More blood for oil!

Illegal invasions by imperialist armies are fine, so long they’re committed by Russia plus the commo

Tblisi or not Tblisi

The Beatles assured us in their crap 1968 song ‘Back in the USSR’ that Georgia was on their mind. Oddly though, you don’t hear Paul McCartney commenting much on South Ossetia nowadays.

The war in the Caucuses has inflamed the passions of bellicose and half-witted bloggers from here to Vladikavkaz. Fortunately, a few are actually worth reading. Donald Rayfield on Open Democracy did readers a service by lending context to a conflict that to many outsiders, appears baffling. Noting Russian priming of the area through the issuing of passports, and integration into state welfare, Rayfield dubbed Russian tactics “salami slicing,” explaining that it:

“…amounted to a covert process of assimilating first the population, and then the actual country, into the Russian federation.”

Russian claims of ethnic cleansing were set out on Russia Today - watch out for analyst Evgeny Khruschev informing viewers that they “probably have a short attention span”. While any Georgian crimes against the rebel region seemed hard to verify, the First Post’s Shaun Walker reported that:

“On Tuesday, as the war came to a close, there were reports of massacres in Georgian villages inside the conflict zone Ossetian militias checking the ethnicity of residents and treating all Georgians to a bullet in the head.”

It seems that whatever the perceived or actual crimes by Georgia against its Ossetian citizens, Georgians are paying a weighty price.

Meanwhile Voices from Russia pointed out that many well-respected democracies, including, er, China and Iran, backed Russia’s actions. But Cicero’s Songs, a blog that assiduously monitors developments in the former USSR, observed that Russia will face consequences for its aggression:

“Planned joint exercises have been cancelled, and Russia's exclusion from the G8 appears all but inevitable. As the fighting continues, those who have advocated a softly-softly approach to Russia- such as Germany- are reluctantly facing the need for a tough response.”

The role of the US (and yes folks, if you want to keep your narrative simple to the point of pig-headed myopia, even Israel) have come under scrutiny from bloggers. Meanwhile, John Rees of the Respect party (SWP faction) appeared on BBC Radio 2 to remind Britain that illegal invasions by imperialist armies are fine, so long they’re committed by Russia.

As the week came to an end, the invading tanks remained in Georgia; while in Britain, so-called socialists met to work out how to apportion blame solely to America. Just for the Trots, let’s freshen up the old slogans. All together now:
More blood for oil!
Don’t stop the war!
Putin, Medvedev, FSB – How many kids can you kill for me?

What have we learned this Week?

The Stop the War Coalition blog helpfully explained that Russia was upset because its “interests” were “directly challenged” – which is why it was forced to drive its military might into the heart of a sovereign neighbour, displacing swathes of the country’s population. Some of us might not have realised before that economic and strategic concerns were a legitimate premise for such violent incursions – thanks to STWC for clarifying.

Across the Pond

The Dalai Lama. Mahmoud Abbas. Elvis Presley. What do they have in common? Alongside social security in the US – they are all 73 (except Elvis, who is definitely dead). Roosevelt’s reforms were celebrating their birthday this week, as noted by many bloggers. John Quinterno’s finger was firmly on the Progressive Pulse, as he blogged a passionate defence of American welfare, while accepting that the system could do with a tweak:

“Most importantly, the system is financed in a regressive way that that imposes a heavier responsibility on low-income wage earners.”

A lesson in fiscal fairness that ought to resonate on this side of the Atlantic.

Videos of the Week

Katie Melua, the doe-eyed Georgian songstress who left Tblisi as an eight year-old, recently sang ‘If the Lights go Out’. In the country of her birth, they now have.

This song was written by Mike Batt, who also gave us ‘Heartlands’, the Conservative party’s theme for the 2001 election - perhaps the most pointless piece of the music ever composed.

Quote of the Week

“Surely a no-brainer for every anti-imperialist in town“?

Gauche’s Paul Anderson rattles the Georgia hornet’s nest.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Photo: Getty
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The Liberal Democrats are back - and the Tories should be worried

A Liberal revival could do Theresa May real damage in the south.

There's life in the Liberal Democrats yet. The Conservative majority in Witney has been slashed, with lawyer and nominative determinism case study Robert Courts elected, but with a much reduced majority.

It's down in both absolute terms, from 25,155 to 5,702, but it's never wise to worry too much about raw numbers in by-elections. The percentages tell us a lot more, and there's considerable cause for alarm in the Tory camp as far as they are concerned: the Conservative vote down from 60 per cent to 45 per cent.

(On a side note, I wouldn’t read much of anything into the fact that Labour slipped to third. It has never been a happy hunting ground for them and their vote was squeezed less by the Liberal Democrats than you’d perhaps expect.)

And what about those Liberal Democrats, eh? They've surged from fourth place to second, a 23.5 per cent increase in their vote, a 19.3 swing from Conservative to Liberal, the biggest towards that party in two decades.

One thing is clear: the "Liberal Democrat fightback" is not just a hashtag. The party has been doing particularly well in affluent Conservative areas that voted to stay in the European Union. (It's worth noting that one seat that very much fits that profile is Theresa May's own stomping ground of Maidenhead.)

It means that if, as looks likely, Zac Goldsmith triggers a by-election over Heathrow, the Liberal Democrats will consider themselves favourites if they can find a top-tier candidate with decent local connections. They also start with their by-election machine having done very well indeed out of what you might call its “open beta” in Witney. The county council elections next year, too, should be low hanging fruit for 

As Sam Coates reports in the Times this morning, there are growing calls from MPs and ministers that May should go to the country while the going's good, calls that will only be intensified by the going-over that the PM got in Brussels last night. And now, for marginal Conservatives in the south-west especially, it's just just the pressure points of the Brexit talks that should worry them - it's that with every day between now and the next election, the Liberal Democrats may have another day to get their feet back under the table.

This originally appeared in Morning Call, my daily guide to what's going on in politics and the papers. It's free, and you can subscribe here. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.