Notes on the News

By Gwydion M. Williams

Fall of the Last Thatcherite

Parliamentary Democracy – Always an Illusion

China – a Very Different 20th Congress

Xi’s Hardening Line


Lukewarm Guilt Over Russia

Xinjiang: the UN Accepts Normal Police Methods

Militant Pensioners?

Have Fun, Kill the Poor?

Finding That Damn Asteroid!

Feed-the-Rich in ‘Free’ Ukraine

Fall of the Last Thatcherite

I’ve long held that the cleverer Tories don’t believe the doctrines of Neo-Liberalism.  But as I said last month, Truss and Kwarteng did believe, and acted as if it were true.

I’m reminded of how Newt Gingrich in the US went from hero in 1995 to zero in 1999.  He really did think that the Federal Government was a burden that could be sensibly removed.

Decade-by-decade growth figures show anti-tax and anti-state policies don’t boost growth.[1]  In fact they don’t work at all, if carried too far.  

Thatcher initially won by seeming to be a genuine conservative, restoring something like the 1960s consensus after the left foolishly rejected advances like Incomes Policy and Workers Control.  She didn’t shrink the state, but her policies gave  more wealth and power to a tiny more-than-millionaire elite.[2]  But it was all done covertly.  Truss’s actions were too blatant.

She must also have offended by trying to roll back the small steps the Tories have taken to admit that Climate Change is happening and must be dealt with.  King Charles had apparently been pressurised not to attend COP27, a feeble UN gathering due in November.[3]  And where he may now turn up, for what little it would be worth.

Parliamentary Democracy – Always an Illusion

People call the whole Truss episode a failure of democracy.

For me, it has simply exposed the illusions.  It was always about an elite who see public opinion as just one factor.

Parliaments were not invented to allow democracy.  Medieval kingdoms used them to give the entire ruling class a limited voice in government.  Governments that until the 19th century were genuinely chosen by the monarch.  The British parliament was exceptional in that it could undermine governments, when it was so inclined.

Parliaments were adapted to contain and control democratic demands, when these got too strong to ignore.  

Until the 1832 Reform in Britain, a couple of hundred rich families controlled most House of Commons seats.  It was far from a democracy afterwards.  A few constituencies had allowed votes to all householders.  1832 narrowed it to richer men – no women till 1918.  It also gave them a vote everywhere, whereas many new cities had not had a vote before that:

“Prior to the [1832] Act, Scotland’s electorate was only 0.2% of the population compared to 4% in England. The Scottish electorate overnight soared from 5,000 to 65,000, or 13% of the adult men, and was no longer a private preserve for a few very rich families.”[4]

“There were only 165,000 French voters (0.52% of the French population) [in 1832], compared to 439,000 in Britain (2.66% of the British population). France adopted universal male suffrage in 1848.”[5]

French voters had an unhappy habit of choosing representatives who really did them no good.  Likewise in Britain, but it was only in the 1880s that a majority of men in the British Isles got the vote.[6]

British-Isles politics became more radical in 1918, with the Liberals split and with the Labour Party more than tripling its share of the vote.  But also with Catholic Ireland sharply diverging.  In Ireland, a clear majority voted for Sinn Fein, which had become the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.  The IRA then fought a war that ended with Home Rule.  Fianna Fail as an offshoot of Sinn Fein later became a functionally independent Irish government, with the IRA there in the background to ensure that their electoral victories were respected.

Yet you still get people denouncing the IRA as a murder gang, rather than the practical expression of a nation that wanted independence.[7]  Also fighting to deny Democratic Secession to the Protestant and culturally British majority in the north-east; an issue that remains unresolved.  Tragically unlikely to be finally settled without further major violence, despite Protestants now being a minority.

The rest of the British Empire was supposed to obey the Westminster Parliament.  Colonies where most voters were of what Britain defined as the White Race did get their own assemblies, with considerable powers.  Where they were a significant minority, as in South Africa, voting was always on strictly racist lines.

China – a Very Different 20th Congress

However badly Parliamentary Democracy is seen to be working, the liberal-left remain convinced that anything different is appalling and must be denounced.

Yet the Chinese Communists remain a very successful government.  The only important government that has refused to sacrifice the lives of its citizens to a popular wish to shop and socialise during the continuing Covid-19 crisis.

Government without an active opposition can be better at delivering what a majority actually want.  Autocratic rule has positives and negatives, and to deny either causes muddled thinking.

Almost everyone on the left thinks that Khrushchev denouncing Stalin at the Soviet Communists’ 20th Congress was wise and wonderful.  An actual steady decline in Soviet power and influence after 1956 is somehow not seen as relevant.

Chinese Communism has always seen things differently.  Mao would not have minded some moderate criticism of Stalin.  He saw denunciation of Stalin as a betrayal, and actual events support this.  And Deng as supreme leader certainly saw it so, keeping Mao in a place of honour.

The continuing power of Xi Jinping for another five years is in many ways a working-out of the schemes of Deng Xiaoping and his senior colleagues.  Their plan after they avoided the collapse that destroyed Leninist regimes in Europe between 1989 and 1991.  They tried to control who should lead for the next two decades:

“Before the opening of the 14th National Congress of the CCP in 1992, senior party leaders, including Deng and Chen Yun, were to select candidates for the CCP Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) to ensure a smooth transition of power from the so-called second-generation leaders (Deng, Chen, Li Xiannian, Wang Zhen, etc.) to third-generation leaders (Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Qiao Shi etc.). Deng also proposed considering another candidate for a further future transition, preferably someone under fifty to represent the next generation of leaders.[27] Song Ping, as the organization chief, recommended Hu as an ideal candidate for the prospect of a future leader. As a result, shortly before his 50th birthday, Hu Jintao became the youngest (aged 49 in October 1992) member of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, and one of the youngest PSC members since the Communist Party assumed power in 1949.”[8]

Hu did what Deng had probably wanted eventually – he curbed inequality.  Official figures show that inequality got no worse during his rule, whereas it increased in Britain and many other countries.  Another of those off-message-facts that the plutocrat-owned Western media will very seldom mention.

Surprisingly, one of the numerous studies of Xi’s rise in the Financial Times reminds readers of facts that I remember as being freely reported before the anti-China turn a few years back:

“Faced with the same powerful interest groups that Hu Jintao had been either unable or unwilling to confront, Xi began to weaken the factions that had come to dominate elite Chinese politics since Deng…

“Among the first in a series of key military and political heavyweights to fall was Zhou Yongkang, the former head of China’s internal security apparatus and a supporter of Jiang. The arrest of Zhou shattered an unwritten rule since the end of the Cultural Revolution — under Xi, even incumbent or retired standing committee members were no longer untouchable.

“Within just a few years of Xi taking power, 25 of the 205-member CCP central committee, the tier of party leaders below the politburo, were removed from their posts on grounds of corruption.”[9]

Hu didn’t choose Xi, as far as we know.  But his presumed choice, Li Keqiang, has been Xi’s deputy for the past decade.  Serving as Premier, but the Premier did not get the 2-term limit removed, as was done for Xi as President.  

There is also assumed to have been a behind-the-scenes struggle between Xi and the still-powerful Jiang.  Who noticeably looked at his watch while Xi was speaking at the previous Party Congress.  And this time was missing, whereas Hu at the start of the Congress got a place of honour.  Points reported in the independent but pro-Beijing South China Morning Post, and I’ve not seen them mentioned elsewhere:

“A visibly frail Hu followed Xi into the hall, walking with the help of a young aide as Xi occasionally looked back and slowed his pace.

“Before Hu took his place to Xi’s left, Xi gently touched his elbow and gestured for him to take a seat.

“After Xi returned to his seat after delivering the report, the two made eye contact and Hu smiled at Xi. But Xi was not seen shaking anyone’s hand at the event…

“Song Ping, 105, was the oldest party elder to make an appearance. Arriving in a wheelchair, Song appeared to be in good health, and occasionally picked up his work report on his desk to read it closely as Xi read out the document at the podium…

“There were some notable absences, including former president Jiang Zemin, 96, and former premier Zhu Rongji, 93. Both Jiang and Zhu missed the party’s centenary commemorations in July last year, raising speculation about their health.

“Also absent was disgraced former security chief Zhou Yongkang.”[10]

Song Ping was the man who selected Hu back in 1992.  Zhu Rongji was Jiang’s deputy, and part of the move away from socialism.  So I suspect this was symbolism.  Points that those who needed to know would have been easily able to read.

Xi’s Hardening Line

I wrote the previous section on Friday 21st.  But now it seems that Hu’s faction have been shoved into powerless retirement:

“On Saturday the Communist party (CCP) congress approved amendments to its constitution, including the so-called ‘Two Establishes’ and ‘Two Safeguards’, aimed at enshrining Xi as being at the core of the party and his political thought as its underpinning ideology…

“Shortly before Xi’s speech began, former leader Hu Jintao was escorted out of the room, without explanation…

“At its conclusion the Congress also confirmed the re-election of about 200 elite central committee members, who have voting rights within the party… It also did not include several party veterans, including four current members of the PSC.

“Those missing included Li and Wang Yang, who heads the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Li was expected to retire from the premiership in March but whether he would fully retire from the CCP leadership framework was the subject of intense speculation.

“Wang, a pro-reform politician with a relatively liberal image and rich regional experience, was previously seen by analysts as a likely candidate for the next premiership.”[11]

I don’t believe the Central Committee elections are a sham.  They won’t defy the top leaders, but they do test the balance of power.  The shift seems to be from a range of Xi’s supporters to definite Xi loyalists.  No outsider would have seen it, but the private views of the 2,296 delegates are likely to have been canvassed by Xi’s people.

My guess is that Hu’s people were seen as well-meaning, but too soft in a dangerous world.  Hu’s removal may have been a fluke, and the official line is that he was indeed ill.  But it definitely communicated that whatever moderation his faction had once supplied is no longer there.

There is definitely a hardening of pro-state views:

“There is zero tolerance in the Communist Party for senior cadres who collude with business, President Xi Jinping warned, pledging the toughest penalties for any offenders…

“[We must] resolutely put a stop to collusion between cadres in leading positions who become the spokespersons or agents of interest groups and powerful cliques.

“[We will] take resolute action to address the political and environmental damage caused by collusion between politics and business.”[12]

The continuing small number of women – just 11 among 200 in the new Central Committee – may be another aspect of this view.  Probably mistaken, but widespread throughout East Asia.

I had hoped that Xi would choose a new deputy who was young enough to be a plausible successor if he steps down in five years’ time.  Li Qiang, expected to be the next Premier, seems exactly that.  And noted for both efficiency and toughness.


Lukewarm Guilt Over Russia

“‘They are stealing Russia’: Adam Curtis on how hyper-capitalism wrecked a nation – and why Liz Truss must take heed…

“This economist who would become acting prime minister set out to create a perfect capitalist system in Russia. He had to do it fast, he said, to stop communism from ever returning. Overnight, he removed all controls over prices, while the government gave up on any attempt to manage the system. The aim, said Gaidar, was to create a new zone of perfect freedom in which, despite initial pain, the system would find its own natural equilibrium.

“But if you look closer, you will see that his plan had little to do with freedom. It was in fact an odd, machine-like vision of the world driven by pseudoscientific ideas. Gaidar believed that by unleashing ‘free market forces’ on an extreme scale, they would act as ‘market stimuli’ that would then automatically lead people into ‘rational’ patterns of behaviour. In reality, it was a simplified engineering system where human beings would be reshaped, turned into the right kinds of beings to make the new system work. In that way, it was like a reverse image of the Soviet plan. It was still a way of controlling behaviour through levers, but just a different way”.[13]

This is an opinion piece from The Guardian.  But one still wrapped up in Classical Liberal illusions.  And not mentioning that Stalin’s version produced the economic outcome that Lenin had been looking for: Soviet Power and Electrification.  Whereas the brief reign of the Russian Neo-Liberals ended with most Russians feeling cheated and anti-Western.

The Keynesian or Mixed Economy system turned enemies into friends: the former foes in Japan, Italy, and West Germany.  But would The Guardian ever say that this was wisdom, and not the nasty ‘corporatism’ that liberals were so scared of?


Xinjiang: the UN Accepts Normal Police Methods

“India and Ukraine are among 11 countries that abstained as the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Thursday (October 6) voted against holding a debate on alleged widespread abuses in China’s Xinjiang region. 

“This is a major setback for Western nations, which accused China of human rights violations. Some countries said that Beijing detained more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, with the US even further accusing China of mass detention, torture, forced labour and genocide in Xinjiang…

“After the voting, US ambassador to the council Michele Taylor … said that inaction ‘shamefully suggests some countries are free from scrutiny and allowed to violate human rights with impunity’.”[14]

But the real protest is about countries other than the USA and its friends being allowed to use harsh methods against terrorism. The USA itself makes sure its own citizens cannot be touched by the International Criminal Court.

Terrorism flourished for a time among Uighurs in China, and now is extinct there.  Exiles are often aligned with Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria.  Western media reported this 5 years ago, but now it is never mentioned.[15]


Militant Pensioners?

Tory governments have looked after the very rich, and shown no loyalty to anyone else.  And since loyalty is normally a two-way street, it is unsurprising that others also look after themselves:

“China has recruited as many as 30 retired British military pilots, including some who flew sophisticated fighter jets, to train pilots in the People’s Liberation Army, according to Britain’s Defense Ministry. A senior official said the ministry worried that the practice could threaten British national security…

“None of the retired pilots are suspected of violating the Official Secrets Act, the British law that covers espionage, sabotage and other crimes. But the official said that Britain was determined to tighten the controls on retired service members to guard against training activities that could contravene espionage laws…

“Britain, however, does not have obvious legal tools to stop retired pilots from accepting training contracts from the Chinese army. The contracts are lucrative — about $270,000 a year — and are particularly attractive to pilots who retired from active duty several years ago, the official said.

“China, the official said, has contracted the recruiting to a third party, a private test flying academy in South Africa.

“The British official declined to say which allies had been involved in investigating the practice, but he suggested that their pilots had also been targets for recruitment.”[16]


Have Fun, Kill the Poor?

“Over 330,000 excess deaths in Great Britain linked to austerity, finds study

“Research comes as government signals fresh round of public spending cuts…

“The authors of the study suggest additional deaths between 2012 and 2019 – prior to the Covid pandemic – reflect an increase in people dying prematurely after experiencing reduced income, ill-health, poor nutrition and housing, and social isolation.”[17]

 “Average COVID-19 mortality per million was 288.54 in countries without face mask policies and 48.40 in countries with face mask policies.”[18]


Finding That Damn Asteroid!

Most of you will have heard of DART — Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).  A harmless small asteroid orbiting a harmless larger asteroid was viciously biffed by a NASA probe.  And its orbit has changed, even more than was hoped.

You probably knew that this was a test, to see if it would be possible to divert an asteroid that was likely to hit Earth.

But did you wonder why they needed this test?  It turned out that finding and hitting an asteroid is not a simple task.[19]  Unlike what you see in space opera, asteroids are tiny dots in the blackness of space.  Without a test, they had to worry about an intercept probe missing its target, and with too little fuel for a second try.


Feed-the-Rich in ‘Free’ Ukraine

“Ukraine needs to revamp its labour laws and redouble efforts to privatise thousands of companies to repair its economy, its president’s economic adviser has said…

“Labour organisations have expressed concerns over workers’ rights amid the Ukrainian government’s labour liberalisation, which has included a vote in favour of legalising zero-hours contracts earlier this year.”[20]

Ukraine before the recent invasion had the worst government in Europe.  It had the same plundering of state assets in the 1990s that Russia did.  But whereas Putin became a strong leader and stopped it, Ukraine has had a series of weak leaders who failed.  Or might not even have wished to fix it.

The war with Russia is very convenient for those who want to carry on plundering.  One reason why I think the West planned it, hoping to weaken or remove Putin.  And unconcerned about how many Ukrainians are suffering.[21]


Old newsnotes at the magazine websites.  I also write regular blogs –
















[16] (pay site) 






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