Open Letter to President Trump 63

I am honoured to be one of the 101 initial signatories of the below open letter to President Trump demanding the end of the persecution of Julian Assange and Wikileaks for its essential publishing and journalistic work. Other signatories include Noam Chomsky, Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg, Ken Loach, Mairead Maguire, Oliver Stone, Patti Smith, Slavoj Zizek and Yanis Varoufakis, as well as all the leading lights of the whistleblower community.

Dear President Trump,
We are journalists, activists and citizens from the United States and around the world who care about press freedom and are writing to you in response to the latest threat of prosecution against WikiLeaks for its journalistic work. We ask you to immediately close the Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks and drop any charges against Julian Assange and other Wikileaks staff members which the Department of Justice is planning.
This threat to WikiLeaks escalates a long-running war of attrition against the great virtue of the United States — free speech. The Obama Administration prosecuted more whistleblowers than all presidents combined and opened a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks that had no precedent. It now appears the US is preparing to take the next step — prosecuting publishers who provide the “currency” of free speech, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson. It is reported that charges, including conspiracy, theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act are being considered against members of WikiLeaks, and that charging WikiLeaks Editor, Julian Assange, is now a priority of the Department of Justice.
A threat to WikiLeaks’ work — which is publishing information protected under the First Amendment — is a threat to all free journalism. If the DOJ is able to convict a publisher for its journalistic work, all free journalism can be criminalised.
We call on you as President of the United States to close the Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks and drop any charges planned against any member of WikiLeaks. It was a free and robust press that provided you with a platform on which to run for president. Defending a truly free press requires freedom from fear and favour and the support of journalists and citizens everywhere; for the kind of threat now facing WikiLeaks — and all publishers and journalists — is a step into the darkness.

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Giving Up on Honesty

I enjoyed, as much as anybody, Emily Thornberry’s ambush of Michael Fallon over his past cultivation of Assad. It is notable that the media themselves have interviewed Fallon continually during this election – he has been put out as May’s deflector shield – and no member of the media has ever mentioned it to him. Contrast that with the media’s treatment of Labour and SNP politicians.

I remember back further into Fallon’s past. 32 years ago, when I was the young occupant of the South Africa (Political) desk in the FCO, Fallon was a positive enthusiast for apartheid. Together with fellow St Andrews extreme Tory ideologue Michael Forsyth, Fallon was among those stiffening Thatcher in opposing all international sanctions against the apartheid regime, and opposing all British government interventions in individual cases of human rights abuse. I recall him arguing that apartheid South Africa had the “rule of law” and we should not interfere in its internal affairs. I recall him calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist.

Yet I do not recall any journalist bringing up Fallon’s past as a supporter of apartheid when he continually refers to Jeremy Corbyn’s association with Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness as support for terrorism.

There are regulations in an election governing the broadcast media in giving equal time to political parties. But what they do within that time is not at all equal. On Marr, Fallon stated that a 1 billion dollar increased defence spending commitment would be met by “economic growth”. Marr let this go. Contrast this to the media ridiculing every single Labour spending proposal, routinely, as uncosted and “magic money”. It then became completely ludicrous when Fallon claimed a deficit of over 7 billion pounds in capital spending commitments would be met by “efficiency savings”. Marr should be congratulated on raising the issue in the first place, but there is no doubt that Fallon’s pathetic and risible retort would have been seized on and worried to death had it come from a Labour politician.

Just imagine Labour saying they were giving 7 billion dollars worth of equipment to the NHS to be met from “efficiency savings”. The media howl would be ear-piercing. Nick Ferrari would snap for hours and Andrew Neill would turn the sarcasm dial up to 11. But with Fallon, they just let the totally crazed claim slip. Obvious retorts like “if there are 7 billion pounds worth of efficiency savings in the defence budget, why haven’t you made them already?” were not deployed. Fallon went unchallenged.

Contrast this to Marr’s treatment of Nicola Sturgeon immediately afterwards. Her appearance on Marr this morning was a major part of the SNP leader’s allocated “fair time” by the BBC. Yet Marr chose to spend 90% of that allocated time on one single issue – school education tables – on which she is perceived to be weak. Sturgeon dealt with this very sensibly by saying that there is a problem with slipping basic numeracy and literacy, since the introduction of an ambitious new curriculum. This mistake had been acknowledged and was now being urgently addressed.

But Marr refused to move on. He asked question after question on this single point, and all his questions consisted of figures designed to prove that the problem existed, when Sturgeon had already said it existed.

What Marr was doing was simply adapting the favourite Tory attack on Sturgeon and refusing to discuss anything else, forcing Sturgeon to “admit” again and again that this problem existed, and not allowing her to talk about anything else in her allocated time. It was the starkest contrast to his willingness to let Fallon move on instantly from his ridiculous “efficiency savings” contention.

I could spend the next month blogging non-stop about instances of media bias, but I will just touch on one more because it is so startling. The Guardian has an “in-depth” account of the Tories winning a council seat in Ward 19 of Glasgow City Council. Incredibly, nowhere in the entire article do they mention that the election is under Single Transferrable Vote and the Tory got elected fourth in a four member constituency, and on the 10th transfer.

In fact I find it impossible to avoid the conclusion that the article has been deliberately written in order to create the false, indeed lying, impression that the Tories won this seat in a first past the post election. We have seen so much propaganda, across the entire media, of the “Tory surge in Scotland” that I suppose we are becoming used to it. But the fact remains that the 25% the Tories gained across Scotland at the local council election is the best they might achieve on 8 June, and is significantly below what Corbyn is regularly polling UK-wide. The media storm of “Tories take Scotland” propaganda, in the face of all fact, is unrelenting and deliberately designed to push and consolidate the Unionist vote.

Long term, it remains a happy fact that by pitching political choice in Scotland starkly between Toryism and Independence, there can only be one winner.

I have given up on expecting any honesty from the media. In future, I shall only blog on this subject when pleasantly surprised by an example of fairness or ethical behaviour in the media. I do not expect to do this often.

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That NHS Ransomware Attack

A few important points not featuring in the wall to wall media coverage

This is US government security service technology, developed by the NSA. Edward Snowden has confirmed this and nobody is denying it. You might think that would be a prominent part of the story, but strangely it isn’t.

The arms race between major powers to develop cyber warfare and cyber surveillance capacity is a massive threat to the security of the internet. It is the very governments who most like to claim they need to intervene to protect us, who are in fact creating the dangers they cite. This is NSA software; WikiLeaks “Vault 7” leak has revealed the similar massive effort at the CIA in developing destructive software.

That is not to say the NSA or US government is behind this worldwide attack. But it is to say that western governments are spending billions of pounds on developing malware, which they cannot themselves keep safe. This should be viewed in the same light as chemical weapons programmes. Urgent international action to outlaw weaponised malware development should be a priority for the international community, as the danger to increasingly IT dependent services is extreme. The United States is the biggest aggressor and the biggest danger.

Theresa May as Home Secretary was responsible for UK cyber defences for seven years. So the Tory efforts to blame everybody else today are misplaced. The buck stops with May.

Underfunded NHS Trusts have privatised IT management and outsourced the control and security of their computer systems to contractors, as part of the general rip-up of the NHS to provide private profit. These companies are more interested in maximising profits than safeguarding against contingent attacks. Very few NHS Trusts now employ their own NHS team of dedicated computer specialists maintaining and caring for their systems, including their defences.

This process has been accelerated under the Tories, but it must not be forgotten it was started by New Labour under Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. New Labour’s 2002 policy document “Developing 21st Century IT Support for the NHS” concluded that Option 2 was the way forward: “Selectively outsource major components of the NHS IT programme”. That was New Labour. The Tories have accelerated and extended it, and chronically underfunded the NHS. That is why so little money has gone into maintaining NHS IT systems, and what little has gone in has had little effect.

Corporate profits have been great though. Remember that extraordinary numbers of MPs have financial links to private healthcare firms. If the Tories win a landslide, doubtless the numbers of MPs personally profiting from NHS privatisation will increase still further.

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BBC Hits New Low 95

The promotion of independent thinking, and of scepticism about what “news” you are told, is the primary purpose of this blog. So I cannot complain when people extend that scepticism towards me, too.

A gentleman from Fife has written to tell me that he was not inclined to believe my statement that the BBC have agreed that, when Theresa May appears on the special edition of Question Time that will “replace” the leaders’ debate, the questions to May will be pre-approved by her staff and May will know the questions in advance. He therefore contacted the BBC for confirmation.

He has now received a reply from the BBC, that Question Time is bought by the BBC from an independent private production company, so the BBC are not responsible for the arrangements.

I am happy to report he believes me now.

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Crown Prosecution Service Colludes in Tory Election Fraud

In a ludicrous statement, the Crown Prosecution Service argues that Conservative Party agents and candidates did not dishonestly submit false returns – because the Conservative Party told them it was legal.

That really is what the decision says. I quote:

“However, it is clear agents were told by Conservative Party headquarters that the costs were part of the national campaign and it would not be possible to prove any agent acted knowingly or dishonestly. Therefore we have concluded it is not in the public interest to charge anyone referred to us with this offence.”

So the Conservative Party broke electoral law, that is not in question and they have been fined for it by the Electoral Commission. But no individual may be prosecuted because Conservative Party HQ told them to do it? Their defence was that they are collectively all crooks, and this was accepted by the “independent” Crown Prosecution Service?

On top of which, the Crown Prosecution Service also colludes with the Tory Party by repeating the lie the Tories have assiduously spread that the allegations only related to the “Battlebus”. Of course for generations every Party Leader has campaigned from a “Battlebus”, singular, and the public are familiar with it. The Tory meme then goes everyone does that, why is it illegal?

In fact this was about something much bigger. Not one bus, but scores of buses, bussing activists and campaign directors in to marginal seats where they were also in paid for accommodation. The CPS statement refers to no allegations at all except a “Battlebus”, singular. By repeating this Tory lie in presenting the issue, the Crown Prosecution Service prove beyond any doubt that they are directly in collusion with the Tory Party.

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Journalists as State Functionaries

There was a brief moment of truth on Sky News this morning, where there was a short discussion of disquiet among journalists that Theresa May will only take questions that have been pre-vetted and selected in advance by the Tory Party. The Sky reporter even gave the detail that the journalists are not allowed to hold the microphone, which is controlled by a Tory Party functionary so it can be switched off if the journalist strays from the script.

This has been the case right from the start, something I highlighted a few days ago.

But the overall treatment on Sky was that this was not really important, and was simply a matter of ensuring “fairness” in distributing questions between journalists.

This is a desperate situation. I do not know any genuine democracy in the world which would accept this. I have just spent two months in Ghana, where there would be a commendable roar of outrage if the President tried to limit what questions can be asked of him – and he would never dream of doing so. Nowhere in the European Union, not even in authoritarian Hungary, are journalists’ questions pre-vetted.

The idea that the head of the government both gets to choose what they have asked, and gets advance warning of every question so they can look sharp with their answer, is totally antithetical to every notion of democratic accountability. If we had anything approaching a genuine free media, there would be absolute outrage. All genuine media organisations would react by boycotting such events and simply refusing to cover them at all.

The media know perfectly well that the reason May needs protection from difficult questions – and even advance notice of soft ones – is that she is hopeless. Her refusal to debate Corbyn and her car crash interview with Marr illustrate that. But our servile media cover up for her by colluding in entirely fake events.

I learn from a BBC source that in the special Question Time the BBC have organised for May in lieu of a debate, questioners will be selected in advance and May will see the questions in time to prepare.

My observation that the Conservative platform is in its essentials identical to the BNP manifesto of 2005 has received widespread social media coverage. I simply cannot conceive that the UK can have become so right wing. Now add to that, it has become so authoritarian there is no reaction to advance vetting of journalists questions – something Vladimir Putin does not do. And very few people seem to care.

I understand that Theresa May has succeeded in going so far to the right she hoovers up all of UKIP votes. In some ways she has gone further to the right than UKIP ever did. For all his faults, Nigel Farage would be quite genuinely horrified at the idea of pre-vetting of which questions from journalists are permitted. The thing I do not understand, is that it appears that there is no lurch too far into right-wing authoritarianism which causes more liberal conservatives to desert.

I suspect many are deluding themselves she has the ability to control the far right forces to which her every word and action pander. They delude themselves. Firstly, May really is that right wing and illiberal. Secondly it has gone beyond control. Douglas Murray of the Henry Jackson Society has a major article in The Sun today in which he forecasts violence (“deeds not words”) by “the people” if immigration specifically from Muslim countries is not curtailed. He does not state what form precisely these deeds not words by the people would take, but it is hard to see anything he can mean except violence against Muslims. People like Murray are now the mainstream Conservatives.

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Vote John Hemming in Birmingham Yardley 427

My general advice for English voters has been to vote for the candidate most likely to beat the Tory. In Birmingham Yardley it is not easy to be certain whether that is the Labour or Lib Dem, but there are a raft of other reasons to vote for John Hemming over Jess Phillips.

Firstly, in an extremely strong field, Jess Phillips has struck me as perhaps the most objectionable person in parliament. She has attempted to build a career out of a combination of extreme egotism, constant claims of victimhood, and being the most reliable source for the media of the most extremely phrased attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, her own party leader. Phillips is the vacuity of modern politics exposed, a politician for the Instagram generation.

I quite understand that Jeremy Corbyn wishes the largest possible Labour vote, to show that radical politics are not as electorally unpopular as the media claims. But I suspect the loss of Jess Phillips’ seat is something to which he could secretly reconcile himself.

I have a lot of time for John Hemming, the LibDem MP defeated by Phillips in 2015. Formerly one of the few genuinely free spirits in parliament, Hemming is a strong supporter of Palestine. In October 2014 he voted in parliament to recognise a Palestinian state. He was one of 17 MPs – together with Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Caroline Lucas – who signed a letter calling for an arms embargo on Israel. He has chaired meetings for Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine on IDF atrocities and Palestinian human rights. Jess Phillips, by contrast, is a militant supporter of Israel.

John Hemming has also appeared alongside Respect at anti-EDL meetings. He is a doughty campaigner against the ultra-wealthy’s use of libel laws and super-injunctions. He has also continued a long campaign to help those suffering from the abuses of secrecy in family courts.

I should make a disclosure here. When I was sacked by Jack Straw over my opposition to torture and extraordinary rendition, John Hemming, whom I scarcely knew, contacted me to see if I needed employment and/or financial support. (I make no bones about it, Hemming is very wealthy from IT businesses). I did not accept his kind offers, but take them as part of the measure of the man.

I do hope anybody reading this in Birmingham Yardley will support John Hemming. That hope embraces all the people of the constituency, though I hope especially that members of the Islamic community will read what I have written, consider its implications, and withdraw any support for Jess Phillips. If anybody has any friends or family in the constituency, ring them up and tell them to support John. Forward them this. Any mobile activists wishing to try to put a good man in parliament, could do much worse than head to Birmingham Yardley to put in a stint.

Birmingham Yardley 2015

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A Duty to Resist Fascism 134

I grant you that a choice between a neo-liberal and a fascist is extremely unpleasant. For ordinary people to vote to dismantle the protections against rampant capitalism for which their ancestors struggled, is pretty horrible.

But even that is not quite as horrible as becoming a Nazi. And if you are from an ethnic minority you have to resist or become a victim.

In France there is not actually a choice for anybody with the remotest claim to human decency. Do not sit on your hands while down the street they pull on their jackboots. Get out and vote for Macron. It is a duty to humanity.

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Beating the Mainstream Propaganda

My Ferguslie Park article is currently being read by 20,000 people per hour, excluding bots. This is obviously putting a huge strain on our resources, so forgive any slow loading. If you are able to take any of the load by copying and posting it elsewhere I would be grateful; that includes major sites, but everything helps. All my blog is always free to copy and re-use.

The good news is that we are finally reaching a stage where the people’s media can start to compete on numbers with the media barons and the state narrative. Here are 20 new readers arriving during a random 5 seconds I just snapped.

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That Astonishing Tory Ferguslie Park Super Triumph

A Google news search returns 5,240 results for “Ferguslie Park” over the last 24 hours. As compared to 0 mentions in the previous 24 hours.

The media have, with an incredible level of unanimity, seized upon a Tory being elected to represent Ferguslie Park, “the most deprived area of Scotland”, as the leading evidence of a Tory resurgence into areas of Scotland “they could not previously venture into”. I have heard this recounted on every available broadcast platform this evening.

I have two bits of news for the unionist media. Firstly, Ferguslie Park is in Paisley. Most of you think it is in Glasgow. Secondly there is no ward called Ferguslie Park. There is a place called Ferguslie Park, and it is less than half of a ward called Paisley Northwest. Now here is the result of that stunning Tory super-victory amazing spectacular miraculous shocking earth-shattering mould-breaking Tory triumph in Paisley Northwest.

My, how the ground shook. In future years, everybody will recall just exactly where they were at the moment the Conservatives polled 13% in Paisley North West, when that vast uprising of 657 voters swept their candidate to victory on the 10th set of transfers into the fourth available slot in a multi-member constituency.

Now, this will come as a shock to some people. Paisley North West is not a dreadful slum, and contains some distinctly prosperous areas. Much of the ward looks like this.

Here are some statistics for the entire ward.

65% of households in Paisley North West are owner occupied
67% of the population of Paisley North West are employed, self employed or full time students
5.1% of the population of Paisley North West are unemployed
23% of the population of Paisley North West are pensioners
4.9% are housewives/husbands/carers or not in the labour force

In a local election poll with a low turnout, there is a disproportionately high turnout from pensioners and from the wealthier districts. Very few indeed of those measly 657 Tory votes came from the Ferguslie Park estate.

The real story is that in a ward with 65% owner-occupiers and 67% economically active, the Tories could still only manage a measly 13% of the vote. That the large majority of £350,000 owner occupiers do not vote Tory. The real story is that the SNP took 44% to the Tories 13%. But no, the march of Ruth’s 13%ers has apparently changed the course of history. As Tom Robinson once sang, “It’s there in the papers, must be the truth”.

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Scots Tories Below 24% of the Vote

Projecting the swings from 62 varied wards across Scotland I estimate the Scottish Tory vote share at a mere 23.3%. So the BBC narrative about huge Scottish Tory triumph is total nonsense. Any foreign observer would be stunned by a state media, the BBC, that hails Ruth Davidson’s 23% as a massive triumph and decries Jeremy Corbyn’s UK 28% as the greatest disaster in political history.

It is really hard for the media to explain away Ruth’s 23% in Scotland in terms of the narrative they have been spreading so assiduously about “Ruth more popular than Nicola” and “Massive Tory surge”. So they have adopted a fascinating tactic. Not one media outlet anywhere has to date given a figure for the Scottish vote share.

The BBC could give you the actual definitive Scottish vote share at the push of a button. But they won’t.

Because not only does the Tory performance make a nonsense of the propaganda they continue to pump out non-stop, but there is another interesting possibility. While the Tories won a few more seats than Labour, my projection has Labour ahead of the Tories in Scotland in vote share on 23.4% to 23.3%. My figures are only a projection and I would put a margin of error of about 1.5% on each of those figures, but it is an intriguing possibility.

The BBC Pacific Quay propaganda machine prefers just to work on seat gains, and is doing something absolutely astonishing – continually saying the SNP were net losers when in fact they were net gainers. There are no more seats in total than there were in 2012, and today the SNP have more seats than they had then. Yet the BBC are claiming that the SNP were net losers due to adjusting for boundary changes, an obvious nonsense. Even the Guardian, Times and Telegraph are all showing the SNP with net gains.

But that would not suit the relentless BBC propaganda, and they are sticking with a straight lie about SNP losses and that, as the presenter on BBC News said yet even again as I typed this sentence, “The SNP are now losing momentum and going backwards”. Iain Macwhirter is currently being interviewed and he has been asked six questions by the BBC presenter, every single one of which is about how fantastically the Tories are doing in Scotland. MacWhirter said that Ruth Davidson is doing “fantastically”, so he earned his BBC fee.

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Which is the Charlatan?

UPDATE I calculate Tory vote share in Scotland on results so far as 26%. The BBC is proclaiming this as a triumph and ringing endorsement for Ruth Davidson, and final refutation of Independence. I calculate Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour UK wide vote share so far as 28%. This is abject failure and a total rejection of Labour, according to the BBC. How 26% is a great triumph, and 28% an abject defeat, no doubt the current GCHQ shift will explain below.

Unlike England and Wales, the Scottish elections are on the proportional STV system. With their Scottish 26%, the Tories are picking up some gains in third or fourth place in multi-member wards. Under the English FPTP system, the Tories would have gained almost nothing in Scotland.

Interestingly nowhere on the BBC news or website can I find any indication of Scottish vote share, only UK vote share. But of course if the BBC gave the Tory Scottish vote share it would rather spoil the Tory triumph narrative.

Oh, and we now know it is YouGove who are the charlatans.

ORIGINAL POST I do like simple binary possibilities, they are much less hard work than complex thought. Today we have one. By tea-time we will know which of two possibilities is correct.

Possibility a) Craig Murray is a deluded old fool who has no understanding of politics and is totally out of touch with the people of Scotland

Possibility b) YouGove are a bunch of charlatans who produce polling about Scotland deliberately designed to exaggerate the success of unionists and Tories, in order to provide pegs for the media to hang Tory propaganda and to attract the weak-minded to the “winning” position.

YouGove’s Scottish polling figures continually produce results which are to me impossible, showing Scotland is a nation enamoured of the Conservatives.

The Scottish component of Today’s YouGove opinion poll for the Times has

Scotland

SNP 40%
Conservative 37%
Labour 15%
Lib Dem 6%
Green 1%

Fortunately yesterday every local council in Scotland had an election, and we shall soon start to see results. So am I a fool or are YouGove charlatans? Will the Tories get 37%? Will the unionist parties combined get 58%?

On a technical note, yes that poll has a fairly small Scottish subsample of 209. But it is one of a series in which YouGove has consistently produced much higher figures for Tories in Scotland, and much lower figures for the SNP in Scotland, than other pollsters. For example three days ago the Scottish element of the latest Panelbase poll had the Tories on 19%.

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Very Peculiar Timing

The Daily Mail reports:

Although meetings involving the entire royal household are occasionally called, the way this has been done at the eleventh hour is highly unusual

All news sources, including the BBC, reported this morning’s meeting of the Royal Household as an “emergency meeting”. Royal lackeys had been rushed overnight from Scotland, Norfolk and the Isle of Wight. What was the emergency?

Prince Philip is going to retire in seven months time.

Now I think the Prince is wonderful for his age. I have held lengthy conversations with him, and rather like him (read The Catholic Orangemen of Togo for details). And I hope he enjoys his retirement, indeed to the extent that I hope his family have the apparently terrible stresses of being royal and owning lots of palaces, removed from all of them completely.

But I cannot for the life of me see how this constituted an “emergency”. What this timing does of course is ensure a constant stream of monarchist claptrap and forelock-tugging on all broadcast media all of local election day, complete with repeated filmed message from our glorious strong and stable leader. Local election purdah means there is no interruption to this monstrous intrusion into the general election campaign.

Now we Scots are a bit sceptical about all this. It was not immediately obvious why the announcement of a royal not yet visible pregnancy had to be made just before the independence referendum vote. There appears to be something of a coincidence between major royal announcements and popular votes.

It is also fascinating that Sky News are putting such a Scottish spin on this. Earlier we had a risible old loyal Glasgow councillor spouting rubbish. We just had vox pops outside Holyrood House. Astonishingly for Scotland, Sky News have not managed to find a single republican. They have not felt the need to wander round Sandringham or Osborne House. Their effort is very Scottish. Is anything happening today in Scotland for which you might want to motivate the Orange Order? Oh yes…

The key point about this “emergency” of course is that the decision to make this announcement now was taken after the election was called. May called on the Queen yesterday and there will have been contact between No.10 and the Palace this last week to set that up.

It was not the only thing they were setting up.

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Boke Early and Boke Often

Local elections today! It is important to put a spoke in the wheel of the bandwagon of hype that we have all become Tories. In England and Wales vote for whoever has the best local chance of beating the Tory.

In Scotland vote until you boke. It’s an STV election so use all of your preferences and put the Tory last (or make the Tory or Tories the only ones you don’t rank). I am happy to say there is no disagreement among Scottish independence supporters on how to approach this. Here is an explanation by James Kelly, the brightest star of the psephological firmament.

It would be nice to think that Labour Party supporters would reciprocate and also place the Tories last, but all the signs are that in Scotland these elections will again confirm that the unionists are all but different shades of Tory, and will transfer between one another. Nonetheless derailing the Tories is the pressing need of the moment, so get down that polling station now!

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Theresa May Goes the Full Farage

Theresa May’s breathtaking claim that the EU is interfering in the general election has moved the Brexit negotiations to a whole new level of confrontation. Those who think that international negotiations on future trade relations are best conducted in an atmosphere of extreme mutual hostility, are nonsensical.

Good deals come from good relationships.

It is also extraordinary that May appears to be staking out her appeal exclusively on UKIP territory. I am quite sure she is following her own, natural, very right wing instincts. But by taking this aggressively right wing position, she is opening up a flank to the Liberal Democrats and severely endangering her prospects in Scotland, where UKIP never achieved anything like the traction it did in England. She also seems to be calculating that the ordinary Brexit voters take an extreme view and would welcome an absolute dust-up with the EU, irrespective of its long term effects on the UK.

Doubtless all of this was comprehensively polled and focus grouped, but I suspect she has miscalculated on a great many levels.

Now let us examine the truth of May’s claims of EU interference in a British election – a very serious charge indeed. These are May’s words today, presumably very carefully considered.

The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened. Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials. All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election which will take place on 8 June.

Let us examine these claims. Firstly she says that the European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened. But it has not. The European Council has just adopted the negotiating positions, which are precisely the same ones circulated by Donald Tusk before May announced the election. So those positions have not hardened. The Commission has today made plain that the financial settlement and rights for EU residents will have to be broadly settled before trade negotiations start. But again that was precisely their position before the election was announced.

So what has happened since the election was called which is new? Well, the European Council has affirmed that if, in accordance with the provisions of the Good Friday agreement, Ireland were to unite, the expanded Republic of Ireland would remain in the EU. But that is not a “negotiating stance” it is purely a reiteration of the pre-existing legal position in regard to the Good Friday Agreement.

Two things have arguably changed. An estimate of 100 billion euros has been put unofficially on the UK’s residual obligations, which is higher than previous estimates, but as this is a matter of collation of innumerable programme agreements different estimates are bound to emerge. As the Commission very reasonably pointed out today – while refusing to endorse the 100 million estimate – the residual obligations will depend on the date of actual Brexit, as yet unknown. The only real new point is the Commission’s legal claim that the UK is not entitled to a share of EU fixed assets. But the timing of this was dictated by a claim by Boris Johnson, so it was hardly an interference in the election.

So the alleged hardening of the Commission’s negotiating positions is a fiction. It simply does not exist.

May then says that threats have been made against the UK. I can find nothing that remotely constitutes a threat. To state that the trading position of a non-member must necessarily be weaker than the trading position of a member is not a threat, it is a statement of the obvious. May’s perception of threats is a paranoid delusion.

Finally, she claims that all this has been timed to affect the result of the general election. That is the weirdest claim of all.

The Downing St dinner at which May made a fool of herself was an initiative by May. She issued the invitation and she dictated the timing. It was not vicious foreign enemies who are all out to get her. She may be forgiven for being aggrieved that the poor opinions of her were leaked to the press. But anyone who knows anything about the EU knows that everything leaks, all the time. In general it is a very open institution. The Commission has in any case to report progress in the negotiations regularly to the European Parliament.

The other recent events – the European Council summit and the approval of the negotiating stance by the European Parliament – were all on schedules decided before May announced the election. So it was impossible that they were “deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election”, when nobody knew there was a general election at the point the timings were decided. The Council, Parliament and Commission press briefings which were set in train by these events were all absolutely routine and in no sense specially timed or orchestrated.

May’s attack on the EU is therefore demonstrably and indisputably untrue. All the events she alludes to happened either on dates agreed before the election was announced, or on dates decided by herself. It is an impossibility for them to have been timed to influence the election.

Having disposed of May’s cataclysmic rant, here is an interesting thought. From all round the country, TV news has been showing me constantly for days placards bearing Theresa May’s name but no mention of any political party. These placards therefore cannot count as national party advertising as they advertise no party. So they must count against May’s personal candidate spending limit in Maidenhead, where they are beamed wherever the placards may be held up, plainly doing no function other than to promote May personally as a candidate.

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Highland Clearances – Zielsdorfs Deported Tomorrow 415

The Zielsdorf family will be deported by the UK Home Office tomorrow, in an act of pointless Tory cruelty that enforces immigration regulations designed for SE England and totally unsuited to the needs of the Highlands. Laggan village store is now closed down.

We called on the Zielsdorf family again two months ago. Having been unable to find anybody else to buy and run the business in Laggan for a sum which would anywhere near clear their investment, they literally have no home to go to in Canada. Jason is hoping to buy an old bus for them to live in. Yes, a bus. They are however a resilient and cheerful family buoyed by their religious faith.

You can find worse acts of Tory cruelty – the cutting of benefits to the terminally ill deemed able to work a few more weeks, for example. But it is hard to conceive of an act of Tory cruelty which is more absolutely pointless than the deportation of the Zielsdorfs. Laggan loses its store, they lose their home and living, and the store/cafe’s employee loses their job. Not to mention the Tory fantasy of leaving the EU and rejoining the British Empire as rather strangely kicking off by deporting Canadians.

I was simply horrified by the nasty comments underneath a story on this in the Scotsman a couple of weeks ago. I will not link to it. I like to think that the nastiness of May does not reflect our society, but there are some deeply unpleasant people out there in the unionist community. The comments also made a large number of totally incorrect assumptions. In fact the Zielsdorfs have claimed no UK benefits of any kind and have used neither the NHS nor the school, they home educate. Personally I think as fully participating and tax-paying members of the community they should have used those state assets, but they were scrupulous in not doing so.

Original Post 17 October 2016:

There is so much injustice in Tory Britain you trip over it when you are not looking. We just enjoyed a long weekend in the Highlands, and stayed through airbnb at the Wayfarers’ Rest in Laggan. Our hosts were the delightful Zielsdorf family, who could not have been more friendly and welcoming. Their kindness and attention were particularly remarkable given they are every second awaiting the arrival of the border force to deport them.

Cameron and some of the Zielsdorf children on the banks of the Spey (with permission)

Cameron and some of the Zielsdorf children on the banks of the Spey (with permission)

Jason and Christy Zielsdorf are Canadian. They have been in Scotland for eight years, legally, and several of their children were born here. After studying theology at St Andrews, Jason decided to stay on. Armed with an entrepreneur visa, two years ago he bought the general store and bothy in the small Highland village of Laggan. The premises had been empty for 18 months, because there is not a rich living in providing this community service. The Zielsdorfs reckoned that by investing in the accommodation and opening a coffee shop highlighting their excellent home cooking (and it really is excellent), they could make a go of it and cater not just for locals but the passing hillwalkers. And they have done.

It took some time and a lot of work for the business to find its feet, and to date they have only been able to give full time employment to one person, not the two their visa stipulates. Although they argue given time their business will reach a stage to employ two people, the Home Office says their time is up and is insisting on their deportation; a month ago they were told they will be deported imminently.

Deporting children who have only ever known Scotland is ludicrous. Fairly well the entire community of Laggan has written in support of the Zielsdorfs. Both Jason and Christy have Scottish ancestry.

It is not easy to run a business in the Highlands and Laggan is better for what the Zielsdorfs have done. Local MP Drew Hendry has worked hard for them, but met only unhelpfulness from the Home Office, who have not even given a ministerial meeting promised in response to a parliamentary question.

We do not know when they will get the 5am knock on the door and be taken into custody. They have been unable to sell the Wayfarers’ Rest, in which they invested £240,000, because just as before they came, nobody else wants to run it. In an act of supreme pettiness, the Home Office have confiscated Jason’s driving licence, which makes life in the Highlands near impossible. Also as a former pastor Jason used to pay community visits on elderly and vulnerable people in isolated locations, which he cannot now do.

The truth is, having set arbitrary numerical limits on net immigration, if the Home office deports the Zielsdorf family that reduces net immigration by seven – and they are low-hanging fruit, easy to find, not able to disappear and defenceless. Their plight is Tory Britain’s heartless xenophobia in action.

This case is a prime example of how ridiculous it is to rule the Highlands from London. The law is framed to deal with the immigration situation in London or Birmingham. It is totally inappropriate to the Highlands, where the problem is under-population, where a village store is a precious thing and providing even one full time job to the community is invaluable.

It is also of course worth noting that it takes a special kind of government stupidity to embark upon post-Brexit relationships by picking on the Canadians.

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Globalism, Neoliberalism and the Big Questions of Our Time

France is a standing affront to neo-liberals. Despite a failure to bow down to deregulation, despite extensive worker protections, despite complex health and safety, environmental and building regulations, despite strong and legally entrenched trade unions, France persists year in year in having productivity levels 20% higher than those achieved by unprotected, deregulated Britons. Despite the fact French workers put in 15% less hours per week, and refuse to be less Gallic.

You can find right wing economists who attempt to explain this away so as to make it consistent with the neo-liberal narrative. The most hilarious right wing propagandists like Professor Ryan Bourne argue that this is because the French economy, due to over-regulation, does not produce enough low skilled jobs. This is nonsense. There are not far less people picking vegetables, sweeping streets, serving coffee or washing restaurant dishes in France. A related argument is that high productivity somehow causes high unemployment. This is based on a strange fallacy that an economy is of a fixed size. If economic output was limited to x, then using less people to produce x would indeed cause unemployment. But I cannot readily conceive how stupid you would have to be to believe that. No, unemployment in France is caused by insufficient demand, which cannot be caused by high productivity. The answer to unemployment plus high productivity is a stimulus from public spending.

The truth of the matter is that deregulation does nothing to increase productivity. What deregulation does do is increase corporate profits, by decreasing workers pay and conditions, and decreasing public health and safety and environmental benefits. Deregulation transfers monetary and other goods from people to corporations. It is just a lie that it is anything to do with productivity – indeed the evidence is that a workforce with no job protection and few other rights is demoralised and less productive. That is certainly the obvious conclusion to draw from the comparison between France and the UK.

The concern on the left in France is that Macron is a creature of the corporations who wishes to introduce Anglo-Saxon style deregulation into France. This is, in a word, true.

Deregulation is a bad thing because it vastly reduces a whole stock of public goods.

Where confusion has arisen in public discourse is the notion, propounded also by neo-liberals, that globalisation and domestic deregulation go hand in hand. They do not and there is no reason at all that they should.

There are many definitions of globalisation, but I use it here as meaning the increasingly free movement of goods, capital and people around the globe. In that sense, I am a strong advocate of globalisation. Yet, at the same time, I am a strong opponent of deregulation.

Trade is a good thing. There are things that grow in different climates, there are raw material resources which make production particularly suitable in a particular location, there is local expertise and cultural flair. Trade has existed as long as men have existed, and is undoubtedly a common good. The increase in trade is a good thing too. There is not a single person in the UK who has not benefited from the massive fall in the consumer price of white and electronic goods caused by globalisation. I am today in Ghana where the availability of technical and trading partners from Turkey, Singapore, China etc, in competition with the traditional powers, is part of the revolution which has transformed the economy and the living standards of ordinary Ghanaians since 2000. The economy here grew by an average of over 7% over that entire period and is about to take off into higher regions again. (After a brief interlude of ultra-corrupt government very much sponsored by the USA and the multinational GE, but that is another story).

Globalisation is caused by a combination of technology and reduction of artificial barriers to trade and movement of people and money. It has beyond any doubt caused a huge amount of economic growth in Asia, and although from a very low base, in Africa too. Africa is the coming continent. The opponents of globalisation are those who wish to see a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources continue to be consumed in the old industrialised countries. They disguise this as protection of the working class.

Immigration does not depress living standards. Again, to believe that it does you would have to be extremely stupid and to imagine that an economy was a fixed size. If immigration depressed living standards, the United States and Germany would be among the poorest countries in the world. It is a complete and utter nonsense.

If it were not for immigrants, there would have been no growth at all in the UK economy for a decade, and absolutely no chance Britain could maintain its pensioner population. Immigration does not depress wages, it grows the economy. To take but one example, Polish immigration has contributed enormously to the British economy and to British society. It has given new economic opportunities to Polish people, and a Polish person is worth every bit as much as a British person. But the competition for Labour is also an upward pressure on wages in Poland, which is a good thing too.

I support globalisation very strongly as boosting the economies and raising the living standards of the entire world. That is the internationalist view.

But globalisation is not synonymous with the deregulation agenda. Neo-liberals have managed to establish in the public mind the idea that globalisation and domestic deregulation are necessarily part of the same process. The left has accepted the fight on this neo-liberal ground, with disastrous consequences to which I shall revert. But as is often my style when I say a truth outside the accepted political discourse, I am going to say this twice.

Domestic deregulation is not a necessary concomitant of globalisation.

Domestic deregulation is not a necessary concomitant of globalisation.

The neo-liberals, whose interest is that corporations rather than people profit from the process of globalisation, argue that domestic deregulation is necessary in the face of globalisation. This is the so-called model of the “race to the bottom”. Whoever pays the least, can shed labour easiest, has least health and safety and environmental regulation, will succeed in the global market. Therefore to face the challenges of globalisation, domestic protection must be dismantled.

I offer two irrefutable proofs that the neo-liberals are wrong:

1) France. And Germany too.

Annoyingly for the neo-liberals, many of the most regulated economies in the world continue to be the most productive countries in the world. This stubborn fact is extremely frustrating for the neo-liberals, and leads them to make fools of themselves coming up with the daftest possible explanations (see Ryan Bourne above). It is also why they are desperate to destroy the French model (see Macron above).

2) TTIP. And more or less every other multilateral trade agreement too.

Why did the neo-liberals have to stuff the proposed TTIP with proposals to destroy regulation within the EU market? If the neo-liberals believed their own propaganda about deregulation increasing productivity, then by a natural and ineluctable process the EU would be doing this as the invisible hand moved them to compete in the globalised market. But actually it is not a natural part of the process of globalisation at all, and has to be forced on by the corrupt political class in the pockets of corporations. Hence the deregulation provisions in the trade agreements, along with other corporation boosting measures like extra-territorial arbitration.

Frequent USA/EU rows over Boeing vs Airbus illustrate my point very well. Each accuses the other continually, and fines the other continually, over state subsidy. But within free trade, why is it of any interest how the state(s) trading mobilise their own internal resources? Again, if neo-liberals really believed what they say they believe, then by subsidising aircraft production a state is damaging its own economy massively elsewhere and opening up other comparative advantage opportunities for its trading partner. It makes no more sense for states trading to try to police their internal mechanisms, than for a car manufacturer to argue about where another car manufacturer places its canteen in relation to its production line.

How a state organises its internal resources, how much it pays people and how it protects its inhabitants from unfair dismissal, pollution or bad food, even how it subsidises a particular industry, cannot give it any unfair advantage across the whole range of trade with another state. The most economically productive and successful states are those which do regulate strongly for worker and general welfare and health, not those who raced to the bottom.

Domestic deregulation provisions are unnecessary, inappropriate and damaging to trade treaties.

You can reject deregulation without rejecting globalisation. That is a largely ignored intellectual position and it is one which the Left needs to adopt if it is to distinguish itself from the far right. In France, Macron represents the neoliberal position of embracing both deregulation and globalisation. LePen stands for the rejection of both. A worrying number of people who call themselves “left wing”, in France, throughout the media, and on this blog, allow themselves to flirt with the notion that LePen’s position is preferable.

The anti-globalisation angle that attracts the left is recidivist. In the name of protectionism it opposes the movement of capital, of goods and, its strongest emotional pull, of people. Here it blends neatly into the fascist agenda.

I argued earlier that those who oppose globalisation are opposing the trends which have pulled a huge proportion of the population of the earth out of extreme poverty in the last decade. I have argued that those who oppose globalisation were happy with a situation where a massively disproportionate share of the world’s economic resources was consumed by those in the first industrial world, and wished to return to that situation. This in itself is an inherently xenophobic position.

But they are also racist in another way. The process of domestic deregulation – a different process to globalisation – has massively increased wealth disparities in western states. The Tories are parroting that the top 1% of taxpayers pay 28% of all taxes. That is because the top 1% of taxpayers consume over 28% of all income.

The ultra-rich have distracted the mass of the people, who are suffering increasing and real poverty and an inability to acquire housing and other fixed capital.

The wealthy and their political and media propagandists have pointed to immigrants and persuaded people that it is not the obscene share of resources sucked out of the economy by the ultra-rich, but rather the productive immigrants who are responsible for their poverty. And people fall for it. This is the attraction of the racist dog-whistle on immigration blown by Trump. LePen, UKIP and now shamelessly by Theresa May and the Tories. Some who consider themselves Left fall for this racism to the extent they are prepared to tolerate LePen.

LePen is a genuine fascist. She is in the tradition of the Nazis and Vichy. Her chosen senior colleagues are Nazi sympathisers and holocaust deniers. She is the grossest of crude Islamophobes. I detest the lies and callousness of neo-liberals, their complete absence of empathy, but there is no moral equivalence between a neo-liberal and a Nazi, and it is ludicrous to pretend that there is. Anybody who does so is not welcome, as I have said, to comment on this blog. I have no desire to associate with Nazis. The rest of the internet is open to you.

The Left has failed to formulate a coherent intellectual response to globalisation, largely because they have fallen for the neoliberal intellectual trap of believing domestic deregulation to be a necessary concomitant. The rejection of internationalism has led some who consider themselves “left” to be attracted to LePen and fascism, at least to the extent they do not recognise her extreme evil. Anybody who has felt that should be deeply ashamed.

Nick Cohen’s book “What’s Left” identified tolerance of Islam as the weakness of the British and European Left. In fact he was diametrically wrong. The weakness is an abandonment of internationalism and a susceptibility to racist anti-immigrant dialogue.

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The Gospel According To May

Thanks @ROBN1980 for this illustration

On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethseda.
When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.
Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, Lord the people are hungry.
Now Jesus turned to them and said “There are many complex reasons why people are hungry. The best way out of poverty is for them to get a job. Now bugger off while I eat these five loaves and two fishes.”
Now one amongst the faithful, a man named Marr, arose and said, “Lord, many of them do have a job, and yet they are still hungry. Behold, even here are hungry nurses”.
And the people were sore perplexed.
And Jesus looked upon the nurses and he said “Physicians, heal thyselves. Ha! See what I did there? Now bugger off and let me eat these loaves and fishes.”
Upon having refreshed himself with the loaves and fishes, Jesus turned to the text of his authorised biography.
On reading the story of his birth, Jesus called Luke and said unto him “Thou art my beloved biographer, in whom I am well pleased”.
“Verily, this story of my birth is well written. It will sell for many years. The Nativity will have a strong stable readership. Ha! See what I did there?”
“Now clear off and give me some peace, I have to send a letter to Tim Farron upon the evils of sodomy.”

Explanatory note: On the Marr programme today, Theresa May responded to an Andrew Marr question about nurses having to use foodbanks, having suffered a 14% wage cut since 2010. May, a strongly professed Christian, replied “there are many complex reasons why people use foodbanks” and “the best way out of poverty is to get a job.”

One Tory line which May used on both Marr and Peston, I have seen trotted out by the media themselves repeatedly in the last few days. May stated that under the Tories, the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers pay a higher proportion of taxes than ever under Labour. Adam Boulton was pushing this line on Sky News recently, using the figure that the wealthiest 1% pay 29% of income tax.

I have seen nobody make the obvious rejoinder. Under the Tories the wealthiest 1% have the greatest percentage of national income in modern political history. That is why they pay more tax. But due to tax avoidance, it remains the case that the wealthiest pay a lower percentage of their income in tax than any other group. There is no chance that this obvious reply will be given to Theresa May by an interviewer, or that Adam Boulton will start proclaiming it on the airwaves.

The above post is designed to highlight the hypocrisy of May and her unchristian attitudes. It in no way intends to insult the teachings of Jesus; rather the opposite.

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Theresa May’s Fake “Meetings”

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that many of those forming the “audience” for Theresa May’s speech in Crathes looked even less enthusiastic than usual.

