Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Trial Date Watch: Day Six

More than a week after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 61

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Courage Calls To Courage Everywhere

Caroline Criado Perez was positively proud of never having heard of Jan Smuts, and of being unable to pronounce his name correctly. How this person has attained the eminence that she has in our national life, I honestly cannot begin to understand.

Still, the statue of Millicent Fawcett is welcome in itself, as was the restoration of the vote to wealthy women after an 86-year hiatus. But this year's centenary was of the enfranchisement of working-class men, and that because they had threatened to take it by force if they had not been given it.

That has gone unmarked, as will the centenary, in 2028, of the enfranchisement of working-class women. Won't it?

Race To The Bottom?

In the midst of the Windrush Scandal, is Theresa May a racist? No, of course not. Nor is Jeremy Corbyn an anti-Semite. And nor is the suggestion that he is one any kind of news story, having attracted to its heavily trailed demonstration far fewer people than some of us have often seen demonstrate against road schemes, building proposals, school closures, fracking or open-casting.

An ombudsman appointed by, and answerable to, the Board of Deputies and the "Jewish Leadership Council"? In that case, the Conservative Party needs an ombudsman appointed by, and answerable to, Unite and Momentum. Indeed, Momentum has no formal relationship with the Labour Party, whereas the "Jewish Leadership Council" is plainly and simply the remnant of what was once the formidable Conservative Party organisation in London.

Corbyn should have refused to meet either of them until the London local election results had established how much support they did or did not have. On the basis of those results, he could then have refused again, since it would have been clear that they spoke for practically nobody. It very soon will be.

The broadcast of the Stephen Lawrence documentary in the middle of the Windrush Scandal, but featuring Theresa May, was more than a little poetic. Her Stephen Lawrence Day strikes me as a trifle kitsch. But that could be overcome if the first one, 22nd April 2019, were to be the day on which the ancient protection against double jeopardy were restored, so that the State might no longer pursue the acquitted to the grave or until it got the result that it wanted. That anniversary would then be justly celebrated ever thereafter.

Viewers will also have noticed Marc Wadsworth introducing Doreen and Neville Lawrence to Nelson Mandela, the landmark meeting that won the case national attention. Wadsworth is currently suspended from the Labour Party because he is allegedly anti-Semitic. Many statements of Mandela's on the Israel-Palestine conflict would also now have secured his suspension or expulsion from the Labour Party, of which he was an Honorary Member, using the definition of anti-Semitism that is insisted upon by the Board of Deputies, by the "Jewish Leadership Council", and by their party within a party on the Labour benches in the House of Commons.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Happy Saint George's Day

Like Saint Andrew's Day, Saint David's Day and Saint Patrick's Day, this ought to be a public holiday throughout the United Kingdom. Away with pointless celebrations of the mere fact that the banks are on holiday.

Yes, that was a Labour manifesto commitment last year. I am very glad that it was. But I have been saying it for more than 20 years. Admittedly, that was also true of several other things that were in last year's Labour manifesto.

It is amazing how many people assume that because there is a legend about Saint George, then he himself must be a purely legendary figure. He is not. Although the Tomb of Saint George at his birthplace, which is now known as Lod and which is the location of Israel's principal airport, has become a shadow of its former self.

It was once a major focus of unity between Christians and Muslims in devotion to the Patron Saint of Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt before, and as much as, the Patron Saint of England. But three quarters of those who practised that devotion were violently expelled in 1948. On what remains, see here.

Trial Date Watch: Day Five

More than a week after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 60

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Capita-l Punishment

Another one.

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were right all along.

The Third Way?

Allocated a gender at birth and weighed in imperial measures? The Royal Family do not check their emails, do they?

But it is no joke that the third child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will enjoy the financial support of the State while the third children of anyone else will no longer do so.

This amounts to a policy of compulsory abortion, and it is rightly opposed in trenchant terms by the bishops of the Church of England, of which this newborn's grandfather, father and brother at least aspire to become Supreme Governor in due course.

The birth of the new Prince is an occasion to address this issue with the utmost seriousness and urgency.

Speaking The Unspeakable

Am I serious about keeping Harriet Harman out of the Speaker's Chair on account of her past links to the Paedophile Information Exchange? Utterly. To the marrow of my bones.

No one has done more on this issue than I have. No one. Not only would I oppose her election, but, were she already in post, then I would oppose her re-election at the start of the next Parliament.

You would not get that from anyone else. Anyone. You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

A Monumental Opportunity

Millicent Fawcett is all well and good. But there ought to be a triple monument to the working-class Suffragettes who fought on for another 10 years after 1918, to Women Against Pit Closures, and to the County Durham Teaching Assistants.

The Durham Miners' Association should commission and erect that, to be unveiled by Jeremy Corbyn, quite possibly as Prime Minister by the time that it had been completed. Or else I, as the Member of Parliament for North West Durham, would do so.

If the DMA, which has slid back very publicly on support for the TAs since Davey Hopper died, had failed to do this, then it would only be giving you yet another reason to do everything possible to get me elected, including by voting for me if you happened to live here.

Bored of Deputies

A glorified golf club and a front organisation for what remains of the Conservative Party in London should have been told to get lost in the first place.

The "Jewish Leadership Council" is not even a subtle attempt at astroturfing. Nor will it prove a successful one. And the Board of Deputies, like the Chief Rabbinate, is a throwback to a completely different age.

The first should be laughed out, while the second and third should no longer be treated as any more important than anyone else.

An Open Door, Indeed

Either the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary will be lucky to survive in office. It turns out that immigration really was a big issue after all.

Specifically, it turns out that public opinion bears no resemblance to that of the people who for 10 years were permitted to set the agenda by means of pseudonymous comments on certain websites. Representative of the type was the sage who regularly complained that the BBC had once again ignored his complaint that it had interviewed a black or Asian person on the news.

No one challenged them. No one challenged their assertion of the ineligibility of half the acts on Britain's Got Talent. No one challenged their ludicrous claim that Britain had an "open door policy", with no immigration controls whatever. (Has any such arrangement ever existed, in all of human history?) No one challenged their absurd suggestion that English was no longer spoken on the streets of London.

No one challenged their wild overestimates of the nonwhite population, which even now is only 13 per cent of the total, and that is including those of us who are half-white. No one challenged their insistence that a country of some 60 million people was being "swamped", as if 70 million immigrants had turned up, or were remotely likely to do so.

And no one challenged their assumption that their hobbyhorse was the Number One political issue in the country, not even after the Conservative Party that had sought to placate them had failed to win two out of three General Elections outright and had barely won the one in between, and not even after a Labour Party that had on that middle occasion been more hardline than the Conservatives on immigration had unexpectedly gone down to defeat.

