Saturday, August 19, 2017
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UK and Europe
News and politics from around Europe and Great Britain.

by Nazir Tabassum

It is very clear now that Mrs May, the Prime Minister of the UK, is now nominally in charge, destitute of any real power. Certain figures among her party are intending to place their hand on the off switch; however, it is being watched when they do so.

So far, two successive Conservative leaders have gambled their majorities; David Cameron on a Brexit referendum for which he was woefully unprepared, and then Theresa May on the snap elections for which neither the country nor her party was prepared.

Kate Maltby, writer and critic, says: “My Tory party has gambled away its reputation. It needs more than a new leader.”

Thus, there is every likelihood that the Prime Minister may face a coupe attempt by some Tory MPs in the autumn season. She is so weakened now that she can hardly afford to sack any senior cabinet figure for fear of triggering a leadership challenge.

It seems that the Conservatives are now a house of cards. The infighting is no more encrypted; it is all evident. The battling of allies of the stalwarts like Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson and David Davis from arguments around the cabinet table, have now moved to the open warfare at Westminster summer garden party.

Efforts are being made by the senior Conservatives to downplay the split and infighting labelling it as a result of the “too much warm prosecco”, which is doubtless an insult to the voters’ intelligence.

Why all this? The answer is very well known. The contest for leadership is afoot, as well as, for the nature of Brexit. In this backdrop, Mrs May, enfeebled politically, shorn off of authority, is incapable of reasserting discipline in the party after her election disaster.

Philip Hammond is being targeted on account of negative briefing for he is against hard Brexit. Moreover, he is adamant on maintaining fiscal discipline. His adversaries label him as a stooge of the establishment who can go the extent of ignoring the Brexit results. Therefore, he is being embarrassed on account of his statements about “public sector workers being overpaid, and that, even women can drive trains”.

Negative briefing against each other has become quite common in the Conservative party which is now a house of cards. A senior Tory has blamed Michael Gove, the environment secretary, and, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, for being involved in briefing against Philip Hammond. This senior Tory says: “They are so obsessed with hard Brexit that they are prepared to run the economy off the cliff; they don’t like the fact Philip is pointing out that we will deservedly lose the next election if we do that.”

Philip Hammond is under attack from within his party. There are some who try to undermine him in an endeavour to safeguard Brexit; others detest him as a potential rival for the keys to No. 10.

Another scene of this long Tory play is focused on Boris Johnson and David Davis. Both of them are inwardly hungry for the top job but outwardly pose as if they are the guardians of Brexit vote. Someone has remarked that the elevation of David Davis to Brexit Secretary was like inviting an untrained terrier into the chicken coop.

But the stories of bad blood between Boris and Davis are in circulation. Sunday Times reported the brawl between the two that took place at the Spectator summer party where they behaved “like a pair of rutting stags”. David provoked Johnson over his “failure” to keep his sister Rachel from defecting to Liberal Democrats. Their allies threatened kicking each other in the balls if they did not stop briefing against each other.

There are others who are less ambitious; they think that their interest will be best served if Theresa May stays in the Downing Street. One of such Tories told the Telegraph: “What’s really going on is that the establishment, the treasury, is trying to …. it up. They want to frustrate Brexit. This is a critical moment. That’s why we have to keep Theresa May. Otherwise, the whole thing will fall apart”.

In the Conservative party, Boris Johnson and David Davis are these days viewed as big snarling beasts who are making most of the noise.

Ambition for leadership is not restricted to them only. There are many more who dream of moving into No. 10 by a stroke of luck or a good chance. These include Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, Jeremy Hunt, Justin Greening, Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom.

Then there is a second tier of junior ministers and a third tier of back benchers, who are waiting in the wings until their profiles are improved. When the inevitable leadership contest of the Conservative party start, they too will declare their interests.

In the meanwhile, negative briefing and counter briefing goes on ceaselessly as a part of phony war for the leadership. A campaign to work out their supports in case of any eventuality is also going on side by side. Allies of David Davis are making catalogue of their supporters.

An interesting aspect of this “House of Cards” is that many a Tory MP’s are worried as they are desperate to avoid another election for the fear that Jeremy Corbyn may not win.


by Nazir Tabassum
While on holiday in Wales, the idea flashed to the mind of the British Prime Minister Mrs Theresa May that a few more seats added to her basket would make her position strong when she will sit across the negotiating table in Brussels to deal Brexit.