The real Tories are very obvious to spot. But when you look at the BBC video from which this picture is taken, you can see that the others not only do not look enthusiastic, they do not join in the clapping. Do not take my word for it, watch the video – the body language, apart from the obvious Tories, is more of hostages than supporters.

My contacts in Banchory tell me that this is because, in a weird Tory return to the 19th century, it was made clear to tenants of the Crathes estate that they were expected to turn out to support strong and stable leadership. The heir to the estate, in whose name the hall was booked, is Alexander Burnett, old Etonian and Tory MSP. Which century are we in?

The area, “Royal” Deeside, is a magnet for rich retirees from Surrey and had the highest UKIP vote in the Scottish EU elections. It is perhaps the only part of Scotland in which May could truly feel at home.

The popular theory among election advisers is that the electorate are stupid and do not pay attention to elections. There is therefore no point in trying to discuss detail or make any intellectual explanation of policy dilemmas. All the electorate will notice are simple slogans, which can be repeated infinitely because most voters don’t pay attention and will only hear them two or three times.

The Tories are testing this theory to destruction in this election. Shielding May from any “real” encounters, from any debate with opponents, and from any questions except a very few from picked right wing media, they intend to coast to victory. In Scotland this approach is so at odds with the active citizenship that was inculcated by the referendum campaign, I believe it will fail badly. We will see.

So what did May say in Crathes? Well, according to the Guardian

“she had told her supporters that she was the only leader capable of providing “strong and stable leadership” for Britain as the country headed towards Brexit.
“At this election, people will have a clear choice between five years of strong and stable leadership with me and my team or a coalition of chaos led by Jeremy Corbyn,” she said.”

Which funnily enough is exactly what she told her supporters in Leeds at her last “meeting”. That was remarkable because, in one of the most ethnically diverse districts in the UK, she spoke to what looked exactly like a Broederbond gathering.

I was delighted that the Metro newspaper conducted a sober appraisal of my statement that Tory policies are identical in most important respects to the BNP manifesto of 2005, and found I was right. You might imagine that might cause May’s advisers at least to try to make her meetings not look like BNP gatherings. But evidently they have decided it is more important to continue to prioritise the racist vote. The are banking on it being all white on election night.

May meets nobody except ardent Tories or those in no position to argue – employees of companies in their workplace or tenants. It is appalling abuse of power.

May is simply refusing to participate in democracy – which involves candidates being open to question and debate. There is really little point in having an election of this kind. Which presumably explains this question being asked in YouGove’s current political poll.

It is all extraordinarily sad, and I suppose the saddest thing of all is media complicity in this non-election – of which the latest and dreadful example is STV’s decision to exclude the Green Party from the Scottish leadership debate.

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The North Korean Danger

Military technology has moved on since the Vietnam war. The defeat of the United States by an army employing basic artillery and machine guns supplemented by creative use of bamboo, has left an indelible impression on the western psyche. But it is in many ways a false one. Many trillions of dollars have been spent since on military technology, and the gap in resources between the USA and most potential opponents is enormous.

The effect of this technology gap is plain to see in recent conflicts. In Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya the conventional fighting was won extremely quickly. In Iraq really substantial Iraqi conventional forces, technologically rather more advanced than North Korean, were wiped out while they inflicted almost no damage. The Falklands War was also a striking instance of the difference between the most advanced and middle ranking military technology. The gap has grown since. Modern western military aircraft technology is very little vulnerable to the air defence systems that can be deployed against it.

Of course, all those conflicts illustrate that winning a conventional war phase is the beginning, not the end, of problems for the western powers and that such conflicts are extremely damaging not just to the attacked party, and to the world in general, but to the western powers that “win”. But great for shifting wealth from ordinary western people to the military and armaments industry.

North Korea has massive military resources in numerical terms. But in truth North Korea deploys almost nothing on the ground that would have been extremely startling to an informed person in 1946. If the United States chose to throw a really serious percentage of its military resources at North Korea, more than it threw at Iraq – and I specifically mean aerial forces and missiles – it could wipe out North Korea’s military capacity extremely quickly. It could even do so before North Korea could inflict damage on Seoul of cataclysmic proportions.

All this would of course involve the deaths of millions of North Koreans, mostly civilians, and hundreds of thousands of South Koreans. But it could be done.

There are two groups of people who will be irked by this analysis. The first group are those who detest the United States and therefore dearly wish it was militarily weaker than it is. But the truth is that for my entire lifetime, the United States military has had over three times as much money spent on equipping it as the Soviet/Russian and Chinese militaries combined. That is a very bad thing for the United States, but nonetheless it is true. That does have an effect.

The second group who will disagree vehemently with me are, counter-intuitively, the western arms manufacturers and military lobby.

During the cold war we were taught for years that the mighty Red Army was set to roll over Europe. I recall television programmes showing diagrams with scores of Russian tanks for every NATO tank opposing them. After the fall of the Soviet Union, in many of the former Soviet Republics and, for a period under Yeltsin, in Russia itself, western military attaches were able to get a close-up look at what had been the Soviet war machine. The overwhelming trend of a great mass of evidence was that the West had vastly over-estimated Soviet military capacity, both in terms of quantity and especially quality of its capabilities.

This was, of course, not an accident. The arms industry, the military and the security services were the institutions which were responsible for estimating Soviet military strength. The arms industry, the military and security services all had the strongest possible motive for over-estimating Soviet strength. Their own funding and thus the incomes and career opportunities of those doing the estimating, all depended on the over-estimates.

There was a very brief period at the end of the Cold War when this reality was acknowledged in Whitehall and I remember it clearly within the FCO. It was, as I say, a very brief period. The armaments, military and security industries will always massively over-estimate the “opposition” and explain that only vastly more resources fed their way can “keep us safe”.

To return to the United States’ ability to crush North Korea militarily if it really puts major resources into it, my worry is that Donald Trump is aware of this. He appears to be crazy enough to consider doing it, or at least to threaten to do it, which is almost as dangerous.
But the danger is not, as media pundits have it, that North Korea is too strong and would pulverise South Korea. That is not a real danger, unless Trump’s attack was half-hearted or token. The obvious and massive danger is that China would never accept a military attack on its ally, and Trump would be risking a nuclear conflict which ruins us all.

I do not think Trump is crazy enough to risk a military attack on North Korea. But he plainly is crazy enough to think that this kind of crude threatening posture is the way to get China to take serious action against Kim Jong On. That is a very serious misreading of China. How the United States copes over the next decade with being overtaken by China as the biggest global superpower, will define the coming century. Trump appears to be making a calamitous start.

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