Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

The Dark Side of the DUP

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday November 30 2018


The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) has started to withdraw its support from Theresa May’s beleaguered government and plans to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. They abstained on the first two votes on the Finance Bill, and eight DUP MPs voted against the government in a third vote, on an amendment to the bill proposed by the Labour party.

Dubious Friends

When Theresa May called a snap general election in 2017 (despite there being a fixed-term parliament as claimed for Sri Lanka) it turned out to be serious error of judgement. The Conservatives won the most seats but failed to get an overall majority, worse than the majority of 17 she had before the election. The incumbent Conservative prime minister, announced her intention on 9 June 2017 to form a minority government with support from the DUP, whom she described as “friends and allies”. Those friends and allies were even stranger bedfellows than MS and RW. The DUP is the party founded by the Reverend Iain Paisley. It has fundamentalist views on homosexuality and abortion as well as climate change. More worryingly it has had ties with terrorist organisations. Peter Robinson, who was DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister was an active member of Ulster Resistance. One of the things that group did was collaborate with terrorist organisations such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association to smuggle arms into the UK. Chris Patten described the deal as toxic.

The DUP are a rum bunch of individuals. Arlene Foster, the current leader, wasted £500 million of public money by her poor oversight of renewable energy incentive scheme; Jonathan Bell conveyed a public image of Christian rectitude but got horribly drunk in New York while promoting Northern Ireland; Ian Paisley Jr was suspended from parliament for taking bribes from the Rajapaksas; David Simpson opposed same-sex marriage and lobbied to have creationism included in the science curriculum in Northern Ireland schools; Gregory Campbell has called for the reintroduction of the death penalty and described homosexuality as an “evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”; Jim Shannon was voted the least sexy MP in 2011; Sammy Wilson has been accused of condoning calls that Catholics should be “expelled, nullified, or interned”; Nigel Dodds attended the wake of paramilitary leader John Bingham; Emma Little-Pengelly is the daughter of Noel Little, leader of the Ulster Resistance movement in the 1980s, who was convicted for being involved in a gun-running plot.

With friends like this…!

Money Tree

Protracted and difficult talks between these “friends” led to an agreement which secured DUP confidence-and-supply support for a Conservative minority government led by Theresa May. A confidence and supply agreement is one whereby a party will support the government in motions of confidence and appropriation or budget (supply) votes, by either voting in favour or abstaining. The DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, told the BBC it did not consider the recent votes a breach of their confidence and supply agreement.

May’s government, which had long been practising austerity and bleating about the lack of a “money tree”, agreed to put an extra £1bn into Northern Ireland for infrastructure, education, health, to maintain the guarantee to increase state pensions by at least 2.5% a year, to maintain defence spending, and agriculture spending in Northern Ireland at the same level for the rest of the current parliament (which theoretically takes us to June 2022). There was concern that the money could only be spent when Stormont was restored. In March, the government announced that £410m of the £1bn deal would be included in a new Stormont budget with money dished out to various areas. Downing Street has said that so far £430m has been released. In 2017/18, £20m was given to health and education while the £410m allocated for the Stormont budget is currently going through parliamentary approval procedures.

Are the DUP grateful? Are they ‘eck as like!

DUP Buys Ads where its Voters Won’t See

Two days before the Brexit referendum in June 2016, the Metro freesheet carried a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. It cost £282,000 and was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. The law is different in Northern Ireland and political parties do not have to declare the source of their funding. The DUP initially refused to give any information and then grudgingly said that the money came from “an organisation in England that wants to see the Union kept”. Later they disclosed that the money came from a much larger donation of £425,622 from “pro-Union business people” via the CRC (Constitutional Research Council).

The BBC Spotlight programme revealed that the Metro ad had been placed by one Richard Cook. Spotlight’s investigation of Cook revealed a long trail of illegal activities. Retired FBI Special Agent Gregory Coleman told the programme: “I think there is a good chance that law enforcement in New York City would be interested in taking a further look at this and possibly opening something up”.

Five Star

In April 2013, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, with Richard Cook, jointly founded a company called Five Star Investments. Prince Nawwaf is listed on the company’s initial registration as the holder of 75% of the shares. He was 80, had suffered a stroke and used a wheelchair. He was a very powerful and influential man in Saudi Arabia and well-known internationally. Why was he teaming up with a dodgy non-entity like Richard Cook? The nature of the company’s business is obscure. Five Star never filed accounts. In August 2014, the Companies Office in Edinburgh threatened to strike it off and in December it was indeed dissolved.

As well as being vice chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, Cook’s illustrious CV includes being accused of presenting fake documents to the authorities in 2009 to illegally ship used tires to India and he left a shipping company with a bill of more than £1m. He was a founding director and shareholder of a company called DDR Recycling in Glasgow which went out of business owing £150,000 in unpaid tax. In Ukraine, Cook’s company signed an $80m contract in 2013 supposedly for the purchase of used railway tracks. The person behind the company in Ukraine was a convicted criminal from Germany who had been sentenced to eight years in jail for his role in a large-scale food fraud.

Saudi Connection

Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz died in September 2015. He was the twenty-second son of Ibn Saud, born in 1932. He became a senior member of the House of Saud and was a close ally of King Abdullah. He was thoroughly familiar with international policy and law, and was also an expert on Middle East affairs. In September 2001, he was appointed director general of the Saudi intelligence agency, Al Mukhabarat Al A’amah. His eldest son has been Saudi ambassador to the UK and Ireland since 2005. The son ran up debts of more than £3m in an orgy of acquisition of luxury goods. Bell-Pottinger, who made shedloads of money doing a grand job with Sri Lanka’s image, handled PR for the profligate prince.

Constitutional Research Council

Richard Cook is the frontman for a shadowy organisation called the CRC, which helped to fund the DUP’s Leave campaign in Northern Ireland during the Brexit referendum in 2016. The CRC has also funded the European Research Group (which includes Jacob Rees-Mogg) and its chairman, the current (i.e. for this week) Brexit Secretary of State, Steve Baker. The CRC has no formal or legal status and refuses to name its members. There is no evidence that it generates income. It seems to exist merely to funnel money from dodgy sources into political campaigns. The un-Presbyterian life-style of the ambassador shows there is a lot of money slopping around the Saudi royal family.

