Jason Reed: Who stands for freedom in America? Neither Trump nor Biden speak for me.

2 Sep

Jason Reed is a student at the LSE. He is Deputy Editor of 1828.

Watching America’s quadrennial political reckoning from across the pond, one thing is becoming clearer than ever before. The US’s rigid two-party system and increasingly polarised socio-political discourse are leaving liberty-lovers and freedom-fighters politically homeless.

I believe in freedom. I want the government to get out of people’s lives. I think people should be allowed to conduct themselves however they wish. On economic issues, I am a tax-slashing capitalist; on social issues, a forward-looking progressive. This is neither a radical nor unusual political standpoint.

In the UK, the centre-right Conservative party caters to my politics. Sure, it’s a broad church – there are many whose views differ from mine, on both social and economic issues – but there are more than enough free marketeers and social liberals to make me feel politically represented, despite the occasional blip here and there. In America, though, neither party caters to what I believe in. Very few American politicians seem to believe in freedom.

In the UK’s two-party system, the Conservative Party – of which I am a member – is the right-leaning one. So, I should support the Republicans, since they represent the right-leaning half of America’s political dichotomy. Right?

If only it were that simple. The British political landscape is not at all mirrored by its trans-Atlantic cousin. The Republican party is not the same as the Conservative party. We Conservatives are much more moderate on the whole – centre-right, rather than right-wing – and, crucially, the Tory party is a much broader church than the GOP, which is narrow and dogmatic.

That means there is a great deal of overlap between the Conservatives and Democrats. Rory Stewart, who was a leading candidate for the leadership of the Conservative party just last year, is a former adviser to President Obama.

If Donald Trump were a British politician, he would be Nigel Farage. Too nationalistic for the Conservative party, claiming to speak for the silent majority, hinging his political relevance on the white working class and dishing out equal parts fear and anger in his politics.

Farage was only prevented from rising to the top of British politics in the same way Trump did in the US thanks to our electoral system. The ‘mother of parliaments’ does an excellent job of keeping populist crackpots at arm’s length. Trump’s political career would have failed in the UK, too.

This brand of politician can only win power when a presidential system allows them to exploit personality politics – and the hefty bank accounts of their donors – in order to soar to the top in one fell swoop, independent of establishmentarian party machinery.

Trump could never be a Tory. Republicanism means something fundamentally different to conservatism.

The GOP has no regard for fiscal conservatism. It embraces a backwards mercantilism, which it combines with its heinous nativism, resulting in a soup of nationalistic dogma. ‘Britain First’ is the name of a fascist group which was expelled from the political mainstream a long time ago. ‘America First’, in much the same way, represents everything fans of freedom ought to stand against.

Donald ‘Tariff Man’ Trump is the walking, talking reality of everything wrong with nationalism – and he single-handedly unlocked American politics, winning millions over with his hollow, affirming rhetoric. He and his ideological brethren will dictate the direction of the Republican party for at least a generation.

Although the British government’s current position on trans rights, for instance, is unsavoury, there is a genuine, vibrant debate within the party. A group of backbenchers, elected by the alleged tradcon loyalists who supposedly make up the northern Red Wall constituencies, recently banded together to call for a change of direction. A U-turn on this issue is not unforeseeable.

Conversely, Trump embracing trans rights and representation could hardly be any less likely. The man who banned trans people from armed service, citing fictitious “health concerns”, is not going to change his mind on his issue, and neither is anyone else in his party.

The Republican base of Tucker Carlson addicts laps up this kind of clumsy, directionless social conservatism. The more extreme, the better. Triggering the wets and owning the libs is now the only path to victory. A lack of English reserve is killing the American right.

The American left is no more attractive. Democrats are statists, albeit in varying degrees. Joe Biden wants to wrap America up in a red-tape pie and then take it out at the knees with a horrifyingly haphazard tax plan. His running mate, Kamala ‘Cop’ Harris, is an institutional racism enthusiast and a raging authoritarian.

Of the myriad contenders for the Democratic nomination, only Andrew Yang spoke any sense to liberals (in the true sense of the word). But even he was frustratingly pessimistic on the power of big tech, AI and the free market to effect real change. And, of course, his winning the nomination would only have guaranteed a second term for Trump. The realistic choices were always two different brands of ultra-interventionist.

Washington’s two-party system is so unforgiving that there is no escape from this mire. Britain has a two-party system too, of course. And yet, a third party was in government barely five years ago. And last year, the governing party came in fifth in a national election. In the US, even those who loyally back the strongest third-party force – the Libertarians – have no hope of representation.

Freedom in America, then, is not some controversial idea which most are too cautious to touch. It is simply forgotten. An entire nation’s discourse has tossed liberty aside without a second thought, leaving its citizens with a stark choice between dangerous socialists and climate-denying racists.

