Tag Archives: Paul Mason

just imagine… a second Labour coup — on Chuka Umunna and so-called ‘Independent Group’

Act I: the first whiff of a second Labour coup

The following section written in September 2016 has remained unpublished until now.

Just imagine:

On September 24th 2016, Jeremy Corbyn wins reelection. Within hours he moves to consolidate his control of the party. One-by-one, MPs start declaring their independence from their reelected leader; eventually over 150 have done so. Local Labour Parties begin to split along leader-rebels lines. Staffers in Labour’s headquarters formally disregard Mr Corbyn. A True Labour declaration of independence and social democratic principles is promoted by leading MPs and Labour grandees like Mr Kinnock. A majority of Labour MPs rally around it and appoint a True Labour interim leader and shadow cabinet sporting the best of the party’s parliamentary talent (perhaps: Angela Eagle as leader, Rachel Reeves as shadow chancellor, Tom Watson as a continuity deputy leader).

The extract above is taken from an opinion piece published in The Economist by the columnist Bagehot on August 12th. It is an open call for a new splinter party calling itself “True Labour” to emerge from amongst the ranks of the 170+ PLP ‘rebels’ (obviously I apply the term ‘rebel’ loosely) after detaching themselves one by one and then almost surreptitiously reassembling into a new makeshift party. If we look past the unintended comedy – a list of “best of the party’s parliamentary talent” which begins “perhaps: Angela Eagle as leader”, because if that isn’t hilarious, then frankly what is? – this newest plot against Corbyn, and the vast majority of Labour members who support him, is certainly elaborate in its conception:

True Labour obtains recognition from John Bercow as the official opposition. Donors are sought and local branches established. These swallow the moderate segments of Constituency Labour Parties and welcome a flood of new centre-left and centrist members, including many previously unaligned voters politicised by the Brexit vote.

The conception being that:

True Labour’s role would then not be to compete amicably with Mr Corbyn’s “Labour” but to marginalise or, ideally, destroy it by appropriating the Labour mantle through sheer weight, dynamism and persuasiveness. 1

My attention was originally drawn to this piece thanks to former BBC Economics Editor, Paul Mason, who points out that Bagehot isn’t just any old neo-liberal mouthpiece, but the nom de plume of Jeremy Cliffe, “formerly intern at the Party of European Socialists in Brussels, aide to Chuka Umunna and activist in the Ed Miliband for Leader campaign.” A figure Mason flatteringly describes as “one of the best informed UK journalists in the sphere of Labour and European social democracy.”

In the same article, Mason also reminds of the run up to the initial coup against Corbyn, and what has followed since:

During their attempt to stop Corbyn getting on the ballot paper, the right launched Saving Labour  — there’s no information about where it gets its money, who its officers are, what it’s statues [sic] are. It organised a day of street stalls, issued three press releases and went quiet on 28 July.

It’s been superseded by “Labour Tomorrow” — a private company with a reported £250,000 war chest to fight Jeremy Corbyn once he wins. This money will be distributed only to “moderate centre left organisations”. No other other information provided on its website apart from a single blog post by David Blunkett and Cold War union rightwinger Brenda Dean. No explanation of what “centre left” means, again no indication of where the money’s coming from.

Continuing:

Every signal from the Labour right appears to point towards a second coup against Corbyn, once he wins the leadership election, which will make Owen Smith’s current effort look like a sideshow.

The plan was spelled out in the Bagehot column of the Economist two weeks ago: declare yourselves “True Labour” in parliament; claim the legal role of HM Opposition; attempt to take unions and CLPs with you — if necessary by bureaucratic declarations; fight for the party’s name and assets in the courts on the grounds that it is you — the breakaway group — which truly represents Labour’s social democratic heritage. 2

Mason finishes his article with an entreaty to Owen Smith, who he rightly judges a dire candidate but a “willing dupe[s]: like the Auguste clown at the circus, who stands there pretending he doesn’t know the Whiteface clown has a custard pie behind his back”, to curtail his lamentable campaign for leadership in order to save himself and the party. Or, failing that, for Smith to issue a public statement saying he refuses to join with any breakaway faction and will respect the result of the election.

His appeal is, of course, a futile one. You cannot expect a snake to change its spots. On the other hand, party members and all Labour supporters are now in a position to make a difference. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, but that is of little significance if we remain passive. I therefore strongly favour pre-emptive action.

Whether Mason is right or wrong, it does no harm to send a volley of letters to each of our constituency MPs politely asking what they intend to do in the event that “True Labour” is launched (and let’s call it a coup this time before it happens). Will our MPs remain loyal to the party and its members and their leader who has twice received a democratic mandate, or will they jump ship… but, to reiterate, let’s keep this polite.

We have the chance to hold the feet of our elected representatives to the fire and, as Corbyn supporters, to get on to the front foot. My own letter is already dispatched and I will let you know if and when I receive a reply. Meanwhile be encouraged to steal my words (reprinted below), rework them, or else write something far better. What is needed is #stopthecorbyncoupmark2… but snappier. The snappier the better.

Click here to read Paul Mason’s full article

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Act II: Chuka Umunna and the Blairite deserters

That Chuka Umunna and a faction of disaffected Blairite Labour MPs including Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker and Luciana Berger have been planning to jump ship is surely the worst kept secret in Westminster. As far back as October 2016, The Mail on Sunday was reporting on Umunna’s secret talks with Hillary Clinton’s campaign team “to advise her on how to beat a Democratic rival for the presidency [Bernie Sanders] dubbed the ‘American Jeremy Corbyn’”. A meeting took place in July 2015 and a few months prior to Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in September:

A leaked email from Mrs Clinton’s private server, released by the WikiLeaks website, reveals that a member of Mr Umunna’s team sent a message to John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign, on July 19 last year saying: ‘Chuka Umunna… is in NYC [New York City] on Thursday… he’d love to come by and see you and share his insights on why Labour did so badly in May, and what HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] campaign might take away from that.’

