Saturday, September 24, 2016

Liverpool and Corbyn three decades on.

I fought the hard left in the 1980s. Now I’m backing Corbyn
Neil Kinnock should understand Corbyn’s plight – he once endured the same hostility from within his own party and the media
Guardian Saturday 24 September 2016 0
The impending Labour conference in Liverpool evokes a sense of deja vu all over again. Once more we will have a Labour leader confronting a clique that is seeking to seize the party machinery.

Analysis Jeremy Corbyn: is he really unelectable as prime minister?
Opinion in Labour circles is sharply divided about whether their new leader can take the party into government

Three decades ago, it was Neil Kinnock at the Bournemouth conference, making his famous speech about Militant, while I was in Liverpool fighting an attempt by a dedicated, well-organised group of entryists to seize the party structure and use it for its own political agenda. This time it is Jeremy Corbyn being denounced by Labour MPs and confronting the self-described party “moderates”.
Like many of the old left I frankly wondered about Corbyn when he stood – but in the end mostly found that the complete absence of personal ambition that had deprived him of experience for leadership was one of his foremost qualities, especially when faced with the blandly insincere, uninspiring, but patently ambitious New Labour clones who were competing with him.
Even now, I cannot truly understand the depth of the Labour establishment’s revulsion for Corbyn, because I have yet to hear or read a lucid case against his politics, except that he is deemed to be “unelectable”, which would be more convincing if it did not come from those who are working overtime to make it true.
The inarticulate anger about his candidacy reminds me of what George Orwell wrote about totalitarian literary language, that it has “a curious mouthing sort of quality, as of someone who is choking with rage & and can never quite hit on the words he wanted”. With Owen Smith having stolen Corbyn’s policies, it makes the rage even more perplexing.
orbyn supporters

 ‘Corbyn has inspired hundreds of thousands of formerly disillusioned members and newly motivated activists, joining what they consider to be the reborn Labour party.’ Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Kinnock, now canonised by the pundits as the man who paved the way for Labour’s electoral turnaround in the 1990s, should recognise the media’s treatment of Corbyn. When Kinnock was leader, reporters used to meet in the pub to sort out the “line” for events, even before they happened, and in one form or another I remember it was always “a slap in the face for Kinnock”. However, not even in the backstabbing tradition of the parliamentary Labour party were so many members so actively complicit in his attempted death by a thousand hacks.
Militant was eventually beaten, by a combination of administrative action and membership revulsion at its eminently parodiable oratorical style, pseudo-scouse accents and rigid self-righteousness. It was what we would now call the soft left, and the so-called Tribune group, that did much of the heavy lifting. We brought in John Prescott, Robin Cook and others to speak in the Militant Merseyside heartland and offer an alternative left vision to exorcise the ghosts of the Fourth Internationals.
If you want some flavour of that alternative vision it is worth looking at Kinnock’s famous speech, and even beyond his call “to strip ourselves of the illusions of nuclear grandeur”, to his stirring yet pragmatic invocation of Labour values. “There is no need to compromise values, there is no need in this task to surrender our socialism, there is no need to abandon or even try to hide any of our principles, but there is an implacable need to win, and there is an equal need for us to understand that we address an electorate which is sceptical, an electorate which needs convincing, a British public who want to know that our idealism is not lunacy, our realism is not timidity, our eagerness is not extremism.” That was the Kinnock on whose team I worked for the 1987 election.
Sadly the softness of the left was its primary characteristic. After Kinnock, Tony Blair’s people managed to swamp and dissolve the Tribune group and, in keeping with New Labour’s attempts to emulate Bill Clinton in the US, turned the party into a PO box for corporate donations. They squeezed out “special interest groups” like the unions, and took the core electorate of the party for granted – while filtering out potential parliamentary candidates who might put Labour values above their career, thereby disenfranchising the membership.
But as Kinnock went on to say: “We have voluntarily, every one of us, joined a political party. We wish a lot more people would come and join us, help us, give us their counsel, their energies, their advice, broaden our participation. But in making the choice to join a political party we took a decision, and it was that by persuasion we hoped that we could bring more people with us. So that is the basis on which we have got to act, want to act.”
Corbyn’s sincerity and vision is reminiscent of Kinnock in that speech and of the party pre-Blair and Peter Mandelson: the soft democratic left of that era,with its concern for human rights and socialism, the heirs to Nye Bevan. Corbyn has inspired hundreds of thousands of formerly disillusioned members and newly motivated activists, who are joining what they consider to be the reborn Labour party because they think that their views will now make a difference, not be ignored or pre-empted by controlling cliques from revolutionaries of the left or careerists of the right. Entryists hate such swelling membership rolls because they are inherently uncontrollable. They prefer a hollowed-out organisation they can control.
So instead of engaging in McCarthyite smears against the new and renewed members, calumniating them as entryists and disenfranchising them, those currently sitting on the benches of Westminster should be welcoming them and joining them on the streets to turn the tide for Labour.
orbyn confronted by reporters at a poster launch

 Corbyn confronted by reporters at a poster launch: ‘Kinnock should recognise the media’s treatment of Corbyn.’ Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The UN Runs through them: UK & US elections and the SG hustings

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: August 10, 2016 Last modified: August 9, 2016
With the gladiatorial clashes of the Labour leadership election and the circus of the Republican and Democratic elections, the election for the Secretary General of the United Nations, has been overlooked, though it has almost as many candidates as for the Republican nomination, albeit of a generally higher calibre.
In its own way, the UN’s relevance was reflected in the other contests. It was Blair and Bush’s inability to get UN endorsement for the Iraq War that made it an act of illegal aggression, and their failure to bully Hans Blix, the UN’s inspector for Iraqi WMDs, into perjuring himself was what convinced most of the Security Council not to support Blair-Bush bellicosity.
The Labour Party putschists tended to support the war, as did Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, of course, but less so Trump – most of the Republicans tacitly or vociferously supported the war while Trump has on occasion demurred. But then both Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are of the archaic left that sees respect for the UN and international law as bedrock principles for foreign relations rather than occasional expedient excuses.
The UN Secretary General’s race also raised other issues that appeared in both the Democratic and Labour contests. Many wish and hope that a woman will head the UN. I have to confess that my experience of the UK’s first woman prime minister, and the USA’s first female secretary of state at work ensures that I do not confuse a double-X chromosome with feminism or the milk of human kindness. Certainly, in the case of Clinton there was nothing in her personal or political treatment of other women to suggest her professed feminism was anything but a burning ambition for one woman only.
But then I noted that the gang that used to wield women-only shortlists to ensure that locally popular lefties did not become prospective Labour parliamentary candidates were happy to dispense with such formalistic feminism when the opportunity came to run a woman for Labour leader this time.
In the case of the UN Secretary Generalship, two separate modes of bean-counting are involved, the idea that it is Eastern Europe’s turn and that it is time for a woman. Indeed, there are three modes, if you include previous Chinese pledges not to oppose third world
candidates. If there is an insidious cancer in the UN, it is the rotation system that has built up over the years. There are calendars with rotation systems indicating decades in advance which regional group will hold which position and which country within the group will get it. That is, for example, why we have the absurdity, indeed obscenity, of a Saudi membership of the Human Rights Council and its subcommittee choosing special human rights observers and a rabid pro-Settler Israeli ambassador chairing the UN’s legal committee!
In the UN’s idiosyncratic geography, Western Europe includes Israel, New Zealand, Canada and Australia – but not Cyprus, which is in Asia! The Eastern Europe group is a Cold War hangover –  most of its members are, or want to be in the EU and proximity to Moscow means that they have crossed Putin’s people in some way – or, almost as bad for getting Western votes, he might support them!
And then there is the political irrelevance of regional rotation. The Chinese insisted on a Third World candidate to replace Kurt Waldheim and so we had Pérez de Cuéllar from the Latin American and Caribbean group. I would modestly suggest that the Swedish Dag Hammarskjöld was a better representative for developing countries than he ever was.
This year, the President of the General Assembly, an annually rotating office, Danish this year, arranged very transparent hustings, with SG candidates addressing meetings of diplomats, NGOs and media to showcase their qualifications. It is a big step forward for show business, but the actual selection is  still firmly by the Security Council, as if it were the PLP or the DNC that decided the leadership or Presidential candidate selection regardless of the voting among members and supporters.
The first straw poll of the Council members in July was a surprise for some pundits. Antonio Guterres, former Portuguese PM and male, emerged ahead of the field with Danilo Turk, former Slovenian President, a close second. The woman who emerged best in the debates, Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, came way down the list, perhaps because her big thing has been Climate Change – to which the Council diplomats only pay lip service even if it is perhaps the most crucially relevant aspect of the UN for the future of the world!
To be recursive, we can perhaps applaud that neither Trump nor Clinton are in position to impose their candidate in an election which might determine whether the UN has a future worth talking about.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Herod to head UNICEF?

