On Bombing Syria. Or Not. 


There is a petition going around online encouraging a vote, in the UK Parliament, against air strikes against ISIS in Syria. 

One friend suggests that if stung by a wasp the smart response is not to throw stones at the nest. Indeed not. You wrap an old potato sack around a garden fork, soak it in petrol, light it and use that to destroy the nest. 

That’s the problem with Cameron’s proposal. Air strikes are just throwing stones. It’s not that they are too much, it’s that they are not enough. And a petition in response to it? That’s almost funny. Signing a petition never changed anything. It’s just one step up the activism scale from changing your profile picture. 

This week’s debate is ludicrous. It’s being defined and described as being about ‘bombing Syria’. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about fighting ISIS. Whatever you call them. Wherever they are. 

The current deal is as if we can fight them in Yorkshire but not in Lancashire. 

If you do not think we should be engaging ISIS at all, that’s a different argument. But I would ask, “Where do they need to get to before you would engage them? Kenilworth?”.

Maybe you think there’s a negotiated peace to be secured, that these people (these men mainly) whose delusional, faith-based, sectarian, apocalyptic world view wants you dead (seriously) can be talked around. So long as we are nicer to them. Sign the petition. 

Sometimes we act too late rather than too soon. We could have fought the Taliban (in the cause of women’s rights alone) in 1995, before they controlled all of Afghanistan and created the safe haven for Al Qaeda training camps and the 9/11 plot. 

We could have responded to Hitler’s actions in Czechoslovakia in March of 1939 rather than giving him six more months to prepare, while we talked and talked trying to avoid what was an inevitable fight, waiting to act until he invaded Poland. 

Later, did Parliament have to agree to fight the Nazi blitzkrieg in neutral Belgium, rather than France, when that was the unexpected route his Panzers took? No. Of course not.

Two years ago a similar situation to today. The vote was similarly not about ‘bombing Syria’. It was about fighting / bombing / punishing Assad. It was a bad idea.

This week’s argument and debate should be about whether or not, and how, we are going to fight ISIS. And if we have a decent, executable plan and sufficient resources (including human resources) that we are prepared to expend. 

Not about where we are going to fight ISIS. That’s the bit they get to decide. 

It is not the same question being put to Parliament two years later. It’s a different question requiring different answers. 

More bombs falling innaccurately on Syria or anywhere else is unlikely to be the answer we are looking for. Possibly it’s already too little and too late. And I’m not saying I would would vote for it as currently proposed. 

But it’s ludicrous to sanction fighting ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria. 

Or Kenilworth. 

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My friend has been radicalised. But let’s not mistake him for a terrorist.


My friend has been radicalised. Not many people know about it. He can’t tell his mum and dad, that’s for sure. They would dis-own him. His girlfriend doesn’t know. Nor does the girl it is being arranged for him to marry, or her parents. They would call the whole thing off. 

I applaud it. 

Anyone can set up a new religion or a franchise of an existing one (ask Henry VIII). It’s not a business controlled by professional qualification, quality assurance or ombudsmen. There are no barriers to entry (though Judaism tries it on with its ethnicity mix-up). 

David Koresh was a Christian, the Spanish Inquisition were Christians, because they said they were, regardless of their actions. 

Faith, in adulthood, is self-determined. It’s a choice. 

ISIS are Muslims because they say they are. 

Of course it’s entirely reasonable that (more) moderate Muslims want not to be confused with, or held responsible for, ISIS but there is a fundamental obstacle to this being one hundred percent possible. 

They do share a faith. 

Even a Friday-prayers-only, likes a beer and a bacon sandwich Muslim (plenty of them about) whose daughters get to choose who they marry and who loves his son’s boyfriend sits somewhere on the same theological spectrum as the literally eye-for-an-eye Iranian Mullahs, the stone-women-in-the-street-for-having-sex Saudis.

And ISIS. 

They all believe in the flying horse. 

The same goes for Christians who don’t think The Lord’s Resistance Army is such a good thing and Jews who wish the Israeli Defence Force could perhaps be a little less heavy-handed. 

A million miles along the spectrum maybe, but on the spectrum all the same. All are working from the same set texts. It’s just that some take things more literally. 

More apocalyptically. 

If you don’t want to be tarred with the same brush as those committing horrors #inyourname, you could stop focusing desperately on what separates you from the terrorists and look honestly instead at what connects you to them. 

You were not born Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Jehovah’s Witness. It was chosen for you. Then you chose to stick with it. 

Just as easily you can choose, for yourself, to get off the spectrum of connection to the terrorists. That’s what my friend did. He radicalised himself. He’s not a Muslim anymore. He’s an atheist. 

And no-one’s blaming atheists for ISIS.

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In Myanmar Again. Election time. 

I’m in Myanmar again. At the weekend I followed Aung San Suu Kyi on the campaign trail. I wrote about it  on another blog where I publish my Myanmar stories. Here’s a link to that. More will follow. The election is on November 8th. 



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Sleaford Mods. Rock City, Nottingham. 9.10.15

I came late to Sleaford Mods. I’m not sure if the first time I saw them was autumn 2006 or spring 2007. For sure it was at Hopkinson’s on Station Street. I remember the short show was sexually graphic and absolutely hilarious. I’ve seen them regularly enough since; Golden Fleece, Nottingham Contemporary, Bodega, 100 Club and on Friday night at Rock City for their “triumphant homecoming” last-night-of-tour gig. 

Great reception, smashing atmosphere, super sound, blistering show, except for a lull around the new single when for the first time I can hear chatting at the back of the room. Top marks for delivery and execution. And for playing to the gallery. Jason Williamson, always strikingly, scarily compelling, is now almost a front rank vocal performer. 

So many people seem able to connect with Sleaford Mods on some visceral level, perhaps seeing in them expression of something that they are less able to articulate themselves, but it doesn’t work like that for me. My inner neo-liberal (ha ha) does not allow me to wallow so heartily in nihilism. I can enjoy this, but I prefer something more optimistic. And more inclusive. 

Like Jeremy Corbyn, Sleaford Mods’ natural constituency is a thin slice of society. The audience is primarily made up of middle-aged, middle-weight men, some channelling an inner teenager chucking beer around. There are a few younger people, some even older people, a reasonable number of women. They are almost exclusively white. I don’t think Sleaford Mods are speaking for, to or of Britain as it more broadly is, as it more broadly thinks and feels. It’s not that dark a place. There is more light. More sunshine. More warmth. 

It was a great night. It’s a great act (let’s not forget that it’s an act) for which acclaim and recognition, and hopefully money, is due and deserved. They are the best of Nottingham and the worst of Nottingham in one explosive package. But now might be a good time for Sleaford Mods’ bomb to go off. 

It starts to feel a bit ugly. 

And it’s not funny anymore. 

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A message to The Labour Party on the occasion of their abstaining on the Welfare Bill. Well some of them.


Scotland is lost for at least one more election. Maybe two. Get over it. Get on with realising that winning well in England and Wales (and getting something from Scotland) via real PR and coalition (probably with the SNP) is the only route back to government.

Pick the least worst candidate on offer to lead the party – regardless of where they stand in a pretty-narrow-really policy debate (that’s Yvette btw). Develop a set of new policies with the breadth of appeal you needed but failed to offer at the last election, policies that look after those who look after themselves as well as those who cannot.

Oppose this government. Don’t be holding their coats for them by abstaining when they present harsh, unfair, regressive policies. Be prepared to lose again in 2020. You’ve most likely lost already. Stick with your leader when you do. Be ready to win in 2025.

Or be prepared to spend political eternity as the party for losers led by losers.

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On the Labour Leadership Election


John Cruddas, Ed Miliband’s ‘policy chief’, worries that the Labour Party is repeating its mistake of 2010, embroiling itself in a leadership election (nominations opened today) while the Tories get on with running the race to the 2020 General Election. Doh.

Harriet Harman, the acting Leader, needs to run focus groups before she understands that quite a lot of people who voted Labour had little faith in the leadership of the party or its policies and were relieved that they didn’t win. Double doh.

Andy Burnham the current front runner to become Leader does not know the price of a litre of petrol (he guessed £1.60). Doh. Doh. Doh.

David Cameron said he will not serve a third term so, unless he does a Nigel, the Conservatives will also have a leadership election during this Parliament and we can be pretty sure that they will go into the next election led by a man called Boris or George.

To have any chance in 2020 Labour need to choose a Leader who will present a family-attractive image that’s positively distinct to what the Conservative Leader offers.

The best way to do that is not to pick a man as their next Leader.

Not even one who knows the price of petrol.

Not even Jeremy Corbyn.

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Don’t waste your anger on the Tories. Save it for Labour.


Upset at the election result? Angry even? Demoralised at the thought of at least another five years of Conservative government? Frightened at the thought of what might become of the NHS or where IDS’s £12bn welfare axe will fall? Sick of the sight of Dave, George and Boris, let alone May and Gove?

I don’t suspect you’re about to vandalise a war memorial but don’t go taking your anger out on the Tories in other ways either. It’s a waste of time and energy. And it’s the wrong target.

If you’re looking for people to blame, looking for an outlet for your anger, look no further than the Labour Party. It’s the failings of Labour, more than the collapse of the Lib Dems, more even than the rise of UKIP, that ushered in a majority Conservative government.

Failure in Scotland over the last 9 months to understand the siren call of independence and to counter it with anything more than an outdated economic analysis. Failure in England and Wales during this campaign to appeal to anyone on the up or hoping soon to be. Failure to acknowledge its faults when last in government. Failure to contain the power of a few Union barons. Failure to look beyond a narrow group of inexperienced, self-serving, self-selecting second-raters for its top team. Failure to elect a leader who seemed able to ‘walk and chew gum’ at the same time. And his failure to nail the Tories, and Cameron in particular, during the course of the last Parliament.

And now it’s clear, from what Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Chuka Umunna, Dan Jarvis, and even Eric Joyce have had to say over the weekend, failure at the top of the party, where private polling told them it was going wrong, and failure on the frontline, where voters were telling them it was going wrong, to speak out and demand change.

Labour had time to change strategy, to change tactics, to change its leader, to change it’s message well before the election campaign got under way. They knew exactly when the poll would be held, exactly how long they had to get their act together.

They knew when Ed Miliband came off stage at last year’s Labour Party conference, having forgotten to mention the deficit, but more importantly having failed to ‘cut through’, that he was no election winner and that his message to Britain did not have broad enough appeal to win.

They did nothing about it.

If you’re angry that people will still be paying the ‘bedroom tax’, that there will be cuts to Child Benefit, that bits or lots of the NHS will be ‘privatised’ or that there will be more free schools and ever higher tuition fees don’t blame the Tories. They will just be delivering on their policy promises.

If you’re worried in any way about what the Conservatives will do to Britain over the next five years, blame the party unable to come up with a decent set of policy promises to fight them with and a Leader fit to promise them, let alone stand any chance of winning the right to deliver them.

Don’t waste your anger on the Tories. Save it for Labour.


On March the 11th I wrote, “Scrapping the bedroom tax, banning zero hours contracts and the like are merit-worthy ambitions but they only have relatively narrow appeal, and even then only to people not especially likely to vote, not especially likely to live in the marginal constituencies where this battle will be won. Ed needs two or three policies that set a completely different tone to what’s on offer from Dave, not a saner version of the same. Two or three game-changing pledges that define the kind of country we would – all – live in if he were Prime Minister.” Just saying.

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