Sources close to Mr Umunna confirmed he met Mr Podesta and discussed the rise of Corbynism and the threat posed by Bernie Sanders – her Democratic rival dubbed ‘the US Jeremy Corbyn’ because of his pledge to redistribute the country’s wealth – who at the time was starting to surge in the polls. 3

Then, two years later in June 2017 and the wake of May’s cataclysmic election defeat, rather than getting solidly behind Corbyn, his leadership reinvigorated by Labour’s remarkable election gains, Umunna was instead slinking off to hold secret talks with Conservative MPs in a cross-party alliance to force a ‘soft Brexit’. This betrayal of the party was also in defiance of Labour’s manifesto pledges to honour the referendum decision on which Umunna had been re-elected just days earlier:

A source told the Daily Mail: “Chuka sees himself as the leader of the Remain fight back and is rallying troops on all sides of the House.

“He has got much more in common with open-minded Tory MPs than he does with Corbyn anyway.” 4

Firmer evidence of Umunna’s plot finally came to light last August, when it was disclosed in the Daily Express that a dozen Labour “moderates” (for some reason they have an aversion to being labelled ‘Blairites’) were gathering for weekends together at Fair Oak Farm in Sussex at a cost of £144 per night to hatch plans to “take back control and repair the damage that has been done”:

The group would catch the 7.18pm train from Waterloo East on a Thursday evening to Stonegate before taking a seven-minute taxi ride to the luxury bed and breakfast estate Fair Oak Farm in Sussex. […]

It was claimed attendees at the events included former leadership candidate Liz Kendall, former shadow cabinet members Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie, and other senior MPs including Gavin Shuker.

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock, one of the most outspoken critics of Mr Corbyn, also attended but has recently quit the party to become an independent. 5

The article is headlined in screaming capitals “CORBYN’S CURTAIN CALL: Furious MPs vow to ‘COLLAPSE’ leadership at SECRET MEETINGS”.

It continues:

A source at the meetings told the Daily Express: “We are getting together regularly to discuss how to take back control of the party.

“At some point the Corbyn leadership is going to fail and collapse, we only need to see what is happening with the anti-Semitism problem, and we need to be ready to step in, win the leadership rebuild the party as a credible force and repair the damage that has been done.”

Meetings have taken place with the group at other locations and there is a wider group of rebel MPs numbering more than 20.

The Daily Express has learnt that one proposal put forward was to wait for a Corbyn election victory and then to use the large group of moderate Labour MPs to prevent him from becoming prime minister.

Another attendee at the away days told the Express: “As things stand Labour could win the next election simply because the Tories have made such a mess over Brexit and look so incompetent.

“If that happens we will break away and either form a separate Labour Party within parliament or a new party.

“There are [Remainer] Conservative and Lib Dem MPs who are interested in joining us if we do form a new party because of Brexit.”

The MP added: “The issue would be then whether we would have time to create a proper identity before an election or if there would need to be an election soon after. In that sense it is complicated.”

All of which brings the story up to date. Efforts to topple Corbyn can be traced all the way back to his first leadership election and the weeks leading up to it. As the architect of New Labour, Peter Mandelson, admitted rather too candidly when speaking to editor of The Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, shortly after Corbyn’s second leadership victory:

“The problem with Jeremy is not that he is a sort of maniac – it’s not as though he is a nasty person. It’s that he literally has no idea in the 21st century how to conduct himself as a leader of a party putting itself forward in a democratic election to become the government of our country.” […]

“Why do you want to just walk away and pass the title deeds of this great party over to someone like Jeremy Corbyn? I don’t want to, I resent it, and I work every single day in some small way to bring forward the end of his tenure in office.

“Something, however small it may be – an email, a phone call or a meeting I convene – every day I try to do something to save the Labour party from his leadership.” 6

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “Peter Mandelson: I try to undermine Jeremy Corbyn ‘every single day’”.

Likewise Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker and the rest of yesterday’s deserters have each dedicated countless days in seeking to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Not really over the trumped-up allegations of antisemitism – the media outcry over antisemitism inside the Labour Party was for the most part manufactured – and not because they fear that Corbyn is unfit to lead the party, as the lamentable Owen Smith parroted during his laughably inept leadership challenge, but – paraphrasing the source who spoke anonymously to the Daily Mail – because they have more in common with open-minded Tory MPs than with Corbyn anyway.

So while it is true that Corbyn’s conciliatory and democratic stance over Brexit certainly does infuriate them, this is the full limit to their honesty. And such last gasp defections at this critical moment as Britain prepares to leave the EU not only highlights the total contempt these Blairites have for the party and its membership, but for the country as a whole; their unwillingness to resign their seats and fight by-elections, a further indication of their overweening sense of entitlement.

As Novara Media senior editor Ash Sarkar told resigning Blairite, Angela Smith, on yesterday’s BBC2’s Politics Live show:

Not being Jeremy Corbyn, unfortunately, is not a manifesto in itself. People are going to be looking at things like your record on water privatisation. You are like one of the last people left in the country who still believes in it. They will look at the fact you are in the all-party water group, which is mostly paid for by the water industry. And they’ll go: ‘You know what? That stinks of corruption.’ 7

 

Click here to read an excellent piece also published by The Canary that reminds readers of the voting history of the seven defectors who are now calling themselves ‘The Independent Group’.

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Addendum: my open letter to the seven Labour Party defectors

Yesterday I individually emailed all seven of the Labour Party defectors (addressing each singly) under the subject heading “Two questions about The Independent Group” as follows:

Dear,

Firstly, after Douglas Carswell changed political allegiance in August 2014 moving from the Conservative Party to UKIP, he promptly announced his resignation as an MP, thereby necessitating a by-election. In September 2014, Mark Reckless did likewise. Given that you won your parliamentary seat on the back of Labour Party support and finance and on the pledge of honouring Labour’s election manifesto, do you intend follow the same course and observe these dignified precedents?

Secondly, according to your website: “The Independent Group of MPs is supported by Gemini A Ltd a company limited by guarantee.” This is a private company, registered with Companies House on January 16th, which Gavin Shuker controls “75% or more” of the shares. Can you make clear in what way your organisation is not a political party, or if as appears to be the case it is a new party, that it will be subject to Electoral Commission rules that ensure transparency as regards finance and donations?

Kind regards,

James Boswell

The email addresses of all MPs are publicly available but I have included a list of addesses for the seven members of The Independent Group below in the hope of encouraging others to express their opinions directly:

Chuka Umunna: chuka.umunna.mp@parliament.uk

Luciana Berger: luciana.berger.mp@parliament.uk

Ann Coffey: ann.coffey.mp@parliament.uk

Mike Gapes: mike.gapes.mp@parliament.uk

Chris Leslie: chris.leslie@parliament.uk

Angela Smith: officeofangelasmithmp@parliament.uk

Gavin Shuker: gavin.shuker.mp@parliament.uk

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An earlier letter to my constituency MP

Dear Paul Blomfield,

I have read that in the likely event that Jeremy Corbyn is again elected to serve as leader, there may be moves to encourage Labour MPs to disregard the democratic mandate of Labour members, declare independence in parliament, and seek recognition from John Bercow as the official opposition. In such circumstances, can you please assure me that you will actively repudiate any invitation of this, or any similar kind, that betrays the wishes of the members and seeks to create a further division of the party.

James Boswell

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Additional:

Back in 2016, Sharmini Peries of The Real News interviewed Leo Panitch, Professor of Political Economy at Yory University, Toronto and author of many books including The Making of Global Capitalism and The End of Parliamentary Socialism. Panitch provides very insightful analysis on the grassroots origins of “Momentum”, how its emergence helped Corbyn win the first leadership election, and how it has been traduced by both by opponents within the party and the media:

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Update: Craig Murray on the Corrupt Seven and the media response

On February 19th, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan and whistleblower, Craig Murray, published a lengthy article from which the following is an extended excerpt. Here he is discussing the Corrupt Seven’s (as he calls them) “deeply dishonourable” decision not to stand for re-election, and why Luciana Berger’s complaints of antisemitism cannot be blamed on Corbyn:

Democracy is a strange thing. This episode has revealed that it is apparently a democratic necessity that we have another referendum on Brexit, while being a democratic necessity not to have another referendum on Scottish Independence, while the notion that the MPs, who now have abandoned the party and manifesto on which they stood, might face their electorates again, is so disregarded that none of the fawning MSM journalists are asking about it. In rejecting this option, the Corrupt Seven are managing the incredible feat of being less honorable than Tory MPs defecting to UKIP, who did have the basic decency to resign and fight again on their new prospectus.

Dick Taverne is a more directly relevant precedent, particularly as he was deselected as sitting Labour MP precisely because of his support for the EU. Taverne resigned, and fought and won his seat in a by-election in 1973, before losing it in the second 1974 election. There are also precedents for crossing the floor and not resigning and fighting under your new banner, but then there are also precedents for mugging old ladies. It is deeply dishonorable.

Luciana Berger is a one trick pony and it is worth noting that her complaints about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party date back to at least 2005, while Tony Blair was still Prime Minister. Berger had already by April 2005 spotted anti-Semitism in the National Union of Students, in the Labour Party and in her student union newspaper, those being merely the examples cited in this single Daily Telegraph article. I am extremely sorry and somewhat shocked to hear of the swamp of anti-semitism in which we were all already mired in 2005, but I do find it rather difficult to understand why the fault is therefore that of Jeremy Corbyn. And given that Tony Blair was at that time Prime Minister for eight years, I cannot understand why it is all Corbyn’s fault and responsibility now, but it was not Blair’s fault then.

On the contrary, the Telegraph puff piece states that Berger had met Blair several times and was Euan Blair’s girlfriend. This was of course before the privately educated Londoner was foisted on the unfortunate people of Liverpool Wavetree, doubtless completely unfacilitated by her relationship with Euan Blair.

The kind of abuse Berger has evidently been attracting since at least 2005 is of course a crime. Two people have quite rightly been convicted of it. Joshua Bonehill-Paine and John Nimmo sent a series of truly disgusting tweets and both were jailed. Both are committed long term neo-nazis. Yet I have repeatedly heard media references to the convictions squarely in the context of Labour Party anti-semitism. I have never heard on broadcast media it explained that neither had anything to do with the Labour Party. Like the left wing anti-semitism Berger has been reporting since at least 2005, this Nazi abuse too is all somehow Jeremy Corbyn’s fault.

It is further worth noting that in that 2005 article Berger claims a 47% increase in attacks on Jews, which is highly reminiscent of recent claims from community groups, such as the 44% increase claimed 2015 to 2017 or the 78% increase in violent crimes against Jews in the UK in 2017 alone claimed by the government of Israel.

One antisemitic attack is too many and all anti-semitism is to be deplored and rooted out. But if all these claims repeated again and again over decades of 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70% increases in attacks per year were true, then we would be now talking of at least 12,000 violent attacks on Jews per year, if we take Ms Berger’s 2005 claim as the baseline.

Yet we are not seeing that. The average number of convictions per year for violent, racially motivated attacks on Jewish people in the UK is less than one.

If we add in non-violent crimes, the number of people convicted per year for anti-semitic hate crime still remains under 20. And I am not aware of a single such conviction related in any way to the Labour Party.

Let me be perfectly plain. I want everybody convicted and imprisoned who is involved in anti-semitic hate crime. But the facts given above would cause any honest journalist to treat with more scepticism than they do, the repeated old chestnut claims of huge year on year increases in anti-semitic incidents.

There really are in logic only two choices; either anti-semitism is, contrary to all the hype, thankfully rare, or the entire British police, prosecutorial and judicial system must be systematically protecting the anti-semites. And I hardly see how they could blame Jeremy Corbyn for that.

None of this will stop the relentless promotion of the “Corbyn anti-semitism” theme, as the idea of a leader not completely behind the slow extirpation of the Palestinian people is unthinkable to the mainstream media class. The Corbyn anti-semitism meme is possibly the most remarkable example of evidence free journalism I have ever encountered.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full post entitled “Democracy and the Corrupt Seven”.

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1 From an article entitled “Why a “True Labour” splinter party could succeed where the SDP failed” written by Bagehot, published in The Economist on August 12, 2016. http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2016/08/labour-pains

2 From an article entitled “The sound of Blairite silence: Owen Smith has become the willing dupe of the Labour right” written by Paul Mason, published by Medium.com on August 19, 2016.  https://medium.com/mosquito-ridge/the-sound-of-blairite-silence-aed2ef726c8a#.tktnlfuww

3 From an article entitled “Labour’s Chuka held secret talks with Hillary Clinton’s campaign team to advise on how to defeat ‘US Corbyn’ written by Glen Owen, published in The Mail on Sunday on October 23, 2016. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3863494/Labour-s-Chuka-held-secret-talks-Hillary-Clinton-s-campaign-team-advise-defeat-Corbyn.html

4 From an article entitled “Chuka Umunna ‘holds secret talks with Tory MPs plotting to force PM to accept soft Brexit’” written by Aletha Adu, published in the Sunday Express on June 25, 2017. https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/821016/Chuka-Umunna-Tory-remainers-soft-Brexit-DUP-theresa-may-repeal-bill-Queens-speech

5 From an article entitled “CORBYN’S CURTAIN CALL: Furious MPs vow to ‘COLLAPSE’ leadership at SECRET MEETINGS” written by David Maddox, published in the Daily Express on August 7, 2018. https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/999804/jeremy-corbyn-labour-leadership-coup-brexit-antisemitism

6 From an article entitled “Peter Mandelson: I try to undermine Jeremy Corbyn ‘every single day’” written by Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot, published in the Guardian on February 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/21/peter-mandelson-i-try-to-undermine-jeremy-corbyn-every-day

7 Quote taken from an article entitled “Ash Sarkar takes down a resigning Blairite MP so brutally, a BBC host intervenes” written by James Wright, published in The Canary on February 18, 2019. https://www.thecanary.co/trending/2019/02/18/ash-sarkar-takes-down-a-resigning-blairite-mp-so-brutally-a-bbc-host-intervenes/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Craig Murray

this is the EU — so take it or leave it… #5. Greece and the tyranny of Brussels

“In the euro area, the countries in the periphery have nothing at all to offset austerity. They are simply being asked to cut total spending without any form of demand to compensate. I think that is a serious problem.

“I never imagined that we would ever again in an industrialised country have a depression deeper than the United States experienced in the 1930s and that’s what’s happened in Greece.

“It is appalling and it has happened almost as a deliberate act of policy which makes it even worse”. [Bold highlight added]

— Lord Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England. 1

“The Greek people have been living through hell during the last six years, and unfortunately they trusted that Tsipras [PM] would put an end to the extreme austerity measures, which are combined with a total undemocratic regime. Unfortunately, instead of putting an end, he put his signature to a third memorandum, which is even worse than the previous two…

“People are back on the streets protesting for their rights and dignity because right now they’re being asked to pay taxes which amount to almost the totality of their revenue. They’re asked to give up their homes… They’re asked to surrender public property, which is privatized at very, very low prices. And, they’re also asked to give up democracy”

— Zoe Konstantopoulou, lawyer and former Speaker of Hellenic Parliament. 2

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On 13th July [2015], the democratic elected Greek government of Alexis Tsipras was brought to its knees by the European Union. The “agreement” of 13th of July is in fact a coup d’état. It was obtained by having the European Central Bank close down the Greek banks and threaten never to allow them to open up again, until the Greek government accepted a new version of a failed program. Why? Because official Europe could not stand the idea that a people suffering from its self-defeating austerity program dared elect a government determined to say “No!”.

So begins the call for “A plan B in Europe” put together by a group of prominent European left-leaning politicians from Parti de Gauche (France), Die Linke (Germany), Red Green Alliance (Denmark), Socialist Party (SP) (Ireland), Bloco de Esquerda (Portugal), and Syriza (Greece). Top of the bill is Yanis Varoufakis (a principle author, I imagine, given some of the polemical flourishes within this signed but otherwise uncredited page-long call to action).

The piece continues:

We must learn from this financial coup. The euro has become the tool of economic and governmental dominance in Europe by a European oligarchy hiding behind the German government, delighted to see Mrs Merkel doing all the « dirty work » other governments are incapable of undertaking. This Europe only generates violence within nations and between them: mass unemployment, fierce social dumping and insults against the European Periphery that are attributed to Germany’s leadership while parroted by all the “elites”, the Periphery’s not excluded. The European Union has thus become an agent of an extreme right wing ethos and a vehicle for annulling democratic control over production and distribution throughout Europe. 3

Click here to read the full statement.

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Now let us go back nine months – back to the eve of the Greek referendum during the dog days of last summer, and just before the extraordinary ‘oxi’ vote which momentarily reverberated across our western hemisphere.

Yanis Varoufakis [3:45 mins in]: Let me tell you something which is probably unknown. Ever since we declared the referendum and we incensed our European partners we had the most interesting proposals coming from Brussels. Perhaps this referendum and the impasse it represents concentrated several minds in Brussels and we’ve had some really good proposals – proposals we would sign on the dotted line for.

Paul Mason: You have a proposal you would sign on the dotted line for?

Varoufakis: Yes, we do.

Mason: Where is it?

Varoufakis: Well, I’m not going to tell you. It’s somewhere in this building. But the crucial part of the story is that before this proposal becomes a genuine negotiating document which we can sign off on Monday, the people have to empower us with a “no”.

From the Channel 4 news interview embedded above broadcast on July 3rd 2015 that is also available here.

You can find the same clip here on Varoufakis’ blog.

Shortly thereafter [July 5th] the people of Greece, perhaps in light of Varoufakis’ advice, went to the polls and voted overwhelming in favour of rejecting the Eurogroup deal with its demands for increasing doses of “austerity” and ‘Washington Consensus’-style ‘conditionalities’ — the enforced privatisation of public services and other forms of so-called ‘deregulation’. To which the response from Brussels was to immediately double down by issuing still harsher neoliberal demands. With this, the mask of European social democracy fell away completely.

Nobel laureate economist, Paul Krugman, was one who helped to promote the hashtag #ThisIsACoup when he wrote in the New York Times:

This Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag #ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.

Left Unity (which has a loose alliance with political parties Syriza and Podemos) also sent a message of support to the Greeks:

The people of Greece have resisted every threat, every piece of establishment propaganda telling them a No vote would mean ruin, and asserted their democratic rights. This will be a No heard around the world.

Now is the time to celebrate – and to step up our solidarity ahead of the Troika’s next move. Come along to what will now be a victory rally at the TUC’s Congress House, organised by Greece Solidarity Campaign.

And the Greeks had indeed empowered their government with a resounding ‘no’, but instead of fighting on, Syriza under Tsipras’ leadership swiftly capitulated in what must be one of the fastest political U-turns of all time. In response, Varoufakis resigned, refusing to criticise his friend Tsipras, and also declining an invitation to join a small breakaway faction who hoped to restore the party’s anti-austerity ticket on which Tsipras and Syriza had stood little more than six months previously.

So there is a mystery here that remains. Varoufakis, who prides himself on openness, has simply never explained what actually happened during those most momentous days in early July. Specifically, what became of that proposal from Brussels he was so keen “to sign on the dotted line”. Surely he owes the Greek people a fuller explanation.

Moreover, while Varoufakis was quick to attribute blame for the Eurogroup failures on the inflexibility of Wolfgang Schäuble and fellow German Karl Lamers, he has to a large extent absolved other key players including, most notably, President of the ECB, Mario Draghi for their part in “the coup” (his words).

I have consistently defended Varoufakis and Tsipras and been scathing of others on the left for being too hurried in passing judgement and unduly hypercritical (as many earlier posts testify). Caught up in the drama, like others hoping Syriza’s election signified the beginning of truly revolutionary reforms, I confess that I became a cheerleader for both.

With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that Syriza and Varoufakis were both tremendously guilty of an over-reliance on the efficacy of “reasonableness” (more here), because ‘reasonableness’ only ever makes headway when it engages with opposition that is principled and reasoned. Against the irrational, it is blunt, and against the unscrupulous it becomes a danger to itself. Yet Syriza and Varoufakis seem incapable of learning this simple lesson. This is what Varoufakis wrote in the abstract to his “Confessions of an Erratic Marxist” [December 2013]:

Should we use this once-in-a-century capitalist crisis as an opportunity to campaign for the dismantling of the European Union, given the latter’s enthusiastic acquiescence to the neoliberal policies and creed? Or should we accept that the Left is not ready for radical change and campaign instead for stabilising European capitalism? This paper argues that, however unappetising the latter proposition may sound in the ears of the radical thinker, it is the Left’s historical duty, at this particular juncture, to stabilise capitalism; to save European capitalism from itself and from the inane handlers of the Eurozone’s inevitable crisis. 4

Throughout the crisis, he and the party he once represented at the Eurogroup meetings have been chewed up and spat out time and again and yet his response has been to remain unruffled and reasonable in his continued fight (hardly the right word) “to save European capitalism from itself”.

Today Varoufakis leads a parallel campaign Democracy In Europe 2025 made up of lecture tours and larger academic-style conferences making speculative calls for a Plan B in Europe. Beyond the well-meaning rhetoric, the movement is entirely bereft of strategy. And my immediate question to Varoufakis is actually this: why must we wait until 2025 to bring democracy (a gift of the ancient Greeks) back to Europe? After all he knows better than most that a week in politics is an exceedingly long time – so a decade might as well be an aeon.

Here then, to redress the balance of earlier posts (at the risk of angering readers and friends alike), I present the condemnatory appraisal courtesy of political commentator James Petras, who in March 2015 (a mere two months after Syriza were elected) wrote the following:

The vast majority of Greeks, who voted for Syriza, expected some immediate relief and reforms.  They are increasingly disenchanted.  They did not expect Tsipras to appoint Yanis Varoufakis, a former economic adviser to the corrupt neo-liberal PASOK leader George Papandreou, as Finance Minister. Nor did many voters abandon PASOK, en masse, over the past five years, only to find the same kleptocrats and unscrupulous opportunists occupying top positions in Syriza, thanks to Alexis Tsipras index finger.

Nor could the electorate expect any fight, resistance and willingness to break with the Troika from Tsipras’ appointments of ex-pat Anglo-Greek professors.  These armchair leftists (‘Marxist seminarians’) neither engaged in mass struggles nor suffered the consequences of the prolonged depression.

Syriza is a party led by affluent upwardly mobile professionals, academics and intellectuals.  They rule over (but in the name of) the impoverished working and salaried lower middle class, but in the interests of the Greek, and especially, German bankers.

They prioritize membership in the EU over an independent national economic policy.  They abide by NATO, by backing the Kiev junta in the Ukraine, EU sanctions on Russia, NATO intervention in Syria/Iraq and maintain a loud silence on US military threats to Venezuela! 5

[bold highlight added]

Click here to read the full article by James Petras.

