Palestinians should have the right to return… and live

At the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, opened with these words, “Abraham passed the greatest test of faith and the right to be the father of our nation. In Jerusalem, King David established our capital three thousand years ago as the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.” He went on to offer praise for the IDF’s brave and heroic defence of the ‘Jewish State’.

Meanwhile seventy miles away the Israeli army were giving their brave and undivided attention to defending the nation’s borders by ensuring that Israel remains divided with the blood of its original inhabitants, the Palestinians.

Apart from the dubious historical claim that King David established Jerusalem 3000 years ago, note Netanyahu’s reference to Jerusalem being ‘undivided’. This is code for not sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians. Jerusalem is for Jews only.

But the inhabitants of the ‘nation’ of Israel do not come from a cohesive geographical area, nor do they share a common history. The Ashkenazi have their antecedents in Eastern Europe and Russia. The Mizrahi in The Maghreb and the Middle East and the Sephardin who can be traced to the Iberian Peninsula, Finally there are  130,000 Ethiopian Jews, some of whom claim descent from Menelik, King Solomon and Queen Sheba’s son.

Historical accuracy is difficult wherever you look in the world and nowhere more so than in Israel. There are those who claim some Jews are not descended from Jews at all. One of these, Professor Shlomo Sand, a Tel Aviv University historian, published this claim with his Invention of the Jewish People. He was reinforcing Arthur Koestler’s The Thirteenth Tribe published in 1976. He advanced the idea that the Ashkenazi Jews are not descendants from the Israelites of antiquity, but from Khazars, a Turkic people whose origins were in the Caucasus region (historical Khazaria), and who converted to Judaism in the 8th century. They later migrated north and westwards into current Northern and Eastern Europe.

In the last thirty years, 300,000 people from Russia and the former states of the Soviet Union have arrived in Israel as “Jews’. Most of them are Halakhally, claiming at least one Jewish member in their family. It is estimated that 40,000 are practising Orthodox Christians.

Under the ‘Law of Return’ Israel grants automatic citizenship to anyone who has a Jewish grandparent, yet as many as a quarter of those who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet countries are not considered Jewish according to the official Israeli rabbinate.

I have been told the story of one such ‘Jewish’ family. Two years ago, and claiming her maternal grandmother had been Jewish, a Russian woman, her husband and two children emigrated to Israel. They arrived in Tel Aviv and were given a house, some welcome money and school places for their teenage children. No supporting documents were asked for. The mother was happy with her new life, but the father didn’t like it there and they were both concerned that the two teenagers would become liable for military service.

In Germany, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has been encouraging Jewish immigration for those of ‘Jewish nationality or have at least one Jewish parent or one Jewish grandparent.’ Over 33,000 Israelis have emigrated to Germany since 2000. And that figure excludes those who haven’t taken out German citizenship. So the two applied for entry to Germany on the same basis as they used to enter Israel. They live there now, happy to have reached security at the centre of Europe, in a country that they have as much a link to as they did to historical Palestine.

Meanwhile back at the US Embassy, the opening prayers were offered by Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor who once said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral land. ‘Religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism,’ he said, ‘lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell.’

The situation in Israel is indeed Hell for the people whose home has always been there, brought to them by the madness at the heart of Zionism.

Why Ireland should be a model for British Republicans

On Saturday May the 19th all the hype will be over and the next Royal Wedding will take place between Henry Windsor and Megan Markel. Indeed from much mainstream media coverage, it would seem that the entire country has brought into the pageantry in an obsessive way very much reminiscent of the last Royal Wedding in 2011. However are the public the fanatical Royalists that the media likes to claim? Not according to some polls, with Optimum claiming that fewer than half of 18-34 year olds agreeing that the monarchy should continue and that only 22% of the public want Charles to become King. In a similar vein, You Gov claim that 52% of respondents weren’t interested in the forthcoming Royal Wedding.

However, there is little discussion on the left regarding republican alternatives to the monarchy with the standard of debate on the issue on the rare occasions it is raised not being particularly edifying. Is this because of a paucity of ideas on the left regarding what a British republic would look like a lack of support for republican ideas on the left or a fear that moving to a republic is unpopular with the public? Another question worth asking is why did Jeremy Corbyn shy away from any debate on the issue when questioned about it by Jeremy Paxman during last year’s general election.

There have been figures within the Labour Party throughout its history who have opposed the monarchy. Jeremy Corbyn is obviously one example (although he has said that it isn’t a ‘battle that I’m fighting’) but other Labour leaders such as Keir Hardie, George Lansbury and Michael Foot were known republicans while that firebrand of the left Tony Benn introduced the 1991 Commonwealth of Britain Bill in Parliament which advocated a secular Britain with an elected President. Indeed Benn himself is quoted as saying ‘The existence of a hereditary monarchy helps to prop up all the privilege and patronage in our society’. There are a number of current Labour MPs who are Republicans such as Paul Flynn (Newport West), Emma Dent Coad (Kensington), David Crausby (Bolton North East) and Richard Burgon (Leeds East) announced that he believed the head of state should be elected when he was swearing his oath of allegiance to the Queen (the late Tony Banks MP for West Ham used to cross his fingers). In some ways perhaps it’s surprising that there isn’t more what is more anti-Socialist than the idea of inherited wealth and titles? How can the Monarchy be ‘for the many not the few’?

In terms of other parties the Green Party of England and Wales has an official policy of republicanism with Caroline Lucas being a particularly keen advocate while Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood was famously disciplined in the Welsh Assembly for referring to the Queen as ‘Mrs Windsor’ and is a fervent republican as are many Plaid members although it isn’t official party policy. In Scotland, the SNP confirmed that they would keep the monarchy if Scotland became Independent but the Scottish Greens favour a republic.

However one of the dilemmas that republicans face is what sort of republic and indeed what sort of Presidency do they want? At the moment the republican movement appears timid and unclear in its vision perhaps just the sort of lack of clarity that helped the Monarchists win the 1999 republic referendum in Australia. Visiting the website of Republic, the main anti-monarchist campaign group offers some clarity pointing out that they want ‘the monarchy abolished and replaced with an elected democratic head of state’. There are also a number of statements about how the abolition of the monarchy will enhance the British democratic culture and improve tourism however, in general, it is short of substance.

Beyond rather tiresome comments about the failure of Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth period one of the most common criticisms of British republicanism is ‘I wouldn’t want Blair, Thatcher, Trump etc’ as President. This ignores the fact that they became President it would be on the basis of a popular mandate and the fact that successive Prime Ministers have become increasingly Presidential. This clearly leads onto a discussion about the difference between a President as Head of Government and Head of State and in contrast a Presidential model where the President is a non-political Head of State. It seems clear that critics of republicanism site the Presidential systems they know best such as the USA, Russia and France where the President has both roles and can often act in a highly authoritarian manner.

However, surely British republicans need to avoid advocating for a ‘super President’ and argue for a democratically elected President to represent the country as Head of State rather than a hereditary monarch who is performing the role simply because they were born into the role. However, if the ‘super Presidents’ of the USA, France, Russia and China (who have now effectively appointed their President for life) aren’t suitable models where should we find inspiration? Germany could be one example with its ceremonial President performing very similar duties to the Queen. However, in terms of democracy there is a slight snag perhaps because of the fear of populism following the Third Reich the founders of the Federal Republic in 1949 decided that the German President should be elected by a federal assembly of German politicians. This may well be better than a hereditary monarchy but to a degree it smells of a political fudge and in Italy the situation is similar with the President being elected by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

However, there are better models. In Austria the President performs a largely ceremonial role and is directly elected, but in 2016 the Presidency became embroiled in controversy with the rerun election between the Green candidate Alexander Van De Bellen and the far Right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer. However we can also look closer to home and see the Irish Presidency as a model. Since 1937 when the Irish Free State (the 26 counties free from British colonial rule renamed the Republic of Ireland in 1949) adopted its own constitution an Irish President directly elected by the people has performed the same ceremonial functions undertaken by the Windsor family in Britain.

Interestingly for a then staunchly Catholic nation, the first Irish President Douglas Hyde was actually a Protestant as was Erskine Childers President in the 1970s. The reverse situation is still impossible in the UK where Catholics are banned from being Head of State under the Sectarian Act of Settlement. As with any political system some Irish Presidents have been better than others with all Presidents prior to 1990 being members of the dominant Fianna Fáil party with Easter Rising veteran Eamon De Valera being the most famous but the key point has always been that unless unopposed Irish Presidents were elected by the people. Indeed while there have been bad apples such as Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh who resigned the Presidency in 1976 following a row over security legislation with his own government recent Presidents such as Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and the current incumbent Michael D. Higgins have been inspirational.

Mary Robinson was nominated by the Labour Party, very much the third force in Irish Politics, and won the Presidency in 1990 ending the Fianna Fail hegemony as the first female President who brought energy and experience based on her background as an academic and barrister. Robinson helped facilitate a gradual social liberalisation of Irish life particularly in relation to homosexuality as well as meeting a number of members of the British Royal family and then Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams which at the time was considered a bold move. Mary McAleese was the first Irish President to be born in Northern Ireland and helped build links not just with the UK by inviting the Queen to Ireland in 2011 but also Protestants in the Republic of Ireland by taking communion at a Church of England service. Michael D. Higgins was also supported by the Labour Party is a veteran left –winger who is also a fluent Irish speaker as well as a prolific poet and writer.

Isn’t it about time Britain joined our Irish neighbours in promoting egalitarianism, merit and talent over hereditary class-based privilege?

 

Is an impending Assad victory playing into China’s hands?

The Syrian civil war has now entered its seventh year and appears to be drifting further and further away from a diplomatic resolution. What started out as a wave of protests and calls for reform, has led to one of the bloodiest and most unique civil conflicts in recent times. Alongside its numerous internal belligerents, the war has dragged in the region’s key players (Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia) as well as the majority of the world’s great powers.

Recently the news has been dominated once more by the rift in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) between Russia and the west. But one significant member appears to once more have slipped quietly under the radar of the attention of the belligerents and especially the western media: the People’s Republic of China.

The outrage in the West that met the news that Russia had once more vetoed an attempt to pass a UN resolution after the alleged gas attack in Douma, appears to have covered up the fact that the 8228th meeting of the UNSC not only demonstrated that Russia will likely veto any draft the West put forward (and vice versa), but that China is also content to remain out of the spotlight regarding the Middle East and its almost perpetual state of crisis and instability.

China’s ambassador to the UN, Mr Wu Haitao, made a point of expressing his government’s ‘deep concern’ at the news of a chemical attack; as well as emphasising that the Chinese remained ‘firmly opposed’ to any use of such a weapon and that an ‘impartial investigation’ should be dispatched to the site. Whilst this response may appear to show nothing of note, the bulk of the ambassador’s opening of his address was almost a carbon copy of his speech to the same delegates the previous week (3 days before the attack was alleged to have taken place). In this meeting on the 10th April, China followed up its words by abstaining in a vote for the US-led resolution and voting in favour for the equivalent introduced by Russia.

This is not to say that China is doing the bare minimum of abiding by its obligations as a permanent and founding member of the Security Council. It shows that the priorities of Beijing differ quite significantly to its counterparts not just in the West, but in Moscow as well. With Assad on the offensive, coinciding with the downturn in fortunes for both the western-backed opposition and Islamic State, it would appear that the Chinese are gearing up to rebuild and reshape Syria in a model that compliments their long-term goals for the region. If Syria is to return to peace then someone will have to assist the government in footing the bill for reconstruction; which is predicted to cost anything between $250 billion and an astronomical $1 trillion. The West will likely be unable to provide any substantial assistance given their opposition to Assad; likewise, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states will be looked on with suspicion. The Russians and Iranians will not have the financial clout to match the significant political and military support they have provided. As well as that, their respective economies are struggling under numerous sanctions imposed by the West. China, on the other hand, has the means, and importantly the desire to provide the immense investment and aid that Syria will desperately need. But this is not just a moral mission on China’s part. It is part of an immense Chinese project that covers not only the entire region but spans across several continents. Over the last two decades in particular, China has been steadily expanding its economic sphere of influence to rival that of the US. Massive investment in the impoverished, yet mineral rich, African continent, for example, has been described as a testing ground for investment on an even greater scale. In fact, total trade between China and the African continent topped over $200 billion in 2014.

This is far from coincidental given that in the same year, Premier Xi Jinping announced China’s highly ambitious and controversial ‘Belt and Road’ policy; a plan to recreate the ancient Silk Road, through the exporting of China’s entrepreneurs, corporations, culture and capital. This monumental plan has seen vast investment throughout the countries encompassing the ancient trading corridor from Istanbul to Persia and beyond to Southeast Asia. The strategy has led China to begin covertly forming successful relationships with the Middle East’s biggest traditional rivals.

China has also attempted to juggle strong relationships with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, two countries whose rivalry has led them to be involved in several proxy wars. Iran has always been the traditional pro-Chinese of the two, however Saudi Arabia has recently become one of the largest exporters of oil to China, second only to Russia. Chinese investment has also seen enormous projects further afield: an enormous new trading port in southern Pakistan, a rail link to Europe through Kazakhstan and central Asia, as well as upgrading existing railways in Iran.