Where Does the Money Come from?

Open Democracy is an independent global media platform partly funded by George Soros. OD did a lot of thorough research to eliminate wealthy donors from the list of possible benefactors of CRC. OD were fairly confident in saying who did not give the money to the DUP but are still appealing to readers for information who did give it.

As Fintan O’Toole put it: “The UK electoral commission is clear: ‘a donation of more than £500 cannot be accepted… if the donation is from a source that cannot be identified’. The legal onus is on the DUP to establish that the real donor was entitled to put money into a UK political campaign. If it can’t do that, it has to repay the £425,622. Since it has not done so, we have to assume it knows the true source is not, for example, a foreign government – which would be illegal.”

The DUP seems to be keeping company out of keeping with its Spartan and dour Presbyterian ethos. It gets worse. They recently embarrassed themselves by inviting Boris Johnson as their keynote speaker.


Foxy Liam

According to a website called vipfaq, (“the latest news, scandals, facts and gossip on your favourite celebrities!”) they did not have any facts about Liam Fox’s sexual orientation, but claimed to have done a poll in which 0 per cent thought he was straight. Fox’s voting record in Parliament is generally against gay rights, and he voted against same-sex marriage. Vipfaq says: “Supposedly, Liam Fox has been having a busy year in 2018. However, we do not have any detailed information on what Liam Fox is doing these days. Maybe you know more. Feel free to add the latest news and gossip. According to our best knowledge, Liam Fox is still alive. We are not aware of any death rumours.”

Vipfaq is probably a spoof, but many people are indeed wondering what Liam Fox is doing these days, as Britain teeters towards Brexit. He has been cruelly called the “most pointless minister in the Government.” He is supposed to be Secretary of State for International Trade in charge of finding trading partners for the UK post-EU. He does not seem to have found any so far.

Marina Hyde described Fox as “an expert in the self-inflicted wound.” In the 2009 expenses scandal, Fox was the Shadow Cabinet Minister found to have the largest over-claim on expenses and was forced to repay the most money.

In 2010, he resigned as Defence Secretary, over allegations that he had given a close friend, lobbyist Adam Werritty, inappropriate access to the Ministry of Defence, and allowed him to join official trips overseas.  Fox and Werritty lived together in a flat near Tower Bridge, before Fox married Jesme Baird in 2005.

Fox has long been a friend of Sri Lanka, as has Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party. Paisley was suspended from Parliament and the DUP for taking bribes from the Rajapaksa Government. Fox seems to have got away with similar crimes, although he is no stranger to controversy. Fox had first arrived in Sri Lanka in 1995, as a Junior Foreign Office Minister.

In Singapore in 2007, Fox, by then Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, had a chance meeting with Rajapaksa’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama. Towards the end of the war with the LTTE, Fox, who was seen in the capital Colombo as a possible future Tory leader, became an influential messenger boy, even for Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Fox behaved recklessly, by taking Werritty with him to countless Ministry of Defence meetings, and allowing his friend to hand out business cards, describing himself as a special adviser to the ministry. Ursula Brennan (who I remember as a formidable person), Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, chastised Fox for this. Fox was forced to resign in 2011, after it emerged that he and Werritty, had been given free holidays in Sri Lanka, in return for saying nice things about the Rajapaksa Government. Fox and Werritty stayed in five-star hotels and enjoyed first-class travel.

Back in government

Fox is back in government with a leading role in implementing Brexit, as Secretary of State for International Trade. This has resulted in him being taken less seriously than ever. No wonder Brexit is a mess.

On 9 March 2018, Arab News reported that “British Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox said that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 can build strongly on what is already a strong alliance with Britain. UK and KSA have agreed landmark ambition for around £ 65 billion of mutual trade and investment opportunities. Both kingdoms are transforming their economic prospects and roles in the world.”

This was before Saudi Arabia revealed how it was transforming its role in the world, by bombing school buses in Yemen with British arms, and chopping up a Washington Post journalist.

On 18 April 2018, Fox told Sri Lanka’s President Sirisena that steps would be taken to include new investment opportunities in Sri Lanka on the website of the UK’s Ministry of International Trade. Joy was unconfined. It is such an honour to be on Liam’s website.

In June 2018, Open Democracy reported that Fox was again having difficulty seeing the line that should be drawn between adviser and privately-backed lobbyist. Shanker Singham is a member of Fox’s ‘committee of experts.’

Singham is also a Director of the International Trade and Competition Unit at the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), a position he took after he left the controversial think tank Legatum earlier this year. Tamasin Cave from Spinwatch, which monitors the lobbying industry, said: “Singham is simultaneously advising Liam Fox, and has unrivalled access to many other ministers, while at the same time working for a firm that is paid to influence the decisions of ministers. That’s a glaring conflict of interest.”

Scottish National Party MP Neil Gray said: “There has been an effective sub-contracting of the hard thinking normally undertaken by government to a series of ‘think tanks,’ who refuse to reveal where their funding comes from and whose proposals seem coincidentally to reflect the narrow interests of a small group of private companies.

Marina Hyde again: “Brexit has performed a questionable alchemy, allowing various of the politically undead to lumber out of the where-are-they-now files, all the way back into key operational positions.” Britain is paying the price for their resurrection.

Ain’t Going Nowhere, Just Leaving. Brexit Breakdown

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 19 2018

I used to write a monthly column on Europe for a Sri Lankan business magazine. Looking back on those articles now I can see that most of what I wrote was hostile to the way the European project was working out in practice. Nevertheless, had I been in the UK at the time of the referendum I would have voted for the UK to remain in the EU. One of my reasons for this would be that a great deal of valuable social policy would be lost to UK citizens if the nation withdrew from the EU.

