Tuesday, July 28, 2015 

Preventing "bad boys" from becoming dead boys.

Last week's horrific suicide bombing in Suruc, near to the Turkish-Syria border, looks to have been the last straw for both the Kurds and Turkey alike.  Blamed on Islamic State, although for once the group has not claimed responsibility for the attack, the bomber, believed to have been a 20-year-old Kurd, targeted a press conference being held by the Socialist Party of the Oppressed's youth wing.  The conference had been meant to publicise a trip by some of the group's members to help in the rebuilding of Kobani, the Syrian city Islamic State failed to capture despite it at one point seeming to have been abandoned to its fate by everyone other than the Kurds themselves.

As with the civil war in Syria as a whole, conspiracy theories and grievances about the Turkish authorities' seeming connivance with jihadists fighting in Syria have long circled among the Kurds, embittered by how Ankara has continued to see them as more of a threat than Islamic State.  Whether there was any kind of collusion with the Suruc bomber, or more likely a simple failure of intelligence, the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group, responded to the bombing by killing 2 police officers.  In turn, Turkey has launched bombing raids in both Syria and Iraq, attacking both Islamic State targets and those of the Kurds who just happen to be fighting IS.  A deal between Turkey and the Americans for the use of two military bases close to the Syrian border, long previously resisted, has also been struck.  Whether this amounts to an abandonment of the Kurds in favour of more active Turkish involvement as yet remains to be seen.  It does however underline the double games being played by so many of the actors involved, almost always to the detriment of either civilians or the very few groups that have relatively clean hands.

Much comment here has predictably focused on the news that of the five men who travelled together from Portsmouth in October 2013 to fight in Syria, only Mashudur Choudhury, who returned shortly afterwards, unable to adjust to life in a war zone, remains alive.  Just how ideologically inclined the men were really were remains difficult to properly ascertain; Choudhury certainly was less a committed jihadi and more a pathetic man with delusions of religious grandeur, soon brought back down to earth by the reality.  That the rest did stay, and one at least contacted the ubiquitous researcher Shiraz Maher, telling him of the mundane duties required of a lowly fighter with the Islamic State, while still believing in the group's cause, would suggest not just a belief in defending fellow Sunni Muslims, but also in the rest of the IS system.  When you then also think of how such men would have probably delighted in the slaughter in Suruc, where a group that believes in everything Islamic State detests was cut down for wanting to help their victims, it's difficult not to reach the simple conclusion that the only good jihadi is a dead jihadi. 

Except I also can't help but see the tragedy, the utter waste of life, the contradictions contained within those five men, the "Pompey Lads", the "al-Britani Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys".  Identity and the search for it is rightly pinpointed as being key to understanding why some British-born Muslims have gone to fight in Syria, and yet these men didn't want to dispense with their identity, they also embraced it.  They didn't call themselves lions, or apply any other self-aggrandising Islamic labels to themselves, but identified as being from a small town, from Britain and as having Bangladeshi heritage.  The "Bad Boys" part meanwhile speaks of their immaturity, as does how apart from Choudhury, who ironically despite being the oldest was the most immature, none of the other four had any real responsibilities.  All they had was either university to come or apparent dead end jobs to exist through.  It's less surprising to learn one craved martyrdom when the only other identifier he had was as a supervisor at Primark.

What they also had was each other, and it's well known how group dynamics and peer pressure play a major role in the reinforcing of thinking that would otherwise be questioned and challenged.  What also has to be remembered is that in October 2013 the myth of a moderate opposition was still being espoused, as was support for the rebels against Assad in general.  Whether the two who were killed in the fighting for Kobani believed in that cause as fervently as the one they travelled for we don't know; what we do know is the longer someone stays, the harder it is to return, especially when they must have known that Choudhury had been prosecuted and jailed for not much more than merely going to Syria.  If the family of Muhammad Mehdi Hassan are to be believed, the youngest of the group at 19 had wanted to come home when he was killed.

Too bad, you might think, and it is hard to have any sympathy for those who fought alongside or may themselves have taken part in mass killings or the almost beyond imaginable abuse of Yazidi women.  At the same time, there has to be some way for those who have gone to Syria and either want to return or have returned to reintegrate into society.  This is in everyone's best interests: not only are returnees potentially the best weapon against the radicalisers, able to argue that the reality is far different from the propaganda, but to exclude, jail and write off only entrenches the problem.  Identifying 3-year-olds as potential terrorists, as is now happening, while either simply monitoring or prosecuting returnees is the anti-extremism of fools, guaranteed to fail.  There has to be an alternative, however much it offends in the short term.

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Monday, July 27, 2015 

Too sensible by half.

Something politicians often fail to understand, as is being demonstrated all too well by the Labour leadership election, is that the public doesn't expect them to be serious all the time all of the time.  Indeed, as demonstrated by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson to name but two, not always being serious can often work spectacularly in their favour.  It probably won't lead to Downing Street, all things considered, but you might as well have some fun failing to get there.  It's certainly better than being permanently on message, permanently miserable as a result, and still failing.

When a member of the House of Lords is then caught in flagrante, snorting cocaine off the breast of a lady whose services he has procured for the evening, someone they have never heard of from an institution they don't care about, the immediate reaction is not to descend into bilious outrage, but to laugh.  And for damn good reason: regardless of what you think about drugs, prostitution, politicians, privacy, newspaper hypocrisy and all the rest, to see an old fart wearing a red bra and being wonderfully indiscreet, not realising he has been absolutely gloriously stitched up by the women he's paid a miserly £200 to essentially own for a couple of hours is hilarious.  Of course, the justification for exposing him isn't just that he's breaking the law while being in a position to alter said laws, it's also that he brings shame on parliament as a whole by acting in such a fashion, but most people aren't bothered in the slightest by such considerations.  The assumption, like it or not, is the majority if not all politicians are hypocrites and adulterers and moochers, and someone being confirmed as such in fact does relatively little to alter perceptions.  Acting like a maiden aunt after the fact is pointless: those disgusted were disgusted and disgusting anyway.

Which brings us back to said leadership contest, I'm afraid.  As evidenced by Tristram Hunt's article for the Torygraph at the weekend, the Blairite tendency's solution to everything is to be serious and sensible at all times.  One of a friend's most withering criticisms of someone we knew at school, one that has always stayed with me, was this person was too sensible by half.  They went through life not so much living it as doing what was expected of them at every turn.  This person is no doubt more successful than either of us, and we couldn't give a rat's cock.  Perhaps that just confirms we're both idiots.  Or, it might be there's more to life and also to politics than permanently doing what the serious people recommend you do, especially when it ought to have become self-evident that carrying on in such a fashion has not resulted in the benefits you were told it would.

Jeremy Corbyn's lead in nominations from constituency parties is not then because Ed Miliband, on whom everything and anything is being blamed, brought in a load of leftards convinced that if he won he'd immediately create a socialist utopia.  It's because they look at Corbyn, then they look at Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, and realise that if that's the best the supposed sensible, moderate, election winning centre of the party can come up with, they can keep them.  The reason that Diane Abbott got only 20 nominations from constituency parties 5 years ago and came dead last is because the alternatives were far, far more attractive.  The Blairites never forgave Ed for being just that little bit to the left of his brother and appealing to the heart as well as the head, and spent the rest of the parliament simmering with bitter resentment, convinced they were right and everyone else was wrong.  The defeat in their minds proved they were 100% right.

For them to be confronted now with Corbyn apparently in the lead, destined to win, only increases their rage and their determination to carry on, unwilling to consider if they might be wrong or if another approach is needed.  Not all of this is out of sheer bloodymindedness: the Graun for instance is not running all the anti-Corbyn pieces it has because it's a den of Blairites.  If it was it wouldn't have so strongly supported Ed.  When new recruit Matthew d'Anconservative writes saying he doesn't think a Corbyn win would be the disaster everyone thinks and would move the Tories back towards the centre, clearly there is mischief afoot.  For Corbyn to win the leadership and then the election in 2020 is A Very British Coup territory.

The odd thing is Labour knows full well the Burnham, Cooper, Kendall platform looks awful.  This hasn't led to the soul searching it should have done, Hunt's call for a "summer of hard truths" being about only what the serious and sensible people in the party declare to be "hard truths", but rather a simple increase in the factions insulting each other.  It doesn't matter that Burnham appears to suffer from the same problem as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, that Cooper has even less personality than a wet sock and Kendall's strategy of telling anyone minded to vote for her they are idiots results only in the same back with bells on ("Fuck Kendall" is about the most effusive endorsement she has received thus far), the problem is everyone else, not them.

