Category Archives: Jeremy Corbyn

A Liberal Pillar Of The Establishment

As Noam Chomsky has often remarked: ‘liberal bias is extremely important in a sophisticated system of propaganda.’ One major news outlet that Chomsky had in mind was the New York Times, but the same applies in the UK. As a senior British intelligence official noted of the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan:

It is always helpful for governments who want to get the Guardian readers of the world on board to have a humanitarian logic.

This suggests that respected liberal media like the New York Times and Guardian are key battlegrounds in the relentless elite efforts to control public opinion.

On January 15, the Guardian was relaunched as a tabloid with a ‘new look’. Katharine Viner, the paper’s editor, proclaimed in all seriousness:

We have a special relationship with our readers. This relationship is not just about the news; it’s about a shared sense of purpose and a commitment to understand and illuminate our times. We feel a deep sense of duty and responsibility to our readers to honour the trust you place in us.

Those words – ‘shared sense of purpose and commitment’, ‘duty’, ‘responsibility’, ‘honour’, ‘trust’ – imply an openness to readers’ comments, even to criticism; an important point to which we return below.

Viner continued:

We have grounded our new editions in the qualities readers value most in Guardian journalism: clarity, in a world where facts should be sacred but are too often overlooked; imagination, in an age in which people yearn for new ideas and fresh alternatives to the way things are.

The grand declaration to honour the yearning of its readers ‘for new ideas and fresh alternatives to the way things are’ rings hollow. This, after all, is a paper that fought tooth-and-nail against Jeremy Corbyn. As Rob Newton pointed out via Twitter, linking to a lengthy series of screenshots featuring negative Guardian coverage:

The “left liberal” Guardian’s campaign against @JeremyCorbyn was as relentless as the right-wing Daily Mail & The Sun. Here’s the proof

Vacuous phrases continued to pour forth from the editor on the ‘new look’ paper:

Guardian journalism itself will remain what it has always been: thoughtful, progressive, fiercely independent and challenging; and also witty, stylish and fun.

‘Fiercely independent and challenging’? When the Guardian Media Group is owned by The Scott Trust Limited, a ‘profit-seeking enterprise’? (In other words, it is not a non-profit trust, with many readers still mistakenly holding a romantic vision of benign ownership.) When the paper is thus owned and run by an elite group of individuals with links to banking, insurance, advertising, multinational consumer goods, telecommunications, information technology, venture investment, corporate media, marketing services and other sectors of the establishment? When the paper remains dependent on advertising revenue from corporate interests, despite the boast that ‘we now receive more income from our readers than we do from advertisers’. When the paper has actually ditched journalists who have been ‘fiercely independent and challenging’?

However, it is certainly true that the Guardian ‘will remain what it has always been’: a liberal pillar of the establishment; a gatekeeper of ‘acceptable’ news and comment. ‘Thus far, and no further’, to use Chomsky’s phrase. But, as mentioned, the Guardian will not go even as far in the political spectrum as Corbyn: a traditional left Labour figure, rather than a radical socialist proclaiming ‘Revolution!’ or an anarchist itching to bring down global capitalism.

Meanwhile, readers can expect the ‘new look’ Guardian to continue its attacks on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, such as the recent smear piece by ex-Guardian journalist James Ball that began scurrilously:

According to Debrett’s, the arbiters of etiquette since 1769: “Visitors, like fish, stink in three days.” Given this, it’s difficult to imagine what Ecuador’s London embassy smells like, more than five-and-a-half years after Julian Assange moved himself into the confines of the small flat in Knightsbridge, just across the road from Harrods.

Ball went on, dripping more poison:

Today, most of those who still support Assange are hard-right nationalists – with many seeing him as a supporter of the style of politics of both Trump and Vladimir Putin.

When we challenged Ball via Twitter for evidence of these foolish claims, he was unable to provide any. His facile response was:

The WikiLeaks twitter feed is a pretty good start tbh [to be honest]

That Katharine Viner’s Guardian would happily publish such crude propaganda in an ostensibly ‘serious’ column speaks volumes about the paper’s tumbling credibility as well as conformity to power.

No doubt, too, this liberal ‘newspaper’ will continue to boost Tony Blair, the war criminal whose hands are indelibly stained with the blood of over one million people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. But, for the Guardian, he will forever be a flawed hero, someone they have worked hard to rehabilitate in recent years, constantly seeking out his views and pushing him as a respectable elder statesman whose voice the public still needs to hear.

The essence of the Guardian was summed up by satirical comedian reporter Jonathan Pie on the day of the relaunch:

‘New design. Same old virtue signalling, identity politics obsessed, champagne socialism (minus the socialism), barely concealed contempt for the working classes bullshit I presume though.

The Empty Rhetoric Of Seeking ‘Uncomfortable’ Views

One of the Guardian stalwarts helping to project an illusion of consistent challenge to authority is long-time columnist George Monbiot. We were once admirers of Monbiot, and we still respect his environmentalist writing, particularly on the imminent dangers of climate disruption…up to a point (for instance, he never properly addresses the key issue of the corporate media, including the role of his own paper).

But well over a decade ago, we first started challenging Monbiot on his serious blind spots and establishment-friendly ignorance when it came to foreign policy. In more recent years, we have even been smeared by him, in a pitiful manner akin to that of Oliver Kamm of Murdoch’s Times, an inveterate supporter of Western ‘interventions’, on whom Monbiot often seems to rely for his slurs.

A recent piece by Jonathan Cook, once a Middle East Guardian reporter, is a skillful skewering of Monbiot’s stance. Monbiot has repeatedly attacked those who dare question Washington-approved narratives on Syria, Rwanda and the Balkan Wars. Anyone who challenges Western government propaganda claims about Syria, for example, is condemned as an Assadist or conspiracy theorist. His targets have included Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, John Pilger, university professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson, and Media Lens.

On Twitter last month, Monbiot alleged that Hayward and Robinson ‘have disgraced themselves over Syria’. But when has Monbiot ever excoriated Guardian columnists Jonathan Freedland and Natalie Nougayrède, Nick Cohen of the Observer, David Aaronovitch of The Times and John Rentoul of the Independent, all of whom have ‘disgraced themselves’ over US-UK wars of aggression?

And why is Monbiot’s focus so skewed to ‘their’ war crimes rather than ‘our’ war crimes? The editor of the Interventions Watch blog searched Monbiot’s Twitter timeline in December 2017 and found he had mentioned ‘Syria’ in 91 tweets and ‘Yemen’ in just three tweets. With rare exceptions, virtually the entire UK political and media system has disgraced itself over Yemen – currently the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe. This should be a key central concern for any honest dissident commentator today.

Cook writes of Monbiot:

Turning a blind eye to his behaviour, or worse excusing it, as too often happens, has only encouraged him to intensify his attacks on dissident writers, those who – whether right or wrong on any specific issue – are slowly helping us all to develop more critical perspectives on western foreign policy goals than has been possible ever before.

He adds that the many leftists:

who defend Monbiot, or turn a blind eye to his hypocrisy, largely do so because of his record on the environment. But in practice they are enabling not only his increasingly overt incitement against critical thinkers, but also undermining the very cause his supporters believe he champions.

Cook sums up:

All indications are that Monbiot lacks the experience, knowledge and skills to unravel the deceptions being perpetrated in the west’s proxy and not-so-proxy wars overseas. That is fair enough. What is not reasonable is that he should use his platforms to smear precisely those who can speak with a degree of authority and independence – and then conspire in denying them a platform to respond. That is the behaviour not only of a hypocrite, but of a bully too.

We will return later to that point of dissidents being denied a platform to reply. Meanwhile, Monbiot has not responded to Cook, as far as we are aware.

Ironically, of course, the Guardian sells itself as a fearless supporter of ‘open’ journalism, delivering ‘the independent journalism the world needs’. But, once again, there are always safe limits. Tim Hayward, mentioned above, is Professor of Environmental Political Theory at Edinburgh University. He recently recounted what happened after the Guardian published a long piece by Olivia Solon, a senior technology reporter for Guardian US in San Francisco. Solon argued that critical discussion of the White Helmets in Syria had been ‘propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government’.

After publishing this hit piece, the Guardian essentially shut down all discussion, refusing even to grant a right of reply to those who had been maligned, including independent journalists. Hayward described what happened after publication:

‘What the Guardian did next:
• quickly closed its comments section;
• did not allow a right of reply to those journalists singled out for denigration in the piece;
• did not allow publication of the considered response from a group of concerned academics;
• did not respond to the group’s subsequent letter, or a follow up email to it;
• prevaricated in response to telephone inquiries as to whether a decision against publishing either communication from the group had or had not been taken;
• failed to respond to a message to its Readers’ Editor from Vanessa Beeley, one of the journalists criticised in the article.’

George Monbiot played his part too, says Hayward:

tweeting smears against critics and suggesting they read up about “the Russian-backed disinformation campaign against Syria’s heroic rescue workers”.

This was disreputable behaviour from a ‘progressive’ journalist who claims that:

I believe that a healthy media organisation, like a healthy university, should admit a diversity of opinion.

The Guardian journalist added that newspapers, including his own, ‘should also seek opposing views and publish them too, however uncomfortable this might be.’ Monbiot’s own behaviour exposes these words as empty rhetoric.

Guardian Looks Beyond Corbyn To The Next ‘Centrist’ Candidate

Meanwhile, the Guardian is looking beyond the time when Corbyn is Labour leader. A recent article by Ian Sinclair in the Morning Star argues that the Guardian is putting its weight behind Emily Thornberry, Corbyn’s shadow foreign secretary. A Guardian interview with her was, unusually, advertised well over a week in advance of publication. It was a major feature in which she was described as ‘a key architect of Labour’s comeback, and widely tipped to be the party’s next leader’. But there was very little in the piece about the policies she espouses, not least foreign policy issues.

One such issue is the Middle East, which was wholly absent from the Guardian interview. Last November, Sinclair observes, Thornberry proclaimed that Israel ‘stands out as a beacon of freedom, equality and democracy’. And, in a December speech to Labour Friends of Israel, she described former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres as ‘a hero of the left, of the state of Israel and of the cause of peace.’

Sinclair points out:

In contrast, in 2005, US dissident Noam Chomsky called Peres “an iconic mass murderer,” presumably for his role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that led to the creation of Israel and for being head of government when Israel shelled a United Nations compound in Lebanon in 1996, killing over 100 civilians.

Thornberry’s comments on Israel, says Sinclair, ‘are a cause for concern for those who want to see an anti-imperialist, humane attitude towards international affairs’. He continues:

Thornberry is the perfect candidate for Guardian “centrist” types who would like to neuter Corbynism — someone who can gain the backing of significant numbers of Corbyn supporters while at the same time diluting the movement’s relative radicalism by returning the Labour Party to safer, Establishment-friendly ground.

The indications are that the ‘new look’ Guardian will be happy to promote a potential Labour leader who soft-pedals Israel’s crimes. This is part of a bigger picture of the paper offering little more than token criticism of elite Western power. We should not be surprised. No amount of redesign can gloss over the structural issues that ensure the Guardian remains very firmly a liberal pillar of the establishment and essentially a guardian of the power-friendly status quo.

