Friday, 29 May 2015

Tendring

Being the new word for what is going on there.

The District of Tendring includes Clacton-on-Sea, and the 22-strong UKIP Group on that Council has split between nine "Tendring UKIP" or "TenUKIP" supporters of Douglas Carswell who seek closer ties with the 23 Conservatives, and 13 Farage loyalists who will be having none of that.

With its already meagre Commons representation cut in half as David Cameron secured an overall majority, UKIP is falling to pieces before our very eyes.

Carswell's creation of a separate Group of his own acolytes on the District Council covering his constituency makes his departure from the party, and thus the party's departure from the Commons, not only inevitable, but imminent.

Carswell is the caution held up before the eyes of the Conservative Right. Do as you are told, or you will end up like him.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Turn Again?

I am quite disappointed that George Galloway is standing for Mayor of London.

I had been hoping that the first visit to the present Parliament from the Grim Reaper or the Old Bill would result in a by-election at which Galloway, Ed Balls, Esther McVey, Vince Cable, Natalie Bennett and Nigel Farage were all candidates.

Galloway will be a genuine miss from the Commons on the day of the Chilcot Report. He will be on Newsnight and on the following morning's Today programme. But even so.

Still, the two much younger Muslim women who have at different times removed him from Parliament, Rushanara Ali and Naz Shah, ought to seize that opportunity to step up.

I remember him when he was undeniably very controversial, but he was not ridiculous.

Meanwhile, can someone please explain how the 67-year-old Derek Hatton is still a figure of the slightest controversy? Will everyone who seeks to join Labour after having been a Lib Dem throughout the lifetime of the recent Coalition be treated in this way? Or after having been a Conservative? Or after having been a Conservative into this Parliament, perhaps even as a Member of that Parliament?

At A Cost

Neil Clark makes a powerful case that the Queen's Speech seeks to complete and surpass Thatcherism on anti-trade union legislation, the selling off of social housing, the tax lock that will leave no way of reducing the deficit except by cuts to the provisions on which the ordinary and the vulnerable depend, the unwanted extension to GP surgeries of Thatcher's and Major's transformation of Sunday into just another shopping day, the consequent creation of a "need" for private companies to step in and take over, and the chilling Extremism Bill and Investigatory Powers Bill.

As Neil puts it, "We can be sure two neocons arguing for the bombing of Iran won't be called 'extremist content' — and that this new measure, if passed, will be deployed against foreign-owned television stations that challenge the dominant Establishment narrative."

He concludes, "We've been left with a government that doesn't run the railways, or own our airports, but which wants to spy on us and criminalize those who express the 'wrong' views. The old Thatcherite argument that greater economic freedom means greater personal freedoms has proved to be false, as the Queen's Speech clearly demonstrates."

But hope springs eternal.

Jonathan Ashworth reminds us that the Government only needs nine rebels in its own party in order for it to be defeated.

"In the last Parliament, government MPs rebelled in 35 per cent of divisions. In those votes where the opposition defeated the government we won often because Tory MPs – many of whom have just been re-elected to the Commons – routinely voted against their own side.

...

"In the last Parliament four Tories voted against boundary change while another seven were absent while 51 MPs rebelled on the EU budget debate. On the PubCo vote, 17 Tories broke ranks to vote against their own government, while on their final defeat of the last Parliament, that shabby last-minute coup to oust Speaker Bercow, 16 Tories rebelled and voted with Labour and other Opposition MPs.

"Tory whips will be hoping that their slender majority will instil some discipline. Far from it – already we’re seeing Tory MPs squabbling over the abolition of the Human Rights Act [dropped, in fact, because there was no possibility of a Commons majority for it], over boundary reform and the EU referendum. David Cameron's authority in the Commons will become more and more precarious with every reshuffle that passes over increasingly truculent backbenchers."

Jon concludes:

"It is entirely feasible that the Tories could win the support of the Liberal Democrats, Unionists, UKIP or, when they eventually grow tired of trying to stop Dennis Skinner sitting in his usual place, the SNP – but every vote bargained for comes at a cost.

"David Cameron should enjoy his glass of claret today. But for the man who spent an election campaign shouting "chaos" in every stump speech he gave, I suspect in this Parliament that's exactly what he’s going to get."

Moreover, with the Human Rights Act still in force, any attempt to enforce the anti-strike aspects of the Trade Union Bill in any specific case would never stand up in court even in the wildly unlikely case that the Tory-hating Police might ever seek to give them any effect, while the much-mocked Ed Miliband has already rendered redundant the parts relating to Labour Party funding, with the impending Leadership and Deputy Leadership Elections to be conducted according to a system that has been reformed far beyond the legislative aspirations of David Cameron.

Terms and Conditions

On today's Daily Politics, even Tristram Hunt would not say whether or not Labour would campaign for a Yes vote.

It would depend on the terms. The terms agreed by David Cameron.

This referendum would be on Cameron's renegotiated terms. The 1970s Eurovision dream is dead.

Hinterlands

Restraining Influence

Michael Meacher writes:

The latest figures on executive pay are so preposterous that they should provoke uproar.

It is now largely hidden from public scrutiny but an example recently published concerns Bob Dudley, chief executive of BP, who was given a total remuneration package of $15.2m in 2014: his basic salary was ‘only’ $1.8m, but his deferred bonus and other share awards totalled $9.8m, up 64%.

It is through devices such as these that pay at the top in business has escalated into the stratosphere in the last two or three decades.

Chief executives at the biggest UK companies, according to Incomes Data Services, took home 120 times more last year than their full-time employees, yet in 2000, just 14 years earlier, they received 47 times more.

