Thursday, April 10, 2014

DOUBLE STANDARDS ON DEMONSTRATIONS AND OCCUPATIONS IN UKRAINE

It was pure humbug of William Hague, in a recent foreign policy debate in the House, to criticise the anti-government protests and occupations, in Donetsk and other Russian-speaking cities in the east of Ukraine, and to claim that these events bore all the hallmarks of a Russian strategy to destabilize Ukraine. And that they conducted as a consequence of Russian meddling – rather than being motivated by genuine worries and concerns for their future, on the part of the protestors, in the Post-coup Ukraine. He said that there could be no justification for the protestors actions. Yet how can it be suddenly reprehensible and illegitimate for gatherings and mobs in those cities to occupy government buildings, in order to register their disapproval of the new, unelected government in Ukraine, when it was quite okay and acceptable for mobs and protest groups to occupy government buildings in Kiev and Lvov, in protest against the then government; and in some cases even ransacking and setting buildings on fire? And in Lvov even stealing weapons and arms from government arsenals. And indeed it was under the force and threats of those mobs – a good number of whom had violent intentions, others who were armed, and some of whom are openly fascistic in ideology – that a democratically elected Prime Minister and government were forced out of office, and had literally to flee in fear for their lives. Indeed those rioters were almost viewed as freedom fighters by many Western politicians. And certainly not the manipulated hooligans and wreckers the protesters in the East are deemed to be by those same politicians. Mr Hague, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, claimed that agents of Moscow were the behind the scenes manipulators and string pullers of those protests and occupations in Eastern Ukraine. But what about all the American and European politicians, and EU bureaucrats, who egged on and encouraged the anti-government rioters in Kiev, that overthrew by force a democratic government, and which has opened up a Pandora’s Box of chaos and instability in that unfortunate country. That was blatant, one might say, arrogant, intervention into the politics of a foreign country, which is neither a member of the EU or NATO, by meddling outsiders who should have known better. Indeed using Mr Hague’s rationale you could have dismissed the protesters in Maidan Square in Kiev as being the benighted stooges and patsies of the US State Department, the EU and NATO.

Of course you can diminish or deny altogether the legitimacy of any protest or demonstration, anywhere, by claiming that it has been stitched up and fabricated by unseen outside agents, with their own agenda. This has been done repeatedly in the past, and in particularly during the Cold War years, to deny genuine historical grievances and long standing social injustices in certain countries, by claiming that strikes and protests had all been fabricated and stage managed by sinister outside elements. And that those protesting were therefore, by local extension, just the mindless patsies and pawns of sinister outside forces. Though if people are dismissed as patsies and stooges, of external forces, it’s a way not merely of ignoring their arguments and grievances, but of actually denying their civil, and even human rights. Since they are no longer autonomous individuals who can make up their own minds and take their own decisions, but the mere tools and instruments of external forces.

As always, whether it’s Labour, Tory, or Con-Lib governments, our foreign policy always seems to be, by grim and implacable default, a carbon copy of whatever policy emanates, at any given time, from the State Department. And with a few honourable and thoughtful exceptions, the whole Westminster political class seems to go along with that line like a pack of sheep. They did it over Iraq and Afghanistan, with disastrous effect, and they are doing it over Ukraine now. It’s small wonder that Mr Hague’s fellow Tory MP, Edward Leigh – a politician who takes an admirable, independent line on this, and other foreign policy issues – has described our current foreign secretary as a NeoCon.

We have seen some news footage of a politician from Eastern Ukraine, in the parliament in Kiev, who dared to criticise the new adhoc government, and pointed out the obvious fact that the occupation of public  buildings in the East was no worse than the occupation of public buildings that took place in the West (though of course attended with much loss of life in that case); but he was unable to finish his speech, as some men from the fascist Svoboda Party, forcibly removed him from the lectern, resulting in a fist fight between antagonistic members of that assembly. There is other TV footage of government officials and bureaucrats, and the head of a TV station, being physically threatened and intimidated by self-appointed enforcers from the far right. And people have been pushed out of their jobs by such means. Though we have heard hardly anything from leading Western politicians about these disgraceful actions. It is only the activities in the East that arouses their criticism. Is this actually the kind of ‘democracy’ we want to see established in Ukraine, where elected members of parliament aren’t even able to make speeches that offend the new orthodoxy, and are dragged from platforms and roughed up by the heavy mob. Well it’s certainly not my idea of a functioning democracy.

It is a tragedy of our times that the leaders of the main Western nations, seem to be, particularly in the field of foreign affairs, a rather second rate and unimaginative bunch. They seem to lack an historical imagination; that might enable them to look at the full complexity of events, rather than just fitting them into a current, convenient geopolitical agenda. When what we need at present – to build bridges with the East, rather than blow them, up – are politicians of the calibre of Charles De Gaulle or Willy Brandt.

What is needed in Ukraine – isn’t the strident megaphone diplomacy between the East and West of that country, egged on by cynical outside forces; or gagging and roughing up politicians who dare to express independent views – but serious dialogue between representatives of the different regions and ethnic groups in that politically divided and fragile nation. Perhaps with a new constitution, with federal, devolved and decentralised powers, drawn up, to make all the diverse populations feel that they have some say and participation in the governance of the country. Otherwise it could split apart like former Yugoslavia. And there is even the nightmare prospect of civil war. And if that came about then, as Nigel Farage recently said, Western politicians who fatefully meddled in that country’s complex internal affairs will have to take their share of the blame as well.  

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

RUSSIA, NATO, and the WEST

I don’t often agree with Nigel Farage; but when he said, in the first of his television debates with the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, that the EU had blood on its hands, in their recent, calamitous intervention into Ukrainian politics, I think he was spot on. They did help to stir up the people, of Western Ukraine, into believing that the entry to the EU would be that nation’s salvation. Despite the fact that the EU has helped to reduce the Southern European nations, from Portugal to Greece, to beggary and bankruptcy, by means of the botched and ill-fated Euro currency. Their intervention, alongside US politicians – and perennial war hawks, like Senator McCain – helped to open up the deep cultural fissures in that politically fragile nation, between the East and the West; between those who favour closer ties with Russia, and those that favour closer ties with the West – and has thus helped to create the chaotic and shambolic situation we see in that country today. (While at the same time, despite all the evidence before them, they turned a blind eye to the dark, neo-Nazi forces, that jumped on the anti-government bandwagon in Ukraine, and that helped to topple the democratically elected Yanukovyich government. Though those reactionary, right-wing parties want nothing whatsoever to do with the EU).

Of course Liberals, like Nick Clegg, have a ludicrously romanticised view of the EU. As if it’s an entity that doesn’t make mistakes or can’t do anything wrong. Even when it’s helping to create mayhem through bungling interventions into the heated internal political debates in foreign nations. (Indeed when the unelected Eurocrat Manuel Barroso arrogantly stated that there could be no ‘third party negotiations’, involving Russia in the dialogue between the EU and the Ukraine, he helped, by arbitrarily closing off that option, to bring about the political debacle we see today in that country. As a result, Ukraine, which could have been a bridge between Russia and the West, has instead become a barrier).  But then, Nick Clegg and others, were so starry eyed about the EU, they were even willing for us to sign up to the ill-fated Euro Currency. Something that could well have seen our economy go down the plughole.

