Category Archives: UK Politics

Anti-semitism bandwagon rolled out again

For a few months over the summer the British corporate media largely lost interest in smearing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-semite. Maybe they had begun to worry that the constant drum-beat of the past three years was deadening the public’s sensitivity to such claims.

But an election is now weeks away, and the anti-semitism smear bandwagon is being rolled out once again.

Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle (who also writes for the Tory-loving Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph newspapers) has yet again been terrifying readers as best he can, implying not so subtly that voting for Labour might risk a genocide of British Jews. After several years of painting Corbyn – preposterously – as some kind of unkempt, grey-bearded leader of a British Gestapo-in-the-making, Pollard spent the past few days highlighting in the corporate media the predictable results of the latest survey of Jewish public opinion. It suggests that a growing number of Jews are considering leaving Britain if Corbyn manages to oust Boris Johnson from power.

That we have reached the point where so many British Jews have been persuaded that Corbyn’s vocal criticism of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians means his entire party is infected with a supposed hatred of Jews needs some explaining. It is something I have been trying to do regularly, and in real time, as life has been breathed into these various slurs, both by a corporate media that detests the fairer society a Corbyn party promises and by an Israel lobby that identifies so closely with Israel that it has completely dehumanised Palestinians, to the extent that the crimes against them can be entirely overlooked – treated as no more significant than stepping on an ant.

In the figure of Pollard, we have a journalist who merges both outlooks, typified in this extraordinary tweet last year that at the time stunned even some of his followers but has now become a staple of the campaign against Corbyn and his democratic socialist politics. Efforts by the left to highlight the class war waged by an elite that’s been sucking the life out of the British economy to enrich itself have been maliciously recharacterised by Pollard and other rightwing journalists (some of whom ensconced themselves in the Labour party during Tony Blair’s rule) as an attack on Jews. But it is not the left that conflates the corporate elite with Jews, it is right wing journalists like Pollard.

We shall return to this issue later in the post.

Jonathan Freedland’s libel

An incident at the weekend helped to illustrate just how organised and malevolent the anti-semitism smears against Corbyn truly are.
Jonathan Freedland, a supposedly liberal columnist at the Guardian newspaper and a BBC regular, again proved how he has been a key
figure in weaponising this allegation against a Corbyn-led party. So eager is he to damage Labour and make sure it is no position to end a decade of Tory-imposed austerity that he threw aside all normal journalistic caution and published a libellous claim of anti-semitism against a potential Labour candidate in the coming general election.

There were several revealing aspects to this incident. Freedland defamed Majid Mahmood, a Labour local councillor in Birmingham, without making even the most rudimentary factual checks that the highly damaging claim was actually true – a basic journalistic duty. He simply relied on the word of a “previously reliable Labour source” – in other words, one of the many Blairite enemies of Corbyn within the Labour parliamentary faction and party bureaucracy who have been briefing against the leader for the past four years.

(It is worth recalling that a prominent anti-racism activist, Marc Wadsworth, was hounded from the party last year, accused of anti-semitism, for warning that Blairite MPs like Ruth Smeeth were briefing against their own leader to journalists in the right wing press. Smeeth accused Wadsworth of anti-semitism because she is Jewish, though Wadsworth says he did not know that – and, of course, her Jewishness is irrelevant to the issue of whether she was seeking to malign her own party’s leader through the media. Wadsworth’s mistake, it seems, was to assume that corporate “liberal” journalists like Freedland were not also part of those smear efforts.)

In Mahmood’s case, it was an egregious example of mistaken identity. Freedland and his “source” had confused the Birmingham councillor with a London lawyer of the same name who was fined over anti-semitic comments four years ago. Such confusion was clearly neither accidental nor innocent. Mahmood’s case highlighted something that was already patently obvious: that anti-Corbyn groups have been trawling the histories and social media posts of Labour members in an organised effort to weaponise anything they can find against the Labour leader. The defamation of Mahmood was simply the latest smear to emerge from this campaign.

Smears from within Labour

But Freedland’s “defence” was itself telling. The person relaying the smear to him was, he said, from inside Labour and had been “previously reliable”. That meant someone fairly senior in the party – thereby explaining Freedland’s readiness to believe him uncritically – and someone who had passed on similar damaging information before. It was irrefutable confirmation that Corbyn’s most venomous opponents are not in the Conservative party but drawn from Labour’s own top ranks. They want a Corbyn-led party destroyed even if it means keeping the Brexit-backing, austerity-loving, racism-indulgent Tories in power.

There was another ugly aspect to the behaviour of Freedland and his “source”. It looked suspiciously like both had uncritically accepted the unfounded claim against Mahmood because he had a Muslim name. They both appeared to have assumed that Muslims are more likely to be racist towards Jews and therefore accepted the claim with a much lower standard of evidence than they would have been expected in the case of anyone else.

In fact, the councillor’s name is a Muslim equivalent of “David Brown” or “George Smith”. Can we really imagine Freedland libelling someone with either of those names so casually, without making even cursory checks to be sure he had identified the right David Brown or George Smith?

This kind of behaviour has a name: it is called racism. And it is quite extraordinary to see Freedland so susceptible, after he has made a journalistic career out of exploring the intricacies of racism when it applies to Jews. It almost leaves one suspecting that this paragon of liberal journalism is really a hypocrite.

Fears the free lunch will end

The anti-semitism smear campaign is being revived in the corporate media for good reason. The stakes could not be higher for Britain’s ruling class. As worried as many of them are by Brexit, Corbyn is seen as a bigger threat. He might call time on the banquet they have been gorging on for four decades uninterrupted.

If Corbyn shunts Boris Johnson and the Tories out of power, the millionaires and billionaires who control both the British print and broadcast media, including the BBC, fear the good times could come to an abrupt end. The Brexit threat pales in comparison. That would simply shift our primary economic allegiance from Europe to the United States, leaving the predatory capitalism on which the corporate class has grown unimaginably rich as strong as ever.

A Corbyn government, by contrast, is an unknown quantity. The free-lunch might end, or at least start to feel more like an unsatisfying snack.

In truth, given the bitter divisions tearing apart his own party – between most of the mass membership, who are behind him, and the holdouts from the Blair-Brown era that still dominate the parliamentary party – it is hard to imagine Corbyn being able to do as much as his critics fear.

He may manage to curb the worst excesses of the neoliberal financial system, he may block further privatisation of the NHS, even reverse it a little, and he may bring a few vital national industries back into public ownership. He may manage too to redirect some of the cream the fat cats have been lapping up back into the public coffers for a New Green Deal. All of that would be a relief after so many years of Tory-designed austerity for the many and state socialism for the few.

But the corporate class are now so greedy, so used to getting their way, that even the smallest diminishment of their power and wealth is seen as an unbearable offence against what they divine as the natural order.

A tool of class war

They are not about to leave anything to chance. Corbyn must be tarred and feathered again. Four years of experimenting with various smears have selected anti-semitism as the weapon of choice. That false accusation can most easily be disguised to ensure it does not look like what it is intended to be when used against Corbyn and Labour: a tool of class war.

Claims of anti-semitism have worked ideally in damaging Corbyn because no real evidence has been needed. In fact, such claims succeed even when opposed to the known evidence (as we shall see). They work chiefly by innuendo and emotion. And better still, they work even when those accused like Corbyn and his allies deny the accusation. As in all good witch-hunts, denial is proof of guilt, as an ally of Corbyn’s, the MP Chris Williamson, has repeatedly found out. He has been barred from standing in the election, and has now resigned from the party, after correctly noting that Labour had in effect made the anti-semitism smears appear more credible by constantly apologising over evidence-free claims of anti-semitism from those seeking to harm the party’s image with voters.

This is a winning formula for the ruling class because anyone who tries to argue that Corbyn’s opponents are weaponising anti-semitism through the corporate media is thereby proved to be an anti-semite. The smears are entirely resistant to all evidence that they are smears.

Survey: little anti-semitism on left

That the anti-semitism claims are slurs has been demonstrated over and over again. But paradoxically the latest refutation came last week from the corporate elite’s house journal, the Economist – though, of course, it was not presented that way .

The magazine published a new survey of British public opinion showing that an ideological group it labelled as “very left wing” – presumably the people who share Corbyn’s views – were among the least likely to hold anti-semitic opinions, even though they also had by far the most critical views of Israel (an outlook the Economist mischievously termed “highly anti-Israel”).

In other words, those people on the left who firmly oppose Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians were unlikely also to harbour anti-Jewish views. The great majority could clearly distinguish between Israel and Jews, and did not hold Jews responsible for the crimes committed by the state of Israel.

The same could not be said, however, of either the centre or the right. Supporters of the right were less than half as likely to adopt critical views of Israel as the left but were three and a half times more likely to hold anti-semitic views. Meanwhile, only a small number of centrists were critical of Israel, and an almost identical number held anti-semitic views.

What the figures reveal is the very opposite of the Labour anti-semitism narrative – unless we wish to argue improbably that Labour and its 500,000 members (the largest party in Europe) are entirely unrepresentative of the wider public that shares their ideological worldview. The left overwhelmingly opposes Israeli colonial oppression of Palestinians but very few blame Jews for Israel’s behaviour. Israel is seen as a political project, one driven by an ugly ideology of settler colonialism, not a project representing all Jews. The latter is an anti-semitic position that, paradoxically, is supported and promoted by Israel itself.

Conversely, the same figures suggest that there is an identifiable problem of racism and anti-semitism on the right, and a potential one among centrists too. Whereas the left understands that Israel and Jews are entirely separate and distinct categories, both the centre and right appear to share a tendency of conflating Israel and Jews.

