Category Archives: Foreign policy
In a recent post on this site, economist Martin Wolf (FT) was quoted, reminding readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.
He continued: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”. (See MP Dawn Butler, 2nd paragraph)
In similar vein, Jenni Russell writes:
“The president’s actions are more important than his words, and they are a betrayal of his voters
“President Trump is brilliant at diversionary tactics, whether tweets, tantrums, or executive orders that may or may not mean anything in practical terms. His speech to Congress was another in his string of conjuror’s illusions.
“Breitbart and the Trump base adored it for its promises to put American workers first, improve their healthcare, incomes and education, cut their taxes, and protect them from danger abroad and immigrants at home. Trump’s liberal critics were momentarily dazzled to find that for at least an hour the president was capable of addressing the nation in a reasonable, conciliatory tone. But we now know that Trump’s public promises and assertions are so full of contradictions that they cannot be taken either literally or seriously.
“Instead we have to scrutinise the practical consequences of the policies his team is implementing. The effect of these won’t be to transform the lives of the people he swore to champion. They will make the rich much richer at the expense of the middle class and the poor”.
She notes that Trump’s tax plan is overwhelmingly skewed towards the wealthy:
- America’s Tax Policy Centre shows nearly half of the total tax cut will go to the top 1% of taxpayers.
- Almost a quarter will be spent on the richest 0.1%, households that earn above $3.7 million a year.
- The middle fifth of households, earning an average of $65,000, will gain just a thousand dollars.
- Less than 7% of the total cost of tax cuts will be spent on them.
- Because Trump intends to drop tax exemptions for children, some families earning less than $50,000 a year will actually see their taxes rise.
- The budgets for education, childcare and medical research will be slashed by at least 15% per cent.
- Trump proposes to end the state tax, which affects only the top 0.2 per cent of the population.
- His proposed cuts to corporation tax range from 35 to 20%
This surreptitious transfer cannot be what Trump supporters expected
Jenni continues: “Trump’s promise to create jobs through a vast infrastructure plan are equally tilted towards the rich. Investors will be offered tax breaks costing $137 billion to encourage them to invest a trillion dollars in projects that offer potential returns from fees or tolls. And far from bringing jobs to depressed regions, the projects will be skewed towards wealthier areas, because there will be no incentive to invest in areas where there’s no hope of a financial return, like the crumbling roads of the Appalachians”.
Still justified by demonstrably failed trickle down theory
Republicans defend this kind of unbalanced reward as they always have, arguing that the more money individuals keep, the more they will spend and the more everyone will benefit. These policies – in addition to the cuts Trump is demanding to pay for his boom in defence spending – will add huge sums to the deficit and drastically shrink the money available for public programmes. Jenni ends:
“Trump promised to protect his voters but the gulf between what he pledged and what he’s delivering is evident everywhere. His teams are busy dismantling consumer, financial and environmental regulations that prevented ordinary people being fleeced or having their land and water defiled. His supporters stubbornly believe in him but they are being betrayed. There can only be more fear and disillusion to come”.
Meanwhile Wall Street is soaring in anticipation, with the Dow Jones breaking the 21,000 barrier for the first time within hours of the speech. That extra money will overwhelmingly go into the bank accounts of those with the most shares – and the May government now turns from squeezing the disabled to the bereaved, successfully passing drastic cuts in payments for which national insurance contributions had been made and raising probate fees.
*Trumpton and Mayhem: first passing reference made on Our Birmingham website by architect David Heslop, moving towards employee ownership.
Eva Amsen adds to the apprehensions of many readers who have friends or relatives living and working in Britain as EU citizens
Note also that David Gray solicitors reminds us there are large numbers of Britons working and running businesses in EU states.
Recent estimates by the UK government are that around 2.2 million British citizens live in other EU countries.
EU states could also impose visa restrictions upon British nationals.
Her account of the situation is summarised here (Ed: preamble and graphic added):
Misconception 1: Any Europeans who are already living in the UK will be able to stay
We have been trying to get the government to make exactly this promise, which a lot of people take as a given, but they have not done so. They’re waiting for all other EU countries to make a similar promise for UK residents abroad. Both Europeans in the UK and British citizens in EU countries are being used as bargaining chips. If you see an “I’m not a bargaining chip” image on social media, that’s what this is about. The insecurity about the future status of EU residents in the UK is already causing people to leave, creating labour shortages.
Misconception 2: If you’re a skilled worker with degrees, you can definitely stay
There is an immigration route into the UK for skilled workers from outside of the EU (and you might, for example, have American friends who moved here via that process) but this immigration pathway is NOT currently available for Europeans to use. There is only one immigration pathway for all Europeans regardless of degrees or jobs, and the system is malfunctioning (more on that below).The immigration requirements are actually extra hard for scientists and other academics, who can get disqualified either because they didn’t have the right insurance during their full-time PhD . . .
Misconception 3: If you have strong ties to the UK, like a British spouse or children, you can definitely stay
Ironically, some of the people who have lived here the longest — who did their degree here and/or raised kids here — are now told they might not be able to stay. Having a British spouse or British children is entirely irrelevant for the immigration procedure for Europeans in the UK. You can only apply to become a permanent resident if you have “exercised treaty rights” for five years in the UK. That either means that you have worked during that period, and paid national insurance contributions via your employment, or that you had your own “comprehensive sickness insurance” during the years you were not employed.Until people started looking into immigration after the referendum last summer, most EU citizens in the UK had no idea that they were supposed to have had this kind of insurance. Nobody ever told them. Nobody ever asked for it. Nobody ever checked. Until now. In particular students and stay-at-home parents are affected by this insurance requirement. Many people who have been married to a Brit for decades are now being told that they are not qualified to become a permanent resident of the UK. A British spouse cannot be a “sponsor” for their immigration application.So, ironically, some of the people who have lived here the longest — who did their degree here and/or raised kids here — are now told they might not be able to stay.
Misconception 4: Okay, I think I get it: If you worked continuously in the UK for at least five years, you will definitely be allowed to stay
Well….maybe. This is currently the most likely guarantee, but there are snags in the system. First of all, we don’t know for certain that permanent resident status achieved on the basis of fulfilling EU treaty requirements will indeed remain valid after Brexit. That’s again something we would like the government to confirm. Many people are applying anyway, because it’s the only immigration route we qualify for, and the non-EU route (which we might have to use in the future) is twenty times as expensive. Second, the evidence required to prove that you have indeed fulfilled all the requirements to be here legally is enormous and elaborate. Do you still have all your old payslips? I didn’t, and I have now had to go back to two previous employers to request them (and a letter) to be able to complete the employment evidence section of my application. if you thought you were being environmentally friendly with paperless billing and electronic bank statements, that is a huge disadvantage.Employment evidence alone is not enough. To prove that you lived in the UK continuously, you also need things like old utility bills or other pieces of official mail sent to your address throughout the years. Electronic documents do not count, so if you thought you were being environmentally friendly with paperless billing and electronic bank statements, that is a HUGE disadvantage when you need to prove that you lived in the country all this time. And if you were living with housemates or a partner, you better have been the person the bills were addressed to! Finally, the Home Office wants to see proof that you were an EU citizen during the five year qualifying period, so if you renewed your passport recently you will need to still have the old one. Many embassies keep the old passport when they give you a new one, so this also a challenge for a lot of people!
Misconception 5: UK citizens in other EU countries are having similar problems.
They are not! Each country sets their own immigration procedures, and the Members of European Parliament that looked into the situation have not found evidence that the procedures for UK residents to settle in other EU countries have been as challenging.The permanent resident application system has lots of bugs in it. One commonly encountered issue is that someone who used to receive child benefits in the past, but doesn’t anymore, is technically unable to fill in the online application form. When they follow the steps in the online application, the thread of questioning brings them to a dead end where it is impossible to answer that they don’t currently receive any benefits.
It’s a weird, broken, application process and it needs to be fixed.
Eva ends: I will be visiting parliament on February 20 as part of a mass lobby for EU residents rights in the UK. We are mainly pushing for the government to make a firm statement about our status, i.e. to make it official that everyone who was already here can stay. This has been hinted at, but is not yet certain. (See “misconception 1” above). Everyone will try to speak to their MP about their own experience. Even if you can’t be there in person, anyone in the UK can contact their own MP to ask them to push for clarity and security for EU residents in the country. If I manage to get to talk to my MP, I want to focus in particular on the challenges that academics/researchers face with the current application system (see “misconception 2” above)
There is a petition asking for a reform of the permanent resident application, which addresses some of the same issues I described above.
Eva Amsen: Writer, science communicator, musician. I’m a biochemist by training, but now I work with scientists rather than as one.
From James Robertson: Newsletter No. 53
Why is the world controlled by people who behave with less benign and positive motives?
Why and by whom are large numbers of people compelled to migrate from their own countries to others, with many of them and their children being drowned on the way?
Why does what we call ‘wealth’ create such wide inequalities and injustice between people,
why does ’wealth’ creation require and result in the destruction of the resources of the planet on which all of us depend for our survival?
Why is so much ‘wealth’ spent on competing to create ‘arms’ with which nations or individuals can damage or destroy one another?