In a recent speech President Obama said that the Russian move into Crimea, and the incorporation of Crimea, by means of a referendum, back into Russia, was a greater crime than the American war against, and occupation of, Iraq. He must think we’re all living in cloud-cuckoo-land if expects people to accept that ludicrous analysis. Crimea is adjacent to Russia, it was a former territory of Russia, that was arbitrarily gifted to Ukraine, in the Fifties, by the communist dictator, Khrushchev, when both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union. It has a majority Russian speaking population that wishes to return to Russia; and has just registered that fact through a referendum. And it is the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sebastopol. Iraq by contrast is thousands of miles from American shores, and is an entirely separate nation, with a different culture, language and religions. The Russian operation in Crimea was, apart from one or two regrettable incidents, almost entirely non-violent. There was no real resistance, because most of the people were pro-Russian, as well as being profoundly alienated by recent events in Kiev and the West of Ukraine, where they saw a prime minister they legally voted for, driven from power by a militant mob. Indeed entire naval and army units went over to the Russian side, including a former admiral in the Ukrainian navy, of their own volition. Contrast all this to the bloodbath in Iraq that followed the invasion and occupation of that country by US and UK forces. With countless numbers of fatalities and injuries; with sectarian conflict, and ethnic cleansing. With millions of people driven from their homes, and into exile abroad. And with huge material and cultural damage. And of course all based on a cynical pack of lies about non-existent weapons of mass destruction, and alleged connections between Saddam and Al Qaeda that were conjured out of thin air by the spin doctors and propagandists. And indeed it is  a conflict which is, tragically still ongoing, with almost ten thousand people killed in Iraq, through terrorist attacks and armed clashes, last year alone. And of course there is the added factor that none of the politicians and ideologues who brought about that futile, murderous, unwanted conflict, have been brought to book, for the consequences of their actions, or even had so much as a rap across the knuckles for all the evils and suffering they brought about.

Are the West and America now intent on forcing the people of the Crimea back into the Ukrainian state, when they have just voted, in a referendum to leave it, and join up with Russia. If so, then it would be in total violation of the democratic rights of those people – and in breach of all the values, of self-determination, liberty and freedom of choice, that these powers openly espouse in public speeches and political declarations. (At the same time that they are uncritically backing a coup led regime in Kiev that threw out a democratically elected leader). Whether we like it or not the people of Crimea have voted to leave Ukraine, and re-join the Russian motherland; and any attempt to reverse that move would only result in violence and mayhem.

We have had pompous speeches and warnings from NATO chiefs about how Russian actions have threatened the security of the whole of Europe. And NATO has even arbitrarily severed all cooperation with Russia, even in matters of combating international drugs trafficking. Hardly something that is the interests of people across the world; through it must be very pleasing to the drugs gangs themselves.

It is NATO which has threatened the security of Europe, with its aggressive expansionism east, taking in former Warsaw Pact states, and the Baltic nations, and thus threatening Russia with military encirclement. It even wished at one point to co-opt Ukraine and Georgia as members (with the backing of America and the British Labour government at the time; though fortunately more sensible members of the organisation vetoed that foolish and dangerous move). Indeed think of  what a catastrophic mess we would be in today if Ukraine had been a member of NATO? We could almost literally be in the Third World War. For NATO, the so called peace dividend, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, didn’t exist; and it, a Cold War creation, acted as if the Cold War was still ongoing and Mr Brezhnev was still in the Kremlin. Gorbachev himself has said on more than one occasion, that he was given categorical assurances by American leaders at the time, that in a show of goodwill, following the collapse of the Communist Bloc, and the regained independence and sovereignty of the former Warsaw Pact states, that there would be no expansion east, into former Warsaw Pact nations, on the part of NATO. That agreement was cynically reneged upon, and NATO’s eastward expansion was given the go ahead. Thus the eastern expansion of NATO was based on a monumental act of bad faith, and far from bringing peace and security to the continent, has helped to create the dangerous standoff between the West and Russia, which we see today. For understandable reasons Russia has a fear of being encircled by military adversaries; seeing that it was invaded twice by European powers in the last century. And of course had it lost to the Nazis in World War Two, the West would have gone down as well, and there would certainly be no NATO around today.

What is increasingly alarming is the aggressive stance of NATO, at the behest of its political paymasters in America and other nations, over recent years; and its propensity to take part in conflicts, that are geographically way outside of its traditional zone. Indeed it is no wonder that they are called out of area operations. It was NATO that toppled Colonel Gadhafi; though Libya is nowhere near the North Atlantic. And in the process left that country as a divided, shambolic, faction ridden society, with rival armed militia groups at war with each other for the spoils, and a so called government that is hardly in control of the capital, Tripoli. Militant Al Qaeda groups have capitalised on the turmoil; and as one commentator said it has become the Tesco’s for arms dealers and gun runners. Its small wonder that Mr Cameron, who once crowed from the rooftops about what a successful mission that was, hardly mentions it in polite society any longer. Whatever the circumstances of NATO’s creation, it has now become an aggressive war machine, with an almost neo-Imperialist agenda. And it certainly hasn’t brought about peace and democracy in its latest actions.

There seems to be a dangerous mood of anti-Russian hysteria in America and the West, at the present time. We saw that in the negative coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which were rubbished in press coverage, as a cynical propaganda show, mired in graft and corruption, and that was staged by Putin merely to burnish his image. In Britain this anti-Russian mood, with a few admitted exceptions, seems to be the political consensus in all the three main parties. Though when the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems, join in to espouse the same political consensus, and to sing from the same hymn sheet, you can start to smell a rat. What is alarming is that some of the most hysterical anti-Russian rhetoric comes from members of the Labour Party. You’d think that some of those people were born again NeoCons from the heated language they use. Have they learned anything from the blunders and follies of the Blair years? It seems not.                                                            

Putin is no political saint. There are elements of graft and corruption in the Russian state. (As in many others across the world). But to fix Putin up as public enemy number one, and to demonise Russia, almost at times in racist terms, isn’t good for peace, democracy, or international co-operation. And  it’s something we can’t afford, politically, or economically.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

EVENTS IN UKRAINE

Mr Kerry, the American Secretary of State, in response to Russian forces occupying strategic areas of the Crimean Peninsula, as the crisis in Ukraine unfolds, has said, by way of censure and criticism, that: ‘You just don’t in the Twenty First Century behave in a Nineteenth Century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped up pretext.’ That’s a bit rich, coming from an American politician; when we have had a succession of American invasions of sovereign nations, and unilateral exercises in regime-change, from Iraq to Afghanistan; none of which have been successful, or achieved anything near the stated objectives. And in the case of Iraq has led to death and destruction on an epic scale.  

We have seen the Gadhafi regime in Libya toppled by NATO, with American participation; which may have got rid of a dictator, but which hasn’t led to peace and stability in that troubled and divided nation. And moreover these countries were far away from American shores, and with which it shared little prior political or cultural relationships with.

Whatever one’s views of Russian intervention in Crimea, it is a place with strong cultural, political and historic associations with Russia. It has a majority Russian-speaking population; it is the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sebastopol; and prior to Khrushchev handing it to Ukraine (without of course asking the local populace if they were happy about such a move) in 1954, it was actually part of Russia. (Indeed, imagine if we had some unelected dictator in the UK, who decided, on a whim, to gift the Channel Islands to France as a goodwill gesture, without asking the people who lived on those islands, or in the rest of the UK, what they felt about such a transfer of sovereignty? I don’t think that such a move would go down at all well with the ordinary man or woman in the street). As so often with American foreign policy, it is a matter of almost institutionalised double-standards; of do as I say not do as I do; and espousing pristine principles which can be effortlessly bypassed by an appeal to American exceptionalism.

Events in Ukraine and Kiev over recent weeks and days, which have led to this crisis, have been hailed by some foreign politicians and commentators as a spontaneous revolution on behalf of the downtrodden masses, in that country, to unseat and overthrow a dictatorial and oppressive regime. But was it as simplistic, black and white, and one might almost say, as melodramatic as that? Was it a contest of good versus evil, with the West and democratic freedom fighters on one side, and a corrupt regime, and Mr Putin, on the other?

However you might paint it, this was the overthrow of a democratically elected government, and the ousting of a leader who came to power, through the ballot box, in an entirely lawful and constitutional manner. And his removal was brought about by an organised and impassioned, and in some cases violent mob, with much outside, American and European support and encouragement. Indeed a significant number of the more virulent and violent protesters in Maidan Square and elsewhere in Kiev and Western Ukraine, were members of extremist, nationalist Neo-Nazi Parties, espousing an intolerant, racist and anti-democratic ideology. (Though Nazism, or Neo-Nazism, is a curious ideology for people in that part of the world to espouse, seeing that Hitler hated Slavs almost as much as he hated Jews). Indeed you only have to look at some of the news footage of Maidan Square in Kiev, to see where a whole, substantial block of buildings has been burnt out and gutted, to appreciate that this wasn’t a peaceful, non-violent protest.

Mr Yanokovich was far from an ideal politician (though of course there aren’t too many of those about, East or West) – he had his enemies, and made mistakes; particularly over his handling of recent negotiations with the EU – but is that a justification for a mob to take the law into their own hands and to remove him and his government by force? (And in the process creating a political and social vacuum at the heart of power in Ukraine). If they disliked him, his government and its policies – as clearly many people did – they only had to wait a year or so for an election, to vote him out of office and elect another leader and government, to power, with a different policy agenda.

Indeed what kind of legitimacy has a government, that was literally cobbled together on the streets of Kiev, that was brought to power by a militant mob, that has no democratic mandate, and that has alienated much of the East and South of the country, who voted for Mr Yanokovich and his Party of the Regions? And which to add to the lunacy has passed a law, though with what real legitimacy, which has removed Russian as the second language of Ukraine. Though it is a language that is spoken by a significant minority of the nation, particularly in the West and South of the country; and by a clear majority in Crimea. That ludicrous ‘law’, makes, at a stroke, millions of Russian speakers into second class citizens in their own country; and can only stoke further division and resentment in that divided, troubled and bankrupt nation. If they deliberately wanted to foster division and even separation in the country, or even provoke a Yugoslav style civil war, they couldn’t have gone about it a better way.

To add to the absurdity this new, adhoc government, in Kiev, has announced that it is sending out some wealthy unelected oligarchs, like so many latter day Proconsuls, to provinces in the East and South, more sympathetic to Russia, in order to try to win those restive populations over. A ploy that is almost certain to fail in its objectives. Especially when one considers that it is the influence of oligarchs on successive governments which is the source of much of the graft and corruption of Ukrainian politics.

Do the impassioned feelings of a significant number of disgruntled people amount to sufficient justification for ousting and overturning a democratically elected leader? One might recall that many millions of people in the UK, at the time, hated Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax – they thought it unfair and discriminatory (indeed there was the slogan at the time: ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’); and thousands of people went onto the streets in noisy rallies and protests, to show their disapproval. Others broke the law by deliberately refusing to pay the tax. And some were sent to jail because of that. And it was so unpopular, it proved to be unworkable in practise, and was eventually dropped. But I don’t think there were many people, outside the ranks of the Trotskyite and revolutionary left, who would have claimed that this would have given them the right to ditch our democratic procedures and overthrow an elected government by force, and put in a new one, drawn from the streets, in its place? And if Ukrainian and Russian politicians had turned up in London and other UK cities to encourage and egg on these revolutionary anti-government mobs, and to hand them cakes and cookies, it would have been thought to have been a great impertinence.

Prior to the sudden changeover of power in Ukraine, the anti-government protestors, activists and spokespeople, rejected almost any and every compromise that the Yanakovich government  made with them, in order to avoid the chaos and disruption we have since seen. When he sacked some controversial ministers, it had no effect, as they only accepted their own absolutist and rejectionist agenda. And they even reneged on a solemn agreement they undertook – negotiated between some of their representatives and the Yanokovich government, with the active participation  of the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland – to hold a general election later in the year, to seek to resolve matters through a legitimate, democratic and constitutional manner. That agreement was binned and rejected by the mobs on the streets, who were acting as the self-appointed leaders of the nation. That would have been the ideal way out of the impasse, and might have helped to cool the emotional temperature down a little.  But that was torn up by the opposition, before the ink was dry on the paper – though without eliciting a pipsqueak of protest from European and American politicians, for the bad faith that entailed.

The violence continued, government buildings were ransacked, police officers and security personnel were taken prisoner, people were killed, on both sides, and Mr Yanokovich and other members of his government had to flee from Kiev, under threats to their lives. Indeed, in a later speech to the media, Mr Yanokovich even said that the lives of his grandchildren were threatened by those mobs. Hardly what one would call the evidence of a liberal or democratic movement? In their zeal and avidity to get the Ukraine out of the Russian orbit and into the Western camp – into the embrace of the EU and NATO – American and European politicians, and EU bureaucrats, have deliberately downplayed the role of the radical far right in these recent events, and have virtually ignored the views and the interests of those who live in the East and the South of the country. They have tried to impose their own template on the country, in their own political interests, while ignoring political, cultural and historical reality. All to disastrous effect.

Mr Yanokovich – who had been on the run since leaving office, and has recently surfaced in Russia, where he addressed the media - has been treated, by the new adhoc government in Ukraine, as the universal scapegoat, on which to heap all the ills and evils on the system. They have shown images of his luxurious residence, and the expensive baubles and luxuries he possessed, in order to demonise his character, and to make him out to be some kind of plunderer in chief. (Though I suspect that if a rampaging mob of disaffected citizens stormed the Elysee Palace, or the White House, or various other Western presidential palaces, they might be shocked and taken aback at some of the luxuries and riches they might see there, but which are normally off limits to members of the public.  Indeed it has been reported that President Hollande’s mistress, and first lady, Valerie Trierweiler, destroyed two and half  million quid’s worth of luxury items, including an exquisite Louis XVI Sevres vase - money that the French taxpayers will have to stump up – when she went on the rampage after being told that she was to be dumped in favour of another woman, and before being taken to a hospital for some rest and recuperation). The fact is that the Ukrainian political system as a whole is almost a byword for graft and corruption, you might even call it a kleptocracy, and has been ever since it became an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It’s doubtful if Mr Yanokovich was any more crooked and corrupt that his predecessors in office. And if the spotlight had been turned on their private lives, in the same manner, it would have probably been to similar effect. Ukrainian power politicians and leaders have frequently been superrich oligarchs who used power to increase their own wealth, even at the expense of the general good. Mr Yanokovich was no exception to that rule. (Indeed his predecessor, as Prime Minister, Yulio Tymoshenko – now released from jail, and who many are flagging up as the country’s saviour – had a rather shady business background, herself, before entering the political arena. She is herself, like so many other Ukrainian politicians, a fabulously wealthy oligarch, who acquired her fortune through some dodgy business deals; and then used her wealth to bankroll her political career).

This sinister synergy between private wealth and political power perhaps explains why Ukraine – which has considerable natural resources, developed industries, and an intelligent and well educated populace – is, despite all those advantages, such a basket case that it is in danger of an economic meltdown, if it doesn’t receive a huge multi-billion injection of funds from some outside source. (And the mere five hundred million Euros that the EU offered the country, in recent negotiations, was peanuts, up to the vast sums the country actually needs to keep itself afloat; though the EU has spent astronomical amounts of money trying to shore up the deeply flawed and malfunctioning Euro currency).

An article in the Mail gave a list of fabulously wealthy Ukrainian oligarchs, who are sitting on a fortune, just in the UK alone. How did they get hold of all that money, and siphon it abroad, when it could be of such tangible use to the struggling Ukrainian people, and help to shore up a badly damaged and malfunctioning economy? There is something rotten in the state of Ukrainian politics, and that won’t be cured by merely blaming and stigmatising one politician, or trying to finger, as the right-wing press and various commentators are trying to do, Mr Putin, as some sinister manipulator of events behind the scenes. It isn’t just a change of parties and personalities that is required; the whole system needs opening up and reforming.

We have had some all too typical, right-wing, Putin-bashing, anti-Russian hysteria, from the press and politicians. In a recent debate in parliament, some politicians, known for their enthusiasm for Neo-con adventurism, and the projection of American and NATO power, criticised Russia for pursuing the politics of ‘spheres of influence’. Though you never heard them use such language when George W. Bush was on the rampage.

This year is the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, one of the most murderous and destructive conflicts in human history. A war that was initiated through a series of cack-handed, diplomatic cockups and blunders; and which went on to destroy millions of lives and wipe out old  empires and dynasties that had been around for hundreds of years. Unfortunately the politicians and bureaucrats of the present day, pursuing their blinkered, purblind agendas, don’t seem to have leaned any significant lessons from past blunders and mistakes.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

HOW CAN WE REFORM PMQs? BY GETTING RID OF IT ALTOGETHER

The Speaker of House, John Bercow, has recently complained about the raucous and boisterous nature of the Commons during PMQs (Prime Ministers Question Time). He has said that it is too loud and bellicose and ‘testerone fuelled’; with an abundance of yobbery and ‘public school twittishness’ – that puts off women, and indeed a great mass of the public. That is undoubtedly true – especially the point about it being deeply unappreciated by the watching and the paying public. But I’m afraid that that is the nature of the beast; and it is unlikely to change in the future. Indeed it is almost predesigned, like the format of some noisy celebrity TV show, to produce the same dismal and unimpressive results we see on an all too regular basis.

There is no great antiquity about PMQs. Though it does seem to have been around for ever. It is indeed a quite recent edition, relatively speaking, to parliamentary procedures. Some of our greatest political and parliamentary figures – Lloyd George, Churchill and Attlee – were able to exercise power without the additional complication of this dubious weekly ritual.

It was introduced to parliament some sixty years ago, by Harold Macmillan. (Though despite his laid back patrician/Edwardian demeanour, he was said to be physically sick, through stress and tension, prior to each appearance at PMQs). Macmillan was a smart, savvy politician, who got it right on many things. But this wasn’t one of his greatest innovations.

It is the open ended and rather formless nature of PMQs that makes it so useless, and helps to turn it into a ridiculous weekly pantomime that puts off voters in their droves. As Tony Benn once said, PMQs has more planted questions than Gardeners Question Time on the radio. Snide, partisan questions are routinely asked – there are empty party slogans and facile rhetorical flourishes, by the bucketful – and the sessions are often accompanied by jibes, taunts, insults, hoots, whistles, jeers, and finger jabbing – as politicians try to trip each other up, or make cheap partisan points, of little or no relevance to the wider public. There may be some honourable exceptions to the rule; but they are the minority. PMQs are primarily for Westminster insiders. They don’t seem to resonate beyond the Chamber. And on the rare occasions that they do it is usually to the accompaniment of negative emotions. Indeed at times during PMQs, the House often resembles a sour, bad tempered football stadium, during some heated derby match. This weekly ritual, which generates more heat than light and produces more noise than information, might appeal to and even excite the tribal party loyalists, on message ideologues, political trainspotters and anoraks,  parliamentary sketch writers, and other denizens of the Westminster bubble, but it all too frequently wafts by the watching public like a dissolving mist. Indeed it must seem at times to have about as much relevance to daily life as the obscurantist war dance of some primitive tribe.

Some apologists for this weekly ritual say that it is necessary, so that Prime Ministers can become accountable to the House, and through that, to the wider public. But Prime Ministers, and other politicians, can communicate with the electorate and the wider public, through a multiplicity of means; through speeches, interviews, press conferences, newspaper articles – and even through means such as Twitter and Facebook. And of course on the floor of the House, in debates on key issues and topics that regularly arise. We live after all in a media age of rolling, one might say unremitting, round the clock news coverage. If anything we see too much of leaders and politicians, these days; and they seem to be ubiquitous, and want to comment on anything and everything, including about soap operas and court cases. Indeed during the recent flood crisis politicians seemed to be falling over each other to be seen in photo calls in the affected areas, even if it probably got in the way of emergency and rescue workers.

It is what leaders and governments do and achieve, for good or ill, that is of account, and that will be remembered by the public; not how premiers and other politicians perform at PMQs. That is just part of the theatre and vaudeville of power, not its substance.

The only way to reform PMQs is to get rid of it altogether. I believe that that in itself, without any other positive initiative to add to it, would raise the standing and status of politicians. Though once some ritual like this is established, it is hard to get rid of it, even if it is of little use or purpose.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

BRITISH EXPATS FIGHTING ON THE AL QAEDA FRONT IN SYRIA

There has been some very disturbing news, of late, about what some British Muslim fanatics have been up to in Syria. We know that hundreds of extremists have flocked from the UK, along with hundreds and thousands of others from the rest of Europe, and around the world, to join forces with Al Qaeda, or Al Qaeda related groups, to wage war in Syria, on behalf of some ultra-purist, and ultra-fanatical, Islamic Caliphate. We know that a number of UK citizens have been killed in combat, including two brothers – seen on a photo posted on the web, brandishing weapons and smiling at the camera. We have heard of the first known British suicide bomber – who blew himself while driving an explosive laden truck into the perimeter wall of a jail in Aleppo. Now we have disturbing footage of some British fanatics actually torturing bound captives in Syria. One is shown being beaten with an iron bar, as the attacking zealots shout their slogans. These captives weren’t Syrian troops, or irregulars, in support of the Assad government, but were members of the opposition forces. People one would have thought that they would have been in support of, in the common goal of removing Assad. They were members of the FSA, the Free Syrian army, who were captured. Some of these people were barbarically tortured for allegedly insulting Islam. It’s clear from this that these people are at war, not just with Assad, but with the more secular, domestic opposition as well; and that, as a consequence of this and a host of other actions, we may well be seeing the germination of a civil war within the civil war, in Syria, between the Jihadists and the rest. Though it didn’t take a genius to realise that once Al Qaeda, and its ghastly international brigade of foreign fighters, got involved in this conflict, they would show no tolerance for those who disagreed with or dissented from their fanatical, totalitarian views, whether they  supported or opposed Assad. These people are fighting for a totalitarian theocracy, not an open society or a liberal democracy. The sobering thought is that many of these battle experienced jihadists will be returning to the UK at some point; as not all of them will be killed or taken prisoner. And it hardly seems likely that they will calmly settle down to domestic life and desist from their fanatical agenda on their return to our shores. All this makes the vociferous campaign by various Western leaders to actually arm the opposition forces – and their reluctance, up till recently, to seriously consider the peace option, with actual negotiations involving the Syrian government as well as the opposition – even more puzzling and perturbing. Though to add to the universal idiocy, we have recently heard that a thirty five year old man of Moroccan origin – an individual who was lauded by Tony Blair; and who infiltrated extremist Islamic groupings, at great risk, to pass on vital information to the Intelligence services – is to be deported from the UK, because of a criminal record; though he has a partner here and a three year old daughter. Thus we have the ludicrous situation of a country that gives sanctuary, with social security and housing benefit often thrown in, to fanatics, who would be all too happy to blow us up – together with a failure to deport terrorist supporting jihadists, to foreign nations, where they are wanted on criminal charges – while booting out someone who has courageously helped us in the fight against terrorism and extremism. If this is the way we treat friends, then how do we expect to recruit others to enter fanatical, terrorist supporting networks, in order to pass on vital information to the authorities?

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

WHY THE SCOTTISH INDEPEDENCE REFERENDUM DEBATE SHOULD BE A TORY FREE ZONE

David Cameron recently made a ludicrous ‘phone a friend’ speech – pleading for people outside of Scotland, with Scottish connections, to phone kin or associates north of the border, to plead with them to stay in the Union, come the referendum in that country, later this year. Though tellingly he made that speech south of the border. Was he scared that he might have got the bird had he made it in Scotland itself?

It’s a good job, for the sake of the Union and the preservation of the United Kingdom, that the leadership of the No campaign for the coming referendum, is out of the hands of the Tories – who now have a negligible presence in Scotland in any case – and is headed by the Scottish, Labour, and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling. If it was headed by an Eton educated, Bullingdon Club toff like David Cameron, the No campaign would go down like a lead balloon, as well as providing propaganda gold dust for Alex Salmond and his team. It would be well advised for Tories, particularly old school tie Tories like Cameron, Osborne and Johnson, to take a peripheral role in the campaign, and leave it to others, who have more credibility north of the border, to take the helm, if it is to be effective. They would press all the wrong buttons as far as Scottish sensibilities are concerned, and awaken, old bitter memories of the evangelical Thatcher years – the privatization giveaways and the evisceration of Scottish heavy industries and coal mines – as well as the whole poll tax fiasco, and the cynical way it was rolled out in Scotland a whole year earlier than it was in the rest of the UK.

As Jimmy Reid once remarked, even middle class people in Scotland didn’t buy into the Thatcher Revolution. There was no Scottish equivalent of Essex Man. Margaret Thatcher and her government claimed that they were decentralising economic power and creating a ‘Share Owning Democracy’ (though it was the big corporations and the big city fat cats who were the real beneficiaries of her policies, of privatisation and deregulation, not the ordinary man or woman in the street) – but she was an out and out centraliser of political power, in Westminster and Whitehall, even abolishing the Greater London Council in  the process. She turned a predictable deaf ear to increasing, entirely legitimate, democratic demands that were made for decentralised political powers and an assembly for Scotland. Indeed the very idea of a Scottish assembly was dismissed by some of her ideological associates, as the creation of ‘an extra tier of bureaucracy.’ I think when the dust has settled over this current debate it will be established that Margaret Thatcher was more responsible, though unwittingly so on her part, for the success of separatist forces north of the border, than Alex Salmond and all of the SNP activists and voters put together.

The intervention of businessmen, such as the head of BP, on the referendum debate – as well as the doubts raised by the head of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, concerning the Scottish economy, should it vote for independence – have undoubtedly been more effective, in aiding the No campaign, than anything the Tories, an increasingly spent force north of the border, can say. Just as the earlier statement made by the President of the EU, Manual Barossa, that Scotland would have no automatic, guaranteed entry to the EU, should it opt for independence – much to the chagrin of the pro-Europe SNP – may well have put a spoke into the Yes-vote bandwagon. (Though Mr Barossa and his associates have been rolling out the red carpet for Ukraine to join the club). Indeed many right-wing Tories who have themselves been vociferously, over the years, campaigning to have the UK  pull out of the EU – and who in most if not all cases, one strongly surmises, have been equally committed to Scotland remaining in the UK (and, in some cases indeed, may even have campaigned against devolved powers for Scotland and the creation of an Assembly in the first place) – don’t appear to understand why their ‘logic’ and their arguments seem so hypocritical and contradictory North of the border. In this regard it is no wonder that the head of UKIP, Nigel Farage, got such a rocky reception when he recently went on a campaign trail in Scotland.

Most Scots are committed to autonomy and self-government, but its doubtful if they want to go all the way to full independence, and the creation of a separate sovereign state. Indeed it would mean going through all the expense and palaver of setting up a new army, air force, navy, intelligence service, as well as establishing a separate diplomatic corps, with embassies and consulates all over the world – and spending money, in the process, which could be spent on schools and hospitals instead. Indeed when you consider that Alex Salmond wants an independent Scotland still to have the pound as its currency and the Queen as its official head of state, and to remain in the EU, this pro-independence campaign isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

FLOODS IN SOUTHERN ENGLAND

We have recently had, particularly in the South of England, some of the wettest weather since records began (and according to the forecasters there is even worse to come); resulting in wide spread flooding, tidal surges, and even such damage to the old, famous Brunel railway line linking Cornwall to the rest of the UK, that the line might be out of action for months to come. Villages and towns have been inundated, thousands of people have had to be evacuated from their own homes, livestock has had to be taken from flooded farmlands and roads and railway lines have been cut. And of course there is the worry, trauma and travail that crises like these inevitably entail. And there has been much criticism of the political class during this whole crisis.

No wonder some people in the Somerset Levels, and in other affected areas, have said that if a crisis like this had happened abroad it would have elicited more sympathy and understanding than they seem to have received from the authorities.

There has been much criticism of Lord Smith, head of the gigantic quango, the Environmental Agency, for his lack of visibility during this protracted crisis. He made a quick, brief, visit to the Somerset Levels, a few days ago, had a couple of meetings, issued some bland words and sound bites, refused to admit that mistakes might have been made, and then disappeared again. No wonder Prince Charles had to go down to the flooded areas, to hear what the locals had to say, and to express sympathy for the plight that people are undergoing.

Lord Smith has recently resurfaced on the media, and made a more cogent and detailed case for the activities of the Environmental Agency, than we have heard from him before now – pointing out also that the cutbacks in government spending for his agency, due to the current austerity programme, have restricted the scope of its activities. He also had some pointed things to say about some of recent comments of Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – who seemed to have put some of the blame on the Environmental Agency for the recent crisis; without of course acknowledging that his government has cut the funding of that very agency he criticised. Though in Worcestershire, flood defence systems carried out by the Environmental Agency have effectively protected tens of thousands of people from having their houses inundated, as happened in 2007, despite the floods that have also taken place there as well.

Lord Smith has had some knocking copy. But if you say nothing (and until recently his comments have been few and far between) people might put words in your mouth, or even ascribe malign motives to your actions. People don’t like being left in the dark.  When a crisis happens, people want to see and hear from the guy who is in charge of the relevant department; even if it is just for general information, or even words of comfort and sympathy – and perhaps even humble acknowledgement of failings. Though of course this job is becoming something of a poisoned chalice, and there might not be a queue a mile long for applicants when Lord Smith steps down from his post later this year.

There is, all too typically, a PR, damage limitation, blame-game going on, amongst key politicians and officials, to pass the parcel and see who can be the fall guy who will carry the can for this environmental disaster. But you can’t pin the rap for this on just one man, namely Lord Smith; when there have been huge, collective errors over the years, when it comes to environmental matters – from lack of funding, to building on and concreting over flood plains, to some of the lax, money saving practises of some of the privatised regional water companies – which implicate far more than just the rather hapless current head of the environmental agency, Lord Smith.  No one comes out of this smelling of roses, even if the political class are trying to plant Lord Smith into the manure heap.

And of course there was Mother Nature as well, and the wild, extreme, almost freakish weather patterns we are seeing, not just in the UK, but around the world, that many now put down to Global Warming. (Though of course Global Warming has been consistently dismissed on the part of the right, particularly in the United States, as some collective delusion; though the consensus of scientific opinion is that it is a fact – however inconvenient it might be for the powers that be). Lord Smith hasn’t handled this crisis very well; he’s been invisible at times, when he should have been before the media, and people in affected areas, in order to explain what his agency is doing in this crisis, and what the scope and limitations of its powers are; and of course he has contradicted himself on the whole issue of dredging rivers. But he can no more hold back the tide than King Canute.  Though the recent deluge has been so strong and sustained that even dredging the effected rivers might not have been the universal panacea that some claim it could have been. And now of course the land, in affected areas, is so saturated, that the water has literally nowhere else to go, except up.

Perhaps, in the light of these crises, the Environment Agency should become a full ministry or department of state, rather than being a mere quango, run by appointees, who are generally former party politicians, like Lord Smith. If these extreme and damaging weather patterns, with floods and coastal inundations, are to become, as seems the case, more frequent and common, then there could be a strong argument for this. And perhaps its powers should also be decentralised, so that local people can make local decisions, such as whether particular rivers should be dredged in order to try to mitigate the effects of flooding. Indeed if power stations were to be flooded as a consequence of these extreme weather conditions, then it could result in blackouts for tens of thousands of people and serious economic damage for the country.

What the government could also do, of a positive nature, though it will mean some loss of face and eating of words on the part of politicians of all main parties, is to scrap the grandiose, money-shredding Hs2 rail project, and divert those saved resources, to coastal protection, flood defences, and improvements to the regional railway system. That would be of  far more use for far more people than that grandiose vanity project. Protecting thousands of people from being inundated in their own homes, and farms from having their lands flooded, and reinvigorating the regional transport system, is far more important than building some grandiose and hugely expensive railway line, whose only selling point is that it will help people to get a bit faster between certain designated cities than was the case before.

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

GUFF FROM GOVE ON THE GREAT WAR

We got an extraordinary and petulant outburst from the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, about the First World War – where he lambasted Black Adder, Oh What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer, and assorted academics and historians, for painting, in his view, the wrong picture of that conflict, as a ‘misbegotten shambles’ rather than a just war; for denigrating patriotism, maligning and caricaturing military leaders, such as General Hague, and for looking at that conflict in far too negative a light. And that indeed there was some left-wing conspiracy to depict the war as a needless catastrophe rather than a triumph.

The First World War, because of the huge number of fatalities and casualties involved – and also the confused and baffling nature of its origins; the intricate complexities of which historians are still arguing about to this very day – is not something that will be celebrated (even on the part of the victors) or invested with any kind of positive emotions. Any more than people would celebrate the Bubonic Plague or the Black Death. It was a colossal national and international tragedy, that didn’t even produce a positive peace in its aftermath, or resolve the aggressive nationalistic tendencies that had helped to produce the war in the first place. It will never be regarded in the same way, as the Second World War – and the fight against Nazism and the other Fascist Axis powers – as a conflict between good and evil. And the Kaiser’s Germany, though an authoritarian and militarised nation (and though the Kaiser himself always acted like a spoilt kid), wasn’t a genocidal totalitarian state like Nazi Germany. Just as the War itself was more of a cock-up than a conspiracy.

It was absurd and over the top for Michael Gove to launch a diatribe against the musical Oh What a Lovely War and the Black Adder episode that dealt with the trenches, as being derogatory and demeaning, and indeed part of some Left wing sneer campaign and conspiracy to debunk and belittle those who took part in the war. Though a Tory Minister in a coalition government he sounded like some culture commissar in a Stalinist regime, hectoring writers and comedians about what they can and cannot write and joke about, as laid down by the party line. These were comedy dramas, not academic histories. In criticising them Gove came across as judgemental, pompous and humourless. No one but a fixated obsessive, or a government minister who has had a sense of humour bypass, could take something like Black Adder or the musical Oh What a Lovely War, as being some forensic, documentary account of that terrible conflict. They were a humorous and satirical take, expressed in songs, skits and ribaldry, of the war, from the point of view of ordinary soldiers, at the sharp end. Are jokes about the Great War to be off limits, because the Education Secretary doesn’t care for them, and finds them offensive? No wonder he got a fusillade of criticism, from all quarters, for the absurd remarks he made.

