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 KGB 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.