So why isn’t China throwing its full weight behind Assad? Why doesn’t it also try and bring about a government victory so it can proceed with similar immense new projects? This once again does not fit into Beijing’s long-term foreign policy goals. Russia is looking to be sliding towards a second Cold War with the West and so it is aiming to score one over its rivals with an Assad victory. China in comparison is looking to make more of an impact on Syrian society itself. In an article in the Financial Times in 2017, David Pilling described how the Chinese projects in African countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mozambique had brought about increased opportunities for local communities. Whilst the projects did labour governments with significant debt, there is a ‘begrudging recognition that China has mostly benefitted Africa’. It is likely that China will look to make the same impact in Syria, from rebuilding the ancient cities of Aleppo and Damascus (the latter of which saw the benefits of the ancient Silk Road), to investing in the shattered oil industry. Where Russia and Iran will be hailed as the saviours of law and order by Assad and the Ba’ath party, China will in all likelihood be the true winner in this, the latest episode in the scramble for increased influence in the Middle East.

Labour friends of Israel blame Palestinians for their own deaths

In a tweet put out today, following the murder of over 50 Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli military, Labour Friends of Israel have blamed the protesters for the violence and casualties.

Israeli casualties and injuries remain at zero as things stand.

The protests on the Gaza strip saw over a thousand injured when Israeli snipers opened fire on unarmed protesters near the border with Israel. Our report on that can be found here.

LFI accuse the protesters of being operatives of Hamas but have reconfirmed their commitment to working towards a 2 state solution.

More follows

Analysis from Iwan Doherty – Editor in Chief 

This is a truly disgraceful tweet from Labour friends of Israel and they should face consequences. The fact that as I now write it hasn’t been deleted is appalling and the group today have embarrassed the Labour Party who otherwise have responded well to this tragedy.

The Israeli myth, that has now been parroted by those who stand against the rights of Palestinians, that the protests are somehow part of a Hamas plot is nonsense. The protesters are unarmed. The Israeli army had plentiful time to prepare for them. These killings are a malicious act on behalf of the Israeli nothing else, and a group like LFI has the chance to say as such and be heard. They missed that chance. Whoever wrote the tweet should have no place in the Labour Party.

LSI should move to condemn Israel for these crimes and apologise for the remarks.

May fails to condemn murder of protesters by Israel

Israeli forces have shot at protesters on the Gaza border killing over 50 and wounding hundreds, Palestinian officials say. Tens of thousands came to protest the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

The reaction back home has been mostly mild as the western nations who back Israel generally failed to condemn or act against their ally.

Despite Israel clearly being in the wrong, shooting on unarmed protesters, the Prime Minister has failed to condemn the mass killings at the Israeli border.

In a statement, Theresa May stated

“We are concerned by the reports of violence and loss of life in Gaza. We urge calm and restraint to avoid actions destructive to peace efforts. The UK remains firmly committed to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital.”

Concern is as much as the PM could manage. Concern, not outrage, to a systematic, barbaric and clearly unnecessary killing of protesters. No mention that the violence was entirely one-sided and that Israel was the guilty party. Only a small statement in resistance to Trump’s mesmerisingly stupid act of placing the US embassy in Jerusalem.

The Labour  Party, in contrast, remains a shining light of hope against the forces of oppression in Palestine. In a statement the Shadow Foreign secretary Emily  Thornberry stated

We condemn unreservedly the Israeli government for their brutal, lethal and utterly unjustified actions on the Gaza border, and our thoughts are with all those Palestinians in Gaza whose loved ones have been killed or injured as a result. These actions are made all the worse because they come not as the result of a disproportionate over-reaction to one day’s protests, but as the culmination of six weeks of an apparently systemic and deliberate policy of killing and maiming unarmed protestors and bystanders who pose no threat to the forces at the Gaza border, many of them shot in the back, many of them shot hundreds of metres from the border, and many of them children.

This remains the difference between the two parties. Labour seem committed to limiting the power of oppressive regimes whilst the Tory Party sit ideally by.

It is time for this nation to stand up to Israel and condemn the nation’s crimes, especially now Trump has blundered in. This must begin with the Prime Minister and the government.

 

Israel commits act of hypocrisy and terror in murder of over 50 protesters

“Hamas seeks to massacre innocent men, women, and children.’ Israeli army statement, 13 May 2018. One day later, over 50 killed and thousands injured by the Israeli army.

