John Pilger on President Obama: Don't believe the hype

Barack Obama is being lauded by liberals but the truth about him is that he represents the worst of the world's power.

My first visit to Texas was in 1968, on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dallas. I drove south, following the line of telegraph poles to the small town of Midlothian, where I met Penn Jones Jr, editor of the Midlothian Mirror. Save for his drawl and fine boots, everything about Penn was the antithesis of the Texas stereotype. Having exposed the racists of the John Birch Society, his printing press had been repeatedly firebombed. Week after week, he painstakingly assembled evidence that all but demolished the official version of Kennedy's murder.

This was journalism as it had been before corporate journalism was invented, before the first schools of journalism were set up and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around those whose "professionalism" and "objectivity" carried an unspoken obligation to ensure that news and opinion were in tune with an establishment consensus, regardless of the truth. Journalists such as Penn Jones, independent of vested power, indefatigable and principled, often reflect ordinary American attitudes, which have seldom conformed to the stereotypes promoted by the corporate media on both sides of the Atlantic.

Read American Dreams: Lost and Found by the masterly Studs Terkel, who died on 31 October, or scan the surveys that unerringly attribute enlightened views to a majority who believe that "government should care for those who cannot care for themselves" and are prepared to pay higher taxes for universal health care, who support nuclear disarmament and want their troops out of other people's countries.

Returning to Texas, I am struck again by those so unlike the redneck stereotype, in spite of the burden of a form of brainwashing placed on most Americans from a tender age: that theirs is the most superior society in the world, and all means are justified, including the spilling of copious blood, in maintaining that superiority.

That is the subtext of Barack Obama's "oratory". He says he wants to build up US military power; and he threatens to ignite a new war in Pakistan, killing yet more brown-skinned people. That will bring tears, too. Unlike those on election night, these other tears will be unseen in Chicago and London. This is not to doubt the sincerity of much of the response to Obama's election, which happened not because of the unction that has passed for news reporting since 4 November (eg, "liberal Americans smiled and the world smiled with them"), but for the same reasons that millions of angry emails were sent to the White House and Congress when the "bailout" of Wall Street was revealed, and because most Americans are fed up with war.

Two years ago, this anti-war vote installed a Democratic majority in Congress, only to watch the Democrats hand over more money to George W Bush to continue his blood-fest. For his part, the "anti-war" Obama voted to give Bush what he wanted. Yes, Obama's election is historic, a symbol of great change to many. But it is equally true that the American elite has grown adept at using the black middle and management class. The courageous Martin Luther King recognised this when he linked the human rights of black Americans with the human rights of the Vietnamese, then being slaughtered by a "liberal" Democratic administration. And he was shot. In striking contrast, a young black major serving in Vietnam, Colin Powell, was used to "investigate" and whitewash the infamous My Lai massacre. As Bush's secretary of state, Powell was often described as a "liberal" and was considered ideal to lie to the United Nations about Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Condaleezza Rice, lauded as a successful black woman, has worked assiduously to deny the Palestinians justice.

Obama's first two crucial appointments represent a denial of the wishes of his supporters on the principal issues on which they voted. The vice-president-elect, Joe Biden, is a proud warmaker and Zionist. Rahm Emanuel, who is to be the all-important White House chief of staff, is a fervent "neoliberal" devoted to the doctrine that led to the present economic collapse and impoverishment of millions. He is also an "Israel-first" Zionist who served in the Israeli army and opposes meaningful justice for the Palestinians - an injustice that is at the root of Muslim people's loathing of the US and the spawning of jihadism.

No serious scrutiny of this is permitted within the histrionics of Obama mania, just as no serious scrutiny of the betrayal of the majority of black South Africans was permitted within the "Mandela moment". This is especially marked in Britain, where America's divine right to "lead" is important to elite British interests. The Observer, which supported Bush's war in Iraq, echoing his fabricated evidence, now announces, without evidence, that "America has restored the world's faith in its ideals". These "ideals", which Obama will swear to uphold, have overseen, since 1945, the destruction of 50 governments, including democracies, and 30 popular liberation movements, causing the deaths of countless men, women and children.

None of this was uttered during the election campaign. Had that been allowed, there might even have been recognition that liberalism as a narrow, supremely arrogant, war-making ideology is destroying liberalism as a reality. Prior to Blair's criminal warmaking, ideology was denied by him and his media mystics. "Blair can be a beacon to the world," declared the Guardian in 1997. "[He is] turning leadership into an art form."

