Archive for the ‘Early 21st Century’ Category

The Pound in Your Pocket

The value of the British Pound is in steady decline. It fell by 7% in the first two months of this year alone and it continues to fall against the Dollar, although its fall relative to the Euro has been slightly softened by the impact of the Italian general election and the Cypriot crisis.

Some sections of British industry and some economic analysts are arguing that the decline of the British Pound is a good thing. On the face of it there is a strong case for welcoming the falling price of Sterling. After all, weaker currencies are good for exports, right?

Switzerland was certainly hurt by the price of the Swiss Franc relative to the Euro being driven up as a result of the Euro crisis. The Swiss economy being a particularly sensitive to the price of its exports, their government took swift action to keep the price of their currency low. Could devaluation benefit Britain in the same way?

A lower Sterling allows British businesses to offer more competitive prices on exports and Britain is certainly in need of more competitive exports in sectors other than financial services and the arms trade. Further, the added demand for British goods could boost growth. We could grow our way out of recession. Couldn’t we? This is a flawed argument. In the past it is certainly true that a reluctance to devalue for political reasons has cost the country dear. But does that mean devaluation is good for us today?

Devaluation essentially has two effects, it makes our currency cheaper to buy thus making it cheaper for foreigners to buy from the UK, on the other hand it makes foreign currency more expensive and drives up prices on goods imported from abroad. The simplified story is that strong currency is good for imports and weak currency is good for exports. Neither is inherently better than the other, it’s a balancing act and which is better depends on the situation.

Public Domain

“It does not mean that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued.” – Harold Wilson talking out of his arse.

I would suggest that since the days of Harold Wilson, the harm done by an increase in the cost of imports has risen and that the advantages that can be gained by making British exports more desirable has collapsed. The cost to consumers cannot be understated. British workers have become hugely dependent on imported goods: most of our food is imported, electronics are imported, cars are imported, energy is imported. Back in 1967 Harold Wilson commented on his reluctant decision to devalue to pound saying that here in Britain “the pound in your pocket” is not worth less. That wasn’t true then and its even less true now.

All this pain might almost be justified if the increase in exports boosted British industry, got the economy growing and we were all better off in the long run. But it seems like it may well all be for no benefit. British exporters are also importers, whose costs will rise. The cost of capital goods rises along with that of consumer goods. The much noticed rise in the cost of fuel, in no small part a result of the falling pound, could have a devastating impact on costs all on its own. Suddenly the number of producers who stand to see a net gain shrinks considerably.

Moreover, exporters are also employers of labour, the cost of which is tied to the cost of living, which in turn is tied to the cost of imports. In the UK the cost of living is highly sensitive to the cost of imports and hence to changes in the exchange rate. It’s only those industries which are least sensitive to changes in the cost of labour which can fully reap the benefits of a low exchange rate.

Why, then, does the Government not appear to consider this a cause for concern? The answer, I would suggest, is that while the inflationary effects of devaluation can mean pain for workers they can be a boon for governments. It’s much easier to cut or suppress real wages in times of high inflation that low inflation, especially if contracts are only renegotiated every few years, and those public pay or benefit freezes go a lot further when you drive down the value of that capped figure. For a government fixated on a programme of austerity, knocking a few points off the pound every now and then is stealthiest and least politically harmful way of picking every pocket in the land; if done well, it’s less likely to provoke strikes than direct pay cuts and it’ll cost them fewer votes than tax hikes and benefit cuts.

The Real Welfare Parasites

In keeping with their ideology, a core plank of the Conservative Party 2010 manifesto was to harness the ingenuity of the private sector to help get people back into work. As such, it’s rather a shame how far from their professed free market principles the Government has strayed with its current welfare policy.

Rather than harnessing the initiative and innovation of private enterprise to provide a service to those looking to get into work, a parasitical industry has grown up around the Jobcentre, feeding of DWP and ESF funding and the involuntary participation of jobseekers, providing largely junk courses and training schemes of questionable value.

It’s just a matter of common sense market economics that service providers who benefit from guaranteed demand, revenue and a stream of semi-willing participants won’t have an overwhelming incentive to ensure that the services they sell are high quality or valuable in terms of employability. Equally, if the state allocates a certain amount of funding to be spent on privately-provisioned training courses, the demand (and hence the price) of these courses will be artificially increased. When the trainee is not the customer the market just don’t function well. I’d be curious to kow what the price mechanism has done to successive Work and Pensions Secretaries to deserve such cruel treatment.

Do claimants benefit from this way of providing training? No, they would be much better catered for if they could pay for courses which are of direct use to them as an when required out of a slightly increased JSA cash payment. Does the taxpayer benefit? No, it would be much more cost effective to slightly increase direct payments to claimants so that they could purchase those private courses they feel would actually benefit them, rather than spend huge amounts of money on courses of limited value. Who benefits? The private training firms who have attached themselves to the state’s boated arse like a leech.

As somebody currently receiving jobseeker’s allowance, I’m entitled to state funded provision of secondary healthcare – those things the NHS doesn’t usually pay for, like opticians and dentists – I’ve already grabbed a nice new pair of glasses, my previous pair being rather old and shabby looking but still in perfectly functioning condition. I went out and “bought” the new pair sooner than I likely would have otherwise and, frankly, why wouldn’t I? This isn’t an efficient system for spending the total amount of money that is made available to a claimant. Do claimants benefit from this arrangement? No, we would be much better off if we received a cash lump sum which could then spend on healthcare services as and when required. Does the taxpayer? No, it would be much cheaper to make direct payments to claimants who then have an incentive toward allocative efficiency rather than to take advantage of whatever services they can get. Who benefits? The private service providers, again.

Meanwhile jobseekers are being forced into zero pay jobs, a policy which only makes it more difficult to get a job by reducing the demand for actual waged labour. Why would Tesco hire somebody at minimum wage to do an unskilled job when they can just get somebody to do it for free? It’s the very people who would be applying for these jobs who will end up being forced into them without pay a year later!

So tell me, who are the real parasites? Is it the unemployed or is it the middlemen and the vampiric industry which sets itself up between them and the government, sucking out every drop of misdirected public spending they can? If the Tory government wishes to uphold the conservative, small state principles to which they claim to adhere, why not cut out these middlemen? Why continue to micro-manage how welfare expenditure can be spent (NHS vouchers, council tax credit etc.)? The mantra of the small-state conservatives has always been that government attempts at micro-managing society tend to make a small problem bigger and the history of government attempts to fine-tune the benefits system certainly bares that out. But the political currency of the government has never been conservative economic reliability, it has been prejudice, and so instead of reforming welfare along the lines of free market principles and choice, they talk about a food stamp system. How can a party which believes a bureaucrat knows how to spend money on your behalf better than you do claim to be the party of the free market?

Why not allow jobseekers to decide how to spend that money, whether a particular course is worth while, what to spend on secondary healthcare, what to spend on food and what to spend on booze? This doesn’t just help the claimant, it would reduce the cost to the tax payer due to the money being spent more efficiently. The only people who benefit from the status quo is Big Welfare.

Why not apply real free market economics to the benefits system and eliminate the cost of the massive, hideously inefficient bureaucracy required to maintain conditional benefits and kill off the parasitical Big Welfare industry which has grown up around it? The cost of conditional benefits is one of the largest bureaucracies in the country. It has created a Jobcentre that is obsessed with box ticking and hoop jumping but just isn’t fit for the purpose of helping people back into work and where the only people it has helped into jobs are the people who work in the Jobcentre itself.

Milton Friedman, the Chicago school libertarian whose ideas influenced both Margaret Thatcher and Augusto Pinochet, observed these problems in the US welfare system over half a century ago. His solution, much to the incredulity of his right-wing peers, was to scrap the role of the bureaucrat spying on welfare claimants and restricting how their money can be spent and to replace benefits with a negative income tax, in which the government would pay out on negative taxable incomes in the same way they take payment on positive taxable incomes. It’s better for the unemployed, it’s better for the working taxpayer and it costs the state less. Milton Friedman had a point, and his is one certainly worth taking seriously.

In keeping with the ideology, a core plank of the Conservative Party 2010 manifesto was to harness the ingenuity of the private sector to help get people back into work. As such it’s rather a shame how far their professed free market principles the Government has strayed with its current welfare policy.

Rather than harnessing the initiative and innovation of private enterprise to provide a service to those looking to get into work, a parasitical industry has grown up around the Jobcentre, feeding of DWP and ESF funding and the involuntary participation of jobseekers, providing largely junk courses and training schemes of questionable value.

It’s just a matter of common sense market economics that service providers who benefit from guaranteed demand, revenue and a stream of semi-willing participants won’t have an overwhelming incentive to ensure that the services they sell are high quality or valuable in terms of employability. Equally, if the state allocates a certain amount of funding to be spent on privately-provisioned training courses, the demand (and hence the price) of these courses will be artificially inflated. When the trainee is not the customer the market just don’t function well. I’d be curious to kow what the price mechanism has done to successive Work and Pensions Secretaries to deserve such cruel treatment.

Do claimants benefit from this way of providing training? No, they would be much better catered for if they could pay for courses which are of direct use to them as an when required out of a slightly increased JSA cash payment. Does the taxpayer benefit? No, it would be much more cost effective to slightly increase direct payments to claimants so that they could purchase those private courses they feel would actually benefit them, rather than spend huge amounts of money on courses of limited value. Who benefits? The private training firms who have attached themselves to the state’s boated arse like a leech.

As somebody currently receiving jobseeker’s allowance, I’m entitled to state funded provision of secondary healthcare – those things the NHS doesn’t usually pay for, like opticians and dentists – I’ve already grabbed a nice new pair of glasses, my previous pair being rather old and shabby looking but still in perfectly functioning condition. I went out and “bought” the new pair sooner than I likely would have otherwise and, frankly, why wouldn’t I? This isn’t an efficient system for spending the total amount of money that is made available to a claimant. Do claimants benefit from this arrangement? No, we would be much better off if we received a cash lump sum which could then spend on healthcare services as and when required. Does the taxpayer? No, it would be much cheaper to make direct payments to claimants who then have an incentive toward allocative efficiency rather than to take advantage of whatever services they can get. Who benefits? The private service providers, again.

Meanwhile jobseekers are being forced into zero pay jobs, a policy which only makes it more difficult to get a job by reducing the demand for actual waged labour. Why would Tesco hire somebody at minimum wage to do an unskilled job when they can just get somebody to do it for free? It’s the very people who would be applying for these jobs who will end up being forced into them without pay a year later!

So tell me, who are the real parasites? Is it the unemployed or is it the middlemen and the vampiric industry which sets itself up between them and the government, sucking out every drop of misdirected public spending they can? If the Tory government wishes to uphold the conservative, small state principles to which they claim to adhere, why not cut out these middlemen? Why continue to micro-manage how welfare expenditure can be spent (NHS vouchers, council tax credit etc.)? The mantra of the small-state conservatives has always been that government attempts at micro-managing society tend to make a small problem bigger and the history of government attempts to fine-tune the benefits system certainly bares that out. But the political currency of the government has never been conservative economic reliability, it has been prejudice, and so instead of reforming welfare along the lines of free market principles and choice, they talk about a food stamp system. How can a party which believes a bureaucrat knows how to spend money on your behalf better than you do claim to be the party of the free market?

Why not allow jobseekers to decide how to spend that money, whether a particular course is worth while, what to spend on secondary healthcare, what to spend on food and what to spend on booze? This doesn’t just help the claimant, it would reduce the cost to the tax payer due to the money being spent more efficiently. The only people who benefit from the status quo is Big Welfare.

Why not apply real free market economics to the benefits system and eliminate the cost of the massive, hideously inefficient bureaucracy required to maintain conditional benefits and kill off the parasitical Big Welfare industry which has grown up around it? The cost of conditional benefits is one of the largest bureaucracies in the country. It has created a Jobcentre that is obsessed with box ticking and hoop jumping but just isn’t fit for the purpose of helping people back into work and where the only people it has helped into jobs are the people who work in the Jobcentre itself.