The result is a political landscape that is openly hostile towards liberty. America has slipped into the very human trap of sorting the world into left and right, black and white, good and evil. Twelve per cent of members of the House of Commons are neither Conservative nor Labour, whereas every member of America’s representative bodies was elected as a Democrat or a Republican.

There are rare glimmers of hope in the likes of Rand Paul and Justin Amash but for the most part, freedom is absent from contemporary American politics. Our Atlantic cousins have become so plagued by polarisation that they have abandoned liberalism altogether.

The United States of America was built on the principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Those ideas ought to be timeless. America needs to rediscover itself. Its politics has become so overwhelmed by the weight of modern discourse and the beast of rolling news that an entire nation has forgotten what it once believed in.

If you back CANZUK, you should also support the D10 – an alliance of democracies

28 Aug

If by CANZUK you mean new trade deals, four of the five eyes, and stronger cultural links with some of what Churchill called “the English-speaking peoples”, we’re all for it.

If by CANZUK you mean free movement, a NATO-type defence union and a single Joe Chamberlain-style economic bloc, our advice is to lie down until the feeling goes away.

The subject is topical because Erin O’Toole, the new Conservative Party leader in Canada, sees CANZUK as “a top priority”.  His version is somewhere between the two sketched above.

The first would sit comfortably with another idea whose time has come – the D10, about which James Rogers of the Henry Jackson Society wrote recently on this site, and which Boris Johnson’s Downing Street is rather keen on.  Expect it to feature in the Defence and Security Review.

Where NATO is a hard power alliance, the orientation of which is still to confront Russia by military means if necessary, the D10 would be a soft power one, aimed at countering the influence of China.

“You might say that, we couldn’t comment,” a Government insider told ConHome, adding that “the idea is being picked up by a broad listenership, which includes Canada and Australia.”

“There’s some interest in Bidenland.  And for the medium-sized powers, there’s security in numbers.  The idea’s in the ether, but it could materialise.”

The UK chairs the G7 next year, so the stage is set for the idea to get a push then, after the Defence and Security Review sets the scene.

So: who would be in the D10?  CANZUK enthusiasts should note that three of the four potential members would be in it: Canada, Australia and the UK.  New Zealand leans towards a different foreign policy orientation.

Then turn to the G7, of which the UK and Canada are already members.  Add Australia and South Korea to the United States, Japan, and the three EU country members – France, Germany and Italy – and you have a total of nine.

Finally, there’s India.  That’s ten major democracies with different military orientations and economies – but shared democratic values.

One could seek to draw other countries in – such as Spain, for example.  But what is being looked for here is a group big enough to work, but not so big as to be unwieldy.

During the Cold War, America and western Europe tended to speak with one voice.  Post-war progress, wealth and stability was built on this alliance – expressed in its security dimension by NATO.

That organisation is still adjusting to the collapse of communism – with two members, Greece and Turkey, at loggerheads, and others, such as Turkey and Hungary, moving closer to Russia.

Which imperils NATO’s integrity – but even were it functioning seamlessly, the organisation isn’t shaped to deal with China, not only because of where it sits but because of what it does.

A soft power D10 wouldn’t be a rival to a military alliance.  It would differ in purpose to the G20, which contains not just China but Russia too, plus the entire EU.  It would take in most of CANZUK, as noted.

At a time when China is expanding its interests through the Belt and Road Initiative, the D10 would offer a counterweight, in terms of investment, capacity-building, aid and the promotion of democratic values.

It could also begin to speak with a common voice at the United Nations, and there would be an obvious crossover with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the UK is keen to join, as our columnist Stephen Booth has reported.

Downsides?  The EU countries are not on the same page as America on China – or, to strike a very topical note, on Iran, over which Britain is sticking with the EU position rather than moving towards the American one, having voted recently the former at the UN.

Doubtless part of the diplomatic thinking is the calcuation that Donald Trump may not be in place after November – which may be wrong.

Elsewhere, Narendra Modi is taking India in a different direction from its secular heritage. And it is hard to see how this alliance could conjure up a quick alternative provider to Huawei.

But if you believe that the great post-war alliance between America and western Europe was of value, you will smile on a new means of creating a modern version for a different purpose.

Trump is so cunning he has chosen, in Pence, a dull, loyal, evangelical running mate

27 Aug

Mike Pence. This name makes few hearts beat faster. Attempts by the Democrats to use Pence, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, as a stick with which to beat Donald Trump were not a success in 2016, and this year have been pretty much abandoned.

Kamala Harris, recently chosen as the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate, has attracted more attention, in part because Joe Biden is 77, so might not see out a presidential term.

But Trump is 74 and looks less healthy than Biden, or indeed than Ronald Reagan, who at the start of his second term was 73.

If, as some commentators predict, Trump manages in November to defy the polls and win a second term, he may not survive to the end of it.

So Pence, who would then become President, ought to be of considerable interest. But he isn’t, and in that respect he is in accordance with the American tradition.

Running mates are chosen for their electoral value, their appeal to some group of voters, not because they possess the qualities needed to take over in a crisis. Pence’s speeches, including his address last night at the Republican Convention in praise of Trump’s handling of the economy, do not excite people.

They communicate instead a worthy, God-fearing, embattled decency: a calm determination to uphold the armed forces, the right to life, the right to bear arms, “the thin blue line…we’re not going to defund the police”, manufacturing jobs, the lowest rate of unemployment for women in 65 years, an America which “remains America” rather than giving in to “socialism and decline”.

Such rhetoric may be scorned by clever liberals, but millions of Americans still want to believe theirs is the kind of country described by Pence.

Although Trump at the end of February made Pence head of the federal coronavirus task force, the Vice-President has remained almost comically self-effacing in that role, and has never criticised the President for driving a coach and horses through the administration’s attempts to bring the pandemic under control.

Generally speaking, a dull performer tends to be preferred in the vice-presidential role, who will not overshadow the presidential candidate, who has himself usually been chosen by his party not because of his outstanding gifts as a statesman, but because he has the best chance of winning the election and rewarding his supporters with the fruits of office.

Pence is an evangelical, implacably opposed to abortion and to gay rights. This loyal and respectable figure, married to the same woman since 1985, in 2016 performed the invaluable role of reassuring the quarter of American adults who describe themselves as evangelicals that Trump, despite his scandalous private life, could be trusted to champion their beliefs.

The liberal mind recoils at such low calculations. It wants to see democracy as a noble contest between brilliant, high-minded figures, so ignores or downplays the many presidents who could by no stretch of the imagination be described as brilliant or high-minded.

John Nance Garner, the Texan who served as Vice-President for two terms under Franklin D. Roosevelt, is supposed to have warned Lyndon B. Johnson, who in 1960 was wondering whether to accept the invitation to become John F. Kennedy’s running mate, that the vice-presidency “isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss”.

In a more respectable moment, Garner explained that “there cannot be a great vice president. A great man may occupy the office, but there is no way for him to become a great vice president because the office in itself is almost wholly unimportant.”

Except that eight American presidents have died in office, whereupon the vice-president has suddenly become very important. Jared Cohen says in his recent study, Accidental Presidents, that those eight figures “are all part of a history of presidential succession which has been frivolous and has left the country exposed to Constitutional crisis or vulnerable to luck and chance”.

He adds that “the matter of succession has been trivialised by voters, candidates and lawmakers”.

Stern words. But since so many of the elected presidents were ropy, or at least went through desperately ropy patches, it seems a bit unfair to single out the selection of the eight vice-presidents who succeeded to the highest office for criticism.

Two of those eight, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, became great presidents: about the same proportion as among those holders of the office who first entered the White House by winning a presidential election.

The American Constitution is remarkable not because it has ensured the election of an unending stream of world historical figures, but because it has survived the election, down to the present incumbent, of so many presidents who fall far below the level of events.

Gimson’s Presidents: Brief Lives from Washington to Trump is published by Square Peg (£10.99).

Ben Roback: What the Republican and Democratic conventions tell us about the state of the race

26 Aug

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

The Democratic convention concluded last week without the traditional ticker tape parade and fireworks. There were no screaming hordes or huddled delegates. It was the BBC Proms without Rule Britannia, if you will.

That could not have been helped, of course, given the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. Nevertheless, both parties have done their level best to inject energy and enthusiasm into proceedings.

The most notable example was an often overzealous (and at times borderline fanatical) speech made by Kimberly Guilfoyle, National Chair of the Trump Victory Finance Committee 2020. “The best is yet to come!” she yelled, into an empty convention hall. The speech desperately needed the reaction of an excitable crowd. Instead it felt overly aggressive.

Instead, at the Republican Convention so far, the standout moment was Nikki Haley’s more orthodox convention speech. The former South Carolina Governor and United States Ambassador to the United Nations’ serious tone and vision will be viewed for years to come as her launch pad for a presidential run in 2024. Unlike most of her Republican colleagues, Haley attempted to deliver a serious answer to the current question of racism in America. Instead of describing the election as “shaping up to be church, work and schools versus rioting, looting and vandalism” (Donald Trump Jr.), Haley addressed the issue through a personal prism, describing her background growing up with Indian immigrant parents and becoming the first female Governor of South Carolina.

Although previously a supporter of Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, Haley is a rare example of someone who served in the Trump administration and left on her own terms whilst retaining good relations with the President. If Trump loses in November, attention will quickly turn to her own aspirations.