The Carillion Collapse: Corporate Sickness in May’s Britain

Britain is ill, and even as the opportunists and populists scramble before the hardened negotiators of the European Union over imminent exit, revising optimistic forecasts and notions of sovereign greatness has begun.  Within Theresa May’s decaying state comes yet another economic disaster, and one that has prompted a revival of government assistance before the vicissitudes of the market. This, from a Tory government extolling the divine nature of free market enterprise.

Carillion, the UK’s second biggest construction company, is in a mammoth pickle, one to the tune of £1.5 billion.  It has gone into liquidation after the weekend failure to reach agreement with lenders and the government, a fact that literally threatens up to 20,000 jobs within the country, not to mention pension funds to the value of £600m.

Things get even more interesting when one sees where these jobs are, located across a range of industries from defence, health, transport (the HS2 high-speed rail line comes to mind) and education (notable here is the provision of dinners and cleaning for hundreds of schools).  In short, the company was something of a poster boy in the outsourcing agenda of government, golden boy of the competitive, tendering process.

The situation for the company has been so notably stricken as to prompt an emergency Cobra meeting by May’s Cabinet lasting for up to two hours.  Cabinet Office minister David Lidington suggested with usual understatement in the face of imminent catastrophe that matters had gone “pretty well” given that “people were turning up to work” and no “reports of serious interruption to service delivery” had been received.

Lidington’s language is that of a session at your MP’s surgery: dull, medicated, non-committal. Most of all, there is no sense of alarm.  The meeting, he continues, provided an “opportunity for ministers to test what sort of concerns are being expressed and decide how we should best address them”.

To date, the government has committed its first notable transgression against its self proclaimed free market ideology: covering the dues for small businesses and employees connected with Carillion’s public contracts.  The disastrous conduct of the golden boy must be somehow addressed.

Lidington’s point is to dress the assistance to those connected with the provision of public services in a different costume: avoid, for instance, any reference to a bailout, which reeks of the socialist hand and state-directed philosophy. “The action we have taken is designed to keep vital public services running rather than to provide a bailout on the failure of a commercial company.”

The consequences of such a patchy approach are already evident.  Given the web of contracts and commitments other companies have with Carillion, jobs are already being lost, the devastation starting to bite.  As a worker for the Midland Metropolitan Hospital Building told the BBC, “Everyone on the site told: ‘That’s it, go home.’  My company said, ‘You’ve been laid of.’”

Did anybody see this coming?  The situation last summer was already providing smoke signals of danger that all was not prudent on the financial side of Carillion.  The books were simply not tallying.  The company had issued profit warnings, largely triggered by overrunning costs regarding the Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Sandwell, the Royal Liverpool Hospital, and the Aberdeen bypass.

Notwithstanding these concerns, ideology prevailed: the company still received £2bn worth of contracts.  It was too big not to, being the fundamental face of outsourcing.  An export guarantee issued on July 6 even went so far as to put £130m of taxpayer funds at risk.

Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions select committee, was unflattering: “Carillion took on mega borrowings while its pension deficit ballooned. We called over a year ago [The Pensions Regulator] to have mandatory clearance powers for corporate activities like these that put pension schemes at risk, and powers to impose truly deterrent fines that would focus boardroom minds.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been, predictably, the first to take the hammer to government policies on privatisation, most notably what he terms the “out-source first dogma”. “In the wake of the collapse of the contractor Carillion, it is time to put an end to the rip-off privatisation policies that have done serious damage to our public services and fleeced billions of pounds.”

Showing that this was not merely a concern on the left of politics, the traditional gristle of progressive concern for market forces, Bernard Jenkin, Conservative chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, made a rather damning admission.  Carillion’s collapse “really shakes public confidence in the ability of the private sector to deliver public services and infrastructure.”

This is the Thatcherite sin of Britain, government prostrate before the private provision of services, the state indifferent to accountability.  In May’s declining Britain, even receiving a half-credible, resourced public service from any sector, is a doomed challenge.

Brexit, Corbyn and Trade Unions

RMT demonstration at King’s Cross Station in London (RMT Photo)

A broken-down consensus and a resurgence of socialist ideas – this is how Steve Hedley describes the current political landscape in the United Kingdom. Hedley is the Senior Assistant General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the RMT. In this interview he guides us through the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the turmoil in the ruling Conservative government and the leftward steer of the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The RMT is also one of the most militant trade unions in the UK, and Hedley tells us about the attacks against trade unions and the recent struggles of the RMT, particularly in the rail sector.

*****

Ricardo Vaz: How would you describe the current political situation in the UK?

Steve Hedley: We’re in a period of transition. For the best part of 30 years we had a Labour Party that was following neoliberal policies and at the minute we’ve got a leadership of the Labour Party, in Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, that is reverting to left-wing social-democratic policies. And there is a lot of resistance within the Labour Party, because most MPs (Members of Parliament) are wedded to neoliberalism, although they think of themselves as left neoliberals. Corbyn and the Labour Party did much better than expected in the last election, so in order to maintain power the Conservative government has been relying on the votes of 10 Democratic Unionists, which are a far-right party in the North of Ireland.

I think everyone expects Corbyn to be the next prime minister. The country is in turmoil, no one really knows what’s happening with Brexit, there seems to be no clear strategy coming from the government. The last estimate was that it’s going to cost 50 billion pounds to exit the European Union, and the indications are that the government will be trying to maintain a place within the European single market. And that was not what people voted for when they voted for Brexit.

The ruling party at the minute, the Conservatives, are in absolute turmoil. Because they’ve got about 30 MPs who won’t accept anything rather than a hard Brexit, they’ve got a large moderate section who are business-friendly and want a very soft Brexit, and those positions are irreconcilable. So these are very tumultuous times in British politics. I think we’ve now had a breakdown of the consensus between the two main political parties, and we await to see the results.

RV: On the subject of Brexit, the RMT, during the referendum campaign, argued for exiting the EU. Why was that?

SH:  Very simply, because the European Union was, and is, a rich man’s club. It was set up as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. NATO was the military arm and the European Union was the economic arm. It’s a trading bloc that is competing against other trading blocs. If you look at the history of the European Union, it has free movement of capital, free movement of labour, and a neoliberal economy written into the treaties. Therefore to be part of the European Union is to accept all of those things.

Steve Hedley addressing an RMT picket (Photo from Steve Hedley’s Facebook)

In a socialist society we would have no problem with the free movement of labour. But we’re not in a socialist society. People have been shipped around Europe to work on less wages and worse conditions than national workers. That’s not the kind of immigration we want. We want people to come freely and work on the same conditions as people who live here. But, of course, that doesn’t suit the neoliberal project.

Closer to home we have the Fourth Railway Package, which has now been delayed until the coming year. What that does is it compulsorily privatises, or at least imposes private competition, in all the rail networks in Europe. We’ve had a disastrous rail privatisation in Britain, and they simply want to legislate and export the worst possible system out to the rest of Europe. So for those reasons, we were against membership in the European Union.

RV: Let’s hold off on the rail privatisation and go back to Corbyn for a second. What does it mean to have someone like Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader?

SH: First of all, I should say that our union is not affiliated to the Labour Party. We’re not affiliated because we’ve been through a process where we actually got thrown out for supporting socialist candidates in Scotland. We’re now considering re-affiliation, and the only reason why we are considering re-affiliation is because we have hope that Corbyn can lead the party in the right direction. There are still many people within our union who are very suspicious, because they see Corbyn and the leadership as a minority within the Parliamentary Labour Party.

RV: When there were all these attacks from the media and from within the Labour Party against Corbyn two summers ago, there was a slogan “Defend Corbyn! Fight for socialism!”. Can you explain what this slogan entails?

SH: I think that Corbyn, for the first time in some 30 years, has broken the neoliberal consensus between the two parties, he’s pushing left-wing social-democratic ideas. He’s not talking about socialism in the sense that we would understand it, that we take the commanding heights of the economy and seize the means of production. But he is talking of what we could call 1970s social-democracy, which was a far better system than the neoliberal system we’re living in at the moment. So we would support Corbyn so far as he’s going to push those policies, and as a union we encourage our members to take part in their local Labour Party branches, to support Corbyn and McDonnell.

Jeremy Corbyn speaks in a NCAFC picket against education cuts and fees (Photo: NCAFC)

RV: The fact that Corbyn is viewed as such a radical, isn’t it also a testament to how far to the right the consensus has moved?

SH: Indeed. If you look back at the consensus after the war, the Conservatives were in favour of national ownership of railway and utilities. Not for any particular ideological reason, just because it made business sense that all those revenues would go into the budget. Then starting off in the late 70s we had neoliberalism, adopted in this country from the Chicago school of economics, we had basically a robbery of the national purse by rich individuals, and politicians who were supporting those rich individuals. That’s what we had, a period of people enriching themselves from the system, that’s neoliberalism in a nutshell.

That wasn’t the consensus until about the late 70s, early 80s. The turnaround came because of the defeat of a major struggle in this country, the miners’ strike, and in an international context where the Soviet Union was no longer the force it had been, so there was no ideological opposition either.

RV: And why is this consensus breaking down now?

SH: That consensus is now breaking down because people are not seeing their lives get better, their children’s lives are not getting better. We’ve now got job insecurity, millions of people are in precarious jobs, nearly a million people are using food banks. The majority of these are actually employed people, it’s just poorly paid employment.

There’s also a housing crisis. Walking past King’s Cross station you can see people lying on the streets. This is the fifth richest country in the world, I believe, and we can’t even house people. There are thousands of people on the streets. Young people have to stay in the house now until they are 30, 35 years of age before they can move out, because there’s no affordable housing. The position of the average person in this country has got worse and worse over the past 10, 15 years. That’s why there’s now a resurgence in socialist and social-democratic ideas.

RV: But while there is this resurgence of socialist ideas, the media, even those supposedly on the left like The Guardian, keep lobbying for a Macron-type centrist or giving a platform to Tony Blair. What do you think of that?

SH: Well, The Guardian is not a left-wing paper, it’s a liberal paper. They’re slightly to the left of the mainstream capitalist class and they act as a good shield for them and their policies. Even when Labour was a little bit left-wing in the 1980s the Guardian attacked them and supported the right-wing breakaway, which was the Social Democratic Party. But the mainstream media have not got the power that they once had in this country. They’ve still got a huge sway, there’s no two ways about that, but I think the internet and other electronic/alternative media have made it so that the mainstream media can no longer dictate to people like they used to. When people’s reality conflicts so deeply with what they’re being told in the media it jars people into having their own thoughts.

RV: Let’s go more in detail into the issue of trade unions. This neoliberal dogma has also seen a relentless attack against trade unionism. Can you talk about these attacks, and of legislation such as the Trade Union Act of 2016?

SH: The attacks have been coming since 1979, with the election of the Thatcher government, and they’ve increased in severity, particularly since the crisis of capitalism and the meltdown of the banks and financial institutions. This has meant a long period of austerity, where people’s living standards have fallen. I think it’s one of the longest recorded periods where people’s living standards have got continually worse.

This has led to a situation where even moderate trade unions have been forced to defend their members. The government, to stop that fightback and that resistance to their policies, has brought in new anti-trade union laws. In our own industry we now have two stipulations to meet after this latest legislation. The first stipulation is that for a ballot to be valid, 50% of the people that are entitled to vote have to vote.

For example, imagine a workplace with 100 people, if 49 people vote for action, and no one votes against it, then that ballot is not valid. If 49 people vote “Yes” and one person votes “No” then it is valid. That’s the kind of nonsense that we deal with. The second stipulation is that even when do get a 50% vote, then 40% of people have to vote “Yes”. Thus in this scenario you could have a situation where 39 people vote “Yes”, 30 vote “No”, which is nearly two-thirds participation, but still that would be ruled as an invalid ballot. That’s the reasoning behind it, they want to stop people struggling and fighting back against their economic policies.

RV: In effect they are imposing barriers on democracy inside unions…

SH: Absolutely. If they imposed the same barriers, the same stipulations upon themselves, there would be very few MPs left. There certainly wouldn’t be any local councillors left! But obviously they want to attack the institutions of the working class, they want to attack the trade unions, because they’re frightened that they will disrupt their economic policies.

“The Hand That Will Rule the World” by Ralph Chaplin in the IWW magazine Solidarity (1917)

RV: And is there any pledge from Corbyn and his team on how they would act regarding this legislation?

SH: Yes, Corbyn has said that he’s going to scrap the anti-trade union laws, all of them. That’s a really good aspiration; however, I’m not sure if the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party would agree with him. They’re probably very happy to see them in place…

RV: They are responsible for some of them!

SH: Indeed, yes! One of the analogies we’ve been giving and I think is useful is the following: we can stand on the sidelines and shout “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!“, or we can get on the pitch and start playing, because if we become re-affiliated to the Labour Party we can support the Corbyn movement within the party, the constituencies, and the councils, get people there that are worthy of the name Labour politicians.

RV: In other words, move the struggle forward not just in parliament but also outside…

SH: Exactly. It’s always going to be a dual strategy, even if we had a Corbyn government. There’s no way that our union is going to lie down and accept that our members are going to have to sacrifice for anybody else. We will always be pushing that the bosses, not the workers, be the ones to make the sacrifices. We will push the Corbyn vehicle as far as we can and, if we reach a point where it’s no longer a suitable vehicle for us, then we’ll get out of it and get another one, or take over the vehicle!

RV: Let’s go back to the issue of privatisation. If you look up today any mainstream media outlet, any “responsible” policy maker will tell you that the services and utilities are better run and more efficient in the hands of the private sector. From your experience with the British rail, what’s your take on this issue?

SH: Well, in 2010 the Labour government commissioned a report called the “McNulty Report”.1 This study said that the privatised system was claiming more than three times the subsidies that nationalised system had. We have the highest fares in Europe, we have immense customer dissatisfaction with the system right now. After it was first privatised we even had a period with a series of rail accidents that killed many people. I think that privatisation has been an absolute disaster.

We have the French, Dutch, German national rail companies all making money from the British system, they’re shareholders making profits from the British rail operation. For example, you had the German department for transport issuing a statement where they clearly admitted that they were subsidising fares in Germany from the profits that they were raising in Britain! But we’re told that the British government can’t have a national railway in this country, they must be the only government in Europe that can’t make money from the British system! It’s an incredible position.

Greater Anglia picket line at Ipswich on Jan 10 for strike over safety and keeping the guard on the train (Photo: RMT)

RV: There have been some RMT strikes in the recent past. There was a strike on the Virgin Trains, there was a strike on new year’s eve, and there’s the issue of driver-only operated trains. Can you give us an overview of the current struggles in this sector?

SH: To increase the profits, the private companies, with the help of the government, are trying to get rid of guards from the trains and station staff. This has major impacts. There’s a safety impact, because if there’s a problem on a train or an emergency, the guards are in charge of safety on the train. They evacuate the train in an emergency, get people to safety, turn off all the electric components, make sure that there are no trains running anywhere near that train, etc., and that’s the first aspect of it.

The second aspect of it is accessibility, particularly for disabled people. Unless there’s a guard, they find it very difficult to get on and off the train. We have a situation now in Southern Rail where disabled people have to book their tickets 48h in advance if they want to be escorted on and off the train, we find this to be a clear discrimination. So for those reasons we’re opposing it. Obviously there are jobs involved, we want to keep jobs. Stations are being de-staffed, not major stations but smaller ones, with staff there only during peak times, so we’ve had situations with disabled people left stranded at stations. Those are the main two reasons why we’re opposing driver-only operated trains.

RV: In the face of these attacks against unions and privatisation of services, is there also some responsibility from some union leaders in accepting these changes too easily? For example, the role of ASLEF in the driver-only operated trains…

SH: The ASLEF leadership have been absolutely appalling, a glaring example of collaboration with management. The TUC, ASLEF and the management of Southern Rail met up2, in a meeting of which we were excluded, and tried to stitch up a deal. They tried to do a deal which affected our members, the guards, because they don’t have negotiating rights for the guards. And they twice put that to a referendum to their members, and it was twice rejected. So it was a humiliating process for the leadership of the TUC and ASLEF. It was third time lucky for them, the third time came with a huge “bribe”, a multi-year pay deal which gave their drivers a 28.5% raise, and unfortunately on that occasion the drivers accepted it. But both the TUC and the ASLEF leaderships played an absolutely treacherous role in this whole process.

RV: But this is a common strategy, right? Of trying to divide the union movement? This also happened during the miners’ strike.

SH: It’s a common strategy, but it also has to do with what kind of union you are. We’re an industrial union, we organise everybody from the person who makes the sandwiches, to the person who cleans the train, to the person who cleans the stations, the guard, the driver, the signaller, the technician, everyone. Unions like ASLEF are craft unions, they believe they are labour aristocrats, they’re only interested in getting money, and terms and conditions for their own members, even if it means selling out their workmates.

RMT campaign to keep the guard on the train

RV: This will be a very obvious question, but I assume you’re in favour of (re-)nationalising rail?

SH: Absolutely. We want re-nationalised rail, but we don’t just want to go back to the old system of British Rail. We want democratic control and accountability. We want workers to be a genuine part of the decision-making process, together with elected individuals from the community and transport groups and obviously members of Network Rail, or a similar public body, which would be accountable to the public and not just to a government bureaucrat. We don’t want to go back to the top-down system of British Rail that took strategic decisions without consulting with the communities and the people that it was supposed to serve. We want a democratic system, one that’s decided upon after full negotiation and consultation with the trade unions and the passengers.

RV: And this was in the Labour manifesto?

SH: The nationalisation of rail is in the manifesto, but not in this form. Not yet!

RV: One final question, concerning strikes. Whenever you read about strikes, they are constantly demonised in the media. You hear that strikers are “creating unnecessary disruption”, or that they “don’t care about commuters”. How do you react when you see these portrayals? What do you tell people?

SH: Well, first of all, no one wants to go on strike. 99.9% of people would rather go to work and earn a day’s money because they don’t get paid when they go on strike. Strikes are always a last resort, when the negotiations are finished, when we’re not making any progress negotiating. Or when management are pretending to negotiate with us on one hand, and implementing the policies that we are opposed to at the same time. So it’s like trying to negotiate with a crocodile while your head is in the crocodile’s mouth! You’ve got to first struggle and get your head free, and then you can negotiate. Because otherwise you’re going to be eaten!

That’s what we’ve got to get through to the public. Of course, the press are run by the capitalist class or the government, they are opposed to everything we do. They hate us particularly as a union because we’re a militant, class-conscious union, and everything we do is going to be pilloried and demonised. But that’s part of the territory, we expect that.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. This report, called “Realising the Potential of GB Rail”, was commissioned by the Labour government of Gordon Brown in February 2010. The Conservative Party won the election in May 2010 and endorsed the study, which would be published in May 2011. See here for a summary report and here for the full study.
  2. The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) is a trade union representing train drivers. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) is a federation of trade unions in England and Wales. Southern Railway is one of the multiple private rail companies operating in the UK.

The Biggest Elephant in the Room

When he began campaigning for the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn would cut through the dull trivia that routinely characterises these contests and suddenly say that it was time to address the elephant in the room. In the breathless hush that would always follow those words he would continue that it was time to discuss the illegal Iraq War of 2003. The point he was making was valid – the fact that the Labour Party had supported a monstrous and unlawful military adventure, a fact that no one wanted to mention. But it wasn’t the real elephant in the room, it wasn’t even a baby-sized hippo – compared with the Labour Party’s real elephant – which is still seldom addressed – the fact that the founding values of the party were utterly trashed and trampled on by Tony Blair and his chancellor and subsequent successor Gordon Brown; and that their many supporters, the “Blairites”, still deeply infest the party. But even that subject, large as it is, pails to insignificance compared with the biggest elephant in the room which very few are prepared to notice.

Roy Medvedev, one of the first Russian communist writers to produce a critical history of the Stalin years, hit the nail on the head. Quoting Rosa Luxemburg’s words, “Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement”, he wrote, in the foreword to his book “Let History Judge“, “[I]t is Communists who should be the strictest judges of their own history. Otherwise it will be impossible to restore the unity, moral purity, and strength of this great movement”.

Most of us, communists or otherwise, are not very good at strictly judging our own histories. Mostly that’s because we’re routinely taught highly sanitized versions of our history by those we most trust to tell us the truth – our own families, teachers, priests, and the mainstream media – versions of history which may include some factual content concerning events we could justifiably be proud of – or at least not too ashamed of – but which carefully exclude, or lie about, all the other events which should not only shame us, but make us feel rage.

We are instead conditioned to see our countries as “great”, our people the finest and fairest in the whole world. Anything which challenges or questions the conditioning is instantly dismissed as contemptible heresy, even sometimes provoking shrill demands for the execution of the blasphemer.

But harsh self-criticism is indeed, as Rosa Luxemburg said and Roy Medvedev knew, life-giving light and air.

A vast and terrifying pestilence has swept over the entire world. The mildest manifestation of it produces a constant depression and darkness, a total absence of light at the end of the tunnel. For many others it produces an ever-present terror which pervades the air every second of their lives, similar to the way many people feel when they are ruled by a psychopathic tyrant who, acting on a whim, may strike them down at any time of the day or night. The worst manifestation of it is its awesome destructive power, effortlessly capable of snuffing-out every living thing anywhere on Earth, and poisoning the land for billions of years into the future. Many people in the Middle East have long called this vast pestilence “The Great Satan”. Everyone else knows it as the government of the United States.

Almost since the day it was first created, the US government has displayed behaviour similar to that of a psychopath – obsessed only by its own instant gratification, and not only completely indifferent to the pain and suffering to others this invariably causes, but often gleefully elated by it. From its earliest treacherous and terrible exterminations of countless thousands of native Americans, through its first experiments in foreign expansion in Hawaii, Central America, Cuba and the Philippines – when it learnt that it could act with reckless impunity on a global stage and never be held to account for its actions – to today where it can and does wreak death and destruction anywhere it chooses every single year – without any consequences to itself – this terrifying pestilence hovers over every corner of the globe like a dense cloud of lethal poisons which might at any second suddenly descend and wipe out life for the rest of time.

A recent example of its awesome destructive power was clearly visible in Syria, for example, a country which, by Middle Eastern standards, was a beacon of peace and civilisation, freedom and democracy – until the US government decided it had to be destroyed. Its preferred method for doing this these days is to exploit local “useful idiots” on the ground supported by overwhelming US air power: US war planes destroy any target they like – without incurring any danger to themselves – and the “useful idiots” supply the essential “boots on the ground” to take any risks to personal safety, and occupy the lands devastated by US war machines. This achieves US government objectives without incurring any significant losses to American lives – an important requirement for political tranquillity at home.

Previous recent examples of this same method for the illegal removal of governments the US deems unsuitable were on display in Libya, where the relatively good government of Colonel Gaddafi – by African and Middle Eastern standards – was overthrown, and in the Ukraine, where at least $5B was “invested” by the US in illegally removing a sovereign government through civil war.

The global pestilence is maintained by a global network of US military bases located in just about every country in the world, and the US openly boasts that it could strike down any city anywhere within one hour). The US is the only country in the world with this terrifying capability, yet we’re routinely expected to believe that the real threats to world peace come from military nonentities such as North Korea or Iran. We’re also routinely encouraged to believe that Russia and China are also serious threats to our safety, and although they are both powerful nations, neither country has ever shown imperialist ambitions that come even close to those of the US government.

The US government frequently behaves like the global policeman – but it has no right to do so. The United Nations is the only institution that has any lawful claim to that role. But not only is the UN often prevented by the US from carrying out its legitimate responsibilities, it’s also used by the US to provide a veneer of legitimacy to its imperialist actions.

Take, for example, the recent decision by the US government to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem/Al Quds. By convention, embassies are usually located in the capital cities of countries, and the US action was highly provocative as it provided enormous weight to the rulers of Occupied Palestine to claim ownership of the eastern section of that city, which is de facto Palestinian territory.

The move provoked predictable outrage all around the world from countries who have long sympathised with the plight of oppressed Palestinians. On the 21st December a draft resolution was put before the UN General Assembly rejecting the US decision. The US was highly infuriated that anyone should criticise its actions this way, and the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, wrote to every country prior to the vote to warn, “The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those who voted against us.” She followed up her letter by tweeting, “On Thurs there’ll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names”.

Here we have the US ambassador to the UN, a very responsible position, treating other ambassadors as though they were a classroom of naughty five-year-olds. Is there any better example of the sublime arrogance of the US, or finer proof of the intimidation it routinely assumes is its right to use on the global stage?

However, in an extraordinary display of defiance against teacher, an overwhelming majority of countries supported the resolution and voted against the US. Time will tell if these countries have the real courage of their convictions, and refuse to move their embassies from Tel Aviv.

These are just a couple of recent examples of the global tyranny of the US government. There are many, many more. The American actions are, of course, highly contemptible, but the supine silence of most of the rest of the world, effectively endorsing the criminality of the Empire, is every bit as contemptible – but, of course, understandable: the US has shown time and time again that there is every reason to fear it. Like the playground bully, it controls everyone not through their freely-given support but through terror and inflicting terrible violence.

This is the biggest elephant of all dominating the room which, here in the first world, only a very few of us notice: the fact that the biggest of all of our planet’s problems are directly linked to the US government. Vast swathes of the rest of the planet know it – people living in the Middle East, much of Asia, most of Latin America; but here in the first world, the supposed beneficiaries of the American Empire, most people appear not to notice the terrible harm being wreaked by our Great Protector. From the economic injustice which inflicts starvation and disease on hundreds of millions of people, to the environmental catastrophe that’s now causing the biggest mass extinction of species since the age of dinosaurs, to the illegal wars that slaughter hundreds of thousands and ruin the lives of millions more… the one common factor that joins all of these terrible events together with a golden blood-soaked thread is the US government. Using its total control of the global economic system, or resorting to its awesome military might stationed in almost every country around the world, the US government is directly in charge of all that happens – and is therefore directly responsible for it.

At first glance it would seem there’s nothing we can do about this. After all, overthrowing the US regime by force is too ridiculous to consider, even if a moral case for using violence could somehow be constructed. So how else can we do what must be done?

The first and most essential requirement is to notice the elephant, to see the truth and criticise it in the same way as we would criticise it if it were being perpetrated by anyone else. How would we respond if it were Russia, say, or China that were locating military bases in every corner of the globe, and launching illegal wars from those bases? What would we think if Russia or China, say, were spying on us every minute of every day by using a terrifying global network of spies, secret police and ruthless murderers? What would we say if Russia or China, say, were controlling our economy in such a way that benefitted their multi-billionaires at the expense of our own people? What would we do if Russia or China, say, were destroying our fragile life-sustaining planet before our very eyes? Surely we would condemn those actions, and demand change? So why then do we not demand the same change when all those terrible things are being perpetrated every day of the week by the biggest of all elephants in the room – the US government?

More people need to see the elephant, to look at him through clear and honest eyes, and then lead him quietly out of the room to some place where he can no longer do any harm. Although this analogy is deeply unkind and unfair to elephants, who are the most splendid and wonderful of creatures, it’s otherwise a useful expression to use for something that’s blindingly obvious, but which people somehow fail to see. The US government is the single biggest threat to our planet. It must be quietly and peacefully made safe by the only people who could do it, the people of the USA.

Starting with the ruthless self-criticism that Rosa Luxemburg so rightly identified as essential, the American people need to be the strictest judges of their own government and do what must be done: create a new federal constitution based on direct democracy, and that recognises and acts upon the global injustices and environmental catastrophes being perpetrated by the existing model. It’s already too late for the millions of unnecessary dead and tens of millions of unnecessary refugees, and the thousands of species being made extinct with every passing year. It’s far too late for them. It’s now just a question of how much can we limit the needless human and environmental disasters for which future generations will rightly condemn us. The truth about the terrifying pestilence must be seen for what it is. As Lenin said, “We need complete, truthful information. And the truth should not depend on whom it is to serve”1

  1. Roy Medvedev. Let History Judge, Frontispiece.

UK Minister Forced to Resign Over Secret Israel Meetings as Questions Continue to Swirl

A British government minister was apparently so dedicated to her work that she spent a “family holiday” in Israel conducting 12 undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Those covert meetings brought about the downfall of Priti Patel on Wednesday night. She was forced to resign as international development secretary, responsible for Britain’s overseas aid budget, admitting her actions “fell below the standards of transparency and openness” expected of a minister.

Her position became untenable as further revelations this week showed she had held two additional unrecorded meetings with Israeli officials in London and New York in September, organised and attended by a prominent Israel lobbyist.

All meetings conducted by British ministers on official business are supposed to be recorded by government civil servants.

Although the office of Theresa May, the British prime minister, has insisted it did not know of these meetings until the BBC revealed them on November 3, a report from Britain’s Jewish Chronicle newspaper suggested otherwise. It claimed that, while the meetings were not authorised beforehand, May’s officials learnt of them almost immediately through Israeli counterparts.

Excursion to the Golan

During her vacation in Israel, Patel also dispensed with sightseeing to head instead to the Golan Heights, Syrian territory illegally occupied by Israel since 1967. Thoughtfully, the Israeli army accompanied her and had the chance to explain in detail their “humanitarian work” running a field hospital patching up those injured in southern Syria, including al Qaeda combatants.

Patel was reportedly so impressed she wanted to give the Israeli army a chunk of Britain’s limited international aid. Her department’s budget is apparently so tight that, according to the Independent newspaper, she approved cuts last year in aid to the Palestinians of £17 million, including projects in Gaza.

In other words, Patel hoped to give British aid intended for the most unfortunate directly to one of the best-funded and equipped armies in the world, one that already receives $4 billion a year in military aid from the United States, and which has used its swollen budget to sustain a five-decade belligerent occupation of the Palestinians and enforce its continuing occupation of the Syrian Golan.

All of this was done unofficially. In an example of under-statement, the British media called all of this a “breach of ministerial protocol”. The Guardian newspaper characterised Patel’s behavior as a sign of her “incompetence”. But is that plausible?

Was Patel so astoundingly ignorant of government protocol that she held meetings off the books with senior Israeli officials? Was it political naivety that led her to venture into the Golan under the auspices of the Israeli army and into an area from which Israel has been deeply meddling in the six-year Syrian proxy war raging just a few miles away?

And was it simply a coincidence that her unusual holiday excursion occurred as analysts have begun warning of an imminent renewed outbreak of hostilities between Israel and its northern neighbors, Syria and Lebanon?

It is worth picking through the debris in an attempt to work out what she, and Israel, might have been trying to achieve.

Role in Israel lobby

Patel is a prominent member of Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), a pro-Israel lobby group to which 80 per cent of the ruling Conservative party’s members of parliament, including most government ministers, belong. They and a similarly entrenched group of opposition Labour MPs belonging to Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) are there to advance Israel’s case in parliament and in British foreign policy.

Such MPs are invited on official “educational” trips to Israel where they get access to Israeli leaders and are wined and dined. The damaging influence of these lobbies on British politics – and the covert nature of their activities – were highlighted earlier this year in a four-part undercover investigation broadcast by Al Jazeera.

In the episode on the Conservative party, an Israeli embassy official was filmed plotting with party officials to “take down” a government foreign office minister, Alan Duncan. He is seen as a rare outpost of support for the Palestinians in the Conservative party. This disturbing incident was largely ignored by the Conservative leadership and the British media.

Patel’s membership of CFI is hardly surprising. But her level of commitment to Israel, beyond that of her CFI membership, is suggested by the nature of her choice of “holiday” destination and the endless round of meetings she held there. They were organised by Stuart Polak, who accompanied her and is the honorary president of CFI.

Patel has argued that the meetings touched on entirely innocuous topics. Netanyahu apparently took time out of his busy schedule – including his frantic efforts to staunch a corruption scandal that could lead to his resignation and jail time – to chat about Patel’s “experience growing up in an area of the UK with a thriving Jewish community” and “her political journey”.

More likely, Israeli officials were keen to talk to Patel for more pertinent reasons. Some are easier to identify than others. Most obviously, Patel’s role was to oversee Britain’s aid to the Palestinian Authority and human rights groups that monitor Israel’s appalling record of abuses in the occupied territories.

Patel had already proven her willingness to cut aid to the Palestinians. It was reported that in October last year she also temporarily suspended £25 million in funds to Palestine, though her department denied the story.

A foreign office source told the BBC: “She has been pushing to get her hands on the PA aid budget and we have been pushing back.” Israeli officials may have hoped they could extract more concessions from her or persuade her to tie aid to greater Palestinian compliance with Israeli demands.

Dirty tricks campaign

Netanyahu has additionally been leading an aggressive campaign to silence Israeli human rights groups and prevent them from receiving foreign, mainly European, funding. In a sign of how high a priority this is, Netanyahu asked the British prime minister at a meeting in May to end Britain’s supposed funding of an Israeli army whistleblower group, Breaking the Silence. In fact, the group receives no money from the British government.

Patel’s account of her meeting with Israel’s police minister, Gilad Erdan, at least hints inadvertently at another topic that both sides may have hoped would be of mutual benefit. Notably, she met Erdan a second time at the Houses of Parliament in September, in contravention of a decision by her department officials. The meeting was arranged through her constituency office and went unrecorded.

