Thursday, 17 May 2018

What Has The Monarchy Ever Done For Its Supporters?, by David Lindsay

The monarchy keeps sweet a lot of people who need to be kept sweet. But I am entirely at a loss as to why it has that effect on them. Either the Queen or her equally revered father has signed off on every nationalisation, every aspect of the Welfare State, every retreat from Empire, every loosening of Commonwealth ties, every social liberalisation, every constitutional change, and every EU treaty. If they could not have done otherwise, then why bother having a monarchy? What is it for?

I support public ownership and the Welfare State in principle, even if the practice has often fallen short. The same may be said of decolonisation, as a matter of historical interest. I find some social liberalisations and some constitutional changes a cause for joy, and others a cause for horror. I abhor the EU, and the weakening of the Commonwealth. But this is not about me.

Is it the job of a monarch, if not to acquire territory and subjects, then at least to hold them? If so, then George VI was by far the worst ever British monarch, and quite possibly the worst monarch that the world has ever seen. And is it the job of a British monarch to maintain a Protestant society and culture in the United Kingdom? If so, then no predecessor has ever begun to approach the abject failure of Elizabeth II, a failure so complete that no successor will ever be able to equal it.

For all her undoubted personal piety, I am utterly baffled by the cult of the present Queen among Evangelical Protestants and among those who cleave to a more-or-less 1950s vision of Anglicanism, Presbyterianism or Methodism. What has either the monarchy or the Queen ever done for them? During the present reign, Britain has become history’s most secular country, and the White British have become history’s most secular ethnic group, a trend that has been even more marked among those with Protestant backgrounds than it has been among Catholics, of whom I am one.

This has implications for the Windrush debate, and with nine Commonwealth Realms in or on the Caribbean, a fat lot of good being the Queen’s loyal subject has done anyone there. It also has implications for aspects of the debate around the Brexit that I have always supported. If you wanted to preserve and restore a Christian culture in this country, then you would welcome very large numbers of immigrants from the Caribbean, from Africa, and from Eastern Europe.

Tony Benn said that you could have the House of Lords, or you could have Brexit, but you could never have both. He is being proved right. People invest the pre-Blair House of Lords with the mythology with which they also invest the monarchy.

They should snap out of it by joining the call for the lieutenancy areas to be made the basis of a new second chamber, to which the powers of the House of Lords would be transferred, with remuneration fixed at that of the Commons. In each of those areas, each of us would vote for one candidate, and the top six would be elected, giving 594 Senators in all. Ministers would no longer be drawn from the second chamber; instead, all of them, including the Prime Minister, would appear before it regularly. Its term of office would be six years, while that of the Commons would go back down to four.

And all non-ceremonial exercises of the Royal Prerogative, including Royal Assent, would be transferred to six, seven, eight or nine of nine Co-Presidents, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top nine elected to hold office for eight years. That would enfranchise those who inexplicably looked to the monarchy to protect them from social democracy, or from social liberalism, or from European federalism, or what have you. Like hereditary peers, it has never done any such thing.

Furthermore, if the number of Commons constituencies were indeed to be reduced to 600, then the number of MPs might nevertheless remain the same. The whole country could elect 50 MPs, with each of us voting for one candidate, and with the top 50 elected at the end. Candidates would not be nominees of political parties, but any party of which a candidate happened to be a member would be listed next to his or her name on the ballot paper; the same would apply to candidates for Co-President.

The Royal Family might relocate to the Canada of Justin Trudeau, who is their kind of politician in a way that neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn ever could be. But the monarchy could continue to exist in Britain, too. If it kept sweet the people who needed to be kept sweet. In a word, liberals.

The Disappointing Jeremy Corbyn, by David Lindsay

We all know what a disappointment Theresa May has turned out to have been. Her purported energy price cap has been scarcely worth mentioning, while there is no sign of workers’ and consumers’ representation in corporate governance, or of shareholders’ control over executive pay, or of restrictions on pay differentials within companies, or of an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme, or of greatly increased housebuilding, or of action against tax avoidance, or of a ban on public contracts for tax-avoiding companies, or of banning or greatly restricting foreign takeovers, or of a ban on unpaid internships, and of an inquiry into Orgreave.

Instead, we have had the bombing of Syria in the Saudi-backed jihadi interest. It is immaterial whether or not that had parliamentary approval. The wars in Iraq and Libya both had parliamentary approval, but so what? And the emphasis on that technicality, instead of on the wrongness of the bombing itself, points to the fact that, as a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn who is not a member of any political party, he, too, has given me some cause for disappointment.

He has overlooked his supporters by appointing his enemies to frontbench and other positions. He permitted a free vote on Syria. He whipped an abstention on Trident. He has never brought the arming of the Saudi war in Yemen back to the floor of the House of Commons for another vote. He has failed to make the trip to Iran that would certainly secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, thereby making it highly unlikely that Abbas Edelat would have been arrested, either.

Corbyn’s housing and transport policies go nowhere near far enough. He supports the Government’s indulgence of the ludicrous theory of gender self-identification. He sides with neoliberal capitalism on the issues of drugs and prostitution. He has hinted at support for the Customs Union, which, in a crowded field, has a reasonable claim to be the worst of all the many bad things about the EU. He has accepted some of the Government’s baseless and collapsed claims about Salisbury and Douma. He has acted against the social and ethnic cleansing of Labour Haringey, but not to secure justice for the 472 Teaching Assistants in Labour Durham.

Corbyn has met the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council without having waited for the local election results in London to establish whether or not they spoke for anyone very much at all. He has failed to prevent the Labour Party from suspending or expelling distinguished Jewish activists for purported anti-Semitism. And now, under Corbyn’s Leadership, Labour has expelled Marc Wadsworth, the man who introduced Doreen and Neville Lawrence to Nelson Mandela.

It has done so on the say-so of one Ruth Smeeth, who is notable for nothing apart from having made an allegation of anti-Semitism against Wadsworth, an allegation that she has since withdrawn. Yet she and some 50 other white MPs marched through the streets to demand his expulsion, in a scene reminiscent of a lynching. They all remain members of the Labour Party, as does Tony Blair of Iraq infamy, yet Wadsworth is expelled for having “brought the party into disrepute”. If Labour has not done all that well after all in the London local elections, then this will have been the reason why. Whether or not those MPs know who Wadsworth is, or why he matters, an awful lot of otherwise Labour-inclined London voters do.

Like many people, I yearn for Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. But we must reserve the right to pursue that electoral objective outside the Labour Party.

This article originally appeared in OffGuardian.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Questions To Laura Pidcock MP, by David Lindsay

The following purely journalistic piece was sent on Monday as a letter to the Northern Echo, to the Morning Star and to The Guardian. I have not had sight of the Star this week, due to a combination of the snow and waiting for the gasman. But it has certainly appeared in neither of the others. So here it is. The Lanchester Review offers Laura Pidcock MP the right of reply:

Dear Sir,

With others, my name has appeared alongside that of George Galloway on your letters page in the past. Mr Galloway has become an enthusiastic supporter of my recently elected MP, Laura Pidcock. I therefore pose these questions, to ascertain whether or not Ms Pidcock agrees with Mr Galloway.

Does Laura Pidcock support justice for those 472 of Durham County Council’s Teaching Assistants who have lost 23 per cent of their pay? Does she advocate and practise crossparty friendship? Would she appear regularly on a Murdoch-owned radio station, and write for the Mail newspapers? Would she answer “No” to the question, “Are you a Marxist?” Is she opposed to Scottish independence? Does she advocate a vote for Sinn Féin on both sides of the Irish Border? Would she hand over the Falkland Islands to Argentina?

Is Laura Pidcock in favour of much tighter immigration controls? Would she describe anthropogenic global warming as “a tall tale”? Would she not have voted either for Donald Trump or for Hillary Clinton? Would she welcome a State Visit by President Trump, as it would be met by the largest demonstrations in British history?

Does Laura Pidcock support a legal presumption of equal parenting, and does she support Fathers 4 Justice as an organisation? Is she totally opposed both to abortion and to assisted suicide? Is she strongly opposed to the legalisation of drugs, to prostitution, to pornography, and to the lap-dancing clubs that have been an issue in this constituency in the past? And does she reject the idea that gender is a matter of self-identification?

Is she does in fact hold those views on drugs, on the sex industry, and on gender identity, then, while Laura Pidcock agrees with George Galloway, she disagrees with Owen Jones, who recently proclaimed her a potential Prime Minister.

Yours faithfully,

David Lindsay

Monday, 15 January 2018

Why Senator Cardin Is A Fitting Opponent For Chelsea Manning, by Norman Solomon

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin, has become a big star in national media by routinely denouncing Russia as a dire threat to American democracy. The senior senator from Maryland personifies the highly dangerous opportunism that has set in among leading Democrats on the subject of Russia. 

Chelsea Manning confirmed on Sunday that she is challenging Senator Cardin’s re-election effort in the Democratic primary this June. Her campaign has real potential to raise key issues. One of them revolves around the kind of bellicose rhetoric that heightens the dangers of conflict between the world’s two nuclear superpowers.

In a typical foray into reckless hyperbole, Cardin told a public forum in November: “When you use cyber in an affirmative way to compromise our democratic, free election system, that’s an attack against America. It’s an act of war. It is an act of war.”

Cardin is far from the only member of Congress to use “act of war” rhetoric about alleged Russian cyber actions. Republican ultra-hawk Arizona Senator John McCain has hurled the phrase at Russia. But the most use of the phrase comes from a range of Democrats, such as Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and the normally sensible Northern California Representative Jackie Speier

As his party’s ranking member of the key Senate committee on foreign policy, Cardin is at the tip of the anti-Russia propaganda spear. After three decades in Congress including nearly a dozen years in the Senate, he’s an old hand at spinning. No one has worked harder to get political mileage out of “Russiagate.”

Last week, Cardin upped the ante with the release of a report that he commissioned. In effect, it’s a declaration of red-white-and-blue jihad against Russia. The report -- which accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of “a relentless assault to undermine democracy and the rule of law in Europe and the United States” -- received massive coverage in U.S. news media. Conservative and liberal punditry voiced acclaim.

“Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president,” a solo statement by Cardin declares on the opening page. With the truly repugnant President Trump in its crosshairs, the report’s most polemical claims -- no matter how debatable or ahistorical -- have predictably gotten a pass from mass media. But the much-ballyhooed report is a carefully selective and distorted version of history.

The expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders, the U.S. interference in dozens of countries’ elections (including in Russia during the Clinton administration), Washington’s support for repressive regimes in the past and present -- such realities didn’t merit consideration or mention. Nor did facts such as the USA’s role as the world’s biggest arms merchant. Or the aggressively deadly U.S. military interventions in the recent past and present, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya.

Such omissions are essential to the self-righteous tone of the Russiagate frenzy. Only with silence about basic truths of U.S. foreign policy can officials in Washington pose as leaders of an angelic nation that must confront satanic Russia. In light of what is at stake for human survival – with the odds of nuclear war shifting ominously because of the agenda that he’s helping to push – Senator Cardin can be understood as someone who avidly fits into patterns of nationalistic and militaristic madness.

The sad fact is that he has plenty of company on Capitol Hill. Lemmings are bad enough, but conformists who would drag all of humanity over the cliff with them are far worse. Democratic leadership used to be much saner. Five decades ago, it was the fanatical Republican standard bearer Barry Goldwater who scorned reaching out to the Kremlin – while Democratic President Lyndon Johnson wisely sought détente with Russian leaders on behalf of peaceful coexistence and reducing the risks of nuclear conflagration.

Right after being sentenced to prison in August 2013 for heroic whistleblowing that exposed many U.S. war crimes, Chelsea Manning released a statement that quoted Howard Zinn: “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” A nuclear war between the United States and Russia would do more than kill vast numbers of innocent people. Scientific research tells us that a nuclear holocaust would make the Earth “virtually uninhabitable.” 

The extreme hostility toward Russia that makes such an outcome more likely must be rejected. Senator Ben Cardin is one of the loudest and most prominent voices for such hostility. He should be challenged.