Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: UK

Lords of Sleaze Part 2

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on September 17 2020

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/lords-of-sleaze-ii

 

The recent Johnson list has little to do with “honour”.  Although, it is a particularly egregious example of cynicism and contempt for the nation’s institutions and citizens, there is a long history of prime ministers doing this kind of thing. Monarchs also did it. Titles have constantly been granted to court favourites and allies. James 1 created the title of baronet and sold baronetcies for £1,500 each to raise money for his war in Ireland. There were regular controversies over New Year honours lists, such as when William Waldorf Astor, an American property and press mogul who, after generous contributions to British charities, became Lord Astor in 1916 and Viscount Astor the following year. In the UK, bribery and corruption is not limited to the Conservative Party.

Lloyd George

The Liberal politician David Lloyd George once remarked that “A fully-equipped duke costs as much to keep up as two dreadnoughts. They are just as great a terror and they last longer.” He described the House of Lords as “five hundred men chosen at random from the ranks of the unemployed”.

Between December 1916 and July 1922 1,500 knighthoods were awarded and Lloyd George awarded 91 peerages within the same period, twice as many as had been created in the previous twenty years. What distinguished the sale of honours under Lloyd George was the sheer scale of the operation and the brazen manner in which honours were offered for sale. Maundy Gregory, a former actor and theatrical impresario, (who openly touted honours from an office in Parliament Square) operated a price list for peerages, ranging from £10,000 (more than £400,000 in today’s money) for a knighthood up to £40,000 for a baronetcy. Gregory seems to have targeted wealthy but dodgy men who hoped to buy some respectability. Gregory invented the Order of the British Empire to fill a gap in the market for those who could not afford a knighthood. As a result, 25,000 people were ‘given’ the OBE over a period of four years and the OBE was commonly known as the Order of the Bad Egg.

In the July 1922 honours list, the following were rewarded: John Drughorn (convicted in 1915 for trading with the enemy), William Vestey (convicted of tax evasion), and Joseph Robinson (a South African who had only recently been convicted of a £500,000 share fraud.) George V complained that the Robinson case must be regarded as little less than an insult to the Crown and to the House of Lords“. The press turned against Lloyd George. As a consequence, the Honours (Preventions of Abuses) Act 1925 made it a criminal offence to accept a monetary reward in return for granting an honour.

Harold Wilson and the Lavender List

In 1976, Harold Wilson’s resignation honours list caused merriment as well as anger. One recipient of a life peerage was the industrialist Joseph Kagan, who invented Gannex, a waterproof raincoat fabric that was frequently worn by Wilson. Lord Kagan, (popularly known as Lord Gannex) was jailed for 10 months in 1980 for misappropriating company funds. Joe Haines was Wilson’s press secretary. He is still going strong, frequently writing tetchy letters to the New Statesman and the Guardian. Haines alleged that the list was drafted on lavender notepaper by the head of Wilson’s office, Marcia Williams, who became Lady Falkender. Haines claimed to have turned down honours himself because he did not want to appear on the list.

Blair

During his first term of office, Tony Blair created 203 life peers whom the Conservatives referred as “Tony’s Cronies”. In March 2006, several nominations for life peerages by Blair were rejected by the Appointments Commission. Those put forward had lent, at the suggestion of Lord Levy (Blair’s tennis partner, a former pop impresario known as “Lord Cashpoint” – manager of luminaries such as Alvin Stardust and Bad Manners), large sums of money to the Labour Party. There was a long and involved police investigation during which many MPs, including Blair (three times), were questioned. Levy was arrested. It was later discovered that Blair had given an honour to two-thirds of people who had donated over £50,000 to the Labour Party; donors who had given over £1,000,000 were either awarded with a life peerage or a knighthood. The Labour Party acknowledged that it had taken loans worth £18 million from individuals, more than three times what it had previously reported. It did not say who had made the loans, which accounted for most of the money Labour said it had spent on the May 2005 elections. The case was eventually dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service but the Labour Party’s funds were disastrously hit by returning the loans and Blair’s own reputation was further undermined.

Lib Dems

In November 2014, former Liberal Democrat Treasurer, Lord Razzall, while plugging his book on BBC radio, said that he was regularly approached by wealthy businessmen, often with no interest in politics, who would appear “out of the blue” offering million-pound donations in exchange for a seat in the House of Lords. The Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 states that it is a criminal offence for someone to offer “any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour”. Razzall, who worked as a solicitor for nearly 30 years, never thought of notifying the police. The three biggest donors to the Liberal Democrats had been given peerages by Nick Clegg when he was deputy prime minister in David Cameron’s coalition.

 

David Cameron

In less than a year of becoming PM, David Cameron created 117 new peers – prompting a group of existing Lords to write a pamphlet entitled “House Full”. David Cameron was accused of taking cronyism to new heights by bestowing honours on 46 aides, advisers (such as a knighthood for Lynton Crosby, the controversial political strategist credited with engineering the Conservative election victory in 2015) and ministers honours in his resignation list. He even gave an MBE to his barber, Raffaele Claudio Carbosiero, in 2014 for “services to hairdressing”.

Boris Johnson

So far Boris Johnson has not seen fit to reward his hairdresser (if he has one).

Boris Johnson did not just reward his cronies, he punished, by withholding expected honours,  his enemies, like former speaker John Bercow, as well as those who he felt should have given him more support, such as Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, who warned  of the damage Brexit would do to the economy.

Johnson showed his utter cynicism in responding to criticism of Russian influence in British elections by giving a peerage to his friend Evgeny Lebedev, Soviet-born son of a former KGB agent, who happened to own the Evening Standard. Veronica Wadley was editor of the Evening Standard when that paper backed Johnson’s campaign to replace Ken Livingstone as London’s mayor in 2008. She got a CBE in 2018. This time round she got a life peerage.

A life peerage also for James Wharton who was created Baron Wharton of Yarm, becoming the youngest male member of the House at the age of 36. He made a number of visits to Sri Lanka. Wharton denied allegations that he had become too close to the Sri Lankan government. Wharton helped Johnson with his leadership bid.

Peerages  went to a number of people who have donated generously to the Tory party: Peter Cruddas who donated £50,000 to Johnson’s leadership campaign and has given over £3 million to the Conservatives since 2007; billionaire businessman Michael Spencer, a former Tory treasurer who has given around £5 million to the party; Jon Moynihan, who chaired Vote Leave’s finance committee and donated £100,000 to Johnson’s leadership bid,

Cruddas

 

Spencer

 

Moynihan

 

Sri Lanka and the Pandemic

Go Home

One reads a lot in the western press about how badly the UK and US governments are coping with the Covid19 pandemic. One of the UK’s diplomatic strengths has long been its international advocacy for global health, and its current poor domestic performance may cause other nations to think again about the prestige accorded to Britain. Britain’s embarrassing failures undermine its soft power in the international arena and ‘less-developed’ nations may be even less willing to listen to British ‘advice’ on health and, indeed, other matters.

A few weeks ago, Sarah Hulton OBE, UK High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, went on Facebook to advise any British citizens still loitering about in Sr Lanka to hie them hence smartish. She noted that some British passport holders were in Sri Lanka visiting family. She reiterated the UK Government advice that all British nationals who normally live in the UK should return to the UK now. She wrote: “Serious outbreaks of coronavirus are placing a significant strain on health services globally. In the event of a serious outbreak in Sri Lanka, consular services and flights out of the country could be seriously affected. We cannot guarantee what flight options might be available if people choose to leave at a later date.” I well remember that after the tsunami, UK “consular services” were as helpful as the proverbial chocolate teapot.  If these lingerers, who probably see themselves as Sri Lankans, want to stay with their families in Sri Lanka in this difficult time, why tell them to go to the UK to add to the UK’s burden? One person wryly asked why the High Commissioner was sending fellow citizens to the UK to a death sentence.

 

Imperial Arrogance

Was the High Commissioner really saying “get back to Blighty soon because when it really hits the fan these damned colonials won’t be able to cope with it”? It should be noted that many of those doing their best to cope with the crisis in the UK are immigrants. Most of the NHS staff who have died, including a Sri Lankan, Dr Anton Sebastianpillai, were immigrants, immigrants who survived the “hostile environment” created by Theresa May but perished trying to save others. One nurse who died had been photographed with Boris Johnson. He has been highly irresponsible in spreading the virus and has the Galle Face to praise the NHS for saving his life.

Exploitation of Immigrants

Foreign staff working for the NHS actually have to pay the UK government for the privilege of working. This surcharge is £400 a year and was due to increase to £624 until Keir Starmer raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions on May 20. NHS and care staff already ‘contribute’ to the cost of the NHS through their taxes, and this surcharge effectively taxes them twice. According to Paul Waugh of Huffington Post, some NHS trusts are so incensed by the iniquity of the surcharge that they actually pay it on behalf of their staff. Johnson bumblingly admitted at PMQs that foreign NHS staff saved his life but insisted that the £900 million the surcharge brings in was indispensable to the nation. A spokesman admitted to Huffington Post that he didn’t know how much NHS and care workers actually do pay, let alone the healthcare costs of foreign worker. A spokesman later said: “The PM has asked the Home Office and Department of Health and Social Care to remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible”.

Confusion Rule the Waves

As I write (May 22) people in the UK are totally confused by the government’s latest guidance. Boris Johnson is coming under increasing criticism for the missteps he has taken in dealing with the crisis from the outset. He now has a formidable opponent in the new leader of the opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. Starmer has had a distinguished career as a human rights barrister and served five years as the UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions. He brings incisive forensic skills to his questioning of inept government ministers who have never done a proper job in their lives. Johnson and his possible successor, Gove, were journalists (not very good ones). It is depressing to contemplate what a better job Starmer would be doing as prime minister, depressing to contemplate the missed opportunities, the lives needlessly lost.

Despite the difficulties, the situation in Sri Lanka is encouraging. Health Review Global did a thorough analysis and concluded: “We have studied the responses of many countries to the coronavirus pandemic. We at healthreviewglobal.com decided to select Sri Lanka for its swift and impressive response to the global epidemic despite being a second world economy. On top of it, we learned the importance of investing in public health”.

Lack of Recognition

Nevertheless, it is surprising how little coverage there is world-wide of Sri Lanka’s battle against the virus. The London Sunday Times published an article entitled Lifting Lockdown: What Britain can learn from the rest of the world. The article draws on a report by the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. Readers are invited to: “Select any of the 109 countries tracked to see their lockdown journey.” I scrolled down the list and discovered a strange gap between Spain and Sudan. Shouldn’t Sri Lanka be in there?

The London Times: “by early March, it was clear that transmission was being restricted in parts of Asia through testing and tracing. South Korea has yet to have a single day with more than nine deaths, and has kept offices, restaurants and shops open.” Sri Lanka has locked down and there have only been nine deaths IN TOTAL.

On May 21, the New York Times published a map of the global spread of the virus. Sri Lanka was not on the map but our junior neighbours, the Maldive Islands, were. The Maldives has a population of 540,544 and there have been four deaths

New Zealand, which locked down before it had a single death, has seen its stringency score fall by nearly ten points. New Zealand and its prime minister have justly been praised for a successful approach to the crisis. New Zealand’s population is 4.88 million; there have been 21 deaths.

I hope you don’t get bored with me repeating this. Sri Lanka has a population of 21.4 million. There have been nine deaths from the virus.

Nepal reported its what was claimed to be its first coronavirus death on May 16 — a 29-year-old woman had who recently given birth — as the total number of people infected in the country reached 281. Nepal’s population is 28 million. In January, Nepal was the first south Asian country to report a case of coronavirus. The country has been under lockdown since March 24 after a second case was confirmed. Epidemiologist Lhamo Sherpa said, “I don’t think this is the first death. There have been cases of deaths where similar symptoms were seen, but the cause was unclear”.

Sri Lanka’s Action

 

The Sri Lankan government deserves praise for the way it has handled the crisis. Sri Lanka reacted rapidly to early warnings while most Western countries complacently carried on as normal. The world was put on notice on 31 December 2019, when the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported an unusual cluster of cases of pneumonia. Our president, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, elected by a decisive majority last November, followed up his advice to people to stay at home and keep a safe social distance by imposing a curfew from Friday 20 March at 6.00 p.m. The first reported case involving a Sri Lankan national, a 52-year-old tour guide, was declared recovered and released from quarantine on March 26. On 28 March, the first death from the virus was announced. The victim was 60-year-old diabetic who had had a heart transplant. As of May 16, the total number of confirmed cases is 935 and 477 patients have completely recovered so far. There have been nine deaths.

Odious Comparisons

When I initially compared the total number of deaths in Sri Lanka and UK, I was told such comparisons could not be made. The UK government is also arguing that international comparisons are odious. Odious to them, perhaps, because deaths in the UK are, at 36,550 (May 23) the worst in Europe (According to the Financial Times, it’s probably nearer 63,000). The UK population is 67.83 million. Sri Lanka’s population is 21.67 million. The UK accounts for less than one per cent of the global population but accounts for 12 per cent of reported Covid deaths.

It is very strange that Sri Lanka is never mentioned when comparative responses to the virus are being discussed. Ireland is held up as a good example. The population of the Republic of Ireland is 4.94 million. As of 23 May, the Irish Department of Health has confirmed a total of 1,592 deaths. Sri Lanka’s population is 21.4 million and there have been nine deaths. There is of course the danger of complacency but let’s give ourselves a little encouragement in these dark days.

A well-informed Irish friend, a former diplomat, tentatively suggested that Ireland might have special circumstances which made it more difficult for it to cope with the pandemic than it is for Sri Lanka. “Small or medium-sized highly globalised countries located within the main highway of the globalised economy and with high volumes of diverse migrant and visitor population flows (Ireland, Sweden, UK) may have a greater exposure”.

Sri Lanka is not exempt from globalisation. Sri Lanka’s land mass is roughly the same as the island of Ireland but the population is 5.25 times that of the Republic. Like Ireland, Sri Lanka does not have huge cities and there is a lot of open nature and mountains. Ireland has long had a problem with rural depopulation. However, it is obvious that Sri Lanka has a greater density of population in urban areas than Ireland.  Ireland only started attracting immigrants in recent times but Sri Lanka has long had a very diverse ethnic mix. Even today, there are communal frictions because of the government’s insistence on cremation of Covid victims.

Sri Lanka’s geographical position makes it a global hub for maritime traffic. It has attracted a vast amount of Chinese investment and personnel which makes India take a keen geopolitical interest. Chinese collaborative projects with Sri Lanka developed a working population of Chinese and Sri Lankans that moved between the two countries. The Department of Immigration and Emigration informed all construction sites to restrict their Chinese employees to their respective workplaces and lodgings

Migrant Labour

Among the many factors severely damaging the Sri Lankan economy during the pandemic is the effect on migrant labour. Way back in 2008, I wrote: “remittances from migrant workers represent more than nine per cent of GDP. Sri Lanka receives US$ 526 million more in remittances than it does from foreign aid and foreign direct investment combined. These remittances are now a greater source of revenue than our tea exports.”  It long ago became the norm for remittances from migrant workers to bear the main burden of containing Sri Lanka’s fiscal deficit. According to the 2012 Annual Statistics of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, approximately 1.8 million Sri Lankans were working abroad of which 51% were men and 49% were women. These people are having to come home. A considerable number of returnees are from badly affected countries and this causes problems. Some of the clusters of confirmed cases arose because migrant workers returning from Italy were disappearing into their local communities without registering with the police or being tested.

Sri Lankan National Health Services, headed by Director General Anil Jasinghe, established 46 quarantine centres.  In the early stages, repatriated migrant workers from Italy and South Korea, were placed in quarantine facilities close to their hometowns They were transported by Government and military to prevent contact between family members, and all vehicles and contaminants were duly sanitized.  The military provided beds and bedding for the quarantine units.

Sri Lanka is fortunate in that it is an island nation which accepts most of its visitors through one international airport, Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). In January, (when the UK was doing nothing) travellers reported that they were subjected to thermal screening at BIA.  Quarantine facilities were quickly established and expanded. Facilities for treating Corona patients were quickly made available in 16 major hospitals with IDH (Infectious Diseases Hospital) at Angoda as the key institution. Foreign tourists from 14 countries were among those quarantined.  When they were released many of them applauded in the media the efficient and courteous treatment they received.

Well-Established Health Service

One of the advantages that Sri Lanka enjoys is a free healthcare network of state hospitals nationwide supplemented by a thriving well-equipped private system. Sri Lanka’s state-funded universal health care service has considerable experience in managing deadly diseases.  Malaria and polio were eliminated and AIDS, SARS, H1N1, Chikungunya and MERS were successfully tackled. In 2005, Sri Lanka did not suffer the much-anticipated epidemics following the Indian Ocean tsunami.  In the IDP camps at the end of the war against the LTTE in 2009, there was not the predicted outbreak of deadly disease.

MOH (Medical Officer of Health) geographical areas were established across the island in 1926 to provide preventive health services at a community level, through a team of medical officers, public health nurses, health inspectors and midwives.

Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Director General of Health Services in Sri Lanka said: ““We have no issue whatsoever with our treatment capacities. We have been incrementally strengthening capacities. We don’t want to say how many ICU beds or how many hospitals are available, but I assure you we are ready for any number of cases”. The objective is mainly to minimize the number of patients at the outset, instead of allowing the disease to progress and having to treat patients at hospitals. Contrast this with the UK’s early flirtation with herd immunity. “We have been able to minimize the number of patients and even with the present-day clusters, we believe that with our strong public health system, we will soon be able to curtail the numbers.”

“Beggars have also been taken to certain residential facilities where they are taken care of. Notwithstanding the socio-economic level, I think they have been treated well and they are given clothes and meals, their requirements have been well looked after. Even the special segments of society are well looked after.”

Lockdown

All flights to BIA were stopped from March 19. High risk areas in the Negombo and Puttalam districts were locked down. Schools closed indefinitely. Government offices closed and working from home was encouraged.  Large gatherings were banned and the planned parliamentary election was postponed. An island-wide curfew was monitored by the police and the armed forces. To date (May 20) over 60,000 people have been arrested for curfew violation and will be prosecuted. Over 13,500 vehicles have been impounded.

Industry

The garment export industry stepped in to retool and provide PPE supplies for medical personnel and the general public. The state-owned Sugar Corporation and the private distillery companies provided alcohol-based sanitizers.

Industries with the ability to change their production lines and retool supported the government with making Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including gowns and masks for medical personnel and other needs as required.

Religious organizations are donating to keep people and the front-line workers supported.  The Government is helping with financial and other relief for those who have lost earnings.

Tracing

Systems were set up to facilitate the exchange of medical information. Police were involved at an early stage in tracking down people likely to have been exposed to the virus and to deal with those who were uncooperative in following government guidelines. the Police Media Commissioner Ajith Rohana is an important member of the team.

Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, Major General Kamal Gunaratne, announced on April 19 that army intelligence officers will obtain the assistance of telecommunication service providers to trace contacts and places visited by COVID-19 patients.

As soon as the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health hears from a designated laboratory of a positive case, its staff activate “case search” among the infected person’s close contacts. The “activation” essentially involves informing the military and State Intelligence Service immediately, who then proceed to trace those who had been in contact with the patient, and direct them to quarantine.

“Contact tracing of the affected personnel remains the most important factor for containment. The intelligence services of the armed forces and the Police, with health authorities, were tasked to conduct contact tracing into first, second and third tiers of the confirmed, suspected and exposed cases. Therefore, the quarantine process and the conduct of PCR testing were followed up as and when required. “

In the UK, on 18 May, it was revealed that applicants to become contact tracers for the NHS were told recruitment was on hold while the government considered an alternative app. The shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, said: “Test, trace and isolate is fundamental to managing and controlling this virus and safely easing lockdown – yet the government’s approach has been increasingly chaotic, with misstep after misstep.” But the app is working against constraints in modern smartphones that only Google and Apple can work around, as well as arriving burdened with privacy concerns that could deter some members of the public from using it. Wide-ranging security flaws have been flagged in the Covid-19 contact-tracing app being piloted in the Isle of Wight.

Armed Forces

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa set up a ‘National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID- 19 Outbreak’ led by Army Commander Shavendra Silva.

The army, navy and air force have played a huge role in the success of Sri Lanka’s anti-Covid programme. Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidency of Sri Lanka in November 2019 by a convincing majority. He is possibly the first president of Sri Lanka to have done a proper job. He was a Colonel in the Sri Lankan Army and saw action against the JVP and the Tamil Tigers. He emigrated to the USA in 1998 but returned to Sri Lanka to support his brother Mahinda’s presidential campaign in 2005. When Mahinda decided to take on the LTTE militarily, Gotabaya became his defence secretary. The LTTE were soundly beaten in 2009 and there have been no incidents since. In a fairly short time, Gotabaya Rajapaksa turned a shambolic army into an effective and reliable force for wartime or peacetime. The army that Gotabaya Rajapaksa created is, essentially, still with us although the personnel has changed. The current Army Commander and Chief of Defence Staff, Shavendra Silva, played a crucial role in the ultimate victory over the LTTE. Although Sri Lanka has no external enemies (to fight by force, anyway), the Tri-Forces have proved their worth in peacetime.

The Navy handled shipments of food supplies from ports and delivered them to the public.  They also sanitized the streets and public places to prevent infection. Because navy personnel were engaged in front-line activities, they were vulnerable to infection. New cases of infection are being described as the ‘Navy cluster’.  All 35 cases reported on May 19 were sailors. Sailors were deployed to hunt down a group of drug addicts who had contact with a COVID-19 patient and were evading quarantine. Sailors at a Sri Lankan naval base became the biggest cluster of coronavirus infections with 480 being tested positive. The virus spread when sailors went on home leave. About 4,000 navy troops were quarantined while 242 relatives were taken to quarantine centers run by the navy. As of May 17, 151 naval personnel have recovered and discharged from hospitals.

Symposium

Professor Indika Karunathilake, President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, chaired a discussion at Wijerama House on April 30 as part of the Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health international webinar on Covid-19. Attending were Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, Director General Health Services Dr Anil Jasinghe and Chief Physician at the National Infectious Diseases Institute Dr Ananda Wijewickrama discussed Sri Lanka’s unique approach to tackling the disease and made important notes on challenges ahead.

Dr Wijewickrama said. “At present, the Health Ministry’s policy is to admit all the positive cases irrespective of their symptomatology (Symptoms characteristic of a medical condition exhibited by a patient) We can do that at the moment because we only have close to 700 patients in the country. That is an incidence of about 3 per 100,000,”

Donald Trump might be interested to learn that Covid-19 positive patients in Sri Lanka are currently being treated with Hydroxychloroquine, a drug used in the successful treatment of malaria. Dr Wijewickrama said that they were aware of the controversy over the drug but had decided to use it and were “analysing the response of the patients, the physical symptoms as well as the viral clearance of the patients who were given this drug”. In three severe instances, patients were treated with convalescent plasma.

Human Rights

There are many who are worried about militarization. “Placing an army General at the helm of the campaign against the epidemic is as inane as asking a medical doctor with zero-military training to lead a war,” wrote columnist Tisaranee Gunasekara. Although many applaud the role of the navy, she thinks it was a foolish error to involve sailors and their role was mishandled when it discovered that they were the cause of most new infections.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concern because Sri Lanka’s inspector general of police ordered police to arrest those who “criticize” officials involved in the coronavirus response, or share “fake” or “malicious” messages about the pandemic. HRW also put out a statement: “Gen. Shavendra Silva, who heads the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak, faces credible allegations of war crimes during the final months of Sri Lanka’s long civil war. Ethnic Tamils, Muslims, and critics of the government, who have long borne the brunt of security force abuses, will be especially concerned that their civil and political rights will not be respected.”

Note those weasel words “credible allegations”. The Darusman Panel used that phrase when disseminating inflated figures about the number of civilians killed at the end of the war. The real meaning of the words soon became lost with repetition and “credible allegations’ elided into “proven fact”. On May 19 2020, most Sri Lankans celebrated the 11th anniversary of the end of the war. In that long time, the “credible allegations” have not been proved but General Silva is banned from entering the USA.

I do not have the space here to go into all the arguments about war crimes and human rights abuses that have been circulating for a dozen years without any resolution. One can find plenty of articles dealing with this on the websites of Groundviews and Colombo Telegraph. Here are a few examples:

https://groundviews.org/2020/05/12/ramzy-razeek-an-extraordinary-struggle-for-an-ordinary-life-of-service-upended-by-an-arrest/

https://groundviews.org/2020/05/10/election-against-democracy/

https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/lanka-may-cease-to-be-a-democracy-by-june-1-if-court-does-not-resolve-constitutional-deadlock-counsel-suren-fernando/

When Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in the 2015 presidential election, the victorious coalition promised yahapalanagood governance, an end to corruption and cronyism. They did not bring any miscreants to book and perpetrated their own corruption. They introduced chronic incompetence which was symbolized by the lethal inertia with which they dealt with the Easter bombings. Even opponents of the Rajapaksas rejoice that we did not have the Yahapalana crowd dealing with the pandemic.

If you read the comments on Colombo Telegraph you might think that the overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans think the government is fascist and in the process of using the military to undermine democracy. The website is run from London and none of the commenters reveal their true identity. They could be anybody, they could be nobody. Groundviews depends for its existence on foreign funding.

Democracy

Democracy has not been doing too well lately. Trump is busy wrecking the USA and its reputation and causing unnecessary deaths after winning three million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the UK, Boris Johnson struggled to “get Brexit done” with a majority of minus 43 and now struggles to cope with a pandemic with a secure majority of 80. The authority of the Irish Cabinet is diminished by the fact that three of its members were voted out of the Dáil (parliament) in the general election on February 8 but remain in Government. It could be argued that Sinn Féin won the election, but they are being kept out of power by the two parties who normally take to turns to govern.The Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar is getting good world press for the way he is handling the crisis (and working one day a week as doctor – medical, not political science) but his party was defeated in the election. The Dáil hardly exists at present and its committees are in abeyance. The most influential body in the management of the crisis, is the NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team). Neither elected representatives nor the media have access to its meetings.

In Russia, Putin was re-elected in 2018 with nearly 80 percent of the vote and faces no serious threats to his power. He has not been having a good pandemic. According to Andrew Higgins in the New York Times, “the pandemic has only highlighted what has always been Mr Putin’s biggest vulnerability: a pronounced lack of interest or success in tackling intractable domestic problems like dilapidated hospitals, pockets of entrenched poverty and years of falling real incomes.”  Putin has been sheltering at his country villa and has not been pictured in public for nearly a month. Higgins described his Orthodox Easter message to the nation as “what, me worry?” Russia has had 1,537 deaths out of a population of 144.5 million.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidential election only last November by a comfortable margin. There are calls to reconvene the parliament that he dissolved on March 3 with an expectation of a parliamentary election on April 25. Because of the pandemic, the election had been postponed indefinitely. In the parliament that was elected in 2015 the UNP had 106 seats, not a clear majority. The Sri Lankan Freedom Party, which had once been powerful enough to rule the country, in the 2015 parliament was part of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) which won 95 seats. The SLFP barely exists any more having been usurped by the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna – Sri Lanka People’s Front) which won a landslide victory in the much-delayed local elections in February 2018. The UNP were only able to secure 34 councils out of 340, whereas the SLPP won 231.

Many people detest Gota but many more admire him and think he is doing a good job. The following comment is probably more representative than any of the opinions expressed by the anonymous sages of Colombo Telegraph. “Our President is forging ahead in brilliance, with innovative decisions, gaining the confidence of more and more people. This is the very reason for all the Opposition bull shit every day! They have no credibility after yahapalana period!”

 

 

Dirty Britain

Many detached observers have asked what the point of Brexit is. Who benefits?

Many people have asked the simple question: why is the UK going through the ghastly and costly process of leaving the EU?  Remainers are fighting to keep jobs and save businesses, are fearful about their livelihoods. The government’s own research has clearly shown that there will be major disruption to the economy and to the daily lives of ordinary people. Did anyone vote in the referendum to be worse off? Who benefits from this chaos?

The prime minister’s more attractive and brighter sister, Rachel, has some ideas on the subject, “People who have invested billions in shorting the pound or shorting the country in the expectation of a no deal Brexit”. Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, explored the same theme, alleging that Johnson “is backed by speculators who have bet billions on a hard Brexit – and there is only one outcome that works for them: a crash-out no-deal Brexit that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring.” Nick Macpherson, former permanent secretary to the Treasury, said Hammond was right to question the political connections of some of the hedge funds with a financial interest in no deal.

Peter Jukes wrote in Byline Times on 23 September 2019: “according to City insiders, Boris Johnson’s push towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit is a ‘free lunch’ for hedge funds and currency traders.” Sir Jim O’Neill, the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs’ Asset Management, said “A lot of them are saying thank goodness for Boris, he’s giving us a chance to make some money”.

Byline Times determined how many donations to Johnson’s Conservative Party leadership campaign came from hedge funds, City traders or wealthy investors. This revealed that, between 24 May and 23 July 2019, £357,500 of the £552,500 came from such donors. They made up 65% of the value of the donations, and 30 out of 40 (75%) of the number of donors. “Boris Johnson remains heavily reliant on one of the few sectors hedge funds, foreign exchange and derivative trading which could actually profit from a sudden decline in share prices or the fall of sterling.”

Molly Scott Cato is a current Member of the European Parliament. She writes: “Lives may be lost and our economy destroyed, but for many of the key Brexit players a No Deal scenario and the chaos this would cause is simply an opportunity to maximise their returns.” Jacob Rees-Mogg was a thorn in the flesh of Theresa May with his clique of radicals within the Conservative Party, the ERG (Economic Research Group). Although he was strongly in favour of Brexit, he was canny enough to move his own hedge fund to Dublin to retain the advantages of being in the EU. He is no longer a rebel, but is in the government as Leader of the House of Commons. His Somerset Capital Management was managed via subsidiaries in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Singapore. Many of those who strongly support Brexit have reason to fear new EU regulations on tax havens. The EU recently tripled its list of tax havens to include fifteen countries.

Crispin Odey was a major contributor to the Leave campaign. He told the BBC on the morning of the referendum result that he had made £220m speculating that the markets would fall, saying “‘Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca’ – the morning has gold in its mouth”. He has now bet £300m against British businesses, so that he will profit when they collapse as a result of No Deal Brexit. Odey Asset Management – friend to Boris Johnson– has been actively shorting UK high street retail chains.  High street retailers are doing badly because of online shopping.  Odey is shorting their shares wholesale, which only makes matters worse.

Richard Tice co-founded the Leave campaign with Arron Banks, whose finances in relation to the Leave campaign are far from transparent. Tice is the chairman of the Brexit Party, a Eurosceptic political party which participated in the 2019 European parliamentary election. Tice has listed his property business offshore on a stock exchange in Guernsey. In 2019, Tice was elected as a Brexit Party Member of the European Parliament for the East of England. Molly Scott Cato writes that Tice describes his economic activity as “expertise in ‘distressed debt’. Others would call this vulture capitalism, and sharks like Tice are circling as the Brexit they have campaigned for destroys genuine businesses and makes their assets available for snapping up at low prices.” Tice is the lover of Isabel Oakeshott whose book on David Cameron included an allegation that Cameron, during his university days, performed a sex act involving a dead pig. The unsubstantiated story was dependent on hearsay and Oakeshott subsequently conceded her source could have been “deranged”.

Five candidates for the Brexit Party were businessmen and millionaires with links to tax havens. Nigel Farage admitted setting up a tax haven trust fund on the Isle of Man for “inheritance purposes”. Yorkshire candidate John Longworth advised the Hottinger Group, which is owned by an offshore firm named in the Panama Papers. South West candidate James Glancy is chief executive and part-owner of a security consultancy whose largest shareholder is based offshore on the Isle of Man. South East candidate Chris Ellis was chairman for a diamond mine business operating through a company in the British Virgin Islands and named in the Paradise Papers. London candidate Graham Shore is co-owner of Shore Capital Group which says it will “take advantage of Brexit uncertainty” and whose ultimate parent company is based in Guernsey. Among the City hedge fund operators backing Boris Johnson are David Lilley of RK Capital, Jon Wood of SRM Global, and Johan Christofferson of Christofferson, Robb and Co. These patriotic Brexiteers are seeking financial gain from undermining their country and its institutions.

Some people have rubbished claims of dirty dealings and told us we do not understand how hedge funds work. That may be true because they are specifically designed for us not to understand. Hedge funds are risk-takers. They invest in risky stocks or projects, in the hope of making above-average returns. George Kerevan writes: “Brexit is not a cry for help from the English underclass.  It is a carefully stage-managed campaign by global finance capital in the form of the hedge funds.  It is being orchestrated out of hedge fund self-interest and the greed of billionaires.  Boris Johnson is their front man.”

Guto Bebb, a former Conservative minister ejected from the party for opposing a no-deal Brexit, said: “The dubious financiers who supported the ‘leave’ campaign and the prime minister’s leadership campaign are betting against Britain. The PM should put the interests of the country first rather than facilitating a financial bonanza for a few.”

This Septic Isle

This article was published in Ceylon Today on October 7 2019

 

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/42031

I am planning a trip to the UK and am somewhat trepidatious about what I might encounter there considering the increasingly tense situation arising out of the uncertainties surrounding Brexit. When I was there last year, I was pleasantly surprised by a number of things.  I was staying in a very ethnically mixed area.  One rarely saw a white face and when one did, it spoke Polish. Despite the heterogeneous nature of the population, what used to be considered as British values generally prevailed. People queued in an orderly fashion at the post office and held doors open for other people. If one held a door open one would be thanked. If one hesitated at a pedestrian crossing indicating one might be thinking of crossing, vehicles would immediately stop. They would even stop if one was not on an official crossing. People thanked bus drivers when alighting and the drivers reciprocated.

I only saw the native English in central Croydon. They were generally elderly, frail, wheelchair-bound. I was astounded at the number of grotesquely obese people – of all ethnicities. Health is a major anxiety. I have just finished reading John Bew’s excellent biography of Clement Attlee, a mild-mannered, quiet man who transformed Britain (for the better) when he was prime minister for the first years of my life. The chancers who run Britain today have destroyed the welfare state, driving poor sick people to suicide.

There were stories on the news every day of knife attacks. Children were being stabbed to death for no reason. A pregnant woman was stabbed to death in her own home near to where I was staying. Adults were attacked for the sole reason of being Muslim or for speaking a language not English. An Indian customer in Lidl (a German-based supermarket chain offering a cornucopia of culinary delights at reasonable prices – how will Brexit affect that?) was berating a rather alarming tattooed assistant possibly of Baltic origin. Soren rarely smiles but is always polite and competent. When we were walking to Lidl we passed a severely burnt-out car which made one think of downtown Damascus. I was vaguely aware of a small, middle-aged, white-haired Afro-Caribbean man veering over to our side of the pavement. He shoulder-barged my wife and then complained that we had attacked him and demanded an apology. This was humbly given but did not stop him shouting filth at us.

Encounters with homeless beggars can be problematic. Some appreciate what they are given and understand when one is unable to donate.  Some can be aggressive and abusive. There were so many hapless people shivering in the bitter cold, it was difficult to keep enough cash about one’s person to help all of them. Many of them have mental health problems and austerity policies have meant cuts in services. We are now told that austerity is over and Boris Johnson is promising jam for everyone from the Magic Money Tree. All that suffering was for nothing. It is very difficult to earn enough money to buy or rent a home in London. Not all those sleeping rough are unemployed. Many people who are not actually homeless are living in squalid conditions.

Successive governments have continued Margaret Thatcher’s 1980 policy of selling off social housing. While there may have been some merit in council tenants being able to buy their own homes, the policy has caused severe social problems. An analysis of Freedom of Information data showed that that more than 40% of council houses sold in London are now privately rented. Around 466 individuals or companies have the leasehold for at least five former council homes each. Councils have spent £22m a year on renting back properties they once owned to use as temporary accommodation.

The Leave vote in the EU referendum was, to a great extent an expression of disgruntlement. People were unhappy about many things caused by the policies of the UK government but they saw fit to blame the EU, which was pouring millions in subsidies into deprived areas like South Wales and Sunderland. A post-Brexit UK will not replace these subsidies.

Disgruntlement is exacerbated now by uncertainty and the poison encouraged by the current government. Political analyst Ian Dunt writes: “There is a genuine concern about the country, a fear for its future, and a sense that their understanding of themselves as Brits is going through an upheaval. It is political and personal. And then there is the background thrum of abuse, like a distant drumbeat, forming an awful soundtrack to a horrible process…We’re all sick of hating one another. People yearn to go back to a country that wasn’t severed in half in this way. But they can’t get back there. The map is lost.”

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve was ejected from the Conservative Party for opposing a No-Deal Brexit. He writes in the Daily Mail: “I have been astonished to hear ministers talking up the possibility of civil disorder if we do not leave the EU on October 31… The message coming from Downing Street is we have to leave by October 31 or there will be riots.”

The party of law and order is using the incitement to violence as a cynical strategy. Brexiteers seem determined now to stir up hatred and to incite violence. Nigel Farage said the civil service will be looked at: “Once Brexit’s done, we’ll take a knife to them”. Apologists for Farage claimed that he merely wanted to cut civil service numbers. However, Dominic Hornberger, from Birmingham, was charged with grievous bodily harm and possession of a knife in a public place at Westminster Magistrates’ Court after he stabbed a civil servant outside the Home Office. The 29-year-old accused was also carrying a banned CS spray and a ferret. Professional contrarian Brendan O’Neill of the Spiked organisation (funded by the Koch brothers) said there “should be riots on the streets” to get the UK out of the EU. Boris Johnson said we must not give in to the “betrayal” of the “surrender bill” which blocks No Deal.

MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death while campaigning against Brexit by a right-wing fanatic shouting “Britain First”.

 

In the Commons last week, many female MPs talked about the death threats they were still receiving from Leave supporters. Johnson was asked to apologise for the immoderate language he was using. Far from saying sorry, he said it was “humbug” for a Labour MP to request he temper his language, to try to protect MPs’ safety. He said the best way to honour Jo Cox, was to “get Brexit done”. MPs left the chamber in tears.

 

 

 

 

Poverty in the UK

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on March 292018

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/news-search/padraig%20colman/print-more/1616

 

In the UK, the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions changes its name every few years to protect the guilty. When I worked for it, it was called the SS) is more unloved than it ever was – and that is saying something.

A combination of austerity measures and a deluded faith in outsourcing has caused a great deal of extra suffering to already vulnerable people. The National Audit Office (NAO) has reported that 70,000 benefit claimants were underpaid by an average of £5,000 each since 2011. 20,000 people could be owed around £11,500 each and “a small number of people” could have been underpaid by £20,000.

There are many people who desperately need that money. Poverty is not just a problem for people who cannot find jobs. Even people in full-time work struggle to exist. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of children growing up in poverty, live in a family where at least one person works. A family might move into poverty because of a rise in living costs, a drop in earnings through job loss or benefit changes.

Data released by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that in 2015, some 4.6 million (7.3 per cent) people were enduring “persistent” poverty. The technical meaning of ‘persistent poverty’ is living in relative income poverty in the current year and at least two of the three preceding years. The figure marks a 700,000 rise in people who are persistently poor since 2014, affecting 6.5 per cent of the population.

It is generally agreed that the effects of experiencing relative low income for long periods of time are more detrimental than experiencing low income for short periods. The proportion of women who were persistently poor in 2015 stood at 8.2 per cent, compared with 6.3 per cent of men – marking the biggest gender gap since data began in 2008. Such levels of poverty are having effects on people’s mental health.  Almost a third of the population was recorded as being at risk of poverty for at least one year between 2012 and 2015.The figures do not compare badly with other EU countries but things have got worse since 2015.

Poverty affects one in four children in the UK. There were 4 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2015-16 – look at it as 9 in a classroom of 30. That wonderful cosmopolitan city London has the highest rates of child poverty in the country. By GCSE, there is a 28 per cent gap between children receiving free school meals and their wealthier peers in terms of the number achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSE grade Men in the most deprived areas of England have a life expectancy 9.2 year shorter than men in the least deprived areas. They also spend 14% less of their life in good health.

According to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report in 2011, in the year to 2009/10, the child poverty rate fell to 29%, the second fall in two years. Child poverty fell by around one-seventh under the previous Labour Government. More recently, Campbell Robb, the current chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warned of “signs we could be at the beginning of a sharp rise in poverty, with forecasts suggesting child poverty could rise further by 2021.”Government figures now show that 300,000 more people are now in poverty compared to last year

This suffering is not due to irresistible natural forces or even the spurious laws of economics. This is the result of boneheaded government policy. It has been government policy to impose austerity measures and cuts in public services and to entrust the administration of benefits to those more interested in profit than welfare. Many cuts have not yet worked their way through the system. Many of the most significant reductions to working age benefits will not be reflected in the 2016/17 figures but will bite harshly later on. Robb urged the government, “to restore the Work Allowances in Universal Credit to their original level.

By doing so, lower earners could keep more of their earnings ensuring they could reach a decent standard of living, benefiting over three million low income working households and protecting 340,000 people from being pushed into poverty by 2020 – 21.”

In a press release dated only a few days before I wrote this, 22 March 2018, Robb, said: “We share a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to build a better life. The government must act to right the wrong of in-work poverty.”
We will see.

 

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: https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/britain-teaches-the-world-to-torture/

 

 

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!

 

 

UK Parliamentary Election 2015

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday 12 May 2015

 

Colman's Column3

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?”

Human Rights Hypocrisy

This article was published in the Sunday Island on March 3, 2012

My friends in the UK are asking me what is happening to Sri Lanka as they read about the Commons debate and the shenanigans in Geneva. This is what I told them.

 

 
On February 22 2012, the House of Commons witnessed one of its periodic orgies of self-righteousness. The Pecksniffery was ecumenical – opposition MPs eagerly lined up to offer their unsolicited support for the UK government line. The issue that united so many diverse humbugs was the human rights record of the Sri Lankan government. The debate was about whether an independent, international commission of inquiry should be established to investigate allegations of war crimes perpetrated at the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict in 2009.

 

 
The debate was initiated by Virendra Sharma, Labour MP for Ealing Southall, who claimed the Sri Lankan military had killed 40,000 civilians. James Wharton, Conservative member for Stockton South and Stephen Hammond, Conservative member for Wimbledon questioned Sharma’s figures. Sharma promised to answer their points later but failed to do so. Nick de Bois, Conservative member for Enfield north said: “given the recent publication of this report (of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) and, notwithstanding the understandable scepticism…should not more time be given to see whether those involved can genuinely and accountably deliver? If they do not, then we hold them to account.”

 

 
The Sri Lankan government made a decision in 2006 to push for a military victory over the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) who had been fighting for nearly 30 years for a separate state in the north and east of Sri Lanka. The CFA (Cease Fire Agreement) brokered in 2002 by Norway never really held. When the Tigers assassinated the highly respected foreign minister Lakshman Kadigarmar, a Tamil, The government finally accepted that the LTTE were not sincere about peace.

 

 
In May 2009, the Tamil Tigers were comprehensively defeated. There have been no acts of terrorism in Sri Lanka since then, which is a great relief after the horrors suffered over decades. Leaving aside the behaviour of Sri Lankan bus drivers, Sri Lanka today is safer than the UK according to the MTRI (Maplecroft Terrorism Risk Index). All of the Tamil political parties who had fought for a separate state have now agreed to enter the democratic political process and many of them have joined the government in the reconciliation and reconstruction programme. Several prominent former Tigers now hold government office.

 

The charges laid against the Sri Lankan government by international human rights organisations, Ban-Ki Moon’s panel of advisors and Channel 4 News can be summarised as follows:

 

  • The Sri Lanka army and air force targeted hospitals and civilians in the NFZs (no-fire zones) leading to 40,000 civilian deaths.
  • Withholding of food and medical supplies from the north
  • Summary execution of prisoners
  • Rape of female combatants and civilians
  • Imprisoning of Tamil civilians in concentration camps.

 

Post war Tamil grievances are:

  • The government has failed to account for thousands of Tamils alleged to have disappeared or to have been abducted
  • The government was criticised for keeping refugees in camps. It is now being criticised for releasing them.
  • There is allegedly a deliberate policy to militarise the north and east
  • There is allegedly a plan to alter the demographics of the north by bringing in Sinhalese settlers
  • The government is reluctant to devolve power to the north and east.

 

One of the leading voices in the campaign against Sri Lanka is Siobhan McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden. She made a speech in Parliament saying she makes “no apology for concentrating on local issues”. The term “local issues” includes Sri Lanka because of the large number of Tamils in her constituency. On 16 June 2011, she made representations against “the deportation by the UK Border Agency of my constituent Mr. Jenach Gopinath back to Sri Lanka, whose Government are suspected of war crimes against Tamils, including the killing of 40,000 Tamil citizens. Later today, a plane chartered by the UKBA will deport 40 asylum-seeking Commonwealth citizens of Tamil ethnicity back to Sri Lanka”.

 

 
Siobhain McDonagh’s libertarianism and concern for human rights seem very selective. In spite of her campaign to stop her Tamil constituents from being deported, she had voted very strongly for a stricter asylum system i.e. more deportations. In spite of her campaign against Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism, she voted very strongly for Labour’s anti-terrorism laws and very strongly for introducing ID cards.

 

 
McDonagh says: “Anyone who has committed a crime must pay the price; they need to be tried. Then and only then can reconciliation go forward.” This does not appear to apply to Britain and Blair and Brown. In spite of her accusations against the Sri Lankan government about war crimes, she voted very strongly for the Iraq invasion, very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war.

 

 
During a Commons debate on 21 October 2005, she said: “Yes, some of us feel bad about Iraq; some were even in the Government when that decision was made. I think that deposing a murderous tyrant such as Saddam Hussein and introducing democracy to that part of the world was the right thing to do. I know that some people disagree. However, we cannot start changing the law for every future conflict because we feel guilty about how we behaved in the last one. We cannot constrain our troops by telling them, ‘You fight now—we’ll decide whether you were right to fight later.’ We cannot tie their hands behind their backs. We have to stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about the brave men and women in Mitcham and Morden and elsewhere”.

 

 
It depends who your murderous tyrant is and who is deposing him. It depends what you mean by democracy.

 

 
Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, said: “Any sensible person will realise the advantage our people got. Today there is no more killing, fighting. It is peaceful, people are free. Nobody can categorise [the crushing of the separatist rebel army which itself had committed atrocities] as a genocide.”

 

 
I would not celebrate the methods used by the UK to combat the IRA. There could be no rejoicing that Jean Charles Menezes died in the war against Islamic terrorism. Watching the President of the USA gloating over the shooting of the unarmed Osama bin Laden was not an elevating experience. One cannot be happy that Corporal Donald Payne served only a year’s imprisonment for beating to death an Iraqi hotel receptionist. I personally felt more relief than triumphalism at the death of LTTE leader Prabhakaran. I would have preferred to see him on trial.

 

 
The crimes alleged against Sri Lanka do not compare in magnitude to the war crimes perpetrated by the USA and UK over the decades and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. The USA blatantly ignored the Geneva Conventions and abducted innocents to torture them in foreign countries. Rather than being punished, those responsible are still free to sign lucrative book deals for advocating and practising torture.

 

 
A strong critic of the Sri Lankan government, journalist Namini Wijedasa, wrote thus: “The call for a credible investigation would be infinitely more effective if the global human rights industry were to show some fairness in its campaign – something it consistently fails to do. If the argument is that the vanquished are dead, leaving only the victors to be hounded, this is not so. Representatives of the LTTE are still active abroad and could be prosecuted.”

 

 
The Banyan column in the Economist: “It is probably too much to hope the government might adopt a fresh approach to these familiar allegations. There were always at least three ways to tackle them. It could, early on, have argued brazenly that the benefits of ending the war outweighed the cost in human life. The Tigers were as vicious and totalitarian a bunch of thugs as ever adopted terrorism as a national-liberation strategy. Or the government could have insisted that its army’s behaviour was largely honourable, but that some regrettable abuses may have occurred, which would be thoroughly investigated.”

 
The government’s position on “zero civilian casualties” has modified over time to a claim that everything possible was done to avoid civilian casualties. However, by failing to come up with its own numbers the government has allowed western critics to take sole possession of the numbers game. The Census Department has just released, with very little publicity, statistics suggesting the death toll was less than 9,000.
Some commentators actually living in Sri Lanka are worried that international investigations could reignite the fires of violence in a population whose majority is already feeling insecure and under attack. Read any blog to which members of the Sri Lankan diaspora, Tamil or Sinhalese, contribute and it is depressing to see how these keyboard warriors get off on the auto-eroticism of violent fantasies.

 

 
Sri Lankan human rights lawyer, Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, has written: “The truth about the deaths of civilians is vital to the process of reconciliation regardless of all other issues of accountability”. As in Northern Ireland, those left behind need the comfort of knowing what happened to their loved ones. Unfortunately, such a process can be hi-jacked by the conflict junkies who want to continue the hatred and violence.
Bad things happen in wars. Bad things have been happening for a long time in Sri Lanka. Terrible things were done by the LTTE. These things are hard to forget and forgive. The danger is that picking at the scabs would achieve exactly the opposite of reconciliation with dreadful consequences for the people of Sri Lanka.

 

Just because you’re paranoid…

This article was posted on The Agonist on September 30 2009. It still seems relevant following David Cameron’s visit in November 2013.

 

One can detect something of a siege mentality in Sri Lanka. There is a strong feeling that, after winning a long and brutal war, the country’s independence is threatened by unfair criticism from abroad. An important element in this is in the complex relationship with INGOs (International Non-governmental Organizations).

Susantha Goonatilake called his book on foreign-funded NGOs in Sri Lanka Recolonization.

In his conclusion he wrote:”Sri Lankan NGOs emerged in the late 1970s when the then government cracked down on democracy, transparency and accountability and killed locally-grown civil society… Sri Lanka thus became a partial NGO franchise state, with the NGOs attempting to erode the country’s sovereignty …The NGOs are now being squeezed and widely criticised, not only by the media, but also through massive street protests and countrywide posters. The coming years will see an outcome of the struggle between real civil society and foreign-funded NGOs. This struggle, which is partly between a reconciliation agenda and local voices, echoes Sri Lanka’s 500-year-old struggle with western colonial powers.”

There is a common resentment among Sri Lankans about the perceived arrogance of NGOs and the foreign correspondents that rely on them for access and information.

Gomin Dayasri has written about this: ”It’s a stopover in paradise for a Foreign Correspondent to live majestically on his overseas allowance. Such comfortable digs are not in the market in the recession-stung home country. There is exotic food and groovy watering holes at affordable prices. NGOs provide the freebies and roll out the red carpet…With the LTTE gone where they will go? After a few more horror stories to demean the Security Forces and back to the west to face the shock treatment of recession. War is an investment relief to the Foreign Correspondent. The order will soon come to pack the flak jackets and return to a not so sweet home and to wait patiently for a call to another exotic destination?”

I used to wonder why the Sri Lanka government was so paranoid about NGOs and foreign criticism. It seemed a bit crass to seek international help and get all huffy about foreign interference.

During the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA), to the outside world it would have seemed that the Norwegian facilitators were doing a difficult job in trying to bring peace to the war-torn island and getting very little thanks for it.

The leader of the Norwegian team was Erik Solheim, currently Norway’s International Development Minister. He recently called on the UN to investigate charges of war crimes in Sri Lanka, following the screening of a video on Channel 4 purporting to show Sri Lankan soldiers shooting unarmed Tamils. The Sri Lanka government claims that the video has been proved to be a fake.

The interrogation of Kumaran Padmanathan aka ”˜KP’, the LTTE’s arms procurer caught over two months ago, is helping to expose an international network that kept the Tigers in fighting trim. It has been revealed that the Norwegian government helped the LTTE to establish relations with Eritrea, which allowed the group to purchase arms, ammunition and equipment from China on Eritrean end-user certificates and other documents. Erik Solheim had been directly involved in forming the Eritrean-LTTE relationship. The LTTE had used Eritrean and also North Korean end-user-certificates to procure arms from China which were smuggled in several consignments before the Sri Lanka Navy destroyed eight floating arsenals September 2006 and October 2007.

Sri Lanka recently established diplomatic relations with Eritrea with a view to pursuing LTTE assets in that country. KP has revealed that an LTTE-owned business venture was entrusted with operating the International Airport in Asmara and that during the last leg of the war, it had been planned to smuggle the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran to Eritrea.

Over 90 per cent of the entire Tigers’ heavy equipment, including a range of artillery pieces and 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns captured by the Sri Lankan army were of Chinese origin.

Many Sri Lankans have long been suspicious about Norwegian influence in their country. Eyebrows were raised when Norwegian People’s Aid, a Norwegian Government-funded NGO said its heavy earth-moving vehicles, trucks & tractors had been ”stolen” by the LTTE. NPA had been implicated in smuggling arms to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. When the Sri Lanka Army captured the LTTE’s Stanley Base and other camps they found electricity generators, water pumps, tents, water dowsers belonging to INGOs. The massive bunkers could have been built with the stolen vehicles.

Norwegians were suspected of training LTTE Sea Tigers in Thailand. There was also speculation that Norway provided sophisticated satellite and communication equipment to the LTTE during the 2002 CFA truce.

CARE is a leading international organization based in Atlanta, Georgia which operates in more than 65 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. On its website it acknowledges that, although there is a great deal of poverty to be addressed in the USA itself, it prefers to work in foreign countries. It has more than 14,500 employees worldwide. More than 90 percent of CARE International staff are nationals of the countries where it operates.

According to the Kotahena Police, investigations have revealed that the bomb exploded at the Pittala Junction in Kollupitiya targeting Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was taken to Colombo from Kilinochchi in a vehicle belonging to CARE International. Police arrested Sivalingam Arunan, Patmanathan Iiyer Sriskandaraja Sharma and Arunasalam Arumugam Perumal in connection with the assassination attempt. The bomb material had been buried at a safe house in Wellawatte after being carried in a CARE International van. Later, it was transported to Modera and fixed to the three-wheeler of the suicide cadre Lateef Mohamed Faris.

Two Sri Lankan UN workers were arrested in June on suspicion of using NGO activity as a cover for aiding the LTTE. The two men in detention are a 45 year old employee of the UNHCR and a 31 year-old man employed by the UN Office for Project Services.

Recent reports indicate that five Russians were ”˜smuggled’ into the country in the guise of NGO personnel, to provide special training to personal bodyguards of Prabhakaran in the Wanni. A local bodyguard, who was arrested at a refugee camp in the Wanni, revealed that 35 bodyguards had been trained by the Russians. The training included firing, driving and dismantling a vehicle and reassembling it in a very short time. Prabakharan’s son Charles Anthony had received training from the Russians. An extensive investigation is under way to identify these Russians and the NGO that supported them. Defence officials suspect these Russians could be retired members of a Russian defence unit.

