Is the EU really governed by unelected bureacrats?

This is one of the charges often levied at the EU. But is there any truth in it?

Yes and no. As with many EU issues, there is no clear-cut answer.

The EU is goverened by four key institutions: The European Council, the Council of the European Union, The European Parliament and the EU Commission. In addition there is the European Court of Justice, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Auditors, as well as various other arms of government.

Only one of these bodies – the European Parliament – is directly elected by voters in member states.

The European Parliament

This assembly is made up of 750 “Members of the European Parliament”, or MEPs, plus the President. That number will fall to 705 including the President after Britain leaves the EU.

The European Parliament has legislative, supervisory and budgetary functions. It passes EU laws and makes decisions on international agreements and enlargements to the EU. Although it does not hold the formal power to propose new laws, it can ask the European Commission to do so.

The European Parliament approves the European Commission and elects its President. It has the power to vote a motion of censure, requiring the Commission to resign. The Parliament also establishes and approves EU budgets.

The European Parliament shares legislative and budgetary powers with the Council of the European Union.

Meetings of the European Parliament take place in Strasbourg, France, with committee meetings taking place in Brussels, Belgium. The administrative offices, or General Secretariat, is in Luxembourg.

The European Parliament buildings in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by mcruetten

Each member state elects at least six MEPs, but no more than 96. The numbers of MEPs are allocated according to a system known as degressive proportionality. The total number of MEPs in the European Parliament can be no higher than 751 including the President (705 after Brexit).

The UK has 73 MEPs, roughly one seat for every 865,507 inhabitants.

How do I write to my MEP?

Each political constituency in the UK has an MP (Member of Parliament). With the EU, it’s not so simple. Each country is divided into electoral regions, which may have multiple MEPs. The UK is divided into 12 electoral regions, each of which has between 3 and 10 MEPs.

If you have a political concern relating to the EU, it’s up to you whether you write to one, several or all of the MEPs who are meant to represent your region. Some of them are much more active in representing their constituents than others.

In the past I have written to all six of my local MEPs and have received replies from two of them.

The MEPs represent different political allegiances, and you might have more hope of a response if your concerns touch on their particular political interests.

If you’re a UK citizen and want to write to your MEP(s) but you don’t know who s/he/they are, this website should help.

Petitioning the European Parliament

EU citizens and residents can submit petitions to the European Parliament on any subject under the remit of the EU. Companies based in the EU can also submit petitions.

The Council of the European Union

It’s easy to confuse the Council of the European Union with the European Council – and to make things even more confusing, there is also the Council of Europe, which is a distinct body from the EU, yet uses the same flag and anthem.

Opening ceremony for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Source

The Council of the European Union (often just referred to as The Council) shares legislative and budgetary roles with the European Parliament, adopting EU laws and co-ordinating EU policies.

The Council does not have fixed membership, but is made up of ministers from each member state whose national portfolio concerns the issue being discussed. The meetings concerning each issue are known as “council configurations”, and each of the national ministers represent their government’s intrests at these meetings.

The Council of the EU meets in a total of 10 different configurations, and meetings of each of these take place regularly, but with varying frequency. The meetings are held in public when legislative proposals or major issues are being discussed.

The presidency of the Council of the EU rotates on a six-monthly basis, with each member state leading the Council in turn. There are also divisions of 18 months, where three member states work together on a common agenda. These groupings are known as “trios”.

The Council’s role involves chairing meetings discussing legislation, in co-ordination with the European Commission and Parliament. It works jointly with the European Parliament on the EU budget. It also co-ordinates the policies of member states, develops EU foreign and security policy and concludes international agreements.

The Council of the European Union is based in Brussels.

The European Council

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council. Photo by Tauno Tõhk

The European Council is a summit of the heads of the 28 EU member states, plus the President (currently Donald Tusk) and the President of the European Commission (currently Jean-Claude Juncker). It defines the EU’s direction and priorities, and sets policy, but does not legislate.

The President is elected by the European Council every two and a half years.

The European Council brings together the leaders of EU member states to set the EU’s political agenda. It sets out the EU’s common foreign and security policy, and nominates and appoints candidates to high-level EU roles, like the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Meetings take place in Brussels, usually on a quarterly basis.

 

The European Commission

The Berlaymont Building in Brussels, which houses the European Commission HQ. Photo by Karen Eliot

This is the executive branch of the EU. It operates as a cabinet, made up of 28 commissioners, one for each member state. One of the 28, currently Jean-Claude Juncker, is the Commission President.

The Commission is the sole institution responsible for proposing new laws. It also manages policy, implements the EU budget and ensures that EU law is properly enforced within the member states.

Commissioners are not directly elected, but proposed by the Council of the European Union, on the basis of suggestions made by the relevant member governments. They are then appointed by the European Council after approval from the European Parliament.

Each Commissioner is put in charge of a particular area of policy. This is decided on by the Commission President.

Commissioners have to swear an oath to uphold the interests of the EU rather than their member state. Each commissioner has to submit a declaration of interests.

The current UK representative is Julian King. You can read more about Julian King, and download his declaration of interests at this page.

These are the key governing institutions of the EU. The other key institutions are:

• The Court of Justice of the EU

• The European Central Bank

• The European Court of Auditors

These will be discussed in later posts.

Conclusions?

The only directly elected EU representatives are the Members of the European Parliaments. The European Council and the Council of the European Union are elected representatives of member states.

The European Commission is unelected, and it’s probably this institution above all that incites many of the accusations of “unelected bureaucrats”. The Commission has been at the centre of lobbying controversy and corruption scandals.

Although I have only had space here to take a brief overview of these governing bodies, there are other aspects that can cause concern. For example, the Council of the European Union is made up of ministers from each member state, but there are hundreds of civil servants in permanent positions working in the background, on a body called Coreper. This body is also assisted by working groups.

Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it can add to the feeling that EU policy is confusing, lacking in transparency and being made by “faceless bureaucrats”.

The other issue is that most MEPs have a very low profile compared to other types of politician. This may be mainly due to media coverage, but I think it’s also due to lack of communication from the MEPs themselves. I know of one MEP who is a very strong communicator, but this is unusual in the UK at least. The MEPs with the biggest public profile tend to be the ones who are campaigning against the EU.

Sources:

https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/institutions-bodies_en

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institutions_of_the_European_Union

https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/

https://www.gov.uk/world/organisations/uk-representation-to-the-eu

https://www.economist.com/europe/1998/08/06/coreper-europes-managing-board

Main photo source

Previous posts in this series:

Trying to make sense of the EU

Fact-checking charity monitoring UK social media

The war for our minds has seen a new development with the news that a British charity has been given the job of fact-checking UK Facebook posts.

Full Fact is targeting information that it sees as being the most damaging, such as fake medical information, false election statistics and false stories around terror attacks.

UK Facebook users can report posts for Full Facts to review, and posts will be then labelled as true, not true or a mixture when they are shared. “False” content will not be deleted, but will appear lower in the news feed.

Full Fact’s mission is not just about checking the accuracy of Facebook posts. It also monitors politicians’ speeches for twisting the facts.

Looking at Full Fact’s website and Facebook page, it seems to me that most of the factual information they are checking and presenting is quite innocuous. It’s important for them to prove that they have no political bias if they want to keep their charity status.

But I think having a charity checking what people post on social media sets a worrying precedent.

Education?

Full Fact was founded in 2009 by Will Moy, a former political researcher. Its chair is former Conservative party donor Michael Samuel, and its board of trustees includes several peers from the House of Lords. Funding sources include Google’s Digital News Initiative, the Omidyar Network and Open Society Foundations.

Source

Full Fact’s first application for charitable status was declined, however it reapplied in 2013, basing its application on the “advancement of education”, which was approved in 2014.

Is this really charitable work? The Collins dictionary definition of charity is “an organization which raises money in order to help people who are sick or very poor, or who have a disability.” Soliciting charitable donations for the education of mankind seems questionable to me.

How does Full Fact decide which facts need to be checked? And is education really all about facts?

Voting is usually emotional

Facts can be spun, and fake news is often more about spin than facts. In other words, the facts that you conceal are every bit as important as the facts that you reveal.

Voting behaviour is more about emotion than intellect. People go with their gut feelings and their passions. Successful politicians know this, and that’s why political presentation is so important. It’s why politicians employ speech writers and voice coaches.