Well, that is all in the past now. The Windrush Scandal is already reframing the debate. It will now be between the immigration policy that is favoured by big business, and the immigration policy that is favoured by the trade unions. The latter is better.

In order to pursue and promote that, then Labour needs to secure for one of its supporters the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee in place of Yvette Cooper, who has Shadow Home Secretary called Theresa May's Immigration Bill "sensible" rather than vote against it alongside Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and David Lammy. Ah, yes. David Lammy.

A Question of Identity

Like checking nationality before extending NHS treatment, voter ID means identity cards, the Political Class's solution in search of a problem since time immemorial. How could it not? Don't fall for it, on either count.

If, "They have had it in Northern Ireland for years," because they need it there, then what, exactly, is so British about Northern Ireland? That is not a rhetorical question.

Battle of the Billionaires

Michael Bloomberg is running for President, then.

It is up to the supporters, and possibly to the persons, of Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul to decide whether or not he and Donald Trump should be the only viable candidates on the ballot.

Index On Disgrace: A Hostile Environment For Yulia Skripal

Craig Murray writes:

An interesting facet of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policy, aka institutionalised racism, is that Yulia Skripal will have to pay for her NHS emergency treatment because she was admitted to hospital.

When the government announced its clampdown on use of the NHS by foreigners, including migrants and overseas students, it ended the provision of free emergency treatment for non-citizens in the UK, at the point of hospital admission – which in a real emergency is often required.

I could see the argument for charging “aliens” for attending A & E with a broken thumb, but not charging them for a massive heart attack. But the Tories do it the other way round. It is worth noting that in Scotland the Scottish government, which controls the Scottish NHS, has not implemented this Tory policy.

This policy was instituted in April 2015 directly as a considered part of the “hostile environment” for migrants. Reciprocal public healthcare agreeements with Russia and 16 other countries were cancelled unilaterally by the Tory government in 2016. 

Of course, I do not doubt Yulia Skripal – whose whereabouts and freedom of action are unknown and who patently did not write the police statements issued in her name – will not be charged for her treatment, unlike others admitted in life-threatening situations. 

But think for a moment of the dreadful cases of heartache to other individuals and families that must have been caused by this cruel policy, all in the name of “discouraging” migrants. As with the case of the Windrush generation, I do not doubt there are scores of unheard stories of the effects of Tory callousness waiting to come to light. I am glad the Skripal case gave me the chance to highlight the issue.

Meanwhile in Salisbury we are going to have a great propaganda theatre of destruction, as places which people were allowed to frequent for weeks after the attack are demolished, to eradicate a strange liquid that is ten times more deadly than VX but at the same time ineffective, and is liquid but cannot be diluted, except its dilution was why it did not kill anybody, and which cannot be washed away, except if you got it on your clothes you are perfectly safe if you wash them, and which made hundreds of people sick except there were only three of them. 

All of those contradictory statements are from the official government narrative on Salisbury as delivered over the last couple of months through the state and corporate media. It is beyond me how they expect anyone to believe their utterly incoherent nonsense.

And:

The second half of my life has been a continual process of disillusionment with the institutions I used to respect.

I suppose it started with the FCO, where I went from being Britain’s youngest ambassador to being sacked for opposing the use of intelligence from torture, at the same time having an insider view of the knowing lies about Iraqi WMD being used as a pretext for invasion and resource grab.

I still had some residual respect for the BBC, which respect disappeared during the Scottish independence referendum where BBC propaganda and disregard for the truth were truly shameless. 

My love of the universities was severely tested during my period as Rector of Dundee University, when I saw how far the corporate model had turned them from academic communities developing people and pursuing knowledge, to relentless churners out of unconsidered graduates and financially profitable research, with nearly all sense of community gone. 

My respect for charities vanished when I discovered Save the Children was paying its chief executive £370,000 and had become a haven for New Labour politicos on huge salaries, which was why it was so involved in pushing a pro-war narrative in Syria.

When Justin Forsyth and Brendan Cox – both massively salaried employees who came into Save the Children from the revolving door of Gordon Brown’s office – were outed over sexual predation, that seemed a natural result of “charities” being headed by rich party hacks rather than by simple people trying to do good. 

As for respect for parliament, well the massive troughing expenses scandal and all those protected paedophiles… It has become difficult to hang on to respect for any institution, and that is unsettling. 

Which brings me to last week’s annual awards from Index on Censorship. The winners of the awards – from Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Honduras and Egypt – all seem worthy enough, and there is even some departure from the neo-con narrative in recognising a human rights problem in Egypt. 

But the Chairman of Index on Censorship is, incredibly, Rupert Murdoch lead hack David Aaronovitch, and he presided over the awards, in the very week in which the newspaper for which he writes produced this appalling attack on freedom of expression:

Inside there was a further two page attack on named academics who have the temerity to ask for evidence of government claims over Syria, including distinguished Professors Tim Hayward, Paul McKeigue and Piers Robinson. The Times also attacked named journalists and bloggers and, to top it off, finished with a column alleging collusion between Scottish nationalists and the Russian state. 

That the Chairman of “Index on Censorship” is associated with this kind of attack on freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of research is sadly unsurprising. The guest list of the Index ceremony had a distinct right wing tinge including A C Grayling and Sara Khan, as well as a good smattering of the BBC, which was also represented on the judging panel. The irony of the state broadcaster being part of a panel on freedom of expression is plainly lost.

I realised something was very wrong with Index on Censorship when I contacted them over a decade ago, when Jack Straw attempted to ban the publication of my book Murder in Samarkand, after it had passed successfully through the exhaustive FCO clearance process over a time-consuming year. I tried to interest them again when my second book The Catholic Orangemen of Togo was dropped by my publisher following libel threats from mercenary commander Tim Spicer of Aegis/Executive Outcomes/Sandline.

On both occasions I was told that then Chief Executive of Index, John Kampfner, did not regard these attempted book bannings as incidents of censorship. Presumably because they weren’t somewhere like Cuba or Zimbabwe… 

The truly appalling Times attack on academics was part of a coordinated and government-led campaign to delegitimise anybody doubting the official narrative on Salisbury and Syria. The BBC weighed in with this horrible effort:

The government then issued a ridiculous press release branding decent people as “Russian bots” just for opposing British policy in Syria. In a piece of McCarthyism so macabre I cannot believe this is really happening, an apparently pleasant and normal man called Ian was grilled live on Murdoch’s Sky News, having been named by his own government as a Russian bot.
The Guardian uncritically published the government’s accusations in full, and astonishingly seemed proud that it had made no attempt to investigate their veracity but had merely published what the government wished them to publish:


The Guardian naturally was just as reliable as the BBC in driving home the message that anybody who doubted the government’s word on Syria was a flat-earth denier of the truth:

Mr Freedland is of course a perfect representation of an interesting fact. Those who are most active in telling us that we must attack Syria, and that anybody who questions the government’s pretexts is insane or evil, are precisely the same individuals who supported the war in Iraq and attacked those who doubted the existence of Iraqi WMD.

Indeed these people – Jonathan Freedland, David Aaronovitch, Oliver Kamm, Alan Mendoza, Andrew Rawnsley, John Rentoul, Nick Cohen – are the leaders of the tiny, insignificant number of people who still believe that the invasion of Iraq was both justified and beneficial in its result.

Yet these people of proven terrible judgement, they and others of their media class, are the arbiters who are allowed to dictate the terms of what is and what is not an acceptable public utterance on the situation in Syria.

When Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the opposition, one of two things had to happen. Either the Overton window had to shift to allow for the reflection of views held by the leader of the official opposition and his myriad supporters, or the leader of the opposition had to be castigated and humiliated as an unreasonable lunatic. 

Corbyn’s rational scepticism on British involvement in the conflict in Syria is a key moment in this process. Despite the fact Corbyn’s scepticism is supported by a wide swathe of diplomatic and military opinion within the UK, it has to be portrayed as fringe, extreme and irrational.

We thus have the extraordinary spectacle of a coordinated government and media onslaught on anybody who doubts their entirely fact free narratives. Those who were demonstrably completely wrong over Iraq are held up as infallible, and given full control of all state and corporate media platforms, where they deride those who were right over Iraq as crackpots and Russian bots. 

Meanwhile public trust in the state and corporate media hits new lows, which is the happy part of this story.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Trial Date Watch: Day Four

More than a week after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 59

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Bad Korea History

Ah, yes, North Korea. Wasn't Korea supposed to have been Labour's good war? No. In order to pay for it, Gaitskell had to introduce NHS eye and dental charges.

Thereby, he breached the principle of the NHS free at the point of need, causing Bevan to resign from the Cabinet. Admittedly from ingredients that had always been present, that in turn created the Right and Left parties within the Labour Party.

Those have been battling it out ever since, for 67 years and counting, and not least at the present time. It all goes back to the Korean War, which caused the first breach in the principle of the NHS.

The Whip Hand?

"In this country in 15 or 20 years' time, the black man will have the whip hand over the white man." So said Enoch Powell, 50 years ago yesterday. The latest point at which that should therefore have become the case was 1988. In this country in 1988, did the black man have the whip hand over the white man? Well, there you are, then. What with that, and the fact that Powell more or less admitted to having made up the war widow with the guesthouse, the speech deserves to be completely forgotten.

Along with its author, come to that. His claim to have swung one or both of the 1974 General Elections for Labour cannot be proved and never rang true, he always denied Margaret Thatcher's claim that he had influenced her economic policies, his proposal for  the "total integration of Northern Ireland into Great Britain" never made any sense in view of the existence of more than one legal system in Great Britain, his noble enough advocacy of a Labour vote in 1987 in order to be rid of nuclear weapons was scarcely even noticed and certainly had no effect, and his grounds for opposing what became the EU bore no resemblance to the reasons for which the areas that eventually did so voted to Leave in 2016.

Nor did that referendum result have much to do with immigration. The Leave vote was concentrated in the wrong places for that. And after this week, it is clear that popular opinion on the subject is not at all as those who would wish it otherwise would have us believe. If a Bill to provide for the status of EU nationals in Britain after Brexit ever did see the light of day, then it would provide for them all to stay forever, and for as many as fancied doing so to keep coming, again in perpetuity. Few people would notice, and even fewer would mind. There would in any case be no meaningful way of voting against it.

This week has also marked something of a swansong for the Commonwealth, which it must be said that Powell always despised. As one last favour to the Queen personally, Prince Charles will be permitted to succeed her as its Head. But over half of its population already lives in India, which is already its largest economy by some measures, and which will easily be so by all of them by the time that Charles III dies. The problems over British visas for Indian nationals make the Windrush Scandal look like very small beer indeed.

All in all, William V can whistle for the position of Head of the Commonwealth. At which point, what will the Commonwealth be for, since it and the British monarchy seem to exist in order to give each other something to do these days?

House And Home

Jeremy Corbyn's and John Healey's proposals to tackle the housing crisis are good as far as they go. But they do not go far enough.

We need the Land Value Tax. With the Universal Basic Income. Set within Modern Monetary Theory, so that the Jobs Guarantee guaranteed the bargaining power of trade unions.

We need a minimum of 100,000 new homes every year for at least 10 years, including council homes, with an end to the Right to Buy, with the capital receipts from council house sales released in order to build more council housing, and with councils empowered to borrow to that end.

We need a minimum of 50 per cent of any new development to be dedicated to affordable housing, with affordability defined as 50 per cent of average rents, with rent controls, and with action against the buying up of property by foreign investors in order to leave it empty.

And we need a statutory requirement of planning permission for change of use if it were proposed to turn a primary dwelling into a secondary dwelling, a working family home into a weekend or holiday home.

Objectively

The Fisk-baiters have probably never heard of him, either, but the great Patrick Cockburn writes:

During the bombing of Baghdad in January 1991 I went with other journalists on a government-organised trip to what they claimed was the remains of a baby milk plant at Abu Ghraib which the US had just destroyed, saying that it was really a biological warfare facility. Walking around the wreckage, I found a smashed-up desk with letters showing that the plant had indeed been producing “infant formula” milk powder. 

It had not been very successful in doing so, since much of the correspondence was about its financial and production problems and how they might best be resolved. It did not seem likely that the Iraqi government could have fabricated this evidence, though it was conceivable that in some part of the plant, which I did see, they might have been manufacturing biological weapons (BW). 

I was visiting a lot of bombed-out buildings at the beginning of the US-led air campaign and I did not at first realise that “the Abu Ghraib baby milk factory” would become such an issue. I was more impressed at the time by the sight of a Cruise missile passing quite slowly overhead looking like a large black torpedo.

But, within hours of leaving Abu Ghraib, the true purpose of the plant there had become a topic of furious controversy. The CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, who was on the trip, had reported that “whatever else it did, it [the plant] produced infant formula”. He saw a lot of powdered milk and, contrary to the Pentagon claim that the place was guarded like a fortress, we could only see one guard at the gate. Arnett did not deny the US government version that the place was a BW plant, but he did not confirm it either. He simply reported that “it looked innocent enough from what we could see”. 

