Britain’s “Guantanamo” Problem and the Legacy of Poor Policies

What legacy will they inherit?

What legacy will they inherit?

As the draw down of British forces from Afghanistan nears, the scandals seem to intensify.  The latest involves the prolonged detention of up to 90 suspected Afghan “insurgents” in Camp Bastion, Britain’s main military base in Afghanistan.  Defence Secretary Philip Hammond defended the policy, claiming the alternatives—turning the detainees back onto the battlefield to attack British forces, or handing them over to Afghan judicial authorities to face possible torture—were worse.

I am wholeheartedly in favour of protecting our brave soldiers and I support them unconditionally.  I further believe that releasing our enemies into an abusive situation could compromise our national security by feeding home grown terrorism.  But the real issue here is not the merits of this single policy, but the slew of bad policies which landed us between a rock and a hard place. Continue reading ‘Britain’s “Guantanamo” Problem and the Legacy of Poor Policies’

My Friend Fred Marafono, Fijian Warrior

Fred Marafono 13th December 1940 - 27th March 2013

Kauata Vamarasi Marafono M.B.E.

13th December 1940 – 27th March 2013

In the mid-1970s, I passed SAS selection as a young 20-year old from the RAF Regiment.  Only six candidates passed that winter course; five men and one very good young Rupert (officer).  I had superior fitness but not much else going for me at the time. The SAS must have seen me as a blank canvas they could turn into one of their own.

The day I was badged, I was sent to Boat Troop, B Squadron.  There was no Troop Rupert in charge, just a Troop Sergeant who introduced himself simply as “Fred”.  Fred was a giant in every respect; a physically massive individual with a presence to match. When he shook my hand, mine was lost in his.  I’d never seen a Fijian before, and in my ignorance, I thought he was a giant Gurkha.

Last weekend, Fred’s funeral was held at Hereford Cathedral.  I figured it would be standing room only. Still, I was awed by the sheer number of Regiment lads who had travelled far and wide to pay homage to him. Continue reading ‘My Friend Fred Marafono, Fijian Warrior’

Want to Get the Economy Moving, Create Jobs and Make Housing More Affordable? Here’s How We Get It Done.

Tax the value to get the economy moving.

Tax the value to get the economy moving.

It’s easy to feel powerless these days.  Jobs are scarce and insecure, wages are flat, fuel prices are soaring, rents are going up and all the while the rich keep getting richer.  At my age, it’s tempting to leave it to someone else to fix.  But as a parent and a patriot, I can’t and I won’t. An entire generation of Brits is being left behind.  1 in 5 young people are unemployed. Those who can find work often end up in part-time, poorly paid, dead end jobs. Then there’s the significant matter of putting a roof over their heads.  There’s a chronic lack of social housing and most young people don’t have a hope in hell of getting a foot on the property ladder, especially when the majority of jobs are being created in and around London where the average mortgage deposit for a first time buyer is projected to hit £100,000 by 2020.

That’s no typo.  It really is one hundred thousand pounds.  Talk about a hefty punch in the face.

For centuries, the British tax system has been rigged to benefit wealthy land owners.   It’s no surprise then that 70% of the land in the country is owned by 1% of the population.  The  majority (i.e. the working classes and the squeezed middle classes) put up with the arrangement so long as children had a good shot at a better life than their parents. But all that’s changed now.  We have reached a dangerous tipping point in our economy. Our children face a future of declining living standards.  The lucky ones will claw their way into social housing while the rest will be condemned to either live rough or spend their lives beholden to rich landlords who bleed them dry.

We don’t have to stand by while our children are railroaded into serfdom.   We are not powerless. We can make affordable housing a reality, and boost the economy in the process.  By demanding a LAND VALUE TAX.

LAND VALUE TAX or LVT is an annual tax on the value of a plot of land.  Unlike VAT, income tax, council tax and business rates which hit people of modest means the hardest, an LVT shifts the tax burden to the wealthiest land owning members of society.  As things stand now, land owners do not pay taxes on land they haven’t developed, which means they have everything to gain by sitting on real estate instead of putting it into productive use by building houses or businesses on top of it.  It’s a simple study in supply and demand. The fewer houses/buildings there are the more valuable the existing stock becomes. This is precisely why we have housing bubbles.   A LAND VALUE TAX would change everything by unlocking the value of the nation’s vast tracks of under-utilized real estate.  Hoarding would become very unprofitable, forcing land owners to either sell to developers or build on it themselves.  As the housing stock increases, prices would drop, recapturing the dream of home ownership for the nation’s youth.  And all that building would kick start the economy by creating much needed jobs, not to mention providing an incentive to improve our crumbling infrastructure which would make us more competitive.