It is part of the British character to debunk and take the mickey out of those in authority – whether it’s the politicians down in Westminster, or the officer class. And one suspects that ribald songs and irreverent stories, by ordinary Tommie’s, at the expense of those in command – and especially those, in the military, and in politics, who were well behind the line – may have been one of the few things that made that hellish war at all bearable or tolerable. Rather like a safety valve that might prevent a boiler from blowing up. Indeed only in a rigid, totalitarian state like North Korea could a blanket humour ban be imposed on a subject such as that. No wonder some critics have compared Mr Gove to some general, well to the rear, sending waves of soldiers over the top on futile frontal attacks against entrenched German lines.

Of course criticism of that war, and its conduct, can’t be just levelled at an episode of Black Adder, Oh What a Lovely War, and at some fashionable media commentators, or modern bolshie historians and academics; as if these were all part of some sinister and nefarious contemporary plot to rewrite history. The literature and first-hand accounts by people who lived through that war, many of which have since gone on to become classics of British literature – the war memoirs, such as Goodbye to all That, By Robert Graves, the play Journey’s End by R C Sheriff; the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg, and so on – paints a far grimmer and darker picture of that hellish conflict, than the rather upbeat and breezy account of that war that Mr Gove proposes. And of course there was the marked contrast, that many bitterly noted at the time, between the strident jingoism of the popular press, and on message politicians, and the grim, sordid reality of the front line; which made communications between soldiers, on leave, and civilians – who only had the antiseptic official accounts and war propaganda to go on – extremely difficult. One can only surmise that if Mr Gove was suddenly dressed in khaki, had a gun placed in his hands, and was transported by the TARDIS to the killing fields of the Western Front, he might have a far different tale to tell himself.

Even if, as some claim, it was a necessary war to combat German aggression and imperialism, it was a hell of a price to pay to effect those ends. It is a war that shouldn’t be forgotten. But it should be commemorated and memorialized, not celebrated. (Though of course that war didn’t stop German nationalism and aggression. That just morphed into another, and far more sinister incarnation, and twenty years later a world war broke out again; involving the very same nations that fought the earlier one). No one, not even a minister with an evangelical agenda, will manage to rehabilitate this war, as far as the public are concerned.

The country is never going to get in line behind some establishment consensus – if one was ever to be concocted; which is very doubtful – in justification of that war. And one suspects that nothing, not even a passionate exhortation by the Minister of Education, is going to turn Sir Douglas Hague, the British military commander at the time, into some kind of national hero, let alone a figure that is held in the regard and affection that some Second World War generals, such as Montgomery and Slim, are held in to this day. Indeed the remote, taciturn, aloof character of Field Marshall Hague – a stiff upper lip merchant if ever there was one – didn’t help matters either. It was a terrible conflict, a bloodbath without precedent in our history, and it will always be a contentious and divisive issue, for as long as we remain any kind of a democracy. And preserving democracy was what the war was primarily about according to Mr Gove. Though it was a democracy that had, and still has, an unelected second chamber, and where women, half the population, were denied the vote. (Though one suspects that for most soldiers at the time, more earthy patriotic sentiments, and thoughts of hearth and home, would have been their motivating sentiments, rather than high-minded stuff about Western civilisation and preserving democracy. And one suspects that all too few of them were thinking about the ‘Western Liberal International Order,’ to use Mr Gove’s words, as they endured artillery barrages or went over the top on nightmarish frontal assaults against German lines). Some phoney and fabricated consensus on an issue like that could only be established in a totalitarian state, which didn’t allow any debate or discussion on the topic.

The main lessons we can draw from that terrible conflict, is that nations should and can work together in their mutual self-interest, so that we can avoid such conflicts in the future. The EU may not be a perfect organisation, and it has (along with all human created institutions) made its mistakes and errors, but it was set up so that the previously antagonist nations of Europe could work together, resolving their differences in the conference hall and at the negotiating table, rather than on the battlefield.  (Indeed the only armed conflict we have had in Europe since the Second World War, was in former Yugoslavia; well outside the Euroland zone). But of course My Gove wants us to withdraw form that peaceful pan-European body; and to put nationalism before effective cooperation.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

THE DEBACLE OF WESTERN POLICY TOWARDS IRAQ AND SYRIA

The sudden and brazen takeover of Fallujah, by an extremist Al Qaeda network; the ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) – along with all the other murderous attacks that have taken place in Iraq, over recent months, and indeed years – is yet further graphic evidence of the utter failure of the Bush-Blair occupation of that volatile country, and their strategy of turning that Arab nation into a peaceful, Western friendly and compliant, client state, that would act in America’s strategic military and economic interests. It is also evidence of the failure of Western strategy towards the whole of the Middle-East over recent years.

The ISIS is also fighting on the side of the rebels in Syria, and has attracted many foreign fighters to its ranks.  And is known to be one of the most extreme and intransigent of the Al Qaeda forces in that conflict. Their objectives in both countries are the same; to impose a totalitarian, Islamist state that would tolerate no dissent or opposition.

This is a destructive nihilistic group of utter fanatics, who are defined more by what they hate and despise (which is a very lengthy and comprehensive list), than by any trace of a constructive or positive agenda. They are destroyers and wreckers, rather than builders. Indeed one suspects that many clinical psychopaths, career criminals and former junkies and drug dealers, have been attracted to their ranks, so that they can give vent to their most violent and anti-social instincts, under the banner of some fanaticised and demented religious ideology. Indeed to call them medievalists is an insult to the Middle-ages. As that was an age that created a vibrant culture, with magnificent art and architecture. They would preside over a cultural desert.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a student of modern Arab Jihadism, and who writes on the BBC news website, has recently written, that: ‘Of all the above groups, ISIS most openly expresses the ultimately global nature of its struggle, in which the end goal is world domination, delusional as that may seem’. He also wrote that : ‘ISIS fighters and supporters make clear to me that a fight against the UK, for example, is destined for the far future, after an Islamic state is established in Iraq and Syria and then extended throughout the Muslim world as a caliphate’.

We have the bizarre and nonsensical situation of America actively helping, short of putting in boots on the ground, the Iraqi authorities to combat this new menace, while at the same time that they are still extolling the rebels in neighbouring Syria, who are increasingly dominated by Al Qaeda fanatics, of the very kind who are fighting in Fallujah and other parts of Iraq. Indeed these fanatics are now turning their weapons against the moderate and more amenable elements of the opposition, as they see them as being as much of a threat to their perverse agenda as the Assad regime itself. So that if we had gone along with foolish wishes of Cameron, Hague, Hollande and others, and actually armed the rebels in that conflict (as well as launching, as they also wanted to do, direct attacks against Syria) those arms could well have ended up in the hands of the ISIS organisation, as well as other Al Qaeda groupings, who have openly stated that at some future point they wish to make war against the UK. We would be literally arming our next enemies.

