Category Archives: News

Cecil Rhodes and Year Zero thinking

19th century pinnacle of moral thinking
19th century pinnacle of moral thinking

There is a growing tendency in our society for people to protest what they see as offence. The Internet may have exacerbated this but, even in the real world, much hot air is dedicated to expressing a sense of “injury” over misplaced words or symbols. Many now believe that society owes them the right not to be offended and they become demanding and aggressive when this perceived right is denied.

The British are more tolerant that we are given credit for but we are also irreverent and this is much misunderstood by Johnny Foreigner. I prize irreverence. In Thailand people are gaoled for insulting the Royal Family. I respect the Thai tradition and I support their right to enforce their laws. But in Britain……in Britain I value the right to say that the Queen should abdicate, Prince Phillip is a racist old fool and the that royal kids are a bloody rabble. I support the right of the world and its mother to speculate over the monarchies involvement in the death of Princess Di even though I believe they are TALKING BOLLOCKS! I support the right to talk bollocks because I am tolerant and if I cannot tolerate what I do not like then my tolerance means nothing. I believe that irreverence goes hand in hand with tolerance and a free society. Other countries may choose to reject tolerance and embrace autocracy – Good luck with that and when you have achieved a more liberal society than The West, let me know.

Society does not owe anyone the right not to be offended but we seem to be gradually giving in to the hyper-sensitivities of anyone who can slip a cigarette paper between their own opinions and those of their neighbours. This is detrimental to diversity of intelligent debate and, to my mind, is starting to resemble McCarthyism.

One example was the shameful way that Nobel laureate Tim Hunt was forced to resign after ignorant, intolerant and mean spirited reports of what appears to have been an ironic and humorous speech in support of women in science which was understood as such by his audience. Another is the idiotic way that the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch was pilloried for standing up for black actors but using the term “coloured”. A word not on the 2015 list of acceptable words as accepted by supporters of the American National Association of Coloured People. More recently there is a campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford and Oriel College appear to be caving in.

It’s generally accepted that many, if not all figures from British imperial history, had racist opinions. They were part of a society which ran a global empire – of course they were racists. What is not recognised is that racist views were held by the majority of the population of the planet up until The Holocaust. Do we believe the Romans or the Mughals or the Aztecs were not racist? Of course not and in many parts of the world, racism is more or less the de facto norm even today. Check out Saudi treatment of immigrant labour or Racism in South Korea.

Removing statues and other artefacts from previous generations would be pandering to an arrogant and self righteous attitude that WE (the people of today) have reached the pinnacle of moral thinking. That this generation alone is the moral arbiter and may stand in judgement over all previous generations. It is akin to the beliefs of Rhodes himself who is quoted as saying: “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”. The bigots of today aren’t so interested in spreading Liberalism to the rest of the world but do want to push their values back in time.

We are no more at a moral peak than Cecil Rhodes. Today in the West we obsess over equality and identity but previous generations had other priorities. One reason we are able to consider the finer points of the nomenclature of ethnic groups is because our basic needs are met but even today in Iraq, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere many might consider equality and democracy as secondary to strong leadership, security and feeding their kids. Are we to condemn them for this?

Some consider that Mahatma Gandhi’s religious zeal alienated Muslims leading to Indian partition. Should statues of Gandhi be removed? Martin Luther King is idolised by millions for his fight against racism but he had less than modern opinions regarding women. By today’s standards he would be considered not only a sexist but, probably, a misogynist. Should his memorial be torn down?

A recent article in The Economist postulated something I have long believed; that animal minds are basically similar to human minds and that the difference in consciousness is more a level of degree. Add to this the widely held belief that feeding increased human population levels will require more effiicient farming which necessitate more agriculture and less livestock and it is at least possible that the world of the 22nd century might imbue animals with similar rights to humans. Should young students of the 22nd century poor shit over statues of Barak Obama for eating meat?

