IDS resignation: why, and what now

Superficially the Conservative Party is in the strongest position it has been in since 1992. It has a majority in the Commons, a mandate from the nation, and is perceived as having succeeded in restoring the country’s finances and led it out of the deepest recession in years. Its’ opponents are in disarray – made politically irrelevant in the case of UKIP, in the case of Labour driven into an ideological civil war.

Yet the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith from the Cabinet yesterday indicates that the Prime Minister’s greatest threat lies from within his own party. Duncan Smith ostensibly left over a disagreement with the Treasury over cuts to disability benefits, but his sudden departure shows that the Tories are in a perilous position, one which may well lead to their implosion if Cameron cannot unite his party.

The fundamental issue is that Tory MPs dislike the Prime Minister and his allies. Whether it was Nadine Dorries’ caustic dismissal of Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne as ‘arrogant posh boys’, or Charles Walker’s statement that he had been ‘played for a fool’ by Michael Gove and William Hague (both Cameron loyalists and personal friends of the PM), Cameron’s premiership has been littered with intimations of discontent from the backbenches. This came to a head with the defection of Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell to UKIP in summer 2014, something which struck at the heart of Cameron’s claims that the Conservative Party was a ‘big tent’ which had room for Eurosceptics. Both Reckless and Carswell were evidently unhappy with the leadership style of Cameron and Osborne.

Duncan Smith was, like those two, a prominent Eurosceptic, and that was certainly a causal factor in his departure. Earlier this month he had criticised the Remain campaign (and implicitly the PM) for ‘the acrimonious manner’ in which he had handled the referendum campaign, and suggested it approached bullying. He, and others such as his protégé Priti Patel, were never precisely sure how secure their position in the Cabinet was. As is often the case on issues where politicians ‘agree to disagree’, neither faction was quite sure how free they were to speak their mind. It is not inconceivable that his departure was to enable him to take the leading role in the Out campaign that he clearly wanted.

But Europe is symptomatic of a wider problem; Cameron is losing control of his party. He has been persistently aloof and uninterested in compromise with his own backbenches, and has increasingly turned the Tories into his own fiefdom. One notable way by which this has been effected was the ‘A-List’ policy of placing centrally approved candidates in safe seats; such candidates would not only be ideologically vetted for commitment to Cameron-ism, but would also be personally loyal to Tory high leadership. Despite the obvious anger of local associations, Cameron pressed ahead with this policy – building in a majority of loyalists, but at the cost of angering established Tories.

In addition he has ridden roughshod over his backbenchers and even members of the Cabinet who did not conform to his ideological standards. One example is the shabby treatment meted out to the exceptionally talented MP Graham Brady, who Cameron allowed to resign after Brady dared speak out against Cameron’s rejection of opening new grammar schools. Notable too were the numerous times that Cameron seemed far more amenable to Lib Dem politicians than to his own MPs; his decision to go into coalition rather than maintain a minority government was not appreciated by those MPs shunted out of prospective ministerial jobs to make way for Lib Dems. He then attempted to force through a reform of the Upper House, only to be stopped by a backbench revolt that he dealt with by (allegedly) physically threatening rebellious MP Jesse Norman.

Iain Duncan Smith has long been a victim of his, something which his resignation has only now fully revealed. For years he was made a hate figure by the left, caricatured as a humourless sociopath hell-bent on snatching benefits from the hands of the unemployed. Duncan Smith was the fall guy in the government’s reforms of welfare, the man who was sent to justify the government in front of the TV cameras. But even away from the press, it is clear that he was cruelly used indeed, forced to repeatedly make swingeing rounds of cuts to enable the governments’ spending limits to be kept.

The nadir in this has been the most recent budget, a document which reads from start to finish as an enormous political calculation. The Chancellor is clearly aware of the fact that certain groups are more likely to support the Tories than others. 18-30 year olds are hugely unsympathetic to the Conservatives, whereas pensioners are more likely to migrate between parties based on financial considerations. As such, this budget is a culmination of many years of economic bribery directed towards the elderly; the infamous ‘triple lock’ on pensions and the 2014 liberalisation of the same industry are two notable examples.

Pensioners are not the only recipient of Cameron and Osborne’s munificence: the two have continued to press on with their plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, principally through road improvements and ‘HS3.’ In 2015 the Tories succeeded in shaking up Labour control of the North, for instance through unseating Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood. In this light, it is difficult to see HS3 as being anything other than a political ploy to gain votes in this key area.

The victim of all of this has been the welfare system. This is not to suggest, of course, that the system is not in need of reform – there are many areas in which increased efficiency is needed, and the fundamental goal of a leaner and better benefits system is laudable. But for No. 10 to spend extravagantly for political reasons in this budget, and then to leave the tab at the feet of the Work and Pensions department, is fundamentally unjust. Duncan Smith is not resigning merely because he disagrees with the piece of paper he was made to sign; he is resigning because he is tired of being used as a tool by Osborne and Cameron.

What does this entail for the Conservatives going ahead? In the short term Cameron’s position is consolidated, with a potential thorn in his side leaving the cabinet to be replaced with an avowed Cameron loyalist in the form of the genial Stephen Crabb. If we presume that Priti Patel will follow her boss out (a move which seems inevitable) then the Cabinet is increasingly emptying of Eurosceptics – if Cameron wins the referendum, more will go. In addition, Duncan Smith’s departure offers an opportunity for the government to make a respectable u-turn on disability benefit reforms, casting it as an internal rethink rather than something forced by Labour.

In the long term, however, this is a serious issue for the Tories. Whilst Duncan Smith has gone from cabinet, the downside is that he is now free to speak his mind from the back benches – and there are many Tories who will listen, on both wings of the party. Duncan Smith’s Euroscepticism means that many MPs thus inclined will see him as a martyr; similarly, the more liberal wing of the party will sympathise with the circumstances over which he resigned.

Moreover, this is a public vote of no confidence in David Cameron and George Osborne, an overt sign that things are amiss within the Conservative Party. It will force the government into either pressing ahead with the reforms – which the press will spin as a return of the ‘nasty party’ – or a retreat which will inevitably appear weak. Tory backbenchers will view this as a license to become even more assertive, seeing Duncan Smith’s resignation as portending the collapse of the Cameron ministry after the referendum.

Everything presently hangs upon the outcome of this referendum. It goes without saying that Cameron will resign if he fails to win, and Osborne too – he has staked far too much on it. But merely winning is not enough. Even a close victory would fail to convince his party – and voters – that he holds the confidence of the nation. In the event that he fails to win the referendum confidently, the resignation of IDS will have been the first nail in the coffin of Cameronism. A flurry of further resignations will either result in Cameron’s resignation or a humiliating vote of no confidence. If, on the other hand, Cameron clearly wins the referendum, a major spring-cleaning of the cabinet will be in order. Either way, this is far more than a resignation.

In Defence of Europe

The debate over Britain’s membership of the EU seems to have lost its way somewhat. Reams of paper have been published detailing economic arguments and forecasts; various business notables have spoken both for and against continued membership; both the Prime Minister and his detractors have given considerable attention to the intricacies of the renegotiated deal brought home from Brussels.

All this is, of course, of great relevance to the question of our membership of the EU. But in many ways the importance attached to economic arguments is obstructing a debate over a larger and more fundamental issue; what is Britain’s position in the modern world?

The first thing to point out is that the age of a Britain in splendid isolation is over. Both the ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ camps agree with this. Britain is no longer a major economic power, and our foreign influence is greatly diminished. In 1945 Britain still ruled much of the globe and had one of the greatest armed forces in the world; this is not true anymore. As such, it is inevitable that we will need to align ourselves with other nations in order to retain political and economic influence.

The question, then, is who we should align ourselves with. The ‘leave’ camp posits that we could build closer links with the Commonwealth; this is a naïve idea which I suspect most eurosceptics do not genuinely believe. The phrase ‘the Commonwealth’ might refer to two groupings of countries; the ‘old’ Commonwealth (essentially Canada, Australia and New Zealand), and the ‘new’ Commonwealth (the African, Asian and Caribbean countries formerly part of the Empire.) We could not plausibly create a strategic force with either of these groupings. In the case of the former, the countries in question are too economically irrelevant and too geographically diffuse to constitute an entity which could wield genuine influence; in the case of the latter, the enormous disparity in economic development would ruin Britain if any form of economic union was attempted.

Who else, then? The world has historically been a bipolar one, with history driven by the tension between East and West. At present, the West is unquestionably led by America; the demise of the USSR means that the East is represented by both Russia and China. Most countries around the world are aligned with one or the other of these camps. Consider the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and Jordan are firmly pro-American; Syria, Iran, Egypt (since al-Sisi’s revolution) and increasingly Iraq are pro-Russian. The only countries in the region which have the luxury of a non-aligned policy are those few small states who are both wealthy and unconcerned with regional influence; Oman springs to mind.

But the choice between Sino-Russian and American hegemony is an unappetising one, perhaps fundamentally because we are culturally dissimilar from both. The ‘ideology’ of the East has always been one in which the individual is subordinated to the state. This was true in Tsarist Russia, with its’ celebration of ‘nationalism, orthodoxy and autocracy’; it was true in Maoist China, with its millions sacrificed upon the altar of national revolution; even today, Russia and China are fundamentally opposed to liberalism and individual liberty. This can be seen in the poor treatment of homosexuals, minorities and even women in both countries.

A casual observer might presume that Britain has a cultural affinity with the USA. I will concede that we share certain features with them; our language, for instance. However, we should not make the mistake of assuming that we are at all alike. America is a nation built upon the cult of the individual; the exaltation of individual liberty and hatred of the state. It is this ideology which is still driving politics on every side of the political spectrum; from Bernie Sanders’ regular criticism of Wall St. to Donald Trump’s odious diatribes against government institutions. It is this which engenders the celebration of gun ownership, or even the Ammon Bundy movement. Moreover, there are other serious cultural differences. America is a country driven by vapid consumerism and a fetishisation of material goods. It is a country beholden to evangelical Protestantism. For a British politician to talk about Jesus incessantly would be unthinkable; in America it is essentially a prerequisite for election. What I am driving at, is that Britain is not culturally American.

Moreover, it would not be desirable to become so. It rends my heart to see British culture taken over by American artificiality, which is infiltrating in every medium. Britain is home to one of the great cultures of the world, and the act of cultural vandalism that Americanisation constitutes is a crime against our heritage. Whilst we accept that we have a long historical relationship with America, that should not entail that we become part of their cultural sphere.

Where, then, does this leave Britain? It has been established that union with the Commonwealth is unviable, and alliances with either America or Russia are undesirable. Yet it is self-evident that in its’ present state the UK is not ready to go alone (though I do not rule out that at some point in the future we might.)

The only middle path is Europe. We share a great cultural affinity with Europe, engendered principally by the basic geographical reality that we are part of the European continent. Our great artists and writers have all been directly influenced by Europe; Milton was fluent in three European languages and travelled extensively through the continent, as did Chaucer, Marlowe and Wordsworth. European cultural influences are evident throughout our heritage. Moreover, we have been intimately economically linked with Europe throughout history. The continent has always been our major trading partner, and today we are closer linked than ever.

The EU consists of a ‘third position’ between America and Russia. Together, it constitutes an economy of $18tn, with sufficient economic diversity to ensure it remains a sustainable economic project. Different parts of the EU contain different elements of a successful, self-contained economy; Eastern Europe offers labour, Germany and the Netherlands heavy industry, France and Britain a highly developed services industry, Southern Europe raw materials and elements of all the above.

Together, Europe could act as a great power to challenge the hegemony of America and Russia. We would be able to do this not only through our economic might, but through military prowess too. Britain and France are two of the strongest militaries in the world, and our German and Scandinavian partners are not far behind. Together, we would be able to mount a credible non-aligned foreign policy, no longer beholden to American or Russian interests. A common EU security pact would make NATO – a tool for American domination of Europe – redundant. Pan-European forces would be able to act as mediators and peacekeepers in conflicts around the world, gaining the support of foreign states as Europe is once more seen as a thoroughly independent power.

I believe in Europe. I believe in Britain’s destiny as a European nation, not merely subject to the EU but taking a central leading role within it. Whilst I reject the idea of domination from Brussels, such matters are irrelevant to the fundamental debate; that of Britain’s position in the world. In my opinion the historical, cultural and geographic realities all point to a convincing case for Britain to remain part of the political framework of Europe.

Why Rhodes Must Not Fall

Firstly, a very happy New Year to all of you, and my sincere apologies for the lack of content over the last few months. Sadly the demands of higher education have meant that I’ve had to neglect this blog, but rest assured that it remains alive and kicking.

Today I want to address a topical issue which has been in the news recently – the controversy over Cecil Rhodes and his legacy at Oxford. For the last few months, a hard-left organisation calling itself (imaginatively enough) ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ has been calling for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes from the grounds of Oriel College. This movement argues that the presence of the statue is apparently an affront to ethnic minority students, due to some of Mr Rhodes’ views and actions during his lifetime.

Cecil Rhodes is almost certainly the greatest of all British imperialists, and is perhaps single-handedly responsible for the extension of British rule over much of southern Africa. From an unremarkable middle-class background, Rhodes grew to become one of the wealthiest businessmen in England, as well as the eventual Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. Today, he is best known for having set up and endowed the Rhodes Scholarship, a means for talented international students to study at the University of Oxford.

I will be clear, brief and unambiguous here; I thoroughly oppose the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement, and moreover consider it symptomatic of something deeply wrong with the student left in Britain. My opposition comes from two discrete reasons, both of which I think should be outlined. In addition to these reasons, I also find the tactics and approach of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement abhorrent and tasteless – however, I don’t think it is worthwhile to discuss this here.

My first reason for opposing the movement (and the most important, I believe) is the relativistic nature of history. What does this mean? Much as science can be divided into paradigms, I believe history can as well. I take ‘paradigm’ to mean a set of theories, methods and standards (here I use the definition given by Thomas Kuhn in ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; much of this article owes a considerable debt to Kuhn.) A historical paradigm is obviously different from a scientific one; here, the theories and methods are fundamentally political. For instance, the paradigm that Genghis Khan lived in was one in which laying waste to Asia for the furthering of the Mongol people was considered normal. Alternatively, the paradigm that the Crusaders lived in was one in which the Saracen occupation of Jerusalem was considered unthinkably terrible. The ‘standards’ of a paradigm consist of the ways by which the success of its theories are measured. Remaining with the above example, Genghis Khan would have been evaluated as a successful leader by most of his contemporaries, on the basis that he expanded his empire and subjugated his enemies.

It is here vital to realise that paradigms are incommensurable. One cannot measure the success of one paradigm using the standards of another. To do so would not only be unintelligible (how can we evaluate which set of standards are the best?) but would also leave us hoist upon our own petard. Consider a relatively uncontroversial example; that of sexism. In 21st century Western Europe, it is generally held that sexism is an egregious and counterproductive belief; however, in the Middle Ages that which we call sexism was universal. We can label the Middle Ages as terrible; however, using the standards of their historical paradigm, medieval Englishmen would similarly label our society as equally terrible. It is impossible to evaluate who is right.

Let me here apply this conceptual framework to Cecil Rhodes. Within the paradigm of the 19th century, Cecil Rhodes was not just a great man but one of the greatest Britons to have lived. The standard for greatness here is the furtherance of the British nation, and the extension of British rule over as much of the globe as possible. This standard was understood by all nations – including the conquered. Therefore, within his paradigm Cecil Rhodes was undoubtedly a great man. I contend that we cannot provide a moral judgement of Cecil Rhodes, except a descriptive judgement of how he was viewed within his paradigm. If we attempt to judge him, we must inevitably do so according to our contemporary morality. But this is unfair, as that suggests that our present morality is an absolute one. As I have discussed above, no historical paradigm is superior to another, and as such the moral standards of one cannot be considered better than another. At most, we can state (correctly) that were a man like Cecil Rhodes to be alive in our time, he would be considered a bad person.

The upshot of this is that the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement are guilty of intellectual dishonesty. They are judging a man from the past by the standards of the present. Not only is this incorrect and unintelligible, it opens the door to a whole world of absolutist iconoclasm. If the University succumbs to their demands, then they legitimise the position that a particular moral paradigm can be used for any time period. What might be the next to fall? Surely the statue of Edward VII that stands next to that of Rhodes shouldn’t stay; for surely Edward VII was complicit in the ‘atrocities’ of the Empire? What about St. John’s College; in the Book of Revelation St. John states that non-Christians will be burnt in the fires of hell, so surely we’re going to have to rename St. John’s? My point is that this application of the moral standards of the present to the past is grossly unfair and incoherent.

I now move on to my second point, namely whether the reputation of Cecil Rhodes is warranted. In this, I will seek to prove two things. Firstly, that by the standards of his time Rhodes was a great and indeed moral man. Secondly, that in the twenty-first century, we should continue to commemorate him. The first entails the second.

Cecil Rhodes devoted his entire life to the British Empire. He never married, he had few personal interests, and almost all his money was invested into imperial projects. By the standards of any era, this signifies a remarkable single-mindedness and patriotism. However, the 19th century valued these values far more than our current period; as such, it seems evident that he was a great man of that period. An objection might be raised; surely this patriotism manifested itself in imperial conquest, and as such is not morally impressive. However this is a serious historical misunderstanding. Within the 19th century paradigm, all societies implicitly understood that their state was to be considered superior to all others, and as such should grow at the expense of others wherever possible. This was, moreover, not a solely European phenomenon. A common misconception has it that non-European societies lived in a blissful utopia without violence or imperialism. This is plainly untrue. The states the British Empire conquered lived by the sword, growing at the expense of those weaker than them, and as such they also understood that the victory of the Empire was simply part of the same ‘game’ that they had all been playing. Had the Zulus played this ‘game’ better, then there may well be a statue of Shaka Zulu on the walls of Oriel College; as it turns out, the British won that particular round. The point remains that all parties involved knew the nature of imperialism, and the British should not be judged for having emerged triumphant.

I could, at this point, attempt to discuss some of the misrepresentations of the Empire in modern discussion. However, this essay is already overlong; as such, I will limit myself to saying that the British Empire should always be seen as a product of an imperial age, and never as a simple narrative of exploitation. I don’t wish to put forth a revisionist interpretation of empire, nor am I particularly nostalgic for it. Nonetheless, I urge readers to acquire a holistic understanding of this key phase of British history.

It is, however, a logical jump from (as I have done above) asserting Rhodes’ greatness within his paradigm, to arguing that we should continue to fete the man. Nonetheless, I believe this latter proposition is also true. Firstly, there is the not inconsequential matter of the Rhodes Scholarships. These continue to act as a pathway for the finest academic minds in the world to study at one of the best universities in the world. They have enabled hundreds of people to receive an education which they otherwise would never have been able to afford; one of these people is Mr Ntokozo Qwabe, a law student at Oxford who is behind the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign. If just for this, Rhodes deserves to be commemorated. But I believe that this is not the only reason. The history of the British Empire is an integral part of the history of Britain. It is impossible to ignore, and counterproductive to simply denigrate. Whilst we can certainly deplore certain elements, the Empire defined Britain. Why should we be ashamed of it? To be ashamed of our history is to be ashamed of our present, and to do this would be an unacceptable lapse of national spirit. Rhodes was a central figure in British imperial history, and the presence of his statue is a commemoration of this period of our nation.

In conclusion, then, I stand in total opposition to the methods and goals of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement. Whilst I am no apologist for the British Empire – and will freely admit that the history of the Empire contains many instances of brutality and injustice – I refuse to allow a small minority of people to dictate the history of my country. Britain was an imperial nation, and should never be ashamed of its history. Moreover, it is fundamentally incorrect – and sets a dangerous precedent – for historical figures and events to be evaluated according to present standards. If we carry on down this route, I foresee historical revisionism of a terrifying nature to become mainstream. Our history should be free of moral judgements, and instead be a descriptive record of events; its’ increasing politicisation does not bode well for intellectual freedom in the 21st century.

All adrift? The Mediterranean refugee crisis, and doing the wrong thing for the right reasons

After a certain point, the pictures all begin to look the same. Endless columns of hollow-eyed refugees, trudging down dusty roads in an apparently never-ending stream, rising in the Levant and ending around the fringes of Western Europe. In July alone, roughly 107 000 migrants reached Europe – I say ‘roughly’ because we really have no clue how many more weren’t registered. The statistics for August will probably show a sharp rise. The trend will only continue.

The fundamental problem facing the leaders of Europe is this; how can the humanitarian tradition of which Europe is rightly proud be reconciled with the very valid fears of the public about the entry of millions of non-Europeans with different religions, values and cultural norms? How can we avoid antagonising the citizens of Europe whilst still putting an end to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding around the Mediterranean?

Perhaps prompted by several tragedies (perhaps most notably the grotesque death in Austria last month of over 70 refugees in an abandoned van) the anti-immigrant stance of many politicians is fading. Earlier this week, Angela Merkel announced recently that any Syrian who arrived in Germany would be given automatic asylum. Thousands have already taken her up on her offer. In Britain many notable writers from all across the political spectrum are suggesting admitting thousands of refugees into the country.

Certainly this is an admirable response, one which suggests that Britain still remains a bastion of humanitarian sentiment. But is it the right one? If handled correctly, this crisis could be resolved to the benefit of both Europe and those who seek to enter it; however, at present it seems that it is sentiment rather than rationality which is directing European lawmakers.

Firstly, it is a myth that it is a humanitarian imperative that Syrian refugees be let in. In almost all cases (with a notable exception that shall be addressed) these refugees are coming from the countries surrounding Syria – Jordan, Lebanon and most importantly Turkey. These countries are not at war; they are entirely safe for              Syrians to live in. They certainly don’t have the living standards of Western Europe – but since when was the imperative to unilaterally improve the living standards of every single person on earth? If that was the case, then why not airlift in the starving millions of Africa and Asia, who are certainly more deserving. Those Syrians who venture forth towards Europe are not ‘fleeing ISIS’, as some commentators put it – they are looking for a better life. A laudable ambition, certainly, but not one which should be unconditionally supported by the EU.

A more sustainable solution to this issue would not entail offering asylum to every Syrian who enters (as Germany does) but instead to increase funding towards improving conditions in source countries such as Turkey. Consider the actions that the Jordanians have taken with regards Syrian refugees – refugee camps there resemble well-planned cities, with considerable investment into the future of these camps. In such circumstances, refugees would be far less likely to make the dangerous passage to Europe, and would instead be induced to remain in the Middle East. Such investment could be particularly useful in the chronically overcrowded Lebanon, where the presence of Syrian refugees is a sore spot amongst the Christian and Shi’a majority.

There is one major subgroup of refugees who do not originate in the surrounding countries of Syria. This group consists of middle-class Syrian youths who are about to become eligible for the draft to join the Syrian Arab Army. The parents of these young men stump up the extortionate prices necessary to enable them to evade the draft and get to the safety of Europe. But my sympathy here is limited. Traditionally young men have always fought for the cause they believe in – why should we enable them to flee the battlefield, particularly when poorer Syrians have no such option and are automatically drafted? Such refugees, if they are genuinely unwilling to fight, will be able to earn a decent living in any of the neighbouring countries, and there is no compulsion for Europe to admit them.

Secondly, the presumption that Syrians could immediately integrate into Western European culture is false. The overwhelming majority of fleeing Syrians are observant Sunni Muslims, and relations between Islam and European culture have often been fraught, to say the least. This is not to say that they are incompatible – there are innumerable stories of the successful integration of Muslims into European culture in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. But it would be remiss to simply gloss over the major problems encountered by diaspora Muslim countries in Europe. In certain municipalities of Holland, almost 50% of all Moroccan teens have had run-ins with the law within a five-year period – this is indicative of a serious problem. Many Muslims, put frankly, despise Western culture and withdraw into ghettos which become hives of crime and extremism.

Moreover, would the local Europeans be happy with having an alien populace imposed upon them? Even if cultural integration were not a problem, there remains the issue of the economic capacity of Europe to support an indefinite number of refugees. The infrastructure of Europe was not designed to cope with such an influx of individuals – schools and hospitals, for example, are simply not prepared. Even if they were happy with asylum being extended to Syrian refugees, would most Europeans be happy about sending their children to school alongside new Syrian arrivals? Or queuing at hospital behind refugees?

Finally, the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe complicates the reconstruction of Syria. Though sometimes construed as an ‘endless war’, at no point has peace been closer than now. Steffan de Mistura, the UN envoy, has heroically drafted an agreement which has the tacit approval of not only the Syrian government but also many of the armed groups operating within Syria. If implemented, it will see the transformation of the war into an internationally-supported counterinsurgency program against such groups as IS, Jabhat al-Nusra or Ahrar al-Sham (the latter of whom have recently attempted to rebrand themselves as authentically Syrian revolutionaries, despite offering condolences to the Taliban upon the death of Mullah Omar.)

But the reconstruction of Syria would be critically hampered (potentially fatally) if an exodus of Syrians to Europe was permitted. Many of those presently attempting to get to Europe are the best and brightest of Syria; doctors, engineers, magistrates and the like. Rebuilding Syria without a middle class would be exceptionally difficult. No other reconstruction project has encountered this – for example, the rebuilding of Grozny was so rapid because the locals remained essentially in situ. But if Syria were to be deprived of an entire generation, then it would remain in dire economic and political straits for years to come. We cannot be guilty of betraying the Syrian nation.

Nonetheless, it would be immoral and counterproductive to simply stop all migrants from entering Europe. Syrian migrants might prove to be the fuel the European economy needs, providing labour and skills to accelerate growth. Furthermore, there are many cases in which it is simply a humanitarian imperative to give certain refugees asylum in Western Europe. Hence I propose a nuanced and effective program to ensure that help is given to those who deserve it, whilst fighting the fundamental causes of the crisis.

The most important element of this is to end the practise of giving automatic asylum to Syrians. This has led to hundreds (potentially thousands) of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean as a result of their desperate attempts to make the crossing and take advantage of Germany’s offer. It must be made clear that illegal crossings are futile; if asylum is to be sought, it must be sought through legal means. The EU should invest in building ‘immigration centres’ in source countries, through which all requests for asylum must be routed. Every year 40 000 permits should be offered; these will be given primarily to humanitarian cases and family reunification.

Any migrants found entering the EU illegally will be considered to have committed a criminal act. They will be transported to detention centres situated around the EU, where they will be kept in secure and humanitarian conditions until the cessation of hostilities in Syria, and invited to participate in voluntary labour programs. Though not retrospective, those migrants presently in Europe who are found guilty of serious crimes or terrorist offences will also be transferred to these centres.

In order to stem the flow, major investment must be put into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.  The EU must collectively help fund the improvement of refugee facilities, especially in Lebanon. This could take the form of building permanent homes for migrants, or simply constructing sanitation and medical infrastructure. Investment should also be directed towards improving border security, such as training the Turkish coast guard or building fences on the porous Turkey-Greece border in northern Thrace.

And, of course, efforts must continue towards ending the war in Syria. That, above all, is the cause of the migrant crisis – the fact that much of Syria remains a battlefield, and reconstruction is failing to take place in those parts retaken from the terrorists. Diplomatic weight must be put behind the de Mistura plan, and the warring parties brought to the negotiating table in order to end the war, and in doing so end the flow of refugees out of the region.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something red? The rise of Jeremy Corbyn

Three months ago, the Labour leadership race seemed like a shoo-in. It was almost inevitable that Andy Burnham, the erstwhile Education Minister and Establishment-approved choice, would sail to a comfortable victory over an otherwise unremarkable crowd. And so the slow decline of New Labour would continue.

But it appears that some people thought differently. The sudden entry of Jeremy Corbyn into the race has transformed it from an otherwise unremarkable transition process into a debate as to the nature of what Labour stands for in the 21st century. The reaction of the Labour establishment has spanned the gamut of emotions from delight to fury to disbelief to – increasingly – panic, as it becomes clear that Corbyn has a very good chance of winning the contest.

Until this year, Jeremy Corbyn was considered by most as an amusing oddity. Avuncular and bearded, he inveigled himself into a Labour safe seat (Islington North) more than thirty years ago and had spent much of that time carving out a niche for himself as an outspoken leftist indulgently tolerated by the Labour leadership. He was aware that his views precluded him from higher office, but the freedom afforded by possession of a safe seat gave him the opportunity to use his voice in Parliament to espouse various eccentric left-wing causes. Amongst these were House of Lords reform, animal rights and advocacy on behalf of the Palestinians – the bread and butter of the left.

But now we are in a position where Jeremy Corbyn may well become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? Firstly, how on earth did we get to this place? It seems that after eighteen years New Labour has finally run out of steam. The other three candidates – Burnham, Cooper and (in particular) Kendall – are products of New Labour to a man. All Oxbridge-educated and all nestled within the bosom of the Labour establishment, the ideology they espouse is in essence a restatement of Blairism with a few modifications. They are all believers in a Labour Party appealing to the middle classes and which reflects their concerns, aspirations and hopes. This ideology governed the party from 1997 to 2007 in an unadulterated form; even from 2007 to 2015 it underpinned the direction of the party.

It is hard for people born after 1995 to comprehend the magnitude of the shift from Old Labour to New Labour. Old Labour was a statist party, a party with a profound mistrust of capitalism and the private sector. It was a party which appealed to the working classes and was fundamentally focussed on creating a socialist paradise for them. In short, it was everything which Blair’s New Labour was not. Blair (correctly) realised that Old Labour was a discredited ideology, and transformed the party into a brand-new movement sharing only the name. Fundamentally it was a middle class party, and as such it modified its’ positions hugely. Out went the trade unions, and in came the private sector. Grammar schools became acceptable once more, whilst privatising the running of the NHS via PFI contracts became de rigeur.

Kendall, Cooper and Burnham were all moulded in this intellectual milieu. Cooper and Burnham were both devotees of Gordon Brown, and as such their variant of New Labour is somewhat more to the left – their opposition to tuition fees, for example. Kendall is about as orthodox a Blairite as one can be, hence her vocal championing of the private sector and her concern to market Labour as friendly towards small businesses.

However after eighteen years of New Labour, it appears that the country has tired of it. New Labour derived its’ success from selling out Old Labour’s core constituency – the working classes. Blair calculated that they had no choice but to stick with Labour, and hence ignored them completely in favour of policies clearly designed to curry favour with the middle classes. This strategy worked as long as its core assumption held true – that the working classes would always remain with Labour.

Oddly enough it was the rise of UKIP which scotched that particular myth. There was a rather paternalistic assumption amongst Labour elites that the lumpen proletariat were congenitally left-wing. What they failed to realise was that they were in fact simply populist. Whichever party offered them enough goodies, they would vote for. This precluded the Tories, and to a great extent Labour. But in UKIP the working classes found a party which seemed to speak for them. It was a party which seemed antithetical to the elites, and which offered simple solutions towards a putative ‘Great’ Britain. The working classes left Labour in droves for UKIP.

Until recently, the assumption was that UKIP was a party appealing primarily to disaffected Tories – Colonel Blimp types who still hadn’t gotten over the Napoleonic Wars or the loss of the Empire. 2015 revealed that in reality UKIP was doing hugely well in Labour strongholds. By offering an anti-elitist platform and preying on the fears of the working class, they succeeded in stripping enough Labour votes from their core constituency for Labour to fail to engage in the ultra-important swing seats that they were targeting.

This combined with the fall of Scotland. In the same manner as with UKIP, the working classes – who Labour chiefs had previously assumed would never desert the party – migrated almost en masse to the SNP. This is not for nationalistic reasons (as has been claimed by overeager SNP politicians) but because the SNP offered a credible far-left policy that outflanked Labour. For more than a decade now Scottish Labour voters have felt alienated from a London-centric party that seems foreign to them; privately educated, socially liberal and affluent. The populist SNP was able to feed off this resentment and ride to victory.

All this explains why Corbyn seems on the verge of victory. He is a representative of Old Labour par excellence. With his beard and his flat cap, he looks and sounds like a member of the working class. His rhetoric is anti-elitist and his policies are populist. Whether he’s talking about renationalising the railways, or prosecuting Tony Blair for war crimes, Jeremy Corbyn has succeeded in capturing the attention of the working classes. After almost two decades of inattention, Corbyn has managed to convince them that Labour might still speak for them.

Ironically enough, in many ways Corbyn is uncomfortably close to UKIP. Both are bitterly anti-elitist, and both Farage and Corbyn pride themselves on their accessibility and ‘common touch’ (hence the pint that seemed superglued to Farage’s hand for most of the campaign.) Their policies are also remarkably similar in many ways – both call for grand solutions and localisation as a panacea. Though there are significant differences, most obviously on Europe and immigration, these are not as serious as they are made out to be. For voters, all that is needed is a scapegoat, and they can switch between them with remarkable ease. UKIP succeeded in scapegoating immigrants and casting them as the cause of the country’s ills; Corbyn seems set to do the same with the rich. In both cases they are hugely wrong; in both cases the public will connect with the message.

The truth of the matter is that Jeremy Corbyn is not a messiah. He is a rabble-rouser who plays on peoples’ fears to peddle a brand of far-left rhetoric that was outdated in the 80s. His rise to power is indicative of his ability to feed off the fears and paranoia of the working classes, and he is able to make farcical promises through his not having to worry about the limitations imposed by the vagaries of the national finances. Jeremy Corbyn is totally unelectable and would be a disaster for the country…

…which is exactly why I (as a Conservative) am rooting for him to win.

The Iran Deal (or how I learned to love the bomb)

The reactions to the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 states have spanned the full gamut of emotions. In Tehran the principle feeling seems to be jubilation, mixed (perhaps understandably) with an outpouring of nationalistic sentiment. By contrast the Israelis are furious and (again understandably) talk of an ‘existential threat’ is once more being heard in the halls of the Knesset. But perhaps the strangest of reactions is the strongly negative response from the Americans. Obama has not made much out of the agreement, whilst the Republican right have been vocal in their opposition to the deal – opposition which will only grow in the coming days.

However, all of the parties to this agreement have missed a historic opportunity here to alter the balance of power in the Middle East. I speak, of course, of allowing Iran to pursue nuclear weapons. Though the P5+1 have spent the last two years desperately trying to avoid this eventuality, it may well be the case that a nuclear Iran will be a force for regional stability far more than a non-nuclear Iran.

The main opponents to a nuclear-armed Iran are the Israelis and the Saudis. Their concerns can be dealt with in turn, beginning with the Israelis. The fear amongst the Israeli people is that the Iranian regime will use nuclear weapons against Israel in a lunatic attempt to bring upon a messianic appearance of the Mahdi. In many ways this is a justifiable fear – whereas it took the Nazis five years and tens of thousands of men to exterminate 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, a handful of nuclear warheads aimed against Israel could do the same in a matter of hours. And it is not in doubt that senior Iranians have made blood-curdling pronouncements about their hatred of Israel; the erstwhile President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on record calling Israel a ‘cancer’ and Israelis ‘barely human’, whilst others have been quoted calling for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map.’

All this is not to be underestimated. There are a significant number of Iranians with a visceral loathing for Israel, and many of those would not shed many tears at a nuclear bomb hitting Tel Aviv. However, the Western reaction to this has shown a major misunderstanding in how Muslim cultures act. Far too many Western analysts have used these pronouncements as evidence that a nuclear-armed Iran would necessarily entail Iran using nuclear weapons against Israel. But this is not the case. Firstly and most importantly, Iranians are not stupid. They are aware that Israel has spent billions on anti-missile technology that virtually guarantees that an Iranian strike would not hit the intended target. They are also aware of the long-standing Israeli policy that the IDF will use nuclear weapons in the case of an existential threat to the state of Israel. They are aware that the IDF is vastly better armed and more competent than the Iranian military. And as such they know that any attempt to attack Israel would fail and result in Iran being turned to rubble.

But there is also something more than strategic calculation which holds the Iranians back. Iranians are one of the most pro-Israeli nations in the Middle East. Though the fact is not often talked about, in reality Israel and Iran were exceptionally close allies before the Islamic Revolution. Tens of thousands of Israelis lived and worked in Tehran, whilst the two armies co-operated on naval technology. This was part of Israel’s so-called ‘alliance of the periphery’, in which non-Arab countries like Iran, Turkey and Uzbekistan were courted to act as a regional counterbalance to the Arab League. The people of Iran have never been exceptionally anti-Semitic, and in fact there is a great deal of support for Jews and for Israel. Many Iranians have far more antipathy towards the Arab world than towards Israel, and in some circles Israel is even praised for standing up to the Arabs.

It is not in question that the current regime is anti-Zionistic and even anti-Semitic. But the people of Iran are not – and it is they who will persist, not the regime. At present the Islamic Republic has a decade more, no longer. It is heavily corrupt and disliked by the majority of Iranians. Moreover, several viable alternatives exist – the most notable of these is the monarchist opposition led by Prince Reza Pahlavi, a hugely popular figure in Iran. It is virtually guaranteed that increased living standards will lead to the production of a liberal intelligentsia and an increase of opposition towards the regime that will eventually result in a coup or a revolution. Once that happens, there are two choices; a militarily weak Iran that will be balkanised and dominated by its’ neighbours, or a strong nuclear-armed Iran capable of dictating its’ own foreign policy.

The usual counter to the ‘rational operator’ argument is the claim that the Islamic Republic is not in fact rational; that instead it is led by religious fundamentalists hell-bent upon bringing about the coming of the Mahdi. This is Orientalist claptrap of the highest order, and shows a serious misunderstanding of the Iranian position. If the Iranians wanted to bring about the end of times, they could do so very easily without nuclear weapons. At present they possess the capability to cause millions of Israeli casualties, both directly and through their proxy of Hezbollah. The fact that they have not done so is testament to the fact that the Iranians are greatly reluctant to escalate the tensions of the region. Moreover, there exists an extensive body of evidence suggesting that the clergy of Iran are strongly opposed to the use of nuclear weapons; this further shows that Iran is not an unstable actor.

Other than Israel, the other main opponent to a nuclear Iran is Saudi Arabia, supported by the other Gulf monarchies. This has led to the ridiculous alliance between Israel and some of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world, whose hatred of Israel is matched only by a hatred of Iran. It is no coincidence that in Ba’athist Iraq a bestseller was the tome ‘Three whom God should not have created; Jews, Persians and Flies.’ Though the Saudis have tried to cloak their opposition in the guise of non-proliferation and moderation, the fundamental reality is that they oppose a nuclear Iran because of a near-pathological mistrust of Iranians and of Shi’a Muslims in general.

For all their Wahhabi posturing, the Saudis are at heart a deeply conservative monarchy who are far more concerned with political stability than with Islam. To them, Iran represents a radical revolutionary force which threatens to destabilise the House of Saud and turn Saudi Arabia into an Islamic Republic run along Iranian lines. This more than anything is the fundamental struggle in the Middle East – not between Sunni and Shi’a, but between radical and traditional Islamism, regardless of sect. To them, a nuclear-armed Iran would be empowered to threaten, cajole and frighten the people of the region to support the Iranians in revolting against autocratic monarchical rule.

Why not? The Sunni Gulf states have always held the balance of power, and have been able to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries freely. The war in Syria is a direct result of Qatari and Saudi plots against the Syrian state; in Yemen they supported the unpopular President Hadi against huge unrest. Even in apparently peaceful countries like Lebanon, dozens of politicians have been bought with huge amounts of Saudi petrodollars – the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt is one such, having been convinced to abandon his formerly pro-Assad views upon the application of a considerable amount of Saudi pressure.

In such circumstances, why should Saudi Arabia have the sole privilege of controlling the Middle East? Why should Iran not be able to influence regional policy? The current ‘pariah state’ status of Iran is in no small part down to Saudi attempts to convince the Americans to remove all Iranian manifestations of power abroad. Though the nuclear deal will change this, it is evident that the only way Iran will be taken seriously is if it armed with nuclear weapons. This will give it the power to dictate its’ own foreign policy without being shouted down by the Saudis.

This will have an undoubtedly positive influence upon the region. At present totalitarian Sunni regimes and groups have far too much influence in the Middle East. They spread religious hatred and sectarianism whilst trampling over human rights and appropriating national wealth for selfish causes. It is this milieu which has caused IS; in many ways IS can be seen as a direct relation to Saudi Arabia, just with a subtly different form of government. Though IS gives its’ totalitarianism a particularly brutal veneer through manipulation of the media, in reality they are merely emulating the habits of Saudi Arabia. By recalibrating the strategic calculus of the region, groups such as IS will be weakened at the expense of secularist movements.

The argument which is always brought forward at this point is that it will lead to regional escalation. Already rumours have emerged that the Saudis are seeking a warhead from the Pakistanis in order to balance the field; from here, the naysayers say, it is a short distance to an arms race and a pre-emptive strike. Such fears are valid, but it seems unlikely that this will take place. Historical evidence shows that even if such an arms race took place, the fear of mutual destruction will lead to an implicit understanding that neither party will use nuclear weapons. But in some ways one might even argue that an arms race is already underway, and that Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is simply the next stage. At present the Saudis have the most powerful weapon in the world – the support of the United States. Iran does not have this, and thus has to resort to nuclear weapons in order to gain strategic parity. It is probable that Iran developing nuclear weapons will simply lead to both sides becoming militarily equal, and an entente cordiale developing between the two, from which regional harmony will stem.

The present nuclear deal should not be dismissed. It is a damn good deal that permits the Iranian people to fulfil their national aspirations, whilst simultaneously assuaging Western fears about a nuclear Iran. However, due attention should be given to the possibilities that stem from an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. Though in the short term such an arrangement would cause great consternation from many regional neighbours of Iran, the present imbalance of power is unsustainable and will lead to great bloodshed unless steps are taken to ensure that all major powers are able to act equally and without fear.

Electoral reform – if at first you don’t succeed, try again?

In the aftermath of the election there has been a lot of whinging by the usual sources that the electoral system is unfair, and a system of proportional representation is what is really needed to reinvigorate democracy. There are a number of flaws in this thesis, not least the fact that Britain voted in a democratic referendum for a more proportional system in 2011, and resoundingly decided to keep the first-past-the-post system. Aside from this democratic confirmation of FPTP, there are several other reasons why it should be retained:

1. PR would mean that there would be no government right now. The spread of votes means that no party would have commanded an absolute majority, and no viable coalition would be possible. For example, the Tories (on 36.8%) might attempt to form a coalition with UKIP (on 12.6%.) This would leave them with just under 50% of the votes, meaning that they could not pass any law. But Labour (30.4%) wouldn’t have it better – they would probably endeavour to go into coalition with the Lib Dems (7.9%) and the SNP (4.7%) But this would give them barely 40%, giving them no chance of forming a government. No other reasonable permutations are possible – Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP would never go into coalition alongside UKIP. Therefore FPTP creates workable majorities that permit the formation of a government and a stable country.

2. PR would destroy regionalism. At present, MPs represent a particular constituency and are personally accountable to those constituents. If they have a problem they have a local representative in the form of their MP, who should represent his constituents as a central part of his role as a Member of Parliament. But under proportional representation this link between representative and locality would be destroyed; people would simply be voting for career politicians with no accountability to a locality. There would be no voice for the people of a particular area, and hence the system would be infinitely less responsive to regional concerns.

3. PR would disenfranchise all the provinces. It is incontrovertible that Scotland, Wales and Ulster form integral parts of the United Kingdom – there is no British nation without them. And it is similarly incontrovertible that they require representation in the Westminster Parliament as long as they remain part of the UK. But because the population of these nations is much smaller, the tyranny of the majority means that they would not have adequate representation in Parliament. If PR was implemented, the SNP would have perhaps four seats, whilst Plaid Cymru and all of the Ulster parties would have none. This is an intolerable situation; not only is it unfair in not affording appropriate constitutional weightage to the Home Nations apart from England, but it would mean that there is no democratic accountability between the peoples of these nations and Westminster.

4. PR has hardly been successful around the world. Countries which operate on a proportional system tend to have some of the worst political atmospheres in the world – for example, consider Israel, which is perpetually split between left and right. In Israel coalitions are a necessity, but break up continuously; there is regular acrimony within a coalition, whilst even to get to the stage of forming one is a marathon process lasting many weeks if not months. Even countries like Germany have different issues – they negate Israel’s problem of too many small parties by having a high threshold, but this simply ignores small regional parties.

5. PR leads to a tyranny of the majority. Britain is not a country of 65m people. It is a country of innumerable towns, villages, hills, mountains, lakes, rivers, fields and moors. Having Proportional Representation would undermine this diversity and create a constitutional framework in which no heed is taken of this diversity and the will of the majority of the people is imposed upon the rest. Seeing as most British people live in urban areas this would be unfair towards those who lived in rural areas or indeed smaller cities. It would further entrench the dominance of London to the politics of this country, and would negate the wonderful diversity of Britain.

The most fundamental issue, of course, is the fact that the system at present simply isn’t broken. We’ve had FPTP for many centuries now, and it has ensured a fair and efficient system of government for the entirety of this period. Britain has never had a civil war (England has, but that’s a different matter.) Nor have we had a constitutional revolution, a public uprising, or seen an administration fall due to revolt. Why? Because the system works. With all its complexities and subtleties, which might seem odd and archaic, it always has worked. Attempts to tamper with hundreds of years of history rarely work. And that is why any attempts to change the voting system of this country are pointless, unfair and should not be accepted by any democratic regime.