Milton Friedman, the Chicago school libertarian whose ideas influenced both Margaret Thatcher and Augusto Pinochet, observed these problems in the US welfare system over half a century ago. His solution, much to the incredulity of his right-wing peers, was to scrap the role of the bureaucrat spying on welfare claimants and restricting how their money can be spent and to replace benefits with a negative income tax, in which the government would pay out on negative taxable incomes in the same way they take payment on positive taxable incomes. It’s better for the unemployed, it’s better for the working taxpayer and it costs the state less. Milton Friedman had a point, and his is one certainly worth taking seriously.

The motivation behind the current system of conditional welfare and micro-managed spending isn’t cost saving or economic efficiency, it’s the political capital which comes with attacking the unemployed.

Its Time Come Round At Last

Forty years have passed since the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community and thirty eight years have passed since that decision was retroactively consented to by the citizens of this country in the first ever UK-wide referendum. Much has happened in the time since. The division in the Labour Party over membership of the common market, the original ‘No’ campaign having been all but led by left-wing figures like Tony Benn, has faded with no trace of Euroscepticism to be found among the party’s leaders. The Tory Party, however, have spent the last three decades waging civil war over the matter.

Used under GNU Free Documentation Licence 1.2

The left, having become conservative, headed the opposition to EEC membership in the first referendum.

The character of the union itself has changed. The common market required common regulations and common laws which required a Parliament to consent to them, institutions and a large bureaucracy to implement (and draft) them, and courts to enforce them. It required a transfer of some small degree of sovereignty to Europe. Soon we had a European Union, a continental proto-state, with its own legislature, civil service and currency. There was a common visa and customs union, freedom of travel, residence and work and equal rights for all EU citizens in every member state. Individual states were held to account for the laws that they passed and the actions of their governments and British politicians, being unaccustomed to constitutional governance, were not always best please. Suddenly it seemed the European Union just wasn’t what we had signed up for.

And nobody asked us.

Instead the process of integration happened bureaucratically, backroom deals were negotiated by politicians and officials, treaties were signed and rubber-stamped while all we could do was watch it happening on telly. The bureaucratic nature of the integration process was reflected in the form of this Union of which we are now citizens: we have an elected parliament, sure, but one with no powers of legislative initiative and not so much as a veto on the matters deemed too important for directly elected representatives; real power is concentrated in the hands of the technocrats appointed as Commissioners; the non-elected upper chamber of the legislature, the Council of the European Union, has superiority over the elected lower chamber; monetary policy within the Eurozone is set by unelected officials (almost entirely former private bank executives) within the ECB. A union founded by bureaucratic rather than democratic means was always going to be a bureaucratic entity rather than a substantive democracy.

Big business is terrified of the prospect of being locked out of the European integration process, it needs the common market and a say in the regulations that govern that market, it wants the single currency so that they are no longer disadvantaged by the unstable, yet rarely favourable, exchange rate between the Pound and the Euro. Renegotiations and referenda put all that at risk, along with the competitiveness and productivity of British industry and the implications that has for employment, wages and working hours; which is exactly what they should be saying to the British worker, but have entirely failed to do so, relying – instead of treating them like adults and arguing democratically for integration – on cutting them out of the decision making process at every stage. Now the British worker, who could be their greatest ally in the fight for European integration, resents the Union, its institutions, the people who have forced it upon them and everything it stands for.

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©UK Independence Party
The unnatural bureaucratic abomination that is the EU (and the process that spawned it), has allowed the rise of reaction under the banner of democracy.

Bred of this resentment, a cancer has spread throughout the British corpus politicum, poisoning the debate as much as the europhilic elites have. The bastard child of the Tory Party, UKIP clings onto the European bureaucracy like an addict, dependent upon its funding for growth and feeding off its hypocrisy for sustenance, the taboo of a referendum being at once both its raison d’etre and its inevitable coup de grâce. Citizens have not suddenly become any more aggrieved by their treatment in the name of progress yet the swelling purple tumour has been drawing more and more lifeblood away from the Tories, enough that they could pay a price in marginal seats.

