Thursday, 21 August 2014

Likely To Hear Again

The Holy Father's visit to the United States may well manifest that the days when the de facto schismatic "conservative" wing of the American Church was indulged any more than the de facto schismatic "liberal" wing are well and truly at an end.

Why, we are even preparing for the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, of whom Filip Mazurczak wrote last year:

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot during the celebration of Mass by the death squadrons of El Salvador’s military government.

Today his reputation is undergoing a second assassination: Critics have responded to the floating of his name for beatification by wrongly charging the man with supporting violence, communism, and heresy.

Those who would make the archbishop a radical hero have offered their own version of these claims in approving tones.

Both are wrong.

Murals and t-shirts showing Romero alongside Salvador Allende and Che Guevara are common in Central America, yet his visage sits somewhat uncomfortably beside theirs.

Romero did not hesitate to condemn capitalism, but at the same time he was an anti-communist. In his sermons he cautioned against the dangers of atheistic, materialist Marxism.

In one of his homilies, Romero chastised leftists for criticizing American imperialism while turning a blind eye to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

While the left has come to glorify Romero, right-wing politicians in El Salvador have accused him of inspiring leftist guerilla violence.

In reality, Romero sought a peaceful solution to El Salvador’s troubles.

In his third pastoral letter, written in 1978, Romero condemned leftist guerrilla violence as “terrorist” and “seditious.”

In the fourth letter written one year later, the archbishop of San Salvador reminded the nation that violence was justifiable only in extreme situations when all other alternatives have been exhausted, citing Catholic just war theory.

The twentieth century was a difficult one for the Latin American Church. In the 1970s and 1980s, military juntas ruled most of the region.

In Argentina, the bishops’ close ties to the dictatorship of Jorge Videla and their silence on the tortures and disappearances in the country led many Argentineans to lose their trust in the Church.

By contrast, in Nicaragua many clerics supported armed revolution against the Somoza dictatorship and supported the Marxist Sandinistas.

Even a man as saintly as Dom Helder Camara, he bishop who defended Brazil’s poor against the country’s military dictatorship, believed that Marx should do for Christianity in the twentieth century what Aristotle did for medieval Thomism.

By contrast, in a 1978 homily, Romero said: “Since Marxist materialism destroys the Church’s transcendent meaning, a Marxist church would be not only self-destructive but senseless.”

Romero avoided the blinkered anti-communism of Argentina’s bishops and defended the vulnerable against military violence, seeing the hypocrisy of rulers who claim to be Christians yet persecute the people.

At the same time, he understood the dangers of Marxism, condemning the Marxist guerrilla movement that terrorized El Salvador’s ruling class.

Ernesto Cardenal, the Trappist monk who in the 1980s was a minister in Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, wrote that before becoming a Christian, one first must become a Marxist-Leninist.

Romero rejected this: His personal hero was Pope Pius XI for resisting fascism and communism at the same time. Romero also stood apart from liberation theology, distinguishing between the liberation of communism and the liberation Christ offers.

In the 1980s, some Latin American priests inspired by Marxism wanted to deny Communion to the wealthy. Romero resisted this saying in a 1979 homily: “We are not demagogically in favor of one social class; we are in favor of God’s reign, and we want to promote justice, love, and understanding, wherever there is a heart well disposed.”

Few know that Romero received spiritual direction from an Opus Dei priest and personally knew the future saint and Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva.

When the latter died in 1975, he wrote a letter to Paul VI asking the Pope to jumpstart his canonization process, writing: “Monsignor Escriva . . . was able to unite in his life a continuous dialogue with Our Lord and a great humanity; one could tell he was a man of God, and his manner was full of sensitivity, kindness, and good humor.”

As recommended by Opus Dei priests, Romero wore a cilice on Fridays as a form of self-mortification until his death.

One of the firmest supporters of Romero’s beatification has been Pope Benedict XVI. Both before and after his election to the papacy he has expressed his enthusiasm for the cause, going so far as to say that he has “no doubt” that Romero will be declared blessed someday.

During his 1983 pilgrimage to El Salvador, John Paul insisted on visiting Romero’s tomb despite the pleas of Latin American bishops and the Salvadoran government.

John Paul II asked local priests to open the door of the cathedral which was locked up by the military. He immersed himself in prayer for a long time in front of Romero’s tomb.

John Paul II again demonstrated his affection for Oscar Romero by insisting “again against the wishes of many churchmen” that during the 2000 Jubilee Year celebration in Rome’s Coliseum Romero’s name be mentioned among the great martyrs of the Americas.

It is a name we are likely to hear again.

Ora pro nobis.

The Origins of The People

I have been sent the following:

The Australian Monarchist League has emphasised that should Scotland choose to leave the Union following the referendum on September 18 on the question of Scottish independence, this will not affect the Australian National Flag.

James Burgess, spokesman for the League, stated “Scottish independence is a matter for the Scottish people to decide upon.

“If the Scottish independence movement succeeds, the flag of Great Britain would in all likelihood change.

“However, this does not mean that our own Australian flag would have to change. The crosses of St George, St Andrew and Saint Patrick represent the origins of the people who settled modern Australia.

“It represents our association through the colonies with the United Kingdom from which we inherited the rule of law and order and our base constitution.”

“Australia now comprises many ethnicities amongst which are large numbers of persons of Scottish descent, so there is no need in Australia to remove the cross of St Andrew”, Mr Burgess said.

Mr Burgess said, “Our flag represents our familial place within the Anglosphere. The Flag Act 1953, and the Flags Amendment Act 1998 mean that we are under no legal obligation to change it.

“It’s hard to see many other nation states changing their flags as a result, including the American State of Hawaii.”

It should be noted that the Union Flag was not altered by removing St Patrick’s Cross after Ireland left the Union in 1922.

The Union Flag remained the same when the Republic of Ireland was declared in 1949.

Like the United Kingdom, in fact. There would be no change to the Flag. Or to the name.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

This IS What You Wanted

This time last year, the British Government wanted to intervene militarily in support of what is now the Islamic State, and the commentators who are now calling most vocally for intervention against it were calling for International Brigades to be raised in its support.

It looks as if such Brigades have indeed been heading off to fight for it from the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister of which wanted to send Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the same cause at the time when James Foley's decapitator doubtless set out from London.

"Has the Prime Minister ever read Frankenstein?", George Galloway asked him. "Did he read it to the end?" The answer to that second question, at least, is clearly in the negative.

Of Interest

Interest rates would have gone up anyway this year.

But they could have done so during the early months of a Labour Government.

You gave yourselves a five-year term. You have only yourselves to blame.

Stars In Their Own Eyes

So the Morning Star did not run, or generally take kindly to, a story with negative connotations for its part-owner, the RMT?

Newspapers run such stories about their proprietors when, exactly?

Imagine if they did...

What Is The Point?

Damian Thompson, Oliver Kamm and their acolytes, notably the utterly hateful Jonathan Simons (what did I ever do to him?), have devoted mind-boggling proportions of their lives to ruining mine.

They have very largely succeeded.

Two books commended by Peers and Professors, but unreviewed anywhere. Staggering lies about me on the Internet. And very much else besides.

It is as if I were a fictional character that existed purely for their amusement.

All because I have dared to articulate the position to which the One Nation Society is now dedicated.

Between them, they have on occasion brought me to the brink of suicide by their efforts to silence our point of view and, moreover, to deprive me of a livelihood, as Kamm has now done at least twice.

Kamm or one of his minions is now even maintaining a highly active Twitter feed in order to hound and harass me and anyone who has anything to do with me.

I always knew that they would come after the One Nation Society, and I have been waiting for the day. Clearly, that day has arrived.

If this falls through, then I really might end it all. I should be quite unable to go on. This is my last hope.

And, though I say so myself, this is the only systematic attempt that there has been in many years to give an organisational expression to our view, as such.

I should have died in my sleep a few hours after, without there having been any kind of selection process, I was presented with the papers nominating Neil Fleming for the council seat that was rightfully mine.

That would have led in short order to the parliamentary seat that I am universally said, by people who did absolutely nothing to bring it about, to have deserved.

But instead, my life ended there and then.

Or At Least Not Our Enemy

Atul Hatwal writes:

I recall speaking to Syrian friend last summer about the impending parliamentary vote on military intervention.

He had been one of his country’s leading surgeons, and a classical musician, appearing regularly on national TV. Until his dissent against President Assad had become a little too public.

Imprisonment and torture by Assad’s secret police were followed by a lucky escape, both from Assad’s jail and a country degenerating into civil war, to seek asylum in Britain.

I’d expected him to be supportive of action against the regime. After all, it had taken everything from him and his family.

But all I found was despondency and, on balance, opposition to military action.

By this time last year, the primary threat to Syria was no longer President Assad. It was the rise of the Islamist militias and the collapse of secular centre in the opposition.

We could bomb Assad. We could send him a bouquet of flowers. Both would have been equally relevant to the suffering of the Syrian people.

In summer 2013, the reality of life in Syria was that it was more dangerous to live in territory controlled by the Islamist militias than Assad.

The discussion that my friend saw unfolding in this country was facile and pointless.

The knee-jerk opposition of much of the left to any intervention that involved the Americans – who, by coincidence are also the only country that can mount any meaningful humanitarian or military intervention – was borderline offensive.

Yet the position of the interventionists, although motivated by good intentions, was barely better informed.

Targeting President Assad’s military infrastructure with some limited bombing might have made the hawks in London and Washington feel happier, but it wouldn’t have helped Syrians living under Isil, the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian Islamic Front or any one of the other dozen or so, hardcore jihadi groups.

And if this potential action had materially degraded the Syrian regime’s military capability, the threat of advances by the Islamist militias would have been all the greater.

By the time of the parliamentary debate on Syria last year, the situation had deteriorated to the point that even a full scale military intervention, involving US and UK troops on the ground, would not have been able to restore order.

Recently, one of the emerging articles of faith within the interventionist camp on the left has been that a muscular, early engagement in Syria – with military support and supplies – would have bolstered the centrist rebels and prevented the rise of the extremists.

There is a large element of truth to this, but too often the timing for this intervention is conveniently omitted. It was not last year, or even the year before, but late 2011 when a difference could have been made.

Think about that: 2011.

Barely weeks after the intervention in Libya, with British armed forces struggling to recover from their over-stretch in delivering that mission and the US almost wholly opposed, there was as much chance of bringing peace to Syria through the medium of everyone linking arms and singing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” as there was of a forceful military engagement by the West.

