Friday, July 31, 2015 

Paradise.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015 

Send in the clowns.

Amid the continuing delays at the Channel Tunnel, MPs and media alike today demanded that the military be deployed to help stem the crisis.

"The army must be sent to Dover," said MP Davide Davies.  "Every year this problem gets worse.  Swarms of disgusting British tourists force their way into France, disrespecting our culture, our women and our language.  They sing songs asking where were we during WW2, get drunk, urinate in the streets and dare each other to have sex with goats.  Any benefit from the money they spend is outweighed by the carnage that follows in their wake, which we then have to pay to put right.  It's a completely false economy."

The extreme right-wing newspaper Le Courrier meanwhile had its own take on the factors behind the tourist surge.  "It's the benefits, stupid.  The British government pays so much to feckless layabouts that they feel entitled to come over here with all their friends.  Not that it is just the evil poor.  The problem is exactly the same at the other end of the scale: villages in the south have been bought wholesale by the dreaded "champagne socialists", leaving nowhere for our children to live.  When exactly will we start looking after our own?"


More sanguine voices have been at pains to point out France in fact plays host to relatively few British tourists, and that they mainly head through the country to other destinations.  "Spain is by far the worst affected, with Marbella, Benidorm and Ibiza swamped by a mixture of social classes," commented TV host Antoine de Caunes.  "We get off lightly compared to places like San Antonio, where braying trustafarians party alongside your common garden permissives, who are more than willing to give dozens of blowjobs in exchange for a single shot of Sambuca.  Back in the old days we would have made a highly amusing little short film about that, complete with silly accents."

The reaction in Britain has so far been muted.  Premier David Cameron declined to comment, while the Sun refused to be drawn into a slanging match. "It's the silly season, so the French media is just indulging in its only sure sellers: bigotry, xenophobia and casual racism," commented a spokesman.  "We're above that sort of thing."

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015 

Calais: solvable, if we really wanted to.

The continuing chaos in Calais is one of those problems that could, should have been solved years ago.  It still could be now if only there was the political will.  The main culprit is the EU's Dublin regulations, whereby an asylum seeker is usually the responsibility of the first member state they lodge a claim in, or where their fingerprints are first taken, and which have long outlived any usefulness they once had.  They weren't designed to be able to deal with the two crises of 2015: the economic turmoil in both Italy and Greece, the two main entry points into the EU for migrants; and the unprecedented number of refugees making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

Even if Italy and Greece could cope with the numbers arriving on their shores, many would soon be moving on anyway, never having had any intention of making a new life in either state.  As it is, there are plentiful reports of the Italian authorities helping migrants on their way, dropping them off close to the border with France.  If you think this hands-on approach might be related to the apparent lack of action from the French police to the numbers who do manage to get to Calais, one step away from this country, you'd be right.  Why waste time, money and effort on dealing with migrants who only want to stay temporarily when to get involved increases the chances of having them stay permanently due to the vagaries of EU policy?  If Scotland had become independent and gained a reputation for being more welcoming to asylum seekers than the rest of UK, difficult as that is to imagine, you can guarantee before long there would be a similar situation in Berwick or the edge of Gretna.  Such is the way we try to pass our problems onto someone else.

An obvious solution would be to do away with the Dublin regulations entirely.  Regardless of where the claim is made, the only way to deal with the numbers coming fairly is to distribute them evenly between EU member states on the basis of a country's wealth, size and number of those already settled of the same heritage, to identify just three possible factors to be taken into consideration.  This approach would have some major problems: the resettling would have to be done almost immediately after the application is made, to ensure a family or person isn't then wrenched away from somewhere they've come to call home a second time.  It would almost certainly have to happen before an application is either approved or rejected, with all the difficulties that entails for cross-border information sharing and language barriers.  It would also mean countries that have previously experienced mainly emigration rather than immigration needing to accept some newcomers.  As has been shown by both the deal forced on the Greeks and the abortive attempt to do something similar to this earlier in the year, such solidarity is already in extremely short supply.

None of these problems ought to be insurmountable.  It's no more fair for Italy and Greece to be the front line in both rescuing and providing for migrants in the immediate aftermath of their reaching Europe than it is for Sweden and Germany to bear by far the most asylum applications (if not in Germany's case by head of population).  The main reason Britain would oppose any such change to the regulations is that despite the Calais situation, we would almost certainly end up taking in more asylum seekers than we do now.  For all the wailing, Cobra meetings, cost to the economy of Operation Stack and the closure of the tunnel, it's seen as preferable to any further increase in the immigration figures, especially when the situation has in the past only been this acute for short periods.  The chaos this time has been exacerbated just as much by the ferry strikes as it has marauding bands of refugees.  The irony of borders being wide open for everyone except those most desperately in need is still yet to properly sink in.

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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 

Clasp.

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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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