Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Labour Party

Islington Child Abuse Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday September 8 2016.

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An article I published in Ceylon Today last August has been shared by a few people recently. The article dealt with current UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of action during the Islington care homes scandal which erupted in the late 80s. Corbyn is facing a re-election contest. Despite the fact that most of the parliamentary Labour Party have deserted him, it seems likely that he will remain leader because he has the backing of Labour Party members outside parliament.

1984

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/ad-hominem-mr-corbyn/

Matthew Collings (a British art critic, writer, TV presenter, and artist) raised the pertinent question on Facebook: given his unpopularity with journalists, why have the English media not given more prominence to allegations that Jeremy Corbyn did not assist, and may have obstructed, the investigations into allegations of sexual abuse of children in council-run care homes in his constituency of Islington in north London? Collings said that he took a particular interest in the matter because he himself missed secondary education, receiving therapy instead at the Finchden Manor Community, a haven for disturbed teenage boys. I have canvassed a number of people in ‘the media’ and done some digging around.

lowell-goddard

There are still many unanswered questions about the Islington scandal. Islington was not on the agenda of Judge Goddard’s historical abuse inquiry because no one submitted it to her. Goddard has now resigned and been replaced by Alexis Jay, who led the official inquiry into the Rotherham scandal, which found that at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town between 1997 and 2013. She is the fourth person to head the inquiry. How long will she last? The satirical magazine Private Eye has referred to the passing of the baton by Britain’s top female relay team.

Kincora

An informed source told me that a senior political figure claims that the cross-party silence on allegations about Westminster paedophile rings stems from the involvement of the security services in relation to Northern Ireland. There are connections between Kincora and Islington.

mcgrath

The Kincora Boys’ Home in Belfast was the scene of serious organised child sexual abuse and an attempted cover-up. Allegations of abuse first surfaced in 1977. There were credible allegations that the state colluded in a cover up. On 3 April 1980, three members of staff at the home, William McGrath, Raymond Semple and Joseph Mains, were charged with a number of offences relating to the systematic sexual abuse of children in their care over a number of years; they were all convicted.

In April 1990, a writer called Robert Harbinson (aka Robin Bryans) stated in the Dublin-based magazine Now that Lord Mountbatten and others were involved in an old-boy network which held gay orgies in country houses, as well as at the Kincora Boys’ Home. Another writer, Stephen Prior, in his 2002 book War of the Windsors, claimed that rumours had “linked (Lord Mountbatten) with the notorious scandal surrounding the Kincora Boys’ Home…”.“(Lord Mountbatten) was also said to have an interest in what homosexuals call ‘rough trade’ and to be particularly attracted to working-class boys in their early teens.” Mountbatten was murdered by the Provisional IRA in Mullaghmore, County Sligo, Ireland  on 27 August 1979.

The Kincora case has become live again because the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) began examining allegations relating to Kincora on 31 May 2016, including claims that there was a paedophile ring at the home with links to the intelligence services. Sir Anthony Hart, chairman of the HIA said possible “systemic failures to prevent such abuse” will be investigated. He said that a number of state bodies will be examined, including the RUC. He also confirmed that MI5 and MI6 will be investigated and both will be legally represented at the inquiry. The then Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said that all state agencies would co-operate with the inquiry. James Brokenshire was appointed Northern Ireland Secretary of State by Theresa May on July 14 2016. We will await news of Brokenshire’s performance on Kincora.

Many years ago, Private Eye alleged that high-ranking civil servants and senior military officers were sexually abusing boys at Kincora. https://spotlightonabuse.wordpress.com/tag/kincora-boys-home/. Former army intelligence officer Brian Gemmell said a senior MI5 officer told him to stop looking into claims of abuse at Kincora. He said he presented a report on the allegations to the officer in 1975. “He bawled me out. He was rude and offensive and hostile.”

Another former Army officer, Colin Wallace, suffered worse than rudeness. Wallace said he received intelligence in 1973 to say that boys were being abused, and claims his superiors refused to pass on the information.

wallace

Wallace was wrongly convicted of manslaughter in 1981, for which he spent six years in gaol. The conviction was later quashed in the light of new evidence. Paul Foot, in his book Who framed Colin Wallace? suggested that Wallace may have been framed for the killing to discredit the allegations he was making.  During the appeal hearing, a Home Office pathologist, Dr Ian West, admitted that some of the evidence that he had used at Wallace’s trial had been supplied to him by “an American security source”. In June 1998, a former Special Branch officer who was familiar with the Wallace case wrote to Paul Foot saying: “I sincerely believe that Colin Wallace was ‘fitted up’ by corrupt members of the Establishment embarrassed by the events described in the early part of your book”. Alex Carlile  QC (now Lord Carlile), then the SDP–Liberal Alliance’s Legal Affairs spokesman, issued a statement saying: “It is clear that Colin Wallace, a principled man, knew too much about the Kincora Boys’ Home scandal.”

In 1987, a former senior Ministry of Defence civil servant (once described to me by another mandarin as a “tough cookie”), Clive Ponting, said that he had attended high-level meetings with MI5 officers to discuss Wallace. “There was never any suspicion that Wallace was making these stories up or that it was totally unfounded and very easy to rubbish. It was very much a matter that, OK the story was being contained at the moment because he was in jail, but that in a few years’ time he would be back out again and could be expected to start making the allegations again and then that would be a serious problem.”

In the House of Commons, in 1990, the Government admitted that Ministers had “inadvertently misled” (code for “lied”) Parliament over Wallace’s role. Mrs Thatcher wrote: “I regret to say that a re-examination of departmental papers has brought to light information which shows that there were a number of statements in my letters, and in other Ministerial statements and official correspondence, which were incorrect or require clarification.”

In his 1999 book The Dirty War, Martin Dillon claimed that McGrath (convicted of child abuse at Kincora), who was also the leader of an obscure loyalist paramilitary group called Tara, may have been employed by MI5 since the 1960s and was being blackmailed into providing intelligence on other loyalist groups.

The Belfast News Letter reported that files on Kincora were “conspicuously absent” from the routine January 2013 release of 1982 government papers by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) under the 30-year rule.

 

In a recent item in Private Eye (issue 1425 September 1 2016), it was revealed that thousands of historic files remain suppressed long after the 30-year rule should have released them. This is because the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives is dominated by former diplomats, senior police officers and civil servants and shadowy figures from the world of espionage.

 

As well as ignoring the Islington abuse, the Goddard Inquiry also set aside the Kincora boys’ home case. Some campaigners had wanted Kincora to be investigated as part of the wider Westminster inquiry into historical child abuse, which they argue has more powers than the devolved HIA inquiry.

 

I am not a fan of conspiracy theories. However, there are times when people really do conspire to cover up evil deeds. Particular areas which are prone to this are paedophile rings, military intelligence and Northern Ireland. All those ingredients are mixed up in this brew together with the peculiarities of Labour politics of the 1970s, which shaped the Corbyn we have today.

 

More about Labour Party history next week.

Ad Hominem, Mr Corbyn

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday August 4 2015.

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I had vowed that I would take a break from writing Colman’s Column until the Sri Lankan parliamentary election was over. However, I have been drawn into discussions about another election, the election of a new leader of the UK Labour Party. The discussions brought out a few issues about the nature of political debate and critical thinking in general, which also have relevance to the Sri Lankan polity. It reminds me of the depressing nature of the responses to Rajiva Wijesinha’s contributions to the Sri Lankan debate; hardly anyone provides a cogent argument against Professor Wijesinha’s points, preferring instead personal insults that would seem immature in a kindergarten.

Jeremy-Corbyn_3365555b

Surprisingly, the leading contender for the Labour Party leadership as I write is Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing MP for Islington in north London. Although an MP since 1983, Corbyn has previously shown no discernable interest in power or leadership, preferring to espouse human rights causes. He has been a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, Amnesty International, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stop the War Coalition. He has been writing a weekly column for the Communist Morning Star since 1983.

I have been a life-long Labour Party supporter. I have never voted Conservative and can envisage no circumstances (a huge bribe or severe torture might be inducements) in which I would ever do so. My sympathies lie with the left of the Labour Party and I would  be a natural Corbyn supporter. I sympathised with the views expressed by novelist Will Self in a recent TV interview when he said many young people were attracted to Jeremy Corbyn because he offered real socialist alternatives to the tired old middle of the road tactics.

