Friday, 17 October 2014

The small things enable the big things...

Both professionally and while running Pragmatic Radicalism, I've concluded that it really is the little things that count. I sum up my views in this aphorism:

"The small things are the hardest to get right, but once you get them right, the big things are easier to achieve."

PS I don't claim to have invented the above, as it's clearly not rocket science. But it did occur to me independently.

My blog for Progress: Their rights, our responsibility

Online here.

Their rights, our responsibility

Syria. Bombed out building. Assad. Homs.
It says a lot about humanity, international institutions and individuals that despite our facade of civilisation and modernity, the last three years saw weapons of mass destruction used against civilians and violations of human rights on an industrial scale, both in Syria. It was reported this week that photos smuggled out of Syria in 2011 of industrial-scale torture by the Assad regime are to appear in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. The scenes they depict, as with those from the Ghoutta WMD attack last year, evoke bygone eras of man-made tragedy. It is entirely appropriate therefore that they appear in such a museum, their ghosts reminding us of the human cost of inaction.
In these isolationist times, to have maximum impact, the photos should be displayed next to those showing other recent examples of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, which the international community did little or nothing to prevent: Bosnia, the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in Iraq, Rwanda, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, of course, present day Iraq and Syria.
I have visited the Washington DC Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem in Israel, and the Halabja memorial in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. As with all people of good conscience, I say ‘never again’. Yet it keeps happening again and again – a perpetual cycle in which those with evil intent fill the vacuum left where good people choose to do either nothing, or the bare minimum.
Perhaps this is a tragic reflection of illogical, irrational, contradictory urges within us all. We demand lower taxes yet simultaneously expect public spending increases. We refuse to vote, yet criticise politicians for not listening. It is human nature, yet when it comes to human rights, this wishful thinking, this perpetual hoping for the best, this conflicted logic is deadly.
To put it crudely, we say we believe in human rights but we do nothing to uphold them. Almost as if it would be enough to write down the criminal law, but be content with no criminal justice system. When other people’s ‘right to life, liberty and security of person’ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3), is being snuffed out we offer words of outrage, words of sympathy or words from noble legal texts. Yet when our own lives are threatened we demand action.
Politicians are far from solely to blame, for we the people have a responsibility to take the defence of human rights more seriously. We who are fortunate to live in democracies, enjoy but often do not value the rights won by and defended by our forebears in armed conflict. Yet from our gilded citadels, the delicate balance our politicians walk between leading and following is at present tilting in favour of the public’s abhorrence for military intervention to protect civilians from terrorists or dictators. We must accept our individual and collective responsibility to our fellow humans by urging our politicians to uphold human rights.
Large-scale human rights abuses should not be merely contained, they must be confronted. Politicians the world over have a responsibility to improve the mechanisms by which ‘never again’, ‘the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ and ‘the responsibility to protect’ become more than words. At present, people of good conscience are gifting the field to those for whom human rights are anathema. Unprotected principles perish. Rights will rot away if not respected. One day we may ask others to protect our human rights. We had better hope that they value our rights more than we value theirs today.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

My Times letter: Turkey should not be expected to be the only external country fighting ISIS on the ground

THE TIMES - online here; published in print edition on Saturday 11 October

Sir, Given that the US and UK have ruled out sending in ground troops, it is odd that western commentators demand that Turkey becomes the first and only country to do just that. Given the tragic history of relations between Turks and Kurds, it is all the more important that the world acts collectively to protect them and others. If the West was serious about its objective of “degrading and defeating” Isis, it would devise a suitable military strategy. At present, it appears to wish to outsource to others what it is unwilling to do itself. Meanwhile, civilians pay the price.

John Slinger 

Monday, 6 October 2014

My Guardian letter: air strikes strategy seems incapable of helping Kurdish city of Kobani

Online at The Guardian here (and published in print edition on Tues 7 October 2014)

During the 26 September parliamentary debate, the prime minister said that without British air strikes there was no realistic prospect of “degrading and defeating” Isis and destroying it as a serious terrorist force. While he was clear that “we should not expect this to happen quickly”, your report (6 October) that Syrian Kurds have said that US-led air strikes are “not enough” to defeat Isis forces attacking Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border, points to flaws in the US-led strategy.
First, Britain’s decision to limit our intervention to Iraq means we are powerless to come to the aid of Kobani. Second, the prime minister and President Obama insisted that their objectives could be met by providing air power in support of local forces, and by arming them. In Kobani, local forces have been receiving air support, yet still they may succumb to the terrorists. The strategy must therefore be adapted so that it is capable of achieving its objectives.
John Slinger

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Brian Blessed on the World Tonight about why William Hague is not the Greatest Living Yorkshireman!

A wonderful bit of radio, this - regarding David Cameron's description of William Hague as "the greatest living Yorkshireman" during his speech yesterday to the Conservative Party Conference. BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight  interviewed veteran actor Brian Blessed about this claim.

Caroline Wyatt (presenter): Was Mr Cameron right in his choice [of William Hague as the "greatest living Yorkshireman"]?

Brian Blessed: Oh, absolutely not.Totally ridiculous. He's a marvelous man, he made a marvelous speech the other day, he's a lovely Yorkshireman, a terrific guy. But he doesn't compare to me! I am, without doubt, the greatest Yorkshireman who's ever lived. We've got hundreds of Yorkshire people, you've got Patrick Stewart, the Captain, Jean-luc Picard, you've got Geoffrey Boycott, Dickie Bird, the whole of the gigantic county is full of marvelous people.

But the fact of the matter is, I am very hurt, because I have a special relationship with the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, absolutely. I was there in Number 10 Downing Street a few weeks ago, going to see about animals, and I was falling asleep by the window sill, and I suddenly felt his arms around me: "Hello Brian". We'd come into Number 10 Downing Street, we'd stood outside the door, he said: "Wake everybody up and shout "Gordon's alive" "! And I did that and he said thank you so much. So we have this very special relationship and it's an aberration by him to say that Hague is a wonderful man.

But William Hague comes from Woth-on-Durn, I come from half a mile away, Bolton-on-Durn, next to Woth-on-Durn [in a Yorks accent now], and they were always second to us. We beat them at football, we beat them at Sheffield Association League, but I mean William Hague, love, he can't hold a candle to me".

Caroline Wyatt: Follow that - Brian Blessed....

Thursday, 25 September 2014

My LabourUncut piece on Phil Collins' stage interview with Chuka Umunna at Labour Conference

Online here.

Chuka Umunna – A pro on what Labour must be pro if we are to win again

by John Slinger

During Phil Collins’s gentle jousting with Chuka Umunna today, their savvy wit was evident. While light-hearted at times (always a boon at conference) there was much substance.

First dodging the brickbat of why hasn’t Labour apologised more on the economy: “we’ve learnt the lessons of the crash” and the debt and deficit rose due to falling tax receipts not profligacy. This is a line that hasn’t resonated enough yet.

Chuka does the big picture well and was expansive on the three challenges Britain faces: “delivering social democracy in a fiscal cold climate, transformative technology, and global competition”.
Politely disagreeing with a questioner on modern technologies he argued that they shouldn’t be feared and can help “transform public services”.

He’s keen to utilise and promote the dynamic and the new, not build up defensive walls against it. Handing out certificates at school in his patch, he’d told the kids that they’re up against others from “Mumbai and Singapore who perhaps want it more as they’ve had perhaps had to struggle more”. Teachers and parents appreciated the straight-talking about how globalisation cannot be turned back. He’s right: dealing with such challenges starts in the classroom and goes way beyond there.

The wit was there, from Collins of course, but while refuting the “nonsense” charge that Labour isn’t sufficiently pro-business, Chuka reminded all that New Labour weren’t exactly flush with business endorsement in ’97, having been “elated to get Richard Branson on a train with Tony Blair”! It was good to hear what should be both a defence against the anti-business charge, and an attack on the newly the newly rejuvenated europhobes of Cameron’s Tories: that “the biggest concern of British business is our exit from the EU”.

In 2012, he’d chaired an event on entreprensurship and small business for the organisation I chair, Pragmatic Radicalism. What more, I asked, ought all members and CLPs do to reach out to local businesses, not just unions and community groups (vital though this is)? He’d championed Small Business Saturday and flagged up this year’s on 6 December, also CLPs should engage with Business Improvement Districts. I’ve long thought that we can’t just rely on Chuka to defeat the Tory lie that we don’t “get” or like business. We’re the party of work after all.

He touched on last week’s referendum, concluding that we need not just “big ideas” but a “big tent” and reminding us that the1997 tally of 59 southern English Labour MPs now stands at 10.

Of course Chuka wouldn’t be interested in any future leadership election, quipped Collins, to much merriment and wry smiles, but which colleagues “might be contenders”? Cool as a cucumber, Chuka retorted “there’s only one person to look out for: Prime Minister Miliband”! There were smiles too when Collins asked why Len McCluskey got slightly more rapturous applause than greeted him: “Len and I have different roles”. He was respectful but confidently deflected this sidewinder.

We all know Chuka’s a pro. But I’d rather focus on the substance not the style. He set out some things from his portfolio that we as a Labour Party must be “pro” in order to win in May. Pro-business, pro-getting business talking to primary students, pro-entrepreneurship, pro-social enterprise, pro-raising the status of youth workers, pro-straight talking. I forgot one last one…pro-Ed Miliband. Sounds like a winning formula for Chuka and Labour.

**Thank you to the good people at Fujitsu for letting me type this in their zone!**

John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant and Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism. He blogs here

My LabourList blog - Recall of Parliament: MPs must redefine the art of the possible

Recall of Parliament: MPs must redefine the art of the possible

SEPTEMBER 25, 2014 2:14 PM
Bismarck said “diplomacy is the art of the possible”. The “possible” exists at the interface between what we should do and what could do. Politicians are not disembodied, disinterested actors. They can and should shape the “possible”. Miliband, Cameron and Clegg are showing the leadership needed. The recall of Parliament tomorrow gives MPs an opportunity to do likewise.
The following counter-factual, or counter-“possible” might help them consider the dilemma of whether Britain should support airstrikes: what would the response be of a government of either party that enjoyed a comfortable working majority following a recently fought election? Such a government would support our action in both Iraq and Syria as necessary and justified on the following grounds.
First, moral: due to the terrorists’ barbaric, genocidal acts which have violated UN-mandated human rights, caused a humanitarian catastrophe and continue to threaten hundreds of thousands.
Second, legal: given the Genocide Convention, which we have signed and whose terms compel us to “punish and protect”, and given both the request for support of the Iraqi government and the illegitimacy of the Assad regime. President Obama, who has done all in his power to avoid intervening, hasn’t regarded a Security Council resolution as a precondition for action.
Third, practical: it can be clearly demonstrated that airstrikes can help contain the terrorists and over time, as shown in Kurdistan following the No Fly Zone, allow civilian populations to flourish.
Fourth, national interest: given the threat posed from returning jihadis, and the clear danger posed to other states of terrorist safe havens being allowed to persist.
Finally, strategic interest: as a Permanent Member of the Security Council, a leading European power and given our desire to maintain our status as America’s closest ally, we would wish to be part of countering perhaps the biggest threat to the region and the world.
However, the context today is that of next May’s election in which the victor may at best win a slim majority. Many MPs are haunted by the ghosts of last summer’s Syria vote and of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and face electors who are at best ambivalent towards intervention. Despite mood music suggesting those MPs who were sceptical last year are now supportive, the Commons may yet reject further military entanglement. This would be a mistake of tragic proportions, most notably for the victims of terrorists, for regional and global security and for our influence in the world.
The best artists of “the possible”, the best leaders, choose not to be wholly defined by the context in which they operate. It takes guts and is risky, but sometimes only by acting can such leaders define “the possible” and change the context. John Major helped Kurdistan remove the yoke of Saddam Hussein’s genocide with the 1991 No Fly Zone and Tony Blair protected Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo.
The recall may be a case study in the eternal politicians’ dilemma of having to choose between doing the right thing and doing what is what is politically expedient and easy. Each MP must show leadership, and vote to do what is moral, legal, practical and in our immediate and long-term interest. Britain must join its allies in launching airstrikes.
John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant.