Wednesday, August 23, 2017
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Politics

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by M Nazir Tabassam

A British politician of Indian origin rose to the horizon of prominence like an evening star and fell into the mire of ignominy like a leaden ball. Born in Aden in 1956 with a birth name Nigel Keith Anthony Standish Vaz, drove his name from a distant relative of 17th century missionary Saint Joseph Vaz, has been creating ripples in the British politics since the good old days of New Labour. When he was 9-years-old, he moved along with his family to the UK in 1965 where he attended Latymer Upper School in London before joining the University of Cambridge for a degree in law. He practiced law as a solicitor before entering the House of Commons.

keith-vazHe found himself in the headlines in 1987 when he was elected as an MP for Labour in Leicester, the first Asian for whom the Commons opened up their doors. Controversy and self-contradiction have been his hallmarks during his political career. He has been a Eurosceptic as well as a Euro-enthusiast. In 1990, we saw him marching along Muslim protesters against Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses; and yet it is on record that he offered words of support for the author.

When Labour came to power in 1997, Vaz rose to prominence in 1999 becoming the first Asian minister in the Lord Chancellor’s department before being promoted as minister for Europe. In 2000, an investigation began into whether Mr Vaz had taken payment from a solicitor. He delayed investigation for months, refusing to hand over information and refusing to answer questions. However, most of the allegations were not upheld in these investigations, but unusually many allegations were listed as “not completed” rather than rejected.

As said earlier, Keith Vaz, like a cat, has many lives, and at every turn of the tide he reinvents himself. In 2001, an investigation against him reopened. This time the allegation was that Mr Vaz helped process the UK passport application of one of the Indian billionaire Hinduja brothers, who gave £1million towards the Millennium Dome. It was shown that Hinduja had paid Fernandes Vaz – the legal firm run by Mr Keith Vaz’s wife – for work on visa. Keith Vaz married Maria Fernandes 23 years ago in 1993. Maria is a former barrister and Principal of the law firm Fernandes Vaz, established in 1995.

In 2001, Keith Vaz’s tenure as Europe minister came to an end when he resigned on “health grounds”. In 2002, the investigation committee concluded that Mr Vaz had provided misleading information to the first investigation and he was suspended from the parliament for a month. But the central allegations made against him remained unproved. He was not found to have illicitly received money from outside sources that had not declared. However, his suspension from the Commons for a month was a humiliation that made his decline and fall look absolute.

Time went on and by 2007, Mr Vaz slowly and gradually became more influential in helping to prop up the increasingly significant Asian vote, firstly for Tony Blair and secondly for Gordon Brown. In June 2007 he was promoted to Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Select committees have limited formal powers and resources. But with a keen eye for a passing bandwagon, and by ensuring committee grilling are theatrical enough to get on the television news, they can put themselves to the centre of the political action.

In 2009, the Telegraph disclosed that Mr Vaz had claimed more than £75,500 for a Westminster flat despite his valued at £1.15 million family home being just 12 miles from parliament. Although his actions were not illegal, he was asked to pay back a four figure sum. Not only to suffice that, he was accused of writing to a high court judge trying to halt proceedings against a solicitors’ firm which had lavished hospitality on him. The lawyer has since been struck off after being found guilty of 104 breaches of the rules governing solicitors’ conduct.

In 2008, Vaz backed the government at a crucial moment for the 42-day terrorist detention without charge. During the debate on 10th June 2008 Keith Vaz was asked in Parliament whether he had been offered an honour for his support. He said: “No, it was certainly not offered – but I do not know; there is still time.”

Vaz led efforts to curb Britain’s cocaine trade by heading up a Government inquiry into the drug. A subsequent report – The Cocaine Report – was published by the Home Affairs Select Committee. Mr Vaz argued against a proposed ban on amyl nitrate, also known as poppers. His Parliamentary support came during a Commons debate on the Psychoactive Substance Bill.

Now, in 2016, Mr Vaz stands down from the Home Affairs Select Committee following allegations involving male escorts and their use of amyl nitrate. The tales of prostitutes, drugs and suspicious cash are bubbling around. Two years ago he was caught on CCTV camera meeting a young man at a hotel. And an ex-worker at a London hotel said: “the married MP often arrived at short notice, sometimes with young men. There were a number of times when he did not stay the whole night. He would stay for just a few hours before checking out”.

Keith Vaz has all the while been a great survivor. We have yet to wait and see if he could reinvent himself once again after this huge ignominy.

Jim Greenhalf reports

On September 24 Labour Party members will decide whether they want Jeremy Corbyn to carry on as leader or Welsh Labour MP Owen Smith to replace him.

Jeremy-CorbynIf the dark horse Smith is first past the post the Parliamentary Labour Party will breathe a collective sigh of relief. They think he represents the best chance of making the party electable in 2020. After the June 23 Brexit Referendum was lost, more than 40 of them resigned from shadow ministerial and other positions. It was their way of saying that Corbyn had not done enough to persuade voters of the merits of remaining in the European Union.

A very different view of a Smith win is likely from the host of three-pounders, the people who flocked to join the party for a few quid to secure an emphatic victory for Jeremy Corbyn. They were able to do so because Ed Miliband, party leader until the 2015 General Election defeat, had lowered Labour’s annual membership fee from £25. Only another convincing Corbyn win will satisfy them that they have not been stitched up by the Parliamentary party establishment.

It was ever thus. Eighty-five years ago there were riots in Glasgow and Manchester after Ramsay MacDonald turned his back on the party to form a coalition government in the Great Depression of 1931. King George V was said to have asked the moustachioed Scot to play the role of wicked Sir Jasper. The subsequent General Election victory for the National Government decimated Labour, reducing the Parliamentary party to just 56. Ever since then Labour’s rank and file have mistrusted their leaders.

