This was my speech to the World Beyond War conference at American University, Washington DC on 24 September.
Neil Kinnock appeared on both Dispatches and Panorama this evening bemoaning the presence of socialists in the Labour Party. Neither programme succeeded in finding anything sinister happening, but they did succeed in playing a great deal of sinister music. This must have been a great boost to the sinister music writing industry, for which we should be grateful. I think they have definitively proved that some people are left wing, and would like to have left wing MPs.
But seeing Kinnock reminded me of another bit of TV I saw today, a heartbreaking advert for Save the Children featuring a dying little baby, unable to ask for help. The advert urged you to give just £2 a month to help save her.
If 11,000 people responded with £2 a month, that would not save the little baby, but it would exactly pay the £264,000 per year salary of Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-law Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Chief Executive of Save the Children and wife of MP Stephen Kinnock. Indeed if 20,000 people gave £2 per month, that would probably cover Mrs Stephen Kinnock’s salary, her other employment costs and the money paid to Sky for the advert. When you toss in Stephen’s salary and expenses, the Stephen Kinnock household are bringing in just shy of a cool half a million pounds a year from public service and charity work.
The salary of Ms Thorning-Schmidt is approximately twice that of her predecessor, Justin Forsyth, who was on an already unconscionable £140,000. I exposed their massive salaries at the time the Save the Children awarded a “Global Legacy” award to Tony Blair. Indeed to meet the salaries and other employment costs of just the top executives at Save the Children would take 80,000 people paying £2 a month. They would be funding executives with an average salary of over £140,000. For those in work paying the £2 a month, the average UK salary is £26,000 a year, and many retired and unemployed people scrimp to find money to give to try to help the needy.
The use of charities as a massive cash cow for the political classes is a real concern. David Miliband is on over 300,000 for heading the International Rescue Committee. When I listed the Save the Children executives, they included Brendan Cox, on over £100,000. He was the husband of Jo Cox, the murdered Labour MP. Brendan Cox and Justin Forsyth were both advisers to Gordon Brown and both moved to Save the Children when they lost their jobs on Brown losing power, sliding in on 6 figure salaries. Jo Cox was an adviser to Glenys Kinnock and left that job to be an executive at Oxfam before she too worked as a highly paid Save the Children executive.
Brendan Cox left Save the Children due to allegations from several women that he sexually harassed female staff and volunteers. Justin Forsyth left at the same time amid allegations he had not effectively acted to have his friend Cox investigated. This has not stopped Forsyth from now popping up as Deputy Chief Executive of UNICEF. Misery for some is a goldmine for others.
There is no point in declaring yourself of independent mind if you proceed to try to ingratiate yourself with any particular group of people or defined set of political opinions. Occasionally I express opinions which are not palatable to many of my readers, and I am afraid this is one of those times. But the plain fact is, that the boundary review of Westminster constituencies is neither deliberate gerrymandering nor unfairly favourable to the Tories.
The starting point for any sensible discussion must be that the first past the post system will virtually never produce any kind of fair representation, especially in a multi-party system. I detest UKIP, but a system which gave them just 0.15% of the seats for 9.5% of the vote is not equitable. Between the two “main” parties, FPTP in modern times had always advantaged Labour, as boundary changes lagged behind declining populations in old industrial areas. But the 2015 trouncing of Labour by the SNP changed this and it took more votes to elect each Labour MP than each Tory. But in a sense this is all pointless – FPTP is not meant to be fair. Its theoretical advantage is in ensuring the proper representation of individual constituencies.
It is difficult to answer against the principle that the constituencies should therefore be of approximately equal size. Special interest arguments are most strongly put forward in Scotland, where island areas are distinctive cultural communities. But there are obvious problems with arguing that every community that can argue to distinct cultural or geographic coherence should get an MP irrespective of size, and it is hard to explain why the reverse also does not apply – if size does not matter but coherence does, why does Birmingham or Leeds not get just one MP? In general, I accept the argument as fair that if we are stuck with FPTP (and I dearly wish we were not), then constituencies should be more or less equal in size.
Once you accept this, the rest follows fairly automatically. I give no time to arguments that anything other than the electoral register should be used – you are looking to create equal sized blocks of voters. It is an election. If you don’t register to vote, you cannot vote and cannot get considered in parcelling up the voters. Not registering to vote is an opt-out from the democratic process, and one which people ought to be allowed to take. But if opted-out, you are opted out. Nobody will ever know how the unregistered would have voted. Presence of unregistered voters is not a reason to allow a smaller constituency, or you are in effect assuming their wishes in representation.
This argument has been varied recently by the addition of almost 2 million newly registered voters since the register on which the review was undertaken, a combination of the ordinary churn of young people coming on to the register, and expanded registration for the EU referendum. But a register is always a snapshot of the electorate at a particular time. The Electoral Commission, whose cycle of work takes years to complete, is always working on historic data. The newly registered, assuming they stay on, will count in the next review, which will soon be along. Besides, the House of Commons library has researched the new registrations and come to the conclusion that they cannot be viewed as disproportionately concentrated in Labour urban areas. They estimate that if the exercise were based on the current registrations, Scotland would lose two more seats, Northern Ireland would lose one. London would gain two and SW England one. The probable net result would be a Labour gain of 2 seats, a Tory gain of one seat, an SNP loss of two and a DUP loss of one. So it is not in any way the game changer that is being claimed.
Finally, I entirely support the reduction of the House of Commons from 650 to 600. There has been much gnashing of teeth here too, with the comparative size of the ridiculously inflated House of Lords the focus of much comment. But the answer to that is to reduce the Lords, not increase the Commons.
Scotland will see its detailed proposals published next month with a reduction of Scottish representation by 6 seats (England is losing 32 and Wales 11). But I strongly advise the SNP to bite their tongue and concentrate on Independence. Our aim is no seats at Westminster at all.
I see no reason to impugn the integrity of the members of the Boundary Commission, and I feel that has been done in an unfair and concentrated way. They have done their job fairly and conscientiously. It is ludicrous to judge them by the yardstick of whether the result helps the side you wish to win. FPTP is a dreadful system that has contributed massively to the appalling governance of the UK. I hope to see fundamental constitutional reform – including Scottish independence. For the UK I should love to see STV elections and a fully elected upper chamber, not to mention a republic. But whatever we may wish, in terms of their current task working with FPTP, more equal size constituencies will make it a little fairer. If the English electorate continue to vote Tory in large numbers, the answer to that from the left is not the retention of accidental distortions in constituency size.
Virtually every mainstream media article or broadcast on the United States aerial massacre of Syrian government troops, manages to work in a reference to barrel bombs as though this in some way justifies or mitigates the US action.
It is a fascinating example of a propaganda meme. Barrel bombs are being used by Syrian government forces, though on a pretty small scale. They are an improvised weapon made by packing conventional explosive into a beer barrel. They are simply an amateur version of a conventional weapon, and they are far less “effective” – meaning devastating – than the professionally made munitions the UK and US are dropping on Syria, or supplying to the Saudis to kill tens of thousands of civilians in Yemen, or to Israel to drop on children in Gaza.
If a bomb were to drop near me, I would much prefer it to be a barrel bomb as it would be less likely to kill me than the UK and US manufactured professional variety. If however my guts were to be eviscerated by flying hunks of white hot metal, I would not particularly care what kind of bomb it was. The blanket media use of “barrel bomb” as though it represents something uniquely inhumane is a fascinating example of propaganda, especially set beside the repeated ludicrous claims that British bombs do not kill civilians.
It is of course only part of the media distortion around the Syria debacle. Western intervention is aimed at supporting various Saudi backed jihadist militias to take over the country, irrespective of the fact that they commit appalling atrocities. These the media label “democratic forces”. At the same time, we are attacking other Saudi controlled jihadists on the grounds that they are controlled by the wrong kind of Saudi. You see, chopping off the heads of dissidents and gays is OK if you are one of the Saudis who directly controls the Saudi oil resources. It is not OK if you do it freelance and are one of the Saudis who is merely acting at the covert behest of the other Saudis who control the Saudi oil resources.
I do hope that is clear.
The broadcast news bulletins are all leading with the claim of some old General that Britain could not resist an attack by Russia. One remarkable thing about this claim, is that all those excitably supporting it are precisely the same people who claim that the countless billions spent on Trident make an attack on the UK impossible. Plainly they have never believed their own propaganda about Trident.
But there is something still more problematic in the General’s argument. The truth is that there is zero chance of Russia attacking the UK. Nothing Putin has ever said or done has evinced the slightest desire to attack the UK. Now I am, as you know, no fan of Putin and I believe he does hanker after annexing to Russia those parts of the former Soviet Union outside Russia which are Russian speaking. But he probably does not see even that limited aim as completely achievable, and indeed in ten years he has reintegrated just Crimea and Ossetia. The UK, being neither Russian speaking nor part of the former Soviet Union, is in no danger of being attacked by Russia at all.
Nor has the UK ever been in danger of attack by Russia. Yet extraordinarily, as discussed in my new book Sikunder Burnes, Russophobia and an explicit fear of Russian attack has been an important part of British politics, actually driving policy, for 200 years. In that period Britain has invaded Russia during the Crimean War, and as early as 1834 David Urquhart, First Secretary at the British Embassy in Constantinople, was organising a committee of “mujahideen” – as he called them – and running guns to Chechnya and Dagestan for the jihadists to fight Russia. In 1917 British troops again invaded Russia, landing at Archangel and Murmansk.
Yet, although by contrast Russia has never attacked Britain, and has never had any serious plan, intention or decision to attack Britain, for centuries British foreign and defence policy has been predicated on a non-existent “Russian threat”. Of course, the arms manufacturers and the political and military classes have made incalculable sums out of this long term waste of a significant proportion of Britain’s resources. A Russian invasion of Britain is, and has always been, as likely as an attack by Martian death-ray.
