Jump to content
The Education Forum
  • Announcements

    • Evan Burton

      OPEN REGISTRATION BY EMAIL ONLY !!! PLEASE CLICK ON THIS TITLE FOR INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR REGISTRATION!:   06/03/2017

      We have 5 requirements for registration: 1.Sign up with your real name. (This will be your Username) 2.A valid email address 3.Your agreement to the Terms of Use, seen here: http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=21403. 4. Your photo for use as an avatar  5.. A brief biography. We will post these for you, and send you your password. We cannot approve membership until we receive these. If you are interested, please send an email to: edforumbusiness@outlook.com We look forward to having you as a part of the Forum! Sincerely, The Education Forum Team

Simon Jenkins

Members
  • Content count

    36
  • Joined

  • Last visited

About Simon Jenkins

  • Rank
    Member
  1. After a month of partying on deck, British politics is back in the engine room. It's the economy, stupid, again. But what a difference a good party makes. Yesterday's pre-budget statement by Alistair Darling was in truth George Osborne's first budget. All its most sensational proposals were headlined in Osborne's speech last week, including taxes on non-domiciled residents, taxes on aircraft, and relief of inheritance tax. Not since Labour adopted Thatcherism in 1997 has a new administration relied so shamelessly on its opponent for inspiration. Darling was clearly in a bind. He had prepared a pre-election budget intended to shoot a number of Tory foxes, and was left shooting them to no effect. He also had to cover for the sorry inheritance left him by his predecessor, the prime minister. Britain is entering a period of lower economic growth without the cushion of a budget surplus and with a heavy debt burden. It has the largest budget deficit of any of the EU-15, and borrowing that, though reduced, would make Brown's old mistress, Prudence, blush. Given Darling's eagerness not to frighten the markets, he has increased taxes by some £2bn (thanks in part to the Tory proposals) but continued the cutbacks in public service increases of previous spending rounds. Only health has an above-inflation award, lower than previously experienced but possibly higher than the NHS can spend wisely. Darling even turned to the Tory mantra of efficiency savings and "cutting government waste". He claimed to have identified a staggering £50bn of waste in the public sector over the current decade, presumably again Brown's doing. These figures are rarely specified, but they do not include the now weekly revelations of collapsed agencies and defunct computer projects. We heard nothing of £16bn on ID cards, £12bn on an unnecessary NHS computer, £6bn on a defence mainframe, and further billions blown on offender management, rural payments, abandoned hospitals, tax-credit losses and consultancy fees. Someone might even care to cast a sceptical eye on the ludicrous sums being splurged on the out-of-control Olympics project, conservatively costed at £9bn. This is all serious money, the price of sheer incompetence in modern British government. It was extraordinary that Darling could find nothing to sweeten the pill bar what he read in Osborne's speech. He was forced to acknowledge the most strident message that went out from this year's conferences, that taxes matter. The Tory tax proposals, not Cameron's conference speech, are what blew away the polls. Taxes rewrote whatever Darling had originally intended to say. This message needs handling with care. The public certainly hates inheritance tax, despite it being the fairest impost in the book - a tax on windfall, unearned wealth. But it has become identified with taxing thrift, family values, home and hearth and even bereavement. No tax carries more emotional baggage. The Tory focus groups picked this up and Labour's did not. Less easy to read were the other changes. Those to non-domicile taxation were overdue. This avoidance dodge was politically indefensible. You cannot excuse the rich from taxes because they might go and work in Monaco, and then tell ordinary mortals to cross-subsidise them. For 10 years Brown had this loophole staring in his face, but was so busy cosying up to the rich and famous that he believed their blackmail - or rather bluff - that Britain's financial services would be devastated if he closed it. It was like registering the City of London in Liberia. The same scam operated for private equity operators. One, Jon Moulton of the aptly named Alchemy Partners, was reported as telling a chartered accountants' conference that many private equity punters, resident British citizens, paid no tax at all. To be in the non-dom and private equity game is clearly to be excused all fiscal duties. Brown clearly shared the view of the New York society queen Leona Helmsley, that "only the little people pay taxes". He has now had to be taught a lesson in redistributive politics by the Tory party. Yet all this is playing in the fiscal foothills. It does not approach the great mountains that tower over public finance, those of pensions, social security and care of the elderly. Here the costs are astronomical and, as a result, unmentionable. The remedy lies only in a seismic shift in income tax or a redistribution of social services from centre to locality and from central to local taxes. This is the tax equivalent of Mordor, before which both Brown and Cameron are quivering hobbits. The public will not tolerate new personal taxes when they do not trust those receiving them to spend them wisely. They suspect, with good reason, that extra taxes will be blown on doctors' pay or useless computers, on police bureaucracy or extravagant academy schools. They crave accountability and do not get it. Evidence from across Europe (gathered in the government's 2004 "balance of funding" review) suggests that the public will pay more taxes only when they can see what these are for. They will even accept variations in service levels provided they have voted for them directly, and given some equalisation between rich and poor areas. They no longer regard council tax as meeting that remit. It is a central tax in all but name, and hugely unpopular. The way forward can only be the European way, to devolve a major slice of spending on public services back to where it was before the mid-1980s, to local authorities. There it must be covered by some element of ability to pay - as bravely proposed by the Liberal Democrats. Darling cannot go on financing central programmes with above-inflation rises in a partly regressive property tax. There is no alternative, one day, to some form of local income tax. Council tax could be cut by a quarter with roughly one pence on income tax. Scotland is even now contemplating such a proposal. Yet ask Brown or Cameron for a view on such fiscal devolution, and they will look as if you wanted to murder their cat. Giving taxpayers some scope to determine the level and quality of their public services is the only way to sustain future rises in public expenditure. That scope can come only through the local ballot, over health, police, education or whatever. Local income-related taxes exist in almost every country in Europe. They are intelligent taxation. Only in Britain do they scare party leaders witless. http://business.guardian.co.uk/prebudgetre...2187404,00.html
  2. The Corruption of New Labour: Britain’s Watergate?

    Alastair Campbell's confessions of a Svengali at the court of King Blair are mind-bogglingly tedious. A great diary should be true to its moment in time. Censor it into a work of political propaganda and it ceases to be a first rough draft of history, just a first rough distortion. As for the "Blair years", it is hard to believe that they were one long jeer against the media. Blair's Cheshire cat has clearly eaten a rotten mouse. The Blairs never did dignity. We have had Cherie's abusive "We won't miss you" shouted at the press. Now we have Campbell's macho obscenities and complaints of "a culture of press negativity", and this from a former columnist whose collusion with the Labour leadership to sabotage the Major government made old-fashioned press bias seem like driven snow. The book has been launched as if it were a royal wedding dress, with leaked extracts, blogs and gossipy titbits about "Diana". No interviewers or reviewers were allowed advance copies lest they pick up on the wrong bits or in any way dent Campbell's massive sensitivity and self-importance. Publishers have a lot to answer for these days: bribing all political eras to end not with a bang but a whinger. The truth is that Campbell was a first-class press officer and his book is at its best as an account of derring-do in the Westminster lobby. He genuinely transformed the game of political propaganda, making it proactive and aggressive rather than reactive and defensive. He understood the need "to change the terms of trade" in media relations, to ensure uncluttered news management and keep presentation on top of events. He must have read Goebbels. A modern political movement needs more than a press officer. It needs a cheerleader with only one loyalty, to the boss. From his assumption of the leadership in 1994, Blair worked solidly to eradicate all checks on his office, first from the Labour party and then from the constitution. This left the press as the one critic beyond his control, a daily mirror held up by Campbell and Peter Mandelson, with a running commentary on his performance. Campbell's shielding of his weak and gullible boss from the world's most reptilian press was easy to ridicule. But after Labour's experience at the media's hands, he was right to take no prisoners. As Team Blair stripped Labour of its residual socialism and prepared for the great Thatcherite U-turn, Campbell's keeping the lid on what was happening was masterly. Conventional wisdom holds that Blair should never have brought Campbell into Downing Street. His ego was too big and his responses too oppositional, grating and antagonistic. He treated government as if it were a football team that needed only a foul-mouthed manager to win a match. Mandelson, who had other flaws, was a more subtle spin doctor and had at least a passing interest in the reality of government. But Blair clearly craved Campbell, kept him on and left him to wrestle with an outdated government information machine that Campbell expertly reformed even as it tore him apart emotionally. Campbell's failing was the opposite of the one usually laid at his door, that he used the power of government to corrupt the press. From the moment he entered Downing Street he used the power of the press to corrupt government. To him a good decision was anything that next day's Murdoch or Rothermere editors would applaud. If Campbell declared a policy unacceptable to the media (such as drugs reform), it was dead. Since he operated with the authority of the prime minister, ministers had to take his word as gospel. Soon government was operating on a strict 24-hour cycle, measured not in policy outcomes but in headlines, news snatches, soundbites. Success was a good picture that edged out a bad one, an "initiative", however vacuous, that smothered bad news. The removal of (most of) Gordon Brown and the Treasury from the diaries unbalances the central tension in all governments and thus leaves the play without a villain. The memoirs of the Downing Street adviser Derek Scott, even David Blunkett, are more revealing. We are left with the author's pitying self-regard, enlivened by his boyish delight in dallying at the elbow of power. He falls for Diana, adores Clinton, admires Donald Rumsfeld and is played like a fish by George Bush ("one of my biggest supporters"). But when he starts playing the politician as propagandist for the war in Iraq, he flies too close to the sun. The hundred or so pages on "why I was right (and the BBC wrong) on weapons of mass destruction" now read as fantasy, given the frantic doctoring that we know was made under Campbell's aegis. These passages should have gone the way of Brown v Blair. As for the great defence, that everyone in Downing Street "thought we were doing the right thing at the time", I am sure Chamberlain thought the same at Munich, and Eden at Suez. We pay our masters not to think the right things but to do them. The real casualty of this overblown saga is not Campbell but the man who overpromoted him. It was Blair who, on coming to office, ordered the cabinet secretary, Robin Butler, to replace civil servants with his courtiers. It was Blair who moved Campbell into the old chief whip's office and gave media strategy primacy over government strategy. It was Blair who wanted presentation wherever he went, like a film star with a hairdresser in tow. He seemed to regard Campbell as his answer to Cherie's Carole Caplin, as his political style guru. Blair should have seen the damage that Campbell's ubiquity and management style were doing to the workings of his government. How could there be open cabinet discussion when the prime minister's henchman was in the room jotting down every word of dissent, with added bile, for leaking to the press if need be? It made ministers unwilling to take risks, for fear of what the press, and Campbell, might say on the morrow. It fed the publicity machine with cod statistics while turning every internal debate into a flaming row. It snapped the links between policy and delivery and left Blair after 2003 miserable and floundering. The cruel photograph chosen for the cover says it all. Blair gazes up into Campbell's eyes like an obedient labrador. The penultimate line in the book is equally bathetic: "As I left, TB had said, 'You do realise that I will phone you every day, don't you.'" True or false? Spin or substance? Who cares? http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Colum...2123362,00.html
  3. Tony Blair and BAE Systems

    Remember, any government scandal always turns out worse than first it seems. Remember too that if it involves an assertion by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, race to the kitchen and count your spoons. I thought that little more could be squeezed from the Guardian's BAE/Saudi corruption story until the BBC's revelation on Monday that long-denied bribes had actually been countersigned by the Ministry of Defence. Those who jeer at the ethical standards of foreign governments should understand that these officials, were they in Washington, would now be in handcuffs. Even the French, since the 1998 OECD anti-corruption convention, have held eight prosecutions for international bribery. Britain has held none. If the al-Yamamah case ever comes within sight of justice, it will be no thanks to an honest prime minister, an alert cabinet, a Wilberforce-style MP, a government auditor, a policeman or a lobbyist. It will be thanks to a muck-raking media, described yesterday by Tony Blair as a "feral beast" of cynicism. I recall a British civil servant seeing a picture of a veiled Margaret Thatcher descending the steps of a jet to grovel at the feet of some Saudi princes at the time of the 1985 al-Yamamah contract. "This," he said with a sigh, "will end in tears." Thatcher was also negotiating the Pergau dam deal with Malaysia, heavy with kickbacks. Tony Blair did likewise with the Tanzania radar contract, a third of which comprised bribes. Prime ministers seemed to think themselves above the law. In both latter cases they overruled ministers and officials. The £43bn al-Yamamah deal was not so much about defence as laundering huge sums of surplus oil revenue into the pockets of the Saudi rich, distorting Britain's heavily subsidised defence industry into the bargain. The Saudis do not fight. They have no plausible army. Their purchases of overpriced ships and planes must be operated by mercenaries from Pakistan and elsewhere and sit rusting in docks and deserts. Saudi foreign policy is based shrewdly on paying for protection from fundamentalist groups that might stir internal dissent. The Saudis financed the Taliban in Afghanistan, and intelligence suggests this is continuing through Gulf "charities". It is inconceivable that Saudi intelligence, so highly valued by Blair, was ignorant of Osama bin Laden's activities before 9/11, which were run mostly by Saudis. The threat to the present Riyadh regime is internal and is not to be met by Tornados and British destroyers. It is met with brutal repression, torture, sharia law and medieval treatment of women and foreigners. Yet this is a government that Britain's most sanctimonious of prime ministers calls a "good friend of ours". Industry estimates put the price of 120 al-Yamamah jets at roughly 30% over cost. While America was excluded from the contract by its Israel lobby, the alternative supplier, France, must be assumed not to have overbid the British but to have declined to pay so much "commission". This went chiefly to the very man who negotiated the deal, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The money, accepted as more than £1bn, was paid to a Riggs Bank account in Washington - now closed - to cover his gigantic jet and other luxuries. Al-Yamamah was not just the biggest arms contract in the world but also the most opaque. It was awarded unprecedented protection from audit, a unique Bank of England facility, and payments through offshore companies into various Swiss bank accounts. All prime ministers and defence secretaries have taken oaths of allegiance to these mysteries as a mark of their machismo. All participants protest their innocence of wrongdoing, yet go berserk at the mention of the National Audit Office, the Serious Fraud Office or, more recently, the OECD. I repeat, in any honest country they would be in jail. BAE announced this week that the former lord chief justice, Lord Woolf no less, had been ensnared into "heading an inquiry into the company's operations and ethical practices", but he had been warned off al-Yamamah, presumably because it is considered beyond the power of whitewash. When BP asked James Baker, a former US secretary of state, to look into its safety record, he was told specifically to examine the Texas City catastrophe, the reason for his appointment. Lord Woolf must be soft in the head to fall for BAE's ruse. Goldsmith announced last December that the SFO's head, Robert Wardle, had spontaneously recalled his investigators from Switzerland for "reasons of national security". Goldsmith briefed that the £2m investigation, which he had approved, was collapsing for lack of evidence. This is now seen as the reverse of the truth. The inquiry was called off for gathering too much incriminating evidence, after frantic lobbying by the prime minister. This indicated that BAE's protestations of innocence were untrue. Bandar's "commission" went way beyond Trade Department protocols stipulating that no more than 5% of a contract value be paid to "local agents". Far worse for Goldsmith, the inquiry had discovered the government's own fingerprints all over the disbursements from the Bank of England. Panorama revealed that the Ministry of Defence specifically processed, and may still be processing, quarterly invoices for £30m to Bandar. It so happens that the head of the relevant MoD sales unit, Alan Garwood, is a former BAE executive. He reports to Lord Drayson, the arms sales minister, who gave Labour £500,000 within weeks of being made a life peer in 2004 and described himself as "entrepreneur-in-residence" at the Said Business School in Oxford. Wafic Said was Bandar's aide in negotiating al-Yamamah and is assumed to figure among its many beneficiaries. That Blair should have made Drayson political overseer of the Bandar payments cannot be a coincidence. As the onion skins peel back, al-Yamamah emerges as not a defence contract at all but a vehicle for financial "skimming" by rich Saudis (and Britons such as Mark Thatcher). While British governments could argue that before the 1998 convention such payments were legal, that has not been so since and they were specifically outlawed in 2001. Whitehall has been complicit in a colossal, secret and illegal act of bribery to win a grossly inflated contract. That is why Goldsmith had to suppress the SFO inquiry and why BAE dare not let Lord Woolf near the stinking trough. And Blair has the gall to call the press cynical. http://www.guardian.co.uk/armstrade/story/0,,2101560,00.html
  4. The Corruption of New Labour: Britain’s Watergate?

    Remember, any government scandal always turns out worse than first it seems. Remember too that if it involves an assertion by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, race to the kitchen and count your spoons. I thought that little more could be squeezed from the Guardian's BAE/Saudi corruption story until the BBC's revelation on Monday that long-denied bribes had actually been countersigned by the Ministry of Defence. Those who jeer at the ethical standards of foreign governments should understand that these officials, were they in Washington, would now be in handcuffs. Even the French, since the 1998 OECD anti-corruption convention, have held eight prosecutions for international bribery. Britain has held none. If the al-Yamamah case ever comes within sight of justice, it will be no thanks to an honest prime minister, an alert cabinet, a Wilberforce-style MP, a government auditor, a policeman or a lobbyist. It will be thanks to a muck-raking media, described yesterday by Tony Blair as a "feral beast" of cynicism. I recall a British civil servant seeing a picture of a veiled Margaret Thatcher descending the steps of a jet to grovel at the feet of some Saudi princes at the time of the 1985 al-Yamamah contract. "This," he said with a sigh, "will end in tears." Thatcher was also negotiating the Pergau dam deal with Malaysia, heavy with kickbacks. Tony Blair did likewise with the Tanzania radar contract, a third of which comprised bribes. Prime ministers seemed to think themselves above the law. In both latter cases they overruled ministers and officials. The £43bn al-Yamamah deal was not so much about defence as laundering huge sums of surplus oil revenue into the pockets of the Saudi rich, distorting Britain's heavily subsidised defence industry into the bargain. The Saudis do not fight. They have no plausible army. Their purchases of overpriced ships and planes must be operated by mercenaries from Pakistan and elsewhere and sit rusting in docks and deserts. Saudi foreign policy is based shrewdly on paying for protection from fundamentalist groups that might stir internal dissent. The Saudis financed the Taliban in Afghanistan, and intelligence suggests this is continuing through Gulf "charities". It is inconceivable that Saudi intelligence, so highly valued by Blair, was ignorant of Osama bin Laden's activities before 9/11, which were run mostly by Saudis. The threat to the present Riyadh regime is internal and is not to be met by Tornados and British destroyers. It is met with brutal repression, torture, sharia law and medieval treatment of women and foreigners. Yet this is a government that Britain's most sanctimonious of prime ministers calls a "good friend of ours". Industry estimates put the price of 120 al-Yamamah jets at roughly 30% over cost. While America was excluded from the contract by its Israel lobby, the alternative supplier, France, must be assumed not to have overbid the British but to have declined to pay so much "commission". This went chiefly to the very man who negotiated the deal, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The money, accepted as more than £1bn, was paid to a Riggs Bank account in Washington - now closed - to cover his gigantic jet and other luxuries. Al-Yamamah was not just the biggest arms contract in the world but also the most opaque. It was awarded unprecedented protection from audit, a unique Bank of England facility, and payments through offshore companies into various Swiss bank accounts. All prime ministers and defence secretaries have taken oaths of allegiance to these mysteries as a mark of their machismo. All participants protest their innocence of wrongdoing, yet go berserk at the mention of the National Audit Office, the Serious Fraud Office or, more recently, the OECD. I repeat, in any honest country they would be in jail. BAE announced this week that the former lord chief justice, Lord Woolf no less, had been ensnared into "heading an inquiry into the company's operations and ethical practices", but he had been warned off al-Yamamah, presumably because it is considered beyond the power of whitewash. When BP asked James Baker, a former US secretary of state, to look into its safety record, he was told specifically to examine the Texas City catastrophe, the reason for his appointment. Lord Woolf must be soft in the head to fall for BAE's ruse. Goldsmith announced last December that the SFO's head, Robert Wardle, had spontaneously recalled his investigators from Switzerland for "reasons of national security". Goldsmith briefed that the £2m investigation, which he had approved, was collapsing for lack of evidence. This is now seen as the reverse of the truth. The inquiry was called off for gathering too much incriminating evidence, after frantic lobbying by the prime minister. This indicated that BAE's protestations of innocence were untrue. Bandar's "commission" went way beyond Trade Department protocols stipulating that no more than 5% of a contract value be paid to "local agents". Far worse for Goldsmith, the inquiry had discovered the government's own fingerprints all over the disbursements from the Bank of England. Panorama revealed that the Ministry of Defence specifically processed, and may still be processing, quarterly invoices for £30m to Bandar. It so happens that the head of the relevant MoD sales unit, Alan Garwood, is a former BAE executive. He reports to Lord Drayson, the arms sales minister, who gave Labour £500,000 within weeks of being made a life peer in 2004 and described himself as "entrepreneur-in-residence" at the Said Business School in Oxford. Wafic Said was Bandar's aide in negotiating al-Yamamah and is assumed to figure among its many beneficiaries. That Blair should have made Drayson political overseer of the Bandar payments cannot be a coincidence. As the onion skins peel back, al-Yamamah emerges as not a defence contract at all but a vehicle for financial "skimming" by rich Saudis (and Britons such as Mark Thatcher). While British governments could argue that before the 1998 convention such payments were legal, that has not been so since and they were specifically outlawed in 2001. Whitehall has been complicit in a colossal, secret and illegal act of bribery to win a grossly inflated contract. That is why Goldsmith had to suppress the SFO inquiry and why BAE dare not let Lord Woolf near the stinking trough. And Blair has the gall to call the press cynical. http://www.guardian.co.uk/armstrade/story/0,,2101560,00.html
  5. House of Lords: A Political Conspiracy

    The more I read about the peerages game, the more I want to shout: "Why not just sell the bloody things on the open market and give the cash to the poor?" Cash for honours under all three main parties has reduced from absurdity to obscenity the way Britain chooses at least some of its parliamentarians. Emerging states used to wonder at the "mother of parliaments", much as they marvelled at the NHS. Now they fall about laughing. Parliament has long been run as a fiefdom of the executive but only now has the corruption of the upper house become so blatant as to attract the attention of the police... Britain has no need for a parliamentary chamber as retirement home for carthorses. They have their West End clubs. Besides, why does democracy require two separate chambers elected on a party basis? Were a second chamber to be chosen, as in many senates abroad, on a different basis - say territorially, by direct or indirect election from local counties and cities - it might have some virtue. It would pluralise the input to Westminster debate and decentralise the culture of British politics. But such a senate stands no chance of emerging from the present debate, dominated as it is by MPs who are eager to cling to "life after death". In which case, appointment is preferable to election, the more so the more patronage is removed from Downing Street. The purpose of a second chamber is not to rule but to debate and revise. It need not have the legitimacy of the ballot. Even now the two groups of peers regarded as most worth retaining in a reformed chamber - ex-officio bishops and lawyers - lack any political legitimacy. If these professions have reserved quotas, why not others? A chamber appointed by an independent crown commission, subject to representative quotas (but excluding former MPs), would yield what parliament most lacks - geographical and occupational diversity. The basis of nomination would be for the commission to decide. But there should be no contact with political parties, and certainly not Jack Straw's preference for 30% political appointees. There is no reason why such a house should be politically irresponsible. If the Commons is democratic but not pluralist, let the Lords be pluralist if not democratic. The British establishment is no longer a class or tribe. It is a shifting network of power relationships centred on Downing Street. This network was once checked by the customs of Whitehall and the courtesies shown towards parliament and the courts. These checks have been replaced by the anarcho-Bonapartism of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The House of Lords has become one of this establishment's more egregious baubles, as well as being an unofficial source of funds. Already the establishment is looking after its own. Seeing revenue from honours vanishing, it has ordered Sir Hayden Phillips to find the cash from elsewhere. Guess where? The taxpayer is to be fined the money the politicians claim they were not getting from the rich. It is a dreadful exchange, and one Sir Hayden should not have conceded. Nor is that all. Seeing the other side of the bargain - peerages - also under threat, MPs will vote tonight to retain the upper house as offering the same trough of patronage. They will vote to keep it within their professional charge. Nothing will change. Money will flow. The House of Lords will look much as before. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2028034,00.html
  6. John Prescott and Philip Anschutz

    Gambling proliferates in Britain, from bingo to betting on horses and dogs, scratchcards, raffles, lotteries, fruit machines and poker clubs. There are casinos aplenty already. Anyone wanting to pull a one-armed bandit or dabble in roulette, blackjack and poker can find somewhere to do so. As a result, the stake value of gambling under Labour has soared from £7bn in 1997 to £48bn in 2005, plus a further £5bn on the lottery. This is hardly an industry that seems in chronic need of government support. Most countries are paranoid about supercasinos, treating them like gargantuan opium dens. Across America they are confined to a few resorts such as Las Vegas and to native American reservations (such as the "world's biggest" at the Pequots' Foxwoods casino, in Connecticut). The federal government has also recently declared all online gaming illegal. Russia is restricting gambling to designated zones from 2009. Both countries clearly regard easy access to betting as a social menace - as does most of Europe. So what persuaded Tessa Jowell to welcome supercasinos to Britain's shores with open arms? The answer is that the Las Vegas cartel, already under pressure at home, targeted Britain as the "soft underbelly" of new-wave gaming in Europe. Either the law or the mafia had the market sewn up in Scandinavia, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Blair's government was regarded as an easy touch, and tens of millions of pounds were spent lobbying for it. Philip Anschutz invited John Prescott to his Colorado ranch not for the colour of his eyes. Anschutz's interest in the dome was as a supercasino, as he made abundantly clear. The only amazement is that none of the Vegas money appears to have reached Labour party coffers (or will I have to eat these words?) Blair and Jowell capitulated with astonishing speed. They passed no laws against online gaming. Under the 2005 act Jowell said she wanted not one but 40 supercasinos and was beaten back only by the massed ranks of the church and anti-addiction lobbies. She did not take no for an answer. She retreated from 40 to eight and then to just one, an inexplicable outcome. Why make big punters burn petrol crossing the country to Manchester rather than stay closer to home? Why benefit just one operator and eliminate competition? If super-gambling is to be suppressed, stop it. If not, leave it to the free market. The appearance of limp-wristed semi-regulation was incoherent, like a government trying to be half a virgin. Jowell's department seems unable to carry the weight of moral responsibility placed on it. Under pressure from the drinks lobby she legislated to liberate alcohol consumption in pubs across the land - while those who supply cannabis and ecstasy in those same pubs are imprisoned in ever greater numbers. She allows thousands to be crammed into basement raves across England's cities, yet persecutes any church or social club that dares to put on a string quartet. She is for more gambling yet against "problem gaming". There is no rhyme or reason to her nannydom. Whenever the government tries to ban something people enjoy, it makes a mess. It tried to ban off-course horse-race betting and had to capitulate to the high-street betting shop. In an earlier age it capitulated to the gin shop and the brothel, and then half-uncapitulated to the latter. Now it is trying to pretend that it disapproves of high-stakes casino gambling while at the same time wishing to appease the casino lobby. I imagine this whole argument is on the way to oblivion. The supercasino is so unappealing (and now inconveniently located) as to be easily undercut by smaller local ones and by internet sites. In a few years we shall be reading of casino bankruptcies and closures. The free market will make decisions that ministers find it hard to make for themselves. The one question remaining is by what moral compass the cabinet is guided. How can Jowell and her colleagues patronise the alcohol and gambling lobbies and yet blindly repress other indulgences and addictions, notably street drugs. Why are they filling city centres with drunks and gamblers yet filling prisons with drug users? The obvious answer to the assault of the supercasino lobby would have been to leave decisions to the cities in which operators wanted to locate their premises and to decide on size and regional impact if necessary at planning appeal. As long as gambling is legal and Blackpool council wants a larger casino, it should not be the business of London or Jowell or the cabinet to say no. This is not a matter of postcode morality but of postcode choice. Instead the government has handed millions of pounds and thousands of jobs to Manchester, which does not need them, and denied them to Blackpool, which does. It is plain unfair. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...2002422,00.html
  7. The Corruption of New Labour: Britain’s Watergate?

