Tag: David Cameron

The British establishment corrupt? That’s not cricket, old bean

By Daniel Margrain

A year ago last week (30 July) the then Prime Minister David Cameron met with Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia to talk about corruption in the wake of allegations that nearly US$700 million ended up in the latter’s personal accounts. This followed on the heels of Cameron’s stated commitment to clamp down on corrupt money in the UK.

But on the same day he was lecturing the Malaysian’s about corruption, British corporations claimed that the Bribery Act effectively made it difficult for them to bribe people as part of their ‘normal’ export business practices. Thus, business leaders subsequently appealed to Cameron to reverse legislation that is ostensibly intended to prevent corruption.

The then business secretary, Sajid Javid, invited companies’ to comment on whether the ‘tough anti-corruption measures’ are a ‘problem’. Letters sent by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills invited industry leaders to comment on whether the act has had an impact on their attempts to export. Does the government invite you to comment, dear reader, about regulations that prevent you from making more money? No, I thought not.

Widespread international criticism of the failure of the UK to reform its ineffective anti-bribery laws – which is regarded as one of the most controversial pieces of legislation passed by the last government – soon followed. The coalition boasted that the Bribery Act was the world’s toughest piece of anti-corruption legislation. But the CBI led fierce criticisms of the bill arguing it would restrict business growth at a time of economic recovery.

The potential impact of the legislation is likely to be felt primarily, but not exclusively by, businesses. Why? Because bribery and corruption is an inherent part of big business deal-making.

On Wednesday’s (August 3) edition of the BBC HARDtalk programme, host Stephen Sackur interviewed Nigeria’s Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola. During the interview Sackur repeatedly alluded that the Nigerian government was systematically corrupt. At one point Sackur related an ‘off mic’ incident in which Cameron was said to have berated Nigeria, describing the country as one of the two most corrupt countries in the world.

Apparently it hadn’t occurred to Sackur and Cameron that big business in the UK lobbied against the Bribery Act which was intended to undermine corruption, the implication being that corporations would rather be scraping around in the sewer if there was some money to be made among the filth. For the likes of Sackur and Cameron, corrupt practices are something restricted to what African’s and Asian’s engage in. By contrast, the British establishment thinks of itself as occupying the moral high ground.

Three years ago, Cameron visited one of the most corrupt and authoritarian countries on the planet, Kazakhstan. The leader of that country showered him with gratitude and praise. Kazakhstan’s former police chief is linked to the ownership of £147m-worth of London properties which forms part of the UKs status as a safe haven for corrupt capital. Then there was the Straw and Rifkind affair, the ongoing MPs expenses scandal and the long-running PFI saga that’s crippling the NHS.

Simon Jenkins summarized the malaise and hypocrisy at the heart of the British establishment

“The truth is that hypocrisy is the occupational disease of British leaders. They lecture Africans and Asians on the venality of their politics, while blatantly selling seats in their own parliament for cash. I hope some insulted autocrat one day asks a British leader how much his party has garnered from auctioning honours. The government suppresses any inquiry into corrupt arms contracts to the Middle East. And when does lobbying stop and corruption start? The Cameron government is the most susceptible to lobbying of any in history.”

Given these corrupt practices, the fact that the UK is widely perceived to be the world’s 14th least corrupt country in the world would perhaps come as a surprise to many. The gap between perception and reality is clearly indicative of the distorted way in which the media under report the subtle forms of ‘hidden’ systematic corruption that is embedded in the very fabric of the British state, camouflaged by legislation and cushioned by ‘gentlemen’s agreements’.

In bringing together a wide range of leading commentators and campaigners, David Whyte shows that it is no longer tenable to assume that corruption is something that happens elsewhere; corrupt practices are revealed across a wide range of venerated institutions, from local government to big business.

As Penny Green of Queen Mary University of London, contends, “the network of egregious state and corporate corruption in Britain rivals any in the developing world”. By observing our ‘impartial’ corporate-controlled mainstream media, it’s unlikely one would have arrived at the conclusion that one of the most advanced capitalist countries on the planet is also inherently corrupt.

 

A second referendum?: The Tories continue to fiddle while Britain stumbles into the abyss

By Daniel Margrain

Last Wednesday afternoon I took the Eurostar from a grey and dismal London to a sunny Paris. I decided that I would try to ignore the news while I was away. However, by Friday, temptation got the better of me. While sitting at a restaurant table in the small picturesque Parisian commuter-belt town town of St Germaine en Laye enjoying my lunch, I asked the waiter if he knew what the result of the EU referendum was. He expressed his shock at the decision of the British public to renounce their membership of the 28 member club. “That’s it”, he said, “the European project is dead”. I asked him whether he thought that this was a good thing or a bad thing? “It’s a bad day for Europe”, he exclaimed. “I’m not sure the project can continue to be run effectively with Britain gone but your heart was never really in it anyway”, he continued.

He claimed that Britain had already negotiated for itself numerous concessions and any more would have effectively made the Federalist vision for Europe he was in favour of, a redundant concept. The British position he said was selfish in as much as the government appeared reluctant to use its economic muscle as leverage in order to help improve the living standards of the working classes within poorer nations of the EU which, according to him, was the ethos at the heart of the project. In other words, for the poorer nations to gain something, and for the European project to work, as he saw it, it was necessary for richer nations like Britain, to concede some financial ground at the expense of the poorer nations.

