Thursday, 20 December 2012

My Downing St e-petition: Cap all public sector pay at maximum of rate of an MP (£65k)

Please sign it using this link and publicise if you agree (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/40534). Thank you.



Text of e-petition:

Cap all publicly-funded salaries at MPs' pay (£65,738), in order to pay key workers more, reduce cuts to key services and pay off the deficit


Responsible department: Her Majesty's Treasury

Many key public sector employees, at the lower pay scales, are underpaid. Many at higher pay scales are overpaid.

In order to increase the pay of people doing the most vital, socially-useful frontline jobs, on which we all rely (such as teachers, police officers, members of the armed forces, ambulance staff, general NHS workers, care assistants, environmental health officers, fire officers, social workers, etc) the following should occur:

- NO PERSON WHOSE PAY IS FUNDED BY THE PUBLIC PURSE (INCLUDING THE BBC) SHOULD BE PAID MORE THAN THE SALARY OF AN MP (£65,738).

- The savings should be used to pay key workers more, reduce cuts to key services and pay off the deficit.



Thursday, 6 December 2012

Assad's use of WMDs would also shame the West & the world

I sent this letter sent to The Times, which has not been published.

Also see this NBC report claiming that Syrian forces may be preparing chemical weapons for use.

------

Sir,

Your report (£) about Assad's regime preparing to use chemical weapons and the comments of President Obama that were this to occur there would be "consequences" exposes a depressing truth not just about this brutal regime, but about the weakness of the Western and international response.

By saying that "the use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable", Obama reluctantly confirms to Assad (and all would-be dictators the world over) that the use of other forms of lethal force such as heavy artillery, war planes, tanks, ground troops and even the use of murderous gangs of regime militia, is acceptable. Of course the US and her allies condemn such violence, but they are resolutely failing to act to prevent it. Tacit acceptance has the same practical effect on the ground as wholehearted support: the violence continues.

People of good conscience, who believe in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees "the right to life, liberty and security of person", must urge their leaders to take action against dictators when they egregiously trample on these rights, whatever mechanism of violence is deployed. Chemical weapons are merely a more efficient and terrifying means of pursuing the course of action that Assad has embarked upon, emboldened as he is by the world's indifference.

Kind regards,

John Slinger
Chair, Pragmatic Radicalism

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Times publishes my letter: 'Osborne’s idea undermines hard-won rights'

Available online here (£).

Osborne’s idea undermines hard-won rights

Sir, By offering private sector employees tax-free shares in return for the surrender of basic employment rights the Chancellor is replacing what some feel is the “something for nothing” culture with a “money for your rights” alternative.

How long before the Government’s covenant with citizens is warped further by the offer of free social care in old age in exchange for the loss of free GP consultations, or a state pension cash bonus on retirement in exchange for working until 75, or free healthcare for children in return for a private insurance system for their parents?

A world in which people are bribed into forgoing long-fought-for rights and protections in exchange for financial benefits would be a Kafkaesque dystopia. That it is being considered by the Conservatives shows that their attempts at detoxification were little more than a cynical marketing campaign.

John Slinger
Chair, Pragmatic Radicalism, Rugby


Left Foot Forward publishes my article about Pragmatic Radicalism's Top of the Policies events past and future

View online here.

Left Foot ForwardLeft Foot Forward

Top of the Policies: Promoting participation, curing cynicism and antidoting apathy

Print Friendly

John Slinger is the chair of Pragmatic Radicalism and vice-chair of Rugby Labour; he is a strategic communications consultant
Pragmatic-Radicalism-meetingDon’t believe everything you read in the papers. Heralding the conference season, a Times leader (£) entitled “The Party Is Over” proclaimed:
“In many fringe meetings, the parliamentary affairs departments of different pressure groups talk to each other, making up both speakers and spoken to, because there are hardly any party members there.”
After Labour conference, The Guardian’s John Harrisbemoaned that while politicians:
“…fret about what’s happening to our democracy, the parties’ response is to spend millions on annual events that symbolise everything that has gone wrong.”
Such reporting is becoming an annual journalistic ritual (read Martin Kettle last year, and yours truly’s riposte), akin to the August stories about a state school pupil failing to get to Oxbridge or the decline in A-level standards.

Given their proximity to power and those who seek it, our finest political journalists focus on the Three Bigs: beasts, picture and narrative.
In the process they often miss the experiments bubbling away back of the lab and the new ideas of ‘not the usual suspects’ - although to be fair to John Harris, he did concede:
“The unexpected, if it occurs, occurs on the fringe. Here are the flashes of passion.”
This is indeed true, as anyone who attended our fringe in Manchester would have seen.

