Archive for the 'Donald Trump' Category


Cyclefree on invitations to address Parliament and the latest PB cartoon

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Cartoons by Helen Cochrane and Nicholas Leonard.

In June 2012, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, gave an address to both Houses of Parliament, with the Speaker of the Commons, one John Bercow, giving a welcoming address.  Nothing very surprising there and surely nothing controversial about such an invitation or speaker.  But even Nobel Peace Prize winners can be criticised and Miss Suu Kyi has, for her reluctance to use her undoubted moral authority within Burma to speak up for the persecuted Rohingya minority or against those attacking them.  The Rohingya are Muslims, have lived in Burma for many many years, are being denied Burmese citizenship and there are credible accounts of their persecution (including rape, murder, burning down of mosques and ethnic cleansing) by the Burmese state and Burmese nationalists.  The Rohingya are now refugees living in abject conditions in the borderlands of Burma and its neighbours.

In November 2012 the Emir of Kuwait was invited to make a speech to both Houses of Parliament while on his state visit.  The Speaker gave a welcoming address.  Kuwait is not an example of a state which places much value on the principles of equality. Foreign workers and stateless Arabs (called ‘bidoon’) as well as women face legal discrimination.  Free speech is constrained.  It is not the worst Middle Eastern state for lack of human rights is the best that can be said.

In 2015 the Chinese President was accorded a state visit to Britain and a speech to Parliament with, once again, the Speaker making a welcoming speech.  China is hardly in the gold star class when it comes to human rights.  A list of its failings would swamp this post.  But to take two examples: baby girls have been routinely aborted (in many cases against the mother’s wishes) or abandoned at birth with the connivance or active encouragement of the Chinese authorities.

Despite this long-standing practice (arguably, whatever one’s views about abortion, believing that female infants should not live or be abandoned is about as sexist a view of female worth as it is possible to have) the UN felt able to hold its Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995, an event at which a Mrs Clinton made a well-received speech about women’s rights which, curiously, did not mention what happened to female babies or their mothers in the host country.  The Chinese state also mistreats its separatist Uighur (and Muslim) minority, going so far as to seek to prevent fasting during Ramadan, something which would provoke outrage if attempted by any Western government.

Well, one could go on.  But the point is obvious.

What might we learn from these examples?

  1. Realpolitik requires us to sup with all sorts of unpleasant regimes or ones where we may disagree with some of their policies or with people who are less than perfect.
  2. Muslims are mistreated in many countries, often by fellow Muslims. Demonisation of Muslims is not a Western speciality.
  3. Pointing out the hypocrisy of the Speaker is unlikely to shame someone shameless enough to broadcast his own virtue quite so loudly and publicly.
  4. If you’re going to make a virtue of your own principles, it might be worth examining how much you have in fact followed them. Otherwise others might think that those principles are no more important to you than a fashionable coat, to be discarded when fashions change.  Principles these days appear to be like the Access card of old – “Your flexible friend”.
  5. However bad these countries are, we hold – and should hold – ourselves and countries like the USA to higher standards. Even so, it is excessive hyperbole to suggest that the USA or Trump are so very much worse than, say, the King of Saudi Arabia or the Chinese President or their respective countries.
  6. It used to be said that “the personal is political”. It sometimes appears these days that the political is only personal, political imperatives to be determined only by personal character, who is one’s friend and who one hates the most.  This is the politics of a playground full of teenage girls.  If one is a friend,  all  can be excused.  If one is not, nothing can.  Oh dear.

Whatever else Trump may or may not achieve as President, he has already joined the ranks of those few politicians who induce a sort of mental derangement in their opponents.  Mrs Thatcher was one, Nixon another and in earlier times, FDR, seen by some – certainly at the start of his Presidency – as a traitor to his class.  Only time will tell whether Trump will achieve anything remotely comparable to what those politicians achieved.  Something more than anger and a gift for using Twitter is required.



Tonight’s cartoon on Trump

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Cartoons by Helen Cochrane and Nicholas Leonard.


John Bercow says he will block Trump from addressing Parliament during the President’s State Visit

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Does President Trump really have the temperament not to respond to this intervention for the Speaker of the House of Commons? I think not, keep your eyes of Trump’s twitter account.

Blimey, this sounds like good news for those of betting on Trump not visiting the UK in 2017. If I were you Mr President, I wouldn’t stand for this insult. I guess Theresa May is going to be very annoyed at Speaker Bercow, and Her Majesty might also find herself in an invidious position.

This is the latest betting from William Hill on whether the State Visit will happen or not. If I was betting afresh, I’d take the 9/4.



More data from today’s Trump visit YouGov polling

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017


First polling on Trump’s UK visit has 49% supporting and 36% opposing

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

In spite of the massive petition against it and the huge furore and demonstrations within the last 48 hours new UK polling this morning finds that 49% telling a YouGov Times poll that the visit should go ahead with 36% saying it shouldn’t.

That means that public appeared to be backing Theresa Mays line on the controversial invitation.

I suspect that if it’s felt that the security issues would be so great a polite way of postponing the visit would be created. You can see one of the parties having a minor illness or something of that nature which means that it is postponed.

Whatever the gloss from what at first appeared like triumphal visit to Washington last week by the PM has fallen away following the executive orders from the White House on refugees, Muslims, and immigration.

Mike Smithson


The lack of options for Brexit Britain

Monday, January 30th, 2017


Since the Brexit vote, British politics has been curiously alternativeless.  The government rules without any effective opposition.  The Prime Minister was installed by her party as the only imaginable choice once the other would-be contenders had been properly scrutinised.  Theresa May was not particularly inspiring.  But what else could the Conservative party have done?

The Prime Minister has spent some months reviewing her options, only to find that she has none.  She has rightly concluded that controls on immigration are a non-negotiable feature of any Brexit deal, given the basis of the referendum campaign.  So, making a virtue out of necessity, Theresa May has announced that Britain will not be seeking continued membership of the single market (knowing that it was not on offer if Britain insisted on controlling immigration from the EU).  She is looking for a swift agreement on limited terms, accepting that a more comprehensive agreement is in practice impossible.  But what else could she have done?

Having burned its bridges with the rest of the EU, Britain must find new friends – or rely more heavily on existing ones.  And as Thucydides said over 2000 years ago, “It is the habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire”.  So Theresa May concluded that despite disagreeing strongly with Donald Trump on many matters, including the importance of NATO, the appropriate response to Russia and tariff-free trade, she needed to get as close to the incoming administration in Washington as possible.  There were obvious risks given the new president’s apparent waywardness, his loose relationship with the truth, his past boorishness towards many women and a smorgasbord of troubling policy positions.  Britain had to proceed on the basis that those could be contained or sidestepped.  From that point, the British government’s foreign policy in relation to the USA was founded on hope.  But what else could she have done?

The Foreign Office secured the undoubted coup of getting Theresa May to meet Donald Trump first of all the world leaders.  And she gave a serious and thoughtful speech to assembled Republicans in which she announced that “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over”.  Once again, the Prime Minister made a virtue of necessity, given the new president’s own clearly-expressed views on the subject.  This marks a sharp break from the liberal interventionist consensus of the last two decades.  But what else could she have done?

No one can accuse Theresa May have being underprepared for her meeting with Donald Trump.  She seems to have taken to heart Thucydides’ words that “It is a general rule of human nature that people despise those who treat them well, and look up to those who make no concessions.”  With firmness she publicly declared on his behalf that he was fully committed to NATO.  He was charmed sufficiently to guide her through a colonnade.  From that point on the two of them will be forever inextricably associated in the public’s eyes as being hand in hand.  That was a hostage to fortune that Theresa May must have regretted from the very moment that she felt his paw grasp her.  But what else could she have done?

When the Prime Minister left the USA, the consensus was that she had added to her stature.  It unravelled all too quickly as Donald Trump signed an executive order on Holocaust Memorial Day to ban those born in seven countries from entering the USA.  (The president seems unaware that the approved way of interpreting his words was seriously but not literally and seems dead set on being taken seriously and literally.)  This caused outrage in Britain well beyond the usual sources, with a series of Conservative MPs queuing up to condemn it.  A petition to deny Donald Trump the state visit that Theresa May had promised him has accumulated signatures at a record-breaking pace, soaring far past the million mark in a day.  As I write, she seems trapped between wanting to recognise the undoubtedly real disgust that many Britons feel about this policy that affects prominent Brits, including Sir Mo Farah, and not wanting to offend Donald Trump, whose goodwill she so desperately needs.  She looks simultaneously venal and feeble.  But what else can she do?

The contrast is starkly made with other European leaders.  Angela Merkel, for example, has felt no need to rush to Donald Trump’s side.  She has been able to set her own course and has felt uninhibited in condemning this policy.  She is able to do this because she has more options, options that are derived in large part from Germany being in the EU.  Britain, it is becoming painfully clear, is out of options.

Does this mean that Britain should backtrack on Brexit?  No, that ship has sailed.  But the limits of the control taken back are becoming painfully apparent.  That man Thucydides first recorded the view that “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”  Britain is getting a crash course in the truth of this dictum right now.  Ancient history has never seemed more modern.  Expect Britain to have to suffer much more in the coming years.

Alastair Meeks


Why I’ve taken the 5/1 on Trump not to visit the UK in 2017 and the latest PB cartoon

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Ladbrokes have put up a market on Donald Trump no to visit the UK before the end of 2017. I took the 5/1 which I thought was a good price, especially in the light of William Hill offering 4/6 on Trump not to make a state visit in 2017, William Hill are offering 11/10 that a state visit will take place. Whilst the terms aren’t quite the same, I’m prepared to stake money on the 5/1 for the following reasons.

The Sunday Times are reporting the state visit will take place in either June or October*

Donald Trump is engaged in an extraordinary diplomatic row with the Prince of Wales over climate change that threatens to disrupt his state visit to the UK.

The new president is reluctant to meet the prince when he comes to Britain in June because of their violently divergent views on global warming.

Members of Trump’s inner circle have warned officials and ministers that it would be counterproductive for Charles to “lecture” Trump on green issues and that he will “erupt” if pushed. They want the younger princes, William and Harry, to greet the president instead. Royal aides insist that he should meet Trump.

Senior government officials now believe Charles is one of the most serious “risk factors” for the visit.

Then there’s this where shortly after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Trump talked about having coitus with her in crude terms and when topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge were published Trump tweeted this

Whilst Her Majesty has hosted many unsavoury people for the good of the country, what makes me think the visit won’t take place is the expected protests against Trump. If there’s one thing the inauguration proved is that Trump is very sensitive to public protests which leads to him and his team to deny the scale of the protests with bullshit alternative facts. He might decided to delay or cancel his visit to avoid a major public relations disaster, with The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh in their 90s and scaling back their commitments there’s an obvious way to postpone the visit when Trump is less polarising.


*A Downing Street source suggested that if that was the case, Trump could also be invited to address the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, after May spoke to the Republican congressional leadership last week. If that’s the case, I’ll definitely be missing this year’s Tory conference this year, assuming Trump wont issue an Executive Order banning people who are Muslims from attending the Tory conference, my experiences of dealing with the protesters at the Tory conference in 2015 doesn’t fill me to the brim with girlish glee, but does Mrs May really want to be so deeply associated with Mr Trump?


Angels and Fools. Cyclefree on Trump’s latest Executive Order

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  Well, to judge by the commentary over the last 48 hours Trump is a fool – and a chaotic and illiberal one to boot.  Whatever the many issues with his latest Executive Order, it could just as easily be said that only a fool would rush in to opine.  But at the risk of looking foolish, one criticism of the Trump approach is that it looks at the issue from the wrong end.  The risk of terrorism is not the primary problem and, paradoxically, a policy which appears rather crudely to discriminate on the basis of religion / birth place lacks effective discrimination, if its stated purpose really were to minimise the risk of terror (why no ban on Saudi nationals, for instance?  Saudis were, after all, rather more prominent in the most deadly act of terror in the US than Syrians.)

So here are three factors worth thinking about.

i) Credal cultures sit uneasily with secular democracies.  If you think that a polity, that your right to be a citizen, should be determined by membership of a particular creed, it is hard to square this with a democracy.  Even harder if you believe that a country’s laws should be determined by the rules of a particular God.  How can laws be democratically changed as a result of peoples’s votes if laws enact the will of God?  Surely only God (or His earthly representatives) can do so?

And where is your one person-one vote democracy then?  And why should members of a minority religion obey laws based on a religion they don’t share, may even think profoundly mistaken or, at worst, abhor?  Note that this is not just an issue associated with Islam.  A look at our own history: (both European and American) provides countless examples of such conflicts (Becket and Henry II, the Puritans fleeing to the American colonies, Britain’s treatment of Catholics, the Huguenots and the Treaty of Nantes) and the varying solutions adopted, some of them very bloody indeed.

Our current solution has been the adoption of secularism and a belief that religion is for the private rather than the public sphere.  But that solution does not work easily – or indeed at all – if the religion does not wish to be confined to the private sphere, indeed does not recognise the difference.  And that is a problem which the presence of significant Islamic communities has brought Europe: the demand for sharia law (a legal system which it is worth saying was declared as long ago as 2003 to be incompatible with the principles of the ECHR) is one such example of this conflict.

ii) Much has been made of the principle of toleration. But toleration of the different, the eccentric, the unusual, the minority comes from self-confidence.  And it requires an implicit understanding by all, not just the majority, that all are fundamentally part of the same wider group, share at some level similar or, at least, compatible, basic values and that toleration is reciprocal.

If those are missing, then toleration of those who are actively hostile to those values (and we need to accept that some groups do despise Western liberalism) is not so much toleration as feeble-minded and dangerous appeasement.  The different stranger is not seen as a threat to a group confident in its own values and strength, willing to be open to the outsider and clear about the implicit terms of its hospitality.  But sometimes the outsider is a threat and tolerating those who are or may be a threat is a weakness, a dangerous one.  Fundamentalist Islam does pose a threat to Western liberal democracies.  Pretending that this is not so is foolish.

iii) Secular societies find it hard to understand how important religion is to believers and to those for whom religion is part of their culture, even if they are not believers or only intermittent ones. At a time when identities of all types are given an elevated importance in political debate, it is curious how religious identity is so often dismissed.  It is dismissed because, having largely abandoned religion (other than as a ritual for ceremonies) we have little understanding of why it matters to others and little language in common.

It seen as an archaic curiosity, a historical remnant from less enlightened times, something which people will grow out of and, if they don’t, fundamentally the same as our own rather etiolated national religion.  But Islam is not just some exotic version of the CoE.  To think of it thus, to assume that Muslims in Western societies will somehow abandon their religion over time as they realise how silly it is, is condescending and insulting to those for whom their faith matters.  Nor is it inevitable that Islam will go through the same challenge and development as happened over centuries to Christianity.

Some consequences of this:-

  1. We have no effective language for debating sensibly these issues and thinking about possible solutions. The challenges which religious extremism pose to liberal secular societies cannot be addressed by ritual chanting of “diversity”  and similar mantras.  If we do not find such a language it will be the extremists who will set the terms of debate.  A society confident in its own values should not – would not – permit this.
  2. It has led to a focus on visible symbols – burqas, burkinis, halal meat, minarets in Switzerland etc – as a substitute for a real debate about how whether societies should welcome large groups of people from very different, strongly credal cultures and, if so, in what numbers and what the expectations/requirements of them (and the host society) should be.
  3. Terrorism is seen as the threat. But the solutions to terrorism are not necessarily the same as those needed for successful integration of minority cultures/religions.  And the risk is that the debate can get sidelined wrongly into a “Muslims are/are not terrorists” meme, both offensive and pointless.  Furthermore, this ignores the challenges we would still face even if there were no terrorism e.g to our concept of freedom of speech from those who think that limits should be placed on how one discusses their God.
  4. It results in ad hominem policy-making: bans on Syrians or Iranians, failing to discriminate between those who are a risk (ISIS sleeper agents vs Iranian refugees from the Ayatollahs) or, more shamefully, attacks on individual Muslims.

Critically, a policy such as Trump’s latest provides so much basis for criticism – that it may be unconstitutional, that it may well be ineffective, that it is illiberal, that it is immoral, that it will dismay America’s friends and embolden her enemies, that it could be counter-productive by providing another reason for the young to be recruited to violence, that it stands in sharp contrast to the best of American values – that what risks being lost is any chance to have a thoughtful and intelligent discussion about this most sensitive of topics.  The challenges which the growth of Islamic communities in the West pose to Western societies, particularly a time when Islam is and has been since at least 1979 subject to extreme and fundamentalist winds of change, will still be there long after Trump’s Executive Order has been modified or overturned.