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

Sunday, 22 May 2016

What Did EU Do In The War, Father?

from 1870
The European Union has in recent weeks come under more scrutiny than ever as the British referendum on membership draws closer. Yet, as Conservatives fight a bitter proxy leadership battle through the respective Remain and Leave campaigns, much hysterical rhetoric has rained down from both sides.

But perhaps one of the most appalling fables has been the comparison of the European Union to the attempted Nazi conquest of the Continent under Adolf Hitler. Boris Johnson, as widely reported, drew this analogy and it has informed the thinking of a good number of Brexiters for some time.

Yet the whole purpose of the EU, from its very conception and no matter how befuddled it has become in its support of multinational big business, was quite the opposite; and perhaps it is our only deeply flawed hope for the Continent remaining at peace. For Johnson and his colleagues' lazy history does deep disservice to the generation that faced the great conflagration that took tens of millions of European and other lives between 1939 and 1945, and to the people who worked to establish a different means for European states to settle their differences.

That we have not had a war between any of the major European nations, or any members of the EU, for over 70 years now is unique to our troubled continent's history. The so-called Pax Europa is unparallelled not only in recent times but in all time. Where there have been conflicts involving member states, such as Britain in the Falklands or France in Algeria (or both in Libya), these have been about their pursuit of national (and corporate) interests outside of Europe.

So, who were the people who set up this project?
The EU has eleven so called Founding Fathers (sadly reflecting their more patriarchal times). None of them could be seen as having any sympathy at all for the ideas of the Nazis; and quite the opposite. In their different ways, each of them either fought or suffered (or both) in the struggle against Hitler's Reich. Politically they ranged from conservative Christian Democrats to Communists.

Here they are along with their respective war records:

Konrad Adenaur (Germany)
Arrested twice by the Nazis and imprisoned following the 1944 July Valkyrie plot (though he was not personally involved in it).

Joseph Bech (Luxemburg)
When Germany invaded in 1940, he escaped to London and later served as Foreign Minister in the Government-in-exile.

Johan Beyen (Netherlands)
After the German invasion, he fled to London and served as a member of the Government-in-exile.

Winston Churchill (United Kingdom)
Well, what can you say? Architect of the war against Hitler, he called for a United States of Europe in 1946 to prevent future wars. In 1948, he was foremost in advocating a European Charter of Human Rights, backed by a European Court, on which the European Convention on Human Rights was later based. It is this which his Tory successors now wish to scrap.

Alcide de Gasperi (Italy)
Headed an anti-fascist group within the PPI predecessor of the Christian Democrats. In 1927, after severe harassment, he was jailed by Mussolini for 4 years - the Vatican negotiated his release when he became seriously ill after 18 months, and he lived inside the Vatican until the overthrow of Mussolini in 1943.

Walter Hallstein (Germany)
He was an academic in Nazi Germany. He declined to join the Party and his appointment to a professorship at Frankfurt was opposed by local Nazi officials (his colleagues prevailed however and he was given the post of Faculty Dean). He was drafted into the army in 1942 but he surrendered to the Americans in 1944 and worked as a teacher in Project Sunflower, an early denazification programme among German prisoners of war.

Sicco Mansholt (Netherlands)
He was a farmer who became an active member of the Dutch Resistance during the Nazi occupation, helping to hide people wanted by the invaders and organising a massive clandestine food programme in the western provinces.

Jean Monnet (France)
In London in 1940, he worked with Churchill on the British PM's proposal for a political and military union with France, which was thwarted by the German invasion that spring. Monnet remained in London as a member of de Gaulle's National Liberation Committee, returning to Paris following the 1944 flight of the Nazis.

Robert Schuman (France)
Resigned from the Reynaud Government in 1940 over its collaborationist stance with the Nazi invaders. He was arrested and, after initially being marked by the Gestapo to be sent to the Dachau concentration camp, was instead imprisoned by the Gauleiter of Occupied France. In 1942, he escaped and joined the French Resistance, speaking at secret meetings to organise political opposition to the Nazis and the Petain regime.

