Austria, Serbia and George W Bush

July 26th, 2014

first world war posters   Google Search (2)

The descent into WWI is a 21st Century story

Sepia-toned silent images of black-coated or feather-hatted diplomats lend a reassuring distance to the events that plunged the world into war a hundred years ago this week.  It looks like a world long since vanished and in one sense, it is.  However, like much of that story, it is an illusion; all the more dangerous for the complacency that false reassurance breeds.

    Far from being a different age, the threats posed by rogue governments, state-sponsored (or at least, state-cloaked) terrorism and extremist violence are more relevant now than at just about any time since 1914. 

Indeed, when George W Bush had to respond to the Twin Towers attacks, he was placed in a very similar position to the Austrians after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

Both outrages were direct attacks against not just the soil and people of the respective great power but represented a symbolic attack too.  Equally, both were carried out by terrorist organisations that enjoyed the tacit patronage of their host governments to the extent that the line dividing them was distinctly porous: they shared objectives and beliefs, and not infrequently, personnel.

Understanding that is crucial to understanding both why the Austrian government sent such a harsh ultimatum, demanding that Serbia allow Austria to conduct its own inquiry.  Quite simply, there was no way a Serbian inquiry could be trusted to investigate properly as if it did, it would implicate itself.  Refusing the Austrian demand that Sebia cede its sovereignty might have given the Serbs a little cover under international law but as the initial act could easily be regarded as a casus belli of itself, only a little.

Here, the parallel switches to Iraq.  Most would now agree that the Iraq War was a monumental blunder on any number of levels.  Many thought it would be at the time, though we should distinguish between those who believed in managing the risk Saddam presented and the views of those who would bury their heads in the sand and try to wish the situation away.  Bush’s problem, like the Austrians’, was that the weapons inspectors were being given the run around in exactly the same way that Pasic’s Serbian government would have given the Austrians had they allowed them in.  Just as Saddam was trying to strike a balance between providing no evidence to the West that he had WMD’s and retaining the belief among his local opponents that he had, so Pasic could not afford to give an outright no to Austria but nor could he allow them to find anything incriminating.  Both countries could sustain the contradictory policies only until the terrorism of 1914 and 2001 changed the game.  A that point, both the Austrian and American administrations decided that a government that couldn’t be trusted on such matters was by definition a sufficient threat to justify war.

Of course, one principal difference between Serbia in 1914 and either Iraq or Afghanistan this century is that neither of those two had any meaningful international support whereas Serbia could rely on Russia, and by extension, France and probably Britain.  That, however, is more a distinction of detail than consequence given the breadth of international sympathy and strength of US feeling in the days following 11 September 2001.  Unlike Nicholas II (or more accurately, his ministers), no modern leader is likely to commit to the suicide of their regime and country on behalf of a bunch of fanatics (not that the tsar meant to either, but foresight of the consequences of a major war is clearer now than then).

Where do these lessons leave policy today?  That’s a much more difficult question.  It’s worth noting that after all the slaughter, it was the Serb nationalists who achieved their aim in 1918-9, not the Austrians; that after years of occupation, Afghanistan is by no means free of extremists even if Al Qaida is much reduced; that the downfall of Saddam has merely replaced one uncertainty with others in the Middle East; that Israel’s policy towards Hamas veers between scratching the sore and sticking a plaster on it but that the sore remains all the same.

Even so, it’s only when the fanaticism of terrorists is allied with the resources and prerogatives of a state that there develops a really serious threat.  The ideal solution is to prevent that alliance in the first place but even that asks difficult questions about external interference in sovereign states, ones that can only really be answered if there’s agreement on both principles and practices among the major powers.  If that fails, it follows that regime change should be a legitimate reason for military action in certain circumstance, even before a threat is made real.  Yet that too is dangerous: many initially extreme governments mellow with power, while war brings the chaos and pain in which extremism thrives.

It’s said that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.  The problem is knowing which lessons to learn and heed.

David Herdson

David will not be able to respond to comments today as he’s getting married.


Local By-Election Results: July 24th 2014

July 25th, 2014

Clifton on Blackpool (Lab Defence)
Result: Labour 501 (41%), UKIP 362 (30%), Conservatives 283 (23%), Liberal Democrats 33 (3%), Greens 25 (2%), TUSC 10 (1%)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 139 (11%)
Turnout: 23%

(Grateful thanks to Blackpool Council for their publication of the result and vote shares)

Edenthorpe, Kirk Sandall and Barnby Dun on Doncaster (Lab Defence)
Result: UKIP 1,203 (41%), Labour 1,109 (38% unchanged), Conservatives 479 (16% +2%), Greens 160 (5%)
UKIP GAIN from Labour with a majority of 94 (3%) on a swing of 20.5% from Labour to UKIP since 2012
Turnout: 28%

Staplehurst on Maidstone (Con Defence)
Result: Liberal Democrats 609 (36% +24%), Conservatives 603 (36% -21%), UKIP 311 (19%), Labour 117 (7% -8%), Greens 41 (2% -6%)
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative with a majority of 6 (0%) on a swing of 22.5% from Conservative to Liberal Democrat

Longhougton on Northumberland (Ind Defence)
Result: Liberal Democrats 742 (50%), Conservatives 352 (24% +9%), Independents 206 (14%), UKIP 146 (10% +2%), Labour 48 (3%)
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Independent with a majority of 390 (26%) on a swing of 20.5% from Conservative to Liberal Democrat

Southcote on Reading (Lab Defence)
Result: Labour 1,019 (59% +3), Conservative 340 (20% -11%), UKIP 226 (13%), Greens 69 (4% -2%), Liberal Democrats 49 (3% -4%)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 679 (39%) on a swing of 7% from Conservative to Labour since 2011
Turnout: 26%

Aberaman North on Rhondda, Cynon, Taff (Lab Defence)
Result: Labour 356 (39% -42%), Independent 276 (31%), Plaid Cymru 228 (25% +6%), TUSC 23 (3%), Conservatives 20 (2%)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 80 (8%) on a swing of 36.5% from Labour to Independent

Birchills, Leamore on Walsall (Lab Defence)
Result: Labour 1,075 (48% -7%), Conservative 710 (32% -2%), UKIP 445 (20%), Eng Dem 20 (1%)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 365 (16%) on a swing of 2.5% from Labour to Conservative

Clewer North on Windsor and Maidenhead Royal (Ind Defence)
Result: Independent 878 (58%), Conservatives 486 (32%), Labour 158 (10%)
Independent HOLD with a majority of 392 (26%)
Turnout: 26%


Ukip sheds 4% and the Tories move up by 3% in the latest Populus online poll

July 25th, 2014

This is the lowest UKIP share since the firm’s methodology change in February

What will really please the Tories is that, like ICM last week, the UKIP drop has been accompanied by a rise in the CON share, It holds out hope that the Tories could move into the lead even though LAB stays constant.

The crazy thing about GE2015 is that it is really about two battles: CON versus UKIP to get the switchers back and LAB versus LD to maintain their switchers.

In the CON-LAB battleground there is very little movement.


Farage could be preparing a surprise for Ed Milband at his September conference in Doncaster

July 25th, 2014

Farage and Miliband (1)

Farage’s party gains council seat from LAB with 41% of vote in EdM’s Doncaster N backyard

There are a lot of places in Yorkshire which spring to mind as good conference venues. Harrogate, Scarborough, York and Leeds would probably be the main choices but not, I’d suggest, Doncaster which is where the Ukip annual gathering takes place in September.

My reading is that this unusual venue has been chosen for two reasons: To flag up that the party is aiming to make inroads in LAB heartlands and, to put personal pressure on Ed Miliband who sits for Doncaster North.

