Trump’s foreign policy shake-up, Tory tensions, Lib Dem fantasies and sexual assault statistics all considered by Lindsey German
The highlight of my week was the sacking of John Bolton as Trump’s national security adviser. Bolton is an ideological warmonger, one of the original neocons with their Project for a New American Century, and an architect of the Iraq war. He has long advocated war on Iran, and this summer we have seen a ‘tanker war’ between Iran and the US centred in the Strait of Hormuz. He visited Boris Johnson only last month to urge further British involvement in military patrols of Hormuz.
Bolton’s departure hasn’t lessened the danger of war. Indeed, a new flashpoint threatens even more instability. On Saturday, explosive drones attacked the Abqaiq oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia, causing major fires in the Khurais oil field. The attack was supposedly carried out by the Houthis in Yemen, in response to the conflict there where Saudi Arabia is bombing (ably abetted by the British military which supplies weaponry and advises on targets), and enforcing a blockade which is leading to famine and shortages of basic necessities.
However, according to an article in Middle East Eye the attacks were actually launched from Iraq, a much closer site to the Saudi target.
The US government has lost no time in blaming this attack on Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: ‘Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply’. It is certainly a very serious attack. In the aftermath, oil and gas production fell by half in the country which is the world’s largest oil exporter. This amounts to 5% of global oil supply. This will have economic effects, pushing up the price of crude oil, but it will also have political consequences.
The push to isolate Iran dates from the decision of Trump to break the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal which was agreed by various governments including the five permanent members of the UN security council – the US, China, Russia, France and Britain – plus Germany and the EU. Since then, US imposed sanctions have been tightened and there have been a series of incidents any of which could have escalated to military conflict.
Iran’s support in the region is considerable, ranging from the Houthis in Yemen to Hezbollah in Lebanon (recently attacked by Israel), to its neighbouring Iraq. So any conflict involving any of these is regarded as justification for US intervention against Iran.
The Iraqi government has denied involvement, and must be dreading a wider war which will embroil it in direct conflict, when it still bears the terrible scars of the last war. Yet that looks exactly where we are heading.
Conflict over oil also raises the possibility of putting pressure on the already fragile world economy. Even with Bolton gone, we may be in for a new round of oil wars.
The real elephant trap
With the conference season now upon us, it will be interesting to compare the coverage that the different parties receive. It’s already quite remarkable how much free publicity the media gives to David Cameron’s self-justifying memoir. But there is also a very different approach to the parties’ strengths and weaknesses. Boris Johnson – despite another week where things have not gone well for him and where he has been accused of lying by the Scottish courts – is seen as purposeful and strong.
It tells you something about the media that it reports his visit to Doncaster as unprecedently daring (as the Channel 4 news northern reporter did). Fact check: Theresa May launched her 2017 campaign in Halifax and visited Doncaster during that campaign. Because, guess what, even in strong Labour areas there are plenty of Tories, and worse – Doncaster had a far-right English Democrat mayor only a few years ago.
May did this – and Johnson is doing it now – because the Tories believe they can hoover up enough former Labour Leave voters to win some of these working-class seats which would traditionally never have been won by the Tories. He may be successful in this. Many strong Labour areas have seen years of industrial decline, fragmentation of trade unions, worsening public services, all presided over by Labour councils who have refused to seriously confront austerity policies. This has led to a long-term erosion of the Labour vote – admittedly from a big high. But even so, many will not vote Tory. However, votes going to the Brexit party could weaken Labour and allow the Tories in.
The Leave vote in these areas was partly a result of these worsening conditions, but now is feeding into discontent over the failure to act on the referendum result, more than three years after it took place. Johnson hopes that he will get credit for ending this situation, by sticking to his promise of leaving the EU in six weeks’ time.
He is certainly helped by Labour coming out more and more as a Remain party. He will be helped even more if he can manage a deal with the EU by October 31st, which he is clearly trying to achieve.
But at the same time, Johnson is in a weak position, not just in parliamentary arithmetic or in internal Tory divisions, but in leading a party with the legacy of austerity which remains unpopular. His proto election campaign is trying to rectify this by promises of (not really that much) money for health and education.
One of his major supports in this situation is the behaviour of Labour’s right. First Tony Blair came down from on high to tell us that an election would be an ‘elephant trap’ for Labour, then that a second referendum had to precede such an election – otherwise people might make the mistake of voting in a Corbyn government before Brexit was dealt with.
Tom Watson then launched a full-frontal attack on Corbyn, who the day before got a compromise deal at the TUC, echoing to the letter Blair’s view. This has now been followed up with talk yet again of a caretaker national government headed by Corbyn which delivers another referendum next spring followed closely by a general election.
This is the real elephant trap for Corbyn as it would make him a prisoner of the Remain axis and identify him totally as Remain, rather than allowing him to try to bring together both sides. The refusal to go for a general election is already costing and will cost Labour dear. If Johnson is successful he may try to hang on until next spring anyway, and stand again on the basis of being the only person who honoured the referendum.
Meanwhile, all of Labour’s policies need to be promoted and sharpened. Rent controls, council house building, nationalisation, are all popular and need to be promoted to show the real divisions between Labour and the Tories. Plus we need a second front – backing the CWU strike, joining the school students on the climate strike this week – to show in practice what an alternative can look like.
Mark two Tories with delusions of grandeur
Britain’s fourth parliamentary party, the Lib Dems, has serious delusions of grandeur. I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds Jo Swinson irritating and vacuous, that alone I could live with. But her ludicrous statements are so over the top: if Lib Dems won an election that would negate the Brexit referendum? Really – how democratic. And, having spent her time as leader campaigning for a second referendum, she claims this is now unnecessary and she would simply revoke article 50. So no vote that might end in the ‘wrong’ result again.
There is more chance of hell freezing over than Swinson getting a parliamentary majority, yet she pretends it is viable that she could be prime minister. Her spokespeople are listed as a shadow cabinet on their website. And a third of her still tiny cohort of MPs were elected under the banner of other parties.
The Lib Dems get an easy ride, however, promoted as the Remain-supporting Tories that they really are. Her main target seats are Tory held at present. So she will always tack right will attacking Jeremy Corbyn with unbounded enthusiasm. That’s why those who talk about tactical voting are wrong. A vote for the Lib Dems is a Tory vote, and we saw how happily Swinson and her mates joined the austerity coalition in 2010. They fear a Corbyn government as much as anyone, and if Labour voters are foolish enough to lend them votes, their first demand in any coalition will be to get rid of Corbyn.
This is a dangerous time for Labour, with the polls showing poor results (although it is very difficult to fathom the wild differences in them) and with Remain and Leave attitudes hardening. There is no sign in the polls of Labour gaining support since it moved more towards a second referendum – in fact, the opposite. Media reporting will be of splits and lack of clarity. The left must try to take the initiative at conference, pushing policies which strengthen Corbyn (and I hope making it clear what they think of Watson). The right and centre will push towards a stronger remain identity. The losers in that will be the left.
Rape: getting away with it
Only three convictions from a hundred reported rape cases in England and Wales last year. What a shocking figure. The news that rape charges, convictions and prosecutions have fallen to their lowest for over 10 years is perhaps predictable given the low priority given by the police and even more so the Crime Prosecution Service. But behind it is the age-old problem that women are not believed and backed up in enough of these cases.
That their behaviour (too drunk, too short skirt, number of sexual partners) is taken into account is clearer than ever. The need for full disclosure means women have to hand over their phones to be scrutinised and used in evidence against them. While the cases may be complex, there has to be an assumption that women are telling the truth, just as would be the case with victims of other crimes.
This is a major step backwards from the advances made in the 1970s and 80s, when not least a vibrant women’s movement raised awareness and forced change. Now, in a much more supposedly sexually liberal time, we have to stop the retreat. Part of this stems from the ‘women can have it all’ attitude which means men and women play by the same rules and women can’t expect ‘special treatment’. Except we don’t have the same rules – women’s oppression is still a major factor in our lives and determines so much from pay to work to family.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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