Archive for July, 2015

Calais: Let Them In

July 31, 2015





31 July London. The Prime Minister David Cameron chairs a meeting today on what to do about Calais. The dilemma is self made.

For years the French unions have struck knowing that tactical advantage in such a sensitive area will always secure a result and it always has.

For years refugees have gathered in Calais knowing it is the final albeit cosliest push to get into England.  Some have been successful.

For years nothing has been done in France to sort the unions – because they cannot be sorted – and nothing has been done to clear refugees from the  jumping-off point from continental Europe – because there is no way to do it.

So there is the practical agenda for Cameron & Co: can the British (and mayber the French) sort the real problem?

The problem being of course two major wars zones, three minor asymmetric war zones, collapsed economies, Libya and a determination to reach the UK that by reputation is a safe and lucrative haven for those who have nothing, including hope.

Historically the British are part of the problem. In distant past colonial rule was rarely so bad as sometimes suggested today. During the two post WWII decades the British divested themselves of the right to govern 25% of the world.  In many cases the Empire had not done so badly by British rule. A few African states even to this day would like to see someting similar in place.

But the harsher truth is that without colonial masters despots rose and ruined their countries and fought other states. That is not a case for colonialism.  It is a fact.

More importantly, as the post WWII world prospered currupt leaders of former colonies (not just British) pocketed the proceeds of natural resources including oil in Africa and diverted  £multi million aid funds into their petty cash accounts.  With honourable exceptions (Botswana is one) countries and people suffered.

For the past decade we have added wars in which we have destroyed leaderships and landscapes to the misery of much that we have visited, intervened and then left without any pretence of putting the best of that which is our best in place of the bad that we claimed to have found.

And so the people have moved.  Today there are some 60 million displaced people in the world.  The population of Britain is 60 million.  Image that number with no home, no chance and a younger more savvy youth asking why this misery should be their lot?

That a relative few, if we can call tens of thousands that, have found their different ways to Calais is in these times of the spread of information, hardly a surprise – or should not be.

Given our history in the cause of this misery and given the impossibility of sending everyone home (and to what?) we have the obligation of only one answer at today’s downing Street Cabinet Office meeting: we should open the gate.

These people have come far. They have shown a resourcefulness inspired by possibility, the hope of work in what Governmenent press releases every day herald the best growing economy in the world. They have also left behind others, even the dearest, in wretched poverty and fear of air launched bombings often supported and even executed by our own government.

We have failed these people and their forefathers and now their children.

But would any British politician, community leader or churchman or woman even have the sense of dignity, imagination and courage to explain to the British poeple why we should open the Calais-Dover gate?

We should let them in and those who follow and do so not reluctantly but with open arms.

Of course no government will do that. No leader would do. No individual who arrived from other parts and now clutches a British passport would say so. But that is exactly what we should be doing. Open the gate and ask no thanks for so doing.


How to take out Daesh?

July 20, 2015

christopher_lee180-1120 July. London. Why has it taken David Cameron five years to come up with what Downing Street briefers call ‘a strategy’ to defeat the ambitions of Daesh, IS, ISIL or whatever we are to call the bloodied builders of a new caliphate?
Why has it taken five years for Cameron & Co to believe SIS and Security Service assessments of the ambitions of Daesh and the consequences of that frenzy in British society and close by?
Why does Cameron begin his outline of strategy by identifying a British Muslim Community?
During that five years the Cameron-Clegg coalition hacked at and in some areas beheaded the military system with which Britain would need to contribute to an international effort to contain then destroy Daesh.

Today, as the PM makes his grandstand declaration of war, his Treasury-led defence policy is at the heart of yet another Strategic Defence & Security Review.

The immediate past Chief of the Defence Staff General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux said yesterday (19 July) that the UK has to plan to put troops and tanks on the ground if it is to succeed in defeating Daesh.
So, we have a Prime MInister who at last believes the Daesh/IS threat is strong enough to threaten not only the British sunbathers of Tunisia but the very shopping malls to which the survivors returned.

Cameron could argue that the extreme threat is a relatively new conundrum and that in 2010 when the political coalition came about, the IS was in its infancy.