Affordable housing.  More jobs.  Economic growth.  Competitiveness. That’s what a LAND VALUE TAX can do for us.  And unlike other forms of taxation, this one is very tough for the rich to dodge.  You can’t hide a piece of land offshore. Continue reading ‘Want to Get the Economy Moving, Create Jobs and Make Housing More Affordable? Here’s How We Get It Done.’

AFGHANISTAN: TRUTH AND LIES

This is what Kabul has to look forward to whether we stay or not.

It is at least six years late, but finally a senior political figure has found the courage to call for an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan.  Lord Ashdown pulled few punches in his impassioned plea in The Times, criticising Britain’s early military strategy and accusing the government of becoming distracted by adventures in Iraq when it should have been focused on Afghanistan.

All true, but while Ashdown called out the government for its political failings, he neglected to mention the string of lies senior ministers have perpetuated about Afghanistan, or point the finger at senior military figures who’ve been more than willing to support that deceit. How any politician can say with a straight face that we are in Afghanistan to keep the streets of Britain safe is beyond me, when everyone knows our involvement has fuelled the flames of home grown terrorism.  Then there’s the lie of the moment—that Afghan troops can somehow be vetted to stop ‘rogue’ recruits from turning their weapons on their NATO mentors.  As I argued on BBC Radio 5 Live earlier this week, nothing can be done to stop green on blue attacks because an element of the men we’re trying to train up have viewed us as the enemy since we entered Afghanistan back in 2001.

I’ve been screaming it from the rafters since I started this blog and I’ll scream it again.  AFGHANISTAN IS NOT AN INSURGENCY. IT’S A CIVIL WAR AND WE’VE TAKEN ONE SIDE IN IT.  Since 2006 when British troops entered Helmand Province, they’ve been trying to win over the people on the other side of that conflict—a futile, senseless task presided over by sloping shouldered generals and senior military brass who care more about pleasing politicians than they do the lives of their troops.  These senior officers know who they are, and they should hang their heads in shame.  I really don’t know how they or their chums in government can sleep at night knowing how many brave British troops they have and continue to put in harm’s way for no other reason than to justify past mistakes.

Why is it taking our government so long to act in the best interest of our troops when our Canadian, Dutch and French NATO allies have found the political will to bring their forces home? There is no justification for Britain’s continued presence in Afghanistan. None. Continue reading ‘AFGHANISTAN: TRUTH AND LIES’

FINDING MYSELF IN THE MUD

Mud, Mud, Mud

All my life, sport has been my ticket to something better.  At age 14, I ran away from a dysfunctional home to play football for a youth team in the West Country.  When my footballing career hit the skids at age 17, I joined the military because someone told me I could ‘get paid to play sport.’

Fitness has always defined me. But it wasn’t until I undertook SAS selection as a scrawny 20-year old, that I came to appreciate the connection between physical strength and mental resilience. When you’re tabbing over the Brecon Beacons in the dead of winter and your body’s in bits, fitness alone won’t cut it. You have to believe in yourself to get through it.

I continued to train hard after I retired from the SAS. The only thing that kept me from running in the hills was injury. It wasn’t much of a problem in my forties, but it was a different story when I hit my mid-fifties. I turn 58 next month, and like many people my age, old injuries have a nasty habit of wreaking havoc on my training routine. In recent years I’ve suffered from recurring muscle tears to my lower legs.   No sooner would I get into a good run than bang—the scar tissue in my calf would rip open like a zipper and I’d be grounded for weeks.

The first few times it happened, I was annoyed.  But as my injuries occurred more often, my recupperation time grew longer and I could feel my fitness tanking.  It did my head in having to lie up for weeks on end with my muscles wasting away. I felt old and useless. Washed up in every sense.

I knew I couldn’t go on that way, so I made the hard decision to give up hill running in favour of gym sessions that included the Concept 2 Rower and weight training.  But there was something about exercising indoors that just didn’t satisfy. No matter how tough I made the workouts, my mind still craved a good run over the hills. The impact on my mood was tremendous and I was rapidly turning into a grumpy old man.

I can’t imagine why, but my wife suggested I take part in a cross-country adventure race in Herefordshire called the Mud Runner Classic. I dismissed the idea straight away, arguing (grumpily) that I’d never stay injury free long enough to train properly.  But she refused to let it go, convinced it was exactly what I needed.

Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I had a sneak look on the website.  When I saw the photos of previous mud runs and read the course description—7.5 miles over undulating countryside with streams, mud and water pits as obstacles—I couldn’t resist.  I registered, paid my fee and started training. Continue reading ‘FINDING MYSELF IN THE MUD’

PLEBS Unite!

You should be working for the 99%

Andrew Mitchell of Plebgate infamy has finally resigned, freeing Prime Minister Cameron to rebuild his party’s credibility with the great Pleb masses before they go to the polls in 2015.  Two and a half years is an eternity in politics, but the Tories are kidding themselves if they think time alone will wipe the stain of Plebgate from the public consciousness—at least if I have anything to say about it.

As I argued in an earlier post, the precise wording of Mitchell’s rant was never the real issue.  His tantrum at the gates of Downing Street was significant because it exposed the mind-set of a ruling party that sees itself as vastly superior to the people it governs—a party which has jealously guarded the privileges of the wealthy and well-connected—a party which has done everything in its power to ensure that the income gap between rich and poor in this country continues to widen.

Labour has grasped the golden PR opportunity of Plebgate to hammer home the message that the Tories believe in ‘one rule for those at the top, another for the rest of us at the bottom.’   I agree. But the hard working people of this country need more than catchphrases from the opposition.  We need political warriors who will fight for our interests and close an income gap which has risen faster in Britain than anywhere else in the industrialized world.

Income inequality is not only a problem for those at the bottom.  The chasm between rich and poor hurts all of us by slowing economic growth and nursing a slew of social ills from substance abuse and obesity to prostitution and domestic violence.  If attitudes are anything to go by, many members of the ruling class believe these problems will never affect them directly.   All I can say is you’d better wake up before you find yourself on the receiving end of a popular blowback that has every chance of turning bloody.

I don’t want to see the country I served for 23 years as a soldier and would still die for today tear itself apart.  That’s why I’m writing this post –to reach out to people who are as frustrated as I am by the failure of our major political parties to close the income gap in Britain. We need to work together for change. I’m not proposing a new political party, but a grassroots movement advocating economic policies that benefit the majority of Brits, not the privileged few; a movement that will send a clear message that we will no longer tolerate a Government that sells out to the City of London and other powerful interests; a movement that will fight for a Progressive Liberal Economy for Britain a PLEB Movement.

There are many worthy economic changes to fight for.  I’ll kick things off by advocating for a cut in VAT—a tax which hits the poor the hardest and impedes economic growth.   I will write to my MP (who happens to be a Conservative), and tell her that if her party does not cut VAT immediately, I will lobby everyone in her constituency to vote her out of office.  A letter may seem like nothing, but multiply it by tens of millions and our government will be quaking in their boots.

As I said, cutting VAT is only the beginning.  I invite everyone who reads this post to help shape the PLEB agenda by leaving a comment below.  If you want to write a letter to your MP, you can find their address here.

Remember, we are the majority, not the elites. There is strength in our numbers that we have not begun to tap.  We’re only powerless when we fail to act. So PLEBs Unite, and let’s take back our country.

‘Generals for Hire’– Make An Example of Them

Do as we say, not as we do.’  Anyone who has served in the armed forces knows this is the ethos of many commissioned ranks, so it comes as no surprise that a group of retired military chiefs were filmed by The Sunday Times boasting about how they could peddle their influence to procure lucrative MoD contracts for private defence firms.

Exploiting professional connections for personal gain is nothing new for retired British officers. Look how many of them sit on the boards of private security and defence companies that pitch regularly for MoD contracts. In my view, this symbiotic arrangement between the top brass and private firms must be outlawed. Because not only does it corrupt our defence budget; it compromises our active duty soldiers by contaminating the motivation of serving high ranking officers as well.

I’ve said for years now that too many serving senior officers think and act more like politicians than military leaders. How else do you explain why they stick with discredited strategies that unnecessarily endanger the lives of the soldiers serving under them, such as mentoring Afghan Army and Police?  Maybe these officers know that if they toe the government line whilst on active duty, they’ll be on good terms with the MPs and Ministers they plan to lobby for defence contracts later on. Continue reading ‘‘Generals for Hire’– Make An Example of Them’



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 288 other followers