Monthly Archives: June 2013


Pandering to Racism

Here in Ghana people are stunned by the announcement that a bond of £3,000 will have to be submitted by visa applicants to the UK, redeemable on return.

It is unpleasant for a nation to be singled out as comprised of particularly untrustworthy individuals against whom special measures are needed.  Theresa May appears quite deliberately to be singling out countries whose citizens are normally black or brown – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Ghana and Nigeria.  They are all citizens with extremely close ties to the UK.  For example, all of those countries supplied large numbers of men to British armed forces in two World Wars; with little resulting gratitude.

The true level of Britain’s regard for the Commonwealth is disclosed in all its arrogance; citizenship of the Commonwealth countries with the longest link to the UK will become a positive disadvantage in visa application.  Israeli settlers living in Occupied Palestine on the West Bank, incidentally, will still be allowed to enter the UK without any visa at all, despite membership of neither Commonwealth nor EU.  Paradoxical, isn’t it?

The measure shows the arrogant British disdain for these countries – of which India pre-eminently but also Ghana are fast growing and important trading partners.  Undoubtedly Ghana will retaliate with measures which hurt British businesses; many of my good friends are senior Ghanaian politicians, and they are all furious.  The rhetoric the British employ about transformation from colonial status to a modern partnership of equals is exposed for the tissue of lies it has always been.  This is a straightforward racist measure, aimed at securing the racist vote to the Tories.

Not does it make any sense.  If you are intending to enter the UK under false pretences, and have the intent illegally to settle and start a new life there, then £3,000 is scarcely a deterrent given the substantial economic gains you intend to make over the long period you intend to stay.  It will rather seem a good investment; people will find the money.  The people it will deter are those who never intended to overstay.  The extra cash upfront,  to the businessman for a business trip, for the student coming to study, for the tourist will drive them to go elsewhere, to the UK’s net loss.

More cruelly it will deter decent middle class people from coming to see grandchildren in the holidays, from going to the niece’s wedding,  from going to graduation.  Those things will become the prerogative of the wealthy, those with plenty of cash to spare.

This does nothing to deter illegal immigration.  It merely demonstrates populist racism, demonstrates contempt for some of the UK’s best-disposed friends, and demonstrates that the government thinks the right to travel is only for the rich.  It is contemptible.

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The Man Who Didn’t Disappoint

Nelson Mandela was a rallying focus for any progressive thinker of my generation.  I attended numerous events of which the aim was to free Nelson Mandela.  I carried a torch through Edinburgh, danced round a bonfire in Dundee and talked to the startled tourists in Norwich cathedral, among other things.

That walk from prison came at a time when it seemed possible that the world would actually get better.  Walls were coming down, liberty was in the air.  All that was eventually to change and become a neo-con nightmare in Europe and a corruption nightmare in South Africa.  I remember even in the early eighties wondering what Mandela was really like.  How many people really knew him before he went to jail?  Certainly none who were demonstrating with me.  How had he managed to project a worldwide presence from decades inside a cell?  There was a real danger he would turn out to be a hideous disappointment, to have feet of clay, like – well at the time like Winnie Mandela was the obvious fear.

Indeed the rest of the ANC were in power to prove corrupt, elitist and grabbing.  I keep getting disappointed still.  I was astonished to see a statement last year from Cyril Ramaphosa effectively supporting the police who shot striking miners.  Mbeki had lost it before he took over.  In Europe, Walesa was a nightmare in government, and Havel a neo-con tool.  I never believed in Blair, but those who did were certainly deceived.  The greatest disappointment of all, however, was Obama, who turned out to be a smoother and more obediently ruthless front for the Orwellian security state than George W. Bush

Mandela is the only political leader who never failed my faith.  His philosophy and demeanour was Christ-like in its capacity for forgiveness and inclusion.  He really was everything those millions around the world hoped as they demonstrated for the better world that would be symbolised through his release.  The miracle of Mandela was that he never disappointed.

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Russophobia

I am in Africa.  Edward Snowden seems to be doing a super job without me, so I have been working on my book and not burdening you with superfluous comment.

I have written this today which is too much of a digression and almost certainly will get cut out of the book, and is in any case a first draft.  But I thought it was quite interesting – and does bear tangentially on Mr Snowden.

We need at this stage to step back and take a look at the wider context in which Burnes was operating, and particularly the question of how British and Russian Imperial expansion threatened to drive the two powers into conflict to the north of the Indian sub-continent.

British people, myself included, have to concentrate their intellectual resources to get a clear conceptualisation of the Russian Empire, which can be obscured from our view by a number of factors.

Firstly, from our own history and geography, we think of colonies as something reached exclusively by ship.  The idea that colonies can be a contiguous land mass with the metropolitan, yet still in effect colonies, is not a pre-received idea for us. Russia’s absorption of the entirely alien cultures of the vast Centre, Siberian belt, North and North-west of Asia was undoubtedly a massive colonial expansion.  Working in Central Asia today, for example, political societal and economic developments could only be understood as a post-colonial situation.  Crucially, the broad mass of people were themselves entirely of the view that they were former colonised1, returned to independence.  But I found a great many western and particularly British officials had much trouble with the concept. 

Secondly, the transmutation of the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union confused the issue, in bringing a spurious equality to the different Soviet Socialist Republics.  In particular, this brought members of the political elite from the Asian areas within reach of holding political power at the centre. But that is not at all unusual for the history of Empires in general, particular as they mature.  The economic relationships within the Soviet Union, with the Asian regions very much operating as primarily exporters of raw commodity or goods with little value added, followed a well-worn colonial pattern even if operated by central planning rather than overt capitalism.  But many, looking at the Soviet Union itself (not including the occupied states of the Eastern bloc) did not realise the Soviet Union in itself was an Empire incorporating colonial structures.

Thirdly, particularly for those brought up like myself during the Cold War, the Russians were distant and feared figures and not perceived as altogether European.  In fact, the Russian conquest of the whole of the North and heart of Asia was a simultaneous part of an almost complete encirclement of Asia by Europeans from the late eighteenth to the end of the nineteenth century, which included of course the occupation of United States Europeans of the American Pacific Rim, and of Australia, New Zealand, East Africa, much of South East Asia and India by the British and occasionally others.  Russian and British expansion into Asia were part of the exact same process, except the British often did not see it:

A long liberal tradition took a sceptical view of Russia’s European credentials, seeing Tsarist Russia as as “Asiatic despotism” too crude and too poor to be “one of us”…A more realistic view would see Russia, like Spain or the Hapsburg Empire, as one of the frontier states that played a vanguard role in Europe’s expansion…behind Russia’s expansion was in fact its European identity…the economic energy that flowed from Russia’s integration into the European economy; and the intellectual access that Russians enjoyed, from the sixteenth century onward, to the general pool of European ideas and culture.  Russians, like other Europeans, claimed their conquests as a “civilizing mission.”2

Britain’s claim that Russia was excluded from the “civilizing mission” of Empire because it was a despotism, when British officials were arbitrarily blowing resisting Indians into many pieces from the muzzles of cannon while practising unabashed despotism in India, is something those of my age and older were educated not to question.  The notion that the culture of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tchaikovsky is not European is self-evidently wrong.  I found that walking around the 19th century Russian cantonments of Margilan in the Ferghana Valley, with its beautiful little theatre for amateur dramatics, its racecourse and mess hall, the architecture could have been a British hill station. It even has its Freemasons’ Lodge.

So Russia and Britain were indeed expanding their colonial possessions in Asia, and their boundaries were pushing ever closer towards each other.  They were both part of the same historical process, and as a non-determinist I find it difficult to explain why in each case the expansion very often went ahead against the express wishes of the metropolitan authorities, but that takes us too far away from Alexander. 

The Russophobes therefore were not talking absolute nonsense.  Nobody knew how far North-west the British might push and how far South-east the Russians.  Nor was it physically impossible for a Russian army to invade India through Afghanistan and/or Persia.  Babur, Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah had all done that. The logistics were difficult, but not impossible.

Where the Russophobes got it seriously wrong was their political analysis.  A successful Russian invasion of India would have taken enormous resources and been a massive strain on the Russian state, and would certainly have precipitated a major European war.  Russia’s economy was still recovering from Napoleonic devastation.  Her foreign policy priorities were focused on the richer and more central lands of the Mediterranean and Caspian. Russia’s desire to divest Persia and Ottoman Turkey of vast provinces and to become a Mediterranean power was the consuming passion of the Tsar’s ministers, and Nesselrode in particular.  Bringing Central Asia into play may occasionally be a useful bargaining chip with Britain, but was never more than that. 

It is a peculiar fact that for two hundred years, fear of an attack by Russia has been a major factor in British foreign and above all defence policy, and was for much of my lifetime the factor that outweighed all others.  Vast sums of the nation’s money have been squandered on guarding against this illusory threat, and that is still the unacknowledged purpose of the ruinously expensive and entirely redundant Trident missile system today.  Yet on any rational analysis, Russia has never had any incentive to attack the United Kingdom, and never has remotely intended to attack the United Kingdom.  However an awful lot of arms manufacturers and salesmen have become exceedingly wealthy, as have an awful lot of politicians, while the military have had pleasant careers. 

British Russophobia is an enduring historical fact.  Navigating his path around it was now a key problem for Alexander Burnes in 1833

1 Olivier Roy, The Creation of Nations, pp87-9

2 John Darwin, After Tamerlane, p.21

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Work for the UN

GCHQ and the NSA between them employ tens of thousands of people.  I am bemused by the shock at the “revelation” they have been spying.  What on Earth did journalists think that spies do all day? That includes electronics spies.

Since Katherine Gun revealed that we spy on other delegations – and the secretariat – within the UN building, it is hardly a shock that we spy on other governments at summits in the UK.  For once, the government cannot pretend that the object is to save us all from terrorism, which is the usual catch all excuse.  Nor in the real world is any of the G20 nations a military threat to the UK.  The real truth of the matter is that our spies – GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 – are themselves a large and highly influential interest block within the state.  Lots of people make a great deal of money out of the security state, and this kind of activity is actually simply an excuse for taking money from taxpayers – which is from everyone who has ever bought anything – and giving that money to the “security industry”.

I do not view spying on other governments as quite as despicable as spying on ordinary citizens, which is an unspeakable betrayal of the purpose of government.  Spying on other governments is a game they all play to extort money each to their own security elites.  But I will say that spying on the South African government seems pretty low.  Why?

Interception of diplomatic communications is plainly a gross breach of the Vienna Conventions, even if the forms of communication have changed since they were drafted.  I have never studied the particulars of international law as they relate to spying, but it seems to me an area that in the modern world needs regulation.  There must be room here for the UN to be involved in preparing a Convention to outlaw the interception of international communications, with recourse to the International Court of Justice for those victim of it.

There is more work for the UN on Syria.  We should all be grateful that Russia is holding out against the very dubious western claims that the  Syrian government has deployed chemical weapons.  But while Obama can declare all the red lines he wishes, they do not give any country a right to take action on Syrian soil without UN authority.  That needs to be restated, strongly.  There is no basis at all for the continued and massive Israeli attacks on Syria – they are absolutely illegal.  Israeli strikes have definitely killed more people than the alleged deaths from chemical weapons.  Can someone explain to me why that is not a red line?

The UN Secretary General should be speaking out, and the UN Security Council should be meeting, to discuss the Israeli attacks on Syria.  The system of international law has broken down irretrievably.

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Wreck of the Emma

Some of the information that gets volunteered from readers of my blog for use in my Sikunder Burnes book has been quite extraordinary.  So, with continued hope and gratitude, let me try this one – can anyone discover anything more about the wreck of the ship Emma in 1821 en route to India – and particularly if there were fatalities?  Was it a private or East India company ship?  All I can find so far online is this database, which has a British ship Sarah going down in Table Bay South Africa in a storm in 1821.  That would make sense en route to India.  At 467 tons its around the right size.

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Preparing to Bomb Syria

Quite simply I do not believe the US, UK and French government’s assertion that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against rebels “multiple times in small quantities”.  Why on earth would they do that?  The claim that “up to 150 people have died” spread over a number of incidents makes no sense at all.  In a civil war when tens of thousands of people have died, where all sides have been guilty of massacres of scores at a time, I cannot conceive of any motive for killing a dozen or so at any one time with the odd chemical shell.  It makes no military sense – chemical weapons are designed for use against population centres and massed armies.  They are not precision weapons for deployment against small groups.

Why on earth would the Assad regime use a tiny amount of chemical weapons against tiny groups of rebels, knowing the West would use it as an excuse to start bombing?  It makes no sense whatsoever.  Cui bono?

The Russians have described the evidence as fabricated, and on this one I am with the Russians.

It is of course no coincidence that this humanitarian motive to start bombing Syria  arises just as the tide of war turned against the rebels, and the government forces are about to move on Aleppo.  I suspect now we will see massive NATO force intervention, with huge air to ground destruction of the government forces all over the country to “defend” Aleppo, just as we saw hundreds of thousands killed and whole cities destroyed in Libya to “defend” Benghazi.  Whose people showed their gratitude by murdering the US Ambassador.

It is a further fascinating coincidence that this coordinated western switch of policy happens immediately after the Bilderberg conference.  An analysis of which of the corporate interests there stand to gain in Syria might be a fascinating exercise.

There were two main reasons the tide of war turned against the rebels.  Firstly, Hizbollah’s decision to enter the war on a large scale was provoked by the Israeli Air Force’s massive attack around Damascus, a fact the mainstream media has managed to hide completely.  Secondly, at Turkish urging, the rebel forces had diverted much of their energies to attacking the Syrian kurds.  This opens the interesting question of what the American client Kurds of Iraq will make of their patron sponsoring the massacre of their brethren in Syria.

Finally, chemical weapons are a terrible thing and their use should be  condemned unreservedly.  But where was all this Western outrage and activity when the Israelis were pouring down white phosphorous and kicking and maiming thousands of women and children in Gaza?

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More NHS Awfulness

It s rather humiliating to reveal so much of my personal medical history in order to expose the absolutely dreadful operation of the NHS in Thanet – and this blog is in danger of looking like a medical soap opera sometimes.  But as I continue to try to navigate myself through the system with utter disbelief at how awful it is. I thought I would keep you posted.

Like all the best soap operas, here is an update.  I am still in my 31 week wait to see a cardiologist.  In the meantime, and unrelated, I find I cannot walk for more than a hundred meters without agonising pain.  This turns out to be due to spur of bone growing out from the base of my heel.  On 6 June I went to see the GP to be told this, and also that it would take about 15 weeks to see a consultant.  When I pointed out I could not walk, the GP told me I could walk, it was merely a pain management issue (though I find it hard to believe this much pain can be caused if no damage is being done).

Anyway, I found I had a stark choice between being housebound for months, and opting for private treatment, and shamefacedly I opted for the latter, and asked the doctor for a private referral to the Chaucer Hospital, which he agreed to do.  Apparently in the UK you cannot see a specialist, even privately, without a referral from your General Practitioner.  I struggle to see the benefit in that peculiar restriction.

Having not heard anything for a week, I today contacted the Chaucer Hospital, who checked and said they had received no referral from my GP.  So I contacted my GP’s surgery, who said that the letter of referral had not been sent yet as it was “still working its way through the system” and it was “only a week” since I had seen the GP.  I pointed out that a week was a long time to someone who can hardly walk and is in great pain with a readily treatable condition.  I asked them if they might fax the letter of referral to a fax number the Chaucer Hospital had given me.

It was plain from the long silence that ensued that this was viewed as a grossly impertinent request.  They would have to consult the practice manager.  Finally came the answer – they would not fax the letter, but if I waited 24 hours they would print out a copy which I could collect and fax myself….

Which would be simple if a) I could walk and b) I possessed a fax machine.   On Sunday I have to go off to Africa which is not going to be easy.

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Pre-emptive Policing

I am deeply concerned about pre-emptive policing,  or arresting people who might be going to do something wrong.  I frankly don’t believe the BBC’s claim that intelligence indicated that anti-G8 protestors in Soho had weapons, or at any rate I do not believe it was honest intelligence.  I note there are no reports of these weapons actually having been discovered.

The rounding up, arresting and beating of groups of protestors before they had even begun to protest is so taken for granted in London now that I can find no reflection in the media of the outrage I feel.  If an old duffer like me feels completely alienated from the authoritarian state in which I find I now live, how do younger, more radical people feel?  There seems a terrible divide between the corporate-political elite surrounded by their massive Praetorian guard at Bilderberg, and everybody else.  Society is not stable.

