Monthly Archives: July 2015

The west, the Middle East and oil: a conspiracy theory?

The west, the Middle East and oil: a conspiracy theory?
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
24 July 2015

Speaking in the House of Commons in January 2003, just two months before the US-UK invasion of Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated “The very reason why we are taking the action that we are taking is nothing to do with oil or any of the other conspiracy theories put forward.”

Blair’s analysis was amplified by newspaper columnist David Aaronovitch who, ironically, would go on to write a book dismissing popular conspiracy theories. Addressing the more than one million people who marched through London in opposition to the impending war on 15 February 2003, Aaronovitch asked “Do you really believe that this parroted ‘war about oil’ stuff is true? If so, what were the interventions in oil-less Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan about?”

In contrast, in 2011 Zogby International polled 3,000 people in the Arab world, asking what they thought were the most important factors driving American policy in the Middle East. The top answer, given by 53% of respondents, was “controlling oil”. Suggesting that the hackneyed phrase “people are the same the world over” is actually pretty accurate, a 2003 YouGov poll of the British public found the most popular answer to a question asking why the US and UK wanted to invade Iraq was also “to secure and control oil supplies”.

So, who’s right? Blair and his highly-educated supporters in the media like Aaronovitch or ordinary people across the world? Let’s look at the evidence.

“We’re not there for figs”

As early as December 2001 the Chief of MI6’s private secretary wrote to Sir David Manning, Tony Blair’s foreign policy adviser, explaining that the “removal of Saddam remains a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies.” Oil also seemed to be on Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s mind when he addressed 150 ambassadors in January 2003, telling them “bolster[ing] the security of British and global energy supplies” was one of the UK’s top foreign policy objectives.

Top US policymakers had made similar calculations. Asked at the May 2003 Asia Security Conference  why the US invaded Iraq and not nuclear-armed North Korea, US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said “Look, the primarily difference – to put it a little too simply – between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil.” Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who became the US Secretary of Defense in 2013, was also at the conference. In 2007 he confirmed Wolfowitz’s comments, stating “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are. They talk about America’s national interest. What the hell do you think they’re talking about? We’re not there for figs.”

Recently released previously confidential emails to then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton suggest similar concerns about energy resources were behind the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya. The US-based online newspaper Al Monitor reported that the emails show French spies secretly organised and funded the Libyan rebels who overthrew Gaddafi. According to one of the memos from March 2011 the French intelligence service “indicated that they expected the new government of Libya to favour French firms and national interests, particularly regarding the oil industry in Libya.”

Similarly, in September 2011, with Libyan Government forces in disarray, the US Ambassador reopened the US Embassy in the country, telling reporters “We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources”. For the New York Times the Ambassador’s remarks “were a rare nod to the tacit economic stakes in the Libyan conflict for the United States and other Western countries.”

Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), is far blunter is his assessment of NATO motivations for intervening. “It’s absolutely obvious that oil is a key factor”, he told Democracy Now! in August 2011. “And had Libya not been an oil country, they wouldn’t have intervened.”

Achcar’s conclusion may seem simplistic but it’s backed up by a recent study conducted by academics from the universities of Portsmouth, Warwick and Essex and published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution. Analysing 69 civil wars between 1945 and 1999, the study found foreign intervention is far more likely when the afflicted country has high oil reserves than if it has none.

“The biggest prize in the world”

These examples from recent Western wars in the Middle East fit perfectly with the broader historical record. Even the language stays the same. US Secretary of State Cordell Hull, 1943: “The oil of Saudi Arabia constitutes one of the world’s greatest prizes.” British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, 1957: Middle East oil is “the biggest prize in the world”. David Wearing, who lectures on the Middle East at SOAS, confirmed the West’s long-term interests in the region in a recent tweet: “Just reviewed 40 academic accounts of history of UK-US involvement in Gulf& MidEast. Not one thinks oil isn’t strategic priority.”

With the US largely energy self-sufficient, it’s important to understand Western intervention in the Arab world isn’t about access to Middle Eastern energy supplies but about control. Speaking about the 2011 NATO war in Libya Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, explained: “It’s not about access to the oil itself. That will be on a global market. It will be part of it. It’s about control. It’s about controlling the terms of those contracts. It’s about controlling amounts that are being pumped at different times. It’s about controlling prices. It’s about controlling that crucial resource.” Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski provided a Machiavellian take on Bennis’s argument in 2003. “America has major strategic and economic interests in the Middle East that are dictated by the region’s vast energy supplies”, he noted. “America’s security role in the region gives it indirect but politically critical leverage on the European and Asian economies that are also dependent on energy exports from the region.”

And it’s also important to realize that what the West wants – control of Middle Eastern energy supplies – the West doesn’t necessarily get. As Donald Rumsfeld infamously said, “Stuff happens”. For example, Libya is mired in chaos and violence (in no small part because of the Western intervention in 2011), so is unable to maximise its oil exports. And, in Iraq, a number of very lucrative oil contracts have been awarded to Russia and China – both of whom opposed the invasion in 2003.

