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Friday, 18 May


House of Lords Lobby Fodder "IndyWatch Feed"

Eric PicklesAs widely expected, the Government has announced the appointment of 10 new Conservative peers (subject to approval), as well as one for the DUP. This is despite the fact that the Conservative group in the upper chamber is already larger than any other, and the move is clearly designed to try to avoid more Brexit-related defeats, of which there have been quite a rash recently. If Mrs May hoped that by announcing the appointments on the eve of the Royal Wedding they might pass unseen she must be sorely disappointed by the storm of protest on twitter. Not so much condemnation from some people in the Labour Party, though, as Jeremy Corbyn has been given the sweetener of three peers for his own team. But the media focus is inevitably on the 10 Tories. Though some like Catherine Meyer may on account of their special expertise or experience have a decent claim to the privilege and it is a privilege, albeit an anchronistic one  most of the others are former government retreads, incuding Sir Eric Pickles and Peter Lilley. Dubtless all ten have been instructed to support the Government loyally on Brexit (and perhaps more). But I cant help wondering whether some of the current members of the Lords will feel a little peeved about having this lobby fodder casually thrown in, which might mean some more of them may be in a mood to rebel. The Upper House has done some sterling work scrutinising and amendings parts of the EU Withdrawal Bill and it is a sad reflection of the state of politics in Britain...


Where Barra Magrory leads on dealing with the past, others will follow "IndyWatch Feed"

No longer inhibited by  his former office, the ex- DPP Barra Magrory   isnt alone in believing that an independent Historical Investigations Unit will produce few results for victims, survivors and families and could be more divisive than reconciling.  The best to be  hoped for is that once a renewed effort to bring cases to trial is made over five years, politicians and the public will face up to the issue of a calling halt to prosecutions, combined with a release of  information held by government case by case,  to the extent  compatible with the law. The local parties remain  hopelessly  divided and the British government as usual funks it. Lets hope the consultation open to September  doesnt create another opportunity for more delay without end; but who would bet on it?

Prosecutions for Troubles-related murders should be brought to a halt, according to Northern Irelands former Director of Public Prosecutions.

Barra McGrory denounced proposals for a new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) as convenient politically.

But he added it had not been properly thought through

But my terrible fear is that that will not be a consequence of this process.

And where is it going to leave us?

At the end of five difficult years, millions spent, much emotional energy invested, will we be any better off?


Mr McGrory also said he was surprised to hear the prime minister tell the Commons last week that the only people getting knocks on the door in Northern Ireland for troubles related investigations are former soldiers.

Very surprised because its not true, he said.

Certainly as DPP there was a clear even handedness in terms of the targets of the investigations being carried out by the PSNI Legacy Unit.

Mr McGrory said there were probably more viable prosecutions against state agents because many of the offences they were suspected of had not been properly investigated previously.

He points out that any deaths caused by soldiers between 1969 and 1972 were investigated by the Royal Military Police, not the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Many of those investigations have been found to be seriously wanting which is why PSNI Legacy Branch has had to give priority to those deaths, he c...


Police bring charges to your work place, bed bugs instead of torture and a hunger strike "IndyWatch Feed"

The latest in freedom of assembly news from Russia, via OVD-Info. 

Andrey Lukyanov (left) and Oleg Vorotnikov (Right), a member of art group Voina. Lukyanov was beaten by police six years ago, when they mistook him for the artist in Moscow. Source: OVD-Info.

This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, a Russian organisation monitoring freedom of assembly. 

In case you find our work on protests of interest, we have written a report about our activities on 5 May. Thanks to all those who distributed information, worked at our office, and helped organise assistance to those detained. We value your help hugely.

The so-called Network case continues to develop. Nine men in Penza and St Petersburg have been charged with taking part in a terrorist group entitled the Network: allegedly, they were preparing mass disturbances in the country. A number of defendants have stated they were tortured by the FSB.

  • - Defendant Ilya Shakursky has withdrawn testimony in which he admitted his guilt as charged. He has also requested that investigator Valery Tokarev be taken off the case. Shakurskys lawyer asserts that this testimony was given under torture, and also as a result of pressure by Mikhail Grigoryan, his previous lawyer.

  • - lena Bogatova, Shakurskys mother, has made a complaint to the bar association against Mikhail Grigoryan. In the complaint, Bog...


Heritage peacebuilding in Iraq "IndyWatch Feed"

After years of funding being pumped to Iraqs NGO sector based on US military needs, local civil society is rebuilding itself based on Iraqi priorities, not least of which is heritage.

The ruins of the ancient city of Babylon in Iraq. Picture by Noe Falk Nielsen/NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. What Iraq is experiencing today is perhaps unprecedented in its recent history. An active, vibrant civil society, and an increasingly concerned citizenry are attempting to reclaim Iraqs history from the long-term effects of dictatorship, occupation and sectarian politics that have characterised Iraqs recent past. Iraqs rich heritage has been one of the least researched areas that has undergone significant transformation since 2003. After the recent defeat of the Islamic State, the next stage for Iraq is to rebuild what has either been badly damaged or destroyed. From 2003 till today, Iraqs national heritage has been neglected, causing major damage to this world-renowned heritage. Iraq now stands at an important crossroads. Focusing on rebuilding efforts and on heritage peace-building, providing support to domestic organisations, heritage practitioners and universities to rebuild their cultural institutions, could be one of the surest ways to help Iraqs war to peace transition. 

Heritage peace-building can simply be defined as international and domestic interventions to create and support the foundations for Iraqs national reconciliation, founded on its culturally rich past. In Iraq, and as the people of Iraq understand it, heritage is not merely the protection of tangible property but its embeddedness in new notions of Iraqi identity and being that are currently being negotiated by a large swathe of society. The international community should be cognizant of these social transformations currently taking place in the country, positioning its efforts to sustainably support the countrys local efforts to rebuild its heritage and country. 

Iraqs national heritage has been deliberately subdued as it was considered to act as a counterforce to ethno-nationalist politics

From the founding of the Iraqi s...


Rebirth of a small dark stranger: The Black Dwarf, the British New Left, and 1968 "IndyWatch Feed"

The radical newspaper Black Dwarf burst onto the scene in 1968 with an iconic cover. It didn't last but its spirit lives on.

Black Dwarf, May 1970.

The enduring image of New Left activism, both in Britain and elsewhere, remains that of 1968. Britains 1968, however, really began the year before. Publication of the May Day Manifesto gave voice to disenchantment with the first Wilson government and sketched out an alternative socialist programme. Produced by a group that included Edward Thompson, Raymond Williams, Mike Rustin and Stuart Hall, the Manifesto revived and radicalised an earlier New Leftism, but was quickly overtaken by a more avowedly revolutionary left culture. The Dialectics of Liberation conference brought to London Marxist intellectuals like Paul Sweezy and Herbert Marcuse alongside the Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, radical psychiatrist R.D Laing and poet Allen Ginsberg. A nine-day occupation of the LSE signalled the arrival of students as a distinct agent of the left. The Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC) was launched, carrying placards calling for Victory to the NLF!.

It was in this atmosphere that The Black Dwarf, now digitised and made available in full for the first time via the Amiel-Melburn Trust archive, was formed. It was conceived by the literary agent Clive Goodwin, who owned the name; the poet Christopher Logue who came up with the name; Tariq Ali, already a leader of VSC; designer Robin Fior; and poet Adrian Mitchell, among others. Black Dwarf set out to fill a space on the rejuvenated radical left for a popular publication. A broadsheet pre-issue distributed free on May Day demonstrations announced the birth of a small dark strange...


The Facebook referendum "IndyWatch Feed"

Erin believes if Irish people only realised the suffering the abortion ban inflicts on people, they would vote to repeal it.

You might know Erin as In Her Shoes, the Facebook page that has gained a following of 90,000 since she started posting crowd-sourced stories of abortion earlier this year. The page has made stories of tragedy go viral. Stories of rape. Stories of happily expected babies given a fatal diagnosis. Stories of secrecy and shame.

She got the idea for the page after canvassing for abortion access in the West of Ireland. An encounter with an elderly man who was against abortion but ready to hear an argument for cases of rape or incest convinced her that the only thing preventing a repeal of the Republic of Irelands near-total abortion ban was silence. She decided to break it.

It was really important to me to be involved in this campaign to find somebody who will vote for me, and vote for the future of my daughters, Erin told me, who is originally from the United States, but has lived in Ireland for 12 years after marrying an Irishman.

Erin spoke to me for the latest episode of The Irish Passport podcast, in which we dig into the murky social media tactics that have seen Facebook and Google slap advertising bans down ahead of the May 25 vote.


The episode also features a Facebook activist on the other side of the debate: Mitch Peace. Peace is 23, he works in a bank, and in his spare time he runs the Fact of the Day page that shares pro-life memes with an alt-right tinge. Interestingly, Mitch is also from the United States originally, but became a naturalised Irish citizen last year.

Two people with two completely opposed viewpoints, but both see themselves as fighting for the lives of the vulnerable. Their stories underline the deep, possibly irreconcilable, divisions exposed by the abortion referendum campaign.

You can listen to the episode online here.


No monopoly on David Kellys death: Miles Goslett responds to David Aaronovitchs criticism "IndyWatch Feed"

The author of An Inconvenient Death asks why Aaronovitch has spent so much time on a book he believes worthless and argues that Aaronovitchs own writing on the subject does not stand up well to scrutiny.

David Kelly leaving Parliament on 15 July 2003 after giving evidence to a Commons select committee. Image: Johnny Green/PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Ive been watching with interest the debate on this website between Peter Oborne and David Aaronovitch on the subject of my recently published book about the David Kelly affair. I had not expected that An Inconvenient Death was going to generate this sort of discussion but, now that these two writers have had their say, I have been invited to add some thoughts on the matter.

I was flattered that The Times devoted a page to Aaronovitchs review of my book on 7 April just two days after it was published (the review is quoted in full in Aaronovitchs response to Oborne on this site). As I read Aaronovitchs 1,200 words, however, I became increasingly puzzled. The first 40 per cent was a self-defensive commentary about Kellys death and the Blair governments management of it. Then, when Aaronovitch concluded: It stinks, really, does this waste of publishers, purchasers and reviewers time and money, I couldnt help wondering why he had bothered to read and then write about the book in the first place. Why did he waste his time and the highly prized space on the pages of The Times on what he considers to be worthless material? Why not ignore it?

To borrow a term, I think this stinks

One thing is clear to me: the fact that Aaronovitch has now devoted yet more time to  this concern by responding to Obornes dec...


Iran eyes Israel: the fire next time "IndyWatch Feed"

How a military exchange gives Tehran insight into a sworn enemy.

lead Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30, 2018, claims he can "prove" Iran's secret development of nuclear weapons. JINI/Press Association. All rights reserved.The international politics of escalating tension between Israel and Iran are in flux. In just three weeks, a change in the atmosphere can be measured in three ways.

First, the western airstrikes against Bashar al-Assad's regime on the night of 13-14 April were met with disappointment by advisors of Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Instead of a major operation that delivered a sharp warning to Iran over its military build-up in Syria, the attack was little more than symbolic. If the coordinated United States-France-United Kingdom action inflicted no real military damage, nor did it do anything to deter the Quds force the external arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from further building up its forces in Syria  (see "After the Syria raid: what next?", 17 April 2018).

Second, Trump's declared opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran was leading three of its other signatories   France, Germany and the UK to launch a strong diplomatic effort to dissuade him from repudiating it. For Israel, the deal's survival promised to be a worrying setback.

Third, the Assad regime's advancing control of Syrian territory was part of an emerging tripartite threat to Israel's regional power. A heavily armed, well entrenched and confident Hizbollah militia was based just across Israels northern border in Lebanon, with relatively easy supply-lines from Iran. And a permanent Quds force military...


For the frontrunners in the race to be mayor of Moldova's capital, city hall is no place for politics "IndyWatch Feed"

32714373_1839874162718477_6334540156975972352_n.jpgThis Sunday, Chiinu votes in the first round of mayoral elections. But as oligarchic forces line up to take the city, one thing is clear: the public sphere has been cleared of real politics. 

Chisinau City Hall. Public Domain Mirek237 / Wikipedia. This Sunday, local elections are scheduled to take place in Chiinu and Bli the capital and second largest city of Moldova respectively. These elections were announced after the mayors of these two cities, Dorin Chirtoac (Chiinu) and Renato Usati (Bli), resigned from their posts.

Renato Usati, elected as mayor of Bli in 2015, resigned in February 2018 after living for over a year in Moscow, hiding from Moldovan law enforcement. Moldovan prosecutors claim that Usati was involved in a criminal plot that intended to assassinate Russian banker German Gorbuntsov in London in 2012. In response to these allegations, Usati fled to Moscow in 2014 and attempted to rule the city from the Russian capital for more than a year. As the tensions between him and Vladimir Plahotniuc (an oligarch believed to control most of the Moldovan government) grew, Usati found it difficult to govern the city from afar. Last fall he announced his intention to conduct a local referendum in Bli in order to confirm his popularity, but the authorities in Moldova dismissed the initiative due to procedural violations. Then, in February this year, Usati unexpectedly announced his resignation, citing political and police pressure on city councillors from his political party. He expressed hopes that after the elections Bli would have a normal mayor and normal rule.

In Chiinu, Dorin Chirtoacs path to resignation was mor...


Senior Unionists prepared to talk to Dublin about possible unification "IndyWatch Feed"

Gary Gibbon of Channel  4 News is one of few  Westminster- based  political editors to keep up a sustained interest in Northern Ireland affairs..

Who are  these   liberal unionists? Do tell Gary. The source could  be  the Dublin government speaking from Sofia  Better still, unionists declare your hand!

Brexit: The DUPs hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland by Brexit: The DUPs hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland is licensed under Brexit: The DUPs hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland


But a new customs backstop wont be enough. "IndyWatch Feed"

If the temporary extension  of the customs relationship was greeted with euphoria, it was shortlived, as the FT reports. It exposes the next big issue. The single market looms.

Mrs May was accused by some Conservative MPs of bouncing the cabinet into adopting the scheme, and others said they had been kept in the dark. Senior EU officials also expressed doubts about the UK approach, warning that it diverges significantly from Brussels preferred outcome. If this is it, we will have a crisis, said one senior EU diplomat directly involved in talks.

Downing Street did not say how it would address regulatory alignment. Unless Northern Ireland remains part of the single market for goods, regulatory checks will be needed at the Irish border. The avoidance of a hard border requires not just a customs union, but close regulatory alignment, ranging from product standards to VAT. To Mr Barniers team, avoiding checks requires a common regulatory space allowing the free movement of goods. If offered to the UK as whole, such trade terms would divide the freedoms of the single market

For Berlin, the UK-wide backstop might look too much like carrying over the economic benefits of membership. Every populist in Europe would point and say: we want that, complained one northern European diplomat working on Brexit

Robert Peston spells it out.  

Now for the avoidance of doubt, although this is a significant victory for May over the arch Brexiters in her government, it solves very little of substance in respect of the passionate arguments over what Brexit should be in practice.

Remember this backstop is supposed to be a bridge from 2020 to whatever our permanent new customs arrangement with the EU will be. It is not a choice between NCP (being the EUs tariff collector forever) or Max Fac (tech solutions to prevent border checks). That decision is yet to be made though all my money is on Max Fac being the eventual choice.

But perhaps more importantly, I simply cannot see this backstop being deemed adequate by the EU27 unless it is accompanied by a pledge from the UK to maintain full alignment with the EUs product and food standards for just as long as the backstop is needed (I should point out here that the PM retains a hope that all new customs systems could be in place by the end of 2020, and the backstop would then be academic but few UK or EU officials agree with her).

So you w...


In two years of picketing, 15 miners of working age have died: how Rostov miners are fighting against all odds for their wages and respect "IndyWatch Feed"

For two years, workers at a bankrupt mining company in southern Russia attempting to recoup their outstanding wages. All this in a town with 100% unemployment. RU

Board of honor near the Kingcoals building. Photo: Evgeny Kosivtsov. All rights reserved.Two years ago, four mines in Gukovo, in the southern Rostov region, closed down. The mines were the towns main employer, but Kingcoal, the company that owned them, had gone bankrupt. Kingcoals CEO was sentenced to five years in prison for failing to pay employees for over a year and using company funds for his own purposes.

Next month will mark the second anniversary of the start of the Kingcoal miners campaign to get their wages. Almost every day, residents of Gukovo, who are mostly older people, take to the streets to demand their back pay: the Rostov regional authorities have paid out less than half of the outstanding sum. More than 2,000 people have been affected: half of the miners have yet to receive all the money due to them.

I went to Gukovo to find out how the miners are battling with the bureaucrats, how people live in a town without work and whether there is any hope of the mines reopening.

Kingcoal: a story of bankruptcy

As a town, Gukovo developed thanks to its coal deposits: mining began here before the 1917 revolution. The mines were originally state owned, but were privatised in the 2000s.

The Kingcoal company appeared in 2007, and by the end of 2012 it had acq...


Owning the future: why we need new models of ownership "IndyWatch Feed"

From the national to the firm level, new models of ownership can begin to reshape how our economy works and for whom.

The evidence of our broken economic model mounts. This week, the East Coast Mainline was taken back into temporary public control from Stagecoach and Virgin Trains. As a potent symbol of the failure of rail privatisation, where franchise operators win regardless of their performance but the costs are borne by passengers and taxpayers, it is striking. At the same time, Royal Mail year end results saw another record dividend payment to shareholders, with almost a billion pounds extracted from the company since privatisation, despite the sale promising increased inward investment. Meanwhile, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee released a devastating report into the failings of Carillion, exposing the flaws of the outsourcing model. Parasitic, over leveraged, weakly accountable, and delivering little value, these companies and their relationship to the state epitomise the inefficiencies and inequalities of our neoliberal political economy. Critically, these are not isolated symptoms of failure. We are in the middle of the longest stagnation in earnings for 150 years. Average weekly earnings have decoupled from GDP growth for the first time since comparable data has been available. Young people are set to earn less than the previous generation for the first time. We have the richest region in Europe inner London but most British regions are poorer than the European average. The UKs productivity performance has been abject for a decade. The cumulative environmental impacts of our economy are damaging and unsustainable. In short, our economic model is broken and needs radical reform. Piecemeal tinkering wont suffice. What is required is an urgent rethinking of how our economy is organised, and in whose interest. Fundamental to this must be an ambitious new agenda on ownership, one that isnt satisfied with the piecemeal nationalisation of railway franchises, or indeed the railway system as a whole, but instead seeks to transform how our economy as a whole is owned and governed, and in whose interests. Scaling up alternative models of ownership new ways of owning and governing enterprise to give workers and communities a stake and a say is critical. This is because ownership is the key to unlocking systems change. Indeed, we cannot achieve the paradigm shift w...

Thursday, 17 May


Why misunderstanding identity politics undermines the goals of a just society "IndyWatch Feed"

'Ideal citizens' should not be defined by a white patriarchal system.

The crisis of identity politics has undermined the concept of intersectionality, which is viewed as critical to the struggle for liberation from all forms of oppression. Credit: Hero Images/Getty Images via YES! Magazine. All rights reserved. 

In 2018, the term identity politics is often associated with the promotion of tokenized personalities rather than on the representation and advancement of oppressed communities within society. This form of identity politics often revolves around empty partisan placards and exclusive single-issue platforms rather than on forming inclusive alliances meant to stimulate fundamental structural change. As such, it reinforces a populism that serves white supremacy and patriarchy.

The crisis of identity politics has undermined the concept of intersectionality, which is viewed as critical to the struggle for liberation from all forms of oppression. The recent assassination of the Brazilian Black queer activist Marielle Franco and the consequent public uproar demonstrate the threat intersectional leaders pose to the ruling establishment that uses division and preserves privilege to stifle change. Leaders such as Fran...


The Rorschach Test "IndyWatch Feed"

I argued in an earlier piece that the word Unionism should be handled with extreme care, because it has become overloaded with far too many overlapping yet inconsistent meanings. For slightly different reasons, we should also avoid using the phrase United Ireland.

Unionism refers to a collection of existing things that can, with effort, be distinguished from each other. United Ireland, or its modern euphemism New Ireland, means nothing much at all, because it refers to a hypothetical something that has never existed or even been clearly defined.

Because it means nothing, the reader or listener is free to choose what to perceive in it. And just like a meaningless Rorschach inkblot, the readers perceptions are determined by the readers mind alone. If the reader is inclined to favour Irish Nationalism, then the ideas evoked are likely to be favourable, even Utopian. If the reader is not so inclined, then the phrase United Ireland will prompt unease, distaste and even fear.