The Republicans and Democrats appear to have pursued very different strategies

At the start of the year, President Trump would have expected and wanted his convention to be almost entirely about the economy – huge economic growth, low unemployment and record stock market rises. The Democrats might have turned their attention to his record and remarks on immigration, women, race and culture in America. How times have changed.

It is quite clear from that convention so far that the Republican game plan is now centred on cultural issues – namely crime, patriotism and American identity. Joe Biden seems to have caught the zeitgeist a little better, recognising that America is jointly experiencing cultural shifts as well as health and economic crises brought about by COVID-19. The Trump campaign and Republican convention has ignored coronavirus entirely.

The second abundantly clear difference has been in personnel.

The Republican convention has been popular viewing for those who like people whose surname is Trump: Eric, Donald Jr., Tiffany and Melania have all spoken so far. Eric Trump, who has tended to be marginally less visible and antagonistic towards the left that his brother Donald Jr., used a portion of his speech to speak directly to his father and lavish praise on the President’s first term.

But the substance of much of his speech was directed at the Republican base and once again reminded us of the tone the campaign will pursue in the next 70 or so days. “Cancel culture”, accusing Democrats of “lacking patriotism” and “disrespecting our national anthem by taking a knee” both featured heavily. Those hoping for an insight into four more years of Trumpism were left underwhelmed.

Several speakers on the Republican stage painted a picture of a nation on the precipice of Communist chaos. Voters must choose between either liberty or looting. Prosperity or protest. Advancement or anarchy. The Democratic candidate, they have argued, is in the pocket of the radical left and does not have the strength to stop towns and cities across America being blighted by the scenes of civil disorder we have seen time and again this year.

The killing of a black man by armed police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has framed the Republican convention. Street battles have raged between protesters and the police following the shooting of Jacob Blake. Republicans have pointed to the disorder as proof of their warning that law and order might come to an end the moment Donald Trump leaves the White House. Democrats counter that it is further evidence of the urgent need to reform police behaviour. Expect the debate to repeat itself long into the election cycle.

Speakers at the virtual Democratic convention have tried to take a more optimistic tone, painting Biden as a man who can unify a country whose social fabric appears to be cracking at the seams. But it is impossible to escape the fact that a question of credibility might underline that message. Barack Obama sailed into the White House – twice – on an upbeat message of hope and change. A young Senator from Chicago with youthful looks to match his optimistic tone, to many Obama embodied his message. Biden might well be a unifier, but as a career creature of Washington, is he best placed to carry a message of change? So far, the underlying message appear to simply be ‘let’s get the other guy out of the White House’.

Viewing figures are helpful but cannot determine a convention’s success or failure

This is a White House and President obsessed with viewing figures. Trump might therefore be concerned with the first night of the Republican convention’s figures. A total of 15.8 million Americans tuned in, nearly 3 million fewer than the 18.7 million viewers who watched the first night of the Democratic National Convention across the same number of networks. Biden’s keynote speech was watched by 21.8 million Americans – a number the President will be desperate to beat when he takes the stage. For historic context, Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention four years ago drew 34.9 million viewers.

Those numbers might have quite understandably reflected the contrasting strategies taken by the parties. The stage and big screens at the Democratic convention were graced by the great and the good of Hollywood and high society. Chaired by Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria and with comedic interludes from Veep and Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the Democratic convention felt at times more like a political take on an all-star awards gala.

In stark contrast, the high watermark of the Republican convention’s first night was a piece to camera by the St Louis couple who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters as they marched past their home. The American public could be forgiven for opting for a night of Netflix instead.

Trump might be lagging in the opinion polls, but he certainly makes for entertaining viewing. For some, politics is a more serious business than that – especially when a country is in the grip of simultaneous health, economic and social crises. When he stands behind the microphone in the White House to deliver his keynote speech, the President does so as the Republican candidate for president but also the sitting Commander in Chief. As such, his keynote speech will command the attention of more than just the nation. You can bet with certainty that his convention speech will be far from conventional.

Tom Tugendhat: It’s time for the Government to stand with its allies – and stand up to Iran

26 Aug

Tom Tugendhat is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tonbridge and Malling.

Israel is losing its reputation in the Middle East. For decades, it played the role of chief villain with nations around the region blaming Mossad for every mishap. Today, Jerusalem is a partner with the United Arab Emirates – just the latest of many to build ties to Jerusalem and seek cooperation.

Jordan and Egypt are about to be joined by some or all of Bahrain, Oman, Sudan. Even Saudi Arabia, while insisting that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative remains the basis of its policy, is making sympathetic noises. Arab popular opinion may still find Israel a difficult issue. But the higher-level dynamics are changing, as new interest-based alignments emerge blinking into the light of day.

Tehran is seeing to that. Over the past decade or so, Britain’s friends and partners have focussed on one thing – the threat of violent Iranian subversion and perhaps direct attack.

From Syria to Yemen, Arab states know well the danger that Iran poses. Militias paid for by Tehran and controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps have turned tension into conflict, and fuelled wars that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed whole countries.

That makes the UK’s recent UN vote even more surprising. On 14 August we, along with France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia, abstained on a motion to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Only the United States and the Dominican Republic voted in favour.

As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, put it: “the result of the vote in [the UNSC] on arms embargo against Iran shows—once more—the US’ isolation.” It’s hard to argue that’s in Britain’s interest. Even less so, given how many of our regional allies are counting on us to hold the line.

Should the embargo end, the next step is clear: Iran will be looking to buy Russian or Chinese air defence weapons to put around the nuclear plants that it has long believed is essential to the regime’s survival. The International Atomic Energy Agency has already confirmed that Iran has increased its low-enriched uranium stockpile to more than 300 kilograms, enriched uranium to a purity greater than 3.67 percent, stored excess heavy water, tested advanced centrifuges, refused inspections into suspected nuclear sites and may be concealing more undeclared nuclear materials and activities.

It will seek to accelerate the development of its ballistic missile programme, particularly in the area of guidance systems. It will become even more aggressive in cyberspace. And it will redouble its political and material support for the Shia militias that are corruptly colonising Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Again, it’s hard to see how that helps Britain.

Over the past four years, the approach of the Trump Administration can hardly be described as diplomatic but, despite its tone, its respose to the clear violations of the Iranian regime is based on the actions it’s seeing in Tehran. The UK, by contrast, seems to have an Iran policy more focussed on remaining close to European allies (with a disdain for the current US administration) than on the actions of the dictatorship in Tehran.

That decision to abstain puts us even further apart from our most important security partner and regional allies – undermining a global approach, and pushing us firmly back towards the EU we have just left. Worse, it risks raising questions about the veto that none of us would like to have posed.

Now that the US has lost the vote on renewing the embargo, the White House will, no doubt, use the so-called snapback mechanism to reimpose sanctions as agreed in a 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution (SCR). This poses a problem for us.

The snapback mechanism included in SCR 2231 allows participants in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran deal’s full name) to reimpose sanctions unilaterally. In 2018, the US withdrew from the deal, so some – Russia and China, no doubt – will claim that Washington can no longer trigger the snapback. UK, France, and others will have to decide: is the deal worth it?

Blocking or even abstaining on the likely vote against the US’s determination to trigger a snapback would undermine the alliance and weaken the UN. The temporary relief of allowing the Iran deal to continue, with the UK standing alongside European allies against the Trump White House, would be overwhelmed in coming years, since no US administration could accept being bound into a UN system without a veto.

“Iran continues to conduct ballistic missile activity that is inconsistent with SCR 2231.” Karen Pierce, our Ambassador to the United States, said in June 2019. That hasn’t changed. But nor has the UK’s posture. We continue to try to perform the diplomatic splits – denouncing Iran, but at the same time remaining committed to a JCPOA that has been consistently violated by Tehran and effectively abandoned by the US.

Iran continues to hold British hostages, most notably Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, and spread terror in the region. In Iraq, its militia allies are assassinating young activists – female and male – with impunity.  They are rocketing Baghdad’s Green Zone and bombing military convoys, with the aim of humiliating the new Prime Minister, Mustafa al Kadhimi, and showing him he cannot depend on the US – or any other Western power – for his survival.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah clearly thinks it will not be held to account for the assassination of Rafiq al Hariri in 2005 or for the massive recent explosion at Beirut’s port.

In Syria, Iran has saved the murderous Bashar al Assad and will want rewarding. Some of the militias it has deployed there recently held a public event in Mashhad to advertise their successes, and announce that Jerusalem was their next target.

And now Tehran is offering Beijing privileged access to its energy resources and perhaps also a trading and naval base on the Indian Ocean. None of this is in our interests. But instead of siding with our allies and giving ourselves more leverage over a dictatorship that respects nothing but strength, we are remaining wedded to a deal that has become irrelevant to the two principal signatories.

The time has come for us to change policy. Even under the Obama administration, it is far from certain the JCPOA would have endured as US strategic interests – no matter who is in the White House – lie with regional allies, not the Iranian autocrats, and it seems unlikely that a new Democratic administration would attempt to breathe life into the deal.

The UK should now be joining the US in calling out the real threat to peace in the Middle East and standing with our friends in the region—from Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem. We need to defend the principles of international cooperation, not see them used as a fig leaf for human rights violations, war and nuclear proliferation.

If we’re going to convince allies around the world our place at the UN Security Council works for them and defends our common interest in a world based on agreements, our policy on Iran has got to change. Abstaining shows we’re not prepared to stand up for our friends and won’t stand with our allies – and that weakens everyone, but most of all us.

Tom Tugendhat: It’s time for the Government to stand with its allies – and stand up to Iran

26 Aug

Tom Tugendhat is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tonbridge and Malling.

Israel is losing its reputation in the Middle East. For decades, it played the role of chief villain with nations around the region blaming Mossad for every mishap. Today, Jerusalem is a partner with the United Arab Emirates – just the latest of many to build ties to Jerusalem and seek cooperation.

Jordan and Egypt are about to be joined by some or all of Bahrain, Oman, Sudan. Even Saudi Arabia, while insisting that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative remains the basis of its policy, is making sympathetic noises. Arab popular opinion may still find Israel a difficult issue. But the higher-level dynamics are changing, as new interest-based alignments emerge blinking into the light of day.

Tehran is seeing to that. Over the past decade or so, Britain’s friends and partners have focussed on one thing – the threat of violent Iranian subversion and perhaps direct attack.

From Syria to Yemen, Arab states know well the danger that Iran poses. Militias paid for by Tehran and controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps have turned tension into conflict, and fuelled wars that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed whole countries.

That makes the UK’s recent UN vote even more surprising. On 14 August we, along with France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia, abstained on a motion to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Only the United States and the Dominican Republic voted in favour.

As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, put it: “the result of the vote in [the UNSC] on arms embargo against Iran shows—once more—the US’ isolation.” It’s hard to argue that’s in Britain’s interest. Even less so, given how many of our regional allies are counting on us to hold the line.

Should the embargo end, the next step is clear: Iran will be looking to buy Russian or Chinese air defence weapons to put around the nuclear plants that it has long believed is essential to the regime’s survival. The International Atomic Energy Agency has already confirmed that Iran has increased its low-enriched uranium stockpile to more than 300 kilograms, enriched uranium to a purity greater than 3.67 percent, stored excess heavy water, tested advanced centrifuges, refused inspections into suspected nuclear sites and may be concealing more undeclared nuclear materials and activities.

It will seek to accelerate the development of its ballistic missile programme, particularly in the area of guidance systems. It will become even more aggressive in cyberspace. And it will redouble its political and material support for the Shia militias that are corruptly colonising Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Again, it’s hard to see how that helps Britain.

Over the past four years, the approach of the Trump Administration can hardly be described as diplomatic but, despite its tone, its respose to the clear violations of the Iranian regime is based on the actions it’s seeing in Tehran. The UK, by contrast, seems to have an Iran policy more focussed on remaining close to European allies (with a disdain for the current US administration) than on the actions of the dictatorship in Tehran.

That decision to abstain puts us even further apart from our most important security partner and regional allies – undermining a global approach, and pushing us firmly back towards the EU we have just left. Worse, it risks raising questions about the veto that none of us would like to have posed.

Now that the US has lost the vote on renewing the embargo, the White House will, no doubt, use the so-called snapback mechanism to reimpose sanctions as agreed in a 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution (SCR). This poses a problem for us.

The snapback mechanism included in SCR 2231 allows participants in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran deal’s full name) to reimpose sanctions unilaterally. In 2018, the US withdrew from the deal, so some – Russia and China, no doubt – will claim that Washington can no longer trigger the snapback. UK, France, and others will have to decide: is the deal worth it?

Blocking or even abstaining on the likely vote against the US’s determination to trigger a snapback would undermine the alliance and weaken the UN. The temporary relief of allowing the Iran deal to continue, with the UK standing alongside European allies against the Trump White House, would be overwhelmed in coming years, since no US administration could accept being bound into a UN system without a veto.

“Iran continues to conduct ballistic missile activity that is inconsistent with SCR 2231.” Karen Pierce, our Ambassador to the United States, said in June 2019. That hasn’t changed. But nor has the UK’s posture. We continue to try to perform the diplomatic splits – denouncing Iran, but at the same time remaining committed to a JCPOA that has been consistently violated by Tehran and effectively abandoned by the US.

Iran continues to hold British hostages, most notably Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, and spread terror in the region. In Iraq, its militia allies are assassinating young activists – female and male – with impunity.  They are rocketing Baghdad’s Green Zone and bombing military convoys, with the aim of humiliating the new Prime Minister, Mustafa al Kadhimi, and showing him he cannot depend on the US – or any other Western power – for his survival.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah clearly thinks it will not be held to account for the assassination of Rafiq al Hariri in 2005 or for the massive recent explosion at Beirut’s port.

In Syria, Iran has saved the murderous Bashar al Assad and will want rewarding. Some of the militias it has deployed there recently held a public event in Mashhad to advertise their successes, and announce that Jerusalem was their next target.

And now Tehran is offering Beijing privileged access to its energy resources and perhaps also a trading and naval base on the Indian Ocean. None of this is in our interests. But instead of siding with our allies and giving ourselves more leverage over a dictatorship that respects nothing but strength, we are remaining wedded to a deal that has become irrelevant to the two principal signatories.

The time has come for us to change policy. Even under the Obama administration, it is far from certain the JCPOA would have endured as US strategic interests – no matter who is in the White House – lie with regional allies, not the Iranian autocrats, and it seems unlikely that a new Democratic administration would attempt to breathe life into the deal.

The UK should now be joining the US in calling out the real threat to peace in the Middle East and standing with our friends in the region—from Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem. We need to defend the principles of international cooperation, not see them used as a fig leaf for human rights violations, war and nuclear proliferation.

If we’re going to convince allies around the world our place at the UN Security Council works for them and defends our common interest in a world based on agreements, our policy on Iran has got to change. Abstaining shows we’re not prepared to stand up for our friends and won’t stand with our allies – and that weakens everyone, but most of all us.

Tom Harris: Scottish Labour’s continuing capitulation to nationalism reeks of political desperation

20 Aug

Tom Harris was a Labour MP from 2001 to 2015. He resigned his party membership in 2018.

The Scottish Labour Party is not proving to be as reliable an ally in the fight against nationalism as many of its current and former supporters might have hoped. And that is being generous.

The latest capitulation came yesterday in the chamber of the Scottish parliament, when a motion tabled by the Scottish government on the proposed new UK single market was debated. There is so much dishonesty and hypocrisy involved here that to cover every aspect would demand too much space. So I will try to summarise.

SNP ministers, for perfectly understandable reasons, don’t like the idea of a single market in the UK, despite our having enjoyed the benefits of one since 1707. About 60 per cent of all Scotland’s exports are destined for markets in the rest of the UK, far outweighing the importance of the EU single market.

Yet the nationalists have consistently prioritised, in a political sense, the EU single market over the UK because… well, because it suits them. Scottish nationalism has thrived by emphasising Scotland’s links with Europe and diminishing its historical, economic and social ties to the rest of the country.

The strategy seems to be working, so who can blame them?

Not Scottish Labour, that’s for sure, which lent its wholehearted support yesterday to the nationalist narrative. The SNP’s ostensible opposition to a UK single market is (it is claimed) based on fears that a UK-US trade deal will flood the country with sub-standard food which would then be sold in every part of the UK, denying devolved governments the right to impose tougher food standards in their neck of the woods.

Labour then piled in with its own grievance about how a post-EU single UK market would somehow prevent state aid being offered to parts of the economy. This is the same Scottish Labour Party that, virtually unanimously, campaigned against leaving the EU, despite the commission’s well-known restrictions on state aid in member countries. Brussels preventing member states bailing out companies is fine, but we can’t have Westminster doing that, can we? (Ironically, it’s far more likely that a post-EU Conservative government will look more kindly on state aid than the EU ever did, as we have seen in recent months).

When we were still in the EU, the devolved administrations had no power to restrict the sale of any item that was on sale anywhere else in the EU single market, nor did they ask for such powers. Anything manufactured in the EU, or even imported into it and deemed an acceptable standard, was A-OK by nationalists. But now that we’re outside the EU, trade barriers within our own island are the only thing standing between us and a lorry load of chlorinated chicken.

Let’s cast our minds back to the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the embryonic trade agreement between the EU and the US that hit the rocks in 2018 after President Trump called a halt to the talks.

It is quite possible that if Hillary Clinton – that figure so beloved of the left and, we must assume, the nationalists also – had become president in 2017 instead of Trump, the TTIP process would have continued and might by now have been enacted.

Yet where was the opposition in Labour and SNP ranks to a deal that was negotiated in the strictest privacy and whose terms could only be speculated upon even as talks were on-going?

In the 1990s, Scottish Labour cynically and dishonestly painted the Conservatives as anti-Scottish because of its then opposition to devolution. The tactic proved profitable in terms of electoral gains. But then – and who could have predicted this? – the SNP learned that lesson and turned it on Labour itself, decrying Scottish Labour as anti-Scottish because it opposed independence. Again, the electoral dividends were considerable.

And now Scottish Labour is returning the compliment by taking a leaf out of the nationalists’ playbook and obediently repeating the mantra, “London bad, Brussels good”. The SNP is so opposed to the British state that it would rather have Scottish fishing policy decided in Brussels than in Edinburgh. Labour follows this line.

Likewise, nationalists would prefer Scotland’s trade policy to be decided in Brussels than in London, the former being trusted to produce a marvellous and, no doubt, progressive, deal while one negotiated by those evil Tories in London would necessitate customs checks at Gretna. Again, Labour is happy to parrot this propaganda too.

Perhaps Labour’s continuing capitulation to nationalism is an inevitable response to a succession of increasingly humiliating electoral defeats; its members and elected representatives must gaze upon the SNP’s seemingly unstoppable rise and conclude that Nicola Sturgeon’s party is doing and saying something right.

To paraphrase an old (and funny) anti-French joke, how many Scottish Labour MSPs does it take to defend the Union? Answer: no one knows because it’s never been tried.

Tom Harris: Scottish Labour’s continuing capitulation to nationalism reeks of political desperation

20 Aug

Tom Harris was a Labour MP from 2001 to 2015. He resigned his party membership in 2018.

The Scottish Labour Party is not proving to be as reliable an ally in the fight against nationalism as many of its current and former supporters might have hoped. And that is being generous.

The latest capitulation came yesterday in the chamber of the Scottish parliament, when a motion tabled by the Scottish government on the proposed new UK single market was debated. There is so much dishonesty and hypocrisy involved here that to cover every aspect would demand too much space. So I will try to summarise.

SNP ministers, for perfectly understandable reasons, don’t like the idea of a single market in the UK, despite our having enjoyed the benefits of one since 1707. About 60 per cent of all Scotland’s exports are destined for markets in the rest of the UK, far outweighing the importance of the EU single market.

Yet the nationalists have consistently prioritised, in a political sense, the EU single market over the UK because… well, because it suits them. Scottish nationalism has thrived by emphasising Scotland’s links with Europe and diminishing its historical, economic and social ties to the rest of the country.

The strategy seems to be working, so who can blame them?

Not Scottish Labour, that’s for sure, which lent its wholehearted support yesterday to the nationalist narrative. The SNP’s ostensible opposition to a UK single market is (it is claimed) based on fears that a UK-US trade deal will flood the country with sub-standard food which would then be sold in every part of the UK, denying devolved governments the right to impose tougher food standards in their neck of the woods.

Labour then piled in with its own grievance about how a post-EU single UK market would somehow prevent state aid being offered to parts of the economy. This is the same Scottish Labour Party that, virtually unanimously, campaigned against leaving the EU, despite the commission’s well-known restrictions on state aid in member countries. Brussels preventing member states bailing out companies is fine, but we can’t have Westminster doing that, can we? (Ironically, it’s far more likely that a post-EU Conservative government will look more kindly on state aid than the EU ever did, as we have seen in recent months).

When we were still in the EU, the devolved administrations had no power to restrict the sale of any item that was on sale anywhere else in the EU single market, nor did they ask for such powers. Anything manufactured in the EU, or even imported into it and deemed an acceptable standard, was A-OK by nationalists. But now that we’re outside the EU, trade barriers within our own island are the only thing standing between us and a lorry load of chlorinated chicken.

Let’s cast our minds back to the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the embryonic trade agreement between the EU and the US that hit the rocks in 2018 after President Trump called a halt to the talks.

It is quite possible that if Hillary Clinton – that figure so beloved of the left and, we must assume, the nationalists also – had become president in 2017 instead of Trump, the TTIP process would have continued and might by now have been enacted.

Yet where was the opposition in Labour and SNP ranks to a deal that was negotiated in the strictest privacy and whose terms could only be speculated upon even as talks were on-going?

In the 1990s, Scottish Labour cynically and dishonestly painted the Conservatives as anti-Scottish because of its then opposition to devolution. The tactic proved profitable in terms of electoral gains. But then – and who could have predicted this? – the SNP learned that lesson and turned it on Labour itself, decrying Scottish Labour as anti-Scottish because it opposed independence. Again, the electoral dividends were considerable.

And now Scottish Labour is returning the compliment by taking a leaf out of the nationalists’ playbook and obediently repeating the mantra, “London bad, Brussels good”. The SNP is so opposed to the British state that it would rather have Scottish fishing policy decided in Brussels than in Edinburgh. Labour follows this line.

Likewise, nationalists would prefer Scotland’s trade policy to be decided in Brussels than in London, the former being trusted to produce a marvellous and, no doubt, progressive, deal while one negotiated by those evil Tories in London would necessitate customs checks at Gretna. Again, Labour is happy to parrot this propaganda too.

Perhaps Labour’s continuing capitulation to nationalism is an inevitable response to a succession of increasingly humiliating electoral defeats; its members and elected representatives must gaze upon the SNP’s seemingly unstoppable rise and conclude that Nicola Sturgeon’s party is doing and saying something right.

To paraphrase an old (and funny) anti-French joke, how many Scottish Labour MSPs does it take to defend the Union? Answer: no one knows because it’s never been tried.