Archive for July, 2013

Egypt, Syria, Libya and Iraq.

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

This blog has set these four countries, each in various stages of state failure, together because they share several common factors which many readers will be able readily to set out. There is one element which particularly concerns this blog. They are all, to a greater or lesser extent victims of the abject failure of Western foreign policy.

It is not necessary to re-examine the disaster of Iraq, though there is an obligation to reflect every day upon the suffering of its people caught in the crossfire of competing factions with a death toll now surpassing four figures in each month. Libya is off the radar but meanwhile the country is ruled in enclaves by armed militias. In Syria the Assad regime remains in power and its power is growing. The rebels are found to include not only Al-Qaeda, but people who eat the hearts of their enemies and beat then shoot to death teenagers who show marginal disrespect to the Prophet. And in Egypt? Well who can tell where that is headed, but just now it does not look good.

Certain common threads are emerging. Very large numbers, possibly a majority, in all of these countries would prefer an autocratic regime which delivers stability and prosperity in a secular environment which may curb political freedom, to a democracy which polarises and divides. There is evidence of this even in Turkey, a NATO member. There is also growing evidence that the rise of militant Islam has peaked.

The West will now need to ponder these things carefully. It needs to accept that for democracy to work there have to be certain conditions on the ground and institutions established which are accepted by a near universal consensus. If those conditions are not in effect, a democracy which polarises and governs for its own interests against the interests of its opponents, provides the worst kind of government of all. It is bound to lead to violence. There are now four countries in various stages of free fall, plus Tunisia and Lebanon becoming unstable. The only bright lights, and their brightness is relative to the pitch of the darkness, are the possibility of renewed dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians and the election of a more conciliatory President in Iran.

It is now quite clear that nobody got it quite right when assessing the potential of the upheavals wildly mis-named the Arab Spring, but Moscow and Beijing were nearest and London and Paris were furthest, from judging the reality of events.

Economy: Slow Recovery Put At Risk

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Before we judge the worth of the marginal growth in the economy in the second quarter we must consider two factors. Before the crash a good deal of economic activity was heavily leveraged and driven by debt; therefore in part it did not truly exist, any more than wealth devalued by massive debts. It is also the case that the government has been engaged in a programme to shrink itself. This means that the overall figure represents  much higher growth for the private sector, indicating that to some extent at least the economy is rebalancing. Moreover it is doing this without resorting to borrowing at anything like the levels in the run up to the crash.

Clearly the recovery from a  debt binge, both public and private, without yet more borrowing, but by investment and efficiency is initially very slow. It was also necessary to move from a service driven economy to one in which manufacturing plays a much bigger role and to do that exports have to expand. A marginally lower pound will help. So will the stagnated condition of Euro-land as this will encourage business to seek new markets in the growing economies of Asia and South America. The government often cautions undue optimism, citing difficulties in Europe as a hazard to growth of exports.

In fact the greatest threat to the continuing improvement comes not from Europe but the government itself, in the form of its failure to recognise the catastrophic part played in the crash by a housing market based on low house building and rising values of existing stock, to the point where the excessive cost of housing is not only distorting the whole economy, but acting as a brake upon it. There is no excuse for this, not least because the government has to foot such a huge bill to subsidise excessive rents and should therefore be able to link the sums to the problem.

It is significant that almost every single responsible financial commentator criticises as near reckless the initiative to guarantee excessive mortgages; the whole idea of the house price correction was to bring the cost within prudent limits, with a greater stake of equity saved up before purchase, and to intervene to distort this process with guarantees allowing a return to 95% mortgages, has been described by the CBI as mad. It is worse than that. It is wanton financial irresponsibility which guarantees another crisis further down the track. Vince Cable, the Chancellor’s credible rival in the coalition cabinet, has taken to the media to express anxiety.

Of course in the short term the guarantee will provide a boost both to construction and to house sales, with a knock on effect in the High Street. But, just as before, it will all go wrong. Of course it will take time for that to happen. Meanwhile it will probably look as if things are really good about spring of 2015.


Northern Ireland Riots: Enough is Enough

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Another night of wanton civil disorder because Orangemen are not allowed to march past the homes of those whom they wish to humiliate, provoke and offend is an unacceptable exhibition of prejudice within the borders of the United Kingdom and it is now critical the the Coalition, especially its Tory majority, round on  Unionist politicians and read them the riot act.

One of the most shocking aspects of this whole sorry business is the age of many of the rioters, born after the Good Friday agreement. This is a dismal reflection upon the nasty sectarian culture of the Unionists, who unlike SinnFein, have failed to either deliver to their working class constituents notable improvements in services, employment and education, nor have they done enough to change their own culture and perceptions. Meanwhile why on earth it is  that an inflammatory outfit like the Orange Order continues to be lawful is beyond rational understanding.

It is time for a reality check in Northern Ireland. The success of power sharing and the peace process has been an inspiration to the world. Now the ending of sectarian prejudice and provocation has to be the priority. Unionist politicians and Orangemen, mostly one and the same, have to get busy. Otherwise it will be done for them.

Ulster: A Shameful Spectacle

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

This Blog has never favoured the Protestant Unionists of Northern Ireland and after last night it favours them even less. The Orange Order is a shocking throwback into historical conflict which infects each new generation with a virus of prejudice and intolerance, which gives its members and the mobs who trail them a licence to provoke, insult and inflame.

The Orange Order would be shut down if it operated in this way on the mainland of the UK, with its absurd marches routed to cause maximum insult to what it sees as the descendants of its enemy at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. This wholly uncivilised conduct must be stamped out. Let the Unionists be in no doubt that the British people have moved on from this kind of poisonous approach to community relations and that their patience may snap. This could lead to a referendum to dissolve the Union held not just in Ulster, but across the whole of the UK. There is little doubt it would be carried and then these nasty people would find themselves cast at the mercy of those they have insulted, abused and persecuted for centuries. Serve them right.

It’s time for Unionists to wake up to the fact that wherever in the calendar they suppose themselves to be living, the rest of the world is in the twenty-first century.

Egypt And The Army

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Clearly things are getting out of hand in Egypt. It is still possible for tension to diffuse, not least because Egyptians are not an ethnicly divided people living in a country whose borders cross tribal boundaries and were set by historic agreement between colonial powers, as is the case with Syria and Iraq. Egyptians are one people and have been for many thousands of years. They have also been ruled always by one leader and never before by one who was elected. President Morsi was, but he failed to understand that democratic election with victory in a run off ballot does not invest the winner with absolute power; rather it places on his shoulders universal responsibility for the welfare and prosperity of the nation as a whole.

World opinion and the majority of Egyptians are more or less united that Morsi failed to do this and that Egypt was imploding through economic failure, dysfunction in such democratic institutions which had been established and the railroading of an Islamic constitution. There appeared to be no enforcement of civil security and inflammatory exhortations to persecute and murder the Shia minority went unchallenged by the authorities. mass protests against Morsi and a petition for his removal signed by millions led the Army to intervene. That has now led to a massacre outside the barracks of the Republican Guard, within which it is thought President Morsi is detained.

The time has now come for compromise. President Morsi is undoubtedly guilty of misjudgement and incompetence, but not of any state crime. A deal should be struck allowing him to be released on the promise of directing his supporters to stop all acts and talk of violence. The Acting President should ask the army to return to barracks and stay there, so long as the population keeps a pact of keeping to non-violent protest at a level within the capacity of the civil police to control.

A Constitution should then be drawn up, there are many drafts so this should not take long, and then voted upon in a referendum. Only when it is adopted can there be elections under it terms. It cannot be done the other way around with elections first and a Constitution second. To reach their goals Egyptians of all persuasions must go through with this process peacefully. If they do not the Army will have no option but to come out of its barracks and impose martial law. Nobody wants that, not even the Army.

Egyptian Agony

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

The international community needs to keep a low profile in its response to the revolutionary problems in Egypt. Above all the West must avoid strident calls for an immediate return to democracy, as this will only lead to further failure.

At present Egypt does not have in place the balanced political structures to enable democracy to work. This is why it has failed and why it will fail again unless time is taken to set down a proper foundation upon which democracy can be built. At present there is nothing of substance. Even the Presidency itself was open to challenge.

First there must be an agreed Constitution which is put to the people in a referendum and if accepted, it must then be adopted and a Constitutional Court established to enforce it. Next there must be elections for both houses of parliament and for the presidency. To enable those to take place and for the results to be accepted by losers as well as victors,  disciplined political parties must be organised able, if necessary, to  form coalitions to govern in the national interest. Finally all sections of the population, including activists and even militants, have to get themselves a mindset which makes them governable without the use of the army and security forces.

At the moment none of this is there. Rushing forward to some new vote to satisfy world opinion, will not be in the interests of Egyptians whichever side they are on.

Labour and The Unions

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

The Labour Party is the political arm of the Labour movement. It was formed by the trade unions  as their political force in  Town , County and Parliamentary government. It would be difficult to separate them. It would also be pointless. because in spite of the snags it brings strength to both. Moreover both learned that electoral and legislative calamity was the price of the destructive indiscipline culminating in the winter of discontent, and the unions need now to learn that to demand a return to those bad old days will not only guarantee Labour defeat, but also to more draconian legislation.

Union leaders also need to remember and one or two of the leaders of the bigger unions especially need to remind themselves, that their jobs come with the burden of responsibility but not the gift of power. They are responsible for seeing their members get a decent employment terms and are well looked after when times get tough, but they cannot use their weight of membership to steer the democratic process at any level. That is for the Labour Party because it is that  part of their movement which operates under the constitution in the political firmament. That is why the unions, or most of them, fund it.

The row in Falkirk is a weird throwback to times past which Unite cannot win. It can, and has already, inflicted great damage on the Labour party and it could even be sufficient to destroy the leader they chose. It could also be the making of him. Meanwhile the only gainers will be the coalition parties in England and the Scot Nats north of the border.

Nevertheless there is a serious point at the heart of the argument, set out by Tom Watson, who has just quit the Labour front bench because his office manager is the candidate Unite are apparently trying to shoe in to the vacancy. It is this. Labour, and indeed Parliament and the country, needs more ordinary working class candidates to balance the huge preponderance of Oxbridge career politicians on both sides of the House. This is not just because in a democracy all backgrounds need to be represented in the legislature. It is also because the so called elite in all the main parties have made a pretty good mess.

Egypt And Democracy

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

This blog predicted a military takeover in Egypt in my post of June 27th and this has now come to pass. To the majority of Egyptians this is a cause for celebration, but to a sizable minority it is an attack upon democracy. The reality is very complicated not only in Egypt but everywhere and lies at the heart of a string of foreign policy mistakes made by the West since the cold war.

The first priority for a viable, stable, state is an effective government able to deliver services, establish a sound economy which guarantees employment as well as high quality education and health care and provides law and order to protects the rights and freedoms defined within its constitution of all its constituent religious, tribal and ethic groups as well as those of the majority. How such a government is established comes second.

Ideally it should be democratically elected, because this will allow openness and individual freedom of expression. If this is not possible it will be some form of dictatorship or monarchy founded on brute force or hereditary tradition. Some of these are better than others, but all restrict individual freedoms, have a list of political crimes and have conformity as a condition of general freedoms actually allowed. It is not surprising democracy is seen as the better model, but for it to work certain conditions have to apply.

The first of these is that there must be permanent institutions of sound governance organised to operate under democratic supervision. The second is that there must be disciplined political parties able to find consensus enough to form majority coalitions to carry out a programme for government; alternatively there is the American model of two parties which are each coalitions within themselves. Third, there must be an electoral organisation which is free from bribery and intimidation which delivers a result which will be accepted even by those who voted for an alternative. Finally, above all, democracy requires two behavioural  fundamentals.

Those who gain a mandate to govern have to accept they have a responsibility to govern in the whole national interest and not a licence to do as they please for the benefit of one class or section only;  the population at large must willing to do the bidding of those in power whose policies they voted against.

You will now understand why Egypt’s first attempt at democracy has failed. You may also speculate how many other governments in the world could survive twenty million signatures asking them to go, an imploding economy, mass unemployment and millions of protesters occupying the streets 24/7. Fewer than you think.