However, all of this doesn’t change the central, inconvenient (at least for Western leaders) fact: far from being a “conspiracy theory”, arguing that oil is the key factor behind Western actions in the Middle East is one of the most evidence-based statements that one can make.

World War Two: a just war?

World War Two: a just war?
by Ian Sinclair
New Left Project
19 February 2014

Though I’ve forgotten an awful lot of my university education, one thing I do remember is one of my tutors arguing that we are still feeling the effects of Second World War propaganda today.

The sheer volume of newspaper column inches, magazines, history books, novels, television programmes and films that continue to focus on ‘Our Finest Hour’ shows my lecturer’s assertion was right on the money. However, the last person I expected to unquestionably repeat the propaganda narrative was Seumas Milne, considered by many to be the Guardian’s most left-wing voice.

Countering Michael Gove’s ‘preposterous nonsense’ on the First World War, in a recent article Milne stated ‘Unlike the second world war, the bloodbath of 1914-18 was not a just war.’ He went on to argue, rightly in my opinion, that the ‘Great’ War ‘was a savage industrial slaughter perpetrated by a gang of predatory imperial powers, locked in a deadly struggle to capture and carve up territories, markets and resources.’

The problem for Milne is that this summary of the First World War also applies to much of the Second World War. But rather than the 10 million dead of the First World War, the ‘industrial slaughter’ of the second caused over 50 million deaths. And while the war to fend off Nazi Germany in 1940 was a war of national defence, the war in the Pacific and Middle East can only be described as being ‘perpetrated by a gang of predatory imperial powers’. What, exactly, were tens of thousands of British troops doing ‘defending’ Singapore and the Middle East when the UK mainland was being threatened with imminent invasion? And those who doubt our leaders were interested in carving up territories and markets should take a look at the infamous Percentages Agreement, which shows Churchill and Stalin carving up South East Europe on one sheet of paper.

A central tenet of Just War theory concerns the reason for going to war in the first place. So was it a war for democracy? The fact the UK was allied with the Soviet Union and ruled over the largest Empire on the globe suggests not. For human rights? Have we forgotten that the US armed forces were segregated during the war or that the British Empire was built on the racist oppression of hundreds of millions of people? To help the Jews? The destruction of the European Jewish population was not a central concern of the US and UK governments.

Another key component of Just War theory is the concept of proportionality – generally considered to mean that war should be waged according to military objectives and not target civilians or use excessive force in achieving these objective. Where, exactly, does the Allied terror bombing of cities such as Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo fit in to this? In his book Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime? A.C. Grayling points out: ‘Allied bombing in which German and Japanese civilian populations were deliberately targeted claimed the lives of about 800,000 civilian women, children and men’.  Not enough terror for you? How about the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, used in the knowledge that Japan was close to surrendering?

How the UK behaved after 1945 is also telling, I think. Because, surely, those that fought for the liberation of Europe would also fight for the liberation of India, right? And I imagine those who were disgusted by what the Nazi’s did to the Jews, Gypsies and political opponents, would also be disgusted by what the British did in Kenya in the 1950s? You know, the torture, forcing bottles of hot water up women’s vaginas, the castration and the burning alive of prisoners.

Contrary to Milne’s simplistic statement, at best, at best, it can be argued that parts of the fight against one of our three official enemies (Germany) was a just war. To argue otherwise suggests an inability to face up to inconvenient historical facts.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting here that violently resisting Nazi Germany at the time was not the best course of action for the UK. But I do think it’s important to try to demythologise Britain’s role in the war and to think critically about the subject. For example, shouldn’t we be asking whether a war that killed over 50 million people was the only way to resolve the crisis? And even if war was the only viable option at the time, do we agree with how it was executed? Because if one believes in waging total war in defence of a nation in 1940, then this raises uncomfortable questions about what actions Iraqis and Afghans have the right to take against the UK to resist the invasions and occupations of their own countries.

The reality of the UK’s ‘generous’ benefit system

The reality of the UK’s ‘generous’ benefit system
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
August 2010

With the coalition government sharpening its knives in preparation for what the Institute for Fiscal Studies calls the “longest, deepest, sustained period of cuts to public services since World War II,” it was only a matter of time before the Con-Dems turned their attention to the benefits system.

“Tougher penalties for fraud” and “more prosecutions” were just two of David Cameron’s proposals in his widely reported recent “uncompromising” clampdown on benefit fraud. Predictably the Prime Minister’s rhetoric was amplified and twisted by the Sun into an attack on those who legally live on benefits. “The Sun is declaring war on feckless benefits claimants,” the newspaper warned earlier this month. “Hundreds of thousands of scroungers in the UK are robbing hard-working Sun readers of their cash. They cannot be bothered to find a job or they claim to be sick when they are perfectly capable of work because they prefer to sit at home watching widescreen TVs – paid for by YOU.”

