Stop Arming Saudi

19th February 2017


Since the Saudi led coalition began its bombing of Yemen in March 2015, the UK has licensed about £3.3bn of weapons to the Arab dictatorship. Support for the Saudis is part of a bigger picture of UK arms fuelling conflict in the Middle East. In the years leading up to the so called Arab Spring of 2011 the UK sold countries in the region £41.3m of small arms, £7m of ammunition and £34.3m of armoured vehicles. According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) those figures have since risen to an annual average of £58.9m, £14m and £58.9m respectively. The people of the region may have been demanding democracy, the arms dealers of the West were simply looking to cash in.

The relationship with the Saudi despots is a particularly lucrative one for the UK, with 2015 seeing 83% of all UK arms exports, almost £900m, going to the dictatorship. By way of return the UK imported over £900m of oil from Saudi Arabia over the same period. For anyone wondering why the British Royal Family are always keen to kowtow to the Saudis princes this offers something by way of explanation.

While the Saudis kept the weapons at home, to been shown off as vanity purchases to feed their egos and warn the internal opposition, they have not received much attention. Using these war toys on the international stage however inevitably brings greater scrutiny and Saudi intervention in areas outside of their borders has been a growing feature of life in the Middle East in recent years. Stirrings of dissent in Bahrain in 2011, with demands for democracy and freedom of speech, quickly saw Saudi troops dispatched to prop up the flagging Bahraini dictatorship and ensure that no such notions took root on the Arabian peninsula.

As a reliable NATO ‘ally’ the Saudis have played their part in undermining the Syrian regime and fermenting the long running civil war in that country. The fact that the Saudis have also been covertly fuelling the al-Qaeda elements opposing the government of President Assad adds further irony to the notion that they are policing the region for the West. For the Saudis an unstable Syria is less of a threat than a stable Syria aligned to their major regional opposition, in the form of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

CAAT is challenging the UK government’s decision to continue to licence the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The High Court hearing took place in open session from Tuesday, 7th February to lunchtime Wednesday, 8th February. A hearing closed to CAAT, the press and the public, was held during the afternoon of Wednesday, 8th February and all day on Friday, 10th February. CAAT’s interests are represented by Special Advocates.

The legal action is a Judicial Review, a type of court proceeding in which the judges review the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body. In this case the judges will be examining the lawfulness of the decisions made by the Secretary of State responsible for export controls.

The two year long civil war in the Yemen has so far claimed 10,000 civilian casualties. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that,

“almost two-thirds of reported civilian deaths had allegedly been caused by coalition air strikes, which were also responsible for almost two-thirds of damaged or destroyed civilian public buildings.”

Even the International Development and Business, Innovation and Skills Committee of the UK Parliament acknowledged last October that,

“Given the evidence we have heard and the volume of UK-manufactured arms exported to Saudi Arabia, it seems inevitable that any violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the coalition have involved arms supplied from the UK. This constitutes a breach of our own export licensing criteria.”

The momentum behind the CAAT campaign has been gathering, with a petition and significant lobbying of MPs to ensure the issues of arms sales to Saudi Arabia has high political profile. Owen Jones, writing in The Guardian recently summed up the issues stating,

“While the high court considers the legality of arms sales, the moral case is inarguable. Thousands of Yemeni civilians are being murdered, and our government shares responsibility. Yemen may seem like a far-away country, whose internal situation is too complicated to understand, and don’t we have enough to worry about here? But our silence risks being complicity. Our government is acting in our name. Yemeni civilians are cowering for their lives, partly because of decisions made by No 10. Don’t let them get away with it.”

Judgement on the CAAT challenge is expected in four to six weeks. It will be interesting to hear the High Court justification if it is turned down and even more interesting to hear the response of the government if it is upheld.



From mansion block to mews

11th February 2017


The Conservative attack on the social fabric of society in the UK, which has gone on for over thirty years, is finally bringing home the realisation that some action is required to halt the decline. Unfortunately, what is on offer may be little more than a sticking plaster to address a gaping wound. Local authorities are being allowed to add 3% to Council tax bills in order to address insufficient funding for social care provision.   A new housing White Paper sets out plans for more housebuilding in order to boost the rental market. The apprenticeship levy, which kicks in from April, will see all employers with a wage bill of £3m or more paying in to a central pot for the training of young people.

On the face of it these all appear to be positive initiatives against which it is difficult to argue. In reality they are all attempted short terms fixes for the social crisis which capitalism has been nurturing for nearly half a century.

The emphasis in relation to housing, on more homes to rent for young people is, in effect, a recognition that the Tory ‘right to buy’ policy, initiated in the 1980’s, has been an abject failure. The success of post war council house building had been to move millions out of squalid property, managed by unscrupulous landlords, and into homes built to decent standards managed by local authorities. The so-called right to buy, couched in terms of the UK being a property owning democracy, was little more than a scramble by speculators to asset strip council stock and undermine the infrastructure for social housing in the UK.

The solution proposed in the current White Paper however may well contain the seeds of its own destruction. The paper argues that greater use should be made of ‘brownfield’ sites and that in urban areas more high density schemes should get the go ahead, stating,

“When people picture high density housing, they tend to think of unattractive tower blocks, but some of the most desirable places to live in the capital are in areas of higher density mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets.”

Like the blocks they envisage building, with relaxed regulation on height restrictions in urban areas, the government clearly has its head in the clouds. The occasional mansion block or mews, housing high salary earning single professionals, with a view of Tate Modern and barges on the Thames, may be a lovely daydream for Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid (pictured), but it is not the reality for most of the poor and struggling in London, never mind the rest of the country.

High density housing, combined with high density low pay and unemployment, is simply a recipe for high density social unrest.

The apprenticeship levy to the rescue then? Young people getting a training which will allow them to get a foot on the employment ladder and claw their way from the high density poverty of 1960’s brutalist housing and into the 21st century version? Perhaps. The levy is aimed at raising £3 billion from employers in order to fund 3 million high quality apprenticeships by 2020.

However, for large public sector employers, struggling under central government cuts, the levy may effectively operate as another tax burden. With 0.5% of the payroll cost being diverted into the levy many public sector bodies, struggling to meet existing pay bills, will have to divert a proportion of their funds into the scheme. While they may get some of this back, in the form of young people as apprentices, there is no guarantee of proportionality.

In effect, large public sector employers could end up subsidising private sector apprenticeships.

Finally, the government allowing local councils to increase council tax bills by 3%, to cover cuts in social care, shows a comprehensive lack of understanding of the extent to which local government services have been decimated. For most local authorities the 3% increase will barely cover the additional costs of the living wage increase, which private care providers are looking to pass onto local councils as part of their contract arrangements.

The crisis in social care of course feeds back in to the crisis in the NHS, as beds remain occupied due to the lack of provision in the community for older people. Properly resourced and funded local government services are part of the answer to these problems. In spite of the rhetoric however, centralisation has been the hallmark of all governments since the 1980’s. If that is the case then central government needs to come up with a strategic plan to address the crumbling social fabric of the UK.

Supporting a few well paid bankers, in the few well resourced mansion blocks and mews’ of the capital, will not be enough.


Concern over rising US/Iran tensions

6th February 2017


Solidarity organisation, the Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR), has expressed concern that the Iranian people will be the main losers in the current war of words between the United States and Iran.  CODIR’s Executive Council, which held an emergency meeting over the weekend, has called on labour, peace and democratic forces worldwide to be on the alert against the possibility of a conflict between the two countries.

Recent comments by US President, Donald Trump, and National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn (pictured), that Iran is “on notice” following a ballistic missile test, have raised tension following Trump’s election.  However, concerns have now been increased further by US Defence Secretary, James Mattis, asserting that Iran is the world’s “biggest sponsor of state terrorism.”

The comments of Mattis, made on a visit to Japan, also included the statement that,

“We have seen their misconduct, their misbehaviour, from Lebanon and Syria to Bahrain and to Yemen and it’s got to be addressed at some point.”

The United States has imposed new sanctions on Iran, against particular companies and individuals, claiming that Iran is in contravention of UN Resolution 2231by carrying out missile tests last week.  This accusation is false. The UN resolution concerns the nuclear agreement with Iran, not other forms of weapons testing.

The tension between the two states has led Iran to respond in kind, announcing restrictions against US companies and individuals, “involved in creating and supporting extremist terrorist groups” or who are “helping in the killing and oppression of defenceless people”.

Iran is among the seven Muslim-majority countries included in a controversial US travel ban.US officials have suggested more action could follow.  President Trump has been a vocal critic of the nuclear accord, which saw Iran agreeing to curb its sensitive nuclear activities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

CODIR has expressed concern that the real victims of increased tension will be the people of Iran, as renewed sanctions could plunge the already fragile economy of the Islamic Republic into deeper recession.

“This war of words, between the United States and Iran, is in danger of punishing the people of Iran further and destabilising the entire region,” said CODIR Assistant General Secretary, Jamshid Ahmadi.  “There are belligerent voices in both the United States and Iran who have an interest in stirring up tension to suit their own purposes.  Any push towards a conflict between the two countries will have disastrous implications for the Middle East region and most importantly the peace process in Syria.  It will undermine peace.”

CODIR has stressed that the Iranian economy is still suffering from the impact of the previous round of US and EU imposed economic sanctions, claiming that any re-imposition will have a disastrous impact on the economy, working people and social justice in Iran.

CODIR has also expressed concern that the fundamentalist and Islamist radicals inside Iran, who have never been enthusiastic about the nuclear agreement with the West, will exploit the situation.  CODIR fears that this would take diplomatic relations between Iran and the US back to the days before the Obama presidency in 2009.

“The political atmosphere could create a situation in Iran in which reform and the campaign for human and democratic rights take a back seat,” warned Mr Ahmadi.  “Iranian campaigners for human and democratic rights, including trade union rights, will no doubt suffer.  We could have pro war cliques in the US and Iran, intent on conflict and militarisation, exploiting the situation. This could easily open the way for advocates of discredited US-style regime change to move in and do their worst”

CODIR, which has campaigned for over 30 years to highlight trade union and human rights abuses in Iran, will continue to support the rights of the Iranian people and highlight the grave injustices perpetuated by the dictatorial regime in Iran.

Iran nuclear deal on the brink

27th January 2017


The election of Donald Trump to the United States Presidency has sent shock waves across the world.  The future of the Middle East was uncertain before the election outcome.  It is even more uncertain now.  In relation to Iran, in particular, the US President has spoken in belligerent terms.  Jane Green assesses the implications for Iran of the Trump presidency and its likely impact on Iranian presidential elections in May this year.

During the course of the US presidential campaign Donald Trump regularly criticised the deal arrived at by the United States and other world powers with Iran, over the de-escalation of Iran’s nuclear programme.  In one speech in July 2016 Trump stated,

“They are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making on nuclear.  We should double up and triple up the sanctions and have them come to us.  They are making an amazing deal.”

Not wishing to let the subject lie, this was followed by a statement by Trump in August which claimed that as a result of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran would

“..take over parts of the world that you wouldn’t believe.  I think it’s going to lead to nuclear holocaust.”

Ironically this was Trump modifying his position to “police” the deal, rather than “rip it up”, which had been his earlier stance.

Trump’s position is based on his assessment of US negotiators, primarily former Secretary of State John Kerry, as being incompetent and on his stated belief that “Persians are great negotiators”.  While this is ostensibly a flattering statement it is one actually based upon an age old Western stereotype of the ‘not to be trusted’ Persian swindler.  Such an approach to international relations is consistent with the campaign trail rhetoric of Trump, on a wide range of national and international issues, but is hardly a serious assessment of how to tackle deep seated international enmities.

Knowing Trump’s advisers and the fact that his first phone calls were to the Saudi king, the Israeli premier, the Turkish President and the military president of Egypt, in the first days after his election, does not bode well for the prospects of peace in the Middle East and detente with Iran.

The JCPOA reduces Iran’s centrifuges, the devices used to enrich uranium gas, by two-thirds.  This extends to over a year the so called “breakout time”, that is the time it would take Iran to produce the fissile material needed to build a nuclear weapon, even if it wanted to.  The sanctions relief built into the deal was key to the wider strategy of the United States to re-build influence in the region in order to incorporate Iran into the US New Middle East Plan.

After the imposition of sanctions, Iran was in effect brought to its knees and its economy completely paralysed.  Iran agreed to negotiations in order to get the sanctions removed.  From this perspective, Iran’s position in respect of the US changed fundamentally.  Iran was willing to play the role that the US wanted it to play.  For example, Iran was invited to join the negotiations on the future of Syria despite Saudi disagreement.

While there has been some suggestion that hardline conservative elements within the Iranian regime are not happy with the deal with the US, in reality they have been instrumental in bringing it about.  The negotiations with the US were planned and initiated by the hardliners, two years before Rouhani was elected, during the Ahmadinejad presidency.  The regime was most concerned about a possible social explosion by the poor, the disenfranchised and working class, following the wave of protests, which swept the country after Ahmadinejad’s election in 2009.  The fact that no deal in Iran could be signed off without the agreement of Ayotollah Ali Khamenei, as Supreme Leader, also indicates that Rouhani had the green light to make the deal.

The first sign of Western investment came in November, with a preliminary $4.8 bn agreement with a consortium led by French company Total, to develop Iran’s giant South Pars natural gas field.  At a ceremony to open three new oil fields in November, Rouhani made clear his assessment of the importance of the sanctions relief stating,

“This means that trapdoors have been opened and fresh air has entered.  Now people will benefit from the new opportunities.  The oil industry has used these opportunities in the best way it could.”

Rouhani added, “After the nuclear agreement, some said it would take ages to reach the goal of 2 million barrels of daily exports.  They also said we cannot return to the pre-sanctions situation.  But [the progress of] our oil industry in just a few months has surprised the world.”

It is estimated however that Iran requires investment in the region of $200 billion over the next five years in order to bring oil and gas production up to pre-sanctions levels.  It will not be possible to achieve such levels without foreign investment.  It is unlikely that the West will want such investment to come from Russia, already seen by the West as making a play for Middle East influence by supporting President Assad in Syria.

