Category Archives: UK Domestic Politics

Book review: Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice by Chris Saltmarsh

Book review: Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice by Chris Saltmarsh
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
April-May 2022

Though he doesn’t mention it in this book, I imagine activist Chris Saltmarsh is a big fan of the Chico Mendes quote that often appears on Twitter: ‘Environmentalism Without Class Struggle is Just Gardening.’

For Saltmarsh, ‘the root cause of climate change is our system of organising the economy and our relationship to nature: capitalism.’ With the ruling class profiting most from the crisis, he notes the resistance of capital is ‘perhaps the biggest barrier to climate justice.’

Part of Pluto Press’s Outspoken series, Burnt is a challenging read, with lots of constructive criticism of various facets of the climate movement.

Too often the ‘environmental NGO industry’, like the United Nations COP climate talks, has played a depoliticising, limiting role in the struggle, Saltmarsh argues, working ‘to uphold capitalism and the interests of fossil fuel capital by deflecting blame away from them and lowering our collective ambitions.’

There is an interesting analysis of Extinction Rebellion, the youth strikes and direct action more broadly – Saltmarsh was active in Reclaim The Power (which used direct action to oppose the UK’s ‘dash for gas’). He describes the victories of similar campaigns such as Climate Camp in the UK, Ende Gelände in Germany and the Keystone XL pipeline protests in the US as generally limited (‘downscaling or delaying construction’) and precarious – and insufficient to force long-term change.

With top climate scientist James Hansen recently noting ‘the 1.5°C target certainly will be exceeded, and the world will almost certainly blow through the 2°C ceiling’, Saltmarsh maintains: ‘There is only one political form presently capable of dismantling the fossil fuel industry on the timescale that the climate crisis commands: the state.’

As a co-founder of Labour For a Green New Deal – which he passionately fleshes out in one chapter – Saltmarsh believes that addressing the climate crisis ‘will require a centrally managed plan of targets, budgets, resource allocation, and key initiatives spanning years.’ Therefore the task is to capture the state through democratic means – by mobilising and radicalising the Labour Party and trade unions (the Green Party is never mentioned as a viable option).

While Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership showed that a more humane Labour Party is possible, I’m not as hopeful as Saltmarsh is that there will be another opportunity to elect a radical Labour leader in the near future.

A thought-provoking primer about the most important and urgent issue facing humanity, Burnt is an inspiring call to action, directed in part at those who don’t identify as activists. ‘Because without you, we can’t win,’ he notes.

If Vladimir Putin is to be tried as a war criminal, why not Gordon Brown?

If Vladimir Putin is to be tried as a war criminal, why not Gordon Brown?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
5 April 2022

Last month former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was among 140 academics, lawyers and politicians who signed a petition calling for a Nuremberg-style trial for Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion of Ukraine.

Appearing on the BBC Today Programme, Brown said “We believe that Putin should not be able to act with impunity, that a warning should be sent out that he will face the full force of international law, that his colleagues who are complicit in this will do so as well”.

He continued: “The foundational crime… is the crime of aggression, the initial crime of invading the country… the rule of law has been replaced by threats and by the use of force, and that has to be punished.”

Asked if he considered the Russian leader to be a war criminal, he replied: “That’s what President Biden said, and that’s my view.”

There is, of course, another relatively recent and glaring example of the “foundational” crime of aggression – the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq led by the US and UK. With the US and UK failing to gain United Nations support for military action, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan explained in 2004 the war “was not in conformity with the UN charter” and therefore “from our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.”

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has undoubtedly been bloody with, it seems, indiscriminate bombing and shelling of urban areas leading to thousands of civilian deaths and millions of refugees. The reporting at the weekend of Russia’s alleged massacre of civilians near Kyiv is particularly horrifying. However, it is also worth remembering the US-UK attack on Iraq and the chaos it caused 500,000 deaths, according to a 2013 PLOS Medicine journal study, and over 4.2 million people displaced by 2007, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Brown has direct responsibility for the destruction of Iraq. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1997 to 2007 – the second most powerful person in the government after Prime Minister Tony Blair – he oversaw the financing of the war. As a senior cabinet minister he also had collective responsibility for the decision to invade. Andrew Rawnsley explained Brown’s role in the immediate run-up to the war in his 2010 book End Of The Party: The Rise And Fall Of New Labour: on March 17 2003 “Brown gave an unequivocal statement of public support and threw himself into the effort to win over Labour MPs.”

“In the final days [before the invasion] Gordon was absolutely core,” senior Blair aide Sally Morgan told Rawnsley.

Incredibly, Brown was still supporting the war in 2010, telling the Chilcot Inquiry the decision to attack Iraq was “the right decision for the right reasons” and that “everything that Mr Blair did during this period, he did properly”. According to the Guardian’s report of his appearance at the inquiry “Brown accepted he had been fully involved in the run-up to the invasion”.

Brown was also Chancellor for the illegal invasion of Afghanistan, and then Prime Minister from 2007-10. According to Brown University’s Costs of War research project, as of 2021 an estimated 176,000 people had died in the near 20-year Afghan war, including around 46,000 civilians. After his staff interviewed over 600 people with first-hand experience of the Afghan war, the head of the US government’s Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told the Washington Post “the American people have constantly been lied to” for 20 years. As the US’s closest ally in Afghanistan, how many lies did the Blair and Brown governments tell the British people about the war?

Surely, then, if anyone should be facing a Nuremberg-style war crimes trial for the crime of aggression it is Brown himself – along with Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, and senior figures in the US government at the time.

Brown’s responsibility for the slaughter in Iraq is unarguable, though unmentionable in the mainstream media and by the blue tick commentariat.

Even much of the left seem unable to compute Brown’s culpability for mass death in Iraq. In a review of Brown’s new book Seven Ways To Change The World, last year William Davis, Professor in Political Economy at Goldsmiths, University of London, argued “Brown’s forte as a politician was his combination of clear moral purpose with a mastery of technical minutiae, but which sometimes resulted in an air of bookish detachment.” In June 2021 Professor Anthony Costello, a member of the leftish Independent SAGE group, tweeted that Brown was “a true international statesman”, while in 2012 Save the Children CEO – and former Special Adviser to Brown – Justin Forsyth tweeted “Well done to Gordon Brown for being appointed UN SG special envoy for education. His leadership over many years is impressive.”

Brown’s ‘leadership’ certainly helped to change Iraq’s education system. A 2004 UNICEF survey found “over 700 primary schools had been damaged by bombing… with more than 200 burned and over 3,000 looted” since the US-UK invasion in March 2003. “Iraq used to have one of the finest school systems in the Middle East,” commented UNICEF Iraq Representative Roger Wright. “The current system is effectively denying children a decent education.” Brown University’s Costs of War project found similar impacts on Iraq’s higher education sector: “The Iraq war resulted in the decimation of Iraqi universities, through looting, violence against academics, and the removal of Iraq’s intellectual leadership.”

There are rare exceptions to this power-friendly historical amnesia. Over the years media watchdog Media Lens, the editor of Interventions Watch blog, Declassified UK’s Matt Kennard and blogger John Hilley have all highlighted Brown’s responsibility for the Iraq War. And in 2009 Peter Brierley, whose son Shaun was killed in Iraq in 2003, said both Blair and Brown should be tried as war criminals. And while 37 per cent of respondents to a 2010 ComRes poll answered that Blair should be tried as a war criminal, in the same poll 60 per cent of respondents said that Brown should share responsibility for the conflict with Blair.

Arguably the anti-war movement has all too often focussed their ire, rather successfully I would argue, on the individual figure of Blair.

But this isn’t how history works. Blair could only take the UK to war because he had the support – or at least acquiescence – of key centres of power, including Brown, the cabinet, the vast majority of Labour Party MPs, nearly all Conservative Party MPs, the military, the civil service and significant sections of the press.

Indeed, Brown’s importance to events is highlighted by the argument that if Brown, representing a huge power base in the Labour Party, had publicly opposed the war in 2002-3 it would have likely stopped British military involvement – something then International Development Secretary Clare Short said in the recent BBC documentary Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution.

Of course, it is very unlikely Brown (and Blair) will ever appear in front of a Nuremberg-style trial for what they did to Iraq. But in a sane and just world Brown’s crimes would have ended his career as a public figure long ago. Instead his ‘expertise’ is regularly sought by the mainstream media, the Guardian provides him with a platform to opine about Afghanistan (stop laughing at the back), he is regularly invited to give prestigious public lectures, and he has been appointed to a number of high profile positions.

Excepting Blair and his many “rare interventions” in public life, a more perfect illustration of the moral bankruptcy of the British political and media elite you could not wish to find.

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

“The climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism”: Chris Saltmarsh interview

“The climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism”: Chris Saltmarsh interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
11 March 2022

Published at the end of last year, Burnt: Fighting for Climate Justice is the first book from Chris Saltmarsh, socialist climate campaigner and the co-founder of Labour for a Green New Deal.

With top climate scientist James Hansen recently noting ‘the 1.5°C target certainly will be exceeded, and the world will almost certainly blow through the 2°C ceiling” Ian Sinclair asked Saltmarsh about capitalism and the climate crisis, and the role played by established NGOS and new grassroots campaigns such as Extinction Rebellion and the youth strikes.

Ian Sinclair: Your analysis in the book is unashamedly anti-capitalist. Why? 

Chris Saltmarsh: It’s really clear to me that the climate crisis is a crisis of capitalism. We have an economic system that puts profit before all else. Fossil fuel companies have known since the 1970s or 1980s that their business model is driving global heating. Yet they continue to extract and burn oil, gas and coal because frankly there aren’t many other resources that generate such high returns. Most of these companies have invested millions in acquiring reserves and developing technologies. Even if there is money to be made in generating renewable energy, within capitalism it doesn’t make business sense for these companies to not extract every last drop of fossil fuels.

The book is anti-capitalist because, while there’s a lot of moralising that goes on in the climate movement, its not really any individuals’ fault. Not my fault, your grandma’s or even really fossil fuel company CEOs. We all play by the rules of the system and if Shell’s CEO suddenly became enlightened and wanted to put a stop to it he’d be replaced very quickly. Fundamentally, if we don’t have an anti-capitalist analysis of the climate crisis then we’ll remain stuck in partial solutions that won’t get to the heart of the problem.

IS: You are critical of what you call the “environmental NGO industry”. Surely green NGOs like World Wide Fund for Nature, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace do valuable work?  

I’m critical of these NGOs because although they are seen (by themselves and others) as the leadership of the climate movement, they operate within really significant constraints. Politically, there is a really strong ideology of liberalism which runs through these organisations. This means they’re generally unprepared to take an anti-capitalist – let alone socialist – analysis of climate change. It means they never support necessary measures like expanding public ownership and democracy in the economy. Organisationally, they are generally structured like corporations. They have an unaccountable and overpaid CEO or director, a bloated middle-management, and under-paid underlings who do most of the work with no say. These organisations aren’t democracies internally, and they certainly aren’t building a democratic mass climate movement.

We should understand this, though, as being a broadly structural problem. As charities they’re legally limited in what they can do by government. That they’re funded either by relatively conservative supporters or the philanthropic arm of capital (grants from trust and foundations) is a major source of political moderation. Sure, some of the work they do is useful, although a lot is actively harmful to our movement such as focusing on individual behaviour change. There is definitely a role for some of these organisations to play, but they need to understand their own limitations and contribute to the wider movement with more humility.

IS: 2019 saw an explosion of climate activism in the UK, and around the world, with Extinction Rebellion and the youth strikes. What is your assessment of the impact of these two movements in the UK? 

CS: My view is that these two movements, along with campaigns for a Green New Deal, emerged as responses to the same moment. In the summer of 2018, we saw really stark extreme weather like wildfires; an IPCC [United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report warning we only had 12 years left to save the planet; and another report warning of a ‘hothouse earth’. They effectively channelled a latent anxiety and strong desire for proper climate action among the public.

I think both were effective at mobilising previously inactivated constituencies of people. The youth strikes obviously did this with school children. I thought this was particularly powerful as one of my criticisms of the wider climate movement is that it doesn’t really understand what its base is. Is it workers? Is it urban climate-conscious liberals? Too often we try to mobilise everyone and end up with nobody. Others should learn from the youth strikes organising a defined group. XR [Extinction Rebellion] did similar with older people, I think. Overall, their major impact was to push climate further up the political agenda and keep it there. This is valuable, of course, but also limited. It was essentially enhanced awareness raising. The lack of politics and demands, particularly from XR, allowed for elite co-option and unfortunately a dissipation of what became relatively short-lived energy.

IS: You argue the state is the only political form presently capable of transforming the economy and society in the short timescale the climate crisis requires, devoting a chapter of the book to the concept of a Green New Deal, which the 2019 Labour Party conference endorsed. What would a Green New Deal entail? 