In the US it is even more extreme: between 1978-2013 the remuneration of chief executives rose 937%, more than double the level of stock market growth, and enormously more than the 10.2% increase in the average US worker’s pay over the same period.

All the devices used to restrain executive pay have failed abjectly.

Partly this is because their remuneration has become overly complex, with too many cash and share-based awards, long and short-term targets, and a profusion of measures of success, ranging from earnings per share to total shareholder return to return on equity.

Share options were supposed to ensure that managers were incentivised to make shares perform well over a long period.

But too many executives sold their shares as soon as they exercised the options, thus encouraging excessive risk-taking as executives tried to boost the share price when the options cam due.

Disclosure of top pay also had the unintended effect that it ratcheted up remuneration levels as chief executives demanded that their pay be competitive with their peers.

It wasn’t really about money, but rather the status.

And consultants hired to tell remuneration committees what best practice was elsewhere only produced greater complexity and opaqueness.

Even non-binding ‘say on pay’ votes in the US and Vince Cable’s binding 3-yearly votes on pay policy in the UK has had little or no effect, despite sporadic shareholder revolts.

It is said that business leadership has become an international market and that globe-trotting chief executives deserve far more than sports and entertainment stars.

But the latter’s rewards are not determined by a committee of their peers who, like those whose pay they decide, are part of the corporate elite.

Footballers’ and rock stars’ pay is determined by the stadiums they fill and the albums they sell.

The same principle can be argued that employees as well as shareholders should have a direct say in determining their bosses’ pay, and the restraining influence would be a lot more effective than any formula tinkering by the chief exec’s chums.

At Community

Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of the Community trade union, writes:

David Cameron went all out at his first cabinet meeting this month to portray the Conservative party as the ‘real party of working people’.

Yet the first act of this government, shown in the queen’s speech, is to restrict the rights of working people and bring in the most regressive union laws in Europe.

This is true blue, not blue collar.

I say it is not on the side of working people to threaten the United Kingdoms’s membership of the European Union [well, we shall have to see the terms that Cameron brings back], or to abolish the Human Rights Act [he has dropped that one, anyway].

Most of all, it is without doubt against working people to deny them action when they face job insecurity, weaker terms and conditions, or lower pay.

Under these new laws, strikes affecting health, transport, fire services or schools would have to be supported by 40 per cent of union members and for all other sectors, industrial action ballots would be required to return a 50 per cent response of all eligible union members.

At Community, we believe that the right to strike should be used as a last resort.

Working in constructive partnerships with good employers to negotiate terms and conditions is always preferable.

It means that the employer is more likely to be upfront about their thinking and have open discussions with us.

It means we are round the table to negotiate change in the best interests of our members.

But there are always occasions when an employer refuses to negotiate further or simply tries to impose its will and we have no option but to ballot our members for industrial action.

It is those employers that will benefit from these new laws.

Not the ones that already treat their staff well or employ decent and fair terms and conditions, but the ones who get away with it.

The bad employers will exploit these new laws to get away with even more.

And on those occasions, when there is no other option than to withdraw labour, when our members are otherwise powerless and in some cases potentially jobless, it is our legitimate right to do so.

These back door moves are despite trade unions calling for measures to enable us to return higher turnouts. The trade union movement has for many years called for electronic voting.

The Tories do not want greater participation as they say. If they did they would allow us to modernise and update our the way union members can express their views.

The Tories should not be allowed to dominate the discussion on what is ‘legitimate’, particularly when they do not even reach the thresholds themselves that they are enforcing on the working public.

They won 37 per cent of votes cast, but only 26 per cent of registered voters. Who then is illegitimate?

That is a double standard that people should not stand for.

The Blood From His Hands

Robert Fisk writes:

Tony Blair’s time as Middle East envoy representing the US, Russia, the UN and the EU has finally come to an end.

Eight years after he took up the role, Blair tendered his resignation and left one question: how come a war criminal ever became a “peace envoy” in the first place?

The people of the Middle East – and much of the world – have been asking this question ever since Blair was appointed the Quartet’s man in Jerusalem, solemnly and hopelessly tasked to bring “peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.

Was his new mission supposed to wash the blood from his hands after the catastrophe of the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of innocents who died as a result?

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – Blair’s appointment was an insult.

The man who never said he was sorry for his political disaster simply turned up in Jerusalem four years later and, with a team which spent millions in accommodation and air fares, managed to accomplish absolutely nothing in the near-decade that followed.

Blair appeared indifferent to the massive suffering of the Palestinians – he was clearly impotent in preventing it – and spent much of his time away from the tragedy of the Middle East, advising the great and the good and a clutch of Muslim dictators, and telling the world – to Israel’s satisfaction – of the dangers represented by Iran.

The more prescient he thought he was, the more irrelevant he became in the eyes of the region he was sent to protect.

A Blair supporter once defended him on Channel 4 by recalling how he had travelled to the Middle East almost 100 times – without realising the essential irony: that Blair abandoned the region almost 100 times for more rewarding destinations.

Blair was supposed to produce more than the easy panaceas that slipped from his lips, the most outrageous of which was his contention that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be easier than ending the Northern Ireland crisis.

But the Palestinians have much more in common with the Irish Catholics cleansed from their lands by the Protestant planters of the 17th century than with the pitiful historical battle in the province, whose resolution proved to be Blair’s only lasting accomplishment.

If only he had resigned more than two years ago, after Palestinian leaders had themselves characterised his job as “useless, useless, useless”.

Israel, of course, would never have described him as this.

Stoutly condemning the campaign for Israel’s “delegitimisation”, Blair talked about this as a form of bias which was “an affront to humanity” – a choice of words he never used about the massive civilian casualties inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians of Gaza.

The Arabs will now wait to see if the Quartet will repeat its folly by appointing an even more unsuitable candidate – a truly difficult task – although many in the region think the whole panjandrum must be abandoned.

Eight years ago, there just might have been the slimmest chance of bringing a Palestinian state into being.

Today there is none.

A More Sustainable Relationship

Oliver MacArthur writes:

Since the global financial crisis, the media regularly accuses the financial industry of placing profits before people.

In the face of this criticism, the finance sector has continued to innovate and socially conscious investors have demanded new investment products that explicitly consider environmental, social and governance impacts.

Social impact investment provides a great opportunity to change society for the better by combining financial sustainability and investment returns with explicit positive social outcomes.

Social investments and the social enterprises they support deliver benefits to the disadvantaged and actively seek to employ the socially and economically marginalised, including ex-offenders, the long-term unemployed and disabled people.

At a recent interactive policy discussion held by the Young Fabians Finance Network, attendees came together to discuss how the finance sector could help to solve social problems.

It was argued that social investments, business collaboration with charities and greater transparency in pension investment were important to help achieve these goals.

The panelists included Lord Andrew Adonis and senior figures from Big Society Capital and the UN Principles for Responsible Investment; this was the first in a series of events within 2015 to promote the role of finance and business in delivering greater social returns.

In recent years, the coalition government has been leading the way in the development of responsible investment solutions and social investment with the launch of Big Society Capital in April 2012.

More recently in the chancellors budget, the Cabinet Office announced the launch of seven new social impact bonds with a focus on, disadvantaged young people and those with long-term mental illnesses.

Alongside the focus on social impact bonds, the government has also announced the creation of the Access Foundation.

Described as a sister organisation to Big Society Capital, the charity has been given £100m of funding to support capacity building initiatives to help charities and social enterprises to access social investment.

However, the growing policy momentum surrounding social investment has been met with caution and criticism.

Some quarters of the left may suspect that social investment is a stalking horse, and hidden amongst its ‘social innovation’ is a veiled mechanism for the withdrawal of the state from the provision of public services.

This is wrong – no party has the monopoly on good ideas and social investment should be viewed as a complement not a replacement to traditional state-led interventions.

As a result, financial sustainability, profits and social justice are not diametrically opposed but partners in progress.

Whilst the values of fostering strong communities, social justice and decency are perpetual, the methods must continue to change and adapt in a dynamic and ever-changing country.

In a recent study of the asset management industry, the professional services firm PwC estimated that worldwide assets under management by investment firms would exceed USD $100 trillion by 2020.

Given this enormous amount of capital is due to be committed to the financial markets, it is clear that even a few basis points of this figure dedicated to social investment will have a material and positive impact in our communities.

Following the unfortunate results for Labour in the recent general election, it is essential to put forward new ideas and challenge old certainties.

A renewed enthusiasm for social investment would be a natural extension to the Labour narrative on responsible capitalism and these innovative methods can help foster a more sustainable relationship with enterprise and wider society.

Whilst social investment is not the silver bullet to the problems of poverty and deprivation, it would be unwise to underestimate its power to help build a better Britain.

Rich Man, Poor Man: Two Nations

Prem Sikka writes:

The Queen’s Speech has launched the new Conservative government’s policies.

Prime Minister David Cameron described the legislative programme as ‘the bold first step of a one nation government … for working people that will bring our country together’.

So what are the policies?

The government will legislate so that people working 30 hours a week on the National Minimum Wage will not pay income tax.

In addition, there will be no rises in Income Tax rates, Value Added Tax (VAT) or National Insurance Contributions (NIC) for the next five years.

A related government press release says that annual income tax personal allowance will increase from the current rate of £10,600 to £12,500 by 2020.

The above sounds populist but the details are not what they seem.

The current minimum wage of £6.50 per hour is due to rise to £6.70 per hour from October 2015.

Anyone working a 37 hours a week would earn about £13,000 a year, not enough to survive, but would still be liable to income tax and NIC.

There is no commitment to a living wage.

The higher tax-free personal allowances may help the middle-classes, but will do nothing for 44 per cent of adults, including pensioners, whose income is already too low to pay any income tax.

The freezing of the top marginal rate of income tax, currently 45 per cent, would no doubt be welcomed by wealthy elites and will do nothing to reduce inequalities.

The poor pay VAT at 20 per cent, the same rate as the rich.

The most recent government statistics show that the poorest 10 per cent of households pay nearly 47 per cent of their gross income in direct and indirect taxes, whilst the richest 10 per cent pay 35 per cent of their income in taxes.

The freezing of VAT means that the poorest would continue to be subjected to a regressive tax.

The doubling of free childcare to 30 hours a week for three-and-four-year-olds would be welcomed by many, but leaves a vacuum either side of those ages.

The new provisions are to be partly funded by a reduction in the tax relief on pension contributions by those earning £150,000 or more, but precise details are not yet known.

Local authorities will bear the brunt of the costs and have complained that the existing scheme is chronically underfunded.

This forces the local ratepayers to absorb the cost.

No doubt, local authorities would carefully scrutinise the new funding settlement which could burden local residents even more.

The Conservative manifesto had promised to raise at least £5 billion a year from a clampdown on tax avoidance, but the Queen’s Speech was silent on this.

In the 2010-2015 parliaments, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee produced six reports on organised tax avoidance and urged the government to punish the designers and marketers of the schemes (big accountancy firms).

Such matters do not appear to be on the government’s agenda.

The government is committed to reducing public expenditure by £12 billion a year.

The first target is to reduce household benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000. Charities have said that this would hurt families with young children, especially those living in major cities.

During parliamentary exchanges, the government was supported by acting Labour leader Harriet Harman who said that she was ‘sympathetic’ to the cap as long as ‘this doesn’t put children into poverty, increase homelessness, or end up costing more than it saves.’

There is no commitment to control house rental costs.

The UK workers’ share of the gross domestic product has declined to 50.5 per cent (see Table D), compared to 65.1 per cent in 1976. This is the lowest ever recorded.

A major reason for this is weakness of institutions that can support workers claims for a higher share of the wealth.

In the absence of workplace democracy, such as the employee directors that Germany and Scandinavian countries have, the only effective tool available to workers is to withdraw their labour and bring intransigent employers to the negotiating table.

The law already requires compulsory balloting of trade union members for strikes.

However, a new Trade Union Bill would require a 50 per cent voting threshold for union strike ballots, and additionally 40 per cent of those entitled to vote must back action in essential public services.

In contrast, there are no constraints on the withdrawal of capital.

Companies, even those funded by taxpayers, can shift production, fire employees and dilute pension rights without any ballot of shareholders, employees, local communities, creditors or taxpayers.

Contrary to the spin, it is hard to see the legislative programme as the policies of a one nation government.

The government is pursuing partisan policies that will do nothing to tackle poverty and inequality, or promote social justice.

In The Front Rank

Richard Drake writes:

The progressive statesman Robert La Follette and the libertarian writer Albert Jay Nock epitomized the polar extremes in early 20th-century American politics on all issues having to do with the role of the federal government in society.

Yet from different premises they reached the same conclusion about the evils of imperialism and agreed that the United States should follow the counsel of George Washington in his Farewell Address by shunning militarism, staying home, and minding the country’s own business.

Their shared views about the danger posed by the American Empire constitute a historical lesson in need of remembrance today.

La Follette’s early career gave no indication of his future role as a champion of anti-imperialism.

During the 1880s, as a young Republican congressman from Wisconsin, the political figure he most admired was William McKinley, then an establishment congressman from Ohio.

La Follette’s support for the highly protectionist McKinley Tariff of 1890 cost him his seat in Congress that year. He retired to private life as a lawyer in Madison, Wisconsin.

By the time he returned to politics, as governor of the state in 1901, his ideological horizons had been expanded considerably by Henry Demarest Lloyd’s 1894 book Wealth Against Commonwealth.

Lloyd’s indictment of the corporations and the banks as a menace to the common good and his passionate advocacy of state intervention in the economy made a profound impression on La Follette.

More than any other single factor, this book launched him on his career as a progressive politician.

As governor for the next six years, La Follette embodied progressivism in the United States.

His administration, supported by leading professors at the University of Wisconsin, championed reforms against the state’s monopolies and trusts.

He raised taxes on the railroads and other corporations. He also increased inheritance taxes to go along with a graduated income tax.

With bolstered revenues, Wisconsin built up its education system and became the most progressive state in the nation.

La Follette returned to Washington in 1906 as a United States senator.

Though much changed in his thinking about domestic politics, he remained a McKinley Republican on foreign affairs. He ardently had supported President McKinley during the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the Filipino-American War that broke out the following year.

In 1906, he continued to endorse the American military presence in the Philippines.

He did not begin to change his mind about foreign policy until 1911, during the William Howard Taft administration. Once again, books marked a turning point in La Follette’s thinking, particularly John Kenneth Turner’s 1910 Barbarous Mexico, which he described as “a great book bearing on [the] administration’s military and other operations through [the] departments of state and justice.”

Turner’s analysis of Mexico as a fiefdom under the control of New York investors shocked La Follette.

In the 1912 election, La Follette supported Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson, after his own candidacy for the Republican nomination went down to defeat, primarily through the opposition of former president Theodore Roosevelt.

For La Follette there could be no question of supporting Taft, whom he despised as a rank reactionary, or the third-party candidacy of Roosevelt, whom he hated as a bitter political rival and a fake progressive ever inclined to carry out reforms for the benefit of business, not the people.

By 1912 La Follette envisaged progressivism as a cause for both Democrats and Republicans.

The movement stood for empowering the people to take back their government from the lobbies and employ it for the common good.

In foreign affairs, he interpreted progressivism to mean a peaceful engagement with the rest of the world.

He thought that we could not have peace if our foreign policy continued to consist primarily of initiatives for the advancement of Wall Street’s interests.

Soon La Follette began to criticize Wilson’s Mexico policy as well, and his antagonism toward the president became implacable when the administration began to take the country into World War I.

La Follette led the opposition in the U.S. Senate to Wilson’s interventionist policy.

In his April 4, 1917 speech opposing the president’s call for a democratic crusade against Germany, La Follette said that nothing could be worse for the country than an elective war for spurious reasons.

In the anti-interventionist campaign, La Follette acquired an ally in the antiwar journalist Albert Jay Nock.

Their sporadic and always strained cooperation furnishes a highly suggestive precedent for similar alliances in American politics today.

Nock had supported Wilson in 1916 for keeping the United States out of war.

By July of the following year, however, with America in the fighting, he would write to Atlantic editor Ellery Sedgwick that a war for trade routes had been dressed up by Wilson to look like a noble exercise in moral uplift.

Nock’s antiwar views appealed to Nation editor Oswald Garrison Villard, who gave him a job writing editorials in the fall of 1917. Nock’s libertarian views complicated his relationship with the magazine, however.

He liked Villard but scoffed at theNation’s progressive liberalism, explaining in 1919 after leaving the magazine, “one can’t waste energy on that.”

