Prostitution: historic vote in Parliament to tackle the sex-slave industry

On 12th November 2009, in an historic decision, British law was radically changed. From now on, men -not women- will be obliged to accept responsibility for the abuses of trafficked and coerced women forced to work as prostitutes. It has been a long, slow-burn campaign headed by Labour women ministers and MPs. Until now it has been women who have been arrested, questioned, or deported as if the victims of the sex trade should be held responsible for their plight.

Now men who pay for sex with a trafficked or coerced girl or woman may be arrested and charged. They will have to explain to magistrates and the press why they think putting a few pounds down gives them the right to insert their penises into the orifices of young women brought to Britain to serve the ever-increasing demand for paid-for sex.

The Daily Mail chooses to celebrate this legislative assault on the sex-slave industry with a two-page spread under the headline “The Myth of Britain’s Foreign Sex Slaves.”. It is a powerfully argued piece written with the customary brio and well-presented facts that one can expect from the Mail which, whatever one thinks of its politics, is a magnificent journalists’ product.

The Mail’s argument is that the plight of foreign girls being brought to Britain to act as prostituted women is in essence not true. It quotes the English Collective of Prostitutes as saying the problem does not exist. The ECP was set up along with the Wages for Housework campaign by the International Marxist Group in the 1970s. It is very hard to find out any information about its finances, its membership, its internal operations and organisations. But its spokespersons are treated by the BBC and now the Daily Mail as authoritative. “In all the years, we have come across only two women who fit the classic description of someone who has been trafficked,” says the ECP to the Daily Mail.

But let us turn to the Daily Mail itself to see if this is true. In 2007, a Daily Mail headline was: “Women for Sale in the Gatwick Slave Auctions” and reporter Charlotte Gill wrote: “Women are being sold into prostitution in modern day ‘slave auctions’ at Britain’s airports.” Quoting a senior Metropolitan Police officer, she went on “Young women from all over the world are trafficked into Britain after being promised well-paid work in bars and cafes…Women are frequently raped, locked in flats and given no money to prevent them running away from their captors.”

In another story in 2007, the Mail headline was “Global Prostitute Ring Boss Jailed for Luring Teens From the Families for Vice.” The story began: “The mastermind behind a £1 million global prostitute ring who preyed on terrified teenagers and turned into sex slaves, was jailed for eight years today. One of Virginjus Sucholdolski’s victims was just 16 when she was lured from her family in Lithuania to be plied with cocaine and advertised on the web as a ‘European Angel’”.

Last year the Mail headline was “Gang Who Lured Slovakian Teenager into sex slavery in Britain jailed for 52 years.” It gave details of “The 16-year-old virgin from Slovakia who was repeatedly raped and made to work in brothels in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Middlesex.”

So which Daily Mail should we believe? The one that reports gruesome cases of sex slave trafficking or the one that today says such stories are a “myth”?

To be sure, there are problems over figures. I am chastised for quoting a Daily Mirror headline which talked of 25,000 prostituted women who could be categorised as sex slaves. Out of a total estimated of 80,000 prostituted women said to be working in Britain that may be a reasonable figure. But everyone who works in this field knows that in the underground world of this sub-criminal industry with links to globalised trafficking networks, the accurate figures are impossible to establish.

As with rape arrests and convictions which are shamefully low in Britain, the police with their deeply embedded masculinist and patriarchal culture are not very good at dealing with sex crimes.

But on balance I prefer the Daily Mail’s court and police reporters to its claim today about “The Myth of Britain’s Foreign Sex Slaves.” NGOs who work with victims of pimps have endless cases stories and the pretend that this is just a myth got up by politicians is silly. I pass over the abuse in today’s Mail heaped on brave women ministers and politicians who have tackled the complacency of Whitehall and the boys in the Cabinet who to begin with were reluctant to embark on this reform process. I refuse any comment on friends in the liberal-left media and on Newsnight who have rubbished this problem in the manner of today’s Daily Mail.

Instead I salute a remarkable assault on modern slavery which MPs - and to their credit in a debate and vote on November 3rd, peers, have now begun. If we can reduce demand, we will reduce supply. It is now men who have to accept responsibility after centuries in which women were made to pay in all senses for the belief that men can have such sex as they wish as long as they have money to pay for it. And Britain should not hesitate to take the demand-reducing aspect of dealing with the global sex-trade and seek to persuade other countries to follow suit.

UK-Ukraine relationship, Russia, and the Black Sea states

At the invitation of the British-Ukraine Society, Denis MacShane gave the annual YALTA MEMORIAL LECTURE in Parliament on 30 november 2009.

Here is the text of his speech:

"From Malta to Yalta we shall not falter" intoned Winston Churchill as he and President Roosevelt dragged their weary bodies across the world to meet Stalin in the early weeks of 1945. Then it was to seal the compact of war that had begun when German Nazism shook hands with Russian Communism in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

The third partition of Poland followed. As after their secret talks at Rapallo in 1924, Berlin and Moscow made common cause against democratic Europe. The Rapallo temptation is always there and one of the supreme tasks of the new European High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Cathy Ashton, will be to wean Berlin off the view that Germany today has a "special relationship" with Moscow which prevails over the common European interest.

In his speech in Kyiv after the Russian invasion by land, sea and air and subsequent occupation of much Georgian territory in August 2009, the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, recalled George Kennan's remark that Russia is only capable of seeing its neighbours as vassals or enemies. Sir Rodric Braithwaite, a former and most distinguished Ambassador from Britain to Moscow, has pointed out that contrary to the conventional wisdom, Russia has done far more invading and occupation of neighbouring countries in the centuries since Peter the Great than the other way round. No foreign troops have ever occupied Moscow. But Russian boots have marched into the capitals of European nations thousands of miles from Moscow.

Ukraine knows of what Foreign Secretary Miliband speaks. Ukraine seeks neither to be a vassal nor an enemy of Russia. Instead Ukraine wants what all European states want and those in the EU have achieved, namely normal, friendly, open relations with neighbouring states, big or small. Germany, once much feared, has learnt to be friends with its neighbours. What stops Russia?

Can this be achieved? In today's Financial Times (30 Nov), an editorial in what no-one would consider a populist or anti-Russian paper states the following:

"The authoritarian state created by Vladimir Putin, the prime minister and former president, has allowed officials to see themselves as above the law. Corruption and abuse of power have flourished, as has a woeful neglect of the rights of ordinary citizens. Imposing the rule of law on this self-serving bureaucracy would mean tearing it down. The governing elite will simply not destroy its political and financial power in this way."

This is an extraordinary indictment. If made by a European political leader it would provoke a crisis. The Financial Times is not a neo-Conservative, nor anti-Russian paper. The FT does not see Moscow from the perspective of say, revisionist historians, in the Baltic states who seek to downplay collaboration with Nazis in World War 2 or revisionist politicians in Poland like Felip Stanilko who works for the policy think tank of Poland’s PiS Party. Mr Stanilko told Canada’s Globe and Mail last month that Jews control Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s main liberal daily. He also linked Communism and Jews and said of pre-war Jews in Poland: “The faction of this society were predominately Jew, from Jew origins. You’ve got a Zionist path, you know, the people who created Israel, and you’ve got a communist path, because of the influential model of Marxism as a model of Talmudic thinking. And these people emigrated to the Soviet Union, they returned, they were very well educated by postwar standards, and biographically they are the crucial part of Gazeta Wyborcza.”

This obsession of some on the Polish right of making a link between Jews and Communism is distasteful. But then we read Sir Oliver Miles, a former senior diplomat, drawing attention to the fact that two members of the Chilcot inquiry into antisemitism are Jewish. In the 18th century Thomas Jefferson insisted that religion should be no bar to holding any public office of state. Today in Poland or amongst the upper ranks of retired diplomats in London “Cherchez le juif” is still politics. Professor David Kotz of Vilnius University, in an important article in the current Jewish Chronicle, has highlighted what he calls (and I quote) “revisionist historians (masquerading as centrists but actually of the far right) (and) their efforts to persuade the European Union into adopting a revised model of history that deletes the Holocaust as a category (without denying a single death) and goes for the model of “Double Genocide” (Nazi and Soviet “equality.”)”

So just as there as Russian historians and politicians who defend the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and who treat the Holodomor as an incident of history that is regrettable rather than a systemic politically driven and well-organised mass-murder of Ukrainians by the Russian state under Stalin in order to extend the central control of the Kremlin over the people of Ukraine, we now face the downplaying of the murder of Jews in WW2 for ideological ends.

I have always admired the gesture of Willy Brandt when he kneeled at the Warsaw Ghetto to make atonement for what the German Nazis did to Jews in the extermination camps the Germans established on Polish soil. I believe Prime Minister Putin or President Medvedev could usefully come to Ukraine to apologise for the mass murder of Ukrainian citizens in the Holomodor. What a gesture of reconciliation that would be! Like Tony Blair saying sorry for the Irish famine that killed millions of Irish people in the 19th century on account of political decisions taken in London or Ronald Reagan apologising for the imprisonment of all the Nisei, the Japanese-Americans rounded up by the FBI and put in concentration camps after December 1941, sometimes saying sorry is an important political act.

Thus the first duty of the politician as he seeks to make sense of the Yalta era since 1945 is to tell the truth. In fact, there is an argument to be made that the Yalta era or perhaps the Yalta mind-sent has not come to an end, as we have heard so many statements in recent months that Russia is entitled to its zone of influence. Prime Minister Putin, when president, said that the end of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century when most people would think it was one of the greatest liberations of the 21st century. And today policy-makers have to look at Russia and ask why it is impossible for the Kremlin to allow Ukraine to be Ukraine, Georgia to be Georgia, or the Baltic States to be the Baltic States, without this steady grind of pressure and, sometimes as over energy supplies, a direct assault on the sovereign integrity of Russia’s neighbouring states.

In his fascinating account of the Bulgarian Agrarian politician, Alexsandur Stamboliiski - just published by Haus publishing in its admirable series on the key figures who signed the Versailles Treaty -, Professor Crampton of Oxford University, concludes that it took Bulgaria more than 8 decades after Versailles to accept that its territorial ambitions to control Macedonia and other parts of the Black Sea and Balkans finally had to be relinquished. “It was not, perhaps, until Bulgaria joined the European Union in January 2007 that territorial expansion was given up as a national aspiration.”

Ukraine and the Black Sea’s tragedy is that Russia has not yet given up its desire to be the dominant power in a way that its soldiers could exercise by right of conquest at Yalta in 1945 but which the 21st century can no longer accept as a guiding principle of inter-state relations.

And that is why I believe we need to give more urgent consideration to the politics of the Black Sea as, rather faster than global warming, the temperature rises in that region of the world to that the Black Sea becomes a Hot Sea.

The fault lines are clear. It is over the Black Sea region that much of Europe’s oil, gas, drugs, and trafficked people flow. The Black Sea has seen Europe’s first shooting war and full-scale invasion since 1945. We can all agree that President Saakashvili of Georgia ordered artillery fire to be opened in August 2008. But as the EU report produced by a neutral Swiss diplomat showed, the degree of provocation and military build-up and aggressive acts by Russia in the period leading up to the open fighting were extraordinary. 20,000 Russian troops and 2,000 Russian tanks – more than those who arrived in Prague in 1968 - were massed on the border and moving through the tunnel and pass ready to enter sovereign Georgian territory. What was Saakashvili to do? Wait like the Czechs in 1939 and 1968 and offer no armed resistance? Accept the Anschluss of part of Georgian territory fully into Russia?

I am glad it was his decision not mine. Whatever the arguments over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the full-scale attack by land, air and sea of Georgia was evidence of how the Black Sea can heat up instantly. In May this year I went north of Tibilisi to see the new frontier inside a member state of the UN and the Council of Europe. Just north of Gori I could see the Russian flag flying and Russian military units pointing their guns at me. I felt again as I did at the Berlin Wall in years past that something ugly and unacceptable was happening in Europe.

Today, Russia is hoping to buy a warship from France that carries helicopters and will increase the tensions in the Black Sea. As Russian naval chief Admiral Vladimir Vyssotski said: “If we had this warship in the war with Georgia, the Black Sea fleet could achieve in 40 minutes what took us 26 hours.”

I hope President Sarkozy vetoes this sale as we do not need enhanced naval tension in the Black Sea. We have the Winter Olympics at Sochi in 2012 and then the decision on the continuing occupation of part of the Crimean peninsula, at Sebastapol, by the Russian fleet. This is not like Kalingrad which belongs to Russia by treaty. Ukraine’s permission to allow the Russian fleet to be based on Ukrainian territory runs out in 2017 – less than a decade away. It is vital that Moscow and Kyiv find a way to better relations so that the handling of what happens after 2017 is done on the basis of agreement and mutual consent. The last thing Europe and the world needs is any build-up of tension on this issue.

Look south and we have Turkey, still not sure if it wants to keep looking West or whether to turn its back on Europe and seek to be a regional power player. We have the deplorable evidence of hostility to European Muslims, most of whom shun ideological Islamism, as evidenced in the vote in the Swiss referendum yesterday. In the 1930s it was plebiscites to endorse anti-Jewish politics. Now it is plebiscites to endorse anti-Muslim politics. There is a problem, a serious problem with the ideology of Islamism which denies the rights of women, gays, democracy, a free judiciary and freedom of expression. At its sharpest expression Islamism turns violent and is used to create so-called jihadi suicide terrorism which now plagues us.

But Turkey’s prime minister Erdogan has spoken of “minarets as the bayonets of Islam” and if such metaphors, which turn faith into instrument of death, gain ground, then the language generated from the Black Sea will further destabilise Europe.

Turkey has always demanded the unconditional support of the democratic world for its combat with the terrorism and murder of extremist PKK ideologues. Yet when Israel asked for support as it sought to combat the terror and murder of Hezbollah and Hamas, Turkey adopted a double standard and as we have seen this year launched a verbal and political offensive against Israel. I do not want to comment on Israel but I am concerned that Turkey can demand condemnation against PKK terror and support for actions taken to deal with the PKK but refuses to extend the hand of solidarity to an Israel which faces equally ugly terror attacks on its citizens from Hamas.

I welcome active Turkish diplomacy in helping effect a rapprochement with Armenia and other efforts Turkey undertakes to promote stability. But Turkey stations 35,000 troops in occupation of northern Cyprus, far beyond what is required for its own security, let alone the security of the Turkish community in Cyprus. If we want the Black Sea to be a sea of peace and increased cooperation we need a new approach from Turkey.

I will continue to support Turkey’s EU aspirations and I believe it is the responsibility of sensible Europeans to make the case for Turkey. But we would be helped if there could be a clear rejection of Islamist ideology from Turkey’s leaders and a clear commitment to the common struggle against terrorism of any sort in the region.

Together with Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania and other Black Sea states, Turkey helped set up a Black Sea Cooperation Council in 1992. It is not active and there is now a case for more regular contacts between the Black Sea nations and their fellow European states further west and north. The kind of cooperation between Baltic Sea states is a model. It would be helpful if Black Sea states could speak as one on key European issues instead of the opposing policies of Romania and Bulgaria on the question of recognising Kosovo for example. Do we really need South Stream and Nabucco, for example? How quickly can Romania and Bulgaria move off the Transparency International list of countries where corruption is a serious problem?

I saw first hand the democratic resistance of the people of Ukraine to the bullying of the Russians during the Orange Revolution. Who can forget the bravery and defiance of the ordinary citizens of Ukraine who turned the freezing centre of Kyiv into a tented city of democracy as they insisted that they and not the Kremlin should decide who the elected leadership of Ukraine should be.

That those elected leaders have turned out to be incapable of finding common cause and instead have squandered the five years since the Orange Revolution in bickering and personal positioning has not helped. But in a curious way I find the open hates and back-stabbing of Ukrainian politics rather more normal and like the politics of democracy than the controlled non-democracy of Russia, where journalists and lawyers can be gunned down in the streets, opponents killed in London and those businessmen who refuse to pay off politicians find themselves in prison or exile.

If Russia represents the unholy trinity of Autocracy, Nationalism and orthodoxy, Ukraine represents the European soul of Liberalism, Reason and multi-confessional faith. Let us not forget that in the 17th century Kyiv had a university when none existed in Russian cities. I sit with Russian and Ukrainian parliamentarians on the Council of Europe and the Nato Parliamentary Assembly. To listen to the Russian colleagues is to hear the Kremlin line repeated as if there was no difference between the government executive and the legislature of the Duma or Council of the Federation in Moscow. By contrast, the Ukranian parliamentarians have differing and opposing views, as it should be from a proper democratic parliament.

Ukraine needs more support and engagement from the rest of Europe because it has a greater chance of accepting its European destiny than sadly Russia has.

After the Kuchna years politics in Ukraine has been frankly a mess. The squabbling politicians of France's fourth republic would have been at home. I cannot say as an outsider if Ukraine needs a strong presidential or a coherent parliamentary system but as with other democracies reborn after 1989 it is taking a long time. Don't forget it is only now that Poland has the chance of electing the same party to power for two successive terms.

None of the Black Sea states have found their way to the historic compromises of democratic politics with its give and take and an acceptance that power does change hands as part of the process of strengthening democracy.

After 2004 Ukraine should perhaps have focussed more on Europe and less on Nato. Ukraine will join Nato one day and the sooner the better. The attempts by Moscow to dictate or veto who can and cannot be a Nato member are not acceptable.

But the priority for Ukraine should be getting closer to the EU in economic, social, political and cultural terms. Sadly the clumsy handling of visas by the German embassy in Ukraine at the time when Joschka Fischer was German Foreign Minister has slowed the goal of creating visa-free travel between Ukraine and the EU. We have the example of the Polish nationalist populist political leader, Michal Kaminski, handing out leaflets at Warsaw railway station urging Ukrainians to go home, when the affinities between Ukraine and Poland, like those between say Canada and the US or Ireland and Britain, are obvious and should be encouraged.

But has Europe done enough? Does Europe have a coherent, policy for Ukraine? Do our top leaders visit Ukraine often enough and make clear their belief in Ukraine’s European destiny? I represent the Labour Party on the presidency of the Party of European Socialists. Sadly, there is little well-rooted social democratic politics in Ukraine. The main players are parties of the centre-right. Here we have a very British problem: our Conservative Party, in its own wisdom, and I make no more comment, is no longer part of the European family of centre-right parties known as the EPP.

As a result I am not sure if British politicians, either Labour or Conservative, play a sufficiently engaged role on a regular basis with Ukrainian counter-parts. Ukraine needs more investment from the UK and more encouragement to send its students to our universities. The Know-How Fund set up by Lord Hurd, the Foreign Secretary in the early 1990s, did a fine job in building support for a younger generation of Ukrainian politicians. Now the UK puts all its foreign policy support cash into development as well as, sadly but necessarily, into intelligence and security related overseas work. We need to find ways of helping our near abroad as a prosperous, rule-of-law, stable Ukraine would send out a powerful message: that the values of our common European home, whether we link them to the EU or the Council of Europe, are taking ever-deeper root in Ukraine.

Ukraine menaces no-one. Its soldiers in due course can make an important contribution as a member of the Nato alliance and many already do in cooperation with British and other EU and North American units in different parts of the world.

Ukraine needs a peaceful Black Sea in which the ideological temperatures are lowered and Sochi Winter Olympics will take place against a background of economic prosperity and stability.

