Hurray! Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have announced that they were actually against the declaration of war on Iraq. The battle for the soul of the Labour Party is won! Pfft. Do me a favour. The announcements from Balls and Miliband are designed to position themselves as populists without having to promote any popular positions on policy.
“People always felt as if the decision had been made and they were being informed after the fact.” [...]
“I was in the room when a decision was taken that we would say it was that dastardly Frenchman, Jacques Chirac, who had scuppered it. It wasn’t really true, you know. I said to Gordon: ‘I know why you’re doing this, but you’ll regret it’. France is a very important relationship for us.”[...]
“It was a mistake. On the information we had, we shouldn’t have prosecuted the war. We shouldn’t have changed our argument from international law to regime change in a non-transparent way. It was an error for which we as a country paid a heavy price, and for which many people paid with their lives. Saddam Hussein was a horrible man, and I am pleased he is no longer running Iraq. But the war was wrong.”
One can’t help but notice that the wrongness of the war didn’t stop Balls from accepting a parachute into a safe Labour seat from the New Labour heirarchy, nor a series of well-paying jobs from the very people who inaugurated the war. Quite the heavy price. But all of this is nothing compared to Balls’ admission that he’d have voted for the war.
So not that against the war.
“As we all know, the basis for going to war was on the basis of Saddam’s threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction and therefore that is why I felt the weapons inspectors should have been given more time to find out whether he had those weapons, and Hans Blix – the head of the UN weapons inspectorate – was saying that he wanted to be given more time. The basis for going to war was the threat that he posed.
“The combination of not giving the weapons inspectors more time, and then the weapons not being found, I think for a lot of people it led to a catastrophic loss of trust for us, and we do need to draw a line under it.”
Clear moral leadership there from Miliband. Or not. It may just be a poor choice of words, but what Miliband is saying seems to be that the Labour government lied, and that it’d be really nice if people would just forget about it. Sure, Hans Blix should have been given more time, but there’s no actual critique of the war there.
Millions of people marched against the war – millions who did not support the objectives of the war, who did not want to risk British lives and who plainly disbelieved every word the government uttered. The best Ed Miliband can come up with is that the weapons inspectors should have been given longer, and that the failure of the invasion to find them led to a loss of trust. Lukewarm.
I can’t help but wonder if the Guardian stirring up this issue simply as a backdoor endorsement to Ed Miliband, which Ed Balls has neatly shafted. In reality, each interview is a key failure – it demonstrates categorically that both Balls and Brother Ed see government in the traditional way: you can disagree with the decision but it ultimately belongs to the Ministers and the Parliamentary Party.
Election to government of a Labour Party with these men at the top would thus not be substantially different to New Labour.
On the surface, the Telegraph reports of £18 million in state funds going to Unite, and its predecessors Amicus and TGWU, from the Labour government seem pretty damning. I was outraged; unions are not there to be funded by the State, and taking such funding compromises unions. Their bureaucracies could thence rely on State aid as insulation from having to fight for and fight to keep members’ dues.
There is also the question as to whether or not the unions like Unite have been feeding this money back into the Labour Party. If that could be proved to be the case, then it’s all the more reason to get rid of the current morons at the top of the Labour Party; first the scandal of private donations from millionaires, and cash for peerages, now this.
Lest people forget, if any of this were true, the government was not just using State money to stay in government through a funded political machine. They were using it to retain control of the Labour Party, which is a much greater offence, so far as I and many other socialists would be concerned.
Reality is not so simple, however. There are several funds which have channelled money to the unions, (e.g. Partnership at Work, the Union Modernisation Fund and the Union Learning Fund) and none of them are to do with political donations. The amount gathered from each member for a political fund must be stipulated, only money from the political fund may be used for political activities and money from other accounts may not be used.
That is the law. No one has said that the law has been broken, and the Guardian’s disingenuous chart (shown right, courtesy of Iain Dale) is simply a case of attempting to secure a guilty verdict by very dodgy inferences. All the accusations of money laundering – of this money passing through Unite or the other unions en route to Labour – are silly.
A fair contention, however, is that there is a moral case to answer. A Labour government is channelling money directly to the unions – for admittedly benevolent, non-political purposes. But presumably – as well as reaching difficult to organise workers, and coaching people to get qualifications and training – this bolsters the prestige and attraction of the trades unions. Union Learning Fund projects, for example, seem open only to union members.
Higher union membership means more money for the Labour Party. Or does it?