He blamed David Cameron for triggering “an unnecessary referendum based upon unfair criticism of the EU and many years of misinformation about how it actually works”, which in turn was perpetuated by some of the most right-wing media in the whole of Europe. He also claimed that vast swaths of working class people were further disorientated by some political commentators and politician’s on the left of the spectrum who he said, “ought to have known better” than, for example, to effectively blame immigrant workers for allegedly undercutting British workers. All of this, he claimed, had eventually – from a Brexit perspective – “bore fruit”.

It was difficult for me to disagree with any of this. The news that the British people had decided to leave the EU appeared to have been as much of a shock to him as it was to me. The statistics show that the demographic of those who voted to leave were mainly the elderly age group and those who voted to remain were from the younger age group. However, the elderly will not be around for long compared to the young. It therefore, follows, the former will experience the consequence of a decision that they made to a far lesser degree than the latter who didn’t.

It does seem strange that an ageing population who were allowed to vote but statistically are less able to make an informed decision with regards to issues that have long-term ramifications, are considered to be a better judge for what is best for the country than people who are, say, 16 or 17 years old but are prevented from voting on something that will effect them to a far greater degree and for far longer. For this and other reasons, it makes sense why younger people might be furious with older people. The latter, for example, have overseen the ruination of the environment that includes the spreading of poisons throughout the atmosphere, sea and soil. They have also overseen climate change, the ruination of entire economies and been at the forefront of the shift in wealth from the many to the few, which will mean that the generation to come will not only be poorer than the preceding one, but will die sooner.

In short, the older generation have run the world for their own selfish short-term gain. The younger generation are suffering, and will continue to suffer, the consequences wrought by a post-war generation that were virtually guaranteed socioeconomic protections that will be denied to their young counterparts. This includes the concept of a job for life, free higher education and gold-plated, index-linked pensions that the elderly have taken for granted. Relatively speaking, the post war-generation have never had it so good, although one will be hard pressed to draw such a conclusion from the mainstream media. And to top it all, by disproportionately voting to leave, the older generation have now given a future to the young that they specifically do not want – problems that will be further compounded by the imminent growth in automation and increasing global competition.

What is also bizarre is that countries and regions like London, Scotland and Gibralter wanted to stay in the EU within a context in which some of the most deprived parts of England and Wales were intent on leaving. In Boston, in North East England, for example, 75.6 per cent voted to leave the EU. Paradoxically, given that Brexit means that no more EU funds will be forthcoming to these deprived regions, it’s the poorest who will be most adversely affected as a result of this decision to leave. Consequently, it would appear that the poorest have been persuaded to make the decision to leave for the worse reasons, predicated largely on lies. These lies included the amount of money they were told the government spends on the EU and what amount, by contrast, it spends domestically.

The leave campaign also understated the positives of continued membership in terms of the amount of funds Britain receives from the EU as well as insisting that by leaving the British people would have the prospect of being surrounded by fewer foreigners. On all these points, and more, the public were lied to by the leave campaign. In terms of the second of these issues, for example, UKIPs Nigel Farage has already back-tracked in relation to his assertion that the £350 million a week that he wrongly claimed was spent on the EU would, instead, be spent on the NHS. The more likely scenario is the correct £161 million net figure will be used to pay for more tax cuts for the rich. Apparently leave have deleted their promises from their website. This is a useful aide-memoire.

Almost a week has passed since the referendum result was announced and the Conservative government under PM David Cameron is in disarray. With the PM still not having made any definitive legal commitment to leave, the political consequences for the remaining 27 members is far from certain. With Britain’s new status outside the EU yet to be legally formalized, its legal sequestration remains uncertain. For all those who thought that the Brexit vote would have meant a hasty political decision to leave based on a legal determination, might need to think again. As I said in my previous post, in legal terms, the referendum is advisory not mandatory. What happens next is a matter of politics, not law – a determination that’s dependent upon whether the government decides to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Even though I supported the remain camp, I respect the democratic decision the British people made when they voted to leave. Any decision to either seriously delay invoking Article 50, or any attempt at backtracking on the referendum result would, in my view, be totally unacceptable. Nevertheless, delaying the democratic decision of the majority is what the government appears to be intent on doing. Seemingly, this will involve the implementation of a possible second referendum. The government intends to respond to calls for it within the next few days. This will likely take the form of a debate in parliament following the signing of a government petition by four million people to that affect.

In many other democracies throughout the world, four million signatures would guarantee a vote on the issue. But in Britain, a similar amount of signatures only guarantees that the government will consider talking about the possibility of a vote. The governments petition committee is currently considering the protest following a meeting they held yesterday (June 28). The petition entitled EU Referendum Rules Triggering A Second EU Referendum, reads:

“We the undersigned call upon HM government to implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60 per cent based on a turnout less than 75 per cent, there should be another referendum.”

Will the government give in to the demands set by the petition and thereby allow a second referendum to take place?

The wider issue seems to be that unless the government can find a way of presenting simple solutions to a complex set of problems, people on the whole will not understand them. However, the problem is there are no simple solutions to such complex problems. Ultimately, David Cameron will go down in history as the man who set in motion the chaos and uncertainty that will almost certainly ensue in the coming days, weeks, months and possibly years.

Because Cameron attempted to assert his authority over the Tory party, he assumed that by offering the people a referendum and winning it, would cement this authority and garner the UKIP vote as a consequence. But by losing, he has bolstered the xenophobic fringe within the UKIP and Tory parties, unleashed the potential for a rise in racist attacks and hastened the rush for Scotland to break from the UK. But perhaps most significantly of all, is that a final decision to leave, will prompt the 60 per cent of companies outside the EU who have their EU HQs in the UK and who trade with the EU, to re-locate elsewhere. If you headed a company that was based outside the EU but was big enough to have a EU HQs and you selected to be in a country that is now potentially going to be outside the EU, what would you do?

It’s a no brainer. You would have to up-sticks and move to the EU. Having an EU HQs in a country that is no longer in the EU, makes about as much sense as having a US HQs in London. So in the event of Britain definitively leaving the EU both politically and legally, tens of thousands of jobs will be lost. This is a bare minimum of the chaos that is likely to occur set against a backdrop of increasing resentment, suspicion, xenophobia and racism. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride ahead.

A victory for Brexit is unlikely to change anything in the near future

By Daniel Margrain

 

For all those who thought that a Brexit vote in Thursday’s (June 23) highly anticipated and drawn -out referendum campaign will result in closure, might need to think again. In legal terms, the referendum is advisory rather than mandatory. What happens next is a matter of politics, not law – a determination that’s dependent upon whether the government decides to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

To put it another way, the government doesn’t necessarily have to pay attention to what the British public says. What will happen on Thursday is that we, the British electorate, will effectively be advising and giving our opinion which doesn’t make the decision to leave, if that is indeed the outcome, necessarily legal. If we vote in a way that Osborne and Cameron disagree with, the government will almost certainly reconsider the result, particularly if the outcome is close.

Say, hypothetically, the turnout is 50 per cent and 51 per cent of that 50 per cent voted to leave, it would mean that 25.5 per cent of the electorate would have made the decision to leave which would adversely impact on the remaining 74.5 per cent. In other words, if something similar to this hypothetical situation did arise it would not, the government could argue, be indicative of a mandate to leave. Given how close the result is predicted to be, the vote tomorrow is unlikely to be the end of the matter, but merely the beginning of a long and drawn out process that will likely continue until the electorate arrives at a decision that Cameron and Osborne regard as acceptable.

As the Financial Times puts it:

What happens next in the event of a vote to leave…. will come down to what is politically expedient and practicable. The UK government could seek to ignore such a vote; to explain it away and characterise it in terms that it has no credibility or binding effect (low turnout may be such an excuse). Or they could say it is now a matter for parliament, and then endeavour to win the parliamentary vote. Or ministers could try to re-negotiate another deal and put that to another referendum. There is, after all, a tradition of EU member states repeating referendums on EU-related matters until voters eventually vote the “right” way.

What matters in law is when and whether the government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is the significant “red button”. Once the Article 50 process is commenced then Brexit does become a matter of law, and quite an urgent one. It would appear this process is (and is intended to be) irreversible and irrevocable once it starts. But invoking Article 50 is a legally distinct step from the referendum result — it is not an obligation.

There are three points of interest here in respect of any withdrawal from the EU by the UK.

First, it is a matter for a member state’s “own constitutional requirements” as to how it decides to withdraw. The manner is not prescribed: so it can be a referendum, or a parliamentary vote, or some other means. In the UK, it would seem that some form of parliamentary approval would be required — perhaps a motion or resolution rather than a statute. The position, however, is not clear and the UK government has so far been coy about being specific.

Second, the crucial act is the notification by the member state under Article 50(2). That is the event which commences the formal process, which is then intended to be effected by negotiation and agreement. There is no (express) provision for a member state to withdraw from the process or revoke the notification. Once the notification is given, the member state and the EU are stuck with it.

And third, there is a hard deadline of two years. This is what gives real force to Article 50. The alternative would be the prospect of a never ending story of rounds of discussions and negotiations. Once notification is given, then the member state is out in two years, unless this period is extended by unanimous agreement. It is possible that such unanimity may be forthcoming – but this would be outside of the power of the member state. Once the button is pushed, the countdown cannot just be switched off by a member state saying it has changed its mind, or by claiming that the Article 50 notification was just a negotiation tactic all along. That will not wash.

This said, what is created by international agreement can be undone by international agreement. Practical politicians in Brussels may come up with some muddling fudge which holds off the two year deadline. Or there could be some new treaty amendment. These conveniences cannot, however, be counted on. The assumption must be that once the Article 50 notification is given, the UK will be out of the EU in two years or less.

What happens between a Leave vote and any Article 50 notification will be driven by politics. The conventional wisdom is that, of course, a vote for Brexit would have to be respected. (This is the same conventional wisdom which told us that, of course, Jeremy Corbyn would not be elected Labour leader and that, of course, Donald Trump would not be the Republican nominee.) To not do so would be “unthinkable” and “political suicide” and so on.

And if there is a parliamentary vote before any Article 50 notification then there is the potential irony of those seeking to defend parliamentary sovereignty demanding that an extra-parliamentary referendum be treated as binding. But it must be right that the final decision is made by parliament, regardless of what the supposed defenders of parliamentary sovereignty say.

What is certain is that if there is an Article 50 notification then there will be immense legal work to be done. Over 40 years of law-making — tens of thousands of legal instruments — will have to be unpicked and either placed on some fresh basis or discarded with thought as to the consequences. The UK government has depended since 1972 — indeed it has over-depended — on it being easy to implement law derived from the EU. The task of repeal and replacement will take years to complete, if it is ever completed. Even if the key legislation — especially the European Communities Act 1972 — is repealed there will have to be holding and saving legislation for at least a political generation.

A vote for Brexit will not be determinative of whether the UK will leave the EU. That potential outcome comes down to the political decisions which then follow before the Article 50 notification. The policy of the government (if not of all of its ministers) is to remain in the EU. The UK government may thereby seek to put off the Article 50 notification, regardless of political pressure and conventional wisdom.

There may already be plans in place to slow things down and to put off any substantive decision until after summer. In turn, those supporting Brexit cannot simply celebrate a vote for leave as a job done — for them the real political work begins in getting the government to make the Article 50 notification as soon as possible with no further preconditions.

On the day after a vote for Brexit, the UK will still be a member state of the EU. All the legislation which gives effect to EU law will still be in place. Nothing as a matter of law changes in any way just because of a vote to Leave. What will make all the legal difference is not a decision to leave by UK voters in a non-binding advisory vote, but the decision of the prime minister on making any Article 50 notification.

And what the prime minister will do politically after a referendum vote for Brexit is, at the moment, as unknown as the result of the referendum itself.

The Panama Papers

By Daniel Margrain

The handing over by an anonymous source of massive amounts of data from the Panama-based, German-run law firm Mossack Fonseca which specializes in providing clients with dodgy offshore accounts, had clearly contributed to some unease within the camp of British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Rarely, if ever, do corporate journalists give Cameron a hard time and this was no exception. Having just returned from one of many in a long line of luxury holiday’s on the back of the impending collapse of the UK steel industry, a car crash shambles of a budget, divisions within his own party over Europe and with government policy over schools and health in meltdown, Cameron angrily snapped at reporters in response to feeble attempts to bring him to account regarding the extent to which his father allegedly attempted to shield his wealth from the UK tax authorities.

Cameron was clearly in no mood for such media games especially as both he, the media elite and the Westminster political hierarchy in general, know that due to the specific nature of the leak, much of the potentially incendiary material will never see the light of day within the public domain. It’s disgraceful that Cameron and some Tory ministers are using the ‘privacy prerogative’ to hide behind the morally repugnant and possible criminal activities associated with Cameron’s father which means that the PM is also potentially complicit.

The reason why leaked material that’s likely to be detrimental to the powers that be is hidden from the public on so called privacy grounds can be explained by the fact that the said material is being managed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) who in turn are supported by some of America’s biggest corporate funders. I’m not reassured by the ICIJ when they said they’ll be releasing the full list of people and companies in early May. In any case, the true nature of the revelations won’t be revealed as to who was acting legally and who wasn’t.

Had the leaker approached Wikileaks with the 2.6 terabytes of data consisting of 11.5 millions documents, rather than Suddeutsche Zeitung – and by extension, the Western media more widely – the impact and potential consequences for those concerned would of been far greater. Instead, the largest data leak that journalists have ever worked with will be selectively ‘drip-fed’ with most of the significant amounts implicating Western elites being censored from the public gaze.

We have already seen signs of this with Luke Harding’s Guardian piece published Monday (April 4) which, predictably, focused on Russian individuals and companies whose wealth represents a minority of the money stashed away. Harding’s seriously compromised piece failed to mention that 9,670 UK Companies and over 3,000 US Companies, as well as Cameron’s father, top Tories and some of the UK’s biggest allies, were implicated and/or named in the Panama Papers.

Did the corporate media vilify David Cameron for some serious high-ranking connections to this mother of all leaks? No, it did not. Did the same media publish any damning report that featured Cameron airbrushed alongside global ‘baddies,’ like former Iranian leader Ahmadinejad? No. But it seems as far as Putin and Russia is concerned, anything the media dishes out is regarded by the elites as fair game.

Arguably, the most important graph in the Panama Papers scandal is highlighted below. It shows the number of intermediaries (banks, accountants) in each country.

 

There is no mention of these by the media or of the numerous huge Western multinational corporations or billionaires, some of whom sit in the House of Lords. Neither does Harding mention by name any of the 12 leaders, past and present, identified in the documents. Instead, the Guardian journalist, in line with the methodological approach adopted by Suddeutsche Zeitung which received the leak, selectively focused on the West’s official enemies – Russia, Syria and North Korea.

Despite the fact that Putin wasn’t personally mentioned in the Panama Papers, I’m in no doubt whatsoever that since he uses Russia as a personal fiefdom, he should not be exonerated. It’s one thing ridding the country of the oligarch’s who were responsible for asset stripping its resources which subsequently turned Russia into a gangster capitalist paradise, but another to pocket a large chunk yourself by getting shot of the competition which is effectively what Putin has done. Putin’s primary interest is Putin himself.

But what the Panama papers reveal is that he’s not alone. The global web of corruption and tax avoidance extends to 72 states, heads or former heads of state. Yet you would be unlikely to have reached this conclusion having read the Guardian article or observed the cover of the paper which sensationally headlined with the words “Exclusive: The Secret $2bn trail of deals that lead all the way to Putin”. Neither would you have reached the conclusion having watched the UK state broadcaster, the BBC, who chose to mention just five of the 72 – Egypt, Iceland, Gaddafi, Putin and Assad.

Central to all this is the pathetic kow-towing to power by our media that’s supposed to be impartial and independent yet they act reflexively en masse by directing their fire at enemies of the state. If you don’t believe me, just look how often Putin has been foregrounded in the coverage of these leaked documents, complete with the requisite ‘shady’ photographs. Naturally, the media cannot be perceived to be so transparently biased which is why the occasional ‘balanced’ message is required. Step forward the Telegraph.

On Monday April 4, the paper dutifully reported:

David Cameron’s father ran an offshore fund which avoided paying tax in Britain by hiring Bahamas residents, including a bishop, to sign paperwork…The fund, which was established in the 1980s with help from the Prime Minister’s late father, continues today. The Guardian says it has confirmed that ‘in 30 years Blairmore has never paid a penny of tax in the UK on its profits.”

Nevertheless, the targeting of a dead man is virtually risk free as will be the ‘outing’ of a senile corrupt Lord to be cynically used a sacrificial lamb for the media hacks to peruse over if and when the time is right. Ultimately, the UK Secret Services will never allow the media to publish anything that is likely to damage the ‘reputations’ of leading establishment figures. The destruction of the Snowden files that the Guardian had in its possession but were requested to destroy by M15, are proof of that.

I had been watching the UK media all day on Monday after the story had broken, and news bulletins prefaced the scandal with either Putin, Cameron’s deceased father or Assad. It’s mainly the first two which are easy and convenient targets intended to deflect away from the crimes that implicate ‘our’ leaders. Almost certainly then, there is a highly motivated political agenda at work here that probably explains why Iceland, who locked up many of its corrupt and criminal bankers, was also named.

Following the revelations that Iceland’s PM was implicated in the scandal, the people of Reykjavik took to the streets in their thousands. At the time of writing, I watched the BBC News at Ten which reported from outside the Icelandic parliament. Following the resignation of the PM, the BBC reporter interviewed some Icelander’s. What the people on the streets of the country are increasingly aware of is that corruption within the corridors of power in Iceland and elsewhere is systemic.

The elites on both sides of the Atlantic are concerned about the effect the revealing of undoubted widespread and systematic corruption within the high echelons of media and politics will have on the body politic of Europe and North America. They don’t want Reykjavik to spread to London, Paris and Washington. This is another reason why the full scale nature of those implicated will never be revealed.

What all this highlights is the public is being cynically deceived by the corporate media in order to get their fellow elites off the hook. Craig Murray’s brilliant expose of the BBC Panorama documentary entitled Tax Havens of the Rich and Powerful Exposed, highlights the extent to which BBC producers and presenters will go to in order to misdirect its audience to this end. Perhaps less subtle than the overt propaganda pieceSaving Syria’s Children, but no less effective, the BBC related at length the stories of the money laundering companies of the Icelandic PM and Putin’s alleged cellist. As Murray said:

“The impression was definitely given and reinforced that these companies were in Panama. [Presenter] Richard Bilton deliberately suppressed the information that all the companies involved were in fact not Panamanian but in the corrupt British colony of the British Virgin Islands. At no stage did Bilton even mention the British Virgin Islands.”

Murray goes on to say:

“Is it not truly, truly, astonishing the British Virgin Islands were not even mentioned when the BBC broadcast their “investigation” of these documents?”

Indeed, Mr Murray, it is.

The BBC and media in general are obscuring the key role British money-laundering via its base in the British Virgin Islands plays in these transactions. This scandal must also be seen within a context in which between £30bn and £120bn a year of UK tax is either avoided, evaded or uncollected (sources (Tax justice/ PCS estimate & HMRC estimates). Meanwhile, £16bn worth of benefits a year remain unclaimed (HMRC estimate) against a backdrop in which benefit fraud amounts to a relatively tiny £1.2bn (DWP estimate).

Which of the above figures do you think the government and their media mouthpieces constantly highlight?

It can never be stated enough that this corruption scandal is mostly centred on the British Virgin Islands. Yes, the corruption is widespread and involves a number of world leaders, some of whom are our official enemies. However, in the broader scheme of things, these political figures are essentially peripheral. The level of corruption is widespread and systemic. As far as the major players are concerned, the media need to focus closer to home.

The EU referendum: the case for ‘staying in’

By Daniel Margrain

David Cameron’s (failed) attempts at diplomatic arm twisting of European leaders’ was made with a view to appeasing right wing Europhobe factions in order to strengthen the pro-EU position within his party and, by extension, satisfy others outside such as the Henry Jackson Society who lobby it. Any EU concessions offered to Cameron on economic or social policy in return for continued EU membership would undermine whatever vestiges of power the EU has in terms of protecting ordinary people from the rapaciousness of corporations.

Also, in terms of immigration policy, any concessions to Cameron by the other EU member states would play into the hands of neoconservatives and other far right figures like Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society and the openly racist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), co-founder and former spokesman and leader of the fascist English Defence League (EDL). These figures, and similar within mainstream media circles like Melanie Phillips and Nick Cohen, deliberately conflate immigration with Islamist terrorism in order to pander to the prejudices among aspects of the electorate which Cameron responds to in kind. The implications, we are told, are clear: for as long as the country is part of the EU, “the swamping” of the indigenous British population by alien migrants from the other EU countries cannot be halted.

Unfortunately, this is the neoliberal context that is the dominant narrative shaping the British EU membership referendum campaign terrain. Politically, this is being marked out by the right wing eurosceptic Tories and by their outriders in the UK Independence Party (UKIP). The British electorate has been told in increasingly strident terms that British “national sovereignty” is at stake without informing them what the alternative to national sovereignty could potentially entail.

Everything that has been positive about the EU over the years appears to be in retreat while everything negative seems to be accelerating. Already the EU has ceded a great deal to corporations at the expense of people and this is a process that seems to be ongoing. It’s simply wrong and immoral, for example, that subsidies for the richest landowners in Europe continue to increase apace. It’s also wrong and immoral for the EU to have attempted to negotiate with the United States in secret the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which effectively represents the undemocratic transfer of power from parliaments to corporations.

Another unwelcome consequence of the direction the EU is moving in, is the way the most powerful countries within it, most notably Germany, have used their economic leverage to weaken the democratic will of the less powerful such as Greece and Portugal. There are many more compelling reasons – including environmental and ecological ones – that can be justifiably argued as to why Britain should pull out of the EU.and why it is not functioning in the way that many on the left think it should. But are these arguments sufficient enough reason for the UK to abandon the project altogether?

Campaigning for the broadest possible opposition to neoliberal EU austerity policies as well as a different, socialist Europe, seem to me to be perfectly compatible with voting in favour of continued EU membership. As John Palmer argued:

“Socialists will want to use the debate about Britain and the European Union to build the widest possible campaign to force a break with the prevailing austerity policies of the euro-area powers. They will want to defend parties on the left—such as Syriza in Greece and possibly Podemos in Spain later this year—from further strong-arm policies designed to undermine their democratic credentials. If the socialists, including Syriza and Podemos are to succeed in radically changing the direction of European Union policy, the left will need to develop much more integrated, supranational forms of political organisation at the European level. This will require profound changes to the almost exclusively national framework in which such parties have traditionally thought and acted. Big capital, for its part, ­certainly understands this.”

For the tide to shift in favour of a different kind of Europe requires a corresponding shift in the relations of political power throughout the countries of Europe that are sympathetic to the ideals of Podemos and Corbynism, both of which are gaining traction in Spain and Britain respectively. This will, in practical terms, mean that the left will have to win arguments on key issues such as the protection of EU social legislation and human rights. This is most likely to be achieved as the result of an organized Europe-wide movement in favour of the kind of workers’ rights and protections’ that the neoconservatives want to opt out of. There can be no doubt that if Britain leaves the EU many European regulations restricting working hours and other employment and social reforms will be scrapped.

The left will also have to argue against the attempts of the anti-EU right to roll back the powers of both the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) and—more urgently—of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The Tory establishment has objected to some of the humane rulings of the ECHR that, in particular, includes the protection of the human rights of immigrants at risk of being deported by the UK. The ECHR is itself outside the remit of the European Union. But the ECJ is bound by the overarching decisions of the ECHR when ruling on matters of specifically EU law. The Tories want a “British” convention on human rights to replace the European convention which if achieved, would further seriously undermine civil liberties and human rights in Britain.

Much of the Tory austerity drive has to do with the systemic and structural limitations associated with state power at the national level. The dual concepts of national sovereignty and the “pooling of sovereignty” are incongruous. The latter implies greater European integration and federalization which is the visionary concept of the EU envisaged by the former president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors. This is no bad thing. Pooling sovereignty that benefits a greater number of people than would otherwise be the case represents a move in the right direction. It seems to me that we need greater European integration, not less.

But this point of view is saddled by the argument – no matter how unfounded it is – that the case for greater European integration is undermined by the lackluster performance of the Euro. In truth, the national schadenfruede that exemplified the British government’s reaction to the problems associated with a currency union viz a vie the Euro was a red-herring. The problem is not currency union, but the lack of any fiscal union. The one is not feasible without the other. The economic argument for the alleged failure of the EU as an economic project, therefore, can not be made on the basis of the relative weakness of the Euro, but rather on the lack of any implementation of a fiscal union.

Despite it’s many faults, I principally view the European Union as an historically progressive project that can, through effective political organization within the EU, be re-orientated to benefit the many as opposed to the few. Any political derailment of the unification and integration process would likely lead to the ‘Balkanization’ of Europe. This would increase the risks to humanity in terms of conflict and war in the nuclear age which is arguably greater now than during any other epoch in history. On balance, the only rational and principled way for progressives on the left to vote in the forthcoming referendum is Yes to stay in.

 

Brimstone & bloodied hands

 

By Daniel Margrain

The decision of the UK government yesterday evening (December 2) to extend its war on terror into Syria with no coordinated strategy in place to defeat ISIS, will almost certainly be as catastrophic as Tony Blair’s decision in 2003 to commit British troops to Iraq. The notion that MPs could have genuinely been persuaded by Cameron’s line of reasoning for another illegal war is as inconceivable as MPs during Blair’s reign being unaware of either Scott Ritter’s findings stating that by 1998 Saddam had effectively been disarmed, or the subsequent public pronouncements of Colin Powell and Condaleeza Rice that were made on the back of them that preceded the infamous 45 minute claim.

The Prime Minister’s justification for sending more of our troops into harms way – which, significantly, was rejected by the Foreign Affairs Committee – was predicated on the dubious and frankly laughable claim of the existence of 70,000 “moderate rebels”. On Sunday’s (November 29) edition of the BBCs Marr programme, Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, when pressed by presenter Andrew Marr to clarify who these rebels were, replied that were comprised solely of anti-Assad, Free Syrian Army forces.

However, early on December 1, Lt Gen Gordon Messenger, the deputy chief of the defence staff, appeared to have contradicted Fallon by refusing to confirm whether any of the alleged 70,000 fighters were members of more extremist groups such as the Islamic Front and Ahrar al-Sham. The fact that no clarification by Cameron was given to MPs regarding the source for the 70,000 figure or its composition, is not a sufficient enough basis for MPs to be able to make an informed decision about such an important life and death issue.

A major argument of those who defend the decision to extend the war, is premised on the claim that the attacks against ISIS in Iraq have not resulted in a single civilian casualty. Numerous conservative MPs have been afforded air time in the media to pontificate such an absurd claim without, to my knowledge, any serious challenge from journalists contradicting it. In under ten minutes of researching credible civilian casualty figures in Iraq resulting from coalition bombs, I learned that eight named children and two women had been killed in just one strike on Fallujah in a single day on November 26.

The public are being denied critical information by the mainstream media in order for them to be able to counter government propaganda and thus to challenge their MPs about their decisions for the case for war. But the same cannot be said of these MPs who themselves ought to be seeking to challenge such fundamental misconceptions and misinformation. Feigned ignorance is not a defence against complicit hands metaphorically covered in the blood of innocent victims.

The use of the government’s “precision” Brimstone missiles that will kill many more innocent men, women and children than the tragedy of Paris that gave rise to their use in Iraq and now Syria, will be the direct consequence of the deceptions of politicians’ and the shortcomings of journalists who failed to challenge their rationale for war.

If the government were serious about obliterating the existential threat they claim ISIS represents, then they would not be aligning themselves with allegedly 70,000 unidentified “moderates” who, as Patrick Cockburn contends “are weak or barely exist”. On the contrary, they would be aligning themselves with the forces on the ground that are resisting ISIS most effectively. These groups, as Peter Hitchens acknowledges, are the Syrian Kurds, the Syrian National Army, Hezzbollah and Iran – all of whom are being backed by Russian air power. However, this sensible coordinated strategy is being usurped by Cameron’s non-existent one, upon which, in their infinite wisdom, the majority of MPs voted.

The second explanation as to why the government’s decision to extend the bombing into Syria is not motivated by the need to destroy ISIS, is the duplicitous approach they have adopted in respect to their dictatorial regional allies in the Gulf peninsula who are among their biggest recipients of weapon deals. There is evidence that powerful actors within Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are among the most brutal regimes on earth, have been facilitating funds and arms to ISIS and their affiliates that result from these deals.

Consequently, figures suggest ISIS alone has at least 80,000 fighters up from last year’s estimates of around 20,000 to 31,500. No matter how this is spun, the situation can only be interpreted as being an example of state sponsored terrorism that has had serious blow-back consequences. A former US military chief goes as far as to admit that the Iraq invasion had spawned ISIS.

Nafeez Ahmed notes that in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2014, General Martin Dempsey, then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked by Senator Lindsay Graham whether he knew of “any major Arab ally that embraces ISIL”? Dempsey replied: “I know major Arab allies who fund them.” In other words, the most senior US military official at the time had confirmed that ISIS was being funded by the very same “major Arab allies” that had just joined the US-led anti-ISIS coalition.

If the major imperial powers were serious about undermining the terrorists, they would start by ensuring that their regional allies stop providing monetary, military and logistical support to them and their affiliates. Often overlooked is the fact that NATO member Turkey has also played a pivotal role in funneling arms to the various extremist factions as well as actively facilitating ISIS oil sales through the country. The reason Turkey shot down the Russian jet was to deter the Russian bombing in the Nusra Front-controlled border region. All this, as Nafeez Ahmed points out:

“….. begs the question as to why Hollande and other Western leaders expressing their determination to “destroy” ISIS using all means necessary, would prefer to avoid the most significant factor of all: the material infrastructure of ISIS’ emergence in the context of ongoing Gulf and Turkish state support for Islamist militancy in the region. There are many explanations, but one perhaps stands out: the West’s abject dependence on terror-toting Muslim regimes, largely to maintain access to Middle East, Mediterranean and Central Asian oil and gas resources.”

Naturally, both Russia and its allies on the one hand, and the U.S and its allies on the other, have geopolitical interests’ diametrically opposed to one another. But the point is, Russia’s principle motivation leads them to destroying ISIS with the view to maintaining Assad’s grip on power, whereas the West’s motivation lies elsewhere.

The West have spent well over $5 trillion on waging their “war on terror”. Over that period, US State Department data shows that terror attacks have skyrocketed by 6,500 percent, while the number of casualties from terror attacks has increased by 4,500 percent.

*2004 terrorism estimates from CIA figures.

As Nafeez Ahmed pointed out, journalist Paul Gottinger, who analysed the data, noted that spikes in these figures coincided with military intervention: “…. from 2007 to 2011 almost half of all the world’s terror took place in Iraq or Afghanistan – two countries being occupied by the US at the time.” And in 2014, he found, “74 percent of all terror-related casualties occurred in Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Syria. Of these five, only Nigeria did not experience either US air strikes or a military occupation in that year.”

This would appear to be consistent with Ken Livingston’s contention, for which he was much maligned, that our military intervention in Iraq in 2003 had a direct bearing on the attacks in London on July 7, 2005. Moreover, it would also tend to support his view that the forthcoming air strikes in Syria will increase the threat of terrorist attacks here. Former British ambassador, Oliver Miles recently commented:

The [current] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy – and in particular our Middle East wars – had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.”

Under such circumstances, it might well be reasonably argued, as former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford has, that Cameron’s warmongering deceit is criminally negligent. It’s absurd to argue that the way to thwart transnational terrorism committed by organised groups of individuals on European soil is to bomb innocent people in nation states’ in the middle east.

Warmongering Blairites like Hilary Benn are incredulous that anybody should oppose the bombing of the 600,000 population of Raqqa, in the hope, as Craig Murray put it“of hitting 8,000 ISIS personnel carefully dispersed among them.” Conservative MP John Baron’s reasoned arguments and appeal to colleagues, below, ended up being futile but at least he and the minority of other MPs who opposed more war for the benefit of the arms industry who lobby Cameron, appear to have a conscience:

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Philip Hammond’s commendation to his opposite number, Hilary Benn, that his pro-war speech was “one of the greatest in parliamentary history”, is illustrative of how democracy is little more than lip service to power underpinned by a self-serving Red-Tory opposition. Craig Murray hit the nail on the head when he said“the odious Blairites are the most self-centred, selfish and indeed sociopathic group ever to have a serious presence in the UK parliament.”

The truth is, the general public are, as was the case with Iraq, being systematically lied to. After numerous hours of debate in parliament, it is clear that Cameron’s case for bombing that will now begin within hours of this article being published, had not been made. The decision by the British parliament to ostensibly bomb ISIS by an overwhelming parliamentary majority of 174, is not supported by the majority of the British people and is based on a charade whose real purpose is illegal regime change.

