Last resort not never resort

December 13th, 2016

It turns out they were wrong, those people who told us that the only outcome to the Syrian genocide was a political solution. It turns out that there were two military solutions after all. One was to arm the secular moderate opposition to the fascist Assad, who were asking for a few MANPADS to down the helicopters barrel bombing their schools, hospitals and market places. The other was to wring our hands and let Assad, Putin and Iran kill half a million people.

War, what is it good for? Edwin Starr asked that question in 1970 as the Vietnam war was entering its final phase. His answer was “absolutely nothing”.

I disagree.

Of course, no decent person, no sane, rational human being would chose war over more peaceful means to achieve political ends. And yet, as a last resort, war can be a liberating, humanising course of action, and has been.

War came too late for millions of Jews, Slavs, Roma and homosexual people in early 1940s Europe. By the time the Vietnamese had, in the teeth of UN opposition, invaded to remove Pol Pot in Cambodia, 1.7 million people were dead. In 1994, about 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis lost their lives too, while an international community, forged in the post 2nd World War consensus, wrung its hands, or in the case of the French authorities, actively colluded in the genocide. The true horror of all those events was uncovered in weeks, months or years. This genocide in Syria was witnessed, live, on Twitter.
War is a very, very last resort.

But there comes a time when the crimes of some regimes are so evil and perpetrated with such fortitude, that they cannot be stopped by wishful thinking, by diplomatic persuasion, by political action or by economic sanction.

There comes a point beyond which such crimes can only be stopped by the application of armed and deadly force: “by any means necessary”, you might say.

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Shadow Cabinet Elections will make a bad situation much worse

September 5th, 2016

The Parliamentary Labour Party is about to vote on whether to reinstate elections to the shadow cabinet, reversing the only sensible thing Ed Miliband did as leader. It is a very bad idea in principle; in practice it will simply add to Labour’s catastrophe.

It’s bad in principle because leaders should be able to choose their own teams. No-one sensible would seriously expect a Labour cabinet to be elected, why a shadow cabinet? It was bad enough that after his 1997 landslide Tony Blair was required to keep the then elected team for a year as his incoming 1997-98 cabinet. Most of them were complete stars; I worked for one such. A few were not up to the job. A permanent such arrangement would be risible.

For moderate members who believe Corbyn is destroying the Labour Party, electing the shadow cabinet would be a self-defeating tactical blunder, playing into ultra-left hands. The current PLP would likely elect a sensible set of shadow Secretaries of State; they’d be spoilt for choice: Caroline Flint, Pay McFadden, Heidi Alexander, Rachel Reeves, John Healey, Chris Leslie, Peter Kyle, Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper, John Healey, Emma Reynolds, Lillian Greenwood, Julie Elliott, Ian Murray, Stephen Timms, Tom Blenkinsop, Bridget Phillipson, Lisa Nandy and scores of others would all be in contention. It’s a racing certainty that Corbyn’s current team would all find themselves out of a job. Richard Burgeon, for one, wouldn’t break double figures among his current colleagues. Diane Abbott? Pur-leaze.

But, I am told, shadow cabinet elections help PLP unity. Maybe in the 1980s they did. Now? Not so much.
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Religious moderates license extremists.

March 22nd, 2016

Once when I was very young my father was making me porridge. Seeing him raise a saltcellar I asked for sugar instead. “You’ll have salt”, he insisted, “or I’ll tell your grandfather”. My grandfather was a Scot and, as any first-year student of philosophy knows, no true Scotsman would have sugar on his porridge. “I want sugar”, I countered, “or I’ll tell my grandfather you drink gin and tonic”. I ate sweetened porridge that day and have done so ever since, although now, in my 50s, I use slightly healthier honey in place of refined sugar. I also drink the occasional gin and tonic.

“No true Scotsman” is known as an informal fallacy, an attempted sidestep around the inconvenient fatal arguments of others. Religious moderates of all denominations use it to separate themselves from those at the other end of their religious spectrum who commit unspeakable acts of inhumanity in the name of that religion. (Yeah, yeah, atheists commit mass murder too, but they don’t do it in the name of atheism).

Many use the “No True Scotsman” defence when Islamists commit mass murder. Thus: no true believer would murder 2,000 men, women and children in cold blood by flying a plane into a skyscraper. No one properly religious would gun down a room full of cartoonists, or a theatre full of people or hack off someone’s head for the cameras, and do so in the name of god. Why not? Well, no true believer would do such a thing because Islam is a peaceful religion. See how it works?

Tony Blair says, “acts of terrorism are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith.” After the Charlie Hebdo murders, President Hollande of France said, “those who committed these terrorist acts, those terrorists, those fanatics, have nothing to do with the Muslim religion.” This side step has become the obligatory shuffle of politicians and most commentators, lest the religious be offended. The proposition froths down my Twitter feed after every fresh religiously motivated terrorist outrage. It may froth, but it’s a falsehood.

