Afghanistan Exposes the West’s Crisis as it did the Soviets’

Soviet APCs depart Afghanistan as part of the first phase of troop withdrawal in 1986.

The Soviet Empire was undone by three things – firstly, overstretching itself, especially through the acquisition of a series of Global South satrapies from Nicaragua through Ethiopia to Vietnam in the 1970s and 1980s; secondly, misrepresenting realities to itself so as to fit Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy; thirdly, because its leaders no longer believed in that political religion even as they presided over a system that permitted no alternative. Mohammad Najibullah’s government hung on in Kabul for three years after Soviet troops …

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Singing Happy Birthday to the Experts

Of course, the Daily Telegraph’s front page scoop that crack epidemic modeller Neil Ferguson broke lockdown rules to visit his paramour is a dead cat story designed to deflect attention from the UK having the worst COVID19 death toll in Europe. The Telegraph has form in trying to destroy Ferguson’s credibility, but that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a real front page news story, and it doesn’t mean that Ferguson shouldn’t have resigned; in fact, it’s greatly to his credit that …

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The Beginning of the End of the United Kingdom

In 1918 the United Kingdom as it had existed was blown apart by a trifecta of landslides; a Tory landslide in Great Britain driven by a three-way split in the centre-left vote; a Sinn Féin landslide in most of Ireland; and an Ulster Unionist landslide in what would soon become Northern Ireland. This election is more most consequential than any in the 101 years since, and it too has been marked by competing landslides: a Tory landslide in England and …

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This Strangely Misfiring Tory Campaign Just Makes Me Wonder

This is a very strange election campaign from the Conservatives. The Tory messaging for the final week is all wrong. My browser is full of Tory ads calling on me to “Get Brexit Done” when everyone knows Boris is all about that; if anything, they risk alienating the key group of Remainers who voted Tory in 2017. The Tories are currently hanging on to just five-eighths of these voters, and any further slippage could be fatal. As far as potential …

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Is Brexit A Rerun of the 1930s?

We’re living through a rerun of the 1930s. It must be so, because everyone on my social media timeline tells me so. It seems to be taken as a given that Britain, like all Western societies, is a seething pit of racist, authoritarian, sentiment, itching for an undemocratic strongman to overthrow democracy and civil liberties. So, on the subject of Brexit, the Left and the Right, Leavers and Remainers, all fear the Tommy Robinsons and the Wall of Gammon that turns up at …

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Taking Boris to Court is Really, Really, Stupid

I can’t believe how many people on my social media feeds are cheering on the unbelievably anti-democratic and morally wrong court case against Boris Johnson over the notorious £350m a week bus slogan. But even for those who can’t see this as wrong, the stupidity of giving a master charlatan and showman like Boris Johnson his day in court should be obvious.   I have wider worries than Boris backflipping his prosecutors and using this case as a means to …

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Why I [Almost] Stand With Squinter

The Andersonstown News’ Robin Livingstone-aka-Squinter put the cat among the pigeons with a tweet attacking Fr Martin Magill for his piercing criticism of the DUP and Sinn Féin leaders at Lyra McKee’s funeral. His claim that the leaders of our two largest political parties are “unwitting women” was ridiculous, but I agree that Magill’s intervention was problematic; in particular, it obscures the key role Loyalist paramilitaries played in collapsing the January 2018 agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP. Ironically …

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If #WeDeserveBetter, We’ll Have To Vote For It

I really want to be supportive of the #WeDeserveBetter movement. I think it’s a great thing when thousands of people come on to the streets to encourage the political compromise without which power-sharing cannot work. But really, do #WeDeserveBetter when ‘we’, the people of Northern Ireland, have collectively rewarded the DUP and Sinn Féin for taking the stances they have? Well into the period of stalemate, in last June’s General Election, the DUP and Sinn Féin were ‘punished’ by the …

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The Union in Revolutionary Times

There may never be a United Ireland. But, equally, there could be one very soon. Historical inevitability is a fallacy best left to ageing Marxist university lecturers. So ubiquitous is forecasting the fate of Northern Ireland through the glacial process of demographic change, we forget that in revolutionary times, previously robust assumptions can crumble in a day. The night the Berlin Wall was accidentally opened, a panel discussion on West German TV discussed the stunning events of the previous hours …

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The Opioids of the People

The United States government has launched a new anti-opioid campaign featuring true stories of people so desperate that they inflicted gruesome injuries on themselves to get another prescription. Such stories have already been more effectively told in poetry. The epidemic’s most searing skald is William Brewer, a son of Oceana, West Virginia, a post-industrial town so gripped by addiction that it is nicknamed Oxyana. We were so hungry; Tom’s hand on the table looked like warm bread. I crushed it …

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Presbyterians, Salvation, and God

We cremated my friend James on the freakishly warm Friday before St Patrick’s Day, between the two bouts of even freakier snow. We did this after a celebration of the Supper of the Lord Jesus Christ who was his Saviour and the anchor of his life. The daffodils bobbed in the sunshine as we took his coffin through the traffic from the church in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral to the crematorium in East Finchley, his terminus ad quem …

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Meet the Box-Setts: the Demographic that Will Decide Britain’s Future

David Box gives his partner Seema Sett the dorky, Mr Bean-ish look, with the back of his tongue poking out of his gob that he knows always makes her smile when she’s had a rough day. The kids are asleep and they’re in bed too, sprawled on top of the duvet. The tablet is streaming one of their favourite series: Babylon 5. Season 2, the episode where the Technomages first appear. Pure nostalgia for their student days. They’re both a …

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Who Benefits from the Collapse of Power Sharing?

We’re unlikely to know for a long time exactly why talks on restoring devolved government collapsed in such spectacular fashion last week. It’s always worth asking, in those circumstances, ‘cui bono?’ A long-term collapse in devolved arrangements, and a return to Direct Rule, whether or not it is acknowledged as such, would seem at first blush to benefit the DUP, at least in the short term. It also represents a significant shift in power within the DUP, away from Foster …

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PM Tess and Good Queen Bess

Theresa May has made much of being a vicar’s daughter in seeking to build her image. Less remarked on is that she is from a particular sub-tradition within the Church of England, and so deeply formed by it that its particular take on English history will shape how she sees the UK’s relationship with mainland Europe. In thinking about Brexit, she must inevitably perceive echoes of the last time England was so bitterly riven about its identity and destiny, in …

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#Brexit: the DUP and the Risks of Not Passing Go

The DUP torpedoed today’s sensible UK-EU compromise deal on the border because, according to an Arlene Foster tweet, the party could not accept any deal which separates Northern Ireland politically from the rest of the UK. This will come as a great surprise to campaigners for marriage equality, liberalisation of the abortion laws, and comprehensive education. There is no great Unionist point of principle against the terms of what was on the table in Brussels earlier today, except on the …

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Winds of Political Change Gather in South Africa’s Unromantic Flatland

The borough of Metsimaholo is never going to make it into South African Tourism’s snazzy YouTube ads. It is anchored by the town of Sasolburg, named after the energy company that built it in the 1950s as a staff town for a synthetic oil plant complex. The complex still dominates the area to the extent that its cooling towers are the logo of the municipality. It’s a workaday place of around 150,000 people, at the very southern fringe of the …

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What the Immigration Proposal Leak Tells Us

Whoever leaked the government’s outline plans for post-Brexit immigration arrangements yesterday has told us one thing – that the infighting at the top ranks of the Conservative Party is vicious and will be ongoing for the foreseeable. The papers could only have been leaked on instructions from the very top of the government. Those at both ends of the government’s internal debate on Brexit might have motives for doing so, but more of that in a moment. A flexible negotiating …

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#Brexit: A Revolution Drifting Towards Failure

It is a matter of historical fact that most attempted revolutions fail. Sometimes the ancient regime reasserts itself in a counter-revolution. In other cases, the revolution clears away a creaking old order only to be itself swept away by a third force. The two most significant revolutions of the 20th Century were of the latter type: the double revolutions in Russia in 1917 and Iran in 1978-9. It is worth giving this preamble as Brexit now looks like a revolution …

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Fishing at the Edge of the Rubicon

During the course of this General Election campaign, the tectonic plates of international relations have slipped, dramatically. The G7, the borderline disastrous NATO summit, and Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change, add up to most dramatic rift in the Western Alliance for decades – all in the space of a week. Yet serious debate on foreign policy has been strangely absent from the campaign, not only among the politicians and the pundits, but even …

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Observe the sons of Ulster, marching towards the bin

It was the best of campaigns, it was the worst of campaigns. Arlene’s decision to meet the three letter problem of RHI with the three letter solution of IRA worked masterfully in terms of holding the DUP’s vote together; despite three months of unremitting negative publicity and a collapsed government, DUP losses were kept to just 1.1%, with the drop in seats not much worse than the five likely to go with the shrinking of the Assembly. The DUP actually …

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