One might respect an argument for leaving, but it soon became clear that there was no plan for the practicalities of exit. It was clear that there was a lot of complicated work to be done disentangling UK law from EU law with which it had been entwined for over 40 years. This is the kind of tedious work normally done by civil servants. Unfortunately, this is an extinct species because successive governments of both parties have for years been boasting about slashing public services.

Confederacy of Dunces

A number of people who were at the forefront of the campaign to persuade the British people to vote to leave were demonstrably shifty and of low moral standing. Eyebrows were raised when Theresa May appointed her crack team to implement the difficult task of getting the UK out of the EU. Secretary of State for Exiting was David Davis who had for decades demonstrated that he was a bumbling idiot. As John Crace wrote in The Guardian, Davis had never been the right man for this complex task. “Davis had been totally exhausted by the four hours of negotiations he had completed with Michel Barnier during his time in office”.

The job of foreign secretary was given to Boris Johnson who consistently avoids giving straight answers and his lies about EU regulations will cause British people to lose their jobs. Norman Baker, who worked with Johnson, said “the bumbling facade was just a clever construct to hide the moral vacuum inside.” In a BBC interview Eddie Mair reminded Boris he had agreed to supply an address of a third party to a friend who wanted to fix up a physical assault on that person. “You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?”

International Trade was given to Liam Fox who is well-known in Sri Lanka as a paid toady of the Rajapaksa regime. In the 2009 expenses scandal, he was the Shadow Cabinet Minister found to have the largest over-claim on expenses and, as a result, was forced to repay the most money. In 2010, he was appointed Defence Secretary. He resigned on 14 October 2011 over allegations that he had given a close friend, lobbyist Adam Werritty, inappropriate access to the Ministry of Defence and allowed him to join official trips overseas.

Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt wrote: “Brexit negotiations haven’t made any progress because the UK government has spent more time negotiating with itself rather than Brussels, which has simply had to wait for London to sort itself out.”

The New Team

David Davis resigned declaring that he could not support May’s plan to unite her divided cabinet, saying it involved too close a relationship with the EU. Johnson soon followed, writing that Britain was “headed for the status of colony — and many will struggle to see the economic or political advantage of that particular arrangement.”

Johnson was replaced by Jeremy Hunt who has overseen the worst collapse in patient standards of any health secretary in the history of the NHS. He is universally loathed by doctors and nurses and leaves a legacy of soaring waiting lists, huge staffing shortages, and patients left with treatments rationed and operations cancelled in record numbers. This will all get worse when the NHS can no longer recruit staff from the EU and privatisation gathers pace.

Davis was replaced by Dominic Raab, who, as housing minister,  claimed that that immigration had “put house prices up by something like 20%” over the past 25 years. He was a member of a Facebook group called British Ultra Liberal Youth, which called for the return of workhouses, the sale of all council homes, and advocated the full privatisation of the NHS. Raab believes leaving the EU will allow the UK to scrap various worker protections. He published a pamphlet asserting that UK employment legislation represents a “straitjacket” for the economy and proposed allowing employers to fire at will. He contributed to a book called Britannia Unchained, in which the British were described as “among the worst idlers in the world”.

Oh, not to be in England now that May is there.

The UK and Torture

Almost ten years ago, David Miliband, then UK foreign secretary, was making great efforts to prevent GOSL from completing its imminent victory over the LTTE. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian accused him of “pipsqueak diplomacy”. I published an article suggesting that Miliband should be tried for war crimes. This is why. When Miliband became foreign secretary in June 2007, there were already allegations about possible British involvement in torture. Jack Straw, not Miliband, was foreign secretary at the time that Britain was helping Libyans and others to be tortured but, as David Miliband was personal advisor to Tony Blair while Labour was in opposition and played a major role in the election victory of 1997, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of what was happening. He certainly played a very active role in covering up torture.

In 2011, the UK government paid £ 2.2m compensation to Sami al-Saadi. He was an opponent of Quadaffi and claimed that in 2004 he and his family were detained by MI6 and handed over to authorities in Libya, who tortured him. Documents show that MI5 gave Tripoli reports and phone numbers relating to Libyan dissidents living in Britain. The compensation payment did not constitute an admission of guilt.  A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “There has been no admission of liability and no finding by any court of liability.”

Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, did get a fulsome apology. Fatima was pregnant when the couple was detained by the CIA in Thailand and deported to Malaysia in February 2004 on their way to London. Mr Belhaj claims that MI6 sent a fax to the Libyan intelligence services informing them of their detention. They were flown to Tripoli, blindfolded, hooded and shackled to stretchers. Mr Belhaj alleges he suffered four years of torture and isolation. On May 10, 2018 Theresa May apologized to them and said the British government was “profoundly sorry” for their “appalling treatment.”

Binyam Mohamed is an Ethiopian UK resident who spent seven years in US custody. He returned to the UK in 2009 after all charges were dropped. Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands represented him. After being captured, Mohamed was first taken to Pakistan and tortured by Pakistani guards while being interrogated by US and UK intelligence officers. He was then taken to Morocco. Another human rights lawyer, Gareth Pierce, wrote in the London Review of Books: “British intelligence and the Americans and Moroccans for 18 months slashed the most intimate parts of his body with razors, burned him with boiling liquids, stretched his limbs causing unimaginable agony, and bombarded him with ferocious sound.” Binyam Mohamed claimed Moroccan interrogators tortured him by using scalpels or razor blades to repeatedly cut his penis and chest. He spent 18 months in Morocco and was then taken to the Dark Prison in Afghanistan where he was kept in total darkness and tortured for another six months. He then spent four years in Guantanamo. MI5 supplied questions to his interrogators



Sands criticized Miliband’s judgment in making efforts to keep this case quiet and to defend and lose many other cases which could have been dealt with by other means. Miliband must have “seen documents that showed that MI5 officers knew a British resident had been tortured yet continued to provide questions via the CIA”. Sands claimed: “The evidence now available, much of which emerged from those cases, indicates a colourable (legally valid) case in support of claims that Britain was complicit in torture after 9/11.“ Miliband personally approved some interrogations involving countries with poor human rights records.


This issue has come to light again following the release on 28 June 2018 of two reports by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee. The reports say the overseas agency MI6 and the domestic service MI5 were involved in 13 incidents where UK personnel witnessed at first hand a detainee being mistreated by others, 25 where UK personnel were told by detainees that they had been mistreated by others and 128 incidents recorded where agency officers were told by foreign liaison services about instances of mistreatment. In 232 cases UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to other services despite mistreatment. The committee found three individual cases where MI6 or MI5 made or offered to make a financial contribution to others to conduct a rendition operation. In 28 cases, the agencies either suggested, planned or agreed to rendition operations proposed by others. In a further 22 cases, MI6 or MI5 provided intelligence to enable a rendition operation to take place. Britain is not a virgin when it comes to torture. See:



Jack Straw said: The report also shows that where I was involved in decisions I consistently sought to ensure that the United Kingdom did act in accordance with its long-stated policies, and international norms.”


Theresa May said: ““We should be proud of the work done by our intelligence and service personnel, often in the most difficult circumstances, but it is only right that they should be held to the highest possible standards in protecting our national security.”


That’s OK then!



Motes and Beams

This article was published in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 5 2018

A number of Sri Lankan news items came to my mind while reading about Howard Jones’s book My Lai: Vietnam, 1968 and the Descent into Darkness. These are the news items. The US government announced that it is withdrawing from the UNHRC because that body was a “protector of human-rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias” and therefore the US “should not provide it with any credibility”. One of the first foreign policy decisions of the Sirisena government was to co-sponsor UNHRC Resolution No.30/1 of 1 October 2015. How does that stand with the US absent from the UNHRC? Another news item that took my notice was that the departing US ambassador said that his government would prevent Gotabaya Rajapaksa being elected president of Sri Lanka because of his abuses of human rights. Yet another item concerned “civil society representatives” opposing the appointment of Dayan Jayatilleka as ambassador to Russia because he successfully defended the Rajapaksa government’s actions when he was ambassador to UNHRC.

At the risk of being accused of “whataboutery” I cannot resist exclaiming: how can the nation that was responsible for My Lai (and countless other atrocities) have the gall face to criticize the actions of the Sri Lankan Army against the LTTE? The Ministry of Defence published a defence explaining how “the Government of Sri Lanka engaged in a military strategy against the LTTE, why Security Forces used the level of force they did, and how at each stage in the operation Sri Lanka took extraordinary steps to respect and protect the lives of civilians.”


On 16 March 1968, between 347 and 504 unarmed Vietnamese were slaughtered by soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division. Victims included civilian men, women, children, and babies. Women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated. On 14 March a patrol of C Company had triggered a booby trap that killed two men, tore the legs off two more and injured another two. Soldiers angry at the casualties saw a woman working in the fields. Private Greg Olsen, a Mormon, wrote to his father describing what happened: “They shot and wounded her. Then they kicked her to death and emptied their magazines in her head. They slugged every little kid they came across. Why in God’s name does this have to happen? These are all seemingly normal guys; some were friends of mine. For a while they were like wild animals. It was murder, and I’m ashamed of myself for not trying to do anything about it. This isn’t the first time, Dad. I’ve seen it many times before.”

The My Lai massacre was not a momentary lapse of reason. The slaughter lasted for several hours and at least 40 of C Company’s 105 men took an active part. The US army in Vietnam in 1968 was pervaded by a culture of cruelty. Phil Caputo wrote in his memoir of life with the US marines in Vietnam, A Rumour of War. “Many had petty jealousies, hatreds and prejudices. And an arrogance tempered their ingrained American idealism.” The overwhelming majority of US forces felt a cultural disdain for Vietnam’s inhabitants.

Twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader in C Company, was convicted and given a life sentence. He only served three and a half years under house arrest. There were whistle-blowers. US servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and rescue the hiding civilians were shunned, and even denounced as traitors Commanders ignored a report made by a helicopter pilot called Hugh Thompson, who for the rest of his life received hate mail and death threats. In March 1969 Ronald Ridenhour, a helicopter door-gunner, wrote to thirty members of Congress, describing atrocities that he had heard described in vivid detail by those who had participated in them. Private Tom Glen, a 21-year-old from Tucson wrote to Creighton Abrams, the US army’s commander-in-chief, describing the dreadful deeds that he had been told other units in his division had committed. Major Colin Powell, then 23rd Division staff officer and later US secretary of state, produced a whitewash report.

The ultimate function of soldiers is to kill. That is what they are trained and paid to do. In her profound book, The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry wrote: “the act of killing, motivated by care ‘for the nation’, is a deconstruction of the state as it ordinarily manifests itself in the body. That is, he consents to perform (for the country) the act that would in peacetime expose his unpoliticalness and place him outside the moral space of the nation.” It is inevitable that armed conflict generates moral compromise. Nations emerge from wars with many moral questions. There is a kind of PTSD for nations as well as individuals.



Getting Better?

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday June 1 2018.


I recently purchased the 50th anniversary remastering of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I am enjoying hearing Paul McCartney optimistically sing “It’s getting better all the time” with John Lennon cynically commenting in the background, “Couldn’t get any worse”. Is it getting better?

Sometimes the unkindness of humankind makes me weep. A gang of disreputable dogs hangs around the shopping precinct near my home. I would not blame the shopkeepers for chasing them away. If you are trying to make a living by selling food, you do not want a pile of dog turds covered in flies in front of your establishment. Most of the shopkeepers tolerate the dogs and even feed them. Anonymous strangers see that the dogs get veterinary attention when necessary. There is kindness. I am thinking of the sort of mentality that would allow someone to dump a dog on the street.

There are many who lament the state of the world today and bemoan the cruelty of modern humans. Steven Pinker is not one of them – he is an optimist. In his new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Pinker, a Canadian cognitive scientist who teaches at Harvard, covers similar ground to that trodden in his 2011 book The Better Angels of our Nature.

In the 2011 book, he argued that violence in the world has declined. He specifically rejects the view that humans are inherently violent, but cites reasons for the decline in violence, reasons which have to do with controlling human behaviour: the rise of the modern nation-state and judiciary “with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force”; the rise of “technological progress [allowing] the exchange of goods and services over longer distances and larger groups of trading partners,” – people tend not to want to kill their customers; increasing respect for “the interests and values of women”; the rise of forces such as literacy, mobility, and mass media, which “can prompt people to take the perspectives of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them”; an “intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs,” which reframes “violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won.”

The books were generally very well-received (fans included Bill Gates and Peter Singer) but there were dissenting voices. John Gray described Enlightenment Now as “embarrassing and feeble”. Statistician Nassim Taleb wrote:  “Pinker doesn’t have a clear idea of the difference between science and journalism, or the one between rigorous empiricism and anecdotal statements.”

Jeremy Lent, author of The Patterning Instinct, agrees with much of what Pinker says but finds the books dangerous because of his unearned influence with the world’s movers and shakers –  a “coterie of neoliberal technocrats “. “His work offers an intellectual rationale for many in the elite to continue practices that imperil humanity.” Lent accuses Pinker of being blasé about the fact that humankind is destroying the planet. When Pinker does address the issue, he relies on a combination of market-based solutions and technological fixes, ignoring the fact that “Transnational corporations, which currently constitute sixty-nine of the world’s hundred largest economies, are driven only by increasing short-term financial value for their shareholders, regardless of the long-term impact on humanity.”

Pinker claims that “racist violence against African Americans… plummeted in the 20th century”. Lent dismisses this: “Instead, it has become institutionalized into US national policy” with African- American males six times more likely to be arrested than white men and one in every three African-American men can currently expect to be imprisoned in their lifetime.

The greatest flaw is Pinker’s assertion that “income inequality is not a fundamental component of well-being”. In 2017, the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 77 percent of the nation’s wealth. The wealthiest 1% experienced nearly 65 times the absolute income growth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Economist Mujeed Jamaldeen has calculated that it would take over 250 years for the income of the poorest 10% to merely reach the global average income of $11/day. There is enough evidence that inequality is harmful. In blithely dismissing it Pinker undermines his whole case.

Another economist, Ganesh Sitaraman, in his book The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic , argues that inequality brings “an erosion of trust as people become more dissimilar, interact less, and begin to see themselves as different from others in society. In political terms, the elites soon begin to believe they are more capable of governing society. This kind of thinking is inherently at odds with republican government, which is rooted directly in the right of the people to govern themselves.”

The Trump presidency is increasing inequality and class conflict. Throughout the US, young people are sinking into addiction and jobs are disappearing. Gun ownership is increasing and people are joining militia groups. Armed confrontations have taken place in Montana, New Mexico, Texas, and California. There were more than fifty attacks on Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service employees, including two by snipers, between 2010 and 2014.A militia leader from Utah was arrested in 2016 after trying to bomb a BLM outpost in Arizona. How will these people react if Trump is ousted?

Someone was evil enough to mercilessly and persistently beat a dog that lived rough near our shops to the extent that the poor creature’s spine was damaged. Another human was good enough to take the dog home and care for it. It is now happy and healthy. Evil people carried out the Sri Lankan pogrom in 1983; decent people were courageous enough to risk their own lives to protect Tamil strangers. During every disaster, including the current flooding, individuals take risks to help their fellow humans. Let us be optimistic about the altruism endemic to what Isaiah Berlin called “the crooked timber of humanity”. Keep an eye open for the


Cutting to Spite Part Two

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 25 2018.


The National Health Service is already chronically understaffed – even before Brexit comes into operation. In many sectors of the British economy there are labour shortages. Net migration to the UK fell by 106,000 to 230,000 in the year following the EU referendum. The number of EU citizens leaving the UK has increased – up 28,000 to 123,000. Professor Jonathan Portes, a former chief economist for the Cabinet Office and senior fellow of the group UK in a Changing Europe, said: “Whatever your views on the impact of immigration, it cannot be good news that the UK is a less attractive place to live and work, and that we will be poorer as a result.”

Rotting Crops

The NFU (National Farmers’ Union) monthly labour survey showed a 29 per cent shortfall in seasonal workers for horticulture businesses in September 2017. Low unemployment rates and the seasonal nature of farm work makes it difficult to attract domestic pickers, which means the UK farming industry is heavily dependent on pickers from the EU. The UK has become less attractive to workers from Romania and Bulgaria because of the fall in the value of sterling against the euro since Britain voted to leave the EU. Fruit and vegetables are being left to rot on British farms. A soft fruit farmer in Scotland who grows 350 tons of blueberries had to leave between 50 to 100 tons to waste at a cost of £500,000 because of a labour shortage. A Kent soft fruit farmer couldn’t find enough labour to pick 100 tons of raspberries, out of a total of 2,000 tons, and lost £700,000. Farmers were reluctant to speak publicly about this for fear that supermarket groups would think they were not running their businesses effectively.

Service Sector

It is not just manual labour that is in short supply because of government policy. Research by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) showed 71% of businesses in the services sector are finding it difficult to hire the right workers – the highest figure ever recorded. BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall said: “Labour and skills shortages are set to be the biggest potential drag anchor on business in 2018, since ultimately it is people that make businesses work.

Entrepreneur Drain

Many skilled people and entrepreneurs are being threatened with deportation. The Home Office sets out in its Immigration Rules general grounds for the refusal of entry clearance, leave to enter or variation of leave to enter or remain in the UK. Paragraph 322(5) of the Immigration Act was designed to tackle criminals and terrorists. The wording is very loose and discretionary and offers everything to the Home Office yet nothing to the applicant. It seems that the Home Office is abusing the discretion which allows them to refuse an applicant by inferring that their “character and conduct” make them undesirable to be allowed to live in the UK. Officials are abusing powers granted to them under section 322(5) by wrongly applying it to those not accused of any crime. HMRC (Revenue) takes a fairly relaxed view about errors in notifying financial details for taxation purposes. The Home Office uses such errors as grounds for deportation. Home Office officials themselves introduce errors where there were none and the innocent applicant is punished.

The impending deportation of Saleem Dadabhoy would directly lead to the loss of 20 jobs, all held by British citizens, and the closure of a British company worth £1.5m. What is his crime? The Home Office says that discrepancies in the financial documents he provided show that he has fraudulently provided false evidence. Dadabhoy’s lawyer says the discrepancy is the result of Home Office incompetence. Officials made two basic accounting errors, comparing gross income to net income, and comparing a tax return from an April to April tax year to a return from a December to December accounting year.

Taxing Discretion

There is no real guidance that the public can examine about how the rules should be applied by Home Office staff. What level of tax discrepancy can amount to a threat to national security? Immigration barrister Paul Turner writes: “there are stories in the press of doctors in hospitals where there are shortages of doctors being deported probably as a result of a tax error”. Turner says: “I have seen Freedom of Information Requests where the government has refused to answer how many people have been granted under 322 (5), remember it is discretionary, and how many refused.” Turner says a doctor could be saving lives in the UK one day and deported the next on the basis of someone’s else’s error of over five years ago.

Sidarth Vijay is a specialist computer programmer, a profession on the government’s list of shortage occupations. He arrived in the UK in 2011 and has never earned less than £50,000 a year. He has been employed full-time by companies including Toshiba while running his own IT consultancy company.

In 2014, Sidarth Vijay was sent a 2012-13 tax calculation by HMRC. He spotted an accounting error which meant he owed £4,000. He contacted HMRC and paid the shortfall. Despite his amendment being made in time, he has been refused indefinite leave to remain (ILR) by the Home Office under paragraph 322(5) of immigration law. He is nearly destitute after paying £15,000 in legal costs and Home Office fees.

His Home Office casework notes show he was found to be “credible” and that his refusal in February 2018 under 322(5) was entirely triggered by figures obtained from the SA02 tax documents submitted by the applicant. This is odd because he did not submit SA02 documents because they are only issued when a tax amendment has been made late, which his was not. He has a letter from HMRC which says: ““I can confirm, as discussed today, there has been no out-of-time adjustment to any of your previous years liabilities and therefore no issue of a SA02 at any point.”

He has a letter from the Home Office dated August 2017 which refers August 2017, which refers to an interview they state he attended and again refers him giving them an SA02 form. “I never attended an interview with the Home Office,” he said.


What is the sense of deporting people when the UK needs workers?

Cutting to Spite Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday 18 May 2018.

My readers may be familiar with the expression “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. In the 12th century it was associated with legends of pious women –  Saint Eusebia, Saint Ebba, Saint Oda of Hainault and Saint Margaret of Hungary – disfiguring themselves in order to protect their virginity. Why is the UK government in 2018 so determined to cut off its nose to spite its face? Is their immigration policy worth all the hassle?

The National Health Service is already chronically underfunded and understaffed – even before Brexit comes into operation. A study by the Health Service Journal showed that 96 per cent of hospitals failed to meet their own safe nurse-staffing levels for daytime shifts in October 2016 and 85 per cent did not hit their targets for night-time shifts. For years, Conservative and Labour governments have not trained enough nurses to care for an ageing population. Hospitals have tried to deal with shortages by recruiting overseas staff.

There is also a severe shortage of home-grown doctors. Professor Jane Dacre, President of the Royal College of Physicians, wrote: “There are huge gaps in rotas. As a result, doctors are unable to deliver the standard of care they were trained to, and patients are at risk… We may wish there were more homegrown doctors, but there simply aren’t. At the same time, the future remains uncertain for doctors from the EU, and the number of doctors who are able to train in the UK for two years under the medical training initiative (MTI) is capped.

Antonia Moore is a general practitioner in Rochester, Kent. She writes: General practice is collapsing. There aren’t enough GPs to provide safe care. GPs are good at managing risk but overload means that risks are less manageable… I am working in a system that isn’t safe: no longer a balance of risk but a balance of least harm.”

The official Quarterly Performance Report of the NHS Provider Sector: Quarter 3 2017/18 warned that staff shortages are affecting performance. Saffron Cordery, NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy, said: “These figures show how the NHS has been pushed to the limit. Despite working at full stretch with around 100,000 vacancies and a real risk of staff burnout, and despite treating 6% more emergency patients year on year in December, trusts cannot close the gap between what they are being asked to deliver and the funding available.”

In the immediate post-war years, Britain tried to deal with its acute shortage of labour by inviting people from the Commonwealth to become citizens and to help run the health service and the transport system. There is still a labour shortage but it is now government policy to force people to leave the country.

Overall, 12.5% of NHS staff say that their nationality is not British. 62,000 NHS staff in England are EU nationals – 5.6% of all staff. Nationals of other EU countries make up almost 10% of doctors in England’s hospital and community health services. They also make up just over 7% of all nurses and 5% of scientific, therapeutic and technical staff. The percentage of doctors and nurses with EU nationality grew between 2009 and 2016. 36% of hospital doctors gained their primary medical qualification outside the UK. 20% qualified in Asia and 9% qualified in the EU. For GPs, 4% qualified in the EU and 13% qualified in Asia.

In November 2017, data published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council showed a 67% year-on-year increase in EU staff leaving its register – as well as a precipitous fall in new EU registrations.

The government has made a pledge to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by 2020. The NHS plans to spend £100m bringing in doctors from abroad. Recruitment agencies will earn about £20,000 for each GP they succeed in placing in a family doctor practice in England. This surprised Dr Luke Ong, who had worked in the NHS for five years and was five months away from becoming a GP, when he was told he was being deported because of an error in his visa application.

The NHS confederation said seven London trusts had reported that 53 foreign doctors had been denied visas. More than 30 health trusts in the North-West have written to the Government demanding that around 100 junior doctors from India be allowed to work in their hospitals and health centres.

