Monday, 31 October 2016

Threading The Needle

All of this carry on with Mark Carney is because Tony Blair and Gordon Brown reversed one of Attlee's first, and Labour's greatest, achievements.

They did so by placing monetary policy beyond democratic political control.

How, then, can there be democratic political control of anything?

How, indeed?

The Road From Hillsborough To Orgreave

It is impossible to understand what happened at Hillsborough without an inquiry into Orgreave.

The Hillsborough cover-up was the Thatcher Government's act of gratitude to South Yorkshire Police for its approach to the Miners' Strike.

But this was written in May. The author is now the Prime Minister's Joint Chief of Staff. The fight goes on.

Not Even The End of The Beginning

As Theresa May must have known would happen when she first, and wholly unexpectedly, floated the idea, there is now an inexorable momentum towards an inquiry into Orgreave.

It is going to happen. It is just that it is now going to happen later rather than sooner.

This is the piece of red meat thrown to her deeply disaffected Loony Right. But it will make no difference to that faction's implacable hostility towards much of the rest of her programme.

Let Labour put the need for an inquiry into Orgreave to a Division of the House of Commons.

As much as anything else, that would smoke out Labour's own Loony Right.

Grammar Simplification

Scores of Labour MPs are itching to join the Conservative Hard Right in voting against the many of Theresa May's measures that are well to their own left.

But they might not do so, even if they did not turn up to vote in favour of those measures, either.

Provided that she never proceeded with what was in any case her almost forgotten little dalliance with lifting the ban on new grammar schools.

That would never have passed either House of Parliament, and there was no such ban for the first 40 of the 50 years during which no one has attempted to set up a new grammar school.

The ban itself was enacted as a tidying up exercise, with little or no coverage or controversy.

So hardly anyone would notice, and even fewer would mind, if the proposed lifting of that ban were to be quietly forgotten.

That has already more or less happened, anyway.

An informal formalisation would spare the Government all manner of parliamentary difficulties.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

A Crippling Blow

Toby Young's only claim to be an expert on education is that he says that he is one.

He wants there to be no wheelchair ramps in schools, regarding them as "Political Correctness gone mad".

Although under him, there will be no new grammar schools. Not that there would have been any, anyway.

Even if the ban on new ones were to be lifted, then there was no such ban during the first 40 of the 50 years in which no one has attempted to set one up.

Voice of the Right

Peter Hitchens is right that there is no more anti-Semitism on the Labour Left than anywhere else, right that Shami Chakrabarti is an excellent addition to the House of Lords, right that we need to expand our rail links to the great airports of the near Continent rather than build new runways here, right about not adopting Central European Time, right that the sixtieth anniversary of Suez ought to cause us to reconsider our insistence on antagonising Russia, right that the Ashers are "rather loudly Christian", and right that the ruling against them was not what the Equality Act intended or specified.

Richmond Parking Ticket

With no difference among the candidates on Heathrow expansion, the Richmond Park by-election is purely about race.

Any election with Zac Goldsmith as a candidate is by definition about race.

That was what he chose, for the rest of his life, with his despicable campaign for Mayor of London.

The Labour candidate ought to be Barnaby Marder of Red Labour (Momentum for grown-ups). He only "can't win" if you don't vote for him.

Only A Clean Sweep

Kevin Horne writes:

Mining communities were always close-knit.

If you forgot your house key, you could go next door and borrow theirs. The keys were identical.

It was the same if you got into trouble – a neighbour gave you a clip round the ear and told your dad down the pit. Our estates policed themselves.

You never saw the force, but we always respected them.

When the strike began in 1984, I was 35 and had worked at Barnburgh colliery for seven years. 

With every year that passes, fewer and fewer miners will live to see the day we get to the truth about events on 18 June that year. 

It was a red-hot day.

We were walking down the old tip when we saw thousands of police marching in formation.

One mate, who had served in the military, believed they were soldiers.

We helped a policeman remove some stone that had fallen on to the road.

He said that it was to allow vehicles carrying injured pickets to pass. 

But instead of ambulances, more police came galloping through on horseback.

We were in T-shirts and they were fully armed. 

We ran into a playing field, where hundreds of pickets had been penned in.

The wagons came for the coal and, as I reached the front, I was arrested for obstruction. 

Later, at Rotherham police station, they held the pickets in a quadrangle – men bleeding from broken limbs, with cracked skulls, bandaging their own wounds with T-shirts – and I was charged with unlawful assembly. 

My wife and I attended the trial for the first 15 miners and, when it collapsed, went on holiday.

I was in a bar in north Wales when the news showed the lads I should have been on trial with leaving court. 

The charges had been dropped but the damage endures.

My family became infected with what I have called a disease – a distrust of the police that spans generations. 

But this week, the government has the opportunity to turn the page on these years.

Last month, the home secretary, Amber Rudd, asked me what an inquiry would mean after all these years. 

I’m now a grandfather and I want my grandchildren to be able to trust the police, as I was brought up to do, I said. 

She nodded. 

But if the government fails to get to the full truth about Hillsborough, Orgreave and the South Yorkshire police, then my community may never trust the police again.

It does not need to be expensive but Amber Rudd cannot shy away from a full inquiry

Former miners and our families fear that an inquiry sitting behind closed doors, led by a single establishment figure, will not get to the truth.

If she chooses a scaled-down approach, the home secretary will make the same mistake that left the Hillsborough families fighting for an extra decade.

Only a clean sweep can take away the distrust.

My wife and sons will never forget, but I hope the next generation will be given a chance to move on if we can finally establish the truth.

Bringing It Home

Ken Loach has done it again.

Damian Green's announcement tomorrow will be a direct response to I, Daniel Blake.

Who says that art never changes anything?

Separate Ways

Word has reached me that the mass abstention over Yemen was designed to demonstrate the existence of a separate anti-Corbyn Whip among Labour MPs.

That is a separate party. The members of it need to be identified beyond doubt.

The motion needs to be re-tabled, and let the heavens fall.

For The Experience

Good for Theresa May if she really is going to ban unpaid internships. That would be more than Tony Blair or Gordon Brown ever did.

The vote on this will be yet another way of distinguishing the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn from the Nasty Party of his embittered enemies.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Who Are The Baddies?

Who are the baddies in I, Daniel Blake? More to the point, what are they? Are they likely to be Tories? Hardly!

Until Jeremy Corbyn came along, people like that were the only ones left in the Labour Party in any numbers.

Therefore, there are now two Labour Parties. 

One is the party of Daniel Blake and of those who side with him.

The other is the party of his persecutors, the party that invented benefit sanctions, the party that devised the Work Capability Assessment that is now being discontinued by the Conservative Party.

One is the party that wants to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The other is the party that not only refuses to vote for such a halt, but which, in the case of Stephen Kinnock, tweets that we are somehow morally obliged to supply those arms, siding so explicitly with Saudi Arabia in Yemen that one wonders why he did not vote with the Government.

One is the party that wants to enact the NHS Reinstatement Bill, which is the reason why even David Owen wants Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister.

The other is the party that broke up and privatised the NHS in England, but nowhere else, in the first place.

One is the party that wants my friend Barnaby Marder to remove the failed racist rabble-rouser, Zac Goldsmith, from Parliament.

The other is the party that wants to leave it the Lib Dems, late of the Coalition, to remove the failed racist rabble-rouser, Zac Goldsmith, from Parliament, but which would not mind if they failed to do so.

One is the party that wants to save the beautiful South of England from fracking, HS2, and a third runway at Heathrow.

The other is the party that wants to despoil irreparably the beautiful South of England by means of fracking, HS2, and a third runway at Heathrow.

One is the party that respects the outcome of the EU referendum, even without necessarily expecting awfully much ever to come of it.

The other is the party that wants to re-run the EU referendum until the plebs give the right answer, and which is in the meantime prepared to give a free pass to the unprepared Prime Minister, to her buffoonish Foreign Secretary, to her honourable but over-promoted Brexit Secretary, and to her morally repugnant International Trade Secretary.

One is the party that is delighted that the EU referendum result has made the focus of political attention the areas that voted Leave while voting Labour, to the extent that even a Conservative Government will actively pay Nissan to employ people in Sunderland, with many more such examples doubtless on their way.

The other is the party that is horrified both at the Nissan deal, and at the notion that the slightest political attention ought to be paid to the areas that voted Leave while voting Labour, areas that that party routinely purports to represent in Parliament and in local government.

One is the party that will support Theresa May against many of her own side, and which will press her to deliver, on workers' and consumers' representation in corporate governance, on shareholders' control over executive pay, on restraining pay disparities within companies, on an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme, on greatly increased housebuilding, on action against tax avoidance, on banning tax-avoiding companies from public contracts, on capping energy prices, on banning or greatly restricting foreign takeovers, and on an inquiry into Orgreave.

The other is the party that will vote with the Conservative Hard Right against each and every one of those measures.

One is the party that has always wanted to take back the rail franchises into public ownership as and when they came up for renewal.

The other is the party that now pretends always to have been of that view, but which in reality used to scream abuse at those of us who dared to express it.

One is the party that fought tooth and nail against the Blair Government's assault on civil liberties, an assault that had begun under the previous Conservative Government, before any thought of Islamist terrorism.

The other is the party that still yearns for identity cards and for 90-day detention without charge, and which conspires with the Conservative hangers and floggers to give the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee to Yvette Cooper.

One is the party that always opposed the failed austerity programme of the sacked George Osborne.

The other is the party of the only people who still think that that programme was correct.

One is the party that has opposed every British military intervention of the last 20 years.

The other is the party of the only people who still defend each and every one of those interventions.

One is the party that stands outside Durham County Hall in protest at the bailing out of Durham County Cricket Club while all 2700 Teaching Assistants are to be sacked at Christmas and then reappointed on a 23 per cent pay cut.

The other is the party that wallows inside Durham County Hall or in a private box at the Riverside, bailing out Durham County Cricket Club while sacking all 2700 Teaching Assistants at Christmas in order to reappoint them on a 23 per cent pay cut.

One is the party of Jeremy Corbyn.

The other is the party of Neil Fleming, the Labour Party's Acting Head of Press and Broadcasting.

Neil Fleming, who is evidently engaged in deliberate sabotage on behalf of his own Nasty Party of Daniel Blake-persecuting, Saudi Arabia-arming, NHS-privatising, byelection-fixing, South-despoiling, democracy-scorning, heartland-hating, One Nation-opposing, railway-lying, liberty-destroying, austerity-promoting, genocide-defending combinations of Ebenezer Scrooge and Andrew Cunningham.

Neil Fleming, who has called me a "Mulatto" for over a decade (does Clive Lewis or Chuka Umunna know that?), and who arranged for there to be no selection meeting in this ward in 2003, lest the then Government Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong, suffer the indignity of a mixed-race District Councillor in her constituency.

Neil Fleming, who then had himself made Chairman of Lanchester Parish Council, on which he was an extremely recent arrival, again in order to stop me on frankly racist grounds.

Neil Fleming, who as an employee of the then Government Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong, conspired to have me murdered, leading to an attempt on my life by his sister's then boyfriend, who is now his brother-in-law and, terrifyingly, the father of two children.

Neil Fleming, who with his concubine attended Midnight Mass here in Lanchester, leading to an email from me to Iain McNicol complaining at such racist and disability-based harassment, with the result that they have never been back. Merry Christmas.

And Neil Fleming, whose concubine cannot be of any remaining interest to him, since that son of hers must by now be about 18.

Ten Years On

10 years ago, I tried and failed to be elected to the Fabian Executive Committee.

Of the 15 successful candidates, one is now the Mayor of London, the one who topped the poll is now on Strictly Come Dancing, and the one who came third has since been to prison.

Private Server, Indeed

If Clinton still wins, then Trump is that bad.

Imagine demanding all details of an ongoing investigation into one by the forces of law and order.

Imagine fully expecting to receive them.

Welcome to the world of Hillary Clinton. Or so she thinks.

The blame here, including if Donald Trump wins, lies squarely with the Democratic National Committee, which stole the nomination from Bernie Sanders.

Vote for Jill Stein. Or perhaps, in the Mountain West and especially Utah, for Evan McMullin, in a last, desperate attempt to send the whole thing to the House of Representatives.

Friday, 28 October 2016

I, Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake marked two milestones in my life.

My seeing of I, Daniel Blake.

And my first ever trip to the cinema on my own. Middle-aged bachelorhood has arrived.

Comments from this afternoon and evening will be moderated in the morning. It's been a long week.

Blood On Their Hands

David Wearing writes:

This week, Jeremy Corbyn suffered one of the largest backbench rebellions of his tenure, as about 100 Labour MPs failed to support a motion moved by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry.

Some, like Angela Rayner, were away for legitimate reasons.

But scores of others apparently couldn’t bring themselves to support the leadership’s demand that Britain stop backing a brutal Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

That was the point of principle on which they felt compelled to take this stand.

Although the UN places it in the same category of severity as the crisis in Syria, Yemen receives a good deal less coverage. 

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in support of the country’s recently deposed president. 

The move was backed by a deeply slanted UN security council resolution, which the Saudis and other regional monarchies took a leading role in drafting, and which was then rubber-stamped by their western allies. 

Subsequent events have vindicated that judgment entirely. 

Now 18 months on, much of Yemen lies in ruins.

Schools, hospitals, homes and other civilian infrastructure have been bombed repeatedly by the coalition. 

At least 10,000 people have been killed, including about 4,000 civilians, mostly by coalition airstrikes.

A UN report documented more than 100 strikes on civilian targets in the first nine months of the intervention, describing a pattern of such attacks that was “widespread and systematic”. 

The world’s leading human rights organisations and humanitarian NGOs all agree with that assessment. 

In testimony to a parliamentary select committee, one Unicef representative described “double-tap” strikes, where a second bomb would hit after the emergency services arrived. 

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has condemned this tactic as “unquestionably a war crime” when referring to its use in Syria. 

The cost of the blockade imposed on Yemen, the region’s poorest country, by the Saudis and their oil-rich friends, was dramatically illustrated on the front page of The Times on Friday, in a shocking photo of 18-year-old Saida Ahmad Baghili, whose body is so emaciated that one can scarcely believe she’s alive. 

Baghili lives near Hodeida, where a third of local infants suffer from acute malnutrition, and where residents were reduced to eating grass and drinking seawater after the coalition bombed Hodeida itself, Yemen’s major entry point for aid and food imports.

According to the UN World Food Programme, 14 million Yemenis are going hungry, half of them now tipping into outright starvation, an outcome long predicted by aid agencies. 

UN officials report that the coalition often blocks or delays deliveries of even explicitly UN-approved food and medical supplies. 

All sides in the conflict have been guilty of siege tactics and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, but the coalition is responsible for the vast majority of the suffering, and the coalition is the side that Britain is actively supporting. 

Indeed, Whitehall has approved £3.3bn of arms exports (including bombs and missiles) to Saudi Arabia since the intervention began, a huge rise on the equivalent preceding period. 

Calls to suspend those arms sales have been made by the UN secretary general, Save the Children, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch

So you might think the Labour leadership’s demand that British support should be suspended, until the Saudis can be shown to be acting in accordance with international law and basic morality, would be an uncontroversial one. 

Apparently not. 

Presenting the motion in the Commons, Thornberry was subjected to a series of ill-judged interruptions from Labour MPs such as Kevan Jones, Toby Perkins and John Woodcock. 

Indeed, Thornberry received more vocal support in the chamber from the SNP contingent than from her own supposed comrades. 

According to subsequent reports, some Labour members even tried to work with their Tory counterparts in order to defeat their own party’s motion. 

Woodcock, a former chair of Progress, claimed that British support is “precisely focused on training Saudis” to improve their targeting, so as to “create fewer civilian casualties”, parroting the official government line. 

The idea that the Saudis’ “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets are just a series of well-meaning errors is one that, to put it as gently as possible, lacks credibility. 

And if decades of training provided by the British to the Saudi pilots hasn’t prevented these supposed errors by now, it seems rather unlikely that it will in the near future. 

In any case, this misrepresents the true nature of the British role. 

When the intervention began, then foreign secretary Philip Hammond pledged to “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”, including “spare parts, maintenance, technical advice, resupply” and “logistical support”. 

The reality is that the Saudi Air Force, roughly half UK-supplied and half US-supplied jets, could barely function without this ongoing assistance from Washington and London.

If there is Yemeni blood on the hands of the Saudi-led coalition, then that blood is also on the hands of the coalition’s western backers, enablers and apologists. 

The Saudis and their allies can only wage this war because the Anglo-American suppliers of their air forces are providing active, material support. 

And British and American politicians can only collude in these outrages because the political cost on them so far has been low.

However, it is in the gift of their constituents – you, the reader – to change that equation.

Bloody Blair

He is all over the place again today.

As he is able to be.

Since he remains unindicted by the International Caucasian Court, which is one of the greatest instruments of white supremacism and colonial oppression in the world today.

If it does not wish to be so regarded, then it needs to indict Tony Blair as a matter of the utmost urgency.

See, You Do Need The Knowledge

This is one of the great conservative and patriotic victories of the organised working class.

Here's to many more, in many more cities and countries.

Among More Reasonable Viewers

Dawn Foster writes:

For those who have worked in housing, homelessness and advocacy, Ken Loach’s latest film, I, Daniel Blake will seem more documentary than fiction.

The two protagonists are both subject to arbitrary and damaging periods of extreme poverty after their benefits are stopped. 

