Monday, 19 March 2018

Salisbury and deranged conspiracy theories

The attempted murder by poisoning of two people in Salisbury recently was despicable and should be condemned by all right thinking people. But almost as appalling in my view has been the response of some to the shocking events - namely the worrying number of people who seem determined to ignore all the evidence and identify another culprit, however bizarre or tangential their choice of 'culprits' is.

A brief recap on what happened in Salisbury : a russian defector who was branded 'a traitor' by a ruthless Russian politician who has a history of silencing opponents at home and abroad (with methods which include poison) is poisoned along with his daughter in their hometown of Salisbury. Now it doesn't require the reasoning powers of Albert Einstein to conclude from this that the most likely culprit for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter is the aforementioned ruthless politician i.e. Vladimir Putin and his intelligence operatives. Indeed as the famous saying goes 'if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck'. But to judge from some of the things i've seen and read across social media in the last few days there are an alarming number of people who seem determined to exonerate the said ruthless politician and to pin the blame elsewhere.

Among the most bizarre of these alternative culprits have been claims that the EU carried out the poisonings. Favoured by kipper and brexit types the 'rationale' behind this ludicrous nonsense is that the EU dispatched a secret hit team (who knew the EU had such 'teams'?) to salisbury to snuff out the russian pair in the hope it would harm UK-Russia relations and therefore make the UK government re-think Brexit and leaving the security and solidarity offered by the EU. Thankfully however this insane nonsense hasn't gained much traction outside of the most lunatic branches of kipperdom and individuals with less than half a brain cell.

Just as bizarre perhaps, and certainly more insidious, are the claims that what occured in Salisbury was the result of a 'false flag' operation i.e. it was carried out by the british intelligence services at the behest of the UK government to distract people from some important event they don't want people thinking about, and from what ive been reading the 'event' in question seems to be their inept handling of the brexit negotiations. Deranged claptrap certainly but sadly believed by sizeable numbers of people to judge by the wide numbers sharing and posting 'false flag' hashtags all around social media last week.

And into this depressing mix comes Craig Murray's downright disturbing claim on his blog last week that the poisonings were the work of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad. A former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan who resigned in protest at the illegal invasion of Iraq, and a powerful critic of other disastrous and criminal western escapades around the world, Craig Murray sadly seems to have succumbed to an unhealthy anti zionism which can result in people drifting into some extremely worrying areas 

Whenever the spectre of Mossad is invoked in order to explain some major world event people have to understand the worrying connotations which accompany such claims i.e. it fits into the racist and age old conspiracy narrative of Jews manipulating world events. 

Completely bogus of course this racist conspiracy theory manifested itself in its worst form in the shape of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and would reach its zenith in the horrifying shape of the holocaust. So for example it was no surprise that in the aftermath of the attack on New York's twin towers in 2001 that it wasn't long before claims began to surface online that it was Mossad that was behind the appalling events, often accompanied by specious claims that Jewish people didn't perish in the towers collapse (just for the record many Jews perished that day). So those who give credence to Murray's bankrupt claims about Mossad involvement in the events in Salisbury must understand that when they do so they help feed that despicable and age old anti semitic narrative. 

But perhaps we ought not to be surprised that when a major and terrible event of the type which occurred in Salisbury happens that people are eager to dismiss the 'official' narrative and to propose an alternative account of events - we do after all live in the frightening age of  'alternative facts'.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Would Jezza make a good leader of UKIP?

We all know Jeremy Corbyn's political history when it comes to the EU i.e. he was among those on the british left who regarded it as a 'capitalist club' and who think that if the UK left the EU it would lead to the creation of a british socialist utopia. Complete infantile bunkum of course but unfortunately believed by people like Jeremy Corbyn, the tankies of the CPB and assorted british trotskyist groups. In truth there's more likelihood of brexit enabling the hard right of the British tory party to "finish what Thatcher started" as Nigel Lawson gleefully exclaimed the day after the EU referendum result. So given his longtime affiliation with the eurosceptic wing of the British left it was no surprise to see that come the EU referendum Jezza was at best lukewarm in promoting his own party's policy of staying in the EU, even to the extent of not participating in any major televised debates on the issue. Indeed two years on it's still astonishing to reflect that the leader of the Labour party in the UK didn't participate in a televised national debate on arguably the most important political decision of many of our lifetimes.

