Monday, 29 June 2015

Blairism Is No Solution To Labour’s Identity Crisis, by Richard Cotton

The “Blairites” are certainly right about Labour’s so-called 35 per cent strategy. How one envies the SNP for whom every Scottish voter is a target voter. Whatever happened to “One Nation Labour”?

They are also right to suggest that we should help people fulfil their aspirations; but their definition of aspiration is too narrowly focused.

It’s one thing to aspire to shop at John Lewis – I might aspire to shop at Fortnum and Mason – but what about those who aspire to make the shift from food banks to Lidl?

And what about those who may be well off themselves but who aspire to live in a more equal society?  Man cannot live by bread alone.

Labour was always a coalition of the liberal intelligentsia and organised labour but the deal was that the workers would support the liberals’ agenda in return for greater economic equality.

It’s a bargain that hasn’t been kept. Think of that wonderful film Pride about the Lesbian and Gay Miners’ Support Group in South Wales.

Since that time the LGBT community has won almost everything it set out to achieve and more. Who would have thought it possible that a Tory government would enact gay marriage?

Meanwhile, the mining communities in South Wales (and elsewhere) have been left to rot. The security of reasonably well-paid, albeit dangerous, jobs in mining have been replaced by zero-hours contracts on an inadequate minimum wage.  
All of this proves that greater equality in the social sphere does not lead to greater equality in the economic sphere.

Thatcherism was about policing the bedroom while allowing the market to rip in the economy.

Labour should be about the opposite – supporting individual rights through a socially liberal agenda while promoting economic equality through greater state intervention and regulation. 

But the “Blairites” are surely wrong to suggest that simply rehashing “Blairism” is the solution to our current problems.

It’s worth looking at the general election results in a bit more detail and comparing them with the last time Labour formed a government (under Tony Blair’s leadership), which was in 2005.

At that election Labour polled 9,552,436 votes, the SNP polled 412,267 and the Greens 257,758. In 2015, Labour polled 9,347,304, the SNP polled 1,454,436 and the Greens polled 1,157,613.

It is clear that Labour lost votes to parties perceived to be to the left of Labour (primarily the SNP and the Greens).

However, it is also obvious that Labour lost votes to Ukip as well. Plaid Cymru, also campaigning to the left of Labour, achieved its best ever general election result and Ukip were runners-up to Labour in a whole swathe of previously iron-clad Labour strongholds in the valleys.

What is less well known and gives the lie to the “Blairite” argument is that in England Labour polled more votes under Ed Miliband in 2015 than it did under Tony Blair in 2005 (8,087,684 compared with 8,065,213). 

That remarkably accurate exit poll showed that we increased our share of the vote among the middle class but lost heavily among working class voters.

It is surely a matter of concern to my party that 61 per cent of Ukip’s supporters are working class?

It is not immediately clear how a return to “Blairism”, presumably complete with foreign wars fought by expendable working class youths, will win back voters from the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party.

It is even less clear how a return to “Blairism”, with its love of globalisation, slavish adherence to the EU “project” and support for free movement of capital and labour can win back those who deserted Labour for Ukip.

The “Blairite” solution to “left behind” groups voting Ukip would appear to be to leave them there.

There are no easy answers and it is dishonest to suggest otherwise. Labour needs a clean break from the past and new faces at the top. Whoever they are they will need to appeal to the voters we have lost in such large numbers.

It is difficult to see how they can appeal to those voting for the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens at the same time as appealing to those who voted for Ukip.

But it is not impossible, because polling data suggest that these groups have a lot in common. For example, Ukip voters are overwhelmingly in favour of renationalising the railways and higher spending on the NHS.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the cultural anxieties of Ukip voters and the confident nationalism of those who voted Plaid Cymru and SNP – by the way, the clue is in the name: Scottish National Party.

The SNP taps into a sense of national pride, shared history, and community which too many on the left regard as “false consciousness”.

In a world which moves on at frightening speed, destroying communities in its wake and causing mass insecurity, people are looking for a sense of identity (did anyone notice the Liverpool fans’ banner just after the election? “We’re not English, we’re Scouse”, it said) and most of us have multiple identities.

Labour needs to understand this and connect with it.

Richard Cotton has been a Camden councillor since 2014, a Labour Party member since 1967, and an active trade unionist for almost as long. He worked for Camden Council in the 1970s and was political adviser to the leader of Brent  from 1987 to 2010. This article originally appeared here, and is reproduced at the author’s request.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Would Jeffrey Sterling Be In Prison If He Were White?, by Norman Solomon

Last week. CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling went to prison. If he were white, he probably wouldn’t be there.

Sterling was one of the CIA’s few African-American case officers, and he became the first to file a racial discrimination lawsuit against the agency.

That happened shortly before the CIA fired him in late 2001. The official in Langley who did the firing face-to-face was John Brennan, now the CIA’s director and a close adviser to President Obama.

Five months ago, in court, prosecutors kept claiming that Sterling’s pursuit of the racial-bias lawsuit showed a key “motive” for providing classified information to journalist James Risen.

The government’s case at the highly problematic trial was built entirely on circumstantial evidence. Lacking anything more, the prosecution hammered on ostensible motives, telling the jury that Sterling’s “anger,” “bitterness” and “selfishness” had caused him to reveal CIA secrets.

But the history of Sterling’s conflicts with the CIA has involved a pattern of top-down retaliation.

Sterling became a problem for high-ranking officials, who surely did not like the bad publicity that his unprecedented lawsuit generated.

And Sterling caused further hostility in high places when, in the spring of 2003, he went through channels to tell Senate Intelligence Committee staffers of his concerns about the CIA’s reckless Operation Merlin, which had given Iran some flawed design information for a nuclear weapons component.

Among the U.S. government’s advantages at the trial last winter was the fact that the jury did not include a single African-American.

And it was drawn from a jury pool imbued with the CIA-friendly company town atmosphere of Northern Virginia.

Sterling’s long struggle against institutionalized racism is far from over. It continues as he pursues a legal appeal.

He’s in a prison near Denver, nearly 900 miles from his home in the St. Louis area, making it very difficult for his wife Holly to visit.

Last week, as Sterling headed to Colorado, journalist Kevin Gosztola wrote an illuminating piece that indicated the federal Bureau of Prisons has engaged in retaliation by placing Sterling in a prison so far from home. Gosztola concluded: 

“There really is no accountability for BOP officials who inappropriately designate inmates for prisons far away from their families.”

With the government eager to isolate Jeffrey Sterling, it’s important for him to hear from people who wish him well.

Before going to prison, Sterling could see many warmly supportive comments online, posted by contributors to the Sterling Family Fund and signers of the petition that urged the Justice Department to drop all charges against him.

