Search Results for : Bellingcat


Bellingcat’s Very Obviously Fake Chepiga Photo

Bellingcat’s attempts to gild the Chepiga lily are now becoming ludicrous. The photo they published today is a very obvious fake.

Many people have noticed that the photo of Chepiga on this wall appears to be hanging in completely different lighting conditions from the others. That is indeed a good point.

But there is a more important point here, and that is to do with sequencing. Except for Chepiga and Popov, who according to Belligncat also became a Hero of Russia in 2014, all of the people here are indeed openly and officially listed Heroes of Russia or, in the majority of cases, Heroes of the Soviet Union.

What is more, they are, as you would expect on a military honours wall, ranked in date order. ONLY CHEPIGA IS OUT OF DATE ORDER. The order runs top row let to right, then second row left to right, then bottom row left to right.
The bit of the bottom row we can see runs:
Karpushenko (2000), Ribak (2005), Maclov (2012), Popov (2014).

So why is Chepiga in a row of much earlier Heroes of the Soviet Union? Next in sequence in fact to Grigory Dobrunov who got his award in 1956!!!! The pictures are definitely otherwise all in date order.

The glaringly obvious answer – in line with the reflections anomaly – is that Chepiga’s “picture” has been photoshopped onto this wall. The military do not suddenly insert photos out of order and at random on an honours board. Bellingcat, however, have a track record of image manipulation.

None of which proves or disproves the Boshirov identification. It is however an important reminder to take Bellingcat as a source with a pinch of salt.

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No Inquest for Dawn Sturgess 247

The killing of poor Dawn Sturgess was much the most serious of the events in Salisbury and Amesbury that attracted international attention. Yet nobody has been charged, no arrest warrant issued and no inquest held.

The inquest for Dawn Sturgess has today been yet again postponed, for the fourth time, and for the first time no new prospective date has been given for it to open. Alarmingly, the coroner’s office are referring press enquiries to Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command – which ought to have no role in an inquest process supposed to be independent of the police.

Congratulations to Rob Slane and to John Helmer for their excellent work in following this.

It appears very probable that the independent coroner’s inquiry process is going to be cancelled and, as in the case of David Kelly, replaced by a politically controlled “public inquiry” with a trusty or malleable judge in charge, like Lord Hutton of Kincora. This is because the truth of Dawn Sturgess’ death in itself destroys key elements of the government’s narrative on what happened in Salisbury.

Simply put, the chemical that killed Dawn Sturgess could not have been the same that allegedly poisoned the Skripals. Charlie Rowley is adamant that he found it in a packaged and fully sealed perfume bottle, in a charity bin. Furthermore he states that it was a charity bin he combed through regularly and it had not been there earlier, in the three months between the alleged attack on the Skripals and his taking it from the bin.

The government narrative that “Boshirov and Petrov” used that perfume bottle to attack the Skripals, then somehow resealed the cellophane, and disposed of it in the bin, depends on the Russians having a tiny plastic resealing technology concealed on them (and why bother?), on their taking a long detour to dispose of the “perfume” in a charity bin – the one method that guaranteed it being found and reused – and the “perfume” then achieving a lengthy period of invisibility in the bin before appearing again three months later.

Those are only some of a number of inconvenient facts. Perfume does not come as a gel; it cannot both have been applied as a gel to the Skripals’ doorknob and sprayed on to Dawn Sturgess’ wrists. Gels do not spray. Neither Porton Down nor the OPCW was able to state it was from the same batch as the chemical allegedly used on the Skripals’ house.

Then there is the fascinating fact that it took eleven days of intensive searching for a vial of liquid in a small modern home, for the police to find the perfume bottle sitting on the kitchen counter.

Nobody has been charged with the manslaughter or murder of Dawn Sturgess. There is still an international arrest warrant out for Boshirov and Petrov for the attack on the Skripals. Very interestingly indeed, this warrant has never been changed into the names of Chepiga and Mishkin.

From the moment I heard of the attack on Dawn Sturgess I worried that she – a person down on her luck and living in a hostel – was exactly the kind of person the powerful and wealthy would view as a disposable human being if her death fitted their narrative. The denial of an inquest for her, and the complete lack of interest by the mainstream media in the obvious nonsense of the official story that ties her to the Skripal poisoning, tends to confirm these fears. What Dawn Sturgess’ death tells us, beyond doubt, is that the government narrative is fake and the Skripal and Sturgess cases are two separate incidents. Which makes a local origin of the chemical very much more likely. No wonder the government is determined to avoid the inquest.

I was struck today that the tame neo-con warmongering “Chemical weapons expert” Hamish De Bretton Gordon, former head of the British Army’s chemical weapons unit, appeared on Sky News. He was being interviewed on use of white phosphorous by Turkey in Syria and repeatedly tried to deflect the narrative on to alleged chemical weapons use by Syrian government forces, arguing that the present crisis was the moral responsibility of those who opposed western military action against Assad. But what particularly struck me was that he appeared by Skype – from Salisbury. When you look at the British government’s own chemical weapons expertise, you are continually led back to Salisbury, perhaps not surprisingly given the location of Porton Down.

I am aiming to make a full documentary film on the Salisbury events entitled “Truth and the Skripals”, based around the questions raised on this blog. I shall be looking to launch crowdfunding for the documentary shortly, probably within the week.

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Bad Faith Negotiation 371

I seldom comment on Brexit, largely because I neither see leaving the EU as a panacea nor the EU itself as a Utopia, and am alienated by the over-extravagant passions and claims on both sides. In addition to that, the FCO is largely excluded from Brexit negotiations, being perceived by the Tories as a nest of remainers, so I seldom get any interesting information fed to me by ex-colleagues.

I should admit at this point that my apparently effortless expertise on myriad subjects is something of a fake, because often posts are prompted and informed (and very rarely, even written) by someone on the inside, and sometimes it is not possible to tell you that. But sometimes I can tell you, and today this knowledge comes from the inside.

The Legal Advisers of the FCO remain the UK government’s source of expertise on public international law. When the Attorney General publishes his view on such a matter, it has been drafted by FCO Legal Advisers or at the least is based on a minute from them. The sole exception to this of which I know was when Blair’s Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, received formal advice from FCO Legal Advisers that to invade Iraq would be an illegal war of aggression. Goldsmith then flew to Washington on instruction from Blair and Goldsmith’s final advice that the war was legal was based on drafting, not from FCO Legal Advisers, but from George Bush’s Legal Advisors. That is one of those incredible facts that I often find hard to understand do not lead to active public outrage. I wish I was a more religious man and could be sure that Hell awaits Goldsmith. I comfort myself with the thought that Goldsmith might himself be religious and cowering.

There is currently considerable alarm in the FCO that Legal Advisers have been asked about the circumstances constituting force majeure which would justify the UK in breaking a EU Withdrawal Agreement in the future. The EU did not fall for Johnson’s idea that a form of Northern Irish “backstop” would only come into effect with the future sanction of Stormont, as this effectively gives a hardline unionist veto, and Barnier was not born yesterday. The situation that Johnson and Raab appear now to contemplate is agreeing a “backstop” now to get Brexit done, but then not implementing the agreed backstop when the time comes due to “force majeure”.

There are two major problems with this line of thinking. The first is that it will give unionists an incentive to foment disorder in order to justify breaking the backstop agreement – indeed there is a concern that might be the tacit understanding Johnson is reaching with the DUP. Remember the British state conspired with the same people to murder the lawyer Pat Finucane and destroyed the evidence as recently as 2002.

The second problem is one of bad faith negotiation, and this is what is troubling the diplomats of the FCO. To negotiate an agreement with the secret intention of breaking it in future is a grossly immoral proceeding, and undermines the whole principle of good international relations. I should like to be able to say that I am sure this cannot be the intention. But when I look at Johnson, Raab and Cummings, I am really not so sure at all. It is possible that Johnson will succeed in the apparently insurmountable challenge of securing a deal all parties can agree, by the simple strategy of promising some parties he has no intention of honouring it.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Weep for Catalonia, Weep for Liberalism in Europe 161

The vicious jail sentences handed down today by the fascists (I used the word with care and correctly) of the Spanish Supreme Court to the Catalan political prisoners represent a stark symbol of the nadir of liberalism within the EU. That an attempt to organise a democratic vote for the Catalan people in pursuit of the right of self determination guaranteed in the UN Charter, can lead to such lengthy imprisonment, is a plain abuse of the most basic of human rights.

I was forced to withdraw my lifelong personal support for the EU when, in response to the vicious crushing of the Catalan referendum by Francoist paramilitary forces, when the whole world saw grandmothers hit on the head and thrown down stairs as they attempted to vote, all the institutions of the EU – Council, Commission and Parliament – lined up one after the other to stress their strong support for the Madrid paramilitary action in maintaining “law and order”.

Today we see the same thing. As the Catalans are imprisoned for efforts at democracy, the EU Commission stated that it “respects the position of the Spanish judiciary” and “this is, and remains, an internal matter for Spain, which has to be dealt with in line with its constitutional order.” The Commission here is simply ignoring what is very obviously a fundamental breach of basic human rights. This is far worse than anything Poland or Hungary have done in recent years, and the Commission is also showing a quite blatant hypocrisy in its relative treatment of its Western and Eastern members.

There was a time when the EU was a shining example of economic and environmental regulation and of regional wealth redistribution. My fondness for the institution dates from it being one of our few defences from economic Thatcherism. But it has evolved into something very different, a mutual support club for neoliberal political leaders.

I do not much blog about Brexit because I am less concerned about it than the majority of the population. I neither think remaining inside is essential nor that leaving it is a political panacea. I do desperately wish to retain freedom of movement, and believe leaving the customs union would be economic self-harm on a large scale. A Norway style relationship would suit me fine, but by and large I prefer to stay out of the argument. I do believe that, as a matter of democratic legitimacy, having had the 2016 referendum the result should be respected; England should leave and Scotland and Northern Ireland remain.

But I also say this. A million people are expected to march on Saturday in support of the EU. That is the EU which has just expressed its active support for the jailing of Catalans for holding a vote. They join Julian Assange as political prisoners in the EU held for non-violent thought crime.

I say this to anyone thinking of marching on Saturday. It is morally wrong, at this time, to show public support for the EU, unless you balance it by showing your disgust at the fascist repression of the Catalans and the EU’s support for that repression. Every single person going on Saturday’s march has a moral obligation to balance it by sending a message to the EU Commission that their support for this repression is utterly out of order, and carrying a flag or sign on the march indicating support for the Catalan political prisoners. Otherwise you are just a smug person marching for personal self interest. Alongside the progenitors of the Iraq War, who doubtless will again dominate the platform speeches.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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The Foreign Office Must Be Challenged Over Sacoolas’ Immunity 314

The government has stepped up its lies about immunity in the Sacoolas case to a breathtaking degree. I genuinely am astounded by the sheer audacity of the lies now being told, including a staggeringly mendacious FCO-briefed BBC article yesterday stating that “23,000 individuals in the UK have diplomatic immunity” and that it extends to “drivers and cooks”. This follows up the breathtaking FCO statement to Sky News that RAF Croughton “is regarded as an annex to the US Embassy in London” – a total falsehood.

What I cannot understand is why. The entire incident is extremely strange. On the face of it, Harry Dunn’s death was a tragic accident caused by somebody who had not long been in the UK driving on the wrong side of the road. This dreadful mistake is forgivable, as Harry’s very sensible parents have said; there seems little reason to believe the justice system would have been more harsh. There was no conceivable need to run away. That is what they cannot forgive.

Make no mistake; the spiriting of the Sacoolas family out of the UK was a considered act by the US Government and, in the case of a manslaughter in an allied state, the decision not to waive immunity would have been taken right at the top of the State Department. Make no mistake about it either, the FCO would have been informed and complicit in the decision and has only pretended to protest after massive public pressure, got up by Harry’s admirable family a full three weeks after the incident had been, the government would have hoped, successfully buried.

But why? It should be stated that it is the norm to waive diplomatic immunity in serious cases between allied or friendly developed states, where each has confidence in the other’s justice system. Unless the accident did not happen as stated, or there is a Chris Huhne type blame switch involved (Trump yesterday very carefully made the point that cameras had confirmed the identity of the driver – I was not sure why he brought this up when nobody had questioned it), it is very hard to understand why diplomatic immunity has been insisted on in this case. Assuming that Anne Sacoolas was the driver and the incident was as described, the only explanation I can think of is that it was hoped by getting them out the country to avoid all publicity and scrutiny of Jonathon Sacoolas’ real job, which is to spy on British citizens communications’ for GCHQ, who face legal impediments in doing so.

I would like to be able to say that if that cover-up is the plan, it has backfired, except that the media has unanimously censored all reporting of what Sacoolas actually does in the UK. Which is quite extraordinary given the massive but (deliberately) wildly misleading coverage of this case. I wish there were many more places than here you could come to learn the truth, but there are not. In which context, it is worth noting that both Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post have joined the DSMA Notice Committee and become willing tools of the UK security services.

After I pointed out that Sacoolas does not appear on the Diplomatic List, does not hold diplomatic rank and is not accredited to a diplomatic mission, and therefore cannot be a “diplomatic agent” under the Vienna Convention, the FCO first admitted this and claimed his immunity stemmed from a separate bilateral agreement, as reported by Sky News.

Having negotiated many international agreements in my time in the FCO, I know that they need to be given effect in UK domestic law, usually by Order in Council. I therefore searched for legislation giving the Secretary of State authority to grant immunity from criminal prosecution under bilateral agreements for spy bases, and I could find nothing. The legal basis for granting immunities under the Vienna Convention is the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, which enacted it into UK legislation. The legal basis for granting military immunity under Status of Forces Agreements, or for NATO personnel, is clear and set out in the Visiting Forces Act of 1952.

I could find nothing that would give legal powers to a Secretary of State to grant immunity to US spies on military bases working on communications interception of UK citizens. No legislation was passed to give legal effect in the UK to the reputed bilateral agreements which cover this.

I therefore wrote to the FCO asking for a copy of the bilateral agreement under which Sacoolas has immunity, and a copy of the UK legislation giving the authority to grant the immunity to the Secretary of State. I have not received any reply, but apparently it concentrated minds because the FCO has now switched to make an aggressive – and nonsensical – assertion that Sacoolas is a diplomat in terms of the Vienna Convention.

Not only that, the FCO’s admission to Mark Stephens, reported in that original article by Sky News, that Sacoolas was not a diplomat under the Vienna Convention has been expunged from history. The Sky News defence correspondent Alistair Bunkall had tweeted a reply to me copying this report, as evidence there was no DSMA notice controlling the reporting of the Sacoolas case.

Yet this article, held up by Bunkall as evidence of a free media, was within 24 hours totally rewritten to remove the FCO’s admission that Sacoolas was not on the diplomatic list, and replace it with the new FCO attack line of strong assertion that Sacoolas is covered by the Vienna Convention, and to highlight Dominic Raab’s entirely insincere and pretend effort to request Sacoolas’ return. The story has in effect been completely rewritten by the FCO. This is what the same page, the same url, Bunkall tweeted out looks like now:

Pretty well all that remains of the original – accurate – story is the url, now totally at odds with the content https://news.sky.com/story/husband-of-us-woman-granted-diplomatic-immunity-not-registered-diplomat-11830734. There is no acknowledgement that the story has been changed, and the original is strangely not available even on the wayback machine. If Bunkall has not tweeted it, it would be difficult to prove this brief moment of reporting the truth had never existed. The irony of Bunkall’s tweeting a now completely censored report as evidence of press freedom is stunning.

Forgive me but I here must insert my original post on Sacoolas to make plain the actual legal position:

There is no Jonathan Sacoolas on the official Diplomatic list. Neither Sacoolas nor his wife has any right to claim diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.

Article 31 of the Vienna Convention states that:

A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state

Article 37 extends this privilege to family members living in his household. A “diplomatic agent” is defined in article 2(d).

The “members of the diplomatic staff” are the members of the staff of the mission having diplomatic rank;

Jonathan Sacoolas does not hold, and has never held, a diplomatic rank. He has never been a member of staff of a diplomatic mission. (All those with diplomatic rank appear in the diplomatic list, see above link. That list also includes some attaches who do not have diplomatic rank (depending on the type of attache), but there is nobody with diplomatic rank not in the list).

Jonathan Sacoolas does not have, and has never had, any entitlement to diplomatic immunity in international law. Sacoolas works as an NSA technical officer at the communications interceptions post at “RAF Croughton”. His role is support to the interception of communications from British citizens. As I explained in Murder in Samarkand, the NSA and GCHQ share all intelligence reports, but each faces legal constraints on mass spying on its own citizens. So the NSA has staff here fronting the spying on British citizens, while GCHQ has staff in the US fronting the spying on US citizens, and the polite fiction is that the results are transmitted back over the Atlantic to the US or UK respectively, before being “shared” with the partner intelligence agency.

None of which has anything to do with diplomacy, and Sacoolas must be the subject of a DSMA notice given that all mainstream media are referring to him constantly as a “diplomat”, when they all know that is not true. The irony is of course that if Sacoolas actually was a real diplomat, the US would very probably have waived the diplomatic immunity of his wife, as the issues around his presence and function would be much less sensitive.

The UK has no Vienna Convention obligation to acknowledge the “immunity” of Sacoolas’ wife, contrary to all reporting to date. What does apparently exist between the UK and US is a secret, bilateral agreement to treat GCHQ and NSA staff as if they had diplomatic immunity. That is not at all the same thing as Vienna Convention protection under international law. I cannot conceive the grief of Harry Dunn’s parents, but I do hope that they are not deceived by the pretence at intervention in this case by Johnson and Raab.

I am not at all convinced, as a matter of law, that the government has the power to grant, by bilateral treaty or otherwise, immunity from criminal prosecution to foreign nationals, plainly outside the provisions of the Vienna Convention. This should be tested by the courts.

ENDS

With this in mind, let us examine the claims made by the FCO to the media in response. From that Sky News report we have:

This is utter nonsense. It is simply untrue. RAF Croughton is not an annex to the US Embassy. The FCO has invented this lie to counter the fact that, to qualify for diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, Sacoolas must be attached to a diplomatic mission. RAF Croughton is not a diplomatic mission. A RAF base cannot be a US Embassy.

That RAF Croughton is an annex of the US Embassy can be immediately disproved. An Embassy is the sovereign territory of the nation which owns it. Within Embassy premises, the law which applies is the law of the Embassy’s state, not the host state. That is not the case in RAF Croughton. That RAF Croughton is not an Annex of the US Embassy can be instantly proven beyond any doubt or argument by the fact that the bye-laws applicable within it are promulgated by the UK Secretary of State for Defence.

If the base were an annex to the US Embassy, the UK Secretary of State could not make bye-laws for it. There is no mention within the bye-laws covering security and management of and access to RAF Croughton of any area within it being part of the US Embassy. The claim is a simple and straightforward lie, and a rather desperate one.

Finally, if RAF Croughton were an annex to the US Embassy and if Mr Sacoolas were a diplomat, the cars of both he and his wife would have diplomatic CD plates. Mrs Sacoolas was not driving a diplomatic car – an obviously vital fact in this case, again omitted from all mainstream media reporting.

There are further lies in the Sky News report.

On the contrary, the Diplomatic List is a comprehensive record of every diplomat notified to the FCO as having diplomatic status by Diplomatic Note – and as specified in Article 10 of the Vienna Convention, a person must be so notified to become a “diplomatic agent”. There are no “diplomatic agents” not on the Diplomatic List.

I was in the Foreign Office for 20 years and a member of its Senior Management Structure for 6 years. It would be nice if you took my word for this, but you don’t have to – it is very neatly explained at the very start of the Diplomatic List:

The entire purpose of the list is to record those with diplomatic immunity and the legislation under which they get it. From page 127 to 137 it lists those who have diplomatic immunity not under the Diplomatic Privileges Act – which only covers national Embassies and High Commissions – but under other legislation as they work not for nations but for international agencies: and in every individual case the Diplomatic List names the specific legislation which confers the immunity.

The major purpose of the London Diplomatic List is to be a compendium of diplomatic status with a precise attribution of immunity and its source. As Sacoolas is not listed as a diplomat of the US Embassy in the Diplomatic List or the Consular List, he is not a “diplomatic agent” entitled to full diplomatic immunity. Full stop. As explained below, Sacoolas’ wife would only have diplomatic immunity while driving privately if he held a full diplomatic rank (in which case her car would have diplomatic CD plates, which it does not).

The FCO claim that the Diplomatic List only covers London is also ludicrous. The same government webpage gives you the full list of consulates, with their consuls, and even of honorary consuls, outside of London. It does not list Embassy annexes outside London because there are none and the concept does not exist in international law. Embassy outposts from the capital are consulates or consular offices.

The FCO is trying to convince you that their entire section of staff who work on diplomatic accreditations and constantly update the Diplomatic List, are wasting their time on an entirely pointless exercise producing futile and incomplete lists. I wonder how those employees’ morale is today.

But Raab’s FCO did not stop there with the lies. They then briefed the BBC to produce an article on diplomatic immunity so full of lies as to be truly astonishing. I am prepared to confess that I could not complete this blog entry for three days because I was genuinely emotionally upset by the realisation that the UK now has a government whose noted penchant for “aggressive” media and opinion management means it is prepared to employ the big lie on any occasion and subject.

The BBC article is plainly based entirely on an FCO briefing and written with the express and sole intention of obscuring the fact that Sacoolas is not a diplomat. It contains so many outrageous lies that I am afraid this article is going to get still longer. If you have had the patience to stick with me so far, please bear with me a bit further.

This is another quite extraordinary lie, as anybody can easily confirm simply by reading the Vienna Convention. As explained above, full diplomatic immunity is enjoyed only by “diplomatic agents” who must be persons “Having diplomatic rank”.

As very plainly set out in articles 37 of the Vienna Convention:

Article 37
1.The members of the family of a diplomatic agent forming part of his household shall, if they are
not nationals of the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29 to 36.

2.Members of the administrative and technical staff of the mission, together with members of
their families forming part of their respective households, shall, if they are not nationals of or
permanently resident in the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29
to 35, except that the immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving State specified
in paragraph 1 of article 31 shall not extend to acts performed outside the course of their duties. They
shall also enjoy the privileges specified in article 36, paragraph 1, in respect of articles imported at the
time of first installation.

3.Members of the service staff of the mission who are not nationals of or permanently resident in
the receiving State shall enjoy immunity in respect of acts performed in the course of their duties,
exemption from dues and taxes on the emoluments they receive by reason of their employment and the
exemption contained in article 33.

So “diplomatic agents” “having diplomatic rank” – which, remember, Sacoolas does not have – hold full immunity as do their families.

“Administrative and technical staff” have immunity from prosecution only while performing acts “in the course of their duties”. That is while actually engaged in work for their governments, not outwith their working time. Their families also have exactly the same immunity, and as the families do not have any official duties to be engaged in, in practice their immunity is only civil ie from taxation.

In the case of another spy, Shai Masot, not on the diplomatic list, when challenged as to his diplomatic status the FCO claimed he was not a “diplomatic agent” but only “technical and administrative staff”. As an NSA communications interception expert Sacoolas could arguably be “technical and administrative staff” if it were true that RAF Croughton were an annex of the US Embassy – but that plainly is not true.

However even were Sacoolas covered by immunity as “technical and administrative work” he and his family would only be covered for events that happened in the direct course of his work, and very, very plainly Anne Sacoolas would not have had diplomatic immunity when she hit Harry Dunn. She only had immunity if Sacoolas is a full blown “diplomatic agent” – which he isn’t. We are yet to be told what “diplomatic rank” he allegedly holds. So for the BBC to try to obscure the case with cooks and gardeners – who as “service staff” have even less immunity and their families none at all – is deliberate obfuscation.

This is an utterly tendentious claim. As explained above, the only people with practical diplomatic immunity outside their actual work are full blown diplomats, and there are just over 3,000 of them, all captured in the Diplomatic List. The BBC report attempts to make out that categories such as “international organisations” account for significant parts of this alleged horde of diplomats, but as noted above those from international organisations entitled to diplomatic immunity are all in the London Diplomatic List pp 127 to 137 and amount to just 220 people. It is also worth remembering that the majority of family members who have immunity are children.

There is a much larger number of military personnel who enjoy immunity under the Visiting Forces Act – a total disgrace, in my view – but this is not diplomatic immunity and it is not claimed Sacoolas has it. I have no idea where the ridiculous 23,000 figure for diplomatic immunity originates. Dominic Raab’s arse seems the best bet.

The Johnson/Raab PR strategy here is plain – to drown investigation of Sacoolas’ extremely dodgy claim to political asylum in a sea of tens of thousands of fictitious holders of dodgy political asylum. The government has decided to make us overlook Sacoolas by pretending that there are 23,000 obscure foreigners roaming our country as “diplomats”, each of whom has the license to burgle your home, piss on your floor, kill your daughter and rape your son without facing any possible criminal prosecution or comeback. If this were true, it would be a catastrophic and alarming state of affairs. Thankfully it is a great morass of fiction the government has created within which to try and bury Sacoolas.

This fake “diplomatic immunity” needs to be challenged in court, but I am not sure anyone except Harry Dunn’s family has the locus to do this. Their son was killed by the wife of a spy and to avoid political embarrassment about his activities, the government has falsely connived at a status of diplomatic immunity and then pretended to be trying to get Mrs Sacoolas back. That is an awful lot to take in for people in a terrible state of grief. After losing a son, the cognitive dissonance involved in uncovering state secrets, and learning that the state is malevolent and senior ministerial office holders are liars, is a huge hurdle to surmount. The Dunn family have first to summon the will to fight it, and then to avoid the attempts to hug them in the suffocating embrace of an establishment lawyer – believe me the powers that be will be covertly thrusting one at them – who will advise them they are most likely to make progress if they rock no boats.

The only people I know of who effectively enjoy secret diplomatic immunity are spies from CIA/NSA like Jonathon Sacoolas or from Mossad like Shai Masot. There are not any other categories of pretend diplomats having immunity, and the elaborate charade to pretend that there are is a nonsense. It must not distract from the fact that the claim that the government can grant US and Israeli intelligence agencies diplomatic immunity at will is a lie. The government is acting illegally here. There is no legislation that covers Raab in allowing Mrs Sacoolas to kill – albeit accidentally – with impunity.

I pray both the government and Mrs Sacoolas will be brought to account. I hope Mr and Mrs Dunn find what peace they can with their loss, and are able to remember with due warmth the eighteen wonderful years that I am sure they had with their son.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Jonathan Sacoolas Is Not, and Has Never Been, a Diplomat 432

UPDATE: Since I published this article the mainstream media, including at least Sky News and the Guardian, have started to report that Sacoolas does not have diplomatic immunity. This is a massive reversal in the MSM line, though to date none have published that he works for NSA or explained the NSA/GCHQ relationship. The MSM are all quoting the lawyer Mark Stephens, rather than this blog, as the source of the information. I would gently note that I can so far find no evidence of Stephens pointing out Sacoolas is not on the Diplomatic List until some hours after I broke the story, and that when he gave radio interviews yesterday Stephens was unaware of the fact.

Ultimately however it does not matter that I am not credited; what matters is my lead has in practice been followed and there is now a much stronger point of pressure available to get justice for Harry Dunn.
END OF UPDATE

There is no Jonathan Sacoolas on the official Diplomatic list. Neither Sacoolas nor his wife has any right to claim diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.

Article 31 of the Vienna Convention states that:

A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state

Article 37 extends this privilege to family members living in his household. A “diplomatic agent” is defined in article 2(d).

The “members of the diplomatic staff” are the members of the staff of the mission having diplomatic rank;

Jonathan Sacoolas does not hold, and has never held, a diplomatic rank. He has never been a member of staff of a diplomatic mission. (All those with diplomatic rank appear in the diplomatic list, see above link. That list also includes some attaches who do not have diplomatic rank (depending on the type of attache), but there is nobody with diplomatic rank not in the list).

Jonathan Sacoolas does not have, and has never had, any entitlement to diplomatic immunity in international law. Sacoolas works as an NSA technical officer at the communications interceptions post at “RAF Croughton”. His role is support to the interception of communications from British citizens. As I explained in Murder in Samarkand, the NSA and GCHQ share all intelligence reports, but each faces legal constraints on mass spying on its own citizens. So the NSA has staff here fronting the spying on British citizens, while GCHQ has staff in the US fronting the spying on US citizens, and the polite fiction is that the results are transmitted back over the Atlantic to the US or UK respectively, before being “shared” with the partner intelligence agency.

None of which has anything to do with diplomacy, and Sacoolas must be the subject of a DSMA notice given that all mainstream media are referring to him constantly as a “diplomat”, when they all know that is not true. The irony is of course that if Sacoolas actually was a real diplomat, the US would very probably have waived the diplomatic immunity of his wife, as the issues around his presence and function would be much less sensitive.

The UK has no Vienna Convention obligation to acknowledge the “immunity” of Sacoolas’ wife, contrary to all reporting to date. What does apparently exist between the UK and US is a secret, bilateral agreement to treat GCHQ and NSA staff as if they had diplomatic immunity. That is not at all the same thing as Vienna Convention protection under international law. I cannot conceive the grief of Harry Dunn’s parents, but I do hope that they are not deceived by the pretence at intervention in this case by Johnson and Raab.

I am not at all convinced, as a matter of law, that the government has the power to grant, by bilateral treaty or otherwise, immunity from criminal prosecution to foreign nationals, plainly outside the provisions of the Vienna Convention. This should be tested by the courts.

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An Unpopular Article 904

This article is probably unpopular. The point of this blog is not to make you agree, but to make you think; if I did not express views which are not the view of the majority, there would be no point in writing at all. This is not an applause seeking echo chamber of popular sentiment.

Boris Johnson has no more ardent political opponent than I. But some of the hysteria about him is overblown.

As a teenage delegate to a Liberal Party conference in 1976 (I think in Llandudno), I had to fend off the amorous advances of a politician who persisted even after I plainly told him I was not gay, and I ended up stabbing his wandering hand with the pin of my delegate’s badge, after which he went away. I regarded his behaviour as over drunken and over randy, but took the attitude then and now that humans are not perfect and inclined occasionally to fall prey to their basic instincts, especially when drinking. If we expected everyone to be perfect, we would live our entire lives in a state of disappointment. I expect a majority of sexually active adults have similar experiences at some time. I do not believe it healthy or sensible to elevate them to serious crimes.

(For the sake of clarity, I should add that I have never personally been accused of an unwanted physical advance).

I really do not care whether Boris Johnson squeezed Charlotte Edwards’ leg 20 years ago. I firmly believe women are every bit the equal of men, and I do not understand why it is somehow reckoned that Ms Edwards, and others in the same position, were unable to stab his hand with a fork, throw a drink in his face, or embarrass him by telling him clearly to stop. I do not accept the notion that difference of age and status between full adults makes firm rejection impossible – that thought did not cross my mind with the politician in Llandudno, who was a good deal older, more famous and wealthy than I, and in a position to further my political ambitions. Ms Edwards saying nothing at the time, saving it up for twenty years and then attempting to use the claim to cause major damage, appears to me behaviour as bad as the original.

I do realise that in this I have outlived the mores of the times. But no matter how fiercely I oppose a no deal Brexit – and I think it would be disastrous for every one but a few nasty financial speculators – I do not think the approach of throwing the kitchen sink of accusations against Boris Johnson is good for the long term health of politics. It also obscures with chaff the allegations of real wrongdoing, like directing public funds and assistance to the company of a woman with whom he was in a sexual relationship. That should be investigated. That is real wrongdoing.

Johnson’s arrogance before the Commons in refusing to apologise for the prorogation of parliament was deeply unpleasant, but I do not approve of the effort to delegitimise his use of language. Words like “surrender”, “betrayal” and “traitor” have centuries of political use behind them. Boris Johnson is as entitled to free speech as anyone else. It is perfectly legitimate for opponents to argue that his language is deliberately divisive and thus people ought to vote against him in the interests of harmony. The electorate can pay heed or not to such argument, as they see fit. But it is quite another thing to argue that such language should be excised from public life. Robust debate is an important aspect of free speech. Controlling the language of your opponents is the antithesis of democracy. I am firmly with John Stuart Mill on this one.

People were offended by Galileo and Darwin, by Gandhi, by Jesus and Mohammed. Causing offence is important to human development. Everyone is entitled to do it, even Boris Johnson.

Finally I had the misfortune to see Jess Phillips on BBC Breakfast TV yesterday morning and she gave, as an example of abuse of MPs the fact that every time she speaks about anti-semitism in the Labour Party she receives emails stating that she is exaggerating, or is a puppet of Israel. A great deal of what MPs plainly see as abusive online activity looks to me simply like people expressing their disagreement. People can be entirely right or entirely wrong in their views, but they still have a right to express them to Members of Parliament. I found Ms Phillips objection to people expressing disagreement deeply worrying.

I have no doubt MPs do receive death threats – I do myself sometimes, generally originating in Florida for some strange reason. But I do wonder how much exaggeration there is of this.

The Laura Kuenssberg case is seminal here. You may recall that 35,000 people signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for her removal for pro-Tory bias and after a major headline news campaign headed by the Guardian and BBC, claiming that the petition was full of abusive and misogynistic comments, 38 Degrees deleted the petition. However I went through all the comments personally and could only find one comment and a single related tweet which was in any way abusive or misogynistic. When I challenge 38 Degrees to produce the evidence of abuse, there was none. That was a very worrying example of the limiting of perfectly legitimate protest against Kuenssberg, on an excuse of “abusive social media” which was a lie.

There is insufficient plain speaking already in politics and the attempt to further contain and constrain, and limit political thought to acceptable channels and vocabulary, is worrying. Let Johnson say what he wills, and let the electorate judge that.

As for behaviour, I do not wish to see any further correspondence of the Overton window with sex negative feminism. I can personally think of one mutually fulfilling physical relationship in my own history, where the crossing of that difficult line from friendship to physical intimacy did indeed start with the squeeze of a leg under the table. The initiation of more intimate physical contact is the most critical point in the complex courtship rituals of developed human societies. To insist that verbal agreement must always be sought before a move to kiss or an exploratory caress of a leg or a shoulder, is a fundamental change in culture which I am not at all sure is desirable. The essential qualifier is of course that, if the other person either verbally or by action does not welcome the tentative first move, then the initiator must desist immediately. It is my own belief that sex-negative feminism seeks quite deliberately to invalidate perfectly normal heterosexual courtship and that the chattering classes have far too readily adopted this, in the interests of identity politics.

I am perfectly aware that what I have written will offend some pleasant people and is against current fashionable thinking. I am also well aware that less pleasant people will utterly misrepresent what I have written as a justification of sexual assault. I deplore entirely any non-consensual sexual activity forced on anyone, and I believe that the slightest indication of disapproval should lead to an instant stop. But to deny the existence of non-verbal communication, and make an issue of non-violent initiation of contact outside an erogenous zone, is to me not legitimate. I would also refer you to my last post, and the extraordinary difference in the treatment in these matters by the media and political classes purveying identity politics of those within the neo-liberal “centrist” consensus, like Bill Clinton and Brendan Cox, and those outside it, like Boris Johnson, Alex Salmond or Julian Assange. This is a misguided and an extraordinarily selective outrage.

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Heroes, Villains and Establishment Hypocrisy 567

Trump and Johnson’s populism have shaken the old Establishment, and raised some very interesting questions about who is and who is not nowadays inside the Establishment and a beneficiary of the protection of the liberal elite. Yesterday two startling examples in the news coverage cast a very lurid light on this question, and I ask you to consider the curious cases of Hunter Biden and Brendan Cox, two of the most undeserving and unpleasant people that can be imagined.

The BBC news bulletins led on the move to impeach Donald Trump for, as they put it, his efforts to get the President of Ukraine to undermine a political opponent. To be plain, I think Trump was quite wrong to get personally involved in this, but please park the entire subject of Donald Trump to one side for the next ten minutes.

What I find deeply reprehensible in all the BBC coverage is their failure to report the facts of the case, and their utter lack of curiosity about why Joe Biden’s son Hunter was paid $60,000 a month by Burisma, Ukraine’s largest natural gas producer, as an entirely absent non-executive director, when he had no relevant experience in Ukraine or gas, and very little business experience, having just been dishonorably discharged from the Navy Reserve for use of crack cocaine? Is that question not just little bit interesting? That may be the thin end of it – in 2014-15 Hunter Biden received US $850,000 from the intermediary company channeling the payments. In reporting on Trump being potentially impeached for asking about it, might you not expect some analysis – or at least mention – of what he was asking about?

As far as I am aware, the BBC have not reported at all the other thing Trump was asking Zelensky about – Crowdstrike. Regular readers will recall that Crowdstrike are the Clinton linked “cyber-security” company which provided the “forensic data” to the FBI on the alleged Russian hack of the DNC servers – data which has been analysed by my friend Bill Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, who characterises it as showing speeds of transfer impossible by internet and indicating a download to an attached drive. The FBI were never allowed access to the actual DNC server – and never tried, taking the DNC’s consultants word for the contents, which itself is sufficient proof of the bias of the “investigation”.

Crowdstrike also made the claim that the same Russia hackers – “Fancy Bear” – who hacked the DNC, hacked Ukrainian artillery software causing devastating losses of Ukrainian artillery. This made large headlines at the time. What did not make any MSM headlines was the subsequent discovery that all of this never happened and the artillery losses were entirely fictitious. As Crowdstrike had claimed that it was the use of the same coding in the DNC hack as in the preceding (non-existent) Ukraine artillery hack, that proved Russia hacked the DNC, this is pretty significant. Trump was questioning Zelensky about rumours the “hacked” DNC server was hidden in the Ukraine by Crowdstrike. The media has no interest in reporting any of that at all.

It is plain in that case that Trump is the media’s villain and the Bidens, father and son, are therefore heroes being protected by the Establishment media. Now let us look at the case of Brendan Cox.

Boris Johnson’s behaviour in the Commons two nights ago was reprehensible. Watching the unrepentant and aggressive braying of the Tory MPs, I was genuinely concerned about the consequences for democracy should these empowered right wingers ever get a majority. Johnson has removed the social restraint which used to cloak their atavistic instincts.

This Tory display also very much reinforced what I have been saying for years, that we will not gain Scottish Independence through a repeat of 2014. We were allowed a referendum with only moderate cheating by the British state purely because they believed there was no chance we could win. They have been disabused. There will never be a Section 30 order an an agreed referendum again. We will have to seize Independence by means which the British state will deem unlawful. Anybody not prepared to do that is not serious about Independence.

I digress. Johnson’s behaviour is appalling and he is at an interesting stage where the Establishment and its media is unsure whether to embrace or repudiate him, the calculation depending on whether they think he will win, and on the impact of Brexit on their personal financial interests. But as with Trump, I ask you to set aside your judgement on Johnson and not think of him for a moment.

Yesterday BBC news programmes brought us repeated appearances of Brendan Cox to comment on Boris Johnson and other MP’s parliamentary behaviour. This Brendan Cox:

One such allegation was that Cox pinned a co-worker to a wall by her throat while telling her ‘I want to fuck you’. Cox left the organisation before being subjected to scrutiny on this and other allegations. However, another woman, a senior US official who met him at a Harvard University event, made similar allegations against him, ‘of grabbing her by the hips, pulling her hair, and forcing his thumb into her mouth’ ‘in a sexual way’. In contrast to Assange’s treatment, and despite a social-media furore, for nearly three years there was largely a media blackout on the story. At last, in February 2018, a right-wing tabloid broke the embargo and reported the allegations, and other news organisations had to follow suit. Finally, ‘Cox apologised for the “hurt and offence” caused by his past behaviour’ and announced he was withdrawing from public life.

I strongly recommend you to read that last linked article. Cox is very much on the wavelength of the Establishment media, a full member of the New Labour neo-liberal elite who shuttled between jobs in the Labour Party and in high paying neo-liberal propaganda organisation Save the Children. Cox was personally pocketing £106,000 a year plus expenses from donations to the “charity”. A serial unfaithful sexual aggressor, his wife’s murder sees him recast by the media as the grieving survivor of a perfect marriage. Precisely his strongest political supporters – Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy etc – are Julian Assange’s bitterest opponents due to far flimsier, hotly denied and less attested sexual allegations than those against Cox. But neo-liberals get a free pass from the modern feminist movement (cf Bill Clinton).

Boris Johnson’s behaviour was a dsgrace. But that is no reason for the BBC rehabilitation of the “retired from public life” sexual predator.

The fascinating thing is the binary, good versus evil, narrative which is being pursued in the liberal media. Trump and Johnson are bad. Therefore Hunter Biden and Brendan Cox must be good. The truth, of course, is much more complex than that. I am afraid to say that if you want an excessive simplification, a more accurate one would be that the entire political elite on all sides are self-serving and venal.

There is a more interesting story inside that, where significant portions of the public have lost respect for the Establishment, due in large part to the vast and increasing wealth gap in society, but this disillusion has been battened on by populist charlatans, and particularly directed against immigrants. This feels like an extremely unstable phase in society and politics. But instability brings the possibility of radical change, which is indeed much needed. We must all work for good from it.

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Johnson Enters Neo-Con Heaven

There has been remarkably little media commentary on the effect of the UK leaving the EU Common Foreign Policy, even though this is a major aim of Johnson, Gove and the Tory Brexiteers. The media appear not to have noticed the existence of the Common Foreign Policy. We saw perhaps the first public glimpse of the UK’s new foreign policy yesterday when Boris Johnson breached the EU Common Foreign Policy to join Donald Trump in denouncing the Iran nuclear treaty. As the UK has not actually left the EU yet, that was bad faith and an illegal act against an EU treaty obligation, but following the law is evidently of no concern whatsoever to Johnson.

There could not have been a more apt symbolism than the fact that on the day of the Supreme Court judgement that he had acted unlawfully in proroguing parliament, Boris Johnson’s major public engagement was a press conference sitting alongside Donald Trump. That is the future of the Tory version of Brexit. Other Lexit options are theoretically available, but this is what the UK’s current government intends you to get.

Of recent years EU foreign policy has been fairly characterised as neo-con, though it has rowed back somewhat from the high water mark of endorsement of the destruction of Libya. But freed from common positions on Iran, Russia, Syria and issues such as climate change, we are going to see a much more full-on neo-con approach from the UK – and one which, as now over Iran, is openly allied with the USA and against Europe. Some of the things Johnson said about the Iran nuclear deal on Monday in New York were jaw-dropping even by Johnson’s standards. “I think there’s one guy who can do a better deal and one guy who understands how to get a difficult partner like Iran over the line and that is the president of the United States,” is but one example.

My reading of Trump is that he is as contemptuous of brown-nosers as he is of opponents, but let that play out. What is plain is that, if Johnson survives as PM and Brexit goes through, Trump is going to have an unquestioning acolyte in Johnson. As I have previously reported, this is crucially going to extend to UK support for Trump’s Israel policy. It will very probably lead to UK support for Israeli annexations in the Jordan Valley – which EU Common Foreign Policy would not allow – and Johnson plans an announcement before Christmas on the moving of the UK Embassy to Jerusalem.

Johnson also blamed Iran for direct involvement in the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities at Khurais and Abqaiq. This is far from proven, and I am utterly confused by the narrative the western government and media complex has been pumping out on the event. We have been treated to an update of the Singapore Gun Myth. My generation and older were brought up to believe that Singapore had fallen in World War 2 because the guns were all fixed pointing out to sea and the attack came by land. In fact this was largely untrue and in any event not the main problem, which was appalling generalship and resulting rock-bottom morale. We are now nonsensically told that all of Saudi Arabia’s air defences only point South towards Yemen and therefore missiles from Iran crept in the side.

This is absolutely untrue. Saudi Arabia’s entire weapons capacity is massively focused on Iran, as are the manifold detection devices of the numerous US bases. Besides modern air defence systems are omnidirectional. The Patriot missile defence system is not the best in the world, though it is the most expensive; however you cannot just creep up behind it and shout “boo!” Not even the Saudis would pay billions of dollars for that.

Nor is it true that the Patriot system cannot detect cruise missiles. While it may have been designed with long range ballistic missiles in mind, it was only ever intended to intercept them in the last phase of their approach and cannot detect at more than 70km away. Saudi Arabia spent $1.57 billion dollars on PAC3 missiles: “A new Patriot advanced capability (PAC-3) missile has increased effectiveness against tactical ballistic and cruise missiles through the use of advanced hit-to-kill technology. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, with Raytheon the systems integrator. The PAC-3 has a Ka-band millimetre wave seeker developed by Boeing.”

That drones evaded the defences seems possible. That is a fascinating demonstration of the new possibilities in assymetric warfare. As we witnessed in Gatwick, even entirely non-existent drones can be very effective. That cruise missiles were involved seems unlikely unless a very large number were launched – there has been no claim of any intercepts. The cruise missile claim is of course the grounds for the claim of Iranian involvement. That any substantial number of cruise missiles were launched from Iran into Saudi Arabia and none of them were picked up by the defences of the numerous warships in the Gulf, by the US military bases or by the Saudi air defences is so improbable as to be utter nonsense.

Any event which leads to a massive but very temporary spike in the oil price will have potential beneficiaries aside from where we are being told to look. On present public knowledge, however, a Houthi attack with drones seems the most probable explanation, as indeed the Houthis have claimed. Given the appalling bombardment from the air of Houthi civilians, I would regard such an attack as entirely justified. The addition of cruise missiles from Iran to the story seems to me wildly improbable but an entirely predictable propaganda ploy. It does however give us a glimpse of what the future of Trump/Johnson foreign policy could hold for the UK.

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Dedicated to David Allen Green, Joshua Rosenberg, Joan Smith, Hadley Freeman, Jess Phillips, David Aaronovitch and the entire staff of the Guardian/Observer

As of today Julian Assange has finished his jail sentence for missing police bail. There is no Swedish charge or request for his extradition, those risibly flimsy sexual allegations no longer being needed by the state.

As of today, Julian Assange is in prison purely and simply for publishing secrets of the US state, revealing war crimes and the dirtiest of diplomacy. I should like to dedicate this post to all of those in the title and dozens of their colleagues in the British “liberal” establishment, all of whom claimed that Julian’s fears of being incarcerated in the UK or Europe facing extradition for publishing US secrets were entirely bogus and a mere pretext for hiding, and that this would never happen. Those of us who said this was a real fear and a real danger were, myself most definitely included, derided as fantasist, deluded, paranoid and conspiracy theorist.

So now Julian is a political prisoner, a journalist in a maximum security prison, probably for years, waiting for his case to be heard and extradition faced for the grievous crime of doing his job and publishing. While the British liberal establishment simply buries its nose in its perfumed handkerchief and pretends that the fear it derided as imaginary, has not come true.

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Beneath Contempt

The ruling caste of Saudi Arabia present the most striking example in world history of the extreme combination of avarice and personal cowardice. They are gagging for a war with Iran so long as somebody else fights it for them. Due to a dispute over who ought to have been Caliph 1400 years ago they are absolutely champing at the bit for somebody to massacre the Shia in the Shia heartland, provided they don’t have to do the massacring. It is not that they object to blood on their pure white robes, they often get that when executing a bound prisoner or raping the housemaid. But the thought of their own blood being spilt is an abomination. Let some helpful young Israelis or Americans risk fighting the Iranians, while the Saudi rulers sniff their cocaine in their London penthouses.

It is not that Saudi does not have its own military – bombing civilian Shia Houthis from a great height with no chance of retaliation is great sport. And there were some actual Saudis in some of the tanks sent in to massacre the unarmed democracy demonstrators of Bahrain. But the world’s greatest spender per capita on weapons systems has no intention that its own elite should do any fighting. No matter how relentlessly Israel, abetted by the United States, persists in the slow genocide of the Palestinian people, Saudi will always remain a firm US and Israeli ally, because the biggest coward always hides behind the biggest bully. From that position Saudi Arabia will use all its money and influence to promote military action against Iran – by others.

The British government, having armed, supplied, trained and lent special forces to the enduring Saudi massacre of Houthi civilians in Yemen, is horrified and full of condemnation that the Houthis have the temerity to hit back at an oil facility. The attack by drones was a brilliant bit of assymetric warfare that shows money is not everything in war. For US Vice President Mike Pence, after meeeting Mohammed Bin “Chopper” Salman, to denounce this attack as “An act of war” is pretty otiose. There are many thousands of mutilated or orphaned Houthi children who could have told him there was a war on, had he bothered to talk to them rather than their oppressor.

It is an act of massive folly for the West to get drawn in to the Sunni/Shia small wars that rage across the Middle East and risk blowing them into something much larger. We do not have a “side” in an Islamic sectarian divide which everybody should be seeking to heal, not to exacerbate. There is no genuine western interest at play here other than a desire to bolster Israel and its Saudi alliance. The demonisation and crippling by sanctions of Iran, with its profound and ancient culture and massive human capital and economic potential, is a major mistake.

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Nations Unhappily Held Together

Media commentary on today’s appeals before the Supreme Court misses entirely the main point – that the highest courts of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may each have been legally correct in their differing judgements, because each was judging according to a different legal system. I shall here leave Northern Ireland aside through my personal ignorance of its legal system, for which I apologise.

The legal systems of England and of Scotland have equal status in the Act of Union. The Supreme Court is required to decide on the Scottish (Joanna Cherry) case under Scots law, and required to decide on the English (Gina Miller) case under English law. The Scottish legal tradition has always emphasised the sovereignty of the people, a tradition that can be traced back through the Claim of Right to the Declaration of Arbroath, which four centuries before Hobbes and Locke made the contractual relationship between people and King explicit:

Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.

It is the last phrase which stirs the blood and is most often repeated; but it is the first part, the claim to a contractual relationship between sovereign and subject, which was way in advance of any other recorded thinking in medieval Europe.

In its appeal today against the Scottish decision the UK government makes an astonishing admission of the Westminster view of Scotland. Notwithstanding the very specific provision of the Act of Union that the legal systems of Scotland and England are equal, the view taken by Boris Johnson’s government in their appeal is that “it would be most astonishingly inconvenient if, notwithstanding that England and Scotland have been united since 1707” the Scottish courts should have the temerity to question the Westminster parliament. There can seldom have been a clearer statement that No. 10 sees Scotland as having de facto colonial status.

Joanna Cherry responds to this point in her pleadings:

The answer to the appellant’s complaint that “it would be most astonishingly inconvenient if, notwithstanding that England and Scotland have been united since 1707” the UK Executive might be subject to greater scrutiny and more readily called to account before court based on the north bank of the Tweed as compared to those on its south bank is simply this: don’t be persuaded by complaints of inconvenient for the Executive that it is even open to this court in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction to lower Scots law standards, in this regard, to that which is regarded as properly justiciable before the courts of England and Wales. Let English law, if it is deficient in this regard, be brought up to the standards by which the Executive is called to account under Scots law. That is what is required of this court, acting as a constitutional court for the Union as a whole.

In summary, against the foregoing background, the respondents reiterate as follows:
(1)
This court must take full and proper account of the Scottish constitutional tradition in deciding this appeal. There is no necessary correlation between Scots law and English law on the question of what prerogative powers the Executive may claim and how they
might lawfully be exercised.

(2)
Esto there be any difference between Scots law’s and English law’s respective understandings on the limitations which the law imposes on the Executive’s power to prorogue Parliament (which is not known and not admitted), that constitutional tradition within these islands and this Union polity which is more
limiting of the manner in which the Executive may exercise this power to prorogue Parliament is to be preferred, the better to ensure the Executive’s democratic and legal accountability for the use of this power and to prevent its abuse of that power in an unlawful attempt to shift the proper constitutional balance of power among the three pillars of State and allow it unconstitutionally to dominate and so govern without due and proper regard to, Parliament.

Cherry argues that the Scottish legal tradition should be preferred because holding the executive to account is a good thing for the UK as a whole. But this does not really address the question (which to be fair she could not as she is only a party to the Scottish case) that the English judgement in the Miller case might have been correct in English law.

It may seem strange that the same judges decide the Scottish case under Scottish law and the English case under English law, when in each case the panel will have members who trained and practised their whole lives in a different legal system. But that is precisely how British colonialism works. Exactly those same judges, in exactly the same building, but with the different title of “The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council” may hear appeals from British colonies under the legal system of that colony. So for example they may resolve a land dispute under the customary law on landholdings of the British Virgin Isles. It is a remarkable hangover from formal Empire that they remain the Supreme Court of even some independent Commonwealth countries.

The dilemma facing the Supreme Court today is Scotland’s de facto colonial status. This will necessitate a fudge. Despite the submission of Joanna Cherry, if the Court were to find that the English judgement were correct under English law and the Scottish judgement were correct under Scots law, the court would be most unlikely to prefer one over the other – in contravention of the Act of Union. My strong expectation therefore is that the Court will avoid this dilemma by a judgement that either the English judges or the Scottish judges were wrong under the terms their own law. That is to day they will find the English judges incorrectly interpreted English law or the Scottish judges incorrectly interpreted Scots law. They will thus avoid the dilemma of preferring one over the other.

I should be most surprised if the Establishment did not claim the Scottish judges did not understand Scots law, and prefer England and the Executive of Boris Johnson, because that is the Establishment. But Brexit and populism have made life much more difficult to predict.

The Supreme Court’s decisions will have a profound effect. Either the power of the judiciary will be reined back in Scotland and there will be a major boost in the power of the Executive, thus changing Scottish legal tradition. Or the power of the Executive will be reined back in England and there will be a major boost to judicial activism, changing English legal tradition. In either case, either England or Scotland will have the right to complain that its legal tradition is not being treated by the UK Supreme Court with the respect it is due under the Treaty of Union. Which is yet a further example of the increasing impossibility of continuing the unhappy and unequal union of countries now so politically and culturally different as England and Scotland.

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The Magnitskiy Myth Exploded

The conscientious judges of the European Court of Human Rights published a judgement a fortnight ago which utterly exploded the version of events promulgated by Western governments and media in the case of the late Mr Magnitskiy. Yet I can find no truthful report of the judgement in the mainstream media at all.

The myth is that Magnitskiy was an honest rights campaigner and accountant who discovered corruption by Russian officials and threatened to expose it, and was consequently imprisoned on false charges and then tortured and killed. A campaign over his death was led by his former business partner, hedge fund manager Bill Browder, who wanted massive compensation for Russian assets allegedly swindled from their venture. The campaign led to the passing of the Magnitskiy Act in the United States, providing powers for sanctioning individuals responsible for human rights abuses, and also led to matching sanctions being developed by the EU.

However the European Court of Human Rights has found, in judging a case brought against Russia by the Magnitskiy family, that the very essence of this story is untrue. They find that there was credible evidence that Magnitskiy was indeed engaged in tax fraud, in conspiracy with Browder, and he was rightfully charged. The ECHR also found there was credible evidence that Magnitskiy was indeed a flight risk so he was rightfully detained. And most crucially of all, they find that there was credible evidence of tax fraud by Magnitskiy and action by the authorities “years” before he started to make counter-accusations of corruption against officials investigating his case.

This judgement utterly explodes the accepted narrative, and does it very succinctly:

The applicants argued that Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest had not been based on a reasonable suspicion of a
crime and that the authorities had lacked impartiality as they had actually wanted to force him to
retract his allegations of corruption by State officials. The Government argued that there had been
ample evidence of tax evasion and that Mr Magnitskiy had been a flight risk.
The Court reiterated the general principles on arbitrary detention, which could arise if the
authorities had complied with the letter of the law but had acted with bad faith or deception. It
found no such elements in this case: the enquiry into alleged tax evasion which had led to
Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest had begun long before he had complained of fraud by officials. The decision
to arrest him had only been made after investigators had learned that he had previously applied for
a UK visa, had booked tickets to Kyiv, and had not been residing at his registered address.
Furthermore, the evidence against him, including witness testimony, had been enough to satisfy an
objective observer that he might have committed the offence in question. The list of reasons given
by the domestic court to justify his subsequent detention had been specific and sufficiently detailed.
The Court thus rejected the applicants’ complaint about Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest and subsequent
detention as being manifestly ill-founded.

“Manifestly ill founded”. The mainstream media ran reams of reporting about the Magnitskiy case at the time of the passing of the Magnitskiy Act. I am offering a bottle of Lagavulin to anybody who can find me an honest and fair MSM report of this judgement reflecting that the whole story was built on lies.

Magnitskiy did not uncover corruption then get arrested on false charges of tax evasion. He was arrested on credible charges of tax evasion, and subsequently started alleging corruption. That does not mean his accusations were unfounded. It does however cast his arrest in a very different light.

Where the Court did find in favour of Magnitskiy’s family is that he had been deprived of sufficient medical attention and subject to brutality while in jail. I have no doubt this is true. Conditions in Russian jails are a disgrace, as is the entire Russian criminal justice system. There are few fair trials and conviction rates remain well over 90% – the judges assume that if you are being prosecuted, the state wants you locked up, and they comply. This is one of many areas where the Putin era will be seen in retrospect as lacking in meaningful and needed domestic reform. Sadly what happened to Magnitskiy on remand was not special mistreatment. It is what happens in Russian prisons. The Court also found Magnitskiy’s subsequent conviction for tax evasion was unsafe, but only on the (excellent) grounds that it was wrong to convict him posthumously.

The first use of the Magnitsky Act was to sanction those subject to Browder’s vendetta in his attempts to regain control of vast fortunes in Russian assets. But you may be surprised to hear I do not object to the legislation, which in principle is a good thing – although the chances of Western governments bringing sanctions to bear on the worst human rights abusers are of course minimal. Do not expect it to be used against Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Israel any time soon.

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The World’s Most Important Political Prisoner

We are now just one week away from the end of Julian Assange’s uniquely lengthy imprisonment for bail violation. He will receive parole from the rest of that sentence, but will continue to be imprisoned on remand awaiting his hearing on extradition to the USA – a process which could last several years.

At that point, all the excuses for Assange’s imprisonment which so-called leftists and liberals in the UK have hidden behind will evaporate. There are no charges and no active investigation in Sweden, where the “evidence” disintegrated at the first whiff of critical scrutiny. He is no longer imprisoned for “jumping bail”. The sole reason for his incarceration will be the publishing of the Afghan and Iraq war logs leaked by Chelsea Manning, with their evidence of wrongdoing and multiple war crimes.

In imprisoning Assange for bail violation, the UK was in clear defiance of the judgement of the UN Working Group on arbitrary Detention, which stated

Under international law, pre-trial detention must be only imposed in limited instances. Detention during investigations must be even more limited, especially in the absence of any charge. The Swedish investigations have been closed for over 18 months now, and the only ground remaining for Mr. Assange’s continued deprivation of liberty is a bail violation in the UK, which is, objectively, a minor offense that cannot post facto justify the more than 6 years confinement that he has been subjected to since he sought asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador. Mr. Assange should be able to exercise his right to freedom of movement in an unhindered manner, in accordance with the human rights conventions the UK has ratified,

In repudiating the UNWGAD the UK has undermined an important pillar of international law, and one it had always supported in hundreds of other decisions. The mainstream media has entirely failed to note that the UNWGAD called for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a source of potentially valuable international pressure on Iran which the UK has made worthless by its own refusal to comply with the UN over the Assange case. Iran simply replies “if you do not respect the UNWGAD then why should we?”

It is in fact a key indication of media/government collusion that the British media, which reports regularly at every pretext on the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case to further its anti-Iranian government agenda, failed to report at all the UNWGAD call for her release – because of the desire to deny the UN body credibility in the case of Julian Assange.

In applying for political asylum, Assange was entering a different and higher legal process which is an internationally recognised right. A very high percentage of dissident political prisoners worldwide are imprisoned on ostensibly unrelated criminal charges with which the authorities fit them up. Many a dissident has been given asylum in these circumstances. Assange did not go into hiding – his whereabouts were extremely well known. The simple characterisation of this as “absconding” by district judge Vanessa Baraitser is a farce of justice – and like the UK’s repudiation of the UNWGAD report, is an attitude that authoritarian regimes will be delighted to repeat towards dissidents worldwide.

Her decision to commit Assange to continuing jail pending his extradition hearing was excessively cruel given the serious health problems he has encountered in Belmarsh.

It is worth noting that Baraitser’s claim that Assange had a “history of absconding in these proceedings” – and I have already disposed of “absconding” as wildly inappropriate – is inaccurate in that “these proceedings” are entirely new and relate to the US extradition request and nothing but the US extradition request. Assange has been imprisoned throughout the period of “these proceedings” and has certainly not absconded. The government and media have an interest in conflating “these proceedings” with the previous risible allegations from Sweden and the subsequent conviction for bail violation, but we need to untangle this malicious conflation. We have to make plain that Assange is now held for publishing and only for publishing. That a judge should conflate them is disgusting. Vanessa Baraitser is a disgrace.

Assange has been demonised by the media as a dangerous, insanitary and crazed criminal, which could not be further from the truth. It is worth reminding ourselves that Assange has never been convicted of anything but missing police bail.

So now we have a right wing government in the UK with scant concern for democracy, and in particular we have the most far right extremist as Home Secretary of modern times. Assange is now, plainly and without argument, a political prisoner. He is not in jail for bail-jumping. He is not in jail for sexual allegations. He is in jail for publishing official secrets, and for nothing else. The UK now has the world’s most famous political prisoner, and there are no rational grounds to deny that fact. Who will take a stand against authoritarianism and for the freedom to publish?

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The Unprincipled – and Potentially Racist – Lib Dems

One might hope the role of the monarchy in the prorogation plot, and then Theresa May’s cronies getting honours in her resignation list, might do enough to undermine public confidence in some of the systems that define the British establishment. But the honours list will shortly be further devalued by political muck as Jo Swinson’s office is proffering peerages and knighthoods in the dissolution honours to candidates and their constituency chairmen in winnable seats, if they are willing to make way for Blairite entryists like Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger.

The difficulty is that a Lib Dem candidate in South West London or South West England has a very good chance of becoming an MP in the next election. It is not obvious to many why they should make way for a right wing war hawk with no connection to liberalism who has only just joined the party. Swinson sees the certainty of the Lords in exchange for a prospect of the Commons as a fair offer. Many ordinary party members would see this as beyond words sordid.

One person not being offered a peerage is Clareine Enderby, the Lib Dem candidate for the normally no LibDem hope seat of Finchley and Golders Green. There has been massive media speculation that she will stand down for Luciana Berger to replace her, and to be fair, Ms Enderby has been making plain that, so far as she is concerned, there is no vacancy.

As the Jewish Chronicle points out, it is by no means certain that Berger would want to stand in Finchley as opposed to a more normally winnable Lib Dem target, if Swinson can promise to boot an incumbent candidate into the Lords to make way for her.

The entire shenanigans leave an extremely bad taste in the mouth. Abuse of the honours system and pandering to the desires of the most unprincipled career politicians in the country are just the start of it. The Blairites repeatedly justified their hostility to Corbyn by saying that they had a personal mandate from their constituents. Yet at the first opportunity they are running like rabbits from the judgement of their constituents in the hope of finding more malleable ones.

If Ms Enderby is indeed replaced by Luciana Berger she will be a victim of racism, as the sole grounds on which Ms Berger is being touted as preferable for that particular constituency is her ethnicity. Victims of racism do not always themselves wish to complain due to societal or personal pressures. But I should certainly be entering a formal complaint about it.

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The Dogs in the Street Know

There are some very obvious facts in British politics which nobody seems to be saying.

Joanna Cherry stated in her successful court case that “the dogs in the street know” that the real reason that Boris Johnson had prorogued parliament was to prevent parliament from having an effective say on the outcome of Brexit. The documents that the government was forced to produce to the Scottish Courts proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that was indeed Johnson’s motive.

So why are we expected to believe that what you knew and I knew, what Joanna Cherry knew, what the very dogs in the street knew, was not known to the Queen? Do we really believe that the Queen was “misled” and that she and her courtiers were the only people in the entire country who actually believed that Johnson just wanted the longest prorogation for 89 years to prepare a really good Queen’s speech? Are we really expected to believe that the Queen had not noticed that Brexit was at a crucial stage and the effect that prorogation would have on parliament’s say in the process?

This is obviously complete and utter nonsense. The Queen has better sources of information than any of us and knew exactly what was happening. She was not “misled” by Boris Johnson, she was his ally in a common purpose. She absolutely understood both the context and the effect of the prorogation. All this utter nonsense about the Queen being “lied to” and “misled” is part of this strange myth of the ultimate goodness of authority which is a recurring theme in human societies. Peasants died under the knout while building the Trans-Siberian railway thinking “if only the good Tsar knew.” The Queen is not a naive figure of Christ like innocence taken in by Boris Johnson, she is an ultra wealthy woman of very conservative views embedded in a social circle dominated by very rich and reactionary people.

To repeat what I have repeatedly explained, it was unconstitutional for the Queen to appoint Boris Johnson in the first place when it was plain as a pikestaff that he could not command a parliamentary majority. That initial crime (and I use the word advisedly) was compounded by the decision to prorogue parliament to enable her no majority Prime Minister to govern. In a sane world we should be getting out the pitchforks. Instead people are tut-tutting about the poor Queen being misled.

The next fact that is plain as a pikestaff is that Tom Watson is seeking to throw the election. One of the few true things Boris Johnson said in his knockabout performance in Parliament’s last sitting was that there were some on the Labour benches who were worried that Labour might win the next election.

Make no mistake, the Tories are in trouble. They need to pile on millions of votes in Northern English Labour constituencies before they actually start to win any, and they have thrown away existing liberal Tory support in London and southern England in order to pursue that goal. First Past the Post is very capricious, and once the leading party falls to 35% results become fickle even where there is a decent plurality. Regional concentration is actually an advantage in FPTP and in effect the Tories are in danger of evening out their support across England too much. They will certainly be down to a maximum of two seats in Scotland. They will have large losses to Labour and Lib Dems in London and the South West. All that is before we get in to the campaigning period and Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to solidify the Labour vote.

So with the prorogation row, the parliamentary defeats, the lost court cases and the Yellowhammer documents, Boris Johnnson was looking on sticky ground. The Labour Party had finally arrived at an apparently workable stance on Brexit: a general election followed by a second EU referendum with options of a viable deal and remain. Jeremy Corbyn, who had succeeded in helping build an opposition consensus on parliamentary tactics, has been looking in his strongest position for some time.

At this crucial moment enter Tom Watson with an entirely uncalled for intervention before a luvvies conference on the creative industries, trailed for all it was worth by the Blairite publicity machine. It was boosted to all the media specifically as Tom Watson taking on Jeremy Corbyn, and given wall to wall media coverage, carried live on the major broadcast news channels. What Watson had to say was simply a reiteration of Tony Blair’s article in the Evening Standard three days earlier; that there should be an EU referendum before a General Election.

What was the point of this Watson intervention? The first thing to say is that the real point was not the apparent purpose stated in the speech. Tom Watson knows full well there is no chance whatsoever of a new EU referendum ahead of a general election. The current parliament will never agree it. The expelled Tory rebels were almost all supporters of May’s deal and have almost all specifically ruled out a second referendum. At least 30 Labour MPs, led by figures like Stephen Kinnock, John Mann and Caroline Flint, would not agree to it. The DUP would never agree. It is a complete non-starter.

Why then would Watson deliver it? And not just deliver it quietly as a think piece, but deliver it with all the media hullabaloo that could possibly be mustered? The answer is quite simple. At Blair’s behest, Watson did it quite simply to damage Corbyn. At a time when the government was in deep trouble, when Corbyn had just addressed the TUC conference to applause with a finally coherent Brexit position, Watson’s aim was simply to damage Corbyn.

Watson sought to damage Corbyn in two ways. To damage him by staking out a more extreme Remainer position that might put a wedge between Corbyn and the new expanded Labour Party membership. And to damage Corbyn by giving headlines about Labour splits, taking the heat off the Tories and cutting at Labour’s standing in the polls just as it looked set to improve.

Because the one thing the Blairites detest most of all is the prospect of a Labour victory and a Corbyn government, implementing comparatively left wing policies that might prove popular and cause a real change in political discourse in England and Wales. Because that would be the death knell for the Blairites and their corporate sponsors.

Just as we are supposed to believe that the Queen is a naive waif innocent of Johnson’s schemes, we are supposed not to notice that Tom Watson seeks to damage Labour and ensure Corbyn does not come to power. We live in times when the media and the political class inhabit a world of polite pretence; a world where outsiders like me have a duty to point to the actual glaring facts, whether people listen or no.

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John Bolton’s Dismissal

The power of identity politics as a tool of the Establishment to divert and derail opposition to the wealthy elite was demonstrated to me in a stunning and graphic way back in January 2013. I was entering the Oxford Union to attend the presentation of the Sam Adams award for Integrity to Tom Fingar, a senior American intelligence officer who had successfully blocked a push for military action against Iran by insisting on the barring from assessments of highly exaggerated accounts of Iran’s nuclear programme. A person of integrity in the right place had been able to stop a repeat of the extreme horrors of war engendered by the Iraqi WMD scam perpetrated by Blair and Bush.

You would hope that some of the points Fingar made would be of interest to Oxford’s students. One point that struck me was that he said he was extremely glad if his actions had prevented a war but that:

“Preventing a war was not the goal. Our only goal was to present a full and accurate assessment of Iran’s nuclear capability. Decisions about what to do were for the policy makers.”

You can see Fingar’s full talk here:

You can see a fascinating series of very brief contributions by major whistleblowers made at the event here. I had not really watched my own speech since giving it; I have to say I think it is one of the most powerful I ever made.

More interestingly, there was an extremely thoughtful and insightful talk by Julian Assange, delivered by videolink.

It is worth watching that, not only for the fist rate content, but also to remind ourselves of the quiet and questing actual personality of my friend, who has been demonised by the media on a massive scale.

Which brings me to my point on identity politics. I had to push my way into this event through a crowd of angry students who were picketing the event in protest against the appearance of Julian Assange.

Yet the very night before, serial war criminal John Bolton, one of the most evil men of power in the world, had spoken on the very same platform in the Oxford Union and not one single student had demonstrated against him. His reception inside was also on the fawning side. (Remember this is the venue that spawned the careers of David Cameron, Boris Johnson, William Rees-Mogg and others).

That incident is to me is a microcosm of the use of identity politics by the state. Through self-evidently flimsy allegations, the state can mobilise feminists to silence the world’s most important dissident voices, while warmongers are feted. Enough “progressives” favoured Clinton’s faux-feminism to help ditch (aided by some cheating) Bernie Sanders’ bid for a better life for the mass of people. Here in Scotland the energies of the SNP are routinely diverted into gender and trans issues instead of getting on with Independence, while precisely the same tactics are employed against Alex Salmond as against Julian Assange, to take another major threat to the status quo out of the political game.

I am delighted by Trump getting rid of Bolton as National Security Advisor. The warmonger always appeared entirely at odds with Trump’s professed isolationism, and it appears that Trump no longer feels the need to appease the part of the Republican Party establishment who were placated by Bolton’s appointment. I know that my failure to see Trump as the incarnation of pure evil upsets some people, and I do detest many of his domestic policies. But it remains the case that Trump has not destroyed a state nor initiated nor escalated a war, and by recent US standards that makes him a big improvement. The dismissal of Bolton gives hope that may remain the case.

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Really a Right Wing Coup

Just because it is not written in a single document does not mean the UK does not have a constitution. But it does mean it has a particularly bad one.

If like me you were awake until 2am watching the remarkable scenes in Parliament last night, as opposition MPs stayed and protested in the Commons as Speaker Bercow, having himself entered a formal protest, led the Tories to the dissolution ceremony in the Lords, you were probably struck by the ridiculous flummery of it all. The three Queen’s Commissioners sat before the golden throne in silly hats, which the gentlemen doffed formally and very slowly three times, while the lady did not, and the Speaker and Commons staff bobbed low each time in response like a row of overdressed ducks.

This ludicrous pantomime is intended to reinforce the majesty of the monarch in the minds of the plebs, and indeed as an example of monarchical power it is effective. The prorogation, which Bercow objected to as an “executive fiat”, is just that and had it been made in the name of Boris Johnson, it is extremely probable that Bercow, with the strong support of the majority of the Commons, would have resisted the prorogation and carried on sitting. But because it is done in the name of Elizabeth Saxe Coburg Gotha, the most outrageous and undemocratic acts are suffered out of a misplaced sense of personal loyalty to the 93 year old monarch.

While Rees Mogg and his racist Brexiteer stormtroopers from the Commons turned up eagerly to grovel, it was very notable that only a dozen Tory peers bothered to show – something else totally unprecedented about this prorogation. Last week I was again up till 2am watching parliament and the much touted (esp on Guido Fawkes) Tory filibuster to stop the anti no deal Act. On a series of ridiculous procedural motions, on which counted votes were insisted despite obvious massive defeat by acclamation, the Government vote fell from in the low 100s until eventually they were being defeated every time by margins of approximately 250 to 60, and they gave up the filibuster in embarrassment. There was a remarkable contrast between the breathless excitement with which the mainstream media trailed the filibuster, as the BBC here, and the brief and sordid reality. Johnson’s repeated defeats in the Commons have rather overshadowed the utter contempt in which he is held in the Lords.

The monarchy is not a neutral player in all this. By the monarchy I mean not only the Queen, but the professional courtiers who surround her, each paid by the taxpayer. It is almost twenty years since I last held a conversation with the Queen, and I just do not know how sharp her faculties remain at 93, but I have not heard she is not still making her own decisions.

Boris Johnson should not be Prime Minister. It is not the constitutional duty of the monarch to appoint as Prime Minister the leader of the Conservative Party, and not even the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons, but a person who can command a majority in the House of Commons. For example, in 2010 Gordon Brown tried to put together a “rainbow coalition” to get a Commons majority and be reappointed Prime Minister. Had he succeeded in putting together such a coalition with a majority, the Queen would have had to appoint him even though David Cameron’s party had more seats than Labour. This was universally accepted as the constitutional position. It did not happen in the end as the Lib Dems preferred the Tories.

Nothing in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act alters the constitutional position that the Prime Minister must be able to command a majority in the House of Commons.

It was unconstitutional of Elizabeth Saxe Coburg Gotha to appoint Boris Johnson as Prime Minister when it was absolutely plain at the outset he had no majority in the House of Commons. This is not hindsight, I said so at the time. Now it has been proven that he has no majority in the House as he has been defeated six times out of six on major votes on the most important issues of the day. He has never won an important vote on anything as Prime Minister. Whether or not these are characterised as “confidence issues” is irrelevant. The man Johnson has never had a Commons majority. I can think of nothing more unconstitutional – and I think it can absolutely be characterised as a coup – than for the Queen to appoint a Prime Minister who has no majority support in the Commons, and then prorogue Parliament precisely because the executive has no majority. This is not even a government which has lost its majority – it has never had one and ought never to have been appointed.

Rather than prorogue Parliament, the Queen should have obliged Boris Johnson to resign and asked the Leader of the Opposition to see whether he could form an administration that could command a majority. That would be the constitutionally correct course of action. The monarch is not neutral in this and is acting unconstitutionally, abusing her power.

Let me put it this way. Does anybody seriously contend that Jeremy Corbyn would be appointed Prime Minister by the Queen in a situation where he had no parliamentary majority, and would remain in No. 10 despite losing 6 successive Commons votes and never winning one, and that the Queen would prorogue Parliament for him to get round the fact that he had no majority? Of course not. It is unthinkable. We are witnessing a right wing coup specifically in favour of Boris Johnson.

It is particularly worrying that so many people are happy to see dictatorship established so long as it expedites Brexit. This demonstrates the folly of introducing elements of direct democracy into a representative democracy. I am perfectly content for England and Wales to be outside the EU, though I regard extending that to being outside the customs union and single market as economic madness driven by xenophobia. I am sorry to say I do not maintain a romantic view of the electorate, having for a considerable while dwelled amongst a remarkable percentage of open racists in Ramsgate, a UKIP hotspot where Farage chose to stand. The idea that the crowd should directly wield unmediated power of executive action is almost as repugnant to me as the continued existence of the monarchy. As so often, I appreciate my views do not fit into a standard and easily labeled set of opinions and many of you may disagree. They are however my opinions and I present them with no insistence you agree, but in the hope that you will consider and discuss.

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Mugabe and the Continuing White Supremacist Narrative

Robert Mugabe makes an easy hate figure for the right wing media, and the cruelty, corruption and absurdities of the latter part of his overlong rule justify much of the hate. But the slightest analysis of the media expression of this hatred reveals it to feed a variety of British imperialist tropes which persist to an alarming degree into the 21st century – that Africans cannot govern themselves and were better off under white rule and even that black people cannot farm.

The justified criticisms of human rights abuses perpetrated by Mugabe very seldom recount the atrocities perpetrated by white rule in Zimbabwe. Mugabe himself was incarcerated without trial for over ten years, in dreadful conditions, merely for speaking out against the colonial government, a fact that must have had a major psychological impact. It is also worth emphasising that Mugabe was imprisoned without trial by the British authorities of Souther Rhodesia, before the declaration of UDI – a fact I struggle to find in any of the MSM obituaries.

The accepted narrative on Mugabe in power is that for over ten years he governed well, following western economic norms and rubbing along with the white population as though they were all fine English gentlemen together, notably patronising cricket and crucially making no effort to redress white economic privilege. Yet it was this “good” Mugabe who turned on the minority Ndebele tribe, massacring over 10,000 and ousting his Ndebele deputy, Joshua Nkomo (who had arguably contributed rather more to the liberation struggle). But as this did not especially annoy the IMF or compromise the interests of British American Tobacco, western criticism was very muted. To be fair, Mugabe’s government did make notable advances in education and in healthcare in this period.

Mugabe had to stop playing the English gentleman when popular discontent at the failure of Independence to improve the economic position of the ordinary Zimbabwean led to the unthinkable possibility of electoral defeat. The dual strategy of harsh repression of critics and a populist and highly corrupt programme of land seizures was a panicked response that ushered in two decades of spiraling decline for the country.

But consider this.

In Zimbabwe, as in highland Kenya, the sub-tropical climate was suitable for white colonists and their agriculture. All of the best arable land had been ruthlessly seized by white colonists from the African population. At the time of Independence, over half of the seizures and enclosures were still within the living memory of elders.

In Zimbabwe as in Kenya, a prime cause of the tribal conflict, in Zimbabwe principally between Shona and Ndbele, was that white land seizures had broken traditional boundaries and had forced migration of peoples onto each other’s land, the parcels of which unoccupied by white farmers were ever shrinking. For the west to sneer at African tribalism when brutal western settlers were at the root of much of the conflict, is ludicrous hypocrisy.

Land reform was, and is, essential in Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s tragedy was that his desire to ingratiate with Western elites led him to accept for far too long their insistence that the white colonists keep their massive land holdings. The popular demand for the land was a perfectly natural desire for justice. That there was no dynamic land reform programme for the start, and pent-up resentment was allowed to explode into an unplanned wave of violence, destruction and massive corruption, was Mugabe’s greatest failure. Mugabe saw in the resulting situation only opportunities for personal enrichment and to consolidate his power.

Land reform in both Zimbabwe and South Africa is an urgent priority. I do not accept the argument that because it was a white settler’s grandfather or great grandfather who seized the land, legally under racist colonial land grab legislation, that the descendants now have a right to it. I also do not accept the notion that Africans cannot farm. I discuss this subject quite extensively in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo (which almost nobody has read but I strongly believe is my best book). It is ironic that climate awareness now brings more of an acceptance that traditional African smallholder farming techniques, with their emphasis on intercropping, embody thousands of years of wisdom and are much more sustainable in Africa than the western monocrop techniques of clearing and leveling vast tracts and replenishing the soil through massive use of industrial fertiliser.

Robert Mugabe was a man who did terrible things. But he had suffered greatly in struggling against white rule and the great evil that was the imperial legacy in Africa. His life and memory must not be allowed to feed a racist meme of African cruelty and incompetence.

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Beyond the Brexit Debacle

If we focus only on the near term and on Brexit, we are doing precisely what Boris Johnson wishes. But the ramifications of the last few weeks will have effects on politics on the British Isles that are far more far reaching than even the question of EU membership. Let us think about those.

In a remarkably short period of time, the Conservative Party has radically changed. Seven year Conservative Prime Minister John Major is today taking this Conservative government to court, alleging ill intent in advice given to the Queen. Figures like Ken Clarke and Phil Hammond, who to this date have been real senior figures in Tory history, are actually threatened with expulsion.

Even Thatcher accepted that the Tory Party had a wing that tended to be closer to liberal or social democratic ideas, and never tried to throw her “wets” out of parliament. Dominic Grieve told the BBC today that he did not recognise what No.10 is doing as within the traditions of the Conservative Party. That perception is correct. What Boris Johnson is doing is changing the Conservative Party into something fundamentally other.

One fascinating development is Johnson and Javid’s rhetorical break with the traditional Tory right, instead to make populist public spending promises. Promises of 20,000 more policemen, and oodles more funding for schools, colleges and the NHS, are not the usual watchwords of the Tory right. It may surprise you to learn that I am inclined to think that these promises may not just be empty rhetoric, but this bit of populism may have real intent behind it. How this squares with more traditional Tories on public spending like McVey or Patel, or with Johnson’s promises on tax cuts, remains to be seen. But the switch to a more statist right in the economic as well as the civil sphere – something moving closer to the classic fascist model – might be one of the changes we are seeing.

My expectation is that this circle will be squared by a rigorous “good spending/bad spending” divide. Police, prisons, border control agents and of course the military will all be “good” public spending. So will education and the NHS because they are popular. This will be balanced by vigorous attacks on “bad” public spending – especially on welfare benefits, but also overseas aid, devolved administrations and local government.

How this will work out for the Tories electorally is a conundrum. The Tory base rural vote is predominantly Brexit and will probably be little affected. Johnson appears to be prepared to write off the more urbane and middle class vote and thus simply give up on Tory chances places likine Richmond or Bath. His hope must be that the combination of popular public spending messages on the NHS and education, plus the continued harnessing of anti-immigrant xenophobia, will win enough urban votes in Birmingham, Sunderland and Blackburn.

That seems to me very high risk. To take on Jeremy Corbyn in a general election on the basis of who can most credibly promise increased public spending seems strange ground to choose. Plus no matter how much you ramp up the xenophobia or how many upgraded hospitals you promise, the cultural obstacles to getting the people of Hartlepool to put their cross against a Tory remain enormous. The pundits talk as though the Brexit Party vote and the Tory Party vote are interchangeable and it all hinges on whether Farage stands candidates. That is simply wrong. There are many thousands of people in Hartlepool and towns like it who would vote Brexit but won’t vote Tory.

I suspect Johnson and Cummings have blundered into a first past the post trap by being too clever. They have alienated enough educated and liberal Tory voters to lose seats, while replacing them with voters who respond to the populism, but in areas where they won’t be able to take many seats. Tory gains will be limited largely to the Midlands, but outbalanced by losses. In essence, they may get a plurality of the vote but spread too evenly, and FPTP will see them losing ground to the SNP in Scotland, Labour in the bigger cities and the Lib Dems in rich suburbs and county towns.

That analysis stands whether the election is next month or any time to 2022.

If you choose to change a political party fundamentally, you need to be sure that the new version is more popular. Concentrating on the one issue of Brexit, and calculating that he could hoover up all Brexit voters, is likely to be Johnson’s downfall. He appears engaged in a colossal act of hubris.

In Scotland, all of this is still more reason to get out of the toxic politics of the United Kingdom. Nicola Sturgeon should announce now that if there is an early Westminster election, the SNP will fight that election on the basis that victory will result in a declaration of Independence, and Scotland will not then be exiting the European Union at all. The SNP desperately needs to focus on Independence and not on the position of the UK within the EU or on the powers of the Westminster parliament.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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