Tag: Syria

Briefing Note: Update on the Salisbury poisonings – the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media

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Earlier this year in Salisbury, following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

The multinational working group on Syria, propaganda and the media has been established to facilitate research into the areas of organised persuasive communication (including propaganda and information operations) and media coverage, with respect to the 2011-present conflict in Syria, including related topics.

The group is entirely independent, open to academics and independent researchers and is not aligned to any state or non-state actor. In line with ethical expectations, the research group is committed to the upholding of international law and human rights norms.

The group aims to facilitate networking, the development of research papers and research grant bids and to provide a source of reliable, informed and timely analysis for journalists, publics and policymakers.

The aims are to be accomplished through a commitment to the production of rigorous and independent research, examining carefully the various accounts of the conflict in Syria to build an empirically grounded account both of the conflict itself and of the apparatus, practice and content of organised persuasive communication (including propaganda) in relation to the conflict. It is vital in any such endeavour that all available information, and all reputable or appropriate scientific research methods, are utilised to contribute to evidence-based accounts of the conflict and the war of words that accompanies it.

The working group have published the following briefing note: Update on the Salisbury poisonings:- 

The following briefing note is developed by academics researching the use of chemical and biological weapons during the 2011-present war in Syria. The note reflects work in progress. However, the substantive questions raised need answering, especially given the seriousness of the political situation in the Middle East and UK-Russian relations. We welcome comments and corrections.

Authors: Professor Paul McKeigue, Professor David Miller and Professor Piers Robinson (piers.robinson@sheffield.ac.uk/+447764763350).

Working Group on Syria, Media and Propaganda (syriapropagandamedia.org).

Key points

  • The Skripals were exposed to a phosphoroamidofluoridate compound named A-234, of high purity indicating that it was most likely prepared for research purposes.
  • A-234 or similar compounds have been synthesized at bench scale by national chemical defence labs in Russia and the US in the 1990s, and more recently in Iran and Czech. A small quantity of A-234 from a Russian state lab was used in the murder of Ivan Kivelidi and Zara Ismailova in 1995.
  • No data on the toxicity of A-234 are available in the public domain. The police statement that the Skripals were exposed through contact with their front door is implausible as there are no known nerve agents that cause onset of symptoms delayed by several hours, and it is improbable that absorption through the skin would cause both individuals to collapse later at exactly the same time.
  • Although Russia is one of several countries that have synthesized A-234 or similar compounds, there is no evidence other than Vil Mirzayanov’s story that these compounds were ever developed (implying industrial-scale production and testing of munitions) for military use. Mirzayanov’s credibility as an independent whistleblower is undermined by his role in a Tatar separatist movement during 2008-2009, backed by the US State Department.
  • There are multiple indications that the UK is hiding information:- 
    • the withholding of the identity of the compound as A-234. For example, the UK statement to the OSCE 12 April 2018 states only that ‘ the name and structure of that identified toxic chemical is contained in the fall classified report to States Parties’. See also this briefingThe Chief Executive of Porton Down, in his statement 3 April, referred to the compound only as ‘Novichok’.
    • the withholding of information about its toxicity
    • the issue of a Defence and Security Media Advisory notice on the identity of Skripal’s MI6 handler and the attempt to conceal or deny his role in Orbis Business Intelligence.
    • the sequestration of Yulia Skripal.
  • The UK government’s case against Russia, stated in a letter to NATO, is based on asserting that “only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals”. Each of these points is open to question:- 
    • Technical means: it is not seriously disputed that compounds such as A-234 can be produced at bench scale in any modern chemistry lab. 
    • Operational experience: it is alleged that Russia has a track record of state-sponsored assassination, but this is not enough to support the assertion that “only Russia” could have enough experience to attempt unsuccessfully to assassinate two unprotected individuals. 
    • Motive: No other attempted assassinations of defectors from Russian intelligence services have been recorded. Even if such an assassination campaign had been ordered, the Russian state would have good reasons not to initiate it in the first half of 2018. In contrast there are obvious possible motives (outlined below) for other actors to have taken steps to silence Sergei Skripal at this time. 

What was the agent used?

An early report that the hospital was dealing with poisoning caused by an opiate such as fentanyl was most likely based on the initial working diagnosis.  Signs of organophosphate poisoning – constricted pupils, vomiting, reduced consciousness and reduced breathing – could easily be mistaken for opiate overdose, usually a more likely diagnosis.  OPCW has stated that the BZ detected by the Swiss Federal Institute for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection in one of the samples sent by OPCW was not from Salisbury but was in a control sample.

The Russian ambassador reported that on 12 March the Foreign Secretary had told him that the nerve agent used against Mr and Ms Skripal had been identified as A-234.   The OPCW report issued on 12 April did not identify the agent but stated that they had confirmed the identification made by the UK and that this identification had been included in the confidential report provided to “States parties”. 

On 14 April the Russian Foreign Minister stated that A-234 had been reported by the Swiss Federal Institute for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection that was one of the four accredited labs used by OPCW to analyse the Salisbury samples.

Based on public reports, a ChemSpider record for A-234 has been created which assigns it the IUPAC name ethyl [(1E)-1-(diethylamino)ethylidene] phosphoramidofluoridate. Its predicted vapour pressure is very low indicating that it is predicted to be non-volatile. No information on its stability is available.   

The OPCW director Uzumcu stated in a newspaper interview that the agent “seems to be very persistent,” and “not affected by weather conditions”.  This was confirmed the next day by an OPCW press statement that: “the chemical substance found was of high purity, persistent and resistant to weather conditions”.  Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was reported to have stated:  “The chemical does not degrade quickly.  You can assume it is not much different now from the day it was distributed”.  No experimental studies of the stability of A-234 have been reported.

Who could have produced A-234 in bench-scale quantities?

It is no longer seriously disputed that, as noted in our earlier briefing, any well equipped university lab can synthesize and purify such chemicals at bench scale.  OPCW reported that the agent (presumably A-234) was of high purity with “almost complete absence of impurities”.   This suggests that it was from a batch that had been synthesized for research, rather than for assassination purposes where it would be unnecessary to purify the agent.

Uzumcu stated in an interview with the New York Times that he had been told by UK officials that 50-100 grams of the agent was used.

“For research activities or protection you would need, for instance, five to 10 grams or so, but even in Salisbury it looks like they may have used more than that. Without knowing the exact quantity, I am told it may be 50, 100 grams or so, which goes beyond research activities for protection”

OPCW quickly contradicted this in a statement that “OPCW would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the nerve agent that was used in Salisbury on 4 March 2018. The quantity should probably be characterized in milligrams”.

Who has studied A-234 or similar compounds?

Bench-scale research on the toxicity of agents that might be used in chemical warfare is entirely legitimate under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and does not have to be declared to OPCW.

  • Russia

Since our last briefing note, more material from the investigation of the Kivelidi poisoning has been published by Novaya Gazeta, updating the earlier article published on 22 March

The second article includes an image of the mass spectrometry profile of the sample recovered from the telephone handset, which matches that submitted by Edgewood to the NIST98 mass spectrometry database. 

The Russian experts who commented on the original result appear not to have had access to the mass spectrometry profile of A-234, and to have incorrectly reconstructed the structure from a best guess, based on the mass-charge ratios of the fragments, as something like the GV agent (both agents have molecular mass 224 daltons, and a 58-dalton fragment).  

This establishes that Russia had synthesized this compound at bench scale by the mid 1990s, but does not confirm that it was ever developed for military use as alleged by Mirzayanov.

  • US

1997 newspaper article refers to a secret US army intelligence report referring to Russian development of A-232 and its “ethyl analog” A-234, indicating that the designation of these compounds and their structures was known to the US by this time. As noted in our last briefing note, the Edgewood lab submitted a mass spectrometry profile for A-234 to the public database NIST98, which was current from 1998 to 2001.

A patent application submitted by a US government lab in 2008 mentions “Novichoks”, but examination shows that the structures given for these compounds were the dihaloformaldoxime structures previously published as supposed “Novichoks”, not the phosphoramidofluoridates published by Mirzayanov later in 2008.   This does not indicate that the applicants were studying these compounds – most likely they included them to make their patent as broad as possible.

  • Iran and Czechia

study from Iran published in 2016 reported synthesis for research purposes of a compound similar to A-234, differing from it only by the presence of methyl instead of ethyl groups.  In an interview with Czech television, President Zeman stated that in November 2017 the related compound designated A-230 was studied at the Brno Military Research Institute.

  • Other labs

The director of Porton Down has declined to comment on whether Porton Down has stocks of A-234 for research purposes. The OPCW labs that identified A-234 in the specimens from Salisbury were most likely matching it against a mass spectrometry profile in OPCW’s Central Analytical Database.

What is known of the toxicity of A-234?

No data on the toxicity of A-234 are available in the public domain.  The printout of the entry in the NIST 98 database appears to cross-reference an entry in the database RTECS (Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances)but no entry for this compound now exists in RTECS.

Why was the structure of A-234 revealed?

The structure of A-234 was revealed in a book by Vil S Mirzayanov in 2008, some 13 years after he had emigrated to the US with the story of a secret programme to develop chemical weapons of a class named “Novichoks”. During 2008-2009 the US government, with an active part for the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was encouraging the development of a separatist movement in Tatarstan.  As part of this, Mirzayanov was declared head of a Tatar government-in-exile in December 2008.    The publication of his book may thus have been part of an effort to build up Mirzayanov’s status as a dissident.  His role in this operation may explain why subsequent discussion of his book by OPCW delegates was closely monitored (and discouraged) by the US State Department.   Mirzayanov’s involvement in this operation undermines his credibility as an independent whistleblower.

When and where were the Skripals exposed to A-234?

A summary of the different versions on which journalists were apparently briefed by security sources was given by the Russian embassy:-

– The Skripals could be sprayed with poison by attackers in the street (Daily Mail, 6 March, source: “Anti-terror police”).

– The nerve agent could be planted in one of the personal items in Yulia Skripal’s suitcase before she left Moscow for London. According to this theory the toxin was impregnated in an item of clothing or cosmetics or else in a gift that was opened in the house of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, meaning Yulia Skripal was deliberately targeted to get at her father (The Telegraph, 15 March, source: “Senior sources in the intelligence agencies”).

– The nerve agent could be planted in the air conditioner of the car of Skripals (Daily Mail, 19 March, source: “Security expert Philip Ingram”).

– The Skripals could be poisoned through buckwheat that Yulia Skripal had asked her friend to buy and bring for her father, because she had forgotten to pick up the grocery gifts herself (The Sun, 1 April, source: “British investigators”).

On 28 March the police announced that “at this point in our investigation, we believe the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent from their front door”.  

Although it is possible that a nerve agent could be prepared in a formulation that would be absorbed only slowly through the skin, it is implausible that two individuals exposed through contact with the front door would have received doses that caused them to collapse suddenly and so nearly simultaneously that neither had time to call for help, at least three hours later. 

It is more likely that they were attacked shortly before they were found collapsed on the park bench.

Sergei Skripal’s link with Orbis: possible motive for murder

In the first few days after the poisoning there were media reports that Sergei Skripal had been in regular contact with his MI6 handler,  whose Linked-In profile had stated that he was a consultant for Orbis Business Intelligence.  It appears that this  profile was deleted by March 7, and a Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice was issued to caution journalists against disclosing the identity of this consultant. 

However at Skripal’s trial in 2007 his MI6 handler had been identified as Pablo Miller, and the link between Skripal and Miller had been described in detail by Russian opposition media on 6 March.

This link between Skripal and Orbis may be relevant to the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, the founder of Orbis, containing derogatory information on Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.  This dossier had been used by the FBI to apply for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court order authorizing surveillance of Trump’s campaign.  By early 2018 the unravelling of this story was creating serious difficulties for Steele and for those he had worked with. 

These difficulties included a referral for criminal investigation by two US Senators, a libel case in the US against the publisher of the dossier which had led to a court ruling that Steele should be questioned in an English court, and a libel case in England against Orbis and Steele.  It is not difficult to postulate a situation in which the potential for damage to US-UK relations could have provided a motive for actors on both sides of the Atlantic to ensure that Sergei Skripal would not be available to give evidence.

The UK government’s position

This was summarized in a letter from the National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill to the NATO Secretary-General on 13 April 2018.   Sedwill’s letter made several assertions that were substantiated only by “intelligence”:

  • By 1993, when Russia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, it is likely that some Novichoks had passed acceptance testing, allowing their use by the Russian military
  • Russia further developed some Novichoks after ratifying the convention
  • During the 2000s, Russia commenced a programme to test means of delivering chemical warfare agents and to train personnel from special units in the use of these weapons. This programme subsequently included investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents, including by application to door handles. 
  • In the mid-2000s, President Putin was closely involved in the Russian chemical weapons programme
  • Within the last decade Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks

Appearing before the House of Commons Defence Committee on 1 May, Sedwill (11:39) extolled the government’s reaction to the Salisbury incident as “an example of the Fusion Doctrine in practice”. 

The Fusion Doctrine brings other government departments under the National Security Council with “the introduction of senior officials as senior responsible owners to deliver each of the NSC’s priorities”.

Sedwill’s involvement in the preparation of the now widely discredited dossier ‘Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, released in September 2002, calls into question his credibility in making these uncorroborated assertions. 

The UK government’s case as set out by Sedwill is based on asserting that “only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals”.  Each of these points is open to serious criticism:-

  • Technical means: it is not seriously disputed that A-234 can be produced at bench scale in any organic chemistry lab.
  • Operational experience: it is alleged that Russia has a track record of state-sponsored assassination, but this does not support the assertion that only Russia has the operational experience for such an assassination. On the contrary, the failure of the assassination attempt, against two unprotected individuals, suggests that the perpetrators lacked the operational experience and competence that one would expect of state-directed assassins.
  • Motive: no other attempted assassinations of defectors from Russian intelligence services have been recorded. If the Russian state had decided to begin assassinating these defectors, it is unlikely that they would have chosen to start in March 2018, just before the presidential election and three months before the FIFA World Cup.   However, as noted above, it is possible to identify motives for other actors to silence Sergei Skripal at this time.

 

Acknowledgements

We thank Professor Rudy Richardson of the University of Michigan for advice on the toxicology of nerve agents. 

Related

Update to briefing note ‘Doubts about Novichoks’

From a nerve agent attack to a nuclear threat in 3 days – the very worrying collapse of international diplomacy

D-Notice over Skripal poisoning suggests the information we’ve been given was false

 


 

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Syria, Miliband’s principled dignity, Murdoch and toxic Tory tantrums ladled up with corruption

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It’s worth considering that in the past few years President Bashar al-Assad’s Government has allegedly killed over 100,000 people in Syria, amongst them were many civilians, including women and children, so we need to ask why, exactly, would allegedly using chemical weapons on 1,300 people suddenly be much more of an issue and a matter of national interest for America, Britain and France?

My own view of the situation is that aggressive intervention is an absurd and incoherent solution. We cannot bomb people into democracy or shoot them into observing human rights. Punishing a dictator for killing his own people by simply killing more of his own people seems beyond cruel. The gesture of war will not punish the guilty, such as members of the tyrannical Assad regime: it will simply kill ordinary people and their children, topple buildings and cause injuries and hardship to the innocent. It seems to me to be a spectacularly pointless and peculiarly brutal proposal.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the public is quite rightly skeptical that employment of aerial bombardment is a cure-all for the world’s ills, after hard-learned lessons from Iraq, and our various other interventions, dressed up as “humanitarian aid”.

Of course it didn’t take much digging to find that there are some vested interests in oil and gas on Syrian territory. There is profit to be made by a local subsidiary of the New York-listed company, Genie Energy – which is advised by former vice president Dick Cheney, and shareholders include Rupert Murdoch and Jacob Rothschild. Israel has granted the US company the first license and it will now have exclusive rights to explore a 153-square mile radius in the southern part of the Golan Heights for oil and gas, John Reed of the Financial Times reports.

The Golan Heights – a disputed geopolitical area, is comprised of a two-thirds of land that was seized violently by Israel in the 60s in the Six-Day War, (and this is not internationally recognised as Israeli territory, it remains disputed, but Israel effectively annexed it in 1981), and the remaining third lies in Syria’s domain.

I visited the Golen Heights some years ago, and had a hairy moment or two on land which was peppered with Syrian mines, trapped there between snipers, at the border of the Israeli-claimed territory. Discarded shells and rockets littered the landscape, which had become strange and ugly monuments to human conflict. Yet we must never despair of human nature. Man’s nature is not essentially evil. Brute nature has been known to yield to the influence of love, according to Ghandi.

But not so easily under such profiteering, greedy and corrupt governments.

Israel’s administration of the area – which is still not recognised by international law – has been reasonably peaceful in recent years, until the Syrian civil war broke out 23 months ago.

This action is mostly political – it’s an attempt to deepen Israeli commitment to the occupied Golan Heights”, Israeli political analyst Yaron Ezrahi told FT.

The timing is directly related to the fact that the Syrian government is dealing with violence and chaos and is not free to deal with this problem”.

Earlier this month it was reported that Israel is considering creating a buffer zone reaching up to 10 miles from Golan into Syria to secure the 47-mile border against the threat of Islamic radicals in the area.

Both President Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, have mentioned Israel’s “needs” as one justification for an attack on Syria.

