Sunday, 1 December 2019

The London Bridge Attack: Again We Mourn

Once again, we are stunned at a senseless murder attack, motivated by extremist ideology. Once more, we are overwhelmed by the horror of the event and wondering how such an atrocity could happen yet again. The media have focussed on a number of relevant factors, all of which are being widely discussed, and will only be touched upon lightly here.
Last Friday's rampage on London Bridge has thrown up a number of diverse heroes, all of whom deserve the highest praise. Among the men who reportedly overpowered Usman Khan were a Polish national (Lukasz Koczocik), a Muslim dishwasher, a tour guide, a British Transport Police officer, one ex-offender, Marc Conway and a convicted murderer, James Ford.
According to The Guardian:
"Among those who pinned down the attacker was James Ford, 42, who is also thought to have tried to save the life of a woman who had been stabbed. Ford was jailed for life in 2004 for the murder of 21-year-old Amanda Champion."
The irony of two ex-offenders helping a police officer is mind-blowing, as is the idea of a murderer (Ford) restraining another (Khan). Professor David Wilson told The Guardian:
"He (Professor Wilson) said what had happened was a tale of two prisoners, with Ford an example of how people could change. “I know through my work that people do change and they change as a consequence of innovative but challenging regimes such as the one at HMP Grendon."
Apart from these disparate civilians, the reaction of the police was truly admirable. At the last London Bridge attack, about two years ago, it took an armed response unit seven minutes to arrive at the crime scene; this time it took five minutes. And, I am happy to say, nobody criticises the police for liquidating Khan, although some troll did put out a misleading tweet in Jeremy Corbyn's name.
The other issue is that of why Khan was released early from jail. Much is being said on this issue (rightly) and I do not want to comment directly. However, I can only compare Khan's early release to the early release of murderous mental health patients who kill again on release, which is a subject I have written about before. Khan had not actually killed anyone before being imprisoned, but he was planning to do it on a big scale. Our old pal, Nigel Farage, has said that anyone who commits a terrorist offence should never be released. Nigel is seeking to ride on a wave of public anger and will undoubtedly say that he is simply speaking for "ordinary people". Perhaps Professor David Wilson and Nigel Farage should hold a TV debate on this subject - perhaps we should all be talking about it.
I can only point out that the much-vaunted deradicalization programmes in prison do not seem to be working as well as they are supposed to. People are not automatons that can be re-programmed like robots or computers. Usman Khan seems to have  voluntarily undertaken such courses in prison. He must have gone through them like atheists who listen politely in church, yet remain atheists. For Khan, and imprisoned terrorists like him, these deradicalization courses must seem a good way to work your ticket.
Returning to the analogy of released mental health patients, we see in Khan's early release an error of judgement of the same gravity as those made by the mental health authorities with Nicola Edgington and Kordian Filmanowicz. This is a fiendishly difficult matter to resolve: how do we decide when it is safe for violent prisoners to be released? And how can we prevent relapses - whether into extremism or mental health driven violence?
In conclusion, I would like to say that our hearts should go out to the victims of Khan's attack - in particular to the families of Saskia Jones (23) and Jack Merritt (25) - two young lives cruelly snuffed out; both bright, hopeful and heading for good careers - people the world needs. At least we can say goodnight to Usman Khan, who was no asset to humanity. Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing to stop others following in his footsteps.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Vladimir Putin - a Complex Case?

Rednev, my esteemed friend and colleague, occasionally pokes fun at me about my "hate figures": OFSTED, Iran, George Galloway, etc. For some reason, he never includes Vladimir Putin, and I'm starting to suspect that he is falling under Russian influence. I will only learn the truth when the government releases details of the dossier on Russian interference in our political affairs - the one that the government denies suppressing. Hilary Clinton has described the suppression "shameful", but then, she has experienced the effects of Russian meddling, as a US Presidential candidate.
Ridiculous, of course. Rednev is no friend of Putin, any more than I am - the case of vodka in my garden shed has been there for years. The report, due to be released after the election on December 12, promises to be disturbing. For people of my generation, who grew up in the Cold War years, it is incredible how the Russian influence pendulum has swung from one extreme to another. In the 60s and 70s, it was the Labour Party that was being branded as pro-Communist stooges in the pay of Moscow. Now, we read in The Guardian:

"Allegations that Moscow money has flowed into the Conservative party via emigres living in the UK making high-profile donations, were also heard ... although the party has consistently denied receiving money improperly.
In 2014, Lubov Chernukhin – the wife of the former Russian deputy finance minister – paid £160,000 to play tennis with Johnson and David Cameron. The match was the star lot at a Conservative summer party auction. Another guest at the 2013 fundraiser was Vasily Shestakov, Vladimir Putin’s judo partner".

There have also been credible reports that the Brexit Party is in receipt of Russian cash. More details of this can be found HERE.
It would appear that Russian influence extends only to the political Right, but this would be a mistake. Jeremy Corbyn was accused of "a cross-eyed" response to the Skripal poisoning. Andrew Rawnsley said, again in The Guardian:

"In his first parliamentary performance, and in subsequent interventions, Mr Corbyn refused to blame the Putin regime while raising a spray of questions that undermine the case for coordinated western action. Was it really the Kremlin? Can the government prove that?"

George Galloway expressed much the same opinion at the time, as did others of his ilk. His "ilk", however, includes the brother of one of Galloway's many protagonists, Christopher Hitchens: Peter Hitchens, who is hardly a leftist militant.
Russian influence, it seems, is widespread and found across the political spectrum. This is a matter of concern, but we should remember that we British also have a name for interfering in other nations' political affairs, both historically and perhaps even now.
Perhaps we should focus upon why President Putin and his government feel the need to exert influence in other countries and to look at the character of Vladimir Putin himself.
During the Cold War years, the right-wing press were in a perpetual stew about the evils of Communism and the USSR. It was conveniently forgotten that during the 19th century, British politicians regarded Russia as "The Russian Bear" who kept trying to take over in India. It was portrayed (rightly, to an extent) as a backward serf-owning land-hungry "evil empire" - to coin a phrase. How times changed! From 1914 to 1917, Russia was our gallant ally - then times changed again. Josef Stalin became another Russian supremo, dressed up in ideological clothes - a "Red Tsar" and a hate figure for the West in the 1920s and 30s. All that changed of course; Stalin became "Uncle Joe", our gallant ally in WW2, but only after Hitler invaded the USSR in 1941. Things changed again in 1945, when Stalin became our enemy, after he acquired new nations for the Russian sphere of influence, and appeared, we were told, to be planning to spread even further westwards.
 It was left to a Hungarian writer, Tibor Szamuely, to point out that the basic status quo in Russia during the Stalinist period was fundamentally the same as it was in the Tsarist era. This absolutist legacy, Szamuely argued, was "The Russian Tradition" - the title of his book. He had a point, and we must acknowledge that parliamentary democracy, such as it is now in Russia, is something very new. And, if Szamuely was right, Putin is a mutated form of a Tsar or Supreme Leader, with a mutated version of Russian expansionism.
But I think we can discern something else, if we look a little deeper into Putin's background. As everyone knows, Putin was a senior KGB officer. He resigned as a Lieutenant-Colonel on 20 August, 1991.
What nobody says is that while he was indeed a KGB officer, he was not a particularly good one. He worked at first in counter-intelligence after joining in 1975. His lacklustre career then "blossomed" in 1985, when he was sent to Dresden for five years, posing as a translator. This would never do as a biography for a Bond villain. For that, he would have needed to be a KBG General, at least. If anything, his foreign policy is reminiscent of a man with an inferiority complex. He seethed with resentment after the drubbing Russian troops took in the First Chechen War (1994-96) and wasted no time in launching a war of revenge in 1999.
I don't know what will emerge when the report is released, post-General Election, but I wouldn't be surprised if clear evidence of Russian influence is readily uncovered. And this points to a real problem for President Putin: the fact that his secret service operatives, like he was, are not particularly successful or effective. The Skripal poisoning and the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko were hardly models of efficiency. In both cases, the culprits were quickly identified and displayed gross incompetence in their handling of poison and radioactive material. The FSB, successor organisation to the KGB, is of the same standard as that achieved by Vladimir Putin.
No wonder he looks like a man with a complex.
Vladimir in his KGB days - a rising star that didn't go far.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Nigel Farage: Following Robespierre?

Maximilien Robespierre (1758 - 94), pictured above, was one of the key figures of the French Revolution. He is known to history as the monster who led the Jacobin revolutionaries to power and instituted "The Terror", which led to thousands of political opponents ( and many innocent people) being put to death, most famously, but not exclusively, by the guillotine.
This is undeniable, but there is an aspect of his character that is of interest here: despite his ideologically-driven murderousness, he was a firm opponent of political corruption. In fact, he was known as "the sea-green incorruptible" - and woe betide anyone who tried offering him a bribe.
It comes as a surprise to find that our old friend, Nigel Farage, seems to be following in Robespierre's footsteps. Two days ago, Nigel announced that unnamed senior Conservative Party officials had offered jobs and peerages to Brexit Party electoral candidates to try to get them to stand down. The BBC stated: 
"Mr Farage also said his candidates received "thousands of phone calls and emails" trying to get them to withdraw ahead of next month's election".
Interestingly enough, Mr Farage didn't make this claim until after election nominations had closed, but let that pass for now.
To my surprise, no-one in the media asked any of what I regarded as highly pertinent questions. Why, I wondered, had this issue not been raised before? Mr Farage is the Brexit Party leader, of course, and such allegations would have been reported to him. However, I found it strange that none of these targeted Brexit Party candidates had gone public straight away about these inducements, or even leaked details of them to the press. Somebody, surely, would have mentioned something - or so I thought.
Beside this, why did Nigel wait for nominations to close before he released details of these bribes? Should he not have acted as soon as these nefarious Tory attempts at corruption were made known to him?
To be fair, Mr Farage did threaten, after two Brexit Party candidates stood down this last week, to report the matter of bribery to the authorities - but didn't. Instead, it has been left for a Labour Peer to contact the police. As the Evening Standard says:
"Lord Falconer has written to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Director of Public Prosecutions and said the "exceptionally serious allegations" should be investigated as a matter of urgency. He said they must be looked at by police in order to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the election."
That is very well said, and if Tory grandees have been illegally resorting to bribery, then it is a matter for the police. However, such an investigation may lead to a wider inquiry into the role of patronage in UK politics, and that will not go down well in influential quarters.
Lastly, it seems to me that this whole matter has been of great benefit to the Brexit Party. They have been able to present themselves as injured innocents and victims of the "Establishment". It has provided the Brexit menagerie with a highly useful diversion from their links with far right and anti-Semitic characters, which Hope not Hate has detailed at length. In fact, the far Right has loudly trumpeted their endorsement of the Brexiteers. As Hope not Hate says:
"The extreme anti-Muslim street movement Britain First (BF) has given Farage’s party its dubious endorsement. In a statement uncovered by Scram News, the group claimed on Monday that “The Brexit Party are the only ones fighting for a proper Brexit, we’re right behind them”
And then of course, there is the small matter of alleged Brexit Party financial links with Vladimir Putin, which I wrote about on September 22nd.  Again, the "jobs and peerages" scandal has provided the Brexit Party with a welcome diversion. Small wonder, then, that Nigel Farage was smiling so effusively when he released the news of alleged Tory bribery.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Heroes with feet of clay

There is a lot of frustration with politics at present and this is often expressed on social media by quotes by or about figures from history,  Guy Fawkes and Oliver Cromwell in particular at the present. I would argue that this can often be unhelpful or, worse, downright deceptive.

