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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

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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