At some stage the Yalta syndrome will have to end as the people of the Black Sea region no longer fear invasion, or economic pressures, or political interference or the threat of Islamist ideological extremism.

Getting from here to there will not be easy. But Ukraine will be part of the solution and I am content to count myself as a friend of this great nation which I hope will stay a friend of all of us in the United Kingdom.

The Tories and the far right

This article appeared in Tribune

20 November 2009

Who called David Cameron’s new friends on the hard right in east Europe a “shoddy, shaming alliance”? Not David Miliband, nor any other Labour spokesperson. No, it was The Economist, global capitalism’s parish journal, which thus denounced the neo-isolationism of the Conservatives.
Who believes Cameron to be “untrustworthy”? Not Gordon Brown, but – according to The Guardian – Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. She has withdrawn her CDU party’s representative in London in protest at Cameron’s hostility to mainstream European conservative parties.
Who was “incensed” at Cameron’s efforts to block the Lisbon Treaty? Not the pro-European Alan Johnson, but Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France.

Who thinks the leader of the Tory MEPs in Strasbourg, the controversial Polish politician Michal Kaminski, is a “distasteful cynical demagogue”? That would be the influential Bagehot column in The Economist.
Who believes Kaminski is wrong to keep trying to downplay the massacre of Jews at Jedwabne in Poland in 1941? None other than Poland’s Chief Rabbi, who also described as “neo-Nazi” the fascistic and anti-Semitic party Kaminski joined as a youth. That was two decades ago – at a time when most young Poles flocked to the underground Solidarity union or to Catholic parties if they wanted to express their opposition to communism.
Who said Cameron was flirting with “respectable fascism” in the European Parliament? Edward Macmillan Scott, a true blue Yorkshire MEP who has served at all levels of his beloved Conservative Party, but whom Cameron has expelled.
If any of the above charges were laid against Labour, all the media furies in the world would be unleashed. However, while the BBC is prepared to allow the racist and anti-Semitic Nick Griffin his Question Time hour of fame, it seems to have no news slot to report on the European and international scandal that is engulfing the Tory leader as a result of the disastrous alliance William Hague and his incompetent Europhobe team have made with the right of the right in Europe.
Tory propagandists such Iain Dale, as well as the increasingly eccentric Europhobe Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, try to pretend that the attacks on Kaminski or the vile Roberts Zile from Latvia – another Hague find and now a Cameron ally, whose party commemorates the Waffen SS – are all got up by Labour.
The chief ideologue of Kaminski’s PiS party has told Canada’s Globe and Mail that Jews control Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza, the equivalent of The Guardian in that country. This is rank anti-Semitic language and the efforts of Tory propagandists to pretend there is no problem with the Tory alliance with the hard right in east Europe are untenable. It’s true that the Foreign Secretary took a risk by using his Labour Party conference speech to highlight how the Conservatives are “abdicating the centre of European politics for the fringe” – as the Economist describes Tory neo-isolationism.
However, it was not Labour’s European Union watchers who exposed what was going on, but journalists such as Toby Helm on the Observer, James Macintyre in the New Statesman and Ian Traynor in The Guardian. It was Timothy Garton Ash, the liberal Oxford professor and international affairs commentator, who wrote that Cameron preferred “fascists to federalists”.

It was Roger Cohen in the New York Times who revealed the incomprehension of American Tory watchers at Cameron’s embrace of politicians with a terrible record on what happened to Jews in the Second World War.
The question is why the silence on the part of top Tories. Michael Heseltine has said he hopes Cameron will rejoin the mainstream of European centre-right politics. But where is Chris Patten? Why has the usually voluble and indiscreet Ken Clarke got nothing to say? There are senior Tory MPs standing down at the general election, including the pro-European David Curry. Has he nothing to say?
And when will the likes of John Humphrys, Jeremy Paxman and David Dimbleby start asking hard questions?

NOTE : 25 November 2009. After this article appeared Newsnight did carry out a balanced report on Kaminski and Jedwabne. Jeremy Paxman did ask hard questions of Daniel Hannan MEP who spoke for the Conservative Party. Although both William Hague and Shadow Europe Minister, Mark Francois, were in the Commons that evening for the Queen's Speech Debate on foreign affairs. But they do not want to defend the new alliance with the right of the right in East Europe. Instead, Hannam who was resigned as a Tory spokesman in the European Parliament in protest at David Cameron's reneging on his "cast-iron" promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty got more and more red-faced as he tried to answer Paxman's questions about the awful background of populist nationalist politicians like Kaminski. Poles rightly are concerned that Poland is being smeared with a general antisemitism accusation which is unfair. But this row stems from the decision of the Tories to create their weird alliance instead of operating as an independent party group in the European Parliament.

New EU nominations of Council President and High Representative

This article appeared in The Independent


21 November 2009

Listening to Justin Webb stuttering himself into silence on Today yesterday morning was a reminder of how poorly trained London-based journalists are on how Europe works. Webb was a master of Capitol Hill in Washington and unrivalled in reporting the nuances of US politics. But when it comes to Europe, the Westminster-White City media bubble is lost.

So who wins and who loses? Angela Merkel is a clear winner. She has a vision of a KleinEuropa – a small, inward-looking Europe in the model of her DeutschSchweiz, Germany as a bigger version of Switzerland, comfortable, democratic, decent, exporting everywhere and hoping the world's problems will stay somewhere else.

The original drafters of first the constitution and then the Lisbon Treaty wanted a strong EU president to represent the interests of the nation states that form Europe. Instead, there will be a modest, competent, Belgian fixer from the one country in Europe where linguistic apartheid denies a chance of education or access to public services if the wrong language is spoken. Belgium is a neat country but a unified nation it isn't. President Van Rompuy represents the pure federalism of the Brussels model of Europe. So a major loser is William Hague who fought a successful political campaign against Tony Blair but lost the war to ensure that Britain would increase the status of the nation states in Europe. Instead the eurocracy have inserted one of their own. If the Tories form the next government they will find a much stronger Brussels to deal with than if they had put nation above politics and backed Blair, a pro-American, pro-business Brit as the No 1 in Europe.

But Blair's record on Iraq was unacceptable to many. As I toured Europe listening, writing and speaking on these new posts in recent weeks, I was overwhelmed by the hostility to Blair. It was almost as if the anti-American European elites preferred Saddam Hussein in power. Europe's visceral hatred for George Bush was transferred to Tony Blair in a manner that any psychoanalyst would recognise.

Yet the re-elected president of the EU Commission, José Manuel Barroso, hosted the meeting in the Azores which launched the Iraq invasion. Cathy Ashton loyally supported the war. Other candidates from Latvia and the Netherlands were all supporters of tackling Saddam. But it is Blair who carries the Iraq millstone around his neck, and it cost him his chance of becoming Europe's first president.

By contrast, Gordon Brown, and his small but effective EU team, outmanoeuvred comrades and rivals. The European socialists, united in dislike of Blair, insisted that the presidency should go to the centre-right EPP grouping, which opened the way to Van Rompuy. With Britain's Conservatives out of the EPP and now in their own comfort zone with nationalist populists from Poland, Latvia and the Czech Republic, the EPP did not have to listen to a British point of view.

The socialists wanted one of their own. With considerable condescension Eurosocialist grandees offered the prize to David Miliband, who has won glowing reviews as Europe's new Anthony Eden – young, fluent, and effective and someone who can talk European to great effect while staying firmly Atlanticist. Miliband spurned the offer with a disdain bordering on contempt for the socialists' hatred of his old mentor, Blair. The Foreign Secretary made clear his future was in British politics and that he could do more for Europe in London than in Brussels.

The socialists searched hard for an alternative, looking for someone who would be hostile to America and defend trade union rights as vice-president of the European Commission. In fact, the new foreign minister post requires taking part in about 200 statutory meetings a year and Cathy Ashton will collect more Air Miles than BA's Willie Walsh. Barroso will be the master of the commission. Brown waited patiently until the socialists exhausted themselves in their campaign against Blair and then stepped in neatly with the offer of Lady Ashton.

Largely unknown to the self-referring elites of the Euro left, she had made no enemies and as one of the most approachable and likeable commissioners around, her down-to-earth Lancashire style won only friends.

The socialists gratefully accepted Brown's candidate even if she was a protégée of Blair, was thoroughly pro-American, and, whisper it quietly, had not opposed the invasion of Iraq. So Brown emerges as a clear winner in the game of slotting in a solid social democratic British woman in a key European position. Already, Hillary Clinton has made clear she will see High Representative Ashton as her principal interlocutrice in Europe. These two English-speaking women are going to have a powerful influence in the reshaping of world affairs under way.

Lady Ashton will have to take into account what the Foreign Office or Quai d'Orsay wants. But she will have the power of initiative, and she can highlight what she wants Europe to do on the world stage. While big nations will hang on to their pretension to being foreign policy powers, bit by bit, the blue and yellow flag of Europe will represent the smaller nations of Europe in far-flung parts of the world.

At the end of 12 years of Labour government, a key Labour figure has been inserted into the heart of Europe. Many wanted Blair but more did not. Cathy Ashton will be the continuation of pro-European Blairism by other means. It will not, however, be her job to answer the question, what next? That is for Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown to answer.

After nearly a decade of labour to give birth to a constitutional treaty, Europe has flinched from appointing leaders that CNN and al-Jazeera have heard of. Washington might now have a number to call, but has Europe the confidence not only to shape its destiny but also to influence the world by being self-confident instead of always looking to America for a lead to endorse or to reject? Must European values and norms as enshrined by the Council of Europe's Convention on Human Rights be trumped by German, French and British mercantilism which prefers a sale of a product to the selling of democracy and human rights?