The uncertainties being played out across the European Union at the moment also raise questions about where European companies may seek to invest, in spite of the recent Total commitment.  In this context the Trump election adds to the volatility surrounding the economy in Iran and underlines the extent to which the regime is at the mercy of external factors.

At present the ability of the Iranians to trade in US dollars, vital on international energy markets, is limited.  Some restrictions have been lifted following protests by the Iranian government that the constraints were not in the spirit of the JCPOA, following discussions in April last year.  However, even more significant now than it was at the time, is the stated opposition of US House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who opposed any moves to give Iran access to the US dollar, citing concerns about what Tehran would do with any financial access gained in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.

While such opposition could be taken more lightly with the prospect of a Clinton presidency it takes on added weight following the US election outcome.  While Trump and Ryan crossed swords during the campaign itself there can be little doubt that, faced with the prospect of power, they will find that there is more to unite than divide them.

Future relations between the US and Iran may depend upon the extent to which Trump thinks he has  boxed himself in with his position on the anti-nuclear deal.  There is certainly every chance that Trump will attempt to pressurise Iran into more concessions and even more direct cooperation in the Middle East.

Whether Trump will risk both policy incoherence and a major foreign policy setback, if he does not shrink from his campaign promises to trash the nuclear deal, remains to be seen.  As a self confessed pragmatist and deal maker it is possible that the reality of geo-political and business interests will outweigh campaign rhetoric.  Iran’s deal with Boeing is in the final stages of completion for example.  How Trump acts on Obama’s executive orders, allowing economic transactions with Iran, will disclose a great deal about the course of Trump’s Iran policy.

However the politics of the Trump presidency begin to unfold, there remains the issue of the up and coming presidential election in Iran, scheduled for May 2017.  While the JCPOA has been welcomed by the self styled reformist camp around President Rouhani, the deal is not universally applauded.  However, with the main power centres in Iran behind the deal, not least Khamenei himself, the extent of opposition is not significant.

At present there is debate in hardline conservative ranks about the benefit of fielding a strong candidate against Rouhani in the May elections.  There appears to be little advantage to opposing someone the West is prepared to accept as ‘reformist’ by installing a more conservative candidate, who may serve as an excuse to re-introduce sanctions.

The sanctions regime undoubtedly did weaken the Iranian economy, resulting in economic uncertainty and depressed wages for many.  It is clear that the lifting of sanctions will not, in itself, be sufficient to relieve the suffering of many of Iran’s workers.  Exploitation by domestic capital does not feel any different to exploitation by international capital, for those at the sharp end of the economic changes in Iran.

While the human rights record of the Iranian regime has not figured in any of the negotiations leading to the JCPOA it is nevertheless a factor inhibiting Iran’s development.  The continued imprisonment, torture and execution of political opponents creates a climate of fear and volatility within the country which, if it becomes manifest in the form of street protests as it has in recent years, may act as a deterrent to investment.

Whatever the outcome of the election in Iran, combined with the recent US election outcome, the fate of the Middle East continues to be uncertain.  Until the progressive voices of Iran and the wider region are able to make themselves heard, it will continue to be the case.

For more information go to




Protectionism, xenophobia, bigotry….and protest

22nd January 2017


Donald Trump took the oath of office to become President of the United States of America on Friday with all of the grace and gravitas a former bankrupt and star of reality TV could muster.  His speech upon assuming office was a string of rhetorical soundbites, designed to play to the social media mentality he has sought to encourage during his candidacy and the build up to his inauguration.  Any liberal illusion, that Trump the President would in some way differ from Trump the candidate, was given no succour in a speech that effectively declared war on what little the Obama administration has achieved and anything else that Trump would deem un-American.

If Trump’s declaration that,

“When you open your heart to patriotism there is no room for prejudice.”

does not turn out to be one of the great oxymoron’s of our time it will be a miracle.

Trump’s exhortation to put “America First” and the rhetoric of his campaign to  ”Make America Great Again”, which closed his inauguration speech,  have sinister undertones of the 1950’s.  The anti-communist Cold War actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee are the dark shadow of much that has led Trump to this point.  That US jobs are being stolen by Mexicans, that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism must be eradicated, that the ‘swamp’ of the Washington liberal elite must be drained, are all phrases designed to divide.  They are designed to start off with an administration on an ideological war footing.

For those that have sought to sabotage the Obama administration from the outset Trump is the fruit of their labours.  Any efforts, however limited, that Obama has made in the direction of addressing inequalities in American society have been blocked or ridiculed.  Trump’s first action on taking office has been to sign an order which will give power to reverse so called Obamacare, which helped many struggling Americans have health insurance.  Gun control has been high on the Obama agenda but no inroads have been made.  Closing the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp has not happened.

While Obama has failed to lift the illegal US blockade of Cuba, the limited opening up of political dialogue with the symbol of democratic hope in the Caribbean will no doubt be reversed under Trump.  The White House website has immediately seen any reference to LGBT rights and climate change wiped from its pages.  The gains made in the eight years under Obama in these areas were limited but they were at least on the agenda.  Not now.

The sad fact is that the Obama presidency has allowed middle class liberal America to delude itself into thinking that racial prejudice, bigotry and anti-people politics were a thing of the past, that a corner had been turned.  The first African American in the White House with a dynamic and charismatic First Lady, gains that could not be reversed, surely?

Man Booker award winning author Paul Beatty however is dismayed at the shock of liberal white America, stating,

“This is nothing new.  To me that’s the part that feels disingenuous.  When people go, I don’t recognise this place.  And I’m like, where have you been?  That’s the part that bothers me.  With the police violence people are like, oh I didn’t know.  And it’s like people have been putting this in your face for ages and all of a sudden – why now?”

Beatty is right.  Rip the Obama mask from the face of the American body politic and there is a Donald Trump underneath ready to get out.  Police violence against black communities did not stop under Obama, nor did the shooting of unarmed black citizens in the streets.  It is not likely to be addressed under Trump.

However, the opposition to Trump is underway.

Hundreds of thousands turned out in Washington DC, other cities across the USA and around the world, in protest marches to denounce the Trump presidency yesterday, with demands to acknowledge women’s rights to the forefront of the opposition.

Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO trade union confederation summed up the mood when she declared,

“We’re here not only to march, but we’re here to build a movement.  It’s a movement for paid family leave.  It’s a movement for equal rights.  It’s a movement for workers’ rights.  It’s a movement for immigrants’ rights.  We’re going to march together and stand together in solidarity to make sure our voices are heard.”

There can be no illusions under a Trump presidency.  It is a time to take sides and to make choices.




NHS crisis gathers pace

NHS.png15th January 2017

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is probably the last remaining vestige of the social democratic ambitions of the post war 1945 Labour government. A health service free for all at the point of use; comprehensive education; council housing; nationalisation of the key strategic industries and utilities; national insurance and pensions; and full employment as a stated political objective. These were the collective principles, of support for working class people, which were the touchstones of political debate from 1945 – 1979, when the ruling class decided enough was enough and the Thatcher government began the dismantling process.

The destruction of that legacy has not always been easy or straightforward. The heroic defence of jobs and communities, which was the impetus behind the Miners’ Strike 1984/85, is the most outstanding example of trying to stem the tide. Protests against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the tragic waste of resources on Trident nuclear submarines; demonstrations against the poll tax; inner city disturbances triggered by heavy handed policing but often the consequence of austerity and poverty; student protests against tuition fees; trade union action to defend jobs, wages and working conditions; all erupt at different times and require the ruling class to firefight in order to sustain their position.

By degrees though working class votes have been cunningly bought off. Share buying under the guise of ‘people’s capitalism’ was one trick. Home ownership through the sale of council housing was another. Comprehensive schooling has been gradually eroded, to be replaced incrementally by the insidious academy system. The legal restrictions placed upon trade unions have tied them in knots. The demonisation of trade union activity by the unholy trinity of the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express, aided by TV news media has poisoned the public perception of trade unions.

Local government, which for many years could play some role in mitigating the worst excesses of the Tories in power, is being restricted increasingly to the delivery of statutory services, with little scope for local innovation or diversity. While the Tories have enforced a programme of austerity upon the victims of the 2008 banking crash, the perpetrators are given tax handouts. The anti-people politics of UKIP are given unjustified levels of airtime while Jeremy Corbyn, as the official Leader of the Opposition, still struggles to get a hearing on the BBC.

So, in a week when the Chief Executive of the British Red Cross has described the situation in the NHS as a “humanitarian crisis”, and Jeremy Corbyn has declared it a “national scandal” there is clearly an issue to be addressed. Corbyn has been quite clear, stating that,

“The health service is at breaking point. But this crisis is not due to an outbreak of disease. It is a crisis made in Downing Street by this government – a crisis we warned them about.”

NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, this week claimed that the Prime Minister was “stretching it” to suggest that the NHS had received the money required to sustain service levels until 2020.

Stevens told the Public Affairs Select Committee last week that over the next three years NHS funding will be “highly constrained” and that by 2018 spending per person in real terms “will go down.”

While this has provoked the inevitable denials from Downing St, Stephen Dorrell, former Tory Health Secretary and currently the chairman of the NHS Confederation, backed Stevens, saying

“He is obviously a Cameron appointee, he has widespread respect. We should be looking at the evidence of what is happening. Simon is not saying ‘it is all impossible’. What he is saying is that if we don’t invest particularly in social care but in a range of public services, and if the health service ends up as the only place where the light is on, then it won’t meet the demands being placed upon it.”

It is widely acknowledged that there is a growing crisis in Accident and Emergency units.

Health service chiefs have acknowledged that in some parts of the country A&E departments are now “very reliant on locums”, with most of the trusts needing around 10 to 12 “middle grade” doctors, but only having two or three. Such medics are junior doctors, who have finished basic training but are still learning specialist skills and have yet to qualify as a consultant.

In November a report by the Commons health select committee warned that A&E departments need at least 8,000 doctors, 50 per cent more than the 5,300 currently employed, to keep pace with the rise in emergency admissions in the last five years.

It is increasingly recognised that the logjam in the NHS is as a result, not only of insufficient funding, but of pressures in social care, which is under strain due to cuts in local government finances.

The population of the UK enjoys increasing life expectancy. However, living longer is not necessarily the same as living in good health. Privatisation has introduced the profit motive into care for the elderly, a disgraceful state of affairs and one that Jeremy Corbyn has said he will address. The lack of social care provision means people cannot be supported in their homes. Therefore more people have to stay in hospital for longer, slowing down the system.

Care providers are balking at having to pay staff the recently introduced living wage, wanting to pass the additional costs on to local authorities. Local authorities are stretched to breaking point and cannot afford the unfunded additional costs. Recruitment into social work as a profession is at crisis levels. Care provision is closing because private sector providers, being pushed to improve wages, are now squealing that they cannot make a profit.

The Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing are both saying that the NHS is now experiencing its worst ever winter crisis.

Jeremy Corbyn has accused Prime Minister, Theresa May, of being “in denial” about the state of the NHS. That is putting it mildly. Due to the dedication of its staff the NHS might squeeze through this winter but crisis management is no way to run the nation’s health provision.

The Health Service needs to be saved, rebuilt and restored to its rightful pride of place, as one of the truly great achievements of the Labour movement in the UK. Only Labour have a realistic chance to do that, the alternative does not bear consideration.


A vicious theocrat right to the end

14th January 2017

While the mainstream media has been quick to sing the praises of former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died on Sunday, those involved in the long struggle for human rights and democracy in Iran are far from convinced of his reformist credentials.  Jane Green assesses the influence of one of the key figures of the Iranian theocratic state.


As a leading figure in the Iranian clergy, Rafsanjani was a key figure in the suppression of the opposition over many years in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Any attempt to suggest otherwise is a mere glossing over of the facts of his time in office as president from 1989-97, and his wider influence upon the shaping of the policies and practices of the Islamic Republic.

Prior to his election as president, Rafsanjani had acted as the commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces during the brutal Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 which wreaked havoc and devastation upon both countries and resulted in over one million dead.

As Speaker of the Iranian Parliament from 1980-1989 Rafsanjani played a key role in the selection of Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader, ensuring that the  reactionary theocracy in Iran was consolidated, over and above the original national democratic aims of the popular 1979 revolution.  This period not only saw the fratricidal war with Iraq but the widespread arrest, torture and execution of leading activists in the uprising against the Shah, who advocated fundamental economic and social reforms and were not prepared to submit to the rule of the clergy.  As the strong-man of the regime, Rafsanjani bore a large measure of responsibility for the mass execution in the summer of 1988 of more than 5000 political prisoners.

The regime suppressed all effective political opposition, forced trade unions organisation underground and presided over a return to medieval values with regard to the rights of women, education and other social issues.  Many activists were forced to flee the country on pain of imprisonment or execution and many of those who stayed were arrested and subjected to a wave of forced confessions and show trials.

Even those who did manage to find refuge beyond Iran’s borders were not safe, with the assassination of political leaders in exile taking place across Europe during Rafsanjani’s presidency.  During this period a number of leading opposition figures were assassinated in Paris, Vienna and Berlin and other cities.  His Minister of Intelligence, Fallahian, was indicted by the German courts for the assassination of leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran in a restaurant in Berlin in 1992.

Having reduced the economy to rubble as a result of the Iran-Iraq War, on assuming the presidency Rafsanjani turned to the World Bank and IMF, in order to secure the means to try and rebuild a shattered infrastructure.  As with any World Bank or IMF deal there were strings attached, such as liberalising foreign trade, privatising key sectors of the economy and further suppressing the wages and working conditions of the Iranian people.   One of his most damaging acts was to amend the labour law and introduce the concept of temporary contracts with no rights guaranteed.

Spurred on by the big business interests he represented, being himself a major landowner and large-scale cultivator and exporter of pistachio nuts with an estimated amassed personal fortune of 1 billion dollars, Rafsanjani embarked upon the task of making friends abroad.  Combined with the need to soften the effects of the economic crisis, Rafsanjani attempted to portray himself as a pragmatic statesman with a pragmatic foreign policy.

However, while peddling a softer image for overseas consumption, Rafsanjani continued to give a free hand to the most vicious groups inside Iran, encouraging the persecution of women resisting demands to wear the traditional ‘Hijab’ (head covering), or attacking demonstrators in Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Mashad protesting at food shortages and profiteering.  In 1995 he deployed helicopter gunships to suppress a three-day uprising of the poor in the working class town of Islamshahr.

Many media reports have been keen to overlook the brutality of the early years of the Islamic Republic, of which Rafsanjani was a key architect, in favour of the so-called reformist of later years, opposed to the hard-line stance of Ali Khamenei and supportive of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency.

Such distinctions in Iranian politics do not carry the same overtones as elsewhere.

Since the early 2000’s Rafsanjani had developed important differences with Khamenei and the regime’s fundamentalist and hard-line faction on the direction of the economy, foreign policy and how to treat the loyal (Islamic) opposition.  Rafsanjani was pro-Rouhani while Khamenei and the fundamentalist faction favoured the style of governing the country employed during the Ahmadinejad era.

However, despite the Western media promoting Rafsanjani as the moderate voice of the regime, he was a pro free market neoliberal who throughout his own reign ruled with an iron fist.  He was most certainly not a reformer, as starkly illustrated by his treatment of protesters during his presidency.  He was consistent only in his refusal to support any fundamental reforms and in his continual support and loyalty to the tenets of the regime.

There is much evidence from inside Iran to suggest that Rafsanjani held many dark secrets about key chapters in the history of the regime.  Had they ever seen the light of day, these would have caused immense damage.  Khamenei and the regime have breathed a sigh of relief that these secrets appear to have gone to the grave with Rafsanjani.  Hence, Khamenei has gone out of his way to accommodate and appease the Rafsanjani clan following his death.  The funeral, the subsequent three days national mourning and his burial in Khomeini’s mausoleum are all evidence of this.

There were hundreds of thousands participating in the funeral procession in the streets of central Tehran.  However, there are many reports that during the procession, a large section of the mourners were chanting slogans demanding change and freedom for political prisoners.

Pro-reform protesters shout slogans and carry posters at the funeral.

Chants were heard calling for reforms and expressing support for Mohammad Khatami (the former pro-reform president, 1997- 2005) and Mousavi, the main opposition candidate in the stolen presidential election of 2009, who has since been kept under house arrest and incommunicado.

In effect, the opposition found the funeral to be a ready-made opportunity to raise its slogans and make demands openly in the streets of Tehran, knowing that the regime’s hands were tied and that it was not able to openly employ the usual repressive measures.  In essence, the spirit of the 2009 Green Movement and unrest was shown to be very much alive.

While Rafsanjani was not in any formal office in recent years he still played a key role.  He acted as the standard bearer and champion of the forces who favoured economic liberalisation and the strengthening of the private sector’s role in the Iranian economy.  He championed the normalisation of Iran’s diplomatic relations with the US.  He was a close ally of the current president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.

True to his legacy, Rafsanjani never showed remorse for his role in suppressing democracy and human rights in Iran.  He showed no regret at having been instrumental in establishing a theocratic dictatorship, which continues to oppress its people and deny their basic rights.

Friend of big business, friend of the Islamic dictatorship but no friend of the Iranian people; few tears will be shed for the passing of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani by the ordinary people of Iran.

This article was also published by the Morning Star.  Please see the link below:

A vicious theocrat right to the end


Turkey – the new frontline?

8th January 2017


Events over the past six months in Turkey suggest that the focus of Islamic State activities is shifting, from their flagging attempts to gain a foothold in Iraq and Syria, and onto the streets of Turkey.  The New Year’s Eve attack in the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, killing 39 people, was the latest in a series of responses by Islamic State to the losses inflicted by Turkish troops inside Syria.  The killings follow on from the killing of 44 people outside an Istanbul football stadium three weeks ago and the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey on 19th December.

While not all of these actions can be ascribed to the activities of Islamic State they all contribute to the sense of political disjointedness inside Turkey, adding to the desire of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to extend the state of emergency, established following the failed coup, on 15th July last year.

The vacillating position of the Turkish government has not helped the situation.  Initially engaged in allowing Islamic State oil supplies to pass through Turkey, thus providing IS with much needed revenue, Turkey has more recently become engaged in the military operations against IS in Syria.  In part, this is cover for its own operations against the Kurdish PKK, who have been engaged in an independence struggle with the Turkish leadership for over 40 years.  It is also part of a wider regional power struggle, in which Erdogan is seeking to position Turkey as a key broker in the region.

Turkey is also in the ambivalent position of both being a member of NATO but being allied with Russia in the current ceasefire negotiations in Syria.  The conflict in Syria has resulted in a massive refugee crisis inside Turkey, with an estimated 3 million refugees having crossed the border from Syria.  Quite apart from the obvious problems this creates in terms of housing, feeding and schooling there is also the suggestion that Syrians are being used as cheap labour, displacing Turkish workers and adding to the already significant unemployment issue.

It is not hard to see how this situation can be exploited by the Islamists, already keen to destabilise Turkey and undermine its secular constitution.  The followers of Islamic preacher, Fethulah Gülen, in self imposed exile in the United States, are already regarded as being behind the coup attempt by the government.  However, Gülen is not trusted by the Left who see him as a tool by which the Islamisation of Turkey may be further advanced.

President Erdogan has taken the opportunity of the 15th July coup attempt to strengthen his grip on the state apparatus and root out any perceived opposition.  Estimates vary but in excess of 100,000 civil servants, journalists and lecturers are said to have lost their jobs, on the pretext of being Gülenist, as Erdogan attempts to silence any opposition.  The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Erdogan helped found, came to power on the basis that it would be more democratic, more European and more moderate on the world stage.

Turkey at present hardly fits this picture.

Turkey is at the centre of a struggle between rival capitalist interests, in the United States and Russia, over influence and access to markets in the Middle East.  It is also the flashpoint for the religious intersection of Islamic and secular politics in the region.  Alliances continue to shift as the players shift allegiances to shore up their particular side.

As ever, the losers are the people of Turkey, and the wider region, who become pawns in a power game which is not of their own making.  The basis of political struggle in the region must move away from geography and religion and onto an assessment of class interests.  Only then will the people of the region, whether from Turkey, Syria, Iran or Iraq, see that they have more in common than that which divides them.



Two state solution in jeopardy

2nd January 2017


The political pundits have packaged away 2016 and filed it under ‘bad year’, in the hope that 2017 is going to be better.  Unfortunately, there is nothing in the political firmament which suggests a more favourable alignment of the planets in the coming year.  The situation in the Middle East; the election of Donald Trump as US President; and the ongoing debate in the European Union, focused upon the outcome of the UK vote to leave, are all auguries of further struggle in the coming year.

The death throes of the Obama administration in the US has thrown up some issues, which Trump will have to deal with upon taking office later this month.  Not least will be the consequences of the United States refusal to use its veto in the United Nations Security Council recently, which resulted in the UN carrying resolution 2334, condemning the illegal Israeli practice of building settlements on Palestinian land.

The Israeli land grab has been going on for many years now.  The wall, which Israel has been building to encompass land which belongs to the Palestinians, has progressed unabated.  The wall functions both as a means to rob Palestinians of land, which is theirs, and also as a means of controlling access to Israel, which is vital for many Palestinians to earn a living.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, reacted furiously to the UN vote.  Given that the resolution, passed on 23rd December, states that the settlement programme constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and that it has “no legal validity”, the response of Netanyahu comes as no surprise.

As The Guardian reported on 24th December 2016,

“The response included the recall of the Israeli ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, who voted for the resolution, the cancellation of a planned visit by the Senegalese foreign minister to Israel in three weeks’ time, and the cancellation of all aid programmes to Senegal.”

As part of the initial Israeli response Netanyahu  has publicly accused Obama of “ambushing” Israel at the UN with the “shameful” resolution.  He has also accused Obama of proposing and pushing the measure “behind Israel’s back.”  In an almost unprecedented move, Netanyahu summoned US Ambassador Dan Shapiro to seek “clarifications” on the decision to abstain.

The Israeli establishment have expressed further rage at the foreign policy speech by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, earlier this week.

In his speech, Kerry had the audacity to suggest that Israel comply with international law and seriously work towards a two-state solution to their differences with the Palestinians.

“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.  That future is now in jeopardy” he said.

Kerry went on to state that,

“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.  The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history, are leading in the opposite direction.  They are leading towards one state.”

A “two-state solution” is widely accepted as the only realistic way forward to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is not only the declared goal of their leaders but of many international diplomats and politicians.

The solution would see a final settlement involving the creation of an independent state of Palestine within pre-1967 ceasefire lines in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, living peacefully alongside Israel.  The United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, Russia and the United States routinely restate their commitment to the concept.

The creation of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land continues to be an issue of contention between Israel and the Palestinians, who see the settlements as an obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.  More than 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The response of US President-elect, Donald Trump, has been to suggest that the Israelis should not be treated with “disdain and disrespect” and he has urged Israel to “stay strong” until he assumes office later this month.

France will host an international conference, to lay down the framework for a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, in Paris this month.  The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said Kerry’s speech was “clear, committed and courageous”.

The conference in France is scheduled for 15th January, the inauguration of the new President of the United States is set for the 20th January.  Both dates will have significance for all looking towards a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, not least the thousands of displaced Palestinians.