Guy Fawkes: it's something of a joke that he was the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions. However I'd beg to differ if anyone genuinely considers that Fawkes' actions constitute honesty. New Scientist published an article on 5 November 2003 explaining how the Gunpowder Plot would have devastated London. The study concluded that, as well as destroying Parliament and killing everyone inside, the explosion would also have:
  • Destroyed Westminster Abbey.
  • Razed everything to the ground within a radius of about 40 metres.
  • Within 110 metres, at least partially destroyed buildings.
  • As far as 900 metres away, blown out some windows.
I have projected this onto a map of Liverpool, the city of my birth, placing the hypothetical explosion at the iconic Bombed Out Church. The two circles represent the 110 and the 900 metre points. The damage would have reached St George's Hall, the docks, and would have extended way beyond both cathedrals and the Philharmonic Hall. Bearing in mind that buildings were considerably more flimsy in 1605, the damage would be much greater than now. Fires would have inevitably followed and the Great Fire of London may have happened 61 years early. It's safe to assume that in the closely packed houses, perhaps tens of thousands of ordinary Londoners would have perished. It would have been one of the worst mass murders in English history, and because Fawkes was a gunpowder expert, we cannot excuse him on the grounds that it was overkill by an amateur - quite simply it would have been a deliberate and utterly callous act of terrorism.
[Click on the map for a bigger image.]
Oliver Cromwell: his famous speech dissolving the Long Parliament on 20 April 1653 has recently been extensively reproduced on social media:
"It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.
"Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?
"Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!"
 An impressive speech, certainly, but should we be impressed by the man? I would argue that he was a deeply flawed leader whose faults seriously tarnish (and in my opinion outweigh) his positive achievements.
  • After dissolving Parliament, Cromwell ruled England as a dictator, instituting the only military regime this country has ever known.
  • He ruthlessly suppressed popular movements among his own followers such as the Levellers and the Diggers because they challenged the property rights of the land-owning class from which he was descended
  • It is not known exactly how many people were massacred by his troops in Ireland, but it may have been as much as a fifth of the population. The Irish historian Micheál Ó Siochrú describes the slaughter at Drogheda and Wexford in 1649 as ranking among the greatest atrocities in Anglo-Irish history, and considers Cromwell to have committed of war crimes, religious persecution and ethnic cleansing.
  • Less important, but still significant, is the fact that as Lord Protector he was paid £100,000 per year, equivalent to more than £22 million today. In contrast, the UK prime minister is paid just over £151,000, which in real terms is about 0.7% of Cromwell's remuneration. Snout in the trough on a massive scale.
  • Cromwell did not believe in democracy, despite the mistaken view held by some on the Left and the dialogue written for his character in the 1970 film Cromwell.
Quoting historical figures out of context can be deceptive and in an era of political turbulence, as now, can cause people to form inaccurate judgements. History isn't a collection of soundbites to be deployed as and when needed. As a qualified history teacher, I feel strongly that we can learn a lot from the past - however, politicians often cherry-pick bits from history to suit their short-term political agenda, but they're not alone - on social media, some ordinary people do just the same.

A failure to learn from the past is a lost opportunity to avoid endlessly repeating its mistakes. Sadly, that is what happens all too often.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Marching for Sanity - Yesterday's People's March

Photo by Mila Caval

No-one has ever told me that I was one in a million, but yesterday, I was just that. I took part in the People's March for a second referendum on Brexit. The right-wing press have been spitefully critical of the march, but even they have had to admit that the number of marchers reached a million - which is quite something of itself. People travelled to attend the march from all over Britain. One such person was Ali Lothian (60) from Dundee, who told the BBC:
 "It's a big commitment - it's a whole weekend. But I regretted not coming last time." 
I didn't go to the last one either, but, as Brexit appears to be drawing near, I felt that I had a duty to be there this time. I had no idea that the event would be so well attended. When I emerged from the Tube at Green Park station, I was astounded at the numbers.
Anyone who has attended a large demonstration knows how easy it is to lose contact with people. I had arranged to join up with friends, but somehow that didn't happen, so I joined in with a hotchpotch of interested groups. Several people told me that this march was less light-hearted than the previous one, which reflects the seriousness of the situation we now face. Katie Wright of the BBC says:
"In March a carnival vibe accompanied the slow walk from Park Lane to Parliament Square, but university student Ben Stocks said the atmosphere this time was "more sombre". Another member of the crowd, Simon Gosden, 63, agreed, saying: "There's more of an air of tension. We know we're getting down to the nitty gritty - it's all or nothing."
This does not mean that we all marched with a frown. There were moments that made me smile, at least. There was a young lady who brought her dog:
There were people who had made huge sacrifices to attend the demonstration:

Then again, there were people who dressed up to mock dear old Boris, as can be seen in this photo taken by Mila Caval:

The placards carried by marchers were pithy and accurate in their slogans.

I have to own up: I didn't make it to Parliament Square. I wasn't there to listen to the variety of speakers, including John MacDonnell and Sandy Toksvig. Nor did I hear the announcement that Boris had been thwarted in his attempt to enforce Brexit. I found it necessary to seek refreshment in the Whitehall branch of Wetherspoons, where I finally managed to meet my friends. I enjoyed the irony of this, as the pub's owner, Tim Wetherspoon, is a rabid Leave campaigner. Cheers, Tim!
Cynics, and sometimes demonstrators themselves, often ask "What good do demonstrations do?". In the case of cynics, there is little point explaining anything, but for myself, I felt that the march was more than worthwhile. I hope that it demonstrates to everyone, here and abroad, that we Brits are not just a bunch of lemmings headed for the cliff edge and, should the Brexit disaster happen, at least we can say that we did our best to stop it. It also united Remainers of all political persuasions and none. The whole spectrum of Remain opinion marched together yesterday, from Socialist to Liberal Democrat to Conservatives. The only jarring note was the hounding of MPs at the House of Commons. As has rightly been said - that kind of behaviour is unnecessary and counter-productive. If we can't win by peaceful pressure, we can't win anything at all by threats of violence.
Chilling in The Lord Moon of the Mall, I noticed something remarkable. There were many people from the march, as expected, but there was also a contingent of people in camouflage trousers, sporting military style berets. One even wore a t-shirt with the logo: "Northern Ireland Veteran." These were people who had come to counter-demonstrate, yet, within the confines of the pub, both sides ignored each other. That changed outside, where these aging ex-servicemen began singing songs in praise of Boris. To my surprise, I found myself feeling sorry for them. None looked as if their post-service lives had been rewarding, which is typical of many ex-military people of all nations and all ages. People like this look for scapegoats. Many German WW1 veterans blamed the Jews for their defeat in 1918; these men blame the EU for their woes. There were very few of them and, like I said, they looked somewhat pitiful. I can only hope that Brexit will not reduce us all to a similar impoverished state.
Irrational as the beliefs of these men were, they are no more muddled in their thinking than all the Brexit supporters I have ever met or listened to. I have yet to hear an opinion in favour of Leave that isn't either based on emotion, distorted facts or downright lies. These counter-demonstrators were probably motivated by xenophobia - but aren't all Brexit supporters to some extent? For this reason, I say that yesterday's march wasn't just about Brexit - it was a march for sanity.
As I walked to Leicester Square tube to catch my train home, I felt glad to have taken part in what must have been one of the biggest and best attended demonstrations in our history. I hope we did some good. We did, didn't we?

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Battling Blustering Boris

Well, he's done it again. Boris has diverted us from the true issues of the Brexit debate, and he's got us all talking about the bearpit antics in the House of Commons yesterday. The news broadcasts, the talk shows this morning were absolutely buzzing with angry pundits and phone-in callers. Boris, seen above in one more of his humorous escapades, has been lambasted for accusing Paula Sheriff MP and others of "humbug". Jeremy Corbyn has described Boris's conduct "disgraceful" (which it was - but...) and he faces censure from many MPs, including some Conservatives, over his claim that the best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox, MP, is by facilitating Brexit. As has been pointed out, the late Jo Cox was a passionate Remainer, but Johnson must have been aware of that.
I admit that what we saw yesterday was less than edifying. Quite what commentators from abroad made of it is not something I care to think about. Unfortunately, these events merely reflect what is happening in society as a whole. The fact is that UK society is polarised over the Brexit issue  with both sides giving way to irrationality. Instead of discussing, we shout. Instead of seeking resolution or compromise, we resort to abuse.
As we know, cooler heads from all sides are calling for restrained behaviour and the moderation of political language in the House of Commons in order to avoid what we saw yesterday. In the case of MPs, they should behave in a calmer fashion for the benefit of their own health. Barry Sheerman MP is a case in point. During his (albeit justified) outburst against the Attorney General,he seemed to be on the verge of having a heart attack.
Having said that, I understand why Mr Sheerman lost his temper; the accusations of Geoffrey Cox, that the whole of the opposition was steeped in immorality, were simply outrageous. He said, according to The Independent:
"Mr Cox warned MPs they have "no moral right" to sit on the green benches of the House of Commons".
When it comes to immoral behaviour, Cox must know that his party leader is hardly a paragon of virtue, either. Labour MPs reacted with fury to this statement of Mr Cox, which I suspect is exactly what he wanted. Perhaps that's why he is smiling in the photo below?

One very serious matter that was highlighted yesterday was the threats of violence made on a regular basis to MPs of all parties. Paula Sheriff, MP, spoke emotionally about this issue, as did Jess Phillips, MP. Ms Phillips' office has since been attacked and she has received death threats. Boris has refused to attend parliament today in order to apologise for his comment about the late Jo Cox. Jeremy Corbyn has correctly said, according to the Daily Mirror:
"It is extremely disappointing that the Prime Minister has not respected this House by attending today. The Prime Minister’s language and demeanour yesterday was frankly nothing short of disgraceful...To dismiss concerns from MPs about the death threats they receive, and to dismiss concerns that the language used by the PM is being repeated in those death threats is reprehensible".
I have no quarrel with this, but I think we should examine Boris' words yesterday as part of a strategy. Significantly, the extreme right in Britain have applauded Johnson's words of yesterday. Is he trying to outdo the likes of Britain First and the Brexit Party by his use of terms such as humbug, treachery, etc? I think we should ponder this coldly and analytically.

However emotional we may feel about Boris and his statements, I think we should look back to the parliamentary performance of another Tory prime minister: Margaret Thatcher. The leader of the opposition Labour Party in Parliament at that time was Neil Kinnock. He was regularly worsted in debate by Mrs T. because she found it easy to get him to become irate and lose his self-control. The TV programme, "Weekend World", sent Stephen Fry, a then up-and-coming comedian, to analyse Kinnock's performance. Fry identified Kinnock's mistake as losing his temper and reacting over-emotionally to Mrs T's pronouncements. Instead, Fry advocated that Kinnock stay calm and ridicule Thatcher's statements and speeches - to become proactive, rather than reactive. Both Fry and Kinnock denied any collusion, but Kinnock's debating style in the House changed in just such a way almost immediately. Not that it won Kinnock a general election.
Perhaps all opposition parties in Parliament could learn from this. Instead of getting worked up at Johnson's (probably deliberate) provocative language, they could try satire and wit. After all, there is plenty to ridicule Boris about. And it would be better for the health of MPs of all parties to stay cool, calm and collected in debate. 

Sunday, 22 September 2019

The Brexit Party, Iran and The Kremlin

Last week, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on Iran to release all EU/Iranian dual nationals being held on Iran on a variety of trumped-up charges. One of these unjustly imprisoned detainees is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, about whom I have written several times. There are many others from a number of different nations, all of whom have families back in their countries of residence, wondering if they will ever see their falsely accused loved ones again.
Now, 608 MEPs voted for the resolution, 7 voted against and 46 abstained. Of the abstentions, 29 were MEPs from our very own Brexit Party here in the UK. The party spokesman, Gawain Towler, seen above, was quoted in The Independent:
"It would be incompatible with what we believe, to assume that the EU is the right place or the most effective tool to put pressure on the Iranian government...we could not say...the EU is the right forum for that, so we abstained".
No Brexit MEP offered any better suggestions as to what might be done to help the detainees, nor did they offer any sympathy to them and their families. Understandably, they drew angry criticism from a number of people in the UK. Shappi Khorsandi, the Anglo-Iranian comedian and writer said, again in The Independent:
"It’s a state of mind my instincts usually lead me to but it has been challenged somewhat today by the Brexit Party, who are almost admirable in their steadfast refusal to behave in any way which might display the British sense of decency and fair play we are famous for."
No surprise there for me and many others, but we'll come to that. Of dual nationality herself, she goes on to say:
"It’s chilling, frankly, to know for sure that if I went snowboarding in Iran (as many of my British friends do, there’s good snow in Iran) and was arrested and thrown into prison without committing a crime, the Brexit Party, who claim to stand for “British People” would not consider me British enough to fight for."
No surprise there, either, but others joined in the condemnation of the Brexit menagerie, saying more or less the same thing. David Lammy, MP, said:
 “You (Brexit MEPs) call yourself patriots but you will not stand up for Brits imprisoned abroad. Shame on you."
I fully endorse these criticisms, but I think there is something that is being missed. In my view, the Brexit MEPs were only doing what they have done all along. They are pandering to the section of the electorate that they depend upon most heavily: racists. We like to pretend these people don't exist, but the rise in hate crime since the EU referendum proves that they certainly do. As "good" populists, the Brexit MEPs must be seen as catering for this element in the electorate, and their squalid, weaselling excuse for abstaining, while it may disgust most of us, will certainly have pleased those who think that British people should come first before immigrants who have funny names, have different coloured skins and can speak other languages.
That, actually, doesn't take much working out. Any of us who are unfortunate enough to encounter such people will know what their "views" are.
However, I think that there might be another, hidden, underlying reason for the abstention of the Brexit Little Englanders, and that is financial. The ex-prime minister, Gordon Brown, back in May of this year, raised the question of the source of funds for the Brexit Party. Quoted in the Guardian, Brown stated:
“Arron Banks, the lead funder of Leave.EU and a friend of Nigel Farage, has been under investigation. He has big contacts with Russia,” Brown said. “We don’t know where his money comes from and yet we found out last week he has given £450,000 in payments to support Nigel Farage while Nigel Farage was in a public office in the European parliament who should have been declaring the payments to avoid any conflict of interest.”
If Brown is correct, then it is fair to say that the Brexit MEPs would not want to upset their alleged Russian paymasters. It has been pointed out by a number of commentators that Russia has a keen interest in supporting Brexit. As Nick Cohen says:
"We know that Russia has interfered in elections in North America and Europe. Russia had a direct interest in promoting Brexit because it would destabilise a strategic rival. (Anyone who doubts me need only look at how Brexit has brought Whitehall close to collapse.)"
But it doesn't stop there. As we know, Russia has been very active militarily in support of the Assad regime in Syria. And who has been fighting alongside them...Iran. Would President Putin be happy if the Brexit Party were criticising his foremost Middle Eastern ally?
Perhaps, then, we can discern another, very different reason for the Brexit Party abstention. Rather than being the British patriots they claim to be, they could well be nothing more than a shower of useful idiots for the Kremlin. 

Monday, 9 September 2019

Conspiracy, Elvis and George Soros

Kirsty MacColl was wrong - Elvis is working in a chip shop, and the photo above proves it. He owns and works in the pictured chippy which is located on the seafront of a seaside resort on the south coast. He is in very good health, and stays looking young by long, bracing walks along the seafront and bathing his face in calves' milk. His only worry is that he might be discovered and have to pay back taxes to the US government. His anonymity is guarded by a sinister alliance of the Freemasons, the Women's Institute and George Soros, the multi-billionaire.
Nonsense? Of course it is - but no more ludicrous than the conspiracy theories that have made George Soros a hate figure for the far right in the USA, Turkey, Italy, Hungary and, in nascent form, here in the UK. A BBC TV documentary last night highlighted the horrifying international hate campaign against him by a menagerie of conspiracy nuts, right-wing Republicans, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and a bunch of fascists. The documentary, "Conspiracy Files: the Billionaire Global Mastermind", highlighted the conspiracy theories that the menagerie have cooked up against Soros.
The hate campaign against him in the US began in 2003 because of his opposition to the Iraq war. It rose to the present crescendo when Donald Trump became president. Trump himself has referred disparagingly about Soros. Soros has been blamed for the violence in Charlotteville, Virginia in 2017. The Fash claim that Soros financed the whole thing to discredit Trump. He is also accused of financing the Honduras "caravan" of would-be migrants to the US, and, as the BBC programme says, he is blamed for having been a Nazi collaborator in Hungary during WW2, when Hungary's Jews were being rounded up for dispatch to Auschwitz. As Soros is himself Jewish and was 14 at the time, that is somewhat hard to believe. Worst of all was the attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, 27 October, 2018, when 11 Jewish people were killed. The killer, Robert Bowers, accused Soros of heading a conspiracy to eliminate the white race in order to achieve Jewish domination of a "mongrelised" (multi-cultural) United States. Soros himself, along with some liberal US politicians, has received a (fortunately dud) bomb in the post. Until the bomber, a white supremacist and Trump supporter, was caught, the anti-Soros coalition accused Soros of orchestrating a fake bomb campaign, in order to win public sympathy. The evidence for this claim, predictably, was shown to be either fake or non-existent.

The hate campaign has spread abroad. In Turkey, President Erdogan has accused Soros of seeking to "shatter" Turkey; the Italian politician, Matteo Salvini, has accused Soros of seeking to flood Italy with illegal migrants. Soros is a philanthropist and has spent millions on welfare and educational projects in his home country of Hungary. but that has not stopped the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Oban, from introducing "Anti-Soros" laws.

Now, the lies about George Soros are absurd and easily refuted. Channel Four, Snopes and Fact Check, as well as last night's BBC documentary and all responsible journalists, repeatedly expose the anti-Soros conspiracy accusations as outrageous and blatantly untrue. The problem, however, is that the people who believe in these conspiracy theories are not rational people. Racists and fascists start with their racism and then look for reasons to justify it. Even when one of their beliefs is proven to be wrong, they carry on believing it anyway. Having said this, we cannot, however much we debunk them, dismiss these people as harmless nutcases. As Time Magazine says:

" In recent years, fringe ideas prompted a gunman to storm a Washington, D.C. pizzeria and may have motivated another to fatally shoot 11 worshippers inside a Pittsburgh synagogue. They are also largely to blame for a worldwide surge in measles cases that has sickened more people in the U.S. in the first half of 2019 than in any full year since 1994."

We must continue to combat these people and their bizarre beliefs.
 The accusation of conspiracy against George Soros and, by implication, against all Jews, is nothing new. The myth of an international Jewish conspiracy has a long and murderous history. At the turn of the 20th century, 1903 to be exact, a truly evil anti-Semitic book was published in Russia. It is thought to have helped inspire a wave of pogroms against Russia's Jews and is beloved of fascists and other Jew-haters even  today: "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion". The book was a forgery, concocted by the Tsarist secret police in Russia for use against Jews and all Russian revolutionaries. Foreshadowing George Soros's vilification, the book claimed to be proof of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. Although it was exposed numerous times as fraudulent, the Nazis made extensive use of it in their campaign against Europe's Jews. Some of the charges made today against George Soros might almost have been lifted from the pages of "The Protocols". To my disgust, I have learned that this hate-filled tome is for sale on Amazon.
The mention of disgust leads me to the British dimension to the Anti-Soros hate campaign: the statements of our old friend, Nigel Farage. Nigel has dismissed accusations of anti-Semitism, but what are we to make of statements like these? As The Guardian says, Farage:

"Said Soros "wants to break down the fundamental values of our society, and, in the case of Europe, he doesn't want Europe to be based on Christianity".

Claimed the EU was financed and influenced "by the Goldman Sachs and a particular Hungarian called Mr Soros".

Alleged the work of Soros's foundation could amount to "the biggest level of political collusion in history"

These statements of Nigel Farage closely resemble all the other allegations made by the extreme Right. Anyone thinking of voting for the Brexit Party should bear this in mind.

As the politics of the Brexit Party grow uglier, so does Nigel Farage.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Boris de Pfeffel Johnson – master of misdirection

The democracy demo in Liverpool on 2 September 2019
The Trump effect has finally poisoned British politics. We too now have a leader who:
  • Has no real convictions and changes his mind to suit what is to his advantage at any given moment.
  • Has a record of incompetence, such as when as Foreign Secretary his words ensured Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's prison sentence in Iran was increased.
  • Squanders public money on pet schemes that get nowhere.
  • Is openly jingoistic, misogynistic and racist.
  • Is a womaniser. Womanisers claim to love women, but womanising is exploitation, i.e. abuse.
Johnson beat Hunt by 92,153 votes to 46,656. As the total number of registered UK voters in December 2018 was 45,775,800 (source: ONS), this means Johnson will become PM with the support of 0.2% of the electorate. To put it another way, 99.8% of the electorate did not vote for him, and 99.65% had no vote at all.

Here is a telling comparison:

When I was a union rep in the civil service, I represented a member who was facing dismissal having been accused of deliberately misspending public money; the amount involved was a couple of hundred pounds. I managed to save his job only at the final level of appeal when it was eventually accepted that it was a genuine error. The first two decision makers had rejected that argument and had recommended dismissal.

Johnson, on the other hand, squandered £53 million of public money for a bridge that was never even begun. He also misspent more than £300,000 on illegal water cannons which were never used and were eventually scrapped at a huge loss. Despite all of that, he was rewarded with the keys to Number 10. I cannot understand why he has not faced prosecution for massive misuse of public funds. If not prosecuted, then at least barred from holding public office. My member would have lost his job for misspending a tiny percentage of the fortune that Johnson “spaffed against a wall”, to use his own unsavoury phrase.

As prime minister, he is misusing the power to prorogue Parliament, normally just a suspension during which the government prepares its programme for the next Parliamentary session, to prevent MPs holding him to account for his actions over leaving the EU. This is contrary to the Bill of Rights 1689, the foundation stone of our modern constitutional system, which clearly asserts the sovereignty of Parliament over monarch and government. However you voted on leaving the EU, you should be worried by this cavalier approach to our constitution. Furthermore, he has threatened any Tory MPs who vote to block a no-deal exit from the EU with, in effect, the sack.

These two actions demonstrate Johnson's despotic tendencies. He is not a natural democrat, and is prepared to resort to extreme measures to achieve his own aims. Those who voted Leave so that we can “take back control” could not have foreseen that the control would be handed, not to our elected Parliament as we were told, but to just one man, unelected and extremely unscupulous. Proof of the latter is his dismissal of genuine concerns in Ireland that a no-deal exit from the EU could jeopardise the peace process there.

His 'election' was little more than a coup d'état and his reckless misspending of public money has been shrugged off. He has a privileged immunity that ensures his incompetence and arrogant profligacy avoids any kind of scrutiny or investigation. His succession has denied the people any say in who leads the country, which is especially galling because he denounced Brown for succeeding Blair as PM without calling an election.

Stage magicians use a technique called misdirection in which the performers draw the attention of the audience to one thing to distract it from another. Johnson's buffoonery has amused and even endeared him to many people who have failed to see that behind the hesitant waffle, outrageous statements and clownish antics there is a thoroughly cold-hearted, egotistical and unprincipled right-winger who stands only for his own and his cronies' advancement in terms of both status and wealth. Many of us thought we had reached a political nadir with Theresa May, but in a reverse of the New Labour anthem, things can only get worse.

This article follows on from the post immediately before it by Geoff Parry, who kindly asked me to post this on his blog.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Resisting the Coup: Besieging Boris the Bonapartist

I don't attend many demonstrations nowadays, but I felt compelled to attend the London protest yesterday against the proroguing of Parliament. There were rallies all over Britain which, as far as I can tell, were very well attended, attracting both Leave and Remain voters and people such as Bridie Watson of Exeter, about whom the BBC says:
 "NHS pharmacist Bridie Walton, 55, said she had never been to a demonstration before, but joined the protest in Exeter to oppose Mr Johnson's plan".
Boris probably wasn't in 10 Downing Street, but it was exhilarating to join the crowds that peacefully besieged the entrance to his new street of residence. 
Mark Easton of the BBC commented, somewhat disparagingly:
 "It's a far cry from the numbers that we saw marching through Westminster earlier this year. I think we'd probably measure this one in the thousands [in central London]".
Mr Easton should have borne in mind, firstly, that previous rallies have been national mobilisations for a march in one spot: London. The regional rallies drew in the numbers that would otherwise have gathered in Whitehall. Secondly, the rallies were called at short notice, and made full mobilisation in all regions difficult.
I have to admit that the organisation of the event was the best that could be done at short notice, but there were inevitable difficulties. I was in the crowd for well over an hour, but I could not hear (or even see) any of the reported speakers. Nor did I see any of the counter-demonstrators who reportedly turned up, although I did see a minor spat between two men near Westminster Tube Station. Democracy in action...
Among my fellow demonstrators were some genuine DEMONstrators: a group of Satanists in black cloaks. They were displaying a sign which said: "Satan hates dictators", which comes as a surprise. If that's true, Boris had better beware strange sounds in the night - unless it's his girl friend leaving.
One thing that disturbed me a little was the presence of families with small children in buggies among the crowd. I fully support the right of families to take their offspring on marches or orderly pickets, but the crowd was thickening as the afternoon wore on and any violence at the front, or pushing from the back, could have led to the children being placed at risk.
In the provinces, one of the best-attended rallies was held in Liverpool. Like Bridie Walton (a good Liverpool name!) in Exeter, it attracted people who have rarely, or perhaps never, attended a political demonstration. One such is my friend, Phil Scott, who took the above photograph. Phil, who holds no partisan pollical views, speaks, I am sure, for many "non-aligned" people who showed up yesterday when he says: 
"I think the Labour party hi-jacked the meeting too much for their own ends, rather than focusing on uniting the anti-Brexit broader church."
To me, and others with political experience, that's no surprise. Realistically speaking,the Labour Party is the largest opposition party, and took the lead in organising yesterday's protests. My best advice to Phil and others who feel like he does is to write to the Labour leadership at local and national level, pointing out the need for a united front against Brexit and/or no deal. To be fair, Jeremy Corbyn has attempted unity on the "no deal" issue.
But what of the great bugbear himself? Well, Boris did not appear yesterday, unsurprisingly. In fact he has become uncharacteristically shy of late. How a man with so much past dishonourable conduct ever became our prime minister is mind boggling, Anyone who wishes to go over his past misdeeds and indiscretions can click on this link and this one.
Instead, I'd like to examine the charge against Boris that was made so vociferously yesterday: that he is a dictator. Well, he has prorogued Parliament, but we should be careful about characterising him as a 21st century version of Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini. He hasn't - so far - made any moves towards eliminating political opponents. 
I can, though, see some vague resemblance to the great dictator of the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte. Simple-minded souls will point out the obvious differences, but there are similarities. Both exhibit the Nietzschean "will to power"; they both have overweening egos; they both circumvent established practice when it suits them. Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France, while Johnson has flouted so many laws that do not suit him (including moral laws) that Napoleon might almost have regarded him as an acolyte. Perhaps, instead of dignifying Johnson with the title of dictator, we should simply dismiss him as a would-be Bonapartist.
The major difference, of course, is that Napoleon's career ended at Waterloo, 1815. Johnson, when he comes unstuck, will simply leave 10 Downing Street and catch the 18.15 train from Waterloo Station. And I doubt that Abba will write a song about his demise...

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Hot Air Emissions: Nigel Farage and the Royals

Well, he's done it again. Nigel Farage has had his ups and downs since he wrote the Christmas Message for this blog in 2016. He's left UKIP now they've shown their true colours, founded a so-called political party and been returned as an MEP, together with a number of fellow Little Englanders. Oh, dear - what a shame he can't keep spouting offensive opinions! You would think that he had enough to do, spearheading the march into the Brexit abyss, without passing pub-loudmouth opinions on the royal family. Is Mr Farage a pub loudmouth? Surely not!
Well, he has certainly upset a lot of people by his recent unguarded remarks about the royals. As we know, he described the late Queen Mother as " overweight, chain-smoking gin drinker". He was on a working holiday in Australia when he said it, and I wonder what he was drinking at the time. It might even have been gin.
He derided Prince Charles as "Charlie Boy", and said that he hoped the Queen would live long enough to stop the prince becoming king.
Of particular interest, though, are his comments about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. As "The Sun" says:
"He criticised them for their “irrelevant” environmental and social justice campaigns when asked about their decision to have “two kids, maximum”.Farage also said Prince Harry used to be a “young, brave, boisterous” man who was the “most popular royal of a generation”.But he added that it has now “fallen off a cliff” after he met the 38-year-old American actress."
Now it gets interesting. Yesterday on Jeremy Vine's radio programme, the writer, Yasmine Alibhai-Brown, accused Mr Farage of "coded racism"; Stephen Doughty MP openly accused him of racism. He told "The Mirror":
"With his vile comments about the Royal Family, laced with barely concealed racism, Farage yet again shows his true colours. He's a pound shop fascist who only drapes himself in the British flag when it suits.'
Of these two reactions, I believe that of Mrs Alibhai-Brown to be closer to the truth. When the future wedding of the now Duke and Duchess of Sussex was announced, I believed it to be one in the eye for racists all over the world. I should have known that the racists would not take it without lashing back. The most extreme example of this was the planned terrorist attack on Prince Harry by two neo-Nazis. There is also what appears to be a sustained adverse publicity campaign against Meghan by the right-wing media. I'm not a royal watcher, but she seems to be under constant criticism  for all manner of minor infringements.
These "infringements" are hardly earth-shattering. She has a lavish lifestyle (haven't all the royals?); she has been guest editor of "Vogue" (what's wrong with a hobby?); she has a baby shower (so what?); she is allegedly trying to "celebritify" the royal family (what's new?). None of these activities are atypical of what the royals have already done. Quite rightly, many people have suspected that there are other reasons for this hostility to Meghan from the right-wing British press: she is a commoner; she has been divorced; she is (oh, dear!) an American; she (to use a Victorian racist phrase) has "a touch of the tarbrush", ie. is of mixed race. For me, and hopefully many others, these "outrages" are totally uninteresting and irrelevant. These spiteful attacks upon Meghan are clearly motivated by xenophobia, racism and old fashioned snobbery of the worst kind.
To return to Nigel Farage, I think it wrong to describe him as a racist or fascist, coded or pound shop. I believe Farage to be the same type of political operator as was his idol, Enoch Powell. Powell denied being a racist, as has Farage, yet both have an enthusiastic racist following. This is where Yasmine Alibhai-Brown has a point. Even though both men made no overtly racist statements, and perhaps have held no racist sentiments, the racist elements in our society interpret the public utterances of both Powell and Farage as being sympathetic to them. Please read my recent post as an example.
To finish on a simple human note, rather than a political one, I do hope Harry and Meghan weather the media storm around them at the present time. If they can maintain their happy relationship, that is the best possible way to confound their critics. Like the rest of us, they are entitled to go their own way.

Monday, 5 August 2019

A Tale of Two Fantasists and Their Victims

The two men whose faces appear in the photo above are separated in time by more than half a century. The man on the left is Noel Pemberton-Billing (1881-1948); the other is 51-year old Carl Beech (aka "Nick"), who has recently been sentenced to 18 years in prison for making false and malicious allegations against a number of high-profile figures.
Separated by time, background, class and a number of other factors, they have one thing in common: both these men are fantasists who made false but damaging allegations against prominent people. One has been punished and the other got away with his crime, but we will come to that.
Pemberton-Billing was an upwardly-mobile adventurer who became an MP in 1916. He became known for his obsession with "enemies within" - Germans, initially, despite being married to a part-German woman, but he attacked Jews as well. He founded a virulently anti-German, anti-Semitic news paper called "The Imperialist", later renamed "The Vigilante". On February 16, 1918, he published a story attacking the Canadian dancer and actress, Maud Allan, who was about to stage a private performance of the Oscar Wilde play, Salome. Billing saw an opportunity."Headstuff" comments here:

" He had been targeting Margot Asquith, wife of the former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, for some time and he now claimed that Margot and Maud were conducting a lesbian affair orchestrated by German puppetmasters. Furthermore he claimed that they were at the centre of a great conspiracy to enlist the wives of powerful men into what he called, with a typical lack of constraint, the “Cult of the Clitoris”.

He also claimed to know of the existence of a "Black Book" in which were listed the names of 47,000 prominent Britons who were at risk of being blackmailed by the Germans for homosexuality and general depravity.
To cut a long story short (and it's well worth reading about in full), Maud Allan felt compelled to sue, despite the fact that she actually was gay, which Billing and his legal team could have exploited. With the help of mendacious witnesses, who claimed to have seen the non-existent book, and despite the absurd nature of Billing's claims, Billing won his case and was acquitted, to loud applause from the public. Basil Thompson, head of Special Branch, commented:

“Everyone concerned appeared to have been either insane or to have behaved as if he were.”

After the war, Billing's witnesses were discredited and he bowed out of politics, but this did not repair the harm done to the reputation and life of his main victim: Maud Allan.
Maud Allan's career did not survive the acquittal of the man who libelled her. She went into professional decline, eking out a living as a dance teacher and sinking into genteel poverty. She left Britain for the USA, dying in Los Angeles in 1956 at the age of 83. There are several videos about her, and her dancing heyday, on YouTube.
 History does not record the effect of Billing's calumny upon Margot Asquith.
Pemberton-Billing died in obscurity in 1948. The newspapers did not report his death, and only WW1 buffs like me remember him at all - and then with the utmost contempt.
The case of Carl Beech is well known.

As we are aware, this man, using the pseudonym of "Nick", made a number of accusations against public figures, leading to police raids upon their homes and placing these men under intolerable pressure. Unlike Pemberton-Billing, Beech was exposed as a liar when his claims were shown to have no basis in fact. The police, however, have a number of questions to answer, first among which is: why were his lies listened to so readily? Was it because of the criticism levelled at them because of the refusal to listen to the victims of Jimmy Saville? As the BBC says:
"The Met publicly described Beech's allegations at the time as "credible and true", and they were given further publicity by Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, and media organisations, including the BBC".
Two years of investigations, and several million pounds, produced no evidence of wrongdoing.
One common factor with the Pemberton-Billing affair, though, is the damage done to the lives of the victims.
Harvey Proctor lost out severely because of Beech's allegations. He lost his job, his home and was target of a good deal of public abuse, so bad that he fled abroad. It is difficult to refute his claim that a thorough investigation would have torpedoed "Nick's" allegations.
Lord Janner's son, Daniel, told "Jewish News":
“It’s hard to underestimate just how appalling these allegations of the most serious kind have been in terms of their effect. Carl Beech manipulated for money and lied about my late father and others, lies of the most horrendous kind."
Lord Janner died in 2015.

Beech, when making his allegations, described Lord Leon Brittan, who also died in 2015, as " a brutal, sadistic and evil man". As Brittan was terminally ill when these allegations surfaced, it is difficult to imagine his feelings, as it is for his family in the light of the verdict against Beech. There are many other victims, and, says "The Spectator", four people have some serious questions to answer. They are Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Tom Watson, retired detective Kenny MacDonald and Exaro reporter, Mark Conrad ("Beech's most trusted confidant"). Just these four? That's probably an underestimate; perhaps we should ask ourselves why we are so ready to believe that celebrities are engaged in nefarious activities.
So, then, we have two cases with a century between them, both brought about by pathological liars with axes to grind. Both generated an enormous amount of publicity; both led to damaged lives and reputations.
While I have every sympathy for all victims and their families in these two cases, I can't help but think of the many ordinary people who are wrongly accused of crimes (and I've known some!) whose stories are never told.
The fake news operator himself - described by Noel Halifax as "the Nigel Farage of his day".