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Member since: Sun Sep 6, 2009, 11:57 PM
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Journal Archives

As we patiently await Chilcot, I'll hand around the humbugs

Chilcot: the timetable

All times are BST (GMT+1).

* David Cameron already has the report, which was delivered to him at 11am on Tuesday.
* The report is embargoed until Sir John Chilcot makes his public statement, but some senior politicians, journalists and other involved parties, including the families of some of the 179 British soldiers who died in the conflict, will be able to read it from 8am on Wednesday.
* At 11am, Chilcot makes his statement.
* When he concludes, at around 11.20am, the entire report will be published here.
* PMQs follows at noon in the House of Commons.
* Immediately after that, at around 12.30pm, David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn will make statements on the report. It’s expected that Corbyn will, as he has pledged, apologise on behalf of the Labour party for the war in Iraq.
* Tony Blair is also expected to give a press conference later today.


Given the length and likely complexity of the report and the brief time that will have passed between its release and PMQs, although some will have had sight of it, or sections of it in advance, the real fireworks may not come today. Other than the no doubt sympathetic reports of the reactions of the service families, who have already been given quite a bit of airtime in advance on some of our media over the past few days.

I'd imagine there'll be a lot of droning on about "lessons to be learned" etc., and no doubt from the Tories an eager grasp of the chance to bash Labour - then and now.

But let's cast our minds back a few months:

Opening a debate lasting 10 and a half hours, the prime minister admitted his case for airstrikes was complex, but said the question was whether the UK should go after “the terrorists in their heartlands, from where they are plotting to kill British people” or “sit back and wait for them to attack us”.

However, he was apparently unsettled in bitter opening exchanges when he was repeatedly challenged to apologise for remarks at a private meeting of Tory MPs on Tuesday in which he urged his colleagues not to vote alongside “a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”.

Does that sound uncomfortably like the run-up to the Iraq War? As somebody who was extremely vocal in my opposition to the Iraq invasion, not least online, I can well remember being accused of all sorts of things - of sympathizing with Saddam, not caring about the people of Iraq who were suffering under his regime etc. by people who were only too quick to spout about "libtards", "towelheads". And then there were people who weren't idiots or racists who genuinely were caught up in the governments' and media's push for war and thought, on the (sometimes very scant) information they'd been given, that "something had to be done", and since nobody seemed to have any better ideas (nobody who was getting serious airtime in comparison to the pro-war propagandists), this was it.

That quote above comes from Cameron's push to join in the Syrian airstrikes just last December. If the scope for worsening the situation by our involvement was enormously less than the Iraq invasion, it's because we were joining an already occurring conflict with armaments which were not going to make a significant difference except to Cameron's standing among those he wanted to impress.

And Cameron, as did Blair's cabinet before him, blatantly stretched the truth:

He tried to dispel scepticism over claims from the joint intelligence committee that 70,000 non-extremist forces existed, ready to take on Isis, but was forced to admit there would be a reliance on the patchwork of Free Syrian Army troops in Syria and that not all were in the right place.


The prime minister said there was a political strategy that would bring about a “transitional government in six months, a new constitution and free and fair elections within 18 months”.


Cameron warned that Isis was already posing a threat to the UK. It had inspired the worst terrorist attack against British people since 7/7 on the beaches of Tunisia and plotted atrocities on the streets of Britain, he said. “Since November last year, our security services have foiled no fewer than seven different plots against our people, so this threat is very real,” he said. “Daesh has been trying to attack us for the past year, as we know from the seven different plots that our security services have foiled.”

Well, that's all worked out swimmingly according to plan.

Meanwhile, Labour was bitterly split on the issue, as ever, and who can forget Hilary Benn's nonsensical, jingoistic and opportunistic surprise speech in favour of the UK's involvement in airstrikes being cheered to the rafters? Hilary Benn, who sparked off the latest round in Labour's civil war just a week or so ago - evidently somebody whose judgment can be trusted.

There are lessons to be learned from Chilcot, flawed as the report no doubt will end up being. Unfortunately, they'll be filtered through the media - the same media as a mass which got us into Iraq and facilitated the airstrike campaign - and obscured by party political point-scoring and attempts to protect reputations and careers.

My own bottom line after all the arguments about Iraq is that there was no exit strategy. None. Underpants Gnome territory. And some people got very rich out of it, some died, and too many are still suffering and grieving. That's a pretty basic lesson to learn.

The Guardian's Chilcot Report Live coverage is here. If anybody else knows of any good online resources, please do chip in with them below.

The Tory leadership election is a sort of X Factor for choosing the antichrist

This current divide must be especially sad for the Tories. The idea that Europe, the place where they buy their cheese, the place where they took their first five mistresses on minibreaks, the place where they cried at Hitler’s bunker, this collection of potential second homes, this was the place that tore them apart. And so we have a Conservative leadership election, a sort of X Factor for choosing the antichrist. Already, the cast looks like the episode of Come Dine With Me they show in hell before Top Gear comes on.

Stephen Crabb has come under fire for links to a group that claims it can cure homosexuality, and, having had a quick look at him, he’s definitely cured me: his beaming face is like a grim party game where blindfolded children have to try to place the eyes on to an identikit photograph of a murderer.

The frontrunner, Theresa May, communicates something horrifying, not through her appearance, but rather her unique expression of unwavering, furious disgust. It is the expression some nameless, pitiless archon will wear 50 years from now as it signs a contract to rent out our city centres to pharmaceutical companies so they can crop-spray viruses and harvest antibodies from any survivors. It is the expression Lucifer wore when the other angels attempted an intervention. Surely May, of all people, could make a positive case for migration just by saying: “If you can’t see the potential of a free-moving workforce, simply imagine how great it would be if I fucked off somewhere else.” Bizarrely, it looks like she’ll be involved in a runoff against Andrea Leadsom, who was created by Nazi scientists as a response to Dame Vera Lynn.

Michael Gove needs to get 50 signatures, but at the moment he doesn’t look like he could persuade his mother to sign him off a cross-country run after a leukaemia diagnosis. And then there’s Liam Fox. I seem to remember some sort of opprobrium being attached to him. Whatever it was, no doubt there can’t have been much to it (even though he was forced to resign or something) or it wouldn’t be getting comprehensively buried every news cycle by Jeremy Corbyn not indicating when leaving a roundabout or something.


I figured what the situation needed right now was a dose of Frankie Boyle.

(Note for US readers: Frankie Boyle is a Scottish comedian, but like Mark Steel, a sharp cookie. He can be provocative and graphic, so maybe NSFW if your work is a wee bit sensitive.)

Farage, Murdoch, Lebedev and Fox break bread: as told by Lily Allen

He has railed against the “out of touch” media and political elites in the past. On Sunday, however, the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, attended a garden party with the media moguls Rupert Murdoch and Evgeny Lebedev, as well as the Tory leadership candidate Liam Fox. And the whole thing was documented on Twitter by Lily Allen.

Farage was pictured by the singer chatting to Murdoch and the host of the party, Lebedev. And a video she later deleted showed the Ukip leader smiling after she gave him a sarcastic hello.

{L-R: Murdoch, Lebedev, Farage. Dig the footwear.}

Later, when contacted by the Guardian, Allen said that both Fox and Farage had made a beeline for Murdoch as the guests were choosing their seats to make sure they were seated near him.

But it was the media boss himself for whom she reserved most of her ammunition, calling him Voldemort. In a video of the media boss “breaking bread” with the former defence secretary, she called them both “wankers”.


In some ways trivial, but an insight into the social world of the anti-elites.

Meanwhile, Tories, it's not a good look when Nigel Farage shows more social empathy than your main first-round leadership contender:

Farage 'disgusted' at May's refusal to promise EU nationals they can stay in UK
From Guardian Brexit Live coverage - all good news all the frikkin time.

How remain failed: the inside story of a doomed campaign

On Friday 10 June, five men charged with keeping Britain in the European Union gathered in a tiny, windowless office and stared into the abyss.

Just moments before, they had received an email from Andrew Cooper, a former Downing Street strategist and pollster for the official remain campaign, containing the daily “tracker” – the barometer of support among target segments of the electorate. It had dropped into the defeat zone. The cause was not mysterious. “Immigration was snuffing out our opportunity to talk about the economy,” Will Straw, the executive director of Britain Stronger In Europe, recalled.

Earlier that week, the top Tories fronting the leave campaign – Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – had dominated the news with promises to control the nation’s borders. The remain side’s message, that Brexit entailed deadly economic risk, was being drowned out, particularly in areas that traditionally supported Labour. Polls showed that many voters were unaware that a remain vote was the party’s official position, a confusion exacerbated by Jeremy Corbyn’s manifest ambivalence about the entire European project.

The vote was less than two weeks away, and the team of former political enemies needed to jump-start the stalled campaign machine. Straw was a former Labour parliamentary candidate. Stronger In’s head of strategy, Ryan Coetzee, had run the Liberal Democrat 2015 election campaign. They were joined by three Conservatives: Ameet Gill, director of strategy at No 10 Downing Street, Stephen Gilbert, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative party, and Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s communications chief.


The winners usually get to write history, but at the moment it looks like some of the losers in the UK's EU referendum are getting to do so, in pursuit of their own agendas.

There'll be other accounts and analyses of the dysfunction in the Remain campaign and how we got to where we are now - whole books, for sure - but this is one of the most comprehensive I've seen so far.

What lessons there are for the current US electoral campaign from events in such a different political context, I'm not sure, but some folks seem keen to draw them anyway, so it may serve as food for thought.

Book Review: Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy by Robert H. Frank

What role does luck play in economic success? In Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, Robert H. Frank argues that the wealthy tend to underestimate the role that chance plays in acquiring status and money, and explores how this consequently discourages support of taxation. While this short read could draw upon other discussions of luck to bolster its key claims, this is a convincing and engagingly written work, writes Dan McArthur.

Consider the owner and founder of a successful business. Did they make it all on their own, through hard work, dedication and talent, or did luck play a role in their success? Hard work and talent might be needed to identify an untapped market or a revolutionary business model, but our businessperson still required luck of several kinds. They were lucky that another entrepreneur didn’t get there first, or that an established company was unable to muscle in on their business. However, they were also lucky to be born in an affluent society where they could be educated for free in publicly funded schools, and where governments have invested in the roads on which their products are transported and in a police force to prevent their wealth from being stolen.

In Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, Robert H. Frank argues that wealthy people fail to appreciate the central role that luck plays in their success, and are thus unwilling to support taxation to fund public infrastructure that benefits everyone. Frank is an economist at Cornell University and a columnist for the New York Times, and is well known for popularising the idea of the ‘winner-take-all society’.


Drawing on behavioural economics and psychology, Frank discusses some of the cognitive biases that lead successful people to fail to appreciate the role of luck in their success. It seems to be harder to delay gratification and self-motivate if you believe that luck, rather than effort, plays an important role in your life. But overlooking the role of luck makes successful people more hostile to paying taxes. For Frank, in the US at least, this unwillingness to support higher taxes is seriously damaging physical and social infrastructure, including the roads, railways and public education on which the entire population depends. This under-investment in public goods is harmful even to the most successful members of a society, because they also benefit from public goods. The analogy he uses is that it is better to drive a $150,000 Porsche on well-maintained roads than a $333,000 Ferrari on a road full of potholes.


Chilcot report: MPs plan to impeach Tony Blair over Iraq War using ancient law

A number of MPs are seeking to impeach former prime minister Tony Blair using an ancient Parliamentary law.

The move, which has cross-party support, could be launched in the aftermath of the Chilcot Inquiry report because of the Labour leader’s alleged role in misleading Parliament over the Iraq War.

MPs believe Mr Blair, who was in office between 1997 and 2007, should be prosecuted for breaching his constitutional duties and taking the country into a conflict that resulted in the deaths of 179 British troops.

Not used since 1806, when Tory minister Lord Melville was charged for misappropriating official funds, the law is seen in Westminster as an alternative form of punishment if, as believed, Mr Blair will escape serious criticism in the Chilcot Inquiry report.


How much legs this story has, I've no idea, but it's likely to be part of a series of conjectures and rumblings you'll see this week in anticipation of the report's delivery on Wednesday.

I've heard rumors from people who may know what they're talking about that Chilcot will be something of a whitewash of the government's conduct, and will instead focus more on shortcomings in the military, and possibly in the intelligence community. The ICC has already indicated it has no standing to pass judgment on the decision-making that led to the war, but will be interested in any evidence in the report indicating lawbreaking and breaches of human rights by British soldiers etc.

Misleading Parliament in the run-up to war is a different issue. Whether any government - particularly the current one - will have an appetite to set a new precedent for such charges, even if it means skewering Labour in the current climate, I'm doubtful.

By Wednesday, we'll begin to find out. I think it's inevitably going to stir up unpleasant memories and anger among those of us who bitterly opposed the war and were demonized for doing so, and not least the families who lost loved ones during it, not to mention since. And a whole new generation has grown to political awareness in the intervening years, and may hear about some of what went on for the first time.

Will the media capitalize on that to add another dimension to Labour's turmoil at the moment? That's a rhetorical question. It's more whether they'll ask the right questions.

Thoughts on the Sociology of Brexit

Impossible to get down to four paragraphs on this one, so here are the headings/key points:

The geography reflects the economic crisis of the 1970s, not the 2010s

Handouts don’t produce gratitude

Brexit was not fuelled by a vision of the future

We now live in the age of data, not facts

The least ‘enslaved’ nation in the EU just threw off its ‘shackles’


The Mail has explained what Brexit means and its readers seem shocked

'TAKE A BOW, BRITAIN', the front page of today's pro-Leave Daily Mail urges.

Inside, as well as hailing the referendum as 'the day the quiet people stood up and roared' and rubbishing the 'disaster' that was project fear, it also explores what Brexit means for its readers: the pound is worth less which means holidays cost more, Britons will lose the right to work, buy holiday homes, travel and study without restrictions in the EU and pensions have lost value. All in all, some things to worry its readers even if they share the paper's politics.

And in the comments online underneath the story, many of those readers seen dumbfounded, shocked and ever so slightly incredulous:

Full story: http://indy100.independent.co.uk/article/the-mail-has-explained-what-brexit-means-and-its-readers-seem-shocked--Z1772TI4aNW

The Mail's original story from 24 June is here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3659137/So-does-mean-Brexit-affect-holiday-money-mortgages-passports-health-cover.html

For once, it is worth reading the comments ...

Michael Gove isn't driven only by personal ambition, but his wife's

The only sensible conclusion we can draw from this week’s events is that we need more Etonians from the Bullingdon Club running the country. All that money on school fees guarantees its pupils emerge with an assured presence – impeccable characters who always make calm rational choices.

Hopefully, Cameron and Boris met up last night over a brandy and agreed, “Hmmm, it only took us a few years between us to wreck Britain, now let’s try somewhere more challenging like China.”

Because, with what’s left, nothing surprises you. Soon it will seem normal to say, “Oh, Bruce Forsyth has become leader of the Liberal Democrats”, and to see Jay-Z is standing for Labour leader with an announcement, “Hey, ya ready for a press statement? I said, ya need a leader that looks regal, done stuff illegal, drives faster than a hunting beagle, so vote for me, not this bitch Eagle.”

The people we have to feel really sorry for are those who voted Leave and now regret it. How were they to know that a vote to Leave would be counted as a vote to Leave?


The ever-reliable Mark Steel sums up events of the last week.

Don't blame Jeremy Corbyn - polls show only Tory voters could have kept us in the EU

The Labour Party was already having enough difficulty keeping itself together without a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union coming along. The party was reeling from the election of a leader who was not only well to the left of most of his parliamentary colleagues but also did not obviously have the personal skills needed to do the job. However, the referendum on the EU compounded the party’s difficulties by exposing another fissure - between its traditional white working class supporters and its public sector socially liberal middle class ones (including the vast bulk of its parliamentary party). In combination the two divisions threaten to tear the party {a}part.

Elections in the UK are usually about the left and right of politics, whether the government should do a little more or a little less. On this Labour’s working and middle class supporters tend to be at one with each other. They all, albeit to varying degrees, want the state to do more, to curb the excesses of the capitalist market and produce more equitable outcomes. So long as political conflict focuses on this issue they are a viable electoral coalition.


Corbyn not to blame

Against this backdrop it was hardly surprising that across Britain as a whole only around two-thirds (63 per cent according to Lord Ashcroft, 65 per cent as estimated by YouGov) of those who voted Labour in 2015 voted to remain in the EU. The party was never likely to achieve much more than this. And at least the party’s coalition did not fracture as badly as the one that backed David Cameron a year ago; well under half (42 per cent according to Lord Ashcroft, 39 per cent, YouGov) of those who voted Conservative in 2015 voted to remain. The real source of the Remain side’s difficulties was the failure of David Cameron to bring his own voters on board.


Yet it is Jeremy Corbyn who is taking the blame ... inside much of the Labour party for the Remain side’s failure, as the party’s pre-existing division about his leadership interacts with the division made manifest by the referendum. Of course, MPs are entitled to make their own judgement about Mr Corbyn’s capabilities for the job, a judgement that his performance in the referendum appears to have reinforced and which they may feel has become more pressing given that the outcome of the referendum makes an early general election more likely. But in truth there is little in the pattern of the results of the referendum to suggest that Mr Corbyn was personally responsible for Remain’s defeat. The referendum outcome looks more like a pretext for an attempt to secure Mr Corbyn’s removal than a reason.


This article is almost impossible to chop down to four representative paragraphs (and needs a decent proofread - quite a few choppy edits and typos) - you'll have to click through to read the whole thing to understand the author's argument.

What partisan hack wrote it? - A name those who've watched UK election night result programmes over many years may recognize: John Curtice.

X-posted in UK Group: http://www.democraticunderground.com/108810890

John Curtice isn't a name I'd expect many US DUers to know. He's a familiar figure in the UK because he's been the resident poll analyst during TV election results coverage since the 1970s. He's not Nate Silver - he seldom makes categoric predictions, but I trust him to parse real election results when they're known.

The full article backs up the assertion in the headline with detailed analysis of the results. The blaming of Corbyn is opportunistic.

The conclusions Curtice reaches include some home truths for all of us who are trying to understand what happened, why, and what may need to be done as a result. It's more nuanced than many of us have been, and focuses clearly on the effects of globalization.

It's just one analysis, but in view of Curtice's experience and long-term perspective, I have to give it due weight.
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