Last year, the best that my friend hoped for was a stalemate: where Assad’s forces, Islamist rebels and centrist rebels cancelled each other out for years to come, and that a new peace was won through exhaustion – of resources and the will to fight.

There was almost no chance of the centrists regaining the initiative, but they needed to hold onto the ground that they had won, to prevent the Islamists taking control of the opposition, and then maybe, the country.

Since then, the worst has happened.

Isil has become the dominant group and although it is currently fighting the Al Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra Front and Islamic Front, in practical terms, the choice is Taliban or Talibanner.

Whichever group emerges as victorious, the jihadists will control the opposition.

The possibility of an Islamist victory in Syria at some point in the next few years is now very real.

Currently the US and Britain are supporting the Kurds in attempting to reverse recent Isil gains in Iraq.

Yet this can only be a temporary palliative, one that will have to be repeated again and again over the coming years, as long as Isil and the jihadists retain a safe haven over the border in Syria.

The question the West now needs to face is the one that many Syrians understood all too well last year: who is the greater threat, Assad or the Islamists?

Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, the Syrian airforce hit Raqaa, the capital of Isil controlled territory across Syria and Iraq. It demonstrated the ability of the Assad regime to strike at Isil in their heartland.

If the US and UK come to the same conclusion as many Syrians, that Isil is a greater threat than Assad, then the only route to victory over this enemy, runs via an accommodation with President Assad.

The ability to hit Isil heavy armour and troop convoys, as they mobilise in Syria, will be critical to ensuring their fighters in Iraq are not resupplied.

The importance of forcing Isil to fight on the ground, on two fronts – in Syria and Iraq – will deplete their resources and squeeze them in the same tactical vice that confronts any army which has to split its resources in this way.

Without secure resupply lines, lacking air superiority and numerically outnumbered by a combination of Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian troops, Isil, and their Islamist rivals, could be crushed.

Could be.

To change the conditional into the definite, a major step is required by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

To publicly acknowledge the military facts on the ground which dictate that President Assad has to be our ally, or at least not our enemy, if we are to defeat Isil.

Only then, will the West demonstrate that it is serious and understands what is needed for victory against Isil and the Islamists who are threatening to overrun both Syria and Iraq.

Exactly What We Need

Owen Jones writes:

The first defeat for the alleged killers of James Foley would be for him to be remembered as a courageous journalist.

Reporting from a war zone is riskier than ever: over 200 media workers died in the Iraq war, more than any other conflict; at least 70 journalists were killed in global conflicts last year; and Agence France-Presse estimates that at least 30 have died this year.

Foley had already spent 44 days in captivity at the hands of Gaddafi’s forces in Libya, but that did not deter him from seeking to uncover the truth about Syria.

His apparent killers want him to be remembered as a tool to spread terror; celebrating his work would be an act of defiance.

Everything about the video of Foley’s alleged murder was intended to chill.

It is unlikely that Islamic State (Isis) selected an executor with a strong London accent for no reason. It was the Iraq war that first popularised the execution video but hearing the blood-curdling threats and dogma of Isis recited in tones that are all too familiar is itself a message.

Terrorism by definition aims to spread terror to achieve its political ends.

One of the reasons Isis has outmanoeuvred its rivals is because it has embraced social media so effectively. By publicising its atrocities online, it tells would-be opponents what will happen if it is resisted, and this partly explains why so many have fled rather than confront Isis forces.

The ruthless use of social media has proved instrumental in the toppling of entire cities.

This operation is being gladly assisted by those in the west who portray Isis as a unique, undiluted evil that needs to be bombed out of existence, granting the militant group the mystique it clearly craves and relies on.

Foley’s murder will inevitably intensify calls for further western military involvement. Those agitating for such a course of action have a number of questions to answer.

The “war on terror” began 13 years ago. It has involved bombs raining down on Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. And with what success?

Jihadism is stronger than ever; Isis is not only more extreme than al-Qaida, but what it has achieved surely exceeds Osama bin Laden’s wildest ambitions.

Who can deny that the west has served as a recruiting sergeant for Islamic extremism, that it effectively helped hand large swathes of Iraq and Libya over to such elements?

Nobody is pretending that Isis is going to be defeated by a few rousing renditions of Kumbaya. But Isis strategists must surely crave further western military involvement.

As the Norwegian terrorism expert, Thomas Hegghammer, put it: “Isis seems to be doing everything it can (short of attacks in the west) to draw the US into the conflict.”

Richard Barrett, the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, warns current military action could play into Isis’s hands.

In Iraq, the sectarianism of the former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, helped fuel Sunni resentment that Isis fed on; his departure offers at least hope of a unity government that can peel away those sections of the Sunni community who do not like Isis but fear the alternatives even more.

Surely only then can the Iraqi military hope to defeat these sectarian murderers.

As for Syria: well, it is no longer far-fetched to imagine a rapprochement between the west and the Assad dictatorship.

The counter-history favoured by supporters of western intervention is that these are the grim consequences of failing to support “moderate” Syrian rebels.

Given that weapons provided by the CIA to such groups ended up in Isis’s hands, this is surely naive.

What needs far more scrutiny is the role of western allies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia – which is armed to the teeth by Britain and the US, and whose social norms are all but identical to those of Isis.

According to the veteran Middle Eastern correspondent, Patrick Cockburn, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies are the “foster parents” of Isis.

And the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, has pointed out that Saudi financial support has proved critical to the rise of Isis.

How long can western public opinion tolerate support for the Saudi dictatorship?

Foley appears to have suffered a despicably barbaric death; it is a fate being inflicted on many others.

Because Isis has proved so successful in spreading terror, it will be difficult to have a rational debate about how to defeat them.

But a rational debate is exactly what we need.

Misty-Eyed Myths

Although he is wrong about Ireland (Brendan O'Neill knows where I am), Mick Hume writes:

Left-wing campaigners in the coming referendum claim that Scotland’s radical history proves the progressive case for independence from the UK.

As always, however, history is a battleground. A brief survey might help debunk some of these misty-eyed myths.

1) ‘The Union was a rapine Act of English conquest’

There is no point trying to pass off a compromise by the Scottish bourgeoisie as a rerun of Hollywood’s Braveheart.

The 1707 Act of Union was more a consensual coupling of two parliaments than a rapine conquest. True, they were hardly of equal strength.

The English parliament used all of its powers to persuade a Scottish government that had been almost bankrupted by the humiliating failure of the Darien Scheme, the Kingdom of Scotland’s first and last colony, in central America.

Yet ultimately the Scottish parliament voted freely to accept the Union as offering the best prospect for rapid economic advance in their largely rural land.

The 1707 Act of Union was a unique and voluntary coming together of two capitalist elites within the British state.

Contrast it with the 1801 Act of Union between Britain and Ireland.

In 1798 the British crushed the United Irishmen’s rebellion, killing 50,000, imposed the Union, wiped out Irish industry with British manufacturers and turned Ireland into a market garden to feed England while Irish peasants starved [wrong on all points].

The Scottish bourgeoisie did not stage any comparable uprising. It signed up to the Union, and reaped the benefits of the British industrial revolution [as did the Irish].

2) ‘Ordinary Scots fought against the English overlords’

There were some riots in the major Scottish cities when the Act of Union was passed and the Scottish parliament abolished.

But these were more signs of dissatisfaction with the conniving Scottish politicians, landowners and lords who would reap the biggest economic benefits than a nationalist revolt against English rule.

(Rioting was no rare thing, being one of the few ways for the emerging proletariat to express its political opinions across Britain in the age before mass democracy.)

The Jacobite rebellions against the Union that followed in 1715 and 1745 are not to be confused with the Jacobin revolutionaries of France.

The reactionary [depends what you mean] Jacobite project of restoring the Catholic Stuarts to the throne brought together those disaffected elements of Scottish society, such as the defenders of the backward-looking Highland clan system, left behind by the process of capitalist modernisation.

They were opposed by many Scots who had invested their futures in the Union.

Some of the biggest clan chiefs fought against the Jacobites – notably the powerful Campbells (a clan of which my forefathers, the Humes, formed a junior branch).

In the final confrontation at Culloden, three Scottish regiments played a leading role in the slaughter of the Highlanders.

This was less a national struggle than a civil war between the modernising Scottish bourgeoisie and the fragmented, outdated defenders of the old regime.

3) ‘Scotland has suffered as a colony of the British Empire’

At the 1987 Scottish National Party conference, held shortly after Margaret Thatcher’s Tories had swept to their third victory in a UK General Election, SNP chairman Gordon Wilson warned ‘the great white chief in Downing Street: “Get off our backs”.

Scotland and Wales will no longer tolerate English domination. [We] are not and never have been part of “the white man’s burden” that England has assumed for reluctant subject peoples.’

The notion of the Scots as a friend of other ‘reluctant subject peoples’ turns imperial history on its head. Scotland was at the heart of the expanding British Empire, its economic advance in industries such as steel and shipbuilding was dependent on Britain’s oppression and exploitation of colonies around the world. 

Scottish statesmen, soldiers and settlers helped to carve out and control the Empire from which Scottish capitalism profited.

Nor were Scots shy of taking up ‘the white man’s burden’, providing apologists for Empire who could match Rudyard Kipling for racial prejudice any day.

Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish historian and philosopher whose early radical Protestantism is seen as a formative influence on the Scottish tradition of Presbyterian socialism.

Less is heard these days of his 1849 work, ‘Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question’, where Carlyle insisted that the recently liberated yet racially inferior West Indian slaves would have to work as ‘servants to the whites, if they are (as what mortal can doubt they are?) born wiser than you’.

4) ‘Scottish politics has always been further left than the rest of the UK’

There is a longstanding notion that Scottish independence could lead to some sort of socialist republic, because Scotland has always been more radically inclined than its Tory-fied neighbours to the south.

Nice idea, shame about the facts.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, Scottish politics was arguably to the right of England’s, dominated by the old Liberal Party.

Even in the twentieth century, Scotland often voted more conservatively than England.

The Unionist Party, allied with the English Tories, won 40.3 per cent of Scottish votes in the 1945 UK elections, when a Labour landslide reduced Winston Churchill’s Conservatives to just 30.8 per cent overall. 

In 1955 the Unionists won a massive 50.1 per cent of the vote in Scotland, and even in 1959 they remained the largest party north of the border.

Those who imagine that Scottish nationalism was a radical reaction against this state of affairs should think again.

The ‘Unionist’ in that conservative party’s name was not a reference to Scotland at all, but to Ireland – the Scottish Unionist party having been formed out of the Irish Home Rule crisis in British politics.

These Unionist allies of right-wing Tories had no aversion to the modest aims of Scottish national autonomy within the Empire.

That was why John Buchan, Unionist MP, author of spy novel The 39 Steps and alleged anti-Semite, could happily suggest that ‘I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist’.

It is only really since the Thatcher era of the 1980s that Scotland has appeared consistently to the left of England, voting first overwhelmingly for Labour and then increasingly for the SNP.

What this means is that Scottish politics has become more ‘left wing’ in the era when left and right have effectively lost any traditional meanings.

So the ‘radical’ Scottish parliament and executive have tended to be ahead of the UK curve on such fashionably intrusive measures of policing personal behaviour as smoking bans, sin taxes on booze, and criminalising football chants. Is such petty authoritarianism what ‘radical’ means now?

5) ‘The Scottish people have often been held back by the English – look at Red Clydeside!’

Scots have indeed often been at the forefront of the historical struggles of the British working class, never more so than in the era of Red Clydeside before and after the First World War.

But those struggles were at their best and strongest when the Scottish people looked beyond their borders, to link up with workers in England and around the world.

It was when they were defeated that Scottish leftists have tended to draw the wrong conclusions, blame the English, and withdraw into their nationalist shell.

Look, indeed, at Red Clydeside.

At its peak in 1919 this movement, centred on mass strikes in Glasgow for a 40-hour week in the engineering industry, was potentially a revolutionary challenge to the British capitalist state.

Britain’s ruling class recognised this was a class war, not a national dispute; when the strikers’ leaders asked the Lord Provost of Glasgow to intervene on their behalf, the Scottish official instead warned Whitehall to act against the strike.

The British government responded by sending tanks on to the streets of Glasgow, along with troops from England and the Highlands, while baton-wielding police clashed with thousands of striking workers in George Square on ‘Bloody Friday’, 31 January 1919.

No Scottish movement alone could face down the might of the British state. Workers down in London were ready to act in their support.

Yet the Red Clydesiders’ attempts to win wider solidarity were sabotaged by the leaders of the engineering unions, who had backed the British state in a world war and were willing to do the same in a class war at home.

Isolated and defeated, the Scottish left-wing leaders turned their movement in on itself. They blamed the betrayal on the fact that top trade-union officials sat in London, and looked instead for a Scottish solution.

One striking example was how John MacLean, Scotland’s leading Communist revolutionary, once named by Lenin as Soviet Consul, became increasingly embittered against the ‘London juntas’ of the trade unions.

Back in 1914, MacLean had led a campaign against the teaching of the romantic version of Scottish history, denouncing commemorations of the six-hundredth anniversary of the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn, fought ‘by serfs for the benefit of a few barons’ (Scottish radicals might note this in response to this year’s events for the seven-hundredth anniversary).

Yet by 1920, disillusioned by defeats, MacLean had apparently embraced the romantic Scottish traditions, hailing a ‘Scottish Communist Republic’ to recreate ‘the communism of the clans on a modern basis’.

The mainstream Scottish left meanwhile managed to lower the aspirations of Red Clydeside to electing 18 local Labour MPs in the 1922 General Election. Large cheering crowds saw them off on the train to London. 

Within a couple of years the people’s cheers and ruling-class fears had turned to laughter in the House of Commons, where the new Labour MPs made speeches praising Rabbie Burns and Bannockburn, and defending the special property rights of the Church of Scotland.

The Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky looked on in disdain at how this left-wing group of Scottish MPs had embraced the archaic and parochial:

‘In retaliation for the rights of the Scottish church these same MPs threaten to demand the restoration of the Scottish parliament which would, of course, be quite useless to them.’

6) ‘A Yes vote will dismantle the British state, striking an historic blow for freedom’

This argument is now seriously being put about on the rump of the left both in Scotland and further south, in an attempt to justify their conversion to the cause of ‘Yes’.

History suggests that national liberation struggles which lead to the defeat and dismantling of an oppressor state can indeed strike major blows for liberty.

However, the most cursory historical comparison also suggests a few holes in this argument.

First, there is no national liberation movement struggling for freedom in Scotland – just an SNP leadership taking advantage of the loss of cohesion at the centre to advance modest demands for an independent entity still under the British queen and the British pound.

Second, Britain is not an oppressor state north of the border (see above).

And third, a Yes vote next month will not lead to the actual dismantling of the state, but rather to its reorganisation on more divisive and narrow-minded lines, setting back any united attempt at striving for liberty in the UK.

Strip away the historical bumph and liberationist code, and what these left-wing nationalist converts are really arguing is that a formally independent Scotland might be a more comfortable bolthole for them than ‘Tory England’, where they have abandoned hope of winning an argument with anybody.

Ironically, their ideas here are simply the flipside of those flirted with by the Tories they despise.

Just as some Conservatives are so opportunist that they were prepared to consider sacrificing the historic Union in order to win an immediate parliamentary majority in England, so some on the left are so deluded that they imagine giving up on a united UK and retreating behind those giant kilts and Tunnock’s teacakes of the Commonwealth Games’ opening ceremony can be a forward step for progressive politics.

The answer suggested by the lessons of history is surely – ‘No’, to the lot of them.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Stay Back

China has made an incursion well beyond the Line of Actual Control into India, the territory being disputed, and Chinese soldiers have apparently unfurled a banner reading, "This is Chinese territory, go back."

It is impossible to overstate the absolute imperative to remain out of these things, which is no small part of the absolute imperative to have no part in any pretence that that thing holed up on Taiwan is the Government of China, or that Taiwan is a country (those two are in any case mutually exclusive propositions), any more than something holed up on the Isle of Wight at the end of a British Civil War would be the Government of Britain, or would make the Isle of Wight a country, likewise mutually exclusive propositions.

The self-styled Republic of China has had extremely few Western partisans since Nixon and the UN faced up to reality, but it had friends among the Crazies around Bush the Younger, and it would have them in and around any Administration headed by Hillary Clinton. Michael Gove and Liam Fox are probably fans. It has no aspiration to Taiwanese independence, which is an absurd idea.

Nor does it claim jurisdiction only over China as she now exists. Rejecting the authority of the present Chinese Government to resolve territorial disputes, it lays claim to all of Mongolia, as well as to parts of Russia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bhutan and Burma.

We must have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with it.

Last Lines of Defence

Saddam Hussein was better than what has replaced him. That is simply undeniable. In any case, he would probably have been dead by now.

Nor was any of what has happened since his removal unpredictable at the time. It was predicted by everyone outside the weird, cult-like political-media bubble around Tony Blair.

Moreover, our strategic interest was to keep Saddam in place.

He kept a lid on everything from what is now IS, to the Peshmerga (internationally classified as terrorists next door in NATO Turkey), to the forces that eventually accrued to al-Maliki.

And he balanced Iran, which balanced him while keeping the lid on assorted elements from the PMOI-MEK to Jundullah. As Iran still does where lid-keeping is concerned.

Iran is now our active ally against the IS that we have created. Both our direct ally and, through Hezbollah, our ally by proxy. And there is is Assad, the Protector of Holy Mother Church as surely as Saddam was. 

Welcome to the new Coalition of the Willing.

That is the context in which to understand Hezbollah's killing of Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi as he was preparing to launch IS attacks into Lebanon from his base in Syria.

There are two Hezbollah Cabinet Ministers in Lebanon, under a President who has to be a Maronite Christian and a Prime Minister who has to be a Sunni Muslim.

A party of government killed a foreign terrorist operative who was about to attack the country governed by that party.

Mercifully, we tend not to go in for parties with armed wings over here, or at not least on this side of the Irish Sea.

But honestly, how different was this from if the SAS had taken him out? Except that Lebanon is already under direct attack from IS.

We should view this as Allied action. We managed that for the Tsar. We managed it for Stalin and Mao. We managed it for Saddam, once. We managed it for Assad the Elder. We managed it for Gaddafi, briefly.

Iran, Hezbollah and Assad the Younger should be a doddle.

The Christian-Muslim political split in Lebanon, like Maronites who define themselves as Phoenicians rather than as Arabs, is all very last century, and is kept going by the sort of Americans and Australians, even in the same cities, who kept the Irish Troubles going long after almost everyone in Ireland would otherwise have given them up.

In Lebanon, it is now mostly about Salafism and Saudi domination, as well as opposition to Zionism of course, with Catholic and Orthodox churches publicly praying for Hezbollah as "the brothers in the South" and "our last line of defence", and with Christian and even some Sunni parties cheerfully sitting in coalition with it, running the country on a day-to-day basis.

Insofar as Israel is at war with Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, then she is now at war on the same side as IS. If IS is now our enemy, then the IDF is now a body of our enemy combatants, and British Citizens in it are guilty of treason.

We Have Reached A Turning Point

Governments used to be able to sneak through rail fare rises with barely a mention in the media.

No longer.

The annual rises have become highly contentious after years of above-inflation rises, and in the coming year they could become a genuine election issue – a rarity for a transport policy.

One problem is that it seems fares are going up several times a year. In fact, there is only one rise per year, but it gets publicised several times.

We get the first inkling of the level of rise in August, as the inflation figure used in the formula of RPI+1% relates to July.

Then in November or December we get more precise details, and finally the fares go up in the first week of January – which is, like now, normally another quiet news week.

In reality, therefore, it is the level of the increase that is the key issue, and here things are beginning to change. 

In the early days of the coalition government, Philip Hammond – the then transport secretary who once asked me why cars had to stop at level crossings rather than the lightly loaded trains – attempted to raise fares by a staggering RPI+3%.

That proved simply unpalatable, not least to his own constituents in the Surrey commuter belt.

In fact, the formula has remained at RPI+1% for the past decade.

This year, in fact, was an exception, when very late in the day and as a sop to commuters, George Osborne announced that the formula would be simply RPI, forcing the rail companies into hurried changes to their complicated fares tables.
The Labour government replaced the previous RPI-1% formula with RPI+1 in 2004 in a deliberate attempt to put more of the cost of the railways on passengers rather than taxpayers.

This seemed contradictory for a government keen on getting people out of their cars, and given that at the time the Treasury finances were relatively healthy.

But railways were seen by some Labour politicians as something of a luxury used by well-heeled home counties commuters who benefited from most of the investment that was focused in the south-east.