The UK has to compete globally for clinical talent. There is no point in spending taxpayers’ money on foreign recruitment while at the same time maintaining a hostile environment on immigration. Doctors born in Britain will emigrate if UK hospitals cease to be regarded as international centres of excellence, which is what will happen if foreign talent is kept out and standards fall because of understaffing.




Windrush Part Three: Justice Denied

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 10 2018.

For every horrific case of detention and the denial of rights there is a public policy decision that delivered the hostile environment in which such injustices thrive and become normal. David Lammy MP.


Motes and Beams

The British government, whether Conservative or Labour, never tires of criticizing Sri Lanka’s human rights record. Nearly ten years ago, David Miliband condoned horrible tortures while calling on Sri Lanka to let LTTE butchers off the hook. Today, Conservatives support calls for the release of Tamil political prisoners. I hesitate to engage in whataboutery, but the Windrush affair brings to light a lot of mote and beam stuff.

Former Labour Home Secretary John Reid famously said the Home Office as he found it was “not fit for purpose”. What is the purpose of the Home Office? The Home Office website says this: “The first duty of the government is to keep citizens safe and the country secure. The Home Office has been at the front line of this endeavour since 1782. As such, the Home Office plays a fundamental role in the security and economic prosperity of the United Kingdom.”

It has kept some of its citizens “safe” by detaining and deporting others without due process of law.

The Lies and Incompetence Continue

The Windrush issue is no longer hitting the headlines, but the lying liars are still lying. Immigration minister Caroline Nokes told the Home Affairs Committee on May 9 that she did not know of any wrongful deportations. Immigration Enforcement chief Hugh Ind said he knew of a ‘handful’ of cases. The truth is that the Home Office is now investigating 8,000 cases. The previous Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was an embarrassment when up against the lethal forensic questioning of Yvette Cooper. On May 9, Nokes and two officials were not able to answer basic simple questions about the system. This is such an important issue and the people who are supposed to be in charge haven’t got a clue what’s going on.

Contempt for Rule of Law

As well as Yvette Cooper, David Lammy has been one of the most impressive of British politicians in recent months. The Labour MP for Tottenham has spoken with passion and reason about  knife crime, the Grenfell disaster (he described the fire as corporate manslaughter and called for arrests to be made) and the Windrush scandal. The British government criticized IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in Sri Lanka but now hauls off innocent grannies in the middle of the night, puts them in detention centres and sends them off to the West Indies in handcuffs on secret charter flights. Lammy says “Each case is directly linked to a policy that ignores the principle of habeas corpus by imprisoning innocent people without reference to a judge, jury or evidence of guilt.“

Lammy voted against the 2014 Immigration Bill, the codifying of Theresa May’s “hostile environment”, and described it as “a stain on our democracy”.  He was born in Britain and his parents were from Guyana. Despite great adversity (his father deserted the family when David was a child) he has been successful. He is a Lincoln’s Inn barrister and a graduate of Harvard Law School (the first black Briton to be accepted at Harvard). In the debate, he quoted from the Magna Carta: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled. Nor will we proceed with force against him except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”


The “hostile environment” policy on immigration was devised during the time of the coalition when Cameron was prime minister. It caused a fierce battle in the cabinet room between Home Secretary May and Nicky Morgan, then Education Secretary. Morgan had, along with the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, raised concerns that May’s new policy for illegal immigrants would turn teachers and health workers into immigration officials. Morgan questioned the very principle behind the “hostile environment” and expressed fears that it would turn teachers, health workers, employers and landlords into immigration snitches. There is something Nazi about the idea.

Stubborn May

Many Tories would love the government go beyond changing the name of the policy from “hostile environment” to “compliant environment” and would urge them to abandon the idea of deportation targets altogether. It is a hostage to failure – providing quarterly reminders that the government is not achieving its targets. However, what seemed to some as a virtue in May – her dogged determination to get a job done even if she did not much agree with it – is now seen as stubbornness where pragmatism might be more appropriate.

Is the deportation policy worth all the hassle? The NHS confederation said seven London trusts had reported that 53 doctors had been denied visas. More than 30 health trusts in the North-West have written to the Government demanding that around 100 junior doctors from India be allowed to work in their hospitals and health centres. There was a Financial Times story suggesting overseas students were wrongly deported over language tests. At time of writing, I had not been able to confirm this but there is a rumour going around that Home Office civil servants were paid cash bonuses to hit deportation targets.

New Brooms

A fifth of May’s Cabinet have departed since the June 2017 general election. None of these resignations has been Brexit-related. It is hard to find quality replacements from lower down the ranks. Look at the poor quality of the personnel handling Brexit. The new man taking the poisoned chalice of the Home Office is Sajid Javid, described as the first BAME to be appointed to one of the great offices of state. Like David Lammy, Javid overcame many disadvantages to become very successful. His father arrived in Britain from Pakistan, so the story goes, with just a pound in his pocket. He became a bus driver in Rochdale but the family moved to Bristol to run a shop. Javid was educated at a comprehensive and borrowed money to begin investing in shares at the age of 14.  He graduated in economics at Exeter University and then went into finance. His first job was with Chase Manhattan and he became a vice president at 25. By the time he left Deutsche Bank in 2009 to pursue a career in politics he was earning £3 million a year.

Casino Culture

The Conservative party spins Javid’s ‘emerging markets’ experience as, ‘helping raise investment for developing countries.’ The reality is somewhat different.  Bryan Appleyard wrote: “Mr Javid seems to have been one of those bankers who, in a just society, would now be languishing in a prison cell picking oakum and humming Emmylou Harris’s Broken Man’s Lament.”

He was at the heart of the credit trading business and was responsible for structuring an emerging-market synthetic CDO that incurred millions of dollars’ worth of losses for investors. A former Deutsche Bank colleague said Javid “is spinning his former career” to show himself as a sober investment banker. In reality, he was a structured credit trader at the heart of the business that precipitated the global financial crisis.