Police believe that some NGO employees in the IDP camps are Black Tigers whose mission is to assassinate VIPs visiting the camps. A report in The Island newspaper of 30 September claims that 20,000, believed to be LTTE cadres, have escaped from the IDP camps. Senior Superintendent Kasturiratne said special police teams from Kandy had been dispatched to the IDP camps in the north to conduct investigations. The SSP said that followers of the terrorist organisation were still moving around though the leadership of the movement had been destroyed. He said explosives and arms had been recovered from Pudikudiiruppu and other locations in the north and east on information provided by the LTTE suspects in custody.

Sri Lanka is waiting trepidatiously for the EU to report on GSP Plus, which, simply put, is a preferential tariff advantageous to the exports of the Sri Lanka garment industry. The EU created the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) from the early 1970s onwards, pursuant to a series of decisions made by the signatories of GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs).

Following a challenge from the WTO the EU had to redesign the GSP scheme. Countries lose the standard GSP scheme concessions when they are no longer classified as developing nations. The least-developed countries also lose their duty- free preferences once they become middle-income countries. They then fall into the standard GSP category and pay the 10% duty.

In order to qualify for GSP+ applicant nations had to ratify and implement 27 international conventions, account for less than one per cent of total imports into the EU, and its five main exports should account for more than 75 per cent of its total exports. If recipient countries fall short of the three GSP+ criteria, they will automatically be out of the scheme.

The EU seems to be implementing the GSP+ scheme in such a way as to spite the WTO for ruling against them. The EU is trying to disqualify Sri Lanka on the grounds that she is in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. What the WTO seemed to have had in mind were de-selection criteria in keeping with the ”˜development, financial and trade needs’ of the recipient country and stability and predictability in tariff regimes.
The EU paid local NGOs to make representations to itself to the effect that Sri Lanka was not in compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Then they paid another committee of experts to examine the documents they had paid for earlier. Nobody knows who made submissions to this three-member committee of experts appointed by the European Commission.

The irony of the situation is that Sri Lanka is trying to recover from a horrendous thirty-year civil war and the garment industry has an important role to play in rebuilding the north and east by providing employment and helping rebuild the infrastructure.

The association of companies called Sri Lanka Apparel is contributing to post-war reconstruction by establishing a new garment factory, specialising in baby clothes, in the war-affected district of Trincomalee. The factory benefited from a special incentive scheme to attract investments into the Eastern Province and has generated 1,000 jobs. The factory opened in September, 2009 and will initially export all of its output to the UK. It has the capacity to produce 100 pieces per month and in six months will increase capacity to 1.2m – 2m pieces per month.

Another Sri Lanka Apparel member company has made water and sanitation the central theme of its corporate social responsibility programme. It has been building hygienic bathing facilities for displaced people in the camps at Menik Farm in northern Sri Lanka. The project employed people living in the camps and provided them with income.

That particular company has also supported the Government’s efforts to rebuild the economy of the Eastern Province by investing 250 million rupees in a factory at Punani in the Batticaloa District, which currently employs 220 people, most of whom are from families that were displaced by the conflict.

A key feature of the Sri Lankan garment industry is that it seems to do more than pay lip-service to the concept of corporate social responsibility. Sri Lanka, as a nation, has fostered enlightened, socially-responsible legislation and has committed itself to 27 of the ILO Core Conventions. The mission of the industry is to employ ethical practices, thereby contributing to the economic development of the country while improving the quality of life of the apparel industry’s workforce and their communities.

An initiative called Garments without Guilt enabled Sri Lanka Apparel to forge a niche for itself in western markets where companies and consumers were uncomfortable after revelations about Asian sweatshops. This success has been threatened by the financial crisis and will be further threatened if GSP + is withdrawn. Was ethical marketing merely a luxury of a booming world economy which will have to be jettisoned in grimmer times? Kumar Mirchandani of Sri Lanka Apparel told me that the association will not abandon its principles. Whatever the competition might try, Sri Lanka Apparel is committed to ethical business. ”There is no excuse for unethical behaviour, no matter what the economic conditions are. This is the message Sri Lanka Apparel is sending”.

It is ironical that because of the perceptions of the EU about human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government, thousands of innocent Sri Lankan workers in an industry that achieved success because of its ethical business practices will be thrown out of work and factories in the war-torn north and east may have to close.

Much of what is called loosely ”aid” is in fact investment for a return or loans on which Sri Lanka pays interest. GSP + is not charity. Sri Lanka was one of the original 24 signatories to GATT in 1947, and what Article 1 of GATT envisaged was equal opportunity for everybody whereby member states would refrain from discriminating between one another and grant similar treatment to all countries. The stability as well as predictability of tariffs is essential for traders to make investment decisions. At the time they load their ships, they should know that the applicable tariff will not be higher when the goods reach the destination.

The EU may push Sri Lanka to the position where she has no alternative but to mount a challenge in the WTO.

The Milo Minderbinder School of Foreign Policy

No tongues please. I’m British!

I wrote this in April 2011. Things have moved on since.

 

“In a democracy, the government is the people,” Milo explained. “We’re people, aren’t we? So we might just as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.”

Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer  in Catch-22 is the personification of capitalism. He has no allegiance to any country, person or principle unless it pays him. Milo doesn’t see himself as corrupt or evil. He claims to live by a strict moral code. The one country he will not deal with is the Soviet Union (although they are supposed to be allies in the war)  out of respect for private property and disdain for socialism.

Milo organizes the bombing of his own base because he has a contract with the Germans. The Germans may be the enemy but they are good payers.

Milo was a neo-liberal avant la lettre. When markets fail to deliver, the capitalist is quick to turn to the government for help. Milo depends on governments for his riches.

His moral code allows for price inflation and betraying one’s country for the sake of profit. Everyone has a “share” in the Syndicate, a fact which Minderbinder uses to defend his actions- what is good for the company is good for all. He secretly replaces the CO2 cartridges in the emergency life vests with certificates for shares in M & M, on the assumption that the future person who may need that vest will be instantly compensated for its absence. He steals the silk out of parachutes, the morphine out of  first aid kits, all in the name of making a few bucks, honest or otherwise.  His most interesting attributes are his complete immorality without self-awareness, and his circular logicality in running his Syndicate. Minderbinder decides that he can trust Yossarian  because “anyone who would not steal from the country he loved would not steal from anyone.”

This fellow is a bit more cautious on a first date.

Libya and the IRA

During the period 1969–1971, the Provisional IRA was very poorly armed. By 1972, the IRA had large quantities of modern small arms, particularly Armalites, made and bought in the USA. The IRA’s main gun runner in the USA was George Harrison (no relation) an IRA veteran, who had lived in New York since 1938. Harrison bought guns for the IRA from a Corsican arms dealer named George de Meo who had connections with organized crime. Harrison was funded by NORAID -“Irish Northern Aid Committee”.

The IRA used the QE2 to smuggle arms from the USA.

Joe Cahill

Quadaffi first donated arms  to the IRA in 1972–1973, following visits by veteran IRA man Joe Cahill to Libya. In early 1973, the Irish navy seized an arms shipment on the Claudia. Five tonnes of Libyan arms and ammunition were found on board. The weapons seized included 250 Soviet-made small arms, 240 rifles, anti-tank mines and other explosives. Cahill was arrested on board. It is believed  that three shipments of weapons of similar size did get through to the IRA around  the same time. The early Libyan arms shipments provided  the IRA with its first RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers.  Qaddafi also donated three to five million US dollars to the IRA at this time.

IRA contact with Libya was broken off in 1976 but was restored after the 1981 IRA  hunger strikes. In this period, Libya provided enough arms to equip at least two infantry battalions. Qaddafi is thought to have decided to support the IRA to get back at the British government for its support for Reagan’s bombing of Benghazi and Tripoli in 1986. US planes had been allowed to take off  from British bases. Sixty Libyans died in the attacks, including Qaddafi’s adopted baby daughter Hanna. This second major Libyan contribution to the IRA came in 1986–1987. In 1987, the French navy intercepted the  Eksund in the Bay of Biscay. She was carrying 120 tonnes of weapons, including HMGs, 36 RPGs, 1000 detonators, 20 SAMs, Semtex and 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition from Libya. There were four shipments before the Eksund incident which were not intercepted. There had been a huge intelligence failure of both Irish and British agencies  author Brendan O’Brien described as ‘calamitous’. O’Brien claims that, thanks to Libya, there was an “oversupply” of arms in the hands of the IRA by 1992. It is also estimated that the Libyan government gave the IRA the equivalent of £2 million cash along with the 1980s shipments.

On 31 October 2009, a cross-party delegation of Northern Irish politicians travelled to the Tripoli for the first face-to-face meeting with Libyan government ministers to discuss compensation claims for victims of IRA violence.

Shootout at the Libyan Embassy

On 17 April 1984, there was a demonstration by anti-Quadaffi dissidents outside the Libya embassy in St James’s Square, London . Thirty police officers were sent to control the situation. Shots were fired and eleven people were hit. WPC Yvonne Fletcher died from her wounds. An inquest ruled that she died as a result of a stomach wound caused by bullets from two Sterling sub-machine guns fired from the embassy. Following the shooting, the embassy was surrounded by armed police for eleven days, after which the staff were allowed to leave and then deported. The UK broke off diplomatic relations with Libya.

Joe Vialls, conspiracy theorist or  self-proclaimed private investigator dedicated to “exposing media disinformation,”,  concluded that the fatal shots had come not from within the embassy but from a penthouse flat next-door-but-one to the Libyan embassy, and were fired by CIA/Mossad agents. Vialls may have been a crank but more respectable people were also sceptical about the official line on the shooting. These included George Styles, a top army ballistics expert, Hugh Thomas, expert on bullet wounds from his experiences as consultant surgeon of the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast, and veteran Home Office pathologist, Professor Bernard Knight.

A report from April 2007 concluded that two men, who were later senior members of the Libyan regime, played an “instrumental role” in the killing. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph in 2009, the Crown Prosecution Service had been told  by an independent prosecutor that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute two Libyans.

The Foreign Office eventually  bowed to Libyan pressure and agreed that Britain would abandon any attempt to try the murderer of WPC  Fletcher. Anthony Layden, Britain’s former ambassador to Libya, said he had signed an agreement with the Libyan government when Jack Straw was foreign secretary. At the time Britain was negotiating trade deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds with Libya. The deal followed a visit by Tony Blair, then prime minister, to meet Colonel Qaddafi in March 2004 after Libya announced that it was ending its nuclear weapons programme. The Foreign Office said the deal had been sealed in an exchange of ambassadors’ letters in 2006: “The Fletcher family know all this and have not considered it to be a big issue.” Queenie Fletcher’s  MP questioned this interpretation.

On Friday, 25 March 2011, Kim Sengupta wrote in The Independent  about a meeting with Omar Ahmed Sodani, the chief suspect in the killing of WPC Fletcher.  Sodani, now 59, was  head of the Al Ejanalghoria, Muammar Qaddafi’s militia in Benghazi. He has been questioned by his captors in the rebel movement, not only about the shooting, but for allegedly providing reports on Libyan students in London which led to their persecution back home, as well as complicity in human rights abuses. “They have interrogated me about the shooting all those years ago,” he said. “I have explained to them that I did not do it.”

Sengupta wrote: “After talking for a little more than an hour, Mr Sodani was led away. As he departed, he made one final pronouncement: ‘I have full confidence in the fairness of the revolution and the revolution’s judges. This country would be a far better place in the future than it was in the past.’ There was no mistaking the fear in his voice.”

Lockerbie

On Wednesday 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members. Eleven people in Lockerbie, a town in southern Scotland, were killed as large sections of the plane destroyed several houses. Total fatalities were 270. Libya did not formally admit responsibility until 16 August 2003. In a letter to the UN Security Council it “accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials” but expressed no remorse.

The motive that is generally attributed to Libya can be traced back to a series of military confrontations with the US Navy that took place in the 1980s. Libyan planes were shot down and ships sunk. Libya was accused of retaliating by ordering the bombing of the La Belle nightclub in West Berlin in 1986.

Even in February 2004, Libya did  not accept guilt. Prime Minister  Shukri Ghanem told the BBC that his country had paid  compensation as the “price for peace” and to secure the lifting of sanctions. He also denied that Libya was responsible for killing Yvonne Fletcher. Qaddafi later retracted Ghanem’s comments, under pressure from Washington and London.

There are  many conspiracy theories about the Lockerbie case. I will not go into them in detail here but those interested in following this up will be guided by:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan_Am_Flight_103_conspiracy_theories

Campaigning journalists, John Pilger and the late  Paul Foot have written extensively about Lockerbie.

Iran was initially the prime suspect for the Lockerbie bombing and had the most obvious motive. Five months earlier, an Iranian civilian aircraft had been  shot down by the US warship USS Vincennes and Ayatollah Khomeini had called for revenge. The theory is that Iran paid the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) to carry out the attack on its behalf. Ahmad Behbahani, a former Iranian intelligence official, later claimed that he personally conveyed the message to the PFLP-GC.

A recurring theory is that the CIA, or rogue elements within it,  it had cleared a drugs smuggling route from Europe to America involving Pan Am flights in return for intelligence about militant groups.

Saif al-Qaddafi said that Libya had admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing simply to get trade sanctions removed. He went on to describe the families of the Lockerbie victims as very greedy: “They were asking for more money and more money and more money”. Several of the victims’ families refused to accept compensation because they did not believe that Libya was responsible. On 23 February 2011,  Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil, former Justice Secretary of Libya, claimed to have evidence that Qaddafi personally ordered the bombing.

Indictments for murder were issued on 13 November 1991 against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and  Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, Libyan airlines station manager in Malta. (Don’t forget that Milo was Mayor of Valetta). UN sanctions against Libya and protracted negotiations with the Libyan leader secured the handover of the accused on 5 April 1999 to Scottish police. Both accused chose not to give evidence in court. On 31 January 2001, Megrahi was convicted of murder by a panel of three Scottish judges in a courtroom in “neutral” Holland. There was no jury. Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment but Fhimah was acquitted.

Megrahi served eight and a half  years of his sentence, throughout which time he maintained that he was innocent. Some argue that the governments in England and Scotland in effect blackmailed Megrahi into dropping his appeal as a condition of his immediate release.

He was released from prison on compassionate grounds on 20 August 2009 as he was suffering from cancer. Allegations have been made that the UK government and British Petroleum sought Al-Megrahi’s release as part of a trade deal with Libya. In 2008, the British government “decided to do all it could to help the Libyans get Al-Megrahi home … and explained the legal procedure for compassionate release to the Libyans”.

Some argue that key evidence presented at the trial (for example, timer fragment, parts from a specific radio cassette model, clothing bought in Malta, a suitcase originating at Luqua, could have been fabricated by the U.S. and Britain for the “political” purpose of incriminating Libya. Paul Foot wrote that when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Bush Sr needed Iran’s support as he built a “coalition” to expel his wayward client from an American oil colony. The only country that defied Bush and backed Iraq was Libya. “Like lazy and overfed fish,” wrote Foot, “the British media jumped to the bait. In almost unanimous chorus, they engaged in furious vilification and open warmongering against Libya.”

Former CIA officer Robert Baer, who took part in the original investigation, said ” the evidence amassed by [Megrahi’s] appeal is explosive and extremely damning to the system of justice.” A “key secret witness” at the original trial, who claimed to have seen Megrahi, loading the bomb on to the plane at Frankfurt, was bribed by the US authorities holding him as a “protected witness”. The defense exposed him as a CIA informer who stood to collect, on the Libyans’ conviction, up to $4m as a reward. New evidence would have shown that a fragment of a circuit board and bomb timer, “discovered” in the Scottish countryside and said to have been in Megrahi’s suitcase, was probably planted.

Paul Foot, wrote that  the Scottish judges, while admitting a “mass of conflicting evidence” and rejecting the fantasies of the CIA informer, found Megrahi guilty on hearsay. Their 90-page “opinion”, wrote Foot, “is a remarkable document that claims an honored  place in the history of British miscarriages of justice”. (His report, Lockerbie – the Flight from Justice, can be downloaded from http://www.private-eye.co.uk for £5.) Foot reported that most of the staff of the US embassy in Moscow who had reserved seats on Pan Am flights from Frankfurt cancelled their bookings when they were alerted by US intelligence that a terrorist attack was planned.

Britain’s strange constitutional arrangements allowed Gordon Brown, who, although a Scotsman representing a Scottish constituency,  was PM of the UK, to express ersatz outrage at the decision by the Scottish government to allow the release. Not only was this hypocritical because  a release was being negotiated for a long time by the Blair and Brown administrations because of oil and arms sales, but there were doubts about Megrahi’s guilt and the fairness of his trial.

John Pilger was incensed at the hypocrisy of the reaction to Megrahi’s release. “No one in authority has had the guts to state the truth about the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103”.

Tony  Minderbinder Blair

Whether Libya was guilty over Lockerbie or not,  there have, no doubt, been dirty deals. Tony Blair first announced a “new relationship” with Libya in 2004. The Duke of York visited Libya several times, meeting Qaddafi and his son Saif. Minderbinder Blair, now peace envoy in the Middle East, recognized that peace and friendship with  Libya was good for UK plc. British Aerospace could provide employment for British workers by selling arms to Libya. Blair stopped the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE bribery charges.

And, of course, there is the oil.

David Cameron is the new Minderbinder in Downing Street. Having sold arms to Quadaffi,  the UK  is now entertaining  the Libyan rats deserting the ship. Speaking at a Downing Street press conference about the defector, Moussa Koussa,  Cameron said: “The decision by the former Libyan minister to come to London to resign his position is a decision by someone at the very top. It tells a compelling story of the desperation and the fear right at the very top of the crumbling and rotten Qaddafi regime.”

However, Lockerbie won’t go away. It was made clear that Koussa’s defection will raise uncomfortable questions about atrocities which happened when he was a senior figure in Libya’s foreign intelligence service. Scottish prosecutors told the Foreign Office they want to interview Koussa about  Pan Am flight 103. He could also face questioning about the murder of Yvonne Fletcher.

Julie MacLusky

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