Tag Archives: Margaret Thatcher

this is the EU — so take it or leave it… #8. last call for Brexit

As an organisation ruled by 27 commissioners and with a wholly unhealthy and undemocratic nature riddled with corruption – and for 19 years not been able to produce untainted accounts – if it were a candidate state it would not be allowed to join itself. 1

– Nigel Griffiths, Scottish Organiser of Labour Leave and former Labour MP

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Today we decide on whether Britain will remain or leave the European Union – the likelihood is that we will remain. In one year, two years, ten years, after the campaign circuses have long since departed, the decision we make will continue to reverberate. I stress this point because I sense that we – the collective we – have basically lost sight of it.

The test today ought to have been a more or less straightforward one, if still complex. A decision based upon matters relating solely to Britain’s membership of the European Union: the pros and cons of the institutions comprising the EU per se, and issues directly related to Britain’s future prospects inside or outside of it. Issues I have been attempting to pursue throughout this brief sequence of articles, of which this will certainly be the last installment and very probably the least restrained (apologies in advance).

Friends have said to me that the vote today is really just a choice between David Cameron and Boris Johnson – ergo no choice at all. This is superficially valid, but wrong in all other regards. Doubtless a vote to leave will fatally injury Cameron, and boost Johnson to some extent, but Cameron is stepping down before the next election regardless of this result, and Boris is likely to remain the prime candidate to lead the Tories whatever the referendum outcome. To maximise Tory damage, I very strongly advise voting ‘leave’, but this is equally beside the point – hurting the Tories is certainly a jolly sport, but the relevant issue here is Britain’s EU membership: do we want to stay or not? It is extremely unwise to make long-term decisions purely on the basis of short-term gains.

Other considerations that are totally wide of the mark include voting for the nicer team or the lesser evil. Nigel Farage is obnoxious and abominable, as is Tony Blair (who is solidly ‘remain’ of course), but only one is as yet responsible for the deaths of a million innocent people.

Nor should we be swayed by the opinions of a (lame duck) US President or the very lovely Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel. Or tempted to vote on the merits, demerits or the principles (if we can find any) of the various ‘remain’ or the ‘leave’ campaigns – of which there were at least five separate variants (two each for the Tories and Labour and another for UKIP). 2 The campaigns are ephemeral. They truthfully added nothing of real substance to an already overheated and rushed debate. Better not to get too drawn by the distraction and miss the genuine importance of the actual vote.

Finally, today’s vote will not open up the possibility of Scotland getting another shot at “independence” (from England and not the EU, obviously). This is another chimera and another distraction. Likewise, in the event of a vote for Brexit, the process of reunifying the divided halves of Ireland will not begin in earnest. If reunification does happen then it will take extended negotiations and a long-term political settlement – Brexit changes very little in this regard.

In short, this truly is a single issue vote: are we better off living inside or outside the EU? Two issues at most, if we add: is the rest of the EU better off with or without the UK, which is a moot point. I believe they are better off without us too.

Brexit does indeed involve a leap in the dark for everyone – people in Britain and elsewhere in the EU.  But do we seriously need to remain as a member of the European Union to protect civil liberties (damaged as they are), or to secure workers’ rights (weak as they have become), or even to protect the environment (which TTIP will render impossible)?

Doubtless the Tories are ready to take advantage of the referendum outcome whatever we choose, and if we do decide to leave, then trade unions in particular should be prepared to (temporarily at least) batten down the hatches. Overall, however, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t because what the EU has on the cards under the guise of “free trade deals” like TTIP (the most infamous but far from the only treaty of this kind) can bring untold damage by means of short-circuiting environmental regulations and the further trampling civil liberties and in ways the Tories could only dare to dream.

And whereas the left is generally galvanised by the cause of fighting a grotesque excrescence like TTIP, an embarrassed silence descends whenever it comes to matters surrounding that another EU “free trade” policy of open borders. In common with ‘downsizing’ and ‘offshoring’ (those widely-criticised globalist strategies that first undermined the West’s industrial labour force), there can be no real dispute that the laissez-faire approach to immigration has likewise driven down salaries for the lowest-paid workers in our wealthier nations, and, that weakening their bargaining position has had a detrimental effect on labour rights. For perfectly understandable reasons, many of the left feel queasy about discussing this issue, but in avoiding it they are also failing the very people they ought to be supporting.

Certainly there is a case to be made for pointing out how the real problem is not “the vast reserve army of low wage labour” but an unfettered capitalist framework that is dependent upon exploiting it (as argued here). However, so long as we are in thrall to “free market” capitalism then the real consequences of any social arrangement must be judged within its strictures. To the capitalist, open borders means cheap labour. Or, as Stephen King, chief economist at HSBC, and Janet Henry, HSBC’s global economist, put it in a research note:

“Globalisation isn’t just a story about a rising number of export markets for western producers. Rather, it’s a story about massive waves of income redistribution, from rich labour to poor labour, from labour as a whole to capital, from workers to consumers and from energy users towards energy producers. This is a story about winners and losers, not a fable about economic growth.” 3 [bold highlight added]

That globalisation has been all about “income redistribution” and “a story of winners and losers” is the hard truth that some on the left – especially amongst social democrats – have tremendous difficulty accepting. Being good internationalists has blinded them to the obvious.

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So here is a list of words to aptly sum up what the ‘left leave’ campaign should have been focussing attention during the last few months: corporatism, neo-liberalism, the so-called “free market”, economic “shock therapy”, and (never forgetting) globalisation. The future of the EU is bleak, the left should have been honestly admitting, and unless there is some process of radical reform, we may soon be unable to reverse the direction we are heading.

For thanks to the EU, the southern states of Europe are about to be driven over an economic cliff and back into a new dark age. Also thanks to the EU, there are many thousands of displaced people abandoned in the squalid and unsanitary camps across the continent. Thanks to the EU, some of these refugees are shipped back across seas they first crossed in overcrowded dinghies only to be returned again to more squalid and dangerous camps they had escaped in Turkey. And meanwhile, thanks to the EU’s very close strategic partner, Nato, Eastern Europe has just hosted Anakonda-16, the largest scale war game since the end of the Cold War – an exercise that actually included tank divisions from Germany moving again within shooting range of Russia’s border. Evidently, the EU is not bringing peace, prosperity and security to Europe – and this outlandish but repeated claim is the biggest distraction of all.

Some, like Varoufakis and Left Unity, say we need to hold together and work within the system to change the EU – which is a distinctly non-revolutionary path, but then Yanis is no revolutionary (as we know). Only by holding the hand of the monster can we hope to correct its bad behaviour, or so the same argument goes, concluding that failure to do so will inevitably result in outright collapse and a return to squabbling national states, which soon afterwards will succumb to a rising right-wing. Legitimate concerns and serious ones, of course, but to little avail when there is no proposed alternative other than the encouragement to hold on more tightly to an admittedly abusive partner.

The ‘left remain’ campaigns of DiEM25 (led by Varoufakis), Another Europe is Possible, Left Unity and the plethora of related organisations (including Avaaz – who never stop sending me reminders of how terrible Brexit would be) are founded on capitulation and acquiescence, while presenting themselves as brimming with hope – well, let me say this: power concedes nothing without a demand, so where is our demand… just a single tiny demand… is there one? How then are we to reform the distant and thoroughly bankrupt institutions of the EU when, underwritten by the treaties on which it became established, all (with the exception of the largely impotent European Parliament) are beyond democratic reach and control and irreconcilably so? Varoufakis et al offer no strategy or programme; not even the faintest whiff of a way forward.

The risks are huge either way to be fair, but I am willing to take the leap into the dark (it is dark in both directions) because we have to try to force a change. I appreciate that a great number who back the campaign to leave are indeed “swivel-eyed” nationalists or worse, but there are countless others – generally less vocal others – who loathe the EU for all the right reasons. This number includes many remnants of the traditional left – the left of Tony Benn and also Jeremy Corbyn (had he been allowed to speak more freely).

