Friday, January 29, 2010

Is the Second Iraq War Resolution question really so relevant? 

Yes it is important that we get answers from Blair and others on the ‘Second UN Resolution’ fiasco. Even with a second resolution however backing the Iraq war was still wrong – in the famous phrase ‘worse than a crime, a blunder’.

In a sense we in this party have been let off the war hook because we could oppose the attack on legal grounds and gain essential party unity on that basis for our public advice. Would we have been so firm if we had had to oppose on the grounds that it was a stupid and wrong thing to do even if ‘legalised’?

By relying on the (lack of) UN votes to delegitimise the attack we are relying on the better political judgement of other countries representatives who prevented such a vote. It would have been more honourable to campaign against the taking of the vote and advising for a NO vote if it was eventually presented.

For my part I would have opposed the Iraq war whatever position the party took. But then I opposed the 2001 Afghan attack also.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti - The possible explosive political fallout in neighbouring Dominican Republic 

With all the attention on Haiti and what needs to be done there, a quick thought on the situation in the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbour on the island of Hispaniola.

To illustrate the possible political fallouts, see this November 2009 online article entitled “France, US, Canada aim to unify Dominican Republic and Haiti”. That reports a statement by the an influential member of the Dominican Republic ruling party, Professor Euclides Gutiérrez . In brief, he claims that for decades people like (former US president) Bill Clinton and (Former French president) Jacques Chirac have tried to get the Dominican Republic to merge with Haiti and thus manage its problems. One online comment on this (before the earthquake) says there are ‘already’ two million Haitians in the Dominican Republic and ‘it is time to strike back’.

If the Dominican incarnations of the S*n and the D*ily Wail start peddling the line that the US and the international community are using the disaster as a cover for forcing the DR into a merger with Haiti, thus picking up the lions share of the political and economic costs, much hell will no doubt break loose.

There is already and unfortunate history dating back many decades of racist animosity in some parts of The Dominican Republic towards migrants from Haiti and Dominicans of Haitian descent. Amnesty UK this year featured in its greetings card campaign a Dominican activist (Sonia Pierre) suffering because of her work for Haitians in the DR.

The amnesty briefing sheet says:

HUMAN RIGHTS defender Sonia Pierre has been threatened and harassed as a result of her work to stop discrimination against the Haitian community in the Dominican Republic. Prejudice on grounds of race, language, colour and nationality is an everyday reality for many migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent. Sonia is executive director of the Movement for Dominico-Haitian Women (MUDHA), part of the Jacques Viau Dominico-Haitian Encounter Network, which works to combat anti-Haitian prejudice and racism in the Dominican Republic.
In August 2000 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights called on the Dominican authorities to put in place protection measures for Sonia Pierre. Despite this, in 2005 she and her children were forced to leave the country for several months following further threats. The court’s order was extended in February 2006 to include her children. To date the Dominican authorities have not acted to implement these protection measures.

(ongoing links provided by me, not by Amnesty. EB)

I suspect that the Dominican Republic may itself need some physical help to avoid being overwhelmed by the needs of its neighbour, and also perhaps some international attention to prevent very negative reactions from people in that country, possibly including part of the government. Maybe our Foreign Affairs team could raise this matter in questions to the UK Government?

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So long as they keep their border sealed from Hiatian immigrants they will need no help.
Just for part of the record, a YouTube sequence of the 'normal'situation along the Haiti-Dominican border


Doesnt look vastly sealable against a real mass migration...
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Enquiries and the state of Brown's trousers - a historical note 

The Brown Funk on answering questions on the Iraq war to the Chilcot enquiry before the General Election is unlikely to lead to mass protests in the streets – unlike the events of 1812 when Parliament decided to hold enquiries into the fiasco of the 1810 Walcheren expedition in secret. That resulted in protest crowds thousands in the streets and a near-miss for a violent revolution.

When one radical commentator was thrown into Newgate goal without trial for putting up a poster denouncing this ‘outrage’ the radical MP Frances Burdett made a stinging statement denouncing his colleagues for arbitrary practices. A vote of the commons (189 to 152) declared this statement a breach of parliamentary privilege and Burdett was committed to the Tower of London. Burdett declared the warrant illegal and tens of thousands of people took to the streets of London in his support. Small boats blocked the river approaches to the Tower and crowds blocked the land approaches. Burdett’s Piccadilly house was surrounded by a protective cordon which spilled over into Albemarle Street and Berkeley Square. However Burdett did decline the support of another radical MP (Cochrane) who arrived with a barrel of gunpowder and a proposal to set up ‘improvised explosive devices’ to be set off if the authorities attacked. The authorities set up artillery batteries in St James’s Park and Soho Square and the Life Guards charged the demonstrators.

Burdett was eventually arrested by a police constable who climbed in to his house though a rear window, and taken to the tower. There followed two months of mass demonstrations around Parliament while the commons debated whether to expel Burdett. Burdett’s supporters were carried to the house daily on the shoulders of protesters through cheering crowds. In the end the governing cliques quietly allowed his release on the prorogation of Parliament.

So the whole thing ended in a somewhat British farcical whimper rather than a great resolution of the issues. It will be interesting to watch the state of Brown’s trousers as this 2010 Chilcot farce plays out, but we are unlikely to see such passionate public engagement in the issue. We do of course nowadays all have a ballot as an alternative to gunpowder…

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On an emerging narrative of clarity and honesty 

Watching Nick Clegg trying to set out a clear and consistent approach to this coming election while at the same time that I am reading a book on Quantum Theory (and trying to understand the narrative of how that theory evolved), a couple of concepts crossed over in my mind.

One is Albert Einstein’s guideline for explaining science to the world

“Make it as simple as possible, but no simpler”

The other is a phrase Einstein drew on for solace, from the works of the philosopher and playwright Gotthold Lessing that the aspiration to truth is more precious than believing one has possession of a fixed truth.

“It is not the truth that a man possesses, or believes that he possesses, but the earnest effort which he puts forward to reach the truth, which constitutes the worth of a man”

Nick may just be managing to make our narrative simply expressed without losing sight of the complexities and also keeping in mind the fact that we don’t actually have all the answers ourselves.

(For the Quantum part of this experience see Manjit Kumar “Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the great debate about the nature of reality’)

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Monday, January 04, 2010

election dates and political advantages 

Controversies over budgets and election timings are not new things under the UK political sun. Way back in 1950 Attlee wanted to call the 1950 election for May, after a spring budget that would have included the ending of petrol rationing. However his chancellor Stafford Cripps had other ideas.

…. Cripps was adamant that it would be immoral to deliver a budget just before an election – and threatened to resign over the issue. Such was Cripps standing in the country … that Attlee felt he had no alternative but to yield to Cripps wishes. But as he remarked privately … ‘(Cripps was) no judge of politics’.

(Quote by Douglas Jay a sometime Labour Cabinet Minister )

The election took place on 23 February 1950 with petrol rationing still in force. Labour just squeaked back in.

Bearing in mind this financial immorality argument, note this Sundays exchange on the Andrew Marr show, as commented on by Impartial Nick Robinson.

"The slip came when Marr asked him if there'd be a Labour Budget this Spring - a coded way of asking him to rule out an election before May.

'Of course' came the reply, before the PM realised what he was being asked and so he hastily added 'if it's the right time'.

So, May it is...I think."

(Jay, D 1980 “Change and Fortune” cited in Kynaston, D. ‘Austerity Britain’ p 358)

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