“It’s like Spain in 1936.” Those are the words of Alexander Norton, a charismatic 31-year-old railway worker from east London, as Turkish forces besiege the Kurdish city of Afrin. Following in the tradition of Britain’s courageous International Brigades eight decades earlier, Norton has risked his life to fight Isis alongside Kurdish freedom fighters in Kurdish Syria. As you read this, a secular democracy that celebrates women’s rights is under attack, including by Turkish-aligned troops who have sung al-Qaida songs and threatened to cut off the heads of their “atheist” victims. If you’re wondering why Kurds and their supporters occupied King’s Cross and Manchester Piccadilly stations last weekend: here’s why. The Conservative government is arming to the teeth a nation ruled by an authoritarian despot, whose regime is linked to extreme jihadist groups, and which is now attempting to liquidate one of the only islands of democracy in a sea of Middle Eastern despotism: and yet virtually no one is speaking out about it.
Tag Archives: UK
“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum, I borrowed this line from the Eagles’ 1976 hit “Hotel California” as an argument against Britain exiting the European Union. I told audiences up and down Britain that if they voted to leave the EU, they would end up more entangled with the EU Commission than ever before.
It could, if the results stand up, be one of the most dramatic medical breakthroughs of recent decades. It could transform treatment regimes, save lives, and save health services a fortune. Is it a drug? A device? A surgical procedure? No, it’s a newfangled intervention called community. This week the results from a trial in the Somerset town of Frome are published informally, in the magazine Resurgence & Ecologist. (A scientific paper has been submitted to a medical journal and is awaiting peer review). We should be cautious about embracing data before it is published in the academic press, and must always avoid treating correlation as causation. But this shouldn’t stop us feeling a shiver of excitement about the implications, if the figures turn out to be robust and the experiment can be replicated.
The earthquake that devastated Haiti on 12 January 2010, killing 220,000 people, produced a terrible and disgusting failure by those who came from abroad to help the survivors. Among these were UN soldiers from Nepal, which was then in the middle of a cholera epidemic, who brought the disease with them and allowed it to enter the rivers that provide Haitians with their drinking water.
Cholera, previously unknown on the island, killed 7,568 Haitians over the next two years, though the UN denied responsibility for the outbreak. This was despite a report by its own experts in 2012 that showed that the spread of cholera downstream from the Nepalese soldiers’ camps was predictable and avoidable. It was only in 2016 that the UN finally accepted responsibility for starting the epidemic, though it claimed legal immunity and refused to pay compensation.
On 12 January 2010, a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti. One of the poorest countries in the world, it was utterly unprepared. Roads and bridges, hospitals and government buildings as well as thousands of homes collapsed or were severely damaged. At least 220,000 died – including more than 100 aid workers already in the country – and as many again were injured. Scores of aid agencies with hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of relief raced to bring help, each agency hastily recruiting hundreds of extra workers. Among these men and women of goodwill who were dispatched to organise medical help, to inoculate, feed and protect the thousands of vulnerable people were seven Oxfam employees who, it has now emerged, spent their time off procuring young, possibly underage, girls and women for sex. It is likely that some of their victims were reliant on the aid Oxfam provided, with donations collected on street corners and jumble sales in Britain. The enormity of employees of an organisation dedicated to ending poverty, hunger and social injustice hosting sex parties said to be of Caligulan proportions amid the wreckage of a humanitarian catastrophe is what turns a scandal into a crisis that could damage the whole UK charitable sector.
Kings were put to death long before 21 January 1793,” wrote Albert Camus, referring to Louis XVI’s execution after the French revolution. “But regicides of earlier times and their followers were interested in attacking the person, not the principle, of the king. They wanted another king, and that was all.”
One of the biggest mistakes the critics of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, made from the outset – and there are many to choose from – was that his victory was about him. They refer to “Corbynites” and “Corbynistas” as though there were some undying and uncritical devotion to a man and his singular philosophy, rather than broad support for an agenda and a trajectory. If they could get rid of the king, went the logic, they would reinherit the kingdom. With a new leader normal service could resume. Labour could resuscitate its programme of milquetoast managerialism, whereby it was indifferent to its members, ambivalent about austerity at home, and hawkish about wars abroad.
It’s as if it were written with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. In terms of rhetoric, Theresa May’s 25-year environment plan is in some ways the best government document I’ve ever read. In terms of policy, it ranges from the pallid to the pathetic.
Those who wrote it are aware of the multiple crises we face. But, having laid out the depth and breadth of our predicaments, they propose to do almost nothing about them. I can almost hear the internal dialogue: “Yes, let’s change the world! Hang on a minute, what about our commitment to slashing regulations? What about maximising economic growth? What would the Conservatives’ major funders have to say about it? Oh all right, let’s wave our hands around instead.”
The plan makes bold and stirring statements about the need to keep the soil on the land (it’s compacting and eroding at horrendous rates in the UK), then proposes only “working with the industry to update the 2001 guidance”, spending £200,000 on developing new metrics, and “investigating the potential” for research and monitoring. It would have been more honest to say: “We propose to nod sagely and look very serious.”
The rise of populism on both sides of the Atlantic is being investigated psychoanalytically, culturally, anthropologically, aesthetically, and of course in terms of identity politics. The only angle left unexplored is the one that holds the key to understanding what is going on: the unceasing class war waged against the poor since the late 1970s.
ATHENS – The Anglosphere’s political atmosphere is thick with bourgeois outrage. In the United States, the so-called liberal establishment is convinced it was robbed by an insurgency of “deplorables” weaponized by Vladimir Putin’s hackers and Facebook’s sinister inner workings. In Britain, too, an incensed bourgeoisie are pinching themselves that support for leaving the European Union in favor of an inglorious isolation remains undented, despite a process that can only be described as a dog’s Brexit.
It is perhaps the world’s most expensive home: a French mansion featuring marble statues and “a 57-acre landscape park” worth more than $300m, snapped up by the heir to the Saudi throne. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is on quite the shopping spree: a $500m yacht here, a $450m Leonardo da Vinci painting here. As this despot showers himself in decadent luxury, the children of Yemen are starving as Saudi bombs – many supplied courtesy of the British government – destroy the country.
Let’s not understate the import of what Ireland has just achieved. It has not just secured an outcome that minimises the damage of Brexit on this island. It has radically altered the trajectory of Brexit itself, pushing that crazy careering vehicle away from its path towards the cliff edge.
This saga has taken many strange turns, but this is the strangest of all: after one of the most fraught fortnights in the recent history of Anglo-Irish relations, Ireland has just done Britain a favour of historic dimensions. It has saved it from the madness of a hard Brexit. There is a great irony here: the problem that the Brexiteers most relentlessly ignored has come to determine the entire shape of their project. By standing firm against their attempts to bully, cajole and blame it, Ireland has shifted Brexit towards a soft outcome. It is now far more likely that Britain will stay in the customs union and the single market. It is also more likely that Brexit will not in fact happen.