David Cameron’s Big Lie about Syria

The following blog was published as a letter in the Guardian and Independent of 1st December 2015:

Tony Blair’s big lie, before the war in Iraq, was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. David Cameron’s big lie is that there are 70,000 ‘moderate’ Syrian ground troops, ready to sustain ‘democracy’.

In fact, the majority of anti-Assad forces fighting alongside ISIS are violent Islamists – such as the Al Quaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The Front is known to pose a serious threat here in Britain, yet we are expected to maintain the fiction that its fighters are moderates or de facto allies. If the government gets its way, we will bomb only ISIS – and civilians of course.

Cameron’s long term aim continues to be illegal regime change. He is intent on removing Assad by force, even if it means allying himself with people far worse than the Syrian President. The consequences for the people of Syria, especially for women, the Shia, Kurds and other minorities are likely to be truly terrible.
Jean Calder.

Advertisements

Poor Taste for my SpAd, and New Beginnings for Purna Sen and Nancy Platts

One of my over-promoted SpAds, by the name of Andy Winter, has just bought himself one of those new Apple wrist watches. It’s hideous, a sort of bilious blue. My young intern (lovely gel) tells me  it’s like a teenager’s Swatch, whatever that is. I expect my staff to maintain standards at this Blog. I’m terribly shocked. There don’t seem to be any standards these days. Have you seen the way council officers dress these days, slobbing about in jeans? Quite extraordinary.

I hear the lovely Nancy Platts has been elected as chairman of the Labour Party. Well done Nancy. I’m sure the party will do well under your leadership. Bad luck in the election.  As the incumbent, Simon Kirby had a good opportunity of keeping his ‘grip’ on the seat (I said the jokes would be bad). What wonderful hair he has. I do envy men with a full head of hair. 

Tough about Purna Sen too, but what a fantastic job she’s landed at the UN. Much better than being an MP. No constituents to worry about. Purna, you’re moving into the upper echelons of society, but, be advised, I’m very used to that world. if you need any advice just call on me, the humble blogger.

Whatever you do don’t trust that Obama chap. He ate all the cake and pocketed the spoons last time he came to tea.

The Flight of the Fitches

Each autum in Brighton and Hove we witness a murmuration of starlings as thousands prepare to fly south for the winter. I recall a riddle from my childhood: “Why do birds fly south in the winter?” The answer, “Because it is too far to walk”. (When we relaunched the Politics Blog we didn’t promise to improve on the level of humour).

I like collective nouns. We have a Flight of Swallows, a Covey of Partridges, a Parliament of Owls, a Congregation of Eagles, a Committee of Vultures and, of course, a Murder of Crows – which naturally brings me on to Brighton politics.

What would be the collective noun be for the political groups? A Division of Greens, a Complication of Conservatives, and a Warren of Labourites. Perhaps it is too obvious to mention an Absence of Lib Dems.

I used to believe that it was a Charm of Finches. However, my team of underpaid research assistants and over-promoted SpAds has discovered it is really a Charm of Fitches.

In this post I lament the Flight of the Fitches. The departure of Brian and Norah Fitch to the more finely-twigged nests of Eastbourne, and Harris Fitch to the penal colony of Australia, will leave the Brighton, Hove and Hangleton political landscape all the more bleak and boring. It had been hoped that Harris would become the latest in a thousand generations of Fitches to join the Council and defend the No 5 bus.

The bus users of Brighton hope he will return soon.

I am sure we haven’t heard the last tweet from the Fitches of Brighton and Hove.

The true identity of the Brighton Politics Blogger is finally revealed

Following a Freedom of Information request by various media outlets, fiercely resisted by Clarence House, it has today been revealed that the true identity of the Brighton Politics Blogger is, indeed, HRH The Prince of Wales.

Also Clarence House was further required to reveal this, the latest account of political events in Brighton and Hove by HRH BPB:

image“One is relieved that the Greens have been culled like a clan of mad badgers. There are times, not many, when One appreciates democracy. One was mightily gratified that Lady Everton, a fine looking filly, survived in Regency Ward along with Major Druitt, a nice lad but there is a whiff of vegetable oil about him.

“Our Loyal Labour Party, led by Commander Morgan, has now seized the reins of power in the City, with Sugar Puffs, instead of Kitcats, being served at all Council meetings.

“Our well-beloved distant relative, Geoffrey Theobald, remains Master of the Patcham Traveller Hunt.

“One is rather saddened that the duel between a local Smithy and Lord Hawtree of Bookend failed to materialise. Both have now retired. How One wishes that One’s Mother would follow their lead.

“We are sorry that the Mayor, Sir Brian Fitch, and his rather gorgeous potty-mouthed wife, Norah, (she reminds me so much of my own dear Camilla) will soon be driving off into the sunset, no doubt on the number 5 bus which he has heroically saved just before every election since 1947.”

Labour Fails to Listen by Jean Calder

Labour had a disastrous general election. Activists believed polls indicating they were neck and neck with the Conservatives. They are now reeling from the shock of failing to win target seats such as Brighton Kemptown and Hastings – and of losing leading politicians like Ed Balls

John Woodcock MP, chair of the influential Progress group said the party would need to examine what went wrong. I’d suggest the answer is simple. Leaving aside the wisdom or otherwise of pursuing an economic policy of ‘austerity lite’, Labour was arrogant, took the electorate for granted and failed either to explain or to listen. There were several examples of this. I’ll mention just a few.

Since Labour’s 2010 defeat, the Conservatives and their media supporters have repeatedly accused Labour of ‘trashing’ the economy by overspending. It would have been possible to provide simply-worded and honest replies to these accusations – and to have reproduced them on leaflets, in interviews and on websites – but, inexplicably, Labour’s leaders chose not to do this. As a result, the Government successfully persuaded the public that Balls and Brown ‘spent all the money’ – and a golden opportunity to educate the public was lost. Up until the 2015 election, David Cameron regularly reminded voters of arch-Blairite Liam Byrne’s mocking note, left for the Treasury team, that said no money was left. Instead of condemning Byrne’s letter and excluding him from the leadership team, Ed Miliband foolishly kept him on his front bench, appearing to endorse his view – and allowing Byrne’s colleagues, by association, to take the blame.

Labour focussed its election campaign on the NHS. It rightly attacked the Conservatives’ expensive re-organisation, but failed to acknowledge, or apologise for, the dreadful failures in care standards that happened on its watch, not least in Mid Staffs and in Wales, and the terrible breach of trust that this represented. It condemned the Coalition government for excessive NHS executive salaries and pursuit of private sector service delivery, but did not apologise for its own past complicity in both. Finally, fixated by it’s commitment to spending ‘responsibility’, Labour found itself trapped in the ludicrous position of offering less money for the NHS than the Conservatives and attacking them for promising too much.

Labour said it planned to reduce immigration, but I doubt people believed it. Voters knew that, when in power, Tony Blair had enthusiastically pursued uncontrolled European immigration and that this undercut working class wages and put pressure on housing and services. Ed Miliband’s arrogant refusal to countenance a referendum on Europe flew in the face of his stated commitment to controlled immigration – and to democracy. He placed the free movement of cheap labour – and the profits of some businesses – before the rights of British people, particularly women, who were most likely to be low-paid or using public services.

There has for years been a whiff of corruption around Labour – ruthlessly exposed by newspapers such as The Times and Daily Mail – which Labour’s leaders have not addressed. They have ignored growing evidence that some Labour-dominated councils have tolerated instances of corruption, including electoral fraud, manipulation of school governing bodies and organised exploitation of teenage girls.

It’s true that no party has yet acted effectively against electoral fraud, especially in relation to misuse of postal votes by ‘community leaders’ and heads of households. However, there is a widespread view that, in some parts of the country, Labour has actively encouraged or at least turned a blind eye to this – partly because it feared accusations of racism, but mostly because Labour’s candidates have been the primary beneficiaries. This is despite the fact that such practices may have disempowered and effectively disenfranchised thousands of women. When, in late April, the Election Commissioner found that Lutfur Rahman, the independent former Mayor of Tower Hamlets, had been guilty of “corrupt and illegal practices” and ordered the 2014 mayoral election to be re-run, Christine Shawcroft, a long standing member of the Labour Party’s NEC, condemned the judge and addressed a public meeting in Rahman’s ‘defence’. This was just days before the General Election. Shawcroft’s action may have appealed to some voters in London, but sent a terrible message to the rest of the country.

Despite the Labour Party’s theoretical commitment to gender equality, there has been no coherent explanation why, under the Labour government, there was such reluctance to investigate either the organised abuse of teenage girls in northern and midlands cities (despite early warnings from former Labour MP Anne Cryer) or associated allegations of collusion by some Labour councillors. Similarly, the party has refused to acknowledge its apparent unwillingness, when in power, to confront harmful ‘cultural’ practices, such as FGM and forced marriage – or to challenge the blatant gender inequality inherent in the operation of sharia courts. In the days before the election, undecided female voters were hardly likely to be impressed by photographs on twitter and in newspapers of prominent Labour MPs addressing a gender-segregated political meeting – nor by the party’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, who defended their actions. The fact that Conservative-supporting newspapers like the Daily Mail publicised these matters, did not make them any less true or significant.

While north of the border, a powerful charismatic female leader was seen to carry all before her, Labour leaders continued to patronise women and take them for granted – as they had for the previous five years. The party placed little emphasis on the fact that young women were more likely than young men to be unemployed and that women were the primary victims of austerity policies, experiencing increased poverty, exploitation, sexist discrimination and violence – while continuing to bear primary responsibility for child- and elder-care. Instead of empowering women and girls and setting out what a Labour government would do differently, the party’s male leadership largely ignored them. When occasional parliamentary debates on female equality or violence took place, Labour’s male leaders took themselves off on visits to factories, to be photographed in macho poses and hard hats. In debates about youth unemployment, education and training, females barely featured. And when the Labour party commissioned a report on ‘Older Women’ it took two years to publish and then failed to consider the needs of anyone over 70. I know I wasn’t the only one to laugh, at the start of the election campaign, to see the party send out female MPs in a bright pink bus to ‘listen to women’s concerns’ – when it was far too late to do anything about them.

The truth is that if Labour is to rebuild, its leaders and activists must learn to confront its failures and listen to the people, female and male, young or old, powerless or powerful – not because the party wishes to appear well, or to recruit, exploit or manipulate the individuals involved or solicit their votes – but because what they have to say is often true and usually of value.

Only when Labour learns to respect the people, will it be fit to govern them.

Jean Calder

The Boundary Commission, Brighton Pavilion and Caroline Lucas

Earlier this week the Boundary Commission announced new proposals for the redrawing of Parliamentary constituencies. It has been suggested in the Argus that Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas would have been defeated had the last election been fought on these proposed boundaries.

I find the latest proposals without logic, with Regency ward being moved into the neighbouring Hove constituency and Moulsecoomb and Bevendean wards becoming part of Brighton Pavilion.

Should Labour or Conservative activists be taking heart from this latest set of proposals, they should think again. It will take more than gerrymandering to remove Caroline Lucas. Since the 2010 general election, Ms Lucas has increased her personal support, notwithstanding the current difficulties of the Green administration on Brighton and Hove City Council.

The last general election was a very tight affair with three exceptional women candidates, Nancy Platts for Labour, Charlotte Vere for the Conservatives and Caroline Lucas for the Greens. I got to know all three during the election campaign and came to like and admire them all. Any one of them would have made a first-rate constituency MP. As it was, it was Caroline Lucas who came out triumphant, and as the sitting MP she now has a significant advantage going into 2015.

One of Labour’s main strategies in 2010 was to repeat its claim that Caroline Lucas could not win the seat and that the only way to beat the Conservatives was to vote Labour. A large number of people accepted this line yet Caroline Lucas went on to win the seat. Next time, this false tactical vote argument will not work for Labour and those people who felt cheated by having voted Labour when they may well have voted Green, will vote for the sitting Member of Parliament who has done nothing but strengthened her personal reputation and following.

It would take an excessively unpleasant campaign by Labour or the Conservatives to unseat Caroline Lucas. Should they try such an approach they will lose further support since politicians who behave in such a manner are increasingly rejected by the electorate, particularly against a candidate with such obvious integrity.

Having met Caroline Lucas on a few occasions (I don’t get out much) I have been very impressed by her modesty, diligence and ability. She won’t take anything for granted, which is wise, but should this week’s headlines get her down, she should take heart from assurances of the very widespread and growing support for her.

The division within the Greens over Christina Summers’ expulsion

The Argus’s Tim Ridgway is fast establishing himself as an outstanding local government correspondent, and the Argus is the better paper for his reporting.

Not that the Greens will be thinking so this morning as Tim reveals the list of those Green councillors who signed the letter resulting in Christina Summers being expelled from the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council.

According to Tim, those who signed the letter were: Liz Wakefield, Rob Jarrett, Leo Littman, Phelim MacCafferty, Lizzie Deane, Sue Shanks, Christopher Hawtree, Ben Duncan, Sven Rufus, Mike Jones, Stephanie Powell, Amy Kennedy, and Ruth Buckley.

Those who did not sign were: Matt Follett, Bill Randall, Geoffrey Bowden, Ian Davey, Ollie Sykes, Alex Phillips, Pete West, Jason Kitcat, and Ania Kitcat.

I am personally disappointed with some who signed and pleasantly surprised by one or two who did not.

When histories are written of political administrations, the moment that an under-fire group turns on its own members is the moment that defeat becomes likely. The Greens still have time to reflect on what got them elected in 2011 and return to the campaigning political operation that so inspired many voters.

(Note: the original posting had Tim Ridgway as a “loyal government correspondent” now corrected to “local government correspondent” and the names of Geoffrey Bowden and Bill Randall had become fused as Geoffrey Randall. What a thought!)