Monday, 30 May 2016

EU matters for peace and democracy in Europe - one reason to remain

If the UK leaves the EU, it is likely that it would inflict serious damage on the EU itself. It could set off a chain reaction. The “macho” Johnson-Farage-Mail-Sun brigade would say that this is none of our concern. They would be wrong. 

On 27 September 1938, Neville Chamberlain made a radio address in which he described Czechoslovakia (at the time the only democracy in central and eastern Europe) as a “far away country” and said that the events there were “a quarrel between people of whom we know nothing”. In less than a year, Britain was at war.

The 2012 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the EU "for over six decades [having] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.  This was greeted, largely, by sneering and derision in the British press. But there were powerful arguments behind the Nobel committee’s decision.

The EU is credited with having stopped France and Germany going to war again. Previously, over a seventy-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. It seems unthinkable now.

The EU has nurtured democracy in many countries. Democracy means not only elections and voting. It means the Rule of Law and much more besides. 

Spain, Portugal and Greece had fascist dictatorships until the 1970s. Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia had communist dictatorships until the 1989 revolutions. 

The table below shows how many years each of the 28 countries in the EU have had without democracy in the last 80 years - that is in “living memory”. 

Only three countries in the EU have had no dictatorship or occupation in the last 80 years - the UK, Sweden and Ireland. Only another six countries have been democracies except during World War 2 - Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. 

Only 11 of the EU countries were democracies in the years before WW2. The 28 EU countries between them have spent more time under anti-democratic rule than democratic rule over the last 80 years.

Democracy does not have deep roots in many countries in the EU. In 2016, democracy is threatened in some of them by parties of the extreme right. The EU has many faults but it has been a crucial force for peace and democracy in Europe. Let’s not repeat Chamberlain’s mistake. Let’s stay involved in the EU project. Let’s not undermine it. Isolationism can be dangerous

SINCE 1936
1936 to 1955 = 19 years

1933 to 1938 Austrian dictatorship
1938 to 1945 annexed to Nazi Germany
1945 to 1955 under Allied occupation
1939 to 1945 = 6 years

1939 to 1945 war including period of occupation by Nazi Germany
1936 to 1990 = 54 years
1918 to 1943 Bulgarian dictatorship
1943 to 1946 war and occupation
1946 to 1990 Communist dictatorship
1936 to 1995 = 59 years
1929 to 1941 dictatorship as part of Yugoslavia
1941 to 1945 war and occupation 
1945 to 1991 Communist dictatorship 
1991 to 1995 war of independence from Yugoslavia
1936 to 1960 and 1974 
= 25 years
1925 to 1960 all of Cyprus was a British colony.
1974 Cyprus invaded by Turkey and has been divided into Greek and Turkish parts ever since. 1974 also a brief lived coup in Greek Cyprus
Czech Republic
1938 to 1989
= 51 years

1938 to 1945 Nazi diktats and then war and occupation
1945 to 1948 Soviet domination
1948 to 1989 Communist dictatorship
1993 country split into Czech Republic and Slovakia
1940 to 1945
= 5 years
1940 to 1945 occupation by Nazi Germany
1936 to 1991
= 55 years
1934 to 1939 Estonian dictatorship
1940 Soviet occupation
1941 to 1944 Nazi Germany occupation
1944 to 1991 Communist dictatorship as part of USSR
1939 to 1945
= 6 years
1939 to 1945 war including period of occupation by Soviets
1939 to 1945
= 6 years
1939 to 1945 war including period of occupation by Nazi Germany
1936 to 1945
= 9 years
1933 to 1945 Nazi dictatorship
Country then spit in two between 1945 and 1990
1936 to 1949
1967 to 1974
= 20 years
1936 to 1941 Greek dictatorship
1941 to 1944 occupation by Nazi Germany
1945 to 1949 Civil War
1967 to 1974 Greek dictatorship
1936 to 1989
= 53 years
1936 - 1939 Hungarian dictatorship
1940 to 1949 war and occupation
1949 to 1989 Communist dictatorship

Democracy for whole period
Neutral in WW2
1936 to 1945 
= 9 years
1922 to 1945 Mussolini dictatorship 
1936 to 1991
= 55 years
1934 to 1940 Latvian dictatorship
1940 to 1944 both Soviet and Nazi Germany occupation
1944 to 1991 Communist dictatorship as part of USSR
1936 to 1991
= 55 years
1926 to 1940 Lithuanian dictatorship
1940 to 1944 both Soviet and Nazi Germany occupation
1944 to 1991 Communist dictatorship as part of USSR
1939 to 1945
= 6 years
1939 to 1945 War, occupation and annexation to Nazi Germany
1936 to 1964
= 28 years
Malta was a British colony until gained independence in 1964
1939 to 1945
= 6 years
1939 to 1945 WW2 including period of occupation by Nazi Germany
1936 to 1989
= 53 years
1926 to 1939 Polish dictatorship
1939 to 1945 occupation by Nazi Germany and USSR
1945 to 1989 Communist dictatorship
1936 to 1974
= 38 years
1926 to 1974 Portugese dictatorship
Portugal was neutral in WW2
1938 to 1989
= 51 years 
1938 to 1944 Romanian dictatorship
1944 to 1947 Soviet occupation
1947 to 1989 Communist dictatorship
1938 to 1989
= 51 years
1938 to 1945 Nazi diktats and then war
1945 - 1948 Soviet domination
1948 to 1989 Communist dictatorship
1993 country split into Czech Republic and Slovakia
1938 to 1990
= 52 years
1929 to 1941 dictatorial monarchy as part of Yugoslavia. 1941 to 1945 occupation and a puppet state. 1945 to 1990 Communist dictatorship.
1936 to 1975
= 39 years
1936 -1939 Civil War
1939 - 1975 Franco dictatorship

Democracy for whole period
Neutral in WW2
United Kingdom

Democracy for whole period

Monday, 23 May 2016

Austria and the USA - who can stop the extreme right?

Norbert Hofer, of the Austrian Freedom Party, has built his success on populist, racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric. He has been described as the Austrian Donald Trump. He was widely expected to become the EU's first far-right head of state today. In the event, he narrowly lost the election for president of Austria by a tiny margin. 

Opponents of the far-right can thank Alexander Van der Bellen for stopping Hofer. 
Van der Bellen did not come from either of the two centrist parties which have dominated Austrian politics for decades; their candidates did not even make it to the final run-off vote. He stood as an independent and is an environmentalist, left-leaning former leader of the Green Party. 

This runs counter to the conventional wisdom which would hold that the centre-ground is the best place from which to win elections. That may well have been true when Tony Blair, for example, won electoral victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005 but in the political world of 2016 it is clearly no longer invariably true.

This is partly a result of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. In the years before 2008, although inequality was widening, it had little political significance because the middle and the poor in society were mostly seeing their material welfare improve too. 

However, since 2008, the elite - dubbed “the 1%” by Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz - have prospered mightily whilst the middle has seen their economic position stagnate and become precarious and the poor have been pushed into destitution and to the food banks.

Millions of people across the Western democracies, have lost trust in the elites who have governed them for decades. They are angry. They feel they have been ripped-off, betrayed.

Politics has also changed due to the internet and the growth of social media. Without this, it is doubtful that Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn, for example, could have made the political progress they have, given that the mainstream media in the USA and UK is dominated by people whose interests and world-view are strongly opposed to the socialism they both espouse.

Millions of people in the Western democracies are angry and hurting. Populists of the right tap into that hurt and harness it, often by turning it into hatred directed against a group seen as the “other”, often immigrants.

In November, there will be a far more significant presidential election than the one in Austria. Some polls in the USA, now place Trump ahead of Hillary Clinton. 

The polls also show that the person best placed to stop Trump - and significantly more likely than Clinton to do so - is the socialist, radical left, Bernie Sanders. 

Just as Van der Bellen was able to appeal to voters angry at the elites that have governed Austria for decades better than the establishment parties could, so Sanders may be able to do the same in the USA better than Clinton, who is close to being the ultimate member of the American political elite.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

In elections, NOT everything is acceptable - Goldsmith, Fullbrook, Atwater.

Zac Goldsmith’s campaign against Sadiq Khan to become mayor of London went well beyond the acceptable limits of democratic politics. By smearing Khan by association, by targeting Hindu, Sikh and Tamil Londoners and by persistent dog-whistling equating “Muslim” with “terrorist”, it sought to use the fact that Khan is a Muslim to defeat him.  

Dog-whistle politics allows those that use it, to get over their unsavoury messages to people they think will be receptive to them while retaining plausible deniability. So a candidate can be at the same time racist and be able to deny that they are racist.

Since his defeat, Goldsmith has been widely criticised in the Tory party and by media commentators. Only a few had the moral integrity to criticise him while the campaign was in progress.

The journalist Peter Oborne, a lifelong Tory, wrote that Goldsmith’s campaign was “the most repulsive I have ever seen as a political reporter.” In his view, only two other campaigns bear comparison: the Bermondsey by-election of 1983 when the Labour candidate was targeted on account of his homosexuality - “Which Queen will you vote for?" ; and the Smethwick campaign in the 1964 General Election where the Tory slogan was - "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour”.

Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi asked - if Sadiq Khan (a long time opponent of Islamist extremism) is not an “acceptable Muslim to be mayor” then who is?

The Muslim Council of Britain has called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory party.

Goldsmith must carry responsibility for his own campaign but it is clear also that Cameron and the Tory hierarchy were four-square behind it. 

The man who managed the campaign was Mark Fullbrook, a partner of the better known Lynton Crosby. Judging by what is known about Goldsmith and Fullbrook it seems likely that reports that Fullbrook drove the campaign are accurate. There is a revealing endorsement on Fullbrook’s website, describing him as the UK’s own “Lee Atwater”.  

Lee Atwater was a ruthlessly effective political operator for the Republicans in the USA who, as campaign manager for George Bush senior in 1988, overturned a 17 point deficit in a few months to produce a stunning victory. Throughout his career, he used brutal dirty tricks and dog-whistling. He would often ignore the actual political issues and aim by any means to destroy the credibility of the opposing candidate.

Atwater delivered victory to George Bush senior by destroying his opponent, the Democrat, Michael Dukakis. Crucial was the issue of Willie Horton, a black man, who had been serving life for murder in Massachusetts when he was let out for the weekend under a rehabilitation scheme and committed horrific crimes. There was a legitimate question about Dukakis’ approach to penal policy but Atwater used the issue to devastating affect by mounting a nakedly racist campaign which played on white fears of black crime generally.

In addition, the press were fed untrue stories that Dukakis’ wife had burned an American flag during protests against Vietnam and that Dukakis had been treated for mental illness.

Atwater revelled in being the “hard man”. He said of Dukakis - “I would strip the bark off the little bastard” and he boasted that he would “make Willie Horton his running mate”.

In 1981, Atwater gave an interview to a political scientist which did not become public until some years later. He explained how Republicans win the vote of racists without sounding racist themselves.

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can't say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” “

The Atwater I have described is the one that Mark Fullbrook is proud to reference on his website. He is ruthless and brutal and will do anything to make sure his client wins. He does not care about morality or the damage he does to individuals, communities or the democratic process itself.

Mark Fullbrook - and his partner, Lynton Crosby - are a stain on democratic politics. One person who would have agreed with that statement, I believe, would surprisingly have been Lee Atwater itself.

In March 1990, Atwater was found to have aggressive brain cancer. Treatment left him paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. Before he died a year later, he reflected deeply on the values by which he had been living and which he saw as infecting the wider society.

Atwater apologised to Dukakis for the “naked cruelty” of the campaign against him. (Will Goldsmith, Fullbrook or Cameron ever have the grace to apologise?)

And he also said the following.

My illness has taught me something about the nature of humanity, love, brotherhood and relationships that I never understood, and probably never would have. 

The '80s were about acquiring — acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn't I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn't I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don't know who will lead us through the '90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Antisemitism, Islamophobia and criticism of Israel - reply to Hugo Rifkind

Dear Hugo 

Thank you for reading my blogpost Antisemitism, Islamophobia and criticism of Israel. This is my reply to your question on Twitter about the link I made between antisemitism and Islamophobia.

I agree that there is no fundamental causative link between antisemitism and Islamophobia. For most of history, when antisemitism has been in its most pernicious form, it has been in places where there were no Muslims, let alone any Islamophobia. 

However, I think that those concerned primarily with tackling antisemitism in the UK in 2016 should make the link. The reason is simple - it would help their fight against antisemitism.

There is little now of the strain of antisemitism that existed in the UK in the first half of the twentieth century. The focus of most modern antisemitism in the UK is Israel/Palestine. A swathe of issues to do with religion, race, Israel and more have become inextricably linked, world-wide, since the founding of Israel and since 9/11.

Those fighting antisemitism, need to think hard about how what they are saying is being received by people who are not already sympathetic to them. If people think (rightly or wrongly) that they are being lectured to by hypocrites or by people with double standards, they will not engage.

If a British Muslim is angry about Islamophobia or if someone in the UK is highly critical of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and feels they are being prevented from speaking out, then they are unlikely to be particularly receptive to exhortations to tackle antisemitism. They might well feel differently though if they believed that Islamophobia was being tackled with as much urgency and vigour as antisemitism and that they could feel confident that they could speak out on Israel without being branded an antisemite.

I believe the best way to tackle antisemitism in the UK in 2016, is to relentlessly press the following three messages.

Antisemitism is vile and must not be tolerated.
Islamophobia is vile and must not be tolerated.
Criticism of Israel is legitimate.

Best regards