When they’re good they’re really good and when they’re bad they’re really bad

This week I intend to illuminate one of the Western political world’s most blatant double standards when it comes to geo-political issues. The issue in question is the relationships that Western nations have with theocratic governments around the world. When I say Theocracy of course, I assume that many readers who happen to live in “Western” nations, through ceaseless discussion in the media and in political spheres, have come to understand Iran as an encapsulating the notion of a theocracy, but how we view several other Middle Eastern nations with almost identical governments is a little more questionable. In the process of discussing how the current state of affairs came to be I will inevitably dip into the history of how theocracy in its current form came to be a popular movement in the world and will doubtless come to speculate on the dangers posed by all theocracies in the near future.

The history of theocracy as we understand it, certainly in the middle east, began during the earliest phases of the Cold War in Iran. The year was 1951 and the starting gun that sounded which began theocratic movements was the policy of the then Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, to nationalise Iranian oil production, in the process depriving British oil companies of funds they felt they were entitled to.

After Mossadegh’s movement towards nationalising the countries oil resources was initially ratified in the Hague as a legal action, a clandestine movement began to overthrow Mossadegh and re-instate the Shah (the traditional leader of the country) in a supreme position of power. The clandestine movement to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran was, you’ve guessed it, initiated by an organisation who’s raison d’être was seemingly the planning of hair-brained coups, the CIA. In a bizarre twist however to the usual story of CIA ineptitude, the coup was actually a success and in place of Mossadegh now sat the dictatorial Shah Reza Pahlavi. What followed was a prolonged attempt by a western backed secular dictator to modernise Iran along Western lines which proved highly unpopular with many aspects of Iranian society. Whether the reason for the unpopularity of the modernisation programme was the break neck pace at which the Shah’s reforms were due to take place or whether it was the repressive way in which the Shah dealt with any who dissented against his rule, from both left and right of the political spectrum, we will never know exactly and will simply have to remain content to know that generally speaking the regimes movements were highly unpopular. After 25 years on the throne, the damn finally burst and a massive wave of protest, headed to some degree by religious movements as one of the most repressed social group under the Shah’s secular rule, deposed the Shah and seized control of Iran. After the revolution had successfully disposed of the former government, a vote was held and Iran officially became an Islamic republic and the worlds first theocracy as we currently understand the term. It is important that I point out here that the action which started this whole chain of events was not some innate love on the part of Iranians or by further extension, Muslims for governments based on their religion of choice, it was the imperialistic actions of dying empire trying to ensure that it could first of all, continue to plunder mineral wealth from the developing world and secondly, to prevent a government that had its own peoples interests at heart “going over” to communism. It was these two rationales that informed the British and American decision to re-impose an unpopular leader on the Iranian people who eventually coalesced around religion in defiance of the Shah. Politicians here can offer endless platitudes about the “evil” that the Iranian clerics and Hezbollah represent all they want, but they must never be allowed to forget that it was the West’s meddling hands that directly created the environments in which such movements and peoples developed.

The story however did not end there. After the Iranian revolution had successfully purged itself of the last vestiges of the Shah’s regime, genuine fears were expressed throughout the west that much like the French revolution before it that the revolution would spread and overthrow more Western allies in the process. Adding to these concerns, in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the Shah a crisis of sorts developed between the USA and Iran as armed groups stormed the American embassy in Tehran in search of documents which proved that the CIA had been directly involved in the overthrow of Mossadegh in the 1953 coup. It as this point in time that the seeds of mutual distrust and discord were sowed in both the USA and Iran and goes some way towards explaining how relationships between the two nations have remained so poor over the years. Further adding to the strained relationship between the West and Iran was a period, where during a protracted mutual antagonism between Iran and Iraq, many Western nations flooded neighbouring Iraq with weapons to prevent the spread of an Iranian style theocracy to another critical nation in the chain of oil supply.  This flow of weapons and support for Saddam Hussein likely lengthened the conflict much past the initial battles, to the point where in the end the war between Iran and Iraq lasted 8 long years with thousands butchered mindlessly for no major gain to either country. Alongside arming the neighbouring dictator, the Western world also engaged in a more subtle form of conflict with Iran in the form of economic blockades in an attempt to get Iran to play along with Western economic interests, economic blockades which have pretty much been a constant reality of life in Iran ever since with sanctions taking the place of the blockade in recent years. While the West intended through both of the above measures to subject Iran and principally the Iranian clerics to a position of economic and political inferiority, arguably both measures helped to cement the religio-nationalist movement in its position of power which it continues to hold unto this day.

