Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Four speeches

From the back benches. Parliamentary representation as it should be:

David Lammy on the Windrush scandal



And three on anti-Semitism:

Luciana Berger


Ruth Smeeth

 

John Mann

 

All of these ask a question. What have we become? The temptation to appeal to racism is always there. The populist impulse insists that there are votes in both the silent dog whistle and the clarion call. Convenient allies whisper sophistries. There is only one truth, however. Racism is racism, whoever it is aimed at and by whomever it is expressed. It is indivisible and destructive. To try and appease it or co-opt it only encourages racists to greater extremes. It allows the more insidious version ('there are just too many,' 'straining local services,' 'lowering wages,' etc) with its faux reasonableness to slip through into mainstream debate, while the extremes become more explicit in their hatred and conspiracy theories. It's brought us Brexit; it's brought death to the streets of Paris. And it has made Britain an uglier place.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Commemoration

The BBC has decided to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood Speech with a dramatised reading. It's a curious decision. The speech's main claim to significance is that it initiated a political discourse that conflated immigration with racism, though that probably wasn't Powell's aim. The speech ended his hopes of office. What is more, it was wrong. Not just morally, but in its predictive powers. It is an historical curiosity, a testament of failure.

It is claimed by some that the speech was not racist. I find that unconvincing. It used the tropes and language that we would easily identify today as central to much racist ideology. But was that Powell's intention? That is a different question. Powell was not expressing a philosophy of racial superiority, instead he was coming from his theory of the state. If there is one consistent strand in his thought, it is the sense that Britain should be a unitary sovereign state under the Crown. He took this further to see it as essentially an ethnically homogenous nation - white and Protestant. He found his final political home as an Ulster Unionist.

Powell argued that if the state embodied the nation, immigration undermined its essence. Powell was first and foremost a nationalist, with an idealist concept of the state that is perilously close to that of Giovanni Gentile, though he rejected corporatism in favour of the free market. And so he vigorously opposed any constraint on state sovereignty, especially through membership of the European Union. In that sense, he should be remembered as one of the fathers of Brexit, more than as the legitimiser of racism.

Powell always opposed entry into what was then the EEC. When the referendum of 1975 confirmed Britain's membership with a two thirds majority, he refused to accept the legitimacy of the result and immediately began to campaign for the UK's exit. He was joined in an unlikely alliance by the Bennite left, who were then taking the lead in the Eurosceptic movement and who held similar views on sovereignty (though for different purposes). After mouthing a few pieties towards the 'people having spoken,' they started to agitate for withdrawal and finally got it adopted as Labour Party policy in the 1983 election manifesto. (I find it hugely ironic that today's leavers insist that everyone should 'respect the referendum result' regardless.)

After Labour's defeat in 1983, the marginalisation of the Eurosceptics in the party was completed by the EU's adoption of social democratic rights in the Social Chapter of the Maastrict Treaty. With Labour firmly pro-European, anti-EU agitation was led by the right of the Conservative Party. Though Powell was now outside the Party, it was Powellism that informed the campaign that undermined successive leaderships and that Cameron thought he could silence with a referendum. It was a disastrous mistake. The focus on sovereignty and immigration was critical to the narrow victory by Leave.

I find nothing attractive, or even anything much interesting, in Powell's ideology. He was a formidable classical scholar, but a failed politician. If you must honour him, it shouldn't be for the "Rivers of Blood" speech, but for the disaster of Brexit. It would also be appropriate to use Latin.  

Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. It's Christopher Wren's epitaph in St Paul's Cathedral. If you seek a monument, look around you. Look around at today's shambles and you will see the product of the life of an erudite classicist and political mediocrity.

Stoppers

Idrees Ahmad posted this on Facebook two days ago. I have nothing to add.
A note to otherwise well-meaning people:

If you participate in any 'Stop the War' event on Syria, you are an enemy of the Syrian people.

Before I explain, see the two images below, which are from today's protest in London. This is supposedly an event to 'stop war'. Yet, the protestors are carrying the Russian flag and the flag of Syria's fascist regime. Between them, the regime and Russia are responsible for nearly 94% of all civilian deaths in Syria.

So this isn't an 'antiwar' march. It is a pro-war rally that wants Assad and Putin to continue their rampage with impunity.

But there are also other factors. In Syrian the regime and Russia have deliberately targeted civilian neighbourhoods, refugee camps, schools, hospitals and bomb shelters. The regime has shot, gassed, tortured, incarcerated and disappeared civilians. The regime has forced over half the country's population from its homes.

Yet 'Stop the War' protested none of that. Indeed, in 2013 when Assad gassed over a thousand civilians, Stop the War didn't condemn Assad, it held rallies to protect Assad from western retaliation. After Obama stood down, it organised a victory rally and invited a regime representative as its keynote speaker.

Since then, 'Stop the War' has banned Syrians from its platforms. Meanwhile, it has hosted people who have openly advocated for the regime. It's co-chair actually called on the British government to support Assad militarily.

Last week Assad launched his latest chemical attack in Syria. But there were no protests against that. It is clear that for 'Stop the War', Syrian life has no value. But there is one Syrian life for which it is deeply concerned: Bashar al Assad's. Because as soon there was some rumbling in the west and some vague threats, 'Stop the War' immediately sprung into action.

So, if you are participating in any 'Stop the War' event, the best thing that can be said about you is that you are naive and ignorant. But if you are participating knowingly, then you likely have fascist sympathies and you are an enemy of the Syrian people.



Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and shoesImage may contain: 2 people, people standing, sky, hat and outdoor

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Red tape

Here are two good pieces that show that Brexit will increase both bureaucracy and costs. There are many more out there. Contrary to popular belief, EU membership actually cuts bureaucracy. Leaving increases it. This article gives a clear and simple explanation of the complications involved in rules-of-origin if we leave the single market. Peter Crosskey wrote about large-scale trade in foodstuffs, however the second link is more personal.

Natalie Milton writes about her own small specialist sports equipment business, exporting in small quantities across the world, but mainly to Europe. It was built from nothing, has a modest turnover, and employs ten staff. It cannot survive any form of Brexit, including the softest:
To conclude – Brexit will finish us because we will lose our smaller value orders due to the increased customs costs: even with Norway style deal an extra £25 on £50 or £100 order is a deal breaker.
She gives all the details of the additional costs and how they will arise. There is no maybe, she knows that if Brexit happens her business will close. There are no doubts.

People who voted for Brexit didn't know any of this, but, even so, voting leave meant voting to ruin her.

These complicated details are often ignored in favour of broad brush abstractions. This is one reason why the referendum debate was so poor. It isn't all about businesses either. Last weekend was Greek Easter. At the party we attended, the British guests tried to avoid talking about Brexit at first, but it couldn't last. They had built their lives, livelihoods, and families on the seemingly unshakeable rights offered by EU citizenship that are going to be taken from them. They are now in limbo. It's the uncertainty that gets to them, but however their status will be resolved, life will be more difficult and complicated. So too will the lives of the three million or so EU citizens permanently resident in the UK - people who were denied a vote on their future, even though they can vote in the upcoming local elections. They too are uncertain, anxious and feeling betrayed.

It's the human cost that really gets to me. It is not on anything like the scale of suffering as the unspeakable tragedy of Syria, but it is real enough and utterly unnecessary. As for benefits, I can see none.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The writing on the wall

Here we go again. Another incident, this time about a mural. The Jewish Chronicle wrote about it back in November of 2015, but it's been ignored until now. I'm not surprised at all. This was always going to come back to bite Corbyn and is why I opposed his leadership from the moment his candidacy was announced. I never liked the pool he swam in. Srebenica denial, Press TV, unsavoury Islamists, and much more made him a representative of a tendency Orwell described in Notes on Nationalism:
... a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. ... All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty.
It's an old phenomenon, obviously given that Orwell was writing about it. I have also come across it in the 19th century and have touched on it in my book and subsequent published essays. It's most apparent today in an anti-Zionist movement, whose virulent hatred for Israel drove me out of pro-Palestinian activity. There was no room for anyone who argued that both national movements had equal legitimacy and that mutual recognition had to be the basis for peace. Crucially, anti-Zionism had become an excuse for the expression of older hatreds. Covert anti-Semitism was becoming more overt and violent in its language.

This too has long been part of the left. It's a permanent flaw. But it's also anti-socialist in its essence. It explains exploitation not in terms of class or an impersonal system, but as the result of the plotting of a malevolent race. It takes many forms, the bankers' conspiracy is pretty common at the moment - the Rothschild conspiracy theory is everywhere. Again, I've seen plenty of 19th century examples too. There is also a very long history of what David Nirenberg called "Anti-Judaism." This is where Judaism is seen as a cypher for something wicked. At the moment, Zionism (often used interchangeably with Judaism) is portrayed as imperialism or apartheid, echoing post-war anti-colonial struggles. It's a facile comparison and stands in the way of a clear understanding of the conflict. It's also a perfect example of what Nirenberg was writing about. And, given that it tends to express itself using classic anti-Semitic tropes, it merges with the conspiratorial world view of the committed Jew hater. Anti-Semitism is always with us, morphing into different forms, and needs confronting consistently and vigorously.

Corbyn swallowed much of this throughout his political career. His apologetics for anti-Western oppressive regimes and movements displayed a lack of judgement that should have disqualified him from the leadership. (Little did I know how significant his Euroscepticism would be as well). But what about the response to the latest row?

The true believers are doubling down and digging deeper. Sycophants have produced a range of excuses that are simply creepy. Some of the people who were aware of his failings but were tempted by the prospect of the left in power are recovering their principles. But the overwhelming response is a sense of bewilderment. How is this anti-Semitic? I'm not sure that Corbyn understands it either. There are many who say that they have never seen or heard any anti-Semitism in the party over decades. I actually believe them. It's not because it didn't' exist, its because it's unrecognised. The new anti-Semitism has changed its clothes.

Anti-Semitism has been treated as a heritage issue by some of the left. The warmest glow of self-satisfaction comes from sanctifying the memory of Cable Street, the greatest condemnation is of the Holocaust, and the favourite slogan is "never again." Anti-Semitism wears a Nazi uniform. The trouble is, it doesn't any more. It parades in different colours and it's easy to miss it, especially when blinded by partisanship. If you want an analogy, look back to the 1960s and 70s. Think of the misogyny and racial stereotyping on TV, remember (unfortunately I can) how you laughed at cringe making jokes. Now think of why they are no longer acceptable. It isn't because of "political correctness gone mad," it's because of hard work to raise consciousness and counter discrimination. We were taught what prejudice meant by the best teachers possible, its victims.

We didn't think as much about anti-Semitism, after all the Nazis had gone and we had defeated them. But it was still there. It lurked around in the extremes. It was there on the right, and as this superb essay by Eric K. Ward makes clear, is the genocidal belief that animates white supremacism. On the left it masqueraded as anti-Zionism. And it is encroaching from the wings to centre stage. The task today is the same one faced decades ago by feminists, anti-racists, gay rights activists and the like. People need to be taught how to see it. They need to be able to disentangle it from legitimate political campaigns. It will be hard work. It's now deep-rooted. The only way is to listen to the Jewish voices who are telling us, enough is enough.

Corbyn is a genuine opponent of heritage anti-Semitism, but he has failed to recognise its latest manifestation. He's tolerated and shared platforms with anti-Semites, while his initial response to the latest affair was indignant and unconvincing. However, this maybe a moment of hope. It could be the crisis point from which people can learn and push prejudice back into the margins. Maybe it's a moment of realisation and education. Perhaps in the future we will be able to look back in shame and astonishment at sentiments we once shared. If not, if the party makes token statements and hopes it goes away, the soul of the left may be lost, but please remember it's Jews who will pay the highest price.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Sacking Smith

Owen Smith was right to speak out. He was shadow Northern Ireland Secretary. It was his responsibility to be a voice for the people of Northern Ireland and for the preservation of the Good Friday Agreement. Much of the substance of what he said was true.

Corbyn was well within his rights to sack him. Smith would have known that a breach of collective shadow cabinet responsibility would make his position vulnerable. He took that risk and probably assumed that it would happen.

My question is something different. When did official Labour Party policy change to being that of the hard right of the Tories? When did it become something overwhelmingly opposed by the Labour Party's members and voters? Who changed it, how was it done, and why?

And a supplementary: What is the point of an opposition that does not oppose on the most important issue since the war, an opposition that does not speak to the interests of those it represents, one that proposes little in the way of alternatives to protect people's rights and prosperity?

People cannot live on slogans.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Playing the game

One of my favourite Twitter feeds has been the daily Brexit roundup from Alexander (@37payday). He mixed exasperated humour and sarcasm with comprehensive knowledge of the contradictions and idiocies of our times. They were an absolute delight. But then they stopped appearing a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday I saw what had happened when he posted this thread. It begins:
1/ Brexit has finally broken my mum
Read all twenty-eight tweets, it will only take a few minutes. It's about how his mother, an EU national who has lived in this country since the late sixties, no longer feels welcome. Irrational? Maybe. But she doesn't feel secure in a country unwilling to guarantee her right to live near her children and grandchildren in the place she used to call home. She's leaving. It's a small story. But it's real and being replicated all over the country.

Why are we doing this?

Perhaps the Cambridge Analytica scandal gives us a clue. There is an ideological angle to the scandal in that they were working solely for the right, but what troubles me is the utter cynicism. What you do is win. If to win means lying, you lie. What is the result of of the victory? Who cares? We won. That is all that matters.

We all know the Brexit lies - and they were lies - Brexiters consciously knew they were untrue even as they repeated them. The extra money for the NHS, taking back control, immigration. The truth was always that Brexit will be hugely expensive and make us poorer simultaneously, that Britain was abdicating its power as one of the three most powerful nations deciding EU policy (something that will continue to affect us), and that immigration will not diminish. And then there was the scare story of Turkey being about to join the EU, when it wasn't and has now withdrawn its application. We had a veto on their entry anyway, something else a minister lied about on television. All this mendacity worked and helped to swing a narrow win.

It's extraordinary, Brexit is based on lies. The foundations were laid by Boris Johnson's spell as a Brussels correspondent feeding colourful fabrications about the EU into a press that found they brought in readers. And that's weird too. It's worth going back to earlier sources from the time of our accession. The Daily Mail was celebrating our entry as the culmination of their ten-year campaign to get Britain into Europe. Read, or even watch on YouTube, Ted Heath's idealistic speeches about how this was much more than being about economics and was the start of a growing political union (skewering another Brexit lie). Fake stories changed that agenda.

I find this shocking. Dishonesty, with so much at stake. A frivolous disregard for truth, out of all proportion to the profound importance of the decision, deciding a matter of the utmost seriousness.

And there's something else as well. Many of our leading Brexiters have been campaigning for nearly forty years to leave the European Union. Yet when they won and the decision had to be implemented they hadn't got a clue what to do. There were no plans. No strategy. No vision. Nothing. Even more frightening was their ignorance of the difficulty and complexity of the task. Try and talk about the minutiae of trade and they were stumbling, getting basic facts wrong. They still are. It seems that all that mattered was that they won. It was a game. A rich man's game. All they wanted was victory for an obsessive belief, rather than implementing a carefully thought out policy.

I have looked for material motives, as have others. They exist. Obviously some people will do well out of this. Putin is looking on with glee, as are the very wealthy at a time when the EU was getting serious about tax havens. It's about power too, removing the restraints of membership on the freedom of action of those with serious money. But this isn't enough. I can't escape the feeling that it was the game that mattered and that Brexit is not a policy, but a symbol. It reminds me of a football team lifting the trophy at a cup final, won against the odds. They do their lap of honour. Half the fans in the stadium are celebrating, the other half are crushingly disappointed and sullenly going home. Then, the day after, the club realises that it has overspent. This momentary triumph cannot last. Someone else will hold the cup next year. Their best players will leave, administration and relegation beckons. When the whistle blew ushering in that ecstatic moment, nobody thought about what comes next.

The nationalist right have won. They have their left-wing camp followers, but make no mistake, this is a victory for the right. And if we leave, change will be slow. There will be a relative decline, but we will still be OK. There will be more bureaucracy and a few things will become more awkward. Those who mis-sold us the dream will be insulated by their wealth and will keep their enviable life styles untouched, playing the game of being posh. London will remain a cosmopolitan city and the playground of the international super rich funded by the proceeds of corruption. Immigrants will continue to come, to dispatch our Amazon orders, harvest our food, clean our offices, work in hotels, and all the other myriad of tasks that we need. This time though they will have fewer rights and be easier to exploit. You see, it's the smaller people who will lose. People like the teachers and nurses, struggling with overwork and underfunding. The carers for your elderly relatives, the local authorities who can no longer keep your streets clean, the shabby parks and the closed libraries, they will all be losers. A younger generation will see their future more constricted than it would have been otherwise, and they will grow up in a meaner, less tolerant world. And, of course, there's Alexander's mum and the millions like her.

If we do leave, the cry of the next generation will not be 'remain,' but become 'rejoin.' And if they in turn win, at least they will know what to do.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

We need to talk about Jeremy

It's been an interesting week or so for Jeremy Corbyn. I was not surprised by his presence in a secret anti-Zionist Facebook group. (I refuse to call this bunch pro-Palestinian, as they don't give a toss about real Palestinians. They see them in narcissistic terms as a cause to be rescued, victims of the wicked Jews/Zionists, and think that their future oppression by nasty theocrats or corrupt movements is a form of liberation.) Visceral hatred of Israel has long been an animating feature of Corbyn's politics. The way conflicting explanations were given for his departure from the group was embarrassing.

Then there was his response to the Skripal poisoning. He called for dialogue, his usual remedy for any conflict, though this time at least it was to be "robust." He also pointed to the Russian money that had found its way to the Tory party. This caused the usual media outrage. It shouldn't have. It should have opened a debate on the extent to which money looted from the Russian people has corrupted the UK. Unfortunately, the Labour leadership is also compromised - politically rather than financially. They have a track record of apologism, non-confrontation, and even outright support for Putin. Then there is their penchant for appearing on the RT propaganda channel. To his credit, John McDonnell's response was considerably better than Corbyn's. There has been a continuous collective misjudgement on all sides, and on more than this one issue.

Finally, there was Corbyn's dismal speech on Brexit to the Scottish Labour conference. It was depressing. Even more depressing was the fact that he won the, mainly begrudging, support of the conference. The speech was riddled with contradictions and misapprehensions. In calling for Scotland (where 62% voted to remain) to respect the result of the referendum, he was solemnly asking Scots to submit to rule by England. That will win back SNP voters. Then there were the usual fantasies. A customs union will solve the Irish border - no it won't and given the conditions he laid out for one he won't get one anyway. Regulations on state aid in the single market rule out "rebalancing the economy" - they don't. He insisted any free trade agreement must give us control of regulations, etc, etc. All impossible conditions. And he didn't mention Gibraltar, nobody does.