The Guardian reports that three months ago, Iraq gave the green light for the signing of a framework agreement for construction of pipelines to transport natural gas from Iran’s South Pars field – which it shares with Qatar – across Iraq, to Syria.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the pipelines was signed in July last year – just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo – but the negotiations go back further to 2010. The pipeline, which could be extended to Lebanon and Europe, would potentially solidify Iran’s position as a formidable global player.

The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan is a “direct slap in the face” to Qatar’s plans for a countervailing pipeline running from Qatar’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, also with a view to supply European markets.

The difference is that the pipeline would bypass Russia.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have received covert support from Washington in the funneling of arms to the most virulent Islamist elements of the rebel movement, while Russia and Iran have supplied arms to Assad.

And of course Israel has a direct interest in countering the Iran-brokered pipeline. In 2003, just a month after the commencement of the Iraq War, US and Israeli Government sources told the Guardian of plans to “build a pipeline to siphon oil from newly conquered Iraq to Israel” bypassing Syria. The conflict therefore and the future of Syria continues to be at the mercy of rival foreign geopolitical interests in dominating the energy corridors of the Middle East and North Africa.

And let’s consider who sold weapons of mass destruction to unstable middle eastern countries in the first place. It’s emerged recently that Vince Cable and other Ministers are to face questions over a decision to allow export of substances used to make chemical weapons to Syria, only months after the country descended into civil war.

Commenting on the reports, which were first published in the Sunday Mail, Labour’s shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna MP, said: “The chair of the joint intelligence committee confirmed last week that their assessment was that the Syrian regime had used lethal chemical weapons on 14 occasions from 2012. There are, therefore, very serious questions to answer as to why, in January 2012, export licences for chemicals to Syria which could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons were approved”.

Far from being a beacon of human rights, the UK has little legitimacy around the world when it comes to intervening in wars – a fact that parliament eventually recognised in its welcomed vote last Thursday.

Can you see what this is yet? As ever, with any Conservative proposition made in earnest, the money trail always reveals the true motivation behind it.

It is widely accepted that David Cameron has a streak of petty, bullying arrogance which often reveals itself at prime minister’s questions. I was pleased to see this reported in The Guardian: “Now  Cameron and his henchmen have been trying to spin his humiliating defeat by parliament over military intervention in Syria into an unedifying character assassination of Ed Miliband. It wasn’t Miliband who attempted to grandstand by bouncing parliament prematurely into attacking Syria”.

The Labour leader hasn’t been responsible for perhaps the most monumentally misjudged British foreign policy in recent times. Cameron began two years ago demanding regime change – which didn’t work. Then he resourced the rebel forces – which failed, too. Then he tried to send arms to the rebels – until cross-party opposition in parliament blocked that: perhaps he forgot the series of protests by MPs resulting in the vote opposing his policy by 114 to one on 11 July on a backbench motion moved by Tories? 

The Daily Mirror reports that the UK arm of strategist Lynton Crosby’s lobbying empire represented the Syrian National Council. Cameron stepped up his calls for action – including arming forces trying to oust  Bashar al-Assad – after hiring the Australian as his elections adviser last year.

Frank Roy, a member of the Foreign Affairs select committee, said: “We need to know that David Cameron’s crusade has not been inspired by his lobbyist chum. It would be quite wrong if Lynton Crosby was using his position to influence the Prime Minister on such an important foreign policy issue on behalf of a former client.”

Roy’s comments came as it was alleged that Cameron had pushed for a more “robust” response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Gosh.

Authorising the export of chemicals to Syria is simply part of a long trend of support for dangerous technology which undermines this country’s legitimacy when it comes to speaking about human rights. Thatcher’s government sold the components for chemical weapons to Iraq, and Saddam Hussain directed The Al-Anfal campaign – genocide – on the Kurds. The Reagan and Thatcher governments continued to aid Iraq after receiving reports of the use of poison gas on Kurdish civilians.

So Cameron now insists “something must be done” in response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria. All of a sudden. And the Conservative “liberal interventionists”, who trumpet so loudly their commitment to spreading “democracy” around the globe, are not very happy at this wonderful and long overdue sign of a democratic resurgence in Britain.

Polls showed that just 8% of Britons wanted immediate weapons strikes on Syria, but despite that, the “democracy by bombs” crusaders are condemning the vote as a “black day for democracy”. Oh, such irony. Ah, the Newspeak.

The Murdoch-owned Times wheeled out Tony Blair, the High Priest of “liberal interventionism” to support an attack on Syria earlier this week, but this tactic showed just how laughably out of touch the Times is with public opinion. And Ed Miliband has once and for all, finally drawn a clear and indisputable line underneath the Blair era, anyway. Miliband had already denounced New labour, and distanced himself from Blair earlier this year, in his speech to the the Fabian Society. 

Opposition to British involvement in an attack on Syria was led by Miliband, who took a brave and principled stance that resonated strongly with public wishes, too. I’ve seen many say that it felt like we have a democracy again, and the following day there was a sudden rebellion which was widespread, and across the political spectrum, with Cameron’s own ministers voting against him. It wasn’t just the genuine anti-war left who opposed an aggressive strike, but some traditional Conservatives too, with some Conservative-supporting newspapers such as the Daily Express taking a strong line against intervention.

Miliband’s decision to oppose the Prime Minister’s motion on Syria authorising direct British military involvement sparked fury in No 10 and even led to deplorable accusations he was providing “succour” to Assad. Cameron couldn’t keep his fury in check. He called Miliband a “copper-bottomed c*nt” in public.

Miliband said Cameron must now “find other ways” to put pressure on Assad: “There are other routes than military means to actually help the people of Syria,” he said. “I don’t think the Government should wash its hands of this issue”.

I think all of the focus of the Prime Minister and the Government in the coming days needs to be working with our allies to find other ways to press President Assad, to take action with our allies to put the diplomatic, political and other pressure that needs to be put on the Government there. We need the peace talks to get going. So there are other things the Government should be doing”.

He added that Britain “doesn’t need reckless and impulsive leadership, it needs calm and measured leadership”.

The Murdoch media empire, propagandising for the US-led wars of the last two decades, is now isolated in its obsessive screeching for military action, and the fact that MPs ignored the bellicose pro-“intervention” editorials in Murdoch papers is a clear indication as to just how much they are declining in influence.

Let us not forget that it has been an iron law of politics since most of today’s Cabinet were in kindergarten that you do not “take on” Rupert Murdoch. And that if you were foolhardy enough to try, you would end up fatally wounded.

Ed Miliband did. He has shown he has principles and courage on many occassions, sadly this is very seldom reported and reflected fairly in the media. And Miliband didn’t just take the easy option of calling for specific action targeted at the paper where the hacking scandal began – that would have been a safer way of doing it – but by calling for a whole judicial enquiry. Rupert Murdoch probably thought that Ed would leave it at that. But no, when the leader of the Opposition turned up at the proceedings of that enquiry, he said explicitly that if he were Prime Minister, he would seek to limit the percentage of media that one man could own. Quite properly so.

Then there was the banks. Now many in the Labour party would have preferred him to stick safely to making outraged noises about misconduct. No, he once again called for a wider enquiry. When Cameron accepted that proposition of misconduct, Miliband pushed for one wide enough to cover the whole culture of banking which had led to the crisis – a much bigger threat to the banks. After that, Ed threatened them with separation between their investment (casino) and retail (piggy bank) arms. Each time Miliband had the opportunity to ease off, he went further. These are not the actions of a weak leader.

Some will argue that the banks and the media were both wounded giants: once-powerful interests which had been left limping by the financial crisis and the phone hacking scandal respectively. But Ed Miliband didn’t stop with them. In the last few years he has taken on the energy companies too. Not in a small way either, for example, by threatening to legislate to make sure that they give the elderly their cheapest tariffs (although he has done that too). But by actually threatening to break up the Big Six unless they start giving consumers a better deal. That is not a small threat for a potential Prime Minister to make. I have every faith in this man, as a decent, principled and strong leader of the Labour party and future Prime Minister.

Miliband clearly outlined his view that there needed to be a proper international process at the United Nations that was evidence-led, and as he argued powerfully that we needed the “time and space” to come to a judgement and that we shouldn’t rush headlong into a political timetable that was being driven elsewhere, one or two churlish Tory MPs, including Ministers, regrettably, chose to heckle him with the word “weak”. They wish.

The bullying, truculent and outrageously burlesque reactions of the Conservatives to this forced renewal of British democracy, and the obvious strength of the Opposition leader tells us just how significant this is.

 

Further reading:

On Syria, Ed Miliband deserves praise not poison

David Cameron Lost The Syria Vote Because Of A Failure Of His Leadership

The Drums of War

 

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone