Thursday, 31 October 2013

Nicholas Watt Should Know Better?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I wasn't going to post any more until I saw this howler of a piece of bad journalism from Nicholas Watt, The Guardian's Chief Political Correspondent.  In his piece, entitled 'Labour support up 14 points after Miliband's energy pledge' Watt states that:

"Voters in the "squeezed middle" are flocking to the Labour party after Ed Miliband pledged to freeze fuel bills for 20 months if he wins the next general election, according to a new poll that shows a dramatic fall in support for the Liberal Democrats."

If you are a Liberal Democrat, that sounds very bad indeed.  And it only gets worse:

Hillary is "minded" to run

Liberal Democrat Voice (UK version, sorry American friends!) quotes a story from The Herald that at a recent dinner in St. Andrew's, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that she was "minded" to run for President in 2016.  This is probably the closest she has come to making a public statement of her intentions, and appears to have been missed by most of the US Press.  To my mind it is an odds-on certainty that she will throw her hat in the ring, and will win the Democratic nomination should she do so.

By keeping her name in the fray, she has effectively turned the tap off donations to any potential other contenders for the nomination such as Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland governor Martin O'Malley and former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  Democratic donors don't want to throw money away by giving money to a campaign that will be likely be crushed by the Hillary bandwagon.  This helps to make it a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The CCP's 70 Year Itch?

Larry Diamond has written a really good article over at The Atlantic on the Chinese Communist Party's future as they approach the 70th anniversary of being in power in 2019.  However, much like Mark Twain, reports of the CCP's death are exaggerated.

For starters, while he is still omnipresent in China, the CCP no longer depends on Mao's 'revolutionary charisma'.  In fact, they repudiated a large chunk of it 40 years ago after the disasters of the Cultural Revolution and the rise of Deng Xiaoping's pragmatic and realist perspectives on governance.

Postman Pat
Postman Pat was also a fan of black-and-white cats.
(Photo courtesy of Nic Walker on Flikr)

Secondly, the economy is still performing ok.  Whether that can still be maintained is a matter for debate, but for the time being, despite all the known problems about corruption, pollution etc., the Party is to a large extent continuing to deliver the public goods.

Secretary Kerry is Greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping
State Department photo of Sec. of State John Kerry meeting Pres. Xi Jinping

Predictions of political crisis in China are as old as the People's Republic itself, and personally I do not see one happening during the tenure of Xi Jinping as President.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Journalism as Terrorism?

David Miranda's detention at Heathrow Airport in August kicked off a storm of commentary as to whether this was an unlawful use of the powers available under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.  We came a step closer today to a High Court decision as to whether it was or not, with a number of applications by Miranda's legal team being heard (and rejected), and a full hearing scheduled to go ahead next week.

At the time I was very strongly of the opinion that the use of Schedule 7 powers, which grant officers the power to question and search anyone at a port of entry to the United Kingdom without reasonable suspicion, to detain and search Miranda was unlawful.  The (limited) disclosure of documents obtained today by Miranda's has done nothing to dissuade me of that opinion.

(As a side note, it may be of interest to my American friends that the case of David House demonstrates that the Department of Homeland Security asserts the same right to search at the US border.  What is interesting is that while in the US the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) simply asserted that they had the inherent right to seize and search electronic devices under the 'Fourth Amendment Border Exception'.  In the UK the British government had to resort to the use of anti-terrorism legislation to achieve the same effect.)

Friday, 25 October 2013

Mao and The IRA's Chinese Takeaway

Flag of the People's Republic of China (PRC)
The following is a short article I wrote a couple of years ago after a research trip to the Chinese Foreign Ministry Archives in Beijing.  It is based on original research.  For those who may be interested I can provide the original source document archive references.  Attribution requested.

UPDATE: On The Cedar Lounge Revolution Blog Brian Hanley has pointed out that the "Moscow was Rome to them" was one of his and Scott Millar's interviewees talking about Irish communists rather than the IRA.  In my defence, however, I did email Brian Hanley while writing the original article for clarification on a number of points, however I never received a reply.

The Starry Plough
On 16th September 1964 a lone figure knocked at the door of the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Paris. The embassy had only opened earlier that year following President de Gaulle’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government and establish them with the Communist government in Beijing. The man at the door handed over a letter of introduction to the junior embassy staffer who had answered his knock. The letter was from the Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army, Cathal Goulding, and requested on his behalf that the letter’s deliverer be received by Ambassador Huang Zhen.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A new fleg?

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I like flags.

And maps.  

And maps with flags.  

And especially flags with maps (yay for Kosovo and Cyprus!)

So, it will come as no surprise that I gave some thought earlier this year to the whole fleg protest, as they say back home in Norn Irn.  

As has been noted by Am Ghobsmacht and others,  (such as @NewNIFlag), Norn Irn hasn't actually had a flag of its own since Stormont was prorogued over 40 years ago (doesn't time fly when there's a low intensity civil war on!), despite the continued use of the 'Ulster Banner' at Orange marches and in international sporting events when Northern Ireland is playing.

The Ulster Banner: Doesn't actually represent Ulster; may not be a banner.

A common reaction to the suggestion that a way forward might be a new 'fleg' is quite often one of the following three:

1)  "We already have a flag.  The only flag of Northern Ireland is the Union Jack (and that other one we like to wave from time to time, even though it has no official status)."  (see above)

2) "We already have a flag, it's green, white and gold."

The only green, white and gold flag I know of: Andes, a town in Colombia.

3) "Oh Christ, just what we need: ANOTHER fecking fleg."

Now, the point is of course, that reaction number 1 is for the most part correct: Northern Ireland has no other flag of its own, unlike England, Scotland and Wales, no matter what gets waved on a wet Wednesday at Windsor Park when going down to defeat by Luxembourg.  Northern Ireland is unique in not having its own flag: as you can see below St. Patrick's Cross was used on the Queen's barge during the jubilee celebrations to represent Northern Ireland.

Even Cornwall has its own flag, and it's only a county.  Scotland; dunno; Cornwall; Wales; Northern Ireland.

As for point number two, you have to be pretty stupid not to see the irony in waving the green, white and orange Irish tricolour while protesting against Orange parades (emphasis provided for the stupid).

So that leaves point number three, which is not an unreasonable response given all the disruption that has occurred over the past 12 months in Northern Ireland over the issue of what is currently the only legal flag for Northern Ireland.

However, surely if all this 'shared future' stuff we have been hearing from both Sinn Féin and Peter Robinson (how much he can drag the rest of the DUP along with him remains to be seen) is to mean anything, Northern Ireland can at least try and find some sort of agreed flag that everyone can unite around and be pissed off about.

Predictably this will bring about howls of protest from the sort of people who have taken to the streets with 'Ulster Independence' flags (behind Billy below) to protest the taking down of the Union Jack from Belfast City Hall save for designated days.  But the fact remains that the Ulster banner was lost 40 years ago, but few really noticed (and it was only actually in place for less than 20 years).

Left to right: Will; Billy; Bill; William.

The reality is that people from a Catholic/nationalist/republican background don't feel comfortable or identify with the 'Ulster Banner', so shouting that it should be 'brought back'/'like it or lump it' isn't a viable option.  It would also make it more likely that these same people would get behind the Northern Ireland football and other national teams and sportsmen and women, because as things currently stand the 'Ulster Banner' is associated with a form of unionism that, to quote David Trimble, "made a cold house for Catholics".

A shared flag for Northern Ireland also poses challenges for Sinn Féin.  Although they still often like to carry on pretending that Northern Ireland doesn't exist, the fact that Martin McGuinness is deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland (and he put a lot of effort into making sure that it was deputy and not Deputy) is a bit of a give away.  The fact that Sinn Féin want him or Conor Murphy or whoever to be First Minister of Northern Ireland come 2020 (or whenever, or never) is another big clue that it does.  So if a shared future is to mean anything, refusing to accept a new flag for Northern Ireland would be a difficult position to hold.

And therein lies the crux of the problem for Sinn Féin, why a Northern Ireland flag and a Sinn Féin First Minister pose a big, long-term problem for them:  as the North gets 'greener', with a majority from a Catholic background, and a Sinn Féin First Minister, and a booming middle class, the reasons to push for a united Ireland recede further into the background.  Ulster, even after 1916 retained a stronger Redmondite/Joseph Devlin vote from its Catholics in the face of the Sinn Féin tidal wave of 1918 than elsewhere.  In the Belfast Falls constituency, Devlin handily beat De Valera for the seat (though some argue it was partly out of fear of loyalist reprisals if they elected a Sinn Féiner).  In the only other seat in Belfast where the Irish Parliamentary Party put up a candidate against Sinn Féin, he beat him by almost 10:1 (though the Unionist candidate, one Sir Edward Henry Carson, still won by a landslide).

'Wee Joe' Devlin: De Valera slayer.

The point is that Sinn Féin have to be concerned that nationalists will get too comfortable in the new North and decide that uniting with the 'banana republic' is not worth the hassle.  For this reason, to some extent, loyalists are correct when they say that it suits Sinn Féin to have tension over Orange marches (though I don't believe that Sinn Féin initiate the tensions: they don't need to).  Loyalists, however, much like Fine Gael in the Republic, never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  The 'in your face No Surrenderism' of the fleggers is enough to keep CNRs voting Sinn Féin, even though polls and the census tell us there is no real appetite for Irish unity, at least in the short term.

No Surrender!  Votáil Sinn Féin!

Which brings us back to the new fleg.  Flegger loyalism is too blinded by bigotry to see that a new flag for Northern Ireland has the potential to shore up support among Catholics for remaining within the UK, so they won't support it.  Sinn Féin's longer term political goals make them worry about a new flag for Northern Ireland for the same reason.   However, (though they will probably try) it would be difficult for both to put up a strong argument against a new flag if it were chosen by the people at the ballot box.

The Single Transferable Voting system that everybody in Northern Ireland is very familiar with is designed for this sort of thing.  Put the Ulster Banner on the ballot with 5 others and let everybody decide on the same day as the Assembly elections in 2016.

Hopefully at the end of the process we would have a flag with 50% support.  We'd probably not end up with everybody's favourite flag, but we might end up with one that people can accept, or least one that everybody hates equally.

So, in that spirit, below are a few suggestions that I put together, and a few others that I thought weren't bad.  A to F are mine, the rest are suggestions from @NewNIFlag.

Comments are welcome.

I think.


Vote for your top 5 at the top of the page! (Click here for full site if on mobile to see the the poll).


















Only gegging!

I used to have a blog!

I just remembered.  And it wasn't half bad, well I think anyway.

I am going to start blogging again, which will come as an enormous relief to no-one.  As I am currently in the US it will probably mostly be about Washington-type things, but who knows where the fancy will take me.  I feel a few posts about Northern Ireland coming down the line.

Until then...?