Monday, 28 November 2016

Trump's Cardinal

Unlikely recount changes notwithstanding, Donald Trump will take office as President of the United
Steve Bannon in 2010
States at the end of January. In the days since the election, his team has been taking shape almost as chaotically as his ducking and diving on some of his policy announcements during the campaign. His narcissism is unbound as he poses in front of his golden elevator and sits on the thone-like chairs that adorn his Trump Tower apartment and many people seem genuinely afraid of where his narrow, uninformed world view and his sheer temperament ("Why do we have nuclear weapons if we can't use them?") might take our planet.

But behind the bluster and bigotry, we shouldn't think the emerging narrative will be chaos. For Trump is neither a fool nor does he stand alone. He represents a strain of thinking, not founded on the people who voted for his cod- "movement" but rather on the small group of rightwing populists who use a valid anti-liberal establishment narrative to push extreme capitalist solutions. These are the people who bemoan the ineffectiveness of welfare and who promote the idea that it needs to be abolished rather than revolutionised. They talk of crony capitalism while advocating for the outsourcing of government to private corporations.

A key figure in this is Steve K Bannon. Originally the TV Director of the successful Seinfeld show, Bannon became the chair of the rightwing Breitbart "news" organisation and Trump's election campaign CEO. He has now been named Chief Strategist for the Trump Presidency. His intellectual rigour and planning strengths will be deployed on behalf of and through one of the most ill-prepared Presidents in history and will be all the stronger because of it. Bannon will almost certainly be the deciding influence in how the next four or, as he had claimed, forty years of American policy and politics are shaped.

There have been some rather hysterical and amateurish attempts to trash him as anti-Semitic in parts of the media, although his revisionist take on Islamic history has been largely ignored - but in truth the threat from Bannon is at once more explicit and more subtle. For his is a logical philosophy, individualistic, radical and utterly stone-hearted, and one that chattering, compromised liberals are singularly unsuited to challenge.

The video below shows Bannon speaking in 2011 to a small group of fellow right radicals. His tone is measured, informed and all the more terrifying because of it. He regrets the challenge of the Occupy Movement as targeting, in his view, the wrong culprits of what he rightly characterises as America's fourth existential crisis and harps back to Lincoln's limited cannon of Shakespeare, Plutarch and the King James Bible as "all you needed" in simpler times. But crisis brings opportunity and "We will be different on each side (of the crisis)," he warns hopefully.

Yet he is not some uniquely evil individual. He is simply playing his part in the defence of and extension of the real elite he and Trump represent: the elite beyond the public establishment; the disciples of Ayn Rand and the Breitbartists who are now set to manipulate the narrative in the French elections in an attempt to install the neo-fascist FN candidate Marine Le Pen into office next year.

The outlook is chilling, but it is not illogical and it is riding the curve of history. However perplexing to liberals, it will be defeated neither by apocalyptic indignation, nor with hand-wringing, gut-wrenching appeals to restore the failed status quo nor through the machinations of mechanistic legalism. Court cases and constitutional pleadings will hasten rather than halt what has begun. As Bannon himself has remarked, "The liberals don't know what is going on."

Only a far more robust, collectivist response will have any chance of countering the radical right - for, unlike the vacillating showman Trump, Bannon is driven by conviction and belief. His agenda, his revolution, will only be defeated by those whose own convictions and beliefs run as deeply and radically as his do, but course in a very, very different direction. Radical rightism can only be met by radical leftism. There is no compromise, no common ground and those who seek it in some soggy centre condemn society to the predations of Bannon, Trump and their backers, and betray a future that could yet be better for all.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Nigel Farage Goes to Washington

President-Elect of the USA, Donald Trump, has tweeted that he thinks his friend and fellow-traveller, UKIP acting leader Nigel Farage, should be UK Ambassador to Washington. They have certainly admired each other from afar for sometime, with Trump promising his victory would be like "Brexit-plus-plus" and Farage excusing Trump's references to groping women as just how men talk. Apparently.

It seems highly unlikely, and Downing Street has already ruled out any use of Nigel and Donald's special relationship to shore up the tattered pseudo-special relationship between the US and Britain.

Yet, it might somehow be so very apposite an illustration it might be of our twisted, corrupted politics if it were indeed to happen.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Free Trade Delusion

Since the UK Brexit referendum result and Trump's win in the US Presidential election, the liberal polity on both sides of the Atlantic have been wringing their hands and pronouncing on the surprise (to them) of both results. The cause, they have repeatedly declared, was the anger and ignorance of the "left behind", the detritus of society they hadn't noticed from the confines of their comfy, evidence-based neoliberal bubble until the ingrates turned up and spoilt their party.

Liberal democracy, of course, is about little more than the unwashed turning up every four or five years to confirm the Great and Good's right to rule via very flawed ballot box processes. Democracy should validate the status quo, maybe with a little nudge leftwards here and rightwards there, especially under the mind-numbing post-ideological consensus in place since the fall of the Communist bloc.

So, when the electorate goes off-script, we soon see just how thin-skinned liberalism truly is: the voters were misled, didn't know what they were voting for, are bigotted racists/sexists/homophobes, etc. They have voted against their own interests as well as wider society because of their moronic stupidity and so in Britain we should rerun the Euroreferendum, or find some variant that will ultimately let us stay in the EU, while in the USA, liberals are fantastically speculating about California seceding or joining up with Canada.

Yes, Trump will do nothing to help most of the people who, disillusioned with the US capitalist system, voted for him in response to his divide and conquer tactics of blaming foreigners and migrants for their lost jobs and deep poverty. And Brexit may well mean that British workers lose some of the meagre employment protections conferred by the EU. But neither a Clinton Presidency nor a so-called soft Brexit would do anything to resolve the deep-seated inequality and accompanying alienation that has led us to this pass.

At the heart of western economics in the post-war era and codified in the institutions created by the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, the rich nations have pursued an aggressive commitment to so-called free trade and movement of capital. As globalisation has take grip over the last two and a half decades, this ideology, often called neoliberalism, has been applied as the orthodox economics across virtually all the planet. The G20 summit in 2009 explicitly stated that it remained committed to these principles and to rooting out all forms of protectionism wherever these are found. Indeed, in recognition of this dubious aspiration, many free trade agreements, including the recently passed CETA between Canada and Europe, have included Investor-States Dispute Settlement mechanisms. Under this, multinationals could sue national governments and their taxpayers for any measures that reduce or deny them profits, from health and safety rules or environmental legislation through to any refusal to privatise public services.

Proponents of free trade repeatedly argue that its advantages can be seen by a rise in wealth around the world and claim that removal of trade barriers, quotas and tariffs creates a virtuous circle of economic growth and prosperity. The International Monetary Fund has put this central to its rescue packages to developing nations when they have needed financial assistance - in return for loans, they have had to remove any protections on or subsidies to domestic industries. This has been done while ignoring the fact that the rich economies all have long histories of protectionism when they were growing their own early industrial infrastructure. Indeed, many rich nations still run a range of protectionist measures - and trade blocs such as the European Union do a fine job of keeping any manufactured goods from poorer states out of their domestic markets, but they of course are far less likely to be in thrall to the IMF or World Bank.

Yet even within rich states, free trade has had massively damaging effects, especially where the ideology has been adopted as part of an international trading system such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (and more recently the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty aggressively pursued by the Obama administration) and within the European single market. Removal of trade barriers and tariffs certainly makes international trade more profitable for companies and being able to relocate their manufacturing and service bases to poorer areas with a lower paid workforce makes their products cheaper (and their profit margins bigger).

However, this has come at a huge cost to the workforces laid off in developed economies as part of  corporates' pursuit of competitive advantage via cheap labour abroad, while in developing states it has favoured big business at the cost of the destruction of small scale local enterprises. As a self-employed textile trader in Lima told the BBC World Service this week, "They talk about Peru growing, but it is just the rich growing richer." Economists such as Paul Krugman cite the obsession with trade liberalisation as central to this.

The deceit of rightwing populists like Trump and UKIP of course is to blame foreigners and migrants, attacking one of the symptoms rather than the true cause - something these buddies of big business will never honestly do - and very much designed to buttress rather than challenge the elite. At most, they are "Opposition by Appointment to the Establishment" -  a tool to neuter the anger of the public and incorporate it into the continuing narrative of a hierarchical, globalised economics. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has railed at Trump and UKIP's Nigel Farage as voicing nothing more than "the fake anti-elitism of rich white men".  Like in the old Czarist Empire, pogroms will come long before any genuine reforms.

All the more reason then for the Left to articulate genuine change, to advance a vision of a very different world and the economics needed to achieve it. And yet, on this, quite the opposite seems to be happening.

While Labour's Chancellor John McDonnell called Brexit an opportunity for Britain rather than a threat this week, he neither developed what  opportunities he foresees, nor was he speaking to the prevailing mood among British socialists and progressives. Corbyn himself has set continued access to the European single market as a priority for Brexit negotiations, and Green co-leader Caroline Lucas echoed this sentiment when she attacked McDonnell for apparently giving succour to hard Brexiteers.

Yet, rather than blindly clinging to some sort of soft Brexit which continues to focus on free trade arrangements, isn't this precisely the time for greens and socialists to challenge the status quo? Why would we want to cling onto a single market, removing as it does the ability of a democratic government to protect its industries and the well-being of its people where and when it chooses? Why cling to something that removes the revenue from tariffs on imports, reduces the public purse and bans the ability to subsidise enterprises which may be commercially unprofitable but socially or environmentally beneficial? How can we build a fairer, sustainable world on a template carved out to enable the very worst of capitalism?

Given the racism that has accompanied both Trump and Brexit, there is clearly a need to counter the nationalism and xenophobia of their faux revolts. But we can have freedom of movement and culture without embracing free trade: indeed, perhaps ending free trade would be the best way to ensure continuing cultural diversity around the world, given multnationals' drive to commodify and homogenise the entire planet.

Lucas and Corbyn have both said they accept the UK is leaving the EU. Yet, while the silent secrecy from the Tory Bexiteers is clearly frustrating and undemocratic, their insistence on making such a totemic issue of access to the single market is baffling and a major strategic error. For if there was ever a time to be forging a path to a more sustainable world founded on a fairer, co-operative and localised economics, it is now. That inevitably means a rejection of free trade and embracing instead economic intervention by the state, new forms of community and mutual ownership, regulation and, yes, protectionism.

The vast majority in our rampantly unequal societies across our troubled planet face ever greater difficulties to make ends meet and live their lives as they might have hoped in a world of great abundance. If the Left does not rise to the challenge to show how we can create a different paradigm and instead leaps to knee-jerk reactions to populists' lies, only tragedy awaits us. To quote Gramsci, writing of a similar age of chaos in the 1920s, "The old world is dying, but the new one struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters."

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Eternal Dark Heart of Empire

"Pygmy hunter-gatherers in Cameroon have been beaten, tortured and forced off their ancestral lands to clear vast tracts of forest for a trophy-hunting company owned by the banker Benjamin de Rothschild, activsts claimed yesterday. At least three forest camps have been burnt to the ground by guards, according to survivors, while Baka pygmies caught hunting bush animals to eat said they were tortured by police guarding the forest on behalf of game hunters." (The Times, 3/11/16)

It must be noted that the Rothschilds strenuously deny any involvement in the incidents and insist they have good relations with the Baka; but according to Survival International there seems evidence that they happened, whoever was responsible.

For much of Africa, such occurrences are nothing new and indeed the happenings in Cameroon pale in comparison with the imperialist destruction of the Continent that has been airbrushed from western histories, which increasingly recast the Age of Empires as a time of progress and glory as opposed to the squalid exploitation that, in the end, is common to all empires of whatever origin.

Joseph Conrad's best known novel is the comparatively short "Heart of Darkness", published in 1902 and originally serialised in Blackwood's Magazine. Telling the tale of a steamboat captain, Charles Marlow, sailing upriver in an unnamed European colony, whose purpose is to reach a trading station run by a  well-regarded Company Agent by the name of Kurtz, it documents in chilling and graphic narrative the appalling conditions of the indigenous people: chained together as they carry great loads, reduced to bipedal beasts of burden, left to die under trees and by track sides. And, when the clearly psychopathic Kurtz is finally encountered, his hut is decorated by the decapitated skulls of Africans mounted on stakes. Filmed most powerfully as "Apocalypse Now" and transposed to the Vietnamese conflict, what many don't realise is that it is, in fact, founded on the truth.

Conrad, born in Poland as Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski spent several months as a steamboat captain in the Congo in 1889 and Marlow is in fact the author himself. What he encountered was enough for him to quit his job and return to his adopted England to write and campaign against the growing horrors of imperialism throughout the colonial world, but especially in the Congo. In this, he worked closely with the great Irish campaigner Roger Casement and the largely forgotten but perhaps most effective human rights campaigner in history, Edmund Morel. Like Conrad, Morel had originally worked on Congo trade, but left his job when he realised that serious abuses were taking place and it was to campaigning against them that he was to devote much of his life.

Their real-life stories and those of many others, not least the previously silent African voices of the Congo basin, are assembled and recounted in Adam Hochschild's powerful history, "King Leopold's Ghost", originally published in 1998 after years of painstaking and often blocked research. It is essential reading for anyone concerned with the dynamics of imperialism, especially that of a commercial type - for, unlike every other European colony, the Congo was not held in the name of a country, but the personal property of Leopold, King of Belgium, who acquired his private fiefdom nearly eighty times the size of his native country via subterfuge, deceit, propaganda and immense, bloody violence.

Hochschild traces the rise of the ironically titled "Congo Free State" from its pre-colonial days when the verdant rainforest basin was home to millions of Africans organised into several states, some of them highly sophisticated with advanced systems of justice, semi-democratic consultative assemblies and an high level of material culture. Their way of life was much attuned to respecting and living within the environmental capacity of what, along with the Amazon basin, has been described as one of the lungs of the world. The only things the indigenous societies lacked were the guile and powerful weaponry of the Europeans.

As France, Britain, Portugal and latterly newly-unified Germany began the imperialist "Scramble for Africa" in the 1870s and 1880s, Hochschild examines how the vain and arrogant Leopold felt Belgium was far too small for a man of his ambition. Under cover of Christian philanthropy, he hired the narcissistic explorer Henry Morton Stanley to open up the one area of Africa at that point unclaimed by any colonial powers: the great basin of the Congo river, which cuts across central Africa from its mouth on the Atlantic coast through to just south of the headwaters of the Nile.

Supposedly carrying the "white man's burden" of improving the lot of the primitive native races and freeing them from the tyranny of Arab slave traders from the eastern coast, Stanley tore a path through the rainforest, his expedition consisting of African porters and several hundred well-armed mercenary troops. He slaughtered thousands who got in their way or did not hand over their food stocks on demand, torched scores of villages and forced African kings and chiefs to acknowledge Leopold's pseudo-charity, the International Association of the Congo, as their overlord. Stanley travelled through the area several times and is remembered in the region today as a white-hatted harbinger of death. But back in London, where he published several tomes on his liberation of the lesser races, even today he is celebrated as the man who found fellow colonialist entrepreneur Dr David Livingstone. He was knighted in 1899 as a member of the Order of the Bath (if he ever took one, the water must have run deep red) and served as a Liberal Unionist MP for Lambeth North before dying in 1904.

Victims of Leopold's "civilising mission".
After Stanley established Leopold's presence in the area, the King, who never travelled to the territory himself, used mercenaries and free booting "entrepreneurs" to open up the area, first to slaughter hundreds of thousands of elephants for ivory and later tap forest trees for rubber. Local men were impressed into brutal service, sometimes by violence, sometimes by the kidnapping of their wives and children, often by both means. Failure to meet quotas often led to the rape and mutilation, or worse, of the hostages. The colonial police, the Force Publique, was renowned for its brutality and its liberal use of a whip called the chicotte claimed the lives of many of their victims, men, women and children. Leopold even established state orphanages run by Catholic clergy for the children of his victims - the boys were raised to be soldiers in the FP; the girls to be servants and in a handful of cases to join the nuns.

The casual nature of the brutality was endemic: Conrad's Kurtz character was based potentially on several officials of the Free State, the most likely being Leon Rom, who edged his lawn with the severed heads of Africans. Paradoxically, Rom also busied himself sending home his landscape paintings of the rainforest, collecting butterflies and publishing a book on African customs. Another inspiration for Kurtz may have been Guillaume Van Kerckoven, who paid the equivalent of half a shilling for each African head brought to him during a military operation.

As well as body-breaking forced labour on ivory and rubber collection and on constructing dams and railways, Africans were indentured simply to serve the bloated white colonials who arrived in the area. Hothschild recovered one Free State official's diary of a journey where African porters hauled his luggage over inhospitable territory: "A file of poor devils, chained by the neck, carried my trunks and boxes... There were about a hundred of them, trembling and fearful of the overseer, who strolled by whirling a whip. For each stocky and broad-backed fellow, how many were skeletons dried up like mummies, their skin worn out... seamed with deep scars, covered with suppurating wounds... No matter! They were all up for the job."
Nsala of Wala with the remains of his butchered 5 year old daughter, her hand and foot.
To portay this as a great civilising mission, Leopold permitted various Christian missions to be established. Most were content to go along with the "necessary" violence and validate the propaganda of the chicotte being necessary to rouse "lazy" natives to work. Initially at any rate, his efforts paid off with humanitarian awards showered on Leopold. Even Mark Twain was moved to write in defence of the King's great works.

But some opened their eyes and began to challenge. Notably, the first two incomers to do so were African Americans. George Washington Williams, a remarkable man who fought in the civil war, studied law, served in the Ohio state legislature and became an author, all before the age of thirty. In his historical work, he became one of the first to use the oral history and memories of ordinary people to find the truth of the past, and it was with this mindset that he travelled to the Congo. There, Willaims soon realised that the Free State was far from the philanthropic paradise portrayed by Leopold and his associates and began to write on the abuses to a disbelieving public back in the USA and Europe.

He was followed by a fellow African American, the Rev William Sheppard, who was sponsored by the Presbyterian church to work in the Congo. He similarly, began to expose the brutality of the regime, leading to Leopold having him arrested and put on trial - though he was ultimately acquitted. Other dissidents, like Hezekiah Andrew Shamu, were less fortunate - executed, murdered or hounded to death by the Free State.

Edmund Morel
But, no matter how powerful their testimony, black voices were little heard in 19th century Europe or America and it was not until the British activist Edmund Morel came along that the campaign against the Congo became the true cause celebre of the liberals and socialists of Europe.  After realising that the ships he was auditing carried troops and weapons to the Congo but returned empty, Morel quit his job for a shipping firm, founded the Congo Reform Association and began an international campaign to highlight and end the abuse. At great loss and some risk to himself and his family, he almost single-handedly built a coalition that in 1908 forced Leopold to surrender his private state to the Belgian Government, which was at least slightly more accountable for its actions. The King was of course handsomely compensated for his losses. By this time, however, as many as ten million Congolese Africans had died from the brutality of the free state or the starvation and diseases that followed in its wake - around half of the entire population; a genocide unsurpassed even in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

Hochschild highlights the inconsistency of many of those liberals who campaigned vigorously again the horrors of Leopold's Congo but turned a blind eye to similar, if less blatant, abuses by other colonial powers (Stanley's violence was neither the worst nor an isolated example of contemporary practice). He challenges the narrative of "improvement" that imperial powers allegedly brought to the so-called Dark Continent - the narrative not of truth, but of the victors. This, as he explores, is at least in part because few African voices from the time have been recorded. He was himself able to recover a few second hand, but the thousands of records he unearthed for this erudite and well-written piece of work are nearly exclusively those of white imperialists or paternalistic if sometimes sympathetic missionaries and visitors.

This is a striking contrast to what could be almost be a companion volume - Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee", an account of the final destruction of the Native Americans which does draw on scores of first hand accounts set down by survivors at the turn of the 20th century. It too portrays richly diverse cultures deceived and violently destroyed by descendants of European settlers whose concept of the white man's burden was couched in the equally arrogant and racist notion of their god-given "Manifest Destiny" to overcome indigenous peoples. A combination of imperialist historians and Hollywood populism subsequently crafted a very similar narrative to the Victorian tale of philanthropic imperialism kindly bringing civilisation to ingrates. (Notably, in his lengthy genocidal career, Stanley, as well as serving on both sides in the American Civil War, briefly worked as a journalist in frontier country to assist the US Cavalry with its anti-Native American
Henry Morton Stanley


And it is in this spirit, as much of the rich world reinvents its history to look back ever more nostalgically at empire, that "King Leopold's Ghost" should be read as a warning of the here and now as much as an account of the past. The overt imperialism of European powers ruling African and other states is of course long gone. But, in our globalised, neoliberal world, the truth is that private corporations are buying up huge swathes of poorer Latin American, African and Asian countries.

Perhaps even more thoroughly than the Victorians' great Scramble, the Rothschild hunting estates in Cameroon are far from an isolated example: in a new African land grab, European, American and Chinese "investors" now own massive estates with the blessing and naked power of the political elites of the host states. Local people are excluded, alienated from their lands and rights removed and force used to ensure it stays that way. As resource scarcity gathers pace, including food and water supplies, this neocolonial pattern is set to spread ever further and its pathology is ultimately unlikely to deviate fundamentally from the template of exploitation set by Leopold and his contemporaries.

The phrase "those who do not learn from history are destined to relive it" may be well overused, but is often true nevertheless. First of all, however, history has to be written and set straight. In this remarkable dissection of privatised imperialism, Adam Hochschild does a great service not only to the past and the millions slaughtered in the forgotten holocaust in Leopold's sadistic state; he reminds us too that no imperialism, of whatever type or origin, is ever benign.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Taking Libertarians - America's Other Choices

As the US Presidential election draws ever closer, while Hillary Clinton remains favourite to win, neither she nor her rival Donald Trump draw much enthusiasm from anyone outside the minorities that form their base. Clinton is even more distrusted than at any time in her career following the FBI's not yet finished investigation into her private email account and her opaque responses to the inevitable questions about her judgement. Meanwhile, Trump's sociopathic-like egotism and rampant racism make him arguably more divisive than any major candidate in the last century, worse even than the Republican extremist Barry Goldwater in 1964 (whom Hillary Clinton enthusiastically campaigned for in her student days).

Little surprise then, though woefully undereported, has been the emergence of a large third party vote. Around one in five of those planning to go to the polls in November are signalling support outside of the traditional Republican-Democrat duopoly. Unlike the quixotic campaigns of Ross Perot in the 1990s, or the fantastic voyage of John Anderson way back in 1980, the notable thing is that the challenge is coming from candidates of well-established and growing political parties fielding candidates at all governmental levels and so suggesting that there may now be a lasting trend towards change.

There is a plethora of third party candidates and independents, but the two that matter are the rightwing Libertarians' Governor Gary Johnson and left's Dr Jill Stein of the Green Party, both of whom are standing for a second time. Their platforms are genuinely insurgent challenges to the Establishment - while there is a significant crossover on issues such as net freedom, soft drugs, immigration and abortion, the two are far apart in areas such as government regulation of the economy, tax policy, health provision, protecting the environment and providing state education. Both stand for campaign finance reform and an avowedly non-interventionist foreign/military policy.

The media has only reluctantly started to recognise the rise of Johnson and Stein - the former New Mexico Governor is frequently polling in double digits nationwide, while the Green has topped 6% of the national vote in some polls and is set to win many times her 0.4% 2012 score. Organisationally both parties are better placed and funded than before, with Johnson on the ballot in every state and electors able to vote for Stein everywhere bar four states that have managed to bar the Greens from running (The US is far more adept at limiting choice than even Putin's Russia).

Stein has grabbed some headlines this week after an arrest warrant was issued for her and her running mate, Amaju Baraka, after they were filmed spray-painting mechanical diggers at the site of a planned oil pipeline project across sacred land in the Standing Rock Sioux tribal reservation. The Green Party campaign has built on the Sanders' campaign success within the Democrat primaries, arguing that with the demise of the democratic socialist Senator's challenge to Clinton, the real option for a genuine revolution in US politics is to be found on the left, in the Stein-Baraka fold rather than the ruthlessly establishmentarian Democratic Party.

Indeed, Baraka has suggested that, unlike Sanders, when the Greens talk about revolutionary change, they mean it. Like most European Greens, they have a strongly progressive programme for social justice alongside and intertwined with environmental sustainability, and have formally adopted ecosocialism as their philosophical basis.

More prosaically, Libertarian Johnson has gained unwelcome attention after fumbling over a question in an MSNBC interview about the siege of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

"What's Aleppo?" he asked in response the the question, "What would you do about Aleppo?"
This has been used to suggest he is an isolationist, ignorant of the wider world and so unqualified to be President. Yet, if you watch the whole discussion, Johnson quickly realised what the question was about and gave a perfectly articulate, well-informed response about a diplomatic solution working with Russia, ending support for the FSA and avoiding interventionist wars in the future.

Johnson later said that when the question was asked he was thinking of an acronym rather than the name Aleppo. A big crime to get confused? Not when his Republican opponent avowedly wants to bomb the Middle East to oblivion, while the Democrat one already is.

It is highly unlikely either Johnson nor Stein will meet the 15% score required to win a place in the TV debates with Trump and Clinton - if either or both took part, it would undoubtedly shift both the quality and tenor of the argument immensely and be a huge step in busting the race open. Yet in any case, the third parties' rise at a time when the traditional parties are collapsing on themselves is a welcome reminder that, even in a large, neoliberal superpower, with all the forces of Big Money and Big Brother ranged against true democracy, no Establishment is forever.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Mr Corbyn's Rail Journey

Shock! Jeremy Corbyn may have found a seat on a Virgin rail service after calling for railways to be re-nationalised while being filmed on the floor outside the toilet on one of Branson's specials up to the Tyne.

Well good on him! For in spite of the privatised rail firm's best endeavours to pour scorn on his claims of not being able to find a seat, anyone unfortunate enough to use their service on any regular basis will know that they are frequently crowded or the seats are all booked up even if unoccupied, which was precisely the problem Jezzer faced on his odyssey to the Tyne.

Try the morning service from Leeds to Birmingham (it goes on to Plymouth) if you want to stretch your legs for a couple of hours, or the ones in the opposite direction anytime after 4pm if you want to get acquainted with the acrid mixture of post-workday body odour and the obstacle course of luggage that stands in the way of the dozen or so people irritably vying for the last unbooked seat.

Indeed, sometimes, even if you manage to get a seat, a little electric panel above will inform you in a less-than-unmenacing manner "Seat may be reserved en route". Yes, even although you've got an unbooked seat, Jezzer, if he finds out where you are, Owen Smith might try to book it out from right under the seat of your pants. Now, doesn't that sound familair?

Of course, Corbyn's biggest mistake wasn't his video. It was boarding a Virgin train in the first place. As a rule, while the staff are usually perfectly nice, the environment is claustrophobic. Quite aside from fitting in other people, there's usually no space for luggage beyond something the size of a toilet bag. This is an item the average Virgin user might struggle to avail themselves of as the bathrooms in turn often don't work and, in my humble opinion, more than rarely fill the whole carriage with a certain all-embracing odeur d'ordure. Indeed, any regular tripper on one of these Shareholder Expresses might have seen Mr Corbyn, sprawled out on the lobby floor with his stuff around him, and reasonably wondered if in fact he had passed out from the stench of Branson's predatory capitalism.

How ironic that this was on what was once the last publicly owned, very well run and profitable state railway service, East Coast. This was popular and efficient so consequently was to be temptingly easy meat for a predatory combo headed by the private island-dwelling magnate. How chompingly easily they grabbed it a couple of years ago as the Lib Dems and Tories had a fire-sale of the few remaining state assets.

So, as Mr Branson luxuriates on the shores of his sun-kissed, private tropical island, issuing missives to take Corbyn down, spare a thought for the real truth that is being betrayed. And that is that, with public subsidies now more than double what they were, in real terms, when the railways were in public hands, whether he was on the floor or in a seat, Jeremy Corbyn spoke the truth.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Dear Mrs May, While You Were Away, The World Died

Britain has existed for most of the last two months in a state between the abstract and surreal as our political class - Remainers and Brexiteers alike - have suffered a collective loss of nerve. For three weeks, or maybe three months, we have drifted, rudderless while the would-be crews of our battered ship of state smashed up every compass they could find and then blamed each other for breaking them.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the acclamation of Theresa May as the new Prime Minister and the appointment of her Cabinet might start to signal a recovery, but far from it, especially on the one overriding issue of our time. For while our Remainers and Brexiteers were battling like they were still at the Oxford Union, a critical news report was issued which should have humanity in full-on crisis mode. But instead, it passed virtually without comment.

That is that we face a third record-breaking warm year in a row after both 2014 and 2105 smashed previous records. And in terms of 12 monthly cycles, the once record breaking October 1997 to September 1998 period has fallen from top to 60th place. While the current temperatures have been boosted to an extent by a strong El Nino, that natural phenomenon is only breaking records because of human-driven global warming underlying it.

Our world is heating up at a rate of between 20 and 50 times that of any natural warming.

This is so fast, so ahead of even many of the more pessimistic science models and so exponentially outclassing any political decisions or practical action, that there is a growing view that we are fooling ourselves if we think for a moment that we can hold global warming to 2 degrees centigrade. 

And next came this: in such a scenario, now seemingly inevitable, the impact on the world's biosystems and, crucially, on the photoplankton in our carbon-saturated seas will be such that before the end of the century, the Earth will begin to run low on breathable air. 

So what is Theresa May's response to this?

One of her first acts as Prime Minister has been to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change. 

Energy, with some aspects of climate change, has been ominously merged with trade and idustrial strategy, while Andrea Leadsom has been appointed Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Leadsom does say she was persuaded climate change is real after asking about it, but she has been particularly critical of the UK's obligations under European regulations to develop clean energy and reduce carbon emissions and she is as keen to dismantle them as any other aspect of the EU. Like some latter-day Bourbon, her main concerns are to talk about lowland farmers breeding sheep and uplanders fostering butterfly meadows. Yet just a few days ago, a 2,000 page report from the Committee on Climate Change advised that Britain is woefully poorly prepared for the impact of global warming and forsees summers of heat stress deaths and regular temperatures of 48C in London.

While Brexit gains its own Secretary of State and fully staffed Department, the biggest threat in history is downgraded, scattered between departments and disappears from view. Tories may try to sound reassuring - but as Labour's Ed Miliband, himself a former Environment Secretary tweeted, "departments shape priorities, shape outcomes." With a full pair of Tory eyes on industry, what chance for real action on climate change? After all, as Green Party Energy Speaker Cllr Andrew Cooper has pointed out, their track record on climate change since 2010 has been literally a lot of hot air.

With neoliberalism and its inexorable drive to commodify and profit ceaselessly continuing to hold sway on economic orthodoxy, like a crushing girdle round our world, few of the deep changes needed to stop the existential threat of global warming have been taken - only economic recession offers any brief respite in the inexorable growth of carbon emissions. And our time to act is nearly over. Climate change is fast, but its remedies can't be implemented when it has taken full hold, or even near that. By then, so many barriers will have been broken, so many thresholds crossed and aeons of carbon and methane unlocked into our atmosphere, that no amount of emergency action will be enough to save our species.

Leadsom infamously made much of her investment in her children and grand-children's futures during her brief foray into the Tory leadership election. Tories gasped and complained that this was loathsome - Theresa May, who has no children, was as focussed on the future as she was, they insisted.

Yet, as they gassed away, neither of them seem to have grasped that the key to any human future is a liveable habitat and that this is now in deeply serious, imminent jeopardy. Whether sons or daughters, nephews or nieces, neighbours kids, friends' offspring or maybe even someone down the street or on the other side of the world, any failure to act decisively now on climate change is putting these already-born children's futures seriously in doubt.

Below: Australian family trapped by wildfires in 2013, when record temperatures up to 54C required an entirely new heat band to be created by the weather sevice. (from Shades of Purple: Australia is Burning)

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Tony Blair Gang

The Chilcot Report yesterday has provoked a storm of retrospective debate about the UK's involvement in the Iraq war in 2003. Among the melee has been the assertion that Parliament overwhelmingly backed Tony Blair's call to arms - a pundit on Sky News suggested just "a handful" of MPs had voted against conflict, implying a contemporary near-unanimity for Mr Murdoch's mate's thirst for action (albeit carried out on his instructions by other people.) 
However, this was not the case at all. Many, many MPs and millions of others argued tooth and nail against the planned attack. Blair's increasingly fanciful claims about a clear and present danger from a sanctioned, defeated country which the UK and US had been quietly bombing ceaselessly for the previous four years, were not believed by many at the time - leading to his desperate need to "sex up" the intelligence reports which Chilcot has so devastatingly demolished. One was even lifted from a Hollywood movie rather than the backstreets of Baghdad, a shocking piece of criminal deception.

And so, while in Parliament Blair enjoyed majority support, there was more than just token opposition. As well as Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy's spirited opposition and resistance from Labour backbenchers like Corbyn, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, resigned and warned of all the now realised dangers of the proposed military adventure.

When it came to the vote, on the substantive motion to go to war immediately, 149 MPs, including all 52 present Lib Dems, the 9 SNP,/Plaid, 2 Tories and 84 Labour MPs voted against. 
And on a proposed amendment, which stated the case for war had not yet been made, there were 217 votes in favour of delaying pending a UN resolution (which was unlikely to ever be forthcoming) - 145 from the Labour benches, all the Lib Dems and Nationalists, and 16 as well from among the Tory ranks.

Labour of course at that time enjoyed an overwhelming majority with 393 seats in the 650 seat House of Commons, but with only 245 Labour members voting with Blair, the Tories could have blocked the war. Instead, 139 of them, including David Cameron, voted against any further delay and so the amendment fell. The House then voted 412 to 149 for immediate war.