Racism rife on the right

In the case of the right, the figures show a close correlation between opposition to Israel and anti-Jewish feeling. A significant portion of the right either blame Jews collectively for Israel’s crimes or dislike Jews and so oppose the state that claims to represent them. Even though you would never know it from the media coverage, which concentrates exclusively on a supposed problem within the Labour party, anti-semitism is rife on the right in a way that simply isn’t true on the left.

The survey also hints at the possibility of a more veiled problem of racism and latent anti-semitism among “centrists”, a group presumably represented politically by the Lib Dems and the Blairite wing of the Labour party. Very few in this group express anti-Jewish sentiments – in fact, exactly the same small proportion as on the left. (Tellingly, despite these identical results, the Labour party has been smeared as “institutionally anti-semitic”, whereas the centrist Lib Dems have not.)

Nonetheless, there is a significant difference between the two political blocks – and one that could reflect much less well on the centrists than the left.

A much larger proportion of the centrist group appear to harbour sympathies for Israel, or at least view it uncritically, despite the ever mounting  evidence of Israel’s record of human rights abuses and intensifying oppression of Palestinians.

Remember that large numbers of the centrist Blairite faction of Labour MPs (though not the wider Labour membership) belong to Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and have proudly maintained their association with that organisation. They have continued to do so even after the LFI at first vigorously defended, then fell silent on Israel’s repeated massacres over the past 18 months of Palestinians protesters at the Gaza perimeter fence that encages them.

More than 220 Palestinians, including women, children, journalists, and medical staff, have been killed by Israeli snipers at the protests, while tens of thousands more have been maimed. But in a blatant example of anti-Arab racism, the LFI has blamed Hamas for these deaths, as though ordinary Palestinians in Gaza are simply pawns of Hamas and lack the volition to demand for themselves an end to an Israeli blockade that has imprisoned them for 12 years.

Centrists conflate Jews and Israel

Only a quarter as many centrists as leftists are critical of Israel, according to the Economist survey. In other words, a proportion of centrists appear to identify with Israel’s colonial oppression of Palestinians – possibly because they favour Jews over Arabs and Muslims (presumably as part of a “clash of civilisations” worldview) or maybe because they have positive feelings about Jews that translate into uncritical support for Israel, whatever it does to the Palestinians it rules over.

That could indicate a significant problem of anti-Arab or anti-Muslim prejudice among centrists, similar to the ugly assumptions made by Jonathan Freedland and his “source”. However, we can do little more than speculate on this point because the survey is concerned exclusively with Jews and Israel.

Nonetheless, the figures also allude to a potential anti-semitism problem in the ranks of the centrist camp. The stark lack of criticism of Israel among centrists, combined with little anti-semitism, suggests that a significant proportion of centrists, like right-wingers, consider Jews and Israel to be intimately connected – that they struggle to disentangle a political project (Israel) from an ethnic or cultural group (Jews).

There is only a narrow distinction between a right-winger who conflates Israel and Jews in a way that vilifies Jews and a centrist who conflates Israel and Jews in a way that venerates Israel.

Rejecting universal rights

The difference in the respective outcomes of this conflation could reflect differing understandings of what Israel does. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians – whether seen as justified or not – is then projected on to Jews. Once the conflation is accepted, Jews unfairly receive either credit (from centrists) or blame (from the right) for Israel’s actions.

Or, more likely, the right-wingers and centrists who conflate Israel and Jews – as a proportion appear to do – are equally indulgent of a particularist and regressive approach to rights. Instead of committing to universal human rights, shared by all alike, the particularists assign superior rights to those they think of as more like themselves. Right-wingers, it seems, tend to exclude Jews from this category, while centrists have a greater tendency to include them.

But the danger is that, if these centrists can be persuaded that Jews are not part of their in-group – for example, by undermining the idea of a supposed Judeo-Christian West, embodying the supposed values of “civilisation” – then they could be as susceptible as the right to a generalised Jew hatred. It is a commitment to universal human rights – a doctrine to which most on the left subscribe but which some on the right and the centre appear to reject – that provides the only sure-fire political inoculation against racism in general and anti-semitism in particular.

The Economist, of course, wishes to avoid drawing this very obvious conclusion, one implied by its findings, because that would wreck the narrative it and the rest of the corporate media have been constructing to damage Corbyn. In fact, the Economist poll echoes earlier research ignored by the corporate media, such as figures showing that instances of antisemitism in Labour amount to 0.08% of the membership,  and surveys demonstrating that the Tory party – and its “watermelon smiles” leader Boris Johnson – have a far bigger problem with racism, towards both Muslims and Jews.

Not a whiff of anti-semitism’

Not everyone in the political and media class is ready to dance to the same tune, as was made clear in an interview that gently turned the tables on Alastair Campbell, chief adviser to Tony Blair when he was Labour prime minister. Campbell helped Blair distort the intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003 that gave superficial credence to a different but equally confected story: both that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that those weapons were just a hair’s-trigger away from being fired at the UK. Up to 1 million Iraqis were killed as a result of that illegal war, and many millions more were driven from their homes.

Campbell, a man whose anti-Muslim, anti-Arab prejudices permitted him to help lay waste to another country on an entirely bogus pretext, and whose reputation in the corporate media suffered not a whit as a result, decided to use the interview to try to revive the Corbyn anti-semitism smears and undermine Labour’s chances of winning the election. Like other Blairites, Campbell has been an outspoken critic of Corbyn, even going public with the fact that he has started voting for the Lib Dems.

He asked his interviewee, John Bercow, the outgoing Speaker of the House of Commons and a Jewish member of the Conservative party, to comment on Corbyn and the anti-semitism allegations. Campbell’s transparent aim was to recruit Bercow to the smear campaign – both as a Jew and as someone who has come to be widely trusted since becoming House Speaker as an arbiter of an even-handed politics.

Bercow’s response was not what Campbell hoped for. The former Speaker answered cautiously, but observed: “I myself have never experienced anti-semitism from a member of the Labour party … I do not myself believe Jeremy Corbyn is anti-semitic … I have known him for the 22 years I have been in parliament … and I have never detected so much as a whiff of anti-semitism from him.”

Campbell’s face could barely conceal his disappointment.

The interview was another reminder that those leading the anti-semitism smear campaign often have, given their own histories, precisely zero credibility on the issue of racism, let alone class politics. Whatever they may think they believe, it is not racism that truly concerns Campbell or Freedland; it is their fear of a different kind of politics, one that requires from them an entirely different way of understanding British colonial history, of interpreting Britain’s role in the world, and of ending the UK’s gaping class divide. They, like so many others in the media and political elite, are frightened that a different kind of politics might force them to look in the mirror – and finally understand that long ago they chose to stand with the oppressors rather than the oppressed.

Unfree Media: State Stenography And Shameful Silence

A recent viral clip of Jeremy Corbyn featured vital truths about the corporate media that ought to be at the forefront of public consciousness in the approach to the UK General Election on December 12. The clip began:

A free press is essential to our democracy. But much of our press isn’t very free at all.

Corbyn continued:

Just three companies control 71 per cent of national newspaper circulation and five companies control 81 per cent of local newspaper circulation.

This unhealthy sway of a few corporations and billionaires shapes and skews the priorities and worldview of powerful sections of the media.

And it doesn’t stop with the newspapers, on and offline. Print too often sets the broadcast agenda, even though it is wedded so firmly to the Tories politically and to corporate interests more generally.

Corbyn’s words were not from a recent speech. They were actually delivered as part of his Alternative Mactaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival in August 2018. But they remain as relevant as ever; hence being picked up anew by ‘Tory Fibs‘, a grassroots socialist Twitter account.

Corbyn shone a spotlight on the BBC:

The BBC should be freed of government control, democratised and made representative of the country it serves to help it do that.

The BBC is meant to be independent, but its charter grants governments the power to appoint the chair and four directors of the board and set the level of the licence fee.

As regular readers will be well aware, Media Lens has long highlighted the BBC’s lack of independence and, more particularly, the insidious role of BBC News in protecting the establishment, promoting deference to the royal family and class system, as well as deflecting scrutiny of state and corporate crimes.

Corbyn concluded on the state of the media today:

We need to set journalists and citizens free to hold power to account, by breaking the grip of tech giants and billionaires on our media.

All this is arguably never more evident than when a General Election is looming. Right now, established power is fighting tooth and nail to maintain its control on society. Corporate media, including gatekeepers like the BBC and the Guardian – ‘thus far and no farther’, in the words of Noam Chomsky – play a central role in maintaining the destructive status quo.

Filtering Facts

The state-corporate management and manipulation of ‘the news’ relies on a subtle filtering process whereby leading journalists select – consciously or otherwise – which facts are ‘fit’ to be reported, and which can or should be ignored.

Consider an item on BBC News at Ten last Thursday when political editor Laura Kuenssberg reported Boris Johnson’s visit to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. She presented the Prime Minister in a favourable light, having amiable encounters with people in Addenbrooke’s. What the BBC did not show were the jeers of staff and patients ringing in Johnson’s ears as he left the hospital. Nor did Kuenssberg report on the young medical student who was ‘pushed aside by [a] Boris Johnson aide’ while attempting to challenge Johnson on the NHS and the climate crisis. Julia Simons, who is training at the hospital to become a doctor, called his visit a ‘PR stunt’.

We challenged the BBC political editor via Twitter:

Hello @bbclaurak,

Why did your @BBCNews at Ten piece on Boris Johnson’s visit to a Cambridge hospital omit the part where he left with jeers from staff and patients ringing in his ears?

Our tweet was ‘liked’ and retweeted hundreds of times, but there was no reply from Kuenssberg. Her Twitter bio states:

I know it’s fashionable, but even in 2019 there is nothing big or clever about shooting the messenger – tweets or retweets here aren’t necessarily my view

But, by heavily filtering the facts that Kuenssberg selects to tweet or retweet, ‘the messenger’ has transformed into an echo chamber and amplifier of government propaganda. This phenomenon of state stenography – which, of course, is far from new – was highlighted in an excellent article recently by Peter Oborne, former chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph. Under the title, ‘British journalists have become part of Johnson’s fake news machine’, Oborne argued that:

From the Mail, The Times to the BBC and ITN, everyone is peddling Downing Street’s lies and smears. They’re turning their readers into dupes.

As Oborne noted, ‘mainstream’ political journalism too often relies upon whatever ‘a senior No 10 source’ says:

This modus operandi, which allow pro-government narratives to enter the public domain unmediated by proper interrogation, has become routine among political reporters since Johnson and his Vote Leave media team entered Downing Street.

Oborne observed:

There is an implicit deal. In return for access and information (much of it false) the political media spins a pro-government narrative.

As a recent example, Oborne pointed to the government’s deceitful response to the leaked ‘Yellowhammer dossier‘ setting out the damaging consequences of a no-deal Brexit on the UK – a news story that ‘deeply embarrassed’ Boris Johnson and senior ministers. Downing Street responded by feeding a false claim to compliant journalists that the leak happened on Theresa May’s watch; and that Remain-supporting ex-ministers led by Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer in May’s Cabinet, were responsible. Newspapers were full of convenient headlines and stories about the alleged leakers, distracting attention from the damaging analysis of the leaked dossier itself. As Oborne noted, it turned out that the leaked document was dated nine days after Johnson came to power: the leak had occurred under his watch, not May’s.

This issue of journalist access in return for maintaining a power-friendly narrative has long been known. The media’s heavy reliance on state and corporate sources is one of the five ‘news filters’ – along with corporate ownership, advertising, flak and ‘anti-Communism’ – in the propaganda model of the media introduced by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in ‘Manufacturing Consent’ (1988).

Focusing on the country’s two main political editors – the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston of ITV News – Oborne added:

Political editors are so pleased to be given “insider” or “exclusive” information that they report it without challenge or question.

Oborne, as a senior journalist with experience and clout, was afforded follow-up media interviews to make his case. Perhaps the most noteworthy example was his fiery appearance on Radio 2 where he was interviewed by Amol Rajan, a former editor of the oligarch-owned Independent and now the BBC’s media editor. You do not get to such exalted positions in the corporate media, as Rajan has done, by being a thorn in the side of the establishment. In a remarkable exchange, not only did Oborne name and shame major political editors for cosying up to power, he directly, and correctly, accused Rajan of the same. (Click here, starting at around 1:09:20; or, once the BBC link has expired, listen to the relevant segment here)

Oborne commented:

You, yourself, when you were Independent editor, notoriously sucked up to power. You are a client journalist yourself…you were a crony journalist yourself. It’s time this system was exploded.

Rajan blustered:

It’s unbecoming of you, Peter, it’s unbecoming.

When Oborne added that Rajan had also ‘failed to notice’ stories as BBC media editor, there was a brief stunned silence.

In 2014, when Rajan was the Independent’s editor, he boasted of ‘our proud record on coverage of Iraq’. We responded at the time:

Sorry, we have analysed the Independent’s performance closely. Your record was and is shameful. Where to start?

Rajan did not reply. It was around this time that he blocked us on Twitter.

OPCW Whistleblowers Question The Douma Narrative

A further, grave example of present-day propaganda filtering involves the corporate media blanking of further proof that western powers, notably the US, have been manipulating the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Last month, WikiLeaks published evidence from an OPCW whistleblower showing that the international chemical watchdog had suppressed evidence suggesting that the Syrian government had not, in fact, mounted a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, on April 7, 2018. In other words, there is clear authoritative testimony from an OPCW insider contradicting the endlessly repeated narrative that ‘Assad used weapons against his own civilians’ in Douma. This state-approved script, propagated throughout the major western news media, served as the ‘justification’ for the US, UK and France to launch missile strikes on Syria seven days later.

Shockingly, as reported by WikiLeaks, a panel of experts convened by the Courage Foundation, an independent British civil society organisation, reported that:

Not only did the panel find that OPCW tampered with the evidence to produce an outcome desired by the geopolitical actors involved in this instance, it tried to silence its own senior civil servants.

One member of the panel, Richard Falk – an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years – noted that the credibility of the panel’s conclusions were strengthened by having José Bustani, a former Director-General of the OPCW, among its members.

Falk added:

Not only is there a lack of transparency and accountability with respect to the undertakings of major national governments, but there is a deliberate manipulation of evidence and obstruction of procedures designed to protect the citizenry against abuses of state, and in the case of major states, especially the United States, to protect the public interest.

This new testimony added to the earlier revelations in May that Ian Henderson, a senior OPCW scientist, had written a detailed report, suppressed by OPCW, calling into question the official version of events in Douma. As our media alert at the time noted, very little media coverage was devoted to this expert evidence questioning the Washington-stamped ‘consensus’ view.

Robert Fisk’s article in the Independent ten days after the Douma incident was a vanishingly rare exception. He interviewed a Syrian doctor who told him that the victims of the alleged chemical attack had actually suffered from hypoxia – oxygen starvation in the dusty tunnels where they had taken refuge from bombing– and not gas poisoning. As we also observed in our media alert, BBC Syria producer Riam Dalati stated on Twitter that after almost six months of investigation he had concluded that:

I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.

Two days after the Douma attack, he had tweeted:

Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

Dalati later deleted his tweet and set his Twitter account to ‘private’ status (it has since become accessible to the public again).

Typically, the BBC sought to minimise any public doubts about the official narrative on Douma by including only Syrian and Russian claims of ‘fabrication’. There was little, or no, coverage of sceptical Western voices. In similar fashion, in the run-up to the Iraq war of 2003, BBC News and other ‘mainstream’ outlets had relegated credible allegations that the ‘threat’ of ‘Iraqi WMD’ was fake news to the ‘evil dictator’ Saddam Hussein.

Readers may recall that award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh had difficulty publishing his in-depth, sceptical reporting about an earlier alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack at Ghouta in 2013. In the end, he had to publish in the London Review of Books, of all places (here and here).

This is so often the fate of the best journalism: pushed to the margins where it can be safely ignored.

Corporate Eyes Averted And Tongues Bitten

The fact that a second OPCW whistleblower has now revealed extremely serious manipulation of evidence surrounding what happened at Douma has been greeted by a wall of corporate media silence. However, it was mentioned briefly by Jonathan Steele, a former senior Middle East correspondent for the Guardian, in a radio interview with Paul Henley on the BBC World Service on October 27, 2019 (listen here; from around 11:00; if no longer available from the BBC, listen to the extract archived here by Caitlin Johnstone and read her article):

Jonathan Steele: I was in Brussels last week … I attended a briefing by a whistleblower from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He was one of the inspectors who was sent out to Douma in Syria in April last year to check into the allegations by the rebels that Syrian aeroplanes had dropped two canisters of chlorine gas, killing up to 43 people. He claims he was in charge of picking up the samples in the affected areas, and in neutral areas, to check whether there were chlorine derivatives there …

Paul Henley: And?

JS: … and he found that there was no difference. So it rather suggested there was no chemical gas attack, because in the buildings where the people allegedly died there was no extra chlorinated organic chemicals than in the normal streets elsewhere. And I put this to the OPCW for comment, and they haven’t yet replied. But it rather suggests that a lot of this was propaganda…

PH: Propaganda led by?

JS: … led by the rebel side to try and bring in American planes, which in fact did happen. American, British and French planes bombed Damascus a few days after these reports. And actually this is the second whistleblower to come forward. A few months ago there was a leaked report by the person [senior OPCW scientist Ian Henderson – mentioned earlier in this alert] who looked into the ballistics, as to whether these cylinders had been dropped by planes, looking at the damage of the building and the damage on the side of the cylinders. And he decided, concluded, that the higher probability was that these cylinders were placed on the ground, rather than from planes.

PH: This would be a major revelation…

JS: … it would be a major revelation …

PH: … given the number of people rubbishing the idea that these could have been fake videos at the time.

JS: Well, these two scientists, I think they’re non-political – they wouldn’t have been sent to Douma, if they’d had strong political views, by the OPCW. They want to speak to the Conference of the Member States in November, next month, and give their views, and be allowed to come forward publicly with their concerns. Because they’ve tried to raise them internally and been – they say they’ve been – suppressed, their views have been suppressed.

PH: Very interesting.

(Transcript courtesy of Tim Hayward of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.)

In May, when the suppressed engineering assessment report on Douma by the OPCW’s Ian Henderson was leaked, Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, agreed that this was ‘an important story’. Despite polite nudges from Media Lens, and others, she said no more on the matter. Did BBC colleagues have a quiet word in her ear?

Following revelations of a second whistleblower last week, we challenged her once more. She again ignored us, but she did reply to one of our Twitter followers:

Thanks Philip. I’ve been in Canada this month reporting on elections & in Afghanistan for most of Sept. I did forward the earlier information to programmes but was away during more recent news so other teams /programmes would have looked at it.

While it is heartening to see any reply – perhaps a measure of Doucet’s desire to give at least the impression of being accountable to the public – it is a very evasive reply. It is remarkable that for five months she had not been around to report vital testimony from OPCW insiders blowing a hole in the official, US-friendly narrative used to ‘justify’ missile attacks on Syria. Clearly, she had decided it was not that important after all.

