Archive 2018

23rd December 2018

stupid people

Corbyn – exposing Tory hypocrisy; May – continues to blag her way through 

If Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had called Theresa May a “stupid woman” there is every chance that he would have apologised.  There is much less of a chance that he would have stood up in front of the House of Commons, not to mention the world’s media, to lie through his teeth and claim he said “stupid people”, if he did not say that.  Corbyn has been true to his word and political ideals for nearly 40 years as an MP.  It seems bizarre that he would lie over this.

Corbyn has admitted to losing his temper, faced with a wall of jeering Tory MPs at Prime Minister’s Question Time, stating,

“I was extremely angry: the last point I’d made was, they’d suddenly found £4bn to prepare for no deal. £4bn.  At the same time police officers have lost their jobs: 100,000 vacancies in the NHS, a housing crisis; a homeless man dies on the steps of Westminster; and she and the Conservative Party turned the whole thing into some pantomime joke.  I was extremely angry.”

With 100 days to go before the UK leaves the European Union on 29thMarch, Corbyn quite rightly points out that the Tories have had two years in which to come up with a negotiated settlement, have spent most of that time arguing amongst themselves, and the deal that Theresa May has finally come up with has not yet been in front of the House of Commons for a vote.

The political establishment in the UK has been hoist by its own petard, following the 2016 referendum, with the country voting to leave when the establishment desire has always been to remain.  The struggle since them has been one of attempting to reconcile this irreconcilable dichotomy and so far no clear solution has emerged.

May’s Brexit deal is as close as the establishment can get to delivering on the Brexit vote, by notionally exiting the EU but doing so on terms that effectively keep the UK tied into EU rules, but without a voice in determining them.  Corbyn has quite rightly denounced this as a ludicrous position.  Labour remain committed to pushing for a General Election, in order to clear the way for a new negotiation with the EU, and a new political and trading relationship.

Factions within Labour, pushing for a so called People’s Vote, have criticised Corbyn for not rejecting Brexit on the basis that life outside the EU would be worse than being on the inside.  Whether the 4,751 rough sleepers in the UK, a figure which has doubled since 2010, would agree is a moot point.  The gilets jaunes in France might also take a different view; the 25% of young people unemployed in Spain might not concur; the thousands of public sector workers in Greece losing their jobs in the latest ‘bailout’ might see things differently.

The so-called ‘meaningful vote’ in the House of Commons will now follow further debate, scheduled to begin on 9th January 2019, after which the final push for an agreed deal or a General Election will begin in earnest.

Protesters press for change in Iran

15th December 2018

Iran protests

 Protests continue to engulf Iran

A wave of protests has gripped Iran throughout 2018 since demonstrations engulfed 85 cities across the country last January.  The protests are engaging the low paid, underemployed and disenfranchised, through to industrial workers in the steel and sugar industries and professional workers such as teachers.  There is no strand of Iranian society which has not been touched by the protests.  The regime is struggling to contain nationwide discontent. 

At the beginning of November teachers went on strike for two consecutive days across 27 major cities in Iran. The action was the second round of strikes since mid-October, aimed at putting pressure upon the government to carry out educational reforms and end mismanagement. The teachers’ action is also protesting against low wages and the violations of the educational rights of students and minorities.

Teachers are also demanding the release of imprisoned teacher trade unionists, an end to indiscriminate investigations and the ongoing arrests of union activists.

The protests by teachers have been supported by students who are increasingly recognising that the circumstances of their educators will impact upon their learning and future job opportunities.  Support has included student protesters at Tehran University, holding pictures of imprisoned teachers, interrupting a speech being delivered by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.  The fact that students and teachers are feeling sufficiently emboldened to take action, which would have been unheard of just a few years ago in Iran, underlines the extent of the growing crisis inside the country.

Unrest has also been long running in the steel industry in Iran.  Workers at the Iran National Steel Industry Group (INSIG), in Ahwaz, have gone on strike numerous times in recent months to demand overdue wages. In June, many workers were rounded up by security forces and freed only when other workers launched protests.

As well as their immediate economic demands, steel workers are increasingly linking their situation to corruption at the highest levels of the Islamic Republic and articulating demands for political change.  This reflects many of the slogans echoed by teachers and students, adding to the growing sense of a crisis of political legitimacy in the country.

The same pattern is evident at the Haft Tapeh sugar cane facility, where workers went on ten continuous days of strike action in November, in protest at months of unpaid wages.  The political nature of the dispute was reflected in the chanting of slogans such as “hail to the workers, down with the dictator.”

The response of the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to nationwide unrest among the millions of ordinary workers is that there is a “foreign plot” to overthrow the regime.

Since the US pulled out from the Iran nuclear deal in May and re-instituted two sets of sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s economy, the currency in Iran has been nosediving, affecting the value of wages and impacting upon the purchasing power of ordinary Iranians.

The deepening of sanctions by the United States, which came into play on 5th November, will only exacerbate this situation. The ability of Iran to trade on international markets is being restricted to the point where the US is effectively implementing a trade embargo.

There can be no doubt about the anti-people credentials of the Iranian regime.  For over 40 years the Islamic Republic has been to the forefront in its abuse, arrest and torture of the political opposition, trade unionists, women’s organisations and in suppressing student protests.  The regime in Iran is only matched in its vicious response to internal criticism by the United States’ key allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

However, the sanctions imposed by the United States are not about acting in the interests of the Iranian people and freeing them from an oppressive regime.  The US sanctions are entirely about the power balance in the Middle East, with the US seeking to impose its will and maximise control of the region’s resources.

Ironically, the path being pursued by Trump was initiated under President Obama, as part of the United States’ New Middle East Plan, to reassert influence and bolster resource control in the region.  Obama’s version of the Plan resulted in the nuclear deal in 2015 and a more nuanced approach to containing the perceived threat of Iran to the regional power balance.

Not surprisingly, for Trump there are no such niceties.  To all intents and purposes, the gloves are off and the New Middle East Plan mark 2 is simply to bring Iran to its knees, whatever the cost to the prospects for peace in the region or to the plight of the people of Iran.

The worst case scenario, a military strike on Iran, is something many in the US administration have not taken off the table.  Western foreign policy, specifically that of the United States, is currently treading a very fine line from which one slip could plunge the region into war.

It is vital however, that whatever form change in Iran takes, it is based on the will of the Iranian people, not the will of external forces.  Solidarity with the people of Iran in their struggle for peace, human rights and democracy is more vital now than ever.

A democratic Iran would still face the threat of political sanctions and the ongoing danger of military intervention, by the US or one of its proxies in the region, but would nevertheless be a huge step forward for democracy in the Middle East.

Bringing down the EU house

8th December 2018

Paris-protests

 Protests continue in the French capital, Paris

In advance of nationwide gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protests the French state made 280 arrests this weekend.  Over 89,000 police have been deployed across the country, 8,000 on the streets of Paris alone, backed up by heavy duty VBRG armoured vehicles, as the Macron government desperately tries to get a grip on the fast moving insurrectionary mood in the country.  Having been elected only 18 months ago, as a ‘new force’ in French politics, the En Marche movement of which Macron is head is in danger of splintering into several pieces.

The reasons for this are clear.  Macron was never more than old wine in new bottles.  Representing the interests of the French bourgeoisie in a smart suit could fool some of the people some of the time but was never going to fool all of the people all of the time.  The recent fuel duty increase proposals, withdrawn due to popular pressure, would have hit those least able to pay the hardest.

This follows on from Macron’s programme of tax breaks for the rich, attacks upon social welfare programmes, the attempt to extend the working week and the furore caused over the attack on public sector pensions.  The inept socialist government of Francois Hollande created a political void into which Macron was able to step.  Faced with the choice of a Macron presidency or one headed by far right demagogue, Marine le Pen, in the presidential run off French voters were faced with little choice.

Under these circumstances however it was always going to be only a matter of time before the superficiality of the Macron programme was exposed and the French people had to look for new solutions.  The spontaneous protests have no clear programme or leadership at present other than being united around regarding Macron as being a puppet of the French political elite, with no idea of how the less well off live.

However, if protests are sustained beyond this week it will be essential for a Left platform to be articulated which can capture the mood of the protesting French working class.  Without unity around a progressive set of demands the danger is that the Front National of Marine le Pen will step into the void, with the usual easy targets of immigrants and refugees in their sights.

The protests in France are the latest manifestation of popular discontent across Europe, which has accelerated since the bank bailouts of 2008 saw Europe wide austerity programmes imposed by EU governments, to pay for the bankers gambling debts.  Discontent has been manifest in the Podemos movement in Spain, the Five Star movement in Italy, the election of nationalist governments in Poland and Hungary, the rise of the far right AfD in Germany and the vote to leave the EU in the UK.

That the austerity programme has coincided with a migration crisis, as refugees flee NATO led interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, has added to the self-inflicted pressures face by European governments.

As a political project the EU has been a spent force, dissociated from the interests of the peoples of Europe, for some time.  The acceleration of the protests in France may be the start of the final act in the EU’s demise.  If that is the case, the debate over Brexit in the UK will pale into the background as the EU is plunged into existential crisis.

There are alternatives.  The French Communist Party (PCF) for example has a programme for a people’s Europe stating,

“Today, everything is done to make us believe that we should make a choice between an increasingly liberal European integration or nationalist disintegration. In France for example, Emmanuel Macron tries to reduce the political debate of the European elections between “pro” and “anti” EU. But there is an alternative: that of a Europe of peoples and nations, free sovereigns and associates, turned towards social and ecological development. The communist project is that of a break with the current EU and a refoundation of its objectives, missions and institutions. In other words, a Europe of the Human first and no longer of finance.”

It may not be fully formed in every detail but such an objective would certainly be a start and give the peoples of Europe some hope that, whatever institutions were established to coordinate real solidarity across the continent, they would be ones which would be working for them, not against them.

Take a chance on May? No Thanks!

26th November 2018

CorbynCBI(3)

 Jeremy Corbyn outlines a Labour Brexit at the CBI last week

UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, follows her party conference Dancing Queen embarrassment with another Abba themed pitch today, as she appeals to the British public and the House of Commons to take a chance on me.  The Brexit deal negotiated over the last two years with the EU is, May tells us, the best possible deal.  It is a rare moment of concurrence with President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, also desperate to get a deal concluded, who has made it clear that this is the only deal on the table.

It took leaders of the EU 27 states less than an hour to sign off on the deal and the mood music suggests that there is little if any room for manoeuvre as far as the rest of Europe is concerned.  For May, in a premiership which has been defined entirely by Brexit, it is a case of this deal or no deal at all.  She clearly sees the endgame in terms of her time as both PM and Tory Party leader and has decided that she will stand or fall on the ground she has marked out.

The deal will go before the House of Commons this side of Xmas.  All of the politics and Parliamentary arithmetic at the moment suggests that it will not be passed.  The fascist bully boys of the DUP, whom May has leaned upon to prop up her government, have branded the deal “pitiful and pathetic”.  They are unhappy about Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of the UK due to its land border with the Republic of Ireland but are essentially scared that the deal opens the way to a United Ireland by the back door.

May herself has vowed to defend the fiction of the so called United Kingdom, a defence of the historic partition of Ireland, but the DUP do not regard this as enough assurance.  The pro-Brexit European Reform Group, led by the anti-charismatic Jacob Rees-Mogg, are equally concerned by the defence of the union issue, as well as the timescale on any transition period, and would rather see a no deal scenario with the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules than a deal which gave the EU any say beyond 29th March 2019.

The much vaunted challenge to May, which Rees-Mogg and his plotters have trailed for months has still failed to materialise, betraying either a lack of nerve or a lack of numbers in their ranks.  While it seems likely that they could muster the 48 ‘letters’ needed to trigger a leadership contest, the 150+ votes needed to oust May seem less likely to be forthcoming.   Without a clear leader, who could command majority support even amongst Tories, the pro Brexit faction are worried about handing the keys of No 10 to Jeremy Corbyn.

In his speech to the CBI recently, Corbyn set out the key elements of what he has described as Labour’s “sensible” approach to the Brexit issue.

Instead of the temporary customs arrangement May has signed up to as a backstop, to prevent a hard border in Ireland, Corbyn has underlined Labour’s backing for a permanent customs union.

Corbyn has been quite emphatic that,

“This is a bad deal for the country. It is the result of a miserable failure of negotiation that leaves us with the worst of all worlds. It gives us less say over our future, and puts jobs and living standards at risk.

“That is why Labour will oppose this deal in parliament. We will work with others to block a no deal outcome, and ensure that Labour’s alternative plan for a sensible deal to bring the country together is on the table.”

Corbyn has also stressed the need for workers’ rights and environmental standards to be protected to prevent a “race to the bottom”, a live issue given that EU membership has seen a proliferation of low paid jobs and zero hours contracts across the UK.

Corbyn has also called for “a strong single market relationship that allows British business continued access to European markets for both goods and services – while also ensuring we have the powers to support our public services and industry and transform the economy in all our regions and nations.”

With the Commons vote now confirmed for 11th December the ground is likely to move quickly.  Support for Brexit within Labour’s ranks is by no means solid, with a cohort led by Chuka Umunna seeking to press for a second referendum, rather than accepting the result of the first.  A lack of discipline in Labour ranks could certainly complicate the Parliamentary arithmetic in the short term and even jeopardise the chances of a Labour government being elected.

There are those in Labour ranks who would rather see a pro Remain Tory government than a pro Brexit Labour, such is their lack of class awareness.  Now is the time for Labour to hold firm to its present position, defeat the shambles which is the May government, then from a position of strength in government, negotiate a Brexit deal which works for the people of Britain, not just its banks and corporations.

Historic Visit by Cuban President

18th November 2018

Diaz Canel

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel is greeted at the airport by Cuban Ambassador HE Teresita Vicente     

“The Cuba Solidarity Campaign is proud to have worked with the Cuban Embassy to support this historic visit by the Cuban president to Britain. We hope it will foster increased understanding, exchanges and trade between our two islands, especially at a time when the United States is tightening its blockade of Cuba and trying to isolate the island from the international community.”

Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of the Republic of Cuba, arrived in London on 12 November on a transit visit, following his first tour of European and Asian countries.

During this historic visit – the first by a Cuban President to Britain since the Revolution – the president was accompanied by a delegation of ministers from the Council of State including Deputy President Ricardo Cabrisas, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, and Deputy Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra.

During his brief stay he had a packed schedule holding meetings with Phillip Hammond MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, members of the British business community involved in the Cuba Initiative, the Caribbean Council, and a meeting in the House of Lords with peers representing arts and culture. Additionally, the Deputy President, Ricardo Cabrisas, held a meeting with Dr Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for International Trade.

On Tuesday 13 November, the president and members of the delegation attended a welcome reception in the House of Lords, jointly hosted by Baroness Angela Smith and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. Many members of parliament attended including Karen Lee MP, Chair of the APPG on Cuba, and Mark Menzies MP, Chair of the APPG on Latin America and leader of the recent IPU delegation to the island.

Addressing the meeting, the Cuban President said the was struck by the warmth of his welcome: “that in a place that is so far away from Cuba, we can find so much warmth affection and love, that it seems like we have know each other for a very long time. And for that I want to thank you very much.”

He described the trip as being “very significant” for Cuba. Originally the trip was supposed to be just a transit stop over, but the British government had made it possible to have high level meetings.

“We’ve come to London to ratify and confirm to the British government our political will, our intent and our endeavours to continue expanding our relations,” he said. “Particularly we should recognise that the current state of our relations are good and our economic and trading relations are expanding. We have expressed that we have come to tell the British business community and financial institutions that we want them to be present in Cuba, not only as investors but also supporting and providing finance to the various projects that we are developing in our country.”

Díaz-Canel said that Cuba was especially interested in exchanges in areas such as energy, since Cuba had set out the goal of having at least 24 per cent renewable energy by 2030, as well as tourism, agriculture, telecommunications and biotechnology.

The President spoke of the huge impact that the blockade has on Cuba’s development and ability to trade. “Every time we make progress, then the blockade comes in with its extraterritorial tentacles. And one may wonder – how it is possible that we let another country make decisions on our behalf?

“It’s not just about the United States wanting to impose a blockade on Cuba, but the United States also wants the rest of the world to follow their lead and blockade Cuba as well.

“And the blockade has been tightened under the Trump administration – financial persecution against Cuba has been intensified.

“This is a struggle that we have to face together,” he said. “The British government has expressed that it does not support the blockade”.

Speaking at a solidarity reception later in the evening hosted by the Cuban Ambassador HE Teresita Vicente and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, President Díaz-Canel promised representatives of the solidarity movement, trade union leaders, MPs and Cubans resident in the UK that Cuba would: “uphold and remain committed to that legacy of respect, friendship, and affection. I only ask something that we will share among us in spite of the adversities, in spite of pressures, in spite of anyone’s wishes to oppose and interfere. Among all of us, united and together, we shall overcome all obstacles, interference, and stumbling blocks and the triumph will be the best of us that will emerge from all of us together, which is friendship, solidarity and cooperation.”

The President thanked CSC Director Rob Miller, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the British trade union movement for its campaigning on the blockade and the freedom of the Miami Five over many years. Cuban television channel Canal Caribe filmed the reception and interviewed Natasha Hickman, CSC Communications Manager and guests.

On Wednesday 14 November, the Marx Memorial Library organised for him and the Cuban delegation to visit Karl Marx’s tomb in Highgate Cemetery, north London, where the President paid his respects and presented flowers from the delegation.

The visit of President Miguel Díaz-Canel comes on the back of increasing exchanges and bilateral agreements between Britain and Cuba. Almost 200,000 British tourists visited Cuba in 2017. In September, MPs and Lords were part of an exchange visit to Cuba organised by the Inter Parliamentary Union, following the November 2017 visit of a group of Cuban parliamentarians to the UK.

Recent ministerial exchanges include the visit to Britain of Ana Teresita Gonzalez, Cuban vice minister of Foreign Affairs in September 2018, and the first visit to Cuba by a Foreign Secretary in 2016 when Phiilip Hammond visited. In addition to senior level bilateral contacts, agreements in banking, renewable energy technology, and biotech have recently been signed.

Internationally, Britain has continued to vote against the United State’s blockade of Cuba at the United Nations. On 1 November 2018, the UK joined 188 other countries in voting in support of Cuba’s resolution calling for the US to end its 58 year old blockade of the island.

The US blockade of Cuba has cost the island $933 billion dollars since its imposition in 1962. It hinders the development of the Cuban economy and causes shortages and suffering to the Cuban people. The extraterritorial impact of the blockade has seen British banks fined by the US Treasury department for financial transactions involving Cuba, and recently resulted in the Open University barring a Cuban student from studying at the institution – a move overturned as the result of lobbying by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign is proud to have worked with the Cuban Embassy to support this historic visit by the Cuban president to Britain. We hope it will foster increased understanding, exchanges and trade between our two islands, especially at a time when the United States is tightening its blockade of Cuba and trying to isolate the island from the international community.

Cuba Solidarity Campaign c/o Unite, 33-37 Moreland Street, London EC1V 8BB, UK

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7490 5715 | Fax: +44 (0)20 7490 3556 | Email | http://www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk

The Outcome of the War

WWI_centenary1_960x640

10th November 2018

The commemoration of the centenary of the Armistice, following the cessation of hostilities in World War One, will dominate the news this weekend.  The focus will be on the personal stories, the human interest angles, the tragic loss of life, all of which must be remembered and marked.  There are civic and political occasions across Europe, which will be the opportunity for the current leaders of European nations to come together.

Activities to mark various centenary events across the whole period of the war have been going on for the past four years.  In spite of this the public would be hard pressed to find the real causes and underlying consequences of a conflagration which took millions of military and civilian lives and devastated thousands more across the world.  They would be even more hard pressed to find any acknowledgement of the crucial role of the Russian Revolution, not only in taking Russia out of the war but initiating the world’s first socialist state.

The attempt to bury the truth in talk of heroism and glory is not new but, in the period between the first and second world wars, there was at least some clarity of analysis within the ranks of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in the form of R. Palme Dutt, particularly in his work World Politics 1918-1936 (Victor Gollancz Ltd 1936).

Palme Dutt in his chapter which considers the outcomes of the war is quite clear,

“The first fact to recognise about the eighteen years since the Armistice is that none of the world problems set by history since 1914 has been solved, many have intensified, and many new ones have been added, while the greater part of the “settlements” which followed the war have either broken down or are in the process of breaking down.”

Palme Dutt, in assessing the world situation in 1914, outlines the growing conflicts between the imperialist powers which had plundered the world throughout the nineteenth century and were now at a point where the division of the spoils could only be addressed by conflict.  Most of the globe having been ‘conquered’ the only way in which to expand was to take from another competing capitalist power.

Capitalist concentration continually requires new markets and a rapidly developing Germany needed room to expand.  British colonialism dominated the globe but this also made it more vulnerable to the rapidly emerging German imperial ambitions.  New markets inevitably meant expanding into British markets and the British would not give up hard won imperial gains without a fight.

While war in Europe raged the real emerging power in the world, the United States of America, stood to one side, confident that its financial and corporate interests in Europe would be defended by the alliance of Britain, France and Russia in opposition to German advances.

The Russian Revolution, set in train in March 1917, marked the point at which US intervention in the war became essential to prop up the Allies and head off a potential German victory.  As Palme Dutt states,

“The numerical and material superiority of the Allies through the accession of America, which finally secured them the victory, was itself the reflection of the revolution.  It was the Russian Revolution of March 1917, with the consequent inevitable prospect of Russian withdrawal form the war and menace of Allied collapse, which was the decisive motive cause behind the American entry into the war, within four weeks of the Russian Revolution, to safeguard its interests already heavily mortgaged on the side of the Allies.”

The punitive reparations imposed upon Germany in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 did not resolve the issues which led to war in 1914 and effectively laid the basis for the rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy.  The seeds of World War Two were planted the moment that the first war was over.  As Palme Dutt states,

“The treaties of spoliation which followed the war laid the seeds of future war.  At the same time new conflicts in the extra-European sphere came to the forefront.  In consequence, within two decades of the war of 1914 the issue of the re-division of the world had arisen anew in still sharper form.”

The issues present in 1914 and which led to further global conflict in 1939 remain unresolved.  While the world balance of forces ushered in with the Russian Revolution may have changed once again, with the defeat of the Soviet Union, the capitalist class is no more able to agree amongst itself now than it was then.  Tensions within the European Union are one expression of this, with secessionist tendencies likely to grow as the right wing gains more power in the existing bloc.

The United States continues to pursue an undeclared war against Iran while exercising its regional neo-colonial muscle to prevent progress in Latin America.  A US / China trade war is shaping up to threaten what little stability there is in the world economy.  Interventions in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria have not succeeded in stabilising the influence of Western imperialism in the Middle East.  Post Soviet Russia has its own emerging ambitions to regain some semblance of superpower status.

Palme Dutt’s words in 1936, preceding the Second World War, could equally be applied today,

“…the issue of the new division of the world is now definitely in the forefront, alike in respect of colonial territories, of the revision of frontiers in Europe, and of the distribution of power between the main States; war has already begun, not yet on a world scale, but on a regional scale, involving world issues….”

The centenary commemorations this weekend will not be reflecting upon the words of Palme Dutt, or the many others who have warned that capitalism cannot resolve its issues of greater accumulation and competition without conflict.  We could do a lot worse than go back to those words now.  Better still we could act upon them.

Venezuela: Communist leaders assassinated

4th November 2018

 fajardo

Luis Fajardo (centre) and Javier Aldana – murders condemned

Two campesino leaders and members of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) were assassinated on Wednesday in Nueva Bolivia, Merida State.

A press release from PCV Secretary-General Oscar Figuera revealed that central committee member Luis Fajardo had been assassinated along with his brother-in-law, Javier Aldana. According to reports, the two men were making their way home on a motorbike, when they were killed by a burst of gunfire from a moving car.

Figuera added that the party held landowners, as well as corrupt personnel of the National Guardsmen and politicians, responsible for the crime, while demanding that the state carry out a thorough investigation of the case.

Multiple organizations in Venezuela, including the Tupamaros and elements within the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), have condemned the episode and expressed their condolences.

The local branch of the PCV in Merida also put out a press statement on Thursday, recalling that Fajardo and Aldana’s activities in defence of campesino rights had made them a target for landowners and that Fajardo’s numerous public denunciations of the threats made against his life and his family had been ignored by authorities. The PCV called on President Maduro and Attorney General Tarek William Saab to ensure that justice is served in this case.

The incident comes just weeks after a similar assassination attempt targeting Barinas-based PCV campesino leader Robinson Garcia, who came under fire from several motorcyclists on October 9, but managed to escape with his life.

Nueva Bolivia is located in the so-called Sur del Lago region, south of Venezuela’s lake Maracaibo, which extends along the states of Merida and Zulia. Fajardo was spearheading the claims of some 250 campesino families to the Cano Rico ranch, which was being occupied and utilized by the campesinos whilst they awaited legal adjudication of the lands.

The lake region has seen some of the most intense land struggles by small farmers, to which large landholders have responded with deadly force, often taking the form of paramilitary violence. This past July’s Admirable Campesino March, which covered more than 400 km on foot to demand a meeting with President Maduro, presented several grievances from Sur del Lago. In one of the latest examples of violence against campesinos, teenager Kender Garcia was murdered on September 19.

For their part, the Venezuelan communists have also repeatedly drawn attention to the violence taking place in the countryside and what they deem a complicit lack of response from authorities.

Earlier this month, Figuera had called for an urgent meeting with President Maduro in the context of the electoral agreement between the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) and the PCV, signed before the May 20 presidential elections.

The communist leader accused the government of not fulfilling any of the agreed-upon points, among them, addressing the campesino demands and putting an end to violent evictions and targeted killings in the Venezuelan countryside.

This article is taken from https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/14128

A “People’s Vote” for the people?

27th October 2018

BREXIT-VOTE-MARCH-29

 A people’s vote? Protesters in London march against Brexit

Over half a million people descended upon the streets of London last weekend to demonstrate in favour of a vote on whatever Brexit deal is finally agreed, the hidden agenda clearly being to campaign against any deal and force a rethink on the whole Brexit process.  The People’s Vote campaign brings together Tories, right wing Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats in a coalition of those disaffected with the outcome of the June 2016 referendum.

The organisers have made much of the lack of media coverage, given the scale of the demonstration and have, justifiably, criticised the BBC for its reporting priorities and adherence to ‘balance’, which saw a minor gathering in Harrogate, featuring Nigel Farage, gain airtime alongside the bigger London protest.

However dubious the BBC’s editorial approach, and they do love any opportunity to give Farage airtime, in this instance two wrongs do not make a right.

The People’s Vote campaign premise is based upon the assumption that the EU is a good thing and the equally questionable presumption that a second referendum would lead to a vote in favour of remaining in the EU.

The June 2016 referendum itself, although close, did result in a vote to leave and there is nothing to suggest that the conditions which led to large parts of the country expressing their disaffection and voting that way has changed significantly.  With millions living below the poverty line, public services crumbling, transport infrastructure in disarray and austerity continuing to bite, whatever Theresa May might say, there is nothing to suggest that turning back the clock to the day before the 2016 referendum would improve life for the majority of people in the UK.

On the contrary, 40 years of EU membership, compounded by the 2008 banking crisis has brought the UK and much of Europe, to the position it is now facing.

The People’s Vote campaign reflects much of the post war social democratic consensus that capitalism can somehow be made to work for all of the people, not just the few at the top and, that by clubbing together in an ever expanding union of European states, this goal will somehow be achieved.  Currently on their third tranche of bail out and having to sack thousands of public sector workers in order to meet payments to the international banks, it is unlikely that the people of Greece would agree.

The 40% of young people under the age of 25 who are unemployed in Spain would probably have a different view.

Having been signed up to a failed consensus it is little wonder that voters across Europe are turning to parties which promise to deliver on their behalf, provide easy ‘answers’ to their problems, such as blaming immigrants for lack of opportunity, and generally take a critical view of the EU hierarchies and bureaucracy.

People know from their own experience that their lives have not improved greatly over the past 40 years.  In the UK alone, we have seen the demise of comprehensive education, underfunding of the NHS, the selling off of council houses, mass unemployment, zero hours contracts, university tuition fees.  The list goes on.  Being in the EU has not stopped any of that. Why should people believe that sticking with the same deal will make it better over the next forty years?

If the demagogues of the so called populist parties, such as the Front National in France, the Five Star Movement in Italy and right wing government in Hungary and Poland, are not to consolidate their positions the Left needs to articulate credible alternatives to their views and those of the EU bureaucracy.

The EU will remain for as long as it suits the interest of the banks and corporations which back it.  As we saw with tragic consequences in the 1930’s they are quick enough to change allegiance if they see a new centre of power emerging.  The only way to stop history repeating is to make that alternative centre of power a true expression of people power.  That will take more than a so-called people’s vote, it will take the people demanding a real people’s socialist alternative to the both the EU and the right wing demagogues.

Sanctions step up threat of war

26th August 2018

Donald-Trump-Iran-1000286

 Donald Trump continues to ramp up tensions with Iran

The next step in the undeclared war on Iran has been taken by the United States, with the first wave of sanctions in place, following the unilateral withdrawal of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  Jane Green reports on the short term impact and possible long term consequences.

The JCPOA, widely known as the Iran nuclear deal, was agreed in 2015 by the United States, Russia and the European Union to halt the domestic uranium enrichment programme in Iran, in exchange for the relaxation of previously imposed sanctions.  The deal was being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and, up until the most recent inspection earlier in 2018, Iran was deemed to be following the terms of the agreement.

US President Donald Trump has never been a fan of the deal and promised to withdraw as part of his election campaign rhetoric.  For Trump, relaxing sanctions on Iran simply allows the regime in Tehran to draw down international resources which it can then use to support its adventurous foreign policy, through what the US deems to be its proxies in the Middle East.

There can be no doubt about the anti-people credentials of the Iranian regime.  For over 40 years the Islamic Republic has been to the forefront in its abuse, arrest and torture of the political opposition, trade unionists, women’s organisations and in suppressing student protests.  The regime in Iran is only matched in its vicious response to internal criticism by the United States’ key allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

However, the sanctions imposed last week by the United States, which will be further intensified on 4th November, are not about acting in the interests of the Iranian people and freeing them from an oppressive regime.  The US sanctions are entirely about the power balance in the Middle East, with the US seeking to impose its will and maximise control of the region’s resources.

Ironically, the path being pursued by Trump was initiated under President Obama, as part of the United States’ New Middle East Plan, to reassert influence and bolster resource control in the region.  Obama’s version of the Plan resulted in the JCPOA, a more nuanced approach to containing the perceived threat of Iran to the regional power balance.

For Trump there are no such niceties.  To all intents and purposes, the gloves are off and the New Middle East Plan mark 2 is simply to bring Iran to its knees, whatever the cost to the prospects for peace in the region or to the plight of the people of Iran.

The latest round of US sanctions has resulted in those European companies which had begun to re-engage with Iran, in putting plans on hold.  German car and truck manufacturer, Daimler, has dropped plans to expand its business in Iran.  French companies, Peugeot and Renault, have suspended operations in Iran and have said they will comply with the US sanctions.

French energy giant, Total, has said it will quit the multibillion-dollar South Pars gas project if it cannot secure a waiver from the U.S. sanctions.

Total signed a contract in 2017 to develop Phase II of the South Pars field with an initial investment of $1 billion and has not yet said what it will do with its 30 percent stake should it pull out. It has until 4th November to wind down its Iran operations, barring any surprise exemption.

The widespread withdrawal and suspension of economic activity by European companies is remarkable because the US sanctions have no international force and no United Nations backing.  The US strategy is essentially that of the playground bully.  Companies are free to deal with Iran if they choose but they may find it difficult to do business in markets with the US.  For most companies the choice between sticking with Iranian business or losing access to the US market is no choice at all.  The United States knows this and the international community appears powerless to prevent it.

The latest round of sanctions will cripple even further an already crumbling Iranian economy.  The confrontational position taken by the US is encouraging the hardliners in Iran to feel emboldened.  Former president Ahmadinejad has recently called upon current President Rouhani to resign.  Those who have always opposed the JCPOA are now regarding the word of the US as valueless and are seeking to turn the current turmoil to their advantage.

Further information at www.codir.net

Antisemitism smokescreen for the right wing

12th August 2018

israel_soldiers_gaza.png_1718483346

Israeli Defence Force tackle Palestinian militancy in Gaza

If the Israeli secret service, Mossad, are not behind the current antisemitism smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, they ought to be ashamed of themselves.  More than that, they ought to be paying whoever is behind it for doing their job for them, as the ongoing slurs against Corbyn and his allies continue to give the UK media an excuse not to report on the real chaos in the country and the economy.

If Mossad wanted to take attention away from the atrocities committed by the Israeli Defence Force for decades in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they could not be doing a better job.  If they wanted to cover up the ongoing illegal land grab by Israeli occupiers, euphemistically referred to as settlers, who steal land from the Palestinian people, they could not wish for more.  If Mossad wanted to bury the fact that the actions of Israel in the occupied territories are illegal, and in contravention of international law and countless United Nations resolutions for over fifty years, they could not hope for a better smokescreen.

Racist action against Palestinians, it would appear, is not racism at all.  It would appear that it is especially not racism if perpetrated by those whose parents and grandparents have been victims of the racist atrocity of the Holocaust, carried out by the Nazis in Europe in the 1930s and 40s.

Inside the Labour Party it would appear that any family tie with victims of Nazism is enough to give your words a vicarious authenticity in the eyes of the UK media.  Dame Margaret Hodge is a case in point.  Her Jewish roots, in spite of a limited record in fighting racism at home, appear to give her more credibility than lifelong anti-racist campaigner Jeremy Corbyn, to the extent that Hodge gets away with calling Corbyn an antisemite and racist.

Deputy Labour Leader, Tom Watson, added fuel to the fire this week by suggesting that without tacking the issues of antisemitism Labour would be facing ‘eternal shame’ over the issue.  Watson had clearly failed to read the articles published by Jeremy Corbyn or the video he released last weekend, which were absolutely categorical in their opposition to antisemitism and all forms of racism, in the Labour Party and in society in general.

No such statement in defence of Palestinian rights, as endorsed by almost the entire international community in accordance with international law, has been forthcoming from any of those critical of Corbyn in recent weeks.

Instead the focus has been upon the Labour National Executive Committee not adopting the exact wording of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when debating the issue and how to address it recently.  Unlike the Israeli government’s ignoring of the resolution of the United Nations regarding its occupation of Palestine, the IHRA definition has no legal standing.

In fact the author of the definition, Kenneth Stern, regards it as a working proposal, not a legal or disciplinary definition.

This weekend twenty four Constituency Labour Party activists have put their names to a letter to The Observer (12/08/18) in an attempt to redress the balance of debate within the Labour Party.  They focus fire upon Watson in particular for laying the grounds for a further leadership coup against Corbyn stating,

“Is this another attempted coup against the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn gathering force and is the issue of antisemitism being weaponised to that end?  Watson seems oblivious to the many organisations such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Jewish Voice for Labour, which believe that the IHRA definition needs further work to ensure defence of free speech.”

The signatories go on to point out that there is a “wider and worrying under reporting of the growing threat from the racist far right”, while the media choose to focus upon manufactured divisions within the Labour Party.

With the Tories in disarray over Brexit, facing the possibility of a leadership challenge and the possibility of being forced into a General Election, there is the distinct prospect of a UK government led by Jeremy Corbyn.   The anti-Corbyn right wing in the Labour Party would not like that, the ruling class in the UK would be unnerved by an actual socialist, who may event try to translate policies into action, with the keys to 10, Downing Street.

You can be sure that the conservative Israeli lobby and Mossad would not like it either.

War of words threatens peace

29th July 2018

Trump Rouhani

The war of words between US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, earlier this week is a stark illustration of the dangers of unstable government in both countries and the speed with which a flashpoint with international consequences could emerge.

In a twitter message early on the morning of Monday, 23rd July, President Trump reacted angrily to a statement by Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian President.

According to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), at a gathering of diplomats, President Rouhani had stated,

“Mr. Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret. America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”

Rouhani was clearly not taking his own advice as, based upon previous experience, he may have expected a robust response from the US President via his favourite form of communiqué, Twitter.

Not one to fail in this respect Trump duly obliged with a response stating,

“Never ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demeaned words of violence & death, Be cautious!”

The message from Donald Trump follows the threats made by Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, who in May threatened Iran with “the strongest sanctions in history” and vowed to use all economic and military pressure to “crush” Tehran’s operatives and proxies around the world.

Pompeo, the former CIA chief, staged a meeting with mainly right-wing Iranian-Americans in Washington on Sunday, 22nd July in which he, in effect, argued for total submission of the Iranian government to the demands and conditions set by the US. The language used by Pompeo is clearly influenced by the advocates of “regime change in Iran” within the US administration, primarily National Security Adviser, John Bolton, and amongst Iranian right-wing exiled opposition groups.

Bolton, a well-known hawk on Iran, told reporters in Washington,

“I spoke to the president over the last several days, and President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price few countries have ever paid.”

Trump’s position was criticised in Europe where the EU is in disagreement with the US president over his decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

European leaders do not regard Iran as being in breach of the deal.  However, they are struggling to find ways to protect businesses still trading in Iran from the threatened effect of US secondary sanctions. The first banking sanctions are due to come into force in three weeks.

Considering the volatile situation in the Middle East and current hostilities between the Iranian regime and US administration, the war of words between the two countries could easily escalate.

While President Rouhani is the public face of the Iranian regime and government, so-called democratic elections in Iran have always been little more than a façade.  Rouhani himself has been dipped in a veneer of reformist gloss which quickly peels away under the heat of international scrutiny on human and democratic rights in Iran.

The real power base in Iran remains with the hardline clergy and, in particular, the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.  There is little doubt, based upon past evidence, that both Khamenei and Trump are deceitful leaders who would, without hesitation, lie to their people to stay in power and pursue their own narrow interests. They would resort to any option to overcome the various crises they face.

The US continues to forge an alliance with the unscrupulous dictatorship in Saudi Arabia and build upon its long standing relationship with the regime in Israel.  Both the Saudis and Israel, for different reasons, regard the regime in Iran as an existential threat and their opposition to the spread of Shia Islam, as advocated by Iran, is the overt reason for their unity in opposition.

The realities are, as ever, much more complex.  Both Saudi Arabia and Israel have aspirations to be the major power in the Middle East.  The oil rich Saudis are also the figureheads for a particularly reactionary form of Sunni Islam and have aspirations to be the spiritual, as well as economic, leaders of the Muslim world.

The Israeli position is based upon a view of themselves as the regional economic and military superpower, backed by their nuclear capability sanctioned by the United States.  It is not especially nuanced.  While a de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia may suit the Israelis in the short term in opposition to Iran, there is no sense that this is regarded as an equal partnership.  Should Iran in any way be subjugated, Israeli domination of the Saudis would swiftly follow.

It is for these reasons that the progressive and patriotic forces in Iran are determined not to let the interventionist policies and practices of the United States and its reactionary allies in Saudi Arabia, along with the ultra-right-wing anti-people government of Netanyahu in Israel, determine the future of the country.

The forces supporting peace, human and democratic rights, and social justice in Iran have called for all efforts to be focused on finding diplomatic solutions through negotiations within the framework of the UN Charter and in accordance with international law.

The Tudeh Party of Iran (TPI), concerned about the possibility of a new war engulfing Iran, has clearly and repeatedly stated that Iranian progressives are strongly opposed to any external interference in the country’s domestic affairs.  The TPI believe that the future of Iran should only be determined by its peoples and through the struggle of its progressive forces to bring to an end the theocratic dictatorship in the country.

A People’s Brexit beckons

22nd July 2018

CorbynMcDonnell

 Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – ready for a snap election

Where politicians start to call for a government of national unity you can usually be sure that there is a war on.  It may not be a shooting war but it is a war all the same.  This week the Tory Remainers, ostensibly to fight off the threat from the so-called European Research Group, headed by the oleaginous Jacob Rees-Mogg, made such a call through their regular mouthpiece, Anna Soubry.

The Remainers are of course fearful that the Rees-Mogg gang will hi-jack the Tory Party and their places and positions of privilege will be lost.  However, they are more fearful still that any moves on the part of the hard core Brexit faction will lead to the downfall of the precariously balanced Theresa May government and allow Jeremy Corbyn into 10, Downing Street.

Soubry and her Remainers, both in the Tory Party and the Labour Party, are pitching to be the new voice of the establishment in the UK.  Along with the Liberal Democrats, a few Scottish Nationalists and the craven Ulster Unionists, who will do all in their power to prevent Irish unification, the Remainers are essentially an extension of the politics of David Cameron, George Osborne and a whole host of Tory leaders before them, including Margaret Thatcher, who saw the future of British capital as being safer inside the European Union than outside it.

The push to become part of the European Economic Community (EEC), as it then was in the 1970’s, was very much an acknowledgement that the post war UK economy needed a new direction and required significant investment in order to develop.  The nationalisation of key industrial sectors, the introduction of comprehensive education and the establishment of the NHS had all provided a firm basis from which to extend social ownership and control of the UK economy.

Counter to this, resistance to controls upon the outflow of capital, lifting constraints upon the City of London and opposition to a progressive tax regime, had been core to the developing Tory agenda, which coalesced around the leadership of Margaret Thatcher.  The reliability of markets in former UK colonies, while still strong and linked through the neo-colonial framework of the Commonwealth, were always likely to diminish, as indigenous capital took hold or liberation resulted in more socialist orientated development.

Alignment to Europe was seen as a buffer against the future diminution of Commonwealth based markets, while at the same time providing an opportunity for UK capital to extend its reach into Europe.  The inability of the ideologically weak 1970’s governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan to build upon the gains of the post war socialisation of the UK economy, paved the way for the election success of Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

The first act of the Thatcher government was to free controls on the export of capital and over the course of the following decade went on to oversee the deconstruction of nationalised industries, trade union rights, local government and a progressive education offer.  This was all undertaken with, at the very least the benign indifference, if not the complicity, of the European Union.  The idea that to remain in the EU will in any way guarantee the rights of immigrants, employees, women, the elderly or anyone else is a fantasy with no firm basis.

The current Remainers recognise, as did Thatcher, that the EU is the safest bet for British capital in an increasingly complex and globalised market place.  The call for national unity is merely a call for the defence of British capital.  It in no way reflects the interests of working people in the UK any more than the EU defends the rights of the low paid or unemployed in Greece, Spain, Portugal or Italy, the guest workers in Germany or those on zero hours contracts in the UK.

While the Brexit faction may not yet have hi-jacked the Tory Party they have, with the complicity of the media, hijacked the political debate on Brexit.  Long term the case for a non-aligned republican Britain, outside of both NATO and the EU, a re-united Ireland, Trident missiles de-commissioned and the military budget reduced by 50%, with re-investment in the NHS a priority, can easily be made.  None of which would be to the liking of Rees-Mogg and his ilk.

It is probably too big a leap for a first term Corbyn led Labour government.  However, it is encouraging to see that the Labour Front Bench have no less than 35 bills ready for introduction following victory if there is a snap election.  A government which made zero hours contracts illegal, embarked on a programme of Council house building, invested in the NHS and increased penalties for tax dodging corporations would be a start.

The Brexit question would still have to be addressed but it would be from a very different starting point.  An EU resisting a truly popular Labour programme of public investment, which according to current rules it would, may find its liberal façade rapidly crumbling.  Under such a scenario, a people’s Brexit may yet be on the cards.  That General Election would be a start……

Fooling no-one

14th July 2018

BabyTrump

Protesters in London object to the visit of US President, Donald Trump

The current UK heatwave, or what used to be known in the past as Summer, seems to have addled the brains of both inhabitants and visitors to these sceptre isles over the past week.  As TV drama it would have been reviewed as far-fetched, implausible and unworthy of the high standards we have come to expect from British TV culture.

Yet the improbable political soap around Brexit continues to throw up new plot lines and unlikely character twists on a daily basis.  A bit like the most intricate Scandi noir, it is not always possible to know what is going on exactly, but it is still sufficiently gripping to make you want to know the outcome.

UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, must have thought last week that the main drama was behind her and she could look forward to a satisfactory denouement.   At a four hour session in her country retreat at Chequers last Friday, May cajoled and coaxed agreement from a recalcitrant Cabinet around her Brexit ‘vision’, published later in the week as the White Paper, The Future Relationship Between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The news on Friday night was that they had all signed up and yes, May was right, this is the way forward to an acceptable UK Brexit.  By midnight on Sunday the Secretary of State with responsibility for Brexit, David Davies, had resigned from the Cabinet, unable to sign up to May’s vision.

Unable to miss a ride on any passing political merry go round, bungling Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, decided to catch a ride out of the Cabinet chamber and back onto the Tory backbenches, proclaiming in characteristically histrionic style that the ‘Brexit dream is dying’….

May attempted to swat aside the loss of two Cabinet ministers in less than 24 hours and published the White Paper anyway.   Dominic Raab was appointed as the new Brexit Secretary and given orders to get the White Paper up and running in the House of Commons.  MPs who dutifully assembled to hear the new boy on his first day in the job were disappointed to find that, while the Secretary of State was about to make a statement, there were no copies of the White Paper for them to scrutinise.

The Speaker suspended the session and MPs rushed off to scurry around the darkest corners of the House of Commons print room (or wherever White Papers emerge from) before emerging with boxes full of the worthy document.  Distribution followed and scrutiny ensued…..

Enter stage right, the fool….

A stock element of Elizabethan drama first time round, the Fool seems to have taken on a new lease of life in the second Elizabethan age, not least in the form of the current President of the United States, Donald Trump.

Trump arrived in the UK with all of the pomp and ceremony a non-State visit allowed, which included meeting the Prime Minister, taking tea with the Head of State and having dinner with business leaders.  Quite how this will be topped if there is a formal state visit remains to be seen.  In any event it appears that the UK is all too willing to suffer fools gladly, especially if they are going to make a trade agreement.

However, this fool was not going to do that, according to an interview he gave to that high powered journal of record, The Sun, because Theresa May’s White Paper was rubbish and left the UK too close to the EU for comfort.  He also thought Boris Johnson would make a good Prime Minister and did not think that Theresa May was any good a negotiating deals.  That sorted, the fool, who had already told NATO leaders that they did not spend enough on weapons for his liking, set off for tea and cake with the Queen, making sure he and his wife got a nice pic for the photo album.

The joint press conference between Trump and Theresa May, looking as though she could be sick at any moment, saw Trump proclaim that all of the bad things he had said about May were simply ‘fake news’ and that the UK/US relationship was ‘super special’.  He also said she would do a good Brexit deal, so it turns out that he was just kidding about the other stuff all along.  That’s alright then…..

Trump is such a fool that he believes, in spite of the thousands on the streets protesting against his presence, that the people of the UK love him, so he jetted off to Scotland to play golf, in preparation for his summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this there is a discussion going on about the White Paper, the UK’s negotiating position on Brexit and whether the EU will even tolerate it.  Maybe some rain in the coming weeks will help dampen things and proper political discourse will emerge.  Unfortunately, history suggests that the Summer is not the time for that.

Trump’s America Poles Apart

30th June 2018

Trump protest

 Further anti-Trump protests scheduled for 13th July in the UK

A divided nation and a divisive President pretty much sums up the position in the United States of America at the moment.  Well into the second year of his presidency, Donald Trump is showing no sign of being any less idiosyncratic in his behaviour or any less unpredictable in his policy pronouncements.   His arrival in the UK on Friday, 13th July for a three day “working visit”, will nevertheless involve him meeting the Queen, as Head of State in the UK’s archaic system, as well as meeting Theresa May at the PM’s country retreat, Chequers.

Protests are being organised across the UK, with the focus being upon London, to mobilise opposition to the politics of xenophobia, race hate and bigotry which Trump represents.  In the past six weeks almost 2,000 children have been forcibly separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border.  While their parents have taken the decision to flee their countries of origin for a variety of reasons, associated with drug cartel killings and the lawlessness which still characterises parts of Central America, this is no reason to criminalise four year olds who have no choice but to flee with their families.

Typically, the US has a different approach to migrants arriving from El Salvador, Guatemala or Mexico to those arriving from Cuba, who are greeted as anti-Communist heroes.  If the resources currently directed towards undermining democracy in Cuba were used to restrict the supply lines and activities of the drug barons in other parts of Latin America the flow of migrants at the US border would be stemmed.

For Trump though the numbers are not necessarily the issue.  Blaming immigrants for the problems of crime, social disorder and the economy is the last resort of every fascist scoundrel in history, so for Trump any level of migration would be deemed undesirable in his quest, as characterised by House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, to “make America white again.”

Trump’s UK visit will be preceded by a NATO summit in Brussels on 12thJuly and followed by a meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki on 16th July.  It promises to be an interesting few days.  Trump has made clear on many occasions his contempt for NATO, regarding it as an organisation into which the US pays too much and gets too little back in return.  The expectation on NATO members is that they spend 2% of their GDP on ‘defence’, a target which the UK is the only European government fool enough to meet, part of the reason for its crumbling transport infrastructure and public services.

It is anyone’s guess how Trump will play his hand at the NATO meeting but his discussions with Vladimir Putin, following close on, have made NATO generals nervous that Trump will make a major concession to Putin on arms or troop deployments, in order to grandstand on the world stage.  Both the NATO generals and US security services are well aware that Putin’s greater nous, political experience and KGB training are likely to mean he is more disciplined in any negotiation and capable of getting the upper hand over the bungling game show host.

Meanwhile, back in Trump heartland, where even the east coast is regarded as a foreign land, a storm has broken out over the actions of a small town restaurant in Lexington, Virginia.  Last Friday night Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, was half way through her meal at the Red Hen in Lexington when owner Stephanie Wilkinson asked her to leave.  This was based upon a staff vote in protest at the president’s policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexican border.

The Red Hen has been bombarded with eggs and excrement, besieged by angry protesters and as a result has been forced to close.  “Bikers for Trump” (not the environmentally friendly cyclist type) are planning a rally outside the restaurant.  A Greek restaurant next door, not involved in the original incident, has received a bomb threat.  The wine store next door has received abusive phone calls, including one suggesting that the owners should “rot in hell”.  At the same time the Red Hen has been inundated by flowers from those supporting the stance of the staff.

This is the politics of Trump’s America at the moment.  The Red Hen incident has prompted a national debate on civility and politics.  Needless to say, the positions taken on the issue are poles apart.  The debate will no doubt continue to rage back home, while Trump takes to Airforce One and pedals his poison overseas.  For action in the UK, in order to make 13th July a day for Trump to remember,  go to https://www.stoptrump.org.uk/

Racism – it’s no game

17th June 2018

World Cup

Racism – not just a football issue

Racism, equality and diversity have surfaced as hot topics in the worlds of sport and culture over the past week.  In part this is not unexpected, with the advent of the World Cup and the notorious reputation of a cohort of Russian fans dominating certain sections of the media.  The other strand of the debate has surfaced from a less predictable source, with novelist Lionel Shriver taking issue with the recently stated diversity policy of publishers Penguin Random House (PRH).

Consistent with much corporate expectation these days PRH released a statement suggesting that it aims to make the company as diverse as Britain, with respect to “ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.”

The pledge from PRH as stated on its website is that,

“We want both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2015.”

The response of Shriver is, at best sardonic, at worst elitist and betrays a level of appreciation of issues of diversity usually associated with the Daily Mail. For Shriver PRH has abandoned its core mission.

“Drunk on virtue”, she says, “Literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual education and crap education boxes.”

She continues,

“a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter…will be published.”

All of which says more about Shriver than the stated of policy of PRH.   Like the ranting ‘political correctness gone mad’ brigade, who seem to think that dragging modern society out of the nineteenth century is somehow an infringement of their freedoms, Shriver appears to think that PRH are likely to publish anything produced by any so defined ‘minority’, whatever its quality or merit.

There may be many motivations behind the PRH position.  There can be little doubt that their objective to publish from a wider pool of voices than the white, middle class, Oxbridge educated elite within UK society is to be applauded.  However, PRH are a private company, they may have an altruistic exterior but their core motivation as a private sector company is to make money.    It will not matter how gay or ethnically diverse an author is, if they do not sell, they will be dropped.

It is very likely of course that there are many hidden talents in a wide range of communities in the UK, screaming out to be heard.  If PRH remain true to their policy, we may soon be in a position to find out.  As for Shriver she can rest assured that the bastions of white middle class privilege are unlikely to fall any time soon.  If they do start to tumble, she can always take comfort in having gender on her side.

Racism in sport has surfaced this week as the World Cup gets underway, with calls from some for black players to walk off the field if they are subject to racist abuse during any of the games.  Such a response could see entire teams heading for the sidelines, the whole tournament disrupted and a victory for the racists.

John Barnes, former England and Liverpool star, who suffered racist abuse in the 1980s and 90s, has a different take on the issue, believing that racism in football cannot be separated from society as a whole, stating,

“Since I’ve been involved in professional football, it’s as if the rest of society is okay but football has a long way to go.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As I’ve been saying for decades, as long as racism exists in society, it will exist in all facets of society.  Until we eradicate it from society, football will be like any other industry.

Before we are footballers or fans we are ordinary members of society.  We are doctors, lawyers, milkmen, postmen, unemployed people, students…so why are they called racist football fans? Are they just racist for the 90 minutes, when the other six days a week they’re not?”

Barnes has a clear understanding of the roots of racial discrimination in a society which has been pushing a “narrative that has been spun to us for the last 500 years about the worthiness, morality, and intellect of a certain group of people in relation to other groups, particularly black people.”

Others disagree with Barnes and feel that the walking off tactic would be justified, in order to make an impact and give the issue of racism more prominence on an international stage.

However the issue is handled over the course of the tournament, racism will continue to be an issue in football, publishing and society long after the World Cup is over and long after the comments of Lionel Shriver are yesterday’s news.  The stand taken by Barnes and others in the sporting world helps address the issue, the stand taken by PRH may give a voice to many others not being heard.

It will require concerted effort in every workplace and every industry to get to the roots of the problem and eradicate racism as the divisive force it is.  A working class divided on grounds of race is less of a threat than one united in opposition to those who wish to hang on to their positions of privilege and power.  Tackling racism is integral to tackling the inequality endemic to capitalist society and the challenge of making change permanent.

Sonic attacks claim under question

11th June 2018

US Embassy Havana

US Embassy in Havana, Cuba

Science works best when qualified people can evaluate evidence without political pressure to draw poorly founded conclusions, say 15 neuroscientists and physicists in a letter published in The Guardian on Friday 1 June 2018.

As neuroscientists and physicists we have no reason to dispute that US diplomats living in Cuba heard loud noises, or that they reported feeling ill afterwards. Some US politicians have seized on these reports to construct conspiracy theories in which they imagine a mysterious disease-causing “sound ray gun” – something that isn’t possible with today’s technology. These same politicians have used their positions of authority to present their speculations to a credulous public as though they are fact. The pronouncements, in turn, have led to international confrontation and hysteria, resulting in the removal and expulsion of diplomats, and travel advisories. Now, an apparently analogous incident has been reported in China.

A “preliminary communication” from the University of Pennsylvania, with US government support, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has been used to buttress this putative “acoustic attack” idea with science. In fact, that work is deeply flawed, and does nothing to support the attack theory. We thus applaud the recent paper by Sergio Della Sala and Robert McIntosh, for its thoughtful criticisms of the JAMA report, and praise the effort described in the Guardian (Cuba calls on US and Canada to investigate ‘sonic attack’ claims, 29 May) to engage in an international scientific collaboration to study any connection between the illnesses and sound. Science works best this way, when qualified people can evaluate evidence without political pressure to draw poorly founded conclusions.

We hope that sober and calmer heads will prevail in de-escalating this frenzy, avoiding a chill in both diplomatic relations and scientific collaboration between the US and Cuba.

Mark M Rasenick University of Illinois College of Medicine

György Buzsáki New York University

Mark S Cohen University of California, Los Angeles

Alan C Evans Montreal Neurological Institute

Karl J Friston University College London

Janina R Galler Harvard University

Rainer Goebel Maastricht University

Steven A Hillyard University of California, San Diego

May-Britt Moser Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Gregory V Simpson Think-Now

Robert Turner Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig

Mitchell Valdés-Sosa Cuban Center for Neuroscience

Pedro Valdés-Sosa Cuban Center for Neuroscience

John Darrell Van Horn University of Southern California

Arno Villringer Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig

Human rights victory in Ireland

2nd June 2018

Irish vote

Women applaud the outcome of the Irish referendum vote

The vote in the Republic of Ireland last week, to repeal the clause in the constitution which denies women abortion rights, may mark the loosening of a thread which has tied Northern Ireland to the so called United Kingdom for too long.  The Irish vote has thrown into stark relief a number of contradictions in the position of the partition statelet and its disproportionate influence on the wider politics of the UK.

That is perhaps unfair to the huge numbers of the population in the North who have no truck with the protestant gangsterism of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and would, quite rightly, object to being tarred with that brush.

While the DUP are, on the one hand, in the position of not being able to participate in the governance of Northern Ireland, largely due to their own corrupt political practices, they remain the tail that wags the Tory dog in Westminster, due to the reliance of Theresa May upon their votes to ensure a majority in the House of Commons.

Once the government of the Republic of Ireland enacts the appropriate legislation, women in that country will be able to legally access abortion.  Their sisters in Northern Ireland will not, in spite of it being part of the UK and, in the opinion of the DUP, wishing to remain so.  In Northern Ireland women are granted access to a termination if the mother’s life is at risk or there is serious risk to her mental and physical health.  Conception as a result of rape or incest is not however grounds for a termination.

Deference to local sensitivities has always been a part of the devolution package.  However, when those local sensitivities represent a direct breach of human rights, imposed by one section of the community upon another, they should be over ruled.

It is probable that many Protestants will abhor the anti-abortion stance of the DUP just as many Catholics will no doubt take the papal dollar and fail to acknowledge a woman’s right to choose.  That should at the very least be tested in a referendum as it was in the Republic where, in spite of all of the predictions of a close outcome, a 2:1 majority came out in favour of a clear pro human rights position.

A decisive government would enact legislation to bring the statelet in line with the rest of the UK anyway but decisive is not an adjective readily associated with the May government.  To be fair, being decisive is difficult when being held hostage, especially when it is the DUP who have their fingers on the trigger.  To shoot first and ask questions later is a position they and their paramilitary cohorts will have been familiar with over the years.

While the reactionary clique around the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg continue to hold out against abortion under any circumstances, May is under considerable pressure from within her own party to address the anomalous position in Northern Ireland.  The current Cabinet minister responsible for women and equalities, Penny Mordaunt, backs reform as do former holders of the women and equalities role such as Amber Rudd, Justine Greening, Nicky Morgan and Maria Miller.  This is hardly a roll call of the most progressive women in Parliament, which underlines further how isolated May’s position has become.

There is growing pressure within the Labour Party to back the amendment, tabled by Stella Creasy, to the domestic violence bill, to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

Dawn Butler, the shadow minister for women and equalities, has called on the government to support legislation to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland.

She called it an “injustice” that women in Northern Ireland are “having to travel to mainland UK” to access an abortion.

“Labour’s manifesto commits to working with the Northern Ireland Assembly to bring about these changes and we want to see the Assembly reconvened to make such important decisions, but nearly eighteen months on, women in Northern Ireland should not have to suffer in its absence,” Ms Butler said.

The position of the DUP as a backward looking reactionary force in the politics of Northern Ireland has never been in doubt.  The events of the past week have simply confirmed that reality.  What is even clearer than it was before is the stranglehold which such an unrepresentative minority exercise over the UK government.

Northern Ireland should not be a part of the UK, it should be part of the Republic of Ireland.  There should be no DUP representatives in the House of Commons to exercise any influence over UK politics.  The case for a united Ireland has always been a strong one.  If it were possible, the events of the past week have only made it stronger.

Italians stick with the status quo

27th May 2018

Conte

Conte – not likely to rock the boat

The history of post war Italy has been suffused with corruption, coalition and anti-communism, even to the extent that the Communist Party itself fell victim to a particular anti-communist virus, in the form of so called Eurocommunism, in the 1970’s.

The recent elections have resulted in a compromise, bizarre even in the world of Italian politics, which has seen a politically inexperienced defence lawyer, Giuseppe Conte, being elected as Prime Minister.  Conte finds himself in this unlikely position as the leaders of the two main parties involved in the governing alliance could not reach agreement on the position.

Matteo Salvini, leader of La Liga and Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, founded by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, have chosen Conte because they could not agree on anyone else.

The coalition has emerged following a hung parliament being the outcome of elections of 4th March.  The cobbled together compromise is based upon raising spending, slashing taxes for the rich, opposing migration into Italy and a shared antipathy towards the European Union.

La Liga has form, having originally been constituted as the xenophobic, nationalist Northern League and having previously been in coalition with Silvio Berlusconi from 1994.   Five Star has no previous government experience but has built a following based upon its apparent anti-establishment positions and lambasting of Italian political institutions.

The election outcome was certainly a hammer blow for the usual suspects in Italian politics.  The Democratic Party (PD), the heir to the Eurocommunist poisoners of the Communist Party, lost 180 of its 292 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.  Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia was reduced to a mere 14% of the vote.  By contrast Five Star gained 32.7% of the vote and La Liga 17.4%, four times its previous best showing.

Italians have clearly voted to reject the austerity policies of the past decade but quite what they have voted for is less clear.  Change, certainly, but whether the compromise on offer, in the best Italian tradition, represents the change they want remains to be seen.

A push against being part of the Eurozone and a promise to make the European Central Bank cancel Italy’s €250 bn foreign debt, seem to have been seen off by EU technocrats.

Post election negotiations even involved Silvio Berlusconi, until Five Star insisted that they would not work with him.  Ironically, if there is a force in Italian politics more unpalatable than Berlusconi it is La Liga, whom Five Star are now settling down with as bedfellows.

Like Emmanuelle Macron in France, Conte shares the dubious honour of being a relative political novice.  Macron though did have some previous political credentials and did have a political agenda.  Conte appears to have no such thing and the government he looks set to lead lacks coherence.

The situation in Italy does parallel that in France however in that, far from the Italian election having resulted in anything radical, in spite of the defeat of the establishment parties, there is every sense that the current coalition will be business as usual.  How this will play with the Italian people remains to be seen.  It is unlikely to address their basic needs or tackle the EU imposed austerity agenda.  There is a far greater sense that the Italian establishment, like that in France, has simply been able to repackage itself once again.

The Colour of Money

20th May 2018

Castle

Windsor Castle – book now for 2019….

If every board member of every company listed on the FTSE 100 was a woman, it would not be a step forward for the equality of the sexes.  If every board member were black or gay it would not represent a step of any significance for tackling racial equality or homophobia.  Why?  Because the issue is not gender, race or sexual inclination, it is about oppression.  No matter what race or gender you are from, if you rise to the top in a system based upon exploitation you are simply being incorporated by the exploiters.

The fact that Margaret Thatcher was a woman did not prevent her from being an active enemy of the people.  Theresa May’s gender is not lightening the load of those facing homelessness, universal credit or zero hours contracts.

The aristocracy in the UK, the monarchy in particular, is the ruling class soap opera which is designed to distract people from these considerations.  The incorporation this weekend of a US citizen of mixed race into the British monarchy is, we are told, a sign that the monarchy is changing, becoming more modern, reflecting more closely the society of which it is a part.   To suggest that this is arrant nonsense is regarded as treachery in some quarters but we should not expect anything different from the Neanderthals of Little England.

The same cry taken up by the liberal press in the UK however, cannot be excused.  The gushing coverage of this weekend’s royal wedding, which kicks off the front page by Tim Adams in The Observer (20th May 2018), is a classic example.  Covering the build up and the service in fawning detail Adams concludes that, because Meghan Markle addressed a conference in Atlanta last year about racism in Hollywood, “you couldn’t help feeling that she had changed perceptions of princesses just a little bit, but perhaps forever.”

Similar twaddle is repeated by Alfua Hirsch, as The Observer continues its seven pages of royal wedding coverage, who suggests that Markle was “allowing her wedding to be not just a pageant of tradition, but also a celebration of blackness”, due to the ethnic diversity of the guests from TV, film and sports ‘royalty’.  Jess Cartner-Morley may have been the victim of some vicious sub editing but the piece on Markle’s wedding dress with her by-line was headlined, “cool and beautifully simple, a dress fit for a princess and a feminist icon.”  Feminist icon, really?

Buried further on in the comment and analysis section of The Observer it fell to Kenan Malik to restore a semblance of sanity to coverage, stating,

“As for the belief that Meghan will break down barriers for black people and make minorities more accepted as truly British, that’s as anachronistic as the monarchy.  Faced by an abusive skinhead or by a police officer about to stop and search me, my first thought has never been: “If only there was a black Windsor, then I might be accepted more.””

Meghan Markle may well be a perfectly decent, humanitarian and well intentioned person.  Swapping a relatively successful acting career for the job of selling royalty as celebrity to the British people however, may be her biggest performance to date.  As Kenan Malik concludes,

“Equality does not mean making inherited privilege more “diverse”.  It requires us to get rid of the whole shebang.  Adding a splash of colour to a feudal relic is not my idea of social progress.”

However it is dressed, the royal wedding was a knees up run by millionaires to celebrate their continued privilege, while the nation could only look on and count the cost.  At the end of the day, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, whatever the colour of those on the guest list, when it comes to the British ruling class the only colour that really matters is the colour of money.

A one-sided massacre by Israeli troops on the Gaza border

15th May 2018

palestinian

Israeli troops’ wanton slaughter of unarmed protesters serves as a fitting reminder of the inhuman treatment meted out to Palestinians since being driven off their land to facilitate Israel’s establishment 70 years ago.

International disregard for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees scattered to the four winds by the zionists’ superior armed forces is again mirrored in bourgeois media coverage of today’s killing.

The New York Times recounted that “dozens of Palestinians have died in protests” near the border fence, giving the impression of a unforeseen accident or genetic weakness suddenly taking hold of them.

A similar headline on the BBC website, “Dozens die as US opens Jerusalem embassy” was changed after protests to “Dozens killed as US opens Jerusalem embassy.”

The BBC One O’Clock TV news informed viewers in a judgement-free observation that “violence erupted” on the Gaza border as though two sides had collided and resorted to fighting.

The Times of Israel reported “dozens killed in Gaza clashes,” once again suggesting head-to-head fierce combat.

In contrast, Israeli daily Haaretz headlined in the early afternoon: “Jerusalem Embassy and Gaza Protests. 41 Palestinians Reported Killed by Israeli Gunfire at Border. Over 1,600 wounded, 772 from live gunfire.”

This lays bare the reality of a one-sided massacre, in which one Israeli soldier was slightly hurt by a stone while soldiers of “the most moral army in the world” fired live rounds freely against civilians because political and military leaders would back them regardless.

What chance is there of Israeli civil society or the judiciary curbing the blood lust of politicians from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu down after the Shin Bet security service issued a wild weekend warning?

It forecast: “On May 14, the Hamas terrorist organisation plans to send armed terrorists among 250,000 violent rioters to swarm and breach Israel’s border with Gaza and enter Israeli communities.”

Israel’s government purports to believe that, if it warns Palestinians that they could be “jeopardising” their lives by protesting, they and their troops are legally vindicated.

They must know that this attempt to flout international law is wrong and unfounded.

As human rights group Amnesty International commented, “we are witnessing an abhorrent violation of international law and human rights in Gaza … This must end immediately.”

Unarmed Palestinians are fully entitled to demonstrate for the right of refugees to return to the homes they were driven from in 1948 and several times since. This right is enshrined in United Nations resolution 194.

Every single Palestinian casualty shot by live rounds, wounded by rubber-coated steel bullets or disabled by gas grenades incurred their injuries in Gaza. Not a single one had crossed into Israel, despite the hysteria of zionist politicians, security service and military top brass.

While Israeli soldiers conducted their unrestrained butchery across the border, displaying their moral superiority by killing unarmed children, women and men, government ministers boasted of their achievement in having the Trump administration further display its contempt for international law by shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem.

As with the massacre of at least 52 civilians yesterday and over 1,200 wounded by gunfire, US recognition of occupied East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s capital city doesn’t make it lawful.

Nor does Trump’s plan to impose, alongside Israel, a “peace” settlement on the Palestinians.

Political and media toleration of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people should spur even greater efforts by civil society in Britain to reject our government’s shameful stance and win yet more support for the peaceful boycott, disinvestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign to isolate apartheid Israel.

This article appeared in the Morning Star 15th May 2018

Pouring gasoline on the fire

7th May 2018

netanyahu(2)

Netanyahu alleges Iranian nuclear capability

Events in the Middle East are building towards a critical point over the coming days with a combination of key decisions and key anniversaries combining to make what could be a potentially explosive mix of circumstances.  Added to which is the volatility of the key protagonists, not least US President, Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who have done their best to ramp up tensions in recent weeks.

Further uncertainty, provided by the theocratic dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Iran, locked in a struggle for supremacy in the Muslim world, means that the chances of emerging from the next fortnight without a significant flashpoint are precarious.

The first key date is 12th May, when Donald Trump has a deadline by which to decide whether the US will continue to adhere to the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limits the capacity for Iran to develop nuclear technology.  The deal was signed in 2015 under the Obama administration and engaged the key EU nations along with the US, China and Russia.  In spite of the fact that the deal has barely made an impact upon the international sanctions imposed upon the Iranian regime, Trump regards the deal as “the worst deal in history” and has pledged to pull the US out of it.

The Israelis and Saudis, in a somewhat unholy alliance, back the US on the basis that anything which brings pressure to bear upon Iran, weakening the chances of Iranian economic recovery, is in their interest.   In a bizarre television performance last week Netanyahu took to the airwaves in Israel to allegedly reveal evidence of Iran’s development of nuclear weapons technology.

Quite where Netanyahu sourced his information is unclear, as the inspection regime headed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as part of the JCPOA, has verified 10 times, most recently in February of this year, that Iran is in compliance.

Netanyahu has stated that Israel is prepared to go to war with Iran in order to stop Iranian influence in the war of intervention in Syria, stating,

“We are determined to block Iran’s aggression against us even if this means a struggle. Better now than later.  Nations that were unprepared to take timely action to counter murderous aggression against them paid much heavier prices afterwards. We do not want escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario.”

Iran’s aggression against Israel appears to be the support provided to the government of President Assad in Syria.  This has resulted in the striking of Iranian targets inside Syria, by the Israelis, several times in recent weeks.

The provocation from Netanyahu and Trump is matched in kind by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has pitched in to suggest that,

“If the United States leaves the nuclear agreement, you will soon see that they will regret it like never before in history.  Trump must know that our people are united, the Zionist regime (Israel) must know that our people are united.”

Iran has said that if the US reimposes sanctions it may resume enriching uranium.

Israel on the other hand has an undeclared nuclear arsenal of an estimated 200 nuclear warheads and is not a signatory to the international non-proliferation treaty.

The next date of significance, 14th May, is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.  It is closely followed by the day commemorated by Palestinians as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ on 15th May when thousands were driven from their land to make way for the Israeli state.

The wave of protests building up to these dates has already seen the Israeli Defence Force shoot dead 40 Palestinian protesters and injure countless others, as peaceful protests have been targeted by the Israeli state with live ammunition.

Jerusalem’s status has been a major obstacle in peace negotiations.  The international community, through the United Nations, hold that sovereignty over the city should be agreed between the two sides. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as a capital of a future independent state, but Israel captured it in 1967. It later annexed the city and claims the entire area as its “eternal and undivided” capital.

During the course of this week of significant anniversaries the contribution of the US will be to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Writing in Israeli paper Haaretz, Ilan Goldenberg, who was part of the US team during the 2013-14 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations stated that the embassy move,

“…could explode – and we could find ourselves in the middle of a new war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Nobody knows, but it is irresponsible for the US to be dumping gasoline on this potential fire.”

European leaders, Emmanuel Macron of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, even UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson has attempted to persuade Donald Trump this week not to cut loose from the Iran deal and open the pandora’s box which would follow.  Will Trump listen to reason?  The track record so far is not good.  The clock is ticking….

Hostile environment at the Home Office

29th April 2018

MayRudd

Amber Rudd and Theresa May – colluding to hang on to their jobs

In any other government at virtually any other time Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, would be heading for the backbenches, her feet barely touching the ground.  It should have been enough that she has a blind spot to the growing Windrush scandal, which has seen legitimate residents of the UK threatened with deportation or refused entry back into the country.  Rudd however has denied that the Home Office had any deportation targets one day then, upon ‘discovering’ that they did the next day, she decides to abolish them.  Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted perhaps?

If these scandals were not enough Rudd’s paper thin narrative unravels even further with evidence produced by The Guardian that she was copied into internal memos from her department, advising on progress being made against the targets for deportations, targets she denied knowing anything about!

The memos are not even remotely ambiguous.  One indicates that progress has been made on the “path towards the 10% increased performance on enforced returns, which we promised the home secretary earlier this year.”  Sources inside the Home Office, quoted by The Guardian, claim that the department was tasked to achieve a 10% increase in the number of people being removed from the UK every year.  Better still, the target was set by Rudd personally!  The source went on to say,

“These programmes are being run by civil servants, but the policies are being driven by politicians.  The pressure comes from the top and Amber Rudd is at the top.  She is the one cracking the whip.”

In the cut and thrust of political debate calls for sackings and resignations can become routine.  In this instance we have a Secretary of State who is at best exposed as incompetent, at worst she has deliberately misled the House of Commons.  As Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, has said,

“Amber Rudd either failed to read this memo, and has no clear understanding of the policies in her own department, or she has misled parliament and the British people.  Either way, she needs to accept responsibility and resign immediately.”

The fact that Rudd continues to hang on is an indication of the weakness of Theresa May and the precarious majority of her government.  As the previous Home Secretary, May is implicated in much of the Windrush debacle herself, not to mention the notorious “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants policy, of which she was the perpetrator.  Keeping Rudd in place is akin to using the present Home Secretary as a human shield, lest May’s failings in the post are examined even more closely.

May lacks the authority to tackle any of the big players in her Cabinet.  In spite of the wafer thin majority she has in her Hastings constituency, Rudd still qualifies as a big player and key ally for May.  The regular indiscretions and lapses of discipline on the part of Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, regularly go unpunished as May desperately tries to keep the pro and anti Brexit wings of her Cabinet flying in the same direction.

Rudd’s position will also appeal to the xenophobic tendency at the grass roots of the Tory Party and undoubtedly plays to the ultra right views of the DUP in Northern Ireland, who continue to prop up May’s flagging administration.

With local elections fast approaching this week, where the Tories are likely to lose seats and control of many Councils, May has even less room for manoeuvre.  A high profile sacking or resignation would reinforce the view that her government is little more than a coalition of chaos.

In spite of the evidence uncovered by The Guardian, the BBC have continued to report the story as if Rudd was unaware of the Home Office targets.  The line taken has been that of Cabinet colleagues rallying to support Rudd, with an oleaginous Michael Gove wheeled out to suggest that no blame can be ascribed to Rudd as, in spite of being Home Secretary, she could not possibly have known what was going on.

Rudd is apparently going to clarify matters in the House of Commons on Monday (30th April).  Quite what device she will come up with to justify keeping her job is anyone’s guess.  It is clear to all and sundry however that the only reason she is hanging on to her job at all is that the Prime Minister is desperate to hang on to hers.

Still nasty after all these years

22nd April 2018

Amber+Rudd

Amber Rudd – boasting she would get “ruthless” with illegal immigrants

Since becoming Prime Minister Theresa May has stated her desire to see the Tory Party shake off its tag as the Nasty Party.  The past week, in particular the events surrounding the so called Windrush generation, have simply reinforced the inherent nastiness of the Tories.  Nastiness is endemic, it is part of the Tory DNA, and no amount of scrubbing will ever wash out the stain.

Following the Second World War Britain made a call to the nations of the Commonwealth to send citizens to help with post war reconstruction.  The first such ship, the Empire Windrush, landed at Tilbury Docks on 22nd June 1948 with 492 West Indians on board, hoping to make a better life for themselves in Britain.

The name of their ship has become a shorthand for the wave of migration which followed, encouraged by the 1948 British Nationality Act, which enshrined in law the right of all British subjects to have the automatic right to travel to and settle in the United Kingdom.  The following two decades saw increasing numbers migrating from the Commonwealth but increasing tensions as the politics of race increasingly took centre stage in the UK.

The political debate took on a new momentum with the famous “rivers of blood” speech by right wing Tory politician, Enoch Powell, in 1968.  Powell’s speech led directly to racist attacks and increased intimidation of the black and ethnic minority community in the UK.  Powell gave a veneer of respectability to deeply held prejudices in British society and laid the basis for race riots which continued in parts the UK in the seventies and early eighties.

One immediate impact of the Powell speech was a new immigration act in 1971, which stemmed the flow of new Commonwealth immigrants, while granting those who had already arrived indefinite leave to remain.

In spite of this we are now in a position where up to 50,000 migrants are facing problems securing citizenship, health care and benefits as the Home Office demands proof of their right to be here.  Even the Church of England, hardly a hotbed of radicalism, has been moved to call for an inquiry into immigration policy.

Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has been forthright stating,

“The truth is now out.  Hard working, tax paying immigrants who were invited to this country to help with post war reconstruction have been treated appallingly.  It is never too late to repent, but it is unwise for the penitents to boast about their achievements.  Instead the government needs to set up an inquiry urgently to discover where other aspects of our immigration policy are treating people as less than human.”

The current scandal dates back to the decision of then Home Secretary, Theresa May, in 2013 to create a “really hostile environment” for people living in the UK illegally.  This was the policy which introduced the now infamous Home Office ‘go home’ vans, with billboard size slogans stating “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest” emblazoned on the side.

The Immigration Act 2014 includes measures to restrict NHS access, limiting so called ‘benefit tourism’, as well as introducing the “right to rent” policy.  The impact of the latter measure, according to the Residential Landlords Association has been that the checks on tenants mean that 42% of landlords are less likely to let to anyone without a British passport.

Quite how May thought these measures would lighten the Tories’ nasty image is anyone’s guess.  The racist character of much of the Leave campaign, allied to the hi-jacking of the Brexit debate by the anti-immigration lobby, has served to reinforce a climate of intolerance and xenophobia in the UK.  This has allowed the Windrush issue to go virtually unnoticed, in spite of having been consistently reported in the national press, over the past six months.

Theresa May’s initial reluctance to meet Caribbean leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting this week had to be quickly reversed and the Prime Minister was forced to issue an apology, claiming that she is “genuinely sorry” about the treatment of Windrush era migrants and their families.

That is scant compensation for many who have been denied medical access, lost jobs due to being unable to verify their citizenship status and then being denied access to benefits for the same reason.

Current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has not resigned over the scandal.  The main perpetrator as Home Secretary and current Prime Minister, Theresa May, has not resigned.  For both they would appear to regard glib apologies as being enough.  For many still caught in the anti-immigration net that may simply not be enough.

Speaking at the Welsh Labour Party Conference this weekend Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn said,

“This week, something rotten at the heart of government has come to the surface. The Windrush scandal has exposed how British citizens who came to our country to rebuild it after the war have faced deportation because they couldn’t clear the deliberately unreachable bar set by Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ for migrants.

“And it’s not as if they weren’t warned. At the time the Tories were pushing their hostile environment policy through parliament, some of us – sadly far too few – warned about the consequences for those born in the UK and those born abroad alike. So now we’re seeing those consequences in a string of harrowing human stories. People’s lives ripped apart because of the personal decisions and actions of Theresa May and her government.”

Labour will continue to press for a review of immigration policy and a reversal of the “hostile environment” policy.

Middle East – time to talk

10th April 2018

Gaza

No immunity for the press in Gaza

While the right wing press in the UK focuses its attention upon the alleged problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party the slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza continues apace.  The condemnation of the Israeli government and its actions in killing, at the last count, at least 27 civilians has not been as loud or vociferous as the calls for Jeremy Corbyn to take action against alleged anti-Semites in Labour’s ranks.

As Corbyn has made absolutely clear time and time again, antisemitism is a cancer which must be cut out wherever it rears it head in society, at whatever level.  He has made it clear that he includes the Labour Party in that statement and has been equally clear that he would apply the same approach to racism of any description.  Such an unequivocal position has not been forthcoming from the government of the day or the cheerleaders of the Tory press.  Clearly they are wary of such hostages to fortune.

Corbyn has been equally forthright in his condemnation of the recent shooting of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli Defence Force in Gaza.  The world’s fourth biggest military force uses its might against people with little more than stones to throw.

In a message read out to a demonstration outside Downing Street opposing the killings, Corbyn demanded that UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, supported the call of the United Nations for an independent inquiry into the killings in Gaza and the removal of arms sales that could be used in violation of international law.  Corbyn stated that

“…firing live ammunition into crowds of unarmed civilians is illegal and inhumane and cannot be tolerated.  The silence from international powers with the responsibility of bringing a just settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict must end.”

UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has not commented.

It is 70 years since 700,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their land in order to make way for the State of Israel as part of the post World War 2 settlement.  Over the years there have been attempts at reconciliation, most famously the 1993 Oslo accord between Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat.   Even then the Palestinians were prepared to settle for less than half a loaf, with Arafat agreeing to settle for a mere 22% of historic Palestine as a state.

With the present Israeli government it is clear than not even as little as that is on offer.  The illegal occupation of the West Bank continues in defiance of international law.  Since Hamas gained control of Gaza in June 2007 the Israelis have intensified the land, sea and air blockade while placing strict limits on Palestinians it allows to leave through Israel.

Life in Gaza has been described as being in an open air prison.  In an Israeli invasion launched in December 2008 more than 1,400 Palestinians died.  In February 2010 nine Turkish activists were killed in an Israeli attack upon an aid flotilla looking to break the blockade.  In November 2012 an Israeli missile assassinated Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari, resulting in confrontation which led to 174 Palestinian deaths.  In July 2014 the Israelis launched Operation Protective Edge, killing 2,100 Palestinians of which 495 were children.

It is estimated that, because of the 10 year old Israeli blockade, 80% of the population of Gaza are dependent upon humanitarian assistance.  Tap water is undrinkable.  On a good day Gaza will enjoy four hours of electricity.  Medicines are in short supply and over 60% of under 25 year olds are unemployed.

The recent protest by Palestinians, the “Great March of Return” had been intended as a series of peaceful protests leading up to the 70th anniversary of the Nakba or catastrophe, when Palestinians were forced from their homes.

B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories has launched a campaign against the shooting of unarmed civilians, pointing out that it is illegal in international law.  As the site states,

“Like all other countries, Israel’s actions are subject to the provisions of international law and the restrictions they impose on the use of weapons, and specifically the use of live fire. The provisions limit its use to instances involving tangible and immediate mortal danger, and only in the absence of any other alternative. Israel cannot simply decide that it is not bound by these rules.”

B’Tselem has launched a campaign entitled “Sorry Commander, I cannot shoot”. The campaign will include newspaper advertisements clarifying to soldiers that they must refuse to open fire on unarmed demonstrators.  Clearly not all Israelis are anti-Palestinian, just as not all of those opposed to the actions of the Israeli government are anti-Semites.  Some are actually Jewish.

For more information go to https://www.btselem.org/

The West meanwhile continues to focus upon its war of intervention in Syria, with claims of another chemical weapon attack upon civilians being levelled at the Syrian government.  With no evidence yet to show, recent events have already been a pretext for an Israeli raid on a Syrian air base, killing 14 people, and may yet result in further action from the United States.

Jeremy Corbyn, once again, has suggested that,

“The need to restart real negotiations for peace and a political settlement in Syria could not be more urgent.”

Without doubt it is time to talk but whether the US / Israeli / Saudi axis which leads the intervention will allow it, remains to be seen.  Given the recent appointment of further hawks, such as Mike Pompeo and John Bolton in the White House, the prospects for anything like a just settlement in the Middle East look bleak.  Still, every ounce of public pressure must be employed to keep their war plans at bay.

Tory witch hunt exposed

30th March 2018

news london gaza protest 5 030109

 Jeremy Corbyn speaks for Palestinian rights

In an exclusive interview with Jewish News this week Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is unequivocal in his condemnation of anti-Semitism, his opposition to all forms of racism and his desire to have a negotiated settlement and peaceful solution to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory by the Israeli state.

Corbyn was asked how he felt about the demonstration outside the House of Commons last Monday, called to protest against the Labour Party’s handling of anti-Semitism and replied,

“I am not an anti-Semite in any way, never have been, never will be.  I’ve opposed racism in any form all my life.  It’s the way I was brought up, it’s the way I’ve lived my life.  I recognise the hurt that’s felt within the community and that’s why I responded immediately with an invitation to the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies to come and meet me.”

The interview went on to press Corbyn about the scale of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and his long standing position of support for the Palestinian cause.  Once again Corbyn was very clear that “processes in our party had to be speeded up and that all of the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report had to be carried out”, going on to stress emphatically that,

“…anti-Semitism is a cancer in our society and it has resurfaced across Europe and Britain in recent years.  It has to be challenged at every single stage.”

Corbyn has been a consistent supporter over many years of the rights of the Palestinian people and, in line with the position of the United Nations and many governments around the world, has argued the case for a two-state solution, which both recognises the right of the State of Israel to exist but also acknowledges the rights of the Palestinian people, as agreed under internationally recognised UN resolutions.

Corbyn reiterates this view in the interview stating,

“I’d argue that there has to be a just solution for the whole region.  That means that the settlement policy should end, the occupation of the West Bank should end, to have an effective two-state solution.  As you know my party’s policy, which Ed Miliband led us on, was for recognition of Palestine alongside the State of Israel, and that was included in our manifesto as well.  Indeed that’s what Parliament voted for.”

At every turn in the interview, in which Corbyn is persistently pressed, he rejects any claims that he is anti-Semitic, based on his long standing record as an anti-racist activist; opposes any abuse aimed at activists from either wing of the party for expressing their views; and consistently commits to implementing the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report aimed at rooting out anti-Semitic views in the Labour Party.  In short his position could not be clearer.

Nevertheless Jewish News chooses to emblazon its front cover, which features a picture of Corbyn, highlighting the exclusive interview with the banner headline, ‘Not Good Enough’.  Clearly nothing Corbyn could say would be good enough for Jewish News which appears to have nailed its colours to the mast of the anti-Corbyn witch-hunt, currently being conducted under the banner of anti-Semitism, by the mainstream press and BBC.

The witch hunt has been called out by amongst others, the Jewish Socialists’ Group, who have made clear their,

“…serious concern over the rise of anti-Semitism especially under extreme right wing governments in central and Eastern Europe, in America under Donald Trump’s Presidency and here in Britain under Theresa May’s premiership.”

The JSG have pointed out that the accusations against Corbyn in particular have come from the unrepresentative Board of Deputies and the self styled Jewish Leadership Council, both dominated by supporters of the Tory Party.  Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies was one of the first to congratulate Donald Trump on his election and gives unqualified support to Israel’s anti-Palestinian Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The JSG go on to point out that,

“Until very recently the Jewish Leadership Council was chaired by Sir Mick Davies, who was appointed Tory Party Treasurer in February 2016 and is now Chief Executive of the Conservative Party.”

Less widely reported than the anti-Corbyn protest last Monday was a counter demonstration organised by Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), which has praised Corbyn’s “consistent commitment to anti-racism” and accused the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council of playing party politics ahead of the May local elections.  The current chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, Jonathan Goldstein, launched a personal attack upon Corbyn when being interviewed on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme last Monday suggesting that,

“Jeremy Corbyn is now the figurehead for an anti-Semitic political culture, based upon obsessive hatred of Israel, conspiracy theories and fake news.”

JVL have also stressed that the bodies most quoted by the mainstream media are not representative of Jewish opinion stating,

“…we are appalled by the actions and statements of the Board of Deputies.  They do not represent us or the great majority of Jews in the party who share Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for social justice and fairness.”

The right wing press, who have historically supported every anti-progressive movement from the blackshirts to the apartheid regime in South Africa, are not going to acknowledge any differentiation in the opinions of the Jewish community, they will stay with those that can be used as a stick to beat Corbyn with.

The BBC however, in spite of its supposed ‘balance’, has responded in the same way and failed to challenge either the veracity or the motivations of those making the allegations of anti-Semitism.  Could the BBC be scared to tackle the powerful Tory lobby behind these allegations, in spite of the alleged independence from the government proclaimed in its Charter?

With local elections scheduled in May there is every indication that the Tories are heading for a meltdown.  Brexit negotiations are a constant headache for the Tories, exposing significant schisms in their ranks.  They have no solutions to the problems facing the majority of people in the country and are increasingly exposed at every turn as the party of the rich.

The Tories cannot argue against the policies advocated by Corbyn and the Labour Party.  Their only recourse would appear to be to attack the personal integrity of Corbyn and anyone associated with him.  It is a shallow tactic and one which, in spite of the weight of the right wing press and the BBC behind it, will be exposed.

Storm Clouds gather over Iran

26th March 2018

Bolton

John Bolton – his appointment as National Security Adviser is bad news for the people of Iran

The appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser to President Donald Trump signals a confirmation of the US administration’s tough line on the Iran nuclear deal.  Jane Green assesses the implications for the Iranian people and the wider political situation in the Middle East.

During the administration of George W Bush the under secretary of state for arms control, one John Bolton, was an enthusiastic supporter of the invasion of Iraq.  In spite of the catastrophe which followed in human, political and military terms, Bolton remains an enthusiastic interventionist.

With recent titles such as To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran under his belt it does not take a great deal of digging to find that Bolton’s position has not fundamentally changed in the intervening 15 years.   If anything, Bolton’s position has hardened as he has openly argued for regime change in Iran in recent years.

Bolton’s appointment follows hard on the heels of the recent sacking of Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, in favour of former CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, another confirmed hardliner and outspoken opponent of the Iran 5+1 nuclear deal.  Taken together these appointments shift the balance in the White House towards a shredding of the Iran nuclear deal, negotiated at great length with European partners, as well as Russia and China, under the Obama presidency.  The new balance signals the greater likelihood of a military option being considered in relation to Iran.

The US position will have been further reinforced by the visit last week of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  Fresh from his UK visit, in which he emerged bristling with arms, the US will be looking for bin Salman to add to the $54 billion spent by the Saudis with US arms suppliers in the past nine months.

As President Donald Trump made clear,

“Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world.”

The Crown Prince added that last year’s Saudi pledge of $200 billion in investments will rise to approximately $400 billion and that a 10-year window to implement the deal was already under way.

The Saudis also have a longer term agenda however in their engagement with the United States, which is to fulfil their aspirations to become a nuclear power.

In spite of their massive oil reserves the Saudis have been in negotiations for some years with the US over diversification of their energy base and are keen to negotiate access to technology which would allow them to build a nuclear reactor.

The Iran nuclear deal was predicated upon the unfounded assertion that in developing a civil nuclear programme the Iranian regime would inevitably move towards the creation of nuclear weapons.  The inspection regime imposed by the agreement however prevents the Iranians from enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium to weapons grade levels.  In exchange, the 5+1 deal obliges the West to lift some of the sanctions imposed upon Iran and allows for greater capacity for Iran to trade in international markets.

In spite of these restrictions, and the crippling impact which sanctions have had upon the Iranian economy, the Saudis cannot countenance a Middle East in which Iran has even a limited civilian nuclear capability if they have none.  Saudi ambitions to develop nuclear energy are, on the one hand, about keeping pace with Iran and asserting dominance as the regional Islamic superpower.

In his recent US visit Crown Prince bin Salman, in an interview with CBS News, openly stated that

“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

Not only has bin Salman referred to the Iran nuclear deal as a “flawed agreement” he has made clear that any deal relating to the development of nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia will not be subject to the same limitations, in particular regarding the capacity to upgrade uranium and plutonium to weapons grade levels.

While some in the US are understandably nervous about the prospect of a Middle East nuclear arms race, the danger of the Saudis going to the Russians or Chinese for nuclear technology rings even greater alarm bells.

The warnings to Iran were ramped up even further last week when Israel, strategically allied to both the US and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, admitted to bombing a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 and took the opportunity to warn Iran that it would not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

While the Syrian reactor was purely for civilian energy generation purposes, the Israelis nevertheless argued that this could lead to weapons capability and thus launched the pre-emptive strike, only now admitted due to the de-classification of previously secret Israeli intelligence material.

Further instability in the region is fuelled by the recent revelations that 1,000 Pakistani troops are to be sent to Saudi Arabia, as part of a long standing bi-lateral agreement between the two countries, on a so called ‘train and advise’ mission.  While it is claimed that the troops will not be used in the Saudi conflict with Yemen the deployment coincides with the culmination of a weeklong joint exercise between Pakistan’s Navy and the Saudi Royal Navy in the Arabian Sea.

Retired Pakistani army chief, Raheel Sharif, has recently been appointed as the first commander of the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) which is being described as the “Muslim NATO”, an alliance of largely Sunni Muslim Islamic states led by Saudi Arabia.  Not surprisingly Shia Muslim Iran is not part of this alliance.

Given the international outrage the Saudi role in Yemen has raised, the appointment of Sharif and the current troop deployment puts Pakistan in danger of being drawn into a wider Middle East conflict, with the Houthi rebels in Yemen being backed by Iran.  One observer has described Pakistan’s position as “a balancing act that increasingly resembles a tightrope as conflicts and disputes in the Gulf mushroom.”

For the people of Iran there is little good news in the current alignment of forces in the Middle East and in the White House.  Widespread protests inside Iran, expressing disillusionment with the regime’s economic policy, political corruption and human rights record have met with arrests and violent suppression.

The limited lifting of sanctions which the 5+1 agreement was meant to facilitate has not been enough to alleviate the high levels of unemployment and rampant inflation in the Iranian economy.  Those in work are poorly paid and often on short term contracts.  Those out of work are sinking into poverty.  While protests have rocked the government, it has not been dislodged.

The threat of military attack on Iran would be used by the ruling theocracy to justify repression of dissent and as a means to demand total loyalty.  Iranian people need peace to be able to build their movement for a democratic and just future.  That is the only viable route to stable democratic change.

The US support for hawkish regimes in Saudi Arabia and Israel, combined with an increasingly right wing line up of personnel in the White House, increases the possibility of external intervention in Iran.  While the West may have had its fingers burned provoking civil war and outside intervention in Syria, that may not be enough to stop it taking its chances on another military adventure.

Both Saudi Arabia and Israel regard Iran as an existential threat.  Their combined military capability would be a force to be reckoned with.  In military terms, Iran would be no pushover but for the people of Iran any outside intervention would be a step backwards in terms of the fight for peace, social justice and democracy.

Further information at http://www.codir.net

The truth, the whole truth…?

17th March 2018

May pmq

Theresa May – a dodgy dossier moment?

Misinformation has been the stock in trade of the British state and media for decades.  From the famous Zinoviev letter of the 1920’s, implying Soviet involvement in the first Labour Government, to the disinformation campaigns of the 1984/85 Miner’s Strike, to the 2003 ‘dodgy dossier’ claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, there has been no limit to the extent to which the British public has been consistently misled.

It is not surprising then that many have greeted the current furore about the attempt on the life of British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with some degree of scepticism.  There can be little doubt that the Russian state is more than capable of disposing of those deemed traitors.  The use of a nerve agent, developed in the former Soviet Union and therefore likely to implicate Russia in an assassination attempt, does not however, seem to be an efficient means of execution.

The fact that Skripal appears to have survived the attempt would appear to underline the point.  Also, as an MI6 asset, having shared Russian intelligence of behalf of the UK, Skripal was either not very well protected or not regarded as a likely target, having been traded in a spy swap for UK spooks some years earlier.

The UK government initially held back on blaming the Russian state directly for the attack but from the outset was straining at the leash to do so.  Finally, on Wednesday in the House of Commons Theresa May stated that,

“There is no alternative conclusion other than the Russian state was responsible for the attempted murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter.”

On Monday May had set a 24 hour deadline for the Russians to explain the attack on Skripal and when they failed to do so, the Russian side claiming that they had no idea what had happened, May set about expelling 23 Russian diplomats, freezing Russian assets, cancelling a planned visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and pledged to send no dignitaries or members of the royal family to the World Cup in the summer.

The UK government response, even by its own admission, is based on its assessment that the nerve agent is ‘likely’ to have emanated from Russia, although no concrete evidence as to its origin or method of delivery has yet emerged.  The latest UK media speculation suggests that the agent was somehow smuggled into the luggage of Yulia Skripal, in Moscow, the day before she met her father in Salisbury in the UK.  Quite how she avoided any contact before reaching the pub or restaurant with her father is not clear.

In contrast to the government response Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has called the attack an “appalling act of violence”, has called for the matter to be referred to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.  Corbyn has a long history of opposition to chemical, nuclear and all weapons of mass destruction, so it came as no surprise for him to stress,

“Nerve agents are abominable if used in any war.  It is utterly reckless to use them in a civilian environment.”

Corbyn’s response was in part informed by the claim made by Theresa May, in the House of Commons on Monday, that one explanation for the attack may have been that the Russian state could have lost control of supplies of the nerve agent.  As Corbyn asked May directly,

“If it is possible Russia lost control of a military grade nerve agent, what action is being taken through the OPCW?”

May’s only response was to go on the offensive and attack Corbyn for not condemning the Russian state outright, even though she had previously raised the possibility of an alternative explanation herself.

May claimed that the government had sought consensus on the issue but to jump to such a quick condemnation of the Russian state, without any concrete evidence was always going to raise issues for Labour.  It seems to have been equally calculated to stir up divisions and bring the anti-Corbyn tendency out of the woodwork.  That certainly worked with Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes and Anna Turley all weighing in to criticise Corbyn aide, Seumas Milne, for comments on the situation.  Briefing journalists, as the debate went on in the House of Commons, Milne stated,

“I think obviously the government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don’t; however, also there’s a history in relation to WMD and intelligence which is problematic to put it mildly.  So I think the right approach is to seek the evidence; to follow international treaties, particularly in relation to prohibited chemical weapons, because this was a chemical weapons attack carried out on British soil.  There are procedures that need to be followed in relation to that.”

The Russians have asked for a sample of the nerve agent from Salisbury so that they can test it.  The UK has not complied with this request but has said it will send a sample to the OPCW for investigation.

Less reported in the UK media is the debate in the scientific community as to the properties of the alleged nerve agent, known as novichoks, and how easy it is to manufacture.  One school of thought suggests that such agents can be easily manufactured using common chemicals in relatively simple pesticide factories. Any such admission would make it difficult to simply point the finger at Russia, as any number of state or non-state agencies could be implicated.  This view would certainly not fit with the current political agenda.

A Very British Arms Deal

11th March 2018

bin Sulman

Unelected heads of state take tea – bin Salman meets the Queen

This week, an Arab dictator took tea with the Queen.  That was followed by dinner, jointly hosted by the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge. The same dictator spent time with the Prime Minister at her country house retreat, Chequers.  To round the week off the dictator met Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, in order to put the seal on yet another major weapons deal with the dictatorship he heads up, namely Saudi Arabia.

As Saudi Arabia calls itself a kingdom the British press shy away from the term dictator and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been afforded all the courtesy’s the British state could drum up.  Apologists for the Saudi dictatorship have been busy all week justifying this performance.  The Daily Telegraph started the week fawning over bin Salman stating, “the young Saudi royal charged with undertaking the most radical reform agenda in his country’s history, is the epitome of a human dynamo.”

Not satisfied with transforming the Saudi economy from one dependent on oil, gushed the Telegraph, the young dynamo will ensure that, in a few months time, Saudi women will be allowed to drive.  What fabulous progress! While the UK celebrates the centenary of women being allowed to vote, while the whole world marks the occasion of International Women’s Day on 8th March, the magnanimous Crown Prince will, “in a few months time” permit some of his compatriots to drive.  There have even been photographs in the press of Saudi women attending jazz festivals.  Where will it end?

The three day visit allegedly resulted in trade deals worth £70 billion between the UK and Saudi Arabia with state energy company, Aramco, considering an overseas listing on the London Stock Exchange.  A new UK-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council has been established, with a view to meeting annually, to discuss boosting trade between the two countries.

The real crux of the relationship with Saudi Arabia is weapons sales.  The latest package includes a further £5 billion deal with BAE Systems for 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, existing examples of which are deployed by the Saudi led coalition in the bombardment of schools, hospitals and civilians in Yemen.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has called upon the government to abandon weapons sales to Saudi Arabia stating,

“Theresa May should use this visit to announce the UK will no longer supply arms to Saudi Arabia while the devastating Saudi-led bombing of Yemen continues and make clear Britain’s strong opposition to widespread human and civil rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.”

Andrew Smith for the UK based Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) added,

“Despite the spin surrounding the crown prince, he is a figurehead for one of the world’s most authoritarian dictatorships.  The regime has carried out atrocities against Saudi people for decades.”

The United Nations, in a report published late in 2017, has accused the Saudi-led coalition of failing “to mitigate the impact of its operations on civilians”, in relation to its intervention in Yemen.  According to UN figures the war in Yemen has resulted in 10,000 dead and 40,000 injured. The war and its economic effects are driving the largest food security emergency in the world with more than 17 million people facing dire food shortages. Nearly seven million of those are one step away from famine in Yemen.  The situation was further exacerbated by a cholera outbreak late last year, claiming 1,500 lives according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

How much of this was discussed over tea with the Queen, dinner with the Princes, or over sherry with the Prime Minister is open to speculation.  Just to make sure that no stone was left unturned in the welcome afforded by the British state, bin Salman also popped in to Lambeth Palace to meet Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Welby is reported to have expressed his “distress” about the humanitarian situation in Yemen and in a statement from Lambeth Palace is said to have,

“shared his concern about limits placed on Christian worship in the kingdom and highlighted the importance for leaders of all faiths to support freedom of religion.”

Looks like another tough day for the Crown Prince there!

Thousands did turn out in Whitehall last week to oppose the visit and draw attention to the use of UK manufactured weapons in the killing of civilians in Yemen.

BAE Systems also found themselves on the sharp end of protests about their sponsorship of the Great Exhibition of the North, organised by the NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI).  Reluctance to engage with the Exhibition was voiced by a number of high profile celebrities including Nadine Shah and Lauren Laverne. Linked to a public petition, protesting against the war in Yemen, this resulted in BAE withdrawing its £500k sponsorship for the event.

The online protest petition, Art not Arms, was launched by a “coalition of artists and cultural workers”, calling for the Great Exhibition of the North to end its “unethical partnership with weapons maker BAE Systems”. It described the company’s involvement as “artwashing on a grand scale”, and “all about brand association and PR based upon the false notion of ‘corporate social responsibility’”.

The petition, pointed out that “British arms companies including BAE” had made more than £6bn from sales to Saudi Arabia during the ongoing war in Yemen said there was no place in arts and culture “for those involved in the international arms trade”.

Perhaps the Queen, the Princes, the Prime Minister, or even the Archbishop of Canterbury, could bear this in mind next time they decide to invite one of their pet dictators round for tea.

Brexit – the hidden agenda

4th March 2018

MaySpeech

Theresa May – desperately trying to keep the Tories together

Billed as a clear statement of the UK’s bargaining position regarding Brexit, the speech by Prime Minister, Theresa May, on Friday offered little by way of clarity and barely served to hold off the crisis in her own party.  The speech has been welcomed by 18th century throwback Jacob Rees-Mogg, from the hardline Brexit European Reform Group, and by soft centred Remainers such as Anna Soubry.  Long standing Europhile Michael Heseltine however has characterised the speech as more “phrases, generalisations and platitudes.”  All of which underlines the lack of clarity in May’s rhetoric.

In May’s view, three things were made ‘clear’.  The UK would not participate in the single market, or the customs union, or tolerate a hard border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

In her statement May said,

“I want to be straight with people because the reality is that we all need to face up to some hard facts.  We are leaving the single market.  Life is going to be different.  In certain ways, our access to each other’s markets will be less than it is now.  How could the EU’s structure of rights and obligations be sustained, if the UK – or any country – were allowed to enjoy all the benefits without all of the obligations?”

In short, May is insisting that the free movement of labour ends, implying stricter immigration controls, and that the UK has a free hand in negotiating trade deals with third parties post Brexit.  A “customs partnership” sitting alongside a “highly streamlined customs arrangement” would be on offer, although most observers seem bemused as to what either of these things mean.

The reality is that May is not being straight at all.  In spite of pitching the speech at critics who state that the government is pursuing a “cake and eat it” strategy over Brexit that is precisely what May is attempting to negotiate.   What is being obscured by May and the Tories generally is the politics beneath the surface of the UK position, in the context of the changing face of Europe.

The bargaining position of the UK is not just predicated upon the items May has indicated publicly but also by two significant others.  One is the dominance of the City of London in the UK economy, the second is the level of military expenditure as a percentage of GDP.  Both of these are distorting factors in terms of the economic development of the UK but are highly prized by sections of the British ruling class as defining national identity and maintaining the illusion of great power status.

The pre-eminence of the City of London as a clearing house for international capital means that the UK can effectively function as a safe tax haven for the dirty money of anyone from Russian oil gangsters to Saudi dictators. The major international transactions of the key banking groups within the EU all pass through the City, or rely upon its largesse at one time or another.

In relation to the Brexit debate the discussion has been framed in terms of the dangers of Brexit to the City, as financial operations relocate to Paris or Frankfurt.  While aspirations to this effect may be harboured in some quarters, the French and Germans also know that the City can only maintain its position by sucking the life blood out of the manufacturing base of the UK, contributing to the low wage, low skill economy that the Tories have dreamed of since the days of Thatcher.

Quite why the French or Germans would want to take on this role, when the City can do the dirty work, may never come out publicly in Brexit negotiations but will form part of the sub plot.

Likewise, military spending has a similar function.  The only two nuclear powers in the EU, and therefore permanent members of the UN Security Council, are France and the UK.  The French have always pursued a slightly leftfield policy based upon the Gaullist “force de frappe” concept and, notionally at least, not tying their nuclear capability to NATO.

The UK on the other hand has placed great store by its “special relationship” with the United States. It also boasts more spend on its military than other EU partners thus assuming a, somewhat perverse, moral high ground.  The “special” element of the relationship with the US amounts to little more that the UK agreeing to buy an overpriced and militarily redundant nuclear arsenal, Trident being the case in point, in order to protect a small number of defence jobs while the NHS and other essential services go to hell in a handcart.

The much vaunted German economic miracle of the post war years relied on a massive injection of US dollars into the former West Germany, to prove its superiority to the socialist German Democratic Republic, and a miniscule level of military spending.   This has enabled investment in more productive areas of German industry and facilitated expansion eastwards into former socialist countries.  When it comes to the crunch would the Germans look to exchange this for being a US nuclear outpost?

Like the role of the City, the military issue will not be front and centre in the Brexit negotiations but it will also form part of the sub plot.  In Tory hands the hidden Brexit agenda will inevitably seek a quid pro quo which recognises both the City of London as Europe’s banker and preserves the role of the UK as a NATO nuclear power allied to the EU.

It is an irony of the Tory Party schism that the right wing forces of Brexit are happy for the economy to be run by unelected bankers, and defence issues to be dictated by the foreign policy of the US, yet they struggle to co-operate with their capitalist cohorts elsewhere in Europe.

May stated in her speech that the Brexit process would be governed, amongst other things, by “bringing our country together, strengthening the precious union of all of our people.”  Front and centre in this respect is the status of the Northern Ireland statelet, created as a bulwark as the Irish revolution ran out of arms and energy, in order to keep a foothold in the island of Ireland.

The Rees-Mogg’s of this world quite possibly cherish the hope of the whole of Ireland returning to British control.  For the moment however, the Tories they are not going to let Northern Ireland leave the “precious union” and certainly not when their Parliamentary majority is reliant on the neo-fascist thugs of the DUP.  That particular negotiating point may not make it onto the published Brexit agenda either.

The Tories are divided between the dogmatic believers in Empire on the one hand and the Eurocentric capitalists on the other, who see the EU as their salvation.  The EU is divided between those who want to embrace the UK as a military and economic power and those who see that as a threat to their own ability to exploit the European market.

Every effort is made to dress the debate in the language of principle and philosophy.  In reality it is like any other capitalist negotiation, nothing more than an attempt to see who can get the upper hand.  Until there is a collective socialist approach to the problems facing the people of Europe, not just its bankers and corporations, that is all it will ever be.

Gun violence is a class issue

24th February 2018

GunMarch620x350

Protests against gun violence in the US continue

The endless slaughter of schoolchildren in the United States has seen 18 incidents so far this year, of which the killing of 17 students in Parkland, Florida this week was by far the worst.  In response the US President, Donald Trump, far from looking at ways to de-escalate the crisis, has suggested that the solution is to arm school teachers.

Adding more guns into a situation in which psychopaths can buy automatic weapons and then go on the rampage does not sound like a way to address this issue.  It is certainly not the way millions of US school children and students are telling the President that they want to proceed.  On the contrary, the de-escalation of gun ownership and access to weapons capable of mass killing is on the agenda in the US with a force not seen for decades.

The philosophy articulated by National Rifle Association (NRA) Vice-President Wayne LaPierre that “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun,” sums up the delusional position of the American Right, sounding increasingly archaic and outdated as the death toll rises.

Arming teachers may satisfy the profits of the arms manufacturers and their NRA cronies.  It may add to the $30m the NRA spent backing the Trump presidential campaign.  There is no evidence to suggest that it will save the life of one student or school child.  Gun deaths claim an average of seven children a day in the US, as well as around 80 adults.

The anti-gun lobby in the US has raised the issue of the dangers of more widespread gun ownership.

“Over the past two or three years we’ve seen an explosion of legislative proposals to force schools to permit guns or to arm teachers,” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “And it’s not just pushing the idea that people need guns in schools to be safe, it’s the idea that people need guns everywhere – city streets, public parks, even government buildings.”

The lack of control and regulation of firearms means that young people can easily access guns indirectly through their parents.  As Skaggs went on to say,

“If we want to talk about preventing school shootings, we should be talking about stopping kids getting their hands on guns in the first place.  Those are the laws we should be looking at.”

In a 2013 poll by the National Education Association only 22% of teachers said they approved of the idea of arming staff, while 68% of teachers said they were opposed. In another survey the same year, 72% of teachers said they would not want to carry a gun even if the law allowed.

The demand for stricter gun laws, in spite of NRA propaganda claims, is widespread in the US while the support for more rigorous background checks has majority support.  The gun lobby in the US however maintains a stranglehold on the legislature and Senators and Congressman, for fear of losing their seats, will not stand up to them.

Voting in the United States, purportedly the world’s greatest democracy, is notoriously low.  Elected representatives may think that the current balance of forces is unlikely to change and pandering to the NRA and gun activists is the best way to keep their seats.  They may be wrong.

The young people expressing their anger at the Florida killings are close to voting age.  Many of those affected by shootings will be eligible to vote by the time of the next presidential election in 2020 and some in Congressional mid term elections later this year.

The American Right hide behind the US Second Amendment in defending the “right to bear arms” but as the Communist Party of the USA point out,

“The Second Amendment was adopted to enable the new American republic, lacking a standing army or state national guards, to muster militia to put down domestic uprisings and repulse any attempted return by the British.

The Second Amendment is now being used by right-wing, anti-worker groups and politicians to divide and conquer, in the process threatening the basic safety and security of all Americans. There is no basis for claiming this amendment was intended to permit unregulated personal acquisition of firearms, including amassing military-style weapons and private arsenals for “protection,” including “protection from the government.””

It is poor, working class and families from Latino and African American backgrounds that are predominantly the victims of gun crime.  The class dimension to the issue is evident when any analysis of where the victims come from and where the arms profits go to is undertaken.

While the right wing in the US seek to cut medical aid, health care and social programmes they suggest that the issue of gun violence is about mental health, not access to weapons.  Their cynicism beggar’s belief.

As the CPUSA rightly conclude,

“The battle now being waged for real steps to end gun violence is a major political and ideological battle against the ultra-right. It is a battle against their backward “free market capitalism” ideology of a “you’re on your own” society.

The battle to curb gun violence is a working-class issue.”

For more info go to www.cpusa.org

New Hope for South Africa

17th February 2018

Ramaphosa election

South African MPs swear in new President Cyril Ramaphosa

In his first major speech upon being elected President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa has pledged to restore economic growth, fight corruption and tackle entrenched inequality.  The election of Ramaphosa closes a dark chapter in the history of the African National Congress, the continent’s oldest liberation movement and for decades, under the internationally famous Freedom Charter, the guardian of the hopes of the South African people for an apartheid free, democratic future.

The resignation of former president, Jacob Zuma, under pressure from the ANC leadership ends a period when the party and the government have been mired in corrupt practices, self-aggrandisement and economic failure.  The election of Ramaphosa, a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, former NUM General Secretary and key founder of trade union confederation COSATU, is seen by the ANC as a chance to get South Africa back on track after the Zuma years.  In welcoming Ramaphosa’s election as President the ANC made clear its priorities stating,

“The African National Congress has full confidence in President Ramaphosa to build on the foundation laid and focus the country on accelerating our program of fundamental and radical socio-economic transformation. This will include giving effect to the ANC resolutions to accelerate land redistribution through amongst other mechanisms, the expropriation of land without compensation, and the fulfilment of our decision to provide fee-free education to children of the working class and the poor. The eradication of poverty, inequality and injustice in our country must shape his legacy as president of South Africa.

To give effect to this requires, amongst others, restoring the credibility of public institutions, state owned enterprises and law enforcement agencies. It will further demand strong, properly functioning and efficient government at national, provincial and local levels, working together with all social partners.”

www.anc.org.za

Ramaphosa was quick to emphasise the need to deal with corruption, straighten out state-owned enterprises and deal with the issue of ‘state capture’, the term given to the undue influence exercised over government institutions and state-owned businesses by Zuma and his cronies.

The election of Ramaphosa is the latest stage in a struggle which has been waged within the ANC for some time, as progressive elements have sought to turn back the tide of corruption and root out those looting state enterprises and undermining respect for the ANC in the country.  The turning point came at the ANC National Conference in December 2017 when opposition forces gained enough momentum to secure the election of Ramaphosa as ANC President.  From that point onwards the demise of Zuma has been only a question of time.

The coalition of business associates around the Gupta family and others which had kept Zuma in place, for their own advantage, started to see the writing on the wall and elements began to gravitate towards supporting Ramaphosa, not for any reason of principle but to shore up their own position.

To that extent the election of Ramaphosa as state President is by no means the end of the struggle to turn the tide in South Africa but merely the beginning.  As the South African Communist Party has made clear,

“…these forces must not be underrated. Disorganised they might now be, but they still have significant resources and strategic positions within the state. The momentum of disrupting their capacity must be sustained. The blows against the Gupta parasitic network must spread to all parasitic networks…”

That warning should be heeded but should by no means undermine the significance of the steps taken by the ANC and the people of South Africa in the past week.  Lenin is reputed to have once said “there are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen.”  The people of South Africa have just lived through such a week, a week which will give hope for the decades ahead.

SACP statement on the situation in South Africa

10th February 2018

Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa the progressive candidate to save the ANC

The South African Communist Party condemns tribalism in the strongest terms possible and the ethnic mobilisation, including that of Amabutho (Zulu regiments) that President Jacob Zuma has apparently engaged in as part of his plan to continue overstaying his welcome in office. The SACP reiterates its decision for President Zuma to resign and for the ANC to recall him if he remains intransigent by refusing to resign. The Constitution of our country requires the President to unite, and not to divide, our nation. President Zuma`s conduct is reckless and unacceptable. The SACP is calling on all South Africans to unite in defence of our country and not allow him to go down with our hard-won democracy.

The SACP further challenges President Zuma to, as a matter of urgency, deny or confirm emerging, and considering his desperation probably credible, information that he is preparing to fire Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa anytime from now and replace him with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who he wants to position to take over as Acting President should he find himself removed from office. Dlamini-Zuma was President Zuma`s preferred presidential candidate for the 54th ANC National Conference held in December 2017. To that extent it would be very clear that President Zuma is also determined to divide and destroy the ANC through unrepentant factional conduct.

The SACP calls upon the whole of our movement, as well as South Africans in general, to reject regressive forms of mobilisation and abuse of state power to try and manipulate and further polarise internal ANC and Alliance politics.

Further info from www.sacp.org.za

Capita – the next crisis?

3rd February 2018

NCC HQ

 Northamptonshire County Council’s £53m HQ, opened in October, could be for the axe

The government insist that Capita, another private company getting fat on public sector contracts, is not about to follow Carillion into liquidation.  This is in spite of Capita’s value having halved since a profit warning earlier in the week while shares in rival outsourcing companies, Interserve, Mitie and Serco also fell.  Cabinet Minister, Oliver Dowden, however was quick to state that,

“We do not believe that Capita is in any way in a comparable position to Carillion.”

The Capita debt mountain of £1bn and its £381m pension deficit, to add to the plunging share price, would appear to undermine Dowden’s confident assessment.

Dowden’s view is based upon a government meeting with Capita executives, including Chief Executive Jon Lewis, earlier in the week.  Whether the government have been knowingly undersold may be a question but Lewis has certainly been quoted as suggesting that Capita is “far too complex”, not exactly an inspiring assessment from the man at the top.

TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, has stated that

“…the TUC is calling for an urgent risk assessment of all large outsourcing firms.  It’s essential the government complete this quickly and is prepared to bring services and contracts in-house if they are at risk.”

Capita run the governments jobseekers allowance helpline, teachers’ pensions, curfew tags for offenders, collecting the licence fee for the BBC, in addition to a wide range of contracts with local authorities across the country.

Lewis has announced plans to raise £700m to shore up the Capita balance sheet as well as cutting a dividend which has been worth more than £500m to investors over the past three years. Job losses are expected amongst Capita’s workforce of 67,000, of which 50,000 are in the UK, and parts of the existing business will be sold to raise cash.

Labour’s shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, Jon Trickett, stated,

“The Tories’ privatisation dogma risks lurching our public services from crisis to crisis, threatening jobs, taxpayers’ money and leaving people without the services they need.  The government must end its ideological attachment to private profit and instead start putting the public interest first.”

The public sector privatisation crisis comes at a time when local Councils are in the midst of setting their budgets for next year.  Many are having to increase Council Tax to the permitted level of the government 6% cap but will still struggle to meet social care demands or continue to provide essential leisure services.

Heather Smith, Tory leader of Northamptonshire County Council, has just announced this weekend that it was about to “fall over the edge of a cliff” and has brought in a section 114 notice, the first in over 20 years, banning new expenditure.

Prof Tony Travers, from The London School of Economics, believes other Councils could follow in the wake of the Northamptonshire announcement, stating,

“I think there are others that are quite close to Northamptonshire’s position and, with so-called austerity continuing into the next decade, I would be amazed if Northamptonshire was the only council to get into these circumstances.”

Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has continued to take a firm stand against the privatisation and under resourcing of local government services. Speaking to Labour’s local government conference in Nottingham, this weekend he stated,

“Austerity is unleashing chaos across our country, squeezing our local authorities and putting jobs, and the vital services they deliver, at risk.”

Against that backdrop local residents are sure to question the ongoing creaming off of profit for the private sector.  The fallout from the Carillion crisis alone has 18,000 staff still uncertain about their futures, with less than a thousand having been found alternative jobs through transfer to other companies.

Councils will soon be setting their sights upon the May local elections.  Service delivery and cuts are bound to be an issue.  Carillion has already raised the issue of the use of the private sector to deliver public services.  The Tories are in chaos over Brexit.  Capita, or one of the other outsourcing companies, tipping over the edge may be the final straw.  The Tories will not do well at the local elections but the fallout may be worse than even they are anticipating.

Stuck in the middle

28th January 2018

maytrump(2)

May joins the Trump roadshow in Davos

If there is a sound that Theresa May cannot escape, it is the sound of sharpening knives.  Since her failed bid to increase her Parliamentary majority at the General Election last June, the Prime Minister has been living on borrowed time.  The swamp that is Brexit is likely to swallow May’s brief premiership and, with any luck, large sections of the Tory Party with it, at least for the time being.

Following this week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, where May was reduced to playing a bit part in the Donald Trump roadshow, a ‘keynote’ speech on Brexit has been postponed, as war on the Tory backbenches and amongst her Cabinet colleagues once against spills across the press, social media and our TV screens.

The week began with a Cabinet meeting at which leading Tory opportunist and alleged Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary last time anyone looked, trumpeted his desire to spend an additional £5bn on the NHS.  Few would doubt the need for such spend, not least Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt who may yet pontificate on the Middle East situation next week, or Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has consistently called for the NHS to be at the top of the political and funding agenda.  As Corbyn made clear at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons recently,

“The Conservatives tax cuts for the super-rich and big business are being paid for by longer waiting lists, ambulance delays, staff shortages and cuts to social care.”

That Johnson trailed his views on the health service ahead of the Cabinet discussion clearly illustrates a breakdown in any sense of collective responsibility but also a growing contempt for May’s leadership amongst key members of her Cabinet.

Chancellor Phillip Hammond, in a hamfisted attempt to shore up the government’s position, suggested this week that being outside the EU would look and feel very much like being on the inside.  This sort of snivelling toadyism brought an instant rebuke from 18th century man and pretender to the Tory leadership, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who accused Hammond of working to turn the UK into a vassal state.

Rees-Mogg is the darling of the turn back the clock Leave.EU campaign and is likely to gain more media attention in the coming week as the House of Lords debate the EU withdrawal bill.  Media reports this weekend that May has three months to shape up or be shipped out will mean that the various pretenders will take every opportunity to get airplay.

Add to the mix claims that current opinion polls suggest there is growing feeling in the country for a second referendum on the terms of Brexit, with even Nigel Farage pitching in, desperate for publicity over something, and the future for May looks bleak.  She will be damned if she does and damned if she does not.  A Prime Minister stuck in the middle.

The alternative, increasingly looking like a government in waiting, is the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, pressing on the key issues of the NHS, housing, welfare reform and lack of investment in the public sector and infrastructure.  While the Tories tear themselves apart over Brexit, Labour are committing to providing 8,000 homes for the homeless by taking over properties deliberately left empty.

Where the priorities of ordinary people lie, and who can deliver for them, is becoming increasingly clear.

Absurd on every level

20th January 2018

trump-shutdown-explainer

 US President Donald Trump – the absurdity of shutdown

The absurdities of capitalism seem to be manifest in a myriad of different ways at the moment.  From the government shutdown in the United States, to the inability of the Germans to form a government due to the rise of the far right, and the recent UK poll suggesting that more 18 – 24 year olds see big business as a bigger threat than communism.  This is not why the Cold War was won, exclaim disillusioned liberals the world over!

One year into the Presidency of Donald Trump and the US Senate cannot agree a budget.  The self styled great ‘deal maker’ in the White House is on the brink of seeing the wheels of administration stop.  In all normal circumstances this would be characterised as an embarrassment for the President.  For Trump, there appears to be no such thing.

The fact that many federal government employees may be on unpaid ‘leave’ from Monday, that government services will cease to function, does not appear to be of major concern to Trump. His response has been to blame Democrats who are attempting to mitigate some of the worst excesses of Trumps’ immigration policies.  The Democrats are demanding protection from deportation for 700,000 illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children.

The Republicans are looking for more border security, funding to build the wall along the border with Mexico and more spending for the military.

For Trump this is a case of the Democrats being “far more concerned with illegal immigrants than they are with our great military or safety at our dangerous southern border”.

This particular absurdity is not one confined to having a “very stable genius” as President, although it will not help. The last government shutdown, under Barack Obama in 2013, lasted 16 days and resulted in around 850,000 employees being off work each day, at a cost of $2bn in lost productivity to the economy.

The US budget must be approved by 1st October which is the start of the federal financial year.  Congress often fail to meet this deadline and negotiations continue well into the new year, with the previous year’s funding to federal agencies extended on a temporary basis.

With Congress failing to agree an extension that would have maintained government funding through to 16th February, it means many federal agencies effectively close for business as of 00:01 Saturday (05:01 GMT).

Still, we know the US is off beam, thank goodness for Europe eh?

That would be the Europe of Emmanuel Macron in France, most famous for “on the other hand” being his most used phrase, due to his inability to take a position on most things.

That would be the Europe of strong economic German stability, immobilised by the rise of the far right Alternativ fur Deutschland, modern days Nazis holding the balance of power and the country to ransom, while that famous economy and quite possibly the EU with it, burns.

While the Germans struggle to form a government there is every chance that Italy will find itself in the same position with elections there, on 4th March, likely to see the far right hold the balance of power.   A coalition which includes Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the notorious right wing Northern League and the fascist Brothers of Italy is at present leading the polls.

The collapse of construction and services conglomerate, Carillion, in the UK has resulted in the absurdity of Prime Minister Theresa May claiming that she will be on the side of workers betrayed by their greedy bosses in future if another major company was to go under.  Needless to say such ‘meddling’ will alarm Tory backers in the City of London, as well as hardliners within her own Cabinet, so the chances of May getting to the point of delivery are slim.

It is almost embarrassing to point out the absurdity of a Tory Prime Minister railing against a policy which has been a central plank of Tory ideology for over 40 years, just because it has been exposed as being unfair but, worse still, unpopular!

Much more plausible is the position taken by Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, consistent with his long standing opposition to the “dogma of privatisation”, who has pledged that Labour will halt the “outsourcing racket” which the Carillion collapse has helped expose.

As Corbyn quite rightly stated,

“Theresa May exposed the failure of the outsource first ideology at prime minister’s questions when she said the government was ‘a customer’ not ‘the manager’ of Carillion.  I’m sorry but if these are public contracts we should be the manager and not have a middleman like Carillion creaming off the profits.”

So it should come as no surprise when Fiona Lali, president of the Marxist Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, defended the Soviet Union in a Radio 4 interview this week.  The interview was on the back of a ComRes poll last week which showed that 9% of 18-24 year olds thought communists were “the most dangerous in the world today” while 24% thought it was “big business”.

While the apologists for capitalism trot out the hoary old reds under the beds propaganda whenever their interests are threatened, it is becoming increasingly clear that such tactics do not work.

For most young people the Cold War is history, while the day to day absurdities of capitalism are all too real on a daily basis.  Whether that is the absurdity of Donald Trump, the resurgent right wing across Europe, or the crime of private companies making profits from public projects, it does not paint a very convincing picture.

It is little wonder that young people are looking for an alternative.  It is vital that Marxism is the alternative they recognise if the future is to hold out real hope for them.

Public need, not private greed

14th January 2018

Carillion

Carillion are on the point of collapse and the government may have to bail them out.  It’s the current UK headline news.  So what?  Who are Carillion, why should we care about them and why should the government be considering propping them up?  All good questions, which go to the heart of how public services in the UK are financed and supported.

Any notion we have of Carillion is probably that they are something to do with construction, their name appears on the billboards surrounding major capital works and their adverts feature men in hard hats.  Yet like many companies in the capitalist market place, Carillion has branched out beyond its initial base of expertise and embraced areas in which, quite simply, money can be made from the public sector.

Carillion employs 20,000 staff in the UK alone and is one of the government’s biggest contractors.  A large number of those staff, 8,000 in fact, work in Carillion’s healthcare division, providing facilities management to the NHS.  In practice this means engineering teams carrying out 200,000 maintenance tasks on 1m square metres of NHS space.  It means Carillion having responsibility for 200 operating theatres with 300 critical care beds and 11,500 in-patient beds.  It prepares 18,500 patient meals per day.  Carillion’s NHS helpdesks manage more than 1.5m calls each year.

Carillion is the love child of construction companies Tarmac, Wimpey, Mowlem and Alfred McAlpine, private sector construction companies brought together to get fat on private finance initiative (pfi) contracts, dished out by successive governments keen to divert financial risk and appear economically astute.

The collapse of Carillion’s market value from an estimated £2bn to a mere £61m on Friday, with share prices down from 300p two years ago to 14.2p last week, suggests that the economic astuteness of the pfi process may be flawed.  It may even give cause to reflect on who thought a bunch of road builders were suited to manage sections of the NHS, not to mention prison contracts and Ministry of Defence work.

Ironically it is the building projects which are at present causing Carillion’s downfall.  Three major pfi schemes are overdue and over budget, these being the £350m Midland Metropolitan hospital in Birmingham, the £335m Royal Liverpool University hospital, and the £745m Aberdeen bypass.  These at least you would think a bunch of road builders would be able to manage but it appears not!  Certainly, it does not inspire confidence in your next NHS patient meal.

Main lenders to Carillion, previously keen to cash in on the profits are Barclays, HSBC and Santander UK, all now looking likely to pull out as they are exposed to huge potential losses.  The options under consideration include a debt for equity swap, basically the government stepping in to guarantee loans, thereby shielding lenders from losses in the event of a collapse.  The capitalist free market is truly a wonderful thing!

Professor Karel Williams, a bit of an expert in these matters from Manchester University, sums it up nicely when he says,

“The whole rational for PPP (public private partnership) – where Carillion has been a big player in the UK – is that, notionally, you transfer risk to the company that takes the contract.  But, fundamentally, the limit of that risk is the balance sheet of the outsourcing company.  If you move beyond that it becomes a crisis for the government.”

This means that in practice the inefficiencies of the private sector are covered up through the use of public funding, so the public, in effect, get hit twice.  Firstly, by the private sector syphoning off resourcing from vital services, such as the NHS, in order to pay their shareholders dividends.  Secondly, by the government having to use more public money to bail out those services when the private sector is in danger of going belly up.

Is it a scam?  Of course it is!  You can bet that not many NHS nurses or hospital porters will have shares in Carillion in order to have profited from dividend pay outs in previous years.  On the other hand, a large part of the £1.5bn Carillion debt is a £590m pension deficit.  Will the government honour that as well as protecting the pockets of the shareholders and the banks?  Keep an ear out for the news in the next few days, lets see where that one goes.

So called public private partnerships have many flaws.  The most basic one is that they are not a partnership of equals.  The public sector rarely, if ever, benefit and the shareholders either reap dividends during the good times or get protection from the government when things go wrong.  The answer is to cut the private sector out of the equation, make sure key national infrastructure projects and service delivery are publicly resourced, publicly managed and publicly accountable.

Public need should not be fuelling private greed.  Public services are there for people, not for profit.  It’s an age-old adage on the Left, let’s get back to making it count.

Protests expose shaky foundations of Islamic Republic

2nd January 2018 

iran-protestors-clash-police

Recent protests across Iran have brought the Islamic Republic once more into the international spotlight.  Jane Green, from the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR), assesses the current situation.

The rising tide of dissatisfaction amongst the people of Iran has burst its banks for the first time since 2009 on a large scale, resulting in a wave of demonstrations across the country against the theocratic dictatorship of the Islamic Republic.  The events of recent days, which have escalated from small scale protests against food shortages and price rises, are rapidly becoming more generalised protests against the lack of freedom and democratic rights, which has been characteristic of the Islamic Republic for the past four decades.

The latest proclamation from the regime’s Revolutionary Guards, that protesters will feel the “iron fist” if demonstrations continue, is symptomatic of the regime’s inability to meet the needs of its people and characteristically resort to the use of brute force in order to maintain its grip on power.  Two protestors have already died from gunshot wounds.

According to official figures unemployment is running at 12.4% in Iran, up 1.4% on the previous year.  Even this figure however masks a much deeper malaise within the Iranian economy, with workers pay being delayed or withheld for months, short time and temporary contracts being widespread and the imprisonment of trade union and opposition activists commonplace.

President Hassan Rouhani, elected for a second term just last May, promised greater security and a growing economy following the 5+1 nuclear deal agreed in 2015, where the West promised to withdraw sanctions in exchange for restrictions on the Iranian nuclear energy programme.  The limitations of the deal have been further emphasised however by the imposition of unilateral financial sanctions by the United States, making it virtually impossible for the Iranians to trade in the international oil market.

What little scope the deal may have given the regime in Iran to expand the economy has been effectively strangled at birth.  What little benefit the economy gains from international trade goes into the coffers of the theocratic elite or the Revolutionary Guards, rather than the pockets of the ordinary people of Iran.  Official figures show youth unemployment running at 40% in a nation where over 50% of the population are aged under 30 years old. Iranian authorities have acknowledged that more than 5 million graduates in the country are unemployed.  One BBC Persian investigation has found that on average Iranians have become 15% poorer in the past 10 years.

It is little wonder then that the youth of Iran, alongside the working class, are in the forefront of the current wave of protests.  They are not only protesting about the state of things at present but also against the lack of future opportunities.

The last nationwide protests in 2009 focussed upon the ‘stolen election’, the second term won by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in an election which many regarded as having been rigged in his favour to keep any hint of reform at bay.  The Rouhani presidency has attempted to give the gloss of reform to its programme and elements in the West have been persuaded that the regime is one that the West could do business with, while ignoring its ongoing appalling record on human rights.

Recent protests however have focussed not only upon the economic incompetence of the regime but the widespread corruption at its heart.  The thinly veiled ‘promise’ of reform from Rouhani has been stripped bare with the consequences now being seen on the streets. The feeling of demonstrators was summed up by one protestor from the city of Rasht who was quoted over the weekend as saying,

“Everyone is fed up with the situation, from the young to the old.  Every year thousands of students graduate, but there are no jobs for them.  Fathers are also exhausted because they don’t earn enough to provide for their family.”

Opposition forces within Iran have made it clear that the experience of the last two decades has proved that the Iranian people are rapidly moving away from the strategy of making a choice between bad and worse.  They are no longer willing to submit to the manipulation of their demands by the regime and the pro-regime reformists such as Rouhani.  At the forefront of opposition voices the Tudeh Party of Iran (TPI) in particular, has stressed that,

“The majority of the people of the homeland today want to put an end to the despotic theocratic regime; to end the oppression and injustice; and bring about the establishment of freedom and social justice. These demands can only be achieved through a joint struggle of all the national and freedom-loving forces without foreign intervention.”

The issue of foreign intervention is a significant one, with the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel all watching developments closely to assess whether they can gain any advantage from the current protests.  It is widely known that all three would welcome regime change in Iran but change in favour of a regime more compliant with their objective to dominate the Middle East, rather than one which would be to the benefit of the Iranian people.

Any foreign intervention would be disastrous for the people of Iran, the chance of a transition to democracy and for the Iranian economy.  Calls for any military intervention or for the restoration of the monarchy, which have emanated from some quarters, and are given prominence by Western media outlets, should not be taken seriously and must be resisted.

CODIR has called for solidarity with the Iranian people’s demands for peace, human and democratic rights and social justice.  CODIR further calls for the release of all political prisoners.   In particular, trade union leaders such as Reza Shahabi of the Tehran Vahed Bus Workers Trade Union and Ismail Andi, General Secretary of Iran’s Teachers’s Trade Association, should be raised internationally. This would be a meaningful contribution from Western public opinion.

The current protests are evidence that the Islamic Republic is built upon shaky foundations.  Only the people of Iran themselves can bring the house down and rebuild it in a style which will reflect their needs and their legitimate demands for peace, social justice and democracy.

www.codir.net