Ceasefire calls are misguided 4 January, 2009

Israel’s actions against Hamas have reached a new phase with a land invasion of Gaza. The action is clearly designed to destroy Hamas’ terror infrastructure and silence the rocket attacks that are plaguing Israeli cities. The action is both morally and legally justified by article 51 of the UN Charter which explicitly allows countries to defend their territory from unlawful attack. Yet today we have calls from Gordon Brown for an immediate ceasefire – for Israel to halt its attacks on Gaza and for Hamas to end its rocket attacks on Israeli cities.

So much for the much heralded friend of Israel, the son of the manse with a moral compass! It seems his compass is pointing in the wrong direction. Gordon Brown’s calls for a ceasefire (echoed by Nicholas Sarkozy, Ban Ki Moon and a host of other politicians) draw an entirely false equivalence between the actions of a legitimate democracy acting in self defence and those of a ruthless terrorist organization. Israel is seeking to defend its citizens by directly attacking Gaza’s terrorists and their centres of operation. They are doing all they can to minimize civilian casualties which is why, after 8 days of war, only 60 civilians (out of 450 people) have died.

By contrast, Hamas fires weapons indiscriminately at Israeli population centres, aiming to kill as many non combatants as possible. Where is the morality, the legality and the logic in treating these two equally? It is an utterly perverse form of reasoning.

A ceasefire at this stage would be immoral in principle and counter productive in practice. During the last ceasefire Hamas allowed rockets to bombard Israeli cities, the same as what happened during the previous ‘ceasefires’. Were the fighting to stop tomorrow, Hamas would still possess rockets, tunnels and a variety of other military hardware and would therefore be able to inflict grave harm on Israeli civilians. This is not the recipe for peace. Rightly, Israel has rejected these silly calls so that it can concentrate on destroying its enemy’s ability to wage war.

Nonetheless things are not all bad. Karel Schwarzenegger, the Czech foreign minister, has defended Israel’s actions, describing them as ‘defensive.’ He said: ‘Let us realize one thing: Hamas increased steeply the number of rockets fired at Israel since the ceasefire ended on December 19. That is not acceptable any more.’ He added: ‘Why am I one of the few that have expressed understanding for Israel?’ Indeed. Amid the political gloom, at least some politicians see things clearly.

The onward march of the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation (and yes, we're funding it) 7 January, 2009

Yes, there are war crimes in Gaza. But they are being committed by Islamist fanatics in a flagrant breach of the laws of war.

In case you hadn’t noticed it, there is more than one war being fought in Gaza. As well as the terror war with Israel, which Hamas is fortunately losing, there is the media/propaganda war which they appear to be winning, at least in Britain. Take yesterday’s attack on the UN building in Gaza.

The BBC reports (on the 6 O’Clock news, the 10 O’clock news and Newsnight) implied that Israel had carried out a criminal and reckless violation of the laws of war. Instantly pictures were beamed around the world showing terrible scenes: bloodied children being dragged out of the building on stretchers, screaming relatives crying over loved ones, images of the building showing the scars of war. And then you had BBC commentators describing this as a ‘massacre’ with potentially significant international repercussions. This was the Qana of 2009. A massacre and a war crime it was – but perpetrated by whom?

The Israeli narrative, namely that their soldiers were fired upon from inside the building and that they were simply returning fire, was met with a tone of incredulity. Well yes, this is what the Israelis have said – but try putting that across to the dozens killed and maimed. The same disgraceful fixation on the Hamas narrative (and intellectual incompetence in not asking proper questions) happened the day before.

According to several reports, the UNRWA building had effectively been turned into a war zone by Hamas terrorists who planted booby trap devices inside it. They fired at Israeli soldiers nearby who returned fire, setting off the booby trap bombs which then killed dozens of people. If true, this is obviously shocking, though hardly surprising. Think back to the Jenin ‘massacre’ of 2002 when UNRWA buildings doubled as munition camps and bomb factories.

The BBC was fixated on a UNRWA spokesman who insisted that the Israelis had been given their GPS co-ordinates and therefore could not understand why the building had come under attack. Of course, this is a red herring for two reasons. As Mark Regev, Ehud Olmert’s press spokesman said earlier tonight, there is such a thing as the ‘fog of war’ and when soldiers come under attack, they fire back without always having the luxury of knowing what they are firing at. What else exactly are soldiers supposed to do? War is not a suicide pact where you allow the enemy to destroy you.

More to the point, why did the workers of the supposedly neutral UN, that wonderful impartial arbiter of morality and justice, allow their building to be turned into a war zone under the control of Hamas? That the UNWRA team were complicit with terror is itself a fairly shocking betrayal of their own alleged neutrality.

Worse, the BBC routinely trots out the figure for Palestinian dead (this morning it stood at 660) but without always mentioning that the majority are Hamas terrorists. Would it be fair to say that 10,000 Afghans have died since 2001, as opposed to 10,000 Taleban? Then we hear of the 'violence' being committed by Israel and Hamas 'militants', as if there was a political and moral equivalence between each side.

But the BBC is little interested in the human shields policy. Hamas’ utterly brutal and cynical disregard for human life is blurred by the ghastly sight of dead bodies and the heart rending screams of Palestinian mothers. The BBC is literally allowing Hamas to get away with murder and with the terrorism of their own civilians. Here all standards of journalistic integrity have been thrown out of the window, all semblance of balance and respect for truth discarded. Yes, there are war crimes in Gaza. But they are being committed by Islamist fanatics in a flagrant breach of the laws of war.

Of course, the death of any innocent civilians is a tragedy which is to be lamented. No side in war has an automatic monopoly of right. But this should not blind us to the reasons why non combatants are dying in Gaza right now.

Hamas may be losing militarily but they remain convinced that they can win the media war with Israel, and the West. With the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation on their side, can anyone blame them?

Deterrence in Lebanon and Gaza 8 January, 2009

In the 12 days since the Gaza operation, Israel has experienced quiet on her northern border with Lebanon, so as to avoid the dread prospect of a two front war. It might seem then that with the launching of five rockets from Lebanon into Northern Israel today, that reality has dramatically changed. Is Israel about to find herself subject to a two pronged attack on her western and northern borders?

I think this is unlikely, though I express this doubt in tentative terms. Firstly, if the Iranian backed Hizbollah had really wanted to open a new front in this war, they could have done so at any point in the last week. Secondly, five rockets, though terrifying for the residents of Nahariya, is small fry compared to the massive barrage of rockets fired by Hamas in recent weeks. One hopes this was no more than an act of ‘gestural terror’.

The relative quiet from Lebanon in the last 12 days is strongly connected to Israeli war aims in Gaza. It can be summed up in a single word: deterrence. In 2006 Hezbullah claimed victory after a 34 day war in which their militants survived a lengthy aerial blitz. Israel’s war aims were overstated at the time and led to political fallout after the army failed to destroy Hezbullah. But the Lebanese terror group also suffered considerable losses and even their leader, Sheikh Nasrallah, was said to be taken by surprise at the ferocity of the Israeli response. The actions of July 2006 appear to have had a deterrent effect on Hizbullah and their Iranian sponsors.

Today Israel is ruling out (rightly in my view) a commitment to re-occupy Gaza. This action alone would guarantee the total and unmitigated defeat of Hamas, ensuring that rocket fire ended for good, but it would carry a heavy political and financial cost. Instead, the IDF hopes to inflict as much harm as possible on the Hamas terror infrastructure and diminish their capacity to wage war on Israel. They will not, and cannot, disarm a determined militant foe forever. They must hope therefore that the full blast of war over the past 12 days deters both Hamas (and Iran) from further rocket bombardments. The price for terror is now much higher than in was a fortnight ago.

More infamy at the UN 9 January, 2009

Is this the way the war will end? The UN (United in notoreity) Security Council has approved a text which ‘stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.’ It condemns ‘all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism,’ the need to prevent illegal arms trafficking and the provision of humanitarian assistance on the ground. Even though Israel does not have to comply as this is not a Chapter 7 Resolution (and therefore lacks legally binding force), the diplomatic pressure for a ceasefire will intensify. Nonetheless the Olmert government has rightly rejected this resolution as impractical, given that rocket fire from Gaza continues unabated.

This is the UN all over. To condemn ‘all violence and hostilities directed against civilians’ suggests a wholly unwarranted equivalence between a legitimate UN member state and an internationally proscribed terror outfit that masquerades as a government. Hamas and Israel have been placed on the same false footing, making a mockery of international justice. This is utterly wrong headed in principle and provides a murderous Islamist terror organization with false legitimacy. It could only happen at the United Nations.

In any case, while the resolution clearly mentions the need to prevent ‘arms trafficking’, one of the causes of this conflict, it says little about how this will be achieved. Is Israel to rely on UN ‘peacekeepers’ and monitors on the Egyptian border? In the past, these UN officials have simply fled at the first sign of terror, creating a vacuum that has been subsequently exploited by Israel’s enemies. Alternatively they have turned a blind eye to militants. In Lebanon, despite Resolution 1701 which called for the disarming of Hezbollah, the terror group has amassed a vast supply of rockets, including the long range Zelzal which is believed to be capable of striking Tel Aviv. The monitoring and prevention facilities to stop this are wholly inadequate. There is a big divide between the rhetoric and the reality in this resolution.

Worse still are the hints coming from the Obama team that the President Elect may initiate secret contacts with Hamas when he takes office. This would certainly fit in with his commitment to sit down and negotiate with America’s enemies, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is Hamas’ chief financial sponsor. It would certainly represent a significant ‘change’ of approach from the Bush administration. But it would be a profoundly mistaken form of change.

Hamas does not have discrete, local grievances which can be resolved through the normal processes of dialogue and negotiation. Their ultimate aims, like those of al Qaeda, are non negotiable and beyond the pale. Their anti semitic charter sees Palestine as Islamic land that cannot be surrendered to the ‘infidel’ Jew; not even one square inch. That is why they brainwash young children to hate Jews (yes, not Israelis) and to kill as many of them as possible in line with their deranged religious cult. If Obama thinks he can soften religious extremists with these kinds of diplomatic overtures, he will make a graveyard for his administration.

Hamas and Al Qaeda, despite differences of geography and demography, are on an ideological continuum. They both confront Western democracies with their lethal brand of militant, totalitarian Islam, using the methods of attritional warfare to capture gullible sections of the Western media. Israel is in the front line of this battle and refuses to bow down to Islamist terror and intimidation. Yet she cannot do this if her Allies in the West confer undue legitimacy on Hamas through acts of reckless diplomacy. Let us hope that wiser counsels prevail.

What is really fuelling Muslim anger? 13 January, 2009

Shahid Malik MP has warned the government that British Muslims are becoming increasingly radicalised by the images from Gaza. In an interview with the Guardian yesterday, he says: ‘There is a real feeling of helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness among Britain's Muslims in the context of Gaza and the sense of grievance and injustice is both profoundly acute and obviously profoundly unhealthy.’ The Israeli attacks on Gaza are having a ‘profoundly acute and unhealthy’ effect on British Muslims and their ‘patience is running out.’

What exactly does he mean when he says that British Muslims have a ‘profoundly unhealthy’ grievance and that their patience is ‘running out?’ If he means that Muslims are upset by the images from Gaza, that is scarcely contentious. Who wouldn’t be? When we see wailing parents mourning over their blood spattered dead children, we are instinctively sympathetic and share in their grief.

But there is a huge difference between anger and more extreme attitudes. It is one thing to feel enraged at the pain of your co-religionists, and to express this in various forms of democratic protest. It is quite another to declare oneself a participant in violent jihadist warfare against one’s fellow countrymen. The proper response to Islamic radicalisation is to tackle it at source, channelling people’s anger into more constructive activities and alerting the authorities where necessary. The same goes for any minority that espouses violence against the British state.

What Mr. Malik should consider is that it is as much the broadcasting of this war, as the events themselves, which fuels Muslim rage. For while the images of death and destruction are genuinely terrible, they do not provide adequate context for what is going on. They tell us nothing about the Hamas policy of human shields, the deliberate and cynical use of Palestinian civilians as pawns in a terror war with Israel. They do not sufficiently convey the reasons for Israel’s actions, namely that they are trying to defend themselves against an implacable terror group whose rockets have bombarded Israeli cities. Indeed the BBC has simply imbibed Hamas’ own victim centred narrative, which inadvertently helps the terrorist group win its media strategy.

Malik’s argument is entirely back to front. Israel finds itself on the front line of the global battle against militant Islam, a virulent ideology whose terrorist symptoms necessitate the radicalised attitudes Malik warns about. The West is not in danger because of Israel’s battle against radical Islam. Radical Islam is largely the reason why Israel comes under attack, and the reason why she needs to defend herself with all the vigour she can muster. That is why diplomats in Britain, Europe and the State Department do Israel such a profound disservice by making a false equivalence between Hamas’ terror and Israeli counter terrorism.

But in any case, we should be disturbed by the implications of Malik’s statements. He seems to imply that because British Muslims are getting angrier about Gaza, it is incumbent on the government to apply diplomatic pressure on Israel, and to demand that it cease its actions. In other words, he wants British foreign policy to be influenced or directed by the vocal demands of a religious minority.

This would be a dangerous precedent. For even though Gordon Brown wants a ceasefire in Gaza, and even though he accepts much of the Palestinians’ victim narrative, it is not his job to capitulate to one interest group on this, or any other, issue. His job, and that of his government, is to discern where British interests lie, and to promote and protect those interests whenever possible. This is all rather lost on poor Shahid Malik.

The demonization of Israel 15 January, 2009

Why was the international community silent when Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Kuwait were busy abusing Palestinian rights?'

Ephraim Karsh has an excellent article on the website of ‘The Jerusalem Centre for public affairs,’ titled: ‘What's Behind Western Condemnation of Israel's War against Hamas?’ In it, Karsh raises a simple, yet highly effective, point about the global reaction to events in Gaza: ‘With a unanimity that has become all too familiar, politicians, the media, NGOs, and church leaders across the globe took their cue to denounce Israel's legitimate act of self-defense against one of the world's most extreme terror organizations. This chorus of disapproval is in stark contrast to the utter indifference to far bloodier conflicts that have been going on around the world.’

The bloody conflicts that have taken place in the last half century include: ‘The long-running genocide in Darfur, with its estimated 400,000 dead and at least 2.5 million refugees, to war in the Congo, with over 4 million dead or driven from their homes, to Chechnya, where an estimated 150,000-200,000 have died and up to a third of the population has been displaced at the hands of the Russian military.’

These cases have all involved terrible and widespread abuses of human rights by dictatorial and autocratic regimes. He could have added the terrible atrocities in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the starvation of millions in North Korea, China’s long standing repression of the Tibetans, Saddam’s genocide of the Kurds and numerous other examples.

Karsh correctly observes: ‘None of these tragedies saw protesters flock (simultaneously) into the streets of London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, Oslo, Dublin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Washington, and Fort Lauderdale (to give a brief list), as has been the case during the Gaza crisis.’

Of course each of these cases will have seen demonstrations and protests of one kind or another. You often see the sad victims of Zimbabwean terror demanding justice on the streets of London, the pro Tibetan demonstrations (which I have occasionally joined) and a variety of isolated cases. But they have not spawned the internationally orchestrated outrage that has been seen in the last fortnight.

But the double standards don’t end there. It is deplorable enough that the progressives march against Israel, the only secular Western democracy in the Middle East, while ignoring crimes from the pariah nations. It is even worse when they protest only at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, while ignoring the (vastly worse) behaviour of Arab states. Thus as Karsh points out:

‘Between 1949 and 1967, Egypt and Jordan ruled the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively. Not only did they fail to put these populations on the road to statehood, but they showed little interest in protecting their human rights or even in improving the quality of their life…Nobody in the international community paid any more attention to this than they have more recently to the ongoing abuse of Palestinians across the Arab world from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon, a country which was condemned in a June 2006 Amnesty International report for its "long-standing discrimination and abuses of fundamental economic and social rights of Palestinian refugees…While in the wake of the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, Kuwaitis not only set about punishing the PLO for support of Saddam Hussein's brutal occupation by cutting off their financial support for Yasir Arafat's overblown and corrupt organization, but there was also a widespread slaughter of Palestinians living in Kuwait.’

Why was the international community silent when Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Kuwait were busy abusing Palestinian rights? Where were the vast crowds of ‘progressive’ peace campaigners sporting their Hamas and Hezbullah flags, animated by their sickening cries and self righteous indignation at these ‘war crimes?’ They were nowhere to be seen. Karsh then concludes:

‘The extraordinary international preoccupation with the Palestinians is a corollary of their interaction with Israel, the only Jewish state to exist since biblical times, a reflected glow of the millenarian obsession with the Jews in the Christian and the Muslim worlds. Had their dispute been with an Arab, Muslim, or any other adversary, it would have attracted a fraction of the interest that it presently does.’

Now I have argued before that while people can talk quite dispassionately about other conflicts, they are frequently hysterical and frenzied in their views on Israel. In part this is because some are consumed by bigotry and prejudice, as Karsh observes. Look at some of the placards on display in the anti Israel marches, read the comments left on websites and you can’t fail to detect a malodorous whiff of world’s oldest hatred. Israel is frequently compared to Nazi Germany and Gaza to a concentration camp, analogies so intellectually absurd and morally offensive that they defy belief. The systematic, scientifically organized genocide of an entire people using a ghastly apparatus of mass murder is a world apart from the political and religious conflict unfolding in the Middle East.

Indeed the Nazi comparison only works well with Israel’s enemies, the Iranian funded Hamas and Hezbollah, who have imbibed the most virulent Jew hating conspiracy theories and who seek the subjugation and murder of Jewry worldwide.

Attempts to compare Israel and Nazi Germany are not borne of ignorance. Rather, those who make it are seeking to delegitimize Jewish victimhood, to taunt the Jews with the ‘irony’ that the oppressed have become transformed into the ‘oppressors’, thus assuaging Western guilt for the crimes of the past. How dare this insolent people, whose eternal role in history is to be the whipping boys of the world, rise up against their tormentors!

Of course an important qualification. I condemn as either ignorant or prejudiced those who espouse a generalized belief in human rights but decide to hate, demonize and mock the Jewish state, alone of all the nations. Those who are prepared to criticize Israel, proportionate to her crimes and follies and using language similar in tone to comparable nations, engage in essentially civilized debate. Their criticisms should certainly be welcomed by all.

But Karsh is only partly right. Israel is not demonized by ‘progressives’ and liberals just because she is the Jewish state. Israel is also a Western state, a militarized nation and a staunch ally of the United States. In a very real sense, the Palestinian issue has become a potent symbol and rallying cry for the politically discontented: for those who believe American power and Western ideology is the original sin, for those who rail against the arms race and for those who decry vigorous expressions of national pride.

It is Israel’s associations (toxic in the eyes of her enemies) with Western values, American ideals and national pride that offend the left so much. And while the world rarely sees global campaigns against Kim Il Jong, there have been internationally organized demos against the Iraq war, globalization and American imperialism. Here political correctness demands that moral judgment depend on power relations and what more powerful nation is there than the US?

Into this mix you must add the rousing influence of Arab propaganda. For decades, propagandists have depicted Israel as a power hungry, bourgeois state oppressing a victim class; a power hungry Goliath taunting a belittled David. Yet the post 1967 occupation is far more the symptom, than the cause of this conflict. After all, Israel’s enemies wanted her destroyed even before there was an occupation to talk of, and continue to rebuff attempts at creating a Palestinian state. But this well funded Arab propaganda is effective because of the widespread ignorance of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Thus what we witness here is a lethal cocktail of prejudice, political correctness and ignorance. And by failing to see how Israel is itself a victim of terror, fighting a determined jihadist onslaught from the enemies of the West, there is political blindness too on a most alarming scale.

Obama’s appointment requires sober reflection 21 January, 2009

Governor Mario Cuomo once said that American politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. This is certainly true of Barack Obama whose campaign poetry has been inspiring since he first burst on the world stage three years ago. Undoubtedly he is an enormously articulate, intelligent and charismatic man whose gift for oratory has galvanized millions. And without doubt, there is enormous symbolic significance in his appointment as President. Within the space of a half century, a country that once practised slavery and racial segregation now has a black President.

Moving as this is, we need to keep matters in sober perspective. Obama has been feted as the great hope of mankind, a man who will transform American politics and reshape the world in his own image. He has been viewed as the saviour who can redeem America after the ‘wilderness years’ of George Bush’s Republicans. His followers naturally expect him to draw a line under the policies of his much maligned predecessor for he has, after all, promised ‘change we can believe in.’ But it is this very weight of expectation, of transformative change, that could prove to be his biggest burden.

Consider some of the problems which Obama has pledged to solve. He wants to bring America’s involvement in Iraq to a speedy and responsible conclusion while shifting the conflict against Al Qaeda to Afghanistan. He has signalled his desire to fight climate change with aggressive reductions in global CO2 emissions. He wants to stamp his authority on the Middle East’s recalcitrant leaders and resolve conflicts from Gaza to Tehran. And then there is Guantanamo Bay, that festering sore that has tainted America’s image in the world.

Yet in all these areas, Obama’s aspirations will hit the frustrating wall of reality. It will be difficult to fashion a workable Kyoto style agreement unless developing countries come on board. Yet as we speak, China and India continue to spew out carbon dioxide like there is no tomorrow. With Afghanistan, Obama will need to co-opt Europe’s powers for the fight against the Taleban, yet thus far their record has been paltry to say the least. European troops tend to stay as far away from the battlefield as possible. Whether his magnetic personality will win over Europe’s leaders is difficult to say. And with Guantanamo Bay, Obama knows that there are no easy solutions. Shutting down the camp and releasing its inmates makes for good populist politics. It also runs the risk of releasing some truly dangerous individuals, hardly the way to defeat Al Qaeda.

And then there is the Middle East imbroglio: Iraq, Iran, the Palestinians and Israel. Surely here, his followers say, Obama can make up for the failures of the Bush administration. On the Arab-Israeli question though, Obama is surely too astute to believe there will be any quick fix solutions. He will remember that the Arab-Israeli conflict took up much of Bill Clinton’s time in office. But 8 years of arduous negotiations ended in the ignominious intifada launched by Yasser Arafat.

Hilary Clinton (more continuity rather than change) is a seasoned negotiator with a record as a pro Israel hawk. She has also signalled that Iran’s nuclear programme is a menace to the region and that it needs to be curtailed in the interests of the free world. It is hard to believe that American-Iranian relations, on which a resolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute may hinge, will suddenly become warmer. With Iran seeking nuclear weapons and its terrorist proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, destabilizing the region, the Obama team will have their work cut out in trying to fashion a Middle East settlement.

Just like Bush, Obama recognizes that ‘soft power’ is useless against the real enemies that America now faces. Hence his statement in the inauguration speech that the US was 'at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.' This is the sort of statement that could easily have come from a Republican hawk.

In truth, Obama is a kind of blank slate on which people’s hopes have been etched. Millions have bought into his lyrical mantras of change, transformation and hope in the belief that he can restore American’s tarnished image in the world. Indeed he may. But when it comes to the hard choice of facing down threats from America’s enemies, Obama‘s room for manoeuvre may be somewhat limited. Reality, like governance, demands the nuances of prose.

The PBC strikes again 23 January, 2009

In a report on last night’s BBC News at 10, Jeremy Bowen produced a report investigating the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. The report showed ordinary Palestinians repairing tunnels, quite openly, after their bombing in the war. And what was his conclusion? Perhaps that these tunnels had been used to bring in Iranian financed weaponry designed to terrorize innocent Israelis?

Er, well, not exactly. In fact Sheikh Bowen said that many of these tunnels had been used to smuggle in food because the Israeli ‘blockade’ had made this necessary. This, despite the fact that vast amounts of aid were coming into Gaza from 2006 onwards. This, despite the fact that the whole point of Operation Cast Lead was to stop the building of tunnels from Egypt to Gaza which were bringing in, not food, but rockets. Where else were they coming from one asks?

Then Bowen interviewed a Hamas spokesman who observed that when the IRA was busy bombing British cities, British F16s were not engaged in attacks on Belfast. So why was Israel? This was of course an absurd comparison. The IRA planted bombs in shopping centres and other public targets, giving advance warnings to the authorities. Yes, these were evil tactics but they were not as lethal as those of today’s Islamist fanatics. They did not launch thousands of missiles at British towns, causing tens of thousands of people to hide in specially constructed air raid shelters. They did not fire ammunition from inside the houses and hospitals of the Catholic community or rig up churches with booby trap devices.

They also never called on their supporters to murder all British people round the world and certainly never called for the abolition of the UK. You can bet that if these things had happened, Britain’s response would have been very different in the 1970s and 80s. What is interesting is that Bowen failed to challenge any of this, effectively condoning this blatant piece of Hamas propaganda. He gave airtime for Hamas propaganda, with no Israeli interviewee in sight.

Now here’s an interesting fact. Since last week, Hamas has been guilty of numerous ceasefire violations and the BBC has said not a word. What else can we expect from the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation?

The BBC was right to spurn the DEC 25 January, 2009

The BBC has kicked up a row by refusing to allow the DEC to broadcast an appeal for the people of Gaza. They have received a withering rebuke from a clutch of MPs, broadcasters, media commentators and the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as 11,000 complaints from the public. Not bad going for one weekend. On this occasion, I am not going to join the clamour.

There are perfectly good reasons for thinking that any charity appeal would violate the impartiality being so spuriously claimed by the BBC. As Andrew Roberts points out in a masterly analysis in the Times today (www.the-times.co.uk), the charities comprising the DEC follow a partisan political agenda when it comes to discussing this issue. He writes:

In the months prior to the decision by Hamas to end the six-month ceasefire and resume rocket attacks, these charities issued a flood of one- sided denunciations aimed at Israel. Their campaign repeated tendentious and often highly inaccurate terms such as “collective punishment” and “violation of international law”. On March 6, 2008, CARE International, Cafod, Christian Aid and Oxfam (among others) published a widely quoted report under the headline “The Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion”. The authors did not bother to hide their political bias against Israel, repeating standard Palestinian political rhetoric and including claims that Israeli policy “constitutes a collective punishment against ordinary men, women and children” and is “illegal under international humanitarian law”.

He goes on: 'During the three-week war, Oxfam and other charities were extremely active in the ideological campaign that highlighted Palestinians as the sole victims and Israelis as the sole aggressors. Numerous Oxfam press statements included language such as: “The international community must not stand aside and allow Israeli leaders to commit massive and disproportionate violence against Gazan civilians in violation of international law.”

On many occasions, I have written of how Christian NGOs, in collusion with the Church of England, have pursued a politically correct, anti Israeli agenda in violation of their own claims to 'political neutralty.' They produce tendentious, one sided denunciations of Israel which ignore the suffering of Israelis from terror, while also ignoring the persecution of Palestinian moderates at the hands of extremists. There is no doubt that any charity appeal would carry inevitable political connotations, breaching BBC guidelines in the process.

Yet what is risible here is Mark Thompson's claim that by broadcasting the appeal, the BBC would be compromising their impartiality on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Compromising their impartiality?!!! How incredible that the BBC could see itself as impartial! Since when has the BBC been anything other than a politically partial, media wing of the Palestinian movement. For decades, it has imbibed an Arabist victim mentality that sees Israel as the main cause of strife in the Middle East, and the oppressor of innocent Palestine. This has rightly earned it a torrent of complaints about its lack of impartiality, no doubt infuriating some of its executives.

The BBC has rightly rejected this charity appeal, which is encouraging. But it has also claimed a false mantle of objectivity, which is not.

Iran rejects Obama's overtures 29 January, 2009

So Barack Obama now has Iran’s answer to his Presidential overtures – but not the one he expected. Instead of unclenching their fists, Tehran’s leadership have delivered the diplomatic equivalent of a sucker punch. In a belligerent speech yesterday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demanded far reaching and humiliating American concessions before normal relations could resume. And what did he have in mind?

"If you talk about change, you must put an end to the US military presence in the world, withdraw your troops and take them back inside your borders. Meet people, talk to them with respect and put an end to the expansionist policies. If you talk about change it must put an end to the US military presence in the world, withdraw your troops and take them back inside your borders.’ He added for good measure that Obama had to ‘stop supporting the Zionists, outlaws and criminals.’ For good measure, Ahmadinejad declared that Iran would never give up its quest for nuclear status.

So all Saint Barack has to do then is end America’s military presence around the world, cut ties with its key allies, abandon Israel and allow Iran to become the world’s first nuclear terror state, and all will be well. In other words, Iran will end its state of de facto war with the United States only if America colludes in the empowerment of an Islamist terror state that seeks regional hegemony. If these are to be the fruits of soft power, heaven help us.

His speech coincides with a worrying report from the International Institute of Strategic Studies (www.iiss.org). According to Mark Fitzpatrick, the senior fellow for non-proliferation at the IISS: "This year, it's very likely that Iran will have produced enough low-enriched uranium which, if further enriched, could constitute enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, if that is the route Iran so desires."

Despite the economic downturn and the drastic dip in the oil price, which has hit Ahmadinejad’s popularity as much as it has weakened Iran, there is no signal that the regime intends to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Iran remains in defiance of UN resolutions by enriching uranium at its Natanz plant, a process that could lead to the creation of its first nuclear weapons. Were it to join the atomic club, it could bully neighbouring states and further destabilize the region by providing nuclear know how to terrorist proxies. Nothing it seems is going to halt the Iranian juggernaut.

But for those of us who failed to detect the halo around Obama, none of this is surprising. The much heralded change we were all promised has not shifted the belligerent rhetoric of America’s enemies. Certainly Bush lacked the articulate and sophisticated touch of his successor. He was badly advised. He lacked nuance and understanding and this often played badly with the Arab world. But he did not underestimate America’s true enemies and the scale of their intent to disrupt Western interests. Obama must now do the same.

Carol Thatcher is the victim of political correctness 5 February, 2009

At first glance you might think that Carol Thatcher had been dealt her just rewards. Using the term ‘golliwog’ to describe a black tennis player seems so utterly offensive and inappropriate as to put her beyond the pale. It is the last thing we expect to hear from a representative of an organization committed to diversity, equality and tolerance.

Many people will view her dismissal as a victory for anti racism, with just a touch of Schadenfreude that she is a fallen member of the Thatcher clan. But you should always think twice when the bien pensant brigade has a settled opinion on anything. Carol Thatcher may be no martyr but she is undoubtedly a victim of political correctness and the zealous brigades who enforce it.

Of course she should not have made that comparison. Of course, whoever heard her remark had the right to be offended and to upbraid her immediately – though apparently no such complaint was made at the time. But an insensitive remark made in private is precisely that – private. It should have been dealt with and commented on by those present, not brought to the attention of the BBC. This is the behaviour we associate with 1984 and George Orwell. It is how authoritarian states behave when they possess a ubiquitous apparatus of espionage and an army of informers. But instead of Big Brother’s cameras reporting on private conversations, ordinary people have become unpaid snoopers, intent on enforcing the straightjacket of political correctness with a Puritanical zeal.

The fact that Thatcher spoke privately makes it all the harder for us to judge what she said. Did her tone imply racial malice or was it merely a throwaway remark – insensitive, thoughtless but with little harm intended? We can never be sure. And after all, how many of us say things in private that could easily be misconstrued in the public gaze? Of course, there are certain derogatory racial insults which leave little room for sympathy, and which make us certain the speaker is racially prejudiced.

What will strike many people as odd, even insulting, is the sense of selective outrage. It is apparently OK when the loud mouthed and overpaid Jonathan Ross parades his inane vulgarity on air, but an unforgivable outrage when a reporter uses the word ‘golliwog’ in private. Despite supporting the BBC’s axing of Thatcher, Tory MP Philip Davies summed up matters neatly yesterday: ‘Are the BBC saying that Carol's comments are more offensive than when Jonathan Ross called up a 78-year-old and shouted lewd messages detailing sexual acts with his granddaughter? Indeed they are and the decision reeks of double standards.

What we are witnessing here is another example of the way in which anti racism, in itself a noble quest, has been transformed into a thoroughly illiberal form of thought control. Patrick Mercer MP condemned the victim mentality of Black soldiers and was promptly fired by David Cameron. James Watson made controversial statements about African intelligence and was treated as a pariah. For years, the critics of multiculturalism, asylum and immigration have been subjected to a McCarthyite witch-hunt, classified as racists for their 'unacceptable' views. And even today, opponents of radical Islam are still called ‘Islamophobes.’

These pejorative labels have a toxic effect, helping to stifle public debate on sensitive issues. And while there certainly are xenophobes who seek political cover to vent their prejudices, this is not true of the majority who simply want to defend their nation state and its values.

In recent years, however, there has been a furious backlash from members of the public who are sick and tried of the hectoring tone of officialdom. They no longer want to be censored by the burgeoning army of diversity officers and council officials, all of whom get paid to convert us to their own dubious agenda. It is hardly surprising that of the hundreds of complaints over the Thatcher affair – many are from people supporting the axed reporter.

Thus by responding in such a heavy handed manner, BBC executives have once again shown their contempt for viewers, just as they did over the Jonathan Ross affair. Worse, in their illiberal rage over this trivial incident, they have shown little concern for common sense and justice.

Banking rot and a government too weak to stop it 9 February, 2009

Last week we learnt that the Royal Bank of Scotland intended to pay about £1 billion of bonuses to its staff. They are not alone, with Barclays and Lloyds reportedly planning similar payouts in the coming months. And how does our government respond? Alistair Darling has taken the extraordinarily ‘tough’ decision to order an urgent review into Britain’s dodgy banking practices. So while responsible governments in the United States, France and Switzerland have taken action to curb the bonus culture in their own stricken institutions, our Chancellor merely orders a review, one that will report back in the autumn and have little impact on the imminent bonus scandal.

Now most people have little problem with incentives for success. But just what success have these investment bankers achieved? Can it count as success to bring banks to their knees by years of reckless lending? Are you successful when your profligate behaviour wrecks blue chip companies to such an extent that they need state aid to ensure their survival?

RBS is a case in point. It recently posted losses of £28 billion, the single largest corporate loss in British history. Its shares, which were once valued at £13, are now virtually worthless. Their executives claim that without hefty bonuses, they will lose the services of ‘good’ workers who are needed to repair the damage of recent years.

This is bogus, self serving claptrap. Those bankers who now salivate at the prospect of six figure payouts would be holding their P45 now had the government not stepped in with its rescue package last October. Unlike their co-workers in the City, they should count themselves lucky just to have a job at all. These bonuses represent the ultimate reward for business failure and are a slap in the face for the rest of us. In the long term, they will only fuel the reckless behaviour that helped get the banks into this mess in the first place.

So what are our far sighted duo at no. 10 and 11 doing about all this? The Chancellor declared yesterday: 'What is wrong is that whereas in the past a bonus was something special you got as a reward for hard work or putting in an extra effort, over the years a lot of bankers have come to expect very large bonuses, as a right. That just cannot go on.' This is true. But if so, it begs the question why he and his boss next door have done nothing to alter it.

The government (through us) is the majority shareholder in RBS and is therefore in a strong position to influence bonus payouts. And while some will argue that it would be too heavy handed to regulate bonuses or wages, can it really be more heavy handed than actually nationalizing a bank?

There is certainly no good political reason for refusing to tackle this rapacious behaviour. Ordinary voters are hardly going to punish Labour for clamping down on the very corporate greed that necessitated the bail out in the first place. It makes the government's timorous under reaction all the more bizarre.

After the 7th July bombings, Tony Blair declared that the rules of the game had changed. The same rule now applies to the banks and the sooner they realised this, the better.

Parliament is the mother of freedom, not censorship, Ms Smith. 11 February, 2009

Jacqui Smith really is having a field day. She is not content with claiming dodgy expenses, ignoring illegal workers and approving the arrest of an MP. She now wants to interfere even further with Parliament’s freedoms. I speak of her unjust decision to ban the controversial Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, from attending the House of Lords.

Mr, Wilders, for those who are not in the know, is a divisive political figure whose mini documentary, Fitna, sparked protests across Holland last year. In his 17 minute presentation, Wilders warns against the Islamisation of Holland and the growing terror threat to his country. It features disturbing footage of hate speeches from Muslim extremists and chilling evidence of radicalisation around the world. Wilders is at pains to stress the Koranic provenance of this hatred, citing verses from the Holy texts which give ammunition to today’s jihadist murderers.

Now I admit that Wilders draws some debatable conclusions in his documentary. He is wrong to treat Islam as a monolithic faith, capable of only a single interpretation and, as such, his documentary lacks nuance and balance. Wilders enjoys courting controversy and some of his statements have been injudicious to say the least. But for all of that, he deserves to be heard and challenged by his political peers.

Thus it is all the more alarming that he has been barred from entering Britain. In the words of the Home Secretary, his visit would have disrupted 'community harmony and therefore public security.' Yet when British mosques invited in Islamist preachers who called for the subversion of Western values and the execution of non Muslims and homosexuals, the Home Secretary was conspicuously silent.

Thus the real instigators of community disharmony act with impunity while their critics are barred from Britain. This is the Alice in Wonderland version of security.

It was just this topsy turvy thinking that afflicted the West Midlands Police last year when they censored Channel 4’s Dispatches programme. Instead of taking action against hate filled imams, the police attacked the channel that was trying to expose Islamist hatred. The reason why (you’ve already guessed it) was that Channel 4 would disrupt community cohesion! So obsessed were the police with their minority rights, victim centred agenda, that they forgot all about the rights of the majority – that is us law abiding ‘infidels’.

For all its flaws, our Parliament is seen around the world as a shining beacon of liberty and freedom, a bulwark to the forces of repression and tyranny. That is presumably why the Lords extended their invitation to Mr. Wilders, not because they agreed with him, but because they thought his views deserved an airing. With this one decision, Jacqui Smith has infringed their rights on the most spurious grounds. Let us hope that their Lordships make a suitable protest.

The Abu Qatada deportation scandal 19 February, 2009

Yesterday the Law Lords struck a victory for common sense after ruling that it was acceptable to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan. Guardian reading ‘progressives’ were left dumbfounded by this ‘travesty’ of justice. How could the Law Lords act with such supine indifference to the possibility of torture? For the Guardian’s Victoria Brittain here, the decision marked ‘a low moment in British justice.’ She added: ‘The British security services and the media have successfully demonised these men, and in particular mythologised Othman as posing a super-danger to our society.’

Of course for the rest of us, people like Brittain are living on a different planet. This was simply justice long overdue. For years the notorious Qatada, a man described as Bin Laden’s ambassador to Europe, was living in the UK at taxpayers’ expense while preaching his diabolical jihadist sermons. For years, the authorities remained silent while Qatada groomed people like the shoe bomber, Richard Reid and the leader of the 9/11 attacks, Mohammed Atta. Then after 9/11, the authorities found that they could not deport him because of the Convention on Human Rights which forbade the extradition of anyone who might be at risk of harm abroad. The harm that may have accrued to the rest of us from not deporting Qatada seems to have slipped under the radar.

You might think then that the ruling yesterday marks a significant victory against terror. But before you break open the champagne, remember that things are never that simple in the UK. In 2007, a British immigration court ruled that Qatada could be sent to Jordan after being assured that he would not face harm there. A year later his lawyers defeated that ruling, arguing that it was (you guessed it) a breach of his human rights. Qatada’s lawyers are likely to seek recourse to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the Law Lords’ ruling. You would hardly want to bet your mortgage that they would find in favour of our government.

So for the next year or two, Qatada will be able to remain in this country, pending the ECHR’s ruling. He will live at taxpayers’ expense, hoovering up the benefits of the welfare state, including today’s obscene award of £2,500, while continuing to detest the country that has given him sanctuary. And because our politicians have signed away this nation’s right to deport unwelcome guests, we may have to wait a long time before we see the back of Abu Qatada. Truly obscene.

The state British mosques are in 24 February, 2009

The Quilliam Foundation, a counter extremism think tank run by British Muslims, has just published the results of its lengthy research into the state of Britain’s mosques (http://www.quilliamfoundation.org). Their findings, based on polling over 500 mosques during Ramadan, are truly disturbing and ought to shatter to their foundations the assumptions of our do-gooding, politically correct establishment. In the press release (available from their website), the foundation reveals that ‘a staggering 97 per cent of imams (clerics) in mosques are from overseas, although the majority of Muslims in Britain were born in the UK’ with some 92% educated abroad.

For the most part, these foreign imams are ‘poorly paid and with limited proficiency in English’ and are thus ’ill-equipped to navigate Britain's complex, liberal and multi-faith society.’ As Ed Husein says today in The Times: 'By importing cheap imams from poor, intellectually deprived and theologically conservative places mosques put young Britons in the hands of men who do not have the linguistic or cultural backgrounds to deal with modern Britain.’

These men are consequently unable to ‘promote a British Islam informed by British values’ and their worshippers are therefore ‘looking elsewhere for religious guidance and will continue to be drawn in by young, articulate extremists who offer an alternative narrative, cause and social space.’ The report goes on:

‘Our first line of defence against terrorism is the ability, commitment, and confidence of mosques and Muslim communities to root out extremism. Currently, we are failing. With foreign imams who are physically in Britain, but psychologically in Pakistan or Bangladesh, mosques lack the requisite resilience to challenge Islamist extremists. We cannot continue to ignore the malaise in our mosques.’

This is a stunning indictment of Muslim leadership in Britain, yet it is hardly surprising. As the Times reported in September 2007, nearly half of Britain’s mosques are being run by Deobandis, a highly intolerant and austere Muslim sect which is the spiritual home of the Taleban. The Deobandis also control the vast majority of this country’s religious seminaries and, as Ed Husain points out here, these schools are busy churning out the next generation of prison chaplains, teachers and imams. Husain rightly comments: ‘So while British soldiers risk their lives in Afghanistan, in British Muslim seminaries we allow the teaching of intolerance, unequal treatment of women, religious rigidity, the banning of music and theatre, and an end to free mixing of the sexes.’

Various spy on the wall documentaries, such as Channel 4’s excellent Dispatches programme, reveal how mosques are inviting preachers from Saudi Arabia to spread virulent messages of hate against ‘non believers.’ These demagogues have been given carte blanche to disseminate their hatred, hardly surprising when you consider that the mosque leaders who invite them in are often ideological fellow travellers.

Rooting out terrorism is more than a matter of intelligent policing, security or financial crime management. This is because Islamist terrorists (sorry to state the bleeding obvious) are not just ordinary criminals. They are dangerous jihadis, members of a global campaign to overthrow civilized society and impose totalitarian Islam on the rest of us. Their behaviour stems from a terrifying level of cultural and religious indoctrination at the hands of warped fanatics.

Unless mosques can stem this religious indoctrination from within, they will breed a new generation of extremists who will menace us all.

In tackling Islamists, government rhetoric doesn’t match reality 26 February, 2009

It is widely reported today that Dr Ibrahim El Moussaoui will lecture at SOAS next month on the subject of political Islam. Dr El Moussaoui has a vicious track record of supporting terrorism. He has been the editor of Hezbollah’s weekly newspaper and also worked for their television station, Al Manar which has produced, among other horrors, a series celebrating the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

According to the New Yorker, in 2002 he described Jews as ‘a lesion on the forehead of history.’ As a chief propagandist for one of the world’s leading terror groups, he should not be allowed into this country. After all, the Home Secretary made it clear last October that she would deny entry to Britain to those 'engaged in fostering, encouraging or spreading extremism and hatred.' Yet Jacqui Smith has yet to issue the ban on Dr El Moussaoui.

If she refuses to issue a banning order, the stink of double standards will be malodorous. She refused entrance (wrongly I think) to Geert Wilders, the maverick Dutch politician who spoke out against Islam in rather crude terms. She banned (quite rightly) Reverend Fred Phelps, the leader of the homophobic Westboro church whose members relish picketing funerals with the obscene line 'God hates fags.' It is within the Home Secretary’s power to ban Dr El Moussaoui – and she should use this power.

But I fear we can expect little action from our ‘do nothing’ Home Secretary. Dr El Moussaoui has already been allowed to enter Britain twice before, both times on Jacqui Smith’s watch. Thus far, Smith has given no indication that she will prevent him making a third visit.

In general, New Labour has form in sounding tough but acting weakly in the face of Islamist intimidation. Despite pressure from the Tories, the government has failed to proscribe Hezb ut Tahrir, the extreme Muslim group which incites hatred against Jews and homosexuals. They also failed to ban Yusuf Al Qaradawi, the spiritual head of the Muslim brotherhood whose sermons are broadcast to tens of millions of his followers worldwide. Qaradawi openly call for jihad and supports suicide bombings against every Israeli citizen. And despite a decade of robust rhetoric, the fanatical Abu Qatada remains in the UK, venting his rage against the secular nation that nonetheless funds his livelihood.

Add to that the disgraceful situation regarding Benyam Mohamed. Mohamed, an extreme jihadi who, by his own admission, spent time in Al Qaeda’s training camps, has now arrived ‘home’ in Britain. Except that Britain is not his home. Mohamed is an Ethiopian national who left Britain of his own accord in 2001. Given his extreme past, this man ought to have no claim on this country yet an army of human rights lawyers will see to it that he is never deported. Why would they when he might not receive ‘fair’ treatment at the hands of a foreign court?

This means that soft touch Britain remains a European repository for subversive ideologues and their fanaticism. So much for changing ‘the rules of the game.’

Fred the Shred isn't the only villain in this economic catastrophe 28 February, 2009

This week has seen an outpouring of anger following the revelations over Fred the Shred’s pension pot. Quite right too. This reckless ‘master of the universe’ took a blue chip bank to the brink of collapse, racking up the biggest losses in UK corporate history. As a result of his greed and negligence, the British taxpayer has been landed with an enormous liability to cover his bank's toxic assets. To reward someone so handsomely for such abject failure is both perverse and immoral. It is just the kind of base corruption we associate with a banana republic.

But even more obscene is the pathetic posturing from Gordon Brown and his sidekick, Mr. Darling. Yesterday the Prime Minister was 'Mr. Outraged of Westminster', promising to claw back Goodwin’s pension, using the law courts if necessary. As the Telegraph reports today, he can scarcely do any such thing for the legal obstacles are enormous.

More to the point, his own minister, Lord Myners, signed off the pension arrangements in the first place last year. It is highly disingenuous for Myners to claim that he did not know about the discretionary nature of early retirement pensions; he is an expert in pensions after all! One has to presume that he was briefed about Goodwin’s package last October– and duly went along with it. In other words, the government was effectively complicit in the very arrangements that they now object to.

So why is the Prime Minister doing this? Brown knows that his government is in terminal crisis. Whenever he calls an election, he faces electoral wipe-out and a probable decade of political oblivion. The opinion polls all tell him that the British public are fed up with New Labour’s spin machine and its culture of endless excuses and the momentum is definitely with the Tories. So perhaps in a desperate attempt to shift the focus from new Labour’s own failures, including the vast sums required of the taxpayer to bail out RBS (a sizeable fraction of a trillion pounds), they have jumped on the populist ‘bash a banker’ bandwaggon. It is, after all, so much easier to focus on the evil Mr. Goodwin than on the Prime Minister himself.

But never forget that it was Mr. Brown who, in 1997, set up the regulatory system that was famously snoozing while Mr. Goodwin and co. behaved recklessly. It was Mr. Brown that wanted light touch regulation at the FSA and who continued to benefit from booming City tax receipts so he could fund his public sector state. This was the man who, as Chancellor, vastly increased the size of the ‘client state’ and burdened the British people with a vast public sector pension liability. This was also the man who recklessly sold our gold reserves at the bottom of the market. Gordon Brown can no more take the moral high ground than Fred Goodwin.

Gordon Brown can throw the book at every one of our reckless bankers. Lord knows, many of them deserve it. But when the PM engages in vacuous posturing purely to cover his own back, he engages in mischief making of the worst malodorous kind.

Terror in Pakistan 3 March, 2009

Today’s attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team are genuinely appalling. Once again, they reveal the lethal and barbaric nature of jihadist Islam, and the lengths to which its supporters will go to kill innocent lives. They also remind us that Pakistan is the epicentre of Islamist violence and one of the most volatile places on earth. In the last few years, Pakistani terrorists have carried out murderous attacks in all the country's main cities, blowing up hundreds of innocent people, including the country’s great democratic hope, Benazir Bhutto. Their madrassahs and mosques have inspired dozens of terrorists, including the perpetrators of the 7/7 attacks.

The slaughter today may have been carried out by Lashkar-e-Taibe, the terror outfit that planned and carried out last year’s atrocities in Mumbai. This group, which enjoys extensive links with Al Qaeda and the Taleban, has been funded and supported in the past from sources within Pakistan. Their aim is to take over Pakistan and the rest of the Indian subcontinent, uniting Muslims throughout the region en route to establishing a caliphate in South Asia. To this end, they wish to eradicate the perceived enemies of Islam, the Hindus and the Jews. They are as lethal as Al Qaeda.

Taking robust action against Lashkar, and other radicalised groups, should be the top priority for President Zardari’s government. Yet in the last few months, he has shown more concern for clamping down on democracy in Pakistan, siding with a politicized judiciary that has banned his main rival for power, Nawaz Sharif, from contesting future elections. Worse his response to the violent intimidation from Muslim insurgents has been a form of futile appeasement. The government recently signed an accord with militants in the Swat valley, allowing them to implement Sharia law in return for a cessation of violence. In effect, the area has been handed over to Taleban supporters who are now busy abusing the human rights of its inhabitants.

While Pakistan remains a nominal ally of the West, it is also a breeding ground for extreme Islamism. According to one CNN opinion poll, nearly half the population express some sympathy for Osama Bin Laden. The country’s intelligence services, which funded Lashkar–e–Taibe in the past, are peppered with Islamist sympathisers while the army remains half hearted about tackling jihadism. Lest we forget, this is also a nuclear armed state on the borders of another nuclear power, and a fearsome rival at that. The West cannot afford to watch Pakistan fragment or allow its government to ignore the peril within its midst. Its terror has a global reach.

Immigration and the corruption of debate under New Labour 4 March, 2009

New Labour doesn’t handle inconvenient stories with grace. The civil servant Jo Moore exemplified a tendency to denial on 9/11 with her now infamous email to ‘bury bad news.’ She was a small cog in a carefully contrived spin machine whose tentacles emanated from no. 10. But the demise of Blair did not change this insidious culture. Brown’s use of spin, ranging from empty rhetorical promises to carefully timely visits abroad during Tory conferences, has been just as damaging to the political process. Last week’s ‘Fred the Shred’ saga, for all its rightful vilification of banking hubris, diverted attention from the government’s regulatory failures. The fingerprints of the diabolical Lord Mandelson were hard to miss.

But this government is equally adept at the smear tactic. They love to expose the ‘malicious’ motives of their detractors, especially when those people fail to worship at the altar of the government’s PC agenda. Thus if you question immigration or asylum policy, suggest that the EU is harmful to British democracy or fret about Islamic extremism, you will often be cast as a pathetic Little Englander, a dangerous reactionary with antediluvian tendencies.

Such is the experience of Karen Dunnell, chief statistician for the Office for National Statistics. According to the immigration minister, Phil Woolas, Ms Dunnell has committed a terrible thought crime by releasing figures showing that one in nine current UK residents was born outside the UK. Apparently this revealed her all too ‘sinister’ agenda, given that the news was neither ‘new nor informative.’ In a letter to the head of the Fabian Society, Woolas declared that the ONS was just ‘playing politics’ by the needless release of statistics.

How Woolas could accuse others of manipulating data for political ends and maintain a straight face is beyond me. He even admitted that he tried to stop the ONS from publishing the figures by declaring that they had gone ahead despite his ‘objections’. But the whole point of the independent ONS is to serve the public, not the government. It produces impartial statistics which are designed to inform the making of public policy, not rubber stamp government decisions. Woolas declared that it was not the role of the ONS to ‘dictate the debate’ on immigration. Yet by slamming the motives of Ms Dunnell and objecting to the release of embarrassing facts, it was the government trying to dictate to the ONS, not the other way round.

In truth, New Labour is running scared. They know that the artificial inflation of the British population through an unsustainable increase in immigration has been a hot potato for the last ten years. They know that mass immigration has been socially divisive, given that the influx of low skilled people has lowered wages and job opportunities for the indigenous community. They know that many who enter Britain, particularly from the Third World, are poorly educated and welfare dependent, factors that breed resentment in the wider public. Now that the country is hemorrhaging jobs in its deepest recession for decades, these issues have become more potent than ever.

This should be the time to face facts about the changing demography of Britain and the role played by immigration. Instead the government smears those who reveal inconvenient facts by accusing them of having a sinister agenda. Yesterday Phil Woolas refused to apologize for his Stalinist smear tactics, declaring: 'The ONS need to be aware that they are entering shark-infested waters.’ Indeed they are – and the sharks happen to be government ministers who are corrupting public debate in Britain.

Ulster's conundrum 11 March, 2009

More than a decade after the Good Friday Agreement, you might have been forgiven for thinking that Ulster had seen the back of violence and bloodshed. Surely too much time and effort had been invested in the peace process for there to be a renewal of sectarian murders. Sadly, someone forgot to tell the Real and Continuity IRA. Both these groups came to regard the Provos as little more than traitors to the Republican cause, and as political sell outs to Downing Street. And now we can all see the terrifying consequences with the cowardly and callous murders of three innocent people in the space of as many days.

The sad truth is that for all the political advances of the past decade, violence has never really left Ulster. The Real IRA carried out the worst single attack of the Troubles with their deadly attack at Omagh in 1998. Just last year there were 18 terrorist attacks reported, leading the police to upgrade the threat warning to 'severe'. Just a fortnight ago, a huge bomb was left in Castlewellan, though mercifully there were no casualties. And now three more lives have been wickedly snuffed out in barbaric fashion. While none of this compares to the carnage that engulfed Northern Ireland in the past, it is vile thuggery nonetheless.

But our present and past govenments must shoulder some of the blame for this thuggery. The peace process, while it brought undoubted dividends to Catholics and Protestants alike, came at a heavy price. The disbandment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, one of the finest anti terror organizations in the world, must count as one of the most egregious examples of appeasement in recent memory.

Following this Chamberlainite folly came the decision to release Republican murderers from prison, a craven concession to violent extremism in the interests of keeping the IRA on board. And these Republican paramilitaries, while de-commissioning their weapons, increasingly turned to other forms of criminality and violence to fund their mafia lifestyle.

The end result was a flawed peace process, the emasculation of the security apparatus and the marginalization of political moderates like David Trimble. It was just this kind of misguided appeasement from Western powers that plagued, and still plagues, Arab-Israeli peace talks.

There is a glimmer of hope from the cross party rejection of these vicious attacks. Despite their half hearted ‘outrage,’ even Adams and McGuiness realize that there can be no turning back to the bloodshed of former years. But to pretend that institutionalized violence disappeared with the peace process would be naïve and misguided.

My enemy’s friends are, er, my friends too. 13 March, 2009

So Jacqui Smith has finally suffered from an attack of common sense! The Home Secretary, better known for her craven submission to rogue Islamist fanatics, has now caved into media pressure by banning Ibrahim Moussawi, Lebanese spokesman for Hezbullah. He was due to speak next week at the School of African and Oriental Studies on political Islam. As a representative of a group intent on destroying Western society, this man's presence here is not conducive to the public good and a banning order is clearly welcome. Still, no one should pretend that this represents a sea change in attitudes towards Islamic extremists.

This week, the Policy Exchange produced an authoritative analysis of the government’s £90million anti extremism programme ‘Preventing Violent Extremism.’ They point out that the police and local councils are trying to defeat violent Muslim extremists by cosying up to political Islamists who are now ‘well dug in as partners of national and local government and the police.’ The problem is that these groups, while renouncing the use of force, are nonetheless ideological fellow travellers with extreme Islamism. The difference is one of tactics, not belief.

As the authors point out, this means that ‘some of the government’s chosen collaborators in ‘addressing grievances’ of angry young Muslims are themselves ‘at the forefront of stoking those grievances against British foreign policy; western social values; and alleged state-sanctioned ‘Islamophobia.’’ PVE, they go on to argue, ‘is thus engaged in underwriting the very Islamist ideology which spawns an illiberal, intolerant and anti-western world view.’

Among the partners chosen to oppose extremism are the Cordoba Foundation, a pressure group which gave a platform to a representative from Hezb-ut-Tahrir, the anti semitic Islamist group. The Muslim Council of Britain is also on board, despite their support for suicide bombings in Israel and their equivocation over terror in general.

The report is particuarly critical of the police who are deemed unsuitable for the task of selecting appropriate PVE partners. This was certainly evident in the woeful handling by the West Midlands police of Channel 4’s Dispatches programme in 2007. But this week saw an equally abject display of surrender when officers tolerated inflammatory rhetoric from Islamic hatemongers at an army parade and, worse, arrested 2 people who were clearly incited by the provocative outbursts. The report states that the police have been recruiting Islamist advisers, including one who wishes to create an Islamic state in Britain. Quite how this enhances community cohesion is beyond my comprehension.

The report’s authors say that this delusional strategy is ‘born of a poverty of aspiration’ centering on the belief that one cannot ‘reasonably ask angry Muslims for much more than a pledge not to use violence in Britain.’ If so, it is a form of patronizing reverse racism from a government that is supposedly committed to diversity. Thus the most intolerant Muslim voices are given privileged access to the government at the expense of moderates who want to combine their faith with patriotic values.

Ministers may claim they are simply being pragmatic here. Better to choose non violent partners to calm the irrational exuberance of jihadis. But this is not realpolitik as we know it. It is a case of my enemy's friends are my friends too. Not only will the government fail to win over moderate Muslims, they will also empower those whose radical agenda involves the curtailment of our way of life. So while Ms Smith has acquitted herself a little by keeping out one radical, it will take much more to fully restore public confidence.

The UN's assault on liberty 19 March, 2009

Nothing better illustrates the UN’s lack of moral legitimacy than the possibility that it may soon pass a resolution outlawing ‘defamation against religion.’ It will shortly hold a conference on human rights in Geneva where delegates will be presented with a draft resolution calling for “firm action against negative stereotyping of religions and defamation of religious personalities, holy books, scriptures and symbols”. The motion is sponsored by the powerful 56 member Organization of the Islamic Conference, which wants to see any such resolution become a binding part of international law.

A law against defamation is nothing less than an attack on the hallowed principle of free speech. It is a deliberate attempt to ring fence religion (in this case, Islam) from legitimate criticism and debate, thus transferring the sphere of human rights, not just from individuals to a group, but from that group to its belief system. It is a fundamentally anti democratic proposal.

It is also an outrageous inversion of the law of defamation. This law’s purpose is to protect individuals from malicious attacks which ‘tend to lower their estimation in the eyes of right thinking people.’ It is necessary for anyone who wishes to protect their reputation from malicious attacks.

But concepts do not deserve the same protection, at least not in a court of law. They function within a global market place of ideas where they are subject to a process of rigorous intellectual scrutiny and debate. This is, after all, one of the hallmarks of a tolerant and civilised society. A universal blasphemy law would give a spurious form of special treatment to religious groups, using censorship to enforce thought control on society. It is the sure path to totalitarianism.

This particular resolution is being sponsored by an Islamic group which wishes to end the ‘stereotyping’ of ‘Islam and terrorism.’ Unfortunately, the association of Islam (one interpretation at least) with violent, jihadist subversion is very real indeed and is supported by the daily statements of imams and ayatollahs around the globe. That is precisely why Western nations need to look at the how religious indoctrination is brainwashing a generation of Muslim youth into attacking their fellow citizens.

No religious group should engage in special pleading if its faith promotes violence, misogyny, homophobia or race hate. Yet radical Islam mandates precisely those things, all the more reason why critical debate and reflection should not be suppressed. This is naturally very different to inciting hatred of Muslims or any other religious group, for which laws exist (quite rightly) to protect any vulnerable minority.

Inside the walls of a venerable institution, such a reactionary proposal would be dismissed with the contempt it deserves. But inside the United Nations, which routinely genuflects before tyrannical regimes, an illiberal defamation law is par for the course.

When the UN passes this resolution, it will represent a direct challenge to the democratic leaders of the West and the values they espouse. If our leaders' commitment to freedom and tolerance is genuine, they should respond with an immediate boycott of the UN and all its pernicious resolutions.

This financial chicanery shames our politicians 25 March, 2009

There seems to be no end to New Labour’s financial sleaze. Tony McNulty has now joined a long list of ministers whose expense accounts have been shown to be an utter sham. We now know that he has claimed up to £60,000 for a second residence which, it turns out, was actually his parent’s house. McNulty’s claim that he used it to carry out constituency work has been treated with the contempt it deserves.

The whole point of such allowances is to help MPs, who live far from Westminster, to carry out their Parliamentary duties in the capital. Thus MPs can designate a London property as a ‘second home’ and claim generous allowances as a result. Yet McNulty is a London MP whose main residence is a few miles from Westminster, an inconvenient truth which negates any claim for additional allowances. His excuses are a risible attempt to wriggle off the hook in the face of a fierce media storm.

McNulty argues that he acted within the existing rules, and perhaps he did. But this misses the point. If the rules allow an MP to label any property, even one with which one has a tenuous connection, as a second home, they are clearly absurd. If they can be abused in such blatant fashion, they are hardly serving the public who are being forced to stump up for these misdirected payments. In these strained economic times, taxpayers should be seething that their elected representatives are prepared to use every devious means to augment their salaries.

Worse than all of this is the contempt McNulty has shown for the public. He has now backtracked, claiming that he will forego his allowance while recommending the same self denying ordinance for any MP living within 60 miles of Westminster. In other words, he wants us to think he is a saint for foregoing something he should never have had in the first place. To adopt a holier than thou attitude after revelations of his own wrongdoing is sheer hypocrisy.

McNulty knows he has no case to answer and is trying to save his crooked little neck in the most disingenuous fashion. Of course, he is hardly alone in the expenses hall of shame. For McNulty read Jacqui Smith, Ed Balls, Derek Conway and a host of other politicians whose sly manipulation of the rules has shamed Parliament.

Some MPs have now stormed back, claiming that expenses should be abolished in return for upping their wages to £100,000 a year. So in response to incessant stories of corrupt financial arrangements, we are now supposed to accept gargantuan salary rises for our politicians while the rest of the country suffers a recessionary pay freeze. This is impudence of the highest order.

And all of this despite the fact that these same politicians are not actually responsible for the majority of legislation passed at Westminster, given that four fifths of it emanates from Brussels. By giving up so many of their powers to the EU, our politicians are no more than glorified part timers, content to sign away their authority to an elite of unaccountable bureaucrats.

MPs have no case for salary increases. Instead the rules on expenses need to be tightened up and miscreants dealt with, if need be, by the criminal law. The alternative is that Parliament will slowly lose the last vestige of authority and credibility in the eyes of the voting public.

We should stop giving sanctuary to these deranged jihadis 28 March, 2009

The decision by the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, to investigate MI5 over claims of alleged torture will seem reasonable to many. After all, no one individual is or should be above the law. Binyam Mohammed alleges that he was tortured at the behest of the US government and with the complicity of an MI5 officer who watched his treatment. Given our justifiable aversion to torture, this might seem a reasonable process.

But the more that one looks at this case, the murkier it gets. Mohamed does not allege he was tortured by the British secret agent, merely that the torture he experienced (which was, he claims, at the behest of the US government) was carried out with the complicity of the British agent. Granted, some terrible things may have been done to Mohamed, but the complicity of the secret service will be very hard to prove. But acknowledging this fact has obscured the point that Mohamed was no innocent abroad.

By his own confession, Mohamed travelled to Afghanistan to attend al-Qaeda's al-Farouq training camp where he received, according to the statement released through his lawyers, ‘40 days of training in light arms handling, explosives, and principles of topography' and 'was taught to falsify documents.’ As Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens of the Centre for social cohesion points out, ‘Al-Farouq's training was reserved for only the best and most committed jihadists, and among those who have passed through its sandy gates include four of the nineteen 9/11 bombers.’ Instead of feting this man as a modern day hero who stood up to American imperialism, we should perhaps be asking why we welcome jihadis whose gory death cult threatens us all.

Indeed, this case should never have been put before British judges. Mohamed is not a British citizen. Aged 15, he arrived in this country from Ethiopia and was granted leave to stay, but not asylum. He chose to leave the UK to live in Afghanistan where, as we now know, he was schooled in the deadly arts of terror. A man who clearly despises this country and its values is owed no obligation of residence here. Thus the real scandal in this case is the authorities’ misplaced indulgence of fanatical terrorists.

Sarkozy’s grandstanding must not disrupt the G20 1 April, 2009

It is becoming a truism that world leaders at the G20 summit need to show unity to stave off financial disaster. George Soros himself said something to this effect and his calls have been echoed by leading think tanks, including the OECD. But unity of purpose has been in short measure recently. Gordon Brown’s plans for a global ‘fiscal stimulus’ have been rudely shattered of late, with the Czech president describing plans for more government debt as ‘the road to hell.’ His view was echoed in more cautious terms by Mervyn King.

Now we have the spectre of President Sarkozy threatening to torpedo these talks unless world leaders agree to his demand for a global banking regulator. Of course this is nothing but Gaullist grandstanding, a blatant attempt to take the shine off the free trading Anglo-Saxon bloc dominated by Barack Obama. But it also reflects his attempt to paint the global crash of 2008-9 as an Anglo-American affair, something that ignores the rather excessive leverage of European banks. Regardless of Sarkozy’s motives, the G19 would be right to resist his madcap proposal.

A global regulator, by its very nature, would be a totally unaccountable monster. It would not be answerable to any government and would therefore lack the stamp of democratic legitimacy. So it is hardly surprising that Obama, among others, has rejected the idea as unworkable in the current climate. That Sarkozy is championing a global regulator is unsurprising. Lest we forget, he is a leading light in the European Union, an elitist institution that shows brazen contempt for the demands of voters. So this is another attempt to bypass national electorates and create a supranational organization by the back door. The Frenchman’s plans must be fiercely resisted.

But this is no excuse to avoid the issue of banking regulation. The banks do need tighter control to rein in the more reckless urges of their chairmen and this means a return to a dual system of banking. In 1999 the Clinton administration abolished the Glass-Steagall Act which had, for many decades, separated commercial from investment banking. In effect, this put taxpayers’ cash at risk from the casino style activities of the securities market.

Glass-Steagall (and equivalent legislation) must be put back in place to provide protection to depositors and to ensure a minimum level of regulation for the banking industry. But it is up to individual governments to introduce this legislation and to improve their own regulatory mechanisms. It should not be the role of a supranational institution that is answerable to nobody.

Obama appeases tyranny - again 7 April, 2009

In today’s Telegraph, Gerald Warner has a superb take on Obama’s failure to act against North Korea last week. Deriding the President’s posturing over the illegal launching of the Taepodong-2 missile last week, Warner poses an obvious question: ‘What was the point of America deploying two missile-killing destroyers, the USS McCain and the USS Chafee, in Japanese waters, only to spectate as Kim Jong-il's Taepodong-2 missile took off?’ He continues: ‘Overnight, posturing and sabre-rattling, formerly the province of Kim, has become the role of America and its allies. Such chest-thumping followed by inaction is deadly dangerous. Do the names Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia not ring any bells?’ Obama, for all the cosy image of virtue, is ‘Jimmy Carter II.’

Indeed. Obama appears to be a fan of the diplomatic school of ‘bluff’ where you trick an enemy into submission by merely threatening force. But it is a game where the stakes are high. When your own bluff is called, your negotiating position is compromised. And this is exactly what happened here.

Instead of shooting down the Taepodong 2, which the missile killing destroyers could have done, Obama called for nuclear weapons to be scrapped and for the 6 party talks to be resumed. But these talks have stalled precisely because of past violations by Kim Il Jung’s regime. Pyongyang repeatedly violated the agreement signed in 1994 according to which it would shut down its nuclear power plant in return for heavy fuel oil. In 2007 the Bush administration, under the influence of the State department, agreed a deal with Kim to freeze the Yongbyon plant in return for much needed supplies of fuel oil. Again, the North reneged on its pledges. The strategy of Clinton and Bush involved, in the words of John Bolton, a ‘prayer to negotiate the North out of its nuclear weapons’ and it was a forlorn hope.

By now it should be abundantly clear that the ‘Great leader’ of this isolated, Stalinist state is unappeasable. He will never abandon the quest for the ultimate weapons of mass destruction. Like Iran’s ayatollahs, Kim is playing for time, hoping to exploit the weakness and indecision of the powers around him and, like the Iranians, Kim is playing the West for suckers. For rogue regimes like North Korea are excited, not by strength, but by weakness – the weakness of their opponents. It is their tonic and their oxygen. And while most Republicans appear to understand this, Obama does not.

Still, at least the North Koreans are happy. And Ahmadinejad too for that matter.

Policing the G20 8 April, 2009

Some months ago at the height of Israel’s Gaza offensive, I attended a peaceful rally outside the Israeli embassy. It was designed to counter a pro Palestinian rally being held nearby and was, by and large, a peaceful event. After a couple of hours, I moved to the other side of the road where some pro Israeli supporters were soaking up the genial atmosphere. Admittedly there were some isolated scuffles involving passers by but little to suggest any imminent outbreak of violence.

It was at this stage that the police cordoned off a section of the crowd and began to march us forcefully down Kensington Road. Their stern faces of the police showed they were in no mood to tolerate any opposition. At the time it all seemed an unnecessarily provocative, heavy handed and confrontational response to what were minor incidences of trouble.

These events were brought home to me after hearing about the tragic experience of Ian Tomlinson who died last week during the G20 riots. Footage, which has been widely disseminated, shows an officer push Mr. Tomlinson to the ground and leave him there, with little apparent provocation from the victim. A few minutes later Tomlinson was dead, having suffered a heart attack.

Now there is no proof that the blow caused Tomlinson’s heart attack and that he would not have died without bring thrown to the ground. But this case does raise pressing concerns about the activities of the Metropolitan Police. A number of questions need to be answered therefore with some urgency.

Firstly, some light needs to be shone on police tactics on the day of the G20 protests. Why were police advised to cordon off thousands of people and keep them confined in a small space for several hours? Was this not likely to unnecessarily antagonise some in the crowd and even raise serious health concerns? The police did come under attack from a small number of protestors and perhaps the tactics of 'kettling' will be seen to be justified on this basis.

But this would not justify the apparent brutality meted out to innocent individuals. The officer who struck Tomlinson must be identified swiftly and suspended, pending the outcome of the investigation. Then it will be possible to determine exactly why Tomlinson was struck and whether this resulted from a ‘higher’ order or from the actions of the officer alone. Above all, the City of London police must not be allowed to conduct this investigation when their impartiality will obviously be compromised. This is a job for the IPCC alone.

Of course, no one should defend the hooligans who seek to hijack otherwise peaceful protests for their own violent purposes. Nor should we minimise the risks taken by police to protect members of the public. But let us never forget that the primary role of the police is to serve and defend the public, not the other way round. A balance must always be struck between preserving the social order and allowing citizens the right to peaceful and legitimate protest. An independent investigation must determine whether the police struck that balance during the G20 protests.

What the email scandal reveals about Brown’s addiction to spin 14 April, 2009

Gordon Brown has attempted to draw a line under the McBride scandal with a series of letters to the people affected. These letters reflect a classic Brown formula: distancing himself from unfortunate events for which he bears a great deal of responsibility. Thus while acknowledging that the emails sent by his former special adviser were ‘a matter of great regret’, he added elsewhere that ‘no minister and no political adviser other than the person involved had any knowledge of or involvement in these private emails.’

Perhaps Brown knew little about these emails, the lurid contents of which have now been disseminated across the globe. But to pretend that he knew nothing about McBride’s character, or his reputation for engaging in the ‘dark arts’ of media manipulation, is disingenuous in the extreme.

For McBride was not some random Whitehall apparatchik but one of the Prime Minister’s closest advisers. As a key member of the Treasury inner circle, McBride smeared anyone who crossed his boss’ path, dripping ‘pure poison’ on the likes of David Miliburn, Alan Milburn and John Reid. He therefore played an important role in the Brown/Blair rift that disfigured New Labour for a decade.

Yet now the Prime Minister has effectively disowned his political attack dog, writing to Gus O’Donnell that he is ‘ready to take whatever action is necessary to improve our political system.’ Somehow we are supposed to believe that there are two Prime Ministers, the one who employs these shifty characters and the other who vows to clean up politics. No wonder Gordon Brown was accused of having a split personality!

For keen observers of Gordon Brown, the events of last week are barely surprising. In 2007 the burly Scot rose to power promising to remove the insidious culture of spin that had poisoned the Blair era. As many pointed out at the time, this had to be taken with a generous pinch of salt for Brown was no stranger to the spin machine. In his first budget in 1997, he carried out a punitive raid on private pensions with his new tax on dividends. For years, he declared that he was never informed of this policy's doleful consequences yet, after a Freedom of Information request, it became clear that the opposite was the case.

In his last budget as Chancellor, he donned the mantle of a 'tax cutter' by reducing the basic rate of income tax from 22p to 20p. Yet the abolition of the 10p rate impoverished millions of low paid workers who saw their disposable income plummet. His plethora of stealth taxes was itself a form of spin, allowing him to declare that income tax remained low even while he was increasing the tax burden each year.

Then as Prime Minister, Brown promised to make foreign policy announcements to Parliament before briefing the media. Then almost immediately, he travelled to Iraq to declare the imminent withdrawal of British forces, a calculated attempt to draw media attention away from the Tories. He famously called off an election because of shifting opinion polls, yet denied this had anything to do with his decision. He embraced the EU Constitution, only to pretend it had nothing to do with him by refusing to attend the signing ceremony.

Most importantly, he has presented Britain’s current financial predicament as the result of purely ‘global’ forces imported from the American sub prime debacle. Yet this deliberately ignores our own housing bubble, the burden of public debt, the collapse of sterling and the glaring failure of regulation, all problems for which Brown must take much responsibility.

In reality, the PM's use of spin has fooled very few people. An increasingly disenchanted public now view him as just another cynical, career politician. Having promised ‘whiter than white’ politics, Gordon Brown has proved to be New Labour through and through, obsessed with power over principle and using all the dark arts at his disposal to trounce his enemies. When he comes to reflect on his failed Prime Ministership, Brown will surely lament this failing more than anything else.

Bowen exposed 16 April, 2009

So finally Jeremy Bowen is caught out for disseminating Arabist propaganda. The body which oversees the corporation on behalf of its audience has criticised an online article by Jeremy Bowen in which he comments on the 1967 Six Day War.

In the online article from January 2007, Bowen is accused of breaching BBC guidelines on impartiality and using language which is insufficiently clear and precise, thus failing to meet BBC standards on accuracy. Take this gem: ‘The Israeli generals... had been training to finish the unfinished business of Israel's independence war of 1948 - the capture of East Jerusalem - for most of their careers.’ Quite what evidence Bowen could provide for such a statement is difficult to gauge but he follows it up with this: Zionism has had an ‘innate instinct to push out the frontier’ and what he has in mind is the settlement movement: ‘Forty years on, Israel has settled around 450,000 people on land occupied in 1967, in defiance of almost all countries' interpretation of international law except its own.’

Bowen clearly should have done his research properly. There is no innate ideological bent towards expansionism within mainstream Zionism. The Zionists were originally offered a national home which covered what is today both Israel and Jordan. They were somewhat disappointed by the emasculation of Palestine in 1922 which reduced the potential state by 80% and when the country was further reduced in 1947 through the partition plan, the Zionists were again frustrated.

Yet it is amazing that this ‘expansionist’ group still voted for partition, despite the state they were offered representing around 10% of the original Palestine mandate. Bowen reproduces the canard that Israelis were bent on the conquest of East Jerusalem when the truth was that the Jewish state told Jordan to stay out of the Six Day War. It was only King Hussein’s decision to engage in conflict that led to the Israeli conquest of the West Bank.

Bowen fails to mention that Israel put out peace feelers shortly after the Six Day War, only to be rebuffed by the Arab League at Khartoum. Neither is there an acknowledgment that in 2000-1, Israel offered back over 95% of the West Bank and Gaza, only to find that Yasser Arafat preferred an intifada to peace. Indeed so blinded is Bowen by Arabist propaganda that he fails to reflect on Israel’s two pull outs since 1967: from Sinai in 1978-9 and Gaza in 2005. A strange expansionist movement indeed!

While the settlements do have a dubious position in international law, Bowen again ignores the fact that in 2000, the Israelis offered to dismantle them as part of an overall settlement. And what about the 7000 settlers moved out of Gaza?

Predictably, the BBC dismissed the Trust’s conclusions by saying that Bowen was ‘simply exercising his professional judgement on history.’ They go on: ‘Clearly there is no consensus view of history and it is self evident that there are others who have a different analysis.’ There may be no consensus on the Arab-Israeli conflict but professionals working for an impartial organization must take account of all the facts rather than a selective subset that reflects a hidden bias. As the BBC ought to acknowledge.

The diplomats walk out on Ahmadinejad. But they should never have attended this grotesque conference. 21 April, 2009

One has to ask those diplomats who walked out of the Geneva conference today quite what they were expecting when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turned up. Did they believe that the Iranian President would offer a restrained contribution to the proceedings with his appalling track record on Jews and the Holocaust? Did they think he would pass up the opportunity to indulge in odious anti Semitism when it is so deeply etched into his world view?

What they heard was the Iranian demagogue in full flow, denouncing Israel as a ‘cruel and racist state’ built on the ‘pretext of Jewish suffering,’ a perverse comment to make on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day. Far from walking out, these diplomats should never have attended Durban II in the first place. Instead they should have followed the example of a number of Western nations, including America, Canada and Israel, who stayed away in protest. They knew that their attendance would lend an unwarranted legitimacy to the whole rotten spectacle.

Lest we forget, this grotesquely misnamed ‘anti racism’ conference is designed to re-affirm the principles of the first Durban Conference, an event which demonized Israel and Zionism and which saw attacks on Jewish participants. It is also designed to outlaw ‘derogatory stereotyping and stigmatisation of persons based on their religion’, which means an attempt to ringfence Islam from criticism. It is more an attack on human rights than a defence of them. But when you consider that this Geneva farce is being chaired by those well known beacons of human rights, Iran, Russia, Cuba, Libya and Pakistan, none of this is surprising.

In any event, the headlines today have focused on those who stormed out as opposed to the many listening delegates who loudly cheered the President’s hate filled speech. It is these bigoted fellow travellers who offer the truest measure of what the UN stands for today.

A moment for the Ghurkas – and Parliament 30 April, 2009

There aren’t many occasions when we can be really proud of our politicians. But yesterday’s cross party defeat of the government over the issue of Ghurkha residence rights was one of them. It was a moment for punching the air and proclaiming that justice really could course through the veins of Britannia and that our MPs recognised the supremacy of moral duty above party politics. It was also another telling symptom of this government’s relentless decline into oblivion.

For the government’s attitude towards the Ghurkas has been simply inexplicable. These brave Nepalese fighters have stood loyally by the British flag for two centuries, defending our interests across the globe. They have earned a reputation for courage under fire and for instilling fear in our enemies on the battlefield. They have spilt their blood for the Union flag and been rewarded for conspicuous gallantry. Every one of them deserves a place on this island as much as our native citizens.

Yet their reward for years of patriotic service is to be shunned by the government. The rules announced last week by Phil Woolas would have effectively debarred over 99% of the Ghurkas who retired before 1997. The government has told us that they cannot afford residence rights for these men, citing a figure of £1.4 billion. Even though this figure seems ridiculously inflated, it is a small price to pay for rewarding the genuine valour of these soldiers.

What makes this all the more galling is that the government, aided and abetted by an army of human rights lawyers, is so desperate to keep the wrong sort of people here. Islamist fanatics have been welcomed to these shores (and still are) and all of them harbour the deepest loathing of our liberal, secular values. Yet attempts to deport them founder, as always, on questions of their ‘human rights.’

Months ago, there was much talk of offering an amnesty to over half a million illegal immigrants in Britain. Yet it seems very odd to claim that we owe these people any automatic right of residence, particularly when they have scarcely served this nation and, in some cases, harbour malign intent.

Amid the shambles and ruin of New Labour’s immigration policy, it is the Ghurkas who deserve to be fast-tracked to this island past all others.

The government is in meltdown. But are the Conservatives ready for power? 4 May, 2009

In the last 48 hours, Hazel Blears has ramped up the crisis which now threatens to engulf Gordon Brown’s premiership. In a recent interview, she savaged Gordon Brown’s leadership in the most forthright manner, dismissing his use of You Tube as a worthless gimmick. Now she claims she has been misunderstood (a favourite tactic of New Labour ministers) and that she is 100% behind him. Naturally this statement is as risible as the Prime Minister’s u-turn over the second home allowances. Ms Blears is 100% behind her own scarcely concealed ambition to succeed Mr. Brown, a politician whose authority is ebbing away by the minute.

Meanwhile Harriet Harman has 'privately' signalled her own interest in the top job while Alan Johnson is being put about as the populist candidate who can reconnect with the electorate. With the stench of Cabinet betrayal blowing through Downing Street, it is little wonder that Gordon Brown is having temper tantrums! Still, the odds must be on the Prime Minister remaining in Downing Street until 2010. This is a man whose pursuit of power has been relentless over the last decade. He will not stand down without a protracted fight and, in any case, it is never easy to unseat a serving Labour leader. More to the point, Brown’s rivals would all inherit the ultimate poisoned chalice. The moment they reached no. 10, they would face overwhelming pressure to hold an early election, one that would certainly result in a terrible Labour defeat.

But while Brown remains a limbo PM, maintaining power without authority, more misery is being piled on the British people. In the midst of rising unemployment and financial meltdown, the last thing we need is a disfiguring feud between Blairites and Brownites. An executive torn between factions cannot govern effectively. In any case, a change in Labour leadership will not solve the party’s most fundamental problem – the complete breakdown of public trust in those who govern us. In the eyes of the public, New Labour is a damaged product whose credibility has melted away.

All the promises made in 1997 - that there would be no return to boom and bust, that the economy was safe in Labour’s hands, that taxpayers money was needed to improve public services, that the government would offer openness and accountability - these have all been shot to pieces. The economy is in meltdown, businesses are failing, bankruptcies are rising and taxes are shooting up.

Vast amounts of public money have been squandered in a failed bid to improve public services. And the government’s obsession with spin doctors and media manipulation has corroded public trust in the political class. A different leader offering a new deal for the British public will enjoy only a temporary bounce in the polls. Barring sudden economic revival, or a war in the Falklands, Labour’s march to electoral oblivion cannot be averted.

Naturally, this gives the Conservatives an important opportunity. After 13 years in the political wilderness, they can finally return to power on the back of the government’s misery and abject failure. But in politics, there is a huge difference between victory and success. It is one thing to win an election, and another to reconnect with the electorate. If you ask most people what Cameronomics is all about, they will probably shrug their shoulders. The grand Tory narrative on public services, welfare reform and economic revival is not easy to discern, even if Cameron himself is a personable and telegenic figure. In 2010, many people will be voting against the government rather than for the opposition.

It is 30 years since another Tory leader stormed to power after defeating a failed Labour Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher arrived at no. 10 with the country in the doldrums and convulsed by union power - the sick man of Europe. Over the next decade, she helped to transform our national fortunes, overturning a post war economic consensus in favour of high taxes and strong state intervention. While she failed to alter that consensus completely, she laid the foundations for our future prosperity and national revival.

Will the same ever be said of David Cameron?

The shaming of Parliament 9 May, 2009

Westminster politics is in deep crisis. The latest revelations of financial chicanery, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, are truly appalling. They paint our politicians as a corrupt and deceitful lot who are intent on fleecing the electorate for their own gain. The expenses system is revealed to be an utter sham, together with those who administer it. Second home allowances are designed for MPs with constituencies outside London. They have been flagrantly abused by politicians who see them as a means to augment their parliamentary salaries. The deceit is shameful.

Predictably the politicians affected have refused to own up to this mess. Ministers have lined up to tell us that it was ‘the system’ to blame or that the Commons rules were not clear. Actually the basic rule on expenses is clear and stipulates that there should be "no grounds for a suggestion of a misuse of public money". If ministers think they have not misused public money, they are living on another planet.

But they are not solely to blame. Part of the problem is that parliamentary officials signed off these fraudulent claims in the first place. Perhaps they were just incompetent or (more likely) felt intimidated by their political 'superiors' and felt they could do little more than advise against undue extragavance. Clearly politicians’ expenses were regulated as badly as our beleaguered banks. But it is disingenuous for MPs to offer their version of the Nuremburg defence: We were only following rules! There is also the question of whether it was right to fleece the public using such dubious interpretations of the ‘rules.’ This is the issue that should exercise the conscience of every MP whose behaviour is now under relentless scrutiny.

So what do we do? In the most blatant cases of abuse, MPs should be expelled from the Commons; in some cases, pursued by the police for criminal misdemeanours. We need a new, impartial administrator, elected on a yearly basis, who can scrutinize MPs expense claims with increased rigour and competence. Speaker Martin, who oversaw the entire rotten system, must be forced out once and for good and replaced with someone who commands the respect of the House. Only then can we have a system that works properly in the interests of the public.

Until then, the repercussions from this affair will be dreadful. With local and European elections coming up in June, the only beneficiaries will be the small, fringe parties that thrive on public discontent with Westminster politics. The BNP, among others, love to exploit the view that ‘the mainstream parties are equally bad’ and that ‘MPs are out for their own interests.’ It will be hard to argue against them.

Indeed for far right politicians, this is a god-send. Traditionally, their big rallying cries have included violent crime, immigration and the EU. Now they can add the financial corruption of MPs to their charge sheet – and who can blame them?

Speaker Martin is a disgrace to his office 12 May, 2009

Nothing has been more nauseating in the last 24 hours than the sight of Michael Martin lecturing MPs on the expenses fiasco. Nothing better illustrates his contempt for the public and for those MPs brave enough to defy his idiotic interventions.

His attack on Kate Hoey yesterday was simply astonishing in light of the growing public anger over MPs behaviour. Hoey had questioned why the Speaker wanted to call in the police to investigate the leaking of expenses. As she pointed out, it was surely more appropriate for the police to investigate the dishonourable activities of MPs. Martin’s patronizing response demonstrated just how out of touch he was with the public: “Is it the case that an employee of this House should be able to hand over any private data to any organisation of his or her choosing?”

So instead of rounding on Parliamentarians for their disgraceful abuse of expenses, he chose to vent his fury on the media. Instead of insisting that MPs return the money they obtained fraudulently, he was angered by the leaking of information from Parliament. But whatever the concerns about the security of private information, the leak is a peripheral concern right now. The primary issue, the one that ought to exercise Mr. Martin, is the tarnished reputation of Parliament. The Speaker’s priorities could not be more twisted.

And this is hardly surprising. For this breathtakingly supercilious twit has presided over the systematic abuse of the expense system. He fought to prevent publication of MPs expense claims and was therefore an integral part of the conspiracy to defraud the public. Worse, he failed to defend Damien Green from an unnecessary police with hunt when the MPs only crime was to embarrass the government. The longer Michael Martin sits in the Speaker’s Chair, the more he demeans the great office he represents.

If MPs are sincere about cleaning up politics, they must force this man from office in the impending no confidence vote and return him to the backbenches. No doubt Kate Hoey or Norman Baker would make excellent replacements. And once this is done, Parliament should be dissolved for an immediate general election. It is only then that we will be able to remove from office all those shabby, deceitful and corrupt politicians who have treated us with such contempt.

A wave of public anger 15 May, 2009

Judging by last night’s Question Time, there is an understandable chorus of public indignation sweeping the land over the expenses scandal. One politician after another was heckled, hissed and booed after it was revealed that they had made fraudulent and immoral claims at the taxpayers’ expense. Even Ming Campbell, that much lauded ‘paragon’ of liberal virtue, was exposed for wrong doing and heckled accordingly. In each case, the politicians fended off accusations of greed or corruption by engaging in a tortuous process of self justification, attempting to extricate themselves from the quagmire that is their current reputation. How Sir Fred Goodwin must be loving this. He knows that politicians have replaced investment bankers at the apex of Britain’s hall of shame.

What clearly annoyed last night’s audience was not just the dubious way that unscrupulous politicians were augmenting their income. It was the fact that politicians had got away with something that would have cost ordinary taxpayers their jobs or freedom. Fraud is a criminal offence and dubious expense claims often result in instant dismissal, for us ordinary mortals that is. But so far, no MP has been de-selected while the chance of criminal convictions remains slight. The double standards are galling.

The level of public anger probably reflects something else. Occasionally in politics there are events which unleash a torrent of pent up fury at any particular moment. One thinks of how the widespread support for the petrol protests in 2000 reflected public anger at the increasing tax burden. Then there was the Brand/Ross affair which drew public indignation at the coarse standards of our major public broadcaster. Perhaps this is another seismic moment that will help to define modern politics.

For this affair has exposed not just the breathtaking arrogance of many MPs but their radical disconnection from the rest of us. Some are so cocooned in the Westminster village that they are switched off from the concerns of ordinary people. They are caught up in their own narrative in which the flagrant misuse of public money is a mere embarrassment, a trifling and peripheral matter, rather than a stain on Parliament. And the most egregious form of self justification is one where the individual admits that things are wrong, but not because of their own failings. Thus the deafening chorus of blame for the ‘system,’ not for individual MPs. Yet MPs created the system and knew that its basic rule proscribed any expense that was seen as ‘a misuse of public money.’

Of course we must never engage in a witch hunt. Not all MPs are tainted by corruption and some, such as Norman Baker, have long urged the publication of MPs expenses. Not all second home allowances are wrong and not all expense claims are fraudulent. And not all MPs enter politics to defraud the taxpayer. But one can no longer claim, at least with a straight face, that this is all about one or two rotten apples in an otherwise gleaming basket. Only a general election will allow us to keep the baby while throwing out the bathwater.

The Iranian-Palestinian connection 19 May, 2009

Behind the smiles and the familiar bonhomie, the sharp differences between Israel and the US over regional security are being exposed. President Obama has endorsed a Palestinian state in all but name on Israel’s borders and called for further dialogue between the US and Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu has stopped short of embracing a two state solution, believing that with the Middle East in its current state, any such development would be premature and dangerous. He prefers economic development within the disputed territories as a prelude to a workable political settlement.

Netanyahu is clearly the more realistic of the two, not least because he is alert to the connections between a Palestinian state and the Iranian terror machine. Consider the simple facts. Iran has used terror proxies to spread instability and violence across the region. These proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, have precipitated aggressive acts against Israel in recent years which have led to bloody regional conflagrations. The current regime in the West Bank led by Mahmoud Abbas is weak and could face a coup by Hamas in the near future, a disastrous outcome which would leave Israel at the mercy of 2 neighbouring (pro Iranian) terror states.

With Iran’s nuclear ambitions clearly insatiable, and with the West seemingly powerless to prevent them, the dangers for the Jewish state are clear. Even if Iran could be deterred from a nuclear strike on Israel, there would be little to prevent the regime from passing on its nuclear knowledge to other terror groups, or terror states. The resulting instability would be terrifying.

Obama, together with Israeli doves and other Western leaders, sees Israeli disengagement as an ‘opportunity for peace’ and as the prelude to Arab-Israeli harmony. From Tehran’s perspective, a precipitate Israeli pullback also provides opportunities, except that these are to carve out a third Iranian ‘sphere of influence’ next to Israel (after Gaza and South Lebanon) as part of a scarcely concealed bid to extend their dominance from the Gulf to the Mediterranean.

Fortunately, some of Israel’s Arab ‘allies’ understand the Palestine-Iran connection very well. The leaders of the Sunni quadrangle (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States) are quaking in their collective boots at the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran. They fear that a nuclearised Tehran would try and impose its will at will, stirring up discontent among Shia communities and undermining pro Western regimes across the region.

Two things are obvious, and Netanyahu understands both. There can also be no viable settlement without a strong and credible Palestinian leadership willing to implement serious political reform, end incitement, and destroy forever the misguided dream of a ‘right’ of return. Secondly, a two state solution will not work unless the Iranian menace is tackled. Arab leaders don’t always get the first proposition but do get the second. Obama understands neither. Yet he is the leader of the free world.

The start of a British revolution? 24 May, 2009

After another week in which MPs expenses have come under intense scrutiny, the wave of public anger shows little sign of abating. On the contrary, the anecdotal evidence suggests that the public’s emotions are at boiling point with their political representatives. Up and down the land, MPs have returned nervously to the constituents and faced sustained displays of public indignation. A number of MPs have been forced into early retirement and others will soon face a similar fate.

It is hard to find many parallels for what we are experiencing. Perhaps the nearest equivalent is the Iraq war of 2003. The conflict certainly generated heated debate but it was possible to find people passionately supportive of ousting Saddam as well. And no one was turfed out of a job (as an MP) in 2003 for supporting the invasion. Similarly in 1997, amid a media orchestrated wave of anger with ‘aloof’ Royals, one could find diehard Republicans who scarcely cared about the People’s Princess. No, the current rage is unprecedented because it does not divide us. After all, is there anybody who believes that horse manure is a legitimate expense?

For some, this is a disturbing indication that we have gone too far. Writing in The Times on 23rd May, Matthew Parris commented that Britain had ‘gone beserk,’ and that it was ‘in one of its periodic fits of moral horror’ before adding ‘There is no arguing with a spasm of popular anger.’ His point was echoed by David Aaronovitch who argued that ‘Twenty-five light bulbs, 20 grand on security, a bath plug, a boiler, a property “flip” that earns a grand, a shared cleaner…does not add up to “clawing greed”, constitute a “sordid culture of abuse” or justify the assertion that Parliament's “moral authority is at the lowest ebb in living memory”.’

Well we can agree that corruption is as old as British politics and that occasionally, fits of outrage are somewhat misdirected. But both miss the point somewhat. In themselves, these dubious (in some cases fraudulent) claims are a drop in the ocean compared to total government spending. This is not a Continental level of corruption nor is it on the scale of the African kleptocrats who amass billions of pounds, dollars and rupees. But expense-gate does matter, and it has rightly generated a storm, because it is a perfect microcosm of the failings of our political class.

Firstly, it reveals how our political class is out of touch with those they claim to serve. No MP could justify to his constituents a claim for moat cleaning, wisteria or duck ponds. No MP could justify deliberate tax avoidance as part of the Commons ‘rules.’ Yet these egregious breaches of morality are suddenly acceptable within the Palace of Westminster. It is as if these MPs are living in a kind of manufactured Westminster bubble that severs them from the concerns of ordinary voters. People rightly question why politicians can escape the consequences of fraud and chicanery when they would suffer for the same thing.

Living in the Westminster bubble leaves our politicians out of touch on other issues too. From mass immigration to multiculturalism, from state education to the NHS, from violent crime to the EU, our mainstream politicians regularly licence views that are remote from the experiences of their constituents. Consider how many times we are lectured about the moral need for higher taxes, how many times we are informed that state education are great, how often we are made to feel guilty about criticising mass immigration and Islam. Yet we can all see that many state schools are dire, that MRSA is blighting the health service, that violent crime is increasing and that unrestricted immigration has brought disaster. It is no surprise that MPs are frequently told to live in the real world.

The second issue raised by the expense scandal is the flagrant misuse of public money. Among the inappropriate claims uncovered by the Telegraph were the following gems: £16,000 claimed by Tam Dalyell for 2 bookcases and Gerald Kaufmann’s £8,000 plasma TV. What stinks here is not just that these items were illegitimate political expenses but that they represent a extravagant misuse of public funds. Gerald Kaufmann could have bought his own television or charged for one costing a tiny fraction of £8,000. Nothing better illustrates the truism that when politicians get hold of your cash, they are liable to waste it.

The right lessons have got to be learnt from this appalling fiasco. Firstly, Parliament needs to be strengthened at the expense of the executive. To avoid the charge that MPs are the mere playthings of their party, they must be given more free votes on issues that do not relate to manifesto commitments. The power of the whips should be reduced and MPs must decide the composition of select committees. This way, Parliament can more effectively hold the government to account. Finally, there must be a referendum on EU membership following a complete disclosure of the powers we have given up to Europe.

Secondly, the electorate needs to be strengthened at the expense of Parliament. The American idea of recalling politicians back to their constituencies needs to be taken seriously. Where there is clear evidence of corruption and wrong doing or where an MP has broken a manifesto pledge, he or she must be liable to face the wrath of the voters back at home. We must be able to know how much our MPs cost the taxpayer and where and when they are claming expenses.

But none of this can happen while the current crop of MPs still sits in the Commons. A summer general election is essential so that voters up and down the land can remove the rotten apples that have blighted our political life.

Feckless diplomacy has brought us North Korean intransigence 26 May, 2009

To understand why the West’s diplomacy towards Iran has failed, it is instructive to examine its policy towards North Korea. Once again, this tyrannical, Stalinist outpost has defied international opinion by carrying out a prohibited nuclear test. Despite an agreement to shut down the Yongbyon plant and account for its nuclear programme, the regime has flexed its military muscles with cavalier disregard for its neighbours’ security. This behaviour has rightly provoked an outcry from the West, followed by vague threats of sanctions against Kim’s regime. Tough measures are certainly needed to deter North Korea from further aggression.

A leader in The Times today suggests that Kim’s regime is irrational and that it remains impervious to the threat of outside force. This view is questionable. Kim Jung Il’s policy of nuclear brinkmanship is arguably a perfectly rational response to 15 years of feckless Western engagement.

In 1994 the Clinton administration reached a deal with North Korea whereby it would shut down its nuclear facilities in return for receiving half a million tons of oil and the construction of two light-water nuclear reactors. In John Bolton’s words, this represented a ‘prayer to negotiate the North out of its nuclear weapons.’

Pyongyang took advantage of Western largesse by secretly resuming work at Yongbyon and withdrawing from the nuclear non proliferation treaty. Further six party talks continued and appeared to bear fruit in 2007 with the shut down of Yongbyon. But a year later the North Koreans resumed nuclear processing while shipping nuclear technology to Syria, further endangering the stability of the Middle East. Western carrots proved to be largely ineffective.

All the inducements offered to Iran to end its nuclear programme have been similarly futile. For years, the EU3 offered one financial incentive after another to Tehran, often in the teeth of US opposition, and all to no avail. Iran’s intransigent leaders could no more be talked out of their nuclear ambitions than the North Koreans. For the mullahs, it is a matter of national honour that their country flexes its muscles in defiance of ‘The Great Satan’ and becomes the region’s dominant power. They see no better way to secure this ambition than by joining the elite nuclear club.

After years of bankrupt policy, Western leaders need to get real with the autocrats of both countries. UN sanctions will be watered down (by China and others) while further financial carrots will prove futile. Tough talking is one thing but the bite should be as strong as the bark.

Someone was to blame - but not me 29 May, 2009

In an article in today’s Telegraph, Jeff Randall takes a humourous sideswipe at those MPs who have blamed the world and his wife for their persistent wrongdoing. He writes:

‘Many MPs whose fingers have been suspiciously near the taxpayer's wallet are desperate to deflect suggestions of culpability. In thrashing about for plausible escape routes, they appear unbothered by the facts and eager to frame anyone but themselves for their embarrassment. Ben Chapman, the Labour member for Wirral South, who overclaimed £15,000 on his mortgage, might have plucked his attempt at self-exculpation from the pages of Burgess's dystopian novel: "It is clear that I was misled by the fees office into the arrangement in question." Get it? Nothing to do with Mr. Chapman's behaviour; all the fault of perfidious bean counters.’

He goes on: ‘Thus we had Margaret Moran (Luton South) claiming £22,500 of taxpayers' money to treat dry rot at a house in Southampton, 100 miles from her constituency, so that she and her partner, who works on the south coast, could enjoy a cosy family life. This, she insisted, was acceptable "support". No less grotesque was Julie Kirkbride's last-ditch effort to save her skin by bleating about the pressures of being a working mum. In order for her to square the circle of parental and official duties, she "needed" a £50,000 extension, funded by taxpayers, to the home we had already subsidised.’

In order to understand this persistent excuse making we need to delve into a little psychology, specifically the theory of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when someone holds two contradictory beliefs or attitudes simultaneously with the resulting feeling one of discomfort or anxiety. To reduce this discomfort, dissonance theory tells us that people will seek to justify or rationalise their beliefs and attitudes, usually in such a way as to maintain the integrity of their ego. That is the case with our MPs.

They view themselves as both effective and benevolent yet are simultaneously confronted with evidence concerning their dubious financial activities. Were they to look at this evidence impartially, they would view themselves as we do: as incompetent, deceitful and thoroughly dishonourable individuals. Yet such an epiphany would batter the self esteem of any individual, never mind a monstrously egotistical politician.

So the alternative strategy is to engage in a tortuous process of self justification whereby discomfiting evidence is explained away using every contrivance in the book. So when an MP is engaged in tax avoidance it is the consequence of poor advice from the fees office. Phantom mortgages are the result of poor accounting. Clearing dry rot in a partner’s home is acceptable because of the need for a ‘normal family life.’ It was the system, stupid. Dodgy expenses have been supplemented with even more dodgy excuses.

Of course self justification, which comes naturally to us all, is not the only response to evidence that we are less perfect than we think. We can admit our follies and mistakes and hold up a mirror to our actions. We can focus on our failings and promise to learn from them instead of deflecting criticism. Yet this seems to be the exception, rather than the rule. There is nothing worse than seeing people in positions of public authority stubbornly deny any responsibility for mistakes on their watch. Hence the public outrage when Sharon Shoesmith, former head of Children’s services at Haringey, refused to apologise for failings over the baby P saga. Her lack of contrition was a mistake of the heart that people found hard to forgive.

Sorry may be the hardest word, but it may sometimes keep you in your job. Someone should tell our MPs.

Taking radical groups seriously 2 June, 2009

People often argue against talking up the danger of radical Islam in Britain. Their seductive argument goes something like this: Despite their bravado and blood curdling rhetoric, Muslim extremists are in no position to seize power in the West. They proclaim the imminence of the Islamic revolution while promising to fly the flag of ‘resistance’ above 10 Downing Street. Yet they are in no position to carry out their threats. Individuals like Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri are merely figures of fun who grossly overestimate their strength and popularity. Instead of censorship, we should engage them politically so that their ideas can be held up to ridicule in the court of public opinion.

Of course there is some truth in this. No Islamist group is about to take over Britain or bring European civilisation to its knees. Abu Hamza and his fellow travellers are deluded if they think they can succeed where the Nazis and Communists ultimately failed. Their grand jihadist rhetoric promising the end of US domination, Israel and the West is big on ambition but light on realism.

But ignoring radical organizations would be a step too far. As the Centre for Social Cohesion reported yesterday, one is seven Islamist convictions in the last decade have been linked with the extremist group Al-Muhajiroun. Their report states:

‘New CSC research shows that 15% of all those convicted in the UK of terrorism-related offences were either members of, or have known links to, the organisation (Al- Muhajiroun). In addition, al-Muhajiroun claimed in 2000 to have recruited up to six hundred young British Muslims to fight violent jihad in Kashmir, Chechnya and Afghanistan, amongst others. Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 the group increased its recruitment drive targeting prominent UK universities and mosques with Bakri calling for followers to embrace martyrdom.’

Among those convicted of Islamist related offences was Jawad Akbar who was sentenced to life in April 2007 for his involvement in the fertiliser bomb plot. Another was Abdul Muhid, convicted in March 2007 for soliciting to murder during the Danish Embassy anti-cartoon protests and Mizanur Rahman convicted in November 2006 for stirring up racial hatred during the same protests.

Now Al-Muhajiroun was banned in 2005 but is not a proscribed terrorist organization. With the early release from prison of some of its key ideologues, such as Abu Izzadeen, there is, as the CSC warns, the chance for the group to regroup. Hence this statement from Douglas Murray, CSC Director: “The fact that al-Muhajiroun followers have comprised one in seven Islamist-related convictions should be a wake-up call. The Government needs to realise that when these people say they are prepared to kill in the name of their religion, they mean it.”

Indeed. It is tempting to treat these Islamist fanatics as mere figures of fun who are ripe for public ridicule. We know who has the last laugh.

Ministers resign, recriminations abound: A government in turmoil 3 June, 2009

The resignation of government ministers, and the imminent departure of Jacqui Smith, is the clearest sign of near total collapse at the heart of government. Now Hazel Blears has joined the New Labour exit lounge in a desperate effort to jump before being pushed. For weeks, she has been under pressure over her second home expenses and for her scarcely disguised attack on Gordon Brown’s you tube appearance. Blears, a fiercely ambitious woman, is no doubt repositioning herself to challenge for the top job. Her resignation was timed for maximum effect.

According to one report in the Telegraph today, Blears may have been a Blairite fall guy in a ‘Brownite’ Downing Street stitch up. There were rumours (fiercely denied by Blears) that she had leaked the imminent resignation of Jacqui Smith, rumours that may have come from within No. 10. If so, this is just further confirmation of the dreadful internecine warfare that has corroded the heart of New Labour.

Yet whatever the truth, it is clear that there is lethal paralysis at the heart of government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has allegations of financial impropriety hanging over him. The Home Secretary, herself mired in allegations of corruption, faces imminent departure while other ministers are scrambling away desperately from the heart of government. John Reid has reportedly refused the Home Office, which is hardly surprising seeing that rats rarely swim towards a sinking ship.

Gordon Brown’s personal authority is fast disappearing yet he clings to power with all his usual ruthlessness. He defies the electorate by denying a general election, the one thing that will help to purge our political class. And with the economy imploding, with public services in crisis and with grave challenges in foreign policy, this is a tragedy for us all.

Islam’s apologist in Cairo 5 June, 2009

Even before yesterday’s groundbreaking speech in Cairo, there was something distinctly unnerving about an American president addressing ‘the Muslim world’. After all, political leaders are given to addressing nations or political groups rather than religious blocs. Even Blair at his most spiritual never communicated with ‘Christendom’. So when Obama called today for ‘a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,’ he was assuming that he could appeal to the collective interests of over one billion people. As Amir Taheri pointed out in The Times yesterday, ‘This ignores the rich and conflict-ridden diversity of the 57 Muslim-majority nations and fosters the illusion, peddled by people such as Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Islam is one and indivisible and should, one day, unite under a caliphate.’

Indeed so anxious was Obama to jettison the (perceived) noxious leftovers of the Bush era that he ended up prostrate before his hosts, serving up one misrepresentation and distortion after another.

At the outset he establishes his agenda:

‘We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate…More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalisation led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.’

So are we to assume that colonialism, the Cold War and globalization are responsible for the modern tension between Muslims and the West? This sort of grovelling, half heartened apology ignores a rather more obvious reason for the conflict, namely the ideology of radical Islam. According to this pernicious belief system, modernity and globalization are part of a coordinated Western plot to destroy the foundations of Islam. Accordingly, the Western powers and their inhabitants, Muslim and otherwise, are ripe for attack and destruction in order to ensure the survival of the Islamic faith. Yet you find no mention of ‘Islamic extremism’ in the speech.

In echoes of our own government’s lily livered analysis of the terror threat, Obama merely says that ‘Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims.’ Again later in the speech he declares that while not at war with Islam, America has to confront ‘violent extremism in all of its forms.’

But what we are dealing with today is extremism dressed up in religious garb; the conflation of secular ideologies (such as fascism) with Islam itself. Obama naturally failed to mention that in the 1930s, Muslim extremists in Palestine and elsewhere had a love affair with the Nazis, an affair which continues to this day.

While it is certainly wrong to declare war against a faith and to believe that its foundational texts are monolithic (Geert Wilders’ mistake), it is equally wrong to believe that Muslim extremism is disconnected from any interpretation of the Muslim faith. Hence his later statement: ‘Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.’ But this all depends on the Islam we are dealing with. Are we talking about the Islam of Iranian ayatollahs, the Islam of Wahhabi clerics or the Islam of murderous Sudanese Islamists here? To pose the question is to see these issues in a very different light.

Obama’s obeisance reaches fever pitch when it comes to discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict. The mere fact that he can regard it as ‘the second major source of tension’ (between America and the Muslim world) betrays his rather false perspective. For many Muslims, it is the very existence of a Jewish state, indeed of Jews per se, that causes conflict with the West.

Some of Obama’s words are encouraging:

‘America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.’

Obama goes on to talk about the tragedy of the Holocaust and rightly declares that it is ‘baseless, ignorant and hateful’ to deny the murder of 6 million Jews.

But he then goes on to say:

‘On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation...’

This is a distortion of immense proportions. Firstly, to equate Holocaust denial with denial of the Palestinian narrative is itself ‘baseless and ignorant.’ Worse, it is malevolent. Secondly, it is to deny key historical facts, including the offer of statehood made to the Palestinian Arab community in 1937, 1947 and 2000-1. On each occasion, the Palestinian Arabs were offered a state of their own and, each time, they rejected it. During the same period, Arab states kept Palestinians in refugee camps so that they could use them as political pawns for their own domestic purposes. If the Palestinians have ‘suffered in pursuit of a homeland’, it is largely a self inflicted wound.

The false moral equivalence continues when he declares:

‘Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus.’

But blowing up innocent civilians is not an act of ‘resistance’, like the direct action campaigns of the Civil Rights movement. It is sheer wanton terrorism. For Obama, the words ‘Palestinian’ and ‘terrorism’ are seemingly incongruous.

Obama goes on to condemn the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements:

'Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank.’

This rather overlooks a few details. Firstly, it is Hamas, not Israel, which controls Gaza. Secondly, the West Bank Palestinians have received the highest per capita level of aid of any people on earth. They have received billions of dollars from the EU and the UN, much of which has been squandered by corruption, mismanagement and terrorism. And while it is undeniable that military restrictions like the security barrier and checkpoints do create misery and hardship for innocent people, it is facile to ignore the reasons behind these impediments. Were the Palestinians to end their state of war with Israel, those barriers would come down tomorrow.

His idealistic words about overcoming obstacles, both between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Muslims and the West, will not endear themselves to the real enemy of moderates everywhere i.e. radical Islamists. Rhetoric, no matter how sweet it sounds, will not overcome implacable hatred, whether it comes from Hamas, Al Qaeda or Ahmadinejad. Those who reject Jewish self determination and Israeli self defence are unlikely to change their position now.

When he comes to the Iranian nuclear threat, an issue of particular sensitivity to Sunni Egypt, there is a baffling refusal to see the issue clearly. Bush was clear that a nuclear armed Iran, led by the Holocaust denying, racist Ahmadinejad, was a danger to its neighbours, the region and the world as a whole. For Obama, the danger is instead a ‘nuclear arms race in the Middle East.’ And then he offers a nod to lefties everywhere with the following gem:

‘I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons.’

Excuse me? Does the President of the world’s most powerful democracy really believe that his own nuclear stockpile is as dangerous as that of Kim Jung Il or the Iranians? If so, he has no business trying to dissuade Tehran from joining the nuclear club. And if that is his view, he will lose allies not just in Jerusalem but across the Sunni Middle East.

By the time he comes to address democracy and human rights, the die has already been cast. Unlike Bush, who vigorously championed the cause of freedom and democracy, and who believed in the right of all people to change their government, Obama believes that ‘no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.’ He continues:

‘That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone.’

Yet it is scarcely possible to argue that every nation’s political system reflects the will of the people. Some nation states, particularly in the Arab world, are dictatorships presided over by autocrats who pay lip service to the ‘popular will.’ What Obama seems to be implying is that we should not presume that Arabs and Muslims are as ready for democracy as the rest of us, a peculiar and pernicious form of reverse racism. Indeed that sentiment stands in contradiction to what follows:

‘I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.’

Indeed so, and it is only in enlightened (capitalist) democracies that you get anything like this package.

And the speech continues with all manner of absurd platitudes and gushing praise. He says, in discussing religious freedom, that Islam has a ‘proud tradition of tolerance.’ But there is little mention of the ways in which non Muslims have been routinely discriminated against in Muslim societies and of how Jews and Christians have been turned into second class dhimmis. Yet he does offer this hint of criticism: ‘Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's.’

If he is talking about determined jihadists in the Muslim world, that ‘rejection’ of other faiths is measured not by benign disagreement but by suicide bombings, assassinations and genocide. What a euphemism! But whereas the onus on religious freedom should come from Muslim countries where this sacrosanct right is so frequently absent, Obama lays the burden on the West:

‘It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.’

The reference to the veil is completely misguided. Firstly, it is not so much a religious as a political garment, worn by a small minority of Muslim women with an ideological axe to grind. Banning the veil in certain restricted contexts (in a courtroom, in classrooms) is hardly the same as denying women religious freedom. It is certainly not the equivalent of arresting people for possessing a bible, as in Saudi Arabia, or persecuting religious minorities, such as the Copts. The President has simply imbibed the Islamist victim narrative here.

In sum, while Obama rightly talks up the American values of liberty, representative government and religious tolerance, while he rightly condemns Palestinian violence and Al Qaeda and while he justly calls for women’s rights and democracy, he offers a distorted analysis of the relations between Islam and the West.

This is not a Reagan banging at the Berlin Wall or a Truman standing up to Stalinist aggression. This is another Jimmy Carter, offering a naïve whitewash of Islam in the hope of winning over his enemies. Yes, relations between Islam and the West do need to change. But the onus is on Arab and Muslim nations to radically alter their societies - to empower their citizens, educate their women, offer democracy and tackle Islamist extremism and anti semitism. And it needs to be said in strong terms.

Millions of moderate Muslims, who wanted America’s leader to speak truth to power, have seen their hopes dashed at the altar of appeasement. Such are the Chamberlainite follies of America’s 44th President.

Bemoan the BNP’s success - but understand it too 9 June, 2009

The election of two BNP members to the European Parliament has been greeted with understandable dismay by the political class. It is indeed ‘horrific,’ though hardly ‘shocking,’ that an openly racist, white supremacist British party has won seats in a major legislature. Nick Griffin’s BNP will now join Europe’s corrupt gravy train, gaining invaluable funds at our expense.

But are our mainstream politicians drawing the wrong conclusions from all this? Does the BNP’s success indicate that we have, within our midst, a growing mass of unreconstructed racists, venting their collective xenophobia in our faces? Are nearly one million Britons in desperate need of 'diversity training' and cultural awareness? In fact, neither of these conclusions follows.

Firstly, we must avoid undue panic. For all their fighting talk and their despicable use of Churchillian imagery, the BNP remains a small, fringe party with no realistic hope of gaining power. They achieved 6% of the vote in the European elections which, considering the low voter turnout, is less than one fortieth of the (total) electorate.

Without proportional representation, they would not have gained one MEP, never mind two. In addition, they received fewer actual votes than in 2005, indicating that their success is partly down to the disillusionment of Labour voters who stayed away from the polls in droves. However, while it is dangerous to talk up extremists, it is equally dangerous to ignore them.

This leads to the second conclusion about these results, one which will be discomfiting for Labour and the entire political class. Quite simply, support for the BNP has come, not from hordes of malevolent right wingers, but from the heartland of the left. In areas of the North like Burnley, young, white, working class people have abandoned Labour in droves. In the North West, for example, Labour’s vote has plummeted from 576,388 in 2004 to 336,831 in 2009.

During this period, the BNP has been tapping into concerns about mass immigration, housing and the rise of fundamentalist Islam. What has given the party a seductive appeal (for some) is that these core grievances are ones on which the mainstream parties have been silent for years. Labour, in particular, has been stifling debate on immigration for years.

In May 2007, Margaret Hodge, as Minister for Industry and the regions, suggested that the allocation of council houses had to be perceived as fair. She went on to say that it was perceived as unfair because newly arrived immigrants with children were being given priority over those who had lived and worked in the country for years. But for suggesting that the ‘indigenous community’ had a ‘legitimate sense of entitlement’ she was denounced for ‘using the language of the BNP.’

When in the same year, Sayeeda Warsi spoke out against the ‘out of control’ tide of mass immigration, she was denounced by the left for her ‘grotesque’ views. The unspoken assumption in each case was that to challenge unrestricted immigration was unpardonably racist and xenophobic. If there are core grievances which cannot be discussed at Westminster, they will be exploited by the far right, with the pernicious racist twist that only the far right can provide. See the BBC website for more on this.

Allied to the government’s obsession with mass immigration is the doctrine of multiculturalism, a form of moral relativism which elevates the values and identity of ethnic and religious minorities and denigrates white, British nationalism. In practice, it has led to the creation of ethnic ghettos with segregated communities cut off from the mainstream. Many of these ghettos have bred Islamist fundamentalism which the government, to the chagrin of Muslim moderates, has done little to curb.

It is no surprise that Griffin made this statement recently: ‘There's a huge amount of racism in this country. Overwhelmingly it is directed towards the indigenous British majority, which is one reason we've done so well in these elections." He was playing on the idea that the political class, in its obsessive quest to uphold a politically correct, minority rights agenda, had abandoned the white majority in this country. Rightly or wrongly, this perception has now had dire electoral consequences.

The answer to all this is simple. The BNP will not be defeated by simplistic slogans which paint all their supporters as racist. Instead the mainstream parties must re-engage disillusioned voters with an honest debate on immigration, asylum and multi culturalism. They must tackle the core issues being exploited by the far right and understand the grievances driving many into the arms of extremists.

Of course, there are (and will always be) xenophobic Little Englanders who regard all ethnic minorities with disdain. For these people, a fascist party is their natural home and little can be done to win them to more moderate ways. But not all those who vote BNP belong in this category.

It is easy to condemn the far right and the appalling excesses of their leaders. But it is an altogether different matter to understand their success in simple, political terms. The election of two BNP politicians has made the latter task all the more urgent.

Don’t blame judges for going soft on terror 12 June, 2009

What an unholy mess! On Wednesday, nine law lords threw the government’s anti terror strategy into confusion by ruling that the convictions of three men on control orders were unsafe. As the men had not seen the evidence against them, or even the gist of the evidence, their trials were considered unfair under the Human Rights Act. Alan Johnson was quick to express his disappointment while others, like Liberty’s Shami Chakrabati, welcomed the decision. But at least both can agree that this was a wholly predictable mess.

The government got itself into a wholly predictable mess the moment it failed to deport these suspects after 9/11. Our judges decided that to expel these individuals would breach their human rights as they would face torture and inhuman treatment abroad. Thus the men were incarcerated in Belmarsh prison where they were free to return to their native countries if they so wished. But then the Law Lords ruled that their continued detention was ‘discriminatory.’ Successive home secretaries decided that it was too risky to put the men on trial, arguing (understandably) that this would lead to the release of sensitive material in court which could jeopardise the operations of the security services.

As the government could hardly release the suspects, some of whom were deemed ‘truly dangerous individuals’, control orders appeared to be the only option. The problem is that these orders are a legal nightmare. It is certainly unfair for a suspect to be held under house arrest, unable to know the identity of his accusers, unable to view the evidence against him and subject to a trial in secret. These are surely the hallmarks of a totalitarian state. But with the imminent abandonment of control orders, even some Law Lords are queasy. Lord Hoffman thus declared:

‘I think that the decision of the ECtHR was wrong and that it may well destroy the system of control orders which is a significant part of this country’s defences against terrorism.’

But while ministers throw up their hands in despair, and the red top brigade condemn ‘soft’ judges, we should remember who is ultimately responsible for this debacle - namely our political class.

It should be the right of any government to deport foreign visitors whose presence is not conducive to the public good. But because of our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, this right has been progressively stifled over the years. Wanted terrorists have to remain on our shores because if they are deported, they may face harm abroad. As a result of this warped agenda, one to which our myopic politicians are willing signatories, Britain has become a soft touch and an international laughing stock in tackling jihadis who seek to destroy us.

Another (sad) victory for the Revolution 15 June, 2009

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent triumph has dealt a savage blow to Iranian dissidents. The ‘facebook generation’ calling for greater liberalism and economic reform have seen their hopes crushed by the re-election of this incompetent, bellicose politician. Now these same supporters face the crushing weight of state power if they dare to protest about this election. The scenes of brutality and mayhem in Tehran give the lie to the notion that Iran is a progressive, Muslim democracy.

By any account, Ahmadinejad has been a disaster for the country. His belligerent diplomacy, including his calls for Israel’s destruction, have alienated him from fellow leaders and caused growing regional instability. His mismanagement of the economy has been worse with Iran now facing high inflation and growing unemployment. It is hard to think of a less appealing head of state.

Many in the West pinned their hopes on Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s rival for the Presidency and an ostensible voice of Islamic moderation. In one sense, this is understandable. Compared to Ahmadinejad, even Genghis Khan might have seemed like an impeccable liberal with whom one could do business. But this would be a mistaken conclusion.

Mousavi does not have a history of moderation. Instead he has impeccable Revolutionary credentials, being one of Khomeini’s right hand men during the 1980s and a key figure in the Iran-Iraq war. In this position, he authorised the shutting down of Iranian universities for four years and the execution of thousands of political prisoners. He helped to mastermind the hostage crisis in Lebanon and to found the virulent group, Hezbollah. In truth, his track record in the 1980s stands comparison to any of the Middle East’s worst dictators.

Indeed had Mousavi questioned Iran’s theocracy, the Guardian Council would have barred him from standing for the Presidency, as they did with nearly 500 other potential candidates. This is because real power lies, not with a President who comes and goes every four years, but with the Supreme Leader and guardian of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei personally approves Presidential candidates and his decisions, which are final, are supported by a terrifying apparatus of state power. Thus Iran is only nominally a democracy as no one can legitimately stand against the theocracy and demand full Westernization. This is electoral fraud practised on a grand scale.

The re-election of the blundering, racist Ahmadinejad is bad enough. But what the recent election shows is that while millions of young Iranians yearn for ‘change,’ the country’s leaders are determined to stifle them. The Revolution is alive and well in the country – and nothing Obama says will change that.

The old adage is still true: Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity 16 June, 2009

For weeks, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu has been dancing on a diplomatic tightrope, forced to balance unwarranted American pressure to re-start the 'peace process' with the intransigent views of his Cabinet hawks. His speech on Sunday which endorsed, in principle, a Palestinian state, was canny, realistic and bursting with moral clarity. It offered the Palestinians an olive branch while demanding essential preconditions for Israel's security.

In a telling rebuttal to President Obama, he rejected the claim that Israel’s legitimacy rested primarily on a history of persecution. As he put it: ‘The right of the Jewish people to a state in the land of Israel does not derive from the catastrophes that have plagued our people.’ Instead it was the ‘connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel…for more than 3500 years’ that provided ample historical justification. Whether or not he intended it, Obama bought into the Arabist grievance that the Jews of Europe were ‘dumped on’ Palestine as rectification for the Holocaust, a truly egregious reading of history.

Unlike Obama, he also refused to draw any false equivalence between the Israeli and Palestinian narratives. The reason for this conflict was quite simply ‘the (Arab) refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in their historic homeland.’ Thus before further Israeli withdrawals, which would merely give oxygen to extremists, the Palestinians had to end terror and incitement while strengthening governance and the rule of law.

As he stated so clearly: ‘Many a worthy person has told us that withdrawal is the key to peace between us and the Palestinians... but the fact is that every withdrawal has been accompanied by rockets and suicide attacks.’ If in any doubt, just ask the terrified inhabitants of Sderot.

Netanyahu went on to say that a viable Palestinian state would have to be demilitarised, without an army or control of its airspace. To appreciate the force of this argument, one only need look at what happened to Gaza after it was overrun by Hamas. An alien terrorist entity used it as a base from which to launch rocket attacks on Southern Israel. The same development on the West Bank would bring ‘Kassam rockets on Petach Tikva, Grad rockets on Tel Aviv, or missiles on Ben-Gurion airport.’

The Palestinian Authority, he added, had to do two things that had thus far eluded them: recognise Israel as a Jewish state and reject the Palestinian ‘right of return’. Both remain vital to Israel’s security. The failure to recognise Israel as a Jewish state is no mere intellectual error but an integral part of the war being fought in the Palestinian mind. So long as Palestinians dream of vanquishing their foe so that they can return to ‘Palestine’ they will regard every Israeli concession as a further opportunity to weaken their enemy using violence, terror and intimidation. The right of return is another weapon in this conflict for as the Islamists well know, an influx of refugees (and their descendants) would lead to an eventual Arab majority in Israel and the demise of the Jewish state.

Were such issues to be resolved, Netanyahu said, the prize would be immense. His vision was of two peoples living ‘freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect,’ each with ‘its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government.’

In truth, not much of this is new. This has been the consistent Israeli position for decades and the subject of numerous rounds of the ‘peace process’ since the mid 1990s. It is a vision embraced by some Arab states (to their credit) including Egypt and Jordan. But after Obama’s speech in Cairo, it needed to be re-stated in clear and unequivocal terms.

Now we all have the ‘moderate’ Palestinian response. Israel’s Prime Minister stands accused of ‘burying the peace process’ and destroying ‘all initiatives and expectations.’ Palestinian officials are outraged that they should recognise Israel as a Jewish nation or settle refugees in their own state. There are even calls to resume a violent intifada. Sadly, nothing better vindicates Netanyahu’s point about why this conflict persists today.

While Iranians denounce tyranny, the White House is silent 18 June, 2009

Over the last few days millions of Iranians have taken to the streets in outright defiance of the clerical regime. During the same period, the White House has been virtually silent. President Obama has refused to offer an unequivocal denunciation of the mullahs, despite their recent crackdown which has left blood stained corpses on the streets of Tehran. Here was the President’s recent justification: “The easiest way for reactionary forces inside Iran to crush reformers is to say it’s the U.S. that is encouraging those reformers. What I’ve said is, look, it’s up to the Iranian people to make a decision.” He added that he did not want to be seen as ‘meddling.’

A second’s glance reveals this to be patently absurd. The regime is unpopular precisely because it will not allow Iranians to ‘make a decision.’ It has emasculated the list of Presidential candidates, vetted the remaining ones, tampered with the vote (as seems likely) and sought to suppress dissent from the populace. Quite simply, the upsurge in protests are happening because people refuse to be bullied into submission by a dictatorial regime.

In any case, the regime needs no excuse to crack down on its population and will, indeed, use every excuse in the book to do precisely that. In fact, Obama’s desire not to be seen as meddling has been contradicted by events. The Iranian foreign ministry has accused Western powers of “supporting illegal rallies" and making "off-the-cuff and hasty" remarks about the elections (see www.presstv.ir). In other words, they are using the classic trick of every dictatorship – pretending that the real enemy of the people is out there, rather than in here.

Despite Washington’s furious denials, the line about ‘meddling’ Westerners will no doubt resonate among Ahmadinejad supporters who will use it to justify their continuing backlash. Someone clearly needs to explain to the American President that dictatorships do not play fairly by the rules and will maximise their support by falsely pretending that their regime is under siege.

So why has Obama refused to stand shoulder to shoulder with the protestors? Ultimately, it is realpolitik based on two assumptions, one almost certainly true and one almost certainly false. Obama has said that there may be little difference between a regime led by Ahmadinejad and one led by Mousavi. This is largely correct. Mousavi was an architect of the Revolution with impeccable Khomeinist credentials, and he was an ardent champion of Iran’s nuclear programme. He is hardly the ideal pin up boy for Western liberals.

But this all gives the lie to the second assumption, namely that America’s policy of engagement could possibly work with Tehran. Obama believes that the mullahs, if kept sweet, will back down over their nuclear demands, hence his very muted displeasure at the current crackdown. The previous decade of Western engagement (appeasement), including the plethora of initiatives from the EU3, suggests otherwise. In any case, decisions on the nuclear issue are ultimately in the hands of Supreme Leader Khamenei and he shows no signs of giving up on what he sees as Iran’s divine right to join the nuclear club.

So once again, America's 44th President is being taken for a ride at the very moment that a terrorised population is crying out against tyranny. History will not forgive him.

Is it time to ban the burqah? 25 June, 2009

Following a recent call by President Sarkozy to ban the burqah in France, last night’s Newsnight featured a debate on this topic between Ken Livingstone and Bernard Henri-Levy. The flamboyant Frenchman offered a vigorous defence of Sarkozy, insisting that banning burqahs was about the enforcement of equality between the sexes.

The burqah, he insisted, was a ‘prison’ which denied women their individuality. It made the body seem like a symbol of impurity and shame; an object to be covered up from the watchful eyes of lecherous men. In a country which insists on the separation of church and state, and whose guiding Revolutionary motto includes the word ‘equality’ you can understand this argument.

For Livingstone, by contrast, this was all about cynical political opportunism. Sarkozy knew there were ‘votes in this’ and that ‘attacking Muslims’ would boost his popularity in the country. He added that Sarkozy would never dare tells nuns they could not wear their habit. For Livingstone to condemn another politician for using cynical political calculation is breathtaking to say the least. As Mayor, he was aware that there were more Muslim than Jewish votes in London and that, as a result, attacks on Israel and Zionism played out well in terms of votes.

Whatever Sarkozy’s ultimate motivations, this is a debate that cannot be silenced. And whether we agree that an outright ban is justified, it is certainly worth considering the consequences of wearing either the burqah or the niqab (veil), not just for the women themselves but for those that interact with them.

In the Western world, so much direct communication relies on the visibility of the face. We look into people’s faces and read their emotional states. We see their smiles and their cries, their pain and their rage, their puzzlement and their confusion. Open communication like this enables us to live our lives to the full and to interact with people. The veil is clearly a barrier to this form of interaction and any sensible debate must take account of this.

It is certainly not right to construe an attack on the burqah as a form of religious discrimination. There is nothing in the Koran stipulating that women have to cover their bodies and faces with a thick, black canvas. There is only a requirement to dress in a modest fashion, hence the reason why the vast majority of Muslim women in the West shun the burqah. It is instead a political symbol, imported from Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, symbolising defiant rejection of the West and its mores. It is the dress of religious fundamentalism.

Nonetheless, it may be considered draconian for the state to criminalise and regulate one’s choice of dress. It all seems rather un-English. But that does not mean that the burqah should be tolerated everywhere. It would be perfectly in order to ban this garment in certain restricted contexts. It has no place in a classroom because it hinders the right of children to communicate effectively with their teachers. In a court of law, the burqah should be banned because it prevents a jury from judging a witness’ reliability and truthfulness. At airports, the burqah should go for obvious security reasons. In each case, one freedom must be balanced against a number of others, as is the case with all human rights issues.

Sharia law - or one law for all? 30 June, 2009

The revelation, courtesy of Civitas, that there may be as many as 85 ‘Sharia courts’ operating in the UK comes as little surprise. What else are we to expect, given the growing radicalisation among Muslim youth, many of whom openly admit that they seek a Sharia compliant Britain? Who can blame mosque leaders for surging ahead with Islamic justice when they are given a moral lead by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the former Lord Justice, Lord Philips?

But it is alarming nonetheless. For here we have stark evidence that, at least in civil matters, there is a potentially parallel system of justice emerging across parts of the country. This naturally violates one of the cardinal principles of any civilised and genuinely democratic nation: namely that there is one legal system that applies equally and fairly to every citizen. This is a fundamental tenet of our society and a basic guarantee of equality.

Yet the decisions of Sharia courts remove that equality by applying the strict principles of Islamic law. Under Sharia law, a woman’s testimony in court is worth less than that of a man, nor do Muslims and non Muslims have equal status in a Sharia court. Strict Islamic religious law is therefore not compatible with the liberal, progressive and enlightened elements of Western secular jurisprudence.

Advocates of Sharia legislation would argue that it would be up to a Muslim woman to choose whether to use a Sharia court or a British civil one. But this surely flies in the face of reality. Vulnerable people from traditional backgrounds would no doubt be coerced into using religious courts, ones that would actively discriminate against them in the name of justice. Not that any of that really matters to the saintly progressives who promote our modern multicultural madness. As long as they can tick the usual PC boxes for diversity and cultural tolerance, they are happy. How very depressing.

Obama and the dictators 1 July, 2009

In a perceptive blog on the Telegraph website today, Nile Gardiner asks why Obama appears to be siding with dictators. Here is what he says:

‘It took Barack Obama 10 days to speak out clearly against the savage beatings and killings meted out by the Iranian regime on the streets of Tehran. It was just a matter of hours however before the Obama administration was loudly voicing its condemnation of the bloodless removal from power of populist dictator Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.’
What happened in Honduras is that Zelaya, who was elected months earlier, sought a referendum (against the wishes of Congress and the Supreme Court) which would have given him effective dictatorial powers. The army, fearing the rise of yet another populist leader in Latin America, removed him without bloodshed and installed a new leader who promised to respect the country’s democratic constitution. Yet the near universal response was an inexplicable clamour for Zelaya’s reinstatement. The loudest pro Zelaya voice could be heard in the White House.

By supporting the ousted leader President Obama has, in Gardiner’s words, ‘joined the odious likes of Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega and Fidel Castro in calling for Zelaya to be reinstated…Instead of siding with pro-American forces in Honduras who actually believe in constitutional democracy, Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aligned themselves with America-haters like Chavez, Latin America’s biggest despot, and close ally of Iran.’

It took Obama more than a week to offer a robust response to the bloodshed in Tehran. He should have applauded the valiant march for freedom in Iran from day 1 and condemned Tehran’s dictators for the freedom denying, Jew hating Islamists they are. He badly misread the coup in Honduras which was about confronting a would be leftist dictator (in democracy’s guise) who wished to emulate the success of his Venezuelan ally. He should have welcomed a chance to restore genuine democracy in Latin America instead of demanding Zelaya’s return.

America’s 44th President, the ‘leader of the free world,’ appears to value stability and realpolitik over supporting the genuine voice of freedom around the world. He pays lip service to American values but he remains haunted by Bush, the leader who believed in promoting these values pro-actively, especially in regions blighted by tyranny and authoritarian government.

So when it comes to promoting freedom and American interests around the world, give me Bush and the neo cons (for all their flaws) over Obama any day of the week. He is simply on the wrong side of history.

A licence to teach? More like a licence to intervene. 5 July, 2009

A licence to teach? It sounds eerily reminiscent of a James Bond thriller but it is in fact the latest piece of government gimmickry designed to prove that public services are safe in Labour’s hands. Ed Balls’ ‘masterstroke’ for our failing education system is to demand that teachers receive a licence for their profession which can be renewed every 5 years; something that would apparently put teachers on a par with doctors and lawyers. The idea is that those who don’t cut the mustard would be gradually weeded out, or forced to retrain until their levels of competence increased.

Now we all know that some teachers are just not up to the job. Many are jaded, lack passion for the profession or, in some cases, are just plain neurotic. According to the GTC, there may be as many as 24,000 of these incompetent professionals in Britain, nearly 1 in 20 of the teaching staff. But the government’s licence is the wrong solution to a real problem.

First of all, who would administer the sackings if teachers failed their 5 yearly tests? Balls would presumably say headteachers, backed up by the General Teaching Conucil. The problem is that headteachers already seem to do a shocking job when it comes to sackings, given that only 10 teachers have been dismissed for incompetence since 2001. In any case, to avoid claims of a conflict of interests, there would need to be an independent inspectorate to oversee the observation of teachers. But there already is such a body– called Ofsted. One has to ask how a new bureaucracy, staffed with thousands of new professionals, would do any better than the old one. In all probability, it would duplicate its work at tremendous cost to the taxpayer.

Once again, this is an unhelpful contribution from a government addicted to state intervention. Ed Balls should have asked himself one basic question: What makes an effective and competent teacher? And it seems that at least two things suggest themselves: a) Great subject knowledge b) A passion for being in the classroom.

If you want to ensure (a), then the first thing is to add rigour to the selection process. At the moment, if you enter teacher training college and complete the course, a job is as good as guaranteed. That sounds great until you consider that many of those teaching our students have inadequate qualifications in their own subjects, as well as poor numeracy and literacy skills. You need only a grade C in English and Maths GCSE which, considering the years of dumbing down, is simply inadequate. It is a scandal that a teacher with an E at A level could teach that very subject in secondary school. This is at least three grades too low.

As for b), there is a very real problem of churn with at least one in three teachers leaving the profession after 5 years. Teachers have become disillusioned with poor discipline and the plague of unnecessary bureaucracy. Balls' proposal fails to touch on either of these issues. Schools with real discipline problems need inspired leadership from the top, where headteachers (not the trendy lefties of the 1970s) impose strict boundaries for behaviour and take a no nonsense approach to ill discipline.

Motivation can be improved with the introduction of performance related bonuses rather than annual automatic increases, as well as a reduction in unnecessary paperwork. But what would really transform education would be to remove it from the clutches of the state altogether, through the introduction of a voucher system and parents’ passports. This would promote competition among schools, as they sought to entice new pupils. It would allow successful ones to expand and poor performing ones to close; it would also allow parents to open new schools and free them from the constraints of state bureaucracy.

In other words, what schools (and teachers) really need is independence instead of futile interventions from politicians. Now isn't that a radical thought?

The Guardian's allegations 9 July, 2009

If true, the Guardian’s allegations about criminal misconduct at the News of the World are barely surprising. Anyone who has read Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News, an explosive polemic about the global media, will be familiar with ‘the Dark Arts’ practised by journalists in this country.

For years, some of Britain’s top papers, both quality and tabloid alike, were willing accomplices in the illegal acquisition of confidential information. Reporters would offer cash bribes to civil servants and police officers to release confidential information; reporters would hire private investigators to hack phones and intercept messages. This was what brought down Clive Goodman, Royal Correspondent at the News of the World, and his hired investigator, Glen Mulcaire. Goodman had paid Mulcaire to hack into the voicemail messages of members of the Royal Family in order to obtain a weekly sensational scoop, in contravention of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

The allegations in today’s Guardian suggest that these dark arts were a widespread and systemic practice. They raise a number of issues, firstly about Andy Coulson, former editor of News of the world and now Communications Director of the Conservative Party. He claims, with the backing of the Conservatives, that he was in the dark over Goodman’s use of a phone hacker, yet this seriously stretches credulity. As Roy Greenslade writes in the Guardian today:

‘If he did not know, as he has previously maintained, then he is guilty of poor editorship. In my years on popular papers - as an editor and a senior executive on the Daily Mirror, the Sun and the Daily Star - it was inconceivable that any journalist could have produced an exclusive story without revealing its provenance. It was the first question an executive asked of a reporter? How did you get it? And when the executive, be it news editor, features editor, assistant editor, whoever, presented that story at a conference, any editor worth his/her salt would ask the same.’

Coulson must be called to account on how much he knew about these nefarious activities. Until he does so, his position within the Conservative party is surely untenable.

There are problems for the Press Complaints Commission too. When Coulson resigned after the Goodman affair, the PCC rather conveniently dropped its own investigation into these insalubrious activities. There were already grumblings that this regulator was nothing but a toothless tiger which was unable to control the feral tendencies of the newspaper industry. Unless it re-opens an immediate inquiry into the behaviour of the tabloids, a toothless tiger is all it will remain.

The most disturbing questions should be asked of the police. If they obtained information about the criminal interception of private phone calls, why did they choose to keep high profile victims in the dark? One of those whose calls are believed to have been intercepted is John Prescott. Surely a deputy prime minister has the right to know that people are trying to hack into his private communications, given the enormous security implications involved? And if police officers kept their silence, was this itself the result of a pay off, rather like the huge sum of money given to Gordon Taylor? The suspicion can only linger.

Of course there are times when phone hacking might be justified. If it is used to expose genuine criminality, wrongdoing and hypocrisy, it can be a valuable tool in the public interest. But when it becomes the primary means of obtaining the latest sensational scoop, it is simply immoral, shoddy and criminal.

For weeks, journalists rocked MPs with their constant expose of financial corruption and wrongdoing. Now the shoe is on the other foot. Will those same hacks who demanded transparency from Westminster now shine a light on their own practices?

Betrayal of the military 14 July, 2009

It has taken the death of 15 British servicemen in the last week to throw grave doubt on the mission in Afghanistan. According to one recent opinion poll, as many Britons support the country's continued campaign against the Taleban as want a speedy withdrawal. It is difficult to know how far this snapshot of opinion indicates a wider sense of disillusionment but it is, nonetheless, a telling indication of scepticism. And for this, the government must take some responsibility.

Of course, on the one hand, there is an increasing lack of tolerance for any wartime casualties. This is partly because a global human rights culture has seeped into the military, undermining the notion of mass sacrifice, especially in wars against 'lesser' powers. It also stems from a failure to understand the demands of a long war, such as a counter insurgency against ruthless opponents.

But for years, the army has also been let down by a penny pinching government which has failed to provide its soldiers with sufficient equipment. The lack of adequate helicopters, and the delay in providing new ones to the military, has led directly to soldiers using dangerous roads in Afghanistan, roads which are laid with lethal explosives. With the military denuded of resources, it is no wonder that casualties have risen with the terrible effects we are currently witnessing.

The army also seems to lack any clear mission in Afghanistan. Are they peace keepers with the task of turning the country into a 21st liberal democracy? Is it their job to impose Western values on this backward state? Or is their primary role to defeat the Taleban and Al Qaeda, forever preventing the country from becoming a hub for international Islamist terror? The army cannot do all these things, at least with its current slender resources. Thus the government is doubly guilty - withholding sufficient men and material while failing to convey a clear sense of overall military strategy.

The wider public anger is all the more tragic when one considers just how important this theatre of war really is. For the Taleban insurgency does need to be defeated, in order both to prevent both a resurgence of Islamism and a Taleban alliance with fundamentalists in Pakistan. It was the Taleban that gave sanctuary to Bin Laden in the 1990s and which terrorised its own population in the most egregious fashion. No one could look at their return with equanimity. But this requires a re-statement of the original objectives, namely to defeat the insurgency, as well as providing an urgent injection of military resources. If the government will not step up to the task, it is guilty of a grave dereliction of duty.

Australia dumps Ken Loach and his bigotry 19 July, 2009

In May 2009 Ken Loach, the outspoken English film maker, pressured organisers of the Edinburgh International Film Festival to return a £300 grant from the Israeli embassy which was intended to pay for the visit of an Israeli film maker, Tali Shalom Ezer. His call, which followed an earlier campaign to boycott Israeli political and cultural institutions, led the organizers of the Film Festival to return the £300 grant, though they later apologized for their actions.

This episode was objectionable on so many grounds, not least because of Loach’s ill conceived and bigoted views. Ezer’s film, after all, was apolitical and to hold her responsible for the actions of her government was manifestly absurd. The boycott call was also one sided and based on selective denunciation i.e. there were no calls to boycott festivals funded by Iran or China.

But worse still was the behaviour of the festival organisers who, having initially rejected boycott calls on the grounds that it would politicise ‘a wholly cultural and artistic mission, caved in to the film maker’s bullying behaviour. By returning the £300 grant to the Israeli embassy, they were very much tainting a cultural event with political overtones, while associating themselves with a particularly odious political agenda.

So it is good to see that at another film festival, a firm stand has been taken against Loach and his appalling bigotry. On 13th July, Loach had written to Richard Moore, director of the Melbourne Film Festival, with a request to ‘reconsider accepting Israel as a sponsor’ in view of ‘the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, destruction of homes and livelihoods’ and ‘the massacres in Gaza.’

Moore replied by pointing out that the festival had a tradition of showing films that examined many points of view on Middle Eastern affairs, including productions that centred on the problems of Palestinian life. This was on the basis of a ‘concern to show films that deal with contemporary political issues and to allow audiences to judge these films on their own merits.’ As a result, no boycott of Israel and its cultural institutions would be acceptable. In his words, accepting a boycott would be like “submitting to blackmail." Loach withdrew his film and exited the festival yesterday.

Well, bravo to Richard Moore and the organisers of the Melbourne Film Festival! How refreshing that they stuck to their principles and refused to kowtow to mindless intolerance and prejudice - unlike their counterparts in Edinburgh.

What has our political class really learnt? 28 July, 2009

You remember that expenses scandal with all those misbehaving MPs up for daily scrutiny by the Daily Telegraph. You remember how contrite they were, how they promised to reform the awful ‘system’ and provide openness and accountability. Do you remember how we were assured that this was a watershed moment which would transform the relationship between MPs and their constituents?

Well as the Telegraph reveals today, the political class (that self serving, arrogant clique in Westminster who put their own interests before those of the public) have had other ideas. In their report this morning, and as the online Green book confirms, MPs will be able to claim a £25 overnight allowance without having to produce a single receipt, potentially amounting to claims of £9,000 a year. This is something that has been agreed by a small committee of MPs headed by the current speaker, John Bercow. Like so many of Gordon Brown’s taxes, it has been passed by stealth, beneath the radar of public debate and discussion. How very New Labour!

Mr. Bercow, the man who sold himself as the ‘clean break candidate’ for Parliament may not have drawn up the £25 subsidy allowance. That honour surely goes to his far from illustrious predecessor, Michael Martin. But Mr. Bercow has not raised a word of protest about this new payment which could, of course, be open to ritual political abuse. So much for that clean break!

But what else do we expect when the other members of the committee include such paragons of virtue as Alan Duncan and Harriet Harman. Mr Duncan famously proclaimed as ‘fabulous’ a system that allowed him to repeatedly flip between properties, claiming money on each. And Ms Harman proposed a motion that would have seen MPs expenses exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, in effect meaning that we would have come to know nothing about the scandalous abuse of expenses.

Our political class has learnt nothing over the last 6 months. Consequently they will be punished by an electorate whose memories are more reliable than the promises made by MPs.

Iraq and the hostages 31 July, 2009

In a Guardian investigation today, there are disturbing revelations about the recent capture of British hostages. Contrary to the view that the 5 British men were kidnapped by Al Qaeda terrorists, the Guardian has uncovered evidence of Iraqi government collusion.

‘A former high-level Iraqi intelligence operative and a current senior government minister, who has been negotiating directly with the hostage takers, have told the Guardian that the kidnapping of IT specialist Peter Moore and his four bodyguards in 2007 was not a simple snatch by a band of militants but a sophisticated operation, almost certainly with inside hel3

The reason why state officials were so desperate to silence these men was that the 5 were busy uncovering ‘massive corruption in Iraq's government ministries.’

‘Moore was employed to install a new computer tracking system which would have followed billions of dollars of oil and foreign aid money through the ministry of finance. The "Iraq Financial Management Information System" was nearly complete and about to go online at the time of the kidnap.’

So is this the price we are paying for creating a new Iraqi democracy? Under Saddam, stories of financial corruption were the least of the West’s concerns about human rights. But in a twenty first century democracy, created with the military help of the West, protected with the blood of British and American soldiers, this is beyond the pale. Very disturbing indeed.

The McKinnon case 2 August, 2009

Ever since the Gary McKinnon case became headline news, I have been rather disturbed at some of the press coverage. A tide of populist opinion, led by the tabloids, appears to view McKinnon as a victim of an unjust American legal system and an even worse extradition treaty. The Daily Mail launched a campaign to prevent his extradition while human rights lawyers have attacked the government for not intervening.

But let us consider the facts. McKinnon may have committed crimes in this country, from a small bedroom in his house, but they had a detrimental effect on America’s security systems. After 9/11, America was in a state of heightened alert following the worst terrorist attacks in its history. McKinnon is alleged to have hacked into nearly 100 government and military computers, deleting software and copying encrypted information onto his own computer.

The cost of rectifying this action has been stated by US authorities at $700,000 while one senior officer at the Pentagon said that McKinnon’s actions constituted ‘serious and deliberate damage to military and Nasa computers.’ These allegations are serious and it is hardly surprising that the US authorities want to try him.

McKinnon argues that this was not a damaging political act, though on one computer he admitted leaving this comment: ‘US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days? It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand-down on September 11 last year.’

Rather maddeningly I find myself having to agree with the arch deacon of political correctness, Harriet Harman. On this morning’s Sunday AM she expressed the view (correct in my opinion) that it would be improper for a Home Secretary to intervene in a matter that is at the sole discretion of the courts. To do so would be an unwarranted interference by the executive in a purely judicial matter. And that is also the judgment passed by the High Court on 31st July.

Much has been made of McKinnon’s Asperger’s syndrome, and the fact that he might become suicidal if convicted in the United States. It is indeed sad that an emotionally vulnerable young man will face justice far from home and one would hope that the US authorities would allow McKinnon, if convicted, to serve his time in prison in the UK.

But we should not let sentiment override our better judgment here. It is one thing to prevent extradition on the grounds that someone will face torture or the death penalty – hence the regularity with which British courts keep dangerous Islamists in the UK. It is entirely another to argue that merely because of poor health, individuals should not have to face justice abroad.

Gary McKinnon exercised his right to appeal against extradition. He has now lost that battle and, on this occasion, the government was right not to interfere.

Kim's diplomatic triumph 9 August, 2009

It seems rather hard to fault President Clinton these days. He appears in the popular mind as charming Bill, the embodiment of virtue and saintliness who strove for peace (in our time) throughout the 1990s. His Presidency also preceded that of the 'Great Satan' George Bush, the man that all good liberals love to hate with unmitigated fury.

So when dear Bill stepped off a US plane bringing with him the two American journalists, the script was already written. This was a diplomatic coup for Clinton, and of course for the Obama administration. It was another example of the Obama effect, how the 'hand of friendship' had softened the heart of a seemingly implacable dictator and brought about a new understanding between the two nations. All those years of the 'axis of evil' were now behind us in favour of the triumph of soft power.

So misty eyed are our liberal intellectuals that they cannot recognise this for the nonsense it is. For the real diplomatic triumph belonged, not to Clinton or Obama, but to the ailing and dictatorial Kim Jung-Il. Despite years of international (particularly US) isolation, Kim received a visit from one of the world's most respected leaders, and how he will have savoured the photo showing him posing with Clinton. He now knows the heavy diplomatic price that America will pay to rescue its hostages. All this will do is whet the North Korean appetite to abduct more western hostages in the sure knowledge that Western concessions will follow. Indeed it will be hard for Kim to resist abandoning the 6 party talks on his country's nuclear programme, insisting instead on bilateral talks with the US. Yet the history of the last 15 years has shown that North Korea, while prepared to accept American concessions, is unwilling to keep to its side of the bargain.

What makes this all the more galling is that Clinton was the architect of declining US-North Korean relations in the first place, as Con Coughlin convincingly argued (and I have done previously) in Friday’s Telegraph. He wrote:

Many of Clinton's detractors argue that the former president's failure to take a stronger line with the North Koreans during the early stages of the negotiations in the 1990s is responsible for the current crisis. Far from resolving the delicate issue of Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, Clinton's disinclination to play hardball resulted in North Korea becoming a nuclear power. The real legacy of Clinton's policy is that, since Obama entered office, North Korea has tested a nuclear device, fired a long-range missile capable of hitting the US and unnerved American allies in the region by launching multiple short-range missiles. Earlier in the summer, Obama's national security advisers were so unnerved by Pyongyang's bellicose antics that they ordered Patriot anti-missile defence batteries to be set up on Hawaii. In addition, North Korea has become one of the world's leading nuclear proliferators, sharing its technology with other rogue states.

Yet the Clinton/Obama roadshow continues regardless. Saint Bill refused to 'play hardball' in the 1990s and now his Democrat successor is seemingly repeating his mistake. Of course, every nation must do all it can to protect its citizens abroad; it is the hallmark of a civilised community. But there is always a price to be paid for appeasing a dictator on his terms. America will soon discover that price.

The A level scandal 19 August, 2009

Tomorrow, the latest set of A level results is expected to show the 27th consecutive increase in top grades and passes for our students. At present roughly one in four A levels is marked with a top A grade while the numbers receiving overall passes shows a consistent annual rise. For the misty eyed political class in Westminster, this is usually a cause for celebration. Learning and teaching improve year on year, so we are told, and students have never worked harder. Those who decry these annual rises are said to be living in ivory towers, ignorant of all that hard work in the classroom. Sadly for the government, most of us can spot a con trick at ten paces.

The Office for National Statistics showed that students who received a C grade at A level twenty years ago would now be receiving an A grade. In Maths, the improvement has been by three grades, not two. In other words, the requirements for receiving grades have been eroded out of a desire to inflate the figures.

Worse, the current modular structure of the A level means that students can start with 4 subjects and then drop their weakest after one year. They can also retake an AS level (the first part) at least twice, a substantial factor in the improvement of grades. Combined, these problems mean that the A level has been consistently devalued as a mark of academic prowess and achievement. It is a national scandal.

But this is not the only A level scandal. As a report in the Independent makes clear today, there is a growing class divide at A level whereby ‘scores of state schools have become “no go” areas for pupils taking traditional A level subjects such as maths, science, history, geography or languages.’ Pupils at private or grammar schools were far more likely to be doing challenging subjects, such as higher maths, languages and history.

This may be because state schools find it harder to recruit top quality teachers in those subjects, but more likely that schools in poorer areas think that their students are more likely to obtain good grades in softer subjects. As Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, points out, this has something to do with the distorting impact of league tables. “They disrupt the behaviour of schools because they make them responsible for getting the highest scores.” Hence the eminently sensible proposal by the Conservatives to allocate a points system for different A levels, with more points going to those subjects that provide the greater academic challenge. But it is an idea dismissed as ‘preposterous’ by the government.

The inevitable consequence of the ‘A level devaluation scam’ is that universities find it harder to differentiate students on the basis of their predicted grades. Hence the story last week, also reported in the Independent, that Oxbridge were planning to reject record number of students who were predicted to get three A grades.

The solution to all this lies not in offering a new A* grade which would merely reduplicate the current set of problems. It lies partly in restructuring the A level and scrapping the modular system. The Conservative proposal for a points system should also be considered while a cap on A grades might also help. We also need an end to the constant politicisation of education that has been the norm for a generation. That means reducing the scope of the National Curriculum which has heralded an overly prescriptive approach to education and hampered the job of teachers.

Above all we need a cultural shift which reverses some of the trendy liberalism which has poisoned the educational bloodstream for the last thirty years. Instead of seeing teachers as hapless facilitators whose primary role is to unleash the creative talent of their students, we must see them as role models whose task is to transmit to pupils their own hard won knowledge. A great idea – but it might take decades.

Scotland's Chamberlain 21 August, 2009

In a long winded and rather pompous sermon, Scotland’s Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, pontificated on his country’s humanity and compassion, before announcing his decision to release the Lockerbie bomber. But if he wanted to show real compassion, he would have allowed the views of Ali Megrahi’s victims to weigh more in his decision. 270 people died as the result of a callous, premeditated act of mass murder without parallel in British history. It was the type of appalling crime that demanded justice, not for the sake of retribution, but because it would show that a civilised society was determined to protect its own citizens from savages.

Yet now the grieving families have been robbed of justice and are rightly appalled at Megrahi’s release. In effect, the man who was convicted of this dastardly crime and given a 27 year tariff, has served just 8 years of his sentence. When he arrives in Libya, he will no doubt be treated as a national hero and saviour, with a ticker tape parade to match. That will strike the victims, and most right thinking people, as ghastly and abhorrent. So too the suggestion that a deal was tied up by Tony Blair involving British commercial interests, with Megrahi’s release as part of the deal.

Of course there have long been question marks about Megrahi’s guilt and whether his accomplices, of which there were undoubtedly many, will ever be brought to justice. Further questions remain about the exact role of the Libyan government in this dastardly crime. But Megrahi had the benefit of a lengthy trial and the circumstantial evidence, according to many, was compelling. In the absence of new evidence or fresh suspects, there was little reasonable option but to keep him in prison until his death.

No one wants to see a justice system treat prisoners inhumanely. There was scope for treating this prisoner within Scotland so as to alleviate any pain he may have been suffering. But this is a world away from compassionate release which simply robs society of natural justice. MacAskill’s decision today was shameful.

Lockerbie - the plot thickens 25 August, 2009

So Gordon Brown remains silent over the release of Al Megrahi! This will come as no surprise to seasoned observers of our Prime Minister, the Macavity of British politics. Like the mystery cat, he disappears whenever trouble strikes so he can avoid potentially damaging headlines. Thus in the current scandal embroiling the devolved Scottish Parliament, Brown has been happy to let Alex Salmond’s SNP stew in their own juice. After all, Downing Street has maintained the view from the start that this has been a merely devolved decision that has nothing to do with the Westminster government.

But the more we learn about this scandal, the more we can see this for the simplistic tosh that it is. For a start there were the business meetings between Colonel Gaddafi’s son and Lord Mandelson in which the subject of el Megrahi’s repatriation was discussed time and again. Then there was the prisoner transfer agreement signed in 2007 with Libya in which Tony Blair failed to exclude el Megrahi. And how about Gordon Brown’s letter to the Libyan Colonel in which he kindly asked the Libyan leader not to provide Megrahi with the kind of homecoming you would expect for a filmstar.

Admittedly none of these amounts to a smoking gun that proves Westminster foisted this decision on the Scots. One thing we know about Alex Salmond’s SNP government is that they would never be dictated to by ‘perfidious’ politicians south of the border. But it is reasonable to conclude that Brown and his ministers would have raised little objection to the el Megrahi release. Why would they when their prime concern was to maintain favourable business links with Libya?

As for Scotland’s ‘injustice secretary,’ Ken MacAskill, his position appears to grow more untenable by the day. In another unbearably sanctimonious performance yesterday, MacAskill tried to justify last week’s decision using the sort of contorted logic you would expect in Alice in Wonderland. When asked why el Megrahi could not be released to a Scottish hospice, MacAskill confirmed this was impossible because it would have required 48 police officers to look after him. Suppose for a minute that we choose to accept this figure in the spirit of generosity. Are we supposed to believe that sparing these officers for a few weeks would have led to a breakdown of law and order in Scotland? MacAskill must be taking lessons from Gordon in how to insult the intelligence.

MacAskill, together with the rest of the SNP, saw fit to condemn Libya’s celebratory homecoming for el Megrahi. But this disgusting display of respect for a convicted mass murderer was utterly predictable from the moment el Megrahi stepped on to a plane in Scotland. After all, rogue states and dictatorships rarely show respect for civilised norms of behaviour; they just don’t play by the rules. The Scottish government’s condemnation was entirely hollow, reflecting a truly astonishing level of naivety.

As for Gordon, don’t expect any meaningful response too soon, beyond merely observing that ‘This was a matter for the Scots’ and that ‘Libya’s celebration was offensive.’ Oh, and that England did well to regain the Ashes. The stench of moral cowardice from ‘Our dear Leader’ is overpowering.

Ted Kennedy was no friend to the UK 26 August, 2009

Ted Kennedy’s passing has led to a number of fulsome tributes, not least from Barack Obama whose campaign for the Presidency in 2007-8 was endorsed by the late Senator. This is partly because of Kennedy’s longevity as a Parliamentarian, partly because of the glamour associated with his name and largely because of his championing of progressive social reform.

Senator Kennedy certainly had a history of advocating civil rights legislation. During his half century public career, he adopted liberal positions on education, immigration, gay and lesbian politics, healthcare provision and a host of other issues. He condemned apartheid and the iniquity of segregation in America. And like his brother Jack, he could also be a powerful and inspiring orator.

But he does not deserve to be remembered with the same fondness in this country. He always nursed his family’s grievance against the UK for what he saw as the hounding of his ancestors from Ireland. In 1971 he called for the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland and for talks to establish a United Ireland. He even likened the British presence in Ulster to America’s position in Vietnam, an obscene comparison considering the vast numbers of innocent Vietnamese civilians killed or injured by American weapons.

He further angered the Protestant community by saying that they should be given ‘a decent opportunity to go back to Britain'. This despite the fact that Protestants had been settled in Ulster for several centuries, far longer than the White Protestant settlers who entered America and went on to decimate the native American population.

Spurred on by his Catholic constituency to whom he had primary loyalty, he showed a lifelong sympathy with extreme Republicanism which put him at odds with the UK establishment throughout the 70s and 80s. Even when he later embraced the Northern Ireland peace process, the damage had already been done. His snub to Gerry Adams in 2005 has to be seen in the context of a post 9/11 world in which attitudes to terrorism had changed. That was why the award of an honourary knighthood earlier this year was frankly obscene.

It may seem ungenerous to condemn a man hours after his death but sometimes it is necessary. Quite simply, Ted Kennedy was no friend to the UK.

Why we were right to fight Hitler 1 September, 2009

It is 70 years ago today that German troops invaded Poland, heralding the start of the twentieth century’s second total war. The Second World War would prove to be a more devastating conflict than the first, claming the lives of nearly 50 million soldiers and civilians by its conclusion. It was a conflict that galvanised Britain and its Empire in what would prove to be a protracted struggle against Nazi Germany. Soldiers from across the colonies joined the ‘motherland’ in a united show of moral purpose lasting 5 years. This was truly our Finest Hour.

So it is still surprising to hear people argue that it would have been better for Britain to stay out of the war altogether. Peter Hitchens might count himself among the recent sceptics. In an article in the Mail yesterday he posed a rather provocative question about whether British prospects might have been enhanced by adopting a policy of splendid isolation. ‘Imagine,’ he says ‘we had been hard realists instead of sentimental romantics.’ Imagine that we had chosen splendid isolation instead of active intervention over the quarrels of Eastern and Central Europe.’

Hitchens argues that if Britain had stayed out, there might not have been a war in Western Europe as France would have followed Britain’s isolationist line. This would have left Germany and the Soviet Union to fight each other, entailing the mutual destruction of two totalitarian regimes. Britain would have remained a global top dog, her Empire might well have stayed intact and in the post war years (post war for Europe), British prosperity would have been assured. Hitchens is led to conclude: ‘However such a war ended, we would have been untainted by support for either side (Germany and the USSR), and strong enough to maintain our independence in whatever sort of Europe resulted.’

It may be tempting to assume that a compromise peace in 1940 was viable and in Britain’s long term interests. After all, Germany and Russia might have beaten each other into submission, causing the destruction of both Nazism and communism but without affecting British and imperial interests.

But this view, also expressed by the late Alan Clark, is fundamentally flawed. To leave Hitler in control of Central and Eastern Europe unopposed would have violated a cardinal principle of British foreign policy, namely to ensure a balance of power by opposing a hegemonistic Continental power. Any peace deal would have given Hitler effective carte blanche to attack Russia earlier than June 1941, bringing Operation Barbarossa forward by some months. Given the narrow margin between victory and defeat in that actual campaign, it is conceivable that Hitler might have emerged triumphant against Stalin with the additional breathing space.

With Hitler being such an unreliable guarantor of British survival, a wartime British government would have existed in a permanent state of insecurity, entailing high defence expenditure, constant vigilance and extensive rearmament. More to the point, at the end of the war, the stain on Britain’s reputation would have been terrible and long lasting. Late in life Churchill articulated this very argument. According to the memoirs of his private secretary, Anthony Montague Browne, Churchill believed that under any peace agreement, Britain ‘would have been a German client state,’ adding ‘there’s not much in that.’ This is the crux of the matter. For Churchill, it was a matter of honour, as well as national interest, to fight on against Nazi Germany. Of course, there are also 6 million moral reasons why fighting Hitler was the right thing to do.

We must never stop saluting those who bravely fought for this nation during the war. Their cause was morally and politically justified and it represented a logical pursuit of the British national interest. It is insulting and wrong headed to deprecate their sacrifice today.

Britain’s 9/11 averted – but the threat remains 8 September, 2009

The conviction of three home grown Islamists for plotting to cause mass murder on seven transatlantic airliners was an obvious triumph for our security services. Had they not succeeded in stopping these deranged fanatics, certain carnage would have resulted. Thousands of civilians would have been blown out of the sky in a spectacular act of global terror. In terms of scale and number of deaths, this attack would easily have rivalled 9/11. Jihadists across the world would have cheered another murderous attack on innocents and celebrated a grievous assault on Western life. The effect on the world economy, never mind the airline industry, could well have been severe. Once again we are reminded that fundamentalist Islam represents a grave and potent threat to our interests, not just in the UK but around the world.

The apologists who blame the Iraq war for Islamist terror need to be reminded of one thing: the death video produced by these would be ‘martyrs.’ In their view, terror would be unceasing until the West ‘left Muslim lands’ for good. But what this means is not just that Western forces would have to leave Iraq and Afghanistan but that all traces of Western influence would have to disappear from Muslim countries. This is because the real goal of jihadists is not to fight a battle with armies in ‘occupied’ lands but to create a global Caliphate ruled by Sharia law. There would be no place for secular Western institutions in such a state.

We should welcome the convictions of three would be mass murderers. And if the security services are to be believed, they are the mere tip of a jihadist iceberg which will keep us vigilant for many years to come. It is therefore essential that in the coming age of austerity, the police and MI5 receive the financial support to continue their operations. Indeed if any public services deserve to have their finances protected from pay cuts, it is these two. Their work has never been more vital to the British national interest – as yesterday’s conviction has all too clearly indicated.

New Labour’s Big Brother state just got worse 11 September, 2009

Big Brother under New Labour just got worse – much worse. From next month, all those who come into regular contact with children or the elderly, either through work or through volunteering, will have to undergo a rigorous check up by the Independent Safeguarding Authority. They will need to be vetted for past criminal convictions, disciplinary actions or unsuitable behaviour in order to maintain contact with children – or face a hefty fine. And many will have to pay up to £100 for the privilege.

In effect, this monstrously intrusive legislation makes the assumption that a quarter of us are potential paedophiles until we choose to prove otherwise. If we don’t sign up to this new database, we will be unable to work with children or vulnerable adults and they in turn will feel unable to trust us. As Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, put it: “Children’s safety is paramount but we are in danger of creating a world in which we think every adult who approaches children means to do them harm.” In addition, it will become the biggest database of its kind in the world holding sensitive details for over 11 million people. In view of recent scandals involving data loss, can we really trust such a behemoth and those who administer it?

The ISA says on its website that the scheme is designed to ‘help prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults.’ They have in mind the Soham case where Ian Huntley was able to work as a school caretaker, despite previous allegations of sexual misconduct. Certainly the case of the Soham girls was a tragedy which shocked the nation. But this scheme is the proverbial sledgehammer cracking a nut. In any case, vulnerable children are far more likely to suffer abuse in their own homes at the hands of unsuitable parents and step-parents, none of whom will be subject to these checks.

While there should be some investigative checks for those working full time with children, it is absurd that this should apply to part time volunteers, governors or school ‘visitors.’ Among those in the latter category are authors, such as Philip Pullman. He has already pledged to stop giving readings in schools in protest at the scheme, one which he rightly describes as 'corrosive to healthy social interaction.' There is little doubt that he will be followed by others who are equally incensed by the relentless march of loony officialdom. The net result will be fewer volunteers and youth workers reaching out to younger people at a time when this is vital.

In sum, this is yet another monstrous intrusion from New Labour’s Big Brother state. George Orwell would be turning in his grave.

Obama's follies exposed 14 September, 2009

For months, supporters of the US President have told the rest of us that only Saint Barack's 'soft power' approach will work with Iranian leaders. According to these Panglossian optimists, Ahmadinejad and co will only have their fists 'unclenched' at the behest of a popular American leader who is prepared to re-engage with the Muslim world. Obama's critics have derided him as an old fashioned appeaser with a dangerously naive approach to foreign affairs. They have argued (as I have argued repeatedly on this blog) that only a robust response to international threats (particularly from Iran) will force change on otherwise bellicose leaders. Now we can see why Obama's critics were right all along.

Having persuaded the US to agree to one to one talks on a wide range of issues, the first such direct contacts for some 30 years, Iran's President has blocked any discussion of the one security issue of greatest concern to the West - namely their country's nuclear weapons programme. Ahmadinejad declared: "Having peaceful nuclear technology is Iran's lawful and definite right and Iranians will not negotiate with anyone over their undeniable rights." So much for the unclenching of fists!

This is the sad denoument of an appeasement policy based on making misguided concessions. Obama said he would talk 'unconditionally' to the Iranians. He delivered a high profile speech offering to re-engage with Muslim nations in which he also apologised for Western 'crimes.' He refused, for at least a fortnight, to openly condemn Tehran’s brutal suppression of pro reform demonstrators, labouring under the delusion that if only he kept quiet about such draconian behaviour, some great diplomatic prize would be dangled before him. And he offered one to one talks with Tehran. Yet Iranian intransigence on the nuclear issue remains unchanged.

That is because no amount of soft diplomacy can alter the regime’s fundamental determination to dominate the region, using its nuclear status as leverage and various terror groups as its willing proxies. And in the absence of a robust American foreign policy, the Iranians now have time to enrich uranium until they build their first atomic weapon. According to some reports, this is now an imminent prospect.

In the face of an intransigent Iranian regime, Obama’s use of ‘soft power’ and appeasement is fast crumbling. How long before America's conceited Chamberlain learns from his mistakes?

Israel in kangaroo court land 16 September, 2009

Imagine that you are unfairly accused of a crime. You naturally demand to be tried by a jury of your peers, that is 12 people who are unbiased, impartial and objective in their deliberations. You want the trial to be presided over by a judge of unimpeachable integrity and intellectual rigour. You expect that witnesses are properly cross examined and that all allegations are ruthlessly examined.

But suppose you discover, to your horror, that the judge had directed the jury to find you guilty even before the trial had started. Then imagine your consternation when your barrister informs you that half the jury also think you are guilty before the start of proceedings. Which one of us would regard this as reasonable? Which one of us would maintain the illusion that this was anything other than a kangaroo court worthy of a tinpot dictatorship?

But when it comes to trying Israel in the court of international opinion, all this goes out of the window. For make no mistake about it, Israel has just been tried in an international kangaroo court belonging to the UN ‘Human Rights’ Council. It is no laughing matter.

Even before we look at the specific allegations, we should note that the court’s initial remit was to examine ‘all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory.’

Let’s leave aside the highly tendentious description of Gaza as ‘occupied.’ The assumption that in the recent conflict it was Israel that had committed ‘all the violations of international human rights’ gives the lie to the notion that this report was ever going to be balanced or impartial. The mandate ensured that the conclusion was predetermined, which is hardly surprising coming from the UN.

It is true that Goldstone changed the remit to include violations of international law by both sides but when one considers the report as a whole, this shift barely registered: throughout the report, the burden of guilt is laid at Israel’s door, not at Hamas. But would you expect anything else from a committee established by Syria, Pakistan and Somalia? Indeed the Human Rights Council, which set out the mandate for this report, was once criticised by Kofi Annan for having a 'disproportionate focus on violations by Israel.' That tells you something.

Furthermore, at least one person on the ‘fact finding’ mission was discredited right from the start. Professor Christine Chinkin co-signed a letter to The Times in January 2009 wrote that ‘Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence,” and that they were “contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law.” In other words, even before she was selected to sit on this commission, she had decided in advance who the guilty party was. Yet impartiality is a requirement for these investigations, as established by Articles 3 and 25 of the UN Declaration on Fact-Finding. Earth to the UN – something was amiss here!

As to the report itself, all 575 pages of it, the central claim (in conclusion) is that ‘Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity,’ during Operation Cast Lead and that ‘there is also evidence that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity.’ This is an outright inversion of truth, morality and justice. Only at the UN would we see an equation between an internationally recognised state actor (and UN member) and an internationally prescribed terrorist entity whose aim was to wipe that state off the map.

It gets worse. The report concludes that the onus is primarily on Israel, not Hamas, to redress ‘wrongs’ from the battle. Mystifyingly, the report calls for Israel (as a party the 1949 Geneva Conventions) to proceed with ‘criminal investigations in national courts, using universal jurisdiction, where there is sufficient evidence of the commission of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.’

But this is to ignore Israel’s own independent judiciary whose job is to investigate alleged abuses of military and political power. The Israeli Supreme Court is famed for its willingness to confront the government, to the point where, in 2002, they stopped an IDF operation in Jenin to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. Its activism and impartiality are legendary. Yet Goldstone treats Israel as if it is a primitive autocracy.

Goldstone's report says that Israel's actions were 'premised on a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed not at the enemy but at the 'supporting infrastructure' by which they mean the 'civilian population.' Again the report concludes that the operation 'was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole.'

But civilians were repeatedly warned of impending attacks and told to leave certain areas for their own safety. That was because the IDF sought, wherever possible, to minimise civilian casualties and target only those who were directly connected to the Hamas infrastructure of terror. Further, it was Hamas (by their own admission) who deliberately used civilians as human shields in order to maximise PR when, as was inevitable, those civilians were killed.

The report laments Israel’s refusal to co-operate with the fact finding mission. But given that the Goldstone inquiry was so utterly flawed from the outset, can you blame them?

Scrapping Trident will undermine our deterrent strength 23 September, 2009

Gordon Brown is riding high internationally. He has just been named ‘Global statesman of the year’ for his role in ameliorating the world financial crisis and he will no doubt play a prominent role at the G20. His announcement of a cut in the Trident fleet, from 4 to 3 submarines, will be welcomed in Washington where President Obama is desperate for a deal on global nuclear disarmament. Of course, Brown’s gesture is partly aimed at his own party; he knows perfectly well that many Labour MPs openly loathe the British nuclear deterrent.

But this move, if adopted by the next government, will prove a monumental strategic blunder. It will seriously undermine our deterrent capability at a time of global uncertainty.

As David Hughes argues in today’s Telegraph here: ‘At any given moment, one vessel is on patrol, one if being prepared for patrol, one is being re-fitted, and the fourth is a back-up and may or may not be at sea. Cut the fleet to three, and you see the problem. There would be no room for the unexpected. An accident or fire (not unheard of) on one of the subs would leave the fleet without a fall-back vessel.’ In other words, cutting the fleet to three vessels will give no assurance that Britain could respond to an unforeseen situation with maximum firepower. It would remove our deterrent strength at a stroke.

The argument made by Obama, among others, is that the West can hardly lecture Iran and North Korea on their nuclear programmes without producing their own meaningful gesture of disarmament. Hence David Milliband’s somewhat Panglossian hope for a world ‘free of nuclear weapons’. But this is yet further evidence of the misguided appeasement stalking both the White House and the Foreign Office.

Iran’s leaders believe that their nuclear programme is an inalienable right that cannot be negotiated or signed away. Seeing other countries disarm is likely to speed up their programme, not curtail it. This is because they will view all round nuclear disarmament as a signal of Western weakness and retreat, rather than some new found strength. And the weakness of others, as opposed to their assertion of power, is a far more intoxicating fillip to rogue regimes. It is just another lesson from history that is lost on our misguided leaders.

So has the West finally woken up to Iran? 25 September, 2009

With the news that Iran has now constructed a second nuclear site under the eyes of watchful observers, there is suddenly a sense of urgency among Western statesmen. All of a sudden, it is as if a dam has burst and some previously impenetrable truth has emerged into the public gaze. Obama and Brown sounded positively irritated today when they publicly condemned Iran's behaviour. But what did they expect? Tehran's deception and obfuscation has been the norm for the last decade as the regime has sought to play cat and mouse with Western leaders. What we have learnt today scarcely counts as a shock.

Many will nonetheless welcome the tougher sounding rhetoric from Western leaders and their ostensible determination to hold Iran to account for its illicit nuclear activities. They will also note that Russia may be about to support sanctions against the Iranians as a quid pro quo for the removal of the missile defence shield. Given that the Russians have aided and abetted the Iranian programme for so long, supplying missiles and building the reactor at Bushehr, their decision seems particularly significant.

But caution is required here. Certainly tough rhetoric does mark a change and it should be welcomed - but only if it is matched by tough policy. And here there are considerable doubts about the efficacy of what is being proposed. For one thing, sanctions can be watered down at the behest of members of the Security Council, in particular China. Nor can Obama be satisfied that he has Russia on board, as Con Coughlin argues in today's Telegraph:

‘While Mr Medvedev gives a good impression of being in charge of his own country, there are few in Russia who doubt that Mr Putin, who is now prime minister, and his merry band of oligarchs remain the real power in the land. It was Mr Putin who was behind the recent attempt to ship arms to Iran in a vessel that was subsequently hijacked by pirates. And it was Mr Putin who dispatched planeloads of security experts to Tehran this summer to help Mr Ahmadinejad suppress the post-election anti-government demonstrations. If Mr Putin wants to maintain his support for Tehran, I doubt there is much Mr Medvedev can do about it.'

Worse, the French, another Security Council permanent member, are calling for sanctions in December, a full two months after the showdown with Iran next week. The ugly spectre of global division is raised before our very eyes – we await better days with hope, not expectation.

But even if Ahmadinejad has a change of heart and agrees to end his country’s nuclear programme, this will not be an effective guarantee of Western security. For the real power in Iran lies, of course, with Ayatollah Khamenei, not the fanatical President, and there is little sign that his fist has been unclenched because of Obama’s overtures. Ahmadinejad knows full well that he owes his position to Khamenei, the guardian of the Islamic Revolution.

Unless the Iranians are warned that they face a crippling, decisive and imminent series of strikes on their nuclear facilities if they do not back down, I fear we will wake up one morning to an atomic Iran. That would be an disaster of truly terrible proportions which would imperil the West’s security for years to come.

Even now, it is not too late to act.

The police must remember who they ultimately serve 29 September, 2009

Everything about the Fiona Pilkington case is shocking and heartrending at the same time. A desperate mother forced to kill herself and her child after being subjected to a decade of bullying and intimidation by local thugs; the abject failure of a police force which simply refused to investigate the issue or take the mother’s claims seriously; the total failure of the local council to deal with the appalling spate of anti social behaviour in the lady’s road. This is the shocking reality behind much of ‘broken Britain’ in streets up and down the land.

Sadly this is not a one off. A senior officer for Leicestershire police told Pilkinton that it was wrong for the police to ‘criminalise’ young thugs. Yet it was apparently right for young thugs to terrorize an innocent family with impunity. The comment itself reveals the extent to which the police have become so politicised under New Labour that they now share the prevailing left wing view that prison is counter productive.

Another officer recently commented that it was not even the job of the police to deal with low level anti social behaviour. But if the police now refuse to confront yob behaviour in Britain, one wonders what they are actually for. Their primary role is to serve and protect the public, the law abiding majority, who see the reality of crime and anti social behaviour all around them.

Yet the politicisation of the police extends further than this. There is a paralyzing obsession with minority rights and victim culture, manifested most clearly in the decision of West Midlands police to investigate Channel 4 rather than radical imams in some of Britain’s mosques. And it can also be seen in the decision to prosecute Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang under the Public Order Act after a heated argument in which the couple condemned aspects of Islamic practice in front of a Muslim woman.

There is a widespread perception that the police are more interested in stopping ‘offence’ than offences. They are seen as the willing arm of a sanctimonious PC movement seeking to eradicate intolerance through social engineering. This is profoundly unhealthy for British democracy.

The police must re-focus their efforts on reclaiming any street which is blighted by yob violence. The target culture, which distorts police priorities, must be scrapped by the next government, together with much of the paperwork that keeps officers off the streets and in their offices. Without this common sense approach, more people will take the law into their own hands – or resort to suicide in an act of desperation.

Brown's speech inspires little confidence 1 October, 2009

So what did Gordon Brown actually offer in Tuesday’s speech to the faithful? In truth very little, beyond a stream of ill thought out and half baked initiatives, uncosted promises of more control over our lives and reversals of previous New Labour policies. In fact the only thing that really stood out in his speech, beyond his faux indifference to the Sun, was an announcement that constituents would be able to recall their MPs under certain circumstances.

Perhaps the most glaring admission of failure was his attempt to deal with rising public anger over anti social behaviour. He admitted that a certain number of problem families were blighting the lives of their neighbours and that their criminality had to be curbed. ‘We will never allow teenage tearaways, or anybody else, to turn our town centres into no-go areas at night times.” But wasn’t this exactly what we were promised in 1997, 2001 and 2005? What exactly has the government been doing for the last 12 years?

The answer is introducing endless new laws, initiatives, ASBOs and social intervention programmes while all the time making it harder for the police to maintain public order. And his new proposals for curbing anti social behaviour are just more of the same. He promised that residents would be guaranteed a 48 hour response by police to inquiries. But this says little about what the police would actually do in the circumstances, nor is the time frame likely to inspire much confidence in any local community that is regularly blighted by crime. He promised to double spending on ‘intervention programmes’ without specifying what the intervention would be or how it would curb feral miscreants who showed little willingness to accept ‘intervention.’ He said little about empowering the police and ensuring that they were freed from paperwork so they could police those streets where crime was most prevalent.

All this matters for one very good reason - law and order will be a huge political issue at the next election. It is also the starkest illustration of how the government, for all its imperious rhetoric about re-building our communities and demanding ‘respect,’ has failed the public it serves. Brown’s last ditch attempt to woo disillusioned, wavering middle class voters will prove to be yet another abject failure in the shameful history of New Labour.

If Irish hearts were smiling... 2 October, 2009

…they would reject the Lisbon treaty for a second time. Sadly it appears that the gods are looking kindly on the yes campaigners this time round. With typical breathtaking arrogance, the yes team are disseminating the usual set of misleading statements, varnished truths and blatant falsehoods in an attempt to curry favour with the electorate.

You can find a typical example on the website www.irelandforeurope.ie where the yes team state that under the treaty ‘Ireland will remain in control of its own tax rates.’ What they fail to point out is the treaty allows the EU to harmonise indirect taxes such as VAT. At the same time the EU can impose swinging fines on Ireland for mismanaging its budget deficit, currently 4 times the EU target of 3%. Tax changes can also be made under the treaty without further consulting the Irish – so much for democracy!

As Declan Ganley of Libertas repeatedly points out, the text has changed very little since it was decisively rejected last time round. And it still contains plans to transfer competencies from individual governments to the EU, remove vetoes in dozens of policy areas and create the all powerful Presidency and foreign minister. All round, this is another draconian step on the path to an all powerful supranational EU which will siphon away vital powers from member states with total disregard for the European electorate. But then hasn’t this always been the plan from the founding of the European Community?

If the Irish do vote yes, many are hoping that David Cameron will vigorously oppose Lisbon and offer his long promised referendum. They are going to be sorely disappointed. Once the Lisbon treaty is ratified, and the Irish yes vote is an important step along the way, a referendum will be redundant. A done deal is a done deal, as they say. As ardent Europhiles point out, a no vote in any such referendum would be tantamount to demanding EU withdrawal and Cameron clearly countenances no such prospect. Eurosceptics must wait for another day.

The not very ‘noble’ prize for peace 9 October, 2009

Given the absurd euphoria that accompanied President Obama’s inauguration, it is hardly surprising that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But by conferring this prize on him, the soft headed Noble committee have reduced themselves to players in a farce. They have turned the peace prize into a comedy prize.

Of course, even Obama’s most ardent fans can see this. The deadline for submissions this year was February 2009, barely a fortnight after Obama was sworn in as President. In other words, he was awarded the most prestigious prize in international statesmanship for doing, er, precisely nothing. That’s right. He had then, as he has now, no specific foreign policy success to talk of. No wonder one of the President’s aides is reputed to have asked whether it was April 1st!

But Obama did achieve something in his first two weeks – he offered the right kind of rhetoric. He promised a world free of nuclear weapons. He committed his administration to unconditional talks with America’s enemies, including those who would naturally demand American self flagellation prior to making concessions. He also subscribed to the left wing idiocy which views the United Nations as a positive force in the world.

In other words, he offered a humbling apology for the Bush era and the idea that America could exert its military power without the stultifying encumbrance of international law. Obama is not Bush – and that matters to the appeasement hungry peacenik brigade in Scandavania.

But don’t be surprised by any of this risible nonsense. In 1993 that arch terrorist godfather (sorry, far-seeing prophet of peace) Yasser Arafat was another recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize after his efforts to dupe the West (sorry, advance the peace process). And that award worked out well, didn’t it?

Expenses: MPs still don't get it 14 October, 2009

Have our MPs learnt nothing from the expenses scandal? Judging by the intemperate comments being made from all sides of the House of Commons, it would appear not.

Members by the dozen appear incensed by the findings of Sir Thomas Legg, the man who carried out a painstaking investigation into their abuse of parliamentary expenses. Many are now threatening to defy their party leaders by refusing to make the payments Legg has demanded.

All this demonstrates is the same outrageous arrogance that characterised the scandal in the first place. MPs were using the expenses system, not to gain recompense for genuine political costs, but as a means to augment their salaries. They made claims for the most dubious items that had merely spurious links (or no link at all) to their actual jobs. Hence the claims for expensive bookcases, duck ponds, camellia and moat houses which will live long in the memory.

Some, like the esteemed Jacqui Smith, were abusing the second home allowance, designating their main property as a second home in order to claim thousands in mortgage relief. Smith herself pocketed over £100,000 of taxpayers’ money this way yet the Commons standards and privileges Committee has not asked her to cough up one penny. Some would call this chutzpah. I call it legalised theft.

The claim that it is unfair to set retrospective limits on expenses rather misses the point. The system as it was compromised, and as it was agreed by MPs, was wrong in the first place. The MPs version of the Nuremburg defence (I was only following the rules) was thus irrelevant.

They should have seen that they were exploiting the taxpayer to feather their own nests and behaving in a manner that was both dishonourable and potential criminal. It was the morality, stupid. Those members who have attacked the soundness of Legg’s reasoning are conveniently overlooking their own wrongdoing. They need an irony transplant.

Perhaps our politicians assume that the electorate have short memories. Given the depth of this scandal and the contemptuous response of many at Westminster, they may be in for a shock next summer.

2 cheers for free speech 17 October, 2009

When you experience the harsh climate of censorship and intimidation on issues of race and religious extremism, it is easy to overlook freedom’s occasional triumphs. This week two episodes have shown that, despite their best efforts, the left lobby have failed to stifle debate on contentious matters.

First was the decision by the Asylum and Immigration tribunal to overturn the ban on Geert Wilders visiting the UK. As I argued in an earlier post, Wilders’ views are hardly balanced or nuanced when it comes to Islam. His short film Fitna is a graphic portrayal of the evils of radical Islam, suffused with quotes from the Koran that talk of killing the unbelievers, Jews and other ‘apostates.’ Yet Wilders gives the impression that he is attacking Islam, rather than a militant interpretation of the faith, which somewhat undermines his argument.

Yet while he may not be a model of community cohesion, it was patently absurd to exclude him from the UK on the grounds that his presence was not conducive to the public good. Showing his film to the honourable members of the Lords was hardly a form of incitement. Yet Ms. Smith kowtowed to the demands of Muslim peers like Lord Ahmed and saw Wilders barred for no good reason. As the maverick Dutchman touches down in London today, he will be the first to acknowledge that the reversal of this ban is long overdue.

Equally welcome is Channel 4’s announcement of a new series which aims to break the taboo linking race with intelligence. The series, Race and Intelligence: Science’s last taboo, to be aired in a fortnight, will examine claims by some reputable scientists that brain power is linked to one’s race. These scientists will argue that among the most intelligent people in the world are Asians from parts of Japan and Korea while Australian Aborigines have the lowest average IQ. Channel 4 bosses have indicated that these issues will be challenged.

Now of course these claims may all be misguided tosh. There are question marks over the whole concept of race and whether different groups of humans, merely in virtue of their different physical characteristics, can be thought of as distinct races. But if it is unscientific nonsense, let it be exposed as such. When the esteemed James Watson planned to address this very question at the Imperial Science Museum, he was banned from speaking and sent packing to the USA.

It is good that both Channel 4 and the Asylum and Immigration tribunal have stood up for freedom and opposed censorship.

Exposing BNP bigotry 19 October, 2009
Last night I attended an event at SOAS which dealt with the rise of the BNP and the reasons for its recent political breakthrough. One of the speakers was Ed Hussain, a former Islamist and current director of the Quilliam Foundation. The broad thrust of his argument was persuasive, namely that we could not afford to close down debate with the BNP, silence them or pretend that their supporters were unreconstructed racists. Instead we had to explain why disaffected sections of the white working class in Northern areas of England were being enticed by this openly fascist organisation.

He pointed to the existence of 'no go areas' in certain Northern cities, areas where Muslims were failing to integrate and where non Muslims were treated with hostility. In these hotspots, extremism and radical ideas were flourishing with vigour, driving white youth into the hands of canny politicians with the ability to exploit grievances. In other words, the failures of multiculturalism (though he didn't identify the word) were in part to blame for the BNP's recent electoral triumph. Hussein's argument, coming from a non Muslim, would be dismissed as racist scaremongering. But his argument resonates with people across the country.

It is within this context that we must think about the forthcoming appearance on Question Time of BNP leader, Nick Griffin. Griffin’s appearance seems justified, given that his party made a breakthrough in the European elections. But is also a priceless opportunity for him to gain publicity and show himself as the ‘martyr’ of British politics.

Sadly the political class are likely to facilitate this as the party candidates facing up to Griffin are Sayeeda Warsi, Jack Straw and Chris Huhne. In other words, a group of politicians who broadly share the consensus in favour of mass immigration, multiculturalism and European integration, with all the baleful consequences that have flowed from these policies. But these are precisely the issues which the BNP has exploited so successfully in recent years. Griffin can therefore position himself as the arch critic of policies which have alienated a broad mass of British voters.

Of course, the BNP reeks of bigotry and racism. It is a White supremacist organisation, led by a Holocaust denier, while its positions on immigration and race are well known. But if Griffin is merely accused of being a racial bigot on Thursday night, he will gain a priceless victory. What his critics must do is sympathise with the underlying grievances that ignite support for the BNP while exposing the additional bigotry at its core. If critics of the far right do this convincingly, they will expose the BNP agenda clearly and the party will start to wither and die.

Update: For the most part, Nick Griffin was exposed as a ranting and deluded bigot, a slippery and evasive politician prepared to say almost anything to avoid bad publicity. To this extent, his co-panelists made mincemeat of the BNP leader. But the best question of the night came from a man who asked whether the BNP's electoral breakthrough came about as a result of the government's disastrous policy on immigration. This was so obviously true that it was painful to watch Jack Straw offering his own slippery defence of New Labour's record since 1997. For as I argued above, it is the sham policies on immigration, asylum and multiculturalism that have attracted people to the BNP and without a substantial change in policy, little will change.

Mass immigration and the plot to change Britain 29 October, 2009

Perhaps the most execrable sight on last week’s Question Time was the ghastly sight of the BNP leader grinning while being confronted about his racist past. The political class were united in their hatred of the man and all he stood for, a view shared by the metropolitan audience assembled for the day.

But awful though he was, it was obvious how much the BNP had been boosted by the lamentable failures of government policy. For a decade or more, unlimited immigration, multiculturalism and overall nation trashing has been a godsend to the far right, creating a sense of grievance that extremists have exploited to maximum effect. Now they have another grievance which is sure to send far right pulses racing.

Last weekend, Andrew Neather, a former speechwriter for some New Labour ministers, revealed the real reasons behind the policy of mass immigration this decade. Taken at face value, they prove that this government carried out the most far reaching and destructive act of social engineering in our modern history.

Back in 2000, Neather wrote a landmark speech given by immigration minister, Barbara Roche, in which the shift towards mass immigration was publicly announced. But an underlying motivation of this policy, according to Neather, was ‘to make the UK truly multicultural’ and to ‘rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date.’ He was in a position to know, having seen earlier drafts of a report into mass immigration that preceded Roche’s speech.

What Neather is saying is that ministers wanted to transform the social map of Britain, entrenching a doctrine of multiculturalism and humiliating Britain’s right-wing in the process. It is hard to imagine a more spiteful way to do politics even by the low standards set by New Labour.

He adds that there was a ‘reluctance elsewhere in government to discuss what increased immigration would mean, above all for Labour's core white working-class vote.’ It is hardly surprising to hear this. Ministers know now, as they knew then, that wages and job opportunities are always depressed with every new influx of low skilled workers.

But instead of deriding this cynical abuse of power, Neather is gleeful. In a variant of the ‘they take the jobs we won’t do’ he argues that we have all benefited from the legions of au pairs, cleaners and nannies that have flocked from across the world. And he calls for politicians like Frank Field, who call for limits on immigration, to stop whingeing.

He says this despite knowing that the House of Lords economic committee showed that there were few, if any, economic benefits from mass migration. This despite the fact that Britain has become the second most overcrowded country in Europe, that its hospitals and schools in the South East are often at breaking point and that support for further immigration is at an all time low. And yes, despite the fact that the odious BNP has made an electoral breakthrough in European elections.

Yet as Melanie Phillips points out on her own blog, the most disturbing feature of this episode is how little the opposition has been making of all this. David Cameron failed to mention this report at Prime Minister’s Questions and no opposition attack worthy of the name has been mounted on government ministers.

The Tories are still petrified of being tagged ‘the nasty party’ and thus prefer the very conspiracy of silence that has dogged this debate from the outset. The only winners here are the BNP who will naturally exploit this issue for all it is worth. They will point to an official policy of encouraging diversity and multiculturalism while attacking the deafening silence from the opposition. The next time you see Mr. Griffin grinning on Question Time, you’ll know why.

As America recovers, Brown's reputation slides 30 October, 2009

Yesterday came the news that the United States was officially out of recession. After an unprecedented fiscal package, including the underwriting of the ‘cars for clunkers’ scheme, and significant dollar devaluation, the world’s leading economy appears to have finally turned the corner. This will naturally come as a huge relief to the Obama administration which has staked its reputation on engineering an economic recovery. It is also great news for the rest of the world as the USA remains the motor of economic growth and its fortunes are inextricably linked to those of the wider world. As they say, when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. If recovery is sustained, it is surely good news for us all.

But it also makes an utter nonsense of Gordon Brown’s claims to economic credibility. Last year he claimed repeatedly that Britain was best placed to weather the storm of recession; that it would help to lead other nations out of their financial travails. Brown strutted the world stage like an imperial messiah, promising that his economic ‘good news’ could save mankind. Now what do we see? As we near the end of 2009, Britain, almost alone among the world’s leading economies, remains mired in recession, despite the government’s vast package of taxpayer funded measures. So much for Britain ‘leading the world’ into recovery! So much for ‘no return to boom and bust’! So much for the poetic phrases from the Brown lexicon which now come back to haunt him with a vengeance.

Fort Hood was more than an ‘American’ massacre 9 November, 2009

If President Obama and the mainstream media are anything to go by, the Fort Hood massacre was just a typical American crime committed by a deranged loner. We have been told so far that Major Nidal Hasan had psychological issues arising from his experience of war; that he went off the rails and snapped because he was 'upset' about an imminent posting to Iraq; that we should largely ignore his religious background as this would provide irrelevant context to his crime. This conspiracy of denial has naturally taken root among the left wing British intelligentsia of which the BBC is a prime exponent.

In fact, the liberal media states all but the most obvious: that this man was a cog in the global wheel of Islamic jihad and that his murderous rampage was the result of lethal indoctrination at the hands of other fanatics.

Consider some of the facts. Major Nidal Hasan had already praised suicide bombers in uncompromising terms, something that was brought to the attention of the FBI months earlier. We know that he attended the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Great Falls, Virginia where the resident radical imam radicalised 2 of the 9/11 bombers before their heinous act of mass murder.

He was disciplined in the medical military school for proselytizing to fellow soldiers, telling some: ‘I'm a Muslim first and an American second.’ Just before his deadly attack he shouted the words 'Allahu Akbar’ (God is great). And according to a doctor who was in a graduate program with him, Hasan regularly described the war on terror as a 'war against Islam', a radical attitude that is part of the intellectual territory of all jihadists.

But such is the culture of dissimulation when it comes to Islam that none of this can be regarded as evidence of religious indoctrination and extremism. No, instead we must believe that religion played no part in this ‘American’ atrocity. This is just another victory for the ‘cultural’ Islamists whose war on the truth knows no bounds – and who use ‘progressive’ liberals as their useful idiots.

The Berlin Wall's destruction did not bring an end to ideology 10 November, 2009

Twenty years ago the Berlin Wall came crashing down, symbolising the destruction of the communist ideal that had imposed it some three decades earlier. It was an inspiring moment for the peoples of Eastern Europe who had been forced to live under tyranny since 1945, as well as a significant victory for the West. Democracy truly came alive for millions of subjugated people in 1989.

This, we were assured, was ‘the end of history.’ Western liberal democracy and capitalism had now triumphed in the marketplace of ideas. Ideology was dead. Yet this was a Panglossian vision that began to disillusion its most ardent supporters.

Radical Islam has burst on the world scene in the last three decades, leaving a trail of terror and violence in its wake. Islamist extremists have struck across the Middle East, the Asian subcontinent and parts of Africa. In Iran, they have control of a state and are determined on possessing nuclear weapons. In the last 30 years, they have killed and injured millions in their relentless quest for territorial domination and cultural subjugation. In their own way, these extremists have offered the most direct challenge to the Western ideals of liberal democracy and freedom.

Elsewhere authoritarian rule has barely been extinguished. China is a colossus striding the world stage; there is barely any question in contemporary world affairs that excludes the Chinese perspective. But despite significant measures of economic liberalisation, the country is a political tyranny which denies the most fundamental rights to its people. China has armed and funded other tyrannies across Africa, such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, while it remains close to North Korea, a dangerously reclusive Stalinist state.

Russia too exhibits some features of authoritarian rule despite its ostensibly democratic status. Its leaders’ pro Western stance in the 1990s has given way to ‘Putin paranoia’ a decade later. The country has used its energy resources as a weapon against ‘new Europe’ while the state maintains a ferocious crackdown on internal dissenters. Russia’s axis with Iran and China is hardly surprising.

Challenges to the West then remain as potent as ever. But what is disturbing is that Europe seems unable to face up to them. As Robin Shepherd points out in his brilliantly incisive book A state beyond the pale, Europe is weighed down by its past to the point where it is suffering ‘civilisational exhaustion.’ The European Union, set up originally to eschew violence and the resort to war, has been transformed into a lethargic oasis of pacifism and denial.

Its leaders, many influenced by the hard left, condemn the use of force and the assertion of national power to resolve disputes. They believe ultimately that all conflicts must be resolved by negotiation and dialogue rather than the exercise of military might. They accept the primacy of law and democracy but have no desire to defend them. So when it comes to confronting radical Islam within Europe, the challenge of terror in the Middle East, or authoritarian Russia, Europe has no answer. Its leaders may occasionally talk tough but their solutions are moribund.

Europe’s leaders need to look again at those pictures from 1989. They need to see those demonstrators dismantling the Berlin Wall, shattering the structure of tyrannical rule that imprisoned them for 28 years. They need to listen to those who risked their lives challenging the most soul destroying despotism since the Second World War. Then they might realise that paying lip service to freedom is never enough. You have to fight for it too.

Oxford University honours a victim of Iranian terror 13 November, 2009

Last year Oxford University was censured for inviting David Irving and Nick Griffin to its debating society. The decision was rightly branded as obscene, given that it extended an unwarranted platform to two peddlers of hate who did not deserve such a privileged platform. It is not the first time that British academia has debased itself with such sloppy and misguided judgement.

But in the last week, the University of Oxford has shown a far more courageous streak. Queen's College has just created the 'Neda Agha-Soltan Graduate Scholarship' offering £4,000 for philosophy students of Iranian descent. 27 year old Neda Soltan, an Iranian philosophy student, was shot dead in June this year by the Basij militias while she stood at a rally in Tehran.

Her death, captured on You tube and broadcast around the world, made her an instant symbol of the Iranian people's struggle against tyranny, a potent reminder of the regime's ruthlessness and brutality. She achieved the same status as Lech Walesa in the 1980s who also powerfully symbolised the fight against tyranny, albeit of the communist variety.

This award honours Neda's memory and recognises that students across Iran are among the principal victims of its their government's clerical fascism. As Leyla Ferani points out in the Telegraph, the award 'honours the whole student body in Iran which has been repressed and tortured by the Islamic Republic.'

Let us see more scholarships for other victims of Iranian terror. For on this occasion, Oxford is most definitely on the right side of history.

Serving up bigotry on a plate 17 November, 2009

So we can all rest assured then. Clearly those who allege that the UK is at the apex of a frenzied campaign to delegitimise Israel have got it badly wrong. Far from engendering hostility to the Jewish state, the British media, and much of our political class, is actually running scared of a powerful lobby that operates ‘behind the scenes’ and on behalf of a shadowy ‘foreign power’ which uses its considerable financial muscle to gain unwarranted influence in the halls of power.

I refer, of course, to last night’s sloppy, ridiculous, bigoted and amateurish Dispatches documentary that investigated Britain’s ‘pro Israel’ lobby. Anyone watching this programme would think that the groups who try to promote Israel’s case in the media are part of some nefarious, shadowy conspiracy that actively undermines Middle East peace and damages Britain’s foreign policy interests. Yet Peter Oborne had the temerity to declare by the end that he had amassed ‘no evidence of a conspiracy.’ Oh well, that’s ok then.

As evidence of the purported power of this lobby, Oborne looked at a dinner held by Conservative Friends of Israel some months after the Gaza war. Oborne was ‘astonished’ that David Cameron made no reference to Gaza at the dinner and that he went out of his way to praise Israel for helping to ‘protect innocent life.’

The subtext was obvious – the CFI had managed to subvert Cameron’s political instincts by offering financial inducements to keep him quiet. What the clever Oborne missed is that during the actual war itself, when Israel needed its ‘friends’ the most, Cameron had quite a lot to say about Israel’s operations. He went out of his way to condemn the ‘violence’ in Gaza and to call for a ceasefire while William Hague used the canard of disproportionality on several occasions. Like the Almighty, I guess the lobby too needs a day of rest from its labours.

Oborne provides ‘proof’ of how this determined lobby foists itself on the BBC, bombarding it with evidence of anti Israel bias and forcing it to investigate such esteemed personalities as Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin. But the implicit charge that this pressure is unwarranted is undermined by the fact that Oborne fails to investigate the bias in the first place. In other words, his guiding assumption is that the BBC is, as it claims, completely neutral and that its famed impartiality is being subverted only because of this powerful and vocal minority. Pull the other one, Mr. Oborne, it’s got bells on.

Of course such a sloppy programme could not be complete without one of the most fashionable canards of all, namely that critics of Israel are being stifled by accusations of anti semitism. Naturally if you watch this documentary, you’ll assume that all commentary on Israel is as articulate and apparently reasonable as that of Tony Lerman, a writer on the Guardian’s Comment is free, and the only case examined where an individual was (falsely) accused of anti semitism.

Yet anyone who reads Comment is Free will have already experienced the most nauseating vitriol from its readers whenever the subject of Israel rears its head. In fact, as the brilliant Robin Shepherd points out in his blog, you can see a torrent of the same anti semitism in the comments left on Channel 4’s website. Oborne’s failure to note any of this is sloppy at best, malicious at worst.

The neutral observer will naturally conclude that pro Israel groups actively stifle debate by falsely accusing people of bigotry – in order, of course, to protect the interests of a ‘foreign power.’ Oborne has unwittingly given a free pass to anyone who wishes to vilify Israel and then claim their discourse is reasonable.

But while we all cower before the terrifying spectre of the Zionist lobby, a power which lords itself over the British establishment and foists itself on a fragile media, we can still only wonder at how Israel continues to get such shabby treatment in this country. Mr Oborne, over to you…

Standing up to bigotry 18 November, 2009

In today’s Comment is free, the eminent historian, David Cesarani, takes apart Monday’s Dispatches documentary with aplomb. As to Oborne’s first charge, that the various pro Israeli advocacy groups operate beneath public radar in semi covert fashion (which, if true, is a conspiracy in all but name), Cesarani has a simple enough answer.

‘The same can be said about Michael Ashcroft, Rupert Murdoch, the arms industry, the Saudi Arabians, and the list can go on.’
Indeed there is nothing unusual in a lobby group failing the kind of transparency tests that Oborne sets for the Israel lobby. And that would scarcely be an issue if Oborne had no problem with the lobby – which he clearly does (see below). But it turns out that Oborne has erected an almighty straw man in any case. For as Cesarani explains:
‘The evidence he amasses comes mostly from publicly disclosed sources, such as the register of MPs' interests. Political donations have to be made public, too, and these lists provide much of his ammunition. Like many who claim to expose the secretive behaviour of lobbyists, it turns out that much of what they do is already open to scrutiny.’
The more serious charge in the documentary is that supporters of Israel try to crush debate on the Arab-Israeli conflict by falsely accusing others of anti semitism. In other words, they actively scare off the media from reporting images and viewpoints that are harmful to Israel’s interests.

As I pointed out yesterday, you’d have to be living on a different planet to think that Israel escapes censure, both of the moderate and informed kind (less common) and the wholly irrational (more common). Cesarani makes a similar point:

’Anyone who remembers the coverage of Israel's assault on Gaza or the battering of Lebanon in 2006 may wonder what more the media could have done to show the appalling effects of Israeli military tactics.’

The notion that the pro Israel lobby leaves the Guardian, the Independent and BBC running scared of disseminating anti Israeli perspectives is demonstrably absurd.
In the documentary, Oborne pointed to Paul Zabludowicz as an example of a wealthy Jew whose financial investments were allegedly subverting the peace process. Zabludowicz owns a share in a shopping mall in Ma'ale Adumim, a town in the West Bank. He is also a major funder of BICOM.

Aside from the fact that Zabludowicz is less shadowy than is made out (he is mentioned in the Sunday Times rich list and has received mention in the Jewish Chronicle), it is a mystery why Oborne singles him out as a potential obstacle to peace when, as Cesarani is at pains to show, there are much better examples of conflicting interests. ‘How do Poju's (Zabludowicz’s) real-estate deals compare with UK investments in the Middle East oil industry or arms sales to the Gulf states?’

But none of these issues would matter to Oborne were he to perceive the pro Israel lobby in purely benign terms, which he does not. He seems to regard any possible amity between the UK government and Israel as a strategic liability which will do untold harm to this country’s interests. Hence his belief that the actions of the pro Israel lobby are believed to be ‘subverting’ UK interests. As Cesarani points out: ‘Oborne never pauses to explore whether Israeli friendship might be a strategic asset at a time when the UK and Israel face the same threats in the Middle East.’

The failure to consider the enormous benefits of a strong bilateral relationship between the UK and Israel is the result of Arabist thinking. In other words, the very kind of thinking that has always dominated the upper echelons of the Foreign Office. For all his skills as a campaigning journalist, Oborne has simply imbibed the very worst of today’s conventional thinking.

Speaking truth to power at the UN 19 November, 2009

The formidable UN Watch, an NGO dedicated to revealing the ineptitude and prejudice that stalks the UN, has posted on its website the statement made by Colonel Richard Kemp to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Read it in its entirety. You can only admire the courage and insight of this man who has spoken truth to power with crystal clarity.

Thank you, Mr. President.

I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee.

Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.

Hamas, like Hezbollah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.

The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.

The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy's hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.

Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.

More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas’ way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians.

Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.

And I say this again: the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Thank you, Mr. President.

The gathering Persian storm 24 November, 2009

A month ago, the deadline passed for Iran to respond to a deal on its nuclear programme. Under the terms of the deal, Iran was required to ship the bulk of its low enriched uranium to Russia where it would have been processed and returned to Tehran for purely civilian purposes. It was hardly a great or robust deal for it allowed Iran to continue its prohibited activity, namely the heavy enrichment of uranium. As compromises go, it was highly questionable. Yet perhaps the thinking was that if Iran could be appeased for long enough, some goodwill would emerge on both sides sufficient to create a more viable long term settlement.

Well now we can all see the baleful consequences. Iran prevaricated for a number of weeks, offering half hearted interest, feigning enthusiasm one week and making denials the next before finally signalling it would not agree to this deal. Of course this is a mere extension of the cat and mouse diplomacy that has so characterised the Iranian regime. Say anything to get Western leaders off your back while reneging on any commitments in private.

And yet what do we hear from Western leaders? Disappointment. That's about the sum of it. There is vague talk of a new sanctions policy at the UN but we know that Iran's economic allies on the Security Council, Russia and China, will water this down. And the chances of military strikes against Natanz or Qom seem more remote still. The Washington establishment remains convinced that the repercussions of such action outweigh those of a nuclear Iran. It seems likely that the White House is preparing itself for a policy of containment as the analyst Kenneth Pollack recently pointed out in an article for the Jerusalem Post.

But this would be a disaster of the first magnitude. A nuclear Iran could bully its oil producing neighbours at will, threaten US troops in Iraq and deepen instability across the Middle East. The country could also pass nuclear technology to terrorists, igniting a regional conflagration that would empower Islamic extremists across the globe. A regional arms race would inevitably follow.

71 years ago, the leaders of Britain and France gambled on the good intentions of Adolf Hitler when they granted him the Sudetenland. All they got was a worthless piece of paper 'guaranteeing' the future peace and stability of Europe. Are today's leaders about to be duped in the same way?

Toxic hatred at the heart of the British establishment 29 November, 2009

So it’s official then. The Chilcot enquiry into the Iraq war is going to be a monumental waste of time and money. No one will take it seriously, not least the peoples of the Arab and Muslim world. It will be a whitewash, a travesty of justice, a half hearted and partial enquiry tainted from the outset.

And why is this so? Is it because the government has refused to release sensitive documents into the public domain if they conflict with national security? Is it because the remit of the enquiry has been deliberately limited to avoid apportioning blame or censure? Is it because all such establishment set ups are doomed from the start?

Well no, you’ve missed the elephant in the room you see. The real reason is that two of the distinguished panellists sitting with Sir John Chilcot are Jews. Well how dare the Establishment make such a crass mistake! Haven’t they been reading the Protocols of the Elders of Zion which is, don’t forget, a bestseller across the Arab world?

I refer of course to the recent disgusting rant of Sir Oliver Miles, our former ambassador to Libya, in the Independent. Here are his exact words:

Both (Sir Martin) Gilbert and (Laurence) Freedman are Jewish, and Gilbert at least has a record of active support for Zionism…All five members have outstanding reputations and records, but it is a pity that, if and when the inquiry is accused of a whitewash, such handy ammunition will be available. Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced.’

The subtext here is obvious. Because Gilbert and Freedman are both Jewish and Zionist in leaning, they will not be objective in their way of thinking. They will be unable to consider the national interest because they have ‘overriding’ and conflicting sympathies for a ‘foreign’ country.

The assumption that Gilbert and Freedman will conform to ‘tribe thinking’ merely because of their religious affiliations is misguided at best and bigoted at worst. And the charge that being Zionists discredits them is equally perverse. It merely plays to the prejudices of the Arab street (and the hard left) where it is commonly asserted that the Iraq war was a plot engineered by the Zionists for their own interests.

Hence the charge that Zionists on the enquiry give the impression of a cover up. But the fact that such warped and bigoted perceptions exist on the Arab street is no reason for pandering to them. As Jonathan Freedland observes in this week’s Jewish Chronicle:

‘Since when did we allow the views of racists and anti-Semites to determine, pre-emptively, who sits on public inquiries? The BNP might well denounce the findings of the Iraq inquiry because the panel includes a British Hindu. Does that mean Usha Prasher should have been kept off?’

Of course there are reasons to doubt the choice of these two historians, given that they were ardent supporters of the war in 2003. But that is a point about their political positioning, not their ethnicity or cultural affiliation. Being a Jew or Zionist may exclude you from sitting on an enquiry in the Arab world, when such an incredibly rare event takes place of course. But those rules don’t apply in London, as Sir Oliver Miles should know.

An act of piracy 2 December, 2009

There is nothing surprising about Iran's latest act of international defiance. Fearing that it now faces an international coalition united against its nuclear programme (somewhat fanciful given the strident opposition of Russia and China to sanctions), and boosted by its paranoid perception of world affairs, Iran has lashed out with force.

The 5 sailors who were captured last week by the Revolutionary Guards are simply pawns in Iran's dastardly game of power politics with the West. They will be used as diplomatic leverage while Iran battles with its critics over the coming weeks. The Revolutionary guards, don't forget, control Iran's illicit nuclear programme and wield huge power in the country. So it is a reasonable bet that these five individuals won't be leaving Iran too quickly - or without some price in return.

But no one should be under any illusion about how to describe Iran's behaviour. As in 2007 with the capture of 15 Royal Navy personnel, this was a crime carried out at sea by the long arm of Iranian terror, and against a group of innocents. There used to be a word for this kind of thing that is surely appropriate now: that word is piracy.

Why the Copenhagen summit deserves to fail 7 December, 2009

Right now world leaders are meeting in Copenhagen for what promises to be a great global climate fest. They are hopeful of a new Kyoto type deal that will effectively decarbonise the world economy in order to tackle rampant climate change. The Copenhagen summit should all inspire us with hope – the hope that it will prove to be a monumental failure.

To say this is to invite the usual pejorative rejoinders: that you are the equivalent of an ignorant flat earther, an immoral human being who cares little for the suffering of the Third World; in short, a climate ‘denier.’ Sadly this shows how science has become sullied by ideology. So strong are the vested interests, so deep is the emotional commitment to this issue that rational debate has ceased altogether.

As a non scientist, I reject both the extreme alarmism of the ‘believers’ and the wrong headed position of the sceptics. It seems clear, even to the sceptical camp, that global warming has occurred, though not apparently in the last nine years.

This latter fact was worrying minds at the Climate Change Unit in East Anglia, to the point where some scientists were tampering with the evidence. The scientific consensus also tells us that man has contributed to this warming, though the extent of this contribution remains an open question. Many eminent scientists dispute the idea that high concentrations of CO2 are responsible for global warming and their voices should be heard too.

But if man made global warming is real, why should anyone want the Copenhagen summit to fail? Surely on an issue this pressing, with so many lives at stake, any global deal is worth pursuing.

Well the simple answer is that global decarbonisation, the goal of most world leaders, will prove incredibly difficult to achieve as well as enormously expensive. The leaders of developing countries do not believe that they should jeopardise their countries’ economic development by reducing CO2 emissions.

Millions of people are being lifted out of poverty by carbon based technologies, especially in India and China. The zeal of Western First World leaders to reduce emissions is not universal. Achieving a global deal under these circumstances will prove very hard.

The cost might be prohibitive too. In an article in last week’s Spectator, the renowned environmentalist, Bjorn Lomborg, wrote that: ‘A high CO2 tax starting at $68 could reduce world economic output by a staggering 13 per cent in 2100 – the equivalent of $40 trillion a year…50 times the expected damage of global warming.’ If he is even half right, this sum is truly incredible.

Worse, after spending nearly one trillion dollars each year for the best part of the next century, temperature increases would be reined in by just one tenth of a degree Celsius, according to a lead researcher at the IPCC. And the effects of all this cost would be minimal in the short term because the half life of atmospheric carbon dioxide is 100 years.

A better solution to man made global warming lies in adaptation. Man has a long history of adapting to his environment and coping with the great challenges of nature. Think about how we were about to overcome the threat of mass starvation, polio, the plague, syphilis and a multitude of disasters. Do the IPCC’s computer models take into account the possibility of a man made technological breakthrough on climate change?

Fortunately there are some very innovative approaches about how to adapt to global warming: they come under the term ‘geo-engineering.’ One of the ideas being currently touted is to build a ‘Stratoshield’ which would pump sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to cool the earth’s surface.

In an article called ‘The geo-engineering option,’ published in March 2009, the Council on Foreign Relations estimated that just one kilogram of well placed sulphur in the stratosphere ‘would roughly offset the warming effect of several hundred thousand kilograms of carbon dioxide.’ The cost would not be in the trillions of dollars but in the hundreds of millions, and the effects would be more immediate.

You and I have little idea whether these ideas would work. But they are surely worth considering, given that their costs are vastly lower and their effects more immediate than the proposals under discussion at Copenhagen. If an unhealthy consensus muzzles the voices of moderate sceptics, we will all be losers.

More Iranian double dealing 14 December, 2009

If you needed final confirmation of just how duplicitous Iran has been over its nuclear weapons programme, read this devastating report in the Times here. The paper has obtained intelligence documents showing how Iran has been busy working on a final component for a nuclear weapon. I quote directly:

‘The notes, from Iran’s most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons programme. An Asian intelligence source last week confirmed to The Times that his country also believed that weapons work was being carried out as recently as 2007 — specifically, work on a neutron initiator.’

‘The technical document describes the use of a neutron source, uranium deuteride, which independent experts confirm has no possible civilian or military use other than in a nuclear weapon. Uranium deuteride is the material used in Pakistan’s bomb, from where Iran obtained its blueprint.’

In one sense, we have already amassed enough indications that Iran’s nuclear programme is for purely military purposes, in direct violation of the nuclear non proliferation treaty. The country has built secret nuclear facilities in at least three places, an enrichment facility at Natanz, a secret facility at Qom and a heavy water facility at Arak. Its nuclear programme is under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, hardly necessary for a purely ‘civilian’ programme while the entire nuclear programme has been covert for decades.

So this latest ‘smoking gun’ is hardly the sole casus belli against the Islamic Republic; plenty of others already exist. But if confirmed, and it is being analysed by various intelligence agencies, it provides further proof of Iranian double dealing and deception, and of how the feckless Western diplomacy of recent years has been a dismal failure. It also represents the single greatest indictment of the 2007 NIE report.

The final word goes to Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said: “The most shattering conclusion is that, if this was an effort that began in 2007, it could be a casus belli. If Iran is working on weapons, it means there is no diplomatic solution.”

The JFS ruling 16 December, 2009

The Jewish Free School (JFS) ruling, which could have immense repercussions for Britain’s faith schools, is undoubtedly damaging for British Jews. The effect of the Supreme Court’s decision, which upholds one made weeks earlier by the Court of Appeal, is that any Jewish school which seeks to uphold religious criteria for entrance will fall foul of racial discrimination legislation. That is because today’s sinister ruling implies that to define a Jew in terms of matrilineal descent or conversion, which is orthodoxy’s guiding principle for Jewish identity, is itself a form of racial discrimination.

Instead Jews must be defined in terms of some presumed religious practice for the purpose of being allowed into a Jewish faith school. In essence a court has now taken upon itself the task of defining Jewry itself, effectively overturning the right of that religious community to settle such disputes itself. This is of course completely contrary to the dictates of a liberal society. Jews should be able to answer for themselves the question ‘Who is a Jew?’ without recourse to secular courts.

But the guiding lights of British orthodoxy should also be hanging their heads in shame. For this case would hardly have been brought were it not for the controversial admission policies of JFS in recent years. Remember that the original case revolved around a number of children who were denied the right to enter the school even though they were practising Jews living in Jewish households.

The problem was not their identity but that of their mother who converted to Judaism in Israel. This conversion was not recognised by Britain’s orthodox establishment (which has its own arcane rules on this matter) and it was to these authorities that JFS deferred in this decision. Thus the school rejected the pupils even though, in every other respect, they were clearly living a Jewish life according to orthodox precepts. Compromise and common sense were clearly required to avert the baleful consequences that have now descended upon us. Sadly they are qualities that, in Britain at least, are so often in short supply.

Britain’s twisted justice system 21 December, 2009

Judging by the torrent of newspaper coverage, there is clearly a vast amount of sympathy for Munir Hussain, the Muslim businessman who fought back against a burglar, only to land a prison sentence for his efforts. This appears to be yet another case of twisted justice: an innocent victim of crime goes to prison while his attacker goes free, free no doubt to commit more crimes. Yet this is not how the judge chose to see this case. These are his words:

‘If persons were permitted to take the law into their own hands and inflict their own instant and violent punishment on an apprehended offender rather than letting justice take its course, then the rule of law and our system of criminal justice, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society, would collapse.’

The problem with this argument is what it presupposes, namely that justice always does take its course. We know that plenty of burglars escape prison sentences, even serial offenders like Walid Salem. Endless headlines point to the fact that violent offenders are often let off with fines and cautions, rather than tougher sentences. And that is when the police actually bother to investigate burglaries, rather than write them off as unsolvable.

Given that the majority of burglaries do not result in a just conclusion, namely with burglars ending up incarcerated, can one not argue that the rule of law has already broken down? The system of criminal justice is surely ineffective if people like Salem feel they can forever escape the consequences of their actions.

But there is a second problem with the judge’s words, indeed with the law as it stands. The law says that a man may use ‘reasonable’ force to defend himself from a burglar but no more. In this case the judge deemed Hussain’s actions to involve a level of gratuitous violence that was uncivilised. Hussain did indeed inflict a very serious level of violence on Salem with a cricket bat, leaving the criminal with brain injuries.

But what must have been going through Hussain’s mind at the time of this beating? He had just been trussed up by a serial thug who was threatening extreme violence against his family. Hussain was hardly in a position to trawl through a checklist of ‘reasonable’ actions that would satisfy a court. Given the violent circumstances of the burglary, Hussain’s actions at the time were surely understandable and ought to have merited a non custodial sentence at most. The burglar should have been sent to jail instead. By incarcerating the victim rather than the criminal, the criminal justice system has been perverted beyond recognition.

Terror in the skies 27 December, 2009

The latest terror bomb plot teaches us that we must avoid complacency. Many voices still proclaim that Al Qaeda is a busted flush and that the threat from radical Islam has been overplayed for political reasons.

But the interception of a jihadi who was intent on destroying an airliner bound for Detroit spared us a mass casualty attack on a devastating scale. Hundreds of people would have been killed or injured if Umar Abdulmutallab’s device had exploded, an event that would have sparked fears of another 9/11. Given the perilous state of the world economy, such fears (grounded or not) would have had a devastating effect on confidence worldwide.

There are clearly some embarrassing questions for the British government, many centering on Abdulmutallab’s period of study as a mechanical engineer in London. For years, Washington has voiced suspicions that Britain has become a recruiting ground for Islamic terror.

These suspicions have been given credibility by the presence of so many Islamist radicals in this country, Abu Qatada among them, and this latest incident will not help. MI5 will need to investigate the circumstances under which Abdulmutallab was radicalised and whether he appeared on their list of potential terrorist suspects.

But this case also highlights grave weaknesses in America’s counter terror systems. Despite Abdulmutallab appearing on a US terrorism database, he was still allowed to fly into the country with impunity. Apparently he was not deemed an immediate threat. Clearly something is wrong if an individual can enter a country when one of its own agencies deems him to be a serious threat.

Abdulmutallab started his travels at Lagos, whose airport had been given the all clear by the US Transportation Security Administration. But if this assessment was wrong, one wonders how many other airports would be given a similar but unwarranted clean bill of health.

As a new decade approaches, we are reminded that the enemies of the West remain determined to inflict harm on innocent civilians. Our intelligence agencies are often the last line of defence in preventing atrocities. For all our sakes, let us hope that they learn from their mistakes here.

The yearning for liberty is eternal 31 December, 2009

According to a report in the Times today, the captive Peter Moore, who is still thankfully alive, was seized and held by Iran some two and a half years ago. If true, it is just one more ugly manifestation of the Islamic Republic's war with the West. It is yet another reason to distrust the country's mullahs who proclaim their peaceful intentions yet engage in primitive barbarism.

And it is another powerful incentive for the West to lionize the brave Iranian moderates who champion change in their country. Reports reaching the West indicate that Tehran has employed a ruthless and bloody crackdown on its dissidents. Dozens have been killed, injured and raped, many more imprisoned and tortured. The brutality is shocking yet, for a tyrannical Islamist theocracy, hardly surprising.

In a way, it is fitting that this should be our last memory of the 'Nougties.' For this was a decade which will forever be scarred by the events of September 11th when radical Islam's war with the West took on a new dimension. It was a decade when religious fanaticism and the ideology of jihad was brought to our own doorstep. Worse, it was a decade when the bien pensant chattering classes tried to convince us that 'our' sins were responsible for the Islamist violence, ignoring completely the hateful ideology at its heart.

Yet this might also be remembered as a decade when people across the world yearned to be free of autocratic government. There was the people's resistance to Syrian occupation in Lebanon, the struggle for women's rights in Afghanistan, the pro-democracy movement in Burma and Tibet, the desperate struggle for rights in Mugabe's Zimbabwe and now Iran's Green pro democracy movement. For every person who marches in the streets, there are many more who use the internet to disseminate their hatred of oppression.

As a new decade approaches, let us all stand with all these brave souls who risk their lives in the pursuit of liberty and happiness.