Why do so few of our political and business leaders seem to recognise that our species is facing the possibility of suicide before of the end of the present century?
What should we be doing to avoid that happening?
The whole newsletter – and others – can be read by visiting www.jamesrobertson.com/newsletter.htm.
Is that news to anyone?
This site and others have been focussing on this appalling phenomenon corrupting governance for years, so much so that corruption of politicians and supporting media is no longer shocking: it is the norm.
As such, frequent news of revolving doors and rewards for failure has been under-reported on this site of late – despite many significant leads from regular readers – because these items just repeat our view of the state of the nation.
However the ever-eloquent George Monbiot is more persistent
He explains: “Dark money is the term used in the US for the undisclosed funding of organisations involved in political advocacy. Few people would see a tobacco company as a credible source on public health, or a coal company as a neutral commentator on climate change. To advance their political interests, such companies must pay others to speak on their behalf”.
Though corporate America was horrified by some of Donald Trump’s positions, especially on trade, once he had secured the nomination, big money began to recognise an unprecedented opportunity.
Monbiot continues: “Trump was prepared not only to promote the cause of corporations in government, but to turn government into a kind of corporation, staffed and run by executives and lobbyists. His incoherence was not a liability but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network that some American corporations had already developed was perfectly positioned to shape it”.
He looks into the historical background:
“Soon after the Second World War, some of America’s richest people began setting up a network of thinktanks to promote their interests. These purport to offer dispassionate opinions on public affairs. But they are more like corporate lobbyists, working on behalf of those who founded and fund them.
“These are the organisations now running much of the Trump administration”.
He then relates the story of MP Liam Fox
In 1997, Liam Fox founded an organisation called The Atlantic Bridge. Its patron was Margaret Thatcher. On its advisory council sat the future cabinet ministers Michael Gove, George Osborne, William Hague and Chris Grayling. Fox, who became a leading campaigner for Brexit, described the mission of The Atlantic Bridge as “to bring people together who have common interests”. It would defend these interests from “European integrationists who would like to pull Britain away from its relationship with the United States”. The Atlantic Bridge (link no longer informative) was later registered as a charity – only after it collapsed did the full story of who had funded it emerge.
Read the tedious and depressing details in the Guardian or on this site here.
How did Fox achieve this position, after the scandal that brought him down six years ago? Monbiot explains: “The man who ran the UK branch of The Atlantic Bridge was his friend Adam Werrity, who . . . carried a business card naming him as Fox’s adviser but was never employed by the Ministry of Defence, joined the secretary of state on numerous ministerial visits overseas, and made frequent visits to Fox’s office”.
The Charity Commission investigated The Atlantic Bridge and determined that its work didn’t look very charitable. It had to pay back the tax from which it had been exempted (Hintze picked up the bill) and the trustees shut the organisation down. Monbiot continues; “As the story about Adam Werrity’s unauthorised involvement in the business of government began to grow, Fox made a number of misleading statements. He was left with no choice but to resign”.
As the Financial Times reported, the election of Donald Trump transformed the fortunes of Liam Fox: he is back on the front bench, with a crucial and sensitive portfolio – Secretary of State for International Trade – an indispensable member of Theresa May’s front bench team: “The shadow diplomatic mission he developed through The Atlantic Bridge plugs him straight into the Trump administration”.
Taking back control from Europe means closer integration with the US
Monbiot adds that European laws protecting the public interest were portrayed by Conservative Eurosceptics as intolerable intrusions on corporate freedom and the transatlantic ‘special relationship’ is a relationship between political and corporate power. He ends with the following warning, sent by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 to the US Congress:
“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism”.
Monbiot adds “It is a warning we would do well to remember”.
Davos 1: President Xi Jinping says the West should help to fix the broken “bullet train” of globalization
Reuters features China’s official Xinhua news agency bulletin on the WEF’s annual forum in Davos which quotes Chinese President Xi Jinping – the first Chinese president to attend a World Economic Forum meeting.
Xi will deliver a speech on the first day of the forum promoting a message of “inclusive globalization” Chinese officials said on Wednesday.
He has said that the “bullet train” of globalization is broken and the West is obliged to help fix it. Xinhua adds, “It is both the West’s moral obligation and (only) feasible choice to turn the tide and work with the developing world – to make painstaking reforms on domestic and global governance systems for a fairer world – if they want to keep their interests and competitiveness intact”.
Xinhua also hit back at those within the developed world who say emerging economies are stealing jobs and resources, commenting: “These people, also among the biggest beneficiaries of globalization, are only endeavoring for a cozier seat on the irresistible journey of this ‘bullet train’ “.