I don't know whether he is positioning himself for a possible u-turn by setting unrealisable conditions, or whether he is being utterly consistent with the Euro-scpeticism that he has espoused for the past forty years and is gunning for a hard Brexit. Whatever, he has set himself up in diametric opposition to the vast majority of the party members (though the diehards appear to be remarkably pliable), and, more importantly, to the majority of Labour voters. Labour's better than expected showing in the last general election was partly down to them gathering up remain voters. If he hopes to retain them by promising them a better Brexit than the Tories can offer, he is making a classic political error - mistaking opposition to policy as discontent about performance.

There was one bit of the speech that got more attention than others - immigration. It was an obvious dogwhistle to UKIP voters, implying that problems are down to there being too many foreigners in the country. But he did hit on a real issue about the exploitation of posted workers. The standard brush-off by his opponents was a dismissive comment that this is a marginal issue affecting small numbers. This is true, but irrelevant. His opponents are wrong, the margins matter. These are real people being exploited. We have a choice of solutions:

Either there is the one Corby appears to favour, to restrict immigration by pulling Britain out of its preferential membership of the EU single market, which is the source of the bulk of its earnings, thereby damaging the economy, making people poorer, increasing bureaucracy, weakening employment rights, reducing the power and standing of the nation, breaching the Good Friday Agreement, and stripping all 64 million Britons of their rights as EU citizens to live and work anywhere in the Union.

Or, we can close the loopholes in the Posted Worker Directive (as is already happening).

What a dilemma.

Let's get this straight. The cause of exploitation is not immigration. The cause of exploitation is exploitation. Just as stagnant wages and declining public services have nothing to do with the EU, but are the result of the dubious decision of our own government to remove the post-crash stimulus and restrict spending and demand - austerity for short. Exploitation can be fought using all the familiar tools of left governments - enforceable legal employment rights, strong trade unions, industrial democracy, investing in public services, a political economy that promotes growth and employment, and building a strong welfare state. There is nothing, absolutely nothing at all, in EU membership that would prevent this. There is much in it that would make it easier.

The curious thing is that on all three issues - the Middle East, Russia, and Brexit - the Corbyn left is siding with the far right. They are making excuses for and lining up with ultra nationalist theocrats, kleptocrats, and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

These are not marginal issues. They are some of the great questions of our day with the most profound consequences. On all three, the Labour leadership has got it wrong. If they persist, this will not end well.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Democracy

This is from the EU's draft withdrawal agreement. It is fully in line with the government's stated policy.

Think about it. This means that your inalienable right to live, work, receive health care, start a business, raise a family, etc., in twenty-seven other countries (together with any of the other ones desperately hoping to join the EU in the future) will be taken away in perpetuity. It's not just you that it affects, but your families, your descendants, and all future generations. This is what EU citizenship gives. It gives you a right, not something that may be granted as a discretion by a host nation, but a right that you can freely exercise if you fulfil the legal requirements.

It's a right that I valued as I built my second life in Greece and it determined my decision to buy a house there. It's a right that has allowed friends of mine to settle there. It's a right that my neighbours from other EU countries retain.

As things stand, both the Conservative and Labour parties, the only conceivable parties of government in the UK, wish to strip you and I of that right against our wills. They do so in the name of a supposedly democratic decision, a narrow majority in a referendum. Around seventeen million voted in favour and sixteen million against. That means that those seventeen million get to impose their will on all sixty odd million Britons - and on the tens of million more yet to be born. They get to deprive them of their citizenship and limit their freedoms. Is this really democracy?

Think about it again. One of the items that I find too painful to watch on the news is the refugee crisis. It's the suffering. It's the exploitation. It's the desperation. It's the corpses washed up on beaches that we are used to thinking about solely in terms of Mediterranean holidays. What would would these people give for an EU passport? Well, they have shown us. They would give their lives. And hundreds die every year.

This is how valuable our European citizenship is. Yet we, with our complacent and pampered existence, are prepared to see something, which others would literally die for, taken from us for no good reason, other than a bad decision mandated by a flawed process.

Yes, think about it, think again, and then put a stop to this destructive madness.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Through the looking glass

Brexit is crumbling before our eyes.

Our Prime Minister declares that no Prime Minister could agree to what she agreed to in December (once it had been written as a legislative draft by the EU). Which means that either she was dodging the issue of the Irish border or she didn't understand what she was signing. In the meantime the government has offered no alternative solutions, other than diversionary idiocy from Boris Johnson.

The leader of the opposition has begun to oppose. He made a speech in which he said that the UK must leave the EU, leave the single market, but join a customs union with the EU. That means that Labour's stance has been modified to allow the free movement of goods but prevent the free movement of people (though without being nasty about them). This is a curious position for a socialist to take. It leaves Labour supporting a policy that has to lead to some form of hard border in Northern Ireland (this can only be completely avoided by being in the customs union and the single market or something very much like it) while opposing it vehemently. The rest of the speech didn't show much understanding of the EU either. Corbyn talked of spending a non-existent Brexit dividend and picked different, juicier and sweeter cherries than the Tories, but it has been made abundantly clear that there can be no cherry picking at all.

OK there was a small positive shift, but it still means the leadership is committed to a pretty hard Brexit and remains resolutely opposed to the desires of the overwhelming majority of its members and voters on the single market. Another curious position.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry came out in support of Labour on the customs union to the fury of the Brexiters.

Then John Major returned to the scene and appeared as an angry and eloquent political titan compared to the current lot. Yes, John Major. This is what we have become. Jacob Rees-Mogg (Eton and Oxford) called Major (Brixton, left school at 16) the elite. Nadine Dorries called him a traitor.

And what is the government doing? Search me. Bugger all if Jon Worth is right.

Why the inaction? There is only a year left. Well, it's a difficult and complicated process - not easy as we were reassured by the Brexit brigade - especially regarding law and trade. But if you set up a series of red lines and contradictory demands, it becomes impossible. Chris Grey gives the best summary overview of the whole dismal process here.

Now we have to face reality. There are no material benefits from leaving. The only prize appears to be the sovereignty to be able to make worse trade deals than the ones we have already through the EU. The zealots' response to discussion of the details ranges from bland reassurance, through wishful thinking, to abuse. As Chris Grey noticed, it's as if we were being expelled from the EU, not that we asked to leave. They can't seem to accept responsibility.

But still we keep going. Why? Ah, the 'will of the people.' This absurd fiction would be laughable if it wasn't rooted in the referendum. But let's get it right. Referendums are a sham of a democratic process. This one took a low salience issue and showed that when asked the question the country was divided almost 50/50. This is not the will of the people. It doesn't give the right for half the voters to impose on the other half something that they don't want in the slightest. There is no talk of finding compromise or a consensus. Reductionist referendums like this are not democratic.

Like a student realising that their essay is due in tomorrow morning, the government has to start to get real. But they don't know what to do faced with a stupid policy and hounded by crazed Brexiters. If they had any sense they would stop it now before it is too late. I am not sure if they will though.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Handwash

Most of my recent posts have been about Brexit. Other things are happening as well; like a massacre. It's a massacre that comes after half a million other deaths. It finishes off what was started with Sarin gas in 2013. It is a crime against humanity, piled on top of crimes against humanity.

I don't expect much from our unserious Foreign Secretary or a government consumed by Brexit, but what about the opposition? Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary has spoken. Last week, she emitted this pile of sycophantic drivel. Genuflecting to the wisdom of her leader, she talks of Syria without mentioning Assad. Not a word about the man who launched the war. Silence about the person whose forces and allies are responsible for around ninety per cent of the deaths. No mention of his prisons and torture chambers. Nothing. Zilch. War without agency.

The piece is anti-interventionist in all cases, but doesn't acknowledge that there are consequences to non-intervention. We are seeing them daily, that is if we can bear to watch the news or read the reports. Mostly, I can't. But I still know that they are there and that it's happening.

There can be very good reasons behind non-intervention. I have friends who I respect who see it as a principle. Others point to the desperate difficulty of intervention in Syria, especially given Assad's allies, and the possible unintended consequences. They may be right, they may not, but at least they are in touch with reality and do not describe the results as 'peace.'

I can't be bothered to fisk Thornberry's piece. It's just a piece of Stop the War Coalition orthodoxy. But I feel nauseous when I see something suggesting that standing by and allowing slaughter to happen is the way in which we can "live in a world free from war."

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Imperialism

Many of the tragedies of Irish history have been the result of an English political conflict being fought out in Ireland. Other than the UK, the country most affected by Brexit is the Republic of Ireland. It was hardly mentioned during the referendum campaign. This imperial amnesia covered an inconvenient truth. Thirty years of violence and thousands of deaths later, a classic political compromise was embodied in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. It has held the peace in Northern Ireland for twenty years, despite the lingering residue of the "Troubles." Maintaining the Agreement makes a hard Brexit impossible.

This week Daniel Hannan, Owen Patterson, and Kate Hoey all used the deadlock in the Stormont power sharing talks to make claims about how the Agreement has failed and needed revisiting. They are all hard Brexit ultras. It's a classic ploy. People will respond by offering justifications and explaining why it isn't true and that the Agreement has been a success. By doing so, they will have validated the idea that there is a debate about its utility and put the possible revision of the Agreement on the agenda. That has to happen if the ultras are to get their hard Brexit.

