Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tower Hill to Mayfair, the Message is the Same

 WORKERS from London's Crossrail project where Rene Tkacik was killed last year were among those who gathered by the statue of the Unknown Building Worker on Tower Hill on Tuesday morning, April 28, for International Workers Memorial Day.

Rene Tkacik was buried under a falling section of 'shotcrete' in a tunnel at Holborn.  Speakers who had attended the inquest on Rene at St.Pancras Coroners Court on February 23 said fellow workers who had escaped near misses were not allowed to give evidence, nor were those reporting that contractors on Crossrail had sacked workers who complained of inadequate safety.

Phil Lewis from London Hazard Centre read a letter from Families Against Corporate Killing, remembering young workers killed while still in their teens. Peter Farrel from the Construction Safety Campaign said fines for safety breaches were nothing to building companies making huge profits. He also called for release of government documents about the jailing of the 1972 Shrewsbury building pickets.

Shadow Employment Minister Stephen Timms pledged that if Labour was returned in the election on May 7 it would reverse Tory cuts in HSE inspections, and would order a public enquiry into blacklisting of building workers. Gail Cartmail from Unite the Union urged workers to defend the National Health Service, and to oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which would undermine both services and safety regulations.

UCATT building union members laid a wreath under the statue, apprentices released a flight of black baloons for every building worker killed in the past year, and the crowd held a minute's silence in tribute.

  In the afternoon the action moved to posh Mayfair, and specifically South Audley Street, where the State of Qatar has its embassy. Migrant workers, mainly from south Asia, are hard at work in the blazing heat of this Gulf state on the stadium and infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.  Many of these workers are from Nepal. If present working conditions and rate of fatalities continue it looks as though the World Cup preparations will have killed as many people as the Nepalese earthquake.

On February 19, 2014 The Guardian's chief sports correspondent, Owen Gibson, reported the Indian embassy in Doha had confirmed 502 Indian migrant workers died since January 2012. The International Trade Union Confederation also called to the deaths and the plight of migrant workers in Qatar, many of whom have been employed under a system called Kafala, which requires the workers to pay sponsors to come to Qatar.  Once there they find themselves in debt bondage, exploited and living in poor conditions, and unable to leave a job.

Migrant workers brought into Qatar for the building boom and other work are now the bulk of the country's population.

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, told a European Parliament hearing: "Qatar is a slave state for 1.4 million migrant workers. It doesn't have to be that way. Qatar chooses to build its modern nation with the labor of migrant workers and deliberately chooses to maintain a system that treats these workers as less than human. . . . If you continue to run the World Cup in a state which enslaves workers, it shames the game. The government must end the system of kafala if the World Cup is to be played in Qatar in 2022."

"Companies, governments, and FIFA must not be complicit in treating workers as slaves in Qatar and the escalating death toll. Our conservative estimate, based on data on deaths of Nepalese and Indian workers alone, is that more than 4,000 workers will die before a ball is kicked in 2022," Burrow said.

A Qatar employment ministry's statement said it had increased the number of trained labor inspectors by 25 percent, and was hiring additional inspectors. It also promised to reform the kafala system.

But at the end of the year a report said:
"Nepalese migrants building the infrastructure to host the 2022 World Cup have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014 – despite Qatar’s promises to improve their working conditions, the Guardian has learned. The figure excludes deaths of Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers, raising fears that if fatalities among all migrants were taken into account the toll would almost certainly be more than one a day. Qatar had vowed to reform the industry after the Guardian exposed the desperate plight of many of its migrant workers last year. The government commissioned an investigation by the international law firm DLA Piper and promised to implement recommendations listed in a report published in May.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

No "Ordinary Bloke" , that Nigel

Making Plans for Nigel
A Beginner's Guide to Farage and UKIP,  by Harry Paterson
                                                                 Five Leaves Publications. £7.99

Caught by a UKIP party political broadcast on TV the other day, and unable to immediately lay my hand on the remote, I had to watch the Leader make his triumphal entry at an Essex motel and hear him say he was "Just an ordinary bloke"  before I could switch over to something -it could have been anything -less nauseating.

Ordinary bloke?!  He might play the part, as if some saloon bar con man in an Ealing  comedy was what 21st century Britain finds "ordinary",  but Nigel Farage's daddy was a stockbroker, Dulwich College was his school, and some masters there thought he showed fascist tendencies. But as Harry Paterson tells us, Farage's final school report said Dulwich "would be a poorer place without this boy's personality

Being an 'ordinary bloke', young Nigel followed father's footsteps into the City. joining  US commodities brokers Drexel Burnham Lambert on the London Metal Exchange. There followed stints with Credit Lyonnais, and others.  A friend from City days recalls the social life, in smoke-filled rooms, with a bunch of happy traders gathered around Farage.  "There'd always be a vey politically incorrect atmosphere that just relaxed everybody".

A Tory since his schooldays, Farage left the party in 1993 over the Maastricht treaty, and joined LSE professor Alan Sked in founding UKIP.    The partnership, and UKIP's interest in an educated criticism of European policies and treaties, was not to last. According to Sked, Farage was not unduly worried about the National Front and British National Party types who came into his Party, nor inhibited by political correctness when expressing himself, at least in private, about the darker-complexioned Britons whom he didn't want.

Not that UKIP has not found it useful to put the odd minority member on display.  Nor has Nigel Farage's negativity towards the European Union and its parliament prevented  him  and his chums going to Brussels, and doing well out of it. Though UKIP might have benefited from public disenchantment with "moneygrabbing" Westminster MPs, it seems UKIP's shameless  MEPs can leave them standing.

 As the Mirror's story headline put it on January 12, 2014, "UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Euro MPs pocket £800k in expenses - despite wanting UK to leave."   Farage put his wife on the payroll, collecting £30,000 a year from Brussels.  On April 15, 2014, the Telegraph reported that a complaint about Farage had been filed with the EU fraud office.  It said the UKIP leader had been collecting £16,000 a year towards his office at Bognor Regis which had been donated to the party by supporters.
Another generous source of funds has been a Greek businessman called Demetri Marchessini, whose views on women, rape, and gays would have been considered reactionary, even barbaric (he says there is no such thing as "date rape"), in the 19th Century, never mind the 21st. But as the ancient Romans use to say, money has no smell.

Some of the people whom UKIP has brought forward as candidates or even had elected are far from "ordinary", unless you're casting an edgy new political series of  Little Britain.  Harry Paterson reminds us of the woman who earnestly recommended the notorious 'Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion' as a guide to world events, and the man who blamed gay sex and marriage for the flooding in the south-west.

Godfrey Bloom, a former flatmate of Farage was elected UKIP MEP for Yorkshire and Humberside. Appointed to the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee, he told journalists: “No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age.”

He complained that women did not clean behind the fridge, and amiably joked with his own party's women members at conference that they were all "sluts".  At the Oxford Union he interrupted a disabled student to mock his disability . Suspended from UKIP after remarks about aid to "Bongo Bongo land" - in fairness a phrase previously made famous by Tory Alan Clark - Bloom quit in October, 2014, complaining that UKIP had become too "politically correct".  That month he appeared as star speaker at the far-right Traditional Britain conference, though apparently without the colourful gags that had made his name.

Alex Wood, the UKIP candidate for Blackhorse Vale in Somerset was suspended after a photograph was published of him appearing to give a Nazi salute, though he explained that he had been reaching for his girfriend's mobile phone while leaning over a pot plant. More recently his name was linked to an antisemitic tweet sent to journalist Owen Jones, though Wood says someone else has hacked his account. According to Yeovil wannabe Nazi Joshua Bonehill it was Wood who defecated in the aisle at Tesco's, an offence which others have attributed to Bonehill.  He says the pair of them had been drinking together, having been buddies until he discovered Wood was Jewish.  Perhaps the misfortunate young UKIP candidate has just been accident prone, and kept bad company.   

Exasperated that interviewers kept asking him about "the idiots in UKIP" (his words),  Farage  seems comfortable with his own prejudices, and contradictions, less so with anyone who points them out.  As his name suggests, he is of part Huguenot immigrant ancestry, and his second wife is German, yet he complains about hearing foreign languages spoken during a suburban train journey in London, and says he would not like a Romanian family living next door. Asked whether it would matter if they were another nationality, say German, Farage retorts "I think you know the difference".

The UKIP leader seems able to change his line on something like the NHS from one day to the next, but maybe policy is less important than gaining power,  and anyway the plebs are not supposed to ask. We may have caught a glimpse of the real Nigel Farage at the end of a TV debate when he complained the audience was too "left-wing", and accused the "left-wing" BBC -which has given him so much airspace denied other political figures -of picking an audience biased against him. 

Were he and his party ever to take power we might hear them take the same view of dissenting voters, but hopefully that remains an unlikely prospect, and meanwhile we  look forward to him making a similar complaint against the electorate in South Thanet.

Is Farage, then, a fascist?  Harry Paterson does not think so, and he gives short shift  to anyone who unthinkingly slaps on such a label. The writer does take note of UKIP's alliance with far Right parties in Europe, and more ominously, the way Britain First, better known for stunts outside mosques, has set itself up as UKIP's protector, threatening opponents and proclaiming on Facebook "UKIP at the Ballot Box, Britain First on the Streets".

Describing  Farage's politics as "Thatcherite but not Conservative", Paterson points out that many voters don't even see UKIP as right-wing, at the same time uncovering some of the right-wing thinking behind its 'simple' image. Pointing to some of the myths that have become widespread with the help of popular media, and which mainstream parties -Labour included -have gone along with, or failed to rebut, he also shows that the Left has to think beyond the next street protest, or its own internal wrangles, if it is to face its responsibility of raising awareness and really defeating the Right.      

To order online:

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Willie comes back to haunt the Highlands (and Britain's secret state)

REMEMBERING WILLIAM McRAE and raising questions about his death. Ex-policeman Donald Morrison (in blue) and campaigner Mark MacNicol by memorial cairn.

 IT could make a strong episode of 'New Tricks',  and it featured in the background of one of Ian Rankin's 'Rebus' novels.  Last year the case was the subject of a play by Mark MacNicol, 3,000 Trees.  But the death of Scots lawyer Willie McRae, on April 6, 1985, was real, and so far as many people are concerned, remains a mystery to be investigated.
At a time when some newspapers and political opponents seem intent on character assassination of  Scottish National Party leaders, campaigners are suggesting that McRae, a prominent SNP activist, might literally have been assassinated.

The lawyer had left Glasgow the evening before, to drive to his holiday home in Dornie, a former fishing village on the coast of Wester Ross, in the Highlands. He was found badly injured in his  crashed car next morning. The car was straddling a burn on the moor a short distance from the A887 and A87 road junction, near Glenmoriston.

He was taken to hospital, where medical staff found a gunshot wound behind his right ear. Police later recovered a weapon near where the car had been found, and McRae's death was officially ruled to have been suicide.
But thirty years later, an online petition has been launched, urging Scotland's Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland to call a Fatal Accident Inquiry into Willie McRae's death.  Roughly equivalent to an Inquest in England, Fatal Accident Inquiries are normally held only if the fatality occurred at work, or if there are suspicious circumstances.

Unlike a coroner's inquest, a Fatal Accident Inquiry is not held with a jury.


Many people suspect that Willie Mcrae was not only murdered, but  murdered  with the  involvement of state security services.

"There are many who claim William was killed by 'them' - the same 'them' that killed Hilda Murrell", Michael Strathan, friend of William McRae, quoted in the News on Sunday, 5th November 1987.

Hilda Murrell, whose body was found outside her home town of Shrewsbury, had been the target of surveillance by both private and state agencies, because of her opposition to nuclear power but also because it was thought her nephew, serving in the Royal Navy, might have asked her to hide material about the sinking of the Admiral Belgrano during the Falklands war.

Willie McRae was an unusual character, a wartime naval officer and aide de camp to Moutbatten, he helped draft israel's maritime law and became professor emeritus at the University of Haifa.  Yet beside his open political campaigning with the SNP. serving for a time as vice chairman of the Party, there are stories of his having links to clandestine nationalist groups preparing armed struggle. McRae's old partner insists the only contacts the lawyer had with such people was in his professional capacity.

Supplying fashionable topicality, the Scottish Sunday Express ran a story in December claiming McRae had gathered information about a paedophile ring among the judiciary.

What is known is that like Hilda Murrell, McRae upset the nuclear industry, in his case organising a campaign to stop them dumping radio-active waste from Dounreay in the Galloway hills.  And he was under secret state surveillance.  Former police officer Donald Morrison has confirmed that he was watching McRae and says the Special Branch followed the lawyer when he left home that final evening.

Mark MacNicol, who last year produced the play 3000 Trees about the McRae case, says the aim of the petition is to show there is serious public concern about the death of McRae, sufficient to justify a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI).

"It is unrealistic for us to expect an FAI would actually find out who killed Willie McRae," he said: "But a satisfactory result would be that an FAI overturns the suicide verdict and replaces it with a verdict of unlawful death."

The petition, launched on campaigning website, states there are sufficient questions to warrant a "long overdue FAI" into McRae's death.

MacNicol said there are number of serious allegations that require thorough investigation, such as McRae being under "highly aggressive" surveillance by Special Branch, which has led to an inquiry being "avoided by multiple Lord Advocates since 1985".

The petition also outlines concerns which have been raised about other aspects of the case, such as the gun with which McRae was said to have shot himself being found a distance away from his vehicle, according to one of the first witnesses on the scene. It is also said McRae left Glasgow with briefcases which were missing from the car when he was found.

Over 6,500 signatures have been gathered for the petition so far. The campaign group will investigate other action - such as judicial review - if it is rejected by the Lord Advocate.

A Crown Office spokesman said: "Crown Counsel are satisfied with the extensive investigations into the death of William McRae and have instructed that an FAI will not be held into the circumstances of Mr McRae's death."

But whatever the authorities decide, it looks as though poor Willie Mcrae is back to haunt the Highlands  - and the British secret state.

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More than Chutzpah Behind the Bulldozers


A historic London pub has been demolished by a developer's bulldozers, without planning permission, and without warning to people in neighbouring properties or any precautions for their safety. Even the landlady was not told.

Now people are watching to see what action Westminster council takes, and demanding the company responsible are compelled to make good what they have destroyed or that the site is taken off them and used for social housing -and a new pub or social club.

