Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The brave protestors in Hong Kong deserve our unequivocal support.

When I arrived in Hong Kong in 1986 for what would turn out to be a four year stay I was told that Hong Kongers had no interest in politics. The conventional wisdom was that money, family and food (with a sprinkle of sex) were the drivers of the lives of the 5m locals! Certainly the twin Gods of mammon and ancestor worship drove Hong Kong's people and the temples were Happy Valley racecourse and the Stock Market (the two strongly resembled one another). And the fast ferry to Macau with its casinos were always busy. Family life was also strong. Elderly parents were looked after as a matter of course - and children spoilt and a bit indulged! It was for most a happy fulfilled life and there seemed no real need for politics.

The approach of the handover to Communist China in 1997 was, however, focusing a few minds. Those who could afford to sought a foreign passport as an insurance policy against trouble post handover. (Canada and Australia were popular destinations as Britain pretty much abandoned its HK Chinese citizens). And a nascent pro democracy movement, driven by the splendid QC Martin Lee, gathered some support. When he arrived as the Last Governor in 1992 Chris Patten did try, with some success, to establish some democratic processes. But it was really too little and too late. The terrible events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 had concentrated minds and made one realise that Margaret Thatcher's "Joint Declaration" with the People's Republic was a bit of a sell-out.

In June 1989 the Chinese dictatorship had brutally suppressed the peaceful protests of (mostly) students and other young people in Peking. I had around 30 HK Chinese staff, mostly graduates in their twenties. They came to see me and asked whether I would mind if they joined the march through Central District that was planned to protest against the Tiananmen Square massacre. I of course gave them my blessing and full support. They saw the Mainland protestors as kindred spirits - part of the same Chinese family of which they were members. I watched the march from my office - the young people had turned out in their hundreds of thousands. 

So when I look at the new generation of protestors in Hong Kong today I am reminded that there is more to politics than political parties and political processes. There is more to it than endless bickering on the margins. At its rawest and most important politics is about freedom of expression and about the most basic liberties. It is about the premise that we all, as individuals, have inalienable rights. The men in power in Peking and elsewhere may have the might to suppress these freedoms if they choose to use it - which in the past they have. But right is not on their side. It's on the side of the brave young people who once again gather in Central to protest. They deserve our unequivocal support. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

If Cameron is Heath, and Farage is Enoch Powell - who will be the Conservatives new Margaret Thatcher?

"This is the first and last election at which the British people will be given the opportunity to decide whether their country is to remain a democratic nation, governed by the will of its own electorate expressed in its own Parliament, or whether it will become one province in a new European superstate under institutions which know nothing of the political rights and liberties that we have so long taken for granted"

This is not, as you might reasonably surmise, a preview of a speech next year by Nigel Farage, Douglas Carswell or Mark Reckless. Nor of someone from the Anti-Europe Right of the Conservative Party like Daniel Hannan. It is from a speech by Enoch Powell in 1974 - a "Forty Years On" moment which shows that there is nothing new about Europhobia on the Tory Right. Powell was still, just, a Conservative MP when he made that speech but he was in the process of abandoning the Party, encouraging the electorate to vote Labour and then later joining an overtly Nationalist political Party the Ulster Unionists. Deja Vu?

Douglas Carswell and now Mark Reckless are unashamedly Powellite. Their nationalist political philosophy is indistinguishable from Powell's and it was perhaps only a matter of time before they followed in Powell's footsteps and jumped ship. While UKIP does not, of course, call on voters to vote Labour (as Powell then did)  it knows that the larger the UKIP vote in 2015 the larger the Labour majority. The enemy, despite the protestations, is not Labour but a Conservative Party that, as they see it, has sold out on Europe and on immigration. Pure Enoch Powell of course. 

Nationalism is a powerful political force because tub-thumping and flag-waving is visible, simple and has an instant appeal. Margaret Thatcher used it to brilliant effect during the Falklands War and bolstered her then shaky political position as a consequence. Nigel Farage only needs to compare the merits of our Parliamentary democracy with the threat of an unelected "new European Superstate" to get the Union Flags waving enthusiastically in support

The three essential tenets of UKIP (Anti Europe, anti immigration and anti the political establishment) are like the legs of a three-legged stool - remove one and the stool falls over. And by joining the Party Carswell and Reckless clearly are happy to embrace all three. The Powellite comparison is also strong in respect of a contempt for the new political order. This is what Farage said back in 2008:

"You can agree or disagree with much of the Powell doctrine, but his belief in the state having less of a say over our lives, in us not having our laws made in Brussels and having sensible controls over our borders - whilst his language may seem out-of-date now, the principles remain good and true.

And here is what Mark a Reckless said yesterday:

"I remember the promises I made to my constituents in Rochester and Strood, and I intend to keep them. I promised we would cut immigration, cut the deficit so we could reduce taxes, decentralise power and promised we would have a more open and accountable politics. And above all, I promised we would get our country out of the European Union."

