06 November 2013

On Remembrance and Reminding.

As sure as Remembrance Sunday falls on the second Sunday of November each year, you can also set your calendars to the Pretend Left in the fortnight beforehand indulging in their conspicuous bouts of Remembrance rejection.

I do not, as it happens, jump quickly to criticise those who actively avoid marking the days designed to respect our war dead. Remembrance can be complex and for those genuinely conflicted, I can accept, while not agreeing with them, when, having thought about it, they come down on the side of making a personal choice not to participate.

What must be challenged however is the way in which certain individuals and groups misrepresent acts of Remembrance in order to promote their particular and fringe interpretations of the world. For them, the whole Remembrance gig is an inauthentic imposition upon an ignorant, misled proletariat. It is a fa├žade behind which the ruling classes hide their culpability for war while harvesting undeserved support for waging it and continuing their socio-economic oppression. This year and last, such approaches have been best illustrated by the student politicians of the soon-to-be-abolished (oh, the irony) University of London Union.

It is forgotten now, after 12 years of fatalities and casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, that in the mid-90s, Remembrance in this country had fallen somewhat into disrepair. The Sunday was still an event, but the two minute silence on the 11th itself was not widely marked and you could get away with appearing on TV without a poppy in your lapel. Football matches on the Remembrance weekend just kicked off, with no silence observed beforehand.

It was popular recognition of this fading of tradition that led to it being taken more seriously again. I think it was 1996 that saw the 11 November at 11 am silence return to a greater prominence. I remember because I was working in a high profile politician’s office at the time and we were convinced the Daily Mail was going to call during it to see if we would be disrespectful enough to answer.

This re-invigoration of Remembrance was not imposed by an elite or exploited to justify or sanitise ongoing wars (it was a relatively peaceful, post-Cold War, pre-9/11 age, after all). It happened because the people wanted it. This should be obvious to all those who criticise Remembrance today.

Let us imagine that history had left us war-free until last year and that Remembrance had never been necessary. Then a conflict emerged to which we sent troops. 12 months on, would not local communities want to commemorate those local men and women who had died? Would not the nation as a whole expect national commemoration? Surely we would expect, nay demand, that our nation’s leaders also attend and pay their respects. In short, we would end up with Remembrance traditions pretty much exactly the same as we have now.

Ultimately, this is the problem with contempt expressed for Remembrance: it is also contempt expressed for the millions who organise and attend the services and wear the poppies. Each one may do so for various reasons. None do so to show support for those who made the decisions to go to war. None of them are there as some sort of reinforcer of the class system. In fact, it is quite the opposite. 

For those who have served or fought, or have lost friends and family who have, or who simply want to acknowledge the sacrifice in a dignified and meaningful way, Remembrance is ours. Military, civilian, affected directly, or not. And, as such, it is good that we do so alongside the 'ruling class' or whatever you want to call them. It is about Remembrance, after all (clue's in the name, eh?). And that is inextricably linked to Reminding, as well. Reminding those political, civic, institutional and military leaders that war is, yes, in the end, about the men and women, sons and daughters, flesh and blood that get sent to fight it. It is good and civilised, therefore, that politicians get to parade and lay wreaths not so much alongside citizens, soldiers, veterans and the media at these services, but surrounded by them. They absolutely should lay wreaths and we should be able to see the look in their eyes as they do it. 

In amongst the commemoration of the heroism and sacrifice, and the pride, there is, then, a strong element of defiance and chastening of our leaders. Sure, it is not as obvious as a demonstration or a riot or a rally or a fringe meeting or a conference or a pamphlet or a blogpost. But it is there. And most of us have the intellectual ability to attend Remembrance services in both those spirits. If you do not have that capacity, then perhaps it is time you took a closer look.



This year I will be in a place more appropriate than most, thanks to my work. My second Remembrance Sunday there. And for the first, I was in uniform myself.

But for most Remembrance Sundays of the last 10 years, I have been deeply honoured to march with my army cadets (I was an adult instructor in the ACF until last month) from a unit bang in the middle of Holloway, North London, one of the poorest wards in the country. The kids involved do not need any lectures from the left on the challenges of economic inequality (nor from the right, for that matter, on the importance of individual responsibility).

Those parades to Islington Green count as some of the proudest moments of my life.  After the service at the war memorial there, the march back up to Highbury Corner goes via a particular backstreet that always has a handful of veterans, pristine in their blazers and berets, waiting to salute the parade. When the salute is returned, it is a simple but special moment. One generation saying to another, thank you for what you did. And that generation, in turn, saying thank you for remembering.

The rest of those days are spent at the MOTH (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) ‘Shellhole’ in Hackney. Young and old, military and civilian. The drinks flowing, the buffet table collapsing, and the cadets taking the veterans for a dance or two. It is touching, dignified, melancholy and, even with the likes of me present, deeply working-class.

One year, a veteran called Billy, who died a few months later, took me around the small collection of memorabilia housed in a room upstairs. With his old headdress sat proudly upon his head, he seethed over the recent abolition of his former regiment, a political decision, about which his views left little room for deference to or sanitising of our leaders. Like most of those who have served, Billy had a healthy cynicism of those who make the decisions about what the military does and even healthier respect for those, especially his comrades, who have had to carry them out. Inspiring and utterly typical.

