The Ten Percenters – Just War and the Iraq Body Count; or Moral Posturing on Top of a Pile of Dead Civilians.

The Iraq Body Count (IBC) website provides a valuable service itemising the civilian deaths resulting from the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  I agree with much, if not all, of the rationale given by the authors of the site – at least over moral necessity of quantifying civilian casualties.  Where I disagree is over the question of agency.  The IBC posits that all civilian casualties and particularly civilian deaths flow from the Anglo-American initiative to invade Iraq in 2003, and are therefore are attributable to British and American agency.  This is an influential restatement of the orthodox understanding of the issue which attributes all evil in Iraq to Anglo-American agency in isolation.  As the IBC put it ‘The continuing high level of violent death in Iraq since 2003 is a result of the US/UK-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. None of the deaths we record would have happened were it not for the invasion.’

One problem with this is bias – the manner in which it maximises civilian casualties to selectively damn one agency while remaining silent about others.  As an example, the IBC’s approach means that it can happily include Basra homicide statistics during the British occupation and administration and charge them to British agency.  Even if Basra, like any other city, would have had at least some level of crime and homicide going on before the British turned up and after they left.

The problem with this is the denial of agency involved and how this misleads and obscures an important aspect of the moral standard used to evaluate and determine the legitimacy of war – just war theory.  There are two elements to this, normally referred to by the Latin phrases jus ad bellum and jus ad bello, namely the justice of the cause of the war, and secondly the justice of the means by which the war was waged.  The IBC approach and the orthodox understanding it represents delivers a verdict on the first count, a verdict that the war was unjust, and therefore all deaths resulting from that conflict are the responsibility of the agents that launched it. Although I disagree with that conclusion, I have some respect for it or at least as far as it can be applied to an evaluation of the legitimacy of the cause of the war.  As it happens, I believe that particular war started in 1990 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq can be justified as a resulting from manifest and repeated breaches of the ceasefire which concluded the 1990-91 conflict.  The question of just cause can often recede into a childish argument over ‘who started it’ – was it Hitler by invading Poland or Chamberlain declaring war in response?  But this is not to say that the legitimacy of the Iraq conflict, never mind the wisdom of it, cannot be usefully or responsibly questioned.  Unlike most opponents of the war I believe it is possible for responsible and informed commentators to differ over the question.

My problem lies with the question of agency and how this has obscured moral judgment of the second component of just war theory, legitimacy of means; a moral judgement which in my view is as necessary as the first.  After all, to use a common analogy, the normal criticisms of the Allied bombings of Dresden or Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War revolve around the civilian casualties inflicted in what would normally be accepted to be a just cause.  The legitimacy of the Allied cause does not, for most people, excuse or permit what they consider to be illegitimate means to achieve victory.  The perception of legitimacy of means is, for most of us, intimately associated with the civilian casualties inflicted.

This is where independently-researched databases like Malcom Sutton’s on deaths caused by political violence in Northern Ireland or the IBC’s work on Iraq are particularly valuable.  They can cut through the propaganda and received wisdom to expose the reality; who is actually being killed and by whom.  These are, ethically, just as important as the question of a legitimate causus belli.  After all, the justice of a cause might be arguable, but dead civilians are the incontravertable and factual reality of war even if the interpretation of those facts can be subject to honest disagreement.  As the IBC themselves state, the data can be used to indicate trends and thereby implicitly fuel evaluative judgement.

So let’s take a look at this issue of agency as it applies in Iraq, who was killing whom, and what this might specifically indicate in regard to the relative significance of British military agency when it came to civilian deaths.  Fortunately for me, there’s a convenient entry point for this debate over the issue of the civilian casualties caused by British troops (and coalition forces under British command) in the areas of Iraq they administered after the 2003 invasion, which can then be compared to IBC figures for overall civilian casualties in the same area over a shorter timescale to provide a maximal representation of British responsibility for civilian deaths.

The initiative for this came with the IBC’s angry response to the statement in an interview by General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the Defence Staff and professional head of the British armed services for some of the relevant period, that the number of civilians killed by British forces could not be established.  The IBC response (‘IBC’s Response to General Sir Mike Jackson’) observed that IBC data indicated that from 20 March 2003 until their withdrawal on 22 May 2011, British troops were involved in up to 227 civilian deaths with possibly a further 95 deaths also attributable to them (or 322 taking the maximal figures provided by the IBC in both cases; 193 being the similar minimum from the range provided).  I have no problem with this, even though it does include deaths in traffic accidents which I don’t think should be attributable to British operations – people used to die every year in traffic accidents involving British troops and British military vehicles in Germany for example.  This is a little more relevant than it sounds to Iraq because after 1955 British forces in Germany were present at the request of a democratically-elected German government.  By 2005 every Sadrist and every al Queda member had something that the forebears of their colleagues in the 1920 Revolution Brigades did not have when they actually rebelled against British imperialism in 1920; a democratic vote to chose their own national government.

The legitimacy of the Coalition military presence in Iraq after 2005 is one distinction between the 2003 invasion phase that the popular understanding tends to ignore, but it’s not the main point in this argument.  My problem is the lack of comparative analysis. To illustrate this, let’s compare the figures for civilians killed by the British with the figures the IBC itself provides for overall civilian casualties in the four provinces of Iraq under British control between May 2003 and December 2007.

During the period of British security provision from May 2003 to December 2007, 3,334 violent civilian deaths, and 2,099 civilian wounded, were detailed in the IBC database. (‘The unexamined Iraqi dimension of UK involvement in Iraq’).  The chronological periods are not contiguous, but for the purposes of a broad and conservative comparison, they indicate that the British were killing a maximum of 322 out of a minimum 3,334 civilian deaths in their areas of responsibility (with a longer period involved for ‘British responsibility deaths’ which taken alongside the maximal figures for the deaths they inflicted deliberately skews the figures as firmly against the British as possible from the relevant IBC summaries).  In other words, more than 90% of the civilians killed in southern Iraq in the post-invasion violence were killed by somebody other than the British.

When will the IBC dedicate 90% of their editorial criticism to these agencies and their actions?  Who did these war crimes?  What was their mandate to do so?  Were they or their actions legitimate?

Remember, the 2003 invasion or jus ad bellum alone doesn’t cut it – unless you are willing to accept Dresden or Hiroshima as justified by precisely the same standard in response.  On these questions, at least, the IBC and the mainstream understanding of the Iraq conflict that it represents, remain silent. Meanwhile it merits attention, even if that will never come from the IBC or human rights activists of their stripe, that the British forces subject to their selective criticism were at least attempting to deal with the authors of over 90% of the civilian deaths during the period of their involvement in post-invasion Iraq.

Shock Film Emerges of British Public Figure Making Nazi Salute

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  Time to mention the war.  The British press have uncovered film of a child doing a Nazi salute, feeding the popular British obsession with World War Two so central to their national identity.  By virtue of the fact that the child involved was Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, the press gets the additional bonus of flogging their ‘royal family were secret Nazi sympathisers’ dead horse whilst simultaneously exhuming the coffin of the ‘royal family were German’ popular trope.  It’s hard to work out which is more offensive in all this, the ahistorical deceit involved, or the lazy servicing of hackneyed popular stereotypes.

At one level it’s a good deflective tactic.  Nobody in their right mind could believe that Elizabeth was a Nazi sympathiser, but it provides a convenient platform for exploiting the well-known appeasement sympathies of her uncle, Edward VIII, yet one more time as if it was news.  What won’t be covered, naturally, is the pro-appeasement stance of 95% of the British media in the late nineteen thirties, or the fact that 95% of schoolchildren of my era did exactly the same thing in playground games.  We also enthusiatically played Cowboys and Indians in what I’m sure would now be descibed by any number of social scientist academics struggling to obscure their unsubmittable REF status as “unacceptable patriarchal, Eurocentric supremacist imperialist colonialist reinforcement of historical crimes”.

At one level, it was encouraging to see the playground games point being made by Michael White in the Grauniad, but more entertaining from my perspective was the manner in which the same edition of that paper could unconsciously illustrate my point about the appeasement consensus in nineteen-thirties Britain.  Nobody wanted another war, the orthodox hypocrisy asserts, but surely the nature of the Nazis was sufficiently well-known that we can get away with castigating the royal family for this salute business?

It’s easy to spot the pitfalls with appeasement with hindsight.  So what possible analogy could we use to identify a similar group of violent fascists in the current world and compare our parallel response to them?  Fortunately for us, a group called Islamic State (IS) have been advancing an appreciation of fascist aggression in Iraq and Syria for some time.  Granted, they might lack the specific modern nationalist focus in exchange for a religious ideology, but they certainly hit most of the indicator tick-boxes as undemocratic anti-semites inspired by an irrational mystical cause to unleash violent terror and mass-murder in service of their proto-medieval sense of nationalist supremacy.  So, when faced with this security threat paralleling that of fascism in the thirties, and when we struggle with the consequences of the Iraq war in a hyperbolic parallel with the impact of the losses in World War One, how do we respond?

We have to look no further than Simon Tisdall, writing right next to Michael White in the Grauniad, warning that Cameron is commiting us to an open-ended war in the Middle East against IS.  Here we can hear the genuine voice of appeasement, and it springs from the same orthodox certainties about the unacceptability of casualties, and the same self-delusion about the nature of the threat involved.  Reading this stuff it becomes easier to understand how people in the nineteen thirties were so reluctant to confront the necessity of using lethal force to combat fascism.

And just to get back to inescapable centrality of eighteenth-century Whiggism, the royal family may have married Germans, but they haven’t really been German since George III proudly declared that he revelled in the name of Briton.  All this might be a total non-story, but a least it can distract us for another week or two and help the British print media’s phone-hacking scandals receed into comfortable oblivion.




Panem et Circenses; or Len McCluskey as Marcus Licinius Crassus

The old staple of ‘bread and circuses’ used by ancient Roman politicians to appease the their electorate is back with a vengeance when it comes to the current crop of post-election leadership competitions.  Much like the Roman arena, the braying mob (such as myself) have the opportunity to see the dramatic beginning and ending of political careers amongst the competitive combat of the gladiatorial arena.  In that respect we’ve currently got an embarassment of riches in the UK, with the Lib Dems, UKIP, and Labour all engaging in the predictable yet satisfying outbursts of blood-letting as candidates jockey for position after the failed leaders of the 2015 general election fell on their swords.

While UKIP provide the stage for the continuing soap opera that is the resurrection/defenestration of Nigel Farage’s leadership career, the Lib Dems have settled for a lacklustre evaluative analysis of relative mediocrities.  In a rare instance of UKIP-Lib Dem empathy, both parties lack alternative candidates with any obvious gravity, and both suffer from the relative boost these post-defeat leadership contests provide to the swivel-eyed loons amongst the party membership.  Labour, by contrast, have decided to provide their swivel-eyed loons with not one but two platforms for the inevitable post-defeat internecine warfare.  Both of which offer the now-traditional choice between Blairite reform or retreat into the comfort zone of the loons where the ideological purity of the party can be untroubled by inconvenient electoral success.

First up is the UK leadership contest, where Ed Miliband’s departure has predictably failed to provoke the soul-searching inquiries necessary to change electoral strategy.  The party’s continuing rejection of Blairism – or more specifically, an updated attempt to discover a policy platform which might actually make them electable – is reflected in the overall lack of Blairite candidates and the obligatory rejection of Blairism.  This was particularly notable with the current front-runner Andy Burnham, hastily distancing himself from his prior career as a government minister tainted by Blairism.  The shortage of Blairite contenders was brought into sharp relief by the comic value of Chuka Umunna’s brief campaign, which was so dynamic that (to resurrect an old Ciceronian joke about a place-holding Roman consul) the prospective leader almost didn’t get any sleep during his candidature.

In the interests of maintaining my criticism of Ed Miliband in every possible context, I can’t leave Umunna’s candidature without commenting on the opening sentence of his withdrawal statement.

‘Shortly before the election campaign, I made the decision, in the event that Labour was defeated and a new leader was to be elected, to stand for the leadership of the party….’

Clearly Ed’s defeat was completely unanticipated.

Meanwhile, without being too critical of Umunna, it is clear that his candidature was, in the final analysis, not serious; at least to the extent of his willingness to endure the predictable level of press scrutiny which would follow.  So much for the great hope of the Blairites.  To pick up on one of Umunna’s points in the video originally declaring his candidacy, this is why the reconstruction of the Labour party will take more than five years, possibly more than ten.  Another defeat is necessary before the party will be willing to learn the lesson, and accept the necessity of ‘Blairism’.