All politicians are products of their political time. Enoch Powell had by 1974, at the age of 62, not given up the hope of more political power and whilst his political positioning was from way out of "right field" he had spotted an exploitable niche in the British political status quo. Nigel Farage has identified that same niche and acknowledged that Powell's "principles" are the same as his. The 1970s were febrile political times and Powell exploited the same fears as Farage and Co. are exploiting now. Powell was never going to become Prime Minister as an Ulster Unionist - but arguably his articulation of strong nationalism shifted the political norms sufficiently to prepare the way for Margaret Thatcher. Nigel Farage is never going to take UKIP to any sort of meaningful position of power either - but perhaps his new Tory recruits like Carswell and Reckless hope that UKIP's shock tactics will change the Conservatives as arguably Powell did in the 1970s? 

So if Farage is Powell, challenging Cameron as Powell once challenged Heath, who will be the White Knight who will be a modern day Margaret Thatcher?  Is Boris Johnson subtly (for him) shifting to the Right to be the modern day saviour of the Conservative Party? Or is there some other figure with charisma and an authentic message on the Tory Right who can pick up the sword. There are many in the Party who must be hoping so! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Only major constitutional reforms at Westminster and at Brussels will securely hold our Union together.

What now for the Scottish National Party? As I wrote after the outcome of the Independence referendum was known they were a one trick pony, and that pony has been shot. This conclusion was strengthened by the decision of Alex Salmond to stand down as leader. He was saying "That's it" - or it is , as he put it "for a generation". Salmond’s  subsequent backtracking and the emergence of the “45” movement makes little sense. He got it right the first time around. The independence game is up for the foreseeable future.

The SNP's single manifesto position was independence for Scotland. They pursued it doggedly, secured 45% of the vote both in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election and in the referendum campaign and have run Scotland for seven years. But with independence not on the agenda - at least for a very long time - what will the SNP and Scotland do? That will be for the electorate to decide of course as I don't imagine that the SNP will disband. Power is addictive, they have it and I doubt that they will give it up willingly. But given that the General Election in 2015 and the Scottish election in 2016 will not be about independence, and that further devolution to Holyrood should have been agreed before both, why would a voter choose the Nationalists ahead of the broad manifesto parties Left, Soft Left and the Right?

The three main UK parties have to offer policies on all major issues at General Elections. It would lack credibility for them not to do so. While one or two issues may be dominant - the Economy, the NHS, immigration (possibly) - and while the character and personality of the Party leader is important they still have to present a broad manifesto. Single issue parties don't have to do that - if, as in Scotland, that single issue is all pervasive they can win and gain power.

Fitting the SNP on the Left/Right political axis has always been difficult. When I lived in Scotland in the 1980s they were sometimes referred to as "Tartan Tories" though they weren't very successful from this position. More recently, and knowing that to win the referendum they had to persuade Labour voters, they moved to the Left - the referendum campaign was unashamedly Left driven. The SNP could build on this and become a sort of Scottish Socialist Party and challenge Labour from that position but I doubt that that would be likely to succeed. Most voters, understanding that independence is off the agenda for the foreseeable future, will surely prefer to chose whether they want to be governed from Centre-Left (Labour, LibDems) or Centre-Right (Conservatives) and vote accordingly. I would expect the outcome of the 2016 election to be a Labour Government, possibly in coalition with the LibDems, with the Nationalists and resurgent Conservatives (helped by the PR system) vying to be the official opposition.

Which brings us to the “UK Independence Party” which like the SNP is unashamedly (though differently) nationalist. UKIP is not a “broad manifesto” party – ask even their supporters what their position is on any subject other than the one of nationalism and they wouldn’t know. Indeed their leader also seems not to know sometimes.  UKIP’s nationalism is based on xenophobia – which the OED defines as a “deep dislike of foreigners”. These foreigners are the apparatchiks in Brussels, the EU citizens who have the temerity to exercise their right to come and work in the UK and the multicultural Britain that now exists following decades of immigration and the growth of “ethnic” families. This extreme xenophobia is illustrated by, for example, the admission by Nigel Farage that he feels “uncomfortable” when he “doesn't hear English in the train” ! Trivial though this borderline paranoid silliness is it illustrates neatly the inward-looking nationalism that grabs at the Union Flag to symbolise the party – (as the even more extreme nationalist British National Party does):Nigel-Farage-008Linked with the nationalism of UKIP, and a key element in the SNP’s Independence referendum positioning, is the rejection of traditional politics. For both parties Westminster is the villain – in UKIP’s case for having sold Britain’s soul to the devils of Brussels. This is an appeal to the guts and, of course, a convenient opportunity to blame somebody. The growth of UKIP has been fuelled not by the chattering political  classes but by those who feel disenchanted and disadvantaged. In Scotland the “Yes” vote was much stronger in the more deprived areas such as Glasgow (53.5%) than in the much more prosperous one like Edinburgh (38.9%). UKIP’s strength in seaside Essex (Clacton etc.) is the same.

History teaches us that radical often single-issue parties do well in times of economic difficulty. If that difficulty is unfairly being experienced by one segment of society then that is a happy hunting ground for extremists. By any definition the break up of the United Kingdom was a pretty extreme proposition, but 45% of the Scottish electorate voted for it. Similarly the raw and often bigoted nationalism of UKIP is extreme, but 28% of UK voters in the European elections chose it – more than any other Party.

In these febrile times, with a hard core of deep resentment among many who voted “Yes” in Scotland and those who vote for UKIP in England, it would be dangerous if the traditional broad manifesto parties do not respond. I say “dangerous” advisedly because while both the Scottish referendum and the rise of UKIP have been peaceful that may not continue. Extreme nationalism, history also teaches us, can have a violent edge to it. Mosley's blackshirts were militaristic – as, of course, was the IRA. The SNP – a Party in many ways akin to Sinn Fein – does not have a military wing, but it could.

The response to the SNP has to be simultaneously to build on the “No” vote by strengthening British institutions, while honouring in full commitments made to greater devolution to Holyrood. These twin objectives are not incompatible. A Federal and elected Upper Chamber in Westminster looking after pan-British interests is, for example, an option worth considering. At the same time UKIP can be defused by working with our partners in the European Union to implement more fully the Union’s principle of “Subsidiarity”. There is a direct parallel here. Delegate to our Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies everything that logic says would be better devolved. Create an English assembly to do the same for England. Meanwhile ensure that these same principles apply in Europe. Our membership of the EU is undisputedly of great value, though the case is not always well made. But that does not mean that it should not change and that certain things that are done in Brussels should in future be done in London – or Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast for that matter.

Self-interest, particularly Party interest, should not dictate something as important as constitutional change. The “West Lothian”  question is long overdue to be solved – and the narrow interests of the Labour Party should not stop this happening. Scottish MPs should no more vote on English matters than the reverse! And we should create, at last, a proper written Constitution for the United Kingdom – one that will endure and be the glue that holds us all together much longer than a generation!

Yes, an English Assembly and perhaps a Federal Britian makes sense.

Nadhim Zahawi

"When we left Iraq it was Britain where we made our home" says Nadim Zahawi in an article today.

It is a very important comment. It was not England, but Britain. I suspect many of those whose recent ancestors emigrated to the UK would feel the same. But so do I and, as far as I can tell, my forbears have been British since the time of the Normans! I have never felt particularly "English" - indeed sporting events aside I'm not sure what it means. I have a "British" passport and when I have travelled and lived abroad it was Britain that was my home. England means very little to me largely (a) because it is emotionally indistinguishable from "Britain" in my mind (b) it is so diverse and has such cultural differences within it. 

I am "English" because I am not Scottish, Welsh or Irish and because England is that part of Britain, by this exclusion, to which I belong. This fact is now increasingly being institutionalised  in the Governance as the United Kingdom. Devolution to Holyrood, Stormont and Cardiff  has happened and the process will continue. I have no problem with this at all. It is consistent with the principle of "subsidiarity" which also governs our presence within the European Union. I see no intellectual inconsistency in the idea that if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are partly self-governing on domestic matters then England should be as well.

If the principle of a self-governing England is accepted alongside the others the challenge becomes to put it into effect. A United Kingdom Parliament for those matters NOT devolved is the start point. Then the creation of an English assembly to match those in the other "countries" of the UK. The fact that England is much bigger than the other three parts doesn't matter. The creation of another tier of Government with phoney Regional assemblies would just add cost and bureaucracy. Similarly there would be little point in having the English assembly anywhere other than Westminster. The chamber exists - let's carry on using it!

So now the challenge is to establish an electoral system that gives effect to these changes. Let's solve the West Lothian question once and for all! Let's acknowledge that a UK Parliament needs far fewer members if many matters have been devolved to English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish assemblies. Let's eliminate for good the undemocratic nonsense of Scottish (or Welsh, or Irish) elected members voting on purely English matters. If all of this leads to the creation of what is effectively a Federal system then so be it. And if these constitutional changes leads us also to review our absurd undemocratic Upper House all the better. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Brown comes out from the cold to do what he's good at


The rebirth of Gordon Brown is one of the more surprising, but pleasing outcomes of the Scottish Independence referendum. Brown was the one that the political and media establishment loved to hate during his years as Prime Minister. On the contrary his ten years as Chancellor were mostly lauded, at the time, by an often supinely admiring political class. Did he spend more than Britain could afford in those years? In retrospect yes, but remember that before the financial crisis the Conservatives promised to match Labour’s spending plans!

If Brown was a less good Chancellor, in retrospect, than he seemed at the time (not least his failure to curb the casino behaviour of the banks) he was arguably a better Prime Minister. His handling of the financial crisis, particularly the international dimension, was generally praised as was his chairmanship of the 2009 G20 summit.

Since his 2010 election defeat Brown has been rather a brooding figure. But unlike his predecessor he has not sought to enrich himself by cashing in on his ex-PM status. He has also remained a member of the House of Commons and assiduously looked after the interests of his constituents. But on the great affairs of State he has been mostly silent, except in his writing and the the occasional speech, often unreported. But when the Scottish referendum seemed to be going suddenly wrong for the “No” campaign he emerged from the shadows – and how!

The speeches Brown made over the last few weeks of the Referendum campaign were truly outstanding. Passionate, fluent, emotional and of course intellectually robust. I say “of course” because intellect has always been Gordon Brown’s greatest asset. He always “gets” an issue however complex - sadly he did not always “get” the political fallout from problems when he actually did what the highly developed logical left-hand side of his brain told him to do! In retrospect it is sad that the Left brain driven Brown and the Right brain driven Blair could not build on the powerful logic of the early years of their partnership. That Britain's two most outstanding and complementary modern politicians fell into an acrimonious war reflects badly on both of them.

But since 2010 Brown has had the moral high ground whilst Blair has become a figure of derision. This means that Blair could never return – a fantasy of some Blairites that took a while to go away. Brown on the other hand has returned – honourably and successfully. He also has his man in the Labour leader’s job and another as Shadow Chancellor. Whether they now seek to use Brown in some way we will see – but my guess is that it is in Scotland that his future may lie.

The next elections for the Scottish Parliament are in May 2016 but if Gordon Brown has ambitions in Holyrood he could perhaps become an MSP before then in a by-election. Clearly the outcome of the 2016 Scottish election will be heavily influenced by the aftershock from the Referendum vote and by the 2015 British General Election. Whether the Scottish National Party can reform itself and its platform when, as Alex Salmond admitted, a referendum could happen only ‘once in a generation’ remains to be seen. My guess is not. The SNP is a one trick pony and that pony has been shot and buried. This means that Scotland could revert to the Left v Right political character which once dominated it – and which is the norm in most jurisdictions around the world. SNP Votes ought to flow back to Labour and allow them to return to power in Scotland in 2016. Gordon Brown could help this happen and I rather suspect that he would like this. If he then became a “Father of the House” figure or something else we would have to wait and see! But First Minister of the Parliament in his homeland that he helped establish and in the context of a sound Union over which he once presided, and which he defended and even rescued, would be a nice coda to a remarkable political career.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Yes, let's have an English Parliament alongside a UK one if the Scots vote "No"

There is no need for the English Parliament to be anywhere other than in our nation's capital and in Westminster. Here's how it would work. The House of Commons (the chamber) would house both the UK and the English Parliaments. The UK Parliament would legislate on UK matters - i.e Foreign policy and those other matters NOT delegated to the English, Scottish, Welsh and NI legislatures. Obviously we need to work out what is and what isn't devolved but if we apply the principle of "subsidiarity" we won't go far wrong. The English Parliament would act in exactly the same way as Holyrood, etc.

The UK Parliament would comprise members elected on an identical basis across the UK. Equal sized constituencies. 

The English Parliament would comprise English MPs only (obviously). No Scots (etc.) would vote on English matters (anymore than English MPs would vote in Holyrood). There would be no restriction on English candidates standing for election to both the UK and the English Parliaments if they want to. Similiarly an MSP could also be an MP in the UK Parliament.

Oh and the House of Lords ? Tow it onto the Thames Estuary and sink it. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The troublesome Scots and Catalans have much in common!

A little over ten years ago we sold our house in Scotland to buy a house in Catalonia. This may sound like a frying-pan into the fire decision, in the light of the separation movements in both Spain and the UK! But in effect our affection for Scotland and for Spain's most troublesome region is not a coincidence. Both Catalonia and Scotland are beautiful - and both are distinctive from, though wedded to, their bigger partners. Their peoples are at the same time both alike the rest of their Nation State, and very different from it.

To visit Catalonia is different from, in particular, the Andalusian part of Spain. The language is different for a start. Catalan is not a dialect of Castilian Spanish, it is an entirely different language. Franco tried to suppress it, because he saw it as a threat, but you can't kill a language any more than you can a culture. Both survived the dread years of Franco's dictatorship though the legacy of those years remains. For the Catalan Barcelona is far more a capital city than Madrid. To some extent this is also true of Edinburgh though I feel that the Scots get the best of both worlds. They have a country capital in Auld Reekie - surely one of Europe's loveliest cities. In addition they have the world's greatest city, London, as the capital of the State of which they are also part. I know Catalans who hate Madrid with a vengeance. I have never met a Scot who hates London, though (of course) many are not too keen on Westminster!

At the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games opening ceremony there was a glorious celebration of things Catalan. Remember it was less than twenty years since Franco and there was an understandable wish to celebrate the extent of the recovery from those grim years. Catalans are businessmen above all else and Catalonia had in many ways led Spain's recovery. Spain's membership of the European Union from 1986 was crucial to this recovery and to this day you see more EU flags in Catalonia than you do Spanish ones. But the Catalan flag is now everywhere - for forty years under Franco it was banned.

Pride unites Catalonia and Scotland. Arguably the Catalans have the more distinct culture driven primarily by the language. But the comparison is still a valid one right down to the fact that both are autonomous regions of their mother State with a high degree of self-governance. The nationalist forces in both are strident and peaceful - the Catalans have never taken to arms against Madrid, unlike their Basque neighbours. And nor, of course, have the Scots unlike their fellow Celts across the Irish Sea.