The conclusion that should be drawn is not about the Agreement. It is that those three ultras are not politicians, but zealots. It appears that there is no price that they are willing to let other people pay to achieve their benighted goal. Theirs is the irresponsibility of the fanatic.

Imposing the baleful consequences of English nationalism on Ireland is something Ireland does not need or deserve. This must be resisted and condemned from all sides.

Monday, February 12, 2018

East West Street

Phillipe Sands' East West Street is wonderful.


That's the only word that fits. It's gripping, engaging - and about international law. That might seem incongruous, but Sands wove what could have been a dry academic narrative around stories of the people involved, together with the discovery of his own family history. It's a brilliant device for making non-fiction accessible.

The biographical approach works because of a coincidence. There are four main protagonists. The first three, Leon Buchholz, Sands' grandfather, Hersch Lauterpacht, a professor of international law who established the concept of crimes against humanity, and Rafael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide, all came from the city that is now known as Lviv, in the Ukraine. The fourth, Hans Frank, was also a lawyer, but was the Nazi governor who administered the Holocaust in Poland. Buchholz, Lauterpacht, and Lemkin all managed to get out in time before Frank murdered their families.

The book focuses on the development of two related but conflicting legal ideas, crimes against humanity - committed against individuals - and genocide - committed against groups. However, both shared a central principle, that state sovereignty should no longer be unlimited and that the leaders of states should be held accountable for their crimes.

This raised the question as to how sovereignty was to be limited?  Rather than invent some powerful supra-national body, the answer was more ingenious. State sovereignty was to be pooled for a specific purpose, the administration of international law and the protection of citizens against abuses by their own state. The result was the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal. The limitation of sovereignty protected citizens. Ordinary people gained at the expense of their governments. The Holocaust made it a humanitarian imperative. And though it took decades for the International Criminal Court to be set up, the principle had been established.

The nature and extent of the war asked profound questions about the shape of a post-war settlement. In the first half of the twentieth century the sovereign nation state brought an era of catastrophe that culminated in the Nazi war of extermination. The system based on the balance of power broke down, collective security through the League of Nations failed, while the self-determination of nations brought intractable ethnic conflict rather than peace. Nuremberg pointed to a different approach, the voluntary pooling of sovereignty where the gains were greater than the losses. Which brings me round to the single most important question facing Britain today, Brexit.

The European Union is an evolving response to the dangers of nationalism. Membership involves states pooling sovereignty in limited areas, whist retaining it overall. Describing the EU as bureaucratic misses the point, it's more accurate to describe it as legalistic. It's existence and operation is based on law, made through collective decision making processes, involving all members and embodied in treaties. By requiring democratic governance and tying it to economic self-interest, it has been the most successful of our trans-national institutions. Which is why nationalists, fascists, and revanchist neo-imperialists (such as Putin's Russia) bitterly oppose it. And in Britain they struck gold.

The narrow result of an unnecessary, poorly constructed and appallingly conducted referendum is now being interpreted in the most radical way possible. Each compromise, even the ones the Leave campaign actually advocated themselves, is treated as an act of treachery. The language is of ultra-nationalism, the very force that brought ruin to Europe. As the realities hit, any economic case for Brexit is melting away, while the huge costs of the increase in bureaucracy and new infrastructure necessary to deal with the consequences of leaving show this to be an expensive folly. The result is that nationalist rhetoric has become the first resort of the Brexiters. Given, that the heart of the European catastrophe was the Holocaust, it is both alarming and unsurprising that this rhetoric involves stepping into the sewer to drag out noisome anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about George Soros as the Jewish "puppet master" secretly plotting to sabotage Brexit. The echoes of an evil past are unmistakable.

As it all becomes about "taking back control" we have to ask the question, 'control for whom'? I can assure you that it isn't control for you or I. It's not for ordinary citizens; we will lose rights, freedoms, and protections. No, the liberty they talk about is for the government to act without restraint. This gets lost amongst all the welter of detail, as does the broader historical significance.

Reading Sands' book brings you back to a sense of national pride that Britain played a role in establishing the principle that national leaders were not immune from prosecution for the crimes that they have committed against their people. It reminds us that unlimited state sovereignty is not an untrammelled good. It tells us again that nationalism and genocide walked hand in hand throughout European history. And it shows that Holocaust remembrance is not just about pious statements, but the need to build institutions that prevent it from happening again, and never taking them for granted.

If there is one compensation it is that Brexit appears to have strengthened rather than weakened the European Union. It still faces challenges within from Hungary and Poland, together with the extreme nationalism of the far right. However, The EU's economy is growing and it is becoming more and more apparent that the big loser will be Britain alone. Even so, the challenge to the delicate balance of the post-war settlement is disturbing. It is a triumph for the nationalist right, even if some left-wingers think that they can combine nationalism and socialism without the terrible consequences of the previous attempt. And it is Britain, my country, that has delivered the most damaging blow to post-war European institutions.

There has been much noise and resentment amongst Brexiters that we are not celebrating our exit from the EU. They witter on about Big Ben ringing and special stamps issued to commemorate our departure. I find their facile suggestions contemptible. If, and I really hope the day never comes, Britain leaves the EU, it will not be a moment to mark with rejoicing. Instead, it will be a day that signals our betrayal of the attempt to create a new Europe out of the ruins of the old, to establish the protection of citizens through international law, and a reversion to an historical fantasy of British exceptionalism. It will be a day of shame; deep, deep shame.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Regrets

There's something really poignant about these comments from people who regret their vote to leave the EU. They come from wider focus group research on attitudes, mainly among older people.
"To be perfectly honest, I don’t think there should have been a referendum anyway on a subject as complex as that. I don’t think the public had enough knowledge of for and against."
"I thought we voted for politicians to actually make these decisions on our behalf!"
"We were absolutely not in a position where we should have been given the vote in the first place."
"They asked us to vote on something which, the majority of us, had no real knowledge on what we were signing. I wanted to just to come out of Europe because I thought Europe had too much control over our cards, over our system. But, I for one, didn’t fully understand the implications of coming out of Europe. And I think there are a lot of people who likewise."
Admitting that we got things wrong is rare. Normally we double down on our original judgement, rationalise it away, and slowly forget it. But, if we do recognise that we were in error, it helps to have someone to blame, and they did. It was the fault of politicians for putting it to the vote. They're right. This points to one of the many flaws in referendums. Not only are they a way of by-passing democratic institutions and giving no additional weight to expertise as against ignorance, but they are a way of passing the buck. Politicians avoid taking responsibility for their own decisions. Instead, they hide behind "the will of the people." The recriminations are then levelled at the voters, even within families. Young people accuse older ones of "having stolen their future."

You can feel the distress in these answers. They were asked to vote and did their duty to the best of their limited knowledge, sensing that the mere fact of the referendum indicated that there was a problem. Now they are shouldering the guilt they feel for a wrong decision. The referendum put responsibility on people who neither wanted it, nor were qualified to exercise it, all in a failed attempt to placate the right wing of the Conservative Party. It was cruel to put them in that position.

Which brings me round to the question being raised about another referendum (not a second one, it will be the third). Paul Evans is against. Chris Dillow makes excellent points as well.
Nigel Farage and Arron Banks are starting to agree with many Remainers that there should be a second referendum. Both sides, of course, do so for the same motive – the belief they would win.
What this misses is that the first referendum was, as Robert Harris said, “the most depressing, divisive, duplicitous political event of my lifetime.” It was dominated by lies and by ignorance of basic facts. The result in effect went simply to the highest bidder. There’s no reason to suppose that a second referendum will be any better.
There would be one difference of course, a fresh referendum would be better informed because of the experience and consequences of the first. Otherwise, it's a dismal prospect.

The problem that those of us who think that Brexit is wholly mistaken face is a different one. However rotten a decision making process a referendum is, it might be our only chance. I don't mean this is because of a Parliamentary or governmental decision being a challenge to the supposed legitimacy of the referendum, far from it. I don't think that many outside the tiny ranks of the Brexit partisans really care about the issue. It would be mainly greeted with a shrug or a sigh of relief. Brexiters are convulsed with hysterical hatreds and denunciations of treachery when winning anyway, so who would deny them the intense, orgasmic pleasure of an ultimate betrayal? No, the problem we face is that politicians are showing every sign of cowardice. They are determined to avoid the responsibility bestowed by their office. So, it isn't that Brexit shouldn't be halted by anything other than another referendum, it is that it won't be.

A referendum is a way out, but is still a risk. It will have many of the same flaws as the previous one. It could go either way. So while I would prefer politicians to actually do their job as representatives, I fear that we are stuck with the prospect of another poll. I would welcome it only in so far as it would be the only chance of revisiting the decision. One thing I do know though, I hope to hell we never have another one of the damnable things.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Questions without answers

Jeremy Corbyn has set out his position on the EU single market to the PLP. If this report is correct, his thinking raises a number of questions. He said:

1. It is impossible to be outside the EU and stay in the single market. (This is untrue, as pointed out repeatedly).

Q. Is he lying or is he thick?

2. He wants a 'jobs first Brexit.'

Q. WTF does that mean?

3. He wants to retain all the benefits of membership through negotiation with the EU. (Despite the EU making it perfectly clear that no such deal is possible).

Q. Can he name any other organisation that would grant the full benefits of membership to non-members without them having to meet the obligations of membership?

Supplementary:

Around 65% of Labour voters voted remain. 87% of Labour members voted remain. The overwhelming majority of voters and members want Britain to stay in the single market. Why then is Corbyn supporting the Tories against Labour?