Thus, when Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, called on David Cameron to apologise for his and his party's role in the conflict, it was more than a political point - it was in fact stabbing home at a key issue that Chilcot, with its understandable focus on Blair, overlooked. And that is that, no matter how chillingly "charismatic" our glorious leader Blair was, and no matter how much he longed to be a President, or maybe even a Caesar, our nominal parliamentary system meant that he did not take us to war all on his own.

And in the same vein, it is not he alone who should take the guilt of this most heinous and counter-productive of military adventures.

David Cameron skated over both Lucas' question and the challenge from Angus Robertson, SNP Leader in the Commons, on failure to learn to plan - the same mistakes, Robertson charged, had informed (or perhaps failed to inform) the 2011 air war on Libya which has led to the ruin and anarchy there and to a tide of refugees northwards. While Jeremy Corbyn, who voted against the war, apologised for his party, Cameron disdainfully washed his hands of it all, as if he was never there.
Yet if justice was served, the focus would be on more than one bad man alone.

Tony Blair should be held to account. He should answer charges. But he should not be in the dock on his own. 

Saturday, 2 July 2016

We're Leaving Europe : Now The Struggle Has Come Home

I campaigned and voted Remain. Most of my political comrades and colleagues did so too.

But the UK did not. By over 1.2 million votes, the decision is to leave.

Among my cohort, to varying degrees, people are disappointed and, in a number of cases though not all, surprised. What will it mean? After all, some of the predictions, on both sides, about the consequences of the outcome were so apocalyptic - if we are leaving Europe, where are we going? America? China? It is after all just a month ago that David Cameron said Brexit would be celebrated by Daesh/ISIS  - what now if that really was the case?

The shamelessly hyperbolic nature of the Tory-led campaigns by both the official camps have predictably provoked extreme reactions, at least in emotional terms. While a small minority of pro-Brexit racists have used the result to validate an appalling surge in hate crimes from verbal abuse through to firebombing a halal butcher's shop, somewhat more peacefully the Remain side has seen an outpouring of grief and angry disbelief - clearly, the people who voted for Brexit were misguided, confused, lied to, racists or, even, OLD!

Genuinely distraught young people interviewed in the street declared their future stolen by people who, by their chronological reckoning, will be dead soon. One viral video showed a woman burst into tears under the misapprehension that she would no longer have a Nandos restaurant nearby, while another was recorded complaining she will now need to pay to travel to France (?). Ignorance aplenty there has been - but far from exclusive to one side.

And ignorance of a dangerous type has crept into the Remain narrative in the last few days: that if enough sign online petitions for retrospective legislation and complain in the street that the result is wrong, well, we can rerun the referendum until people get it right and vote to stay. Or maybe, as it was just an advisory referendum, the House of Commons can vote to throw the result out. One constitutional expert has declared, in tortuous language, that 52-48 is somehow a draw, while others claim that it may not be legal to leave because of provisions in the European Communities Act from 1972 that bar the Prime Minister from activating the Article 50 notice clause.

Yet these all miss the point and the real challenge confronting us now : the majority voted to Leave. However unpalatable, however difficult, risky and even dangerous, in a democracy, we need to honour that.  Obscure legalism in frustration of the popular will has been and will again be the death-knell of a constitutional liberalism that sees voting as nothing more than the masses' periodic and humble ratification of the elite's right to rule. Overturn this referendum and first and foremost you will simply imperil even further what little social peace remains.

Rather than try to quash the vote, the task now is to look at why people choose to vote the way they did. Survey after survey confirms why, and confirms what anyone involved at any level of political activity over the last decade can tell you - immigration was and is the number one issue. It drove millions to the polls to vote Leave and the Left and others who voted Remain ignore this at great cost.

While probably every racist in the country voted to Leave, they were a small minority among those who crossed that box on the ballot paper. Most Leavers are not racist - but they are disaffected, disempowered and normally disenfranchised. That they felt the EU was responsible for a lot of how they feel is unsurprising given the years of relentless propaganda by the mass media that it is responsible for just about every ill imaginable - validated in full by political leaders including David Cameron casting the EU as the villain in every domestic political game they played.

 We can and must remove the perception that immigration and minority communities are the cause of distress among the poorer sections of society and instead point the finger firmly where the true reason sits - with the rich and powerful who have made this, the sixth richest country in the world, the second most unequal on the planet, behind only the USA. We need to show how it is the impact of unregulated globalism, the impact of worldwide capitalist forces, that have damaged communities and marginalised so many people in our own towns and cities. These are forces that exist in or out of the EU and are fostered by the likes of the Tories and their funders as well as being at the heart of UKIP's worldview.

So now, rather than yet again work for the political system to turn its back on the roar of the disenfranchised and isolated, we need to do two things:

1. Work for the best post-Brexit arrangements possible so that we retain the social and employment protections conferred by the EU; and so that we continue the irreplaceable international environmental work done by the EU with Britain as part of it. There may conceivably at one stage be a case for a referendum on the final settlement, but the practicalities make this less rather than more likely. The EU itself has signalled that the Brexit negotiations will be about just that - exit - rather than what comes after. It seems we will be gone before we know what will come after.

So, rather than imagine there will be either another referendum or a snap General Election - there almost certainly will be neither - we need now to campaign for a withdrawal settlement that keeps these protections and avoids what is already happening in the business press, where influential people are fullsomely calling for the ending of the working time regulations, parental leave and anti-discrimination regulations.

2. Ensure disempowered communities and groups are brought fully into the political struggle and debate. The most effective way this has started to happen has been through the Corbyn leadership of Labour, and it is a major factor in the plotters of the coup against him acting now.

And to do this, we must speak again the language of socialism, not liberalism; of equality and internationalism, not the lies of Blair-lite. It is the poorest and most vulnerable who showed their anger and disaffection most in this vote. It is also they who will likely suffer first and most from Brexit. The Left needs to develop real, positive answers with not for them and ensure their voices are heard, or there will only be ever more scapegoating of minorities and a spiral downwards towards really dark times. A priority must be to bring together those in migrant communities now in many cases deeply scared for their post-Brexit future with those who voted for Brexit, to foster a common agenda for a fairer, inclusive and more equal society - the opposite of what the Tory Brexiteers have in their sights for us.

Scotland will almost certainly leave the UK in the next few years, making the electoral mathematics for progressives in England and Wales that bit harder, but not impossible. Greens have called in the last week for a progressive alliance to take on the Tories at the 2020 election. There are many pitfalls and uncertainties to whether and how this could work, but this should now become the priority for all Remainers of a left of centre and leftwing political viewpoint:  however difficult or even sad, we are leaving Europe; now the struggle has come home.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Man Who Couldn't Be Bothered: Boris Johnson and the Lives of Others

Our country has been annexed into the Eton FPs' Form Room. A place where the Great and Good can play fast and loose with truth and lies - and with the rest of us. 

Boris Johnson's irresponsibility in first switching sides on the EU in a naked act of shameless self-promotion, and then running away from the consequences of his actions somehow sums up just how completely our pseudo-democracy is now the plaything of the rich.