CS: A Green New Deal is broadly a state-programme of investment, regulation and economic transformation with the dual aims of rapid decarbonisation and achieving economic justice. There are different interpretations from different political positions. In the book, I make the case for a socialist Green New Deal which has expanding public ownership of the economy at the heart. Crucially, a Green New Deal must also be serious about a proper just transition to clean energy. This means guaranteeing jobs for all workers in polluting industries, repealing all anti-trade union laws, and spreading industrial economy across sectors.

In terms of what a Green New Deal would mean for everyday life, for me it’s about making the greenest option the cheapest and easiest in every corner of life. Transport, for example, would mean a shift from polluting private cars to low-carbon public transport that’s cheap or free, accessible and quick. Housing would mean warm homes for all alongside a massive expansion of council housing. Ultimately, its about a green transition that improves our lives at the same time. Perhaps most importantly, a socialist Green New Deal doesn’t just seek these transformations within the borders of one country, but internationally too.

IS: Where do you think the UK climate movement, and the broader left, should go from here?  

CS: I think the climate movement and the Left need to have a realistic assessment of where we are. The Tories are still in power and emissions are rising. We also need a realistic strategy for achieving a Green New Deal. There are a few pre-conditions for it. First, electing a socialist government and capturing state power more widely. Second, having a radical and militant trade union movement taking industrial action for climate and economic justice. Third, a radical mass democratic climate movement mobilising millions of people on the streets and to take direct-action.

On all counts, we’re not where we need to be. The climate-left needs to divide our energies between working to re-capture the Labour Party as the most viable vehicle for a socialist government in the UK and agitating for it to have ambitious Green New Deal policies. We also need to work to re-empower our trade unions by organising our workplaces and building confidence and militancy. We can connect fights over pay and conditions to climate where relevant, and otherwise work internally to create common-sense support for a Green New Deal and a just transition among union members. We also need dozens of offshoots of youth strikes and XR, mobilising new constituencies and cohering around demands for a socialist Green New Deal.

Burnt is published by Pluto Press, priced £9.99. Follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Saltmarsh.

Why is no one talking about how senior Labour Party figures whitewash apartheid?

Why is no one talking about how senior Labour Party figures whitewash apartheid?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 February 2022

Amnesty International’s recent report condemning Israel for “committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians” is a damning indictment of the current Israeli government (and its predecessors), and its supporters around the world.

After carrying out research for four years, Amnesty concludes “Israel enforces a system of oppression and domination against the Palestinian people wherever it has control over their rights”, including Palestinians living in Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and displaced refugees in other countries.

Defining apartheid as “an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination by one racial group over another,” Amnesty explains Israel’s “massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians are all components of a system which amounts to apartheid under international law.” This constitutes a “crime against humanity”, the human rights organisation notes.

Amnesty also has a message to those backing Israel: “governments who continue to supply Israel with arms, and shield it from accountability at the UN are supporting a system of apartheid, undermining the international legal order, and exacerbating the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

The UK does exactly this. In 2018 the Campaign Against Arms Trade exposed how British defence contractors were selling record amounts of arms to Israel, with the UK issuing £221m worth of arms licences to defence companies exporting to Israel. This made Israel the UK’s eighth largest market for UK arms companies, the Guardian reported.

The same year, Mark Curtis, the Editor of Declassified UK, highlighted “consistent British support for Israel internationally, helping to shield it from ostracism”. In 2017 the Foreign Office refused to sign a joint declaration issued at a Paris peace conference on Palestine attended by 70 nations, accusing it of “taking place against the wishes of the Israelis”. And in 2019 the then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed the UK would oppose motions criticising rights abuses carried out by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza that are brought to the UN’s Human Rights Council.

While the world’s leading human rights organisation criticising Israel for perpetrating the crime of apartheid is hugely significant, it is important to remember Amnesty is just the latest group to come to this conclusion.

In April 2021 Human Rights Watch declared Israel was committing the crime of apartheid, enforcing the policy to “maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians.” Drawing on years of documentation, analysis of Israeli laws, government planning documents and public statements by officials, the rights organisation concluded Israeli authorities “systematically discriminate against Palestinians” and have adopted policies to counter what it describes as a demographic “threat” from Palestinians.

Similarly, in January 2021 B’Tselem, the leading domestic rights group in Israel, described Israel as an “apartheid regime”.

“One organising principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.” Hagai El-Ad, the group’s director, noted “Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it. It is one regime between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid.”

Likewise, Yossi Sarid, a former Israeli cabinet minister and longstanding member of Israel’s parliament, said in 2008: “What acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck – it is apartheid.” Famously, former US President Jimmy Carter published his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid in 2006, and in 2002 Desmond Tutu, who knew a thing or two about apartheid, told a conference in Boston about a recent visit to the Holy Land and how “it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”

Though the UK media have studiously avoided making the link, the reports from Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, and the quotes above, have huge ramifications for key figures in the UK Labour Party.

Giving the keynote speech at the November 2021 Labour Friends of Israel’s annual lunch, Keir Starmer noted Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948 “committed the new state to freedom, justice and peace; complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

“Israel herself is the first to acknowledge that at times she falls short of these goals”, he continued, “But we will continue to support Israel’s rumbustious democracy, its independent judiciary, and its commitment to the rule of law”.

The Labour leader said Labour Party saw their counterparts in the Israeli Labor party “as comrades in the international struggle for equality, peace and freedom”, before quoting Prime Minister Harold Wilson: “social democrats who made the desert flower.”

The assertion it was Israeli pioneers who made the desert bloom repeats one of the founding – and racist – myths of Israel. Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani tweeted why at the time of Starmer’s speech: “The reason why is because it implies it was ‘terra nullius’, nobody’s land, & therefore fine to be appropriated. The story of colonialism.”

Starmer also explained the UK Labour Party does not support the Boycott, Disinvestment and Solidarity campaign against Israel. Why? “Its principles are wrong – targeting alone the world’s sole Jewish state”.

“We believe that international law should be adhered to”, he stated, and therefore Labour “opposes and condemns” illegal settlements, and annexation and the eviction of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Starmer said nothing, of course, about Israel being an apartheid state.

Speaking at a 2017 Jewish News/Bicom Balfour 100 event, Emily Thornberry MP, then Shadow Foreign Secretary, echoed Starmer’s sentiments: Israel “still stands out as a beacon of freedom, equality and democracy, particular in respect of women and LGBT communities, in a region where oppression, discrimination and inequality is too often the norm.”

And speaking at the 2017 Labour Friends of Israel annual dinner, Thornberry praised former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres as “a hero of the left, of the state of Israel and of the cause of peace.”

