Normblog: Tell us your favourite entries

By Jake Wilde

2016 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Euston Manifesto, an inspirational piece of work that captured the minds and views of a previously neglected section of the left. Norman Geras was the driving force behind Euston and, ten years on, it remains an important reference point. The moment when a line in the sand was drawn and a voice previously unspoken was heard.

The Euston Manifesto was how I first found my political home. I’d drifted around the left for a decade or so, never comfortable with what I think of now as very British definitions of the left-wing spectrum. Even in my first spell at university at the end of the 80s the differences on the left were rudimentary; centre left or far left, pro-EU or anti-EU. And that was it. If you were centre left then the expectation was that you were pro-American, but only in the context of a choice between the US and the collapsing Soviet empire. Support for the US in this sense wasn’t to be regarded as a positive one, but rather reluctantly given and with a haughty sneer.

The far left, both amongst the staff and the students, sought comfort in the certain knowledge that the fall of socialism wasn’t really the fall of socialism because, of course, it wasn’t really socialism. The millions of people in Eastern Europe demanding democracy and capitalism had been fooled by a combination of false socialism from their leaders and lies about the true nature of the evil West they so admired. In other words the same patronising crap the far left always trot out when people reject socialism.

A few years later I returned to start a long, difficult, part-time MA in International Security. My tutor was Colin S. Gray, then recently of the Reagan administration. You know that moment when someone says things that you’ve never heard anybody else say, but you know that’s exactly what you think? That. That’s what happened. And then the same thing happened when I first read the Euston Manifesto. Euston encapsulated not just what but how I thought more than anything I’d ever read before. I hope it did the same for a lot of people partly because nobody likes admitting they were still a bit lost in their 30s.

And that was how I discovered the work of Norman Geras, his books and his towering online presence – Normblog. To coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Euston Manifesto Ben Cohen and Eve Gerrard are bringing together an anthology of Norm’s writing, to publish in 2016, with the provisional title “What’s There is There”.

Norman Geras

One of the sections of the book will be a selection of Normblog entries. While this is probably the most fun part of the project, it’s also the most labour intensive, in part because of the low-grade technology (you can’t search it directly, for example.) Given that there are thousands of entries on there, help is needed to plough through it and decide which posts to include. While some of these will be about politics it’s also important to include some of the interviews he did with other bloggers, some of the football stuff, some of the humorous stuff, the literature reviews, the observations upon life that cannot be easily categorised as ‘politics’. So what we’re looking for is the 10 posts which best represent the blog and its character.

Let us know your favourites, the entries that linger longest in your memory, the ones that still speak to you today, and the ones that mean something special to you, whatever the subject. You can choose as many or as few as you want. Don’t feel under any constraint other than the inevitable deadline which, in this case, is Friday 15 January.

Use our Twitter timeline to have discussions, to tell us your stories, to tell us your memories. And please, spread the word far and wide over this festive period so that as many as possible can take some time to indulge in the writings that made Normblog the innovative, essential starting point for so many people’s day.


Storifying an expulsion: An interview with Matilda Murday over those Scott Nelson tweets

Gerasites: So, a bit of an eventful evening in some parts of Twitter, what happened?

Matilda: Well, the interesting thing is not that the original activity was particularly unusual, at least in the context of recent months, but that tonight people decided that they weren’t going to be silent about it, and therefore action was taken.

In essence, a Labour member and PCS union representative (and, according to this Vice write up, but as yet unconfirmed, a civil servant), was tweeted regarding some comments he had tweeted back in 2014 about M&S and Tesco having “Jewish blood”, the context being their poor employment practices. This then led into a ‘debate’ of sorts, that has been the focus of this little melodrama.

As far as I can see, the tweet he was originally replying to has since been deleted, so we are relying on his later explanations for the context.

G: Given the kind of comments we’ve seen in recent months, this doesn’t seem particularly unusual, why is this making so much noise?

M: A few reasons. Firstly, this tweeter has 21,000 followers, so he’s relatively influential. Secondly, I think that for many he’s an archetype of the new Labour membership: he only joined in 2014, appears dedicated to “Corbynism”, is on the far-left of the party, and he is very vocal.

One of the much debated aspects of the new Labour incarnation, on both Twitter and in the mainstream media, has been whether or not there is an anti-semitic edge to it (examples: here, herehere and here). That’s not a debate I want to get into right now, and I’m also not going to comment on whether his tweets are or not, but that debate is certainly the backdrop to this evening. Many in the centre and on the right in the party believe this is a battle for the Labour Party’s soul, as well as their ability to be elected.

As it happens, this evening the Labour Party has apparently taken action, having announcing through their @LabourPress twitter account that they have removed him from the party. This will be a very positive sign for many who were offended by his tweets and who have either left, or have been considered leaving, the party in recent months – a sign there is still hope.

G: So, what do you think of the tweets, why were they so offensive?

M: To me, the tweets were at the very least poorly thought through. I am not going to comment on whether they are antisemitic or not, people can judge for themselves. I should probably mention that although I haven’t said whether I believe they are or not, I have nevertheless have already been threatened with a libel suit.

Here’s what I will say, I simply don’t see that the religion and ethnicity of Michael Marks in 1884 is relevant to the running of the company now and, even if it were, cannot see why it would be more relevant than the religion and ethnicity of Thomas Spencer – who was a Christian Yorkshireman, in case you were wondering. I also find the immediate conflation between this, and his perception of the actions of the Israeli state pretty… well, I think it’s utter b*****ks, to be honest.

Because of this I created a Storify including his tweets about M&S and Tesco, a number of tweets he had posted of an Israeli flag being ripped to show the Nazi flag underneath, and other tweets conflating the atrocities committed by the Nazi Government with the actions of Israel’s army during the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. You can see the full Storify here.

G: OK, I see. Well, if it helps, I think the defamation suit seems pretty unlikely but, yes, people can definitely decide for themselves.

M: Yes, me too, on both counts! *laughs*

G: So what happens now?

M: Now? It’s difficult to say. It looks like Mr Nelson will be challenging the lack of ‘due process’ in his expulsion of the Labour Party. Momentum Thurrock, his local branch of Labour’s Momentum movement, have announced they will be disbanding with immediate effect.

However, I am slightly more interested in his position as a civil servant, if it transpires he is, because the guidelines state:

“As civil servants we are (of course) free to use social and other digital media in our own time. But we always need to be mindful of our duties not to disclose official information without authority, and not to take part in any political or other public activity which compromises, or might be seen to compromise, our impartial service to the government of the day or any future government.”

Given his twitter banner was, until moments ago, a “Vote Labour” banner (now replaced with a hammer and sickle) and he is such a vocal supporter of Corbyn, it’s difficult to imagine he hasn’t breached these rules. I presume someone will make a complaint, it’s the sort of thing people do.

G: But, do you think this means anything for Labour, is this a sea change?

M: Almost certainly not. However, it gives us some hope that maybe, just maybe, things can be turned around, don’t you think?


Edit: Tilly would like it noted that she didn’t contact the Labour Party, which resulted in the expulsion of Scott Nelson. That honour goes to, we believe, Jimmy Rushmore, Rob Ford, Nick Cohen, Danny Finkelstein, Twll Dun and other assorted villains. Good work, chaps.. 

Two Can Play the Blame Game

A man stabbed some people on the underground. “This is for Syria” he cried.

Event A occurs, man choosing of his own free will to undertake event B claims it is due to event A. There is apparently no need to examine what each event entails, 1 + 1 = 2 and we therefore all know who is to blame. Why of course, it is David Cameron.

Here are a few from thousands:

Early reports suggest the attacker was North African, which would seemingly make this attack one of Islamic Nationalism rather than a direct response from a Syrian for Syrians. If this turns out to be the case I hope those saying this has ‘nothing to do with Islam’ are not the same people that also claim it is due to us ‘attacking Muslims’.

I’ve written plenty on these ridiculous assessments of causality and here, once again, is Norman Geras  with the definitive attempt at explaining what really shouldn’t require explaining:

The ever-so-slightly more nuanced counter-argument might go something thus:

I do not condone what the man did, it was his choice, his action, but Cameron was warned about what might happen after Wednesday’s vote, he ignored that and therefore he must take his share of the blame, he has blood on his hands.

The chosen actions of this man are not adequately explained by expanding the geographic area of an already underway military operation. It didn’t mean that he had to go and start stabbing civilians.

However, I’m not going to repeat what I have argued several times before so I will try another approach and this approach is best summed up as “if you can’t beat them, join them”.

I too am going to shift the blame from the shoulders of the man who undertook the attack but I am going to put it on those belonging to the people most vociferously campaigning for a ‘no vote’ on Wednesday.

In order to achieve this sleight of hand, let me give you a previous example of something which I shall call the “phenomenon of the excuse to hand.”

The London riots of 2011 were a blank canvas to commentators from Left and Right upon which they threw their favourite colours. The Right were happy to explain by a lack of discipline at school and family breakdown, the Left spoke of rage. Rage about the 1%, the ‘rich’, the bankers, the elites behind austerity. Sometimes this went as specific as the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance.

With the above in mind I invite you to listen to this BBC interview with some girls who were fresh from a bit of looting. It’s only 50 seconds.

They looted local shops for their wine because these were ‘the rich’. It is illiterate and nonsensical.

Listen to this, with its expression of enjoyment and fulfillment, and tell me that their invocation of the ‘rich’ and the related injustice is anything more than an excuse which happens to be floating nearest. They don’t know who the government is, they don’t realise that the ‘rich’ who are apparently to blame are not represented by the local off-licence. However, they are aware that this might provide a protective blanket from criticism, they know its invocation may serve to absolve them and cause arguments among others. It’s victimology 101.

Which of us hasn’t seen such behaviour when two parents cease to provide a united front and argue with each other about the actions of their child? No matter how young that child, they will jump at any split in the parents and, hey presto, they have their excuse. And it will have traction with one of the parents against the other.

When a suicide bomber leaves the video with a list of his reasons, and they include Israel, how well do you think they understand the conflict and how well are their actions explained by it? Will they know the name of the leader of the Palestinian Authority? Will they be able to speak to the border disputes and arguments of either side? Unlikely. But they will give it as a reason and people sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians will repeat the mantra that there can be no peace across the Middle-East until Israel is dealt with.

I am not suggesting there is no anger about Israel but I am suggesting the excuse is out there in the air, and with no real knowledge about the situation it can be easily plucked and provided in the knowledge that it will have currency within our society.

The debates surrounding this latest British expansion in operations to some extent helped create a self-fulfilling prophesy. The more we proclaimed that this would produce greater anger and responses, the more we set up a situation where any responses would be used as a weapon against our own government to weaken its resolve. In doing so it makes such responses more likely. Our own weakness, which is manifested in the production and repetition of such self-hating tropes, is being jumped upon and utilised against us.

If you say terrorism is meant to divide us then surely we are providing such a division, ready-made, to be taken advantage of when some of those arguing against the action choose such poor arguments.

If Cameron wasn’t observing the new convention that all military actions need to go before the Commons, one I am far from certain I approve of, if he had just allowed jets to bomb over the border with little fanfare, I wonder if we would not be under less of a threat. If people hadn’t made such perfect ready-made excuses and pre-approved the right to be angry, would the same number feel enabled to express the anger thus? Especially knowing that they would be excused and embraced and their justification laid at the door of the Government. This is a form of protest and division made effective by the most shrill voices campaigning for a ‘no vote’. I suggest they made Cameron’s decision far more potent and liable to be used as justification by men with knives than more reasoned objections would have.

To be utterly clear, the blood is ‘on the hands’ of the man wielding that knife. However, if you are to insist that I abandon the principle of assigning agency to the murderer, as so many people do, then I am choosing to blame you, the Verkrapt Left. And I shall do for any future incidences. Two can play this game.

An Attack on Parris

I’m a big fan of Matthew Parris, he brings credit to conservatives, to the Conservatives and to writers everywhere. If I ever find myself disagreeing with him it usually amounts to just a sense, a grumbling somewhere within me, because frankly, I’m usually not smart enough to articulate exactly why.

His piece of the 28th November on the Syria vote is well written but is also dead wrong and I think this time I might manage to explain how.

The article is paywalled and so I have added photos of it below. In an attempt to offset the accusation of larceny I will claim its age as mitigation and will further add that if you don’t subscribe to The Times, and happen not to be on the breadline, you most certainly should.

Parris says the ‘yes’ vote is only about us wanting to play a part in an event and he knows this because of various ‘silences’ from the ‘bombs-away brigade’. I heard Cameron’s statement to Parliament before this article and I heard the debates on Wednesday and I concluded that those voting ‘yes’ did so reluctantly and through a genuine belief that expanded military action against Islamic State is an unfortunate necessity. I shall refer to his side as merely the ‘no voters’ as I assume that in the main they are similar people that reached a different conclusion.

Joining the bombing in Syria will do nobody any good. And the funny thing is, I think that in its heart Britain knows that. But it’s one of those things that’s just going to happen anyway. Britain will join the bombing because it’s the kind of thing Britain does. It will make no serious difference to the allied campaign, and the whole thing will end up in a bloody mess.

Nobody? Does he really mean ‘nobody’?
I assume, unlike Corbyn, that Parris approves of the bombing in Iraq. The Islamic State actions in Iraq are supported and controlled by units across the border in Syria. How is he so certain that those people fighting Islamic State in Iraq, which he supports, will not be done ‘any good’ by the campaign? What about those units fighting Islamic State in Syria, in particular the Kurdish units in the north? They have shown in Iraq how useful air power is to them, surely Parris can’t be claiming to know that their desire for support in Syria is misplaced as it will in fact do them ‘no good’. If he is, how is he able to? What is this based upon? Perhaps these are quibbles and he accepts this but is addressing the long-term.

One of the problems with the ‘no’ side of the argument has been the total lack of follow through on the implications of what they argue. Parris’ piece is no different.

Parris is saying either: it is bad and nobody should do it or it is good but we should let other people do it for us. I think he implies the former, that the campaign itself is wrong and will cause a “bloody mess”. As he also believes that our involvement “will make no serious difference”, then he must think that our allies will cause a bloody mess alone.  Therefore, Parris shouldn’t merely be advocating that Britain, alone, stays on one side of an imaginary line but he must also push for us to use our full diplomatic weight to stop France and the United States from doing what they are doing.

If he thinks the campaign is wrong then surely it is a moral imperative for him to use his voice to tell our government the same thing. Nobody on the ‘no’ side has been saying such a thing. If it is wrong we must protest. If it is right then what justification, beyond self-preservation and penny pinching, is there to say that we shouldn’t lend our hand and do what is admitted to be right?

For clarity, these are questions all on the ‘no’ side need to answer:

  1. Are you saying bombing Islamic State should occur but just without us?
  2. If yes, how do you justify us abandoning allies?
  3. If no, what should we be doing to prevent the bombing by our ‘allies’ then?
  4. If no, does this apply to Iraq also, or do you support the campaign up to the border?
  5. If yes, how is bombing the same enemy across a border, which they don’t believe exists, the variable?

If you don’t provide clear answers to these you’re not being serious. I find it concerning that in almost all cases these points are not made expressly clear, and in some cases, such as Corbyn on Wednesday and Abbott on Question Time on Thursday, such questions are actively dodged. Their silence is far more telling than any coming from the ‘yes’ side.

This might well all end in a ‘bloody mess’. I for one am fully aware of that and freely admit it. However, it already is a bloody mess and it will continue to be. The case needs to be made that this will be a worse bloody mess or there is no case being made at all. He doesn’t make that case.

But we shall brush those doubts and presentiments aside, and in a moment I’ll tell you why. First, though, to the doubts themselves. They can be addressed briefly because (as I shall explain) this decision doesn’t turn on the merits. Arguing whether British bombing makes any military and political sense is a sideshow, an epiphenomenon.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to look that word up (I am ashamed). It means a ‘secondary effect or by-product, in particular’. My immediate question of ‘why is it?’ was answered thus:

It was all summed up for me last Sunday in the nanosecond of a ministerial hesitation. I was on a radio programme in which the broadcaster John Pienaar interviewed Matthew Hancock about Syria. There was a case, said the paymaster general, “for making sure there are boots on the ground from . . .” and here there was the slightest of pauses, “. . . somewhere”.

So much for the state of official thinking on stage two. It’s pitiful.

So why do I say there’s no point in persisting with the rational case against Britain joining the airborne queue to bomb Raqqa? For your answer, listen to the silences.

This answer of Parris’ is far from convincing. The pause isn’t enough and I believe the ‘silences’ Parris refers to are either imaginary or are actually well-founded.

The question from this firest silence is, with the number of unknowns is it realistic or possible to lay out a ‘full and comprehensive’ long term plan? Such a plan has very little chance of surviving contact with reality and which will make those advocating it a hostage to fortune for the Corbynites from here on in.

All the ‘official thinking’ in the world doesn’t mean you can know something which is unknowable. If we cannot muster more forces to support in a fight against Islamic State in some areas then we don’t get to support them. That still leaves us requiring permission to assist those that are already fighting them. And some are. It still requires permission to degrade them as best we can, when we can, and we now are doing so.

Parris is suggesting that a lack of detail about something which cannot realistically be detailed is evidence that this is only about something unrelated to the actual results. This does not follow, there are good reasons even without those solid answers.

If you don’t wish to press ahead without the unobtainable detail, you are saying that Islamic State should be left in-situ due to the stability they provide being better than the unknown future. That’s a view, some good old realpolitik, but make the case, put your name to it. Don’t just play Motte and Bailey with it.

Assuming you can’t have that plan then the next question is: Is that sufficient reason to not press ahead?

Rather incredibly, Parris concedes that he thinks we will defeat Islamic State but that he is more worried about what replaces it in the region. Well, I’m not more worried about that. On the balance of all the imperfect solutions and outcomes laid before us, I will take a military defeat of Islamic state with the corresponding uncertainty over any variation of the status quo. I am clear about that and Parris would do well to be just as clear himself. Does he want us all to pack up and leave, stay on the border, what? And why doesn’t he say?

So by now you are perhaps despairing of getting Mr Cameron and his hawkish friends to focus on the lessons from the past. In vain will you ask if for Syria we have the plans we lacked in Iraq and Libya. In vain will you ask if we know this time who we want to install. In vain will you ask most of them to name (let alone spell) two or three of the leaders of the “moderate” Free Syrian Army, or give you a potted history of where these mysterious individuals and their supporters come from, and how their fortunes stand.

Cameron isn’t silent, he is perfectly clear that it is largely unknown and risky. We are accepting that risk not pretending it isn’t there. Parris has no way of mitigating that risk or all the risks that come with not attacking Islamic State either so he instead opts for the unknowns of leaving them in place.

This is a point of honest diagreement. However, he  claims that this lack of knowledge is being hidden whereas he himself makes no attempt to provide the counter factual for his advocated inaction and his own known unknowns. There are far more ‘silences’ from him and the ‘no’ voters than there are from us.

Try asking most people the question which Parris’ analysis allows for but which he doesn’t himself phrase: If we can beat bring a military defeat to Islamic State but are, at the moment, unsure exactly how things will play out after, should we still do it?

I think most will bite your hand off with that offer. This is not Libya, this is certainly not Iraq. If Parris, and everyone else for that matter, wants to ask the same questions about the downfalls of a decapitation strategy in this particular case then go ahead. But we should require to hear the words implied:

“I would rather Gaddaffi had stayed in place than the unknown”.

“I would rather Saddam had stayed in place than the unknown.”

“I would rather Islamic State remains in place than the unknown.”

You may well have had a lot of takers for the first two but how many for the third? Furthermore, I suggest the experience of the first two adds far less light to the question of the third than Parris and the ‘no’ voters would have you believe. If Saddam or Gaddaffi was a stability you could live with, is Islamic State? Are all three unknowns just as bad?

This lack of detail is not a silence indicating that they are actually not interested in the answer, it is in fact a known unknown that is admitted to and factored into the decision we have reluctantly advocated making. A decision made with eyes wide open. Parris is reading in to it something that isn’t there.

Listen to the silence when you point out to the bombs-away brigade that two years ago the debate that the PM failed to carry was about going to war against Bashar al-Assad, whereas now the plan is to join two much bigger players than ourselves, Iran and Russia, who are determined to keep him in place.

Perhaps this silence is due to the disbelief somebody actually said that to them.

If Parris wants something other than silence I’d try this:

I recall no debate about ‘going to war’. Cameron advocated  a “tough response to the use of chemical weapons” in partnership with the United States. Obama is the ‘no troops in the Middle-East’ President. Are we to believe that this wasn’t about limited punishment for crossing ‘red lines’ consisting of a short spell of strikes on facilities but was actually to be the start of a war against Assad? That’s not a small distinction and I cannot imagine Obama signing off on the latter, he barely seemed keen on the former. Unless there is solid reasoning to assume the intention was to extent this ‘tough response’ into such a war, this is a dubious argument and am disappointed to see it made by Parris.

Even so, Cameron has also been clear that this is an ‘Islamic State first’ policy.

Finally, so bloody what? The threat from Islamic State in 2013 was simply not as clear as it is now. The facts have changed. How this apparent silence means that it is all for show is yet to be revealed to me.

Wrong questions, every one. They haven’t the foggiest, but that isn’t the point. Does Britain want to be left out? That’s the question, the only question, that the prime minister’s Commons statement this week was really meant to answer.

The point is to join our allies in a fight. Never mind on which side, so long as we’re all on it together. Our friends are in there, for God’s sake, fists flying. We must be in there too. We have armed forces, we have jets, we have bombs. Use them or lose them. Do we really want to be left out?

This horror of being left out is for psychiatrists not military strategists to ponder.

I do not know why such an important part of his assertion is left merely to ‘psychiatrists’. Parris gives himself free reign to ponder the benefits of military strategy while not being a strategist himself. Why doesn’t he also have a stab at the psychology? Especially as he seems so aware of the psychological imperative we all feel to get involved. This really isn’t good enough as it allows him to discredit it without examination.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that it is all merely about getting involved. Parris writes as if we should take for granted that this is inherently wrong.

The problem with his assumption is that the getting involved, the doing our bit, are important in and of themselves. Our activity and our maintenance of alliances is important for the credibility of our future threats of any military activities that will then be pondered by said military strategists. It is important for our credibility and presence in diplomacy and in the maintenance of soft power.

The desire to take part and to stand with our allies is not merely some psychological flaw. Others go further and make it just about the prime minister’s ego. This is not good enough and Parris owes an explanation beyond this. Our role in the world, the credibility of our willingness to take action are important things. To abandon them, and to be seen to do so, has consequences, it ends up having material outcomes. This should not be denied or dismissed as an irrational sense of ‘horror’.

If Parris is unwilling to protest to the French and the United States and he believes we will make no real differences then what difference does it make to vote ‘yes’? This surely means that the solitary reason he claims it is all about should be reason enough to proceed anyway.

However, it isn’t the only reason.

Parris himself thinks we will bring a military defeat to Islamic State and seeing as our declared intention is to degrade them, by what logic can he seriously then suggest we advocate the action for no other reason than taking part? He believes in the outcome everyone apparently says is the very reason they were voting yes. It makes no sense to suggest this is not a reason too.

In the piece he says the unthinkable, he says that Corbyn is right. Perhaps he thinks Corbyn is right merely in the sense that he too wanted a ‘no’ vote. But Corbyn says ‘no’ to any military options involving red, white and blue, and so if he is right for that reason, he is right merely in the same sense as the stopped clock is twice a day. If he is right for anything beyond that than Parris requires a much more cogent explanation as to why than he provides in this article.

Stop The War Bingo

Today Parliament votes on the Governments’s plan to expand the scope of British operations against Islamic State. Limitations and problems with the plan have been expressed by many people from various sides. In a previous piece I described the objection I have to the nature of some of this criticism.

The thing is though, I think it’s a pretty lousy plan too and I agree, to various degrees, with much of the criticism. I think in the medium-term it may well marginally increase the risk of terror attacks at home, and when that occurs it will also fuel the apologists and give impetus to our domestic Islamists. I think the risks for mission creep are substantial. I think it might help Assad and I think it is possible that more civilians will die because of that. I think it could reach a stage where Putin will be able to make demands of the West in other areas due to the hand he will hold in Syria. I think the risk of increasing Iranian influence and power is great. I think British help will make only a marginal difference. I think the limitations of the ‘moderate opposition’ might be exposed and the case for Western ground troops and special forces will increase exponentially as we progress and we will find it increasingly hard to resist deployment.

I am a supporter of the Government’s plan.

Just about.

If you happen to follow me on Twitter or know me personally you might well think I am a fervent supporter of engagement in Syria and this would be due to how much time I spend arguing against the Stop The War types. This reminds me very much of 2002/3 where once again I found I spent more time objecting to objections than in offering support to what was being proposed.

Anyway, to business. There are so many poor arguments, repeated canards and rank dishonesty being presented that I thought I’d run through a few of them. Those advocating a ‘no’ vote against the government come from across the spectrum and have an array of views. What follows here does not apply to all of them all of the time. You will though hear plenty of these made in the debate on this subject today so I suppose if you wish to play anti-war bingo, this is a good basis for a card.

“You can’t win a war just by bombing.”

Not technically true I’d suggest though in this case it is. However, nobody is telling anybody that this will be ‘won’ just by bombing. Cameron was clear that we will require ground holding units at some point to bring about the defeat of Islamic State in Syria and airstrikes will support them. Already the Kurds are being supported by airstrikes inside Syrian borders, just not by us. Bombing does  still have the potential to degrade IS capabilities and to kill their commanders however (this is a good thing).

“What do we put in its place?”

This is a good question but is it contingent on a decision? I for one am comfortable with taking the risk of it coming out wrong. I’m not sure ‘better the devil you know’ is particularly strong when that devil is Islamic State. Also with the number of unknowns before us it is something which is going to remain to a large extent, well, unknowable. A complete plan for this is not really possible as it stands and I suggest this is not a good enough reason to reject attempts to degrade Islamic State.

(Related) “We need a full and comprehensive plan”

This sounds the “impossible standards” klaxon.
No plan will be full and comprehensive enough for the Stop The War types. However, the likes of Corbyn can always demand it is MORE full and MORE comprehensive.

No plan survives contact with the enemy and with a situation as dynamic and complicated as Syria the idea of a ‘full and comprehensive plan’ is a nonsensical suggestion. However, “plans may mean nothing but planning is everything”, we must plan for what we do next.

A full, detailed, preannounced path to rainbows and sunshine in Syria wouldn’t be worth the printing and distributing. And to make one’s approval being contingent on such a thing is not just to create an impossible standard it is to provide an excuse for your decision which is not honest. We don’t have a full and comprehensive plan. In this time and in this place this is the best we can come up with. If you have a better one, spell it out.

“Iraq is now a worse place than when under Saddam Hussein”

Assuming this is true (plenty of Shia will argue with you and quite a few Sunnis too. Oh, and most Kurds), this is to suggest that life post-Islamic State will be worse than life now because of what happened in Iraq. It isn’t a logical assumption. One could just as easily say that life in Sierra Leone improved after we wiped out most of the West-Side Boys. Neither are good arguments. Each time is different. Though the ‘Islamic State provides stability’ argument is very close to being implied.

(Related) “The last two times we intervened failed so…”

Camilla Long Tweet

Actually no, the last time we intervened was in assisting the bombing against the Islamic State in Iraq. This was clearly a good thing. It helped the Kurds. It halted the Islamic state advance, or at least prevented them from mounting the next stage, it alleviated some of the suffering of some of the Yazidi and it has assisted greatly in forcing the retreat of Islamic State in some areas. [See this.]

However, assuming they mean Iraq and Libya, the answer is this: It’s not the same. Unless you are suggesting ALL military activity leads to unfavourable results then you need to be clear about what the similarities and differences are between each example. The invasion of Iraq and the support for rebels in Libya have key differences. If you are not willing to argue these and simply make the argument which says ‘intervention is intervention’ then you’re not serious.

“Got to defeat them but you need to get a broad coalition”

Is this not broad enough? How broad exactly is ‘broad’? Impossible standard alert.

“Cameron asked us to bomb Assad now he wants us to ally with him”

This is a canard that has been used by many and keeps coming up. Cameron was asking for a “tough response to the use of chemical weapons”. This was about Western credibility regarding the use of WMD. Strikes on facilities for a limited time were the intention. It sent a message, it maintained the credibility of ‘red lines’. It was never proposed as a war against Assad. As such it bears no relevance to the policy proposed today. This is a charlatan’s tactic.

Besides that, Cameron insists that his policy is Islamic State first. He is not conceding that Assad should remain in the long-term. So if you hear this argument made you’re listening to a bluffer.

“What difference will our few make?”

Marcus Chown Tweet

This is my least favourite of all. It is suggesting that we should merely allow our allies to do the work for us and assume both the risks and the costs alone. I don’t consider this morally serious. In fact I think it is dishonourable and shameful. Cameron said that the UK “cannot sub-contract its security to other nations.” I say this is correct. Even if our own bombs don’t turn any tide it is no reason to leave it all to others.

“We need a full solution with ground troops.”

Bizarrely, Ken Livingstone seems to be suggesting we need a full spectrum assault with long-term ambitions and will. Good on him. Though I suspect this is a bluff because he knows it will not happen and it shields him from accusations of inaction. But if you are one that seeks a more comprehensive solution it is no argument against the plan for increased airstrikes. Furthermore, if ‘mission creep’ is a genuine risk then allowing the mission that you wish to creep to creep into Syria is a good start no?

“They’re a symptom not the disease”

This is the best making the enemy of the good once again. Assuming the statement is true why not try to alleviate symptoms?

“All conflicts end with a political settlement”
“We need negotiations and a wider political settlement”

This is a Corbyn favourite. The problem with it is you tend to need to have the bloody war first. A clever German once said “war is the extension of politics by other means”. Why is anybody going to negotiate when they think they can win by fighting? And what Islamic State want cannot be negotiated away. This is fantasy.

“We want peace, not war”
Well guess what, we all do. If you have a peaceful method of ridding the world of Islamic State I would be most pleased to hear it. However, the assumption of Corbyn, previously implied elsewhere, is that those who advocate military action do not wish for peace. Sometimes war is necessary to bring peace about. Corbyn’s team are quick to take umbrage at any assertion that he is a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, though painting his opposition as people who would prefer war to peace is somehow acceptable.

“Cameron is involved in a rush to war”

We are already at war. Islamic State declare it on us. We are already bombing in support of Kurds and against Islamic State inside Iraq. France and the U.S. are also doing so inside Syria. This is simply not a war/peace binary. Besides, there hasn’t been much of a rush, this has been going on for ages.

“Bombing will make us a target”

We already are a target. This is for several reasons but not least because we are already bombing them. If you prefer us not to be attacking Islamic State at all, then say so.

According to the intelligence services several plots this year have been foiled already. We are not at peace now and I cannot see that our good fortune in not receiving an attack is because they just haven’t tried hard enough yet.

Furthermore, so bloody what? If people say they will murder civilians and down airliners if we engage with them is that less of a reason to kill them or more of one? Are we just to accept the terrorist’s veto and leave it to our allies to bear all the risk? Spell out that case more clearly please.

“They don’t need Raqqah to launch an attack like Paris” 

This is probably true. However, the ability of Islamic State to hold ground means they are better able to recruit, train, plan and organise. This means greater potential for ‘spectaculars’. If denying them their capabilities doesn’t prevent Paris (it might make it harder though), it still helps to limit their capabilities to do other, worse, things.

“We will just make matters worse”

Possibly. Though I note most do not spell out how. But imagine how bad things would be if Islamic State was allowed to continue to grow. They had momentum, the reputation of invincibility, they call themselves the ‘Caliphate’ with all its attraction to jihadists and they spread unspeakable misery wherever they go. Not fighting them will certainly, definitely, definitively, make things worse. We need to discredit the invincible Caliphate and the sooner the better.

“Civilians will die”
True. It’s terrible. Fortunately our armed forces are getting ever better at minimising this and take great pains to do so. However, here’s the rub. Civilians ARE dying already. The abandonment of a utilitarian approach and basing the morality of this on “at least their not killed by us” is morally wrong. Unless you can reasonably attempt to demonstrate that more will die this way than from inaction this is not a good argument.

“The ‘70,000 moderates’ is a made up figure”

It just isn’t. The numbers might change either way, some might not turn out moderate enough, they might be useless, they might end up fighting each other. It is a tricky part of the plan which Cameron admits comes with risks. But the knee-jerk statement that these numbers are nonsense are exactly that. Knee-jerk and themselves, nonsense.

“It’s just what they want us to do”

The actor Stephen Fry tweeted the following:

There tends to be more than one rule in conflict, Sun Tzu has a ton of them. But ok… Firstly, surely this applies when actually engaged. Not in the decision to fight. It is possible for one side to want to fight and be completely ill-judged about that. Secondly, because somebody asks for martyrdom and entry to a paradise Fry doesn’t believe in, that’s no reason not to oblige with the contingent element in that process. Namely, killing them.

And why limit the categorising of the action to just attacking them? Perhaps the distinction is that they want us to attack and lose but what they want least is for us to attack them and win?

More to the point, how is it that so many are so certain that this is exactly what they want? What specifically is this based upon? I would bet any money I have that when engaged in the fight for Sinjar the Islamic State would have preferred if the Kurdish units they were fighting did NOT have air support from the US, UK and Canada. Is Fry suggesting they would? Does Fry think the attempted attacks on us over this last year is because they want us to extend our bombing over the border? How does he know this?

“They attack us because they want us to bomb them” 

This is basically the same as the last point. However, I wish to add this: Beware of those who claim this and then also claim we are attacked BECAUSE we bomb them. If the motion is passed and we change some locations in our bombing mission and then the mainland UK is attacked, I truly hope the likes of Fry will not claim it is because we bombed them. These are surely mutually exclusive positions? They attack us because we attack them OR they attack us to make us attack them. It surely cannot be both.

“It’s none of our business”

It is. They attack us. There is a refugee crises. And we are all humans.


Saw this photo online and think there’s room for one more.


“You have no money for X but have money for war”

How UKIP is this? “No money for British Grannies but you have money to try and save foreign types?” It’s the logic that says until every hospital has solid gold toilets you can’t spend a penny on the Olympics.

This is suggesting not that the war is bad because of outcome but merely because of expense. That’s a legitimate argument perhaps but in this case it is saying that a marginal (imperceptible) difference in the ability to spend money on education in this country trumps the chance to allow for say, a Yazidi girl to stop being raped or murdered, and be able to get any education there. What are the odds, do you think, that this girl in the picture says the same thing about the foreign aid budget and its relationship to education? I say none.


There are many more. Too many. And most of these points above, fully expanded on, are an essay in themselves. However, in the meantime…

The Spending Review – What does £600m really mean?

By Kayleigh Graveson (@kayleighgraves5)

On the 25th of November George Osborne laid out his plans for the economic functioning of Britain over the next 4 years in the Spending Review and autumn statement. Within this Osborne claimed that ‘an extra £600m will be earmarked for mental health services’ in line with the Conservative manifesto. Yet what does this really mean?

Increased investment does not always guarantee that people’s needs are going to be met. The increase in funding contradicts the austerity agenda endorsed by the Conservative government, an agenda that has already damaged the same services they are meant to be investing in. Children and adolescent mental health service budgets have been frozen in 60% of local authorities since 2010, funding for health and social service support has been reduced within the public and third sector. This does not add up. One explanation is that the Conservatives are following a top-down approach, the same approach they criticised New Labour for, whereby managers and executives are getting a large majority of the investment.

Acknowledgement of the appropriateness of these services is also neglected by Osborne. Investing money into services is all well and good, but if they do not meet the needs of individuals they are useless. Britain has a high proportion of people who need help but are not accessing mental health services; for various personal and socio-cultural reasons, these include, but do not end at; stigmatism, the attributes of the specific condition, finances and geography. The ‘invisible suffers’ within our society, the people who are going undiagnosed and unsupported, are the ones we need to reach out to the most. We are living in the information age, yet technology is still not being utilised appropriately to provide mental health support for individuals, despite how effective these mechanisms are in breaking down the numerous barriers.

To put this £600m in perspective more than 16 million people in Britain suffer from a mental health condition, this is projected to escalate over the next 4 years. These cuts are arguably not going to meet the needs of the ever increasing population, particularly the elderly who often need access to age related mental health services. Based on current demographics this £600m will equate to an increase of £37.50 per person, not a lot when taking into account the huge strides that need to be taken by the current government.

Taking into consideration that 1 MP is being paid £67,060 per annum, excluding expenses, with this set to rise to £74,000. With 650 members of parliament forty three million, five hundred and eighty nine thousand pounds, minus expenses is lining MPs pockets.  It seems unjustifiable that the 16 million people, who on average have a mental health condition in Britain are being provided with just £150m per annum, or £600m over the next 4 years. These people have been elected to protect our rights and democracy, but instead they are damaging people’s lives for their own self-interest.