Labour and Europe, a complex relationship

Labour’s Unfinished Europe Business

13 September 2009

Getting policy, politics and principle into alignment is the 3-card trick of government and coherent party activity. Europe ought to be one of Labour’s strongest cards. As an internationalist party Europe is where we can give expression to the idea of working cooperatively beyond national borders. Of course Labour has a century of internationalist rhetoric and proclamation. We want to abolish poverty, global warming, sex slave trafficking and promote peace in the Middle East, democracy in Zimbabwe, human rights in Burma, and worker rights worldwide. Easy to state. Hard to achieve. But if we begin where we have achieved at a supranational level democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression, protection for women and minorities, as well as legal obligations to uphold social and trade union rights, then the locus of this achieved, working internationalism stares us in the face. It is called the European Union. The cry of Labour, new and old, is that together we can achieve more than if we act alone. The EU is where that core Labour value can become practice. Of course, we like the UN and the Commonwealth. Sensible Roosevelt-Clinton-Obama socialists like the United States. But the UN and the Commonwealth are not instruments of legal authority which bind their member states. The US Congress has no interest in British views. The EU is the only grouping of states where Britain, working with partners, can shape supranational, hence international policy as expressed in binding law. This does not make the EU a left project. It is hardly a rightist project otherwise the salvoes of hate directed against it from the Murdoch, Rothermere and Barclay Brothers newspaper empires would not take place. The BNP, UKIP, and much of the Tory Party dislike, even hate the EU. My enemy’s enemy is my friend is not always an absolute guide to politics. But anything that has Daniel Hannan and William Hague and Liam Fox denounce with such venom should be looked at positively. So rather than ask why the EU not sufficiently left we should ask what can we do to make EU progressive politics come to life. For the democratic left in Britain, the politics of Europe also make sense. In no other area do the Tories display such a reactionary, arrogant, sometimes openly xenophobic politics as on Europe. Here there is proof plenty in words from top, middle and lower pond Conservatives about how much they want to dismantle Britain’s relationship with Europe. This neo-isolationism and neo-appeasement of the most backward and reactionary political forces in East Europe should open a door for Labour to brand Cameron’s Conservatives as dangerous to Britain’s national interest. The Tory MEP Edward Macmillan Scott has denounced Cameron’s alliance with extreme, often racist and sometimes antisemitic nationalist from East Europe as opening the door to "respectable fascism." This is hard language from a mainsteam true-blue Conservative elected politician. It should be used to define the Cameron-Hague project on Europe as one of the nastiest, negative expression of contemporary British Toryism. But no Labour minister seems aware of Macmillan Scott’s critique of Cameron’s EU political alliances as "respectable fascism." There is a broader aspect as well. With their vulgar populist anti-Europeanism, the Conservatives have given up on more than two centuries of their claim to speak for the international interests of the nation. In the 18th century, Tory internationalism was imperialist. In the 19th century, imperialist internationalism was fused with free trade economics after the abolition of the corn laws. After 1945, the Conservatives shaped multilateral internationalism. Labour after 1945 forged an anti-communist but simultaneously anti-continental internationalism. It served the nation well in terms of shaping Nato and the UN, but left Britain adrift of being a European political power when Labour turned its back on the first expressions of Europeanism by refusing to join the common control of Europe’s iron, steel and coal industries. By contrast the Tories, after 1951, were enthusiastic supporters of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the UN, Nato, GATT (fore-runner of the WTO), and later supra-national treaties like the Test Ban Treaty, or the Law of the Sea. It was the Conservatives who took Britain into the European Community against a majority of Labour MPs, though not John Smith. It was the Tories who supported the appointment of Jacques Delors as European Commission President, and then agreed to the sharing of sovereignty inherent in the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty. Meannwhile Labour, in its 1983 manifesto, was calling for Britain to withdraw from Europe and for years after Labour MPs were infected by a crude Euroscepticism that alienated voters. Labour’s move under Tony Blair to being the party of Europe, compared to the weakness and vacillation and drift to anti-European posturing by senior ministers under John Major, appeared to seal the deal of Labour’s claim to represent Britain’s international interests by being the party of an efficient and effective policy in Europe. More than a decade later and the picture is blurred. Labour’s reticence over key aspects of European development from the Euro to social policy or to forging an effective European foreign policy independent of, even if aligned in value terms with the United States, has reduced Labour’s credentials inside the EU and globally. Labour since 1997 has got through a dozen Europe ministers and had two Foreign Secretaries whose DNA oozed Euroscepticism. The Treasury after 1997 rubbished the Euro as if the pound sterling would forever protect the UK economy. Ministers briefed or sent out media signals that they only wanted an EU that conformed to the verities of the Whitehall establishment or the prejudices of the worst poujadiste elements of British business. Blair’s and Brown’s broad pro-European credentials were not in doubt and both had been pro-European in the 1980s when some of their future Labour cabinet colleagues pandered to the Murdoch-Mail hostility to European cooperation. But neither Labour prime minister was willing to take a risk by supporting a broad, intellectual, and policy-focused pro-European politics. Neither faced down closet or overt Euro-cynical or Euro-nervous ministers. Neither sent out clear signals that to be pro-EU was the path to promotion for ministers. Blair made pro-EU speeches. But he did so in across the Channel, not in Britain. As a result Labour left the field clear to the lies and propaganda of anti-Europeans in the Conservative Party, the Tory press, as well as the BNP and UKIP. Can this now be challenged, let alone changed? The task is both serious and easy. Serious because on the whole, voters are not dupes about foreign relations. They have not supported protectionist or isolationist parties. They have supported parties of open trade and open frontiers – the defining nature of the EU. Voters can smell a "wong ‘un" – in the shape of an America that does not consult or a Russia that seeks to bully. Despite nationalist moans about too many foreigners, Britain knows that from the Hugenots of the 16th century to the German Jews of the 20th century, Britain has become richer from being open to the creativity of Europe. Today 1.5 million Brits live in Spain and France alone and thanks to the EU, Easyjet and Ryanair can land where they want because of EU open market rules. No British product or service from architecture to insurance can be refused access to a market of 500 million. Easy because the anti-EU propaganda of the Tories, UKIP, the BNP and the Mail is based on demonstrable untruths. The lies about Europe abound.
Lie No 1 is that an undemocratic bureaucracy in Brussels dictates to Britain. The truth is that elected ministers, accountable to their national parliaments decide common European rules, in conjunction with the democratically elected European Parliament.
Lie No 2 is that Europe dictates our laws. Yet the House of Commons Library (an independent research body) cannot find more than 10 per cent of all laws passed by the Commons which emanate from Europe. Yes, in areas where we share sovereignty, as in trade, we with EU partners agree common positions which then count for all 27 EU member states. But on tax, foreign policy, health, education, justice, transport and the 1001 big and small laws we pass, the nation state remains where law is made.
Lie No3 is that Europe dictates tax and spending policies. In truth, just a miserly one per cent of Europe GNI (gross national income) is transferred to EU agencies to be spent on commonly agreed policies. The other 99 per cent is earned, spent, taxed or allocated according to the national priorities. If anything, the argument should be made that with just 1 per cent of Europe’s income – less than the United States invested in the Marshall Plan afer 1947 – European nations, once poor and divided, have seen remarkable growth and investment in social justice, rule of law and human rights.
Labour has to lift its eyes above the Daily Mail's or Richard Desmond's isolationist Tory arguments and be more confident in making the case that Britain’s core vital interests are served by a full-hearted and, yes, enthusiastic engagement as a member of the European Union. Of course, we want reforms. National Parliaments like the House of Commons needs to be directly connected with EU decision-making. The European Parliament is not the last word in EU democracy. And as more and more racist and anti-semitic MEPs are elected from the BNP or xenophobic, isolationists from UKIP and the Conservative Party on the basis of fewer than 50 per cent of voters participating in European Parliament election, the representivity of the Strasbourg parliament comes into question. In some of current Labour debates, there has been a hint of a return to the old populist, anti-European reflexes of a Peter Shore or a Tony Benn in the 1980s or an earlier opportunistic Eurosceptic Labourism of Gaitskell in the 1960s or Healey and Callaghan between 1970 and 1974. This is tempting but dangerous. Like the "British jobs for British workers" slogan, a rush-to-the-mouth phrase which passes the test of a Newsnight interview or a conference speech but which then hangs round Labour’s neck like a tombstone, some of the current Labour language on Europe appears to validate the Tory or even UKIP/Daily Mail line on Europe. Hence the need for a new Labour confidence on Europe as a positive, win-win politics for British and progressive politics. David Miliband uses the metaphor that EU stands for "Environment Union" in the sense that if we want to contribute to global solutions for the challenge of global warming, then we have to be engaged in European Union politics with a professional enthusiasm that is rarely seen from Labour as it considers its European engagement. Being consistently, confidently and coherently pro-European is not easy. And to be so with wit, ease and charm is hard in a political discourse which does not like Europe. Labour having won power in 1997 with a pro-European élan has sadly squandered that confidence and enthusiasm. If we are to hold power and defeat a mean, sad, isolationist Tory politics that will do our country harm, it is high time Labour rediscovered its confidence and cheerfulness that a European Britain under Labour will be a bigger, better country than a little England Britain under the Conservatives and their isolationist allies.