In contrast, in 2005 US dissident Noam Chomsky called Peres “an iconic mass murderer,” presumably for his role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that led to the creation of Israel and for being Prime Minister when Israel shelled a United Nations compound in Lebanon in 1996, killing over 100 civilians. After conducting an investigation, Amnesty International concluded the attack was intentional.

Labour MP Lisa Nandy excels at smearing critics of Israel. Interviewed on the BBC in early 2020 when she was running to be Labour leader, presenter Andrew Neil asked her about online Labour activist Rachael Cousins, “who’s tweeted calling the Board of Deputies of British Jews Conservative [Party] backers, and demanding that they disassociate themselves from that party, and that they condemn all Israeli military atrocities in the West Bank – her words. Is that anti-Semitic?” Nandy is quick to respond: “Yes.”

And when there were nonviolent protests at the London School of Economics in November 2021 against Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely, Nandy, then Shadow Foreign Secretary, tweeted: “The appalling treatment of Israeli Ambassador @TzipiHotovely is completely unacceptable. There is no excuse for this kind of behaviour. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right and any attempt to silence or intimidate those we disagree with should never be tolerated.”

Reading these quotes in light of all the reports and testimony above is nothing short of shocking. As the American historian Howard Zinn once noted, “The truth is so often the reverse of what has been told us by our culture that we cannot turn our heads far enough around to see it.”

The Labour Party’s code of conduct notes it “will not tolerate racism in any form inside or outside the party” and that “any behaviour or use of language which… undermines Labour’s ability to campaign against any form of racism, is unacceptable conduct within the Labour Party.” Surely, then, the whitewashing of, and apologism for, the racist Israeli apartheid state carried out by Starmer and co. should lead to them being expelled from the Labour Party?

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

Munich – The Edge Of War: glossing over the British Empire

Munich – The Edge Of War: glossing over the British Empire
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
4 February 2022

A pretty good, sometimes gripping, political thriller, the new movie Munich – The Edge Of War, based on Robert Harris’s 2017 novel, includes a couple of obvious howlers.

First, the film’s Adolf Hitler is so bad it becomes comical. Surely, filmmakers understand Bruno Ganz as the Fuhrer in the 2004 German film Downfall irrevocably raised the bar when it comes to onscreen portrayals of the Nazi leader? Second, amazingly the filmmakers chose August Diehl to play a slightly manic, slightly comic SS officer, after he had played a slightly manic, slightly comic SS officer in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 movie Inglourious Basterds. Is the pool of decent German actors really so small?

Furthermore, a couple of casting choices seem particularly significant. Cecil Syers, a civil servant in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Downing Street, is played by Black British actor Raphael Sowole, while British Asian actress Anjli Mohindra plays Joan Menzies. Initially presented as the best typist in Downing Street, she is – spoiler alert! – later revealed to be the niece of a senior MI6 official.

Whether these are examples of “colourblind” casting is unclear. In a recent interview Mohindra notes “There were lots of South-Asian civil servants working for the British government at that time”, and specifically mentions British South-Asian spy Noor Inayat Khan as an inspiration for her work on Munich.

For the record, I have no problem with Black and ethnic minority actors taking roles that would traditionally be given to white actors. I loved Dev Patel as the titular character in 2019’s The Personal History of David Copperfield; the ethnically diverse cast of playful period drama Bridgerton made perfect sense to me; I was mystified by Laurence Fox’s criticism of a Sikh soldier appearing in Sam Mendes’s epic and brilliant 1917 film (more than 130,000 Sikhs fought in the First World War).

However, there are wider political ramifications connected to these casting decisions in Munich that I think are worth exploring. So while the Nazis are depicted as, well, Nazis, including several obligatory scenes showing the repression and dehumanization of Jews, Sowole playing Syers, and Mohindra as Menzies, suggests Chamberlain’s government, ruling over the biggest empire the world had ever known, was running an equal opportunities recruitment process for top-level “national security” work in Downing Street.

In short, the casting choices arguably work to gloss-over the racism, repression and elitism of the Chamberlain government, and of the whole British ruling class at the time. A similar concealing effect can be seen in 2017’s Darkest Hour movie, which conjures up the fantasy of Winston Churchill getting inspiration after travelling on the tube and swapping lines from a Macaulay poem with a West Indian man.

Indeed, like nearly every British war film, Munich reaffirms a ‘Britain = good, Nazi = evil’ binary understanding of history. With the action shifting to the emergency talks in Munich, one of the film’s two main characters, Paul Hartmann, a translator in the German Foreign Office who is heroically trying to stop Hitler, tells Chamberlain the German Chancellor is “a man who hates everything you stand for.”

The problem with this popular framing of the Second World War, as the comedian Robert Newman argued on his 2005 album Apocalypso Now, is that it’s “based on a very misleading premise: which is just because the enemy you are fighting is evil, that makes you good”.

As then Guardian columnist Seamus Milne noted in 2010, “The British empire was… an avowedly racist despotism built on ethnic cleansing, enslavement, continual wars and savage repression, land theft and merciless exploitation. Far from bringing good governance, democracy or economic progress, the empire underdeveloped vast areas, executed and jailed hundreds of thousands for fighting for self-rule, ran concentration camps, carried out medical experiments on prisoners and oversaw famines that killed tens of millions of people.”

Though it remains pretty much verboten to mention in polite company, the uncomfortable truth is Hitler and Chamberlain (along with a significant segment of the British elite) shared some key values.

“Hitler’s dream was inspired, in part, by the British Empire,” noted British historian Richard Drayton, currently Professor of Imperial and Global History at King’s College London, in the Guardian in 2005. “The British and Americans were key theorists of eugenics and had made racial segregation respectable. The concentration camp was a British invention, and in Iraq and Afghanistan the British were the first to use air power to repress partisan resistance… we forget, too, that British and US elites gave aid to the fascists.”

In addition to obfuscating the reality of the British Empire, the film also ignores the importance of the British Empire to Chamberlain’s decision-making during the Munich crisis.

“By the mid-1930s Britain was defending a vast and vulnerable empire encompassing a quarter of the world’s territory and population, with the dismally depleted military resources of a third-rate power”, historian Robert Self noted on the BBC News website in 2013. He goes on to quote Sir Thomas Inskip’s defence policy of December 1937, commissioned by Chamberlain: “it is beyond the resources of this country to make proper provision in peace for defence of the British Empire against three major powers [Germany, Japan and Italy] in three different theatres of war.”