During the same time period, events were afoot in neighbouring Afghanistan which eventually lead to the foundation of a theocratic government there. At this time, Afghanistan had recently undergone a revolution of its own, which unlike the Iranian one moved away from religion and towards a far more socialist approach to government. As the Saur revolution swept to power it became closely linked with the Soviet Union, who of course were happy to have another state on their Christmas card list, which only extended really to nations who cited Marx as a basis for their constitutions. Anyway, from the moment that a socialism-inclined government came to power and developed ties with Moscow, the loving care bear peace president of the United States Jimmy Carter signed directives to begin covert support for anti-government movements in Kabul. Eventually things came to a head when American and Pakistani backed Islamist militants, who were angry with government attempts to secularize the country, attempted to overthrow the Afghan government, which precipitated a greater period of instability throughout the country. Eventually the Soviet Union intervened in the conflict in an attempt to prop up the socialist government against a broad insurgency which among other elements had a strong religious backing. Anyone with a basic grounding in history knows what happened next now that the Soviet Union had become involved in the conflict, in the usual petty tit for tat that both superpowers waged throughout the Cold War, the USA started giving masses of military and financial aid to a plethora of insurgent groups which did eventually push the Soviet Union out of the country but in the process massively destabilised the country setting the stage for a hard-line religious government to capitalise on the anarchy that was widespread across the whole country at this point in time .

At this point in time I would take care to point out that in both the cases of Iran and Afghanistan prior to the coming to power of theocratic governments, what we can see is western political ideologies creating a vacuum which in both cases a reactionary religious movement has filled. In the case of Iran, to ensure the continuing supply of oil for the Western consumer markets, such market minded capitalism lead to a staged coup which ousted a democratically elected leader and replaced him with a widely hated monarch who however was willing to continue to perpetuate Iran’s economic subservience to Western nations. In Afghanistan we saw a European style socialist government attempt to modernise and secularize the country along the same lines as had been done by the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc nations which led to much popular resentment of the government among the people of the country and later, when the USA and USSR we saw later day imperialism ruin the country and create a lawless state where the rule of the strong would be the only thing capable of maintaining order. These facts demonstrate a clear line of causation between the actions of the West, that is both schools of Western thought – capitalism and communism, and the type of governments that later formed there. The racist rhetoric of the media who assume that somehow that there is an innate love of religious government amongst Muslims is nonsensical and we would do well to begin viewing the situation as it really is with religious governments simply being just one possible option that people who find themselves in desperate situations can turn towards to lead them.

While these two rather well known cases of theocracies were developing however, other nations in the world were also steadily moving towards a theocratic government of sorts under the radar and continue to do so. The countries in question are Israel and the Gulf Arab nations, with the main example being Saudi Arabia. It is true that neither of the two nations I have just named are true theocracies in the dictionary sense of the word defining a theocracy as a “system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god.” The above being true though, does not change the fact that both of the nations I mentioned above are nations were God is taken as the ultimate source of the constitution and the laws by which citizens live their lives. Saudi Arabia’s monarchy rule over a nation which is a theocracy in all but name and has been since the day it was first formed from the remnant states left after the Ottoman retreat in the First World War 1. The kingdom is not only a theocracy, but it is a theocracy of the type that gives atheists and secularists nightmares, with many of its laws based upon the most literal translation of thousands of year old texts which advocate many things which of course upset modern sensibilities. The problem with this as a practice, in my opinion at least, is that the laws were never defined by a wide political consensus but based upon the interpretations of holy texts by Religious and Political elites who naturally are inclined towards only creating laws that maintain their elite positions within society. I’m sure for example a majority of Saudi’s would likely feel less offended by adultery or women driving, than the clerics who enforce such laws which have been used to effectively terrorise the people into a miserable state of submission to the state. Of course were the truth of the matter that a wide array of Saudi’s had agreed upon the inclusion of such laws in their constitution then while it would admittedly still gall me then at least democracy had been practised but the theocratic practices of the Saudi monarchy are enforced from the top down with religion not only being a means of finding spiritual peace, as intended, but also a means for the elite to utilise in controlling the people, surely never the intention of any prophet.

In the case of Israel , we have a state which on the surface is even less of a theocracy than any of the three nations I have mentioned above and yet there are many unresolved issues with the country, several of which revolve around the place of religion in society. Central amongst the issues for both religious Zionists and for Palestinian Muslims and Christians that live within the borders of Israel proper is that Israel does not have a written constitution. The problem with a presumptive constitution is that it will inevitably lead to calls for the drafting and creation of a written constitution in the name of simplicity, and it is this drive by many for a written constitution to codify the laws that would govern the state of Israel that is the problem as the question is pondered as to whether the state of Israel is the state of all those within its borders or whether it is Jewish state exclusively for it’s Jewish citizens. This perhaps seems less repugnant to many in the West for example by comparison to the mandatory wearing of a headscarf but when we really get down to pondering the implications of the Israeli state defining itself as a Jewish state then they are just as horrifying. Dying with cancer and in urgent need of treatment to prevent death ? Wait your a Palestinian of the Shia branch of Islam, Sorry no space for you. Nearest school for you children to attend is just a mile down the road ? Sorry, if your a Palestinian Christian then the nearest school for your kids is ten miles away in a run down area of town. Want to keep your business open all day Saturday ? Sorry, Saturday is a holy day that all must observe whether they are religious or not. All of the above scenarios might seem a little far fetched but Israel already has a pitiably poor record when it comes to minority rights and it is entirely possible that, if the state of Israel was officially codified in writing as a Jewish state for its Jewish citizens, it would take this definition of itself to its logical conclusion by depriving anyone not of Jewish ancestry of valuable services and facilities.