And no surprise either that in the two years since the referendum Jeremy Corbyn has to all intents and purposes lined up with the Westminster tory government to ease the passage towards a hard brexit i.e. not just leaving the EU - but ending free movement of workers and leaving the single market and the customs union also (in fact i wrote about this last June). And again it has come as no surprise to see he has used his position as UK labour leader to peddle falsehoods about the EU and its single market. His favoured untruth being that being in the single market prevents public ownership - which of course is simply not true. Furthermore in this apparent eagerness to see a hard Brexit Jezza seems oblivious to the massive importance of the single market to the economies of parts of the UK like Wales and Scotland (over two thirds of both countries exports are to the EU single market).

But while his support for a hard brexit shouldn't come as a shock to any of us who have followed Jezza's political career what has come as a shock was seeing and hearing a politician with a such long and good record of opposing racism trotting out bogus right wing propaganda about EU migrants at the recent Scottish Labour party conference. It's simply not true as Jeremy Corbyn asserted in Dundee that workers from EU countries 'undercut' wages in the UK.There have been numerous independent and academic studies showing such claims are a myth, among them a study published in the run up to the referendum by the London School of Economics More than that misleading claims that people from other EU states drive wages down smacks of the kind of racist myths that were propagated in the 1960s by supporters of Enoch Powell about people from afro caribbean countries.

The satirical website Newsthump published a droll article yesterday declaring that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected the new leader of Ukip That's probably being a bit harsh on Jeremy Corbyn, and i'm of course not seriously suggesting he would make a good leader of Ukip. But it has to be said that when you read his comments on EU migrants and on the single market (and his vitriolic attack on the Scottish government worthy of  'project fear' during the 2014 Scottish indy Referendum) you have to conclude the next leader of Ukip would have no problem in endorsing some of the things Jeremy Corbyn said in Scotland on Friday. 

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Time to end Period poverty in Wales

It was great to see this week that Rhondda Cynon Taff council has supported a proposal to provide free sanitary products to schoolgirls in the area. Recent reports have shown that the scandal of 'period poverty' is a growing problem. Last year a study commissioned by the charity Plan International found that one in 10 girls in the UK cannot afford to buy sanitary products. Their report revealing that :

  • 10% had been unable to afford sanitary wear
  • 15% had struggled to afford sanitary wear
  • 14% had to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues
  • 19% had changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost

And the campaign group Freedom for Girls found that there were many cases of girls in Wales not attending school during their period as a result of not being able to afford tampons and sanitary towels. A spokeswoman for the campaign telling the Good Morning Wales radio programme "It's such a scary time, especially when you are at the teenage age, and it can make that person feel anxieties, extra anxieties have an affect on their wellbeing and they feel isolated, really."It's an awful thing to have that feeling and not want to go and get an education because you're having a period."

And sadly it's not just young girls who are victims of period poverty. The consequences of nearly a decade of austerity and the resulting steep decline in the living standards of the poorest people - coupled with swingeing benefit sanctions - means that tens of thousands of adult women across the UK are regularly struggling to pay for sanitary products (Ken Loach's brilliant film 'I, Daniel Blake' gives a stark portrayal of this hidden scandal). It's surely wrong that women should have to pay for items they need as a result of female biology. Surely it's time then that sanitary products were provided free to all women and girls? If this was done the scandal of period poverty would be ended at a stroke.

Great to report then that such a move is being seriously considered in Scotland with a pilot project in Aberdeen giving sanitary towels and tampons free to all women in the area who need them. And plans are afoot to extend the scheme across the whole of Scotland. So it would be great to see the Senedd follow the excellent example being set in Scotland and by Rhondda Cynon Taff council and introduce a programme that would see sanitary products provided free to girls and women across the whole of Wales. Meaning Wales would then join Scotland in being the first nations in the world to provide sanitary products free of charge.(and with Scotland and Wales making such strong efforts to end period poverty the Westminster government would come under enormous pressure to follow suit and provide free sanitary products for girls and women in England too).    

Thursday, 22 February 2018

"The Sun Still Shines"

"Sonne scheint noch" (The Sun Still Shines) the inspiring and moving last words of Sophie Scholl of the White Rose Movement before she was beheaded by her Nazi captors 75 years ago today. The incredibly brave story of Sophie - and her brother Hans and their friend Cristoph who both died with her - and others in the anti Nazi group the White Rose Movement can be read here


Monday, 19 February 2018

The DUP want to kill the Good Friday Agreement

Last weeks collapse of talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein was not a surprise to anyone who knows anything about the DUP and their political origins.The DUP opposed the Good Friday Agreement and represent the most reactionary form of ulster unionism.They are the direct political offspring of the brand of loyalism which created and maintained the gerrymandered british statelet in the north of ireland - a gerrymandered statelet which deliberately marginalised and excluded the nationalist community and which only changed following a sustained civil rights campaign in the late 1960s thru to the early 1970s.

The DUP's political forefathers helped bring down power sharing in the mid 70s and they campaigned for a no vote in the referendum on the good friday agreement in 1998 - a referendum which saw over 70 percent of people in the six counties endorse the agreement it should be noted. While it's also been established that the DUP has had links with the loyalist paramilitaries Ulster Resistance and the notorious sectarian killers the Ulster Volunteer Force.

All in all then the DUP are a thoroughly nasty bunch of people and their opposition to an Irish language Act in the north and opposition to a law on gay equality are entirely in keeping with their history. And they will of course be privately delighted at the prospect of direct british rule being imposed - as hard line unionists they are by their very nature opposed to the existence of a body (the Northern Irish Assembly ) which gives representatives of the nationalist community a role in the governance of the north and an agreement which allows for the reunification of Ireland by consent.

And in this and their seeming desire to sabotage the Good Friday Agreement it's extremely disturbing to see the DUP are being egged on by the hard right of the British conservative party - over the weekend the tory hard brexiter Owen Patterson glibly tweeting the Good Friday Agreement had 'outlived its use'.

Only a madman or the most poisonous sectarian would want to put in jeopardy the relative peace people in the north have enjoyed these past two decades and risk returning it to the decades of carnage which preceded the agreement. But make no mistake in their recent actions this is what the DUP risks doing.Similarly in their insistence the UK leaves the EU customs union and single market - leading to the creation of a 'hard border' between the South and the North - this is what hard brexiters like Owen Patterson and Jacob Rees Mogg also risk doing.

It's also telling that many of the arguments currently being deployed by the DUP against an Irish language act in the north are the same bogus arguments previously used by anti Welsh bigots for many years to oppose Welsh language measures in Wales. So the DUP has trotted out red herrings about 'the cost of translation' or played up absurd claims that non irish speakers would be 'dominated by a minority of irish speakers'.

The plain fact of the matter is that just as Welsh speakers should (and now thankfully do) have a legal right to use and access services in Welsh in their own country people should have a legal right to use services and speak Irish across the entirety of the island of Ireland. Wales now has two official languages - English and Welsh. And the Republic of Ireland has two official languages - English and Irish. Irish republicans are to be commended then for their efforts to win legal status for the Irish language in the north of Ireland.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

A license to kill

While most people's attention recently will probably have been on the British government's continuing shambolic handling of Brexit elsewhere there was another major news story which in its own way is every bit as important as the brexit story, and which represents a grim reminder of past British governments involvement in events on the island of Ireland.

On Monday it was reported that Gary Haggarty - a british state informer for 11 years in the outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force - had seen his 35 year prison sentence for his involvement in sectarian murders reduced to just 6 years, with Haggarty only likely to serve half of the 6 year sentence. The cut in his sentence in effect means Haggarty will serve less than a year in prison for each of the innocent people he killed during his involvement with the UVF, a move which prompted understandable outrage from the relatives of Haggarty's victims.The judgement from Belfast Crown Court indicated that the 35-year jail term was reduced by 75% for the assistance he was said to have given police and prosecutors and then a further 25% for Haggarty's plea of guilty.The judge said that the 202 offences admitted by Haggarty had been committed during a "terrorist campaign over a 16-year period".

Haggarty is said to have provided information about 55 UVF murders and 20 attempted murders However, only one person was jailed as a result of Haggarty’s evidence. While others in the UVF who he named will not face prosecution because the state ruled it did not have enough additional evidence to charge them. So what all this means is that when Gary Haggarty was killing and maiming innocent people with the loyalist terrorists of the UVF he was reporting back on their activities to his handlers in British army intelligence. Which begs the questions - why wasnt he stopped from carrying out these murders? And why weren't the other attacks he knew the UVF were carrying out stopped?

Then on Tuesday this week it was reported that another british state informer during the troubles - the infamous 'stakeknife' - had been arrested and detained by Police in southern England as part of Operation Kenova. 'Stakeknife' was Frederick Scappaticci. Scappaticci was a key figure in the IRA’s so called ‘nutting squad’ and was responsible for its internal security. A large part of his role in the organisation involved interrogating suspected informers, and sometimes – on Scappatticci’s say so – these suspected informers would be executed and dumped on roadsides or buried in unmarked graves.

Just under 15 years ago a former operative in British army intelligence (ian hurst) posing under the pseudonym of 'martin ingram' wrote a book with the journalist Greg Harkin which revealed that Scappaticci had been a british agent for decades and had been allowed to carry on his his grim role within the IRA so long as he passed information on to his british handlers about IRA operations and personnel. More than that it’s believed Scappaticci used his role as interrogator in chief in the IRA to carry out the execution of committed republicans - under the guise that they were informers - at the behest of british army intelligence.

Of course Scappaticci and Haggarty were far from being the only operatives acting on the instruction of British intelligence during ‘the troubles’. Denis Donaldson had been a major figure in the republican movement for decades before he was outed as a spy in 2005. While Brian Nelson was a British agent in the loyalist paramilitary group the UDA. Nelson helped supply loyalist death squads with weapons and explosives and was involved in the numerous killings of republicans and nationalists – among them the murder of the republican solicitor and civil rights activist pat finucane

But thanks to the bravery in coming forward of former British army intelligence operatives like Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd, and the excellent research of Anne Cadwallader of the Pat Finucane center, we now know that loyalist terror groups in the north of Ireland were in part armed and directed by the British intelligence services. With perhaps the most notorious example of this being the involvement of the SAS captain Robert Nairac in the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the roadside massacre of the popular Irish music group the Miami Showband.

Between them the likes of Haggarty, Scappaticci and Nelson were responsible for scores of killings. They knew that as paid informants of the british intelligence services they were virtually untouchable and free to kill as they wished. In effect their status as prized informers - 'Jewels' as a senior British army figure described them - gave them a license to kill and to literally get away with murder. Furthermore it's inconceivable that senior figures in the british government's of the day ie Thatcher and Major wouldn't have been advised of the murderous activities of the likes of Scappaticci and Nelson.

Useful links 

Panorama programme on Scappaticci

RTE documentary on Denis Donaldson

Monday, 29 January 2018

Jack Sargeant should be empty chaired for debate snub

A by-election takes place in Wales on Thursday in Alyn and Deeside with a seat in the Senedd awaiting the winner.The by-election came about as a consequence of the grimmest of circumstances - the suicide of Carl Sargeant. Labour selected his son - Jack - to be their candidate. In any other circumstance it's extremely unlikely Jack Sargeant would have been selected to contest this seat. He has never held elected office of any kind, his rivals for the labour nomination included two local councillors and it was a seat held by his father (nepotism isn't usually looked upon favourably in politics). But the circumstances surrounding his father's death effectively meant 23 year old Jack Sargeant was a shoe-in for the Labour candidacy the moment he put his name forward for selection, and those same circumstances almost certainly mean he's a shoe-in to win the by election itself on Thursday.

The events which proceeded Carl Sargeant's death are well known and there's been a lot of conjecture since about what should have happened and what shouldn't have happened, with an independent  inquiry set up now investigating the affair. Wales first minister Carwyn Jones has come in for a lot of criticism in particular from friends of Carl Sargeant for his handling of the episode, with it claimed Carl Sargeant didn't know the nature of the allegations against him before taking his life. Until the findings of the inquiry are published no one can be sure what Carwyn Jones or anyone else did or what exactly they knew. But clearly what should have happened the moment three women apparently came forward to make complaints of sexual misconduct against Carl Sargeant is that Welsh labour's leadership in the Senedd should have reported the allegations against Carl Sargeant to the police rather than trying to treat it as an 'internal matter'.

If they had done this at least Carl Sargeant would have been made fully aware of the allegations against him, and who knows maybe reacted differently to the situation. Similarly the three women who made the complaints against Carl Sargeant wouldn't have been forgotten in the way they sadly seem to have been since his death. Because - as we've seen in the many recent cases of alleged historical sexual abuse - police investigations into alleged sexual offences are carried out even when the accused is no longer living. As while there has been much talk of justice for Carl Sargeant by family, friends and former political colleagues since his death it seems to have been overlooked by many of those same people that the women who accused Carl Sargeant of sexual misconduct had the same right to be heard and the same right to justice too.

Of course the circumstances which have propelled him to the labour candidacy in this by-election don't mean that Jack Sargeant himself is without merit or that he wont be an able representative for the area if elected. But by the same token he should be treated in the exact same way as any other candidate seeking public office. To that end his decision to snub a televised debate on the eve of the poll stinks - and he should be 'empty chaired' by the programme's producers (just as Theresa May should have been when she refused to participate in a televised debate prior to last year's UK general election). His justification for boycotting the televised debate - that he didnt want to be involved in what he called a 'choreographed' event - hardly rings true given his decision to snub the debate seems very choreographed indeed to judge by the detailed public statement he issued on why he would be refusing to appear.

And while Jack Sargeant and his campaign team have made great play of the word 'local' during this by-election it's puzzling this doesn't apparently extend to the local football team - Connah's Quay Nomads - Jack Sargeant being a supporter of the not very 'local' Newcastle United. It is also disquieting that Jack Sargeant has stated that if elected as an AM on Thursday he would be "seeking justice for his father and getting to the truth about the chain of events that led to his premature death". Certainly any son would probably feel the same but Jack Sargeant needs to be reminded that his job as a Senedd member wont be to pursue personal agendas and grievances - however strongly he feels about it - his job will be to represent the interests of the people of Alyn and Deeside and aid the Welsh labour government to carry out its programme. But given that same Welsh labour government is led by the very person many of Carl Sargeant's friends (and maybe even Jack Sargeant himself) seem to blame for Carl Sargeant's death it's frankly impossible to believe Jack Sargeant will be able to set this aside when dealing with his Welsh labour leader in the Senedd.

Unfortunately because of the awful circumstances that led to this by-election occurring there's no question people feel constrained in what they can say or write about Jack Sargeant and consequently it's very clear he is getting an armchair ride from the Welsh media. This is plainly wrong! He should be subject to the same level of scrutiny and face the same challenging questions that any candidate in a important by-election would expect to face and have to answer. But from his pointed disregard for Wednesday's television debate it's evident that Jack Sargeant thinks he can do whatever he likes.