This idea was further strengthened as she considered Labour party in disarray and its Leader still not able to get his leadership established by the dissenters of the party. Her two advisors, now removed unceremoniously, further led her into a make belief situation and as a result, one fine morning, as she woke up from deep, dreamy and peaceful slumber, she came out of the 10 Downing Street where media people were already waiting, she surprised everyone present by announcing snap elections.

At that time, she had a majority of 13 seats in the commons. She never knew that dreams rarely come true. She was also unmindful of the fact that most of the dreams turn out to be deceptive in the real life and thus become nightmares. And the same happened. So, when she got up once again on the Friday morning of June 9, she had lost majority and could win just 318 seats, 326 is required to form majority government. In this way, her plan to make her position strong in Brexit negotiation simply backfired.

The election results were highly encouraging for the Labour party; they bagged 262 seats but these elections proved beyond any doubt that Jeremy Corbyn is a man of parts having skilful leadership qualities. All of his adversaries as well as the dissenters in the party were led to the practical belief that paying lip service to the tabloids and going against the Labour ideals is not the mantra to win elections.

Before going any further, the election results at a glance: Tories – 318; Labour – 262; SNP – 35 (losing 21); others -23. Grandies like Alex Salmon, Angus Robertson, and Nick Clegg were toppled over.

There was nothing for Mrs May except to cut a sorry figure for the loss of majority that she had and for her former colleagues who lost their seats and became jobless. Though the election results were a disaster for Mrs May, yet she clings with power and to stay in power she is obliged to beg support from DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) of Northern Ireland with 10 seats. In this way, her hopes to boost her mandate for Brexit negotiation were dashed. And now her minority government is dependent upon 10 DUP members to pass any piece of legislation in the Parliament.

She failed miserably to deliver a resounding victory for the Conservative party. In spite of all that, her decision to cling to power has instigated widespread condemnation not only by her colleagues in the House but also by Jeremy Corbyn who has demanded her to resign. On the floor of the House he said:

“We are not an opposition; we are a Government-in-Waiting”.

Apart from that, there were demonstrations in which the majority of the participants were young people who clanged in and around Downing Street raising slogans demanding her resignation. Now Mrs May is isolated by her cabinet with big Tory MPs like Boris Johnson, and Amber Rudd conspicuously absent from the airwaves in the aftermath of the election results. Boris, as he was previously, is Foreign Secretary; Amber Rudd, Home Secretary; Sir Michael Fallon Defence Secretary; Philip Hammond Chancellor of the Exchequer; David Davis seen prominently in Brussels is Brexit Secretary.

It is interesting to note what she said to the Queen as she met her in Buckingham Palace, asking permission to form the minority government:

“What the country needs more than ever is certainty and having secured the largest number of votes and greatest number of seats in the General election, it is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that certainty by commanding a majority in the House of Commons.”

She further said: “Her minority administration will guide the country through the crucial Brexit talks that begin in just 10 days.”

DUP leader, Arlene Foster said: DUP’s backing for the Conservative was far from a done deal as she only said she would talk to Mrs May to try and find a way forward. I’m informed deal is done; the parliamentary arithmetic of the situation will mean Mrs May will face an almighty struggle to pursue the policies set out in the Conservative manifesto.

Now, what is clear as day light, is that if a handful of Conservative MPs desert the party on key votes, Mrs May’s plans would be left in tatters. This is the basis on which Mr Corbyn urged the Prime Minister to resign; she “should go and make way for a government that is truly representative of this country.” Not only Mr Corbyn but senior Conservative members too suggested she should consider her position.

Adding salt to the injury, George Osborn, the sacked former Chancellor, now editor of the Evening Standard, while talking to ITV, said: He doubts whether the PM can “survive” in the long term as Conservative party leader.

The “hard Brexit” on which she based her future politics is now crumbling as Donald Tusk, President of the EU Council, said in a letter to Mrs May: there is now “no time to lose” on Brexit negotiations after other senior figures suggested talks be delayed.

Conservatives, more so their leader, had to face further humiliation when Ben Gummer, the architect of Tory manifesto, and Jane Ellison, financial secretary of the treasury, lost their seats. As opposed to that, Labour performed much better than expected with Mr Corbyn announcing he was ready to form the government. Speaking from the Labour party headquarters, he said: “I think it is pretty clear who won this election. We are ready to do everything we can to put our programme into operation. There isn’t a parliamentary majority for anybody at the present time, the party that has lost election is the Tory party, the arguments the Conservative party put forward in this election, have lost.”