Regular readers of Private Eye will know of the reputation that LAB has had there and until this year Doncaster’s elected mayor had previously been a member of Ukip member.

The man, Peter Davies, has big name recognition in the area and David Herdson has speculated on PB about him being the Ukip candidate in Doncaster North.

    So last night’s Doncaster council by election victory by Farage’s party taking a seat off LAB is especially interesting. Ukip is making progress there.

What better opportunity could Ukip have than to announce a decapitation strategy against EdM at their Doncaster conference in a few weeks time?

EdM could have a fight on his hands?

Mike Smithson

Ranked in top 33 most influential over 50s on Twitter


Harry Hayfield’s Local By-Election Preview: July 24th 2014

July 24th, 2014

Clifton on Blackpool (Lab Defence)
Last election to council (2011): Labour 27, Conservatives 14, Liberal Democrats 1 (Labour majority of 12)
Last election in ward (2011): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 1,090, 911
Conservatives 567, 475
Independent 221
Candidates duly nominated: Bruce Allen (Con), Gita Gordon (Lib Dem), Tina Rothery (Green), Spencer Shackleton (UKIP), Luke Taylor (Lab), Phillip Watt (TUSC)

It has been said that to holiday in Blackpool, you should count on nothing being the same. It may be hot and sunny one day, the next teeming it down with rain and gale force winds. Blackpool council has been just as volitalte. Back in 2003, Labour were firmly in control (Lab 25, Con 13, Lib Dem 4) and with two Labour MP’s at Westminster that domination looked set to continue however in 2007 that certainly came to a grinding halt as the Conservatives doubled their councillor group (inflicting tweleve losses on Labour and one on the Liberal Democrats) to gain control of the council and just three years later Blackpool North was won by the Conservatives for the first time since 1997 with Blackpool South becoming a Labour marginal. However, just as the tides had swept the Conservatives into power in Blackpool, the tides washed them out again in 2011 as the Conservatives lost all but one of their gains to Labour, who in turn picked up another couple of seats from the Liberal Democrats allowing them to regain control.

Edenthorpe, Kirk Sandall and Barnby Dun on Doncaster (Lab Defence)
Last election to council (2014): Labour 48, Conservatives 8, Independents 6, UKIP 1 (Labour majority of 33)
Last electoral cycle in ward (2011 – 2014)
2011: Labour 1,618 (37%), Independent 928 (21%), Conservatives 837 (19%), English Democrats 655 (15%), Liberal Democrats 394 (9%)
2012: Labour 1,409 (38%), English Democrats 731 (20%), Liberal Democrats 579 (16%), Conservatives 518 (14%), Independent 437 (12%)
2014: UKIP 1,304 (37%), Labour 1,267 (36%), Conservatives 19%), English Democrats 198 (6%), TUSC 102 (3%)
Candidates duly nominated: Nick Allen (Con), Paul Bissett (UKIP), Pete Kennedy (Green), David Nevett (Lab)

On the face of it you might think “Doncaster, Labour HOLD (yawn) can we get on to a more exicting council please?” but actually Doncaster has been far more exciting than the reputation of a Labour stronghold might suggest. Back in 2003, Doncaster was your typical Labour fiedom (Lab 45, Lib Dem 8, Con 7, Ind 3), and maybe that was the problem and as a result in the 2004 local elections, Labour lost control. Yes, that’s right Labour, whose MP’s read like a list of who’s who of British political stature, lost control of Doncaster with a staggering 18 losses (11 of which went to the Independent grouping, with the Lib Dems picking up five and the Conservatives two) and talk about having the stuffing knocked out of them. In 2006, just the two Labour gains, nothing in 2007, those gains in 2006 were lost in 2008 leaving Labour reeling with some people even suggesting that with the election of an English Democrat mayor that Labour could never win control of Doncaster ever again. Then came the locals of 2010 and the rally started. Seven gains at that election, then nine in 2011, seven again in 2012 leaving the Liberal Democrats and the Independents out for the count and restablishing the Labour dominance of Doncaster. Until 2014 that is when although Labour kept control of the council, UKIP topped the poll in the local area count at the Euros by 497 votes over Labour having seen their vote surge 19% and issuing Labour with a new warning.

