Monthly Archives: June 2015

Polly Toynbee, Jeremy Corbyn and the limits of acceptable politics

Polly Toynbee, Jeremy Corbyn and the limits of acceptable politics
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
29 June 2015

“I don’t bother writing about Fox News. It is too easy”, American dissident Noam Chomsky explained in 2010. “What I talk about are the liberal intellectuals, the ones who portray themselves and perceive themselves as challenging power, as courageous, as standing up for truth and justice. They are basically the guardians of the faith. They set the limits. They tell us how far we can go. They say, ‘Look how courageous I am.’ But do not go one millimeter beyond that.”

The recent column about the Labour leadership contest from the Guardian’s highly influential Labour-supporting commentator Polly Toynbee provides a perfect example of Chomsky’s truism.

According to Toynbee, of the four hopefuls the Labour left candidate Jeremy Corbyn “is the free spirit, the outsider not playing by the usual political rules.” And that, apparently, is precisely the problem with the Member of Parliament for Islington North: “Unfettered by what a majority of voters beyond Islington might support in a real election, he’s a romantic, saying what no doubt many Labour members believe”. Smearing by association, Toynbee dismisses Corbyn as “a 1983 man” and “a relic”. Voting for Corbyn “is ignoring the electorate”, according to Toynbee.

Having finished her demolition, Toynbee then literally erases Corbyn from the race, arrogantly debating the prospects of “the three main contenders” before settling on the shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper as the most promising candidate.

Toynbee’s argument echoes the feelings of a large section of the so-called progressive, liberal intelligentsia. “I could probably live with any of the other candidates”, noted Labour MP and BBC commentator Alan Johnson about Corbyn, likening his politics to electoral “suicide”. Ditto the Guardian’s Martin Kettle (“Corbyn offers a programme of prelapsarian socialist purity”), the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges, (Corbyn is proof “crazy Labour is alive and well”) and Blairite foot soldier David Aaronovitch.

As Chomsky said: do not go “one millimetre beyond” the limits of acceptable debate.

But how valid is Toynbee’s central criticism – that Corbyn is out of touch with public opinion? Let’s look at the polling data on some of Corbyn’s key political stances:

  • He supports a publicly run NHS, a position supported by 84 per cent of the public, according to a November 2013 YouGov poll.
  • He supports the nationalisation of the railways, a position backed by 66 percent of the public, including a majority of Conservative voters, according to the same poll.
  • He supports the nationalisation of the energy companies, a position supported by 68 percent of the public, including a majority of Conservative voters, according to the same poll.
  • He believes the Royal Mail should be publicly owned, a position supported by 67 percent of the public, according to the same poll.
  • He supports rent controls, a position supported by 60% of the public, including 42% of Conservatives, according to an April 2015 YouGov poll.
  • He opposes the retention of Trident nuclear weapons, a position John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, notes is supported by a “smallist plurality” in “the majority of polls”.
  • He strongly opposed the 2003 Iraq War, which was also opposed by the more than one million people who marched through London on 15 February 2003.
  • He has long pushed for the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, a position favoured by 82 per cent of the public, according to a May 2014 YouGov poll.

So, contrary to Toynbee’s assertions, Corbyn’s key political positions are in actual fact supported by a majority of the British public. (And arguably the issues that Corbyn is out of step with public opinion on, such as immigration and welfare, are those that have been engulfed in huge amounts of media-driven ignorance).

In short, if anyone is out of touch with public opinion, it is not Corbyn but Toynbee, most of the liberal intelligentsia and the three other Labour leadership contenders.

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The US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream

The US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
18 June 2015

Reading radical alternative news and commentary about Western foreign policy often leads to intense self-doubt and to questions like “Why isn’t anyone else talking about this?” Or “Am I reading this right?” And even “Perhaps I am losing my mind?”

Two recent news reports about the US involvement in Syria have triggered these exact questions for me.

