Author Archives: Paul Reynolds

Ukraine: are we absolutely sure we want a wider war? Part II

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It has become quite mainstream now to portray Russia as an evil regime, about to invade Western Europe, that needs to be defeated at any cost (i.e. nuclear war … even though some such advocates don’t understand that implication). Until recently this was seen as a fringe conspiracy theory.

Sure, Russia has a pretty appalling power structure with a lawless mafia-ised system clustered around the Presidency, with it’s tentacles around Europe, Mid East and Africa. It is also technologically advanced, especially in military and space spheres, and has vast natural resources, managed centrally. Russia is not Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. It is formidable, and limiting its ‘ethnic Russians’ propagandised mischief-making, (eg Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Donbass and the Baltic States), without getting to a counterproductive World War, requires a sophisticated carrot-and-stick approach.

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Ukraine; are we absolutely sure we want a wider war?

In war it is good to remember two bits of age-old wisdom, if unnecessary deaths are to be avoided; ‘know your enemy’ and ‘don’t believe your own propaganda’.

Ignoring these two adages led to the West’s humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, and Western-led conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Saharan Africa and Yemen, which have all been catastrophic for Western interests.

We now have a parallel in Ukraine.

As I wrote in LDV on 11th Feb 2023:

In April Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said ‘We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine’ and ‘Ukraine clearly believes that it can win, and so does everyone here’. At the end of the previous month the US President called for the removal of President Putin from power.

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Rivers of Blood Mark II

There has been a lot of publicity this week about Tory factionalising and Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s apparent positioning for the party leadership, after the Tories’ expected 2024 GE loss of power.

However, there has been a lot of muddle in the media about which faction proposes what and why. What is really going on ? Clearly if Braverman’s far right platform is to be opposed, what exactly are we opposing ?

The start point is to remember that the jostling of Tory MPs is missing the point. The competition is between different sets of interests, which MPs attach themselves to in order to advance politically. Each set of interests has their own narrative (sincere or not) as to why the UK is seemingly in steep decline and why the Tories are currently unpopular.

There is a group of interests that broadly revolve around international finance, the City and global investment groups. They support privileges for investment banks and are unfussed about monopolies, or high state debt. Sunak vaguely might be placed here.

There is a Thatcherite free market group supported by industry and commercial interests; many being victims of monopoly and fiscal problems. Folks might put Liz Truss in this group.

There is a small military-orientated group, and a small social libertarian group which are both rather limp politically.

Braverman is closer to the expanding Neo-Conservative group, supported by think tanks in Washington DC. They are unfussed about BOTH markets and monopoly finance, sanguine about fiscal risks, and are supported by groups linked to global wars of choice, and by US/UK armaments interests. It is funded via opaque donation intermediaries (although leaks have shed light on the actual international donors).

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Economic crisis: problems and remedies

There’s an economic crisis underway. Several policy motions at Lib Dem Autumn Conference make reference to economic problems. The government’s current industrial strategy (‘Plan for Growth’) runs to 112 pages and reads more like an argument against reform rather than for it; perhaps fearful of being accused by the tabloids of ‘talking down Brexit Britain’ .

UK economic problems are deep-rooted; some even hundreds of years old. Political parties of course share the blame but that’s only a small part of the story. Perceptions of problems and remedies have changed over the many decades, independent of political oscillations. But we will need clarity and deep thinking beyond political partisanship to extricate ourselves.

The symptoms are all around us. Disposable income is collapsing as mortgage payments, rents, energy, food prices, and now taxes, are all rising. Credit card debt is accelerating. Investment is in serious decline; since 2019 British businesses have invested less, as a percentage of GDP, than any other major economy. The Bank of England forecasts that business investment will further fall by around 2 per cent in 2024. By most measures GDP performance is the worst in the G7. UK debt sustainability is worsening. Debt service is set to exceed total NHS spending within three years. Tax revenues are just a third of GDP, and only half the population pay income tax.

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Accelerating economic decline and the political long game

Conservatives of all shades seem resigned to being in opposition after the next General Election. Apart from minimising losses by trying to trip up Kier Starmer, what is the strategy ? What are they thinking about the future, and are there any useful potential implications for other parties ?

The idea gaining traction amongst some senior Conservatives is that, since the economic fundamentals are so bad, conditions for almost all of the population will continue to deteriorate during 2024 and 2025. 

Therefore it is better to get Starmer and the Labour Party into government as early as politically possible. The logic goes that after six months or so, high expectations of a Labour government will lead to disappointment, and Labour will start to be blamed … initially for not reversing the decline, but then gradually for the decline itself.

Adding to this idea amongst some Conservatives is the view that a Starmer-led Labour Government, boxed in by right wing authoritarian factions, public sector trade unions, Corbyn supporters, and ‘internationalised’ donors, is not in a position by itself to work out how to manage the continuing decline, let alone reverse it. This will result in a Starmer government relying heavily on Treasury and Bank of England officials to handle the worsening crisis; the same folk who have brought the UK to this point in the first place, it is claimed. 

Therefore, the view goes, the scene is set for a new and refreshed Conservative Party back in government soon. This seems to be the leading Tory ‘long game’ strategy; by the time the next election comes along three to five years from now the public will be blaming the new 2024 government.

This strategy is clearly predicated on three main things.

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Iraq – 20 years on. A personal story.

In early 2003 I was in Sierra Leone working on post-war reforms and rebel disarmament. I was running past the run-down Russian UN helicopters on Lumley beach when I received the call. 

It was already known that British Forces had attempted to find a way to appoint the first regional government; in Basra, one of the four UK-controlled Iraqi governorates. By agreement with the US, the UK had been tasked with finding a model. They were looking for someone ‘reckless’ with relevant experience. Folks knew I was against the war, but the final make-or-break question from the official was ‘you’re not a bloomin’ tree hugger are you?’.

Following bio-weapons training, my first interaction was my car being attacked by stone-throwing teenagers after I crossed the border from Kuwait. There was a lot of audible gunfire, and on the main roads there were still uncollected bodies littering the way.

Saddam’s gaudy riverside palace had been looted and all the marble floors were deep in broken glass. There was no power at first. It was 51 degrees, down to 42 by 3am. Water was scarce. Catching a breeze on the roof at nighttimes was noisy, with explosive flashes and gunfire sweeping across the city below.

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War in Europe and the role of the UK

The Big Lie of the Russian position regarding the war in Ukraine is that they had no choice than to invade. They did have choices, and furthermore they should see the events of 2014 onwards in Ukraine as a Russian policy failure, rather pleading mere victimhood. The harsh reality is that all deaths in the war were and are avoidable.

This is Step One in the doctrine of ‘know your enemy’. But to go beyond Step One it is necessary to reject the Western Big Lie; that the war was unprovoked. The ‘retail’ position of the UK is that Russia invaded because Putin, and the Russian government, are irrational and mad. This is quite the opposite of ‘know your enemy’, and an attempt to mask the role of US neo-conservatives in Ukraine, especially since 2014. This is the same group of individuals behind the 2003 Iraq war, the extended war in Afghanistan, Western involvement in the Syria, Somalia and Libya conflicts, and other adventures. They all resulted in relatively negative net outcomes for the US, UK and Western Allies.

The UK position for the public domain is however understandable in times of war; to show resolve and maintain public support. The point made is that Russia must be removed from all de-jure Ukrainian territory, President Putin must step down, and all efforts covert and overt, kinetic and cyber must be made to bring this about. Weapon supplies must be stepped up to support the ‘regime change’ doctrine that Russia will eventually be comprehensively defeated. Few might fully realise that this is likely unachievable without nuclear war.

For UK parliamentarians and political parties, the future path of the war may require ‘heads above the parapet’, the absence of which resulted in the Afghan war dragging on for at least 15 years longer than necessary. At least the UK Liberal Democrats objected to the Iraq war project.

However, there are two reasons why the UK position on Ukraine is very difficult for UK parliamentarians.

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Improving the quality of democracy is not just about proportional representation

Of all the major ‘-isms’ that pervade our politics in the UK, democracy (or ‘democratism’ if you prefer) is perhaps the least written about. That may at last be about to change.

It is perhaps mostly taken for granted in UK political discourse that democracy is ‘A Good Thing’. Today, only the very brave would argue publicly that democracy is ‘A Bad Thing’ per se.

Defenders of UK-style democracy however have to gloss over aspects of the political system. These include the constitutional monarchy and the broader role of the Royal Prerogative, the unelected House of Lords, and tight executive control of parliament. They do rather mute the UK’s moral high ground when promoting democracy abroad.

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In praise of precision in UK public policy

The United Kingdom faces a series of interwoven crises simultaneously; double-digit inflation, among the highest domestic energy prices in the world, rising tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade with its major trading partner, an ineffective over-centralised bureaucracy, obsessed with contracting everything out, (which makes problem-solving and public investment very difficult to implement), and low skill levels and investment in R&D.

The result is deep-rooted, seemingly inexorable, decline. The aggregated remedies of the last two decades seem to have run out of road; QE, low interest rates, and debt-funded economic stimulae. Quality of life is noticeably on the slide. The latest country to surpass the UK in a wide range of social and economic measures, is Slovenia.

It may be that the UK political-administrative system is not capable of addressing the underlying problems. The main political parties appear to have degenerated into competition over short term populism and media manipulation, unable to overcome the layers of bureaucratic complexity and competing interests.

The country would beat a path to the door of any political movement that has a sincere and credible definition of problems, obstacles and causes, and how to overcome them.

One of the many reasons why political movements in the UK don’t get off the starting blocks here, is because their pursuit of public policy is littered with imprecise concepts. Shorthand terms for complex ideas are necessary in common parlance, but fatal for public policy. They can end up with policymakers trying to solve the wrong problem entirely.

Such terms include austerity, privatisation, sovereignty, over/under regulation, sustainability, debt, investment, infrastructure,

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Labour Party constitutional reform proposals

This week Keir Starmer launched a report for consultation entitled  ‘A New Britain: Renewing our Democracy and Rebuilding our Economy’.  It is admirably full of attitude survey results, international comparisons, and north-south contrasts.

The report has a solid narrative and an overall theme, and in this sense can be said to have a certain amount of clarity of purpose.

The emphasis is on what some might call ‘the real economy’ – industry and commerce, and small businesses, and social deprivation resulting from declining economic activity, especially outside London and the SE.

The ‘problem’ which the report focuses on addressing is a serious collapse in trust in the UK political and administrative system; which gets worse the further people are from London. It blames this not only on accelerated regional economic decline, but also on a corrupt and over-centralised governance system, where development and infrastructure proposals from areas distant from London, sit for decades at the bottom of the pile in Whitehall.  These conclusions have seemingly emerged in part from Labour mayors, and other government decentralisation processes around the UK over the last decade, where Labour leads. Rising Scottish and Welsh nationalism are also blamed in part on fiscal over-centralisation and mutual disdain with London.

The proposed remedies reflect the definition of the problem; greater participation of regions and nations in central decision-making (including a new second chamber of regions/nations to replace the House of Lords), moving central government civil servants out of London, and limited devolution of transport, employment support, and economic development spending decisions. One has to assume that the absence of basic detail behind the remedies means that they are still being worked through, (under cover of the report being ‘for consultation’; all the relevant consultees having already been consulted, it seems).

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Economic growth in 2022 – root of all evil or economic nirvana?

Since the summer of 2016 the concept of economic growth has been less prominent in UK political discourse, until now. The objectives of the constitutional changes in 2016, involved a greater emphasis on nationalism, judicial independence, EU-independent trade policy and reductions in immigration – all at the expense of economic growth as a core aim. The Home Office became ‘top dog’ in the UK administrative system, displacing the Treasury. Although not expressly stated, ‘managed decline’ became an implicit civil service aim, not seen since the 1970s.

Perversely, it was anti-EU factions in the Conservative Party that brought economic growth onto …

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An Afghanistan catastrophe Part 2 (of 2)

In Part One, I offered a view of why and when the occupation of Afghanistan failed. In Part Two, I explore the future implications.

The first shorter term problem is the evacuation.

It could be used as pretext to keep a contingent of special forces in the country, and keep the conflict going. Liberal Democrats have emphasised the need for a land corridor from Kabul to Pakistan, but this would require negotiation with the Talebs, as yet absent.

A further dimension to this is the wave of Western media stories about ISIS and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, despite scant evidence on the latter, and formal ‘Western’ reports dismissing scare stories on the former.

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An Afghanistan catastrophe, Part 1 (of 2)

It is tempting for UK political figures unfamiliar with the wars in Afghanistan, to view recent events as a ‘surprise loss for the West’ that is ‘all the fault of President Biden’. Neither is true. I will attempt a summary.

The war was ‘lost’ many years ago. Talebs and other insurgents controlled a majority of the country after the first five years. By the end of 2009 ICOS (Western-funded) reported that the Talebs had a controlling presence in 97% of the country, and had de facto control of Districts representing almost two thirds of territory.

Certainly when I first arrived in 2008 the Talebs controlled the road from central Kabul and the Compound to the airport, requiring a dangerous circuitous route. Driving to Jalalabad or Kandahar, there were Taleb road blocks, some taking ‘fees’. The game was already over. Why?

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Myanmar’s simmering civil war – and the UK’s moral duty

Following the coup d’etat in Myanmar on Feb 1st this year, the ‘Tatmadaw’ military have killed more than 860 civilians and imprisoned more than 6000 people. Random bombings of civilians, burning villages and killing protestors, have made a full scale civil war likely. The de facto leader of Myanmar is now the brutal General Min Aung Hlaing, the Chairman of the State Administration Council.

The coup ended 5 years of ‘democratic’ governance. This period followed 53 years of military rule, which began in coup in 1962. Myanmar (Burma) was part of British India before 1948.

The colonial past is one reason why the UK has a duty to help.  More specifically, the flawed legacy of the British contributed to 7 decades of conflict.  After the 1962 coup, the oil and gas sector was nationalised, and oil & gas majors such as Anglo-Dutch Shell and British Gas, with the support of the British Government,  have been intimately involved.

The UK can thus have major positive role to play.

Reducing violence, and preparing for the consequences from full civil war, necessitate understanding, however.

Two thirds of the population in Myanmar are Burmese (Bamah). From independence, and as part of the British legacy,  the government has had a system of ethnic control centred on the peripheral provinces. This led to armed resistance, ‘justifying’ military rule. There have been nine major conflicts; four still persist  – involving Rakhine/Rohingya, Shan, Kachin, Kayin, and Mon. Citizens have an ethnic designation written on their ID cards. The exception is the mainly Muslim Rohingya, who do not receive ID cards, on the grounds they are ‘foreigners’.

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Britain’s role in the world… of corruption

Corruption is in the news again in the UK.

PPE contracts during the pandemic, the Greensill Capital scandal, and eye-watering local authority finance scandals, all serve to dent the historic public perception that politics and government in the UK is in the main ‘clean’.

In the early 1990s at a private lunch with senior civil servants I attended, one of them offered the view that the public’s perception of a broadly clean governance system in the UK, has been ‘the world’s most successful long-term government propaganda operation of all time’.