It is usually the Left who support criticism of past generations because the Left believe that only they are motivated by morality. The Left cannot conceive that others may have alternative yet legitimate opinions and so they are driven to purging the world of symbols which they consider fallible by the standards of the day but this is a formula for ongoing soviet style revisionism and authoritarianism. Removing evidence that Rhodes was part of the story of how our society evolved is akin to totalitarian “Year Zero” thinking. It is immature, ignorant and intolerant and based on an unfounded and bigoted sense of one’s own absolute riotousness. It also neglects the unpalatable truth that our liberal democracy was established, not in one big bang of enlightenment, but by a gradual evolution building on foundations laid down by ancestors for whom racism was an everyday reality.

As a prestigious college Oriel should champion rationalism. As a British university it should also champion diversity of opinion and irreverence. It should not rearrange its architecture and traditions to please the current intake of students. Monuments which are allowed to gradually become part of the physical and cultural background allow us to recognise the flawed nature of past heroes and kerb misplaced adoration of current heroes.  It would be facinating to know how many of those calling for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes were singing Things Can Only Get Better when he was elected.

Symbols such as Rhodes’ statue and King’s memorial teaches us humility by allowing us to learn from past deeds while recognising that we are all fallible by dint of our common humanity.

Finally, British education institutions today rely less on government funding and more on fees. Universities now assiduously court foreign students and the decision of Oriel college may be motivated partly by a desire to please a foreign, and sometimes anti-British, audience. While educating the world is a noble goal and a useful revenue stream, if Oriel do not have the balls to stand up for democratic and rational values then they may as well sell themselves to a Chinese sovereign wealth fund and start flogging doctorates in the sayings of Chairman Mao or Papa Xi loves Mommy Peng.






Professionalisation of Politics – Labour sign Axelrod

Same bollocks but now sent direct to your phone
Same bollocks but now sent direct to your phone

Labour have engaged Bill Clinton’s old political consultant David Axelrod on a six figure salary to be their strategic adviser. Good grief! Just what they need. Another spin doctor!

Margaret Thatcher is said to have been the first UK leader to employ a spin doctor but New Labour put the idea into hyperdrive with the likes of Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson. During the New Labour years I was angered at the flagrant gibberish trotted out by Mr. Mandelson during interviews. He would start a sentence, introduce a clause, introduce a sub-clause and then wander off into nowhere and if the interviewer tried to bring him back to the point he would behave as if this were the height of bad manners. He trained Gordon Brown to attempt this and there is a fantastic bit of footage showing Brown driveling on to BBC political journalist Nick Robinson and then Mandelson looming up to the camera and grinning as if to say: Yes, we’re TALKING BOLLOCKS, you know it, I know it but there is nothing you can do about it.

I even remember Mandelson stating “politics is about spelling out your policies” – No it isn’t, that’s marketing, that’s communications. Politics is primarily about setting policy and that is what Labour in opposition have failed to do.

The utter contempt that Mandelson showed for the public appalled me. While Blair cozied up to the mega-corporations and Brown continued to borrow even during the boom years, New Labour’s arrogance led them to assume that they could do anything they liked and trot out any old bullshit as justification. (45 minutes my arse!).
I applauded when New Labour were toppled and hoped that we had seen the end of this nonsense. Of course the shiny new Tory leader started spinning before getting into power. He changed the Tory logo to a little tree. Remember that? A quick look at the Tory web site reveals it’s been changed again to something a little more traditional.

But then we had the MP expenses scandal and the media phone tapping and the results of the Hillsborough inquiry and the pedophilia in the Catholic Church. It seemed that the whole establishment had been caught with its trousers down and no matter how much they spun the web just tightened around their throats.

So, with faith in politicians at a low and with no clear political winners I thought that we had come off that peak of contempt for the general public and that politicians now understood that talking the talk was not enough, they had to walk the walk.

But, oh dear. The Labour front bench. The Ed and Ed show. The Pinky and Perky of British politics. Both continue to base their opposition to the Tories on presentation over content. Their policies are oh so obviously contrived by the marketing department. Not so much “What do we believe in” but “What can we say that will win us votes”. Remember when Balls and Milliband could not open their mouths without saying the word “failure”? Eds obviously thought that if they said “failure” often enough we’d start associating it with Tories but we just associated it with anyone named Ed. And, oh GOD! Who on Earth thought that Douglas Alexander should be in the shadow cabinet? Nothing to say but wont shut up about it. The Labour leadership are a bunch of salesmen but they have nothing to sell. Just watch this video where Ed Milliband gives identical answers to five different questions.

All this emphasis on the “message” over policy comes about because our politicians are professionals. They have studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at University, they have worked for older politicians and they now understand the mechanisms of power without ever having done anything in their lives which would give them any understanding of the real world. When Ed Milliband talks about “families who work all the hours that God sends” he is talking in the abstract. He has no experience of these people any more than the rest of our political elite. Cameron and Osborne have not worked in mines or in factories. Clegg has never worked in a call centre. None of the current lot have worked as union representatives, charity workers, doctors, programmers, supermarket workers or taxi drivers. Just as bad, none have ever been captains of industry or entrepreneurs or bankers in The City. Their experience of life is gained through reviewing reports and statistical analyses. They study us like we are bacteria in a petri dish and no more empathise with our lives than a scientist empathises with a lab rat.

This week even The Economist ran an article which finished: “The risks of promoting awkward talent and sacking the spin doctor are obvious……..but the alternative….is worse. It is to become ever more ingenious, hated and irrelevant”. Labour seem oblivious. They think that hiring a bigger better media wonk from across the pond will hand them power on a plate. They’ll figure out what to do with power once they’ve got it.

This is why Nigel Farage is like a breath of fresh air. People like him even if they don’t agree with him. They like him because his arguments are reasoned and sincere. They like him because his reactions are human and appear in stark contrast to the rows of pre-programed pillocks who front the other parties.

In the recent debates between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg it was interesting to note that the question of how much legislation the UK receives from the EU came up twice. In the first debate Farage quoted 75% and Clegg 7%. The topic arose again in the second debate only this time Farage had had the sense to research Clegg’s figure of 7% and had discovered this was for primary legislation and the very same document quoted an overall amount of about 50%. When confronted with this Clegg could only lamely restate his figure of 7%.

Clegg had come on telly to use his PPE erudition to dismiss a jumped up oik but was not on top of his brief. A researcher had obviously given him the 7% figure and he didn’t care where it had come from. He believed in the EU as an article of faith and used statistics as weapons of rhetoric not constituents of rational argument.

So, given New Labour’s appalling record on spin. Given the abject failure of the Ed & Ed show. Given Cameron’s ludicrous efforts to emulate Blair’s spin by dog sledding around Lapland. Given that Clegg’s professionalism was demolished by Farage’s charisma and homework. Given the massive discrediting of the whole British establishment. Given the fact that the UK is amongst the top 7 most unequal society in the world, with the rich hoarding power and the rest of us herded around by “nudge theory” embedded in a massive and ubiquitous marketing machine. On TV, on the radio, on billboards, on football pitches, on smart phones (on this blog site!) Everywhere we look the political/industrial complex is exhorting us that the only way out of our economic problems is more of the same. Work more, consume more and to hell with the planet.

Given the disillusionment of the British public with professional politics, what do Labour do? Do they have a policy rethink? Do they take a step backward toward socialism? Do they take a step forward with radical new policies?

No. They outsource marketing to America. You couldn’t make it up.

Why not just hand the Palace of Westminster over to Price Waterhouse Coopers and be done with it?



I’m thinking of voting UKIP…..


The other day I told a friend that I am against further mass immigration to the UK and she gasped. This was tantamount to racism! Well, it gets worse. I’m thinking of voting UKIP!

For decades I have voted either Liberal (now Liberal Democrat) or Green. The Tories are the party for the elite and old Labor were too engrossed in a failing ideology. New Labor betrayed the working class and put Thatcherism on steroids. Further, I have always respected what I perceived as the calm rationalism of many Liberals with their emphasis on liberty and pragmatism.


To quote Sir William Harcourt, former 19th century Liberal Home Secretary and Chancellor:

“Liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government tries, so far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes. It has been the function of the Liberal Party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the country where people can do more what they please than in any country in the world”

Even when Labour accused the Liberal Democrats of betrayal by raising tuition fees I did not flinch. The Liberals didn’t win the election but were a junior partner in a coalition and so could not dictate the agenda and most of the people screaming betrayal did not vote Liberal. If they had prized low tuition fees so much they should have put their vote where there mouth is.

I don’t say that I love the Liberals, just that they seem the best of a bad lot. The fact that they are pro-Europe did not bother me as, very broadly, so was I.

But for some time now I have believed that England, and London in particular, are ludicrously over-crowded. There are too many of us. The roads and trains are horrendously congested, house prices are obscene and gradually, what was once spare communal space is being converted into private concrete structures.

Here’s the point: Though mass immigration may drive up national GDP it does not necessarily drive up GDP per capita and even GDP per capita does not place value on shared communal “goods” such as open space, personal space and time not spent standing on railway platforms freezing your fucking nuts off. In 2014 I may be richer in material goods than my grandparents but I am much poorer in space and in time.

However. I value free movement in Europe and can see that commons rules, a cosmopolitan society and various other Euro-paraphilia are advantages so I had thought that congestion is just a price I have to pay. Up until now I have accepted the pro-Europe stance. The world is coalescing into large power blocks. In a world of super powers Europe needs to stick together. We are economically and politically better off as we can get better deals if we negotiate as a united block. Sounds reasonable.

So what’s changed?

What’s changed is the abject failure of the leader of the main pro-EU party to mount any reasoned defense of the UK’s membership of the EU. What’s changed is that rather than Nick Clegg seeking to convince me with rational debate, he sought to bamboozle me with deceitful statistics, absurd slurs and patronizing rhetoric. (Try saying “wind the clock back” one more time Nick). Far from being a reasoned pragmatist I can see he is another arrogant establishment know-it-all who thinks the public are too stupid to understand the truth. He was TALKING BOLLOCKS and could quite easily have fitted in New Labour along with so many current MPs of all parties.

Of course there are right wing racist in Britain that we should be wary of and since parties like the BNP are going nowhere it’s probably true that some of these people will switch the UKIP.

But I am becoming increasingly aware of a different and equally distasteful form of bigotry that goes un-criticised, overlooked and is now so prevalent that it is acceptable even for national politicians. It is the bigotry of the Left. One only has to read the comments to articles in The Guardian or The Independent to recognise the hysterical and hate filled lunatics which slaver over each article attempting to connect Farage with Putin or brand the Tories as racists for daring to even consider an immigration policy. Many of the articles in these papers are not much better and some Labour MPs treat the allegation of racism like a dog smelling the blood of an injured animal. They throw the term racist about without thought and now even insist that merely wanting Britain to be out of the EU is racist. This is deeply stupid and deeply insulting to a nation that has accepted millions of people from all over the world.

Of course we should be wary of populist parties given what happened in Europe in the ’30s but populism is not a definite indicator of fascism. For years British politics was dominated by the Tories and the Liberals until the newly populist Labour party were propelled into power in the 1920s. Also, the main goal of Nigel Farage is merely a referendum on EU membership which, incidentally, should have been conducted before the Maastricht Treaty was signed. If a referendum were now held then, one way or another, UKIP’s raison d’être should evaporate.

I had heard much of the argument between Farage and Clegg before but Farage made one new statement that made me think. When the European Economic Community (EEC) was formed the world was comprised of separate countries with industries protected by trade tariff barriers. The creation of the EEC was a way to create a large free trade zone which encouraged trade and promoted prosperity. Partly because of the example of the EEC the whole world is tearing down trade barriers and entering free trade agreements. Given this, how did political union get onto the agenda?

Farage made some excellent arguments against EU membership but there are reasons in favour that Clegg (and mindless left-wing bigots) seem too stupid to discuss. However, I no longer believe that British membership of the EU is good by default. I need to be convinced and am  having a rethink. Prior to the upcoming election for the European Parliament in May I intend to do some research and perhaps the pro-European lobby will find someone who knows what the fuck they’re talking about.

It’s said that the main reason for “ever closer union” was to put an end to the devastating conflicts between Germany and France. Very good. That’s their reason for remaining in the EU.

What’s ours?

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Wake up Europe – Here comes the future!

Boat People
Boat People

The recent deaths of hundreds of migrants from North Africa looking for better lives in Europe should serve as the death knell of post war Western foreign policy and a wake up call for Europe’s leaders.

Since the end of the World War 2, Europe has taken a back seat in international affairs and Western foreign policy has been dominated by the United States. This is not surprising given the actions of many European countries during the war. Germany shoulders most of the blame of course but not many European countries come out well from a close examination of their roles in the events leading up to The Holocaust. Italy Changed sides, France collaborated and Spain sat the war out under a fascist regime. The UK and France ignored the plight of Czechoslovakia and was only dragged in through treaty obligation with Poland.

Yes, the United States turned up late and only after it had been attacked, but, as the major Western victor, the U.S. went on to provision and garrison a decimated continent and confront an expansionist Soviet Union. When the USSR imploded the U.S. considered itself the world’s only hyper-power and continued to dominate the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Perhaps stung by guilt or just accustomed to a free ride, Europe was content to allow the United States to govern international affairs in its own back yard. Any kindling of democracy in Arab countries was snuffed out and dictatorships were propped up as bulwarks against the Soviets Union to maintain the flow of oil. But this pax-Americana may be drawing to an end.

Recent events have shown Western policy in North Africa and the Middle East to have been a monumental cock up. Dictators propped up by the United States have being overthrown but stable governments seem a long way off. As always Western politicians project Western values onto the struggles in Muslim countries. The upheaval in Syria, we’re told, is evidence of a freedom loving people struggling for democracy against an oppressive dictator. As is often the case, our politicians are TALKING BOLLOCKS! The real situation is that ethnic factionalism now prevails. Christians, Kurds, Alawites, Shia and Sunnis fight, not for democracy, but to resist domination by the other groups. The decades old taboo against redrawing borders in Africa was broken in 2011 when South Sudan became independent and one has to wonder if the states created as European empires crumbled can last much longer.

If all this had occurred when America was strong and committed to the region it would have been bad enough but high oil prices make widespread shale oil and gas economic and the U.S. is heading for energy independence. The West, including the United States, is in massive debt and there is a real isolationist streak to the U.S. Republican Tea Party movement who seem content to risk the stability of the international economy to prevent a fairly basic health care package.

Even if it were not for the mad hatters of the Tea Party, the United States has bigger fish to fry and has announced a “pivot” toward the Pacific in an undeclared, but obvious, attempt to confront a rising China.

Relations with Iran may be easing but Syria is in flames and a refugee crisis in Lebanon goes barely reported. In Russia, a leader of dubious legitimacy swaggers with new found energy wealth. The business of revolution goes unfinished in Egypt, Algeria and Libya and the Gulf State oligarchies only maintain comparative stability by guns and oil funded handouts. The West is widely disliked by Islamic populations and a militant Israel sits right in the middle continually goading the Palestinians by expanding settlements.

Europe considers that none of this is its problem and should all be laid at the door of the United States. The trouble with this argument is that the door of the United States is four thousand miles away but the blaze is just across the Mediterranean.

The British bemoan the privatization of the Royal Mail and French worry about the provenance of their cheese but the world was not fixed in amber by the industrial revolution and it is not the fetishized institutions of the 20th century which need protecting but the strength of the European economy and the security of its international relations.

The post war era is over and the World has changed. Europe is now a region in massive debt, with a comparatively feeble military, a humanitarian catastrophe on their doorstep and a non existent foreign policy.

