Sunday, 26 October 2014

Well Established

When the Queen, Her Actual Majesty The Queen, requires your permission to enter a square mile in the middle of London, then yes, you are very, very, very much a member of the Establishment.

Lamontations

There being no shortage of candidates for the position of Jeremiah.

I remember when Private Eye called Johann Lamont "Mr Lamont", and apologised in the following issue "to her and to the late Ms Johann Sebastian Bach".

Why is she "Lammont" when Norman Lamont (a Shetland surgeon's son) is "La Mont"? Is that a regional thing, or a class thing, or what?

If Holyrood is now the focal point, then that necessitates the removal, at least from any frontline role, of Lamont and of a good many other people, in favour of Gordon  Brown, or Alistair Darling, or Jim Murphy, or Anas Sarwar.

Notice that no one whose name is in the frame is a Member of the Scottish Parliament, or ever has been.

"Leader of the whole party in Scotland", she thought. Then the General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party was sacked without anyone's even bothering to tell her, still less ask her.

That probably could not have been done if the Leader had been any member of the House of Commons, and certainly not if the Leader had been Gordon  Brown, or Alistair Darling, or Jim Murphy, or Anas Sarwar.

Speaking of Sarwar, his father, who was his predecessor as the MP for Glasgow Central, is now the Governor of the Pakistani Punjab. That is where Edinburgh's Mohammad Ashgar is being held. If you need to, then look him up.

Never mind that Sarwar the Younger is privately schooled. That so are his own children is perhaps more pertinent. But the real story is this.

Exploded In The Faces

Peter Hitchens writes:

Why do our politicians and media talk so much drivel about Islam?

We react like superstitious peasants to anything connected with this religion. As a result, we completely miss the point of what is going on.

For example, we imagine that the horrible killings by cannabis-crazed drifters, of Lee Rigby by Michael Adebolajo (right) and Michael Adebowale here and of Nathan Cirillo in Canada, are evidence of some vast secret Islamist conspiracy masterminded from a cave by a robed villain with a beard.

This is partly because a long and expensive international PR campaign has fooled a willing elite (many of them drug abusers themselves) into believing that cannabis is safe when in fact it is one of the most dangerous drugs there is.

So we shut our minds to all the evidence of the terrible harm it can do – even highly publicised killings by cannabis abusers.

It is also because our politicians are even more useless abroad than they are at home.

Here, they try to persuade us that they alone, armed with surveillance and huge police powers, stand between us and a terrorist peril that is a far smaller threat to life than the motor car.

Abroad, they seek to pose as modern-day Churchills, never happier than when pictured among soldiers or climbing into helicopters.

Having destroyed Saddam Hussein’s secular state in Iraq, and boosted Islamist fanatics against the secular Assad state in Syria, and urged on the plainly dangerous ‘Arab Spring’ with rhetoric and bombs, they now claim to be surprised and horrified that Sunni fanatics are close to taking over the Middle East.

At home, they spent years actively encouraging Muslim migration to this country, and apologising for our remaining Christian laws and institutions.

Yet they act surprised when Muslim parents want their children brought up in their own faith in British schools.

Our growing secret police forces go on high alert.

Plans are made to nip ‘extremism’ in the bud, and even make it illegal, even though the word means nothing and such a law would be a tyrant’s charter.

These plans are so absurd that last week they exploded in the faces of those who advocate them. A private Christian school was actually reprimanded because it had not been ‘inclusive’ enough.

Rules supposedly devised to curb Islamic ‘extremism’ were used to warn this school that it would be downgraded for failing to bring a Muslim imam to preach to its pupils.

Could there be anything more ludicrous? Actually, there could.

The very people who are loudest in their alarmism about the Islamist menace are – almost without exception – the people who are keenest to abandon serious migration controls.

My guess is Britain – and Europe – will become Muslim in a century or so, without anyone needing to fire a shot or explode a single bomb.

We’ve given up our own faith, and left the door wide open.

Why be surprised by such a change?

Where We Lead


Rail services and infrastructure dominate the debate around transport, but with two thirds of all public transport journeys made by bus we are right to talk more about the importance of local bus services.

I serve an area with no rail or light rail link, where many people are entirely dependent on buses. I hear from older residents who are left cut off and isolated, unable to easily access GP or hospital appointments.

Shift workers who simply cannot get to work and employers who find it difficult to retain staff as a result. Families that are still struggling to make ends meet face above inflation fare rises.

In 2010, I first began to campaign on this issue when local parents asked for my help in trying protect a route that had served the community for decades but was about to be cut, making it difficult for their children to get to school.

Despite the fact that operators receive over 40 per cent of their income from the taxpayer, local people had little to no say.

The operator made clear that although we could raise our concerns, they were under no legal obligation to even consult on changes.

That was the start of my campaign to re-regulate bus services in Tyne and Wear and this week we moved one step closer to making this happen.

The North East Combined Authority voted unanimously for a Quality Contract Scheme for bus services, made possible by a change in legislation we passed when in power.

If approved by an independent board, we will be the first area outside London to take back control of buses since the Thatcher government deregulated services in 1986.

Mary Creagh, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary has backed Tyne and Wear’s bid and made it clear that any area pursuing a Quality Contract will have Labour’s full support.

Deregulation has been a failure. Fares go up and up pricing people off buses, routes are cut and needlessly changed and whole areas are left without a service.

It’s hardly surprising that the number of people using bus services continues to fall. Since deregulation, passenger numbers in metropolitan areas have fallen by 42%, in stark contrast to London.

The Quality Contract proposals will see routes and timetables set by the transport authority, with bus operators bidding to run services in open competition.

Just as in the energy sector, a small number of companies dominate the market.

There will be a simple fare structure and Oyster-style smart ticketing, fare rises capped and extra help for families with children.

Part of the profits made will be reinvested back into improving local services reducing the subsidies paid by local taxpayers and at the same time increasing passenger numbers.

Over a decade, this would result in £272 million in economic benefits to the region.

Bus companies have bitterly opposed the plans.

Stagecoach’s Brian Souter claims that those of us who want a better local bus service are ‘unreconstructed Stalinists’. He threatened to pull out of the region altogether.

Yet Stagecoach are happy to run services under London’s regulated system and there’s no good reason why they couldn’t do the same in Tyne and Wear.

This is typical of the bluster and the negative campaign of scaremongering that has characterised their opposition to change.

They have frequently threatened legal action in the hope they could bully the councillors making the decision into giving in. Their threats have so far failed, but they haven’t gone away.

It’s time the operators respected this democratic decision and contemplated why it is so many people are dissatisfied and angry.

I’m proud to be from the North East.

It’s a wonderful place to live, work and do business but we face major challenges: the highest rate of unemployment, some of the lowest paid workers in the country and too many of our young people struggling to find work.

A re-regulated, accountable and transparent transport system would support the long term change we need.

This week, we moved closer to making this happen and where we lead, other areas can follow.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

London: All That Glisters...

“The nation’s capital boasts it is the greatest city in the world. David Goodhart says it is actually the most economically, politically and ethnically polarised part of Britain, and not a good place to live unless you are affluent.”

Friday, 24 October 2014

Budget Air Lines

Cameron won't pay on the day. He doesn't say that he won't pay at all. Of course he will.

He signed up to this formula, and these calculations are based on the figures that he and Osborne sent in.

You could hear Cameron banging his fist today. But that is lost on people from the Continent. They cannot even detect an Etonian accent, still less are they intimidated by one.

In any case, does he imagine that other countries' leaders, especially but not exclusively their right-wing leaders, are jumped-up guttersnipes? They are not. They are quite as grand as even he is.

As for Thatcher's rebate, who, exactly, has ever seen a penny of it? She signed the Single European Act. That, and that alone, is what matters.

Never mind an increase. Every Labour MP voted for a real-terms cut in the British contribution to the EU Budget. The number of Conservatives who did so was smaller than the number of Lib Dem MPs.

If there had been a General Election this May, then that cut would now be in place, if necessary by unilateral legislation at Westminster.

Instead, we are waiting for Cameron to hand over £1.7 billion extra once he thinks that no one is still looking. Oh, yes, we will be. Oh, yes, indeed.

Open-Minded

Russell Brand is "open-minded" about "9/11 conspiracy theories"? So, he believes in the possibility of a link to Afghanistan, does he? He must be mad.

The theories that the likes of Oliver Kamm on Twitter today presumably have in mind are exactly as sane as any belief in "al-Qaeda", or in "the global terrorist network", or in "Taliban" distinct from the Pashtun as a whole, or in any connection between Afghanistan and the events of 11th September 2001, or in any connection between Iraq and those events, or in weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or in such weapons as a threat to America or Britain even if they had existed, or in an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, or in such a programme's threat to America or Britain even if it existed.

Which is to say, not sane at all.

All of that is before we even start about Syria, or about IS.

The Spirit of 97

With 97 seats out of 126, the Labour Group on Durham County Council is now the largest in the country.

Why, then, should it have any wish or willingness to see money or powers transferred to one or more city regions, or to a region dominated by certain conurbations? Those places are most unreliable from Labour's point of view.

Send more money and more powers to County Hall, Durham.

The soul of the Labour Movement is not somewhere that was Tory long after much of England and an even higher proportion of Wales, and which has now elected the SNP twice in a row.

Any more than than the soul of the Labour Movement is a metropolis that was Tory long after most of the North and an even higher proportion of Wales, and which has now elected Boris Johnson twice in a row.

As for the newly vacant Leadership of the Scottish Labour Party, Gordon Brown should come on television and announce that he was not merely seeking the office, but in both senses assuming it.

Only Gordon Brown could get away with that.

But he is Gordon Brown.

The Spies Who Were Us

Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill were monitored by the spooks? I can scarcely contain my shock.

What a far less hysterical time the Cold War was. Everyone with any sense knew that it was all lies. People who could not see that, including those who imagined that a threat of domestic revolution existed, were a joke even at the time. But we shall come back to them.

The Soviet Union had neither the will nor the means to invade Western Europe, never mind the United States. It had no desire whatever for alternative centres of Communist power. It would in any case collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, exactly as and when it did.

Consider quite what Britain was like in those decades without the world’s coming to an end, or the United Kingdom’s constitutional order collapsing, or either party of government’s adopting Marxism-Leninism, or anything like that.

The intelligence services were so riddled with Soviet agents from top to bottom that it was a standing joke even among the general public. Such penetration extended even to the Royal Households.

As the exposure of two dead Ministers as Czechoslovak agents has demonstrated, it also extended to the very right-wing elements both of the Labour Party (John Stonehouse) and of the Conservative Party (Ray Mawby).

Professing oneself a Communist was always perfectly respectable at the very highest levels of British society, where it was treated as just another aristocratic eccentricity.

Wogan Phillips, second Baron Milford, sat as a Communist in the House of Lords for 31 years until his death in 1993: throughout most of the 1960s, and throughout all of the 1970s and the 1980s. He still called himself a Communist even after the party had dissolved itself in 1991.

Hobsbawm ended up as a Companion of Honour, unlike either Tony Benn or even Michael Foot, despite the fact that that would have been the obvious gong for both of them. It is notable that, unlike the second Viscount Stansgate, the second Baron Milford never disclaimed his peerage.

In point of fact, the latter’s party was a moderating force, especially over and against sections of the Labour Left, which contained people whose views, Trotskyist and otherwise, were far more extreme.

Throughout its history, the Communist Party of Great Britain was avowedly and actively opposed to a violent revolution in this country, holding, as Lenin had done, that its objectives could and should be attained wholly within and through the British constitutional and parliamentary process.

By the 1970s, especially, by no means everyone on the Labour Left took that view. Most still did. But by no means all. And Labour had had a problem with Trotskyist infiltration for as long as there had been Trotskyists at all.

