Tag Archives: Tony Blair

Blair should be sacked from his post as Quartet Representative in the Middle East

Following the latest example of Blair’s shameful support for brutal regimes in the Middle East, I have sent this letter to all four members of the Quartet – Ban Ki-moon at the UN, President Obama, President Putin, and President Barroso of the EU Commission:

Ban Ki-moon,
United Nations,
UN Headquarters,
New York,
28 August 2014

Dear Secretary-General,

I write as a former Minister in the Blair government in the UK from 1997-2003 and a member of the Front Bench of my party in the UK Parliament for 29 years (1974-2003) to request that you and other members of the Quartet for Middle East affairs should now urgently review the position of Tony Blair as Quartet Representative.

The third war between Israel and the Palestinians has (hopefully) just concluded, but the task of achieving a long-term and sustainable peace settlement between these two nations will be an extraordinarily sensitive and difficult one, and I wish to propose to you that Tony Blair is utterly unsuited to this task, or indeed to any other representational role in the Middle East, and should be replaced.

He is almost universally viewed, as junior partner with President Bush, as author of the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, the results of which are still today being played out catastrophically across both Iraq and Syria. His reputation is thus indelibly linked with attempts to control the Middle East in accordance with Western interests, which has been the bane of the region over the last century and is fundamentally opposed to the development of free, independent, self-governing, democratic Arab States throughout the area.

In particular in the Israeli-Palestinian context Blair is seen as overwhelmingly pro-Israeli which effectively rules him out as a fair and balanced negotiator working in good faith with the confidence of both sides. His prejudice in favour of Israel was constantly displayed in the UK Parliament during previous wars, and it is perfectly clear he does not command the trust of the Palestinians at all.
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Whatever happened to the PLP?

The PLP has changed dramatically over the long years of my political experience.   It used to be the forum where policy differences were thrashed out, the front bench was held vigorously to account, and ideological debate provided the lifeblood for political activism. No more.   It must be the most placid in modern times.   Good of course in terms of maintaining unity, which is an important objective, but less good in terms of political inspiration and campaigning drive.

The PLP is not unique in this respect.   The same process of dumbing down has smothered party conference which once was the heaving soul of the Labour Movement, but now has shrunken to become merely a showpiece for the Leader’s speech.
There are three main reasons for this.   One is that Tony Blair wanted the PLP to be a stage-managed army to secure his political base in Parliament and to that end the Left was squeezed out of parliamentary selections and the PLP was systematically colonised by those of Blairite/Progress persuasion.   The culture changed too.    Loyalty and compliance were rated over integrity and participation, and such habits, though they have somewhat ebbed since his time, die hard and still inform much of the mindset of the PLP.
Second, not unrelated, is the decline in ideology.   The Labour party, or at least certain lead elements within it, have all too readily accepted the Thatcherite dictates of deregulated finance, market fundamentalism, ever more privatisation, and keeping the unions on a short leash.   With those objectives it’s difficult to see how a radical vision of a very different economy and society can gain traction.
Third, where ideology is downplayed, careerism and image and presentation gain the upper hand.   Ed Miliband’s brave speech denouncing this tendency and asserting that what matters is what politicians do, not what they look like, needs to be taken to heart by every single member of the PLP.
Clearly a transformation of the PLP is needed, at several different levels.   It needs to be far more representative of the electorate it purports to serve.   That means far less drawn from the Progress route of middle class, university, student union, PA, special adviser to an MP, and thence eased access to a seat from the inside (just like the Tories).   Instead it means far more with real experience of the working class who still represent some 40% of the population at large, but only about 5% even of Labour MPs.
There has to be more debate about controversial issues in the PLP, more expression of genuine views, more consultation of Labour MPs before difficult decisions are reached.   In a real democratic party the policy discussion should flow both ways between the leadership and the led, yet at present it is invariably top-down.   Above all the PLP needs to get out of the constricting distortions of the Westminster bubble.   Regular weekly campaigning on the big political issues of the day, which was the life and soul of the Labour Party decades ago and without which political education will never flourish against the relentless propaganda of the Tory tabloids, needs to be urgently re-introduced.

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Ed Miliband walks on water

The vote against the military strike by 285 votes to 272 is the most momentous Commons vote of at least the last 40 years.   It upended a Prime Minister who only recalled Parliament 4 days before Parliament was due anyway to reconvene because he was sure the House could be persuaded to support a motion which, reading the small print very carefully, could be construed as giving the green light to an early attack.   Within 3 days he got it wrong on every count.   He thought he had the Labour Party in the bag (a reckless presumption), he under-estimated the unrest and sheer bloody-mindedness of the Tory Right (a surprising complacency considering their record of overturning him), and he failed to reckon with public opinion and the caution of the military top brass (his arrogant self-confidence in his right to rule blinding his judgement of the obstacles).   Yesterday was undoubtedly a spectacular triumph for parliamentary accountability – holding the Executive to account on the greatest issue of all, war and peace – but above all for Ed Miliband who played his parliamentary hand with exquisite skill.   But it would be wrong not to acknowledge the baneful influence from beyond the (political) grave of Tony Blair.   The memory of the tissue of lies and deceptions by which he tricked a hesitant Commons into backing the Iraq war undoubtedly substantially increased the Tory naysayers.   So thank you, Tony.
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An extended period of silence from Mr. Blair would now be welcome

Tony Blair obviously cannot get over being ousted from the premiership and ejected from British public life.   First he attacks his successor Gordon Brown and boasts immodestly that he would have done better at the 2010 election (a very open question, though Labour would certainly have done better in 2010 with neither of them), then he announces he will attend Thatcher’s funeral (only to be expected, as a loyal Thatcherite), and then he offers unsolicited advice to Ed Miliband with bizarre suggestions about the financial crash.   We have always known he cannot bear not to be the centre of attention, but having lost 4 million Labour votes between 1997 and 2005 he has a confounded cheek in thinking his advice is worth being listened to by anybody. 
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Good news: tax is voluntary if you’re paid over £1 million

So now we know.   The Treasury have finally published figures they’ve been sitting on for years but never revealed (always keep the rich on side – a good Treasury motto).   It shows there are 10,000 UK taxpayers paid (‘earning’ is a bit of a euphemism) £1-5m (i.e. between £19,230-£96,155 PER WEE),  and 1,000 of them pay just 30-40% in tax, 500 pay 20-30% in tax, and 300 pay less than 10%.   It also shows that there are some 400 taxpayers paid £5-10m (i.e. roughly between £100,000 – £200,000 PER WEEK), and 20 of them pay less than 20% in tax.   Much more modestly, if you’re only paid between a quarter and a half of a million (i.e. a mere £4,800-£9,615 PER WEEK), then about 100,000 persons in your category are paying less than the higher rate of income tax of 40%.   The question is: are these gigantic sums, up to 415 times the national average wage, justified and if not, what are we going to do about it?

First, let all the facts be known.   Let the fresh breezes of transparency blow through the income scale at the top.   It is significant that the only reason we know about these figures quoted here at all is not because of any new doctrine of openness (you must be joking), it’s because the Government were trying to put up some defence of their gross miscalculation in limiting tax relief for the rich, by showing that the super-rich get away with avoiding far too much tax.

It blew up in their faces because the Tory press (Telegraph, Mail and the usual suspects) all ganged up to complain this was an unfair tax on philanthropy – not that they care about philanthropy, only about not limiting tax avoidance in general since the vast amount of tax avoidance is not about philanthropy at all.   Significantly almost the only intervention that Tony (Tory-boy) Blair has made in UK politics since his demise 5 years ago was his call yesterday for the government to “think again” about limiting tax relief.   But we should be grateful for small mercies – it’s always important to remember that the general population of us plebs is only vouchsafed information about the secret doings of our rich rulers when there’s an almighty bust-up within their own ranks.

So to avoid all this unseemly shenanigans amongst our super-rich exemplars, why don’t we require HMRC to publish the tax returns of all those paid more than £150,000 a year (i.e. the 300,000 persons getting more than £3,000 a week)?   That would only affect 1% of the population, and could be guaranteed to play a big role in reducing tax relief across the board, exposing the multiple use of tax havens, and even (heaven forbid!) reducing some of this financial obesity flab altogether.
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Almost everything told, including by Cameron, about the Lockerbie saga is untrue

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.
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Whose side are we on in the Arab revolution?

As the revolutionary tide gathers pace beyond Tunisia in Egypt and Yemen, is the West going to stay neutral, encourage the surge towards democracy, or covertly foment the resistance by the Western-backed dictatorships?   The answer to all supporters of progressive politics might seem obvious, except that right on cue two of the usual suspects offer a jarring note of discord.   Tony Blair demands that any process of change must be ordderly and stable, as though throwing off 50-year tyrannies without street protests and forceful resistance against violence by state police is an option.  He also warns, yet again, against Islamic extremism when it has been made absolutely clear that the Muslim Brotherhood is in no way an agent provocateur in these spontaneous riots.   Well, we always knew which side he was on – Western dominance and control, and in the Middle East specifically Israel.  Then we were assured by Lillary Clinton that the Egyptian government was stable and was seeking to respond to the legitimate demands of the Egyptian populace.   Such a fanciful notion without a shred of evidence in support merely shows how desperate the US Administration is to maintain the status quo  and how fearful they are of genuine democracy in the Middle East

All change!

Slightly rephrasing Mark Antony, we came not to praise New Labour, but to bury it.   And bury it he did.   Ed Miliband ran as the change candidate, and three days into his leadership he delivered on it.   This was a tour de force – laying about him without fear or favour, straight-talking, establishing himself immediately as his own man.   Out went defence of the Iraq war, complacency over boom and bust (surely one of the most arrogant hostages to fortune ever dreamt up), support for Israel over settlement-building and the Gaza blockade, disregard for inequality, connivance with pressure to raise tuition fees, authoritarian dismissal of civil liberties, collusion with market fundamentalism, enthusiasm for the City and deregulated finance, indifference to concerns about immigration.   Phew!
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Complicity in torture: may the truth come out

The Cameron/Clegg inquiry into whether MI5 and MI6 officers, whilst not themselves committing torture on those caught up in the post-9/11 wars, nevertheless were complicit with countries abroad in the use of  torture on their behalf, is certainly welcome but rather more murky than at first sight both as to its causation and its likely outcomes.   It is right that the inquiry is judge-led rather than being headed up by a senior politician who would be less credible and less forensic.   But disquieting aspects about both the origins and intended objectives of this initiative include the following hidden reefs ignored in the Commons exchanges.
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