Last week we heard about a boat full of refugees from Syria and Palestine sinking while attempting to escape a land in flames. We should expect many more.

End of the World with a Poppy
End of the World with a Poppy

Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons vote – the text

Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons - The motion
Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons – The motion

We’ve all heard today that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, lost a vote in the House of Commons and the UK will not now be involved in any attack on Syria in response  to the Syrian government’s assumed use of chemical weapons. I thought the whole thing a little odd and odder still that, though the conventional media covered this story at length, none of them explained what the motion was that was defeated in the House of Commons. I thought it would be worth looking up exactly what the motion was.

Below I’ve listed the government motion as appears on along with an amendment put forward by Ed Miliband which was voted down.

To my mind, the interesting part of the government motion is paragraph 7 which states that “a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible” leaving it open to sideline the UN. Also paragraph 9 which states that “before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place”.

So, though it gave room to bypass the UN, it also prevented Cameron from acting until another vote had taken place meaning that even if the House voted for the motion it would have a further opportunity to prevent British involvement if the UN weapons inspectors reports were not sufficient to justify the attack.

The amendment put forward by Ed Miliband seems to replace the text with a similar version which builds in stronger caveats that the UN must first be allowed to determine if the Assad regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons.

The full text of the debate is available on the They Work For You along with a record of how MPs voted. The result of the divisions seems to have caused quite a commotion as the Speaker is reported to have said “Mr MacNeil, you are like an erupting volcano. Calm yourself, man!”. In division 69 the amendment was rejected and in division 70 the government’s motion was rejected. It might seem that the Tories did not want to be constrained by the UN and so rejected the amendment and Labour did not want action without a UN mandate and so rejected the government motion but both the motion and the amendment built in a requirement for a second vote prior to any British involvement.

All a bit rum if you ask me and it is the rejection of the amendment which has probably caused all the furor in the press because it meant that the House not only rejected British involvement in an attack, it rejected British involvement even if the UN should decide that military action is necessary. I guess this is what has all the pundits raving about a cock-up and I wonder what would have happened if the House had voted on the government motion first and then, when this was rejected, voted on the amendment?

I’d like to drag Blair back into this. As if his legacy were not bad enough, I wonder if the British people and parliament are now so cynical about foreign interventions that, now that there may be a legitimate case for intervention to stop outrageous atrocities, we shy away from it.

Here’s the text of the government motion:

That this House:

Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;

Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;

Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;

Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;

Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity, and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;

Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the Arab League on 27 August which calls on the international community, represented in the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;

Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;

Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus, and, whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;

Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and notes that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place; and

Notes that this Resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.

Here’ is the text of Ed Miliband’s amendment:

Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add

‘expresses its revulsion at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Ghutah, Syria on 21 August 2013; believes that this was a moral outrage; recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons; makes clear that the use of chemical weapons is a grave breach of international law; agrees with the UN Secretary General that the UN weapons inspectors must be able to report to the UN Security Council and that the Security Council must live up to its responsibilities to protect civilians; supports steps to provide humanitarian protection to the people of Syria but will only support military action involving UK forces if and when the following conditions have been met that:

(a) the UN weapons inspectors, upon the conclusion of their mission in the Eastern Ghutah, are given the necessary opportunity to make a report to the Security Council on the evidence and their findings, and confirmation by them that chemical weapons have been used in Syria;

(b) compelling evidence is produced that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of these weapons;

(c) the UN Security Council has considered and voted on this matter in the light of the reports of the weapons inspectors and the evidence submitted;

(d) there is a clear legal basis in international law for taking collective military action to protect the Syrian people on humanitarian grounds;

(e) such action must have regard to the potential consequences in the region, and must therefore be legal, proportionate, time-limited and have precise and achievable objectives designed to deter the future use of prohibited chemical weapons in Syria; and

(f) the Prime Minister reports further to the House on the achievement of these conditions so that the House can vote on UK participation in such action, and that any such vote should relate solely to efforts to deter the use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any wider action in Syria.’

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Here we go again – Syrian WMD

WMD or a new Tesco?
WMD or a new Tesco?

Stupid people run our lives. This was made obvious back in February 2013 when the footballer Paul Elliott resigned his posts at the Football Association as well as trusteeship of the anti-racism campaign group Kick It Out because he used the word “nigger” in a text message argument with another black football player.

Elliott has received the CBE for services to equality and diversity in football and is quite obviously not a racist yet he was forced to resign by the witch hunt mentality that prevails in British public life.

The reason that we oppose racism is that it causes harm to people. We’re not against racism when an American is deemed friendly, a German efficient or an Englishman polite. We’re against it when certain groups are discriminated against. When they lose out to other groups when applying for work or are unjustly hassled by the police. Of course we should avoid using racially derogative terms when referring to people but the single use of such a word should not be a litmus test of racism.

Public life is dominated by people so lacking in judgment that they rely on idiotic rules and this is the way with much of 21st Century life. This same knee jerk mentality seems now to be pushing the United States into another war. President Obama has previously said that the use of chemical weapons by Syria would be a “red line” that could trigger U.S. reaction. Today, the United States Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel, put out a statement saying that “that the U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.” –  the talk now is of whether Syria has crossed that red line.

HANG ON A MINUTE! – Statements put out by government departments are always very very carefully worded and this statement reeks of indecision – “WITH SOME DEGREE OF VARYING CONFIDENCE”???!!!!!…..They’re TALKING BOLLOCKS!

Obviously the statement has been constructed under pressure and the authors have made damn sure they express themselves in terms which commit themselves to precisely nothing. It’s interesting to speculate on how the story originated. A brief perusal of the web reveals that a vague article in the London Times on 13th April 2013 stated “Forensic evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria has been found for the first time in a soil sample smuggled out of the country in a secret British operation. Defence sources, who declined to be named, said yesterday that conclusive proof that “some kind of chemical weapon” had been fired in Syria had been established by scientists at the Ministry of Defence’s chemical and biological research establishment at Porton Down in Wiltshire.”

So we have a story from an unnamed source that some soil in Syria may be contaminated by some unspecified chemical weapon. The Times is a News International rag and, for Rupert Murdoch, this constitutes hard news.

First we should question whether this story and the subsequent statement by Mr. Hagel have any merit at all. If the British government do have contaminated soil from Syria then let them say so; it’s worth investigating. But rather than setting trip wires that commit Americans to combat and potentially death let’s think this through.

Why do we abhor Weapons of Mass Destruction? It’s not because they kill people, many weapons do that. It’s because they kill masses of people. Hydrogen bombs are an obvious example but gas attacks are another. So if we are looking for evidence of the use of WMD we should be looking for far far more than traces of some bloody substance in a plastic tub of questionable providence. We should be looking for masses of dead people. If Assad is using Sarin to run his lawn mower we should not give a toss. If he’s exterminating thousands with pick axe handles we should sit up and take notice. We should consider the crime not the mechanism used to commit the crime.

Like the absurdity of discerning racism by a single casual word the existence of a few grams of chemical is not a defining piece of evidence. The West has a history of intervening in the Middle East and all interventions are couched in altruistic arguments designed to placate the electorate but fundamentality all interventions have been for the benefit of Western countries.

The decision of whether to intervene in Syria is a difficult one but the United States should resist being bounced into another war by idiots and war mongers.

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Thatcherism – What really happened?

Rose tinted spectacles?
Rose tinted spectacles?

Margaret Thatcher died on 8th April 2013 and this has caused quite a stir. Many people look back at her premiership with rose tinted spectacles while others roundly condemn her for ruining British industry, causing mass unemployment and generally creating hell on Earth. On TV everyone has something to say. Ken Livingston said that Britain was in trouble because we had lost our manufacturing base whereas Germany had retained theirs and were doing very well. Sounds reasonable until one considers that France and Italy held on to their manufacturing base and are in a worse state than the UK.