Even such mild dissent from the official US version of the bombing turned out to be unacceptable, producing an explosion of rage in Washington. Colin Powell, the US chief of staff, expressed certainty that the Abu Ghraib plant had manufactured BW. The US air force claimed that it had multiple sources of information proving the same thing. Arnett was vilified as an Iraqi government stooge by the US government. 

“This is not a case of taking on the media,” said the White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. “It’s a case of correcting a public disclosure that is erroneous, that is false, that hurts our government, and that plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein.” US news outlets, none of which had correspondents in Baghdad, vigorously toed the official line. Newsweek derided Iraq’s “ham-handed attempt to depict a bombed-out biological weapons plant near Baghdad as a baby-formula factory”. 

It took years for the official version of the bombing to fall apart. Even though I had been in the plant soon after it was destroyed, I could not prove that it did not produce biological weapons, though it seemed to me highly unlikely. Media interest waned rapidly: the best study I could find about how the destruction of the milk factory was spun by official PR is a piece by Mark Crispin Miller, from which the quotes above are taken, published in 2003. 

Proof came slowly, long after public interest had waned. A Congressional report in 1993 on US intelligence successes and failures in the Gulf War revealed the shaky reasoning behind the US air force decision to bomb the site. It turned out that “mottled camouflage” had been used on the roofs of two known BW facilities. The report said: “at the same time, the same camouflage scheme was applied to the roof of the milk plant”. This was enough for the US Air Force to list it as a target. 

Confident official claims about multiple sources of intelligence turned out to be untrue. One has to burrow deep into an unclassified CIA paper on Iraq’s BW programme, to find a sentence admitting that another plant, which was the real centre of Saddam Hussein’s BW effort, was unknown to the US-led coalition and “therefore was not attacked during the war, unlike the Abu Ghurayb (sic) Infant Formula Plant (the Baby Milk Factory) that the Coalition destroyed by bombing in the mistaken belief that it was a key BW facility”. 

The story of the Abu Ghraib baby milk factory is worth retelling because it underlines – in the wake of the US, British and French air strikes on alleged Syrian BW sites on 14 April – the need for permanent scepticism towards claims by governments that they know what is happening on the ground in Syria or anywhere else. 

But government duplicity is scarcely new and denunciations of it may obscure an even greater danger. Look again at the attack on Peter Arnett’s story by the White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater who was wrong – and Arnett was right – in saying that it contained “a disclosure that is erroneous, that is false”. But he adds correctly that it was a disclosure “that hurts our government and plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein”. 

So it was in a minor way and this brings us to a toxic attitude towards those who question the official version of events increasingly common in Britain and the US. It is overwhelming freedom of speech in Hungary and Poland and has already triumphed in Turkey and Egypt. In all cases, opinions diverging from those of the powers-that-be are branded as disloyal and unpatriotic and “false facts” are being spread by “useful idiots”, to use two ghastly clichés much in use. 

Marginalisation of dissenting is followed by its criminalisation: Turkey once had a flourishing free press but now any criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or words or actions of which he disapproves can be labelled as “terrorism” and punished accordingly. 

There is much tut-tutting in Britain by the commentariat about the spread of authoritarianism in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but less so about the growing limitation on what can be freely expressed at home. Increasingly, anything less than full endorsement of the government line about the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury or the suspected gas attack on civilians in Douma in Syria is characterised as support for Putin or Assad.

A telling instance of this new authoritarianism is the denunciations of a party of Christian clergy and peers who have been visiting Syria to meet church dignitaries and government officials. This is an understandable mission for concerned British Christians because Christians in Syria can do with all the solidarity they can get as they are forced to flee or are kidnapped or murdered by Isis, al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. Like many Syrians, they see their choice as not being between good and bad but between bad and worse. They generally prefer survival under Assad to likely extinction under his enemies. 

Visiting embattled members of the depleted Christian community in Syria is a good thing to do. And, yes, it could be said that the presence of British Christians in Damascus is very marginally helpful to Assad, in much the same way that Peter Arnett’s truthful report on the baby milk in Abu Ghraib must have pleased Saddam Hussein. The Foreign Office said the Christians’ visit was “not helpful” but then helping the British state should not be their prime concern.

None of the arguments currently being used in Britain and the US to smear those sceptical of the governmental and media consensus are new. The Bolsheviks used to denounce people who said or did things they did not like as “objectively” being fascists or counter-revolutionaries. When those being denounced, often only a preliminary to being shot, replied that they were no such thing, the Bolsheviks would reply: “tell us who supports you and we will tell you who you are”. In other words, the only thing that matters is what side you are on.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Speak Up And Speak Out

I have spent more than 20 years, since I was (just) still in my teens and had never seen the Internet, trying to get the story out about Harriet Harman and the Paedophile Information Exchange. I have paid a terrible journalistic and political price for it, but I have no regrets. 

Media that always knew about it simply ignored the whole thing, banning me from their websites and what have you, until a period of no more than two weeks when they needed to distract attention from Patrick Rock. Normal service was rapidly resumed, and it has continued ever since. 

And now, the plan is advancing to make Harman the next Speaker of the House of Commons. The only outside chance of stopping that is to put the only person who would dare to mention her past, me, into the House of Commons. You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Kill The Weed

Today is apparently “Weed Day”, leading the Adam Smith Institute to style itself “the Adam Spliff Institute” on Twitter. Its position is perfectly logical and consistent. There cannot be a “free” market in general, but not in drugs, or prostitution, or pornography, or unrestricted alcohol, or unrestricted gambling. 

That is an important part of why there must not be a “free” market in general, which is a political choice, not a mere law of nature. Enacting and enforcing laws against drugs, prostitution and pornography, and regulating alcohol, tobacco and gambling, are clear examples of State intervention in, and regulation of, the economy. 

We need a single class of illegal drug, with a crackdown on the possession of drugs, including a mandatory sentence of three months for a second offence, six months for a third offence, one year for a fourth offence, and so on.

You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Trial Date Watch: Day Three

More than a week after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 58

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Customs Post

Never mind the Customs Union. Four amendments need to be tabled, and put to the vote on the floor of the House of Commons.

To secure the extra £350 million per week for the National Health Service. To restore the United Kingdom's historic fishing rights of 200 miles or to the median line, in accordance with international law. 

To seek a trade agreement with each of the BRICS countries while remaining thoroughly critical of all five of their current Governments. And to seek the integration into the Belt and Road Initiative of all four parts of the United Kingdom, of all nine English regions, and of all of the British Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies.