In financial terms, the policy has been successful.

Whereas previously about two-thirds of the cost of the railways – including investment – came from taxpayers, that figure is now nearly down to one-third. Booming numbers, with rail passenger growth exceeding rises in GDP and with rises even continuing during the recession, have also helped boost the fare box.

Politically, though, the policy is running into the buffers. Passengers, especially those commuting by train, often have little choice but to use rail, since car parking is both expensive and in short supply.

Oddly, the fares regulation system, which was designed when the railways were privatised to protect commuters against supposedly greedy rail companies, has been used to exploit them.

The contracts with the rail companies ensure that it is the government that benefits from the extra revenue from fares rises.

And while ministers claim that this money is used for investment in the network, in reality it is simply used to reduce subsidy levels as the link between investment decisions and fares revenue is extremely tenuous.

We have reached a turning point.

Labour has picked up on the issue and is promising that fares on every route will be capped. The party has promised to abolish the “flex” arrangement which allowed train operators to increase particular fares by up to 2% more than the formula.

However, it will be under great pressure to go further. Party activists have been disappointed by Ed Balls’ refusal to support rail renationalisation, but it will be up to Ed Miliband to make a more specific commitment over fares in the run-up to the election.

Meanwhile, the coalition, too, will be under pressure to stop exploiting commuters.

Last year’s late announcement by Osborne shows he is conscious that there are a lot of votes among the hundreds of thousands of commuters using the trains daily.

It may well be that the RPI+ formula is, at last, dead as the two parties vie with each other to be the commuters’ friend.

New Zealand's Nixon

The International Patron of the One Nation Society, Bryan Gould writes:

Many explanations are offered for the fact, as evidenced by both opinion polls and falling voter turnouts at elections, that voters in New Zealand and across the western world seem increasingly disenchanted with democracy.
Perhaps the most obvious reason for the voters’ disaffection is their sense that politicians, having solicited popular support and got themselves elected, then seem to lose interest in the proper purposes of government.

In modern times, newly elected governments seem to have just one over-riding priority from day one – to hold on to power by getting themselves re-elected.
Rather than set about the task of achieving real progress in the country’s interests and then submitting their achievements to the electorate’s judgment, it is all too often apparent that there is just one main focus for governments, of whatever colour – to persuade the voters that such progress is being made, whether it is or not. It is the appearance rather than the reality that counts.

Perhaps the prime exponent of this approach to government was Tony Blair in the UK. His “New Labour” government in the UK may not have invented the term “spin doctor”, but they took the concept to new heights – or perhaps lows.

Huge efforts were made and energy expended on persuading the voters that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds; in the end, the voters gagged on being force-fed an air-brushed version of the facts.

The corollary of this approach is not only the sanitising of the public debate through the deliberate suppression of bad news but also the peddling of enhanced versions of the good news – and for this, a compliant media is essential.

The politicians become adept at manipulating media outlets to their advantage; supportive and compliant journalists are rewarded with breaking stories and privileged access, while the less cooperative are frozen out.

Governments have, of course, a huge advantage in this respect. Much of the news – and particularly the political news – emanates from actions taken by ministers. Most journalists will find it necessary and valuable to develop good relations with the news-makers.

The result is a form of internal corruption of government. The power of government is increasingly used, not to advance the public interest, but to protect and promote the party in power.

Every issue is decided after a careful consideration as to how it could be made to play with the electorate; as the next election draws closer – and, with a three-year term, it is always close – the time-horizon becomes shorter and the election imperative stronger.

At the same time, the opposition sees the need to combat the government’s ability to manipulate the news agenda by attacking the government at every opportunity.

Not surprisingly, the government responds by trying to denigrate its opponents, on both political and personal grounds, so that the damage suffered from opposition attacks is minimised.

In recent times, this latter activity has achieved the status of an art form. It has even been accorded its own special title – “attack politics”.

There have always been those in politics who have special skills and derive particular enjoyment from grubbing around in the gutter; the value placed by today’s political leaders on attack politics has provided them with a golden opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.

The politicians themselves, especially those continually in the public eye, will not usually do this work themselves, though there are exceptions – a Judith Collins, for example – who will relish this kind of supposedly “political” battle.

Increasingly, however, there is a role for those whose natural milieu is the cesspit.

Politicians – especially those whose stock in trade is smiling sweetly and smelling likewise – will not wish to be contaminated by association with such activities. They find it convenient to have them undertaken discreetly and at apparent arm’s length.

If the association does somehow reach the light of day, the best response – in accordance with the Collins doctrine – is to strike back with double the force and to denigrate the person responsible for the exposure.

There is, of course, a precedent for this kind of politics. The most celebrated of all the practitioners of “attack politics” was of course one Richard M. Nixon.

In 1972, burglars (there were of course no computers to be hacked into back then) broke into the Watergate building in Washington in search of documents that could be used to discredit the political opponents of the Republican Party and the Republican President.

The burglars were there with the knowledge of, and on instructions, from the President.

After a long campaign of obfuscation and denials, the link between the President and the burglars was established; Nixon had not, of course, himself burgled the Watergate building but his lies, the attempted cover-up and his willingness to use criminal methods to attack his opponents led to his impeachment. He left the White House in disgrace in 1974.

