Friday, September 14, 2018

Let's just position the current non-issue in the LP properly, shall we?

let's just position the current non-issue in the LP properly, shall we?

The Finchley Factor

Geoffrey Wheatcroft
London Review of Books

Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East, by Azriel Bermant

Cambridge, 274 pp, £22.99, September 2017, ISBN 978 1 316 60630 8

A short book could be written about British prime ministers and Zionism. It might begin in 1840, when Lord Palmerston, foreign secretary and prime minister-to-be, received a letter from his stepson-in-law Lord Ashley, an MP better known later as Lord Shaftesbury, the Tory philanthropist commemorated by the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus. Palmerston ‘had been chosen by God’, Ashley said, ‘to be an instrument to do good to his chosen people’. The time was ripe ‘for the return of the Jews to their inheritance in the Land of Promise’, and England might help ‘plant the Jewish people in the land of their fathers’.

This introduced early one of the great ironies in this most ironical of stories. Well into the 20th century, Orthodox rabbis would teach their flocks to abhor political Zionism and the idea of a Jewish state on theological grounds: Zionism was not only secular but presumptuous, claiming to second-guess the Almighty by anticipating an event – the restoration of his chosen people to their Promised Land – which only he should bring about in his own good time. At the same time, some of the keenest enthusiasts for ‘return’ weren’t Jews but evangelical Christians inspired by the hope that such a return would hasten the Second Coming. Ashley was among them, which didn’t make him a liberal friend of the Jews: he opposed Jewish emancipation in England, just as scores of millions of American evangelicals today who share his chiliastic dreams are far from philosemitic in more everyday ways.

It wasn’t only religious Jews who looked askance at Zionism. When Theodor Herzl launched his audacious project with Der Judenstaat in 1896 and the first Zionist congress at Basel in 1897 he encountered strong resistance to his scheme among emancipated assimilated Jews. In London he visited an elite Jewish dining club called the Maccabees and recorded their objection: ‘English patriotism’, as they put it, and their belief that their hard-won position as ‘Englishmen of Hebrew faith’ would be threatened by the promotion of a new Jewish nationality. And so Zionists looked for gentile support. When Winston Churchill deserted the Tories for the Liberals in 1904 he was obliged to find another parliamentary seat, in Manchester North West, which had a substantial Jewish electorate. In December 1905 Arthur Balfour resigned after his short, fraught spell as Tory prime minister, and the new Liberal government called an election which they would win by a landslide. Having already spoken against Balfour’s Aliens Bill, which was designed to restrict Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe, Churchill attended a meeting in Manchester in support of persecuted Russian Jews. There he met Chaim Weizmann, his exact contemporary, a Russian Jew and already a Zionist activist, who was working as a research chemist at Manchester University. They would remain friendly acquaintances, and Churchill would remain a supporter of Zionism, until Weizmann became the first president of Israel.

It was a hundred years ago last November that the fateful letter to ‘Dear Lord Rothschild’ was signed by Balfour, who had by then returned to office as foreign secretary in the wartime coalition government led by David Lloyd George. The British government would ‘view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object’. Although there was realpolitik behind the Balfour Declaration, both Balfour and Lloyd George became committed believers in the Zionist cause. Again, this was no obvious manifestation of philosemitism: Balfour privately admitted that he felt uneasy in Jewish company, and Lloyd George could be spitefully antisemitic. By contrast, the only Jewish member of the cabinet at the time, Edwin Montagu, passionately opposed the declaration and detested Zionism.

After the Great War, the British saddled themselves with responsibility for Mandatory Palestine, which proved one of the unhappier episodes in the decline and fall of the British Empire. In 1922, when Churchill was colonial secretary for a short but eventful spell, he unified one territory to the east, an artificial amalgam which became known as Iraq, while dividing another: ‘Palestine’ had originally comprised a much larger territory, but Churchill separated ‘Trans-Jordan’, today the kingdom of Jordan, from the land between Jordan and the sea which the British ruled until 1948 and is now ruled by Israel, one way or another. It was in protest against this partition that the formidable Vladimir Jabotinsky broke away from the mainstream Zionists to form his New Zionist Organisation – or the ‘Revisionists’, from their aim of revising or undoing that partition – with the uncompromising slogan: ‘A Jewish state with a Jewish majority on both banks of the Jordan.’

Even at the time the Declaration was plainly contradictory, with its promise that ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’ This had been carefully worded. ‘Civil and religious rights’ weren’t the same as national and political rights, and honest supporters of Zionism recognised what they were doing. In 1920, Balfour wrote candidly to Lloyd George, one Zionist convert to another: ‘The weak point of our position of course is that in the case of Palestine we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination. If the present inhabitants were consulted they would unquestionably give an anti-Jewish verdict.’ That was later echoed by Churchill. In 1937 he met Jabotinsky, and took up his opposition to a second partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab sectors, as the Peel Commission proposed. Giving private evidence to Peel, Churchill said he had no more sympathy for the displaced Palestinian Arabs than he had for the American Indians or Australian aborigines: it was merely the advance of history if a weaker or lower race was supplanted by a stronger or, as he put it, a ‘higher grade race’. In 1941 he said that the Atlantic Charter, which he and President Roosevelt had just issued, with its promise of no changes ‘that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned’, could not be applied to Palestine, lest ‘the Arabs might claim by majority they could expel the Jews from Palestine, or at any rate forbid all further immigration. I am wedded to the Zionist policy, of which I was one of the authors.’

All these arguments were drowned out by events: the war, the Jewish catastrophe in Europe, Zionist violence during the last unhappy years of the mandate, and the creation of Israel in 1948 during the premiership of Clement Attlee, who had no strong Zionist sympathies and was enraged by Truman’s demagogic meddling in the Palestine question. In 1951, Churchill returned to Downing Street for a somewhat eerie second innings as prime minister. Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh of the Foreign Office described a bibulous evening at Number Ten that autumn, when Churchill told his foreign secretary Anthony Eden how to deal with the troublesome Egyptians and other Arabs: ‘Rising from his chair, the old man advanced on Anthony with clenched fists, saying with the inimitable Churchill growl, “Tell them that if we have any more of their cheek we will set the Jews on them and drive them into the gutter, from which they should never have emerged.”’

That wasn’t a bad description of what was tried in 1956, when Eden and the French colluded with the Israelis in the ill-fated Suez enterprise. Eden departed, the British licked their wounds, and ‘what is, somewhat oddly, called the Middle East’, as Churchill had put it in 1940, receded from view until the dramas of the Six Day War in 1967, the next war in 1973, and the oil crisis. This had a direct impact on British politics, leading to Harold Wilson’s return to Downing Street in 1974. He resigned two years later in a miasma of dark suspicion, not much brightened by his resignation honours list, with its bizarre collection of mountebanks and crooks. Even that wasn’t quite as strange as The Chariot of Israel, the book which appeared under Wilson’s name in 1981: ostensibly a history of ‘Britain, America and the State of Israel’, it was a weirdly one-sided polemic, whose hero was Balfour and villain Ernest Bevin, Attlee’s foreign secretary and an ogre to Zionists to this day. It was so slipshod and inaccurate that Thurston Clarke in the New York Times thought the most charitable speculation was that it had been ‘dictated but never read, neither by the former prime minister nor by his publishers’.

After the brief and futile interlude of James Callaghan’s premiership, a new Tory prime minister entered Downing Street in May 1979. Almost thirty years before, at the 1950 general election, a 24-year-old research chemist by the name of Margaret Roberts had stood unsuccessfully for Parliament. By now called Margaret Thatcher, she was elected MP for Finchley in 1959: the first chapter of Azriel Bermant’s outstandingly valuable Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East is titled ‘Thatcher and the “Finchley Factor”’. Like Churchill’s Manchester seat, this outer suburb of North London had a large Jewish population, not universally loved by the local Tories. Thatcher was selected as a candidate thanks to one prejudice trumping another in the local Conservative Association: she might be a woman, but at least she wasn’t a Jew.

That phrase ‘Finchley factor’ stands for the widely held belief that Thatcher was a strong supporter of Israel, in part because of her constituency. It’s true that she was naturally philosemitic, one of her more attractive characteristics, as witnessed by her penchant for Jewish cabinet ministers, although Bermant is too sweeping when he says that until her arrival the Tories had long been dominated by a ‘patrician class which tended to have close ties with the Arab world’: there was a range of views in the party, and only a handful of Tories, not all of them ‘patrician’, had any such links. It was sometimes said that her instinctive support for Israel set her at odds with the Foreign Office, which Zionists had long liked to portray as a nest of antisemitic Arabists. That wasn’t really true, except to the extent that diplomats posted to Arab countries listened sympathetically to their side of the case. Thatcher had not only a well-attested admiration for ‘entrepreneurial values and self-help’ but also, Bermant thinks, an affinity with ‘Jewish associates such as Sir Keith Joseph’ (though surely Joseph – scion of a rich Anglo-Jewish family, Harrow, Magdalen, All Souls, wounded in action and mentioned in dispatches – was something of a patrician himself). Her devotees on both sides of the Atlantic have also lauded her supposed close personal bond with Ronald Reagan. At the time of Reagan’s death, Harold Evans, an English journalist long exiled in America, said that ‘the relationship between Thatcher and President Reagan was closer even than Churchill and Roosevelt,’ and after Thatcher’s death the self-proclaimed ‘very right-wing’ historian Andrew Roberts wrote in the Wall Street Journal that ‘her support for Israel was lifelong and unwavering.’

All this is quietly and comprehensively demolished by Bermant, who has scoured both the Israeli and the British archives, and interviewed many of the surviving political players from the 1980s, ministers in the Thatcher government like Douglas Hurd and William Waldegrave as well as her private secretary Charles Powell, and the late Yehudi Avner, who was Israel’s ambassador in London between 1983 and 1988.

When she became prime minister a number of pressing questions faced Thatcher at home and abroad: the economy, the unions, Ulster, Rhodesia, the Cold War in what proved to be its final phase, relations with Europe and its nascent monetary system, prelude to a single currency. But the intractable conflict in the Holy Land wouldn’t go away. Shortly after she reached Downing Street, Menachem Begin, who had been Israel’s prime minister for nearly two years, visited London and met her and Lord Carrington, her first foreign secretary. The meeting was a ‘disaster’, with Carrington telling Begin that the continuing colonisation of the West Bank was impeding any just settlement of the conflict, and Thatcher lecturing him on the need for such a settlement to counter the Soviet threat. Begin was unmoved, saying that he might grant limited government on the West Bank and that its inhabitants could choose between Israeli and Jordanian citizenship, but that he would never concede a Palestinian state. In response, Thatcher pointed out that if the West Bank Palestinians became Israelis then the ‘Jewish state’ might soon have an Arab majority, one of the first occasions on which this demographic question was raised.

When the Tories were in opposition in 1975 and Carrington had led the party in the Lords, he had aroused the ire of supporters of Israel by meeting Yasser Arafat. He continued to see the conflict as a matter of the first importance, which had to be resolved by a two-state settlement. Now, in February 1980, he wrote to Thatcher to say that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan had presented a unique opportunity for the West to rally support among Muslim countries to counter Soviet influence, but that the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the great stumbling block. Thatcher herself ‘found it difficult’, Bermant writes, ‘to argue with Arab visitors who drew comparisons between the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank’. When Carrington suggested that the time had come for the British to go beyond the 1967 Security Council Resolution 242, which had demanded Israel’s withdrawal from the Occupied Territories in return for recognition, and declare their support for Palestinian self-determination, the lord chancellor, Lord Hailsham, warned Thatcher of the electoral ‘importance of Jewish opinion here’. ‘I would not have cared to fight St Marylebone’ – which he had represented in the Commons – ‘as a Conservative candidate in the face of Jewish hostility on this issue. Manchester, Leeds and the whole of North London would be profoundly affected.’ Thatcher told Hailsham that she understood his position but advised him against joining the Conservative Friends of Israel, her own membership of which was causing her ‘problems’, presumably because the CFI had put pressure on her and was embarrassing her in her own constituency. As all this suggests, from the very start of her premiership her views on Israel were more complex than myth has long had it.

For the rest of the 1980s there was continuing tension between London and Tel Aviv, and between London and Washington. Thatcher subscribed to the Venice Declaration, which called for a Palestinian state and proposed a role for the PLO. In June 1981, Israeli aircraft bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, on what proved to be the spurious grounds that it was making nuclear weapons to be used against Israel: as Bermant says, ‘it later emerged that there was no substance to the Israeli allegation.’ The bombing was condemned by the British government and by Thatcher personally. When the Labour MP Greville Janner asked whether she wasn’t pleased that Iraq had been weakened, she replied: ‘Had there been an attack on Israel of the kind that there has just been on Iraq, I should totally and utterly have condemned it. I, therefore, totally and utterly condemn the attack on Iraq.’ All the while, there was no progress at all on the question of Palestine. In 1982, Carrington visited Israel in a forlorn attempt to mend some fences, but he had to return hurriedly when news came of an imminent assault by Argentina on the Falklands, which would end his ministerial career. In June, less than a fortnight before Argentina surrendered, Palestinian zealots tried to assassinate Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador in London. Begin took this as a pretext to launch an attack on Lebanon, culminating in the massacre of Palestinians in refugee camps. This was the work of Phalangist militias, but the Israeli army plainly bore responsibility. The atrocity was condemned internationally and by many Israelis, including the wounded Argov, who said, ‘We are tired of wars. The nation wants peace,’ and for the first time the solidarity shown by even the official Anglo-Jewish establishment, let alone the broader Jewish population, was ruptured. What should have been clear was that a settlement of the Palestinian question was more remote than ever.

After Carrington resigned he was briefly succeeded at the Foreign Office by Francis Pym, until Thatcher won her crushing victory in the 1983 election and replaced him with Geoffrey Howe. He stayed for six years until he was kicked sideways and then, in his quietly devastating resignation speech in November 1990, precipitated Thatcher’s fall. The Israelis made frequent attempts to separate Thatcher from the Foreign Office by appealing to her directly but they met with little success. They were acting on the assumption that she instinctively favoured Israel, but that was a grave misapprehension.

The most riveting moment in Bermant’s book records an exchange between Argov and Sir Michael Palliser, who was permanent under-secretary of the Foreign Office when Thatcher became prime minister. Argov told Palliser that Israelis saw Carrington (and maybe Palliser himself) as characteristic of the old English elite, whose disdain for the Jewish state reflected traditional prejudice. By contrast, Argov claimed that the prime minister was truly reliable, a friend who naturally sympathised with Israel. He could not be more wrong, Palliser replied. Like Palliser himself, Carrington had been a young Guards officer in 1945, when they had both entered Germany to see for themselves the horrors inflicted by the Third Reich on the Jews, and they had never forgotten that ‘terrible suffering’. By contrast, it was ‘not Carrington who has never missed an opportunity to mention the two sergeants,’ Palliser said. ‘It is the prime minister.’

Maybe today those words, and ‘the two sergeants’, need glossing. While Miss Roberts was still at Oxford, the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the armed force of the militant Revisionists, began what everyone from the British authorities to the New York Times called a terrorist campaign. In 1946 they blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people, British, Arab and Jewish, and in 1948 they massacred the villagers of Deir Yassin. In between those two events, in 1947, the Irgun captured two British sergeants, Clifford Martin and Mervyn Paice, both National Service conscripts, and then hanged them, leaving their bodies booby-trapped. There was a spasm of rage in England, where two Jewish Labour MPs expressed their ‘shame and humiliation’, and the Jewish Chronicle said that ‘British Jewry cannot but feel a deep sense of shame that these murders have been committed.’

At the time, the Irgun was led by Begin, who was condemned in a letter to the New York Times in December 1948 signed by 29 Jewish eminences, including Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and Sidney Hook, as the leader of a movement ‘closely akin … to the Nazi and Fascist parties’ which had ‘boasted’ of its massacre of innocents and inaugurated ‘a reign of terror’. Less than thirty years later, Begin was prime minister of Israel. Less than two years after that, Thatcher reached Downing Street – and she hadn’t forgotten the sergeants.

As Bermant describes all this he omits to mention Lord Moyne. Churchill’s minister resident in Cairo was assassinated in November 1944 by two members of the Lehi or Sternists, an extreme fraction of the Irgun. Churchill’s ferocious response – ‘If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of assassins’ pistols and our labours for its future to produce only a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past’ – was the nearest he came to abandoning his support for Zionism. If Thatcher hadn’t known already, she must have learned from the intelligence services that Moyne’s killing had been organised by the Lehi leader, Yitzhak Yezernitsky. While underground he adopted the codename ‘Michael’ in homage to Michael Collins (despite some myth-making, almost no self-styled anti-colonial movement took Irish republicanism as a model, with the exception of Revisionist Zionism), and then changed his name to Shamir.

In October 1983, months after Thatcher won her second election victory, Yitzhak Shamir succeeded Begin as Israel’s prime minister. He later said that the murder of Moyne ‘was completely justified … there were good reasons for him being shot,’ implying – quite wrongly – that Moyne had been antisemitic. Strong-willed and sometimes pig-headed, Thatcher had very firm views on most subjects, including terrorist violence, Irish or Arab. But she wasn’t a hypocrite, and she didn’t make the fine casuistical distinction others made between murder by Palestinian terrorists and murder by Zionist terrorists. And if she never liked or trusted Begin, she liked his successor even less. There was a lull between September 1984 and October 1986 when Shimon Peres was prime minister, but then Shamir returned until 1992. And so for all but two of Thatcher’s eleven and a half years in Downing Street, Israel was led by men she deeply disliked and distrusted.

Nor did she have any profound reverence for the American president. No doubt Thatcher shared Reagan’s free-market and anti-communist convictions, but she had no illusions about him. Shortly after he was inaugurated, Thatcher and Carrington were talking over a drink one evening in Downing Street when the conversation turned to the new president, at which Thatcher tapped the side of her skull and said: ‘Peter, there’s nothing there.’ And after she had left office, Nicholas Henderson, her ambassador in Washington between 1979 and 1982, told Tony Benn: ‘If I reported to you what Mrs Thatcher really thought about President Reagan, it would damage Anglo-American relations.’ Few people reading this, it can be safely assumed, deeply admired Margaret Thatcher or have warm memories of her. But I would ask them to consider this: that she compares favourably with Tony Blair on many points, not least her far less sycophantic attitude towards Washington. Unlike too many prime ministers from Churchill to Blair, she did not delude herself that the British and the Americans were one people. She recognised that the United States was a sovereign country that would pursue its interests and objectives as it conceived them, if not always wisely, with complete disregard for the interest and objectives of its supposed friends, let alone its avowed enemies. And she embodied the Palmerstonian principle that England has no eternal friends and no eternal foes, only eternal interests.

One place where British interests did not coincide with American policies was the Middle East, and this was, as Bermant says, the source of her most persistent friction with Washington. We know what happened, or what didn’t happen: any ‘peace process’ was delusional; a resolution of the conflict was no nearer when Reagan and then Thatcher left office than at the beginning of the decade, and it became ever clearer to her that the Americans were simply not taking the matter seriously. In 1986 she told George Shultz, Reagan’s secretary of state, that there would be no peace in the Middle East unless justice was done for the Palestinians, and that this was not going to happen as long as Washington offered effectively uncritical support for any Israeli action. But her words had little effect. In some areas, she was certainly often at odds with the Foreign Office, which she regarded as too conciliatory, especially towards Europe, maybe forgetting that conciliation is the object of diplomacy.

But Israelis who supposed that their own country was the cause of dissension between her and some of her ministers and diplomatists were completely misreading her. Although Argov told his colleagues that Ian Gilmour, Lord Privy Seal and second in command to Carrington at the Foreign Office between 1979 and 1981, embodied British ‘hostility and contempt’ towards Israel to an ‘almost pathological’ degree, it was Gilmour’s hostility towards Thatcher’s economic policies, not any clash of views on the Middle East, that finally led her to sack him. She needed no suasion from him or any Foreign Office Arabist to condemn the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, or the raid on Iraq, or to warn Reagan that American collusion with Israel placed the Arab allies of the US in an impossible position. Those were her own views. As Bermant writes, ‘Ultimately, Thatcher acted against Israel because she sincerely believed it was in the wrong and this had little to do with FCO pressure.’

One ruler she did warm to was King Hussein of Jordan, and she seems to have sympathised with his exasperation at the obstructive games-playing of the Israelis and the Americans: ‘Thatcher was furious with the Reagan administration over the failure to produce a meeting with the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.’ Shortly after this, Shultz addressed a conference of Aipac, the main Israel lobbying group, and was so carried away with the heady atmosphere that he led a chant of ‘Hell no to the PLO.’ So much for the American claim to be an even-handed broker.

By early 1986, it’s true, Thatcher’s mood had altered. Now it was the games-playing of the PLO that strained her patience, and with Peres in office she visited Israel in an attempt to restore relations. Even so she used her speeches there ‘to state uncomfortable truths to her audience’ in a way that no American politician would have done. The world expected Israel to show high standards and to protect the rights of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, she pointed out, admirably if optimistically. She met Palestinian leaders – the first such meeting with any Western head of government – and then had ‘a ghastly breakfast’ with Yitzhak Rabin, later to acquire martyrdom and a possibly misleading reputation as a man of peace. He read out a prepared statement saying that no concessions to the Palestinians were possible, while looking at his watch. ‘Thatcher was rather disgusted by Rabin’s conduct,’ and privately disappointed with Peres as well.

A meeting was convened in London between Israeli and Jordanian leaders, and even Shultz in Washington appeared to view the resulting London Agreement with favour. In late 1987 there were flickering signs that Washington might support an international conference to settle, or at least examine, the dispute. Then, in January 1988, David Mellor, a minister of state at the Foreign Office, visited Gaza against the advice of his officials, and with grandstanding buffoonery enraged the Israelis by his comments. He enraged Thatcher too, for making her task so much the harder, and because she understandably thought Mellor’s behaviour had ‘more to do with self-promotion than the plight of the Palestinians’.

Months later Mellor was moved sideways and replaced by William Waldegrave, who offers a merciful moment of light relief in this bleak story. When Arafat was staying in London, Waldegrave called on him. Picking up an embroidered cushion, he said how handsome it was, and looked forward ‘to the day when I can walk down a Palestinian street and buy Palestinian goods as beautiful as this in a country you can call your own’. Completely missing the point, Arafat replied: ‘No, no. You can buy these in London. There’s a place in the Edgware Road!’ By now Arafat was hinting at recognition of Israel, and spoke at the UN, not quite taking Thatcher’s inimitable matronly advice ‘to clean up his appearance’.

As Reagan’s departure approached, Thatcher complained bitterly to King Hussein about the president’s total failure to address the conflict seriously, urged his successor, George Bush the Elder, to begin a new peace initiative, and foresaw correctly that James Baker, the incoming secretary of state, would not have the ‘same hang-ups’ as Shultz. During her last year in Downing Street her relations with the Israeli government cooled further. She addressed the Board of Deputies of British Jews, expressing strong support for Israel’s right to exist combined with deep concern about current Israeli polices. And she was much affronted by the settling of the new immigrant wave of Russian Jews on the West Bank.

Any hope of a fruitful partnership between Thatcher and the new American administration was undone by events. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 disrupted the whole of Araby, and Western policies with it. Thatcher urged Saddam’s removal by force, but wasn’t in office to see it. As it was, after she was deposed that November, she could look back on a record of failure in the Holy Land – a failure, above all, Bermant concludes, to persuade ‘the Reagan administration to play a more active role in the peace process’. But there was more to it than that. In the summer of 2006 Israel again invaded Lebanon. One effect among others was to end Blair’s premiership: his cabinet colleagues and Labour MPs, who for so long had supported him with a kind of abject reluctance, were sickened by his final refusal to budge from the Israeli and American position, and he was forced to say that he would leave within a year. As Alan Cowell, the London correspondent of the New York Times, put it at the time, ‘if the Lebanon conflict said anything about what some Britons like to call their special relationship with America, it seemed to be this: in this Middle East war, the only special relationship bound the United States to Israel, not Britain.’ So it was then, so it had long been, so it remains. Margaret Thatcher may have been the first British prime minister – and the last – who grasped that truth.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

TLE: Why the Cambridge Analytica scandal could be much more serious than you think:

Why the Cambridge Analytica scandal could be much more serious than you think:

Guest Contributor
March 27, 2018

By Roger Cottrell, PhD

At 8.00 pm on March 23, 2018, 18 officers of the Information Commission Office led by Elisabeth Denham raided the headquarters of Cambridge Analytica in Mayfair, London, having secured a warrant to do so from a Judge in less than 48 hours.

This may seem like justice is beginning to be served not only in relation to the illegal harvesting of some 50 million Facebook accounts and Cambridge Analytica’s manipulating of the Trump vote in the US, but also in matters closer to home.

We are looking at the scandalous possibility that British Facebook accounts may have been harvested and the “Leave” vote on Brexit manipulated in much the same way as the Trump vote in the US.

Hot on the heels of Cambridge Analytica’s main whistle blower, Christopher Wylie, Brittany Kaiser, hitherto business development director at Cambridge Analytica, has made important disclosures linking the company to Leave UK, the initiative founded by Nigel Farage.

The official Vote Leave Campaign headed by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove had identical and parallel connections to the Canadian company, Aggregate IQ, set up by Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), a hitherto government and NATO defence contractor owned by Robert Mercer and involved in psychological warfare.

A further whistle blower called Shahmir Sanni has revealed that 40% of Vote Leave’s budget of £6.8 million was paid to AQI and how money was moved between different entities and organizations to enable them to exceed officially sanctioned spending on the campaign.

Both Sanni and Wylie have also confirmed that the harvested information has been shared with Kremlin linked entities.

These could include the Internet Research Agency troll farm in St Petersburg, accused by Robert Mueller and the US Supreme Court of manipulating the Trump vote in the US.

With a budget of approximately $1.25 million, the Internet Research Agency is mostly funded by Oligarch Yevgeny Victorovich Prighozin, linked to the three state run TV networks in Russia and known by the Russian media as “Putin’s Chef.”

Prighozin, who held clandestine meetings with Robert Mercer in the Virgin Islands during the Trump Presidential Campaign, also has a major interest in Wagner, the corporate mercenary army implicated in war crimes in Donbas, Crimea and Syria.

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned, together with his daughter Yulia and a British policeman, in Salisbury this month using a deadly nerve agent developed by the Russian military.

A source close to Skripal has said he was investigating the collusion between the Internet Research Agency, AIQ, Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL.

None of this has been mentioned in the largely impotent showboating over Russian linked deaths in the UK.

At no point has Boris Johnson, who was personally connected to SCL through Vote Leave and whose Party received £860,000 in donations from Russian oligarchs, connected the attempted murders in Salisbury to what it was that Skripal was investigating.

Meanwhile, amidst all the diplomatic expulsions and sanctions that count for nothing, neither Johnson nor his government made any effort to seize the assets of Putin supporting Oligarchs in the UK and British Overseas territories.

Nor has be addressed the toxic relationship between these Oligarchs and the feral British financial networks exposed by the Panama Papers, that forms the background to these murderous activities.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the official investigation led by Elizabeth Denham and the Information Commission, many of us are already beginning to query whether it will actually lead to criminal prosecutions – or if so, just how far up the corruption food chain it will go.

This is not to cast any slur on Ms Denham’s efforts as she seems to be a pretty dogged and highly principled investigator.  But Britain has a long tradition of official investigations being set up to fail while evidence of criminal conspiracies is kicked into the long grass.

To start with, as evidence against Cambridge Analytica began to gather, thanks to Wylie and the sterling efforts of Channel 4 News, The Observer and The New York Times, it looked as if Alexander Nix (at that time the CEO of Cambridge Analytica) would emerge as the sacrificial goat of an official damage limitation exercise similar to Levenson.  After all, it was Nix who was caught on camera boasting as to how his company had manipulated the Kenyan and US elections, was prepared to use sexual honey traps and create dummy companies for deniable operations.

Nix very publicly resigned as CEO within days of these disclosures being screened on Channel 4 and an embarrassed-looking Mark Zuckerberg being summoned to give evidence both sides of the Atlantic.  After all, when SCL was founded with Robert Mercer’s backing in 2005, Nigel Oakes was a much more important figure than front man Nix despite them both (like Cameron and Boris Johnson) being former Etonians and former members of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford.

Oakes funded SCL directly and through two investment vehicles.  One of these was Heriot, Ltd., and the second a family trust fund.

However, even as both Cambridge Analytica and SCL come under official scrutiny it seems that both companies may be dissolved at the same time as those behind it shift to a new mysterious company.

They are joined by the daughters of the Donald Trump backing billionaire Robert Mercer at Emerdata Ltd. Emerdata, Business Insider points out, shares an address at Canary Wharf with SCL and is listed as a “data processing, hosting, and related activities” company.

Not only is Nix on the board of directors, together with fellow Cambridge Analytica and SCL insider Julian Wheeland but so, too, is Johnson Chun Shun Ko, an Executive for the Frontier Service Group, a private mercenary army led by Erik Prince who founded the controversial Blackwater Company in South Carolina in the 1990s.

Having been forced to surrender control of Blackwater to Cofer Black, late of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Committee, following a wave of scandals to 2007, Prince established a de facto Foreign Legion run by the government of the United Arab Emirates. He was also a key donor to the Make America Number 1 PAC, in support of Donald Trump, during the Presidential election campaign.

Steve Bannon, who ran Cambridge Analytica during Trump’s Presidential Campaign, then tried to influence Trump to replace US troops with mercenary contractors in Afghanistan, where Prince already has a history of involvement.

Steve Bannon is now a key strategist for Kremlin funded French fascist Marine Le Pen.

By shape-shifting into Emerdata, Ltd., SCL and Cambridge Analytica may also be trying to conceal just how closely it has been tied, and continues to be tied to both the Cameron and May governments up to and including the present.  Sir Geoffrey Pattie, as an example, had been both a Defence and Industry Minister under Cameron while connected to SCL.

In particular, and perhaps significant given Erik Prince’s new connection to Emerdata, Ltd., Pattie worked for the Brexit supporting Liam Fox in promoting military privatization.

Julian Wheeland, meantime, was as Chair of SCL photographed with Cameron, during his 2015 election campaign and is now on the board of Emerdata, Ltd.

Most significant of all, the Ludlow based Brexit supporting Roger Gabb, who was a significant shareholder in SCL, became the biggest donor to the Tory Party in history when, from 2004, he paid £707,000 to the Conservative Party.  This raises questions as to why Cameron offered the Brexit referendum in the first place and why May, who claims to have opposed Brexit, insists that “Brexit means Brexit” even though it will be an unmitigated disaster for the UK.

It also raises questions as to whether SCL helped the Tories win their elections in 2015 and more recently.  Theresa May denies any direct dealings with SCL.

Yet a significant number of SCL connected individuals now work for the May government.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

How Not to Do Trade Deals

In my opinion one of, if not the, most important article I read this year:

How Not to Do Trade Deals

Swati Dhingra and Nikhil Datta

About half of Britain’s trade and investment is with the EU, and currently, as members, we implement almost the same standards for products and services. One of the few concrete things stated in the government’s white paper on Brexit was its intention to establish UK trading schedules – including import tariffs and quotas – at the World Trade Organisation, replicating ‘our existing trade regime as far as possible’. If no trade deals were struck with the EU after Brexit, the EU and UK would need to charge each other the tariffs they charge other WTO members. The average tariff rate is low – around 1.5 per cent – but some products attract higher tariffs. Cars, for example, incur a 10 per cent tariff, which the head of European manufacturing at Nissan stated would be a ‘disaster’ for the UK industry.

Tariffs also have an effect on the price of food. The pound’s loss of around 10 per cent of its value after the Brexit referendum may have benefited certain export industries and increased the number of tourists coming to the UK, but food price inflation – which until Brexit had been negative – contributed to overall inflation hitting its highest level in four years, at 2.9 per cent. Food price inflation has a significant impact on living standards, especially for those on lower wages who spend a larger proportion of their income on food. Evidence from the Resolution Foundation suggests the real wages of around 40 per cent of the workforce are falling, so many people are already feeling worse off. Agricultural products imported into the EU have very high tariffs: meat can be as high as 84 per cent, dairy produce up to 74 per cent and grains 63 per cent. Since 71 per cent of the UK’s agricultural imports currently come from the EU, if no new trade deal is reached, UK food prices are likely to rise even higher. And UK farmers will also suffer, since the current annual figure of €16.1 billion of agricultural exports from the UK to the EU is bound to drop.

Hard Brexiters often see leaving the EU as an opportunity to drop tariffs completely, which could reduce prices for British consumers. When it’s no longer a member of the customs union, the UK would be free to set its own tariffs, or could unilaterally decide to abolish them. But tariff levels are an important bargaining chip: if the UK drops its import tariffs without getting reciprocal access to foreign markets, it would be hard for prices to fall enough to make up for the job losses incurred in industries that would face competition from imports. Since tariffs are higher in manufacturing, higher job losses would be likely in areas of the UK that are already in economic difficulty.

The customs union binds all members to charge the same common external tariffs, so ensuring that members don’t import goods from outside the trading bloc using lower tariffs, and then export them into the single market, bypassing other members’ tariffs. Goods exported to the EU from Norway and Iceland, which are members of the single market but not the customs union, have to go through customs checks to ensure that the goods were indeed (largely) made there. The cost of complying with customs checks is estimated to amount to about 8 per cent of the value of an import, with almost all this the result of the extra paperwork. Even firms that already meet the necessary standards will have to bear these compliance costs. Since the EU has one set of ‘rules of origin’ that applies to members of the single market outside the customs union – Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – and to those with Free Trade Agreements, like Switzerland, the current situation of Norway can be used to assess the impact that these checks could have on trade. A survey by the Swedish National Board of Trade of almost a thousand businesses found that Norway ranked top along with Russia as a problematic trading partner: 70 per cent of those companies which found trade with Norway problematic singled out ‘incredibly cumbersome’ customs handling and rules.

Such rules would have a severe effect on the UK car industry, since 56 per cent of the cars made in the UK are currently exported to the EU. The UK supply chain is highly integrated with the EU, with some car parts crossing borders about forty times. As a result, car makers and the government would like a sector-specific trade deal, that keeps the tariffs on cars and car components at zero and counts components from EU countries towards the rules of origin. But the UK and the EU can’t sign a deal that removes tariffs on cars and no other sector. To prevent countries cherry-picking and discriminating against other members, the WTO only recognises bilateral trade deals that cover almost all forms of trade between the signatory countries. A zero tariff deal for the car industry is therefore unrealistic.

Firms that operate tight production schedules and have complex supply chains, such as the car industry, depend on parts passing through customs quickly and easily. Both Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover operate a ‘just-in-time’ supply chain: for some components they keep available only the amount of stock used in a two-hour period. Even very brief customs disruptions could effectively halt production in plants that produce two cars every minute.

To pre-empt this problem, the UK could increase the number of customs staff it employs. HMRC is woefully understaffed compared to similar sized countries and totally unprepared for the extra work involved in being outside the customs union: the UK has about 5000 customs staff while Germany employs more than 35,000. The UK will also need to open British versions of EU regulatory agencies. The cost of setting up a UK version of the European Aviation Safety Agency has been calculated as £400 million over a decade, and this is just one of almost forty agencies. It’s possible that some EU regulators will continue to be used by the UK, but this would mean the UK would be answerable to the European Court of Justice, and this was expressly ruled out in the white paper and in Theresa May’s recent statements.

Many of those lobbying for Brexit saw the supposed ability to cut red tape as a key element of ‘taking back control’. But signing any trade deal involves giving up some amount of sovereignty. As a WTO member, the UK agrees to bind its tariffs to rates agreed with other members and to respect the judgment of the WTO’s dispute settlement body.

To sustain trade volumes at current levels requires trade deals that keep non-tariff barriers low by reducing divergences in standards and streamlining conditions imposed on foreign operators. Enforcing similar policies across markets effectively turns a free trade area into a single market where goods and services can be provided with the assumption that they meet the necessary requirements. Countries trying to make a trade deal have to agree on similar sets of standards and oversight policies that can be mutually recognised. If partner countries have similar preferences over standards, it’s much easier to make trade deals without giving up much sovereignty. For instance: the UK gives up some sovereignty when it applies the EU’s Toy Safety directive. But the loss is small because the safety concerns of UK consumers are similar to those of EU consumers. Following a common standard also enables UK businesses to sell goods in the EU without additional verification, and this reduces the non-tariff costs of trade to businesses. For some sectors, including food processing and pharmaceuticals, the value of applying similar standards is that it lowers the risk of cross-contamination from batches intended for a different market and ensures that all businesses are treated equally.

There won’t be much change to start with in the regulation of many products that currently carry the ‘CE’ (Conformité Européene) marking, and the UK could make a mutual recognition agreement with the EU covering electrical goods, machinery and medical devices, as countries such as Australia, Canada and the US have done. In the longer term, however, if UK standards diverge from EU ones, British businesses may have to produce two different product lines, one for the UK and one for the EU; this would be costly and reduce competitiveness.

A larger problem is trade and foreign investment in the services sector, which makes up 80 per cent of the UK economy. There are no tariffs on services: non-tariff barriers are the main hurdle. Access to the single EU aviation market, for example, requires a company to have its headquarters and majority shareholdings located within the EU, so that the EU can have regulatory oversight on safety. This could have an impact on companies such as easyJet, which recently announced plans for a new business, easyJet Europe, that would have its headquarters in Vienna. Even if the UK is recognised by the EU as having an equivalent regulatory regime, it could be cost-effective for some firms to relocate if the UK doesn’t keep pace with changes in EU regulations. The government’s recent position papers give no detail on how mutual recognition agreements will accommodate future changes in EU rules. Estimates of the ‘trade cost equivalent’ on services thanks to non-tariff barriers range from 8.5 to 47.3 per cent for trade between the US and the EU. The UK could expect to see some of these costs applying to its trade with the EU after Brexit.


As tariffs and the cost of non-tariff barriers rise, studies based on detailed customs data estimate that UK-EU trade will fall by between 13 and 40 per cent, depending on the level of market access negotiated. Brexit supporters are banking on outside trade deals cushioning this fall. Discussions of reawakening trade with the Commonwealth, striking deals with developing nations and strengthening the trade relationship with the US are common. With Britain on its own, the argument goes, it will be easier to strike deals, as bilateral agreements should be more straightforward than a deal between 29 countries.

But trade deals, even between two countries, take time and diplomatic resources. Which deals should the UK prioritise and what should they look like? The most discussed contenders are a new deal with the EU, deals with China and India, populous, quickly developing nations, and with the US, whose GDP is almost the same size as the EU’s.

It would be sensible to prioritise a trade deal with the EU. Countries have always traded the most with their biggest, closest neighbours. This is by far the most reliable fact about international trade and holds true no matter which set of countries, time period or sector (goods, services, e-commerce, foreign investments) is looked at. Given that the EU is within swimming distance from the UK, has a population of more than 500 million and a GDP of almost $20 trillion (double that of China), an equivalent replacement is effectively impossible. EU standards on goods and labour are more acceptable to British people than those in the US, China and India, even if Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Treasury Select Committee last year: ‘We could say, if it’s good enough in India, it’s good enough for here … We could take it a very long way.’ But if we want trade deals that reduce non-tariff barriers without compromising domestic standards, it will be harder to achieve with the US, China, India et al than with the EU.

Currently, 3 per cent of UK exports and 7 per cent of imports are with China, so trade with China would have to increase ten times to get anywhere near the levels we have with the EU. The economy most like the UK’s to have a deal with China is Switzerland. The deal took nine negotiation rounds and around four years of talks. Swiss tariffs on Chinese industrial products, shoes and textiles were removed immediately, whereas Chinese tariffs on Swiss exports are being dismantled in some cases over a 15-year period, while other sectors like machinery and chemical products are keeping their tariffs. As a report by Lalive, a Swiss law firm, makes clear, the agreement ‘is more favourable to Chinese exports’, and a survey conducted by the Swiss Chamber of Commerce two years after its introduction concluded that ‘the FTA is not very attractive.’ In that survey, 89 per cent of respondents claimed that the agreement had had no clear effect so far, and that the biggest problems they faced were red tape, time delays and customs officers’ lack of knowledge. The deal did cover services, but didn’t really extend the already existing WTO services commitments. The most recent Swiss embassy report noted that service exports from Switzerland to China shrank by 0.3 per cent in 2015, dropping 1.3 per cent from the year before, during most of which the agreement wasn’t in force. The Swiss are not inexperienced in negotiating deals, so it seems unwise to expect a UK-China deal to create an export market that will replace the EU market.

Despite all this a UK-China deal could still lower costs of goods for UK consumers, but deep integration with a country like China, where labour is cheap and abundant and which has very different standards of safety and environmental regulation, is likely to hurt British blue-collar workers – the people who voted for Brexit. To avoid this the UK could insist on worker protection and consumer rights in its trade deals with developing countries. It could insist on social clauses in trade agreements that include the monitoring of safety standards, as the US has done with its Better Factories Cambodia project. But getting countries like China to agree to such clauses would be very difficult.

Similar concerns on the quality of regulations would arise in a future trade deal with India, which was the first stop on May’s Global Britain tour late last year. It might seem that Brexit would make a bilateral UK-India deal easier to accomplish because one obstacle that arose in EU negotiations with India would be removed: the UK, unlike the EU, may be happy to reduce tariffs on agricultural products from India. A deal with India is popular partly because UK trade with the subcontinent has been dropping. At the moment less than 2 per cent of UK exports go to India so, again, even substantial growth wouldn’t make a huge difference to export volumes.

UK businesses would like access to the Indian market in service industries such as law, insurance and finance. In January 2016, the UK reached an agreement on opening up legal services and infrastructure investments in India for UK businesses. But the Indians wouldn’t be keen on deep liberalisation in other sectors, like financial services, without getting reciprocal access for services that matter to India, such as information technology. This was a major sticking point during the EU-India negotiations, and May’s refusal as home secretary to reform visa rules for students and skilled professionals from India stalled EU-India negotiations as early as 2010. Since the Brexit referendum, the May government has if anything hardened its rhetoric on visas. A new trade deal is therefore not going to be as straightforward as it seemed before the prime minister’s visit to India.

While increasing trade with China and India wouldn’t go far towards making up for loss of trade with the EU, increased trade with the US might be thought to get us nearer plugging the hole. But here too there are problems. First, since import tariffs for both the EU and the US are already low (1.6 per cent), any expansion in UK-US trade would need a lot more regulatory harmonisation. There are some simple ways of reducing non-tariff barriers which the UK and the US could pursue: extending mutual recognition of technical standards and expanding labelling for food products. But many of these barriers reflect a clear difference in the two countries’ preferences. Regulation is aimed at ensuring quality, whether of employment, environment or of a product. Dropping the regulations preventing the import of hormone-fed beef or chlorine-washed chicken from the US may not be something the UK wants to do. Another hurdle to harmonisation with the US is the difference in the way new products are regulated. The precautionary principle in EU law, which has no counterpart in the US, holds that in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof of the safety of a new product is on the company wanting to introduce it. US law, however, asks government agencies to show that a product is unsafe, rather than requiring companies to prove that it is safe, before it enters the market. It’s highly unlikely that the UK could get the US to switch to a precautionary policy and so a new trade deal that reduces non-tariff barriers would therefore mean abandoning that principle and following the US approach.

Another hurdle, probably the biggest one, is the investor rights that the US demands in deals with trade partners. Typically, the US insists on an investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism to settle disagreements between US firms and host governments. The ISDS gives foreign firms the right to bring claims against national or regional governments if they feel they have not been given fair and equitable treatment. The Calgary-based, Delaware-registered company Lone Pine Resources, for instance, has claimed damages for potential losses from the Quebec government’s moratorium on fracking. Although a decision is pending, this case has become the poster child for the ‘excessive’ powers that ISDS gives foreign firms, allowing them to undermine national and local government sovereignty, especially in socially sensitive policy areas like the environment, natural resources and public health.

The UK currently has about £250 billion worth of investment from the US, so any investment-related clause would have far-reaching implications for firms, workers and consumers. There is little evidence to show that ISDS clauses increase economic activity. An LSE study concluded that they expose the state to political costs, without providing much economic benefit. In a trade deal with Australia, however, the US accepted an agreement which settles such disputes within the domestic court system. Following the Australian example, the UK could try to improve on the agreement that the EU was negotiating with the US, which proposed less transparent ways of resolving disputes with foreign companies.

Counting on future trade deals with countries like China, India and the US to replace our existing economic ties to the EU is wishful thinking. We would be better off pursuing these deals as a long-term strategy. If the UK negotiated an interim arrangement like the one Norway has, outside the customs union but in the single market, we would buy a few years to negotiate better trade deals outside the EU. But such deals won’t do much to revive the stagnating wages of those who voted for Brexit.

Thursday, September 28, 2017



Against all advice and common sense
Our deposit left on the floor
where milk bottles were delivered
By our own backdoor

We voted Brekshit
Now we're Brekshitting
If we stay on this path
We've Brekshat
We may have shat on our own mat
But we got our cunt tree back

Look it's failing! We did the right thing to leave!
Not that they were grieving
From Charles de Gaulle to Merkel, they know
we never pulled our weight
Now May finds, oops, we've nothing up our sleeve
for negotiating our leaving
If Banks & Hannon and Carswell say 'we go'
then we go riding Mogg & Foxes wave of hate

'We got our cunt tree back'
And what a cunt tree it is
Free market playground for the rich? Tick
Safety rules and regs ditched? Roger
Workers rights?
What were they good for anyway,
eh, Maggie?
But mercy mercy me,
the ecology

It's a barren slave plantation
we're making of our nation

We voted Brekshit
Now we're Brekshitting
If we stay on this path
We've Brekshat
We may have shat on our own mat
But we got our cunt tree back

But our leaving shook the mountain
An avalanche begins to rumble
The hate begins to fountain
The nations start to tumble
We unleashed the tsunami, the whirlwind, the rain
And now watch our country circle the drain
Watch the ice shelf of neighbourly nations
Now calving, imploding dividing
The glacier of Europe melting under the warming of cry
Of nationalism, populism and against-ism

We voted Brekshit
Now we're Brekshitting
If we stay on this path
We've Brekshat
We may have shat on our own mat
But we got our cunt tree back

Look the euros failing! Good thing we didn't join
But why'd it fail? Coz we didn't join!
Coz we sided with the Yanks
for whom we were just their Trojan
From whom we'll get little thanks
But for whom we fought those dang iraqis
who threatened mighty wall street
whose free market lies only go so far
with oil trade in euros they would not compete
Hussein, Gaddafi, Chavez
all in winding sheets
And a strong europe rent sunder

We voted Brekshit
Now we're Brekshitting
If we stay on this path
We've Brekshat
We may have shat on our own mat
But we got our cunt tree back

Rule one of brekshit club, no wogs no gyps, no towel-heads
no Poles, Rumanians or jews

Yet the wave of refugees shook from their beds
Came from our wars and empires
yes, we started these bonfires
and in the great conflagration
that is now shaking our 'great' nation
we lionise the malodorous scum
coz us Brits we is really dumb
until blown all to kingdom come
and burned away by the sun

We voted Brekshit
Now we're Brekshitting
If we stay on this path
We've Brekshat
We may have shat on our own mat
But we got our cunt tree back

it's a brand new day!
And things can only get worse