Saturday, 29 August 2015

So Much

Or, not so much.

The Conservative Party has a Leader who cast his first vote in 1987. But is he a barrow boy made good? Not exactly, no.

Moreover, he is to be succeeded in this Parliament by a man who could not vote until Margaret Thatcher had left office, and who is the son and heir of a 17th Baronet.

Meanwhile, eight years after Tony Blair's departure, Labour is to be led by a man who was first elected to Parliament on the same day as Blair, and Gordon Brown, were, but who is slightly older even than they, and who voted against their Governments 500 times.

He believes that Blair ought to stand trial for war crimes. His campaign has no organisation beyond the trade unions and the networks of Left activists who are by no means all within the Labour Party, something that also applies to the unions. He has been endorsed by no national newspaper apart from the Morning Star.

So much for Margaret Thatcher. So much for Tony Blair. So much for the people who voted for certain parties purely because they favoured either or both of Thatcher and Blair. So much for the newspapers that endorsed them both.

And so much for the proprietor of those newspapers.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Moral and Pastoral?

I am laughing myself silly at Harry's Place, which would ordinarily be screaming blue murder that the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford was now someone like Nigel Biggar.

An Anglican clergyman, but who belongs more to the world of American fundamentalism, he is merrily plugging a book that could have been written by John Hagee or Pat Robertson, and which has very much been written for their audience rather than for British Evangelicals, who are by and large a very different lot indeed politically.

But in so plugging, Professor Biggar continues to defend the Iraq War. So, he must be all right, really.

Mustn't he?

A Pre-emptive Alternative

It is no disrespect to any of the newly ennobled, to say that David Cameron is obviously testing the entire system to destruction.

Cameron is no fool, and he will have something very specific in mind as a replacement. Whatever that is, it will be disastrous for anyone other than his own party, and his own faction of that party. A pre-emptive alternative is urgently needed.

No one much likes the 12 regions that were invented by the Major Government, which did so quite independently of the EU, for all that body’s many other faults. But they are there. They will do. They are just going to have to do.

In each of the 11 regions of Great Britain, lists of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates would be submitted to the electorate. Any member of the relevant party in good standing within that region would have the right to appear on that list, simply by self-nomination.

As voters, each of us would vote by means of the time-honoured and the comprehensibly British X for one candidate on each list, and the six highest scorers would be elected. Casual vacancies would be filled by the next highest-scoring candidate who was willing and able to step up.

Thus, there would always be 66 Labour, 66 Conservative and 66 Liberal Democrat Senators, expressing the wide variety of perspectives within each of their respective traditions.

Furthermore, each of us would vote for one other party that, by contesting elections to the Senate, barred itself from contesting elections to the House of Commons. The top name on each of the five highest-scoring lists would be elected, with casual vacancies filled off the list.

And each of us would vote for one Independent from as many as wanted to stand, with the top five elected, and with casual vacancies filled as for Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Senators.

In Northern Ireland, each of the DUP, the UUP, the SDLP, Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party would have four Senators elected in the manner of the principal mainland parties, with a further five elected from other parties by the same means and subject to the same conditions as in Great Britain, together with five Independents.

Thus, each region would have 30 Senators, giving a total of 360. Undoubtedly, UKIP and the Greens would each give up one MP on a good night, for certainly 11 and probably 12 Senators on a permanent basis. Correspondingly, the SNP and, more regrettably, Plaid Cymru would not contest Senate elections.

All manner of Left parties would win at least some Senate seats when they would rarely, if ever, have won Commons ones.

The Liberal Party might reasonably expect a seat in the South West, and the SDP, which also still exists on a very small scale, might just about manage one in Yorkshire and the Humber, its main centre being Bridlington.

Certain commentators would be told to put up as Independents, or to shut up. They would gladly put up.

Corbyn: To The Right of the SDP

James Meadway writes:

There’s been a lot of excitable chatter about Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policies.

Newspaper pundits and Labour Party grandees have queued up to denounce his plans as a return to the dark days of 1983.

This is the year Labour stood in the election on a left-wing platform, and lost by a landslide to the Tories, led by Margaret Thatcher.

The talking heads have a point. Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto is close to one of those from that fateful year.

But it’s not Labour’s. It’s the Social Democratic Party’s.

The SDP was set up by a small group of leading Labour Party figures, disenchanted with Labour’s shift to the left.

They stood, in 1983, in alliance with the old Liberal Party.

They are today best remembered for splitting the anti-Tory vote, and so helping Thatcher to two successive election wins.

This is their 1983 manifesto. And here is what Jeremy Corbyn says about the economy.

The SDP denounced Tory spending cuts and called for carefully selected increases in public spending and reductions in taxation… to increase public borrowing to around £11 billion” and to “to reverse the reduction in public investment”.

Corbyn, too, attacks Tory spending cuts and calls for “public investment in new publicly-owned infrastructure”.

But unlike the SDP, Corbyn thinks “Labour should not run a public deficit”. Corbyn is more fiscally conservative than the “moderate” SDP.

There’s more.

The SDP called for government spending to directly create 250,000 jobs over two years, plus another 100,000 in the NHS and social services.

In total, they wanted to reduce unemployment by 600,000 in two years.

Unlike the SDP, Corbyn sets no target for reducing that level and does not call for the government to directly create jobs.

Corbyn has called for monetary policy to be used to boost investment, in the form of “People’s Quantitative Easing”.

The SDP wanted less “restrictive monetary policy and management of the exchange rate” to help create 400,000 new jobs.

Both the SDP and Corbyn are concerned about what the SDP call “excessive” pay in the private sector, with the SDP pushing for a “Prices and Incomes Commission” to regulate pay.

Both agree on the need for an industrial strategy, backed by investment in high-tech research.

But the SDP also wanted to radically expand the range of worker participation in their businesses, including a mandatory employee right to information.

The difference is clear. Corbyn’s economic policies, today, place him to the right of 1983’s moderates.

If we must make decades-old comparisons, perhaps this is the one to make?

A Zero-Hours Contract With Life

Giles Fraser writes:

Politicians may have inadvertently stumbled upon a radical new way to address spiralling NHS costs. It’s called assisted dying, and it’s back before the House of Commons again next month. Though, in fact, it’s not a new way at all.

Euripides had the same idea 500 years before the birth of Christ: “I hate the men who would prolong their lives / By foods and drinks and charms of magic art / Perverting nature’s course to keep off death / They ought, when they no longer serve the land / To quit this life, and clear the way for youth.”

We have an aging population. Globally, the number of over-65s will triple by 2050. Currently there are four people of working age supporting each pensioner in Britain. By 2050 that dependency ratio will be two to one.

As the number of elderly people rapidly expands, so a far greater burden of care will fall on the young. Taxes will rise to meet the demand of pensions and NHS costs. Conflicts over intergenerational fairness will intensify.

No politician will ever come out and say that those who “no longer serve the land” should choose suicide. No, assisted dying, its current proponents insist, must only ever be a personal choice in a very specific set of circumstances.

But let us not pretend that this “personal choice” is unaffected by wider economic realities.

For as a rapidly expanding elderly population makes increasing demands on healthcare, so the pressure to ration “expensive” treatments will grow – with what counts as expensive being continually recalculated downwards.

And here the wider pressure – cultural, social, economic – will inevitably press towards a greater take-up of the suicide option.

Yes, it will be a “personal choice”. But it will be a “personal choice” in the same way poorer people have a choice in supermarkets – a choice with few options.

And that’s hardly the sort of freedom that this slippery word choice evokes.

You don’t have to go back as far as Euripides to see this in action. In modern day Greece, austerity has led to a 35% increase in the suicide rate over the last two years. Was this a “personal choice”?

If we structure society in such a way that many people have desperate, miserable lives, what sort of choice is it when people choose to kill themselves?

Maud lives round the corner from me in south London. She is 90 and on her own. She remembers a time when everyone knew everyone else, and when there was genuine community solidarity.

Nowadays people come and go, she says, and young people can’t be bothered with the elderly. She is often lonely. “Even the doctor came round to see me and asked me if I wanted to commit suicide,” she says.

This is the shadow side of liberal freedom. It’s a young and healthy person’s ideology, suited for the well-off. It amounts to the renunciation of our obligations to each other and to the vulnerable.

As everyone is encouraged to make their own individual choices, strong and stable communities are dissolved. From this perspective, even ethics gets done in the first person singular not the first person plural.

It’s the freedom to do what you bloody well like and sod the rest.

Caring for each other is just another choice, just another option. It’s up to the individual to decide. And whatever the choice they make – to care or not to care – it is inviolable precisely because it is a choice.

When Maud was young her generation fought a war for freedom. To borrow philosophical terminology, it was a war for negative freedom – a war against external oppression.

But in the late 20th century, particularly under the influence of the liberal economics of Thatcherism, the sort of freedom we began to value flipped from negative freedom to positive freedom – the freedom to realise one’s own individual goals.

It became all about self-realisation, all about me and what I want. And assisted dying is its ultimate expression.

For by eroding the long-term mutual obligations we have to each other, in sickness and in health, we have arrived at the existential equivalent of a zero-hours contract with life, a contract that can be terminated at will.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Capability Assessment

This, including the barely credible story of the battle to obtain it, is news.

It is by some distance the biggest news in Britain since the General Election.

Except, apparently, to the BBC, which I desperately want to support, but which tests the loyalty of so many of us to that loyalty's outermost limit.

Speaking of tests, the Work and Pensions Secretary who inflicted this murderous regime on a grateful nation was Yvette Cooper.

The "feminist economist" who also abolished Income Support.

Our Only Current Hope

Peter Oborne writes:

With barely two weeks to go until the election of a new Labour leader, a British establishment project has been launched to stop Jeremy Corbyn at any cost.

Plan A involves halting Corbyn before he reaches the winning post.

Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, David Blunkett, Alastair Campbell and most of the leading Blairites have already been deployed. Their mission looks like failing.

So Plan B is also in place in the event Corbyn wins. The intention is to make it quite impossible for the MP for Islington North to lead the Labour Party.

Most of the mainstream media as well as the majority of Labour MPs and party donors are part of this conspiracy to nobble the front-runner.

Even though I do not share many of his views, the purpose of this article is to make the case for Mr Corbyn. My argument will be a familiar one to those who follow political events across the Muslim world. The

Western powers always assert that they support democracy. But the truth is different. The West only likes democracy when democracy produces the right result. When it produces the wrong result the West dislikes democracy very much indeed.

In Iran in 1953, in Algeria in 1992, in Egypt in 2011, Muslim leaders swept to power on a powerful popular mandate.

However, Iranian nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, as much as Mohamed Morsi in Egypt in 2011, failed to fit in with Western agendas and both were soon swept away in coup d’etats. 

(The same happens in Europe. In 1992 Danish voters opposed the Maastricht Treaty and European monetary union. They were made to vote again. Likewise the Irish voted down the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, and were made to vote again in order to secure the correct result.) 

Some Labour strategists envisage that Jeremy Corbyn should be duly defenestrated if he becomes Labour leader in 15 days time - so that Labour supporters can be made to vote again.

I am not a Labour voter, let alone a member of the Labour Party with a vote in the current election.

However, I am certain this would be a disaster for British public life. Mr Corbyn is the most interesting figure to emerge as a leader of a British political party for many years.

This is because he stands for a distinct set of ideas and beliefs which set a new agenda in British politics.

If he wins on 12 September, he will be the first party leader to come from right outside the British mainstream since Margaret Thatcher in 1975. 

Thatcher defied the British economic and social establishment, outraging powerful interests within her own party and the country at large as she did so. 

If he becomes Labour leader, Corbyn will come up hard against the British foreign policy establishment. 

For two decades both main parties have shared the same verities about British foreign policy. They have regarded Britain as automatically subservient to the United States. 

This in turn has meant that we have interpreted the partnership with the Gulf dictatorships - such as Saudi Arabia and UAE - as central to Britain’s Middle East focus, while taking the side of the Israeli state against the Palestinians.

No matter which party was technically in power, British foreign policy has remained unchanged. David Cameron is indistinguishable in foreign policy terms to Tony Blair. Indeed, the former prime minister has become one of Mr Cameron’s most valued foreign policy advisors.

Jeremy Corbyn would smash this consensus.

To understand the background, it is helpful to read a work by Britain’s greatest 20th century historian, AJP Taylor.

In 1957 Taylor published The Troublemakers, a compelling study of the dissenting tradition in British politics. 

“A man can disagree with a particular line of British foreign policy while still accepting its general assumptions,” wrote Taylor. “The Dissenter repudiates its aims, its methods, its principles.” 