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By latest estimates total Greek debt is 384 billion euros, or US$440 billion. That’s approaching nearly twice the size of Greece’s annual GDP.  A decade ago, in 2007-08 before the global crash, Greek debt was roughly half of what it is today, in terms of both total debt and as a percent of GDP.  Greek debt was actually less than a number of Eurozone economies.  So Greece’s debt has been primarily caused by the 2008-09 crash, Greece’s six year long economic depression [that] followed, the extreme austerity measures imposed on it by the Troika during this period which has been the primary cause of its long depression, and the Troika’s piling of debt on Greece to repay previously owed debt.

Contrary to European media spin, it’s not been rising Greek wages or excessive government spending that has caused the US$440 billion in Greek debt. Since 2009 Greek annual wages have fallen from 23,580 to less than 18,000 euros. Government spending has fallen from 118 billion euros to 82 billion.

writes Jack Rasmus in an extremely detailed overview of the state of the Greek crisis in light of the recent parliamentary vote (passed by a narrow margin of 153 to 145) to implement the latest demands of “the Troika” in order to ensure another tranche of unpayable loans. “Bailouts” that, as Rasmus explains at length, are then returned directly to the creditors:

As a recent in depth study by the European School of Management and Technology, ‘Where Did the Greek Bailout Money Go?, revealed in impeccably researched detail, Greek debt payments  ultimately go to Euro bankers. For example, of the 216 billion euros, or US$248 billion, in loans provided to Greece by the Troika in just the first two debt deals of May 2010 and March 2012, 64 percent (139 billion euros) was interest paid to banks on existing debt; 17 percent (37 billion euros) to Greek banks (to replace money being taken out by wealthy Greeks and businesses and sent to northern Europe banks), and 14 percent (29 billion euros) to pay off hedge funds and private bankers in the 2012 deal. Per the study, less than 5 percent of the 216 billion euros went to Greece to spend on its own economy. As the study’s authors concluded, “ the vast majority (more than 95 percent) went to existing creditors in the form of debt repayments and interest payments”.  And that’s just the 2010 and 2012 Troika deals. Last August’s third deal is no doubt adding more to the totals. 6

[bold highlight added]

Click here to read Jack Rasmus’ full article published in Counterpunch.

The cycles of debt-repayment might literally be never-ending, because Greece will never be able to fully repay all of its (odious) debts. It is a situation compounded because Greece’s already floundering economy is completely suffocated by the Troika’s imposed “austerity” regime.

But this disastrous situation is no accident. The trap in which Greece finds itself satisfies two neo-liberal objectives. Firstly, Greece becomes so impoverished that it is forced to sell state assets at rock-bottom prices. Secondly, the sustained wealth transfer from the pockets of the ordinary Greeks into the hands of the bankers helps to prop up a failed financial system.

Setting the bizarre academic justifications aside, and overlooking the deeper reasons Greece became so indebted in the first place, what we see is how the Troika – two thirds of which is the EU – has put the sanctity of debt repayment far above the sanctity of human well-being. So whenever Greece comes up gasping for air, the IMF and the EU repeatedly pushes it back under again:

The media persists in calling the looting of Greece a “bailout.”

To call the looting of a country and its people a “bailout” is Orwellian. The brainwashing is so successful that even the media and politicians of looted Greece call the financial imperialism that Greece is suffering a “bailout.”

writes former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and former Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, Paul Craig Roberts in a recent article entitled “We Have Entered The Looting Stage of Capitalism”. In the piece, Roberts explains the EU’s role and the IMF’s apparent policy shift as follows:

Having successfully used the EU to conquer the Greek people by turning the Greek “leftwing” government into a pawn of Germany’s banks, Germany now finds the IMF in the way of its plan to loot Greece into oblivion.

The IMF’s rules prevent the organization from lending to countries that cannot repay the loan. The IMF has concluded on the basis of facts and analysis that Greece cannot repay. Therefore, the IMF is unwilling to lend Greece the money with which to repay the private banks.

The IMF says that Greece’s creditors, many of whom are not creditors but simply bought up Greek debt at a cheap price in hopes of profiting, must write off some of the Greek debt in order to lower the debt to an amount that the Greek economy can service.

The banks don’t want Greece to be able to service its debt, because the banks intend to use Greece’s inability to service the debt in order to loot Greece of its assets and resources and in order to roll back the social safety net put in place during the 20th century. […]

The way Germany sees it, the IMF is supposed to lend Greece the money with which to repay the private German banks. Then the IMF is to be repaid by forcing Greece to reduce or abolish old age pensions, reduce public services and employment, and use the revenues saved to repay the IMF.

As these amounts will be insufficient, additional austerity measures are imposed that require Greece to sell its national assets, such as public water companies and ports and protected Greek islands to foreign investors, principally the banks themselves or their major clients. […]

In other words, Greece is being destroyed by the EU that it so foolishly joined and trusted. The same thing is happening to Portugal and is also underway in Spain and Italy. The looting has already devoured Ireland and Latvia (and a number of Latin American countries) and is underway in Ukraine.

The current newspaper headlines reporting an agreement being reached between the IMF and Germany about writing down the Greek debt to a level that could be serviced are false. No “creditor” has yet agreed to write off one cent of the debt. All that the IMF has been given by so-called “creditors” is unspecific “pledges” of an unspecified amount of debt writedown two years from now.

The newspaper headlines are nothing but fluff that provide cover for the IMF to succumb to pressure and violate its own rules. The cover lets the IMF say that a (future unspecified) debt writedown will enable Greece to service the remainder of its debt and, therefore, the IMF can lend Greece the money to pay the private banks. […]

We have entered the looting stage of capitalism. Desolation will be the result. 7

Click here to read Paul Craig Roberts’ full article.

The overarching agenda of the EU – a plan rarely mentioned above a murmur – is to fuse its member nations under unelected technocratic governance for the benefit of a few corporations and the oligarchs who own them. So the notion that sticking by the EU is some sense an act of European solidarity is extremely misguided. Having already sold many of its people down the river, however, we are rapidly approaching a critical and perilous moment.

The far-right is now on the rise in many parts of Europe – Greece being an example, although thankfully Golden Dawn remains very much a minority party. And this swing towards ring-wing extremism is a direct consequence of the EU’s savage economic policies combined with its abject failure to save refugees and resolve the so-called “migrant crisis” (more in a later piece). As this alarming political shift occurs, the EU does next to nothing to address it. No debt relief for Greece or the other struggling member states. No let up on enforced “austerity” or privatisation. Neo-liberalism to the bitter end. But then, after Greece was collectively punished for the insolence of its ‘oxi’ vote last summer, only the most dewy-eyed believers can remain in serious doubt of the EU’s callous indifference towards the plight of its poorest citizens.

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1 Quote taken from “Euro depression is ‘deliberate’ EU choice, says former Bank of England chief” written by Mehreen Khan, published in The Telegraph on March 1, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/03/01/europes-depression-is-deliberate-eu-choice-says-former-bank-of-e/ 

2 Quote taken from an article entitled “The Ugly Truth Behind the Greek Bailout” written by Robert Hunziker, published by Counterpunch on May 10, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/10/the-ugly-truth-behind-the-greek-bailout/ 

3 From a statement entitled “A plan B in Europe” from Plan B for Europe. https://www.euro-planb.eu/?page_id=96&lang=en. The statement continues:

It is a dangerous lie to assert that the euro and the EU serve Europeans and shield them from crisis. It is an illusion to believe that Europe’s interests can be protected within the iron cage of the Eurozone’s governance “rules” and within the current Treaties. President Hollande’s and Prime Minister Renzi’s method of behaving like a “model student”, or in fact a “model prisoner”, is a form of surrender that will not even result in clemency. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said it clearly: « there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties ». This is the neoliberal adaptation of the « limited sovereignty » doctrine invented by the Soviet leader Brezhnev in 1968. Then, the Soviets crushed the Prague Spring with their tanks. This summer, the EU crushed the Athens Spring with its banks.

We are determined to break with this “Europe”. It is the basic condition needed to rebuild cooperation between our peoples and our countries on a new basis. How can we enact policies of redistribution of wealth and of creation of decent jobs, especially for the young, ecological transition and the rebuilding of democracy within the constraints of this EU? We have to escape the inanity and inhumanity of the current European Treaties and remould them in order to shed the straightjacket of neoliberalism, to repeal the Fiscal Compact, and to oppose the TTIP.

We live in extraordinary times. We are facing an emergency. Member-states need to have policy space that allows their democracies to breathe and to put forward sensible policies at the member-state’s level, free of fear of a clamp down from an authoritarian Eurogroup dominated by the interests of the strongest among them and of big business, or from an ECB that is used as a steamroller that threatens to flatten an “uncooperative country”, as it happened with Cyprus or Greece.

4 From “Confessions of an Erratic Marxist in the Midst of a Repugnant European Crisis” written by Yanis Varoufakis, published on December 10, 2013. http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2013/12/10/confessions-of-an-erratic-marxist-in-the-midst-of-a-repugnant-european-crisis/ 

5 From an article entitled “Lies and Deceptions on the Left: The Politics of Self Destruction” written by James Petras, published by Global Research on March 22, 2015. http://www.globalresearch.ca/lies-and-deceptions-on-the-left-the-politics-of-self-destruction/5438105

6 From an article entitled “Greek Debt Negotiations: Will the IMF Exit the Troika?” written by Jack Rasmus, published in Counterpunch on May 26, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/26/greek-debt-negotiations-will-the-imf-exit-the-troika/ 

7 From an article entitled “We Have Entered The Looting Stage Of Capitalism” written by Paul Craig Roberts, published on May 25, 2016. http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2016/05/25/we-have-entered-the-looting-stage-of-capitalism-paul-craig-roberts/ 

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Filed under analysis & opinion, austerity measures, Germany, Greece, neo-liberalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read Paul Mason’s full article

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

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

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

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Additional: a background on Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following is NOT taken from UKIP’s manifesto:

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAEF write:

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

And hear, hear to that!

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

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1

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

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

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

2

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

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

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

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

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

4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paul Mason speaks for many on the liberal left, unfortunately…

In a ‘one size fits all’ paroxysm of despair, former BBC business editor and current odd job man at Channel 4 news, Paul Mason writes in Monday’s [Jan 11th] Guardian:

It is impossible to view this global rise of rage, ethnic conflict, victimisation and the curtailment of democratic norms with anything other than alarm. In particular, because it is happening on the cusp of a second global economic downturn. The collapse of growth in those middle-income countries dependent on commodities, combined with mass unemployment in southern Europe and the stagnation of China, may not produce another catastrophic financial event. But it does not need to. The route to a different kind of catastrophe is all too clear, as countries resort to trade embargoes, currency war and overt manipulation of the oil supply as geopolitical tools. The result is likely to be the deglobalisation of the world; the political destabilisation of the emerging economies; more floods of refugees from conflict zones the west cannot be bothered to engage with. 1

I don’t disagree. Not in spirit, at least. But I have trouble with Mason’s worries about ‘deglobalisation’, as if globalisation has been some kind of panacea. Moreover, I have tremendous difficulty swallowing the hook at the end of his line: his forecast that “the deglobalisation of the world” may result in “more floods of refugees from conflict zones the west cannot be bothered to engage with”. The highlight is mine. For such outrageous fairytales deserve to be put up in lights – has Paul Mason been asleep for the last decade or did he simply bang his head on something hard before putting pen to paper?

Back in the land of reality, the RAF had just deployed Hellfire and Brimstone missiles in Syria reportedly to target an oilfield. 2 While in Mosul, the US was dropping two enormous 2,000-pound bombs to destroy a bank because it was allegedly holding “millions” in terrorist funds:

Papers and burnt furniture littered the concrete and steel rubble of several buildings that appeared to have been destroyed by the bombing, the video showed. Debris hung from dust-covered tree limbs, and rescuers pulled an old man’s bloodied body from the remains.

Footage from inside a damaged apartment building suggested civilian areas had also been hit. 3

Perhaps the dropping of the bombs deliberately into the middle of a densely populated urban centre to burn a few banknotes is not an ‘engagement’? Indeed, back in the land of fairytales, we are led to believe that by virtue of meticulous planning by the Pentagon, civilian casualties were minimised. Of course they were: our bombs are good bombs, and the bigger they get the more surgical they become, only ever killing the innocent by accident. In any case, the damage to the terrorist’s collateral was more than worth a bit of minor “collateral damage”.

Then we have Yemen:

Only six of our British military chaps, it seems, are helping the Sunni Saudis kill Shia Yemenis. And they’re not actually in Yemen, merely helping to choose the targets – which have so far included hospitals, markets, a wedding party and a site opposite the Iranian embassy. Not that our boys and girls selected those particular “terrorist” nests for destruction, you understand. They’re just helping their Saudi mates – in the words of our Ministry of Defence – “comply to the rules of war”.

Saudi “rules”, of course, are not necessarily the same as “our” rules – although our drone-executions of UK citizens leave a lot of elbow-room for our British warriors in Riyadh. But I couldn’t help chuckling when I read the condemnation of David Mephan [sic], the Human Rights Watch director. Yes, he told us that the Saudis “are committing multiple violations of the laws of war in Yemen”, and that the British “are working hand in glove with the Saudis, helping them, enhancing their capacity to prosecute this war that has led to the death of so many civilians”. Spot on. But then he added that he thought all this “deeply regrettable and unacceptable”.

“Regrettable” and “unacceptable” represent the double standards we employ when our wealthy Saudi friends put their hands to bloody work. To find something “regrettable” means it causes us sadness. It disappoints us. The implication is that the good old Saudis have let us down, fallen from their previously high moral principles. 4

Click here to read the full article by Robert Fisk.

Leaving aside the US, Britain and Nato, no nation (and certainly no family) engages more vigorously in the “conflict zones” than our best friends the Saudis. But then, of course, our despots are good despots, in part because, the richer they get, the more  of our armaments they procure.

Paul Mason says:

“Our best shot at avoiding chaos comes from reinvigorating the institutions whose neglect lie at the root of the situation: the UN, the International Criminal Court, the Geneva conventions and national democracies encroached upon by arbitrary power and hereditary elites. And principles – such as privacy, the rule of law, restraint and proportionality.”

Which is a fine sentiment, if upside-side. Since before any of these institutions can be “reinvigorated” (I would say ‘rescued’ – if this is even possible), we must tackle the root cause: how to rollback the ‘encroachment’, as Mason meekly describes it, of “arbitrary power and hereditary elites”? Because international bodies like the World Bank, IMF, WTO and our own ECB and EU Commission became vampiric long ago and it is unwise to attempt merely to resuscitate any of them.

And the reality we face is a product of globalisation – that unholy alliance of western governments, transnational corporations and the largest NGOs – and by no means a consequence of its overly exaggerated decline. It is why, for instance, the head of a major human rights organisation, David Mepham, and others like him, only feign impartiality. They all pee in the same pot.

Mason rightly alerts us to the quickening rise of fascism, but he sees it only in its most grotesque displays: the foul-mouthed demagoguery of Donald Trump, the neo-Nazi rallies of Pegida in the homeland of Hitler, and the murderous folly of Erdoğan in his rush to establish a new Ottoman Empire. But this spectre of fascism has been with us ever since 9/11, and its stench is only a more concentrated fug of globalisation: that ‘open conspiracy’ to merger all state and corporate interests – the vision is Mussolini’s.

Our democracies are no longer ‘encroached’ upon by “arbitrary powers” but captured and held hostage to them. In fact, other than in name, our nations have ceased to function as democracies. We live instead under plutocratic governance.

It is this process we must seek to reverse. And we might begin perhaps by calling the criminals out by name. Certainly, we must end any ridiculous pretence that the Middle East somehow caught fire by accident.

Bush and Blair were the chief arsonists in Iraq and Afghanistan; Obama and Cameron then stoked the flames, sent drones to Pakistan and Yemen and – with Saudi help – set Libya and Syria ablaze. They did it for no other reason than to promote the special interests of the plutocrats. Surely no-one in their right mind would put any of these arsonists in charge of extinguishing their own fires. Just as no-one in their right mind truly believes the situation has worsened due to any lack of western “engagement”. There has been no end whatsoever to US, British and Nato “engagement” and there remains no end in sight – that’s the problem. Refusing to acknowledge this is another failure of too many on the liberal left.

Mason ends by saying:

Even as I write that, I realise how meagre these forces have become when ranged against the emotive power of revenge, hatred, racism, and the public celebration of ignorance and irrationality. But they are all we have.

So I ask him this: from whence did it come, this seething cauldron of “hatred, racism, and the public celebration of ignorance and irrationality”? He knows the answer, of course – the media he works for has been stirring it all along. So here’s another thing we urgently need to reverse. I wonder if Paul Mason is prepared to face up to the task.

Click here to read the full article by Paul Mason.

1 From an article entitled “As Mein Kampf returns to Germany, the world is again awash with hatred”, written by Paul Mason, published in the Guardian on January 11, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/11/mein-kampf-returns-to-germany-world-awash-with-hatred

2 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/11/raf-conducts-four-airstrikes-on-isis-in-syria

3 From an article entitled “ISIS video shows destruction from U.S. airstrike on Mosul bank” published by Reuters on January 12, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-usa-cash-idUSKCN0UQ13V20160112

4 From an article entitled “The Saudi Rules” written by Robert Fisk, published in Counterpunch on January 12, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/12/the-saudi-rules/

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