Today, merely insert "Obama". As for historic moments, there is another that has gone unreported but is well under way - liberal democracy's shift towards a corporate dictatorship, managed by people regardless of ethnicity, with the media as its clichéd façade. "True democracy," wrote Penn Jones Jr, the Texas truth-teller, "is constant vigilance: not thinking the way you're meant to think, and keeping your eyes wide open at all times."

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 17 November 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Obamania

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Don't just listen to people's concerns about immigration. Think

Labour must be an alternative political leadership, not advocates for positions in which we don’t actually believe.

A few weeks back the Observer published an article by Jason Langrish, a member of the Canadian team that negotiated the recent CETA trade deal between the EU and Canada. He was unsparing about the utter mess of the government's approach to Brexit and the catastrophe that it risks. The line I found most telling, not least because I think it also partly identifies the hole in which Labour finds itself, is that the government is still in "campaign mode". Ministers are still only giving us, and indeed Brussels, a very general sense of what they intend to do.

Last month some of my colleagues also published a report on social integration that, among other things, advocated the further exploration of a system of regional immigration controls. A few days later, Jeremy Corbyn seemed in quick succession both to accept and to reject further controls on immigration.  

To me, a large part of Labour’s problem comes from a public debate over Brexit that confuses at least three very different issues and very different contexts for any debate on immigration. The first issue is: "What would our immigration policy look like if we started from scratch?"  

The second is: "How much free movement within Europe should we be prepared to accept as part of a Brexit deal" – that is, "how hard do we want our Brexit?". Sadly, this is a question on which we may get very little say as a party, though that does not mean it cannot do us plenty of damage in the interim.

The third and realistically only question with which a Labour government might have to contend is: "After Brexit, what should our immigration policy look like given public sentiment and the nature of our economy?".  It is plain to me that this is where our attention should be focused, and that we should be realistic about how we might get there and what that might look like. It is also plain that we're not really there yet.

On the first issue of what our immigration policy would look like if we started from scratch, opinion polling suggests that a majority of people in Britain would probably agree that skilled migrants who plug identified gaps in our economy, who have family members here already, and who speak English and are keen to get involved in civic life should be allowed in – and should be welcomed. A majority would also probably agree that unskilled migrants who don't speak English and have neither a job nor family here, nor a reasonable expectation of getting a job very soon, should not be allowed in. The devil is very much in the detail. As someone who consistently argued that Britain is better off within the European Union, it is worth reiterating that many of us who believe that the free movement of people within the European Union has been good for Britain and helped our economy do not believe that uncontrolled immigration is a good thing in itself. Were we a new country we would also not have ties to countries all over the world, much further away geographically even if often very close culturally, that come from Britain's imperial past.  

The second issue of how much free movement within Europe we should accept as part of a Brexit deal is one where ultimately Labour has limited capacity to make a difference. It is very clear to me that a majority of people in my constituency and across the country voted to leave the European Union. It is also very clear that attitudes towards immigration were central to this.

My view is that the best deal for Britain is one that keeps as many as possible of (in no particular order): single market membership; customs union membership; European Court of Justice jurisdiction over trade disputes and similar between the United Kingdom and its European partners; continued passporting rights for our financial services industries; technical co-operation on matters of joint interest such as nuclear power and nuclear safety; and the maximum possible freedom of movement rights for British and EU citizens alike.

I am intensely aware that the ability of the Opposition to achieve any of this is not huge, especially given the likelihood that many SNP MPs may take the view that their party interest is better served by a bad deal for their constituents so that separatism becomes a more appealing prospect. This is yet another reason why we should be furious with ourselves for failing to win in 2015, and why we should focus so ruthlessly not just on holding our own seats but also on those of our opponents.

I also believe we should not hesitate to continue to stand up for what we believe is in the best interests of working people in our country, rather than what we think a narrow majority of the British people want to hear right now. We must be an alternative political leadership, not advocates for positions in which we don’t actually believe.

The British public can easily see through politicians who don't themselves believe in what they are saying and who only say what they think voters want to hear. They don't trust them. One of the many lessons from Donald Trump’s victory is that politicians who appear sincere in their belief in transparently catastrophic policies can be more successful than those who display admirable self-doubt. It is an unhappy message for those among us of a cautious disposition who value reason and evidence, but a powerful one nonetheless. I believe that in the medium and long term, the public will reward people who stick to their beliefs.

The third issue on the question of what our immigration policy should be post-Brexit is the one where I think that Labour has to start doing better. I admire the work of colleagues on the APPG on Social Integration, but I hope they will forgive me for saying that my admiration for their efforts is not matched by agreement with their recommendations. I was, for example, genuinely taken aback by their suggestion that the UK could learn from the Canada-Quebec accord on immigration.

There are two obvious reasons why any form of regional control of immigration wouldn't work in Britain. The first is that this is a much smaller country, and therefore travel between major population centres is extremely easy. How, for example, would people who had residency status in Scotland be prevented from turning up in Sunderland?  Are we to rebuild Hadrian's Wall? Will motorway speed cameras be joined by watchtowers?

The second is if anything even more obvious: Quebec is a French-speaking province of an otherwise largely English-speaking country. People are less likely to move to a different province if they cannot get by in the language spoken there.  While we have probably all struggled on occasion with the accents of people born and brought up elsewhere in Britain, almost everyone who has grown up on this island speaks English. Our governmental structures are also markedly different to those of Canada.

The reality too is that our economy is dependent on immigration, and the contribution of migrants has driven our country’s economic success. Our social model, above all the NHS, rests heavily on immigration, but I want to focus here on the economic issues.

One of our export success stories, and one that also gives us tremendous soft power, is higher education – that is until the government started to throttle it. Higher education only works as an export industry if you let people in before asking them to go home. Yet today we see a crackdown on student visas wholly disproportionate to the level of their abuse, and a general failure to understand how crucial higher education is to our economy. You only have to walk around Sunderland to appreciate the impact that international students have made upon the city, and the investment and wider benefits that an expanded university has brought for the entire community.

Another important part of the UK economy is agriculture. For a variety of historical reasons, the United Kingdom has a relatively small agricultural workforce and a high degree of agricultural mechanisation. But that means that for some jobs that have not yet been automated, we have labour requirements that are unusually seasonal. There are not yet mass-market droids for judging the ripeness of a strawberry and then picking it without crushing it. The strawberry-picking season is short, so the sector has seasonal acute labour force requirements for people with fairly easily acquired skills rather than a persistent shortage of people with highly specialist skills.

What's also true is that for these people, who may only pick fruit for a few short summers and spend the rest of their lives overseas, the challenge is much more about preventing their exploitation than it is about ensuring their integration. I am unconvinced that everyone who works picking apples or strawberries on a summer job here needs to know English before they arrive. It's obviously great if they do, and they may well learn the language whilst working, but a degree of realism might usefully intrude into our discussions.

Perhaps the most obvious British economic export is financial services. London is the financial capital of Europe, although that may not continue for much longer. People working in financial services come from all over Europe, and the taxes they and their companies pay in London provide much of the money for the services on which we all depend.

I believe very strongly that we have a desperately unbalanced economy. Geographically we are too focused on London and Edinburgh and sectorally we are too concentrated on finance - but the first step to reduce our dependence on a goose that lays golden eggs cannot be to stab the goose. In the short and medium term, that means we have to make sure that the financial services sector does not suffer disproportionately. London may be the financial capital, but jobs in the sector are spread across every part of our country.

Even after Brexit, we will need to keep financial services - institutions, jobs, and regulatory expertise - in Britain. That will mean being open to people from across Europe working in that sector and ensuring our country remains a global centre for financial services.

Lastly there is the key industry in my own city: car manufacturing, which depends both on access to big markets in which to sell the products and a highly skilled workforce to build them. We don't know exactly what Theresa May has said to Nissan, beyond that they have now made the very welcome announcements about future work at the Sunderland plant, but my fears are threefold. First, I am concerned that the company may have been promised inducements which will not be available to new entrants to the British manufacturing sector, making us more rather than less dependent on current goodwill. My second fear is that restrictions on Nissan's ability to move top-flight engineers here from elsewhere in Europe, even if just in paperwork, may make Sunderland a less attractive destination for future research and development. And my third worry is that a patchwork of deals and site-specific support is so far from being an industrial strategy as to be laughable. It isn't even "picking winners": it's picking companies we'd rather weren't losers.

All of these concerns make me highly receptive to a policy position and a political strategy based on the industries we already have, which of these a Labour government would want to flourish post-Brexit, to what extent they depend upon immigration, and how their labour force requirements are structured across both skills and seasons. Our focus as a party should be on how we reconcile the clearly expressed view of the public for national immigration controls with building an open and successful economy that provides high quality jobs for the people we represent. We need to listen, but we also need to be more candid about the complexity of the challenge we face. 

Bridget Phillipson is Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South.