Monday, 30 November 2015

Britain is Sleepwalking into a Nightmare in Syria

This is a letter I sent to 'The Herald' today following an article by their columnist David Torrance on the prospect of UK air strikes on ISIL in Syria

David Torrance is correct to highlight the glaring flaws in David Cameron's case for UK air strikes  in Syria ‘ …the intellectual side of the balance sheet seems to me insubstantial’ in today's Herald [‘Corbyn’s style may be inept, but his argument is correct’ 30/11/15].
The Prime Minister’s plea that ‘we need to do something’ after the Paris massacre is not god enough. In fact it is no better than the case Parliament rejected two years ago. On that occasion David Cameron insisted we should bomb the Assad Government after it used chemical weapons against civilians in the escalating civil war. Had MPs taken his advice ISIL would be sitting in Damascus today running the country and the political consequences of that don’t bear thinking about.
The British Governments claim that ‘there are 70,000 moderate fighters in the Free Syrian Army’ ready and waiting to play the crucial role of ‘ground forces’ in the war against ISIL is nonsense. It ranks alongside Tony Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’ which insisted Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. Robert Fisk, the widely respected Middle East correspondent, ridicules Cameron's suggestion and insists the FSA is lucky if it has 100 ‘moderate Sunni soldiers’ and points out that this largely fictional ‘army’ is referred to only by Western leaders who refuse to recognise that the only forces [beyond the Kurds in their northern enclaves] capable of defeating ISIL are the Syrian Army of Bashir al-Asaad backed as he is by the Russians, Iran and Hezbollah.

David Cameron’s proposition to launch immediate UK air strikes on ISIL also undermines his oft repeated and equally reprehensible objective which is oust Assad and organise a complete ‘regime change’ in Syria. There is a brutal civil war taking place in Syria where the only force capable of defeating ISIL is the Syrian army.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Osborne's Autumn Statement reveals tax credit climbdown and extent of Tory attack on public spending

Two features of George Osborne's Autumn Statement today overshadow all others. The 'headline grabber' will inevitably be his unexpected climb down over tax credits. Just as important however are the figures revealing the reduction in state spending during his period in office. It now accounts for just 35% of the total UK economy. It was 50% when he became Chancellor in 2010.

Faced with widespread opposition over his proposal to cut £4.4 billion from the benefits paid to top up the wages of low paid workers, including criticism from scores of his own backbenchers, this aspirant Prime Minister abandoned his plan altogether. His decision says more about his own political ambitions however than any change of heart by the Tories. They still intend to slash £12 billion from other welfare provisions most noticeably Universal Credits and housing benefit. They will also proceed as planned with £20 billion of cuts to transport services, climate change provisions and justice budgets.

Over the last 5 years the Tories have systematically slashed UK state spending. They are committed as George Osborne again made clear today 'to a high wage [sic], low tax and low state spending economy'. This means passing more and more responsibility for providing social services will be passed to the private sector. And more of the real wage bill will be passed on to private employers and not the state.

So how can Osborne reconcile his u-turn on tax credits with his commitment to lowering the national debt? The Office of Budget Responsibility can provide some of the answer. He has benefited from low interest rates for paying back government debt says the OBR and higher than expected tax returns in the year ahead. But the OBR has also concluded that his borrowing will go up not down from now until 2020. So Osborne's decisions today were as much about his own political ambitions as economic 'prudence'


Tuesday, 27 October 2015


Whilst the defeat the Government suffered last night on working families tax credits was welcome it should not be seen as justification for the House of Lords itself. I watched some of the debate intermittently throughout the day and apart from the issue itself and the fact the event was televised the scene could easily have been mistaken for the 17th century. The 600 unelected and unaccountable Lords, Ladies, Earls, Viscounts, Baronesses, Dames and Bishops looked utterly ridiculous in their ermine robes and ancient setting. Their pomposity and self-importance merely reiterated just how unrepresentative they all are of the British people as a whole.
These hand picked lackeys collected up from across the UK establishment to be rewarded are not typical of the population as whole. Neither is the House of Commons of course but The Lords is made up entirely of failed and former politicians, retired academics, retired professionals from medicine, the law, the arts, science, administration, the police and armed services, captains of industry, trade unions barons and the civil service. And last but by no means least ludicrous are the church lackeys; the bishops, cardinals, rabbi’s, etc.
There they all sit on their £300/day plus first class expenses. These are the last people I would want considering the precarious circumstances of the poorest in our society.
For the debate again put into sharp focus what is wrong with ‘British democracy’. On the one hand an elected Tory Government was attacking the income of the poor without a mandate to do so – Cameron repeatedly said throughout the election he ‘had no plans to cut tax credits’ - and on the other hand Lords and Ladies of privilege who, for all their formal education, revealed they simply haven’t a clue about what life is really like for working people in 21st century Britain being paid ‘peanuts’ on zero hour contracts.
Patronising patronage.
The House of Lords is of course an affront to democracy and should be abolished forthwith. Labour, the Lib-Dems, and the Tories want to keep it to use as patronage and to reward their own 'lickspittles'. They insist unconvincingly that it plays a learned role in scrutinising Government legislation made up as it is with ‘brilliant minds' and 'experts from across various fields’. This is of course nonsense. There is no obligation on Lords to even turn up for debates and many peers were born into the seat handed to them by their fathers and grandfathers etc.
Why the Greens and Plaid Cywru take seats in the Lords I have no idea. It reflects poorly on them both and rather undermines their democratic credentials. The SNP does not take up seats in the Lords.
                                         What is to be done? 
The answer is to scrap the House of Lords altogether or replace it with an elected second chamber.
Advocates of a second chamber suggest it plays a scrutinising role on legislation considered by the main chamber but they accept it should be of secondary importance to the main elected body both in its political importance and its legislative reach.
The US for example has a bicameral system - two elected chambers - The House of Representative and The Senate. The former has members directly elected with the number of seats awarded to each state based on population size. The latter is also directly elected but Senators are limited to 2 per state regardless of population size. Whilst the issues discussed in each chamber differ key Bills need the backing of both legislatures. 

Sunday, 20 September 2015


Scottish Socialist Party Executive Committee members unveil fresh new banner at meeting in Glasgow yesterday 


‘Jeremy Corbyn is a thoroughly decent man. Everyone who has met him would describe him this way’ said the former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis interviewed on Channel Four News this week. Asked if he saw any similarities between the new Labour leader’s election and Syriza’s victory in the Greek General Election in January he said he saw the same elation but warned ‘this exuberance has to be channelled into a strong political defence in the face of an establishment onslaught.’ There are important warnings for Corbyn in Syriza’s subsequent u-turn politically too in the way Alexis Tsipras gave up confronting international capitalism and ended up managing it in Greece. Syriza, like Labour, is a coalition where the socialist left is very weak. Whilst Jeremy Corbyns’ victory was cheered across Scotland, not least for the ‘drubbing’ he handed out to his Blairite opponents, it was achieved with little support from within the Scottish Labour Party. Scotland’s sole Labour MP Ian Murray did not vote for him. Neither did Scottish leader Kesia Dugdale or most of the constituency parties here. And the weakness of his ‘Campaign for Socialism’ group in the party was again demonstrated when he had to staff his Shadow Cabinet with MP’s who do not support him politically. He has very few allies in the Parliamentary Labour Party as was again demonstrated by the cool reception he received at his first meeting as leader. This does not augur well for Corbyn’s leadership. So despite the overwhelming scale of his victory the fact is he faces huge opposition within his party. And it remains to be seen how many of those who spent £3 to vote for him will join the Party to help strengthen his position in the teeth of considerable enmity from the party machine that do not want him there. Reports suggest he and his deputy Tom Watson intend to spend one day a month in Scotland to 'rebuild Labour’s support'. He will have his work cut out for him. Since he does not support self-determination for Scotland he is not in touch with progressive opinion here far less the pro-independence left looking for a political home. In trying to reposition his party to the left of the SNP [as he must] he faces widespread disdain for Labour and wide illusions in Nicola Sturgeon. And as if to illustrate how ridiculously irrational those illusions have become a mural unveiled this week at the Edinburgh South Yes CafĂ© depicted the diminutive First Minister as Che Guevara - together with black beret and a yellow SNP logo! Fortunately not everyone in Scotland has taken such leave of their senses. The Scottish Socialist Party realises the challenges Corbynmania an Nicolamania pose but we also recognise that support for the SNP will not remain at this level as the contradictions within its neo-liberal economic programme and social democratic rhetoric are exposed. That’s why we were instrumental in launching ‘Rise: Scotland’s Left Alliance’ last month to present a more effective alternative to Labour and the SNP. RISE is the most important left unity project in Scotland since the launch of the SSP’s predecessor the Scottish Socialist Alliance twenty years ago. Local branches or circles are now being established throughout Scotland. RISE [Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmental Justice] aims to win seats in next years Holyrood elections and present a bold socialist programme favouring a second referendum. This issue features prominently in Jim Sillars’ new book ‘In Place of Failure’ [reviewed elsewhere in this newspaper]. The former MP and Deputy Leader of the SNP makes the case for a second referendum, a new electoral mandate in 2016 and for a ‘floating date’ chosen when the polls clearly indicate victory is likely. With the anniversary of the 2014 Referendum falling this week many seem to think victory in a second vote is a foregone conclusion. They are mistaken. The Independence movement cannot afford such complacency because the lessons of last year’s defeat have not yet been learned as Jim Sillars book makes clear. Moreover David Cameron only agreed to the last Referendum because he was confident he would win [as indeed he did], he will not be so amenable next time if the polls show Independence is supported by a majority. The political stalemate in Catalonia illustrates the case. The Spanish Government refuses to allow the Catalans an independence referendum because it knows it would lose. Building a mass movement for an independent socialist Scotland remains the key task for the left. And the first part of that challenge involves winning seats at Holyrood next year.

Thursday, 16 July 2015


With the Greek economy in ruins and its banks teetering on the brink of collapse the Greek Parliament last night ratified the latest bailout agreement proposed by the European financial institutions. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s victory came at a terrible price however. On the streets of Athens thousands of left-wing activists from the ‘Antarsya’ bloc demonstrated against the Government and dozens of anarchists threw petrol bombs and burned the Greek flag. Inside Parliament the scene was no less frenzied as 38 Syriza MP’s joined with the KKE [Communist Party] and the far right [‘Golden Dawn’] to vote against their Government. But the bailout deal was agreed nonetheless as opposition MP’s from the conservative ‘New Democracy’ and ‘To Potami’ parties backed it. Tsipras did not hide the punishing terms in this third Greek bailout. It means further austerity, deeper cuts in public spending and even more punishment is meted out to working class people. Syriza has agreed to increase VAT rates, increase the retirement age to 67, privatise state assets such as the port at Piraeus and ‘liberalise’ employment laws. Socialists internationally will wince at the deal signed by Europe’s most radical left wing Government since the 1930’s. The 7 point manifesto Syriza put to the people in January, its ‘Thessaloniki Declaration’, is today in tatters. They promised to get 50% of Greek debts written off and improve the repayment terms on the remainder – none have in fact been written off and they have signed up to €85billion more. They promised to increase the national minimum wage and the state pension but have delivered not a penny more. They promised no one would be disconnected from their electricity supply and yet will now oversee the privatisation of the entire industry. And yet for all that Syriza are more popular today than they were in January because the unavoidable fact is this latest deal, imposed upon it by the European Central Bank and European Union, was signed by the Greek Government because they had to. There was simply no other option available to it. In return the banks can now re-open and customers can regain access their accounts backed up by emergency ‘liquidity’ from the European Emergency Assistance programme. A further €85bn will be made available to help pay back some existing loans and help grow the economy. And perhaps the most hopeful clause promises talks about ‘debt restructuring’ - interpreted by Greece and the IMF as ‘debt write off’ - in the future. Greece is not out of the woods however, not by a long way. This latest deal simply buys them ‘breathing space’, temporary relief from the ongoing crisis. Like borrowing more money from Wonga to pay off previous loans it is offers no solution in the long term. Those who argue in favour of a ‘Grexit’ where Greece leaves the Eurozone are in a tiny minority. The Greek people have made it clear they do not have the stomach for its consequences, which would involve an even more dramatic collapse in their living standards in the short term.The re-introduction of the Drachma is not popular as Greeks believe no-one would trade with them and no funds would be lent to Greece to allow it to import the vital foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and raw materials it needs to survive. The unavoidable truth is that Syriza and 11million Greeks were powerless in the face of European institutions representing 550million people with the world’s financial institutions behind them. Syriza faced overwhelming odds and they were forced into signing a deal which not only restricts their economic and financial authority, it restricts their political authority too. Greece is crippled by ‘un-payable’ debts. Its economy is in ruins and continues to retreat in recession. With the second highest debt to GDP ratio in the world [only Chad has a worse ratio] the IMF predict this will reach 200% by the end of 2015. The Syriza Government were also isolated internationally. They failed to win the backing of other ‘debtor’ nations like Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Indeed these ‘co-debtors’ were amongst their most vociferous opponents arguing Greece should not be allowed ‘concessions’ they had not been offered. And yet most rational commentators accept a debt write off is the only sustainable solution. This means international solidarity with Greece is more crucial than ever. The challenge facing the socialist movement worldwide is to bring forward such practical solutions to help the Syriza Government as best it can.

Sunday, 5 July 2015


So much for it being a close vote! The Greek people today delivered a resounding blow to the European Central Bank's plan to implement further hardship and austerity on the Greek people. More than 60% of Greeks voted 'No'. And this represents a huge success for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and an extraordinary vindication of the Syriza Government and its record since January 25th. Despite falling living standards and increased hardship, epitomised by the enforced 'bank holiday' this week which restricted customers to €60 per day, the Greek people have again resoundingly backed their radical left wing Government. What is perhaps most remarkable about today's result is that this vote of confidence comes despite the Governments inability to deliver on its 7 manifesto promises [It's 'Thessaloniki Declaration']. Nevertheless their trenchant refusal to inflict further austerity on Greek voters has been very important and popular. They have confronted the Troika, looked them in the eye and told them straight that they will not implement their austerity programme. All previous Greek Governments have humiliated the Greek people with their acquiescence to the money men and their cuts. Syriza are profoundly different in this regard. That is why they won today. And one key reason why the No side won so handsomely is that so many young Greeks have unusually turned out to vote. And despite the combined efforts of the international money men and the threats of all EU Governments in attempting to undermine the Greek economy Syriza have strengthened their political mandate. Alexis Tsipras promised to resign if the Yes side won. Syriza made it clear they would not inflict further humiliation on the Greek people. They would have stood down and asked the Greek President to pull together a new administration. Today's referendum result is therefore an astonishing victory for Syriza and for the Greek people as the Troika will be forced to make considerable concessions. It is a defeat for the right in Greece, the Troika and for neo-liberal politicians worldwide including Britain. Of course Greece is not out of the financial woods yet, not by a long way. Syriza will go back to Brussels in the morning and renegotiate the deal they rejected last week. It was significant this week that the IMF concluded that Greek debts will simply have to be written off and that Greece will have to be given the further bank bail-outs Syriza has demanded. I expect the deal rejected by Syriza last weekend will now be renegotiated to allow both sides to step back from the prospect of a 'Grexit' they both wish to avoid. And I expect the ECB to restore further 'emergency funding' to allow Greek banks to reopen on Tuesday. Above all however this defeat for neo-liberalism strengthens Syriza's hand and will be cheered by working class people worldwide for that.