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Member since: Sun Sep 6, 2009, 11:57 PM
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Guardian long read - Trident: the British question

The debate is not simply about submarines and missiles. It touches almost every anxiety about the identity of the United Kingdom. The decision may tell us what kind of country – or countries – we will become

by Ian Jack

At this moment, a British submarine armed with nuclear missiles is somewhere at sea, ready to retaliate if the United Kingdom comes under nuclear assault from an enemy. The boat – which is how the Royal Navy likes to talk about submarines – is one of four in the Vanguard class: it might be Vengeance or Victorious or Vigilant but not Vanguard herself, which is presently docked in Devonport for a four-year-long refit. The Vanguards are defined as ballistic missile submarines or SSBNs, an initialism that means they are doubly nuclear. Powered by steam generated by nuclear reactors, they carry ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

The location of the submarine – both as I write and you, the reader, read – is one of several unknowns. Somewhere in the North Atlantic or the Arctic would have been a reasonable guess when the Soviet Union was the enemy, but today nobody could be confident of naming even those large neighbourhoods. Another unknown is the number of missiles and warheads on board. Each submarine has the capacity to carry 16 missiles, each of them armed with as many as 12 independently targetable warheads; but those numbers started to shrink in the 1990s, and today’s upper limit is eight missiles and 40 warheads per submarine. Even so, those 40 warheads contain 266 times the destructive power of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

Vickers (now BAE Systems) built the submarine hulls at Barrow; Rolls-Royce made the reactors in Derby; the Atomic Weapons Establishment produces the warheads at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire. All these inputs are more or less British (less in the case of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, which is run by a consortium of two American companies and Serco), but the missile that they were built to serve and without which they would not exist is American: the Trident D5 or Trident II, also deployed by the US navy, comes out of the Lockheed Martin Space Systems factory in Sunnyvale, California.

MORE: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/11/trident-the-british-question

Barack Obama plans intervention in Britain's EU referendum

Barack Obama is planning to make “a big, public reach-out” to persuade British voters to stay inside the European Union, the chair of the US Senate foreign relations committee has revealed.

The plan emerged amid fears in Washington that the UK’s EU referendum is a dangerous gamble that could unravel with disastrous consequences for the entire continent.

His “reach out” is likely to focus on the need for the EU to stick together to combat the migration crisis and the growing threat of Russian aggression in the Baltics, Ukraine and Middle East.

But there are concerns in both Washington and London that an intervention by the US president has to be handled sensitively and could backfire unless it is pitched at the right geopolitical level.


British media 'most right-wing' in Europe, YouGov survey finds

The British press is regarded as the most "right-wing" and "biased" in Europe, according to new research by YouGov.

The company polled people from seven major European nations to find out how they perceived the press in their own countries. They found that 26 per cent of Britons viewed their newspapers, TV and radio as "too right-wing", more than in any of the other nations surveyed.

By contrast, only 17 per cent of British respondents felt their media was "too left-wing". The other countries in the survey were France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Respondents to the survey were asked whether they felt their country's media coverage of five key issues was too left-wing, too right-wing, or balanced. The five policy areas analysed were immigration, housing, health, economics and crime.


A mere 18 per cent of Britons felt that the media was reasonable in its presentation of the refugee crisis, with 29 per cent feeling the media was too right-wing when dealing with questions of immigration.


The YouGov poll results are here (sampled late January 2016): https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/02/07/british-press-most-right-wing-europe/

Alistair Carmichael faces £150,000 bill after attempt to oust him

Alistair Carmichael, the former Scotland secretary, is facing a legal bill of about £150,000 after narrowly surviving a bid to have him ousted as MP for Orkney and Shetland.

Two judges sitting as an election court in Edinburgh rejected Carmichael’s application to have his legal costs awarded against four constituents who had challenged his election victory after he lied about the leak of a civil service memo.


Carmichael faced a rare election court case after authorising the leak of a Scotland Office memo to the Telegraph that recorded allegations that Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, secretly wanted David Cameron to win the 2015 general election.

The claims, based on a briefing to a civil servant by the then French consul general to Edinburgh, Pierre-Alain Coffinier, some days after the first minister had met the French ambassador, Sylvie Bermann, were immediately denied by Sturgeon. Coffinier also denied she had made those remarks.


I don't know how much noticeable media coverage this case has been getting outside Scotland.

Basically, the election court found that Carmichael had lied repeatedly about the leaked note that sought to discredit Sturgeon at the height of the 2015 UK election campaign - both during and after the event, including in the court itself - but on a technicality, he escaped being dismissed as an MP because it was found that he had done so in an official capacity, not a personal one. A politician is apparently entirely free to lie in the course of his duties about anything, but not about his personal character or conduct. No, me neither.

Prior to this finding, he had been typically bombastic, dismissing the case as a vexatious SNP plot and declaring that he was going to seek severely punitive damages against his four constituents.

Anyone who witnessed his performances in committee with members of the Scottish Parliament while he was Secretary of State for Scotland will not be surprised that (a) he's a legally confirmed liar, and (b) he's arrogant and petty.

Tory councillor accidentally sent details of 'smear plot' to intended targets

A Tory councillor tried to persuade party colleagues to join him in a smear campaign against local domestic violence services and women’s rights campaigners, a leaked email shows.

Scott Harris, a Conservative member of Portsmouth council, wrote in the email that he had been compiling information on a number of political opponents operating in the city before council elections.


However, they and others named by Harris received the email after it was mistakenly sent out in a chain. The message says: “The elections are coming and the politics are dirty. The tricks by the Lib Dems, the lies and the smear are disgusting.

“Quite frankly it might be a good idea to play dirty this time. I know we shouldn’t go down to their gutter politics but should we continue to stand by and allow this to go on?

“I’m also compiling some stuff on Shonagh Dillion , Aurora New Dawn and Sisters Uncut. Interestingly I’ve found some stuff on Jon Woods and the SWP locally which will be useful when the loony left come calling nearer May.”

Rest here: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/05/local-campaigners-tory-councillor-plot-smear-portsmouth?CMP=share_btn_tw

Ladies and gentlemen, let's hear it for the next Conservative Party Director of Communications.

'Northern Powerhouse' department to close Sheffield office and move 247 jobs to London

The Government's 'Northern Powerhouse' department is to shut down its office in Sheffield, moving 247 jobs to London in a blow to the credibility of George Osborne's pet project.

And a dozen more regional offices of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills - including six in the North of England - are at risk of closure as the department moves to centralise policy staff.


The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "The Business Department, like all departments, seeks to operate as efficiently as it possibly can to deliver the best quality of service to provide the right kind of guidance and advice to ministers.

"This is part of their process of becoming leaner and more efficient."

The restructuring will see the department move to a centralised headquarters in London, with six regional business centres set up around the country.


You really couldn't make it up. Well, I doubt I could.

Why the remaining refuge occupiers think SEALs are going to come to rescue them

From Forbes writer J.J. MacNab's Twitter feed:

JJ MacNab

About those Navy Seals.. Now that I have a few minutes to explain why the militants thinks Seals are on the way..

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 40m40 minutes ago

Around midnight last night, new arrival/militant Todd Bethell was manning the entrance to the Refuge.

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 38m38 minutes ago

A large number of militants had decided to take up the FBI's kind offer to run away.

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 37m37 minutes ago

However, the group had blocked the road out with a truck and no one could find the keys to move it out of the way. Hilarity ensued.

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 33m33 minutes ago

A guy named Dillon wandered into the Refuge."I've been coming around" was enough to get him though this highly protected perimeter.

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 28m28 minutes ago

Keys were found. Truck was moved. Blaine Cooper & 2 others left for Idaho at that point, while militants that performed a "perimeter check"

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 27m27 minutes ago

Bethell expressed concern about letting everyone in because he was new, and didn't know who anyone was.

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 30m30 minutes ago

A Vietnam vet guy with long hair, beard, big voice, and bigger ego arrived with a truck filled with guns and powder. <-- Navy Seal

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 28m28 minutes ago

When asked how he got through the FBI road closure, he he scoffed and reminded Bethell that he was a Navy Seal. Bethell expressed doubt.

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 27m27 minutes ago

Doubt was no barrier to this heavily guarded fortress so the Navy Seal and his truck moved into the Refuge.

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 21m21 minutes ago

The Navy Seal promised to return to save the day with 13 fellow Seals (a pod? a herd?)

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 19m19 minutes ago

The Navy Seal's truck, it turned out, carried wood, not guns/powder but the militants remain steadfast in their belief that help is imminent

JJ MacNab ‏@jjmacnab 17m17 minutes ago

I didn't didn't live tweet this last night in case if was an FBI ruse. Feds love ruses.

The end.

Revealed: Secret Labour report published in full

A secret report commissioned by Labour to explain its general election defeat has laid bare the fundamental problems the party has faced.

Obtained by ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston, the report says "Labour negatives are deep and powerful".

The report is called "Emerging from the Darkness" and is published here in full.


Once beyond the concept of a "secret" report being published in full (which raises a few questions, not least who leaked/stole it, and to what ends), this report published by ITV news may be interesting for what it reveals about the reasons behind Labour's 2015 defeat, about the shortcomings of focus group-based research (with question marks over controls for group dynamics, how and which issues are raised etc.), or neither, or both.

Given those caveats, one thing that emerges is that the research - and presumably in turn UK Labour - has ceded the ground that Labour's last period in government can be characterized as spendthrift, and that the Tories' stewardship of the economy in recent times has been competent. Both of those propositions are far from proven, but this is presumably the predominant mindset in these focus groups given their exposure to the media and what "sounds right" hence must be so.

I won't comment on the rest, at least for now. I have some views about the findings for Scotland, but they're anecdotal from (not particularly broad) personal experience, and not particularly important.

I will say that Labour's obsession with focus groups for policy formulation has done a great job of strengthening the party's position over the course of the last couple of decades. You can decide for yourselves whether I'm being sarcastic.

Yeah. British scandalsheets take the biscuit for hypocrisy.

But you can skip around all that if you try real hard.

Or there's the oh-so-well-illustrated spreads of whichever celebs of the day just happen to be pictured sunning themselves on a beach accompanied by cut-and-paste yada yada detailed commentary on their sex lives, curves, or lack of them, drooling over the skimpiness or voluminousness of their swimsuit, or the fact they've put on weight and let themselves go, how dare they, how could they not ...? But the pictures!

Or the latest scaremongering rightwing crap about asylum seekers, with just a smidgeon of fact mixed in, like all the best propagandists, or hatchet jobs on whatever the latest societal outgroup the Mail decides to pick on and incite its rabid commenters to pillory may be. Never a dull moment. But the pictures!

Or just about anything political that most of this forum rails vociferously, bitterly, and often at extreme length against on any given day. But the pictures!

But nice pics. Yeah, they've got that nailed. Let's link to them daily, mention them in passing so others link to them, reward them for their stances and send them ad revenue from a political board that used to think itself "underground," as long as they feed us just enough red meat by pandering to our prejudices, and we can look down our noses and call them a "rag" in an effort to inoculate ourselves while expressing approval, as if we're any better than those rabid commenters when it comes down to it. And then there's the pictures. We'll always have the pictures.

Revealed: how Jeremy Corbyn has reshaped the Labour party

Jeremy Corbyn’s hopes of remoulding Labour have been boosted by a detailed Guardian survey into the party at grassroots level that shows overwhelming support for him, a decisive shift to the left and unhappiness with squabbling among MPs.

The Guardian has interviewed Labour secretaries, chairs, other office holders and members from more than 100 of the 632 constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales. Almost every constituency party across the country we contacted reported doubling, trebling, quadrupling or even quintupling membership, and a revival of branches that had been moribund for years and close to folding.

Party membership figures are a controversial issue, with the former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson, who is opposed to Corbyn, telling a Labour meeting in the Lords last month that “30,000 long-term members have left the party, real members, tens of thousands”.

But the newly released figures undermine his claim, showing a total of 13,860 have left since the general election, some of them having resigned while others have gone as part of natural churn. The increase in membership is continuing, with just under 1,000 having joined since Christmas Eve.

The survey found:

* The rise in membership has been uneven across the country. In contrast with steep rises in London and elsewhere in England and Wales, the rises in Scotland have been relatively modest, ominous for the party’s hopes in May’s Scottish parliamentary election.
* Members, in spite of unhappiness with public splits within the PLP, say there is no appetite for deselection of MPs. But some acknowledge that proposed boundary changes in 2018 could result in de-facto deselection.
* Returning members, who had left Labour mainly in protest over the 2003 Iraq invasion, are making an immediate impact, partly because they are familiar with the rules.
* Both returning members and new ones tend to be mainly leftwing. There are few reports of attempted infiltration from hard-left groups.


I don't have a direct axe to grind here. I'm in Scotland, and the survey's findings about "modest" membership rises there chime with my views - Labour, at least with its current useless leadership personnel in Scotland, is a spent force up here.

The challenge will be to convert a re-energized membership into activism and meaningful electoral votes. I'd be interested to hear how well any of the rest of this survey and its observations fit with your local experiences. My gut feel tells me that the continual ant-Corbynite backbiting and mixed messaging are likely to be much more of a turnoff than any policies proposed or perceived gaffes.
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