It would of course come as no surprise to anyone watching Johnson at the press conference last Friday where he, Michael Gove and a token Labour person responded to the vote for Brexit. Here was a man who had won what he apparently wanted, a man who had got one over his prefect-room rival Dave Cameron in their lifelong existential struggle to captain the cricket team. (Cameron's own hubristic psychodrama has, of course, led in turn to his own not unwelcome undoing.)

Yet here too was a man rudely awoken to the dire crisis he has been personally deeply involved in creating - the need to extricate our country from the European Union with the huge economic, social and political ramifications of doing so. Quite aside from whether it will work or not, or how bad or not Brexit might be in the end, one thing was and remains absolutely certain.

Brexit will be a lot of hard work.

And when you come from a world of self-entitlement, where your early days were shaped wrecking restaurants and setting toilets on fire with your hooray-Henry mates, while good-old pater paid the bill, hard work is the last thing on your mind.
VL comment from Saturday

Johnson had foreseen a close vote but one that would have been for Remain. Then he could have continued to pose a threat to Cameron from the back benches. But he overplayed his hand and his decision, amidst yet more of his tiresomely pompous, lightweight Shakespeare-quoting bluster this morning, that he will not stand for Tory leader is nothing astonishing - yet nevertheless appalling in its sheer, self-centred gall.

This man has wrecked the social peace of Britain: he has been instrumental in unleashing forces that will be hard indeed to contain when it becomes clear that, whatever form of Brexit occurs, it will not solve the problems Johnson and his ilk have promised it would. He has tugged more too at the plug holding back a tide of ugly nationalism that may now burst across our Continent.

As blogged previously, as a historian (or at least someone who pretends to be), Johnson should have known better than his easy "EU-is-Hitler" analogies, his blatant lies about Turkey joining and his patent fakery in claiming to head some kind of anti-establishment insurgency. And same too his brazen willingess to deceive on the net contribution rate to the EU (exaggerating it by a factor of ten times) and his claim this could be spent on the NHS. That some people were willing to buy this snake oil is more a measure of their desparate alienation than of any significant talent on his part.

When he embraced Brexit, he should have thought about the potential for job losses in Sunderland and other non-Etonian places. Perhaps the people losing their livelihoods might not be able to ride the storm of economic uncertainty with quite the level of accumulated riches he and his mates have to tide themselves over. The economy, after its faltering recent unequal recovery, is now predicted to go into recession and contract by 1% next year according the Economist Intelligence Unit (one of those experts Johnson so often rubbished), with investment down 8% and the public spending deficit rising from 90% to 100% of gdp by 2018. Yet more austerity beckons, harming evermore the vulnerable, the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the very fabric of our society.

He should have thought about the license given to people ready to put notices through Polish people's letterboxes calling them vermin or tell a German born woman in her mid-eighties to go "home" after living here for fifty years with her late husband, leaving her scared to go out. Or the ones ready to daub "f--- off " slogans on a Polish centre, or firebomb a halal butcher's shop in Birmingham. Or, more widely, of the shot in the arm to the likes of the French Front National and eastern European neo-Nazis, all now clamouring to break up the EU and replace it with a brave new world of fortified borders and angry armies.

He should have thought about the young people who will not be able to access free university courses in the Netherlands or get jobs in Paris or Berlin. He should have thought about the half million British pensioners living in Spain and other Mediterranean states who will lose free healthcare and need to pay for insurance instead, so expensive in your later years.

He should have thought about them. All these people, all these lesser mortals without his privilege and innate sense of entitlement. He should have thought about the damage to their lives, the disruption and fear, the uncertainty that perhaps wasn't worth it as part of his pathetic game of besting David.

He should have thought about them. These ordinary, worried and confused British people.

But who wants tiresome details about the lives of others, of the mundane little people, when there's tennis to play and a good lunch to be eaten? And when one of his own Tory colleagues is quoted as saying Johnson would be too lazy to clean up his own vomit, why on earth would he take on the challenge of repairing our shattered country?

So, in the end, Boris just couldn't be bothered. On one level, we should be grateful for being spared more of him. Hopefully now he will fade in the shades; but our country is somehow all the poorer, diminished even, for the sake of this dilettante's infantile, jolly jape.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Lexit or Fixit?

Thousands of columns have been written now on just about every aspect of the referendum. The main focus has of course been the visceral scrap between two gangs of public schoolboys led alternately by David Cameron and his erstwhile Etonian classmate Boris Johnson. Between them they have truly put the "bully" into Bullingdon with ever more ludicrous and shrill statements on both sides; only the appalling murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, brutally shot and stabbed in a Birstall street, has tragically given any pause.

But there have been other debates taking place, unreported by the mainstream media, and the one on the Left is one which has generated its own divisions between colleagues and comrades.

Broadly, no one on the Left seriously supports the EU as it is. The division is between those like Another Europe Is Possible and Diem25, who argue for reform to build a social Europe focussed on tackling the power of international capital, and those like Labour Leave and others on the Lexit (left exit) side who argue this is both structurally and politically nigh impossible.

Both are valid arguments, but to my mind the first approach is the right one to take, for now. 

1. Whether we like it or not, we live in a globalised economy where around one thousand huge transnational mega-corporations effectively own and control our world. They sit far above any national legislature, functioning in many ways as like sovereign states in their own right (and might). We need multinational institutions like the EU to be transformed to counter their power and eventually transform our system of ownership and economics. Now more than ever the idea of achieving socialism in one country seems even more unlikely than changing the EU. 

2. Politically, come Friday, if Britain votes to leave, it will be a Tory regime that is in power, not a socialist one. And, if you can imagine it, it will be even worse than the current one - Brexit Tories, after all, tend to be those who view Cameron and Osborne as appallingly moderate for their likes. Boris Johnson is unlikely to become leader and PM in the event of Brexit, nevertheless. More likely is Theresa May, whose silent support of Remain speaks volumes - watch her emerge as the Tory unity candidate to lead a rightwing government on to the 2020 election. Boundary changes will entrench them further, as might a pragmatic ennoblement of Nigel Farage to bring UKIP into the new politics.

So then welcome to the promised bonfire of employment and consumer rights, safety regulations and human rights law - the "red tape" so often decried by these revanchist neoliberals. And to assaults on immigration and a shutdown on refugees. Some Lexiters talk of the People resisting such outcomes. Possibly, except that the Tories are adept at divide-and-conquer, all the more so shorn of any restraint required by EU regulations and reinvigorated by an albeit imaginary new post-referendum mandate to do maximum harm. And don't forget they will still have their cruel hands tightly gripping all the levers of power.

This is not alarmist fantasy. This is the likely reality post-Brexit. The scenario of millions marching on Downing Street on Friday to demand an election is the real fantasy, sadly. (The only good news though is that, win or lose, Cameron's premiership will be at an end given the deep divisions in his party this has brought to the surface in a most brutal and typically ugly way).

3. We can leave the EU anytime. If reform doesn't happen or if we elect a leftwing government in Britain that looks to take us out for rather more progressive reasons than those that fester in the skulls of Gove, Johnson, IDS and Patel, all we need to do is hold a referendum and leave. But first let's try to see if instead, in solidarity with socialists, greens, trade unions and other progressives and leftists across Europe, we can take the first steps to build a better, fairer and sustainable Europe. A Europe for people and planet.

A final recommendation: please watch this video of Spanish Podemos radical MP Pablo Bustinduy as he speaks on why in spite of the austerity of the eurozone his party wants Spain to remain in the EU and powerfully calls for Britain to do the same.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Videos: Another Europe Is Possible - the Radical Case for Remain

In the last month or so of the European referendum debate in the UK, we have been treated, if that is the word, to a contest of rumour, complaint, exaggeration and pettiness between two male gangs of Hooray Henry Old Etonians. Prime Minister David Cameron has gone head to head with his old Bullingdon Club mate, former London Mayor and would-be Tory PM Boris Johnson, in a reprise of their old party game of smashing everything up - except that this time, its' not Boris setting the toilets on fire in a jolly rich arsed jape, but our country and its' future that are at stake.

The Eurotunnel at Manchester
So it has been refreshingly positive this last week to witness the Another Europe Is Possible campaign swinging fully into action. This grouping of Greens, Labour, Left Unity, trade unions, artists and other progressives of a left-wing viewpoint has been powerfully articulating why we need to stay in Europe to work hard for a better, fairer and more sustainable social Europe. To leave, they argue, would be a fatal error on the part of the country and especially any left wingers contemplating supporting Brexit.

In theory the UK could elect a socialist government and seek to create a socialist society, but the reality on 24 May should we vote to leave is that it will not be socialists who will be ascendant, but the hard right of Farage, Johnson, Patel and Gove. These are all people who have spent their political careers destroying the public NHS, seeking to reduce workplace rights, opposing EU action on stopping tax evasion by the rich and longing to withdraw us from the European Court of Human Rights. With President Putin of Russia, would-be President Trump of the USA and Rupert Murdoch of global capitalism all lining up with them, any progressive hoping Brexit would mean a blow to neoliberalism would be sorely disappointed.

Owen Jones: TTIP is dead
 So Another Europe offers a different path - one of working together to create a more progressive European Union. It is not as some would claim a bosses club - it is for now a vehicle proposing austerity purely because the majority of Governments in the EU, including our own, support austrity platforms which, in turn, they have been elected to implement. The challenge for the left is to change national governments, not leave the EU.

There has been a marked success already - the loathsome TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) looks dead in the water after mass protests by left wingers across Europe, culminating in the French Government making clear it will veto it if it is pursued in its current form. Ironically - or perhaps deviously - many of the Brexit leaders, when representing the British Government, have been the most enthusiastic proponents of TTIP, which they now claim to be a major EU-created threat to the UK.

So, here are a few speeches from the Another Europe  rally at the Peoples' History Museum in Manchester yesterday afternoon. The videos start with perhaps the most powerful contribution - from Pablo Bustinduy, an MP of the Spanish radical Podemos Movement, which has shaken the very foundations of his country's political system - but which continues to want to remain in the European Union and very much hopes that British socialists and progressives will remain as well to work in genuine international solidarity.





YANIS VAROUFAKIS (DIEM25 - Democracy In Europe Movement 2025)


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Boris Brexits His Past

No buffoon - Johnson advocated passionately for Turkish entry to the EU
Boris Johnson infamously spent a weekend transforming from a Europhile to a Eurosceptic a few weeks ago and of course since then has headed the Vote Leave campaign.

The former Mayor has never been one for consistency. He is now heading up a team that yesterday put out a broadcast scaremongering about the currently non-existent prospect of Turkey joining the EU and millions of Turks rushing to use the British NHS. But this current incarnation seems in truth to be a breath-taking piece of cold, calculating re-invention.

What would Great- Grandpa think?
Johnson, some of whose near ancestors come from Turkey and whose great-grandfather Ali Kemal was a liberal Minister in the Ottoman Turkish Government, far from worrying about Turkish immigration has spent some years passionately calling for Turkey to be admitted to the EU. He has decried French concerns about Turkey's human rights record, dismissed calls for greater gender equality and bizarrely hailed the importation of Turkish manufactured fridges to the UK. Opposition to Turkish membership of the EU, according to Johnson, is down to "snootiness" against Islam and demonisation of Muslims.

These are not throwaway remarks and are fully recorded in his own words.

Consider these comments:

The French object to the Turks because of the Armenian massacres, as though France were guiltless herself. Brussels occasionally launches another of its sermons about gender equality, though it should be remembered that Turkey gave women the vote before Belgium.


We need reconciliation, not repulsion. We need reciprocity, not rejection. Instead of intensifying the differences, by burbling on about alien “values”, we should see that we are coming to a critical moment in our discussions with Turkey. We either shore up the Ataturk achievement, and reinforce Turkey’s huge success in becoming a secular democracy with a Muslim population. Or we wrinkle up our noses at the Turks because of their religion.

And if we do, what are we saying to moderate Muslims all over the world? What are we saying to those who believe it is possible to make an accommodation between Islam and democracy? What are we saying to the millions of Muslims who have made their homes and lives in western Europe, including Britain? Are they a kind of geographical error?

Should they be barred, by their alien “culture”, from living here? We would be crazy to reject Turkey, which is not only the former heartland of the Roman empire but also, I see, one of the leading suppliers of British fridges. One Turkish company alone has 15 per cent of the UK fridge market.
Think of all those Turkish fridges, thundering through the passes of the Balkans to Germany and Britain. Think of the intimate interdependency it sets up between the workers of Turkey and the kitchens of Britain.

Think of the colossal numbers of Britons now buying property in Turkey.

Granted, Johnson cautions against unlimited migration, but as well as wanting Turkey in the EU, the Old Etonian appears to anticipate welcoming North African countries into economic union too:

One day, if we get it right with Turkey, we could rebuild the whole ancient harmonious union around the Mediterranean, the rich and free dissemination of produce described by Henri Pirenne, from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Bosphorus; from Tunis to Lyons.

We could heal the rupture created by the Muslim invasions. We could create, once again, the Roman Economic Community built around Mare Nostrum (n.b., the Mediterranean Sea).

Over time, we need to develop a new and deeper relationship between the EU and the Maghreb countries of North Africa, based on the old Roman idea of tolerance.

You don't need to take my word for it. You can read it in his 2007 book, The Dream of Rome, (published by Harper Perennial) or, rather than spend money on that, you can even now read it on his own website,
Buzzfeed have a link to him making similar comments in his TV documentary of the same name, HERE.

So, what does Boris really think? What is his abiding belief?

Ah yes - perhaps that he should be the next Prime Minister?

Vote Leave broadcast graphically warns of mass Turkish migration to use Britain's NHS