Of course, if the various trotskyists and more immature members of my own Party who criticise Remembrance ever deigned to actually lower themselves into the communities they claim to care about – and to enjoy these moments of social solidarity which they say are so important and so missing from our modern lives – then they would recognise all this. Though I doubt they could understand it.

Which is fine. No one needs your understanding here. If you are too monotone yourself to appreciate the complexities of Remembrance, so be it. If all you see when you look out over a Remembrance service is the simple masses bowing and scraping unthinkingly to our rulers, well OK. Best you stay in bed, after all, this Sunday with the curtains drawn, and dream of your student union resolutions and of leading revolutions. But please be assured that you are not avoiding it all for the benefit of the ordinary men, women and children of this country who do take part. When you choose not to Remember with them, at least do them the honour of remembering that.

As per the rider on this blog’s front page, the author writes in a personal capacity and the views expressed are his alone. If you enjoyed this post, please consider making a small donation to the Royal British Legion. Or even if you hated it, in fact.

05 September 2013

Wayne Madsen analyses the Syria conflict.

Back in June, The Guardian/Observer published a front-page story based on quotes from former US naval officer and NSA employee, Wayne Madsen. The wave of publicity generated by the paper's publishing of Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA's electronic espionage activity was still cresting. The new 'evidence' from Madsen, naming six European countries as having secret deals with the US to hand over information to the NSA when requested, would certainly have let them ride that wave for a little longer.

Except that within seconds of the story going live on their website, the interwebz lit up with a mixture of indignation and derision that a serious (ahem) publication could so unquestioningly carry the claims of someone who, a quick Google search would have revealed, is a paranoid, 9/11 truther, anti-Obama fanatic, 'Zionism'-obsessed, conspiracy theorist.

In short, simply not sane or reliable enough to have a contribution to the letter's page published, let alone dominate the front page. The Guardian/Observer quickly took down the website story. But it was alas too late for the print edition.

Now Madsen has given us the benefit of his thoughts on US involvement in the Syria conflict. This is a screenshot from his site taken tonight:

The heading of the otherwise paywalled column is:

Obama's "Rosh Hashana War". Obama's war on Syria is made out of whole cloth from a talit prayer shawl.

Now what could he possibly mean by that?

28 June 2013

Sci-Fi Noir Pedantry Fun With The Guardian

I've often pondered the possibilities of devising a Voight Kampff test for the Pretend Left. You could ask a question such as "Do you want to ban things you don't like?" or "Have you checked your privilege today?". If the subject's pupils start dilating with excitement at the suggestion of banning something and their muscles twitch in disgust at their shame in not being as pure of class, ethnicity, gender or sexuality as they would like, then what you have is not a genuine, principled liberal but a sort of lefty Replicant that doesn't even realise that they're not what they think they are.

If you're still not sure, you could start burning a copy of that day's Guardian in front of them and see if they have a heart attack.

In the meantime, I've got another Blade Runner-related reason to frazzle the 'left''s favourite newspaper: one of its star columnists has gone and got the whole plot wrong.

Zoe Williams, in an article about mitochondrial transfer (or introducing a third donor's genetic material to IVF treatment) asks "are three-parent babies the first step towards a Blade Runner future?":

is it defensible to make alterations at a genetic level whose impact on future children we simply don't know? Is there any fundamental difference between screening out diseases and screening out undesirable traits? The spectre is sometimes conjured of a Blade Runner future, in which the rich can modify their foetuses to perfection while the poor have to take what nature throws at them. I personally am of the view that, if we do end up in Blade Runner, genetic modification will be one of our lesser problems, but that doesn't mean it's not worth thinking about.


A replicant, yesterday.

The creations that everyone's worried about in Blade Runner are not genetically screened to weed out any supposed imperfections. They are replicants: bioengineered robots which have been genetically engineered but not genetically selected or modified. There's no breeding, foetal modification or rich/poor differentiation at all.

If only there was some sort of well-known, freely available, easily accessible database of films and their plots that hard-pressed, deadline-pressured journalists on a quality, digitally advanced publication could use when they're trying to seem all popular culture relevant and classic movie savvy. What? Oh.

21 June 2013

A vision of campaignbots traipsing around the marginals like canvassing Terminators

Labour Uncut are kindly carrying a post from me, expanding on the idea with which  I won last week's Top Of The Policies on supporting entrepreneurs: data development loans.
However, before we get too caught up in a vision of campaignbots traipsing around the marginals like canvassing Terminators, we should also consider the policy significance of Big Data. Although it has not been a great couple of weeks for data of any kind – in the news for all the wrong reasons as the full extent of the surveillance of the personal variety has been exposed – this must not distract us from the thousands of positive, world-changing uses of mass data collection and analysis.
If it's you're sort of thing, you can read it all here.

03 June 2013

Responses to my questions for London Labour's MEP candidates: #3 Andrea Biondi.

Once again, I'm grateful to another London Labour MEP candidate for a set of very thoughtful responses to my questions on EU issues. Following those of Seb Dance and Sanchia Alasia, Andrea Biondi's are below.

1. The biggest challenge faced by the European project this year has been the Cypriot banking crisis. What is your assessment of the measures put in place by the so-called 'troika' to deal with this and what lessons have been learnt should similar crises arise in comparable euro-denominated economies?

AB: I have three comments on this extremely complex issue.

The first is that the austerity measures (not only in Cyprus) have been driven and adopted outside the ‘ordinary’ European regulatory framework. The Fiscal Compact and the ESM are ‘different’ treaties negotiated and concluded directly between Member states with little involvement of other EU institutions. I would like to see more involvement of EU institutions, in particular of the European Parliament, the only directed elected body. This involvement should start with full engagement and discussion on the proposed banking union.

Secondly, European integration is based on some non-negotiable principles, especially respect for the rule of law, solidarity, and equality (see the first part of the Lisbon treaty). I am convinced that some of the austerity measures – despite being taken in the name of Europe - actually violate those fundamental principles. One example: if the economic measures adopted for Greece meant a dramatic increase in female unemployment, does this amount to a violation of the fundamental principle of sex equality?

Finally – especially on Cyprus:  it goes without saying that the freezing of all bank accounts was crazy. But isn’t it also crazy that the banking sector in Cyprus was eight times the size of any other economic  activity in the island? Is off-shore banking such a good economic policy? We should learn from the crisis in Cyprus and take the opportunity to rethink the EU banking system. So it’s time to engage in the debate about the banking union, scrap the useless stress tests, increase transparency, increase  minimum capital requirements, and impose - as for any other economic activity of general interest - obligations such as universality.

2. A longer term challenge is that of reducing carbon emissions. It has been claimed that the cap and trade Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has been undermined by the European Parliament's recent failure to agree to the 'backloading' of credits. In such a scheme, do you believe the 'cap' or the 'trade' feature to be the more important? Has the ETS reflected this importance? If not, what reforms or alternatives for regulating the use of carbon would you support?

AB: There is no perfect model. A carbon tax model surely has some advantages over a cap and trade model. However I don’t think it is necessarily helpful to reopen this debate. We need to stick to the cap and trade model and work to make it better. The recent vote was a serious setback, and it’s clear that at the moment there is no chance to have any credible auctions of credits so that the backloading could at least have had some positive effects. The no vote will encourage member states to go their own way, and will produce a very fragmented approach. In my view this is an extremely negative outcome in environmental policy. 

For the future I think some changes to the current system should be introduced. For example, we should have more scrutiny on the possibility of buying credits from outside the EU and more flexibility could be useful.  Of course, the real issue is growth and seeking investments in green energy, but that’s a different story.

3. A growing pan-European economy is dependent upon the flow, exchange and exploitation of information. This whole opportunity is becoming better known as 'Big Data'. What are the threats to this from EU legislation concerning data? How do we balance the potential for businesses and consumers with the need to protect privacy and maintain member nations' national security infrastructures?

AB: The Data Retention Directive was a first clumsy attempt to provide some kind of answers to a growing problem. The next European Parliament will have to work closely with the Commission to amend it and to fix some of the most obvious problems (for example, what does it mean to say that the police can retain data when we are dealing with a ‘serious crime’?).

I would like to focus on two points: first we need to coordinate EU polices with the international dimension of data retention. All Member states are now part of several international conventions which need to be coordinated and perhaps even re-discussed (see Budapest on Cybercrime). Most importantly a new Directive must adopt as a guiding principle the right of privacy of the individual.

It will be really interesting to see how the European Court of Justice will decide a case referred to it by the Austrian Constitutional Court on the question whether the Directive is in breach of the right of free speech, as protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. As you know, the Charter is now legally binding and the Court has been very active in applying it as a benchmark for the legality of EU law. So I am hopeful.

There really is no alternative on this issue: we must have an EU solution, not a national one.

4. Although no fault of any of those selected, it has become increasingly clear that the selection processes for the regional lists was unsatisfactory. In London, only 100 or so applications were made. (Just so as you know, I was one of them so do not write this entirely disinterestedly). For a job that has 8 vacancies and is worth a six figure annual salary, that's astonishingly low and points towards a lack of communication and promotion to the regional membership. How would you rectify this for the 2019 process? Whatever the numbers of members interested, is a pre-selection for selection necessary at all? Given modern campaigning and communications techniques, are short-lists for a regional list necessary at all? How could the regional party better facilitate the participation of more than eight people in the selection for 2019?

AB: Let me answer this question on a bit more of a personal level – I can only speak of my own experiences of the selection process.

I applied as an ordinary Labour Party member, with no backing, no sponsorship, and no endorsements (this is still the case). I am not a politician, but I have knowledge and skills that would really help Labour in the European Parliament. So I applied for selection because I wanted to help shape the debate about Europe, because I want to help Labour win in 2014, and because I want to be able to work at European level to achieve practical change that will benefit all Londoners. To my surprise I was shortlisted and given the opportunity to discuss my ideas about Europe for an hour before an attentive panel. And I got selected. So my experience is pretty positive, and I would encourage any interested Labour Party member to apply next time.

Responses to my questions for London Labour's MEP candidates: #2 Sanchia Alasia.

Following the first response from Seb Dance, I am also now grateful to Sanchia Alasia for her views on the issues I have raised with all six non-incumbent candidates for London Labour's list for the 2014 Euro-elections.

1. The biggest challenge faced by the European project this year has been the Cypriot banking crisis. What is your assessment of the measures put in place by the so-called 'troika' to deal with this and what lessons have been learnt should similar crises arise in comparable euro-denominated economies?

SA: The Cypriot banking crisis shows that the eurozone needs to be transformed into a proper economic, monetary and social union.  This means a radical policy shift away from austerity and towards jobs and growth.  To avoid similar crises in the future the financial sector needs to be reformed.  That's why I would campaign for a cap on bankers bonuses and a financial transaction tax, because it's simply not fair that ordinary hard workers citizens, pay for the mistakes the banks have made and it's important that the financial sector realises that they are serious consequences to risk taking.  

Banks are important and we have seen that is the case in the UK, where the government decided to bail out RBS.  But even though RBS suffered £5.2 billion worth of losses, they still payed out over £600 million in bonuses.  Cyprus also demonstrates why it is so important to crack down on tax evasion, my mentor in the European Parliament, Mojca Kelva MEP, is leading a report for the Socialist and Democrat group, calling for tighter definitions of tax havens, so that it goes beyond places like the Cayman Islands.  we also need national governments to cooperate and share more information with each other..

2. A longer term challenge is that of reducing carbon emissions. It has been claimed that the cap and trade Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has been undermined by the European Parliament's recent failure to agree to the 'backloading' of credits. In such a scheme, do you believe the 'cap' or the 'trade' feature to be the more important? Has the ETS reflected this importance? If not, what reforms or alternatives for regulating the use of carbon would you support?

SA: In the 21st century we face unprecedented global challenges, one of them being climate change.  The EU needs to work towards tackling this important issue and as one of your Labour MEP's I would help to lead the effort to reduce CO2 emissions and tackle climate change.  London has the highest rate of CO2 emissions in the EU and it's currently the fourth biggest killer, bigger than obesity, alcohol and road traffic accidents combined.  This challenge needs to be taken seriously as the quality of our environment is crucial, not just for us now, but for future generations.  I would work hard in the european parliament to secure new legislation so that the target that has already been set to reduce CO2 emissions by 30% by 2020 would be achieved.  I think the ETS in principle is a good scheme as it will force companies to think about more green, carbon friendly production methods on a long term basis, but there is room for a rethink of how it will operate in the future.

3. A growing pan-European economy is dependent upon the flow, exchange and exploitation of information. This whole opportunity is becoming better known as 'Big Data'. What are the threats to this from EU legislation concerning data? How do we balance the potential for businesses and consumers with the need to protect privacy and maintain member nations' national security infrastructures?

SA:  I think that the EU should be at the forefront of a digital agenda.  We have seen how we are now made to accept cookies when visiting websites and this is a good first step.  The balance is of safeguarding individual privacy and sharing necessary information so that europe can thrive is a delicate one, but people should have the right to know what data is being held on them, how it is collected and companies should have robust policies in place regarding the processing and storing of that data.

4. Although no fault of any of those selected, it has become increasingly clear that the selection processes for the regional lists was unsatisfactory. In London, only 100 or so applications were made. (Just so as you know, I was one of them so do not write this entirely disinterestedly). For a job that has 8 vacancies and is worth a six figure annual salary, that's astonishingly low and points towards a lack of communication and promotion to the regional membership. How would you rectify this for the 2019 process? Whatever the numbers of members interested, is a pre-selection for selection necessary at all? Given modern campaigning and communications techniques, are short-lists for a regional list necessary at all? How could the regional party better facilitate the participation of more than eight people in the selection for 2019?

SA: I am sorry to learn that you did not get an interview but it's great that you applied.  I am privileged and humbled to have been chosen as one of the six candidates for London.  I think 100 applications is not a bad number for six positions, it's certainly the highest to date for the London region. I recieved the email from the London region about how to apply and the deadline, I hear that many weren't aware, however I was keeping a close eye on members net regularly as it was something that I believed I have the skills for.  

I think for 100 applications some sort of shortlisting is necessary, I don't think Labour party members would want to receive emails and other communications from 100 different perspective candidates and it would be difficult to keep track. I know some of the regions shortlisted more candidates than slots available and this could perhaps be an option in the future.  I do think it's important that the party has a good range of applications to choose from as this will ensure they shortlist quality candidates.  Having been through the selection process, I can assure you it was no piece of cake and I was certainly put through my paces.  I am now really enjoying the process of hustings that CLPs across London are organising, which gives me a chance to engage with Labour party members face to face, which is my preferred method of interaction.

25 May 2013

Responses to my questions for London Labour's MEP candidates: #1 Seb Dance.

I'm grateful to Seb Dance for being the first, and so far only, London Labour MEP candidate to respond to my questions on European issues and the selection process. His answers are below.

Again, thank you, Seb, for your thoughtful and comprehensive answers.

---

1. The biggest challenge faced by the European project this year has been the Cypriot banking crisis. What is your assessment of the measures put in place by the so-called 'troika' to deal with this and what lessons have been learnt should similar crises arise in comparable euro-denominated economies?

SD: Depositors and savers should not bear the cost of bailing out banks from collapse caused by their own reckless activities. When the crisis hit in February, the Cypriot Government chose to put the burden on the all bank savers therefore breaking an important EU principle that deposits of up to €100,000 would be protected. This was a bad decision and thankfully the Cypriot Parliament rejected the deal.

The situation in Cyprus and the emergence of yet another banking crisis underlines the need to push ahead with tough reform to change culture and structure of our banks. Banks are still too big to fail with the Cypriot banking sector estimated by the IMF in 2011 to be 835 per cent of GDP and banks' assets in relation to GDP have tripled in size since 2000.

We need to implement reforms across Europe which would separate a bank's essential retail services from their more risky trading activities. The separation would mean that even if a bank fails depositors and savers could still access the accounts and use payment services without government or tax payer bailouts. It is not acceptable that the Cypriot banks remained closed for 10 days and that citizens were left without basic banking services. These reforms will ensure no interruption to deposits and payments services and ultimately no run on a bank.

2. A longer term challenge is that of reducing carbon emissions. It has been claimed that the cap and trade Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has been undermined by the European Parliament's recent failure to agree to the 'backloading' of credits. In such a scheme, do you believe the 'cap' or the 'trade' feature to be the more important? Has the ETS reflected this importance? If not, what reforms or alternatives for regulating the use of carbon would you support?

SD: So-called 'backloading' is very important in order to raise the price and make the scheme more effective. In the absence of measures such as this the ETS certainly has its shortcomings, but nevertheless it has already helped the EU bring down its emissions and it is taken as an example by other regions of the world.

There is currently a surplus of 900 million allowances which has in turn brought the price down from €30 - as originally calculated by energy producers - to €2.80. This imbalance is distorting the market and hindering Europe's transition to a low-carbon economy.

On reform, other than stressing the importance of backloading I think it is best to see what position the Rapporteur can come up with following the report's rejection. I believe Labour MEPs are in consultation with him on this.

3. A growing pan-European economy is dependent upon the flow, exchange and exploitation of information. This whole opportunity is becoming better known as 'Big Data'. What are the threats to this from EU legislation concerning data? How do we balance the potential for businesses and consumers with the need to protect privacy and maintain member nations' national security infrastructures?

SD: As you say, the need here is to ensure that the correct balance is struck between protecting people's data and allowing Europe's economy to benefit from the enormous potential of new technology.

As such I would broadly welcome the Commission's proposal on reforming data protection but there are some important principles I think we need to ensure are put in place: 1) that protection applies to all citizens in the EU regardless of where the data is being stored or processed; 2) that anonymous data should not be subject to the same restrictions - indeed it should be incentivised; 3) that processing of data is subject to consent, compliance with obligations on guarding it and that, generally, data referring to ethnicity, sexuality, health records, membership of trade union and other data of a personal or sensitive nature is not to be processed by public bodies except in extremely specified circumstances and with strict safeguards.

Citizens should in all cases have the right to know what data is held about them and this right of information must cover both public and private bodies. It should be clear to anyone using a company's services what data is being collected and - crucially - how it is being used.

4. Although no fault of any of those selected, it has become increasingly clear that the selection processes for the regional lists was unsatisfactory. In London, only 100 or so applications were made. (Just so as you know, I was one of them so do not write this entirely disinterestedly). For a job that has 8 vacancies and is worth a six figure annual salary, that's astonishingly low and points towards a lack of communication and promotion to the regional membership. How would you rectify this for the 2019 process? Whatever the numbers of members interested, is a pre-selection for selection necessary at all? Given modern campaigning and communications techniques, are short-lists for a regional list necessary at all? How could the regional party better facilitate the participation of more than eight people in the selection for 2019?


SD: Dan, I am sorry to hear that you did not get on the shortlist but it is fantastic that you applied; like you I agree that there ought to be many more members applying to be an MEP.

I feel very privileged to be on the shortlist and to be able to represent Labour in these elections. Ultimately I would like to see some way for more members to have a say in the selection process as early as possible, but the party must make the decision on what is possible logistically and
financially.

I would hope that in the coming weeks you will have an opportunity to see all of the candidates debate and discuss the issues that matter to all members and be able to make a choice accordingly. As internal party selections go, there are few as comprehensive as this one!

23 May 2013

If foreign policy drove Adebolajo to commit the Woolwich atrocity, why does he know so little about the subject?

For a person claiming that war, foreign policy and what is happening in other lands drove him to his act of terror, Michael Adebolajo, who addressed an onlooker's mobile phone video yesterday after murdering a soldier in Woolwich, seems to know remarkably little about these things.

First,  he 'apologised' for having hacked a person to bits in broad daylight in front of women and children while explaining that women and children in 'our lands' have to see that sort of thing everyday. I'm going to make an assumption here that 'our lands' refers to a country such as Afghanistan which is overwhelmingly Muslim, and has been the focus of a 12 year war involving soldiers such as the one he targeted. Which is odd. For sure, there have been hugely regrettable civilian casualties throughout that war.  But the slicing and dicing of unarmed men in busy streets? Well that's a habit of the Taliban, this murderer's co-ideologists. If he knew anything of 'our lands' he would've known this and perhaps, to say the least, raise the matter in a different way.

Second, he's clear that British involvement in wars in which Muslims have been killed, inspired his actions as direct retribution. Again, I'll assume something here: that he's talking about Iraq and Afghanistan. Well, we pulled out of Iraq four years ago and we're well into draw-down in Afghanistan. British troops are doing less and less and less. 
 
A similar argument, on a much grander scale, pertains to 9/11. Those attacks were commited at a time when the US was teetering on a return to isolationism under a realist George Bush. Not completely, no. Nor necessarily irrevocably, indeed. But the world pre-9/11 was a lot closer to how Al Qaeda would like it to be than it is now. 9/11 made the neo-cons, not vice-versa.
 
So to return to Adebolajo, if you were going to get yourself so worked up about UK soldiers in 'our lands', shouldn't you have really done so a bit before now? Again, if he knew anything of these wars, he would know this, and perhaps realise that killing an off-duty soldier in London to make a point about deployed soldiers in Helmand may lack a certain logical consistency - at any time, let alone when you've basically got troops gone or going. OK, maybe the thirst for vengeance is so great that it doesn't matter that we're out of Iraq and nearly out of Afghanistan. History matters. Of course, you may have trouble selecting a cut-off point if that's your view ('what the Romans did to the soil around Carthage on land which was later to be part of the Caliphate is an outrage') but I can basically take your point.
 
However, you can't just pick and choose. In 1998, for example, NATO went to war in Kosovo specifically to defend an ethnic group that happened to be Muslim. And if Muslims being killed is the source of your rage, could you not have found time for a shout out to Syria? There's a regime, considered un-Islamic by fundamentalists, which has spent the last two years slaughtering Muslims on an industrial scale. This isn't wotaboutery. Consistency and a holisitc view matter when you're going to act so extremely out of such self-proclaimed high principle. If global politics is what supposedly whips you into a bloody frenzy then at least have the decency to establish a perspective that is both, er, global and goes back a bit further than the 10th September 2011. Again, if he knew anything about foreign policy, Adebolajo would've known this, and perhaps act on different matters other than Iraq and Afghanistan (and hopefully, as urged above, in a different way).
 
Third, why this? If your co-religionists being threatened in Afghanistan is such an unbearable thought, why kill that soldier where you did and when? There are all sorts of ways to contribute to the welfare of Afghans more directly. There are countless NGOs operating there that need money and personnel, for instance. You could even, if you wanted to (and I'm obviously not encouraging or advocating this, but if you wanted to) do insurgency properly and get over there and get trained and join in on the ground, doing that whole eye for an eye thing for real. And so again, if Adebolajo really knew about the war, he would know this and have been able to take a different path, closer to what he claims to care about. Or was it just that actually fighting properly for what you believed in would have meant having to get out of your Stone Island clobber, give up your X-Box, and not talk to girls anymore?
 
I'm going to go with the latter, actually. That video of Adebolajo was not reminiscent of any jihadist but rather of a narcissistic yet obviously inadequate pub bore or school bully. You know the sort. Kind of bloke who claims that he's never being showed enough 'respect' and who can only lash out when he realises that no one is the slightest bit interested in him.
 
Of course, foreign policy can be radicalising - personally, I found that Al Qaeda's foreign policy made me look at the world in a decidedly radically different way - but it is a massive leap to go from that to saying that the Western version is responsible for people like the Woolwich murderers acting as they do.
 
In the same way that they twist their understanding of Islam, they also twist their understanding of 'foreign policy' to justify their violence. Projections of Western power often leave much to be criticised and condemned. But the last decade has not been about a 'War On Muslims' or 'Wars for Oil'. Sure, you can certainly caricature it as such and propagandise around that (in the same way that you can caricature a religion and build prejudice against its adherents) but it will lead you further from understanding the true complexities and being able to address the wrongs in the right way. In this, Islamists have been ably supported by useful idiots in the West itself who share a similar disdain for our politcs and society, and whose knee-jerk reaction to terrorist acts on our streets is to blame ourselves first. They are complicit in promoting the idea that UK foreign policy is so irredeemably destructive that it can only be met with analagous destruction. It is a world view that is almost as simplistic and extreme as those who take the Koran as justification for their hatred. And they therefore share a responsibility for the fanaticism that leads to the sort of violence we saw perpetrated in Woolwich yesterday.

13 May 2013

In a crowded field, the award for this year's snobbiest, most elitist Guardian letter may have already been won.

I have no interest whatsoever in this bloke who tells an overpaid bunch of oiks how to kick a ball about. What if somebody really significant in the creative arts retired? Say Seamus Heaney declared he was retiring from poetry – would we get a supplement about that?
'Oiks'. Charming.

08 May 2013

Just how far will Stephen Hawking take his boycott of Israeli academia?

Professor Stephen Hawking has withdrawn from the Fifth Israeli Presidential Conference, in order to support the academic boycott of Israel.

The conference organisers do not need me defending them. They're doing that perfectly well themselves:
The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission.
Ably supported by the Fair Play campaign:
Prof Hawking could have joined the Conference and explained his views on the conflict in the region, just as many other participants have done. By boycotting the conference, he has thrown away this opportunity and will help nobody.
But if he'll forgive me the indulgence (and the assumption that he's an avid reader of this blog), I've got a couple of questions.

Just how far are you prepared to take this boycott? Would you, for example, boycott the academics, and urge others to do so, who are currently working on a phase 2a dose-escalating trial to evaluate experimental stem-cell therapy in ALS, at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem?

As you know, ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

UPDATE
Hawking trip NOT cancelled due to Israel boycott:
Professor Hawking's spokesperson has confirmed that he will not miss the conference in Israel due to a boycott, but rather because of health reasons.
So now the question is, will BRICUP apologise?

FURTHER UPDATE

Nope. He really is supporting the boycott. Thereby proving, yet again, one of Fox's Iron Laws of Politics: that it takes really clever people to be really, really stupid.

23 April 2013

Now we must get behind Labour's MEP candidates.

First, the self-indulgent admission of interest. You are probably aware of the controversies surrounding Labour's selection of those who are going forward to regional member ballots to decide the lists for next year's European Parliament elections. Jon Worth and Peter Watt have best charted the issues. National and local press, and the rest of the blogosphere, have also covered (£) it extensively.

I, too, was one of those whose application was deemed not to merit even an interview (hyperlink to a mournful violent lament). I hadn't otherwise been interested in elected office since student politics days. But, with increasing talk in the Party of a desire to see people with certain, less obvious career and life experiences* as candidates, I thought I'd roll the dice in the MEP selection process.

Now we can all moan jusqu'aux les vaches reviennent (as I believe our European partners would say) but I believe that the most important thing to do is now get behind those that have been selected for selection, as it were. It is not as if the people in question aren't qualified, after all. And I'm sure that they are as uneasy about the selection process as the rest of us. No one wants to be thought of as having succeeded due to special favours.

To help me decide how I'll exercise my member's vote in London, I'll be asking  the candidates a set of questions which I believe will clarify their positions on some of the key issues - and potentially head-off any future selections controversy. I will be publishing their responses on this blog.

So:

1. The biggest challenge faced by the European project this year has been the Cypriot banking crisis. What is your assessment of the measures put in place by the so-called 'troika' to deal with this and what lessons have been learnt should similar crises arise in comparable euro-denominated economies?

2. A longer term challenge is that of reducing carbon emissions. It has been claimed that the cap and trade Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has been undermined by the European Parliament's recent failure to agree to the 'backloading' of credits. In such a scheme, do you believe the 'cap' or the 'trade' feature to be the more important? Has the ETS reflected this importance? If not, what reforms or alternatives for regulating the use of carbon would you support?

3. A growing pan-European economy is dependent upon the flow, exchange and exploitation of information. This whole opportunity is becoming better known as 'Big Data'. What are the threats to this from EU legislation concerning data? How do we balance the potential for businesses and consumers with the need to protect privacy and maintain member nations' national security infrastructures?

4. Although no fault of any of those selected, it has become increasingly clear that the selection processes for the regional lists was unsatisfactory. In London, only 100 or so applications were made. For a job that has 8 vacancies and is worth a six figure annual salary, that's astonishingly low and points towards a lack of communication and promotion to the regional membership. How would you rectify this for the 2019 process? Whatever the numbers of members interested, is a pre-selection for selection necessary at all? Given modern campaigning and communications techniques, are short-lists for a regional list necessary at all? How could the regional party better facilitate the participation of more than eight people in the selection for 2019?

I'll look forward to publishing their answers here.


*Military, in my case. Though admittedly, there's no surprises on my CV, otherwise.

07 March 2013

'Mummy! The #BBCQT audience gave me a clap!'

BBC's Question Time continues its 34-year run tonight, with an episode from Dover.

My enthusiasm for the show was rekindled a couple of years ago when it also became a regular Twitter event. The two-screen phenomenon has meant ordinary punters being able to add their two shekels' worth immediately - in return for 140 characters' worth of praise or obloquy - rather than just rage alone at those moments when the contributions tip over from robust and controversial into idiotic and pompous.

However, an especially irritating (post-broadcast) aspect of the programme these days goes mostly unchallenged. Some panelists seem to treat any approval they might have received from the audience as instilling them with a certain political or moral legitimacy. Which they then bang on about on their blog or in their column as if there could be no further possible challenge to their view of the world. All because they got clapped the previous Thursday in a town hall with some TV cameras in it.
 
These insistences usual go along the lines of "opinion X is ignored by [person or organisation] Y but when I expressed it on Question Time last week...", followed by a description of how rapturous the audience response was because the truth, as expressed by our intrepid columnist or celebrity, had finally been spoken. It's like a child in the park asking their parents if they saw that special handstand they just did and how impressed all the big boys and girls were.

Such self-regard is premised on the belief that Question Time audiences are somehow an accurate cross-section of the Great British Public - when what they in fact are is a cross-section of that part of the Great British Public that thinks turning up to express support for one's existing views should be not just the beginning but also the end of the democratic process, because of the apparently unquestionable correctness of what one thinks. So the Question Time studio is an echo chamber, with the audience merely a reflection of the panel. Just without the time, inclination or luck to have become a politician or professional rent-a-gob themselves.

To claim them as some sort of frustrated, silenced majority for your cause is like divining significance from me shouting excitedly at Loftus Road when QPR score. It satisfies my demand for an event I believe is all too rare but the fans opposite will feel quite differently about it. Not to mention the absent thousands who will also find no joy in the scoreline. And millions of others still who could not give a damn either way. If Harry Redknapp claimed in the post-match interview that all the QPR fans roaring with delight when QPR scored proves how popular QPR is throughout the land, he'd be thought of as delusional. Yet similar claims from Question Time guests abound: supporters in the studio of what I say cheered when I said something so the whole country must really like what I say.  I'm sure a warm round of applause from a Question Time audience, re-(tw)heated in the days that follow, must be very reassuring as the modern world refuses to match your model for it. But real politics, this is not.

To pick two subjects which seem to bring out the worst in both #BBCQT panels and audiences: when a guest tries to persuade an audience of socially-housed single parents of the virtues of the latest welfare reform, then they will be able to write about it as some sort of heroic venture; when they attempt to justify their views on the Middle East conflict to an audience of Israelis and Palestinians, then they will be able to claim some sort of significant contribution to a debate.

And when they start understanding that the programme is entertainment and not factual, then they will be able to better appreciate what role it has as a political weather-vane. None.

06 March 2013

LIFE ON TABLETS: FIFA regulations.

Only Arsenal and Man City were happy with the new FIFA regulations requiring manager and team names to match by at least one syllable.

04 March 2013

BREAKING NEWS FOR TABLOID HATERS: Your Newspapers Are Rubbish As Well.

Let's begin by differentiating 'readers' from 'Readers'. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Guardian Reader, even though I used to read the Guardian (every day for over a decade). Nor am I a Daily Mail Reader, even on the rare occasions when I happen to read the Daily Mail. Of all the things I get up to of a day or a week, where I get my news from is one of the most irrelevant in defining who I am. You might call me a reader of The Times, as that is my current daily download, but I am not a Times Reader. Especially as, in our digital-leisure age, it's one of dozens, if not hundreds, of information and entertainment outlets covering my screen hour after hour.

For others, it is different. When one Guardian Reader wrote of raising her daughter as another Guardian Reader, in the same way others enforce a religious upbringing, it was with tongue lightly caressing the inside of her cheek, rather than firmly emplaced so. To a certain breed of self-righteous pomposity-monger, their choice of newspaper is a badge of honour, worn to demand respect from those whom they deem to be less wise in their selections. Take this, from the Guardian's letters page in 2011:
Unlike readers of the Tory-owned press, we take the Guardian for opinions with which we can agree or disagree and make up our own minds based on facts provided elsewhere...
In 31 words, he manages to sum-up those who self-describe as Readers of certain newspapers: defining yourself against others whom you regard as the ignorant masses, just not as clever or ethical as you because of what they read. Such attitudes prevail on social media where even the mildest questioning of some ideas or campaigns gets you accused of being a mere conduit through which Rupert Murdoch or Paul Dacre channel their every nefarious desire.

Or look at these two quotes from the writer of a blog which charts the hypocrisies, exaggerations and lies of the tabloid press in general, and the Daily Mail in particular:
"Freedom in this sense is merely the freedom for anyone to set up their own press as an outlet for their own biased and perhaps blinkered view of the world".
"There are elements of our society that are fearful,vulnerable and simply not intelligent enough to know when they are being lied to".
(My emphases).

In highlighting such illiberal and elitist views, I am not seeking to defend the Fleet Street titles being attacked. I also have no respect for them nor any truck with their politics or views. But here's an exclusive especially for the Readers of supposedly more high-minded sources: your papers are rubbish as well. They also lie, exaggerate, print slanted copy, and promote their owners' and editors' biases. Sure, they may do it over matters of greater importance than their Murdochian, Northcliffe and Desmondite counterparts. But that arguably makes it even worse. 

If you think the press is too influential in our lives and want to make it less so, then fine. Lead the way. Stop treating The Guardian and The Independent and New Statesman as if they were the first three books of a Third Testament. You want people to pay less attention to the likes of Richard Littlejohn and Melanie Phillips? Great. Then set an example. Stop taking every word the likes of Polly Toynbee and John Pilger write as some sort of infallible truth.

And in the meantime, stop referring to yourselves as "unlike readers of the Tory-owned press". Because you are not unlike them at all.