The next year he founded The Freeman, which H.L. Mencken would praise as one of the glories of American letters, especially for Nock’s brilliant editorials.

In addition to La Follette’s liberal politics, which he found tediously jejune, the Wisconsin senator’s eventual enthusiasm for Wilson’s war disappointed Nock.

After his initial opposition, La Follette had reasoned that as a United States senator he had a moral obligation to support a democratically declared war

 Then, upon listening to Wilson’s idealistic Fourteen Points address on January 8, 1918, La Follette allowed that the war could be justified as the crusade for democracy that the president had said it was. 

Only after reading the Versailles Treaty and John Maynard Keynes’s denunciation of the Paris conference in The Economic Consequences of the Peace did La Follette conclude that Wilson had deceived the American people.

No less important to La Follette’s postwar thinking about the conflict was Nock’s Myth of a Guilty Nation, a volume based on articles he had written for The Freeman.

Excerpts from this book appeared in the April 1922 issue of La Follette’s Magazine, a periodical—today known as The Progressive—that the senator had founded in 1909.

In his editor’s introduction, La Follette praised Nock for exposing the Wilson administration’s collusion with the purveyors of British propaganda.

Germany, Nock claimed, was the country least responsible for causing the war. British imperialism had been a much greater factor in the international turmoil immediately preceding the calamity that brought death to more than 16 million Europeans.

Nock’s comparison of the prewar military budgets of the combatant powers turned inside out American suppositions about the war.

That America’s peace-loving brother democracy, Britain, consistently had outspent the allegedly warmongering Germany seemed to Nock like an important detail, one that might shed light on the question of which imperialist country actually bestrode the globe like a military colossus.

Nock described the Versailles settlement essentially as a capitulation to British imperialism.

The peace conference had ended with the British gaining all of the objectives outlined in the secret treaties negotiated among the Allies during the war.

Upon taking power in Russia, the Bolsheviks had revealed the contents of these agreements. The Allies had a keen interest in the Middle East territories of the Ottoman Empire, above all for the oil there.

To Nock it seemed obvious that the war had been fought for the reasons disclosed by the secret treaties—for the acquisition or preservation of markets, territories, and resources.

It was a war of big business for bigger business.

The government in Washington conformed to the pattern set by the other imperialist powers. As a libertarian, Nock found it impossible to believe in the goodness of any government, including his own.

He would flesh out fully this political philosophy in his 1935 book, Our Enemy, The State. Even in The Myth of a Guilty Nation, Nock made clear his libertarian antipathies toward state power American-style.

He judged Wilson to be the great genius of American politics, in that the president had fulfilled its potential as a delusional system.

He had led his people into the war with stirring phrases about the coming apotheosis of democracy. They had foolishly believed him.

Instead of the promised results, however, the fighting had ended in a depressingly familiar imperialist division of spoils among the victors.

Nock’s Myth of a Guilty Nation reinforced the revisionist rebuttal to official interpretations of the war.

He had already played an important role in promoting revisionism earlier by arranging for the U.S. publication of Francis Neilson’s How Diplomats Make War in 1915.

A pacifist and a former member of the British Parliament, Neilson documented how foreign office machinations, particularly in Britain, had led to the war. He would become Nock’s partner in founding The Freeman.

Significantly influenced by Nock, La Follette became a zealous convert to the revisionist cause.

He felt the need to go to Europe to see for himself the war’s appalling consequences and gain a deeper understanding of world affairs.

La Follette had never been out of the country, but in August 1923 he embarked on a three-month trip that took him to England, France, Germany, Russia, and Italy, among several other countries.

He most wanted to see for himself conditions in war-ravaged Germany and the communist experiment in revolutionary Russia.

What La Follette found in Europe left him aghast.

Reading an American vice-consul’s report about the turmoil in Germany, he became aware of Adolf Hitler’s existence. It did not surprise him that the evil postwar order had given rise to fanatical movements, such as the Nazis.

La Follette witnessed the horrors of the Allied occupation in Germany—the starving children, the unemployed men, the cruelty of the occupying French troops, the frightful effects of the criminally stupid decision to maintain a blockade of the country long after the war had ended as leverage for the collecting extortionate reparations from a people unable to feed themselves or to provide fuel for the approaching winter.

Such a taunt to the gods would earn retribution, he felt certain.

La Follette’s travels in the Soviet Union and fascist Italy introduced him to the tyranny of communism and fascism.

He condemned both dictatorships, observing that political systems without freedom, especially for critics of the government, did not deserve to survive.

He returned home in October 1923 and began to think about running for president.

In an age of ascendant dictatorships left and right, America, it seemed to him, did not possess a real democratic polity with which to oppose fascism and communism effectively.

He feared that the American system had degenerated into a business dictatorship under the real control of Wall Street.

That the Democrats chose John Davis, a lawyer for the corporations, to oppose Calvin Coolidge, who thought that the chief business of the American people was business, confirmed La Follette in his belief that the country existed now only for the benefit of the tycoons.

La Follette based his 1924 third-party Progressive campaign for the presidency on an anti-corruption and revisionist platform.

He had been tempted to leave the Republican Party but always before had decided to stay in the hope that its reform impulse could be revived.

The Harding-Coolidge regime, a dream come true for the financial sector and a new golden age for American economic imperialism in Latin America and Asia, convinced him that the spirit of Lincoln no longer had a home in the Republican Party.
Nock, by contrast, had no interest in supporting the cause of progressivism or any political party.

Before the war, he had worked alongside many of the leading progressive muckrakers at The American Magazine, as one of them.

He shared their repugnance for the trusts then monopolizing American economic life, but progressive panaceas seemed to him hopeless.

He remembered in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man: “Their acceptance of the State as a social institution amazed me, since its anti-social character was so plainly visible.”

La Follette’s vision of a government truly controlled by the people, Nock contended, always would be a pipe dream.

Government regulation of business in the progressive manner would end by augmenting the power of the master class, who always control any state system.

Money, as La Follette should have learned after all his decades in politics, was a permanent part of Washington’s ecology.

Nock recalled how he once had praised La Follette for some action of his in the Senate. La Follette had replied, “Yes, but the trouble is you don’t believe what I am doing amounts to a damn.”

Nock had to admit, “It was true enough, and I was sorry…”

Their disagreement about the role of the federal government in American society would persist until La Follette’s heart stopped beating on June 18, 1925, just after he reached his 70th birthday.

Yet the two men came to the same conclusions about the moral, military, and financial disaster sure to ensue from American imperialism.

La Follette went into his final campaign with a critique of American foreign policy based on his own travel experiences and his extensive reading, in which Nock figured as a major influence.

Coolidge won reelection easily in 1924, despite the burden of the Teapot Dome scandal borne by the Republicans.

The Roaring Twenties drowned out La Follette’s valedictory warnings to the American people about their rendezvous with decline and fall under the leadership of corrupt Washington imperialists.

That same year, Nock resigned from The Freeman and resumed a peripatetic existence as an author of whom it could not be said, as he observed in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, that his books ever had enriched a publisher.

In the following decade he became obsessed with FDR’s “coup d'├ętat of 1932.” He continued to see the state as the nemesis of mankind.

The New Deal, fascism, and communism all seemed to be different aspects of the same phenomenon to him: the unstoppable march of mankind toward enslavement.

The last pages of Nock’s memoirs, published in 1943, make for extremely depressing reading.

Nothing ever could be done for society, the activities of reformers generally producing pernicious results. Men habitually fight and exploit each other as an irremediable condition of life.

Democrats and Republicans differ in such insignificant ways that elections no longer need be held.

Western culture today is at about the point in its historical trajectory where ancient Rome was in the fourth century A.D.

The world is moving steadily toward collectivism, which inevitably will result in military despotism and re-barbarization.

Nock could not think of a single positive remark to make in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man about “the present period of disintegration and dissolution.”

He personally had enjoyed a good and happy life, which was nearing its end—he would die on August 19, 1945 at the age of 74.

In Nock’s last years, libertarianism seemed like a lost cause to him. He still believed in it but without any hope for its triumph.

All Nock had to fall back on as he contemplated World War II, and the certainty of its outcome in the drastic augmentation of state power, was the stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, whom he quoted often in the autobiography.

The Roman emperor had taught him how to endure heartbreak and the dashing of hope by responding to the vicissitudes of life impassively, come what may.

For Nock, politics, foreign policy, wars, and empires had by then lost their significance. La Follette never reached such a point.

He lived up to his nickname, “Fighting Bob,” to the end, wanting only more time to warn the American people about their peril and to expose the imperialist greed and hubris that threatened to destroy the last best hope of earth.

At their best, La Follette and Nock stood in the front rank of the old Republic’s defenders.

They did not fight shoulder-to-shoulder—their differences were too great for a relationship of that kind.

Together, however, they gave eloquent voice to the classic progressive and libertarian elements of a noble anti-imperialist American tradition.

Loyal Address

Dennis Skinner's angry silence was itself a kind of quip, if that is what you want to call these things. It was duly reported as such, as he knew that it would be. He is no fool. And his bench was correctly occupied by him, Ronnie Campbell, Ian Mearns and Ian Lavery. The SNP can jog on.

The big news from the Queen's Speech was the absence of any proposal to do anything at all about the Human Rights Act. "Consultation, blah blah blah." It has been dropped. Dropped, because Cameron could not get it past his own party. His majority is only about half of even Major's. Watch that space.

Who wields the power on the Conservative benches was evident from the choice of Simon Burns as the old stager to move the Loyal Address.

Burns is a lifelong member of the American Democratic Party (I am not sure how, but he is) who participated in the Presidential campaigns of George McGovern, Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, and who has stated his intention to campaign for Clinton again. Already a longstanding Conservative MP, Burns went to the trouble of campaigning unsuccessfully for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to be elected as Governor of Maryland in 2002.

With the Privy Council already under his belt, and with his knighthood clearly in the bag, such was the person who was deemed most suitable to move the Loyal Address following the first all-Conservative Queen's Speech in 19 years, with a smiling Ken Clarke sitting in close proximity to him. And the Human Rights Act is staying exactly as it is.

I am not the world's biggest football fan, but even I had to admit that the FIFA story was bigger than this Queen's Speech was. As was the resignation of Tony Blair as Middle East Peace Envoy. Although no one seems to have reported it as such. It was barely treated as any kind of news. How odd. How very, very, very odd.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Mabel Does The Splits

People have been emailing me to ask what I think of this.

Of course, it is factually correct about the extreme anticlericalism of the Irish Republic; clericals cannot now be worn on the streets of Dublin for fear of assault, and that has been the case for quite some years.

And the author is grasping towards some understanding of the influence of Jansenism, for I happen to know quite a bit about Jansenism, on the character of Irish Catholicism. Although "grasping towards some understanding" is putting it rather charitably.

But he is, as we all knew, an ecclesiological illiterate, and a theological illiterate in general.

As everyone who is anyone has also always known, and as has never appeared to be any kind of secret, he is a practising homosexual, whose lovers were from time to time known to write for Telegraph Blogs. They were often a great deal younger than he was.

The ecclesiological implications of any debate around homosexuality are, therefore, a topic that he would do very well to avoid. Certainly if he proposes to cast himself as the voice of traditional orthodoxy.

Juncker's Junket

Why is he here?

David Cameron had never expected to have to renegotiate with the EU with a view to a referendum, because he had thought that a hung Parliament was going to enable him to blame the Lib Dems for the dropping of the whole idea.

Forced to come up with anything, it turns out to be a lot less than Ed Miliband would have demanded at any routine European Council.

As in 1975, the referendum would be on the renegotiated terms or withdrawal, with no third option. Even the BBC is already carefully phrasing the Labour line as "likely to" or "expected to" advocate staying in.

But that would depend on the terms. So far, things are not looking promising for Cameron. He is not going to get much in the end, if even his opening bid is so "modest".

Why is he bothering at all, anyway? He cut UKIP's meagre Commons presence in half, and that party is now in the process of dissolving itself.

But the Tories just cannot leave Europe alone. It destroyed their last Prime Minister, it destroyed the one before that, and it went no small way to destroying even the one before her.

It is already starting to destroy this one, too.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Churchill: When Britain Said No

I heartily recommends this.

I have been saying it all for years, of course.

That was Damian Thompson’s originally stated reason for sacking me, in fact.

Write Your Own Title To This

Sweet Sixteen?

The answer to the question, "If 16 and 17-year-olds can join the Armed Forces or get married, then why can't they vote?" is to stop them from joining the Armed Forces or getting married.

And how can they still be paying tax, if the school leaving age has gone up? Like their leaving home, that was unusual even 20 years ago. It is practically impossible now.

The great Labour landslides of 1945 and 1966 were before the lowering of the voting age to 18. As were the skin-of-their-teeth Labour victories of 1950 and 1964, and as was the winning of the popular vote in 1951.

Whereas that lowering led to an unexpected Conservative victory in 1970. It took Labour two attempts to scrape home in 1974, after which it did not win again for 23 years.

All in all, keeping the voting age where it is sounds just fine and dandy.

But all resident Commonwealth citizens to have a vote? Their countries' ties to Britain can be distinctly tenuous, or, in the case of Mozambique, nonexistent.

The Commonwealth has not been about us for a very long time. In many ways, even the Queen belongs to the world these days.

Either British Citizens only, and possibly also Irish ones in Northern Ireland. Or everyone legally here. Over the age of 18, of course.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Did New Labour Spend Too Much?


As Michael Burke concludes:

"New Labour did not spend too much. It taxed and spent too little, less than Thatcher.

"Worse, the cuts in taxes for the business sector and the owners of assets did not lead to increased investment. Investment fell and was itself exacerbated by the decline in public sector investment.

"Defence of these simple facts has been made an acid test. They are actually the vestiges of social democratic economic policy at the level of the Labour leadership.

If it is accepted that Labour ‘spent too much’, big business interests will have rewritten history in its own interests and fundamentally undermined the character of the Labour Party."

The Mummy Returns

Jemma Buckley writes:

Germaine Greer has criticised gay parents Elton John and David Furnish for listing a man as the mother on the birth certificates of their two sons.

She said the move was an example of how the concept of motherhood has 'been deconstructed' - before going on to criticise the process of IVF.

Sir Elton is listed as the father and Furnish as the mother on the documents for their sons Zachary, four, and Elijah, two.

Both children were born to the same California-based surrogate mother – who the couple said they love 'like a sister' – and both share the same anonymous egg donor.

She is the latest celebrity to voice disapproval of Sir Elton, 68, and Furnish, 52.

Sir Elton was recently embroiled in a high-profile row with Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana who called their IVF children 'synthetic'.

The singer hit back at the comments made by Dolce to an Italian magazine and called for a boycott of the fashion house.

Sir Elton said: 'How dare you refer to my beautiful children as 'synthetic'. And shame on you for wagging your judgemental little fingers at IVF - a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfil their dream of having children.'

Speaking at the Hay Festival, 76-year-old Miss Greer said: 'Sometimes I think that really the problem is the concept of motherhood, which we can't give any real structure to.

'Sir Elton John and his "wife" David Furnish have entered on the birth certificate of their two sons that David Furnish is the mother. I'm sorry. That will give you an idea of how the concept of motherhood has emptied out. It's gone. It's been deconstructed.'

Miss Greer, who penned best-selling book The Female Eunuch in 1970, went on to criticise the process of IVF, by which the couples' children were born.

'We now have a "genetic" mother, who supplies eggs. It depends entirely on where she is if she is going to be allowed to know what happens to the eggs. And women tend to care.

'An egg is not a sperm, we do not produce 400million of them in one go. One miserable little egg pops every month.

'Then they give you follicle stimulating hormones and you have seventeen or something [eggs] and they give you cut price IVF and distribute the rest of your eggs where they see fit.

'In some places you are allowed to know what happens to them, in other places you are not. What you get is a reduced bill for IVF because a child is being born by the people involved using your eggs.

'I'm sorry. Did we talk about this? Did we sit down and talk about what eggs mean to women?'

The Australian-born activist went on to make the bold claim that she suspects the 1967 Abortion Act was only introduced because of lobbying from the fertility industry.

'The whole discourse has been distorted from the beginning by the fertility industry. I've been thinking about this lately, and I've got a suspicion, which I need to investigate properly, that we got legalised abortion precisely because the fertility industry needed it.

'It wasn't us. It certainly wasn't us. We could have marched until our feet fell off and they wouldn't have bothered to give us access to abortion. They were the ones who wanted to be able to terminate pregnancies and manipulate the products of conception at will.'

Speaking about Liberal Democrat politician David Steel, who was responsible for introducing the Abortion Act to parliament, she added:

'He is a politician. He could only make an act after the fertility barons told him what they needed. They are very powerful, the medico-legal establishment.'

The Devil We Knew

Robert Fisk writes:

What an old softee he was, compared to the throat-cutting killers of the “Islamic State”.

The black-bannered executioners are back at work in Ramadi and Palmyra and yet, back from the dead, old bin Laden returns once more, fished out of the Indian Ocean (if he was ever there) for one final re-appearance.

He loves his wife, he wants his son to take over the whole al-Qaeda outfit, he studies – if he can read English – Noam Chomsky.

Surely he’s a chap we could do business with, the “moderate” we are always searching for when we fail to destroy our enemies, a “middle party” to start a “dialogue” with these unruly Isis fellows.

But the French, in their search for the “interlocuteur valable” who would chat to the FLN when de Gaulle chose to throw in the towel in Algeria, found they had already assassinated all their potential “interlocuteurs” – and we, goddammit, did the same with bin Laden.

Having liquidated the Fountainhead of World Evil in 2011, we’ve no one left to represent us if we want to negotiate with the new Fountainhead of World Evil in 2015.

But.

I have the suspicion we’re being fooled here.

I’m puzzled about the CIA’s latest dip into the barrel of the collected works and thoughts of the Old Man of Abbottabad.

Why now, so long after they released the first tranche of fascinating but occasionally boring tracts between bin Laden and his lads in Yemen, do they pop up with yet more bin Laden junk-mail?

Because Seymour Hersh has just presented us with a more disturbing version of the bin Laden myth, in which the guy, after effectively falling under Pakistani intelligence control, was blown to bits by his American killers in Abbotabad – and some of those bits then thrown over the Hindu Kush? (The sea burial was a lie, according to Hersh).

Why were the new bin Laden videos silent? And why were some of these documents, like the previous set, actually censored – for which read the devious phrase “redacted” – by the CIA?

The CIA feels it necessary to censor bin Laden? Weirdly, not a soul asked why. Journos waffled on about a “treasure trove”. I’m not so sure.

What was it that the CIA knew and bin Laden knew – and which we mustn’t know?

My meetings with bin Laden – in 1993, 1996 and 1997 – long ago became an albatross for me, a piece of tat to hang on a reporter’s CV, as if talking to the man who would approve (if he did not plan) the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001, somehow makes history clearer.

But I do recall how at our second meeting in 1996, he was obsessed by Saudi Arabia’s corruption, how its royal family had betrayed Islam – until I learned that the Saudis were still offering him – via a Saudi diplomat who visited him in Afghanistan – millions of dollars and the return of his passport if he “returned” to Riyadh.

And there’s an intriguing paragraph buried in Hersh’s version of events – or “counter-narrative”, as colleagues insist it be called – in which Hersh’s “retired official” source tells him that during the hunt for bin Laden, Saudi Arabia was a worrying factor because the Kingdom “had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his [post 9/11] seizure by the Pakistanis”.

The Saudis, according to Hersh’s “retired official”, “feared…we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaeda. And they were dropping money – lots of it.”

I have too many questions about the latest bin Laden mail. We don’t know who translated this stuff, let alone who censored it.

I don’t doubt the authenticity of some passages; the letter to his wife Khairiah Saber – mother of Hamza, whom bin Laden wished to be next leader of al-Qaeda – contains a moving paragraph about his desire to see her in the afterlife and to be her husband there again (even if she marries in the real world after his “martyrdom”).

But the fear of US drone attacks – bin Laden’s only advice is to travel under cloudy skies – the forlorn and belated understanding that education is necessary for real revolution, and the determination to strike at the US rather than its Middle East puppets, does not suggest that the Abbottabad recluse was running a “terror” control centre.

So why is all this material coming piecemeal and truncated?

The 103 letters, reports and videos released last week follow three years after the “Combating Terrorism Centre” at West Point’ released an earlier 175 pages of bin Laden chit-chat which was equally truncated and oddly translated.

For example, when a bin Laden agent in Yemen sent his master a copy of an article of mine which described al-Qaeda as “the most sectarian organisation in the world”, the second half was translated by the Americans back from Arabic into English – with obvious deviations from the original English used in The Independent.

But the first half was a straight “lift” from the paper with no attempt to translate from Arabic.

Now we’re told that even more documents from Abbottabad await “declassification”. From what do they have to be declassified?

It’s one thing to “declassify” government information for the world to read – but to “declassify” bin Laden’s secrets for the world to read? What does this mean? Saudi material perhaps?

I won’t delve into the “porn” stash supposedly found at Abbottabad – which it took the CIA four years to watch before deciding not to release it. Is the organisation which waterboards victims and stuffs food up their rectums really so prissy?

And then there are the books, Chomsky, Woodward & Co. Quite an English-language reading list – if bin Laden could read English. But when I met him in 1997, he could hardly speak a word.

Did he have language tutors in Abbottabad? He did read Arabic-language books. Which of them were found by the Americans? Or did they contain too many works on Saudi Arabia?

Certainly the previous batch of mail suggested the old boy was prepared to contemplate negotiating with the Brits. Nothing to suggest this in the latest collection.

Could he have been useful as a bridge to the “moderates” that we in the West will undoubtedly discover inside the abominable Isis?

Oh, if we could only read the letters of the “Islamic State” archives. But maybe they would have to be censored, too.

Which is why I can suggest at least one “interlocuteur valable” for Isis, despite bin Laden’s demise.

Saudi Arabia.