Nevertheless, I have a big problem with Corbyn. It is the history of Islington Council and child abuse. John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, wrote an open letter to Corbyn about this and said that Corbyn’s behaviour in relation to the Islington care homes scandal made him unfit to be leader of the Labour Party.

From 1994 to 1997, I was a ministerial advisor on child protection for the Department of Health. I have seen the files. I know what was going on. There were serious and credible allegations that some care homes for children in Islington operated as brothels, with small children hired out for sexual abuse.   Islington Council doggedly tried to obstruct the investigation. The main culprit was Margaret Hodge (former minister for children – the irony!) who now chairs the Parliamentary Accounts Committee but was then leader of Islington Council. She was strongly supported in her obstructionism by Jeremy Corbyn.

The reaction from Corbyn’s supporters to Mann’s charges was disappointing and depressing. Someone whose intelligence, knowledge and compassion I deeply respect asked if “the author” had written a similar open letter to Harriet Harmon and Patricia Hewitt. Both were former leaders of the National Council for Civil Liberties who both became Labour ministers. The NCCL earned criticism during the Islington scandal for seeming to be sympathetic to the Paedophile Information Exchange, an organisation campaigning on behalf of child molesters.  This is what rhetoricians call the tu quoque move; in Northern Ireland they call it “what-aboutery”. The technique involves avoiding dealing with a specific charge by shifting attention to another alleged crime.

Others sought to smear John Mann by saying he was smearing Corbyn. They accused Mann of digging up ancient history to undermine Corbyn’s campaign. One cried in horror that Mann was trying to influence the vote – surely trying to influence the vote is legitimate in a democracy?

As recently as November 2014, Corbyn in effect lied to the House of Commons. He implied that, although there had been instances of sexual abuse of children in Islington, the council had investigated and done their best to put things right. In fact, he knows fine well that Islington Council fought tooth and nail to avoid an investigation. When a report was prepared, they blocked its publication for 20 years. Does the Labour Party want a leader that lies to the House of Commons? What is worse is the foolishness of trying to cover this up. It has been all over the internet for many years.

A Channel 4 report claimed that senior Labour politicians knew what was going on in Islington as early as 1988. Liz Davies, a social worker, became alarmed at the number of children coming to her with stories of abuse. Every morning there was queue of children outside her office. They told of sinister adults preying on children who were lured into private houses or abused in care homes. Davies’s colleague, David Cofie, reported his concerns direct to Hodge. Davies asked for more resources to tackle the problem, but Hodge turned the request down. Davies and Cofie continued their investigations and wrote 15 separate reports. Their warnings still went unheeded, even as they uncovered appallingly serious allegations.

It was Hodge’s successor as council leader, Derek Sawyer, who commissioned the White Report. Ian White was Director of Social Services for Oxfordshire. His report was a damning one and blamed the failures of Islington social services on extreme left wing culture fostered by Hodge and Corbyn. More than 30 care workers were involved in abuse. All but one went on to work with children elsewhere.

The White Report  was completed in 1995 and received a good deal of attention in the media at the time. However, the text was not published until 2014, in heavily redacted form.  Islington Council has been covering up for over 20 years. They shredded every incriminating file, sacked whistleblowers, slandered victims. One of the victims, Demetrious Panton, was sexually  abused from 1978 and his allegations were ignored for ten years. Margaret Hodge said he was mentally ill. He is now 46, a PhD in philosophy and a successful lawyer and, ironically, an advisor to the Labour Party. Hodge eventually apologised for what she had said.

Despite what he told the House in November 2014, Corbyn was deeply complicit in the cover-up. The heroes were the investigative journalists of the London Evening Standard who provided much solid evidence to the Department of Health, which enabled us to force Islington to take action.

At the time I am writing  this article, Corbyn has not responded personally to Mann’s specific charges. An anonymous spokesman issued an official statement: “This is a new low in the leadership election. Jeremy Corbyn has a long record of standing up for his constituents.” It is noteworthy that the statement makes absolutely no attempt to address Mann’s very specific points.

Corbyn promised social workers that he would pass their concerns on to the Secretary of State for Health. There is no indication that he did so. Rather than supporting fellow MP Geoffrey Dickens in his campaign to have the scandal investigated, Corbyn complained to the Speaker about Dickens visiting Islington. On February 17 1986, Corbyn called Dickens “irresponsible” in the House and asked him to unreservedly withdraw his allegations about child brothels in Islington and to make a public apology.

Home Secretary Theresa May has been trying to establish a wide-ranging inquiry into historic child sexual abuse. Two chairpersons have been forced to resign, one because her brother was  a former  minister implicated in cover-ups, another because she was a friend of Leon Brittan, one of the senior politicians under suspicion. The Statutory Inquiry opened on 9 July 2015, chaired by Dame Lowell Goddard QC, a New Zealand High Court judge who had no ties to the UK bodies and persons likely to be investigated.

Mann concludes his open letter to Corbyn: “Your carefully worded excusing of Islington Council in the House of Commons equally demonstrates why it is inappropriate for you to attempt to lead the Labour Party at the critical time of the Goddard Enquiry, as child abuse is the issue that will haunt this Parliament.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

UK Parliamentary Election 2015

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday 12 May 2015

 

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Neil Kinnock in 1983: “I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to be old.”

 

What if the UK had PR?

It used to be received wisdom that a proportional representation system for parliamentary elections led inevitably to coalition government. The first past the post system in the UK for a long time meant that either the Labour Party or the Conservative Party governed because of having a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

In the 2015 election, the Conservative Party won a clear majority. Under a proportional representation system they would have had 90 fewer seats would have been forced into another coalition.

UKIP

 

Under PR, UKIP (the United  Kingdom Independence Party) would have been the third largest party in parliament. The Lib-Dems with their caring philosophy failed to soften their coalition partner’s policies. There is evidence that the Conservatives moved rightward  because of a perception that  UKIP’s xenophobic policies on immigration were popular. What kind of policies would emerge if the two parties were in government together? There is already the promise of stricter immigration rules, more cuts and a referendum on leaving the EU.

Coalition in 2010

In the 2010 UK general election, no single party achieved the seats required for an overall majority. A total of 326  seats  are needed for  an absolute majority, but because Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats and the Speaker’s team does not normally vote, the real number has been 323. The Conservatives had most seats and votes in 2010 but were 20 seats short of the magic number. A coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats was established.

During the 2010 election campaign, Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg was widely seen as a strong performer and his party achieved its largest popular vote since its foundation. Nevertheless, the nature of the electoral system meant they suffered a loss of five seats.

PR Voted Down

The Lib-Dems and their ancestor Liberal Party long fought for proportional representation in order to win seats in parliament that would more fairly match their votes. A referendum on proportional representation was a key feature of the coalition agreement. The 2011 referendum result was Yes 32.1% and No 67.9%.on a 41% turnout. Former Liberal leader Paddy Ashdown told the Guardian there been a “breach of faith”. He accused David Cameron of failing to disassociate himself from personal attacks by the No campaign on Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg.

Poisoned Chalice

The coalition has contributed to the downfall of the Lib-Dem party and its leader. After the 2015 general election, Clegg was one of three party leaders to resign. Although the Lib-Dems in 2010 presented themselves as being to the left of New Labour, they could not sustain that illusion while being complicit in austerity measures that hurt the poor while allowing the rich to prosper. The Conservatives claimed credit for what economic recovery there was and diverted any blame to the Lib-Dems.

Old-fashioned liberals might have hoped that with a long-delayed place in government the party might have restored Beveridge’s ideals in health and social welfare. The ideology of Ian Duncan Smith prevailed. The Liberal Democrats failed to make themselves heard in the row over tax avoidance, despite having pushed consistently to tighten the lax rules that Labour left behind. They were not able to defend the weak, the vulnerable and minorities, or to stop the privatisation of the health service. In his resignation speech, Clegg said “fear and grievance” had won, while Liberalism had lost.

Another Strange Death of the Liberal Party

Lib-Dem ministers came across as ditherers. This undermined the will-to-live of constituency organisers who had once been notable for their enthusiasm. In 2010, Lib-Dems won 57 seats; in 2015, this fell dramatically to eight. Under a PR system, they would have got 51. They lost their deposit in seven constituencies. Several prominent figures lost their seats – ex-ministers Ed Davey, Jo Swinson, Norman Baker, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander (beaten by the youngest MP since the 17th century – a 20-year old student) , David Laws,  Simon Hughes (who had served his constituency for 30 years and won 50% of the vote in 2010) and former leader Charles Kennedy.

 

High Profile Losers

 

Conservative minister Esther McVey was the highest-profile Tory loser, defeated by Labour in Wirral West. For Labour, Gordon Brown’s hatchet man Ed Balls lost (by one percentage point) to a conservative in Morley and Outwood. UKIP leader Nigel Farage failed to win the seat at Thanet South (although UKIP won control of the local council). UKIP retained one seat; former Conservative Douglas Carswell was re-elected to represent Clacton but with a greatly reduced majority.  The Tory candidate at Rochester and Strood soundly beat another Tory defector to UKIP, Mark Reckless. The UKIP leader had increased his party’s share of the vote in Thanet South by 27%, and nationally UKIP’s vote share was up by ten percentage points to a total of 3.9 million. The Electoral Reform Society has modelled what would have happened under a proportional voting system that makes use of the D’Hondt method of converting votes to seats. UKIP would have been a force to be reckoned with in the Commons with 83 seats.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett lost to Labour in Holborn St Pancras but Caroline Lucas retains the Brighton Pavilion constituency she won in 2010 giving the Greens one seat in the new parliament. Under PR, they would have got 24 seats.

Whither Scotland?

After the referendum on Scottish independence, I warned a smug unionist against crass triumphalism. I said that, although the vote for Scotland to stay in the UK was decisive, the fact that over 40% of Scots wanted to leave the Union should give pause for thought. The SNP might have lost the referendum vote but they convincingly won the general election vote, gaining 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland. Under a PR system, this would have been reduced to 31. Gordon Brown’s once-safe Labour seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath fell to the SNP. The pro-Union Conservative party now has one seat in Scotland and the pro-Union Labour party has just one. The Lib-Dems also retained  one seat. The referendum was about a positive Scottish identity, rejection of the austerity that Labour had supported. The general election has confirmed a separatist move to the left in Scotland. The referendum did not seal the future of the Union. Resentment from Scotland at a Westminster government dominated by English Tories can only grow, as will English resentment at any preferential treatment given to keep Scotland in the Union.

Social Justice in the Future?



Cameron’s choice of personnel for the  new all-Conservative cabinet makes it clear the way the next five years will go and I am glad I have emigrated. Iain Duncan Smith has been re-appointed to achieve to find a further £12 billion in welfare “savings” and the Lib-Dems will not be there to stop him. While I am fully aware of the deficiencies of the Labour Party, I cannot imagine any circumstances in which I could vote for a Conservative candidate. There is much despair among my friends in the UK. They fear for the future of the welfare state and the forcing of poor people, the precariat, into poorly paid jobs with little security. Under the coalition, food banks increased from 56 to 445. More will be needed. Public services will continue to be handed over to incompetent and irresponsible private firms like G4S. The NHS will continue to be auctioned off to private for-profit companies.

Even former Tory prime minister John Major said: “We need to acknowledge the fact we have a pretty substantial underclass and there are parts of our country where we have people who have not worked for two generations and whose children do not expect to work. How can it be that in a nation that is the fifth richest nation in the world, that in the United Kingdom we have four of the poorest areas in Europe?”

Crosstown Traffic

This article appeared on Page 9 of Ceylon Today on Tuesday January 6 2015.

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/e-paper.html

Vote in hope and repent at leisure

About twenty years ago, I had a meeting in Whitehall with a Conservative MP who was concerned that one of his constituents had been falsely accused (by his estranged wife) of child abuse. After the meeting, I noticed that my umbrella was missing. Soon after, I was watching the news on TV when I saw the MP announcing that he had switched to the Labour Party. “That’s the man who stole my umbrella”, I cried.

Alan Howarth, for it was he, was the first MP to defect directly from the Conservatives to Labour, and the first former Conservative MP to sit as a Labour MP since Oswald Mosley. Howarth wanted to be seen to be doing the decent thing by winning a seat as a Labour candidate. He failed at Wentworth and then again at Wythenshawe, but got a chance at the safe Labour seat of Newport East. Miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, who had been emasculated by Thatcher, stood against him but Howarth easily held the seat for Labour. He now sits in the House of Lords, as does his partner Baroness Hollis. They came under a cloud for claiming separate expenses although they live next door to each other. He did send my umbrella back.

New Labour

When I lived in the UK, I always regarded it as my moral duty to exercise my franchise. Because of my class and family background, it would have been anathema for me to ever vote for a Conservative candidate. The Labour Party stood for my class, the working class; it had provided the welfare state (with some help from Liberal Party thinkers); it had allowed me (with some help from Conservative education minister RAB Butler) to go to grammar school and university. Labour candidate Jack Diamond came to our school. He always won the Gloucester seat- until he lost to Conservative Sally Oppenheim.

When I moved to Wimbledon, I found it rather creepy when I received a letter from Sir Michael Havers welcoming me to his constituency. This was a rock-solid conservative seat, so I later tactically voted Liberal-Democrat in the hope of unseating Sir Michael’s successor Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes. I was unsuccessful in my attempted coup. However, in 1997, miracle of miracles, Roger Casale won the seat for Labour.

That was the year that New Labour ended 18 years of Conservative rule. On the BBC’s election night programme Professor Anthony King described the result of the exit poll, which accurately predicted a Labour landslide, as being akin to “an asteroid hitting the planet and destroying practically all life on Earth”. Anthony Charles Lynton Blair entered Downing Street on a wave of optimism and good will, on 2 May 1997.  He promised to restore trust in politics and breathe new life into Britain’s tired institutions. Sound familiar?

The Myth of Political Parties

The story of the development of political parties is a fascinating one but must wait for another article. Briefly, the theory is that like-minded people band together and agree a set of policies. They exert a discipline within the group in order to translate those policies into legislation and administrative procedures. They persuade the public to support them by placing before them an outline of what they propose to do if elected. The public can compare this with what rival parties propose to do.

How does this work out in practice? Blair had won power by jettisoning many traditional Labour policies. The Blair government achieved some progressive measures but the effort was undermined by madcap experiments in neo-liberalism that undermined health services, education and transport by the attempt to introduce quasi-markets. Prisons have been privatized and there are record numbers of people occupying them – how else to make a profit? Soon after taking office, the new administration announced that it would be continuing the economic policies of the outgoing administration in the interests of stability. One can see why New Labour was attractive to a Conservative like Howarth – it was carrying on Thatcherite policies and it was in power. Power attracts crossovers.

Blair was a career politician with no trace of socialist principles or ethics who joined a socialist party as a career move. His father had been a prospective Conservative candidate and his political leanings appeared to have rubbed off on the young Tony, who stood in a mock school election as the Conservative candidate.

Democratic elections involving political parties are often little more than the chance to get rid of one set of scoundrels when we are tired of them, only to replace them with another set. Blair replaced Major but carried on the same policies. In Ireland, Fine Gael replaced Fianna Fail. The voters did get the chance to throw out the corrupt scoundrels who got the nation in a mess, but now the Irish economy is being supervised by 15 unelected officials from Brussels, and even the (elected) cabinet is kept in the dark.

Sri Lankan Party Theory

What do the Sri Lankan political parties stand for? We think of the SLFP of Sirimavo Bandaranaike as a party of the left. She had Marxist parties, LSSP and CP, as members of her governing coalition and she moved a long way towards a command economy with nationalisation of key areas and subsidies alongside austerity.

The UNP of JR Jayewardene was instrumental in introducing economic liberalisation even before Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. When he was prime minister from 2001 to 2004, Ranil Wickremasingha tried to continue such policies. Strange to note then that in 2014 the official website of the UNP says: “We are being cheated by the neo-liberalists and the Washington consensus: the UNP vehemently opposes ‘social protection’ cuts and wants more subsidies”.

Crossovers in Sri Lanka

Incessant party-hopping is bad for democracy, confuses the voters and casts doubt upon who stands for what, if anything. There are stories of vast sums of money being paid to those who change allegiance. The case of Amir Ali vs. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Others (2006) opened opportunities for crossovers. That same Amir Ali, only a fortnight after being nominated as an MP by the UPFA, crossed over to the Opposition. As I write, 26 UPFA MPs from a 225-member parliament have defected and more are expected.

After weeks of speculation, Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem, finally said he would resign his ministerial portfolio to support Sirisena. This is in spite of Wickremesinghe and Sirisena strongly rejecting Hakeem’s demand for a separate administrative district in the East for Muslims. I will never forget Rauf Hakeem’s comment back in 2007: “The subject of political morality is a relative thing. The current electoral system does not give any government the confidence to try and deliver on the commitments made during the polls.” Blair would appreciate that.

 

Fissiparous Alliances

Keeping the governing coalition together must have been like herding cats. The opposition will find it as difficult as the government to herd its constituent components. Although the UNP has retained some atavistic loyalty among the planting community in places like Uva Province, Ranil Wickremasinghe has not been able to match the populist appeal of Mahinda Rajapaksa to the rural Sinhala Buddhist masses. Siresena might be able to eat into Rajapaksa’s Sinhala Buddhist support but he will also need support from the minorities.

Significant numbers of Tamil and Muslim politicians have gone over to the opposition, but will that be enough to convince minority voters that their needs will be met when the JHU seems to be exerting an unhealthy influence on opposition strategy? Rajitha Senaratne cited as one reason for his defection the ruling party’s silence over the hardcore Sinhala-Buddhist groups who were allegedly involved in anti-Muslim clashes. Faizer Mustapha decided to join the common opposition because the government failed to take action against BBS. Hunais Farook crossed over for the same reason. The opposition’s dependence on the JHU should cause Muslim voters some anxiety. The common opposition candidate has agreed with the JHU to preserve the constitutional prominence given to Buddhism.

Tamils are seeking greater devolution of power to Tamil areas but the JHU sees that as creeping separatism. Many Tamil politicians are unhappy that the TNA is supporting Sirisena. TNA Northern Provincial Council Member Ananthi Sasitharan told the BBC Tamil Service that the TNA election manifesto for the last Northern Provincial Election was clear on its stance on Tamil identity and autonomous rights. There is nothing in the JHU-inspired Manifesto to give Tamil voters confidence that their lot will be improved by an opposition victory. The hand of the JHU can be seen in the formulation: “I will not undertake any amendment that is detrimental to the stability, security and sovereignty of the country.”

Conclusion

The president has been seen as a canny populist who understands the rural masses in a way that Ranil Wickremasingha never could. Recently, many have remarked that the President appears fatigued and overworked. He was once the youngest elected MP and he has spent 40 years in politics and nearly ten years as President. US presidents always seem to age rapidly in office but they are limited to eight years. Tony Blair became haggard by the end of his reign.

Blair tried to appear hip by associating with the likes of Noel Gallagher of Oasis (the more truculent brother Liam Gallagher refused to be wooed). An indication that the president may have lost touch with the masses is that he has recruited Bollywood stars Salman Khan and Jacqueline Fernandez to help in his campaign. According to The Hindu newspaper based in Tamil Nadu, under his usual rates in 2012, Salman Khan charged approximately 30,000,000 Sri Lanka rupees per day for public appearances. Near where I live there are people living in temporary accommodation in schools because their homes have been destroyed. They may not be impressed at this time by Bollywood stars. The Hindu also reported that 30 people had been killed and 650,000 displaced because of severe rain.

The historian, Tony Judt, wrote: “Tony Blair is a political tactician with a lucrative little sideline in made-to-measure moralising.” Judt also called Blair: “the garden gnome in England’s Garden of forgetting…the inauthentic leader of an inauthentic land.” Thinking about an election in 2015 prompts a recollection of an article I wrote about an election in 2008, which prompted a recollection of an election in 1997. Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo. It has not been closed yet and today Obama seems unlikely to take action against those found guilty of torture. In 2008, I advised those euphoric over Obama’s victory: “Celebrate a new dawn but watch out. The nights draw in quickly.”

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