This is not a post about Gaza or the number of Palestinians killed. If it was, it would surely be an example of unwarranted focus on Israel in which case it would be an antisemitic post. So this is not a post about Gaza or the number of Palestinians killed. Michael Rosen

The Oxford Dictionary definition of terrorism is, “The use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”.

The Israeli government definition of terrorism would be, “The use of peaceable words and actions, especially by civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”
It has now reached the level of absurdity when, before criticising Israel, we must prove that we are not anti-semitic. But let’s do it.
My father was one of the first Allied doctors to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The photos he made there, and later showed me of the skeletal prisoners, scarred my young mind. It was those haunting pictures that led me to a lifetime of anti-fascism.
At 16 I had my first contact with anti-semites. One Saturday morning, thugs from the British Movement, forerunners of the National Front, and shouting “You bloody Yids” beat me up in Bromley High Street for selling Peace News. I discovered the headquarters of the Zionist Federation, told them what had happened and they gave me Star of David badges. The following Saturday I, and a fellow pacifist wore these badges proudly and were beaten up again.
As a member of the Anti-Nazi League in the 70s, I helped set up a support and defence group in North West London for Asian shopkeepers attacked by the National Front. Need I go on?
To anyone who would accuse me of being anti-semitic, I bring as my defence witnesses three prominent Jews. The first is Albert Einstein who said, “The (Israeli) state idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed … I believe it is bad.” 
Primo Levi was a survivor of Auschwitz. He said, “Everyone has their Jews and for the Israelis they are the Palestinians”.
My third witness would be Marek Edelman, last surviving leader of the 1943 Warsaw uprising. He wrote a letter in support of the Palestine resistance, comparing them to ZOB, the Jewish fighters in Warsaw. He opened that letter of support with, “Commanders of the Palestine military, paramilitary and partisan operations – to all the soldiers of the Palestine fighting organisations.”
Myself and my three distinguished witnesses would today be defined as anti-semitic by those who continue with their blind faith in Israel, right or wrong.
For definition of ‘terrorism’, I will stick with the Oxford Dictionary.

Please, No Gold Laurels for Trump

Trump address

The pursuit of peace was struck a fatal blow by the stealthy outsider success of Trump’s presidential bid, for both in policy and proverb he has been more invested in victories than in ceasefire. As analysts have observed, he has a self-consciously belligerent managerial style, playing the hard-talking boss. His manner has raised tensions and feelings of alienation and hostility on the world stage. The Republican Party’s nomination of his name to the Nobel Committee as a contender for Peace laureate should be seen as a narrow, self-serving PR exercise.

Their cover rationale is his purported role in a recent successful peace summit between the precariously coexisting states of North and South Korea. It is however a disservice to give him credit for their historic exchange of gestures of earnest goodwill and solidarity. The peace summit was facilitated largely by the collective hard-work of East Asian actors and political institutions.

Giving Trump singular praise and adulation for a cooperative event is an extension of the logic of US statecraft. Statecraft found on doctrines of the nation’s ‘exceptionalism’, and its unique virtue (or lack thereof.) How are we meant to believe a man who views life and the world like its a non-zero-sum game is the reason for Korean détente? More credibly it seems to be the result of their zero sum negotiations, Trump out of the way, far removed from the action.

Since his inauguration, a cavalry of failed, incompetent foreign policies have thundered in, rivaled only by the legacy of Bush’s political ignorance. They have profoundly destabalized international affairs, not only due to his presidential style, but equally by over-promoting shrewd hawks with vindictive vendettas against the Middle East.

Perhaps most seriously, peace in Palestine is indefinitely postponed in the aftermath of an outrageously narrow, self-serving decision to move the US embassy to Israel. Can unconditional support of Israeli power really be the answer? It certainly seems to be when money and Iran is the question.

Furthermore, Trump has decidedly refused a diplomatic approach to diplomacy and international cooperation, ignoring at best and seething at worst in retaliation to requests to remove derogatory and racial rhetoric in references in his delegations to other countries, namely referring to vibrant LEDC’s as “shit-holes.”

In a perhaps refreshing, but decidedly dangerous aberrance from Presidential rigmarole, Trump prefers shouting about policy to other politicians on Twitter when he has a public memorandum to make. This is dangerous, firstly because the pace at which events on Twitter and interpretations of them grow is far faster than in politics away from Twitter. Secondly, making sensitive data available to adversaries is a strategic own goal. He promotes extremely short-term thinking in which he thinks only as far ahead as his next tweet.

