Monday, 5 December 2016

The People's Organiser

Tony Blair is planning "more than a think tank, but less than a political party".

And the traditional right-wingers of Labour First are crowdfunding £40,000 for an organiser to fight against Jeremy Corbyn.

But we are also crowdfunding £40,000 for an organiser, the People's Organiser:

One organiser for every £40,000 raised will provide platforms for those who:

- understand the lesson of the EU referendum result in the United Kingdom, and of the election of Donald Trump in the United Kingdom, which is that the workers, and not the liberal bourgeoisie, are the key swing voters;

- locate identity issues within the overarching and undergirding context of the struggle against economic inequality and in favour of international peace;

- welcome the fact that the EU referendum was decided by those areas which voted Leave while voting Labour, Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru for other purposes, and which have thus made themselves the centre of political attention;

- celebrate the leading role in the defence of universal public services of those who would otherwise lack basic amenities, and the leading role in the promotion of peace of those who would be the first to be called upon to die in wars;

- have opposed from the start the failed programme of economic austerity;

- have opposed every British military intervention since 1997; 

- opposed Tony Blair's privatisation of the NHS and other public services, his persecution of the disabled, and his assault on civil liberties, all of which have continued under every subsequent Government;

- oppose Britain's immoral and one-sided relationship with Saudi Arabia, and reject the demonisation of Russia;

- have the real eyes to realise real lies, seeing the truly fake news as propagated in support of the economic policies of neoliberal austerity and the foreign policies of neoconservative war;

- reject any approach to climate change which would threaten jobs, workers' rights, travel opportunities, or universal access to a full diet;

- seek to rescue issues such as male suicide, men's health, and fathers' rights from those whose economic and other policies caused the problems; and

- refuse to recognise racists, Fascists or opportunists as the authentic voices of the accepted need to control immigration.

Please give generously.

Very Wise To Settle?

Boris Johnson was perfectly clear on The Andrew Marr Show.

As long as no "large sums" were involved, then the United Kingdom ought to pay a subscription for tariff-free access to the Single Market.

A subscription for which the technical term would be a "tariff".

Even Peter Hitchens now wants only "halfway out", specifically that "we might be very wise to settle for a Norway-style arrangement".

The other view on the Right is that of Anna Soubry, undoubtedly the voice of no small number of Conservative MPs, in which Parliament simply rejects Article 50 or any other Brexit measure altogether.

With dozens of Remain seats in the South, the Conservative Party is now terrified of the resurgent Liberal Democrats.

But there is an alternative to all of this.

His name is Jeremy Corbyn.

A Workers' MP On A Worker's Wage, Indeed

I am not a member of Momentum.

But it has more members than UKIP does, including far more MPs.

Remember that when contrasting both the extent and the tone of the coverage of Momentum with that of UKIP.

If Paul Nuttall's pitch is that he differs from Nigel Farage in that he is able to win a parliamentary seat, then he had be pretty damn sure that he can indeed capture Leigh, which has been Labour since 1922.

Even one defeat would be fatal.

Speaking of MPs, I did attend the Momentum Northern Regional Conference on Saturday in Newcastle.

The Labour Chief Whip, in whose constituency it was being held, was a speaker. How times change.

The old argument within the Left about "a workers' MP on a worker's wage" came up at one point.

But it is contrary to the founding principles of the Labour Movement to suggest that being a worker, or a workers' representative, must entail being at least relatively poor.

The payment of MPs at all was one of the Movement's earliest victories, the cause having been inherited from the Chartists.

There are plenty of talented, capable people on far less than £74,000 per year, and plenty of talentless, incapable people on far, far more. It is not that. 

But here in the North East, does Ian Mearns (who was there), or Ian Lavery, or Pat Glass, or Grahame Morris, or Emma Lewell-Buck (who was also there), or Sharon Hodgson, or, perhaps above all, the very left-wing and very working-class Ronnie Campbell, fail to provide either a left-wing or a working-class voice on account of drawing the full MPs' salary, the rate for the job?

Further afield, does Angela Rayner? Does Dennis Skinner, who has been taking the rate for the job for 46 years?

A workers' MP on a worker's wage, indeed.

How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul

Brilliant stuff from Matt Stoller.

Access Pipeline

What a night of victories.

Over Hofer. Over Renzi. At Standing Rock.

And for Scarlett Moffatt. After the Teaching Assistants, County Durham is on a roll.

I am no Green, and I am no fan of François Fillon.

But the anti-Fascist victory in Austria has set the scene for the anti-Fascist victory in France.

The Sami got the big Norwegian banks to pull out of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Man has his globalisation. And we have ours.

Unsimplified Chinese

As used in, among other places, Taiwan.

One side there is in the same position as if something holed up on the Isle of Wight at the end of a British Civil War were claiming to be the Government of Britain.

The other is in the same position as if something holed up on the Isle of Wight at the end of a British Civil War were claiming that the Isle of Wight were a country.

Moreover, the former does not claim jurisdiction only over China as she now exists.

Rejecting the authority of the present Chinese Government to resolve territorial disputes, it lays claim to most of Mongolia, as well as to parts of Russia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bhutan and Burma.

The self-styled Republic of China has had extremely few Western partisans since Nixon and the UN faced up to reality.

But it had friends among the Crazies around Bush the Younger, and it would have had them in and around any Administration headed by Hillary Clinton.

