Monday, 16 July 2018

Climb Down From the Summit of Hostile Propaganda, by Norman Solomon

Throughout the day before the summit in Helsinki, the lead story on the New York Times home page stayed the same: “Just by Meeting With Trump, Putin Comes Out Ahead.” The Sunday headline was in harmony with the tone of U.S. news coverage overall. As for media commentary, the Washington Post was in the dominant groove as it editorialized that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is “an implacably hostile foreign adversary.”

Contempt for diplomacy with Russia is now extreme. Mainline U.S. journalists and top Democrats often bait President Trump in zero-sum terms. No doubt Hillary Clinton thought she was sending out an applause line in her tweet Sunday night: “Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”

A bellicose stance toward Russia has become so routine and widespread that we might not give it a second thought -- and that makes it all the more hazardous. After President George W. Bush declared “You’re either with us or against us,” many Americans gradually realized what was wrong with a Manichean view of the world. Such an outlook is even more dangerous today.

Since early 2017, the U.S. mass media have laid it on thick with the rough political equivalent of a painting technique known as chiaroscuro -- “the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition,” in the words of Wikipedia. The Russiagate frenzy is largely about punching up contrasts between the United States (angelic and victimized) and Russia (sinister and victimizer).

Countless stories with selective facts are being told that way. But other selectively fact-based stories could also be told to portray the United States as a sinister victimizer and Russia as an angelic victim. Those governments and their conformist media outlets are relentless in telling it either way. As the great journalist I.F. Stone observed long ago, “All governments lie, and nothing they say should be believed.” In other words: don’t trust, verify.

Often the biggest lies involve what remains unsaid. For instance, U.S. media rarely mention such key matters as the promise-breaking huge expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders since the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the brazen U.S. intervention in Russia’s pivotal 1996 presidential election, or the U.S. government’s 2002 withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, or the more than 800 U.S. military bases overseas -- in contrast to Russia’s nine.

For human survival on this planet, an overarching truth appears in an open letter published last week by The Nation magazine: “No political advantage, real or imagined, could possibly compensate for the consequences if even a fraction of U.S. and Russian arsenals were to be utilized in a thermonuclear exchange. The tacit pretense that the worsening of U.S.-Russian relations does not worsen the odds of survival for the next generations is profoundly false.”

The initial 26 signers of the open letter -- “Common Ground: For Secure Elections and True National Security” -- included Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, writer and feminist organizer Gloria Steinem, former UN ambassador Gov. Bill Richardson, political analyst Noam Chomsky, former covert CIA operations officer Valerie Plame, activist leader Rev. Dr. William Barber II, filmmaker Michael Moore, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen, former U.S. ambassador to the USSR Jack F. Matlock Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Alice Walker and Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, former senator Adlai Stevenson III, and former longtime House Armed Services Committee member Patricia Schroeder. (I was also one of the initial signers.)

Since its release five days ago, the open letter has gained support from a petition already signed by 30,000 people. The petition campaign aims to amplify the call for protecting the digital infrastructure of the electoral process that is now “vulnerable to would-be hackers based anywhere” -- and for taking “concrete steps… to ease tensions between the nuclear superpowers.”

We need a major shift in the U.S. approach toward Russia. Clearly the needed shift won’t be initiated by the Republican or Democratic leaders in Congress; it must come from Americans who make their voices heard. The lives -- and even existence -- of future generations are at stake in the relationship between Washington and Moscow.

Many of the petition’s grassroots signers have posted comments along with their names. Here are a few of my favorites:

* From Nevada: “We all share the same planet! We better learn how to do it safely or face the consequences of blowing ourselves up!”
*  From New Mexico: “The earth will not survive a nuclear war. The weapons we have today are able to cause much more destruction than those of previous eras. We must find a way to common ground.”
*  From Massachusetts: “It is imperative that we take steps to protect the sanctity of our elections and to prevent nuclear war anywhere on the earth.”
Secure elections are a fundamental part of a democratic system. But this could become meaningless in the event of thermonuclear war.”
*  From California: There is only madness and hubris in talk of belligerence toward others, especially when we have such dangerous weapons and human error has almost led to our annihilation already more than once in the past half-century.”

Yet a wide array of media outlets, notably the “Russiagate”-obsessed network MSNBC, keeps egging on progressives to climb toward peaks of anti-Russian jingoism. The line of march is often in virtual lockstep with GOP hyper-hawks like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The incessant drumbeat is in sync with what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism.”

Meanwhile, as Dr. King said, “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation.”

Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

Friday, 29 June 2018

On Not Being A Tribal Politician, by David Lindsay

I am firmly a man of the Left. I believe in economic equality and in international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends. In the struggle for economic equality, the leading role belongs to the working class, and the leading role within the working class belongs to the trade union movement. In the struggle for international peace, the leading role belongs to the working class and to the youth. Each of those struggles has always been fundamental to the other, and it always will be. The anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggles have always been fundamental to each and both of them, and they always will be. All other identity issues are subordinate within this, if they can be, or they are precluded by it, if they cannot be. Yes, I am firmly a man of the Left.

I am not, however, a Marxist, in the straightforward sense that I do not believe in dialectical materialism. Marxism asks many of the right questions, but it almost always gives the wrong answers, at least in practice. Its sense of its own inevitability is also thoroughly pernicious. Our gains have not been inevitable. We had to fight to make them, and we have to fight to keep them. I can and do work with Marxists. But I am not one of them. As they would be the first to tell you.

Therefore, I rejoiced at the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as a serious candidate for the Leadership of the Labour Party in 2015, ending a 21-year period during which Britain had had no political debate as such. Both economic policy and foreign policy had been off the agenda, and that despite the widespread unpopularity of the catastrophic economic and foreign policies that had been pursued as if they had been self-evident.

I have now been out of the Labour Party for far longer than I was ever in it, and I have profound differences with Corbyn, including the appointment of his enemies to frontbench and other positions, the overly cautious housing and transport policies, the Customs Union, the whipped abstentions on CETA and the EEA, the free vote on Syria, the whipped abstention on Trident, the acceptance of any part of the Government’s baseless claims about Salisbury and Douma, the complaint that the recent bombing of Syria had not been authorised by Parliament rather than that it had been wrong in itself, the failure to bring the arming of Saudi Arabia back to the floor of the House of Commons, the failure to travel to Iran in order to demand the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Abbas Edelat, the capitulation to neoliberal capitalism on the issues of drugs and prostitution, the support for the Government’s indulgence of the ludicrous theory of gender self-identification, the failure to secure justice for the 472 Teaching Assistants whose pay the Labour Durham County Council has cut by 23 per cent, the paying of court to the unrepresentative Board of Deputies of British Jews and to the astroturfed Jewish Leadership Council, the failure to prevent the suspension or expulsion of distinguished Jewish and other activists on trumped up charges of anti-Semitism, and the failure to nip in the bud the imported New York practice of smearing black activists as anti-Semitic if they become too uppity for the Liberal Establishment.

Nevertheless, the positive impact of Corbyn’s mere presence has been, and remains, breathtaking. Although she has failed to deliver on it, Theresa May’s Downing Street speech on becoming Prime Minister has been followed by talk of workers’ and consumers’ representation in corporate governance, of shareholders’ control over executive pay, of restrictions on pay differentials within companies, of an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme, of greatly increased housebuilding, of action against tax avoidance, of a ban on public contracts for tax-avoiding companies, of banning or greatly restricting foreign takeovers, of a ban on unpaid internships, of a cap on energy prices, and of an inquiry into Orgreave. And that was when she had thought that she was going to beat Corbyn out of the park.

Since then, he has deprived her of her overall majority, and she has had to make a deal with the DUP that has entirely repudiated the idea that austerity had been an economic necessity rather than a political choice. She has lately repeated that repudiation in relation to the funding of the National Health Service, and the only debate on that is now the debate as to which taxes to put up. Meanwhile, she, a Conservative Prime Minister, is now effectively on record that Britain ought no longer to attempt to remain a “tier one” military power.

Corbyn is therefore the most influential British politician in living memory, reshaping both parties to an extent that neither Margaret Thatcher nor Tony Blair could ever have imagined, and doing so, up to now, from Opposition. Indeed, he has hardly needed to do anything. It is almost enough that he exists. I for one yearn for him to become Prime Minister.

But none of that makes me a sectarian left-winger, or even a tribal Labour voter. The anti-cuts and anti-war movements were, and are, very broadly based, and they have always suffered from a failure to make the most of that fact, since they have always had the potential to speak for the great majority of people in every part of the country. For example, the cuts have been ruinous in the countryside. The 90 per cent public opposition to the Iraq War was arithmetically impossible without including the majority of Conservative supporters even in 2003. And so on.

My direct political experience has been as a hospital governor covering a huge and largely rural area, as a governor of two rural schools, as a member of Lanchester Parish Council, and around the Labour Leadership of the old Derwentside District Council, which it ran in alliance with the Independents against the rival Labour faction that is now disastrously mismanaging the unitary Durham County Council.

