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Your government is corrupt! Ghana 2000

The bulk of this material is hidden behind a subscription wall, at least at the quoted site, but I thought it might be fun to post some material from my period as Deputy High Commissioner in Ghana (1998 to 2002).

This will I hope lay to rest the accusations that my passion for democracy, human rights and honesty in Uzbekistan was a temporary career move of some kind.

Craig

Ghanaian Chronicle 9/1/2000

From allafrica.com

By Joyce Mensah Nsefo

Nobody expected Wednesday’s conference on accountability to produce any fireworks, but then nobody reckoned with the Scotsman His Excellency Mr.Craig John Murray, deputy British High Commissioner, the open minded,respected, free-speaking diplomat. And when he decided to make an intervention it came in the form of a bombshell, lifting his audience off their feet with surprise, followed by moments of embarrassing silence.

Craig, who had been invited to say a few words at the workshop on “Information for Accountability” declared that corruption in Ghana is a problem and specifically pointed accusing fingers at the government in the area of awards of contracts.

The Dispatch 9/5/2000

From allafrica.com

Government to Deport Diplomat?

There are credible indications within high places that the government is thinking about the possibility of asking the British government to recall the deputy British High Commissioner, Mr. Craig Murray, for what a highly-placed official described as “irresponsible, undiplomatic and unsubstantiated allegations of governmental corruption.”

In a story first carried by JOY FM and later by The Ghanaian Chronicle, Mr.Murray is reported to have said corruption is a problem internationally but it was rather on the high side in Ghana. He alleged that even foreigners who win contracts are required to pay a percentage of the contract value, to be given to certain highly-placed people in government. He also said Ghana has had a record of waivers from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for non-compliance with benchmarks for releasing funds.

(more…)

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Immigration, and How People Are Valued

In the last recorded full year, to March 2019, net migration into the UK from the EU was 59,000 while from outwith the EU it was 219,000.

That table is from racist playground the Migration Watch website. It is a poisonous organisation, but their figures seem to be correctly extrapolated from the Office of National Statistics. There is one matter on which Migration Watch are actually correct, which I will come to anon.

Non-EU net immigration has risen substantially in each of the last eight years. The second most interesting point about the Home Office’s policy statement on the new “points-based immigration system” is that none of the existing routes by which 219,000 non-EU migrants per year enter the UK is to be abolished (paras 12-13, 20-24). So that 219,000 non-EU net migrant figure will not be reduced as a result of these changes. Indeed, as several references in the paper make clear, immigration opportunities for non-EU citizens are increased as a result of this paper.

Those immigration routes for non-EU citizens are increased quite substantially. I anticipate a major surge in immigration from the Commonwealth as a result of this change. The problem the Government will find is that a points based system results in a level of automaticity of qualification. Those from English speaking countries – let’s say Ghana or India, but it is true of scores – already have the language qualification and benefit from good educational systems. Crucially, there are large very established communities from those countries already in the UK which own a vast plethora of companies, which makes securing a job offer much easier. I have no doubt whatsoever that many companies will discover an urgent need for one new accountant and two new systems administrators, and that cousins and brothers with genuine, appropriate qualifications, who previously the family was finding it difficult to bring in to the UK, will now breeze through to work for the family firm.

Speaks English? Yes, 10 points. Job offer? Yes, 20 points. Salary over £25,600? Yes, 20 points. Appropriate skill level? Accountant or IT systems administrator, yes, 20 points. For the avoidance of doubt, I have spoken to people in Ghana today already working on how to make money out of helping people get in through the scheme once it starts on 1 January.

I have written before about the tragic deprofessionalisation of the former UK Immigration Service. The system has been privatised and largely decoupled from Embassies, with visa processing handled by private companies in separate buildings. The vast majority of applications are never seen at all by an immigration professional from the Home Office or FCO. They are handled by very poorly paid employees, often locals of the country, completely as a tick box computer exercise.

In the days when the UK had a real Immigration Service, and I line managed a visa section in Accra which had 22 British professional Entry Clearance Officers in it, the very wise Chief Immigration Officer Myron Reid used to tell his staff always to remember it was not the documents they were admitting to the UK, it was the person. The key test was; did you believe the individual and should they be admitted, not how much paperwork they could produce, verification of which was always very difficult. Nowadays the much lower paid, private sector employed drones taking the vast majority of decisions seldom see the individual. The paperwork is all that counts. This will be still more the case as they tick the boxes to add up the 70 points.

I make this forecast with confidence. The net result of these changes will be increased net immigration into the UK, with a substantial spike in non-EU immigration visible in the March 2021 annual return. This is the other point on which Migration Watch are actually correct. The difference is, of course, that I very much welcome the increased immigration opportunities which will arise and believe the increased immigration is essential to our economy and society. I also find it irresistibly hilarious that the large majority of those who voted Brexit and voted Tory, who were primarily motivated by racism, will as a consequence face a substantive surge in non-white immigration. You would need a heart of stone not to laugh at that.

It is also worth noting that, while the freedom of movement with the EU was reciprocal, it is being exchanged for a new policy that will not be. It is going to be far easier for an Indian citizen to qualify to work in the UK, than for a UK citizen to go and work in India.

Do I believe that the government is deliberately seeking to increase non-EU migration? No, I don’t. I think they are just massively incompetent, have misread the effect of the points-based system which was only a vote-winning slogan, and have not understood the lack of control of implementation resulting from their austerity destruction of the professional Immigration Service.

I appreciate this is not the analysis that has been given from pretty well all other left wing thinkers. They have chosen to fight this as a radical restriction of immigration. Of course, what is lost is freedom of movement. It will be harder for EU nationals to come and work here and particularly in jobs the government deems as low-skilled. I utterly deplore the loss of free movement, which was one of the great societal advances of my lifetime. However, I suspect that many EU citizens who wish to live in the UK will still manage to gain employment that fits with the government’s rules. I want for a moment to consider the question of labour shortages in certain industries, which has dominated media debate on the points based system to date.

Firstly it is worth noting that, if not deterred by the ludicrously costly bureaucracy – and that is a real bar to genuine applicants – the paper has sufficient loopholes to allow immigrants, including EU immigrants, to come for work in many of the areas where shortages are feared. Nurses, for example, will not have to meet the minimum salary threshold, because in the NHS and other institutions national pay scales will take precedence over the minimum salary of £25,600 (para 4). In the building trade, plasterers and electricians will count as skilled. What constitutes skilled work is peculiarly arbitrary – anyone who thinks filleting fish is unskilled work should try it. Still more arbitrary is the notion that salary defines the value or the skill of work done. Care work doesn’t seem to me exactly easy.

The fundamental takeaway from this policy is that people who earn under £25,600 are viewed as inferior beings. It is remarkable that a government that claims its aim is to end discrimination between EU citizens and others, views discrimination on grounds of earnings as more laudable.

There will indeed be labour shortages arising from the imposition of this policy, in hospitality, agriculture, social care and other sectors. This will cause some economic pain. The Brexit myth that there are millions of hard working Brits waiting to re-enter the Labour market once no longer undercut by rampaging Romanians, will be exposed for the nonsense that it is. So is the idea that care homes will start paying £18 an hour to attract staff as a result of Brexit.

The paper states that there will be a power to add further “shortage occupations”, a job offer in which will give qualifying points, and I strongly suspect that will be quickly and quietly used rather than permit sectors to collapse. The power of adding shortage occupations is left by the paper with the Migration Advisory Committee, rather than with mad Priti Patel, which I am told she is not too pleased about but gives some hope the economy will not be ruined for the sake of xenophobia. But the extraordinarily high cost of immigration applications is also going to be a severe barrier to finding alternative staffing flows to EU free movement for low paid work. Upfront Home Office application charges – most of which goes to those private agencies doing the call centre type visa processing – of some £1500 will of course be an entirely new obstacle to those from the EU, and a substantial problem. So is the probable new requirement for medical insurance for EU citizens working here.

So the new policy will create at least temporary staffing shortages in some key economic sectors, will substantially diminish the rights of EU citizens, and will in my firm estimation lead overall to an increase in net immigration. I earlier referred to the second most interesting point being that the new policy did nothing to block pre-existing routes to non-EU immigration. The most interesting point of all is that it is a disaster for the rights of British citizens. British citizens lose the right to move freely around Europe, to work, settle and lead their lives over the vast majority of that great continent. It is an appalling restriction on the opportunities of all of us, especially of the young.

This great freedom has been thrown away to promote the views of racists. Those racists are so incompetent that at the same time as shredding British citizens’ right to migrate freely to the EU, they are inadvertently opening the doors to a new net increase in immigration into the UK largely from outwith the EU. This level of hapless blundering is a further marker in the extraordinary deterioration of the UK state as functioning entity.

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

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Indigenous Eurasian Islamic Populations

This blog was defending the human rights of the Uighurs a decade before the neo-conservatives for whom they are now a fashionable cause even knew of their existence. The Uighurs are the closest linguistic and cultural cousins of the Uzbeks, and the populations are contiguous. (China is not contiguous with Uzbekistan but Osh and the eastern Ferghana Valley in Kirghizstan are Uzbek majority areas).

The dynamic spread of Islam northwards and eastwards under the Abbasids, (much less commented that the expansion of its early centuries) and the temporary patronage of Islam by the Mongol Yuan conquerors of China, left very substantial Islamic populations throughout Eurasia, which later became subsumed into non-Muslim polities, including by the expansion of the Chinese and Russian empires. The persecution of the Uighurs is a historic continuation. For decades from the mid eighteenth century they were subjected to one of history’s most sustained and organised campaigns of mass rape of the female population by Chinese occupiers. In a historical perspective, it was the period of comparative tolerance that preceded the current massive attempt at cultural genocide which was the aberration.

I do despair of those on the left who excuse the mass imprisonment of hundreds of thousands and the extrajudicial killing of thousands, because it is China doing it and not a CIA aligned power.

The Uighurs are a people with the right of self-determination. They are not Chinese; their language, culture and religion are completely different. They have a clearly defined territory they have occupied continuously for many centuries. One of the problems with the British is that as an island, we tend to only think of colonies as places you sail to. Colonies you walk to is a concept we have not grasped. That is one of the reasons the left in the UK have such difficulty recognising that China is an Empire and Kashgar is a colony. The other reason is that whole “West Bad, Opponents Good” thing.

It is excellent to recognise that the Western powers have done a huge amount of evil in the world. It is a completely illogical step to assume from this revelation that they have a monopoly on evil. All major governments do evil.

Kashmir is the other pressing issue of a Hindu minority population under pressure. Six years ago I annoyed rather a lot of people when I warned that my personal experience of living among them for some months in India was that it was changing into an an “increasingly oppressive and rabidly conservative Hindu society”. I have viewed the rise of Modi and his Hindu nationalists with great concern, while Western governments have been much more concerned with seeking to benefit from India’s economic boom.

The revocation of the autonomous status of Kashmir and Jammu was a reckless and aggressive act of centralisation that was grossly insensitive to both the population and the history of the region – and I write in full awareness that there have been not only Muslim but also many Sikh victims of intercommunal violence over the years. The incorporation of Kashmir into India was a dreadful British error, semi-apologetically enshrined in its special constitutional position, now destroyed by Modi. It is only the statesmanship of Imran Khan which has averted a hideous war.

The Supreme Court of India’s firmly anti-Muslim ruling in the Ayodhya dispute, and the new immigrant citizenship law excluding Muslims (which has outraged the remnants of liberal India), are evidence of intercommunal policy which is all pushing in an anti-Muslim direction. Modi has been portrayed in the West as a moderniser. This is a fundamental error – he is just a populist in the Trump and Johnson mode who succeeds by stirring up feelings against the “other” in the population. The situation in India is destabilising and I fear more violence against the Muslim population is bound to ensue.

The Muslim populations of Central Asia now live in autonomous republics, none of which has transitioned to effective democracy, all of which have been more or less looted by oligarchs, all have continuing serious human rights problems, and all are increasingly under the economic sway of China (which is not, in itself, a bad thing). China remains something of an enigma. Its economic success continues to be staggering, if severely pollution creating. As I frequently assert, there has never been a power in the world of such economic dominance which has shown such a comparatively tiny appetite for military dominance. If you compare China to the USA in this regard the difference is striking. China has very few military bases outside China, the USA has eight hundred.

But the Central Asian “stans” only contain a minority of the Muslim colonies in Eurasia which Russia acquired in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, simultaneous with the expansion of the British Empire. Many of these colonies, with their overwhelmingly Muslim populations, remain part of the Russian Federation which – make no mistake about it – is still an Empire.

The Tatar are the most widespread of the colonial peoples within Russia. Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Cherkessa, Kabardino Balkaria and Karachai are all areas of Russia where I believe the original Muslim population, absorbed into the Russian Empire by conquest, will in the fulness of time achieve independence, in addition to the better-known Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. The astonishing brutality of the Russian repression of the perfectly justified Independence movements of the latter countries cannot hold back the tide of decolonisation forever. Crimea, of course, should belong to the Tatars who were deported from their land by Stalin. Not Russia, not Ukraine, but Krim Tatar.

As I said earlier, even though Russia’s colonies were colonised contemporaneously with the British ones, and even though the indigenous populations are Muslim, we in the UK have difficulty perceiving them as colonies because they are contiguous with Russia by land and have been institutionally absorbed into the metropolitan. It is also worth noting that, largely but not entirely as a result of the Soviet period of running its Empire, Russia did a much better job of providing education, health and other public services to its colonies than the British ever did.

It is important to state that these colonised peoples are not Russians but separate peoples in the sense of the UN Charter, with very distinct cultures, histories, languages and religion, and thus they do have the right of self-determination. I do not deny that at present, outside the colonies of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, there is little evidence of separatist desire. But I expect that to change over historic time.

It is of course a personal irony that I am very often accused of being a Russian agent because I debunk ludicrous anti-Russian scares like the fake Skripal narrative, or the totally unfounded narrative that Russia has any desire to attack Western Europe. These scare stories about Russia are of course essential to the profits of the western military-industrial-security complex, and I debunk them because they are nonsense, and because of their propaganda power in controlling western populations. But while I have a deep-seated love for Russia, its culture and people, I know of no other commentator who calls for the Russian Federation to be divorced of its internalised colonies, an opinion the Kremlin would find outrageous.

The Eurasian Muslim populations were overtaken by history from around the seventeenth century and, Islam having expanded itself in Eurasia by conquest, the Muslims were generally themselves absorbed into larger Empires by conquest. In Central Asia they have in the last thirty years regained a kind of independence, but are still dominated by foreign imposed institutions and the colonial subordinate administrative and political class. In China and India the conditions of Muslims are worsening markedly. In Russia the brutal crushing of Independence attempts in some areas has led to the current position where the colonial status of the Muslim sub-polities within the Russian Federation is shunned by the entire world as a Pandora’s Box.

This is of course not in any sense a comprehensive survey. But sometimes it is useful to step back and try to see current events in a broader perspective, both historically and geographically. I do hope this gives some food for your own thoughts. I do hope that some of those thoughts are more profound than the notion that Russia and China, as diplomatic opponents of the West, are beyond criticism.

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

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Alternatively:

Account name
MURRAY CJ
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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The Fragile Boris Johnson

I find election campaigns in which the Prime Minister addresses scrubbed, smug Tory audiences, filmed by the BBC in close shot to conceal the sparsity of their numbers, deeply disturbing. I find the speeches in factories to employees even more chilling. The sullen compliance of employees, too cowed to show discontent before their bosses, should disturb any right thinking person. This may bore millennials, but back in the 1970s it was inconceivable that a politician of any stripe could address a factory floor without some robust reaction from the workforce. In those days, workers had rights, their employment was protected, and they could not be dismissed on a whim. I have no doubt that the rise of the North Korean factory style meeting in British politics relates directly to the destruction of workers’ rights. Johnson did one in a electric taxi factory a couple of days ago and it was a staple of May’s appalling campaign.