In place of a panel of the great and good, there were 20 self-selecting speakers pitching new policy ideas. Where panellists normally speak for 10 minutes, here there were 90-second pitches. Instead of lengthy, multiple questions, there were two minutes of fast-paced Q&A per presentation involving most of the audience. Where lengthy concluding remarks would be, there was a vote, leading to a top policy.

Bottom-up, not top-down. Inclusive not exclusive. The quality of the idea counted more than the status of the speaker.

One hundred ordinary members packed in, debated, laughed, heckled (respectfully), drank and ate whilst being occasionally verbally-whipped by chair Michael White’s acerbic wit. In short, an anti-fringe event, yet it had a serious output – the wisdom of this particular crowd chose Labour PPC for Lincoln Lucy Rigby’s idea for boosting voting by young people, beating Peter Kellner into second place with his ‘bribe the electorate’ policy of giving vouchers to those who vote at elections, and a policy from Alex Burrows’s plan to rewrite the transport textbook.

Added to the two fringes, we’ve held six themed TOTP events throughout 2012, usually chaired by the relevant shadow minister, including Jim Murphy MP, Sadiq Khan MP, Maria Eagle MP and Jack Dromey MP. We relish the opportunity to get out of SW1, and held one event in Birmingham, are off to Kendle in the Lake District in November and have more planned around the country.
We’ve captured all 160 ideas from the year’s events in our latest pamphlet, “Top Policies: Labour Policy as Democracy”, which features articles by the winners and an introduction by the co-ordinator of Labour’s policy review, Jon Cruddas MP.

You can pick up a copy at our next TOTP event, next Wednesday, October 17th, at the Barley Mow pub in Westminster. The theme is industrial policy, and the meeting is chaired by the shadow minister for competitiveness and enterprise Iain Wright MP - better still, we’d be delighted if you’d suggest an idea on industrial policy to pitch on the night.

Top of the Policies events are a platform for policy debate that is innovative, exciting and relevant to a party that wants to govern again. The vibrancy of the ideas and the fraternal and open-minded, intellectually curious attitude of our audiences tells me Labour has what it takes to reach out to voters in new ways and involve them in the policy-making process. Doing this with gusto must be an essential plank of the strategy for winning the next election.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

My speech at the Kurdistan Regional Government fringe event at Labour Party Conference 2012 on Responsibility to Protect

An abridged version of the speech below has been published by Progressonline here.

I delivered the speech below at a fringe meeting in the Midland Hotel, during the Labour Party Conference, organised by the Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation.

The Panel
Details of the event and the panel are here. The other panellists were Labour MPs Dave Anderson, Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq (unable to attend on the day), and Mike Gapes, a Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Robert Lowe from the LSE Middle East Centre also joined the panel. The meeting will was chaired by Gary Kent, Director of Labour Friends of Iraq.

The Topic:

Responsibility to Protect: Kurdish lessons for Syria and the Middle East.

---


I'm going to start this speech off in an unusual way – by quoting a song about the very antithesis of what is going on in Syria - LOVE.

If any of you are old enough....!

The band Extreme's biggest hit – ‘MORE THAN WORDS’.

Some lines from the song:

"More than words is all you have to do to make it real"
"More than words to show you feel"
"More than words is all I ever needed you to show"

I want to talk about words and why they are never enough.

Words are important in regulating human relations.
What we say to each other is important.
The words we use when writing law are important.

But to misquote the Bible...'justice cannot live by words alone'.

I believe in words. Not only am I an old romantic but I also believe the most important words in history are those in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, unequivocally:

'Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.'

Powerful words....

But just as in personal relations, when we say I LOVE YOU - it is as nothing unless the words carry weight, unless we actually mean it and CRUCIALLY unless we back up the sentiment with action not just once, but always...not just now - but in the future.

In international relations - for the words of international law to mean anything, those to whom they apply - ordinary people and governments, must know that they will be backed up.

...MORE THAN WORDS.

What is happening in Syria now shows:

- the futility of words
- the cover offered by legalistic words to ineffectual international organisations/countries
- the meaninglessness of words in international law.

What of the words we use in international law?
…norms, laws, conventions, treaties, the Universal Declaration, United Nations Security Council Resolutions?

Take the case of Saddam. He flouted many UNSC Resolutions over many years. He breached the cease-fire treaty from the first Gulf War...

In Bosnia, the UNSC passed numerous resolutions, all of which were defied until we acted (and after between 100-200,000 had perished).

In Rwanda...DRC...?

There is a pattern. An evil regime or dictator, which has NO democratic legitimacy, first flouts and then tramples on international law, on the Universal Declaration and even the Resolutions of the UNSC. The response of the UN, the West, the regional bodies such as the Arab League is usually little more than WORDS.

