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.

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

Dithering Dave is tearing the Conservative Party apart over Heathrow’s third runway

In politics, a politician’s entire legacy can sometimes be defined by a single word, usually with negative connotations. Say “sleaze” and you think, probably unfairly, of John Major. “Iraq”, most fairly, Tony Blair. With David Cameron, his repeated use of the word “dither” could become the word associated with his time as Prime Minister.

Take this reshuffle.he wanted to move Ian Duncan-Smith, but IDS refused to move. He really should have sacked or moved George Osborne, widely booed at the Paralympics. But he dithered and left George in situ. Before the election he said that there would be no third runway at Heathrow.

But now he is dithering. First he sacks Justine Greening. Now it is being said the commitment was not to build the third runway in this parliament. Tory MP Zac Goldsmith has threatened to resign his seat and fight a by-election in his West London seat if there is a U-turn on the third runway.

So what has Cameron done? Decisive Dave has given way to Dithering Dave by asking Howard Davies to lead a commission into the UK’s airport capacity.  Boris Johnson has attacked Cameron by calling the enquiry as a “fudge”.

The greenest government ever is desperate to find a way to get out of its pre-election pledge regarding Heathrow. Because of his dithering, Cameron is tearing his party apart. Perhaps it isn’t just Osborn that needs sacking.

Election result that will change the European political landscape for a decade

The last two weeks have seen election result that will change the European political landscape for a decade.

In Britain, France and Greece, the voters have said a resounding “no” to austerity. Even in the voters of Schleswig-Holstein gave Angela Merkel a bloody nose, her CDU party’s worst defeat in Schleswig-Holstein since 1950. Gone is Nicolas Sarkozy, in comes the anti-austerity Francois Hollande as President, and the two pro-austerity centre parties in Greece have been rejected by the voters.

The two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk have been given notice. Writing in today’s Daily Mail, former Sun editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, has revealed that he has waged a £1,000 on Cameron being gone by November. He got odds of 10-1.

There is so much to comment on, but the rejection of austerity must be the headline. Other matters, in brief, include:

Labours excellent performance up and down the country and its growing lead in the opinion polls. However, the party should not be complacent and, in light of European election results, needs to show that it is setting its face firmly against austerity. Just saying that they would not have cut so far and so fast is the wrong message. It now needs to give people hope and begin to make firm promises about public increasing expenditure, investing in housing and infrastructure products, and reversing changes in the NHS.

Locally, Labour had an excellent result in Hastings, having secured its most seats ever on the Borough Council and reinforcing its hold in that town. But Hastings is a strange place, having elected a Conservative MP, Amber Rudd, in 2010 on the same day as it elected a Labour council. Sarah Owen, Labour’s energetic and electable young candidate, should not underestimate the Blue Lady, Amber Rudd, who has become a highly respected member of the local political establishment, across party divides.

The Greens have much to be pleased about. They increased their number of councillors by more than any other party other than Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party. The highlight was the third place secured by Jenny Jones in London’s mayoral election, beating the Lib Dems who came fourth. This was achieved in spite of Brian Paddick being given equal coverage to Boris and Ken with Jenny being treated by the media as an also ran.

As for the Lib Dems themselves, they now have fewer councillors than at any point in their history. Perhaps this is a trend that will see these Tory appeasers returning their lowest number of MPs at the next election. Their claim, that they are preventing the worst excesses of the Conservatives, ring increasingly hollow. They are nothing more than Tory-enablers who, but for their enthusiastic participation in the Coalition, the Conservatives would have been able to force through many of their most extreme measures.

Finally, the relative success of the far right in Europe is extremely worrying. While the BNP lost all the seats it was defending in Britain’s local elections, Marine Le Pen in France and Golden Dawn in Greece sends a chilling warning to all democrats across Europe. I will write more about this soon.

(Note: An earlier draft of this post referred to Rising Dawn. This has been corrected to Golden Dawn)

Reflecting on the actions and comments of Francis Maude, Ben Duncan and Dawn Barnett

This week I reflect on three politicians who have captured the headlines for words and actions.

The first is Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Member and MP for Horsham, who encouraged people to store spare petrol supplies in their garage. Other than the danger associated with storing a highly flammable material, it showed how out of touch he is with ordinary people. Just 22% of households have garages. His comments were part of a truly pathetic attempt by the Conservatives to create a diversion to Pasty-gate, the Granny Tax, and other failures from the budget, not least the tax give away to the rich.

Tragically and inevitably someone has got seriously hurt. Maude should resign and Cameron should apologise for his comments and those of his government colleagues over the ‘fuel crisis’.

The second politician is local Green councillor, Ben Duncan, over his four-letter outburst about pasties. Today he has apologised after he realised that local baker, Forfars, which has a shop in his ward, is set to lose £250,000 because of the new tax on pasties and pies.

Ben Duncan said he was just joking: “I’m amazed anyone took my comment seriously and do apologise if it caused any offence. It was a joke that was responding to the news because it’s not the only thing going on in the world. The point I was trying to make was that the debate about pasties is distracting from larger issues.

“Clearly I sympathise with any business that is suffering from the appallingly unfair budget. I would love to go and visit the bakery and sample some of their vegan goods.”

But Ben Duncan is inviting ‘open season’ on himself with a further ill-advised tweet quoted by today’s Argus: “You’ve got to be so careful on Twitter – scumbag journos are watching your every move!”

Even Christopher Hawtree distanced himself from Ben Duncan’s unguarded comments, saying that Ben Duncan is “the Green’s Prince Philip”.

It is said that in politics, worse than being accused of incompetence, is to be ridiculed. I think that councillor Hawtree has just ridiculed his Green colleague.

My third and final comment relates to Conservative councillor Dawn Barnett. Police had to ask her to leave a site in her ward and next to where she lives where an unofficial travellers camp has been set up. Police advised her to go home for her own safety.

It may come as surprise to my three regular readers, Biker Dave, Momma Grizzly and Doris, as well as to my latest follower, the Enigmatic Flo, that I will continue to defend councillor Barnett, although I have fundamental differences with her on the issue of travellers.

I don’t know whether councillor Barnett was doing anything to provoke a breach of the peace. I believe that councillors must be able to go about their business without hindrance, particularly in the ward they represent. If councillor Barnett’s safety was at risk, the police must put in place measures to protect her.

She should be allowed to visit the site of the travellers and her well being must be safeguarded. If she was to commit an offence (and I doubt she would) then the police should take action against her. Her mere presence is not cause to ask her to go home.

Perhaps councillor Duncan, as the Cabinet Member for Public Protection, will use his good offices to ensure that a fellow councillor can go freely about her business .

Well done to all who took strike action today

Over 2 million workers went on strike today, according to the BBC. And if they say 2 million, then it must have been far more.

Prime Minister David Cameron got it completely wrong, trying to dismiss the day of action as a “damp squib”. Damp it may have been, said Caroline Penn on Twitter, but she didn’t see a squib all day!

Turnout in Brighton was fantastic, with the biggest demonstration and rally I can ever recall. There was great turnout by Labour and Green councillors, and in spite of Warren Morgan dismissing Caroline Lucas as a “no show”, she made a great rallying speech that was incredibly well received. Her appearance on the news was uncompromisingly positive on behalf of those on strike.

But the credit must go to the Unions who organised the day ever so well. Particular congratulations to the GMB who stood out from the crowd, and what a crowd it was. The GMB’s flags were fantastic, and the highlight for me was the wonderful Scottish piper.

The only disappointment was the failure of the leadership of the Labour Party nationally to support the strike. Yes, the position they took up to and until yesterday was not unreasonable, saying that they opposed the need for a strike and that both sides should seek a resolution.

But today, of all days, the Labour Leadership should have come out unconditionally in support of the strike, condemning the government for failing to engage meaningfully to prevent the strike. What a boost that would have given the day of action, and it would have signalled that Labour opposes the Tory and Lib Dem austerity measures that are putting so many people on the dole.

Until Labour nationally offers some leadership, the party locally will continue to see Caroline Lucas hoover up further support.

Westbourne by-election: comments that open up the sluices at both ends

Apologies for my silence. I’ve not been well. Three days with, as Monty Python said in regard to some Australian table wine, the sluices were opened up at both ends! That’s already too much detail for my three regular readers (Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave. So Cool Soosie seems to have abandoned me).

I have just reviewed a few dozen comments on this blog and the overwhelming majority seem to be attacking the Green candidate, Louisa Greenbaum. It is quite obvious that Labour and Tory activists seem to think that Louisa is the front runner. And they are probably right.

Caroline Penn is one whose comments are normally positive about her candidate, Nigel Jenner, and lists his qualities. She makes a reasonable attack on the Tories for the closure of Hove Police Station.

Another Labour supporter, Gloria Van de Lay (who has teased me mercilessly in DM’s) describes Nigel as “locally resident” living, as he does, just outside the ward. She also sees the Tory record on policing as a weakness of the Tory campaign. I wouldn’t write Graham Cox’s chances off. He is an extremely strong candidate, is well known in the area, and is one of the most single-minded individuals I have ever met, judging from his record as the Top Cop in Hove some years back.

Having listed Louisa’s various interests from her Facebook page, Gloria announces that, on balance, she advocates a vote for Nigel. Fancy that. She is also beastly to the Lib Dem candidate, Gareth Jones. For me to defend a Lib Dem, well that how OTT she has been. I agree with Simon Williams, the former Green councillor, who suggests she lies down in a darkened room for a while.

Steampunk claims most of the Green councillors are over 70 but look younger due to healthy green lifestyles. He says that Alex Phillips is the youngest at 43. A brave man to take on Lady Everton. Careful crossing the road, Punk. You don’t want to be run over by a Big Lemon.

My Pal Paul (Perrin), the UKIP candidate, bemoans another party employee running for office. I understand Louisa works just 10 hours a week for the Greens. But why should it matter anyway? He also notes that Louisa was the Green’s ‘first’ candidate last time. A strong point in her favour, I would imagine, given that three of the other candidates stood elsewhere as recently as May. Her track record strengthens her position.

Paul also says that I have “really lost it” – I got his age wrong (he seems to have taken offence at giving his age as 14 and three quarters!) and guessing that my “beloved Louisa” was in her 30’s when she is, in fact, a male in her 50’s. Actually, she is 41. Paul says that I am “squandering whatever good will (I) have had in the past…”. Well, thank goodness for that. As long as Doris, Biker Dave and Grizzly still love me, I’m happy.

Linda F (a Young Tory, me thinks, under 50 anyway) joins the ranks of the Green bashers, mentioning the schools attended by Louisa (Leeds Girls’ High School) and a couple other Greens, as well as putting the boot into Nigel Jenner for attending Brighton College. I heard a rumour that the Tory Party leader, Dave Cameron, his mate Boy George, and several others in his Cabinet went to Eton, while his fag (not a derogatory term but indicates a junior boy who does the bidding of a prefect at a private school) Nick Clegg went to the inferior Westminster School.

My spiritual friend, Ghost, identifies some of Louisa’s advantages in this by-election, second on the ballot, the only woman, and an established profile in the ward.

Pete Gillman, like Caroline Penn, makes a characteristically positive intervention by focusing on issues, although he might be being a bit melodramatic by suggesting the Greens wanted “easy access to hard drugs and legalised brothels if they had their way.”

Mike Weatherley has gone out to show a united front with Graham Cox, promoting him on Twitter and canvassing for him. But the cause of unity is not helped by Valerie Paynter, the biggest fan of The People’s Mike in Hove. She challenges Graham: “You say you agree with Mike Weatherley ‘on most issues’. I wonder, could you tell us, on what named issues you disagree?”. Not helpful Ms Paynter, well not for the Tory cause.

My Pal Paul says this by-election will make no difference unless, of course, he is elected. I think he may beat the Lib Dems into 4th place, but not more. But RobS (who graces us with his presence, says that “the election of a Green is the one result that DOES make a difference to the running of the council. True it doesn’t change overall control, of course, but when a minority administration is running a council, an extra voice and an extra presence for committees etc. can improve the quality of council management and decision making.”

Apologies for the length of this post, but needed to catch up with you all. In your comments, please keep them fair and reasonable.