    Gambling proliferates in Britain, from bingo to betting on horses and dogs, scratchcards, raffles, lotteries, fruit machines and poker clubs. There are casinos aplenty already. Anyone wanting to pull a one-armed bandit or dabble in roulette, blackjack and poker can find somewhere to do so. As a result, the stake value of gambling under Labour has soared from £7bn in 1997 to £48bn in 2005, plus a further £5bn on the lottery. This is hardly an industry that seems in chronic need of government support. Most countries are paranoid about supercasinos, treating them like gargantuan opium dens. Across America they are confined to a few resorts such as Las Vegas and to native American reservations (such as the "world's biggest" at the Pequots' Foxwoods casino, in Connecticut). The federal government has also recently declared all online gaming illegal. Russia is restricting gambling to designated zones from 2009. Both countries clearly regard easy access to betting as a social menace - as does most of Europe. So what persuaded Tessa Jowell to welcome supercasinos to Britain's shores with open arms? The answer is that the Las Vegas cartel, already under pressure at home, targeted Britain as the "soft underbelly" of new-wave gaming in Europe. Either the law or the mafia had the market sewn up in Scandinavia, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Blair's government was regarded as an easy touch, and tens of millions of pounds were spent lobbying for it. Philip Anschutz invited John Prescott to his Colorado ranch not for the colour of his eyes. Anschutz's interest in the dome was as a supercasino, as he made abundantly clear. The only amazement is that none of the Vegas money appears to have reached Labour party coffers (or will I have to eat these words?) Blair and Jowell capitulated with astonishing speed. They passed no laws against online gaming. Under the 2005 act Jowell said she wanted not one but 40 supercasinos and was beaten back only by the massed ranks of the church and anti-addiction lobbies. She did not take no for an answer. She retreated from 40 to eight and then to just one, an inexplicable outcome. Why make big punters burn petrol crossing the country to Manchester rather than stay closer to home? Why benefit just one operator and eliminate competition? If super-gambling is to be suppressed, stop it. If not, leave it to the free market. The appearance of limp-wristed semi-regulation was incoherent, like a government trying to be half a virgin. Jowell's department seems unable to carry the weight of moral responsibility placed on it. Under pressure from the drinks lobby she legislated to liberate alcohol consumption in pubs across the land - while those who supply cannabis and ecstasy in those same pubs are imprisoned in ever greater numbers. She allows thousands to be crammed into basement raves across England's cities, yet persecutes any church or social club that dares to put on a string quartet. She is for more gambling yet against "problem gaming". There is no rhyme or reason to her nannydom. Whenever the government tries to ban something people enjoy, it makes a mess. It tried to ban off-course horse-race betting and had to capitulate to the high-street betting shop. In an earlier age it capitulated to the gin shop and the brothel, and then half-uncapitulated to the latter. Now it is trying to pretend that it disapproves of high-stakes casino gambling while at the same time wishing to appease the casino lobby. I imagine this whole argument is on the way to oblivion. The supercasino is so unappealing (and now inconveniently located) as to be easily undercut by smaller local ones and by internet sites. In a few years we shall be reading of casino bankruptcies and closures. The free market will make decisions that ministers find it hard to make for themselves. The one question remaining is by what moral compass the cabinet is guided. How can Jowell and her colleagues patronise the alcohol and gambling lobbies and yet blindly repress other indulgences and addictions, notably street drugs. Why are they filling city centres with drunks and gamblers yet filling prisons with drug users? The obvious answer to the assault of the supercasino lobby would have been to leave decisions to the cities in which operators wanted to locate their premises and to decide on size and regional impact if necessary at planning appeal. As long as gambling is legal and Blackpool council wants a larger casino, it should not be the business of London or Jowell or the cabinet to say no. This is not a matter of postcode morality but of postcode choice. Instead the government has handed millions of pounds and thousands of jobs to Manchester, which does not need them, and denied them to Blackpool, which does. It is plain unfair. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...2002422,00.html
  8. I rise each morning, shave with soap and razor, don clothes of cotton and wool, read a paper, drink a coffee heated by gas or electricity and go to work with the aid of petrol and an internal combustion engine. At a centrally heated office I type on a Qwerty keyboard; I might later visit a pub or theatre. Most people I know do likewise. Not one of these activities has altered qualitatively over the past century, while in the previous hundred years they altered beyond recognition. We do not live in the age of technological revolution. We live in the age of technological stasis, but do not realise it. We watch the future and have stopped watching the present. When I finish reading most books, they hang around on shelves, prop up tables or go to friends. David Edgerton's The Shock of the Old is a book I can use. I can take it in two hands and bash it over the heads of every techno-nerd, computer geek and neophiliac futurologist I meet. Edgerton is a historian of science at Imperial College in London and must be a brave man. He has taken each one of his colleagues' vested interests and stamped on it with hobnailed boots. No, research and development do not equate with economic progress. No, the computer is not a stunning technological advance, just an extension of electronic communication as known for over a century. No, the internet has not transformed most people's lives, just helped them do faster what they did before. No, weapons technology has not transformed warfare, merely wasted stupefying sums of money while soldiers win or lose by firing rifles. Technological innovation is always hyped by those lobbying for money, usually from government. But, says Edgerton, if we only attended to ends rather than means we would waste less and get more right. Scientists never feed into their equations the opportunity cost of their successes, let alone the cost of their failures. Where now are such "life-changing revolutions" as supersonic travel, manned moon flight, coal hydrogenation, system-built housing, brain lobotomy, drip-dry shirts and electric knives? How come more goods travel by ship than ever? How come the fastest-growing domestic industry is housework and do-it-yourself? To Edgerton the thesis that civilisation must innovate or die is rubbish. Nations are not sharks that must move to breathe. Yet we are so dazzled by newness as to lose the power of scepticism, indeed of reason itself. The result is a grotesque overselling of the new and neglect of what is tried and tested. There is nothing recent in this phenomenon. Steam power was hugely expensive in resources and manpower and for most of its life probably less efficient than horse power. At sea it wiped out sail long before it could economically and safely replace it. On land it required even more horses (to supply coal and service its terminals) than before. Even today there would probably be less traffic on roads if outrageously uneconomic trains did not exist - and so did not divert car journeys to stations - though nobody will believe it. What Edgerton calls "techno- nationalism" is regularly proclaimed by politicians as vital to domestic economies as they pour money into government research. There is no evidence of any need for this. Global technology transfer is virtually free. What impedes its growth is not lack of invention but government restriction on free trade. Shrewd countries "borrow" technology, as did Japan after the war and the tiger economies from America in the 1990s. The most remarkable feature of Edgerton's book is his emphasis on the durability of past innovations. Today the fastest-selling cooker in Britain is the Aga. The fastest-selling home investment is the flatpack, made with cheap foreign labour and transport and assembled by the user. Most attics and garages are stuffed with kit for which there was no sensible use, from exercise bicycles to fondue machines. Middle-class women probably do more manual labour than in the 19th century, assisted by such old technology as the washing machine and vacuum cleaner. Small wonder they still consume those ancient standbys, alcohol, nicotine, cannabis and opium. Of course, the computer has radically speeded communication. But for the overwhelming bulk of users (still only half of Britons and a tiny fraction of the globe) it merely supplements the post and the telephone. Most people send emails back and forth twice a day, roughly the same exchange as the Victorian letter post achieved. Amazon and eBay have replicated but not replaced the retail market. Television, 80 years old, and radio have improved but not changed over time. Both were essentially Victorian innovations. The greatest techno-dazzle involves flying. The glamour of defying gravity created a global Icarus complex. Air forces have won over every generation of 20th-century politician, yet have never delivered. They have killed civilians and wrecked property but not won wars. More serious, the cost of new planes so overwhelms budgets as to leave land troops underequipped - as is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ministers are putty in the hands of airborne weapons suppliers. Yet any analysis of the past half-century will show the rifle, the mortar and (in Africa) the machete are the tools of success. The technology of war, supposed galvaniser of innovation, has barely changed in a hundred years. Indeed by replacing battlefront bravery with stand-off cowardice, air innovation could be said to contribute to defeat. The fastest-rising aid to mobility is another Victorian invention, the car, dependent on internal carbon combustion. Flights are trivial, a minuscule percentage in any sense necessary. Planes are used overwhelmingly for holidays, business and perks. Yet lobbyists sell planes (and airports) as "economically vital" to the nation. This neophilia at least has its piquant moments. HG Wells wrote in The Shape of Things to Come (in 1937) that "airmen will bring peace and civilisation to a war-devastated world". He forecast that within 30 years the world would agree a new global order based on the hub of intercontinental aviation. And where was that hub? His answer was Basra. There is still a hotel in Basra decorated with murals of glorious pilots ushering in this brave new world. It is (or was on my last visit) a British officers' club. Every night mortars try to wipe it off the face of the earth in a nasty Victorian-style war. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Colum...1997286,00.html
  9. Tory Libertarians?

    What is the matter with the Conservative party? It once claimed a nodding acquaintance with the cause of liberty. Now it runs with the corporatist pack. If there is anything to be banned, regulated or computerised, it howls from the dispatch box for "something to be done". Be it prostitutes, drugs, prisons, NHS computers, data protection or civil rights, the Tories are desperate not to be seen as out of the action. Libertarians in Britain are a disenfranchised class. The Ipswich murders will be a textbook case of modern British government, reform only in response to headlines. They have revealed the full squalor and danger of a law that "allows" prostitution but "bans" soliciting and brothels, and which is light years behind the law in most tolerant and civilised European countries. The Home Office knows this. A former adviser, Katharine Raymond, revealed at the weekend that her report on the subject was suppressed last year by Downing Street for fear of enraging the rightwing press. All that emerged was a meek measure that women be allowed to work in pairs for their own safety and be helped with any drugs problem. Even this was never implemented. "It took a riot" was the laconic headline on Michael Heseltine's 1981 report on social conditions in Liverpool after the Toxteth riots. Now it will have taken a serial killing to address the law on prostitution, a typical "consensual crime" in which the greatest harm is caused by the manner in which the state tries to suppress it. Change will probably take the form of tolerated red light districts and small brothels. This will have to fight a predictable wave of British cant that anything people disapprove of must be banned "to send a signal". There will be talk of evil men and tragic women, of not giving in to vice, of "why understand when you should just condemn?". As usual, Britons will find every tiny fault in more sensible regimes in France, Germany and the Netherlands. The root cause of the appalling risk run by prostitutes on the streets is hard drugs. The law ignores "nicer" women who rely on clubs and phone numbers. All those involved in the Ipswich tragedy cited their need for quick money to get expensive drugs. Papers and politicians telling them to "find a proper job" are as stupid as suggesting that a heroin dealer switch to burgundy or an Afghan poppy farmer "grow something else". The Tories know that Britain's laws on drugs and prostitution make no sense. They can read multitudinous reports on how other countries are trying, unhysterically, to handle the menace of heroin and crack cocaine, and with greater success than Britain. They know that drugs prohibition has failed, while the more thoughtful ones know that the market must be legalised to reduce harm. Yet they are silent, while their spokesman, David Davis, castigates libertarians who want "prostitution and drugs reform". One of many reasons for not subsidising national parties is that it will further encourage them to ignore the public and live in the lap of the national press. The press, especially the popular tabloids, is institutionally illiberal. But it comes round to reform in the end. The tabloids no longer scream against homosexuality and divorce, indeed they celebrate both. They no longer demand capital punishment and a ban on abortion. They occasionally show a grain of human sympathy. A feature of the Ipswich murders has been the portrayal of the victims as real people trapped in appalling predicaments. The Mirror, Express and News of the World have penetrated beyond "it's all their fault" to accept that their horror is a direct result of failed laws on drugs and prostitution. A combination of Blair's war on terror and the mechanisation of central government has made the past decade a dreadful one for civil liberty. The one libertarian cause David Cameron has espoused, opposition to identity cards, was dismissed by Blair as led by "civil liberties lobbyists". He prefers different lobbyists for his one true liberalising measure, easier access to alcohol. This week the health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, was forced to concede that intimate medical records will not be compulsorily entered on her £6bn national computer. She tried to claim that only a certified madman could want to keep his records private from a machine she knows will be open to every hacker (and insurer). When a computer salesman tells me, "Oh, my system is secure," I feel like betting him a million pounds against a Bangalore teenager. The French health computer is purely voluntary and cost £600m. Where in all this are the Tories? They could have killed both the NHS and the Home Office computer projects, along with a dozen other crashing wastes of money, by declaring that they would cancel the contracts on taking office. They could have exposed the government's emasculation of National Audit Office reports on the computers. The Tories could tell us exactly what a modern Conservative means by a free society, and list the regulations and restrictions they intend to repeal in their bonfire of controls. They could seize the moment of the Ipswich headlines by declaring their determination to end counter-productive bans on consensual crime. Merely preaching an end to government interference in the private affairs of citizens is hypocritical if, when case after case comes along, Cameron funks mentioning it for fear of the press. The control freak always has the best tunes. Murmur a relaxation and some regulator will howl that "hundreds will die" if he loses his job. I am sure many will say of the Ipswich murders that they show how right Britain was to crack down on hard drugs and prostitution. They will cry with Oscar Wilde, "I don't like principles: I prefer prejudices," unless a prejudice affects them personally (as it did him). Margaret Thatcher voted for corporal and capital punishment but for legalising homosexuality and abortion because of "my own experience of other people's suffering". Thus whimsically are we ruled. If the Tories spend every day dancing attendance on the tabloids, they will get absolutely nowhere with wavering voters. If oppositions, especially those professing an aversion to an overwhelming state, cannot see how specifically to curb it, who will? Changing laws on prostitution and drugs in response to the Ipswich murders might be a headline-grabbing, kneejerk response. Libertarian beggars can't always be choosers. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1975732,00.html
  10. The War on Terror

    What is it about a desert that drives men mad? On Monday morning the prime minister stood on the Afghan sand and said: "Here in this extraordinary piece of desert is where the fate of world security in the early 21st century is going to be decided." Tony Blair was talking to soldiers he had sent to fight the toughest guerrillas on earth for control of southern Afghanistan. He told them: "Your defeat [of the Taliban] is not just on behalf of the people of Afghanistan but the people of Britain ... We have got to stay for as long as it takes." The prime minister's brain has clearly lost touch with reality. Even under the Raj there was no conceivable way Britain could conquer and hold the arc of territory to which Blair was referring. It stretches from the Persian Gulf through Iranian Baluchistan and Afghanistan to Pakistan. No central government has come near to controlling this region, and its aversion to outside intervention is ageless and ruthless, currently fuelled by the world's voracious appetite for oil and opium. But it poses no threat to world security. The sole basis for Blair's statement is Mullah Omar's hospitality to the fanatic, Osama bin Laden, at the end of the 1990s. As we now know, this was never popular (an Arab among Pashtuns); after 9/11, when the Taliban had collaborated with the west over opium, either Bin Laden would eventually have had to leave or the Tajiks would have taken revenge for his killing of their leader, Sheikh Massoud. Even the Pakistanis were on his tail. Either way, Talib Afghanistan was no more a "threat" after 9/11 than were the American flying schools at which the 9/11 perpetrators trained. So what is Blair getting at? He once confessed to his hero, Roy Jenkins, that he regretted not having studied history at Oxford. He never spoke a truer word. The concept of world security as holistic and vulnerable to incidents such as 9/11 is nonsensical. Politics is not a variant of the Gaia thesis, in which each component of an ecosystem depends on and responds to every other. There is no butterfly effect in international relations. For want of a victory in Helmand, the Middle East is not lost, nor for want of victory in the Middle East is western civilisation lost. This is as well, since Blair's resumed war in Afghanistan is clearly not being won. We know from the former army chief Lord Guthrie that Blair, despite promising to "give the army anything it takes", has refused the extra troops and armour needed by the pathetically small expeditionary force of 7,000 in Helmand. He has already had to switch tactics from winning hearts and minds to American-style "search and destroy", blowing up villages with 1,000lb bombs (as we saw on TV last week). British commanders are describing "successes" in terms of enemy kills. They should recall that Victorian officers in the Punjab were told that such boasts would be treated as a sign of failure, not success. Such killings infuriated the population and presaged revenge attacks. Has the British army learned nothing? Blair has not been able to persuade his Nato allies in Europe of his apocalyptic world-view. The use of the word terrorism to imply some grand military offensive against the west may sound good in White House national security documents and Downing Street speeches. But terrorism is not an enemy or an ideology, let alone a country or an army. It is a weapon, like a gun or a bomb. It is not something that can be defeated, only guarded against. Nor can terrorism ever win. Blair's flattering reference to it was in reality to al-Qaida and to the Islamist jihadism whose cause he has so incessantly advertised. As the American strategist Louise Richardson points out in What Terrorists Want, al-Qaida has not the remotest chance of defeating the west or undermining its civilisation. Only a deranged paranoid could think that. Some group or other will always look for ways to commit random killings, against which national security services need to be vigilant. But this is not war. Richardson points out that these groups are being grotesquely overrated. They cannot plausibly deploy weapons of true mass destruction, and remain stuck with the oldest terrorist tool of all, the man with a bomb (and if we are really negligent, with a plane). While terrorism can take on different guises, it is not new and is not a threat to human society to rank with a world war or a nuclear holocaust - as the home secretary, John Reid, has absurdly claimed. Terrorist incidents are the outcome of someone's mental pathology and are of no political significance - unless cynical leaders in a targeted community choose otherwise. What is sad about Blair's statement is not its strategic naivety but the psychology behind it. Why have the leaders of Britain and America felt driven to adopt so wildly distorted a concept of menace? In an analysis of terrorism in the latest New York Review of Books, Max Rodenbeck offers plausible but depressing answers. They include the short-term popularity that war offers democratic leaders, the yearning of defence chiefs and industries to prove the worth of expensive kit and, in Iraq's case, "the influence of neoconservatives and of the pro-Israeli lobby, seeing a chance to set a superpower on Israel's enemies". All this is true, but I sense a deeper disconnect. The west is ruled by a generation of leaders with no experience of war or its threat. Blair and his team cannot recall the aftermath of the second world war, and in the cold war they rushed to join CND. They were distant from those real global horrors. Yet now in power they seem to crave an enemy of equivalent monstrosity. Modern government has a big hole in its ego, yearning to be filled by something called a "threat to security". After 1990 many hoped that an age of stable peace might dawn. Rich nations might disarm and combine to help the poor, advancing the cause of global responsibility. Instead two of history's most internationalist states, America and Britain, have returned to the trough of conflict, chasing a chimera of "world terrorism", and at ludicrous expense. They have brought death and destruction to a part of the globe that posed no strategic threat. Now one of them, Tony Blair, stands in a patch of desert to claim that "world security in the 21st century" depends on which warlord controls it. Was anything so demented? http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1953857,00.html
  11. People

    The ugly American mark two is dead. Overnight six years of glib European identification of "American" with rightwing fantasism is over. The gun-toting, pre-Darwinian Buxxxxe, the tomahawk-wielding, Halliburton-loving, Beltway neocon calling abortion murder and torturing Arabs as "Islamofascists" has been laid to rest, and by a decision of the American people. Another McCarthy raised its head over the western horizon and has been slapped down. It is a good day for level-headed Americans. Yesterday's result could hardly have been more emphatic. George Bush's election wizard, Karl Rove, said he would make America's midterm elections "a choice, not a referendum". The electorate declined. Certainly the spectacle was not always pleasant. These regular fiestas of participatory democracy make the European visitor's hair stand on end. They are politics as blood sport, all-in wrestling with no quarter given, Eatanswill on speed. The welter of dirty tricks, midnight robocalls, push polls and face-to-face confrontation contrasts with Europe's "new politics", a feelgood quest for the centrist voter. I have watched many American elections, but still find myself shocked by candidates accusing each other in public and on television of corruption, homosexuality, lying, surrendering to terror, killing babies, favouring torture, associating with hoodlums and consorting with prostitutes. My favourites this time were "Brad Miller pays for sex but not for body armour for our troops" and, most savage of all, "Michael Steele loves George Bush". Achieving office in Britain is a stroll in the country. In America the participant must carry the one true ring to the land of Mordor. The game goes only to the strong. I find this healthy. The electioneering technique pioneered by Rove eschews consensus. It splits electors into slivers of opinion, profiling them by what they watch on television, where they play golf, what car they drive, what they buy and where they pray. It then directs specific messages and canvassers to win their vote. The strategy has proved successful in the Bush cause in the past. It separates the person from the mass and responds to his or her fears and needs. As such it purges politics of the accumulated sludge of power. The huge amount of negative advertising is distasteful, but demands that candidates defend themselves on their weaknesses as well as their strengths. An elderly man in the street, a declared Republican, smiled at the camera, shrugged and said simply: "My president lied to me." No wound is left unopened. The scrutineer of American politics is not the voter but the opponent. And internet fundraising has made resources available to any plausible candidate, not just the rich. As for this being the "dirtiest campaign ever", there have been plenty worse. Lyndon Johnson accused his opponent, Barry Goldwater, of wanting to blow up little girls with mushroom clouds. So what now? Democrats campaigned against Bush and won a mandate to use their congressional power to curb his remaining two years in office. They took the House of Representatives by a safe lead and appear to have deprived the Republicans of a Senate majority. The argument, put forward in this week's Economist, that American government is better constrained when Congress is at odds with the presidency than when they are at one is about to be put the test. The new congressional majority wishes to press ahead with a higher minimum wage, an end to pork-barrel budgets, an immigrant amnesty, energy conservation, stem cell research and reform to the spiralling drugs bill and welfare generally. Most of these measures may fall by the wayside, but they have behind them the winds of mandate. A bigger challenge is to reverse the drain of power away from Congress and the courts to the executive under Bush. As the impeccably conservative Grover Norquist said in June: "If you interpret the constitution's saying that the president is commander in chief to mean that the president can do anything he wants and can ignore the laws, you don't have a constitution: you have a king." Such usurping of power is not confined to the so-called war on terror, used by Bush to justify any and every illiberal act. Congress must find a way of curbing federal spending, which has risen under Bush faster than under any president since Johnson. Otherwise a Democratic president in 2008 will endure agonies of retrenchment. Whether Bush will cooperate with such reform in the hope of rescuing his floundering presidency is up to him. The first sign of compromise is the departure of his defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld - announced by a chastened Bush at his press conference yesterday - who has been facing a near-mutinous revolt of his generals against the Iraq war. However, the only Republican of any stature, Senator John McCain, is disinclined to come to Bush's aid. American politics is suddenly open and interesting. California's Nancy Pelosi is poised to become the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives and thus third in line to the White House. She has already promised to cooperate with a shattered Republican party to salvage something from Bush's remaining administration. Round her is an array of plausible Democrats with their eye on 2008: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, a reborn Al Gore and a reputed "10% of the Senate" claim to be considering the presidential nomination. They all have one item of unfinished business. A CNN exit poll of swing issues suggested Iraq, terrorism, the economy and corruption were of equal concern to voters, with the Republicans scoring badly on them all. The politics of fear has lost all its post-9/11 traction. Republicans mouthing dire threats of "Islamicists" under every bed are simply scorned. The most ferocious television ad I saw had a voice incanting that Americans were less popular, terrorism was worse, people were less safe, gasoline was more expensive, soldiers were dying and Osama bin Laden was still free - all because of the Iraq war. Over 60% of electors want US troops withdrawn from Iraq now or soon. Reports from Baghdad indicate expectation and relief that American policy in that country is about to change. The US army wants to leave. The government ran on a pro-war ticket and suffered a resounding rebuff. At this point the insurgency knows it has won, however long it takes the occupying power to go. Retreat in good order is the best hope. An era of ill-conceived, belligerent interventionism has come to an end - by democratic decision, thank goodness. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1942897,00.html
  12. 2006 US Elections

    The ugly American mark two is dead. Overnight six years of glib European identification of "American" with rightwing fantasism is over. The gun-toting, pre-Darwinian Buxxxxe, the tomahawk-wielding, Halliburton-loving, Beltway neocon calling abortion murder and torturing Arabs as "Islamofascists" has been laid to rest, and by a decision of the American people. Another McCarthy raised its head over the western horizon and has been slapped down. It is a good day for level-headed Americans. Yesterday's result could hardly have been more emphatic. George Bush's election wizard, Karl Rove, said he would make America's midterm elections "a choice, not a referendum". The electorate declined. Certainly the spectacle was not always pleasant. These regular fiestas of participatory democracy make the European visitor's hair stand on end. They are politics as blood sport, all-in wrestling with no quarter given, Eatanswill on speed. The welter of dirty tricks, midnight robocalls, push polls and face-to-face confrontation contrasts with Europe's "new politics", a feelgood quest for the centrist voter. I have watched many American elections, but still find myself shocked by candidates accusing each other in public and on television of corruption, homosexuality, lying, surrendering to terror, killing babies, favouring torture, associating with hoodlums and consorting with prostitutes. My favourites this time were "Brad Miller pays for sex but not for body armour for our troops" and, most savage of all, "Michael Steele loves George Bush". Achieving office in Britain is a stroll in the country. In America the participant must carry the one true ring to the land of Mordor. The game goes only to the strong. I find this healthy. The electioneering technique pioneered by Rove eschews consensus. It splits electors into slivers of opinion, profiling them by what they watch on television, where they play golf, what car they drive, what they buy and where they pray. It then directs specific messages and canvassers to win their vote. The strategy has proved successful in the Bush cause in the past. It separates the person from the mass and responds to his or her fears and needs. As such it purges politics of the accumulated sludge of power. The huge amount of negative advertising is distasteful, but demands that candidates defend themselves on their weaknesses as well as their strengths. An elderly man in the street, a declared Republican, smiled at the camera, shrugged and said simply: "My president lied to me." No wound is left unopened. The scrutineer of American politics is not the voter but the opponent. And internet fundraising has made resources available to any plausible candidate, not just the rich. As for this being the "dirtiest campaign ever", there have been plenty worse. Lyndon Johnson accused his opponent, Barry Goldwater, of wanting to blow up little girls with mushroom clouds. So what now? Democrats campaigned against Bush and won a mandate to use their congressional power to curb his remaining two years in office. They took the House of Representatives by a safe lead and appear to have deprived the Republicans of a Senate majority. The argument, put forward in this week's Economist, that American government is better constrained when Congress is at odds with the presidency than when they are at one is about to be put the test. The new congressional majority wishes to press ahead with a higher minimum wage, an end to pork-barrel budgets, an immigrant amnesty, energy conservation, stem cell research and reform to the spiralling drugs bill and welfare generally. Most of these measures may fall by the wayside, but they have behind them the winds of mandate. A bigger challenge is to reverse the drain of power away from Congress and the courts to the executive under Bush. As the impeccably conservative Grover Norquist said in June: "If you interpret the constitution's saying that the president is commander in chief to mean that the president can do anything he wants and can ignore the laws, you don't have a constitution: you have a king." Such usurping of power is not confined to the so-called war on terror, used by Bush to justify any and every illiberal act. Congress must find a way of curbing federal spending, which has risen under Bush faster than under any president since Johnson. Otherwise a Democratic president in 2008 will endure agonies of retrenchment. Whether Bush will cooperate with such reform in the hope of rescuing his floundering presidency is up to him. The first sign of compromise is the departure of his defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld - announced by a chastened Bush at his press conference yesterday - who has been facing a near-mutinous revolt of his generals against the Iraq war. However, the only Republican of any stature, Senator John McCain, is disinclined to come to Bush's aid. American politics is suddenly open and interesting. California's Nancy Pelosi is poised to become the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives and thus third in line to the White House. She has already promised to cooperate with a shattered Republican party to salvage something from Bush's remaining administration. Round her is an array of plausible Democrats with their eye on 2008: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, a reborn Al Gore and a reputed "10% of the Senate" claim to be considering the presidential nomination. They all have one item of unfinished business. A CNN exit poll of swing issues suggested Iraq, terrorism, the economy and corruption were of equal concern to voters, with the Republicans scoring badly on them all. The politics of fear has lost all its post-9/11 traction. Republicans mouthing dire threats of "Islamicists" under every bed are simply scorned. The most ferocious television ad I saw had a voice incanting that Americans were less popular, terrorism was worse, people were less safe, gasoline was more expensive, soldiers were dying and Osama bin Laden was still free - all because of the Iraq war. Over 60% of electors want US troops withdrawn from Iraq now or soon. Reports from Baghdad indicate expectation and relief that American policy in that country is about to change. The US army wants to leave. The government ran on a pro-war ticket and suffered a resounding rebuff. At this point the insurgency knows it has won, however long it takes the occupying power to go. Retreat in good order is the best hope. An era of ill-conceived, belligerent interventionism has come to an end - by democratic decision, thank goodness. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1942897,00.html
  13. George Bush and Global Warming

    This is no longer news that I can use. At present rates of depletion “scientists say” all the fish in the sea will disappear within the next 42 years. “Ministers say” this is the biggest threat to the planet after climate change. Both climate and fish have thus leapfrogged last month’s biggest threat, according to Tony Blair, which was the war on terror. John Reid, the home secretary, thinks terror is a bigger threat than anything since Hitler, which puts fish in the shade. In the dumb world of modern politics all threats must be superlative. I am less interested in the potency of these threats than in what I am expected to do about them. The implication with fish is that we must stop eating them at once in the hope of resuming their consumption later, or accept that they will go the way of mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers. To bring this about I must rely on the government. Yet Ben Bradshaw, the fisheries minister, said on Friday that his responsibility was “to the livelihood of Britain’s fishing industry”. This is like confronting climate change by subsidising the oil industry and confronting terror by sponsoring the Taliban. Environmental news is fashioned to scare people witless. I recall reporting a conference of “top scientists” in the 1970s from which I extracted a spine-chilling threat of a new ice age. Particulates in the atmosphere were blotting out the sun. The Earth’s surface was cooling, tundra advancing and ever more pollution going aloft in the effort to keep us warm, thus accelerating “global dimming”. We were all going to freeze. The latest environmental blast runs counter to this but the millenarian fervour is the same. If climate change and marine catastrophe are, as Blair claims, the biggest threat to mankind, surely the obligation to confront it is his. The coal burning, petrol consuming and fishing industries must be treated as enemies not just of the nation but of the planet. Yet Blair treats the global warmers with nine indulgent years of reduced petrol taxes and subsidised transport infrastructure. He worships at the altar of hypermobility. By using the metaphor of an ecological “time bomb”, scientists may engage Blair’s passing attention but they risk longer-term ridicule and neglect. There is no point in walking the nation to the top of a mountain and promising hell fire and damnation if the only proof is a sunny day and a retreating glacier. While the threat of terrorism may be grossly overstated, it is at least recognisable. Climate change is a stew of statistics, trends, equations, qualifications, distant dates and vast sums of money. A stage army of ghouls, mini-Einsteins and e-babies traipse the conference circuit “hyping the issue” until it becomes a long, shrill scream of doom. This, of course, is not the end of the matter. Through all the accumulated noise, it now takes a perverse unreason to deny that something dramatic is occurring in the Earth’s temperature and that this has to do with human behaviour. Wise counsel is that this can and should be countered, but how? The admonition that we each change our lives to “save the planet” (or, rather, our lifestyle on it) is on a par with ancient monks advocating flagellation as the path to salvation. Personal choice and market forces left to their own devices will plainly not do the trick. It is therefore equally perverse to eschew the precautionary principle. Will the end and you must will the means, and that involves political action. In 1960 Herman Khan, the nuclear scientist, conceived the Doomsday Machine. This was designed to respond to a nuclear attack by triggering a global holocaust that no human intervention could stop, thus deterring an enemy by assuring “mutual assured destruction”. Young people today find it hard to conceive of the threats under which their parents grew up. But that terror did drive the nuclear de-escalation that accompanied the end of the cold war. The wilder fringes of the anti-nuclear movement permeated the arms control process. A similar concern for the ozone layer spurred collective action to eliminate CFCs in the 1990s. The same must apply to climate change. The fringe must move into the mainstream and win the argument through reason. There is evidence that this is happening. Last week the economists rode to the rescue of the scientists in Sir Nicholas Stern’s review of climate change. It took science at its word and put forward measures to correct what Stern drily called “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen”. That failure is to the global equilibrium which James Lovelock called the “Gaia thesis”. This portrayed the Earth as a complex self-regulating mechanism of organisms constantly adjusting “so as always to be as favourable as possible to contemporary life”. This adjustment was nature’s equivalent of Adam Smith’s invisible hand and was a comforting riposte to ecological hysterics. Lovelock, too, has now decided that the equilibrium has broken down, leading Gaia helter-skelter towards disaster. Again adopting the precautionary principle, Stern regards this destination as avoidable. He accepts the evidence of change: shrinking glaciers, the loss of reflectivity (the albedo effect), methane leakage and soaring carbon emissions. But rather than crying panic and heading for the hills, he says that governments should tackle the prime cause — the inability of the world’s economy to impose on individuals or countries the external costs of their actions, their burning of carbon fuels especially in pursuit of mobility. Even a free market economist requires governments to correct market imperfections. Debate is moving forward. The British government’s soft-heartedness towards the transport and fuel lobbies as proxies for middle-class drivers and flyers appears to be weakening. It accepts, as do the Conservatives, that taxes should be directed at curbing carbon emissions, coupled with carbon trading, road pricing and investment in conservation and solar and nuclear power. As against the costs (and risks) of nuclear energy, the global disaster presaged by continued burning of carbons is now beyond sensible argument. Carbon emissions are easy to subject to price control since most are taxed or regulated already. The chief hurdle has been the timidity of governments, and that now seems susceptible to shame. Stern’s conclusion is that life on Earth can be stabilised over the next two decades without extreme measures and without abandoning growth. Salvation lies within the grasp of the chancellor of the exchequer. But this applies only if taxing carbon rich energy consumption leads to a genuine change in human behaviour and not just a shift between cars, buses, trains and planes, where the impact could be marginal. We are nowhere near this point. Last week politicians lined up to insist that carbon taxes should not curb the mobility of the poor. Yet it is the poor who, by growing richer and using more fuel, have precipitated this crisis. It is the availability of cheap petrol and aviation fuel that has enabled the Chinese and Indians as well as the Americans and Europeans to deluge the atmosphere with filth. If this policy is to mean anything there is no alternative, in the absence of fuel cells, to driving these people back into their homes and villages or onto their bicycles. Those of us who greeted this new apocalypse with scepticism cannot sensibly ignore it. But I wonder if those with their heads in the sand are not many of the same environmentalists who raised the hue and cry in the first place. If life on Earth really faces a moment of danger, it requires joined-up thought. It means urgent investment in nuclear power, a global curb on mobility, holidays at home, wrapping up warm, living in denser cities and a halt to rural colonisation. It means farm protectionism. It means keeping open local schools and hospitals, leaving roads to congest and curbing airports. Planning must become carbon obsessed. Income taxes will not achieve this, only taxes targeted against high carbon expenditures, above all on movement. Travelling, especially flying, must be regarded as a luxury whose cost to the planet must be transferred to the individual. This concept of “re-localising” human settlement is still in the wilder realms of idealism. But like other fringe ideas it will have to move into the mainstream. There is no point in denying what this means. Mobility will again become the privilege of the rich. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,1059-2437853.html
  14. In David Hare's National Theatre play Galileo the actor Simon Russell Beale rants and shouts for three hours at an exasperated pope about the importance of science. I do not normally cheer the papacy, but by the end of the play I was on its side. The pope had been happy to debate his ideas, but the man simply would not shut up. Last week a new GCSE syllabus, titled Twenty First Century Science, came into use in a third of schools and was greeted with a similar rant from self-serving scientists. It moves away from test tubes and bunsen burners, towards an understanding of such topics as global warming, GM foods, vaccination, pollution, health and diet. It starts with the science of everyday life and delves into the technicalities only for pupils who are interested. It is "right way round" education. The backwoods promptly howled that this was subjective, not objective science. It would "leave students poorly equipped to study science at A-level and university", apparently the be-all and end-all of education. Baroness Warnock protested that the new syllabus encouraged debate and "is thus more suitable for the pub than the classroom". Sir Richard Sykes, head of Imperial College London, played the old trump that it would "disadvantage state-school children" in getting into his university. "Britain needs more scientists," they all chanted. What they really mean is that their departments need more applicants or they will lose government grants. At times my heart swells with pride at Britain's young. For nearly a quarter of a century they have had to confront this academic vested interest boring them to tears by drilling them, in effect, as press-ganged university lab assistants. They have shrugged, packed their satchels and walked away. Now at last - with the agreement of the Royal Society and the Association for Science Education no less - the new syllabus offers them science they might one day use. The compulsory-science lobby began in the early 1980s by asserting its centrality in the national economy and declaring "a crisis" in maths and science teaching. There was no evidence for this, but the Thatcher government took it hook, line and sinker. (Margaret Thatcher had abandoned science for law.) Kenneth Baker's 1988 national curriculum, with its 300 pages of regulations and 400 inspectors, imposed science on schools "to meet the manpower needs of the economy". Virtually half the school day was to be devoted to maths, science and technology. Baker's concession to this lobby relegated history and geography to optional status and ignored such "life skills" as economics, law, health, civics and the environment. It was academic log-rolling disguised as economic necessity, like the Roman Catholic church struggling to keep itself supplied with potential acolytes. At the time, Russia was producing more qualified scientists than the rest of Europe put together, and little good came of it. What Russia needed was economists, businessmen, lawyers and anyone prepared to question received doctrine. Now Britain too fell back on the economic chimera that salvation lay in mass science. The curriculum has been a quarter century of total failure. Even after five years the number of pupils taking science GCSEs had fallen by 10%, and the number taking in physics, chemistry and biology were down by 16%, 14% and 10% respectively. Physics and maths A-levels fared no better, also down by 10%. University students were voting against science with their feet, and the insults heaped on them were extraordinary. Ministers and the media jeered at them for taking soft options, epitomised by business and media studies. Universities were penalised for teaching what students wanted, with a cut in arts grants per capita and an increase in science ones. Desperate academics opened their doors to lower-grade applicants for science courses, diluting quality and demoralising their departments. Nobody other than students noticed the shift in the jobs market towards law, accountancy, marketing, computing, management and media skills. Baker's curriculum was manpower planning gone haywire. The science campaign left an entire generation of British pupils with an education they neither enjoyed nor could use. Each year the numbers doing non-compulsory science in schools declined. In the past decade alone university science departments have shrunk by between a third and a half. Only where market demand is clear - as in medicine - are departments oversubscribed and doctors in surplus. The most vocational university in Britain, the 25,000-strong University of Central England in Birmingham, now teaches no maths or science at all. Even old-fashioned universities are closing chemistry and physics departments (to howls from fundamentalists). The game is up. The shrewdest essay on British education is still Lytton Strachey's debunking of the Victorian reformer Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby. Strachey pointed out that Arnold's invention of the modern public school was a sales pitch to the new middle classes on the moral virtues of boarding. Children would be spiritually and socially secure in his school - and regularly thrashed. On the curriculum Arnold was reactionary. Having challenged the old regime institutionally, he told his tutors and ushers to teach traditional subjects. As a result, said Strachey, "the monastic and literary conceptions of education, which had their roots in the middle ages, he adopted almost without hesitation ... devoted to the teaching of Greek and Latin grammar". While 19th-century Germany, France and Russia were racing into technology, Britain stuck with the classical "greats". Arnold's curriculum dominated British education until well after the second world war. The 1988 national curriculum has been as stuck-in-the-mud as was Arnold's. Its archaic motto could be "What was good enough for me ... " Maths and science have merely replaced Latin and Greek as the dogma of the academic establishment, for whom schools are no more than tributary outposts. My own science O-level included trigonometry, advanced algebra and differential calculus, and related them to physics, engineering, statics and dynamics. I can not remember any of it, nor have I found the slightest use for it. I imagine more people use Latin than trigonometry. Maths teachers have joined classicists in that last refuge of educational sophistry, that the very uselessness of subject is good "mind training". Today anyone who claimed that Britain "needs" more accountants, lawyers and marketing experts, because they are most in demand and highly paid, would be laughed at. To decry science teaching is like telling a church it does too much religion. Yet even the government is hypocritical. The people Gordon Brown and his colleagues recruit extravagantly each day are not scientists but management consultants, bankers, computer salesmen and business administrators. Young people are not dumb. They can read job advertisements and the skills required. If I were a scientist or mathematician I would plead for my subject to be optional after primary school. I would crave it as a specialism for the highly motivated, like classics or medicine. I would want no army of sullen recruits telling the world that my subject was "boring". Science should claw back its 19th-century glamour. The new syllabus does that, accepting that mass science has shot its bolt. It returns this challenging subject to what, for the majority, should be its proper place, the land of curiosity and wonder. http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/co...1921286,00.html
  15. George Bush: Pre-Modernist Politician?

    He is right or he is wrong. Which? "The war on terror is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," said George Bush on Monday. "It is a struggle for civilisation ... The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle on the streets of Baghdad." It is as Manichean as that. Bush is wrong. My parents endured one life-or-death struggle, against Hitler's fascism, and I grew up during another, against Soviet communism. Both were real threats. When Bush was dodging war service in Vietnam and Tony Blair was a supporter of CND, I had no qualms about backing nuclear deterrence. Foreigners did not just want to conquer my country and change the way I lived, but they had amassed sufficient state power to make that ambition plausible. I call that a threat to the security of the nation. It required massive defence. Putting Osama bin Laden (or Saddam Hussein) in this league is ludicrous. No force they could command could possibly have ranked with Hitler or Stalin as "a threat to the future of civilisation". Such a concept of history is illiterate and warped. The comparison offends those who fought and died in previous conflicts. It is populist rant, the exploitation by nervy politicians of the obvious fact that modern terrorism can kill more people than before (though it rarely has), and its perpetrators seem invulnerable to reason (though they rarely were). Modern terror may be more outrageous but it is weaker as a political force. IRA outrages were as effective as al-Qaida's are not. Fanatical hatred has nowhere to go beyond a bigger bomb, and the bigger the bomb the greater the revulsion from those on whom the bomber depends. Al-Qaida has terrified Americans but not achieved a political goal - beyond inducing America to make itself more unpopular. Those to whom I talk about these things claim plausibly that, had the west not overreacted to 9/11, Bin Laden and his organisation would now be dead. As the American terrorism expert John Mueller points out in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, the "omnipresent terrorist threat" has been greatly exaggerated for political ends. As a result, "the massive [$100bn] homeland security apparatus ... may be persecuting some, spying on many, inconveniencing most and taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely exists". Bush's morbid 9/11 soliloquy was chiefly of interest as a study in the psychology of power, as are Blair's frequent soundbites on global conflict. When in office such politicians, themselves chary of military service, love to tongue the trump of war and wrap themselves in the flag, except today they wrap themselves in the entire western civilisation. Such "threat inflation" enables them to spend huge sums on defence and send armies abroad on reckless adventures. That Nato members are this week refusing to send more troops to die in Afghanistan is a measure of the gap opening between fine words in the White House and Downing Street and reality on the ground. Had Afghanistan been secured against insurgency in 2001-02, the case for rebuilding that country as a puppet western state might just have held water. The Taliban had bowed to western pressure (and bribery) in 2000-01 and briefly curbed poppy production. All that is too late now. Instead we have a deadly cocktail of military bravado, civilisation hanging by a thread and "after us the deluge". The Bush/Blair thesis is that Bin Laden and his shadowy movement threatenthe American and British governments, the democratic way of life, a free press, women's rights, the Christian religion and civil liberty. This has to be nonsense. That a fanatic says something, even a fanatic with a bomb, does not constitute a cosmic threat. The west was not threatened when it was notionally "undefended" before 9/11 and is not threatened now. Most western countries are healthy democracies with entrenched liberties, near invulnerable to military attack. Presenting al-Qaida or Ba'athism or the Taliban as a menace to civilisation implies a dim view of civilisation and the robustness of its values. Such scaremongering may serve someone's leadership agenda but it is unreal. On Monday the Tory leader, David Cameron, lectured Bush, Blair and his putative successor, Gordon Brown, on moderation. He deplored the naive language of counter-terror and pleaded for more humility and patience in dealing with Muslim states. For an advocate of the Iraq war this is something of a U-turn. Cameron declared himself a born-again "libcon", a sanitised, semi-demilitarised neocon. Where this leaves his emphatically neocon foreign affairs spokesman, William Hague, is unclear. Does Cameron really mean to revert to Blair's Chicago 1999 speech and pragmatic humanitarianism as the lodestar of Tory policy? If so, it means withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan and fighting instead in Darfur and Congo. It means cancelling Eurofighters and Trident submarines and investing in infantry and field armour. It means engaging with Iran rather than threatening to bomb it. Even so, a Tory leader is searching for a new language of foreign affairs and using such words as humility. This is encouraging. Western diplomacy must soon move on from the present rant to treat with those whose lives and lands it has grievously harmed these past five years. Cameron's language suggests a refreshing optimism. Western civilisation is not vulnerable to jihadism, only to its own fears, insecurities and cowardice. It is that vulnerability against which "libcons" should be on their guard. The greatest threat to any democracy has always been from its own chosen rulers. The present lunacy will pass. The west will get another bloody nose, withdraw and concentrate its proselytising zeal on aid and example rather than on bombs and bullets. The much-vaunted neocon agenda, as Cameron said, had noble ambitions but was fatally short on realism. Its wars show why democracies must keep their leaders and their armies on a short rein. The wrong assessment of Saddam's weaponry was followed by a far greater intelligence failure, that Iraqis and Afghans would welcome western occupation. They never did and never will. Nato's impending failure in Afghanistan will run alongside the November elections in America, Blair's departure from office and Cameron's new-found enlightenment. All suggest a worm starting to turn. The stupid party in foreign policy is in retreat. Perhaps, at last, the intelligent party is returning to power. http://www.guardian.co.uk/alqaida/story/0,,1871074,00.html
×