Because what comes to mind when a vague phrase is uttered is equally vague. Nobody believes for a second that a United Ireland would lead to Protestants being driven into the Bann. But such associations are stored in the subconscious and, even if not remembered explicitly, their presence colours and shapes the reaction to even marginally related ideas. How many people reading the words United Ireland involuntarily hear it in an Andytown-accented inner voice?

The art of persuasion is mainly the art of minimising the number of negative associations while maximising the positive ones. And a speaker who wishes to persuade, to sell, must work backwards from what he wants the listener to think, not forwards from what he himself wants to say.

Brexit was such an inkblot. There were well-informed people on both sides, but the majority would freely admit to being ignorant (to varying degrees) of the workings of the EU and the consequences of leaving it. The question was deceptively simple, but it has become painfully obvious in hindsight that those who campaigned for it and voted for it had wildly divergent perceptions of what Brexit actually meant in practice.

Free-traders looked upon the inkblot and saw great ships bestriding the waves. Libertarians saw a bonfire of statutes and judgements. Others saw the return of jobs to provincial towns, or an end to demographic change. Not all of these could possibly be true simultaneously. Maybe none of them will end up being true. The inkblot remains inscrutable.

The 8th amendment referendum could have been as confusing, but the Irish Government took the decision to avoid a Rorschach calamity by publishing the heads of their proposed legislation. No matter what way the result falls next week...


Breaking The UK will meet the June deadline with a breakthrough plan for Brexit and the border, to a cautious welcome from Varadkar "IndyWatch Feed"

Has  the fog started to clear?  Can any sense be made of the claim and denial about extending the transition beyond 2020 to buy time to solve the customs relationship and the border?

The Guardian, RTE and the BBC all thinks so, reporting top level briefings from both governments  at the EU summit  in Sofia. Without overdoing  it sounds like a modest breakthrough on the hitherto incompatible versions of the stopgap .

The longer term relationship involving a longer transition to perhaps 2023 remains problematical, with the  EU concerned  about a deal involving the single market and Brexiteers fearing too close a relationship with the EU inhibiting free trade deals with other countries, or even no Brexit at all.

The Guardian

Stalemate; deadlock; impasse or as Jeremy Corbyn put it at PMQs on Wednesday, complete disarray. The narrative about Theresa Mays approach to Brexit and the customs union has barely changed for weeks.

Yet quietly, officials were congratulating themselves on Thursday about making incremental progress on a closely interlinked issue the Irish border.

After media reports overnight, Theresa May issued a carefully worded statement as she arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Friday, repeating the familiar statement that Britain will be leaving the customs union.

But Whitehall sources confirmed that away from the deadlocked Brexit war cabinet her strategy and negotiations subcommittee a fresh proposal has been agreed that Britain hopes would avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, if all else fails.

This backstop was written into the December agreement between London and Brussels, at the request of Ireland. It commits Britain to maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.

What that will mean in practice needs to be spelled out in detail. The EU has published its own definition, which would involve Britain remaining in the single market and customs union but May told parliament no prime minister could ever agree to that.

May and her chief negotiator, Olly Robbins, have won the backing of key ministers for a British counter-proposal.

If the backstop had to be enacted, Britain would agree to maintain the common external tariff the import tax levied on goods coming into the EU, which is h...


Progressive politics must rediscover its moral purpose: a response to Michael Sandel "IndyWatch Feed"

Michael Sandel is right: progressive politics has become too technocratic, writes Labour politician Jon Cruddas.

Protest against Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, 2017 Protest against Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, 2017. Image: Erik McGregor/SIPA USA/PA Images.

OpenDemocracy asks who is responsible for the global rise of the far right? In his recent diagnosis of modern capitalism and escalating threats to liberal democracy Michael Sandel has offered an elegant answer.

He observes that for many of our fellow citizens capitalism has failed to deliver, and yet across the planet progressive politics remains in crisis: it lacks an animating purpose or energy. This is expressed politically in electoral defeats and ideologically in the absence of a conception of the good life. For Sandel, progressive politics must rediscover its essential moral purpose. This challenge goes far beyond questions of material justice: it is one of historic proportions, nothing less than the need to build a new public philosophy for progressive politics. How do we in the UK respond to such a challenge? Not least because Jeremy Corbyn and the current Labour Party appear to be exceptions to this overall story of defeat and decline.

In the face of escalating authoritarianism, Sandel suggests that the way we react should be disciplined into an economy of outrage so that energy is channelled into the creation of a rigorous political response. Such a response would be one that moves beyond quite understandable forms of protest and resistance; this is the outstanding political test of our time. Success therein demands awareness of the forces driving todays bewildering political changes.

Before we can formulate a response, we must understand the fundamental failure of progressive politics which long ago lost its ethical gri...


England is restless, change is coming "IndyWatch Feed"

The Labour MP and senior shadow cabinet member calls for a constitutional convention to wrest power from the UK's unaccountable, neoliberal elite.

Labour politician Jon Trickett speaks to the media outside the Institute of Engineering in London in 2017 Labour politician Jon Trickett speaks to the media outside the Institute of Engineering in London in 2017. Image: Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images.

This article is based on the speech given to IPPR London on 14 May 2018 and includes some of Jon Tricketts answers in the discussion. 

My purpose today is to make a big argument about the state of politics in England. Namely, without radical devolution we are not going to achieve social justice.