The CPGB was full of intelligence agents, but the intelligence agencies were full of Eastern Bloc agents, and so on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

We shall never know the extent to which the turning of those wheels within wheels prevented or resolved industrial disputes, precluded those disputes’ escalation, and so on.

Certainly, the CPGB was capable of highly fruitful co-operation with the trade union and Labour Right, much of which was very Right indeed and had all the British and American connections to match.

Compare and contrast the successful partnership between Mick McGahey and Joe Gormley in 1972 and 1974 (against a Conservative Prime Minister loathed by the overlapping worlds of MI5, MI6 and his party’s own right wing) with the failure of McGahey and Arthur Scargill in 1984 and 1985.

The Communist had wanted to hold a national ballot, and had always remained open to compromise. He had wanted to reintegrate the UDM without rancour once, as he correctly predicted, its patrons had discarded it.

He always called Scargill “that young man”, and he declined ever to write his memoirs or to authorise a biography, since “differences must remain within the family,” which said it all.

McGahey used to appear on things like Any Questions. He was as respectable as that.

His union, with the closest ties of any to his party at home, and with an unmatched internationalist tradition stretching deep into the Soviet Bloc, effectively controlled around 85 per cent of the nation’s energy supply for many decades.

It did not strike at all between 1926 and 1972, or between 1974 and 1984, an extremely unusual approach during those periods even for trade unionists with vastly less, quite literal, power.

The NUM was also a huge voting bloc at Labour Party Conferences, joined by the numerous Constituency Labour Parties that it effectively controlled.

It sponsored enough MPs to make a significant difference, considering the normal size of Labour Governments’ majorities, if any, historically.

For almost the whole of that period, only MPs had a vote in Leadership Elections. Look at the Leaders elected.

Like those on the mainstream Labour Left Tribune, certain staffers on the Morning Star were and are members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and Lobby, as their Daily Worker predecessors also were.

Such membership required and requires full security clearance to go about the Palace of Westminster, and Lobby membership gives access to twice-daily briefings by the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman.

The Daily Worker and then the Morning Star participated in all of that throughout the Cold War, as did Tribune. Did the Realm fall? Well, there you are, then.

Joan Maynard managed to sit not only as a Labour MP but as a member of that party’s National Executive Committee while also, with several other MPs, on the Editorial Advisory Panel of Straight Left, a newspaper and a faction that had been set up because of the feeling that the Communist Party was going soft. In 1979.

She served with distinction on the Agriculture Select Committee. Her Straight Left colleague James Lamond was on nothing less than the Public Accounts Committee.

For many years, all of them under a Conservative Government and most of them under Margaret Thatcher, he was on the Speaker’s Panel, chairing Standing Committees of the House. Parliament survived.

Pat Wall sat as an MP while probably the single most important Trotskyist thinker in the world at the time. His fellow-Militant Dave Nellist won Spectator Backbencher of the Year.

Mildred Gordon was an MP while the widow of a leading American Trotskyist and the wife of Trotskys bodyguard, who as her husband presumably held a House of Commons pass.

None of this is to condone any of those positions or factions. For example, the Communist Party could be violently anti-Catholic in the Scottish coalfields.

There was also more than a touch of that, motivated in no small part by the Catholic backgrounds of many of the participants, to the activities of the Militant Tendency on Merseyside, and perhaps also in certain parts of London in those days.

But all of it does provide some context.
Not least, it provides some context to the most uncritically spook-dependent British Government of all time, which came to power in 1997.

That Government was both laden with, and surrounded by, veterans of extreme left-wing organisations. Of course those veterans did whatever the intelligence services told them. They were the intelligence services.

Ah, what very different times.

The Marxism Today for which Tony Blair wrote is long gone. He was the only politician at the founding meeting of Demos. But Demos is now chaired by David Goodhart, a stalwart attendee and speaker at Blue Labour events.

Formally, the Communist Party became the proto-Blairite Democratic Left, which became the ultra-Blairite New Politics Network, which became Unlock Democracy, which is still there, in a building bought thanks to the largesse of Lenin. Still there, but directed by a Lib Dem.

Unfortunately, however, the spirit of Jimmy Anderson and Major Harry Truscott remains very much a feature of the present age.

There is a party for which hardly anyone else still votes, and which is led by the Prime Minister. There is another party, now complete with a member of a House of Commons, with absolutely no one else in it, or even so much as voting for it.

Some of them believe that both the Sino-Soviet Split and the fall of the Soviet Union were faked. Many of them believe that the KGB murdered Hugh Gaitskell in order to install Harold Wilson. All of them believe that Wilson was a Soviet agent. They really, truly, honestly believe these things.

They are convinced that Scargill was trying to stage a Red Revolution on the 1917 model, and that Gormley had more or less done so in 1974.

It never occurs to them that the Heath Government, which in any case they profess to despise, was “toppled” by nothing other than the votes of the electorate, four years after that same process had installed that Government.

The theory of the Great Red Peril, including The Enemy Within, continues to be propounded, but tellingly by people who for the most part are not employed by academic institutions.

The same was true of that theory at the time. As it also was, and very largely still is, of the economic theories to which Thatcher, who was as illiterate economically as she was historically and geopolitically, was so attached.

Across the full range of her agenda, the intellectual guiding lights hated the Conservative Party, not least when they were nominally members of it. They had no roots in it; nor had she. Not uncommonly, they had Marxist roots instead.

The Conservative Party hated them back, which led it to hate her, until eventually it became the only organisation ever to succeed in getting rid of her. She then spent 15 years a joke figure, and just under another decade as one of those extremely old people who are only waiting for the end.

But even during her Premiership, it was not as if there were no ties to the Soviet Bloc.

Peter Hitchens has spun out of the strange events of the 1980 TUC a perceived lack of British trade union and Labour support for Solidarity. Yet he must know full well that that was not true.

There was a whole Solidarity Group of Labour MPs, which was heavily backed by the union hierarchy, and one of the last of whom was a Founding Signatory to the One Nation Society.