Last month a formerly classified August 2012 Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report was published by the right-wing watchdog Judicial Watch. In the heavily redacted document the DIA – the intelligence arm of the US Department of Defense – notes “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The next sentence in the report is this: “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran support the [Assad] regime.” Later, the DIA makes another extraordinary statement: “There is the possibility of [the opposition] establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria… and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

Charles Lister, a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and arguably the leading expert on the Syrian insurgency, provided the second jaw-dropping reading experience in May 2015. “The US-led operations room in southern Turkey, which coordinates the provision of lethal and non-lethal support to vetted opposition groups… specifically encouraged a closer cooperation with Islamists commanding frontline operations”, including official al-Qaeda branch Jabhat al-Nusra, Lister explained in Foreign Policy.

So, to summarise, the West – the US and likely the UK too – were supporting the Syrian armed insurgency in 2012 in the full knowledge it was dominated by Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq. Three years later the US is encouraging rebel groups to cooperate with al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

What happened, you might well ask, to the epic, generational struggle against al-Qaeda and radical jihadists that we have been fighting since 2001 to save Western civilisation? A war and evil enemy, least we forget, that has been repeatedly hyped by a pliant media and supported by all the main political parties in the US and UK.

Except for Seumas Milne in the Guardian, the mainstream media have ignored the extraordinary revelations of the DIA and Lister. The BBC has, as far as I’m aware, not mentioned either on any of its many news platforms. Incredibly the highly respected Middle East specialist Shadi Hamid describes the Obama Administration as “opting to remain disengaged in Syria”.

In addition to this explosive new evidence of Western support for jihadists, the West’s key allies in the region have also been supporting the more extreme elements of the resistance to the Syrian government.

In August 2014 the Washington Post reported that before their blitz in Iraq “Turkey rolled out the red carpet” to Islamic State, eager to aid any enemy of the Assad government. “Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front… were treated at Turkish hospitals”, the Post noted. “Most important, the Turks winked as… Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.”

The Wall Street Journal carried a similar report in March this year, except this time it concerned Israel and how some of the al-Nusra Front’s “severely wounded fighters are regularly taken across the frontier fence to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals.”

Unsurprisingly, on this issue the Western media invariably report the official US Government line – that the US is opposed to these actions and is pressuring Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop supporting jihadists in Syria.

However, a close reading of mainstream news reports suggests that far from being opposed, the US is deeply involved in these nefarious networks. For example, earlier this year the Wall Street Journal published a story titled ‘Saudis Agree to Provide Syrian Rebels With Mobile Antiaircraft Missiles’. According to the report “Rebel leaders say they met with US and Saudi intelligence agents, among others, in Jordan on Jan. 30… That is when wealthy Gulf States offered the more sophisticated weapons [snit-aircraft missiles].”

Writing about the increased coordinated support to the Syrian rebels provided by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov recently noted the Saudi king told allies “the US would not stand in the way.” And in June 2013 the Los Angeles Times noted the arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries” to Syrian rebels were “provided with assent from the Americans.”

Public denials at odds with covert actions are, of course, meat and potatoes when it comes to outsourcing foreign policy to regional proxies. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” the US-supported Yemeni President told US General David Petraeus in January 2010 about the US drone strikes in his country. According to the Washington Post, a similar deception has long been in effect between the US and Pakistan with the Pakistani Government publicly condemning US drone strikes, while at the same time secretly cooperating with the US.

And of course, if the US really felt as strongly about the destructive policies of their Middle East allies as they publicly claim to, then a simple way to pressure them to stop supporting jihadis in Syria would be for the US to threaten to stop selling their allies arms. In reality, the US continues to arm countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia despite – or perhaps because of – their support for the Syrian insurgency. In March 2015 the Stockholm Peace Research Institute noted that the GCC states and Turkey are “scheduled to receive further large order of major arms in the coming years” – mainly from the US and Europe.

It’s certainly possible I’m not reading the evidence correctly. I may be taking it out of context. There may well be good reasons the media has chosen not to cover the story. And I could well have lost my mind. But what if the reports point to a far more frightening conclusion – it’s not me that is mad and delusion but the entire media and political elite in the West?