Posts Tagged ‘politicians’

civilianAs we have wandered Facebook and Instagram and all the rest of it, catching up on friends’ and acquaintances’ (and a few celebrities’) wishes for the New Year, one thing has struck us forcibly.

In the 1980s and 90s it seemed to us, most of the wishes were about health and happiness and wealth – hope the New Year brings you lots of money and the energy to enjoy it, essentially.

In this new century, the world seems a more anxious and thoughtful place. And as we near the end of the second decade of the 21st century, even more so.

It’s easy to see why. The old order is collapsing, or at least seems to be, at least to a degree.

The European experiment, which was always about unity and not just economics, regardless of how it was “sold”, seems mired in intractable problems. Not just the misguided Brexit – an especially self-immolatory act of political lunacy born of lies, anti-immigration sentiment and a generalised angst given something to focus on by weak leadership, especially that of David Cameron – but by the difficulties in keeping Eastern European countries with no strong tradition of liberal democracy signed up to the particular rules demanded of that heavy burden, and the eternal problem of encouraging people to work to a common good rather than a local or regional one.

Those in rich countries or areas are rapidly becoming sick of bailing out poorer areas.

The ultimate failure, of course, is political – as it always is – is in explaining to them why that’s good policy, and a burden worth shouldering. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking Brexit, Greece, Catalonia, Northern Italy or elsewhere. The failure is not economic, it’s political.

The United States, for so long the arbiter of seemingly everything both good and bad in the world, at least from, say 1943 onwards, now seems lost and uncertain of its role.

In part, this is very obviously because economically the country is no longer the source of unending world wealth, but also because Russian and China (in particular) have parlayed their growing economic might into political clout. Rumours of America’s demise have been hugely over-inflated – it is still the world’s biggest economy by far, with the largest armed forces by some distance, and massive diplomatic clout. But increasingly the country looks like a wounded beast thrashing around in its death throes. There is inadequate investment in the technologies of the future which America must lead in order to maintain its competitive advantage, and its political influence is deeply harmed by the perception outside the USA that its political leadership has, essentially, collapsed.

trump handsThe President looks to all the world, and increasingly to even his own supporters,  to be a scary mixture of stupidity and even mental illness, the Congress seems little more than a quacking collection of self-interested ducks, and any level of informed debate which might turn this miasma around seems largely drowned out by a mixture of bread and circuses and mindless partisanship.

Ranged against this, and perhaps most worryingly, significant numbers of young people look to the command economies of America’s greatest rival with some degree of envy. And every excess of bluster (of which the current standoff with Iran and North Korea are only the most obvious) makes the apparent stability of Russia and China look more attractive, and by implication, their systems. In reality, of course, Russia is little more than a dictatorship by kleptocracy, with highly dubious international ambitions and no regard for the freedom of its own people, and China is run by a ruthlessly domineering state apparatus that papers over substantial internal divisions whilst attempting to feed the middle-class ambitions of its people.

There are, of course, great problems with poverty and lack of opportunity in both countries, just as there are in the rust belt states of the USA or the china-poor-migrant-workers.jpgwobbling rural American states trying to make their way in a world where the produce market is increasingly borderless, or in Latin America, but we hear very little of the problems faced by the command economies of China and Russia (and their imitators) because the first thing throttled by their leadership is a free press.

The argument that judiciously managed free trade conducted by democracies is the fastest and most reliable route to the greater good of all – which should be the clarion call of all sides of Western politics – has sadly morphed, driven by localised economic hardship, into rampant protectionism in the USA, which is hardly how to inspire the people to believe in the system long term.

Capitalism’s own internal contradictions gave us the GFC in recent memory. Instead of pinioning it for what it was – a failure of sensible regulation and the inevitable result of uncontrolled greed by a small elite – America has circled the wagons and thinks it can fix the problem by being rude to its friends and neighbours, investing directly in protecting industries that should rightly be exposed to the winds of competition, and continuing to ramp up endless castles of debt, the construction of which mountain will now be enhanced by reducing its tax take.

To those casting about for security and predictability, it looks like madness, and it is.

The paper claimed mainstream climate models misunderstood the role of clouds

Pile on top of this the very obvious fact that the weather is getting “worse”. This worrysome trend is becoming patently obvious to anyone with half a brain, and debates about why seem so yesterday when the facts are faced up to. Against a US President who jokes in a snowstorm that some global warming might be helpful is a growing understanding in the population as a whole that something serious is up. The message that global warming really (and immediately) means more (and greater) extreme weather events is hitting home. Bigger and more destructive storms of all kinds, including snowstorms. Habitat change threatening species (and many more than polar bears) and subsistence farming across the planet. Large populated areas of low-lying country threatened with likely inundation. Industrial-scale farming patterns worldwide need adjusting and fast.


And last by by no means least, the entire world seems doomed to engage in a seemingly never-ending asymmetrical war with the forces of extreme violence – now, notably, “Islamic” violence – which represents a tiny fraction of the religion’s worldwide ummah, but which taints it all with sometimes tragic consequences, despite the very obvious fact that many more Muslims are killed by the extremists than are Westerners.

The current paralysis of world political thinking is nowhere better illustrated than by the failure to deal with the philosophical basis of the extremism. The philosophy of extremist Islam is nothing new, but its ability to de-stabilise the world is new. Free availability of arms both large and small, (many supplied from the West), instant digital communication, and a perpetual media spotlight make the menace much greater than it ever has been.

And to even say “Maybe if we stopped bombing towns and villages with enhanced munitions then at least some people might stop becoming radicalised?” is to invite howls of derision and even cat-calls of “Traitor”. As we move into 2018, patriotism has become not just the refuge of scoundrels, but also those who wish to deny palpably obvious realities. The equivalent for Muslims is to say “Maybe we Shia and Sunni should stop killing each other and live in peace?” Even to voice the opinion risks swift retribution.

It is hardly surprising, faced with all this, that worldwide people are retreating into a sort of mutualised depression, for which social media provides one poor outlet, with plaintive appeals to enjoy “A peaceful New Year” replacing “Health, Wealth and Happiness”.

Part of the problem is the seemingly intractable nature of all these problems.

In all these scenarios, the themes seem simply too large, too complex, and too “far away”, for ordinary people to wreak any meaningful change in a positive direction. And it is in this specific context that we propose a return to basics.

We offer you these critical commandments to guide us all in troubling times.

  • Get out and vote for what you believe in.

Abstention-ism is not a viable option. It is leaving “it” to the elites that has got us into this awful mess.

The First Vote

But don’t just vote. Get involved with the political party of your choice. Ask questions, and demand answers.

Get involved in policy-making. Be a squeaky wheel. If you don’t feel qualified to talk about the niceties of defence planning or international economics, then start with what you do know. Your local school district. Rubbish collection. Parks and gardens. Traffic flow. Take back control over your life.

The resulting empowerment is not just good for society, and good training in how to effect change, it’s good for your own psychological well-being, too.

The demise of party membership is just the first and most obvious example of how we willfully gave away our influence over those that rule us.

This is as true in China and Russia as it is in Australia and America. Governmental systems vary, but the power of the people doesn’t. Ultimately, when exercised, the power of the people always and inevitably wins, because there’s more of “us” than there is of “them”. And their control rests on our acquiescence. (That’s why the elite are more than happy to keep us satiated with sports and hamburgers and alcohol.)

So if you want to win, get in the game. Don’t be a spectator. “Subvert the dominant paradigm”, whoever and wherever you are.

Secondly, if the drift towards climate disaster or world conflict terrifies you, (and it should), then channel that fear into something that makes a difference.

  • Don’t like climate change? Turn it off. Reduce your energy consumption.

flashing-panda-wall-switch-light-nightlight-6-led-aaa-batteries-led-wall-switchEveryone can do this, even if it simply involves turning a few lights off.

Only use heating or cooling systems when you really need to.

The planet will be grateful, and your hip-pocket will thank you too.

It really is that simple. And spend two minutes more a week recycling properly, and encouraging everyone around you to do the same.

While you’re making this change, eat a little less meat. Meat (which we freely admit we adore) is highly harmful to the environment. If you’re a dedicated carnivore, maybe enjoy just one vegetarian meal a week?

Never was “Think global, act local” more true, yet we seem to be bored with that call already. Familiarity breeds contempt. It’s time to remind everyone that tiny changes, multiplied by millions, really do make a massive difference.

  • And don’t be silent on violence. Ever.

Silence equals consent. Our silence. Your silence.


It is odd, isn’t it, how we can become deeply involved in the consequences of a mugging death of a grandmother round the corner from where we live, but become inured to images of warplanes bombing civilian areas, often carried out in our name? The grandmother killed in such an event is no different from the grandmother who got mugged. Each grandmother hoped for a quiet and happy retirement, with enough to live on in a simple, life-sustaining way, surrounded by the happy cries of her grandchildren, tending to a few plants, passing the time of day with friends and neighbours in the sunset of their life. And then this dream was cruelly snatched away from them.

How do we decide to be broken-hearted about one, but cold and unmoved by the other?

To reduce and then prevent war, we simply have to – en masse – make it clear to our leaders that violence conducted in our name is not acceptable to us, and we will withdraw our support from those who conduct it.

Sounds simplistic? It is. That’s the beauty of it. It really is simple.

Over-complicate the goal and it becomes un-do-able. So keep it simple. Support candidates who support peace, and don’t support those who don’t. And make your choice known, on social media, to family and friends, and to the politicians themselves.

Want to do more? Start by arguing that our governments should not sell arms (of any kind) to other governments. Over 90% of the deaths in armed conflicts worldwide are from bullets. If we stop making those bullets, many of those people will not die. Better still, shorn of the ease of pulling a trigger to resolve a conflict, many such conflicts will be more likely to result in negotiations.

Continue by demanding that we choose to withdraw career progression from those who ache to create conflict in order to “use” the weapons and service people at their disposal. Bellicose commanders at all levels are progressively replaced by those who know the reality of war, and will do anything to avoid it. We do not do this partially, we do it on all sides.

And then tell those that govern us that we demand that they reduce the reliance on weaponry to “achieve peace”. (In reality, of course, it is not about peace at all, but is used to achieve political influence.)

We demand that armed forces everywhere are pared back to the lowest level concomitant with providing an effective defence posture against all likely events. In countries like Britain, for example, historical nonsenses like the “independent” Trident nuclear weapon system are simply scrapped. The money released by this ratcheting down of defence spending become a “peace dividend” to re-engineer businesses that rely on the military-industrial complex for survival, and to support servicepeople adjusting to civilian life.

Yes, we know we will immediately be accused, of course, of being namby-pamby, of not living in the real world, of misunderstanding how power works, of being naive. You will, too. But we are none of those things.

We have spent a life watching closely (and sometimes intimately) how the people at the top of power structures work. What motivates them. And what motivates them most is the maintenance of their power.

It is not always that they are simply power hungry, although power is unquestionably very attractive and an aphrodisiac, both to the practitioner and those around him or her. But few people get involved in politics in any system merely to aggrandise themselves, merely for career-ism.

Most genuinely believe they are acting in the greater good, and this motivates them to stick with the long hours, the dangers, the disrupted family life, the huge responsibilities, the petty treacheries, and all the rest of it.

Threaten to take that opportunity to “do good” away – the psychological bedrock of their career – is the most powerful thing any of us can do to affect their behaviour.

That is why the consent – or withdrawal of consent – for politicians to simply do as they wish regardless of our opinions rests on every single one of us. Alone, we can achieve little, but building a consensus rests with every single one of us. We can hide under the covers, or we can speak our mind. We can stand up and be counted, and when enough people are counted, politicians and rulers react.

Every single one of us can say “Not that, this.” Some of us will be ignored. Some of us will mocked for doing so. Some will lose friends. Some will even be injured or killed. But every one of us has the capacity and the right to say “Not that, this.” It is the one thing that no one can take away from us. We control our own opinions. Our voice is our own, whatever the cost. And the choice to use it is always ours and ours alone.

And that’s why this is our New Year’s wish. For you, and for the world.

Because war really is over. If you want it. Badly enough.

Here’s a thought. Why not share a link to this blog? That’d be a good start.

