Who is Owen Smith?

Who is Owen Smith?
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
29 July 2016

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith MP has stated he is “going to be just as radical” as Jeremy Corbyn. “Jeremy has been right about so many things”, Smith argued at the launch of his campaign. This pitch to Labour voters has been taken up by the Saving Labour group hoping to dispose Corbyn, with its supporters telling members of the public “there is no real difference… between Owen Smith and Jeremy”.

Is this true? How does this framing of the leadership contest fit with Smith’s actual political record?

Smith has already been criticised for his previous senior positions at Big Pharma corporations. “Smith worked for Amgen as its chief lobbyist in the UK for two years before becoming MP for Pontypridd [in 2010]. Before that he was a lobbyist for US drug firm Pfizer from 2005”, notes the Guardian. “While at Pfizer in 2005 Smith endorsed a Pfizer-backed report offering NHS patients easier access to private-sector healthcare”. According to The Times newspaper Smith stated in a press release “We believe that choice is a good thing and that patients and healthcare professionals should be at the heart of developing the agenda.” For Lisa Nandy MP (“a cracking Labour MP” – Guardian journalist Owen Jones) Smith’s senior role at Pfizer is a good thing because “having seen how a pharmaceutical company and capitalism operates from the inside is probably quite important, to be honest. If you are going to critique it, you need to understand it.”

Responding to questions about his position with Pfizer on the BBC Today Programme, Smith stated “I’ve never advocated the privatisation of the NHS” and “I believe in a 100 percent publicly owned NHS free at the point of use”. Nandy repeated this narrative in her interview with Owen Jones, replying “Yes” when Jones asked her to confirm Smith “wants an entirely publicly run National Health Service – no privatisation?”

In the real world, when Smith unsuccessfully fought the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election and he was asked about the involvement of the private sector in the NHS by Wales Online, he replied:

“Where they can bring good ideas, where they can bring valuable services that the NHS is not able to deliver, and where they can work alongside but subservient to the NHS and without diminishing in any respect the public service ethos of the NHS, then I think that’s fine.”

Asked about the controversial Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes introduced by the Blair Government, Smith responded: “We’ve had PFI in Wales, we’ve had a hospital built down in Baglan through PFI. If PFI works, then let’s do it.” In the same interview Smith sings the praises of New Labour’s introduction of academy schools, which was strongly opposed by the teaching unions. “I’m not someone, frankly, who gets terribly wound up about some of the ideological nuances”, noted Smith.

In July 2015 Smith abstained on the Government’s Welfare Bill, which the government’s own figures confirmed would push 330,000 children from low-income families further into poverty, with single mothers and ethnic minorities hit particularly hard. Now running for the Labour leadership, Smith told the BBC’s Andrew Marr his vote was a mistake that he now regretted. How sincerely he believes this is brought into question by his appearance on BBC Newsnight in September 2016 when he confirmed his support for the £26,000 benefit cap, saying “We are in favour of an overall reduction in the amount of money we spend on benefits in this country and we are in favour of limits on what individual families can draw down.” In March 2015 the Guardian reported the UK Supreme Court had “found that the effect of the policy [the benefit cap] was not compatible with the government’s obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child”.

Earlier this month Smith voted to renew the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons. Asked by Marr if he was prepared to “annihilate possibly millions of people” by firing Trident, Smith replied that “You’ve got to be prepared to say yes to that.” But wasn’t he once a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, asked Marr? When did he realise he was wrong? “About 15 years ago”, Smith replied. This doesn’t fit with a June 2006 Daily Mail report, which noted “Yesterday Owen Smith… came out in opposition to the Trident nuclear deterrent”.

Noting Smith entered parliament in 2010, the Guardian’s Zoe Williams argues he cannot be “tarnished by the Blair years and the vote on the Iraq war.” Indeed, though he was a Special Advisor to pro-war Labour Cabinet Minister Paul Murphy in 2003, Smith and his supporters have repeatedly highlighted his opposition to the war. However, interviewing Smith in 2006 Wales Online noted “He didn’t know whether he would have voted against the war”, with Smith arguing “the tradition of the Labour Party and the tradition of left-wing engagement to remove dictators was a noble, valuable tradition, and one that in South Wales, from the Spanish Civil War onwards, we have recognised and played a part in.”

As this suggests, even if he did oppose the war in 2003 Smith continues to repeat the delusional framing of the pro-war camp. For example, introducing the topic of Iraq in his campaign launch speech, Smith referred to the UK as “a country that has traditionally, patriotically intervened around the world to help impose and understand our values across the globe.” And again he tried to ride Corbyn’s coattails, noting “Iraq was a terrible mistake. Jeremy has been right about that.” The problem for Smith is this isn’t what Corbyn or the mainstream anti-war movement argue. Let me explain: if I slip on a banana skin – that’s a mistake. If I spill coffee down my shirt – that’s a mistake. If I spend months planning an illegal and aggressive invasion of another country that leads to the deaths of over 500,000 men, women and children and over four million refugees, then that’s a crime, and a massive one at that, as Corbyn implicitly suggested in his response to the publication of the Chilcot Report.

Corbyn, of course, also opposed the 2011 Libyan war – just one of the 2 percent of MPs who did. Smith supported the military intervention which steamrolled over peace initiatives being made by the African Union, enabled ethnic cleansing and the levelling of the city of Sirte, destabilised the country and region, increased the number of terrorist groups operating in Libya and exacerbated the refugee crisis.

Interviewed by the Telegraph in June 2006, Smith argued Tony Blair was a socialist. Asked if he has any policy differences with Blair except for the Iraq War, which he said was a mistake, Smith replied “No, I don’t think so.” The Telegraph’s take on Smith? “About as New Labour as you can get”. The Independent’s take on Smith for their report on the by-election was similarly blunt: “A dyed-in-the wool New Labourite.”

Big Pharma lobbyist? Radical? New Labourite? Socialist? Blairite? Corbynista without Corbyn? Who, exactly, is Owen Smith? Looking at his record of following the prevailing political winds, it seems Owen Smith will be whoever he needs to be for political gain.

*Buzzfeed journalist James Ball recently criticised a Twitter meme based on a similar article I wrote for Open Democracy titled ‘Who Is Angela Eagle?’. Comparing the selected points my article highlights about Eagle’s voting record with her overall voting record, Ball argued “can prove what you like with being selective with voting records”. As I explained to Ball, my article about Eagle – and this article – is about highlighting political differences between the challenger and Corbyn on key issues that may be of interest to Labour voters and the broader general public. It is not a complete record of Smith’s political career, obviously. I would hope readers don’t need me to tell them that Smith is not a moustache-twirling, Disney villain and has, I’m sure, made many positive contributions in his political career.

The Politics of Fantasy? Jeremy Corbyn and public opinion

The politics of fantasy? Jeremy Corbyn and public opinion
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
30 July 2016

A common refrain among the elite and mainstream media commentators is that “Jeremy Corbyn’s politics are fantasy”, as the headline to an Observer op-ed by Tony Blair put it August 2015. Similarly, just after Corbyn began his campaign to be Labour leader in June 2015 the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee argued the Islington North MP was “a 1983 man” and “a relic”. A vote for Corbyn “is ignoring the electorate”, Toynbee argued. Before she stepped aside in the current leadership contest, Angela Eagle went one further, arguing Corbyn “doesn’t connect with Labour voters”.

The latter criticism is easily dismissed – Corbyn was elected with the biggest mandate of any Labour leader in history, and a new YouGov poll finds Corbyn gets the support of 54 percent of the party’s members, with Eagle coming second on 21 percent and Owen Smith trailing on 15 percent.

But what about his politics and policy suggestions? How do they sit with British public opinion?

Like Corbyn, a 2014 YouGov poll for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) found “a majority of the UK public believes the gap between the rich and the poor is bad for society and the economy”, according to Steve Hart, the Chair of CLASS.

To tackle income inequality, in January 2016 the Labour leader suggested maximum pay ratios – a policy backed by 65 percent of people quizzed by YouGov/CLASS. He also pushed for all companies to pay a living wage – supported by 60 percent of people according to a 2013 Survation survey – and stripping private schools of the charitable status, a move the YouGov/CLASS poll found was backed by 55 percent of respondents.

Turning to health, in contrast to Owen Smith’s 2006 Wales Online interview supporting private sector involvement in the NHS, Corbyn believes in a publicly run NHS – a position supported by 84 per cent of the public, according to a 2013 YouGov poll.

In May 2016 Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell confirmed Labour’s plan was to build 100,000 new council houses a year. ‘More social housing’ was the top answer – given by 58 percent of respondents – when an April 2016 Guardian Cities poll asked people about solutions to the housing crisis. McDonnell also said a Labour government would give councils the power to impose rent controls – a policy supported by 60 percent of British people, including 42 percent of Tory voters, according to a 2015 YouGov poll.

Corbyn supports the nationalisation of the railways, a position backed by 66 percent of the public, including a majority of Conservative voters, according 2013 YouGov poll. He also believes the Royal Mail should be publicly owned, a position supported by 67 percent of the public, including 48 percent of Tory voters, according to the same poll.

On foreign policy, Corbyn was a key figure in the anti-war movement that opposed the deeply unpopular Iraq War, speaking to the biggest protest in British history on 15 February 2003. On Afghanistan, Corbyn opposed the war and supported the withdrawal of British troops. Polls from 2008 onwards consistently found the British public supported the withdrawal of British troops. On Trident, Corbyn’s lifelong commitment to scrapping the UK’s nuclear weapons is shared by a significant minority of the population – an impressive level of opposition when you consider the British establishment and three main parties have historically supported the retention of Trident.

On the issues Corbyn’s politics don’t reflect public opinion, arguably these are often surrounded by significant levels of media-generated misinformation. For example, polls note the majority of the public support a benefit cap of £20,000 nationwide – a cut Corbyn and many charities working on poverty strongly opposed. At the same time a 2012 TUC/YouGov poll found widespread ignorance about spending on welfare. Asked what percentage of the welfare budget was spent on unemployment benefits, the average answer given was 41 percent (the correct figure is 3 percent). Asked what percentage of the welfare budget was claimed fraudulently, people estimated 27 percent (the government estimate is 0.7 percent). The survey found that public support for the then Coalition government’s plans to cut benefits was highest amongst the most ignorant.

In conclusion, what all this polling evidence clearly shows is that many of Corbyn’s political positions command the support of large sections of the British public, often a majority. And importantly, the polls highlight that many of his positions receive significant levels of support from Tory voters.

However, a new London School of Economics study highlights the problems Corbyn’s Labour Government faces in reaching the general public. Analysing press coverage of Corbyn in September and October 2015, the survey found “an overall picture of most newspapers systematically vilifying” the leader of the biggest opposition party, assassinating his character, ridiculing his personality and delegitimising his ideas and politics.” Noting other left-wing leaders also received negative press attention, the authors of the study note “in the case of Corbyn the degree of antagonism and hatred… has arguably reached new heights.”

Whether Corbyn will be able to successfully articulate his popular politics and policies in the face of continuous attacks from the overwhelming hostile media, many Labour MPs, the Tory Government and wider British elite, and whether he and his own team is up to the job in getting the message across – these are different and difficult questions which we will find out the answers to soon enough.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and Tory Government U-turns

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and Tory Government U-turns
by Ian Sinclair
16 July 2016

In his latest Guardian column, Owen Jones argues that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has been “reduced to an ineffective pressure group”. This chimes with a lot of the criticism coming from the Labour MPs opposed to his leadership, Tory politicians and much of the mainstream media – that Corbyn is unable to lead an effective opposition to the Tory Government, and therefore should step down.

In contrast, the historical record shows Labour under Corbyn has defeated the Government on a number of important issues, forcing U-turns at various points. Of course, these victories are not down to Corbyn alone but the whole of the Labour Party and wider Labour movement, often working with civil society groups and other political parties. And, of course, there could always be more defeats for the Government – something that would be more likely if Labour MPs supported their elected leader. I list the victories below so discussion on this topic can be informed by evidence and fact, rather than baseless assertions:

Saudi Arabia prison contract. Guardian, 13 October 2015: “Downing Street has announced that the government is to cancel a £5.9m contract to provide a training programme for prisons in Saudi Arabia… The pressure on Cameron to cancel the Saudi contract escalated when Jeremy Corbyn called on him in his first party conference speech as Labour leader to block the bid to provide training for the very prison system that would carry out the execution of the pro-democracy protester Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr.”

Police cuts. Labour List, 25 November 2015: “George Osborne today caved into pressure from Labour and announced U-turns on both tax credits and cuts to police budgets. Both issues have been major attack lines for Labour in recent months”.

Tax credits. Morning Star, 26 November 2015: “Chancellor George Osborne was forced into a humiliating climbdown yesterday over his toxic plans to slash tax credits. The Tory appeared to make a complete U-turn on the cuts in his Autumn Statement after a campaign led by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. It saved three million families, who were set to lose £1,300 on average from next April, from being plunged further into poverty.”