No party has ever fielded a full slate of candidates for Lanchester Parish Council, nor should it. But I have always used all 15 of my votes for it. Last year, I voted for 12 of the 15 successful candidates, variously Labour, Independent, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and No Description. On the same day, I took my own very public advice and voted for the County Council candidates best placed, as I judged it, to defeat Labour and thus to secure justice for the Teaching Assistants. On that basis, I had advocated the re-election of all Independent, Liberal Democrat, and Conservative incumbents who had sought it, and no Labour vote under any circumstance, not even for candidates to whom I was practically family. Had my advice been taken, then the Teaching Assistants would have won by now. But as it was, more attention was paid, with calamitous consequences, to the political advice of the man whom the new Member of Parliament for North West Durham has since appointed as her Political Advisor.

Although I ached to vote Labour at last year’s General Election, I could not do so, because the nationally imposed candidate, who had no previous connection to this constituency, had not supported the Teaching Assistants. Nor had any of the other Labour candidates in County Durham apart from Grahame Morris, whose re-election I therefore enthusiastically encouraged. Here in North West Durham, by contrast, the Liberal Democrat candidate was Owen Temple, a longstanding local councillor and one of the Teaching Assistants’ two greatest champions at County Hall.

So I voted for Owen and I urged others to do so, having voted for Labour’s much-missed Pat Glass in 2015, for the leading local Independent Watts Stelling in 2010 (because of Labour’s all-women shortlist, but I have a huge amount of respect for Pat), for Watts in 2005 (against Hilary Armstrong, because of Iraq), for Labour in 2001 because there was nothing else and because the first Blair term was by no means all bad, and for Labour in 1997 because that was just what my generation did after having come of age under John Major. Hey, even Tariq Ali has voted Lib Dem at a parliamentary election in his time. Although as far as I know, he has never voted Tory at one. Nor have I. Yet?

I did call for a Labour vote everywhere outside County Durham except at Manchester Gorton, where I supported George Galloway, a man who agrees with everything in the first eight paragraphs of this article, and with whom I also agree on a lot of other things such as abortion, assisted suicide, fathers’ rights, opposition to Scottish and Catalan separatism, the need to control immigration in the trade union interest, and understanding why people voted for Donald Trump even without agreeing with them, although certainly finding Hillary Clinton to have been equally unacceptable. George and I do disagree, too. While I am no Zionist, I accept the simple existence of the State of Israel as a fact of life after four generations of Israelis, and I dislike academic and cultural boycotts as contrary to the nature of scholarship, art and science. He flatly refused to me to fly to Iran, which he knows well and where he is known well, to rescue Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. But the agreement between us is vast, and the parliamentary process is poorer for his absence. Still, there is time yet. And he did once say live on air that he would take a seat in the House of Lords if I did.

I have also voted four different ways at my four European Elections: Socialist Labour, Respect, No2EU, and then Labour only in 2014 because the Eurofederalist ultra Stephen Hughes had retired. Who in the Corbyn inner circle, being old enough, has never voted for any of the Socialist Labour Party, Respect, No2EU, or one of the affiliates to the second or third of those?

I am now working with all of the non-Labour members of Durham County Council and with the trade unions, to bring Volkswagen’s production for the British market to County Durham after, or even before, Brexit, and I am more than open to further suggestions along similar lines. As the Member of Parliament for North West Durham, my Westminster office would be a global centre for the broadly based opposition and alternative to neoliberal economic policy and neoconservative foreign policy, strongly asserting that opposition and that alternative as the real centre ground.

I am both a product and a feature of the political pluralism of North West Durham, where Labour holds fewer than half of the County Council seats, the Conservative parliamentary candidate won 34 per cent of the vote last year, the Liberal Democrat candidate cut the Labour majority in half in 2010, and an Independent kept his deposit both in 2005 and in 2010. Wear Valley was controlled for a time by the Liberal Democrats, who remained numerous on it until its abolition. Derwentside was in practice controlled by an alliance between the Independents and that section of the local Labour Party which now supports my parliamentary candidacy; its Leader from that time, Councillor Alex Watson OBE, is one of my Campaign Patrons, as well as being, with Owen Temple, the other great champion of the Teaching Assistants on the County Council. My other Campaign Patron, and again a stalwart of the Teaching Assistants’ campaign, is Davey Ayre, a legendary local trade unionist.