Like Atul Hatwal, I don't think Corbyn will win the leadership.  This won't however be a result of the serious and sensible people realising they've screwed up spectacularly and that they can't go on treating the party's membership like dirt, while regarding the electorate as always being right however contradictory their urges.  They've gone so far down that route now it would be far too jarring to do an about turn.  It will be because the idiots and morons at the grassroots will do the rethinking instead.  Sadly, this almost certainly means that the serious and sensible people will conclude they were right and everyone else was wrong.  Even worse, it means the party will be saddled with either Burnham or Cooper.  Plus ça change.

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Friday, July 24, 2015 


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Thursday, July 23, 2015 

"It's not difficult, Manuel. This is not a proposition from Wittgenstein."

"It should not have been complicated to oppose the bill."  No, it shouldn't.  Absolutely nothing about Labour's meltdown this week has been complicated.  Jeremy Corbyn, who said those words about the welfare act, is not complicated.  Nor is his appeal.  He's a left-winger daring to say left-wing things to a left-wing party.

Remarkably, this has been enough to expose Labour for what it has become.  Mary Creagh on Newsnight last night said it was "nostalgic, narcissistic" that a few MPs donated their nominations to Corbyn to get him on the ballot in the interests of a wider debate.  Chuka Umunna says some are acting like "petulant children" for even considering supporting Corbyn.  John McTernan said the MPs who got Corbyn on the ballot are morons.  Tony Blair says anyone whose heart leads them to support Corbyn should get a heart transplant.

A left of centre party that finds itself this discombobulated, this angry, this self-righteous about a socialist deigning to broaden its leadership contest is in danger of digging its own grave.  It seems absolutely nothing has been learned from the party's all but demise in Scotland.  There an upstart party that is on most measures to the right of Labour stole its clothes, struck a left-wing pose and swept the board.  Rather than consider why the country came so close to voting for independence or understand that not distancing itself from the Tories had been an incredible error, the response was to do the equivalent of say no you can't, and vote in a right-winger as the new party leader.

You can't go on saying no you can't and keep expecting everyone to demur.  Labour's membership has been told no you can't for over 20 years now.  In 2007 it didn't even get a choice.  In 2010 it wouldn't have made the slightest difference if the vote had swung David rather than Ed Miliband's way.  The end result would have almost certainly been the same.  Maybe there would still be a Tory-Lib Dem coalition or a Tory minority government rather than a small Tory majority, but Labour would not have won.  In 2015, a membership once again told by the Very Serious People at the top of the party that they are idiots, morons, children for even thinking of taking the party back to the 80s by making a left-winger the leader are saying fuck you, yes we can.

The lack of self-awareness, the lack of self-doubt, the lack of the slightest consideration of whether they might be in the wrong rather than it being everyone else is staggering.  I could understand it more if rather than just abusing Corbyn, repeating the back to the 80s non-argument and insulting all and sundry who think Labour should be better than this (hah), the rest of the leadership candidates were making a distinctive case for themselves.  I could respect the ridicule if at the same time they were admitting the party needs to think long and hard about where it has gone wrong, to listen and learn from both the grassroots and voters in general, to realise that the only way to recover from this position is to have as wide-ranging a debate as possible.  Instead, what's happened has proved John Harris exactly right: a week after the defeat he wrote that he doubted the Labour elite had "the wit or the humility" to accept it needed to do precisely that.

This is in fact to be unfair to Liz Kendall.  She and Corbyn both have a position.  She would make the best leader out of the four, and almost certainly feels compelled by the vacuum on offer from both Burnham and Cooper to play further to the right than she really is.  She too though won't take Corbyn on directly, won't argue her case on her terms, and instead mouths the "disaster" mantra.