The 1985 Granada Television documentary End Of Empire explains what this meant for the UK government: “Britain’s leaders feared the empire would not survive a war on both sides of the world at once, so desperate for peace at almost any price, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich and appeasement.”

To be clear, I support more Black and ethnic minority-centred stories and actors on our TV and film screens. For example, I consider Steve McQueen’s monumental Small Axe film anthology one of the most important British cultural events of recent times.

There is no shortage of historical events and stories centred around the experience of Black and ethnic minorities that could be mined if mainstream Western filmmakers were as open minded and progressive as they thought they were. How about a period drama about the brutal British repression of the Mau Mau uprising in 1950s Kenya? Or an epic film about the largely nonviolent national movement that forced the British to grant Ghana independence in 1957? Why hasn’t there been a television series about the British arming recently surrendered Japanese troops in 1945 to put down a nationalist uprising in Vietnam? Or about Greek resistance fighter Manolis Glezos, who was moments away from killing Winston Churchill in Athens on Christmas Day 1944, after Britain had turned against the Communist-led insurgents who had helped defeat the German Army? Or a political thriller about all the dirty dealings and repression the UK has carried out and supported over decades to keep all their favoured despots in power in the Gulf?

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

Book review. Roads, Runways and Resistance: From The Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion by Steve Melia

Book review. Roads, Runways and Resistance: From The Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion by Steve Melia
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
October-November 2021

Steve Melia has taken a topic that could be dully technical and written a book that is both interesting and infused with a sense of urgency in terms of the climate crisis.

Underpinned with 50 original interviews with activists, policymakers and lobbyists, he surveys the key campaigns against government transport policy over the past 30 years, from the anti-roads protests of the 90s to the fight against airport expansion, and the Extinction Rebellion (XR) mass actions in 2019. His review includes the fuel protests of 2000, which nearly brought the country to a standstill.

As a Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning at the University of the West of England, Melia’s writing leans toward the academic, though he has a journalist’s eye for detail and a good story. He relates how one of the first targets of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, with its new offence of ‘aggravated trespass’, was ‘a pantomime cow called Buttercup’ at the Newbury Bypass protests: ‘The front half pleaded guilty to aggravated trespass while the rear half argued that his vision was obscured when they pranced across a security cordon’.

His analysis of the impact of protest will be of particular interest to activists – all the movements in the book ‘did have at least some influence on policy and practice’, he argues. For example, the anti-roads movement triggered a significant shift in public opinion and government policy, with most of the Tories’ planned road schemes dropped by the mid-90s. ‘Swampy had a lasting impact,’ notes a government advisor in the mid-2000s. ‘To build a road now is a lot of aggro.’

However, Melia notes government transport policy tends to change for three interconnected reasons: the strength of argument and evidence, the economic context, and public opinion – often driven by direct action. On the last point, he maintains ‘the main message of this book for XR or any other protest groups is that your actions will only work if you bring public opinion with you.’ This reference to XR – Melia was arrested during the April 2019 Rebellion – is, in part, about the controversial action to occupy a tube train at Canning Town in October 2019.

‘The need for disruptive protest action has never been greater’, he concludes. With the government attempting to push ahead with the expansion of Heathrow airport and a huge road building programme (sound familiar?), Roads, Runways and Resistance couldn’t be more timely.

Roads, Runways and Resistance: From The Newbury Bypass to Extinction Rebellion is published by Pluto Press, priced £16.99.


The New Corporation: Joel Bakan interview

The New Corporation: Joel Bakan interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
17 March 2021

Published in 2004 alongside the 2003 film documentary of the same name, Joel Bakan’s The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power was a timely and influential critique of the central institution of contemporary capitalism.

Bakan, Professor of Law at the University of British Columbia in Canada, has now published a sequel – The New Corporation: How “Good” Corporations Are Bad For Democracy. And, true to form, he has also co-directed a documentary based on his new book. Ian Sinclair asked Bakan about his book, whether corporations have really changed and what concerned citizens can do about corporate power.

Ian Sinclair: In your 2004 book and 2003 documentary you argued corporations, as institutions, are imbued with the character traits of a human psychopath. What is the central argument of your new book? 

Joel Bakan: Shortly after that book and film were released, companies began making sweeping commitments to social and environmental good. One hundred percent carbon neutrality, zero waste to landfills, 100% recycling, moves to renewables, proclamations about inequality and climate change, cascades of corporate programmes designed to help people in need and promote sustainability – all promises signaling that companies were now part of the solution, no longer the problem. It was as though they were saying, “we’re not psychopaths anymore; we’re good actors now, caring and conscientious,” a clear rebuttal to my earlier charge. I felt I needed to answer that – not least because these ideas would soon define big business’ overarching ethos, and also bring everyone else, including many progressive people, under their spell. This project is my answer.

I argue that the apparent turn to good – the ‘new corporation movement’, as I describe it – is animated by corporations’ discovery of something human psychopaths have known all along: a sheen of charm works better than overt skulduggery. Commitments by companies to social responsibility and sustainability, along with pious claims to be conscientious and caring, create a sheen that, in turn, hides their legally-imbued self-interested character. It’s not that that character necessarily bars companies from doing good. But it does limit the kinds of good they can do to what will help them do well – a profound limit – while also requiring they do bad when that, rather than doing good, is the best way to do well. No one in business denies any of this. None say social and environmental values should trump financial ones. Rather, what they say is that companies should, when possible, leverage the former to serve the latter. Hardly a road to the New Jerusalem.

IS: Can you give a couple of examples of how these “new” corporations act in contradiction to their socially conscious public rhetoric? 

JB: Here are some examples from the book. British Petroleum’s criminal negligence leading to the Deepwater Horizon disaster is juxtaposed to the company’s green branding. Volkswagen’s emissions scandal is compared to its reputation as an environmental leader while the scandal was unfolding but hidden. Honeywell’s boast that its manufacturing plants are super-sustainable is set against the company’s weapon-making, including nuclear weapons, inside those sustainable plants. British American Tobacco’s claim its tobacco fields are biodiverse is set against its use of those fields to make a product that kills people and makes them ill. Google’s vaunted use of renewable energy is compared to the fact it helps fossil fuel companies boost production with its Artificial Intelligence. And fossil fuel companies’ commitments to the Paris climate accord are contrasted to their intensive lobbying to ensure it imposed few real constraints on them, and contained no mandatory enforcement mechanisms. 

What these and other stories show is that while it is true corporations pursue social and environmental goals, and sometimes do some good, they necessarily pursue those goals within limits created by the legal imperative to serve self-interest. And those limits – in marked contrast to the limitless possibilities for goodness conjured by corporate marketing and public relations campaigns – are, as noted, profound.

IS: What do you mean by the book’s subtitle “How ‘good’ corporations are bad for democracy”? 

JB: Many, including some on the left, acknowledge the kinds of corporate deceptions and limits I talk about. But they say in response: “Isn’t it at least better than nothing that corporations try to do some good, and sometimes succeed?” My answer is “no”. It’s worse than nothing. And that’s because the notion that corporations can be good actors, along with the entire new corporation movement it animates, is part of a worrying ideological trope. It suggests that, because corporations are good now, we should welcome, not resist, their increasing power, impunity, and control over society; we should trust them to regulate themselves, to run our schools and water systems, to partner with democratic governments, rather than be subject to their sovereignty. That is why the new corporation’s charm offensive is not just deceptive, but dangerous. It puts a smiling face on all of neoliberalism, not only on the corporations operating within it.

This all became clear to me during a visit to the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos (which plays a central role in the book and film). There I spoke with many new corporation leaders, none more candid than Richard Edelman, one of the world’s top business gurus. Corporations have become “good actors,” he told me, “agents of change” ready to “fill a void” left by retreating governments. “I’m not much of a believer in political citizenship,” he continued. “I actually believe much more in the power of the marketplace.” I found chilling this casual dismissal of “political citizenship” (in other words, democracy) in favour of markets – and all the more so for reflecting (as was confirmed during my further wanderings around Davos) a core belief among new corporation advocates, the supposed ‘good guys’ of capitalism, that because corporations are now publicly-minded, ready to take the lead on social and environmental issues, governments can, and should, retreat from doing the same. Which helps explain how new corporations can both celebrate social and environmental values while, at the same time, lobbying vociferously against governments’ efforts to protect those very values through regulation and programmes designed to foster equality, justice and the public good. 

IS: In terms of how concerned citizens should respond to corporate power, you argue “protest is not enough”. What do you propose? 

JB: My book and film end on a note of hope, showing how people around the world are working and fighting for deeper ideals of democracy, of justice, of planetary survival – sometimes with and through governments, other times against and outside of them. The Black Lives Matter protests, uprisings against autocratic rule in eastern Europe, climate protests by school children, indigenous struggles against colonialism, experiments in participatory democracy – these are some of the stories I feature, and that give me hope. I also argue that though the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and injustices (a dynamic I explore throughout the book), there are some signs of hope in how, at least to some extent, people’s responses to it exhibit counter-neoliberal sensibilities of humanism and the importance of collective endeavor.

But you’re quite right, I also argue protest is not enough, while insisting it is often necessary. Because corporations are created and enabled by government and the state, as are the market systems they plie for profit, I argue, challenging their power and impunity must happen from within state institutions as well as from outside. I feature in the book and film progressive movements that have sought this kind of political presence within the state, and show how their work is aimed not only at getting a place within existing democratic institutions, but also, once there, deepening the democratic character of those institutions. The latter aim, I argue, requires at a minimum bringing the social into democracy. Political democracy cannot exist in any real way without a foundation of social equality and justice. It’s the growing separation between these two realms, the social and political, that now threatens democracy so profoundly. That (along with many other things) needs to change, and there are signs – which I point to in my book and film – that it just might.

The New Corporation: How “Good” Corporations Are Bad For Democracy is published by Vintage.

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel documentary is playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival from 18-26 March on Barbican Cinema On Demand. Joel Bakan and co-director Jennifer Abbott will take part in a Live Zoom ScreenTalk about their film on Sunday 21 March at 5pm. Buy tickets here: https://ff.hrw.org/london

Uncovering the Ignorance of the BBC’s Big Beasts

Uncovering the Ignorance of the BBC’s Big Beasts
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 March 2021

Increasingly shared on Twitter, Andrew Marr’s 1996 interview with Noam Chomsky has become a well-known TV moment for many on the left.

Over the course of 30 minutes discussing the politics of the media on BBC2’s The Big Idea, the seemingly unprepared Marr, who would become the Editor of the Independent in 1996, is repeatedly corrected and out-argued by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor.

Chomsky begins by summarising the Propaganda Model he developed in the late 1980s with Edward Herman, which they argue shows the media “serve to mobilise support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity.”

Discombobulated, Marr says: “I was brought up like a lot of people, probably post-Watergate film and so on to believe that journalism was a crusading craft and there were a lot of disputatious, stroppy, difficult people in journalism.”

Chomsky doesn’t dispute there are people like this in the media but argues the Propaganda Model can be applied to US media coverage of the Vietnam War and Watergate. For Chomsky, one of the roles “of the liberal intellectual establishment”, within which the New York Times, BBC and Guardian operate, “is to set very sharp bounds on how far you can go. This far, and no further.”

“How can you know that I’m self-censoring?”, Marr asks. To which Chomsky replies: “I’m not saying you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”

It’s an extremely telling interview – at one point Chomsky has to explain what COINTELPRO is to Marr – which is well worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

25 years later and Aljazeera has provided another illuminating example of an established journalist having the politics of their own profession explained to them by a left-wing academic.

After broadcasting their Battle for the BBC documentary, last summer Aljazeera organised an online discussion with key interviewees from the programme – BBC big beast David Dimbleby and the academic Tom Mills, author of the 2016 book The BBC Myth Of A Public Service. Former BBC Newsnight Economics Editor Paul Mason was also on the panel, but the crux of the debate is between Dimbleby and Mills.

Aljazeera presenter Flo Phillips led the discussion on three key events in BBC history: the 1926 General Strike, the Thatcher era and the corporation’s coverage of the Iraq War.

As the Aljazeera documentary set out, the BBC backed the government during the General Strike, with BBC founder Lord John Reith even helping to write one of the Prime Minister’s speeches, which was delivered from Reith’s own home. This supportive relationship occurred within the framework of a typically British compromise: the government did not commandeer the BBC, as some members of the cabinet wanted, on the tacit understanding the BBC would broadly serve the government. “Dissenting voices, from the trade unions to the opposition Labour Party, were banned”, Phillips notes in the documentary.

“They know they can trust us not to be really impartial”, is how Reith put it in his diary at the time.

Dimbleby is quick to dismiss the focus on 1926: “It’s like talking about an adult who is now in his middle age, like the BBC as it is now, and then complaining about what it did when it was a toddler. It’s absurd to go back that far.”

Mills explains why the history is important: “If you want to understand the BBC, if you want to understand any institution, you have to understand first of all its origins.”

“It tells us something about the ambiguous position that the BBC has found itself actually since the General Strike, which is that it has neither been independent of government, nor a direct instrument of government.”

Turning to the BBC under Thatcher, Mills sets out how John Birt pushed through a radical process of organisational and cultural change when he became Deputy Director of the Beeb in 1987 (and then Director-General from 1992), integrating the BBC into the market and making its journalism more risk averse.

“Birt was allied with the New Right”, Mills says. “He was a neoliberal in the very narrow sense of the word. He would go for lunch with [right-wing Tory Minister] Keith Joseph and… the Institute for Economic Affairs.”

Dimbleby, though opposed to Birt’s ‘reforms’, is again dismissive. “I don’t think there was a political agenda here”, he says, before layering on the sarcasm: “He had lunch with Keith Joseph? Wow”. To back up his position, Dimbleby notes Labour-supporting Peter Jay, who was Economics Editor at the Times and then at the BBC, also supported Birt’s changes.

Mills is fully aware of this, and unlike Dimbleby can clearly think outside the narrow Tory vs. Labour framing of British politics, replying that Jay “was one of the largest advocates of monetarism in that period” and “a big fan of Milton Friedman.”

“I’m surprised you don’t know that”, Mills says, likely annoyed by Dimbleby calling him “Tim” moments before.

Dimbleby can’t quite believe what he is hearing: “Sorry. What are you saying? That Jay and Birt came in to take over the BBC with monetarist policies? Is that your line?”

Mills: “That’s what happened, yes.” Mills tries to elaborate but is unable to as Dimbleby temporarily takes over as chair and invites Mason to comment.

Dimbleby has less to say on Iraq, other than to point out that the anti-war campaigner Tariq Ali had been a guest on BBC Question Time (Mason had noted BBC Newsnight “had become a government mouthpiece” and “specific voices”, including Ali, “were not allowed”).

It is left to Mills to provide the key bits of evidence, mentioning the 2003 Cardiff University study which found the corporation displayed the most pro-war agenda of any broadcaster in the UK.

Marr himself infamously became the government’s spokesperson as the BBC’s Political Editor. Speaking about Prime Minister Tony Blair on the News At Ten just after US-UK forces had taken Baghdad in April 2003, Marr opined “It would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.”

Mills also highlights how Kevin Marsh, the Editor of the BBC Today programme from 2002-6, had admitted they were not interested in covering the anti-Iraq War protests.

Mills is referring to testimony that appeared in my 2013 book The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003.

“Since we, rightly or wrongly, see ourselves as public policy journalists then necessarily we look at what is happening in public policy i.e. politicians and officials”, Marsh told me. “And it is probably true that we would think more about what politicians and the military and so on were saying to us than we would think about those who were not in a position to make decisions, like the anti-war movement.”

As Mills explains, many people at the BBC believe the job of political journalism is “to report what is going on in the corridors of power.” Indeed, responding to complaints about his reporting on Iraq, in 2004 ITN reporter Nick Robinson – soon to become a BBC big beast himself – explained “It was my job to report what those in power were doing or thinking… that is all someone in my sort of job can do.  We are not investigative reporters.”

Two conclusions can be drawn from the Aljazeera panel discussion and Marr’s interview with Chomsky.

First, senior media figures often simply don’t understand the history and political economy of the institutions they work – and exercise considerable power – in. As Chomsky might say, it is precisely their establishment-friendly, ideologically-restricted mindset that has allowed Marr and Dimbleby to rise to the top of the BBC: if they had a more radical worldview they wouldn’t be senior figures at the BBC.

Second, faced with academic evidence and critical thinking both Marr and Dimbleby had very little to offer in response except spluttering disbelief, well-worn clichés and anecdotal evidence.

Rarely has Upton Sinclair’s well known dictum been illustrated so well: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Andrew Marr’s interview with Noam Chomsky can be viewed on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjENnyQupow. As can Aljazeera’s The Battle for the BBC panel discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74qcsksuqtU

Book review. The New Corporation: How “Good” Corporations Are Bad For Democracy by Joel Bakan

Book review. The New Corporation: How “Good” Corporations Are Bad For Democracy by Joel Bakan
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News

August-September 2021

Published in 2004 alongside the film documentary of the same name, Joel Bakan’s The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power was a timely and influential assault on the central institution of contemporary capitalism.

Bakan has now written a sequel, a response to the ‘trend of corporations claiming to be different, to have changed into caring and conscientious actors – ready to lead the way in solving society’s problems.’ This shift is, it seems, a reaction to public concern, with Larry Fink from investment management firm BlackRock writing to business leaders in 2018 to tell them ‘Society is demanding that companies serve a social purpose.’

Bakan, Professor of Law at the University of British Columbia, is having none of it. ‘Making money for themselves and their shareholders remains their top priority’, he notes about these ‘new’ corporations. ‘So while they might care about social and environmental values, they care only to the point such caring might cut into profits.’

Despite their progressive-sounding public rhetoric these profit-seeking entities fight against ‘policies aimed to promote social welfare’ including workers’ rights and unions, taxes on wealth and regulations that restrict the power of big business to rule the world.

Bakan weaves numerous shocking examples of corporate malfeasance into the book, including Volkswagen fitting a ‘defeat device’ in diesel engine cars sold in the US that detected when they were being tested and changed the environmental performance to improve results. Elsewhere he highlights how Johnson & Johnson were caught hiding from consumers and regulators the fact some of its products used by children included harmful materials.

With corporate influence weakening democratic institutions, Bakan’s solution is more and deeper democracy – to ‘expand the floor of the cage’, as Noam Chomsky says. ‘Protest is not enough’, Baken argues. ‘Electoral movements are needed to put sovereign power behind the values and energy people express in the streets’. He highlights the successes two municipal politicians have had in taming corporate power – activist turned Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau, and Seattle City Council Kshama Sawant, who was re-elected in 2019 despite a multimillion dollar lobbying effort from Amazon.

Though perhaps not as hard-hitting or revelatory as his 2004 book, The New Corporation is nevertheless a hugely important polemic. Written in an accessible journalistic style, with plenty of footnotes for those wishing to investigate further, it could be a valuable and inspiring campaigning tool for both experienced anti-corporation activists and those new to the topic.

The Third Wave: A Timeline Of How We Got Here

The Third Wave: A Timeline Of How We Got Here
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
8 July 2020

“We’re seeing cases rise fairly rapidly – and there could be 50,000 cases detected per day by the 19 [July] and again as we predicted, we’re seeing rising hospital admissions”, Boris Johnson explained at a Downing Street press conference on 5 July. “We must reconcile ourselves sadly to more deaths from Covid.”

Frustratingly, as epidemiologist Dr Deepti Gurdasani told the Morning Star last month, “what is happening now was entirely predictable and predicted”.  And incredibly, despite the rising number of hospital admissions endangering the NHS’s recovery, over one million people living with Long Covid and an increasing risk of a new variant resistant to vaccines, on 5 July the Prime Minister announced plans to fully open on 19 July. In short, UK government policy is let the virus “rip” in the UK.

How did we end up in this mess?

21 January: The minutes from the day’s SAGE meeting warns the “evidence from the continued spread of the South African and UK variants suggests that reactive, geographically targeted travel bans cannot be relied upon to stop importation of new variants once identified.” The minutes also note “No intervention, other than a complete, pre-emptive closure of borders, or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival in designated facilities, irrespective of testing history, can get close to fully prevent the importation of cases or new variants.”

25 January: Speaking to a Confederation of British Industry webinar, Dido Harding, the Head of the Test and Trace, says fewer than 60 per cent of people asked to self-isolate actually do so.

24 March: India announces it has detected a new “double mutant variant” of coronavirus.

1 April: According to the Times, ministers are told about the arrival of a variant in the UK that has originated in India (AKA the Delta variant). Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty says the idea that Covid variants can be stopped from entering the country is “not realistic”, reports the Guardian.

12 April: The government proceeds with step 2 of lockdown easing, with non-essential shops, hair salons pubs and restaurants with outdoor seating all re-opened.

15 April: Public Health England announces the Indian variant has been found in the UK. Speaking to the Guardian, Professor Christina Pagel, director of UCL’s clinical operational research unit and member of Independent SAGE, says “It is ridiculous that India is not on the travel red list yet – or many other countries for that matter – when India is seeing 200,000 new cases every day at the moment.”

23 April: The government adds India to the red list, banning travel to the UK from India. The Sunday Times later reports “Analysis of Civil Aviation Authority figures suggest that 20,000 people arrived in the UK from India from April 2 to April 23.” A Whitehall source told the newspaper: “It’s very clear that we should have closed the border to India earlier and that Boris did not do so because he didn’t want to offend [Indian Prime Minister] Modi.”

4 May: Teaching unions the NEU and NASUWT, along with support staff unions Unite, Unison and the GMB, have sent an open letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, co-signed by around 20 scientists and public health professionals, urging the government to keep face covering in secondary schools until at least 21 June.

7 May: Public Health England identifies the Delta variant as a “variant of concern”.

12 May: The Prime Minister announces the public inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic will start in spring 2022. Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, says delaying the inquiry “means vital lessons will go unlearned,” the Guardian reports.

13 May: The minutes of the day’s SAGE meeting warns “If this [Delta AKA Indian] variant were to have a 40-50% transmission advantage nationally compared to” the so-called Kent variant the modelling “indicate that it is likely that progressing with step 3 alone… would lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations (similar to, or larger than, previous peaks)”.

17 May: The government proceeds with step 3 of the lockdown easing. People are now allowed to socialise indoors in limited numbers and visit pubs and restaurants inside.The government announces pupils are no longer required to wear face coverings in schools and colleges. International travel is allowed again, governed by a new traffic light system.

3 June: Professor Pagel tells the Guardian: “it is clear that schools are a major source of transmission and that outbreaks in primary and secondary schools have been growing a lot week on week.”

8 June: Keep Out NHS Public co-chair Dr John Puntis tells the Morning Star: “To reduce the spread of the virus, we need proper support for those asked to isolate, improved ventilation in indoor environments, face mask for secondary school children, stricter controls on borders and international travel, speedier vaccine rollout and a serious global vaccine initiative.”

11 June: Public Health England reports the Delta variant is 64 percent more transmissible than the Alpha (Kent) variant.

15 June: The Prime Minister delays plans to lift most remaining restrictions (step 4 of the lockdown easing), planned for 21 June, by a month, warning that thousands more people could die if the government opened up as planned, because of the rapid spread of the Delta variant.

16 June: During Prime Ministers Questions, Boris Johnson states the UK “has the toughest border measures anywhere in the world.” The Guardian notes this is “hard to square with the fact that some countries, including Australia and New Zealand, bar almost all overseas arrivals.”

17 June: Speaking to the Morning Star, Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a Senior Lecturer in Machine Learning and epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, says “I do think the 17 May re-opening was a mistake but I think we would have likely seen a rise in cases even then because we know that cases of the Delta variant were actually doubling even prior to 17 May”.

18 June: Nearly two-thirds of workers in England seeking grants to help them self-isolate are refused help, according to research from the Trades Union Congress.

20 June: Hosting The Andrew Marr Show, the BBC’s Nick Robinson quotes Jeffrey Barrett, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative, Wellcome Sanger Institute: “Looking back it’s clear that a major part of why we are now faced with a growing wave of cases of the Delta variant is because there were hundreds of introductions from abroad during April.”

23 June: The deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, tells BBC Breakfast: “Trusts on the frontline are really coming under huge pressure … they have plans in place to tackle the backlog, but with more Covid cases and demand for emergency care going up, that’s really challenging.”

28 June: Newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid says the country must “learn to live” with Covid-19.

1 July: The European Parliament’s committee on public health describes allowing 60,000 fans into Wembley for the European Championship semi-finals and final as “a recipe for disaster,” the Irish Times reports.

3 July: The British Medical Association urges the government to keep some targeted measures to control the spread of Covid-19 in place after 19 July in England, including face masks in enclosed public spaces and improved ventilation.

5 July: Emphasising “personal responsibility”, the Prime Minister announces the loosening of all restrictions on 19 July. The one-metre social distance rule will and the work from home guidance will end, and mask-wearing will be voluntary. This opening up will make England “the most unrestricted society in Europe,” the Guardian reports. Anthony Costello, Professor of Global Health and Sustainable Development at University College London, describes it is “Libertarian public health”.

6 July: The health secretary says the number of infections could rise above 100,000 a day over the summer.

7 July: Over 100 global experts publish an open letter in the Lancet medical journal arguing the government’s plan to lift nearly all restrictions on 19 July is “dangerous and premature.”

In April, Ian Sinclair and Rupert Read published A Timeline Of The Plague Year: A Comprehensive Record of the UK Government’s Response to the Coronavirus Crisis, available as a free PDF and EBook, and as a pay-to-print book at https://covidtheplagueyear.wordpress.com/.