Underpinning the Sun’s simplistic, hate-filled nonsense is the commonly held belief that the current level of unemployment benefit allows people to live a comfortable life. Even the Guardian, that shining light of British liberalism, is not immune. “He had, he said, a bad back. He wasn’t working and he wasn’t going to try, and nor was she,” said Jenni Russell about her childhood friends who had been living “at other people’s expense” for over 20 years. “The house is full of stuff – flatscreen TVs, Playstations, iPods.”

But how much money do the unemployed receive from the state? According to the Department of Work and Pensions Jobseeker’s Allowance for a single person over 25 is £65.45 a week. Those under 25 receive just £51.85. Of course this doesn’t include housing benefit or assistance with council tax, but how many people could pay all their bills, food, transport and leisure activities on just £65.45 a week? Certainly not former employment minister Tony McNulty, who admitted last year he wouldn’t be able to make ends meet if he lived on unemployment benefit, then £60.50 a week. His salary at the time was £104,050.

“Debts are inevitable,” Rev Paul Nicolson tells me when I ask him about the consequences of living on unemployment benefit. As the Director of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, a charity that works with Britain’s most financially vulnerable citizens, Nicolson argues that the current level of unemployment benefit has a strong negative effect on the mental and physical well-being of those unlucky enough to live on it. “Poor maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy increases the risks of permanent developmental brain disorder, poor cognitive ability and even cerebral palsy in children,” he says. “How can unemployed women buy a healthy diet and other necessities of life when their income after rent and tax is £65.45 a week and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation minimum income food standard is £44.34 a week?”

Nicolson is referring to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s (JRF) annually updated and well-respected “minimum income standard.” Based on what members of the public think people need to achieve a socially acceptable standard of living, last month JRF calculated the minimum income standard to be £175.34 a week for a single adult, excluding rent and childcare.

It hasn’t always been like this. According to Jonathan Bradshaw, professor of social policy at the University of York, “when unemployment benefit started in 1912 it was seven shillings a week – about 22 per cent of average male earnings in manufacturing.” Today, because successive governments have tied benefits to the price index while real earnings have increased, Bradshaw points out that unemployment benefit is just 10.5 per cent of average earnings. His conclusions are backed up by JRF report Should Adult Benefit for Unemployment Now Be Raised? which highlights how “relative to the average level of consumption” unemployment benefit today “is only worth half what it was 30 years ago.”

And as with many other social indicators, Britain also trails behind the rest of western Europe in terms of unemployment benefit. According to 2006 statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – the most up-to-date figures readily available – Britain is far behind Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden in terms of the replacement rates for a single person living on unemployment benefits.

With no unions, powerful voices or mainstream newspapers defending their interests, the unemployed are particularly vulnerable to government and media attacks on their already precarious situation. Progressive individuals and organisations therefore have two key tasks to carry out – first, to defend the current level of unemployment benefit from the coalition’s immediate clampdown. Second, to fight for a significant increase in the level of unemployment benefit, so those who are unfortunate enough to be out of work are able to live a healthy life and participate fully in society.

Defying democracy – Britain’s continued interventionism on Syria

Defying democracy – Britain’s continued interventionism on Syria
by Ian Sinclair
New Left Project
17 September 2013

The government’s defeat in parliament on 30 August 2013 was an important victory for those opposed to UK military action against Syria. Responding to the vote, the Prime Minister stated,

“it is clear to me the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the Government will act accordingly.”

Polls show that not only does a majority of the British public not support British military action but a majority is opposed to US military action against Syria without British support. In addition, a YouGov poll taken a few days before the parliamentary vote found 58 per cent of respondents opposed “sending small arms such as hand guns to the anti-Assad troops”, with just 16 per cent supporting. This opposition has continued after the vote, with an ICM/Sunday Telegraph poll finding just 3 per cent of respondents thought the UK should be “arming Syrian anti-Government rebels.”

However, if you thought the parliamentary vote and Cameron’s statement meant the UK would not support any military strikes against the Syrian Government or would stop the Government acting in ways that militarised the conflict, then you’d be wrong. In actual fact the defeated Government, using a conveniently narrow definition of “British military action”, has continued to assist the US in its aggressive, warmongering policy towards Syria. This is a policy of regime change according to the US Secretary of State, who told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that “President Obama’s policy is that Assad must go”.

The day after the parliamentary vote, the Daily Telegraph reported, “the UK’s intelligence-gathering assets based in the Mediterranean are to provide the US military with information, as it prepares to carry out cruise missiles strikes against President Bashar al-Assad. Whitehall sources said Britain’s decision not to take part in attacks punishing the regime for using chemical weapons only covered its Armed Forces, and the sharing of intelligence would continue.”

But it was not just the intelligence services who ignored the will of parliament and public opinion. According to the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour, “the British prime minister acted as one of the most consistent advocates of military intervention” at the G20 summit in St Petersburg on 5-6 September. “Cameron was determined to call others to arms” and to “provide the evidence that Assad’s regime must have used chemical weapons”.

Despite the best efforts of Cameron and co., a series of diplomatic manoeuvres has delayed and possibly stopped a US-led attack on Syria. With Syria pledging to sign an international chemical weapons treaty and admit the scale of its chemical weapons stockpile for the first time, on 10 September the Guardian reported that “the US, Britain and France are preparing a hard-edged [United Nations] security council resolution backed by the possible use of force.”

During all the intense diplomacy, the arming of the Syrian rebels has continued, with a 12 September New York Times report noting that “Saudi Arabia, quietly cooperating with American and British intelligence and other Arab governments, has modestly increased deliveries of weapons to rebels fighting in southern Syria, the rebels say.”

All these efforts by the UK Government to militarise the conflict in Syria have been reported in the mainstream media but the question of whether the government has any moral authority to continue these policies is never discussed.

For those who oppose Western military intervention in Syria the lesson is clear: we cannot be complacent. The parliamentary vote, though an important victory, has not been enough to stop our Prime Minister pushing for war and British intelligence supporting any US military strike and continuing to help arm the rebels. More popular pressure is needed. We might also consider what the Government’s continued defiance of popular will on Syria tells us about how British foreign policy is determined.

List of expert testimony opposing the West arming Syrian rebels

List of expert testimony opposing the West arming Syrian rebels
by Ian Sinclair

17 June 2013

With the Obama Administration announcing the US will start to arm the Syrian rebels directly, below is testimony from those, many of them experts, who oppose arming the rebels.

“Expressing his deep concern at the ever-deteriorating situation in Syria, and its growing regional impact, the Secretary-General called for stemming the supply of arms to any side in the Syrian conflict. More arms would only mean more deaths and destruction. He underlined the appalling humanitarian crisis in Syria, where a third of the population is now in need of urgent assistance, and he strongly reiterated his appeal for donor countries to fully support United Nations humanitarian efforts.” – UN report on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s meeting with Qatar’s Prime Minister, 22 April 2013 (

“Rather than secure humanitarian space and empower a political transition, 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. The idea that the West can empower and remotely control moderate forces is optimistic at best. Escalation begets escalation and mission creep is a predictable outcome if the West sets out on a military path.” – Javier Solana has served as foreign minister of Spain, secretary general of NATO, and E.U. High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is a former secretary general of NATO and a former foreign minister of the Netherlands, 11 June 2013 (

“The British government’s stance that led to the end of the EU’s arms embargo on Syria is based on flawed logic and will likely exacerbate and prolong the civil war… The threat of arming the rebels is unlikely to convince Assad to change his stance. Every time the rebels have made gains, the regime has been sent a vast supply of arms, financial support and even fighters from its key international allies Russia, Iran and Hezbollah… Arming the rebels is unlikely to strengthen the so-called moderates either. Jihadists such as Jubhat al-Nusra have succeeded not just because they are better armed, but because they are better organized, committed and have won popular support through distributing aid and eschewing the corruption that plagues FSA-affiliated militia. The FSA, which is more a collection of localized militia than a single organized unit, may benefit from weapons temporarily but the ‘moderates’ problems are far deeper than simply a lack of arms… Weapons could end up in the wrong hands. While [William] Hague insists recipients will be carefully vetted to ensure they are ‘moderate’, there is no guarantee they will not radicalize in the future. Moreover, with reports of jihadists clashing with moderates over oil resources and elsewhere, can Hague also guarantee that jihadists won’t simply steal the weapons from Britain’s allies? As Syria becomes a failed state and destabilizes its neighbours, might British and French-supplied anti-aircraft weapons soon be downing western passenger airliners across the region?… A further risk is that, irrespective of the impact on the regime, this move deters the opposition itself from negotiating.” – Dr Christopher Phillips, Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House, 28 May 2013 (

“Western arming of rebels is ill-advised given its likely limited impact on the ground, encouragement of escalation and maximalism, and the inability to guarantee in whose hands weapons will end up.” – Julien Barnes-Dacey, and Daniel Levy, European Council on Foreign Relations, 24 May 2013 (

“Arming rebel and opposition forces will have unforeseen long-term consequences for Syria and the region and will not assist in finding a non-military solution to this terrible situation.” – Campaign Against Arms Trade, 29 May 2013 (

“Sending arms is unlikely to provide a solution” – David Owen, former UK Foreign Secretary and former EU Co-Chair of the peace negotiations in the former Yugoslavia, 4 May 2013 (

“Syria is already awash in weapons that will be circulating in the area for years to come. Funneling more arms to the opposition would fuel their brutal battle tactics, intensify the war, and further diminish chances of a democratic outcome for Syria.” – Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organisation, 9 May 2013 (

“Providing more weapons will mean prolonged fighting and more civilian deaths, more long-term damage to infrastructure and the economy, and greater poverty in Syria. Instead, the United States and international community should focus on increasing diplomatic outreach, demonstrating to all sides the imperative of reaching a political solution.” – Oxfam America, 1 May 2013 (

“Allowing the EU arms embargo to end could have devastating consequences. There are no easy answers when trying to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but sending more arms and ammunition clearly isn’t one of them. Transferring more weapons to Syria can only exacerbate a hellish scenario for civilians.” – Anna McDonald, Oxfam UK’s Head of Arms Control, 28 May 2013

“The evidence from Syria itself is that more weapons will simply mean more dead and wounded.” – Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for the Independent, 23 May 2013 (

Enabling a humanitarian crisis: the UK and US in Yemen

Enabling a humanitarian crisis: the UK and US in Yemen
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
20 July 2015

On 25 March 2015 a Saudi Arabian-led coalition began bombing the Gulf state of Yemen. According to Saudi Arabia the intervention was in support of the US and Saudi-backed Yemen President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who had been overthrown by supposedly Iranian-backed Houthi rebels allied to Hadi’s predecessor – the US-backed Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Saudi bombing campaign has been relentless and largely indiscriminate. According to a joint statement made by 18 Yemen scholars “the targets of the campaign include schools, homes, refugee camps, water systems, grain stores, and food industries.” In May, CNN noted “The Saudi Press Agency reported that the latest attack against Houthi rebels in Yemen – 130 airstrikes in a 24-hour period – included the targeting of schools and hospitals.”

The World Health Organisation estimates 3,083 people have died and 14,324 wounded since the start of the attack. UN agencies report that over one million people have been displaced by the fighting.

It gets worse. In April the United Nations High Commissioner warned Yemen was “on the verge of total collapse”. By June the situation had deteriorated significantly, with the UN estimating that 20 million Yemenis, nearly 80 percent of the population, were in urgent need of food, water and medical aid. According to a superb report in the Guardian by Julian Borger it was “a humanitarian disaster that aid agencies say has been dramatically worsened by a naval blockade” imposed by the Saudi-led coalition.

“The blockade means it’s impossible to bring anything into the country”, said Oxfam’s humanitarian programme manager in Sana, Yemen’s capital. “The situation is deteriorating, hospitals are now shutting down, without diesel.” Save the Children’s director of programmes in Yemen offered a similarly bleak assessment: “Children are dying preventable deaths in Yemen because the rate of infectious diseases is rising”. Citing Save the Children, Borger noted that cholera is on the rise and a dengue fever outbreak has been reported in the port city of Aden.

What has been the UK’s response to this human-made catastrophe? If one believed government statements about the UK fighting terrorism and promoting democracy and human rights in the Middle East, one would presume the UK is strongly opposed to Saudi actions in Yemen.

The shocking reality is the UK is supporting Saudi Arabia as it batters and destabilises Yemen. “We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in April. What did this mean in practice? Hammond explained: “Political support, of course, logistical and technical support.”

This support comes on the back of huge British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, making the most fundamentalist nation on the planet Britain’s largest customer for weapons. This means, as Bahrain Watch’s John Horne recently explained, “British-made Typhoon fighter jets scream through Yemen’s skies, flown by British-trained Saudi pilots, dropping British-made bombs on the poorest country in the region.”

The US is also backing the attack, providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition. “American military planners are using live intelligence feeds from surveillance flights over Yemen to help Saudi Arabia decide what and where to bomb”, the Wall Street Journal reported in March.

Borger notes in the Guardian that the naval blockade causing misery and death in Yemen has “US and British backing.” However, he goes on to explain “Washington and London have quietly tried to persuade the Saudis… to moderate their tactics, and in in particular to ease the blockade”. What other nation responsible for such mass slaughter, one wonders, receives a quiet word in the ear from the US and UK rather than outraged public denouements? With the UN declaring its highest-level of humanitarian emergency in Yemen earlier this month, the US and UK’s delicate persuasive tactics have clearly had little effect. According to the UN more than 21.1 million people now need aid, with 13 million facing “a food security crisis” and 9.4 million with little or no access to water.

Coupled with the likely use of British-made jets in the Saudi Arabian bombing of Yemen in 2009, Britain’s current support for Saudi aggression is part of Britain’s broader strategy in the region. “With the US keen to reduce its military presence in the Gulf, the UK is preparing to fill the gap, restoring its former links, returning to ‘East of Suez’”, Richard Norton-Taylor, the Guardian’s defence and security specialist, argues.

The British Government is only able to get away with enabling a humanitarian crisis of this size because the media has largely failed to adequately report on the crisis in Yemen. And when the media does cover the conflict the UK’s support for the death and destruction is rarely mentioned. Dr Florian Zollmann, a Lecturer in Media at Liverpool Hope University, has found a number of other disturbing patterns in the media coverage. Analysing how the quality US and UK press reports the conflict in Yemen, Zollmann notes “the Anglo-American news media has largely failed to investigate the legality of the intervention” or the fact “Saudi Arabia hardly constitutes a benevolent and stabilizing force.”

Faced with a defacto media blackout of the role of the UK and US in the Saudi attack on Yemen, it is important progressives who are aware of the reality shout about it as loudly as possible. Ultimately it is only public pressure that can halt the UK support for the Saudi bombing campaign and push the government to urge the UN Security Council to agree a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations to resolve the conflict.

7 myths about immigration

7 myths about immigration
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
7 July 2015

A confession: I don’t find immigration very interesting. Infact in many ways I find it quite dull. I know, I know, it is an important topic, but shamefully I have real trouble garnering enough enthusiasm to follow the latest developments as closely as I know I should. However, the level of debate surrounding immigration leading up to May’s General Election frustrated me so much I felt I should write some kind of response to the ignorant assertions and straight out lies endlessly repeated across the media, often with little push back from presenters or the audience.

The misinformation ranges from the blatant and sometimes racist (Nigel Farage and UKIP passim) to more subtle forms such as the implicit assumptions behind the right-wing policy proposals coming out of the mouths of so-called respectable, centrist politicians. For example, Labour’s proposal to make EU migrants wait for two years before claiming out of work benefits is based on the false assumption a large number of people are coming to the UK to claim benefits.

Labour’s caving in to the right on immigration means many of the lies have gone unchallenged, with the debate moving sharply to the right. No wonder, then, “the British public generally holds an exaggerated view of the scale and impacts of immigration in the UK” and that “opinion on immigration among British voters is broadly negative”, according to research conducted for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration. A 2014 Ipsos Mori poll found “People from the UK… think immigrants make up twice the proportion of the population as is really the case.” Likewise, a 2013 YouGov survey found the public overestimate the number of EU immigrants claiming unemployment benefit by a factor of ten. “It is unhealthy for public debate to be so ill-informed – and for politicians (of all parties) to shy away from confronting such widespread popular misconceptions”, notes YouGov’s Peter Kellner.

Luckily there is hope buried within this depressing morass. Because if the public’s broadly negative view of immigration “is based on low levels of knowledge about immigration, and generally not connected to direct experience of immigration impacts”, then surely more accurate information can shift public opinion in a more positive direction.

So, for my own sanity and as a future resource for myself and others, below is a list of seven of the most persistent myths surrounding immigration and, more importantly, evidence and facts to counter them.

Myth One: Immigration is a taboo subject, everybody is afraid to talk about immigration

“One common gripe is that ‘no one is allowed to talk about immigration’”, writes Michael Rundell. “This will come as a surprise to anyone who scans the front pages of the Sun, Mail or Express, which rarely fail to feature a shouty headline about scrounging migrants or health tourists.”

In reality, as commentator Mehdi Hasan argued in 2011, “There is no conspiracy of silence on immigration. We talk about little else.” A 2014 report by the British Futures thinktank agrees: “Immigration is the issue that everyone is talking about. Repeated surveys show it is neck-and-neck with the economy as number one issue for the public now, and will be come the general election.”

As Hasan notes “The very first question of the first televised leader’s debate in British political history [in 2010] was on the subject of immigration.” Immigration was also one of the central discussion topics during the 2015 ITV leadership debate.

The public’s interest is likely energised by continuous public statements by our leaders. In 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron said “This time last year, we said we would listen to people’s concerns and get immigration under control. Today I can confidently say that we are getting there.” In the same year, in a speech in Munich, Cameron argued that immigrants “speak the language of their new home.” In 2007, in his first conference speech as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown promised “British jobs for British workers.” In 2004 the then Prime Minister Tony Blair said the public’s concern about immigration “are real concerns; they are not figments of racist imagination; and they have to be tackled precisely in order to sustain a balanced and sensible argument about migration.”

Myth Two: Immigrants take jobs away from British people and reduce wages

First, note how this popular myth directly contradicts Myth Three.

In 2009 the Guardian reported “Claims that migrants ‘take our jobs’ and ‘cut our pay’ are misplaced and wrong, according to research published today by the Institute for Public Policy Research.” The study found no evidence that migration from eastern Europe since 2004 had had any substantial negative impact on either jobs or wage levels.

Little seems to have changed six years later. In its 2015 General Election briefing, the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) observed “There is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs” and “wages” and that “any negative impacts on wages of less skilled groups are small.”

Answering the question of whether immigration negatively effects jobs or wages, Jonathan Portes, the Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, notes “The short answer seems to be: not much”. Portes continues: “It’s fairly obvious that wages are generally higher and jobs easier to come by in areas of high immigration like London, while many low migration areas have relatively depressed labour markets.”

How could this be? Portes explains: “People who say this… usually don’t actually know or understand basic economics. More immigrant workers does increase the supply of labour. But, because immigrants earn money, spend money, set up businesses and so on, it also increases the demand for labour. And it’s true that, if an immigrant takes a job, then a British worker can’t take that job – but it doesn’t meant he or she won’t find another one that may have been created, directly or indirectly, as a result of immigration.”

Myth Three: Immigrants come to the UK to claim benefits, creating a real problem of benefit tourism

In October 2013 Prime Minster David Cameron said the public’s concern about benefit tourism – migrants coming to the UK to claim benefits rather than work – was “widespread and understandable.”

In contrast, in the same month Business Secretary Vince Cable noted “there is very little evidence of benefit tourism from people coming from eastern Europe.” Portes concurs, stating “the evidence that a significant number of people come here just to claim benefits is very thin.” So thin, infact, that in 2013 a spokesperson for the European Employment Commissioner publicly stated the UK Government had “completely failed to come up with any specific evidence” to show that the UK benefits system was being abused. It turns out the European Commission had been asking the UK Government for evidence for three years. Embarrassingly a 2013 classified Home Office report confirmed the British government doesn’t keep any figures on how many European Union nationals claim welfare payments in the UK.

The reality, according to a 2014 University College London study, is that European migrants overwhelmingly come to the UK to work. Eastern Europeans and western Europeans have an employment rate of 81 percent and 70 percent, respectively. The study goes on to estimate that migrants coming to the UK since 2000 have been 43 percent less likely to claim benefits or tax credits compared to the UK-born workforce. This conclusion is supported by the Centre for Economic Performance at LSE that concluded this year “Immigrants, especially in recent years, tend to be younger and better educated than the UK-born and less likely to be unemployed.”

This myth feeds off a wider popular myth about welfare – that people can have a comfortable life living on welfare and that they may even be better off on benefits than in work. However, a plethora of research and first-hand experience has shown this not to be the case.

Moreover, this myth is also based on the assumption that higher benefits will act as a draw for migrants. However, a 2011 study from the Institute for the Study of Labor in Bonn found no correlation between levels of unemployment benefit and immigration to different countries in the European Union, with the authors explicitly rejecting the concept of a “welfare magnet”. As it happens, the Guardian report on the study also notes “Almost no evidence has been produced to show that in international terms UK benefits are more generous than other EU countries.”

An interesting aside: In Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, France and Ireland the number of British people claiming unemployment benefit is almost three times as high as the number of nationals from these countries receiving parallel benefits in the UK. Moreover, often the benefits in these countries are more generous than benefits in the UK.

See also Myth Four.

Myth Four: Immigrants are a strain on public services, such as hospitals and schools

A 2014 study by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration at University College London found European immigrants to the UK have paid more in taxes than they received in benefits, helping to relieve the fiscal burden on UK-born workers and contributing to the financing of public services. “A key concern in the public debate on migration is whether immigrants contribute their fair share to the tax and welfare systems”, notes co-author Professor Christian Dustmann. “Our new analysis draws a positive picture of the overall fiscal contribution made by recent immigrant cohorts, particularly of immigrants arriving from the EU.”

Portes notes that while there can be local pressures on public services, as these services are funded by taxation, and as EU migrants tend to pay more into the system than they take out, “overall, stopping EU migration would cost public services more in lost tax revenue than it would save in reduced demand.”

In addition, it is important to remember foreign nationals play a key role in the NHS. According to recent figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre 11 percent of NHS staff are not British. This figure rises to 26 percent for doctors. As the British Medical Association has noted, without non-British staff “many NHS services would struggle to provide effective care to their patients.”

When it comes to schools, the influence of immigration can be surprising, argues Portes: “Despite the pressures of a growing population and a very large number of children for whom English is not the first language, London schools significantly outperform the rest of the country, especially for more disadvantaged children. And recent research suggests that the presence of children from eastern Europe actually improved the educational attainment of kids here already.”

See also Myth Three.

Myth Five: Health tourism is a big problem for the UK

A 2013 Guardian report highlighted new government commissioned research that “flies in the face of assertions by Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, that the tourists cost the health service money.”

The study found that more people leave the UK seeking medical treatment abroad than arrive in this country to receive care. Moreover, the study found that medical tourism is a lucrative source of income for the NHS (and the wider economy), with the 18 hospitals deemed the top destinations for overseas patients earning £42m in 2010.

In addition, in 2013 Guardian columnist Zoe Williams reported that there were more than 20 private Polish medical centres in London, as well as in Manchester, Reading, Bristol and Glasgow. After speaking to Polish people using these clinics, Williams explains they are used for a variety of reasons including the perception the NHS provides a poor service, because of long NHS wait times, the belief Polish nurses are better trained than UK nurses and because of the language barrier. “Many Polish immigrants will go to some lengths to avoid NHS ‘tourism’, up to and including paying for their care”, writes Williams.

Myth Six: Immigrants are a drain on social housing and often get preferential treatment

This myth was given a boost in 2009 when the Labour Government said it wanted to give local people greater priority for social housing. However, as the Guardian reported in 2009 “The allegation that new migrants are jumping the queue for council housing and housing association homes was nailed as a myth by research recently published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.” The study found that more than 60% of migrants who had come to Britain in the past five years were living in privately rented accommodation, with most newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers actually banned from access to social housing.

A 2009 University College London paper that found immigrants from A8 countries – those who arrived after EU enlargement in 2004 – “are far less likely to live in social housing” than the rest of the UK population.

In 2015 the Centre for Economic Performance at LSE noted “There is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration” on social housing.

Myth Seven: Immigrants commit more crime than British people

“Crime in neighbourhoods that have experienced mass immigration from eastern Europe over the past 10 years has fallen significantly, according to research that challenges a widely held view over the impact of foreigners in the UK.”, noted the Guardian about a 2013 report published by LSE. “Rates of burglary, vandalism and car theft all dropped following the arrival of migrants from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and seven other countries after they joined the European Union in 2004.” The Guardian story quoted Brian Bell, a research fellow at LSE: “The view that foreigners commit more crime is not true. The truth is that immigrants are just like natives: if they have a good job and a good income they don’t commit crime.”

These findings echo a 2008 report prepared for the Association of Chief Police Officers which found offending rates among eastern European immigrants were in line with the rate of offending in the general population. A senior source with in-depth knowledge of the report explained “Any rise has been broadly proportionate to the number of people from those communities coming into this country. People are saying crime is rising because of this influx. Given 1 million people have come in, that doesn’t make sense as crime is significantly down.”

Album review: Whatever’s Left by Grace Petrie and the Benefits Culture

Whatever’s Left by Grace Petrie and the Benefits Culture (
Morning Star

Four stars

The latest album from the left-wing Leicester-born singer-songwriter is a stirring bulletin from the frontlines of the struggle against the rapacious British political elite.

Taking Morrissey’s advice, refreshingly Petrie goes beyond the Punch and Judy politics of Labour vs. Tories. After criticising Labour for their support of Workfare on You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys (You Pay Nothing, You Get Nowt), on the title track she says that “The only red politics I’ve seen are Green.”

It’s not all politicking. Over her band’s folk-pop, Petrie sings of relationships gone wrong on The Last Love Song, a cutting kiss-off to a former infatuation, and the break-up blues The Heartbreak Handbook. Listen out too for cheeky musical nods to Dolly Parton and Bob Dylan.

One hesitates to use the cliché Voice of a Generation, but if anyone encapsulates the frustrations of life under Cameron its Petrie.


How to counter those who say “9/11 happened before Iraq!” to dismiss UK foreign policy as an explanation for terrorism

How to counter those who say “9/11 happened before Iraq!” to dismiss UK foreign policy as an explanation for terrorism
by Ian Sinclair
3 July 2015

The first question on BBC Question Time last night was about the recent terrorist atrocity in Tunisia. There was a long discussion involving all the panellists, but here are the key quotes:

Jeremy Corbyn MP, Labour leadership candidate: “You’ve got to think through the policies we’ve been following for the past 15 years in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Are they not a contributory factor in the collapse of so much all across the whole region?”

Presenter David Dimbleby then asked Corbyn what he would do about the threat from terrorist groups such as Islamic State.

Jeremy Corbyn: “You recognise that we’ve made some catastrophic mistakes in the bombing that we’ve done in so many other places, and that we’ve encouraged the growth of some of these groups – not intentionally but they’ve been a factor within that. And you develop a foreign policy that supports people and tries to attract them away from the purposes of ISIL.”

Jeremy Hunt MP, Health Secretary: “I have great respect for the integrity that Jeremy – the other Jeremy [Corbyn] – expresses his views, but I disagree with him that this is about foreign policy. 9/11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan. Foreign policy is an excuse.”

Jeremy Hunt is, of course, right that “9/11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan.” However, by making this argument Hunt is either incredibly ignorant or being incredibly disingenuous.

Western foreign policy and Western intervention in the Middle East didn’t begin on the morning of 11 September 2001. 9/11 didn’t happen in a social, historical and political vacuum. Al-Qaeda and the 19 hijackers didn’t randomly choose the World Trade Center and Pentagon out of all the famous landmarks across the globe. They targeted these symbols of US power for very specific reasons.

Speaking to me about Al-Qaeda in 2011, Michael Scheuer, the head of the CIA unit tracking Osama bin Laden from 1996-1999, explained that not since Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh has the US had an enemy who has been so frank about their motivation for fighting. For Scheuer Islamic terrorist attacks on the US have nothing “to do with our freedom, liberty and democracy, but everything to do with US policies and actions in the Muslim world.”

So what reasons did Al-Qaeda give for targeting the United States in 2001? In public statements made in 1996, 1998 and 2002 Al-Qaeda repeat a number of grievances:

  • The US military presence in Saudi Arabia
  • US support for dictatorships in the Middle East
  • US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine
  • The effects of the US-led United Nations sanctions on Iraq

So, very obviously, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a direct response to US foreign policy in the Middle East. A foreign policy, it’s important to remember, that was strongly supported by the UK. Those people, such as Hunt, who dismiss attempts to look at Western foreign policy as a reason for why the US and UK are being targeted, thus shutting down debate on the topic, are likely helping to make future terrorist attacks on the US and UK more, not less, likely.