It really is as simple as this: if you can't convince the party's own membership that you have a better chance of winning than a socialist stuck in a time warp, as the Blairites are so insistent on portraying Corbyn as, how on earth do you expect to convince the wider electorate?  If you're this scared of debate, this averse to so much as accepting a socialist should be on the ballot on 2015, you should be asking yourself not just what you're doing in the Labour party, but doing in politics at all.  When Frank Field, Frank Field of all people, while still not accepting Corbyn has widened the debate by being on the ballot, says that he hopes one of the other candidates "has actually got both the physical courage and the intellectual clout to start that debate", you know the party is in trouble.  Kendall, and I hope it is Kendall despite everything, still has 7 weeks in which to actually do something other than carp and indulge in ad hominem attacks.  It might just be an idea to get started right away.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015 

Much like pulling teeth.

For the last two days I have had raging, agonising toothache.  You might have thought that by age 30 I would have reached the stage where my gnashers are all present and correct, and the only way from here is down in numbers rather than up, but no.  One bastard wisdom tooth is still determined to burrow its way up through the gum, only it's coming through with a massive hole in the centre.  Whether it's the pain from its continuing journey, as I've been suffering from pangs on and off for a few months now, or it's finally decided to get infected, as the previous one also did, I don't know.  What I do know is that it's coming through in such a position on the lower left side of my mouth that it has to be removed at the hospital, rather than my dentist being able to do so.  This will most likely mean a wait of around 6 months.

You can hopefully appreciate then just how little my mood has been improved by Labour's progress through the 5 stages of political ineptitude.  Different individuals within the party are at different stage, with some still being stuck in the denial phase, while others are as far along as depression.  John McTernan is most definitely in anger, while relatively few have so much as considered bargaining.  Acceptance, well, no one's got as far as that yet.

This would all be very much easier to take if the analysis of political journalists wasn't also so skewed, or just dead wrong.  Rafael Behr in a generally not that bad piece in the Graun turns once again to that old canard about the left preferring purity to governance, regarding victory as being only one step away from betrayal.  Bollocks.  Yes, there are a tiny number on the left that would rather be holier than thou than in a position to effect change, but they are most certainly not within Labour itself, nor are they for the most part out and out Labour supporters.  Sympathisers, definitely, but just as likely to vote for another party when it comes to it.  It's also complete nonsense to say that Ed Miliband's legacy will be to have rehabilitated this tendency after Blair turned Labour into a party that won elections.  The idea that Labour under Miliband was not serious about winning, that it didn't try its damnedest to win is laughable.  The reason the shock was so great, remains so great is that everyone, the media, the other parties, also believed the polls to be accurate.  As we've seen before, once the facts change most people then claim they were always against something now seen to be a disaster, or in this instance never believed Labour could win.

Behr's other mistake is to again repeat the argument that Labour regard those who voted Tory as not being good people, or not having good motives.  This is absurd.  As he himself sets out in his intro, the main reason the Tories won is they had a strong message well communicated by someone regarded as a plausible leader.  They also however relied heavily on the scare tactic of a Labour-SNP coalition/minority government, which while not necessarily the game changer many think, definitely had an impact.  The real problem, as evidenced by this week's scarcely believable stupidity over the welfare bill, is that the "realists" are convinced the Tory win is proof voters are overwhelmingly supportive of Osborne's "new settlement", or at least large parts of it.  The evidence for this is sketchy at best.  In any case, as pointed out by Dean Burnett, to think a vote in parliament now is going to affect how those good people vote in 2020 is ludicrous.  It has though driven traditional Labour supporters who are paying attention into paroxysms of despair, as well as delighting the other opposition parties who can't quite believe their luck.

We must then come to the latest sighting of our Tone.  No one knows quite where he descends from, or quite where it is he goes once he's put in an appearance, but whenever there's a situation to be made even more disagreeable, up he turns.  You might remember that just before the election campaign proper got going he told the Economist he believed that in a battle between a traditional left-wing party and a traditional right-wing party there could only be the traditional result.  This was an incredibly incisive piece of analysis, just slightly undermined by how describing Ed Miliband's Labour party as traditionally left-wing is to make clear you are an utter nincompoop.

Which has always been the problem with Blair.  He's often right, but when he's wrong, he's wrong to the power of eleventy stupid.  Labour lost in 2010 not because it had been exhausted by power, as all parties are eventually, but because Gordon Brown in Tone's eyes had stepped back from the modernising agenda.  Ed Miliband rowed even further back, although Tone kindly says he came to have "great admiration" for Miliband's refusal to back down.  Miliband thought the centre ground had shifted to the left, whereas Tone doesn't believe "it shifts in that way".

Blair is in many ways just like the rest of us.  We don't like to admit when we're wrong, so we often double down instead.  Only when convinced of our righteousness do we in fact put up a fight.  Blair therefore doesn't think the centre ground can ever move to the left, when the reality is it can only ever be shifted left or right through argument, winning debates and the majority accepting the case made.  Blair is explicit that he thinks nationalism is retrograde, the politics of the caveman, just as he also thinks to be against immigration is foolish, stupid.  Both stances should therefore be fought for regardless of whether or not doing so is a winner strategy.  The many things Miliband fought for by contrast were a rejection of the modernising zeal he thought he had inculcated in the party, and therefore bad regardless of whether they won votes.  Indeed, even if he did think "an old fashioned leftist platform" was the route to victory, Tone wouldn't stand on it.

Anyone detecting something of a similarity between the supposed attitudes of the lefties who prefer purity to power and the Blairites at the opposite end of the scale are of course barking up the wrong tree.  Tone doesn't really mean it; if the politics of Jeremy Corbyn were the route back to power, he'd be all over them.  Blair was always, has always been less of a Blairite than the Blairites themselves, as shown by his five pieces of advice for the party.  These are in actual fact rather good, if somewhat obvious.  Embrace technological change he says; do not accept the argument that Labour caused the crash, even if it could have done things better; learn lessons from Labour councils; develop a dialogue with business, especially on productivity and skills; and lastly, reform how the party itself operates, taking cues from organisations abroad.

Regardless of its merits, we've long passed the point at which an intervention from Blair is a welcome one.  For all the sniping at Corbyn, Blair like the others in the party doesn't seem to realise the reason he's doing is well is not because he's the answer.  Barely anyone truly thinks he is.  He's doing well because the rest are so shockingly awful and because their arguments, when they bother to make them, are neither one thing nor the other.  Even Blair recognises that Corbyn is "Labour through and through".  Liz Kendall isn't doing badly because she really is a crypto-Tory, it's because she and the others have failed to convince so far that their answers are better, or any more likely to lead to victory.  When given the choice between someone who is Labour, and three others who don't have the courage of their convictions, what choice is there?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015 

Violent sexual imagery: the only way to respond to that abstention.

There's an episode of The Thick of It where, enraged by that day's disasters, Malcolm informs Nicola and Terri that he will be using an awful lot of "violent sexual imagery" in order to make them fully understand the level of his unhappiness.

Labour at the moment needs a Malcolm.  It needs someone to set out in the most uncompromising terms just how suicidal yesterday's decision to abstain on the welfare bill was, and how incredibly, mindblowingly fucking stupid it is being in general.  Some at the very top of the party have been so mindfucked by the combination of losing the election, the glee of the right-wing press at that loss and their analysis as to why, and George Osborne's frankly pitiful efforts to "trap" them that they seem to have forgotten the very reason the party came into existence.  If Labour does not stand up for the interests of the ordinary working man, it may as well announce its dissolution.

The party leadership has no excuse then for its failure to vote against the welfare bill.  The act explicitly redistributes money from the working poor to the wealthy in order to pay for the all but abolition of inheritance tax.  It paves the way for the social cleansing of not just London but whole areas of the country, as the new lower cap on benefits makes those places unaffordable for the low paid and temporarily out of work.  It breaks Cameron's twin promises not to cut the benefits of the disabled and sick, as it reduces the payments of those in the work related activity group of ESA to the same as JSA, and to not touch child tax credits.  It makes clear that the end result of these changes will be a rise in child poverty, as the government is at the same time abandoning the target to reduce it by 2020.  It demands sacrifices only from those of working age, rather than asking any from those whom most of the social security budget is spent on, pensioners.  It makes clear the Conservatives don't wish only to play divide and rule between the unemployed and those in work, but between the working poor whom have their wages topped up by tax credits, and those in work who are lucky enough not to need to claim anything.  It says some families are worth less than others, that having a third child is always an active choice, and so it's perfectly acceptable for that child to be denied the same support their siblings received.  It is one of the most regressive, most reprehensible pieces of legislation to go through parliament in a very long time.