In my global project work, dealing with corruption at senior levels is just something you have to find a way of handling. Many times I have had to employ ‘forensic international accountants’ to trace missing tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. It just goes with the territory. In some cases I have found corruption linked back to the UK; kickbacks for visas, a market for ‘blank’ British passports, kickbacks for projects and so on.

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Open letter to the Foreign Secretary on global human rights

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The Rt. Hon. Dominic Rennie Raab MP
First Secretary of State
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

Dear Foreign Secretary

Please accept my best wishes.

With the merger of the FCO and DfID in mind and the incorporation of development policy into your brief, I was encouraged by your statement in Parliament on July 7th 2020 which included the words:

‘As we forge a dynamic new vision for a truly global Britain, this Government are absolutely committed to the United Kingdom becoming an even stronger force for good in the world … on human rights, where we will defend media freedoms and protect freedom of religious belief; and, with the measures we are enacting and announcing today, hold to account the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses.’

I wish to raise with you two examples where the UK has up to now supported EU efforts to impose sanctions and take other measures to apply pressure on ‘the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses’ as you put it; Cambodia and Turkey.

As you will be aware the world’s longest-serving Prime Minister is Hun Sen of Cambodia, former member of the government of the genocidal Pol Pot regime. An international post-civil-war peace treaty in 1991, the ‘Paris Peace Accords’, set out a path to democracy, human rights and key freedoms, with UK support.

However, step-by-step Hun Sen consolidated power and eroded democracy and human rights provided for in the Accords, a process which accelerated after Hun Sen developed a close commercial relationship with Xi Jinping and his ministers in China. That is the same Xi Jinping that you condemned in an Oct 6th 2020 statement as committing ‘serious and egregious’ human right violations. The erosion of democracy and human rights in Cambodia was carefully documented by the United Nations Special Rapporteur.

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Liberal Democrat electoral and policy pact with Labour, or not?

The party has been buzzing with pro and anti ‘pact’ debate, and some parliamentarians have been espousing contrasting views.

On 11th December the Guardian featured an article ‘Starmer Urged to Start Co-operating with the Lib Dems’ on the necessity of a pact for Labour. A Liberal Democrat branch of the ‘Compass Group’ has been formed.

Here I have a stab at synthesising the two Liberal Democrat arguments. The party as a whole needs to decide. Which view do you support?

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The lurch to the right of the Conservative Party has changed the landscape for the Lib Dems. Since the Tories adopted the tool of encouraging anti-immigrant sentiment to undermine Labour in its heartlands, and since the rise of the SNP, it has become very difficult for Labour to achieve a parliamentary majority on its own. This is true however popular Keir Starmer becomes.

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The new war in Ethiopia. The first step towards peace is understanding the conflict.

For many LDV readers, Ethiopia is associated with arid land, drought and terrible famine; made famous in the 1980s by Bob Geldorf and ‘Live Aid’.

The recent resurgence of civil conflict, mass fatalities and the exodus of 200,000 refugees into Sudan, seems inexplicable for the casual British observer. Is there a well-founded explanation?

Some perceptions have to be undone. More than 90% of the 100m population live in the green, fertile west of the country. Most of Ethiopia’s cities are modern and the capital, Addis, has a hi-tech urban rail system and glitzy shopping centres. Ethiopia has recently experienced high economic growth, and is a favoured investment location for Chinese and Western investors. The new Prime Minister won the Nobel peace prize for his rapprochement with breakaway Eritrea. So what’s the problem ?

Modern Ethiopia was largely created as an ‘empire’ by conquest in the late 19th Century under Emperor Menelik II, from what is now Addis Ababa, up to World War 1, with the support of Italy.

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Why Britain should worry about Kashmir

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Kashmir is one of those decades-long conflicts which rarely makes it into the mainstream UK media;  until recently. In June this year 20 Indian soldiers died in fighting with Chinese soldiers, on the border between Indian-administered and Chinese-administered Kashmir.

So what is the nature of the conflict and why has it become much more dangerous this year ?

Central to the recent upsurge in violence, lies China-India relations. To understand, we must start with ‘British India’.

After Indian independence following WW2, Kashmir was divided into Pakistan administered and Indian administered territory, with two smaller areas controlled by China. Both the Pakistani and Indian administered sides are majority Muslim, except (Buddhist) Ladakh, on the Chinese border.

India and Pakistan have more than once gone to war over territory, and so have India and China.

When Indian administered Kashmir was established, the spectre of future Kashmiri independence was raised, and significant autonomy provided for in Article 370 of the Indian Constitutions, later also by Article 35A.

Among these provisions were restricted involvement of the Indian state (foreign policy, defence etc). Land ownership and receipt of public services like education and health were restricted to Kashmiris. Article 370, leading potentially to independence, was a factor in the measure of acceptance by Kashmiris of Indian administration early on.

However, in the late 1980s an insurgency by Muslim Kashmiris against Indian administration started, with various forms of support, overt and covert, from Pakistan. This rise in violence against Indian rule was largely a result of gradual erosion of autonomy and democracy;  and fading prospects of independence.

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Lib Dem internationalism in practice – a member’s perspective

Liberal Democrats stand for an open society receptive to new ideas, international trade, law-law rather than war-war, cooperation amongst nations, and universal human rights. Whilst proud to be British, we oppose isolationism, nationalism, protectionism and xenophobia for political gain. We recognise the difficulties of Britain’s colonial past and support making amends.

How do sentiments such as these translate into practice, internationally, and how can members become involved?

It’s a question which is often asked in all kinds of meetups.

The coordination of international activity is undertaken by the Federal International Relations Committee, (FIRC) which is one of the party’s governing, constitutional institutions.  FIRC has a sub-committee on EU exit, known by the acronym CEUB.

There is also a foreign policy group in parliament, and a foreign policy adviser to the Party Leader.

Policy Working Groups established by the Federal Policy Committee also frequently consider UK international policy – on economics, defence, Europe, international development and other dimensions. Such work frequently involves presenting policy motions for voting at party conferences.

Cooperation with other liberal-democratic parties in Europe and the rest of the world, including policy coordination, is mostly undertaken via Brussels-based ALDE, and Liberal International.

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Putting the Lib Dems in danger of being more successful

Following the Thornhill Report, I propose that a good way to formulate remedies for the many problems identified is to draw parallels between how we apply our principles to UK reform, and how we apply such principles in running our party.

The party has always supported decentralisation, holding that decisions should be taken at a level as close to those affected as practically feasible (a COVID-19 lesson!).

By contrast, the Report explains that the party had succumbed to the temptations of increasing centralised control; applying top-down decisions hidden behind the bureaucratic fog.

In contrast to principles of openness and transparency, decision-making became opaque and secretive.

By contrast with the party’s ‘strength in diversity’ principle, the Report describes a clique of people at the top who all agreed over a narrow range of tangential issues. Contrary to core liberal principles of openness to new ideas and challenges to the status quo, the party was closed to new thinking, defensive and impenetrable.

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Black Lives Matter; a new enlightenment?

In Lib Dem circles there has been much talk of the need for ‘better education’ as a necessary (but not sufficient) path to more enlightened social and governmental attitudes when it comes to race, perceptions of a colonial past, and ‘neo-colonial’ thinking.

This is very positive; but education enlightening students about what, precisely?

My proposition is that there are three areas where education will benefit from a bit of ‘light shedding’. Those are, in chronological order, the histories of BAME communities in the UK; colonial histories related to those parts of the world to which many communities in the UK are connected; and importantly, relevant global pre-colonial histories.

First, there are many surprising histories of BAME communities in the UK.

For example, in areas of East London such as Canning Town, there are many people descendant from Caribbean-origin soldiers and others returning from world wars on behalf of the British, that were given passage back to the UK but faced difficulties obtaining passage back to their home countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad.

The Windrush generation is another example, that should be better understood.

These histories, when explored, make the poor treatment of such communities by the British state all the more hard to accept.

Second, colonialism, theory and practice, has a special place in liberal-democratic thinking. Liberal-democratic ideas were forged hundreds of years ago in opposition to the European pro-colonial mercantilist view that the quantity of wealth in the world was fixed, and that one country could only become ‘rich’ at the expense of another. This gave a rationale for subjugation, war and slavery.

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Post-C19 UK economic recovery; a new economic orthodoxy beckons?

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Economic crises, and the C19 pandemic certainly is one, have a habit of initiating a major change in economic orthodoxy.

Arguable examples include mercantilism after the collapse of the feudal system, Adam Smith after two long pan-European wars, end of the Gold Standard post-WW1, Keynes after the Great Depression and WW2, ‘market reforms’ after the 1973-5 recession & crash, and the ‘Washington Consensus’ after the collapse of communism 1989-91. Then came the 2008 financial crisis, which was still unresolved when C19 hit. To a great extent, each crisis arose from the ‘flaws’ in each new orthodoxy.

Each of these changes was highly controversial at the time, at first, and even subject to ridicule. But it is easy to forget that the emerging new ideas were aimed at particular problems perceived at the time, where the prevailing orthodoxy no longer had perceived relevance for the problems faced. The new ideas that endured above others did so in that context.

We appear to have reached that point now.  But it’s very messy.

In the UK the post-2008 orthodoxy we are probably leaving behind had already become something of a hybrid. Austerity in public spending aimed at partial debt reduction, was still there, but reductions in regulations had gone. Monetisation/Quantitative Easing had been introduced to purchase bank ‘assets’ (derivative securities). These bank assets had initially been the cause of the 2008 crash, as their value evaporated. However, the asset purchases still continued twelve years later, keeping interest rates artificially low, but leaving international markets awash with cash; evidenced by a rise in international share prices, to two to four times what they used to be, relative to company profits. Culprits’ reward.

Up until Brexit, this was the hybrid orthodoxy.

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Covid-19: We are long past the point where we should give the UK government the benefit of the doubt


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Political conclusions drawn so far from the horrific tragedy of COVID-1,9 and the lamentable UK response, have often been hurriedly deployed in support of a range of political viewpoints.

Perhaps the most common is that the regrettable UK response has been due to the NHS being starved of funds due to ‘austerity’. Per person NHS budgets have been squeezed over a long period, and this almost certainly contributed to the NHS’s problems, and more money is needed, but it cannot be the whole story; or even perhaps the main story.

The UK spends the same or more on health, and a larger proportion on state health, than many other OECD countries, including Finland, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

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Assessing the Johnson Government’s new reform narrative

Over the last week the Johnson government’s narrative approach to reforms in the UK  has become more clear.

Johnson’s personal views on eugenics and poverty are a matter of record. ‘The poor being poor due to low IQ’ brings psychological comfort to those born into the luxuries of inherited wealth and private education. So blaming everything on Cummings might be unwise.

Policy more than personal views are however, our subject of concern. At last, the government’s underlying propositions can be clearly stated, as follows:

1. The UK’s low productivity problem is caused by a surfeit of unskilled migrant workers from Eastern Europe, enabling firms to avoid investment in new technology and avoid employee training.

2. UK poverty is the result of low IQ among sections of the population and of a self-perpetuating underclass, aided by single mums and teenage pregnancies.

3. Whilst UK unemployment is low, there are 8million ‘economically inactive’ citizens who, via further welfare reforms and eugenics, can be reduced in number and induced to take up the low paid jobs formerly taken by EU migrants, receiving training by employers who can no longer access low-skilled EU labour.

4. The core aim of a new immigration points system is thus to raise productivity and raise wage levels, and in the process reduce the cost of in-work benefits.

