It’s not often a single politician gets the blame for a policy that crashes and burns. Of the exceptions, one thinks of wars – Chamberlain, Eden and Blair are all now indelibly linked to failure in that regard. In peacetime we have Thatcher and the poll tax and Duncan Smith and Universal Credit. But responsibility for what goes wrong is often lost in the Whitehall mists of forgetfulness, or in the jargon ‘buried.’ I was rummaging around in my old files the other day when I came across this piece I wrote for LabourList in 2011. It had taken years for a costly failure to be recognised, that is long after the perpetrators were out of office. I suppose it will be years – if ever - before David Cameron is brought to book for his mis-conceived EU referendum. Does government have a learning curve?
“The National Audit Office has published a report which exposes the £500 million of public funds wasted on the ‘FiReControl’ system – a plan launched under Labour to regionalise the fire brigades control system. The NAO said the project was ‘flawed from the onset.’ The project failed and we now have half a billion pounds invested in empty regional control centres, useless and redundant. How could it have happened?
I remember this scheme well. The FBU insisted years ago that it was going to be a waste of money – and that even if it got off the ground it would not enhance public safety one jot. Quite the opposite. I wrote to ministers, but to no avail. It was as if the trade union perspective was as passé as the winter of discontent.
Why raise the matter now? Surely we would rather the public believed that this was a failure of some obscure government or a failure of a rogue department rather than – God forbid – our fault. According to Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, “We will want to know how the department got in to this mess and why the taxpayers will be saddled with a burden of at least £469 million.” (Guardian, 1/7/11) I have to say Margaret, we were in charge – and the FBU’s argument was treated with haughty disdain.
This was a not inexpensive example of how institutional arrogance, the product of political hubris, got in the way of common sense. It demonstrated how we should have recognised the role our partners in the trade unions have in informing the development of public services. But they, the trade unions, were implicitly regarded as too heavily ‘producer’ orientated and thus only bothered about their own well-being.
Of course, ministers have to be decisive but we ended up making so many mistakes without pause it became an embarrassment. Our last five years in government became the embodiment of the old saying ‘activity is not a substitute for achievement,’ an epithet of managerialism if there ever was one. We were obsessed with re-arranging the delivery of services without asking whether our last re-arrangement had succeeded. Talk of a Maoist revolution – it was more like a flower arranger on speed. I believe that at the heart of this hyper make-believe activity was a nagging fear. It was the fear of – forgive me – an existential political emptiness, a loss of direction which could only be filled with management consultants and their unerring ambition to re-arrange deck chairs.
At the heart of the refounding of Labour we need an open dialogue with the trade union movement and many other partners (let’s drop this stakeholder crap – it means nothing to anybody). Should we need reminding – trade unions probably have the largest ‘third sector’ membership in the country? Dialogue means honesty all round and less of the patronising talk which tends to ebb and flow on all sides.
If we’d listened seven or eight years ago, it could be persuasively argued that the deficit might be half a billion quid smaller. But it wasn’t fashionable to listen to the FBU, a classic ‘producer interest’ union, even whilst our Prime Minister donned a white tie and tails to wait upon the Mansion House set. As somebody once said, it’s time to press the reset button. Endless doses of re-organisation are not a sign of virility. It is a lesson the ConDems have yet to learn, but once again, it is the poor so-called stakeholders who will suffer.
Afterthought: with years of managerialism in practice, how is it that the MoD can’t account for £6billion of assets? Fetch the consultants!”
There’s a good lesson here for a post-managerialist Labour Party.
Double standards abound in the press, especially when it comes to its treatment of Jeremy Corbyn. What sustains these double standards is of course a one-sided, ahistorical viewpoint that avoids counter facts. Why, this attitude has now even found expression in Benjamin Netanyahu’s own comments on the Corbyn wreath laying nonsense! I thought I would look into some background, and given his award of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Anwar Sadat, I thought Menachem Begin would be as good a subject as any if we want to understand why mock outrage in the UK press is pathetic. We start with Begin’s funeral in 1992 (the connecting factor of the three pieces below is Irgun):
“Mr. [Menachem] Begin's body was carried to the site [the Mount of Olives] by former comrades in the guerrilla movement, Irgun Zvai Leumi, which fought in the 1940's for a Jewish homeland in what was then British-mandated Palestine.” (New York Times, March 1992)
“He had asked to be buried there instead of Mount Herzl, where most Israeli leaders are laid to rest, because he wanted to be buried beside his wife Aliza, as well as Meir Feinstein of Irgun and Moshe Barazani of Lehi, who committed suicide in jail while awaiting execution by the British.” (Wikipedia)
“The Deir Yassin massacre took place on April 9, 1948, when around 120 fighters from the Zionist paramilitary groups Irgun and Lehi attacked Deir Yassin, a Palestinian Arab village of roughly 600 people near Jerusalem. The assault occurred as Jewish militia sought to relieve the blockade of Jerusalem during the civil war that preceded the end of British rule in Palestine.