Paul-Henri Spaak (Belgium)
He was Foreign Minister in 1940 when the Germans invaded and conquered Belgium. He fled across France and from there to Portugal, concealed in the false bottom of a truck along with the Prime Minister (Hubert Pierlot) to avoid capture by pro-Hitler Spanish fascists. He reached London and served in the Belgium Government-in-exile.

Alberto Spinelli (Italy)
A Communist writer, in 1927 he was imprisoned for ten years by Mussolini's fascist regime. Then again, in 1940, he was interned with 800 other political prisoners on the island of Ventontene. While there, at great personal risk, he and a fellow anti-fascist prisoner, Ernesto Rossi, wrote a manifesto secretly on cigarette papers concealed in a tin, calling for "A Free and United Europe." This was smuggled out and circulated by the Italian Resistance.
Spinelli himself was released in 1943 and at a clandestine meeting in Milan in August he and others founded the left wing European Federalist Movement. He argued that a new settlement was needed or else Europe would soon see war again.

No one can convincingly argue that the European Union is not deeply flawed, nor that it isn't in trouble. But before Britain rushes to exit, a step where we would almost certainly be just the first of many leavers, do we really want to unravel the whole thing?

Brexiters say we will leave and establish a new relationship with the EU. But what if there is no European Union and instead thirty or forty nation states with nothing to settle their differences but guns and tanks?

We might do well to remind ourselves of the reasons the Founders had for doing what they did, and why, taking a lesson from history, we should not mistake the fury of debate between EU members and the difficulties of joint decision-making for the existential, life-and-death struggles of the not-so-distant past.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Video: Hitler Hears Sanders Won't Stand Down

Bernie Sanders won a further primary victory this week and ran Hillary Clinton agonisingly close in Kentucky, less than 2,000 votes behind her out of over 550,000 cast. With just ten primary contests to go, he trails her by over 250 in the elected delegate count, but with more than 750 still to be selected, it is at least technically feasible for him to win - although with her 9 to 1 inbuilt majority among the unelected "superdelegates", Clinton seems guaranteed to have a majority when the Democrat Convention gathers in Philadelphia in July. Consequently, although Clinton fought to the very end in 2008 against Barak Obama, she and her media allies are increasingly trying to pressure Sanders into stepping down now, rather than see the electoral process through to its supposedly democratic conclusion.

It is not how the script was meant to be, of course: from the outset, the Democratic National Committee and the mass liberal media had crowned her the heir presumptive to President Obama before a single vote was cast. Sanders' socialist-inspired insurgency, drawing in millions of independents and socialists who would otherwise never vote Democrat, has torn asunder the Establishment's plans, just as his mirror opposite Donald Trump has done to the Republican Party.

Notably, while the two men could not be further apart in almost every way, their respective insurgent platforms appeal to a surprisingly large number of "crossover" voters: people who, like growing numbers throughout the world, feel disenfranchised and ignored by the political elite,and are more than ready to support anyone who challenges the status quo. Consequently, opinion polls show that, while Sanders would comfortably see off Trump in the full Presidential election, as an establishment candidate, Clinton could potentially struggle and even lose to the eclectic Republican maverick.

But perhaps this is what happens when liberalism, like the market capitalism it depends upon, draws towards its close. Just as the economics no longer work, nor do the politics. People are less and less inclined to trip once every four or five years to ballot boxes to simply confirm the elite's right to rule over them, bar the odd, minimal policy variation. The politics of tomorrow, if not quite yet today, will again be the politics of ideas and vision; not the politics of managerialism and consumerism.

But that is not to say that the current Establishment will give way gracefully or democratically. As evidenced by the shutdown of voting procedures at the Nevada Democratic Convention (backed by sinister looking security personnel and police) and the media campaign to deflect criticism from Sanders' supporters by labelling their anger as extremist, the kick-back has already begun and it is likely to get much, much worse in the times ahead.

Police State: the Nevada Democratic Party Convention last weekend.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Last Brexit to Bullingdon

Bullingdon Boys - Cameron (2nd left back) & Johnson (front right) at Oxford together
 "This is the most important decision Britain will make in a generation," quivered the worried voice of Tory grandee Lord Heseltine on the radio this evening. "But it is turning into something nasty."

The plaintive plea of a serious man, perhaps, but one likely to fall on deaf ears as the European referendum campaign grows ever more shrill.

Remain have deployed the Project Fear tactics of the Scottish referendum (forgetting how that in fact almost lost Scotland from the UK). Unlearning, the Remain camp has choreographed an endless succession of bad Brexit days on what would happen if the Eurovote is to leave the European Union: we will all be £4,000 worse off, we will pay more for our goods, we won't get a trade deal with the USA, we will lose influence, European scientists won't talk to British scientists any more, and, today, according to Prime Minister Cameron, the bloodthirsty terrorist leader of Daesh will apparently be delighted if Britain opts for Brexit.

So far, so fear.

Brexit are no better however: we are long used to Farage and Co proclaiming the imminent death of Britain as more Bulgarians and Romanians than actually exist allegedly prepare to decant to Margate. But now we are also told by the increasingly hysterical Boris Johnson that the EU is in fact the realisation of Napoleonic and Nazi dreams of conquest (although curiously he seems to applaud the Roman invasions) and now today he has claimed Cameron has been bribing business leaders to support Remain in return for public contracts.

So what are we seeing here?

Just two men define the debate: David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

All along, the referendum has been David Cameron's high-risk tactic for managing his party. Aware of how Euroscepticism and "bastards" round the Cabinet table did for the last Tory PM, John Major, his offer of a referendum was only ever designed to rally his own dissidents and take the sting out of the rising UKIP. But, now that the time is here, the real reason for this national vote is as clear as crystal. The debate they really care about isn't Europe, but rather who will be Cameron's successor?

Boris Johnson supported remaining in the EU until over a weekend in February he decided to campaign to leave, largely to give him a platform to promote himself to succeed Cameron as leader and PM when the latter stands down, as he has pledged to do sometime before 2020. Similarly wearing his convictions lightly, Cameron reportedly prepared two articles for publication, one for staying and one for leaving, until he assessed his chances (and those of his friend and desired successor George Osborne) after the concluded his notional negotiations with other EU leaders.

So now, instead of a meaningful debate of the merits and possibilities of In or Out, their shrill, personalised and ever more ridiculous baiting of each other exposes not only the immature level of their European debate, but also the truly nasty natures of both men. This should be of little surprise, of course.

These men were contemporaries at Eton and in the infamous Bullingdon Club at Oxford University. The latter institution, which takes stipends rumoured to be up to £10,000 pa from each member, distinguishes itself with schoolboy rituals, such as smashing up the rooms of new members, holding an annual breakfast involving such excess that each person is given a sick bag to allow them to vomit without leaving table and, allegedly, burning money in front of a homeless person.

Our protagonists were no exceptions. Boris Johnson's biographer notes:
"I don't think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash. A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men."  Meanwhile Cameron has reminisced fondly that,Things got out of hand and we'd had a few drinks. We smashed the place up and Boris set fire to the toilets.”

These men are bullies. They have grown up in a culture where self-entitlement and bullying (thinly disguised as upper-class joshing) are de rigeur. It has shown in how Cameron has run a Government targeting the vulnerable with his relentless austerity economics and in how Johnson allegedly ran City Hall via eclectic demands for half-baked ideas to be implemented and then growing angry with those who failed him.

Both men have tried hard to cultivate more positive self-images - Cameron as a regular family guy, Johnson as a happy buffoon on a bike. All too often their masks have slipped for a moment - such as when Cameron described a handful of desperate refugees as a "swarm", like human insects; and Johnson when he screamed abuse at a taxi driver for no reason other than his own pomposity. But of course, there is nothing as bitterly vitriolic or fascinatingly unpleasant than two former allies scrapping jealously with each other. Whatever the outcome of the Eurovote, the medium term future not only of both men but of their party and its Government must now be in serious doubt. We can but live in hope.

In the meantime, however, we will have been required to make a major decision on our national future with the arguments mired in mutual loathing between different wings of the Tory Party. It is to be hoped that in the weeks remaining more sensible voices, on all sides, can come to the fore and debate the issues without the distraction of either of these smug egotists.

Let them go back to Bullingdon, shout bullshit at each other and vomit together. Then the rest of us can get on with the grown up stuff. Like deciding the future of our country and Continent.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Godwin's Downfall - Boris Johnson, Or The Historian Who Should Know Better

There is in social media a term called "Godwin's Law", which asserts that anyone with a tenuous or false observation to make on the internet will eventualy invoke Adolf Hitler.

We've had two former London Mayors cite the Austrian Corporal in the last two weeks:

Labour's Ken Livingstone ended up suspended by the party after extrapolating from an arrangement permitted by the German Fuhrer to let Jews leaving Nazi Germany in late 1933 go to Palestine as meaning Hitler endorsed the Zionist belief in a Jewish State. While the Havaara accord is undeniably historical (if short lived), the claimed Zionist intentions of the author of the virulently anti-Semitic Mein Kampf were rather more dubious.

And now, this weekend, Ken's successor, Boris Johnson, less than a week after leaving office, has derided the European Union as being akin to Hitler's Nazi project to conquer Europe. In a lazy attack, the Brexit leader compared the EU bureaucracy to the Napoleonic and Nazi wars of conquest, indulging in cheap rhetoric and ignoring key aspects of history which he is more than well acquainted with.

For Johnson is a historian and is more than aware that the genesis of the European Union was one of ensuring peace and reconstruction after the end of the devastating Second World War. Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime Prime Minister, called in 1946 for a United States of Europe to ensure the reconstruction of the European family - whether he wanted Britain to be part of it or not is open to debate, but it makes the EU hardly the pursuit of a Nazi dream as Johnson has so crassly claimed. Indeed, most of the founders of the EU were people who had actively resisted Hitler and Mussolini or been persecuted and imprisoned by them, the like of which Mr Johnson has had the historically unusual good fortune never to have experienced. Several of the eleven so-called Founding Fathers were resistance fighters, while others were arrested and one fled Nazi-occupied France concealed in the false bottom of a truck.

So it is a travesty of the truth for Johnson to compare the European project with the dictatorships of the jackbooted militarists - all the more so as it is the Nazis' own spiritual heirs in the growing neo-fascist and far right movements who are keenest of all to destroy the European Union.

If Britain leaves, the likes of Le Pen and the AfD will see that as the first of many dominoes to fall until the whole Union is undone and we return to dozens of nation states peering suspiciously at each other over reinforced borders. If this is what Johnson wants from his call for British voters to be "heroes of Europe" (like something out of a bad 1960s war movie), he should know better.

For as a historian, Johnson will also be more than aware that we have never before now had over 70 years without a large-scale war on the European Continent. To be sure, there have been bloody localised conflicts in former Yugoslavia and in Ukraine and parts of the Caucasus (all outside of the EU), but for the first time in history there has been no major war blighting our previously blood-soaked part of the world. Go back, as Mr Johnson curiously does, to the glorious days of authoritarian Imperial Rome, which he does for some reason seem to laud as a "golden age", and not only under that Empire but in every subsequent century you can find not one or two but dozens of large scale military conflicts between European states. That is until 1945, and the new emphasis on a Europe that shares its future rather than fights over it.

Has the EU realised that future?

The simple answer is No, of course not. The EU is beholden to big business interests. It is not sufficiently democratic and in some respects, especially in the Eurozone which Britain is not part of, it is over-centralised and obsessed with austerity economics (like our own Government). But that is a case for staying in and making it change; it is not a case for deriding it as the realisation of a one-balled bloodthirsty narcissist's dream and walking away to do deals with these nice democrats in Beijing and shake hands with President Trump.

On so many issues - tackling climate change, taming big multinational corporations, keeping the social and political peace on our fractured Continent - a democratised EU is essential. Leaving it won't somehow magic an alternative into being. We need to campaign, argue, push for change. And if in the meantime we argue ceaselessly with other Europeans, well, equally we will work with many others too, and in any case, surely shouting is better than shooting?

Mr Johnson, as changeable as his spliced-at-conception twin Trump, should take his tawdry careerism elsewhere and leave history alone.

Nexit Nightmare : Premier Johnson and President Trump?