And what does ‘so other teams /programmes would have looked at it’ actually mean? What evidence did they examine? And how closely? Where are the BBC headlines and major coverage these revelations deserve? As far as we can tell, there has been no mention of the OPCW whistleblowers on the BBC News website; nor has there been any coverage on the main BBC News programmes. Our challenges to Paul Royall, editor of the BBC News flagship News at Six and Ten programmes, and Nick Sutton, editor of the BBC News website, have gone unanswered.

Meanwhile, the General Election on December 12 may well be, as Jeremy Corbyn says:

a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our country and take on the vested interests holding people back.

But time is rapidly running out for real change – whether that be on foreign policy, such as Syria, or the largest crisis now facing all of us. A global group of 11,000 scientists declared this week that the evidence is ‘clear and unequivocal’ that humanity is in a climate emergency. The stakes, then, are even higher than ‘once-in-a-generation’. As Extinction Rebellion have repeatedly warned, there may not be more than one new generation of humanity that will survive, given the severity of climate breakdown.

Assange in Court

I was deeply shaken while witnessing Monday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.

Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and sceptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.

The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.

The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.

The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.

Furthermore, the defence argued, they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defence against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in the USA since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. Incidentally I learnt on Sunday that the Spanish material produced in court, which had been commissioned by the CIA, specifically includes high resolution video coverage of Julian and I discussing various matters.

The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the US authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in the United States. Julian’s team explained that the Spanish legal process was happening now and the evidence from it would be extremely important, but it might not be finished and thus the evidence not fully validated and available in time for the current proposed timetable for the Assange extradition hearings.

For the prosecution, James Lewis QC stated that the government strongly opposed any delay being given for the defence to prepare, and strongly opposed any separate consideration of the question of whether the charge was a political offence excluded by the extradition treaty. Baraitser took her cue from Lewis and stated categorically that the date for the extradition hearing, 25 February, could not be changed. She was open to changes in dates for submission of evidence and responses before this, and called a ten minute recess for the prosecution and defence to agree these steps.

What happened next was very instructive. There were five representatives of the US government present (initially three, and two more arrived in the course of the hearing), seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into huddle with the US representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates.

After the recess the defence team stated they could not, in their professional opinion, adequately prepare if the hearing date were kept to February, but within Baraitser’s instruction to do so they nevertheless outlined a proposed timetable on delivery of evidence. In responding to this, Lewis’ junior counsel scurried to the back of the court to consult the Americans again while Lewis actually told the judge he was “taking instructions from those behind”. It is important to note that as he said this, it was not the UK Attorney-General’s office who were being consulted but the US Embassy. Lewis received his American instructions and agreed that the defence might have two months to prepare their evidence (they had said they needed an absolute minimum of three) but the February hearing date may not be moved. Baraitser gave a ruling agreeing with everything Lewis had said.

At this stage it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The US government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defence. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defence ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm.

The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Washington dictated timetable. Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defence, what makes the February date so important to the USA? I would welcome any thoughts.

Baraitser dismissed the defence’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, without bothering to give any reason why (possibly she had not properly memorised what Lewis had been instructing her to agree with). Yet this is Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007 in full:

On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offence – if this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.

Just in case anybody was left in any doubt as to what was happening here, Lewis then stood up and suggested that the defence should not be allowed to waste the court’s time with a lot of arguments. All arguments for the substantive hearing should be given in writing in advance and a “guillotine should be applied” (his exact words) to arguments and witnesses in court, perhaps of five hours for the defence. The defence had suggested they would need more than the scheduled five days to present their case. Lewis countered that the entire hearing should be over in two days. Baraitser said this was not procedurally the correct moment to agree to this but she will consider it once she had received the evidence bundles.

(SPOILER: Baraitser is going to do as Lewis instructs and cut the substantive hearing short).

Baraitser then capped it all by saying the February hearing will be held, not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading. I will probably be unable to get in to the substantive hearing at Belmarsh.

Plainly the authorities were disconcerted by the hundreds of good people who had turned up to support Julian. They hope that far fewer will get to the much less accessible Belmarsh. I am fairly certain (and recall I had a long career as a diplomat) that the two extra American government officials who arrived halfway through proceedings were armed security personnel, brought in because of alarm at the number of protestors around a hearing in which were present senior US officials. The move to Belmarsh may be an American initiative.

Assange’s defence team objected strenuously to the move to Belmarsh, in particular on the grounds that there are no conference rooms available there to consult with their client and they have very inadequate access to him in the jail. Baraitser dismissed their objection offhand and with a very definite smirk.

Finally, Baraitser turned to Julian and ordered him to stand, and asked him if he had understood the proceedings. He replied in the negative, said that he could not think, and gave every appearance of disorientation. Then he seemed to find an inner strength, drew himself up a little, and said:

I do not understand how this process is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t even access my writings. It is very difficult, where I am, to do anything. These people have unlimited resources.

The effort then seemed to become too much, his voice dropped and he became increasingly confused and incoherent. He spoke of whistleblowers and publishers being labeled enemies of the people, then spoke about his children’s DNA being stolen and of being spied on in his meetings with his psychologist. I am not suggesting at all that Julian was wrong about these points, but he could not properly frame nor articulate them. He was plainly not himself, very ill and it was just horribly painful to watch. Baraitser showed neither sympathy nor the least concern. She tartly observed that if he could not understand what had happened, his lawyers could explain it to him, and she swept out of court.

The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did.

In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.

I have been both cataloguing and protesting for years the increasingly authoritarian powers of the UK state, but that the most gross abuse could be so open and undisguised is still a shock. The campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society.

Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?

BREXIT:  Yes or No? 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson came back from Brussels with a deal better than any Theresa May ever achieved, so he says. His talks with the departing European Commissioner, Jean-Claude Juncker, were very fruitful. But precise details are never known. Juncker, emotional about his leaving and handing over the office of EU Commissioner on 1 November to Madame Ursula von der Leyen, from Germany, may have made some special concessions to Johnson some rumors go. But unlikely. He is not the only one to decide. Besides, deal or no deal, or BREXIT or no BREXIT, had already been decided shortly after the surprise pro-BREXIT public vote on 23 June 2016. And it is clear not the EU and not the British elite want BREXIT.

In any case, in a first vote on Mr. Johnson’s new and ‘better’ deal, the British Parliament voted 322 to 306 to postpone the vote on whether or not to accept the “new deal”, until the new “ratification law” is voted on.  What ratification law?  A precise date for the vote is not known. All that would point to the need to ask again Brussels for a postponement of the British decision, “deal or no deal”, beyond the current target of 31 October 2019. But, THE Boris says, he will do everything to avoid such a step. How?

The mess and confusion are overwhelming. People go crazy, especially in Britain. They don’t know what will happen when; whether their jobs are at stake, their pensions in question, in case some of them at one point in the past, or now, have been or are working in another EU country. Will ”The Market” ruin their savings? Will sudden border closings – pure speculation – cause enormous shortages of necessary goods, food, medicine and cause hyper-inflation?

Depression rates run high in Britain, as well as among those Brits who have made themselves a living in an associated EU country. Will they have to leave? Granted, it is not easy to live peacefully and without stress and anxiety under these circumstances.

Why is it so difficult to accept and respect the democratic vote to exit the European Union, never mind the narrow result of a 51.89% ‘yes’ ballot for leaving the EU?  Because this vote, of which we now know was helped by Cambridge Analytica came a as total surprise to the British elite, who never thought that a majority, even a small one, would be so sick and tired of being managed and told what to do by a cumbersome, bureaucratic EU Commission in Brussels.

Now, these behind-the-curtain elites are doing everything to appear keeping ‘democracy’ alive, respecting the vote, but finding any means to circumvent the action linked to the vote, namely, BREXIT. The circus has lasted for over three years and still no definitive decision is made. My hunch is – and I am not alone – that this has all been plotted shortly after the surprise ballot by a small elite that keeps a firm handle on the British Parliament and, of course, on the PM.

Besides, Washington is not keen on seeing the UK leave the EU. In more cases than one, the UK has acted as a US mole in the EU. For example, on the decision to accept 13 Eastern European countries in the EU, countries that were economically and socially far from at par with the 15 EU members in 2004 when they were integrated into the EU between 2004 and 2013. No questions asked, no member country’s population was asked for their opinion. It was done like by dictatorship. Most of the population of the 15 members would have said NO.

It was clear that these new, economically weak countries would also weaken the whole of the EU, as they would require special financial aid in the billions of euros, funds that the EU would miss to solidify for eventually forming a solid federal European Union. That’s exactly what Washington wanted, preventing a federal European Union with a common Constitution – an equal or superior to the federal United States of America.

A federal United States of Europe was, of course, squarely against the idea of the US which was the mastermind behind the European Union in the first place; an idea that was borne during or right after WWII, and then implanted by the CIA in willing European politicians, those heading the Club of Rome, for instance.

What if the succession Cameron, May, Johnson was also planned? It helps confusing the public. What if the assertiveness of Johnson to pull BREXIT through come hell or high water is mere make-believe? – He knows it will not happen, not on 31 October, and most likely not in January 2020. Then he “failed” and will resign? The new PM, whoever he / she may be, will call for a new referendum – as the public outcry in this direction becomes ever louder – democracy will finally be reinstated to bring order to the mess. Or, will a new referendum do that, reinstate “democracy” in the minds of those who have voted for BREXIT in June 2016? – Maybe not. Probably not. The possible consequences are unimaginable at this point.

The new referendum would be very carefully “accompanied” and supervised, so as not to allow any mishaps, or missteps by the voters. This time the votes must be SOLID pro-EU, if possible, by a landslide, so as not to evoke questions and recounts, and foremost to avoid protests in the streets of London, the financial capital, the city of money, the home turf of capitalism. “Remain” must be achieved with a very comfortable margin. And bingo, democracy has been preserved. And nothing changes. By then, some 4 years will be down the drain, four years of anger, frustration, insecurity, fear, depression, anxiety – and who knows how many suicides?