Corbyn is the most prominent modern representative of the British dissenting tradition as identified by AJP Taylor. 

This means that his antecedents include Tom Paine, author of the Rights of Man and supporter of the American revolutionaries against the British redcoats at the time of US independence. 

They also include William Cobbett, who had to flee Britain to find a home in the United States in the days when the US lived up the principles of its founding fathers and really did support freedom, justice and democracy. 

John Bright, the liberal politician who more than anyone else stopped Britain intervening in the American civil war on the side of the confederacy, is another. 

AJP Taylor’s dissenters are by no means always right. Most of them were against war with Hitler. 

But they also opposed the Boer War and World War One (Ramsay McDonald resigned the chairmanship of the Labour Party and Lord Morley resigned from the cabinet in protest against the war with Germany in 1914) and the 1956 seizure of the Suez Canal. 

In general they are Little Englanders, opposed to foreign adventures of any kind. They tend to be unpopular and isolated. 

But Taylor noted that “if you want to know what the foreign policy of this country will be in 20-30 years time, find out what the Dissenting minority are saying now”. 

Let’s now examine Jeremy Corbyn’s own record. 

He opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He argued for talks with the IRA long before this became official policy. He has been ridiculed for talking to Hamas and Hezbollah. 

By one of the deeper ironies of modern history Tony Blair is now (as Middle East Eye recently revealed) in discussion with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, in which enterprise he has the backing of David Cameron.

Most people would agree that on the most intractable foreign policy issues of our time Corbyn has tended to be right and the British establishment has tended to be wrong.

What Corbyn does or thinks today is likely to be vindicated a few years later.

Hard though it is for the British establishment to stomach, Corbyn’s foreign policy ideas have generally been more balanced and far-sighted than those of his opponents.

This certainly does not mean that he is always right. I believe that he has been naïve about Vladimir Putin, ruler of an authoritarian state which is founded on corruption and violence.

He has been unwise to contemplate British withdrawal from NATO. Denis Healey, who as Labour’s international secretary played a role in shaping Clement Attlee’s successful post-war foreign policy, was withering when Tony Benn (another antecedent of Corbyn) proposed this idea: “deserting all our allies and then preaching them a sermon”. Corbyn is open to a similar charge. 

I would defend Mr Corbyn’s personal talks with terrorists. But terrorist and extremist groups need to be confronted, and their ideology rejected, even when one seeks dialogue with them.

Nevertheless Corbyn is our only current hope of any serious challenge to a failed orthodoxy.

Blair and Cameron have both adopted a foreign policy based on subservience rather than partnership with the United States, which has done grave damage to British interests.

In the Middle East this approach has ensured that we are confronting a growing terrorist threat in the region with an ever-decreasing base in popular support, and actually hated by an ever-growing population who identify Britain with their oppressors. 

There is no country in the Middle East, or around the world, where Britons are safer, or can do business more securely, as a result of Blairite policy. 

Mr Corbyn’s critics always claim that they want democracy. But do they really? They only want democracy, so long as democracy does not threaten the interests of their powerful backers. They want a democracy which leaves everything the same.

Corbyn is mounting a direct and open challenge to the British system of government of international alliances as they have worked since Tony Blair became Labour Party leader.

If he wins, he must be allowed to lead his party and to make his case.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Agent Orange

Newsnight considered it unworthy of the coverage that was instead afforded to pirate radio.

But today's withdrawal of the UUP from the Northern Ireland Executive illustrates an important rule.

Whichever of the two Unionist parties is not providing the First Minister is always that bit more sceptical about the whole process.

Not much. But that bit.

In any case, as it matures, the Northern Ireland Assembly could do with a proper Opposition.

What will make the SDLP adopt that stance, too? Something quite soon, I expect.

Unity Is Strength

Sent on Saturday, this does not appear to have made the papers. I am particularly disappointed in The Guardian:

Dear Sir,

The Dalits, so-called “Untouchables”, are among the most oppressed people in the world, and are subject to rampant discrimination and worse in this and numerous other countries. The present Conservative Government has effectively re-legalised caste-based discrimination in the United Kingdom.

Between 1968 and 1973, the Chagossians were forcibly evicted from their home, the Chagos Islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory, in order to make way for an American military base that has since been implicated in extraordinary rendition, torture, and the waging of war in the Middle East.

The Rohingya people of Burma or Myanmar are also among the world’s most persecuted, being denied even citizenship itself on frankly racist grounds. They have received little or no support from Aung San Suu Kyi.

Jeremy Corbyn is the Honorary Chair of the Dalit Solidarity Network UK, he is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands, and he is a stalwart supporter of the Rohingya cause. We therefore have no hesitation in endorsing Jeremy Corbyn for Leader of the Labour Party. Unity Is Strength.

Yours faithfully,

David Lindsay, Lanchester, County Durham
Meena Varma, Director, Dalit Solidarity Network UK
Allen Vincatassin, President of the Provisional Government of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands
Tun Khin, Rohingya Human Rights Activist

The Generation Game

This is Loadasmoney's time of political maturity.

Yet who is the Conservative Prime Minister born in the 1960s, probably the only Prime Minister of either party who will ever have born in that decade?

More to the point, what is he? Is he a beneficiary of council house sales and Big Bang? Hardly! It is no wonder that they hate him.

But what can they do? He has given their party its first overall majority in 23 years.

For all the good that that does them personally, of course. PPSes, if they are lucky. MPs if they are lucky, even.

The candidates who will be selected in this Parliament will be younger than they are. And an awful lot posher.

Meanwhile, what about the other side?

There, things have wholly unexpectedly take something of a turn for the better.

Many of us watched the Labour Party being stolen from under us by those of our contemporaries who belonged in boy bands.

Yet the next Leader will first have been elected to Parliament on the same day as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, will be older even than they, and will be as far removed as it is possible to imagine from those braindead pretty-boys with no conversation beyond football.

Naturally, the Eighties generation will give way to the Nineties generation. In the former case, the Bullingdon Boys have seen off the barrow boys.

We had assumed that something similar would occur in the next wave. And it will. It is already doing so.

But most certainly not in the direction that even those of us who have been the victims for 20 years had assumed would be the case.

Those of you who were merely too cool for the Tories at the universities to which you were inexplicably admitted, clear your desks full of adolescent rubbish, and get out.

Please, Mr Corbyn, may I throw them out of the upstairs window?

Leading From The Front

The whole point of these new rules was that Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters should in future choose the Leader of the Labour Party. Entryism was the intention.

So what if Mark Serwotka voted Green in 2010? In 2012, the present Labour MP for Bradford West was a Respect activist on George Galloway's successful campaign for the seat that she herself now holds.

Gordon Brown made Quentin Davis a Minister while he was still sitting for the constituency that had elected him as a Tory, the only party label under which he has ever sought election to anything in his life.

As to how Jeremy Corbyn would get his policies through, he should do exactly as Tony Blair always did. He should simply go on television and announce them, so that that would be that.

The National Policy Forum? Don't make me laugh! In any case, his supporters will take that over soon enough, even if they do not manage it this year. But so what if they don't?

They will, however, undoubtedly sweep the board for the National Executive Committee next year, and that body has to approve all selections of parliamentary candidates, including having the sole say over by-elections, when it can impose absolutely anyone it likes.

Between now and then, or even thereafter, Corbyn should simply announce by-election candidates, too. Once the Leader has been on the telly and said these things, then they are so.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Break The Crooked Staff

Numerous members of staff of the Labour Party and of Shadow Cabinet members have contracts that end the day after the Labour Leadership result is to be announced.

Think of that as P45 Day, and count down to it as if it were Christmas.

No wonder that these crooks are trying to fix the result in order to save their own obscene pay packets.

Even the General Secretary of a large trade union that is not affiliated to the Labour Party, due to the nature of the work undertaken by its members, has been purged.

Six thousand full party members have suffered this indignity.

But three weeks from now, I will see Neil Fleming begging in the gutter, and I will refuse to give him so much as a penny or the tiniest scrap.

I might even burn a £50 note in front of his face.

Jez We Can, brothers and sisters.

Jez We Can.

The Chimes of Big Benn

Polly Toynbee is pretty much right. By far the biggest chance of British withdrawal from the EU would indeed arise from the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party.

It is hardly as if he has ever hidden his views. It is not his fault that no one in what regards itself as the mainstream media has ever reported those views.

Corbyn has suggested a renegotiation that of course he knows would be the exact opposite of that which would ever be brought back by David Cameron.

Cameron was elected to conduct that exactly opposite renegotiation, and then to put its conclusion to a referendum. He is going to do both of those things, and that is fine. 

Whatever arrangement with the EU has been renegotiated to the satisfaction of David Cameron will be horrendous from the point of view of British workers and of the users of British public services.

Submitted to a Special Congress of the TUC and to a Special Conference of the Labour Party, it will be rejected overwhelming, even unanimously, thus initiating the entirely correct campaign for a No vote in the referendum.

Big business and almost the entire Conservative Party will line up behind Cameron, since their only objection to the EU is the imaginary "Brussels red tape" that he will have pretended to have cut.

Very occasionally, there is constitutional theory stuff on the outermost fringes of Toryland. But right-wing intellectualism is the most Continental of concepts. It is not about such Bennite concerns to almost anyone on that side. They are just not like that.

The Government's latest assault on trade union funding is really designed to attack the only possible source of funding for the No campaign.

The economic, social, cultural and political power of the British working class, whether broadly or narrowly defined, cannot exactly be said to have increased since 1973.

Any more than Britain has fought no further wars since joining a body as successful as NATO or nuclear weapons when it comes to keeping the peace.

We had full employment before we joined the EU. We have never had it since. No job in the real economy is dependent on our membership. Or were trade with, and travel to, the Continent unheard of, because impossible, before our accession to the EU?

Not for nothing did Margaret Thatcher support that accession, oppose withdrawal in the 1975 referendum, and go on, as Prime Minister, to sign an act of integration so large that it could never be equalled, a position from which she never wavered until the tragically public playing out of the early stages of her dementia. "No! No! No!" was not part of any planned speech.

In anticipation of Cameron's Single European Act on speed, Labour needs to get its retaliation in first. The next Leader and Deputy Leader, Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson, by far the candidates most likely to take such a view, need to demand immediate legislation.

First, restoring the supremacy of United Kingdom over European Union law, using that provision to repatriate industrial and regional policy as Labour has advocated for some time, using it to repatriate agricultural policy (farm subsidies go back to the War, 30 years before we joined the EU, and they are a good idea in themselves, whereas the Common Agricultural Policy most certainly is not), and using it to restore the United Kingdom's historic fishing rights of 200 miles or to the median line.

Secondly, requiring that all EU legislation, in order to have any effect in this country, be enacted by both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or the other of them.

Thirdly, requiring that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard.

Fourthly, disapplying in the United Kingdom any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament. That would also deal with whatever the problem was supposed to be with the Human Rights Act.

Fifthly, disapplying in the United Kingdom anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs who had been certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons.

Thus, we should no longer be subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, of neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, of members of Eastern Europe's kleptomaniac nomenklatura, of people who believed the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, and of Dutch ultra-Calvinists who would not have women candidates.

And sixthly, giving effect to the express will of the House of Commons, for which every Labour MP voted, that the British contribution to the EU Budget be reduced in real terms.

All before Cameron even set off for his renegotiation, never mind held a referendum on that renegotiation's outcome.

After all, which privatisation did the EU prevent? Which dock, factory, shipyard, steelworks or mine did it save?

If we needed the EU for the employment law that, since we do not have it, the EU is obviously powerless to deliver, then there would be no point or purpose to the British Labour Movement.

Far from preventing wars, the EU has done nothing to prevent numerous on the part of, at some point, most of its member-states, and not least this member-state.

It was a key player in, and it has been a major beneficiary of, the destruction of Yugoslavia, a process that events in Macedonia more than suggest is ongoing even after all these years.

The EU is now a key player in, and it seeks to be a major beneficiary of, the war in Ukraine, which is the worst on the European Continent since 1945, and which is a direct consequence of the EU's expansionist desire to prise a vital buffer state out of neutrality and into the NATO from which the EU is practically indistinguishable.

As one candidate for Labour Leader has been saying all along. Just as one candidate voted against the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty.

Thankfully, that candidate is going to win.

Authority and Credibility

Jo Wheeler writes:

I was shocked when I heard that the Met Office had lost its forecasting contract with the BBC, not least because many of the commercial weather forecasters are still using much of the Met Office data.

It is an extraordinary move to end almost a century of links between the two because Britain’s weather is so particular.

We are a small land mass in a large body of water and we have such a disparity and range in weather on any given day.

Foreign forecasters won’t understand the conditions in the UK as they often look at “impact weather” – hurricanes and typhoons – which we obviously don’t experience here.

You can have a glance at Europe and you immediately have an idea of the weather there.

Whereas tomorrow, for example, there will be two different pressure systems over Britain. We have got a very diverse meteorological situation in the UK and you just can’t broad-brush it

Using foreign forecasters would mean the BBC just wouldn’t have the nuances to predict weather here. You could spend half an hour doing a detailed forecast for the UK.

It could be that the BBC plans to concentrate on weather forecasts online and on mobile apps. It will certainly lead to a less-detailed forecast on the TV.

But we need detailed TV forecasts.

If you look back to the hurricane of 1987, so many things have changed since then. The data the Met Office now uses is collected from aircraft, buoys out at sea, and ships.

This information is pertinent to the UK and not anywhere else. And I can’t see any other forecasting body being that diligent and collecting that data to build accurate forecasts.

News that people at the Met Office are gutted does not surprise me.

I have long and happy memories of working with the Met Office at the BBC; it gave  its forecasts authority and credibility.

A Modest Programme

Here:

Over recent weeks, Britain’s mass media claim to have discovered “Corbynomics.”

Labour Party leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn is apparently threatening to throw a potent Molotov cocktail of untried economic ideas and policies into the calm waters of Britain’s economic recovery.

Alarm at such a lethal prospect has swept across the worlds of business and media and is now provoking cries of distress from rival contenders as well as assorted Labour “grandees.”

And yet, Corbynomics is a myth.

As 42 economists pointed out at the weekend, what Corbyn proposes is a modest programme of state intervention to boost, rebalance and modernise Britain’s sluggish, unbalanced and creaking economy.

Instead of slashing welfare spending by an extra £12 billion over the next five years, he proposes to reverse the tax cuts for the rich and big business and reduce Britain’s budget deficit through economic growth rather than austerity. 

As the 42 point out, this is an approach favoured by powerful figures within the International Monetary Fund, which is hardly a hotbed of Marxist political economy.

He proposes selective nationalisation in the transport and energy sectors to secure the planned and sustainable development of key strategic industries.

Public-sector financial mechanisms, including nationalised banks such as RBS, would be deployed to promote infrastructure investment, technological innovation, green industries and council housing.

In particular, Corbyn advocates a form of “quantitative easing” for the people instead of for the City of London and its financial institutions.

Under such a scheme, the Bank of England would create money to buy bonds issued by a National Investment Bank to fund specific projects.

Over the past six years, Labour and Tory-led governments have handed £375bn to banks, insurance companies and pension funds to redeem mostly state-issue bonds, in the mistaken belief that the money would be used to stimulate economic demand, investment and the housing market.

All we have seen in return are fatter corporate bank balances and an inflating property price bubble.

Why should it be regarded as “extreme” to ensure that future QE actually benefits the economy, as intended under Labour and pretended under the Tories?

Why should extensive public ownership of the railways, electricity, gas and water be regarded as so outlandish when it remains the norm in Germany, France and other advanced capitalist economies?

To listen to Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, a bevy of privatised Labour ex-ministers and all their Tory backers, it might be thought that anyone who upholds the value of selective state intervention — from Angela Merkel and François Hollande to Harold Macmillan and Clement Attlee — are disciples of Stalin, five-year plans and monopoly state ownership.

The proposed National Investment Bank is reminiscent of Labour’s National Enterprise Board in the 1970s, championed by arch-Bolsheviks Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, which — for all its weaknesses — rescued British Leyland, Rolls-Royce, Ferranti and BTG (now a world leader in MRI technology) from private-sector ruin.

Furthermore, Corbyn includes measures in his manifesto to assist small businesses, co-operative enterprise and private-sector investment in new technology.

Yet such is the domination of economic neoliberalism today over Britain’s mass media, academia and the political establishment — including its tame parrots inside the Labour Party — that he and his policies are condemned as reckless.

Breaking A Key Link


A notable anniversary falls this week, one which may be of interest to the BBC executives who have just decided to dispense with the UK Met Office as the provider of their weather forecasts.

It is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the mammoth storm of August 2005 which wrecked the city of New Orleans, drowned more than 1,800 people and was the costliest natural disaster ever to befall the United States.

In the agonised lesson-learning which followed, much attention was focused on warnings and response, and in particular the role played in the disaster by inconsistent messages from various US authorities: federal, state and local.

Evacuate now? Evacuate later? Don’t evacuate? Many people were confused; and many died.

In Katrina’s aftermath, it became clear that consistent messaging in advance of a major weather event is absolutely critical; and that is exactly what is being put at risk by the crack-brained and scarcely believable decision to do away with the long-established national weather service, and replace it with something from the Netherlands, maybe, or perhaps New Zealand.

If it’s cheaper. Or possibly sexier. The BBC hasn’t specified.

In doing so, the Beeb at a stroke will be breaking a key link: that between the weather messages which go to what is known in the jargon as “the resilience community” – the police, the fire, the ambulance, the coastguard and all the other services which shore us up – and those which go to the general public through radio, television and internet.

At the moment, they are identical, which is as it should be. But that is going to change.

The police and their emergency-responding fellows will not go to some Kiwi weather company to hear that a major storm is brewing; they will get their forecasts from the Met Office as they have always done, and will be liaising with them closely.

But the national broadcaster will be looking elsewhere, and broadcasting a forecast from somebody else.

This may seem a subtle point. But it is the breaking of this link which has caused alarm and disbelief at the highest levels of the Met Office.

What if the two forecasts diverge? What if members of the public try to confirm one with the other – as they can at present – and they do not match up?

Senior Met Office figures are in no way reassured by the Beeb’s bland assurance that it will still broadcast their severe weather warnings (so that in effect we will have two forecasts).

What will happen is that consistency of weather messaging will simply no longer be guaranteed, when in the future we may need it more than ever.

We might not get hurricanes, but we increasingly get major flooding, and we get North Sea storm surges, like the one on 31 January 1953 which drowned 307 people, and the one on 5 December 2013 which missed causing the same level of devastation by a whisker.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, the UK Met Office is consistently the most accurate weather forecaster in the world, whatever grumbles we may have when sometimes, and inevitably, it gets things wrong.

It is not infallible; but it is a beacon of excellence, and the BBC’s move to dispense with it, after nearly a century of cooperation, is crazy.

It may suit the Corporation’s bottom line, or its image of itself as a trendy broadcaster: but the commercial interests of the BBC are not the same as the interests of the nation, and this decision is a nonsense which needs to be reversed.

Competent and Responsible

Daniel Larison writes:

Brent Scowcroft writes in favor of the deal with Iran:

Let us be clear: There is no credible alternative were Congress to prevent U.S. participation in the nuclear deal. If we walk away, we walk away alone.

The world’s leading powers worked together effectively because of U.S. leadership. To turn our back on this accomplishment would be an abdication of the United States’ unique role and responsibility, incurring justified dismay among our allies and friends.

We would lose all leverage over Iran’s nuclear activities. The international sanctions regime would dissolve.

And no member of Congress should be under the illusion that another U.S. invasion of the Middle East would be helpful.

Gen. Scowcroft makes a strong case for the nuclear deal, and a more sober and responsible Republican Party would listen carefully to what he has to say.

Regrettably, we already know that on foreign policy generally and this issue in particular the current GOP is neither of those things.

Comparisons between the debate over the Iraq war and the debate over the current deal with Iran can be overdone, but it is instructive to remember that Scowcroft was one of a relative few prominent Republicans to oppose the invasion of Iraq publicly.

Now he is one of a very few former Republican officials to express support for the nuclear deal. It’s not an accident that he was right about the Iraq war.

Supporters of the invasion erred in failing to consider the costs and risks of an unnecessary war because of their shoddy assumptions about American power and how to use, and Scowcroft opposed the invasion in large part because he was willing and able to weigh those costs and judge them to be unacceptably high.

Unlike the loudest advocates for the invasion, Scowcroft didn’t think preventive war in Iraq made sense as far as American security was concerned, and he was also warning about the many unintended and unforeseen consequences that wars have.

Applying wisdom and prudence then, Scowcroft got one of the biggest foreign policy questions of the last generation right while almost everyone in and out of elected office in his party (and many in the other party) got it badly wrong.

So when the same person advises support for the nuclear deal as the sound and responsible thing to do now, his recommendation should carry considerable weight.

If there is to be any accountability in our foreign policy debates, it isn’t enough to reject discredited hard-liners. It is also necessary to heed the skeptics and realists that have proved to be discerning and farsighted.

So it is more than a little strange that Scowcroft is once again almost alone among prominent Republicans in taking a pro-deal position.

His caution and warnings from 2002 were thoroughly vindicated, but instead of causing Republicans to pay more attention to his advice his opposition to the war effectively made him persona non grata in his own party.

If any Republican candidates have sought his counsel on foreign policy, they aren’t advertising it to anyone, and most of them wouldn’t want to linked to him for fear of being labeled too much of a realist.

One reason not to trust most Republican candidates on foreign policy is that they consciously go out of their way to ignore the best advice that former officials from their party have to offer.

In a competent and responsible party, Scowcroft’s argument for the deal would provide ample cover for many members of Congress and presidential candidates to support it.

Unfortunately, we already know that his endorsement of the deal will instead be cited as a reason why Republican candidates should shut their ears to his words.

"Getting" The European Union

Steve McGiffen writes:

My appreciation of Syriza has not really changed since the Greek capitulation to the Brussels-Frankfurt gang. 

Syriza used to be Synaspismos, and the majority in that party never did really “get” the European Union, what it is, what it’s for and how those things make it unreformable.

No matter.

Until 10 years ago I worked alongside them in the European Parliament and they consistently voted against neoliberal proposals. 

The same goes for the party I represented on the secretariat of the United European Left, the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP), though they were and remain much closer to “getting” the EU. 

Others in the group varied in their views, but continued to vote consistently — and to organise — to oppose the increasingly extremist plans coming out of the European Commission.

Yet in the last few years, as criticism of the EU from the radical parliamentary left has become better informed and more acute, a position has developed which sees the honing of “Europe” into a hugely effective weapon of corporate capital as a recent activity.

It is no such thing.

The position is based on the dangerously erroneous belief that the “European project” was originally motivated by a desire for peace. 

The story goes like this — after the second world war a number of countries in Europe decided to move towards a partial integration of their economies.

Hitler and others had tried this at various times in the past, but always by violence. This time democratic countries would co-operate of their own free will. The goals would be freedom, peace and prosperity.

And so, in 1957, with the Treaty of Rome, the European Economic Community (EEC) was born, and a gradual process of economic integration began, accompanied by a cautious political integration.

Everything changed in 1992, with the Maastricht Treaty which established the European Union as a vehicle for a specific form of politics, a neoliberal politics aimed at holding down wages, running down social security and deregulating markets.

Since then democracy has been increasingly revealed as window-dressing, as a series of popular votes against EU plans — France and the Netherlands 2005, Ireland 2008, Greece 2015 — has been ignored, or worse. 

The main impulse behind this false view of the European project is a desire to counter the accusation — common enough — that to take an EU-critical position is to be a nationalist.

That’s why I have always described myself as “opposed to this European Union.” 

To go further than that, however, and to suggest that the EU is a good idea gone bad, is very misleading, perhaps dangerously so. 

The EEC was not established to foster peace.

This is not to say that there was no impulse to create a peaceful community of nations in place of the warring tribes who had been at each other’s throats, on and off, since time immemorial.

This was a widespread feeling among ordinary working-class and middle-class people, but it was not something which particularly motivated the ruling class.

The impulse to economic integration was instead done under pressure from the two post-war superpowers. 

On the one hand, fear of the Soviet Union’s appeal to working people in the West — evidenced by mass communist parties in Italy and France — meant that it was imperative that as Europe recovered from war, organised labour got a share of the spoils in the form of rising standards of living, solidly social democratic welfare states and, most importantly, full employment. 

On the other, European integration and the creation of accessible markets and opportunities for investment were vital to the post-war programme of the other superpower, the United States. 

Indeed, the idea of a Soviet military “threat” to western Europe was largely a US invention.

It allowed the US to establish not only the EEC but Nato, a sort of protection racket which would enable it to subordinate former enemies and allies alike.

The European bourgeoisie had no problem with this, as it consolidated its own hold on power. 