In a recent article, journalist John Pilger quoted the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas who last year revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”

 

 

The psychology of ISIS and how to combat them.

By Daniel Margrain

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“The first step to combating Isis is to understand it. We have yet to do so. That failure costs us dear.” (Anthropologist, Scott Atran).

The lesson from almost a decade and a half of fighting terror with bombs is that the strategy has been an epic failure. And yet the UK government under the leadership of David Cameron seems intent on repeating the misguided foreign policy in Iraq in relation to dealing with ISIS in Syria presumably on the basis that the result will be different even though there is no evidence for this. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result may be a sign of insanity for most, but not, apparently, if you happen to be motivated by the need to satisfy the financial interests of the lobbyists who profit from war.

Although it is widely understood that bombs and drones are counterproductive, it’s perhaps less understood that the establishment appear to want it that way on the basis, it would seem, that terrorist retaliation justifies the further use of bombs and drones. Ken Livingstone was surely correct in his analysis on BBCs Question Time programme last Thursday (November 26), when he suggested that bombing Raqqa will play into the hands of ISIS from a propaganda perspective enabling them to bolster their number of recruits on the back of it. Indeed, it is clear that the aim of the extremists is to provoke an international bombing campaign precisely in order to achieve this objective.

The “strategy” of indiscriminate bombing of transnational “targets” as a means to ending the cycle of terrorism and counter-terrorism is a policy of despair. What is needed is a total rethink that involves, in the first instance, a serious attempt at addressing the causes that include the historical injustices meted out to the people of the region by the imperial powers. These injustices primarily stem from a series of secret meetings during World War 1 in London and Paris between the French diplomat, François Georges-Picot and the British politician, Sir Mark Sykes.

During these meetings, straight lines were drawn on a map of the middle east intended to effectively outline the control of land that was to be divided between the two countries. The French were to get Syria, Lebanon and parts of northern Iraq, while the British decided on southern Iraq, Jordan and Palestine. The idea was that instead of giving independence to the Arabs which was promised following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the imperial powers would run them on their behalf. The ensuing chaos over the next century stemmed from this agreement. ISIS is essentially motivated by power in a post-colonial world in which the artificial imperial borders created by Sykes-Picot are collapsing.

Robert Fisk points out that the first video ISIS produced was of a bulldozer destroying the border between Syria and Iraq. The camera panned down to a piece of paper with the words “End of Sykes-Picot” written on it. The wider “Arab Awakening,” as Fisk puts it, represents a rejection of the history of the region since Sykes-Picot during which time the Arabs have been denied freedom, dignity and justice.

According to Fisk, ISIS is a weapon that’s not primarily aimed at the West but at the Shia which the Sunni Gulf States’ want to keep at bay. This explains why the funding for ISIS is principally coming from the Sunni states’ of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The possibility of closer U.S-Iranian ties in the future will likely result in pressure being put on these states’ to ‘switch off’ their funding to ISIS which Fisk claims was one of the main topics of discussion at the Geneva nuclear talks between the two countries.

American and French anthropologist, Scott Atran, outlines the underlying ideological glue that binds the followers of ISIS together:

“When you look at young people like the ones who grew up to blow up trains in Madrid in 2004, carried out the slaughter on the London underground in 2005, hoped to blast airliners out of the sky en route to the United States in 2006 and 2009, and journeyed far to die killing infidels in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia; when you look at whom they idolize, how they organize, what bonds them and what drives them; then you see that what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Koran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world that they will never live to enjoy…. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: …fraternal, fast-breaking, thrilling, glorious, and cool.”

Atran posits that the appeal of ISIS seems to be their offering of a Utopian society and the sense of belonging and empowerment that they claim is lacking in Western society. The narrative is a future of peace and harmony, at least, under their interpretation, but with the recognition that brutality is also needed to get there. The underlying aspect of this Utopianism is the retreat from the kind of unconditional freedom where many young people feel pressured into certain social actions, towards a different kind of freedom free from ambiguity and ambivalence that, for those concerned, enhances a form of creativity that restraint helps nurture. ISIS exploits this dichotomy by outlining a way towards significance in a society that treats the alienated as insignificant.

It seems to me that the most effective way to counter ISIS propaganda is for governments’ to remove the “pull factors” of ISIS by giving young people a sense of hope for the future, offering them more of the “carrot” of opportunity instead of just the “stick” of despair. One of the major problems is that there is not the same kind of  government investment in prevention by way of guidance and decision making channels that are relevant to young people to avoid them becoming alienated enough to want to seek out ISIS. It seems to me that this is where ISIS have the upper hand, evidenced by the fact that they spend countless hours and cash luring people in.

Instead of spending billions on ineffectual war, the money would be far better spent on effective prevention programmes on the ground. This could involve, as middle east scholar Ed Husain has argued, employing former jihadists to reach out to help educate young people about the dangers of ISIS and other extremists. At some point, channels of communication will have to be opened up with radical Muslim groups who are willing to engage with experts outside the Muslim world to come to some kind of agreement that might even involve the formation of an enclave based on ISIS lines.

What is certain is the current path we are on is the wrong one in terms of the lack of any meaningful attempt to implement any effective strategy to weaken or destroy radical Islamism. Ideologies cannot be defeated by bombs, although the strategic use of broader coalition forces on the ground allied with a serious attempt by the U.S to insist that it’s dictatorial regional allies – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – deplete ISIS of funds, will go a long way to achieving the desired outcome. In order to defeat Hitler, Churchill was prepared to make a pact with the devil. The West might have to come to terms in doing the same with ISIS.

 

 

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