General Barrons does however have one important point. Britain’s forces are not configured for defence. They are configured for attack. Aircraft carriers are of no defensive use whatsoever, and indeed are hopelessly vulnerable against any sophisticated enemy. Their sole purpose today is the projection of power against poor countries. Their use lies only in the neo-con policy of attacking smaller states like Iraq, Libya and Syria. They are Blair force carriers.
Britain is a country where thousands of children go to bed hungry. Yet is spends billion upon billion on Trident missiles whose sole purpose is to increase politicians’ sense of importance, and aircraft carriers designed to facilitate the maiming of other nations’ children. A rational, defence oriented military would have neither. Again, I return to the conviction that Scottish Independence is not just good for Scotland, but the psychological shock that rUK needs to end these imperial cravings for physical power projection.
Tim Farron’s paean of praise for Tony Blair yesterday marks the disgraceful end of the political embodiment of a great tradition of thought. In truth there is no ideological reason why the Blairites should not join today’s Lib Dems after their imminent humiliation in the leadership election. What they do next will be entirely down to their calculation of career advantage. There is no ideological reason both Lib Dems and Blairities should not fold into the Tories. However that would destroy the chances of giving the electorate the mere illusion of free choice, when they have still not given up the idea of removing Corbyn and destroying the chance of actual meaningful choice.
Because the Lib Dems, Blairites and Tories all subscribe to a single ideology of neo-liberalism at home and neo-conservatism abroad. Under Kinnock then Blair, the opposing ideology of organised labour was expunged from the Labour Party, and even such obviously popular and necessary objectives as re-nationalising the railways were foresworn. Under Clegg, the Lib Dems abandoned their own, even older, radical tradition and signed up to the twin gods of finance sector led economies and neo-imperialism.
My own political thought springs entirely from the Liberal tradition. I am a Radical, not a socialist. If asked to name the single book which had most influenced my political beliefs, would unhesitatingly name Imperialism by J A Hobson – a great and truly ground-breaking work, now almost completely neglected. But beyond that my influences include Paine, Hazlitt, John Stuart Mill, Keynes, Beveridge and Grimond. I am not a utopian but a much better society is possible. In the 1970s we enjoyed state ownership of utilities and natural monopolies, free university tuition and student maintenance, and a more humane benefits system and powerful trade unions. Those things would be a good start towards ending the runaway inequality which replaced them.
The intrinsic link between neo-liberalism at home and neo-conservatism abroad was demonstrated by Thatcher. In her first term as Prime Minister she was massively unpopular and well behind Michael Foot’s Labour Party in the opinion polls. What turned it round and saved the neo-liberal project was not an economic upturn – unemployment remained over 3 million – but the colossal wave of jingoism unleashed by the Falklands War. It is precisely the phenomenon analysed by J A Hobson in Imperialism, the use of wars abroad to gain cheap popularity at home while boosting the sectional financial interests of the arms manufacturers, and political, military and security classes.
As I am next week at the Sam Adams award presentation to John Kiriakou, I commend to you this speech at a previous presentation by Col. Larry Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, which addressed this exact subject. It is well worth hearing.
Now Tim Farron has appealed to the Blairites to join (and the Guardian has followed it up with a second article today) I do hope that some of the genuinely radical loyalists who remain in the party realise they either have to make one last organised and determined fight to regain control, or give up. After thirty years of membership, I left the Lib Dems over two things – the declaration they were unequivocally a “Unionist party”, and their failure to stop – or even attempt to stop – Tory continuation of New Labour’s privatisation and “marketization” within the NHS. I saw genuine liberals like Charie Kennedy sidelined, ignored and sometimes ridiculed.
I am as nostalgic as the next man, but now it has completely abandoned any pretence at ideological connection to its origins, I can see no possible purpose in the continued existence of the Liberal Democrats.
After a 16,000 person petition to the State Department and letter writing and lobbying including by Jeremy Corbyn, Roger Waters and Daniel Ellsberg, I have been granted a 10 year US visa. Following my initial refusal of ESTA clearance and the offer then withdrawal of help from the US Embassy in London, it is only fair to say that the staff of the US Consulate in Belfast could not have been more pleasant and helpful, and my “interview” lasted thirty seconds. It is however a disgrace and an insult that the US issues visas in Belfast but not Edinburgh.
I will be going to Washington in a week to have the great honour to chair the presentation of the Sam Adams Award to John Kiriakou – the CIA agent who blew the whistle on waterboarding, and was jailed for it as part of the disgraceful Obama/Clinton War on Whistleblowers.
I shall also be speaking at the World Beyond War conference at American University, on the subject of peaceful conflict resolution. There are many really interesting speakers I am very much looking forward to hearing. I am sorry to say that the conference is completely sold out so it is now too late to register. But much of it will be livestreamed by the Real News.
London Calling, Alan Knight’s superb documentary on BBC bias during the Independence Referendum, had its first showing to a group in Lanark last week. It was very warmly received and sparked a great deal of discussion.
The plan now is for the documentary to be viewed by groups as a communal experience and basis for meetings and discussion. It really is both interesting and, at times, shocking even to me. Despite having been involved in making it, I was roused to real anger the first time I saw it all through. Local Yes groups can organise meetings to show the film, and if they want I am happy to come along as an accompanying speaker. Alternatively Paul Kavanagh I understand to be willing to do the same. Or you can just have the film and discuss yourselves.
Decent audio-visual systems for showing to a small audience are not as difficult to get hold of at many meeting venues as they used to be, but if any groups are struggling we will find a way to provide equipment as well as the film. Personally I have no problem with preaching to the converted – inspiring the troops and arming them with arguments is important and worthwhile. I am prepared to speak on Independence to pretty well anyone who invites me! I have some very concrete ideas on how to counter BBC bias come Indyref2.
The documentary will be released eventually free on the internet, but the producers are keen to use it first as a part of the popular involvement in debate that was such a feature of the Independence referendum.
Tens of thousands of people follow this blog, direct and through facebook and twitter. I believe they mostly do so because of the posts I write which present facts the mainstream media elides, or a commentary designed to open up radical ideas for discussion. I am always very grateful that so many people are prepared to consider alternative ways of considering news and politics.
But it is also just an intensely personal blog, where sometimes I work through my own thoughts and experiences in life from a variety of motives, and in the hope that they may strike a chord with some people. Recent events have caused me to think back over my own childhood, and frankly I do not expect this next to be of much interest at all to the large majority of habitual readers. I am recording this because I want the knowledge to survive me, from a feeling that folk tradition is important.
I was looking up the postcode for Beeton Regis church to tell somebody how to get there, and in doing so came across the wikipedia entry for Beeston Regis. It includes this passage:
The strange story of Farmer Reynolds’ stone
Within the churchyard is a large stone being used to cover a grave. It is approximately 4 feet (1.2 m) long x 2 feet (0.61 m) x 18 inches (460 mm) high, being a rectangular block of granite, with circular depressions on the uppermost surface. On each side is inscribed the names of the grave’s occupants. This is originally one of a pair which stood at either side of a pathway in the yard of the farmhouse, in the grounds of the ruined Beeston Priory. The path itself led to what is now known as the Abbot’s Freshwater Spring Pond.
A local tale says that about 1938–41, when both boulders were in place, a farmer named James Reynolds often drove his horse and cart along this pathway. Several times, a hooded grey ghost would hide behind two boulders and would leap out from behind one of the stones at sunset, and try to grab the horse’s reins before vanishing. This, although terrifying the animals, seems not to have perturbed the man unduly. However, he ordered that the stone in question be laid upon his grave after his death, in an attempt at ‘laying’ the apparition. James Reynolds died in 1941 and, in accordance with his wishes, the boulder now lies atop his grave, his wife Ann Elizabeth also being interred there in 1967. There is no record as to whether or not the ‘exorcism’ was successful, and indeed, a local woman who knew the Reynolds could not confirm the story. The other stone of the pair can now be seen lying against the north wall of the churchyard.
In fact these stones were not originally in any of the places stated. The priory farm had a massive old tithe barn, right on the main Cromer road. The ancient road had become depressed through use below its hedgerows, and there was a grass verge bordering the barn, about a foot high and a couple of feet wide to the road. There in the grass and part embedded in the verge were these two large black granite boulders.
In the early 1960s we used to walk past them twice every day as we walked the mile to and from Sheringham Primary School. Legend was that they were haunted, and that after dark they would roll across to the other side of the road. This was associated with ghosts in some way that was not entirely clear, but linked to the monks of the priory. I therefore recognise the lines of the Wikipedia story. We were always scared walking past them at night and used to run past the spot.
At some point the stones were removed from the highway onto the farm itself – I believe about the time the tithe barn was demolished. At first the façade wall and great wooden doors of the tithe barn were left standing as it was contiguous with the farm wall. By the time the stones were removed from the highway I was either an adult or had an adult understanding, and was angry that these stones – which were an important part of community folklore – had been removed from the highway into the farm, as I was convinced they had been part of the highway and not on land belonging to the farm.
You have to know Norfolk to understand why these boulders had this mystic reputation. There are no boulders in Norfolk. The houses and churches are built out of flint beach pebbles. There is no source of granite for hundreds of miles. A primary school teacher whose name I remember as Donhau explained to 10 year old me that they are glacial erratics, left here by the receding last ice age, and it is undoubtedly true that the North Norfolk ridge is its terminal moraine. He also said that the apparently man made depressions in them were erosion by the ice. All of which makes sense, and it would make even more so if there were anything else remotely like them scattered around. But I see no contradiction between them both being glacial erratics and being used by the local Iceni for the sort of rituals Celts did with stones with depressions elsewhere. If they held the aura they did for the entire local community in 1960, how much more did they 2000 years earlier?