Wasn't Donald Trump supposed to have been better than this?

Bernie Sanders really would have been.

The Voices They Hear

Peter Hitchens writes: 

There may at last be good news out of Syria, which so many of my fellow journalists are too deluded to see. 

The defeat of the Islamist fanatics in eastern Aleppo now seems very close indeed.

These nasty, ruthless people, encouraged, armed and aided by the intolerant despots of Saudi Arabia and helped madly by us, have deliberately turned Syria into a desert.

They have terrible things on their consciences.

If they are now beaten, the long task of rebuilding can at last begin and the refugees can start to return.

Yet intelligent people here continue to swallow the propaganda of the jihadis – the only source of ‘news’ from eastern Aleppo because no independent journalist dares put himself in the power of these so-called ‘rebels’.

They never ask if the pictures from eastern Aleppo are posed or staged, or if the voices they hear are independent.

They believe, without evidence or hesitation, any slander levelled at Russia, seeming to think that Russians are child-hating savages who deliberately seek to kill civilians, whereas we, when we bomb Islamists in cities such as Mosul or Fallujah (which we do), only kill civilians by accident.

Good heavens, have we already forgotten?

Russians of all people know what it is like to have your land and homes attacked by ruthless, indiscriminate killers.

Why do we assume they care less than us, and are less human than we are?

Care and Support

In conversation with me on Saturday, an 18-year-old casually referred to Blairism as "New Labour". I was able to assure him that I remembered Jonathan Ashworth when he was running Durham University Labour Club in the heady days of Tony Blair's first term, and look at him now:

The NHS is one of this country’s greatest institutions.

For nearly 70 years it has been there for each and every one of us.

It helped bring my children into the world and it helped to care for my grandfather at the end of his life.

It runs on the good will of the thousands of doctors, nurses and care workers.

But, like all national institutions, it needs to be cared for.

More than half a million Britons are now over the age of 90. 

One in two of us will get cancer at some point.

And the yearly cost of dementia to the economy is more than a quarter of a trillion pounds.

If we want the NHS to meet today’s health challenges, then we need to give it the money it needs.

The Tories have had the chance to do that.

To guarantee the NHS’s future for another 70 years.

So what did the NHS and social care get from Theresa May? 

Nowt, nada, zilch. 

Not a penny to repair crumbling hospitals, or help the millions of patients stuck on waiting lists. 

Not a penny to save elderly care. 

What we saw instead was a right-wing Tory Government give tax cuts to big business and impose another five years of austerity on hard-working families. 

Well, I will not let them get away with it. 

I will not stop fighting for our NHS. 

And I will not stop until Labour are back in power to give the NHS the care and support it needs.

A Jot About The Truth

Peter Oborne writes:

There used to be a convention that ministers told the truth in Parliament.

If they failed to do so, they were under an obligation to return to the Commons and put the record straight at the first opportunity.

Last week, MPs turned their backs on that honourable tradition when they debated the false and misleading statements made by Tony Blair over the Iraq War.

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond called the debate so that Mr Blair could be held accountable to MPs. 

Shockingly, 439 MPs voted against Mr Salmond's motion and just 70 in favour.

This is astonishing.

I have in my files a long list of the untrue statements made by Tony Blair to the Commons about Iraq.

Here are a few of them.

In September 2002, the then Prime Minister told MPs that the intelligence evidence contained in the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was 'extensive, detailed and authoritative' — when Britain's spies had explicitly told him it was sketchy. 

On February 25, 2003, Tony Blair told MPs that Russia believed Saddam had WMDs.

This was not true.

In his notorious speech of March 18, on the eve of war with Iraq, Mr Blair gravely misrepresented the findings of UN weapons inspectors on the ground.

On June 4, he falsely told MPs there had been no objections from the intelligence world to his notorious claim that Saddam could deploy WMD in 45 minutes.

There had been.

So have any of these been put right? 

This week, I checked. 

All Tony Blair's claims remain on the official Hansard record. 

No attempt has been made to remove them. 

The determination of MPs to protect Mr Blair, 13 years after he lied to take this country into an illegal and catastrophic war, sends out an appalling message that MPs from all sides are worthless schemers who don't care a jot about the truth.

More Than A Strike

The very great man, Ben Sellers, writes: 

While I understand the focus on strike action (and that some people are disappointed that one strike day been called off and others are likely to be called off next week to make way for negotiation), I think this is slightly missing the point about the Durham Teaching Assistants dispute on two scores: 

Firstly, the point of any industrial action and the campaigning that goes with it is to get your employer to the negotiating table.

It’s almost unheard of for that action to bring a complete surrender, but Durham County Council, who said that they couldn’t regrade one group of staff, who said that they were bound by equality legislation and who said that they had made their last offer, were dragged kicking and screaming to the negotiating table this week, making significant concessions on dismissal notices and timescales along the way.

There’s still vigilance needed, because Durham County Council have hardly shown themselves to be a trustworthy employer over the last year, especially in terms of this dispute.

And, of course, they have attempted to couch it in legalistic language which makes their climbdown look less drastic, but compared to where we were just a couple of months ago, these are major steps forward, achieved almost entirely by the campaign run by a grassroots TA committee.

Secondly, though, the focus on strike action is misunderstanding the significance of the Durham Teaching Assistants campaign – what is different about it and why it has achieved so much in such a short timescale, and with only four days industrial action so far. 

That’s because their real leverage was never about the actual withdrawal of labour. 

Ultimately, schools can deal with a certain amount of disruption, albeit damaging to the children’s welfare and education. 

But what is really significant about the Teaching Assistants isn’t the fact that they were prepared to strike, but that they built an enormous, visible and hugely engaging public campaign, which backed the council into a corner on a number of levels. 

That’s been about high profile and well organised public demos; it’s been about a constant online presence through social media; about people meeting together at the Miners’ Hall, Redhills and in cluster groups all over the county.

It’s been about getting the message out to the country and getting solidarity back in spades.

It’s been about getting the TAs story in the national and local media.

It’s been about pressurising the councillors, publicly and internally via the Labour Party.

Unlike many other union campaigns, the strikes are not the decisive factor.

It’s the collective efforts of all the TAs in building this almighty, in-your-face, campaign which has made the difference.

And that’s why, I believe, it has been such a success where many other similar disputes have failed to get a result.

None of that campaigning needs to stop, nor should it.

And if people keep united and in touch with each other, keep organising together and maintain this incredible united front, the TA campaign will be ready to whip up a storm again, including strike action, when needed. 

That also includes putting pressure on Unison and their regional officials if needed.

A big, underestimated factor in industrial disputes and wider campaigning is confidence. 

When people see the results of their actions, their confidence increases and they feel they can take on the world. 

Quite often, we forget to celebrate our wins, whether they are big or small ones. 

Forgetting to do that can lead to despondency or negativity, which is the opposite of what the #ValueUs campaign has been about.

This is no substitute for bring realistic.

We can’t go around calling defeats victories, but we do need to understand the big picture. 

To do that, we need to be confident and strong – about what we’ve achieved and what we can do again. 

That’s why, in my opinion, it was important to celebrate what the campaign had won in dragging DCC back to the negotiating table over the last week, all the time warning that this isn’t the end, only one battle in the war.

The Opportunity To Rebalance Our Country

John Prescott writes:

While Labour is right to point out that Nuttall’s a big fan of more ­privatisation in the NHS , that alone won’t see off UKIP. 

What they have is a strong message. It’s completely wrong. It’s borderline racist. But it’s a simple message people understand. 

Close our borders, send back migrants, make Britain great again. 

You only have to look at how working-class areas across the North, the Midlands and the South voted in the referendum to see how popular the Brexit message is. 

In Richmond Park in London, 70 per cent voted to stay in the EU

Nearly the same percentage in Hull chose to leave. 

In working-class areas, they didn’t give a stuff about EU funding, the contribution migrants make to the economy or the ability to travel and live in Europe. 

Most of them find it a struggle just to live in the UK let alone the ­continent. 

They felt their communities had changed and they weren’t being listened to. 

So when presented with the chance to “take back control” they grabbed it with both hands. 

Some Remainers still believe in a second referendum.

Tony Blair argues Brexit can be stopped and makes the case for a second ­referendum. 

I know Tony can be persuasive but on Brexit he’s got no chance. 

The people made their mind up and we must accept it.

Labour won’t out-UKIP UKIP by being harder on immigration.

Doing so will be a betrayal of everything we believe as socialists – solidarity, fairness and equality.

But there’s nothing wrong with making the case for a fairer movement of people.

What Labour must do is own Brexit and spell out a vision that’s not only about getting the best deal from Europe – it’s about how we REALLY let the people take control. 

Last week I visited Gordon Brown in Scotland.

We’ve both been thinking how Brexit not only presents itself as a threat for growth and prosperity but also as a huge opportunity to recast Britain for the better. 

Labour helped redistribute wealth from the rich to the less well-off. 

Now we must redistribute power and wealth evenly across the country. 

By 2021, spending on transport infrastructure in London will be £1,900 per person. In the North East, it’ll be less than £300. 

London’s average disposable wealth is 60 per cent higher than almost every other nation and region in the UK. 

And in Wales and the Tees Valley wealth is around 70 per cent LOWER than the EU average. 

And as Ofsted’s head Sir Michael Wilshaw pointed out, schools in the North are trailing those in London, with kids having less chance of getting a good job or going to university. 

London also has more peers in the House of Lords than the West and East Midlands, the North West, Yorkshire and Humber, Wales, Northern Ireland and the North East combined.

Brexit gives us the opportunity to rebalance our country.

Our net ­contribution to Europe is about £12billion a year.

People shouldn’t stop with taking back control from Brussels bureaucrats.

They should demand the reclaimed money and powers aren’t left with Westminster’s faceless mandarins and out-of-touch southern ­politicians.

They should be pushed back to the people so they can spend the money and use the powers closer to home. 

And I’d replace the House of Lords with a Senate for the Nations and Regions that better reflects the makeup of the UK.

And why not base it in Birmingham? [What did Birmingham ever do to you, John?]

With strengthened local and regional government structures, this would give them power to set their own local future.

Power to spend their own money closer to home.

So let’s have a Constitutional Convention so we can all decide how we rebalance the UK and make Brexit work.

The British people voted to take back control.

Now it’s time to give them their cashback.

And their power.

Alert To Checking

Mark Leftly writes:

Britain’s information commissioner has reopened the file on construction industry blacklisting amid fears that the malpractice is still taking place. 