This was the context for yesterday’s speech by the Prime Minister, possibly the first speech in history to have been analysed to death several weeks in advance of it having been made, in which he promised, finally, after all this time, a second in-out referendum on our continued membership of this much changed union.

Except that’s not actually what happened at all. He hasn’t actually promised us a referendum, so much as cynically dangled the possibility in the distant future in the desperate hope it will help him get re-elected. Worse, the referendum that’s been suggested isn’t actually an in-out referendum at all, we won’t be given the choice between embracing or rejecting “ever closer union,” rather we will be given the choice between leaving the integration process behind and settling down as a second class economy on the European periphery, or leaving altogether. It’s less “in-out” and more “out-even further out”.

The British electorate are still not being offered a democratic choice on Europe. Instead of bureaucratically forcing through integration with total disinterest to the will of the people, Cameron’s proposal will, if ever realised, force through disintegration against the will of the people.

The demand for a renegotiation of Britain’s place within the EU, whatever specifics the Prime Minister has in mind, amounts to one of two things:

Either the nonsense of remaining subject to EU laws (common markets requiring common regulations) but having no say in them, in order to appease the forces of reaction that have such a hold on his party.

Public Domain

Appeasing its uncompetitive farmers, Norway is subject to EU laws but has no say in making them.

Or the equal nonsense of expecting Britain to be uniquely grated exemptions from the disadvantages of membership while enjoying all the advantages – though, of course, what Cameron considers the advantages and disadvantages to be are almost polar opposites of what the advantages and disadvantages are to British workers.

Naturally neither of these are outcomes he truly desires, his wildest ambition being a few token concessions to offer up if he’s somehow still Prime Minister in 2017. It’s obvious the Tories’ big capitalist backers won’t tolerate the first and that Cameron can’t reasonably expect the second in anything but a purely token measure. He’s flag waving and banking on the hostility of European leaders: all the better for stirring up nationalistic sentiment in the run up to an election. The government have no interest in pushing for the kind of democratic reform the EU needs for precisely the same reasons they have no interest in reaching a settlement with Argentina over the Falklands: unresolved they present too convenient an opportunity for nationalistic chest-thumping and political point-scoring in times of failing economic policies and, today, political paralysis within the coalitions – both the coalition between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties and the coalition within the Conservative Party between its liberal bourgeois wing and its parochial reactionary wing. At PMQs yesterday, Cameron asked “Who goes into a negotiation hoping and expecting to fail?” You do, David, apparently you do.

The received wisdom has long been that the British public hate the EU and would likely vote to leave it if given a choice. While the attitude of the British public to the EU is undeniably a negative one, it is important to remember that this attitude is a result of the process that forged it and, treated like adults, given a democratic choice and engaged in an honest, frank and open debate the opinion of the electorate would doubtless swing drastically. If the federalists accept the flaws of the union and make a compelling case instead of whitewashing the EU’s problems, a victory could be won.

In response to Cameron’s ploy the Labour leader Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet jumped into action, condemning the move on the grounds that investors wouldn’t be happy. And you mustn’t upset the investors, they hold us all hostage after all.

Of course the Labour Party leadership are correct to point out the threat to Britain’s triple-A credit rating caused by the medium and long term uncertainty introduced by a hypothetical 2017 referendum. The City will happily use the Tories as leverage against the threat of European regulation but ultimately they need barriers to European finance like they need an uncontrolled default on Greek debt. But if the Labour Party is going to be worthy of its name it needs to defend the Union in the interest of working people, not bankers. Instead it’s investors first and workers last. In opposing a referendum, Labour bowed to the will of the financial rentiers over the will of the electorate.

The left should demand that a Labour government offers a real in-out referendum in 2016 so that the case for integration can be made democratically. Only then can a movement toward essential democratic reform of the European Union be born.

Extradition Roulette

Today’s decision not to extradite Gary McKinnon, accused of unlawfully accessing US Department of Defence computers back in 2002, was not a victory in the struggle against unjust laws but it was a victory for one man in his struggle against an injustice. McKinnon faced likely death behind bars in America for a crime which wouldn’t even warrant a custodial sentence in Britain. His case drew widespread support from the public and Gary became a celebrity victim in the campaign to reform Britain’s extradition laws.

Under the Extradition Act of 2003, not only can a person can be extradited to a country they have never visited to stand trial for an offence which potentially isn’t a crime, or is only a minor crime, in their own jurisdiction, but the measly hearing they receive is unable to even consider the evidence (or lack there of it!) offered against them. This results in people being extradited when the evidence against them is insufficient for conviction in a British court or even for prosecution. The accused can be sent to countries where they face draconian punishments considered grossly disproportionate in the UK, countries with inhumane prison conditions, countries where they will face a kangaroo court or countries in which their guilt will be determined by a state official rather than a jury. British standards of justice are not so high that we cannot reasonably demand that others meet them as a condition of extradition.

The public support for McKinnon was doubtless the real driving force behind the decision of the Home Secretary, fierce opponent of the Human Rights Act, to reverse the decision to extradite (supposedly) on the grounds that it would be “incompatible with his human rights” due to his being a suicide risk. But the accused have rights regardless of whether they are sympathetic characters or not and the decision to follow through with an extradition shouldn’t be left in the hands of populist politicians.

Britain’s broken extradition laws can’t be fixed by selective enforcement. When ministers pass judgement on who shall be extradited and who shall not, regardless of the legal technicalities or the standard of evidence offered against them, extradition becomes nakedly political. Would a much less sympathetic person, the specifics if the case remaining unchanged, have received this pardon? Would somebody motivated by Islamic fundamentalism? Would somebody who had been the subject of Royal displeasure? Would somebody who was an opponent of the Government or who had been accused of a more sinister crime expect the same intervention?

Going through with the extradition of Gary McKinnon would have made him a martyr for the cause of extradition reform and the Government would have found itself under mounting pressure to offer up an actual legislative remedy. Gary McKinnon’s extradition was sacrificed on the alter of public opinion so that the Extradition Act might live. The case wasn’t dropped to make the extradition process more just but to ensure that it may remain unjust.

Intervention: A Path to Syrian Democracy?

It’s not hard to find the case for military intervention in Syria compelling. In the Youtube age, tyrants can’t easily suppress the evidence of their crimes, and there’s something very powerful about the visual realm for us humans. If the images burned into the public consciousness by the photojournalism of the Vietnam war can be credited with fuelling American domestic opposition to that war, then visual evidence can play just as potent a role in making the case for war.

Such scenes of human tragedy appeal to human compassion and rightly overpower the weak verbal arguments customarily offered against intervention: we shouldn’t meddle in other people’s affairs, it’s not our problem, it would cost too much money in a time of domestic austerity, etc. But having demonstrated the most sincere moral fortitude in resolving that “something needs to be done” our comrades proceed with understandable haste, but also unfortunate carelessness, to conclude of military intervention that “this is something, let’s do it!”

With the best of intentions it is argued that the condition of the Syrian people will be improved by military intervention, unfortunately a substantive democracy doesn’t necessarily follow from the removal of a dictator. Neither is it clear that the removal of Assad would bring an end to the humanitarian crisis rather than simply reverse victim and culprit.

As much as I wish the civil war were a simple case of ‘the people’ versus ‘the dictator,’ the reality is that the Syrian rebels represent just one side of a sectarian schism. One of the few commonalities between the otherwise diverse array of factions that constitute the rebellion is that their fighters are almost exclusively Sunni Arabs. Sympathies for conservative Islamic politics is widespread among the militias, although not universal. Salafist militias, from those sympathetic to the House of Saud to those aligned with Al-Qaeda, have found a home within the wide tent of the Free Syrian Army.

It’s not just despots in Damascus who fear the arrival of the rebels, Alawites face reprisals for perceived complicity in the Ba’athist regime while Christians and Kurds have also been the victims of sectarian attacks. A tyranny of the majority is no less a tyranny for those who are its victims – it offers to cast aside one injustice only to replace it with another.

Even if we give the rebels the benefit of the doubt and close our eyes to any sectarian disaster that may be unleashed by their victory, freedom for the Syrian people is not a cause which can be advanced by subjugating their fate to the interests of external powers.

Each of the region’s powers is playing its own game. To the House of Saud and their allies, there is no greater evil than democracy, which is why they proceeded to swiftly exorcise it, using fire-power supplied with the blessing of the British government, when protests hit the streets of Bahrain in 2011. This was not the first time the UK supported the suppression of democratic opposition in the Arab world and nor was it the last: British arms continue to be sold to both the Saudi dictators and their minions in Bahrain. It’s clear that for our selectively outraged rulers, it’s not a matter of democracy versus dictatorship but a game of our dictators and theirs.

Dangerous chancers among the interventionists argue that the cynical interests of Britain’s ruling class can be exploited, that despite the hypocrisy of Britain backing Bahrain’s dictator even more shamelessly than Russia backs Assad, our Government’s impure motives can be harnessed to bring freedom to Syria. They may not be so eager to play with fire if they were the ones at risk of being burned.

The Assad regime play the same role to the Iranian mullahs and Russian arms dealers that the rebels do to Saudi sheikhs and British arms dealers. Turkey’s soft-Islamist government, meanwhile, hasn’t missed its opportunity to pursue its own regional interests. They know that the crutch which supports the rebels in their time of need will become the shackle that binds them in power, in this sense it is not so much that the Turkish ministers are playing the role of hawks but that of vultures.

Whichever power wins out, the Syrian people will lose; the resulting government, whether superficially democratic in form or not, will be the instrument of forces beyond their control. There is no path to democracy in transforming freedom fighters, whether genuine or merely soi-disant, into pawns of sheikhs, mullahs or European powers. One day the Syrian people will assert their will and take control of their own lives but, no matter how much we wish it were otherwise, there are no shortcuts to democracy.

Delaying Tactics: Britain’s Colonial Victims Deserve Better

Are appeals being used as a delaying tactic by those trying to avoid justice? That was the accusation made by the Government last week after the High Court rejected the final appeal of Abu Hamza et al. against their extradition to the United States on various terrorism related charges.

The final appeal of the five suspects was undoubtedly little more than a last-ditched attempt to delay their extradition to a country with an often outrageously harsh prison system, but theirs was not the only stalling attempt thwarted in the High Court that day. It also rejected the Government’s latest attempt to prevent the case of three Kenyan torture victims from being heard.

The Government’s challenge that the case could not be fairly tried due to the amount of time that has passed since the crimes were committed was thrown out by the court in a hearing which lasted less than five minutes, but has taken up several months of the proceedings. This delaying tactic was the second attempt by the Government to avoid accepting responsibility for the crimes committed against its colonial subjects through legal trickery; last year the High Court rejected the Government’s push to have the case dismissed on the grounds that legal responsibility for the crimes of the colonial administration passed to the independent Republic of Kenya rather than the government of the United Kingdom.

The legal action, which has been repeatedly stalled by the Government, began back in 2009 and it’s expected to be another year before the trial starts in proper (assuming there are no further pre-trial shenanigans from the Government). One of the four elderly claimants, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, has already died during the drawn-out proceedings, which raises the question: can any of the victims hope to see justice done in their lifetimes?

Quite possibly not, if precedent is anything to go by. Following the forced depopulation of the native inhabitants of the island of Diego Garcia, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, to make way for a US military base, the Chagos Islanders fought a series of legal battles. In 2000, after a struggle lasting decades, the High Court finally ruled that the Islanders had a right to resettle their homeland. This ruling was effectively overturned by the Privy Council a brief time later. That ruling was itself deemed unlawful by the High Court. A ruling which was again overturned, this time by the House of Lords. The case drags on in the European Court of Human Rights to this day.

The three surviving Kenyan claimants, all elderly, are unlikely to survive a decade of Government delaying tactics and it may well be that neither they, nor the Chagossians expelled from their homes over forty years ago, will see the justice they deserve.