Now he can get postal mail at: Jeffrey Sterling, 38338-044, FCI Englewood, Federal Correctional Institution, 9595 West Quincy Ave., Littleton, CO 80123.

Sterling can receive only letters and cards. “All incoming correspondence is reviewed,” the Sterling Family Fund notes.

“It is important that all content is of an uplifting nature as any disparaging comments about the government, the trial or any peoples involved will have negative consequences for Jeffrey.

While it’s vital that Sterling hear from well-wishers, it’s also crucial that the public hear from him. 

The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling,” released the day after he was sentenced in mid-May, made it possible for the public to hear his voice.

The short documentary (which I produced for ExposeFacts) was directed by Oscar nominee Judith Ehrlich.

More recently, journalist Peter Maass did a fine job with an extensive article, “How Jeffrey Sterling Took on the CIA -- and Lost Everything.”

It should be unacceptable that racism helped the government to put Jeffrey Sterling in prison.

Norman Solomon is a journalist, media critic, and antiwar activist, and he was a candidate for the United States House of Representatives in 2012. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the author of books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is a co-founder of, which has encouraged donations to the Sterling Family Fund. He blogs here. This article is reproduced here.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Father's Day, by David Lindsay

Only 35 years ago, a single manual wage provided the wage-earner, his wife and their several children with a quality of life unimaginable even on two professional salaries today.

This impoverishment has been so rapid and so extreme that most people, including almost all politicians and commentators, simply refuse to acknowledge that it has happened.

But it has indeed happened. And it is still going on.

If fathers matter, then they must face up to their responsibilities, with every assistance, including censure where necessary, from the wider society, including when it acts politically as the State.

A legal presumption of equal parenting. Restoration of the tax allowance for fathers for so long as Child Benefit was being paid to mothers.

Restoration of the requirement that providers of fertility treatment take account of the child’s need for a father. Repeal of the ludicrous provision for two women to be listed as a child’s parents on a birth certificate, although even that is excelled by the provision for two men to be so listed.

And paternity leave available at any time until the child was 18 or left school, thereby reasserting paternal authority, and thus requiring paternal responsibility, at key points in childhood and adolescence.

Of course a new baby needs her mother. But a 15-year-old might very well need her father, and that bit of paternity leave that he has been owed these last 15 years.

That authority and responsibility require an economic basis such as only the State can ever guarantee, and such as only the State can very often deliver.

That basis is high-wage, high-skilled, high-status employment. All aspects of public policy must take account of this urgent social and cultural need.

Not least, that includes energy policy: the energy sources to be preferred by the State are those providing the high-wage, high-skilled, high-status jobs that secure the economic basis of paternal authority in the family and in the wider community.

So, nuclear power. And coal, not dole.

Moreover, paternal authority cannot be affirmed while fathers are torn away from their children and harvested in wars. 

Especially, though not exclusively, since those sent to war tend to come from working-class backgrounds, where starting to have children often still happens earlier than has lately become the norm.

Think of those very young men whom we see going off or coming home, hugging and kissing their tiny children.

You can believe in fatherhood, or you can support wars under certainly most and possibly all circumstances, the latter especially in practice today even if not necessarily in the past or in principle.

You cannot do both.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The False Dalai Lama Who Changes Buddhism Into Political Gain Through Lying, by Nicholas Pitts

Make no mistake about it, the Dalai Lama is first and foremost a politician.

Though admired as the ‘spiritual leader of the Tibetan people’, in reality he uses this position as a veil to conceal his true actions and intentions, exploiting his celebrity status to further his own personal and political ambitions.

There is a vast body of well documented evidence proving that away from the glare of the international media the Dalai Lama is a ruthless and corrupt politician who uses intimidation, humiliation and banishment to suppress those who do not abide by his authoritarian edicts.

Rather than being subjected to scrutiny and held to account for these iniquitous actions, the Dalai Lama enjoys a devious courtship with politicians, journalists and celebrities whose interests are served by their association with him.

His elaborate public relations machine, financed by the millions he shamefully earns from Buddha’s teachings, exploits these relationships to protect him from public scrutiny and perpetuate the myth that he is a humble Buddhist monk who champions the cause of religious freedom and promotes the protection of human rights.

But while the world fĂȘtes the Dalai Lama as a great Buddhist leader, the truth is that through his lies and deception he is destroying the spiritual heart of the Buddhist religion, and transforming it into a vehicle for naked personal ambition and political gain.

In his pursuit of political dominance, he has imposed a global ban on the traditional Buddhist practice of Dorje Shugden.

He justifies his actions with the absurd and totally unsubstantiated claim that the Shugden practice threatens his life, harms the Tibetan people, and harms Tibetan independence.

The truth, of course is that it is his actions that harm the Tibetan cause. It is he who exploits public sympathy towards the Tibetan cause for his own political gain and personal aggrandisement.

This ‘humble Buddhist monk’, as he likes to call himself, makes vast sums of money out of Buddha’s teachings, sports Gucci loafers and Rolex watches, and stays in five-star hotels, while his own people, whom he suppresses so cruelly, live in poverty, hardship and fear.

Like any corrupt politician, he is not averse to using threats and intimidation.

In one lecture from a Buddhist teaching throne, he issued a threat that those who did not comply with his ban would receive a ‘knock on the door’ from his henchmen.

As a result, many Tibetans have been cowed into publicly renouncing the deity they worship.

Those who do not recant are mercilessly expelled from Tibetan society by their fellow countrymen, who have been whipped into a frenzy of anger by the Dalai Lama’s carefully crafted lies.

Using public humiliation, provocation, intimidation and threats, including dismissing them from their jobs, refusing them basic services and publicly spreading lies about them, they have driven Shugden practitioners and their families into spiritual and social ghettos with no communication with or support from mainstream Tibetan communities.

All this is well-documented.

In instigating and encouraging these actions, the Dalai Lama is pandering to the worst instincts of human nature rather than helping to elevate the human mind and human nature to higher levels, which is what we would expect from a pure spiritual leader.

This is not just a Tibetan problem.

Under the spell of the Dalai Lama’s cult status, even people who live in modern democratic societies have been mesmerised into suspending their critical judgement and taking part in what is effectively a medieval witch hunt.

Deceived by a constant stream of lies and disinformation from the Central Tibetan Administration and the Dalai Lama’s Office, they have unleashed a campaign of demonisation and exclusion that is causing suffering to thousands of innocent people who have done no harm, but who simply choose to follow a practice given to them by their own Spiritual Guides.

As a result, many thousands of peaceful and sincere Buddhist practitioners throughout the world face ridicule, intimidation and exclusion from mainstream Buddhism on a daily basis.

Though the Dalai Lama would have us believe that Shugden practitioners are a sectarian group, this split in the Buddhist community was brought about entirely by his own sectarian actions, and only he can solve the problem.

All Shugden practitioners can do is protest and hope the world wakes up to the great deception and injustice he is perpetrating.

For this reason the International Shugden Community (ISC) organises public protests to bring this tragic situation to the world's attention. But they are up against formidable opponents.

For example, The Guardian and The Observer recently published a vitriolic and completely ill-informed article criticising the ISC in the run up to one of the demonstrations in the UK.

Besides being an insult to the intelligence of its readers and a disgrace to the profession of journalism this article has caused grave offence to Shugden people worldwide and deliberately sought to destroy their reputation.

It is an appalling example of the slavish and uncritical deference many in the West show to the Dalai Lama.

Astonishingly, the author, Jamie Doward, accuses Shugden practitioners of being a fanatical sect, ‘which believes in an evil spirit that inflicts madness and death on its enemies’ and whose ‘systematic campaign against the Dalai Lama and deepening oppression threatens the very survival of Tibetan religion and cultural identity.’

It is hard to believe that people living in a free society would entertain such superstitious nonsense, let alone espouse it. It is as if they are under a spell.

The same article quotes a Geshe Tashi as saying, ‘The advice of his holiness about Shugden practice is based on his strong commitment to promote religious harmony and greater understanding between the world’s major religious traditions and the different Buddhist schools.’

Tashi is clearly lying and his statement is complete nonsense.

How does the Dalai Lama’s ban on the practice of Shugden cause greater harmony and understanding between the world’s major religions?

In truth this so-called ‘advice’ has caused a huge division within Buddhism and destroyed the harmony, good relationships and peace fellow Buddhists previously enjoyed.

Now non-Shugden people who support the Dalai Lama regard Shugden people as their enemies. All this is caused only by the Dalai Lama’s ‘advice’.

Tibetans themselves know very well that this Dalai Lama has destroyed pure Buddhism by transforming Buddhism for his own political aims.

Many Tibetan Buddhists, including Tashi, abandon pure Buddhism and follow this political Lama in using Buddhism for their own political gain. This situation is very sad.‏

The article also quotes Kate Saunders, the Communications Director for the International Campaign for Tibet as saying, ‘The protesters are from an extremist religious group that is aligned with the political agenda of the Chinese government in Tibet to undermine the Dalai Lama and enforce allegiance to the Chinese Communist party.’

This is a deliberate lie. The Shugden community has no connection at all with China or its government. This lie is used as a smokescreen to hide the Dalai Lama’s own abuse of human rights.

In truth it is her way of viewing the Dalai Lama that is the real extremist view.

She believes that the Dalai Lama is beyond fault when in reality he is an evil person who causes many thousands of people to suffer.

He cheats the world through pretending to be a holy being when his main aim is to control everybody.

He has banned the worship of Shugden only for the fulfilment of his own selfish wishes. But he even lies about this, and publicly pretends that there is no ban.

By changing Buddhism into political gain through lying, the Dalai Lama will destroy pure Buddhism.

This is why the ISC are demonstrating against him and calling upon him to ‘stop lying.’

Based in Hong Kong, Nicholas Pitts is the International Shugden Community Representative.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

CIA Mission: Destroy the Whistleblower and Perfume the Stench, by Norman Solomon

The leak trial of CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling never got near a smoking gun, but the entire circumstantial case was a smokescreen.

Prosecutors were hell-bent on torching the defendant to vindicate Operation Merlin, nine years after a book by James Risen reported that it “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.” 

That bestselling book, State of War, seemed to leave an indelible stain on Operation Merlin while soiling the CIA’s image as a reasonably competent outfit.

The prosecution of Sterling was a cleansing service for the Central Intelligence Agency, which joined with the Justice Department to depict the author and the whistleblower as scurrilous mud-throwers.

In the courtroom, where journalist Risen was beyond the reach of the law, the CIA’s long-smoldering rage vented at the defendant.

Sterling had gone through channels in 2003 to warn Senate Intelligence Committee staffers about Operation Merlin, and he was later indicted for allegedly giving Risen classified information about it.

For CIA officials, the prosecution wasn’t only to punish Sterling and frighten potential whistleblowers; it was also about payback, rewriting history and assisting with a PR comeback for the operation as well as the agency.

Last week, the jury — drawn from an area of Northern Virginia that is home to CIA headquarters, the Pentagon and a large number of contractors for the military-industrial-intelligence complex — came back with guilty verdicts on all counts.

The jurors had heard from a succession of CIA witnesses as well as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, extolling Operation Merlin and deploring any effort to lift its veil of secrecy.

During the first half of the government’s six days of testimony, the prosecution seemed to be defending Operation Merlin more than prosecuting Jeffrey Sterling.

Prosecutors defamed Sterling’s character in opening and closing arguments, but few CIA witnesses had anything bad to say about him.

The notable exception, CIA official David Cohen — who ran the agency’s New York office when Sterling worked there — testified that “his performance was extremely sub-par.” 

Cohen’s affect on the stand gave new meaning to the term hostile witness. He exuded major antipathy toward Sterling, who had been one of the CIA’s few American-American case officers. Sterling filed a racial bias lawsuit before the agency fired him.

“In the wake of 9/11, Cohen moved from the CIA to the NYPD,” Marcy Wheeler wrote. “In 2002, he got a federal court to relax the Handschu guidelines, which had been set up in 1985 in response to NYPD’s targeting of people for their political speech. … After getting the rules relaxed, Cohen created teams of informants that infiltrated mosques and had officers catalog Muslim-owned restaurants, shops, and even schools.” 

From the government’s standpoint in the courtroom, the worse it could make Sterling look, the better the CIA and Operation Merlin would look, and vice versa. 

Throughout the trial, prosecutors put forward their case as a kind of seesaw, elevating the operation while pushing Sterling into the dirt — repeatedly depicting the defendant as a bitter malcontent who failed to appreciate the nobility and great expertise that went into Operation Merlin. 

“It was a brilliant operation,” a Russian scientist exclaimed in a videotaped deposition. Known as Mr. Merlin during the trial, he had played a central role in Operation Merlin, delivering flawed design materials for a nuclear weapon component to an Iranian office in Vienna back in 2000. (The scientist was a recipient of several hundred thousand dollars as a CIA “human asset.”) 

In theory, those materials would send Iran’s government down a dead-end technical path. Mr. Merlin’s testimony, passably smooth under government questioning, turned into a hash during cross examination.

Well before the defense was done with the Russian, the unraveling of his performance made it easy to see why the government had tried to exclude him as a witness, claiming he was too ill to testify. Few reporters covered the bulk of the trial’s several dozen hours of testimony. (In the courtroom each day, I usually saw no more than three or four other journalists present.)

The dire shortage of thorough coverage meant that news media did very little to illuminate the profuse contradictions and disturbing implications that riddled the testimony from more than 20 employees of the CIA.

From the crumbling credibility of Mr. Merlin, to the wavering or contradictory testimony of “Zach W,” “Bob S,” “Walter C” and other CIA operatives, to the notably inaccurate testimony of former CIA nonproliferation division honcho David Shedd, to many other witnesses, the puzzle pieces that the CIA presented for Operation Merlin had gaping holes and numerous disconnects.

The trial is over, and — although the proceedings did not truly establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — Jeffrey Sterling has been convicted on nine felony counts, including seven under the egregiously misapplied Espionage Act of 1917. His sentencing is scheduled for late April.

[Editor’s Note: Sentencing was originally scheduled for 24th April. One day earlier, a sentence of no more than two years’ probation plus a fine was given to David Petraeus, the former Director of the CIA who has a four-star General had previously overseen all coalition forces in Iraq, for the felony of providing classified information to an unauthorised person. Sterling's lawyers submitted a plea that Sterling “not receive a different form of justice” from Petraeus, but instead a similarly lenient sentence rather than the 19 to 24 years’ imprisonment sought by the federal prosecutors. On 11th May, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema sentenced Sterling to three and a half years in prison.]

But the issues raised at the trial are far from settled. And the stakes remain huge. In the words of Risen’s book, Operation Merlin “has been conducted in the darkest corner of the American national security establishment.”

Today, that corner is even dimmer and more dangerous. Since the end of the Clinton administration, the CIA has expanded its missions and heightened its impunity.

An agency that insists it can do no wrong has amassed a grisly 21st century record of torture, rendition and drones, fueling the kind of terrorism that Presidents Bush and Obama have claimed to be combating.

If Operation Merlin is supposed to be some kind of exemplar for covert CIA actions that must be shielded from public scrutiny, the government is further undermining its case for cracking down on whistleblowers.

The Sterling trial record — far from being exculpatory for Operation Merlin — indicates that the CIA program was, if anything, even more shoddy and irresponsible than Risen’s book reported. More secrecy can only breed more impunity.

The trial of Jeffrey Sterling shook loose more serious questions about Operation Merlin than it laid to rest. The last big shoe in this real-life saga has yet to drop.

Norman Solomon is a journalist, media critic, and antiwar activist, and he was a candidate for the United States House of Representatives in 2012. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the author of books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is a co-founder of, which has encouraged donations to the Sterling Family Fund. He blogs here. This article originally appeared here, and is reproduced at the kind suggestion of the author.

Jeffrey Sterling vs. the CIA: An Untold Story of Race and Retribution, by Norman Solomon

A dozen years before his recent sentencing to a 42-month prison term based on a jury’s conclusion that he gave classified information to a New York Times journalist, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was in the midst of a protracted and fruitless effort to find someone in Congress willing to look into his accusations about racial discrimination at the agency. has obtained letters from Sterling to prominent members of Congress, beseeching them in 2003 and 2006 to hear him out about racial bias at the CIA. Sterling, who is expected to enter prison soon, provided the letters last week.

They indicate that he believed the CIA was retaliating against him for daring to become the first-ever black case officer to sue the agency for racial discrimination.

As early as 2000, Sterling was reaching out toward Capitol Hill about his concerns.

He received a positive response from House member Julian Dixon (D-Calif.), a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who expressed interest in pursuing the matter of racial discrimination at the CIA and contacted the agency about his case, Sterling says.

But the 20-year member of Congress died from a heart attack on Dec. 8, 2000. Sterling recalls getting special firing treatment in early 2002 from John Brennan, then a high-ranking CIA executive, now the agency’s director and a close adviser to President Obama: 

“He personally came down to the administrative office to tell me that I was fired. Someone told me that, ‘Well, you pulled on Superman’s cape.’”

Soon after the CIA fired him, the New York TimesPeople magazine and CNN reported on Sterling’s lawsuit charging the CIA with racial discrimination.

But Sterling found no support from civil rights organizations. In a letter dated Jan. 9, 2003, to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Sterling recalled joining the CIA in 1993 “to serve my country” — “but the clubby and racially exclusive atmosphere in the Agency denied me such an opportunity.”

The letter went on: 

“The Agency taught me Farsi and I was trained as an expert against Iranians and terrorists. I proved my abilities as a case officer, however, when the time came for my use in the field or to move up in the ranks of officers, I was ‘too big and too black.’ That and other discriminatory treatment I received during my time at the Agency are the impetus behind my suit.”

In an interview for the new documentary “The Invisible Man: NSA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling” (which I produced on behalf of ExposeFacts), Sterling told the film’s director Judith Ehrlich that CIA leaders quickly focused on him when they learned about a leak of classified information to Times reporter James Risen in the early spring of 2003.

(At the emphatic request of the Bush White House, the story was spiked by the Times leadership and did not reach the public until a book by Risen appeared in January 2006.)

“They already had the machine geared up against me,” Sterling says in the film. “The moment that they felt there was a leak, every finger pointed to Jeffrey Sterling.” 

He added: “If the word ‘retaliation’ is not thought of when anyone looks at the experience that I’ve had with the agency, then I just think you’re not looking.” 

His letters to members of Congress, being reported here for the first time, show that Sterling was anticipating severe retribution as early as mid-2003 — more than seven years before he was indicted on numerous felony counts, including seven under the Espionage Act, for allegedly informing Risen about the CIA’s Operation Merlin.

That operation had given flawed design material for a nuclear weapon component to the Iranian government in early 2000. According to Risen’s reporting, Merlin “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.” 

While the prosecution put on 23 witnesses from the CIA during Sterling’s trial in January this year, negative comments about his actual job performance at the CIA were rare during their testimony. 

An exception was David Cohen, who headed the CIA’s New York office when Sterling worked there. Cohen — a notably hostile witness who called Sterling’s job performance “extremely sub-par” — booted Sterling from the New York office in 2000.

Shortly after 9/11, Cohen left the CIA to head up a New York Police Department program that drew strong criticism and opposition from civil liberties groups.

In 2002, as my colleague Marcy Wheeler wrote, Cohen “got a federal court to relax the Handschu guidelines, which had been set up in 1985 in response to NYPD’s targeting of people for their political speech. … After getting the rules relaxed, Cohen created teams of informants that infiltrated mosques and had officers catalog Muslim-owned restaurants, shops, and even schools.” 

The CIA fired Sterling in January 2002 after many months of administrative limbo. His letters the following year reflected escalating disappointment and anger at an absence of interest from members of Congress as well as from civil rights organizations including the Rainbow Push Coalition and the NAACP.

Sterling says that none answered his letters. “It has … become apparent there is a general fear of taking on the CIA,” said a June 26, 2003 letter from Sterling to the then-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). 

“As a result, I have been engaged in a solitary and completely one-sided battle against the Agency that has left me ruined. There has been no one to stand with me either out of fear or ignorance. At every turn, the Agency has attempted to denigrate me and get rid of my case.” 

(Sterling’s lawsuit was to continue along a convoluted judicial path for over two more years, until a court finally dismissed it on grounds that a trial would reveal state secrets.) 

Sterling says he never got a reply from Rep. Cummings. “Congressman Cummings does not recall receiving such a letter,” his press secretary Trudy Perkins told me this week.

Sterling’s letter to Cummings came two months after the White House had succeeded at persuading the Times management not to publish Risen’s story on Operation Merlin. Meanwhile, the government was searching for someone to blame for the leak.

“Now it seems I am part of a leak investigation being conducted by FBI,” Sterling’s letter said. “Apparently, information related to very sensitive operations I was instrumental in conducting was leaked to the press thereby causing the FBI to launch an investigation.” 

The letter added: “As I have absolutely nothing to hide, I agreed to meet with the FBI to show my veracity and assist in their investigation. During that meeting, it was apparent that CIA has been instrumental in pointing the finger directly at me as a source of this leak.

“Though the FBI Agents conducting the session emphasized that I was not the target of their investigation, it was more than obvious to me that I will be the one to eventually take the fall.”

The indictment of Jeffrey Sterling came seven and a half years later, at the end of 2010.

Testimony at Sterling’s trial showed that the FBI did little or no investigation of other individuals who had extensive knowledge of Operation Merlin.

For instance, the then-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts (R-KS), shielded the committee’s chief of staff by successfully insisting that the FBI not interview him about the leak — even though, or perhaps because, investigators viewed the committee’s chief of staff as a key suspect.

Trial testimony showed that the FBI had initially suspected that the leak came from the Senate committee staff. On July 17, 2003 — four months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq — Sterling sent a letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who had recently been chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and remained its ranking member.

“Given the courage you have displayed along with a few other Senators in speaking out about the current intelligence controversy related to Iraqi WMD,” Sterling wrote, “I feel that you would be an appropriate Senator to reach out to. What I have to say is substantially related to the current debate about WMD intelligence.”

At Sterling’s trial four months ago, Judge Leonie Brinkema effectively barred defense efforts to present information related to Sterling’s concerns about such matters.

But those concerns are evident in Sterling’s letter to Sen. Levin, which addressed issues of CIA activities related to weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East region.

Sterling’s letter to Levin stated that “since April 2000” — just two months after Operation Merlin gave flawed nuclear weapon design information to Iran — “I have been reaching out to numerous members of Congress including both intelligence committees to bring to their attention my concerns about the CIA’s efforts directed at terrorism (focus on pre 9/11) and dangers of certain operations, particularly involving WMD in the Middle East. My efforts all fell upon deaf ears.” 

The letter continued: “Finally, after close to three years of trying, I gained an audience with the Senate Intelligence Committee — more specifically, Committee staffers this past March. I told them my concerns and provided necessary details and specifics. I pointed out though I had extensive experience in Iranian operations, the WMD information had significant impact on intelligence related to Iraq.” 

(Sterling had gone through legal channels to meet with Senate Intelligence Committee staffers. A dozen years later, testimony at Sterling’s trial revealed that only negligible action had resulted. A high-ranking committee staff member told of asking the CIA if its Operation Merlin was problematic, and predictably the CIA replied that the operation was just fine.)

Shortly after he met with Senate committee staff, Sterling’s letter to Sen. Levin said, “in early April the information was evidently leaked to the press. I have no idea what the staffers did with the information, but it is difficult for me to assume that the leak did not somehow originate from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“From the frantic way the CIA threatened my attorney with sanctions and threats to send their security folks to pay me a visit, it was clear that CIA automatically assumed I was the source of the leak without even confirming that I had talked with individuals cleared to hear the information. … 

“I have been trying to do the right thing, and I found myself in the middle of a firestorm involving the [Bush] Administration and the highest levels of CIA and FBI. Given the current debate on intelligence and the credibility of the President, I can certainly understand the attempts to make me just ‘go away.’

“Despite the great personal risk I am undertaking reaching out to you, I feel it my duty to bring to your attention information that is vital to the national security of this country. I feel this especially given the way the President and the administration has skewed the truth with regard to WMD intelligence.”

Sterling’s letter to Levin noted that “as a Senator, you should have the proper clearance for me to discuss intelligence matters with you,” and closed with a one-sentence paragraph: “I do hope to hear from you soon.” 

Sterling told me that he never heard from Sen. Levin. Likewise, Sterling says, he received no reply to the October 2, 2006 letter that he sent to Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), who then chaired the Congressional Black Caucus. (Watt, like Levin, is no longer in Congress.)

That year had begun with publication of Risen’s book “State of War,” followed by an FBI raid on the home near St. Louis that Sterling shared with his then-fiancee and current wife Holly. 

“Now there is a federal grand jury sitting attempting to come up with something to indict me on,” Sterling wrote.

Recalling how his discrimination suit was tossed out of court on “national security” grounds, he added: “I think it is deplorable how I am denied the opportunity to utilize the courts to defend my civil rights, yet they can use the same system to most likely charge me with a supposed crime.”

Like his going through channels to file an internal complaint with the CIA and then a court lawsuit alleging racial discrimination at the agency, Sterling’s going through channels to express concerns to the Senate Intelligence Committee was to be repeatedly used against him during the January 2015 trial that resulted in a prison sentence of three and a half years.

Inside the courtroom, in front of the jury, the prosecution often cited his lawsuit and his contact with Senate Intelligence Committee staffers as clear indications of bitterness, vengefulness and motive for taking the actions alleged in the indictment.

At the CIA and the Justice Department, authorities routinely depicted Jeffrey Sterling as a “disgruntled” employee. During interviews for “The Invisible Man,” he addressed how that depiction has played out for him:

“I think the label ‘disgruntled’ came from the moment that I complained, in any aspect. I was not being part of the team. … 

“People say that individuals play the race card. What about the other side of that? The race card was certainly being played with me. And you can say it was the white race card because I wasn’t white. They had all those cards. … 

“And if there isn’t going to be a true, real, honest investigation with any veracity, the natural conclusion is going be ‘disgruntled.’ It’s a very easy label to place.”

Norman Solomon is a journalist, media critic, and antiwar activist, and he was a candidate for the United States House of Representatives in 2012. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the author of books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is a co-founder of, which has encouraged donations to the Sterling Family Fund. He blogs here. This article originally appeared here, and is reproduced at the kind suggestion of the author.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The SNP: Murdoch By Other Means, by Robin Carmody

Rupert Murdoch desires to isolate inconveniently semi-socialist outposts from the core of the Anglosphere, and to separate them geopolitically so as to provide much less inconvenience to himself.

I suspect that nobody is more pleased at the thought that the SNP might take Scotland out of the UK if the UK left the EU.

Thus, the West would be divided into a United States of the Anglosphere and a United States of Europe, with the United Kingdom partitioned between the two. That would be the conclusion of Murdoch’s life’s work. 

But the SNP has, to a very substantial extent, brought this unholy alliance on itself.

Specifically, it has not fully realised how similar – even if espoused for different reasons – much of its rhetoric is to classic Murdochian ideas.

It does not really have the right to complain that it is being used for geopolitical reasons, promoted and pushed so as to help other forces within a Great Game that, at root, has very little to do with Scotland.

I do not dispute that many SNP members and voters are genuine Scottish patriots. I do not dispute that many of them feel a genuine revulsion at neoliberalism and all its works. I do not dispute that many of them feel they have the best possible intents at heart. 

I do not challenge the fact that the British state and its institutions have often treated Scotland appallingly, as much on the Left as on the Right. 

I may disagree with them about whether or not their aims can be achieved without disastrous effects on the very existence – the very  right to exist in their own country – of a very substantial number of people who know no country but England. But I do not doubt their sincerity in what they claim to believe. 

However, national self-determination has to include a cultural element or it is nothing. It also has to recognise where the main threats to its nation’s cultural sovereignty come from – and just as importantly, where they do not come from, even if they once did. 

At times, the SNP reminds me of the owners of the Croke Park GAA stadium in Dublin in an era that already seems far distant, who before they allowed soccer and rugby to be played there (leading to one of the key reconciliations of 2007), still forbade “English sports” but happily allowed American stadium rock bands to perform there. 

Both have suffered from a tendency to fight old battles so long and so far that they have lost sight of where the real intrusion is coming from now. 

In that respect, they are very useful and convenient for Rupert Murdoch, much of whose drive and determination comes from the exaggeration and perpetuation of a mythical “Establishment” long after it has actually ceased to exist.

He appeals to an Anglo-British populist patriotism that is increasingly open in its English nationalism at least in rhetoric, although it is Anglosphere nationalist in practice.

He does so while selling a wholly foreign culture draped in the Union Jack or, increasingly, the Cross of St George, and trusting in the inability of the lumpenproletariat to know the difference.

If others do something alarmingly similar elsewhere, just dressed in a Saltire, then who can blame Murdoch for lending them his fervent support, the better that they can be used for a deeper geopolitical goal? 

More specifically, the SNP and Murdoch share a profound enemy: the BBC. 

The SNP will make maximum levels of political capital out of age-old resentments – many of which undoubtedly existed historically for huge and justified reasons, and may well still do so in some cases – about an institutional bias against Scotland and specifically towards the South East of England. 

I do not doubt that the BBC, in common with other London-centred institutions of what in those days really still was the Establishment, has in the past treated Scotland poorly and contemptuously on occasions, perpetuating nasty, played-out, unfunny jokes and stereotypes. 

But attitudes are fundamentally different now.

Even if largely by default, the BBC has become far more committed to areas that it largely ignored in the past. That was part of the reason why ITV tended to do better the further you got from the south-east in the duopoly days.

Scotland has at least, and very much unlike Northern England, retained the mass-audience commercial channel that “hammocks” the big English or globally-rooted hits with its own output.

Although not everyone in Northern Scotland has been happy with Grampian’s absorption, something that Sky of course rendered much harder to avoid. 

It is wholly unfair, in my opinion, to suggest that there is as great a cultural bias and disapproval as almost certainly existed for much of the BBC’s history.

Most importantly, the obsession with the BBC as the sole and only threat to Scotland’s cultural self-determination does not simply play into Murdoch’s hands.

The SNP would keep the principle of public broadcasting alive in a way that Murdoch would not. But its idea of public broadcasting could be far more blatantly state-controlled. Scottish definitions of Leftism were never really influenced by libertarianism, whereas English ones were in a way that pushed elements in the English Left towards their own kind of “same means, different ends” ambiguity about Murdoch.

Yet the SNP ignores what is, by any standards, the far greater threat to the things a reasonably culturally conservative, social democratic, nationalist party is supposed to defend by the proliferation of deregulated broadcasting, a door which Murdoch largely pushed open and of which, at the risk of mixing metaphors, he has remained the gatekeeper. 

Are Scotland’s historic market towns (where romantic nationalism was once strongest, but which came through for the Union when they had to), and are its former heavy-industrial areas (where the new nationalism has its strongest core of support), really full of people adopting the speech, manners and dress sense of Reithian formality?

And there is another irony: the BBC’s roots are very substantially in a kind of Anglo-Scottishness that England and Scotland have abandoned in about equal parts, and revolted against in directions which may seem oppositional in every sense, but which are brought together by Murdoch’s desire to use them both.

Are those market towns and those former heavy-industrial areas characterised by the speech, manners and dress sense of Reithian formality, such as have been greatly compromised even in their longest-lasting heartlands in the same era that has seen Scotland gain ever greater autonomy, and which indeed declined largely under the influence of the same government which authorised that autonomy?

Or they characterised by the speech, manners and dress sense brought through the global tide of deregulated media, which have far fewer historic ties to Scotland and far less meaningful connection to any idea of Scottishness, but which – as in Ireland – are sometimes embraced as a “lesser evil”, and on the wrong side of which, every bit as much as in England, you cannot get if you want the most circulated newspaper to support you?

The Stage and Television Today digital archive confirms that at a time of intense frustration and anger in Scotland in the wake of the rigged 1979 referendum and the effects of Thatcherism, Dallas was more likely to be the BBC’s most-watched programme in Scotland and Northern Ireland than elsewhere.

That undoubtedly reflected the fact that the BBC’s own output had more of a Home Counties vibe at the time than that produced by the ITV companies combined.

But it also reflected an outlook that, if transferred from the closed broadcasting environment of 1982 to that which exists in 2015, is every bit as pseudo-anti-Establishment as that of Murdoch himself.

And that is before we come to the effect of Sky on how even the leading clubs of Scottish football have fallen so far behind financially in modern times.

I am wholly aware of the problems built into the Old Firm’s existence, and I would not wish the way Rangers have been treated by successive owners even on that part of the working class, by far the most problematic for people like me throughout history.

I think that the Scottish top flight has probably been better off without them. Though it would be better off still if the team rooted in an equally ahistoric, and now deprecated, view of Ireland rather than of England-as-Britain, could be challenged seriously for the title.

But the fact that Rangers, and to a lesser extent at that point Celtic, once had an income and financial clout comparable even to the leading clubs in England, and well above that of the middling and lower sides in what was about to become the Premier League, seems almost unbelievable now. It is not the BBC that has caused that situation. 

Worse, there might even be a tendency within the SNP which thinks that Murdoch is really Scottish simply because of his surname and ancestry, and which feels that his struggle with the old paternalistic English establishment – which he has perpetuated in his mind long after it ceased to exist, out of sheer fear of being exposed as an establishment titan in and of himself – is also their struggle, equating the two in its mind.

Consider that Welsh nationalism generally, and Plaid Cymru specifically, are stunted at birth in most of Wales by the basic inability of any movement that says that “We were here first and the English are really German” to make any moral claims to be above those in England who say that, “We were here first and people of Pakistani descent who know no country but England are really Pakistani”.

Likewise, you cannot really condemn English Murdochians who effectively say, with the usual racial inferences of that kind of Anglosphere nationalism, that, “All white Americans are really English”, if you yourself are willing to make similar claims when it suits you.

Show Murdoch anyone who makes their central enemy, the guiding force of their hatred, the mythical enemy of BBC and Home Counties Englishness as if 1955 had never ended, and he will love them in a heartbeat and never let them go.

BBC and Home Counties Englishness has in reality been utterly compromised and weakened for three decades.

When I happened this week to re-read Philippa Pearce’s Minnow on the Say, I found it harder and harder to believe that it seemed relatively normal to me as a child, something that I could imagine happening at least the day before yesterday.

Just as I find it harder and harder to believe that Eleanor Graham’s Puffin Book of Verse, a book that among much else clearly articulated Reithian Anglo-Scottishness, seemed comparatively unremarkable and almost easy to get my head around.

That change has been in line with the silent and almost entirely unacknowledged, but of course intimately Murdoch-led, transformation of Toryism into neo-Whiggery.

But show Murdoch someone who recognises the vastly increased challenge that deregulated multichannel broadcasting poses to the maintenance of national cultural sovereignty, and he will make it his life’s work to freeze them out and isolate them from any kind of power, permanently and for good.

That challenge is posed to any nation, anywhere in the world, and in this context it is posed both to the United Kingdom, for those who still believe in it, and to its constituent parts, for those who believe in those in and of themselves.

The SNP has made mythical BBC and Home Counties Englishness their central enemy, the guiding force of their hatred, obsessively for decades.

They have vastly exaggerated its power, strength and potency in the modern day, in exactly the same way that the incarnation of The Sun which painted Nicola Sturgeon as some sort of Communist holding the country to ransom continues to do, arguably more than the version of the paper which hailed her as a conquering hero. 

But the SNP has never lifted so much as a little finger to recognise the vastly increased challenge that deregulated multichannel broadcasting poses to the maintenance of national cultural sovereignty.

I have no doubt that its wariness on this point comes from a desire to seem as inclusive and right-on as it can. As indeed do many tendencies of thought in modern England. In the end, in the harsh geopolitical realities in which we live, those come out as implicitly and accidentally pro-Murdoch. 

I have a good deal of sympathy for the argument that any feeling on the SNP’s part that a return to the BBC-IBA model in an independent Scotland would be implicitly totalitarian and quasi-fascist comes from a place far closer to the soixante-huitard English deregulators of the Left than to the full-on cynicism of the Cameron-Osborne position.

Fundamentally, we are talking about Marxism Today when Sky launched from Astra, and when it could still be imagined to be that which Marx thought that mercantile capitalism could be.

But facing the Anglosphere, from its core to its fringes, and as it is rather than as everyone who thinks like me wants it to be, how can the SNP, truthfully and honestly, complain when the global oligarch of neoliberalism sees that party as a force with which he can work?

I could admire the SNP with far fewer doubts and far fewer reservations if it had realised that its central aim, however well-meant and however well-thought-out in the SNP’s own terms, could so easily be used by forces that I have no doubt that many of its members and at least its longer-term supporters despised.

I could do so if it had sensibly and empirically adjusted some of its tactics in response, placing more emphasis on the damage done to a putatively independent Scotland’s cultural sovereignty by the scale of the global mass media, and moving away from the absolute, unrelenting emphasis on attacking the BBC, out of a sensible realisation that there were stronger and more powerful anti-BBC forces against which, if it came to a battle of anti-BBC positions, the SNP would have no chance whatsoever. 

As it is, the party is fatally compromised. 

Undoubtedly honest in what it believes, and undoubtedly genuine in some of its ideas. But still fatally compromised by Salmond’s Faustian pact with forces that could make mincemeat of the SNP if they wanted to.

They could in the end render it as desperately trapped as those in England who are most likely to feel an affinity with it as long as they are unaware of that pact’s full implications.

That is the ultimate extreme definition of being desperately trapped, as I think that anyone could agree.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Corporate Takeover of Africa's Food: It's Time for Action, by Chris Walker

"We, the small holder farmers, want to have good lives," says Victoria Adongo from the Peasant Farmers’ Association of Ghana. We have our seed systems that we like and are proud of. So we do not want multinational companies to come in and take over."

Adongo, speaking in Global Justice Now’s new short film—Whoever Controls Seeds, Controls the Food System—launched this week, is explaining what could be at stake if Ghana’s parliament passes new seed laws backed by G8 governments.

Traditionally, Ghana’s farmers have saved, swapped and bred seeds to suit their local conditions over generations. Yet the proposed Plant Breeders Bill would give corporations control over new kinds of seeds.

Farmers would be restricted from saving and swapping them, and many who buy them would end up in debt. Meanwhile, traditional seed varieties could be lost forever.

Ghana’s Plant Breeders Bill (often referred to as 'the Monsanto law') is just one of the many new laws being pushed by the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition across ten African countries.

In return for aid and investment, African governments are reforming laws to help big businesses like Monsanto and Unilever access land, push corporate seeds and control markets in the name of tackling hunger and poverty.

Yet the Peasant Farmers’ Association of Ghana are one of nearly a hundred farmer and campaign groups around the world to renew their call this week to governments to end their support for the initiative.

The call comes at the same time as the politicians and agribusiness representatives come together for a secretive meeting of the New Alliance in Cape Town ahead of the G8’s Leadership Council at the beginning of June.

The groups claim that the New Alliance and other programs "facilitate the grabbing of land and other natural resources, further marginalize small-scale producers, and undermine the right to adequate food and nutrition."

In stark contrast to the fanfare with which the New Alliance was launched in 2012, G8 countries including the US and the UK have gone notably quiet on their support for the initiative in the last year.

With reports of the farming communities being hit hard by new laws and corporate investments associated with the initiative, it seems the G8 are more cautious to sing its praises.

In January, a report co-published by Global Justice Now exposed how farmers in Nigeria’s Taraba State are resisting a land grab by US company Dominion Farms.

As part of Nigeria’s New Alliance agreement backed by the US and UK governments, Dominion Farms are planning to establish a 30,000 hectare rice plantation that will displace farmers who have worked the land for generations.

The community has yet to receive any proposals for compensation or resettlement.

Then in March, Action Aid released a report detailing the impacts of a New Alliance-backed investment by EcoEnergy on communities in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.

EcoEnergy project has been held up as a flagship investor under the New Alliance and the G8-backed Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), a scheme to help corporations including Monsanto, Unilever and Nestle access resources across 350,000 hectares of prime farming land.

With land grabs under fire from farmers and NGOs, G8 states have been keen to champion outgrower schemes like EcoEnergy’s that contract farmers to grow produce for corporate processing and export instead of buying up land directly.

Yet Action Aid’s report shows that farmers working on the scheme are being pushed into dangerous levels of debt and the company appears to have vastly over-estimated its financial benefit to the local population.

Meanwhile, farmers who have been displaced by the scheme are getting little choice in where they are resettled.

All this follows three years in which the New Alliance has struggled to show its positive impact.

The program's latest progress report didn’t indicate any impact on poverty or food security, and highlighted that many corporations were failing to report on their benefits for local communities.

In May, the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact claimed that programs including the New Alliance "can serve as little more than a means of promotion for the companies involved and a chance to increase their influence in policy debates."

In other words, the £600 million of aid money that the UK has poured into the New Alliance has been spent subsidising the publicity campaigns of the multinational corporations involved in the scheme.

Yet with the case against the New Alliance strengthening, the looming threat of Ghana’s seed law shows that, without action, the program will continue to hit farmers hard.

Global Justice Now is among many voices calling on our governments for a radical change in the way we support better food systems.

Small-scale farmers are the main investors in African farms, and feed 70% of the continent.

Our recent report—From the Roots Up: How Agroecology Can Feed Africa—shows how with the right support, these farmers can use their own solutions to sustainably feed their communities, free from corporate control.

Not only can agroecology increase Africa’s farming yields, unlike corporate-led farming, it can help farmers control their land, seeds and livelihoods, and build resilient local economies.

The New Alliance is on shaky ground – it’s time to call for change.

Chris Walker is a campaigns and policy officer at Global Justice Now. This article originally appeared at Common Dreams, and is reproduced here at the suggestion of Kevin Smith, press officer at Global Justice Now.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

A Tale of Two Referendums, by David Lindsay

Whatever arrangement with the EU has been renegotiated to the satisfaction of David Cameron will be horrendous from the point of view of British workers and the users of British public services.

But then, our economic, social, cultural and political power cannot exactly be said to have increased since 1973.

Not for nothing did Margaret Thatcher support accession, oppose withdrawal in the 1975 referendum, and go on, as Prime Minister, to sign an act of integration so large that it could never be equalled, a position from which she never wavered until the tragically public playing out of the early stages of her dementia. “No! No! No!” was not part of any planned speech.

In anticipation of Cameron’s Single European Act on speed, all of the candidates for Labour’s Leader and Deputy Leader need to demand immediate legislation.

First, pre-emptively disapplying in the United Kingdom any Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Britain can and should strangle the wretched thing in its cradle.

Secondly, restoring the supremacy of United Kingdom over European Union law, using that provision to repatriate industrial and regional policy as Labour has advocated for some time, using it to repatriate agricultural policy, and using it to restore the United Kingdom’s historic fishing rights of 200 miles or to the median line.

Thirdly, requiring that, in order to have any effect in this country, all EU legislation be enacted by both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or the other of them.

Fourthly, requiring that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard.

Fifthly, disapplying in the United Kingdom any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament. That would also deal with whatever the problem was supposed to be with the Human Rights Act.

Sixthly, disapplying in the United Kingdom anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs who had been certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons.

Thus, we should no longer be subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, of neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, of members of Eastern Europe’s kleptomaniac nomenklatura, of people who believed the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, and of Dutch ultra-Calvinists who would not have women candidates.

And seventhly, giving effect to the express will of the House of Commons, for which every Labour MP voted, that the British contribution to the EU Budget be reduced in real terms.

All before Cameron had even set off for his renegotiation, never mind held a referendum on that renegotiation’s outcome. Only one of two referendums that Labour ought to advocate in this Parliament.

The Conservative overall majority makes it practically certain that the number of MPs is going to be reduced such as to abolish 30 Labour seats. Labour needs to be ready with an alternative proposal, demanding that the two be put to a referendum, with the more popular becoming law.

This is not about “sore losers”. The Government itself proposes to change the rules.

It should be proposed that each of the 99 areas having a Lord Lieutenant would elect five MPs, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the five highest scorers elected.

In addition, the sixth highest scorer would also be elected in the 40 most populous areas, the seventh in the 30 most populous, the eighth in the 20 most populous, and the ninth in the 10 most populous.

There would be 595 MPs in total.

In place of the House of Lords, each of those areas would elect six Senators at the same time and by the same means, there being only one day on which the British can be guaranteed to turn out and vote in any numbers, namely the day of a General Election to the House of Commons.

Each of us would vote for one candidate, with the six highest scorers elected. There would be 594 Senators in total.

Money Bills would continue to be the sole province of the House of Commons, where they would require a three-fifths majority.

Constitutional Bills, which are already identifiable for procedural purposes, would require a two-thirds majority in each House, or a three-quarters majority in the Commons.

Beyond that, the powers of the two Houses would be as at present, except that, while Ministers would be required to appear before the Senate, they would not be drawn from it; thus, all Ministers would be required so to appear.

Committees of each House would reflect the political composition of that House. The term would be reduced to four years, as for everything else in this country.

Senators’ remuneration would be fixed at that of MPs, and Senate candidates would be required by law to live in their areas, although candidates for the Commons would not be, as they never have been.

Vacancies would be filled by nomination of the party for which an MP or Senator had been elected, or by a First Past The Post by-election in the case of an Independent.

The ordinary nomination and deposit system would be waived where a party had submitted its internally determined shortlist of two to a binding, independently administered ballot of all registered electors. These could all be held on the same day, Super Thursday.

No local government ward would return fewer than two councillors, and each of us would vote for one candidate, with the requisite number elected. Where it existed, the eccentric practice of electing certain councils by thirds each year would be discontinued.

Labour needs to insist that the electorate be presented with this radical alternative, to chose between it and a crude gerrymander that was, as much as anything else, contrary to the principles of Burkean Toryism.