Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Fee Fie

Undergraduate tuition fees are in the news again, I see.

Their introduction may or may not have been many things. But it was certainly not the worst thing that the Blair Government ever did.

Nor was increasing them the worst thing that the Lib Dems either facilitated, or did directly, during the Coalition.

You can tell a very great deal about people from how much fuss they make of this issue, in particular.

Not the Work Capability Assessment under New Labour and then the Coalition. Not the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

But deferred payment of a proportion of undergraduate tuition fees.

The S Word

"Tony Blair talked about "Education, Education, Education". But Theresa May wants "Segregation, Segregation, Segregation"."

Barnstorming stuff from Angela Rayner, who is on her way to the very top.

The use of the S word locates this struggle within that of the Civil Rights movement from Rosa Parks onwards.

It casts Theresa May as Bull Connor.

This is wholly fitting for Rayner, who is a stalwart supporter of the Durham Teaching Assistants.

We may only hope that Simon Henig will one day experience the contrition that did eventually come to George Wallace.

An Insult To The Lib Dems

Although they have been stalwart supporters of the Durham Teaching Assistants, I carry no candle for the Lib Dems.

But it is an insult to them to suggest that they might provide a political home for the people who waged the Iraq War, and who attempted to make it possible to lock people up for 90 days without charge.

Those being, of course, the people who are planning to sack the Durham Teaching Assistants and then to reappoint them on a 23 per cent pay cut.

On all three of these issues, the Lib Dems have been, and are, in agreement with Jeremy Corbyn.

Premier Problems

Other than the couple of dozen people whose numbers are in the BBC's phones, the Labour Party is clearly in very good heart this week.

By contrast, next week's Conservative Party Conference threatens to descend into mayhem over the total lack of Brexit on the part of a Leader who came to that office (not to the office of Prime Minister, which is a different matter) without any election whatever.

Those in the hall will cheer her non-committal commitment to grammar schools, as their Labour counterparts used to cheer Blair's to the abolition of hereditary peers and to a ban on foxhunting.

But neither of those things ever quite happened. Blair never even voted for the hunting ban.

And even the attempts at them certainly never caused anyone, except perhaps Labour MPs, to forget about PFIs or the Iraq War.

The present Conservative Prime Minister may well turn out to have been only the second of this Parliament's three.

As for people who say that Labour will never return to office, they said exactly the same thing about the Conservatives 15 years ago. The same individuals used the same words.

Peter Hitchens, in particular, has been giving the Conservative Party less than 10 years to live for about 20 years. Now that he is saying the same thing about Labour, keep that in mind.

The Pits

Today, 12 noon, Derby Square, Liverpool.

Rally on the almost unbelievable scandal of the miners' stolen pensions.

A Sect for London Students?

Not Blair's Good War

Craig Murray sets the record straight on Sierra Leone.

Both Local and National Importance

With my emphasis added, Katie Dickinson writes:

Durham County Council has joined calls for a public inquiry into the police operation at Orgreave during the miners’ strike.

Last week saw reports that home secretary Amber Rudd was set to approve an investigation into the violent clashes between thousands of officers and pickets at the South Yorkshire coking plant in June 1984.

Now the county council has unanimously passed a resolution, with support from members of all political parties, recognising the events of that day as “of both local and national importance”. 

Councillors have asked for a review of what happened, and requested that the government holds meaningful discussions with the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, the National Union of Mineworkers and concerned MPs. 

During the confrontation 95 miners including four from the Durham coalfield faced trumped up charges including riot which has a maximum life sentence. 

All the charges were later dropped after allegations of police fabricating evidence and 39 miners received compensation. 

Coun Joy Allen, the council’s cabinet member for safer communities, said: 

“In Durham, miners and their families were adversely affected by the events of 18 June 1984, in terms of wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, ill-health, family breakdown and lost jobs. 

“An investigation into the military style policing used on that day is long overdue and only a full public inquiry can investigate this.” 

Coun Rob Crute, who proposed the resolution, said:

“Perhaps the most disturbing outcome of that day’s events was the effect it had on the manner of policing at subsequent events.

“Without effective controls some police clearly came to believe that they could act with impunity.

“The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign was set up to lead calls for a public inquiry into the events that took place, including methods used by South Yorkshire police during and after the event which included wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and false prosecution.

“Surely the time is now right to show solidarity with the OTJC and join calls for a public inquiry into the policing tactics used at Orgreave.

“Perhaps this could be similar in structure to the independent panel established to investigate the tragic events at Hillsborough.” 

