On 16th January, I agreed to do a brief phone interview with BBC Radio WM to mark the twentieth anniversary of the first Gulf war. I was in Caux, that magical place near Montreux where we were working to try to bring the values of the Caux Call to Action to life. At the end of the interview I was asked whether I would consider standing as Mayor of Birmingham. I answered, as I did many months ago when the question was put to me – out of the blue – by the Birmingham Evening Mail, that I would consider it but there was a long way to go before such a decision needed to be made. There has to be legislation passed, a referendum held and then I would need to look into whether the Mayor would have any worthwhile powers and whether it would be a case of implementing Government cuts.
The BBC and local press carried the story that I might stand for Mayor. People stopped me in the street to talk about it. I received emails offering support. A friend in Washington even sent a message about it! Of course there was no reporting of what I said about the first Gulf War!
Blair at Chilcot
The press in general seemed to think Blair did well when recalled to the Chilcot enquiry on 21 Jan. I do not agree. Some of the public were disappointed that Blair was not cross-examined, as he would be if he was charged with an offense in a court of law. But the Chilcot enquiry is not a court of law. It has been asked to draw out lessons learned from the disaster of the invasion of Iraq. The enquiry asked Blair if he allowed a proper discussion and got a proper Cabinet decision. Unsurprisingly Blair insisted that he did. I have already made clear that there were a whole series of little chats at Cabinet but no decision-making, and papers that were prepared were not circulated. Later evidence from two Cabinet secretaries made absolutely clear that there were no proper Cabinet decision-making. Chilcot also focused on the fact that Blair said things in the House of Commons that contradicted the legal advice he was given by the Attorney General. There is no doubt that this is true but given that the Attorney general changed his legal advisers twice to eventually bring it into line with Blair’s wishes, and did not inform the Cabinet that he had had any doubts, it becomes a rather theoretical point. The other major issue that arose from Blair’s evidence was that yet again he called for action that would lead to a military attack on Iran. I am afraid this demonstrates that he is spending too long making his money amongst neoconservative extremists in the United States of America.
I am hopeful that the Chilcot report will conclude that the UK government system malfunctioned in very serious ways, that decisions were not properly taken, that legal advice was not properly considered and the chaos that followed the invasion was linked to the deception and poor decision-making in the run-up to war. They will not of course name the “ guilty men” but such a report would be quite a serious critique of the way in which Blair twisted and manipulated the facts, the Cabinet, Parliament and Party to get us to war. It should also lead to serious reform of our government system. It would not of course give back all the life lost and damaged bt at least it would get to the truth.
Inside the Kingdom by Robert Lacey
I strongly recommend this book. Saudi Arabia is a major ally of the West and works to spread a fanatical, intolerant and primitive version of Islam. The book is about Saudi Arabia itself but reading it reminds one that the US worked with Saudi Arabia to encourage Islamists to fight against the Soviet supported government in Afghanistan and thus unleashed the forces that led to Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. This history is now firmly brushed under the carpet but we need to remember where Al Qaeda came from.
The difference between millions and billions
Commenting on the state of our banking industry the media constantly refer to billions of pounds or dollars, as though such amounts were commonplace. The following calculation helps to remind us how much 1 billion is. 1 million seconds is less than 12 days. 1 billion seconds is almost 32 years
Francis Wheen’s biography of Karl Marx’s Capital
I have meant to read this book for some time. Now is a good time to read it. The Communist system’s attempt to claim that they were building a society based on Karl Marx’s idea led to a complete distortion of what he had to say. Since the financial crises, serious economists have referred back to his writing and his understanding that capitalism, unregulated and uncontrolled leads to constant crisis. It is worth remembering that he wrote the Communist manifesto in 1848 when they were revolutions across Europe and the Chartists were marching for the right to vote in England. He understood the untold wealth that industrialisation was creating but also the way in which it used and degraded people. And in those days the slums, child labour, pollution, hunger, disease and inequality was gross and ugly. He predicted that working people would get together to take control of the wealth and share it more fairly. And this is what happened, not through bloody revolution but the building of trade Unions and social democratic parties.
Now we see the same conditions being generated in China and the same resistance of workers demanding better conditions. But what Marx did not see was that the oil, gas, coal, steel and other resources that drove industrialisation were finite in quantity. These are the new constraints that will drive the next phase of history. We must share the resources and use them sustainably. Technologies are available to solve all our problems and give a decent life to everyone living on our planet. But our model of the expectation of endless economic growth, material consumption and the encouragement of greed is not sustainable and does not make people happy.
The Hope Projects
I went to a meeting today that I really enjoyed. I have been to many, many meetings in my life. Usually they are committed to a worthy cause. But often they are tedious and one yearns to get away. The meeting today was about Birmingham’s Hope Projects, which provide support and dignity to destitute asylum-seekers. There were a series of speeches that described the whole situation and set out how the system run by the previous and now the present government spends lots of money making asylum-seekers destitute and constantly humiliating them in order to drive them away and prevent others from coming. It is a disgraceful and stupid system. It would not be difficult to design a new Convention laying down the rights of refugees and displaced people that would work better for everyone. But in the meantime, it is a test of our humanity and decency to stand by the people who arrive at our shores seeking sanctuary. And those who do this work find great happiness and satisfaction in meeting the brave and extraordinary people who flee their own countries.