Posts Tagged ‘Iraq Invasion’

Why the World Hates America and the West: We Bomb, Kill and Wreck their Countries

November 24, 2020

One of the issues William Blum repeatedly tackled in his books about the crimes of American imperialism was the complete failure of the American political establishment and the general public to understand why their country is so hated by the rest of the world. He produces quote after quote from American politicians, civil servants and senior military officers declaring that America has America’s actions have always been for the good of those nations they’ve attacked, whose politicians they’ve overthrown or assassinated and whose economies they’ve destroyed and plundered. In their opinion, it has always been done by a disinterested America for the benefit of other nations. America has been defending freedom from tyranny and trying to rebuild their economies through free trade capitalism. And American forces have never been responsible for the deliberate targeting of civilians and have been concerned to rebuild the countries afterwards.

Again and again Blum shows that this is all lies. America has overthrown and interfered with democratically elected regimes as well as dictatorships. It has installed vicious fascist dictators, mass murderers and torturers in their place. It has stolen countries’ industries so that they could be acquired by American multinationals. It has hypocritically deliberately targeted civilians, even while denouncing its enemies for doing so. And while it has signed contracts obliging it to pay compensation to the nations it has attacked, like Vietnam and Serbia, these treaties have never been honoured.

But the American state and public have absolutely no idea why America is so hated and resented, particularly in the Muslim world. They’ve set up think tanks to try to work out why this is, and hired public relations companies to find ways of persuading the rest of the world why America is a force for good. In their view, this hatred is due not to America’s vicious imperialism per se, but simply to their mistaken views of it. In 2005 the Smirking Chimp, George W. Bush, sent his Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy on a tour of the Middle East to correct these mistaken impressions. She did not have an easy time of it, particularly in Turkey, where they told her where the people of that country made their views very clear. She told the crowd that sometimes to preserve the peace, America believed war was necessary, and repeated the lie that after the fall of Saddam Hussein, women were being better treated in Iraq. She got angry replies from the women present, to which she responded that this was just a PR problem, just like America had in other places around the world. The Arab News, the leading English-language newspaper of the Arab world, described her performance as ‘Painfully clueless’.

See: America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, p. 29.

But some sections of the American political and military establishment have a far better idea of the cause of this hatred. In 1997 a study by the Department of Defense concluded that ‘Historical data show a strong correlation between US involvement in in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States’.

And former President Jimmy Carter also realised that American military action in Lebanon and the consequent killing of Lebanese civilians had cause the people to hate America. He told the New York Times in an interview in 1989 that

We sent Marines into Lebanon and you only have to go to Lebanon, to Syria or to Jordan to witness first-hand the immense hatred among many people for the United States because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers – women and children and farmers and housewives – in those villages around Beirut…. As a result of that… we became kind of Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of our hostages and that is what has precipitated some of the terrorist attacks.

See Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, pp. 34-5.

General Colin Powell in his memoir discusses the American military actions in Lebanon in 1983. Instead of blaming the terrorist attacks subsequently launched against America on Muslim hatred of western democracy and liberty, he recognised that they were only acting as America would if it were attacked.

‘The U.S.S. New Jersey started hurling 16-nch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would.’ (p. 35).

A 2004 poll by Zogby International of public opinion in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates came to the following conclusion, as reported in the New York Times:

Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: ‘What is the first thought when you hard “America?” respondents overwhelmingly said: ‘Unfair foreign policy’. And when asked what the United states could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were ‘stop supporting Israel’ and ‘Change your Middle East policy’…. Most Arabs polled said they believe that the Iraq war has caused more terrorism and brought about less democracy, and that the Iraqi people are far worse off today than they were while living under Hussein’s rule. The majority also said that they believe the United States invaded Iraq for oil, to protect Israel and to weaken the Muslim world. (pp. 37-8).

Which is more or less true, as Greg Palast has also shown in his book, Armed Madhouse.

The Defense Sciences Board, which advises the Pentagon, partly confirmed these findings in a report published in November 2004:

“Today we reflexively compare Muslim ‘masses’ to those oppressed under Soviet Rule. This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies-except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends…. Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies…when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy…. [Muslims believe] American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.” (p. 38).

Unfortunately, our government and public opinion shares the same attitude as the American imperialists. This was shown by the full backing of the Iraq invasion and, indeed, the whole neo-Conservative foreign policy by the unindicted war criminal, Tony Blair and the propaganda of the lamestream British media. If you believe Daily Mail hack, Melanie ‘Mad Mel’ Philips, the cause of these attacks is simply Islam. It isn’t. It’s western foreign policy in the Middle East.

If we really want to do something to stop the terrorist attacks on our countries, we could start by stopping bombing, invading and looting other countries around the world, particularly in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, even with the accession of Biden to the presidency, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

The Political Background to the Balfour Declaration and the Harm Done by Western Interference in Palestine

November 23, 2020

2017 was the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. This was the statement of the British government during the First World War committing Britain to supporting a Jewish state in Palestine. There’s a very interesting article on it in Bowker’s Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, which makes it very clear that our support for Zionism was hardly disinterested. It states very clearly that, enacted as it was by politicos who were ignorant of religion, it has resulted in immense harm and conflict. The article says that it was the

British declaration of sympathy with Zionism. It was made in a letter of 2 November 1917, from the British Foreign Secretary (i.e., Balfour) to Lord Rothschild: ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people ….’It was qualified by a clause ‘that nothing should be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’. But at the time, the British supported the idea of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine under British protection in order to detach Palestine from the Ottoman Empire, and as a means of encouraging Russian Jews to pressurize the new Bolshevik government to stay in the First World War. According to Field-Marshal Smuts (in 1947), it had been passed ‘to rally Jewry on a worldwide scale to the Allied Cause’. The declaration was endorsed in 1920 by the allies at the San Remo Conference. It was, however, in apparent conflict with the McMahon correspondence, which made commitments to the Arabs. Sharif Hussein and ibn Sa’ud were ‘courted in order to secure their help against the Ottoman Turks. Thus are the seeds of conflict sown by politicians who (as almost always in post-Enlightenment countries) neither understand nor care about religions. (p. 121).

We had absolutely no business making that commitment. The British Jewish establishment, including the only Jewish member of the cabinet at the time, didn’t want it. They wanted British Jews to be accepted as patriotic fellow Brits, and felt that the establishment of a Jewish state would lead to them being accused of disloyalty. The British government may have envisaged the founding of a small canton, rather than the populous country that emerged. It has also been claimed that the British government was anti-Semitic in issuing the declaration, because they followed the anti-Semitic view that Jews had considerable power in Soviet Russia. It has been remarked that it’s one of the few times anti-Semitism has worked to the Jews’ advantage.

Tony Greenstein has written a long piece about how we courted the Saudis and other Arab leaders to get their support for Israel against the interests of the Palestinians. It’s a convoluted, violent, and sordid tale. It’s also been argued that Israel was founded and supported with the aid of Britain and America as a kind of western colony and centre for European and American imperial influence in the Middle East.

The West has frequently interfered in the affairs of the Middle East not for the benefit of its people, but for the West’s own geopolitical and commercial interests. These have been very much against those of the region’s indigenous peoples. The Iraq invasion, for example, wasn’t about liberating the Iraqi people from a murderous tyrant, but about grabbing its oil and state industries. Ditto the invasion of Afghanistan. We never went in to punish al-Qaeda for the horrendous attacks of 9/11 nor the Taliban’s oppression of the Afghan people. It was just another attempt to secure American oil interests in the region against those of Russia and Iran. And the article on ‘Anti-Semitism’ in the same Dictionary states that, in contrast to the hopes of the Zionists, ‘as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Muslim anti-Semitism is today even more virulent than its Christian counterpart’. (p.77).

It could therefore be said that Zionism, or at least the persecution of its indigenous Arab population by the Israeli state, far from combating anti-Semitism has simply spread it still further.

William Blum on the Real Reason for the Invasion of Afghanistan: Oil

November 16, 2020

The late William Blum, an inveterate and bitter critic of American foreign policy and imperialism also attacked the invasion of Afghanistan. In his view, it was, like the Iraq invasion a few years later, absolutely nothing to do with the terrible events of 9/11 but another attempt to assert American control over a country for the benefit of the American-Saudi oil industry. Blum, and other critics of the Iraq invasion, made it very clear that America invaded Iraq in order to gain control of its oil industry and its vast reserves. In the case of Afghanistan, the invasion was carried out because of the country’s strategic location for oil pipelines. These would allow oil to be supplied to south Asian avoiding the two countries currently outside American control, Russian and Iran. The Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda was really only a cynical pretext for the invasion. Blum lays out his argument on pages 79-81 of his 2014 book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He writes

With the US war in Iraq supposedly having reached a good conclusion (or halfway decent… or better than nothing… or let’s get the hell out of here while some of us are still in one piece and there are some Iraqis we haven’t yet killed), the best and the brightest in our government and media turn their thoughts to what to do about Afghanistan. It appears that no one seems to remember, if they ever knew, that Afghanistan was not really about 9/11 or fighting terrorists (except the many the US has created by its invasion and occupation), but was about pipelines.

President Obama declared in August 2009:

But we must never forget this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.

Never mind that out of the tens of thousands of people the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001.

Never mind that the ‘plotting to attack America’ in 2001 was carried out in Germany and Spain and the United States more than in Afghanistan. Why hasn’t the United States attacked these countries?

Indeed, what actually was needed to plot to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does ‘an even larger safe haven’ mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere.

The only ‘necessity’ that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – which reportedly contains the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of South Asia, pipelines that can bypass those not-yet Washington clients Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: ‘One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so taht energy can flow to the south’.

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels… From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks stalled in July, 2001 the Bush administration threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The talks finally broke down for good the following month, a month before 9/11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war of another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be ‘won’ short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some from of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare ‘victory’. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech from his teleprompter. It might include the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, but certainly not ‘pipeline’.

This was obviously written before the electoral victory of Hamid Karzai and his government, but the point remains the same. The Taliban are still active and fighting against the supposedly democratic government, which also remains, as far as I know, dependent on western aid.

But the heart of the matter is that this wasn’t a war to save humanity from the threat of global terrorism, nor is it about freeing the Afghan people from a bloodthirsty and murderously repressive Islamist regime. The Americans were quite happy to tolerate that and indeed do business with it. It was only when the Taliban started to become awkward that the Americans started threatening them with military action. And this was before 9/11. Which strongly supports Blum’s argument that the terrible attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the White House were and are being cynically used as the justification for the invasion. 17 out of the 19 conspirators were Saudis, and the events point to involvement by the Saudi state with responsibility going right to the top of the Saudi regime. But America and NATO never launched an attack on them, despite the fact that the Saudis have been funding global Islamist terrorism, including Daesh. That is before ISIS attacked them.

It was Remembrance Day last Wednesday. The day when Britain honours the squaddies who fell in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. One of those talking about the importance of the day and its ceremonies on Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol area, was a former squaddie. He was a veteran of Afghanistan, and said it was particularly important to him because he had a mate who was killed out there. He felt we had to remember victims of combat, like his friend because if we didn’t ‘what’s the point?’.

Unfortunately, if Blum’s right – and I believe very strongly that he is – then there’s no point. Our governments have wasted the lives, limbs and minds of courageous, patriotic men and women for no good reason. Not to defend our countries from a ruthless ideology which massacres civilians in order to establish its oppressive rule over the globe. Not to defend our freedoms and way of life, nor to extend those freedoms and their benefits to the Afghan people. But simply so that America can gain geopolitical control of that region and maintain its dominance of the oil industry, while enriching the oil companies still further.

What Were British Squaddies Doing in Iraq Out of Uniform with Guns and Explosives?

November 8, 2020

William Blum has an entire chapter on Iraq in his book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy – The Truth about US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (London: Zed Books 2014). Like the rest of the book, it’s a searing indictment of US foreign policy, American imperialism and capitalism. It explodes just about every vile lie the American and British public have been told about the Iraq invasion by our leaders. He shows that it was all about getting hold of the country’s oil and its other industries, and that the invasion comprehensively wrecked the country, which was actually one of the most progressive and prosperous in the Middle East. And far from being welcomed and supported as liberators, we’re resented as invaders and occupiers. To the point where even people who were jailed by Saddam Hussein as enemies of his regime believe that things were better under the old tyrant.

This chapter also includes a very strange incident, in which the British army broke into an Iraqi jail to free two squaddies. They’d been caught by the Iraqi police in civilian clothing driving around firing guns and with explosives. Blum writes

The British also insist that Iraq is a sovereign nation. Recently hundreds of residents filled the streets in the southern city of Basra, shouting and pumping their fists in the air to condemn British forces for raiding a jail and freeing two British soldiers. Iraqi police had arrested the Britons, who were dressed as civilians, for allegedly firing their guns (at whom or what is not clear), and either trying to plant explosives or having explosives in their vehicle. British troops then assembled several armored vehicles, rammed them through the jailhouse wall, and freed the men, as helicopter gunships hovered above.

An intriguing side question: we have here British soldiers dressed as civilians (at least one report said dressed as Arabs), driving around in a car with explosives, firing guns… Does this not feed into the frequent speculation that coalition forces have been to some extent part of the ‘insurgency’? The same insurgency that’s used as an excuse by the coalition to remain in Iraq? (p.78).

Of course, it could all have a simple explanation, but it really does look like covert ops. Which makes you wonder what else British forces were doing in Iraq, and how much is being hidden from the public.

Quite apart from the fact that Blair and Bush destroyed a nation and the lives and limbs of courageous servicemen and women for a vicious lie. Our squaddies fought, died, or came home maimed or battle-shocked not because Saddam Hussein was a threat to our countries, but simply so that our multinationals could get rich by pillaging Iraq.

Blair lied, people died, and this should be remembered before anyone thinks this butcher is any kind of statesman.

Scumbag Starmer Sacks Nadia Whittome Behind Back But Tells Fascist Guido Fawkes

September 25, 2020

This is another incident which shows the real, intolerant, treacherous face of Starmer’s administration. And it could have come straight out of the Blair playbook. Yesterday Starmer sacked three MPs from their posts as Parliamentary Private Secretaries – Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter and Olivia Blake because they had the conscience and the guts to vote against the government’s Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill 2019-21. The ladies objected to the bill’s provisions that would have exempted British service personnel for prosecutions for torture committed overseas. Starmer, however, had set up a one-line whip demanding that the Labout MPs abstain.

Other MPs from the ‘Corbynite’ wing of the party also had the courage to vote against the bill. They were: Diane Abbott, Apsana Begum, Richard Burgon, Ian Byrne, Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Lavery, Rebecca Long-Bailey, John McDonnell, Kate Osamor, Kate Osborne, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Zarah Sultana, Jon Trickett, and Claudia Webbe. Kudos and respect to all of them.

Lobster has put up a number of articles about the involvement of British armed forces in war crimes and supporting brutal dictatorships. At the moment the British military is giving training to 17 regimes, including the Chinese, that are on a list of thirty which are of concern because of their history of human rights abuses. The SAS was also involved in training the Sri Lankan army in its brutal war against the Tamil Tigers, which included reprisals and atrocities against the civilian Tamil population. A recent book on war crimes by the ‘Keenie Meenies’, a British mercenary company, also notes that, although they’re not formally part of the British army, they too have been used by the British state to give military support to some very unpleasant movements and regimes at arm’s length. Like the Mujahiddin fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Fascist regimes in Central America in the 1980s. Going further back, British armed forces were also responsible for brutal reprisals against Black Kenyans during the Mao Mao rebellion, including torture and mutilation. The victims of the atrocities were only granted compensation after a long legal campaign a few years ago. For details of the atrocities themselves, see the book, Africa’s Secret Gulags.

Mike also points that Starmer’s order that Labour should abstain on the bill, but not vote against it, is similar to Harriet Harman’s order a few years ago that Labour should also abstain on a Tory welfare bill that would further cut benefits and impoverish claimants. It’s all part of the Blairite strategy of trying to appeal to Tory voters at the expense of the people they should really be standing up to protect. But they try to make it seems that they’re also paying attention to their working class and socialist base by abstaining. It’s unconvincing. To me, it recalls Pilate in the Gospels washing his hands and walking off when the Sanhedrin brought Christ before him to be crucified.

What makes Starmer’s decision particularly noxious, however, what adds insult to injury, is the way it was done. Whittome was not told she was sacked but a Labour ‘representative’ – some of us can think of other epithets for this unnamed person – instead went of an briefed Guido Fawkes. That’s the far-right gossip and smear site run by Paul Staines. Staines is an extreme right-wing Tory and libertarian, who’d like to ban the trade unions and other working class organisations, privatise everything, including the NHS, and get rid of the welfare state. When he was a member of the Freedom Association back in the 1980s, the organisation invited the leader of a Fascist death squad from El Salvador as their guest of honour at their annual dinner. Other guests, I think, included members of the South African Conservative party, who were staunch supporters of apartheid. He was also mad keen on the various psychedelics that were coming into the rave scene in the 1990s, including and especially ‘E’. It’s disgusting that anyone in the news should have been told before Whittome herself, but especially a Fascist like Staines and his squalid crew.

And Mike has pointed out on his blog that this is exactly the same tactic the Blairites in the Labour party used to stab him in the back. Mike was suspended for anti-Semitism the evening before he was due to stand as a Labour councillor in the mid-Wales elections. But he only found about it when a reporter from one of the local Welsh papers rang him up to ask him about it. And then some other weasel at the NEC went off and leaked Mike’s details to the Sunset Times, which then ran a feature smearing and libeling him as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Which Mike has never been, and very strongly and utterly condemns, as he has all racism.

But this also brings to mind the negative briefing Blair himself conducted against those MPs, who dared to go ‘off-message’ during his regime. Notable victims included Clare Short, who I think also clashed with him over his definitely unethical foreign policy. If a Labour MP or senior figure dared to contradict one of the Dear Leader’s policies or announcements, Blair and Campbell called the media hacks in for an anonymous briefing in which they or a representative then attacked the dissenting MP.

And now it seems that these old tactics have returned under ‘centrist’ Keir Starmer.

The Labour party is haemorrhaging members because of the way Starmer has turned his back on the great, socialist, genuinely Labour policies that Corbyn and his team were determined to return to. Mike’s pointed out that so far Starmer has broken 9 of his pledges to uphold them. Including his commitment to add 5 per cent tax to the upper right for big earners. That’s the multi-millionaires who have benefited from massive tax breaks, funded by savage benefit cuts to the poor and starving at the bottom of society, and who have squirreled their money away in offshore bank accounts. Including companies like that well-known patriotic group of papers and media, News International. Black members are particularly bitter and disappointed because of Starmer’s scant regard for the Black Lives Matter movement, which he dismissed as a ‘moment’.

Starmer has done nothing against the intriguers, who cost Labour the 2017 and 2019 elections, and who were responsible for the racist bullying of three senior and respected Black Labour MPs. Instead, the intriguers are arming themselves with lawyers and claiming that they have been smeared. And it shows how low Private Eye has fallen that the satirical magazine is uncritically pushing these claims, just as it was an enthusiastic supporter of the anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn and his supporters.

Mike yesterday put up a piece commenting on this grossly shabby action by Starmer, including citing some very excellent tweets from the public. They include people like Tory Fibs, Kelly-Ann Mendoza and Rachel Swindon. But my favourite comment is this from Mark Hebden

Nadia Whittome has essentially been sacked for voting against war crimes.

The Labour Party is the Party of War criminality again then

Yes, just as they were when Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq.

Mike has pointed out that Labour is behind the Tories in the polls, although Starmer himself is actually more popular than Boris. He asks, quite credibly, if this is because the Labour party acts like this to betray its own members.

What comes out of this is that Starmer himself is another intriguing Blairite and that he and his scuzzy advisors really haven’t learnt that not only are such tactics against one’s own unacceptable in themselves, they will also make you unpopular with the public. The press didn’t hold back on using these negative briefings against Blair and Brown when they did it, in order to make them look personally unpleasant and untrustworthy. Which they were.

Starmer is damaging the Labour party. I wish the poll result were the reverse. I wish Labour was surging ahead of the Tories, and it was Starmer behind Boris. It is no more than he deserves.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/24/keir-starmers-labour-is-unpopular-because-he-supports-war-crimes-and-sacks-people-who-dont/

MoD Records Show Britain Training Repressive States

August 30, 2020

There was a very interesting piece by Cahal Milmo in yesterday’s edition of the I, for Saturday, 29th August 2020. The MoD has released a series of papers in response to a question in parliament, showing that the British armed forces are training those of 17 states guilty of human rights violations. The article, ‘Britain trains soldiers for repressive regimes’ runs

The British military has provided training to the armed forces of a succession of repressive regimes from Belarus to Bahrain, according to official records.

A list of countries receiving training from UK armed forces since 2018 includes 17 nations formally designated by the British government as “human rights priority countries”, where there is particular concern about repression or other abuses. 

The training ranges from instruction on piloting state-of-the-art fast jets for allies such as Saudi Arabia to officer training for China.

In Belarus, where the authorities have this month been condemned for a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and armed forces have been placed on a state of high alert, Britain provided an advanced command course for senior officers.

The training,k detailed in records released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) following a parliamentary question, drew condemnation from campaigners who said it put Britain at risk of becoming “complicit” in gross breaches of human rights.

Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “Many of these armies have appalling human rights records and have been linked to brutal oppression as well as international aggression.

“By training and collaborating with despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers, the UK risks making itself complicit in the abuses that are being inflicted.” The group said it wanted to see an investigation into precisely which military forces the UK had given training to and whether they had been subsequently linked to repressive actions or other breaches of basic liberties.

However, the defence ministry insisted that all of its training abroad emphasised the observation of human rights protections.

A spokesman for the MoD said: “Every defence relationship is taken on a case-by-case basis. Any defence engagement is designed to educate where necessary on best practice and compliance with international humanitarian law.”

The figures suggest that more than half of the 30 countries on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights priority list have received training assistance from British forces. They include Uzbekistan, Sir Lanka, Bahrain, Egypt and Pakistan.

I’m not surprised by any of this. We already sell armaments to vicious, repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. Britain has also used private mercenary companies as a method of unofficially sending military assistance to repressive regimes, such as Keenie Meenie Services, (KMS), founded by retired Brigadier Mike Wingate Gray, a friend of Maggie Thatcher, and whose son Arthur is a mate of princes William and Harry. Among other nasty regimes, KMS has provided troops for Sri Lanka, the Nicaraguan Contras and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, as well as Sultan Qaboos of Oman. On the other hand, they don’t seem to have provided any assistance to the Khmer Rouge during the 1980s. This was probably done by the SAS. See ‘Profiting from War’, John Newsinger’s review of Phil Miller’s Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away with War Crimes (London: Pluto Press 2020) in Lobster 79, Summer 2020 . See https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster79/lob79-keenie-meenie-review.pdf

I’ve no doubt that the training given by the official British armed forces does stress the observance of human rights. However, this still does not absolve us of training the troops of brutally oppressive regimes, which those providing the assistance must know will ignore anything they are taught about observing human rights.

The mercenaries, however, are rather different. They don’t just providing training, but have actually participated in atrocities. During the proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the head of the CIA’s Afghan Task Force declared that Thatcher was to the right of Attila the Hun and remarked on the lack of any legal restraint on MI6. Miller’s book quotes him as saying that they had a willingness to do jobs he wouldn’t touch. This comes from a senior figure in the organisation that helped overthrow Salvador Allende in Chile and install the Fascist dictatorship of General Pinochet.

Britain has spent too long training and providing guns and troops to the world’s thugs and butchers. It’s long past time we stopped. But the last time anyone suggested we should have an ethical foreign policy was Robin Cook under Tony Blair. Which after the Iraq invasion sounds like a very sick joke.

A Conservative Accusation of Liberal Bias at the Beeb

February 15, 2020

Robin Aitken, Can We Trust the BBC (London: Continuum 2007).

Robin Aitken is a former BBC journalist, and this book published 13 years ago argues that the BBC, rather than being unbiased, is really stuffed full of lefties and the broadcaster and its news and politics programmes have a very strong left-wing, anti-Conservative bias. Under Lord Reith, the BBC upheld certain core British values. Its news was genuinely unbiased, giving equal time to the government and opposition. It also stood for essential institutions and such as the monarchy, the constitution, the British Empire and Christianity at home, and peace through the League of Nations abroad.

This changed radically between 1960 and 1980 as the BBC joined those wishing to attack and demolish the old class-bound institutions. Now the BBC stands for passionate anti-racism, ‘human rights’, internationalism and is suspicious of traditional British national identity and strongly pro-EU. It is also feminist, secular and ‘allergic to established authority whether in the form of the Crown, the courts, the police or the churches.’ This has jeopardised the ideal at the heart of the Corporation, that it should be fair-minded and non-partisan.

Aitken does marshal an array of evidence to support his contention. This includes his own experience working for BBC Scotland, which he claims was very left-wing with a staff and management that bitterly hated Margaret Thatcher and made sure that the dismantlement of the old, nationalised industries like shipbuilding was properly lamented, but did not promote it as ‘creative destruction’ as it should, nor the emergence of the wonderful new information industry north of the border. A later chapter, ‘Testimonies’, consists of quotations from other, anonymous rightists, describing how the Beeb is biased and bewailing their isolated position as the few Conservative voices in the Corporation. He is particularly critical of the former director-general, John Birt. Birt was recruited in the 1990s from ITV. He was a member of the Labour Party, who brought with him many of his colleagues from the commercial channel, who also shared his politics and hatred of the Tories. He goes on to list the leading figures from the Left, who he claims are responsible for this bias. These include Andrew Marr, the former editor of the Independent, and the left-wing, atheist journo and activist, Polly Toynbee.

Aitken also tackles individual topics and cases of biased reporting. This includes how the BBC promoted the Labour Party and the EU before Labour’s landslide victory in the 1997 general election. The Conservatives were presented as deeply split on the issue and largely hostile to EU membership. The EU itself was presented positively, and the Labour Party as being united in favour of membership, even though it was as split as the Tories on the issue. Another chapter argues that the Beeb was wrong in challenging the government’s case for the Iraq Invasion. He claims that in a poll the overwhelming majority of Iraqis supported the invasion. The government did not ‘sex up’ the ‘dodgy dossier’ in order to present a false case for war, and it was wrong for the Beeb to claim that Blair’s government had.

The chapter ‘The Despised Tribes’ argues that there are certain ethnic or religious groups, who were outside the range of sympathy extended to other, more favoured groups. These include White South Africans, the Israeli Likud Party, Serb Nationalists under Milosevic, the Italian Northern League, Le Pen and the Front National in France, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, American ‘Christian Fundamentalists’, conservative Roman Catholics, UKIP ‘and other groups who have failed to enlist the sympathies of media progressives’. These include the Orange Order and Ulster Protestants. He then claims that the Beeb is biased towards Irish Republicans, who have successfully exploited left-wing British guilt over historic wrongs against the Roman Catholic population. He then goes on to claim that Pat Finucane, a lawyer killed in the Troubles, was no mere ‘human rights’ lawyer but a senior figure in the IRA.

The chapter, ‘The Moral Maze’ is an extensive critique of a Panorama documentary claiming that the Roman Catholic condemnation of premarital sex and contraception was causing needless suffering in the Developing World through the procreation of unwanted children and the spread of AIDs by unprotected sex. This is contradicted by UN evidence, which shows that the African countries with the lowest incidence of AIDS are those with the highest Catholic populations. The Catholic doctrine of abstinence, he argues, works because reliance on condoms gives the mistaken impression that they offer total protection against disease and pregnancy, and only encourages sexual activity. Condoms cannot offer complete protection, and are only effective in preventing 85 per cent of pregnancies. The programme was deliberately biased against the Roman Catholic church and the papacy because it was made from the viewpoint of various groups with an explicit bias against the Church and its teaching on sexuality.

Aitken’s evidence is impressive, and I do accept part of his argument. I believe that the Beeb is indeed in favour of feminism, multiculturalism and human rights. I also believe that, the few remaining examples of the Beeb’s religious programming notwithstanding, the Corporation is largely hostile to Christianity in ways that would be unthinkable if applied to other religions, such as Islam. However, I don’t believe that the promotion of anti-racism and anti-sexism is wrong. And groups like the Northern League, Front National and other extreme right-wing political and religious groups, including UKIP, really are unacceptable because of their racism and should not be given a sympathetic platform. Their exclusion from the range of acceptable political and religious views is no bad thing.

But the book also ignores the copious documentation from the various media study units at Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities of massive BBC Conservative bias. Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis have a chapter in their book on the gradual, slo-mo privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS, on the way the media has promoted the Tories’ and New Labour’s project of selling off the health service. And this includes the Beeb.  The Corporation was hostile to Labour after Thatcher’s victory, promoting the SDP splinter group against the parent party in the 1983 election, as well as the Tories. This pro-Tory bias returned with a vengeance after the 2010 Tory victory and the establishment of austerity. Barry and Savile Kushner show in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, how the Beeb excludes or shouts down anyone who dares to question the need for cuts to welfare spending. Tories, economists and financiers are also favoured as guests on news shows. They are twice as likely to appear to comment on the news as Labour politicians and trade unionists.

And we have seen how the Beeb has pushed the anti-Labour agenda particularly vigorously over the past five years, as it sought to smear Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as institutionally anti-Semitic at every opportunity. Quite apart from less sensational sneering and bias. The guests on Question Time have, for example, been packed with Tories and Kippers, to whom presenter Fiona Bruce has shown particular favour. This has got worse under Johnson, with the Beeb now making it official policy not to have equal representation of the supporters of the various political parties in the programme’s audience. Instead, the majority of the audience will consist of supporters of the party that holds power in that country. Which means that in England they will be stuffed with Tories. Numerous members of the BBC news teams are or were members of the Tory party, like Nick Robinson, and a number have left to pursue careers at No 10 helping Cameron, Tweezer and Boris.

The evidence of contemporary bias in favour of the Tories today is massive and overwhelming.

With the exception of particular issues, such as multiculturalism, feminism, a critical and sometimes hostile attitude towards the monarchy, and atheism/ secularism, the BBC is, and always has been, strongly pro-Tory. The Birt era represents only a brief interval between these periods of Tory bias, and I believe it is questionable how left-wing Birt was. Aitken admits that while he certainly was no Tory, he was in favour of free market economics.

This book is therefore very dated, and overtaken by the Beeb’s massive return to the Right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book on the Bloody Reality of the British Empire

February 9, 2020

John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire (London: Bookmarks Publications 2006).

John Newsinger is the senior lecturer in Bath Spa University College’s school of History and Cultural Studies. He’s also a long-time contributor to the conspiracy/ parapolitics magazine Lobster. The book was written nearly a decade and a half ago as a rejoinder to the type of history the Tories would like taught in schools again, and which you see endless recited by the right-wing voices on the web, like ‘the Britisher’, that the British Empire was fundamentally a force for good, spreading peace, prosperity and sound government around the world. The book’s blurb runs

George Bush’s “war on terror” has inspired a forest of books about US imperialism. But what about Britain’s role in the world? The Blood Never Dried challenges the chorus of claims that British Empire was a kinder, gentler force in the world.

George Orwell once wrote that imperialism consists of the policeman and soldier holding the “native” down while the businessman goes through his pockets. But the violence of the empire has also been met by the struggle for freedom, from slaves in Jamaica to the war for independence in Kenya.

John Newsinger sets out to uncover this neglected history of repression and resistance at the heart of the British Empire. He also looks at why the declining British Empire has looked to an alliance with US imperialism. To the boast that “the sun never set on the British Empire”, the Chartist Ernest Jones replied, “And the blood never dried”. 

One of the new imperialists to whom Newsinger takes particular exception is the right-wing historian Niall Ferguson. Newsinger begins the book’s introduction by criticising Ferguson’s 2003 book, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, and its successor, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. Newsinger views these books as a celebration of imperialism as a duty that the powerful nations owe to their weaker brethren. One of the problem with these apologists for imperialism, he states, is their reluctance to acknowledge the extent that the empires they laud rested on the use of force and the perpetration of atrocities. Ferguson part an idyllic childhood, or part of it, in newly independent Kenya. But nowhere does he mention that the peace and security he enjoyed were created through the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau. He states that imperialism has two dimensions – one with the other, competing imperial powers, which have driven imperial expansion, two World Wars and a Cold War, and cost countless lives. And another with the peoples who are conquered and subjugated. It is this second relationship he is determined to explore. He sums up that relationship in the quote from Orwell’s Burmese Days.

Newsinger goes on to state that

It is the contention here that imperial occupation inevitably involved the use of violence and that, far from this being a glorious affair, it involved considerable brutality against people who were often virtually defenceless.

The 1964 film Zulu is a particular example of the type of imperial history that has been taught for too long. It celebrates the victory of a small group of British soldiers at Rourke’s Drift, but does not mention the mass slaughter of hundreds of Zulus afterwards. This was the reality of imperial warfare, of which Bush’s doctrine of ‘shock and awe’ is just a continuation. He makes the point that during the 19th and 20th centuries the British attacked, shelled and bombed city after city, leaving hundreds of casualties. These bombardments are no longer remembered, a fate exemplified by the Indonesian city of Surabaya, which we shelled in 1945. He contrasts this amnesia with what would have happened instead if it had been British cities attacked and destroyed.

He makes it clear that he is also concerned to celebrate and ‘glorify’ resistance to empire, from the slaves in the Caribbean, Indian rebels in the 1850s, the Irish republicans of the First World War, the Palestinian peasants fighting the British and the Zionist settlers in the 1930s, the Mau Mau in the 1950s and the Iraqi resistance today. He also describes how radicals and socialists in Britain protested in solidarity with these resistance movements. The Stop the War Coalition stands in this honourable tradition, and points to the comment, quoted in the above blurb, by the Chartist and Socialist Ernest Jones in the 1850s. Newsinger states ‘Anti-imperialists today stand in the tradition of Ernest Jones and William Morris, another socialist and fierce critic of the empire – a tradition to be proud of.’

As for the supporters of imperialism, they have to be asked how they would react if other countries had done to us what we did to them, such as Britain’s conduct during the Opium War? He writes

The British Empire, it is argued here, is indefensible, except on the premise that the conquered peoples were somehow lesser being than the British. What British people would regard as crimes if done to them, are somehow justified by supporters of the empire when done to others, indeed were actually done for their own good. This attitude is at the very best implicitly racist, and, of course, often explicitly so.

He also attacks the Labour party for its complicity in imperialism. There have been many individual anti-imperialist members of the Labour party, and although Blair dumped just about everything the Labour party stood for domestically, they were very much in the party’s tradition in their support for imperialism and the Iraq invasion. The Labour party’s supposed anti-imperialist tradition is, he states, a myth invented for the consumption of its members.

He also makes it clear that the book is also concerned with exploring Britain’s subordination to American imperialism. While he has very harsh words for Blair, describing his style as a combination of sincerity and dishonesty, the cabinet as ‘supine’ and Labour MPs as the most contemptible in the party’s history, this subordination isn’t actually his. It is institutional and systemic, and has been practised by both Tory and Labour governments despite early concerns by the British to maintain some kind of parity with the Americans. He then goes on to say that by opposing our own government, we are participating in the global fight against American imperialism. And the struggle against imperialism will go on as long as it and capitalism are with us.

This is controversial stuff. When Labour announced that they wanted to include the British empire in the school history curriculum, Sargon of Gasbag, the man who wrecked UKIP, produced a video attacking it. He claimed that Labour wanted to teach British children to hate themselves. The photo used as the book’s cover is also somewhat controversial, because it’s of a group of demonstrators surrounding the shot where Bernard McGuigan died. McGuigan was one of the 14 peaceful protesters shot dead by British soldiers in Derry/London Derry in Bloody Sunday in 1972. But no matter how controversial some might find it, it is a necessary corrective to the glorification of empire most Brits have been subjected to since childhood, and which the Tories and their corporate backers would like us to return.

The book has the following contents:

The Jamaican Rebellion and the Overthrow of Slavery, with individual sections on the sugar empire, years of revolution, overthrow of slavery, abolition and the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865.

The Irish Famine, the great hunger, evictions, John Mitchel and the famine, 1848 in Ireland, and Irish republicanism.

The Opium Wars, the trade in opium, the First Opium War, the Taiping rebellion and its suppression, the Second Opium War, and the Third Opium War.

The Great Indian Rebellion, 1857-58, the conquest of India, company rule, the rebellion, war and repression. The war at home, and the rebellion’s aftermath.

The Invasion of Egypt, 1882, Khedive Ismail and the bankers, demand for Egyptian self-rule, the Liberal response, the vast numbers of Egyptians killed, the Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, and the reconquest of Egypt.

The Post-War Crisis, 1916-26, the Irish rebellion, 1919 Egyptian revolt, military rule in India, War in Iraq, and the 1925 Chinese revolution.

The Palestine Revolt, Zionism and imperialism, the British Mandate, the road to revolt, the great revolt, and the defeat and aftermath.

Quit India, India and the Labour Party, towards ‘Quit India’, the demand for the British to leave, the final judgement on British rule in India and the end of British rule.

The Suez Invasion: Losing the Middle East, Iranian oil, Egypt and the canal zone, Nasser and the road to war, collusion and invasion, aftermath, the Iraqi endgame.

Crushing the Mau Mau in Kenya, pacification, the Mau Mau revolt, war, repression, independence, the other rebellion: Southern Rhodesia.

Malaya and the Far East, the First Vietnam War, Indonesia 1945-6 – a forgotten intervention, the reoccupation of Malaya, the emergency and confrontation.

Britain and the American Empire, Labour and the American alliance, from Suez to Vietnam, British Gaullism, New Labour, and the Iraq invasion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nonviolent Protest Groups Placed on Anti-Terrorism List

January 18, 2020

Last week it was revealed by the Groaniad that the environmentalist group, Extinction Rebellion, had been put on a list of extremist organisations, whose sympathisers should be treated by the Prevent programme. Extinction Rebellion are, in my view, a royal pain, whose disruptive antics are more likely to make them lose popular support but they certainly aren’t violent and do keep within the law. For example, in one of their protests in Bristol last autumn, they stopped the traffic for short periods and then let some cars through before stopping the traffic again. It was a nuisance, which is what the group intended, and no doubt infuriating to those inconvenienced by it. But they kept within the law. They therefore don’t deserve to be put on an anti-terrorism watch list with real violent extremist organisations like Islamist and White fascist terror groups such as the banned neo-Nazi group, National Action.

But Extinction Rebellion aren’t the only nonviolent protest group to be put on this wretched list. Zelo Street put up a piece yesterday revealing that the list also includes Greenpeace, the campaigners against sea pollution, Sea Shepherd, PETA, Stop the Badger Cull, Stop the War, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, CND, various anti-Fascist and anti-racist groups, as well as an anti-police surveillance group, campaigners against airport expansion, and Communist and Socialist parties.

I can sort of understand why Greenpeace is on the list. They also organise protests and peaceful occupations, and I remember how, during the ‘Save the Whale’ campaign, their ship, the Rainbow Warrior, used to come between whalers and their prey. I also remember how, in the 1980s, the French secret service bombed it when it was in port in New Zealand, because the evil peaceful hippies had dared to protest against their nuclear tests in the Pacific. From this, and their inclusion on this wretched list, it seems they’re more likely to be victims of state violence than the perpetrators of violence themselves.

Greenpeace’s John Sauven said

Tarring environmental campaigners and terrorist organisations with the same brush is not going to help fight terrorism … It will only harm the reputation of hard-working police officers … How can we possibly teach children about the devastation caused by the climate emergency while at the same implying that those trying to stop it are extremists?

And Prevent’s independent reviewer, Alex Carlile, said:

The Prevent strategy is meant to deal with violent extremism, with terrorism, and XR are not violent terrorists. They are disruptive campaigners”.

Zelo Street commented that this was all very 1960s establishment paranoia. Which it is. You wonder if the list also includes anyone, who gave the list’s compilers a funny look once. And whether they’re going to follow the example of Constable Savage in the Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch and arrest gentlemen of colour for wandering around during the hours of darkness wearing a loud shirt. This is a joke, but the list represents are real danger. It criminalises any kind of protest, even when its peaceful. About a decade ago, for example, Stop the War held a protest in Bristol city centre. They were out there with their banners and trestle tables, chanting and speaking. Their material, for what I could see where I was, simply pointed out that the invasion of Iraq had claimed 200,000 lives. They were on the pavement, as I recall, didn’t disrupt the traffic and didn’t start a fight with anyone.

As for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, this is a knee-jerk attempt to link pro-Palestinian activism with terrorism. But wanting the Palestinians to be given their own land or to enjoy equal rights with Israelis in a modern, ethnically and religious diverse and tolerant state, does not equate with sympathy for terrorism or terrorism itself. Tony Greenstein, Asa Winstanley and Jackie Walker are also pro-Palestinian activists. But as far as I know, they’re all peaceful, nonviolent people. Walker’s a granny in her early 60’s, for heaven’s sake. They’re all far more likely to be the victims of violence than ever initiate it. In fact, Tony was physically assaulted in an unprovoked attack by an irate Israeli, while one woman from one of the pro-Israel organisations was caught on camera saying how she thought she could ‘take’ Jackie.

I realise the Stop the Badger Cull people have also physically tried to stop the government killing badgers, but this is again disruption, not violence. And one of those against the cull is Brian May, astrophysicist and rock legend. Apart from producing some of the most awesome music with Freddy Mercury and the rest of Queen, and appearing on pop science programmes with Dara O’Brien showing people round the Jodrell Bank radio telescope, he has not, not ever, been involved in political violence.

This shows you how ludicrous the list is. But it’s also deeply sinister, as by recommending that supporters of these organisations as well as real terrorist groups should be dealt with by Prevent, it defines them as a kind of thoughtcrime. Their members are to be rounded up and reeducated. Which is itself the attitude and method of suppression of totalitarian states.

Zelo Street pointed the finger for this monstrous shambles at Priti Patel. As current Home Secretary, she’s ultimately responsible for it. The Street wanted to know whether she knew about it and when? And if she didn’t, what’s she doing holding the job? But there’s been no answer so far. And a police spokesperson said it was unhelpful and misleading to suggest the nonviolent groups on the list had been smeared.

The Street said it was time for Patel to get her house in order, but warned its readers not to bet on it. No, you shouldn’t. This is an attempt to criminalise non-violent protest against capitalism and the actions of the authorities and British state. It’s the same attitude that informed the British secret state’s attempts to disrupt and destroy similar and sometimes the same protest movements in the 70s and 80s, like CND. And it will get worse. A few years ago Counterpunch published a piece reporting that the American armed services and police were expecting violent outbreaks and domestic terrorism in the 2030s as the poverty caused by neoliberalism increased. They were therefore devising new methods of militarised policing to combat this. We can expect similar repressive measures over this side of the Atlantic as well.

This list is a real threat to freedom of conscience, peaceful protest and action. And the ultimate responsibility for it is the Tories. Who have always been on the side of big business against the rest of society, and particularly the poor and disadvantaged.

They’re criminalising those, who seek peaceful means to fight back.

Civil Servants Were Afraid Impressionist Bremner Would Bring Down John Major

January 7, 2020

Before the serious stuff, here’s a bit of fun news. Last Thursday’s I for 2nd January 2020 reported that Rory Bremner’s impressions of former prime minister John Major were so good, he would bring down the government. Bremner had been phoning up various rebellious backbench MPs as Major, and the head of the civil service at the time, Sir Robin Butler, was afraid he’d get hold of the budget. In the article ‘Bremner almost brought down John Major’, Adam Sherwin wrote

Whitehall’s top civil servant feared that Rory Bremner could brind down John Major’s government because the comic’s impersonation of the Prime Minister was so convincing.

Sir Robin Butler, then cabinet secretary, called Michael Grade, the chief executive at Channel 4, to express his concerns after the impressionist made a prank call to a rebellious backbench Tory MP.

Sir Robin feared that Bremner’s impression of Mr Major was so accurate that he would be able to trick then-chancellor Kenneth Clarke into leaking advance details of the Budget.

The could have been devastating to Mr Major, who was steering an administration with a fragile majority.

The prank calls, made in 1993, were intended for use in the comedian’s series, Rory Bremner, Who Else? But Sir Robin stepped in after Bremner fooled Sir Richard Body, one of the Eurosceptic Maastricht rebels who were known as “the bastards”.

Speaking to the Media Matters podcast, Lord Grade of Yarmouth revealed that Sir Robin told him: “We have a bit of a problem. Your Mr Rory Bremner. He’s very good at impersonating the Prime Minister. He’s been ringing MPs.

“We don’t have a problem with that. But the issue we have is that, he’s so good, he could ring the chancellor and get the Budget.”

Lord Grade said he told Sir Robin: “Oh, I get the point. Leave it with me.” Bremner’s team agreed not to air the call, which Sir Robin said was a “great relief”. Lord Grade, who faced controversy over prank calls made by Chris Morris for Brass Eye, later sent Sir Robin a tape of the call.

Bremner has confirmed ringing the MP. “We hadn’t got a script, we were just making it up. It went very well,” he said. “John Major said ‘well this is very funny but it could get quite serious’. So there was this hunt going on.”

Bremner also called Margaret Beckett pretending to be Gordon Brown in 2005, and discussed Cabinet appointments. Lawyers vetoed its broadcast.

Bremner’s series on Channel 4, Rory Bremner: Who Else? and later Bremner, Bird and Fortune with John Bird and John Fortune, who later had their own series, The Long Johns, were hilarious, but they were also very sharp, very serious satire. Amongst the impressions they made serious, factual points about the issues of the day, quoting real statistics. I can remember they were particularly sharp on attacking the government’s and papers’ vicious and misleading policies and statements over immigration. And they also tried to stop the Iraq invasion by sending that up and arguing against it.

The three also published a book during Tony Blair’s tenure of 10 Downing Street, You Are Here, attacking his policies of privatisation and the Public-Private Finance Initiative deals, which were grossly inefficient and which took power away from people and put it squarely in the hands of the corporate bosses, who donated so handsomely to Blair.

Now that the Blairites are trying to seize control of the Labour Party again, I’ll have to dig that book out to show how treacherous their claims and politics are.