Elizabeth Denham, who is charged with protecting data privacy, told the Guardian she has already “reviewed” her office’s papers on blacklisting since taking up the post in July. 

The 57-year-old Canadian is so concerned by the scandal, which was seemingly settled in court this year, that she told staff to begin “a watching brief” on the construction industry to make sure the practice has ended. 

Denham, who was previously the information and privacy commissioner for British Columbia in Canada, said:

“I read about that case, I’ve looked into that case, and it was deeply concerning.

“That practice was deeply concerning to me, and we do have some follow-up plans and that’s all I can say right now: we are following up. 

“I think the practice is something we have to be alert to checking, to make sure that it has ceased. 

“It means keeping tabs, it means a watching file, a watching brief … It’s fair to say that I’ve reviewed that file.” 

The blacklisting scandal hit the headlines when the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) raided a Worcestershire-based company called the Consulting Association in 2009. 

The organisation kept a list of more than 3,000 workers, including details – often incorrect – of their political views and trade union activities that were used to vet them when applying for jobs. 

There were also notes on personal relationships and suggestions that workers were incompetent. 

Some of the biggest names in the construction sector, including Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Laing O’Rourke and Sir Robert McAlpine, settled with the GMB, Ucatt and Unite unions this year on allegations of using the list

The companies denied blacklisting, arguing that automatic discrimination did not occur when the lists were used. 

Nevertheless, the practice was rumoured for years.

It is alleged to have gone on for more than four decades and the Consulting Association’s data stretched back to the early 1990s. 

Workers were checked against the list for jobs on publicly funded projects such as the London 2012 Olympic Park and the Millennium Dome. 

Unite’s settlement saw 256 workers share more than £10m in compensation this year. 

GMB and Ucatt, which is the main construction workers’ union with 80,000 members in the UK and Ireland, received about £75m for 771 claimants in April. 

However, it has long been feared that the practice is deeper rooted than the initial investigation found and that blacklisting continues. 

The ICO is best known for making sure that companies and the government adhere to the 1998 Data Protection Act, and for monitoring the correct use of the 2000 Freedom of Information Act. It also tackles the misuse of personal data, meaning that blacklisting is within the ICO’s remit. 

The GMB national secretary, Justin Bowden, said: 

“The GMB would welcome further investigation into the nefarious activities of systematic blacklisting of 3,500 trade unionists and environmental activists by the household names of the construction industry. 

“We have always called for greater rigour by the ICO alongside a public inquiry, and for blacklisting to become a criminal offence punishable by prison and unlimited fines.” 

Clive Lewis, the shadow business secretary, said: 

“Blacklisting in construction was an appalling scandal and the victims have never had full justice. 

“That’s why we called for a full inquiry that could also consider whether the law itself needs to be changed.

“Ministers can’t just leave this to the information commissioner and it’s well past time they stepped in and took proper action, to ensure all those involved are accountable and this never happens again.”

A Remarkable New and Unified Force

Bill McKibben writes: 

The news that the US federal government has refused to issue the permit needed to run a pipeline under the Missouri river means many things – including that indigenous activists have won a smashing victory, one that shows what nonviolent unity can accomplish. From the start, this has been an against-the-odds battle. 

Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, is as wired as they come: its line of credit links it to virtually every bank you’ve ever heard of. 

And operating under a “fast-track” permit process, it had managed to win most of its approvals and lay most of its pipe before opponents managed to mount an effective resistance. 

But that opposition finally did arise, and it centered on the last place the pipeline would have to cross: the confluence of the Missouri and the Cannonball rivers. 

It wasn’t standard-issue environmental lobbying, nor standard-issue protest, though there was certainly some of both (lawyers took the company to court, activists shut down bank branches). 

At its heart, however, in the great camp that grew up along the rivers, this was a largely spiritual resistance.

David Archambault, the head of the Standing Rock Sioux who demonstrated great character and dexterity for months, kept insisting that the camp was a place of prayer, and you couldn’t wander its paths without running into drum circles and sacred fires. 

As a result, overlapping epochs of sad American history were on display. 

When Native American protesters sat down in front of bulldozers to try and protect ancestral graves, they were met with attack dogs – the pictures looked like Birmingham, Alabama, circa 1963

But it went back further than that: the encampment, with its teepees and woodsmoke hovering in the valley, looked like something out of an 1840s painting. 

With the exception that this was not just one tribe: this was pretty much all of Native North America. 

The flags of more than 200 Indian nations lined the rough dirt entrance road. 

Other Americans, drawn in part by a sense of shame at this part of our heritage, flooded in to help – when the announcement came today, there were thousands of military veterans on hand. 

Indigenous organizers are some of the finest organizers around the globe – they’ve been key to everything from the Keystone fight to battling plans for the world’s largest coal mine in Australia. 

If we manage to slow down the fossil fuel juggernaut before it boils the planet, groups like the Indigenous Environmental Network and Honor the Earth will deserve a great share of the credit. 

Right now, for instance, Canada’s First Nations are preparing for “Standing Rock North” along the route of two contested pipelines out of Canada’s tarsands.

But in the Dakotas it’s been particularly special: they’ve managed to build not just resistance to a project, but a remarkable new and unified force that will, I think, persist.

Persist, perhaps, even in the face of the new Trump administration. 

Trump, of course, can try and figure out a way to approve the pipeline right away, though the Obama administration has done its best to make that difficult. 

