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Friday, 28 October 2016

Red/brown unite shocker - over damn foreigners

Attitudes to Jewish immigration by political identifier.

The Canadian journalist Michael Colborne likes nothing better than to crunch some numbers. So there he was, as you do, rooting round the details of the of the European Social Survey (ESS) - an enormous project which you can see more about on its own Wikipedia page.

And lo, this is what he found:
The vast majority (94%) of respondents said that either many, some or a few Jews should be allowed to come live in Britain, with only 6% saying no Jews should be allowed at all.

But…regardless of how you slice up the left/right scale, British people who identify as furthest to the left or right seem a lot less keen on Jews than those in the relative middle on the spectrum.

Drilling down some more he found that fully a fifth of those who identified as furthest left would permit no Jewish immigration to the UK, just shy of the 22.5% of the furthest-right who wouldn't either (image at top of page). Colborne (who I follow on Twitter) confirmed to me that the samples are statistically significant.

It gets worse

Today Colborne did some more number crunching and found that far-left attitudes to Jews come in a context - hostility to immigration full-stop.

This is - in cold, hard numbers - a big minority of the Corbyn supporting, Momentum supporting far-left having the same views as a similar sized minority of the far-right.

Here some comparisons from the same source across Europe (Courtesy Colborne):

All great stuff for the proponents of horseshoe theory, as well as those also on the left who have been pointing out that the left has some fucking serious issues for years (thinking of you, Nick Cohen).

Oh and Michael has set off to plow through other surveys to find other samples demonstrating the same phenomenon ..

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Most Libyans welcomed intervention

Benghazi, Libya, 2011

Last week the Guardian writer Patrick Kingsley published a series of tweets regarding the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee's (FASC) report on the 2011 Libyan intervention.

Kingsley showed that the conclusion widely reported in the media that the intervention was based on false information, that Gaddafi wasn’t a major threat to civilians in Benghazi, was itself false. Information supposedly from Amnesty International did not exist.

Idress Ahmed added that information supposedly from Human Rights Watch in the FASC report was also misrepresented.

The blogger Bob from Brockley pointed out that the Committee talked to no Libyans and that this is consistent behaviour by them.
"The MPs quoted a non-existent AI report second hand (via Patrick Cockburn) & pretended they were citing the original! Shameless," he tweeted.
Bob noted that "Cockburn has a track record of bring economical with the truth."

This is consistent with Stop the War Coalition (StWC), whose chief selling point has been its brand (who disagrees with 'stopping wars'?) - Never mind what that means.

We see this in patently ridiculous memes which blame Hilary Benn MP for the bombing of Aleppo.

Not talking to or allowing Syrians to speak is also consistent behaviour from the StWC, as I wrote about last year (and same applies with the FASC). This followed a StWC event at which Syrians were stopped from speaking but at which the FASC chair, the Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who strongly supports the arms industry was an invited speaker.

One can understand, perhaps, why both Tories like Blunt and 'anti-imperialist' lefties want to shut out voices from those countries they claim to care about - because they won't like what they hear, as this post by al-Hamra, reblogged here, demonstrates. 


Anti-interventionists often cite the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) 2011 air war in Libya in arguments over the Syrian civil war. What these opinionated partisans never mention is that NATO’s military action against the forces of dictator Moammar Ghadafi’s regime was not only popular with Libyans but overwhelmingly so.

A Gallup poll taken in 2012 found the following:
  • 75% favored NATO’s actions in their country.
  • 54% approved of U.S. leadership, which according to Gallup is the highest approval rating “ever recorded in the Middle East and North Africa region, outside of Israel.”
  • 19% approved of Russia’s leadership (which opposed NATO’s attacks on Ghadafi’s forces).
  • 22% approved of China’s leadership (which opposed NATO’s attacks on Ghadafi’s forces).
  • 61% considered members of Ghadafi’s regime to be a major security threat.
  • 62% considered Al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants to be a major security threat.
  • 48% considered Western military forces to be a major threat.
  • 77% favored Western military aid to their fledgling armed forces.
  • 68% supported Western military trainers being sent to their country.
  • 77% favored Western governance experts being sent to assist their new government.
  • 56% opposed Western aid for Libyan political groups.
Gallup is a reputable polling organization and the sample size of 1,000 is the industry standard because sample sizes that large yield a low margin of error (for the math behind why that is the case, see this).

A second poll done by a similarly reputable British polling organization, Orb International, yielded similar results:
  • 85% strongly supported NATO military action against Ghadafi.
  • 89% expressed a favorable or very favorable view of the United Kingdom.
  • 58% agreed that Libya and Britain should keep strong and close links with one another.
  • 83% viewed then-Prime Minister David Cameron favorably.
  • 76% agreed the country’s government should be chosen by the people in free, competitive elections.
  • 68% considered the post-Ghadafi government — the National Transition Council — effective in helping to improve life Libya.
What becomes clear from these two polls is that not only was NATO’s military assistance in toppling Ghadafi overwhelmingly popular among Libyans, Libyans wanted continued intervention to help restore law and order after the chaos and upheaval brought about by the 2011 revolution. Although a near majority worried about unwanted Western military action in their country, more Libyans wanted closer and more harmonious economic, political, diplomatic, and military relations with Western governments.

This is not to suggest that everyone in Libya supported NATO’s intervention. The Ghadafi regime was opposed and organized rallies denouncing NATO’s interference with their counter-revolution. But after the regime was overthrown in 2011, these anti-NATO protests stopped.

No anti-intervention political parties formed after 2011 with enough popular support to win any elections. Pushed to the margins of Libyan politics by their unpopularity, Ghadafi loyalist tribes in Sirte joined Islamic State (ISIS) to continue their struggle against the new government and against Western intervention.

Openly acknowledging what Libyans thought about NATO’s intervention would put anti-interventionists in the awkward and arrogant position of asserting that they (non-Libyans) knew better than Libyans what was good for Libya in 2011.

