Category Archives: 20th century

1974 -“Who Governs Britain”?

Yesterday, when I heard Theresa May was going to announce a General Election, I immediately thought of Ted Heath’s massive gamble in 1974.  Is this her “Who Governs Britain” moment?

In February 1974, a petulant Ted Heath called a general election on the premise that he was the best person to lead the country.  Weeks later, he got his answer in no uncertain terms. “Not you, Ted”.

Here’s the Tory Party Election Broadcast from February, 1974. You’ll notice how little has changed since then.

That General Election resulted in a hung parliament.  Heath tried to convince the Liberal Party, led by Jeremy Thorpe, to support him in coalition. But the Liberals demanded some movement on proportional representation before entering into such an agreement.  Heath refused to budge, so the Queen asked Harold Wilson to form a minority government.

Wilson went to the country in October to consolidate his government’s position and won 18 more seats.  Heath had clearly bitten off more than he could chew.  His outgoing administration left a massive balance of trade deficit, which precipitated the Sterling Crisis of 1976, and led to the Labour government applying for a short-term IMF loan, which was paid off in 1979.

Throughout the 1980s, Thatcher’s Tories used the same language of crisis that May and Cameron have used since 2010.  Namely, that Labour “bankrupted” the country and they were “cleaning up the mess” (sic) left by them. Yet, if they’d been faced with the same decision, the Tories would have also applied for an IMF loan. The same is true of the 2008 sovereign debt crisis. They’d have borrowed money to bail out the banks.  When most of the media is on your side, you can tell as many lies as you like and get away with it.

The myths and lies of the 1970s have been woven into the political fabric of this country by the corporate media, and have been accepted uncritically by Tories, Liberals, voters and right-wing Labour MPs, who are too cowardly to fight back.  It’s time to put an end to this madness. Voting the Tories out on 8 June is the start of that process.

 

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Filed under 20th century, General Election 2017, History, History & Memory

Let’s Talk About: Legitimacy (of the parliamentary kind)

The Tories and their allies in the press seem to believe that the party with the most seats in the event of a hung parliament should have the automatic right to form a government. They also claim that should Labour get fewer seats than the Tories and if they form a minority government with the support of smaller parties, then this government would be illegitimate. This has been comprehensively debunked time and time again. Yet the Tories and Nick Clegg continue to lie about this, relying on widespread ignorance of how parliament and governments function.

There is a historical precedent that has never once been mentioned during this election campaign by those commentators whose job it is to ‘explain’ the political system to the voters. The General Election of 6 December 1923, which Stanley Baldwin had called over tariff reform (which meant very little to many working class voters), produced a situation similar to the one commentators claim will happen this Friday. Baldwin hoped that he could cement his authority after succeeding Andrew Bonar Law as party leader and Prime Minister, and he was eager to make his mark.

But Baldwin’s plan to increase his party’s already large majority backfired. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Party came second with 191 seats. Herbert Asquith’s Liberals came third with 158 seats (the Liberals were split). Baldwin’s Tories came first with 251 seats . When added together, the combined anti-Tory seats outweighed the Conservatives’ numbers. However, things were not straightforward:  Baldwin claimed legitimacy and appeared before the Commons, but was defeated on 21 January by a no confidence motion tabled by former Labour leader, J.R. Clynes. George V had no choice but to appoint MacDonald as Prime Minister. Labour then formed a minority government with the support of the Liberals on 22 January, 1924. There was no question of Labour’s legitimacy to form a government on that occasion, because everyone knew  how the game was played. Today, the Tories and their media chums continue claim that should Labour come second, they will lack legitimacy. The front page of today’s edition of the Murdoch-owned Times has printed a variation on the lie.the_times front page

However, the role of the Liberals in 1924 should not be read as the facilitation of a Labour government but as part of a plan to secure more power for themselves, should the government fall. Indeed, the Daily Mail begged Asquith to form a coalition with the Tories to keep Labour out. Asquith hoped that the voters would see Labour as incompetent. What the voters actually saw were squabbling, power hungry politicians knifing each other in the back. Even so, MacDonald’s government was weak and unstable and suffered its first defeat in March. By October, it would be voted out of office thanks to the Zioniev Letter.

The Liberals paid for their treachery and they were reduced to 40 seats. Asquith lost his seat, was kicked upstairs and died four years later. Even though Baldwin secured a massive majority, he would again lose out  to Labour in the so-called ‘Flapper Election’ of 1929, which resulted in another hung parliament. MacDonald relied on the support of Lloyd George’s 58 Liberal MPs. But this government wouldn’t last long and in 1931 another election was called. Again, this produced a hung parliament and the notorious National Government was eventually formed with Baldwin pulling the strings.

In February 1974, Edward Heath’s Tories came second and Labour came first. Heath remained in Downing Street as  the caretaker Prime Minister and attempted to form a coalition with Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberals. But Thorpe rejected the Tories’ coalition proposals on the basis that Proportional Representation wasn’t offered as part of the deal. Harold Wilson was invited to form a minority government with the support of the smaller parties. Again, there was no question of legitimacy.  This government lasted until October, when Wilson called another election and won a wafer-thin majority. By 1976, Wilson was gone and replaced by’ Sunny’ Jim Callaghan, whose majority began to evaporate due to by-election losses and defections. Callaghan was forced to enter into a pact with the Liberals (the Lib-Lab pact) in 1977. This lasted until the end of 1978 and the rest, as they say, is history.

What these elections reveal to us are the flaws inherent in the First Past The Post voting system. Whichever party forms the government after tomorrow’s election, we must take to the streets to demand electoral and constitutional reform.  There must be no let up.

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Filed under 20th century, General Election 2015, History, History & Memory, Let's Talk About, Media, Tory press, Yellow journalism

Memogate: Another Example Of Our Failed Democracy

We were warned that this election campaign was going to be one of the dirtiest fought for a generation. The Tories, having failed to win an election outright for 22 years, were always going to resort to gutter politics and dirty tricks to try and steal the election. It’s in their DNA. They began  their campaign in 2013 when they recruited Lynton Crosby . Crosby’s appointment as Tory election strategist happened on the back of his successful smear campaign that saw Bozza elected as London Mayor in 2012. Yet Crosby’s record on the national stage has been poor. He failed to get Michael Howard elected in 2005 with his crypto-racist “Are you thinking what we’re thinking” slogan. It’s funny how people forget that.

Tim Wigmore writing in the New Statesman last August observed:

The 2005 election showed the limits of importing successful electioneering from Australian to Britain. Australia’s use of the Alternative Vote forces every voter into a straight choice, between the (conservative) Liberal Party and the Australian Labour party. Crucially, voting is also compulsory in Australia, which lends itself to negative campaigning: offering a compelling reason why the electorate should not plump for the alternative is enough.

Britain’s electoral dynamics are very different. We live in a multi-party world; even if the Tories are successful in attacking Labour’s electoral weaknesses on welfare and immigration, voters may plump for Ukip or the Lib Dems instead. 35 per cent of the electorate did not vote for anyone in 2010: they need a positive reason to bother. Relentless negativity is less effective as a campaigning technique when voters can choose whether or not to vote.

In the last 24 hours and, coincidentally, after the leader’s debates on Thursday, which saw Nicola Sturgeon win what was, effectively a beauty contest; it was as sure as ‘eggs is eggs’ that CCHQ would try and make mischief (did you see Gove on Question Time?). Late last night, the Torygraph ran a story in which it was alleged that Sturgeon told a French ambassador that she would prefer to have Cameron in office than Miliband. The alleged discussion was allegedly contained in a Foreign and Commonwealth Office memo, which magically found its way to the Tory-supporting Telegraph. Sure, it did. Anyone with half a brain in their head would know that for Sturgeon to make such a claim it would surely be political suicide. The Tories and their friends in the media know this. Craig Murray claims that this story bears the hallmarks of an MI5 smear campaign. The Cat is inclined to agree with him.

Murray writes:

Ever since Treasury Permanent Secretary Nicholas MacPherson stated that civil service impartiality rules do not apply in the case of Scottish independence, I have been warning the SNP that we are going to be the target of active subversion by the UK and US security services. We are seen as a danger to the British state and thus a legitimate target. I spelled this out in my talk to the Edinburgh SNP Club on 6 March, of which more below.

The story, as Murray reminds us, appears to have echoes of the Zionviev Letter. Indeed, I tweeted a reminder to this effect this morning. It was because of this forged letter, printed in the Tory-supporting Daily Mail, that the first Labour government fell and failed to win the snap election on 29 October, 1924. This defeat and Ramsay MacDonald’s subsequent betrayal in 1931 has been etched on the memories of old Labour Party members, most of whom are no longer with us. Nu Labourites apparently have no memories of anything that happened before the Blair era.

Crosby’s crappy strategy is to create chaos and discord on the Left in an attempt to create an image of an effective and in-control David Cameron…a man whom, ironically, presided over a chaotic administration. One example of the coalition government’s ineptitude was the so-called ‘Omnishambles’. Another is Cameron’s lack of judgement, typified as it is by the hiring of men like Andy Coulson and Patrick Rock.

The ‘Memogate’ story appears to have had the desired effect among many Labourites, who have taken to social media in their droves to repeat their predictable “I told you so” message. None of them seems wise or, indeed, bright enough, to remember their history. If the Tories win this election, it will be because they used smears and scaremongering to do so; but it will also be because Labour were foolish and gullible enough to fall for it all.

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Filed under 20th century, Free Press Myth, General Election 2015, History, Journalism, Media, propaganda, Yellow journalism

Let’s Talk About: Economic Growth

Images like this mean nothing to Dan Hannan. who prefers to deal with fictional characters than real people and their complicated lives.

Economic growth or just ‘growth’ is the holy grail of career politicians, neoliberal economists and their hangers on in the media. We’re often told how important it is to have ‘growth’ in our economy and it is only then that everyone will see the benefit. The trouble with this notion is that those who continually spout this rubbish aren’t the ones who need to worry. They’re already comfortable. The ones for whom these pronouncements mean little, if nothing at all, are the poor and the low waged. They continue to see their income squeezed, while the cost of living continues to rise. But the media and the government will have none of it.

A few weeks ago, the BBC’s economic editor, Robert Peston, was crowing over low oil prices. He told the nation’s viewers that “everyone” would now feel “richer” because of the continued fall in petrol prices. This is not only misleading; it’s also dishonest. The only people who can feel “richer”, by definition, are the rich themselves. If you are poor, you cannot be “rich”, it’s an absurdity. Yet this does not stop the likes of Daniel Hannan repeating this meaningless tosh. In Thursday’s blog for CapX, he repeated Peston’s bogus claim that “The rich are getting richer and the poor are… getting richer”. This is a measure of how out-of-touch our media and politicians are in relation to the people they purport to serve. We can also draw the conclusion that the mainstream media, the Westminster politicians and economic cults like the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs are in a cosy conspiratorial relationship with one another. The relationship between these institutions and ordinary people themselves is one of power. They consider themselves to be the voices of authority and we must listen and obey… or so they think. So when they tell us that “things are getting better” we are expected to believe them. But I no more believe them than I believe in the existence of God, the tooth fairy or Father Christmas. I see no improvement and neither do millions of other people.

The problem with those who constantly talk about ‘growth’ is that they can only speak the language of statistics and mathematics, and can only view the world through the lens of their social status. They are incapable of relating their nutty ideas about economics to the average person because what they’re saying bears no relation to everyday life. Trickle down, for example, is one economic fallacy that is repeated ad infinitum by economic cultists and held up as a model for ‘growth’ and economic well-being. But not even right-wingers like George HW Bush believed it and derided trickle down as “voodoo economics”. Yet the Hannans and Osbornes of this world cleave so tightly to it like men at sea clinging to any bit of flotsam that comes their way.

A couple of months ago, the Labour leadership claimed that if the Tories were re-elected, they would take public spending back to the levels of the 1930s. This was enough to get all manner of right-wing economic cultists into a lather. Hannan was one of those. In this blog, he does his best to claim how the 1930s was a “time of growth”. It’s a risible misrepresentation of a decade that’s become synonymous with economic hardship.

Well, here’s a fact that may surprise you. The 1930s saw more economic growth than any other decade in British history. It’s true that there were patches of deprivation. As in all times of economic transition, some industries declined while others rose. The poverty of the Jarrow Marchers was genuine: theirs had been a ship-building town, devastated by the collapse of international orders.

Sophistry, damned sophistry. For the millions of working class people who struggled to survive the decade, this is an insult to their memory. My mum’s family was Liverpool working class and I can remember her telling me what life was like in the Thirties: if you were poor or low-waged, you had no access to affordable or decent healthcare, because there was no National Health Service (the Tories will abolish it if they are re-elected). There was very little work on Merseyside in the 1930s, so people lived a hand-to-mouth existence.

Hannan continues his fantasy tour of his romanticized past:

Yet these were golden years for new industries such as electrical appliances and aviation and cars, the years when Morris, Humber and Austin became household names. The 1930s also saw an unprecedented boom in construction, as the comfortable suburbs of Betjeman’s Metroland spread across England. The Battersea Power Station raised its minarets over the capital, a symbol of self-confidence in architecture.

Here, Hannan waxes floridly about a world that only those with the economic means could take part. The appliances and cars that he talks about were beyond the means of my family and many others. No working class people owned cars, let alone possessed household appliances. My grandmother was still using a boiler and a mangle well into the 1970s. As for Metroland, the houses that were built there were for sale. Only those with nice, middle class incomes could afford a mortgage.

Here, Hannan slaps more gloss onto his fantasy.

 Britain responded to the 1929 crash by cutting spending drastically and, in consequence, soon saw a return to growth. The United States, by contrast, expanded government activity unprecedentedly under the New Deal, and so prolonged the recession by seven years. Yes, seven years. Here is the conclusion of a major study published in 2004 by two economists at the UCLA, Harold L Cole and Lee A Ohanian:

Cole and Ohanian are comprehensively defenestrated in this blog. Hannan isn’t interested in reality and like all right-wingers of his ilk, he exists in the hermetically-sealed space of privilege. The material of history is bent and twisted to shrink-fit a weak narrative. Like many of his fellow Tea Partiers, he makes the same feeble argument for cuts.

Contrasting the American and British experiences, we are left with an inescapable conclusion. Cuts work, and trying to spend your way out of recession doesn’t.

Let’s put it this way, if a company doesn’t borrow or spend money to invest when it is doing badly, it will go under. Cuts only work for the already wealthy. They are also a means by which the powerful punish the poor for being poor. Hannan makes clear his hatred of FDR and the New Deal. This is the same position held by the economic cultists at the Ludwig von Mises Institute as well as his fellow Randists.

This is perhaps the greatest fallacy of all:

Still, if only for the record, let me set down the real lesson of the 1930. The best way to recover from a crash, not least for low earners, is to bring spending back under control. Growth follows, jobs are created, and the people taking those jobs thereby gain the most secure route out of poverty.

It’s easy for those who have never personally experienced poverty to claim that “the most secure route out of  poverty” is work. Low-paid and zero hours contract jobs actually lock people into poverty. Hannan is not only a fool, he’s a dangerous fool. Leaving people to fend for themselves without a safety net will lead to greater social problems. Hannan is unmoved by such concerns. Yet he would be the first to complain that shanty towns are an “eyesore”. This is the man who calls himself a “Whig”.