Most Labour MPs condemn the life and works of Mrs. T. but I wonder how things would be if she had died in 2006 with Labour doggedly following her policies toward new heights of hyper-commercialism. The gravy train still rolling. One can only guess at the sycophantic eulogising of Blair and Balls. Of course 2006 may have been too early to judge as the full effects of her policies had not been played out but one could argue that in 2013.

Broadly the argument is that rising prosperity for some was at the expense of mass unemployment for others and people love or loathe her dependent on their place in this picture. A friend complained that she could not get a job after Thatcher came to power in 1979 and I countered that during the 1979 election campaign the Tories ran a poster showing a long queue of people at an unemployment office with a strap line reading “Labour Isn’t Working“. This implied that unemployment was a problem prior to the Thatcher government. Both my friend and I had recounted our memories but anecdotal evidence is always biased. We need dispassionate analysis. We need statistics. Luckily vast quantities of data are now available via The Internet.

So I set about finding a graph showing unemployment from the 1970s onward and it seems to be true that unemployment increased dramatically under the Thatcher government. The graph is shown at the end of this article along with several others. So what else can statistical graphs sourced from The Internet tell us?

Well, the price of crude oil took off in the 70s and this had a negative impact on the British economy but it’s interesting to note that UK North Sea oil production also took off in the late 70s and overtook consumption around 1979. House prices rose substantially after 1979 though we should remember that they rose absurdly fast under Tony Blair’s government too. UK debt dropped substantially under Thatcher but later climbed back again and base rates rose substantially. The one achievement that can be attributed to the Thatcher government seems to be conquering inflation.

It’s also interesting to see that real disposable income rose steadily after WW2 dipping just before Mrs. T was elected, then rising more quickly, flattening off in 2006 and then declining after 2009.

sold out to commercialism?
Sold out to commercialism?

There was controversy when the Labour Isn’t Working poster appeared because it used actors. These days we accept that images used in advertising are not real. Musicians and film stars who were our heroes used to disdain advertising but Brian Ferry worked for Marks and Spencer, John Lydon sold butter and Christmas saw Scarlet Hohanson on our TV flogging perfume. Our heroes have sold out.

Sometime in the 1980s I recall an American friend telling me that England was “so inconvenient” as she desperately pushed coins into one of those idiot public telephones before the pips cut her off. It’s true, it was inconvenient, and inefficient and we were materially poorer. But I preferred the old slam door trains and the open backed buses. You could open doors and windows yourself rather than waiting for some bloody system to do it for you. We seem to have become richer in private material goods but more restricted and poorer in communal resources. Also poorer in space, time and trust. We live in a less gentle time.

This may be mere nostalgia and I expect that were I transported back to 1979 I would rail against the paucity of TV stations, the slowness of road transport, the limitations on pub opening times and the dreadful food.

All this crystallised in my mind the idea that the death of Margaret Thatcher is a perfect opportunity to review post war political, economic and social policy. A chance to cut through the political spin and partisan prejudice and get a long view of the period when Britain morphed from the land of respect for nobility and knowing your place to a dog eat dog free for all.

The BBC should commission a documentary or even a series. Some questions that might be asked:

  • Was the country really in a mess when Thatch took over?
  • What were the problems?
  • What were the alternatives to economic liberalism?
  • Was the economic boom unleashed by the Tories and driven to ludicrous heights by Tony Blair anything more than a debt fuelled bubble?

A selection of graphs are listed below. While reviewing these stats it became apparent that the more one learns the more questions arise. For example are we talking about long term or short term unemployment? Each may have different causes and effects. Fortunately numerous excellent resources are available on the web where one can access such data. e.g. Google Public DataPublic SpendingOffice for National StatisticsNationMaster.

Crude Oil Price
Crude Oil Price
Oil Production/Consumption
Oil Production/Consumption
UK Inflation
UK Inflation
UK Debt as % of GDP
UK Debt as % of GDP
Private Debt
Private Debt
UK house prices
UK house prices
Disposable Income
Disposable Income
Public Spending
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