Javid defended his practice: “As long as investors understand the risk/rewards of an emerging-market CDO, they are very appropriate. Investors are getting a huge amount of leverage and they are comfortable taking the risk”. Moody’s downgraded the ratings when by May 2009, they discovered that losses on defaulted assets in the Craft EM CLO 2006-1 pool stood at $32 million. Arco Capital tried to take Deutsche Bank to court in September 2012 over the $37 million in losses it incurred by investing in the deal.


Javid left Deutsche Bank in 2009, just as the full extent of the firm’s credit-related losses were becoming apparent. In 2010, he ran for safe Conservative seat of Bromsgrove.

Javid’s Illiberal Record

Gary Younge (the veteran black Guardian journalist) thought it sloppy liberal thinking to hope that Javid’s appointment would make a difference. He described the new Home Secretary as: “a man who extols his own story as an example of what is possible, even as he actively seeks to ensure that this story should be denied to those who come after him.” Looking after number one and his like.

When the UK’s top tax rate was reduced, Javid spoke to Goldman Sachs bankers in person to ensure that bonuses at the firm in London weren’t delayed. In 2012, he urged Britons not to “slam the City,” saying it represented some of the best of capitalism. In Parliament he has voted for reducing the rate of corporation tax; for reducing capital gains tax.

He has voted consistently against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices; consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability; consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits; generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights; consistently voted for mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities.

He has voted against a right to remain for EU nationals already in living in the UK; voted against UK membership of the EU; voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules; consistently voted for a stricter asylum system.

Will this man make the Home Office fit for his purpose?

Compassion and the Cruelty of Robots

Gaby Hinsliffe wrote in the Guardian that “The common thread in so many of the crises now engulfing Theresa May’s government is policy that completely fails to recognise the complexity of people’s lives: a sort of rigid, soulless, unthinking bureaucracy that leads to casual cruelty.” She called it the “dogged pursuit of bad ideas”.


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has often had harsh things to say about Sri Lanka. In a recent speech he could have been thinking about what we are seeing in the UK. “The indifference of a large part of the business community worldwide, who would still pursue profit even at the cost of great suffering done to others. The indifference of a large segment of the intelligence and security community, for whom the pursuit of information eclipses all the rights held by others, and who describe challenges to terrible, discriminatory practices as treachery…. Our world is dangerously close to unmooring itself from a sense of compassion, slowly becoming not only a post-truth but also a post-empathetic world. “






Windrush Part Two: Brilled and Grilled

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday May 3 2018


Sir Alan Duncan, foreign office minister, was brave, foolhardy or arrogant enough to allow himself to be interviewed by Andrew Neil (known to Private Eye as Brillo Pad). Duncan had the gall face to try to ingratiate himself with a flippant approach.  Duncan blathered about “administrative cock-up”, “quirk of history”.

Brillo would have none of that. “Not a quirk, it happens because of an uncaring government that’s prepared to lock up people in a detention centre who’ve lived here all their lives … you took away their right to work, you took away their right to welfare, you took away their right to a pension. How were they meant to live?” He finally impaled Duncan with: “The government has required people to produce four documents for each year that they have been living in the UK. Could you produce such documents?” The little man admitted that he couldn’t. Most of the people who were threatened had lived in the UK and paid taxes for decades. They were firmly in the system. Big Brother could easily prove their bona fides without documents.

It Weren’t Me Guv

Baroness Warsi claims to accept some responsibility because she was part of the government, but it was not really her fault. What could she do? Warsi said that there was bitter opposition in cabinet to some of the policies May pursued while she was Home Secretary between 2010 and 2016. “We were wedded to unrealistic targets, targets that we still haven’t met unfortunately a decade on, and yet we continue to remain wedded to targets. And what we ended up with was, I think, the unintended consequences of the policy we are now implementing.”


In spite of what Baroness Warsi said, current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, told MPs: “We don’t have targets for removals”, adding “that’s not how we operate”. Her chief immigration official Glynn Williams also told MPs such targets did not exist. A 2015 report soon emerged showing there were targets. “We were gobsmacked by what she said, and that she stuck to her guns,” a Home Office source told the Guardian. “It is inconceivable that Amber Rudd did not know about the targets.” At one point, Rudd was telling the Commons she would scrap removals targets that she had the day before said did not exist.

Rudd had leadership ambitions and had been trying to undermine Theresa May and construct an image of herself as the good guy. She herself has been embarrassed by a document obtained by the Guardian in which she set out her “ambitious” plan to increase removals and focus officials on “arresting, detaining and forcibly removing illegal migrants” while “ruthlessly” prioritising Home Office resources for the programme.

You Just Can’t Get the Staff

Rudd  tried to blame her civil servants, portraying them as faceless bureaucrats who misinterpret the spirit of the government’s intentions. Dave Penman is the head of the FDA, the trade union for senior civil servants. He says: “The Home Office is not a sentient being, so this was implicitly a criticism of her staff. If she’s serious about understanding why this might be the case, she would do better to consider the political strategy and rhetoric adopted by her government over many years, rather than suggesting it is individual civil servants who have lost their focus.”

Unintended Consequences

The Guardian on April 29 published a private letter from Amber Rudd to Downing Street sent in January 2017 in which she sets an “ambitious but deliverable” target for an increase in enforced deportations. She said that she was refocusing work to achieve the “aim of increasing the number of enforced removals by more than 10% over the next few years”. Home Office sources told the Guardian that Immigration Enforcement has been working all year to reach the target of 12,800 enforced returns in 2017-18. They were worried about failing. To meet the goal, they needed to deport 250 people a week, but were “only” deporting about 225 a week. Poor show! “At the Home Office we work in a target culture. The civil service is completely target-based. That’s all we do. It is shame-faced nonsense for Amber Rudd to say otherwise.”

Rudd has now done the “decent” thing and resigned but she is still lying in her resignation letter to the prime minister and May is supporting her lies.









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