Monthly Archives: May 2015

Go Figure Sinn Fein!

As Gerry Adams was shaking hands with Prince Charles in Galway, in Belfast members of the Ballymurphy Massacre Families, who are campaigning for the truth about the killing by Paratroopers in 1972 of their loved ones, protested Charles’ trip to Ireland at a demo in downtown Belfast.

Prince Charles is the Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute regiment.

In the centre of the group, as can be seen in the photograph below, is Paul Maskey, MP for West Belfast, the seat once held by Gerry Adams, and a prominent member of the Sinn Fein leadership cadre.

So, while one Sinn Fein luminary shook the hand of the Prince of Wales and welcomed him to Ireland, another Sinn Fein luminary protested his presence in Ireland.

I think it would be difficult to find a clearer demonstration of Sinn Fein’s approach to politics.

Ballymurphy Protest Millfield

Paul Maskey, wearing glasses, is fourth from right

Gerry Adams And Charles Windsor: A Photo Caption Contest

Great photo of Gerry Adams and Prince Charles about to shake hands by Brian Lawless of PA.

2000A free lifetime subscription to to the reader who composes the best bubble captions capturing the thoughts going through the heads of the two men as they are about to meet.

Martin McGuinness And Mountbatten

I see the Irish media is now speculating that Martin McGuinness will join Gerry Adams when he meets Prince Charles in Galway at a private encounter some time tomorrow.

How many, I wonder, of our esteemed television and newspaper correspondents will remind their viewers and readers that in August 1979, when Charles’ ‘Uncle Dickie’ was sent to his maker by an IRA bomb, that the man who gave the final order to kill him, the then Chief of Staff of the IRA, was none other than Martin McGuinness.

How much, dear reader, would you pay to be a fly on the wall at that gathering in Galway tomorrow?

Why Gerry Adams Should Give Prince Charles A Big Thank-You Hug!

As I write this, the jungle telegraph from Ireland is signalling that Gerry Adams might shake the hand of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, at some point during his controversial visit to Ireland, which begins tomorrow (Tuesday).

Should that happen he really ought to consider adding a thank-you hug, for reasons I will explain below.


Prince Charles with ‘Uncle Dickie’, Lord Louis Mountbatten

The high point of the Prince’s visit will, of course, be his trip to Mullaghmore in Co Sligo where Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Queen’s cousin but known to Charles as ‘Uncle Dickie’, was blown to pieces by an IRA ‘line of sight’ radio-controlled bomb hidden on his holiday boat on August 27th, 1979.

Some hours later on the other side of Ireland, at a place called Narrow Water not far from Warrenpoint on the shores of Carlingford Lough, eighteen British soldiers, many of them members of the Parachute Regiment of which Prince Charles, as Gerry Adams reminded us recently, is Colonel-in-Chief, were blown to pieces in a double explosion.

The remains of the Commanding Officer of the Queens Own Highlanders, Lt Col David Blair, who flew in a helicopter with his soldiers to rescue the ambushed Paras, were never recovered. His body is believed to have been vaporised in the blast. A member of special RUC undercover unit tasked with collecting the remains of the dead told me in an interview that he found a hand embedded in a nearby tree by its fingernails.

The scene of the Warrenpoint ambush

The scene of the Warrenpoint ambush

It was, arguably, the most traumatic and violent day experienced by the British state during the Troubles and it immediately pitched the North into a security and political crisis, the first of many for the newly elected British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

But, for the recently installed new leadership of the IRA and especially their leader and strategy guru, Gerry Adams, the two strikes that day meant that it was an occasion for celebration and not just for the obvious reasons.

The events that day served to vindicate completely their toppling of the previous leadership, often simplistically identified with Ruairi O Bradaigh and Daithi O Connail, the 1975 ceasefire and the near-defeat then experienced by the IRA, and validated the military changes, and by extension the political re-orientation introduced by what would soon be known as ‘the Adams’ leadership’. The symbol of these changes was the introduction of a cellular system into IRA structures, although it was far more complicated than that.

Gerry Adams, circa 1979

Gerry Adams, circa 1979

However the real significance of that bloody day in August 1979 was that it transformed Adams and all his allies into an untouchable leadership which, in the eyes of the Provo grassroots, could do no wrong. They had said the old leadership had been disastrously wrong, that they had the ideas to revive the IRA and the deaths of Mountbatten and the 18 British soldiers at Warrenpoint proved them right.


Now I have come to believe that this narrative is in many important ways flawed and simplistic – but that is a subject for another day. But there is no doubt that the consequence of that day was that as far as the grassroots was concerned, from thereon the Adams’ leadership could do no wrong.

Now is it possible that even without Mountbatten and Warrenpoint, Adams and his allies could have pushed the Provos down the road of electoral politics and from there ultimately into the peace process. But I don’t think there is any doubt that the assassination of Lord Mountbatten made it all a whole lot easier.

Mounbatten on his boat with friends on a happier day

Mounbatten on his boat with friends on a happier day

That’s why if, or when, Gerry Adams shakes hands with Prince Charles he might consider also giving him a hug of gratitude, for having an ‘Uncle Dickie’ that the IRA could dispatch to eternity.

Without him, Gerry Adams might not now be where he is.

This is what I wrote about the assassination of Mountbatten and Warrenpoint in ‘A Secret History of the IRA’, second edition. Enjoy:


Seymour Hersh, The Mainstream US Media And The Killing Of Bin Laden

As any serious observer of the media must know, Seymour Hersh is one of the greatest investigative journalists ever. It has become hackneyed to begin pieces about the 78-year old Hersh by reminding people that his scoops began with the exposing of the My Lai massacre way back in the 1970’s and most recently that he revealed the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. But the truth is that most journalists I know would be proud to boast of just one of those stories in their c.v.

Inbetween there have been scores of other stories broken by Hersh, some that caused political earthquakes, not to mention books revealing, for example, the secrets of Israel’s nuclear weapon programme or the lowdown on Henry Kissinger’s secret role in the Nixon White House. And if you want to know the real, dirty story of the Kennedy presidency read ‘The Dark Side of Camelot.

Seymour Hersh defends his story on CNN

Seymour Hersh defends his story on CNN

Last week, the London Review of Books published a 10,000 word story by Hersh alleging that the version of Osama Bin Laden’s killing by US Special Forces circulated by the US government was a bunch of hooey.

The Obama White House version credits canny sleuthing by the CIA which tracked Bin Laden via his couriers, while the Navy Seals pulled off a near perfect operation that culminated in Bin Laden’s death and the capture of a treasure trove of Al Qaeda documents.

Hersh says that the CIA had  next-to-nothing to do with the operation, that Bin Laden was effectively a prisoner of the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI and his secret hideaway in Abbottabad was given away by a senior Pakistani army officer who netted in excess of $20 million in reward money.

The killing was then carried out in a joint US-Pakistani operation. There was no trove of Al Qaeda papers and the real reason the photo of Bin Laden’s corpse was never released was that he had been so badly riddled with bullets he was unrecognisable.  You can read the whole story here.

First of all, I thought it very revealing that the London Review of Books had published the story and not an American outlet. Hersh has a contract with The New Yorker, where he broke the Abu Ghraib story, yet it seems that magazine’s editor David Remnick had declined to take his story. (Most, if not all The New Yorker’s writing staff are on short-term contracts, if you can believe that. Welcome to America.)

That reminded me of the time a few years back – actually 2006 – when the LRB published the seminal and powerful article on America’s extraordinarily indulgent policy towards Israel, ‘The Israel Lobby’, by Stephen Walt and John Mearscheimer. The two academics demonstrated beyond peradventure that American foreign policy in the Middle East had effectively been captured by pro-Israeli special interests, and that the Israel lobby in the States had both political parties in their back pocket.

Terrified of being labeled antisemitic, American media outlets ran screaming with their hair on fire when offered Walt and Mearscheimer’s work and the pair had to go to London to get their work in print.

bin laden

Hersh has given no indication that he was forced to take the same route with his Bin Laden piece but to judge from the hostile, almost hysterical reaction from the bulk of the mainstream media here, it would not be surprising if he had.

Almost to a man and woman they have torn Hersh’s story to pieces, challenging the quality of his sources and some of the assumptions that underlie his narrative. But in their rush to condemn, it was possible to detect little tell-tale trembles of panic, caused perhaps by a growing fear that Hersh may be right and that official Washington has taken them for one big ride.

So, it was refreshing and encouraging to see evidence beginning to emerge from reputable sources supporting key elements of Hersh’s story. Carlotta Gall in The New York Times Magazine had this piece at the weekend for instance, saying that she recognised key elements in Hersh’s story.

Then Middle East expert and former US Special Services soldier, Robert Baer gave this interview in which he substantially gives credibility to Hersh’s story. It is worth listening to in its entirety.

And pieces have begun to appear taking the mainstream media to task for a) accepting the White House version, contradictions and all, as gospel without reminding themselves that I F Stone’s famous dictum, “All governments lie”, has never been truer than with recent occupants of the White House. And b) have rushed, like obedient lapdogs, to assault Hersh when in many cases the need to protect and defend their own, possibly flawed coverage may be the major motivation.

Then there was this piece on, illustrating that this is not the first time that the mainstream media have gone for Hersh and been proved embarrassingly wrong.

My favourite though was this article in the Columbia Journalism Review by Trevor Timm, which is worth reproducing in full. Any resemblance to the mainstream media in Ireland is, of course, entirely coincidental. Enjoy:

The media’s reaction to Seymour Hersh’s bin Laden scoop has been disgraceful

By Trevor Timm
Seymour Hersh has done the public a great service by breathing life into questions surrounding the official narrative of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Yet instead of trying to build off the details of his story, or to disprove his assertions with additional reporting, journalists have largely attempted to tear down the messenger.

Barrels of ink have been spilled ripping apart Hersh’s character, while barely any follow-up reporting has been done to corroborate or refute his claims—even though there’s no doubt that the Obama administration has repeatedly misinformed and misled the public about the incident. Even less attention has been paid to the little follow-up reporting that we did get, which revealed that the CIA likely lied about its role in finding bin Laden, which it used to justify torture to the public.

Hersh has attempted to force the media to ask questions about its role in covering a world-shaping event—but it’s clear the media has trouble asking such questions if the answers are not the ones they want to hear.

Hersh’s many critics, almost word-for-word, gave the same perfunctory two-sentence nod to his best-known achievements—breaking the My Lai massacre in 1969 (for which he won the Pulitzer) and exposing the Abu Ghraib torture scandal 35 years later—before going on to call him every name in the book: “conspiracy theorist,” “off the rails,” “crank.” Yet most of this criticism, over the thousands of words written about Hersh’s piece in the last week, has amounted to “That doesn’t make sense to me,” or “That’s not what government officials told me before,” or “How are we to believe his anonymous sources?”

While there’s no way to prove or disprove every assertion Hersh makes without re-reporting the whole story, let’s look at the overarching criticisms one by one:

Conspiracy theory

No phrase has been bandied about more than “conspiracy theory” in describing Hersh’s reporting. Critics argue that he’s accusing “hundreds of people across three governments of staging a massive international hoax that has gone on for years.” How could that be possible?

First of all, denigrating a legendary reporter who has broken more major stories than almost anyone alive as a “conspiracy theorist” because his story contained a few details a little too implausible for some people’s taste is beyond insulting. A conspiracy theory in the traditional sense would be something like The US government is covering up the fact that bin Laden is still alive, not accusing the the administration of telling a story about a highly classified matter that differs from the truth—something it does all the time.

But beyond that, it is extraordinarily naive to think the government is incapable of keeping a large secret involving dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. I am reminded of this passage from the memoirs of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who knows a thing or two about how government secrecy works. Not only is the idea that you can’t keep secrets in Washington“flatly false,” Ellsberg writes, but by repeating it you’re doing the government’s work for them.

[Such sayings] are in fact cover stories, ways of flattering and misleading journalists and their readers, part of the process of keeping secrets well. Of course eventually many secrets do get out that wouldn’t in a fully totalitarian society. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of secrets do not leak to the American public … The reality unknown to the public and to most members of Congress and the press is that secrets that would be of the greatest import to many of them can be kept from them reliably for decades by the executive branch, even though they are known to thousands of insiders. [emphasis added]
As a simple example, which Hersh himself stated in this fascinating On The Media interview, how many people knew about the Bush administration’s manipulation of intelligence before the Iraq war? Hundreds? Over a thousand? How many knew about the NSA’s mass phone metadata program aimed at Americans until Edward Snowden revealed it? A thousand? Ten thousand? It stayed secret for more than seven years until a single person—a contractor, not an NSA employee—exposed it.

If that doesn’t convince you, read about two other recent agreements about assassinations, one with Pakistan and another with Yemen. Both stayed secret for years without the public knowing. The old adage that “three people can only keep a secret if two are dead” is a fantasy, and journalists should stop mindlessly repeating it.

Anonymous sources

It has been rich watching journalists fall over each other to see who can more vehemently criticize Hersh’s use of anonymous sources, despite the fact that using anonymous sources is a tried-and-true Washington ritual that receives almost no criticism in day-to-day reporting. Banal sound bites are regularly printed on the front pages without names attached, and entire press conferences are held every day with “senior government officials” who refuse to be named. (One of the few mainstream journalists who consistently points this out is Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times’ public editor.)

According to the excellent Twitter account @NYTAnon, the Times published at least 20 stories relying on anonymous sources in the five days after the Hersh story went online Sunday night, on topics ranging from new Facebook featuresto strife among Democrats over the stalled trade agreement to Cablevision dropping its bid for the Daily News. Imagine if reporters aimed a tenth of the criticism at those stories that they aimed at Hersh. Predictably, though, we’ve barely heard a peep.

Indeed, anonymity is sometimes warranted, and the idea that Hersh’s sources were anonymous should not come as a surprise. These are highly classified operations. The Defense Department has openly threatened to prosecute people for talking about the bin Laden raid, even as the CIA leaks its own version of events to friendly reporters and movie producers.

It’s not out of line to criticize Hersh’s sourcing, or to question his informants’ knowledge. Should he have relied on more sources than he did? Possibly. But Hersh has said in multiple interviews that, while the crux of the story came from one person, he confirmed the details with many others. This has been conveniently ignored by his critics.


The venom and vitriol from Hersh’s journalistic colleagues has been especially astonishing given their kid-gloves treatment of one of the main players in Hersh’s story, the CIA.

Most journalists would never dream of confronting CIA officials with the same aggressiveness they now direct at Hersh—even though, less than six months ago, the Senate released a 500-page report documenting in meticulous detail the dozens of times the CIA blatantly lied to the public, the press, and Congressabout torture over the past decade.

Hersh’s assertion, which has by now been at least partially confirmed by multiple news organizations, that bin Laden was found thanks to a “walk-in” tip—rather than by tracking his courier as the government has claimed—should be a major scandal. For years, the CIA has said it found bin Laden thanks to information about his personal courier—information that was obtained by means of torture.

Besides one piece by Huffington Post’s Ali Watkins, the press has barely made a peep about the fact that the CIA’s argument about bin Laden and torture—one that Hollywood made a movie about!—is a lie. Meanwhile, Slate ran five hit jobs on Hersh within 36 hours. Perhaps that’s why Hersh treated their reporter with contempt during this already-legendary interview.

We know that the administration made many assertions about the bin Laden raid in its aftermath that turned out to be false. The purported details, many given to reporters “anonymously,” were downright fantastical—yet reporters dutifully printed them just the same. We also know that the government ordered the photos of bin Laden’s body destroyed—possibly in violation of federal law—and, in an unprecedented move, had all information about the raid transferred to the CIA, where it can’t be accessed through Freedom of Information Act requests. John Kerry told reporters directly to “shut up and move on.” How Hersh himself deserves more scrutiny than these disturbing moves by the government is beyond comprehension.

Largely ignored in this is debate is the opinion of longtime New York TimesAfghanistan and Pakistan correspondent Carlotta Gall, who has more knowledge of the region in one finger than most of Hersh’s critics put together. She wrote in the Times this week that she “would not necessarily dismiss [Hersh’s] claims immediately” and that “he is following up on a story that many of us assembled parts of.” Of his claim that an informant, rather than a courier, led the CIA to bin Laden, Gall wrote that “my own reporting tracks with Hersh’s.”

Then there’s Robert Baer, the highly regarded former CIA officer (and the inspiration for Stephen Gaghan and George Clooney’s Syriana). He refused to criticize Hersh’s story when asked on a podcast and repeatedly insisted that the administration’s story had to be false. Baer, a CNN contributor, was not invited on CNN to say this, of course. Instead CNN had on torture cheerleader Philip Mudd, who proceeded to trash Hersh’s story as “nonsense” while largely avoiding specifics. Politico uncritically quoted CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, one of the agency’s most notorious liars about WMDs in Iraq, as their proof that Hersh was wrong. The author of the Politico piece later admitted to The Intercept that “spokespersons like Harlow are ‘are usually the least informed in the spy world.’ ”

This is not to say all the assertions contained in Hersh’s story are accurate. Some may turn out not to be true; I simply don’t know. But neither do any of Hersh’s critics, because, unfortunately, the flippant blog posts dismissing Hersh out of hand outnumber follow-up reporting on his stories by about 50 to one.

Hersh does not need me or anyone else to defend him—he’s entirely capable of doing that himself, as he has been doing on national television and radio all week, in response to the kind of skeptical questioning that most reporters would never dare to direct at government officials who had lied to their face. “I’ve been around a long time,” Hersh told CNN, “and I understand the consequences of what I’m saying.” It’s a shame others don’t.

All this brings to mind a story from earlier in Hersh’s career, when, as a relatively unknown reporter in Vietnam, he put together the pieces of his My Lai scoop. At first, no one would listen. He tried to sell the story to Life and Look; both turned him down. It ended up going out on a little known wire service known as Dispatch News Service. Twenty of Dispatch’s 50 customers rejected it.

Within months, of course, Hersh’s stories would be on the front page of The New York Times. He soon started reporting on intelligence agencies. In 1974 he broke the story that the CIA was systematically spying on Americans in violation of federal law. The rest of the media ridiculed it. They questioned his sourcing while calling the story “exaggerated” and “overwritten and under-researched.” A year later, CIA director William Colby was forced to admit to Congress that it was all true.

Trevor Timm is the executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports and defends journalism dedicated to transparency and accountability. He is also a twice-weekly columnist for the Guardian, where he writes about privacy, national security, and the media.

Troubled Times Ahead For Sinn Fein?

When a bubble bursts it usually does so with a loud noise and a rapid discharge of gas. But sometimes all you get is a gentle hissing sound, so measured it can be hard to detect.

Sinn Fein’s performance in last week’s British general election probably falls in the latter category. With the exception of the dramatic loss of the iconic Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat – first won by Bobby Sands thirty-four years ago – its vote hissed softly outwards, declining overall by a just single percentage point. Not the end of the world but not good either.

With the exception of West Belfast, where the vote slumped by nearly 17 per cent, most of which went to the left-wing People Before Profit candidate, the losses were tiny in most areas. But the bad news was that the losses were across the board, in fifteen of the eighteen seats.

But for the intervention of Mairtin O Muileoir in South Belfast and the 5,000 or so votes he won, the result would have looked even worse.

So the losses were there, they weren’t catastrophic but they must be worrying for the Sinn Fein hierarchy for this reason. An important part of Sinn Fein’s electoral success, which began back in 1992, has been the image created by one victory after another, an image of an ever upward, ever onward almighty juggernaut gobbling up everyone and everything in its path.

The loss of Bobby Sands’ seat and the poor results elsewhere have dented that image, reminding everyone that what goes up, can also go down. Once a sure favourite to destroy the SDLP, Sinn Fein now finds its advantage over its rivals reduced to a single seat out of seven.

Also damaged by last week’s election results is the myth that the peace process heralded in an age of Nationalist assertiveness and Unionist despondency.

The drop in Nationalist voting encompassed both the SDLP and Sinn Fein, and suggested either apathy or insouciance has infected voters in both parties.

Conversely the  outcome has produced something of a revival in UUP fortunes and bestowed on Unionists at Westminster leverage they have not enjoyed since the early 1990’s. The new Tory government has only an eight-seat majority (five if SF took its seats), meaning that Cameron and his people will need to nurture the goodwill of the eleven Unionist MP’s at Westminster – and that cannot be good for Sinn Fein.

At the same time there are some signs that the economy in the South is beginning to pick up and that is bad news for the Shinners as well. Sinn Fein’s electoral fortunes South of the Border are intimately tied to economic discontent amongst the electorate; voters angry at austerity policies and suffering from the downturn are much more likely to register a protest by giving their votes to Mr Adams and his colleagues. But the more the economy improves, the less likely that is to happen.

So, things are beginning to look a little gloomy for Sinn Fein. It’s all about timing really. If the Southern election had happened earlier this year or last year things could have been so different. Sinn Fein would still have been cock of the North and the coming power in the South. Now it looks ominously different for them.



Beware! Michael Gove, King Of The Neocons, Is Back

I can’t now remember the precise date but it would have been some time after the Good Friday deal had been struck when the phone rang in my Belfast home cum office and Michael Gove was at the other end.

A few years later Gove would become an MP and then a member of the set that congregated around Tory party leader David Cameron, but back then he was a leader writer for The Times newspaper, charged with writing editorials about issues of topical concern.


Michael Gove – an idiot with power is a dangerous thing!

The matter he wanted to talk to me about was the peace process in Northern Ireland and specifically Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader and principal republican architect of the peace strategy. What I didn’t know at the time was that Gove was not looking for background for a Times‘ editorial but material for ‘The Price of Peace’, a pamphlet he was writing denouncing the peace process as a sell out of Unionism and a surrender to the IRA.

This extract from his conclusion, outlining his alternative to the GFA, will give you a taster of his views in this regard:

Therefore, the best guarantee for stability is the assertion by the Westminster Government that it will defend, with all vigour, the right of the democratic majority in Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom. Ulster could then be governed with an Assembly elected on the same basis as Wales, and an administration constituted in the same way. Minority rights should be protected by the same legal apparatus which exists across the UK. The legislative framework which has guaranteed the rights and freedoms of Roman Catholics and ethnic minorities in Liverpool and London should apply equally in Belfast and Belleek.

To say that there was no meeting of minds on either the nature of the peace process or Gerry Adams would be a gross under-measurement of the gulf exposed by our rather bad-tempered exchange.

To Gove, the peace process was a Trojan horse, a piece of trickery and sleight of hand by republicans to achieve what the use of violence could not.

For me, already well into researching what would become, ‘A Secret History of the IRA’, the peace process was what it appeared to be, a massive ideological compromise by Provisional leaders which would, inevitably, lead to IRA decommissioning, the end of armed struggle and the transformation of Sinn Fein into a constitutional Nationalist party, not terribly different from the SDLP.

Not only did we not see the world in the same way but it soon became clear that we detested each other. As far as I was concerned, he was a complete idiot, and I don’t think I hid my view very well. So, unsurprisingly but very thankfully, I didn’t rate a mention in Gove’s pamphlet.

You can’t get a real flavour of how badly wrong, in almost all respects, Gove was about the peace process and even the nature of the Northern Ireland problem unless you read the full pamphlet but one striking aspect of his modus operandi is worth a comment.

That was his habit of forcing facts to fit his political world view even when eminently sensible and fairly obvious alternative explanations were at hand; for instance the IRA’s failure to start arms decommissioning by 2000 could only be explained by terrorist guile, bad faith and deceit because that is how all terrorists behaved. The idea that Adams was taking his followers down a road they would not ordinarily choose and had to step slowly and carefully, didn’t and couldn’t enter his mind, so completely closed was it to other possibilities.

I did not know until the Iraq war three or more years later that forcing the facts to fit the theory was a classic trait of neo-conservative reasoning. In Iraq the same thought process went like this: the Iraqi people were ruled by a dictator; most people dislike dictators, therefore US tanks would travel along rose-petal strewn streets lined with cheering crowds when they invaded.

Nor did I know until later that Gove was a leading light in the British version of the neo-conservative movement, in fact the leading light in the view of some. British neo-cons congregate under the banner of something called the Henry Jackson Society, so named after a right-wing, fiercely hawkish, Cold War-era US Democratic Senator.

Mostly composed of Tories, a smattering of Labour, LibDem and UKIP politicians have also signed up to the society. The former Unionist leader David Trimble is a prominent supporter.

While neo-conservatism is usually associated with American politics, thanks mostly to the role such people played in staging the Iraq war, its British manifestation is thriving and that is no accident. Neo-conservatism is just another word for imperialism and to that form of rule the British have not a little affection.

I reproduce below an excellent review of the influence of neo-conservatism in the Tory party from a Guardian article written by Richard Seymour at the time of the NATO-led invasion of Libya in 2011, a disaster in no small measure encouraged by Cameron and the neo-conservatives in his Cabinet.

Michael Gove was, needless to say, a vocal advocate of the Libyan adventure but not long afterwards lost his post as Education Minister and was dispatched to the Whips office. A less than charismatic figure with a pomposity that often alienates, Gove was seen as an electoral liability by some and it seemed his political career might be over.

But not so. Cameron has just made Gove the Justice Minister in his new cabinet where he will wield a predictably malign influence over human rights – he plans to scrap the Human Rights Act for example – sentencing policy and criminal justice. It is unlikely that he will directly influence affairs in Northern Ireland but influence can be exercised in all sorts of ways.

If I was a policy maker in Sinn Fein and I saw this man regain power and influence with the ability, perhaps, to put in place even a fraction of the attitudes and thoughts present in ‘The Price of Peace’, I would be very worried. If I was in the same position in the DUP, I would be greatly cheered.

Here is Richard Seymour’s March 2011 Guardian piece on the Tory neo-cons:

David Cameron’s recent offer to intervene in Libya, arming insurgents and enforcing a no-fly zone, was withdrawn almost as quickly as it was articulated. Objections from the US and France sank the idea. But it seems that the idea had enjoyed support from the cabinet, most of all from the hawkish faction around the education secretary Michael Gove – who is a signatory to the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society‘s statement of principles. Cameron, though no neocon, is a traditional Atlanticist, and has energetically promoted a small fraternity of foreign policy hawks since gaining the Tory leadership in 2005.

They first emerged in defence of Tony Blair and his unpopular foreign policies. Cameron himself, though he only reluctantly voted for the Iraq war, greatly admired Blair’s stance in the debacle. Even he, though, could hardly match Gove’s gushing praise for Blair in the runup to the Iraq war, in a column for the Times entitled “I can’t fight my feelings any more: I love Tony”. This passion for Blair was not restricted to his stance on foreign policy – it included Blair’s position on the firefighters’ strike, asylum seekers and tuition fees – but it was on Iraq that Gove maintained Blair was “behaving like a true Thatcherite”. Indeed, for many Tories , Blair is neocon rex.

Gove is the author of a number of neoconservative tracts. These include Celsius 7/7, which argues that Islamists are waging “total war” against the west, not because of imperialism but because of their root-and-branch rejection of “western values”. A more pointed intervention, though, was the essay “The Very British Roots of Neoconservatism and Its Lessons for British Conservatives”. In it, Gove was trying to persuade Tory allies sceptical of the adventurism of Rumsfeld and Bush that their policies were ones that the great patriarchs of conservatism would approve of. He argued that neoconservatism had strongly British roots that could be traced back to the statecraft of the Anglo-Irish Tory leader George Canning, whose pre-emptive battles with Bonapartism helped “advance the cause of freedom”. Palmerston and Churchill were also given their due as precursors to modern neoconservatism. Significantly, Gove’s trinity was entirely composed of Tories with some connections to Liberalism – if a neoconservative is a liberal who has been “mugged by reality”, many Tory luminaries from Burke onward have been instinctive Whigs turned counter-revolutionary.

Alongside Gove in the neoconservative faction are Ed Vaizey, the under-secretary of state who is, like Gove, has also signed up to the Henry Jackson Society’s principles. Similarly, George Osborne, the chancellor, is a “signed up, card-carrying Bush fan“, persuaded of the “excellent neoconservative case” for war with Iraq. His PPS, Greg Hands MP, is also a signatory to the Henry Jackson Society. Neoconservative ideas are also propagated in a number of thinktanks such as Policy Exchange whose director, Nicholas Boles MP, is another Henry Jackson Society signatory. The magazine Standpoint provides monthly ballast to this tendency.

Despite often crucial tactical differences, such as those which have emerged over Libya, there is a shared vocabulary between neoconservatives and those, like William Hague, who articulate a “liberal conservative” foreign policy. Hague has vocally supported “humanitarian intervention”, and was reluctant to criticise even the more controversial stances of Blair, such as his support for the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This gave the Tories few opportunities to land any damaging blows against New Labour. Indeed, the “liberal interventionist” stance devised by Hague and Cameron amounts to reheated Blairism.

The neoconservative agenda is not restricted to foreign policy, but includes a securitarian drive to contain Islamism and propagate “British values”. Cameron’s recent speech announcing the failure of multiculturalism can be seen as a tilt toward the neoconservatives in his cabinet. Yet the neoconservative temptation is a dangerous one for Cameron to succumb to. It offers moral and intellectual definition to an aggressive but vacillating government lacking legitimacy. If Cameron is a poorly defined leader, neoconservative belligerence can provide a far more robust political direction than the “big society”. But Cameron still needs his Liberal allies, and the electoral base for neoconservatism is smaller even than for the aggressive Thatcherism he jettisoned in opposition. If Cameron were to openly embrace the neoconservative agenda, it would be a retreat from the electoral coalition-building that has temporarily saved the Tories from irrelevance.

….And This Is Why British Labour Really Lost The Election

A brilliant piece below by Richard Seymour analysing the real ills of British Labour which appeared in the April 25th edition of the London Review of Books, just a few days before Miliband’s miserable election result.

This is why Labour lost and why moving to the Right and towards Tony Bliar, as the top job-seekers in the party now want to do, will only accentuate the party’s decline. My own view is that the party is beyond reform; the rottenness is beyond fixing and perhaps it is time for the Left to break away.

Otherwise they will find themselves stranded like the so-called left in the Democratic Party in America, in a rigid two-party system, sharing the same broad neo-liberal economic policies and the same broad neoconservative foreign policies with the British equivalent of the Republicans, and with nowhere else to go.

(By the way Richard Seymour is a Ballymena Prod, a Marxist writer and broadcaster and is in the process of co-founding a new socialist magazine, Salvage, which sounds an appropriate title for what’s left of the Labour party.

Bye Bye Labour

Richard Seymour

In David Hare’s play The Absence of War, the Kinnock-like party leader, George Jones, is a tragic figure. His wit, his passion and his ability to extemporise are gradually extinguished, with his connivance, by a party machine that spends its time trying to out-Tory the Tories. They obey the polls religiously, yet still the voters aren’t ‘churning’. They do what ‘everyone agrees’ is necessary in order to win, but to no effect. Unable to work out why, they face the oncoming election much as they might a whirring propeller, and are left in shreds.

There is no tragic note to be sounded about any senior Labour figure today. Ed Miliband sacks his shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, for conveying a ‘sense of disrespect’ towards the owner of a white van. Ed Balls, having given up his brief attempt at an attack on the coalition’s austerity policy, courts respectability by pledging to honour all the coalition government’s spending cuts. Rachel Reeves gratuitously alienates the unemployed and welfare recipients – groups she treats as identical, although the majority of people who receive benefits are in work – by insisting that Labour ‘is not the party to represent those who are out of work’. All of this is evidence of Labour’s clumsy move rightwards in the hope of expanding its base. What has happened instead is that chunks of that base have seceded to the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Greens or even Ukip. Labour does not lack popular policy initiatives, from repealing the Health and Social Care Act or the bedroom tax to freezing fuel prices and introducing rent controls. What it lacks is a purpose.

Labour claims that addressing the ‘cost of living crisis’ is what really matters. But having accepted the straitjacket of austerity, what can Labour really do about it? The longest decline in living standards in fifty years can hardly be uncoupled from austerity policies that have retarded growth and removed vital support from working-class incomes. Ed Balls’s promise to continue cutting means that Labour can at best tinker at the margins of the crisis. In some instances, as with its de facto agreement with the Tories that unemployment benefit for the under-25s must be scrapped, Labour apes Tory policy. Even if this achieved its stated aim, by forcing unemployed young people to find work for poverty pay, how would that improve living standards?

Worse, Labour has accepted Conservative precepts. The private sector knows, and grows, best. The City is untouchable: it may be chastised, but never seriously confronted. Unemployment is a form of dependency, best dealt with through market discipline. Competition is the law of all social and economic life, and it is the role of the state to encourage it and to secure public participation in it. And the British state, and its military commitments, are sacrosanct. In the months leading up to the Scottish independence referendum – the sole recent instance of mass, enthusiastic democratic participation in the UK – Labour found itself campaigning alongside the Conservatives, with the result that in May’s election it will be all but wiped out north of the border. The logic of its position has compelled Labour to attack the SNP far more vehemently than it has the Conservatives. Miliband has been forced, under Tory pressure, to rule out a post-election coalition with the SNP, which may be enough to end any prospect of a viable Labour government.

By degrees, Labour has come to accept most of the Conservative ‘vision’, not least because it lacks one of its own. The Tory Weltanschauung is complex, its racist and authoritarian flavours tempered by business-friendly cosmopolitanism and ‘free market’ libertarianism. It has taken only thirty years for Labour to metabolise the right’s ‘common sense’ about the market and spending, its repressive attitude to security and criminal justice (the prison population and police numbers expanded at a much higher rate under Labour than they have under the Conservatives; ‘anti-terror’ legislation and Asbos proliferated), and now its immigration policy. Shortly after William Hague became Tory leader in 1997, Labour took up the Tories’ rhetoric about asylum seekers and gypsies. Its response to the riots in the north of England in 2001, which pitted young Asian men against the far right and the police, was to blame local tensions on the Asian propensity for self-segregation. There were years of authoritarian exhortations to embrace ‘Britishness’. But, as the Blairite columnist Dan Hodges has argued, ‘trying to ape the language of the BNP succeeded only in boosting the BNP.’ It also gave Cameron the opportunity in opposition to belittle the ‘Alf Garnett’ race politics of the Labour front bench and to pledge to ‘reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government’.

Judging from Labour’s painstaking recapitulation of Tory ideas, one would think that its main problem is the overweening strength of the Conservatives. Yet the Tory share of the vote is stuck in the range 30 to 35 per cent, exactly where it has been since Black Wednesday in 1992. The question of Europe has fatally divided its base, as a swelling coalition of small businessmen, lone traders and hyper-Atlanticist cowboy capitalists have shifted their loyalties to challengers such as Ukip. Big business, which traditionally dominates the Conservative leadership, may enjoy the fruits of Europe’s free-trade rules, but many small businesses demand the right to use cheap and precarious labour with as little regulation from Brussels as possible.

The roots of Miliband’s dilemma lie instead in a crisis of representative democracy that is not peculiar to the UK but is afflicting all the rich democracies. The context for this crisis is a rise in public indebtedness across the industrialised world whose proximate cause is the collapse of revenues resulting from the global recession and the subsequent need for unprecedented bailouts to rescue banks and prop up economic activity. But the problem is chronic; it was first detected in the 1970s. Among the root causes of increasing public debt are the slowing of growth rates compared to the postwar era, a demographic shift that has increased the size of the dependent population relative to the working-age population, and a displacement of manufacturing by service industries that are less profitable and thus generate lower tax revenues. But in the period of Thatcher and Reagan, it was argued that the postwar Keynesian consensus was the main culprit: it had distorted the market and driven up inflation, and state expenditure had outrun the productive base of the economy. Successive governments – Thatcher in the 1980s, Clinton in the 1990s, Schroeder and Blair in the 2000s – sought to reform the state to control costs. There were cutbacks in discretionary spending, and the public sector was restructured by the creation of internal markets.

The result was not a smaller state, or even a more efficient one (the introduction of internal markets in the NHS, for instance, has increased overheads from 3 per cent to 15 per cent of total costs), but a state that is more business-friendly and less democratic. And deficits have not significantly decreased in most cases. In the US, Clinton’s blitz on welfare and pro-Wall Street policies produced a short-lived budget surplus by the close of his administration. In the UK, governments have run deficits in all but six years since 1979, and even before 2008, the trend was that they were gradually increasing. Indeed, the surge in structural unemployment, used to control inflation and bust unions, has tended to exacerbate the public debt problem.

Wolfgang Streeck and Armin Schäfer argue in Politics in the Age of Austerity (2013) that one result of cost controls is to emaciate the budget for discretionary programmes, as more of the budget is consumed by debt repayments and other mandatory expenditures. Given the success of the rich in lobbying against tax increases, and in avoiding paying tax in the first place, it is increasingly difficult to raise the revenues needed for existing services. Taxes on consumption – which hit the poor hardest – have been implemented, but there is limited political tolerance for these. States are increasingly left with very little room to manoeuvre, while the growing domination of government discourse by neoliberal doctrine tends to suppress policy choices which are not ‘market-friendly’. In this situation, mild market interventions such as temporary energy price freezes might be possible, but nationalising energy companies will not be seriously considered. This narrowing of democratic choice renders Westminster politics increasingly irrelevant to the lives of citizens, except in so far as it panders to spite: the punishment of the obese, the disabled, Scots, single mothers, immigrants and so on.

Now that we’re expected to fend for ourselves, the expectations invested in parliamentary democracy have tended to dwindle, as has participation in it. Voter turnout has fallen across the rich democracies, most sharply among the poorer and less educated. The tendency is particularly advanced in Britain: turnout in general elections between 2000 and 2010 varied between 60 and 65 per cent, well below the 72.5 per cent average recorded by Streeck and Schäfer for the core economies in the same period. In the 2010 general election, turnout ranged from 44 to 72 per cent, with the lowest turnouts in the areas with the highest unemployment. The collapse in participation rates is much steeper in local and regional elections, perhaps partly in response to the centralisation of political power and the decreasing scope of local government to effect real change.

In Labour’s case, the collapse of its representative link with its base also has specific causes. The social basis of Labourism is the labour movement, and it is in retreat. Union membership has halved since 1980. The co-operative movement has shrivelled and the Methodist halls are no longer filled; the broader labour movement no longer produces a steady stream of orators and organisers. Even so, the accelerated rot of recent years is a product of New Labour’s period in office. The Blairites had argued that mass recruitment of new members would anchor the party to the mainstream, while a centrist governing strategy would help bind middle-class voters to progressive ideas. In fact, membership fell to the lowest levels in the party’s history after 13 years of Labour government, and the loss of five million working-class votes between 1997 and 2010 resulted in Labour’s lowest share of the vote since 1918.

Ed Miliband’s leadership bid was based partly on the need to reclaim the working-class vote. The first year of his leadership saw a brief revival in party membership. Yet he has struggled to reconcile his objective with Labour’s continued acceptance of the post-Thatcherite consensus – and of austerity politics – as the condition of gaining middle-class votes and the co-operation of business. The essential fallacy of British politics is that there is a large centre ground, and that this is where elections are decided. As Nick Clegg has discovered to his cost, in a period of economic depression this area has a tendency to shrink. Yet as the political situation polarises and the establishment parties feel the earth fall away beneath them, they cling ever more tightly to their belief in this centre ground. Labour is doing just this, as a matter of both principle and strategy. It is doing it because it thinks it’s the right thing to do, because it’s what the party is used to doing, and because it can’t do anything else.

Ironically, Labour’s electoral weakness may stave off the worst for it. The party is trapped in a spiral of self-destruction, which James Doran, a Labour activist, has called ‘Pasokification’. Greece’s dominant centre-left party implemented austerity and its vote collapsed from 43.9 per cent in 2009 to 4.7 per cent in 2015 – but Pasok’s fate is only an extreme form of the implosion threatening most European social democratic parties, from the German Social Democrats to the French Socialists. The Labour Party faces a dilemma in May. Defeat will be demoralising and will increase the possibility that the party will ultimately collapse. There is little evidence that any significant force, other than the Blairites, would be in a position to take advantage of Miliband’s loss, and certainly none that a Labour left with any influence would emerge from the ruins. Yet if it wins, Labour will be forced to implement an austerity agenda which, while not enough to satisfy Conservative voters, will turn its own remaining voters off in droves. That would be a defeat of a different order. For a vision of that future, one need only look across the Channel, at François Hollande sinking and sinking in the polls, and the Front National on the rise.

British Labour Party Learns Nothing From Election Result

As in: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
George Santayana


Heeeee’s baaaaaaaack!

And it will be as as if all those people never died in Iraq, all those lies with Bush & Cheney were never told, all that arse-licking of Murdoch never happened, all that undermining of the NHS didn’t take place, all those millions made in the middle east on the back of his contrived and fraudulent role as ‘peacemaker’ in Ireland were a leftist fantasy………



British Election Exit Polls Suggest DUP Will Control Everything While Sinn Fein May Finally Swear The Dreaded Oath!

If the exit polls from today’s British general election as reported by the BBC tonight translate into actual results, then stand by for the dawning of the age of the DUP.

The exit polls suggest that Cameron’s Tories will win 316 seats, more than the last election but still short of an overall majority. Thanks to Sinn Fein’s abstention from the House of Commons, the number of votes needed to form a government is 323 and Cameron is seven votes shy.

By happy, or unhappy coincidence, the DUP currently hold eight sets which, if they are retained, would give the Tories their majority; and the DUP may actually increase to nine seats which would give Cameron some breathing space.

However, if Sinn Fein took its seats, and swore the necessary oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth, then according to the BBC, the Tories would need 326 votes and currently, on the basis of the exit polls, they are ten seats short of that and the DUP contingent at Westminster would not be strong enough to push them over the line.

However the UKIP could come to Cameron’s rescue; its predicted two seats would mean the stage would be set for a Tory-DUP-UKIP government with a majority of a single vote. Now wouldn’t that be something to contemplate?

Nonetheless, if ever there was a compelling argument for Sinn Fein to drop abstentionism at Westminster it is the prospect of denying the DUP the whip hand over British politics for the foreseeable future at best, or, at worst, making votes at the House of Commons a weekly nightmare for Cameron’s Whips..

All this, of course, is contingent upon the exit polls translating exactly into the BBC prediction and a shift of two or three seats either way could make an enormous difference. However not for the first time in the last forty years of Troubles and ‘peace’, the arithmetic at Westminster may have utterly unforeseeable consequences for that wee place and its politics.

Tomorrow could be a very interesting day.