A threat from a Middle East Islamic-inspired ideology was however very clear. The Undergroound and bus bombings in London in 2005 demonstrated that.

The Intelligence services including the Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism command were stretched almost to breaking point thus telling us that the threat was real. Moreover, many of the successes began with information given to the Met and MI5 by Muslims themselves.

Cameron’s talk today of a Muslim Community further demonstrates either a clumsy presentation of his new policy or a complete misunderstanding of people he wishes to have on board in anti-terrorism campaigns. There is no such group as The Muslim Community. Can you imagine Cameron talking about the Conservitive Community in the UK? One of his dozens of young thrusters a.k.a. special advisers could have explained that publicly stating that Muslims are separate people is not the way to launch his grand strategy.

Furthermore, it is apparent from Cameron’s text and recent statements from the Home Secretary Mrs May that the government is yet to grasp the commonest form of radicalisation.

The following is a reasonable model to follow: the most disatisfied with his or her lot is likely to be the third generation that understands that when grandparents and maybe parents arrived in Britain they were sympathetically received and either through an instinct of obligation or even a fact of non-option they are content with their lives in the UK.

But the third generation has no similar sense of history and change of identity. That generation contains those likely to sense the British suspects them of being radicals just by looking at them. They feel their roots more keenly and with that comes the need of an identity check that says they are not British but, say, Kuwaiti or whatever. They are not a member of what Cameron calls the Muslim Community.  MI5 always knew that.

And what of General Richards’ point that British forces should be lining up to take on Daesh?

Question: lining up with whom? This is asymmetric warfare. We need from the general a wiring diagram of forces he believes necessary to take on Daesh across the Middle East, Saharan North Arica and Afghanistan (where IS has Taliban on the run).

The UK military cannot provide that force and most certsanly cannot sustain the numbers it has on any operation such as he envisages. Therefore the general (perhaps the best of his generation) must tell us who will form a coalition of the willing from Western Europe and Gulf states and who will design and agree the second wiring diagram of command and control.  Then comes the all important Terms of Reference and finally the clear objective – each battle won has to have something to put in the place of the void thus crerated.

Cameron has to realise that to get anywhere near the idea of going on a war footing as the general suggests then any government has to plan long beyond the 5-year Plan.  Incidentally, 5-Year Plans were the failures of old Communist regimes and were simply replaced with new and equally failing 5-year plans.

In short, if Cameron’s speech today is to have any meaning, he has to delay the autumn SDSR, consider a more specific and perhaps subsidary foreign policy document that identifes how he intends to battle Daesh and what he thinks will replace the void Daesh would leave among ther disatisfied.  All this done, he can then go to the miliatry and ask them how they could back up this policy.

Past record of the five year Cameron watch, suggests that little has been learned from experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Cameron would do well to make sure he can tell all what he intends Britain to do, how his political and military resources would execute his policy, for how long it could be sustained, who else would come on board, who would run it and assuming bit by bit success how would the people of the great Muslim countries understand that the UK (Cameron will be long gone by the time this operation is in its stride) is getting into this on such a grand scale and not simply as yet another knee-jerk to a terrible afternoon on a Tunisian beach.


Who Spies on Our Spies?

July 14, 2015


14 July. London. A bunch of ex-spymasters in London tell us that they may have broken the law about spying on us. Heigh-ho.  Never mind. They probably did it for the best. What they said was that they may have broken the “antiquated laws” they operate under. These of course are the laws designed to protect the likes of me, you and most people who just hang around.

The people who think they might have done something wrong (a subjective allusion) include Lord Evans of Weardale who was Director General Security Service (MI5), Sir John Scarlett who was Tony Blair’s favourite chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (Dodgy Iraq document etc) and Controller MI6 (a TB appointee) and the truly top class former Director GCHQ and sometime Permanent Secretary Home Office Sir David Omand.

Of course the simplicity of the hands-up-fair-cop statement in a Royal United Service Institute report today on surveillance is that in the much bigger scheme most of us do not care a fig about who spies on who because we do not know anything about what goes on.

Furthermore, we watch and love Homeland, Bourne and The Game and we not only believe the ficture but we want to believe it. In our pockets we carry mobile phones that have enough computing power to launch a Mars mission or, if that is not our nanjeu, hack a Pentagon lunch menu.  In short, we believe everything is possible.  With this truth we get a bit of a thrill. We also easily adopt the mood that the confessing troika, or their people, have prevented about 50 other 7/7 atrocities and maybe even a couple of 9/11s by law-shaky surveillance.

When I was told that I had been ‘monitored’ I felt at first amazingly angry and then settled easily into that other illusion: I was important enough to be checked out. Having suffered the humility of being the only one of my own group of 4 at university who was not shoulder-tapped as a potentional MI6 or MI5 candidate I now felt better.  Someone had noticed me after all. If nothing else they would perhaps know that I campaigned for a knighthood for Geoffrey Boycott.

The slightly serious side to all this is that as a people, the British (supported by the SNP perhaps) accept the need for mass electronic and even personal surveillance if we are to be protected from modern terrorism. The difficult bit must be an assurance that the spying is regulated by a third party we all trust.  A job for m’learned friend obviously. It is here that I see behind the story of spying and protection of democratic values the real concern we should have and, it is a concern not about the spying but the question of national trust.

To select a body or a nominated individual relies on the simple question: who do we really trust to look after oour interests – even when we do ot know they exist? The intelligence agencies are nominally under Parliamentary scrutiny and ministerial responsibility. But as a nation we clearly have no regard, even belief in the claims by politicans of democratic honour.  By and large and however likeable some are, we think politicians and especially minister are a shifty lot. So who else to protect our interests.  Retired great and goodies? Forget it.  We saw how even the nicest people could be disredited when the government searched for a chair into the child abuse inquiry.

The Churches? Forget it. Apart from ability and deep belief in compromise, the Churches have little of our support and confidence. You see where this goes? The British no longer have any regard for the great institutions.  Even the monarchy is being rated now as a celebrity factor rather than a constitutional condition.

The answer then must be the one secition of society that is essential to a peoples hope that it may be quietly governed and protected from great political excesses.  The nub of a nation’s hope for democracy is an independent judiciary. That independent judiciary is the surviving institution in Britain that albeit sometimes reluctantly has the nation’s trust.  The rest have gone bad.

Our spy masters are not all bad TV-tinted personalities. Let them by monitored annually by a trio of our judges – not retired ones either.  A judge is never in search of the truth.  He or she listens to the argument and then decides on balance which side has been best presented and hopefully believable. That is what we need to protect us if indeed we need protecting.

Meanwhile, Cheltenham, Embankment and Vauxhall have my number.  The trigger word is: Sir Geoffrey

Why Commemorate Victims?

July 7, 2015

Why Commemorate Victims?

London. 7 July. A lot of solemn and sensitive services for victims of the July bombings in London and the poor wretches repatriated from a bloody Tunisian beach. Each dead person was innocent. Each terrorist was guilty as charged.

That’s all plain. But then what happens? Why do we have commemorative liturgy for passers-by? Because they were British we are told. This misses the point.

These people were not troops who gave their lives inasmuch they knew death was more possible because of the job they did. Also maybe, because when civilians were caught in terrorist action in past times we held no memorial services other than those annually at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. There were no special services for victims of terrorism in Aden, Cyprus and more recently in Northern Ireland. There were full and well attended burial services but not instant memorial affairs.

That people caught on a bus or laying on a foreign beach are terrible deserve any prayers we may offer. But why, in the case of the deaths in Tunisia, do we have the bodies returned with full military honours to Brize Norto? Why the minute silence for them?

There is every reason to read, talk and wonder at it all but the memorial for civilians is not a case of national mourning. We are all sensitive to what happened to the innocent, but it is not a national moment with full regalia and grand personality.

What it does tell us is something we would rather not hear and see: these memorial services are platitudes. They are authorised by governments that have failed to defeat the perpetrators of this violence. A memorial service says we are civilised and caring. None should doubt this sentiment but we may well ask if we are so caring whence cometh this care? Why now? Why not in Ireland? In Aden? In Cyprus? etc

We organise memorial services for bystanders because it is all we can do to say sorry for not being able to stop the people who did this.