Politicians only give speeches nowadays for them to be carried on electronic media, and the camera angles are considered more thoroughly than the content by their managers. The idea of a political meeting was that a politician would hire a public hall and invite the general public to come and listen to their attempt to win their vote, and engage in discussion with people. That idea has almost died, in favour of the outright propaganda model.

To his great credit, yesterday in Dundee Jeremy Corbyn did hold a relatively open meeting at the Queens Hotel, and he was heckled by Bob Costello. As it happens I know both Jeremy and Bob and have a lot of time for both of them. Bob’s heckle was the perfectly reasonable “I’m interested in what you’re going to do about the will of the Scottish people in relation to Section 30”. Section 30 in this context is Westminster’s agreement to an Independence referendum.

Heckling is a good thing. I do not hold for a moment with the notion that politicians must be heard in a respectful silence and questions reserved to the end. I almost always start my individual talks by encouraging people to interject if they have a burning desire to disagree. This was proper democratic politics as it ought to be conducted. Half decent politicians relish hecklers – they have the microphone and the platform and ought to have no difficulty in dominating the exchange if they are any good at all.

I would add that I have fierce contempt for the “security” argument for hiding politicians from their constituents. Far too often robust disagreement is falsely portrayed as threat. Another friend of mine, Nigel Jones, was when an MP attacked in his constituency office and left with permanent injuries. Public life carries risks. I have received a number of actual death threats over the years since I quit the FCO and started campaigning (often originating in Florida, for some peculiar reason). I doubt any MP has genuinely received significantly more than I. But I still hold perfectly open public meetings. I am in the phone book and on the open electoral register. My address is in Who’s Who. I find the continued bleating by politicians about their security insufferable. I faced the same nonsense in the FCO, when I was advised at various times under the FCO “Duty of Care” not to travel around the Ferghana Valley and around Sierra Leone and Monrovia – all of which I had to do in order to do my job properly. I ignored the advice, telling the FCO that if personal safety were my goal in life, I could have been an accountant.

I am surprised that the Tories feel the need to keep Johnson almost as wrapped in cottonwool as May, because Johnson is a better campaigner. His veneer of chummy bonhommie hides his menace effectively enough to fool most people most of the time. Where he is not good is under detailed, forensic questioning and I shall be surprised if the Tories let Andrew Neil at him. The broadcaster’s decisions on participation in debates are entirely governed by the Tory agenda. The Tories calculate that a sustained campaign of vilification has damaged Jeremy Corbyn to the extent the public will not listen to him, so the Tories are happy to debate Corbyn. They are determined to stop Sturgeon from interacting with Johnson, as she is an excellent debater. The Lib Dems are a major threat to Tory seats, which is why they want to keep Swinson as marginal as possible, although she is not a threat in debate.

By standing down candidates in 300 odd Tory constituencies, Nigel Farage drastically reduced the amount of time the broadcasters will give the Brexit Party. That is so fundamental, I simply do not believe it was done without a hidden Farage/Johnson understanding. The current “spat” between them over other candidates standing down is simply window dressing.

This is a fascinating campaign. I have not undertaken any quantitative analysis, but I have never before in a UK general election felt that, once a campaign was actually under way and the broadcasting rules in force, BBC bias continued quite as blatantly as it does at this moment. It is still my prediction that Cummings’ strategy means that vote spread will heavily disadvantage the Tories under FPTP and they will not get a majority. If they do, that can only hasten Scottish Independence and I will not personally suffer it for too long. But I feel very worried for the millions who would live under boot of the 1% in the conditions of deregulation a Tory victory would unleash.

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

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations



 

Alternatively:

Account name
MURRAY CJ
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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A Peculiar Request

That request had limited success – many thanks to those who tried. But it did lead my sister Celia to dig out this old photo of us, I think Hogmanay at home in South Queensferry in 1978, and I like it so much I thought I would publish it.

This is a rather strange admin notice. Does anybody have any photos of me when I was a pillar of the Establishment, looking like a pillar of the Establishment? I need some urgently for a TV programme, and I really don’t keep such things – in fact I have very few photos of myself at all.

The problem is we talk in the programme about my role as Ambassador, and previous roles as Deputy High Commissioner to Ghana, Head of the UK Delegation to the Sierra Leone peace talks, Alternate Head of the UK Delegation to the UN Preparatory Commission on the Law of the Sea, etc etc etc and about my work in organising two state visits, and I simply don’t have anything to illustrate any of this. I know there are readers of the blog who knew me in those days, and am hoping someone can dig something up. My friends and family have plenty of photos of me wearing Christmas hats and being silly, but nothing where I am trying to look important.

The programme makers rightly judge I think that without photographic proof people will find it hard to believe this crumpled old figure ever did any of those things.

The contact button top right of the blog reaches me with an email.

UPDATE

Quite a number of people have very kindly sent me the result of internet searches. These are 99% photos taken after I left the FCO. Remember, when I was removed as Ambassador to Uzbekistan Facebook was three months old. For all except the end of my career photos were not electronic and not stored on the internet. Furthermore the need is not just for old photos of me, but photos in context of my career. I have of course been searching diligently myself but not so far found much of any use. I was rather more hoping that the appeal would be read by someone who took a photo personally that they can scan and send me.

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Goodbye, and Thanks for all the Fish

It is rather disconcerting to be watching the UK continue its disintegration in such spectacular fashion, from as far away as Ghana. I wonder whether events appear quite so ridiculous close up.

It surprises me that, in all the discussion and analysis of the withdrawal agreement, there has been so little analysis of the much more important conjoined Political Declaration, which is about the UK’s prospective relationships once the divorce is over. It particularly surprises me that so very little has been said about fish.

It is very unfortunate for British, and especially Scottish, fishermen that their political leaders are strange right wing bigots of a particularly repellent stamp. This blinds decent people to the truth that the fishing communities of the UK did suffer a dreadful historic injustice, on the same scale as Thatcher’s assault on the miners.

It is seldom remembered now that the UK’s initial entry to the European Communities was achieved against a background of traditional hostility from European states, especially France. Ted Heath’s government decided that the economic benefits of joining the Common Market were so huge, it was for the greater good to sacrifice the fishing community.

As a former Head of the FCO’s Maritime Section, I have an intimate and inside knowledge of the subject. The UK had always opposed the adoption in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of the 200 mile exclusive economic zone for fisheries, on the grounds that as (then) a maritime nation, freedom of the seas was an overriding priority. Hence the (lost) cod war with Iceland. The UK had therefore never adopted an exclusive 200 mile fishing zone. European Community members states had adopted EEZ’s in 1970.

As part of the political deal behind the UK’s accession to the Common Market, the UK agreed it would adopt an EEZ (called at first an EFZ), and gift most of the fish within it to the fishing fleets of other member states. As the UK has by far the richest fishing waters in the EU (most of them Scottish), there is no doubt that the UK got a terrible deal on fisheries, and saw this as a worthwhile trade-off for other benefits. The fishermen were betrayed “for the greater good” in an bit of realpolitik. That is simply true. It is one of the factors behind the terrible decay in coastal communities.

The Common Fisheries Policy is often compared to the Common Agricultural Policy. In fact the two work in completely different ways. The Common Agricultural Policy is at heart a system of taxpayer subsidy to farmers to negate the perverse incentive that, due to demand inflexibility for staple crops, in years of shortage a farmer can make far more money than in a good harvest year, as prices shoot up so quickly.

The Common Fisheries Policy at base is totally different. It pools the physical resources of member states. If the CAP worked the same way, then British farmers would be entitled to take some of the grapes of Champagne or the oranges of Seville. And the UK gives vastly more than it gets in the CFP. Scotland above all.

So the fishermen may lack articulate, credible or even respectable leadership, but they are in fact perfectly correct. The political and media elite has never given them a fair hearing, because the perceived gains to everybody else of single market membership were so huge. Like many of the Brexit supporters, fishermen were dismissed as stupid old men, an opinion sadly many of their self-appointed “leaders” seemed to justify.

Which is why the Political Declaration is so very interesting. After several clauses on future UK access to the single market for goods and services, it then contains a very plain indication that in exchange for all this, the fishermen are yet again to be sacrificed to the wider interest.

Within the context of the overall economic partnership, establishment of a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares, to be in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.

Either alone, or even more so in the context of the whole document, there is no doubt at all what this means. It is therefore interesting, that conspicuous by their absence among the Tory resignations this morning, are David Mundell and Ruth Davidson, who had both advertised they would resign in precisely this case. But we already knew they are people of no honour.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea mandates that states must ensure sustainable levels of fishing within their EEZ. Once quotas to enforce the sustainable limit have been set, the state has an obligation to share by agreement any of the sustainable quota it lacks the capacity to fish itself. In fact, the EU has always set overall fishing levels too high, and the UK quota sharing ignored the EU capacity provision, but rather actively enforced a massive downsizing of the British fishing fleet. The Political Declaration not only includes continued quota sharing, but a continued EU role in enforcing levels – eg more over-fishing.

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It seems to me a general election is the most probable outcome of the current turmoil. The Scottish Government should announce that, in the event of pro-independence MPs winning a majority of Westminster seats, Scotland will declare Independence and apply to the United Nations for recognition and admission. That sets out a fair democratic test before the electorate, and is analogous to the way that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic became independent, plus the overwhelming majority of states in Africa, Asia and South America – almost none of which was by referendum.

The unionists are utterly divided. The United Kingdom is teetering as never before. Westminster has shown its contempt for Scotland in its power grab of major devolved areas, its attempt to grant Northern Ireland superior status to Scotland with the EU, and its shunning of the Scottish Government in the entire Brexit process.

It is not the time for Nicola to try to salvage the UK from its own political collapse. It is time for us to end the United Kingdom. It will be a kindness. They can wish us goodbye, and thank us for all the fish.

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The Ignominious Death of the United Kingdom

I am in Ghana and had some Ghanaian friends in the apartment here while I was watching the budget. I was ashamed, and they were incredulous, at the sheer crassness of the entire event. Hammond’s manner and delivery were beyond embarrassing. The constant stream of infantile jokes, of which the lengthy stream of toilet humour was just one part, was beyond childish. The worst thing about it is that Hammond apparently genuinely believed he was funny.

But even worse was the petty party nature of so much of it. The obsequious reference to DUP MPs by name, the grovelling towards new Tory “star” Ruth Davidson, the puerile digs at the SNP, the shoehorning in of an anti-semitism reference, the pathetic jibe at John MacDonnell’s accident. The Ghanaians with me observed that it would all have disgraced a school debating society.

Most of the budget’s rehashed public spending announcements and tax cuts for the wealthy are not worth analysis. The condemnation of PFI was very welcome, but it has taken 20 years for the political class – Red Tories or Blue Tories – to acknowledge the blindingly obvious, that they have used it as a device massively to abuse public services to rip off the taxpayer to the benefit of the bankers and wealth managers who funded the PFI schemes.

Hammond made the constantly repeated Tory claim that the income gap between rich and poor in the UK is shrinking. It depends what you are measuring. While it is indeed true that the income gap between the top and bottom deciles is slightly shrinking, the gap between the top centile and the bottom decile – or any other decile, including the between the top centile and the top decile – is expanding very fast. In short, we are taking on the characteristics of a helot society, where distinctions between the upper middle class and working class are reducing, but the gap to the extremely wealthy is growing.

In Ghana this last week I have made a point of asking a large number of Ghanaians, from drivers and students to businessmen and senior ministers, whether, in exchange for a higher standard of living and free immigration to the UK, they would give up Independence and become a colony again. I have been met with incredulity and outrage that I would even ask such a question, and even anger from those who misunderstood my motive in asking.

Ghanaians are of course quite right. Any nation should be outraged at the idea it would voluntarily become subservient, or that its allegiance can be bought for money. Which is why I am incapable of understanding the mentality of unionists in Scotland, many of whom were swayed in 2014 by arguments their pension might be reduced or their currency depreciated.

As everybody who canvassed in the 2014 knows, and opinion polls confirm, it was not those on the breadline who were influenced by these arguments. The worse off were solidly pro-Independence (except for the Orangemen, whose thought processes are not rational). It was the bungalow dwellers of suburbia who were swayed by the fear that they might not be able to trade in their Nissan Qashqai after three years as they intended.

In fact, I think the arguments Scotland will be worse off after Independence are demonstrably nonsense. But even were they true, I cannot express the degree of my contempt for those who value national freedom in pennies, and weigh self-respect against gold.

Independent states which are geographically, climatically, and in population and demographics closest to Scotland – Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland – are all markedly wealthier than Scotland, despite Scotland’s terrific endowment of national resources. Why do some Scottish people believe they are inferior to the inhabitants of these countries, and would be unable to run their own affairs and economy?

The fact that Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden are all markedly wealthier than England, but that Scotland is poorer, should be sufficient indicator that the Union has not brought the claimed historical benefits, compared to those small independent states. So should the fact that, in 1707, the population of Scotland was a quarter that of England, and after three hundred years of union it is a tenth, while the population of the Highlands has only just returned to the original level. The fact that the A1 is, amazingly, still not much dualed north of Morpeth, while Crossrail is a national UK expenditure; the fact that high speed rail – like Crossrail accounted for in GERS as a national UK expenditure – will not come north of Leeds; the massive concentration of central government functions in London, and the long term effect of that on economic development: given all these indicators, you have to be slightly crazy to believe an independent Scotland would not be better off.

Astonishingly, this collection of untalented careerists that constitutes the “government of the United Kingdom” is managing currently to extend its lead in the UK wide opinion polls, while falling back again into third place in Scotland. I have sympathy for friends in England who do not wish Scotland to be independent, because the Tories have such a majority in England. But they have no right to force Scotland to live under a succession of Tory governments, which it has not voted for in over 60 years. Similarly, the Scots have no right to prevent the English from living under Theresa May – or even under Jacob Rees Mogg – if the English continue inexplicably to wish to do so.

I have expressed for many years the hope that I will see Scottish Independence and a United Ireland before I die. I am happy to say I am now convinced that I will do so. That the end of the UK would be marked by such a squalid, incompetent and dysfunctional political leadership I could not have dared to hope. Thank God the UK will soon be over.

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A Short Article Not Mentioning Alex Salmond

An Ambassador is evidently not as important as a Scottish First Minister, but there is one interesting similarity. You get to live in a palatial Residence at public expense, and you host numerous social events there, from intimate lunches to grand dinners to receptions for many hundred people. Indeed as a diplomat you do this throughout your career – as an Ambassador, Deputy High Commissioner, First Secretary and even Second Secretary I hosted many scores of such events in my home, and in every case was supported by office and domestic staff who worked under me, both British and local.

The strange thing is that, despite the fact I generally had extremely friendly relationships with those I managed, out of the dozens of women, many young, who assisted me over the years on such occasions, I am absolutely certain that every single one of them would have point blank refused had I asked them upstairs to my bedroom after the event. Some would have refused humorously, some would have told me to F*** Off, some might have suggested I was drunk. But not one would have conceivably said yes. Not office staff, not domestic staff. Not from any of the very different cultures concerned – British, Nigerian, Polish, Ghanaian, Uzbek. And if I had “instructed” any of them to lie down on the bed, the reaction of all of them would certainly have switched from humour to “F… Off”.

Which is as it should be.

The position of a senior British diplomat to a Ghanaian member of their domestic staff is possibly one of even greater power and authority compared to that of a Scottish First Minister to any Scottish government sector employee. Simple authority cannot compel compliance with such obviously unorthodox instruction.

I do however recall an occasion when I invited a young woman, not working for me in any sense, to my hotel bedroom after an event in Lodz, Poland. We both understood what an invitation to a bedroom that late at night meant, and as soon as we closed the door behind us I kissed her, passionately, which she welcomed. I did not ask her permission beforehand, indeed there was no prior verbal exchange at all about the possibility of a physical relationship developing. That is not in the least unusual in human relationships, and I despise the drive to make such matters coldly transactional. In that particular instance, for example, we remain friends 25 years on.

Not one of us would be able effectively to clear our names against allegations made years after the event, of an incident which allegedly occurred with no independent witnesses. As outsiders, we can only refer to our own experience to judge the likelihood of the tale which is told. For reasons explained in the first paragraph, I happen to have experience of the peculiar circumstance of hosting large public events in my own home with the assistance of public sector staff who worked for me. Few of you reading this will have analogous experience, as it is an unusual position to be in.

And I smell horseshit.

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Wow! Did We Really Just Do That?

The Levellers Play Doune the Rabbit Hole

I find it hard to get my head round the fact that this is the little festival Jamie started nine years ago with a group of his schoolfriends and the money from an endowment life insurance I took out for him the day he was born. 2018 was the year Doune the Rabbit Hole finally attained critical mass, and everything went right.

As the years go by, I have become more rather than less involved in helping run the show. I also have got older. I find that I am still capable of working like crazy for the week before and during the festival and averaging only three hours sleep a night for seven days. But what I can no longer do is recover easily from it. I have effectively been out of action for the last ten days, having come down with a sore throat and cough on the Festival’s last evening that simply will not go away, coupled with exhaustion. It is a hard thing to admit we are past our physical prime and on the slope towards extinction, but there we are.

I know some readers resent my taking time off from blogging to run music festivals, because some readers write and tell me so, but I am afraid it is an important part of what keeps me going, and while I am extremely grateful indeed to those who pay subscriptions to keep the blog active, it does not purchase any part of my life. Regular readers will recall that finally in December I got paid years of arrears for work done in Ghana. Well, I quixotically invested much of this – a six figure sum – to keep the Doune the Rabbit Hole and Eden Festivals going, both of which share the philosophy of being non-commercial with no sponsorship, no advertising and no rip-off pricing, and both of which were in danger of going under. largely due to 2017’s appalling weather.

Amazingly, the Scotsman got precisely what we are trying to do, in a four star review of DTRH 2018:

The atmosphere was, as ever, bohemian and laid-back, probably more akin to the free festivals of the 1970s than the corporately sponsored affairs which draw large audiences nowadays.

While this review from eFestivals picked up on an atmosphere which precisely matches my description before the Festival of why it is important to me and why I find renewal there (and no, I don’t know the author):

The reviews from people who just went along to enjoy have a similar vibe:

As a seasoned festival veteran (albeit I had not been at one since 2005) I have to say that I was totally blown away by this festival due to the intimacy of it all. Far removed from the commercialisation of big festivals, this was right down to earth, you could freely chat to most of the bands and it was easy to get up the front of crowd without having to maintain your position for the entire day!
The vibe was nice and friendly and as the festival goers were there to see the music rather than want the kudos of a Glastonbury Facebook check-in it was a lovely atmosphere…But, there is so much more to this event than simply the music. The boys (8 and 10) had a ball in the kids area, the free deckchairs that were scattered about sporadically were a marketing masterstroke and the bar sold a nice selection of cold local ales. (Added to this the free drinks for the children – a lovely touch)
We sang, we danced, we chilled. I even took in part of the World Cup final with the Levellers! What a memory that will remain. (again to highlight the intimacy of the event, the bands generally mingled with their fans rather than being penned in to a huge backstage commune far from the madding crowd)…
The support of local bands, up and coming bands and the sheer variation on offer meant it was a brilliant weekend loved by us all and we cannot wait to return in 2019. It was a triumph and I thank the organisers for a great show in a beautiful setting.

Doune the rabbit hole is an experience I would recommend to everyone.
What a fantastic weekend! Never have I seen so many happy people!
A super family friendly atmosphere. There’s lots for the kids to do. There’s showers if you don’t mind paying a little. Lots of space to lay about in the sun and relax.
The music was amazing, you are guaranteed to be dancing all weekend. There’s something for everyone.
The estate is beautiful too, so many trees to lay under or lounge around in deckchair.
I had such a brilliant weekend!

First time at this festival and it was absolutely brilliant. The toilets were always clean and never without toilet roll or hand sanitizer! the variety of seating available in the main arena was unlike any other festival I’ve been to. Great variety of music and alcohol available as well as food. Absolutely loved Pyroceltica and loved the night time camp fire. Fantastic atmosphere, everyone seemed friendly and it was a wonderful festival suited to all ages. I can’t wait to go back again next year!

My first time at DTRH and I was only there for the Sunday. I had a fabulous time though. Love that dogs and kids are welcome, love all the fun stuff laid out to entertain kids – and mostly for free. We took our son to Belladrum last year and everything cost extra money once you were in there so it was lovely to see it was only face painting and hugging an alpaca that cost here. I saw lots of very different bands and loved several of them. Lovely laid back vibe around the place, nice size of arena for the number of people. Hope to come back, with my son, in future

Felt like one big happy family in a field for the weekend. Great mix of music. Young & older, shoulder to shoulder sharing unforgettable festival experiences. Perfect introduction to festival life for our young daughter who had a whale of a time. Doune the Rabbithole put a lot of effort & imagination into the weekend resulting in a laid-back, thoroughly enjoyable time. An absolute treat of a wee festival

First time at DTRH which is surprising as live right next to site ! How to describe this wonderful little festival .. . Well as a late 30s gent who gave up my festival going after some fairly poor experiences at other events ( and a belief that I was getting on a bit and passed it ) my love of getting away from it all and listening to some good music is restored ! Doune is a family friendly ( and dogs so many lovely mannered four legged friends ! ) festival small in size but jam packed with character. From Friday to the Sunday night the stages offered something for every music taste or opportunity to create your own jam in one of the many tents dotted around the site where you could sit relax or get your groove on. Hammocks filled with giggling children or glorious deck chairs were a fantastic addition and offered somewhere to watch the unique and interesting characters that passed by or to fill bellies with the awesome food on offer notably the haggis man truck and gastro gorillaz ( seriously this was one of the best meals I’ve had at a festival ! ). We spent the majority of time between the campsite and main arena easily within walking distance and drama free throughout the weekend. The behavior of all in attendance was as chilled as the atmosphere. Never had an issue or witnessed anything concerning or that would have ruined your weekend ( and the toilets weren’t awful either ! ) In short will be back and highly recommend anyone who loves the festival atmosphere of old but without the drama to attend as you’ll definitely find something at DTRH that will bring back those memories of how good it used to be and can apparently be again ! Great job

There are many more, but I trust that it comes across that this event is about the people and the way they interact socially – in a “pop-up society” that is kinder than our normal one – and thus it gives a glimpse of society’s potential. This year it felt like we succeeded in doing precisely what we set out to do. I am extremely grateful to the readers of this blog who came along to work as volunteers with me in the bar or elsewhere, or just to take part in the festival – I was approached by scores of people including from Moscow, Warsaw and Berlin! Happily everyone seemed to “get” that it was about lifestyle not about political analysis.

I should love to be able to tell you that bands react to the non-commercial nature of the festival by charging us less than their full commercial rates, but sadly that would be untrue, and the artists always hide behind their agents. Supporting musical talent is of course a key aim, but I have to confess I worry sometimes that we have people working many hours – often weeks – for love of it, while some chap turns up, strums a guitar for 45 minutes and walks away with thousands of pounds. But I suppose that is the nature of talent. On the positive side, they do almost all react by chilling out and joining in with everyone else when not performing.

So, for those wondering why articles are few and far between lately, there is your answer. I continue to live a very full and varied life. I just need to pace it a little better!

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Russophobia Goes Comic

I am feeling particularly hostile to Donald Trump after his incendiary move on Jerusalem. But it remains the case that I have enough direct knowledge of events to be aware that the entire premise of the Russophobic “election-hacking” conspiracy theory is simple nonsense. I am therefore most amused that my friend Randy Credico, who stayed with Nadira and I in Edinburgh a few months ago, has now been subpoenaed by the Senate Inquiry on Russian meddling as the alleged go-between for Roger Stone and Julian Assange, on the brilliant grounds that he knows both of them.

I can tell you from certain knowledge this is absolute nonsense. While Randy is a delightful person who hides a shrewd political mind behind a deliberate crackpot façade, he is the most indiscreet person in the world. He is not anybody’s conveyor of secrets, he would tell it all impulsively on his next radio show! Where Russia fits into this mad conspiracy theory I have no idea. If I had any belief that it was the genuine intention of Senate or Special Counsel inquiries to discover the actual truth, I would be surprised they have never made any contact with me, as opposed to my fleeting houseguests. But as I am well aware the last thing they want to know is the truth, I am not surprised in the least.

On a personal note I have just emerged from a really harrowing period. I had to leave the High Court a month ago straight to Heathrow and fly out to Ghana. Here I have been battling for the last year to save Atholl Energy, a company I chair which had some US $50 million worth of debts. The reason for this was that it had built an extension to the power station it originally constructed for the Ghanaian government, and the Ghanaian government had failed to pay for the extension after Atholl pre-financed it. In line with company philosophy, Atholl had both completed and handed over the extension, despite the non-payment, as the aim is to supply power to the people of Ghana.

The massive debt of course threatened Atholl with going bust. That would mean redundancy for our staff, and potentially many scores of redundancies at local sub-contractors we had been unable to pay in full. The thought of inflicting that mass misery on families, many of whom I know, has stopped me sleeping for months.

The current government of Ghana took over in January and inherited a huge fiscal deficit due to – and there is no other way of saying it – wholesale looting by the last government on a scale which Ghana had never witnessed before. To give an example from our own sector, we install power plant using Siemens equipment at about 1.2 million dollars per MW for a turnkey plant including fuel supply and power evacuation infrastructure. The last government of Ghana were contracting large projects at three times the unit cost or more, using inferior equipment. For $150 million per project to be added corruptly was not unusual.

On top of this, despite having imposed some of the world’s highest electricity tariffs – higher than British tariffs, for example – the revenue collected was mysteriously vanishing. As a result, our $52 million owed was part of a US$2.5 billion energy sector debt the current government inherited.

In effect this has been rescheduled, by the launch of bonds to raise the money to pay off the debts. The bonds are serviced by a levy on petrol and diesel. As usual in Africa, the IMF and World Bank were extremely unhelpful, refusing to sanction a government guarantee on the bonds, which means the energy levy is now to be collected by a new corporate structure and the bond is a corporate one. This structure necessitated an increase in the bond interest rate to 19.5%, which will benefit the financial institutions who have bought them, to the detriment of the Ghanaian public. In my experience every IMF and World Bank policy intervention in Africa always, on analysis, benefits corporations to the disbenefit of the African public.

It is also a gross double standard – if the energy debt had been treated as government debt, Ghana’s “unacceptable” debt to GDP ratio would still have been substantially less that that of many developed countries, including the UK.

The government of Ghana is to be congratulated on its persistence and the brilliance of its financial engineering that enabled it to tackle a huge problem despite obstruction rather than help from the international agencies – the energy sector debt had been threatening to crash the Ghanaian Banking sector, to the benefit of the large international banks.

For our company, we had to take a haircut because the payment was made not in the cash dollars which were owed, but in a mixture of bonds and local currency. We owed banks and suppliers in dollars, so we have been structuring sales and taken the odd hit on discounting. But we have got through it, and as of yesterday have paid off all our creditors in full. There is not a single job loss caused by us, either in our company or at our suppliers and sub-contractors, and that has removed a fear which has been haunting me. I cannot express how tough this period has been – I did not receive a single penny from my major source of income for nearly four years, and as of this morning still haven’t. I am not going to be a millionaire, but I am now going to be OK.

2017 has personally been really difficult. But I can now look forward to the New Year with lightened shoulders, and pick up the rest of my life again.

I am truly sorry that for the last few months speaking invitations and book orders have gone by the wall. I have 21,253 unopened emails!! Not to mention over 5,000 donors to my legal defence fund I have not thanked yet. I promise I shall be less elusive in future.

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Cocoa Thoughts

I attended a State Dinner in Accra a couple of nights ago in honour of President Ouatttara of Ivory Coast. Ghanaian President Nana Akuffo Addo made a speech which included the striking fact that Ghana and Ivory Coast produce between them 65% of the world’s cocoa, and yet receive only 5.5% of the income of the world chocolate industry.

This simple fact sums up much of the dilemma of Africa; stuck in primary commodity production and still, after decades of concentrated effort, unable to develop value added or to obtain a price for commodities – and particularly for farmers – that reflects their importance to the global value chain.

Cocoa has been one of the most successful areas of endeavour for the Fairtrade movement, but all of that has only resulted in that 5.5% figure, which without Fairtrade would be still lower. It is possible to buy Ghanaian made finished chocolate product in British supermarkets now, and excellent it is too, but it has a very small market share. Producing finished chocolate in Africa has its problems; chocolate is a much more delicate cargo than cocoa beans and reacts badly to either heat or refrigeration. Recipes which overcome this problem result in a certain harshness.

There has been some progress made in processing of the raw cocoa beans in Africa into butter and solids, but not on a scale which fundamentally affects the market.

The current Ghanaian government has made a major point of this issue. Here is Finance Minister Ken Ofori Atta addressing it at the G20 Summit for Africa earlier this year. There is however no desire by the political and corporate establishment of the developed world to assist in any way.

Cooperation with Ivory Coast is obviously key to progress, but the two countries lack the financial reserves that would be required to initiate effective cartelisation; while I have to admit, against my own inclinations, that a free market in sales by the cocoa farmers has provided a much better living to them than the decades of efforts at state monopoly or various forms of price intervention. In Ghana both the Minister of Trade and the Chairman of the Cocoa Board at the moment happen to be old friends of mine and I hope to discuss the possible ways forward with them over the next week or so.

The situation is even further complicated by the hypothecation of Ghana’s cocoa revenue some years ago to repay China for the Bui Hydroelectric dam project. This was always a very poor project in terms of design and available water in the Volta watershed, and has had a number of disastrous wildlife consequences. There has been a huge amount of trumpeting of Chinese “aid” projects in Africa, but my experience has been that they are even more designed to help the “donor” country than Western aid, and almost always turn out to be loan rather than grant. As with the Bui Dam project, this is usually disguised in a lack of transparency about the underlying financial arrangements, and the Chinese surge into Africa has ramped up levels of corruption still further.

All that is true throughout Africa. There has been a further development specific to Ghana. Chinese convict labour was imported to build the Bui Dam. Many of the workers absconded into the countryside, taking the earth moving equipment with them, and started illegal gold-mining. The result was the collapse of the rule of law in much of the Ghanaian countryside, and the Chinese criminal gangs introduced the widespread use of firearms to protect their illegal workings, know in Ghana as Galamsey. Word spread back to China and thousands of Chinese gang members started to arrive to join the illegal trade – of course facilitated by Ghanaian administrative corruption. The result has been a massive expansion in illegal working in Ghana with environmental consequences which include the complete devastation of several key watersheds and the wholesale pollution of community drinking water supplies.

I have known the Ankobra river for 20 years and I can assure you that, astonishing as it may be, the change is due not to seasonal factors but to illegal mining. The Pra was also until recently limpid.

As so often, Al Jazeera produces the best documentaries.

Western involvement in Africa has been a disastrous history of exploitation over six centuries, and still is. It is therefore very fashionable, particularly on the left in the West, but also in some African nationalist circles, to hail China’s surge into Africa as some sort of redress. It has always looked to me on the ground as the arrival of yet another group of rapacious neo-imperialists to exploit Africa, and every year of observation has confirmed my view, which like most of my views is not fashionable.

A recent study concluded that Chinese aid is as effective in African development as Western aid. All I can say is, that is an extraordinarily low bar.

I don’t eat much chocolate nowadays. My alarming girth is entirely the product of the drinks industry. But the other day little Cameron gave me one of his chocolate buttons, and I was absolutely shocked by the unpleasant oily texture that instantly developed, and the lack of cocoa flavour in the overly sweet taste. I have never been a chocolate snob and always enjoyed the Cadbury’s Dairy Milk flavour. But the concoction of sugar and palm oil that so quickly developed in my mouth bore no relation to Cadbury’s Dairy Milk before Kraft/Mondolez took it over. A quick google revealed they deny they have changed the recipe.