What would really happen if BREXIT were to take place as the voters decided?  Doomsday-sayers are, of course, paid to spread fear, fear of uncertainty, fear of no-longer belonging, fear of being evicted from wherever in Europe one might live. And we know, fear is the best means to keep people in check, while none of the nefarious Armageddon predictions would occur.

The UK, after the obligatory, speculative, profit-taking fall and rise of the stock and currency markets, would fully recover and within a couple of years would very likely be far better off than under the watchful eye of Brussels. The EU bureaucracy of Brussels is worse than useless, especially the EU Parliament which is completely toothless, and the European Commission that decides over all major issues without consultation of the member countries’ people. It brings only frustration and hardship to most members, as in having to adapt their laws to EU standards, losing their sovereignty. Germany, the tacit EU leader, may be an exception, though a majority of Germans would also like to turn their back to the EU.

So, what good is it to stay in this useless non-Union, that has no sense of solidarity, that allows weak members, like Greece, to be literally slaughtered by their own brothers, the IMF, the EC and the European Central Bank? Spain, Ireland and Portugal are not much better off and Italy’s EU fate hovers dreadfully over the Italian public, so much so, that the Italian Government decided on its own on a Plan B, namely association with the east, signing up to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

What is doomed after BREXIT, is most probably not the UK, but the European (non-) Union itself. This construct, with a fiat currency like the dollar, is not sustainable. A single currency for a group of countries that have no declared common goals, like a Constitution, is not sustainable. It is just a question, what will fall first, the EU or the Euro; but fall they will. It’s a matter of time.

BREXIT or no-BREXIT is actually anecdotal. But, hey, let’s not jump the gun. It’s pure speculation. After all chaos is dynamic and unpredictable. Anything can happen.

• First published by the New Eastern Outlook – NEO

Internal Dissolution: Brexit and the Disunited Kingdom

While the European family seems to be having its internal spats – populist sparks within threatening to light the powder keg – the marshals and deputies, for the most part, are attempting to contain the British contagion.  Britain is still scheduled to leave on October 31 without a deal with the European Union.  The divorce papers remain unimplemented, and the lawyers and mediators are chafing.  Governments across the European Union are planning for the hardest of hard departures, and Yellowhammer, the emergency government document contemplating the worst – queues, depleted supplies of necessaries, possible riots, transport shortages – has become, in a short time, part of the canon of apocalypse.

As that date looms, the internal prospects for British dissolution cannot be discounted.  What the Brexit to-and-fro has shown since 2016 is a certain version of boisterous and blind Englishness, rather than composed Britishness,  per se.  In announcing a Brexit war cabinet, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was really declaring war on Britain, with the EU enemy more spectral than ever.

The Britannic entity remains a political compact; England is a nation, albeit the dominant member.  Scotland and Wales are also nations, but have been somewhat eclipsed by what Neal Ascherson describes as “the nation which still thinks it’s more than just a nation, which has been paranoid about ‘foreigners telling us what to do’ since Henry VIII told the pope where he could stick it.”

It was that Englishness, more than any coherent concept of Britishness, that Johnson has pursued, both as Brexit campaigner and scribe, penning pieces as Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph from 1989 to 1994 that have now come to be described as true right-wing satire.  Those observations about Brussels-styled lunacy in regulation, much of it painfully emptied of fact, furnished the stirrings of English revolt.

The UK compact is under siege from several angles.  The prime minister’s attempt to prorogue parliament went to the highest courts in both Scotland and England, and perished in what can only be described as a cool, legal death.  The suspension of parliament had been obtained for improper purposes, a measure designed to prevent Parliament from exercising its scrutinising, and accountability functions.  The response from the Brexit platoons was one of horror and outrage: the people’s wishes had been repudiated by unelected judges.  Those wishing for Britain to remain, and those wishing for a clear Brexit deal, cheered the judges as discharging a relevant democratic function.  Parliament, in turn, has returned to type: a state of doomed paralysis seemingly awaiting some external catalyst.

The nations within the union are also unsettled.  Scotland is perhaps the most likely candidate to exit the Britannic family first.  While 51.9 percent of Britons voted to leave, 62 percent of Scots voted to remain.  Its attempts at independence have thus far failed, but the last three years have seen more kindling for the effort.  This has also been assisted by the refusal on the part of the UK government to offer Scotland a specially tailored variant of Brexit, a sort of Greenland-Denmark model.  This has been a feature marked by Westminster’s blanket exclusion of devolved governments in any part of the negotiations.

As law academic Sionaidh Douglas-Scott pointedly reminds us, the UK EU Withdrawal Act 2018 covering post-Brexit domestic law was enacted without Scottish consent, a clear “breach of the Sewel Convention.”  While Sewel is not a legally enforceable understanding, this very fact suggested the breach of mutual trust, an institutional sneer.  Westminster, in short, had shown its true colours.

The All Under One Banner (AUBO) procession on Saturday in Edinburgh attracted thousands, though it was unclear whether the hundred thousand number sought by the organisation was reached.  Irrespective of that point, background work is being done to stage the next independence referendum.  Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has re-busied herself with the project, hoping to re-run another vote in 2020.  This would require dispensation from the UK government. Her advertising plea?  We are doing more for infrastructure and the environment (better busses, a decarbonised Scottish rail network by 2035, a new green deal) and combating health inequality that Westminster has evidently loss interest in. “We will seek agreement to the transfer of power that will put the referendum beyond legal challenge.  We have a clear democratic mandate to offer the choice of independence within this term of parliament and we intend to do so.”

Ironically, Wales, having propped the leave vote in 2016, is now muttering about a possible exit from the UK while flirting with the idea of European re-engagement.  In July this year the BBC wondered whether it was becoming “indy-curious”. The network’s Welsh affairs editor Vaughan Roderick had this assessment: “there is not much evidence of growing support for independence itself, but there is evidence that it’s being talked about a lot more.”  Welsh Labour, for instance, suggests more than a smattering of interest for the idea.

This month, Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price told BBC Radio Wales’ Breakfast program that a referendum on the subject would take place by 2030.  He suggested the probable dissolution of the UK.  “The UK as we know it could cease to exist in a few short years.”  The message of the EU being the big bad wolf against British sovereignty does not feature in Price’s vision.  As an independent state – independent, that is, from the UK, yet a member of the EU – Wales would be able to obtain up to £2bn in extra funds.

To the Plaid Cymru party conference, Price reiterated the vision of “independence” as an “imperative”.  It was because of his party that “the argument for independence has moved from the periphery to the centre”. He also issued a stern warning to the governing English centre in Westminster: £20bn was needed, not as charity “but reparation for a century of neglect that has left a country, rich in its resources, a bitter legacy of poverty, sickness, blighted lives and broken dreams.”

Like a misguided effort at summoning demons, Brexit conjured up creatures that are proving impossible to contain.  The forces of history are finding their unruly way; the disaffected are starting to tear and itch.  The EU bogeyman is becoming less real than the kingdom’s internal conflict.  Hail, the Disunited Kingdom!

Railroaded by the Judges: Boris Johnson fails in the UK Supreme Court

It delighted Labour supporters and party apparatchiks who had been falling over each other in murderous ceremony at the party conference in Brighton: Prime Minister Boris Johnson would come to the unwitting rescue with his own version of a grand cock-up.  This involved a now defeated attempt to circumvent parliamentary scrutiny and interference ahead of the Brexit date of October 31 through a prorogation of parliament.

Johnson still felt he was in with a chance, and with good reason.  The UK Constitution is a nebulous muddle of conventions, documents and interpretations, a body of constitutional law without a constitution.  It is a 350-year old absurdity that relies on good behaviour, toe-tipping judges and sensible MPs.  But as Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion argues, Britain faces “a Prime Minister with no respect for the rules and a downright contempt for the law.”

Some decisions had favoured the government.  On September 6, London’s Divisional Court held that the advice to the monarch to suspend parliament was distinctly a no-go area for judges, purely a matter for rowdy political assertion.  As Lord Bingham noted in 2005, “The more purely political (in a broad or narrow sense) a question is, the more appropriate it will be for political resolution and the less likely it is to be an appropriate matter for judicial decision.”  It was, however, accepted “that decisions of the Executive are not immune from judicial review merely because they were carried out pursuant to an exercise of the Royal Prerogative”.

In the case of Johnson’s prorogation, it was “impossible for the court to make a legal assessment of whether the duration of the prorogation was excessive by reference to any measure”.  The same decision was also reached in the Belfast High Court, which proved similarly hesitant to step on the toes of the Executive.

The Scottish Court of Session expressed no such reserve, with Lords Carloway, Brodie and Drummond Young unimpressed by a process seemingly designed to stymie parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive.  Tactics deployed in achieving such prorogation might well be considered by a court to be improper.  This, the judges claimed to be the case.

The UK Supreme Court seemed well irritated by the presumptuousness of the Prime Minister’s position.  Courts do not always take kindly to suggestions of incompetence, even in such a fields as political manoeuvring and skulduggery.  In a unanimous judgment, the eleven judges ruled that it was “impossible to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there had been any reason – let alone good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks”.

The judgment is littered with well-directed grenades of disapproval, starting with the poke that it arose “in circumstances which have never risen before and are unlikely ever to arise again.”  (Judicial optimists, evidently.)  The Prime Minister had a constitutional responsibility “to have regard to all relevant interests, including the interests of Parliament” in advising the monarch.  Nor could the mix between law and politics necessarily render judges incapable of intervening for, going back to 1611, “the King hath no prerogative, but that which the law of the land allows him”.

More juicily, the Supreme Court justices were clear on the point that prorogation, in its effect, prevented the application of ministerial responsibility during that period.  This had the effect of making the PM “unaccountable by Parliament until after a new session of Parliament had commenced”.  This could lead to the case of Parliament “closing the stable door after the horse had bolted.”  (A true equine beast is Brexit proving to be.)

What, then, of the standards in assessing such a prerogative power?  Other courts had been reluctant, claiming vagueness and impossibility.  It was not, in the classic idiosyncrasies of this sceptred isle, scripted.  No matter: “every prerogative power has its limits” to be determined by the court; and such a power had to be exercised in accordance with common law principles and the operation of Parliament itself.  Each branch of government, accordingly, had limits that required curial assessment; it was not for the courts to “shirk that responsibility merely on the ground that the question raised is political in tone or context.”

This led to an almost stirring defence of the court’s role in defending Parliamentary sovereignty, which has been threatened since the 17th century “time and time again” by undue exercises of prerogative powers.  In this case, Parliament’s exercise of legislative authority for the duration it pleased would be subverted by the Executive’s use of the prerogative.  “An unlimited power of prorogation would therefore be incompatible with the legal principles of Parliamentary sovereignty.”  Not could the Executive avoid its own responsibilities to parliament in being scrutinised.

At times, the judgment moves into a tone of discomfort and concern.  One point stands out: the prospects of long prorogation periods.  The longer the duration, the greater the likelihood of tyranny, “that responsible government may be replaced by unaccountable government”.

To the government’s argument that the prorogation was “a proceeding of Parliament” that could never be impugned or challenged by a court, the judges retorted that it was for them to decide, not parliament, how far such privileges extended.  Nor could the prorogation be sensibly termed a parliamentary proceeding, not being a decision of either House of Parliament.

All in all, it followed that Johnson’s advice to the Queen had been unlawful, having “the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of parliament to carry out its functions without reasonable justification”, thereby rendering the entire process behind prorogation void.

As is in keeping with such matters, disgruntled Tories felt that the irritations of law had intervened with the populist measures of Johnson’s agenda.  The “people” were being muzzled and mocked by the court’s aggrandized constitutional functions.  Jacob Rees-Mogg expressed a distinctly unconservative view in a cabinet call with the prime minister calling the decision a “constitutional coup”.  (He obviously had not read the part of the judgment that the court was performing its functions without offending the separation of powers.)  The Spectator fumed at this “constitutional outrage”.

Brexit Party MEP Belinda de Lucy was similarly snooty on the court’s power on the matter. “We believe the sovereignty lies with people” judicial swerving into matters political suggests a move into “dangerous territory”. (The point missed here is the court’s understanding that Parliament remains, in its form, the arbiter of that sovereignty and should, therefore, not be improperly restricted from its oversight.)

The result of the ruling means that Parliament will return to Westminster for a Wednesday reconvening.  While that institution has not impressed with its vacillations, confusions and periods of paralysis, it remains one worth defending before the demagogues and the shifty, something President Lady Hale and the rest of the judges were more than willing to do.  Should Brexit ever be realised, Parliament might well consider a little bit of constitutional codification.

Stop Press: Imperial Observations

Today I was walking toward the restaurant where I always take luncheon on Tuesdays. I passed the Cafe Imperio in the same street. Since I was thinking about a talk I am to give in Macau the term “empire” crossed my mind more than once. The sign of the Cafe Imperio also said it was founded in 1973. Well, I thought, did the owners imagine that a year later there would be nothing left of the Portuguese empire?  In 1974 the Salazar/Caetano regime was overthrown after more than 40 years. The last pretense that the empire was, in the French sense, Portugal overseas was abandoned. Only Macau remained under Portuguese administration until 1999.

In London the recently minted British “Supreme Court” — the replacement for the judicial committee of the House of Lords — declared Mr Boris Johnson’s Cromwellian intervention unlawful, null and void and ordered that Parliament be reconvened. Now that is a rather peculiar change in the British Constitution that Bagehot certainly never imagined. In Britain, a monarchy dressed as a representative democracy, the guiding principal — at least since 1688 — has been parliamentary supremacy. That meant that Parliament and hence the government (the Crown and Parliament) were subject to no higher authority than itself. The settlement of the royal succession by the Parliament — establishing William and Mary and assuring a continuous Protestant lineage — was ostensibly the end of British monarchy as a governmental system. In fact, it was the absorption of the monarch into the bourgeois ruling class — something the French were unable to do.

Now if I may risk a prediction, Mr Johnson will be forced to expose himself to a confidence vote in the Commons which he is now even more likely to lose unless his backers can whip the votes he needs together. The loss of a confidence vote after the defeat before the Supreme Court means that the fraud surrounding BREXIT could well be defeated if not exposed.

Throughout the BREXIT debate the proponents and opponents have disregarded a point of British constitutional law that Bagehot made quite clear in describing the lack of a constitution (in the US or French sense); namely, that Parliament is only bound by its own laws and every Parliament is free to change the laws of a previous one. Of course, the class structure and the bourgeois monarchy prevent Parliament from becoming revolutionary (except in the sense of revolving). But the so-called Glorious Revolution never completely extinguished the dictatorial strain embodied in the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. It was the Puritan Cromwell and his mercantile, colonial supporters who plunged the deepest wound into Ireland and created the troubles which, in fact, have only subsided by virtue of the EU.

Mr Boris Johnson, despite Eton and renunciation of his US citizenship, is a Cromwellian. That is what confuses his opponents. Unlike his predecessor David Cameron, Mr Johnson is today’s equivalent of the “West Indian strain” — the drug (sugar and slave) barons of the Caribbean who bought their way into Parliament. Today those drug barons are operating legally (as opposed to legitimate) financial institutions — but that is another topic. The BREXIT fraud consists primarily in the fact that there is no constitutional principle which binds Parliament to such a foreign institution as the referendum or plebiscite (its continental version). Even if we disregard the British voting system with all its gerrymandering and manipulative potential, no British Parliament was ever de jure bound by the results of the so-called BREXIT vote. This is the real significance of May’s defeat. Thrice Ms May failed to obtain parliamentary approval for a BREXIT. That meant that it would become a dead letter by the end of her legislative term.

Mr Johnson’s attempt to adjourn Parliament and govern without it — also very Cromwellian — was a recognition of the fact that absent an Act of Parliament, the BREXIT would be imposed when the EU treaty negotiated by Ms May entered into force. The United Kingdom would not have withdrawn from the EU. It would have been de facto expelled.

What has turned a major faction of the British establishment against Mr Johnson? That is the only way that the Supreme Court could have understood its unanimous decision. Permit me to suggest some interpretations.

As much as Britain’s Cromwellians hate Ireland and therefore fight to the death of Catholic Irish, if not for religious reasons today, they cannot make a disruption of the trade and financial benefits of peace between Ulster and Dublin attractive. Moreover, Britain — meaning its elite, including not least of which the Battenberg/Windsors — benefit enormously from EU largesse. Never mind that if strictly enforced the exit would cause a serious reduction in the living standard of average Britons — people who already have a disproportionately low standard of living in the EU (and historically have always had a lower standard of living than most people on the Continent). Then there is the embarrassment of that other country in the North — the far more European realm of Scotland. North Sea oil was Scottish and Norwegian. A future rump England would be reduced to what its owners really have — a quasi-third world country. That would be fine for the simians in the City but if votes still count for anything, it would make Britain singularly unattractive.

Now if we shift to a completely different part of the world, we can begin to imagine the contradictions and parallels. Hong Kong has been subjected to terrorism quite obviously sponsored by the main instigators of such foreign disruption — the CIA (NED) and most certainly other agencies of HM Government. In the scheme of things — as opposed to the ludicrous “internet of things” — it is impossible to say who is agitating in Hong Kong against the local government and the authority in Beijing. However, if we take the long view; e.g., back to the Opium Wars, the patterns are recognisable. Since, as I have argued elsewhere, one of the products of a “public school/prep school” education is that one is indoctrinated with the same historical nonsense of those who founded the schools in centuries past, then it should be no surprise that the terrorists in Hong Kong — presented as “democracy activists” — are behaving in the same way as the representatives of the British East India Company did when they sought the conditions for creating Hong Kong in the first place.

Imagine what would happen if the Irish republicans again insisted (given the prospect of BREXIT) that we in Ulster are Irish and not British! In Hong Kong some of these gangs are beating Chinese for not accepting that they are “Hongkongers”. Well, we know what happened to Irish republicans until the Good Friday Accords. We also know that it was the British Special Branch, MI5 and Phoenix-style units operating with covert support by the British military that “disciplined” those republicans. If the Chinese government were as “democratic” as the British in Ulster there would not only be dead in the street but assassinations galore. To date there have been no tanks or APCs deployed in Hong Kong. If we compare the conduct of the Hong Kong police with that of the NYPD or the St Louis police in Ferguson, Missouri, we will also locate the democracy deficit — not in China.

There are lots of demonstrations these days. The ones that count are quasi-religious like the Swedish “Joan of Arc”/Fatima peasant who is currently paraded through every conceivable forum, like those weeping statues the Catholic Church maintained so profitably for centuries.

When children join their parents to say that Black lives matter, the police have exercised their license to beat or kill non-whites at will. We have not really progressed since Lester Petersen was murdered by the South African Police in Soweto. The venues of white supremacy have merely changed their window dressing. The Anglo-American Empire will keep Hong Kong down to the last Chinese, if allowed. They will keep everything they have stolen over the centuries. And that is why there will be no BREXIT– not for the benefit of the British or Irish but because there is still more money to be made through Brussels than without it. (And meanwhile the arbitrage gangsters bet on both sides and keep raking in their winnings.)