The necessity for learning the New Labour/Blairite lesson all over again is handily demonstrated in the Labour leadership north of the border, where Jim Murphy resigned despite winning a vote of confidence on the party’s executive 17-14.  I have some time for Murphy, largely on the obvious grounds of his performance for the ‘No’ campaign in the Scottish referendum last year.  In contrast to the craven incompetence displayed by many of his Labour colleagues, Murphy at least demonstrated clear moral courage by his personal campaigning, and in my view did much to expose the underlying reality of anti-democratic intimidation amongst many in the ‘Yes’ campaign.  However, Murphy is a prisoner of the party context, which means that he lacks the power base necessary to effectively lead the party, as the narrow vote on the executive in his favour indicates.  Ultimately, this is why Scottish Labour need a different leader, but that need is driven by internal political dynamics of appeasing the loons desperate to recapture the ‘progressive’ constituency lost to the SNP rather than a realistic search for a programme with broader and more genuine national appeal.

Just in case a further confirmation of the determining nature of that internal conflict was required, Murphy provided it himself when he claimed he would produce a report advocating reform of the voting structure inside Scottish Labour away from the current situation where trade unions, parliamentarians and party members constitute a third of the electorate respectively.  The rationale for this has been the conflict between Murphy and union leadership in the person of the Unite leader, Len McCluskey.  As Murphy puts it;

‘Sometimes people see it as a badge of honour to have Mr McCluskey’s support. I kind of see it as a kiss of death to be supported by that type of politics.’

The problem becomes evident when McCluskey’s attitudes are explored.  A hard-left one-time supporter of Liverpool’s Militant Tendency in their glory days, McCluskey weighed in with vocal support for local Unite official Stevie Deans when Deans was accused of stacking local Labour party membership to ensure the selection of his favoured candidate for the Falkirk by election in 2012.  The scandal emerged in 2013 when local people complained that they had been recruited into the party without their permission, triggering a suspension of the candidate selection procedure and a police investigation.  Both investigations blew over, with the police notably concluding that no criminal activity had taken place, although this was alleged to be a result of evidence being withdrawn by witnesses.

The most important outcome from this was the catalyst it provided for Ed Miliband’s brief challenge to McCluskey’s behaviour and the intense but temporary attention it focused on Miliband’s proposals for reforming financial contributions of political parties.  While the latter was aborted largely because of conservative opposition to limiting the contributions of individuals for obvious reasons of Tory self-interest, the fact that it arose at all was because of the evident conflict of interests in the Labour party.   That conflict arose between traditional picture of apparently corrupt McCluskeyite/Deanite union machine politics and a belated attempt by Miliband to recapture some measure of Blairite distance from such behaviour.  Of course, the reality was that Blair’s attempt to distance Labour from such traditional behaviour drove the party into the Ecclestone/Levy scandals over contributions as an alternative to such problematic union funding.

The original problem endures, however, with a particular Scottish resonance for Labour’s search for a new strategy after another electoral failure.  McCluskey’s intervention to threaten disaffiliation of Unite political funding from Labour came in the same breath as an implict warning that Unite in Scotland might find a more congenial relationship by funding the SNP.  I think we can safely accept his subsequent furious backpeddling as confirmation that his original intervention was a fairly crude attempt to warn off any return to Blairite heresy by playing on SNP electoral success at Labour expense.

The failure to resolve the union funding issue by Ed Miliband, despite his reform of leadership elections, and by Labour generally means that it remains an ulcer to be expolited by union leaders like McCluskey, somebody with prior form for threatening to rethink his union contributions to the party if it elects a new leader insufficiently left-wing for his tastes.  That sort of retro seventies union strong-arming takes us right back to the pre-Thatcher era, at the direct expense of Labour’s credibility with the broad mass of the British electorate.   But we already know their perceptions are an irrelevance to the dominant constituencies in Labour, so McCluskey’s gambit will probably be successful in setting the tacit boundaries of the Labour leadership contest.

In the larger sense this means the dynamics of the Labour leadership contest are less about the gladiatorial success or failures of the leadership candidates fighting and falling in the arena to the amusement of the electorate, and more about the powerful political figures funding the games.  In the late Roman Republic of Cicero and Caesar, the obvious candidate for this role would be Marcus Licinius Crassus and his employment of his massive personal wealth to buy elections and influence for client politicians fighting their way up the greasy pole of Roman electoral politics.

Crassus eventually met an ignominious end outside the arena of Roman internal politics in a disastrous military expedition against the Parthian empire, a risk McCluskey will always be able to evade while union and Labour politics remain insulated from such inconvenient collisions with external reality.  As Ed Miliband has found out, however, such immunity does not extend to those products of the system who have to submit themselves to the verdict of external reality in the form of public elections.  So for the encouragement of the next Labour leader:  Forward to Oblivion!

