Monthly Archives: January 2018


Thatcher – and Many Still Active Tories – Did Support Apartheid

I am delighted that Sir Patrick Wright, former head of the Diplomatic Service, has confirmed that Margaret Thatcher did support apartheid. There has been a polite media airbrushing of this aspect of Tory history. For the first two years of my life in the FCO I spent every single day trying to undermine Thatcher’s support for apartheid. As I published last year of the FCO’s new official history:

Salmon acquits Thatcher of actually supporting apartheid. I would dispute this. I was only a Second Secretary but the South Africa (Political) desk was just me, and I knew exactly what was happening. My own view was that Thatcher was a strong believer in apartheid, but reluctantly accepted that in the face of international opposition, especially from the United States, it would have to be dismantled. Her hatred of Mandela and of the ANC was absolute. It is an undeniable statement that Thatcher hated the ANC and was highly sympathetic towards the apartheid regime.

By contrast the Tory FCO junior ministers at the time, including Malcolm Rifkind and Lynda Chalker, shared the absolute disgust at apartheid that is felt by any decent human being. The Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe was somewhere between these two positions, but very anxious indeed not to anger Thatcher. South Africa was an issue in which Thatcher took an extreme interest and was very, very committed. Not in a good way.

British diplomats were almost banned from speaking to any black people at all. Thatcher favoured the Bantustan or Homelands policy, so an exception was made for Gatsha Buthelezi, the Zulu chief who was regarded as anti-ANC and prepared to oppose sanctions and be satisfied with a separate Zulu “homeland” for his Inkatha movement and essentially accept apartheid exclusions. That may be unfair on him, but it was the policy of the UK government to steer in that direction. Our Consulate General in Johannesburg was permitted to talk to black trades unionists, and that was our main angle in to the black resistance movement. These contacts were made by the excellent Tony Gooch and Stuart Gregson, and before them the equally excellent Terry Curran, then my immediate boss in London. Neither Terry nor Tony were “fast-track” public school diplomats. None of those talked to black South Africans at all.

I flew off the handle when I discovered, when dealing with the accounts of the Embassy in Pretoria/Capetown (a migratory capital), that the British Ambassador, Patrick Moberly, had entertained very few black people indeed in the Residence and the vast majority of Embassy social functions were whites only. In 1985 most of the black people who got in to the British Ambassador’s residence in South Africa were the servants. I recall distinctly the astonishment in the FCO that the quiet and mild-mannered young man at the side desk had suddenly lost his rag and got excited about something that seemed to them axiomatic. Black people as guests in the Residence in Pretoria? No, Craig, I was told, we speak with black people in Johannesburg. Different culture there.

Wright’s account collaborates mine both in general and in detail, eg on being banned from any contact with the ANC. Eventually we managed, as a tentative first step and unknown to No.10, to arrange a meeting, ostensibly by accident in the margins of a conference, between myself and a brilliant young man from the newly launched trades union federation named Cyril Ramaphosa. I wonder what happened to him? 🙂 I was the recipient of his justified ire at Tory government policy.

Tories who actively supported apartheid are still very influential in the Tory party, notably the St Andrews Federation of Conservative Students originating group, including Michael Forsyth. Even David Cameron’s contacts with South Africa in this period are a very murky part of his cv. It is important the Tories are not allowed off the hook on this. The moral taint should rightly be with them for generations.

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Zionist Censorship on Facebook

Facebook has refused to carry an advert for my book of early collected works, Zionism is Bullshit. At first it refused the ad on grounds of “profanity”. I then removed the title of the book from the advert (though it might still be dimly discerned on a small photo if you squint) and resubmitted, but approval was denied again. I then appealed, and this time the ad was refused because it “denigrates the religious views of others”. The text was standard book blurb and in no way did that.

If I were to claim that I owned your property because God gave it to my ancestors thousands of years ago, I would expect you to denigrate my view. To refuse criticism of zionism is ridiculous.
Facebook has just announced that it is employing 10,000 more people to be directly engaged in censorship – ostensibly to weed out “fake news”, which evidently includes disagreement with Israel. The main role will of course be the suppression of any alternative view to the neo-liberal propaganda spewed out by the corporate and state media.

Twitter is just as bad. Like 100,000 others I have received an email from Twitter making the ludicrous accusation I am tweeting Russian propaganda. I was “ghost banned” for a while by Twitter last year. There is a huge danger here. This website gets over 75% of its traffic through Twitter and Facebook. The wonderful widening of political debate through citizen access to the new media of the internet is going to be under real threat as Twitter and Facebook are turned into neo-liberal gatekeepers. This website and those like it can simply be starved of traffic.

Twitter and Facebook are of course now vast global corporations, and are stating to behave absolutely to type – or arguably worse. I was happily surprised when Amazon accepted Zionism is Bullshit for publication on their “print on demand” service. Plainly Facebook is more restrictive here than Amazon.

The development of non-corporate social media platforms with the saturation coverage of Facebook or Twitter is a daunting task. Some kind of consumer revolt against censorship by existing customers may be a more hopeful route. But action is essential if the social media gains of the last few years are to be maintained.

I have also brought out on Amazon a new edition of Murder in Samarkand as Random House discontinued it after buying up Mainstream. I give the link picture here because for some reason it does not appear in a search for Murder in Samarkand on Amazon.

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“Locked In” in Jaipur

Nadira is currently in Jaipur as her short film Locked In is in the official selection at the Rajasthan International Film Festival. It is showing on Tuesday at 11.44am in the Inox Crystal Palm Cinema, 22 Godam Circle, Jaipur. It is exactly a year since my appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival to talk about Sikunder Burnes and a number of people from Jaipur have followed this blog since, plus people will be out for this year’s Literary Festival which also starts tomorrow night. So I hope some people will get along and say hi to Nadira.

The trailer for Locked In has now been seen by 27,000 people, which is a remarkable achievement.

The subject of the mistreatment of asylum seekers locked into immigration detention centres, has come to increasing prominence. There was an excellent BBC documentary, and David Hare is taking up the subject of detention centre abuse as a key element in his latest super glossy BBC thriller series, Collateral.

Theresa May, having whilst Home Secretary refused entry to Yarls Wood Detention Centre to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, has now as Prime Minister denied entry to Diane Abbott, the shadow Home Secretary. The treatment of marginalised groups in modern Britain has become unconscionable, be they asylum seekers disabled benefit claimants or others. The success of the elite in promoting victim blaming through the corporate and state media, to blame such disadvantaged groups for the blighted economic prospects of ordinary workers, will be a subject of fascination to future historians. But to live through it is sickening. I am proud of Nadira for her choice of subject and approach to her first film.

I am not involved in the discussions over how the film will be released – there are several offers from sales agents – but I hope it will be released for general viewing in the near future.

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The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!

The complete and unmitigated irrationality of the current epidemic of Russophobia does nothing to reduce its incredible virulence, as it continues to infect the entire political and media class. There is a zero chance that Russia will launch an attack on the UK, yet the entire corporate and state media is leading today with the “need” to spend billions against that most unlikely threat, as propounded by General Nutty McNutter.

Researching Sikunder Burnes gave me crucial insights into the recurrence of Russophobia as a key element of British politics for two centuries, despite the fact historians can demonstrate that at no stage in that period has Russia ever planned an attack on the UK, or seriously considered it as an option. But the current Russophobia has new elements.

We are currently in some sort of crisis of capitalism, as the concentration of wealth continues apace and the general population of western countries increasingly feel insecure, exploited and alienated. It is still very hard for voices that reject the neo-liberal establishment view to get a media platform, but Russia does provide comparatively small platforms in the West – like Russia Today and Radio Sputnik – which allow greater democratic freedom than western media in the range of views they invite to be expressed. So the ultra-wealthy, their politician servants and media lackeys view Russia as some kind of threat to the dominance of neo-liberalism .

There are a number of ironies to this, not least the very real deficiencies in Russia’s domestic democracy and media plurality, and the fact Russia has an even worse oligarchic capitalism than the West and has a 1% completely integrated with their Western counterparts. But despite these ironies, the Western 1% perceive Russia as some sort of threat to their dominance. This leads in to the intellectually risible attempts to prove that Russia somehow “fixed” Trump’s election, for which no solid evidence can ever be adduced as it did not happen; but nevertheless vast resources continue to be spent in trying.

The second cause of the extreme Russophobia is Putin’s masterly pursuit of his foreign policy objectives. He has two major objectives.

Putin’s first major objective is to bring majority Russian speaking regions of the Former Soviet Union into Russia. He has had some success with this in Georgia and Ukraine, to the embarrassment of NATO. I do not in fact support Putin in achieving this goal by military means. I have no objection to the re-arrangement of boundaries, but it should be done by democratic choice, and non ethnic Russian regions within Russia, such as in Dagestan, Chechnya and Tatarstan, should be given the same opportunity of choice to change boundaries.

But while I do not support Putin’s means, there is no doubt he has pursued them with some success, and more importantly he is shrewd enough to know when not to pursue them by military means, eg in the Baltic States. To claim that Putin’s very limited objective, to bring small Russian outlying regions within Russia, constitutes a threat to the UK or USA, is ludicrous.

Putin’s second foreign policy objective is to prevent the further destabilisation of the Middle East and to stymie the spread of jihadst Wahhabism. In this he has also been very successful, especially as regards stopping the US and Saudi backed jihadists in Syria, and in bringing Iran back into the international community. Again it is ludicrous to claim that this foreign policy success constitutes or denotes a military threat to the USA or UK. In the Middle East, I regard Putin’s policies as both lawful and helpful.

You do not have to be uncritical of Putin to understand that the Russian threat is a bogey and the current wave of Russophobia is completely unjustified.

The New Cold War is being foisted upon us whether we want it or not. But at least it is giving us a few laughs. There is an excellent example of the 100% evidence free “Russians fixed the US election and are undermining democracy” meme by Nick Cohen in yesterday’s Observer. He claims a Maltese Professor Mifsud is a Russian spy because he founded a “diplomatic academy” in London which had no money for computers and no laptops, because Mifsud once met Putin and Boris Johnson, and because of a meeting with George Papadopalous, which if it involved Russians in any way at all, Cohen does not tell us.

I really do urge you to read the Cohen piece carefully and analyse whether there is any reasonable case for branding the man a Russian spy.

Cohen’s claim that Professor Mifsud is an academic charlatan may or may not be founded, but the accusation that he is a Russian spy is an appalling example of McCarthyist witch-hunting of which Cohen and his Editor should be deeply, deeply ashamed.

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PFI – A Cautionary Tale

Here is my personal experience of the great push for the public sector to use the Private Finance Initiative.

When I was Deputy High Commissioner in Accra, the British government was paying a very large sum to rent over 80 residential properties in a city where rents are very high for quality properties. However the British government owned a lot of land there, and it was an obvious saving to build our own residential compound.

We accordingly drew up plans and got quotes, which were submitted to the FCO with details of the very substantial savings from the medium term. The response was that we had to invite private sector bids for a PFI scheme. This amounted to no more than asking the companies who had already submitted construction bids to submit pre-financing and maintenance plans. Needless to say this increased costs very substantially.

But here is the kicker – in comparing the “build it ourselves” plan with the PFI plan, we were instructed to give an 8% cost advantage to the PFI scheme – the “public sector comparator” – to allow for the extra efficiency of the private sector. No matter we were comparing real costs to real costs, somehow magically an 8% saving would accrue from using the private sector, in a manner the Treasury refused to define. I simply shelved the whole scheme in disgust, but I understand this “efficiency saving” allowance was a standard feature of the PFI scam.

The vital thing to realise about PFI is that it was not the construction companies – such as Carillion – who stood to benefit most. It was the bankers and hedge funds who financed the schemes and stood to rake in decades of high and taxpayer guaranteed interest payments. The fundamental craziness of the entire scam is that in effect the public sector was still borrowing the money, but at significantly higher interest rates than if it had been financed the normal way through Treasury bonds.

As the scheme was at heart a massive diversion of taxpayers’ money to the bankers, it should come as no surprise that Gordon Brown was the driving force behind it. My personal experience of it, which I found disgusting, was during Brown’s tenure of the Treasury. Why Brown is still treated as some sort of guru by the media, when he has caused such immense and demonstrable harm, is an example of the desperation of the media to maintain the neo-liberal “consensus”.

There is no doubt that the people are stirring and increasingly unwilling to accept the gross and fast widening wealth gap in a society entirely skewed by its legislative organisation to the interests of the small number of the ultra wealthy. In the interests of self-preservation, the corporate and state media have been forced to allow the Overton window to drift very slightly left. Nationalisation and wealth taxation are no longer entirely taboo subjects, while Theresa May feels the need to make insincere promises to initiate token measures to restrain boardroom greed. But the blighted prospects of a generation, and the increasing financial struggles of the middle classes, have not yet produced a concomitant political reaction. I have never been so struck by the irrelevance of the witterings of the Westminster classes to the life experience of ordinary people.

It remains my view that Independence for Scotland – and for Catalonia – are part of the radical shake up of the political system required to make democracy meaningful again. The recent moves by the Scottish government on welfare protection, for example to ban the involvement of private companies in health assessments, gives me some comfort in that view. But the situation calls for a politics more radical than Corbyn or the SNP have yet dared to propose. Society now needs a fundamental redistribution of wealth. Parodoxically, the fact that so much wealth now consists in notional transactions rather than physical goods, makes this an easier task than when the classic philosophers first addressed it.

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Ecuador and Assange

It is for the government of Ecuador, not the UK, to determine who is an Ecuadorian citizen. It is for the government of Ecuador, not the UK, to determine who is an Ecuadorian diplomat.

It is not in the least unusual for Julian Assange to become an Ecuadorian citizen. Having been granted political asylum, and having lived for over five years under Ecuadorian jurisdiction, naturalisation is a perfectly normal step. There are a great many refugees in this country who are now naturalised UK citizens. Julian appears suitably proud of his new citizenship, and rightly so.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office appears to be putting out a story that it has refused to accredit Assange as an Ecuadorian diplomat. As the Guardian reports:
“Earlier this week the UK’s Foreign Office revealed that Ecuador had asked for Assange, who was born in Australia, to be accredited as a diplomat. The request was dismissed.”

I have no knowledge that the Ecuadorian government ever notified Assange as a member of diplomatic staff of its mission. But it has every right to appoint Assange, now an Ecuadorian citizen, as an Ecuadorian diplomat if it so chooses. Ecuador cannot tell the UK who may or may not be a British diplomat, and the converse applies.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – to which the UK and Ecuador are both party – is the governing international law and determines the obligations to respect diplomatic immunity. It is crystal clear (Article 4,1) that the need to obtain agreement in advance of the receiving state only applies to the Head of Mission – ie the Ecuadorian Ambassador. For other staff of the mission the sending state (in this case, Ecuador) “may freely appoint” the other members of the mission, (Article 7), subject to provisos in Articles 5,8,9 and 11. Plainly the only one of these which applies in the Assange case is Article 9. Julian Assange is persona non grata – unwelcome -to the UK government. That is a legitimate reply to notification, but comes following the appointment; it does not pre-empt the appointment.

Here is the key point. A member of staff below head of mission can already have entered the country before appointment, and their diplomatic immunity starts from the moment their appointment is notified, and NOT from the moment it is accepted. Article 39 (i) could not be plainer:

1.Every person entitled to privileges and immunities shall enjoy them from the moment he enters
the territory of the receiving State on proceeding to take up his post or, if already in its territory, from
the moment when his appointment is notified to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs or such other ministry
as may be agreed.

So to summarise.

There is no requirement for prior approval before arrival of staff below Ambassador, and it is just a notification regime (Article 10). If the FCO is telling the truth and Ecuador notified the UK of its appointment of Julian Assange as a member of diplomatic staff, the UK can only have refused by declaring Assange persona non grata. That does not remove his diplomatic immunity which started the moment he was notified. It continues until he has been given the chance to leave the country in “a reasonable time”. (Article 9.2, and 39.2).

The immunity of envoys has been universally regarded as essential to inter-state relations for thousands of years. The reasons why that immunity must start at notification are obvious if you think it through. The FCO bragging about refusing the alleged Ecuadorian request has been carried in virtually the entire neo-liberal media. Not one article, anywhere, has reflected anything approaching the applicable legal arguments. I am again left wondering whether mainstream media journalists are simply entirely incompetent, or deeply corrupt.

I suppose both.

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Return

I have spent only eight days in the UK in around the last five months. Driving from Heathrow to Edinburgh yesterday, we listened to BBC Radio 4 for over seven hours. In continued reports and bulletins on the Cabinet reshuffle throughout the day, the numerous people invited to comment on it were, without a single exception, Conservative Party politicians or avowedly conservative political journalists and commentators. Neither Labour nor SNP were asked for their thoughts.

Tonight I watched the BBC News at Ten. Again much on the Conservative Party. Not one mention of Labour at all, and the only mention of the SNP was an attack piece by unionist shill Sarah Smith on waiting times in the Scottish NHS over the holiday period. To top it all off was an astonishingly tendentious piece on today’s air attacks by Israel on Damascus in support of their increasingly desperate jihadist allies.

Flying in to the UK today and tuning in to the state broadcaster is like arriving in any one party state.

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