This article was published on the Guardian's Comment website

The BBC's disgraceful BNP stunt
8 September 2009

The BBC should not provide a platform for fascism. If Nick Griffin appears on Question Time the only winner will be the BNP.
The BBC, whose lavish salaries and expenses paid for by the poorest of the land, are obsessed with media stunts as they watch ratings slump. Last week, it was Adam Boulton announcing he would "empty chair" Gordon Brown if he refused Sky's pompous demand to debate on Boulton's terms with other party leaders. Now it is the BBC that has staged its publicity coup by inviting Holocaust denier Nick Griffin on to its flagship Question Time Programme.
Is there outrage? No, the liberal world slumps deeper into its armchair having a little moan about how nasty the BNP is, while the mainstream parties meekly agree to appear with Griffin.
Inviting the BNP's Nick Griffin as if he were the same as a senior politician from a democratic party is a stunt too far. The only full-length written work by Griffin – Who are the Mindbenders? – plays on old Nazi propaganda that Jews are the secret controllers of the media. As with Griffin's denial of the Holocaust and the BNP's ideology of hate against Muslim citizens, the core ideas are directly descended from the pre-war fascist era.
Yes, they get votes in low turnout elections from folk concerned about immigration. But not one in 10,000 voters knows Griffin's record. The argument advanced by Peter Preston in the Guardian and Matthew Seyd in the Times , as well as the Lib Dem MP Danny Alexander in the Daily Mirror, is that debating with Griffin somehow exposes him and his loathsome ideology.
If only. Question Time is not about rational debate but a ping-pong of point-scoring and gimmicks for cheap applause. Some of the audience will snarl at Griffin, some will cheer, when he denounces the number of foreigners in Britain or damns the EU. Sunny Hundal has advanced cogent arguments demolishing the myth that this is about a free exchange of views from which the BNP will emerge the loser.
In fact, the only winner will be the BNP vote-bank. French TV journalists went through the same arguments as Jean-Marie Le Pen rose in the 1980s. He and other National Front politicians were elected to Strasbourg, the French national assembly and local town hall. They had MEPs, deputies and mayors. Like Griffin, Le Pen was obsessed with Jewish questions though his main focus was Muslims, other immigrants and pulling out of the EU. But each time he appeared on the French equivalent of Question Time, his votes went up and the other party leaders spent their hour abusing each other as Le Pen just smiled at their political antics.
Today, French TV journalism is wiser. Yes, as an elected politician leading a legal party, Le Pen is reported and awarded a share of time on the election news, just as Griffin has the right to. But given the undemocratic core of his views on Jews, Muslims and immigrants, French TV does not treat Le Pen and the National Front as just another party. British broadcasters should follow suit.
If the argument is made that an electoral mandate confers the right to be boosted by the BBC on Question Time, why not the hundreds of independent councillors, or the other small parties who win seats?
This is not about democracy but about the BBC losing its sense of moral balance and editorial integrity. The BBC, rather than the Daily Mirror and Searchlight, should be exposing Griffin – not boosting his insatiable ego. As he enters his eighth decade (old enough to have been born during Hitler's Reich), David Dimbleby should refuse to provide a platform for British fascism.
Gordon Brown should make clear that no Labour minister or MP will appear on Question Time to validate this disgraceful BBC stunt. Alan Johnson has spoken for most, if not all, Labour MPs and activists by making clear he will not help Griffin up the political status scale by appearing with him. Labour MPs will discuss this at the party conference and Labour's high command should listen to those who fight hand-to-hand with the BNP on the doorstep before caving in to the BBC.
David Cameron, too, should remember that when Enoch Powell made a racist speech in 1968, the Tory leader Ted Heath ended Powell's career as a front-rank Tory MP. Heath went on to become prime minister. Cameron and Nick Clegg should be as brave today. All democratic parties should make clear that if Griffin appears on Question Time, David Dimbleby can have him to himself.

Britain should join the euro

This article was published in the London Evening Standard
Never mind the politics, it's time to join the euro
7th September 2009
Back from summer holidays and the anxious wait for the Visa and MasterCard statements begins.
Europe, from rainy Ireland to sun-soaked Greece, has suddenly become frighteningly expensive, as the massive devaluation of the pound against the euro hits home. The jug of sangria, the pottery and wines to bring home now cost us so much more.
The saddest sights in south-west France and on the Spanish Mediterranean costas are British citizens handing back to estate agents the keys of the houses they bought but can no longer afford to keep, as their pounds from back home don't cover the bills.
For more than a decade we have been told that the euro was a terrible idea, while the good old pound sterling would protect the British economy from the wily ways of the Europeans.
Now more and more people are asking why the pound is letting us down - and whether treating it as a shibboleth that cannot be questioned makes sense any more.
All the old arguments against the euro have fallen away. There is no European super-state emerging with its adoption. There is no dictation of economic policy from Brussels.
The EU takes just one per cent of Europe's gross national income to spend on policies agreed by 27 cantankerous, ever-arguing member states.
The other 99 per cent of what European nations earn, make, save, tax and spend stays under national control.
Meanwhile, devaluing the pound was meant to improve exports - but trade figures show Britain's trade balance with euro-zone countries has worsened as the pound slumped.
Each European country is suffering from the agony of the world recession in its own way. The low-tax tiger of Ireland or the housing-bubble Spaniards have been hit.
So have the export-obsessed Germans. But the worst hit major European economy - Britain - is the one outside the euro-zone.
The Left's dislike of the euro was based on the notion that the Maastricht criteria would limit the state's ability to borrow and spend.
Yet France and Italy - and indeed most in the Euro-zone - are ignoring the Maastricht rules as they increase public debt to stave off further business closures.
President Sarkozy is proposing un grand emprunt - a giant loan - to increase French public debt as his way of combating the crisis.
Worse, as we plan for recovery, Britain is hobbled by its hostility to the euro. Take the fate of the City.
It is vital to our economy, and the UK financial sector, warts and all, adds massive value to the EU as a whole.
But our contempt for the euro means that no one listens when Britain protests about regulation from Brussels aimed at weakening the finance sector.
Sending Boris Johnson to plead for the City in Brussels last week was like sending a devout atheist to the Vatican to ask the Pope to change his line on birth control.
All that Europe knows about Boris or David Cameron is that they have spent their entire political lives rubbishing the euro and pouring scorn on the EU.
Labour does little better. In 1997 there were perfectly good technical economic reasons to explain why the pound should not dissolve into the about-to-be-born euro as did the Deutschmark, the French franc and the rest.
But Gordon Brown's famous five economic tests were always a red herring as the sixth test was, and remains, the certainty that the British would say No to the euro in a referendum - unless the case was properly made to them.
That is still the situation today. The kite flown by Peter Mandelson in June about us aiming to join the euro was quickly shot down. But in the end, Britons prefer reality to prejudice. The pound no longer walks tall against the euro.
The euro is not going to collapse because of wide variations in the economic profile of different regions using it any more than the US dollar fails because its external value and the interest rates set by the Fed do not suit Michigan and California at one and same time.
There are other ways of managing such imbalances. If low interest rates heat up housing, then banks could simply require a 10 per cent deposit before issuing mortgages.
Outside the euro, Britain will never be in the driving seat of Europe. We need to be. If the euro were used here as it is without fuss in countries we are close to, including Ireland and the Netherlands, then the next Governor of the European Central Bank could easily be a Brit.
To be sure, British entry into the euro is not even at the starting gate of current political debate. Tony Blair showed some early enthusiasm.
But relentless anti-Euro briefing from Labour's Treasury team after 1997 poisoned the well of rational discussion: it became near impossible to make a case for the merits of a stronger engagement in Europe.
Ministers just gave up making any positive case for the single currency or EU partnership.
It will need forces from outside the political laager to raise again the question of joining the euro.
The leader of one of our top business organisations told me recently that he listened to CEOs pleading for a level playing field in Europe, and for Britain to have more weight when EU financial regulations drawn up by the European Central Bank and the euro-zone finance ministers are discussed.
"I say to them they are making a case for the euro and immediately they blow up and start ranting about politics," he sighed.
For in the end, joining the euro is about politics. Labour forfeited the chance to make the argument.
And history tells us that the party that takes the boldest pro-European moves - that took Britain into Europe, and then agreed the single market sharing of sovereignty and the Maastricht Treaty - is the Conservative Party.
Today, with William Hague, Daniel Hannan and 99 in 100 Tory MPs firmly Eurosceptic, the idea that the Tories might again be a pro-Europe party seems further away than ever.
But if British voters are no longer going to feel like poor relations whenever they holiday in other European countries, then before long someone is going to have to begin making the case that like shillings and pence, the pound may now have had its day.

Where does Obama stand on Europe?

This article was published in Newsweek
Looking for Leadership
Europe fears Obama's ignoring it.

Published 28 August 2009
From the magazine issue dated 7 September 2009
A little over a year ago, 200,000 Germans crowded around the Victory Column just down from Berlin's Brandenburg Gate to listen rapturously to a speech by Barack Obama. That was candidate Obama. Today it's less clear that President Obama would get the same turnout—in large part since, seven months into his tenure, no one here knows what his Europe policy is.
All his predecessors, whether Democratic or Republican, defined themselves against Europe. The Truman doctrine endorsed a U.S. defense of the continent against communism. JFK came to the Berlin Wall to declare himself a Berliner. Ronald Reagan came to the same place and told the Kremlin to "tear down that wall." Jimmy Carter set up the G7 with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt. George H.W. Bush, after initial hesitation, supported the concept of "Europe whole and free." Bill Clinton was an honorary European social democrat, and kept Europe on Valium with warm words made stronger by his alliance with a fellow modernizer, the Europhile Tony Blair. Even George W. Bush spoke in 2001 in favor of European integration and the euro.
But Obama? Europeans still adore him as the un-Bush. But no one can work out what he wants from or for Europe. Hillary Clinton tours Africa and Asia and hams it up with her Russian opposite number, Sergey Lavrov, at the United Nations. George Mitchell is sent to the Middle East to push for peace. Joe Biden turns up in Georgia and Ukraine mixing words of support with caution for those nations. But Obama has no Mr. or Ms. Europe. He dutifully came to the G20 meeting in London but is now signaling that the 30-year era of the G7 and G8 is over. Obama's banking-bailout policies have been made in and for the U.S. with little real coordination with Europe, and China and India now seem more important to his economic policies than London or Berlin.
Without clear U.S. leadership, Europe and its leaders are floundering. On climate change and universal health care, Obama talks the talk, but Europe wants action. Does he see Russia as a menace after its invasion of Georgia, its bullying of Ukraine, its attacks on the OSCE, and Vladimir Putin's steady erosion of human rights and the rule of law? Or does he see Russia as a partner and ally for whom a blind eye is needed when the Kremlin goes off the rails? Nobody knows. Or take Muammar Kaddafi. Europeans thought the U.S. wanted to normalize relations with the Libyan leader and shift Libya away from the anti-Western camp. French President Nicolas Sarkozy allowed Kaddafi to pitch his tent in Paris, while Italy's Silvio Berlusconi cannot find enough red carpets to roll out for the dictator. Britain released a man to Libya convicted of the Lockerbie bombings. But suddenly Washington is lambasting the soft-soaping of Kaddafi as it recognizes the anger over any move that appears to reward his longstanding support for terrorism.
The one policy Obama is firm on is his desire to see the U.S. and NATO allies emerge successfully from the conflict in Afghanistan. But he now faces the liberal FDP in Germany calling for the withdrawal of German troops as it appeals for votes in September's elections. In Britain, opinion polls show majority support for bringing British soldiers home. Eager to garner these votes, the opposition Conservative Party has said it wants a timetable for handing things over to the Afghan Army and bringing U.K. soldiers home.
Part of the concern about Obama lies in the fact that he is the first U.S. president in generations to have no firm ties to Europe. Previous American presidents passed around invitations to Camp David or Crawford. Eisenhower played golf in England, and Kennedy sent Jacqueline to Paris to charm de Gaulle. Nixon and Ford had the help of the European-American Henry Kissinger, and Carter had the Pole Zbigniew Brzezinski to advise. Bill Clinton was a Rhodes scholar who knew European political history better than most of Europe's leaders. Obama shakes hands with all in the Oval Office, but the personal stroking of European leaders is not taking place.
In July, all the retired Eastern European presidents and prime ministers—liberals, conservatives, and social democrats—joined to write an open letter to Obama, questioning his commitment to what they called the "Euro-Atlantic community." They argued that their generation had grown up admiring what U.S. presidents said and did to support European democracy and Euro-Atlantic values and ideals. The letter was polite, but the thrust was clear: Obama must not abandon a tradition that began with Truman and helped bring peace, prosperity, freedom, and democracy to the European continent.
Obama still has huge reserves of admirers in Europe, but time is running out, as Europeans simply do not know what he expects of the old continent. For the first time since 1945 there is a vacuum of U.S. leadership for the ruling elites in Europe. And without American nudging, does Europe know where it wants or needs to go?

Russia and Poland in WW2 : what history tells us

This article appeared in the Independent
Russian revisionism is our best guide to Putin's priorities
1 September 2009
For decades Russia pretended the Germans had killed Poland's leaders.
In a remarkable gesture, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be in Gdansk today to commemorate the 70 years since a German warship opened fire on Polish soil, thus beginning the Second World War. Her predecessors, Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl, made symbolic gestures of reconciliation as they sought to acknowledge past evils. Brandt fell to his knees at the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970 and Kohl stretched out and took hold of François Mitterrand's hand at Verdun 15 years later.
In politics, as in life, saying sorry is often the hardest thing to do. Germany has sought to make amends to Poland by supporting Polish entry into Nato and the EU. Despite customary protests from Eurosceptics last week about Britain's help via the EU for Poland and other new EU member states, it is the German taxpayer who pays the lion's share of EU solidarity help to Poland.
The other visitor to Gdansk will be Vladimir Putin. As Russian president and commander-in-chief, Dmitry Medvedev should represent Russia at key international events. But despite it being 20 months since Putin stood down as president, he is still clearly in charge. It is Putin who defines the new Russia. So what he has to say at Gdansk is of capital importance. Will he mention the K word?
Katyn was the site of the first major extermination of the Second World War. The Nazi Holocaust, in the sense of the organised and engineered transportation of millions of Jews from all over Europe to be killed in death camps, followed on from the mass shooting of Jews, Roma and others after the invasion of Russia.
But as a single act of extermination, the Russian killing of an estimated 26,000 unarmed prisoner of war officers, lawyers, doctors, professors, civil servants, and journalists who fell into Russian hands after Russia invaded and occupied eastern Poland on 17 September 1939 remains the biggest one-off act of murder in the early part of the war. Andrej Wajda's moving and slow-build film, Katyn (2007), is witness by a great European artist to what happened.
For decades Russia pretended that the extermination of an entire generation of Polish leaders had been carried out by Germans. Sadly, successive British governments accepted this fiction in the belief that appeasing a lie would help promote good relations with the Kremlin.
Will Putin now apologise for this Russian crime against humanity? The signs are not good. He has banned any showing of Katyn in Russia. Moreover, there is now a sustained effort to re-write history by proclaiming the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which gave the green light to Hitler to invade Poland as a master-stroke of Russian statecraft.
In 1989, under Gorbachev, the Russian Parliament condemned the August 1939 treaty between fascism and communism as "without legal basis". In addition to the partition of Poland between Moscow and Berlin, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact sanctioned the incorporation of the three Baltic states into the Soviet Union.
Following the Russian invasion and occupation of contested Georgian territory last year and the consequent surge in jingoistic and nationalist fervour, Russian historians, politicians and journalists are finding new merits in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The historian Natalia Narochnitskaya, for example, has argued that the Baltic states and Polish territory occupied by the Red Army were "in the Russian sphere of influence". So that's all right then. Another historian, Pavel Danilin, asserts that the arrival of Russian troops after the Wehrmacht had defeated the Polish army "was not an aggression." Instead it was "about defending the population of a state that had ceased to exist". If this is the official line as nationalist patriotism grows in Russia, the chances of Vladimir Putin using today's Gdansk event to say sorry for Stalin's alliance with Hitler and the annexation of part of Poland as well as the Baltic states are slim.
Saying sorry is risky politics, as those Labour politicians who have dared say British imperialism was noxious find out to their cost. But the Stalin-Hitler deal to re-partition Poland and the cold-blooded killing of prisoners to destroy a nation's educated leadership are two terrible crimes. Is Putin big enough to say sorry? Or does Russian belief that the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was sound diplomacy tell us what Russian foreign policy in the 21st century will be like?

On the war in Afghanistan

This article was published by the Guardian (Comment is Free website)
We can't abandon Afghanistan
21 August 2009
So the doomsayers are again proved wrong. Afghan citizens queued in their millions to vote. They defied the Taliban and took an even bigger risk in defying the British, American, European and Islamist wiseacres who are urging a precipitate withdrawal.
Expect these cries however to get stronger as Afghanistan drains blood, money, and political support from Europe and North America. The easy cry of withdrawal, aka surrender, is the trope of the defeatist who care nothing for democracy, human rights or the need to send a "No Pasaran" signal to those who hate democracy.
It would be nice to believe that leaving Afghanistan to rot in its own internal feuds, corruptions and incompetences would solve the problem. The quixotic imperialism-cum-nationalism of the wannabe Tory MP, Rory Stewart, that Kabul is not worth the bones of an English Grenadier Guard of course has resonance.
Britain did not fly home to tearful funerals its men killed in the Falklands or Ulster. British prime ministers and leaders of the opposition did not in the past spend Question Time expressing condolences to fallen soldiers. British generals serving and retired did not become TV pundits fighting their Whitehall wars for more funding for their service and operations.
Can Britain quit and become a new Sweden or Switzerland? Is neutrality in the face of anti-democratic jihadi Islamism an option? Will the terrorist cells and the assault on women from Islamist extremists in Europe stop if Afghanistan is handed back to the warlords and the Taliban?
President Obama does not think so. Having been elected as the anti-Iraq war candidate he finds, like President Johnson, he has his own war. What is missing is a political strategy. The generals are making their case and deciding tactics. Are these working?
It is clear that Britain's foot-dragging on creating a more integrated European defence profile has left America to do the heavy lifting. The Conservatives bemoan the lack of resources but their policy of public spending cuts will hit the army hard.
But might the Germans, French and Spanish be right in occupying ground and promoting development rather than bring-it-on combats with the Taliban? What diplomatic strategy do Nato member countries have to persuade India to ease pressure on Pakistan? Which is more important – conflict with Iran or working with the odious regime in Tehran, much as we allied with Stalin in the second world war, to contain Taliban and Sunni Islamist extremism?
We could leave Afghanistan tomorrow. But bringing the boys home does not mean the end of the threat that took them there in the first place. So while the cry of "Troops out" has its attraction the real duty is to rethink strategy and tactics. Meanwhile as the books spill out saying democracy is irrelevant let us send a small salute to the men and women of Afghanistan who voted this week. The time to betray them is not yet at hand.