Talking about economic growth when people are struggling to survive is deeply offensive. Talking about GDP is meaningless because not only is it a poor way of measuring economic performance, it means nothing to ordinary people. For all his claims of how cutting public spending will improve economic performance, Hannan has never had to suffer the privations of working in a low-paid job. Like all of his pals in Westminster and beyond, he is a bully, who talks a good talk but when his words are unpacked, they reveal the true horrors of the current political system.

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Filed under 20th century, Conservative Party, Cultism, economic illiteracy, Economics, Government & politics, Growth, History, History & Memory, laissez faire capitalism, Let's Talk About, Media, Neoliberalism, propaganda, Spiv capitalism, Tory press

Southall, April 23, 1979

35 years ago today, a member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group (SPG) killed Blair Peach, a young teacher from New Zealand, who was taking part in an Anti-Nazi League demonstration against a National Front march through Southall. The SPG was a militarized branch of the Met, and the predecessor of the Territorial Support Group, who are no less violent in their methods. Remember Ian Tomlinson?

There were also dozens of injuries, one of those injured was Clarence Baker, a pacifist and the manager of Misty in Roots, who was left in a coma.

Peach’s murderer was never apprehended, tried or convicted. His name is Alan Murray and he now works as a lecturer in corporate responsibility at Winchester University. He denies murder. Then again, he would. The police always protect their own.

Linton Kwesi Johnson wrote Reggae Fi Peach to tell the story.

Hatful of History has an excellent blog about that day in April 1979. You can read it here.

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Filed under 20th century, History, London

Housing, the 1968 Rent Strike and What We Face Today

Can’t pay your rent? Then we’ll come for your children.

When the Tory-led government announced that social rents should rise to market levels, there was anger but nothing happened. That anger wasn’t channelled; forged into a weapon to attack the government and the local authorities and greedy Housing Associations. Instead, people just rolled over and took it.

When the same thing was proposed by Wilson’s Labour government (a LABOUR GOVERNMENT) in 1968, there was righteous indignation.  But instead of sitting and fuming, people actually did something about it. They organized rent strikes. So far, few people have advocated rent strikes and, as far as I know, I am one of those few.

In London, the Greater London Council (GLC), which was controlled by the Tories (hard to believe but the Tories only liked the GLC when it was run by their fellow travellers), was particularly zealous in implementing the rent increases. I found this article by Ian Macdonald on marxists.org in which he says:

The Greater London Council is Britain’s biggest landlord. There are about 242,000 tenants involved. On 7 December last year, the chairman of the GLC Housing Committee announced the Tories’ new rent scheme. Under the scheme, GLC tenants can expect their rents to increase by 5s in the £ in October 1968, a further 5s in the £ in October 1969, and an extra 4s in 1970. A tenant now paying £4 per week, will be paying £6 16s in 1970, and tenants in some of the newer flats will be paying as much as £10 per week. In addition, lodger charges are to rise, and central heating and car parking will be more expensive.

That is not all. In future, less money is to be spent on repairs, and tenants will have to do their own interior decorating. In this way, the Council hopes to save £850,000 on repairs, and £500,000 on decorating. It also means the sack for some of the Council’s 6,000 electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and other maintenance men.

The GLC have made much of their intended rebate scheme. But the only way to get a rebate will be to go through a means test; no tenant, say the GLC, need disclose his income to the Council unless he is applying for a rebate. In fact, very few of the 240,000 GLC tenants will benefit. Here is an example of a family which will not benefit. The tenant earns £12 per week, and his wife £5. They have a child and a lodger, both over 21, and now pay a rent of £2 16s 8d per week. In 1970, they will pay £4 16s 4d and get no rebate.

You can see this happening right now. All Housing Associations have increased their rents above the rate of inflation and, furthermore, they have duly bowed to the government’s diktats and are letting out properties for market rents. Local authorities, too, have increased their rents. One of those councils is Hammersmith and Fulham – Cameron and Pickles’s favourite council – which has palmed off the management of its stock to Pinnacle and placed income restrictions on those people applying for or living in one of their properties.

Last year Hammersmith & Fulham announced:

Trailblazing Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council is to be the first local authority in the country to simultaneously introduce fixed term social housing tenancies and a maximum income cap for people wishing to access the housing register.

The flagship council will be ripping up the social housing rule book from April 2013 when it will introduce a number of radical policies which seek to increase low-cost homeownership, tackle the social and economic divide in the borough and give a far greater priority for council housing to people who are making a community contribution.

H&F, has the fourth highest property prices in the UK and one of the highest proportions of social housing in London as a proportion of total housing, with around 34 per cent social rented.

That compares to a London average of 25 per cent and a West London average of 21.5 per cent. Just over two per cent of the borough’s housing is intermediate.

H&F is also one of the first councils in the country to get back into building homes, after a 30 year absence. These properties are sold at a discounted market rate to those on low to middle incomes who live or work in the borough and might struggle otherwise to get onto the property ladder.

Notice how this article tells us that the council is “trailblazing”. As for its claim that it’s “building homes”, it is building homes but not for those on low incomes.  Last year the council announced  that it would be building 25 new (yes, 25) homes for those foolish enough to buy them. But there’s worse to come in this article:

Those households earning above £40,200 will generally not be eligible to access the housing register. Instead, they will be offered advice on other housing options including joining the Council’s HomeBuy Register.

This new way of working will replace an antiquated and inefficient system that created false hopes and expectations.

The council and the government’s solution to the housing crisis (and let’s face, it is a crisis) is to stimulate a potentially disastrous property bubble. The HomeBuy scheme aims to achieve this, in spite of the council’s denial. Ian Macdonald:

Instead of directly attacking this problem, the GLC and the Government talk rubbish about ‘well-off Council tenants’ being subsidised. In fact, every penny that is contributed to housing out of rates or from the Government goes straight into the pockets of the money lenders, landowners and builders. If this element were removed, Council rents would be cut to less than a quarter of their present levels without anything coming from the ratepayers or the Government.

Who says history doesn’t repeat itself? H&F Council wants to go further and bases its approach on the widely-discredited and evidence free report produced by its former leader, Stephen Greenhalgh and his partner John Moss:

Currently most social housing tenants have the right to stay for life unless the tenancy is brought to an end because of a breach. Once the tenant passes away, the right of succession passes onto a family member even if the housing need of the individual is less than other potential applicants.

The council believes that this does not promote personal aspiration or provide tenants with any incentive to try to move into home-ownership and fails to take into account the fact that a household’s need for social housing may be temporary.

From next year, the council will issue fixed-term tenancies of five years for new social housing lettings. This would be reduced to two years in certain cases.

Existing tenants will be unaffected by the new proposals. New tenancies in sheltered accommodation and for those with special housing or health needs will still be on a secure basis.

Two year tenancies will be issued for those with a history of antisocial behaviour and for those between the ages of 18 to 25.

So what Wilson’s Labour government failed to achieve in 1968 has now been enthusiastically adopted by the Tories. The only real difference between then and now is that the classism is turbo-charged and more blatant than ever.

As for those who doubt the effectiveness of rent strikes, Macdonald writes:

It is true that badly organised or isolated rent strikes are usually defeated. But where the tenants are properly organised and show determination, they have in the past succeeded. In Glasgow in 1915, the strike was completely successful. In 1938-9, there were over 30 strikes in the East End of London demanding cuts in rents. All were successful. In 1939, 50,000 Birmingham municipal tenants defeated a differential rent scheme similar to the present GLC scheme after a 10-week strike. In the 1950s, Luton tenants managed to defeat a similar scheme. The GLC tenants can do the same, but there is no doubt that the battle will be tougher than anything in the past, since the Government’s whole prices and incomes policy is at stake.

The key, as always, is organization. These days, organizing rent strikes may be harder because of Housing Benefit. Yet, these payments have been replaced by something called the ‘Local Housing Allowance’. The Tories also want people on low incomes to pay Council Tax. This is nothing less than a form of economic feudalism, in which the poor, the vulnerable and those earning less than £40,000 are forced into a 21st century version of serfdom.

John Grayson, writing for Inside Housing says:

The campaigning of tenants between 1968 and 1973 had an effect. Many councils began negotiating with tenants’ organisations for the first time. The Association of London Housing Estates drafted the first tenants’ charter in 1970. Three years later Dick Leonard, a Labour MP, introduced (unsuccessfully) the Council Housing (Tenants’ Representation) Bill.

Unfortunately the proto-neoliberal Labour government of Wilson and Callaghan decided to have another stab at crushing council tenants:

Between 1974 and 1979 the Labour government continued a policy of cuts in housing. There were often confrontations with councils and the National Co-ordinating Committee Against Housing Cuts organised a national campaign in 1975. In Liverpool the Tenants’ Co-ordinating Committee emerged as a federation for tenants and rent strikes were organised in protest at the council’s policies. The tenants were excluded from all council meetings.

Rents are increased, people are threatened with having their children taken from them and there’s the Bedroom Tax, another half-baked government idea to ‘solve’ the housing crisis. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that such a draconian measure will do anything other than hammer those who are already being squeezed by a high cost of living and stagnating incomes.

We want homes, not property ladders.

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Filed under 20th century, Conservative Party, Cuts, Government & politics, Hammersmith & Fulham Tories, History, History & Memory, Housing crisis, Labour, Local government, London

No British troops on the ground in the Sahel?

US involvement in Vietnam began with sending military advisers and look what happened.

Since the French military adventure in Mali began, we’ve heard a lot from Dizzy Dave Cameron about how British troops will not be sent to the Sahel to serve in a combat role. So the other day when I heard Britain was to dispatch 330 soldiers to the region in an “advisory” capacity, I was reminded of the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War, which began in 1956 when Eisenhower sent “military advisers” there to “train” the Vietnamese forces. In actual fact, advisers and observers had been sent there in 1950 by Truman to support the French efforts but in small numbers.

In 1954, the Americans and the French installed the puppet president, Ngô Đình Diệm in Saigon (he won a rigged election). He had impeccable anti-Communist credentials and was a Roman Catholic. An ideal choice for a country with a large Buddhist population. Opposition grew to  Diệm’s rule and by 1957, there was a full-scale insurgency. Diệm responded by torturing and killing those whom he believed were Communists. Such was his popularity, that he faced two assassination attempts. He was finally killed in 1963 in a CIA-supported coup and was replaced by Dương Văn Minh.

When Kennedy became US president in 1961, he sent more “military advisers” to Vietnam to support the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). My father was part of a contingent sent to Saigon in 1963. When Kennedy was assassinated in the same year, Johnson sent even more troops to Vietnam and by 1965, he’d escalated the war. You know what happened next.

The sending of “military advisers” to another country to counter “insurgents” is never a good sign. The Cat suspects that British special forces have also been sent to Mali and neighbouring Niger. Today, Cameron has flown to Algeria to have talks with his opposite number, Abdelmalek Sellal. No prizes for guessing what they’ll be talking about.

The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian special forces are already in Mali to “protect the country’s diplomats”.

The US has negotiated a deal with the Nigerien government to establish a base for its unmanned drones.

The head of the U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham, visited Niger last month. The poor, landlocked West Africa state has said it wants to have closer security cooperation with Washington.

Carter Ham… you’ve got to love that name. AFRICOM was established in 2006.

The new scramble for Africa is under way and ordinary people will get caught in the middle while the US, France, Britain, Canada and the rest of them slug it out with China and India (yes, India) for the continent’s resources.

Anyone for yellow cake uranium?

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Filed under 20th century, Africa, Algeria, History, History & Memory, Mali, The Maghreb, World