On Monday 7th August, 15 migrants boarded the the Bibby Stockholm, a 500 man capacity barge docked in Dorset. This is part of an ongoing initiative to cut the roughly £6 million a day spent on hotel accommodation for asylum seekers. But will it work?
Firstly, the current solution of paying hotels and inns the ludicrous sum of 2 billion pounds a year to house ‘asylum seekers’, most of whom are really economic migrants, is unsustainable. It’s not fair at all to the British public who pay for it through high taxes and who are currently going through a cost of living crisis. Therefore alternative, cheaper accommodation is needed.
Secondly, as the Justice Secretary Alex Chalk stated migrants have no right to demand “four star accommodation”. The Bibby Stockholm is simple but perfectly adequate and is far from being a ‘jail’ like some ludicrously claim. All of its rooms have a bed, desk and storage. They are also all ensuite, which is better than my own flat. Frankly, simple but decent lodging is the most one can expect when there is an ongoing housing crisis. The ones complaining the most about it are the left-wing law firms and pro illegal immigration organisations like Care4Calais who have a vested interest in a) prolonging the migrant crisis and b) making the government spend as much as possible on that sector.
Some have complained about fire safety but the vessel has been lived in before, albeit by less people, and there are 3 exits that lead right onto the quay.
The Bibby Stockholm is a promising start, however it can only take a maximum of 500 migrants and there are over 50,000 migrants in hotels. Other sites like the ex-military bases of Scampton and Wethersfield will only house about 3000 migrants. Clearly, these sites won’t be anywhere near enough.
So what’s to be done? For starters, the asylum backlog should be cleared so that migrants are either deported or set to work. Most are economic migrants from places that are not at war, like Iraq and Iran, and are not refugees, so should not have their asylum claims accepted. At the same time the new Illegal Migration Act should actually be enforced, and the migrants who enter the UK illegally be detained in secure sites, such as Ascension Island or even the Isle of Wight, and then deported. Only tough measures will ease pressure on our overloaded island and preserve our way of life. Just because the whole world wants to come here, doesn’t mean they can.
Today the rapper Stormzy promised to send 36 students to Cambridge. The only criteria? That they must be black. This article looks at essentially racist double standards in academia today.
Since 2018 Stormzy’s charity, partnered with HSBC, has been giving £20,000 scholarships to Cambridge University to black students for which the sole criteria is race. Already 32 students have taken advantage of the offer. To be clear, these students are not to blame for wanting to study at the university ranked second in the world. I wish them all the best with their future, and hope they can contribute to making a truly great Britain.
However, the massively wealthy rapper Stormzy, not to mention the bank HSBC currently worth $168 billion dollars certainly can be blamed. They have created an entrance criterion explicitly on the basis of the colour of one’s skin, which is clear racial discrimination. Martin Luther King would be rolling in his grave. He said people should be judged ‘not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.’ I agree with this, and think we need to return to that principle. Furthermore I would go on to say that we will never become a colourblind, tolerant society if this kind of race-based thinking is continued.
The university’s justification that they merely want to benefit children from ‘less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds’ is plainly nonsense, as if they wanted to do that then they would demand the scholarship be open to all, regardless of race. Besides, it has been shown that white teenagers perform worse than their black and asian peers at GCSEs, so if a scholarship has to be offered, it should be to them.
What’s the solution? I believe that properly examined this breaks the law. The Equality Act 2010 Section 91 (2D) forbids discrimination by higher education bodies, including universities. Therefore, the government should apply the law and ban all such discriminatory scholarships.
On Wednesday 28th June the CEO of struggling Thames Water, Sarah Bentley, was forced to step down, raising the prospect of the government having to nationalise the group. Thames Water’s predicament raised the question: amongst dire performance and mounting debt, can England’s privatized water sector survive?
The likely trigger for her resignation was shareholders’ desire for fresh leadership before investing any more funds to save it. The background was the poor performance of the water supplier, especially on pollution and leakage, which has drawn public and media fury. An Environmental Performance Assessment carried out by the Environment Agency shows just how bad the situation is: in 2021 there were 271 sewage pollution incidents up from the already high 258 in 2011, of these 160 were foul sewer incidents and 66 came from sewage treatment plants. Furthermore, one quarter of all the company’s water is lost to leaks each year. Finally to add insult to injury, Bentley will receive £1.6 million of pay and perks this year despite leaving Thames Water with £14 billion of debt.
Above all else, massive investment is needed to repair leaks, upgrade sewage treatment plants and upgrade to a smart water management system. Thames Water has issued a 25 year, 110 page ‘Drainage and Wastewater Management Plan’ promising to fix things but unless they secure extra money to carry it out their promises are meaningless. Shareholders already invested £500 million in March but much, much more is needed. This is part of the broader problem of underinvestment in England’s water infrastructure after privatisation. Since 1991 shareholders, who are mostly foreign corporations, have been paid enormous dividends by suppliers who have racked up enormous debts in the process while leaving our water infrastructure to deteriorate. Clearly privatisation isn’t working currently.
However, this does not mean a hugely expensive renationalisation is the answer. ‘Better regulation’ is not enough either though, as in my opinion Ofwat is chronically unwilling to use its powers. Instead, injecting some real market competition into this natural monopoly must be done. The number one motivation for companies to improve their price and service is the fear of losing customers, so let’s allow ordinary customers to choose between water suppliers, the same as in industrial firms and the same as the electricity sector. Giving consumers power to withdraw their demand from failing suppliers would create a real price mechanism and encourage efficiency. As an added bonus bloated executive pay might fall as well.
On Friday 9th June the populist Boris Johnson resigned as MP. The landslide General Election of 2019 was now just a distant bad memory. He resigned because he thought an upcoming report on Partygate from the Privileges Committee might force him to resign anyway. But how does this have anything to do with Russia?
The answer lies in the ‘strong’ style of government that European right-wing populists admire, which is personified by the strongman Vladimir Putin, who rules Russia as a dictator. As so-called President he has immense formal and informal powers that he has used to mold a rubber-stamp Federal Assembly and a pliant judiciary. He also controls traditional mass media like television and radio which he uses to disseminate a nationalist, reactionary agenda. Though I doubt European populists like Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban and Andrzej Duda would admit they want such a style of government in their home countries, I cannot help but feel they would not be averse to it, considering right wing populists’ frustration with the seemingly inevitable advance of progressivism. Their voters certainly have a tendency (at least before the Ukraine invasion) to admire or tolerate Putin : a 2021 PewResearch poll which asked French people whether they had ‘confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the right thing regarding world affairs’ showed 39% of National Rally supporters answered ‘Yes’ compared to just 21% of non-supporters.
Of course the irony is that Putin is not a populist at all. He and his lieutenants form a kleptocratic elite that rig elections and rule Russia with virtually no say from ‘the people.’ According to a 2021 study ‘Mapping Populism and Leader Rhetoric across North America and Europe’ he also scores extremely lowly on their 0-2 scale of populism at a mere 0.05. Yet bafflingly many of those calling for rule by ‘the people’ idolize him.
The kind of government that I support right now when the biggest challenge is Russia is a centre-right, stable, liberal-democratic one. That is why, although Boris did support Ukraine and was more of a lightweight populist, his political eclipse is a good thing as he was never very convincing as a champion of liberal democracy, not by temperament and not by his supporters, andany return to the premiership would only have benefited Russia.
David Cameron promised to bring down net migration ‘rapidly, from hundreds of thousands, to just tens of thousands.’ He failed. Theresa May promised the same. She failed. Boris Johnson merely promised ‘we will reduce immigration overall.’ He failed. Now Rishi Sunak is making an even easier promise, to reduce immigration from the sky-high levels under Boris Johnson. What is the likelihood he will fail?