The cases for Scotland to remain British and for Catalonia to stay Spanish are similar and strong. With devolution the Scots and the Catalans get the best of both worlds - autonomy on the one hand and a strong influence over the Governance of a major European state on the other. Both Scotland and Catalonia could function independently, and both Britain and Spain would suffer if they respectively did. Unlike the Scots the Catalans don't have the choice - though if a Scotland votes "Yes" the pressure in Spain to give Catalonia the same option would be immense.

Spain is struggling in confidence and economically in serious trouble. In such times nationalist movements flourish. The Scots "Blame Westminster" and the Catalans "Blame Madrid" are two sides of the same coin. Those of us who argue that these are times for cooperation at national and supranational level and not times to split apart sometimes struggle to fight the simplicities and the gut appeal of the nationalists. The Scots have never been forced to be English (the very idea!) but the Catalans were forced to be Spanish when they didn't want to. The resentment remains. There is no equivalent in Iberia to "Great Britain" - no concept similar to "Britishness". This creates a stridency and a polarisation absent from the debate in Scotland. Even most pro-independence Scots, including Alex Salmond, are not anti-English. They just want to be free of the United Kingdom. Not really the same thing as those Catalans who are virulently anti-Spanish.

Secession is comparatively rare and the idea that two of Europe's great nations could lose part of their historic state is alarming. I know Scotland and Catalonia well and see both as legitimately different and distinctive from the rest of the nations of which they are part. But I believe that they and those nations benefit hugely from being an active part of a greater whole. I hope that the Scots set a mature example to their Catalan fellow-travellers. We would all benefit from a bit of national unity in these difficult times.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The United States as defender of Freedom, my response to Tim Montgomerie

The above exchange with the distinguished Conservative commentator is self-explanatory. I have picked up the challenge and this is my response. The link in Tim’s original tweet was to a report in the New York Times about the announcement by President Obama that the US would be launching air strikes against the Islamic State. This announcement Tim turned into a statement that had three elements in it:

(1)   Freedom is in danger

(2)   Only one nation [The United States] counts

(3)   Great Britain” (sic) is the United States “best ally”

In response to my challenge Tim added a question (1) and an assertion (2). These are:

(1)   Who else [other than the US] will “lead the fight” against ISIS, Al Qaida and the Taliban

(2)   The US led the fight against communism

There is a surprising amount of meat here and it has been food for thought. Let’s start with the ideology. Tim Mongomerie used to describe himself as a “NeoCon” – I’m not sure that he still does but I doubt that he’s moved much away from his NeoCon predilections – indeed the evidence is that he clearly has not.

The Neoconservatives gave us the Afghanistan and the Iraq wars. On the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11 its worth remembering what the original motive for the ground War in Afghanistan was. It was to track down and punish Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida. Because these terrorists were sheltered by the Taliban the war became a war against them. As they were in charge in Afghanistan it became, in effect, a war against the Afghans. The original mission was lost and it took a decade to find and take out Bin Laden (in Pakistan!). Meanwhile the more the Americans and British (and a few others) got sucked into Afghanistan the more deadly the adventure became. And now, thirteen years on, we have the certainty that within a year or so the Taliban will be back in charge – full circle has been reached. The Afghan war went badly but the Iraq war was much, much worse.

In Afghanistan the pursuit of the 9/11 terrorists had widespread support. The extension to a war against the Taliban rather less so. But one thing led to another… In Iraq there was no pretext for war. Iraq was not a threat to the West, was harbouring no terrorists bent on attacking it and had destroyed what “Weapons of Mass Destruction” it once had – as United Nations investigations showed clearly. That Iraq was led by an evil dictator who used vile means to keep his disparate nation together was true. But that last sentence could be applied to many countries around the world in varying degrees. North Korea, Zimbabwe, Burma, Iran… and so on. The NeoCon ideology says that the West, especially the United States, has a duty to confront these dictators. Whether they actually threaten western “Freedoms” (or “Freedom’s” in Tim Montgomerie’s use of the singular) or not.

The first problem we must have with this assertion is “Who decides”? In Afghanistan in the light of 9/11 the answer was the United Nations – not the body itself but the collective that made up the Security Council. There was support for the plan to hunt down Bin Laden. For the attack on Iraq there was no such endorsement. Indeed the US and Britain received very patchy diplomatic and Military assistance indeed. Not one major European nation, for example, supported the war. And the idea that western freedoms were challenged by Saddam Hussein was absurd – there was no such threat. That “only one nation” and its “best ally” launched the attack on Iraq is true, but the idea that our freedom was under threat was not.

Back in the 1960s the “Domino Theory” held that nations would fall to “communism” like dominos in a row. Tim Mongomerie asserts that the “US led [the fight] against communism.” Militarily this was true, and it was a disaster. From the tragedy of Vietnam and Cambodia to the smaller failures in South America and elsewhere the US militarily did nothing but harm. The dominos didn’t topple over so the motivation was wrong anyway. And Vietnam showed beyond doubt that huge military power won’t defeat a guerrilla army. Roll forward to Afghanistan and the Taliban and it’s just the same. Might isn’t Right, and it rarely wins however much initial shock and awe there is.

The defeat of communism, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, came not from military intervention (thank God!) but from economic change. Yes the US was part of this process, but so was Western Europe and much of the rest of the Free World. Yes the Cold War was won in part because the USSR could not keep up with the West’s military spending. But it was also won because young people looked across the Wall and into the West from the communist bloc and wanted change. Democratic change and above all economic change. When in 1989 Chinese students tried to do the same the West, including the US was utterly impotent. Then the Chinese decided that they liked the benefits of controlled capitalism and the US and the rest agreed. And forgot that “Freedom”, if it means anything, means more than investment and economic progress. China remains a Communist autocracy, but it makes a lot of iPhones so that’s alright.

So that’s my answer to Tim. The military fights against both real and imaginary threats led by the United States have been unmitigated disasters. We need more of these like we need a hole in the head. Airstrikes against ISIS will have some effect as for a while they did against the Vietcong and the Taliban. But guerrilla armies regroup and even when attacked with ground troops, as with the Taliban, they are almost impossible to defeat. NeoCon ideology led assaults, as against Saddam, can achieve short term goals but without coherent long term plans they will fail. And when OUR actual freedoms are not really under attack - and when the fight is “only” for the abstract concept of “Freedom” you will struggle to take people with you, even if you resort to “Dodgy Dossier” type lies. And we won’t accept any body bags this time around.

Memories of Ardrossan Refinery whose closure, along with thousands of other community-based employers, was to lead to Alex Salmond - and Nigel Farage

Ardrossan was different. It once, improbably, had an Oil Refinery. It wasn't a very large Refinery, and it was a specialist one (it produced Bitumen) . But it was the heart of the town and gave it its purpose for a time. Tankers delivered Crude Oil and lorries and trains took away its refined products. It was a busy place and it was a major employer, and it generated spin-off activities, especially small services providers. But the harshness of the economic climate in the 1980s put its future in doubt and it was soon to close, in 1986. 

Ardrossan is different from Brighton, it once had a reason to exist beyond the faux gentility of its seaside location. That created a sense of community. For 60 years Ardrossan, it's Refinery and many other commercial and industrial enterprises made it a place of significance. But when the accountants arrived, at a time when the workers' representatives were losing their power after the defeat of the miners, then it began to fade away fast. Because the neo-liberal imperative of Thatcher and her gang didn't place community very high on the agenda. Society, you'll remember, didn't exist - only families. So those once vibrant mini-societies that were Ardrossan, Ravenscraig steel works, car plants, shipbuilding and the rest in Scotland were swept away. It wasn't that it was done that lost the Consevatives their strength in Scotland (from 21 seats in 1983 to one today) it was how it was done. The enemy culture, the offensive idea that working class people were the enemy within.

So don't cry for me about Ardrossan, or Clacton or any more of the places that once were. Don't weep for me about mining towns destroyed, but with nothing planned to replace them. Don't bemoan the rise of Nationalism and other extremisms. Because the causes of all this, of political alienation, of a failure to value communities were the seeds planted in the 1980s - the decade where disposing of assets, businesses, industries, public housing - and people - became the order of the day. And Adrossan Refinery and the thousands of purpose-giving employers like it were cast thoughtlessly aside by a Government relentlessly pursuing efficiencies and carelessly destroying things that mattered. Alex Salmond is a child of those 1980s in Scotland. As, elsewhere, was Nigel Farage. Those who vote for them haven't forgotten. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Queen has a duty to hold her Realm together - we must encourage her to perform it.

I am a republican and I want the United Kingdom to have a President. But that is an argument for another day - Elizabeth Windsor is our de jure Head of State and even I would admit that she has, for more than sixty years, done a good job. A key part of this has been her acceptance that, as a constitutional monarch, she must keep out of Party politics. But she has never had to face a situation as serious as the implications of a "Yes" vote in the Scottish referendum. Let's be clear about this. The country of which HMQ is Head of State is in mortal danger of breaking up. The country of which she is Queen may disappear. Elizabeth II was not crowned the Queen of England or Scotland, she took oath of office as Queen of the United Kingdom. The clue is in the name. The UK is one "Kingdom" - it is either united, or it fails to exist.

The Head of State of any Country has to be more than a ceremonial figurehead. And at the top of that leader's list of duties and responsibilities must surely be to protect the integrity of the State from threats, external or internal. This is not "politics" - it's survival. The very concept of Britishness will go because, without Scotland, Great Britain will not exist. And with it would go centuries of history and centuries of pride. The soldiers leading the fight against the Kaiser and Hitler weren't English, the were British. The pioneers who painted much of the planet pink weren't English, they were British. The athletes who performed so magnificently at London 2012 weren't English, they were British. The world's greatest broadcaster is not the "English Broadcasting Corporation"... And so on. Britishness matters.

The Union Flag symbolises the unique construct that is Great Britain. The cross of St George is not superimposed over the cross of St Andrew - it has equal weight with it. But it will go. And Wales will surely join Scotland as independent within a few years of a Scottish breakaway.  And then Northern Ireland will inevitably join the South in a United Ireland. So the Union Flag will appear only in the history books and only St George will fly on our English public buildings.

The gloomy post a "Yes" vote prospects are something that must trouble our Head of State both emotionally and practically. That she should at the end of her reign, and through no fault of hers, face the destruction of her realm is a scandal. We all know how she must feel - we must encourage her to share her feelings. As Head of State, because she has a duty to do so. And as a person because if even the hardest nosed republicans like me admire her it is proof that she is special. I hope she speaks her mind as and as perhaps her last major act of service helps hold our nation together.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The end of Britain is around the corner - is that really what the Scots want?

Scotland is not "redefining what it means to be British" , as one commentator put it, she is deciding for us whether any of us can be British in future. To be British means to be a citizen of the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". If we are no longer "United" we are no longer "British". 

With respect to them let's forget the Northern Irish for a moment. The creation of this province was necessary, at the time, to appease the Ulster Protestants. But in modern times we have seen much progress towards the recreation of a united Ireland. The hard-nosed Ulsterman won't like it but once the Catholics have a majority in the Province a referendum will surely be held and it will lead to one Ireland.

So what of "Great Britain"? Well with Scotland gone that just leaves England and Wales. My guess is that by steps Wales will become sovereign. The Assembly will morph into a Parliament and the principality will become an independent State. Why not? It's a perfectly achievable ambition and if Scotland goes Wales will as well.

So the UK will break up and I will lose my British Passport and get an English one. Britain will no longer exist, except as a bit of history. It will be the final nail in the coffin of the British empire. The Union Flag will be consigned to the museum. The British Parliament and The British Army will go. Indeed any use of the word "British" will have to change. It defies belief but it's all true. 😩

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Some of the "people of England" are as mad as hell, and they're not going to take it any more

What do the following have in common?

Supporters of UKIP
British Asians, born and bred in England, supporting India or Pakistan in cricket
British jihadists 
The half or more of Scots wanting independence
The anti-Capitalist "Occupy" movement
The Wikileaks organisers 

... and many more. The answer is that the establishment alienates them and they want to challenge it. 

One of the positions of UKIP is that "LibLabCon" has failed us. The political establishment is, in this analysis, too much the same. Too much accepting of the liberal imperative, of multiculturalism, of the European project and too remote from Chesterton's "people of England who haven't spoken yet". UKIP speaks for these people, or believes it does.

The born and bred here young British Asians who wave Indian or Pakistani flags at cricket matches are not in the main showing their allegiances for these countries. Many of these fans will never have even visited the countries from which their families once emigrated. What they are demonstrating is that they relate more to the cricketers from India or Pakistan than they do to the overwhelmingly white, middle class team from England and its exclusively establishment coaches and officials. If you're an Indian heritage boy from Bradford you relate more to MS Dhoni than to Alastair Cook. And if you are a Hindu or a Muslim you are not going to sing "Jerusalem", a Christian hymn, to support an England team you find it hard to relate to, despite your British passport.

The terrifying phenomenum of  young British Asian citizens becoming terrorists or jihadists is a malignant variant of the alienated cricket fan. Here the alienation is driven by religion. An extreme version of Islam, we are told, but Islam nevertheless. Britain is a pluralist, modern largely secular society with freedoms which the Muslim fanatic wishes to suppress. Our nation's symbols are Christian symbols and our lifestyle with its encouragement of provocative female dress, the consumption of alcohol and other hedonisms offends against Islam - or so these fanatics believe. Only the application of Sharia, or the creation of a Caliphate can establish Allah's laws. 

The growing strength of the "Yes" campaign in Scotland is also  a response to feelings of alienation from the establishment. This is also, in part, a rejection of "LibLabCon" but with the overlay of Westminster. The perception is that the Scots could do a better job of governing themselves than the current London political elite. It is not mainly anti English but more anti the English-based establishment. If you are a young struggling young person from a deprived part of Glasgow you have more in common with Alex Salmond than you have with David Cameron, or Alastair Darling.

It is natural to look for those who cause our troubles and attack them. The "establishments" are remote, uncaring, and self-interested and they are that cause  - or so goes one response to alienation. Some activists perceive capitalism as the guilty party and that has led to the existence of the anti-Capitalist movements like "Occupy". The rich capitalist has always been a target and in an era of hugely over-rewarded bankers, industrialists and the rest it is hardly surprising that capitalism is blamed. Employees, in the private sector at least, work longer hours for poorer wages, inadequate pensions and with nobody to stand up for them now that Union power has largely disappeared. 

The establishments protect themselves in a self-interested way covering up failures and withholding the truth - or so say those behind "Wikileaks" and others who dig for facts and publish them say. A common factor in many scandals - Hillsborough, Rotherham, Northern Rock, child abuse, dodgy dossiers and the rest is cover-up. The establishment alienates itself from the rest of us by distorting the truth or burying it. So to reveal these truths, which we have a right to know, we have to find a way of digging them out - and if that way is illegal then so be it. The ends justifies the means.

At its most benign alienation from the establishments can lead to a decision not to participate - a feeling that nothing will make a difference so why bother. This is why turnouts in elections fall. "They are all the same - why should I vote?". But it can also lead, as we have seen, to activism and protest, sometimes extreme. There is a famous scene in the movie "Network" when the Peter Finch character cries from an open window "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" That is the cry of the alienated, the dispossessed, the ignored - the forgotten people. They are the "people of England" (and Scotland!) and some of them are flexing their muscles and speaking out.

It should not be only those who are a real and present danger to our lives and our security who should be listened to. If our democratic processes (the first past the post voting system which effectively disenfranchises many, for example) and our societal norms (of privilege and secrecy especially) are failing many then we should change them so that they no longer do.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Nation ill at ease with itself

In a couple of weeks time the British residents of Scotland, not all of them Scottish, will have the opportunity to do what Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler failed to do - destroy the United Kingdom. Much of the rather poor debate on Scottish independence has ignored the fact that a "Yes" vote will lead to this outcome. Without Scotland Great Britain will cease to exist. And without Great Britain (the Union of England, Wales and Scotland) the very concept of Britishness goes as well.

My parents generation were born in a country - the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland - which was shortly to be abolished. Am I to have been born in one which will disappear as well? To lose one constituent part of the United Kingdom may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. 

Whilst the wild men of North Britain are taking the the high road to walk away from the rest of us we, Chesterton's "people of England" haven't found our voice. At least not on the break up of our nation. In the same way, but more seriously, that we sanguinely accept that we could leave the European Union we are watching the Scots reject us and we shrug our shoulders. Some on both Right and Left seem rather to welcome a Scottish breakaway. The Right because England would have a permanent Conservative majority in Westminster. And the Left because they envy the Scots opportunity to have permanent governance from the Left, and hope they get it.

If, madly, we (whoever "we" are by then) choose to leave the EU it would be a serious setback, but not fatal. If we later came to our senses we could always apply to rejoin. But Scottish independence would be irreversible - as would the consequential break up of Britain. And if it happens then future historians might link it to other political and social trends across the country at this time. The anarchist writer Alan Moore said about modern Britain “It's cold and it's mean spirited and I don't like it here anymore.” I know what he means.

Just two years after the triumph of "London 2012" - a very British triumph - we are ill at ease with ourselves - indeed we are uncertain who we are. The Olympic opening ceremony celebrated Britain's modernity and diversity. Now we want, or some of us do, to turn the clock back and retreat into the perceived security of a comfortable White, Anglo-Saxon Anglicanism. That is the UKIP message and it strikes a chord with many. "Multiculturalism has failed" they say, and it's the cause of all our woes. Well that message is indeed "cold and mean spirited" - and it is profoundly wrong as well. UKIP and their fellow travellers on the Tory Right and in the BNP  and the EDP use opposition to immigration as code for their hatred of the fact that we are a racially and religiously and culturally diverse society. 

To want to be surrounded exclusively by people like you are yourself is a very human trait, shared by many. It is mostly harmless. But when it leads to the creation on the one hand of "Gated communities" for the rich and on the other ethnically restrictive ghettos for the poor it is potentially dangerous. The debate about "British Values" is a coded debate about the positive value of a White, Anglo-Saxon, Christian, English-speaking culture and, conversely, the demonisation of cultures in which one or more of these things is not present. Similarly the virulent anti-European rhetoric of UKIP and the Tory Right is full of words like "Sovereignty" - as if we somehow have the choice of pulling up our drawbridges and retreating to be the little self-governing island nation we once were. (Actually you have to go back a very long way to find such an England. For centuries we have been the archetypical global adventurer as a people).

The Scottish independence debate and the EU debate are alike in that they both have at their core the question of partnership, on the one hand (the status quo) or of going it alone on the other. The racists of the Right and those who share their objections to diversity but talk more in code are the same. There is, however, one crucial difference. The Scots could choose independence and it would happen. We could choose to leave the European Union - likewise. But multicultural Britain is here to stay. Restrictions on immigration would have only a minor dent on that fact. As far as I am award even UKIP is not proposing ethnic cleansing and forced repatriation. 

Churchill famously said "Jaw Jaw is always preferable to War War". The sense of unease I have about modern Britain is that whilst there is plenty of Jaw Jaw it is ineffective and strident. Everything is polarised into "Yes/No" and you have to nail your colours to the mast. If you are not with me you are against me. Society is divided more than I can ever remember in my lifetime. And these divisions are manifest in the upcoming referendum in Scotland and the one proposed on Europe. Changes in public service, in education and healthcare particularly, are described as ideological by their opponents when many would say that they are, whether ideologically driven or not, only really fine tuning on the margins.

We are not at ease with ourselves and we are as a consequence always ready to blame others for our "misfortunes". The Government (of course). Previous Governments. Immigrants. Europeans. Shirkers. Muslims. Toffs. People who are too politically correct. Racists. The Rich. Welfare cheats. Tax dodgers. The old. The young. And so on ad infinitum....

It's very sad.