How pro-rebel and pro-interventionist war hawks like Senator McCain, explain away those glaring contradictions and anomalies – of supporting a rebellion in one country, that is increasingly being dominated by Al Qaeda, while backing the government against similar, and in some cases identical rebels, in a neighbouring state – is of course anyone’s guess.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

COCAINE AND THE METROPOLITAN SMART SET

I don’t think it will have come as a huge surprise that Nigella Lawson, in the witness box, during the trial of the Grillo Sisters – on charges of defrauding their employers by siphoning off large sums of money from their credit cards –  admitted to using cocaine; as well as cannabis. Indeed according to testimony of one of the accused, Elisabetta Grillo, Nigella Lawson even let her daughter smoke cannabis on occasion. Nigella Lawson claimed that she was only an occasional user of the white powder; in order to try and cope with intermittent periods of tension and stress. But as a number of commentators have pointed out, it is other people who pay the price for the increasing, recreational use, on the part of the Metropolitan trendsetters, of that particular narcotic.

Though there has been criticism of the tactics, and lines of questioning, used by the defence lawyers in that case, one can’t blame the Grillo Sisters and their counsel for bringing up the question of drug use in the household of their employers, in their defence – though that whole issue was brought up first, and aired in public, by Charles Saatchi, the estranged husband of Nigella; who proved, whether inadvertently or not, to be possibly the defence’s star performer in that case. Indeed he was the one who claimed that Nigella was ‘off her head on drugs’; though he did later, in court, and under oath, retract that statement. One can’t blame them for that defence gambit, as not just their reputations, but their liberty was on the line; and had they lost the case they could well have faced substantial custodial sentences. (For Nigella herself, despite her discomfort in the witness box, and anger at the defence counsel, it will probably prove to be a minor blip in her career as a TV chef and celebrity. After all assorted other TV celebrities, found snorting coke, have had nothing more than a slap across the wrists – though they broke the law in using that purportedly illegal drug – and have then gone on to resume their media careers with nary a look back. Indeed these days it may well be a positive boon rather than a drawback. Indeed, seeing her on trial, and in the dock, for breaking the law, seems an unlikely probability). Indeed if, as has been established and admitted to, Nigella Lawson did indeed use powerful, mind altering, and illegal narcotics, which can affect a person’s judgement and discernment, then it was an important, material factor in the case, which had to be heard and clarified.  And indeed the Grillo Sisters, though they said that they didn’t actually witness Nigella using cocaine, did see, on a number of occasions, white powder, often rolled up in bank notes, about the household. Though, as was clear from witness testimony, and stories in the press, it was such a shambolic household – with a moody, suspicious, control freak of a husband, and a woman who was so besotted by her TV career that she left the servants to take her kids on holiday – that it was probably hard to establish who was actually in control, or what the rules and guidelines were, that the servants, such as the Grillo Sisters, had to abide by.

As with most images concocted by the TV networks, what was shown on the screen, in Nigellas’ cookery shows, bore precious little relationship to the actual reality that occurred outside the confines of the television studios. There seemed to be more takeaways than scrumptious home cooked meals, in their household. And more food products from the supermarket shelves than were concocted from the pantry and the kitchen. Mr Saatchi, who had a faddy and highly restricted diet, didn’t even care for his wife’s cooking, and didn’t even approve of guests coming to the house in order to enjoy her culinary skills. And the notorious photo of Mr Saatchi, taken at a restaurant, with his hand around Nigella’s neck, does suggest that their relationship could became rather fraught and strained at times. And as for the term the ‘Domestic Goddess’; well that now seems to belong more to the fantasy department which gives us the Doctor Who franchise.

And of course there was the rash intervention of the Prime Minster, while the case was still on-going, with his declaration that he was on the side of team Nigella – a blatantly partisan remark that almost resulted in the case being called off, and that elicited a stern, and well deserved rebuke from the Judge. Though it was no great surprise that Mr Cameron wasn’t on the side of the servants.

Nigella Lawson may be just a casual user of cocaine; and, as she herself said on the stand, she doesn’t look or sound like a habitual user. But it is a dangerous and addictive drug that others have found hard if not impossible to give up, once they were hooked. And we have had instances of talented, successful, career people, who have seen their professional lives ruined, their money frittered away, their health wrecked, and their lives devastated, and cut short, through addiction to that drug. It may offer temporary escape and consolation to some, but it guarantees death and misery to others. Though of course the insulation of wealth protects the privileged user from direct contact with that sinister and dangerous illicit commercial machine that produces and distributes this drug for worldwide use.

Cocaine may well be the champagne or caviar of the illegal narcotics, favoured by the smart set and the in crowd, who can afford the prohibitive cost of obtaining it – unlike adulterated crack cocaine or crystal meths, that only the poorer class of addicts can afford – so that people can chill out and relax after a hard day in the TV studio or at the executive office; but, and particularly in Latin America, it has left a legacy of violence and destruction in its wake that is hard for most people in the West, even those who choose to use that drug, to imagine or comprehend. We all know the record of the violent cocaine gangs in Columbia, such as the notorious Medellin Cartel, and their murderous legacy.  And of course in Northern Mexico, the vicious turf wars between rival cocaine gangs, for monopoly of the lucrative North American market, has led to destructive murder and violence on an epic scale. Indeed it is said that over recent years as many as sixty thousand people – amongst whom were police officers, soldiers, judges, and innocent bystanders, as well as rival mobsters – have been killed in these drug wars. That isn’t far short of the death toll in the murderous Syrian civil war; and all to service the drug habit of louche, irresponsible rich people in North America and Western Europe. (Though the figure of sixty thousand may even be a conservative estimate; as many thousands have disappeared as well). Those people have died, so that they could get a high.

The War on Drugs, so triumphantly and dramatically announced by successive American politicians (and which, like its rival, ‘War on Terror’ has been a dismal and lamentable failure, on all counts), always had the wrong target. They targeted the producers (often dirt poor and illiterate peasant farmers, who haven’t profited a great deal at all from that lucrative trade) and distributors of that drug, while down playing and side-lining the crucial role and influence of the  consumers and end users (which probably included politicians, lawmakers and journalists amongst their numbers as well), in their own country, and other Western nations, who were prepared to pay untold millions in order to snort that white powder up their nostrils; and without whose surplus cash and perverse recreational needs there wouldn’t be an illicit drugs industry in the first place. Indeed they were paying through the nose to stuff that powder up their noses. Just as any commercial market, legitimate or otherwise, first requires an active demand, before an industry arises to meet and service that demand; so it is with the illegal drug trade. But then money talks, and the rich and powerful can always use their wealth and influence to deflect responsibility away from their own activities, and place all the blame and responsibility onto others. The so called war on drugs was always more of a headline grabbling gimmick than a viable or coherent policy. Though there is small chance of this dangerous and deadly drug being deglamourized, as it should be, when it is glamour-crowd that are using it.

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