Brexit was mostly about mass immigration. Yes there were other contributing factors, but everything comes back to, and is linked by, the public’s desire for lower immigration. A 2021 study found that 89.8% of Leavers wanted ‘somewhat less’ or ‘many fewer’ immigrants, a stark contrast with the 13.7% of Remainers who answered the same. It is only a half-truth to say it was about ‘taking back control’ of our borders. That was merely the method by which the purpose of lowering immigration would be achieved.
I am going to go on record as stating that I thought Brexit would be, on balance, a poor idea. I thought it would harm our economy in the short to medium term, and the long term benefits were too uncertain. But, it was the democratic will of the people of Britain, and I believe the foremost desire behind that will should have been respected by the Conservative Party leadership. Instead however, net migration, which stood at the already astronomical figure of 329,000 in 2015, grew to 606,000 in 2022. In 1997 under John Major it was 48,000. This complete failure by successive Conservative governments to bring numbers down as promised is likely to alienate the very voters they need the most at their next election, the Red Wall who voted in 2019 to ‘Get Brexit Done’ and thereby lower immigration. If, as I fear, Rishi Sunak ignores the public’s desire to substantially lower legal immigration, and continues to try to distract by solely focusing on illegal small-boats migrants, then a Labour government will be swept into power by a disaffected North.
On the 5th May this year local elections were held across the UK, which resulted in a large Conservative defeat. Over 1000 councillors were lost, as were 48 councils. This was in spite of a brand new requirement for photographic voter ID, which in my opinion was a shameful USA-style attempt at voter suppression, despite the claim it was intended to tackle voter fraud.
Voter fraud is vanishingly rare in the UK, with only 1 court case in the whole of 2022. Why was the government suddenly so keen to tackle this non-existent problem? Did it have anything to do with their worry over local elections widely regarded as a barometer of the next General Election? At best, the Voter Identification Regulations 2022, as the policy is formally known, are a misguided ‘solution in search of a problem’ with side-effects far greater than any supposed benefits. At worst, the policy is a deliberate attempt to damage democracy in the UK by preventing those without photo ID, disproportionately poorer, younger voters who tend to be anti-Conservative, from voting. If the former then it is a significant act of negligence, since the UK Electoral Commission estimated up to 3.5 million people do not have suitable ID. If the latter, then it is an egregious subversion of the right to suffrage, which I cannot help but think was inspired by the Republicans’ championing of the same measure. In the USA, the issue of photo ID in the modern day bears uncomfortable similarities with the literacy tests and poll taxes used to unfairly penalise black Americans in the Civil Rights period.
One thing is for sure, the requirement for photo ID is a backwards step for democracy in this country. It also undermines our championing of democracy worldwide – how can we champion something we ourselves are rolling back? The principle of “Don’t throw stones in glass houses” may well be thrown back in our faces. Finally, it is against the best traditions of conservatism. It must be remembered that the Reform Act 1867, which doubled the electorate from one to two million to include poorer workingmen who rented, was passed by a Conservative government. Today the great project of electoral reform is still unfinished. Our system of First Past The Post denies millions living in safe seats a true choice of representatives. Instead of taking the backward step of making it harder for citizens to vote, Conservatives should take a bold step forward, and introduce Proportional Representation.
Since the formation of organised states, surveillance has been a fact of life, neighbours would report people’s breaking of laws and norms to the state, or the state’s officers would directly arrest rule-breakers. However, the modern era saw an explosion in technologies like the telephone, camera, radio, satellite and computer that could be used to track citizens’ behaviour and thoughts. This post looks at how surveillance technology should be used, and the race against time to stop dictators creating the perfect autocracies.
The most noticeable form of surveillance when British people go about their day is cameras. There is 1 CCTV camera for every 13 people in the UK, which is a staggering figure. These have 4 sources: Councils or Police, businesses, homes, and doorbell cameras. These mostly have the legitimate purpose of increasing safety and security, since they both have a deterrent effect on, and help punish perpetrators of, crime and antisocial behaviour. However, there are very legitimate concerns over the increasing lack of privacy, and how this affects Britons’ mental wellbeing. The reason this is important is privacy allows us to maintain our human dignity and freedom of expression, without the degrading feeling of constantly being spied on.
Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) perhaps the most famous conservative thinker of the last century, wrote that government should focus on preventing evil rather than guiding society to a “collective good.” Thus he might well have approved of the rise of the CCTV camera as its (main) purpose is the humble goal of providing order and security, which is nothing utopian or sinister but rather the traditional conservative conceptualisation of the state’s purpose. However, he might have taken issue with the fact formal government structures control much of this. In his work “The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Skepticism”, published posthumously, he puts forward the idea there are 2 modes of social organization – civil association and enterprise association. A very crude way to visualise his idea might be to imagine a scale going from Pragmatism to Idealism with civil association on the left and Enterprise association on the right. Put simply, civil associations are preferable because they do not impose a goal on the group, merely binding rules and laws to play by. Enterprise associations on the other hand are groups (or even nation-states)which impose a purpose on their members, such as profit or trans rights, and are thus guided by naivety and a lack of skepticism about human nature. Therefore Oakeshott might have disapproved of how enterprise associations with potential hidden agendas like Local authorities, the Police and government departments (e.g Highways England) control hundreds of thousands of cameras across the UK, and might have wished for a larger role for groups of residents formed into civil associations, with only the desire for security motivating them.
Thankfully the UK has better data regulation than most countries, and our government is much more democratic as well. The Amended Surveillance Camera Code of Practice states surveillance camera systems should be “in pursuit of a legitimate aim; necessary to meet a pressing need; proportionate; effective, and compliant with any relevant legal obligations.” This is a balanced policy that is in line with the English common law’s longstanding emphasis on reasonability rather than the rigid letter of the law. The document goes on to give 12 guiding principles that aim to reduce government and business misuse of and recklessness with CCTV. These include the laudable wishes that no more video should be kept than ‘strictly required’, that there should be ‘as much transparency… as possible’ and ‘effective review and audit mechanisms’. However, in practice these wishes are sometimes ignored, and here is where Michael Oakeshott’s preference for civil associations is well-founded. These should ideally have control of surveillance systems rather than enterprise associations because they would not have any dangerous ideals distracting from the key task of keeping law and order. For example, British Police Forces have been heavily criticized for wasting their time recording ‘non-crime hate incidents’, motivated by their impossible ideal of achieving absolute racial and sexual equality – they could instead arrest real criminals, for starters by using doorbell cam footage to arrest parcel thieves.
The biggest danger surveillance presents is its power to enable the perfect dictatorship through omnipresent recording and live monitoring. This would effectively allow the state to become God, both all-powerful (in human affairs) AND all-knowing. And man cannot overthrow God. A nascent example of this is China, which has an astounding 540 million CCTV cameras, more than 1 for every 3 people, and during COVID even installed cameras inside people’s homes to enforce quarantine. Almost as dangerous as its pervasiveness is CCTV’s increasing power. High definition video is now ubiquitous, Artificial Intelligence allows for automatic face recognition to identify dissidents, inbuilt microphones can record subversive conversation, expression analysis reveals discontent and gait analysis means even masks can no longer save you. An example of this new tech in action is how Russia uses its smart camera system in Moscow to detect young men avoiding conscription and service in its brutal war against Ukraine. In 1984 by George Orwell Telescreens are used to spy on people even at home and detect Thoughtcrime, which is the crime of just thinking in the wrong way. With the steady advance of CCTV technology such a reality seems increasingly plausible, and invites the frightening possibility that a technocratic authoritarian state could grow so effective at crushing opposition before it even forms, that it could last indefinitely. Just the fear such a system would create would paralyse individual, let alone organised, resistance. The old dictatorships, with their secret police and censorship, would look laughably crude before this nightmarish new breed. Time may be running out to stop this future. Regimes the world over are quickly adapting. It is perhaps essential for the future of democracy that the West make a big push to contain and unravel authoritarianism wherever it exists, before it becomes unassailable.
In conclusion, the growing omnipresence and power of surveillance technology, most notably CCTV, enables authoritarian regimes to grow steadily more effective in crushing opposition, which in turn makes it important all countries should have stringent regulation like the UK’s, and preferably that civil associations, without dangerous ideals, control it. Therefore, the West must not be complacent that democracy will eventually win, and must race against time to expand it, before it is too late.
On Saturday the 8th April Iranian police announced they were installing smart cameras to automatically detect and punish women not wearing the hijab. This article looks at this move in the context of Iranian women’s fight for freedom against a repressive fundamentalist regime, as well as the wider ethics of surveillance.
Firstly, women should have the freedom to wear what they like, as long as it doesn’t harm other people in society. Clearly the mere sight of a woman’s hair does not cause any actual harm, so going unveiled should therefore be allowed in Iran. All the other Muslim nations apart from Afghanistan recognise this fact and respect women’s right to wear what they choose. In this channel’s opinion, women’s right to wear the hijab should be respected, and their right to not wear the hijab should also be respected. Islamic Republic’ hardliners’ arguments against it seem to mainly be reactionary hysteria. For example cleric Ayatollah Mohsen Araki declared that the trend of “improper hijab” is somehow a “new COVID” that is instigated by foreign “enemies.” This type of baseless claim referencing shadowy, outside powers is a stock device used by authoritarian regimes, unable to accept their own people can see their oppression with their own eyes.
Secondly, this is happening in the broader context of rolling protests ever since the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody last year. Mahsa, 22, was arrested on the 13 September in Tehran by the morality police for breaching Iran’s dress laws, brutally beaten in the police van causing her to collapse and be sent to the hospital, where she died on the 16 September. Her terrible death at the hands of unpopular morality police, inspired massive anti-hijab protests across Iran, and an attempted cover up by the regime who claimed it was a “sudden heart failure.” At least 522 people had lost their lives (though this figure includes pro-regime forces) by January 15th, with many shot or beaten to death by security services and groups of Islamic fundamentalists. Recognising the injustice of women being snatched off the street for not quite covering their head enough, Chief of Police Ahmadreza Radan has suggested prosecutions and impounding women’s vehicles, which simply shows the ultraconservative regime under the Ayatollah Khameini is ignoring the people and doubling down on an unjust law.
Thirdly, although some Western commentators like to pretend otherwise, the cruel hijab law is everything to do with Islam. Whilst there may be Iran-specific cultural factors to the law, introduced shortly after the 1979 Revolution,the majority of the rationale for the law comes from Islam, which can be simply observed by the fact this is what the regime justifies its actions by. For example, on the 2nd April Iranian President Ayatollah Raisi declared the “Hijab is a religious necessity and a common divine command among all monotheistic religions and Islam’s branches, which protects the individual and society from any harm”. Raisi is actually right that the practice of hijab has been considered a requirement under orthodox Islam for over 1000 years by broad consensus. The Quran, in verse 24:31 commands
“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment (zīnah) except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap their headcovers (khumurihinna) over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women…”
Additionally, verse 33:59 supports this:
“Prophet, tell your wives, your daughters and the believers’ women to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. This will make it more likely that they will be recognized and not abused.”
These verses are strong evidence on their own that the Quran would like women to dress with their head covered in the manner of the 7th century Arabian tribes it was addressed to. However, Islam is not just composed of the Quran but also tafsir, authoritative commentaries on the Quran. The tafsir of a respected Companion of Muhammad Ibn Abbas further supports this interpretation. See the below extract from the Yaqeen Institute.
“Ibn ʿAbbās, a giant in Qur’anic exegesis and the cousin of the Prophet ﷺ, for instance, explained that this clause meant that everything should be covered except the hands and face. It was also narrated from ʿĀʾishah (rA) that the intended meaning is “what appears from the hands and face.”
In the below hadith (authoritative reported sayings of Muhammad) the women’s action of covering themselves completely, including their heads except their face is applauded by none other than Aisha, the wife of Muhammad.
“By Allah, I never saw any women better than the women of the Anṣār or stronger in their confirmation of Allah’s Book! When Sūrat al-Nūr was revealed, ‘and to draw their khumur over their chests’, they all tore up their waist-wraps and covered themselves with them.”
Hadiths are almost as important as the Quran in forming Islam and this hadith, and others like it, leave the hijab’s necessity in Islam beyond doubt, or at the very least places the burden of proof upon those seeking to claim otherwise. So the Iranian regime is correct about its necessity in Islam but wrong to try to force it on women. No state has the right to force any individual to follow a religion, or its conception of a religion. It is fundamentally unjust because it is a denial of freedom of expression, which is what makes us humans, rather than simply cogs in a machine.
Finally, to return to smart surveillance, or simply surveillance in general, it is clear that itis simply a tool. It is not good or evil in itself. CCTV cameras can be used to prevent or punish murder, robbery or rape, which is unquestionably a positive. They can also be used by powerful clerics to deny young women their freedom of expression in the name of a regressive creed, which is unquestionably a negative. It is the intention behind it which matters the most.
On the 28th March the SNP’s Humza Yousaf was voted First Minister of Scotland by the Scottish Parliament. This little known 37 year old MSP replaced the omnipresent Nicola Sturgeon, who resigned due to the controversy over the (illegal and immoral) Gender Bill. Notably he is a practicing Muslim, with worrying links to dangerous Islamists and questionable past behavior. This post looks at why this presents a danger.
Humza Yousaf from the outside is every inch the liberal, socially progressive, typical SNP politician. He supported trans activists’ Scottish Gender Bill. He supported the Hate Crime Act criminalizing ‘stirring up [racial or sexual] hatred’. He stated he ‘doesn’t use [his] faith as the basis of legislation.’ But this outward image he presents conceals worrying behaviour, associations and the difficult position the fundamentals of Islam, his professed religion, put him in. Let’s see some examples.
Humza used to run the Scottish Islamic Foundation, set up in 2008 and dissolved in 2013, with his cousin Osama Saeed. This same SIF was designated an entry level Islamist group in 2010 by the Quilliam Foundation which warned many members supported ‘creating a single ‘Islamic State’ [with] shariah as state law.’ This label seems to have been borne out, as early on Humza brought Islamic extremists to meet senior Scottish politicians.One of them, Mohammed Sawalha, was a Hamas terrorist commander. Yousaf then in 2013, in his new position as SNP Minister for External Affairs, despite claiming his Islam does not affect his policymaking, announced a £398,00 grant to Islamic Relief. This organization is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and has an appalling history of antisemitism. His association with his cousin Saeed, who in 2006 praised Al Qaeda’s Anwar Al Awlaki as ‘preach[ing] nothing but peace” is also highly questionable. Just in 2020 he famously tweeted his ‘dreadful sadness’ at the death of a high profile gangland drug-dealer, which this channel suspects was simply due to his being a member of the same religion. Most suspiciously, in 2014 he missed the vote on gay marriage in Scotland, perhaps fearing his fundamentalist Muslim voters in Glasgow would not approve, or perhaps he didn’t even support it, despite his publicly affirmed LGBT credentials, and only grudgingly came round after.