Despite all the problems, the emerging economies of Africa continue the trend of the last 20 years of growing at a faster rate than Europe or the United States. My rather unconventional suggestion is that the African states concerned should look to their improved capital formation and ability to borrow, to buy in to the major western chocolate manufacturers in a big way. Perhaps in collaboration with China, which is sitting on trillions of dollars. It will take that sort of radical shift in market conditions for the problem Nana Addo so rightly identified, to be addressed.

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Unfashionable Causes

Most of the states existing in the world – including pretty well all of Africa bar Ethiopia, much of Asia, and the former Soviet Union – achieved independence in my own lifetime. In virtually every case, it was – almost by definition – illegal at the start of the process for the country to break away. All of the most famous liberation campaigners did jail time. Within the European Union, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia did not obtain Independence by a process negotiated from the start with the Soviet Union. The actions which initiated their Independence were illegal.

So it is a meaningless truism to say that it is illegal for Catalonia to hold a referendum on Independence. The idea that the right to self-determination of a people can be alienated by pre-existing constitutional arrangements, is rejected by international law. It is truly pathetic to see the Establishment throughout Europe hiding behind the miniscule fig leaf of the Spanish Constitutional Court to state that Catalonia cannot secede, and therefore the gross repression in train by the Spanish government is legitimate. The argument that the post-Franco settlement perpetually alienates the Catalan right to self-determination is, frankly, risible. It is simply embarrassing to see media outlets that once had some intellectual capacity, such as the Economist and the Financial Times, fall in behind it.

But the desire of Western governments to accept the brutal muscling aside of democracy in Catalonia by Madrid’s Francoist government, tells us something about the level of insecurity the Establishment feels. Scottish nationalists like myself have an instinctive sympathy for a similar movement in one of Europe’s other ancient nations. But in truth, there are serious differences. The Yes movement in Scotland is essentially socialist and is broadly looking to substantial economic and social reform to be initiated after Independence to create a more communitarian society. The Catalan movement is coming from a different place; of course it contains divers elements, but there is much less challenge to neo-liberalism in it. In fact there is a significant rather unattractive streak in popular Catalan nationalism that feels they are being held back by much lazier and less productive societies in the South. Catalan Independence is not really a threat to neo-liberalism. Yet, so insecure do the Establishment feel about their position in this time of rational popular discontent, any change is to be resisted.

The silence of the international community and the Establishment’s NGO’s on the repression of democracy in Catalonia is shameful.

I am currently in Ghana, and there is in West Africa a liberation movement which is even less fashionable, an oppressed people whose cause nobody espouses – the Anglophone Cameroonians. This week several hundred young men in South West Cameroon have been arrested and taken away by security forces, with real brutality in many cases. I wrote in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo about the torture, discrimination and deprivation of liberty suffered by the Anglophone Cameroonians over decades, about my own visit there and my thwarted determination to focus the FCO on the issue.

Very occasionally, NGO’s pay limited attention to this injustice. The International Bar Association protested against the arrest of a barrister, Agbor-Balla, who was charged with terrorism before a military tribunal for helping organise a human rights demonstration. He was released last month after six months harsh imprisonment, together with other community leaders, but a much larger wave of arrests is now under way, aimed at preventing a pro-Independence demonstration by Anglophone Cameroonians this weekend. There is, of course, an obvious parallel with events the same weekend in Catalonia.

Why has the international community ignored the plight of the Anglophone Cameroonians? Well the UK, as the former colonial power, finds the whole subject embarrassing and has no interest at all in interfering. African governments are notoriously unwilling to call each other out on human rights abuse. Plus the entire colonial legacy of the divide between Anglophone and Francophone West Africa is a neuralgic point in the region, affecting many relationships between rulers and states. Persecution of an Anglophone minority by a Francophone government is an issue that, if raised within the remit of the regional organisation, ECOWAS, would cause a very large can of worms to be opened. Without any powerful voices speaking up for the Anglophone Cameroonians, the United Nations is under no pressure to be involved.

Let me know of any good websites with inside information on events in Catalonia, as we will not get a true picture from mainstream media. I will try and get you a clear picture of the events in Cameroon this coming weekend.

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I continue urgently to need contributions to my defence in the libel action against me by Jake Wallis Simons, Associate Editor of Daily Mail online. You can see the court documents outlining the case here. I am threatened with bankruptcy and the end of this blog (not to mention a terrible effect on my young family). Support is greatly appreciated. An astonishing 4,000 people have now contributed a total of over £75,000. But that is still only halfway towards the £140,000 target. I realise it is astonishing that so much money can be needed, but that is the pernicious effect of England’s draconian libel laws, as explained here.





On a practical point, a number of people have said they are not members of Paypal so could not donate. After clicking on “Donate”, just below and left of the “Log In” button is a small “continue” link which enables you to donate by card without logging in.

For those who prefer not to pay online, you can send a cheque made out to me to Craig Murray, 89/14 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh, EH8 8BA. As regular readers know, it is a matter of pride to me that I never hide my address.

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The Disintegration of the American Body Politic

These are extremely dangerous times for the world. North Korea is exposing the futility of deterrence theory and causing nuclear weapons all over the world to be dusted down, at a time when a maverick outsider in the White House has been captured by a bunch of Generals who make Dr Strangelove look rational. Anybody who thinks sending occupying troops into Afghanistan is ever going to work is clearly certifiable.

The febrile state of the American political system has resulted in a peculiar McCarthyist witch-hunt against Russia, in which people who you would presume must have some capacity for rational thought, such as the editors of the Washington Post and New York Times, have abandoned that rationality in favour of anti-Russian hysteria.

As a British diplomat I cultivated contacts with Ken Saro Wiwa and his circle in Nigeria as they pushed against the tyrannical regime of President Abacha and the environmental destruction of their region, most notably by Shell. I cultivated Alexander Kwasniewski as a young opposition leader who eventually defeated the great Lech Walesa. I cultivated John Kufuor, opposition leader in Ghana, who like Kwasniewski went on to be President. I cultivated Mohammed Solih’s people in Uzbekistan. The later stages of all this are covered in my books The Catholic Orangemen of Togo and Murder in Samarkand.

As a diplomat it is your job to have relations not only with those in government, but to prepare in case the government changes. It is also your job, where you can get away with it, to push the political landscape in the direction your own government wishes. That is of the very essence of diplomacy.

If the Russians – and every other major government – had not been putting work into cultivating Trump and his circle, they would not have been carrying out the functions of diplomacy in the way they are carried on by every single country in the world – and by none more than the United States. For every contact between any Russian and anyone connected to Trump’s circle, now to be dredged up one after another and conflated into some master plot by Putin to take over the whole world, is complete nonsense. It is not just nonsense but dangerous nonsense because it is pumping up international tension between nuclear powers beyond cold war levels, and there is no shortage of potential flashpoints where things could go horribly wrong.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both reflected disillusionment at the massive exploitation of ordinary people by the ruling Establishment, though unfortunately the American people were cheated – most instrumentally by Clinton, the DNC and the rigged primary contest – into getting Trump rather than Sanders. The political system has still not adjusted to a new reality. Radical change is coming in both the US and the UK, but in both countries the Establishment for now still controls enough of the legislature and judiciary to hold the line. But I do not anticipate the demand for greater social justice will die down. The successful diversion of the revolutionary impulse by the Establishment media to the cause of the alt right in the United States and of racist Brexit in the UK, I believe will prove a temporary phenomenon.

But when so much bad blood is rushing around the body politic, the odd boil will erupt through the skin. One such boil is Louise Mensch, the former British Tory MP and multi-millionaire now recast as anti-Russian cheerleader in the United States, where she is given an astonishing amount of mainstream media space for her crazed theories.

Yesterday I got Louise Mensch all excited:

The tweet that made her say “On my God” was this one. We got not just an “Oh my God” out of Louise but also a “Christ!”:

Precisely what Mensch’s new God-fearing chums make of her choice of expletives I know not. But a rational person may wonder what about these tweets could cause such ecstasy in Ms Mensch.

Louise has taken up online with one of the crazed self-styled security experts who is jumping on the anti-Russian bandwagon in the United States, named Chris Nethery. Mr Nethery believes and has convinced Ms Mensch (so far as I can judge) that Sarah Kendzior, Uzbek opposition leader Mohammed Solih and I are members of a Russian intelligence cell which is undermining America. Those tweets appear to the rather strange mind of Ms Mensch to prove compelling evidence of this.

Ms Kendzior is a journalist. About seven or eight years ago she did some excellent academic work on Uzbekistan which I praised on this blog. I may have met her at that time but do not recall doing so. I have certainly not heard from her since. I have no emails from her. But still more hilarious is Nethery’s evidence that Mohammed Solih is a Russian agent. Mohammed is in exile in Turkey and like many opposition figures would be rather likely to be handed over for execution to the Uzbek regime should he come into Putin’s clutches. The Russian “expert” Nethery’s evidence of Solih being a Russian agent is that “Solih participated in the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968”.

It is not a secret that Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union. In 1968 Mohammed Solih was 18 years old and would have been compulsorily conscripted into the Soviet armed forces. Nethery’s accusation is ludicrous. It is like blaming the vets for the Vietnam war.

The Trump White House is dysfunctional and that clearly indicates the rottenness of the American political system. Xenophobia has become the rule. The anti-immigrant xenophobia of Trump’s supporters is mirrored by the equally irrational anti-Russian xenophobia of Trump’s opponents. Laughable figures like Mensch get to write columns in formerly great newspapers. I did not expect to see the United States decline so quickly.

SAVE CRAIG MURRAY

I face a libel suit in the High Court in England brought by Jake Wallis Simons, Associate Editor of the Daily Mail Online, and his lawyer Mark Lewis. The judge has approved over £100,000 in costs for Mr Lewis and £40,000 damages are sought in addition. I have been directly threatened with bankruptcy. All help against England’s draconian anti-free speech laws is much appreciated.

DONATE TO THE CRAIG MURRAY DEFENCE FUND





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The Roger Moore I Met

A brief extract from my memoir The Catholic Orangemen of Togo

On the other side of the equation, Roger Moore came out as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Fiona and I hosted a small dinner party for him. He was charming and suave, just as you would expect, with a fund of brilliant stories beginning with lines like “One day Frank, Dean, Tony and I decided to play a trick on Marilyn…” But while he played the role of Roger Moore to perfection, there was much more to him than that. He was genuinely very well briefed about children’s issues in Ghana, and was prepared not just to do the PR stuff, but to get his hands dirty helping out in refugee camps without a camera in sight. I was impressed by Roger Moore.

When I said get his hands dirty, I meant dig latrines. He really was a much better man than people realised. A celebrity who did not seek personal publicity for his good works, quite the opposite. Remember this re foxhunting:

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Present Death

I watched I, Daniel Blake a few months ago on a plane to Ghana. The overwhelming feeling that this is real, this is really happening to people today in the country where I grew up, kept welling up inside me. In the foodbank, when she started shovelling in the baked beans with her hands, I could no longer stop myself from sobbing. This caused great consternation on KLM. White-haired comfortable looking men in business class are not supposed to break down over the Sahara.

The feeling came back when I started to read down this list from Black Triangle of people killed by benefit cuts. I could not get past the first few. I could though total up the names, and there are 101 dead people here, the tip of the iceberg. How many more lonely deaths are unreported or unattributed to their cause?

I was led to this by thinking of yesterday’s disgraceful media attack on Jeremy Corbyn, again co-ordinated on both Sophy Ridge (Sky) and Andrew Neill (BBC). And this is what I thought:

The IRA and UVF are not killing anybody today. Tory policies are. Tory policies have killed far more people than the IRA and UVF ever did.

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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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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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Pollution

I apologise for the suspension of blogging – I am still in Ghana. Despite work being a bit tough at the moment, it is as always a delightful place, though this last week it has been polluted by the presence of Tony Blair. Why he thinks that this vibrant democracy needs to be lectured on “leadership” by a war criminal, is beyond me. Blair should rather take a lesson from Ghana, which is celebrating its sixtieth year of existence and has never invaded another country. Doubtless, beneath his hypocritical witterings, he is as always sniffing around for money and trying to leverage himself into Ghana’s oil, gold or bauxite sectors. A revolting little man, who has to traipse the world looking for platforms where he will not be challenged for his crimes and the hundreds of thousands of children killed by his wars – and even in Ghana his appearances were strictly invitation only.

I cannot give any definite time when I will be back and the blog will resume. Probably about another fortnight.

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Relativism and Castro

Anybody who, like myself, has devoted much of their life to African development, is bound to have acquired a bias towards Fidel Castro. Cuba played a crucial role in sustaining the liberation struggles throughout Southern Africa. If Castro had done nothing else, he would deserve warm remembrance for that. But much less well-known in Europe is Cuba’s extraordinary contribution to healthcare throughout Africa. Ghanaian, Togolese and Beninois villages and hospitals had excellent Cuban doctors, and I know part-Cuban families in each of those countries as a result. I am sure it was widespread across much of Africa, I just highlight that for which I can personally vouch. That a tiny island, itself a victim of colonialism and slavery, should be able to make a contribution to African healthcare that can without a stretch be mentioned in the same sentence as the aid efforts of the major western powers, is an incredible achievement.

It was of course the export of Cuba’s tremendous domestic achievement in healthcare and education, and some of the attempts these last 24 hours to belittle that have been pathetic.

But human rights are an absolute, and here there is no doubt that Castro’s record was not good. That he came to power in bloody revolution was not something for which I believe
Castro deserves blame. Nobody denies the dictator he opposed was vicious, and the organised crime and government nexus in Cuba pre-Castro was abhorrent. That people would die during a violent revolution was inevitable, that the immediate aftermath would be bloody, also inevitable. That a wealthy displaced class backed by the United States would attempt violent reversal, assassination, sanctions and every possible kind of political, economic and personal device to reverse the revolution was an act of political will. But against that background, could Castro have done more to inculcate basic human rights in Cuba? Yes, I believe he could and should have done.

I am open to the idea that revolutionary change requires revolutionary justice for a short period. The example of Egypt, back under an appalling military dictatorship, shows what happens when a decent leader like Morsi is too kind or timid to solidify revolutionary change by a wholesale clean-out of the corrupt justice system. But once things settle down, you have to restore order and proper process and genuine access to justice for ordinary people, even or especially against the ruling party. You have to leave space for people to express opposition and even organise politically against you. You cannot consider yourself as Nietzschean superman and decide that you know best for the people whatever they may think themselves or – and this is most pernicious – that commanding a majority entitles you to trample any minority. That the USA and its allies, by unremitting and extreme pressure and physical threat, played a counter-productive role in getting Castro to reform and respect human rights, is certain. But that still does not justify Castro’s domestic repression. He was wrong there, and another path was open – as demonstrated for example by Jerry Rawlings in Ghana, who seized power militarily and ruled as a revolutionary before he transitioned himself and his country successfully from dictatorship to democracy, without abandoning left-wing values.

So Castro is not faultless by any means. But on any objective measurement of his actions and behaviour against the accepted standards of western democracy, both Castro’s philosophy and his practice were much closer to Western standards than those of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who nobody could ever accuse of respect for democracy and human rights, and on whose death the British government flew its flags at half mast. The kind of armed struggle which King Abdullah covertly promoted was wahabbist jihadism, not African liberation. Yet he was officially honoured.

The highest figure I have seen attributed to Castro for deaths of political opponents is about 9,000, and it appears that includes people killed during the initial revolutionary fighting and in the Bay of Pigs invasion. I am entitled to criticise Castro for arrests, detentions, torture and political murders. Those who supported and assisted other dictatorships in Latin America which killed, tortured and harassed many more people than Castro, are not entitled to criticise Castro. That embraces most of the critics who are currently filling the news bulletins. The Imperialism and neo-Imperialism against which Castro stood, with undoubted personal courage, has been much more deadly than Castro, and infinitely more aggressive.

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New Book: Sikunder Burnes: Master of the Great Game – by Craig Murray

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