Saturday, 21 April 2018

Trial Date Watch: Day Four

More than a week after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 59

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Bad Korea History

Ah, yes, North Korea. Wasn't Korea supposed to have been Labour's good war? No. In order to pay for it, Gaitskell had to introduce NHS eye and dental charges.

Thereby, he breached the principle of the NHS free at the point of need, causing Bevan to resign from the Cabinet. Admittedly from ingredients that had always been present, that in turn created the Right and Left parties within the Labour Party.

Those have been battling it out ever since, for 67 years and counting, and not least at the present time. It all goes back to the Korean War, which caused the first breach in the principle of the NHS.

The Whip Hand?

"In this country in 15 or 20 years' time, the black man will have the whip hand over the white man." So said Enoch Powell, 50 years ago yesterday. The latest point at which that should therefore have become the case was 1988. In this country in 1988, did the black man have the whip hand over the white man? Well, there you are, then. What with that, and the fact that Powell more or less admitted to having made up the war widow with the guesthouse, the speech deserves to be completely forgotten.

Along with its author, come to that. His claim to have swung one or both of the 1974 General Elections for Labour cannot be proved and never rang true, he always denied Margaret Thatcher's claim that he had influenced her economic policies, his proposal for  the "total integration of Northern Ireland into Great Britain" never made any sense in view of the existence of more than one legal system in Great Britain, his noble enough advocacy of a Labour vote in 1987 in order to be rid of nuclear weapons was scarcely even noticed and certainly had no effect, and his grounds for opposing what became the EU bore no resemblance to the reasons for which the areas that eventually did so voted to Leave in 2016.

Nor did that referendum result have much to do with immigration. The Leave vote was concentrated in the wrong places for that. And after this week, it is clear that popular opinion on the subject is not at all as those who would wish it otherwise would have us believe. If a Bill to provide for the status of EU nationals in Britain after Brexit ever did see the light of day, then it would provide for them all to stay forever, and for as many as fancied doing so to keep coming, again in perpetuity. Few people would notice, and even fewer would mind. There would in any case be no meaningful way of voting against it.

This week has also marked something of a swansong for the Commonwealth, which it must be said that Powell always despised. As one last favour to the Queen personally, Prince Charles will be permitted to succeed her as its Head. But over half of its population already lives in India, which is already its largest economy by some measures, and which will easily be so by all of them by the time that Charles III dies. The problems over British visas for Indian nationals make the Windrush Scandal look like very small beer indeed.

All in all, William V can whistle for the position of Head of the Commonwealth. At which point, what will the Commonwealth be for, since it and the British monarchy seem to exist in order to give each other something to do these days?

House And Home

Jeremy Corbyn's and John Healey's proposals to tackle the housing crisis are good as far as they go. But they do not go far enough.

We need the Land Value Tax. With the Universal Basic Income. Set within Modern Monetary Theory, so that the Jobs Guarantee guaranteed the bargaining power of trade unions.

We need a minimum of 100,000 new homes every year for at least 10 years, including council homes, with an end to the Right to Buy, with the capital receipts from council house sales released in order to build more council housing, and with councils empowered to borrow to that end.

We need a minimum of 50 per cent of any new development to be dedicated to affordable housing, with affordability defined as 50 per cent of average rents, with rent controls, and with action against the buying up of property by foreign investors in order to leave it empty.

And we need a statutory requirement of planning permission for change of use if it were proposed to turn a primary dwelling into a secondary dwelling, a working family home into a weekend or holiday home.


The Fisk-baiters have probably never heard of him, either, but the great Patrick Cockburn writes:

During the bombing of Baghdad in January 1991 I went with other journalists on a government-organised trip to what they claimed was the remains of a baby milk plant at Abu Ghraib which the US had just destroyed, saying that it was really a biological warfare facility. Walking around the wreckage, I found a smashed-up desk with letters showing that the plant had indeed been producing “infant formula” milk powder. 

It had not been very successful in doing so, since much of the correspondence was about its financial and production problems and how they might best be resolved. It did not seem likely that the Iraqi government could have fabricated this evidence, though it was conceivable that in some part of the plant, which I did see, they might have been manufacturing biological weapons (BW). 

I was visiting a lot of bombed-out buildings at the beginning of the US-led air campaign and I did not at first realise that “the Abu Ghraib baby milk factory” would become such an issue. I was more impressed at the time by the sight of a Cruise missile passing quite slowly overhead looking like a large black torpedo.

But, within hours of leaving Abu Ghraib, the true purpose of the plant there had become a topic of furious controversy. The CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, who was on the trip, had reported that “whatever else it did, it [the plant] produced infant formula”. He saw a lot of powdered milk and, contrary to the Pentagon claim that the place was guarded like a fortress, we could only see one guard at the gate. Arnett did not deny the US government version that the place was a BW plant, but he did not confirm it either. He simply reported that “it looked innocent enough from what we could see”. 

Even such mild dissent from the official US version of the bombing turned out to be unacceptable, producing an explosion of rage in Washington. Colin Powell, the US chief of staff, expressed certainty that the Abu Ghraib plant had manufactured BW. The US air force claimed that it had multiple sources of information proving the same thing. Arnett was vilified as an Iraqi government stooge by the US government. 

“This is not a case of taking on the media,” said the White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. “It’s a case of correcting a public disclosure that is erroneous, that is false, that hurts our government, and that plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein.” US news outlets, none of which had correspondents in Baghdad, vigorously toed the official line. Newsweek derided Iraq’s “ham-handed attempt to depict a bombed-out biological weapons plant near Baghdad as a baby-formula factory”. 

It took years for the official version of the bombing to fall apart. Even though I had been in the plant soon after it was destroyed, I could not prove that it did not produce biological weapons, though it seemed to me highly unlikely. Media interest waned rapidly: the best study I could find about how the destruction of the milk factory was spun by official PR is a piece by Mark Crispin Miller, from which the quotes above are taken, published in 2003. 

Proof came slowly, long after public interest had waned. A Congressional report in 1993 on US intelligence successes and failures in the Gulf War revealed the shaky reasoning behind the US air force decision to bomb the site. It turned out that “mottled camouflage” had been used on the roofs of two known BW facilities. The report said: “at the same time, the same camouflage scheme was applied to the roof of the milk plant”. This was enough for the US Air Force to list it as a target. 

Confident official claims about multiple sources of intelligence turned out to be untrue. One has to burrow deep into an unclassified CIA paper on Iraq’s BW programme, to find a sentence admitting that another plant, which was the real centre of Saddam Hussein’s BW effort, was unknown to the US-led coalition and “therefore was not attacked during the war, unlike the Abu Ghurayb (sic) Infant Formula Plant (the Baby Milk Factory) that the Coalition destroyed by bombing in the mistaken belief that it was a key BW facility”. 

The story of the Abu Ghraib baby milk factory is worth retelling because it underlines – in the wake of the US, British and French air strikes on alleged Syrian BW sites on 14 April – the need for permanent scepticism towards claims by governments that they know what is happening on the ground in Syria or anywhere else. 

But government duplicity is scarcely new and denunciations of it may obscure an even greater danger. Look again at the attack on Peter Arnett’s story by the White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater who was wrong – and Arnett was right – in saying that it contained “a disclosure that is erroneous, that is false”. But he adds correctly that it was a disclosure “that hurts our government and plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein”. 

So it was in a minor way and this brings us to a toxic attitude towards those who question the official version of events increasingly common in Britain and the US. It is overwhelming freedom of speech in Hungary and Poland and has already triumphed in Turkey and Egypt. In all cases, opinions diverging from those of the powers-that-be are branded as disloyal and unpatriotic and “false facts” are being spread by “useful idiots”, to use two ghastly clichés much in use. 

Marginalisation of dissenting is followed by its criminalisation: Turkey once had a flourishing free press but now any criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or words or actions of which he disapproves can be labelled as “terrorism” and punished accordingly. 

There is much tut-tutting in Britain by the commentariat about the spread of authoritarianism in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but less so about the growing limitation on what can be freely expressed at home. Increasingly, anything less than full endorsement of the government line about the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury or the suspected gas attack on civilians in Douma in Syria is characterised as support for Putin or Assad.

A telling instance of this new authoritarianism is the denunciations of a party of Christian clergy and peers who have been visiting Syria to meet church dignitaries and government officials. This is an understandable mission for concerned British Christians because Christians in Syria can do with all the solidarity they can get as they are forced to flee or are kidnapped or murdered by Isis, al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. Like many Syrians, they see their choice as not being between good and bad but between bad and worse. They generally prefer survival under Assad to likely extinction under his enemies. 

Visiting embattled members of the depleted Christian community in Syria is a good thing to do. And, yes, it could be said that the presence of British Christians in Damascus is very marginally helpful to Assad, in much the same way that Peter Arnett’s truthful report on the baby milk in Abu Ghraib must have pleased Saddam Hussein. The Foreign Office said the Christians’ visit was “not helpful” but then helping the British state should not be their prime concern.

None of the arguments currently being used in Britain and the US to smear those sceptical of the governmental and media consensus are new. The Bolsheviks used to denounce people who said or did things they did not like as “objectively” being fascists or counter-revolutionaries. When those being denounced, often only a preliminary to being shot, replied that they were no such thing, the Bolsheviks would reply: “tell us who supports you and we will tell you who you are”. In other words, the only thing that matters is what side you are on.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Speak Up And Speak Out

I have spent more than 20 years, since I was (just) still in my teens and had never seen the Internet, trying to get the story out about Harriet Harman and the Paedophile Information Exchange. I have paid a terrible journalistic and political price for it, but I have no regrets. 

Media that always knew about it simply ignored the whole thing, banning me from their websites and what have you, until a period of no more than two weeks when they needed to distract attention from Patrick Rock. Normal service was rapidly resumed, and it has continued ever since. 

And now, the plan is advancing to make Harman the next Speaker of the House of Commons. The only outside chance of stopping that is to put the only person who would dare to mention her past, me, into the House of Commons. You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Kill The Weed

Today is apparently “Weed Day”, leading the Adam Smith Institute to style itself “the Adam Spliff Institute” on Twitter. Its position is perfectly logical and consistent. There cannot be a “free” market in general, but not in drugs, or prostitution, or pornography, or unrestricted alcohol, or unrestricted gambling. 

That is an important part of why there must not be a “free” market in general, which is a political choice, not a mere law of nature. Enacting and enforcing laws against drugs, prostitution and pornography, and regulating alcohol, tobacco and gambling, are clear examples of State intervention in, and regulation of, the economy. 

We need a single class of illegal drug, with a crackdown on the possession of drugs, including a mandatory sentence of three months for a second offence, six months for a third offence, one year for a fourth offence, and so on.

You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Trial Date Watch: Day Three

More than a week after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 58

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Customs Post

Never mind the Customs Union. Four amendments need to be tabled, and put to the vote on the floor of the House of Commons.

To secure the extra £350 million per week for the National Health Service. To restore the United Kingdom's historic fishing rights of 200 miles or to the median line, in accordance with international law. 

To seek a trade agreement with each of the BRICS countries while remaining thoroughly critical of all five of their current Governments. And to seek the integration into the Belt and Road Initiative of all four parts of the United Kingdom, of all nine English regions, and of all of the British Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies.

These ought all to be proposed as a single amendment to the Liaison Committee's motion on Wednesday. But that will not happen, because there is no one there to make it happen. Make it happen. You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Identifying The Enemy

We now know that the operational decision to destroy the landing cards was made in October 2010, when Theresa May was Home Secretary, and not in 2009 under the previous Labour Government, as she falsely claimed to the House of Commons. We now know that May was so involved in the Go Home vans that she came back from holiday in order to toughen up their language.

And we now know that Albert Thompson is not yet receiving treatment, so that was another lie. Pity poor Amber Rudd, who is going to have to carry the can for all of this. Still, she knew what May was like when she agreed to work for her.

But lo and behold, the solution is apparently identity cards, the Political Class's solution in search of a problem since time immemorial, and a useful wedge between those Labour MPs who know what it is like to be from a visible ethnic minority, or to be at least locally well-known as a left-wing activist, or to be more than an armchair trade unionist, and those, the great majority at the moment, who do not.

Don't fall for it.

Checked Off

Three years ago, if any event were addressed by Owen Jones, then he himself was the event. But he has since joined the long list of old "left-wing" star turns who resent having been made into supporting acts by a man whom they had spent decades assuming to be the cloakroom attendant, yet who turns out to have a popular appeal beyond their wildest dreams.

It is downright spooky that, when a Corbyn-led Labour Party can have 600,000 members and 40 per cent of the vote, Jones's is still the only "left-wing" voice allowed on. As with the Chosen One, so called because she was spookily not required to undergo any kind of selection process in order to become a parliamentary candidate, and whom Jones has endorsed as a potential Prime Minister, I think that we can all see what is going on here.

By the way, Little Owen's extremely right-wing ex-boyfriend is also in trouble today, for abusing Diane Abbott. Although at least he really did it. Unlike Jess Phillips, who made it up in order to become famous, secure in the knowledge that no one would check, and who has built an entire career on that lie.

Understand All Ye Nations And Submit Yourselves

A Statement Issued by the Patriarchates of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Greek-Melkite Catholic Damascus, 14 April 2018 

God is with us; Understand all ye nations and submit yourselves! 

We, the Patriarchs: John X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, Ignatius Aphrem II, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and Joseph Absi, Melkite-Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, condemn and denounce the brutal aggression that took place this morning against our precious country Syria by the USA, France and the UK, under the allegations that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons.

We raise our voices to affirm the following:
  1. This brutal aggression is a clear violation of the international laws and the UN Charter, because it is an unjustified assault on a sovereign country, member of the UN. 
  2. It causes us great pain that this assault comes from powerful countries to which Syria did not cause any harm in any way. 
  3. The allegations of the USA and other countries that the Syrian army is using chemical weapons and that Syria is a country that owns and uses this kind of weapon, is a claim that is unjustified and unsupported by sufficient and clear evidence.
  4. The timing of this unjustified aggression against Syria, when the independent International Commission for Inquiry was about to start its work in Syria, undermines of the work of this commission.
  5. This brutal aggression destroys the chances for a peaceful political solution and leads to escalation and more complications.
  6. This unjust aggression encourages the terrorist organizations and gives them momentum to continue in their terrorism.
  7. We call upon the Security Council of the United Nations to play its natural role in bringing peace rather than contribute to escalation of wars. 
  8. We call upon all churches in the countries that participated in the aggression, to fulfill their Christian duties, according to the teachings of the Gospel, and condemn this aggression and to call their governments to commit to the protection of international peace.
  9. We salute the courage, heroism and sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army which courageously protects Syria and provide security for its people. We pray for the souls of the martyrs and the recovery of the wounded. We are confident that the army will not bow before the external or internal terrorist aggressions; they will continue to fight courageously against terrorism until every inch of the Syrian land is cleansed from terrorism. We, likewise, commend the brave stand of countries which are friendly to the Syria and its people.

We offer our prayers for the safety, victory, and deliverance of Syria from all kinds of wars and terrorism. We also pray for peace in Syria and throughout the world, and call for strengthening the efforts of the national reconciliation for the sake of protecting the country and preserving the dignity of all Syrians.

A Duty To Be Sceptical

Peter Oborne writes:

Almost two years have passed since Sir John Chilcot produced his 12-volume report on the lessons of the Iraq war. We collectively promised to learn the lessons. Last weekend it was as if the Chilcot report never happened. Britain, cheered on by a bellicose press and a largely docile Parliament, launched airstrikes that showed the same disregard for due process against which Chilcot warned. 

Remember what Chilcot told us: ‘The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.’ He concluded: ‘the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.’

Chilcot judged that Blair and George W Bush were mistaken to invade Iraq before the inspectors had finished their search for Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. It’s déjà vu all over again. Britain, France and the United States ignored the United Nations, international law and due process. 

Remember Tony Blair and George W Bush’s lacerating contempt for Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors? We saw a repeat last weekend. When the bombing started the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was actually in Damascus and preparing to travel to the area where the alleged chemical attacks took place. 

Britain justified our action by claiming that Russia vetoed UN Security Council resolutions for chemical inspectors to investigate what happened. These claims are disingenuous. It’s true that Russia blocked a proposal to create a new joint UN OPCW investigative mechanism which would have a new and broader mandate to apportion blame for any attack it concluded had happened. But it was actually Syria and Russia who asked for the OPCW fact-finding mission. 

This is extremely significant. Had we wanted independent verification on this occasion in Syria surely we ourselves would have demanded the OPCW send a mission to Douma. Yet we conspicuously omitted to ask for it. 

Britain and the US claimed on Monday that Russia and Syria are delaying the OPCW. Another dodgy assertion. Russia has stated that UN bureaucracy is to blame. Those familiar with the UN tell me that this claim is all too credible. 

There are also question marks around the veracity of British and American assertions about the bombing raids. The US said it struck three known chemical weapons facilities in Syria – including at Barzeh and Jamraya outside Damascus. Yet the OPCW itself found these sites to have no chemical weapons as recently as last November. 

In order to help prove the existence of chemical weapons, Theresa May said in her statement to Parliament on Monday that Asad’s helicopters were operating over Douma shortly before reports of a chemical weapons attack emerged. This was true, but completely irrelevant. Nobody disputes that bombings was occurring and that helicopters were in the area. The real question is, what was the payload? The alternative explanation of the incident offered by the Syrians is that conventional bombing caused it. The presence of helicopters is consistent with this explanation.

As for Mrs May’s excuse for not going to Parliament, it’s laughable. She cited security concerns, but Trump had signalled to the world as early as last Wednesday that there would be reprisals. 

There are big questions here. Courtesy of Chilcot we all know that British and American intelligence were deeply complicit in the falsehoods told about WMDs to justify Iraq. We also know that the official justification for the intervention in Libya – that atrocities were about to take place in Benghazi – wasn’t true. In view of those twin disasters surely we all have a duty to be sceptical this time? 

This makes it all the more important significant that we pay attention to the respectable voices who are questioning the government’s narrative of events. Former First Sea Lord Admiral West, former SAS commander Jonathan Shaw, and former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford have all made interesting contributions to the debate. They have either been ignored or been trashed. I wonder.

As a journalist I also dislike the character assassination which has been carried out against the only British journalist who has gone to Douma since the attack supposedly took place. This is Robert Fisk. I know he’s controversial and that he has made serious mistakes. Whatever else you say about Fisk, he has a massive record of reporting from Northern Ireland and the Middle East. He has won most prizes available to journalists including the Orwell Prize and the British Press Awards’ International Journalist of the Year seven times.

I’ve read his report from Douma, which I recommend. It seems even-handed and balanced. Fisk is not justifying the Assad regime. All he has done is to record testimonies from individuals including a named medic on the ground. This is important. Karl Marx said that history happened first in tragedy and second in farce. This time it could be the other way around. The gesture bombing in Syria last weekend was farcical. But next time farce could turn to tragedy.

It’s all too likely that there will a repeat of an alleged chemical attack. We are already painting ourselves into a position where we will have no choice but to launch much bigger attacks of our own, again based on the flimsiest of evidence. 

I don’t claim to know what happened in Douma. But I do know from bitter and ugly experience that official sources and media narratives can’t be trusted. And I can see that we are making it easy for ourselves to be manipulated. So let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s listen to those who challenge our assumptions. 

We have a profound moral duty to doubt the official version of events. The next attack could take us into the regional conflagration which was only narrowly avoided last weekend. So let’s pay attention to the advice proffered by boring old Sir John Chilcott.

An Attack Without Evidence

Peter Hitchens writes:

Is this another example of an attack being launched before the verification teams go in to check the facts? Last night (Thursday 19th April 2018) the distinguished broadcaster Andrew Neil accused me of suggesting that the Western powers might fake chemical warfare attacks in Syria. The accusation was of course as incorrect as it was absurd.

Here is the background: I had been asked to appear at length on Mr Andrew Neil’s noted late night discussion programme, which has a generally high level of discussion, owing to Mr Neil’s undoubted intelligence, professionalism and knowledge, rare among BBC presenters. First, I made a short film summarizing my position, and then I defended it live in the studio. You may watch the film and the discussion here. 

Towards the end of that discussion (about 12 minutes and 50 seconds into the extract), Mr Neil made his allegation. A sequence followed in which Mr Neil repeatedly interrupted me in mid-argument and I repeatedly protested that what he was saying was a fabrication. Here is a more or less verbatim account, slightly tidied to aid clarity. I do not think I have omitted anything significant, and would be grateful for any significant corrections or additions.

Mr Neil (AFN) accused me thus: ‘You have speculated that Western countries could have ….can fake such attacks’ I (PH) said ‘I haven’t said anything of the kind’. Untroubled by my denial, Mr Neil persisted: ‘Yes you did’. He then said: ‘You said in your blog, speaking of Britain, France and America you could say there might be a temptation to fake such attacks (his emphasis). If these major nations (talking about us, America and France) will act in defiance of law, this, to fake them, must surely be a temptation’.

As I attempted to explain to him what I had actually said , that I had been referring to Islamist groups in Syria, saying ‘It must surely be a temptation among the Islamist groups in Syria if the Western countries are prepared to mount attacks on Syria – you interrupt me at every point – if the Western countries (interruption)…I am not. That is a complete fabrication. I have said that the people who would be prepared to fake the attacks would be the Islamist groups – if it is the case that Western countries could be persuaded…you’ve got to check your researcher on this, they have given you a bum steer.’ AFN ‘I have read the blog myself .

He then reads my words ‘If these major nations will act in defiance of law this, a fake attack must surely be a temptation.’

PH: ‘A temptation to whom?’

AFN: ‘The major nations.’

PH: ‘No, that is not what it says, Go and read it yourself instead of relying on some researcher. You have got it wrong.’

AFN: ‘Mr Hitchens, I read it myself’.

PH: ‘I was giving you the benefit of the doubt’.

AFN: ‘Maybe you should write more clearly next time’

PH: ‘I have given you the benefit of the doubt, you’ve got it wrong’.

AFN: ‘I’ve got it wrong perhaps because your English is not very clear’.

PH: ‘I don’t think that is a characteristic I have’.

The discussion then ends abruptly, and I have no further part in the programme. Here is the section of the blog posting which is under discussion:

‘Imagine this frightening possibility, which arises from that rush to act without facts, on the basis of unverified and unverifiable reports. Might this be a temptation to those who oppose President Assad, to fake such attacks in future? If these major nations will act in defiance of law, and without waiting for verification, this must surely be such a temptation to any cynical person, and I think we may assume there are some cynical people in this conflict on both sides.

‘If they can get the USA, Britain and France directly embroiled in the Syrian civil war, who will pay much attention if a month later the OPCW produces an inconclusive report? Certainly not the politicians and media who cheered on the attack. The OPCW will find its report covered sketchily on page 94 of the unpopular papers, and probably nowhere else except here. And if the resulting attacks lead to direct entanglements between western forces and those of Russia and Iran, then we will be well on the way to a regional war pregnant with the possibilities of world war, a new 1914 in which Iran and Saudi Arabia stand in for Germany and Russia, and the rest of the world eventually piles in, and then cannot find any way out again.’ 

I rest my case. The complete blog post can be found here. If Mr Neil was in any doubt about what I meant, he was free to ask me before making his accusation. I was at the studio an hour before transmission began.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Custom and Practice

Tony Benn always told you that you could have the House of Lords, or you could have what is now called Brexit, but you could never have both. People invest the pre-Blair House of Lords with the mythology with which they also invest the monarchy, as if neither had existed at the time of any Welfare State measure, or nationalisation, or retreat from Empire, or social liberalisation, or constitutional change, or EU treaty.

Such delusional people might more usefully snap out of it by joining the call for the lieutenancy areas to be made the basis of a new second chamber, to which the powers of the House of Lords would be transferred, with remuneration fixed at that of the Commons. In each of those areas, each of us would vote for one candidate, and the top six would be elected, giving 594 Senators in all.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would be required, and other parties would be permitted, to submit their internally determined shortlists of two to binding, independently administered, publicly funded ballots of the entire electorate one week before the election itself. Ministers would no longer be drawn from the second chamber; instead, all of them, including the Prime Minister, would appear before it regularly. Its term of office would be six years, while that of the Commons would go back down to four.

And all non-ceremonial exercises of the Royal Prerogative, including Royal Assent, would be transferred to six, seven, eight or nine of nine Co-Presidents, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top nine elected to hold office for eight years. That would in fact enfranchise those who inexplicably look to the monarchy to protect them from social democracy, or social liberalism, or European federalism, or what you. It has never done any such thing, any more than the hereditary peers did, or any more than the Lords Spiritual have ever done.

Furthermore, if the reduction in the number of Commons constituencies to 600 were indeed to occur, then the number of MPs might nevertheless remain the same. The whole country could elect 50 MPs, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top 50 elected at the end. Candidates would not be nominees of political parties, but any party of which a candidate happened to be a member would be listed next to his or her name on the ballot paper, for the information of the voters; the same would be true of candidates for Co-President.

What would be the deposit to become such a candidate? There would not be one, as there ought not to be in general. Instead, the requirement to be a constituency candidate might be nomination by at least five per cent of the voters, while that to be a national candidate might be nomination by at least 2000 registered parliamentary electors, including at least 10 in each of the 99 lieutenancy areas. In this day and age, obtaining that would cost little or nothing.

Candidates for Co-President, for Senator, or for national MP would all be required to name a second, who would also be listed on the ballot paper, to take office in the event of the position's becoming vacant.

In the words of the old Tory battle cry, Trust The People.

Back In The Woodpile

When was a member of either House of the United States Congress last recorded using the n-word? Yet today, the Conservative Party has restored the Whip to Anne Marie Morris. 

The test of the sincerity and credibility of avowed anti-racists in the House of Commons, whether they prefer to talk about the Windrush Generation or about anti-Semitism, will be whether or not they table and pass a motion to expel Ms Morris from that House at the start of next week's business. 

For future reference in such cases, you know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Trial Date Watch: Day Two

More than a week after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 57

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Money Laundering, Indeed

So, no raid for them, then.

Instrumental In Ensuring

Craig Murray writes:

Well-placed FCO sources tell me it remains the case that senior civil servants in both the FCO and Home Office remain very sceptical of Russian guilt in the Skripal case. It remains the case that Porton Down scientists have identified the chemical as a “novichok-style” nerve agent but still cannot tie its production to Russia – there are many other possibilities.

The effort to identify the actual perpetrator is making no headway, with the police having eliminated by alibi the Russian air passenger on the same flight as Julia Skripal identified as suspicious by MI5 purely on grounds of the brevity of their stay.

That senior civil servants do not regard Russian responsibility as a fact is graphically revealed in this minute from head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, sent to officials following the attack on Syria. Note the very careful use of language: Their work was instrumental in ensuring widespread international support for the Government’s position on Russian responsibility for the Salisbury attack.

This is very deliberate use of language by Sir Jeremy. Exactly as I explained with the phrase “of a type developed by Russia” about the nerve agent, you have to parse extremely carefully what is written by the senior civil service. They do not write extra phrases for no reason.

Sir Jeremy could have simply written of Russian responsibility as a fact, but he did not. His reference to “the government’s position on Russian responsibility” is very deliberate and an acknowledgement that other positions are possible. 

He deliberately refrains from asserting Russian responsibility as a fact. This is no accident and is tailored to the known views of responsible civil servants in the relevant departments, to whom he is writing. 

This in no way detracts from the fact that Sir Jeremy takes it as read that it is the duty of civil servants to follow “the Government’s position”. But it is an acknowledgement that they do not have privately to believe it. 

Allied missile strikes on Syria – a message from the Head of the Civil Service

In the early hours of 14 April, the armed forces of the United Kingdom, the United States and France launched a series of co-ordinated strikes on sites in Syria linked with the production and storage of chemical weapons.

This was in response to the use of prohibited chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against the civilian population of Douma, whose horrific consequences were widely reported.

I want to thank civil servants in a number of departments, but especially in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development, Department for Health and Social Care (and Public Health England), Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, and the Cabinet Office, for their work after the attack on Douma and throughout the allied operation. 

This response was designed to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and as a deterrent to their future use. 

Coming after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury just over a month ago, I also want to take this opportunity to renew my gratitude to the hundreds of public servants – at home and abroad – involved in the response to that attack and the ongoing investigation. Their work was instrumental in ensuring widespread international support for the Government’s position on Russian responsibility for the Salisbury attack and the participation of many nations in the diplomatic sanctions that followed. 

We could wish it was in different circumstances. However, the response to the Salisbury incident and the chemical attack on Douma showed the public service at its best: collaborative, professional and quick to act in the national interest, even under the greatest pressure. 

Jeremy Heywood 
Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service

Protecting Innocent Lives?

Keith Taylor writes:

In racing to fall in line with Trump and have the US President’s Foreign Policy agenda dictate our own, the UK Government bypassed Parliamentary scrutiny to join the war in Syria.
The claim is that the round of ‘gesture bombing’ timed to avoid national and international scrutiny and approval aimed to protect innocent lives. However, the most likely outcome is that more innocent lives have been endangered by a knee-jerk bombing campaign, devoid of any wider strategy.

Not only that, the desire to protect innocent lives against war crimes and human rights abuses in the Middle East appears to be inconsistent with the Conservative Government’s other policies in the region. 

Innocent lives are being lost in huge numbers in Yemen, victims of Saudi Arabia war crimes. However, Ministers continue to proudly sell arms to the perpetrators and give Saudi dignitaries the full red-carpet treatment. 

And as we edge closer to Nakba Day, violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories increases; with the loss of innocent lives. And the Government is silent. 

On the plight of Palestinian citizens as on the bombing of Syria without international legal approval, the UK and US coalition are becoming increasingly isolated. International agencies, like the UN, have not been as hesitant as the UK in condemning the actions of Israeli state forces and the Government’s refusal to “credibly investigate and prosecute substantial allegations of wrongful killings by its security forces.” 

And thanks to the Greens in the European Parliament, a motion for a resolution, which I helped draft, will be voted on today condemning the “grossly disproportionate use of force by Israeli security forces against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip” and expressing the EU’s “solidarity with the victims and their relatives.” 

Nakba means ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic. The Day, 15 May 2018, commemorates the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians that preceded and followed the UK and UN-backed Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Nakba; more than 50 years of illegal occupation and 11 years of an illegal blockade against Gaza. 

It is also the 42nd anniversary of Land Day. The Day marks one of the most significant united Palestinian demonstrations against the Israeli state’s plans to seize their land; six unarmed Palestinians were killed. 

The first Great March of Return demonstration, which demands the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to villages and lands taken from them by the Israeli state [a cause about which I am not so sure after 70 years, by the way], was attended by more than 30,000 Palestinian civilians. 

Since the protests began on 30 March, Israeli Defence Force snipers have killed 31 and injured more than a thousand unarmed protesters; six journalists are also among the murdered. 

Yasser Murtaja was a journalist covering the protest; he was shot while wearing a clearly-marked press jacket. Murjata was a Gazan resident, who was born during the first intifada, lived through the second, and was one of many Gazans subjected to three deadly conflicts and the impacts of an 11-year illegal blockade. He had never travelled outside of Gaza.

Israel has claimed that they do not shoot journalists. However, the IDF has bragged that the protests provided an opportunity to test both their military expertise and precision and new drone weaponry. 

The number of innocent Gazan lives lost, therefore, suggests the IDF deliberately targeted and killed unarmed protesters and journalists. Palestinians are in mourning but have called for the protests to continue until Nakba Day. 

While Hamas has supported the call, the claims of the Israeli Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, that ‘there are no innocent people in Gaza only Hamas militants’ are, at best, pure fantasy and, at worst, pure propaganda. 

The protesters are Palestinian citizens who have lived, as their parents and grandparents before them, under a brutal and oppressive occupation; as second-class citizens in their own home. 