Tim Farren, the Lib Dem leader said: If Mrs May had an “ounce of self-respect, she should resign”. Paul Nuttal, UKip, after losing from Bostan and Skegness, has resigned as leader. Big hopes are being pinned to Mrs May at a time when she has not yet comfortably settled at the head of her new government. The leader of the Scottish Conservative party, Ruth Davidson, herself a gay, says she has received assurances from the PM over gay rights should the Tories do a deal with DUP.

Such is the scenario of uncertainty in the wake of Mrs Theresa May’s search for certainty. Therefore, we are left with no alternative at the moment to wait and see which way the wind blows.

by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE
by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE
Theresa May’s sudden decision to hold a snap election on 8 June 2017 surprised many political observers and politicians. She said ‘I have taken this decision as Britain needed stability and strong leadership following the EU referendum.’ Last month, the Parliament endorsed her decision with more than a two third majority which was required under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

Generally snap elections are called by the incumbent at an advantageous time when they believe the political climate is in their favour. And usually to capitalise on such a favourable opportunity to increase their majority to decide any pressing issues. For Theresa May, the current most pressing issue, of course, is BREXIT. On the one hand she is faced with the internal rift within her party. The far-right MPs who are pro-hard BREXIT want to sever links with Europe and to ensure the implementation of a strict immigration and refugee policy.

Ms May seems to have caved into the ultra-right threats. Also the investigation of twenty MPs from her party over the last elections’ expenses is very serious and if the allegations against them are proved, they could be disqualified. In view of these difficulties and the current thin majority of only ten of her party in the parliament, she believes it may not be possible for her government to carry on effectively and even be faced with a no vote of confidence. Hence, she has taken a calculated risk of going for a snap-election.

A glimpse of what is likely to dominate the election is mirrored in the daily headlines of our national newspapers. The flagship for Tories is BREXIT. Therefore, their strategy is to keep voters mainly occupied with this issue and create the impression that Theresa May will be a strong and unassailable leader to successfully conclude the negotiations for BREXIT. This sort of tactic may divert the attention of voters from the irreparable damage and influence the UKIP supporters to vote for the Tories. Interestingly very little emphasis is placed on social and economic problems facing the country.

Jeremy-Corbyn-Theresa-May-Brexit-YouGov-poll-Article-50-Len-McCluskey-785174The Labour Party has presented the voters with its ten point’s plan that embraces mainly its policy on social, economic and health, housing and education. It also aims to raise the minimum wage, the tax on wealthy and re-nationalisation of railways. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been a target for the media and Tory Party from the first day of his successful bid for leadership. He has been consistently smeared, vilified and at worse described as a security risk for the country. He has been tainted as incapable of leading the party. His enemies within the Labour Party have refused to accept him as their leader and yet despite all such odds, he has not only survived but steadily increased his popularity.

The former Labour Prime Minster and Leader of the Party, Tony Blair has publicly said that even Labour voters should consider seriously to support the Liberal Democrat and Tory candidates who are against hard –BREXIT. His statement is another thin end of the wedge into already fragile unity of the party.

One of the most critical aspects of Labour policies is its defence and the controversial future of Trident. The Labour Party have to be transparent and unambiguous on the policy to allay suspicions and confusion. However, the position on BREXIT is gradually being clarified and explained to the public.

Seven years of Tory rule and its policy of austerity has broken the back of the poor and lower middle class families. The National Health Service has been forced to its near collapse. Massive cuts in public services have crippled the ability of local councils to provide essential services.

The education of our children is in disarray. The disabled citizens are facing extreme hardship. Homelessness in recent years has rapidly increased. Even begging has become more visible in the centres of our cities. Such are the dire side effects of austerity on the lives of poor and unemployed people. The systematic tendency for social and economic inequality, in Britain, that is rooted in its institutional structures has been reinforced in the last seven years of Tory reign. Such structures of systematic inequality and increased poverty are counter-posed to the very idea of the social justice.

What else can we expect from this flawed and lopsided paradigm? Ms May, under the irresistible pressure from the far-right is refusing to accept refugees from Syria for whose plight to flee their country, we have share of our responsibility too.

The Liberal Democrat Party is hoping to capture the Remain vote as its main election focus is on Remain. Since the party is free from the shackles of coalition with the Tories, it expects to lure the Remain voters across the board. This could prove to be a false hope. However, they may increase their seats in their heartlands.