Yet...these stains on the conscience of mankind moved even the UN to seek to improve the way the world deals with such human-made disasters.

The international community - shamed by the Rwanda and Bosnia debacles, began developing a doctrine of the Responsibility To Protect via the United Nations’ International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) - formally integrated into the UN’s framework in 2005.

The use of force is restricted by four precautionary principles: right intention, last resort, proportional means and reasonable prospect, in addition to notions of just cause and right authority.

And yet despite R2P, action is patchy to say the least.

...there are plenty high meaning words...but they are not enough...

Before the R2P came the Universal Declaration...and in the same year, 1948, the Genocide Convention - the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, of 1948.

Again shows the futility of words, given that the unprecedented description in 2004 by General Colin Powell of the then ongoing events in Darfur as "genocide" resulted in, as we all know - NO ACTION.

Many presumed that Article 1 of the Convention, through which states undertake to "prevent and punish genocide" - would compel the US and her allies to act.

Yet this wasn't so. Even when they did describe genocide, no action followed, because the Convention is vague on the obligations of states.

People assume there is a nobility in debating words, in JAW JAW as opposed to WAR WAR.
There is not.
Murdering dictators have no morality. They subscribe only to Stalin's doctrine 'HOW MANY DIVISIONS DOES THE POPE HAVE?'

Some say – “more JAW JAW less WAR WAR”.

I say “LESS JAW JAW, more ACTION ACTION”.

We must give moral validity to the words we as great powers, we as a member of the UNSC, we as the international community, or each of us as individuals use.

The civilians of Syria do not want our pity, our expressions of outrage any more than the Kurds in Iraq would have appreciated mere sympathy as the WMDs rained down on them. What they appreciated was not WORDS but ACTION.

So what are the Kurdish lessons for Syria?

They are bleak. They are not the lessons of Kurdistan. They are also the lessons of other genocides. They are that:

- international law is virtually worthless, even when it outlaws genocide and obligates states to prevent and punish it
- that a genocide even of 1 million people can result in no outside intervention
- that the red lines of a superpower are over the possibility of WMD use, not genocide.

And yet the conscience of mankind can be shamed into effective action. In an ad hoc manner unfitting of universal ideals such as the right to life.

Here the Kurdish example is a good one and gives us limited hope...

John Major is to be complemented on his brave decision to enforce NO FLY ZONES in the South and North of Iraq in 1991. At a stroke, words began to have practical and moral meaning. The RAF jets did not drop UNSC resolutions, they dropped bombs, and Saddam finally was made to listen.

Yet in recent years, in Darfur, genocide went unpunished, un-prevented.

And while we sit here, debate with our friends in the secure bubble of this conference, indeed this  country, children in Syria re having their throats cut, mothers are crying, Russian-made heavy weapons, helicopters and warplanes are attacking civilian areas. This is 2012 not 1942.

We in Labour must remember that to be of the left is to believe in the dignity of human beings, in their rights.

We must not hide behind a naïve belief that any western intervention is an imperialist plot.

Some on the left are so wedded to this misconception with the tragic result that they end up giving succour to evil fascist tyrants. In days of old, socialists formed brigades to fight fascism in Spain. Now, some devote more energy to arresting Tony Blair than they do to stopping the Slayer of Syria or than they did against the Butcher of Baghdad before him.

As someone who stood in the garden of a Kurdish minister in the Red Zone in Baghdad as mortars and machine gun fire thundered nearby amid the calls to prayer, I recall the woman Iraqi MP saying to me - if they, the terrorists, win - we are all finished - you, me and your own people. She did not mean only our physical safety in Baghdad. She was making the wider point - that the engineers of evil, pose a threat to us all.

So can it be said that if we allow women, children and yes, freedom-fighters to be snuffed out in Syria, we can remain safe in fortress Britain?

When human rights are worth so little in Syria can it be said with confidence that our own human rights are truly safe?

At a time when there are worrying echoes from the 1930s emerging in Europe - when extremist parties stalk the streets in Athens, when people talk of the collapse of the post-war settlement in Europe, is it wise to teach dictators that for we powerful nations, and for international law - words remain only words?

So recognising the genocide vs Kurds is what I'll call a 'retrospective start'. But that is all.

Condemning Assad is not even the start - it is a joke, unless you are prepared to back up those words.

The Kurds are now asking for some words from the UK Government - and are campaigning for this via an e-petition. But while it is important to right the wrong of international silence on whether this was genocide - it of course was - the true power of this petition will be if it adds yet more weight to the demand that such crimes cannot happen and will be prevented and punished. It is not recognising a past genocide for its own sake. The act of recognition must go hand-in-hand with the firm belief that we will act to prevent such things happening again.

The e-petition must itself therefore be MORE THAN WORDS.

Human rights do and must trump the rights of so-called Great Powers to veto action to protect their own interests.

The responsibility to protect should be enforced.

The results of humankind's collective failure to make its words carry weight has been suffered in the past by the Kurds and is being suffered by the civilians of Syria.

The e-petition must help ensure that such crimes do not happen again.

This requires that we put action where our words are.

More than words!

THANK YOU.


My speech at the Kurdistan Regional Government fringe event at Labour Party Conference 2012 on Responsibility to Protect


The following is the text of a speech I gave at the Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation's fringe event at Labour Party Conference, October 2012, on the theme: 'Kurdish lessons for Syria and the Middle East'.

An abridged version of the speech appeared as an article at Progress (online), Huffington Post UK, and the KRG website.

*****

[SPEAKING NOTES FOR SPEECH]

I will start this speech off in an unusual way- quoting a song about the very antithesis of what is going on in Syria - LOVE.

If any of you are old enough....!

The band Extreme's biggest hit - MORE THAN WORDS.

Some lines from the song:

"More than words is all you have to do to make it real"
"More than words to show you feel"
"More than words is all I ever needed you to show"

I want to talk about words and why they are never enough.

Words are important in regulating human relations.
What we say to each other is important
The words we use when writing law are important.

But to misquote the Bible...'justice cannot live by words alone'

I believe in words. Not only am I an old romantic but I also believe the most important words in history are those in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, unequivocally:

'Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.'

Powerful words....

But just as in personal relations, when we say I LOVE YOU - it is as nothing unless the words carry weight, unless we actually mean it and CRUCIALLY unless we back up the sentiment with action not just once, but always...not just now - but in the future.

In International relations - for the words of international law to mean anything, those to whom they apply - ordinary people and governments, must know that they will be backed up.

...MORE THAN WORDS

What is happening in Syria now shows

the futility of words
the cover offered by legalistic words to ineffectual international organs./countries
the meaninglessness of words in international law

What of the words we use in international law?
norms, laws, conventions, treaties, the Universal Declaration, UNSC Resolutions?

Take the case of Saddam. He flouted 16 UNSC Resolutions dating back to 1990.

In Bosnia, the UNSC passed numerous resolutions, all of which were defied until....

In Rwanda...DRC...?

There is a pattern. An evil regime or dictator, which has NO democratic legitimacy, first flouts and then tramples on international law, on the Universal Declaration and even the Resolutions of the UNSC. The response of the UN, the West, the regional bodies such as the Arab League is usually little more than WORDS.

Yet...these stains on the conscience of mankind moved even the UN to seek to improve the way the world deals with such human-made disasters.

The international community - shamed by the Rwanda and Bosnia debacles, began developing a doctrine of the Responsibility To Protect via the United Nations’ International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) - formally integrated into the UN’s framework in 2005.

"The use of force is regulated by four precautionary principles: right intention, last resort, proportional means and reasonable prospect in combination with just cause and right authority."

And yet despite R2P, action is patchy to say the least.

...there are plenty high meaning words...but they are not enough...

Before the R2P came the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention - Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, of 1948.

Again shows the futility of words, given that the unprecedented description in 2004 by Gen Colin Powell of the then ongoing events in Darfur as "genocide" resulted in, as we all know - NO ACTION.

Many presumed that Article 1 of the Convention, through which states undertake to "prevent and punish genocide" - would compel the US and her allies to act.

Yet this wasn't so. Even when they did describe genocide, no action followed, because the Convention is vague on the obligations of states, stating in Article 8 merely that

People assume there is a nobility in debating words, in JAW JAW as opposed to WAR WAR. There is not. Murdering dictators have no morality. They subscribe only to Stalin's doctrine 'HOW MANY DIVISIONS DOES THE POPE HAVE.'

Some say- more JAW JAW less WAR WAR.

I say LESS JAW JAW, more ACTION ACTION.

We must give moral validity to the words we as great powers, we as a member of the UNSC, we as the international community, or each of us as individuals use.

The civilians of Syria do not want our pity, our expressions of outrage any more than the Kurds in Iraq would have appreciated mere sympathy as the WMDs rained down on them. What they appreciated was not WORDS but ACTION.

So what are the Kurdish lessons for Syria?

They are bleak. They are not the lessons of Kurdistan. They are also the lessons of other genocides. They are that:

- international law is virtually worthless, even when it outlaws genocide and obligates sttes to prevent and punish it
- that a genocide even of 1 million people can result in no outside intervention
- that the red lines of a superpower are over the possibility of WMD use, not genocide.

And yet the conscience of mankind can be shamed into effective action. In an ad hoc manner unfitting of universal ideals such as the right to life.

Here the Kurdish example is a good one and gives us limited hope...

John Major is to be complemented on his brave decision to enforce NO FLY ZONES in the South and North of Iraq in 1991. At a stroke, words began to have practical and moral meaning. The RAF jets did not drop UNSC resolutions, they dropped bombs, and Saddam finally was made to listen.

Again in Darfur - in Sudan. What amounts to a genocide went unpunished. Indeed this is, for me, the case which epitomises my view on the futility of words. The then Secretary of State Colin Powell even declared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee  in 2004 that a genocide had occurred, yet still NO ACTION followed despite the US being signatories to the UN...

And while we sit hear, debate with our friends in the secure bubble of this conference, indeed this  country, children in Syria re having theiR throats cut, mothers are crying, Russian heavy weapons, helicopters and warplanes are attacking civilian areas. This is 2012 not 1942.

We in Labour must remember that to be of the left is to believe in the dignity of human beings, in their rights.

We must not hide behind a naïve belief that any western intervention is an imperialist plot.
Some on the left are so wedded to the this misconception with the tragic result that they end up giving succour to evil fascist tyrants. In days of old socialists formed brigades to fight fascism in Spain. Now some devote more energy to arresting Tony Blair than they do to stopping the Slayer of Syria or than they did against the Butcher of Baghdad before him.

As someone who stood in the garden of a Kurdish minister in the Red Zone in Baghdad as mortars and machine gun fire thundered nearby amid the calls to prayer, I recall the woman Iraqi MP saying to me - if they, the terrorists, win - we are all finished - you, me and your own people. She did not mean only our physical safety in Baghdad. She was making the wider point - that the engineers of evil, the harbingers of human rights and human lives, pose a threat to us all.

So can it be said that if we allow women, children and yes, freedom-fighters to be snuffed out in Syria, we can remain safe in fortress Britain?

When human rights are worth so little in Syria can it be said with confidence that our own human rights are truly safe?

At a time when there are worrying echoes from the 1930s emerging in Europe - when extremist parties stalk the streets in Athens, when people talk of the collapse of the post-war settlement in Europe, is it wise to teach dictators that for we powerful nations, and for international law - words remain only words.

So recognising the genocide vs Kurds is what I'll call a 'retrospective start'. But that is all.

Condemning Assad is not even the start - it is a joke unless you are prepared to back up those words.

The Kurds are now asking for some words from the UK Government. But while it is important to right the wrong of international silence on whether this was genocide - it of course was - the true power of this petition will be if it adds yet more weight to the demand that such crimes cannot happen and will be prevented and punished. It is not recognising a past genocide for its own sake. The act of recognition must go hand-in-hand with the firm belief that we will act to prevent such things happening again.

The e-petition must itself therefore be MORE THAN WORDS.

Human rights do and must trump the rights of so-called Great Powers to veto action to protect their own interests.

The responsibility to protect should be enforced.

The results of human kind's collective failure to make its words carry weight has been suffered in the past by the Kurds and is being suffered by the civilians of Syria.

The e-petition must help ensure that such crimes do not happen again.

This requires that we put action where our words are.

More than words!

THANK YOU.

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Times publishes my letter on tax avoidance off-shore

Online at The Times here (£)

The article to which I was responding is here (£)

Sir, The contrast between those who squirrel away their earnings in tax havens such as Monaco and those who earn ordinary incomes and pay their tax without a fuss is revealing. On the one hand are the majority who do not object to contributing their fair share to fund the services on which we all depend and which help to create a civilised society. If they feel taxes are too high, they seek to change them through the levers available in a democracy.

The other group consists of people who wish to remain to all intents and purposes “British” because of the huge advantages this brings them and their businesses, yet reject the quid pro quo which is that they pay such taxes as the law decrees are owed by a British resident. The former group are, in effect, subsidising the greed and lack of commitment to this country of the latter. That the Establishment maintains such a baneful state of affairs in perpetuity would suggest that it is too close to the latter group.


John Slinger
Rugby, Warks


Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Times publishes my letter on Hillsborough & need for police reform

Viewable at The Times online here (£).

‘The nettle must be grasped and police leadership improved, lest such a sorry state of affairs be repeated’

Sir, The conclusion of the Hillsborough Independent Panel that senior police officers engaged in a cover-up is evidence of the kind of inept and unaccountable leadership that risks undermining public confidence in the police (report, Sept 13). Uniquely among the key public services such as education and health, the police have remained largely immune to reform. Now the nettle must be grasped and police leadership improved, lest such a sorry state of affairs be repeated.

To do so will involve challenging powerful vested interests that have long prevented change, as witnessed by successive Home Secretaries. Therefore, a Royal Commission should be convened, independent of politicians, to investigate best practice from abroad and recommend how to improve this vital bastion of state power, upon which the public depends. One place to start might be bringing in an officer corps as per the Armed Forces, which might drive up leadership standards by attracting the very best into the force.


John Slinger
Rugby




Monday, 6 August 2012

Huffington Post blog on Syria - Olympic ideals contrast with Western Weakness



uk-politics


John Slinger




Olympic Heroics Contrasts With International Weakness over Syria

Posted: 06/08/2012 10:36


0
0
0






The immense strength and courage of the Olympic athletes and moral potency of the Olympic ideals of fair play and common humanity are in stark contrast to the practical and moral weakness of leading powers and the UN over Syria. In a parallel universe, leopards change their spots, shun the family tradition of massacring their citizens, and give up power merely because of sanctions, criticism and the constrained admonitions of a former UN Secretary-General. In the real world, mortar shells really do rip apart the bodies of children who differ from ours merely in their misfortune to live in present-day Syria.
Kofi Annan's exit, stage left, symbolises not the death of diplomacy, which never had more than a walk-on part in this tragedy, but instead the triumph of cynical, nihilistic realpolitik over all that is represented by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Remember that Annan, who now scolds the international community for "finger-pointing and name-calling", presided over the UN's most shameful recent 'humanitarian non-intervention' in Rwanda. His mission, no doubt embarked upon with noble intent, was doomed to failure once Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama acquiesced to the Russian and Chinese Security Council veto, gifting a protective shield to Assad as he trampled Syria's civilians.
We must not allow leaders and commentators to conflate expressions of horror with those of shock. Death and mayhem are a sickening inevitability in a grand international game that appeases aggression and relinquishes the responsibility to protect. Tyrants not only make the news, they watch it. Assad understood that intervention to prevent human rights abuses and crimes against humanity is the exception to the rule and took the West at its word when it said it would not help the people of Homs or Aleppo as it had those of Benghazi. It is hardly surprising that he applied the first rule of dictators: continue until stopped.
We must challenge the claim that all Western intervention is cynical, exploitative neo-colonialism, or that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is the sole arbiter of legality, if not morality, by reminding that inaction is a form of action. We cannot use diplomatic legalese to vaccinate ourselves against moral responsibility for what ensues. For every so-called 'disastrous intervention' there are as many, if not more 'catastrophes of non-intervention'. Indeed the former often only occur when the shame induced by the latter reaches fever pitch. Both sides of the argument, those in favour and those opposed to limited military intervention, must factor into their moral and practical calculation the possible negative consequences of their chosen path. Whilst intervening militarily in Rwanda might have led to greater bloodshed, no-one can deny that one million civilians perished in the absence of intervention. Because nobody has the benefit of hindsight, it follows that none have an exclusive claim to the moral high ground.
The civilians of Syria do not need our pity, our outrage, or further diplomatic missions. They need our practical help now. Those who doubt what even limited military intervention can achieve, should ask the Kurds of Iraq for their perspective. They only gained true respite from Saddam once the West had imposed a no-fly zone, and are currently petitioning the UK Government for official recognition that their prolonged persecution was genocide, lest the world forgets. Syria must not become a no-intervention zone, for malevolent regimes are watching more than the Olympic Games, and are noting the spectacle of our failure to act. We the strong have chosen not to come to the aid of the weak when we could have done so. When the Olympic glow fades, this unpalatable truth will remain.
---
Available on HuffPo UK here.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Huffington Post publishes my article on the implications of the Syrian rebels' 'Damascus Volcano'





This article was first published by The Huffington Post here.

 The Huffington Post
UK

John Slinger



Damascus Volcano Hastens the Defeat of Assad and Realpolitik

Posted: 20/07/2012 16:30


The rebels' ability to strike at the heart of the Syrian regime's feared security apparatus, to battle its troops in Damascus and take control of border crossings, in a coordinated, well-planned and executed campaign, shows that Assad is doomed.
The 'Damascus Volcano' has not only left the regime reeling, but it is highlighting the self-defeating futility of two aspects of realpolitik - callous, cynical power-politics from Russia (and to an extent, Beijing) and the defeatism of the West. Only a dose of pragmatic idealism can now prevent the volcano sparking an inferno in Syria and beyond.
The immediate risk is that the audacity of the rebels will provoke an escalation in brutality from regime lieutenants who calculate that defeat will bring them the fate of Colonel Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, or Slobodan Milošević. Given that they are now bewildered, desperate and murderous in equal measure, possess chemical weapons and are led by a man whose father slaughtered 20,000 in 1982, the stakes could not be higher, most importantly of all for civilians.
Moscow's calculation that the mere provision of a diplomatic shield would prevent Western intervention and gift Assad both the time and military resources necessary to crush dissent has proven to be as misguided as Soviet leaders' attempts to contain popular uprisings in the late 20th century.
The old realist calculus that power buys influence is being undermined, for had they truly countenanced political reform and transition to a post-Assad era, Russia's chances of securing its strategic military and economic interests in Syria would have been far higher. Those leading the post-Assad Syria won't forget who supplied the shells and tanks which killed so many of their comrades-in-arms and civilians.
Neither will the West's refusal to countenance any form of military assistance have gone unnoticed by the rebels. The West sacrificed Syrian civilians' human rights to liberty, life and limb on the altar of realpolitik, claiming variously that military intervention would not work because of the great potency of Syria's military, and that UN Security Council endorsement is the ultimate arbiter of legality and morality.
The rebels' advances have shown that the best diplomatic and military minds from Whitehall to Washington were incompetent at best, or disingenuous at worst in overstating the tenacity of the Assad regime. Given that the rancid, brittle underbelly of this dictatorship is now exposed for all to see, we now have one final chance to use our superior military power to help the rebels secure victory.
As for the UN, its well-meaning efforts are a case study in how impotence flows from the sum of the parts of the dis-united nations which comprise the international non-community. Despite this, it is the UN which, in a best case scenario, could steer Syria towards a peaceful future and away from the oblivion of sectarian conflict. The ghosts of previous interventions such as Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and non-interventions such Darfur and Rwanda, must be laid to rest.
The pro-and anti-Assad UN Security Council members must now swallow their pride and unite around a UN-sanctioned plan which would: deter Assad from any Hama-style atrocity or the use of WMDs; authorise military force to assist the rebels in hastening the regime's demise (following an ultimatum to the regime); and promise not a UN talking-shop, but an action-oriented conference attended by all regional and UNSC powers, to establish a temporary UN 'mandate' over Syria, enforced by UN-authorised troops (preferably including the troops of nearby nations).
Good-willed people of the world must pressurise their governments to countenance such measures so that we defeat the defeatism and curtail the cynicism that has been on display as our leaders have deferred to the worst aspects of realism in international affairs.


Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Times publishes my letter on the Libor banking scandal and need for more than inquiries

Enough of the casino banks and their bosses

Sir,

Following the industrial disputes of the 1970s and 1980s, the Government claimed that one interest group in the economy, the trades unions, had become too powerful, had an unhealthy stranglehold on economic life and was manipulating politicians. As a consequence, the Thatcher Government enacted draconian legislation, and deployed the police in an unprecedented fight to implement its plans for a generational transformation of the economy.

It is to be hoped that following the corrosive role played by some banks in bringing about the continuing financial crisis and recession, the current government will act with similar decisiveness against parts of that sector.

We must move swiftly away from the current paradigm in which the prosperity of the country as a whole, and the economic security of ordinary people and their businesses, is dangerously affected by the actions of a minority of greedy, immoral and avaricious people in parts of the financial sector (reports, June 29). No other group of workers would get away with it with such seeming impunity.

Given that the recession is deepening and we face at least a decade of austerity and falling living standards, the public will no longer be mollified by blaming the previous government, or more commissions, inquiries and talk: we now want action.

John Slinger
Rugby, Warks

Viewable online here.




Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Times publish my letter on tax avoidance and morality

Appears in The Times here.

‘Legal’ tax-avoiders are not merely getting one over on the authorities, they are defrauding their fellow citizens

Sir, Words are very powerful things and their misuse can have profoundly damaging effects on society. It is often said that the tax-avoidance by wealthy individuals and entertainers is “legal” (report, June 19). Describing it as such fails to capture the immoral nature of the behaviour.

An individual who seeks to reduce their tax liability from, say 50 per cent, to 1 per cent, is engaged in an activity which, were it replicated by everyone, would cause the disintegration of civilised society. “Legal” tax-avoiders are not merely getting one over on the authorities, they are insulting and defrauding their fellow citizens, whose PAYE contributions must surely make up any shortfall necessary to maintain the services upon which we all rely.

John Slinger
Rugby, Warks







Thursday, 31 May 2012

My New Statesman 'Staggers' blog on Syria: We must plan for military action


The Staggers

The New Statesman’s rolling politics blog

We must plan for military action in Syria

Each time the Assad regime gets away with these despicable acts, the world becomes less stable.

Members of the Free Syrian Army
Members of the Free Syrian Army's Commandos Brigade near Qusayr, nine miles from Homs. Photograph: Getty Images.
Editor's note: The New Statesman's leader on Syria can be read here.
Following the appalling savagery at Houla, Kofi Annan declared: “we are at a tipping point”. We are not, we are already peering into the abyss, watching those suffering within it, and ignoring their calls for help as we pontificate on the niceties of international law and power-politics. Given his experience of the Rwanda genocide, Annan knows that there is no “tipping point” above which the number slaughtered either shocks the perpetrators into relending, or shames the international community into acting. The UN and international community have previously stood by as hundreds of thousands of innocents perished, and will do so again unless the moral case for the responsibility to protect is articulated more forcefully. To do this, we must listen to and then act on behalf of the victims, or else their human rights enshrined in ‘international law’ shall once again be shown to be worth little more than the paper on which they're written. Given the futility of diplomacy, robust military intervention must now be planned.  
In domestic politics, the rights of victims of crime are often forgotten amid our clamour to uphold those of defendants. This pattern, when transferred to the international stage, helps perpetuate an ‘aggressor’s charter’ prioritising the rights of criminal governments over those of civilian populations. It is time for a reversal so that in future the rights of ordinary human beings to life and liberty trump an illegitimate government’s right to protection from outside interference in its affairs, or the broader strategic interests of their allies. Only the superb reporting of journalists such as the late Marie Colvin, Tom Coghlan,  Martin Fletcher (£), and Alex Thomson (to name but a few) has given voice to these voiceless thousands, from which we should conclude that each time the Assad regime gets away with these despicable acts, the world becomes less stable and less safe for us all.
It is of course important to ponder whether an alternative naval base might be found for Russia in the Mediterranean or how they might keep their base in a post-Assad Syria; whether a Yemen-style top-level political solution can be found through which Assad goes but the regime clings on; whether the nature of Syria’s air defences render attack impossible; or whether Syria’s multi-ethnic composition and lack of unified opposition mean any intervention would merely provoke far greater human suffering in future. However, the geopolitical strategic calculations and debates about the practical implications all too often ignore the voices and interests of the civilians, the victims, who matter most.
At this stage of the crisis, three fundamental conclusions can be drawn. First, in its desperation to cling to power, this regime will countenance depravity up to and beyond the level of his father’s massacre of 20,000 civilians at Hama in 1982. Second, diplomatic pressure alone is no deterrent. The Annan Plan has failed because in seeking to end violence on both sides, it delegitimised the right of civilians to resist a dictator who is oppressing them, whilst simultaneously failing to afford them either the physical security or the democratic reforms they desire and deserve. Equally, like Milošević and Saddam Hussein, Assad is well-versed in Stalin's doctrine: 'how many divisions does the Pope have?' and will only desist when confronted by overwhelming military force. Third, Russia and China's diplomatic and military support for Assad, confirmed again on Wednesday, is likely to remain sufficiently robust as to prevent the Security Council sanctioning of any form of military intervention, thereby bolstering Assad's confidence that he acts with impunity.
What can be done to break this impasse? The most credible military option, the creation of militarily-protected safe zones in North West Syria, is now being mooted by, amongst others, serious and experienced people such as Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Planning at the US State Department, and Ann Clwyd MP, Tony Blair’s former special envoy to Iraq and now a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Even this would probably fall foul of the Chinese and Russian veto. Therefore, the international community, and indeed each of us, must ask whether for the sake of not offending the sentiments and interests of these Security Council members, we are willing to allow the death-toll to rise from 18,000 towards the levels of Bosnia or Sudan?
International law should not be conflated with doing the right thing, and the victims of Houla and countless other places in Syria, require that for once, we protect them, rather than protecting a discredited, immoral international political system. The Arab Spring has shown that ordinary citizens rising up in pursuit of freedom and democracy can topple nefarious regimes. The ferocity of Assad's response indicates his deep fear of the unstoppable, eternal urge of people to govern their own destiny and live in dignity. Facing down cynical, brutal evil has never been easy and will not be this time. We owe the innocent civilians of Syria our support, for their sake, and in defence of the principle that the rights of ordinary people must prevail.
John Slinger is chair of Pragmatic Radicalism and blogs at Slingerblog. He was formerly researcher to Ann Clwyd MP (accompanying her to Baghdad in 2005 & 2006 when she was the Prime Minister's Special Envoy to Iraq on Human Rights).
Twitter: @JohnSlinger