruled that Serbia was not responsible for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. The former president of Serbia had always argued that neither Yugoslavia nor Serbia had command of the Bosnian Serb army, and this has now been upheld by the world court in The Hague. By implication, Serbia cannot be held responsible for any other war crimes attributed to the Bosnian Serbs.

The allegations against Milosevic over Bosnia and Croatia were cooked up in 2001, two years after an earlier indictment had been issued against him by the separate international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the height of Nato’s attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. Notwithstanding the atrocities on all sides in Kosovo, Nato claims that Serbia was pursuing genocide turned out to be war propaganda, so the ICTY prosecutor decided to bolster a weak case by trying to “get” Milosevic for Bosnia as well. It took two years and 300 witnesses, but the prosecution never managed to produce conclusive evidence against its star defendant, and its central case has now been conclusively blown out of the water.

From an article entitled “Lies of the vigilantes” written by John Laughland, published in the Guardian on February 28, 2007. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/feb/28/warcrimes.balkans

5 From an article entitled “Provoking nuclear war by media” written by John Pilger, published on August 23, 2016. http://johnpilger.com/articles/provoking-nuclear-war-by-media

6 From an article entitled “Nato turns to terrorism fight” published in BBC news on October 18, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3201578.stm

7 http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_119353.htm

8 From an article entitled “It’s Time to Sharpen NATO’s ‘Spearhead’ Force” written by Robbie Gramer, published by the Atlantic Council on March 21, 2016. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/it-s-time-to-sharpen-nato-s-spearhead-force

9 From an article entitled “NATO boosts its defence and deterrence posture” published by Nato on its official website on February 10, 2016. http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_127834.htm

10 28 NATO member countries: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.

28 EU member countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom.

11

Of course there was a promise not to expand NATO “as much as a thumb’s width further to the East,” Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president at the time, says in Moscow today. However, Gorbachev’s former foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, speaking in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, says that there were no such assurances from the West. Even the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the Eastern military alliance, “was beyond our imagination,” he says.

For years former US Secretary of State James Baker, Shevardnadze’s American counterpart in 1990, has denied that there was any agreement between the two sides. But Jack Matlock, the US ambassador in Moscow at the time, has said in the past that Moscow was given a “clear commitment.” Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister in 1990, says this was precisely not the case.

After speaking with many of those involved and examining previously classified British and German documents in detail, SPIEGEL has concluded that there was no doubt that the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that NATO membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia.

From an article entitled “NATO’s Eastward Expansion: Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?” written by Uwe Klussman, Matthias Schepp and Klaus Wiegrefe, published in Der Spiegel on November 26, 2009. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nato-s-eastward-expansion-did-the-west-break-its-promise-to-moscow-a-663315.html

12 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-31206434

13 From an article entitled “NATO allies launch largest military exercise since end of Cold War in clear message to Russia” written by Wiktor Szary, published in The independent on June 6, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/anakonda-16-nato-allies-launch-largest-military-exercise-since-end-of-cold-war-in-poland-in-clear-a7068141.html

14 From an article entitled “Baiting the bear: Russia and Nato” written by Conn Hallinan, published in Counterpunch on May 4, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/04/baiting-the-bear-russia-and-nato/

15 From an article entitled “Shock Ministry of Defense report warns Russian forces could defeat us on the battlefield as Theresa May bids to thaw relations with Vladimir Putin” written by James Tapsfield, published by the Daily Mail on August 10, 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3732828/Russian-forces-defeat-battlefield-shock-Ministry-Defence-report-warns.html

16 From an article entitled “Is America Getting a Bargain With NATO?” written by Nicholas Clairmont, published in The Atlantic on August 23, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/08/natos-a-deal/496952/  

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, Bosnia-Herzegovina, China, did you see?, Europe, John Pilger, Kosovo, Noam Chomsky, Russia, Serbia, USA

Jonathan Cook on “Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind”

I do not ordinarily reprint articles in full, but have decided to break with normal policy to promote Jonathan Cook’s exceptionally important article. Cook understands and brilliantly dissects the febrile atmosphere after Brexit and urges a way forward.

*

The enraged liberal reaction to the Brexit vote is in full flood. The anger is pathological – and helps to shed light on why a majority of Britons voted for leaving the European Union, just as earlier a majority of Labour party members voted for Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

A few years ago the American writer Chris Hedges wrote a book he titled the Death of the Liberal Class. His argument was not so much that liberals had disappeared, but that they had become so coopted by the right wing and its goals – from the subversion of progressive economic and social ideals by neoliberalism, to the enthusiastic embrace of neoconservative doctrine in prosecuting aggressive and expansionist wars overseas in the guise of “humanitarian intervention” – that liberalism had been hollowed out of all substance.

Liberal pundits sensitively agonise over, but invariably end up backing, policies designed to benefit the bankers and arms manufacturers, and ones that wreak havoc domestically and abroad. They are the “useful idiots” of modern western societies.

The liberal British media is current awash with articles by pundits on the Brexit vote I could select to illustrate my point, but this one by Guardian columnist Zoe Williams, I think, isolates this liberal pathology in all its sordid glory.

Here is a revealing section, written by a mind so befuddled by decades of neoliberal orthodoxy that it has lost all sense of the values it claims to espouse:

“There is a reason why, when Marine le Pen and Donald Trump congratulated us on our decision, it was like being punched in the face – because they are racists, authoritarian, small-minded and backward-looking. They embody the energy of hatred. The principles that underpin internationalism – cooperation, solidarity, unity, empathy, openness – these are all just elements of love.”

A love-filled EU?

One wonders where in the corridors of the EU bureaucracy Williams identifies that “love” she so admires. Did she see it when the Greeks were being crushed into submission after they rebelled against austerity policies that were themselves a legacy of European economic policies that had required Greece to sell off the last of its family silver?

Is she enamoured of this internationalism when the World Bank and IMF go into Africa and force developing nations into debt-slavery, typically after a dictator has trashed the country decades after being installed and propped up with arms and military advisers from the US and European nations?

What about the love-filled internationalism of NATO, which has relied on the EU to help spread its military tentacles across Europe close to the throat of the Russian bear? Is that the kind of cooperation, solidarity and unity she was thinking of?

Williams then does what a lot of British liberals are doing at the moment. She subtly calls for subversion of the democratic will:

“The anger of the progressive remain side, however, has somewhere to go: always suckers for optimism, we now have the impetus to put aside ambiguity in the service of clarity, put aside differences in the service of creativity. Out of embarrassment or ironic detachment, we’ve backed away from this fight for too long.”

That includes seeking the ousting of Jeremy Corbyn, of course. “Progressive” Remainers, it seems, have had enough of him. His crime is that he hails from “leftwing aristocracy” – his parents were lefties too, apparently, and even had such strong internationalist principles that they first met in a committee on the Spanish civil war.

But Corbyn’s greater crime, according to Williams, is that “he is not in favour of the EU”. It would be too much trouble for her to try and untangle the knotty problem of how a supreme internationalist like Corbyn, or Tony Benn before him, could be so against the love-filled EU. So she doesn’t bother.

Reversing the democratic will

We will never know from Williams how a leader who supports oppressed and under-privileged people around the world is cut from the same cloth as racists like Le Pen and Trump. That would require the kind of “agile thinking” she accuses Corbyn of being incapable of. It might hint that there is a leftwing case quite separate from the racist one – even if Corbyn was not allowed by his party to advocate it – for abandoning the EU. (You can read my arguments for Brexit here and here.)

But no, Williams assures us, Labour needs someone with much more recent leftwing heritage, someone who can tailor his or her sails to the prevailing winds of orthodoxy. And what’s even better, there is a Labour party stuffed full of Blairites to choose from. After all, their international credentials have been proven repeatedly, including in the killing fields of Iraq and Libya.

And here, wrapped into a single paragraph, is a golden nugget of liberal pathology from Williams. Her furious liberal plea is to rip up the foundations of democracy: get rid of the democratically elected Corbyn and find a way, any way, to block the wrong referendum outcome. No love, solidarity, unity or empathy for those who betrayed her and her class.

“There hasn’t been a more fertile time for a Labour leader since the 1990s. The case for a snap general election, already strong, will only intensify over the coming weeks. As the sheer mendacity of the leave argument becomes clear – it never intended to curb immigration, there will be no extra money for the NHS, there was no plan for making up EU spending in deprived areas – there will be a powerful argument for framing the general election as a rematch. Not another referendum, but a brake on article 50 and the next move determined by the new government. If you still want to leave the EU, vote Conservative. If you’ve realised or knew already what an act of vandalism that was, vote Labour.”

A coup in the making

Williams and the rest of the media, of course, are not making these arguments in a vacuum. Much of the Labour shadow cabinet has just resigned and the rest of the parliamentary party are trying to defy the overwhelming democratic will of their membership and oust Corbyn. His crime is not that he supported Brexit (he didn’t dare, given the inevitable reaction of his MPs) but that he is not a true believer in the current neoliberal order, which very much includes the EU.

Here is what one of the organisers (probably a shadow cabinet minister) of this coup-in-the-making says:

“The plan is to make Corbyn’s job as leader extremely difficult in the hope of pushing him to resign, with most MPs refusing to serve as shadow ministers, show up on the frontbench in the House of Commons, support him at PMQs or formulate policy under his leadership.”

This was presumably said with a straight face, as though Corbyn has not been undermined by these same Blairite MPs since day one of his leadership. This is not a new campaign – it has simply been forced to go more public by the Brexit vote.

Labour MPs do not just want to oust a leader with massive support among party members. They have hamstrung him from the outset so that he could not lead the political revolution members elected him to begin. And now he is being made to pay the price because he privately backs a position that, as the referendum has just shown, has majority support.

The neoliberal prison

The Brexit vote is a huge challenge to the left to face facts. We want to believe we are free but the truth is that we have long been in a prison called neoliberalism. The Conservative and Labour parties are tied umbilically to this neoliberal order. The EU is one key institution in a transnational neoliberal club. Our economy is structured to enforce neoliberalism whoever ostensibly runs the country.

That is why the debate about Brexit was never about values or principles – it was about money. It still is. The Remainers are talking only about the threat to their pensions. The Brexiters are talking only about the role of immigrants in driving down wages. And there is good reason: because the EU is part of the walls of the economic prison that has been constructed all around us. Our lives are now only about money, as the gargantuan bail-outs of the too-big-to-fail banks should have shown us.

There is a key difference between the two sides. Most Remainers want to pretend that the prison does not exist because they still get privileges to visit the living areas. The Brexiters cannot forget it exists because they are never allowed to leave their small cells.

The left cannot call itself a left and keep whingeing about its lost privileges while denouncing those trapped inside their cells as “racists”. Change requires that we first recognise our situation – and then have the will to struggle for something better.

*

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

Click here to read the same article published by Counterpunch.

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, neo-liberalism