I would appoint an Independent, a Labourite, a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat in each of the County Wards, ideally including at least one person in each of the former District Wards, to work with me and with local people. The price of my support for any Government in the coming hung Parliament would be the necessary support for a number of projects in each of the former District Wards equal to the former number of District Councillors, together with justice for the Teaching Assistants, and together with the implementation of the plan for the rail service in the North of England that was recently advanced by well over 20 local and regional newspapers, most of which have never supported Labour, and only one of which did so last year. And yes, I do mean the price of my support for any Government. Even a Government headed by Jeremy Corbyn.

I need £10,000 in order to stand for Parliament with any chance of winning. My crowdfunding page has been taken down without my knowledge or consent. But you can still email instead, and that address accepts PayPal.

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.

Friday, 1 September 2017

My MP, Laura Pidcock, Has An Awful Lot To Learn, by David Lindsay

Laura Pidcock is my MP. I am almost alone among her constituents in having known her before she was imposed as the Labour candidate for North West Durham immediately before the General Election. As a firm left-winger myself, I have always got on with her, and I wish her well. But she has an awful lot to learn. 

“It never did Dennis Skinner any harm” is all well and good. But Skinner has never held a front bench position in 47 years and counting. Whereas the Constituency Labour Party here in North West Durham is accustomed to Ernest Armstrong, Hilary Armstrong and Pat Glass.

That CLP is now quite left-wing, having nominated Ed Miliband in 2010, Andy Burnham in 2015, and Jeremy Corbyn in 2016. But it had no say in the selection of Pidcock, and it barely campaigned for her. Instead, she bussed in the members of various Hard and Far Left networks, some of whom prided themselves on never having been members of the Labour Party (I left it many years ago, but that is another story). And now, she informs the nation that she could never be friends with a Tory. To her, they are “the enemy”. 

North West Durham is a mostly rural constituency in which the largest town is Consett. Consett has steelworking, rather than primarily mining, roots that in any case ended several years before Pidcock was born. This constituency’s, and not least that town’s, population is still fairly fixed, but it is now vastly more fluid that it was even at the turn of the century, and it is becoming more so all the time. 

While obviously this area is nowhere near back to its pre-Thatcher levels of prosperity, nevertheless it is visibly becoming more affluent, and it always did have quite sizeable pockets, so to speak. Thanks to a Corbyn effect that benefited candidates across the Labour Party, Labour did just about win over 50 per cent of the vote this year. But that had not happened since 2005, and a thumping great majority has not been seen since 2001. 

In the territory of the old Consett Urban District Council, Labour’s performance at local elections has been downright poor since as long ago as 2003. As a result, in its last years, Derwentside District Council remained under Labour Overall Control due to wards in the neighbouring North Durham constituency. That authority was run in practice, and rather well, by a de facto coalition between the mainstream left-wing Labour Leadership in Consett and the countryside, and a body of broadly Tory-inclined Independents.

All of those Independents were in North West Durham. Their Leader kept his deposit when he contested this parliamentary seat in 2005 and 2010. In 2005, he took 9.8 per cent of the vote. He remains a member of what is now the unitary Durham County Council, fewer than half of the members of which for this constituency are members of the Labour Party. 

Derwentside was a Labour council throughout its history, but the greater part of this constituency’s area, although the smaller part of its population, was in neighbouring Wear Valley. Between its last elections in 2007, and its abolition in 2009, that authority was under No Overall Control while being led by the Liberal Democrats. They had enjoyed Overall Control of it from 1991 to 1995.

At the 2010 General Election, the Lib Dems cut the Labour majority in half here. Even in 2015 and 2017, that same candidate, a well-known local figure, retained more than three thousand votes. This year, even a Conservative candidate with an address in Sussex managed 16,516 votes, or 34.5 per cent. It is quite something for a Member of Parliament to define more than one third of her constituents as “the enemy”. 

Of course, all that a parliamentary candidate needs to be is the First Past the Post. But having been imposed rather than selected in the first place, and then having made such a start in office, it is very far from clear that the 29-year-old Laura Pidcock can expect to be even that for the six, seven or eight electoral cycles that she and her social media cheerleaders seem to presuppose.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Labour Could Be Driven Out of County Durham, by David Lindsay

Late last year, Durham County Council’s Teaching Assistants, without whom primary schools in particular simply would not function, went on strike twice.

Theirs was and is the most important industrial dispute in Britain today. When was the last time that two thousand people in this country went on strike, and that twice in three weeks?

They had faced being sacked at Christmas and reappointed on a 23 per cent pay cut. That, despite being paid far less than their counterparts in neighbouring areas.

Meanwhile, the Council had written off its loan of £3.74 million to Durham County Cricket Club, which provides the most powerful Councillors and Officers with a private box.

The late Davey Hopper of the Durham Miners’ Association gave invaluable support until his sudden and untimely death last July. That Association retains considerable clout both locally and in the wider trade union movement. It continues to be central to the struggle.

The fabulous Durham Miners’ Hall has hosted rallies of a size and energy not seen since the Miners’ Strike, and the Teaching Assistants marched in their hundreds, to tumultuous applause, at last year’s Durham Miners’ Gala.

That is the largest festival of working-class culture in Europe, and 2016’s was itself the largest since the 1960s, with at least 150,000 present. The Teaching Assistants’ cause was endorsed from the platform by speaker after speaker, including the rapturously received Jeremy Corbyn.

All of this has led to a stay of execution. Fresh negotiations are ongoing, with those affected at last in the room. But the fight goes on, with enormous political ramifications.

Durham County Council was the first local authority of which Labour ever won Overall Control. That has never been lost, in more than 100 years. The Labour Group on that authority is the largest in local government.

But that Council is now the Mike Ashley of the public sector, and the twenty-first century version of Margaret Thatcher’s National Coal Board. This May, it should be taken to No Overall Control.

Very large numbers of Labour Councillors have absented themselves from the votes on this issue. But enough of them have attended to ensure that the Teaching Assistants have been betrayed.

The Councillors, all of them Labour, who have thus voted ought all to lose their seats to whoever was best placed to remove them, very preferably activists in the Teaching Assistants’ remarkable campaign.

Several have already announced their “retirement”, in one case at the ripe old age of 23. There will be more.

The Liberal Democrats and the Independents have been stalwart supporters of the Teaching Assistants. Therefore, they deserve to be re-elected. That leaves only the Labour absentees, plus a mere four Conservatives who abstained.

Whoever the new Leader and Deputy Leader of Durham County Council were to be, they must not be members of the Labour Party.

The Teaching Assistants’ flag, which is now ubiquitous in County Durham, must fly from County Hall every day for the following four years, at least.

This victory will rank alongside the election of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London in 2000, the election of George Galloway (a strong supporter) as MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005, Galloway’s election as MP for Bradford West in 2012, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party in 2015, and Corbyn’s re-election in 2016.

Or, if you prefer, it will rank alongside any of the great Liberal Democrat by-election victories, or the election of Douglas Carswell in 2014, or his re-election in 2015, or the election of Mark Reckless in 2014, or the election and re-election of Caroline Lucas in 2010 and 2015, or the result of the referendum on EU membership.

That is not hyperbole. Labour’s loss of this unitary authority for half a million people would be very big news, and it would set the scene for the 2020 General Election.

For reasons that will by then be 25 years old, but which retain currency, I shall be contesting the new seat of Durham West and Teesdale, most of which is where Pat Glass MP will be retiring.

I shall be doing so without any party designation, not even the word “Independent”. I am not a member of any political party, but I am part of numerous overlapping networks of political interdependence, not least the Teaching Assistants’ campaign.

Since he has taken to reasserting himself in British politics, I challenge Tony Blair to declare that he is the Labour candidate for this open seat here in his old County Durham stomping ground. Either that, or to shut up and go away.

It is imperative that Grahame Morris, who has given the Teaching Assistants stalwart support, be re-elected at Easington. But there has been no such support from any of the other MPs who intend to stand again, all of whom are Labour.

Likewise without any description next to their names, candidates from among the Teaching Assistants, the Lions of Durham as once there were Lions of Grunwick, need to stand against those MPs, and they need to be sent to a House of Commons that their presence would transform.

A similar dispute is ongoing in Derby, where the former MP Chris Williamson needs to return to Parliament for whichever constituency he chose, and where, again, Teaching Assistants or their supporters need to be elected on this same basis for every other seat.

The Liberal Democrats are on course to deprive the Conservatives of dozens of Remain-voting constituencies in the South.

Aside from this dispute, at parliamentary elections in the North, Labour’s support holds up enough to win under First Past the Post.

That system will also secure the SNP’s continued strength in Scotland. Wales will still be pretty much as it has always been. All bets are now off in Northern Ireland.

A hung Parliament in 2020 is a very distinct possibility. I fully intend to be there. We should all want the Durham and Derby Teaching Assistants to be there.

Let’s make it happen.