Over the past weeks, anyone watching the TV news, or reading a newspaper, will have noticed two main stories. First and foremost, the fiasco in America concerning the appointment of a Supreme Court Judge, and the allegations of historical sexual assault that followed his nomination. This may well be very significant to people in America, and the story naturally picked up on the #metoo movement that began with the Harvey Weinstein case. I can see that it has a broader appeal, given that it allows abused women to finally speak up, and hopefully stop such things happening in the future.
But it was also the main feature on the BBC News here, every day for weeks. Not only that, but they relayed the entire hearings live, for hours on end during the afternoon. It got so that a newshound like me was wondering if anything else was happening, anywhere on Earth.
The second story that was pumped out by the media in the UK was the constant division in our political parties, caused by the Brexit arguments, alleged anti-semitism, and the circus that is the politics of Northern Ireland. Of course, we are interested in what happens with Brexit. We might also be interested in whether or not we can expect the awful Boris Johnson to become our next Prime Minister. But in the middle of Brexit squabbles, and the unforgivable actions of an unrepentant Judge in America, it seemed that little else was happening.
But it was.
The war continued in Syria. Soldiers and civilians were still dying there, and in Afghanistan. American interventions in Niger, Chad, Mali, and Somalia were all going unreported, and the Saudi/US war against rebels and civilians in Yemen continued to supply potentially horrific headlines. Things were getting no better for the Muslim minorities in Myanmar, and the flood of economic migrants to southern Europe continued unabated.
Supreme Court appointments and Brexit arguments may be worthy of the news, I don’t doubt that. But they should follow more serious world events, not lead them. If this doesn’t change, we will not only be in danger of being misinformed, as is often claimed, but uninformed, which I think is even worse.
As I have previously mentioned, I hold no brief for any American president, and have not liked a single one I have seen during my lifetime. Kennedy was an unfaithful womaniser, and a liar. Johnson was also a liar, and Nixon topped them both by taking blatant lying to a new level. Ford was unimpressive, Reagan seemed mad, (and lied) both of the Bush family are best forgotten, and Bill Clinton was a womaniser and a liar. (That again) Obama knew how to play the game, but kept few promises, and didn’t achieve much for people of colour, the poor, or women, all of which was expected from him.
So, that covers my life from the age of 9, until the year 2016. But one thing about all those former presidents is worth mentioning. They all knew how to behave in public. They understood the ‘game’, and how to play it on the international stage. Some may have been caught out with their sexual indiscretions, or behind the scenes deals and interference in other countries. But they spoke well, and (most of the time) appeared to be dignified, and statesman-like. They represented their country as we had come to expect them to, with concern for their allies, and suitable expression of the power behind their office, at least on the surface.
The along comes Donald Trump. He throws away the rule book. He has no class or style, treating his job as if he is the CEO of The World. He is a womaniser, and he lies, so no change there, but he doesn’t really hide either fact, preferring to boast about his conquests and bad behaviour like men drinking in a bar. He doesn’t know how to speak in public, let alone how to behave. By appealing to the lowest common denominator, he attracts a lot of support in his own country, whilst alienating almost every other country on Earth. Using his daughter as The First Lady is just too creepy for words. She always looks under control, never happy to be doing what she is doing. He goes to NATO and talks to other leaders as if they work for him, and are not being productive enough. Then he comes to Britain and upsets just about everyone you can think of, even those who want to be his friend.
In 2016, I thought he might learn. He was inexperienced as a politician, but obviously no fool, nor the buffoon he was painted in the press. He made clever use of social media, and could have used his business skills to learn from those around him, perhaps really making ‘America Great Again’. But he got rid of everyone who knew what they were doing, and replaced them with a succession of yes men and women who follow his lead. I have rarely seen such displays of arrogance from the leader of a powerful western nation, at least not since newsreels of Mussolini, or the overwhelming self-confidence and condescension displayed by Margaret Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister in the UK. He lives in a world he reinvents day by day, in his own head.
A note to America. You really should try to stop him leaving your country on these visits.
There was a recent law passed here in Britain. It compels companies with more than 250 staff to divulge whether or not they pay people different rates of pay for the same or similar jobs, based on gender. Watching news reports today, I was interested to hear that some companies have started to comply with this law, rather than face prosecution for non-disclosure. Even to a cynical person like me, those results are shocking. Many well-known companies are apparently happy to report that they pay female employees up to 15% less than men on average, for doing the same or similar job, often working side by side.
Over 500 companies have so far declared their results. Large employers including Easyjet, Ladbrokes, Virgin, Rolls Royce, Premier Foods, the BBC, and the Co-Op Bank report quite staggering pay differentials. Up to 50% less in Easyjet, 30% less in the Co-Op Bank, and 11% less at the BBC. So far, only two employers, The British Museum, and the UK Armed Forces, have stated a zero difference in pay based on gender.
These companies need to check the calendar. It is 2018, not 1918. It is over 90 years since women properly got the vote in this country. Almost 50 years since the founding of the Women’s Liberation Movement here, and 39 years since we first had a female Prime Minister. This archaic and unacceptable practice of paying female employees a lesser salary has to stop. And not only should the government be compelling companies to publish these statistics, they should be forcing them to eliminate this pay difference, making it illegal not to do so.
We currently have our second female Prime Minister. Does she get paid less than her male predecessor? Of course not. Do our law-makers in parliament receive less pay if they are women? They do not. But these same women in power, alongside their male colleagues on the same salaries, are happy to make the companies publish these figures, without appearing to be prepared to do anything about the results.
The debate about the EU referendum here has hotted up considerably over the last week. Last night, I watched a debate on BBC News 24, attended by over six thousand people. Each side had three speakers to plead their case, and to answer questions from the audience. In amongst all the mud-slinging, the counter allegations and accusations, real facts were few and far between. But there can be no real facts, simply because nobody really knows what will happen if this country votes to leave the EU. They can only presume, surmise, or scare-monger. The speakers wanting us to leave also quoted huge sums of money that would be saved, and how borders will be secured, as well as jobs suddenly becoming available for the millions of unemployed here. But they are also making presumptions that cannot be backed up with facts.
The young people were unduly preoccupied with freedom of travel, and the right to work abroad. But of those speaking, I doubt any genuinely had a deep desire to start their careers in France, Germany, or Greece. I cannot realistically see some young people from Lancashire going to work on the land in Slovenia, or a group of friends from London heading over to the Czech Republic, to work on a building site in Prague. Would a graduate from one of our red-brick universities want to travel to Lithuania to work in a Starbuck’s in Vilnius? I think not. Freedom to work and travel is not about enjoying a gap year in Tuscany, or picking grapes in the Loire Valley before starting at college. No more than it is about a stag weekend in Bucharest, or a hen party trip to Dublin.
The Europeans who come here to work mostly do the least popular jobs, for the lowest pay. Even though they might be well-educated in their own country, speak a foreign language well, and have an academic background, you will find them washing old people in care homes, picking crops for a pittance, or waiting at tables in a themed restaurant. They do it because they have to, not necessarily because they want to. How many young British people can be found in the other twenty-seven countries, doing menial jobs? I don’t have the answer, but will make an educated guess that it is close to zero. They might work in Banking or Insurance in Zurich, or Geneva. They could be posted to one of their company’s foreign branches on a training programme, or to be a trainer themselves. But they are unlikely to be serving the coffee during the morning break, I assure you.
There are some young Britons who go to places like Ibiza, or the Greek islands. They work in bars, in discos, sell ice creams, tickets, time-shares, and hire out everything from scooters to pedalos. But they are not economic migrants. They are sun-seekers, paying for long holidays with whatever jobs they can find. The truth is that British people, young or old, have rarely sought work in foreign countries since the end of the days of Empire, adventure, and fortunes to be made. They do not usually bother to learn a foreign language either, trusting that someone nearby will speak English. The smattering of German or French that they are taught at school is almost never developed past ordering a meal, or buying a train ticket. Freedom to work and travel? I really don’t know what they are on about.
There was a lot of talk about racism being the only motivation for those wanting to vote ‘Leave.’ This is an easy stone to throw, given that the Far Right groups obviously want us to quit the EU. But if 45% of the British public are currently in favour of leaving, does that mean they are all racists? Of course not. Many of the pro-leave speakers were black or Asian, so that scuppered that argument too.
The issue of the referendum has divided this country like nothing else I can recall in my sixty-four years. That has to be a good thing, whatever the outcome. Apathy no longer rules. Most people have an opinion, and a fiercely-held and argued one at that. Whether we vote to leave the EU tomorrow, which I still think is highly unlikely, or stay in for what is likely to be forever, we have all won. Because we argued, we debated, we got off of our bums and voted, and something finally meant enough for us to do it.
As I type this, the UK government has voted to extend the bombing campaign into Syria, supporting the French, Americans, and Russians who are already doing this. The supposed intention is to counter the efforts of IS, and attack their command centres, as well as destroying their infrastructure, and degrading their military capability. We are told that this will result in the citizens of the UK being safe from terrorist attacks, and that the world will be free of the scourge of IS.
Even the staunchest advocates of this escalation know that this is a ridiculous claim. No guerrilla army has ever been defeated by bombing alone. It is also clearly stated that there are over 70,000 ‘friendly fighters’ currently battling with IS in Syria, yet there are only 30,000 ‘volunteers’ in this terrorist army, that is apparently invincible, without the intervention by the air forces of the western allies. Tornado jets will be leaving East Anglia tonight, to make their mark by hitting their first ‘priority’ targets.
Is there anyone left that actually believes this nonsense? The sole objective of all of this is to try to remove President Assad, and replace him with a pro-western alternative. The Russians at least are fairly blatant in their support of Assad, openly admitting that they are attacking other anti-government factions, as well as IS. With Turkey as part of NATO, how long will it be before the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and the PKK fighters on the Syrian border are also targeted, as a sop to the Turks?
Then there is the financial cost of this folly. An RAF aircraft carries bombs and missiles. The bombs cost over £30,000 each, and the missiles almost £72,000. On the TV news earlier, an obscured RAF officer was interviewed talking about destroying JCB diggers, heavy trucks, and bulldozers, as they can be used to build defensive positions by IS. Are they really flying all that way, to drop £200,000 worth of ordnance on a bulldozer? I doubt that. Compare this expenditure with government cuts to the NHS, Old Peoples’ Services, Local Government Councils, and community projects. A few days of extensive bombing could pay for all of these.
Given the fluidity of this war, and the lack of real intelligence on the ground, how can they possibly expect, or even hope, to hit actual IS positions? And how can they claim to be able to destroy them without serious consequences for innocent civilians in those areas? IS will not be defeated by these actions. President Assad may lose his grip on a country further ravaged by war, but the vacuum left behind may leave everyone in a far worse situation. And as for the radicalisation of young men and women in the home countries, and more volunteers willing to travel to Syria to fight for the fundamentalists, that can only be increased by this policy.
Another foreign escapade that will come back to haunt the innocent, undoubtedly.
Maybe it’s the change in seasons, and the arrival of colder weather, but don’t you feel that it has all gone a little quiet of late? I refer of course to the predicted end of life as we know it. The war in Syria was supposed to herald a crisis of immense proportions. Assad had to be removed, Isis were going to sweep away western values and take over the world, and the Russian involvement in Syria was almost certainly going to provoke a nuclear war. The tense standoff between Russia and Ukraine must surely end up involving NATO troops on the ground somewhere, everyone was sure of that too.
Then there was the influx of Syrian refugees. They would change the face of Europe as we know it, radicalise the youth in the countries where they settled, and undermine the very fabric of Christian society, changing all the churches into mosques within a generation. It was alleged that most of them were simply fifth columnists, ready to rise up against the nations that had given them shelter, bringing jihad to the centre of Europe. And even if none of this happened, western economies would collapse under the weight of supporting this ‘human tide.’
In the UK, Corbyn’s election as Labour leader would destroy the constitutional monarchy, restore nationalisation of all industry, and plunge this country into a spiral of debt from which it would never recover. He alone would return us to the bad old days of the 1970s, and his closeted Marxist agenda would leave us defenceless and vulnerable, with no more influence than Switzerland or Lichtenstein. Scotland would cecede from the union, and Britain would cease to be a United Kingdom.
Nothing happened of course. The media and politicians did their best to stir everyone up into a state of terror, fearing for the future of their children. (And their investments too, of course) The Syrian refugees continue to make their long trek to a better life in the west, but somehow it hasn’t been as bad as we were told. No need to order your copy of the Koran just yet then. Life carries on all over Europe, just as it had before all this happened. The British Prime Minister even tells us that our economy is improving, not collapsing as we were assured that it would. The Russians are still propping up Assad, but we seem to have stopped rattling our sabres for now, and put them back into the sabre cupboard. Isis fighters haven’t managed to get any further than they had when they were stopped, and the prospect of a nuclear war has returned to its normal state of mutually assured destruction.
Russia and Ukraine may have cancelled domestic flights, but behind the scenes they are brokering a deal about The Crimea. Putin stood up to all the threats and rode out the hysteria. He proved that he wasn’t a man to be messed with, so the west stopped trying to mess with him. The press even started to write about things that might actually be true. Such as Isis is supported by the CIA, and funded by the Saudi government, (read Royal Family) just as Bin Laden was. The question is now finally being asked, ‘Who is the real enemy here?’
And as for Britain, they forgot one important point. Corbyn is not in power, and is unlikely to ever be. His radical policies are so much hot air; and even if Labour won the election in five years time, they would never get through the process to become official policies anyway. And he is not a Marxist, far from it. He is a vegetarian Liberal with some Socialist ideas that are unlikely to ever see the light of day. And I say this as one of his supporters…The Scots might vote for independence when they next get the chance. Then again, they probably won’t. The Union is secure as it has ever been, whether we like it or not. The proposed referendum on leaving the EU is going to be watered down to a vague ‘agreement,’ and by the time the vote happens, if it ever does, everyone will be so terrified of leaving, the country will surely vote to stay in.
So you can book your holiday for 2016, cancel the Hijab to add to your daughter’s school uniform, and stop worrying about your teenage son being called up to fight in some foreign land. Feel free to order the 50-inch curved screen TV you lust after, and get it delivered in time for Christmas. With any luck, the iphone 7 will be out soon, and there will be some good new programmes on Netflix too.
OK, I admit from the outset that I am something of a conspiracy theorist. Not about everything you understand, just certain aspects of modern political machinations. ISIS appeared out of nowhere. Had you heard of them, before the excitable news reports? Suddenly, this supposedly unspeakable fundamentalist organisation was conquering northern Iraq, sweeping all before it. They were murdering Muslims and Christians, in fact anyone who did not agree with their stated ideals. But what are their stated ideals? Do any of us really know them, or understand what they are about?
It was plain to see (or was it?) that they were unstoppable. No amount of force from the Iraqi army, or the Peshmerga militia forces, could halt their seemingly irresistible advance, and their capture of much of the country, and possibly, Baghdad. These were a new brand of military fundamentalists, a volunteer army of multinational Jihadists, set on a course of massacre and destruction. Nobody was safe from them. Ancient sects, obscure religious groups, other Muslims, and crucially, Christians, were all to be killed in their thousands, or cast out as refugees.
This gave the West the ‘moral authority’, to intervene with air strikes. We have seen them on TV, but do we really know what they are, and what they are striking? I don’t. Then came the ‘execution’ of the American journalist, supposedly held for two years, in Syria. Remember that, Syria. A brutal, pointless execution, was broadcast on the Internet. Or was it just that? Do we still believe anything we see, in 2014, I wonder? This gave the Americans and their allies even more justification to expand operations. Soon, the British Prime Minister, ‘recalled from holiday’, declared that UK planes would start to assist in attacks on ISIS. He didn’t really say why. I doubt that the execution of an American journalist would usually be sufficient cause.
ISIS was proclaimed to be a rag-tag army of dedicated fundamentalists, with foreign fighters flocking to their cause. Many of these were said to come from the UK, including the killers of the US journalist. There was also the suggestion of both backing and manpower originating in Syria. Remember that. How did ISIS do so well, in such a short time? They captured American equipment in northern Iraq. This was presumably given up with little resistance from the Americans and Iraqis that previously had charge of it. Suddenly, these militiamen from all over the planet, including ordinary young men from southern England (apparently) could operate sophisticated weapons systems. They knew how to drive modern tanks without training, and manage the weapons delivery systems and computerised controls inside them. Ask anyone who has ever joined the tank regiments, in any army. It takes months of intensive training to be able to be proficient in this modern technology. They used missile systems, rockets, and other modern weapons, all of which require substantial training to become familiar with.
But we are expected to believe that these Jihadist fighters took to all this in the matter of a few days. They drove all opposition before them, and even frightened mighty America, with their military prowess. The air strikes have slowed them down, so we are told. We now have to look beyond Iraq, to see where ISIS gets its ‘real support’. Syria, naturally. The Assad regime, unpopular in the west, has been tarnished with this accusation, whilst unable to offer any defence. Next stop, Damascus perhaps, supposedly to eliminate ISIS.
So, what do I think about all this, for what it’s worth? I believe that ISIS is funded and organised by the west. I think that American and British special forces are training and leading this group, as they did with the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, in the 1980s. Their sole purpose is to blame Syria, to engineer a reason to remove the Assad regime, and destabilise that country, as they have done with so many others. If the execution is real, it was carried out by western soldiers, not simple Jihadists, and the reports of massacres and refugees have been grossly overstated, to rouse public opinion. Time will tell perhaps, but I will be sticking by my contention.