These ought all to be proposed as a single amendment to the Liaison Committee's motion on Wednesday. But that will not happen, because there is no one there to make it happen. Make it happen. You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Identifying The Enemy

We now know that the operational decision to destroy the landing cards was made in October 2010, when Theresa May was Home Secretary, and not in 2009 under the previous Labour Government, as she falsely claimed to the House of Commons. We now know that May was so involved in the Go Home vans that she came back from holiday in order to toughen up their language.

And we now know that Albert Thompson is not yet receiving treatment, so that was another lie. Pity poor Amber Rudd, who is going to have to carry the can for all of this. Still, she knew what May was like when she agreed to work for her.

But lo and behold, the solution is apparently identity cards, the Political Class's solution in search of a problem since time immemorial, and a useful wedge between those Labour MPs who know what it is like to be from a visible ethnic minority, or to be at least locally well-known as a left-wing activist, or to be more than an armchair trade unionist, and those, the great majority at the moment, who do not.

Don't fall for it.

Checked Off

Three years ago, if any event were addressed by Owen Jones, then he himself was the event. But he has since joined the long list of old "left-wing" star turns who resent having been made into supporting acts by a man whom they had spent decades assuming to be the cloakroom attendant, yet who turns out to have a popular appeal beyond their wildest dreams.

It is downright spooky that, when a Corbyn-led Labour Party can have 600,000 members and 40 per cent of the vote, Jones's is still the only "left-wing" voice allowed on. As with the Chosen One, so called because she was spookily not required to undergo any kind of selection process in order to become a parliamentary candidate, and whom Jones has endorsed as a potential Prime Minister, I think that we can all see what is going on here.

By the way, Little Owen's extremely right-wing ex-boyfriend is also in trouble today, for abusing Diane Abbott. Although at least he really did it. Unlike Jess Phillips, who made it up in order to become famous, secure in the knowledge that no one would check, and who has built an entire career on that lie.

Understand All Ye Nations And Submit Yourselves


A Statement Issued by the Patriarchates of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Greek-Melkite Catholic Damascus, 14 April 2018 

God is with us; Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves! 

We, the Patriarchs: John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, Ignatius Aphrem II, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and Joseph Absi, Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, condemn and denounce the brutal aggression that took place this morning against our precious country Syria by the USA, France and the UK, under the allegations that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons.

We raise our voices to affirm the following:
  1. This brutal aggression is a clear violation of the international laws and the UN Charter, because it is an unjustified assault on a sovereign country, member of the UN. 
  2. It causes us great pain that this assault comes from powerful countries to which Syria did not cause any harm in any way. 
  3. The allegations of the USA and other countries that the Syrian army is using chemical weapons and that Syria is a country that owns and uses this kind of weapon, is a claim that is unjustified and unsupported by sufficient and clear evidence.
  4. The timing of this unjustified aggression against Syria, when the independent International Commission for Inquiry was about to start its work in Syria, undermines of the work of this commission.
  5. This brutal aggression destroys the chances for a peaceful political solution and leads to escalation and more complications.
  6. This unjust aggression encourages the terrorist organizations and gives them momentum to continue in their terrorism.
  7. We call upon the Security Council of the United Nations to play its natural role in bringing peace rather than contribute to escalation of wars. 
  8. We call upon all churches in the countries that participated in the aggression, to fulfill their Christian duties, according to the teachings of the Gospel, and condemn this aggression and to call their governments to commit to the protection of international peace.
  9. We salute the courage, heroism and sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army which courageously protects Syria and provide security for its people. We pray for the souls of the martyrs and the recovery of the wounded. We are confident that the army will not bow before the external or internal terrorist aggressions; they will continue to fight courageously against terrorism until every inch of the Syrian land is cleansed from terrorism. We, likewise, commend the brave stand of countries which are friendly to the Syria and its people.

We offer our prayers for the safety, victory, and deliverance of Syria from all kinds of wars and terrorism. We also pray for peace in Syria and throughout the world, and call for strengthening the efforts of the national reconciliation for the sake of protecting the country and preserving the dignity of all Syrians.

A Duty To Be Sceptical

Peter Oborne writes:

Almost two years have passed since Sir John Chilcot produced his 12-volume report on the lessons of the Iraq war. We collectively promised to learn the lessons. Last weekend it was as if the Chilcot report never happened. Britain, cheered on by a bellicose press and a largely docile Parliament, launched airstrikes that showed the same disregard for due process against which Chilcot warned. 

Remember what Chilcot told us: ‘The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.’ He concluded: ‘the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.’

Chilcot judged that Blair and George W Bush were mistaken to invade Iraq before the inspectors had finished their search for Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. It’s déjà vu all over again. Britain, France and the United States ignored the United Nations, international law and due process. 

Remember Tony Blair and George W Bush’s lacerating contempt for Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors? We saw a repeat last weekend. When the bombing started the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was actually in Damascus and preparing to travel to the area where the alleged chemical attacks took place. 

Britain justified our action by claiming that Russia vetoed UN Security Council resolutions for chemical inspectors to investigate what happened. These claims are disingenuous. It’s true that Russia blocked a proposal to create a new joint UN OPCW investigative mechanism which would have a new and broader mandate to apportion blame for any attack it concluded had happened. But it was actually Syria and Russia who asked for the OPCW fact-finding mission. 

This is extremely significant. Had we wanted independent verification on this occasion in Syria surely we ourselves would have demanded the OPCW send a mission to Douma. Yet we conspicuously omitted to ask for it. 

Britain and the US claimed on Monday that Russia and Syria are delaying the OPCW. Another dodgy assertion. Russia has stated that UN bureaucracy is to blame. Those familiar with the UN tell me that this claim is all too credible. 

There are also question marks around the veracity of British and American assertions about the bombing raids. The US said it struck three known chemical weapons facilities in Syria – including at Barzeh and Jamraya outside Damascus. Yet the OPCW itself found these sites to have no chemical weapons as recently as last November. 

In order to help prove the existence of chemical weapons, Theresa May said in her statement to Parliament on Monday that Asad’s helicopters were operating over Douma shortly before reports of a chemical weapons attack emerged. This was true, but completely irrelevant. Nobody disputes that bombings was occurring and that helicopters were in the area. The real question is, what was the payload? The alternative explanation of the incident offered by the Syrians is that conventional bombing caused it. The presence of helicopters is consistent with this explanation.

As for Mrs May’s excuse for not going to Parliament, it’s laughable. She cited security concerns, but Trump had signalled to the world as early as last Wednesday that there would be reprisals. 

There are big questions here. Courtesy of Chilcot we all know that British and American intelligence were deeply complicit in the falsehoods told about WMDs to justify Iraq. We also know that the official justification for the intervention in Libya – that atrocities were about to take place in Benghazi – wasn’t true. In view of those twin disasters surely we all have a duty to be sceptical this time? 

This makes it all the more important significant that we pay attention to the respectable voices who are questioning the government’s narrative of events. Former First Sea Lord Admiral West, former SAS commander Jonathan Shaw, and former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford have all made interesting contributions to the debate. They have either been ignored or been trashed. I wonder.

As a journalist I also dislike the character assassination which has been carried out against the only British journalist who has gone to Douma since the attack supposedly took place. This is Robert Fisk. I know he’s controversial and that he has made serious mistakes. Whatever else you say about Fisk, he has a massive record of reporting from Northern Ireland and the Middle East. He has won most prizes available to journalists including the Orwell Prize and the British Press Awards’ International Journalist of the Year seven times.

I’ve read his report from Douma, which I recommend. It seems even-handed and balanced. Fisk is not justifying the Assad regime. All he has done is to record testimonies from individuals including a named medic on the ground. This is important. Karl Marx said that history happened first in tragedy and second in farce. This time it could be the other way around. The gesture bombing in Syria last weekend was farcical. But next time farce could turn to tragedy.

It’s all too likely that there will a repeat of an alleged chemical attack. We are already painting ourselves into a position where we will have no choice but to launch much bigger attacks of our own, again based on the flimsiest of evidence. 

I don’t claim to know what happened in Douma. But I do know from bitter and ugly experience that official sources and media narratives can’t be trusted. And I can see that we are making it easy for ourselves to be manipulated. So let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s listen to those who challenge our assumptions. 

We have a profound moral duty to doubt the official version of events. The next attack could take us into the regional conflagration which was only narrowly avoided last weekend. So let’s pay attention to the advice proffered by boring old Sir John Chilcott.

An Attack Without Evidence

Peter Hitchens writes:

Is this another example of an attack being launched before the verification teams go in to check the facts? Last night (Thursday 19th April 2018) the distinguished broadcaster Andrew Neil accused me of suggesting that the Western powers might fake chemical warfare attacks in Syria. The accusation was of course as incorrect as it was absurd.

Here is the background: I had been asked to appear at length on Mr Andrew Neil’s noted late night discussion programme, which has a generally high level of discussion, owing to Mr Neil’s undoubted intelligence, professionalism and knowledge, rare among BBC presenters. First, I made a short film summarizing my position, and then I defended it live in the studio. You may watch the film and the discussion here. 

Towards the end of that discussion (about 12 minutes and 50 seconds into the extract), Mr Neil made his allegation. A sequence followed in which Mr Neil repeatedly interrupted me in mid-argument and I repeatedly protested that what he was saying was a fabrication. Here is a more or less verbatim account, slightly tidied to aid clarity. I do not think I have omitted anything significant, and would be grateful for any significant corrections or additions.

Mr Neil (AFN) accused me thus: ‘You have speculated that Western countries could have ….can fake such attacks’ I (PH) said ‘I haven’t said anything of the kind’. Untroubled by my denial, Mr Neil persisted: ‘Yes you did’. He then said: ‘You said in your blog, speaking of Britain, France and America you could say there might be a temptation to fake such attacks (his emphasis). If these major nations (talking about us, America and France) will act in defiance of law, this, to fake them, must surely be a temptation’.

As I attempted to explain to him what I had actually said , that I had been referring to Islamist groups in Syria, saying ‘It must surely be a temptation among the Islamist groups in Syria if the Western countries are prepared to mount attacks on Syria – you interrupt me at every point – if the Western countries (interruption)…I am not. That is a complete fabrication. I have said that the people who would be prepared to fake the attacks would be the Islamist groups – if it is the case that Western countries could be persuaded…you’ve got to check your researcher on this, they have given you a bum steer.’ AFN ‘I have read the blog myself .

He then reads my words ‘If these major nations will act in defiance of law this, a fake attack must surely be a temptation.’

PH: ‘A temptation to whom?’

AFN: ‘The major nations.’

PH: ‘No, that is not what it says, Go and read it yourself instead of relying on some researcher. You have got it wrong.’

AFN: ‘Mr Hitchens, I read it myself’.

PH: ‘I was giving you the benefit of the doubt’.

AFN: ‘Maybe you should write more clearly next time’

PH: ‘I have given you the benefit of the doubt, you’ve got it wrong’.

AFN: ‘I’ve got it wrong perhaps because your English is not very clear’.

PH: ‘I don’t think that is a characteristic I have’.

The discussion then ends abruptly, and I have no further part in the programme. Here is the section of the blog posting which is under discussion:

‘Imagine this frightening possibility, which arises from that rush to act without facts, on the basis of unverified and unverifiable reports. Might this be a temptation to those who oppose President Assad, to fake such attacks in future? If these major nations will act in defiance of law, and without waiting for verification, this must surely be such a temptation to any cynical person, and I think we may assume there are some cynical people in this conflict on both sides.

‘If they can get the USA, Britain and France directly embroiled in the Syrian civil war, who will pay much attention if a month later the OPCW produces an inconclusive report? Certainly not the politicians and media who cheered on the attack. The OPCW will find its report covered sketchily on page 94 of the unpopular papers, and probably nowhere else except here. And if the resulting attacks lead to direct entanglements between western forces and those of Russia and Iran, then we will be well on the way to a regional war pregnant with the possibilities of world war, a new 1914 in which Iran and Saudi Arabia stand in for Germany and Russia, and the rest of the world eventually piles in, and then cannot find any way out again.’ 

I rest my case. The complete blog post can be found here. If Mr Neil was in any doubt about what I meant, he was free to ask me before making his accusation. I was at the studio an hour before transmission began.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Custom and Practice

Tony Benn always told you that you could have the House of Lords, or you could have what is now called Brexit, but you could never have both. People invest the pre-Blair House of Lords with the mythology with which they also invest the monarchy, as if neither had existed at the time of any Welfare State measure, or nationalisation, or retreat from Empire, or social liberalisation, or constitutional change, or EU treaty.

Such delusional people might more usefully snap out of it by joining the call for the lieutenancy areas to be made the basis of a new second chamber, to which the powers of the House of Lords would be transferred, with remuneration fixed at that of the Commons. In each of those areas, each of us would vote for one candidate, and the top six would be elected, giving 594 Senators in all.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would be required, and other parties would be permitted, to submit their internally determined shortlists of two to binding, independently administered, publicly funded ballots of the entire electorate one week before the election itself. Ministers would no longer be drawn from the second chamber; instead, all of them, including the Prime Minister, would appear before it regularly. Its term of office would be six years, while that of the Commons would go back down to four.

And all non-ceremonial exercises of the Royal Prerogative, including Royal Assent, would be transferred to six, seven, eight or nine of nine Co-Presidents, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top nine elected to hold office for eight years. That would in fact enfranchise those who inexplicably look to the monarchy to protect them from social democracy, or social liberalism, or European federalism, or what you. It has never done any such thing, any more than the hereditary peers did, or any more than the Lords Spiritual have ever done.

Furthermore, if the reduction in the number of Commons constituencies to 600 were indeed to occur, then the number of MPs might nevertheless remain the same. The whole country could elect 50 MPs, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top 50 elected at the end. Candidates would not be nominees of political parties, but any party of which a candidate happened to be a member would be listed next to his or her name on the ballot paper, for the information of the voters; the same would be true of candidates for Co-President.

What would be the deposit to become such a candidate? There would not be one, as there ought not to be in general. Instead, the requirement to be a constituency candidate might be nomination by at least five per cent of the voters, while that to be a national candidate might be nomination by at least 2000 registered parliamentary electors, including at least 10 in each of the 99 lieutenancy areas. In this day and age, obtaining that would cost little or nothing.

Candidates for Co-President, for Senator, or for national MP would all be required to name a second, who would also be listed on the ballot paper, to take office in the event of the position's becoming vacant.

In the words of the old Tory battle cry, Trust The People.

Back In The Woodpile

When was a member of either House of the United States Congress last recorded using the n-word? Yet today, the Conservative Party has restored the whip to Anne Marie Morris. 

The test of the sincerity and credibility of avowed anti-racists in the House of Commons, whether they prefer to talk about the Windrush Generation or about anti-Semitism, will be whether or not they table and pass a motion to expel Ms Morris from that House at the start of next week's business. 

For future reference in such cases, you know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Trial Date Watch: Day Two

More than a week after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 57

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Money Laundering, Indeed


So, no raid for them, then.

Instrumental In Ensuring

Craig Murray writes:

Well-placed FCO sources tell me it remains the case that senior civil servants in both the FCO and Home Office remain very sceptical of Russian guilt in the Skripal case. It remains the case that Porton Down scientists have identified the chemical as a “novichok-style” nerve agent but still cannot tie its production to Russia – there are many other possibilities.

The effort to identify the actual perpetrator is making no headway, with the police having eliminated by alibi the Russian air passenger on the same flight as Julia Skripal identified as suspicious by MI5 purely on grounds of the brevity of their stay.

That senior civil servants do not regard Russian responsibility as a fact is graphically revealed in this minute from head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, sent to officials following the attack on Syria. Note the very careful use of language: Their work was instrumental in ensuring widespread international support for the Government’s position on Russian responsibility for the Salisbury attack.

This is very deliberate use of language by Sir Jeremy. Exactly as I explained with the phrase “of a type developed by Russia” about the nerve agent, you have to parse extremely carefully what is written by the senior civil service. They do not write extra phrases for no reason.

Sir Jeremy could have simply written of Russian responsibility as a fact, but he did not. His reference to “the government’s position on Russian responsibility” is very deliberate and an acknowledgement that other positions are possible. 

He deliberately refrains from asserting Russian responsibility as a fact. This is no accident and is tailored to the known views of responsible civil servants in the relevant departments, to whom he is writing. 

This in no way detracts from the fact that Sir Jeremy takes it as read that it is the duty of civil servants to follow “the Government’s position”. But it is an acknowledgement that they do not have privately to believe it. 

Allied missile strikes on Syria – a message from the Head of the Civil Service

In the early hours of 14 April, the armed forces of the United Kingdom, the United States and France launched a series of co-ordinated strikes on sites in Syria linked with the production and storage of chemical weapons.

This was in response to the use of prohibited chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against the civilian population of Douma, whose horrific consequences were widely reported.

I want to thank civil servants in a number of departments, but especially in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development, Department for Health and Social Care (and Public Health England), Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, and the Cabinet Office, for their work after the attack on Douma and throughout the allied operation. 

This response was designed to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and as a deterrent to their future use. 

Coming after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury just over a month ago, I also want to take this opportunity to renew my gratitude to the hundreds of public servants – at home and abroad – involved in the response to that attack and the ongoing investigation. Their work was instrumental in ensuring widespread international support for the Government’s position on Russian responsibility for the Salisbury attack and the participation of many nations in the diplomatic sanctions that followed. 

We could wish it was in different circumstances. However, the response to the Salisbury incident and the chemical attack on Douma showed the public service at its best: collaborative, professional and quick to act in the national interest, even under the greatest pressure. 

Jeremy Heywood 
Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service

Protecting Innocent Lives?

Keith Taylor writes:

In racing to fall in line with Trump and have the US President’s Foreign Policy agenda dictate our own, the UK Government bypassed Parliamentary scrutiny to join the war in Syria.
The claim is that the round of ‘gesture bombing’ timed to avoid national and international scrutiny and approval aimed to protect innocent lives. However, the most likely outcome is that more innocent lives have been endangered by a knee-jerk bombing campaign, devoid of any wider strategy.

Not only that, the desire to protect innocent lives against war crimes and human rights abuses in the Middle East appears to be inconsistent with the Conservative Government’s other policies in the region. 

Innocent lives are being lost in huge numbers in Yemen, victims of Saudi Arabia war crimes. However, Ministers continue to proudly sell arms to the perpetrators and give Saudi dignitaries the full red-carpet treatment. 

And as we edge closer to Nakba Day, violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories increases; with the loss of innocent lives. And the Government is silent. 

On the plight of Palestinian citizens as on the bombing of Syria without international legal approval, the UK and US coalition are becoming increasingly isolated. International agencies, like the UN, have not been as hesitant as the UK in condemning the actions of Israeli state forces and the Government’s refusal to “credibly investigate and prosecute substantial allegations of wrongful killings by its security forces.” 

And thanks to the Greens in the European Parliament, a motion for a resolution, which I helped draft, will be voted on today condemning the “grossly disproportionate use of force by Israeli security forces against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip” and expressing the EU’s “solidarity with the victims and their relatives.” 

Nakba means ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic. The Day, 15 May 2018, commemorates the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians that preceded and followed the UK and UN-backed Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Nakba; more than 50 years of illegal occupation and 11 years of an illegal blockade against Gaza. 

It is also the 42nd anniversary of Land Day. The Day marks one of the most significant united Palestinian demonstrations against the Israeli state’s plans to seize their land; six unarmed Palestinians were killed. 

The first Great March of Return demonstration, which demands the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to villages and lands taken from them by the Israeli state [a cause about which I am not so sure after 70 years, by the way], was attended by more than 30,000 Palestinian civilians. 

Since the protests began on 30 March, Israeli Defence Force snipers have killed 31 and injured more than a thousand unarmed protesters; six journalists are also among the murdered. 

Yasser Murtaja was a journalist covering the protest; he was shot while wearing a clearly-marked press jacket. Murjata was a Gazan resident, who was born during the first intifada, lived through the second, and was one of many Gazans subjected to three deadly conflicts and the impacts of an 11-year illegal blockade. He had never travelled outside of Gaza.

Israel has claimed that they do not shoot journalists. However, the IDF has bragged that the protests provided an opportunity to test both their military expertise and precision and new drone weaponry. 

The number of innocent Gazan lives lost, therefore, suggests the IDF deliberately targeted and killed unarmed protesters and journalists. Palestinians are in mourning but have called for the protests to continue until Nakba Day. 

While Hamas has supported the call, the claims of the Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, that ‘there are no innocent people in Gaza only Hamas militants’ are, at best, pure fantasy and, at worst, pure propaganda. 

The protesters are Palestinian citizens who have lived, as their parents and grandparents before them, under a brutal and oppressive occupation; as second-class citizens in their own home. 

Lieberman’s deliberately misleading statement intends to justify the taking of innocent lives by dehumanising protesters.

The idea that all Gazans are Hamas activists is patently absurd and symptomatic of the disregard the Israeli state has for the rights of Palestinian people.

The right of return for refugees is enshrined in international humanitarian law, and included in conventions that Israel itself has ratified. It is a right, however, denied to Gazans; one of the many human rights abuses suffered by Palestinians.

For decades, Palestinians under an illegal occupation have been collectively punished for demanding the simple right to freedom, justice, and dignity in their homeland.

The British Government played an active role in the Nakba and continues to be silently complicit in the abuses of the Israeli state it birthed.

It is difficult to believe, therefore, that ‘protecting innocent lives in the Middle East’ is the reason for the Conservatives’ desperation to fall in line with Trump’s foreign policy agenda.

Times of War


On Friday, the British government, alongside the US and France, launched airstrikes on Syria, a sovereign state, ostensibly to punish Bashar al-Assad’s government for allegedly conducting a chemical attack in Douma in Eastern Ghouta, which is held by the Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam radical extremist group.

There were plenty of reasons to be concerned by this action: the airstrikes were illegal insofar as they violated international law as established by the UN Charter, the agreed framework for the conduct of interstate relations. They were carried out on the basis of little more than social-media videos as evidence. They happened just one day before the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was due to investigate the attack. And they were approved without domestic authorisation from the UK parliament. 

Polls also consistently show that a majority of the public do not agree with the airstrikes. Moreover, they were what James Mattis, the US defence secretary, called ‘show strikes’ – a performance of the honour of the international community, as French president Emmanuel Macron put it. Discussions were even held with Russia (and, by extension, Syria) to ensure no one was killed or injured.

As such, the British state and its allies have indulged in the very worst kind of gesture politics, escalating conflict and inviting anti-Syrian government groups to claim evidence of further chemical attacks in the hope of prompting further action from the US and its allies. So you might think at least some of this would be of interest to The Times

Yet on Saturday, its front page, a double page inside and lead editorial were dedicated to a risible hatchet job on me and other colleagues at an academic working group called ‘British Media and the Syrian Conflict’ (BMSC) – a group that seeks to build on the work of Piers Robinson (a politics professor at the University of Sheffield and one of the founders of BMSC) on the media’s role in the Iraq War, and what is called organised persuasive political communication, or propaganda.

The Times’ report and op-ed are notable for their lack of substance, which is hardly surprising given we have only just set up the working group, and are yet to produce any, well, work. Instead, like The Times’ recent report , ‘Exposed: Jeremy Corbyn’s hate factory’, which consisted of a trawl of Labour-supporting Facebook groups in search of unpleasant posts, its piece on us, headlined ‘Apologists for Assad working in British universities’, consisted of a trawl of my colleagues’ blogs and tweets about Syria.

The Times states that by questioning the British government’s stance we are apologists for Assad. More absurd still, it claims that by questioning and debating British foreign policy we are somehow shutting down debate. It seems to me that it is The Times that is shutting down debate, not to mention attacking academic freedom. 

As a point of interest, two senior British military figures have been interviewed on the BBC and Sky questioning if it was indeed the Syrian government that carried out the chemical attacks. I am eagerly awaiting The Times’ double page spread on those ‘Assad apologists’, Admiral Lord West and Lord Shaw.

It is entirely legitimate to ask questions about what has happened in a war, what the government tells us has happened, and on what basis it is making its decisions. Indeed, surely a newspaper should be asking those same questions rather than diving into academics’ social-media posts. 

The Times even followed up its ‘exposé’, with a piece during the week in which it revealed that I had tweeted that the Syria strikes were against international law. Given that they are against international law, how exactly does my saying that constitute news? 

It is exactly at times like these that it is the democratic duty of citizens to question their government. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of the government-commissioned Chilcot report into the Iraq War, which showed that Tony Blair’s Labour government lied to take us to war in Iraq.

It was one of the biggest foreign-policy disasters of the post-Cold War era, and we live with the consequences today. This was not an intelligence failure, as it is often portrayed; rather, it was, as Sir John Chilcot very clearly showed, a deliberate decision to construct a false case for going to war. Much of the British media was complicit in peddling it. 

But the Chilcot report is too often treated as a historical overview of something that could not happen again. Yet it did – in Libya. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report on the 2011 Libyan intervention very clearly shows that David Cameron’s Lib-Con government constructed a false narrative of the Libyan civil war in order to intervene.

The idea that it is good to challenge the government on other issues, from housing to energy, but that we should all shut up when the British state is dropping bombs on people is wrong. Because if there is a lesson from the Chilcot report, it is that we should question the government, especially in times of war.

It is the democratic duty of each and every one of us to question and question and question, and ultimately hold our government to account. Calling people traitors, or useful idiots, or conspiracists, or apologists, is the oldest and weakest trick in the book. All it shows, in fact, is the weakness of the government’s own case for military action.

On 12th March, The Times reported on its front page that Sergei Skripal was dead. If you want Tara McCormack as a foreign policy adviser to a high profile Member of Parliament, then you know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.