Students of history will recognize this contradiction for what it is — the racist, colonialist White Man’s Burden, although couched in fiercely ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric. To avoid touching on this contradiction, anti-interventionists are forced to regard Libyans as passive victims to be pitied rather than politically active participants to be supported or engaged. For them, what matters in Libya is the West’s iniquity, not Libyan aspirations.

Hat tip Clay Claiborne

See also:

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Venezuela: The left's giant forgetting

Earlier this year Jeremy Corbyn deleted a lot of content from his website. Right, malnourished child in Maracaibo hospital.

"Malnourished children who faint in class. Children who, in the worst cases, die from hunger, their bodies nothing but skin and bones, the outlines of their ribs visible.

Images like those have become common in Venezuela, where critical food shortages are pushing hundreds of thousands of children under a blanket of misery and hunger more often seen in the poorest countries in Africa."
Hunger haunts Venezuela, especially its children, Miami Herald, August 5, 2016.

For months images of starving Venezuelan children, reports of food riots, of the very poorest banging pots on the streets demanding food and desperate parents hunting for medicine for their children have appeared in Western media.

Ordinary people are now being randomly snatched out of the huge food lines, arrested and labelled saboteurs by a government desperate to blame anyone else but themselves.

President Maduro has joked about the food crisis.

Nothing new

These images of starvation are not new, although the media attention is. Last June The Economist reported evidence that Chavismo's vaunted alleviation of poverty and food insecurity had reversed.
Marianella Herrera, a nutritionist at the Fundación Bengoa, a private foundation, calls official data partial and inconsistent. “Other studies show an increase in malnutrition,” she says. “Children are showing up in hospital emergency wards with severe malnutrition, and some are dying because of a lack of basic supplies.” The government’s own figures, which show it reached the UN target for reducing malnutrition in children by 2008, indicate that by 2013 Venezuela was close to crossing the line again, in the opposite direction.

From The Economist, June 2015.

June 2015 was also the time of the last recorded comment  (that I am aware of) by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Venezuela, at a rally organised by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC).  In March 2016 he deleted a slew of content from his website including this pro-Chavismo article.

Circulated by VSC prior to June2015 rally.
His speech in June 2015 did not include anything - not one word - on the situation with hunger in Venezuela. Almost the entire focus was on supposed American imperialism.

Yet not only was there reporting on starving Venezuelans in June 2015 there were many earlier reports, such as this one from March 2014 about riot police preventing a 'empty pots march' on the Food Ministry.
More than 5,000 protesters banged pots, blew horns and whistles and carried banners in the capital to decry crippling inflation and shortages of basics including flour, milk and toilet paper. Similar protests were held in at least five other cities.

All over Venezuela, people spend hours every week queuing at supermarkets, often before dawn, without even knowing what may arrive.

“There’s nothing to buy. You can only buy what the government lets enter the country because everything is imported. There’s no beef. There’s no chicken,” said Zoraida Carrillo, a 50-year-old marcher in Caracas.

Silent witness

Also at that June 2015 rally were Labour MPs Richard Burgon and Grahame Morris and Labour MSP Neil Findlay.

I cannot find any comment on Venezuela by any of those three since last June.

This is symptomatic of a silence which has descended over the left on Venezuela from those who have previously and loudly cheered Chavismo. Symptomatic of that silence is the prominent British journalist and activist Owen Jones. Jones is very active on social media and he has been asked numerous times to explain his silence. He has not responded.

The timeline of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign since last June demonstrates this sudden poverty of interest. It is like Venezuela has become kryptonite to a certain section of the left. Something which is no longer talked about in certain circles.

The group Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America, formed in May, also has nothing to say about Venezuela.


What has occupied these people, and others such as MP Diane Abbott, since they decided to forget about Venezuela and its starving children, is a so-called 'coup' in Brazil. That country - like Venezuela - has suffered from enormous levels of corruption which has involved politicians from all parties. Are you sensing a theme?

Whither the 'socialist economic model'?

What the Maduro government is doing is entrenching the political philosophy which created the food crisis in the first place. The same economic policies which these British left-wingers had previously cheered on.

Key to the entrenchment is a Spanish Marxist Professor called Alfredo Serrano Mancilla. Those policies include:
Expropriations, the seizure of businesses, “urban agriculture” on balconies, the soviet supply system and forced employment in the public agriculture sector are all a result of Serrano’s influence.
He is the coordinator of the Center for Political and Social Studies (CEPS), a Spanish anti-capitalist organization that provides political consulting and is closely associated with the left-wing party Podemos.

Mancilla is described as "a kind of ideologue of Chavismo." Maduro has called him "the Jesus Christ of the economy."

Mancilla, according to the Spanish newspaper El Nacional, has solidified the idea that the socialist economic model of the 21st century is unquestionable, and that any failure is the result of attacks from the opposition.

Does this sound familiar? Ring any bells?

Mancilla has said he wants to hide the crisis and not allow the entry of humanitarian aid. NGOs like Doctors Without Borders cannot act in Venezuela without asking permission from authorities.

Writing last month César Crespo noted that 'Chavismo' was always built around an uneasy alliance between heterogenous political groups, but "his long game was always establishing an “alternative” to capitalism." (This is what Western lefties fell in love with.)
Let’s not forget that even though initially Chavez vehemently denied being a Marxist and ran in 1998 as a third-way Caribbean Tony Blair, he openly embraced marxism soon afterwards, he had ties from the beginning with Venezuelan radical marxist groups who had even trained his handpicked heir, his economic guru was an ideological Marxist dinosaur, counted Fidel Castro as a mentor and considered Cuba a “sea of happiness”, and even had a soft spot for North Korea.  
His most important economic policies were the expropriation of the type of companies that no sane government on the planet runs, the establishment of draconian price controls, irrational labor regulations, and useless foreign currency controls. Chávez was a media savvy politician who knew how to pander to hip antiestablishment ideologies, but deep down the difference between 21st century socialism and the 20th century variant was always paper-thin.


Failing to mention that the worst legacy of Chávez (the destruction of the Venezuelan economy) is tied to his faith in discredited economic ideas is doing a favor to people like Alfredo Serrano, Pablo Iglesias or Jeremy Corbyn. Chávez is not just a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of populist institution-busting, he’s a cautionary tale for re-branding of Marxism as hip, anti-establishment ideology.

Question more

The unheard.
Yet that cautionary tale is no caution if it is unheard.

Writing in May the British author Nick Cohen railed against those who had backed Chavismo and were now silent.
The show is over now. Their fantasies fulfilled, the western tourists have left a ruined country behind without a guilty glance over their shoulder. Venezuela looks as if it has been pillaged by a hostile army, though there has been no war.
Yet during the Labour leadership campaign Corbyn has faced no questioning over Venezuela, not from his opponent or from any journalist in any of his many interviews. No one has waved pictures of starving children in front of his face demanding answers.

Neither is anyone demanding answers from those trade unions who continue - even now - to support the Venezuelan regime.

Ads in current VSC Bulletin.

Some Western lefties have looked inward at their previous support for Chavismo - here Useful Stooges covers the turn-around by some Norwegians.

It is cowardly of others, like Corbyn and the rest, to not follow suit and it is appalling that they are allowed to get away with it.

Edited to add (this is from a Corbyn rally and refers to a popular BBC show sold to a semi-commercial rival.):

See also:

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Defend brave imprisoned Crimean Muslims!

Left to right: Ferat Saifullyayev [with a T-shirt reading: ’Banned again’]; Rustem Vaitov [’Crimean Tatars’]; Nuri Primov [Order carried out as commisioned]; Ruslan Zeitullayev [’The show is over’] Photo: Yana Goncharova

Reblogged with permission.


By Halya Coynash

The first sentences have been passed in Russia’s mounting offensive against Crimean Muslims, with the four Crimean Tatars all sentenced to real terms of imprisonment. The trial was critical since Russia is already holding 14 Crimeans, almost all Crimean Tatars, in indefinite custody on identical charges. The sentences could have been much worse, which is the only positive thing to say since the men were convicted, without any evidence, of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization which is legal in Ukraine.

The verdict will, of course, be appealed, however the convictions had been anticipated. The ‘trial’ was, after all, taking place in the same Rostov military court which in August 2015 sentenced Crimean political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko to huge sentences, and the prosecutor had demanded long sentences in this case also.

The men were accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a totally peaceful pan-Islamist organization which back in 2003 Russia’s Supreme Court declared ‘terrorist’, together with 14 other organizations. No grounds were given and the ruling was effectively concealed until it was too late for the organization itself, and human rights NGOs to appeal against.

There is nothing incriminating against Hizb ut-Tahrir, but there is also no proof that the four men are in fact members. All four men deny such involvement. Almost all the prosecution’s ‘witnesses’ testified essentially in the men’s favour. Russia then resorted to the testimony of a secret witness, who could not even be cross-examined properly. There were long delays while the man was clearly being told what to say. Even then he came up with totally contradictory statements. He could not remember the place or time, for example, but did remember every incriminating word that they were supposed to have spoken.

There was also the testimony of a former Ukrainian SBU officer who betrayed his oath and now works for the FSB. There is considerable evidence that he had long been waging a personal vendetta over two of the men, who had lodged a complaint back in 2012.

These trials are always cynical, since Russia, having never explained why it considers Hizb ut-Tahrir to be terrorist when no other country does, uses secret witnesses to convict people merely of involvement in it. They were especially lawless in Crimea, and not only because the organization is legal in Ukraine. The prosecution kept on referring to events from long before Russia had invaded and annexed Crimea and also concentrated on the men’s negative attitude to Russian occupation.

Aside from highly dubious ‘testimony’, there was evidence only of a ‘kitchen chat’, on the level of what kind of world order would be desirable.

While any conviction of four recognized political prisoners is to be condemned, the sentences could have been worse. Ruslan Zeitullayev had been charged with ‘organizing’ a terrorist organization (Article 205.1 § 1 of the Russian criminal code) with the minimum sentence for this 15 years. Nuri Primov, Rustem Vaitov and Ferat Saifullayev were accused of taking part in it (Article 205.1 § 2), with this carrying a minimum 5-year sentence. The prosecutor last week asked for a 17-year sentence for Zeitullayev, and 7 or 8 years for the other three men.

The court instead changed the charges against Zeitullayev from ‘organizing’ to ‘involvement’ and sentenced him to 7 years, while the other three men received the minimum 5-year sentences. Unfortunately, no Russian judges would have the courage to acquit people of politically motivated charges, but the minimum sentences in this case are effective confirmation of the lack of any grounds for criminal prosecution at all.

The men arrived in court for the sentences defiant and unbroken. Each had a different sign on their T-shirt: “Crimean Tatars”; “Yet again banned”; “The show is over” and “The order carried out [as commissioned]”. As they entered the glass cage, each man put tape over his mouth.

All four men are from Sevastopol and three of them have been in custody since January 2015. Saifullyaev was arrested slightly later, in April 2015.

It seems likely that Russia was waiting to see what the reaction would be to these arrests. There was unfortunately next to no reaction internationally and in February 2016, a further four men were arrested and remain in custody. The armed searches and arrests have now gained pace with 14 men in all held in appalling conditions and facing the same grotesque charges. At least one of the men – Emir-Huseyn Kuku is a human rights activist, almost certainly imprisoned for his monitoring of rights abuses.

Russia has finally come up against resistance to monstrous conveyor-belt ‘trials’ and sentences which it has been carrying out, wholesale, for the last 10 years. It was typical that the indictment in this case had been copied from a 2013 prosecution in the Russian Federation. Challenged by real lawyers who genuinely represent the men’s interests, the ‘case’ was seen in all its squalor.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre has, from the outset, followed such cases in the Russian Federation. It considers all men sentenced purely on the grounds of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir to be political prisoners. Given the scale of the repression in Russia, it is frustrating that international rights organizations have long been silent.

That silence has continued since Russia began applying this repressive practice in occupied Crimea, with the armed searches and arrests clearly aimed at intimidating and silencing Crimean Tatars and deterring any other Ukrainian Muslims. Their treatment is appalling and often openly aimed at humiliating them.

As reported, Memorial HRC recognized Primov; Saifullayev Vaitov and Zeitullayev as political prisoners. In its statement it stressed that Crimea was territory which Russia was occupying and that it was accusing the men of involvement in an organization that is legal in Ukraine.


It is vital for them to feel that they are not forgotten, but it is also critical that Russia understands that it is being followed. Letters or postcards need to be in Russian, and should not contain any discussion of the cases or politics generally. If it is a problem to write in Russian, just copy-pasting the following will be fine.

Добрый день,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.

Мы о Вас помним.

[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.

Address (just copy-paste the address, with the name and year of birth of the person you are writing to).

Ruslan Zeitullayev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Зейтуллаеву, Руслану Борисовичу, 1985 г.р.

Rustem Vaitov

344010, Россия, г. Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1

Ваитову Рустему Мамутовичу, 1986 г. р.

Ferat Saifullayev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Сайфуллаеву, Ферату Рефатовичу, 1983 г. р.

Nuri Primov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Примову, Нури Владимировичу

The 14 Crimean Muslims arrested so far

Ruslan Zeitullayev

Ferat Saifullayev

Rustem Vaitov

Nuri Primov

Arrested in February 2016

Emir-Huseyn Kuku

Muslim Aliev; Envir Bekirov and Vadim Siruk

April 2016 Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov

May 2016 Enver Mamutov, Rustem Abiltarov, Remzi Memetov and Zevri Abseitov

See also:

Friday, 2 September 2016

Chi Onwurah + Labour's race f'up

Last year I posted on how Diane Abbott must be defended. She had just been discovered by the Daily Mail as having had a relationship in the past with Jeremy Corbyn.

Twitter was flooded with vile, disgusting, debased racist attacks on her. I wrote a post because nobody seemed to be paying any attention to this and I thought someone should.

Who noticed? Practically no one. Outrage was there none. Passed The Twittersphere by. F'all on Comment Is Free.

The whole experience was surreal. Look it up. Yes that actually happened and yes most ignored it / had no clue it was going on.


A year on and another black Labour MP is subjected to vile, disgusting, racist attacks. She is accused of 'playing the race card', an idea whose origins lie in the racist 'Southern Strategy' of the Reagan-era American Republican Party, by a website much of Labour links to.

She does not receive the same sexualised abuse as Abbott but the assault on her is similarly determined to silence a black voice.

Only this time Abbott and other left black voices are silent on her treatment, plus others, not of the far-left, also chime in, trashing her.

One of those black voices is Ahmed Sule. who wrote a fantastic piece about 'playing the race card' last year for Media Diversified, a website/group linked to a key website backing Jeremy Corbyn, The Canary.

Strangely (I jest) he has been silent on Chi Onwurah. In fact if you know of any 'radical' black voices speaking up for Onwurah let me know - they appear absent.

The assault on Onwurah

Onwurah is the black, Northern Labour MP whose criticism of Corbyn has been met with a racist assault - a reality, as with Abbott's, that has gone uncommented upon - as well as a dismissal as somehow her views are imposed upon her.  Like this black woman is a puppet.

For the Corbynites that must-read Canary website hosted an assault by white author James Wright on Onwurah. Tl/DR: the black MP lies.

It cited another white author on Corbyn's history of opposing Apartheid. This has been widely circulated. The reality is that the entire Labour community opposed Apartheid, not just Corbyn. For his work the 'Blairite' Minister Peter Hain was given a medal by the South African government (Corbyn has no such medal). The image circulated of Corbyn comes from a protest organised by a Trotskyist sect, the RCP. that the African National Congress (ANC) in exile opposed.

To shame a black Labour MP Corbyn supporters circulate an image of Corbyn, pretty much, defying the ANC.


I can understand defying the ANC but that wasn't what was happening for those circulating that image to trash Onwurah. They were deifying Corbyn. And in sharp and illuminating contrast to a black MP.

The apogee of the reaction to Onwurah criticising Corbyn must be a black Corbyn supporter tweeting that Corbyn is the anti-racist hero. Never mind all those, like Abbott, who fought for representation.

Racial discrimination and racism

At the core of the very serious issue with Labour reaction to Onwurah is her stated concern about racial discrimination.

She says that the treatment of her and another black woman MP could constitute racial discrimination. This is based on how when you have low representation your actions could diminish that even more. Hence you end up discriminating.

It's almost two decades since the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. That explained how institutions can be subject to racial discrimination in how they practice. That also said that a claim of racial discrimination should be taken at face value and not automatically dismissed.

Understanding how racial discrimination works in practice is something muggins thought we'd got from all that history.  More fool me.

Cos British media headlines said Onwurah'd accused Corbyn of racism. (This line was swallowed whole by Smith supporter Kevin Meagher, who blogged, against her, at Labour Uncut.)

This is not true. Racism and racial discrimination are not the same issue - and seeing how little this was understood vis Chi made me feel as if nothing had been learnt from the Stephen Lawrence experience or what has followed since. And I was truly shocked to see she got little support - including from her fellow MPs.

So we end up, in 2016, having a black female Labour MP being told her experience is not valid by vast swathes of the party. And how dare you raise your experience as a black woman. And being left to fend for herself by the entire party. Not silenced - ignored. It appears so.

Am back to Abbott and what happened a year ago...

G&d this is truly pathetic ...

Yes discrimination

In her piece today for The Guardian Onwurah underlines that:
"Conflating issues of representation with accusations of racism is one of the ways in which minority voices are silenced."
Corbyn needed to take care in how he treated Labour's few black female representatives. To do otherwise is not 'racism' but 'racial discrimination'. Because Labour has representation problems. Because meaning outcomes. Forgetting who 'they' are. Forgetting what 'they' represent. Forgetting what got 'them' where they are.

Forgetting who 'we' are. Forgetting who he is. Or who he is supposed to be.


Neglect - competence! - amounts to discrimination. That's her point, as I get it.

It ain't hard to understand yet we have a party which yells at her to STFU.

If Labour 2016 does not understand this, Chi's, basic point then WTF is Labour? And can someone else do some lifting on this than this old queen?

The Corbynite leadership is white male heterosexuals.

If you aint demanding of them cos that you aint nothing. Chi just did. She is something. F'yeah she is.

We can do better. We can do more.

Monday, 29 August 2016

An Ode to Poland, and a brief reflection of the Polish contribution to the UK

This is a guest blog by friend James Oliver.


Towards the end of the EU referendum campaign I had a most peculiar experience when a self-identified “ex-serviceman” came up to a Stronger IN stall i was helping to staff. In a provocative tone he asked us what the benefits of staying in the EU were because, according to him, we have to quote the words he used about immigrants "raping" and "slaughtering" this country.

This tone of rhetoric about immigration has been very typical in British discourse, not just through the referendum campaign but for as long as I have been reading newspapers. One only needs to search the archives of the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express for proof of that.

In this context I suspect very few of those who tried to use the sticking point of immigration against me expected an equally passionate defense of immigration as a reply. Certainly the “ex-serviceman” didn’t when I took him to task over his poor choice of words. What made our exchange peculiar was his revelation that he had a Polish wife who had been subject to racial abuse by a vote leave campaigner. Relating that to some of the experiences that I and my fellow campaigners have had helped us to persuade him to tick the remain box.

For approaching 10 years of my life now I have counted Poles as friends, work colleagues and much more. I’ve had a long interest in Polish history began with a school trip to Kraków in 2007. There I was given a city tour by a wonderful guide whose name I sadly cannot no-longer recall but she opened my eyes to historical perspectives not well taught here.

As we know Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and although it was this that produced the largest influx of Polish migrants to this country, what is less known or less appreciated is that the contribution of Poles long predates this date.

Those of us who shop in Tesco or Marks & Spencer might not know that both were founded, in part, by Polish immigrants. Many of us who have taken the time to enjoy “The Secret Agent” on TV of late perhaps might not realise that the author of the original novel, Joseph Conrad, was fiercely proud of his Polish roots. He was born near the city of Berdychiv (in what is now Ukraine) and came to this county unable to speak English. He would go on to write some of the finest English language literature of his age. Joseph Conrad, Jack Cohen and Michael Marks are but a handful of examples.

Our ancestral connections

In the heart of the city of Westminster lies a small road called "Poland Street." At its heart, a pub known as "The Kings Arms." It’s a reference to a preexisting pub called “The King of Poland” from which the street takes its name from. It was erected as a token of the English appreciation of the victory of King John III Sobieski over the Ottomans besieging Vienna in 1689.

For those Poles who have suffered the nasty consequences of racism in Britain today It may be difficult to ever imagine that there was a time when this land appreciated Poland simply for what it is.

Back then, our cities such as London stood at the western end of the Hanseatic League. Poland was at its heart and the handfuls of Polish merchants who worked here buying and selling goods formed the heart of our first Polish communities.

There is no doubting that we prospered from the trade, at the time most of our grain came from Poland but the migration worked the other way too. Records from 1601 for example detail much adored English actors performing Shakespeare plays in Gdańsk. Through that century Poland became to religious Scotsmen and Scottish merchants a “Scottish America” and some 40,000 of their number settled there.

Poland was, as far as the 1600s were concerned, a beacon of religious tolerance. England and Scotland were mired in the bloody consequences of the reformation. Yet Poland was far more progressive than us in other matters too.

In an era of absolute monarchy the thought of a country “electing” its “king” might seem jarring, after all we have yet to get around to doing anything akin to it. The “Nihil novi nisi commune consensu” decree signed on May 5th 1505 made the Polish King dependent upon the political citizenry. "Nic o nas bez nas" was the political slogan of the day and this was long before the USA adopted "No Taxation without Representation."

To be sure the Polish “nobles democracy” wasn’t a democracy in the modern sense of the term but consider where we were in 1505 when Parliament was little more than an echo chamber of our King's wishes. The “nobles democracy” was markedly better than a system that took a bloody civil war in the 1640s in order for it to change.

Poland historically had a far wider enfranchisement than England and yet through the referendum campaign we were told by the former Conservative Minister and Leave campaigner Michael Gove and others that we have always been the democratic moral exemplars. When Poland was eventually torn up in a series of partitions by its neighbours, for being in essence too democratic, few here (with honourable exceptions such as Edmund Burke) raised their voices to protest.

Poland's unhappy recent history

The course of Polish history over much of the 19th and 20th centuries save for brief interludes has not been a happy one. After the Third Partition of 1795 many Poles looked to revolutionary France as an antidote to the partitioning Black Eagle regimes of Prussia, Austria and Russia. Napoleon Bonaparte was happy to milk the Polish cause for so long as it provided him with willing men for his army.

During the referendum campaign we were told by Boris Johnson that the EU was akin to the whims of Napoleon and Hitler. Józef Kajetan Skrzetuski’s 1773 pamphlet "Projekt nieprzerwanego w Europie pokoju" wasn’t discussed. Of course it is easy to point out here that a league of democracies is not the same thing as one-man-rule. In 1808 Napoleon’s puppet Polish state the “Duchy of Warsaw” oversaw decrees restricting civil rights for Polish Jews, something that would contravene EU democratic standards today.

The final crushing of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 ushered in a new era of politics which stood for conservative absolutism and general lack of change insofar as the clock was set not before 1795. Europe's rulers had accused the cry for liberty for bringing about Napoleon so for that reason ideas of liberalism, representation and national self-determination for countries like Poland were ignored more than addressed.

This “conservative order” was accompanied by the concept of restraining countries from changing borders against one another without full consent - the Concert of Europe, which we helped found. Although it lacked any real teeth owing to the general disinterest of the major European powers, particularly Britain, it did set out the notion that potential conflicts should be at least discussed before the signal of war was given, though it must be stressed that this did not stop conflicts such as World War One (WW1) from breaking out.

The fact that Poland wasn’t on the map between 1795 and 1918 ensured that a large proportion of those Polish immigrants that came to our shores during the 19th century were of the most part political. Revolutionary socialist and nationalist ideals routinely mixed in such clubs like the “Gromada Rewolucyjna Londyn.” Although we sometimes pride ourselves for being a relative safe haven for Europe’s most radical thinkers and writers including Voltaire or Victor Hugo (who was also a Pan-Europeanist) or Karl Marx, it must be said though that at this time Polish immigration to these islands was limited in number, many who were able to flee from the Russian and Prussian oppression of their homeland fled to France or the Americas.

The Polish cause in the 1800s made little impact on British politics, serving only as a sticking point to be occasionally raised whenever (usually) Russia did anything wrong. The re-emergence of Poland in 1918 saw a temporary stem to the flow though among the immigrants to come to our shores in the 1920s was Jacob Bronowski whose contribution to popular science education is indelible. It was only in the wake of World War Two (WW2) did large numbers of Poles come here, many attached to the Polish Army and Government.

Poland and WW2

When I did my A level in history I recalled being taught certain things in an over simplistic manner about WW2. Whilst we were certainly taught that WW2 began with the German invasion of Poland and that we entered the war for the Polish cause, little was mentioned of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (between Hitler's Germany and Stalin’s Russia) except the highly glossed excuse that the Soviet invasion of Poland was simply for them to set up a buffer zone for the inevitable German onslaught.

I recall no lessons at that time about any of the mass deportations carried out by Stalin, or other Soviet war-crimes such as the Katyń massacre or how close the Nazi-Soviet friendship really was, from the Gestapo-NKVD conferences to the willingness of Stalin to trade Jews to the Germans without sympathy in exchange for political prisoners. Everything I have learned about all of this I have learned since and much more besides.

We declared war on Germany on September 3rd 1939 because of their invasion of Poland. We had a guarantee signed on August 25th that we would come to their aid in such an event. The Poles expected that we would fulfill our commitments by attacking Germany from the west and by sending munitions through Romania via the port of Constanta and indeed they based their military strategy in September 1939 around keeping alive the “Romanian Bridgehead”. But we never took any meaningful action nor did we supply the Poles. Instead we dawdled around in a “phoney war” until the Germans turned their guns on France and the Low Countries.

Whilst the partition of Poland by German and Soviet hands was underway the Polish government moved as an “Govt in Exile” to France. After the disaster of the Battle of France, the Polish “Govt in Exile” moved to London along with thousands of Polish troops and airmen.

At the end of WW2 more than 200,000 men, many who had served in the II Korps Polski, moved from the European battlefields where they had fought alongside and under the British to settle here. It was these more than any previous generation of Polish immigrants that helped to lay the foundations of the modern British-Polish community as we know it today, and London became the main political hub of the Polish diaspora until the re-emergence of Poland as a democratic state.

Much has been written about the suffering that the Poles had to endure in WW2. At least 11 million of the estimated 18 million civilian victims of all nationalities killed by the Germans were killed in the lands of occupied Poland, including the overwhelming majority of the 6m+ Jews who perished in the “final solution.” The eye watering statistics of the Holocaust speak for themselves.

Remember Polish airmen

The Polish contribution to our war effort on the other hand has stood on the brink of almost being forgotten. How many know that during the Battle of Britain the Polish 303 squadron with its 126 kills outscored any other squadron?

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding is on record for saying:
“Had it not been for the magnificent work of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of battle would have been the same”. 
That quote gives an irony to the attempts by UKIP and the BNP to use “Polish Spitfires” in order to evoke a vague sense of “Britishness”, however they define it. Throughout WW2 at least 17,000 airmen (listed on served in the Polish air force.

On the ground Poles repeatedly distinguished themselves under the wings of our armed forces in battles from Narvik to the Africa Campaign, from the Italian campaign to D-Day and the liberation of France. In intelligence we have the Poles to thank for cracking the Enigma codes which helped us to decipher German war plans (something now commemorated at Bletchley Park). If I was to list everything the Poles did for us during WW2, this would be a much longer letter.

One of the saddest aspects of the Polish war effort was its lack of reward. In political terms the conquest of Poland by Stalin’s Red Army represented the replacement of one genocidal regime by another and British foreign policy, as reflected in the Tehran and Yalta conferences, took to appeasing Stalin as a leverage against Hitler.

Domestically, the continued presence of Poles here after WW2 generated a backlash - much as the presence of Poles have done today. This was reflected in a parliamentary debate on March 20th 1946 when Ernest Bevin told the House of Commons:
"I have never disguised our firm conviction that, in our view, they ought to go back in order to play their part in the reconstruction of their stricken country." 
Except there was no country for go back to. The Poles that relocated back to the USSR were condemned as “fascists” and promptly deported to Gulags for collaborating with a Western government (ours).

The Pro-Soviet British left also echoed these sentiments and helped ensure that those who had heroically fought for Britain were made not to feel welcome. In addition the British government promoted denial of the realities of Soviet brutality and ethnic cleansing against the Poles, such as the Katyń massacre of 1940 which saw 22,000+ Polish POWs executed.

Our government also prohibited Poles from marching in the June 8th 1946 Victory Parade in London to celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany on the basis of not offending Stalin. Yet despite British hostility, many Poles stayed. British racism and hostility was still preferable to death at the hands of the Soviets.

The feeling that the Polish war effort is not appreciated along with our failure to uphold our legal and moral commitments made before WW2 has given many Poles the sense that we have “betrayed” them. You will still hear Poles complain about this and perhaps it’s time for us to recognise that this is not too unreasonable a complaint to make.

The Polish contribution

Although 2004 seems to have defined how we see Poles in the UK, it is important to understand that their contribution to this country long predates Poland's accession to the EU. Generations of Poles have already made their mark in the media and public life and are continuing to do so.

On TV you could see Waldemar Januszczak with his quirky arts documentaries or Helen Czerski with her science programmes. There is Mel Giedroyc and her comedic talents to Kasia Madera who will tell us the world news and more recently there is Tomasz Schafernaker to tell us it is probably going to rain tomorrow, and many others.

Recently we have been told that Poles have become the largest foreign-born group in the UK for the first time. Who knows now what future scientists, business leaders, sports stars, celebrities or even politicians this will bring?

Far from “Raping” and “Slaughtering” us, those who have decided to lay their roots down in this country ought to be able to continue to contribute economically and socially if we let them.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Labour isn't Europe's biggest party

It is one of those little things that illustrates something bigger. For some time I have seen Twitter posts on Labour's membership numbers claiming it is now the biggest political party in Europe.

The oldest tweet saying this which I could find came from a nasty antisemitic account in January:

Some of these tweets, most notably from Momentum's James Schnider, have described it as 'biggest left of centre party'. Others have described it as 'biggest party in Western Europe. But now this has progressed to a meme and I've had enough.

This is not true, on several levels.

Wrong, spin, ignorant

The biggest political party in Europe is United Russia**, the ruling party in the Russian Federation, set up by Vladimir Putin in 2001. It's membership (2013 figures) is over two million.

It is spin because in a first past the post (FPTP) system almost all left members of political parties are in one party, rather than in several. In the rest of Europe, the spectrum of views represented in UK Labour are covered by more than one party because they have various forms of proportional representation.  So the Social Democratic Party of Germany has around 450k members and Die Linke 60k and Alliance '90/The Greens another 60k. Plus there are other smaller left parties.

I am not suggesting that all those members of other parties than Germany's Social Democrats would join them under FPTP but that those numbers point to another problem with the 'Europe's largest party' claim: the UK is coming off a very low base; proportionally most other European countries have higher memberships in general of political parties.

These are the most recent figures I could find (from 2013)*. As you can see, even with Labour's membership growth the UK still has much lower numbers than most other countries.

I could not find membership numbers for parties such as Greece's Syriza but this graph suggests it would be high. Parties of the left in Italy have a membership total over half a million. Spain's Podemos has around 450k members in a country 70% the size of the UK. Proportionally Podemos is as big as UK Labour and there are another 190,000 Social Democrats.

The election for UK's Labour's Leader also has a paltry participation rate compared to elsewhere. In the 2011 French Socialist Party presidential primary around 2,700,000 voters participated in the first round, and 2,900,000 voters in the second - a fact which beggars the question what the outcome would be if a similar democratic event were to happen in UK Labour.

Wake up call

What these facts highlight the most - and this is how a little thing can illustrate something bigger - is the con job behind this spin from Corbyn supporters, led by Momentum. Namely that even if you are 'Europe's biggest party' it does not matter how many members your party has, what matters is how many people will vote for you. The experience of other European parties tells us this. As they dare cite Europe they simultaneously ignore Europe.

One could add (because rally size is often cited alongside membership by Corbyn supporters) that it does not matter how many people you get to your rallies either - have you seen the scale of some of the rallies for European left wing parties?

This is a rally of tens of thousands for Spain's Podemos two months ago. They went on to lose the election to Spain's conservatives and got 21% of the vote.

*Another paper showing figures up to 2008 from across Europe.

** It has been pointed out to me (cheers Roger McCarthy) that Turkey is also in Europe, including a huge amount of its largest city, Istanbul.  As of May 2008, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) reportedly had 3,688,761 members.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Corbyn is *dangerous* on health

Some two decades ago, in Sydney, Australia, I ran a campaign. Many of my friends who were living with HIV/Aids were living in dire poverty. One of my friends was surviving in part on what he could grow in his back garden. So myself and the founding Editor of Sydney's gay newspaper (who sadly died before the campaign wound down) started a campaign to draw attention to their plight and demand that people lobbying around HIV/Aids take the issue of poverty more seriously.

We were successful and I ended up getting an award. What we also got was a hell of a lot of grief from those running HIV/Aids lobbying because, to describe their comments broadly, we were distracting from the big picture. And that big picture was making sure that new drugs could get trialed quickly, that promising drugs were properly supported and that as many as possible could get into trials (this was a time when candidates would be excluded for reasons such as that they might get pregnant).

Although I'm proud of that campaign, looking back I'm not proud of how those leaders were portrayed. This was a time before HIV drugs that really worked became widely available. Some of the hopeful ones were prolonging lives but many, many people were still dying. I am not unusual in having 50 people, including many good friends, die. My generation of gay men fought like rats in a sack over how best to fight this. There were a couple of other policy ideas which I supported which I got seriously thrashed over, as well as my being involved in a clinical trial of herbal medicine.

When you're in that sack it can be hard to see any big picture, and this is what I and many others missed. What those leaders were doing was literally fighting for our lives and, in many cases, their own. Nothing could stand in the way of getting drugs out which could prolong or save people's lives, including theirs.

That job involved making compromises and it meant working with government and it meant working with the pharmaceutical companies. Yes, sometimes lobbying them including running campaigns on certain issues against them, but mostly it was about putting on a suit and tie and attending endless meetings and reviewing a vast amount of documents. Many of those activists ended up become so skilled they could probably have qualified as pharmacists.

Who would they have sat opposite? People like the Head of Policy and Government Relations (the former job of contender for Labour Party Leader Owen Smith MP) for a company like Pfizer. They would work with them and - I know this for a fact - most of the people sat opposite would work in good faith back with the activists.

Standing outside with a placard only got you so far. This is a hard lesson gay activists learned very early on over HIV/Aids. Knowing when to invade a Cathedral and when to sit on a Committee with so-called 'Big Pharma'. That was the sort of practicality required in order to save as many as could be saved.

Gobsmacking stupid Corbyn comments

Launching his bid to retain the Labour leadership, Corbyn said this week:
I hope Owen will fully agree with me that our NHS should be free at the point of use, should be run by publicly employed workers working for the NHS not for private contractors, and medical research shouldn’t be farmed out to big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and others but should be funded through the Medical Research Council.
Isabel Hardman of The Spectator explained that the reason he made this stupid comment was:
It plays into the suspicion of many of his supporters that big business is always bad and doesn’t help society, whether that be by employing a lot of people, or, in the case for big pharma, responding to demand for drugs by researching and producing drugs. Big pharma is one of those dirty bogeymen that it is easy to set up as The Enemy, without really thinking through what the implications of taking out that Enemy might be.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) last year spent £506 million on research grants. Pfizer spent $6.6 billion (£4.8 billion).  The world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies between them spent just under £50 billion – 100 times as much as the MRC.

When I heard Corbyn's remarks I immediately thought of my dead friends and yelled very loudly on Twitter, for which I got a mostly positive response. How fucking dare he play politics with something as serious as this?

Let me just go back to what happened in Australia. Activists then would have positively wanted someone like an Owen Smith as the Head of Policy and Government Relations for a company like Pfizer. Anyone who thinks otherwise wasn't there and should just butt out.

Corbyn's policy suggestion would be an absolute disaster for health (not that he's ever going to be PM, of course). This should disqualify him but as Isabel suggested it's the opposite because his base has stupidly forgotten the lessons from something like HIV/Aids and prefer pious posturing to actual policies which help actual people. Anyone can dig up or even tell personal stories about some awful thing 'Big Pharma' has done. Harder is coming up with ways you can make sure those who produce most of the drugs that real people need do that essential job.

Instead we get jawdroppingly stupid memes like this circulating alongside endless crap - led by Corbyn, Diane Abbott et al - that working for drug companies means you can't be a socialist and that therefore disqualifies Smith.

Or ones like these that demonise pharmaceutical companies (none of the below is true):


A diluted scientific nerve

Corbyn is also a big, big fan of the con job known as homeopathy having signed a number of motions in Parliament backing it including one wanting NHS homeopathic hospitals and another which not only criticised the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee investigation into homeopathy but, as the science writer Ben Goldacre puts it, its language included "vindictive" attacks on him including "ad homs against me personally."

Asked to defend his signature on one motion here is what Corbyn wrote:

Junior doctor: Corbyn "b******s"

During his reign Corbyn has been criticised for mouthing platitudes on health but failing to support his Shadow Health Minister, failing to support striking junior doctors and failing to stop his Shadow Chancellor from trying to corner health policy for himself.
Will Turner, a junior doctor picketing St Thomas' Hospital - just a few hundred yards from where Prime Ministers Questions was taking place in the Commons - criticised Corbyn for not mentioning their strike at PMQs.

Dr Turner said: "It should be big news. It should be talked about on the biggest platform of political discussion we have got. We are unsure of the Labour agenda. They seem to be very vocal about Jeremy Hunt, very vocally pro the NHS, but not very vocal about junior doctors.

"One hundred per cent, Corbyn should have raised it. They are the Labour movement, it's a huge mobilisation of a massive work force. It's a missed opportunity."

Mr Corbyn raised education, child poverty and the economy but did not criticise the Prime Minister over the Government’s handling of the strikes.

Joe Lipton, a 32-year-old junior doctor also picketing at St Thomas', said Mr Corbyn had disappointed him.

Dr Lipton, of Beckenham, south east London, said: "I don't feel surprised. It's a familiar sense of anger that this is slipping down the political and public agenda when all of us have so much strength of feeling. I'm disappointed there isn't a vocal opposing speaking on our behalf.

"Jeremy Corbyn has spoken about the NHS in general but it is the fact he hasn't raised it today in parliament, when we are on strike for a record 48 hours, that I am disappointed about."

A consultant, who refused to give his name, described the Labour leader's silence as "b******s".
The shadow health secretary, Heidi Alexander, had to stage a physical sit-in outside Corbyn’s office in order to get a decision from him on Labour party policy on the NHS.
Heidi Alexander, who quit as shadow health secretary last weekend, has criticised John McDonnell’s “totally unacceptable” conduct in setting up a team of NHS policy advisers without telling her.

The Guardian reported earlier on Thursday that McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, had secretly created a group of advisers, bypassing Labour’s usual policymaking processes, and that two of the advisers were or until recently had been members of other political parties. McDonnell’s involvement with the group was first disclosed by Health Policy Insight, an influential source of NHS analysis.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, Alexander said: “John McDonnell invited NHS campaigners to a meeting in the Commons but didn’t invite me. I challenged him about it. I was then invited and I was shouted at by some of the attendees.”

After that meeting on 13 April, she said, “John McDonnell then invited them to form an advisory group (again not telling me). I found out about this, said it was totally unacceptable and it must not be an advisory group.”


If it isn't clear by now that Jeremy Corbyn on health is not just incompetent but positively dangerous then I don't know what evidence will convince. But then the Dear Leader has made clear he's not a huge fan of 'evidence based' solutions now hasn't he?


MRC/drug research info via Ross Clark.

Corbyn screengrab credit @twlldun

UK medical research funding breakdown image via @josephclift

Thanks to Glyn for prodding me into writing this.