Monthly Archives: January 2015

Defending the status quo: Labour and leftist responses to the Green Surge

Defending the status quo: Labour and leftist responses to the Green Surge
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
29 January 2015

The on-going Green Surge – the Green Party of England and Wales now has over 50,000 members – has produced some illogical and politically blinkered responses from progressives both inside and outside of the Labour Party.

In December, before they increased their membership by nearly 25,000 people, the bizarre advice from The Guardian’s Richard Seymour to the Green Party was “to discover their dark side.” Bafflingly, he explained to one challenger that “any real compassion and concern must logically entail a rigorous hatred.”

Tweeting at Green MP Caroline Lucas, feminist writer and Labour supporter Julie Bindel demanded to know “will the Greens hold its policy of legalising and legitimising the international sex trade? This is a deal breaker for many.” Apparently the Labour leadership’s direct responsibly for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan men, women and children, it’s pro-austerity policies – which, incidentally, would push women into prostitution – and, er, the future of humanity, are not deal breakers for Bindel.

Finally, there is left-wing Labourite Owen Jones. In his latest Guardian blog Jones sets out some of his arguments for not voting Green, before explaining that Labour should not base its anti-Green strategy on these arguments. By feigning sympathy for their position at the same time as bashing potential Green voters Jones is very much attempting to have his cake and eat it.

Before I get into the detail of Jones’s arguments, I want to make it clear my criticism is not personal – Jones is simply the most prominent, and therefore most influential, figure on the Labour Left. I think Jones does magnificent work in and out of the media spotlight. As I’ve noted previously “Like many on the Left I see Jones as representing ‘my team’ against the Establishment.” However, on the topic of electoral politics the inescapable fact is Jones is currently acting as a conservative force, attempting to hold back the progressive, arguably radical, surge coming at Labour from the left. Jones wants to increase the number of people voting Labour and decrease the number of people voting Green.

All this leads to some bizarre political contortions. For example, Jones desperately wants Labour to back rail nationalisation to take votes away from Greens – the party that actually backs rail nationalisation.

Talking about Green voters, Jones also snidely comments that “Few of those who claim there is no meaningful difference between a Labour and Tory government are being hammered by the bedroom tax.” This, of course, plays into the popular, though questionable, stereotype of the Green Party as a haven for the middle-class (the Green Surge will likely change the composition of the Green Party). And it also hides the blindingly obvious fact the Greens are attracting support, including many former Labour voters, precisely because of their emphasis on social and economic justice and their opposition to the bedroom tax.

Echoing the age-old Labour fear-mongering, Jones notes that Green voters could well wake up the day after the election with “buyer’s remorse” when they realise their principled vote has helped another Tory Government into power. Jones, of course, fails to mention the “buyer’s remorse” hundreds of thousands of Labour supporters have felt since 1997 when they realised they helped to elected a New Labour government – again, a key reason many people are switching their vote from Labour to the Greens.

More importantly, Jones seems to be unaware of the history of his own party. Circa 1900 there were two main political parties in the UK. The Tories who, as now, commanded the support of much of the ruling class, and the Liberal Party, whose establishment reformism received substantial support from recently enfranchised working-class voters. The newly born Labour Party – then known as the Labour Representation Committee – won just two MPs in the 1900 election. The Owen Jones’s of the day would have argued that voting for the nascent Labour Party, however unhappy you were with the Liberals, would have split the anti-Tory vote. Luckily for us today, millions of voters ignored such pleas, and voted for the Labour Party, eventually leading to the watershed 1945 election victory. In short, the Labour Party is only a serious contender for power today because people ignored Owen Jones’s argument about not splitting the anti-Tory vote.

But it’s not just early twentieth century history that people wearing their specially-fitted Labour Party blinkers are unable to see and comprehend. Last weekend Jones travelled to Athens to support Syriza’s astonishing election victory. However, Syriza received just 4.7% of the vote in the 2009 Greek election. PASOK, Greece’s equivalent of the British Labour Party, received 43.9% of the vote, winning the election. Following PASOK’s support for the savage austerity agenda, by the June 2012 election Syriza had become the second party in Greece with 26.9% of the vote, while PASOK had slipped to third place, gaining just 12.3% of the vote. So, again, it needs to be emphasised that if Syriza supporters had followed Jones’s logic and voted for Greece’s Labour Party, PASOK, then Syriza would never have been in a position to win the last week’s election.

There is an obvious question for those who scream “You’ll let the Tories in!” at any progressives who vote for anyone other than Labour: When, exactly, will it be safe for people to vote for a left-wing party other than Labour? The answer for those keen to protect the political status quo, of course, is never. Luckily many people are ignoring this conservative argument and joining and voting for the Green Party in increasing numbers.

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Western support for extremists will lead to more terrorist attacks

Western support for extremists will lead to more terrorist attacks
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
28 January 2015

Is it safe to come out yet? Can we begin the rational, reasoned debate about the Paris terrorist attacks that is so desperately needed?

The media coverage and discussion over the recent shocking events in France has been predictably hysterical and evidence-free. For Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow the attack was a “brutal clash of civilisations. Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs.” The normally sensible Will Self labelled the perpetrators “evil”. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen tweeted “I am shaking with rage at the attack on Charlie Hebdo. It’s an attack on the free world.” His frightening solution? “The entire free world should respond, ruthlessly.” Seeking to go beyond the bile, some have made the very sensible suggestion that the ongoing Western military attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan etc. may well have contributed to the radicalisation of the attackers.

Missing from the endless mainstream media coverage is any mention of the awkward fact that, as Noam Chomsky has stated, “traditionally the United States and Britain have by and large strongly supported radical Islamic fundamentalism.” The historian Mark Curtis details the link in his 2010 book ‘Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam’. Citing British support for the “crazies” in Afghanistan in the 1980s and their BFF, the ruthless Saudi regime, Curtis notes “British Governments, both Labour and Conservative, have, in pursuing the so-called ‘national interest’ abroad, colluded for decades with radical Islamic forces, including terrorist organisations.”

It’s important to remember all this is not ancient history. Just as the Western-backed jihad in Afghanistan gave birth to Al-Qaeda, by supporting those who wish to violently overthrow President Assad in Syria, the West has helped to create the jihadi blowback of which Paris may well be only the beginning.

You don’t believe me? Let me explain. The West has been helping to arm the rebels in Syria since before May 2012. With its involvement initially covert and limited, the US gave a wink and a nod to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to support the rebels. This use of proxies has continued despite it being clear since at least October 2012 that arms provided by Qatar and Saudi Arabia were going to hardline Islamic jihadists. How clear, you ask? Well, as clear as a New York Times headline stating “Rebel Arms Flow is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria”.

The US, the UK and, yes, France, have continued to provide arms and training to the rebels despite experts repeatedly warning of the danger of such a strategy. In September 2012 the Head of the UN monitoring mission in Syria said Western support for the opposition risked prolonging the conflict. Writing in the New York Times in June 2013 two former NATO Secretary-Generals noted “Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality gaining strength across the country.” Experts from Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the European Council on Foreign Relations all warned that weapons sent in to Syria would likely end up in the hands of jihadists. William Hague, of course, told the BBC Today Programme there was no risk of arms falling into the wrong hands. Who do you think has been proved right? Unsurprisingly, and somewhat ironically, CIA-supplied weapons have been spotted being used by Islamic State to target armoured vehicles the US had supplied to the US-backed Iraqi Government.

You don’t need to be a counter-terrorism expert to realise an increasingly militarised conflict, awash with weapons and populated by a burgeoning number of extremists, with no peaceful end in sight, is exactly the kind of conditions that encourage violent jihadists to travel to Syria. Terrorism analyst Aaron Zelin’s February 2013 warning that “the Syrian conflict is going to be as big, if not bigger, than Afghanistan was in the 1980s in terms of mobilizing jihadi fighters” seems very prescient today. However, it is veteran correspondent Patrick Cockburn who makes the key point about Western responsibility: “The West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq.”

All of this information about our own responsibility for engendering radical, sometimes violent, Islamists is on the public record, having been published in widely read, highly respected newspapers over the last few years. And yet it has effectively been excluded from the on-going debate surrounding the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the terrorist threat to the West. No overt censorship or terrorist intimidation was needed – just professional, career-minded journalists and well-educated commentators arguing feverishly within the narrow bounds of acceptable debate.

The Liberal Media vs. Reality: The West’s promotion of democracy in the Middle East

The Liberal Media vs. Reality: The West’s promotion of democracy in the Middle East
by Ian Sinclair
19 January 2015

One of my favourite quotes about Western foreign policy comes from British historian Mark Curtis:

“The ideological system promotes one key concept that underpins everything else – the idea of Britain’s basic benevolence. Mainstream reporting and analysis usually actively promotes, or at least does not challenge, the idea that Britain promotes high principles – democracy, peace, human rights and development – in its foreign policy. Criticism of foreign policies is certainly possible, and normal, but within narrow limits which show ‘exceptions’ to or ‘mistakes’ in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence.” (Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World, Vintage, 2003, p. 380)

Take these recent examples from the liberal media assuming the West’s basic benevolence:

  • Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, 23 October 2011: “The neocons’ grand plan to use the 2003 invasion to turn the country [Iraq] into a secure pro-western democracy and a garrison for US bases that could put pressure on Syria and Iran lies in tatters. Their hopes of making Iraq a democratic model for the Middle East have been tipped on their head.”
  • Presenter John Humphrys talking about the British 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, BBC Today Programme, October 2012: “If a country has sent its young men to another country to die, to restore – create democracy, you’d expect, well you’d expect a bit of gratitude, wouldn’t you?”
  • Professor David Runciman, Guardian Review, 8 November 2013: “The wars fought after 2001 in Afghanistan and Iraq were designed to combat terrorism and to spread the merits of democracy.”
  • Peter Baker, New York Times, 24 February 2014: “For Mr. Bush, the focus on spreading democracy preceded his decision to invade Iraq, but it was inextricably linked to the war after the failure to find the unconventional weapons that had been the primary public justification. The goal of establishing a democratic beachhead in the Middle East began driving the occupation, but it became tarnished among many overseas because of its association with the war.”
  • Editorial, The Guardian, 3 September 2014: “In the Middle East, the rise of a new jihadist movement burst upon the western nations who had once aspired to democratically reshape the region like a thunder storm.”

Compare these statements with the recent blog post on The Guardian website by Richard Norton-Taylor and Ewen MacAskill titled ‘Saudi Arabia and Bahrain: UK arms sales trump human rights’. Noting the planned British base in Bahrain and large-scale weapons sales to Saudi Arabia – both of whom have violently put down pro-democracy and human rights protests – the authors note “Britain has made it clear that arms sales and military and security considerations must take priority over human rights, even torture.”

Noam Chomsky has long been making similar statements. For example in 2011 he noted “Both Bush and Obama are terrified of the Arab spring. And there is a very sensible reason for that. They don’t want democracies in the Arab world. If Arab public opinion had any influence on policy, the US and Britain had been tossed out of the Middle East. That’s why they are terrified of democracies in the region.”

Chomsky is frequently derided by liberal commentators, but his broad argument is backed up by Jane Kinninmont, Deputy Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House: “It is presented as though the invasion of Iraq was motivated largely or entirely by an altruistic desire to share democracy. This is asserted despite the long history of Anglo-American great-power involvement in the Middle East, which has, for the most part, not involved an effort to democratize the region. Rather, the general trend has been to either support authoritarian rulers who were already in place, or to participate in the active consolidation of authoritarian rule, including strong military and intelligence cooperation, as long as these rulers have been seen as supporting Western interests more than popularly elected governments would.”

David Wearing, a PhD student at the School of African and Oriental Studies, concurs: “Over the last ten years of debate, this bipartisan assumption has persisted in both countries: that Britain and America, long-time supporters of some of the region’s worst autocrats, including Saddam Hussein, genuinely sought to bring democracy to Iraq.” In reality, Wearing notes “What the Bush and Blair administrations wanted for Iraq was a hollowed-out democracy where the elected government was subservient to a huge US military and diplomatic presence, where the shape of the economy had been decided for them in advance by the occupiers, and where management of the nation’s key natural resource was largely in the hands of foreign multinationals.”

UK public opinion seems to be broadly in line with Chomsky, Kinninmont and Wearing. In January 2003 a YouGov /ITN poll found just 5 percent of respondents thought the US and UK were invading Iraq “to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq” (30 percent of respondents thought the invasion was “to secure and control oil supplies from the Middle East”). Similarly, an October 2003 Gallup poll of Baghdad residents found just one percent of respondents believed that “a desire to establish democracy” was the reason for the US-UK invasion (43 percent said the invasion’s principal objective was Iraq’s oil reserves). In terms of wider Middle East opinion, a 2012 Pew poll discovered “majorities or pluralities in six predominantly Muslim countries see Washington as an obstacle to their democratic aspirations”.

To summarise: the basic facts, a significant section of expert opinion and public opinion both in the UK and Middle East all run counter to the liberal media’s belief in the basic benevolence of Western Government. So, does this overwhelming evidence mean the liberal media will change its tune when it comes to assuming the West promotes high principles like democracy and human rights in its foreign policy? Does it heck…