The operation during the year long miners’ strike was led by South Yorkshire police.

Five years later the same force was subsequently shown to have used similar tactics to blame Liverpool fans for the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 supporters died.

The Home Office has not confirmed that a decision has been made, and says there will be an announcement before the end of October.

Monday, 26 September 2016

A Rocket Up The Racket

Some of us do not think that nuclear weapons and NATO membership were the only good things that the Attlee Government ever did.

Indeed, some of us wonder why anyone, anywhere on the political spectrum, would wish to vote for a weapons system that by 2020 will be subject to either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Or to vote for a military alliance that committed us to the defence of Erdogan's Turkey while presuming to demand two per cent of our GDP.

In the constituency containing Lanchester, and now expected to be called West Durham and Teesdale, no one will have to vote for either of those things.

From anywhere on the political spectrum, everyone in that constituency will be able to vote for me instead.

Oliver's Twist

My gender neutral pronoun, Oliver Kamm, always used to claim that he had not been a Labour Party member since some point in the Kinnock years.

Yet today, he has ostentatiously cut up a Labour Party membership card with his own name on it, and posted it on Twitter.

Has he been telling fibs? Surely not?

Strategy, Indeed

John McDonnell announced policies that would already be taken as read in any Western country apart from this one and the only other one of which the media megaphones have ever heard.

The principle of the Living Wage, which is a concept of Papal origin (as is the term "social justice"), has already been conceded by the Government. The only question is as to the rate.

An industrial strategy is so controversial that there is already a Department of State with "Industrial Strategy" in its name.

Expect Theresa May to pick up that idea of giving workers first refusal when a company is to be sold or wound up. It is very her.

How can anyone not believe that tax-dodging companies ought to be ineligible for taxpayer-funded contracts?

And McDonnell brought out his inner Brexiteer when he promised "a renaissance of British manufacturing" after Brexit, while pledging to guarantee the funding currently provided by the EU, out of our own net contributions, to areas that largely voted Leave, anyway.

"Brexit means Brexit," repeats May. "Brexit means this," replies McDonnell, challenging her to match it.

Of course, these things remain opposed by 172 Labour MPs. But who gives a stuff about them?

Fracking Genius

Even if the shale gas is really there, then the places that may or may not have it do not want to be fracked. It is not as if they need the money.

Meanwhile, no one disputes that the coal is there. And the places that have it certainly do want it to be mined again, since they certainly do need the money, which they used to have.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Caption Competition

Don’t Be Bamboozled Again

If you ever were. I never was. But then, nor was Jeremy Corbyn. Or, indeed, Peter Hitchens:

Almost everyone (barring a tiny knot of deluded losers) knows that Saddam Hussein had no WMD.

Most people now grasp that Colonel Gaddafi wasn’t planning a massacre in Benghazi or ordering his troops to engage in mass rapes. 

How long will it be before we also grasp that neither Russia nor Syria bombed a UN aid convoy in Aleppo? 

This incident, about which almost no independently testable, checkable facts have yet been produced, is the WMD of Syria.

If we all fall for it, then we shall very soon find ourselves embroiled in the most dangerous international confrontation since the Cuban missile crisis. 

Under immense pressure from the despots of Saudi Arabia, the USA will not give up its efforts to overthrow the Syrian government. It is clear that it is now prepared to risk an open confrontation with Moscow to achieve this.

Why? Who do they think they are, and how can their cause be so good that they take such risks?

The deliberate sabotage of a workable peace deal in Syria (opposed from the start by the Pentagon) is one of the scandals of our age.

There was a chance we might end the misery of millions, and it was thrown away.

We in Britain must resist being dragged into a Syrian war, not least because, if we are, it will not be long before any troops we send there are being hounded in their own country for alleged war crimes.

We’ve been fooled enough by this propaganda.

Don’t be bamboozled again.

Saturday, 24 September 2016


The #LeavingLabour and #GoodbyeLabour lot are off to the Lib Dems, who were no friends of Blairism at the time.

Thus will they complete the set.

Having wreaked havoc on, in and through first Labour and then the Conservatives, they will now wreak havoc on, in and through the Lib Dems.

But who will be the Jeremy Corbyn or the Theresa May, to clean up after them this time?

As Unelectable Does

In the nine hours since Jeremy Corbyn's victory, fifteen thousand people have joined the Labour Party.

Let that sink in.

Education, Not Segregation

Patrick McLoughlin of the UDM reminds us that the Blair Government allowed the expansion of existing grammar schools.

In fact, I recently had to explain to a young comrade that Blair had not simply brought back grammar schools around the time of my interlocutor's birth.

To him, it just sounded like the kind of thing that Blair must have done.

As, come to that, it does.

Jez We Did Again

62,000 more votes for Jeremy than last year, and an increased percentage from 59.5 to 61.8.

Funny how the BBC can't find a single Corbyn supporter to interview, considering that there are 313,209 of them. But hey, ho.

Soap and Lather

Larry Sanders is not going to win Witney. But at least he is going to lose fair and square.

His brother was robbed by a Democratic National Committee that was as Jim Crow as ever, and which was therefore determined to nominate the woman who had originated the birtherism that even Donald Trump has now disavowed.

As to the other by-election, although very few people have appeared in all three of EastEnders, Emmerdale and Coronation Street, how is that, in itself, a qualification to be a Member of Parliament?

Do we know anything else about Tracy Brabin? Is there anything else to know about Tracy Brabin?

Is she moderate enough to have opposed from the start Tony Blair's extremist privatisation of England's public services in general and NHS in particular (the root cause of its current financial woes), as well as his continuation of the previous Conservative Government's extremist assaults on civil liberties, including the extremist evisceration both of the House of Commons and of local government continuously since 1979?

Is she moderate enough to have opposed the extremist and abandoned austerity programme of the sacked extremist, George Osborne, unlike the Liberal Democrats until May 2015, unlike the Labour front bench until September 2015, unlike the Conservative Party until July 2016, and unlike 172 Labour MPs to this day?

Is she moderate enough to have opposed every extremist military intervention of the last 20 years, unlike the Liberal Democrats on all but one occasion, unlike the Conservative front bench and almost all Conservative MPs on each and every occasion, unlike the Labour front bench on every occasion until Jeremy Corbyn became Leader, and unlike one third of Labour MPs even after that?

Is she moderate enough to accept the outcome of the EU referendum (whatever may or may not result from it in practice), like most Labour Party members, but unlike most Labour MPs, extremists that they are?

And is she moderate enough to support Theresa May on workers' representation, on the restriction of pay disparities, and on the Orgreave Inquiry that is inevitable now that the idea has been floated, all of which are opposed by the extremists who massively predominate in the Parliamentary Labour Party?

If not, then the squalid free pass that has been given to Labour at Batley and Spen by the Conservatives, by the Liberal Democrats, by the Greens and by UKIP ought to be turned to the advantage of such a moderate candidate from outside the Labour Party.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Crisis, What Crisis?

From today, I have exactly one year in which to arrange a midlife crisis.

But a prominent Corbyn activist, who was previously a considerable political insider at federal level in Canada, wished me Happy Birthday on Facebook by describing me as "a sartorial icon".

While a very young activist, of whom we shall all be hearing a great deal in the coming decades, did so by calling me "a sartorial hero".

Therefore, I cannot go losing it when I turn 40 next year. I may not do so. I must not do so. I shall not be entitled to do so.

For there are people who look to me, who rely on me, who depend upon me, to set the very tone of the Movement.

Locally Sauced

Last night, Labour won four local council by-elections.

It took two seats from the Conservatives.

It took one from the SNP. Under STV in Scotland, remember.

And it held Chopwell and Rowlands Gill, which, though in Gateshead in name if not necessarily in spirit, will be part of the new parliamentary constituency of West Durham and Teesdale.

Chopwell is of course England's Little Moscow, with Scotland's at the Vale of Leven, and with Wales's at Maerdy.

But no one has ever called Rowlands Gill "Little Moscow", and it has twice the population of Chopwell.

Also last night, the Conservatives lost two local council by-elections to the Liberal Democrats.

These are the real votes that are being in cast in Britain at the moment.

British Journalism At Its Finest

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Vexed, Indeed

I am not surprised that Colonel Tim Collins is.

There will be no class protection for him.

Would the success of these cases make it impossible for Britain to embark on these adventures again? Perhaps so.

But what ought to do that should be the election of politicians of that mind.

No Blond Bombshell

Of course Boris Johnson didn't really want a Leave vote.

Nor did Michael Gove, who also just wanted a cause on which to ride into Downing Street.

Nor, probably, did Liam Fox.

And nor, quite possibly, did David Davis, who will be the first of the three Chevening inmates to resign.

If not the last. One way or another, the other two will be sacked.

Challenger Rocket

Liz Kendall will be on Question Time tonight.

I have a great deal of respect for Liz Kendall.

Having had the balls to put up from the Hard Right last year, she ought to have refused to endorse any challenger this year other than herself.

Least of all some Shadow Secretary of State for Middle-Aged Men Who Pretend To Be The Worst Sort of Teenage Boys.

CETA, Twin of TTIP


A coalition of trade unions, civil society groups and consumer organisations have slammed a TTIP-style free trade deal between the EU and Canada ahead of trade ministers meeting today about sealing the deal.

In a joint letter, published today, the groups say the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), empowers corporations and investors over workers and public services.

They said CETA’s rules on resolving disputes could see foreign investors sue governments for compensation over consumer protection laws, threatening those governments’ rights to make public policy.

The letter comes as trade ministers are meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, today and tomorrow to discuss ratifying CETA. 

Opposition to the deal has been growing, with more than three million people across Europe signing a petition against CETA and its twin deal TTIP.

Last week Canadian trade unions called on their government not to sign the agreement. 

British unions are also against the deal.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) wrote to Trade Secretary Liam Fox in July over CETA’s ‘threat to sovereignty, public services and labour standards’, and called on him to oppose it. 

Today’s letter is signed by Friends of the Earth Europe, the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC), The European Trade Union Congress, the European Public Services Union, the European Anti-Poverty Network, the Health and Environment Alliance and the CEE Bankwatch Network.

Liina Carr, confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, said:

‘Under CETA, workers are second class citizens compared to investors. Labour and environmental protection is not enforceable under CETA, whereas investors are given a special legal procedure to enforce their rights. CETA will do nothing to promote quality jobs and decent pay, while presenting a threat to the delivery of high-quality public services.’

Fabian Flues, trade campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: 

‘The investment provisions in CETA grant unjustified privileges to foreign investors, threatening policy-making in the public interest. Investment protections has been used in the past to undermine environmental regulations and biased, unaccountable tribunals have cost European tax payers billions already. The investment chapter in CETA would massively expand these investor privileges and is reason alone to reject the agreement.’

Monique Goyens, director of the European Consumer Organisation BEUC, said:

‘Disappointingly, CETA fails the consumer crash test. CETA does not provide tangible benefits to consumers and contains provisions that could undermine current and future levels of consumer protection. For instance, CETA will allow foreign investors to sue governments and get compensation when governments pass a law to protect consumers better.’

Striking Similarities

Steve Topple writes:

Around 2,700 teaching assistants from Durham are facing the sack, in a move by the local authority to save money.

The plan, which will see the staff then re-employed on new contracts, means a 23% pay cut for them.

And it bears striking similarities to the story of Manchester’s firefighters, previously reported in The Canary. 

We value teaching assistants, but… 

In May, Durham County Council voted to change teaching assistants’ contracts, so they would only be paid for term-time work. 

Currently, the staff earn around £20,000. 

But the new contract would see many lose up to £5,000, with some having to actually work more hours. 

The council claims that it brings teaching assistants’ pay in line with other council workers, and estimates that it will save schools around £3m from their budgets. 

Defending the move, Councillor Jane Brown said

We greatly value the work undertaken by teaching assistants which is why we have tried incredibly hard to resolve this situation and reach an agreement with them.

We have carried out two consultations and revised and doubled our compensation offer regarding the move to term-time working and delayed the implementation of these changes to April 2017.

We have talked in detail with the conciliation service, ACAS, and removed the dismiss and re-engage clause if the teaching assistants will accept this last and final offer.

She added

We have a legal and moral responsibility to address this issue and will not benefit financially in any way – except to remove the risk of equal pay claims from other staff who are only paid for the hours they actually work. 

Ripping off council staff 

But the teaching assistants disagree. 

They say that their current salaries are for term-time work, but are merely paid over 12 months. 

They reject the idea of working more hours so they can earn more money, as many of them can’t commit to this. 

And they argue that this is a cost-saving exercise, but one that will hit already low-paid families the hardest.

A spokesperson for the Durham teaching assistants told The Canary:
Some dedicated, experienced teaching assistants have already left their jobs, unable to deal with the stress of this situation.

Many others will be forced to leave if these proposals go ahead. Some have already sold their homes, frightened that they will have to sell in a hurry if these proposals go ahead.

Others know they will have to do so when their pay is cut. We are fighting for our futures, the future of our profession and the future of our schools and the children in them. 

Labour: the party of workers?

The council made one final offer last week; to increase the period of compensation from one to two years. 

On 21 September, a meeting was held at Durham Miners’ Hall, where the offer was unofficially voted on, and rejected. 

Hundreds turned out, many in support of the teaching assistants, and speakers included members of newly-formed County Durham Teaching Assistants Activists Committee (CDTAA) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. 

CDTAA described the vote as a: resounding rejection of the so-called compromise proposal with no dissenters… The fight goes on. 

An official union ballot on the council’s offer will take place, with the result expected on 29 September. 

If this offer is formally rejected by union members, the council will sack the 2,700 teaching assistants on 3 October, re-employing them on new contracts in January. 

Industrial action may well then be on the cards. 

A spokesperson for Durham teaching assistants told The Canary: 

Teaching assistants are well aware that industrial action will have a huge impact on families, children and schools and it is not a decision they will take lightly.

But they feel they have no choice as the only negotiation by DCC has been to the timescale for implementing these life-changing pay cuts. 

While to the council the teaching assistants may just be numbers, there are real stories behind these cuts. As teaching assistant Lindsay Dawson explained in a letter The Guardian:

I am one of the 2,700 teaching assistants who will be dismissed and re-engaged if Durham county council goes ahead with this ridiculous proposal (Who will speak up for teaching assistants?, 10 September).

It saddens me to think that due to these decisions I could be forced out of a job that I absolutely adore and have done for the past 13 years in the same school – forced out due to the fact that the proposal would leave me desperately short on my monthly bills and I would have to seek alternative employment to survive.

No one, in my eyes, can live off a salary for 13 years and then take a 23% pay cut when they are already very poorly paid.

As a parent, I also worry that my own child may not receive the same excellent level of support in his own education if other teaching assistants choose to do the same.

I manage on my wage without living an extravagant lifestyle because I love the job I do and the children I work with.

From educator, to support, to cleaner, to cook, to confidante, social worker and many more, my job is more than just washing paint pots and sharpening pencils.

May I just ask under a Labour council should I be in a position now where I would be better off (financially) if I finished work and went on benefits? This is the truth of my situation.

Lindsay Dawson
West Rainton, County Durham

Essentially, as is the case with the firefighters, the hand of teaching assistants is being forced.

Either they accept the new terms and conditions of their employment, or they’re sacked.

Furthermore, another striking similarity is that both these attacks on workers are being carried out by Labour-controlled bodies. 

The Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, with the firefighters, and Durham County Council with the teaching assistants.

It would seem that local Labour representatives are at odds with Jeremy Corbyn’s stance, as both firefighters and teaching assistants have been shown solidarity by the Labour leader and his team.

But there’s another similarity between these groups of under-attack workers. They will not be backing down without a fight.

Get Involved!

Sign the petitions in support of the teaching assistants.
Donate to the CDTAA crowdfunding page, to support their action.

Revolutions Made

Robert Fisk writes:

The Saudis step deeper into trouble almost by the week. 

Swamped in their ridiculous war in Yemen, they are now reeling from an extraordinary statement issued by around two hundred Sunni Muslim clerics who effectively referred to the Wahhabi belief – practised in Saudi Arabia – as “a dangerous deformation” of Sunni Islam

The prelates included Egypt’s Grand Imam, Ahmed el-Tayeb of al-Azhar, the most important centre of theological study in the Islamic world, who only a year ago attacked “corrupt interpretations” of religious texts and who has now signed up to “a return to the schools of great knowledge” outside Saudi Arabia. 

This remarkable meeting took place in Grozny and was unaccountably ignored by almost every media in the world – except for the former senior associate at St Antony’s College, Sharmine Narwani, and Le Monde’s Benjamin Barthe – but it may prove to be even more dramatic than the terror of Syria’s civil war. 

For the statement, obviously approved by Vladimir Putin, is as close as Sunni clerics have got to excommunicating the Saudis.

Although they did not mention the Kingdom by name, the declaration was a stunning affront to a country which spends millions of dollars every year on thousands of Wahhabi mosques, schools and clerics around the world. 

Wahhabism’s most dangerous deviation, in the eyes of the Sunnis who met in Chechenya, is that it sanctions violence against non-believers, including Muslims who reject Wahhabi interpretation.

Isis, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are the principal foreign adherents to this creed outside Saudi Arabia and Qatar

The Saudis, needless to say, repeatedly insist that they are against all terrorism. Their reaction to the Grozny declaration has been astonishing. 

“The world is getting ready to burn us,” Adil Al-Kalbani announced. And as Imam of the King Khaled Bin Abdulaziz mosque in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, he should know. 

As Narwani points out, the bad news kept on coming. 

At the start of the five-day Hajj pilgrimage, the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar published online a database which it said came from the Saudi ministry of health, claiming that up 90,000 pilgrims from around the world have died visiting the Hajj capital of Mecca over a 14-year period. 

Although this figure is officially denied, it is believed in Shia Muslim Iran, which has lost hundreds of its citizens on the Hajj. 

Among them was Ghazanfar Roknabadi, a former ambassador and intelligence officer in Lebanon. 

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has just launched an unprecedented attack on the Saudis, accusing them of murder. 

“The heartless and murderous Saudis locked up the injured with the dead in containers...” he said in his own Hajj message. 

A Saudi official said Khameni’s accusations reflected a “new low”. 

Abdulmohsen Alyas, the Saudi undersecretary for international communications, said they were “unfounded, but also timed to only serve their unethical failing propaganda”. 

Yet the Iranians have boycotted the Hajj this year (not surprisingly, one might add) after claiming that they have not received Saudi assurances of basic security for pilgrims. 

According to Khamenei, Saudi rulers “have plunged the world of Islam into civil wars”.

However exaggerated his words, one thing is clear: for the first time, ever, the Saudis have been assaulted by both Sunni and Shia leaders at almost the same time.

The presence in Grozny of Grand Imam al-Tayeb of Egypt was particularly infuriating for the Saudis who have poured millions of dollars into the Egyptian economy since Brigadier-General-President al-Sissi staged his doleful military coup more than three years ago. 

What, the Saudis must be asking themselves, has happened to the fawning leaders who would normally grovel to the Kingdom?

“In 2010, Saudi Arabia was crossing borders peacefully as a power-broker, working with Iran, Syria, Turkey, Qatar and others to troubleshoot in regional hotspots,” Narwani writes.

“By 2016, it had buried two kings, shrugged off a measured approach to foreign policy, embraced ‘takfiri’ madness and emptied its coffers.” 

A “takfiri” is a Sunni who accuses another Muslim (or Christian or Jew) of apostasy. 

Kuwait, Libya, Jordan and Sudan were present in Grozny, along with – you guessed it – Ahmed Hassoun, the grand mufti of Syria and a loyal Assad man. 

Intriguingly, Abu Dhabi played no official role, although its policy of “deradicalisation” is well known throughout the Arab world. 

But there are close links between President (and dictator) Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechenya, the official host of the recent conference, and Mohamed Ben Zayed al-Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince.

The conference itself was opened by Putin, which shows what he thinks of the Saudis – although, typically, none of the Sunni delegates asked him to stop bombing Syria. 

But since the very meeting occurred against the backcloth of Isis and its possible defeat, they wouldn’t, would they?

That Chechenya, a country of monstrous bloodletting by Russia and its own Wahhabi rebels, should have been chosen as a venue for such a remarkable conclave was an irony which could not have been lost on the delegates.

But the real questions they were discussing must have been equally apparent.

Who are the real representatives of Sunni Muslims if the Saudis are to be shoved aside? And what is the future of Saudi Arabia?

Of such questions are revolutions made.

Of A Sort, Perhaps

Progress gives its verdict on Owen Smith: "This was the Soft Left's caper, and it had nothing to do with us."

Tony Blair is still too vain to call his latest move "retirement".

But he and David Miliband articulate the bewildered hurt of those who find themselves living in, or in their case observing, what William Hague might have called "a foreign land".

They do not know, like or recognise the Britain of the General Election result, of the election of Jeremy Corbyn, of the Conservatives' second place in Scotland, of the EU referendum result, of the Chilcot Report, of the elevation of Theresa May, of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee's evisceration of the war in Libya, and of the impending re-election of Jeremy Corbyn.

But that is the Britain that there is. There is no other.

Blair did not found the Labour Hard Right, and it will not die when he does. One wonders whether some of the people now running Progress, or who will run whatever comes after it, have ever even met him.

This may not be his Britain. But it does seem to be theirs. At least in the sense that they accept that this what Britain now is.

Form and Substance

I have two young friends at Oxford. They are brothers, and their sister also went there.

From my old comp, right here in County Durham.

That is not untypical.

In fact, I believe that it is correct to say that my old comp has sent someone to Oxbridge every year since it was founded, which was in 1966.

Again, that seems to be quite normal.

I am going through the 11-18 comps in County Durham, and they all send people to Oxbridge routinely.

Sixth Form colleges, I honestly know less about. But I could find out.

You could admit the entire Upper Sixth of every grammar school in the country, but you would come nowhere close to the 50 per cent of Oxbridge's annual intake that came from state schools.

That that is where they mostly come from is what the uncouth youth might call a "meme".

The rest of us can think of other words for it.

Never Mind The Ballots

Ed Balls lost his seat.

Neil Kinnock lost two General Elections, one of them to John Major.

David Miliband lost to Ed Miliband. As, indeed, did Ed Balls, whose wife lost both to Jeremy Corbyn and, unlike her husband, to Andy Burnham.

The Electables, these are not.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair is still only 63. Like many well-heeled people in their early sixties, he has given up the day job.

Two by-elections beckon. It is time for him to put up, or shut up.

Solid Second

Like the Conservatives, Labour is always guaranteed to be at least the second largest party, even if that entailed having only 80 or 100 seats.

No one else is ever going to come close to that.

Numerous Conservative MPs over the last 35 years have held, and continue to hold, views that ought on paper to be utterly unelectable in any constituency, such as the privatisation of the NHS.

But it doesn't work like that.

Although a bit of analysis of the views that held sway in the governing party might not go amiss occasionally. 

There never, ever is any.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Mike Ashley of the Public Sector

Thus was the thoroughly obnoxious Simon Henig, the Leader of Durham County Council, described at this evening's packed and uproarious rally by the Teaching Assistants.

Henig would dash across the street in front of an oncoming juggernaut for the chance to lick a penny piece off the opposite pavement and howl at the moon in celebration.

But he will happily reduce people to what amount to zero hours contracts. Well, of course.

He was one of very few Labour councillors with the gall to attend last week's Special Council on this subject.

That meeting was effectively chaired by some law clerk, elected by absolutely nobody.

Lie, after lie, after lie was poured out by the portfolio holder, Councillor Jane Brown.

She and Henig will doubtless continue to enjoy their private box at the Riverside. But Durham County Cricket Club is insolvent, and it is kept going by a loan from Durham County Council.

In that box, they will doubtless be joined by the Deputy Leader, Alan Napier, who is an old NUM hand, and who is now a signatory to pro-Corbyn letters with which the other signatories would refuse to allow him to be associated if they knew what he was doing to the latter-day Grunwick women.

Yet Napier was one of two left-wing old miners, of whom the other was the late Albert Nugent, whom Henig arranged to have suspended unjustly from the Labour Party in order to overstep their superior claims to the Leadership of the new unitary county council.

Just before the death of Davey Hopper, he and Napier almost came to blows when the latter called the TAs "parasites".

But those "parasites" are oddly unwilling to be "compensated" with their own money. A message of support was read out from Angela Rayner.

In a sign of quite how different the world will be after Saturday, even the BBC turned up this evening.


The Greatest Hits of the Nineties brigade wanted rid of Shadow Cabinet elections, and they wanted the new system of electing the Labour Leader.

In the latter case, being obsessed with The West Wing (I loved it, but I knew that it wasn't real), they expected something like an American primary.

Instead, however, they got something a lot more British.

Still, they continue to look to the Democratic National Committee for inspiration. This time, in the matter of voter suppression.

When Jeremy Corbyn wins, then it will be in the face of his enemies' having actively denied votes to 182,000 people.

They simply never sent out ballot papers to a further 60,000, and they blamed it on the computer or what have you.

So, nearly a quarter of a million will need to be added to his total in order to give the real result.

Victory in the face of voter suppression on quite this scale will be completely and utterly astonishing.

On Saturday, though, that is what is going to happen.


The Guardian never changes.

But compensation for St Helenians because of the incompetence of the British Government over the airport? Perhaps so.

More immediately, though, the Secretary of State for International Development ought to resign, or be sacked.

Since she believes that her Department ought to be abolished, then she could hardly complain.

Archaic Grammar

At just over half the intake, exactly the same proportion of people goes to Oxbridge from state schools now as did so in the days of the Secondary Moderns, which will always and by definition be most people's experience of selective secondary education.

It is laughable to suggest that in general the Britain of the 1950s was either a more mobile or, indeed, a better-educated society.

But anyway, there will never be a parliamentary majority for this, and in any case it would never work. How are grammar schools supposed to be magicked up?

Rather, this is how Theresa May is distracting her party from the absence of the slightest progress on Brexit.

As well as from the fact that she supports elected workers' representation (which would in practice mean trade union representation) on company boards, statutory restraints on pay differentials, and an inquiry into Orgreave, while having a Department for Industrial Strategy.

All four of those things either are going to happen, or they are already happening. Unlike grammar schools.

Turn Off The Dalai Show

The Dalai Lama has been at the European Parliament today. Here are a few facts that I doubt were mentioned.

Before 1959, Tibet was not an independent state ruled benignly by the Dalai Lama and given over almost entirely to the pursuit of spirituality.

But Tibet was certainly ruled by the Dalai Lama, by the lamas generally, and by the feudal landlord class from which the lamas were drawn.

“Dalai” is a family name; only a member of the House of Dalai can become the Dalai Lama.

Well over 90 per cent of the population was made up of serfs, the background from which the present rulers of Tibet are drawn.

That system was unique in China, and existed only because successive Emperors of China had granted the Tibetan ruling clique exactly the “autonomy” for which it still campaigns from “exile”.

Life expectancy in Tibet was half what it is today.

There has never been an independent state of Tibet.

Likewise, there is nothing remotely new about the presence in Tibet of large numbers of Han, who are ethnic Chinese in the ordinary sense, and of other Chinese ethnic groups.

The one-child policy never applied in Tibet, so the Han majority there is the ethnic Tibetans’ own fault, if they even see it as a problem.

It is totally false to describe the Dalai Lama baldly as “their spiritual leader”. Relatively few would view him as such.

In particular, Google “Dorje Shugden” for, to put at its mildest, some balance to the media portrayal of the present Dalai Lama.

Or read what remains the greatest hit of The Lanchester Review. Beyond that venerable journal, we never hear from Dorje Shugden practitioners.

Just as we never hear from the loyally Chinese Hui Muslims; I have tried, repeatedly.

Moreover, the Dalai Lama has never condemned either the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq. 

For more on Buddhism as no more a religion of peace than Islam is (no less so, but no more), then see Sri Lanka, Burma, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, and beyond.

In fact, an examination of the relevant texts shows that violence in general and war in particular are fundamental to Buddhism. Tibet is particularly striking for this.


Today is Saint Matthew's Day.

Consider that that erstwhile tax-collector is the Patron Saint of Bankers.

Consider also that that strange and increasingly unfashionable thing, Biblical criticism, purports to read the Bible "as if it were any other ancient text", yet in fact subjects it to a series of methods that would be laughed out in any other literary or historical discipline.

Those methods are carefully constructed to "prove" the presuppositions of that strange and increasingly unfashionable thing, liberal theology.

Thus, if two Biblical books are word for word alike, as Matthew, Mark and Luke certainly are in parts, then they must have been copied from each other, since there is no way that God could have inspired them all and, funnily enough, done so in such a way that they confirmed each other's accounts.

Hence the theory of Markan Priority, that Saint Mark's Gospel was the first to be written, and that Saint Matthew and Saint Luke copied out great chunks of it word for word.

And hence the theory of Q, the compendium of the material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark; no copy of Q exists anywhere.

Jesus simply did not claim divinity for Himself, so that rules out John at a stroke. Miracles simply do not happen, a position not even compatible with agnosticism. Style simply does not develop (seriously), so Saint Paul cannot have written several of the Epistles beginning with the words, "From Paul".

And so on, and on, and on.

Academia is at last moving away from this sort of thing. When will the Church in practice, since of course She has never adopted it, and cannot do so, in principle? Perhaps a gentle fillip from the wider culture might be in order?

Although they differ in length, the different structures of the Gospels mean that they could each be dramatised in 12 episodes of one hour apiece, perhaps running from January to March, i.e., more or less from Christmas to Easter.

The order ought to be as in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – exactly as if any other ancient text were the subject.

That might even provide an opportunity to do some taking apart of the ridiculous theories of Markan Priority, of the interpolation of Mark 16, of "the Gospel of Thomas" and other such Dan Brown drivel, and of the historical unreliability of Saint John's Gospel on the grounds that Jesus "never claimed to be divine", the "proof" of which is held to be the historical unreliability of Saint John's Gospel.

All of these pieces of nonsense continue to be peddled by half-formed schoolteachers, and by clergy too old to have been part of the traditionalist revival among Catholics or the Evangelical revival among Protestants.

Markan Priority was disproved a very long time ago by Saint Augustine, whose Wikipedia pages in Portuguese and Slovene are significant source of traffic to this site, as is the page on U and non-U English. Make of those facts what you will.

Acts could also be dramatised in this way, and it has some great stories in it. But it looks as if they would do the Ramayana first, and stick to the text if they did.

That is not treating the Bible as a work of world literature, which is what they would claim that it was, and which, among other things, it is.

Why not dramatise the Ramayana, exactly as it is? Why not dramatise the Odyssey, exactly as it is?

And why not dramatise the Four Canonical Gospels and Acts, exactly as they are?

Of what are the television companies afraid? Of what, in practice even though not in principle, would the Church be afraid?