When we look at countries where religion does play such a fundamental part as the basis of the laws by which society lives it is notable that the West has a very chequered record on this issue with certain theocracies being bad yet others being critical allies. On reflection, I feel Iran was simply unlucky when it became the first true theocracy in the current era in that it came to represent a powerful new political idea that to some degree helped a faltering nation in regaining much pride in itself by standing up to those who would have seen it subjected to their own political and economic interests and priorities. The success and totality with which the Iranian revolution overturned the existing natural order in one of the Middle East’s largest and arguably at the time most powerful nations undoubtedly scared many in the West whose economic and industrial and even cultural strengths to some degree were based almost entirely on access to cheap oil by which to export their goods to world markets and import the raw materials. Oil that is, that primarily came from other Middle Eastern countries  were now the West was worried similar revolutions might sweep to power and give rise to more nations that were willing to stand up to the neo-imperialist economic subjugation of their countries.

And this, as almost no ever says, is were it all went wrong. In true Western style, the nations of the West fed on a diet of poor quality intelligence and their own racist paranoia decided to embrace several other countries who were equally theocratic in nature and turn a blind eye to their barbarity which certainly in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan was as bad if not worse that of Iran. In signing this compact with devil the West demonstrated its blatant double standards on moral issues when profits are concerned and must have further reduced its own standing as an entity in the eyes of those that found themselves in countries were their rights were now being abused by corrupt elites in the name of a fundamentalist interpretation of their religion.

If the reader was left unsure by arguments offered above then I simply would ask them to consider the case of Syria, were the West is openly engaged currently in verbally antagonising a secular regime, which has always strived to negate sectarian conflict in its ethnically diverse territotry, and materially supporting some seriously unsavoury characters in their war with the Syrian Army. The reason for this you ask ? Well, the Syrian government is supported by the main bad theocracy, Iran, which we want to replace with a group of extremists who will likely replicate the hell hole that was southern Afghanistan under the Taliban, and the reason we support these groups ? Simply because they represent the interests of and are supported by the good theocracies as exampled by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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The line of succession

I will begin with a a warning that this post might not be as topical as the usual material I put out and a little more speculative but I feel the need to stake my claim on this topic. The topic I intend to discuss below are the candidates I feel might make the cut as the next potential president of the United States. In discussing those candidates who I feel might have any chance of claiming the crown for themselves I will inevitably touch on some of the keystone topics that will define the electoral battleground within the USA and outside of it. I’m not quite willing to place a bet as to who the actual president will be just quite yet and for good reason, if the GOP nomination/candidates is/are anywhere near as farcical as last time round then my suggestions for that parties candidate might all be blown out of the water so I’m holding off on that one for now. Without further ado, read on to find my pick of those who I feel might make the team and why.

Democratic Party

Democratic Party

  1. Hillary Clinton – I’ll begin by saying that if I am a little dubious as to whether Clinton will stand at all with her having declined to pursue another term as Secretary of State. However there are factors on the other side of the weighing scale that lead me to believe that if she were to run that she would almost certainly gain the nomination of her party having come so close last time around and would certainly be a plausible candidate for President. Having left the State Department with high approval ratings and (moderately) successfully guided her department through a period of intense change on the world stage with regards the Arab Spring, Clinton has certainly demonstrated her competency in high office and her work while she was the First Lady with charitable initiatives would seem to suggest a keen awareness of political issues within the US itself. I also feel that a critical element that would aid Clinton if she did decide to run is that as well as being tremendously popular herself, she is also a part of a remarkably popular political family with a great deal of experience in running very smooth campaigns. All of the above being true there are a few issues that might hamper a Clinton campaign. Chief amongst the issues that harm Clinton’s potential candidacy is her involvement in some very shady financial dealings that have previously tarnished the family image almost as much as the activities of the philanderer in chief. While Clinton was never charged of wrongdoing over Whitewater or Cattle Futures, even the merest hint or allegation of corruption has previously proved enough to scupper a candidacy. Besides these issues though, I feel Clinton stands a good chance if she does come out of her semi-retirement and on reflection I am lead to wonder if perhaps the decision to not serve a second term as Secretary of State was a shrewd move to avoid any flack for poor decisions damaging an otherwise credible candidacy.

    perhaps one day she really will ...

    perhaps one day she really will …

  2. Joe Biden – Another member of Obama’s cabinet with a decent shot at the presidency if he were to run.  Biden has demonstrated a consistent support for his president and has arguably been a big help to Obama’s policy initiatives with for example, Obama leaving Biden in charge of drafting  a bill to go before congress in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, perhaps in doing so, acknowledging that in the increasingly partisan political atmosphere of US politics, Biden is seen as less toxic than had the suggestions come straight from Obama. Biden also played a critical part in ensuring that to some degree financial meltdown was avoided (albeit narrowly) in the 2011 debt ceiling debacle and the 2012 fiscal cliff fuck up through his good relationships with significant figures within the Republican Party. Biden has also been a strong supporter of the current administrations policy on equal rights and gay marriage which might make him the stand out candidate for LGBT voters in an age where said demographic is increasingly important and politicised. There are, like with Clinton, an issue that might prove to derail a potential Biden candidacy which is simply – his age. While he has demonstrated his ability and determination in repeatedly hitting the road in support of Obama, I do wonder whether 8 years of doing so will have seriously tired the man out, more so when we consider that if he were to run he would be 73 by the time the election season began.
Having attempted to run for the presidency twice already, I wonder if for Biden the third time might just hit the mark.