You might have thought yesterday's op/ed by George Osborne in the Graun would have concentrated a few minds.  Rarely is there a piece by a government minister that is quite so brazen in the number of outright lies, distortions and misleading statistics it contains.  Cutting an "unsustainable" welfare system is according to the chancellor a progressive measure, and welfare reform is not just about saving money, but transforming lives and social justice.  Let's be clear: this isn't a trap, this is one step up from the very lowest grade of trolling.  You don't respond to trolling, you ignore it.  If you must respond to it, what you most certainly don't do is accept the troll is making a legitimate argument.

And yet somehow, unconscionably, only 48 Labour MPs went through the no lobby last night.  Whatever it was Harriet Harman tried to achieve by saying Labour couldn't afford to ignore what she claimed was the will of the public in both giving the Conservatives a majority and twice rejecting her party, to act in such a cowardly, incoherent way is near to being unforgivable.  The Democratic Unionists, yes, some of the most unpleasant and antediluvian of all the MPs in the Commons, voted against it.  The SNP voted against it.  The Liberal Democrats, fresh from propping up the Tories for five years, voted against it.

Abstaining when you know precisely what a bill will do to those you were supposedly sent to Westminster to represent is a betrayal.  That's what it is.  Not only is it a betrayal of those who will suffer as a result, it's a betrayal of everyone who argued that a vote for Labour still meant something.  That Labour was a vote for a fairer, more equal society, in spite of all the snide remarks, disbelief and cynicism.  It's a betrayal of those who faced down the SNP, with all its claims of being the true progressive, radical force, or who criticised the luvvies who say Labour left them, not the other way around, and did so right at the moment the party needed them the most.

If anything was ever going to legitimise the SNP's claims of being the official opposition, prove Mhairi Black right, or drive those who have long flirted with the Greens fully into their arms, this was it.  Those currently leading the party, or rather not leading it have convinced themselves that only they have the answers, that only they are the responsible ones, and that to merely oppose for the sake of opposing is to not listen to "the very strong message sent by the electorate".  They have convinced themselves that elections are not won or lost during the last year of a parliament, but by how the opposition responds in the immediate aftermath of a defeat.  This is to completely misread what happened in the summer of 2010, as the coalition set out to prove the size of the deficit and the state of the economy were entirely the fault of Labour, rather than a global economic crisis.  This was achieved not through acts of parliament, but by how the message dominated everything the coalition did.  Labour's failure was to not respond ferociously, to fight the accusation, to debunk the lie.  Instead they accepted it.  The party leadership is repeating the mistake.

Only this time it's far more serious.  Labour has never seemed more divided between the "realists", epitomised by Chuka Umunna describing those disagreeing with his and the "modernisers" analysis as the equivalent of petulant children, and those daring to believe that Labour has to be, must be more than just the Conservatives with a kinder face.  The view that nothing can be achieved without power is spineless rubbish.  Rare is it that a government just falls apart, and even when they do it's not certain the opposition will automatically benefit: nothing more affects a government's authority than a failure to be able to pass legislation.  To give up even the pretence of opposing a government's worst excesses this early is an astonishing act of capitulation, a failure of belief that demands those responsible be held accountable.  That no one has said Harriet Harman has clearly lost the confidence of her own MPs in a matter of weeks is equally surprising.

It's not as though any of this is difficult.  The welfare bill is about making the poorest poorer, the working poor poorer, and the sick and disabled poorer.  Indeed, it's about making anyone who claims tax credits poorer.  This is not in dispute: Osborne is painting it as being fair and fixing a broken system but not denying the end result, whatever the claims made about the increase in the minimum wage.  Labour has somehow managed through sheer incompetence and the beyond moronic idea that being "sensible" at this stage will win dividends later to make the story not about the Tories doing what the Tories do, but about Labour being split over the most basic of issues.  As Flying Rodent has it, Labour is more afraid of not being shitty and vindictive enough, so convinced has it become that you only gain respect and win back votes through being "tough", than it is of going too far.  The leadership still seems to believe that it can ignore the wishes of its supporters and core voters as they have nowhere else to go.  The election results, the same ones that have apparently convinced them of the wisdom of this masochism strategy, prove the opposite is the case.

So yes, Labour needs a Malcolm to get through the otherwise most impenetrable of skulls just where such an approach will lead, and it most certainly isn't to victory.  It also though needs someone to soothe it, to reinforce that its heart is in the right place, and that it hasn't lost its values.  It needs someone like, oh, Alan Johnson, to play more of a role, to argue against the more out there ideas some on the left do have, like how an EU exit wouldn't be all that bad really.  Failing that, it's difficult to see where the party goes from here.  Under siege from all sides, some prefer surrender to carrying on the fight.

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Monday, July 20, 2015 

The strategy remains that there is no strategy.

In his speech on extremism today (speech in full), David Cameron said "Our freedom comes from our parliamentary democracy".  He's right.  Parliament can also dilute that freedom, and has within its power the means by which to end it all together.  Parliament can only maintain freedom as long as it is challenged through protest, and held to account by the courts and the press, to name but two institutions that play such a role.

When the will of parliament is then ignored by the government of the day, as it clearly has been in the case of British servicemen embedded with allied military forces carrying out air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, it does rather put into perspective the Tories' continuing obsession with promoting our supposedly indivisible British values as a counterweight against Islamic extremism.  Prime ministers have of course long wielded the royal prerogative, enabling them to make war without bothering to seek the will of parliament, but it's clearly bad form to engage in semantics when there has not been just one, but two votes directly related to Syria.  The first was defeated, while the second did not come close to providing authorisation to attack Islamic State in Syria as well as Iraq.  In truth, it's likely that British special forces have long been operating in Syria, but such are the activities of the secret state: for ordinary soldiers to be taking part in military operations in the country is something else.

One of the best, or at least most inventive defences of the government's fuck you, we bomb what we want attitude came from perennial fan of liberal interventionism James Bloodworth.  Apparently those upset at parliament being ignored are "clinging to the outdated idea that Syria still exists as a state".  Bloodworth might have more of a point if the government wasn't itself clinging to that "outdated idea"; lest we forget, according to David Cameron, Islamic State is neither "Islamic nor a state".  The reality probably is that the rise of Islamic State has torn up Sykes-Picot, and that neither Syria or Iraq can return to their borders as previously recognised.  That is however the intention of all the state actors involved, with the exception of the Kurds, if anyone's counting them.  If we're going to ignore state borders because IS ignores them, it needs to be voted on.  It's not a hard concept to get your head round, unless of course you're being wilfully obtuse, something liberal interventionists can never be accused of being.

It might also be an idea to have a strategy for dealing with Islamic State that runs alongside the one for dealing with homegrown extremism, as the two things while not inextricably linkedcould just have a connection.  Launching Hellfire missiles at Toyota Land Cruisers, whether in Iraq or Syria, is not a strategy.  One such strategy worth noting was set out on Left Foot Forward (edited by Bloodworth), Kyle Orton arguing the only way forward was to commit to regime change in Syria, which would convince all the non-ISIS rebel forces just how serial we are, and therefore result in an uprising against IS in both Syria and Iraq.  This naturally wouldn't lead to the other jihadist rebels gaining power, or Syria descending even further into the abyss, just as regime change in Iraq and Libya didn't.  There are times when describing something as insane doesn't quite cut it, although in fairness to Orton he is at least proposing something other than maintaining a murderous, bloody stalemate.  It would be a murderous, bloody victory for the very forces behind the ideology of Islamic State, and result in years more of bloody insecurity in the most dangerous region in the world, but hey, you've got to start somewhere.

To give David Cameron some credit also, his anti-extremism strategy for here in the UK is not all bad by any stretch of the imagination.  If anything, it's probably the most enlightened we've had post-7/7, although that's hardly saying much.  Cameron did nonetheless get remarkably confused, if not express outright contradictions in multiple places in the speech.  He again insisted that Islamic State is not Islamic, or rather isn't true Islam, and yet at the same time it cannot be denied that err, the extremists are Muslims, and clearly do follow Islamic practices.  You realise that Cameron is trying his best to not to fall into the trap of either making this a war on Islam, or to give succour to those who try to paint all Muslims as extremists, but this really isn't working.  Islamic State is Islamic, there's no getting away from it, just as jihadists are Muslims; they follow a twisted, perverse interpretation of the Wahhabi-Salafi tradition, which is in fact a relatively modern tradition, but it's still Islam.  Islamism, or political Islam, is not inherently violent, nor is it necessarily incompatible with democracy; the Islamism of Hamas is very different from that of al-Qaida and IS despite descending from the same source.  Recognising the Islamic State is Islamic surely isn't that difficult a step, or too hard to explain.

Within a couple of paragraphs Cameron is then at it again.  It's only the extremists who divide people into good and bad Muslims he says.  Except, err, the whole basis of his strategy is to do just that, as he then says in the next line, as this new approach is designed around isolating the extremists from everyone else.  Either these extremists are Muslims or they're not; can we possibly make up our minds, please?  He then immediately goes on to lecturing broadcasters about recognising the huge power they have in shaping the debate, apparently oblivious, or rather not, to how this speech will have more effect than anything they produce.

All this distracts from the good, which is the section on why people are being attracted to the extremist cause.  You can quibble with Cameron's declaration that extremist voices overwhelm those of other Muslims, which I don't think is true at all, but his follow-up, that it's ridiculous the debate when the young have gone to join IS has turned into whether or not the security services are to blame is sound.  If anything, Cameron doesn't ask the hardest of questions: whether or not some Muslims are in fact in denial of where their interpretation of Islam can lead.  Radicalisation, as Cameron says, has to start somewhere, and for some it can be nothing more than ordinary religious observance.  This is not to say they are to blame, that their interpretation is wrong, or that Islam always lead to extremism; it does not, and all religions and political ideologies have their extremists.  There is however no getting away from how some are more susceptible than others, and the more conservative the interpretation of Islam, the higher the chances tend to be.  It's not a coincidence that converts tend to be over-represented among the extremists, for instance.

The problem then is that Cameron's proposed solutions are so woefully lacking.   There isn't really much point in once again going through why the emphasis on British values is chuckleheaded: suffice to say that when the leader of a party that has still has major problems with sexual equality, having so recently been converted to the cause, repeatedly insists that we all believe in such things and always have, the only reasonable reaction is to reach for the sick bag.  Cameron protests that the new Prevent duty for schools is not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children, and yet what else is putting that duty on both nurseries and primary schools about if not spying on Muslim children, then spying on their parents and what they might be teaching them by proxy?  It's certainly not seriously about protecting wider society from child jihadists.  He talks about the effect "passive tolerance" could have on young British Muslim girls, when if anything we've now reached the stage where those brought up here are imposing their traditions on their own children.  The "power and liberating force" of our values, and let's not pretend we haven't been debating these questions of identity for decades, don't seem to have had much effect.

Which is rather the point.  Traditions are ingrained in all our little subcultures.  Cameron boasts about the new diverse face of his party, and then within a couple of paragraphs is on to "It cannot be right, for example, that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths".  Well, no, it's not Dave, but then what does the rest of your cabinet of private school attending mates have to do with this?  Perhaps we finally get to where this is all leading when Dave suggests "the government needs to start asking searching questions about social housing" and also ask "how we can move away from segregated schooling in our most divided communities".  One answer might be the new lower benefit cap, which research for the Graun suggests will lead to an exodus from the south and cities in general.  Ah yes, it's all fitting into place.

The biggest hole by far in the strategy is on identity.  The Tories don't truly believe in the nonsense they're spouting about British values, but it's the only thing they can think of in a world where identity is becoming ever more fragmented.  This hardly affects just Muslims; in the face of seeming constant change it's natural to cling on to an ever more exaggerated sense of self, as we're seeing in the debate in the US over the Confederate flag.  Young people brought up in an austere religious environment see the world as it is and react in different ways: some might abandon their faith and rebel against their parents that way; others might go in entirely the opposite direction.  Identity has never been so fluid, exaggerated by mass immigration and access to wider culture unimaginable even 20 years ago.  Little wonder that some people, and I can include myself in this, don't feel like they belong anywhere.  Tackling alienation when individualism, or rather the marketed sense of individualism, is so prevalent is all but impossible.  Harping on about British values while not actually following those values, especially at the same time as preaching myths such as how this is a country "where in one or two generations people can come with nothing and rise as high as their talent allows" and that our "success is achieved not in spite of our diversity, but because of our diversity" is about as idiotic as you can get.  The strategy remains that there is no strategy.  That there probably isn't one anyway doesn't diminish that.

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