5. Increased national capital spending by the state will stimulate growth from construction contracts and compensate for the negative effects of EU tariffs and other barriers, creating demand for indigenous low skilled labour, (at least until such time as new global trade deals are in place)

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Huawei and 5G: the tip of the iceberg for Johnson

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What is the ‘Huawei and 5G’ mobile internet controversy really all about and why is it important for the UK ? Here’s a fly past the detail.

The British position has been clear since April 2019, up until now. The National Security Council (NSC) was advised by UK security institutions that there were no security issues with the proposed roll out of 5G mobile internet, using Huawei equipment. This was advice that followed pre-contract negotiations with different UK institutions. A formal decision was expected in May 2019, but has been delayed. Germany has taken a similar line to the UK. The UK’s largest mobile phone company, Vodafone, backs the UK position, despite Vodafone-related disinformation appearing in the pro-Brexit press.

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Understanding the Johnson-Cummings government reforms

What should Lib Dems make of the ‘radical’ constitutional, political, judicial and administrative reforms apparently pre-planned by the Johnson government and key adviser Dominic Cummings?

I shall try and shed some light.

Statements from Downing St have included scathing criticisms of the UK civil service. The substance of these, as far as can be gleaned, include major changes to recruitment, departmental ‘tenure’ of civil servants, capital spending and the ability of ministers (not the public) to hold civil servants responsible for screw-ups, wastefulness or incompetence.

They criticise the alleged ‘blame avoidance merry-go-round ’ practice of keeping civil servants in post for …

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UK complicit in biggest US cover-up since Vietnam

It took a three-year legal battle for the Washington Post to force the US government to release the ‘Afghanistan papers’, a set of lessons-learned reports on the war so far.

The Afghanistan Papers not only reveal systematic lying by the US and UK governments to the general public about the aims and progress of the war, they reveal gratuitous mass killing of civilians in the policy fog.

As if that wasn’t enough to cast opprobrium on the military effort and the capability of the forces involved, the Afghanistan Papers reveal extraordinary confusion amongst senior military personnel, and a war without …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged and | 7 Comments

That NATO Summit discord, in context

The recent NATO summit in the UK filled the headlines for a few days. What was the summit really all about ?

Arguments about low defence spending amongst some members, about perceived military weakness relative to Russia in the Baltic States, spilled out. There was even an apparent threat from Turkey to delay progress on the Baltic States issue until the rest of NATO accepted that Kurdish defence forces in Syria are ‘terrorists’.

After 70 years of NATO, the irreconcilable discord dominated.

The underlying problem is that members do not agree any more on what exactly NATO is for.   What is worse is that its members are in a kind of gridlock; there is little leadership on mutual interests, lots of taboo topics, and sticking plasters everywhere.

Spending spats are really disagreements about control; some members being reluctant to extend spending until there is more equal status in NATO decision-making.

The history is key.  NATO was never part of any ‘grand plan’ at the outset. Its formation & development after WW2 was something of an accident.  NATO’s origins lie with the 1947 Dunkirk Treaty between France and the UK, and then the Brussels Treaty Organisation (BTO) in 1948 which brought in the Benelux Countries, creating the Western Union (WU) with US support. The WU was precursor both to NATO and to EU defence cooperation.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 15 Comments

The UK’s responses to global economic changes

High on the list of public priorities in the General Election is a sustainably improving economy. Even avid supporters of Brexit balance their new-found acceptance of economic damage from leaving the EU, with tall tales of an eventual post-Brexit boom for ‘Global Britain’.

Brexiter MPs have at different times blamed economic contraction and lower growth on ‘Remainers’ blocking Brexit and causing uncertainty, an idea which hasn’t gained much traction. Slower UK growth has also been falsely blamed on weaker global and European economic growth.

The latter claim is at least is an acknowledgement by Brexiter MPs that the UK economy is integrated …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 11 Comments
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