PS A number of people have asked why Churchill – a famous war leader – heads this column. The answer is simple. As someone who actually experienced war, Churchill hated it, whilst nevertheless waging it ferociously. His most relevant quotation on the topic is also perhaps his least quoted: “Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war”. That’s why. If Churchill “got it”, anyone can.



Refugees are not breaking the law. They should always be treated with respect, and with courtesy. They should not be met with armed guards and batons.

They are not the problem. They are the result of the problem.

When our countries sell arms to dictators to attack their own people, we create the problem.

When through our own lack of care those arms find their way through nefarious means to extremist groups, we create the problem.

When we prefer war-war to jaw-jaw, we create the problem.

When we allow, through our indifference, those that rule us to carve up the world into opposing camps that jostle and claw for preference, we create the problem.

When we demonise those we disagree with as sub-human, not-like-us, dirty, feckless or dangerous, we create the problem.

Every time we applaud a simple slogan uttered by a self-seeking politician or media commentator, instead of working harder and seeking to understand the depth of a situation, we create the problem.

When we keep the wealth of the world gathered into our hands instead of sharing it fairly, when we allow traders to destabilise whole country’s economies to achieve a profitable statistical blip on their trading charts, and when as night follows day when those countries dissolve into riots and civil strife, then we create the problem.

Refugees are not the problem. They are the result of the problem.

And we cause the problem.



If you want to make an immediate donation to help 4 million Syrian refugees, the most direct way will be via the UNHCR. Click here.

Abbott and his friends make their opinion of "temporary" tax increases very clear after the Queensland floods.

Abbott and his friends make their opinion of “temporary” tax increases very clear after the devastating Queensland floods. Now he proposes exactly the same idea.

We are on record as eschewing the general “bagging” of politicians per se, believing that some respect for our system of Government – some general belief that it is not entirely corrupted and merely the venue for amoral power-hungry sociopaths to do nothing but big note themselves and promote their career – is necessary for the well-being of the community and the country, but sometimes, even for a committed small-D democrat, it is very hard not to despair and simply scream incoherently “a plague on both your houses”.

It’s not just the nonsense they spout: it’s the nonsense they spout when they defend each other spouting nonsense.

If you give it, you have to take it. Abbott ruthlessly and effectively crucified Gillard. Is it his turn now?

If you give it, you have to take it. Abbott ruthlessly and effectively crucified Gillard. Is it his turn now?

In Australia, senior Liberal Christopher Pyne (or “Christopher Robin” as he is known in the Wellthisiswhatithink household, because of his repeatedly childish behaviour in Parliament and elsewhere) has denied that the introduction of a “deficit levy” – read, an extra tax to pay down debt – would be Tony Abbott’s “Julia Gillard moment”, (Julia Gillard being the immediate past Prime Minister, deposed by Abbott, who never got over being christened Juliar for bringing in a carbon tax when she had said pre-election that she wouldn’t), despite a majority of Australians saying the Abbott move would indeed be a broken promise.

Abbott promised repeatedly not to increase taxes. “You can’t tax your way to prosperity” was a mantra. So was “Tax cuts, without new taxes”.

Despite this, the Liberal-National coalition frontbencher played down the latest Galaxy poll, which showed a whopping 72 per cent believe the tax hike would indeed represent a blatant broken promise.

Australians know the government will have to make tough decisions to get the budget back on track, he said. “They know it won’t be easy and it is important that everyone shares in that burden of repairing the damage Labor did to the economy and to the budget,” Mr Pyne told ABC TV on Sunday.

The Australian Government can afford 58 of these, but needs a new tax to pay for the "budget crisis", and needs people to work till 70 till they get their pension, and is going to make wholesale cuts in the coming budget. When people work out that these are choices, and not inevitabilities, the backlash for Abbot could be horrible.

The Australian Government can apparently afford 58 of these, but now needs a new tax to pay for the “budget crisis”, plus it needs people to work till 70 to get their pension, and it is going to make wholesale cuts in the coming budget. When people work out that these are choices, and not inevitabilities, the backlash for Abbot could be horrible.

This is, however, in the face of the Government paying a massive $12.5 billion to buy new fighter jets, the serviceability and usability of which are the subject of on-going debate in defence circles as well as the country as a whole.

The contrast between “toys for the boys” and forecast swingeing cuts to welfare has brought the debate into sharp relief, not to mention damaged the Government’s standing.

It now trails the Labor Party that it just replaced by four percentage points. Two party-preferred support for the coalition has plunged 5.5 percentage points since the September election, with its vote now 48 per cent compared to Labor’s 52 per cent. Short honeymoon even by today’s low-attention ten-second soundbite standards of public discourse.

According to the poll, published by News Corp Australia, the Abbott government is facing a voter backlash over the possible new debt tax on those earning more than $80,000.

Certainly, the government has yet to confirm the deficit levy will be included in the May 13 budget but it seems that only a howl of outrage from the Australian middle class will prevent it.

But with huge – some would say laughable – bravado, the Prime Minister has said any levy would be temporary, and therefore wouldn’t break an election promise not to increase taxes.

So let’s just get that clear. If you only break a promise for a while, it’s not a broken promise, right? So what does it become? A bent promise? A slightly tarnished promise? Do we now have a whole new level of Government probity (or otherwise) to parse?

Mr Pyne went on to deny that a levy (read: a new tax) would be Mr Abbott’s “Julia Gillard moment” – a reference to the former prime minister’s broken promise on the carbon tax. “There is no easy way out from the debt and deficit disaster that Labor’s left us,” Mr Pyne said. “But what we do has to be fair to everyone, and it has to be right for the country. That’s the job of government.”

Newly-minted Opposition Leader Bill Shorten finally woke up from his slumber and weighed in. He said Labor would oppose a deficit levy, and urged the prime minister to drop the tax hike before next week’s budget.

“Increasing taxes on working class and middle class Australians is a terrible mistake, and people will not forgive Mr Abbott for breaking this very big promise,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.

Whilst we find it somewhat stomach-churning to hear it from one of the core team who allowed wasteful spending to again become a way of life for Australian Governments – and who lacked the guts to challenge Gillard for the top job in time to actually repair Labor’s fortunes – we think he’s right.

Having allowed his plans to leak and become discussed, Abbot is now between a rock and a hard place. If he backs down on the new tax because his advisors reckon he can ride it out (or, more likely, are so deep in their bubble they fundamentally misjudge the anger it will cause) then he will be seen to be weak in the fight against the very fiscal crisis that he has promoted as needing fixing.

If he levies the tax, he will be pilloried for breaking the most fundamental pre-election commitment he made.

And in other commitments made pre-election, Abbott also locked in several “No Cut” promises leaving him, hopefully in this correspondent’s opinion, with even less wriggle room. Just take a look at this:


Right: noted.

Right: noted.


Against a backdrop of Coalition MPs privately venting that the new tax move was “Crazy”, and “Electoral suicide”, even the uncontroversial (generally) Sydney Morning Herald asked yesterday “Could it become known as the “Abbott moment”, when a prime minister cursed his political fate and consigned his government to one term? A big call, to be sure, especially so far out from the next federal poll in 2016.”

We are under no illusion. We think Abbott is about to hand the Liberal Party leadership on a plate to the man who should have had it all along, Malcolm Turnbull, were it not for the “hard right” putsch that idiotically deposed him in Abbott’s favour by a single vote. Not immediately, not in the very short term, but before long. You heard it here first. Our tip would be just before Christmas 2014, as it was even before Abbott won the General Election.

To misquote George Bush Snr, “Read my lips: no way out.”




Tony Benn was my hero.

I have read his diaries from cover to cover more than once – and if for no other reason than his remarkable capacity as a diarist recording the reality of government – shining a light on its intrigues, its soaring ambitions and its farcial incapacities – history owes him a huge debt of gratitude.

Benn was notorious for talking naive, cheery nonsense. It was an inevitable feature of a man whose passion for social and international justice was never far below the urbane surface of his Edwardian facade.


Tony Benn


As an ironed-on member of what used to be called the Hard Left he could strike ridiculous poses: in conversation with a Chinese diplomat calling the worst mass murderer of the 20th century, Mao, the “greatest man of his era”, for example, and recording the conversation in his diaries without a trace of a pause for self-reflection. But surely such ridiculous excesses and flights of fancy can be forgiven, for they are more than balanced by a man who was enduringly courteous, kind, Christian, humble, dedicated, hugely knowledgeable and well read, and unflaggingly energetic in pursuit of the causes he championed. It was certainly a general understanding of these facets of his nature that saw him elevated, towards the end of his life, to “national treasure” status.

As one of the longest-standing and most highly-regarded Parliamentarians of his era, it is a great irony that his most dramatic impact on the consciousness of two generations was not his part in the internecine struggles of the Labour Party – where his compulsion to see the party not drift to the right was subsequently proven to be entirely justified by the advent of Blairism – nor his leadership in many quixotic iconic struggles such as the Miner’s strike against Thatcher, where recent disclosures again show him to have been on the right side of history – but in his extra-Parliamentary leadership of the anti-war movement that coalesced around outrage against the West’s invasion of Iraq.

The war in Iraq and the consequent dismemberment of that society, with civilian deaths now estimated by the most conservative estimates to be over 600,000 and still climbing, is a terrible blight on the reputation of the West, and America and Britain especially. And that is not to detract from the courage of those who have served there honourably under very difficult circumstances, just as it is an indictment of the donkeys that sent them there.

Saddam Hussein, his family and his cohorts were a bunch of brutes responsible for many horrors. But they were useful brutes for the West, for a time, and were supported uncritically while they toed the line. There is little doubt in my mind that the invasion and the subsequent and parlous current state of Iraq was and is a worse outcome for the people of Iraq than if Hussein had remained in power, just as the awful Assad regime in Syria is nevertheless the lesser of two evils when compared with the butchering extremist Al Qaeda-led forces that now oppose it, who are laying waste to whole areas of the country, murdering indiscriminately and driving millions into internal or external exile.

Anyhow, to experience again the rage that broke on the heads of the West’s leaders at the time of the Iraq invasion, and to understand the moral force of Benn’s trenchant opposition to war as a means to solve diplomatic ends, we recommend you watch this short video of him raging against the hypocrisy of the West’s position, and that of then American UN Ambassador John Bolton in particular.

It is also, and especially towards the end of the item, an example of Benn as his most excoriatingly honest and clear-sighted, and at his most impressive.



Unlike those politicians who endlessly prevaricate, who wait for an opinion poll or focus group before telling us what they think, and who hide timidly behind ranks of advisors and flunkies, Tony Benn always knew, instinctively, which side of the barricades he was on, when push came to shove.

He convinced me to join him there thirty five years ago, even though I was never a supporter or member of his party, and I have never regretted throwing in my lot with the poor, the dispossessed, those with no voice, those with no power.

As a callow youth, I chatted to Benn for an hour in a hotel bar after a fringe meeting at a Liberal Assembly in Harrogate. I was clutching a pint, him a mug of tea, as was his wont.

Never once “talking down” to me, he passionately laid out why he believed democracy to be under threat from the power of capital and its fellow travellers in the industrial-military machine. He quietly and intensely outlined events to me during his own Ministerial tenure which he probably shouldn’t have, and which I will not reveal here, to prove his point, but it was typical of the man that he would not be hidebound by convention when he saw the opportunity to win another mind to the cause, believing that truth – and his reliance on the wisdom of ordinary folk to grasp it – was much more important that mere quibbles about whether or not he should be chatting to a complete stranger about matters that were undoubtedly confidential.

His was the politics of discourse, of argument, of analysis, of debate. Above all, it was the politics of truth, as he saw it. Of the need to unflinchingly tell the truth even if it cost him power personally, or led him to be ridiculed, or marginalised.

He struck me then, and ever since, as charming, polite to a fault, and utterly sincere. If only – if only – we had more like him, on all sides of politics, the world would be a better place. Which was, above all, what he worked for all his life.

His legacy will endure. Our sympathies go to his family, and all who knew and loved him. The one consolation is the hope that he is now united with his beloved Caroline, who did so much to support him for so long.