More than anything there is an intractable problem, which Humza cannot make go away. It isimpossible to reconcile liberalism and the fundamentals of Islam; the Quran simply does not permit it. This makes his position as a guardian of gay and women’s rights extremely weak and vulnerable to backsliding because Muslim fundamentalists can point to clear, unambiguous verses in the Quran and question why he is not following them. Indeed many have done so already. Take Humza’s declaration that he supports equal rights for women. Verse 4:34 in the Quran states “Men are the protectors of women because of the greater preference that God has given to some of them… admonish women who disobey (God’s laws), do not sleep with them, and beat them.” Also verse 2:228, after decreeing that divorced women must wait 3 menstrual cycles before remarrying, states “Women have benefits as well as responsibilities. Men have a status above women.” These 2 verses show Islam states women are not equal to men. Humza, if he truly believes in Islam, clearly cannot convincingly claim to support feminism. Nor can he convincingly claim to support gay rights since the Quran unequivocally condemns homosexuality in verse 7:81 which sees a prophet, Lot, scolding his people for their wickedness “You lust after men instead of women. You are certainly transgressors.” This is the essential problem of the Muslim moderate, he is torn between his regressive ideology and his progressive ideals, and a cognitive dissonance results from his trying to hold irreconcilable beliefs.
Why does this matter? Because Islam is a uniquely effective and insidious proselytizing religion. It is the only intellectual force in the world capable of challenging Western democratic liberalism and at the helm of Scotland is a self-proclaimed follower of Islam, who cannot be expected to withstand pernicious attempts by Islamists to make the UK into a Sharia nation. Understand that this is a long term goal of theirs that is not close to succeeding, but in the short term attacking freedom of speech by making criticism of Islam taboo is bearing fruit. The best recent example is The Hate Crime and Public Disorder (Scotland) Act 2021 which Humza helped pass and is accused of being an anti-blasphemy law in disguise due to the arbitrary vagueness of the offense of ‘stirring up’ religious hatred. Actions like these come alongside regular calls by Islamic organizations to ban Islamophobia, which in most cases is simply criticism of Islam, and hysteria whipped up over minor incidents like an autistic schoolboy dropping a Quran accidentally this February.
Finally, who a leader is is just as important as what he does. The perception that a leader is weak on, unopposed to, or accepting of your ideology can embolden people, even if he technically changes nothing. Hence in Brazil the perception that Jair Bolsonaro cared little for the environment unleashed a wave of opportunistic rainforest exploiters even if the laws themselves on Amazon land grabbing had not changed. The machinery of state, the civil service, become hesitant to apply laws that defend freedoms when they sense their executive is not behind them. In short Humza Yousaf, in the position of First Minister, could embolden Scottish Islamists and weaken resistance to them at the same time, all when the shaky economy and global situation is undermining support for liberal democracy worldwide.
On Wednesday the 22 March Xi Jinping ended a 3 day state visit to the Kremlin, whose ostensible purpose was to discuss how to achieve peace in Ukraine with President Vladimir Putin. However, this summit has a second, much more important purpose – to reaffirm the Sino-Russian alliance against the West. This video looks at why, and how, the West should contain this sinister alliance, and the wider ‘Axis of Authoritarianism’.
The West faces a massive geopolitical challenge to its support for the ideals of global peace, democracy and development from a loose coalition of authoritarian states led by China and Russia. This coalition is growing increasingly cohesive and assertive which means the West must at all costs stand together, affirm the moral rightness of its cause and contain the rising threat. To clarify, the ‘West’ in the opinion of this channel, is made up principally of the USA, Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand with Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Israel, Japan and Taiwan (and South Korea!) being part of the ‘Wider West.’