Im pleased to be speaking here at IPPR as recently you produced an important report describing the emergence of Englishness as a political force.

You were correct to begin a conversation about England. There is a restlessness here. A mounting dissatisfaction which Little Englander politics has attempted to colonise. I am going to set out why their narrow message fundamentally misunderstands what is happening. 

Failing economics together with centralisation of power has done untold damage not only to the poorest but also to middle England. This should never have happened. The introduction of universal suffrage a century ago should have secured majority rule, whilst protecting minority rights. Back then, in 1921, Kipling wrote about the class structure in England:

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made

By singing Oh How wonderful and sitting in the shade

While better men than we go out and start their working lives

By grubbing weeds from garden paths with broken dinner knives

A century later, that class divide remains deep and is getting worse.



The Criminal Justice System and Lessons from the Belfast Rape Trial "IndyWatch Feed"

The issues around the recent Belfast rape case have been well rehearsed; the unavoidable media saturation kept it well on the agenda of too many workplace coffee breaks and social media rants. This article will not rehash those conversations. Its purpose is to explore the challenge made to the criminal justice system by the activists who organised the rallies in its aftermath.

The rally outside the court on the day after the judgement saw around 800 people attend in a collective expression of anger at the process, regardless of the verdict that was delivered. We had heard things said by legal professionals that we felt surely had no place in a court of law. Sexist stereotypes about women, sex and rape are a part of our culture. We may have to roll our eyes or call it out when we encounter it in our social circles, but to see those same myths and stereotypes being put to work in a state institution was truly disturbing.

Its worth noting that the Public Prosecution Service agrees with my assessment. Their document Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Rape lists 11 examples of myths and stereotypes which they say they do not allow to influence decisions. This list includes things like if they did not screamit was not rape. And yet defence teams can clearly rely on this myth with total freedom before a jury. This is highly inconsistent.

My own personal motivation for wanting to speak out in the aftermath of this case came from the fear that what had been laid bare by the media was likely to put off future victims of rape from reporting and seeking justice. We already have a serious problem with under-reporting in this country, which could be as high as 83% if it falls in line with the figure identified for England and Wales through the 2016/17 Crime Survey.

Its no surprise that so few people choose to seek justice when they are raped. The most recent statistics released by the PSNI paint a dismal picture when it comes to prosecution and conviction rates. Last year only 5% of the almost 900 rapes reported to the police resulted in a charge or a summons and only 1.8% of those reported ended in a conviction.

Women talk to each other about these experiences. We know what our friends and family members have been through, with nothing to show for it. I have the utmost respect for any victim of rape who chooses to face what many describe as a secondary trauma in order to bring a rapist to justice. And post-Belfast rape trial it worries me that ther...


1968: a revolution too early to judge "IndyWatch Feed"

Screen Shot 2018-05-18 at 10.06.28.pngThe events of 1968 have been stripped of their meaning and are now more a symbol of capitulation than revolution. Accepting this is the first step to making its legacy relevant again. RU

May 1968: graffiti in a University of Lyon classroom. CC BY-SA 3.0 George Garrigues / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.The 50th anniversary of the events of 1968 has not provoked a welter of emotions. I have in mind, of course, not academic and cultural commemorations. Depoliticised, the spirit of 1968 still inspires art shows and academic conferences, which, however, reveal their utter powerlessness when it comes to politics. Unlike other great revolutions of the past, the spectre of 1968 is not reanimated in the struggles of our contemporaries, and its legacy not only lies unclaimed, but is even an embarrassment. Elites in the west view 1968 more as a point of consensus than a cause for concern, for these events have a unique capacity, despite our nave presumptions, for confirming the old conservative truth that revolutions only strengthen the things they opposed.

Instead of putting an end to capitalism, 1968 instilled it with new force, ingenuity and the energy of individual rebellion. Successfully mastering the lingo of the youth protests that took place 50 years ago, todays pro-market ideology mounts ferocious attacks on the presents predictability and mundaneness in order to colonize the future creatively. In The New Spirit of Capitalism, French sociologists Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello mercilessly argued how the radical critique of the system had been used to renew it. The 1960s rebellion against post-war bureaucratised capitalism gave way to the triumph of the neoliberal projective city, rooted in market deregulation and privatisation of the public sphere. The spirit of protest was transformed into a new spiri...


Yes, neoliberalism is a thing. Don't let economists tell you otherwise "IndyWatch Feed"

On the list of ten tell-tale signs youre a neoliberal, insisting that Neoliberalism Is Not A Thing must surely be number one.

The really fascinating battles in intellectual history tend to occur when some group or movement goes on the offensive and asserts that Something Big really doesnt actually exist.

So says Philip Morowski in his book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown. As Mirowski argues, neoliberalism is a particularly fascinating case in point.The really fascinating battles in intellectual history tend to occur when some group or movement goes on the offensive and asserts that Something Big really doesnt actually exist. So says Philip Morowski in his book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown. As Mirowski argues, neoliberalism is a particularly fascinating case in point. Just as Thatcher asserted there was no such thing as society, its common to find economics commentators asserting that there is no such thing as neoliberalism that its simply a meaningless insult bandied about by the left, devoid of analytical content. But on the list of ten tell-tale signs youre a neoliberal, insisting that Neoliberalism Is Not A Thing must surely be number one. The latest commentator to add his voice to the chorus is Sky Economics Editor Ed Conway. On the Sky blog, he gives four reasons why Neoliberalism Is Not A Thing. Let's look at each of them in turn:

1. Its only used by its detractors, not by its supporters

This one is pretty easy to deal with, because its flat-out not true. As Mirowski documents, the people associated with the doctrine did call themselves neo-liberals for a brief period lasting from the 1930s to the early 1950s, but then they abruptly stopped the practice deciding it would serve their political project better if they claimed to be the heirs of Adam Smith than if they consciously distanced themselves from classical liberalism. Heres just one example, from Milton Friedman in 1951:

a new ideology must give high priority to real and efficient limitation of the states ability to, in detail, intervene in the activities of the individual. At the same time, it is absolutely clear that there are positive functions allotted to the state. The doctrine that, one and off, has been called neoliberalism and that has developed, more or less simultaneously in many parts of the world is precisely such a doctrine But instead of the 19th cent...


The uncomfortable truth about post-Soviet comfort foods "IndyWatch Feed"

What nourishes us also destroys us: this old saying holds true not only for food, but also politics.

Kvass street vendor, Rga, Latvia, July 1977. Photo CC A 3.0: S. Vecrumba / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved. Sometime ago, after a fair amount of Friday night pub drinking with Ukrainian friends in London, I end up at their place for a 3am snack. They pull out a jar of tushonka, a post-war food staple made of canned stewed meat from military supplies shipped to the Soviet Union by the US. How did this fatty grub with a shelf life that makes it sound more like a post-apocalyptic survival food than a delicacy end up in London? As it turns out, its homemade: my friends parents sent it from Ukraine in one of those delivery vans that shuttle across Europe, transporting goods and parcels every week, thus sustaining a dense network of cross-border ties. In a city that has hundreds of restaurants, cafes, pubs and food stalls; where all sorts of meat are sold, from humble pork to exotic crocodile; where steaks are cooked every minute, to any degree of perfection, from blue to well done in this city, a glass jar of processed meat with a thick layer of lard which has travelled over 1,000 miles to connect a village near Ivano-Frankivsk in west Ukraine with a flat near Kings Cross, seems to have a much greater symbolic than nutritional value.

Its comfort food, and it tastes good at 3am after a few pints. But wouldnt, say, a kebab be tastier? Doesnt tushonka probably contain too much cholesterol? Isnt it reminiscent of the dismal living conditions during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 1990s? Isnt it synonymous with the precarious state in which so many citizens of the former Soviet Union have been living to date? And are food choices also political choices?

Theres another side of this, though, a darker one. In April 2018, The Sun published an article mentioning that the former Russian spy Sergey Skripal...


New backstop plan ties the whole UK to the customs union to buy time for solving the border problem "IndyWatch Feed"

The rumour has now become fact (almost)

Britain will tell Brussels it is prepared to stay tied to the customs union beyond 2021 as ministers remain deadlocked over a future deal with the EU, the Telegraph has learned.

The Prime Ministers Brexit war Cabinet earlier this week agreed on a new backstop as a last resort to avoid a hard Irish border, having rejected earlier proposals from the European Union.

Ministers signed off the plans on Tuesday despite objections from Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, and Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary. A pro-European Cabinet source said that Mr Johnson and Mr Gove were outgunned during the meeting and reluctantly accepted the plans.

The Brexit sub-committee reached a consensus that Britain will stay aligned to the customs union if highly complex technology needed to operate borders after Brexit is not ready. Officials have warned it may not be in place until 2023.

Sources said that the new Irish backstop will be strictly time-limited and make clear that Britain will be free to implement trade deals.

However, Eurosceptics have raised concerns that it could lead to Britain being tied to the customs union indefinitely.

Downing St in a sort of non- denial denial have said no decisions have been taken.

 Later ..

Theresa May has denied climbing down over membership of the customs union after Britain leaves the EU.

Downing Street sources earlier dismissed reports that the Brexit war cabinet had agreed that the UK would have to stay in the customs union for an extended period if there is to be is no hard Irish border.

One source dismissed the reports, saying: There was no proposal discussed or agreed that would see us staying in the customs union beyond the implementation period.

But the BBC are reporting that ministers recognise  that extending the transition deadline beyond December 2020 is the only way to break the deadlock over the customs union...


Trade unions must stand, unequivocally, against anti-LGBTI discrimination at work "IndyWatch Feed"

Unions have a key role to play in combating oppression and prejudice at work. This includes the ongoing fight for LGBTI equality.

London Pride Parade, 2009. Photo: Ian Rovertson/Flickr. CC-BY-2.0To live happily, let's live in the closet? For millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people around the world, this is not just an issue of privacy, but its the only way to live full stop, or to escape prison.

Successful LGBTI rights campaigns have won victories, pushing governments to legislate against discrimination. In 2017, almost 1 billion people around the world lived in one of the 25 countries that allow same-sex marriage. In 2000, this did not exist anywhere in the world. Still, same-sex relationships are considered a crime in more than 70 countries, sometimes punishable by death.

At work, LGBTI people continue, to varying degrees, to face mockery and violence, and to see their careers limited by their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Discrimination starts right from the job search.