It is all related but the relationships are not easy to see and they shift with the digestive conditions of our elite rulers. So all predictions here are subject to the reservation of how well they ate and drank on the eve of their next rapine excursion through our planet.

Improper Purposes: Boris Johnson’s Suspension of Parliament

There was something richly amusing in the move: three judges, sitting in Scotland’s highest court of appeal, had little time for the notion that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension, or proroguing, of parliament till October 14, had been lawful.  Some 78 parliamentarians had taken issue with the Conservative leader’s limitation on Parliamentary activity, designed to prevent any hiccups prior to October 31, the day Britain is slated to leave the European Union.

It did take two efforts.  The initial action in Edinburgh’s Outer House of the Court of Session was unsuccessful for the petitioners.  Conventional wisdom then was that such issues were, as a matter of high policy, political and therefore non-justiciable.  Legal standards, in other words, could not be applied to the decision.  (British judges tend to be rather reserved when it comes to treading on matters that might be seen as the staple of political judgment.)

All three First Division judges thought otherwise, taking the high road that this was exceptional.  Lord Carloway, the Lord President, accepted in principle that advice by the Prime Minister to the Queen would not normally be reviewable by courts.  Such a realm was customarily one above and beyond the judicial wigs.  That said, as a summary of the judgement records, “it would nevertheless be unlawful if its purpose was to stymie parliamentary scrutiny of the executive, which was a central pillar of the good governance principle enshrined in the constitution”.  That principle was drawn, by implication, from the “principles of democracy and the rule of law.”  Feeling emboldened, Lord Carloway, on examining the documents supplied by Johnson and his team, felt that improper reasons could be discerned.

Lord Brodie similarly noted the singular nature of the circumstances. Under normal circumstances prorogation advice would not be reviewable, but if it constituted a tactic designed to frustrate Parliament, it could well be deemed unlawful.  In this case, Johnson’s move was “an egregious case of a clear failure to comply with generally accepted standards of behaviour of public authorities.”  It could be inferred on the evidence that “the principal reasons for the prorogation were to prevent or impede Parliament holding the executive to account and legislating with regard to Brexit, and to allow the executive to pursue a policy of a no deal Brexit without further Parliamentary inference.”  Bold stuff, indeed, and hard to fault.

The third judge, Lord Drummond Young, was bolder still.  No need to be nimble footed here: the entire scope of such powers, relevant to prorogation or otherwise, could be legally tested.  The onus was on the UK government to show a valid reason for the prorogation “having regard to the fundamental constitutional importance of parliamentary scrutiny or executive action.”  The clues of evident impropriety in Johnson’s action lay in the length of the suspension and the general circumstances suggesting a prevention of scrutiny.  There could be no other inference that the move showed a wish “to restrict Parliament.”

The full bench, accordingly, made an order “declaring that the prime minister’s advice to HM the Queen and the prorogation which followed thereon was unlawful and thus null and of no effect.”  Few more damning statements have ever issued against a prime minister of the realm.

In an effort to remove some egg on the faces of government officials, a spokesman for Number 10 claimed to be disappointed by the decision, insisting that Johnson needed “to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda.  Proroguing Parliament is the legal and necessary way of delivering this.”  This was a somewhat milder version from those offered by other sources close to the Prime Minister, claiming political bias on the Scottish bench.  “We note that last week the High Court in London did not rule that prorogation was unlawful.  The legal activists choose the Scottish courts for a reason.”  The cheek of it all!

As for certain conservative outlets, accepting the judgment of the Court of Session was, well, unacceptable.  The Supreme Court, it was hoped by the likes of Richard Ekins, would clean up the mess made by their northern brethren with clear heads.  The Scottish decision had been “a startling – and misconceived – judgment.”

Which brings us to the second front opened up by petitioners in England, itself.  A High Court challenge, with an appeal now expected to be heard in the Supreme Court next week, initially failed to yield any movement.  But Johnson had little reason, or time, to gloat.  The government is now reverting to a stalling game, refusing to act on the Scottish decision till the English equivalent is handed down.  Not all business, however, will be suspended: the work of select committees, for instance, will continue.  The government also finds itself in the trenches, facing a Parliament intent on extending the Brexit date in order to achieve a deal.

The publication of the full, previously leaked doomsday document, the Yellowhammer contingency plan, anticipating measures if a no deal Brexit takes place, has also done its bit to pockmark Johnson’s efforts to maintain a steady ship.  The prime minister, said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accusingly, “is prepared to punish those who can least afford it.”

The government’s hope is that the Supreme Court case will move at its usual snail’s pace, thereby making any point ventured by Johnson’s detractors a moot point.  Richard Dickman of Pinsent Masons has observed that such appeals “take months sometimes years, but the court can move quickly in urgent cases like this one.”  The occasion promises to be quite a judicial party: 11 of the 12 law lords will be sitting.

Testing the judicial weather, Dickman suggested that there might “be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision from the court with a more detailed judgment to follow.”  Another chapter in the annals of British law and parliamentary farce is being written.  In the meantime, the sentiment of the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, reverberates through Europe. “We do not have reasons to be optimistic.”

Brexit reveals Corbyn to be the True Moderate

If there is an upside to Brexit, it is this: it has made it increasingly hard to present Jeremy Corbyn, contrary to everything the corporate media has been telling us for the past four years, as anything but a political moderate. In truth, he is one of the few moderates left in British – or maybe that should be English – politics right now. The fact that still isn’t obvious to many in Britain is a sign of their – not his – extremism.

Brexit has brought into sharp focus, at least for those prepared to look, the fanatacism that dominates almost the entire British political class. Their zealotry has been increasingly on show since the UK staged a referendum in 2016 on leaving Europe that was won by the pro-Brexit camp with a wafer-thin majority.

The subsequent feud has usually been portrayed this way: The UK has split into two camps, polarising popular opinion between those who feel Britain’s place is in Europe (Remainers) and those who prefer that Britain makes its own way in the world (Brexiters). But it has actually divided the British political class into three camps, with the largest two at the political extremes.

On the one side – variously represented by the new prime minister Boris Johnson and many in his Conservative party, as well as Nigel Farage and his supporters – are those who want Britain to break from Europe and rush into the embrace of the United States, stripping away the last constraints on free-market, ecocidal capitalism. They aren’t just Brexiters, they are no-deal Brexiters, who want to turn their back on Europe entirely.

The other side – variously supported by many Labour MPs, including the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson, and the Liberal Democrats – are those who wish to stay in the secure embrace of a European bureacracy that is nearly as committed to suicidal capitalism as the US but, given the social democratic traditions of some of its member states, has mitigated the worst excesses of free-market fundamentalism. These UK politicians aren’t just Remainers, they are Remainists, who not only refuse to contemplate any weakening of the bonds between the UK and Europe but actually want those bonds to tighten.

Suspending parliament

And as the divide has deepened, it has become clear that neither side is prepared to pay more than lip service to democracy.

On the Brexit side, Johnson has suspended parliament, an institution representing the people, that is supposed to be sovereign. Like his predecessor, Theresa May, he has repeatedly found there is no legislative majority for a hard or no-deal Brexit. He has faced an unprecedented and humiliating series of defeats in parliament in the few days he has been prime minister. So now he has swept parliament out of the way in a bid to run down the clock on a no-deal Brexit without legislative interference.

Watson and the Remainists have been trying a counter-move, arguing that the referendum is no longer valid. They believe that new voters, youngsters more likely to support Remain, have come of age in the three years since 2016, and that more information about the true costs of Brexit have lately swung support to their side. They want to ignore the original referendum result and run the ballot again in the hope that this time the tide will turn in their favour.

The reality is that, if Johnson drives through a no-deal Brexit by ignoring parliament, or if Watson gets to quash the first referendum result to engineer a second, it is likely to trigger civil war in the UK.

The first option will drive Scotland out of the union, could very well reignite the sectarian “Troubles” of Northern Ireland, and will have English urban elites in open revolt. The second option will ensure that large sections of the English public who voted for Brexit because they feel marginalised and ignored are up in arms too. Their trust in politics and politicians will sink even further, and there is the danger that they will turn in droves to a crowd-pleasing autocrat like Johnson, Farage or worse.

Zealotry vs compromise

In these circumstances, anyone responsible would be looking to find common ground, to understand that political compromise is absolutely necessary to stop Britain breaking apart. And that is exactly what Corbyn and the largely ignored and maligned third camp have been trying to do.

They want to honour the spirit of the vote by leaving the EU but hope to do so in a way that doesn’t cut the UK adrift from Europe, doesn’t prevent the continuation of relatively free trade and movement, and doesn’t leave the UK exposed and vulnerable to serfdom under a new US master.

For many months Corbyn has been calling for a general election as a way for the majority of the public, having chosen in the referendum what they want to do, to now decide who they want to negotiate how Britain departs from Europe. But even that realistic compromise has not satisfied the fanatics within his own party.

Because the zealots of the right and the immoderate centre dominate the political and media landscape, this approach has barely registered in public debates. Corbyn’s efforts have been misrepresented as evidence of muddled thinking, ambivalence, or his covert opposition to Europe. It is none of those things.

Caught in the spider’s web

The common argument that Corbyn is a Brexit wolf in sheep’s clothing draws on the fact that, like many democratic socialists, such as the late Tony Benn, Corbyn has never been enamoured of the unelected European technocratic class that is misleadingly termed simply “Europe” or the “European Union”.

Rightly, socialists understood long ago that the more Britain was locked into Europe’s embrace, the more it would become caught like a fly in the spider’s web. At some level, most people have started to recognise this, if only because finding a way to leave Europe, even for Brexiters, has proved so inordinately difficult.

Just like banks were too big to fail in 2008 so they had to be bailed out with our public money to save them from their private malfeasance, the publics of Europe have incrementally had their sovereignty transferred to an unelected and centralised bureacracy all in the name of pursuing freedom – of movement and trade, chiefly for global corporations.

We haven’t noticed, it is true, because for decades our own domestic politics has come in one flavour only – support for our little corner of the global neoliberal empire. Till recently the consensus of Britain’s ruling elite, whether of the right or of New Labour centrists, was that being a player in Europe was the best way to protect their – though not necessarily our – interests on that global battlefield. Now, as the neoliberal empire enters a period of terminal decline, this same elite are bitterly divided over whether the US or Europe is the best guarantor of their wealth and influence continuing a little longer.

Iron fist in velvet glove

But Britain and the world’s problems – whether in the shape of impending economic meltdown or environmental collapse – cannot be solved from within the neoliberal paradigm, as becomes clearer by the day. New political structures are desperately needed: at the local level to foster new, more decentralised economic models, free of corporate influence, resource-stripping and unnecessary consumption; and at the global level to ensure that such models reverse rather than perpetuate the ecocidal policies that have dominated under neoliberal capitalism.

To start on that path will require the democratisation of Britain. The fear of Benn and others was that even if a truly socialist government was elected, its ability to make real, profound changes to the political and economic order – by bringing much of the economy back into public or cooperative ownership, for example – would be made impossible within the larger framework of European corporate managerialism.

We have been given glimpses of the iron fist Europe’s technocrats wield beneath the velvet glove in the treatment of Greece over its financial troubles and the Catalan independence movement in Spain.

The attitude of Corbyn and other democratic socialists to Brexit, however, has been wildly misrepresented by the other two camps of zealots.

In Benn’s time, it was still possible to imagine a world in which neoliberalism might be prevented from gaining a tyrannical grip on our political imaginations and on national economies. But things have changed since then. Now the issue is not whether Britain can stop being locked into a European neoliberal order. It is that the UK, like everyone else, is already in the stranglehold of a global neoliberal order.

Not just that, but Britain has willingly submitted to that order. As the zealotry of most of the political class demonstrates, few can imagine or want a life outside the neoliberal cage. The debate is about which corner of that suicidal, ecocidal global order we prefer to be located in. The Brexit row is chiefly about which slavemaster, America or Europe, will be kinder to us.

Inside the leviathan’s dark belly

In this context, there is no real escape. The best that can be done, as the moderates in both the Brexit and Remain camps realise, is loosen our chains enough so that we have room once again to contemplate new political possibilities. We can then breathe deeply, clear our heads and start to imagine how Britain and the the world might operate differently, how we might free ourselves of the tyranny of the corporations and heal our planet of the deep scars we have inflicted on it.

These are big matters that cannot be solved either by binding ourselves more tightly to European technocrats or by cutting loose from Europe only to chain ourselves to the US. The Brexit feud is an endless theatrical distraction from the real questions we need to face. That is one reason why it drags on, one reason why our political class revel in it, John Bercow-style.

Strangely, it is the Remainists of the immoderate centre – typified by commentary in corporate “liberal” media like the Guardian – who so often claim to lament the fact that the left has failed to offer a vision, a political future, that might serve as an alternative to neoliberalism. But how can such a vision emerge from deep inside the leviathan’s dark belly?

Hiding in ideological life-rafts

It goes without saying that the Atlantacists cheerleading Brexit are up to no good when they speak of “taking back control” and “reclaiming our sovereignty”. They demand those powers only so they can immediately surrender them to a US master.

But the much-maligned left wing, soft Brexit – a version that wishes to distance Britain from Europe without pretending that the UK can stand alone on the global neoliberal battlefield – also has use for such language.

This version of taking back control isn’t about spitting in the face of Europe, blocking the entry of immigrants, or reinventing the imagined halycon days of empire. It is about recognising that we, like the rest of humankind, are responsible for the crimes we have been, and still are, committing against the planet, against other species, against fellow human beings.

Chaining ourselves to an unelected, distant European technocratic class that simply follows orders – implementing the requirements of an economic system that must end in the destruction of the planet – is cowardice. We can more easily shelter from that truth when we cede our political and economic powers to those compelled to carry out the (il)logic of neoliberalism.

Standing a little outside Europe is probably the best we can hope to manage in current circumstances. But it might give us the political space – and, more importantly, burden us with the political responsibility – to imagine the deep changes that are urgently needed.

Change has to happen if we as a species are to survive, and it has to happen soon and it has to happen somewhere. We cannot force others to change, but we can recognise our own need to change and offer a vision of change for others to follow. That can begin only when we stop shielding ourselves from the consequences of our decisions, stop hiding in someone else’s ideological life-raft in the forlorn hope that it will weather the coming, real-world storms.

It is time to stop acting like zealots for neoliberalism, squabbling over which brand of turbo-charged capitalism we prefer, and face up to our collective responsibility to change our and our children’s future.

Unhinged before the Fall: Boris Johnson, Parliament and Brexit

The Brexit no deal prospect is engendering an element of lunacy fast seeping into every pore of the British political establishment.  As with all steeped in such thinking, some of it made sense.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been inspired by a mild dictatorial urge, seeking to suspend the UK parliament five weeks out from October 31.  This has been described as nothing short of a coup, or, if you are the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, a “constitutional outrage”.

Legal expertise was called upon to answer the question whether Johnson’s proroguing of parliament was, in fact, constitutional.  This was itself a tricky thing, given that the UK has a “political constitution” that resists being inked into written form.  To be British is supposedly to be reasonable, and codifying such convention suggests a fear that reason might be lost.  As Professor Michael Gordon of the University of Liverpool explains, three avenues are open to evaluate the constitutionality of a government action in the system: “compatibility with the law, political convention and constitutional principle.”

On the first point, it was near impossible to challenge Johnson.  For all the matters of convention, the monarch remains the figure who ultimately holds the power to prorogue parliament.  And the argument here by the prime minister is that this is the penultimate step to announcing a fresh legislative agenda in the monarch’s speech on October 14.

As far as the second point was concerned, Gordon had to concede that the Queen would never have constituted herself as a “constitutional safeguard” to reject Johnson’s request. That would have done more than repudiate the long held convention on staying above politics and acting on the advice of the prime minister.

This only left the nebulous notion of “constitutional principles”: as the government draws support from the House of Commons, it must duly abide by the body if its wishes are out of step.  As the House of Commons rejects the idea of a no deal Brexit, Johnson should have engaged parliament on the issue.  Well, that’s the view of the pro-parliamentarians, and as the current prime minister has a very flexible set of values both personal and political, few should have been stunned by the latest antics in subverting parliamentary scrutiny.

Beyond the legal pecking, a swathe of reaction were in agreement with Bercow.  Novelist Philip Pullman went one further, suggesting that, “The ‘prime minister’ has finally come out as a dictator.”  Britain best be “rid of him and his loathsome gang as soon and as finally as possible.”  This had a certain whiff of a coup of its own, the sort of thing that Westminster systems have been vulnerable to in history.  (Australia offers an apt, if undistinguished example of the overthrow of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, ably assisted by opposition leader Malcolm Fraser and then governor general John Kerr.)

The prorogation ploy was taken so seriously by the Financial Times that a humble suggestion was made lest Britain comprise his airy position as law-abiding obsessive and exemplar of order to the world. “If Mr. Johnson’s prorogation ploy succeeds, Britain will forfeit any right to lecture other countries on their democratic shortcomings.”  (Hadn’t it already done so?)  Imperially sounding, the FT suggested that Britain’s singular disposition lay in “constitutional arrangements” long bound by “conventions.”

Momentum, the Labour faction supporting Jeremy Corbyn, the man who would be usurper, was laying the ground for a challenge, albeit tumbling into the oxymoronic. “An unelected prime minister looks set to approach an unelected monarch to ask her if he can shut down parliament to force through a disastrous no deal Brexit.”  The assessment? “Make no mistake – this is an establishment coup.”  All fine, except that monarchs are known for being humanity’s unelected specimens, and that this coup was being countered with a proposal for a counter-coup. Messy be the conventions of the land.

For those long linked to Britain’s gradual and seemingly natural integration into European affairs, the move by Johnson was near criminal.  Hugh Grant, summoning up a certain primal rage, was furious.  On Twitter, he launched a ferocious firebombing of Johnson’s position.  “You will not fuck with my children’s future.  You will not destroy the freedoms my grandfather fought two world wars to defend.  Fuck off you over-promoted rubber bath toy.  Britain is revolted by you and you little gang of masturbatory prefects.”

Comedian and all round brain box Stephen Fry could not stomach it, asking for a good cry for Britain, and deeming Johnson’s effort as those of, “Children playing with matches, but spitefully not accidentally: gleefully torching an ancient democracy and any tattered shreds of reputation or standing our poor country had left.”

Unfortunately, such comments betray an old tendency in self-referential Britishness, a Britannia-rules-the-waves smugness.  The world admires, the world respects.  But that world died some time ago, if, indeed, it ever existed.  Britain made a pact for security and wealth with a Europe often reluctant to accept its suspicions and reservations. Both are now parting ways.

Far milder assessments have also been offered to hose down the Grant ire.  Johnson’s attempt to schedule a Queen’s speech for October 14 was seen in The Spectator, a magazine he once edited with carefree indifference, as “normal” and part of the operating processes of a new government.  At the very least, it would also “bring to an end one of the longest parliamentary sessions in history”.

The Queen was hardly going to refuse, stratified by, well, convention.  Had she done so, breaking the crust, and holding forth over the prime minister, there would been howls of a different sort.  The only conclusion to arise from this latest bit of chess play by Johnson is that, come October 31, Parliament will have a minimal role to scrutinise the agreement, or non-agreement, as it might well be.