Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Debt Britain Duet

On March 24th, 2010, Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer concluded his budget speech by singing, approximately to the tune of the Flanders and Swann song “Mud, mud, glorious mud”, a new lyric he had just written:

Debt, debt, glorious debt,
We‘ll keep it going for many years yet.
We’ll never get paid
What it cost to invade
The wogs with our bombs and our tanks –
Never mind what we’ve given the banks –
’Cause bankers do like to bet.

George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor immediately stepped forward and joined him in a reprise. The crowded House of Commons leapt to their feet and applauded how well they harmonized:

Debt, debt, glorious debt,
We‘ll keep it going for many more years.
Though we’ve not been paid
What it cost to invade
The wogs with our bombs and our tanks –
Never mind what we’ve given the banks –
We’ll laugh through our grandchildren’s tears.

On April 29th they asked Vince Cable to join them so they could form a trio. But Vince refused unless he was given star billing. So Osborne and Darling were obliged to busk at the stage door while the leaders’ debate went on inside. They sang sadly:

Debt, debt, glorious debt,
We’ve caused a cock-up no one’ll forget.
When our debt increases
Till it dwarfs Greece’s,
Let’s not flinch or wince.
Let’s try to con Vince
That by sticking together
And babbling blether
We’ll con the voters as well,
And damn Britannia to bankruptcy hell.


No, but seriously …

On March 24th, 2010, the Chancellor Alistair Darling presented a budget which revealed very clearly to anyone who bothered to listen carefully how he had absolutely no idea how to cut Britain’s enormous debt. All he could do was glory in the fact that the debt now appeared to be £167 billion, instead of £188 billion. Only £167 billion – whoopee!!

On March 25th, 2010, George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, interviewed on the Today Programme, revealed that he too had absolutely no idea how to reduce the debt. Evan Davies, interviewing Osborne, pointed out that Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor, showed more or less equal helplessness. One party might cut £5 billion slightly quicker than the other. But what difference would that £5 billion make to the enormous £167 billion total?

On April 29th, as the three leaders prepare for their TV debate on the economy, it is now clear that all three of them are equally at a loss as to how the British people can clear the huge deficit run up by the gambling bankers.

Perhaps a hung parliament, and a coalition which genuinely consults the citizens of Britain, may be the best result we can hope for in the coming election.


Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Coalition Election: Neighbourhood and Family Values

This is A Manifesto for the Red, Yellow, & Blue, Party

One party above all deserves to lead the country. A party with the right attitude. A party that cares about People, that puts People First.

These are the pledges of The Red, Yellow, & Blue, Party to You, to You personally, to You and Your Family, to You and Your Neighbourhood.

We Pledge Action on the NHS. The NHS is The Red, Yellow, & Blue, Party’s Top Priority. We Pledge To Further Strengthen The NHS. We Will Ensure Frontline Services In The NHS Are Protected.

We Pledge Transport For All. We Will Work To Improve Access To Transport. We Pledge Better Train Services From London. We Will Invest In Public Transport.

We Pledge Action On Education, Fair School Funding, Raising Standards in Schools, Giving Schools The Extra Money They Need To Support Struggling Children.

We Pledge More Police; We Will Put More Police On Patrol.

How could anyone not vote for a party which pledges to do all this.

Well, as you might guess this manifesto is composed of quotations from the three political brochures which have been put through my door by the Conservative, Labour, and Lib-Dem parties. There are a few minor differences: the conservatives, surprisingly, do not mention the Police; Labour does not mention Education.

They all believe in Fairness and Change, and Making a Difference. Why don’t we ask for three votes instead of one, so that we can vote for all three of them?

There is another thing these three brochures have in common:

None of them mention how they are going to pay for the wonderful promises they are making us.

Are we stupid? Well The Red, Yellow, & Blue, Party thinks we are.

But how do we show them we’re not really stupid? That’s the problem.


Monday, 26 April 2010

Iraq War Justifications & David Milliband

“You’ve punished us enough about Iraq” pleaded David Milliband in an interview in The Guardian on Saturday April 24th, 2010.

Tony Blair declared he was practising an Ethical Foreign Policy.
David Milliband was already a junior minister in Blair’s government by 2002, having been Head of the Prime Minister‘s Policy Unit from 1997 – 2001, before becoming an MP. We can therefore presume that David Milliband, owing his rapid promotions to Tony Blair, was also an enthusiast for his leader’s Ethical Foreign Policy.

How Tony Blair loved talking about Ethical Foreign Policy, and how we applauded the way he tirelessly fought as George W.Bush’s assistant in righting the world’s wrongs. How right David Milliband is to plead for forgiveness as a junior minister in a British government responsible for killing a few Iraqis, and possibly a British soldier or two, over the last decade. A few accidents like that should not stop us admiring the nobly Ethical Foreign Policy of Labour governments since 1997.

How we applauded Blair for the order he gave the Parachute Regiment to drop into Bulawayo and stop Mugabe’s soldiers massacring innocent Ndebele civilians because they supported Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change.

How we applauded Blair when he sent an ultimatum to Hu Jintao to withdraw from Tibet, and when the ultimatum was ignored, launched a Cruise missile on Beijing.

Well … an Ethical Foreign Policy ... adapted to the needs of the oil and motor industries.

An Ethical Foreign Policy which justified invading Iraq illegally, against the majority of the United Nations, as a result of which invasion Iraq is in ruins, and many thousands of Iraqis have been killed, not to mention the British soldiers.

Iraq under Saddam was a terrible place of evil repression and wanton murder. But then so is the Sudan. So is Burma / Myanmar.

So is Tibet.

So is Palestine.

George W. Bush deemed himself the noble emperor of the world, crushing petty dictatorships with his beneficent tanks and bombers.

So why only Iraq? Why not the Sudan, Burma / Myanmar, Tibet, and Palestine?

The United States could not afford the expense of all those invasions. Iraq has nearly bankrupted the richest nation on the planet, let alone the poor British camp-followers.

Ethical Foreign Policy will not rescue dying Matabele. Zimbabwe has no oil fields. Ethical Foreign Policy gushes ethics when following its dictates leads to gushing oil wells.


Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Homo Sapiens on the Endangered Species List

Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, has been President of the Royal Society since 2005. His book Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the 21st Century, (Heinemann) came out in 2003. On April 25th, 2003, when the book had come out, BBC broadcast an item about it. The bulletin starts “The human race has only a 50/50 chance of surviving another century” says Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal. (Martin Rees was not yet a peer then). Later on in that bulletin the prophecy of doom is slightly modified. “I think the odds are no better than 50/50 that our present civilisation will survive to the end of the present century,” Rees is reported to have said.

Our political leaders are prevented from doing anything to ward off the impending disasters, because they are bound to consider all action in the light of the next election, four years away at most. They are also trapped by the rigid party system: they must not think for themselves; they must work solely for the party’s re-election.

Mary Robinson, ex-President of Ireland, ex UN commissioner for Human Rights, interviewed on the failure of the Copenhagen Conference, stated her belief that governments were no longer capable of taking action to save Plane Earth.

Faced with this, to what shall we liken our political leaders? To Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean in his car with the accelerator pedal clamped down, and the car screaming at an ever-increasing speed, while Mr Bean sits there grinning inanely.

So here we are – us British citizens – in 2010, contemplating a General Election. I have not yet found in the last six months anyone willing to volunteer support for either Government or Opposition. Is there anyone here ready to ascribe to our political leaders any quality other than supreme incompetence?

It is not that they are all imbeciles. It is that they are compelled by their profession to stop thinking. It is as if, on being elected, they took a solemn vow: “I, Fred Smith / Emma Pilkington-Forsyth/ David Cameron / Gordon Brown / solemnly swear that from henceforward I will only act, propose, or think, in terms of the next four years. I will pull down a black veil of inattention over every problem whose solution will take longer than the term of this Parliament. I will devotedly ignore every idea, however promising, which can only become reality in five years or more. “

They are indeed trapped. It is not only a matter of ignoring the future. Even during their four year prison sentence, they must devote themselves to the party line. If they try to think for themselves, they may well be expelled from the prison. But such an expulsion means the loss of a comfortable salary, and, even after the adjustments of 2009, a generous expense allowance.

How can we possibly expect our so-called leaders to do anything to save homo sapiens from extinction? The British Government appears to pride itself on a transport policy which a normal person would assume to have been drawn up by lunatics. The British Government spends billions of pounds on blowing people up. Might it not be sensible to invest some of those billions in technology to make war unnecessary?

No political leader seems to show any grasp whatsoever of the dangers we are in. Their only noticeable talent is the ability to grin inanely like Mr Bean.


Saturday, 24 April 2010

Internet Democracy is World Democracy

Barack Obama based his presidential campaign on using the internet to acquire supporters. But the internet is for everyone.

Avaaz has acquired 3.9 million members in 3 years, that is several million people who have signed up to receive Avaaz protest email petitions, some of which they will sign.

The internet has made it possible for an industrialised nation like Britain to be a democracy. Even politicians recognise that the internet has changed our culture irrevocably. Barack Obama based his presidential campaign on using the internet to acquire supporters. Now every politician is trying to work out how best to use the internet to their advantage. The internet is for everyone.

The internet offers citizens a chance to gather virtually in huge numbers. And once it is possible to present a million signatures to a protest, the further possibility peeps out that governments might take notice. Avaaz has acquired 3.9 million members in 3 years, that is several million people who have signed up to receive Avaaz protest email petitions, some of which they will sign.

On April 7th, 2010, Avaaz emailed all those of us who have signed their petitions with an update on the various successes which have been achieved. Policies have been changed.

It is probably easier to gather signatures to protest an injustice than to make a pitch for a new technology.

– “Avaaz” means “Voice” in many Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European languages” – has acquired 3.9 million members in 3 years, that is several million people who have signed up to receive Avaaz protest email petitions, some of which they will sign.

This is how Avaaz describes itself:
“ is a new global web movement with a simple democratic mission: to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want.

“Across the world, most people want stronger protections for the environment, greater respect for human rights, and concerted efforts to end poverty, corruption and war. Yet globalization faces a huge democratic deficit as international decisions are shaped by political elites and unaccountable corporations -- not the views and values of the world’s people.

”Technology and the internet have allowed citizens to connect and mobilize like never before. The rise of a new model of internet-driven, people-powered politics is changing countries from Australia to the Philippines to the United States. Avaaz takes this model global, connecting people across borders to bring people powered politics to international decision-making.

”Coming together in this way, Avaaz has become a wonderful community of people from all nations, backgrounds, and ages. Our diverse community is brought together by our care for the world, and a desire to do what we can to make it a better place.

“The core of our model of organizing is our email list, operated in 13 languages.

Avaaz is based in many countries – the United States, Britain, Brazil, etc. It is the beginnings of a world-wide group of concerned citizens. I am glad to have joined; Avaaz campaigns to save rain-forest, or endangered indigenous nations, to free political prisoners who have protested against tyrannical regimes.

In September 2009 Avaaz managed to get 100,000 people to join a phone-in campaign for significant results at the Copenhagen conference on climate change. On December 9th, Avaaz arranged for its members throughout Europe to phone their leaders for a few seconds of persuasion, few seconds in which to emphasise how many European citizens wished their governments to take a lead in reducing carbon emissions.

Avaaz protested with great virtual vigour. President Obama arrived as the conference was ending. Frightened of oil lobbies, motor lobbies, etc, Obama weakly concurred in an agreement drafted by him and the Chinese leader, which in effect bound no countries to reduce carbon emissions at all.

Avaaz points the way to world-wide citizen democracy.
But we are a long way from seeing this come into being.


Friday, 23 April 2010

Tony Benn & the British National Party

Tony Benn and BNP singing from the same hymn sheet

Front Page Headline in all major newspapers on April 23rd, 2010, St George’s Day.

Ridiculous? Sure. But, strangely enough, they do agree on one thing.

St George’s Day, 2010: the day which revealed to the British electorate that the system of political parties by which Britain has been governed is now utterly obsolete.

Both Tony Benn and Nick Griffin advocate immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. If those two, representing as they do extreme opposites in political alignment, agree on anything, we must concede that Right and Left have become meaningless distinctions in politics.

If Tony Benn can agree with Nick Griffin about anything, the old alignments of right and left in politics are manifestly meaningless.

On the eve of St George’s Day, there was a second debate between the three political leaders: Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg. Brown and Cameron were both determined to dim the lustre Nick Clegg acquired in the first debate a week earlier.

