Not for the first time the Lockerbie narrative is being distorted out of all recognition for political ends, first by the US-UK governments in the 1990s, then by the UK Government and the Scottish Executive in 2009, and now by Cameron in his statement to the Commons yesterday. Cameron’s line was that the previous Labour Government “had done all it could to facilitate” the release of al-Megrahi by the Scottish Executive. What he didn’t say was what conceivable motive Labour might have had to act in that way: since Megrahi was held responsible for the deaths of 270 people, why should Labour go out of its way to get him released? Gus O’Donnell records a meeting with the Libyans on 27 October 2008 at which “the Libyans made clear that Megrahi’s death in custody would have very serious implications to UK/Libya relations”. But again, why should the UK submit to crude blackmail of this kind from Libya – unless it had its own ulterior motive? It did. (more…)
For a speech on such sensitive issues – segregation, Islam, terrorism, Britishness, multiculturalism – Cameron’s speech at Munich was like throwing a grenade into the system. Devoid of any ideas for developing policy, it nevertheless by its timing gave very regrettable succour to the EDL marching through Luton – surely Cameron must have guessed the likely impact of juxtaposing these two events? It was one of those speeces which didn’t say anything new, but was clearly designed to influence the political atmosphere by playing to the anti-Muslim gallery and telling the Hard Right that he understood their feelings and sympathised with them. Opening up a Pandora’s Box in such a mindless way can only unleash the forces of racism, suspicion and hostility that he purports to oppose. (more…)
It’s not about Mubarak any more. For all practical purposes he’s already gone. The issue now is the succession. Mubarak has not resigned or been deposed, but the power has already shifted to the most dangerous man in the leadership, Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief and now formally Vice-President, though already assuming the reins of Presidential power in all but name, a man soaked in the black arts of manipulative and dirty politics with all the ruthless self-interest of an Egyptian Mandelson. He is the man who as head of Egyptian intelligence mercilessly crushed Mubarak’s political opponents, torturing many, championed the brutal suppression of the main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood (which contrary to the establishment propaganda is not a militant Islamic group tied to Al-Qaeda), and is highly regarded in the US and Israel. But where is all this leading? (more…)
How do you stop a politician driven by whim or fixation from foisting on his party, his government and the nation profound and fundamental changes to a deeply cherished institution that almost nobody wants and which were never even mentioned in the party’s manifesto? They weren’t mentioned either in the post-election Coalition Agreement. Yet 2 months later they were unleashed out of the blue with a scale of organisational detail that showed the plans had obviously been years in the making. Not only that, but their presentation since they were suddenly revealed last July has been studded by propaganda, half-truths and lies. Can this classic exercise of raw power, without an iota of democratic justification, be stopped in its tracks? It can, and should be. (more…)
Of all the crudity and insensitivity of the Tory spending cuts, the proposed cuts to legal aid are among the most unnecessary, harsh and foolish. Unnecessary because the planned savings of £350m out of a £2bn legal aid budget are just 0.3% of the Tories’ intended elimination of the structural deficit. Harsh because it will hit the very poorest and most disadvantaged in their problems over debt, benefits and housing. And foolish because, as the CAB has shown, it will actually increase public expenditure inasmuch as every £1 spent on early advice by their bureaux have been shown to save the State £8 in the costs of dealing with the consequences later.
Fuelling the worst suspicions I voiced a week ago (29 January, ‘It is US and UK policy in the Middle East that’s being upended, not just Mubarak’), yesterday’s violence in Cairo has all the hallmarks of a Western-inspired counter-attack to provide a pretext for the army’s intervention. It follows closely on the visit to Cairo of Frank Wisner, Obama’s envoy and a paid lobbyist of the Egyptian regime, and the earlier consultations of Egyptioan army commanders in Washington. It also no doubt reflects the growing influence of Omar Suleiman, confidant of Mubarak and newly appointed Vice-President, who is known to be extremely close to the US and Israel, as well as champion of force to smash the Muslim Brotherhood opposition and overseer of the Egyptian rendition and torture project. This is almost exactly what happened in Iran in 1978-9 when US-UK officials scurried to shore up the Shah’s brutal regime whilst a populist rebellion raged on the streets against the Western-backed Savak security forces. (more…)
It’s always good to know that Government has a plan B called ‘growth strategy’ and isn’t just relying on huge spending cuts to deal with the deficit. True, the CBI said last week it was difficult to spot one. It will be even more difficult now that the US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer has just announced that it’s closing its UK R&D centre in Kent. That is a real slap in the face for Osborne as well as a disaster for the 2,400 high-tech workers who will lose their jobs. It means that the Government’s plan to rebuild the economy round key high-tech industries isn’t working, and Sandwich on the Kent coast will now become an area of deprivation with few alternative private sector jobs. So where’s the beef in the growth strategy now? (more…)
Yesterday was a day of shame, the day they denationalised the NHS. Yet at the second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons the main line of defence of the increasingly isolated Andrew Lansley, who is clearly out of his depth, was that the Tories are only carrying on where Blair left off and completing the job he failed to finish. That is of course true inasmuch as New Labour converted NHS trusts into independent businesses (foundation trusts), introduced ISTCs (private treatment centres paid by public funds irrespective of the number of patients treated), gave NHS work to private hospitals and clinics and encouraged NHS patients to choose them, and developed HMO-style commissioning as in the US. But it hobbled the Labour response because there was clearly no Shadow Cabinet cover to give the obvious retort that these were Blair’s own pseudo-Tory policies never sanctioned by the Labour Party and that now we, the real Labour Party, are promulgating a very different, public NHS shorn of all its privatisation liabilities. (more…)