Days after Donald Trump’s victory, Xi vowed to fight protectionism and push forward with multilateral trade deals.
Much of the media is taking its usual stance referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘handlers’ as though he were a pit bull terrier. The Times has determined that he was making a bid to relaunch his leadership which has been derailed and Jim Pickard in the FT, author of many hostile articles, focusses on pay caps but not pay ratios.
It is good to turn to sane and rightminded commentators such as Peter Burgess (Times comments) and Maisie Carter (recent article). Peter spells out the Corbyn message with absolute clarity and rather more bluntly than JC:
- It is very clear he wants top execs pay to reflect that of the lowest paid worker for them to earn more and not rely on tax payers to boost their salaries and for the top execs to earn a decent salary but nor one that is obscene (sadly so many Tories want to see the poor get poorer and the rich richer).
- He also wants to ensure that we continue to bring in workers when needed but ensure they don’t depress wages for British workers.
- Of course those at the top getting obscene salaries want to disgrace Corbyn because the last thing they want is for their salaries to fall under £500,000 a year.
- There’s big and there’s obscene especially when they are telling others to tighten their belts, can’t afford to pay you more then handing themselves 7 and 8 figure salaries and bonuses.
- What shows double standards are all those commenting on here who think salaries of over £100,000 a year are too much if somebody is running the NHS, a local authority or running a Union.
- I do find it difficult to understand how anybody can find the policies which have allowed so many workers to have their wages and working conditions deteriorate whilst CEO’s are paying themselves up to 700x the salary of their employees as being fair and something they’d support.
- I would add that labour to their shame played an important part in allowing these obscene differentials since Maggie was in office. Some of them thought £500,000 a year for them and their friends was not enough.
- Yes Corbyn needs to keep shaming all those, including some labour MP’s who’ve happily supported the policy of “austerity” that have hit the poorest whilst allowing the richest to continue to get richer.
- I’d support a return to the differentials back in the days of Maggie. Top execs back then were hardly struggling. 20x / 30x acceptable 700x isn’t!
Endnote: Maisie Carter’s appeal
“Unite around Jeremy Corbyn’s ten point programme, which proposes the building of one million homes in five years, a free national education service, a secure, publicly provided NHS, with an end to health privatisation, full employment, an end to zero hours contracts, security at work, action to secure an equal society, a progressive tax system, shrink the gap between highest and lowest paid; aim to put conflict resolution and human rights at the heart of foreign policy. On the last point, as the wars waged or aided by the West are the cause of mass immigration, we must step up foreign aid and instead of spending £37bn a year on foreign wars as our government does, invest in helping to rebuild these war torn countries”.
Read Maisie’s article in full here.
Is Britain – after military withdrawal in the 1970s from bases east of Suez – really intending to reopen a naval support facility in Bahrain, create a permanent army presence in Oman and establish new defence staff centres in Dubai and Singapore? RUSI adviser Raffaello Pantucci and MP Tom Tugendhat, writing in the Financial Times, appear to see military force as an asset in trade negotiations:
“(T)he UK has been underperforming in an Asian context, and needs to increase capacity, especially on the defence side . . . It’s been supercharged post-Brexit. The whole idea is of the UK as a global free trader. You need to engage with the new centres of economic power,” said Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
Unhealthy and unethical alliances
In February this year Britain and Saudi Arabia, a major purchaser of British-made weapons and military hardware were reported to have lobbied the United Nations to tone down criticism of Bahrain for the use of torture by its security forces. Saudi Arabia, sent troops to quell dissent in Bahrain during the Arab spring.
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, declared in a speech in Bahrain this month: “Britain is back east of Suez.”
Though he had accused Saudi Arabia of abusing Islam and acting as a puppeteer in proxy wars throughout the Middle East, the following day he declared that policy formulated in 1969 of disengagement East of Suez was a mistake: “and in so far as we are now capable, and we are capable of a lot, we want to reverse that policy at least in this sense: that we recognise the strong historical attachment between Britain and the Gulf, and more importantly, we underscore the growing relevance and importance of that relationship in today’s uncertain and volatile world”.
Will Britain even be able to defend its own coastline?
“It comes down to capabilities.The UK is now down to 19 surface combatant [ships] and the concept of a carrier group would tie up most of the deployable navy,” said Euan Graham, director of the international security programme at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. General Sir Richard Barrons, the former head of Britain’s Joint Forces Command, warned recently that Britain’s military had small quantities of highly expensive equipment — such as its two new aircraft carriers — which it could not afford to “use fully, damage or lose” west of Suez or elsewhere.
Is the name of the game still gun-boat diplomacy?