She says she discussed with Erdan the problem of antisemitism in the UK. He, meanwhile, stated in a Tweet that they spoke about ways to “counter attempts to delegitimise Israel in international institutions”.

 

Gilad Erdan and Priti Patel

Erdan’s full title is minister of public security, communications (hasbara – or “propaganda” in English) and strategic affairs. He is charged with smearing Israel’s critics abroad and has established a “dirty tricks unit” to try to destroy the growing international BDS movement that campaigns for a boycott of Israel. Netanyahu has claimed that “delegitimisation” – criticism – of Israel is the biggest threat facing his country after an Iranian nuclear bomb.

As the Al Jazeera documentary indicates, the dirty tricks campaign has often relied on Israeli embassy officials and allies in western political parties, like the most zealous members of the CFI and LFI, to weaponise accusations of antisemitism against Israel’s critics.

Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the opposition Labour party two years ago, the British media have been flooded with stories of a supposed antisemitism crisis under his watch. In judging the plausibility of these accusations, it is hard to ignore the fact that Corbyn is the first leader of a major British political party to place the rights of Palestinians above Israel’s right to carry on regardless with the occupation.

Was Patel plotting with Netanyahu and Erdan to help Israel in further damaging Corbyn, possibly by stoking yet more claims of antisemitism in his party, at time when the Conservatives have no parliamentary majority and are in a permanent state of crisis that may yet force elections Corbyn is well placed to win?

And, more cynically still, as some of her fellow ministers suggested to the BBC, might the ambitious Patel have seen seeking to prove her credentials with Israel and its wealthy supporters and lobbyists in the UK, including Lord Polak, to help in a future leadership bid?

Cover-up by May’s office?

If that is what these meetings were at least in part about, did Patel take on this task on her own initiative or on behalf of CFI? And was there really no coordination with the party leadership?

Interestingly, when the meetings first came to light, Patel claimed that the foreign office was fully informed. Only under pressure from Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and May did she start backpedalling.

Now, the evidence appears to indicate that May’s office too may have been engaged in a cover-up. Michael Oren, deputy minister in the Israeli prime minister’s office, reportedly told senior British government officials about Patel’s meeting with Netanyahu the day it occurred.

The Jewish Chronicle has also reported that May and Patel spoke face to face in September about the latter’s meeting with Netanyahu, shortly before the British prime minister spoke at the United Nations General Assembly. May is said to have agreed with Patel on her “plan for UK aid to be shared with the Israelis.”

So given this context, what can we make of Patel’s extraordinary trip to the Golan?

Israel and the war in Syria

The field hospital that so impressed her is rather more than an example of altruistic “humanitarianism” by the Israeli army. Although it is widely reported that the hospital cares for “Syrian nationals” injured in the fighting in Syria, its primary role appears to be to treat foreign fighters from al Qaeda-affiliated groups injured in battles with Syrian government forces and their Lebanese ally, Hizbullah. A significant number of wounded have been transferred to hospitals inside Israel.

This barely concealed fact – it was even documented by the United Nations in 2015 – caused outrage among the Syrian Druze population living under Israeli occupation in the Golan, as well as Druze families in Israel. It looked to them like the Islamist fighters were being patched up so that they could carry on butchering Druze relatives a few miles away in southern Syria.

In summer 2015 that anger peaked, and several ambulances carrying fighters to Israeli hospitals were attacked by Druze, in the Golan and Israel. In one attack masked men managed to stop an ambulance and beat a fighter to death. In September two Israeli Druze men were convicted of another, failed attempt to stop an ambulance. They face up to 20 years in jail.

But in fact, Israel’s ties to al Qaeda groups and Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria extend beyond medical help. The UN reported that the Israeli army was seen transferring boxes to al-Qaeda groups in Syria. There are credible reports that Israel has also armed and trained al Qaeda fighters, and provided them with maps and intelligence. The strong suspicion is that Israel has forged links to these Islamic extremists to help them wear down Hezbollah and the Syrian army.

Israel has carried out more than 100 air strikes inside Syria, all against government forces, precisely to weaken the military alliance between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and thereby helping al-Qaeda groups. The Islamic extremists have also received assistance from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and less directly from the US.

Why was a British minister in charge of humanitarian aid getting mixed up in all this?

Echoes of Liam Fox meetings

The episode has troubling parallels with events from 2011 when Liam Fox, Britain’s defence minister, resigned following his own murky dealings with Israel. The official grounds for Fox’s departure were that he had broken ministerial protocol by allowing a close friend and lobbyist, Adam Werritty, to attend defence meetings posing as an adviser.

But in fact, Fox’s ties to Werritty were even more problematic than admitted. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador turned whistleblower, has argued that the official story about Fox was used to deflect attention from far more serious violations of government protocol.

Fox and Werritty were active in a shadowy group called Atlantic Bridge that had close ties to the neoconservatives who were deeply embedded in the administration of George W Bush. The neocons openly promoted an aggressive policy designed to destabilise the Middle East, all in a bid to help Israel.

The neocons had served as a long-standing pressure group for attacks on Iraq, Iran and Syria – chiefly because they were seen as bulwarks against Israel’s hegemonic influence in the region. In 2003 the neocons succeeded in persuading the Bush administration to invade Iraq, unleashing a lethal collapse of central authority there.

Israel and the neocons have been trying to engineer a complementary attack on Iran ever since, and there is overwhelming evidence that they have been seeking to undermine Syria too.

‘Alternative’ government policy

The most significant of Fox’s off-the-books meetings occurred in February 2011 when he and Werritty, supported by the UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, secretly met Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.

According to Murray, drawing on his contacts in the diplomatic service, the Israeli officials were, in fact, Mossad agents. And the topic they discussed was Britain’s possible role in helping to create a favourable diplomatic environment for Israel or the US to carry out an attack on Iran.

Separately, the Guardian newspaper revealed that Fox’s ministry had drawn up detailed plans for British assistance in the event of a US military strike on Iran. That included allowing the Americans to use Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian ocean, as a base from which to launch an attack.

Unnamed government officials told the Guardian Fox had been pursuing an “alternative” government policy. Murray, more directly, suggested that Fox, Werritty and Gould had conspired in a “rogue” foreign policy towards Iran, against Britain’s stated aims.

Although Fox was forced to resign over his links to Werritty, he was quickly rehabilitated once May became prime minister. He was appointed secretary of state for international trade last year.

With fitting irony, Patel was on a trip to Africa with Fox when she was called back to the UK as the scandal deepened. Under pressure from an embattled May, she has resigned.

Angling for regional war?

Was Patel pursuing an “alternative” policy towards Israel or its neighbors? And if so, what was that policy, and did anyone senior to her authorise it?

Her role in talking to senior Israelis bypassed the foreign office. Did she do so because officials there like Alan Duncan were not seen as sympathetic enough to Israel, and might try to sabotage it? The permanent bureaucracy of the foreign office has often been seen as holding “pro-Arab” views not unrelated to western interests in the Gulf and its plentiful oil.

And how does May, a fervent supporter of Israel, fit into this picture?

Given British government secrecy, it will likely never be possible to provide definitive answers. But it is worth remembering that Israel, its still-powerful neocon allies in Washington and the Saudi regime are angling for the Israeli army to reverse the decisive gains Assad and his allies have made in taking back control of Syria in recent months.

This week Daniel Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel, wrote in the Haaretz newspaper that the Saudis were meddling yet again in Lebanese politics, forcing Hezbullah into greater political prominence, to provide the pretext for Israel to renew its confrontation with the Lebanese militia and thereby stoke a new war between Israel and Lebanon and Syria.

In his words: “Israel and Saudi Arabia are fully aligned in this regional struggle, and the Saudis cannot help but be impressed by Israel’s increasing assertiveness to strike at Iranian threats in Syria … When the moment of truth arrives, Israel’s allies, with the United States in the lead, should give it full backing.”

When the time comes, Israel will, as ever, rely on well-placed friends in western capitals to support and misrepresent its actions. Until her resignation, Priti Patel would undoubtedly have been one of those prominent champions of Israel helping out in a time of need.

Balfour Merrymaking a Potential PR Disaster for the British Government

The extraordinary programme of centenary celebrations in the UK to honour Lord Balfour and his lunatic Declaration — and the British Government’s continuing part in it — is an affront to citizens here and to countless millions abroad. And many a sharp pin is waiting to burst the pretty Balfour balloon being desperately inflated by Israel-firsters at Westminster.

Balfour’s 1917 pledge and its consequences, played out over the last 70 years, ride roughshod over Christian values and humanitarian law. Rothschild replied to Balfour’s letter saying that “the British Government has opened up, by their message, a prospect of safety and comfort to large masses of people who are in need of it.” Well, it also opened up the prospect — and the reality — of a lifetime of abject misery for millions of Palestinians who had no need of it and certainly didn’t deserve it. It also helped to plant in the most sacred part of the Middle East an evil regime that shows contempt for human rights and international law and is bent on creating instability all around and confiscating every acre of land and every natural resource to aid its expansion.

The daft thing is, Balfour didn’t even write the Declaration. He was simply the upper-class twit who signed it and did so without even bothering to consult the people whose homeland he intended giving away. The carefully worded letter to Rothschild (the so-called Declaration) was the work of Leopold Amery, political secretary to the War Cabinet at the time, who cleverly kept hidden his Jewish ancestry throughout his quite impressive career. He was also largely responsible for forming the Jewish Legion battalions which were the forerunners of the hated Israeli Defence Force, which Israeli Miko Peled describes as “one of the best trained and best equipped and best fed terrorist organisations in the world”.

Amery was an eager Zionist and had a supervisory role in the British mandate government in Palestine during the 1920s, actively preparing it for eventual Jewish takeover. He operated within a government the upper echelons of which were stuffed with Zionist sympathisers such as Churchill and Lloyd George.

In response to the avalanche of pro-Balfour celebratory tosh the Palestine Mission to the UK commissioned a ‘Make It Right’ campaign featuring contrasting images of Palestinian life before and after 1948, when Israel declared statehood on land it had overrun and ethnically cleansed. The campaign message, of course, objects to the Balfour declaration which promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Posters were supposed to appear on buses and in Underground rail stations but London’s transport authority, Transport for London (TfL), has banned the advertisements on the grounds that they “did not comply fully with our guidelines”. It seems TfL don’t like  “images or messages which relate to matters of public controversy or sensitivity” or causes that are “party political”.

Palestinian ambassador Manuel Hassassian accuses TfL of censorship saying:

Palestinian history is a censored history. There has been a 100-year-long cover-up of the British government’s broken promise, in the Balfour declaration, to safeguard the rights of the Palestinians when it gave away their country to another people. TfL’s decision is not surprising as it is, at best, susceptible to or, at worst, complicit with, all the institutional forces and active lobby groups which continuously work to silence the Palestinian narrative. There may be free speech in Britain on every issue under the sun but not on Palestine.