Let us first deal with the membership of this so-called ‘Axis of Authoritarianism.’ First its de facto leader, China with 1.5 billion people, 19% of global GDP and a 2 million strong military. Secondly, Russia with 146 million people, 12% of global oil production and a 1.15 million strong military, albeit poorly led and equipped. Thirdly, Iran with 82 million people, 14% of global gas reserves and an 870,000 man military. This is the core alliance. The wider alliance is more fragmentary but is steadily strengthening its ties as the world moves more and more into 2 blocs that mirror the Cold War – Free and Authoritarian. It consists of Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, Maduro’s Venezuela, Assad’s Syria, Lukashenko’s Belarus, El Sisi’s Egypt and Min Aung Hlaing’s Myanmar. These dictators do not possess a shared ideology like communism, fascism or Islamism but are solely interested in holding power and fear being brought to account for their crimes.
The deepening China-Russia alliance signaled by Xi’s visit, and his inviting Putin to come to China should cause extreme concern to everyone. Here are a few cursory facts to show the nature of these regimes. China has imprisoned 1 million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps since 2017 for no crime other than being different. Chinese opioids wreak havoc on the USA & Europe, so much so that the leading cause of death in Americans aged 18-45 is opioid (mainly fentanyl) overdoses. China’s Belt and Road initiative massively indebts Asian countries like Sri Lanka, which had to agree to a 99 year port lease in 2017. Russia of course illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 and in 2022 launched an imperialist war to conquer Ukraine which has killed over 8000 civilians. Russia saw 6.6 trillion rubles lost to corruption in 2021, as it is a kleptocracy that steals from its own people. And Russia poisons exiled dissidents with nerve agents. The internal oppression and external aggression of these regimes is clear to see, and so it is our moral duty to stand up against them, as well as essential to the survival of the rules-based international order.
Currently the USA is the only Western military prepared for a potential confrontation. Every other Western military lacks the manpower, equipment, ammo and funds for more than a few weeks fighting. In order to create a sizeable deterrent and prevent confrontation, rearmament is needed. British historian Mark Felton lays out the shocking decline of the UK armed forces in particular since the Cold War in his video ‘Britain’s Shrinking Military.’ The Defence budget has shrunk from 4.1% in 1991 to 2.5% today. The army in 1991 had 153,000 soldiers and 1200 tanks to only 86,000 and 223 respectively today. The Royal Navy, traditionally our strongest arm, declined from 63,000 personnel in 1991 to 30,000 today, and from 51 destroyer and frigates and 29 subs to 18 and 10 respectively. Finally the RAF went from 90,000 personnel and 850 fighter jets to 33,000 and 115 respectively. This decline must be speedily reversed, and the £11 billion extra for defence promised over 5 years in the Conservative government’s Spring Budget is a start, but much more needs to be invested, and much faster.
Why the focus on expensive arms one might ask? Why not merely international outreach and ‘soft power’? Because the truth is the Axis of Authoritarianism understands only one language: force. Behind the protestations of respect for peace and democracy, lies a ruthless, realpolitik might-makes-right view of power. On the 4th February last year Putin staged a state visit to Beijing, where a joint statement was made calling for States to “respect the rights of peoples to independently determine the development paths of their countries” among other things. A mere 3 weeks later on the 24th February he ignored this and launched a brutal invasion of Ukraine. China tacitly condoned it. On the 24th February this year China’s ‘Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis’ was published declaring “The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld.” Except of course China routinely trespasses in Vietnamese and Philippine waters and threatens to invade the independent country Taiwan. Just on Wednesday (22 March) Xi and Putin calling Russia and China the ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination’ (meaning alliance) published a joint statement stating ‘the United Nations Charter must be observed and international law must be respected.’ This statement is likely as sincere as the previous two. The point is China and Russia tell lie after lie because they have no real respect for truthful diplomacy and compromise, only for raw balance of power. And it is time to rebalance the scales.
In conclusion, the ‘Axis of Authoritarianism’ whose senior partners are China then Russia, must urgently be be contained by Western rearmament because its increasing cohesiveness and assertiveness pose a threat to peace and democracy, and existing soft power methods are ineffective in the face of a duplicitous realpolitik whose only aim is power.