Having attempted to run for the presidency twice already, I wonder if for Biden the third time might just hit the mark.

3. Rahm Emanuel – A little bit of wildcard here admittedly but based on the continuing outlook of the Middle East as things stand, with Syria sinking further into out and out chaos, Turkey looking like its heading straight for a change of government if Erdogan doesn’t start to learn the lessons of the Arab Spring fast and Jordan and some of the gulf monarchies looking ready to crumble, I feel a potential president with a strong grounding in foreign policy as a result of his affiliation with Israel might be a strong bet. Whether the US is ready for a Jewish president is open to debate, but then so was the question of whether America was ready for a black president in 2008. And ultimately unlike other minority communities who hav to some degree been marginalized in political debate throughout the country as a group, Jews in the US do represent an effective pressure group and arguably exert a disproportionate amount of influence considering the size of the community. Who knows, maybe if the world political climate is right then Rahm Emanuel might just get the top job.

220px-Rahm_Emanuel,_official_photo_portrait_color

Maybe Chicago’s first Jewish mayor will become the countries first Jewish president.

Republican Party.

Republican Party.

  1. Marco Rubio – We have here the shoe-in GOP candidate for 2016 I fancy with the Republicans perhaps finally learning the lessons of the past that just aiming at attracting the votes of  Christian, white, middle America isn’t going to cut it any more and that if they are to ever claim the highest office for themselves again that they need to widen their appeal. Arguably the most critical group which both parties will focus on in the years to come is Latino voters who have had something of a demographic explosion in recent years. With these facts borne in mind then it is perhaps easy to see why Rubio might just be the man for the job in some peoples eyes. His approval ratings are high and he’s tremendously popular in his home state, and on perhaps the cherry on top of this all is that he is seen as something of a crown prince of the Tea Party movement and any candidate that can hold appeal to such a disparate bunch of lunatics is certainly doing something right. Rubio is also young enough that it might be plausible for me to suggest that he would appeal to younger voters outside of the traditional GOP strongholds who have been faced in the last two elections with a candidate that looks like they might have been born in the last ice age. There are some issues that might hamstring Rubio’s candidacy if he does stand and these basically revolve around republican supporters. Rubio has previously supported (relatively) liberal policies on the topic of immigration and citizenship which might stick in the craw of some of the more simian republican voters, despite the increasing likelihood that the type of policies Rubio has supported previously will soon become law in some form or another.

    Perhaps 2016 will see another racial barrier in the US broken down with the election of a Latino president.

    Perhaps 2016 will see another racial barrier in the US broken down with the election of a Latino president.

  2. Chris Christie – My personal favourite for the GOP candidacy if nothing else is New Jersey’s governor. There are many reasons why I believe Chris Christie is a credible candidate for the presidency, certainly when we take into account some of the pituary morons that GOP wheeled out last time around. First of all, Christie has demonstrated a clear distaste for the partisan political wrangling that slows up much needed iniatives passing through DC. When I say that Christie has demonstrated a clear distaste for the partisan politics of national government I am perhaps lowballing the situation a little, when Christie went on record in front of the media in quite vigorously denouncing the house majority and speaker John Boehner for failing to pass legislation that would have helped victims of Hurricane Sandy. Such words demonstrate that if Christie were to make it to the White House that we might expect a far more pro-active government with far less time spent arguing over minor details in the houses of gvoernment, something we have unfortunately seen far too much of since Obama reached high office. Christie has a relatively moderate approach to many issues, and when this is taken into account alongside his carefully cultivated attempt to appear post-partisan then we are perhaps looking at a future president who realises that for GOP success lies in attracting wavering Democrats to cross the floor as opposed to pandering to the more right wing fanatics within his own party.  Therein lies the main problem with Christie’s candidacy, if he cannot attract voters from across the spectrum then his previous stances on certain issues will likely lead republican voters to ignore him as a ‘Republican In Name Only’.

    Or will it be the first fat president ?

    Or will it be the first fat president ? And if by some trick of nature, the photo for Christie is bigger than any of the other photos.

  3. Rand Paul – in the potential candidate of Rand Paul we have a republican who took a principled stand against the current administrations drone policy by leading a 13 hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination as the head of the CIA. In doing so, Paul marked himself out as a candidate with strong opinions on civil liberties within the US and foreign policy outside of it. I will admit that a Paul candidacy is perhaps the most unlikely of my selections, barring Emanuel, but given further opportunities to take apart the iniquities of the current administration Paul could easily ride the wave of public approval, at least to the point where he is considered a plausible candidate. As mentioned above, with the current world political climate looking at is, it doesn’t take too great a leap of the imagination to think of a situation where congress might be forced to hold a few more committees on foreign policy issues that Paul might sit on, his star rising commensurately with his number of appearances in the public eye. A Paul candidacy would also perhaps benefit a great deal from his father’s supporters amongst whom are many activists and donors that would help any campaign get off to a flying start. Whether some of Paul’s more libertarian policies might harm his chances remains to be seen as the great unknown when it comes to GOP is how far to the fringes it will pander or whether it will remain focussed on the centre. If GOP is leaning towards the  fringe elements then Paul’s libertarian philosophies might just carry the day but if it remains focussed on the mainstream elements of the party then he might just have to rely on those committees if he is to stand a chance.

    The father failed but might the son get the job ?

    The father failed but might the son get the job ?

The power of money

In the wake of yet another political scandal rearing its ugly head in the British press, this time over the recurring issue of “cash for questions”, certain questions are bound to be asked in the coming weeks. I fear however that one question which will be noticeable in its very absence is whether those who vote and form the backbone of democracies enjoy enough access to their elected representatives. In the course of pondering this question I will somewhat inevitably come to look at the issue of lobbying and the problems such means of access to elected officials tends to cause.

In an ideal case scenario, the people in a democratic country, once achieving suffrage, utilise this bounty and elect politicians to some form of representative body which then goes on to pass laws and engage in debate as to the political path that the country will follow. Alongside electing representatives for a given geographical area, most elections in democratic countries also allow for the election of a leader of the government and some of the country, with these figures then going on to in principle inform the legislative direction the government will take. To a large extent this remains to this day an accurate description of how the election part of a democracy  continues to work. However with the passage of history it seems that peoples contact with the governing figures has diminished greatly and that to a large extent once people attain positions of power, certainly here in the UK, that the public do not really have access to them other than when the politician is wheeled out for meet and greets where no discussion of any importance is had. It is perhaps not too great an exaggeration to say that when people in the UK do meet politicians once they have gained office, that those politicians are not to be viewed in any sort of professional capacity, that they are there more as someone famous “off the telly”.

A practice which can spectacularly backfire.

A practice which can spectacularly backfire.

What I’ve described above, politicians spending time meeting and discussing issues with the people who elected them, is of course an ideal case scenario. This being said, it appears to be the case that there are other ways in which you can get politicians to listen to you. It’s to offer them money in return for them listening to your ideas and then letting them sell those ideas in parliament or a like for like public space and pass them off as ideas of their own. That in a roundabout way, is what we call lobbying. The practice of lobbying, is a problematic aspect of politics in most countries and the UK is no different. The reason that lobbying as part of the political process is so problematic is that it can be seen to have both positive and negative effects. Take for example a situation where government is set to vote on legislature that can be construed as “friendly” to a company whose record on environmental issues isn’t squeaky clean, then in this situation it is entirely plausible that another body who represents environmentalists or farmers, as just two of many possible examples, could lobby the government to prevent the initial legislature being voted on. In that scenario, lobbying has been used in positive way to prevent presumably the company from harming the environment. Of course, what my dreamy scenario about environmentalists actually winning the day misses out is that both the environmentalist group and the company with a poor record on green issues have a inordinate amount of social and economic power which has allowed them to gain access to politicians to support their respective causes, while the people who the politicians serve have a complete deficiency of the same types of power meaning their voices are rarely heard. To utilise a round and about analogy to explain the problem, a way in which we can view lobbying is as a parent struggling to separate two teenagers who are yelling, bawling and flailing around in an piss poor attempt to injure each other, meanwhile drown out by all the racket of the other two children, their baby sibling goes hungry as it cannot make a noise equal too or louder than its elder siblings that would alert the mother to its more pressing needs. The only problem with this analogy is that it perhaps over simplifies the situation when in reality there are very rarely only two competing voices struggling to be heard by politicians but dozens if not hundreds throughout the course of the parliamentary year and yet despite the much greater number of constituents that a politician is meant to serve the money and the power speak a lot louder than any heartfelt concern it seems.

This issue of those who already command a tremendous deal of power, to some degree co-opting the democratic process has been a thorn in the side of the British political system for quite some time and this latest fiasco proves that nothing useful has been done despite the assurances of many party leaders throughout the years. The current scandal, like all the good ones, is a cross party one with people involved from all sides of our lovely and bland political spectrum proving that the claims of superior morality by any party carry as much weight as a bag of hot air.

I doubt you do, but in case anyone needed reminding  of the last cross-party scandal that took place here in the UK.

I  really doubt you do, but in case anyone needed reminding of the last cross-party scandal that took place here in the UK.

The fact that every side of the government of the UK is somewhat beset by lobbyists looking for support for their own ends, nefarious and benign, cannot be doubted and yet despite issues around this matter repeatedly surfacing in the British press and on parliamentary motions little has been done to curb the power that lobbyists have over political agendas here , or elsewhere for that matter. Using my example above of an environmental group and a group with a little bit of a dodgy record when it comes to environmental issues , the reader might be tempted to wonder what all the fuss about lobbying is over, but in my drive to explain clearly the issue at hand I have perhaps made lobbyists seem a little more benign than the reality of the situation. Undoubtedly there are lobbyists for all sorts of praiseworthy causes but there are also a lot who make an extremely immoral living off getting governments to support causes that I’m sure their constituents disagree with vehemently. Example of the big players in the corporate lobbyist industry would include the Arms industry,  the Alcohol industry, the Tobacco Industry and the Gambling industry to name but a few. All of these industries, while providing valuable contributions to the economy, are hardly moral causes and it surely should raise the hackles of politicians that representatives of these industries are so keen to buy legislative support considering the PROVEN ill effects that the products of the last three industries at least have on people within their constituencies. And if the fact that some lobbyists try to get politicians to support measures that will directly harm their own constituents, even kill some perhaps, does not bother politicians, then perhaps the even greater ill effect that governmental support for arms conglomerates and dictatorial regimes will have on the wider world might cause them to think twice. Or perhaps as many fear, the money and power of the lobbyist industry has completely subverted democracy and the voice of the man on the street is no longer worth caring about, even if he in all his wisdom elected the politician selling him out.

A particularly poignant remark made by Guardian writer Andrew Rawnsley in a piece discussing lobbying mused on the ill effect this practice has likely had on how people view governments.

“The pungent smell given off by the whole business also feeds public cynicism about how government works that swells voter alienation, anger and disengagement.”

His observation certainly strikes me as being very close to my own feelings, and I would hazard to guess the feelings of many other Britons. Whatever happens as a result of this scandal, I’m sure we will hear a lot about how the government and the opposition both feel this issue can be dealt with. But it remains to be seen whether those reporting on this scandal will discuss that lack of access the public enjoys to their representatives in government. The lobbying scandal will surely continue to surface at the most inopportune moments unless government pledges its own divorce from corporations and vows to re-engage with the electorate. This idea is not a guaranteed solution by any means, but its certainly a worthwhile suggestion that needs to be heard in the wake of another scandal proving that politicians are as interested if not more so in the needs of the rich and powerful wherever they may be than their own electorate who they are sworn to serve.

Rolling back the state

In the immediate aftermath of Margaret Thatchers death, the deputy prime-minister of the current UK government Nick Clegg urged in a speech to the Welsh branch of his party that there would be “no lurch to the right by this government, not while I’m at the cabinet table” . Now I wont ponder too long on the likelihood of this man keeping his word, But

But I will insert this picture of Judas Iscariot giving Jesus a peck on the cheek and allow readers to draw their own conclusions...

I will insert this picture of Judas Iscariot giving Jesus a peck on the cheek and allow readers to draw their own conclusions…

Despite the assurances of the supposed voice of reason in the UK’s current coalition government , the weeks leading on from the death of the doyenne of neoliberal politics did as it happens see a marked shift away from the centre if not directly towards the right. I will accept that the motions away from the centre field of politics were set in motion the very moment the current government took power and were not directly precipitated by her death. This however does not detract from the fact that in the wake of her death, policies even Margaret Thatcher would not have dreamed of enacting are further rolling back the state hear in Britain with no end in sight. In this post I will discuss the neo-liberal (shit/perfect – delete as appropriate) storm battering the British state as it began in 2010 and draw particular attention to its intensification in recent weeks while reflecting on the damage that

The first drastic movement that the coalition government made was to move away from the somewhat egalitarian practices of old and severely increase the amount that students would pay to be able to attend universities here in the UK. When I say severely I’m really not hammering the hyperbole button in this case, for a student starting next year compared to one who started their university education before these changes the difference in price in some cases will be a threefold increase. The justifications offered for this change by the ministers responsible cited the need to bring greater investment to British universities and that the prices previously decided by governments had been set far too low, I don’t personally agree with these justifications but I can see the logic of them  if I did agree. Whatever the justifications offered, some charges were levelled against the government in question that we should really assess as counter balances to these arguments for the increases in tuition fees. A critical argument against these changes that seems to have stood up to scrutiny in their immediate wake is that while these changes intend to increase the revenue available to university they are likely to backfire by driving students from poorer social backgrounds away from going to university through fear of accumulating a debt on average twice the size of a starting salary here in the UK. What this would ultimately mean is that while there’s more money coming in per head, there are less heads to count in the first place. How many students from poorer backgrounds will neglect to enter university education or even apply in coming years is of course an unknown fact, but I feel relatively comfortable in guessing that it will steadily decline until the number of upwardly mobile lower class students resembles something much more like the good old days where the toffs ruled the roost.

Two of the most powerful politicians in Britain dressed as extras from Sunday night Television drama for the lonely, decrepit and the old (if indeed there is any difference).

Two of the most powerful politicians in Britain dressed as extras from a Sunday night Television drama for the lonely, decrepit and the old (if indeed there is any difference between the three).

The next battle the dysfunctional couple of British politics lined up after they chose to ignore a somewhat widespread if short lived protest that emerged as a result of their returning university education to a system in some ways probably more  recognisable to the Victorians than to the undergraduates of tomorrow was with the NHS. This proved to be a much harder battle for neo-liberals as however dysfunctional things get within the health system here in the UK, I genuinely believe that there is an enduring love of the NHS that spreads throughout the country. Indeed when reflecting on this it is at times difficult to see what anyone could dislike about the national health service, I mean its free which is already beating much of the competition over the world to start with. It’s also staffed by some of the best examples of professionals that I’m sure a person is ever likely to meet in the UK.

For reckless and unprofessional workers might I suggest the City of London as an alternative to any regional hospital.

For reckless and unprofessional workers might I suggest the City of London as an alternative to any regional hospital.

Most critically of all, it is both free and staffed to an incredibly high standard while under enormous political and financial pressures from whichever party is in power here in the UK. In defending the NHS I am more than willing to accept that it does have its problems but when considering the obstacles that have been thrown in its way by politics it does a tremendous job. I lied above when I said it was difficult to see why anyone would dislike it as there’s a glaring issue that highlights why both the major political parties here in the UK are keen to attack the NHS, it doesn’t charge for its services. Nothing kills the neo-liberal metaphorical erection like the thought of a business achieving some measure of good for the wider public for free. Whereas Macbeth was haunted by his murder victims at night I imagine the nightmares of David Cameron consist of giant flashing neon signs that advertise “FREE HEALTHCARE, FREE EDUCATION, FREE LOVE“.

Either way I digress, the current government has been attempting to push various half-baked reforms through the NHS since the moment it was elected and ironically after the assurances of Nick Clegg of “no shift to the right” in the wake of Margaret Thatchers death it seems that the very first and perhaps most critical  of the measures has passed through the House of Lords. The reform that I refer to is  section 75 which opens up parts of the NHS to private tender and in the process forever changes the NHS and I’m not for one moment inclined to believe for the better. The thing with privately owned businesses is that they are operated on the basis of profit not benevolence, this means that to help increase profits rather than simply balance the books year on year privately owned businesses will cut initial costs wherever possible. Now I’m willing to accept this as a practice in say a restaurant when fast food outlets offer plastic cutlery rather than metal but when it comes to hospital treatment I’m significantly less appreciative of scrimping. Whether undergoing a lumpectomy or simply having a blood test, when attending a hospital I want to know that literally no expense has been spared and that the process will be the most efficient and comfortable that it possibly could be. This is obviously unlikely to be the case when I know that privately owned conglomerates have had a hand in deciding what equipment and facilities will be at hand not doctors. Another reason that this change in policy is particularly repugnant is that many of the members of both houses of parliament who voted on this bill have financial interests in private medical companies which might stand to gain a great deal from this new practice of putting services out to tender. We really need to question what type of democracy we live in when politicians are able to vote on changes in the law when it can be directly proved that such changes will line their pockets with taxpayers money.

The next significant proposed change to the law that has cropped up since Maggie’s death is the reform to legal aid. Legal aid in this context means many things but perhaps the most important aspect of these reforms  is the reduction of the right to be represented by a solicitor of your choice. Instead the system will now revert to a group of law firms that will cover every case in a certain area and then its simply luck of the draw how competent the solicitor you receive is. This seems to have gotten through the writing process of legislature without someone attempting to iron out even some of the simplest kinks in the reform – I’ll use a case study to demonstrate my point in hand. I live in South Wales, an area of Wales that contains two thirds of all of Wales’ population or to put it more concretely roughly 2 million people live in the wider area. That is a lot of people in anyone’s book so surely any well written legislature would take this into  account and assign an equally large number of law firms to provide representation for all of the potential clients. Well funnily enough the legislature written didn’t take this into account with around 9 firms assigned for this whole area and only 21 for the entirety of Wales (population 3 million). That works out as a grand total of 1 law firm for every 142,857 citizens – hardly sounds practical on paper and given the great distances between many of Wales’ biggest populated areas I don’t foresee this being any more practical in reality either. When discussing these reforms with friends many dismissed them, offering an argument that went something like this “I’m unlikely to ever be arrested …. therefore these reforms don’t affect me” which sounds like a tempting argument to concede until you consider that on a day to day basis in other countries with the most responsible and effective police forces quite frequently people who are not guilty are arrested on suspicion of committing crimes. And that’s in countries with very efficient and some might say honest police forces whereas here in the UK we have a police force that is very big on legal overreach as demonstrated in a recent  case of police arresting  a person under anti-terror laws for filming a police officer. Now do you feel so confident on letting a complete stranger of questionably ability defend you when you could be hauled in front of a court for something so arbitrary as happening to catch a police officer on camera ?

I openly accept that none of these changes were directly precipitated by the death of Margaret Thatcher but this does not detract from the fact that current government in the UK, driven seemingly entirely by ideology is working towards the goal of a neo-liberal Britain that the Iron Lady would have only dreamed about. In the process of driving back the state as it has traditionally been conceived of here in the UK, this government is making a country none of us will recognise in years to come, motivated by their belief in a mandate they do not hold and planning to use methods that have failed in the past and will in all probability fail again in the future. If not likely to succeed in the aims of making the UK a better and healthier society then we really must what is it all for other than sate their own perverse ideologies of what is fair.

Rationalism over nationalism

The illustrious Dr Johnson once uttered the words “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. While it is true that the context of the whole conversation was never recorded so the meaning of Dr Johnson’s quote is uncertain, we can take him at his word which is what I fully intend to do in this weeks update. I intend in the coming paragraphs to show why I have struggled in the past to buy into nationalism and further, to argue that we might all be better served if we gave up on nationalism in favour of the far more sound ideal of rationalism.

I’m not sure at what point in my life I realised I was deeply troubled with the idea of buying into a nation and giving said concept my unwavering support. I admit to having attended international sporting events or to watching them on TV in the past and feeling a shiver of the spine as a result of hearing my countries national anthem sung although reflecting on this I fear the spine tingling may have been more the result of hearing in excess of 60,000 people singing the same song which is an inherently powerful experience. The clue here was probably that the anthem is sung in a language I cannot speak or understand rendering the idea that I felt some connection with the lyrics nonsensical, and on further reflection I also imagine the subconscious effect of feeling the need to conform to the crowd behaviours has a tremendous impact. Besides sporting events I don’t ever really recall feeling much towards my nation, I never enjoyed dressing up like a twat to celebrate my countries patron saints day, for anyone who thinks im exaggerating on that front, see below ….

The point at which lampshades gained sentience.

The point at which lampshades gained sentience.

I also never remember feeling any great love for the history of my nation, everywhere else on earth seemed more interesting and less mundane frankly. All of the above being true, I do not remember at which point I decided I felt contempt for the farcical notion of national pride as opposed to the general uncertainty about the idea of a nation and feeling love for it that marked my childhood. I think perhaps the crux of this issue of mine revolves around my becoming aware of politics and realising that a lot of the people I lived around were firstly, just short of mollusc in the brain department and more importantly not a bunch of people that I planned to cling to in times of crisis or otherwise. It probably won’t come as any great surprise that the way in which I came to realise that I did not identify myself with the same notion of nationality as my peers was through hearing their constant boasting about the characteristics of their proud nation while concomitantly denigrating every other nationality on earth as lesser than their own. Considering the amount of times I heard someone accuse the entire Polish nation of being job thieves and petty criminals or heard another moron slander the entire “muslim” nation as terrorists I’m constantly in a state of shock that I ever left my ears attached to my head. Evidently the more time waxing about the greatness of ones own nation the less time spent realising that history is very rarely as compartmentalised as the most ardent nationalists would have us believe.

I think my main bone of contention with the whole idea of nationalism is that I understand how arbitrary the notion of a nation is and I cannot bring myself to identify with other people purely because of arbitrarily drawn lines on a map. I share the same chemical make-up and basic DNA structure with every other human being on this earth right now so I cannot comprehend why I should feel a greater deal of affinity with people spread throughout my country than I do with the rest of humanity. If nationalism was more focussed on conceivable and smaller spaces then perhaps yes I could bring myself to feel that I do hold more in common with my locality than I do in difference with them. Of course this is not the case with nations often constituting gigantic areas of space with hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, living within them and still the myth is continually perpetuated that it is normal to feel affinity with someone who lives hundreds of miles away but within the same border yet unnatural to feel that self same affinity with some one who lives ten miles away on the other side of a line haphazardly drawn on maps at some point in the last 300 years. In summary my central problem with the idea of a nation is that is based on nothing but baseless presumption.

All of the above having been said it is not for me to attempt to force my lack of affinity for national compatriots on other people. On the other hand, the beliefs I do intend to force on other people is that if they feel the need to define themselves according to the lines drawn on a map around them then they need to start facing up to the ugly realities of what people living in amongst those squiggly lines have done in the past as well as championing the good things that originating from their nation. Just to demonstrate that there are two sides to everything, including the legacy of any particular nation I’m going to play a little game now. I’m going to pick some countries whose history I understand fairly well  and offer one aspect of that countries history as championed by nationalists from that country and counter balance this with some of the more negative parts of that countries legacy:

Mexico

Positive – The birth control pill.

Negative – The complete state of lawlessness that now  grips large parts of mexico as a result of the drugs trafficking to the USA which takes place there.

USA

Positive – Arguably the worlds first and most thriving representative democracy.

Negative – The invention and use of the Atom bomb on civilian populations to cause the capitulation of Imperial Japan.

China

Positive – Compasses.

Negative – Rampant over-population which is drastically increasing strain on the worlds environments.

Germany

Positive – Sellotape aiding countless housewives and office monkeys in their day to day dealings

Negative – The Nazi party which went on from a bit of internal repression to starting the worst war in History

UK

Positive – Association football, the worlds greatest sport

Negative – the Bengal famine, The Irish Famine, The Ethnic cleansing of Nova Scotia, The creation of the majority of the Middle-East’s client kingdoms borders and hold on power and last but not not least ….

Gove most Sad

Michael Gove

I’m not saying that the UK is worse than any other country I mentioned, I simply feel the need to draw attention to more of the negatives associated with my country as it is myths about how amazing Great Britain is that I have to listen to on a daily basis. We can see here from my little exercise above that for every positive aspect of a countries there is an equal and opposite negative aspect to the legacy that if you feel national pride by rights you have to accept. Ultimately I cant force my views onto people much as I might try but I can suggest after this brief discussion on the topic of nationalism that we would all be served better by adopting a far more rational approach to how we view history and arbitrary borders than seems to be the norm now.