According to Irgun sources, the village guards felt surprised by "the Jews" entering their village at night and opened fire on the Irgun force. The village fell after fierce house-to-house fighting. During and after the battle for the village, at least 107 Palestinians were killed, including women and children—some were shot, while others died when hand grenades were thrown into their homes. Despite an original boast by the victors that 254 had been killed, Aref al-Aref counted 117 victims, 7 in combat and the rest in their homes. According to a count conducted by International Red Cross representative Jacques de Reynier, apart from bodies left lying in the streets, 150 corpses were found in one cistern alone, among them people who had been either decapitated or disemboweled. Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote that there were also cases of mutilation and rape. Several villagers were taken prisoner and may have been killed after being paraded through the streets of West Jerusalem. Four of the attackers were killed, with around 35 injured.” (Wikipedia)
It doesn’t take five minutes to discover that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. The guerrilla fighters of Irgun are commemorated in Israel, along with all members of the Israeli Defence Forces who have died over the course of the country’s history. Just as we commemorate our dead. Corbyn’s mistake clearly was attending the wrong commemoration ceremony. But perhaps it’s a good job he wasn’t spotted at Begin’s funeral. Begin after all was a leader of Irgun when it bombed the King David Hotel – HQ of the British forces – in 1946, when 91 people were murdered.
I have been following an email discussion about climate change which started off with questions about what kind of preparations we should now be making for the calamitous consequences of global warming. Consequences which it seems some people are beginning to wake up to, with e.g. forest fires and drought hitting countries around the world. In other words, as our addiction to fossil fuels seems too hard to kick, how will we learn to adapt? Climate change adaptation will be an expensive business, and for some it will be impossible. Low lying countries, from Bangladesh to Kiribati probably won’t have the resources. Kiribati already plans to decamp elsewhere. Bangladesh is getting a wall (or a fence) courtesy of India – to keep Bangladeshis out of India.
An interesting but I think passé concern raised in the email thread is the question of moral responsibility. As a philosophical question this is fine, but as a practical question it is useless, since it begs for the creation of a just economy. If one believes in the progressive instinct of human kind, that with the application of intelligence and reason our species will eventually overcome hunger, war, disease, inequality, etc., etc. that too is fine – but when will arcadia arrive? When will all peoples occupy the same stage of moral, i.e. just equilibrium?
As things stand, in the context of climate change and as graphs produced by Aubrey Meyer illustrate, the imbalance between debtors and creditors in the climate change economy is practically (if not theoretically) irreconcilable (25% of the population created 75% of the problem). How in practical terms would the beneficiaries of fossil fuelled industrialisation compensate the non-beneficiaries, that is, the ‘creditors?’ Even if we could detect a genuine desire on their part to do so, the remedies currently offered fall hopelessly short. At least Trump is honest enough to say he’s not playing the game. Others pay it lip service but carry on by and large with business as usual. One email correspondent asked when will an emergency be declared? One hopes not to be around when it is.
Another strand to the discussion has, in my view obsessed too much with population growth. As Aubrey’s analysis shows, population growth in itself did not bring about the present crisis. 50% of the CO2 released since 1850 remains in the atmosphere, so the cumulative effect of emissions predates the more recent explosion in population. If (a massive if) future births enjoyed carbon neutral lifestyles, it wouldn’t be a climate change issue (but may well have other resource implications). So to address our current climate change problem through the prism of population growth is a non-starter, and merely exacerbates the sense of injustice felt in poorer countries who see population growth as a component of economic development (c.f. China’s abandonment of the one child policy). Developing countries say ‘You’ve enjoyed development, now it’s our turn.’ This is but a different iteration of the concept of the ‘just’ economy.
So in the meantime, we’d best prepare our defences and wait for Pearl Harbour. On current trends, we won’t be waiting long.