But as the economy hit the buffers in the 1970s and the rate of profit began to decline, the welfare state could no longer be afforded. 

Elements which have been retained are either those to which people, including many ordinary Tory voters, are most attached — the NHS, for instance — or those, like the benefit system, which have been retooled as disciplinary mechanisms.

Neoliberalism, a fringe philosophy until then, had come into its own.

Capitalism gives only what we can extract from it. Working men and women in many countries died fighting for parliamentary representation. 

So if they give us a European Parliament which no-one ever asked for, let alone demonstrated for, you should smell a rat. 

Only fear of our power has ever made them use their power to give us what we want. That fear has long been at a low ebb. 

As Thatcher and Reagan successfully stuck the boot into the labour movement, the right went on the attack. 

As the Soviet Union collapsed, taking most western communist parties with it, capitalism suddenly found itself without serious organised opposition.

The Maastricht Treaty was the consequence of all of this, and it was indeed a harsher version of neoliberal economic integration than anything which went before.

Yet it is also a logical development. Like the welfare state, it is a tactic to preserve capitalism. This is the EU’s only real function.

Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis approached the Brussels-Frankfurt gang as if they were negotiating with reasonable people who wanted the same as they did — to restore the Greek economy and save people’s lives — but had different ideas about how to achieve it. 

In reality they were engaged in class war. To stand on a battlefield convinced you’re a diplomat and not a soldier is unlikely to end at all well.

That’s what the Greek government did, and that’s why — for the time being — it lost.

The Last Bus

John Harris writes:

Tuscany, Schmuscany. On Sunday I got back from a week’s holiday in Whitby, the North Yorkshire fishing port whose craggy streets and cosy harbour give it the feel of a redoubt from the modern world.

Among the best bits of our family trip was a day’s walking, book-ended by journeys on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a lovingly maintained steam line that runs from Whitby to the market town of Pickering, and was used in the first Harry Potter film.

It took us 45 minutes to travel less than 10 miles, but that was kind of the point: time slowed down, and the whole experience took on a beautifully dreamy quality.

The NYMR is a great thing, but it also points up one of postwar Britain’s greatest tragedies.

The line on which the steam trains run was a victim of the Beeching axe, the great hacking-down of the UK rail network that resulted in the closure of over 2,000 stations and the loss of nearly 70,000 jobs.

As of 1965, Beeching also ensured that Whitby lost its rail link to nearby Scarborough, and was left with only a snail’s-pace line to Middlesbrough.

Fifty years on, with the town reinvented as a modern tourist destination, the lack of train services looks like an embodiment of the serial stupidities of transport policy, not least when you’ve been locked into long queues on the roads that ferry people there from the motorway.

And this part of England, along with countless others, now faces a new menace, focused on local public transport’s last line of defence: the bus.

In the last year alone, Tory-run North Yorkshire council has axed around 90 bus services, and after serious funding cuts, has just finished consulting on another 25% reduction in subsidies.

Among the proposed casualties will be services that, just like the old railway lines, run from Whitby to both Pickering and Scarborough, as well as an array of journeys spread across a whole swath of northern England.

Across the country, meanwhile, with George Osborne now planning November’s spending review and looking at cuts in departmental budgets of up to 40%, the money channelled from local councils to public transport looks especially vulnerable.

Already, bus transport is in the midst of a huge crisis, just as it is needed more than ever. Buses are a vital requirement for young people and most Britons on limited incomes.

Around 40% of people over 60 use a bus at least once a week; one of the many certainties that comes with an ageing population is an increased demand for public transport.

Everyday reality, however, is headed in exactly the opposite direction.

The story of how this happened goes back to the Thatcher government’s disastrous devolution of buses, and takes you into a murky world of acronyms and arcana.

But the basic outlines are simple enough.

Around one in five bus journeys are publicly subsidised but, thanks to funding cuts, the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) reckons that about two thousand services and routes have been lost since 2010.

In 2012 20% was cut from the bus service operators grant, which campaigners worry will be in Osborne’s sights in the build-up to November.

If its annual £350m contribution were to go, transport experts reckon that up to 10% of services would be cut, and fares would once again increase: the UK’s record on ticket prices, needless to say, is already characterised by serial above-inflation hikes and a clear sense of private monopolies abusing their power.

Why this carnage hardly intrudes on political debate is a very interesting question.

The ubiquity and financial health of bus transport in London is part of the explanation: in the capital, bus travel is regulated to an exceptional extent and self-evidently thriving, so stories about problems elsewhere have precious little traction.

At the same time, the British fixation with the train does its work, reducing conversations about transport to the hoary old subject of rail renationalisation.

Political theatre also takes some of the blame: as the CBT’s Martin Abrams puts it: “With transport policy, politicians like to mooch about in hard hats and hi-vis jackets. You can’t really do that on a bus.”

Perhaps not, but the bus remains the most democratic form of transport (no first class here), and does things that trains – and cars – simply cannot.

It is embedded in the daily routine of millions of lives, and in popular culture – as evidenced by the Who’s Magic Bus, the Beatles’ A Day in the Life (“Found my coat and grabbed my hat/Made the bus in seconds flat”), and the evergreen children’s standard The Wheels on the Bus.

The bus is so familiar that it barely merits comment – but at the same time, as it recedes from view, we barely seem to notice.

Last week the IPPR thinktank published a report focused on bus travel that was full of sobering findings. In 2013-14, there were more bus passenger journeys in London than in the rest of England combined.

Between 2009 and 2014 councils’ spending on local-transport services fell by 19.7%. In the past year Cumbria has cut its bus subsidies by 44%; in Herefordshire they have been reduced by 39%; and in Dorset by 24%.

As the cuts bite a story of disappearing services is blurring out of rural areas into the suburbs, as evidenced by growing controversy in built-up areas of Hampshire and Surrey.

The recent Queen’s speech contained a barely-noticed buses bill, tied to Osborne’s deregulation drive.

Superficially it held out the prospect of deregulation finally being avenged, and directly elected mayors being given the power to follow London’s example, bring bus companies to heel, and integrate local transport.

But as with so much the government does, it skirted round the most basic issues of all: money, and the woefully familiar spectacle of one of the richest countries in the world allowing basic public services to go to the wall.

For people in Whitehall and Westminster, though, the handling of the story could not be easier.

It happens well away from London, and involves not the high drama of the Beeching axe, but slow and stealthy decline as timetables shrink, bus shelters slowly crumble, and in far too many places buses simply disappear.

One hesitates to use a word like “lunacy”, but it surely fits.

The Cuban Thaw

Catherine Addington writes:

While bemoaning hard-liners’ ideologically motivated opposition to the recent U.S. shift in policy on Cuba, Daniel Larison recently pointed out one of the most underrated features of the change: 

“Normalization with Cuba also removes one of the irritants in our relationships with the rest of Latin America, which can only make our dealings with the rest of our hemisphere more constructive.”

As one senior Obama administration official told the New York Times, the U.S. policy in Cuba was a primary obstacle in diplomatic negotiations in the region. 

“In the last Summit of the Americas, instead of talking about things we wanted to focus on — exports, counternarcotics — we spent a lot of time talking about U.S.-Cuba policy. A key factor with any bilateral meeting is, ‘When are you going to change your Cuba policy?'”

Why does Cuba matter so much to Latin America?

Certainly, just as Cuba is an ideological touchstone in the United States, where it has represented one of the last vestiges of full-throated Cold War-era Communism, the island nation has a powerful symbolic presence in Latin America as well.

Politically, the U.S. policy against Cuba has played as just another episode in the long history of American interventionism in its “sphere of influence,” particularly on the upstart new left.

President Obama has been known to joke about the outdated nature of the Cuba dispute.

When asked in 2012 about the prospect of allowing Cuba’s reintegration into the Organization of American States, he said:

“Sometimes those controversies date back to before I was born. And sometimes I feel as if … we’re caught in a time warp … going back to the 1950s, gunboat diplomacy, and Yankees, and the Cold War and this and that.” 

For the U.S., the policy has often been shrugged off as admittedly outdated but ultimately in line with American values surrounding human rights and democracy.

But for Latin Americans, the Cuba embargo evokes a visceral living memory of the United States’ destructive interventionism in the region.

Decades of U.S. military intervention followed the Cuban Revolution of 1959, aiming to prevent Communist regimes elsewhere.

In the process, the U.S. helped overthrow democratically elected governments and install military dictatorships in Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964), and Chile (1973); supported military repression in El Salvador (1980) and rebel groups in Nicaragua (1981-1987); invaded the Dominican Republic (1965), Grenada (1983), and Panama (1989); and operated the U.S. Army School of the Americas (1946-present), which trained many Latin American military leaders who went on to become human rights violators in their home countries.

In short, though the focus has since shifted from fighting Communism to fighting drugs—and, to some extent, to fighting terrorism—the idea that the U.S. policy toward Cuba was instituted, and has been maintained, because of an American commitment to democracy in the region is not seen as credible in Latin American eyes.

The pattern is now so established that U.S. involvement is suspected in every disturbance, as was the case with the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela and the 2009 coup in Honduras.

The embargo is even more specifically entangled in the U.S. pattern of economic, not just military, intervention to the south—though the two are often not all that separated.

For instance, the first major U.S.-backed coup in the region, that of Guatemala in 1954, was largely motivated by the impact of labor reforms on the profits of the United Fruit Company.

The populist governments of the new left rose to power across the region in reaction against the “Washington Consensus” neoliberal policies of the 1990s, which they characterize as an imposition by a U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund on Latin America.

Though the United States can not be reasonably blamed for every economic crisis in Latin American history, the country’s domineering past has given it a lasting reputation for manipulation.

Though many Latin Americans would be of a mind with most Americans in their opinions of Raúl and Fidel Castro’s leadership, they also associate these histories of military and economic intervention with the United States in interpreting the Cuba dispute.

As such, U.S. policy there is rarely seen as either concerned with or effective on human rights, but rather as part of its longstanding pattern of wielding the “big stick” to quash resistance, no matter the effect on its poorer and weaker neighbors.

The American punishment of Cuba has only contributed to the island’s image as a heroic nation standing up against an imperialist behemoth, which has ultimately distracted from the human rights violations committed under the Castros’ leadership.

Many regional diplomatic opportunities will present themselves post-normalization.

For instance, one of Cuba’s major regional influences has been its support for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). FARC, a guerrilla movement that has been in armed conflict with the Colombian government for decades and is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. government, is currently in peace talks with Colombia—the top U.S. ally in the region.

The current ceasefire, particularly if transformed into an armistice, could be spurred on if the U.S. had influence on both sides of the conflict.

For Latin American leaders previously disillusioned by Washington’s isolation from the region, normalization with Cuba is a major sign that the U.S. is willing to step up as a reasonable leader.

Restoring ties with Cuba will not be a panacea for all of the United States’ diplomatic problems with Latin America. Even at the most recent Summit of the Americas, held this past April in Panama City, conversation was derailed by a new political distraction: the executive order in which President Obama referred to Venezuela as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

As Cuba’s economic patron and the Caribbean’s main source of oil, Venezuela is hugely influential in the region despite its recent political struggles and economic devastation.

But perhaps just as crucially, it is the standard bearer for the leftist Bolivarian movement—so named for the revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar, who has become a symbol for Latin American and Caribbean solidarity—and the executive order was seen to be right out of the paternalist playbook Latin American countries thought the U.S. was using Cuba normalization to leave behind.

The dramatic speeches at that Summit (“The Yankees do not change!” exclaimed Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega) reflect how much unnecessary havoc such ideological missteps can wreak, and how many new obstacles they can create for hemispheric diplomacy.

It matters that the United States gets this diplomatic transition right, not least because the leftist bloc led by ever-poorer Venezuela (and often symbolized by Cuba) is ailing, and its allies are in the market for new friends. Cuba and the Caribbean as a whole are increasingly unable to rely on Venezuelan oil, and they are looking to diversify its economy by engaging with U.S. businesses—even under the embargo, the U.S. has become Cuba’s fifth-largest trading partner.

A successful thaw will prove valuable: Cuba will be a relatively untapped market if the blockade is removed, and the U.S. needs to increase its influence in the Caribbean due to its growing problems with drug and human trafficking to the U.S.

But it will also go a long way toward becoming a partner that the rest of the Americas can trust again.

Earlier this summer, Chas Freeman urged the United States “to rediscover noncoercive instruments of statecraft that can persuade others that they can benefit by working with us rather than against us.”

The Cuban thaw is a major opportunity to do just that, and on a larger scale than it may first appear.