Should we, in New Zealand in 2014, not expect and demand the same standards from our leaders as the Americans did forty years ago?

Facing Mount Sinjar

Singling out Christians for special treatment is most un-Christlike.

However, it is notable that no one much noticed when only Christians, who are still two a penny in Europe and America, were being persecuted by what is now the IS.

Indeed, the people who are now clamouring loudest for action wanted to intervene militarily in support of the persecutors.

But Yazidi are exotic.

Maidan, Missouri

Where are the sanctions against the United States?

When will that country be treated to a Libya-like liberation?

Not News


The People's March for the NHS, despite the participation of several MPs, although not any of the ones who officially exist in Medialand.

As for "the impact of each policy on family life", how about the impact of the Bedroom Tax on family life? Or the impact of the withdrawal of tax credits on family life? Or the impact of benefits sanctions on family life? Or the impact of the closure of amenities for teenagers or the elderly on family life?

Good News

The Chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, the Right Honourable Keith Vaz MP of the One Nation Society, has appointed the immensely distinguished John Cooper QC to advise him on law.

Mr Cooper's first brief is the role of the Police and the media with regard to uncharged suspects.

Or Loathe Him

The urban myth seems to be springing up that there was once a time when Tony Blair was beyond criticism, except perhaps by and from the valiant souls who are now making that ridiculous suggestion.

Blair himself must wonder when that ever was.

It never was.

Iraq: A Crisis of the Western Elites?

Or is all going to plan, asks Neil Clark?

Preach It

I have not heard anything in a long time like that Cornel West interview on Newsnight:

"It is disgusting to have a black President who is unable to keep track of what is going on among the black youth."

"We have such poor black leadership, apologists for the Obama Administration: Sharpton and the others. Was there justice for Trayvon Martin?"

When It Comes To This

Adam Tooze writes:

Angela Merkel’s summer could hardly have started better: the world cup win; the eurozone crisis contained; Germany’s federal budget heading into surplus; her personal popularity at unassailable highs.

Six weeks later, as Europe returns from its holiday break, the scene is dramatically changed. Berlin is locked in a cold war with Washington over America’s spying; the transatlantic trade talks, on which the best hope for a revived US-Europe partnership depend, are in trouble; the Ukraine crisis boils on; and at home the Social Democrats, Merkel’s coalition partners, are putting the Christian Democrats under serious pressure.

But the really big news of the summer is the eurozone. Italy and France are sliding back into recession, while Germany’s own economy is rapidly slowing.

Of course, the geopolitical change of weather can’t be blamed on Berlin. Merkel isn’t responsible for the obsessive activities of America’s spies any more than she can take credit for performances on the football pitch.

In Ukraine, Germany might have played a clarifying role last year by spelling out that Ukraine has almost zero chance of ever becoming a full member of the EU.

But no one likes to be a bringer of bad news. And the extent to which Vladimir Putin would exploit the crisis in Kiev took everyone by surprise.

And Germany’s position at the heart of the world trading system is recognized by the leading actor of the 21st century, China.

Beyond the era of lop-sided American hegemony, Germany will have a prominent place in a new, China-centered phase of true globalisation.

But this vision harbours its own risks. Is China headed for the mother of all real estate busts? And can Berlin square the circle of maintaining special relationships with both Beijing and Washington?

Given the export-gearing of the German economy, these are inescapable questions for the future.

What has faced the German policy-making elite this summer is the stark reality that Europe, the zone of world affairs where their responsibility is undeniable, is not fixed, and that their strategy for fixing it is not working.

The crisis has left Europe with three distinct problems: shaky public finances, crippling long-term unemployment, and limping banks.

This summer’s news suggests they are coalescing to form a Japanese-style vicious circle.

The bond market turmoil was fixed by a dramatic intervention by the European Central Bank (ECB) in summer 2012. Interests rates for the most vulnerable economies – Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain – are down to historic lows; too low, a pessimist might argue.

But the price that Germany exacted for ECB president Mario Draghi’s rescue was exorbitant: Europe-wide acceptance of a punishing austerity agenda.

Even in Germany itself, where the federal government has reached fiscal balance, the pressure is now on its states, the Länder, which are struggling to balance their books by 2018.

Austerity proponents such as finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble insist that squeezing public expenditure will free up private investment. But Europe’s banks, with Deutsche Bank very much in the lead, remain in a state of shell shock.

Whereas the US and the UK have moved rapidly to put in place new, confidence-boosting regulation, Germany has been dragging its feet over a European banking union.

As the summer ends, the sense of impasse is inescapable.

Germany cannot truly prosper without a growing Europe. Europe cannot prosper without ​exporting to a buoyant German economy. But with the Christian Democrats in charge of German fiscal policy, is there any hope of change?

A sign of the times was the appeal issued on 30 July by Jens Weidmann, the ultra-austerian head of the Bundesbank.

In a rare agreement with the ECB he called on Germany’s trade unions to push for 3% wage rises.

This is a welcome sign that Germany may be rethinking the unilateral pay freeze that has put such pressure on the balance of competitiveness within the eurozone in the last decade.

But a conservative central banker ​calling upon social democratic trade unionist to engineer the reflationary stimulus that he and his friends in Berlin are so doggedly set against?

What is left of Schäuble and Merkel’s policy when it comes to this?