As in that first debate all three leaders were equally incoherent about the steps they would take to restore Britain’s finances.

Perhaps the most serious division of policy with which the electorate is presented is the issue of Trident. Should Britain buy a replacement for Trident at a probable cost of £100 billion? Clegg for the Lib-Dems says no; Brown and Cameron say yes. In the debate, Gordon Brown got a laugh by saying he agreed with David (Cameron). Agreement about Trident, yes. Agreement also in their attempt to crush Clegg, and return the election contest to the good old knockabout between two unrepresentative parties.

And so to the agreement between those two representatives of the extreme opposites in the right-left political line-up: Tony Benn and Nick Griffin.

Should British troops continue to kill and be killed in Afghanistan? This, like the argument over Trident, is a serious issue. The three-cornered leaders’ debate in Bristol on April 22nd gave a fascinating illumination of why each leader believes Britain should continue to wage war there.

Fascinating because the illumination was non-existent. Cameron and Clegg simply assumed Britain should continue the war, and saw no need to explain why.

Since a British general who commanded in Afghanistan has said the war is unwinnable, one would have thought an explanation of why we are continuing to fight an unwinnable war would have been helpful. Clegg and Cameron, terrified of seeming unsupportive of the army, preferred glorifying the soldiers’ bravery to telling us why they should be there at all.

Gordon Brown, however, rose to the occasion magnificently. He justified Britain’s military presence in Afghanistan with reference to Al-Qaeda.

We need to hunt down terrorists. But in the same sentence, he informed us there were members of Al-Qaeda plotting terror from bases in the Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and other places. Why are we not hunting these Yemen and Somalia terrorists? Why have we not invaded Pakistan?

Yes, I could agree there is an argument for sending small detachments of SAS into terrorist hiding places, perhaps working in conjunction with Pakistani special forces. But how can major military operations against the Taliban help in tracking down terrorists who work in teams of less than ten?

Why exactly do Nick Griffin and the BNP want to withdraw from Afghanistan? In a sense, their reason is irrelevant to anyone like myself who is against the rest of their policies.

Tony Benn’s opposition to the war in Afghanistan is stated with bald clarity: history shows that no foreign power has ever succeeded in dominating Afghanistan. Britain failed, Russia failed, and now NATO is failing.

I return to the headline, which the newspapers neglected to print. More than ever before there are issues on which the citizens of Britain would like to vote. More than ever before there is less and less reason to trust any political party to resolve these issues.

Even Brown, even Cameron, and certainly Clegg, mixed their sycophantic references to the electorate “It’s for you to decide, it’s your choice, etc” with vague promises of referendums. Let us see how quickly these promises are forgotten after the election.

Why don’t we have a referendum about the war in Afghanistan, if only to enjoy the sight of Benn and Griffin voting on the same side?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Minority Government & Collateral Damage in Afghanistan

Leading the nation to war is the prerogative of the sovereign.

In the seventeenth century and before, the British sovereign was the monarch, who was an absolute ruler. By the end of the seventeenth century sovereignty rested with Parliament, as the representative of the British people. From time to time a British Prime Minister with a commanding majority has been able to act like an absolute monarch. This was the case with Tony Blair when he led Britain into an invasion of Iraq, declared illegal by the United Nations.

That Tony Blair should wield absolute power for a few years at the beginning of the 21st century seems especially wrong, when we realise that only 37 % of the British electorate voted Labour into power in 2001.

All this will form the subject of other posts. For the moment, I merely want to stress that the rights and wrongs of going to war, or continuing a pointless war, are an integral part of our notion of national sovereignty.

We, the British people, the British taxpayers, have been dragooned against our will into supporting involuntarily, first an illegal invasion of Iraq with consequent deaths of British service personnel and many many more Iraqi civilians, not to mention a huge expenditure of cash, and then secondly – with the same deaths of British service personnel and innocent civilians, and further huge expenditures of cash – a war in Afghanistan which is declared unwinnable by a British officer commanding there, and for the continuance of which no minister has given adequate explanation.

Sovereignty is only granted to Parliament as our representatives. How many of us consider ourselves represented by Parliament? The only secure justification for sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan would be if the British citizen body as a whole had voted for such invasions by referendum.

So war points the way to constitutional reform.. A possible first step: hold a referendum of the British people on whether to bring the troops home from Afghanistan. If the British people voted for withdrawal from Afghanistan, they might also throw in a vote to free Joe Glenton from prison.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Afghan Civilian Casualties, Queen’s Regulations, & PTSD Complex

On Friday March 5th, 2010, Lance Corporal Joe Glenton was sentenced to 9 months in a military prison for going absent without leave during the summer of 2007,as his unit was preparing to return to Afghanistan. He first went to Afghanistan in February 2006 with 4 Logistic Support Regiment

His defence lawyer, Nick Wrack said “He (Joe Glenton) thought he was going to help Afghanistan, to help the local people. The experience and the reality began to conflict with that.”

After going AWOL, Joe travelled in South East Asia and Australia, then flew back to Britain, handed himself in to the military authorities, but then campaigned against the Afghan war, delivering a letter to the Prime Minister, and addressing a rally in Trafalgar Square.

Is it right to send Joe Glenton to prison for 9 months? Well, Army discipline
insists on punishing him for going absent. What sort of verdict would a civilian court have reached?

During the 1950’s, popular feeling turned against the death penalty. There were instances of juries refusing to bring in a verdict of ‘Murder’, because they did not want to be responsible for sending someone to judicial death. Thus the law of innocence and guilt was brought into contempt because the punishment exceeded what most people regarded as right.

If Joe Glenton had been tried in a civilian court, and if I had been on the jury, I should have voted for his acquittal, even though it was apparent that he had gone absent without leave. In previous posts, I’ve argued that the Afghan war is unwinnable, Senior British officers agree. It is being waged for no clear reason. Certainly no member of the British Government has ever seriously explained why British soldiers are being sent there to be killed and wounded.

Joe Glenton, however, offers us a different perspective on the war. His defence lawyer said “He (Joe Glenton) thought he was going to help Afghanistan, to help the local people. The experience and the reality began to conflict with that.”

We are regularly told NATO forces are in Afghanistan to help the country.

It has been difficult to calculate the number of Afghan civilians killed. But, by every estimate, more have been killed by NATO forces than by the Taliban and Afghan warlords. One estimate reckons between four thousand and five and a half thousand killed by Afghans, but between five and a half thousand killed and eight and a half thousand killed by NATO.

There are also the indirect deaths, including a vast number of children who have died as a result of starvation; one Afghan estimate states that 120,000 Afghan civilians have been forced out of their homes.

How does killing Afghans help Afghanistan?

If neither the British or the American government can give a good reason for continuing the war, and if NATO forces have killed more innocent people than the Afghan forces, we should now judge the war as not only ill-conceived, not only unwinnable, but also immoral.

Joe Glenton went to Afghanistan hoping to help the Afghans. Our leaders affirm that to be the purpose of the war. Joe Glenton has given up 9 months of his life for protesting that if we cannot help the Afghans, we should bring the troops home.

You may not approve of War Resisters International. But if the war in Afghanistan continues, protest against it is bound to grow, and to become more violent.

How does killing Afghans help Afghanistan? Bring the troops home.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Nuclear Sub

On March 23rd, 2010, the BBC News contained an item which stated that Britain’s defence budget would be £36 billion in deficit within the next ten years. To replace Trident will cost at least £20 billion.
At present, Britain has four Vanguard class nuclear submarines armed with 16 Trident nuclear missiles, each missile with 10 independently targetable warheads.

I have just seen Sound and Fury’s
production of Bryony Lavery’s play Kursk. The Kursk
was, according to Wikipedia, “a Russian Oscar II class submarine which sank in the Barents Sea. The generally accepted theory is that a leak of hydrogen peroxide in the forward torpedo room led to the detonation of a torpedo warhead, which in turn triggered the explosion of up to seven other warheads about two minutes later. Despite a rescue attempt by British and Norwegian teams, all 118 sailors and officers aboard Kursk died.”

Lavery’s play is set in a British nuclear submarine whose orders were to shadow the Kursk, and even to dive underneath it, so as to photograph it in detail. In the course of the play, the British Captain says the Kursk has more destructive power than the total destructive power let loose in the entire Second World War.

The creators of the play – the two directors worked with the writer – spent a long time on research, including time in a nuclear submarine and discussion with two submarine commanders. The navy passed the play as factually accurate.

One thing emerged from the play which, on a moment’s thought, is obvious. Nuclear submarines patrol the oceans, and nobody – nobody in the Ministry of Defence, nobody in the Cabinet – knows exactly where a particular submarine is.

The previous post suggested the British Prime Minister as Commander in Chief will be able to strut the world stage for a while longer as possessor of a fairly posh nuclear deterrent. As long as Vanguard submarines and Trident nuclear missiles can be maintained, there is still enough destructive power on board one submarine to devastate over a hundred cities and create nuclear winter.

Surely rather than spending £20 billion on replacing Trdient, the sensible thing to do is to use the remaining lifetime of the existing nuclear missile system to negotiate for a world where every nuclear missile is destroyed.

Nuclear subs cost a lot to maintain. A pun comes to the surface: if we can’t afford nuclear subs, will we be able to afford the Sub for our membership of the Nuclear Club?

Even posh bankrupts can’t afford war.

Nuclear arsenal? Bankrupt Britain

On March 23rd, 2010, the BBC News contained an item which stated that Britain’s defence budget would be £36 billion in deficit within the next ten years.

To replace Trident will cost at least £20 billion.
British politicians are, at present, arguing whether Britain should to buy a new nuclear missile. A TV channel has been running repeats of Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. In one episode there is a discussion between Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington) and Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne). Hacker is proposing to scrap Trident. Sir Humphrey dissuades him with the following appeal – (I quote from memory):
“Among the nuclear missiles it (Trident) is the Savile Row suit of nuclear missiles, the Rolls Royce, the Chateau Lafitte 45.”

In other words, possession of Trident makes Britain a posh nation able to lord it over the yob nations which do not possess it.

And now, we taxpayer-citizens are told, we must pay up for an even posher version. In The Guardian of Saturday March 20th, Simon Hoggart wrote of a wine-tasting he attended to drink some Chateau Pétrus, the most expensive claret, costing £2,792 a bottle.

So I suppose our 2010 Sir Humphrey will urge the buying of the Lamborghini, the Chateau Pétrus of nuclear missiles on an even more impoverished nation than we were in the 1980’s.

Trident will last for quite a few years longer. British Prime Ministers who wish to strut the world stage as leaders of a nuclear power will, we hope, be prevented by angry taxpayers from flaunting Chateau Pétrus nuclear missiles, but they still have some time to flaunt their aging Chateau Lafitte Tridents.

Bankrupts can’t afford War

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Cost of the Afghanistan War

On March 23rd, 2010, the BBC News contained an item which stated that Britain’s defence budget would be £36 billion in deficit within the next ten years.

In October 2008, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade handed over to 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines. Interviewed, he said it would be impossible to defeat the Taliban.

A victory over the Taliban, he continued, is “neither feasible nor supportable.”

In October 2008, the Rupee News stated:
“NATO forces in Afghanistan have been defeated. The British, the Germans, and the rest know it. The US, instead of admitting it, is broadening the theatre of operations. It is dangerously expanding the war into Pakistan.”

For a very long time it has been accepted without question that when the nation is at war, there must be no argument about cost; what the military requires must be provided.

That is an understandable assumption when the nation is being attacked and fighting for its existence. Britain was on the verge of bankruptcy at the end of the Second World War, but the policy of all-out war, not counting the cost, did save Britain from conquest by the Nazis.

But why should that assumption apply to wars where there is no risk of Britain being invaded?

Anyhow, such arguments are likely to sound more and more abstract, as the British people discover they have less and less money to spend on the lethal fireworks of modern combat.

Millions of people in the Middle East think the war waged by NATO in Afghanistan is thoroughly immoral. Some of us may think so too. But now we need not bother too much about whether the war is immoral. On the one hand, it is unwinnable; on the other, we cannot afford to continue with it.

Bring the troops home.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Withdrawal from Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable.

History shows that no foreign power has ever succeeded in conquering Afghanistan.

The Americans were defeated by the North Vietnamese. NATO is being defeated in Afghanistan.

The people of Britain ought to be offered the choice: should the British troops come home? The British Government, elected by 37% of those citizens who registered to vote, does not represent the British people. The Opposition echoes Government policy.

It is a stupid policy to waste soldiers’ lives and enormous amounts of money on this war.

It has been difficult to calculate the number of Afghan civilians killed. But, by every estimate, more have been killed by NATO forces than by the Taliban and Afghan warlords. One estimate reckons between four thousand and five and a half thousand killed by Afghans, but between five and a half thousand killed and eight and a half thousand killed by NATO.

There are also the indirect deaths, including a vast number of children who have died as a result of starvation; in addition, one Afghan estimate states that 120,000 Afghan civilians have been forced out of their homes. How many children will have died through malnutrition and hypothermia, once they have no roof over their heads, or a place to store food?

If neither the British or the United States government can give a good reason for continuing the war, and if NATO forces have killed more innocent people than the Afghan forces, we should now judge the war as not only ill-conceived, not only unwinnable, but also immoral.

The Americans were defeated by the North Vietnamese. The United States Government produced face-saving lies and pretended the defeat was a kind of moral victory. A kind of mental blanket was thrown over the affair, and no one talked very much about it for many years. Luckily for the United States, the Soviet Union disintegrated, and America has been able to preen itself as top nation until now, when, in debt for trillions to China, it is starting to acknowledge its top-nationhood is passing to China.

There is another way to philosophise about defeat in war. One soundbite reason given for the First World War is the desire of Britain, France, and Czarist Russia, to prevent German dominance in Europe. After the slaughter of millions in the two world wars, which was the dominant economic power in Europe? Germany. Germany, with its exceptional economic growth rate during the 1950’s quickly overtook ‘victorious’ Britain as the major economic power in Europe, while the British economy was largely destroyed by the expense of the Second World War. After nearly a century of vast slaughter, Germany is more clearly than ever the dominant European power.

What is the point of winning wars? What is the point of war?

See next post.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Participation Politics & Tony Benn

The Guardian on March 17th, 2005, contained an article by Tony Benn titled Not apathy, but anger.

“My own experience,” he wrote “four years after leaving parliament to devote more time to politics, has convinced me that, far from being apathetic, most people are angry that no one seems to be listening to them; nor do they believe what they are told. Anger and mistrust are highly political responses and in no sense can they be described as apathy.”

Tony Benn is living up to what he promised. He tours the country incessantly, calling on British citizens disillusioned with government, politicians, Parliament, and the inadequacy of a system which describes itself as democracy, but is not democracy, to take to the streets in public protest.

One of the causes for which he campaigns tirelessly is the call to bring back British troops from Afghanistan. Anyone who bothers to read history will know that no foreign power has ever succeeded in occupying Afghanistan.

The Afghan war is unwinnable. NATO should admit defeat, and if NATO insists on continuing to fight, Britain should anyhow withdraw its troops.

The Afghan war is unwinnable.

Bring the troops home.

See next post

Mary Robinson on government role in saving Planet Earth.

Mary Robinson was President of Ireland 1990 – 1997 , and then worked for the United Nations in New York, first as High Commissioner for Human Rights 1997 – 2002 until George W. Bush had her removed from that post because of her support for the Palestinians.

Now she has been asked by Nelson Mandela to become one of the Elders,
a group of 12 ‘wise people’ under the chairmanship of Desmond Tutu.

She was the subject of The Aida Edemariam Interview, in The Guardian of Saturday March 13th, 201, The article described her disgust with the failure of the Copenhagen Conference. Mrs Robinson regards governments as incapable of dealing with the crises which face humanity.

If not governments, who then? Mrs Robinson suggests:
”Civil society: “I mean churches, I mean business, I mean trades unions, I mean the normal environmental groups, development groups, youth groups – as never before we have to build up the pressure.”

From that article, and in general, it is difficult to see what practical projects Mrs Robinson envisages.

But leave that aside for a while. What is immediately noteworthy is that a politician of her stature has given it as her opinion that governments – and therefore, by implication, the whole political process – is irrelevant to the important issues facing this generation.

Many of us powerless individuals have been saying for some time that Prime Ministers and Presidents, Cabinets, Parliaments, and Congresses, are now more or less irrelevant.

Now, an ex-President, has said she agrees with us.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Party politics: Marine pollution

On March 3rd, 2010, The New Statesman contained an article which stated that, according to the Electoral Commission, 56 % of 17 – 25 year-olds have not bothered to register for voting.
They will, however, sign Avaaz petitions.

Avaaz is an international grouping of people who have signed up to its petitions to bring peace to Gaza,
to save the oceans from over-fishing, the BBC from Murdoch, to protect endangered civilians in the Congo,
to protest against Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory,
Iranian internet black-out,
and, perhaps most frequently, to urge action on climate change.
We could summarise Avaaz’s relationship to the non-electorate as follows:

British General Election ignores global poison. Young people ignore British General Election.

On February 24th, 2010, the Telegraph on line contained a post by Ed Cumming, taking a stance as typical of eighteen-year-olds for whom 2010 offered the first General Election in which they were entitled to vote. He used the post to announce he will not be bothering to vote, because none of the parties are interested in the issues which concern him.

“The thought of Brown staying in charge makes most of us want to oblige the fate prophesised (sic) for us and jump into the nearest wheelie bin to die from drugs.

“Yet David Cameron, slick with PR oil, is almost as unelectable. The polls appear to be noticing this, finally, but we’ve been saying it for years.”

Incompetent Brown, untrustworthy Cameron.

Bad luck, handsome David Cameron, they sussed you had air-brushed your poster
Poor Gordon Brown Charles Clarke - a man who seems to hate with passion anyone who isn’t Charles Clarke – is rounding on Gordon Brown again.

On March 3rd, I received an email from Avaaz, asking me for my signature on a petition to the British government to create a marine protection area round the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean.
The email states “The reports are dire: in 38 years our oceans could be completely fished out; in 100 years, all coral reefs might be dead.”

In the few minutes I took to write these paragraphs, between 30 and 40 signatures were added to the Avaaz petition.

Need we say more?

Yes, because it is not only young people who condemn the petty squabblings of our pathetic politicians. It is all of us.

There is a real possibility that we human beings will render the earth uninhabitable before those who are eighteen this year reach their life expectancy term.

Somehow we need to sideline these Brownlets and Cameronlets, and bring in democracy. Then the young people, and the old people, and the middle-aged people, will take part in a new politics, and possibly even save the world.

Shall we vote? Or save the oceans?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Reform Parliament: Corruption Education

The political process provides outstanding object lessons for youth in what can best be described as corruption education.

So let’s congratulate David Chaytor, Eliot Morley, and Jim Devine. Although all three of them are well blessed with handsome salaries, and therefore should not be eligible for legal aid when accused of fiddling expenses, this noble trio has managed to manipulate the system so that when they come to trial, their luxurious legal fees will be paid by us, the British citizen body. If the case goes to Appeal, it may apparently cost us £1 million pounds.

The first lesson in corruption education gained from observing this piece of relatively petty chicanery is the obvious one. In politics, it pays to be a bit dishonest. Think back over history, most ‘great’ leaders have been rogues and cheats for much of their time in power.

But the important lesson is a subtler one. Reform Parliament is the shout. Too many MPs have cheated on expenses making us, the taxpayers fund their duck houses and second home furnishings, and so on. So – reform Parliament. Everyone says their piece, and a few MPs are sacked. Then there’s a General Election; new MPs arrive in the House of Commons, and most of the silly things done in Parliament for the last few hundred years will continue to be done by the next Parliament.

The real lesson of this sorry episode is that the forthcoming election will be argued on trivialities. Of course Britain’s enormous debt is not triviality. But the politicians of all parties have made it very clear to us that they have no idea whatsoever as to how to diminish the debt. So if we are thinking about how to reduce Britain’s deficit we might as well vote by spinning a coin as by listening to Messrs Darling and Osborne
There are questions, serious, important, questions, which the forthcoming election
should decide:
1. Should we withdraw from Afghanistan?
2. Should we now decide not to replace Trident nuclear missile system?
3. How can we most quickly and efficiently produce electricity for all the nation’s needs without using fossil fuels?
4. How can we turn Britain into a democracy, ie stop Britain being ruled by a political party elected by a small proportion of the nation’s citizens?

Reform Parliament? We may have to scrap it and start again from scratch.