That’s why, instead of an outright denial, they simply refused to grant the permit, thus allowing for the start of the environmental impact statement process.

But if Trump decides to do that, he’s up against people who have captured the imagination of the country. 

Simply spitting on them to aid his friends in the oil industry would clarify a lot about him from the start, which is one reason he may hesitate.

In any event, though, time is measured somewhat differently in the dispute between this continent’s original inhabitants and the late-coming rest of us. 

For five hundred years, half a millennium, the same grim story has repeated itself over and over again. 

Today’s news is a break in that long-running story, a new chapter. 

It won’t set this relationship on an entirely new course – change never comes that easily. 

But it won’t ever be forgotten, and it will influence events for centuries to come. 

Standing Rock, like Little Big Horn or Wounded Knee, or for that matter Lexington Green and Concord Bridge, now belongs to our history.

A Bodyguard of Lies

“I have in my possession a secret map, made in Germany by Hitler’s government—by the planners of the New World Order,” FDR told the nation in his Navy Day radio address of October 27, 1941. 

“It is a map of South America as Hitler proposes to reorganize it. The geographical experts of Berlin, however, have ruthlessly obliterated all the existing boundary lines … bringing the whole continent under their domination,” said Roosevelt. 

“This map makes clear the Nazi design not only against South America but against the United States as well.” Our leader had another terrifying secret document, “made in Germany by Hitler’s government. … 

“It is a plan to abolish all existing religions—Protestant, Catholic, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish alike. … In the place of the churches of our civilization, there is to be set up an international Nazi Church… 

“In the place of the Bible, the words of ‘Mein Kampf’ will be imposed and enforced as Holy Writ. And in place of the cross of Christ will be put two symbols—the swastika and the naked sword. … A god of blood and iron will take the place of the God of love and mercy.” 

The source of these astounding secret Nazi plans? 

They were forgeries by British agents in New York operating under William Stephenson, Churchill’s “Man Called Intrepid,” whose assignment was to do whatever necessary to bring the U.S. into Britain’s war. 

FDR began his address by describing two German submarine attacks on U.S. destroyers Greer and Kearny, the latter of which had been torpedoed with a loss of 11 American lives. 

Said FDR: “We have wished to avoid shooting. But the shooting has started. And history has recorded who fired the first shot.” 

The truth: Greer and Kearny had been tracking German subs for British planes dropping depth charges.

It was FDR who desperately wanted war with Germany, while, for all his crimes, Hitler desperately wanted to avoid war with the United States. 

Said Rep. Clare Boothe Luce, FDR “lied us into war because he did not have the political courage to lead us into it.” 

By late 1941, most Americans still wanted to stay out of the war. 

They believed “lying British propaganda” about Belgian babies being tossed around on German bayonets had sucked us into World War I, from which the British Empire had benefited mightily. 

What brings these episodes to mind is the wave of indignation sweeping this capital over “fake news” allegedly created by Vladimir Putin’s old KGB comrades and regurgitated by U.S. individuals, websites, and magazines that are anti-interventionist and anti-war. 

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman says the “propaganda and disinformation threat” against America is real, and we must “counter and combat it.” 

Congress is working up a $160 million State Department program. 

Now, Americans should be on guard against “fake news” and foreign meddling in U.S. elections. 

Yet it is often our own allies, like the Brits, and our own leaders who mislead and lie us into unnecessary wars. 

And is not meddling in the internal affairs, including the elections, of regimes we do not like, pretty much the job description of the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy? 

History suggests it is our own War Party that bears watching. Consider Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

Who misled, deceived, and lied about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the “fake news” that sucked us into one of our country’s greatest strategic blunders? 

Who lied for years about an Iranian nuclear weapons program, which almost dragged us into a war, before all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies debunked that propaganda in 2007 and 2011? 

Yet, there are those, here and abroad, who insist that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. 

Their goal: war with Iran. 

Were we told the whole truth about the August 1964 incident involving North Vietnamese gunboats and U.S. destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy, which stampeded Congress into voting a near-unanimous resolution that led us into an eight-year war in Southeast Asia? 

One can go back deeper into American history. Rep. Abe Lincoln disbelieved in President Polk’s claim that the Mexican army had crossed the Rio Grande and “shed American blood upon American soil.” 

In his “spot” resolution, Lincoln demanded to know the exact spot where the atrocity had occurred that resulted in a U.S. army marching to Mexico City and relieving Mexico of half of her country. 

Was Assistant Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt telling us the truth when he said of our blasted battleship in Havana harbor, “The Maine was sunk by an act of dirty treachery on the part of the Spaniards”? 

No one ever proved that the Spanish caused the explosion. 

Yet America got out of his war what T.R. wanted—Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, an empire of our own. 

“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” 

So said Winston Churchill, the grandmaster of fake news.

Colleagues and Comrades

Jeremy Corbyn, in a speech to the Party of European Socialists Council in Prague on Saturday, said: 

Colleagues and comrades, I want to thank you for inviting me here today, and for the reception we have received from our hosts in this magnificent city. 

It is fitting we are in Prague to discuss the challenges ahead for democracy in Europe. 

This is a city which has been at the heart of the history of our continent and the convulsions of the past century - of war, revolution and the struggle for democracy and social justice. 

We are in a city that also suffered the scourge of Nazi occupation and the horror of its genocidal crimes. 

Today I will also be visiting the Terezin memorial which commemorates the victims of Nazi political and racial persecution in the Czech Republic, a permanent testimony to the threat posed by far right politics, anti-semitism and racist scapegoating. 

On behalf of the British Labour Party, I will be paying tribute and remembering those who died, whose suffering is a reminder of the scars left by the far right, not just on this country or this continent, but on the whole world. 

Today, we live in a different time with different pressures and opportunities. 

But it is clear, across Europe and beyond there has been an alarming acceleration in the rise of the populist right. 

Whether it be UKIP in Britain, Donald Trump in the United States, Jobbik in Hungary, or Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France. 

Politics has been shaken across the world and, as socialists and progressives, we know very well why the populist right is gaining ground.

But we are finding it increasingly hard to get our message heard and it is up to us to offer the political leadership needed for a real alternative. 

 We know the gap between rich and poor is widening. 

We know living standards are stagnating or falling and insecurity is growing. 

We know that many people feel left behind by the forces unleashed by globalisation - powerless in the face of deregulated corporate power. 

Often the populist right do identify the right problems but their solutions are the toxic dead ends of the past, seeking to divert it with rhetoric designed to divide and blame. 

They are political parasites, feeding on people’s concerns and worsening conditions, blaming the most vulnerable for society’s ills instead of offering a way to take back real control of our lives from powerful elites who serve their own interests. 

 But unless progressive parties and movements break with that failed economic and political establishment it is the siren voices of the populist far right that will fill the gap.

It can be difficult to convince the long-term unemployed that the reason there is no work is not that immigrants are stealing their jobs but the result of the economic programme of the right that has failed to deliver sustainable growth, security and rising living standards for all.

Or it can be hard to make clear that our public services are being run down because of years of austerity and predatory privatisation, rather than overspending and government waste, but it is vital that we do. 

We cannot abandon our socialist principles because we are told this is the only way to win power. That is nonsense. 

The reason we are losing ground to the right today is because the message of what socialism is and what it can achieve in people’s daily lives has been steadily diluted. 

Many people no longer understand what we stand for. 

Too often in recent years the left in Europe has been seen as apologists for a broken system rather than the answer to how to deliver radical social and economic reform for the twenty-first century. 

Too often the left has been seen as the accomplice to reckless, unfettered capitalism rather than a challenge to it. 

Too often the left has been seen as standing up for the privileged few rather than for the many we exist to represent and defend.

If we are only seen as protectors of the status quo how can we expect people to turn to us when they can see that status quo has failed?

We must stand for real change, and a break with the failed elite politics and economics of the past.

If we do, I have every confidence that the principles of solidarity, internationalism and socialism that we stand for can be at the heart of European politics in the twenty-first century. 

That’s why it is vital that our rhetoric cannot be used to legitimise the scapegoating of refugees or migrant workers.

When we talk about refugees we need to talk about them as human beings, not as numbers, or as a burden, but instead as children, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters. 

And when we face the challenge of migration we need to work together to halt the exploitation of migrant labour to undercut pay and conditions in a race to the bottom across Europe. 

We cannot allow the parties of the right to sow divisions and fan the flames of fear. 

When it comes to Britain’s referendum vote to leave the European Union we in the Labour party respect that decision, and we want to work together with Socialist and progressive parties across Europe to find the best possible solution that benefits both Britain and the EU in the Brexit negotiations. 

Labour is calling on the British Government to guarantee the rights of all EU Citizens before Article 50 negotiations begin, and not to use them as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

Labour is pushing for Brexit negotiations to be carried out in a transparent manner, in a spirit that aims to find a deal that works for all across our the continent.

That is why I am inviting leaders from socialist and progressive parties and movements across Europe to a special conference in London in February.

I believe our movement has the new ideas to take on and beat the populist right.

But we must harvest those ideas and that energy, allow a space within our parties for new ideas to be heard and build a movement with a democratic culture at its very heart.

It is when people lose faith in the power of politics to improve people’s lives that the space opens up for the far right to scapegoat and blame.

Our task is harder, to restore people’s confidence that we have both the vision and an understanding of the lives of those we represent to change them for the better.

As we head towards 2017 many people are worried about the direction that Europe is taking.

Well now is time for us to turn the tide. 

To put the interests of working people front and centre stage and to fight for our values, of social justice, solidarity, equality and internationalism.

If we do that together, and break with the failed politics of the past, I am confident we can overcome the challenge from the populist right.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Gall To Criticise

Patrick Cockburn writes: 

The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo

An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month. 

Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different. 

In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. 

Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields. 

Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. 

The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage. 

One factor making the sieges of east Aleppo and east Mosul so similar, and different, from past sieges in the Middle East, such as the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 or of Gaza in 2014, is that there are no independent foreign journalists present. 

They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom.  

These are the two groups that dominate the armed opposition in Syria as a whole. 

In Aleppo, though only about 20 per cent of the 10,000 fighters are Nusra, it is they – along with their allies in Ahrar al-Sham – who are leading the resistance. 

Unsurprisingly, foreign journalists covering developments in east Aleppo and rebel-held areas of Syria overwhelmingly do so from Lebanon or Turkey. 

A number of intrepid correspondents who tried to do eyewitness reporting from rebel-held areas swiftly found themselves tipped into the boots of cars or otherwise incarcerated.

Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria.

But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. 

They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups. 

It is inevitable that an opposition movement fighting for its life in wartime will only produce, or allow to be produced by others, information that is essentially propaganda for its own side. 

The fault lies not with them but a media that allows itself to be spoon-fed with dubious or one-sided stories. 

For instance, the film coming out of east Aleppo in recent weeks focuses almost exclusively on heartrending scenes of human tragedy such as the death or maiming of civilians. 

One seldom sees shots of the 10,000 fighters, whether they are wounded or alive and well. 

None of this is new.

The present wars in the Middle East started with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which was justified by the supposed threat from Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Western journalists largely went along with this thesis, happily citing evidence from the Iraqi opposition who predictably confirmed the existence of WMD.

Some of those who produced these stories later had the gall to criticise the Iraqi opposition for misleading them, as if they had any right to expect unbiased information from people who had dedicated their lives to overthrowing Saddam Hussein or, in this particular case, getting the Americans to do so for them.

Much the same self-serving media credulity was evident in Libya during the 2011 Nato-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi. 

Atrocity stories emanating from the Libyan opposition, many of which were subsequently proved to be baseless by human rights organisations, were rapidly promoted to lead the news, however partial the source. 

The Syrian war is especially difficult to report because Isis and various al-Qaeda clones made it too dangerous to report from within opposition-held areas.

There is a tremendous hunger for news from just such places, so the temptation is for the media give credence to information they get second hand from people who could in practice only operate if they belong to or are in sympathy with the dominant jihadi opposition groups. 

It is always a weakness of journalists that they pretend to excavate the truth when in fact they are the conduit rather than the originator of information produced by others in their own interests. 

Reporters learn early that people tell them things because they are promoting some cause which might be their own career or related to bureaucratic infighting or, just possibly, hatred of lies and injustice. 

A word here in defence of the humble reporter in the field: usually, it is not he or she, but the home office or media herd instinct, that decides the story of the day. 

Those closest to the action may be dubious about some juicy tale which is heading the news, but there is not much they can do about it. 

Thus, in 2002 and 2003, several New York Times journalists wrote stories casting doubt on WMD only to find them buried deep inside the newspaper which was led by articles proving that Saddam had WMD and was a threat to the world. 

Journalists and public alike should regard all information about Syria and Iraq with reasoned scepticism. 

They should keep in mind the words of Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria.

Speaking after he had resigned in frustration in 2014, he said that “everybody had their agenda and the interests of the Syrian people came second, third or not at all”. 

The quote comes from The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East by Christopher Phillips, which is one of the best informed and non-partisan accounts of the Syrian tragedy yet published. 

He judiciously weighs the evidence for rival explanations for what happened and why. 

He understands the degree to which the agenda and pace events in Syria were determined externally by the intervention of foreign powers pursuing their own interests. 

Overall, government experts did better than journalists, who bought into simple-minded explanations of developments, convinced that Assad was always on the verge of being overthrown. 

Phillips records that at a high point of the popular uprising in July 2011, when the media was assuming that Assad was finished, that the long-serving British ambassador in Damascus, Simon Collis, wrote that “Assad can still probably count on the support of 30-40 per cent of the population.”

The French ambassador Eric Chevallier was similarly cautious, only to receive a classic rebuke from his masters in Paris who said:

“Your information does not interest us. Bashar al-Assad must fall and will fall.”

Friday, 2 December 2016

Diverging Tracks

The choice is now clear. 

The renationalisation of the railways, which even its very recent opponents within the Labour Party now pretend always to have supported.

Or this.

The Southern Bells Are Ringing

Does anyone seriously believe that a Corbyn-supporting candidate at Richmond Park would have taken fewer votes than there were members of the Constituency Labour Party?

For example, might no Barnaby Marder, who got Labour to contest the seat at all, have done better than that?

Ho, hum. Believe in Labour losses either to the Lib Dems or to UKIP when such a thing actually happens.

And look at all those Remain-voting constituencies across the South that are currently blue on the electoral map.

Theresa May's number one electoral priority is now to stop them from turning yellow.

Not purple. Not red, come to that. Yellow.

The Yellowing Map of The South

With one seat, UKIP was laughed out of the South, of which it did at least have some small understanding.

So now it is trying its luck in the North, of which it is so completely ignorant that it thinks that the inhabitants would elect Paul Nuttall, something that they have already repeatedly declined to do.

The biggest electoral battle in this country is now between the Tories and the Lib Dems for dozens of Remain seats in the Remain heartlands of the South of England.

The Tories, under strongly Remain Leaders both at Westminster and at Holyrood, are also eyeing several seats in the Remain heartlands of Scotland.

Meanwhile, the only challenge to Labour in the North of England is at May's elections to Durham County Council.

That was the first authority that Labour ever won, and it has never been lost in more than 100 years. It is now the unitary authority for half a million people.

Far from being UKIP, that challenge, although it will benefit Lib Dems and rightish Independents in certain wards as a tactical device, has been organised from within the trade union Left.

It has been organised in close co-operation with key figures in Jeremy Corbyn's entourage, with the endorsement of George Galloway in the pages of the Northern Echo, and with the assistance of the Durham Miners' Association, which can still play the role here that technically deposed local monarchs can play in certain parts of Africa.

Beaten Out of The Park

Yes, most Labour MPs sit for areas that voted Leave.

But Labour Party policy is to accept the referendum result.

Indeed, Labour has a more coherent vision for Brexit than the Conservatives have, a vision that has been worked out over 40 years by Jeremy Corbyn and by the people who surround him.

In any case, the kind of Leave voters who are primarily Leave voters, before any other political consideration, already vote UKIP.

That party that is now led by exactly the sort of person against whom traditional Labour voters have been voting since time immemorial.

Last year, Paul Nuttall was defeated at Bootle by 28,704 votes. That is a lot. An awful lot.

Labour voters are not going to make the leap to voting to privatise the NHS.

By contrast, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are so similar that they were cheerfully in Coalition 18 months ago.

They had intended to remain so, had everything gone according to plan.

The only difference is on this issue.

And around 80 Conservative MPs sit for areas that voted Remain.

Project the swing at Richmond Park across each of those constituencies. Someone in Theresa May's office will already have done that.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

May To September

The next school year will start after the local elections in May. The only way to protect the Teaching Assistants is to take Durham County Council to No Overall Control.

Very large numbers of Labour Councillors have absented themselves from the votes on this issue. But enough of them have attended to ensure that the Teaching Assistants have been betrayed.

The Councillors, all of them Labour, who have thus voted ought all to lose their seats to whoever was best placed to remove them, very preferably activists in the Teaching Assistants’ remarkable campaign.

The Liberal Democrats and the Independents have been, and remain, stalwart supporters of the Teaching Assistants. Therefore, they deserve to be re-elected.

That leaves only the Labour absentees, plus a mere four Conservatives who all sit for two adjacent wards.

Whoever the new Leader and Deputy Leader of Durham County Council were to be, they must not be members of the Labour Party.

The Teaching Assistants’ flag, which is now ubiquitous in County Durham, must remain so and it must fly from County Hall every day for the following four years, at least.

A Minister for the North?

Better yet, a whole Government that cared tuppence about us.

Although it should be emphasised that most of the Shadow Cabinet does sit for Wales, the North or the Midlands, with 15 of the 33 members representing the North of England, by far the single largest bloc.

Not that sitting for, say, Islington North entails ignoring us.

Any more than sitting for Sedgefield entailed ever doing a damn thing for us.

As for Paul Nuttall, find the whitest and most working-class ward in Bootle, and put him up at the next local election there.

Go on. See how many votes he would get.

You've Been Had

Yet another Goldman Sachs partner as Secretary of the Treasury, all foreign and defence positions to be filled by the usual suspects, and no investigation of Hillary Clinton.

Thank you, Donald Trump.

Continued payment of the EU membership fee. Access to the Single Market is not tariff-free if we are paying a "subscription". The technical term for such a subscription is a "tariff".

And as of the last hour or so, apparently continuation of the present rights of EU citizens to enter this country and to work here.

Thank you, David Davis.

It should have been Bernie Sanders. But it isn't.

It should be Jeremy Corbyn. And it can be.

The Starvation of Yemen Continues

Daniel Larison writes:

The terrible conditions created by the war on Yemen continue to worsen:

Every day children are perishing in rural Yemen, where two-thirds of the nation’s population lives. 

Parents are forced to decide between saving their sick children and preventing healthier ones from following the same perilous route.

Cemeteries in this desperately poor and rugged stretch of villages in the northwest contain the bodies of children who have recently died of hunger and preventable diseases.

Most are buried in unmarked graves, their deaths unreported to authorities.

The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war on Yemen continues to be largely ignored.

One reason for this is that the near-famine conditions that exist throughout much of the country and the deaths that result from them are invisible in official accounts of how many have been killed by the war.

Many of the war’s victims are killed by hunger or preventable disease, and yet the warring parties have caused their deaths all the same.

The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is every bit as terrible as any in the world, and it is probably the worst of all in some respects, but because the victims are largely cut off from the outside world their plight remains mostly unknown.

Even when it is made known, it tends to be greeted by indifference because the people suffering are perceived to be on the “wrong” side or because it is an embarrassment to the U.S., Britain, and their client governments.

The starvation of Yemen’s civilian population is one of the greatest man-made disasters of this century, and it has been brought about in large part by U.S.-backed clients as they pursue a senseless and atrocious war against one of the world’s poorest countries.

When the starvation of Yemen occasionally receives some decent coverage, there is barely any mention of the responsibility of the Saudi-led coalition and its Western patrons for helping to create these horrible conditions.

The coalition and its Western backers, including the U.S., are not the only ones responsible, but they bear the largest responsibility because they are the ones that have been blockading the country and devastating its infrastructure and ports with bombs, and they were the ones that escalated and prolonged the war for all this time.

Except for a brief surge of attention a few months ago, the war and the U.S. role in enabling it have received very little scrutiny or criticism.

The U.S. continues to sustain the Saudi-led war with weapons and fuel despite ample evidence of repeated and sometimes deliberate coalition targeting of civilian sites, and our government could withdraw that support at any time if it wished to do so.

Our government does not wish this, but has chosen to continue its indefensible policy of support.

Obama has helped to cause a humanitarian crisis that threatens the lives of tens of millions of people, and he has created countless new enemies for the United States for the sake of “reassuring” a group of despots.

As we begin to consider his “legacy,” support for the war on Yemen should be ranked as one of his worst and most inexcusable errors.