Which is not to say that facts are not important. But they have to be presented in the right way for people to pay attention to them.

Take this meme, for example, which was doing the rounds on Facebook recently.

People were giving this meme a lot of love – especially well-educated, professional types. Which is quite revealing.

Because this meme tells us nothing. It shows a photograph of an iceberg next to a photo of a melting piece of floating ice. Are the photos connected in any way? Yes – but only in your mind!

The meme relates these photos to a 10-year challenge craze that recently went viral, and in doing so, it indirectly invites your subconscious to make certain connections. These connections are based on your long-standing beliefs.

It’s very clever! But is it factually incorrect? Is it fake news?

No – because it doesn’t make any factual claims.

You’d expect well-educated, professional people to question this kind of unsourced collage instead of blithely giving it likes and shares!

I think it shows that much of what we call education today is not so much about knowledge as what – and whom – to believe.

And when charities are set up with their main mission as “education”, we really need to question what kind of education they are giving us.

 

Main photo by Geralt

 

 

 

Trying to make sense of the EU

Article 50, Lisbon Treaty, Canada Plus, customs union…

What does it all mean? How exactly are we goverened by this sprawling set of institutions? Most people have a vague idea that the EU is a good thing that enhances our freedoms and rights, or that it’s a bad thing that reduces our freedoms and rights. But few people could tell you anything concrete to back up their ideas and beliefs.

I want to understand more about the EU. I’m going to delve into it, and try to clarify some issues, which I’ll write about in a series of posts.

Hopefully this will be an educational process for myself as well as others.

Poorly informed

At the time of the 2016 referendum, many voters felt ill-informed about the EU. A poll commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society before the referendum of 2016 found that almost half of UK people of voting age felt either “poorly informed” or “very poorly informed” about the EU referendum.

Only 4% felt “very well informed”, with a further 12% of voters saying they felt “well informed” about the referendum.

Much of the information about the EU appears to be propaganda, biased towards one side or the other, overly complex – or all three. What is the EU really about?

I want to try and find the facts behind the histrionics and propaganda, and that’s what this series will aim to do.

I’m not going to attempt to present a comprehensive, definitive guide to the EU. Instead, I want to look at some specific aspects of this union, to try and answer some of the questions I have in my mind. I hope this will help me and my readers get a clearer and more insightful picture of this sprawling institution that has so much influence over the lives of most Europeans.

My position on Brexit

I used to be passionately pro-EU, but it was a passion built on ignorance and political fervour. I started questioning these beliefs during the recession that started in 2008. I expressed my reasons for this in these blog posts:

What are the actual advantages of being part of the EU?

UKIP makes any criticism of the EU appear as crazed xenophobia

 

Should the UK leave the EU?

I voted Leave, and I would vote Leave again if there was another referendum today. However, I suspect there will be unpleasant outcome whether we remain or leave with or without a deal. 

The EU is in need of reform. Source

From my current understanding of the EU, I see it as a body that badly needs reform, transparency and clarity. Britain’s exit might kick-start that reform process, or it might encourage other member states to leave.

Despite voting Leave, in an ideal world I would like Britain to stay in for a few years more, provided that there would be a concerted effort to clarify the workings of the EU, so that people in all member states and proposed member states could educate themselves about how the EU works – without the propaganda, hysteria and subterfuge.

There should then be a full, clear debate on how the workings of the EU could be improved.

Pigs might fly. This is never going to happen, and therefore I think Britain has to carry through its plans to leave the EU.

How did we get here?

An “in-out” referendum on the EU was a key pledge of David Cameron’s election campaign. I think his advisors were certain that the outcome would be “remain”, and that this would “kick the issue into the long grass” – in other words, close it once and for all. That’s why I think it’s important that we don’t throw away this opportunity for change.

This how I see things at the time of starting this series. I am much better informed about the EU than I was before the recession of 2008.

But I still have much to learn, and as I learn more, my position on the whole Brexit issue could change.

 

“Sleepwalking” into a cashless society: could cryptocurrency help?

Voices in the independent media have been warning about the dangers of a cashless society for decades, but these concerns seem to be going more mainstream.

A report chaired by the former financial ombudsman Natalie Ceeney warns that the UK could “sleepwalk into a cashless society”. The Access to Cash Review, which surveyed 2000 people and took evidence from 120 organisations, says 74% of people are concerned that going cashless would take away people’s right to choose, while 72% believe it would put vulnerable groups at increased risk of getting scammed or defrauded.

The Access to Cash Review has received extensive coverage in the mainstream media, with figures including Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, and Jenni Allen of Which? Money warning that people need to have the option of cash.

Ben Broadbent, deputy governor for monetary policy at the Bank of England, and Nicky Morgan, chair of the government’s Treasury Committee, provide more nuanced statements, warning against an unmanaged decline in cash. Morgan said, “It’s right that this topic is being rigorously analysed before events overtake us,” – as if it was a done deal.

Only 15% of payments in Sweden are made using cash

And things certainly seem to be going that way. Already in Sweden only 15% of payments are made using cash, and the country’s central bank has forecasted that Sweden could be cashless within a decade.

When cash payments become this infrequent, it will be more difficult to spend cash, with fewer retail outlets accepting cash payments. Where would that leave homeless people, or people on the fringes of society? It will inevitably lead to tighter controls on all kinds of behaviour.

Source

Personally speaking, I find myself using the contactless function on my debit card increasingly often, out of pure laziness. It’s so convenient. I am aware of the dangers – if I lose my card, for example, it could be instantly used to the value of £30, without the requirement of my PIN number. Contactless payments make it so much easier to spend without using cash.

A couple of years ago I travelled through London by train, and then tried to take a bus. However I was unable to pay the fare with cash – only a local Oyster card was accepted. I ended up walking. Buses where I live now accept contactless debit card payments, which is so much easier than having to find exactly the right amount of change.

This is how the sleepwalking starts!

It does seem to me that this move away from cash is going to happen sooner or later, and I see cryptocurrency as having an important role to play here.

The biggest danger I see in this move towards a cashless society is the increase in control over our finances by the banks and by government. It would make it easier for these institutions to get hold of our cash, by withholding it from us or by the imposition of taxes or negative interest rates.

Negative interest rates are effectively a means for banks to charge us for holding our own money.

Control

It would also increase their power over us, manipulating people into doing certain things or behaving in certain ways by controlling their access to cash.

Cryptocurrencies could offer alternatives to this, providing alternative means of exchange – especially if they could be used as local currencies. I’m sure there will be a lot of opposition to this. And for this reason I believe it’s something that has to be put in place as soon as possible.

What can I do about it? I’m not a developer, but by using crypto as often as I can as a means of payment, and by accepting payments in crypto, I can contribute to this shift.

While researching this post, I stumbled across this post from @connecteconomy. It references a newspaper report that the Thai government wants to “encourage” a move towards a cashless society, while at the same time it is introducing a tax on electronic payments.

@connecteconomy also says in her post that her bank account was frozen a few months ago by the tax office, due to a mistake they made. This almost happened to me a few years ago. I paid my tax bill, but for some bizarre reason, my payment was put in a separate “credit” account, and I received demands for late payment.

If your bank account is frozen, as @connecteconomy points out, you wouldn’t even be able to borrow money digitally, and in a cashless society, this would leave you stumped. How would you get the money for your immediate basic needs? Would you be forced to work for very low wages or in dangerous conditions? Unlimited power over the money supply could potentially be abused.

Some people fear that cryptocurrency could be used to usher in a world currency. But with decentralized blockchains, this should not be an issue. The more decentralized blockchains and currencies there are, the more difficult it is to control them. It’s up to us – all of us – to build them and use them.

Scotland leads the way in the not-so-eco-friendly revolution

Environmentally-friendly strategies are a key feature of the SNP’s new Programme for Scotland which was announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week.

New petrol and diesel cars are to be phased out by 2032 – eight years ahead of the UK government’s target – and Low Emission Zones are to be introduced to Scotland’s cities, with the first one being implemented next year.

It all sounds wonderfully green and wholesome. But behind the surface gloss there’s a much murkier picture, with increasing tax burdens looking likely to fall on small businesses and hardworking commuters while big business is set to cream off fat profits.

Southern Electric BT59VTK
Electric vehicles are not quite as environmentally friendly as we’d like to think they are. Photo: Graham Richardson

 

Electric vehicles (and I would genuinely love to know if there are any remotely affordable alternatives to vehicles that run on either petrol, diesel or electricity) have been around for decades, but until recently they were almost impossible for ordinary motorists to buy – and to charge or recharge with electricity.

Most electric vehicles use lithium ion battery packs, which should last for 10 years or 150,000 miles. Replacement batteries could set you back around 40% of the entire cost of the vehicle.

Not surprisingly, the global lithium-ion market is expected to be worth more than $74bn by 2024.

And just in case you thought electric vehicles were more environmentally friendly than oil or diesel-powered ones, the batteries required to run them are made from scarce minerals like cobalt, graphite and lithium carbonate which have to be dug out of the ground.

Mining in Kailo
Child labour is often employed to mine cobalt, used in the production of lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars and mobile phones. Photo: Julien Harneis 

The mining of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo involves the widespread use of child labour. Meanwhile, global mining interests are set to make enormous profits from these low-emission measures.

In addition, there is the problem of waste. Currently just 5% of lithium ion batteries are recycled in the EU.

And what about all the electricity that will be needed to run all these vehicles as petrol and diesel ones are phased out? Where’s that going to come from? Nuclear power stations? More wind farms?

I am certainly not against the idea of electric vehicles. I’m all for trying to find less polluting means of transport. It’s the way this measure is being steamrollered in, using the sledgehammers of taxation and government regulation that concerns me.

The governmental pride in setting ever closer deadlines, eager to win environmental Brownie points, glosses over the much less eco-friendly facts.

Has the Scottish government really thought through these measures, or is this yet another pseudo-environmentally friendly money-spinner for big business, with more taxation for the rest of us thrown in as a bonus?

 

 

We Are The Fascists

Hillary Benn
Hillary Benn (Photo by CIAT)

I always felt that if I’d been alive in the 1940s I would have supported the war against Hitler’s Germany.

But last night, listening to Hilary Benn’s speech in the Westminster debate on air strikes against Syria, where he compared the hideous activities of ISIS to the Nazis of the 1930s and 40s, I started to question whether we really should have gone to war with Germany at that time.

This is not because I have Nazi sympathies, but because ever since then, “fighting the forces of fascism” has been used as an excuse for numerous invasions where the real motivation seems to be taking control of the invaded country’s resources.

However if Britain had not gone to war against Hitler, the Nazis would have invaded and possibly conquered. I am glad that the people of Britain and America fought against Germany in the Second World War (including my own father, who was training as an officer in Jamaica and Canada at this time, but the war ended before he was sent to Europe.)

We’re the invaders now

Thinking about this brought me to the depressing realisation that we are all fascists in the West. Our countries are now the ones doing the invading and the regime change.

In the 21st century the NATO governments have invaded a succession of countries, effecting regime change in each one: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and now Syria.

We’re not committing the mass genocide that Hitler’s Nazis enacted (arguably) – though when British-made weapons are trialled against Palestinian women and children it appears that we’re just distancing ourselves more than the openly aggressive Nazis did.

We have our own warmongering Hillary

Our leaders talk self-righteously of humanitarian efforts, of replacing tyranny with democracy and of fighting the forces of evil as they bomb and plunder. Hilary Benn drew on the historical socialist struggles of the International Brigade against the forces of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War to win support for air strikes.

Referring to Hillary Clinton, Professor Jem Bendel of the University of Cumbria said in his blog that “we have our own warmongering Hillary too”.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned of terrorist threats from ISIS in the run-up to Christmas, effectively using the brutal violence of the terrorists to achieve his own desired outcome. It’s not surprising that many commentators see ISIS as proxies for the West, not dissimilar to the use of the brutal Freikorps by the Weimar Republic in Germany after the First World War.

The UK government recently adopted the name Daesh for ISIS, apparently because it is an insulting term. I wonder if the real reason is to try and deflect the embarrassment of this group of killers having an English name.

Vicious cycle of barbarity

A distinct pattern has emerged since 2001. Terrorist groups carry out atrocities, then a country or countries are invaded in order to “fight terror” – but the terrorism is never conquered. Instead, more terrorism ensues, especially towards the people of the invaded country, who also have to suffer bloodshed from the invading forces.

Regime change in the invaded country is always a part of this vicious cycle.

So when people say that the Paris attacks are the reason that we must bomb Syria, I fail to understand. The Paris attacks were unimaginably horrific. Why would we want to inflict a similar nightmare on more innocent people?

Why would we want to perpetuate the cycle of violence and bloodshed which, as recent history shows, is always the result of such attacks?

Unrepresentative democracy

One politician who said that the Paris attacks had influenced his decision to vote for air strikes against Syria is Simon Hoare, Conservative MP for North Dorset.

Hoare told the Western Gazette that his decision to back air strikes in Syria was made “two minutes after Paris”. He told the local newspaper that out of 130 emails he had received from constituents on the subject, 99.9% were against military action, adding:

“I am sent to parliament to exercise my own judgement. If voters disagree with me they can get rid of me at the next election. That’s the nature of our system.”

This is the system that we are allegedly trying to inflict on puppet governments throughout the “Fertile Crescent”. The real aim is, I believe, to take control of more of the world’s resources.

It’s often said that socialism and fascism are two sides of the same coin – both systems favour strong State control. In this case I believe we are on the side of the fascists.

Do atrocities only matter if they happen in wealthy countries?

utube logo
Snippets from the front page of YouTube GB, November 15th. Great sentiments – but why do they only apply to atrocities in Western, developed countries?

I was horrified to hear about the Friday 13th terror atrocities in Paris. I completely understand why people are changing their social media badges to the colours of the French flag as they try to express their abhorrence of the slaughter and show sympathy with the bereaved. I personally see this expression as misguided, but their intentions are well-meant so I admire the sentiment.

Flags
Clockwise from top left: Flags of Yemen, Syria, Palestine and Iraq, all countries where innocent people have been barbarically murdered by terrorists in their thousands in recent years. Will YouTube stand with these countries?

But when I turn on YouTube and see it draped with the colours of the French flag, it seems to me narrow-minded, Eurocentric and chauvinistic. What happened in Paris on Friday 13th was hideous and I sympathise with all the victims and their friends and families. But this kind of bloodshed is a daily reality for many ordinary people in Yemen, Syria, Palestine and Iraq. I’ve never seen YouTube’s front page draped in the national flags of any of those countries.

It highlights how pampered and sheltered we are in the wealthy, developed West, compared to many other countries. I believe that our living, growing planet has more than enough resources to allow all countries to be wealthy and developed, without any loss of wealth and comfort for the vast bulk of the population in the wealthier, developed parts of the world.

But it seems that a tiny minority of immensely greedy and powerful people want to gain control of the area known as the “Fertile Crescent” via proxy rulers so that they can plunder that region’s resources. As long as the rest of us allow this to go on, the war and bloodshed will continue.

When the conflicts in places like Yemen and Iraq are aired in the mainstream media few people in the West take notice – not unless our soldiers are directly involved – because it’s just too depressing. People are confused and feel impotent. They don’t know how they could help the situation, so they just turn off.

If on the other hand there’s news about animals being badly treated, whether in the UK or South East Asia, people will complain in their droves. And quite rightly – but why is it that people in far off lands, including children, are seen as less important than animals when it comes to brutality and barbarity?

I reckon that many people just feel overwhelmed when they hear news about atrocities in conflicts they don’t really understand, and that’s why they generally don’t act until it’s on their doorstep, until the comfortable world they’ve built around themselves is directly threatened.

But the operators of a massive corporation like Google/YouTube should know better. They serve the people of the world, and they should treat all of their customers with equal respect.

Labour MPs to defy their leader – and the people who elected them

472px-PollingStation_UK_2005
Why do we even bother?

Observer front page

In 2013 the public outcry against military intervention in Syria was so strong in the UK and the US that David Cameron and Barack Obama had to back down on their plans. People had seen the results of military campaigns in Iraq and Libya – innocent people killed, atrocities on all sides and bloody mayhem ensuing.

Cameron is likely to call for another vote for military action in Syria soon, and according to today’s Observer newspaper, at least 50 Labour MPs are set to defy the wishes of their elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and join a cross-party bid for military action.

The cross-party initiative is being led by Tory MP Andrew Mitchell and Labour MP Jo Cox, who have co-authored an article calling for an “ethical solution” (ethical bombing) in Syria. The article appears to be a rehash of one that Cox wrote for the Yorkshire Post in September.

One significant element is notably absent from the article on the front page of today’s Observer article.

The electorate.

The people who actually voted Labour, mostly because they were desperate for an alternative to Conservative rule.

I wasn’t one of them – I gave up on the idea that the Labour Party would bring any significant change from the Tory Party decades ago. And my faith in the concept of democracy is hanging by a thread.

Many people who feel as cynical as I do about the senseless wars that the UK and US have been involved in this century – whose real purpose seems to be plunder and corporate oil interests – have given up on democracy altogether and refuse to vote. They see voting as giving assent to the corrupt system we find ourselves governed by.

I can see their point. Maybe I’m foolish in thinking that we can somehow improve our democracy…

But for the time being I will keep trying.

 

Cherry picking from international law

498px-Benjamin_Netanyahu_portrait
Israeli PM Netanyahu’s actions are not open for debate in the UK.

108,000 people have signed a UK Government petition for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be arrested for war crimes when he visits the UK next week.

Under UK law, Parliament has to consider any petition that gets more than 100,000 signatures for debate. The government announced last night that a Committee had considered this petition and had found that since under international law visiting heads of foreign governments are immune from arrest, it will not be debating the issue.

The government, which holds power on a mandate of less than 25 percent of the electorate, is cherry picking from the international laws that it chooses to respect. It carries out illegal drone strikes in foreign countries and extra-judicial executions.

Netanyahu and Cameron are partners in crime.

We tolerate this at our peril

800px-RQ-1_Predator_sensor_operator's_chair
The modern alternative to judge and jury?

The British government has taken a huge step towards tyranny.

The secret drone strikes that killed two British men in August were extra-judicial killings – in other words, these men were deliberately executed without recourse to the law.

It’s certainly not the first time this kind of thing has happened, but way that the mainstream media, from the BBC to the Daily Telegraph, is nudging the conversation towards making it seem perfectly acceptable is, to my mind, extremely disturbing.

Many people will say that as the men were planning terrorist attacks, possibly in the UK, they deserved to be killed. But what if they were doing no such thing? Are we expected to blithely accept the reports, despite the fact that one of the men, Reyaad Khan, who according to David Cameron was killed in the secret drone strike in Raqqa on 21st August, was also reported on the 21st July to have been killed in an airstrike?

Presumably some of the reports were mistaken. What other mistakes have been made? The law has been developed to protect us from injustice, which can sometimes be the result of mistakes.

The British legal system, no matter how corrupt parts of it have become, is part of the checks and balances that have (arguably) kept our nation free from the kinds of tyranny and dictatorships that we’ve witnessed in many parts of the world, where people disappear without trace simply for voicing opposition to their government.

While the Nazis ruled Germany, the Communists subjugated Russia and Eastern Europe, General Franco dominated Spain and a military junta tyrannised Greece, Britain was proud to be a democracy. Outside Europe dictatorships from North Korea to Cambodia to South and Central America have terrorised their subjects while the people of Britain have generally considered themselves lucky to live in a safe and free part of the world.

We are effectively assenting to the right of the government to kill any one of us.

If we consent to our government being allowed to kill at will because its agents tell us that the victims present a danger, but that the information it has on these people is too secretive for the rest of us to know, that crosses a very serious line. We are effectively assenting to the right of the government to kill any one of us.

The ancient right of habeus corpus – the right to be tried in a court of law – is one of the cornerstones of English law. It dates back to at least 1305 (possibly earlier) and has been established throughout the UK, the USA and the countries that were formerly the British Commonwealth, including Canada, India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as several European countries.

We surrender this right at our peril.

Whatever the ultimate aims, allegiences or moral standing of the two men who were killed in this secret drone strike, if we give our consent to this action, every single one of us, each man, woman or child is at risk.

This, I believe, is a situation comparable with Germany in the early days of the Nazis, before people realised the full extent of what the country was heading towards. At that time anti-Jewish feeling was common all over the world and many people found it easy to shrug off acts of violence towards Jewish people as they assumed that the Jews were in the wrong and the authorities were just doing what they had to do.

We must not let this happen again. We can’t let our rights and laws slip back to the dark ages.

In the words of the Manic Street Preachers, if you tolerate this, then your children WILL be next.