By contrast, very soon after Polish miners had been gunned down, the Thatcher Government was importing coal from Poland to order to assist in breaking the Strike.

On the other side of the Sino-Soviet Split, Thatcher fully deserved her designation by Red Star as “The Peking Plotter”. She never saw a Maoist whom she did not like.

She installed Mugabe, having refused any other settlement, and she even arranged a knighthood for him. Then there was Ceaușescu. Then there was Pol Pot.

When Nelson Mandela died, her flame-keepers could be heard criticising him and his for their criticism, in turn, of Steve Biko.

We ought to be governed by people who understand all of this. As we ought to be governed by people who recognise voodoo economics for what it is, especially six years after it collapsed.

Instead, we have official Treasury publications with Laffer curves in them, matching and mirroring a Health Secretary who believes in homoeopathy.

Between now and May, we have to make do with a party for which only the Voodoos still vote, even if they often appear to have no clue for whom or for what they are voting.

Backed up by the Voodoos who pretend to be Lib Dems at election time, and by the Voodoos who pretend to be (extremely disloyal) Labour in the media. With the whole lot running scared of a full-blown Voodoo Party.

The exorcism cannot possibly come too soon.

The Last Thirty Odd Years

Neil Clark writes:

Imagine a British Prime Minister who was a Russophile, not a Russophobe, and defied US pressure to send UK troops to war.

A British Prime Minister who worked for better relations with the East, visited Moscow, and was on good terms with Kremlin leaders.

Well, it might sound unlikely today, but forty years ago we had such a Prime Minister. 

In October 1974, Harold Wilson was puffing away merrily on his pipe celebrating his fourth election victory out of five.

Looking back at the Wilson era is instructive as it shows us how much British politics has changed for the worse since the 1970s.

Harold Wilson was a mainstream Labour Party politician of his time yet anyone espousing the sensible pro-mixed economy policies he put forward in the 1960s and 70s today would be denounced as a“Stalinist.”

Ironically, at the time, the ultra-left accused Wilson - a man who extended nationalization and whose government increased the top rate of income tax to 83% - of being too right-wing!

On foreign policy too, Wilson’s diplomatic, non-hawkish approach would be denounced as being akin to “appeasement”, and he’d be compared to Neville Chamberlain.

Wilson always tried to understand the Russian perspective: today anyone expressing even the slightest support/defense for the Russian position on Ukraine for instance is routinely labeled a Putin apologist” or “Kremlin stooge”, etc by neocon/faux left gatekeepers who hate Russia and its leader with an intensity that is bordering on the pathological.

In Britain, as in America, over the last thirty odd years, the neocon lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, politics in Britain was in a far healthier state than it is today, as the success of Harold Wilson shows.

A wider range of views were allowed to be expressed openly in public life, and our democracy was all the better for it.

Unlike today, there was genuine freedom of speech.

Obnoxious “witch-finders” weren’t hounding pundits and commentators who had the “wrong” views on foreign policy 24/7: it was an era when the reports of the great anti-war journalist John Pilger appeared on the front pages of our national newspapers.

Wilson was not the only leading politician of this period to be a Russophile.

As I noted in an earlier OpEdge piece there were politicians who were sympathetic to the Moscow perspective from across the spectrum.

You might have expected socialist politicians to be well-disposed towards a country called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but the flag-bearer of the true blue Conservative right, Enoch Powell, was a Russophile too.

Powell became a supporter of unilateral nuclear disarmament and warned that it was US imperialism, not Russia, which posed the greatest threat to the peace of the world.

Today's Conservatives by contrast, have, by and large, become lackeys for that same US imperialism - as have leading Labour Party and Liberal Democrat figures.

Harold Wilson first went to Moscow to try and develop UK/Soviet trade when he was a minister in Clement Attlee’s Labour government which had come to power in 1945.

Although no communist, he saw, correctly, the great benefits to Britain of good trade links with the Soviet Union and with other countries in the communist bloc.

“The healthy development of trade between Eastern and Western Europe is an essential part of the program for European recovery. Politics do not enter into it,” Wilson said.

What a contrast to our Russophobic leaders today who are enthusiastically imposing sanctions on Russia which are clearly not in Britain’s best economic interests.

Wilson, when in opposition, continued to make the case for greater east-west trade and even became a consultant to companies who were doing business in the Soviet Union.

When he became Prime Minister in 1964, and again in 1974, he consistently pursued policies of détente- and “peaceful coexistence” with the Soviet Union, as well as resisting US pressure to send British troops to the Vietnam War.

His biographer Philip Ziegler records that Wilson was “ecstatic” over the warm welcome he received on one visit to Moscow in 1975.

Wilson wrote: “They laid themselves out in an unparalleled way by all the standard tests.”

Soviet Prime Minister Aleksey Kosygin said that the meeting with Wilson was truly historic and…..a major factor in the history of Anglo-Soviet relations.”

That year, 1975, saw the Helsinki Accords, which marked the high point of the era of détente.

In this period in Britain, the hawks who wanted to wreck détente were treated with the contempt they deserved.

This was reflected not just in British politics, where hawks were marginalized figures, but in popular culture too.

The most popular British comedy double act of the Wilson era was Morecambe and Wise.

In their 1965 film The Intelligence MenEric and Ernie help military intelligence foil a plot by a sinister group called “Schlecht” whose aim is to sabotage a forthcoming visit to Britain by a Russian trade delegation. 

There’s a plot to assassinate the lead ballerina in Swan Lake which our heroes manage to thwart.

It’s interesting that in 1965, the baddies were an international gang of criminals trying to wreck British-Russian relations.

Today, it’s members of our governing circles who are doing that.

The marginalized Russophobe fanatics of yesteryear, who wanted to provoke a disastrous confrontation with the Soviet Union, are now in positions of power and influence.

They’re in government and they’re writing newspaper columns.

And it’s those sensible voices who want friendly relations, and a genuinely constructive partnership with Russia as Harold Wilson did, who are marginalized.