In October 1981, for example, during another civil war in the party over the election of a leader capable of standing up to Margaret Thatcher, Joe Ashton MP told a Solidarity Campaign meeting at Dudley Hill Socialist Club: “I don’t agree with the method of voting for the leader of the Labour Party, it was rotten and corrupt and needed to be changed, but don’t tell me we have changed it for something better. Nothing makes me spew more, and I choose my words carefully, than when I hear members of the party attacking the last Labour Government on the grounds that it betrayed the manifesto.”

He gave the audience of more than 60 a summary of that pre-Thatcher Labour Government’s achievements: the nationalisation of the ship-building and aircraft industries; the scrapping of hospital pay beds; and equal pay for women. The party had to unite and stop the in-fighting if it was to offer itself as a credible alternative to the Thatcher Government. “We have got to get back to deciding if we are going to have an incomes policy, if we are going to come out of the Common Market and how we are going to create one-and-a-half million jobs,” he added. Thirty-five years later the Labour Party is now all in favour of membership of the European Union. Some things change but evidently not the party’s predisposition for civil war.

Is it coincidental that Labour’s internecine battles over the leadership in 1931, 1981 and 2016 occurred during times of economic turmoil? When Joe Ashton came to town unemployment in the Bradford Metropolitan District had shot up to more than 30,000 – nearly three times what it is now. Industrial recession across the country was one consequence of the hike in the price of crude oil imposed by the members of the Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in retaliation for Israel’s crushing military victory over an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The revenues from North Sea oil coming ashore – worth more than £40 billion – benefited the Thatcher Government especially during the year-long stand-off with the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984. By that time Labour was in serious conflict with Left-wing elements of the membership – hard-line Trotskyites to some – intent on raising Socialism’s red flag above town halls in Greater London, Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester, against the austerity policies of hard-line Thatcherism.

The clash with the Government culminated in a dozen Labour-run local authorities refusing to set a rate, which was illegal. Lambeth, led by ‘Red’ Ted Knight and Liverpool, led by Derek Hatton, were singled out for retribution. The councils had to pay substantial penalties and its leaders were disqualified from holding office. The clash with the Labour leadership culminated in the party conference at Blackpool when party leader Neil Kinnock tore into the activities of what the Press called ‘the Loony Left’. To jeers from Militant Tendency members at the back and cheers from moderates in the middle of the hall, he described the antics on Merseyside as “the grotesque chaos of a Labour council, a Labour council, hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.” Labour’s National Executive Committee followed up by suspending the Liverpool District labour Party and expelling all of a Militant Tendency persuasion.

The leadership election crisis that convulsed Labour in the early 1980s turned out to be a catalyst for change, for out of it emerged the Social Democratic Party. Comprising largely of defecting Labour MPs and former Cabinet Ministers, the SDP was an attempt to shift the battleground of British politics away from the extremities of Left and Right to the centre – a move that Tony Blair’s New Labour was to emulate so spectacularly in 1997. In effect it was a move towards European-style Social Democracy against Democratic Socialism and Conservatism.

Some SDP recruits said they were disillusioned with the Labour’s attitude towards the European Economic Community, as it was then called, the dependency on trades unions’ money and national economic policy. Others were alarmed by the in-fighting over the selection and de-selection of MPs (still an issue today) and the election of the party leader. Former Cabinet big guns Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, Dr David Owen and Bill Rodgers, otherwise known as ‘the Gang of Four’, were joined by long-serving back-bencher Labour moderates such as Edward Lyons QC, who represented Bradford West.

Just as many thousands of three-pounders joined the Labour Party to support Jeremy Corbyn, more than 60,000 people signed up for the SDP. Out of the misery of the recession and the warfare in the Labour Party, the SDP was more than a breath of fresh air; the new party offered many the chance to breathe freely again without fear of being challenged by some officious party ‘committee of public safety’ ideologue. Evidently they liked what they heard from former Foreign Secretary David Owen in his book Face the Future:-

“Both parties are locked into dogmatic, doctrinaire, divisive policies which many of their supporters deplore. Yet their leaders appeal to blind loyalty – party first, country second. Adversary politic s thrives on polarisation, polemic and fear…We do not believe in the politics of an inert centre merely representing the lowest common denominator between two extremes. We want more, not less radical change in our society, but with a greater stability of direction.”

Two days of the SDP’s first national conference took place at Bradford’s St George’s Hall, an event welcomed by city centre hotels but snubbed by Labour and Tory councillors on Bradford Council perhaps because for some of them the Gang of Four represented the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who had come to lay waste the two-party system of Lab-Con politics. For all the talk of freshness and fairness the conference was carefully stage-managed with announcements of new defections timed to coincide with media deadlines. Hopes were high. Among the senior members of Bradford Labour Party there was an air of gloom at what might happen and contempt for the traitors who had brought about the uncertainty.

Constituency Labour Parties and the wards that made up each CLP had been infiltrated by the Corbynistas of their time – activists who wanted to change things, who wanted to make Labour MPs directly accountable to their constituents and who wanted those constituents to have an equal say in the election of the national party leader. Most of them wanted Michael Foot to lead the party rather than former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey. Under Foot, so to speak, they believed the party would win the country for Socialism and kick Margaret Thatcher and her possee of privateering monetarists out of office. Constitutional hard-liners in attitude, they believed that Labour MPs were delegates mandated to carry out the instructions of their CLP, Labour’s National Executive Committee and, of course, the all-important annual party conference – very different then to the tame show-piece affairs they subsequently became. Edwards Lyons thought differently. He said MPs were representatives, not delegates, and as such had the right to make their own judgements on serious policy matters. He denounced what he rather weakly described as “yah-boo politics”, the aggressive, doctrinaire dialectic espoused by those of a more militant tendency.