Prime Minister Theresa May has invited her Israeli counterpart ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu to the London celebrations. It is unthinkable in Government circles for an honoured guest to be confronted with a London plastered with such inconvenient messages. Nevertheless, they’ll appear on 52 London black cabs, which aren’t under TfL’s control, so our PM’s loathsome visitor may not entirely escape embarrassment, assuming he’s capable of feeling it.

Conflating justice and tolerance with anti-Semitism

Speaking of declarations I’m reminded of a far more sensible one by Shimon Tzabar, who had been a member of Jewish terrorist organisations in Palestine during the British Mandate including the Stern Gang, Irgun and Haganah. After 1948 and the establishment of the Israeli state he fought in its 1948-50, 1956, and 1967 wars but spoke out against the annexation of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He even began calling  himself a “Hebrew-speaking Palestinian”. Tzabar and others eventually felt moved to publish the following declaration:

Occupation entails foreign rule. Foreign rule entails resistance. Resistance entails repression. Repression entails terror and counter-terror. The victims of terror are mostly innocent people. Holding on to the occupied territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims. Let us get out of the occupied territories immediately.

Wouldn’t Mrs May prefer to celebrate Tzabar’s Declaration? He moved to England where he famously published the MUCH BETTER THAN THE OFFICIAL MICHELIN Guide to Israeli prisons, Jails, Concentration Camps and Torture Chambers. The best and safest way to begin a tour of these horrible establishments, it said, was to look like a Palestinian Arab and get yourself arrested .”Once you look like a Palestinian you have a good chance of being arrested. Your chance is actually so good, that you don’t have to do anything in particular.”

That other Israeli straight-talker Miko Peled, mentioned above, put the cat among the pigeons at the Labour Party conference last month when he told activists that Israel is “terrified” of Jeremy Corbyn becoming British prime minister and will do everything they can to stop him. “They are going to pull all the stops, they are going to smear, they are going to try anything they can to stop Corbyn from being prime minister. It’s up to Labour, it’s up to you [to ensure] that they don’t have the ability to do that…. Jeremy Corbyn is an opportunity for Britain that, if it gets lost, won’t come back for a very long time.

“The reason anti-Semitism is used is because they [the Israelis] have no argument, there is nothing to say,” said Peled. “How can a call for justice and tolerance be conflated with anti-Semitism? I don’t know if they realise this but they are pitting Judaism against everything good and just.”

Peled is an Israeli Jew, the son of an Israeli general, and a former soldier in the Israeli army. You couldn’t find a more authentic insider source. Here’s a flavour of his message:

The name of the game: erasing Palestine, getting rid of the people and de-Arabizing the country…

By 1993 the Israelis had achieved their mission to make the conquest of the West Bank irreversible. By 1993 the Israeli government knew for certain that a Palestinian state could not be established in the West Bank – the settlements were there, $ billions were invested, the entire Jordan River valley was settled… there was no place any more for a Palestinian state to be established. That is when Israel said, OK, we’ll begin negotiations…

When people talk about the possibility of Israel somehow giving up the West Bank for a Palestinian state, if it wasn’t so sad it would be funny. It shows a complete misunderstanding of the objective of Zionism and the Zionist state.

Meanwhile Netanyahu has just announced a temporary easing of the fishing limits imposed on Gaza’s fishermen. For two months, in the southern half of Gaza, they will be able to sail out 9 miles after which the limit reverts back to 6. Sounds generous? No, it’s ridiculously cruel. And restrictions remain even tighter in the northern half. Under the Oslo Agreements (1993) Israel is supposed to allow the Palestinians to fish up to 12 miles out, in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea but, as with so many other agreements, the Zionist regime has never honoured its obligation. Furthermore Israel’s 10-year blockade on Gaza has made it impossible for many fishermen to buy parts to maintain their vessels, so the once flourishing fishing industry has been crippled.

And Netanyahu recently locked up the Palestinians for 11 days while Israelis enjoyed festive holidays. Marilyn Garson, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reported:

Netanyahu seals the gates of the West Bank and Gaza for eleven days, to enjoy Sukkot. How flagrant, to confine millions of people in the name of a holiday that celebrates the flimsy, temporary nature of our walls. If Jews were herded behind concrete walls and locked away for eleven days, so that someone else might enjoy a Jew-free holiday, would we shrug that off?

Haaretz is a relatively honest source and to print such a thing in Israel is quite daring.

On the same subject the Jewish Chronicle had this to say:  “Border closures over the High Holidays and other Jewish festivals are routine, but are usually much shorter. The original decision stoked complaints within the Israeli security establishment that it was principally “grandstanding” by ministers eager to burnish their right-wing credentials.” The JC went on the explain that the 11-day closure had been demanded by Israeli police and the Internal Security minister, and was initially opposed by the Israeli military and senior Defence Ministry officials who said that it would be an unnecessary punishment to tens of thousands of law-abiding Palestinian workers.

However, both Israeli papers omitted to say that, thanks to Balfour’s legacy, there has been no freedom of movement for Palestinians since the closure of Gaza and the West Bank by Israel 26 years ago. Closure is the normal state of affairs and not to be confused with foolish ideas that crossings are usually open.

Contradictory Promises

The Balfour Project, which promotes justice, security and peace for both Jews and Arabs, has made available a wealth of information. One of its publications sums up the problem very neatly:

The Declaration pledges Britain’s support for a ‘national home’ in Palestine for the Jewish people on the understanding that the rights of ‘existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’ would not tbe prejudiced. The failure to uphold this second clause, for which Britain bears much responsibility, has caused conflict between Palestinians and Israelis ever since.

This was just one of Britain’s contradictory promises during the First World War. After the war we secured a mandate from the League of Nations which included a ‘sacred trust’ to prepare the people of Palestine for independence. But in the end Britain walked away.

Yes, in 1948 we abandoned the mess we had created. As the last British soldiers marched away Jewish leaders declared statehood without borders, pushing far beyond the boundaries set out in the UN Partition Plan the year before, their terror militia putting to flight hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, massacring many more and stealing their homes and farms.

What Britain caused to happen in the Holy Land was contrary to all decency and justice. History will not judge kindly the British Government’s decision to celebrating Balfour “with pride” while refusing to apologise and make amends. There’s a fair chance the whole sorry spectacle will backfire on Theresa May and teach her unpleasant associates a sharp lesson.

A colleague wrote only yesterday to one of our government ministers and what she said is worth repeating here:

Ministers, from the Prime Minister down, should reflect with humility that but for that disastrous decision by their predecessors 100 years ago, the Holy Land might still be a land of peace where all the faiths lived in harmony together.

The Rising of Britain’s “New Politics”

As the Tories plot to get rid of Prime Minister Theresa May, John Pilger analyses the alternative Labour Party, specifically its foreign policy, which may not be what it seems.

*****

Delegates to the recent Labour Party conference in the English seaside town of Brighton seemed not to notice a video playing in the main entrance.  The world’s third biggest arms manufacturer, BAe Systems, supplier to Saudi Arabia, was promoting its guns, bombs, missiles, naval ships and fighter aircraft.

It seemed a perfidious symbol of a party in which millions of Britons now invest their political hopes. Once the preserve of Tony Blair, it is led today by Jeremy Corbyn, whose career has been very different from Blair’s and is rare in British establishment politics.

Addressing the Labour conference, the campaigner Naomi Klein described the rise of Corbyn as “part of a global phenomenon. We saw it in Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign in the US primaries, powered by millennials who know that safe centrist politics offers them no kind of safe future.”

In fact, at the end of the US primary elections last year, Sanders led his followers into the arms of Hillary Clinton, a liberal warmonger from a long tradition in the Democratic Party.

As President Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton presided over the invasion of Libya in 2011, which led to a stampede of refugees to Europe. She gloated notoriously at the gruesome murder of Libya’s president. Two years earlier, she signed off on a coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. That she has been invited to Wales on 14 October to be given an honorary doctorate by the University of Swansea because she is “synonymous with human rights” is unfathomable.

Like Clinton, Sanders is a cold-warrior and an “anti-communist” obsessive with a proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States. He supported Bill Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s illegal assault on Yugoslavia in 1998 and the invasions of Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, as well as Barack Obama’s campaign of terrorism by drone. He backs the provocation of Russia and agrees that the whistleblower Edward Snowden should stand trial. He has called the late Hugo Chavez – a social democrat who won multiple elections – “a dead communist dictator”.

While Sanders is a familiar liberal politician, Corbyn may well be a phenomenon, with his indefatigable support for the victims of American and British imperial adventures and for popular resistance movements.

For example, in the 1960s and 70s, the Chagos islanders were expelled from their homeland, a British colony in the Indian Ocean, by a Labour government. An entire population was kidnapped. The aim was to make way for a US military base on the main island of Diego Garcia: a secret deal for which the British were “compensated” with a discount of $14 million off the price of a Polaris nuclear submarine.

I have had much to do with the Chagos islanders and have filmed them in exile in Mauritius and the Seychelles, where they suffered and grieved and some of them “died from sadness”, as I was told. They found a political champion in a Labour Member of Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn.

So did the Palestinians. So did Iraqis terrorised by a Labour prime minister’s invasion of their country in 2003. So did others struggling to break free from the designs of western power. Corbyn supported the likes of Hugo Chavez, who brought more than hope to societies subverted by the US behemoth.

And yet, now that Corbyn is closer to power than he might have ever imagined, his foreign policy remains a secret.

By secret, I mean there has been rhetoric and little else. “We must put our values at the heart of our foreign policy,” said Corbyn at the Labour conference.  But what are these “values”?

Since 1945, like the Tories, British Labour has been an imperial party, obsequious to Washington and with a record exemplified by the crime in the Chagos islands.

What has changed? Is Jeremy Corbyn saying Labour will uncouple itself from the US war machine, and the US spying apparatus and US economic blockades that scar humanity?

His shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, says a Corbyn government “will put human rights back at the heart of Britain’s foreign policy”. But human rights have never been at the heart of British foreign policy — only “interests”, as Lord Palmerston declared in the 19th century: the interests of those at the apex of British society.

Thornberry quoted the late Robin Cook who, as Tony Blair’s first Foreign Secretary in 1997, pledged an “ethical foreign policy” that would “make Britain once again a force for good in the world”.

History is not kind to imperial nostalgia. The recently commemorated division of India by a Labour government in 1947 – with a border hurriedly drawn up by a London barrister, Gordon Radcliffe, who had never been to India and never returned – led to blood-letting on a genocidal scale.

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep the assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

— W.H. Auden, ‘Partition’.

It was the same Labour government (1945–51), led by Prime Minister Clement Attlee – “radical” by today’s standards — that dispatched General Douglas Gracey’s British imperial army to Saigon with orders to re-arm the defeated Japanese in order to prevent Vietnamese nationalists from liberating their own country. Thus, the longest war of the century was ignited.

It was a Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, whose policy of “mutuality” and “partnership” with some of the world’s most vicious despots, especially in the Middle East, forged relationships that endure today, often sidelining and crushing the human rights of whole communities and societies. The cause was British “interests” – oil, power, wealth.

In the “radical” 1960s, Labour’s Defence Secretary, Denis Healey, set up the Defence Sales Organisation (DSO) specifically to boost the arms trade and make money from selling lethal weapons to the world. Healey told Parliament, “While we attach the highest importance to making progress in the field of arms control and disarmament, we must also take what practical steps we can to ensure that this country does not fail to secure its rightful share of this valuable market.”

The double-think was quintessentially Labour.

When I later asked Healey about this “valuable market”, he claimed his decision made no difference to the volume of military exports. In fact, it led to an almost doubling of Britain’s share of the arms market. Today, Britain is the second biggest arms dealer on earth, selling arms and fighter planes, machine guns and “riot control” vehicles, to 22 of the 30 countries on the British Government’s own list of human rights violators.

Will this cease under a Corbyn government? The preferred model – Robin Cook’s “ethical foreign policy” – is revealing. Like Jeremy Corbyn, Cook made his name as a backbencher and critic of the arms trade. “Wherever weapons are sold,” wrote Cook, “there is a tacit conspiracy to conceal the reality of war” and “it is a truism that every war for the past two decades has been fought by poor countries with weapons supplied by rich countries”.

Cook singled out the sale of British Hawk fighters to Indonesia as “particularly disturbing”. Indonesia “is not only repressive but actually at war on two fronts: in East Timor, where perhaps a sixth of the population has been slaughtered … and in West Papua, where it confronts an indigenous liberation movement”.

As Foreign Secretary, Cook promised “a thorough review of arms sales”. The then Nobel Peace Laureate, Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor, appealed directly to Cook: “Please, I beg you, do not sustain any longer a conflict which without these arms sales could never have been pursued in the first place and not for so very long.” He was referring to Indonesia’s bombing of East Timor with British Hawks and the slaughter of his people with British machine guns. He received no reply.

The following week Cook called journalists to the Foreign Office to announce his “mission statement” for “human rights in a new century”. This PR event included the usual private briefings for selected journalists, including the BBC, in which Foreign Office officials lied that there was “no evidence” that British Hawk aircraft were deployed in East Timor.

A few days later, the Foreign Office issued the results of Cook’s “thorough review” of arms sales policy. “It was not realistic or practical,” wrote Cook, “to revoke licences which were valid and in force at the time of Labour’s election victory”. Suharto’s Minister for Defence, Edi Sudradjat, said that talks were already under way with Britain for the purchase of 18 more Hawk fighters. “The political change in Britain will not affect our negotiations,” he said. He was right.

Today, replace Indonesia with Saudi Arabia and East Timor with Yemen. British military aircraft – sold with the approval of both Tory and Labour governments and built by the firm whose promotional video had pride of place at the Labour Party conference – are bombing the life out of Yemen, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, where half the children are malnourished and there is the greatest cholera epidemic in modern times.

Hospitals and schools, weddings and funerals have been attacked. In Ryadh, British military personnel are reported to be training the Saudis in selecting targets.

In Labour’s 2017 manifesto, Jeremy Corbyn and his party colleagues promised that “Labour will demand a comprehensive, independent, UN-led investigation into alleged violations … in Yemen, including air strikes on civilians by the Saudi-led coalition. We will immediately suspend any further arms sales for use in the conflict until that investigation is concluded.”

But the evidence of Saudi Arabia’s crimes in Yemen is already documented by Amnesty and others, notably by the courageous reporting of the British journalist Iona Craig. The dossier is voluminous.

Labour does not promise to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia. It does not say Britain will withdraw its support for governments responsible for the export of Islamist jihadism. There is no commitment to dismantle the arms trade.

The manifesto describes a “special relationship [with the US] based on shared values … When the current Trump administration chooses to ignore them … we will not be afraid to disagree”.

As Jeremy Corbyn knows, dealing with the US is not about merely “disagreeing”. The US is a rapacious, rogue power that ought not to be regarded as a natural ally of any state championing human rights, irrespective of whether Trump or anyone else is President.

When Emily Thornberry linked Venezuela with the Philippines as “increasingly autocratic regimes” – slogans bereft of contextual truth and ignoring the subversive US role in Venezuela — she was consciously playing to the enemy: a tactic with which Jeremy Corbyn will be familiar.

A Corbyn government will allow the Chagos islanders the right of return. But Labour says nothing about renegotiating the 50-year renewal agreement that Britain has just signed with the US allowing it to use the base on Diego Garcia from which it has bombed Afghanistan and Iraq.

A Corbyn government will “immediately recognise the state of Palestine”. But it is silent on whether Britain will continue to arm Israel, continue to acquiesce in the illegal trade in Israel’s illegal “settlements” and continue to treat Israel merely as a warring party, rather than as an historic oppressor given immunity by Washington and London.

On Britain’s support for Nato’s current war preparations, Labour boasts that the “last Labour government spent above the benchmark of 2 per cent of GDP” on Nato. It says, “Conservative spending cuts have put Britain’s security at risk” and promises to boost Britain’s military “obligations”.

In fact, most of the £40 billion Britain currently spends on the military is not for territorial defence of the UK but for offensive purposes to enhance British “interests” as defined by those who have tried to smear Jeremy Corbyn as unpatriotic.

If the polls are reliable, most Britons are well ahead of their politicians, Tory and Labour. They would accept higher taxes to pay for public services; they want the National Health Service restored to full health. They want decent jobs and wages and housing and schools; they do not hate foreigners but resent exploitative labour. They have no fond memory of an empire on which the sun never set.

They oppose the invasion of other countries and regard Blair as a liar.  The rise of Donald Trump has reminded them what a menace the United States can be, especially with their own country in tow.

The Labour Party is the beneficiary of this mood, but many of its pledges – certainly in foreign policy – are qualified and compromised, suggesting, for many Britons, more of the same.

Jeremy Corbyn is widely and properly recognised for his integrity; he opposes the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons; the Labour Party supports it. But he has given shadow cabinet positions to pro-war MPs who support Blairism, and tried to get rid of him and abused him as “unelectable”.

“We are the political mainstream now,” says Corbyn.  Yes, but at what price?

Boris Johnson goes Caracas

Shame people with no knowledge or understanding of Libya want to play politics with the appallingly dangerous reality in Sirte.

— Boris Johnson, Twitter, October 3, 2017

The Conservative Party conference in Manchester was always going to hinge on an important question: what would Boris Johnson do to steal the show?  Having demonstrated the hardest of lines on the issue of Brexit, he has become more just a mere thorn in his prime minister’s side.  From thorn, he has become a blade, buried in a vulnerable carriage.

Theresa May had no doubt hoped that giving him the Foreign Secretary position would see an automatic, sacrificial implosion to celebrate.  Johnson had been a noisy Brexiteer and drinking from the poisoned chalice of foreign relations was exactly the sort of thing that would have delighted the May crew.  On his travels, his mischief making would remain where he left them.

Instead, rumours of a leadership challenge have been humming in Tory corridors.  May’s disastrous electoral performance, a miscalculation of gargantuan proportions, has left her, to use the words from the smug former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, a “dead woman walking”.

The only question on any plotter’s lips is whether Johnson is up to the task.  Johnson was never good on matters behind a desk, the sort of mastery of detail that commands a brief and holds his audience by the sheer persuasiveness of labour. Detail is something best left to those who find it important, those squirrel types who parcel data and mind matters as he jaunts and jabbers.  The oratorical flourish, the wordy deflection, the self-mocking dismissal: these are the instruments of Johnsoncraft.

It is the sheer effortlessness of his statements in terms of their schoolboy sensitivity that delights and outrages.  Confusing the global stage, or any stage, as a glorified union debate without strings and codes, Johnson tends to take off the restraints and go for various parts of plain old decency.

During the course of his address to the conference, Johnson did not disappoint.  He took issue with the lack of cheer in editorials in glossy international magazines, the Cassandras keen to debunk notions that Britain was thriving, confidence, prosperous.  “Every day a distinguished pink newspaper manages to make Eeyore look positively exuberant and across the world the impression being given that this country is not up to it.”

London was “storming ahead” with frenetic speed; the UK boasted the lowest unemployment rate in 42 years.  Dreamily, he gave his audience a vision: Britannia, punching above weight and frame and everything else.  “The highest number of people in work ever, the number one destination for investment into Europe”.  All, despite Brexit.

Traditional punching was reserved for that great threat to the conservative order: Jeremy Corbyn.  Corbyn, that “NATO bashing, Trident scrapping, would-be-abolisher of the British army whose first instinct in the event of almost any international outrage or disaster is to upend the analysis until he can find a way of blaming British foreign policy.”

The fact that Corbyn found anything remotely palatable in the notion of socialism, be it in Venezuela or Bolivia suggested an illness at work, a sense of being unhinged.  “He says he still admires Bolivarian revolutionary socialism.  I say he’s Caracas.”

For all the rich smear and the voluminous sneers, Johnson can barely conceal the sense that the Tories are on the run, that Corbyn might, just might, be dangerous enough to count.  The Labour leader seemed to be deluding himself into thinking that he had won the election, expressed in “glutinous victory-style Chavista rallies up and down the country”.

But it was May, insisted the foreign secretary, who had won the highest share of the vote in any election in the last 25 years, May who was true victor.  (Never mind the electoral belting in terms of lost seats registered at the time.)  Best, then, to keep to the deregulation fantasies, the notion that rampant privatisation works.

Johnson’s main speech did not detract from a side show that made the headlines.  Before a Conservative conference fringe meeting, Libya came up in discussions.  Libya, with its “[b]one white sands, beautiful sea, Caesar’s Palace, obviously, you know, the real one.”

UK entrepreneurs wished to invest in Sirte, where Gaddafi met his grizzly, tortured fate.  “They have got a brilliant vision to turn Sirte into the next Dubai.”  There was, however, an important preliminary matter to deal with.  “The only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away.”

This woke the Tories. Suddenly, decency mattered.  The word police had donned uniforms.  Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston felt that Johnson should “consider his position” after such “crass, poorly judged and grossly insensitive” comments. The first secretary of state, Damian Green, was more judicious. “It’s not a sensitive use of language. As I say, we all need to be sensitive in our use of language, particularly in situations like that.”

Use of language is a forte of sorts for Johnson, but care about doing so rarely features.  Crude, crass and insensitive it may be, but his point is simple enough: after the bodies come the investors, the capitalists and the tourists.  The golden road to Samarkand will eventually be taken, if only after a good massacre.  May awaits a more opportune moment to hand the sack.

Corbyn’s Labour Party Will Deliver a Fairer, More Compassionate Britain

The ferocious beast of the so called free-market capitalism needs to be on a leash before it devours all around it, including our planet. Britain’s Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn has now emphatically signalled that they will do just that. Actually, free-market is a misnomer; a more accurate name would be crony capitalism, where corporate profits are privatised and losses are socialised.

The country now has a choice between two distinct visions. On the one side we have free-market economics espoused by the Tories where the market is king and can do no wrong. On the other we have Labour saying we don’t agree, the market is not working fairly for the majority of our citizens and we will take action to correct that. Whatever one’s political allegiances, this is good for democracy.

The mantra of the Labour Party “for the many, not the few” is resonating with an increasing number of our citizens in spite of most mainstream media going into overdrive to smear Jeremy Corbyn and frighten the people. The electorate have seen free-market economics acting as a giant vacuum cleaner sucking the wealth of the nation upwards to the top 1% and impoverishing the rest.

Here is Jeremy Corbyn in his excellent Labour Party conference speech of how Labour will transform Britain:

And ten years after the global financial crash the Tories still believe in the same dogmatic mantra – Deregulate, privatise cut taxes for the wealthy, weaken rights at work, delivering profits for a few, and debt for the many. Nothing has changed. It’s as if we’re stuck in a political and economic time-warp…Now is the time that government took a more active role in restructuring our economy. Now is the time that corporate boardrooms were held accountable for their actions, And now is the time that we developed a new model of economic management to replace the failed dogmas of neo-liberalism … That is why Labour is looking not just to repair the damage done by austerity but to transform our economy with a new and dynamic role for the public sector particularly where the private sector has evidently failed. Take the water industry. Of the nine water companies in England six are now owned by private equity or foreign sovereign wealth funds. Their profits are handed out in dividends to shareholders while the infrastructure crumbles the companies pay little or nothing in tax and executive pay has soared as the service deteriorates.That is why we are committed to take back our utilities into public ownership to put them at the service of our people and our economy and stop the public being ripped off. Our National Investment Bank… and the Transformation Fund will be harnessed to mobilise public investment to create wealth and good jobs.

I am a member of the Green Party; I find the direction of travel of Corbyn’s Labour party and its policies music to my ears. I would have liked to see more emphasis on environmental protection; we need to protect our environment as well as our workers. Greater commitment to renewable energy to combat climate change would also enhance Labour’s progressive policies.

Additionally, Jeremy Corbyn has made the Labour party more democratic – now he needs to take the next step to make the country’s electoral system more representative of the nation’s views. Our first past the post electoral system is not fit for purpose and it’s time we moved to some form of proportional representation.

I hope Labour, who are considering the issue, will endorse some form of PR with the caveat “of maintaining the constituency link” as Jeremy Corbyn puts it. And until that happens why not embrace a progressive alliance to ensure that a dogma-driven Tory party will not govern Britain in the future.

The country has had enough of the Tories’ free-market economics and it is looking forward to a fairer, more caring Britain led by Corbyn’s Labour Party, supported by the country’s progressives.

Is Brexit Ready to Exit?

A year ago the UK voted to leave the EU after a stupid, unnecessary referendum.  And although Brexiteers pronounced this an ‘overwhelming’ result, the true facts were that, out of the total electorate, 37 per cent voted Leave, 35 per cent voted Remain, and 28 per cent didn’t bother to vote.  Hardly overwhelming.

Not only that, but it has emerged that the Brexit campaign was funded by some secretive and dodgy deals.  The campaigns on both sides misled the public with the result that people voted without understanding the issues.  So where are we now?

The United Kingdom is in a large hole, and Theresa May’s Brexit team just keep on digging, regardless of what is happening to the nation, the citizens, the impoverished ‘you and I’ who are increasingly having to use food banks, live on the streets of rich cities, or live with their family in a bed-and-breakfast hotel room.  Not that it matters to senior Tory MPs who are well supplied with private funds.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, has just enlarged the hole – Boris never worries about where he puts his careless feet.  As part of the process of leaving the EU, the UK has to settle any financial obligations and commitments it has made with the EU.  This is part of the ‘divorce’ settlement and might be a sizeable sum. Johnson said the EU could ‘go whistle for it’.  A diplomat he is not.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier carefully explained the situation.  This is not a price charged by the EU for leaving the EU.  It is not the EU trying to ‘punish’ the UK or ‘demanding’ an extortionate sum.  But the UK must acknowledge the obligations it has signed up to.  Until that is sorted talks on the future relationship with the EU cannot proceed.  “I cannot hear any whistling,” said Barnier, “only a clock ticking.”  A quiet hint, perhaps, that Johnson and his colleagues are wasting Barnier’s time?

In the last few weeks major voices have been saying we made a mistake.  There are calls for, at the very least, a ‘soft’ Brexit – the Norway option, wherein the UK would be a member of the European Economic Area with access to the Single Market.

‘Hard’ Brexiteers insist we must leave both the Customs Union and the Single Market, even while arrogantly claiming the UK should keep the benefits of staying in both.  But leaving the Customs Union means we can never trade with any EU country.  Do they even understand that?  Michel Barnier says not.

And people are changing their minds.  As more facts come out about what we’d lose, and how far away any realistic trade deals are; as EU workers leave the UK, leaving damaging gaps in our hospitals, schools, universities and businesses; as prices rise and wages stagnate, ever more people regret voting to leave.

It can be hard to understand what pro-Brexit people were thinking when they voted Leave.  Take the Brexit-voting farmer Harry Hall, who now complains he’ll go out of business because he won’t be able to access the 2500 EU workers he needs to pick his fruit.  And in case you’re wondering, such farmers can’t persuade British workers to fill the jobs – too much hard work for a nation that has got used to a soft life.

Many of those reluctant workers will have voted to leave, and if we do leave the EU they’ll moan when they can’t afford to buy the fruit and vegetables they won’t harvest.  Harry Hall says his vote was about ‘sovereignty’.  Like so many Leave voters, he had been led to believe by the Brexiteers that the EU had somehow stolen the UK’s sovereignty.

But we have never been without our sovereignty – that has always been a massive red herring trailed by people who quite simply don’t like ‘Johnny Foreigner’, and want something to blame for everything wrong in their lives.  Even the government with its cabinet of hard Brexiteers now admits we never lost our sovereignty and have stopped claiming we’re ‘getting it back’.  Bit late to admit that now, isn’t it?

Nobody but Theresa May and her cronies have ever believed ‘Brexit means Brexit’.  It was nothing more than a meaningless phrase from a meaningless Prime Minister.  Asked to explain it she could only, endlessly, repeat it, making it obvious that neither she nor her cabinet (or indeed her weird wardrobe) actually knew what to do.

Once Article 50 was triggered, committing the UK to leaving Europe, and May’s useless team of ‘negotiators’ were staring at the vast problem of trying to divorce our country from the best trading partner in the world, May started to intone ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ in answer to any awkward questions – well, any questions at all, really.  She is notable for not answering questions.  Mrs May, no deal is a bad deal.

She is sartorially as well as politically challenged.  Many of her suits look like material boxes hiding the body inside.  Her skirts are tight as well as short.  When she sits down she displays far too much middle-aged thigh.  But the key to her state of mind are the necklaces she sports.  Starting with strings of round beads like ball bearings and the occasional chain, as Brexit approached the ball bearings grew and the chains had larger links.  In the closing days of her disastrous general election campaign, the ball bearings were approaching golf-ball size and the chain had VERY LARGE links.

Her Chancellor Philip Hammond says the ‘people want a sensible Brexit’.  Actually – no.  By now a slowly growing majority seems to be saying there is nothing at all sensible about Brexit.

Dominic Cummings, one of those who headed the Leave campaign, admits that leaving the EU might be an error.  He has even labelled those in government as ‘morons’.  Business leaders are demanding an indefinite (like forever?) delay in leaving the Single Market.  More than 2 million UK workers are with companies that rely on EU funding, and over 40,000 Britons who live in the UK but work in Europe could lose their jobs.  None of those had crossed the government’s radar.

The problems associated with leaving the EU look very messy and will damage all our lives.  As more people waver, those wedded to the dream of Brexit are becoming much more angry, defensive and loud in their demand for a complete severance from the EU.

One year on from the EU referendum, I found myself standing on a bridge over a busy main road, waving EU flags.  The response from the drivers below was telling.  Yes, many cars ignored us but there was a surprising amount of reaction from both Remain and Leave people.  Hitting the car horn was popular.  Remainers gave a quick series of jolly toot-toot-toots. Leavers expressed their displeasure with prolonged angry blasts.

Remainers gave the thumbs-up to us and our flags.  Families driving to and from the coast waved up at us, husband and wife in front and children’s’ hands sticking out of the back windows.  Now, a thumbs-down from the Brexiteers would be okay, but as I said, they are angry, so it was pumping fists, V-signs and the finger – not just rude but crude.

They are seeing the possibility of their dream fade.  They know by now they won’t get the Brexit they want.  I could see that from where I stood on the bridge.  The wavers and thumbs-up outnumbered the Brexiteers by quite some margin.  A majority of people now back a second referendum.  And our future starts to look a little more positive.

And what should the Labour Party be doing?  Some Remainers point accusing fingers at Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying he wants a ‘hard Brexit’  The fact that such a thing would seriously hit the rights of the average UK worker, which surely must be against his principles, is not taken into consideration.

It is true that he appears not to think too much of the EU, but which bits of it are we talking about?  He is, after all, an internationalist.  Many people, including myself, look at some aspects of the EU and despair.  It is in desperate need of reform, something that Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has supported, alongside Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis.

People worry that Corbyn and his Party are doing nothing, standing aside while the Tory government stumbles towards a Brexit disaster.  But, really, what could or should they do at this precise point, when things are changing around them?

Of course, some call for another referendum, seeing that the last one was so dishonest and disastrous.  But that would still leave us with those Tory/UKIP people constantly creating divisive trouble – something not to be desired if this divided country wants to be at peace with itself.

Corbyn has been widely reported in the mainstream media as being anti-EU.  He himself has been silent on the matter. Prior to the referendum he appeared to be campaigning on the basis of ‘yes’ to EU and ‘yes’ to reform of the EU, but that was barely mentioned by the media.

His silence is not appreciated by many people.  Is he sitting on the fence?  However, the Labour Party does have some very anti-EU members and the last thing people want is a Labour equivalent of the Tory anti-EU MPs making trouble.  So, while Theresa May and her hated team make such a mess of Brexit, Labour need do nothing but sit back and watch the Tories destroy their own party.

There is a further point.  Since Corbyn, totally out of the blue, became leader, many more people have become members of his Party.  And millions registered to vote after May called the June general election, particularly young people.  Many back Labour, but they also back the EU, which they see as their future.

Corbyn believes utterly in democracy.  He has campaigned against nuclear weapons all his life and while he personally wishes to see an end to the UK’s Trident nuclear missile programme, the Party policy is to renew Trident – because that was what members voted for at the Labour Party Conference.  So what he could do, seeing that he is the leader of a party with several hundred thousand members, is to set up an on-line poll of those members on whether they now want to leave or stay with Europe.  A poll of such proportions would have far greater weight than the usual poll of 1000 or 2000 people.

If the majority of those members vote to stay with the EU, then Corbyn’s democratic principles and belief in the membership will demand that Labour must lobby, agitate, work flat out to prevent Brexit – for the sake of our rights, our businesses, our jobs, our EU residents and neighbours, our environment, and all those other things that should make living in this country worthwhile for the 99% (the Tory Party being firmly wedded to the 1%).

If Corbyn regards the 2% majority vote for Leave as a democratic result that must be upheld, then surely even a low percentage of members in favour of remaining would demand that Labour fights in their interests.

With the government in such disarray and trying every dirty deal to stay in power, it can’t be long before another election and a government headed by someone who much prefers real, non-confrontational diplomacy.  And then, cap in hand and with much humility, something that has been entirely missing from the Tory Brexit team (the Tories being noted for entitlement) we may get to stay in the EU.