Corbyn has evidently been persuaded to toe the line to quell the ongoing war within the Labour Party. His position is therefore the politically expedient one and I reluctantly support his decision – were he to nail his colours to Brexit he would be betting his leadership on a referendum victory. The risks were perhaps too great.

However, the sorry truth is that reform of the EU is tantamount to impossible – as we shall gradually realise if we do vote to remain. It is impossible because the treaties are binding.

On the other hand, a vote for Brexit almost certainly signals the beginning of the end of the European Union as it currently stands. With Britain out of the way, the rest of the EU will be forced either to rearrange it for the better without us (our influence has been a terrible one in any case) or to dissolve (a quite probable outcome). A more genuinely humane international union might then re-emerge, for the principle of European cooperation is certainly a vital one. Unfortunately, however, the EU is now bringing about European disintegration instead.

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“I look forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a Council Chamber in Europe.” – Kenneth Clarke 

I have previously made the case against independence movements on the grounds that such a move weakens us. However, leaving the EU is not Balkanisation in this sense because the nation state remains intact. In fact, the EU itself is secretly pushing the people of Europe towards a form of Balkanisation by means of expanding technocratic control with an overarching authority in Brussels whilst increasing regionalisation beneath it.

A keyword here is subsidiarity, which is the EU’s given justification for a sustained drive towards localisation. It is the EU’s initiative for supposed “decentralisation” and one that helps to explain why Scotland, Wales and other parts of the UK have been granted regional assemblies and parliaments often in spite of relatively low public interest – this is also another part of Tony Blair’s legacy too. If this trend continues then we can eventually expect to have assemblies for Cornwall, Yorkshire, etc. Ultimately the tiny regions will make up the rump states of a fully federalised Europe.

The word you won’t probably hear, on the other hand, is mediatisation, which was a strategy during feudal times of constructing an intervening layer of authority between the lord and his vassals. For as our national parliaments are slowly hollowed out, more and more powers will be passed either upwards to the Commission (for executive and legislative powers) or downwards (in the case of more trivial day-to-day concerns) to the new regional assemblies. Then, as the old nation states are stripped of autonomy, smaller regions something akin to city states can arise to replace them. This envisaged globalised future is indeed foreshadowed by the “Global Parliament of Mayors”:

The Global Parliament of Mayors is an unprecedented new experiment in democratic global governance platform by, for, and of cities. Mayors from cities large and small, North and South, developed and emerging, will convene in September 2016 to identify and pursue in common the public goods of citizens around the world. For the first time, building on extant urban networks, the GPM will deploy collective urban political power manifesting the right of cities to govern themselves, as well as the responsibility to enact viable, cross-border solutions to global challenges.

In this era of interdependence, where nation states are increasingly dysfunctional and cities are everywhere rising, the moment has come for cities to take the leap from effective local governance to true global governance. 4

From the mission statement of the forthcoming Global Parliament of Mayors which convenes in September.

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Additional: Final thoughts and an open letter

Criticism of the European Union – so-called ‘euroscepticism’ (a stupid term since it implies equivocation, but we must use it anyway) – has today become the preserve and the preoccupation of those on the political right and especially the kinds of political dinosaur Americans fittingly classify as ‘paleoconservatives’. And though, it is an exaggeration to say that leftist resistance to the “European project” is extinct, it is not a tremendous one.

Three decades ago, however, criticism of “Europe” was customarily associated with the political left. The true socialists of old Labour who had so fiercely opposed Britain’s bid for membership of the free trade area known as the EEC, thereafter remained in staunch opposition to the stealthy transfer of political and economic powers to technocrats inside the European Commission. More recently, however, as the old guard has (to an extent quite literally) died away, left-wing ‘euroscepticism’ has undergone a more substantial decline – a trend commensurate with the general shift rightwards in mainstream politics. This is not a coincidence.

The cause of this reversal of the political poles can be quite easily traced back – as with so many political transitions, the transformation began under Thatcher. Desperate to find an exit route, it was during the Thatcher years that leftists of all shades finally rushed blindly towards the welcoming arms of Brussels, forgetting as they did so that Thatcher had already beat them to it – that neo-liberalism was always at the heart of the “European project”:

The decade of Thatcherism that also sidelined democratic socialists like Tony Benn, Peter Shore and Michael Foot and dumped the true left into the wilderness, thereby freed up the political space the left had vacated. Space that was promptly reoccupied by the new social democrats – those fresh-faced adherents of a “Third Way”, who tricked themselves and their followers into imagining that social justice and equality could be achievable by gently softening the edges of our rapacious capitalist system. Thatcher’s other legacy was New Labour itself.

Advocates of this Third Way, now comparatively comfortable with business as usual, found great affinity with the “European project” too; far more so than either the socialists they had usurped or the traditional conservatives who once opposed them. In fact, the entire “centrist” political mainstream of today is resolutely aligned on the question of the European Union, just as it is on all other issues of relevance. But then today’s centre is actually a political extreme – it is Thatcherism-plus, albeit in disguise (we might say in drag!) – which is also the real cause of growing public outrage against the political mainstream.

Win or lose the referendum tonight, the fight goes on. For whether we remain or leave, the forces of oppression will try to press ahead and take advantage of the outcome. The important point is organise our collective action and to constantly speak truth to power – if we are still in Europe next week then, those who oppose its anti-democratic institutions must continue to speak loudly against them. Most crucially, we must not permit the justified resentment of the people of Europe to be misrepresented, stifled, or worst of all, channeled into violent hatred against minorities with the rise of far-right extremism.

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The miserable farce of David Cameron’s “renegotiation” of Britain’s membership of the EU has only served to underline the regressive and undemocratic nature of that institution (Report, 16 February). We know from extreme austerity enforced on the people of Greece that the union is not only undemocratic in itself but also anti-democratic in the profound sense that its institutions will not allow the democratically expressed view of the majority of people to stand if it runs counter to the free market project.

The EU is irreversibly committed to privatisation, welfare cuts, low wages and the erosion of trade union rights. This is why the dominant forces of British capitalism and the majority of the political elite are in favour of staying in the EU. The EU is irrevocably committed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and other new trade deals, which represent the greatest transfer of power to capital that we have seen in a generation.

Claims that the free movement of labour within the EU is a barrier to xenophobia are false. But without labour rights and an alternative to austerity, migrants will be prey to hostile xenophobic forces with or without the Schengen agreement. And, even more seriously, “Fortress Europe” ensures that those outside the EU cartel of nations are subject to vicious discrimination if they are lucky, and drowning in the Mediterranean if they are not.

We stand for a positive vision of a future Europe based on democracy, social justice and ecological sustainability, not the profit-making interests of a tiny elite. For these reasons we are committed to pressing for a vote to leave the EU in the forthcoming referendum on UK membership.
Mick Cash
General secretary, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers
Ian Hodgson
President, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union
Tariq Ali
Writer and broadcaster
John Hilary
Executive director, War on Want
Prof Mary Davis
TUC women’s gold badge winner
Aaron Bastani
Co-founder, Novara Media
Robert Griffiths
General secretary, Communist party
Lindsey German
Writer and anti-war campaigner
Joginder Bains
National general secretary, Indian Workers Association – GB
Alex Gordon
Former president, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers
Liz Payne
Chair, Communist party
John Rees
Counterfire
John Foster
International secretary, Communist party
Dave Randall
Musician and writer
Graham Stevenson
Former president, European Transport Workers Federation
Bill Greenshields
Past president, National Union of Teachers
Doug Nicholls
Chair, Trades Unionists Against the EU
Fawzi Ibrahim
Former treasurer and national executive member, University & College Lecturers’ Union
Robert Wilkinson
Former national executive, National Union of Teachers
Hank Roberts
Past national president, Association of Teachers and Lecturers
John Stevenson
GMB (personal capacity)
Reuban Bard Rosenberg
Musician
Manuel Bueno Del Carpio
Unison, Sandwell general branch
Dyal Bagri
National president, Indian Workers Association – GB
Harsev Bains
Secretary, Association of Indian Communists – GB
Ben Chacko
Editor, Morning Star
Jim McDaid
Socialist Labour party Scotland and Chair, Irvine & North Ayrshire TUC
Vince Mills
Labour Leave

Letter published in the Guardian on February 17th5

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Cited as recorded in the International Currency Review, Vol. 23, No. 4, Autumn 1996

1 From an article entitled “The EU couldn’t join the EU if it was a state” written by Nigel Griffiths published by fudgeoff.eu http://www.fudgeoff.eu/articles/2016/2/3/the-eu-couldnt-join-the-eu-if-it-was-a-state

2 The ‘remain’ campaign is more strictly speaking two parallel campaigns running in opposite directions. One says that Britain should stay in Europe for reasons of business and security (that’s Tory remain) and then people like Left Unity say we should stay to protect workers’ rights, the environment, and also help migrants. I regard both arguments as dishonest and deeply flawed although since the EU is run primarily in the interests of big business, the Tory remain argument is a tad more truthful.

3 Quoted in an article entitled “Profits of doom” written by Richard Tomkins, published in the Financial Times on October 14, 2006. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e12828ac-5b20-11db-8f80-0000779e2340.html#axzz4293Cyt1k

4 From the Global Parliament of Mayors Project (GPM) mission statement. http://www.globalparliamentofmayors.org/home/4589660128

5 A letter published in the Guardian under the headline “EU is now profoundly anti-democratic institution” on February 17, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/17/eu-is-now-a-profoundly-anti-democratic-institution

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the rise of UKIP calls for new strategies from the left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following is NOT taken from UKIP’s manifesto:

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

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

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

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

Yes, not everyone who opposes the EU is automatically against international cooperation. Nor is everyone who opposes the open border Schengen Agreement a rabid nationalist.5

In any case, internationalism, as CAEF correctly point out, is quite different to European federalism. Internationalism involves the strengthening ties between sovereign nations, rather than the more aggressive dissolving away of borders between them. And European federalism further undermines the independence of the people of those nations (its member states) by passing executive powers that were held by democratically elected governments into the technocratic hands of an appointed commission.6 The EU – as it exists, rather than how we might like it to be – better understood, not as a grand project for furthering international cooperation, but as one of the vital organs of a fully globalised world.

CAEF write:

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

And hear, hear to that!

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Final thoughts on Clegg v. Farage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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some things just are black and white

When Nelson Mandela died on December 5th, throughout the world people mourned the loss of a peacemaker and great statesman. The Telegraph, of all newspapers, immediately announced the release of a seven-part biography “of Mandela’s tempestuous life, filled with hardship and struggle and crowned by a singular triumph” under a strapline that read:

Nelson Mandela, who has died aged 95, was the architect of South Africa’s transformation from racial despotism to liberal democracy, saving his country from civil war and becoming its first black president.1

There had been a time, of course, and not so long ago, when organs of the British establishment such as the Daily Telegraph were in the habit of branding Mandela not merely a communist but a terrorist too. Indeed, as an article in the Washington Post points out, until astonishingly recently the United States had quietly maintained its position that Mandela was persona non grata:

But with all the accolades being thrown around, it’s easy to forget that the U.S., in particular, hasn’t always had such a friendly relationship with Mandela – and that in fact, as late as 2008, the Nobel Prize winner and former president was still on the U.S. terrorism watch list.2

But suddenly, with world leaders, assorted celebrities, demi-celebrities (Richard Branson springs to mind) and even the media itself jostling to bathe in Mandela’s reflected glory, the bigger historical picture was being brushed aside and overwritten. An excellent article written by Chris McGreal (this time in the Observer) offered a better perspective:

Listening to the leaders of the free world compete to extol South Africa’s first democratically elected president, there is a striking absence of acknowledgement not only of how little their countries did to get him out of prison but how much they supported the regime that kept him locked up for 27 years. No mention from David Cameron of Margaret Thatcher’s vigorous opposition to sanctions against the white regime and her deriding of Mandela’s supporters as “living in cloud cuckoo land” for believing he might one day lead South Africa. No acknowledgement from Barack Obama of Ronald Reagan’s trumpeting of the Afrikaner-led government as a beacon of democracy in Africa while he consigned Mandela and the African National Congress to the terrorism list.

With Mandela’s parting, it is rather easy to make comparisons to Gandhi. ‘Father’ to their respective nations, both had thrown off the yoke of oppressive regimes, and once in power, had pressed for reforms that would be inclusive, reconciliatory and democratic. That said, where Gandhi’s methods for overthrowing British rule had been strictly non-violent, Mandela’s resistance ultimately was not. Inspired in part by the writings of Gandhi, but also by Che Guevara and Mao, he had eventually felt compelled to take a more aggressive stance, confronting the political violence of the state with a campaign of sabotage.

Here is a little more from the piece by Chris McGreal:

But perhaps the most shameless piece of historical revisionism of recent days came from Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister. He greeted news of Mandela’s death by proclaiming him “a freedom fighter who disavowed violence”. That was a pointed jab at the Palestinians. It’s also untrue. Mandela was instrumental in founding the ANC’s armed wing and stood by the right to violent resistance until apartheid was buried. It may not have been a very effective armed campaign, and it did not resort to the indiscriminate killing of civilians by suicide bomb, but Mandela never disavowed violence in the struggle against a violent system.3

Click here to read Chris McGreal’s full article.

Ariel Sharon was another tenacious fighter for a different cause, but when he died only a few weeks later on January 11th, it was hardly surprising that the obituaries were more circumspect. After all, what can one politely say about a man nicknamed “the Bulldozer” (a favourite weapon he used to flatten Palestinian homes) who had forced the displacement of thousands of Palestinians and then shredded their homeland with the construction of illegal settlements and Berlin-style walls? Or Sharon as primary architect of the 1982 Lebanon War which had resulted in the deaths of 20,000 people, including somewhere between 800 and 3000 (depending on estimates) of mostly women, children and elderly men indiscriminately slaughtered in the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

On January 13th, Democracy Now! presented, as part of its own retrospective on Sharon, a description of the killings by Ellen Siegel, a Jewish-American nurse who was working at the Sabra camp at the time of the attacks:

So Sharon, the “warrior”, as he titled his autobiography, was also Sharon, the war criminal. Nevertheless, Sharon still has his apologists. Here is the Telegraph again:

The life of the late Ariel Sharon tells us a great deal about the shifting politics of Israel. He came to the world’s attention as a militant willing to use controversial methods to secure his country’s future. But he ended his career with a more complex image, as a tough-minded statesman searching for peace. His example offers hope.4

Hope of what precisely? For the Palestinians, many of whom actually celebrated Sharon’s death (just as many in Britain celebrated Thatcher’s demise last year), his example offered only reason to despair. And as for a man “searching for peace”; this is a grotesque parody of the truth.

As Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, explained on the same Democracy Now! broadcast, Sharon, who regarded himself as a crusader for a greater Israel, shunned diplomacy unless, under cover of negotiations, he saw a way to gain strategic advantage against his enemies. Withdrawal from Gaza, his one decisive act of non-aggression, was also a tactical retreat to strengthen Israel’s position in the West Bank. Shlaim reminds us:

Sharon committed his first war crime as a young major in 1953 when he destroyed many houses in the Jordanian village of Qibya, and he was responsible for the massacre of 69 civilians. So that was his first war crime, but it was not to be his last. And the consistent thread in his career as a soldier and as a politician was to use brute force, not just against the regular armies of the Arab states, but also against Palestinian civilians. And the other consistent thread is to shun diplomacy and to rely on brute force to impose Israeli hegemony on the entire region. President George W. Bush famously called Sharon a man of peace. Sharon was nothing of the sort. He was a man of war through and through, and he called his autobiography Warrior, not Diplomat. His approach to diplomacy reversed Clausewitz’s dictum; for Sharon, diplomacy was the pursuit of war by other means. For the last 40 years, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been my main research interest, and I can honestly say that I have never come across a single scintilla of evidence to support the notion of Sharon as a man of peace.