In March 1981, after more than 30 years in the party, Lyons left Labour’s den and defected to the SDP. For a while the SDP frightened Labour stalwarts and radicals alike. In the summer of 1981 Ken Livingstone, Left-wing leader of the Greater London Council that was, said he could see the Tories vanishing and the SDP becoming the New Right. In April 1988, during an interview with Mr Livingstone, I picked him up on his failed prophecy. He replied: “The projections for the SDP at that time were very favourable. If it hadn’t been for Thatcher’s come-back through the Falklands War, the SDP might have broken through.” Instead, they joined forces with the Liberals to become, after much wrangling, the Liberal Democratic Party. The SDP was dissolved in 1990.

One Labour stalwart who saw the conflict from the inside was Barry Seal, formerly leader of Bradford Council’s Labour Group and for 20 years from 1979 the Yorkshire West Member of the European Parliament. Days before Angela Eagle dropped out of the current Labour leadership race, Dr Seal told me she was just a stalking horse for the real alternative candidate coming up fast on the outside, Owen Smith. Which of the two candidates is he backing to win the leadership and does he think Labour will split as it did on that cold January Sunday in 1981 when the Gang of Four assembled to publish the Limehouse Declaration and announce the creation of the Council for Social Democracy?

Barry Seal, now chairman of Age UK, Leeds, has his money on Jeremy Corbyn. If Owen Smith wins he said he would leave the party after more than 50 years as a member. Although he admits that the divide between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the membership at large is dangerous and may lead to a split of some kind, he believes that the party, like the country, is in need of radical change away from unregulated corporate Capitalism.

He said: “The situation now is similar to 1981 but the big difference is that for 13 years Labour had people like Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair screening the party and changing the make-up of MPs. They pushed Labour more towards the centre to make it a social democratic party where the issue wasn’t the ownership of the means of production but the management of them. Instead of members having a say in policy formulation in ward and constituency parties and the conference, policy forums were set up to discuss ideas passed down by Blair and Mandelson. The present policy forums don’t discuss things from members. Instead of bottom up it’s top down.

“My perspective is that Parliamentary Labour Party members forget the membership who put them there. They are not the same as the membership. They’ve come into politics from university and then working as political research assistants. The majority of the PLP, a lot of them, don’t know what it’s like to have a dead-end job with not enough money to live on.”

The three-pounders who fired Jeremy Corbyn from the obscurity of Labour’s back-benches to the front bench as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, regard him as a democratic socialist, not a social democrat. The difference, as Barry Seal outlined, lies in the ownership and management of the means of production and distribution. A democratic socialist believes that the state should have a controlling interest in fundamentals such as the NHS, power and water supply, transport, housing and education. Social democrats, said Dr Seal, believe in academies, NHS foundation trusts, private finance initiatives and allowing global corporations to own water, power and transport.

He regards Owen Smith as a social democrat because he’s not sure what he stands for. “He’s trying to look as Left as Corbyn but more reasonable in the way he presents things. If he wins I will leave the Labour Party, so will a lot of other people. Under him Labour won’t change, it will become more like the SDP. Corbyn’s opponents say that to win the next general election Labour needs to move to the centre; but I think people are getting fed up with the capitalist system where some people are very rich and others don’t have a job. If Corbyn is confirmed as leader the problem will be with the Parliamentary party. It may split, with a group of MPs declaring UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence); but it won’t necessary split the membership in the country. There would be a battle over the selection of MPs.”

Significant differences between today and 1981 include the role of social media. Thirty-five years ago politics was media driven. Television journalists such as Robin Day, Vincent Hannah, Andrew Rawnsley and Brian Walden, to name but a few, made politics interesting, as did newspaper journalists such as Alan Watkins, Ann Leslie, Polly Toynbee and Peter Jenkins. The public was more engaged in argument; more of them turned out to vote in local and national elections. Today the public dimension has changed out of all recognition. George Galloway, at the Bradford West Parliamentary by-election in 2012, and Jeremy Corbyn in his Labour leadership battle last year, by-passed the usual mass publicity routes with spectacular success. Smart phone technology became the means of organisation and communication, leaving the mainstream media trundling along behind, out of touch and unaware of what was going to happen. More recently, the Brexit Referendum went completely against the expectations of media experts and politicians, mainly because of social media exchanges and blogging.

Barry Seal thinks Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of democratic socialism has broader public appeal than the media allows. “Socialism isn’t communism,” he said. “We had socialism in the post-war Attlee Government which brought in the NHS and the nationalisation of the railways. I used to be regarded as Right-wing in Bradford because I said you couldn’t nationalise everything. You can have small companies running enterprises; but what you can’t have is big corporations running the country’s railways, the water and power industries, the NHS. They can’t be allowed to close down something because it’s not making a big enough profit.”

The turmoil in the Labour Party in the early 1980s sustained the Conservative Party’s grip on power, in spite of its own convulsions over Europe, until 1997 and the age of Tony Blair’s New Labour. Unlike 35 years ago, Labour Party members today, Jeremy Corbyn’s three-pounders, have the means to publicise and assert their wishes and desires irrespective of what the party establishment wants and what well-paid, self-regarding media opinion-formers say. The technology may be unique to this age but rolling dialogue involving friends and strangers is reminiscent of the mid-1840s when the Chartists drew up their six proposals to reform Britain’s Parliamentary democracy. The demands, including secret ballots, payment of MPs, no property qualification for prospective candidates – were the equivalent of Loony Left proposals of the time. However, all but one of them – annual Parliaments – subsequently came to pass.

By Jim Greenhalf

Next week sees the publication of the much-delayed Chilcot Report into the UK’s involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003 to 2009.

There are two aspects to this. The first, how we got involved, is primarily political; the second, what Britain’s armed forces did during those seven years in response to the Islamic insurgency or uprising, is mainly military.

article-2197109-00806128000004B0-665_634x579The course of the war, which led to the Iraqi Government of Nouri al-Maliki telling Britain to withdraw its forces by 2009, is not the concern of Chilcot. However, the failure of Britain’s military campaign and the cost in lives, money and material, was one of the factors which prompted Tony Blair’s successor in 10 Downing Street, Gordon Brown, to commission Privy Councillor Sir John Chilcot to conduct his inquiry.

The inquiry, which has cost more than £10m, was set up to:- ‘Consider the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-in to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned.’

Peter Oborne sums up the importance of the Chilcot Report in the final pages of his new book, Not the Chilcot Report:- “The British people used to trust the British state. This trust is the magnificent legacy of World War Two, when we united in common sacrifice to confront fascism. Ever since then we have regarded our state as ultimately decent and benign…

“This trust was shattered by the Iraq war, and its gruesome aftermath. We have learned that civil servants, spies and politicians could not be trusted to act with integrity and decency and in the national interest. This discovery was shattering because it calls into question the moral basis on which Britain has been governed for the last hundred years or more.

“That is why the Iraq Inquiry matters a great deal. It is the last chance for the British Establishment to show that it can learn the lessons of its failures – and hold those who fail to account. If Sir John Chilcot and his inquiry fail to achieve this, the Iraq Inquiry will be the final proof that our system of government is broken.”

But in striving to strike a resounding note, Oborne appears to have forgotten those shabby instances after World War II when the British people’s trust in the state was shattered: the Anglo-French invasion of the Suez Canal area of Egypt in 1956; John Profumo’s resignation as Secretary of State for War in 1963 after admitting that he had lied to the House of Commons about his relationship with call girl Christine Keeler; and Prime Minister Edward Heath’s explicit public denial in 1972 that membership of the European Common Market (now the EU) would mean the sacrifice of Britain’s independence and sovereignty.

The Iraq Inquiry Is LaunchedWhen political leaders want things to happen irrespective of public opinion, is anyone seriously surprised that they may be economical with the truth? Were this not the case, hanging and conscription would have both been brought back by public demand years ago.

The simple question is this: Who needs the Chilcot Report? Are the families of the 179 British service personnel killed in Iraq – among them Sergeant Robert Stevens, from Shipley, Sergeant Christian Hickey, from Bradford, Captain Guy Philip, from Skipton and Corporal Chris O’Neill, from Halifax – expecting Chilcot to be an improvement on the four reports published to date, including the Hutton Inquiry into the death of weapons inspector David Kelly?

Reg Keys, who contested Tony Blair’s Sedgefield seat in the 2005 General Election following the death of his son Tom in Iraq in July 2003, has already said the war was illegal and that Tony Blair was a war criminal for persuading the House of Commons to vote in favour of it without the explicit approval of the United Nations Security Council. Many people agree with him.

Operation Telic, as the American-led invasion of Iraq was code-named, took the lives of 4, 491 US service personnel, while the Iraq Body Count Project puts the number of civilian dead in the region of 174,355 up to March 2016. The Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimated that by 2008 there were 4.7m Iraqi refugees, while 870,000 children had been orphaned. What is the Chilcot Report to them?

The Inquiry, which was only supposed to last for a year but went on for six, was not a court of law. Criticisms are likely, the finger of blame may be pointed at Prime Minister Blair and his men, as well as senior military figures; but what real difference will be made either to the public’s willingness to trust its leaders or the way we are governed?

“If the Inquiry has done its job, it will have demolished forever the myth that the failure to deal with the Iraq insurgency was entirely the fault of the politicians and that the military was blameless. The Iraq occupation was as much due to military incompetence as it was political inadequacy,” said Dr Richard North, Bradford political analyst and author of Ministry of Defeat: The British War in Iraq 2003-2009.

His book chronicles the failure of the Ministry of Defence and British Army commanders to respond to the realities of the Shia insurgency, one of which was the use of Improvised Explosive Devices against army vehicles more suitable to patrolling urban areas of Northern Ireland than the roads and tracks in Basra, one of four provinces assigned to the British Army.

It wasn’t lack of money, as the public has been led to believe by Ministry of Defence apologists, Dr North maintains; but the misuse of money to procure the wrong equipment for an army being re-modelled to fit the European Union’s proposed multi-national European Rapid Reaction Force.

Those under the age of thirty may be surprised that up until the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair was widely admired for the military action he advocated in the trouble-spots of Kosovo, in the Balkans, and Sierra Leone, West Africa, to prevent massacres. At the time of the invasion opinion was divided. Most who went along with the Government line thought that war was the lesser of two evils. Some, like the late journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, publicly defended the Blair Government’s prosecution of the war against Iraq’s homicidal leader Saddam Hussein.

In the minds of President George W Bush and Prime Minister Blair, Saddam Hussein was the greater evil. Professor Paul Rogers, of Bradford University’s Peace Studies department, smiled mischievously when he reminded me that in the 1980s US President Ronald Reagan described the former USSR as the ‘evil empire’ and less than twenty years later George W Bush tried to frighten the world with his vision of ‘the axis of evil’ – North Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq.

Professor Rogers, who submitted written evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry, said: “I think the Report will be pretty critical of Blair and senior military figures. It may not say that Blair lied. A person may believe something that’s wrong in good faith. Chilcot will make a bit of a difference in that many people think the war was wrong. I don’t think it will be a whitewash. ” Nor does he think it will lead to the dock of the International Criminal Court.

Peter Oborne says plainly that the evidence shows that Tony Blair colluded with the United States to further the agreed strategy of regime change. He and George W Bush did so by maintaining, against the evidence of UN weapons inspectors, that Saddam had stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction and was in league with al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden’s group behind the attacks on the United States on September 9, 2001, which killed almost 3,000 people.