Woe betides anyone who tries to set up a “Friends of Russia” group in Parliament.

The Conservative Friends of Russia group was subject to a nasty campaign of attacks by neocons and the faux-left and was eventually disbanded.

We can have Parliamentary Friends of Israel, but not it seems Friends of Russia.” Harold Wilson, who was both a Zionist and a Russophile, would be turning in his grave.

But although the agents of “Schlecht” have taken over, there are good reasons for believing that their days are numbered.

For a start, Russophobia, as I highlighted here, has no widespread support among the British public, despite the relentless anti-Russian, anti-Putin propaganda.

People remember how President Putin and Russia opposed plans for war on a secular government in Syria last summer, and realize that if the neocon warmongers had got their way and President Assad been forcibly toppled, ISIS would probably now be in control of the entire country.

The campaign of lies and misinformation designed to get people to believe that there has been a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine has also backfired, with much of the “official narrative” unraveling.

In any case, there is little, or no, public appetite for a war to be fought over Ukraine, as much as that might please the Russophobic neocon fanatics who can’t seem to get enough of bloodshed - even after Iraq and Libya.

Economic factors too need to be taken into consideration.

As Liam Hannigan points out in his new Spectator article sanctions on Russia have hit Western European economies hard.

Not only that, there’s the looming financial collapse of Ukraine to take into account too.

“Kiev is in a deep financial hole and fast heading towards financial meltdown. Unless an extremely large bailout is delivered soon, there will be a default, sending shockwaves through the global economy. That’s a risk nobody wants to take – not least in Washington, London or Berlin,”

Halligan writes. In July, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned that sanctions on Russia would hit the UK economy, saying “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

Inevitably, British businesses which are losing out due to the sanctions, will be trying, with justification, to lobby the government to change course, and the neocon Russophobes who want to extend sanctions will find they have some powerful enemies.

Also, there’s been the success of politicians and parties who have dared to take a different line on Russia, which we saw again in this year’s European elections.

Certainly moving away from the phony elite consensus on Russia and Ukraine hasn’t done Nigel Farage and his UKIP party’s electoral fortunes much harm, nor has it dented the popularity of Respect Leader George Galloway, who now has a staggering 225,000 followers on Twitter.

It’s clear that Russophobia is a complete dead end for Britain.

While some obsessed media commentators may want hostilities to continue, thankfully fewer and fewer people are reading their “Why Putin is the New Hitler”/Russia poses a threat to the world” columns and leader articles.

We don’t have to read their tripe any more as we have the internet, and other sources of news and comment.

Harold Wilson showed that British Prime Ministers don’t have to follow Russophobia.

If Britain didn’t have a trade war with the Soviet Union in the middle of the old “Cold War,” then why do we have sanctions on Russia today?

The reason for that is that our politics have been hijacked by a group of people who are following an anti-Russian agenda that’s been set in Washington and which is not in Britain’s national interest.

It’s time for a new, genuine reset in British/Russian relations and for the Russophobic hawks to once again be treated as the fanatics and extremists they always were.

Let’s get back to the 60s and 70s, the era which Harold Wilson dominated.

It’s not only the music which was much better then, but the foreign policy too.

Worth The Price?

Paul Robinson writes:

We Canadians like to think that we are a boring and peaceful nation, that nothing much ever happens here, and everybody likes us.

It therefore comes as a shock when we are attacked, as we were this week in Ottawa.

Yet terrorism is not a new phenomenon for Canada, as demonstrated by the assassination of one of the fathers of the confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, in 1868; by the murderous behaviour of the Front de Libération de Québec in 1970; and by the destruction of Air India Flight 128 in 1985.

Our legislative institutions have been regular targets of attack. A Loyalist mob burned down the Parliament of Lower Canada in Montreal in 1848.

In 1966 Paul Joseph Chartier brought dynamite into the House of Commons in Ottawa planning to kill as many MPs as possible, but managed to kill only himself.

And in 1989 Charles Yacoub hijacked a bus and had the driver take him to Parliament Hill whereupon, claiming to represent the Liberation Front for Christian Lebanon, he fired several shots at tourists before eventually surrendering to the police.

The attacks this week appalled the country.

On Monday, Martin Couture-Rouleau, the owner of an industrial cleaning company in the town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, southeast of Montreal, deliberately drove his car into two soldiers, killing one of them, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

Then, on Wednesday, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau – an itinerant with a number of convictions for drug offences and robbery – fired a rifle at one of the guards at the national war memorial in Ottawa, killing Corporal Nathan Cirillo. Zehaf-Bibeau then moved on to the nearby Parliament building where he was shot dead.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service had already identified both attackers as security risks. Zehaf-Bibeau had been denied a passport due to suspicions that he might commit terrorism overseas, and was apparently furious as a result.

Meanwhile, Couture-Rouleau had been prevented from flying out of Canada to Turkey, from where it was suspected that he planned to join the army of the Islamic State.

According to CBC News, Couture-Rouleau had announced on Facebook that he was angry at the Canadian government’s decision to send fighter jets to join the international coalition bombing the Islamic State.

This forces us to confront the tricky question of Canadian foreign policy – and, no, confronting that question does not mean apologising for the perpetrators.

In the past decade, Canada has abandoned its peacekeeping tradition, and adopted a different posture exemplified by the high-profile combat role the Canadian forces played in Afghanistan and the recent deployment of aircraft to fight the Islamic State.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that these operations have contributed in at least some small way to the radicalisation of Canadian Muslims such as Zehaf-Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau.

Consequently, it is not obvious that the operations are making Canadians safer.

The suspicion many have is that Canadian governments only do what they do because they want to get on well with allies, particularly the United States.

Thus our Prime Minister agreed to send planes to Iraq – not because he really felt that they would achieve anything, but because the Americans had asked him to and he didn’t want to antagonise them by saying no.

If this is the case, then the government ought to be honest about it and let Canadians know that an increased risk from terrorism is simply the price we have to pay to protect important interests, most notably good relations with the United States.

More attacks are quite possible, and the fact that they are conducted by lone individuals in a seemingly spontaneous manner means that they will be almost impossible to prevent.

However, the same randomness means that their impact should be very limited. Individuals conducting hit-and-run operations with their cars are hardly criminal masterminds.

The task for the Canadian government now is to show that the interests it is promoting are worth the price.

Worry More About Drugs


As I always do, when I hear of rampage shootings such as that in Ottawa on Wednesday, I wondered how long it would be before the shooter turned out to have been taking some sort of mind-altering drug.

This is almost invariably the case in such events.

As the authorities and mainstream media are never interested in this aspect of these killings (if they were, they’d have to do something about it), it can take a while, and sometimes some digging on my part.

No such effort was needed today.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, as he called himself after changing his name,  twice came up against the law on marijuana charges. See here.

He must have been pretty persistent to have this experience, given the reluctance of modern police forces to bother with this drug unless it is smoked under their noses, and not always then.

Nothing of any significance happened to him as a result, of course, despite the alleged draconian ‘War on Drugs’ under whose brutal dictates we supposedly groan.

Though not ill enough to be detained (since the Western world shut its mental hospitals by the dozen, preferring  the neglect known as ‘care in the community’ this is nowadays a very high bar, and few are), his behaviour was clearly ‘erratic’, and the mosque he chose to attend didn’t seem very keen on him.

But I suspect a great deal will be made of his Islamic conversion, and nothing at all of his drug-induced, er, instability.

The same was true of the killers of Drummer Lee Rigby, whose ‘erratic’ behaviour during their crime and afterwards has barely been mentioned.

It is my opinion that fanaticism cannot be prevented in any free society, but that drugtaking can be.

Thus, if we wish to see fewer such horrors, we should worry more about drugs than about fanaticism.

I am accused of trying to excuse these people by mentioning this. I’m not.

Those who deliberately take mindbending drugs are in my view  responsible for the crimes they commit as a result.

I’m also accused of trying to minimise the influence of Islam. I’m not. I do not wish this to become an Islamic country.

I just think we should be more aware of the grave dangers of living in a country where the state only pretends to enforce laws against dangerous drugs.

There are quite a few such countries.

Perfect Economic Sense

Michael Meacher writes:

The latest ONS Quarterly National Accounts tell a very significant story.

For the media it was immediately a matter of Osborne likely not being able to provide a pre-election giveaway in a big new tax break to be announced in his Autumn Statement on 3 December.

But that isn’t the real point at all.

A far more significant issue is that it spells the end of Osborne’s case that austerity is necessary to cut the deficit.

If the deficit starts to rise rather than fall, the case for continuing with austerity and perpetual spending cuts collapses.

That is exactly where we now are, although no-one, including the Labour Party, is saying so.

This is now the opportunity for Labour to say loud and clear that Osborne’s policy has hit the buffers and is now intellectually and politically bankrupt and that the alternative policy of expanding the economy, as opposed to endlessly contracting it, is now the only viable game in town.

The official figures confirm that in the first 6 months of the current tax year, from April to September 2014, government borrowing at £58bn was £5.8bn higher than in the first half of last year, when in 2010 Osborne had pledged that it would have by now continually reduced till it hit the target of zero borrowing next year.

In actual fact government borrowing next year is now likely to be well over £100bn!

This is not just a minor slippage, it’s a massive failure which can only be properly interpreted as an ignominious failure of current economic policy.

It has happened because the squeeze on wages and household incomes has become so severe, and shows no sign of abating till at least 2020, that the government’s tax take has fallen so far short of predictions that the gap between the government’s income and expenditure has widened drastically, causing the deficit to grow and, worse still, with every expectation that it will continue to grow in future until the government are forced to change policy.

The obvious alternative is to recognise that continued austerity is self-defeating and that expanding the economy is a far more efficient and far faster way of reducing the deficit than perpetually contracting it.

Public investment to fund house-building, infrastructure enhancement and greening the economy would finally kick-start the economy on a path of sustainable growth and at last after a decade of austerity would generate genuine jobs, raise wages and household incomes, and steadily pay down the deficit consistently with rising economic growth. Why on earth isn’t the Labour party shouting this from the roof-tops?

It’s what people want to hear, it makes perfect economic sense, and it could well turn out to be game changer in the run-up to the election.

Because He Poses Little Threat To The System

Sunny Hundal writes:

The comedian Russell Brand was interviewed on Newsnight last night about his book, which you can watch above.

One headline is that Brand casually implies 9/11 was an inside job because George Bush had links to the Saudis, before half-heartedly back-tracking.

But I was more depressed by the first 10 minutes of conversation, and I want to explain why because I think this matters in a wider context.

In the debate Evan Davis wants to ask Brand a simple question: what is the alternative you propose?

The comedian, who has apparently written an entire book calling for a revolution, doesn’t have a straight answer.

Brand says the current system isn’t working (partly true) and points to activism by others challenging the consensus.

Brand says he is merely a high-profile voice and his job is to amplify the work of others. I think that’s fair enough.

But Davis has a more profound question that Brand clearly doesn’t want to answer.

My version of that question goes like this: If you want to replace the current system of capitalism with something else, who is going to make your jeans, iPhones and run Twitter?

I.e. capitalism clearly has downsides, but it also leads to products that people really want to use.

The desire for profit has led companies like Apple, Levi’s and Twitter to create popular products that – especially in the case of social media – we can sometimes even use for free (in return for being forced to watch advertising, of course).

In the debate, Evan Davis asks Brand about the fact that wages have historically gone up: making billions of people richer and allowing them to afford products like fridge freezers, TVs and iPhones.

Brand’s response is: “Mate, I ain’t got time for a bloody graph.

And then there are other responses that suggest he is blindly oblivious to his own privilege.

The problem I have with Russell Brand is that his style of politics is anti-intellectualism on an epic scale. He isn’t just leaving the heavy lifting to others, he casually dismisses facts like they are irrelevant.