Housing benefit cuts. Mirror, 27 January 2016: “The Tories have performed a humiliating climbdown on a cruel benefit cut which threatened to force OAPs, veterans and abused women out of supported accommodation. Housing minister Brandon Lewis was forced to the House of Commons to announce the 1% cut in rent for housing providers that support vulnerable people would be delayed for a year… Labour dragged the Housing Minister to the commons during an Opposition Day debate on housing benefit cuts and supported housing.”

Child poverty indicators. Guardian, 26 February 2016: “The government has been forced into retreat after agreeing that it should continue to report lack of money as a measure of child poverty. Ministers wanted to remove a statutory duty to publish levels of UK household income as part of the welfare reform and work bill but have now accepted, after a battle with the House of Lords, that the material deprivation measures should remain protected…. Owen Smith MP, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said…’Efforts led by the Labour party, our peers, the bishop of Durham and the charity sector have together forced the Tories to climb down on their bid to cover their tracks on child poverty.’”

Sunday opening hours. Independent, 9 March 2016: “David Cameron has suffered a damaging Commons defeat after Conservative rebels teamed up with Labour and SNP MPs to throw out plans to allow supermarkets and large stores in England and Wales to open longer on Sundays.”

Trade Union Bill. Labour List, 17 March 2016: “The Conservatives’ anti-trade union plans suffered a setback last night as they suffered a ‘resounding defeat’ in House of Lords votes. Peers voted against aspects of the Trade Union Bill that would see Labour’s funding take a serious hit, as well as stalling proposals to implement 50 per cent threshold on strike ballots until an independent review has considered electronic balloting, which the Tories oppose… In January, Labour and Lib Dem members of the House of Lords agreed to work together to oppose these reforms, following a decades-long agreement that major changes to party funding must have cross-party support. Both parties voted for the amendment last night, as well as crossbench peers and two Tory rebels.”

Disability cuts. Metro, 18 March 2016: “George Osborne could be about to perform a rather embarrassing U-turn on the cuts to disability benefits… Jeremy Corbyn said Labour is ready to combine with Conservative rebels to inflict what would be a humiliating defeat for the Government, unless ministers back down. The Labour leader said 200,000 of the 640,000 people hit by the changes would lose out altogether as a result of the Government’s plans, which would take £4 billion out of the benefit over the course of the parliament.”

Academies. Labour List, 7 May 2016: “The Government has suffered a ‘humiliating climb-down’ on their controversial plans to turn all schools into academies, burying their U-turn among election announcements across the country yesterday… Lucy Powell said… ‘It is welcome news that the Tory Government has finally listened to Labour and the alliance of head teachers, parents and local government who opposed these plans, and dropped the forced academisation of all schools.’”

Child refugees. Huffington Post, 10 May 2016: “Recently David Cameron has been forced to back down from his plans to ignore helpless Syrian child refugees living without parents in camps. A plan put forward by Labour peer Lord Dubs to resettle child refugees was originally refused by David Cameron, but because of pressure from Labour and rebelling backbench Conservative MPs, he was forced to concede to morality.”

New Labour, not Jeremy Corbyn, is to blame for Brexit

New Labour, not Jeremy Corbyn, is to blame for Brexit
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
11 July 2016

The message pushed by the Labour Party coup plotters through a pliant media has been relentless: Jeremy Corbyn’s half-hearted performance in the European Union referendum, likely because of his dislike of the EU, played a key role in the vote for Brexit. This narrative has resonated widely, with a YouGov poll finding 52 percent of Labour members thought Corbyn performed badly, with 47 percent answering he performed well.

However, there are a number of problems with the ‘Blame Corbyn’ story.

Most important is the fact that, according to Lord Ashcroft’s polling on the referendum, 63 percent of Labour voters supported Remain – just one percent less than the 64 percent of SNP voters who supported Remain. There haven’t been, as far as I’m aware, any calls for Nicola Sturgeon to resign as the SNP leader.

Ten days before the referendum vote, Labour MP Angela Eagle – currently busy threatening to run against Corbyn in a leadership election because of his poor performance during the referendum –told the Guardian “Jeremy is up and down the country, pursuing an itinerary that would make a 25-year-old tired, he has not stopped. We are doing our best, but if we are not reported, it is very difficult. This whole thing is about Tory big beasts having a battle like rutting stags”. Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson – also currently pushing the Labour leader to resign – confirmed in early June that Corbyn was getting a “raw deal” from the media, noting that Corbyn’s many speeches on the referendum were being ignored by the media.

Research by the Centre for Research in Communication and Culture at Loughborough University concurs with the pre-coup analyses of Eagle and Watson on the media’s coverage of the campaign. “The dominance of Conservative party representatives… was sustained throughout”, the study concludes. “The coverage was also highly ‘presidentialised’, dominated by the Conservative figure heads of the IN and OUT campaigns.”

“In truth there is little in the pattern of the results of the referendum to suggest that Mr Corbyn was personally responsible for Remain’s defeat”, notes John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University and the BBC’s polling expert. “The referendum outcome looks more like a pretext for an attempt to secure Mr Corbyn’s removal than a reason.”

However, although the ferocious ‘Blame Corbyn’ campaign doesn’t stand up to a cursory look at the actual evidence, what it has succeeded in doing is focusing everyone’s attention on the nine weeks of the referendum campaign itself. This is a huge problem because, as Gary Younge recently noted in the Guardian, the Brexit vote was decades in the making.

“Those who voted for Brexit tended to be English, white, poor, less educated and old. With the exception of the elderly, these have traditionally been Labour’s base”, Younge points out. After criss-crossing the country speaking to the general public for a video series on the referendum for the Guardian, John Harris declared a few days before the vote “England and Wales are in the midst of a working-class revolt… in Stoke, Merthyr, Birmingham, Manchester and even rural Shropshire the same lines recurred… ‘I’m scared about the future’… ‘no one listens to me’… ‘If you haven’t got money, no one cares’.”

Harris noted there was a complete lack of trust in the political establishment. Iraq – along with the expenses scandal and the financial crash – has obviously played a key role in increasing the public’s distrust in those who rule them. Of course, the Iraq war was launched by Tony Blair’s Government, with 92 percent of the Labour MPs opposing Corbyn now who were in parliament in 2003 voting in favour of the illegal and aggressive invasion, according to investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed.

Younge is in no doubt about Labour’s role in the abandonment of large swathes of the country: “The party has been out of touch for some time”, with New Labour’s turn to the right “made with the conscious calculation that its core supporters had nowhere else to go.”

Instead of decisively shifting to a modern social democracy when it was elected on a wave of optimism in 1997, New Labour chose to adapt to the “Thatcherite, neo-liberal terrain” and “set the corporate economy free”, argued the late sociology professor Stuart Hall in 2003. NHS privatisation moved forward with the Private Finance Initiative deals, council house building ground to a halt, tuition fees were introduced, unemployment benefits were kept very low, the benefits system tightened, and claimants stigmatised. At the same time New Labour reduced the ability of working-class communities to resist the increasingly corporate-dominated economy by maintaining the Tories tough anti-union legislation, with Blair proudly stating the UK had the “most restrictive laws on trade unions in the Western world”. Unsurprisingly, income inequality, already sky high after 13 years of Tory rule, rose under New Labour, and the UK continues to have one of the lowest levels of class mobility in the industrialised world.

New Labour also repeatedly attempted to outflank the Tories on the right when it came to immigration and asylum – issues at the heart of the EU referendum debate. Blair used his September 2003 speech to the Labour Party conference to push for a tougher immigration policy – lballed“chilling” by the Immigration Advisory Service. “I don’t want to see footprints left so that the BNP [British National Party] can step into them. I don’t want language used to appease the Daily Mail”, warmed Sir Bill Morris, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, at the time.

The year before Home Secretary David Blunkett had proclaimed asylum seekers were “swamping” some British schools. In 2007 Margaret Hodge MP wrote of “indigenous famil[ies]” missing out when it comes to social housing because we “prioritise the needs of an individual migrant family over the entitlement others feel they have”, a statement cheered on by the BNP. Prime Minister Gordon Brown repeatedly pledged “British jobs for British workers”, criticised by then leader of the opposition David Cameron for using the same language as – yep, you’ve guessed it – a BNP leaflet. Ed Miliband’s party was hardly better. The 2015 General Election campaign brought forth Labour’s infamous ‘Controls on Immigration’ mugs, while the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves announced Labour would extend the period for which EU migrants are prevented from claiming out-of-work benefits from three months to two years. “The plans take Labour further than proposals so far announced by the Conservatives”, the Guardian noted.

The effect of all this emotive rhetoric, as Younge notes about Labour’s history of pandering to the Right on immigration, “was not to blunt the rise of organised racism but to embolden it, making certain views acceptable and respectable”.

No matter what he did, Corbyn was never going to successfully turn around these decades-old, arguably now firmly entrenched, social, economic and political shifts in the nine months he had been leader before the referendum.

So, if we are going to start attributing blame in the Labour Party for Brexit, let’s start with New Labour and the Blairite MPs and many of their willing dupes in the so-called centre of the party who repeatedly supported policies and public statements that have effectively led to the abandonment of many poor communities, increased inequality, and shifted national politics to a space that made Brexit more likely.

What are the odds of putting Blair in the Hague for what he did to Iraq?

What are the odds of putting Blair in the Hague for what he did to Iraq?
by Ian Sinclair
Middle East Eye
4 July 2016

With the Iraq Inquiry, headed by Sir John Chilcot, set to finally report on Wednesday, it is important to remember the legal questions being considered by the Blair Government as they geared up for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

With the Prime Minister under intense pressure from a growing anti-war movement and rebellious Labour Party MPs, in July 2002 the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told Tony Blair there were only “three possible legal bases” for attacking Iraq. These were “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [security council] authorisation”. The first and second justifications were out of the question, Goldsmith noted.

Things were equally fraught at the Foreign Office, with Sir Michael Wood, the department’s chief legal adviser, warning Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that invading without a second resolution would “amount to the crime of aggression”.

Despite applying huge amounts of pressure on members of the security council, the UK and US failed to obtain a security council resolution. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared the war to be in contravention of the UN charter, as did figures ranging from senior judge Lord Bingham to Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and prominent American neoconservative Richard Perle. “It is generally agreed, by… most international lawyers that the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was illegal, contravening the prohibition on the use of force in the UN Charter”, notes Bill Bowring, Professor of Law at Birkbeck, University of London.

“The war is responsible for millions dead and displaced, the country is still in flames and there have been no sanctions whatever against those who prosecuted it”, Lindsey German, the Convenor of Stop the War Coalition, tells me. “We are not lawyers but many would like to see Blair in The Hague, and this is an extremely popular demand within the anti-war movement”.

It’s a popular demand among the wider public too – a ComRes/Independent poll in 2010 found “37 per cent of people believe that Mr Blair should be put on trial for going to war with Iraq”. However, while the expert consensus and public’s anger are well known, the legal technicalities surrounding if, and how, Blair and his colleagues could be brought to trial are rarely explored.

For example, the International Criminal Court [ICC] at The Hague is the only body that has jurisdiction to prosecute the “crime of aggression”. However, it turns out the ICC only agreed on an official working definition of the term in 2010. And, more importantly, they also agreed that the validity of a case would be determined by the UN Security Council and that it would not consider cases retrospectively.

Professor Bowring and Professor Gerry Simpson, Chair in Public International Law at the London School of Economics agree, with the latter noting “It is virtually impossible for this ‘crime’ [the crime of aggression] to be prosecuted by an international court”. Therefore, the chances of Blair standing trial are “extremely slim”, Professor Simpson explains.

Similarly, in 2006 the House of Lords held that the crime of aggression was not part of domestic law and would need an Act of Parliament to be incorporated. Therefore, Blair “cannot be prosecuted in the UK’s domestic courts for aggression”, noted Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law at the University of Oxford, on European Journal of International Law’s blog in 2009.

What all this means, as journalist Richard Hall explained in 2010, is though “There was no legal case for launching the war” there is also “no legal basis to prosecute for it”.

All this will be deeply frustrating and disappointing for the millions of people who marched against the war and want the Blair Government held to account. But all is not lost for them. There are, it seems, a few other viable options.

So, while the chances of prosecuting the Blair Government for its illegal and aggressive invasion are currently close to zero, attempts are in progress to bring the UK Government to account for war crimes committed by British forces during the occupation itself. Based on a dossier compiled by Public Interest Lawyers and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, “two years ago, the new [ICC] Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, commenced a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes committed by members of the government in the following period of occupation”, Professor Bowring explains. The BBC reported the dossier contained evidence of what they said was more than 400 cases of mistreatment or unlawful killings carried out by UK forces. “Blair could have been, and perhaps may be, prosecuted for war crimes at the ICC in The Hague”, Professor Bowring believes.

Furthermore, though it is still unlikely, Professor Simpson notes “a foreign court is a little more likely” to prosecute the crime of aggression, though Blair “would have to travel to somewhere with a crime of aggression on the statute books”. Philippe Sands QC, Professor of Law at University College London, concurs, telling the Daily Mirror in 2010 “When Tony Blair travels he now gets legal advice on where he can go and the pattern of extradition agreements.” There are, according to Sands, approximately 50 countries which have enshrined the crime of aggression into their law and would therefore be unsafe for Blair to visit. “The possibility of a national prosecutor going after Blair in some foreign jurisdiction is reasonably high”, he added.

With legal prosecution and sanction very unlikely in the UK itself, it looks like it will continue to fall to the court of public opinion to pass judgement and punishment on Blair and his close conspirators. One thing is certain – Blair’s reputation is shot to pieces, with the former Prime Minister unable to do book signings without protests, or appear in public without people trying to carry out a citizen’s arrest. The Iraq War’s toxicity continues to inform British politics, with potential challengers to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hindered by their support for the war.

“The publication of the Chilcot Report will be very important”, notes Professor Bowring about the legal questions surrounding the Iraq War. The content of the report will, of course, be central to the debate, but arguably the deciding factor on how this plays out will be the response from Corbyn’s Labour Party, the media and the public. Stop the War Coalition are holding a protest at the report’s launch in London on 6 July and then a rally on 7 July. “We will do everything we can to make clear what the issues of legality, lying and the creation of future chaos really mean”, German says. “We don’t know whether Chilcot will help pin the blame on the guilty, but we do know this remains an issue of immense importance to millions of people in Britain.”

Who is Angela Eagle?

Who is Angela Eagle?
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
29 June 2016

Interviewed a couple of days ago by Sky News about Jeremy Corbyn’s position as Labour leader, the increasingly impressive journalist Paul Mason explained that corporate-friendly Labour MPs will trigger a leadership election and choose “the leftist person they can” to stand against Corbyn.

It turns out this candidate will likely be former Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle, who ITV News reported will challenge Corbyn for the leadership. It is likely that Eagle will be the sole candidate to stand, as the anti-Corbyn section of the Parliamentary Labour Party understand they cannot dilute the non-Corbyn vote like they did in the 2015 Labour leadership campaign.

In the upcoming leadership contest, Eagle and her supporters will no doubt claim she represents Labour members, and poor and vulnerable people. However, as Noam Chomsky wisely noted “It is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” because “deeds commonly tell a different story”.

As Eagle was elected to parliament in 1992, she has an extensive political record that people might want to consider before casting their vote in the Labour leadership election:

  • According to the They Work For You website she has “generally voted for a stricter asylum system”.
  • According to the They Work For You website in January and March 2004 she “voted in favour of university tuition fees increasing from £1125 per year to up to £3000 per year”.
  • She supported the introduction of ID cards.
  • In 2006 she supported the Blair Government’s plan to detain terrorism suspects for up to 90 days without charge.
  • In March 2013 she abstained on the vote about the Coalition Government’s Workfare programme, the scheme in which people on Jobseekers Allowance are forced to carry out unpaid work in order to keep receiving their benefits.
  • In July 2015 she abstained on the vote for the Welfare Bill, which proposed to cut tax credits, reduce the benefit cap to £20,000 (£23,000 in London) and called for £12bn more cuts. According to the government’s own figures, over 300,000 poor children will be pushed further into poverty, with 40,000 more children sinking below the poverty line, as a result of the benefit cap. Child Poverty Action Group noted “the majority of households affected by the benefit cap are lone-parent households and the main victims are children”.
  • She supports the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
  • In March 2003 she voted for the illegal and aggressive invasion of Iraq, which led to the deaths of approximately 500,000 people, according to the latest survey.
  • According to the They Work For You website she has “consistently voted against an investigation into the Iraq war”.
  • She supports the retention of Trident nuclear weapons.
  • In September 2014 she voted in favour of air strikes on Islamic State in Iraq.
  • In December 2015 she voted in favour of air strikes on Islamic State in Syria.

Responding to Chilcot: more deceptions from Tony Blair on Iraq

Responding to Chilcot: more deceptions from Tony Blair on Iraq
by Ian Sinclair

8 July 2016

The United Nations con trick

This morning BBC Radio 4 Today Programme interviewed Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister from 1997-2007, about his central role in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Asked by presenter John Humphrys about the secret 28 July 2002 memo that Blair sent to US President George Bush in which Blair wrote “I will be with you, whatever”, Blair replied:

“The whole purpose of it [the memo] was to ensure that the Americans went down the United Nations route to dealing with this, which we then did. And we had a [UN] Resolution in November 2002, which had the terms of that resolution been satisfied then there wouldn’t have been a war.”

Blair is repeating the narrative – largely accepted by our media – that he persuaded a reluctant Bush Administration to work through the United Nations, in an attempt to solve the crisis peacefully. However, though Humphrys ignores it, Blair discusses exactly this issue in a later part on the 28 July 2008 memo. Under the heading ‘The UN’ Blair writes:

“We don’t want to be mucked around by Saddam over this, and the danger is he drags us into negotiation. But we need, as with Afghanistan and the ultimatum to the Taleban, to encapsulate our casus belli in some defining way. This is certainly the simplest. We could, in October as the build-up starts, state that he must let the inspectors back in unconditionally and do so now, ie set a 7-day deadline… There would be no negotiation. There would be no new talks with [UN Secretary-General Kofi] Annan. It would be: take it or leave it. I know there is reluctance on this. But it would neutralise opposition around the UN issue. It he did say yes, we continue the build-up and we send teams over and the moment he obstructs, we say: he’s back to his games. That’s it. In any event, he probably would screw it up and not meet the deadline, and if he came forward after the deadline, we would just refuse to deal.”

The language – “encapsulate our casus belli”, “no negotiation”, “we would just refuse to deal” – seems very far from someone sincerely interested in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis and using military action as a last resort.

Blair’s position on the role of the UN here mirrors other secret memos which have been subsequently released. In March 2002 Christopher Meyer, the UK Ambassador to the United States wrote to Tony’ Blair’s Foreign Policy Advisor David Manning about his recent meeting with US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. “We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option”, noted Meyer. “I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and UN SCRs [security council resolutions]”.  How would this be done? A Cabinet paper from July 2002 explains: “It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community”.

The goal then, was to use the weapons inspectors and the UN as a tool for triggering war, not, as Blair continues to assert, to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.

UN Resolution 1441: 2016 Tony Blair versus 2002 Tony Blair

At his press conference responding to Chilcot, Blair repeated his claim that Iraqi non-compliance with UN Resolution 1441 authorised the US and UK to take military action against Iraq:

“I persuaded a reluctant American administration to take the issue back to the UN. This resulted in the November 2002 UN Resolution 1441 giving Saddam ‘a final opportunity’ to come into ‘full and immediate compliance with UN Resolutions’ and to cooperate fully with UN inspectors. Any non-compliance was defined as a material breach…. as at the 18th of March, there was gridlock at the UN. In resolution 1441 it had been agreed to give Saddam one final opportunity to comply. It was accepted he had not done so. In that case, according to 1441, action should have followed”.

What Blair doesn’t say is Resolution 1441 was only passed by Russia, China and France on the understanding a second resolution would be required to authorise military action. Indeed,

on the day Resolution 1441 was passed by the UN Security Council Tony Blair himself said “To those who fear this resolution is just an automatic trigger point, without any further discussion, paragraph 12 of the Resolution makes it clear that is not the case.”

This was confirmed by the UK Ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who explained at the time:

“We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about ‘automaticity’ and ‘hidden triggers’ – the concern that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action; that on a decision so crucial any Iraqi violations should be discussed by the Council. Let me be equally clear in response, as a co-sponsor with the United States of the text we have just adopted. There is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12. We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities.”

The Al Qaeda link: nothing to do with me guv

During the Q&A session of his press conference on Chilcot, Nick Watt from BBC Newsnight asked Blair the following question:

“You say ‘For us to understand what happened, we need to understand how the calculus of risk changed after 9/11.’ But you were told then, and we know now, that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.”

To which Blair replied:

“On the links between AQ and Saddam – it was never our case. There were elements of the American Administration that argued that there was a link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. That was never my case.”

Contrast this clear disavowal with the content of the 28 July 2002 memo Blair wrote to Bush. Under the heading ‘The Evidence’ Blair tells Bush “I have been told the US thinks this unnecessary. But we still need to make the case. If we recapitulate all the WMD evidence, add his attempts to secure nuclear capability; and, as seems possible, add on Al Qaeda link, it will be hugely persuasive over here.”

So, to confirm, though Blair claims that he did not make a link between Al Qaeda and Hussein, the memo clearly shows Blair suggesting to Bush that “an Al Qaeda link” should be made with Saddam Hussein because “it will be hugely persuasive over here” – that is it will help persuade the population of the UK, and perhaps mainland Europe, for the need for war.