He dismisses as “fantasy” the idea that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was necessary to destroy Saddam Hussein’s links with al Qaeda. Oborne says the notion of such an alliance was “invented to provide some sort of an answer to the question: why are you invading Iraq when you say that the greatest threat to the West is al-Qaeda?

“The pragmatic thing for the US to do after 9/11 was to make peace with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a secular Arab state opposed to al-Qaeda, and with Iran, a Shia state opposed to al-Qaeda – and do what was necessary to force Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state allies to cease providing inspiration to al-Qaeda.

“But, instead, Iran was included in the ‘axis of evil’ and shunned by the US and its allies, and Iraq was invaded and occupied, falsely justified in part on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was one of the architects of 9/11 – and in the process Iraq was transformed from an al-Qaeda free zone into an area where Islamic extremists flourished…Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has continued to inspire al-Qaeda and its offshoots – and continues to be the US’s best friend in the Middle East.”

In his book The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution, Patrick Cockburn says a 2013 study published by the directorate-general for external policies of the European Parliament began by stating: “Saudi Arabia has been a major source of funding to rebel and terrorist organisations since the 1980s.”

One of the documents released by WikiLeaks in December 2009 quotes the-then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton observing: “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan) and other terrorist groups.” In July, 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that 45 per cent of all foreign militants attacking US troops and Iraqi civilians were from Saudi Arabia.

If George W Bush and Tony Blair were truly bent on snuffing out Islamic terrorism in March 2003 to further the Project for the New American Century, they sent their armed forces against the wrong country.

Richard North said: “Iraq was not about 9/11. It was the excuse (for) Bush junior and unfinished business. In terms of sponsorship (of terrorism) Saudi is the key. Ironic that it was used as a base against Iraq for Operation Desert Storm in 1991.” Desert Storm was the US-led military coalition which drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait during the presidency of George W’s father, George Herbert Bush. Evidently, Bush junior had a lot to live up to.

Robert Fisk’s mighty chronicle The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, reminds us of what Bush’s Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said about Weapons of Mass Destruction. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

We are told that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, as Britain did first in Iraq, then Afghanistan, where 453 British service personnel were killed, followed by Libya and latterly Syria.

Perhaps the only lesson governments ever truly learn from its mistakes is how to repeat them – with more expertise.

by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE
by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE

After a long 43 years of niggling the marriage between the Brits and the European Union, it ended last month in divorce. The outcome of the referendum surprisingly tilted in favour of BREXIT. So now we are out of the EU. The BREXIT are jubilant but the immediate after effects appear to be catastrophic.

The Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned. The future of the Labour leader is unsure and hanging in the balance. The value of the pound has dramatically dropped by more than ten per cent which may continue to fall infinitely. The financial market is in turmoil. The ripples of its tumultuousness have been felt globally. Some of the major banks and financial houses are seriously considering to move to France and Germany and the entire future of the EU is in jeopardy.

Our own country is deeply divided across the board and has been plunged into the state of utter confusion and uncertainty. The leaders of political parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have intensified their campaigns for independence. A large number of migrant workers from the EU are faced with expulsion over the next few years and British citizens living and working in Europe will be faced with a similar fate.

Immigration was pivotal to the leave campaign. For over two months, its leaders were constantly engaged in scaring voters about the influx of Eastern European and other immigrants who will ‘take over’ Britain. Disinformation about the cost and benefit analysis was another tactic used to mislead voters. The divisions in the Tory Party created further confusion. The pinch, hurt and humiliation felt by poor voters of Tories austerity policy was blamed on immigrants who are here only to exploit and abuse our welfare system. Hence, the disenchantment with the lower and deprived class grew fast against the European Union.

575531dfc361883a0d8b457bThe euphoria of BREXIT was short-lived. They soon discovered that their lies and innuendoes were realised by many who voted to quit. Several petitions have been organised to ask parliament either to reverse the decision or to hold another referendum. The pressure from the EU leaders is fast increasing to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty for leaving the Union without any delay. BREXIT leaders now seem to be sucked by quagmire.

In fact, the triumph of BREXIT was not earned by them. Sadly it was a triumph of hate, fear, bigotry and jingoism. It was a triumph of growing nationalism and far right politics. It was a triumph of racism and xenophobia. Above all, it was a triumph of venomous and vitriolic politics of Farage and Trump. And this is frightening. It should be worrying for all of us.

This dangerous and divisive mind set has got to be challenged and defeated sooner than later before it rips our society further apart.

Disunited, fractured and economically destabilised, Britain is in desperate need for a leader who can unite the country and help us sail safely through troubled waters. BUT THE QUESTION IS THIS: IS THERE SOME ONE WE CAN RELY ON AND TRUST?

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Bradford Council is warning people they need to be registered in order to take part in the European Union referendum on Thursday, 23 June.

Anyone who isn’t registered by Tuesday, 7 June won’t be able to participate in the referendum to decide on whether Britain will remain in or leave the EU.

People who are already registered do not need to take any action. For example, if you were registered for the recent local council and West Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner elections you are already registered for the referendum.

However, every year a small number of people are turned away at the polling station because they haven’t registered to vote and are not on the Electoral Register.

The Council is urging residents not to leave registration to the last minute.

People can register online at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote or by calling 01274 431360.

Online registration takes as little as 3 minutes. All people need is their name, address, date of birth and National Insurance number.

Bradford district’s Returning Officer, Kersten England, said: “It’s difficult to overstate the importance of taking part in this year’s EU referendum. It is considered to be one of the most important decisions to face Britain in decades.

“The decision will have significant and wide reaching implications for everyone living in the UK.

“I encourage anyone who isn’t currently registered to vote to do so as soon as possible.”

 

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by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE
by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE

Nearly four weeks of my holidays in the village of my birth in the part of Pakistan held Kashmir, the weather has been expectedly fabulous with moderate sunshine and rain. The second week of my stay here in an environment full of natural beauty including a man-made lake was blessed with the company of my close friends and colleagues both locally and from Mirpur and Islamabad. The hide and seek game played by the unpredictable supply of electricity, in this part of the world, has been quite irksome and disturbing, but manageable.

In this age of highly advanced technology in global communication, it has been easy for me to keep myself abreast of some of the important issues and news of the world.

During the last four weeks, in Pakistan, the press and electronic media has been dominated with three main news. Firstly the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab in January 2011, produced massive reaction in all parts of the country. Although Qadri was convicted for murder and terrorism, his funeral was one of the largest ever held in Pakistan. Qadri was nawaz_1860146fawarded the death sentence by an anti-terror court but the judge had to flee the country for the sake of his safety. However after long judicial process, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the lower court. Thus, Qadri was sent to the gallows. The timing of his hanging was decided by the government of Nawaz Sharif with some trepidation due to fear of the reaction the execution may unleash. However, while the media and the government played down with his hanging, his supporters and sympathisers were out to protest in almost all small and large towns and cities of the country. All the religious political parties and clergy closed their ranks and condoned his death and condoned his act of assassination unanimously. Qadri was hailed as a great hero and martyr and the government a stooge of the west. I believe the ideological opposition of Qadri to Salman Taseer’s statements on blasphemy law that prompted him to fire twenty shots to kill him, was the result of his fixed mind on some of his religious beliefs.

He was a product of steady growth of religious extremism and intolerance in Pakistani society over the last three decades.

pervez-musharraf_650_010214013413In the third week of February, the Punjab Government took a bold decision and passed the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill in the Assembly. In the province of Punjab, where in the last five years according to the statistics available with the Punjab Police, a total of 1269 women became victims of “honour killing” and thousands were subjected to rape and domestic violence. In a misogynistic society like Pakistan, the majority of women are subject to retrogressive traditions and customs. The law has been challenged and furiously opposed and condemned by the religious leaders who are labelling the law as anti-Sharia.

The abhorrence of clergy and conservative segments of the country is a manifestation of their desire for the perpetuation of oppressive male domination, using religion as a cloak. The “Mullah Brigade” as mumtaz_hussain_qadri-1usual is spitting venom on all those who are supporting this long overdue legislation to protect the most vulnerable women. The male supporters of the legislation in the Punjab Assembly are described as hen pecked husbands and liberal secular’s hell bent on destroying the fabric of society. The government have yielded to pressures from the religious right and have agreed to consider proposals from religious leadership for possible amendments. But their demand is for scraping the law altogether. Hence, the ball now is in the government’s court.

Nawaz Sharif, ironically, has been closely associated with some Islamist groups and enjoyed their electoral support from time to time in the past. Therefore, despite his bold decision to go ahead with this radical legislation, he is not regarded as the beacon for any real social change or enlightened policies.

The Musharraf saga ended on Friday the 18th of March with no surprises. He was allowed by the government, after his successful appeal to the Supreme Court, to leave Pakistan for medical treatment abroad. He is now in Dubai where he is resting with his family. Many observers believe that he will not return to Pakistan to face his trial on treason charges. But he has insisted that he will come back after few months when his health is fully restored.

The departure of Musharraf has created enormous embarrassment for Sharif’s government. The opposition parties are accusing him of surrendering to Musharraf and letting him go scot free. In the eyes of opposition, his acclaimed resolve for bringing the treason trial of the dictator to its conclusion for strengthening democracy in the country was nothing more than a rhetoric. I believe the decision to let Musharraf leave the country was made collaboratively by the army and Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf had now become a thorn in the back of the army as the possibilities for his conviction were becoming more convincing day by day. The verdict of guilty for Musharraf would have been not easy for the army to stomach and would have put them in the most uncomfortable and uncompromising position. Nawaz Sharif’s administration also realised this forthcoming crisis which perhaps they wanted to avoid at all cost.

Musharraf’s return to Pakistan will be a risky venture for him as long as Sharif is in power. On the other hand, if the establishment offers him a safe return, he may not resist the temptation.

In Pakistan, the action against extremism and terrorism since the devastating attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar, has intensified and things have moved forward in positive directions. But it is difficult to visualise the end result of this resolve of the army.

The government is faced with enormous opposition from religious outfits. They have unanimously ganged up against it. Their demand is for total withdrawal of the Woman Protection Act and apology for Qadri’s execution. These obscurantist groups are preparing themselves for a decisive encounter with Nawaz Sharif’s government. The question is, will the government be able to muster the courage of its conviction and face this challenge fearlessly or will it lose its nerve and submit to their whims?

All the available evidence suggests, however, that in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the religious right and puritans still possess the capacity to incite religious passions and mobilise street power to wreak havoc for any government.

The Panama Papers Leaks, whereas they have shaken many incumbent governments in the world, the Nawaz Sharif government also has been under extreme pressure from opposition parties. The revelations about the alleged investment by his two sons of ill-gotten wealth in the off shore companies abroad and his failure to declare it, have seriously on his moral authority. This has happened when his relationship with the establishment is at a very low ebb. His announcement for a judicial commission to probe the allegations of tax evasion and money laundering has been rejected by all opposition parties. His reluctance to take the parliament into confidence by declaring all of his and his family’s financial interests has made his opponents suspicious of his move for purposing the judicial commission. Mr Nawaz Sharif seems to be faced with a political quandary which he did not expect and now desperate to find safe exit. However, in view of the current politically intensely heated climate in the country, he is faced with two probable choices. Either to go for re-election or resign.

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Following the announcement in the 2016 Budget that all schools will be forced to convert into academies by 2022, Imran Hussain MP questioned the Prime Minister on the plans.

Despite evidence showing that academy status does not increase the educational outcomes in schools, all schools that are currently run by Bradford Council will be forced to convert into academies, regardless of the wishes of the teachers and parents. As part of this process, accountability for the schools will be transferred from the Council to the Department for Education in London, despite the Government’s repeated claims about wishing to transfer more power to the local level.

The plans have been met with criticism from Mr Hussain who denounced them as “plain daft and unnecessary” – echoing former Education Minister Lord Baker – and has claimed that they amount to needlessly altering the structure of schools rather than taking meaningful steps to correct the failings within them, such as addressing low teacher retention rates and providing the funding needed to counter the high rates of deprivation in the district that is holding back educational attainment.

Mr Hussain also questioned why the Government were so willing to disregard the opinions of local parents and teachers, and why they were so willing to put the potential success of the Northern Schools Strategy, which was recently announced at the Budget and set to invest £20 million per year in Northern Schools, at risk.

Speaking on education in Bradford and the academisation plans, Imran Hussain, MP for Bradford East said:

“Efforts to raise educational outcomes in Bradford face considerable challenges with low GCSE scores, a school places shortage and high rates of deprivation in the city, but I do not believe that forcing all schools to become academies, against the wishes of parents and teachers, offers the solution.

“When asked the question of how to improve education, the Government’s answer is to increase the pace of academisation, but ironically for the Department for Education, they are unable to fulfil a requirement of many pupils who are sitting exams and show their working and how they have come to this conclusion.

“Instead of pushing forward with such a divisive plan which has no supportive evidence proving that academy status improves educational outcomes, the Government should instead look at increasing the scope and investment of their recently announced Northern Schools Strategy, and I will be continuing to press the Government to ensure that this strategy, which has the potential to substantially improve education in Bradford, reflects the good practices of the highly successful London Challenge.”

 

By Jim Greenhalf

Panel: David Cameron maintains that the UK would be more prosperous, secure and have greater influence in the world, in the European Union rather than out of it. Those in favour of leaving the EU, don’t have an alternative strategy, the Prime Minister said: “They seem to be making it up as they go along.” Well, there is such a strategy, and it was compiled and written by Bradford political researcher, author and blogger Dr Richard North. JIM GREENHALF reports.

CUTTING the Gordian Knot that binds the UK to the political and economic structures of the European Union would not be a single historic event but a gradual process over several years at least.

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Richard North

That’s why Richard North, beavering away in the book-crammed study of his Wibsey house, called his 420-page strategy FLEXCIT, short for Flexible Exit and Continuous Development. It went online in April last year since when the author calculates that more than 50,000 people have downloaded it from his EUReferendum.com blogsite.

A 48-page summary was published last month (March) by the Leave Alliance, a network of anti-EU campaigners that includes the Bruges Group and the Campaign for an Independent Britain.

“After nine treaties and 40 years of political and economic integration, there can be no clean break. Unravelling in a single step is not going to happen, and certainly not without compromises. This is a point that cannot be made too strongly,” Dr North says in the pamphlet’s introduction.

As one of the few pundits who correctly forecast the outcome of last year’s General Election, Richard North, whose books co-authored with Christopher Booker include the definitive history of the EU – The Great Deception – Richard North challenges the Prime Minister’s ideal of Britain within a reformed EU.

The EU can only be changed by treaty agreement of all 28 member states. International agreements are made on the basis of ‘shared misery’, he added. Favourable treatment for one will be opposed by other member states not in receipt of it, especially if the proposed reforms infringe any of the EU’s four freedoms: freedom of movement of people, capital, goods and services.

Richard North’s FLEXCIT strategy imagines and describes six phases following Britain’s declaration under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the EU.

“First you leave,” he said, summarising the phases for Urban Echo readers. “Negotiations for that take at least two years. Then you sort out immigration, European trade regulations, the policy issues governed by EU law (there are 22,000 EU laws), the global trading matters and finally you address domestic political reform to restore democracy and prevent Parliament from ever again giving away our power as it did in 1973 when we signed up to the European Communities Act.

“The EU’s ambition is to create a new country called the United States of Europe. That’s simply not a direction in which we can travel because there is no mandate for it,” he said.

Leaving the EU means changing a relationship, not ending it, as the FLEXCIT pamphlet makes clear:-

“We are simply travelling separately. This is not isolation but an agreement to do many more of the same things in a different way, all to our mutual advantage.”

by Mohammed Nazir Tabbasum
by Mohammed Nazir Tabbasum

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, Federica Mogherini, head of the EU foreign policy and Javed Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister met in Vienna, the capital of Austria, on January 16 and issued a joint communiqué declaring that a nuclear deal has been reached at between Iran and the world powers after the certification of UN’s international nuclear watchdog IAEA, that Iran has fulfilled all her obligations set forth for her in July last year.

Therefore, a big chunk of sanctions imposed on that country by US, EU and the UN are being lifted. This step will unfreeze Iran’s billions of dollars of assets and allow her to sell its oil in the world market.

The announcement opened the floodgates of joy and happiness for the Iranian masses that have been made scapegoat to suffer more than a decade for none of their faults. Thus, the Iranian foreign minister Javed Zarif commented: “This is a good day for the Iranian people as sanctions will be lifted today.” Soon after the international sanctions were lifted, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said: “Iran has opened a new chapter in its ties with the world”.