In a Boxing Day article Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat wryly commented that there are more admirals dining on the deck of HMS Victory on Trafalgar Day than we have ships at sea and claimed, “With investment in the armed forces, the UK can shape a future based on the rule of law and free trade. After all, it has been done before”.
Or building a better future in Britain?
“Spend your money feeding the English, providing jobs for your young people and on a better quality of life for the British, because we are not a threat to anyone.”
When it comes to the Middle East, George Osborne seems as confused as ever suggests Steve Beauchampé.
The final reflections:
Syria, for all of its horrors, is not the West’s fight and to imply that we ought to have done something more militarily is to imply that there was more we could have done. But the Syrian civil war is a complex, multi-layered web of both centuries old religious, tribal and ethnic disputes and divides and modern day political and territorial opportunism that those recent western military escapades, enthusiastically supported both in opposition and in office by the likes of George Osborne, have exacerbated.
The fall of Aleppo will not end the Syrian civil war, merely change its dynamics. Britain’s best and most productive response must continue to be seeking as peaceful a resolution to the conflict as possible, providing humanitarian aid and bolstering the role of the United Nations.
We ARE responsible: in our name the British and American government have destabilised the Middle East
MP George Osborne opened his Commons speech with the truth: “We are deceiving ourselves in this Parliament if we believe we have no responsibility for what has happened in Syria.”
Saddam Hussein was for many years funded and armed by the US and British governments, as a counterweight to Iran whom they feared. Support from the U.S. for Iraq was frequently discussed in open session of the Senate and House of Representatives. On June 9, 1992, Ted Koppel reported on ABC’s Nightline that the “Reagan/Bush administrations permitted—and frequently encouraged—the flow of money, military intelligence, Special Operations training, agricultural credits, dual-use technology, chemicals, and weapons to Iraq” (refs 1-3 here).
There is evidence that Hussein committed atrocities (as did and do other ‘friendly’ rulers in the region) but also that he had developed an economy in which citizens’ basic needs were met and a greater degree of equality of income and opportunity was achieved than anywhere else in the region.
He was encouraged to fight a proxy war with Iran but then went a step too far and felt that he could invade Kuwait with impunity after discussing the matter with US Ambassador Glaspie, who said, according to the tape and transcript of their meeting on July 25, 2000: “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasise the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”
‘We’ – the British and American governments – are responsible for destabilising the Middle East – a process which some see as dating back to the Sykes-Picot boundaries agreement but which, within living memory, starts with the first Iraq War (2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991) mounted to expel the Iraqi army from Kuwait. Subsequently America and its allies wrecked Iraq’s water, sewage and electricity systems by imposing sanctions which prevented imports of the parts needed to repair them. Iraq’s army and police force was dismantled and the country has been beset by bloodshed ever since.
All this – as is rarely pointed out – happened well before 9/11 (2001) which preceded the second Iraq war.in 2003, launched on the pretext of removing non-existent weapons of mass destruction from the country.
Osborne said that the tragedy in Aleppo was due in part to the August 2013 vote, when MPs refused to act against the Assad regime; he is very short-sighted – the tragedy started when USA and UK befriended the Iraqi leader. He recommends intervention – but if we had not intervened in Iraq it might well today have continued to be a relatively egalitarian country in which its citizens’ needs were met and other countries in the region might well have continued to be relatively peaceful.
Intervention has been disastrous: continued civil war in Iraq and Libya – following the West’s intervention – and the US and British deployment of military personnel in the command and control centre responsible for repeated lethal Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen.
“And the children of Iraq, in their graves, disabled, cancer ridden from DU weapons, disabled, deformed, homeless, displaced, Mr Blair?”
Blair’s Grand Delusion: “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad”
Tony Blair has announced plans to set up a new centre-ground institute to combat the “new populism of left and right”.
This new body would provide answers to anti-business and anti-immigrant views which share a “closed-minded approach to globalisation”.
In a characteristically self-congratulatory statement published on his website, he said his new not-for-profit organisation would deliver policies based on evidence rather than the “plague” of social media abuse.
It would be a response to the political shocks of the last year, such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency.
It aims to support practising politicians – such worthies as John Mann, Jess Philips, Simon Danczuk and those former colleagues still waving the New Labour flag?
He ends: “I care about my country and the world my children and grandchildren will grow up in; and want to play at least a small part in contributing to the debate about the future of both.”
Felicity Arbuthnot asks, on behalf of millions: “And the children of Iraq, in their graves, disabled, cancer ridden from DU weapons, disabled, deformed, homeless, displaced, Mr Blair?”
What could be more extremist than Blair’s deadly collusion in that country’s destruction?