UK government hypocrisy doesn’t get much worse. The killing of 29 children on a school bus in Yemen has failed to win a condemnation from Theresa May and her minions. If the perpetrator had been Russia, instead of Saudi Arabia (and its UK and US allies) we wouldn’t have heard the end of it. At least the BBC news last night did make a point of exposing the government’s absence of scruples, making the point that our arms trade with the Saudis has benefitted since the war in the Yemen began. The last word goes to Tory MP Andrew Mitchell (he of Plebgate) who wrote in the Guardian last June:
The British government finds itself not on the side of innocent families who fear the fire that falls from above, but on the side of the perpetrator who has launched a huge military gamble
Anyone visiting Scarborough cemetery to lay a wreath could walk past the final burying place of Jimmy Saville. In the perverted logic of the Daily Mail, this could be interpreted as paying tribute to the late sex abuser. The scumrag Mail is nevertheless continuing to peddle its story – thoroughly debunked by Skwawkbox – that Jeremy Corbyn, some years ago on a visit to Tunisia, paid tribute to the Munich terrorists who happen to be buried in the same graveyard as some Palestinians, themselves victims of a bombing. To make their story even sicker, the Mail’s frontpage today ‘reveals’ how relatives of the victims of the Munich massacre are upset - as they might well be if the scumrag’s story were true.
I suspect that if as a result of this long, dry summer standpipes had to be erected in our streets, there would be quite a few grumbles. Mutterings about Yorkshire Water having the second worst record nationally in leakage, etc. But I also suspect that when a leak happens, many people can't be bothered to report it. It was the case with the major burst pictured here (this was a couple of years ago). It's the first time I've seen a group of young people with not a single mobile phone between them. I reported it immediately I saw it, and that was after it had been spouting away for a few hours. Nobody else had bothered. Now I have just reported another leak, admittedly not so obvious as this one, but one which scores or hundreds of people will have seen every day. Checking on the Yorkshire Water website, there is a map which tells you if a leak has already been reported, and there was nothing. So why are people averse to reporting leaks? Is it a big effort? Hardly. But I'm underestimating what some people consider to be a big effort.
Tory grandees are clearly livid with Boris Johnson over his remarks about some Muslim women’s attire. Not because they don’t agree with him – surely Boris’s antennae aren’t that out of sync – but because his comments have knocked Labour’s ‘anti-semitism’ garbage off the top slot. Even the Guardian had to relegate the latest musings of Dame Margaret Hodge into a secondary place. On the Today programme this morning the stand-out moment for me was when ‘Lord’ Eric Pickles, in full smoothy-chops mode described Boris as his friend but . . . his language was out of line, and by the way this couldn’t be compared with Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech. I love this use of the non-comparison comparison. Could it be called a false flag comparison? Who else actually made the comparison? The point is to plant the thought in people’s heads. I’m not sure Eric really is Boris’s friend after all.
I can envisage the scene now. Scarborough south bay’s golden beach is crowded with sun-seeking day-trippers, the sea is crystalline glistening, seabirds swoop overhead, leaving the occasional ice cream slurper wondering why their extra-large peach and vanilla cornet suddenly tastes of sea food. Then suddenly and without warning, a phalanx of black, wet suit clad commandos emerge from the water and scatter the crowds with tear gas and stun grenades. Panic ensues. Ice creams are flung into sand castles and seagulls snatch abandoned chips.
Oblivious to the crowds, the heavily armed commandos continue at pace up Eastborough, checking their GPS trackers every 10 seconds as they close in on their target. Soon, their destination emerges, it is surrounded and isolated. Carefully, as we have seen many times in Hollywood action blockbusters featuring special forces, a crack squad enters Scarborough’s historic market (recently the beneficiary of a £2.7 million make-over) and their red lasers pick out a cheery but somewhat startled criminal, known as ‘the greengrocer.’ He is zapped and taken off with a hood over his head whilst in the background the muffled sound of a controlled explosion destroys the evidence of his crime: the contents of boxes of ‘Pars’ supreme quality Iranian dates are splattered all over the shiny balustrades of the historic market’s brand new mezzanine level. Mission Accomplished (as they say), the U.S. Navy Seals retreat the way they came, bellowing ‘Make America Great Again!’, taking with them their captive the greengrocer – who’s headed for Guantanomo Bay (via an undisclosed rendition centre).
Yes, today’s the day Trump’s new sanction regime against Iran came into force and it's going to be BRUTAL. Does this mean that Pars dates (to which I was recently introduced) are going to disappear? These sublime confections must certainly be on Trump’s no-go list. For the time being I imagine they’ll remain on sale, as stocks are used up. Perhaps E.U. resistance to Trump’s reneging on the Iran nuclear deal will prevent the supply chain breaking down, for now. But come March 19th next year when the U.K. ‘takes back control’ what then? Out of the E.U. our glorious and ever so strong and stable leader will no doubt stand up to Trump on her own hands and knees, and say ‘No, Mr President, we’re quite able to withstand your pressure and we’ll stick with the E.U. on this one.’ Of course she will. That’s the new freedom we’ll have, being on our own.
“It is anti-semitic to regard Israel as a “racist endeavour” because it suggests that Jews, alone among all nations, have no legitimate right to self-determination. After all, why the double standard?”
That is a sentence from a letter in the Guardian today. I thought I knew what ‘self-determination’ meant, but now I’m not so sure. The accusation of anti-semitism arises of course because Israel is equated with ALL Jews, and the logic is that critics of Israel are critical only because of its Jewish nature. For a definition of Israel, one now only needs to refer to Israel’s new Nation State Law which states:
Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People
1 — Basic principles
A. The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.
B. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.
C. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
(The complete text of the Nation State Law can be found here)
This is about as racially exclusive as you can get – the territory that Israel now occupies was of course the historical homeland of millions of other people too. As I have commented before, a law that privileges one race over another is de facto racist.
It seems that for the purposes of claiming self-determination, there is no easy way of determining who should automatically claim that right, and the right is constantly being tested, from Scotland to Catalonia, from East Timor to Quebec, even to the fractious parts of Belgium – some of them places you could think might have settled down a bit by now. But is it conceivable that in Scotland or Quebec, a law would be passed that declared that other people (aka citizens) of a different ethnic, religious or cultural background living in that territory should be denied a ‘unique’ right to self-determination?
Self-determination, as described by Wikipedia “states that a people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference.”
Clearly, the issues ‘of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity’ and the ‘right to choose their sovereignty’ are not applied in Israel and those parts of Palestine which have been subsumed into Israel.
Here’s serious confirmation of that – the judgement of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), reporting in 2004 and here quoted at length (one wouldn’t want to be accused of exercising ‘double standards’ after all) - this is from an ICJ judgement on Israel’s ‘security wall:
Turning to the question of the legality under international law of the construction of the wall by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Court first determined the rules and principles of international law relevant to the question posed by the General Assembly. After recalling the customary principles laid down in Article 2, paragraph 4, of the United Nations Charter and in General Assembly resolution 2625 (XXV), which prohibit the threat or use of force and emphasize the illegality of any territorial acquisition by such means, the Court further cited the principle of self-determination of peoples, as enshrined in the Charter and reaffirmed by resolution 2625 (XXV). In relation to international humanitarian law, the Court then referred to the provisions of the Hague Regulations of 1907, which it found to have become part of customary law, as well as to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, holding that these were applicable in those Palestinian territories which, before the armed conflict of 1967, lay to the east of the 1949 Armistice demarcation line (or “Green Line”) and were occupied by Israel during that conflict. The Court further established that certain human rights instruments (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) were applicable in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The Court then sought to ascertain whether the construction of the wall had violated the above-mentioned rules and principles. Noting that the route of the wall encompassed some 80 per cent of the settlers living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Court, citing statements by the Security Council in that regard in relation to the Fourth Geneva Convention, recalled that those settlements had been established in breach of international law. After considering certain fears expressed to it that the route of the wall would prejudge the future frontier between Israel and Palestine, the Court observed that the construction of the wall and its associated régime created a “fait accompli” on the ground that could well become permanent, and hence tantamount to a de facto annexation. Noting further that the route chosen for the wall gave expression in loco to the illegal measures taken by Israel with regard to Jerusalem and the settlements and entailed further alterations to the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Court concluded that the construction of the wall, along with measures taken previously, severely impeded the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination and was thus a breach of Israel’s obligation to respect that right.
The Court then went on to consider the impact of the construction of the wall on the daily life of the inhabitants of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, finding that the construction of the wall and its associated régime were contrary to the relevant provisions of the Hague Regulations of 1907 and of the Fourth Geneva Convention and that they impeded the liberty of movement of the inhabitants of the territory as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as their exercise of the right to work, to health, to education and to an adequate standard of living as proclaimed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Court further found that, coupled with the establishment of settlements, the construction of the wall and its associated régime were tending to alter the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, thereby contravening the Fourth Geneva Convention and the relevant Security Council resolutions. The Court then considered the qualifying clauses or provisions for derogation contained in certain humanitarian law and human rights instruments, which might be invoked inter alia where military exigencies or the needs of national security or public order so required. The Court found that such clauses were not applicable in the present case, stating that it was not convinced that the specific course Israel had chosen for the wall was necessary to attain its security objectives, and that accordingly the construction of the wall constituted a breach by Israel of certain of its obligations under humanitarian and human rights law. Lastly, the Court concluded that Israel could not rely on a right of self-defence or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall, and that such construction and its associated régime were accordingly contrary to international law.