Re-Branding Ed, part 2 – The Guru Breaks Up

My usual two reasons for returning to this story – one, it’s amusing; and two, it’s predictable to the point of inevitability.

Having endorsed Labour’s campaign after a one-to-one session when he found himself unable to sustain the intellectual challenge in a one-to-one against Ed Miliband, who proved uncharacteristically impervious to Russell’s use of of buzzwords… I mean ‘Russell’s incisive grasp of political theory’, the inevitable soon followed.

Apparently Brand buckled into supporting Ed as a consequence of pressure from Ed’s Gestapo-like Labour activists who had the bad taste to relentlessly point out the consequences of a Tory victory to the sort of social welfare programmes that Brand likes to posture in favour of.  Uncool, man.

Brand’s mistake was to allow himself to be pinned down by a discourse based on reality; any psychic, con-man or guru on the make could have warned him to steer clear of such dangers and maintain his status by taking refugee in his normal anodyne ‘revolutionary’ generalities.  Exposure to reality, even at the hands of Ed Miliband, would only expose them as the hollow posturing they were.  Incapable of refuting Ed, his options were limited and embracing Labour allowed him to put off the evil moment where he would have to admit he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Given his backtracking after Ed’s defeat I can only suppose that Brand was then overcome with buyer’s remorse and the inevitable outrage of his intellectually-slack ‘revolutionary’ fellow-travellers at such a craven betrayal of their treasured posturing in favour of actually useful political engagement.

Ed’s mistake was to sit down with Russell Brand and think that he could possibly gain any credibility.

Still, the episode perhaps represents a trival yet accurate characterisation of Ed’s leadership – in the end, it couldn’t even convince Russell Brand.

The Clash of the Mediocrities, or How We Get the Politicians We Deserve

Despite the SNP surge in Scotland, the polling controversy and the return of Cameron to Downing Street, the 2015 election has generally lacked engaging drama. It’s been difficult to avoid the feeling that the election is a tedious interlude before significant subsequent developments, and this seems to be confirmed with resignations of the defeated political leaders, Farage for UKIP, Clegg for the Lib Dems and Miliband for Labour.  None of these leaders can really be regarded as anything other than mediocrities, largely because of their failure to recognise the continuing relevance of Blairism.  This is no real fault of Farage considering his avowedly reactionary constituency, but it remains an enduring problem for the Lib Dems and Labour.

Of the failure of leaderships assocated with their individual and collective election defeats I think the most significant is Miliband’s; Farage will almost certainly stand again for UKIP leadership and most probably win – he’s an established brand, with established appeal to that part of the electorate which takes UKIP seriously, while the party itself remains plagued with what Cameron accurately characterised as ‘swivel-eyed loons’.  In sort, Farage’s shortcomings and idiosyncrasies accurately reflect those of his constituency, which will remain relatively marginalised provided Cameron’s gambit on an EU referendum is sufficient to neutralise the threat to his votes.  And that seems to have been a successful tactic given the election results.

Clegg’s resignation is more significant, but remains a predictable consquence of going into coalition government with the Tories.  Cameron’s relative success at managing the Eurosceptic threat in his own party while holding the centre ground meant that the Lib Dems were likely to lose whatever conservative tactical votes they gained in 2010, while the defection of disaffected Labour voters lost votes in the other direction this time.  Ultimately the Lib Dems became the whipping boys for coalition policy and the loss of the temporary tactical surge they benefitted from in 2010 was predictable.  Clegg’s policy may pay off in the longer term, as the Lib Dems did demonstrate a capacity for responsible politics which might possibly address centre and right-wing reluctance to trust them in government again.  That’s not a completely trival achievement, given their otherwise virtual exclusion from power since 1945.

On the personal front Clegg certainly took a hit on the student fees fiasco.  While reneging on that election pledge was also predictable given the financial circumstances, it will remain the flagship example of the identification of the Lib Dems in coalition with austerity and the most prominent example of a politician betraying their election promises which will be repeatedly flung at them for the next decade or so.  This is certainly unfair, but I have little sympathy for the Lib Dems and Clegg in particular over this; university education has been in a funding crisis for some time.  Absent a willingness to increase funding from taxpayers via increased taxes or proportionate public spending cuts elsewhere, increasing student fees is the only available option to address that crisis.  In this instance, the Lib Dems came face to face with what can only be described as the hypocrisy of the British electorate’s wishes over such post-Thatcherite public spending issues; we want to benefit from high-quality public services but we don’t want to pay for them.  The Lib Dem election pledges over ending student fees therefore opportunistically pandered to that hypocrisy, and so I don’t take exception to the inevitable consequences, and nor should the Lib Dems.

To some extent Clegg’s problem over fees is Miliband’s problem writ small.  In Ed’s case, his attempt to invent some kind of post-Blair consensus was crippled by his inability to confront that same hypocrisy on the part of the electorate over taxation and public services.  Indeed, aside from the Iraq issue, the Thatcherite/Blairite introduction of free market competition into ideologically-sensitive areas such as education and the health service to try and square the circle involved in the contradictory demands for high quality public service and low taxation remains the biggest problem confronting all parties. But given the contradiction with internal Labour ideology, aside from the brief and superficial heyday of ‘The Third Way’ in the nineties (the golden era of acceptable Blairism), it’s always been a bigger problem for Labour than anybody else.

Labour ideologues have never been reconciled to the necessity of Blairism to win elections, and the result has been that ever since Ed won the Labour leadership election on an implicitly anti-Blairite agenda, the post-Blair Labour party and resulting Labour leadership have been less of an attempt to construct a consensus between pro- and anti-Blair factions than they have been an outright expression of anti-Blair orthodoxy.  The results, as Blair pointed out under Brown’s leadership and now under Miliband’s, has been that Labour have been unable to retain a hold on the centre ground when faced with a mediocre challenge from Cameron.

It is considered by some that the success of the SNP in Scotland demonstrates the viability of challenging Toryism from the left.  The only problem with that is that SNP policy is Cameronite rather than Nye Bevanite or Bennite.  The SNP’s successful rhetorical theft of Labour’s clothes, while facilitated by the complacent and authoritarian nature of Scottish Labour politics, is contradicted by their policies (e.g. freezing Council Tax – a superbly tactical ‘rollback’ of public spending to gladden the cockles of any small-government conservative by a party claiming to be ‘progressive’).  The SNP are, essentially, a giant con-trick where any political approach is justified provided it wins votes.  The cynic might fail to discern much difference between that and Blairism, but it remains a fact that Blairism involved more significant commitments to, and achievements for, social democracy than the SNP government in Scotland has ever obtained.

Blairism sought to deliver social democracy within the constraints imposed by the British electorate, and was successful at doing so. The SNP seek to deliver secession to vindicate an exclusively Anglophobic vision of the Scottish national identity; doing so under a ‘progressive’ cloak to steal Labour votes which will discarded as soon as another cloak becomes more convenient.  And in the end, the grand strategy of providing a ‘progressive’ Scottish bloc at Westminster to force Labour leftwards in coalition government failed because of Labour’s failure to contest the centre-ground in the rest of the UK.  If nothing else, this should expose the SNP’s dependence upon British political parties and the counter-productive impact of relying of nationalism to deliver ‘progressive’ policies in the UK political context.

Meanwhile, post-Blair Labour have sought to deliver social democracy within the constraints demanded by anti-Blairite ideology with little or no regard for winning electoral support where this conflicts with that ideology.  And as a result they’ve failed. Again.

It remains to be seen if Labour can evolve past this failed obsessional rejection of Blair.  It seems unlikely based on previous experience, where Labour needed to lose four elections over more than a decade against Thatcher and Major before the manifest need to evolve provided Blair his opportunity.  By that standard, they’ve at least one more election defeat to come before the party starts to think again.  Even if there is a dim perception of that need now, the purging of Blair and the criminality of Blairism have been in effect for so long that there are no potential leaders willing (and capable) of taking up that mantle; the cadre of mediocre rump Bennites, Brownites, Ballsites, Mcluskeyites and Ed-ites populating the current Labour party seem incapable of learning one of the core lessons of leadership, and particularly Blairite leadership; that it can be necessary, even critically important, to challenge party complacency and orthodoxy in order to gain credibility and win elections.

All of which means David Cameron can win a general election campaign using an unambitious strategy without having to work too hard – keep the Eurosceptics under control, claim the centre-ground, take few risks and let Labour defeat themselves.  Fair enough for Cameron, nil points for Labour, the Lib Dems, and most of all for the British electorate when they start whingeing about the resulting policy outcomes over the course of the new parliament.

We get the politicians – and the policies – we deserve.

That Portillo Moment

More on the 2015 General election in due course.  But before I start whingeing about the boring stuff, it’s time to dwell on one of the rare points of complete satisfaction thrown up by the election.