Israel Wins Chairmanship of U.N. Legal Committee, Will Seek Security Council Seat

By Ian Williams

ian williams
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits an UNRWA school in Gaza, June 28, 2016. (U.N. PHOTO/ESKINDER DEBEBE)

EVEN THOUGH, ON one level, Israeli contempt for the U.N. and international law knows no bounds, we have written before about their desperate deep psychological need for the organization’s approval and to abuse the body’s prestige.
At the end of May, the Israeli Mission chose the U.N. General Assembly Hall as the venue for a daylong “Building Bridges Not Boycotts conference,” which was essentially a rally of pro-Israel organizations on how to stop the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It is somewhat odd that the U.N. would host a rally against efforts to enforce its decisions on the illegality of occupation and settlements, but one has to appreciate the inexorable pressure on officials from the U.S. and other allies.
For example, several years ago, when Israel secured temporary admission to the “West European and Other Group” (WEOG), many of the Europeans were very upset, and only acquiesced because of American pressure. Partly it was principle—not wanting to be associated with Israeli crimes—but it was also professional jealousy, so they insisted that Israel would not actually get nominated for important positions. Hard work and the adoption of pro-Israel positions by conservatives all over Europe bore fruit this year, when Israel secured WEOG’s nomination for chair of the U.N.’s Sixth Committee, the Legal Committee. It then went on to win the position in a secret ballot.
It was well managed. WEOG usually has contested positions, and so it put up stalking horse candidates to make it look like a contest. Clearly the fix was in, however, and so Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon became chairman of the U.N.’s Legal Committee. His opposition to the U.N.’s mandated two-state solution and his support for Israel’s continued occupation of most of the West Bank, not to mention illegal settlements, might make that anomalous anywhere else, but in this political atmosphere King Herod could become director general of UNICEF with the right backing.
To pile it on, forthcoming will be Israel’s bid for a seat in the Security Council. The election will take place in 2018, and contending already for two WEOG seats are Germany and Belgium. Needless to say, Tel Aviv’s message to Germany has been, “Thanks for all the submarines and the cash. But how dare you stand against Israel with your record!” The Germans are not, so far, going quietly into that good night. After all, they (and many other countries) think they deserve a permanent seat there, and residual guilt will not hold up against realpolitik in the country that invented it. In fact, WEOG often breaks out of the cozy rotation system for U.N. offices and has contested elections, and Israel’s behavior is not such as to inspire European sentimentality on the issue! 
But once again, the odd scofflaw complementarity works. Security Council members often have included countries like Indonesia, occupying East Timor, and Morocco, occupying Western Sahara. In one sense, it is only fair to let Israel share in the breathtaking hypocrisy. 
Perhaps that ability was rarely so well shown as with the Middle East Quartet. While the Quartet has been much improved since former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was squeezed out from the special representative sinecure that his grateful chums in Washington had secured for him, on the other hand it still has all the marks of its origins—which were an attempt to defang Russia, the EU and the U.N. on the Palestinian question by binding them into a consensus with the U.S., which is of course bound in that strange masochistic relationship with Israel.
However, considering how toothless Russia, the U.N. and the EU had become on the question, one did wonder why all the effort and showmanship was necessary. A critical part of the equation is the Israeli and American need to buffer and neutralize the clear statements of international and binding resolutions of the United Nations that are explicitly accepted and supported by all but one and a half nations in the world. And even the U.S. and Israel nominally accept them—they just do not accept their enforcement.
The U.S., as a founder of the United Nations, knows that the resolutions are binding but finds it politically inexpedient, for domestic reasons, to try to enforce them on the U.S. So the effort is to browbeat the Palestinians into voluntarily abandoning their rights in bilateral negotiations with Israel in an unbalanced settlement that would then be ratified by the U.N.
So far, there is enough of a residual sense of legality and anti-colonial solidarity in the U.N. to ensure that it would not ratify a settlement without the assent of the Palestinians. In a sense, the Palestinians are lucky they don’t have a fully recognized and functioning state, because if they did someone would have arranged a coup and a complaisant regime to put its seal on the surrender. 
Nevertheless, the basic pattern remains. The Quartet allegedly monitors progress on the famous Road Map that got lost in the glove compartment almost immediately, while the Israelis do their own thing and continually complain about the Palestinians’ inability to respond positively, indeed rhapsodically, to land grabs, demolitions, killings and imprisonment. 
History has many examples of heavily armed bullies vilifying those they persecute, but Israel and its supporters are surely unique in complaining about the ingratitude of the Palestinians for their treatment. Long overdue, a certain tone of exasperation is appearing in the statements of the various Quartet components.


Ban Ki-moon’s exasperation was evident in his statement on the Quartet’s report in July, but he at least upheld the U.N.’s legitimacy and cited the Quartet’s pledge “to actively support an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).” He also reiterated that “a negotiated two-state outcome that meets Israeli security needs and creates a sovereign Palestinian state, ends the occupation that began in 1967, and resolves all permanent status issues is the only way to achieve an enduring peace.”
And we can see how chastened Israel was after the Quartet had wagged three and half fingers at it. Ban immediately had to criticize Israel’s announcement of 560 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, as well as moves to build 240 housing units in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. “This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank,” which of course have included demands by the current Israeli U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon.
A frustrated Ban in his statement reiterated “that settlements are illegal under international law and urges the Government of Israel to halt and reverse such decisions in the interest of peace and a just final status agreement.” He was “deeply disappointed that this announcement comes only four days after the Middle East Quartet called on Israel to cease its policy of settlement construction and expansion.”
But at least Ban is not out on a limb: even Russia was upset by Israel’s indecorous finger to the Quartet, saying, "Moscow is seriously worried over new settlement projects in occupied Palestinian territories." The Foreign Ministry added that "Such settlements are illegal under the international law and are not recognized by the international community." 
The plans "run counter to the report of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators that was made public on July 1," the Russian statement complained, "Along with inadmissibility of violence and incitement to violence, the report strongly recommends to stop construction and expansion of settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.”
So what will be done about it? As we go to press, the current U.S. president is haggling about how big the next arms aid deal for Israel will be, and the two contenders for his position will be seeing by how much they can inflate it. Rule of Law, anyone?  

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Rudyard Kipling never mentioned the possibility that others would follow the Danes to demand ransom.
And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
First the US bullied the UN into dropping Israel from a well-merited pillorying, then the French did the same for Morocco - and now the Saudis do it in their own right
- specifically invoking Israel's "Get off the list free" card. And the P5 are so complicit that they leave the UN Secretary General swinging in the wind, bringing the UN, and themselves into disrepute.
I would be very happy if the UK invoked the ethical dimensions of foreign policy, but somehow, bearing in mind British contractors profitable part in the war crimes, I doubt it. The ethical dimension will disappear across the event horizon of a Black Hole in the basement of Cameron's No 10 Downing St.

