Sunday, 20 April 2014

Eleven ways in which we can all be happy that modern Russia is absolutely nothing like 1930s Germany

Godwin's Law of internet debating states that "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1". I mean, how ridiculous is that, that people always ending up making Hitler comparisons? Take Putin's Russia, for example, you've got:

1.    A vain leader, whose foibles foreigners find laughable and/or repulsive but, at the same time, you are popular within your own country and an effective political operator.

2.   In negotiation, you run rings around the people you negotiate with, because they cannot understand your mentality. As Garry Kasparov put it yesterday, in a quote from the famous “Long Telegram”, you are “impervious to the logic of reason [but] highly sensitive to the logic of force”. What they see as rational negotiation in the mutual interest, you see as weakness.

3.   A keenness to restore your country’s wounded pride; a country which suffered a humiliating defeat a couple of decades ago but is now recovering.

4.   And rearming, where the developed world has been doing the opposite.

5.   Audacious land-grabs; you take a bit of a country, then half a country, then the whole country, pretending its inhabitants invited you in to keep the peace and protect your own ethnic bloc.

6.   In the developed world, with the exception of indignant rhetoric and a few ineffectual measures, there is rather indifference to your conquests from a group of leaders happy not to act in the face of delicate, recovering economies and a general political climate of anti-interventionism. Some on the political fringes in those countries are even actively supporting you in the propaganda war.

7.   Use of anti-Semitism, homophobia and general fear of “the other” (e.g. Communism, the extreme right) taking power, to gain support. This helps unite the population against common enemies/bogeymen and also encourages feelings of victimhood.

8.   Curtailing of democracy, despite being democratically elected.

9.   Media control involving not merely political propaganda but transparent and obvious untruths, which nevertheless some believe, or at least see - falsely - as a version of the truth on an equal footing with what they see in the rest of the world’s media.

10.  You start calling pieces of the countries adjoining yours containing your own ethnic people as extensions of your own country, e.g. New Russia, Greater Germany.

11.  Just before everything kicks off, you stage a controversial Olympics in your country to showcase your new status on the world stage. A few people boycott it but, hey, that just lets you play the victim a bit more.
So, phew. Because that would have been a bit worrying, if we’d found a lot of parallels there.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Ukraine: at some point, Labour will need more than warm words

Britain, like much of the West, is clearly living through a period of reluctance, even quasi-isolationism, with regard to foreign conflicts. Interventionism may not be dead, but it is most certainly having a nap. A perception that fingers were burned in Iraq and Afghanistan pervades almost all foreign policy thinking, to a greater or lesser extent. And nowhere is this to be seen more clearly than on the fringes of British politics.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Guardian reaches a new low (iv)

It seems only a week ago, because it was, that I was writing about the Guardian's strange proclivity for printing pieces by some of the world's most unpleasant people - most recently Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov - when I should happen upon this new op-ed at that very same website.

Now, for many, the printing of an op-ed by an apparently obscure Russian journalist, Dmitry Kiselev, is not necessarily a big deal, even if he should seem to be a regime propagandist of the first order and the piece full of both half-truths and simple, straight, untruths.

There is more of the now-traditional comedy:
"the Soviet Union and its one-party system are gone..."
...because, of course, Putin and his associates have really got a clear intention to pass on the chains of office to the person chosen freely and fairly by the good people of Russia.

He ends with a little swipe at the West for restricting his freedom of speech. Oh, the irony. By all means read the whole sorry diatribe, if you can be bothered.

But dig a little more on Mr Kiselev and one finds that he is not just any old Russian journalist.

In fact, to add to what my friends at Harry's Place reported, he is none other than head of the new Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya, which replaces RIA Novosti, one of the last largely independent media outlets left in Russia, as the Centre Left reported in December.

As the Moscow Times' Julia Latyina described the former TV host:
"This is the man who infamously proposed burning the hearts of gay people who have died in car accidents. He also said the mass protests in Kiev were provoked by Sweden in revenge for its loss to Russia in the Battle of Poltava more than 300 years ago."
Yes, that makes sense. So the Guardian chooses to print an op-ed, not just from a propagandist for Putin's regime, but a violently homophobic conspiracy theorist.

And the ultimate irony of all this is that the Graun, paper of right-thinking, liberal Britain, which thinks it is nobly promoting free speech and pluralism, is actually giving support to the very person whose new network is helping hammer the final nails into the coffin of...Russian free speech and pluralism.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Labour's new diversity policy is not just bad policy, it's bad maths

My latest piece for the Independent, on the madness of applying the same principles which are ruining our parliamentary selection process to the UK labour market, is here.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Guardian reaches a new low (iii)

An occasional series, where the Centre Left takes a look at questionable things posted at the Guardian's website, Comment is Free.

As we wrote a few weeks back, Vladimir Putin has no intention of stopping at invading merely Crimea. On Sunday, a near-identical manoeuvre was carried out on three cities in eastern Ukraine, taking government buildings, demanding independence and, of course, all carried out by "pro-Russian demonstrators".

Except they weren't, of course. Any more than those who took Crimea were "pro-Russian demonstrators".

The propaganda war waged by the Russian regime, lying barefacedly about their land-grabs in the Ukraine, has been something to behold. It has found a natural home, of course, in the far left and the far right, and the anti-establishmentarians of Wikileaks, Anonymous and so on.

But guess which mainstream national daily decides to give column inches to the regime? Well, you could have guessed it. Yes, yesterday they chose to run an op-ed by none other than Sergey Lavrov, Russian foreign minister.

It could, of course, equally have been filed in the "Culture" section of the website, under "Comedy". The title itself, a whining "It's not Russia that is destabilising Ukraine", was an irony-free example of the current Russian exercise in geopolitical chutzpah. But the text was better, listen to this:
"Russia has done more than any other country to support the independent Ukrainian state."
Stop it, Sergey, you're too much! And then:
"Russia is doing all it can to promote early stabilisation in Ukraine."
Oh, my sides! I can't take any more!

But if you want the clincher, you have to do what I did and Google Lavrov on the Guardian website and found has last op-ed for the paper. At least in those heady and innocent days of 2009, when Obama was still trying his disastrous "reset" policy of relations with Russia, the Graun had an excuse, that the regime was at least tolerated on the world stage and not trying to invade its neighbours (except, er, Georgia).

But the title was the best. It thundered:
"Shake loose the cold war"
That's right, the man whose boss is currently doing more than anyone to restart the Cold War since the fall of the Berlin Wall was lecturing us on how we should break free of the shackles of our warmongering Western thinking and embrace the new peace.

Stop it! I need a pee!

UPDATE: Just discovered that Seumas Milne (see Centre Lefts passim) has flown to Caracas to interview the quasi-dictator Nicolás Maduro. An impressive 24 hours' work, Guardian.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Why Lutfur Rahman must go – an alternative argument

Last week, Panorama ran a programme on the elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman who, as it happens, is up for re-election in approximately one month’s time. It would be remiss of me not to mark this event.

Full disclosure: as regular readers will know, I have my own reasons to be a little wary of Rahman. Following on from some pieces I wrote he did once, after all, report me to the police (I kid you not, see
here) for reasons which the four different journalists I spoke to about it found roundly disingenuous; the excellent Nick Cohen wrote a detailed rebuttal here and a further short catalogue of his history here, after Rahman complained to the Spectator about his first piece.

However, I said at the time that neither would I stop writing about Rahman and there are somewhat more important matters at stake here. I leave it to the reader’s judgement which of the two of us is a more reliable recounter of the truth.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Why the surprise? Labour’s poll slippage was predicted and is on trend

Ah, the panic. You can see it setting in as there is a blip downwards in the polls. Two consecutive polls show Labour and the Tories neck and neck, and we have a letter to the Guardian. As Uncut’s Atul Hatwal noted last week, there are now rumblings on the Labour right.

But while it is a perfectly respectable aim to ask Miliband to change course on a raft of policy areas, one cannot help but think it is a conversation we should have been having two or three years ago.

The good news is that this jitteriness is based on very little change in the actual prognosis.

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