Actually I don’t think this moral case holds up. Since every member of a union chooses whether or not to pay into the political fund, people who don’t want to support Labour can benefit from these programmes. There’s also the numerous cases of unions which have political funds that don’t contribute to Labour – such as the National Union of Teachers, the RMT, University and Colleges Union or the Fire Brigades Union.
The actual programmes involved, through which all this money is channelled, break down the moral case further still.
On a political level, programmes like Partnership at Work were not designed as vehicles for left-wing policy – they were the opposite. Their whole purpose was to suppress open conflict in the workplace. It’s my view that this type of thing directly led to a harmful increase in the pressure put on staff, in an environment free of the danger of industrial unrest.
On a practical level, programmes like Dignity at Work had the support of employers, employees, unions and the State – and these channelled large sums to educate on and prevent workplace bullying and other issues which are not just Left issues, since bullying affects productivity. Similarly with the Union Learning and Union Modernisation Funds.
Far from being bungs to union allies, this money was to serve a purpose that was not so crassly ‘political’ as is being made out and which gave little succour to “the Left”, unless we’re to recycle and adjust Harold Wilson, “Socialism is what unions do”, regardless of what they actually do.
By all means, people should object to unions being used as the vehicle for such policies – and I haven’t made up my mind yet, though I’m leaning towards a separation of unions as agitational bodies of workers from educative and training bodies paid for by the State. They can object to the specific policies as being inefficient or poor uses of money. But they can’t reasonably object that this money is a bung to union allies of a Labour Party.
The last refuge for such an accusation is whether all the money allocated for these purposes was spent on what it was supposed to have been spent on. The suggestive comments in the media – and the near-hysterical comments in the Right-blogosphere – betray ignorance over just this. So audits should be done, and we should see how it was spent.
None of it will have found its way into the political funds; I take that as a given. If it has, an offence has been committed and the guilty individuals responsible should be punished – but I doubt union officials are so stupid.
It is more believable that money left over may have been spent on more general concerns or union administration not necessarily relating to the projects mandated by the specific aims of these funds. To allay concerns, turn over the books. Open government is our friend. What is not acceptable is the high pitched screeching before any facts are known.
There’s an interesting comment-piece by Stephanie Gutman over at the Telegraph which neatly feeds into the right-wing narrative that gay rights have gone too far, that political correctness has gone mad. It plays to the notion that we must rein in all these millions of rules about what people can say, think and do, using a fair dollop of ‘common sense’ and ignoring as a joke many things which might otherwise call for a bit of rigidly enforced political correctness in the form of a horsewhip. But enough of my editorializing.
“President Obama is searching desperately for a sop to throw his Left-wing base, and he must have thought he’d found one in the statement in his State of the Union address: “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”
“Like so many of the SOTU lines, this was a piece of flim-flam. [...] When Obama announced his new goal, the television cameras cut to the chiefs of the Navy, Army, Air force and Marines. They sat stony-faced.
“Are the service chiefs homophobes? I don’t think so. The US military is generally a very tolerant place. As one of my soldier friends put it, “I never saw any kind of witchhunt. Most commanders had their plates full with doing their jobs.”
“No, the main reason the brass resist changing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell now, while the country is immersed in two wars, is because they recognise that withdrawing the policy would create a new protected category and a new opening for battles over perceived discrimination.
“In other words, since it would be illegal to discharge for homosexuality, many discharges brought for other reasons will be challenged as if they had been brought for homosexuality, as we see in the civilian world when, for instance, a woman fired for lateness insists she was fired because she is a woman and demands a full fledged discrimination trial.”
Hang on, the US military is tolerant? An antidote to such a view should be the most recent rape statistics:
- There were 2,923 reported sexual assaults in the 2008 fiscal year, up from 2,688 in 2007 [63% of this number were allegations of rape or aggravated assault - Ed]
- There 251 incidents in combat areas, including 141 in Iraq and 22 in Afghanistan
- Investigations took place in 2,763 cases. In 832 cases, action was taken, including 317 courts-martial, a rise of 38%
- Of the 6.8% of women and 1.8% of men who indicated they had experienced unwanted sexual contact, the majority – 79% of women and 78% of men – chose not to report it.
This increase in courts-martial is a result of unprecedented public pressure, resulting from journalists throwing the spotlight on women who served in the military. Military policy actually changed in 2005, to improve the rate of reporting the various types of sexual assault, and even still estimates are that those cases which are reported are a small fraction of the incidents actually going on. A March 2009 DoD report suggests ninety percent aren’t reported.
Some of the stories are simply shocking and go beyond the statistics provided above by the BBC, by interviewing veterans who served. The following is an extract from an article written by Helen Benedict in The Nation.
“The double traumas of combat and sexual persecution may be why a 2008 RAND study found that female veterans are suffering double the rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder for their male counterparts.The double traumas of combat and sexual persecution may be why a 2008 RAND study found that female veterans are suffering double the rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder for their male counterparts.[...]
“When Specialist Suzanne Swift reported her sergeant for repeatedly raping her over months and then refused to redeploy under him, the army tried her by court martial for desertion and put her in prison for a month.
“When Cassandra Hernandez of the Air Force reported being gang-raped by three comrades at her training acadamy, her command charged her with indecent behavior for consorting with her rapists.
“When Sergeant Marti Ribeiro reported being raped by a fellow serviceman while she was on guard duty in Afghanistan, the Air Force threatened to court martial her for leaving her weapon behind during the attack. “That would have ruined by career,” she said. “So I shut up.”
“All the men who were accused in these cases went unpunished. Several of them even won promotions.[...]
“Even those few men who are found guilty of sexual assault or rape tend to receive absurdly mild punishments, such as suspension, demotion, or a scolding letter for their file. In 2008, 62 percent of offenders found guilty received mild punishments like this. This amounts to a tiny fraction of the men accused of sexual assault. One particularly grotesque example of this sort of justice is the 2006 case of army sergeant Damon D. Shell, who ran over and killed 20-year-old Private First Class Hannah Gunterman McKinney of the 44th Corps Support Battalion on her base in Iraq on September 4. Shell pleaded guilty to drinking in a war zone, drunken driving and “consensual sodomy” with McKinney, an underage junior soldier to whom he had supplied alcohol until she was incapacitated. Having sex with a person incapacitated by alcohol is legally rape, and using rank to coerce a junior into a sexual act is legally rape in the military, too. Yet a military judge ruled McKinney’s death an accident, said nothing about rape, and sentenced Shell to thirteen months in prison and demotion to private. Shell was not even kicked out of the army.”
So US military personnel are completely understanding and tolerant of homosexuality, even though back in the good ol’ US of A, it’s widely denigrated and attacked, but the attitude to women is almost routinely crude and brutal? Something doesn’t quite stack up.
While it would probably be too simplistic to say that these forms of discrimination emanate from a single, shared, source, they do have a lot in common – especially the emphasis on the link between masculinity and male sexuality which, in an organization designed to blow shit up, is not in short supply to begin with. This is reflected in the view of the heirarchy that women should not be permitted to sign on as frontline combatants.
Simply put, the US military is not the environment one expects tolerant attitudes to thrive, as exemplified by the attitudes to women, and some effort should be made to correct that.
Repealing DADT is a good way to bring many gays and lesbians, who have contributed to the military, out of the closet. A Democratic Congress can amend the USC to get rid of the policy, and it has plenty of support from various former brass, contrary the ‘stony-faced’ image of those who were sitting in the US House of Representatives when Obama gave his State of the Union.
There’s good reason for the attitudes of the brass; during large combat operations, expulsions for being gay actually drop, presumably as it’s a case of “Every man for the front!” Pragmatism about US military recruitment and retention means that the military needs to be open to anyone and can’t waste time throwing people out after a costly and time-consuming investigation initiated because they happen to mention that they’re married to someone of the wrong gender.
Columnists who spin this one as a sop to Obama’s left-wing base are just dressing up their own homophobia as political cynicism. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell gets a lot of attention in college campuses which attempt to ban recruiters on the grounds that the armed forces discriminate, or as a result of a specific hate-crime [e.g.] that provokes media furore, but by and large the Left has a lot of other things to worry about right now – like healthcare and jobs. Anyone who thinks this will swing the mid-terms in November is a fool.
Finally, dismissing attempts to repeal DADT on the grounds that it is going to create another ‘protected group’ which might result in additional litigation is simply not good enough. It may well create such cases, but litigation is the means whereby the individual can defend him or herself against the institution. Even at the expense of frivolous cases where defendants cheekily assert that the dual circumstances of a sanction against them and their membership of a minority constitutes evidence of discrmination, one would have thought the Right would have been all for this.
Apparently not when the issue at stake is homosexuality.