Every election features a watershed moment where the result at a single particular constituency captures the zeitgeist, somehow encapsulating the broader experience of the election at the essential level on a single stage as the results are announced to the jubilation of the winner and the consternation of the loser.  In 1997 it was the defeat of Michael Portillo.  After nearly two decades of Conservative government stumbled into exhausted and apathetic defeat against Blair’s resurgent New Labour, the defeat of Portillo – once the Great White Hope of Thatcherism – seemed to characterise the decisive point at which the old order expired and the new departure began.

I can still remember the atmosphere at work the next day, passing colleagues in the corridor announcing the single word ‘Portillo’ to one another through broad grins.  What moment could possibly match or surpass that in the otherwise depressingly downbeat 2015 election?

The defeat of ‘Gorgeous’ George Galloway, of course.

Galloway’s ambitions as a supposed pro-Palestinian and anti-war poseur, sorry, ‘figure’, led to his explusion from the Labour party and his subsequent career as a carpet-bagging MP.  Using a platform provided by the Stop the War Coalition and the Respect political party (featuring some entirely predictable splitting by the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party and the even more predictable degeneration of Respect into a vehicle for Galloway’s ego on the way), Galloway exploited an ‘anti-war’ agenda and divisive Asian ethnic identity politics at Labour’s expense in order to get elected in London and then Bradford.

The essential problem has been that Galloway’s pretensions are hypocritical.  Despite claiming to be anti-war, Galloway has no problem with advocating violent ‘resistance’ against British troops in Iraq – resistance perpetrated by unelected terrorists who killed the majority of Iraqi civilians in the post-invasion violence.  Despite expressing his opinion of the understandable nature of a hypothetical assassination attempt on Tony Blair due to Blair’s Galloway’s characterisation of him as a mass-murderer of civilians in Iraq, Galloway’s opposition to such mass-murdering tyrannts as Blair is more selective than he likes to admit.  Let’s face it, it can be hard to tell a middle-eastern autocrat to his face that he’s a tyrannical mass-murderer of Iraqi civilians.

Galloway’s courageous attempt at doing so when he met Saddam Hussein in 1994 included the memorable phrase that he ‘saluted’ Saddam’s ‘indefagitability’.   So let’s have another reminder of Galloway’s principled stand against tyranny on that occasion.

Sadly, this won’t be the last we see of Galloway, as he will continue to indulge the Blair-rage and ‘anti-war’ posturing of those elements of the British electorate who are quite happy with despotism, war and the deaths of civilians, provided they are achieved by the correct anti-American figure of choice.  He will turn up to exploit this particular agenda again but now the slow passage of time will condemn him to irrelevance, as he will slowly metamorphose, even in the eyes of his acolytes, from a principled political dissenter to the fringe lunatic standing next to the Monster Raving Looney Party’s candidate at the hustings.

That process began with his defeat in Bradford West.


For those seeking the reference points to shaping Ed Miliband’s visionary political leadership, as recently demonstrated in his recent ‘carved into stone’ election commitment photo-opportunity; In this instance. Ed’s team have triumphantly synthesised four previously-unconnected  visualisations.

Firstly, Alex Salmond’s stone obelisk celebrating the imposition of student fees on British students in Scotland.

You can imagine the blue-sky brainstorming session at the relevant meeting of Ed’s strategy team as they gaze at the depressing election campaign poll results –  ‘The Scottish ‘Yes’ campaign seemed to enthuse a disenchanted electorate and the Sneeps are about to give us a kicking – find out what sort of empty gesture politics they got away with and lift them.’

Secondly, Iain Duncan Smith’s innovative ‘IDS card’, deployed in a vain attempt to cement his position as Conservative leader shortly before his sudden-but-somehow-inevitable deposition in 2003;

[To the tune of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ by R. Kelly]

I believe in hard work…

In rewarding people who play by the rules…

In small government.

I believe in punishing criminals…

In trusting nurses, teachers, police officers…

I believe in a low tax economy.

Thirdly, the mysterious extra-terrestrial monolith surrounded by Ed’s election strategy team from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’;

And finally, with due respect for Spinal Tap’s free-form jazz exploration ‘Jazz Odyssey’ as the transition point, let’s acknowledge Ed’s bravery in embracing the comedy genius of Tap’s ‘Stonehenge’ stage prop, which was – as one band member averred – ‘In danger of being crushed.. by a dwarf.’