Staplehurst on Maidstone (Con Defence)
Last election to council (2014): Conservatives 25, Liberal Democrats 19, Independents 5, UKIP 4, Labour 2 (No Overall Control, Conservatives short by 3)
Last election in ward (2011): Conservatives 1,211 (65%), Labour 288 (15%), Liberal Democrats 228 (12%), Greens 148 (8%)
Candidates duly nominated: Louise Brice (Con), David George (Green), Jamie Kalmar (UKIP), John Randall (Lab), Paulina Watson (Lib Dem)

Maidstone has been a funny old council over the years. Back in 2003, it was the classic Conservative / Liberal Democrat battleground with both parties tied on 21 seats each but as the Blair years turned into the Brown years and Labour’s representation fell, first to lower than the Independents in 2008 and then to complete wipeout in 2010, the Conservatives managed to open up a lead over the Liberal Democrats and gain control of the council. And then things started to go a little awry, Labour failed to make any gains in 2011 (bucking the national trend) and whilst the Liberal Democrats were being hammered, it was the Conservatives who were making headway, and then then came UKIP this year gaining four councillors from a standing start (all from the Conservatives) and forcing the council back into No Overall Control for the first time in six years. To misquote Shakespeare, “There is something strange in the state of Maidstone”

Longhouton on Northumberland (Ind Defence)
Last election to council (2013): Labour 32, Conservatives 21, Liberal Democrats 11, Independents 3 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 2)
Last election in ward (2013): Independent 705 (34%), Conservatives 315 (15%), Non Party Independent 184 (9%), UKIP 178 (8%)
Candidates duly nominated: Kate Cairns (Lib Dem), John Hope (Con), Nicola Morrison (Lab), Wendy Pattison (Ind), Michael Weatheritt (UKIP)

There has always been a Northumberland county council (it’s name coming from the fact that it is north of the Humber) and back in the 1990′s it was a Labour fiefdom (with 40 out of 66 councillors), however after the 1997 general election things started to go south for Labour and by the 2005 local elections they came within a whisker of losing it (Lab 35, Con 14, Lib Dem 14, Ind 4), so what did the government do? Simple, they made the council a unitary authority. Yes, gone was the boroughs of Blyth Valley (Lab majority of 14), Castle Morpeth (NOC, Lib Dem short by 5), Berwick upon Tweed (NOC, Lib Dem short by 5) and the districts of Wansbeck (Lab majority of 7), Tynedale (Con majority of 8) and Alnwick (NOC, Lib Dem short by 5) and say “HELLO, Northumberland” with a council made up of 66 members with Labour within spitting distance of a majority, so you can well imagine Labour will putting everything it has into this by-election

Southcote on Reading (Lab Defence)
Last election to council (2014): Labour 31, Conservatives 10, Greens 3, Liberal Democrats 2 (Labour majority of 16)
Last electoral cycle in ward (2011 – 2014)
2011: Labour 1,543 (56%), Conservatives 858 (31%), Liberal Democrats 193 (7%), Greens 157 (6%)
2012: Labour 1,364 (65%), Conservatives 478 (23%), Liberal Democrats 142 (7%), Greens 112 (5%)
2014: Labour 1,286 (57%), Conservatives 626 (28%), Greens 213 (10%), Liberal Democrats 110 (5%)
Candidates duly nominated: Matthew Lawrence (Lab), Alan Lockey (Green), Margaret McNeill (Lib Dem), Ellis Wiggins (Con), Ann Zebedee (UKIP)