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: July 11, 2016 Last modified: July 11, 2016
In a press briefing at the UN many years ago Douglas Hurd pointed out that British foreign policy was “the same as it has been since the days of Pitt the Younger,” to ensure that “no combination of powers in Europe would be in a position to threaten us.” This was in the now forgotten context of Margaret Thatcher fighting the Germans. That was of course before successive British governments chose to adopt German-style anally retentive austerity policies.

It puts the “Special Relationship” in a different light, since American commentary has concentrated on how Brexit threatens Britain’s role as Washington’s standing fifth column in the EU. It is a role we should happily forfeit. Poodles are cosseted creatures, but as Tony Blair discovered over Iraq, it’s not always wise to jump yapping after everystick the master throws.

Ironically, Israeli commentators also lament the potential loss of a post-Brexit Britain’s role in shielding settlements from EU sanctions, which shows how things have changed. In the robust days before Blair sacked Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary, British policy did indeed have an ethical dimension that included condemning Israeli breaches of international law even when it upset the Americans.

So, if what’s left of the UK after Brexit is freed from its obligations to carry out the garbage for the US and Israel, how does it affect Britain’s role at the UN? Interestingly, when Boris Yeltsin did to the Soviet Union what Boris Johnson now seems to have done to the EU, there was no formal decision that Russia would take over USSR’s permanent seat. Sir David Hannay, Britain’s permanent representative quipped that the Russian Ambassador slipped into the Council Chamber at midnight and changed the name plate while everyone else was celebrating the New Year.

It was clear that Russia, which inherited the Soviet nukes, was the successor state and its stature ensured its permanent membership status so there were supercilious sniggers, but no challenges. But could a dis-United Kingdom take that for granted? Until now, not only has the UK benefitted from occasional US gratitude and indulgence on the Council, it has, like France, also usually been able to speak for the European Union, which gives its word considerably more clout than Britain alone, let alone Britain as ventriloquist dummy for Washington.

In fact, that is unfair, since the British Foreign Office has often been far more articulate and astute than the US delegation, whose State Department professionals are often over-ridden by politicians owing their knowledge of foreign affairs to whatever was written on the back of the lobbyists’ cheques. Many of the crucial Iraq resolutions were only made possible with British diplomatic expertise and draftsmanship until, of course, Tony Blair wanted a war whether his foreign office did or not, with or without a UN resolution.

In those earlier days, British representatives paid heed to international law and the effect of its decisions but their standards seem to be slipping. British silence as Ban Ki Moon was recently undermined by French support for Morocco flouting of UN decisions on Western Sahara or Saudi attempts to edit human rights reports, suggests that London is now prepared to see the UN fail rather than express inexpedient principle.

On balance, there is unlikely to be a direct challenge to Britain’s permanent council seat. It has been suggested that Britain and France’s permanent seats be replaced by an EU seat – but that is even more questionable now than before. In any case an EU seat would be useless. Consensus of all its members is almost impossible and instead of a veto, an EU seat on the Council would have a perpetual abstention.

So probably even a truncated UK could stay on the Council. However, it is gradually shrinking towards Taiwan’s position where its nominal veto power is not supported by the real world. Indeed, if Brexit happens, the rump UK influence will be overshadowed by a France that represents the EU and does not have the shadow of an American puppet master looming over it.

So what role could the UK have? Briefly under Robin Cook, as I remember, Britain’s UN mission remembered that Commonwealth thing, and invited their representatives to a Commonwealth reception. But in fact it was the New Zealanders, Canadians and Australians, before they went Blairite and Thatcherite, who seemed to take the relationship more seriously. In fact, if it were not for the complacency that a permanent seat engenders, it would make good sense to cultivate the Commonwealth missions, many of whom are small, understaffed and underappreciated and British advice could be well received if tendered in the proper spirits. And then Robin Cook had that thing about an ethical dimension for foreign policy. It’s time to redouble our support for international law, untrammeled by inconvenient alliances.