The BBC has lost all sense of self-knowledge.  Yesterday it displayed scenes of police beating protestors for no apparent reason on the streets of London, which was presented as protecting innocent shoppers on Oxford Street.  This immediately followed very similar scenes of police beating protestors on the streets of Istanbul, which was portrayed as a terrible act of anti-Western suppression.  Irony is dead.

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Lack of Intelligence

I am astonished that still none of our pusillanimous media has published the simple fact that NSA and GCHQ share ALL intelligence reports with each other. Every member of the House of Commons who has ever been in the most junior ministerial position knows this – that amounts to hundreds. So do at least fifty thousand current or retired civil service and military personnel. So do the majority of senior journalists. Yet Hague was allowed to talk round the subject without being challenged about the truth, and the fiction of official secrecy persists.

The Guardian almost published the truth:

“It has been suggested GCHQ uses our partnership with the United States to get around UK law, obtaining information that they cannot legally obtain in the UK. I wish to be absolutely clear that this accusation is baseless. Any data obtained by us from the US involving UK nationals is subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards.”

This is the nub of the issue and the foreign secretary’s statement seems to mask a much more complex picture. If a UK agency wanted to tap the phone of a Briton living in the UK, it would have to get ministerial approval through RIPA. But not all telecoms and internet companies are based in the UK – most of the giants have their headquarters in the US. This is where the UK’s relationship with the NSA is critical. If the firm storing the required information is outside RIPA’s authority, GCHQ could ask the NSA for help.

And if the NSA had any relevant intelligence, via Prism or any other programme, it could give it to GCHQ. Strictly speaking, GCHQ would still have needed a RIPA authorisation if it was requesting this material. But if the NSA was offering, the same principles don’t appear to apply.

Matthew Ryder QC said: “It is not the breaking of laws that is most troubling in this area, but the absence of them. Foreigners storing their personal data on US servers have neither the protection that their own domestic laws would give them from their own governments, nor the protection that US citizens have from the US government. It is foreigners, potentially UK citizens in the UK, who are the targets of programmes like Prism.

“Once such data is in the hands of the US authorities, there is no clear legal framework that prevents it from being shared with UK authorities. The Security Service Act 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994 place MI5, MI6 and GCHQ on a statutory basis, and permit those bodies to receive any information from foreign agencies in the ‘proper discharge’ of their statutory functions.

“Under that broad principle, UK agencies may receive and examine data from the US about UK citizens without having to comply with any of the legal requirements they would have to meet if the same agencies had tried to gather that information themselves.”

In fact GCHQ do not have to ask, and NSA do not have specifically to initiate. US citizens are included in the UK Prism operation, and UK citizens are included in the US Prism operation, and the swapping of resulting intelligence reports is an automatic process. So the UK takes the view it is not breaching the guidelines about spying on its own citizens as it is not REQUESTING the NSA to do anything, and vice versa.

It is precisely analogous to our receipt of intelligence from torture, which I was told as Ambassador was perfectly legal as long as we don’t request that the individual be tortured.

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The Omniscient State

It is not whether the individual had done anything wrong: it is whether the state has done anything wrong. Hague’s plea for the omniscient state is chilling: if you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. So it is alright for the state to eavesdrop all our social interactions, to follow our every move? Is there to be no privacy from the prying eye of the state, which can watch me on the toilet, and if I have done nothing wrong I have nothing to hide?

The terribly sad thing is that, by a media campaign which has raised public fear of terrorism beyond any rational analysis of the risk (depending which year you take as the base line, you have between 40 and 300 times more risk of drowning in your own bath than being killed by a terrorist) there is great public acceptance of the intrusive state. This of course depends on the notion that the state is not only omniscient but benevolent. I do urge anyone infected by this way of thinking to read Murder in Samarkand for a practical demonstration of just how malevolent, indeed evil, the state can be.