Reading has, like a large number of Labour heartlands, suffered under the Blair and Brown years and has only recovered it’s domination since the general election. Back in 2003. Reading had 35 Labour councillors out of a total of 46 members, but as Labour’s time in government lengthened so that dominance started to wane and in 2008, Labour lost control and in the 2010 locals (when both Reading constituencies elected Conservative MP’s) Labour were only two seats ahead of the Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats on nine and the Greens on one. And then came the coalition and in 2011, the Liberal Democrats were hammered losing four seats and seeing an Independent elected as Labour’s lead increased to six, a trend that continued in 2012 as Labour gained control and then this year the Greens took over the third place from the Liberal Democrats.

Aberaman North on Rhondda, Cynon, Taff (Lab Defence)
Last election to council (2013): Labour 60, Plaid Cymru 9, Independent 4, Conservatives 1, Liberal Democrats 1 (Labour majority of 45)
Last election in ward (2013): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 900, 781 (81%)
Plaid Cymru 396 (19%)
Candidates duly nominated: Sheryl Evans (Lab), Mia Hollsing (TUSC), Lewis Israel (Con), Andrew Thomas (Ind), Julie Williams (Plaid)

If it was not for Plaid Cymru gaining control of this council back in 1999, Rhondda’s electoral history would have been so boring as to not worth passing comment over but as it is this by-election (caused by the death of the leader of Rhondda, Cynon, Taff council) is likely to result in another example (as has been so often the case) of the Labour vote being weighed as opposed the counted, the interesting question will be “Who will come second? Plaid or will the Independent show that all politicians are now the same”

Birchills, Leamore on Walsall (Lab Defence)
Last election to council (2014): Labour 30, Conservatives 21, UKIP 3, Independents 3, Liberal Democrats 3 (No Overall Control, Labour and Opposition tied)
Last electoral cycle in ward (2011 – 2014)
2011: Labour 1,574 (55%), Conservatives 961 (34%), Liberal Democrats 167 (6%), Democratic Labour 158 (6%)
2012: Labour 1,424 (65%), Conservatives 274 (13%), BNP 230 (11%), English Democrats 128 (6%), Liberal Democrats 74 (3%), Greens 59 (3%)
2014: Labour 1,194 (41%), UKIP 854 (29%), Conservatives 707 (24%), BNP 140 (5%)
Candidates duly nominated: Gazanfer Ali (Con), Chris Jones (Lab), Chris Newey (Eng Dem), Paul White (UKIP)

In 1995, Labour were rampant in the Metropolitans, winning 30 out of the 36 councils that made up the former counties of Merseyside, however in Walsall there were murmurings of discontent and a group of Labour councillors resigned the whip stating that “New Labour” was not the Labour party that they had been members of and so set up the Democratic Labour Party of Walsall and led by their leader, dubbed “Citizen Dave” by the local media, they stood in the 1996 local elections and won fifteen of the twenty seats up for election forcing the council in to a state of No Overall Control, however it wasn’t to last as in 1998 the delegation halved to just seven and in 1999 Labour regained control with the party confined to the history books. However, now Labour have a new problem, UKIP, who won 3 seats on Walsall in this year’s elections.

Clewer North on Windsor and Maidenhead Royal (Ind Defence)
Last election to council (2011): Conservatives 51, Independents 5, Liberal Democrats 1 (Conservative majority of 45)
Last election in ward (2011): Emboldened denotes elected
Independents 1,392, 1,159, 1,151
Conservatives 1,016, 895, 831
Labour 372
Candidates duly nominated: John Collins (Con), Wisdom Da Costa (Ind), Peter Shearman (Lab)

Windsor and Maidenhead, rightly called Royal due to it’s connections to Her Majesty, was once a Lib Dem beacon. In 2003, it was one of nine local authorities that the Liberal Democrats controlled but in 2007 that all came to a crashing end as the Conservatives made twenty one gains (eighteen of which were from the Liberal Democrats) gaining control of the council from the Lib Dems and setting a chain of events that the Liberal Democrats never recovered from (as demonstrated in 2011 when they lost another fifteeen seats again to the Conservatives) so perhaps it is not a huge suprise that people have now started to support Independents as the only way of opposing the Conservative stronghold that the council has now become


July’s Issues Index has immigration and the economy down – but health, crime and the international situation all showing increases

July 24th, 2014

Above is the top ten from the July Ipsos-MORI issues index which featured in the previous thread. The risers and and fallers are all there.


Concern about the economy continues its dramatic collapse – but that could mean it’ll be less of an issue at GE2015

July 24th, 2014

Don’t assume that voters do gratitude

All the economic indicators in recent months have been positive for the coalition and this is picked up in the July Ipsos-MORI Issues Index where concern about the economy has continued its sharp and quite dramatic fall.

This is the monthly polling that has been carried out in exactly the same unique way for nearly four decades and is regarded as the best measure of saliency. Those sampled are asked entirely unprompted to name with no limit on number the main issues facing the country.

    The big hope of both the Tories and Lib Dems is that the improving economy will be reflected at the ballot box on May 7th next year but will it? Could it be that as the economy declines in importance that it will be less of a vote driver?

The economy was improving strongly by 1997 and the polls had the Tories ahead on the issue. This didn’t prevent the Blair landslide in the general election.

Likewise a grateful nation at the end of the war in 1945 didn’t cast their votes to keep Churchill in power.

Paddy Ashdown who is heading the Lib Dem 2015 campaign is always warning his party that “voters don’t do gratitude”. I’m sure he’s right.

Voting in a general election is a forward looking act not a backwards one and if “being ahead on the economy” is so electorally important then how come the Tories are still behind?

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Nighthawks is now open

July 23rd, 2014

Home of the web’s best political conversation

On A Night Like This, why not relax, and converse into the night on the day’s events in PB NightHawks.

To all you lurkers, if you’re thinking Better the Devil You Know, nighthawks is Especially for You, it gives you a chance to delurk. I Should Be So Lucky if a few of you delurked.

The round up of recent events (click on the links below, and it will bring up the relevant link)

  1. YouGov tracking data since 2006 shows the changing reputations of the political parties: Labour’s leftward shift under Ed Miliband, the Conservatives’ rightward swing since 2010
  2. Tom Watson: shadow cabinet cowards should back Miliband or step down
  3. Ed Miliband must rouse himself from the chloroform of caution. 
  4. Ukip: Winning Here! Ukip is learning how to street fight, and that should worry the two main parties
  5. The political implications of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
  6. Alex Salmond: Glasgow will vote for independence and become ‘Freedom City’ First Minister sparks controversy after attempting to use the Commonwealth Games to drum up support for independence
  7. David Cameron considers basing himself in Scotland before referendum. Lib Dems oppose idea of prime minister spending up to two weeks in Scotland, claiming he could damage the no campaign
  8. Is a Tea Party movement about to kick off in Britain?
  9. George Monbiot Challenges Owen Paterson To A Duel
  10. Beware the New, Techno-Nationalist Right
  11. Emily Benn: What I can offer British politics. 
  12. Westminster wargames and what we don’t know
  13. Is breakfast TV the perfect training ground for politicians?
  14. Different perspectives on Gaza: Arab commentators and Labour MPs
  15. The Liberal Democrats’ Jewish problem
  16. David Cameron will play tennis and keep £160,000 donation from former Putin minister
  17. Justine Thornton is a person, not Ed Miliband’s ‘secret weapon’
  18. Batman turns 75: 11 Batman related facts you might not know
  19. Tomorrow is the 447th anniversary of the forced abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the succession of her one year old son, James I of England.
  20. Undercover police spied on grieving families of De Menezes, Groce and Reel. Scotland Yard claims relatives were not the target of surveillance but that ‘inappropriate’ information about them was gathered