Tag Archives: Seumas Milne

Guardian on the wrong side of history over Corbyn

Guardian on the wrong side of history over Corbyn
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
19 October 2015

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide election to the Labour Party leadership was that he thrashed the other three candidates despite being opposed by almost the entire national press.

There were two honourable exceptions: the Morning Star and the Daily Record both backed the MP for Islington North.

“Corbyn: Abolish The Army” was one particularly memorable Sun front page, while the Sunday Mirror argued Corbyn was “a throwback to the party’s darkest days when it was as likely to form the government as Elvis was of being found on Pluto.”

In September the Express revealed “the evil monster haunting Jeremy Corbyn’s past.” Apparently Corbyn’s great great grandfather ran a workhouse. The shame! Over at The Times the level-headed Rachel Sylvester compared Corbyn’s imminent victory to when “the Vikings and the Mayans brought about their own extinction.”

At the other end of the British media spectrum, the Guardian ran what former British Ambassador Craig Murray accurately described as a “panic-driven hysterical hate-fest campaign against Corbyn.”

The Guardian backed Yvette Cooper, a candidate who voted for the illegal, aggressive war in Iraq in 2003 and the disastrous Libyan intervention in 2011, and supported Trident, austerity, benefit cuts and a stricter asylum system.

Throughout the leadership campaign it continuously ran front pages highlighting the increasingly hysterical concerns of former Labour “heavyweights,” including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, Peter Hain and David Miliband.

Writing about the contest a few days after Corbyn made it onto the ballot, the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee dismissed Corbyn as “a 1983 man” and “a relic.” Voting for Corbyn “is ignoring the electorate,” Toynbee argued.

Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian’s opinion editor, was deeply sceptical about the rising support for Jez: “The unkind reading of this is to suggest that support for Corbynism, especially among the young, is a form of narcissism.” Not to be outdone, the Guardian columnist Martin Kettle dismissed Corbyn’s “programme of prelapsarian socialist purity,” while Michael White, the Guardian’s assistant editor, sneered: “Did Jeremy Corbyn used to wear open-toed sandals around Westminster in hot weather? Does he still?”

Slowly losing her grip on reality, G2 columnist Suzanne Moore told readers she didn’t support Corbyn because she has an “innate political distrust of asceticism.” After linking approvingly to an article setting out Alistair Campbell’s problems with Corbyn, Moore expanded her thesis: “Where is the vision of socialism that involves the sharing of life’s joys as well as life’s hardships? Where is the left that argued that nothing is too good for ordinary people — be it clothes, buildings, music.”

After Corbyn was elected by a landslide, Moore was back with more wisdom: “Who is advising him? Ex-devotees of Russell Brand?” she opined. “Corbyn and his acolytes may worship Chomsky and bang on about the evil mainstream media, they may actually believe that everything bad emanates from the US, they may go to Cuba and not notice that it’s a police state full of sex workers, but they are going to have to get with the programme.”

To quote the comedian Mark Thomas: “Trees died for this shit!”

There were, I should point out, honourable exceptions to this “Get Corbyn” campaign at the Guardian. Owen Jones, Seumas Milne and George Monbiot all wrote supportive articles, though they were swamped by the nonsensical anti-Corbyn screeds. Amazingly, in a response to readers’ complaints that the paper was biased against Corbyn, the Guardian’s readers’ editor had the brass neck to write: “Tallies of positive and negative pieces are a dangerous measure, as the Guardian should not be a fanzine for any side.”

So why was nearly the entire British press and commentariat opposed to the candidate whose positions on military interventions and public ownership, to name just two issues, were supported by a majority of the public?

Very obviously the ownership structure of the British press has a significant influence on a paper’s politics. “Essentially I think that what happens is that newspaper proprietors/owners … will appoint an editor and that will be informed possibly by their world view or what they want,” Dominic Lawson, the former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, explained in 2007.

Of course, that editor will then hire senior journalists and managers, who, in turn, hire junior members of staff. And these newbies will rise through the ranks by getting the approval of the senior journalists and managers, who were hired by the editor, who… you get the picture.

The people who end up working in the media today are overwhelmingly from very privileged backgrounds, with Sutton Trust research finding over half of the top journalists were privately educated. Incredibly the study found 37 percent of the top journalists who went to university graduated from just one institution — Oxford.

This similarity in background likely produces deeply held, unconscious shared assumptions about the world — how it works, what is possible, who is a credible source, who should be in charge and who should necessarily be excluded from decision-making.

“If you want a career in corporate journalism you have to accept certain things,” the former Financial Times journalist Matt Kennard explained at an event to launch his new book The Racket earlier this year. “The default position in our media — which is what they call ‘unbiased’ — is to support corporate power and US militarism.” Having spent his political life opposing these destructive entities, Corbyn was never going to be a favourite of the mainstream media.

Guardian journalists would be horrified by the idea but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Guardian’s role has been a deeply undemocratic, conservative one, desperately attempting to maintain “politics as usual” in the face of Corbyn’s challenge to our unfair and unequal political status quo.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on the journalists I’ve mentioned above. It is clear there has been a generational shift over the last few months, with many journalists fading into irrelevance, unable to make sense of or understand the Corbyn surge and the new political reality. Luckily other, smarter thinkers have taken their place — people like Novara Media’s Aaron Bastini, the staff at Open Democracy, Maya Goodfellow from Labour List and, at the Guardian, Zoe Williams and Owen Jones.

With the Guardian and the rest of the media unable or unwilling to adequately reflect progressive left-wing opinion in Britain, it is essential the left focuses on building up a vibrant and popular alternative media. This means supporting and working with existing non-corporate publications such as the Morning Star and also helping to build new, often online, attempts to crack the mainstream, such as Media Lens and Novara Media, which is currently holding a funding drive.

Just as Corbyn’s leadership team will have to think outside the box of Westminster politics if they are to succeed, so too must the left when it comes to the media. Discussions about the media need to be central to Momentum, the new social movement set up to support the policies Corbyn campaigned on. And the left needs to think and dream long-term — beyond 2020 and, yes, beyond Corbyn.

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 US and Syria: The madness of the mainstream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do Left-Wing Commentators Ignore Climate Change?

Why Do Left-Wing Commentators Ignore Climate Change?
By Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
26 May 2014

Question. What do Seumas Milne, Owen Jones, Mehdi Hasan, Laurie Penny, Julie Bindel and Richard Seymour all have in common? All are, of course, prominent left-wing commentators who write for mainstream newspapers like the Guardian. And all do brilliant work drawing attention to lots of important issues. But they also have one other thing in common – all have had relatively little to say about man-made climate change.

Perhaps their relative lack of concern is because the health of our climate is not that important or particularly pressing? After all, what could be more important or pressing than issues such as war and peace, the Government’s austerity agenda, the next election, poverty, inequality, homophobia, racism or feminism?

The basic facts on climate change point to a different reality. As early as 2009 the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan’s think-tank, the Global Humanitarian Forum, highlighted how climate change was responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affecting 300 million people. And with the scientific consensus estimating the world is currently heading for a minimum temperature increase of 4°C on 1990 levels by 2100 (and perhaps even earlier), the future is looking very bleak indeed.

The World Bank summarised what this future will look like in its 2012 report ‘Turn Down The Heat: Why A 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided’. “The 4°C scenarios are devastating”, the report’s foreword explains. “The inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.” Let’s go into a couple of these areas in a little more detail. According to a 2009 Guardian report new research by climate scientists show sea levels may rise by a metre or more by 2100, affecting “ten percent of the world’s population – about 600 million people” who live in vulnerable areas. Regarding the effect of climate change on our oceans, the former making the latter more acidic, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean summarised the situation last year as follows: “This [acidification] is unprecedented in the Earth’s known history. We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure. The next mass extinction may have already begun.”

Not frightening enough for you? Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester, argues a 4°C world will likely be “incompatible with organised global community.” Three of the academic co-authors of the health chapter of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report recently wrote that “human-driven climate change poses a great threat, unprecedented in type and scale, to wellbeing, health and perhaps even to human survival.”

It gets worse. Last year the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency said the world is currently on course for not 4°C but 6°C of warming by 2100 – a figure also predicted by the Global Carbon Project, a group of 31 scientists from seven countries led by Professor Corinne Le Quéré, now the Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Climate specialist Mark Lynas, author of the award-winning book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, argues a 6°C increase by 2100 would mean “we are going to face nothing less than a global wipeout.”

With the situation as grave as this, the aforementioned journalists relative silence on the topic seems downright reckless. If you are interested in the wellbeing of those who live in the Global South, or issues such as poverty, women’s rights, migration, hunger and war then you also have to grapple with climate change. “It is climate change that speaks to me most loudly. Partly because it is so overarching”, the American nonviolent activist George Lakey told me in 2012. “If we don’t solve that one there is a whole lot else we won’t get much space to work with. We will be on such a survival level. It will be very, very tough.”

To be clear, I’m not taking the moral high ground. As a writer I recognise that I too need to focus more of my time and energy on climate change. In fact all of the Left needs to raise its game and exert more pressure on this issue. Because when the World Bank has a greater understanding about, and concern for, the dangers climate change poses to the world than many of our top left-wing commentators, something is very wrong indeed.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair