Friday, 30 August 2013

My God, what have I done?

It's been a whirlwind forty-eight hours. First Cameron came up with a motion supporting military intervention in Syria. Then Miliband went in with a softening amendment and said he would not support the government unless the amendment was passed. Cameron softened his motion to accomodate Miliband.

Then, to Cameron's apparent fury, Miliband declined to support it anyway, thus setting the stage for an extraordinary event: the first defeat by a government on a matter of national defence in over 230 years.

I do not, in all honesty, that Miliband was at all confident he would defeat the government. I believe he thought he was acting in good faith to ensure that all the i's were dotted and t's crossed before British troops were sent into action. But that is what happened.

Afterwards Cameron, apparently to the surprise of the Miliband entourage, removed the possibility of intervention from the table.

Miliband, given a way out of his predicament of being seen to have torpedoed the process, took it and said he was not really interested in intervention, either. Tellingly, he said:
Military intervention is now off the agenda for Britain. There would have been nothing worse than intervention without full international support.
Presumably this meant Russia and China in the UN Security Council, because it is clear that US and France are proceeding to some kind of action (interestingly, it was earlier confirmed to me that this was not the case, that he would not be beholden to Russian and Chinese opinions).

It is true, as my good colleague Mark Ferguson noted at LabourList, that there were enough votes in the Commons to still carry intervention, if not through a standard whipping process.

But I think there is a simple reason for Cameron's reaction, and it is not petulance. I believe Cameron would have gone to considerable lengths to embark upon military action. It was that he could not continue to invest his fast-diminishing political capital in a joint venture with a partner he could not trust, after his experience in the earlier vote.

And where does that leave us? In a situation which has been botched with, sadly, the leader of my party at the centre of the botching and now talking about bringing "diplomatic, political and other pressure" to bear on Assad.

Because he's clearly really going to respond to that, right?

When the dust settles from all this, I am afraid that the historians will see this moment with Cameron in rather a positive light, as someone who tried his best in a difficult situation, but failed. And they Miliband as someone who, either through clumsiness or, worse, politicking, squandered the chances of Britain helping a benighted people in their hour of need.

As if to show the House of Commons the full horror of what it had achieved, a children's school was bombed with a napalm-like substance.

I shall probably blog about this at greater length, but for the moment I will leave you with the words of my good comrade, Nick Cohen, from today:

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The next London mayorals are upon us already and strewn with elephant traps for Labour

My eighth piece for the Independent, on Miliband's unappetising road to the next London mayoral elections, is here.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Oh Vladimir, so much to answer for

A couple of things about Russia, following my piece about Putin's recent gay-bashing.

Firstly the pole-vaulter Isinbayeva, who gave the following long and excruciating interview about how she really did not see why gay people should be allowed to go around proselytising their "sick" ways. 

The cynics among us might think it may not be long before Putin snaps her up for a candidate in some parliamentary sinecure, and she becomes a member of his Cabinet (for those of you who might find this preposterous, I invite you to look at Italy under Berlsuconi).

I sincerely hope her (hopefully slightly more prudent) corporate sponsors drop her like a hot brick, which is what she deserves. But the dull, thoughtless and conformist Isinbayeva is not the root cause of this problem; the problem is her obnoxious president, who has created an atmosphere in the country most congenial for the casual homophobe.

The second is, I'm afraid, both preposterous and somewhat sick at the same time.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has, unsurprisingly, been defending its ally Assad, as he rains down chemical weapons on civilian homes, killing thousands including many children. However, they omitted to check in with Syria, who gave an entirely conflicting story.

According to Michael Weiss' brilliant piece on the Syria massacres, Syria said they were not responsible. Russia said the opposite, that they were responsible but - wait for it - it was a deliberate ploy by the rebels to provoke them into action:
The Russian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, first began by calling for a “professional” forensic investigation, then concluded that the rebels were responsible for a “premeditated provocation”. 
Quite why anyone would deliberately provoke a chemical weapons attack on their children is something really beyond the wit of man to comprehend, but that is what the Putin administration expects us to believe.

To paraphrase the Smiths (and all the more poignantly, given the deaths of children), Putin currently has an awful lot to answer for, for supporting the unspeakable regime of Assad. As my friend Julie pointed out, there have already been more deaths in Syria than in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict since 1948.

I have no doubt that Putin sleeps soundly at night, despite all this. But he does not deserve to.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The farce of the “Bradford Spring” is over, but we should not forget its lesson for Labour

Ah, the excitement of the “the most sensational victory in British political history”, as its author so modestly put it, has all lasted a tragically short time, hasn’t it?

The surprising thing is not that George Galloway seems to have tired of Bradford after less than a year and a half in the job as its one of its MPs. It is that his five local Respect councillors, who resigned en masse last Thursday, ever thought that he had the slightest interest in the town; a town which he memorably referred to as “Blackburn” two days after winning the seat.

The reason for their unhappiness is that Galloway is reported to be considering leaving them in the lurch by running for London mayor in 2016; theBBC reports that his shocked colleagues “feel he is using Bradford as a platform for his wider political ambitions”. Having taken sixteen whole months to reach that insightful conclusion, one has to conclude that perhaps his party colleagues are not the sharpest tools in the box.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Gay rights are human rights and we have the right to defend them everywhere. No ifs, no buts

Well, it had to come. Over the last year or two, the far left has shown its tolerance of sexism of the most unpleasant variety, thanks to the treatment of rape allegations about “Comrade Delta” in the SWP, among other things. Similarly the tolerance to anti-Semitism shown by some of those who purport merely to campaign for the respectable cause of a free Palestine.

But for the British left throughout the 1980s, when practically all its other policies were a disaster, one of the few things on which it was a light in the darkness was the rights of those discriminated against because of their sexuality. Alas, it seems, no more.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

A Falkirk coda: who leaked?

One last matter on Falkirk, which did not get raised in yesterday's piece yet intrigues me, is the following riddle it leaves behind. 

Who was close enough to Miliband to see the full Falkirk report; disloyal enough to leak something damaging to Labour; and who was far-left enough to have thought of Seumas Milne as the ideal vessel, rather than a more serious mainstream lobby journalist, for the leak?

I have a strong suspicion who this might be, but it is only that.

Friday, 9 August 2013

On Falkirk, and unfinished business

There is a distant rumbling going on within the labour movement, with parliament in recess and the media in silly season, which will surely last until conference. It may, in fact, last until next Spring’s special conference. Or it may even last until the next general election.

Perhaps thanks to the timely intervention of the summer holidays, the media circus seems to have moved on from the Falkirk selection debacle.

But not so fast. This one will continue to rumble, and the reason is simple: we have ended the current chapter with two poles of the Labour party power structure effectively giving diametrically opposing versions of events, and both cannot be right. This uneasy truce is neither sustainable in the long-term – truth will invariably out – nor making for anything like a trusting relationship in the near future.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Politicians - they're all the same. They're not

A common refrain in Britain among journalists, bloggers, tweeters and the general public is that politicians are a weak-minded, venal breed. I sometimes wonder whether they realise that they live in one of the least corrupt and best-tended of all Western democracies. We needn't look very far to see why - a two-hour flight is all it takes.

Exhibit A: Silvio Berlusconi,  until fairly recently one of the longest-serving prime ministers of Italy, yesterday pronounced that he was "the innocent victim of 'an incredible series of accusations and trials that had nothing to do with reality'. 

Yes, the shameless old fraud, knowing that he will probably not do time at his age, is playing out the final act of his long-running tragicomedy crying "foul", that they were all out to get him. A pathetic old man, without a shred of self-respect.

Exhibit B: Mariano Rajoy, serving prime minister of Spain, has been pretty much caught red-handed receiving under-the-counter payments from a series of party donors (mostly construction magnates), yet continues to deny the blindingly obvious. 

But perhaps the most exquisite exploiting of his current discomfort is a video, put together by the opposition Socialist party, interspersing moments from his appearance last Thursday in the Spanish Congreso and remarkably similar statements by Richard Nixon just before resignation. You don't need to understand the language to see how similar the two are.

In particular, both of them claim they have no intention of resigning (Nixon resigned a matter of days later).

All the while, some of us in the UK are still incandescent about MPs overclaiming their expenses, while others claim the incumbent government is "evil". But the wrongdoers over expenses were rightly punished, and proportionately; the government is wrong, not evil.

Personally, I like to think our politicians are mostly decent, with a few who are not. Either way, I would leave you with the thought that perhaps we should recognise that our little island democracy is not so bad, after all.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

This time, Roger picked the wrong Wall. We should avoid the same mistake

We can – and should – criticise Israel’s government for its policy on settlements. We can criticise it for some of its policies towards, and sometimes its statements about, Palestinians. And as with any disputed territory, we can and should debate how that territory should be distributed between its claimants. Even if we might think it counterproductive at a time when Israelis and Palestinians are sitting down to talk for the first time in years, we can recognise the legitimacy of those who choose not to buy goods from a country because they disagree with its government.

I respect Roger Waters’ right to encourage others to boycott Israeli goods, though I disagree with it.

But what is plainly foolish, not to mention an insult to that noble struggle against racism, is to talk as former the Pink Floyd bassist does about “apartheid”.

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