And even with Cathy Ashton in place, when will Britain engage with Europe as a political project? Labour is on its 14th – or is it 15th? – Europe minister and most ministers prefer to see, hear and speak no Europe. David Cameron had endorsed the unsplendid isolation of his deputy William Hague. President Obama had made clear he wants Europe to get its act together. In London he will have to wait a long time, and it is far from clear that other EU capitals want to rise to the challenge of shaping an EU able to stand on its own feet.

Taxing financial transactions

This article appeared in the Yorkshire Post


16 November 2009

It was Winston Churchill who summed it up when he said he wished that "finance was less proud and industry more confident".

Then, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer 80 years ago, but the endless and usually unequal contest between the men of finance and the real thing-producing and service-providing economy is now reaching a crisis point.

Tomorrow's Queen's Speech will see the biggest shake-up in the Government's approach to how the modern economy is handled since Margaret Thatcher launched the privatisation of state-owned enterprises in the 1980s.
The global recession has exposed all economies.
Naturally, opponents of Gordon Brown, including those on the Left, like to blame him for the present woes.
But unemployment is higher in America, France, Germany and Spain and Britain's deficit and national budget problems, while serious, are no worse than the problems faced by other OECD economies.
The French newspaper, Figaro, had to use two of its pages to be able to draw a steeply rising red line to show the deficit President Sarkozy is now running. The re-elected German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has made clear Germany will continue to borrow and not raise taxes rather than see Germany tip back into recession.
And when it comes to beating up on bankers or nationalising banks, the language of George Osborne and Vince Cable owes more to Trotskyist ranting against capitalism as both opposition economic spokesmen search for headlines and soundbites to castigate Brown.
That's politics. But no-one should underestimate the changes now coming fast down the track which will bring to an end the deregulated financial practices that have brought about the disaster.
Public opinion in the form of hard-working business leaders who suddenly face a credit famine, even if they have high productivity and good business plans, is now very angry. Workers laid off or facing wage freezes are furious. This globalised crisis of modern economic management has seen a sharp rise in populist, xenophobic and racist politics across the world. Anti-semitic comments blaming the crisis on "Jewish capitalism" are now common on the web and anti-Jewish remarks can again be heard from mainstream politicians in east Europe.
And yet we need banks. They are the petrol stations of the modern economy, providing fuel around the clock to allow businesses to start and to grow.
We need good financial services to invest our savings and to move from a culture of hoarding money under the bed or buying gold to a practice in which the money-power of individual citizens can be harnessed to the general economic good.
American citizens do not want Goldman Sachs to go under. They need it and other investment banks to go up in value, thus securing a future return on their retirement investment plans.
So the argument is not for or against capitalism, or for or against banking, but rather what kind of capitalism and what kind of management of banking?
In 1996, as an MP on the Finance Committee of the House of Commons which deals line by line with the Budget, I put forward an amendment which called for a tiny modest tax on global financial transactions. Sometimes called the Tobin tax, after the Nobel laureate, James Tobin, who said such a tax would help make transparent and slow down uncontrolled global trades – the casino capitalism that everyone now deplores – my proposal met with instant rejection by Gordon Brown.
His lieutenant on the committee, Alistair Darling, took my carefully worded amendment and got out his red felt tip pen. "No New Taxes," he scrawled across it and that was the end of my attempt to change economic history. At the time, Alistair was right and I was wrong. The de-regulation fervour and the view that the market is never wrong combined into a totemic belief that nothing bankers and finance traders could do should be challenged.
Today there is no stronger proponent of a financial trading tax – a kind of 0.05 per cent VAT – on the sale of financial instruments than Gordon Brown. After all, we pay VAT on all sorts of other goods and services. If money as a product is to be traded in different financial instruments or products, why should there not be a modest transaction tax? The tax could become a modern equivalent of the North Oil tax revenues of the 1980s.
The Prime Minister defended my idea last week at the Despatch Box with remarkable vigour, almost as if he had thought it up himself. Those of us who are Brown-watchers know when he has an idea between his teeth, and we should expect the clunking fist to be hammering out the case for a modern version of the Tobin tax in the months and years ahead.

But we must not go too far. There are forces in Europe who want to replace light-touch regulation by a complete stifling of entrepreneurship and innovation in the selling of financial services. Britain makes a great deal of money by being the centre of world financial services both in London, but also in Leeds and Edinburgh. A careful eye needs to be kept on what Brussels is up to but no-one in Europe will listen to the anti-European Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, whose campaign to defeat Ken Livingstone was heavily funded by hedge funds.
If David Cameron wants to defend the City, his rejection of partnership with the ruling centre-right parties in Europe in favour of populist nationalist parties in east Europe, is a strange way of backing Britain's bankers and financial services industry.
The iron political law of unintended consequences will apply to the reforms due to be announced tomorrow.
To wish for a fair, responsible, properly supervised financial and banking sector is one thing. To achieve it is another. But, thanks to their folly and stupidity, bankers have opened the door to a new regulatory system that will be as much supra-national as it is based on UK law.
The Thatcherite era of deregulation and lax supervision is over. And given the damage to Yorkshire businesses and employees, not before time.

Denis MacShane's Speech following the Queen's Debate in Parliament

Denis MacShane’s Queen Speech Debate calls for Assault on Inequality

19 November 2009

Rotherham MP and former Europe Minister Denis MacShane has called for a new campaign to combat ever-growing inequality at home and abroad. In a speech in the House of Commons on the Queens Speech, MacShane said inequality was the major problem facing the world. He spoke after an appeal from Tory MP David MacLean urged protection of the rain forests. MacShane said the reason the world’s trees were being chopped down was because of poverty and ever-increasing inequality. That should be the priority for political action in a rapidly changing world.
MacShane put forward an 10 point programme covering both economic inequalities and the inequalities between government and MPs. Speaking on November 18th directly after Brown, Cameron and Clegg he called for:

- Executives and bosses to be paid no more than 20 times the average or median pay in their company;

- A Financial Transaction Tax to be introduced on transnational financial trades. MacShane said this could be a modern equivalent of North Sea oil revenue. MacShane noted he had first made this proposal in 1996 and it was rejected by the then Labour Treasury team. He welcomed the Prime Minister’s conversion to this idea;

- Public sector pay not to outstrip that of the Prime Minister so that all public sector salaries did not exceed £200,000. MacShane challenged the inflated salaries of BBC executives and said that if they left to work in commercial television of radio young people of talent would swiftly fill their shoes and not demand bloated pay as high as £800,000 for the BBC Director General paid for by the compulsory BBC tax on the poorest households in the land;

- Fair pay not just the minimum wage. MacShane said that too many workers did not earn enough to live on. Only strong trade unions could negotiate fair wages. Getting trade unionism back on its feet in the capitalist sector of the economy should now be an important objective;

- Public funding for democratic politics. The £27 million given to the Electoral Commission should be transferred to political parties and all outside funding from Lord Ashcroft and other external donors should be banned;

- A fixed-term for Parliaments. A free vote between either a 4-year or a 5-year Parliament could settle the matter with elections held over a weekend in May or June;

- 15 per cent of all legislation to come from backbenchers working on an all-party basis;

- A limit of two terms in office for the prime minister and ministers

- All working-class lists so that workers could again win selection as candidates and be heard in the Commons

- A Parliament able to debate the big issues of the world which cannot happen if the millionaires who control the Conservative shadow cabinet were allowed to grow in influence.

Key Extracts from Denis MacShane’s Speech are below.

"We are in a fascinating era of monumental political change, and the debate has not entirely risen to that occasion. Change is happening both at international level and nationally. We face one of those watershed elections next year. I am very confident, because I do not believe that the Conservatives are ripe for power. To be blunt, they are in a position similar to that of my party in 1991–92—nearly there, but not quite. I may be wrong, but in any event the British people are willing a new politics into being. They returned 65 Liberal Democrats last time, but I wonder whether we will revert to the old bipolar world that existed until about 10 years ago. We also have strong representation of Scottish and Welsh nationalists. Our representative system is changing before our very eyes, but we are not adapting parliamentary procedures to deal with that change.

The broader issue is the profound changes in the national and the world economy. I sum those changes up with one word: inequality. We see inequality of power between those who have, and those who have not. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean) spoke eloquently of the need to combat the slow disappearance of the rainforests, but why is that happening? The poorest of the world are chopping the forest down because it is their only source of heating and cooking fuel. If we do not tackle poverty, we cannot expect people to die of starvation to satisfy the legitimate desire of comfortably off people in this country to retain the rainforests for the protection of the climate.

We also need to look at inequality in our own nation. I am proud of what has happened in the last 12 years. On Monday, I opened a new primary school in my constituency, Herringthorpe, which is spectacularly designed and built. It is of a quality that the working-class residents of that area of Rotherham have never enjoyed before. When I was elected as an MP 15 years ago, that school had rotting roofs and windows falling out of their rotting frames. It was left to rot because of the indifference to the basic core issues of social justice of the then Conservative Government, which did not invest in the poorer parts of the economy. It is those principles that my party represents, while the Conservatives only pay lip service to them. We have to be realistic about the opinion polls, and it is very worrying that we may face the return to power of a party that is of the rich, for the rich and by the rich. There are more millionaires in the shadow Cabinet and political leadership of the Conservatives than any other political party in the world, with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia. It is a party principally of the south, and my constituents in Rotherham fear that if it were to win power they would be ignored, as they were between 1979 and 1997.

My party has to ask questions about why, after 12 years in power, so much inequality remains. Why is the Gini coefficient—one of the measures of inequality—as high, if not higher, now than when we came into power? Like Winston Churchill, I want to see industry more confident and finance less proud. I support the financial services industry, because we need banks; they are the petrol stations of the modern economy. However, perhaps we need more and smaller banks, working in a fully competitive framework, rather than giant behemoths accountable only to themselves.

The shadow Chancellor, in his party conference speech, said, "We’re all in this together," but that is not the impression that my constituents have as they look at the Conservatives’ policies of removing death duties for the richest people in the country, abolishing the tax credits that have so helped the poorer hard-working families in my constituency, and getting rid of the Sure Start programme that has made such a difference to working-class families. We see the incessant clamour for anti-Keynesian public investment cuts, when every other country and every reputable economist—from Nobel prize winners to members of the Monetary Policy Committee—are saying that there must be a continued level of public investment in our economy if we are to come out of this recession.

When that happens, we need to look at the inequalities in our country. We are not all in this together. I was a BBC trainee after university. How I wish I had stayed to polish that seat at the BBC. I could now be paid £300,000, £400,000 or even £500,000. Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, who is on £800,000, put forward the preposterous proposition that he and his mates have to be paid these huge amounts of money—which come from my hard-working, low-income constituents—to attract enough talent to run the BBC. I suggest that he put that proposition to the test. We should reduce all public sector pay to no more than the Prime Minister earns—£190,000—and if the people at the top of the BBC do not like that, let them go and work in the private sector. We would see who applied for their jobs. I have a sneaking suspicion that many young people out there—unpaid interns and other exploited and poorly paid people—would do those jobs every bit as well as the gentlemen of the BBC and other public sector bodies.

We cannot apply that argument to the public sector alone, and accept the idea that the private sector should have grotesque salary differentials. In 1996 I tabled a ten-minute Bill that proposed not so much a statutory minimum wage as a statutory maximum wage. I suggested that it should be set at a ratio of 20:1, between the top earner in any company and the average or median wage of employees in that company. That would still allow handsome salaries to be paid. Of course it was regarded as far too left-wing in those days and not adopted as Government policy, but if we want everyone to be in this together, we have to start thinking more seriously about high pay.

If our country is permanently divided between those with huge salaries, or the gold-plated, index-linked pensions of our top Whitehall mandarins—Sir Thomas this and Sir Christopher that—and the rest of the community who struggle to achieve a decent life in retirement, we will not all be in this together. We have to discuss these tricky issues. I support aspiration and good pay levels, but we have to put a stop to ever-growing inequality.

In 1996 I was a member of the Committee considering the Budget. I tabled an amendment that proposed a modest financial transaction tax on trades, sometimes referred to loosely as the Tobin tax. I showed my amendment to the then shadow Chancellor—I cannot quite remember what happened to him—and his chief lieutenant, now the Chancellor. It came back scrawled over with red ink, "No new taxes".

I was a loyal Labour man, so I immediately dropped my proposed amendment, but what a pleasure it was, two years ago, to hear my friend Poul Nyrup Rasmussen—the former Danish Prime Minister, now the president of the Party of European Socialists—proposing in a strong paper the need for a financial transaction tax. It was an even greater pleasure, last Wednesday, to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box insist that this was a good and necessary idea. It has taken him 12 years to adopt a MacShane policy, but slowly, bit by bit, we are getting there.

We will need that and other measures, because another problem that we have to be honest about is that although the minimum wage has brought about a great deal of social justice, it has fixed far too many people on a very low wage. We need fairer pay for employees across the board, but that cannot be achieved without agencies and agents to represent their interests. That in turn means the rebirth of our trade union movement, which is now too focused on the public sector and too absent in the private, capitalist market economy sector of the world, here and in other countries.

So, there are three measures. We need to take a look at high pay. We need to consider a financial transaction tax, which could be for the next generation what North sea oil was in the 1980s. We also need a mechanism that would allow the Labour party—I would also invite support from other progressives in the House—to see what we can do to strengthen the right of workers to obtain a fairer share of the value that their labour creates, thus ensuring that they do not become dependent on benefits and credits. They should have fair pay for a fair day’s work.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): It is wonderful to see the revival of socialism at the end of this Government’s period in office. Does the right hon. Gentleman not feel acutely embarrassed, however, that after 12 years of a Labour Government we now have the most unjust, inequitable taxation system to be found anywhere in Europe, under which the poor pay a greater proportion of their income through direct taxation than the wealthy?

Mr. MacShane: Technically, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. Knowing Europe quite well, I can assure him that the social justice and full employment measures that we have introduced—including the huge investment in our NHS and in the schools in my constituency that I have mentioned—represent a remarkable social democratic achievement, of which we on these Benches should be much more proud. I do not wish to see the Liberal Democrats being replaced by flinty millionaire Tories at the next election, but they have only a very short period in which to come to terms with the fact that we can shape a progressive alliance in this country and stop the return of the most reactionary, ideological Conservative party for many years. However, if all that the Liberal Democrats are capable of doing between now and the next election is to snipe and moan at those on the Labour Benches, they will be playing right into the hands of Mr. Rupert Murdoch and the Conservatives.

I want briefly to comment on political change, along lines similar to those explored by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who opened the debate from the Labour Back Benches. I agree with him that we need transparent party funding. I will not make any detailed comments about the £2.4 million sitting in the Liberal Democrats’ party coffers that belongs to other people, because I do not think that that would be fair. It would also breach my spirit of seeking co-operation and consensus. However, every other country in the world has had to move to a form of publicly available funding for political parties, in order to stop the corruption that has sent people to prison in France, Germany and elsewhere. We are the last country in the democratic world to hold out against allowing democracy to pay for democracy.

We have the money to do this: we voted £27 million a year to the Electoral Commission. I have to say, however, that since that body was set up, it has increased its pay and its staff, but it has decreased voter participation and confidence in the broad democratic political parties. Coincidentally—it is not responsible for this in any way—that period has seen the rise of extremist, anti-Semitic, racist politics in the form of the British National party and the horrible xenophobia of the United Kingdom Independence party, whose leader boasted of being paid £2 million in expenses by the European Parliament. That £27 million could be allocated pro rata, under supervision, to our political parties. That would stop our search for funds from those such as Lord Ashcroft, or the dubious investors who are now in prison, such as the one from whom the Liberal Democrats have taken money—or funds such as, I have to say in all honesty, some of the big-ticket trade union money that comes to my party.

My second suggestion is that we should support the call for fixed-term Parliaments. I have put forward this argument consistently for some time now. That measure could result in as significant a change as changing the voting system. We could vote on whether our fixed-term Parliaments would last for four years, as in America, Germany and Spain, or for five years, as in France. There could be a free vote in the House on the question. I earnestly suggest that other political parties adopt this policy, so that we would really know where we stand. We could nominate the first Thursday—although I would move the election day to Saturday or Sunday—of May or June, when the weather is nicer, and we would know that there would be an election on that day. We would not then have to play the endless, pointless political game of trying to put forward this or that measure simply to gain a bit of political support.

I also suggest that 15 to 20 per cent. of the legislation introduced in this House should come from Back-Bench MPs on a bipartisan, cross-party basis. It has been suggested that electing the Chairs of Select Committee will somehow provide a miracle cure for the so-called disregard in which many people now hold the House of Commons. I am not sure about that, however. I know of no governing deliberative assembly, from the Roman Senate to our own House of Commons, including the US Congress, where there is no party political management. That is simply the norm. There is a notion that a free vote, in which names would suddenly appear for consideration as Chairpersons of our Select Committees, would miraculously transform things, but I am not sure that that is the case. However, if a coalition of members of at least two or three parties introduced a Bill, and the Bill had to be given a Second Reading, that might begin to make this House more of a legislature, and not simply a group of followers of the Executive plus an Opposition who have their say but never get their way.

I also want to suggest fixed terms for Prime Ministers and Ministers—perhaps a maximum of two Parliaments for a PM or a Minister. Ministers often make the best Back Benchers when they return from being Ministers, because they know how things work. They know the dodges and the diddles of Whitehall. The eternal Minister, with his or her car and red box, however, devalues our ability to make this more of a debating legislature with real supervisory powers over the Government. I think that there is real problem with our representativeness. Thanks to Labour’s policy of all-women shortlists, we have many more women in the House. I congratulate the non-neanderthal Conservatives of Norfolk in seeing off what was obviously an unpleasant misogynist challenge there.

However, I worry considerably that as we search for more women, and the Conservatives search for more millionaires, the one group that is excluded is the one that used to be called "the workers". I wonder whether it is only my own party that needs all-worker shortlists to be introduced, so that people who once came to the House of Commons through the trade union movement and from a working-class background—and then made a huge contribution—will get another chance to be represented here. I am conscious that I had the privilege of a university education, even if I have worked with trade unionists for most of my life.
Let me finish by saying that as a House, we are not rising to the geopolitical and national economic and social changes that face us. As Horace put it:
"Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus".

The mountains laboured, and gave birth to a ridiculous little mouse, or rat. I want this House to be where the needs of a changing nation are heard and reflected. I am not sure that our party political system or our parliamentary system delivers that. I believe profoundly that if the Conservatives were allowed to form their millionaires’ Cabinet, it would be disastrous for our nation.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on a workmanlike Queen’s Speech, but let us now go out and make the argument for new thinking on equality, new thinking on fairness, new thinking on the rights of workers, new thinking on Parliament and new thinking on politics. We have to rise to the occasion, because if we do not, it will be Mr. Rupert Murdoch who continues to have too much influence and say over the affairs of our country.

Press release on nomination of new EU High Representative Cathy Ashton

Press release

Congratulations on Cathy Ashton

19 November 2009

Denis macshane MP, who is a long-standing friend of the new EU foreign minister Cathy Ashton, said he was delighted with her appointment. "Cathy Ashton has always exceeded expectations in every job she has undertaken. She is a calm, competent consensus builder with all the down-to-earth style of her native Lancashire. She was Labour's best leader in the House of Lords and anyone who can herd peers will have no trouble with EU foreign ministers. She is a committed pro-european and will see off the crude isolationism on offer from William Hague and work very well with Hilary Clinton. This is a big achievement for Britain to have obtained this key new post and British values and influence will now have a place at the heart of Europe. Cathy was a modernising reformist who helped Tony Blair create the New Labour Party and was a staunch supporter of Tony and his policies. I am sure Tony will be delighted that one of his proteges and a woman he nudged into high ministerial office now has this key EU role. David Miliband now has a close friend and colleague in charge of EU foreign policy while Gordon Brown should be congratulated on seeing off the Eurocracy grandees and won this job for a British woman", said MacShane.

Who should be the EU Council President and High Representative?

This article on the need to appoint strong figures to the new EU posts after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty appeared in the German newspaper Die Welt

Die halbherzige Personalpolitik der EU

11 November 2009

Der Lissabon-Vertrag ist endlich abgesegnet, da offenbart sich das nächste Problem. Es scheint, als wollen die EU-Mächtigen ausgerechnet jene Politiker in Führungspositionen wählen, die auf dem internationalen Parkett keine bedeutende Rolle spielen.

Nun haben wir ihn endlich, den Lissabon-Vertrag. Und was jetzt? Es sieht wieder einmal ganz so aus, als ob die EU-Gewaltigen aus dem Sieg eine Niederlage zu filtern verstehen, indem sie Namen in die beiden neuen Führungspositionen wählen werden, die kaum Echo in deren eigenen Ländern hervorrufen dürften, geschweige denn in Europa oder der Welt. Dies ist nicht respektlos gemeint gegenüber den Persönlichkeiten, die als Präsident des EU-Rats und als neuer Hoher Repräsentant der EU-Außenpolitik im Gespräch sind.

Um mit Letzterem zu beginnen. An die 200 Konferenzen pro Jahr werden auf ihn/sie zukommen, denn er/sie muss auch als EU-Kommissar fungieren, ja, als Vizepräsident der Kommission. Die Reiseverpflichtungen allein aber dürften dem EU-Außenminister kaum Zeit lassen, an größeren Debatten oder Entscheidungsfindungen in der Kommission teilzunehmen. „Europas erster Außenminister" klingt grandios, doch der/die Amtsinhaber/in wird kaum der Außenpolitik in Paris, London, Berlin oder Warschau widersprechen können, sondern sich eher um Kompromiss und Konsens zwischen der Außenpolitik von 27 Staaten kümmern müssen. Sollte er bei Russland eine entschiedene Linie vertreten, wie Polen, Großbritannien oder Schweden es wünschen, oder eher eine weiche, wie Berlin im letzten Jahrzehnt? Will er auf die tief sitzende österreichische und französische Abwehr der Türkei hören oder mehr auf die Türkei und ihre EU-Ambitionen?

Als neuer Favorit wird der belgische Premierminister gehandelt
Kurzum: Der EU-Außenminister hat möglicherweise weit weniger Gewicht als denjenigen, die sich ein mächtiges Europa wünschen, lieb ist. David Miliband hat seinen Mitte-Links-Freunden bereits signalisiert, er möchte lieber in London bleiben, um dabei zu helfen, die anti-europäischen Tories zu verhindern. Was den EU-Präsidenten angeht, so gratulieren sich schon jetzt die britische anti-europäische Rechte und die anti-amerikanische französische Linke, Tony Blair verhindert zu haben. Als neuer Favorit wird jetzt der belgische Premierminister gehandelt. Aber Belgien stellt so ziemlich die Antithese dar zu einigen europäischen Grundwerten, da die belgische Politik auf sektiererischem Separatismus fußt, durchmischt mit linguistischem Hass und Intoleranz gegenüber dem Anderen. Das möchte man lieber nicht exportiert sehen.
Geht es um ein bequemes Leben und Jobs für alte Freunde, die niemandem wehtun? Dann hätten die EU-Verantwortlichen nach einem Elefanten von einem Vertrag Mäuse an die Schalthebel der EU gesetzt.

Reply published in the Jewish Chronicle on the Tories' alliances in Europe

This article appeared in the Jewish Chronicle

Tories, drop your Euro allies

12 November 2009

The argument over the Tory alliance with populist right-wing parties in Eastern Europe has caused great heartache amongst politicians fighting antisemitism.

Exaggerated claims have been made on both sides. Michal Kaminski is not a roaring Jew-hater in the classical antisemitic mould. He supports Israel — but then both Nick Griffin of the BNP and Jean Marie le Pen have also expressed pleasure at Israel’s military attacks on Muslims.

Griffin’s real attitude to Jews can be found in his claim that the BNP is a party in favour of animal rights. On closer examination, the BNP policy is to outlaw ritual slaughter practices. Jews are not mentioned but every BNP ideologue knows what he means.

Equally, the defence by Tory spin doctors that Kaminski was a freedom-loving, Thatcher-admiring hero of the anti-Communist resistance has no grounding in reality.

The vast bulk of young Poles in the 1980s supported the underground Solidarity movement or joined Catholic parties. The young Kaminski hunted down the NOP, a tiny Polish party with nationalist and antisemitic roots. Kaminski stayed active for some years in what the Chief Rabbi of Poland has described as a "neo-Nazi Party".

Given David Cameron’s views on Europe, the chances of the Conservatives staying in the mainstream European People’s Party were non-existent. Conservatives are where Labour was in the 1980s in deciding that Europe is to be opposed root and branch. But Europe watchers are puzzled that the Tories did not decide to sit as an independent party in the European Parliament. Instead they made this alliance with some pretty flakey politicians.

Kaminski’s views on gays are unprintable. His fellow MEPs appear regularly on Radio Maryja, which even the Vatican has criticised for its anti-Jewish tone.

Poles are horrified as well by the depiction of modern Polish politics as being dominated by antisemitism. Stephen Fry’s asinine remarks about Auschwitz — a Nazi death camp situated on Polish soil — have caused great offence. There were no Polish Quislings, no collaborators, no Polish Waffen SS legions and even the most antisemitic of pre-war Poles fought in the field and in the resistance against the Germans.

My concern is that the cause of the common all-party fight against antisemitism has been damaged by the excessive defence of Kaminski and the rubbishing of the journalists who dug up his past or raised questions about the Latvian line on the Waffen SS and the destruction of Latvian Jewry.

When I, as a man on the left, am asked to condemn remarks on Jews from fellow left wingers like Ken Livingtone or George Galloway, I do so irrespective of my political affiliations. Conservative commentators who pretend Kaminski or his Latvian chum Roberts Zile have no questions to answer and that the row is invented by Labour are just plain wrong.

It is clear that the Conservatives did not do due diligence on their new allies. Each week brings further embarrassment, including the latest outburst against Jews being the controllers of Poland’s main liberal paper, Gazeta Wyborcza, from one of Kaminski’s associates in his PiS party.
Cameron, who is pro-Jewish and pro-Israel, has done himself damage by allowing William Hague and his Europhobe shadow team to set up this new alliance. Cameron has dropped his pledge to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Could he now be persuaded to disentangle the Tories from a relationship with east European populist, nationalist politicians who are equivocal on the massacres of Jews?

I understand party political knockabout and take no offence at friends like Stephen Pollard or Iain Dale denouncing me because I have expressed concern over Kaminski.

But pro-Tory members of the community would be better advised to talk privately to Cameron and urge an end to this alliance. What must not happen is any division on party lines in the common fight against the rising menace of global antisemitic hate.

Antisemitim seen from Europe

This article was published in the Ottawa Citizen, a local daily newspaper, while in Canada to testify before the all-party parliamentary commission enquiring into antisemitism

Global anti-Semitism demands a united response

3 November 2009

The recent desecration of a Jewish cemetery in south Ottawa should be a wake-up call. The beast of anti-Semitism is back.

In Europe, politicians who deny the Holocaust or trivialize the massacre of Jews are elected to the European Parliament.

The Swedish left-wing paper, Aftonbladet, recently published an article claiming that Israeli soldiers kidnap and kill Palestinians to extract and sell their organs. This is the blood libel first put into circulation in the middle ages in England by anti-Jewish priests.

Another of the old anti-Semitic stereotypes is that of the secret cabal or lobby manipulating events behind the scenes to the profit and interest of Jews. A U.S.-based website called "Uncle Semite" has just published a 19-volume "catalogue of Jewish names" with 220,000 listed so that they can be sent anti-Semitic e-mails.

In Britain, the leader of the anti-Jewish National Party has been elected to the European Parliament. There, alongside openly anti-Semitic MEPs from Hungary, France, Belgium and Italy, he enjoys parliamentary immunities and lavish allowances and expenses to spend peddling his poison.

Or take the Hungarian MP, Oszkar Molnar, who speaks for the main opposition party, Fidez. He said Hungary was under threat from "global capital -- Jewish capital if you like -- which wants to devour the entire world, especially Hungary." His party is set to win power next year and his anti-Jewish remarks have been defended by the party leadership.

Then there are the difficulties of Britain's Conservative Party. Its leader, David Cameron supports Israel and is a sincere friend of Britain's Jewish community. But his hardline anti-EU associates have made an alliance in Europe with oddball Latvian politicians who celebrate the Waffen SS conscripts from Latvia despite the widespread massacres of Jews in the country during the war. British members of the European Parliament are led by a Polish politician, Michal Kaminski, who was formerly a member of a neo-Nazi party as a young man and has said Jews should apologize for killing Poles in the Second World War.

It is as if Europe's nerve-endings on anti-Semitism have atrophied and a new tolerance of what a few years ago was politics beyond the pale is now the norm. At the same time global anti-Semitism has the endorsement of state leaders such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is propagated throughout Europe by a network of Wahabi mosques and preachers financed by Saudi Arabia. Egypt recently tried to install its Culture Minister, Farouk Hosni, as head of Unesco despite his call to burn Israeli books at Cairo University. He was defeated but only by a handful of votes and nation after nation at Unesco were ready to vote for a man with his record as the UN's education and culture supreme.

Dislike of Israel has permitted dislike of Jews to become tolerated politics again. Of course to criticize Israel is not anti-Semitic. But Jews in Canada, Britain or elsewhere in the world should not be made to feel that their beliefs and affinities can face a new anti-Semitism when other forms of racism are combatted.

That is why the initiative of the Canadian Parliament to set up its own commission of inquiry into anti-Semitism, which will begin hearings today, is to be welcomed.

I have the honour of representing the British House of Commons after I chaired a similar commission of inquiry which reported in 2006. There was no doubt after our evidence sessions and visits outside of London that British Jews faced levels of anti-Semitic pressure that was not acceptable in a modern democracy. Girls frightened to wear a Star of David chain, boys jostled on their way home from school if they sported a kippa were minor incidents, if frightening enough for students. Worse were the attacks on rabbis or Hasidic students and the organized network of anti-Semitic Islamist ideologues making university life a misery for Jewish students if they did not bow to the anti-Israel hate of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Now is time for a fightback. Government departments, editors, university leaders, diplomats and all decent politicians have to wake up to the return of organized anti-Semitism in too many of the world's democracies. Canada is showing a lead in North America but the struggle against 21st-century anti-Semitism has to be global or it will fail.

Reporting in Canada on antisemitism in Europe

This open editorial was published in the National Post, a Canadian daily newspaper, on the day I appeared as a witness before the Canadian coalition to combat antisemitism in the Canadian Parliament

Europe's new anti-Semitism

2 November 2009

At London’s Royal National Theatre, a play called Our Class is pulling in crowds. It tells of the massacre of 1,400 Jews in the town of Jedwabne in north-east Poland in 1941. These Jews were not victims of Nazis. They were killed by Poles in an anti-Semitic frenzy unleashed by the horrors of the German-Russian occupation of Poland after 1939. The play looks at the life story of 10 Catholic and 10 Jewish Poles who were in the same class together until one group turned on the other.

For decades, the killings were covered up by Polish communist governments that could not bear the inconvenient truth that Poles, not just Nazis, had been responsible for exterminating Jews. But the painful truth about Jedwabne was published by historians in the 1990s. And in 2001, Poland’s then-president Alexnder Kwasniewksi went to Jedwabne to apologize for what was done in 1941. He was attacked by local politicians led by a ultra-nationalist Michal Kaminski, who had been a member of the anti-semitic Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (National Rebirth of Poland) before gliding into more mainstream, but still hard-right, politics to become a Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

Kaminski attacked his president and organized protests against Kwasniewksi’s attempts to make atonement for the slaughter of Jews in 1941. Kaminski accused Jews of “murdering Poles” between 1939 and 1941. His electoral slogan is “Poland for the Poles,” which needs no decoding as an appeal for an all-Catholic, all-white Poland.

Kaminski might be written off as just another ugly politician who plays down the massacre of Jews in WWII, save that he now heads a political grouping in the European Parliament that includes the British Conservative Party. Kaminski’s Polish MEPs also appear regularly on the anti-semitic Polish radio station, Radio Maryja, which the Vatican has criticized for its Jew-baiting.

It is not just Poland. Hungary has sent three MEPs from the Jobbik Party, which is openly anti-semitic. They turned up in their 1930s-style Iron Guard uniform expecting to take seats in the European Parliament like fascists of old. Ozskar Molnar is an MP for Hungary’s main opposition party, Fidez. He recently attacked “global capital — Jewish capital if you like — which wants to devour the entire world, especially Hungary.”

Or take Latvia’s Fatherland and Freedom Party. It has an MEP elected to the European Parliament who sits with the controversial Poles as well as British Conservatives. Its politics include celebrating Latvian Waffen SS volunteers whose record in killing Jews was as bad as that of Nazi Germans.

This is the new landscape of the European parliamentary process, one in which antisemitism is banalized as tolerated politics.

Britain’s National Front party has secured the election of its leader, Nick Griffin, as an MEP. Griffin is notorious as a holocaust denier and had two pigs on his farm he called “Ann” and “Frank.” His only published work is called Who are the Mind-Benders? It claims that a secret Jewish lobby controls the British media. Again, these anti-Semitic ravings might be dismissed as fringe extremist lunacy, save that the BBC invited the Holocaust-denying Griffin onto its most prestigious political show this month to allow the Jew-baiter 60 minutes to defend and promote his views.

Many European countries are reporting spikes in anti-semitic incidents in which Jewish cemeteries and synagogues are defaced, Jewish students are threatened on their way to school. Rabbis and Chassidic Jews are being attacked physically.

Classic state-sponsored anti-semitism is promoted through the Saudi bank-rolling of Wahabi mosques in Europe, which preach hate against Jews and Israel — a practice that remains unchallenged by many European politicians. An even more pernicious and widespread form of anti-semitism is to hold every Jew accountable for what happens in Israel, and to paint the Jewish state as a Nazi or apartheid entity.

These forces have combined into what can only be called a new anti-semitism, which has become part of contemporary European politics. A wake-up call is needed before it is too late.
This week, Canada’s parliament begins its own inquiry into anti-semitism. The work is urgent and timely: Just days ago, Jew-haters daubed swastikas on a Jewish cemetery in Ottawa. Europeans and Canadians cannot ignore a state of affairs in which Jews face attacks, and anti-semitism is reborn as contemporary politics.

Kaminski: another example of the Tories' hardline on Europe

This article appeared on the Guardian’s Comment website
Tories will come to regret Euro allies
29 October 2009

Michal Kaminski might support Israel, but so does Nick Griffin. Cameron will one day have to climb out of the hole he has dug.

Again, the problem of the Tory approach to Europe is raised on the Today programme and in the House of Commons. Has the time now come to have to a full public debate on the Conservative party's alliance with the hard-right parties in east Europe? Much has focused on the personality of the Polish politician, Michael Kaminski.
What do we know of Kaminski? In the 1980s, when every Pole was waiting for the end of communism, he joined as a student a far-right Polish party. There were plenty of other groupings he could have joined. Instead, Kaminski went out of his way to join and be active in a party (NOP in its Polish acronym) that belonged to the European group of fascist parties, and he wore the symbol of the prewar Polish Falanga movement, which was notoriously antisemitic.
This summer, Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, had this to say on the record about Kaminski and the NOP:
I do not comment on political decisions. However, it is clear that Mr Kaminski was a member of NOP, a group that is openly far right and neo-Nazi. Anyone who would want to align himself with a person who was an active member of NOP and the Committee to Defend the Good Name of Jedwabne (which was established to deny historical facts of the massacre at Jedwabne) needs to understand with what and by whom he is being represented.
The chief rabbi objected to the cruder headlines placed above his statement and, like any religious leader, hates being quoted in a party political row. But he has never withdrawn his initial statement.
The real problem lies with British politics. David Cameron and William Hague imposed Kaminski as leader of their new European parliament group ,which they set up after breaking all links with Europe's mainstream conservative parties such as Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP and Angela Merkel's CDU. Immediately, the Tory press office had to rewrite Kaminski's political history. His Wikipedia entry was altered by someone using a House of Commons computer. Editors were phoned up and urged not to give any publicity to the Yorkshire Tory MEP, Edward McMillan-Scott, who protested about the rise of what he called "respectable fascism" in the European parliament. Michael Heseltine, whose Toryism is unquestionable, has expressed his hope that Cameron will take the Tories back to the mainstream of conservative European politics.
After the July decision of Cameron to make the rightwing Pole the leader of Tory MEPs, the Observer journalist, Tony Helm, remembered that he had come across Kaminski when he was the Berlin correspondent of the Daily Telegraph in 2001. Helm covered the visit to Jedwabne the town in Poland where hundreds of Jews were massacred in 1941. Their killers were fellow Poles, not German Nazis. The then Polish president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, went to Jedwabne to apologise for the massacre. Kaminski organised a protest and used ugly language to denounce Kwasniewski and downplay the slaughter of the Jews.
When contacted by Helm, Kaminski blustered and changed his story, but in subsequent interviews with Martin Bright of the Jewish Chronicle, Kaminski has not resiled from his belief that he was right to protest the Polish government's apology for the Jedwabne massacres of Jews at the hands of Poles. He even said he would say sorry when "Jews apologised for killing Poles". Kaminski was not alone. Other Polish conservative politicians, including those more centrist than Kaminski, were unhappy about Kwasniewski's atonement statement. But only Kaminski, eight years later, continues to try to make relative the massacre of Jews at Jedwabne.
Does this make Kaminski antisemitic? William Hague on the Today programme offered what might be termed the "Nick Griffin defence". Last week on Question Time, Griffin said he was pro-Israel and supported the Israeli army's attack in Gaza. Does this wash away Griffin's many years of anti-Jewish statements and acts? Hague and other Tory propagandists such as Daniel Hannan and Iain Dale – who are almost manic in their obsession with proving that Kaminski is the right man to lead the Conservative MEPs in Strasbourg – pray in aid the Pole's support for Israel. I don't doubt it is sincere, just as I don't doubt Griffin enjoyed seeing Israel deal harshly with Palestinian Muslims. But it does not remove the questions Kaminski fails to answer, nor the questions many are asking in Europe and North America about why exactly the Conservatives have to be so strong in supporting this particular man.
Is Kaminski an out-and-out antisemite? No. The politics of Jewish issues in Poland is rooted in national identity questions. There are, to put it carefully, not many Jews in Poland against whom antisemitic politics might be organised. Kaminski is a populist nationalist. His language on gay people would get him expelled from any British party. Many of the MEPs from his party appear regularly on Radio Maryja, which even the Vatican has rebuked for its antisemitism.
But the Conservatives should be asking Kaminski to withdraw his statements about Jedwabne, apologise for his attacks on a brave Polish president, Alexander Kwasniewski, who, like Willy Brandt, was willing to make symobolic atonement for the crimes done to Jews in the second world war.
Instead, William Hague and his epigones such as Daniel Hannan want to dig ever-deeper the black hole that Tory European parliament policy has fallen into. As more research is carried out into the utterances of Kaminski's fellow MEPs and as the spotlight shines on the banalisation of Jew-killing in the second world war and the downplaying of contemporary antisemitism, the Conservatives will regret this alliance which shames British parliamentary democracy.

Spanish article on neo-antisemitism

This article appeared in the Spanish paper ABC (Madrid)

El regreso del antisemitismo

28 October 2009

En el Royal National Theatre de Londres hay en cartel una obra, «Our Class» (Nuestra clase), que está atrayendo mucho público. Narra la masacre de 1.400 judíos en la ciudad polaca de Jedwabne, en el noreste de Polonia, en 1941. Estos judíos no fueron víctimas de los nazis. Fueron asesinados por polacos en un arrebato de locura antisemita desencadenado por los horrores de la ocupación germano-rusa de Polonia después de 1939. La obra gira en torno a la vida de 10 polacos católicos y 10 polacos judíos que estaban juntos en la misma clase, hasta que un grupo se volvió contra el otro.

En la historia del Holocausto, la matanza de Jedwabne es un incidente secundario. Pero después de 1945, el Gobierno comunista polaco la ocultó durante décadas porque no podía soportar la incómoda verdad de que los polacos hubieran exterminado a judíos, y no sólo a nazis. En 2001, el entonces presidente de Polonia Alexander Kwasniewski fue a Jedwabne a pedir perdón por lo que se hizo a los judíos de la ciudad en 1941.
Fue atacado por políticos locales liderados por el ultranacionalista Michal Kaminski, que había sido miembro del antisemita y racista Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (Renacimiento Nacional de Polonia) antes de pasarse a una política más convencional, pero todavía de la derecha dura.
A Kaminski podría considerársele uno más de los muchos políticos de derechas de ideología antisemita si no fuera porque ahora lidera una agrupación política en el Parlamento Europeo que incluye al Partido Conservador británico. Los colegas parlamentarios de Kaminski son invitados habituales de Radio Maryja, la emisora de radio católica de Polonia que el Vaticano ha tratado de cerrar debido a su propaganda antijudía. Hungría ha enviado a tres diputados del Partido Jobbik, que es abiertamente antisemita. Se han unido al amigo de Kaminski que milita en el Partido de la Libertad letón, Robert Zile, cuya política incluye honrar a los voluntarios letones de las Waffen SS, cuyo historial era igual de malo que el de los alemanes nazis en lo que a matar judíos se refiere.
De ahí el nuevo panorama del proceso parlamentario europeo, en el que se da al antisemitismo un carácter banal y se considera una política tolerada. El Partido Nacional Británico se ha asegurado la elección de su líder, Nick Griffin, al Parlamento europeo. Griffin es conocido por negar el Holocausto y en su granja tenía dos cerdos a los que llamaba «Ana» y «Frank». La única obra suya que se ha publicado se titula «Quiénes son los que doblegan las mentes» y en ella afirma que un grupo de presión judío secreto controla los medios de comunicación británicos.
Los sindicatos británicos han instado a boicotear a Israel aunque en Israel se critique lo que hacen su Gobierno y su ejército más que en cualquier otro país del mundo. A estos mismos sindicatos jamás se les pasaría por la cabeza pedir que se boicotee a los Estados árabes represivos, pero cuando se trata del único Estado judío en el mundo se aplica un doble rasero.
Muchos políticos europeos siguen sin frenar o cuestionar el clásico antisemitismo estatal que expresan los discursos del presidente iraní Ahmadineyad o el que los saudíes financien una red de mezquitas wahabíes en Europa en las que se predica el odio contra los judíos e Israel.
Apenas se ha dado publicidad a la lluvia de miles de misiles que los matajudíos de Hamás lanzaron sobre el sur de Israel. Cuando un número mucho menor de misiles V1 y V2 cayeron sobre Londres en 1944, la respuesta británica fue bombardear Hamburgo, provocando 50.000 víctimas civiles, y más tarde envolver Dresde en llamas, causando la muerte de 35.000 niños, mujeres y no combatientes.
Pero cuando los soldados israelíes tratan de poner fin a los ataques de misiles contra sus mujeres y niños, el mundo se apresura a condenarlos y se traga la propaganda de Hamás, ya que la nueva ideología antisemita sostiene que los judíos de Israel no tienen derecho a la defensa propia.
Una forma más perniciosa de antisemitismo es considerar a todos los judíos responsables de lo que sucede en Israel y retratar al Estado judío como una entidad nazi o partidaria del apartheid. A los católicos irlandeses en Gran Bretaña no se les culpa del terrorismo del IRA y a los ciudadanos vascos no se les mira con desprecio debido a las matanzas del grupo terrorista y fascistoide ETA. Pero a los judíos se les hace creer que, a menos que denuncien a un país por el que sienten una afinidad natural y normal, son responsables en conjunto de los excesos, errores y crueldades que efectivamente tienen lugar en los territorios ocupados.
Estas fuerzas componen un nuevo antisemitismo, con sus diputados, su moderna paranoia de la conspiración sobre un lobby judío secreto que maneja todos los hilos, sus ataques contra los judíos en las calles de su respectivo país, y el apoyo a Estados poderosos con dinero para despilfarrar en la promoción del odio antisemita.
Éste no es el antisemitismo nazi o de los pogromos en el imperio ruso, o el omnipresente fanatismo antijudío del comunismo soviético. Pero la ideología, la teoría y la práctica del antisemitismo del siglo XXI es ahora parte de la política europea actual. ¿Cuándo se plantarán los políticos europeos y adoptarán medidas para derrotar a los antisemitas antes de que adquieran todavía más fuerza?

Book review: Victor Sebestyen's Revolution 1989

This article on the 1989 revolution was published in Tribune
"Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire" by Victor Sebestyen (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £25)
16 October 2009

The 1989 revolution lays claim to be the world’s greatest revolution precisely because it was peaceful. Perhaps it would command more attention if blood had been shed as in all previous revolutions – think the English Civil War, the Terror and the guillotines of France after 1789, the deaths in America between 1776 and 1865 when American politics finally turned away from violence, or the ghastly revolutions of the 20th century from the Bolsheviks in 1917 to the Ayatollahs in Iran in 1979. But Victor Sebestyen’s book is worth a dozen rehashes of World War II by Andrew Roberts and his clones.

Because 1989 was different. An empire overthrown. People able to speak, travel, write and have sex as they pleased. The camp of democracy massively enlarged with only the killing of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu blotting what was a victory for non-violent politics. Similar movement was taking place in Latin America, in South Korea and, above all, in South Africa. Their success also lay in turning away from violence. The Latin American and Irish terrorists of the 1970s only made matters worse as did the pin-prick attacks of the exiled ANC Marxist militia.

Sebestyen’s record of the 1980s is a compelling, page-turning read. Finely edited by his publisher, his book is a precise step-by-step account of the high politics and the big-name political players in the years between the August 1980 strikes in Gdansk and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall nine years later.

There are absences – the people of the Baltic states who actually had to escape from being fully incorporated into the USSR in 1940 strangely do not get a mention. Sebestyen has all the virtues of a traditional Fleet Street journalist – a brisk style, revealing tales of personalities, and a steady narrative pace – and all the faults of London journalism with its comprehensive indifference to ideology, as well as social and economic currents.
He says no one saw the changes coming. Eh? I was in Prague meeting Charter 77 leaders in 1978 and was in Poland regularly in 1980-1981 and even wrote the first book on the Polish union, Solidarity, which ended on an optimistic note. Others who examined the rejection by the masses of "real existing socialism" noted that change was coming. Stalinism could only preside with terror tactics over a largely peasant society. The urbanisation and industrialisation of Russia and Eastern Europe, which accelerated from the 1960s onwards, brought into being a working class which had its own needs and its own form of extra-party organisation – the trade union.
Most of the organisers, writers and theoreticians of the different movements that toppled communism were trained in dialectic and thus were able to guide their different movements away from an excessive religious nationalism. Sadly, this is back in business as we see in the Tory alliance with right-wing Polish nationalist politicians with unpleasant views on Jews, gays and Barack Obama.
Sebestyen repeats the tired old neo-conservative arguments that the CIA financed the democratic opposition via the Vatican. He fails to mentions the entire European and world democratic trade union movement that offered support, money and a platform to Solidarity both during its early period of legal existence and then as it led a half-life in the 1980s. Norman Willis, the TUC general secretary, deserves a mention and it is bizarre that Sebestyen seems to know nothing of the role of the ILO where Solidarity and other democratic unions in the communist world had a platform and support.
Nor does he acknowledge the role of the exiled Poles, Czechs and others like Jan Kavan and his Palach Press in London or the Smolar brothers in London and Paris who channelled books, money, printing equipment and people into communist Europe. The 1980s saw the rise of the strength of the European Community. The West was no longer defined by NATO but by European integration to which all the nations of Europe could aspire. But Sebestyen ignores the magnetic pull of the EU. Europe could no longer be painted as plagued by capitalism and clerics and cartels as in the old communist propaganda lines of the 1950s and 1960s.
He is honest in describing the massive errors of judgement of the CIA. The role of Conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in creating, financing, and arming jihadi terrorism in the 1980s – which culminated in 9/11 and in today’s death tolls in Afghanistan – needs much harsher examination and judgement.
This is a book in the big men school of contemporary history. It is none the worse for that but we are still waiting for a definitive account of a revolution that was glorious and, in a short period, brought more freedom and democracy to more people than ever previously achieved.