Mandela had committed himself body and soul to the dismantling of the apartheid system in South Africa and he succeeded. Tribalism was something Mandela disdained. So under Mandela, white apartheid was not about to be replaced by its black equivalent. But whereas Mandela will be remembered for trying unify his nation, Sharon’s memorial is a twenty-foot concrete barrier protected by sniper towers that snakes across the occupied West Bank. A wall that divides his own tribe from the neighbours, ensuring an apartheid within Israel-Palestine that will be enduring.

“There is a convention that you’re not supposed to speak ill of the recently dead”, said Noam Chomsky after Sharon’s death, continuing “which unfortunately imposes a kind of vow of silence because there’s nothing else to say.”

Click here to watch the full discussion of Sharon’s legacy with Avi Shlaim, Noam Chomsky, and Rashid Khalidi, who is Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, on the Democracy Now! website.

1 From Nelson Mandela’s obituary published by the Telegraph on December 5, 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/nelson-mandela/10115323/Nelson-Mandela-obituary.html

2 From an article entitled “Why Nelson Mandela was on a terrorism watch list in 2008” written by Caitlin Dewey, published by the Washington Post on December 7, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/12/07/why-nelson-mandela-was-on-a-terrorism-watch-list-in-2008/

3 From an article entitled “Mandela: never forget how the free world’s leaders learned to change their tune” written by Chris McGreal, published in The Observer on December 8, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/08/world-leaders-hypocrisy-mandela

4 From an editorial entitled “Ariel Sharon and the troubled road to peace” published by the Telegraph on January 11, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/telegraph-view/10565265/Ariel-Sharon-and-the-troubled-road-to-peace.html

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Thatcher’s legacy is our road to serfdom: but don’t believe me, listen instead to Paul Craig Roberts

Margaret Thatcher died today aged 87

If you want the hagiography then I recommend BBC news. Tributes to our Iron Lady that roll on and on and on. All very hard to stomach. But what did Mrs T actually achieve aside from, as The Sun newspaper famously put up, saying “Up yours Delors”! What did the policies of a government led by a Prime Minister who told us that she didn’t believe in society, actually do to our society? The answer is that she set about dismantling it altogether.

There were winners, of course, but that was inevitable given that Thatcher’s aims were all about winners and losers. So as she asset-stripped the nation, selling off our telecommunications, our electricity and gas companies, and our water supplies (government gradually reduced to the role of the banker in a game of Monopoly) those who bought the shares at bargain prices made a quick buck, thank you very much. And money was also flooding into the coffers from the sale of council houses, but mostly thanks to the boom in North Sea oil.

So where was all that money spent? Well, mostly it was redistributed by way of tax cuts; our own money given away so that it would supposedly trickle down back to us, ha ha… but of course the money never did trickle back down, and simply percolated upwards, lining the pockets of the new millionaires and then trickling away altogether into the off-shore tax havens and Swiss Bank accounts of the super-elites.

But Thatcher’s policies didn’t only ensure the tremendous wealth transfer from the poor to the rich. In achieving these ends she had also set about smashing up the trade unions, making ready to begin deindustrialising the country, whilst simultaneously “liberalising” the markets. So a country that had once been a powerhouse of industrial output was being reduced, cut down to leave our so-called “service economy”, and increasingly dependent upon sustained growth within The City of London. Growth that was delusory, since it was, we now realise, based upon an ever-expanding bubble of new “financial instruments”. A growth that was eating into the economy itself.

In short then, Thatcher encouraged us to be more selfish than ever whilst deregulating those parts of our society that most needed regulation. Deregulation that has carried us to where we find ourselves today… on the brink of bankruptcy. But obviously I wouldn’t expect those who still love and admire Mrs T to believe me when I say that this financial mess is actually her one true and lasting legacy. No, please don’t listen to me. Listen instead to Paul Craig Roberts, the former head of policy at Department of Treasury under Reagan and so-called Father of Reaganomics; the man behind the same neo-liberal policies and strategies that were also being applied at the very same time across the Atlantic:

Here’s what Paul Craig Roberts wrote in a recent article [March 6th] posted on his own website (please note that had Thatcher been American, she would undoubtedly have described herself as a Libertarian):

Libertarians will be the last to comprehend that the return of crony capitalism, robber barons, and economic insecurity is the direct consequence of a quarter century of deregulation. As I show in my new book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism And Economic Dissolution Of The West, it is the failure of the latest laissez faire experiment that has saddled us with crony capitalism. Monopoly concentration and rule by the few, not Libertarian nirvana, is what deregulation and unbridled greed produce.

More on how the economic policies of Thatcher and Reagan were the root cause of this present economic crisis, as well as proposed strategies for rescuing ourselves from an otherwise inevitable financial catastrophe, can be found in my earlier post [published July 2011] entitled “The answer to TINA… is TRISH”.

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Additional:

And this is British author, journalist and political activist, Tariq Ali, offering his own brief assessment of Thatcher’s legacy on today’s Democracy Now!:

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Update:

On the latest episode of the Keiser Report [broadcast on RT, April 10th], Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert examined the question of whether Margaret Thatcher “saved Britain.” They draw attention to the economic impact of peak North Sea oil revenues, and ask, if Thatcher had saved some of our nation’s oil wealth, just how large might a UK sovereign wealth fund be today:

In the second half of the show, Max Keiser also talked to Jan Skoyles of The Real Asset Company about whether the safest way to protect your money is by investing in gold, silver or Bitcoin – an informed and interesting discussion.

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the decline and fall of the Labour Party

I was recently recommended the excellent four-part BBC documentary series “Labour – The Wilderness Years”, which offers an analysis of the causes underlying the decline of the British Labour Party, beginning with the catastrophic 1979 general election, and following events up until the sudden and tragic loss of party leader John Smith in 1994, and a little beyond.

The series, first broadcast in December 1995, is a example of just how good television really can be . Without the need for repeating video loops, and endless recaps on what’s just gone. Without eye-candy graphics, emotive music and an overbearing narrative commentary. Just relevant archive footage, alongside in-depth interviews with those most closely involved in the events.

Although suspicious of much that purports to be politically neutral, on this occasion there is also a sense of genuine impartiality. The film-makers allowing arguments from all sides to be voiced, and thus leaving the viewer free to draw their own conclusions.

All four episodes have been uploaded (sliced into six 10 minute segments for each) on youtube and so I provide links for the complete lists of the parts that make up each of the episodes. Alongside those links, you can also read my own rather less neutral précis.

The four parts were named and aired as below:

1. Cast Into The Wilderness (3rd December 1995)

The fierce war between the left and the right wings of the party begins at the 1980 party conference. Tony Benn, who is already expressing concerns that Britain may be sliding into a police state, sets out to democratise the party. He is roundly condemned by those on the right, but thanks to union retaliation against the hopeless and recently defeated Jim Callaghan, leads the left to a bitter victory at the party conference.

To heal the developing schism between left and right, the party then elects the erudite and compassionate Michael Foot over the more bruising but worldly “old flamethrower” Denis Healey. But Foot’s efforts to pour oil on troubled waters is quickly undone as the treacherous “Gang of Four”, led by former Home Secretary and then-President of the European Commission, Roy Jenkins, with Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and the ever-so-dashing David Owen in tow, all running off to form their own shambolic party, the quickly defunct SDP. The longer-term consequence being that the Labour vote is split for many years to come.

Click here to watch on youtube.

2. Comrades At War (10th December 1995)

Tony Benn vs. Denis Healey in the race for deputy leader and a fight for the soul of the party, as support for Thatcher’s new Tory government wanes and as riots break out across the country. With Michael Foot still trying to steady the ship, Benn’s battle for democracy and socialism comes to blows against the ‘establishment left’ and their popular heavyweight Denis Healey. Meanwhile, the ambitious Neil Kinnock also begins to push his weight around, and very publicly withdraws his own support from Tony Benn’s campaign by abstaining from the vote. Healey narrowly wins by virtue of Kinnock’s abstention.

Michael Foot is then hauled over the coals by the right-wing press for turning up in an inappropriate coat on Remembrance Day. Whilst Foot, in turn, fails to support prospective Labour candidate Peter Tatchell, as he is grilled by the same right-wing media, and ridiculed principally on the grounds that he is candid about his own homosexuality. Finally, and on the basis that they are facing almost certain defeat in the forthcoming general election, the right-wing of the party decide to put together an extreme Bennite-style manifesto purely in order to discredit the policies of the left once and for all.

With the nation still rallying around the flag after victory in the Falklands, Michael Foot misjudges the mood again, placing his main emphasis on promoting the manifesto promise of unilateral nuclear disarmament. Rupert Murdoch’s press, Kenny Everett and Satan’s little helpers, Saatchi & Saatchi, also work tirelessly to secure Thatcher’s second term in office. Aside from ensuring an election disaster, the manifesto, which becomes popularly known as “the longest suicide note in history”, also effectively sets the seal on the Labour Party’s steady march towards the right.

Click here to watch on youtube.

3. Enter The Rose (17th December 1995)

The ambitious Neil Kinnock becomes leader and immediately shows his true colours by choosing to sit on the fence as the Thatcher government crushes the miners’ strike. He then begins “modernising” the party, by, most significantly, expunging the Trotskyist parasite ‘Militant tendency’.

During the years of 1985 and 1986, Labour’s National Executive Committee sit through hours of McCarthyite hearings: Kinnock’s inquisition leading to the expulsion of more than 200 members, including, most justifiably, the egotistical popinjay Derek Hatton. But corrupt as ‘Militant tendency’ were, many good and previously loyal party members are also forced out during this protracted witch hunt.

In late 1985, Kinnock appoints Peter Mandelson, a former television producer, to work as Director of Communications. At first, Mandelson’s “Red Rose Revolution” means mainly that message plays second fiddle to the party image. New logo, new sets, new emphasis on style over substance… the conception, if not yet the birth, of New Labour. Yet in spite of all the razzamatazz, which includes some surprisingly nifty swing dancing with wife Glenys, “the Welsh windbag” still fails to impress the electorate.

Click here to watch on youtube.

4. The Pursuit Of Power (18th December 1995)

Kinnock decides to sell-out absolutely, surrendering many more of his and the party’s remaining leftist principles in deliberate efforts to fall into line with the prevailing Thatcherite neoliberal hegemony. As his ‘revolution’ progresses, Kinnock ruthlessly puts down any dissent coming from within the shadow cabinet, whilst meanwhile instituting a nationwide “Labour Listens” polling campaign, the results of which will provide convenient populist cover for justifying the party’s ideological U-turn.

Peter Mandelson, now Labour’s spin doctor, helps Kinnock to promote the ‘policy review’ and to limit the damage caused by those who still oppose the changes. This includes briefing the media against other high-ranking Labour politicians. Michael Meacher, who was one of the victims of Mandelson’s many smear campaigns, is replaced by Tony Blair as Employment Spokesman, and, as they say… the rest is history!

Kinnock’s suits are sharpened up, and we have the debacle of the “Jennifer’s Ear” party political broadcast; a mere prelude to the jaw-dropping Hollywood-style Sheffield Rally that marks the eve of the general election. Watch it and weep:

Click here to see the remaining episodes on youtube.

Following John Smith’s untimely death, the party comes more directly under the centralised control of ‘modernisers’ like Mandelson, Blair and Brown, although the first prominent party member to publicly endorse Tony Blair as the next leader is actually Denis Healey. Whilst Blair’s closest rival, Gordon Brown, conveniently steps aside. With “the Prince of Darkness” Mandelson finally ruling the roost, Labour now drop all remaining pretence to socialism, and also betray their commitments to human rights and the rule of international law.

Margaret Thatcher once asked: “If they would abandon their most cherished policies in opposition, what will they do with their promises in government”.

A decade of New Labour rule provided us with a very sorry answer. In its wake, we live in a country riven by greater disparities in wealth than ever, and indebted thanks chiefly to market deregulation which Blair and Brown had very much permitted and encouraged. We also have a national health service made ready for privatisation, along with the prisons and our schools. And capping everything, we are mired in an unwinnable war (having already abandoned a second war, fought at the cost of countless lives, and entirely without legal or other justification). So the short answer to Thatcher’s albeit rhetorical question: that in the pursuit of power, Blair, Brown, Mandelson and the rest of the New Labour crew would happily sell their own grandmothers.

*

This is an appropriate juncture to also mention two very intelligent and well produced dramas that tackle similar issues from around the same period.

A Very British Coup (Channel 4, 1988) offers a glimpse of how a left-wing Labour government might have tackled the problems facing Britain back in the 1980s. Ray McAnally is wonderful as the down-to-earth leader and MP for Sheffield Central, Harry Perkins, who takes on the ruling establishment, attempts to break the newspaper monopolies, and more generally to bring to heel the military-industrial complex. Hardly surprisingly, Perkins is met with stiff resistance and dirty tricks of every kind. The three-part television series, first screened on Channel 4, won Bafta and Emmy awards. It was based on a 1982 novel by British politician Chris Mullin, who also gives interviews throughout in “Labour – the wilderness years”. The novel was adapted for television, with a screenplay by Alan Plater, and directed by Mick Jackson.

Click here to watch on 4OD.

GBH (Channel 4, 1991) is a gritty seven-part drama written by Alan Bleasdale, starring Robert Lindsay as Michael Murray, the Militant tendency Labour leader of an unspecified British northern city. The parallels with Derek Hatton are obvious enough. Michael Palin co-stars as the principled school teacher, Jim Nelson, who inadvertently finds himself fighting against corruption and intimidation. As the plots steadily build, we discover that all is not quite as it first appears. The series was produced by David W. Jones.

Click here to watch on 4OD.

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Filed under Britain, did you see?, neo-liberalism, Uncategorized

the answer to TINA… is TRISH!

Let’s start with TINA…

There is no alternative (shortened as TINA) was one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite slogans. Those who repeat this slogan today, do so in defence of the same neoliberal agenda that Thatcher’s policies first helped to establish during the 1980s. They believe that only the  “freedom of the markets” is sacrosanct, and oblivious to the hardship and brutal oppression which such policies have brought to so many countries around the world, they stand firm in their conviction that we are living under the best of all possible economic orders. In this sense, they are fundamentalists. Whilst those who use it to defend calls for the latest round of “austerity measures” are also saying that making savage cuts to government spending is the only way to rescue ourselves in these times of economic crisis. That we must sacrifice everything in order to satisfy the market. Yet all of this is dependent upon accepting an ideology that refuses to admit it is an ideology, and all of this is socioeconomic nonsense.

A background to austerity

Inter-governmental institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have for many years demanded a commitment from governments of impoverished nations to accept the imposition of austerity measures in exchange for functioning as a lender of last resort. The terms for such IMF bailouts are technically known as “conditionalities”.

Conditionalities generally involve a number of requirements and some of these may indeed be beneficial. The IMF may, for example, insist upon anti-corruption measures. But mostly the IMF will insist upon “free market reforms”, which means, in short, a tough austerity package to dismantle the nation’s welfare system, with the forced privatisation of key public services, along with the imposition of “trade liberalisation” and deregulation. Under such a programme, with the country being required, in effect, to give up it economic sovereignty, it is suddenly open to vulture capitalism, and ready to be asset-stripped by global corporations.

This package of conditionalities, or “market-friendly policies”, was known as the Washington Consensus, although it might more aptly have been renamed the “Chicago Concensus” given that these rules for “economic reform” were predicated on the hardline neoliberal dogma developed by the Chicago School, and then first tested by the so-called Chicago Boys, who imposed them as economic “Shock Therapy” during the terrible years of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. In any case, the name Washington Consensus became so sullied that the IMF have dropped it altogether. But only the tone of the IMF has been softened, as the demands being made of Greece and Portugal now show. They are still in the business of dismantling welfare systems and the wholesale privatisation of nations.

The results of austerity

“The experience of austerity measures imposed on developing countries should sound alarm bells for us all. These measures are not a new innovation; they were cooked up by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s and forced onto developing countries by the IMF and World Bank. The effects were devastating: inequality, poverty and injustice increased as public services and welfare spending were slashed.

“Recently, such policies have been completely discredited; even the World Bank and IMF held their hands up and said they got it wrong. Countries, like Malaysia and Vietnam, that resisted the austerity measures remained far less vulnerable than those that had to succumb to these failed economic prescriptions. If we don’t resist this illogical thinking, the outcome will lead to a truly broken Britain.”

says Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement.

In the same article, which is entitled “Neoliberal policies have no place in the post-crash world”, Doane also gives a concise and well-informed overview of the effects of imposed austerity on the basis of recent historical cases.1

Why austerity cannot help us

“The deficit isn’t caused by profligate government spending to support an over-bloated welfare state, but by a massive bank bailout, shrinking government revenues, and a decline in corporate taxation. As in the developing world, maintaining public spending is what we need for long-term support to our economy, and to our populations.”

says Deborah Doane in the same article.

The maths is actually quite simple here. If you cut government spending, especially during times when the private sector economy is also struggling, then the knock-on effect is that tax revenues are reduced, and this then increases the deficit. The outcome being precisely the opposite to that demanded. But austerity isn’t simply doomed to failure, it is doomed to devastating failure. It leaves the country concerned with nothing but mass unemployment and even greater debts to repay.

Why we must fight this together

“For decades, Europe has been held up as a paragon for how social democracy can work, by providing free healthcare or education, and ensuring people have a high quality of life at the same time. The legacy of the Chicago School is invading this last battleground for social justice. Fighting the austerity agenda at home is a truly globally relevant campaign.”

says Deborah Doane in the same article.

It took a century for the people of Europe to win our economic rights, but we are now on the verge of throwing that inheritance away. People all around the world aspire to enjoy the same rights. We should not let them down.

And now over to TRISH

In an attempt to offer an alternative to TINA, I have put together this five-point alternative plan. I believe that something of this sort needs to be agreed upon by all groups who now stand opposed to the government (and IMF supported) programme of austerity measures. I would very much welcome any constructive comments, amendments, or corrections; and if you are interested in helping to take the idea further then do please get in touch.

The basic proposals can be summarised as follows: Take on the bankers, Re-regulate the markets, Increase tax revenues, Stop the wars, and Help for ourselves. Hence, TRISH:

Take on the bankers

The current crisis didn’t just happen for no reason. If it were simply a part of some kind of quasi-natural but ultimately mysterious boom and bust cycle, then we might hope to simply grit our teeth and ride it out. There is, unfortunately, no evidence that supports such a conviction.

The current crisis did not originate because of fiscal mismanagement and government overspending. The problems in Greece, for instance, did not arise simply because of their long-standing problems with tax receipts, any more than the recession in America began with subprime mortgages and the housing bubble. The individual crises of these various nation states are merely symptoms of more than two decades of unregulated greed and corruption in Wall Street and The City of London. The results of a systemic failure, which cannot be resolved therefore until the current financial system is itself overhauled.

The current crisis has happened because the speculators and financiers gathered so much power that they have taken control of our senior politicians. This is why Obama is surrounded by a coterie of advisers from Goldman Sachs. It is also why Peter Mandelson and George Osborne were found cosying up together aboard a Russian oligarch’s yacht at one of Nathan Rothschild’s lavish parties. For no dog can have two masters. To make sure they are working for us then, such obscene cronyism has to be rooted out, and, so far as it’s possible, legislated against.

Ever since the crash of 2008, the banks have been playing the suicide card. Holding us hostage with a gun pointed to their own heads. Give us your money or everything goes down with us, they threaten, and their close friends in the media and government play along, perpetuating the myth that they are simply “too big to fail”. They want us to forget about their malpractice and criminal fraud that caused the crisis, and to carry on stumping up the interest for debts so enormous they can never be repaid.

We need an investigation. We need an international debt moratorium followed by cancellation of all debt found to be odious. The endless bailouts only serve the bankers and these must end. Meanwhile private savings and pension funds need to be protected. But if Goldman Sachs closes down then so be it. We’ll pick up the pieces later.

Re-regulate the markets

This current crisis really owes its origins to the policies of Thatcher and Reagan. Everything would have been avoided if it hadn’t been for the deregulation of the markets which began back in the 1980s. Allowing the bankers to police themselves turned out to be a bad idea. We might have guessed.

The underlying cause of the current crisis is the worldwide trade in “derivatives”. It is currently estimated that in the order of a quadrillion US dollars (yes, that’s with a qu-) has been staked on derivations of various kinds. We can compare this with the entire world GDP which turns out to be a mere 60 trillion US dollars2. One quadrillion being more than twenty times larger. Or we might compare it against the estimated monetary wealth of the whole world: about $75 trillion in real estate, and a further $100 trillion in world stock and bonds. So one quadrillion is a number exceeding even the absolute monetary value of the entire world! Warren Buffett once described derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”, and he should know because he trades in them.

We must place a ban, if not on all derivatives, then certainly on the most toxic varieties such as credit-default swaps. There should also be a criminal investigation that looks into the sale of so many “toxic assets” and considers the role of the credit ratings agencies which graded them triple-A. The very same rating agencies that are now downgrading countries such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

A separation of investment banking from depository banking would at least have protected ordinary savers from the whims of the speculators. In America such a separation had existed since the Banking Act of 1933, known as the Glass-Steagall Act, until Bill Clinton repealed the law in 1999. Legislation along the lines of Glass-Steagall needs to be brought back.

Increase tax revenues

Tax is a dirty word but if the deficit is to be redressed then government revenue will need to be increased. Politicians talk a great deal about fairness and we should hold them to this. The people who caused the crisis should now be bailing us out. There has been some talk of a Tobin tax on all transactions in the financial markets, and even at the very low rates of 0.05% being proposed by some groups, hundreds of billions of pounds would be raised annually. So why not levy a Tobin tax at a higher rate, say 1% (which is a tiny fraction when compared to any tax the rest of us pay) and then use that money to repay the national debt?

Gordon Brown came into office on the promise of closing tax loopholes but did nothing of the kind. Major corporations simply don’t pay their fair share. They move their operations offshore by taking advantage of the many tax havens available, the majority of which are British dependencies. It is estimated that tax havens drain the UK economy of around £25bn annually through their role in tax avoidance and evasion, and that hundreds of billions are lost globally each year.3 Money that should be paying for education and healthcare.

We should resist any rises in the sorts of stealth taxes on the poor and the middle class which the government are likely to propose, no matter how temptingly packaged they may appear. “Quantitative Easing”, which is a deliberately impressive and misleading term for what is simply the printing of extra money, is an inherently inflationary strategy. It is, therefore, the most insidious stealth tax of all. Let’s find the money in fairer ways, by forcing the corporations and the super-rich to pay their dues.

Stop the wars

Wars cost money, lots of money. Defence Secretary Liam Fox has recently revealed that the estimated cost for our involvement in the NATO-led Libya campaign will be in the region of £120m, assuming the conflict continues into the autumn as expected. A further £140m then being needed to replace missiles and munitions, which makes £260 million in total.4 However, less conservative estimates of costs to the British taxpayer raise the figure to as much as £1bn. 5

Meanwhile, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost British taxpayers more than £20billion, and this does not even include the salaries of soldiers or paying for their long-term injuries and mental health care.6 Acute care for the troops most seriously injured in Afghanistan is costing the government more than £500,000 every week.7 And all for what?

Putting an end to these imperialist adventures is not only a moral imperative, it is an economic necessity.

Help for ourselves and others

Running a nation’s economy is not the same as running a household budget. Making cuts in government spending may save money, but with reduced investment there must come an inevitable kick-back. The economy will shrink and with less tax revenue available the deficit then grows. And this becomes a vicious cycle.

In order to stop such a debt spiral turning into depression, the government needs to spend rather than save. This is what the post-war Attlee government did when it expanded the welfare state and founded the National Health Service. Reinvestment in public services and infrastructure can put money in people’s pockets again. Meanwhile, investment in manufacturing and industry would help to reduce our balance of payments deficit.

During times of depression government investment becomes essential. We need investment to revive Britain’s once strong manufacturing base. This can involve tax or other incentives and will most certainly require significant cash injections to support established industries and encourage new production and innovation. In the meantime, we should roll back the privatisation of our public sector, of schools and prisons (how outrageous that companies can profit from locking people up), and most urgently, of the NHS.

In a fully privatised world, which is the dream of neoliberal economists, we all fall prey to the markets. So let’s abandon our current obsession with private enterprise and move back to a more mixed-economy, adopting a policy of dirigisme. In this spirit, we might decide to take state control of any struggling key industries, as well as re-nationalising the natural monopolies of water and energy supply.

It is high time to rebuild our infrastructure, since this is the bedrock for all social and economic progress: and examples of the sorts of projects we should consider include the long overdue upgrading of our railway system; the installation of countrywide fibre-optic broadband; the construction of new power plants including the proposed tide power barrage across the Severn estuary, which alone could supply more than 5% of our current electricity demands; and then there are more ambitious schemes, such as protecting ourselves against future water shortages by building a national water grid. We need to seize this as an opportunity to do all the things we ought to have done years ago because the future will belong to those who invested wisely – which means funneling our money into rebuilding industry, reconstructing our infrastructure, and supporting new areas of scientific research and development instead of frittering it away on banker bailouts and bonuses. Let’s build a country that’s fit and proper for the twenty-first century.

Such a New Deal programme was how Franklin Roosevelt rescued the US economy during the last Great Depression. Between 1933 and 1936, Roosevelt implemented the “3 Rs”: Relief for the unemployed and poor, Recovery of the economy to normal levels, and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. Roosevelt’s New Deal is perhaps the best example of the kind of forward-thinking programme of economic measures that is so desperately needed today.

2 According to IMF economic database for October 2010, World GDP is $61,963.429 billion (US dollars)

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Filed under analysis & opinion, austerity measures, Britain, campaigns & events, Europe, financial derivatives, neo-liberalism

Bilderberg – it’s just a big club and you ain’t in it

Just in case you missed it, here was one of the main headlines on BBC News just few days ago on Wednesday 8th June:

In the manner of a James Bond plot, up to 150 leading politicians and business people are to gather in a ski resort in Switzerland for four days of discussion about the future of the world.
Previous attendees of the group, which meets once a year in a five-star hotel, are said to have included Bill Clinton, Prince Charles and Peter Mandelson, as well as dozens of company CEOs.

Click here to read the full article.

The “James Bond plot” in question was this year’s outing of the secret gathering of the political and business elite known as the Bilderberg Group. The inaugural tete-a-tete of this most elite of elite gatherings was held at the Hotel de Bilderberg, near Arnhem in May 1954; a location that lends its own name to all subsequent gatherings. Every year since then, a hand-picked group of 120 participants, have met up for drinks and a game of golf at one of the Bilderberg meetings.

How do I know? Well, for starters, these days the group has its own website – a site that is light on information and heavy on restrictions. The disclaimer page basically says don’t trust the information on this site, it may be unreliable, and don’t even think of copying it. It has the strictest copywrite notice I’ve ever come across. For the last few years, there has also been a rapidly growing discussion on the internet, which includes an ever-expanding entry on Wikipedia, though such readily available information wasn’t so easy to source ten years ago, and my own first insight into the Bilderbergers came from a most unlikely reporter.

Jon Ronson would describe himself as a humorist. His speciality is quirky human interest stories, and Ronson is wonderfully adept at gently teasing his subjects in order to get beneath their skins. But this time he had happened to land something much bigger than that.

In June 1999, Ronson met with “Big” Jim Tucker, a chain-smoking hick journalist (who had already devoted much of his life trying to stake out the Bilderberg Group), and Tucker and Ronson together made tracks to a five-star hotel in Sintra, Portugal.

Upon arriving at the secret location, it wasn’t long before Tucker and Ronson were being tailed by security men, or as Ronson puts it, “the henchmen of the shadowy elite”. A game of cat and mouse that continued throughout the day. In desperation, Ronson phoned up the British Embassy to ask for help. The response he received was probably not what he was expecting:

“I am essentially a humorous journalist,” Ronson explained to the woman at embassy. “I am a humorous journalist out of my depth. Do you think it might help if we tell them that?”

“Listen” came her reply, “Bilderberg is much bigger than we are. We’re very small. We’re just a little embassy. Do you understand? They’re way out of our league. All I can say is go back to your hotel and sit tight.”1

When Ronson first got the run around with Jim Tucker, he’d gone along just for the ride. He was interested to learn what had led “Big” Jim Tucker, and others like him, to believe in “a fabled shadowy cabal that secretly rules the world”. He was anticipating a wild goose chase. So blundering in on a flesh and blood Bilderberg meeting as it was about to kick-off in Portugal – just exactly as Tucker had described – came like a bolt from the blue. “It seemed that Jim had stumbled on to something extraordinary,” Ronson says in the voice-over to his film, adding, “It seems that Jim was right.”

Ronson later managed to get hold of a guest list for the meeting in Portugal. It included such luminaries as Conrad Black (news media), Donald Graham (chief executive officer of the Washington Post), Richard Holbrooke, William Joseph McDonough (8th President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York), Henry Kissinger, and sure enough, David Rockefeller (who had apparently arrived there in the back of a taxi).

They’d also spotted a fresh-faced Peter Mandelson staring back from one of the coaches that pulled through the gates. Ronson also established that previous Bilderberg attendees had included, amongst the ranks of the great and the good, Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton (who were, it is worth noting, in attendance at meetings prior to their election as premiers).

Later, Ronson managed to arrange an interview with Denis Healey, who was proud to acknowledge his own involvement in the group. When Ronson put it to Healey that there was a rumour from outsiders that the Bilderberg Group were intent on constructing a One World Government, Healey replied that this was “exaggerated but not totally unfair”. And Healey hastily dismissed any suggestion of a secret conspiracy. It was simply a way for industrialists, financiers, politicians and those in the media to discuss ideas in private: “that is the way it happens in the world, and quite right”.

So now you know… And if so you’re ever asked the question: “what links Denis Healey, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Peter Mandelson?” you’ll know now – if you didn’t know before – that the answer doesn’t have anything to do with playing the xylophone.

Video of Ronson’s extraordinary documentary can be seen here: video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-287163572862203022#

Knowledge of the Bilderberg Group opens many questions. Some of these questions have very obvious answers, although other, perhaps more important questions, are far harder to get to the bottom of.

For example, who actually decides on the attendees for each meeting? This question is important because, although there is a common core who attend most, if not all, of the annual Bilderberg meetings, there is also a constant rolling and evolving contingent of new introductions. Thatcher and Clinton were just such new recruits, presumably being groomed for office. But the question is also important for different reason, because it would seem most likely that a smaller and even more elect sub-group act as the gatekeepers to Bilderberg. But who actually makes decisions regarding future invitations?

Well, hardly surprisingly, Bilderberg has its own steering committee; an inner circle. Healey indeed claims to have been a part of that steering committee. So is there still a smaller inner circle again? After all, who decides on the members of the steering committee, or is the steering committee fully autonomous? The simple truth is that we don’t know, with the reason being that everything about these meetings, from the minutes taken down to the final guest list, is wreathed in secrecy.

So what then can we know most certainly about the Bilderberg Group? The simple truth is still not very much at the present time. The almost total media blackout means that Ronson remains one of the very few respected journalists who have ever investigated the group at all. Indeed, back in May 2005, at a time when the Bilderbergers were gathered again (on this occasion at Rottach-Egern in South Germany) Ronson was invited onto CNN to provide a little inside analysis. What he said was interesting enough, though Ronson certainly doesn’t regard himself as a political journalist let alone a Bilderberg expert. Unfortunately, and aside from Jim Tucker, Ronson remains the best expert we have!

In the CNN interview, newscaster Charles Hodson asks Ronson’s opinion on whether the Bilderberg members are “the fabled shadowy elite” that conspiracy theorists imagine. “Well, yes and no,” Ronson replies, stifling a nervous laugh, before adding, “I do think that by and large, many members of the Bilderberg Group actually see themselves in much the same way as the conspiracy theorists see them. As this shadowy cabal, out to – if not to rule the world, to influence world events.”

Questions regarding Bilderberg meetings have also been raised on occasions in the House of Commons, publicly addressed to those who have returned from one of the meetings, but again no fresh insights are forthcoming. Professor Andrew Kakabadse, co-author of new book Bilderberg People, told the BBC in Wednesday’s article:

The group has genuine power that far outranks the World Economic Forum, which meets in Davos, he argues. And with no transparency, it is easy to see why people are worried about its influence.
“It’s much smarter than conspiracy,” says Prof Kakabadse. “This is moulding the way people think so that it seems like there’s no alternative to what is happening.”
The agenda the group has is to bring together the political elites on both right and left, let them mix in relaxed, luxurious surroundings with business leaders, and let the ideas fizz.
It may seem like a glorified dinner party but that is to miss the point. “When you’ve been to enough dinner parties you see a theme emerging,” he says. The theme at Bilderberg is to bolster a consensus around free market Western capitalism and its interests around the globe, he says.
“Is this all leading to the start of the ruling the world idea? In one sense yes. There’s a very strong move to have a One World government in the mould of free market Western capitalism.”

Three things about Bilderberg are immediately clear to anyone who makes even the most cursory examination. Firstly, the fact that the Bilderberg Group was originally chaired by one of its founder members, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, and that it is still regularly attended by members of other ruling European monarchies, means that we should put aside any cosy modern notions that somehow aristocratic rule is a thing of the past. Instead it seems that even the so-called “bicycling monarchs” of the Netherlands still wield quite considerable political clout.

Secondly, and as Andrew Kakabadse says, there is no clear preference for admitting participants on grounds of being politically left, right or centre. All parties have had (and continue to have) their representatives. Thatcher, Mandelson, David Owen, and more recently Ed Balls and George Osborne from home, whilst from the US, there was Clinton and many from the subsequent Neo-Con administration. We are left to presume then that all parties are, in very important respects, reading from the same globalist script; and that the left-right paradigm is, at least in party political terms, a partial if not total fraud.

The third and last point is that Bilderberg Group has only recently become visible – not so long ago all respected journalists regarding it as just another crackpot conspiracy theory. Quite how the great and the good had managed to meet up secretly every year since 1954 for decade after decade without anyone blowing their cover is frankly astonishing (even if we know that most of the major media proprietors are Bilderberg affiliates). But then, and almost like a miracle, Jon Ronson proved that truth really can be stranger than fiction.

Wednesday’s article on BBC News was entitled “Bilderberg mystery: Why do people believe in cabals?” Well, what is a cabal? According to my dictionary it is 1. a secret intrigue, or 2. a political clique or faction. So Bilderberg then is unquestionably a cabal, and the question should really be: is it a type–1 or a type–2 cabal?

Of course the very word “cabal” is intended to put readers off the scent. Related to the words “cabbala” or “kabbala”, it has an unmistakably antisemitic flavour. It reeks of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion hoax, and this is something that the BBC article and Times columnist David Aaronovitch are keen to play up. Aaronovitch complaining that those who gnash their teeth about Bilderberg:

“…tend to believe that everything true, local and national is under threat from cosmopolitan, international forces often linked to financial capitalism and therefore, also often, to Jewish interests.”

But going back to the title of the BBC article, what about the first part – the “Bilderberg mystery”. Why is there any mystery at all? And why is it, as the article begins, that:

Ordinary people can only guess at the goings-on at the meetings of the secretive Bilderberg Group, which is bringing together the world’s financial and political elite this week.

The answer is depressing. The BBC and The Times and almost all the mainstream media throughout the half century of its existence have chosen to look the other way, which is another important side to the Bilderberg conspiracy. Rather than doing the job that a free press is supposed to do — a role that is so vital to ensuring our freedom and protecting society against corruption, and one that involves actually getting you hands dirty and doing some work — the media has instead collectively backed off from the real story and, after years of denial, now offers a meta-story in its place. The meta-story is all about the silliness of “conspiracy theorists”, whereas the real story is taking place behind police-lines and closed doors right now in St Moritz, Switzerland. And if you want to know about the real story then don’t bother to check the BBC or the Times because they’re still not interested…

If you are looking for more information about the true story of this year’s Bilderberg meeting then I recommend Russia Today (as the only mainstream broadcast network with reporters on the ground):

And also Charlie Skelton’s yearly Guardian blog which has so far revealed that:

On the 2011 delegate list, Osborne appears thus: Osborne, George, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I’ve just spent the entire day trying and failing and failing and trying again to get an official confirmation that Osborne is attending the St Moritz conference, and if so, in exactly what capacity he’s here.

At long last the Treasury Press Office gave me a straight answer, but it wasn’t the answer I was expecting: “George Osborne is attending the Bilderberg conference in his official capacity as Chancellor of the Exchequer” – and he’s coming along “with a number of other international finance ministers.” Any Treasury staff? “Probably not more than one.”

Click here to read Skelton’s full article.

For information with regards to past Bilderberg events you might also try the unofficial website bilderberg.org which provides lists of previous attendees.

*

Update:

The link to google video is lost but I have since found a version of the same documentary on youtube which is embedded here:

That one has since disappeared too. Third time lucky:

1. The Secret Rulers of the World, Episode 5: The Bilderberg Group was first aired on Channel 4 on May 27 th, 2001. Here is the full transcript of the filmed conversation as taken from Ronson’s book based on the TV series (the book was given a rather different title than the original series) “Them: Adventures with Extremists”:

“British Embassy.”

“Okay,” I [Ronson] said, “I’m a journalist from London. I’m calling you on the road from Sintra to Estoril . . .”

“I’m a journalist from London,” I said. “I’m calling you on the road from Sintra to Estoril. I’m being tailed, right now, by a dark green Lancia belonging to the Bilderberg Group.”

There was a sharp intake of breath. “Go on,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I just heard you take a sharp breath.”

“Bilderberg?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “They watched us scouting around the Caesar Park Hotel and they’ve been following us ever since. We have now been followed for three hours. I wasn’t sure at first, so I stopped my car on the side of a deserted lane and he stopped his car right in front of us. Can you imagine just how chilling that moment was? This is especially disconcerting because I’m from England and I’m not used to being spied on.”

“Do you have Bilderberg’s permission to be in Portugal?” she said. “Do they know you are here?”

“No,” I said.

“Bilderberg are very secretive,” she said. “They don’t want people looking into their business. What are you doing here?”

“I am essentially a humorous journalist,” I explained. “I am a humorous journalist out of my depth. Do you think it might help if we tell them that?…”

“Listen”‘ she said, urgently, “Bilderberg is much bigger than we are. We’re very small. We’re just a little embassy. Do you understand? They’re way out of our league. All I can say is go back to your hotel and sit tight.”

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