Lieberman’s deliberately misleading statement intends to justify the taking of innocent lives by dehumanising protesters.

The idea that all Gazans are Hamas activists is patently absurd and symptomatic of the disregard the Israeli state has for the rights of Palestinian people.

The right of return for refugees is enshrined in international humanitarian law, and included in conventions that Israel itself has ratified. It is a right, however, denied to Gazans; one of the many human rights abuses suffered by Palestinians.

For decades, Palestinians under an illegal occupation have been collectively punished for demanding the simple right to freedom, justice, and dignity in their homeland.

The British Government played an active role in the Nakba and continues to be silently complicit in the abuses of the Israeli state it birthed.

It is difficult to believe, therefore, that ‘protecting innocent lives in the Middle East’ is the reason for the Conservatives’ desperation to fall in line with Trump’s foreign policy agenda.

Times of War

On Friday, the British government, alongside the US and France, launched airstrikes on Syria, a sovereign state, ostensibly to punish Bashar al-Assad’s government for allegedly conducting a chemical attack in Douma in Eastern Ghouta, which is held by the Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam radical extremist group.

There were plenty of reasons to be concerned by this action: the airstrikes were illegal insofar as they violated international law as established by the UN Charter, the agreed framework for the conduct of interstate relations. They were carried out on the basis of little more than social-media videos as evidence. They happened just one day before the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was due to investigate the attack. And they were approved without domestic authorisation from the UK parliament. 

Polls also consistently show that a majority of the public do not agree with the airstrikes. Moreover, they were what James Mattis, the US defence secretary, called ‘show strikes’ – a performance of the honour of the international community, as French president Emmanuel Macron put it. Discussions were even held with Russia (and, by extension, Syria) to ensure no one was killed or injured.

As such, the British state and its allies have indulged in the very worst kind of gesture politics, escalating conflict and inviting anti-Syrian government groups to claim evidence of further chemical attacks in the hope of prompting further action from the US and its allies. So you might think at least some of this would be of interest to The Times

Yet on Saturday, its front page, a double page inside and lead editorial were dedicated to a risible hatchet job on me and other colleagues at an academic working group called ‘British Media and the Syrian Conflict’ (BMSC) – a group that seeks to build on the work of Piers Robinson (a politics professor at the University of Sheffield and one of the founders of BMSC) on the media’s role in the Iraq War, and what is called organised persuasive political communication, or propaganda.

The Times’ report and op-ed are notable for their lack of substance, which is hardly surprising given we have only just set up the working group, and are yet to produce any, well, work. Instead, like The Times’ recent report , ‘Exposed: Jeremy Corbyn’s hate factory’, which consisted of a trawl of Labour-supporting Facebook groups in search of unpleasant posts, its piece on us, headlined ‘Apologists for Assad working in British universities’, consisted of a trawl of my colleagues’ blogs and tweets about Syria.

The Times states that by questioning the British government’s stance we are apologists for Assad. More absurd still, it claims that by questioning and debating British foreign policy we are somehow shutting down debate. It seems to me that it is The Times that is shutting down debate, not to mention attacking academic freedom. 

As a point of interest, two senior British military figures have been interviewed on the BBC and Sky questioning if it was indeed the Syrian government that carried out the chemical attacks. I am eagerly awaiting The Times’ double page spread on those ‘Assad apologists’, Admiral Lord West and Lord Shaw.

It is entirely legitimate to ask questions about what has happened in a war, what the government tells us has happened, and on what basis it is making its decisions. Indeed, surely a newspaper should be asking those same questions rather than diving into academics’ social-media posts. 

The Times even followed up its ‘exposé’, with a piece during the week in which it revealed that I had tweeted that the Syria strikes were against international law. Given that they are against international law, how exactly does my saying that constitute news? 

It is exactly at times like these that it is the democratic duty of citizens to question their government. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of the government-commissioned Chilcot report into the Iraq War, which showed that Tony Blair’s Labour government lied to take us to war in Iraq.

It was one of the biggest foreign-policy disasters of the post-Cold War era, and we live with the consequences today. This was not an intelligence failure, as it is often portrayed; rather, it was, as Sir John Chilcot very clearly showed, a deliberate decision to construct a false case for going to war. Much of the British media was complicit in peddling it. 

But the Chilcot report is too often treated as a historical overview of something that could not happen again. Yet it did – in Libya. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report on the 2011 Libyan intervention very clearly shows that David Cameron’s Lib-Con government constructed a false narrative of the Libyan civil war in order to intervene.

The idea that it is good to challenge the government on other issues, from housing to energy, but that we should all shut up when the British state is dropping bombs on people is wrong. Because if there is a lesson from the Chilcot report, it is that we should question the government, especially in times of war.

It is the democratic duty of each and every one of us to question and question and question, and ultimately hold our government to account. Calling people traitors, or useful idiots, or conspiracists, or apologists, is the oldest and weakest trick in the book. All it shows, in fact, is the weakness of the government’s own case for military action.

On 12th March, The Times reported on its front page that Sergei Skripal was dead. If you want Tara McCormack as a foreign policy adviser to a high profile Member of Parliament, then you know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Trial Date Watch: Day One

A week after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 56

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Is Donald Trump Morally Unfit To Be President?

Yes, of course he is. As was, and is, Hillary Clinton.

Every criticism that James Comey makes of Trump as proof of his moral unfitness was also directly applicable to Bill Clinton. And of course, the mass murdering foreign policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama indicated that they, too, were morally unfit for office.

By all means oppose Donald Trump. But do so while understanding why people voted for him. And do so on the grounds that led you to oppose Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. On those same grounds, some of us would have opposed Hillary Clinton.

You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Esther McVile?

Yes, but no more vile than Yvette Cooper of the Work Capability Assessment.

Or than Rachel Reeves, who said that she wanted herself and her party to represent "normal people", not those of us with disabilities.

They haven't gone away, you know. You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Deport Theresa May From Office

Fleet Street Fox (even though everyone knows her real name) writes: 

Amber Rudd will probably get the blame. She is the person currently in charge of the Home Office, and who failed to spot the ticking timebomb of the Queen meeting 53 Commonwealth leaders just as her government deported their former citizens. That's not a smiley photograph for what was going to be the 91-year-old monarch's farewell party for her former colonies.

But while it's Amber's fault she did nothing to halt the PR disaster, she is not responsible for the international disgrace that is the Windrush scandal. It's an anodyne phrase to describe the forced removal of invited guests, who all just happen to be brown. But it was Theresa May who was Home Secretary when the evidence of their arrival was burned in 2010, and it was Theresa May who later demanded those guests produce the evidence. 

The landing cards of those migrants - many of whom wore their Sunday best for the journey, after they were asked to come to Britain to rebuild our post-war economy - were destroyed as part of an office move. But staff were already using those cards to settle residency claims, and they warned bosses not to do it. They went ahead with it anyway, because in this day and age who still needs old bits of paper? 

The UK Border Agency, at the time, employed 23,500 staff in 130 countries. Cabinet minister Matt Hancock today claimed it was "independent", as though Theresa could not be held responsible. Yet she has been repeatedly called to account for UKBA activities in Parliament and before Select Committees. She was criticised for a lack of oversight, named as responsible for the departure of its boss, and authorised a £100,000 settlement of his constructive dismissal claim. 

It was Theresa who, in 2012, declared an intention "to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration". She set up a task force known as the Hostile Environment Working Group to force other parts of the state could do UKBA's job - GPs, schools, nurses, benefits staff, letting agents, banks, to demand proof of residency. And at the same time it was Theresa who oversaw £500m of "savings" at the UKBA and 22% staff cuts. 

In 2013 the agency was accused by MPs of "catastrophic leadership failure", with 97% of complaints upheld. The cuts meant a massive backlog in cases, poor decisions, and huge injustice. And it was Theresa who, despite being responsible for it all, said the way to fix it was to make it part of the Home Office so she could be responsible for it. It was Theresa who, that same year, sent out 'Go Home' vans. It was Theresa's department that produced advice for people deported to Jamaica advising them to put on an accent and "try to be Jamaican". 

It was Theresa who steered the 2014 Immigration Act onto the statute books. It was Theresa who was Home Secretary when those first employment and benefit checks saw the paperless children of Windrush migrants thrown out of work and out of homes, off emergency housing lists and out of the welfare safety net. It was Theresa who has been asked, for years, by refugee and migrant charities to close the loophole. Whose department was laid siege to by community law projects acting for those who could not afford lawyers. Who still doesn't know if the people she ignored are here or there. 

It was Theresa who in 2010 raised the price of APPLYING for indefinite leave to remain to £849. By 2015 the fee was £1,500 and today it's £2,297 - not for a family, but for every member of it. It is Theresa who, we must assume, had no idea that immigrants and their children generally have little money, little need of a passport, and therefore big reasons not to apply for a status they already had.

It was Theresa who ignored the first local and national stories of deportations last year, in print and on television. It was Theresa who did not care about the Windrush generation's problems when they were written about in The Guardian months ago. It was Theresa who was PM when Black History Month launched a petition demanding an immigration amnesty for the Windrush migrants in October, and which despite passing 170,000 signatures is still being "considered' for Parliamentary debate. 

It was Theresa who last month refused to intervene in the case of a man who'd been caught up in regulations introduced last October to make hospitals check residency status of patients, and was told to stump up £54,000 for urgent cancer treatment despite being resident for 44 years. It was Theresa who three days ago refused to meet the Commonwealth leaders when they were all in London, and caved in only after the Daily Mail declared it a scandal.

It is Theresa who has a nasty habit of blaming other people for her own mistakes, and whose career-wide carpet has so much muck swept under it looks more like a cobbled road to hell. And it is Theresa whose department and government has ILLEGALLY deported British citizens, who charged people to apply for a legal residency that they ALREADY had, and IGNORED complaints raised over years by charities, lawyers, and those bits of the media she does not care for.

The fact the people who have suffered as a result of Theresa May's "really hostile environment" are browner, poorer and less able to be heard renders her claims of being a champion of social justice utterly laughable. That those who got the letters, lost the jobs, were rendered homeless, were people who had already endured decades of harassment, racism, poor opportunity and abuse is horrific enough. 

The awe-inspiring thing is that guests treated so appallingly for so long, only to be denied, belittled and betrayed in the name of cheap, racist politics, still want to be part of a country that has shown them such atrocious manners. But what really rankles is that the one person who bears responsibility for so much of it is incapable of either accepting or fixing it.

Theresa May might not be a racist - but she's presided over the most racist, disgraceful abomination in recent British history. She allowed it to grow to such massive proportions that it's now a stain upon our national character. Were politics operating properly, rather than being obsessed with delivering Brexit at all costs [war in Syria, more like], she'd be in such a hostile environment that she'd be out of work by Friday. But it'll probably be Amber Rudd's fault, because she voted Remain and won't get in a car with Boris Johnson.

The Dire Need

Julie Bindel writes:

Which UK political party cares more about women: Labour or the Conservatives? If I’d been told five years ago that I would even be thinking of asking that question, I’d have thought it was a joke. As a lifelong Labour voter and supporter, who has found herself disillusioned and dismayed with the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, I have been hopeful that socialist men will finally recognise the dire need to tackle sexual and domestic violence towards women and girls as a major priority. I have been bitterly disappointed. 

I will never vote Conservative, because as a feminist campaigner I believe that for all women to be liberated it is necessary to understand and work to dismantle the endemic inequality that exists within every facet of society. The Tories have a terrible track record in terms of funding services for women escaping violent relationships and giving a damn about women at the bottom of the pile, preferring to focus on the “glass ceiling”, which affects about 5 per cent of the most privileged women. 

Despite having failed to elect a female leader in 118 years, probably most would still say Labour is the party that cares most about women, and understandably. It is not for nothing that Labour feels like a more comfortable place if you are female. 

Under Tony Blair, some female-friendly (as opposed to hard-hitting feminist) policies were introduced, such as national minimum wage, tax credits, childcare strategy, increased child benefit, increased public sector spending, same sex adoption rights, and Sure Start children’s centres. The criminal justice system also was given a shakedown during this period: for example, the provocation defence for domestic homicide was scrapped, which had previously allowed some men who killed female partners to claim they had been “provoked” into killing as a result of her alleged infidelity, or “nagging”.

These are hard-won changes. So it is with a heavy heart that I have watched Labour concede whole swathes of feminist ground to the Tories over the last few years. If anyone at Labour HQ has noticed, no one seems to care. Some of it undoubtedly has more than a hint of virtue signalling. But something much more profound is going on. 

Under Blair, women-only shortlists were introduced in order to address some of the massive imbalances in the House of Commons, but Corbyn has decided that the only criteria for being included on such shortlists is self-identification. In my view, this renders the initiative null and void. 

Labour is supposed to be the party of socialism, and to recognise structural inequality. What better example of desperation, poverty, and indignity is there than the sex trade? And yet in 2016, Jeremy Corbyn said, during a talk at Goldsmiths University, that he is in favour of blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade. “Let’s do things a bit differently and in a more civilised way,” he said. 

While I would hope that anyone with any sense would support the decriminalisation of the women (and men) selling sex, socialists, both male and female, should recognise that the global sex trade is a dumping ground for care leavers, childhood sexual abuse victims, girls and women of colour and from indigenous communities, and women subjected to domestic violence.

The last thing we should be doing is removing all criminal penalties from brothel owners, pimps and punters, as Corbyn and many other men on the left are  in favour of doing. In 2015, John McDonnell sponsored a laughably ideological report from a group that would like to see prostitution completely decriminalised.

Decriminalisation is another way of saying: open season on women’s bodies. Like the Netherlands, where women suffer the indignity of standing in window brothels so men can select which ones they consider worthy to buy. Only a small number of courageous Labour Party women speak out against this crazy position, such as Thangam Debbonaire and Naz Shah

On the other hand, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission is currently carrying out an inquiry into prostitution and the law. This is a fairly mainstream Tory group with MPs from all wings of the party. As part of this inquiry, I today spoke in a debate in parliament on the motion: “Should men have the right to buy sex?”, moderated by Baroness Fiona Hodgson. This inquiry is streets ahead of anything else that has happened in parliament for ages.

The Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry last year effectively collapsed after its chair was found to be paying for sex himself. Other previous efforts have all got stuck trying to sift the contradictory evidence from other jurisdictions. My opponent, Dr Belinda Brooks Gordon, argued that “disabled men, and returning war heroes, should be allowed to buy sex”, the implication being that these men, “can’t get a real date”. I argued that there is no such thing as a “right” to sex, and that it is a classic neoliberal argument. 

This inquiry is asking crucial questions. In a previous hearing, sex trade survivors were asked: “What does it mean to freely enter prostitution?”, and “When does prostitution become exploitative?” Yes, yes, yes. When women’s bodies are being rented for orgasm, when women are routinely abused, even killed. When women in poor countries are being told to sell themselves out of poverty, we need to ask ourselves if the decision to advertise their flesh as consumable is a just one.

To me, being a Conservative and a feminist are mutually exclusive, because equality for women can only be won in a context of wider social equality. However, every time I criticise Labour men for their sexism, I am told that I should be using my energy to have a go at the Conservatives, because their policies and track record are far worse for women. I agree. 

But I will continue to highlight Labour’s sexism because I do not want young women who see the regressive policies of Corbyn and cohorts to defect to the Tories.  Labour needs to wake up to the obvious truth that prostitution is violence against women. I don’t think it ever will under the hard left “woke” bro culture of the present, but perhaps if it ever returned to the type of socialist principles that include women, we might get somewhere.

It is very high time for Parliament to tidy up the shambolic laws on sexual offences.

First, the age of consent should effectively be raised to 18, by making it a criminal offence for anyone to commit any sexual act with or upon any person under that age who was more than two years younger than herself, or to incite any such person to commit any such act with or upon her or any third party anywhere in the world. The maximum sentence would be twice the difference in age, to the month where that was less than three years, or a life sentence where that difference was at least five years. No different rules for “positions of trust”, which are being used against male, but not female, 18-year-olds looking after female, but not male, Sixth Formers visiting universities. And no provision, as at present, for boys to be prosecuted at any age, even if they are younger than the girls involved, whereas girls have to be 16. 

The law on indecent images is also enforced in totally different ways in relation to boys and girls of the same age, and even to boys who are younger than the girls. That must end. Children under the age of consent can have abortion or contraception without parental permission (thank you, Margaret Thatcher). That is an argument for banning children under the age of consent from having abortion or contraception without parental permission. Unless they decided as adults to seek to make contact with their children, then the financial liability of male victims for pregnancies resulting from their sexual abuse ought also to be ruled out. Talk about victim-blaming. 

Secondly, it ought to be made a criminal offence for anyone aged 21 or over to buy or sell sex, with equal sentencing on both sides. No persecution of girls and very young women whose lives had already been so bad that they had become prostitutes. No witch-hunting of boys and very young men who were desperate to lose their virginities. But the treatment of women and men as moral, intellectual and legal equals.

Thirdly, the offences of rape, serious sexual assault, and sexual assault, ought to be replaced with aggravating circumstances to the general categories of offences against the person, enabling the sentences to be doubled. The sex of either party would be immaterial. There must be no anonymity either for adult accusers or for adult complainants. Either we have an open system of justice, or we do not.

In this or any other area, there must be no suggestion of any reversal of the burden of proof. That reversal has largely been brought to you already, by the people who in the same year brought you the Iraq War. The Parliament that was supine before Tony Blair was also supine before Harriet Harman. Adults who made false allegations ought to be prosecuted automatically. 

Moreover, how can anyone be convicted of non-consensual sex, who could not lawfully have engaged in consensual sex? If there is an age of consent, then anyone below it can be an assailant. But a sexual assailant? How? Similarly, if driving while intoxicated is a criminal offence, then how can intoxication, in itself, be a bar to sexual consent? The law needs to specify that it was, only to such an extent as would constitute a bar to driving.

And fourthly, obscenity ought to be defined as material depicting acts that were themselves illegal, or which was reasonably likely to incite or encourage such acts. Sentencing would be the same as for the illegal act in question in each case. 

American-style legislation for internally administered “balance of probabilities” or “preponderance of evidence” tests to sexual assault allegations at universities or elsewhere must be banned by Statute. It is incompatible with the Rule of Law to punish someone for a criminal offence of which she has not been convicted. It must be made impossible for anyone to be extradited to face charges that fell short of these standards, or for such convictions to have any legal standing in this country.

As for teaching things in schools, how is that curriculum time currently being filled? Apply the Eton Test. Would this be taught in a school that assumed its pupils to be future Prime Ministers or Nobel Laureates? If not, then instead fill the hours with something that was. Teach Latin. Someone will. 

Convictions under laws predating these changes ought to be annulled along with those of men whose homosexual acts would not be criminal offences today. Labour should vote against that unless it also annulled, not only all convictions in the above categories, but also all convictions and other adverse court decisions arising out of Clay Cross, Shrewsbury, Wapping, and the three Miners’ Strikes since 1970. This would set the pattern for all future feminist and LGBT legislation. Without a working-class quid pro quo, then Labour would vote against any such legislation. Alongside the DUP, the Conservative Right, or whoever. It is not Blair’s Labour Party now. 

But juts in case it might ever become that again, you know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.