 "Passers by stared in amazement as two bulldozers tore into Carlton Tavern in Carlton Vale, destroying its shell and all its contents including a wide screen television, darts trophies, pictures, and a pint glass left on a table.

No safety precautions had been put in place resulting in concerns about security of nearby buildings and if the utilities had been switched off prior.

Patsy Lord, the pub’s landlady, rushed to the scene from her home in Maida Vale after she was alerted to the demolition and told she needed to move her son’s car. After opening for business on Monday and hosting an Easter quiz, she was told the pub would be closed for an ‘inventory'."

Local councillor Tom Crockett said: “Neither the council, my fellow councillors nor local residents had any notice of this demolition which I saw with my own eyes being conducted without any obvious safety precautions such as hoardings, barriers or formal traffic controls. All took place as children on school holidays played outside and unsuspecting traffic went past through clouds of smoke and dust.

(This might well have included asbestos dust - RP)

“The demolition clearly took place under a cloak of secrecy; neither the locals nor the landlady knew. Televisions remained on the walls and the bar appeared fully stocked.

“We are urging officers to take the strongest action open to them. I have personally taken the time to ensure that photographic and film evidence has been collated and passed to officers for referral to the Health and Safety Executive whom I urge to consider bringing prosecutions.”

A Westminster council spokesperson told Londonist: “Westminster City Council’s Planning Enforcement Team received a report that the Carlton Tavern was in the process of being demolished. A planning inspector of the planning enforcement team visited the site immediately following receipt of the report and noted at 2.30pm that the building had indeed been substantially demolished with only one side wall remaining
This is truly outrageous behaviour which has to be dealt with properly. "

 In the past we have remarked on the mystery fires which destroyed some derelict pubs when owners were waiting for planning permission.  But in this case the company neither took its time waiting nor resorted to subterfuge. It is possible one reason for its hurry was that a preservation order on the building was expected, so the bulldozers were ordered in first.

Councillor Rita Begum, Maida Vale ward for Labour, said: "It was a shock. I have never seen anything like it in my entire life. "I went past just the other day and there were people drinking inside the pub - there was no warning whatsoever.

"They were going to confirm it as a listed building on Wednesday. I think the developers found out it was going to be a listed building and that's why the destroyed it.

Planning permission was sought in June 2014 on behalf of CLTX Ltd by Kieran Rafferty, of KR Planning, who describes himself on Twitter as an "independent planning consultant helping people deal with the anchors on society". 

As for the chances of even Tory Westminster council having to take tough action, this may not be easy.  The company which had applied to build flats on the site  is C. L. T. X., based in Tel  Aviv.

As one commentator says, "The only director of C.L.T.X. Ltd is Ori Calif, born 1977 (Director ID: 915883939) Registered address and Trading Address in London is 21 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3HH. Other registered address for Calif is 8 Shaul Hamelech Blvd, Tel Aviv, Israel 64733. Any lawsuit will be an issue since the company is only worth £942 and has £1,458 Cash It has £5,917 Assets with £4,975 Liabilities. I suppose jail would suffice!!"

This has brought some wry allusions to Israeli house demolitions, and we could also refer to the use of planning regulations to order them.  But more to the point, we must wonder how a company based so far away, and with such modest assets, could find its way among the big boys of the London property market and propose to build a block of flats, with apparently less cash than you would normally need to pay a deposit or raise a mortgage to buy a flat in London?

It must take chutzpah, sure, but surely also require good contacts. My guess, as a mere amateur with no business experience or proper knowledge of these matters, is that this company must have backing. And if they were tipped off that the building was about to be listed, so that they decided to send in the bulldozers right away, that sounds like they or their advisors had a useful contact in Westminster council's planning office.  Only saying.... 

  • C.L.T.X. limited - incorporated 25 March 2011. Companies House has a proposal to strike off, perhaps due the non delivery of their 31 March 2014 accounts which were due 31 December 2014. Registered office 21 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3HH. One director - a Mr Ori Calif of 8 Shaul Hamelech Blvd, Tel Aviv, Israel 64733. C.L.T.X. has a subsidiary Ye Old White Bear Limited - again registered at 21 Bedford Square (this is probably their accountant's office). Ye Old White Bear was founded on 11 June 2013, no accounts or company return ever made so there is again a Companies House proposal to strike off. Our old friend Ori Calif is the sole director, but this time his address is given as 28 Kensington Park Gardens, Notting Hill W11 2QS and his occupation given as lawyer. There is a law firm called Ori Calif & Co registered at 8 Shaul Hamelech Blvd which claims a special focus on international taxation and real estate. Don't know if it is connected but there is a pub called The Old White Bear in Hampstead which was supposedly saved from being developed into a 6 bedroom house last year, but apparently has yet to re-open as a pub.-         'Wolfie Smith'

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Secrecy, Blacklists and Whistleblowing



Charlotte Munro, public service whistleblower reinstated.  Nice to win sometimes.

MORE questions have been raised than are being answered in the run-up to this election, but whoever wins, we should not let them go away.  We're used to politicians telling us how much (of our)money they have thrown to the National Health Service, swearing how much they appreciate the service, and assuring us it is safe in their hands.

We're not supposed to look whose hands are in the till.   That's covered by secrecy, even though it is our business.

At the beginning of this year came the news that an £80 million contract to run cancer scans had been given to a private health firm with a Tory MP on their board, despite a rival NHS consortium allegedly offering to carry out the work for £7 million less.

The NHS Trust that runs Royal Stoke University Hospital in Staffordshire put together a consortium with other NHS hospitals to enter a “competitive bid” for a 10-year contract to run scans across Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Liverpool, and Lancashire. The scans, known as PET-CT, are mostly used for diagnosing and measuring cancers.

NHS England, the “head office” of the health service, rejected the bid and awarded the contract to Alliance Medical, a private health firm whose board members include former Tory cabinet minister and Kensington MP Malcolm Rifkind.

Ian Syme, coordinator of North Staffordshire Healthwatch and long-time critic of privatisation, uncovered the original NHS bid by, in his words, “digging through 150 pages of board papers”. His research revealed that the bid from the private provider had beaten the NHS bid. “There’s little or no openness or transparency in these tendering processes, no public debate, no meaningful public scrutiny. Ask for details and you get obstructed by the ‘commercial confidentiality’ excuse.”

He added: “The evidence is stacking up that NHS England have a privatisation agenda and NHS England are at the moment privatising NHS by stealth.”

 Malcolm Rifkind is quitting as MP - and chair of the Commons Security and Intelligence Committee - after being caught offering his services in a cash for access sting.  The same in which Labour's Jack Straw was seeking to provide for his old age. It must be true what they say about people struggling to keep up with the cost of living, and having to take extra jobs. Rifkind has been topping up his MP's salary, earning around £60,000 a year to sit on Alliance Medical’s board, according to public records.

 Alliance Medical has a turnover of around £120 million a year, so this scanning contract, worth an estimated £8million a year, is a significant part of its work. Alliance Medical said Rifkind was not involved in the bid.

Scanners don't come cheap. I remember the public fundraising effort for one at St.George's Hospital in London while I was still working there, the giant crane that had to be used to swing it into the unit; and then the less pleasant news that local GPs could not afford to refer their NHS patients for a scan, while the unit was trying to recoup its cost. The Royal Stoke Hospital's £3 million scanner was bought in November 2013 with donations from Keele University and members of the public. It would have been used if the Trust had won the contract. If not, local campaigners believe the scanner might either remain unused,  or be brought into the private Alliance Medical’s scheme

News of Rifkind's public disgrace brought an opportunity for questions in the House.

PM challenged to clarify Malcolm Rifkind's involvement in £80m NHS deal
By D_Blackhurst  |  Posted: February 25, 2015

DAVID Cameron has been challenged to reveal if disgraced ex-minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind influenced the awarding of an £80 million North Staffordshire NHS contract to a private company.

The Tory MP sits on the board of Alliance Medical, which won the lucrative deal to diagnose illnesses in thousands of patients for 10 years.

The company was chosen by NHS England in favour of a £7 million cheaper bid from a consortium of NHS trusts led by the Royal Stoke University Hospital.

Now the Prime Minister has been asked to clarify Sir Malcolm’s role since he was secretly filmed offering access for cash to a private firm.

Read more:

Questions asked, but not answered.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Given that it was not possible for me to raise in Health questions or with the chief executive of NHS England in a personal meeting the continuing concerns about the procurement of a PET scanner across Staffordshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, will the Leader of the House give assurances, amid concerns about openness and transparency, that there has been no undue influence from the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) as a board member of Alliance? There are real concerns about the possibility of a monopoly service, which may mean that the contract will need to be referred to the Competition and Markets Authority. Will the Leader of the House find time for a proper, open debate about these continuing concerns?

Mr Hague: The hon. Lady has raised related concerns before in the House. I am sorry that she was not able to do so in Health questions, because there will be no more Health questions before the election; we are entering a period in which some Departments will not have further questions before Dissolution. However, she is still able to ask written questions and to seek answers in every other way through correspondence with Health Ministers. I will draw their attention to the matter that she has raised. As Leader of the House, I cannot give her any assurances about what she has asked, but I know that my colleagues will want to attend to what she has raised in the House today.
That's from Hansard. And here is an extract from the Daily Telegraph on Rifkind:
During Health Questions, Labour MP Jamie Reed asked Jeremy Hunt whether the Department of Health had any contact with Sir Malcolm before the contract was awarded by the government.
Mr Reed asked: “Can the secretary of state explain why the more expensive private sector bid was chosen over the better value NHS which provides these services?
“And will the Secretary of State today confirm, because this is a matter of profound public interest, that no contact took place between his department and the board of Alliance Medical, including at any point with current board member, the right honourable member for Kensington?”
The Health Secretary responded that he admired the Labour MPs "chutzpah" but said "it all behoves him to come and talk to us about privatisation.”

Tu quoque, You too, might not be acceptable as an excuse or answer from accused criminals in court or schoolchildren, but government ministers think they can get away with it, as though by answering, or failing to answer, MPs this way they can ignore questions from the general public.

A broader picture of the threat to the NHS in Staffordshire - and where next? - came last month, in a report from the Guardian health correspondent Denis Campbell:

Cancer care for patients in Staffordshire could be cut after it is taken over by profit-driven firms in the biggest privatisation of NHS services yet, campaigners are warning.
Handing the £700m contract to the private sector could see hospices closed, less money being spent on treatment and patients left at risk of experiencing poor care, they claim.

The fears follow the publication on Monday of a secret document prepared by the four local NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Staffordshire involved in the outsourcing deal to rouse interest in the contract among private firms. They plan to appoint one company to act as the “prime provider” of cancer services, including diagnosis, treatment and aftercare, with that firm then sub-contracting more services.

Campaigners – including Kate Godfrey, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Stafford in the general election – claimed the document proves that the winning bidder will be “given ‘discretion’ to design services they would like to deliver, slash spend per patient and propose the payment structures most beneficial to themselves”.
Godfrey also warned that front-line services could be sold off so that “core NHS responsibilities such as radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy could be delivered by the private sector, with no mechanism for patients to seek redress following failures of care”.

In addition, she claimed, the winning bidder will be “given freedom to alter or exit any existing contract – for example, funding for much-loved hospice care – without patients given any chance to challenge”.

Meanwhile, seven of the 11 private health firms which have jointly won a £780m NHS privatisation contract – the biggest yet concluded – have links to the Conservatives, Labour research shows.

The seven include three companies which have been criticised for providing inadequate care to NHS patients or care home residents they were looking after. Two of them, Circle and Care UK, have been taken to task by the Care Quality Commission for that while a third, Vanguard, is under fire after 31 eye operations it performed under contract to the NHS last year left patients with continuing sight problems.

For example, Vanguard is majority owned by MML Capital. Rory Brooks, its founder and chief executive, has donated £300,311 to the Tories and gets privileged access to David Cameron as part of the ‘Leaders Club’ of Tory donors.

Care UK’s chairman until 2010 was John Nash, who was made a peer by Cameron in 2013 and is now an education minister in the House of Lords. He and his wife Caroline have given £251,000 to the Tories.

Circle, which recently pulled out of running Hinchingbrooke NHS hospital in what was hailed as a pionerering extension of the private sector’s role, is part-owned by Lansdowne Partners and Odey Asset Management. Their founders, Paul Ruddock and Crispin Odey, have given £843,783 and £241,000 respectively to the Tories, and Odey’s firm another £20,000.

With privatisation comes more secrecy, to keep the public in the dark, and that's not all.

The health service might seem a long way from the building industry, but with construction companies like Carillion already taking over parts of health and other public services, we see what look like some old customs.  Hospital workers at Swindon complained to their union about bullying, favouritism, and pressure to give bribes to supervisors. And now comes this:

A secret letter from Consulting Association boss Ian Kerr to representatives of known blacklisting companies including Carillion, Skanska and Kier was among new documents published by the Commons Scottish affairs committee.

“Every time we turn over a stone, we discover more evidence of the breadth and depth of the conspiracy to blacklist,” said committee chairman Ian Davidson MP.

Dated February 2005, the letter shows that the Consulting Association contacted firms involved in facilities management in the health service, such as catering and cleaning.

Mr Kerr wrote: “Following last year’s meeting to consider a facilities management meeting I am now able to offer the following dates for a further meeting to cover the healthcare sector. Please circle all dates convenient for you to attend a meeting.”

Former Carillion HR manager Liz Keates, who has been accused of blacklisting 139 construction workers, was one of eight addressed by the letter.

The shocking revelation raises the possibility that NHS whistleblowers were being targeted, with a recent inquiry revealing that thousands of health staff have been bullied and intimidated by managers for raising patient care concerns.

Mr Kerr’s letter has led to renewed calls by unions for a full public inquiry into the blacklisting, which has been promised by Labour if the party wins the general election.

“We know that construction workers and environmentalists were blacklisted,” said GMB national officer Justin Bowden.

“It is quite clear that Ian Kerr and the Consulting Association saw a role for their services in the NHS and questions should be asked whether Carillion and Liz Keates did so as well.

“The British public has the right to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the full extent of blacklisting. Only a full public inquiry will do this.”

The papers cast doubt on Carillion’s claims that it had no involvement with the Consulting Association from 2004 onwards, Mr Bowden added.

The government is said to have asked health service employers for protection for whistleblowers. But will that be for those who spy on fellow workers, or report "waste", rather than those who, like the blacklisted building workers, showed concern for health and safety at work, or in the health service, exposed ill-treatment or neglect of patients?

We have seen how government legislation that was supposed to curb big business lobbying has been turned instead to a "gagging law" to inhibit public interest campaigners.

Still, to round off with some encouraging good news, here's one victory, reported on the Left Unity site:
Sacked Whipps Cross hospital shop steward Charlotte Munro has won her industrial tribunal and been reinstated by Barts Health Trust, 15 months after her sacking. Charlotte, who received a warm reception when she spoke at the Left Unity founding conference in November 2013, had worked as an occupational therapist at the Walthamstow east London hospital for 34 years.

When Charlotte raised concerns about hundreds of Barts Trust workers being downgraded and cuts all across East London, she was sacked on trumped up charges of breaching confidentiality. Since she was the best known trade unionist at the hospital, her sacking was a major blow to the confidence of the workforce and their morale at a time of significant attacks on jobs and pay.

The industrial tribunal found in her favour just weeks after the Care Quality Commission found that Barts Health Trust had a culture of bullying, which was part of the reason for it being into ‘special measures’. Charlotte’s victory is also a victory for the local Unison branch and local campaigners who had fought tirelessly for her reinstatement.

Charlotte Munro said:

“I am really happy to be returning to work with my team and the rest of the staff at Whipps Cross Hospital and Barts Health NHS Trust.  And I look forward to being able to contribute to the work I understand is now under way, in response to the CQC report, to bring about improvement in our hospital. It’s vital that Whipps Cross becomes again a hospital of choice for health staff to work in, where they can provide the best standards of health care to our local population, and find a good future.

“Health staff must be able to speak out for their patients and services without fear. They must be free to organise themselves in trade unions and stand as representatives knowing that their rights as a union rep will be respected, and that the role of an independent union campaigning for the interests of the staff, their patients and services is also respected. These were issues at the heart of my case. Its resolution will I hope contribute to building a climate of openness and confidence so needed in our health service.

“I want to thank my union UNISON for its backing and support in taking my case to tribunal, and to thank our highly committed legal team. I have been moved and inspired by the support from colleagues, from health campaigners and fellow trade unionists, and so many other people. It has held me up through some pretty difficult times and brought home that the issues I faced have far wider significance for people. Together we are standing up for what we believe in and this has made all the difference. Let’s continue to do so for the future of our NHS.”

April 4th, 2015

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Is Your Vote Going to the Henry Jackson Society?

THERE's more to politics than party leaders appearing on television and supporters canvassing for your vote.  Amid all the messages I'm seeing on Facebook concerned with the May 7 general election, and what politicians said or did, comes this posted by an old friend:

Brendan Simms, president of the Henry Jackson Society, will be speaking alongside UKIP's Patrick O'Flynn in favour of Britain leaving the EU, at the New Statesman and Cambridge Literary Festival.
And he provides a link:

I first met Marko Attila Hoare at a Bosnia rally in Trafalgar Square, and got to know him in Workers Aid for Bosnia, which sent aid convoys chiefly to the mining town of Tuzla. Marko also wrote for our paper Workers Press (alas now gone), and now he is the author of several books on Bosnia and its history, particularly during World War II.

Brendan Simms is Cambridge professor of the History of International Relations. I knew his name as the author of Unfinest Hour, which sharply criticised Britain's role in Bosnia, the appeasement of Serb aggression by Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, and the British army's reluctance to carry out its UN mandate protecting humanitarian aid routes or defending civilians from ethnic cleansing and massacre.

Simms' revulsion from what he called "conservative pessimism" was shared by others, and undoubtedly influenced the formation of the Henry Jackson Society. Taking its name from a US Democrat Senator who believed in asserting US power to promote his ideas of freedom, the Society sought to combine an activist foreign policy and support for democratic values. For some this might seem to echo Robin Cook's call for foreign policy to have a "moral dimension" (Described succinctly as "bollocks" by an anonymous FCO civil servant).

For others, like the signatories of the 'Euston Manifesto', it could mean endorsing US or Israeli wars and denouncing opponents as supporters of dictators like Saddam Hussein or reactionary Islam. The Society's statement of aims stresses the importance of maintaining the military strength of the United States, and Britain in Europe. Asserting that Western liberal democracies are the model for the world to follow, it says that international organisations which include undemocratic regimes have no right to pronounce on human rights issues. (So much for the UN!)

The Henry Jackson Society says it is "A cross-partisan, British-based think tank with a strong British and European commitment towards freedom, liberty, constitutional democracy, human rights, ...".

Others, including former members, don't hesitate to call it neo-conservative or simply right-wing, even 'hard-right'.

 Marko Attila Hoare was Greater Europe Co-Director, then European Neighbourhood Section Director of the Henry Jackson Society from 2005 until 2012. Nowadays strongly critical, he remarks on Brendan Simm's appearence alongside a UKIP MEP to show how much the HJS leadership has moved from its commitment to British leadership in Europe to calling for British exit.  Indeed, Brendan Simms is co-chair of the Brexit-euroexit project and author of Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy.

But it goes further. Raheem Kassam, who was variously described as "Director of Marketing" or "Campaigns Director" for the Henry Jackson Society, is now a senior advisor to UKIP's Nigel Farage.

We have met Mr.Kassam before. He was linked with a story which the BBC and the Jewish Chronicle ran about people at a conference in London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) drowning out a Jewish audience speaker with antisemitic chants. The supposed victim was Zionist Federation chairman Jonathan Hoffman. The BBC eventually withdraw the story after other Jewish people who had been at the conference said it wasn't true, and a recording of the conference contained no antisemitic chants. The Jewish Chronicle took longer to withdraw, but did so after Jewish people involved in the conference went to the Press Complaints Commission over it.

Kassam has been a busy man. Besides being a spokesman for Student Rights, which seems to be a Henry Jackson Society project with not many actual students, he found time to run a Climate Change skeptic campaign called 'Greencease' (geddit?)  More recently with the 'Jihadi John' excitement he was introduced on TV as a "former student" and "expert" on how the ISIS killer's "radicalisation" might have started at the University of Westminster.

Before joining Nigel Farage's entourage, Raheem Kassam was managing director of the London end of Breitbart, a conservative American news agency website noted for its unconservative, creative news stories.  Not even other conservatives are immune from attack.

The Fictitious "Friends of Hamas"

On February 7, 2013, in the United States ran a story by Ben Shapiro claiming former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a nominee for Secretary of Defense, might have been paid to speak at an event sponsored by a group called "Friends of Hamas" said that the story was based on "exclusive" information by "Senate sources". The story was repeated by websites, and commented upon by Senator Rand Paul.

But other reporters could not find any evidence that "Friends of Hamas" even existed. On February 19, New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman said that the story had originated from a sarcastic comment he made to a Congressional staffer.  "Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the 'Junior League of Hezbollah, in France'? And: What about 'Friends of Hamas'?".  But Breitbart continued to claim its story was from reliable sources, and Friedman was denounced as a hack.

"Democracy"?  But not at home!

In 2012, Marko Attila Hoare, who had known Brendan Simms at Cambridge, and been a founder member of the Henry Jackson Society, decided he'd had enough.
"Earlier this year, I resigned from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) and requested that my name be removed from its website. The HJS is a UK think-tank frequently described as ‘neoconservative’. It includes among its Trustees Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for Education, and it is alleged to have influenced the foreign policy of David Cameron and William Hague. It currently serves as a secretariat, at the House of Commons, to the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Transatlantic and International Security and for Homeland Security. I had held a senior post within this organisation for seven years, first as Greater Europe Co-Director, then as European Neighbourhood Section Director. However, I reluctantly had to face the fact that the HJS has degenerated to the point where it is a mere caricature of its former self. No longer is it a centrist, bipartisan think-tank seeking to promote democratic geopolitics through providing sober, objective and informed analysis to policy-makers. Instead, it has become an abrasively right-wing forum with an anti-Muslim tinge, churning out polemical and superficial pieces by aspiring journalists and pundits that pander to a narrow readership of extreme Europhobic British Tories, hardline US Republicans and Israeli Likudniks. The story of the HJS’s degeneration provides an insight into the obscure backstage world of Conservative politics.

There are three factors that define this degeneration. The first is that almost all the people who founded and established the HJS have either left or been edged out of the organisation. ...

The second factor is that there is absolutely no internal democracy in the HJS, nor any transparency or rules of procedure. Absolutely none whatsoever. Less than in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Probably less than in the Syrian Arab Republic. As someone with an early background in far-left politics, I grew up with groups like the Socialist Workers Party, in which total power is held by one or two leaders, but the totalitarianism is disguised by window-dressing consisting of branch meetings, annual conferences, meetings of the Politburo and the like. Well, the HJS is like that, but without the window-dressing: there isn’t even the pretence of democracy or consultation. Instead, the organisation operates on the basis of cronyism and intrigue. Sole power is held by one individual – Executive Director Alan Mendoza. He was not elected to the post and is not subject even to formal or technical restraints, nor to performance review and renewal of contract.

The third factor is that, although the HJS was intended to be a centrist, bi-partisan organisation, its leadership has now moved far to the right, and abandoned any pretence of being bi-partisan or pro-European (its Associate Director, Douglas Murray, is on record as having stated that ‘the EU is a monstrosity – no good can come of it… The best thing could just simply be for it to be razed to the ground and don’t start again [sic]’).

Alan Mendoza is an ambitious young professional politician of the Conservative Party and a former Tory local councillor in the London Borough of Brent. ... Once he took over the running of the HJS from Rogers and Simms, Mendoza had his hands on all the levers of power within the organisation, of which the most important was control of the website. Mendoza set about converting the HJS into his personal fiefdom, packing its staff with his own apparatchiks recruited via his personal network.

The practice of regular staff meetings was now ended, and staff members were no longer consulted or even informed about major policy or organisational decisions. In practice, Mendoza just did whatever he wanted to, adding or removing staff to and from the website and inventing or erasing their virtual job-titles as and when he felt like it.
 Praise from 'Mad Mel' to Audience with AIPAC

Marko describes how HJS members who differed from the changing line on Europe were sidelined or sat upon.  But he also noted another aspect of Mendoza's takeover.
The people who replaced the HJS founders at the head of the organisation were staff members of another think-tank: the Israel-advocacy organisation ‘Just Journalism’, of which Mendoza was a member of the Advisory Board and which shared the HJS’s London office. At the time of Just Journalism’s launch in March 2008, the Spectator columnist Melanie Phillips wrote of it that ‘A very welcome and desperately-needed initiative has just been launched to monitor distortions, bias and prejudice in British media coverage of the Middle East.’
Neo-con former Daily Mail columnist Melanie Philips acquired a name for linking her support to Israel with Islamophobia.  Her book "Londonistan", claiming Britain was harbouring a "terror" state within was a hit with the far Right, while she became known as "Mad Mel" to many Jewish people, even Zionists.

We can't blame Alan Mendoza for that, but we can for the line he took adressing members of the main Israeli lobby organisation in Washington, AIPAC:
“Immigration is also a reason for rising anti-Israel feelings [in Europe]. In 1998, 3.2 percent of Spain was foreign-born. In 2007, that percent had jumped to 13.4 percent, Mendoza said. In cities such as London, Paris and Copenhagen, 10 percent of residents are Muslim.”
“The European Muslim population has doubled in the past 30 years and is predicted to double again by 2040.
“For all the benefits that immigration has brought, it has been difficult for European countries to absorb immigrants into their society given their failure to integrate newcomers. Regardless of their political views, Muslims in Europe will likely speak out against Israel whenever any Middle Eastern news breaks, just as they will against India in the Kashmir dispute. Their voices are heard well above the average Europeans, who tend not to speak out Mendoza said, adding that the Muslim immigrants do this with full knowledge that they would not be allowed to speak out like that in many Middle Eastern countries.’
This line that European criticism of Israeli actions is solely motivated by fear of Moslems has been widely repeated in US, particularly Murdoch-owned media, which has followed up with stories about parts of British cities becoming entirely Muslim, no-go areas for non-Muslims.

 The HJS website is currently running a piece by Douglas Murray, originally published on March 18 in the Spectator, in defence of Benyamin Netanyahu against criticism. Murray, Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society, also founded the Centre for Social Cohesion. If that sounds harmless enough, this is what it means, in Douglas Murray's words:

‘Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition. We in Europe owe – after all – no special dues to Islam. We owe them no religious holidays, special rights or privileges. From long before we were first attacked it should have been made plain that people who come into Europe are here under our rules and not theirs. There is not an inch of ground to give on this one. Where a mosque has become a centre of hate it should be closed and pulled down. If that means that some Muslims don’t have a mosque to go to, then they’ll just have to realise that they aren’t owed one. Grievances become ever-more pronounced the more they are flattered and the more they are paid attention to. So don’t flatter them.’

If that sounds like a slightly more articulate version of the lumpen who follow the English Defence League, it should be no surprise that Murray has described the EDL as acceptable, and spoken favourably of Robert Spencer, a leading Islamophobe in the United States who denies the Srebenica massacre.  That's coming full circle from 'Unfinest Hour'.

Alan Mendoza is now the Tory candidate for Brent Central. I trust his views will be made known to voters, even if not by him.

 A top Lib Dem resigned from the Henry Jackson Society.

But several Labour MPs remain members, including the Labour Party leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, who is on the Society's Political Council. .  If he has resigned from it, I will be happy to apologise and record that.

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Monday, April 06, 2015

Dirty Tricks department turned on Sturgeon: Was Memo Leaked or Faked?

STORY TAKEN UP BY MAIL TOO.  And these Labour campaigners in East Lothian accepted it. (photo by Edddie Truman). Maybe they should remember an earlier story (see below). Or that only last week the Tory Mail called SNP leader "Most Dangerous Woman in Britain".

SCOTTISH National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon remained centre stage this weekend, offering Labour's Ed Miliband a deal to keep Tory David Cameron out of Downing Street.  Writing in the Observer, Sturgeon challenged Miliband to lead the Labour Party into an anti-austerity alliance with the SNP so they could prevent the Tories forming a government.

“If together our parties have the parliamentary numbers required after 7 May, and regardless of which is the biggest party, will he and Labour join with us in locking David Cameron out of Downing Street?”

Miliband has so far ruled out any talk of an alliance before the election. One reason might be that it would make it easier for more Labour supporters to consider switching their votes to the SNP, which is already outpolling the Labour Party in Scotland.

The SNP leader's call for an alliance came as an inquiry was being ordered into how the Tory Daily Telegraph obtained a Foreign Office memo about a conversation with the French consul general in  which Nicola Sturgeon supposedly confessed that she would prefer to see Cameron remain prime minister. The SNP leader said the story was "categorically, 100%, untrue", and called on Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to order a probe. The French embassy also denied the report. 

Unfortunately the Labour Party was quick to accept the Telegraph story and comment about it, without checking what Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP had to say. And if they did not take her word for denial they could have asked why the French ambassador, who is not a party to the election, should feel obliged to cover up.

BBC Scotland’s James Cook asked Nicola Sturgeon  about the Telegraph‘s "leaked memo", claiming it chimed with what he has been told by senior SNP figures – that it suited their wider purpose to have a Tory Prime Minister because that would rally support for independence. Later Cook complained of the angry way SNP supporters had rounded on him. "What an extraordinary level of vicious abuse I have received today for simply reporting the news. Is this the country we want folks? Is it?"  And reporting this the Spectator said it showed the ugly side of Scottish nationalism.

The Spectator, whose former editors include Boris Johnson, is owned by the Telegraph group. As for James Cook, he wasn't "simply reporting the news" but repeating a dubious story in the Telegraph and adding his own commentary.  It was Nicola Sturgeon who was being hounded.

It may be just a coincidence that the Torygraf ran its story  - based on a memo supposedly written a month ago, on March 6, concerning a conversation which allegedly took place in February - on Friday, April 3, the day after it was reported that the SNP leader made such an impression in the televised party leaders' debate that viewers in England were saying they wished they could vote for her.  A debate in which Sturgeon said she agreed with Ed Miliband on many issues and would be willing to work with him.

Craig Murray, an SNP member who also happens to be a former British ambassaddor with more than twenty years' experience in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had no doubt about the likely provenance of the "leaked memo" story.
"The fake FCO memo has MI5 written all over it. This is the worst example of British security services influencing an election campaign since the Zinoviev letter." 

That was of course the alleged letter from the Soviet minister instructing British Communists on subversion, probably forged by Czarist emigres, and presented by an MI5 officer to the Tory Daily Mail, which turned it into a front-page story in time for the 1924 general election, claiming it showed Labour's instructions from the "masters" in the Kremlin. A report commissioned by Robin Cook when he was at the Foreign and Commonwealth confirmed that this was contrived by the security services.

Major Joseph Ball, the MI5 officer involved, went on to work at Tory central office, running media manipulation and dirty tricks, even against people in the government and Tory party when required, before resuming a security post. *


Foreign and Commonwealth Office employees are supposed to be "non-political", or so I was told when I once somehow came in sight of a job as filing clerk and tea boy. Maybe passing material to Tory papers does not count as politics; but now I see the FCO says the memo did not come from them, and the Telegraph says its came from the Scottish Office. Craig Murray seems to think it was not so much "leaked", as faked.   

 Whatever we think of the Scottish National Party -and I'm one of those who used to jeer that they were "Tartan Tories" - its leaders are neither knaves nor fools. They know that the votes for independence in the referendum were strongest in what had been solid Labour areas; and that the support they have gained is not based on romantic nationalism nor blaming "the English" but on the wish to defend what's left of the welfare state and build a better Scotland, in opposition to the austerity and privilege that David Cameron represents.

The idea that it would be better to have a Tory government make things worse so as to drive people to revolt is a schoolboyish conspiracy notion, of tactics that might work for underground groups desperate to generate resistance in occupied countries, and hoping for outside help. It is no use at all to a party dependent on grass-roots enthusiasm and public trust, and leaders able to articulate their supporters' aspirations with conviction.  It is the kind of ulterior motive which those who don't understand mass politics - spies or journalists - sometimes maliciously attribute to the Left, and we will doubtless hear it again if any of the Left groups standing against Labour make a real dent on Labour majorities in the coming election.

Maybe some Scottish Labour Party MPs and hangers on,  with redundancy staring them in the face, will have clutched gratefully at the Telegraph story, hoping it was true. And some of them might prefer a Tory government rather than have the SNP shoring up Labour, and leaving them sidelined.

The Tories - who might be prepared to share government with UKIP if needs be - are bound to want to block and divide any possible combination against them.

And that's not all.

Besides the SNP's policies on health and education, one aspect of Nicola Sturgeon's appeal beyond Scotland, to voters and many within the Labour Party and further Left, is her forthright opposition to Trident and to nuclear bases in Scotland.  And that suggests one reason why the security and intelligence services, and maybe not just in Britain, could have a hidden hand in the campaign against Nicola Sturgeon.

*  For more about the pre-war development of Tory "Dirty Tricks" and Major Joseph Ball,  see for instance:

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Friday, April 03, 2015

Good news for Good Friday and maybe a good beginning

IT'S good news for the Easter weekend, and for the end of the Persian Spring festival Nawroz. A great power agreement with Iran has been reached, providing for limits on the country's nuclear energy development to prevent it obtaining weapon capacity. In return, the United States-led sanctions which have hit Iran's economy, and ordinary Iranians' life particularly, are to be lifted.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said a "decisive step" had been reached. The White House said its sanctions -"the toughest in history" -had brought Iran to the conference table, and negotiations had achieved a comprehensive agreement which President Obama called "a good deal".

In Iran, there was open jubilation on the streets of Tehran as the news of the deal came on Thursday night. This morning thousands gathered at Mehrabad airport to greet chief nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif and his team as they arrived back from the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland.
"Zarif, thank you,” people chanted while waving the Islamic republic’s green, white and red flag. Others took out their mobile phones to take pictures of a man who will become a national hero if a final agreement, due in June, is reached.

The news should be brightening up Passover too; but it has not been welcomed by the Israeli government, which was opposed to the negotiations with Iran, and doesn't want to lose the Iranian bogeyman and its supposed nuclear threat, as a diversion from its own aggressive policies,  and to keep its own people -and international supporters -in line.   

Here are the details of the agreement, as reported in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz:
Iran, six world powers framework agreement: The main terms
Under comprehensive agreement to be signed on June 30, Tehran will continue to operate 5,000 centrifuges at Natanz, all sanctions on Iran will be lifted.
By Barak Ravid    | Apr. 2, 2015 | 9:15 PM

The United States, Iran and five other world powers say they've reached an understanding that will direct them toward achieving a comprehensive nuclear agreement within three months.

Reading out a joint statement, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said a "decisive step" has been achieved. Iran's Mohammad Javad Zarif read out the same statement in Farsi.

U.S. President Barack Obama, making a statement on the breakthrough in the talks, said U.S. and allies reached a historic nuclear deal with Iran, which he called, "A good deal."

The main points of the framework agreement reached:

The agreement term: The agreement will be in effect for between 10 and 15 years during which there will be strict limitations and oversight of the Iranian nuclear program. Some of the clauses of the agreement will be in effect for 20 to 25 years.

Uranium enrichment: Iran will continue to operate 6,104 out of the 19,000 centrifuges within its territory. All of the centrifuges in operation will of the oldest generation Iran has. Iran will deliver the 1,000 advanced centrifuges in its possession to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

For 10 years, Iran will be able to operate only 5060 centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

Iran pledged that for 15 years it will not enrich uranium to more than 3.5 percent – a level at which a nuclear weapon cannot be produced. Iran has pledged that for 15 years it will not build another nuclear facility besides the one at Natanz.

All additional enrichment materials – including 5,000 additional centrifuges that are at Natanz will be collected and placed for safekeeping under the oversight of the IAEA.

Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile: Iran agreed to do away with most of its stockpile of uranium enriched to the relatively low levels of 3.5, and which now stands at nearly 10 tons. This stockpile will be diluted to a level that cannot be used for making nuclear weapons, or will be taken out of the country. For 15 years, Iran will not be in possession of more than 300 kilograms of low-level enriched uranium.

The underground nuclear reactor at Fordo: This site will be converted from an enrichment facility into a nuclear physics research facility. Iran pledged that for 15 years it will not enrich uranium at Fordo and will not carry out research and development in the realm of uranium enrichment there. Iran pledged that for 15 years it will not store fissile nuclear material at the Fordo site. Out of 3,000 centrifuges currently installed at Fordo, 1,000 will remain operational there, though not for enriching uranium. The remaining 2,000 centrifuges will be conveyed for safekeeping to the IAEA.

The Arak heavy water reactor: Iran agreed to replan the reactor, in conjunction with the six world powers, so that it cannot produce material that could be used for nuclear weapons. The current reactor core, from which a large quantity of plutonium can already be produced, will be destroyed or removed from Iran. As long as the reactor is operational, Iran will remove from the country all the nuclear fuel it used at the reactor. Iran has pledged not to build another heavy water reactor for 15 years.

Research and development: For 10 years, Iran will not make use for uranium enrichment of the advanced centrifuges it is developing. Iran can continue limited research and development of advanced centrifuges in accordance with agreements it will reach with the world powers.

Oversight: The IAEA will receive free and regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and will be able to use advanced technology to monitor Iranian activity. The IAEA will follow up raw materials and parts that have been used in the nuclear program to ascertain that they are not being used for a covert nuclear program. The IAEA will monitor uranium mines in Iran for 25 years. The IAEA will monitor storage and assembly facilities for centrifuges in Iran for 20 years.

Iran will sign and ratify the additional protocol of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which stipulates that IAEA inspectors can conduct unrestricted random searches at any suspicious facility in Iran.

Iran will implement its agreement with the IAEA to clarify suspicions of the existence of military aspects to Iran’s nuclear program.

Sanctions: After implementation of the agreement by Iran, all sanctions that applied on Iran by the United States and the EU on banking, insurance, and oil will be lifted immediately. The UN Security Council will make a resolution that will replace six earlier resolutions that leveled sanctions on Iran, and will decide which of the sanctions will remain in place. If Iran breaks the agreement, the sanctions related to its nuclear program will be reinstated immediately. The American sanctions on Iran in the realm of terror, human rights violations and Iran’s missile program will remain in place.

Netanyahu has now tried to pull back the goal posts by demanding that sanctions should not be lifted on Iran until its leaders recognise the Israeli state's "right to exist". Coming after the Israeli leader's claim that Israel represents all Jewish people wherever they live, and his pledge during election to never accept a Palestinian state, this is a return to the lie that any questioning of the state's legitimacy or future is equivalent to an existential, even genocidal threat.

This used to make great play with former President Ahmedinejad's demagogy, quoting him as threatening to "wipe Israel off the map", although other accounts had him promising that the Zionist state would be erased from the history books - not quite the same. In any case it is the Israeli state that has done everything to wipe Palestine from the map, literally and through settlements and land-grabbing.

Iranian leaders have repeatedly denied the intention of developing nuclear weapons, and Ayatollah Khamenei says these are against Islam. As I have pointed out more than once, if Iran wants to help the Palestinians it would be crazy to use nuclear weapons against Israel, which would most probably destroy Al Aksa and inevitably kill huge numbers of Palestinians and devastate their country. Palestinians want to regain their homeland, not inherit radio-active ruins.

One Israeli who says he is not afraid of the big, bad Iranian bomb is veteran fighter and peace campaigner Uri Avnery.  He says if Israel really wants acceptance by Iranians it must stop repressing the Palestinians, and make peace with Palestine.
 Whether the Netanyahu government wants peace is another question.

It has been revealed that in 2011 Netanyahu pulled support from negotiations with the Palestinian leadership when they were near agreement, even though it would have been far from satisfactory for the Palestinians. He did not want any deal at all.

This week, while the Iranians were negotiating in Iran, it was reported that the Israeli air force was operating alongside the Saudis against Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are linked with Iran. Although the Saudis and their allies say they want to avoid civilian targets they have so far hit at least one factory, and a refugee camp. The Houthis, of course, do not have an airforce, and from what I have seen so far they are neither as well-armed nor as murderous as the ISIL barbarians. They are after all fighting in their own country.  Whether or not Israel has anything to gain from joining a Sunni-Shia war, this is no way of pursuing peace with Iran.

One argument some people have made for Iran's right to develop nuclear weapons is that they are a deterrent. I don't go along with deterrent theory myself. But it is a fact that if Iran relinquishes the production of nuclear weapons, that leaves one existing nuclear power in the Middle East, and that of course is Israel.

As a reward perhaps for Netanyahu's trip to Washington and attempt to stop the nuclear talks, the US State Department released previously classified documents about Israel's nuclear weapons. One of Israel's supporters - a UKIP candidate in Hendon - was so outraged he said Mossad should kidnap Obama for the crime of "revealing state secrets".  How a UK patriot claims the right to tell a US government its duty to guard Israeli government secrets, we won't ask. Vorwarts putz gefahren, as they say in Yiddish. And now he's an ex-UKIP candidate. Too much even for Hendon.

I'm one of the generation for whom mention of nuclear weapons at Easter time brings memories of the road from Aldermaston to London. It must be about 56 years since, together with a contingent of blueshirted Habonimniks who'd been attending an activity near Reading, I joined a section of the march, even managing to steer our lot behind some 'Keep Left' Young Socialists. Though some of us kept up our interest in CND, Habonim did not. Possibly the news that Israel, with then Defence Minister Shimon Peres, was acquiring nuclear weapons with help from France, might have dissuaded enthusiasm.

Not till 1986 did Mordechai Vanunu reveal the extent of Israel's nuclear weapons production, and for this he was kidnapped by Mossad and spent eighteen years in jail, 11 of them in solitary. Today Vanunu is not allowed out of Israel, nor supposed to speak to journalists, but he did manage to inspire an Israeli Committee for a Nuclear-Free Middle East, which argues for nukes and other weapons of mass destruction to be removed from this volatile region as a step towards world disarmament.

This would not of course be popular with Netanyahu, still less with some of the fanatical Christian Zionists in America for whom a nuclear armageddon in the Middle East is seen as one way of speeding the Rapture and Second Coming.

But success in the nuclear limitation talks with Iran must raise the issue of the next step. Opening Israel's nuclear industry to international inspection, and removing the Zionist state's nuclear weapons, and with them any temptation for other states to follow that road to disaster. 

America has the power to bring this about, if it wills, and even talk of sanctions could be persuasive.             

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