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Tony Blair’s last fortnight

January 14th, 2016

On 15 June 2007 the Guardian asked its readers to suggest ways in which Tony Blair should spend his last 14 days as Prime Minister. I’ve just found what I wrote at the time. I stand by it today. The last line is a cracker, even though I do say so myself

Jun 15 07, 10:24pm

How should Tony Blair spend his last fortnight in office?

He should spend his last 14 days looking forward to life without Guardianistas and their delusional rancour.

He deserves to reflect and bask in the certain knowledge that he has left Britain a fairer and more successful country than he found it, that everyone is better off. He should dust off a copy of Keir Hardie’s manifesto and note that he has made a reality of the first Labour Leader’s dream of a National Minimum Wage and Reformed House of Lords. He should be proud that since 1997 there are 80,000 more nurses, 32,000 more doctors, 27,000 more teachers and more police officers than at any time in history; that the spend on the NHS has tripled in 10 years; that there are 80 new hospitals either built or on the way; that every A&E department in the country has been renovated; that crime has fallen (except kids stealing mobile phones off each other). But he should devote at least an hour to condemning in words of one syllable the BMA Tory front campaign and the greedy selfish NHS consultants and GPs who have had their mouths stuffed with gold (like in 1947) and are STILL whinging.

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Corbyn needs to be crushed in the vote. If he’s not, Labour will be out of power for decades and deserve to be

July 28th, 2015

This whole “should Corbyn be on the ballot paper or not” thing is now out of hand. It is really very simple. The left in the Labour Party has not been crushed since the mid 1980s around the end of the last era during which they were a malign influencing force. Unless the left are crushed Labour can’t win a general election. Unless Labour wins a general election the Tories will carry on running the country doing things the left and centre left don’t like.
Contrary to popular mythology (including my own at the time), Tony Bair didn’t vanquish the left. Sure, in 1984-5, there was the months-long Clause 4 national tour, I was at its last rally at Crofton Park’s famous Rivoli Ballroom, but the left knew the game was up and faded away. It was all a bit inevitable. What we really needed then, and desperately need now, was to be locked in a room until the fight was won. Blair’s true opposition inside the Labour Party wasn’t the left. It was Brown. And we all know how that turned out.
In about 21 days, about a quarter of a million members of the Labour Party will receive leadership election ballot papers. Sadly, membership numbers will be swelled by rather too many Trots and Tories to whom some idiot decided to give a vote for the sum of £3, but we will all have a vote.
I expect that Jeremy Corbyn will come last. A lot of people don’t agree. They include some pollsters who told us that a Tory majority was impossible in May 2015, and some bookies, including the one who had to pay me £450 because I thought a Tory majority wasn’t impossible but rather impossible to avoid.
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If you didn’t see defeat coming, you don’t understand how politics works.

May 20th, 2015

It’s at least ten years since anyone paid attention to what I think about politics, if they cared even then. But the last five years have been very frustrating and if I don’t get what follows below out of my system soon I’ll have an aneurism which would be very bad on top of the subdural and arachnoid brain haematoma I suffered in March at the hands of the hit and run driver who knocked me off my bike.

I know that an absence of rancour, a positive attitude and looking forward not back are in order. I know that the public in both the UK and the Scottish part of it need Labour rationally and calmly to hold both majority governments to account and I am sure that those responsible for doing those things in the Labour Party will do them just fine. For now though, I’ve waited over a week but I’ve seen nothing yet to make me feel positive about anything. The August 2013 Syria vote aside, I’m as angry as I’ve been about politics for decades. I’m angry about a few other things too, so apologies in advance for the splenetic tone of what follows.

We lost the 2015 general election in September 2010 and probably also the 2020 one as well. The result was bad for Labour but catastrophic for the millions of people who rely on us to look after their interests. We let them down, and badly. If the Labour Party – a major controlling proportion of it – doesn’t rapidly accept that the only chance to make amends is to stand in the centre ground, shoulder to shoulder with, listening to, working for the British people, and fight and win elections from there, then it will cease to exist and it will deserve to die.

Without the will and the means to win elections we are irrelevant. We might as well be Compass or a whelk stall.

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Rotherham: a case study in the laws of political mob dynamics

February 7th, 2015

Paul Lakin and Mahroof Hussain: a combined 28 years of loyal service to the people of Rotherham and to the Labour Party

 

I recently wrote of my terror at the prospect of a mob in full flow. On Wednesday I witnessed one first hand. It wasn’t as terrifying as a gang of religious thugs stoning to death a gay man who’d had the temerity to survive being thrown from a seven-story building, but it was frightening in its own context nonetheless. Seven decent, honourable people doing righteous public service for very little reward were hounded out of office in Rotherham, by a mob whipped up by a partial government report that has condemned the very people who had finally started to get a grip on the chaos and confusion that has hurt so many in that town.

Over the last 30 years, I suppose it’s possible I’ve met a braver politician with more integrity than Paul Lakin but I can’t recall one and I’ve shaken the hand of Nelson Mandela. If you think that’s hyperbole you’ve never had a friend who suffered sexual abuse from the age of eight and seen her shake uncontrollably at its mere recall many years later, or heard her scream out in her sleep, as I have. If you believe I don’t take sexual abuse seriously enough then stop reading now, I can’t help you and you will learn nothing here.

Paul Lakin and his team rolled up their sleeves when many others headed for the hills, and they were making good progress. Lakin was the Leader of Rotherham Borough Council from 10 September 2014 until Wednesday 4 February 2015. It was the interregnum between the Jay report and this week’s Casey report, shall we say? During those 146 days he put his heart, soul and considerable personal capital into serving the people of Rotherham who are today worse off for his absence as their council leader. Among their number are many survivors and victims of child sexual abuse.

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A good man put his words into action.

February 6th, 2015

Councillor Paul Lakin, then Leader of Rotherham Council, addressed a meeting of the full Council on Wednesday 10 September 2014. Given this week’s parliamentary statement by Pickles, it is worth setting out what Paul said in full. Some people say he was in denial. Nigel Farage alleges, libellously, that he and his cabinet were complicit in sexual abuse. Let’s have a look shall we? Interestingly, when he had finished his statement the entire room applauded including the full contingent of UKIP Councillors, 10 of them I believe, and the motion which formalised it was passed without opposition. I watched them all put their hands up. Paul said:

‘The people of Rotherham have been let down badly, and for too many years, by several agencies in this town, over the sexual abuse and exploitation of many of our children and young people.

‘Those children had the right to expect better of us, and we failed them. The Council accepts its responsibility and its full share of the blame for that failure, and I want to start by placing on the record, on behalf of the whole Council, our sincere and unreserved apology, to all the victims and their families, for the suffering they have endured over the years.

‘I am – we are – deeply, deeply sorry.

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But-ing. Let us count the ways to but.

January 25th, 2015

The steady advance of theocratic fascism with its multiple unspeakable acts of violence in scores of venues all around the world in an attempt to create a global caliphate forcing the rest of us to live under the Sharia is really, really bad.

Most people agree with this but there are lots of people who find a way to qualify it with a “but”. Let us count the ways.

Theocratic terrorism is very bad…

  1. But America has a foreign policy of which we should disapprove
  2. But lots of Muslims consider cartoons of the prophet insulting.
  3. But religion is important and we need to respect people’s faith.
  4. But would we want to see negative representations of black and gay people?
  5. But religion is the same as race.
  6. But Israel kills a lot of people too.
  7. But we shouldn’t gratuitously insult people.
  8. But these terrorists are just petty criminals.
  9. But these terrorists should be ridiculed.
  10. But we invaded Iraq.
  11. But they are trying to provoke us so, if we allow ourselves to be provoked, they’ve won.
  12. But we should consider whether we would publish these cartoons as part of our normal editorial policy.
  13. But there is no threat to us.
  14. But it is important not to over-react to acts of pure barbarism.

I must have missed some. Anyone seen any others?

Laugh if you can, but be afraid.

January 23rd, 2015
ISIS

The red bit is controlled by theocratic fascists. Not much to laugh about.

 

I like Dan Hannan. I rarely agree with him, many of his views are politically toxic, but I respect him. He’s a right-wing Conservative, self-described as coming from the Whig tradition, and he’s an MEP. He was a high profile supporter of the People’s Pledge, the campaign for an In-Out referendum on the EU, and I was its Director. We used to do a little double act banter at fund-raising dinners: he would do the highbrow politics and the Euroscepticism; I would do the lowbrow campaigning and the Europhilia. He wants the UK to leave the EU; I want us to stay a member.

Dan is extremely good company and the most dangerous sort of political opponent there is: he understands your position better than you do and he respects it. He is well read, well prepared and unfailingly polite. If the Trots had done their Trotskyism Dan Hannan style, they’d be running the Labour Party by now.

Because I take Dan seriously, it was with some sadness that I read his reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders, and I scribble this blog post with considerable trepidation.

He introduces several dichotomies: we are asked to believe that the Charlie massacre was not an act of holy war but merely a crime; the perpetrators concerned not soldiers, but common criminals, not religious zealots but pathetic figures. And then, rather strangely, he suggests the public policy response to Islamism should be to ignore its stated rationale as mere self-description, and subject it to ridicule. Seriousness or ridicule are his choices.

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