The legend of Black Shuck as recounted on the Wikipedia page is correct, although it misses out the universal belief that if you saw it you would die shortly after. But it misses the legend connected to Orban Beck. This was reputed to be bottomless, and the legend was that at night you could see a horse and cart being driven into it by a dead man. This again I am inclined to suspect was a folk memory of a Celtic chariot burial or ritual.
What I am struggling to explain to you was how, in what was then a very small and tight knit rural community, these legends were part of the everyday reality we lived in. I have been trying and failing to recall how I first learned them, but I think they were passed from child to child rather than taught us by adults, though they certainly were subsequently confirmed to us by adults. Of course they did not believe in them. But nor would they lightly scoff at them.
I am happy I recorded all that – I am still unsure of my own point, but I find the idea that this remembrance is now indelibly out there on the internet strangely reassuring.
Nine months after a massive propaganda campaign based on outright lies, the BBC quietly sneaked out an admission on its website tucked away in “corrections and complaints”. As the BBC went all out to galvanise support for bombing Syria, the meme was pumped out relentlessly that opponents of bombing Syria were evil and violent misogynist thugs, bent on the physical intimidation of MPs. Leading the claims was Stella Creasy MP.
9 months after the propaganda had its effect – run on every news bulletin of every single BBC platform – the BBC published this correction, carried on zero news bulletins of any BBC platform.
Two listeners complained that the programme had inaccurately reported that a peaceful vigil in Walthamstow, in protest against the decision to bomb targets in Syria, had targeted the home of the local MP, Stella Creasy, and had been part of a pattern of intimidation towards Labour MPs who had supported the decision. The claim that the demonstration had targeted Ms Creasy’s home, and the implication that it was intimidatory in nature, originated from a single Facebook posting which later proved to be misleading (the demonstration’s destination was Ms Creasy’s constituency office, which was unoccupied at the time, not her home, and it was peaceful).
The BBC response goes on further and get increasingly mealy-mouthed, the essence of the excuses being “the other media were all doing it and we just joined in.” They also say they did eventually report – across a much more limited spread of news platforms – a more accurate version of events. But they then go on to admit that, even after this, Nick Robinson went on to repeat all the original lies in an aggressive high profile headline news interview with John McDonnell.
Former President of Oxford University Conservatives, Nick Robinson has form as a liar. The new documentary London Calling, forensically examining the appalling BBC bias during the Scottish referendum campaign, calls Robinson out as a liar in claiming on BBC News that Alex Salmond had failed to answer Robinson’s question, where the documentary has the footage of Salmond answering Robinson in great detail. Robinson’s replacement, Laura Kuenssberg, has of course continued the theme of tendentious reporting of fabricated violent intimidation by the left wing.
That the BBC took 18 months to admit to its lies is astonishing, because the information was immediately available, and indeed reported by me at the time. This article includes footage of the peace vigil outside Ms Creasy’s office which led to the BBC story – a vigil of some very nice people led, I kid you not, by the local vicar. In a delightfully circular argument, Ms Creasy complained that my article pointing out that her allegations of intimidation were false, itself was “offensive.”
UPDATE It has been pointed out to me that Stella Creasy did tell the Guardian the report was false that the peaceful demonstration had gone past her house. I apologise (infinitely faster than the BBC) for missing out that info, which I had not come across.
As for the BBC, remember whatever lies they are putting out today are likely to be very quietly disowned about next July.
Speaking to a meeting organised by Edinburgh West SNP last week, people were surprised when I told them my grandparents lived for many decades in West Pilton Gardens. They were surprised because I look and sound like an English ex-public schoolboy. I appear like this because I attended an English Grammar School, the entire purpose of which was to turn out ersatz public schoolboys. So am I walking proof of Theresa May’s thesis of grammar schools being the answer to social mobility for bright people from poor backgrounds? No.
The wrench has stayed with me for 46 years of my little group of primary school friends being split up between those who were sent off to Paston Grammar School and those who went to the local secondary modern. With the best will in the world, the separation became insuperable very quickly. I am back in Sheringham now for my mother’s funeral. It is very plain that an exam at 11, which you could pass or fail by one mark, changed people’s lives forever. Simply put, the majority of people still around are those who failed the 11 plus, as a pass led on to university and much wider life opportunities. Anyone who tells you that secondary moderns do not carry a stigma is lying – and you cannot create grammar schools without creating secondary moderns, whatever you call them.
Socially it was still worse as two of us four siblings passed the 11 plus and two failed. There is no doubt at all that this exam result at 11 – which had nothing to do with any difference in intelligence or industry in the family – irrevocably affected our careers and even, to some extent, the nature of our family relationships, though we are still very close. What is more it is not a coincidence that the two who passed were the eldest two – and we both had started our primary education when the family was very well off. By the time the younger two started we had fallen on hard times in a big way, and had to move. There are numerous statistics to prove that selection favours the wealthier. I know this.