90This move was welcomed by most of the countries of the world except Israel that accused Tehran of still seeking to build a nuclear bomb. Strangely enough, Israel was not alone in criticising this deal; she was joined by the holier than the holiest Monarchy of the world Muslims, Saudi Arabia in expressing their dislike. On Tuesday (19/01/16) Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubier said in his exclusive interview to Reuters: “The lifting of sanctions on Iran as a result of its nuclear deal with world powers will be a harmful development if it uses the extra money to fund “nefarious” activities”. While Israel (a Jewish state) and Saudi Arabia (a state which is the fountain head of Islam) are juxtaposed in condemning this deal, it would be interesting to see how Imam of Makkah’s Grand Mosque (an appointee of the SA government) looks at this deal, who tweeted (18-24 January) alleging an “alliance of the Safavids with the Jews and Christians against Muslims”. [Iranians are also known as Safavids].

The way this deal would lift the economic sanctions that were progressively imposed by the US, EU and the UN in response to Iran’s nuclear programme needs elaboration. Sanctions on trade, shipping and insurance are going to be fully lifted by EU. The US would suspend, not terminate, its nuclear-related sanctions, thus allowing Iran now to get reconnected with global banking system. The UN would lift sanctions related to defence and nuclear technology sales, as well as an asset freeze on key individuals and companies. Non-nuclear US sanctions would remain in place, notably the ban on US citizens and companies trading with Iran, and US and EU sanctions on Iranians accused of sponsoring terrorism would also remain in place.

Iran would immediately get $100bn (£70bn) of frozen Iranian assets. It is expected that she would increase its daily export of 101 million barrels of crude oil by half a million barrels shortly and another half a million barrels in future. It is expected that Iran would soon order the Airbus Consortium for purchase of 114 new passenger planes.

President Hassan Rouhani said that everyone was happy with the deal, apart from those he described as war-mongers in the region – Israel and hardliners in the US Congress. “We Iranians have reached out to the world in a sign of friendliness, and leaving behind the enmities, suspicions and plots, have opened a new chapter in the relations of Iran with the world”, he said in a statement on Sunday (17/01/2016) morning. Rouhani added: “The lifting of sanctions was a turning point for Iran’s economy and the country needed to be less reliant on oil revenue.

The only candidate to be credited as the “ARCHITECT” of this deal is John Kerry, the US Secretary of State who, commenting on the deal, said; “It had been pursued with the firm belief that exhausting diplomacy before choosing war is an imperative. And we believe that today marks the benefits of that choice”.

However, it did not go unchallenged from within the United States. The Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Obama administration had moved to lift economic sanctions “on the world’s leading State Sponsor of terrorism”.

This deal, as envisaged quite early, came as a shock to the monarch in Riyadh. They had their first shock in 1979 when Shah of Iran was deposed and replaced by Shia theocracy of Ayatollah Khomeini and other clerics of similar description who started crying hoarse that there is no place of monarchy in Islam. In a recent exclusive interview to Reuters, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubier was asked if Saudi Arabia discussed seeking nuclear bomb in the event Iran managed to obtain one despite its atomic deal. He said Saudi Arabia would do “whatever it needs to do in order to protect our people”. Where Saudi Arabia can look to seek an atomic device? Nowhere except Pakistan. Thus, Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif, without wasting any time, came to Riyadh along with his army chief to console and comfort their erstwhile benefactor. They could not stop short of pronouncing their support in case of any defence-related eventuality. In an apparent equalising gesture they did visit Tehran also to clarify the reconciliatory nature of their visit.

Both Tehran and Riyadh are theocratic states, the former ruled by a Council of Shia Elders without whose clearance no one can contest election; the latter is ruled by House of Saud dynasty but their home affairs are run by the clerics who profess Wahabi / Salafi Islam as opposed to that of Shia clerics of Iran. There is a worst human rights record in both the countries. The women are treated worst in both the countries

Following the Prime Minister’s comments on Radio 4, Bradford East’s MP and Shadow International Development Minister, Imran Hussain, demanded that he apologise for linking extremism with poor English language skills.

The Prime Minister made the comments linking extremism amongst Muslims in the UK to a lack of English language skills whilst on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning as part of his announcement to make £20 million of funding available to teach English to Muslim women, and they were immediately denounced by Mr Hussain and other Labour MPs who claimed that they promoted divisive language and alienated the Muslim community.

The announcement on funding and the proposed sanction in the policy has also come under attack by Mr Hussain who has decried the Prime Minister’s intention to deport those who fail English language tests, labelling the decision as ‘absurd’ in light of the Prime Minister cutting funding for ESOL courses designed to increase English proficiency whilst in Government and withdrawing ESOL mandated funding in July last year.

Speaking on the Prime Ministers’ announcement this morning, Bradford East MP, Imran Hussain said:

“Whilst I support to some degree the Prime Minister’s announcement to set aside £20 million to help teach English language skills, I believe that the funding should be there for all communities. However rather than offering sensible solutions to problems that affect non-English speakers of all faiths, the Prime Minister has revealed his true discriminatory and divisive nature, and I would also have been more supportive had the announcement not come from a Government who have already gone about slashing ESOL funding through massive cuts and withdrawing ESOL mandated funding which was established to improve English language skills.

“It is therefore the height of absurdity that whilst the Prime Minister is taking funding from ESOL courses with one hand, he is showing those who fail English language tests the door with the other by threatening them with deportation. This proposed sanction is entirely disproportionate and will not help provide for greater and more cohesive integration, and instead, those with limited English skills should not be coerced into English language classes with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads if they fail, but should be persuaded into them by the many benefits, economic, cultural and social, of extending their English language skills, with the necessary funding available to do so.

“In addition, whilst the Prime Minister is indeed right to talk about tackling discrimination, empowering women and increasing English language skills, by making utterly outrageous and unsupported claims in the process that allude to a belief that a lack of English language skills can drive Muslim women to radicalisation, he has harmed his own cause and has yet again further stigmatised Muslims, and in doing so has both antagonised and alienated communities. There is absolutely no evidence to support this view and it is extremely damaging behaviour from a Prime Minister. I hope that he now either produces evidence to back up his comments or he immediately withdraws them.”

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