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Demonstrations on May 18th in Chicago opposing NATO
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, was one of several senior government ministers from NATO countries who have been quick to condemn what is reported to have been a massacre of civilians in the al-Houla area of Homs Province in which over ninety people, including women and children are said to have lost their lives.
Speaking on Saturday, Hague immediately blamed Syrian government forces for the massacre, which took place only a few days before the visit to Syria of the UN envoy Kofi Annan. According to the Foreign Secretary, “our urgent priority is to establish a full account of this appalling crime and to move swiftly to ensure that those responsible are identified and held to account. We are consulting urgently with our allies on a strong international response, including at the UN Security Council, the EU and UN Human Rights bodies. We will be calling for an urgent session of the UN Security Council in the coming days.” Hague also announced that Syria’s chargé d’affaires would be summoned to the Foreign Office to be informed of “the UK's condemnation of the Syrian regime’s actions”. News agencies reported that leaders of other NATO countries and the League of Arab States have issued similar statements of condemnation of what a White House spokesperson called a “vile testament to an illegitimate regime”.
However, the Syrian government has denied that its forces were in any way responsible for the massacre and a foreign ministry spokesperson referred to a “tsunami of lies against the Syrian government”. The spokesperson also condemned the massacre in the strongest possible terms, pointing out that it was part of a wider “terrorist attack” in the area. He called on the UN Security Council to discover who is arming, funding and instigating such attacks. He noted that it was suspicious that these attacks took place just before the visit of the UN envoy, adding, ''We regret that foreign ministers of some countries have rushed to level baseless accusations in such forums as the UN Security Council and the EU, based on statements by opposition figures or biased media.''
The crocodile tears that are shed by Hague, Clinton and others do nothing to divert attention from the fact that they are openly instigating and supporting the opposition forces in what can almost be described as a civil war in Syria. The so-called Friends of Syria grouping was specifically established for this purpose and there are also constant reports that NATO is supplying the Syrian Free Army and others with weapons through third parties. The policy of Hague and his friends is to encourage and support the opposition forces, which are using violence to realise their aims, while condemning the measures taken by the government of Syria to maintain the integrity and sovereignty of its country and the security of its citizens. Although Britain and the other big powers are clearly manipulating the UN to further their own interests, including ousting the al-Assad regime, the UN envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan has actually called for the “cessation of violence” by both government and opposition so that “an inclusive Syria-led political process” can commence. Informed commentators have pointed out that no cessation is likely while outside forces continue to arm and instigate violent actions by the opposition. Since in such circumstances the government of Syria has found it impossible to implement the measures proposed in Annan’s plan it is further condemned and attacked by Britain and the other NATO countries.
It is in this context that Hague and other government ministers are attempting to find new ways to interfere in Syria, calling for new sanctions against members of al-Assad’s government and even Syria’s Olympic delegation, while also trying to gain international support for their plans for even more hostile measures including external intervention. It is in this context that Hague is cynically announcing that “time is running out” for the Syrian government to implement the Annan plan without making any such demands on those who have taken up arms against Syria’s government. What must be condemned is the cynical interference in Syria’s internal affairs by Britain and the other big powers, which has created all the conditions for even further bloodshed and instability not just in that country but throughout the region.
The working class and people must be very vigilant about taking the apparent outrage of Hague and other NATO personages, as well as the monopoly media, at face value. These politicians at the helm of imperialist states are not going to turn into friends of the people and of revolution overnight. The opposite is the case. Their civilised veneer is a cover for the most obscene plots and interventions directed against peoples and their sovereignty. They have their geo-political and economic strategies that are directed at bringing countries, regions and whole continents under their domination. These are strategies for which people are paying with instability, attacks on their identities and indeed their very lives.
Hands Off Syria!
No to NATO and Imperialist Intervention!
Redouble the Efforts to Bring into Being an Anti-War Government in Britain!
After much speculation, the House of Lords Reform Bill, currently in draft form, made it into the May 9 Queen’s Speech.
All of Britain’s political institutions and processes – the Houses of Lords and Commons, the Cabinet, the monarchy and its relationship with Parliament and the “unwritten constitution” – are thoroughly outdated. The Lords, with its basis in directly representing the feudal aristocracy, a basis with which it has never entirely settled scores, is manifestly anachronistic.
However, the core feudal remnant, the sovereignty of Monarch-in-Parliament armed with the Royal Prerogative, founded on the Divine Right of Kings, underpins of the entire parliamentary system. Via this arrangement, the Cabinet is effectively bestowed with absolute power.
This remnant of feudal absolutism is a block to realising a modern set of arrangements where sovereignty lies with the people, who hold genuine power. This definition of sovereignty is consistent with the requirements of the present and underpins the demand for all-round democratic renewal.
The party-dominated system of representative democracy bars people from political power. Power is exercised via the big parties, which act as the gatekeepers of power and keep people in a marginal role. This whole status quo is under threat as these parties are increasingly seen as illegitimate and people become disaffected with the political process.
The issue of reform of the House of Lords has been raised repeatedly over the past 15 years, particularly since the coming to power of New Labour in 1997. This point represented the maturation of the cartel-party system, as Blair sought to unite all behind the reactionary aim of “making Britain great again”.
The Lords, embodying elitism and privilege, played the role of scapegoat as the government attempted to paint itself as a great democratic reformer, in a manner similar to the current coalition. Indeed, Labour at the time had agreed a programme of constitutional reform with the Liberal Democrats, who of course now have their own similar agreements with the Conservative Party.
However, the Lords were also a thorn in the side of the government, which wanted to railroad through its sweeping changes in every sphere. This has become particularly acute with the launching of the “war on terror” and the drive to enact all kinds of rule by exception. The autocratic nature of the political system lay particularly exposed with the invasion of Iraq. The Lords became an annoyance to the government, which began to view the official political theory and its doctrine of “checks and balances”, which the House of Lords is supposed to provide, with contempt.
Experience has shown how Blair’s reforms, rather than dealing a blow to feudalism, as was his claim, have not brought democracy any nearer. Rather, they redistributed privilege in such a way as to increase Labour Party support within the House of Lords.
The reforms proposed in the House of Lords Reform Draft Bill are along the same lines. The use of a Single Transferable Vote system, attempting to create a “balance of parties” in the second chamber will further entrench the party-dominated system. All three big parties, which all had reform of the Lords in their 2010 election manifestos, though they have their self-serving disagreements over the composition and role of Lords, come from this same standpoint. The aim is to rearrange the Lords in such a way that the power of the executive is further unchecked.
In its current form then, the House of Lords Reform Draft Bill proposes an 80% elected House of Lords, though a wholly elected House is not ruled out. The draft Bill also proposes that the members of the Lords be elected using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, a form of proportional representation, but again does not exclude other systems from consideration.
The draft Bill dramatically cuts the size of the Lords from a current 789 members to 300. In an 80% elected House, 240 of these members would be elected and 60 appointed, together with 12 Church of England Bishops sitting as ex officiomembers (there are currently 26 such “Lords Spiritual”). The link between the award of a peerage and membership of the second House of Parliament would end.
The Bill does not suggest a change in the function of the House of Lords, but a continuation of what has been established through the earlier Parliament Acts and by convention. Similarly, no formal change is proposed to the constitutional powers and privileges of the House, and the Lords would remain secondary in relation to the Commons.
Members of the House of Lords would serve for a single non-renewable term of three normal election cycles (15 years). Elections would take place at the same time as general elections, and would be staggered elections so that 80 seats – a third of the House – is contested at each election.
In an 80% elected House of Lords, the unelected members would be nominated by a statutory Appointments Commission and recommended by the Prime Minister for appointment by the Queen.
Members of the House of Lords are currently unpaid. The draft Bill proposes to introduce a salary, allowances and a pension for members, according to the government’s expectation that members of the reformed House would be “full-time Parliamentarians”. The draft Bill therefore also proposes that members would be subject to a disqualification regime modelled on that in the House of Commons. Furthermore, members of the House of Lords would be able to vote in House of Commons elections.
The changes would take place via three-phase transition period during which some existing peers would remain as transitional members. The draft Bill aims at the first elections being held at the time of the next general election in 2015.
It is clear that nothing in these proposals resolves the fundamental contradiction over whether reforms will empower people or bolster the status quo.
Rather, it exposes the kind of conundrum in which the ruling circles find themselves, revealed in their factional disagreements. While trying to make the Lords seem more democratic, they do not want its new-found “legitimacy” to become a challenge to the Commons. And so they find themselves stuck on just what its role is supposed to be. The draft Bill is thus a pragmatic muddle of clauses to increase its democratic legitimacy just enough to placate the governed, but limit that legitimacy to keep the Lords itself in check.
All this does is further expose the lack of legitimacy of the Commons itself. No institution of governance should lack democratic legitimacy, which should be judged by how well the mechanisms express the popular will. Rather than the shifting around of privilege, or the creation of new levels of party-dominated parliament, the need is to deprive all privileged elites of power. The demand is for a modern constitution, subordinating the executive to legislature, which is in turn subordinated to the people as a whole, in whom sovereign power is vested. A new kind of parliament, or legislative assembly, is required where power is shared between the people and their direct representatives, and the ruling elite are deprived of their power to keep the people disempowered.
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