Yes, our capitalist system is breaking down and our democracy has many flaws with it.

But any discussion that starts with the premise that we need a revolution to over-throw the system must at least have a response to the inevitable: “and replace it with what?”

This isn’t to say I’m in favour of unadulterated capitalism or that I think cooperatives, mutuals, non-profit groups or social enterprises have no place.

In fact we need far more of them.

But, in effect, the Russell Brand critique is mild because all it really wants is a bit less of what is currently on offer a bit more of… some nice things that other people are asking for.

To dress that up as a ‘revolution’ is plainly fatuous.

The establishment humours Russell Brand because he poses little threat to the system.

Newsnight has him on because he’s good for their ratings, not because they want to bring down the system too.

The lack of an effective critique means that people will listen to him, glaringly see the obvious contradictions and unanswered questions, and dismiss the Left as over-privileged white guys who don’t want to work but want their iPhones anyway.

A few years ago, I was going past the occupation of Parliament Square.

I was quite defensive of the activists in the media and wanted to spend a bit of time just getting to know them. Bad idea.

I came in being quite sympathetic, but soon realised that some of the people there only spoke in clichés and hadn’t actually looked into the nuances of what they were saying.

The woman I was talking to seemed to think everything was a conspiracy. Soon she was joined by some people who firmly believed 9/11 was an inside job.

I made an hasty exit. Of course, every group has its share of cranks but it was a very sobering experience.

If Brand gets more apolitical people to question the world they’re in, then great.

But I worry about something else: that there’s a broader slide towards anti-intellectualism among lefties where facts don’t matter and smart critiques are junked in favour of clichés.

The world is a messy place and our politicians are very flawed people.

But we have to work (sometimes within the system) to continually reform it and improve it, not wait around for some vague revolution that will never come.

If the end result is the UKIP-isation of the Left then I don’t want any part of that revolution.

Quite.

It is the libertarian Right that needs to be asked with what, exactly, it disagreed with Brand. He needs to be asked the same question about it.

Revolution As Play


Russell Brand is one of those people who talks a lot without ever really saying much.

Well-intentioned, he can often come across like the precocious student we all know who talks in the way they think an educated person ought to talk – all clever-sounding adjectives and look-at-me vocabulary.

And yet going by the attention Russell Brand seems to get whenever he appears on a serious programme like Newsnight, there appears to be tremendous appetite for his peculiar brand of ‘Revolution’.

And in one sense it is easy to see why.

When Brand writes in his latest book Revolution that ‘The richest 1 per cent of British people have as much as the poorest 55 per cent’, he is making an important point.

He might also add that a quarter of children in Britain will be living in poverty by the year 2020. Meanwhile, a property millionaire is now created in this country every seven minutes, mainly in London.

In Tony Blair and David Cameron’s ‘meritocracy’, there are people working two jobs who have to rely on the state to survive while the Chancellor George Osborne, himself a multimillionaire trust fund baby, stands at a lectern to tell the poor that in Britain “No one will get something for nothing”.

There is a profound sickness at the root of any society which tolerates this.

Most people who bother with the matter at all will admit as much, or they will reduce the question to one of individual moral failure – as if the man who makes million on the stock exchange really is morally superior to the woman who earns a pittance cleaning up excrement in a run-down NHS hospital.

Russell Brand’s approach to this predicament is two-fold.

The first revolves around the desirability of “necessary Revolution” - the only thing which stands in its way is, according to Brand, “the venal entitlement and self-interest of the people who benefit from things staying as they are.”

What Brand appears not to grasp is that any revolution simply involves the replacement of one set of unaccountable leaders with another.

Without knowing it, he exemplifies the juvenile desire to fell the tree because trimming it effectively is slow, tedious and incremental.

Brand’s desire for Revolution also betrays a lack of historical awareness.

25 years ago the Berlin Wall was pulled down by jubilant East Germans. The Wall was erected in the name of Revolution but in reality its purpose was to keep East German workers in an open prison.

Even today, in Cuba the word Revolution is synonymous with the secret police and the boring three-hour speeches from the Maximum Leader.

While it would be unfair to accuse Brand of wishing to replicate the ‘revolutionary’ regimes of recent times, he seems to be painfully unaware of where the “if I were in charge” approach to politics has led in the past.

The answer isn’t the land of milk and honey, as he seems to think; it is society of the concentration camp and the Gulag.

The second thing which characterises Revolution is a wholesale rejection of the “conventional politics that doesn’t represent us, the ordinary people,” as he told Evan Davis last night.

Critics of Brand are often accused of cynicism; and yet his ‘movement’, if you can call it that, is built on a casual disregard for anything that has a whiff of ‘authority’ about it.

A healthy disrespect for the privately educated Oxbridge PPE class ought to be de rigueur for any radical.

But there is always a danger of being so open-minded that you gravitate, moth-like, to anything which reeks of a wishy-washy ‘alternative’.

This scattergun approach to politics, characterised by a total distrust of authority, is one of the reasons that Brand last night launched into an incoherent treatise on 9/11, saying that “we have to remain open-minded as to any possibility”.

This appeals not so much to an open mind as an intellectually lazy one; to the person who hasn’t bothered to sift through the evidence or taken a cursory glance at violent Islamist ideology.

It can also have sinister consequences: are we also supposed to keep an open mind about the “official establishment narrative” of the Holocaust?

Russell Brand is the natural response to a politics that is bereft of alternatives to the grim free market settlement of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and now the Coalition.

During the 20th century the Socialist God failed and nothing has replaced it.

At one time radicalism meant either the gradual reformism of the Labour Party or the violent romanticism of the Bolsheviks.

Brand disregards the former for its “silly administrative quibbles” and tells people that to vote is to waste one’s time.

As to the failures of past revolutions, Brand can only shrug his shoulders and murmur about how unfair it all is.

Millions of people may be fed up of the racket that is free market capitalism, but this really is Revolution as play, and in indulging it the left risks becoming a parody of itself.

Who on the Left is indulging it?

I for one would happily pay Brand's train fare to see him address the Durham Miners' Gala, where Owen Jones, who is often, but very unfairly, compared to him, went down a storm a couple of years ago.

Or to see Brand speak to a trade union branch or a local government Labour Group up here. I know who would win.

It is the libertarian Right that needs to be asked with what, exactly, it disagreed with Brand. He needs to be asked the same question about it.

By The By

A couple of hours ago, my friend Joanne Carr, the mother of two of my oldest friends, made a welcome return to local government, winning the by-election at Dipton and Burnopfield.

On a recount, the result was:

Labour 656
Independent 655
Conservative 86
Green 63

That's right. One vote. On a recount.

The Independents in these parts, who had previously held the seat quite comfortably, have been using purple as their colour for as long as I can remember. Most of their Councillors and the great majority of their voters will have voted UKIP at the European Elections.

Such phenomena are very much a feature of the North of England, and especially of its countryside. But none of them, please note, has joined UKIP. Most of them will still vote Conservative at next year's General Election.

Then there are those 86 True Blue Tories. "If they had voted for us, then we would have won," is not something that the Independents would ever say. They would leave that to the Home Counties interlopers from UKIP, who have no idea how the North works.

These 86 are people who will only ever vote for the Conservative Party candidate for anything. It is a matter of supreme indifference to them that that might hand victory to Labour. Any non-Conservative candidate is as unacceptable to them as any other non-Conservative candidate.

It would be no less ridiculous an observation than the above to remark that, "If they had voted Labour, then there would have been no need of a recount."

The Conservatives may have dropped from first to third place at the European Elections both in the North West and in Yorkshire and the Humber, as also in the West Midlands and in Wales. But they still managed to return MEPs from all four.

They still took 17.7 per cent of the vote, cast by more than one hundred thousand people, in the North East. They easily out-polled UKIP in Scotland. They out-polled Labour in the East Midlands; only just, but they did. Their Ulster Unionist allies retained a European seat in Northern Ireland.

Anyone who grew up in any of those places, or who has spent any length of time in any of them, will know exactly who these people are. The True Blueness can sometimes dim a little towards considering UKIP for European Elections, or Independents for the council. But not always.

And the bedrock of those who would never consider voting any way but Tory for the House of Commons is really quite large. The bedrock of those who would never consider voting any way but Tory for anything is far from negligible.

Meanwhile, what of that Green vote? It would once, not long ago, have been Lib Dem, if the Lib Dems had contested the seat, and certainly for Parliament. Labour took the seat, so it has not come from there. 

Labour's position in the North, including in rural areas such as this ward, much of which is also quite affluent even if much of it certainly is not, is growing even stronger than it already was. Local by-elections confirm that on a weekly basis.

The Greens are now the Official Opposition to Labour on Liverpool City Council, which the Lib Dems ran until 2010, but on which they now have only as many seats as the continuing Liberal Party.

A few hours ago, Question Time came from Liverpool. There was no Green on the panel. But there was someone from UKIP. The audience was a lot more impressed by Alex Salmond.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Lanchester Review: Simon Stevens, Unrealistic And Will Fall On Deaf Ears

Dr Clive Peedell on today's Stevens Report into the National Health Service.

The Immorality of American Exceptionalism

It is too long to post in full here, but David Bromwich's article is an absolute must-read.

A Self-Enriching Racket

With charts that I cannot seem to copy in, Luke Hildyard writes:

There are a number of difficult questions to grapple with when trying to establish whether or not the increasingly extraordinary sums of money paid to a super-rich elite in a handful of leading professions are ‘fair’.

Can one or two individuals really be responsible for the success of organisations employing thousands of people on multiple continents?

Are the markets for executives, lawyers, bankers and consultants completely transparent, open and functional?

Is there a limit beyond which we might consider the gap between rich and poor to be intolerable, grotesque or socially and economically destructive?

But each of these questions rests upon the assumption that those at the top are paid, at least ostensibly, in proportion to their success.

It may be that executives claim sole credit for the achievements of an entire company.

Perhaps their God-like genius is over-valued by uncritical remuneration committees and asset managers who have a vested interest in keeping top pay racing upwards.

There is considerable support for the idea that a more unequal society is divided, weak and unfair. But ultimately, the assumption is that pay is going up because performance is too.

In fact, this is far from the case.

New research carried out for the High Pay Centre by Income Data Services examined median pay increases for FTSE 350 directors compared to the increase in company performance, as measured by a series of metrics used by the corporations themselves to calculate executive bonuses and incentive payments.

The results are summarised in the chart below.

Most strikingly, total FTSE 350 directors pay increased more than twice as fast as the pre-tax profit and four times as fast as the market value of FTSE 350 companies.

Amazingly, the biggest discrepancy occurred between the biggest, supposed ‘performance-related’ components of pay – annual bonuses and gains from so-called ‘long-term incentive plans’ – and actual performance.

Bonuses are usually measured against some form of profitability, while LTIPs are linked to three year changes in ‘earnings per share’ (related to company income) and increases in ‘Total Shareholder Return’ (calculated using share price changes and dividend payments).

In each case, the increase in payment was totally disproportionate to the relevant metric. The relationship between bonus increases and profit growth was virtually non-existent.

The obvious conclusion is that pay at the top has become a self-enriching racket, with the remuneration committees that set pay happy for executives to enjoy a windfall when the economic going is good, then reducing targets so they can cash in during leaner times as well.

Company workers and shareholders are being ripped off as top bosses are lavishly rewarded while failing to grow the wages or savings of ordinary people.

The problem is that shareholders have thus far proved difficult to mobilise against top pay – partly because the holdings and voting rights on pay are controlled by wealthy fund managers – and the workforce have no say in the process.

Putting workers on remuneration committees might be one place that government could start reforming the culture of unjust rewards.

Mandatory publication of company pay ratios, measures to strengthen trade unions and coercion or incentives designed to increase the prevalence of workforce-wide profit sharing would be good ways to follow this up.