The grammar school itself was absolutely modelled on the lines of a public (which is Orwellian for private) school and I believe had been one. It had this very strange militaristic ethos, and the teachers were all men who had been profoundly affected by fighting the second world war. There was a Cadet Force where you had to dress in real military uniform once a week and fire guns and march up and down a lot, and it was plain the aim was to turn you from a rustic youth into a member of the officer class. Latin was compulsory, discipline was extreme, and teachers thought it amusing to throw blackboard rubbers – with heavy wooden backs – at children’s heads.
It was so successful in turning out ersatz privately educated pupils that I have been mistaken for one more or less since. And there is no doubt at all that this helped me get in to the fast stream of the FCO – in an intake in which I was one of only two state school educated entrants in the fast stream. There were two graduate entry streams – administrative (fast stream) and executive (slow stream). In 1984 there were just two state school entrants in the fast stream, and no private school entrants in the slow stream.
It is this plucking of hearty young yeomen and turning them into officers for which Theresa May nostalgically yearns. But I absolutely hated the school. I hated the discipline, I hated the militarism, I hated the narrow thought. I hated it so much I performed terribly – I got a B and two E’s at A Level and scraped into university on clearing. Yet once in University with much more personal freedom, I flourished and never in my entire University career came less than top in any exam I took, culminating in a first class degree. The grammar school system had almost destroyed my potential because of my reaction against its class divisiveness.
Once in the FCO, I could perhaps pass in manners, knowledge and speech patterns as one of my fellow high fliers, but thankfully I lacked their class solidarity and social codes. That is why I could be a maverick and a whistleblower, and not go along with torture and extraordinary rendition, with which the Flashmans who dominate the FCO had no problem.
Theresa May was absolutely right that there already is selection in education, and that it is selection by wealth. But those buying a private education are not actually buying a better education – they are buying admission to a social network of wealth and privilege, bonded by common contacts and attitudes. The answer is not to sneak a few people into these networks, but to dismantle the social structures that have beset the UK for generations.
Bringing back grammar schools will not increase social mobility. Abolishing private schools will increase social mobility. The State can and should insist that every child has a state education, secular and of the highest quality. Attendance at secular state school during normal terms and school hours should be compulsory for all children in Britain.
Theresa May’s disgraceful quoting with approval at Prime Minister’s Questions an anti-Corbyn twitter user has been grossly under-reported – and that under-reporting is itself part of what makes this of enormous signficance. But first just consider this sample of the account from which the UK’s Prime Minister quoted:
Collins right wing laddism crosses the line into the grossly offensive and unacceptable. It is a puerile display of sexist, racist and anti-disabled hatred.
May’s folly in quoting Collins is extremely important for two reasons.
Firstly, if either Nicola Sturgeon or Jeremy Corbyn had done this they would be under simply colossal pressure from the mainstream media. Tarring by association has been the backbone of the mainstream media campaigns against both Corbyn and the SNP, and pages after page and headline after headline have been concocted around the slightest association of Corbyn, Sturgeon or Salmond with people a great deal less vile than Collins, over just single intemperate social media entries.
Will anybody attempt to deny it is true that if Corbyn or Sturgeon quoted a twitter account as offensive as this one it would be massive front page headlines?
Secondly, it is important because May’s tactic at Prime Minister’s Questions is to ignore the question asked, but reply with a pre-arranged jibe about Jeremy Corbyn. That is precisely what happened here. The “joke” quoting Lewis Collins by name was written by one of May’s political advisers – paid by the taxpayer – and then read out by her. May claimed that “Lewis’s” comment had been selected from replies to a Corbyn social media tweet canvassing public opinion. It seems to me massively improbable that this is true. Tory advisers are not sifting through tens of thousands of public social media replies to Jeremy Corbyn, and then happening to hit on this Tory commenter.
The truth is rather that Collins’ gross Tory laddism appeals to Tory professionals, and that May’s adviser who wrote the question is almost certainly a follower or fan of Lewis Collins’ output. And that seems to me to tell us something very significant indeed about this Tory government.
May needs not only to apologise profoundly for having quoted Collins, she needs to identify who wrote this answer for her. And sack them.
It is now important that Prime Minister Mirzieyev – who appears to be in control in Uzbekistan at the moment – produces Gulnara Karimova and shows that she is alive and healthy. The whereabouts of her daughter Iman are also obscure.
Twelve years ago President Karimov jailed his own nephew, Jamshid Karimov, for the “crime” of writing an article in a state publication which suggested modest improvements to his uncle’s economic policies. Like other prominent dissidents, young Karimov ended up chained to a bed in a psychiatric ward being pumped mind altering drugs to re-educate him.
Nevertheless, when President Karimov’s daughter Gulnara was confined to house arrest two years ago, I was inclined to view it more as protective detention than real incarceration. Gulnara was wanted on fraud and corruption charges in Sweden, Switzerland, France and the USA. The US government has demanded she forfeit 550 million dollars. Her “detention” in Uzbekistan prevented her being subject to an embarrassing trial in a foreign state. Besides her ability to tweet and send sorrowful photos from her house arrest seemed to argue against real detention. But 18 months of complete disappearance have caused me to worry. Another interpretation, to which I now tend, was that in his declining years Karimov was not all powerful and became unable to protect Gulnara from Mirzieyev and security service chief Inoyatov. Though it still remains possible that he incarcerated his own daughter to an uncertain fate – after all his funeral just took place with not even the western obituaries mentioning the existence of his eldest child, a discarded son from his first marriage.
There is no doubt that Karimov did think of Gulnara as a potential successor – or at least in that unenlightened country, in conjunction with a suitable husband. Mansur Maqsudi was a surprisingly good choice, but he proved unwilling to put up with Gulnara’s blatant infidelities and they divorced. The private lifestyle of the Karimovs got rare public exposure when the New Jersey divorce settlement awarded Gulnara, for example, her US $4.5 million worth of personal jewellery.
There was no sign of Gulnara at her father’s funeral. It is rumoured, and not impossible, she has been moved to Israel under an assumed name. On the other hand she could be dead. While I believe her to be involved in numerous crimes including corruption, sex-trafficking and conspiracy to murder, I should like to see her tried rather than murdered, and the Uzbek regime should now be asked to produce her – not least to help numerous investigations worldwide into mafia operations.
I have long expected Mirzieyev to take over as President, but I am happy to say I do not believe the corrupt system in Uzbekistan will last much longer. Uzbekistan has become a remittance economy. The highest single source of revenue was remittances from Uzbeks working abroad, mostly in Russia and Kazakhstan. The collapse in the oil price and the not coincidental crackdowns on illegal migrant workers have slashed remittance revenue from $5.2 billion to under $2 billion. Exports of natural gas, mostly to China, were Uzbekistan’s second biggest revenue source and the price has fallen drastically. So once again the state is turning the screws on forced labour for the cotton industry.
Decades of relentless propaganda had bought Karimov an artificial but real popularity. His successor has to start a personality cult from scratch against sharp economic decline. I am very hopeful the system will collapse within two years.
I have been refused entry clearance to the USA to chair the presentation of the Sam Adams Award to CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou and to speak at the World Beyond War conference in Washington DC. Like millions of British passport holders I have frequently visited the USA before and never been refused entry clearance under the visa waiver programme.
I shall apply for a visa via the State Department as suggested but I must be on a list to be refused under the ESTA system, and in any event it is most unlikely to be completed before the conference.
It is worth noting that despite the highly critical things I have published about Putin, about civil liberties in Russia and the annexation of the Crimea, I have never been refused entry to Russia. The only two countries that have ever refused me entry clearance are Uzbekistan and the USA. What does that tell you?
I have no criminal record, no connection to drugs or terrorism, have a return ticket, hotel booking and sufficient funds. I have a passport from a visa waiver country and have visited the USA frquently before during 38 years and never overstayed. The only possible grounds for this refusal of entry clearance are things I have written against neo-liberalism, attacks on civil liberties and neo-conservative foreign policy. People at the conference in Washington will now not be able to hear me speak.
Plainly ideas can be dangerous. So much for the land of the free!
Vaz was very close to Janner and in parliament described powerful paedophile evidence against Janner as a “wicked and cowardly attack.” He lost a ministerial position for corrupt handling of billionaire passport applications.
But what he did in private with consenting adults is his own business, and there is a bad tendency to conflate homosexuality with paedophilia in much social media comment today. Nor is he a hypocrite – had he been an opponent of prostitution the story would have public interest in exposing hypocrisy. But as he supports liberalisation he is not a hypocrite, and as entitled to express his view on prostitution in parliament as he is his view on supermarkets, which he also uses.
(It has been pointed out to me that he is a hypocrite in that he has claimed in parliament not to know what poppers are. I accept this correction).
I dislike Vaz very much, have for years, for his politics and practice in public office. But not for his private life which there was no real public interest in revealing today. It is yet more prurient tittle tattle from our pathetic media. The most disgraceful thing in today’s story is that he keeps his whisky in the fridge, which is well nigh unforgiveable.
Replacing Alex with Nicola set back the cause of Scottish Independence. It was a great success for the SNP as an institution, but it is now abundantly clear that the institutional health of the SNP and the cause of Independence are two quite separate things.
I have posted at intervals this last two years that I have heard nobody from the SNP argue the case for Independence since Indyref1. I still have heard nobody from the SNP argue the positive case for Independence since Indyref1. To the extent that when the tendentious GERS report came out and was splashed all over mainstream media, nobody from the SNP explained why the finances of an independent Scotland would work. (To give just one example Scottish taxes contribute £2.2 billion to housing benefit of which only a quarter of Scotland’s contribution is spent in Scotland).