The Court went on to consider the consequences of these violations, recalling Israel’s obligation to respect the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and its obligations under humanitarian and human rights law. The Court stated that Israel must put an immediate end to the violation of its international obligations by ceasing the works of construction of the wall and dismantling those parts of that structure situated within Occupied Palestinian Territory and repealing or rendering ineffective all legislative and regulatory acts adopted with a view to construction of the wall and establishment of its associated régime. The Court further made it clear that Israel must make reparation for all damage suffered by all natural or legal persons affected by the wall’s construction. As regards the legal consequences for other States, the Court held that all States were under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction. It further stated that it was for all States, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, to the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination be brought to an end. In addition, the Court pointed out that all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention were under an obligation, while respecting the Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention. Finally, in regard to the United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, the Court indicated that they should consider what further action was required to bring to an end the illegal situation in question, taking due account of the present Advisory Opinion.
Why should one alight on Israel, then? Could it be the Israeli government’s blatant disregard for international law having something to do with it? So blatant in fact, that the Nation State Law states “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” and “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.” The meaning of that clause is clear, even if it was watered down somewhat before passing into law.
The Nation State Law is the Israeli government’s doing, and sets out to make it impossible to criticise Israel without drawing condemnation for being anti-semitic. This is an untenable state of affairs.
If you can’t rig elections, the next best thing to do is to cancel them. Having just won an election, the new premier of Ontario Doug Ford has chosen the latter course. Has he begun as he means to go on? I’ve been following my old friend and parliamentary colleague Gordon Prentice’s blog on what’s been happening since the brother of the disgraced, former mayor of Toronto the late Rob Ford took office. Without so much as a hint in his manifesto (which was policy-lite in most regards) King Doug has set about dismantling democratic institutions in his province. He is a Conservative, and from what I have seen of his behaviour, loud-mouthed, boorish and cunning to boot. Canadian politics gets more interesting by the day for those who need some light relief from our interminable Brexit tedium.
Another spat in Trumpicana has emerged, which whilst not exactly new does provide some entertainment of a sinister sort. New Republic carries a story about how the Koch brothers, amongst the very richest men in the USA have serious concerns about the Donald. I imagine some of this has to do with their likely disdain for a parvenu billionaire – or possibly a pretend billionaire – but has led the POTUS to tweet : “The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade. I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas. They love my Tax & Regulation Cuts, Judicial picks & more. I made..... [second tweet continues] ....them richer. Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn. They want to protect their companies outside the U.S. from being taxed, I’m for America First & the American Worker - a puppet for no one. Two nice guys with bad ideas. Make America Great Again!” (tweeted 31st July)
It now seems that the brothers, or Charles Koch in particular is upset that some of the Republican candidates they paid for aren’t sufficiently delivering on their agenda, and they’re going to get tough with them. This could lead to a very interesting battle within the GOP. The Kochs really do spend a lot of dollars on their chosen candidates, some of whom will be facing a resurgent Democratic tide. Who will they turn to – or what will they turn to, Koch money or Trump bluster? It’s a peculiar battle to have, since most of what the brothers stand for aligns with Trump’s agenda – climate change denial, tax cuts, reduced environmental regulation, etc., etc. But in this battle Trump is playing it quite cannily, placing himself with the workers against the tax avoiding rich bastards. A hint of Germany in the 1930s perhaps.
An email arrives from B&Q “to let you know about some important changes to the Diamond Card discount.” When a retailer refers to important changes it usually means price rises, and so it is in this case. Grey Wednesdays are over – that is when the over-60s could enjoy a 10% discount on everything instore. Now the discount is to be limited to ‘gardening products’ only. This of course is all in aid of maintaining ‘our best price every day you shop.’
Given that B&Q rarely was the cheapest place to buy stuff – but simply had a bigger choice under one roof – I can now envisage diamond DIY geezers shopping around a lot more, perhaps even making more use of the internet. I think B&Q have shot themselves in the foot. I don’t think people minded paying a little extra to get a little discount. That’s the curious psychology of the consumer, daft as it seems.
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader in 2015, anti-semitic incidents in the UK actually dropped, according to the Community Security Trust. They have sadly risen again. But between 2012 and 2014 they doubled. If I recollect, that’s during Ed Miliband’s term as leader of the Labour Party. He was a Jew of course, once photographed eating a bacon sarnie, and many times demonised, along with his father by the right-wing press. I don’t recollect the Jewish Labour Movement or the Board of Deputies attacking the right wing media with the venom they now reserve for Jeremy Corbyn.