Pivotal Power to glorified Aid Agency

Originally published on LabourList 12/08/2014.

Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander want the Tories to speak out louder about the atrocities committed by ISIS in Iraq, but want to rule out military intervention. Does Labour even have anything useful to add to the current debate? Is this a worrying sign of decreasing British influence in the world under a Labour government?

Blair envisioned under his premiership Britain would be a pivotal power which used its military power for peacekeeping and humanitarian causes. Currently, the Labour leadership seems to be taking a dramatically different approach to international affairs.

Alexander’s article in the Telegraph argues that the government should be ‘doing more to speak out about the continued suffering of religious minorities … inside Iraq’. It shows that Labour has the right analysis and values but fails to back this up with meaningful commitment. It’s a sad day for British foreign policy when speaking out louder is all a potential government can offer...

Read full article here

Tackling Syria not Saudi Arabia will weaken The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

The failure to resolve the Syrian Civil War has provided a financial base for ISIS not the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

While the media focuses on the Gaza strip, ISIS continues to destabilise the Middle East and the longer they go unchallenged the more they cement themselves in the territories they occupy. Under ISIS controlled areas businesses and civilians are paying taxes and oil fields are being extract to fund their jihad.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has been accused of funding them, often by those with a political motive. Iraq’s Prime Minster al-Maliki, a sectarian Shiite, has accused the Sunni Kingdom of morally and financially supporting ISIS. In the West this false claim has been used as an opportunity to criticise the US and UK’s ties to Saudi Arabia and as a result hold them responsible for the crisis.

Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of leadership of the Islamic world is largely done by funding media outlets and madrasas in countries with large Muslim populations rather than supporting militant groups. It is questionable whether or not the Saudi state is supporting ISIS as there are no publically accessible proof of a financial link between them.

While the overthrow of the Iranian backed Assad regime in Syria by Sunni forces may be seen as an objective of Saudi foreign policy. It’s too simplistic to divide the Middle East between Sunni and Shiites. In reality the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long been the enemy of Al Qaeda and its offshoot Islamist organisations. 

In the long term a strong and victorious ISIS will only undermine Saudi Arabia’s internal security. Like the mujahedeen after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, jihadists will return to their home country and seek to overthrow the royal family who they see as ‘puppets to the west’. If ISIS funds are coming from the Arabian Peninsula it is more likely that it is private wealthy Saudi citizens rather than the government.

Instead our attention should turn away from the Arabian Peninsula and to the Levant where ISIS have consolidated their control of towns and villages lost by Assad.  Areas of the country particularly in the north controlled by ISIS appear to be an important source of its finance as it allows them to sell the oil and agricultural produce there as well as extort local businesses and officials. Criminal acts such as kidnapping, looting and bank robberies in Syria but also in areas of Iraq such as Mosul that it has occupied also provide funds for their campaign of terror. A recent Washington Post article argued that they could be the richest terrorist group in history.

As they expand against Iraqi forces and the Syrian regime they also acquire the weaponry, ammunition and transportation left behind by fleeing troops. The situation is only getting worse as the West does nothing about the ongoing crisis. 

ISIS is growing in strength and cementing themselves in the areas they have seized leading to the undesirable possibility of ISIS actually emerging as a de facto state within two states.

Why I wasn’t on the march against austerity

I wasn't exactly sure what it was about or what it hoped to achieve and maybe this is why it didn't receive much media coverage… but maybe I'm just cynical thinking that marches don’t change things.

At least with student demonstrations against tuition fees there was a very specific demand that protesters were making. While, it was unsuccessful there was a feeling that the government’s mind (or at-least the Liberal Democrat part of it) could be changed or the policy altered.  

However, we are in the final year of a Tory-led coalition, tens of thousand people marching through Parliament Square with ‘No Cuts’ placards is not going to change the direction of this government.
It’s an unrealistic demand in itself without a specific blueprint for an alternative. But when blurred with anti-NATO/Trident and Socialist Worker calls for strikes is it any wonder that these marches are ignored. There wasn't really an issue that could generate headlines or spark debate that the media could pick up on. Unlike the anti-‘Bedroom Tax’ rallies where the message and demand was clear and minsters at the Department for Work and Pension could be scrutinised.

The truth is holding signs demanding the ‘Tories Out’ won’t change anything. Russell Brand, a keynote speaker at the event, says it’s pointless to vote. However, only by voting in next year’s general election can people kick Cameron out of number ten.

I agree with the main thrust of the People’s Assemblies demands, we do need to address the growing inequality in our society and the deterioration of living standards. What’s more we shouldn't allow immigrants to be used as scape goats. But it’s no good preaching to the converted, get out and campaign! We need to speak to people on the doorstep if we want to spread a progressive agenda, get the Tories out and counter UKIP’s message of fear. That's what I'll be doing in my home town of Southend and Tory-Labour marginals in Essex like Basildon and Thurrock this year!

Like it or not Labour is the alternative. You might not think it’s a big change or radical enough regardless it’s better than five more years of Conservative rule.

March and shout as much as you like but the ballot box will be the only way to change things next year. 

Being a useful idiot

Studying at LSE and wider reading has opened my eyes to new ideas. I’ve concluded that I was a useful idiot….

Obviously not for the Soviets. The term originally described the Left in the west whose campaigns (even though not intended) aided the USSR during the Cold War. I was a useful idiot for Islamist Fascists.I was blinded by my anti-US/Western dogma making me ignore, excuse and sometimes justify the actions of fundamentalists. Of course I didn't support what they did. I valued human rights, plurality, democracy and secularism. Yet I failed to criticise the people that were opposing these principles.

I spent more time ranting about the evils of the 'American empire' and less about the real threat to my liberty. Rather than confront this threat, those arguing to counter Islamists could too easily be labelled imperialists or Islamaphobic. Not only was I blinkered but I felt my arguments were intellectually and morally superior. 

It was no good pretending to be on the moral high ground when opposing the use of drones against terrorist targets. I did not appreciate the realities of modern warfare and my 'anti-war' (more like anti-western-war) stance made me an appeaser of terrorists. I thought that western intervention, like drone warfare, was the cause of Islamic fundamentalism. Of course there are many causes, and US involvement  in the Middle East might influence it, yet at the time I would not acknowledge that religion was a problem. Therefore, I concluded that the west should stay out of 'Muslim countries'. 

However, if we bowed to the demands of the extremists the west would have failed to stop the ethnic cleansing of the East Timorese or remove Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards from Kuwait. Not only would this be immoral but it also wouldn't have stopped the spread of Islamist extremism. If the NATO coalition didn't invade Afghanistan, the terrorists would have solidified a base to operate out of. They would have been empowered to spread their regressive politics. I opposed their values yet I failed to support the efforts by others to counter the threat they posed.

I was naive about the causes and nature of radical political Islamism. If what I believed had actually been implemented at the time, the world would probably be in a worse situation now. Despite my progressive politics, my ignorant critique of US foreign policy helped to support those with some of the most detestable and regressive politics in the world today.

Labour winning back UKIP voters

Finally, Nigel Farage appears to be off our television screens. But in the newspapers, magazines and on twitter the debate continues about how to win back UKIP voters. 

The talk of defeating UKIP is simply unrealistic. Their vote will probably shrink the closer we get to the general election and they may not win any parliamentary seats next year. However, they are here to stay, UKIP resonates with a large minority of the population and I don't think any of the main parties can cater to those who like UKIP's populist anti establishment rhetoric. 

Labour can only win over a small percentage of UKIP supporters. The Labour Party cannot and should not appeal to the majority of people that voted UKIP in the recent elections. A large group of them don't normally vote or are ex-Lib Dems who just don't like 'mainstream' politics and never will. There are 'Blue-kippers' who will Tory if not UKIP. Lastly, in the recent elections it is clear that they received support from those who used to vote BNP, English Democrat and other nationalist parties. 

Regardless of the policies that Labour puts forward we will not win over the groups of people mentioned above. So how can Miliband win back traditional Labour voters who opted for UKIP in these elections?

Racists, Fascist, Right-wing or even more Thatcherite than Lady Thatcher herself:
It does work and its not accurate. It alienates UKIP voters and may only further entrenches them, this is just name calling and isn't going to persuade people. UKIP aren't racist and it's not racist to argue for greater controls on immigration. Do racist people vote for them? yes. Are some of their candidates racist? yes. But that doesn't mean we should brand them racist. As for labelling them right-wing I just don't think it applies, there a populist movement who don't really fit on the left-right scale. Like most populists they transcend social classes and rely more on charismatic leadership than specific policies. In fact as UKIP try to appeal to more Labour supporters I suspect they will shift to the left on issues such as health, taxation and welfare. Lastly, branding them more Thatcherite than Thatcher might work in the North but here in South Essex that comparison will do Labour campaigners no favours.

Defiant Internationalist:
We should talk about the benefits of being in the EU and of migration. It's an attack against UKIP, and a perfectly justifiable one. When Blair said UKIP wasn't a party of the 21st century I agreed. However, I don't think its really a solution as it doesn't attempt to persuade anyone. Perhaps somewhat admirable it is strong commitment to internationalist ideas yet anyone espousing it is bound to be labelled a member of the metropolitan elite. Labour had a great result in London but we need to perform better in areas in the East of England if we want a Labour government we can't pursue this out of touch message. 

'Labour Answers' to 'UKIP Questions':
This seems to be the most interesting and effective way of winning back Labour supporters from UKIP. It's about a positive vision of a future Britain and it genuinely addresses problems caused by immigration but with different solutions to those espoused by Farage. Miliband accepted long before the rise of UKIP that Labour 'got it wrong'. This is about accepting that the pace of change seemed to fast for many people born in this country. Therefore, we need to increase efforts to effectively integrate migrants into this country. Multiculturalism should be about a mix of cultures in a community not a patchwork of separate communities. This approach also involves dealing with the negative consequences of migration on wages and employment. Once again, Labour seems to be beginning to address these issues from a social democratic perspective.

Labour can only reach out to a small percentage of UKIP voters, it should try. Calling them racists or boldly committing ourselves to globalisation will not work. Only by engaging with these people with creditable and sensible policies can Miliband hope to win them back - even if he can that doesn't mean UKIP will cease to exist.