Unionist propaganda is still streamed out of the mainstream media every day. If nobody counters with the case for Independence, support for Independence will never increase. The latest YouGov poll putting us back at 46% is probably accurate. The idea that you wait until support has – by magic – increased to a regular 60% before you start campaigning is self-evidently delusional.
We started the referendum campaign at – at best – 32%. Through street campaigning, new media and the people’s energy, against the concerted might of the mainstream media, we got it up to 45%. We can have that effect again. Starting at 46%, I have no doubt that we can get it well over 50% in Indyref2.
It was the Yes movement on the ground that did this, through street campaigning, town hall meetings and social media. And never forget this – while the SNP were a valued part in that, were our wedge into mainstream media, and had Alex in the debates, the official SNP were a minority in the ground war Yes campaign. It was only after the referendum that the Yes campaigners piled in to the SNP. That brought in some of the SNP’s best new MP’s, like Tommy Sheppard, Mhairi Black and Chris Law. But have you seen those great campaigners arguing for Independence in the last twelve months? No. Party discipline has silenced them.
There have been a number of ruses by Nicola to avert the desire of the membership to campaign for Independence.
*We had the promised “Summer of Independence” campaign which was simply forgotten.
*We had the avoidance of an Indyref2 promise in the manifesto through the “material change” clause
*When “material change” undeniably happened through the EUref, we had the avoidance of Indyref2 through the “panel of experts” – a body of mostly ultra-establishment people, almost all neo-liberal, including the secretary of the Bilderberg Group, who will produce an anti-Independence report.
We now have the latest ruse to put off campaigning for Independence and it is transparently thin. The idea is to keep the activists happy through till the New Year by holding – then analysing the results of – a “national conversation”. This is simply an opinion poll. Here are 80% of the questions (all I could grab in a screenshot).
Note the “national conversation” is not one in which the party will argue for Independence. It is just a poll of what people think with no attempt to convince them, as plain in the “activists’ guide” which accompanies it to members. The SNP could simply have paid their pollsters to ask the same questions, with an unusually large sample size of say 10,000, and got a more accurate result than they will from this survey. (All party surveys/canvass returns, always, overestimate their support as those surveyed generally wish to be polite to the person talking to them).
The SNP as an institution is secure in its powerbase in its regional council at Holyrood – let’s not pretend we have a national Parliament yet when we have no say in going to illegal war – and has a lot of well paid people with their feet firmly under the table in Westminster and Brussels. From next year it will dominate Scotland’s councils. The SNP is doing very nicely thank you. As an institution, it has more to risk than to gain from another shot at Independence. Nicola’s havering to put off another effort at Independence has now become ludicrous.
WHY WE NEED AN EARLY INDYREF2
* Scotland’s EU membership will be much simpler if Independence is achieved before Brexit and Scots just remain EU citizens. Leaving and rejoining will be technically and politically far more complicated. I may not be Establishment enough for Nicola’s “expert panel”, but as First Secretary at the British Embassy in Warsaw for four years my main task was Poland’s EU accession and I do know what I am talking about. That gives us just 2 years or less for both Indyref2 and negotiation with rUK. We have to fire the starting gun if we are serious
* If the SNP continue to abjure putting the case for Independence, opinion polls will never move in our favour and may slip further
* Nothing is certain in politics. At the moment there is probably a Holyrood majority for Indyref2, but in 2020 there may well not be.
People will now reply that Nicola is a brilliantly successful politician while I am just a spurned old idealist tapping alone on my laptop. But that is why you should listen to me.
Hillary Clinton and John Kerry courted Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s brutal dictator, every bit as assiduously as George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.
The west is interested in gas, gold and uranium, but is still more entranced by the allure of the false gold of Uzbekistan’s “successful” anti-terrorism strategy. Karimov was courted as the strong man who held Central Asia against Islamic fundamentalism. His methods – imprisoning, torturing and killing anybody who appeared religious – were viewed as admirable. That all reputable sources acknowledge that 10,000 people are imprisoned solely for their political and religious beliefs did not matter. That young men can be imprisoned or “disappeared” solely for growing a beard, or for praying five times a day, was viewed as “effective”.
The truth is that western governments wished they could do the same thing. The very first words Karimov ever spoke to me were to congratulate me on the fact that Blair had just instituted detention without charge for terrorism suspects – a prime example of the effect abroad of western abandonment of civil liberties.
But of course banning legitimate religious expression does not halt extremism, it creates extremism through frustration. That is why there are so many Uzbeks fighting with ISIS or the IMU in Afghanistan, why it was Uzbeks who blew up Istanbul airport. Unreasonable repression creates terrorism, which is just the effect of the Prevent programme in the UK – or banning the burkini in France.
Western politicians’ idealisation of Karimov shows the attraction to politicians of the idea of absolute power, and the simplicity of their approach to the complex issues being faced across the globe. The destruction of liberty is not the answer.