It is difficult to make any predictions about the outcome of snap-elections and particularly the election on June 8 is exceptional. The major focus of all mainstream parties is on BREXIT. During referendum and even now, the country is divided right in the middle. About 52 per cent of electorate who then supported BREXIT were from all major political parties of the land.

It is assumed that of this number, a good percentage may no longer be willing to support BREXIT. These apologists now may switch their allegiance to pro-soft or pro-Remain parties. If this hypothesis comes true, the Tories might lose a significant segment of these voters which could be a gain for the Lib Dems. It is envisaged that Labour’s support in large cities of the Midlands and North may remain undisturbed. But most importantly, both Labour and the Tories have to reclaim their share of votes in Scotland. The failure to achieve this target will have a decisive impact on the overall results of the election. A greater proportion of young and ethnic voters are traditional supporters of Labour whereas the older population may continue to be loyal to the Tories. However, one must not ignore to recognise that there is a strand of strong anti-government sentiments deriving from the shoddy treatment of the disabled and slow bleeding demise the National Health Service and massive cuts in public services which may tilt the scale in favour of Labour.

One should not rely on daily results of opinion polls. They have proved to be wrong in the recent past, both during the referendum in our country and elections in America. The current election is different to past general elections in Britain. It is not only about the national issues. The main plank used by the Tories is BREXIT.

Snap elections are always fraught with uncertainties and risks. The last such election was called by Edward Heath in 1974 in order to get a mandate to face down the miners’ strike. It resulted in a hung Parliament in which Labour won more seats by a narrow margin. Heath resigned and was replaced by Harold Wilson. It would not be a miracle if history repeats itself!

Editors note: This article was written before the publication of the parties manifesto

The most important national issue of our time – how do we create a country in which economic growth enables the many ‘people who are just about managing’ to feel more economically secure in life, not only across the Northern Powerhouse but across the country – is being debated by leading thinkers and decision makers in Bradford in March.

Theresa May declared on becoming Prime Minister in the context of the Brexit vote: “We will strive to make Britain a country that works for everyone, regardless of who they are, regardless of where they’re from.”

‘Making Inclusive Growth a Reality’ is an RSA Inclusive Growth Commission conference, hosted in Bradford on 6 March, facilitated by Mark Easton, BBC Home Editor and attracting keynote speakers Andrew Percy MP, Northern Powerhouse Minister and Stephanie Flanders, Managing Director of J P Morgan Asset Management and Chair of the Inclusive Growth Commission.

Pioneering work on inclusive growth, led by local authorities working in partnership with business and community partners, across the Leeds City Region will be showcased.

The Bradford event follows a year-long national inquiry to identify practical ways to make local economies across the UK more economically inclusive and prosperous. It will launch the Inclusive Growth Commission’s ‘how to guide’ which recognises that it is the leaders, businesses and citizens of regional cities and towns that will play the critical role in securing the conditions for economic growth and social inclusion.

On the back of the Bradford conference, the inquiry will publish its final report of recommendations the next day. This is expected to cover areas such as social and physical infrastructure investment, place-based industrial strategies, inclusive devolution and proposals for measuring ‘quality GVA.’

Three West Yorkshire council leaders, Coun Susan Hinchcliffe from Bradford, Coun Judith Blake from Leeds and Coun Peter Box from Wakefield, will speak about how their councils have been in the forefront of developing pioneering initiatives to try and make sure economic growth benefits everybody in their cities.

Bradford Council Leader, Coun Susan Hinchcliffe, said: “I’ll be pleased to welcome the Northern Powerhouse Minister once more and I’m glad that Bradford has been chosen as the national host of this important event.

“Bradford is exactly the right place for it. Government needs to back big cities like Bradford which has massive potential but which has been overlooked when it comes to Government investment for years. In Bradford we need decision-makers to take note of the report’s recommendations and turn them into action.

“Leeds City Region is already making inroads into securing decent jobs and providing the right skills for the local population. We want to build on all that work which will further boost the prosperity of the area.”

Case studies will be profiled at the event demonstrating the progress so far, and attendees will also be able to hear from businesses and residents from the region who will describe their experiences of inclusive economic growth.

Charlotte Aldritt, Director of the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission, said: “The ‘How to guide’ is an important milestone for the Inclusive Growth commission.

“It demonstrates the importance of key leaders in local government, businesses and the third sector working together to tackle challenges and mobilise resources in order to bring quality jobs to a region.”


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.


By Jim Greenhalf

Last month’s Chilcot Report into Britain’s part in the invasion and occupation of Iraq comprehensively rejected the explanations offered by former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. It confirmed that Britain’s role in America’s ‘War on terror’ was an error of judgement.

The conclusions published by Sir John Chilcot’s committee of inquiry included the following points:-

. Peaceful disarmament options had not been fully exhausted by March 2003. Contrary to Mr Blair’s assertions in the House of Commons, Saddam Hussein possessed no chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction. There was no imminent threat to the west from Iraq’s president.

. UK intelligence failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that these weapons existed. United Nations’ weapons inspectors conducted 700 searches in 500 places and did not find evidence of WMD.

. The consequences of Invading and occupying Iraq were under-estimated. Mr Blair over-estimated his ability to influence America’s President George W Bush. The UK is not required to give the United States unconditional support whenever it asks.

. Memos published in the report reveal that Mr Blair several times told President Bush that public opinion in the UK and Europe was not in favour of regime change military action. Mr Blair confided that he could lose the support of “half of the EU”; nevertheless he despatched 45,000 British troops to Iraq as part of the American-led coalition. He also told President Bush that if the Iraq venture failed the whole region would “fall apart”.

Interestingly, these and many other points and can be found in a book published before Chilcot called Irregular War: Isis and the New Threat from the Margins. Compiled and written by Professor Paul Rogers, of Bradford University’s Peace Studies department, the 218-page book is part historical chronicle and part analysis. It is a timely reminder that all actions have consequences, usually unforeseen. This is especially the case with UK politicians who, against their better judgement, allow themselves to get carried away by the idea of Britain’s allegedly special relationship with the United States.

The book also has a proselytising purpose. This is evident here and there throughout the six chapters leading up to the final two in which Prof Rogers re-states his case. This is that unless the West urgently reforms its unregulated free market economics of the past 30 years, embraces more sustainable environmental policies and alternative energy sources, and finds another way of dealing with global terrorism other than by heavy-handed military action, much of the world will be in grave danger of catastrophe by 2045. Not so much Apocalypse Now but in the near future.

However, this Doomsday scenario does scant justice either to the book’s subject range or to the writing style of its author. Prof Rogers, a personable man who lives in Holmfirth, who has a small-holding and enjoys church bell-ringing, is more upbeat about the world’s capacity for and capability of resilience.

In the last of the book’s eight chapters, A Possible Peace, he reflects briefly on his career, saying: “When dealing with such subjects – potential nuclear annihilation, terrorism and political violence – over a long period (the best part of 40 years in my case), one has three options: drink, suicide or optimism. I don’t drink (much) and have not so far felt suicidal, so I must have chosen optimism, even if that optimism has been a little misguided at times.”

In retrospect my support and sympathy for Tony Blair thirteen years ago was also misguided. The same might be said of America’s policy of channelling hundreds of millions of dollars and weapons of massive destruction through Pakistan to supply the Mujahidin in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union’s invading Red Army in the 1980s.

Anyone not aware of this recent history could do worse than watch the Tom Hanks movie Charlie Wilson’s War. Based on the real-life Texan Senator and committed anti-communist Charlie Wilson, the film celebrates America’s part in funding, equipping and training tribal Muslim fighters in this irregular war against the USSR. The irregulars won. But the long-term repercussions for the West were severe. “We fucked up the end-game,” the real Charlie Wilson said later.

Paul Rogers provides a masterly and important summary: “This long conflict lasted from 1980 to 1988 and was very much part of the Cold War environment. As such, it developed into a proxy war between East and West…In the latter part of the war foreign fighters , including Osama bin Laden and his associate Ayman al-Zawahiri, formed a small but significant part of the revolt, backed by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) and the CIA.

“By the end of the decade the Soviets had gone, and bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and others formed al-Qaeda (meaning the ‘Base’), which would take the idea of an Islamist sharia caliphate out beyond Afghanistan. During the 1990s bin Laden and his followers moved from Saud Arabia to Sudan and then back to Afghanistan, this time to aid the Taliban (‘student’) movement fighting the Northern Alliance warlords in a bitter civil war for control of the country.

“By the end of the 1990s, al-Qaeda had the features of a small transnational revolutionary movement, and was unusual in that it was rooted not in political ideology, ethnicity or nationalism but in religious identity…

“Looking beyond the earthly life, the eschatological element of al-Qaeda culture meant, and still means, that revolutionary change may be measured in many decades, if not a century or more. Recognising this is fundamental to understanding the persistence of al-Qaeda and other movements, including ISIS, but it is perhaps the one element in the Islamist outlook that has been least appreciated by Western analysts used to operating on a much shorter political timescale.”

In this respect George W Bush’s New American Century was extremely parochial in its world view. His ‘War on Terror’ against the ‘Axis of Evil’, compelling to some at the time, now look like titles of Austin Powers films rather than serious foreign policy. Against the Towering Inferno reality of the attacks on the World Trade Center that might seem flippant. Paul Rogers does not make such remarks himself. On the contrary, he frequently re-states the physical shock of 9/11, as the aerial attacks were seen virtually live on television world-wide.

What drives educated young men, as the 9/11 kamikaze killers were, to do such things? Israel and the plight of Palestinians provide only one answer; there are others. According to Prof Rogers the economic and social marginalisation of billions of people, from Afghanistan to Africa, is perhaps the most obvious. These are not the people without any hope at all, but those who subsist on or just above the poverty line of a few dollars a day. These are the people whose expectations are frustrated, either by autocratic rulers or by free market economics which benefit only the few.

Iraq blew up in the faces of the US coalition because the conquerors allowed the country’s social, economic and law enforcement infrastructure to degrade. As Chilcot found, neither the Americans nor the British prepared sufficiently for the aftermath of the invasion. There was no equivalent of The Marshall Plan that repaired Western Europe after World War 2. The treatment of Iraqis by triumphant US soldiers quickly withered the welcome that had greeted them. The liberators became vilified as invaders. Armed resistance followed. Those taking part in the insurgency against America’s finest had gained knowledge and experience from the irregular warfare against communists in Afghanistan. What happened in Iraq from 2006 became the template for other insurgencies elsewhere and horrors such as the Ramadan bombing in Baghdad which killed 250 people. Another of the consequences remains the millions of refugees pouring out of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Africa where al-Qaeda and ISIS offshoots operate. Refugee camps may prove to be academies for a future generation of the disenfranchised and dispossessed.

“Whatever happens in the coming months and years, and whether ISIS thrives, just survives or declines, the conditions remain for other movements to arise from anywhere across North Africa, the Middle East or South East Asia. The lessons of three failed wars, with a fourth now in progress, are clear, and yet the belief still persists in clear-cut military solutions. Altering this deeply embedded attitude will be singularly difficult, even more so than changing economic thinking or responding to climate change, but has to be done,” Paul Rogers writes.

Just as Chilcot recommends that Britain learns the lessons of its failed military adventure in Iraq, Prof Rogers says the extent of these failures in Iraq and elsewhere, in Afghanistan Syria, Libya, has to be analysed in detail and the implications argued for forcefully and repeatedly. The most obvious of these, at least to me, is Britain’s docile willingness to be America’s poodle. If nothing else the dubious War on Terror should tell us that the time has come to free ourselves from the leash of the so-called ‘special relationship’ with the United States, which seems to come down to us doing whatever they ask. After 43 years we are freeing ourselves from the choke-chain of the EU; time to do likewise with the land of the star-spangled banner. The New American Century ethos of the past 30 years has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, mainly civilian, and many billions of dollars.

Paul Rogers could be depressed about the future: doing something about the circumstances that give rise to terror groups like ISIS is one thing; dealing with the murderous day-to-day reality is another. But Prof Rogers is optimistic. “For nearly a decade and a half, until around 1990, my research on international security focused on nuclear issues and the very real risk of what was called, in an anodyne phrase, a ‘central nuclear exchange’. If a global nuclear war had been fought, hundreds of millions would have died, and perhaps billions in the years that followed, and yet the two power blocs prepared and trained for just such a conflict.

“In the early 1980s the risk was real and we now know that we were lucky on several occasions to avoid a global catastrophe. Yet catastrophe was avoided, and while we still face serious problems, these do not include worldwide nuclear disaster…The next two decades are likely to prove pivotal in avoiding an unstable and insecure world, but there is immense potential for positive change and huge possibilities.”

. Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat From the Margins is published by I.B. Tauris.

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?

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.

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 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

by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE
by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE

A few years ago during a brief discourse over a cup of coffee in my house with one of the most prominent Indian film directors, Mr Mahesh Bhatt, on the subject of the British Muslim community, he asked me how do I feel as a British Muslim in Britain after the 9/11 and7/7 terrorist attacks in New York and London? After a pause I said: “In the sixties and seventies I was a black young man, in the eighties I was an Asian, in the nineties I became to be known as a Muslim and in the beginning of the 21st century, I am a terrorist.”

Sadly this perception of Muslims residing in Europe and America has become so strong that it is frequently used as a popular propaganda weapon against the whole Muslim community to denigrate and demonise it. Some politicians and sections of the media have harboured and spread it to increase their rating and popularity. Even the moderate and liberal Muslims who attempt to defend themselves against the evils of terrorism, are silenced with the popular slogan “you are all the bloody same.” Hence, Muslim bashing has become a vogue in the western world. Donald Trump, the hopeful presidential candidate for America has recently vouched for the ban on Muslims’ entry to the USA. Also during many of his rallies, he has continued to ridicule the entire Muslim community and some of his staunch supporters at his rallies have chanted and shouted that, ‘every Muslim is a Satan and we don’t want them in America.’

100504277_cameroncu_249431bIn Britain, our very own Prime Minister Mr David Cameron, last month [January 2016] announced in Leeds that those Muslim women who can’t speak English will be helped by the government to learn the language. This initiative was welcomed by the community across the board. They appreciated the benefits that could accrue from this scheme, particularly for promoting social interaction and increased autonomy of Muslim females. However, Mr Cameron also delivered a warning that there could be great risk in some of these women to turn to extremism and terrorism if they fail to learn the language and if they fail to pass the language test, they will be deported to their countries of origin.

This part of Mr Cameron’s announcement is not only bereft of his political prudence and judgement and his naivety of ground realities, but it is manifestation of his true inner feelings about the Muslim community. His belief in the link between the inability to speak English language and extremism is incredible. It is a well-known fact that all those apprehended and convicted of their involvement in radicalisation and terrorism to date are all born, bred and educated in the UK. The cruellest irony here of his double talk is the depiction of Muslims as a negative and dangerous entity of British society.

His government’s policy of targeting a particular community for learning the language could be legally challenged.

The most important areas in which social interaction and cohesion can be promoted are our schools, neighbourhoods and work places. All successive governments have criminally failed to pay any serious heed to address this question. Almost all schools in the inner areas of our cities and towns with preponderance of Muslim population are ghettoised. Hardly any white face in these schools are visible. The situation in terms of neighbourhoods and work places is no different from schools. For the government, it seems to be an easy escape to offer cosmetics and yet gain national and international publicity. This is political hypocrisy at its height!

Unfortunately, the government and its leaders are too engrossed in playing power games and to outbid each other on restricting immigration and potential domestic ‘unrest’. They don’t realise that by diverting people’s attention from real issues of poverty and social injustice, they are engaging their minds in an unhelpful polarisation, the consequences of which could not be beneficial for society as a whole.

To single out the Muslims and casting on them constant aspersions and to demand that they should police their homes, neighbourhoods and communities for potential extremists and terrorists, is indicative of not trusting their loyalty as British citizens. Additionally, this kind of approach can entrench their feelings of victimisation. A community that already is beleaguered and under surveillance by our educational institutions, local authorities, police and other security agencies, can no longer afford any more pressures and demands.

To push them to a position of guilt is akin to drive them to the precipice. We have to be seriously mindful of the spill overs of such a policy.

The Muslim community is faced with many challenges. The biggest challenge is for its religious and political leaders to encourage mainstreaming and integrating with the indigenous communities.

No one denies that there is a tiny minority of Muslim youth who pose potential danger to our security and we must counter them without any reservations and extend our full cooperation to our security forces. The dangerous radicalism of a few young Muslim has finally become a frightening reality. But this should not mean that we punish the entire community.

The rising tides of extremism and terrorism are a deadly combination of historical wrongs and the havoc wreaked by hastily cooked up wars. Without addressing the source and the underlying causes of this ever growing evil of radicalism and terrorism, you cannot bring peace to the world. Mr Cameron should seriously consider to pursue a noble role of a peace maker and leave a legacy of which Britons can be proud of, rather than attempting to win political scores by abandoning the “core British values.”

The author is the former Lord Mayor of Bradford, Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE