Recent Foreign affairs Articles
Firstly, I’d like to thank Sunny, for saying that the campaign for Labour to support an EU referendum is “cool”.
He’s right; out of all the groups calling for the Labour Party to support a policy launched this week, Labour for a Referendum is the most in vogue.
However, on the main crux of his article, that our campaign is “Dead on Arrival”, we would have to, somewhat controversially, disagree.
Sunny outlines three main points for his argument. I will try and rebut each of these points as thoroughly, fairly and, crucially, quickly as possible.
1) Supporting a referendum would make Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers more demanding.
I don’t see this as being Ed Miliband’s problem. If Labour supported a referendum one suspects that Tory MPs would attempt to push their own leader into a more hardline position rather than ours.
Sure, Tory backbenchers might become more demanding, but that would only lead them to more internal bickering, rather than dividing our party?
2) You shouldn’t get involved when your opponents are infighting.
The idea that we should adopt a grab-the-popcorn approach to opposition and let the victory come to us seems flawed. While it makes perfect sense not to rush into policy commitments so far before the election, when we see the Tories in disarray we should capitalise on it as best we can.
Milk that subject for all it’s worth. Grab it and run. Put a spanner in the works. Use whatever metaphor you want, but sitting back and relaxing is easy, but it is no path to a Labour majority.
3) Labour’s line is settled, we can’t go back on it now.
We’re not expecting to change Labour’s policy by the end of the week. That’s not the plan. What we want is for a commitment to an EU referendum to be in our 2015 manifesto. We think it’s the right thing to do, we think it’s popular and we think it will help get Ed Miliband in 10 Downing Street.
But we’re happy to play the long game. 2017 is indeed “far, far away”, although it is likely/definitely going to be half as far away when we go into the next election. Everything Miliband has said about it so far has been couched in language that suggests that this is a policy liable to change if circumstances do.
Our job, as Labour for a Referendum, is to make sure that the pressure is kept on, and that Miliband knows just how helpful a pledge could be.
Finally, I can only apologise that Labour for a Referendum did not exist a year ago. Circumstances changed.
Dominic Moffitt is Campaign Director for Labour for a Referendum
I was running my own campaign calling for Labour to offer an EU Referendum before it became cool. But now, given all the renewed focus on this question, a group of Labour folks have set up a Labour for a referendum campaign.
Unfortunately, it is Dead on Arrival. Finished. The chances succeeding now are very near zero.
And there are very simple reasons for this.
1) Mad Euro-sceptic Tories have shown that once you feed the beast it only grows and gets more demanding. So Ed Miliband will not want to feed it at all.
2) When your opponents are in chaos and fighting against each other, why wade in too? It is much better for Ed Miliband to let the Tories carry on making a fool out of themselves. It’s not like the EU Referendum is going to come at an earlier date just because Tory backbenchers want it so.
3) The Labour leadership have settled on a position now: committing to a referendum now would only lead to more uncertainty over the UK’s relationship with Europe, given 2017 is so far away. It makes no sense to junk that position at now.
I was told by a senior shadow cabinet member, over a year ago, that at one point all three parties were negotiating a joint position on offering an EU Referendum. At that point I was optimistic that it would be in Labour’s next manifesto or materialise as a commitment even earlier.
But for some reason the negotiations broke down and the three parties could not agree on jointly offering an EU Referendum. And so everyone went their separate ways.
A more coordinated campaign to get Labour to agree to a referendum should have been launched over a year ago. At this stage, mostly thanks to the antics of the Tory right, there is no chance the Labour leadership will entertain the idea now.
Ever since the disaster at the Rana Plaza textile factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, some commentators have been trying to guilt-trip cash-strapped western consumers for the terrible conditions of workers in Bangladesh’s Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector, where wages are as low as £27 a month.
We’ve been told that our insatiable desire for cheap clothing is what keeps wages down, and working conditions so poor that factory fires are endemic and corners cut so badly that buildings collapse, as Rana Plaza did.
But we think cash-strapped consumers aren’t the problem, and the TUC have researched and published a quick graphic to explain:
The suggestion that consumers are to blame struck us as a bit too convenient. So we asked the textile unions in Bangladesh how much their members were paid to make a t-shirt.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a term for how long it takes a textile worker to run up a basic t-shirt: the ‘Standard Minute Value’ or SMV. And the time it takes is 10.565 minutes. That’s a rough estimate, presumably!
Textile workers usually work over 200 hours a month, producing nearly six t-shirts every hour. So the princely wage they receive for each t-shirt is roughly 2p. We’ve found costs in high street shops ranging from £2 to £10, with the archetypal t-shirt mentioned in several reports costing £6.
So the price you’re charged for a t-shirt has nothing to do with the wages of the textile workers who made it. To double their wages would increase the production cost of a basic high-street t-shirt by 2p.
That all suggests that someone’s trying to pull the wool over our eyes about who’s really responsible for the low wages and poor health and safety standards in Dhaka’s RMG sector, and it’s the global brands and manufacturers who set the prices.
Bizarrely, some of them have insisted that they have no control over wages, hours of work, factory safety and the like. But they can determine the time it takes to manufacture a t-shirt down to three decimal places and determine what the stitching on the hems looks like! Pull the other one!
We’re supporting the global union for textile workers, IndustriALL, who are demanding that global brands, retailers and manufacturers sign up to an agreement on health and safety and wages. You can support them by by taking this e-action.
Crucially, workers in Bangladesh need the right to join a union and the right to negotiate terms and conditions with their employers. But they also need to work in safety, as the International Labour Organisation has insisted.
The people who should be feeling guilty are the people who run those global multinationals and the Government of Bangladesh. Not shoppers like you, struggling to get by on wages that are also not increasing, while the costs of food, fuel and accommodation continue to rise.
Workers everywhere need dignity at work, based on decent wages and decent jobs.
About six years ago, bloggers from across the political spectrum banded together for a campaign to offer asylum to Iraqi interpreters to British armed forces. It was a long and bumpy campaign, and we didn’t get all that we wanted at the time, but it helped to get more Iraqi interpreters into the UK than if we had done nothing.
Now it’s time to revisit the issue, for interpreters who have helped British armed forces in Afghanistan.
The reasons this is the right thing to do are straightforward:
1) These interpreters have helped save the lives of British soldiers in Afghanistan.
2) They put their lives at risk, from extremist elements, to help British forces.
3) If we abandon them, it hurts British peace-keeping missions in the future. Locals will be less willing to help British armed forces in the future if they think they will be abandoned at a later date.
Whether you were for or against the war in Afghanistan, helping Afghani interpreters and their families is the morally righteous course of action. This says nothing about whether Afghanistan was right or wrong – only that these people need help, and should be offered asylum in the UK for their services.
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The campaign also has wide-spread public support. A Sunday Times opinion poll found that most Britons agree we should offer asylum to Afghan interpreters who worked for British troops. Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem voters all support the call for protection for the interpreters – while UKIP voters were narrowly against it.
There is an email petition by Avaaz.org and I fully support that, though I think there should be a off-line campaign focused on lobbying MPs too.
The Times is once again campaigning strongly on this issue, and I hope other newspapers will follow suit.
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It would help if bloggers wrote about this issue too, or highlight related stories in the press on Twitter, to keep up the momentum.
Support from Lib Dem and Tory bloggers & figures would be really helpful – this has to be a cross-party campaign.
What I’m looking for right now are offers of support and help, and ideas on how to take this forward. The first step is likely to be a meeting in a pub somewhere (in London, sorry) to discuss how to take the campaign forward and who can help in what way.
A few years agao, I blogged about the campaign to save the Iraqi translators who had worked for British troops in the country.
Appallingly, the British Government refused to give them asylum, even though it was their work helping (perhaps, even keeping alive) British soldiers that had got them into trouble in the first place.
Via Aavaz, I learn that the British Government may now repeat this shameful episode in relation to translators working with British forces in Afghanistan. They want to give compensation, in lieu of asylum.
This really is not good enough. We have a duty to protect these people. Failure to do so would not only be a moral outrage – it would damage the reputation of British forces abroad and make it much harder to recruit local translators for future military operations.
Aavaz have a petition, which I have signed. Please do the same.
Why does the British Government drag its heels on these ethical no-brainers?
I worry that it is down to the confused debate about immigration in this country. Asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants and illegal immigrants are all very different types of migrant, but they are all spoken of as similarly illegitimate and unwelcome.
We cannot allow an immature debate at home to hobble our soldiers working abroad.
In 2010, 140,000 children aged under five died in Bangladesh. If the country had the same mortality rate (pdf) as the UK, only around 15,000 would have done so. This implies that around 125,000 Bangladeshi children die each year from poverty.
This fact, however, does not feature prominently in nightly news bulletins, even though it is equivalent to two Rana Plaza collapses every week.
There is, of course a simple reason for this. The news reports abnormal events, not normal ones; "dog bites man" is not news. Collapsing buildings are abnormal and so newsworthy whilst acute poverty is normal and so isn't news.
This bias is inherent in the nature of news. And yet it can be misleading. You cannot understand why so many Bangladeshis tolerate working in sweatshops until you realize that doing so gives their children not just a better chance in life, but a better chance of life. Thanks in part to the economic development brough by those sweatshops, child mortality in Bangladesh has fallen.
However, news reports which draw attention to the evils of sweatshops but not to those of rural poverty understate the benefits which such sweatshops have brought. Yes, they're hellholes which perhaps could and should be improved upon – but they're better than the alternative.
In this sense, news generates a bias amongst its western consumers; it encourages a hostility to globalization and industrialization even though these are – albeit imperfect – routes out of poverty.
There's a parallel here with attitudes towards crime reporting. It's a commonplace that whilst crime has fallen in recent years, the fear of it hasn't. A big reason for this, I suspect, is that violent crime – being abnormal – gets reported whilst folks living safely, being normal, does not. Ordinary reporting thus warps our perspective.
You cannot reasonably judge a probability distribution merely by looking at the far tail of it. But this is what the news invites us to do.
There's another relevant bias here. Whilst under-reporting deaths from rural poverty the news is full of the doings of the rich and powerful. This too can have pernicious unintended effects. Laboratory experiments (pdf) have found that the mere act of communicating with others can induce them to behave more altruistically towards us. This implies that we are likely to be better-disposed towards the rich and powerful than we otherwise would be, and less well-disposed to the silent poverty-stricken billions. This too generates a bias towards tolerating poverty.
I say all this as a caveat to a common complaint. Everyone complains – with justification – about bad, right-wing, dumbed-down linkbait journalism. But even when journalists are doing their jobs well, they are contributing to some unpleasant biases, by the very nature of what constitutes news. You cannot, rationally, base your political opinions in what your see in the news.
Prime Minister David Cameron has today written an op-ed for the Daily Telegraph arguing that ‘we need a nuclear deterrent more than ever’.
But rather than making an effective case for Trident it shows how shallow the arguments are, and in fact undermines the entire project.
Cameron’s claims that we need Trident centres around one country. “Last year North Korea unveiled a long-range ballistic missile which it claims can reach the whole of the United States. If this became a reality it would also affect the whole of Europe, including the UK,” he writes. But this seems to be drinking North Korean Kool Aid – accepting their discredited claims at face value.
In reality the dictatorship has a few mid-range (1800 miles) missiles that would cover South Korea, Japan and possibly the US territory of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. But even these missles are untested according to most independent experts. It has test-fired some long-range rockets in the past but they failed. The idea that North Korea has developed an inter-continental ballistic missile, fitted with a nuclear warhead, that could hit the United States is a fantasy worthy of the North Korean propaganda machine. The Prime Minister undermines his entire project by asking us to take this ridiculous claim at face value.
Cameron has clearly timed the piece well. Last night North Korea escalated tensions against the South and the US by moving mid-range missiles to the east coast. It also locked South Korean workers out of a joint factory complex and said it would restart a previously shut-down nuclear reactor.
But this just exposes how ridiculous the situation is. South Korea may have good grounds to argue for a nuclear deterrent, but the UK does not feature in the military considerations. We aren’t even required to play a part. North Korea is clearly a threat but it is not our threat, and it’s highly unlikely to be a threat to the UK in the coming future. Of course, Trident is a long-term project, but it comes with an opportunity cost: resources are diverted to a big unwieldy deterrent rather than smaller, more cost-effective measures to tackle the threats the UK is likely to face.
In other words the Prime Minister is calling to spend billions on our behalf on a weapon for an enemy that isn’t even concerned by us.
How about a focus on the threats we are likely to face in the future?
Furthermore, it’s not even clear why a full nuclear deterrent is needed more than a scaled-down version. The United States is in fact looking to change course in dealing with North Korea after realising that a show of force may have provoked the crisis further. And what does our Prime Minister want? He wants a big show of force in the foolish belief that this will somehow deter North Korea. If they are willing to threaten the United States why would they even care how many nuclear weapons we have?
I’m not a pacifist and neither do I think it’s likely the UK will get anywhere by unilaterally disarming itself. Clearly, multi-lateral treaties to reduce nuclear stockpiles are the way forward. So what kind of a signal would such a full renewal of Trident send to other countries such as India and Pakistan, who refuse to sign the NPT and keep testing nuclear weapons? Why wouldn’t they use the UK as an excuse to continue arming their stockpiles and putting the lives of millions of people at stake.
And lastly, the decision to spend billions more on a remote threat rather than using that money to help people in the UK undermines the claim that ‘there is no money left’. There clearly is – it’s just earmarked for the sorts of vanity projects that Conservatives like rather than for the most vulnerable in our society.
Now an Israeli government has finally been formed, let’s take a look at some of the views represented in the new cabinet:
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has said that “the Palestinian threat harbours cancer-like attributes”. The track record of his deputy minister includes a proposal for obtaining an ID card to be conditional on a declaration of loyalty to the state.
Another minister, Uri Orbach, wrote in a national newspaper in 2008 that “we, the Jews, have no intention to commit suicide and lose our Jewish State in the name of our democratic values.”
Minister Yair Shamir’s views on the West Bank: “The Arabs there who call themselves Palestinian, they’ll stay or go, but we’ll definitely stay. We need to keep building in the land.”
Minister Yuval Steinitz has previously backed legislation denying citizenship to Palestinian spouses in order to protect the “demographic balance.”
Those are just a few examples. In addition, note that the new speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, is a West Bank settler who believes the Arabs are a “damaged nation”. Which isn’t so bad compared with the Knesset’s deputy speaker, Moshe Feiglin, who was banned from entering Britain in 2008.
Remember the response of the EU to the participation in Austria’s ruling coalition of Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party? Or the current justified anger at what is happening in Hungary? So why should an Israeli government of racist, international-law defying ministers be exempt from diplomatic isolation and other appropriate measures?
Hugo Chavez took on imperialism, he stood up to George W. Bush and he fought poverty, but one battle he could not win was against cancer.
As Venezuela enters a period of mourning for their President, Chavez leaves behind a nation divided.
Reviled by the rich, revered by the poor, at times praised and scorned by the Western media, he polarised global opinion as much as he polarised his own country.
Chavez was a hero to the left, but he was a flawed one. He built a cult of personality around himself and he built questionable international alliances with the Syrian and Iranian dictatorships, too willing to buy into the idea that his enemy’s enemy was his friend.
But Chavez himself was not a dictator, despite what his conservative critics say. He won the vote of the poor majority because he spoke for them and he backed his words with actions.
Unlike many of Latin America’s loudest populists, Chavez stood fast to his programme of social reform, even when economic conditions were against him.
He redistributed the country’s wealth and he ploughed its vast oil revenues into healthcare, housing, education and food for its most destitute people. In doing so, he raised millions out of absolute poverty.
Extreme poverty fell by 72% under Chavez, while infant mortality fell by 18.2% between 1998 and 2006.
For all his faults, and for all the valid criticisms that should be raised of him, the world must never forget how one man helped make the lives of some of its poorest citizens better.
But the revolution is far bigger than one man. Chavez’s death leaves a vacuum in personality, but not in politics. The people he inspired, the people he taught to learn their constitution, the people he raised onto his shoulders so that they could see what could be achieved with their collective endeavours will not forget the progress they have made in the last 14 years. Nor will they be willing to go quietly back to
America’s yard and offer themselves up to the ravages of the failed neoliberal policies that brought them so much misery.
“Whenever death may surprise us, let it be welcome if our battle cry has reached even one receptive ear and another hand reaches out to take up our arms,” another flawed left-wing icon once said.
And Chavez’s battle cry to the poor has reached millions of receptive ears, not just in Venezuela, but across Latin America as a pink tide sweeps a continent finally willing to stand up for itself.
Venezuela now stands at a crossroads, but Chavez’s death is not the end of the revolution. It was always far bigger than him.
by Josiah Mortimer
Though billed as a ‘public’ event, Thursday’s controversial visit to the University of York by the Deputy Ambassador of Israel was anything but. Open to only students and staff, the lecture, ‘Israel and the situation in the Middle East’, was announced less than a week before the event itself, with the location itself given just a couple of days before.
So, contrary to Matt Hill’s analysis on this site, it was in the spirit of free speech that campaigners decided to protest.
The protest was lively, peaceful and upbeat, and never had the intention of shutting down the lecture. Instead, the aim of the dozens there was to ensure the Palestinian’s side of the story was heard, a perspective almost never heard in mainstream media debates or in lecture halls across the country.
Indeed, if the Israeli and the Palestinian causes were given equal treatment, there would be no need last week’s protest. But given no platform to debate with Roth-Snir, we created a platform to ensure the reality was heard – that over half of Palestinians are refugees, that Israel’s 230 illegal settlements devastate the livelihoods of millions of poor Palestinians, and that Gaza is still recovering from last November’s siege by Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 158 Palestinians, many of whom were children.
The true purpose behind the ambassadorial university visits over the past few months has been anything but transparent.
A University of York statement said the Deputy Ambassador “wasn’t invited. The Embassy contacted the University and asked if a representative could speak”. Since Operation Pillar of Defence – the 2012 War on Gaza – Alon Roth-Snir has been touring campuses – the last being the University of Essex, where students there too stood up to attempts to legitimise serious war crimes.
The Deputy Ambassador visits are never debates, are announced at late notice – self-invited – and there is no opportunity for Palestinians’ voices to be heard. The Palestinian Solidarity protest, then, was fundamentally a free speech issue.
Far from a desperate need “for supporters of the Palestinians to take a principled stand against attempts to silence advocates of Israel”, as Hill claims, there’s a much more urgent need for Palestinian supporters to take a stand against the gross freedom of speech violations Israel conducts, and its Ambassadors defend – the more than 4000 political prisoners – including nearly 30 Palestinian MPs, the penalisation of boycott supporters, and the victimisation of pro-Palestinian academics in Israeli universities, among countless more examples.
Pro-Palestinian activists wholly welcome debating with defenders of Israel’s actions. But the Deputy Ambassador’s campus visits come to put forward one side of the story, with little opportunity – save a few token questions – for engagement.
Josiah York is from University of York Palestinian Solidarity Society, and one of the main organisers of the protest.
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