GCHQ and NSA share all intelligence reports, as do the CIA and MI6, under US/UK intelligence sharing agreements first put in place by Roosevelt and Churchill. That is one of the most widely known of all official secrets – there are probably fifty thousand current or retired civil servants like me who know that, and many academics, journalists etc – but even in the light of the Snowden revelations, you probably won’t see it much in print, and you won’t hear it in Parliament, because it is still a criminal offence to say it. Let me say it again:

GCHQ and NSA share all intelligence, as do the CIA and MI6, under US/UK intelligence sharing agreements first put in place by Roosevelt and Churchill. NSA and GCHQ do the large bulk of communication interception. Now both NSA and GCHQ are banned from spying on their own citizens without some motive of suspicion – though as Edward Snowden has been explaining, that motive of suspicion can be terribly slight, like you have someone as a facebook friend who has a facebook friend whose sister once knew someone connected with an animal liberation group. But in any event, the safeguards are meaningless as NSA and GCHQ can intercept communications of each other’s citizens and they share all information. I have been explaining this in public talks these last ten years – I am happy it is finally hitting the headlines.

We need Edward Snowden and we need Bradley Manning. I had hoped that the barefaced lies of Bush and Blair, leading to a war that killed hundreds of thousands, would make people see that politicians, and the corporate interests that stand so close behind them, simply cannot be trusted.

The world needs whistleblowers. Now more than ever.

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Only One Choice and Only for Scotland

Would you like to be shot with a red gun or blue gun, sir? That is the limit of the choice being offered the UK electorate as New Labour announces it will keep the Coalition public spending plans and the Coalition benefit cuts. Given it will also throw away £100 billion on Trident, and New Labour initiated the rampant privatisation of the Health Service, PFI, Tuition Fees etc., my point could not have been more eloquently proven that the UK electorate is no longer offered any meaningful choice by the neo-con parties.

It also of course demolishes completely the Gordon Brown argument that Scots need to stay in the Union to put New Labour in to power. Who carries out Tory policies is not the question; and why a nation should surrender its freedom just to make sure Ed Balls has a ministerial car and salary while he implements Tory policies, is not a question which to me has an obvious answer.

The only meaningful political choice any part of the UK population will have in the foreseeable future is the Scottish Independence Referendum. If Scots do not take their chance, all they have ahead is economic decline and the collapse of public services. The choice could not be more stark.

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Genius Wanted

Is anyone wizard enough to improve the contrast and definition on the small images of these letters, and enlarge them so that I am able to try to decipher them? This is a very important letter for my biography of Burnes; it is infuriating that such letters apparently disappear into the hands of private collectors.

Secondly, can anyone with academic access credentials (JSTOR or such) get me a copy of Mikhail Volodarsky, “The Russians in Afghanistan in the 1830’s“, Central Asian Survey vol 21 no 1 (April 1985). Wanted for genuine academic research purposes.

For those who don’t have my email address, the contact button at the top of the page will send me an email.

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Balls attacks Universal Benefits

New Labour’s “Big idea” is to cut winter fuel allowance for wealthy pensioners, thus saving £100 million a year, or 0.08% of the annual deficit. This is plainly irrelevant, but is given such prominence because the media have to maintain the fiction of significant policy differences between the three neo-con parties, and because at the same time we are supposed to get used to, in the words of Johann Lamont, New Labour’s opposition to the “Something for nothing society”, otherwise known as benefits for the needy.

In my own family, pensioners who would already be entitled to pension credit do not get it because they will not apply; they see the basic state pension as an entitlement to which they paid in their working lives, but anything means tested as charity to relieve poverty, the idea of which they find demeaning after a lifetime of work. I understand their attitude and find it, at root, noble.

I cannot understand why this country is unable to produce a single unified tax system, under which those with far too much money are relieved of a significant portion of it, ordinary folk pay reasonable taxes and those without enough money, including the unemployed, underemployed and pensioners, receive enough money for their needs, including looking after their children or personal care. A single, unified form every resident fills that removes stigma and removes overpayment, underpayment and the obscenity of the super-rich tax dodgers.

Meanwhile the odious Balls plans to find £100 million from pensioners while planning to blow that 1,000 times over and blow $100 Billion on the entirely worthless Trident missile system. Anybody who believes New Labour is the answer to any of our problems is certifiable.

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Forced into Private Health

I remain absolutely stunned, and completely confused, by the apparently appalling quality of NHS Healthcare in Thanet, from my own experience.

I still haven’t seen that cardiologist.

Meantime, about six weeks ago, my left heel became very sore and tender, painful to walk upon. A couple of days later the pain had gone. A couple of days more, and it came back. It remained intermittent for about a month. Then two weeks ago, it became more or less permanent, and then when I went on Saturday to speak at the Bradley Manning demo at the US Embassy, I found that after 200 of the 300 metres to the railway station I was in so much pain I just had to sit on the pavement until the pain died down a bit. I missed my train. I eventually got to the demo after it had pretty well finished, looking rather like Quasimodo and in a lot of pain. I spoke anyway, but there are rather more ummms and aaahs than usual because the pain made it hard to concentrate.

I finally decided this wasn’t going away, and went to see the GP today – it is very close, but again I couldn’t walk there. He gave me a chit to take to the QEQM Hospital for an X-Ray. I went and had the X-Ray immediately. So far, very efficient and full marks to the NHS.

But I was then told that it will take between ten and 14 days for the X Ray result to be given to my GP; I should call then and make an appointment to see him again.

This is absolutely beyond my understanding. I have had the odd x-ray in my life, and the results have always been instantaneous, with a doctor telling me what happens next within an hour or two. I recall on occasion being handed the x-rays to hand carry to my GP.

In the meantime, I cannot walk. Am I meant simply to lie around on my arse until someone can bother to do something with the x-rays, which already have their physical existence? To my shame, I found myself asking my GP to refer me to a private hospital so I can pay someone to not just take x-rays, but look at them.

I just do not remember the NHS as being this awful. Have I gone crazy, is the NHS in a state of utter dereliction, or in moving to Thanet have I just come last in the postcode lottery? Any views from within the NHS would be especially welcome.

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Suppressed By The BBC

I was invited then disinvited to discuss Bradley Manning on BBC Breakfast TV this morning. I was delighted and really surprised that the BBC were prepared to give such prime media exposure to the case against the persecution of Manning. I should have realised it would not be allowed to happen.

I was asked to appear twice, once after 7 and once after 8, and to explain why the case of Bradley Manning ought to concern people in the UK. BBC Breakfast is based in Salford. So the BBC sent me train tickets, booked a room in the Holiday Inn and organised a cab for me from Manchester Piccadilly. I had reached so far as Euston from St Pancras yesterday when I discovered, rather by chance that my slots on BBC breakfast had been cancelled. I was instead offered a single live interview at 6.40 am that would not be repeated.

I suppose the BBC are at least being more subtle; instead of management intervention outright to cancel a possible airing of dissident thought, they are pretending to give it a voice by broadcasting it before 95% of the audience are awake. I was not prepared to participate in such tokenism, so I turned round and came home.

It of course brings back memories of when I was on my way to Leeds to take part in BBC Question Time, and was cancelled en route, and replaced by another neo-con clone. A Freedom of Information Act request for the documents and emails concerning that cancellation was refused by the BBC on the grounds of a Freedom of Information exemption for journalism. Censorship is not journalism.

Good to see that the odious war criminal James Purnell is earning his £295,000 a year by keeping the air waves free of thought.

Given the extraordinary amount of time the BBC has devoted to promoting the ludicrous trumped up charges against Julian Assange, their non-coverage of the Bradley Manning trial today is chilling.

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Talking Turkey

To simply say “protestors good, government bad” in Turkey is a symptom of the Blair delusion, that in civil conflicts there are guys with white hats and guys with black hats, and that the West’s role is to ride into town and kill the guys in the black hats. That is what “liberal intervention” means. The main aim of my second autobiographical book, “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo”, was to explain through the truth of the Sierra Leone experience how very, very wrong this is.

In fact civil conflicts are usually horribly complex, anent a variety of very bad people all trying to gain or retain power, none of them from an altruistic desire to make the world a better place. There may be ordinary people on the streets with that altruistic desire, being used and manipulated by these men; but it is not the ordinary altruistic people on the streets who ever come to power. Ever.

In Turkey the heavy crushing of a rainbow of protests in Istanbul has been going on for at least a month now. A week ago I was discussing it with my publisher, whose son lives in the city. A fortnight ago I was in Istanbul myself.

The Turkish people I was with were natural Erdogan supporters, and what struck me very forcibly was the fact that he has sickened many of his own natural allies by the rampant corruption in Turkey at present. Almost everyone I met spoke to me about corruption, and Turkey being Turkey, everyone seemed to know a very great deal of detail about how corruption was organised in various building and development projects and who was getting what. It therefore is hardly surprising that the spark which caused this conflict to flare to a new level was ignited by a corrupt deal to build a shopping centre on a park. The desecration of something lovely for money could be a metaphor for late Erdogan government.

The park is very small beer compared to the massive corruption involved in the appalling and megalomaniac Bosphorus canal project. Everyone talked to me about that one. The mainstream media, who never seem to know what is happening anywhere, seem to have missed that a major cause of the underlying unrest in Istanbul was the government’s announcement eight weeks ago that the Bosphorus canal is going ahead.

People are also incensed by the new proposal that would ban the sale of alcohol within 100 metres of any mosque or holy site, ie anywhere within central Istanbul. That would throw thousands of people out of work, damage the crucial tourist trade and is rightly seen as a symptom of reprehensible mounting religious intolerance that endangers Turkish society.

So there are plenty of legitimate reasons to protest, and the appalling crushing of protest is the best of them

But – and this is what it is never in the interest of Western politicians to understand – Government bad does not equal protestors good. A very high proportion – more than the British public realise by a very long way – of those protesting in the streets are off the scale far right nationalists of a kind that make the BNP look cuddly and Nigel Farage look like Tony Benn. Kemalism – the worship of Ataturk and a very unpleasant form of military dominated nationalism – remains very strong indeed in Istanbul. Ataturk has a very strong claim, ahead of Mussolini, to be viewed as the inventor of modern fascism

For every secular liberal in Istanbul there are two secular ultra-nationalist militarists. To westerners they stress the secular bit and try to hide the rest, and this works on the uncurious (being uncurious is a required attribute to get employed by the mainstream media). Of course there are decent, liberal, environmentalist protestors and the media will have no difficulty, now they have finally noticed something is happening, in filling our screens with beautiful young women who fit that description, to interview. But that is not all of what is going on here.

There certainly was no more freedom in Turkey before the AKP came to power. Government for decades had been either by the Kemalist military in dictatorship or occasionally by civilian governments they tolerated and controlled. People suddenly have short memories if they think protest was generally tolerated pre-Erdogan, and policy towards the Kurds was massively more vicious.

The military elite dominated society and through corruption they dominated commerce and the economy. The interests of a protected and generally fascist urban upper middle class were the only interests that counted at all. The slightest threat to those interests brought a military coup – again, and again, and again. Religion was barely tolerated, and they allied closely with Israel and the United States.

When Erdogan first came to power it was the best thing that had happened to Turkey for decades. The forgotten people of the Anatolian villages, and the lower middle class of the cities, had a voice and a position in the state for the first time. In individual towns and villages, the military and their clients who had exercised absolute authority had their power suddenly diminished. I witnessed this and it was a new dawn, and it felt joyous.

Then of course Erdogan gradually got sucked in to power, to money, to NATO, to the corruption of his Black Sea mafia and to arrogance. It all went very wrong, as it always seems to. That is where we are now.

Yes of course I want those pretty, genuinely liberal environmentalist girls in the park to take power. But they won’t. Look at the hard-eyed fascists behind them. Look at the western politicians licking their lips thinking about the chance to get a nice very right wing, anti-Muslim and pro-Israel government into power.

We should all be concerned at what is happening in Turkey. We should all call for an end to violent repression. But to wish the overthrow of a democratically elected government, and its replacement – by what exactly? – is a very, very foolish reaction.

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UN Condemns UK

Trenchant criticism of the UK by the United Nations over its human rights record would have been major news in the pre-Blair days. One of Blair’s “achievements”, which in the 1990s I should have thought impossible, was to win the acceptance by the public and the media of the practice of torture and other gross abuses by the state.

Ian Cobain continues his dogged work on the subject, and everyone should read his report. The lack of prominence accorded to it on the Guardian’s website is telling. I should acknowledge that for some reason Ian has conceived a serious dislike of me; he remains one of the few mainstream journalists worth reading. Pilger, Fisk, Oborne, Cockburn, Cobain, Milne – that’s about it for those I look forward to reading.

I am speaking today at a rally for Bradley Manning outside the US Embassy. I was reflecting, that when I leaked a few secret telegrams on UK complicity in torture, despite many threats the government did not prosecute me under the Official Secrets Act because they did not want the publicity. Today, under the Justice and Security Act, I would be tried in secret, would have still been in jail now, and anybody who reported the facts of the case would have suffered the same fate.

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