The Nobel Prize is explicitly sanctioned to reward consistency in excellence in a field. Trump has been in Politics and diplomacy for all of two years. The Peace Prize winners are megaphones for the oppressed and not the powerful.

The President befriends Israeli and Saudi executioners; it is clear he is not truly pals with peace. By all means give him credit for preventing a Clinton orchestrated bloodbath. Clinton is an arch-hawk of the DC faction which premeditates war as a glorious vanity project. Trump while belligerent is not a conscious war ideologue. But please, no gold laurels for the man demonising minorities and stirring up heinous violence against the Mexican under-ground railroad.

Cruel Tory ruling on disabled benefits overturned in court

My son lives in Cornwall and, aged 45, has been disabled since he was six months old after a vaccination precipitated Salaam epilepsy. In hospital, he contracted meningitis and started a life of physical and, more recently courtesy of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), mental hardship.

Today his eyesight is poor and the right side of his body has atrophied and shortened. He often falls and has to use a stick.

After a recent scan on his right ankle which was causing him discomfort, he was given anti-inflammatories and painkillers. His doctor is currently helping him with a request to be given an electric wheelchair.

He has never been able to hold a full-time job, but occasionally picks up small bits of income working as a DJ and running an online radio station from his home. I have to include all this biographical/medical information so that you can better understand what follows.

For 20 years, he received a Disability Living Allowance (DLA) of £80 per week and £108 per week working tax credits, a weekly income of £188.

Because his mobility was worsening, he contacted the DWP to request assistance with his housework. He could only stand for a short time without pain. “Their answer was to tell me that my benefits had been assessed and that I would lose them.” says Ben. “As a result, my weekly income fell from £188 to £67. They said I could apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which had replaced DLA. I did so, but my application was rejected. It was a massive blow and has left me with a huge shortfall. It’s crazy because my disability means I have to take five tablets twice a day as I’m in constant pain.”

He appealed their decision and the DWP then carried out an ‘assessment’ on Ben’s condition which concluded that their original decision to cut his benefits was the correct one.

The assessment was carried out by a private firm, Atos, one of two companies (the other is Capita) who between them earn more than £125 million a year from the taxpayers for their work. Work which doesn’t actually involve any face-to-face assessments at all. I have been unable to find out whether they employ any medically-trained staff.

The Guardian gives a figure of 80 suicides a month by disabled people refused their benefits. “Before our eyes,” writes Frances Ryan, “ the principle of a benefit system is being reduced from opportunity, respect, and solidarity to destitution, degradation and isolation”.

Those resilient enough to continue their lives and, as with my son, lucky enough to have strong family and friendship support, have been pressing their cases on to a final court-based Tribunal appeal.

Of these about 60% are successful. Ben is one of them so here’s the story of his court hearing on Tuesday 8 May at Truro Magistrates Court.

I am there as a witness for Ben which took place in front of a judge, a GP and a disability professional. It was an eye-opener to me that once the government is not present, (one of the Tribunal members said, ‘you will be pleased to know that the DWP are not represented here”), then everyone can and does start behaving as human beings.

The questions dealt with the reality of my son’s life and not with assessments carried out at the other end of the country and without anything being assessed. So it came down to ‘how do you peel potatoes?’, ‘how often do you pause when you are walking?’, ‘what are your pains and what medicines do you take?”

Ben’s cousin Peter had put together the papers for the Tribunal and when he asked to speak critically on the DWP’s assessments, was told by the judge, ”Don’t bother with that. We don’t take them seriously.”

Sir Patrick McLoughlin, former Chairman of the Conservative Party, said ministers had to view the funding for people with disabilities in the context of a wider need to reduce the UK’s budget deficit and that “as far as supporting disabled people, I think overall we do very proudly in this country.”

Scope called on the chancellor Philip Hammond to withdraw his “totally unacceptable and derogatory comments” after he said Britain’s sluggish productivity could partly be blamed on more disabled people in the workforce.

This Tory government and their devotion to weakening the already weak are beyond contempt, but their policies have a logic which is both cruel and unjust.

They take place in the context whereby the richest 1% of the global population is receiving 82% of the newly created wealth worldwide. Oxfam claims this is brought about by tax evasion, erosion of workers rights and continuing social benefit cost-cutting in countries such as the UK.

Back in Truro we were sent out of the court while the panel deliberated and after a short time, we were called back. The judge was smiling as he told us not to bother to sit down. Ben had won his appeal. The panel then told him that he would now be receiving enhanced benefits.

As we were leaving the room the judge’s final comment was “serves the DWP right”. The Truro Trio were giving a massive finger to the DWP and the government.

Johnson calls May’s Brexit customs union plan crazy

Theresa May’s plan to pursue a customs union deal with the EU post-Brexit has provoked a revolt from high-level members of her cabinet. Boris Johnson has labelled the plans ‘crazy’ and stated it would create “a whole new web of bureaucracy”.

The plan, which is similar to the one outlined by Keir Starmer in Labour’s Brexit plan, has been opposed by other cabinet Brexiteers.

Despite the EU apparently being open to the arrangement and it being a solution to the Irish Border problem, the hard Brexiteers within the cabinet are not pleased with the plan. They see the attempt to make the transition out of the EU and trade with the EU easier as a bad move as it will mean the UK will not be completely separate from the EU. Despite Johnson’s criticisms the Brexiteers both in and outside the cabinet have yet to suggest a realistic solution of their own to the Irish Border problem.

Nonetheless, with the feud within the cabinet becoming public, Theresa May might see her position as PM threatened. The powerful Brexiteers may use the threat of a vote of no confidence to ensure May shelves the customs union idea.

Business secretary Greg Clark has stated anything other than a close customs arrangement would risk thousands of jobs. Chancellor Phillip Hammond is also a supporter of a customs union.

These developments follow the House of Lords arranging a vote on an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill which would keep the UK within the EEA. The Brexit committee also urged the government not to rule out EEA membership and said the UK should consider membership of EFTA after Brexit.

The goings on at Whitehall have also provoked action amongst Labour supporters. Keir Starmer has designed Labour’s Brexit policy to be just softer than the government’s. This move by Theresa May may bring the supporters of EEA membership within Labour Party finally out into the open. Stephen Kinnock MP wrote an opinion in the Guardian this morning supporting EEA membership. Many MPs and a large percentage of the membership support EEA membership and with a need to retain it’s Remain voting supporters it might now make electoral sense for Labour to back EEA membership.

However, with more socialist members of the party resistant to the single market Labour might be left with an identical Brexit policy to the government. Emily Thornberry has spoken out against EEA membership telling Labour members it will not work.  She said a “British bespoke deal” was needed instead.

Nevertheless, Labour may become increasingly tempted to back EEA membership especially with the rise in support for the Liberal Democrats in the recent local elections.

Analysis from Iwan Doherty, Editor in Chief

This is now the second time Theresa May has copied Labour’s proposals on Brexit but the PM copying Keir Starmer’s work is not a bad thing. This is another short burst of realistic thinking from the government but our negotiators have really lacked creativity and we are paying the price for that.

Johnson is right. It may well limit our freedom to trade with outside nations, if negotiated badly, and create more bureaucracy but the Brexiteers have yet to make a single realistic suggestion of how to solve the problems we face as a nation. May needs to start making practical suggestions, or they will remain on the backfoot in negotiations that the EU has dominated so far.

A customs union negoiated properly that will allow us the freedom to strike trade deals with other nations but bide us to some EU regulation could be a very attractive option, if Davis and co can grind out such a deal in Brussels.

Whether the Brexiteers will allow May to pursue a customs union is another question. Without any ideas of their own, they would be left to diffuse the bomb that is Brexit with no tools and no clue and whilst they may hate the idea of a Remainer pursuing a moderate Brexit their own political survival might be important to them.

I fully expect a large faction of Labour to start supporting EEA membership, but Labour should be careful not to alienate voters outside of London who see freedom of movement as a key reason for their vote for Brexit.

US Midterm Elections – Will we see a Blue Wave?

November’s US midterm elections are fast approaching, bringing the promise of an election that could see a significant shift in US politics. After the shock Republican victories in 2016 – winning the presidency as well as majorities in the House and Senate – the Democrats are increasingly optimistic about their chances of reclaiming power in Congress.

The House of Representatives:

Control of the House of Representatives is the main target for the Democrats, and the biggest concern facing Republicans. For the Democrats to gain a majority in the house, they require a net gain of 24 seats, which – while far from guaranteed – is looking increasingly achievable.

The generic ballot (a national poll which asks respondents to choose between a generic Republican and Democrat) has strongly favoured Democrats, who have maintained a steady lead over the Republican Party since the 2016 Presidential Election, partly due to the consistent unpopularity of President Trump.

While the generic ballot cannot predict individual races, it has held up in House special elections over the past year. In 2017 Democrats in Montana and Georgia significantly increased their share of the vote in Republican districts previously viewed as uncompetitive, and – while failing to win outright – these significantly increased vote shares in former Republican strongholds suggests Democrats can be confident about their national performance.

The most worrying sign for the Republicans was the special election in Pennslyvania’s 18th district. A district that the Democrats had previously not fielded a candidate, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rated R+11 and Trump had won by 20 points went blue. The Democratic candidate Conor Lamb winning the district despite spending less than his opponent in the race.

Most significantly, far more incumbent Republicans than Democrats are retiring in 2018. As incumbents tend to have an electoral advantage this considerably increases the number of competitive seats. The surprise resignation of House speaker Paul Ryan is the most notable resignation, and his formerly safe district is now being seen as an increasingly competitive race.

The loss of Ryan is a serious blow to Republicans, who will lack a recognisable national campaigner. However, Democrats continue to suffer from the legacy of minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who has been the subject of decades of fierce political attacks that have turned her into an electoral asset for the Republicans.

State level developments have also favoured some Democrats. In Pennsylvania, court-ordered redistricting to reverse Republican gerrymandering (redrawing district boundaries for political advantage) has created several new districts that should ensure comfortable wins for the Democrats in November.

The Senate:

While the race for control of the House is giving Democrats cause for optimism, control of the Senate is a more difficult prospect. Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate only elects one third of seats every two years, as senators have six-year terms.

Since the Democrat’s surprise win in the Alabama senate election (giving the Democratic caucus 49 seats total), the Democrats need only two net gains to win control of the senate. Favourable polling on the generic ballot would suggest this should be relatively easy, however the 2018 election cycle is very unfavourable to Democrats.

The last time this third of states was contested was in 2012, with the elections held at the same time as the Democratic victory in the presidential election. As a result, the Democrats performed relatively well, winning several states that are typically considered to lean Republican; such as Indiana, West Virginia, Missouri and North Dakota.

This means while Republicans are defending only nine seats from Democrats, Democrats are defending 24 seats from Republicans (the same number of seats they need to flip in the House, which is interesting if you like useless trivia). Strategically, this means Democrats will be torn between desires to go on the offensive and the need to defend the vulnerable seats they currently hold.

Democrats will be hoping to make gains in Arizona, Nevada and – at a push – Tennessee. The first two are the potential scalps the Democrats need to flip control of the senate, but this is reliant on them holding onto all other 24 seats. Defence of these states – while not impossible – is difficult considering the Republican leanings of many states currently held by the Democrats, several of which voted for Trump in 2016.

However, polling has again given Democrats reason to be cautiously optimistic. Polls show even the senate race in deep-red Texas – which pits Democrat Beto O’Rourke against former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz – is far from a guaranteed Republican victory.

Internal Democratic Politics:

The final key question for progressives is how the midterms will affect internal Democratic Party politics.

The short answer: Not much.

While Democratic candidates could be emboldened to embrace progressive positions to contrast themselves with Trump, it is likely key candidates in marginal seats will be politically cautious and fear to alienate any of their electorate in a high-stakes election such as this.

Progressives from the left of the party also have limited opportunities to enter Congress due to small number of incumbent Democrats standing down in both Houses – with incumbent candidates tending to have the advantage in primary elections. The mainstream wing of the Democrats have also maintained control of internal party structures, so there’s unlikely to be a wave of shock primary victories from the Sanders wing of the party. However primary challenges are being mounted on big names. In California both Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi face challenges from grassroots left-wing candidates, with Feinstein facing a score of left wing challengers, including democratic socialist David Hildebrand and state senate member Kevin De Leon, and Pelosi facing off against left winger Stephen Jaffe. However it looks like the Berniecrats may have been outgunned and outmanoeuvred in their bid to take control of the Democratic Party.

Looking Forward:

The realistic outcome most Democrats will be hoping for in November is a House majority and a close result (or even narrow victory) in the Senate elections. The Democrats have strong reasons to be optimistic about their prospects in the House, with that 24-seat target looking evermore achievable. The Senate is a more distant prospect and will require huge surges in Democratic support to take back from Republican control.

Gaining control of the House will be key to resisting the legislative agenda of President Trump, although the resulting gridlocked government could damage the Democrats in the long term if they are framed as obstructing progress. However, if the Democrats manage to overcome the odds and take the Senate with an electoral map as unfavourable as this then the Republicans will be facing a serious political crisis come 2020.