Daniel – a 61-year old joiner recovering from a heart attack and rejected for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – is hit by the bedroom tax after the death of his wife, while Katie, a young single mother with two children, is evicted after complaining about the black mould in her flat that hospitalises her son. 

After a year in a hostel in London, she is shunted far from her family to Newcastle and after getting the wrong bus during their first days in the city, is sanctioned for turning up slightly late to a benefits appointment. 

Neither of these tales is unusual given the intense focus on lowering the number of people on Jobseekers Allowance and ESA, and both sanctions, and the ludicrous telephone assessment for ESA that Daniel undergoes, are arbitrary measures focused not on helping individuals but on cutting expenditure while hitting targets. 

But critics from a certain political bent have found it unpalatable. 

If the film causes discomfort, perhaps your political system should be the target of your ire rather than a director and the screen representation of thousands of near identical stories across the country. 

Sanctions are meted out constantly for ludicrous reasons; people are evicted from appalling housing simply for requesting basic repairs; families in hostels are moved far from home with no support; and many people have died shortly after being declared fit for work

It takes a special arrogance for people who have never sat in a foodbank or been near a job centre to proclaim that these cases are unrealistic.

Poverty and, by extension, the benefits system, together work to instil shame and isolation in those subjected to such miseries.

Political and media narratives reinforce the idea of people in need as architects of their own misfortune and to blame for the fact that they’ve fallen through the cracks.

But there simply aren’t enough houses and jobs available to end homelessness and reach full employment overnight.

Rather than admit this, and work to ensure that there is a safety net for people who are sick, homeless and unemployed, lives are instead treated as a problem on a balance sheet.

If you sanction enough claimants, withdraw employment support allowance, and shift people from temporary accommodation in the cities where they’ve always lived to towns far away, the issue is deemed solved.

That people are left reliant on foodbanks, living without electricity and forced to sell furniture simply to feed their children because they’ve been sanctioned is ignored.

Instead, the fact that someone who once claimed Jobseekers Allowance or ESA has been sanctioned is offered as proof not of a dysfunctional system arbitrarily aiming to meet targets, but of the claim that those left with no support were gaming the system and not entitled to support in the first place.

I, Daniel Blake is an uncomfortable film for anyone to watch, but more so if you are intent on disregarding the experiences it presents.

If you believe that too many people would rather claim benefits than work, being forced to confront the human fallout of the system doesn’t sit comfortably with you.

Facts can be inconvenient in that way: the film is meticulously researched and each scene has played out in countless lives around the country.

I report regularly on poverty, and have visited many houses where the residents are embarrassed to admit they can’t offer you a cup of tea as there’s nothing in the meter – and many people who visit foodbanks are dizzy with hunger.

I watched this film with a friend, who works in the housing benefit department of a London council, and he remarked that he’d seen it all before.

People who disregard Loach’s film as unrealistic proselytising might do well to spend some time actually asking the people affected about their experiences of the labyrinthine housing and benefits system.

But more than that, they should consider why they’re so threatened by the stories presented in I, Daniel Blake.

The characters are people who are rarely represented in the media and often scapegoated and dehumanised. Loach presents his characters as complex but utterly failed by the system that nominally helps them, stuck in sub-standard homes with no money to pay basic utility bills, beaten down by shame and punished for fighting for basic rights.

These are the people who are ignored for political expediency – that Loach has shone a light on the human cost of austerity has rattled the government’s defenders, but could forge more empathy and understanding among more reasonable viewers.

The Party of War

Peter Oborne writes:

Last month, Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as Labour leader.

It was his second victory by an overwhelming majority in a year, and it should have given Corbyn uncontested authority.

Yet he is still regarded with mutinous contempt by a significant proportion of his own side. They flatly refuse to accept Corbyn’s leadership.

This became clear on Wednesday night, when more than 100 Labour MPs failed to support a three-line whip on British policy towards the Yemen.

It was disloyalty on an epic scale. 

Corbyn cannot be faulted for calling a debate on Yemen.

For the past 18 months, Britain has been complicit with mass murder as our Saudi allies have bombarded Yemen from the air, slaughtering thousands of innocent people as well as helping fuel a humanitarian calamity. 

Corbyn clearly felt that it was his duty as leader of a responsible and moral opposition to challenge this policy.

He nevertheless bent over backwards to make sure that the Yemen vote was uncontroversial.

The Labour motion therefore stopped short of calling for the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia which has been demanded by many charities and campaign groups. 

This is because Corbyn and his foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry were mindful that some Labour MPs represented constituencies where local jobs depended on the arms industry.

So they contented themselves with demanding an independent United Nations inquiry into crimes committed by all sides – not just the Saudis – in this terrible and bloody conflict.

They reasonably suggested that Britain should suspend support for the Saudis until this investigation was completed. 

Green light to Saudi 

This is the position taken by the bulk of the international community, by all reputable aid agencies and, as far as I can tell, by almost all ordinary Yemenis.

In her excellent speech on Wednesday afternoon, Thornberry set out the reasons why the Saudis could no longer be trusted to investigate their own affairs. 

Yet more than 100 Labour MPs – not far short of half the Labour Party – defied Corbyn.

As a result, Labour’s call for an independent inquiry was defeated by 283 votes to just 193, a majority of 90.

But for Labour abstainers and absentees, Corbyn’s motion would have been carried and parliament would have voted for an independent investigation. 

The vote is bound to be interpreted by Saudi King Salman as a vote of confidence in his deeply controversial assault on the Yemen.  

It will also lift pressure on the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as he resists a growing international clamour for Britain to throw its weight behind an independent UN investigation.   

To sum up, on Wednesday night, the British parliament sent the green light to Saudi Arabia and its allies to carry on bombing, maiming and killing. 

I have reported politics from Westminster for almost 25 years and can recall few more shocking parliamentary events. 

Party of War 

Shocking – but not surprising.

The Yemen vote demonstrates something that has been apparent ever since the vote on 18  March 2003 to support the invasion of Iraq: the party of war holds a majority in the Commons.

It comprises virtually all of the Conservative Party and the Blairite wing of Labour. 

As Nafeez Ahmed wrote in July, there is a clear and demonstrable connection between the vote for war in Iraq, opposition to an Iraq inquiry, support for the calamitous intervention in Libya, and opposition to Jeremy Corbyn.  

Ahmed showed the majority of those who tried to unseat Corbyn last summer were interventionist.

Some 172 supported the motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership. 

By coincidence or not, exactly the same number of MPs have supported Britain’s calamitous overseas wars.  

Now let’s look at the Labour MPs who put a smile on the faces of King Salman and Boris Johnson by defying Corbyn’s three-line whip and abstaining in Wednesday night’s vote: once again we are at least partly talking about a confederacy of Blairites.

It turns out that Ann Clywd, who made such a sparkling speech in favour of war during the 2003 Iraq debate, has abstained over Corbyn’s call for an independent investigation of Yememi war crimes.

So have John Spellar, Gloria de Piero, Fiona MacTaggart, Barry Sheerman, Angela Eagle, Liz Kendall, Luciana Berger, Lucy Powell, Mike Gapes, Stephen Kinnock, Tristram Hunt, Margaret Hodge etc etc. 

Even Keith Vaz, who was born in Aden and makes a big deal of his Yemeni antecedents, defied Labour’s three-line whip and abstained. 

It is important to highlight the fact that some of the most prominent opponents of Jeremy Corbyn did traipse through the division lobbies with their leader on Wednesday night.

Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper are just three examples.

And, of course, the majority of those who abstained on Wednesday were not in parliament for the Iraq vote in 2003.

The Neocons and the unforgiven

Nevertheless there is a telling pattern here. 

For the past 15 years, parliament has been governed by a cross-party consensus in favour of war. 

During that period, Britain has undertaken three major foreign interventions, each one of them utterly disastrous. 

In each one, military success was swiftly followed by political and, ultimately, state failure.  

Despite the hard-won experience of 15 years, there is still a parliamentary majority in favour of intervention. 

Very few parliamentarians opposed all these interventions. 

Jeremy Corbyn was among them and he has never been forgiven for it. 

This brings me to the final paradox of Wednesday night’s vote: the intimate connection between politicians who style themselves as moderate or occupying the centre ground in Britain and neoconservative policies overseas.  

For the past 20 years, the so-called "modernisers", whether Blair’s Labour or Cameron’s Conservatives, have been in charge at Westminster. 

As has been well-documented (not least by Labour’s Jon Cruddas), they have hollowed out British politics through techniques of spin and electoral manipulation. 

It is these same modernisers who have caused havoc in the Middle East, condemning the region to bloodshed and war. 

They were at it again on Wednesday by sending a signal to the Saudi dictatorship that it was acceptable to carry out its murderous policies in the Yemen. 

Thirteen years after Iraq, neoconservatism still rules.

The International Health Service

The NHS is not open to everyone in the EU. It is rightly open to everyone who is in the United Kingdom when they fall ill.

When Harrison Ford was injured at Pinewood, then was he flown back to the United States for treatment?

Here is the reason why not: 

“One of the consequences of the universality of the British Health Service is the free treatment of foreign visitors.

“This has given rise to a great deal of criticism, most of it ill-informed and some of it deliberately mischievous.  
“Why should people come to Britain and enjoy the benefits of the free Health Service when they do not subscribe to the national revenues? So the argument goes. 

“No doubt a little of this objection is still based on the confusion about contributions to which I have referred. 

“The fact is, of course, that visitors to Britain subscribe to the national revenues as soon as they start consuming certain commodities, drink and tobacco for example, and entertainment. 

“They make no direct contribution to the cost of the Health Service any more than does a British citizen. 

“However, there are a number of more potent reasons why it would be unwise as well as mean to withhold the free service from the visitor to Britain.

“How do we distinguish a visitor from anybody else? Are British citizens to carry means of identification everywhere to prove that they are not visitors?

“For if the sheep are to be separated from the goats both must be classified. What began as an attempt to keep the Health Service for ourselves would end by being a nuisance to everybody.

“Happily, this is one of those occasions when generosity and convenience march together.

“The cost of looking after the visitor who falls ill cannot amount to more than a negligible fraction of £399,000,000, the total cost of the Health Service.

“It is not difficult to arrive at an approximate estimate.

“All we have to do is look up the number of visitors to Great Britain during one year and assume they would make the same use of the Health Service as a similar number of Britishers.

“Divide the total cost of the Service by the population and you get the answer. I had the estimate taken out and it amounted to about £200,000 a year.

“Obviously this is an overestimate because people who go for holidays are not likely to need a doctor’s attention as much as others.

“However, there it is, for what it is worth, and you will see it does not justify the fuss that has been made about it.

“The whole agitation has a nasty taste.

“Instead of rejoicing at the opportunity to practice a civilized principle, Conservatives have tried to exploit the most disreputable emotions in this among many other attempts to discredit socialized medicine.

“Naturally when Britons go abroad they are incensed because they are not similarly treated if they need the attention of a doctor.

“But that also I am convinced will come when other nations follow our example and have health services of their own.

“When that happens we shall be able to work out schemes of reciprocity, and yet one more amenity will have been added to social intercourse.

“In the meantime let us keep in mind that, here, example is better than precept.”

Support and Assurance, Indeed

Watch out for the corporation tax and business rates receipts from Nissan.

Or don't, because there aren't going to be any.

At least, not this side of either the 2020 General Election or a second referendum on EU membership, whichever happened sooner.

The Government had no plan for a Leave vote.

It had expected much, but not all, of the South outside London to vote Leave.

But it had simply never considered that that might happen anywhere else except the pockets that had returned Conservative MPs in 1997 and 2001, and not even all of those.

Overall, Remain would have won comfortably.

That was why the Sunderland result shook the money markets.

Like the rest of the results in the North East (including the Remain vote in old Royalist and Hanoverian, hence "Geordie", Newcastle), it came as no surprise up here.

But it was completely unexpected down there.

And the surprises kept coming.

It is axiomatic that they were reactions against neoliberal globalisation, of which the European Union is of course an integral part and a significant driver.

So the buying off has started in earnest.

Perhaps this is with an eye to a second referendum. Perhaps it is in order to stop there from ever "needing" to be one.

Either way, we now have an Industrial Strategy, complete with a Secretary of State.

That seems to consist entirely of paying multinational corporations to pay people in Labour Leave areas.

At the very least, Nissan has obviously been promised that there was no suggestion of British withdrawal from the Single Market.

Well, you can't be in the Single Market without freedom of movement.

That is not absolute; the United Kingdom's particularly liberal application of it is by our own choice, again under corporate influence.

Nevertheless, it is integral.

So that's that.

There will be no change whatever to the current arrangements in relation to immigration from the member-states of the European Union.

Quite bizarrely, and unlike any of its predecessors, this Government cannot even stand the sight of the South.

It wants to slap HS2 on it, and now also a third runway at Heathrow.

If Labour really got its act together against those, then it would reap the electoral harvest.

The Conservatives' attitude to their own Leave areas is that of previous Labour Governments to their electoral heartlands, or of immemorially Labour local authorities to their communities:

"You have nowhere else to go, and even if you had, then you still wouldn't go there, and you know that as well as we do."

What of the claim that those areas do now have somewhere else to go?

The root of the trouble in UKIP is that it openly does not like, or even want, the voters that it already has.

Instead, it longs forlornly to be a party of Old Labour voters in the North, and it makes no bones about that longing.

The Industrial Strategy is not going to buy the Conservative Party many, if any, votes in the places that will benefit from it.

But it won a General Election without those last time. That is beside the point.

Perhaps this is with an eye to a second referendum. Perhaps it is in order to stop there from ever "needing" to be one.

Thursday, 27 October 2016


"Turnips!" to the whole thing, say I.

Pumpkins? Pumpkins? We'll be keeping Thanksgiving next.

As well we should, to give thanks for the fact that the Puritans left England.

Have the kiddies carve little Puritans' heads and make little hats for them.

But do not carve those heads out of pumpkins.

Carve them out of turnips.

You Can With A Nissan

One of the best things about referendum night was that Sunderland shook the money markets.

The North East used to be rich.

But the areas that had been betrayed by globalisation, and which had thus been impoverished, were finally asked what they thought about a key aspect of it.

And they answered.

The same thing has just happened in Wallonia, which also used to be rich.

Corbyn Is The Conscience of Parliament on Yemen

Extremely rare praise of him from the Evening Standard.

No One Said They Would Be Toddlers

Kate Milner writes:

2016 seems to be the year that is in grave danger of parodying itself.

Our right wing media continues to stir up a tornado of hatred against immigrants and there are times when it’s difficult to tell the actual news from the articles on spoof sites.

One such example was the lead articles in the Sun and the Daily Mail last week, calling for the refugee children to be age-checked by their teeth before they’re let into the country. 

Hold up, what? How did we get to this point? 

I wrote an article a year ago about how the refugee crisis was causing a distinct lack of compassion in some segments of our society...and opinions seem to be getting more and more polarised. 

Now we, as a country, are so untrusting that the small amount of children coming into our country can’t just be young people, fleeing from war.

They must be deceptive, lying about their age and their motives in order to get into our country and either steal our jobs, wage jihad on us or depends which paper you read.

In a way, the left-wing media has created this latest outrage by repeatedly using the word “children” when referring to the 387 underage immigrants that had family in the UK. 

“Children” does tend to summon up images of smooth, rosy-cheeked innocents and the reaction to the people actually arriving is understandable if we were expecting them to all be in buggies. 

But here’s the thing. No one said they would be toddlers.

Calling them children is an accurate way to describe people who have not yet reached their 18th birthday. 

But 17 and 18-year-olds who have spent several months in a refugee camp look like adults. 

Trauma ages them. They might not have been able to shave recently. They might be on the very cusp of adulthood. 

But for now, they are children and it’s out duty to protect them.

They will have spent a huge chunk of their childhood either living in a war zone or escaping it. 

Should they not now have a chance to rest and recover from that before starting adulthood? 

It takes a particular kind of callousness to insist they stay in a soon-to-be-demolished camp just because they can’t prove their credentials.

They might turn out to be over 18. They may not even realise they’ve passed that milestone because you can lose track of time and dates when you’re on the move.

But I would rather risk letting in a few adults than risk leaving unaccompanied children alone, homeless and vulnerable. 

And really, what is the risk? 

That 387 is a tiny number when disseminated across the country.

There were more children than that lining up in my son’s playground last week and trust me, it’s not a big playground.

The number of British people who will lose their jobs because of these immigrants is minimal. 

The number of British schoolchildren who will miss out on school places because of these immigrants is equally minimal. 

Let’s get some perspective. 

For those who ask harsh questions about where all the tiny children and girls are, I give you harsh answers. 

They didn’t make it. The girls have been sex-trafficked. The tiny children have died.

The ones who are now arriving in the UK are strong looking because only the strongest have survived these harsh conditions.

Seven-year-olds aren’t equipped to cross a continent and then fend for themselves in a makeshift tent.

They die, they disappear and all the time smug fascists are sitting in their provincial homes posting on Facebook about an immigrant’s hoodie looking too clean.

On 12th Oct, Stella Creasy claimed in the Commons that 18 children had gone missing in the time it took the Home Office to do something about the the problem. 

They had the details of 178 children in Calais who had family in the UK and now only 160 could be found. 

These kind of figures are utterly shameful and shouldn’t reflect who we are as a country.

Are we really this blasé about the lives of others? It would seem so.

So let’s pull back from the micro-detail of how old an individual migrant might or might not be. 

Let’s just get those children over here before the winter sets in. 

Does Britain want to regain some British Pride?

Then act in a way to be proud of. Be welcoming, be tolerant, be compassionate. 

And act now.

The Nasty Party

There are two Labour Parties.

One is the party of Jeremy Corbyn, the party that stands in silent vigil outside Durham County Hall throughout working hours during this half term holiday week.

The other is the party that skulks therein or in its private box at the Riverside, bailing out Durham County Cricket Club while sacking the Teaching Assistants in order to reappoint them on a 23 per cent pay cut.

One is the party of Jeremy Corbyn, the party that last night sought to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of the war in Yemen.

The other is the party of the 98 Labour MPs who abstained, so that the motion was defeated by 90 votes.

One is the party of Jeremy Corbyn, the party that will contest the Richmond Park by-election, one hopes in the person of Barnaby Marder.

The other is the party that expels people for retweeting the Greens, while demanding that Labour give the Liberal Democrats a free run at Richmond Park.

Whereas the real cheering on of the Lib Dems ought to be with a view to the re-election of their members, and of the Independents, on Durham County Council.

Together with the removal of the 57 Nasty Party members who are doing to the Teaching Assistants what Margaret Thatcher did to the miners.

In some places, their removal by Lib Dems. In rather more, their removal by Independents, including those of us who, as supporters of the Leader of the Labour Party, can reasonably claim to be the real Labour candidates.

And their removal by Conservatives in a certain number. The four sitting Conservative Councillors did at least abstain. By all means let them defeat a few members of the Nasty Party.

The aim must be to take Durham County Council to No Overall Control, to put together an administration including everyone apart from the Nasty Party, and to fly the Teaching Assistants' flag from County Hall every day thereafter.

We are trying to persuade Ken Loach to make a film about the Teaching Assistants, of whom he is a firm supporter. What an ending that would be, a shot of their flag's triumphant fluttering over a County Hall liberated from the Nasty Party.

Even if he did not make that film, then someone will. I guarantee it.

Look at the poor press and broadcasting coverage that the party of Jeremy Corbyn receives, and remember that the Labour Party's Acting Head of Press and Broadcasting is the very personification of the Nasty Party.

I was going to write a criticism of Clive Lewis for his absence last night, and for his having joined in the call for a "Progressive Alliance" at Richmond Park.

But Lewis is, as I am, a "mulatto", that being the preferred word of the Labour Party's Acting Head of Press and Broadcasting, who has directed it at me throughout the present century.

Indeed, he has a directed a good deal worse than that at me during the present century.

Now living in London, he is easily as racist as Zac Goldsmith, and he is a threat to the physical safety of a very high proportion, perhaps even the majority, of the population of that world city.

Look out for him.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Long's Two Short Planks

Camilla Long is the film critic of the Sunday Times.

Yet, or perhaps therefore, she sincerely believes that until she panned it behind a paywall, no one had ever heard of the winner of this year's Palme d'Or, the superlative I, Daniel Blake.

Does she know what the Palme d'Or is? Until this week, had she ever heard of Ken Loach? I do not ask these questions rhetorically.

Still, I am not aware of any suggestion that Long was admitted to Oxford only after her father had telephoned the place to insist.

She, after all, is a proper toff whose admission was strictly by hereditary right. The spawn of a mere Fabian grandee was, and is, Toby Young.

There is all the difference in the world between "You'd get in if your Daddy asked specifically" and "You'll get in because you were born to get in."

Both Young and Long see it as self-evident that because they do not know any people like the characters in I, Daniel Blake, then such people cannot possibly exist in real life.

Both Young and Long see it as self-evident that because Britain is a very rich country overall, then it cannot contain any abjectly poor people, not even those who have been sanctioned for the purpose in pursuit of a target.

And both Young and Long see it as self-evident that because I, Daniel Blake does not resemble the execrable Benefits Street, then it cannot be an accurate portrayal of even such relative poverty as they might be prepared to concede, very grudgingly indeed, might exist "Up North".

Young is clearly fishing for a spot on the Question Time panel next to Loach tomorrow. He must not get one. Nor ought he to be allowed to settle for The Agenda with Loach next week.

And for all the sheer comedy value of hearing Long's political opinions, that temptation, too, must be resisted.

Spanish Practices

For all his faux Officer Corps demeanour, the 64-year-old Sir Michael Fallon has never worked outside politics. Not one day, in his entire life.

The strategic interest of the United Kingdom is to stay out (in other words, to get out) of the war in Syria.

But all opponents of the Islamic State should applaud the decision of Spain to refuel the Russian warships on the way there.

Spain. Of course. Spain.

Was it Chesterton who said that some things were too big to see?

Spain. Of course. Spain.

In The Face of Repeated Atrocities

Peter Oborne writes: 

The opposition Labour Party is to use a debate in the British parliament on Wednesday to call the Conservative government to account over British support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called a full-scale "Opposition Day" Commons debate into atrocities committed by all sides in the civil war in Yemen.

Corbyn's intervention comes in the wake of a recent Saudi coalition attack on a funeral in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, which killed more than 140 mourners.

Corbyn has ordered the debate as the blanket support offered by Britain and America for Saudi Arabia has become hard to defend in the face of repeated atrocities apparently carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. 

The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, will use the debate to demand an independent investigation into violations of international humanitarian law by all sides in the Yemen conflict.

It will, however, stop short of demanding a halt to British arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Britain has sold billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia as the Yemen war has raged.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has won the right for a judicial review of sales to Saudi Arabia, with a hearing expected in February.

A spokesman for Thornberry told Middle East Eye that the purpose of the debate was to put the government on the spot for its reliance on the Saudis themselves to investigate atrocities against civilians.

He said that out of more than one thousand incidents of air strikes on civilian sites, the Saudis have completed reports on just nine. 

Speaking on the BBC’s Daily Politics last week, the Middle East minister, Tobias Ellwood, said that the Saudi-led coalition air attack on the Sanaa funeral was a case of "deliberate error" and a "gross breach of standard operating procedure". 

A Labour Party spokesman said Elwood's remarks "raised the question of how many other deliberate errors have been going on". 

Labour is also likely to try to expose the Tory double standards over Yemen at a time ministers have repeatedly condemned Russian air attacks in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Voters Should Not Be Fooled

You can never have too much Peter Oborne:

Very rich men who go into politics almost invariably turn out to be duds.

There are a handful of exceptions to this rule, such as Michael Heseltine, who made a fortune in publishing before becoming a Tory MP. 

However, in my experience, the rule is immutable when it relates to those who inherited family wealth rather than made their own successful way in life. 

Inevitably, they fail to understand the daily struggles of voters. 

In short, they are spoilt brats, self-indulgently playing politics because they think they have a God-given right to rule. 

Zac Goldsmith is a prime example of spoilt brat syndrome.

His father, tycoon-turned-politician Sir James Goldsmith, sent Zac to Eton for the best start in life. 

There is, it must be admitted, no question that Zac Goldsmith is charming, with an affable self-deprecating manner. 

You can meet plenty of men like him in London’s clubland, on exclusive golf courses and in overseas tax havens. 

Easy-going and none too bright, they live agreeable but empty lives. 

Zac Goldsmith, who gives the impression he’s bestowing a favour on his fellow MPs by joining them in the Commons, differs from most idle rich in one unusual way. 

Along with his wealth, he insists he is a man of virtue and high principle. 

Voters should not be fooled. 

It is easy to be as virtuous and principled as Zac Goldsmith portrays himself to be if you can afford it.

Most Tory MPs are not wealthy enough to risk their careers by resigning and then standing as an independent.

To be fair to Mr Goldsmith, he promised in his manifesto last year that he would precipitate a by-election if a Tory Prime Minister decided to build a third runway, in support of constituents opposed to extra aircraft noise and pollution.

Mr Goldsmith is entitled to argue that he would have been breaking faith with his constituents if he went back on his promise.

He’s also entitled to argue that this kind of principle is all too rare in the increasingly sordid world of high politics.

So far, so good!

However, Mr Goldsmith was elected as an MP on the Tory ticket.

Plenty of other Tory MPs have constituencies close to the airport.

Yes, Boris Johnson (Uxbridge) and Justine Greening (Putney) have fought Heathrow expansion, but Mr Goldsmith was the only one who drew attention to himself by pledging a by-election.

There is, furthermore, a price to be paid for his apparent heroic self-sacrifice.

That price will not, needless to say, be paid by Mr Goldsmith himself.

It will be paid by his fellow Tory MPs, who must now add the challenge of Heathrow to a growing list of issues as they battle their way through one of the most testing periods in recent political memory.

Prime Minister Theresa May enjoys a tiny majority as she fights to press through with Brexit. 

At a time when she needs every last Tory vote in the Commons, Mr Goldsmith has selfishly quit the fray.

To put it brutally, he’s placed his own vanity above loyalty to his colleagues.

But there is a darker reason why Mr Goldsmith’s act of treachery is hard to swallow.

Although keen to present himself as a highly principled moral crusader, it should not be forgotten that last summer he fought one of the nastiest political campaigns in recent history.

He stood as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London against Sadiq Khan, a well-respected Labour MP. Mr Goldsmith didn’t fight solely on the issues affecting Londoners, as any decent politician would have done.

Instead, he and his allies targeted Mr Khan, shamefully trying to exploit his Muslim religion.

Leaflets sent out by Mr Goldsmith’s campaign accused Mr Khan of being a ‘divisive and radical’ politician — seen as a coded message directed at those who might be uncomfortable with the prospect of a Muslim mayor.

These tactics, profoundly at odds with British tradition of not attacking a rival’s private faith — even indirectly — were pretty unpleasant and, ultimately, Goldsmith failed.

The Guardian wrote that: ‘Goldsmith is no decent man of principle. He’s a discredited politician who ran a vile racist campaign and he deserves only contempt.’

On this occasion, I believe The Guardian was right.

Only two British political campaigns since the Second World War bear comparison with Zac Goldsmith’s unscrupulous attempt to capture City Hall.

One was the Bermondsey by-election of 1983 when Peter Tatchell, the Labour candidate, was relentlessly targeted on account of his homosexuality.

The other was the Smethwick campaign in the West Midlands in 1964’s general election, when the Conservative candidate, Peter Griffiths, campaigned on the disgraceful, racist slogan: ‘If you desire a COLOURED for your neighbour, vote Labour’. 

Griffiths’s revolting campaign was successful, but he was ostracised by MPs for the rest of his career. Tory MPs may think Mr Goldsmith should be, too.

Even his much-vaunted green credentials are suspect.

Ten years ago, David Cameron gave Mr Goldsmith a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by putting him in joint charge of a Tory commission to shape its policies on the environment.

However, Mr Goldsmith was too lazy to take advantage — putting no obvious effort into the task and failing to force through his green agenda.

Cameron soon abandoned the green policies that will forever be associated with his egregious Arctic huskies photo-shoot stunt.

If ever there was a principle for environmental-campaigner Zac Goldsmith to champion, Cameron’s betrayal of his green crusade was it.

Yet, as far as we know, there were no resignation threats.

Maybe Zac Goldsmith didn’t want to rock the boat because, as a fellow Old Etonian, he was one of Cameron’s allies.

Indeed, it was a result of Cameron’s backing, that Mr Goldsmith was chosen to fight the prize seat of Richmond Park — which enjoys a considerable Tory majority — ahead of more deserving candidates. 

Today, Mr Goldsmith has repaid that privilege by turning on the party which launched his political career. 

Ultimately, the livelihood of millions of British citizens depends on the third runway at Heathrow being built. 

The rest of us should applaud the decisive act of Theresa May after more than ten years of indecision from the Blair, Brown and Cameron governments.

Yet, Zac Goldsmith, at Mrs May’s time of need, has stabbed the Tory Party in the back in a gesture of grandstanding self-indulgence.