In Europe, where legal frameworks are more favourable than in other parts of the world, one in eight LGBTI respondents to a 2013 survey said they have suffered discrimination at work because of their identity, and the percentage goes up to 30% for transgender people.

According to the...


Migrant workers fighting for freedom under Lebanons Kefala system "IndyWatch Feed"

In Lebanon, a women-only group of migrant domestic workers have come together to fight for rights in the workplace. 

Performances by migrant domestic workers during a celebration of women's day in Beirut. Picture by authors. Used with permission. As one dance ended and the audience burst into applause, loud Ivorian beats began to blare from the speaker in preparation for the next performance. The room, full of beautifully dressed women in saris, pagnes, jeans and shiny sequinnedtops, jostled for space in the packed theatre.  

Before the last dance, Rose took the stage, switching fluently between English and French. I want everyone to know that we are human beings. That we have skills and dreams other than just working in peoples houses. 

It might not seem a lot to ask for, but in Lebanon where these women work, their most basic human rights are systematically violated. Just two years ago, domestic workers would face detention and deportation if they were found to have a relationship. They even want to control who we love and when we love, Rose told us. 

There are an estimated 250,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, making up nearly 10% of the countrys female population.

Excluded from the national labour law, migrant domestic workers are forced to work under the infamous Kafala system, a system of sponsorship that binds an employee to their employer in a slave-like relationship. Under Kafala, the right of an employee to enter, work and reside in Lebanon is utterly dependent on their employer....


Much to dislike about the 8th referendum campaign "IndyWatch Feed"

As the campaigns to repeal or retain the 8th Amendment forge ahead, the first major television debate is now in the history books.

The three on three format, on RTs Claire Byrne Live with audience contributions and boisterous applause throughout, has been criticised for shedding more heat than light.

Meanwhile, Googles late stage decision to call a halt to all online referendum advertisements, no matter who pays for them, has sparked outrage from backers of a No vote, who are widely regarded to have had an advantage on the internet and who directed substantial resources there.

The timing and extent of the ban is unfortunate at many levels and may lend credence to the cries of the No side that elements of the establishment explicitly and implicitly leaned on Google to act, lest it be blamed ultimately in certain powerful quarters for retention of the 8th Amendment.  That said, the assertions of anti-abortion campaigners that they had to focus on the web because the mainstream media would not allow them to get their message out are overwrought.  Additionally, their online focus, a la the Trump campaign and Brexit, may have been misplaced in a small jurisdiction like Ireland.

In a highly charged environment, both sides can be forgiven and speaking ruthlessly politically congratulated for efficacious advocacy.

In relentless and single-minded pursuit of victory, however, the Yes and No campaigns have each employed a stratagem that is disturbing, unnecessary and could have detrimental consequences that endure long after the people decide on the 25th.

One of the repeated mantras of those leading the campaign to retain the 8th Amendment has been that repealing this provision from the Constitution is tantamount to handing a blank cheque to politicians to determine what Irelands abortion laws should be.

Extraordinarily, speaking from the audience in the Claire Byrne Live debate, Senator Rnn Mullen said Im a politician.  You cant trust politicians. This appeal may be shrewd, but only in the short t...


Oil be dammed! Oil is back yet there is more so much more "IndyWatch Feed"

by Russell Bruce

Oil has got interesting again. The dramatic collapse in oil prices started in late 2014 lasting until January 2016 when Brent oil dropped below $30 a barrel. That made everyone very nervous in the investment world. For the consumer it was a bonus, heating oil dropped in price and the cost of filling the car tank began to look affordable.

Now the oil price has recovered substantially and after a strong spurt since the beginning of 2018, Brent has this week, been pushing against $80 a barrel. At the close of business on Wednesday Brent closed at $78.16 a barrel. That is good news for petroleum tax revenues and company cash flow but not such good news for consumers with the rise feeding back into inflation as anyone watching the pump prices is all too aware.

The bottom in January 2016 was short and sharp. Oil has risen steadily since with short retrenchment periods and the recovery period is now into the first quarter of its third year. Bank of America is suggesting oil will hit $100 a barrel next year. I cant tell you if it will but do suggest that might not be such a good deal for the industry or consumer.

The rise in price is all to do with supply and demand. The glut in storage has been cleared. OPEC and Russia are cutting supplies to keep the market in balance. The US is pumping shale for all it is worth as the shale industry has learned to cope with lower prices due to: engineering and technology improvements; low interest rates; strong home demand and a growing export market.

Demand has risen but higher prices could cut consumption back in the States as interest rates rise and income levels barely shift for the majority of wage earners. Trump walking out of the Iran deal probably had as much to do with oil as concern for their disruptive activities in other middle-eastern countries.

Why hit on Iran? Every other country in the region is meddling beyond its borders. Iran has oil. Sanctions cut off supplies, potentially taking Irans 5% of global oil output off the market.

The North Sea is looking good

Way back in 2014 we were told oil prices were volatile. True. We were told we needed the broad shoulders of the UK to even out these fluctuations. Absolute nonsense. Northern neighbour Norway, more dependent on harvesting their oil gains than Scotland, has needed nobody elses shoulders to lean on. They have built their own broad shoulders by investing the tax gains for the future, and a nice little nest egg it is, to provide for the post oil world in a country that wants to make sure they can pay a decent pension to a population that has worked hard and deserves financial security in retirement.

I analysed the downward trends in January 2015 ...

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