Why the rich should now be made to pay

The architect of Tony Blair's 'third way' outlines 16 steps to a fairer Britain

Britain remains a society with too many inequalities, too many barriers to opportunity for those at the bottom. "Not enough redistribution!" say some. If only things were so simple. Redistribution there must be, but much more besides.

Average income in the UK has grown substantially since 1997 - 2.4 per cent a year to the end of 2005. London has had the highest rises. However, if differences in house prices are taken into account, there is far less variation between London and other areas in spending power. There has actually been considerable redistribution towards pensioners (a term I dislike), single parents and children. The proportion of older people living in poverty is smaller than the average for the population as a whole. In 1997 there were 13.8 million people living in poverty, as measured after housing costs, or 10.2 million before housing costs; these figures have fallen to 11.4 million and 9.2 million. A fifth of the population now lives below the poverty line (60 per cent of median income), compared to almost a quarter in 1997.

The government failed to meet its declared target of reducing child poverty by a quarter by the end of the financial year 2005. Although 700,000 children were lifted out of poverty, reducing the overall number to its lowest since the late 1980s, this figure was still 300,000 short of the target set.

Ministers pledged in 1998 that child poverty would be halved by 2011. If present polices are maintained, however, the level will not differ much from now on. Like other forms of poverty in Britain, child poverty is a relative measure. The government's target of "eliminating" child poverty by 2020 has not yet been clearly defined. Three countries in Europe have managed to achieve child poverty rates of just 5 per cent - Denmark, Norway and Finland - which is about as close as anyone could ever get. Yet even achieving a rate of less than 10 per cent would represent considerable success for British society. A significant change in policy is required, now, if the 2020 target is to be met.

Those on the old left seem to think it easy to reduce inequality: you take money from the rich and give it to the poor. Yet the rich, however defined, are a tiny minority. If they are to be taxed more, it should be for reasons other than just a little more redistribution, otherwise it would do virtually nothing to alleviate the structural problems that make the UK so unequal. Here are 16 policy areas that could make a difference.

1 Make reducing child poverty a driving force, as just mentioned.

2 Conventional redistributive mechanisms should stay in place, but they should be adjusted. Congestion charging and parking charges in cities, for instance, can be designed to have a progressive content - many poorer people do not own a car; the proceeds can be channelled into improving public transport; drivers of larger cars can be made to pay more.

3 Active labour-market policy (the New Deal and welfare-to-work) is important in reducing the disruptive effects of job loss. But because of rising levels of technological change and international competition, we need to explore policies that will help workers even before jobs start to be lost. The present policies are like throwing people into a pool to see if they can swim and helping them only once it is clear they can't. Far better to prepare them. The possibilities include using vouchers for in-work training for those in vulnerable industries, as part of an agreement to accept lower wages for a period. Such schemes, usually involving employers, unions and the government, are already being pioneered in some European countries. In Austria, work foundations have been set up to provide a network of resources for workers who become redundant. Where a company is forced to lay off large numbers of workers, those who stay in their jobs make a contribution as a gesture of solidarity. The company makes a larger overall donation. Those who lose their jobs contribute half their redundancy payments. The state also provides support for retraining and job search.

Helping hand

4 We should start to think of employment or wage insurance. Two-thirds of workers who lose their jobs earn lower wages when they find new work. Wage insurance would replace a substantial proportion of lost earnings for up to two years. A pilot version exists in the US. Under the programme, workers have to show that they lost their jobs as a result of trade competition, be over the age of 50, make less than $50,000 in a new job, and be re-employed within six months of being made redundant.

5 On average, older people in Britain have become better-off since 1997, but 17 per cent still live below the poverty line. We should aim to get to 60:60 - 60 per cent or more of those over the age of 60 in work, in full-time or part-time jobs.

6 People who live in embedded poverty may have few skills, have problems with drugs, fall into a life of crime and find it hard to sustain lasting relationships. The experience since 1997 shows that policies based on benefits or tax credits have little impact, partly because of low levels of take-up. An important approach is intervention targeted at the very young. Research shows that, at the age of two or three, children can establish behaviour patterns that are very difficult to break. Another factor is housing. About 50,000 people nationally, who might otherwise be on the streets, live in hostels or temporary accommodation, but these people cannot find more permanent homes. There are also large numbers of "hidden homeless", who are sleeping on the floors of friends or family members. The government has invested millions in repairing existing council houses, but more social housing is the only feasible solution for those at the bottom.

7 Research shows that even owning a small amount of capital can make an important difference in life. People who own assets at the age of 23 generally earn more ten years later than those without them, even when income, class and gender are taken out of the equation. The government's Child Trust Fund pays £250 to every child at birth. Children from poorer backgrounds get double that sum. The fund is topped up when the child is seven; again, there is more money for poorer children. The child cannot touch the money - nor can the parents - before he or she reaches 18. Surveys show that poorer parents appreciate this scheme.

8 Poverty is an endemic condition for some, but there is also far more movement in and out of poverty than we used to think. We should recognise that much poverty is biographical. People fall into poverty through specific life events and episodes, such as divorce or the break-up of a relationship, leaving the parental home, illness or, of course, losing a job. It follows that we should not concentrate policy solely on those who are poor at any one time, but upon those just above the poverty line.

9 The relationship between work and non-work has grown more complex. We should think of policy more in terms of the lifespan, rather than the here and now. This means seeing employment differently from the way we did in the past - as a temporary state or an expression of long-term employability. A guiding ideal, for both sexes, might be a 30-hour working week over the entire career of the in dividual, with various interruptions or career breaks and allowance for part-time work.

10 The Women and Work Commission found that the gap between the pay of men and women working full-time in 2005 was 17 per cent in hourly pay rates. Although this has closed somewhat, there are several reasons why women still tend to lose out, all of which could be eased by policy intervention.

11 Two-thirds of those claiming Pension Credit are women. At the moment, 85 per cent of men are entitled on retirement to a full basic state pension, compared to 30 per cent of women; only 24 per cent of women have that entitlement on the basis of their own contributions. The government has introduced a new contributory principle, but it will not do much to help in the immediate future. The pension system, moreover, remains extraordinarily complex.

12 Lifestyle changes are starting to influence inequalities a great deal - not just reflect them - especially in health. The remedies here will have to be behavioural rather than simply economic. It has been found, for example, that improving the diet of children with special needs, and combining this with exercise, significantly improves their attitudes and attainment.

13 Giving an effective choice of school to parents from poorer backgrounds must be backed by further policy strategies. One indicator of underprivilege is entitlement to free school meals. Just 3 per cent of pupils at the best-performing state schools fall into this category - showing the extent of "middle-class capture", but also that the pre-existing system was not fair. The average nationally is 17 per cent. The government has made some innovations to try to reverse this. The new school code suggests introducing a lottery-type admission system, to stop parents gaining admission for their children by buying houses nearby. Some city academies already operate random allocation policies, ensuring that certain children from poor backgrounds get a place. The new code is mandatory and will cover anyone applying to state schools in 2008, but other policies must be explored.

14 Labour has largely left private schools alone. Gordon Brown says he wants to increase spending on state schools to the level of private ones. That is a laudable intention, but it can't be realised overnight. Some effort has been made to oblige private schools to show social responsibility. In the UK, the private system is explicitly geared to providing advantages for the sons and daughters of those already advantaged. And it works: 48 per cent of students at Cambridge attended a private school, and 45 per cent of those at Oxford, although only 7 per cent of the population as a whole is educated at such schools. The government has been reluctant to support the scheme pioneered by the philanthropist Peter Lampl, but it should show more interest. The Belvedere School in Liverpool is private. Lampl has given funds to help it operate blind-needs admission. Anyone who qualifies for entry is guaranteed a place, regardless of financial circumstances. The scheme has been a remarkable success, with children from a wide range of backgrounds represented at the Belvedere.

15 Universities could look at a scheme originally introduced, somewhat surprisingly, in Texas, and now taken up in France. In 1997 the state of Texas introduced a policy whereby all students graduating in the top 10 per cent of their class in high school are guaranteed university entrance. As a result, the proportion of students from poorer backgrounds and minorities has grown steadily. Evidence so far shows that students admitted in this way perform as well academically as those accepted in the usual fashion. It is easier to apply the idea in France than in the UK, because of the centralised nature of French higher education. Yet either the government, or universities themselves, could agree to pilot a similar scheme in a city or region.

16 Finally, what about the rich? What about the way corporate leaders' salaries have been pulling away from those of their employees? What about the City high-flyers making millions in salaries and bonuses? Should Labour, as Peter Mandelson once remarked, be "relaxed about people getting filthy rich"? No!

Assets for a few

Labour can no longer be against entrepreneurs, the driving forces of economic success. But becoming wealthy should carry with it social obligations, such as to give something back to society, to pay tax in full, and to encourage social and environmental responsibility within companies. For several decades after the Second World War, the ratio of top executives' earnings to average income was stable. In the 1980s, it began to accelerate away and has not stopped since.

There is no official richness line in the same way as there is a poverty line. Let's say arbitrarily that "the rich" are the top 0.05 per cent. Labour should consider introducing a wealth tax of the kind found in some other countries. Wealth is more unequally distributed than income, with a high concentration in the hands of a few. The economist Edward Wolff has suggested for the United States a system based on the Swiss model. Assets would be taxed annually, according to a steeply progressive scale. Those with assets under a specific threshold would not pay, with steeper rates cutting in at, say, £1m in assets. This system would generate about 1 per cent of total revenue - more than would be achieved in the UK if income tax were raised to 50 per cent for people earning more than £100,000. It would be easy to administer, Wolff says, because it could be fully integrated with personal income tax.

The proceeds of such a tax, if implemented here, should not go into the Treasury coffers, but be devoted to a specific purpose - for example, helping children from underprivileged backgrounds get into higher education. Those contributing substantial sums to charity could be absolved from the tax.

Reducing tax evasion and getting rid of the loopholes that make widespread tax avoidance possible should be priorities - as far as possible on an international as well as a national level. The Conservatives have talked about abolishing inheritance tax, but the strategy should be to make it more progressive. At present only 6 per cent of inherited wealth is taken in tax. A steeper rate at the top (in addition, again, to keeping control of loopholes) would be fairer and would generate more revenue (the Budget made some changes in this direction).

Philanthropy is clearly one of the main responsibilities of high earners, because they should give back to the society that has helped them realise their opportunities. In the US, top earners in effect pay a voluntary tax on their earnings, and large numbers accept the obligation. Some prominent figures have given away virtually their whole fortune, especially towards the end of their lives. There is not the same culture of philanthropy in this country, and despite the introduction of tax incentives, there is not yet the same level of tax breaks.

In October, top managers at Siemens in Germany were awarded a pay rise of 30 per cent. The company was in the middle of restructuring, and many workers stood to lose their jobs. Most of the workforce had already accepted pay cuts through agreements that reduced their hours of work. Faced with an uproar, the executives announced that they would donate their pay rises to help workers in a subsidiary whose jobs were threatened. In Britain, the management might have been praised for keeping the company on an even keel in the face of overseas competition. Our business culture needs to change.

"We must show that . . . we will be a party that is for working people, not rich and powerful vested interests." Who said this? Not Tony Blair, not Gordon Brown, but David Cameron. Labour should take note.

Anthony Giddens's new book, "Over to You, Mr Brown: how Labour can win again", is published by Polity (£9.99, paperback)

This article first appeared in the 02 April 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Africa: How we killed our dreams of freedom

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Brothers in blood: how Putin has helped Assad tear Syria apart

The Syrian catastrophe has created the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War. And the world watches helplessly as Putin and Assad commit war crimes.

Sometimes we know the names. We know Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old boy who, covered in mud and dust, was pictured on the back seat of an ambulance in the aftermath of an air attack. We know his name because pictures and a video of him were released on social media and travelled around the world. The outrage that followed was widespread and sincere, the image of the dazed little boy seeming to symbolise the greater plight of the beleaguered residents of Aleppo. But then the moment passed. Few will know that a few days later doctors announced that Omran’s elder brother Ali, who was injured in the same air strike, had died from his injuries. He was ten.

Sometimes we know the names of the babies pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings – occasionally alive, but often dead; or the names of the children weeping over lost parents; or the women grieving over lost husbands and children; or the elderly simply waiting (and sometimes wanting) to die.

We know Bana Alabed, the seven-year-old girl trapped inside Aleppo whose Twitter account has gone viral in recent weeks. “Hi I’m Bana I’m 7 years old girl in Aleppo [sic],” reads the on-page description. “I & my mom want to tell about the bombing here. Thank you.”

A series of pictures depicts Alabed and her mother, Fatemah, struggling to live as normal a life as possible, one showing the little girl sitting at an MDF desk with a book. Behind her, in the corner, is a doll. “Good afternoon from #Aleppo,” says the caption in English. “I’m reading to forget the war.”

The conflict, however, is never far away. Alabed, whose mother taught her English, has repeatedly tweeted her own fears about dying, followed by stoic messages of defiance whenever the immediate threat of an impending air strike passes. On the morning of 3 October, her words were simply: “Hello world we are still alive.” On 17 October, Fatemah tweeted: “The airstrikes ended in the morning, all the last night was raining bombs.”

But in most cases we never know the names of the victims of air assaults led by Presidents Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. One of the most haunting images to emerge in recent weeks was that of a mother and child, killed while sleeping in the same bed. The scene had an eerily preserved-in-amber feel to it: a snapshot of snatched lives, frozen in the act of dying. Pictures of ruined buildings and distraught civilians have become routine now, holding our attention briefly – if at all.

As many as 500,000 people are believed to have been killed since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in early 2011. According to a report released in February this year by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, a further 1.9 million have been wounded. Taken together, those figures alone account for 11.5 per cent of Syria’s pre-revolutionary population. Combine that with the number of Syrians who have been displaced – more than ten million (almost 50 per cent of the population) – and the sheer scale of the disaster becomes apparent.

The conflict has become the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Today it centres on Aleppo, in north-west Syria, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and a cradle of human civilisation. Various conquerors from the Mongols to the French have fought battles there but none, so it would seem, has been quite as ruthless or committed to the city’s annihilation as Bashar al-Assad.

Aleppo remains the most significant urban centre to have been captured by the anti-Assad rebels, most of whom will (by now) be strongly influenced by an Islamist world-view. Indeed, the most prominent fighting groups on the rebel side are overwhelmingly Islamist in their troop composition and beliefs, a sad marker of Western failures to support secular forces that led the anti-regime resistance in the incipient phases of the uprising.

Yet Aleppo remains too important to fail. Although rebel forces succeeded in capturing only half of the city – the western side remained firmly in the control of the regime – the symbolism of anti-Assad forces holding ground in Syria’s second city (which also served as the country’s economic hub) has buoyed the rebel movement.

Assad is more brazen and bullish than at any other point since eastern Aleppo fell into rebel hands in July 2012. That optimism is born of a strategy that has already worked in other parts of the country where the regime’s troops have slowly encircled rebel-held areas and then sealed them off. Nothing can leave, and nothing can enter. Once the ground forces seal off an area, an aerial campaign of barrel bombs and missile attacks from both Syrian and Russian fighter jets inevitably follows.

To get a sense of just how terrible the aerial campaign has been, consider that the United States accused the Russian air force of potential war crimes when a UN aid convoy was bombed just west of Aleppo last month. It was carrying food and medicines when it was hit. Since then, the UK and France have said that Russia’s bombardment of Aleppo amounts to a war crime.

Putin’s support has come as a boon to Assad ever since Russia formally entered the conflict in September 2015. Despite his administration already using Iranian forces and aligned groups such as the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, rebels had continued to make significant gains throughout the early months of 2015. The most important of these was the capture of Idlib city, 40 miles from Aleppo, which presented Assad with two problems. The first was that it dented the official narrative of revanchist military successes by his forces. The ­second was that it handed the rebels power in a province adjoining Latakia Governorate in the west, where Syria’s Alawites are largely concentrated (Russia has an airbase in an area south-east of the city of Latakia). The Alawites are a heterodox Shia sect to which the Assad family belongs, and which forms the core of their support base.

Keen to reverse these gains – and others made elsewhere – Assad enlisted Putin, given Russia’s long-standing interests in, and ties to, Syria. The Kremlin has long regarded Syria as an important ally, and has served as the country’s main arms supplier for the past decade. There are important assets to preserve, too, such as the Russian naval base in the port city of Tartus on the Mediterranean, which was first established during the Soviet era.

For his part, Putin has felt emboldened by events. The world is changing – not just in the Middle East and North Africa, where the
contours of power continue to be recast, but also closer to home in Ukraine, where the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in 2014.

The West is still haunted by the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has been reluctant to be drawn too deeply into the Syrian War. In 2013, the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people. This was a violation of President Barack Obama’s so-called red line against the use of chemical weapons, but no retaliatory action came and there was nothing to prevent the Kremlin from using force to shape events in Syria – as it had done in Ukraine.

All of this has marked a new phase of brutality in a conflict already noted for its barbarism. Civilians who avoid death from combined Russo-Syrian air assaults suffer under Assad’s strategy of “starve or submit”, in which supplies are withheld from besieged areas, slowly choking off those ­inside. It has been used to devastating effect against civilians in towns such as Madaya and in Daraya, on the outskirts of Damascus, both of which fell to government control after being sealed off from the outside world for several years. Such a strategy is not designed to deliver quick victories, however. Consider how the residents of Daraya defied Assad’s forces for four years before capitulating in August 2016.

Assad and his allies (Putin, Iran, Hezbollah) have decided to punish and brutalise, deliberately, civilian populations in rebel-held areas. To invert the famous aphorism attributed to Chairman Mao, they hope to dredge the sea in which the revolutionaries swim. And so, it is the 300,000 residents of eastern Aleppo who must suffer now.




It’s easy to lose track of precisely what is happening in the Syrian War as parcels of land swap hands between rebels and the regime. Assad’s forces first began encircling Aleppo at the start of July this year and succeeded in imposing a siege by the middle of that month, after cutting off the last of two rebel-controlled supply routes into the city. The first was the Castello Road, which leads from the town of Handarat into the north-western part of ­rebel-controlled territory. The second route, via the Ramouseh district (which led into the south-western end of the city), had already been sealed off.

The closure lasted for roughly four to five weeks before the rebels re-established access. Aleppo is too important for them, and the siege has forced various groups to work together in breaking it. The effort was led by Jaish al-Fateh (JaF, the “Army of Conquest”), an umbrella group and command structure for several of the most prominent jihadist and Islamist groups operating in northern Syria. JaF also co-ordinated the Idlib military campaigns. One of its key members is Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS, “the Syrian Conquest Front”), which was previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN or “the Supporters’ Front”) and was recognised as al-Qaeda’s official chapter in Syria.

Several months before the regime began its assault on Aleppo, rebel groups in the north recognised the deteriorating situation there, stemming principally from Russian air strikes. As a result, al-Qaeda urged the various factions to merge and work together to counteract not just Assad, but also Putin. Even the global leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a speech last May titled “Go Forth to Syria”, in which he called on all fighting groups to unite in order to consolidate their control across the north. This opened the way at the end of July for Jabhat al-Nusra to declare that it was formally severing its links with al-Qaeda. It “rebranded” as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

There are two reasons for doing this. The first is to erode partisanship among the Islamist groups, forcing them to set aside differences and narrow their ambitions in favour of the greater goal – in this case, the breaking of the siege of Aleppo, while also deepening rebel control across the north. The second aim of rebranding is to win popular support by portraying themselves as fighting in the service of ordinary civilians.

Groups such as JFS and others are succeeding in both of these goals. Responding to the abandoned and assaulted residents of Aleppo, they have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to alleviating the humanitarian crisis. Much of their messaging echoes this theme. The group’s English-language spokesman is Mostafa Mahamed, an Egyptian who previously lived in Australia. “[JFS] is deeply embedded in society, made up from the average Syrian people,” he explained on Twitter, after the group decoupled from al-Qaeda. “We will gladly lay down our lives before being forced into a situation that does not serve the people we are fighting for . . . jihad today is bigger than us, bigger than our differences.”

It is indisputable that this ethos of “fighting for the people” has endeared the group to civilians living in besieged areas – even when those civilians don’t necessarily agree with the full spectrum of its religious beliefs or political positions. That goodwill was only reinforced when the group helped break the siege of Aleppo (in which approximately 500 rebels were killed) in August, if only for a few days. Assad reasserted control within a week, and entrapped the residents again in the middle of that month. The rebels are now planning how to break the siege decisively, but have not yet launched a major counteroffensive.




A freelance American journalist and film-maker, Bilal Abdul Kareem, who has reported on rebel movements inside Syria more intimately than most, has found himself among those trapped inside eastern Aleppo since the siege was restored seven weeks ago. “We came here expecting a two- or three-day trip,” he told me during an interview over Skype.

Life inside is becoming insufferable for civilians, Abdul Kareem said; every building is potted and scarred by shrapnel damage. Those whose homes remain standing are the lucky ones. “Your day consists of nothing,” he said. “There’s no work, there’s no fuel, no industrial zone, no food to sell. ­People sit around and chit-chat, drink tea, and that’s all they do.”

Food supplies are already running low, with most people limiting themselves to basics of chickpeas and groats – crushed grains such as oats or wheat. Sealed off from the rest of the world, those inside preoccupy themselves with survival and wait for the next wave of attacks.

It is tempting to ask why the inhabitants of Aleppo did not flee when they had the chance. Indeed, the Assad regime routinely accuses the rebels of preventing civilians from leaving besieged areas, though there is no evidence to support this view. On 17 October Russia and the Syrian regime said they would halt their bombardment for eight hours on 20 October to allow rebels and civilians to evacuate the city.

In truth, what choice do the civilians have? Most do not trust Assad and they are therefore unwilling to move into regime-administered areas. The alternative is to become refugees, with all the uncertainties and trials associated with that. For instance, refugees have found themselves subject to sectarian violence in Lebanon, and they have few opportunities to find employment in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan, the three countries where most of the fleeing Syrians have found shelter.

For them, merely to exist in rebel territory is an act of defiance, which is precisely why Assad’s forces make no effort to distinguish between combatants and civilians in rebel areas. To be present is a crime.

The effects of this have been devastating. A spokesman for the Syrian American Medical Society told Middle East Eye, an online news portal, that in July, Syrian and Russian jets had hit medical facilities in rebel-held territory every 17 hours.

Only a few hospitals and medical staff remain. The physical conditions are primitive and perilous. Doctors work in makeshift facilities – a former flat, a commercial garage – which makes them unable to provide anything beyond basic emergency care. In-patient facilities are non-existent, not just because of high demand from those newly injured in fresh attacks, but also from fear that the facility itself will be targeted. “People are literally shuffled out of the hospital with IV [intravenous drips] in their arms,” Abdul Kareem says.

The West’s indifference to all this – coupled with its occasional pious pronouncements and diplomatic dithering – has squandered any goodwill Washington might once have had among Syria’s beleaguered civilians. When Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, and John Kerry, the US secretary of state, agreed a ceasefire in September it lasted barely two days because they overlooked the fears of those trapped inside eastern Aleppo.

The deal had stated that no party would try to capture any new territory. That might seem reasonable enough but given that the ceasefire came into effect just days after Assad re-established the siege of Aleppo, those on the inside were being asked, in effect, to acquiesce to their own starvation.

Deprived of food and medication, no one trusted Assad to negotiate access in good faith, especially after he thwarted UN efforts to deliver aid. “People saw it as a conspiracy,” Abdul Kareem told me. Moreover, there were no significant groups inside eastern Aleppo that claimed to have accepted the terms of the ceasefire in the first place. Kerry had negotiated on their behalf without approval and without securing any humanitarian concessions.

“What planet are these people on?” Abdul Kareem asked. “[Do] they think people will turn on their protectors, for people who didn’t do them any good? They look to JFS and Ahrar [Ahrar al-Sham is one of the Islamist groups fighting in JAF]. Western intervention is pie in the sky.”

The rise of these reactionary rebels is a direct result of liberal elements not being strongly supported at any stage in the conflict. Left to fend for themselves, many have deserted their cause. Those who have persisted not only risk the constant threat of being killed by Russo-Syrian bombs, but are also at threat from jihadist elements operating in rebel areas. That much was clear when remnants of the secular opposition protested against the leader of JFS, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, in the southern Idlib town of Maarat al-Nouman earlier this year. Many of those who did were arrested by jihadists and intimidated into silence.

Whereas liberals are fragmented and frayed, the Islamist rebels continue to coalesce into an ever more coherent unit. The overwhelming might of Russian airpower has convinced them of the need to form a united front in order to pool their resources and co-ordinate their efforts. That is one of the reasons why a jihadist group called Jund al-Aqsa (“Soldiers of al-Aqsa”) announced early this month that it was disbanding and being absorbed into JFS.

Herein lies the real story of how Aleppo – and, indeed, Syria itself – has been delivered to the jihadists. A conspiracy of all the external parties has forged a menacing millenarian movement that is embedded in civil society and communities across the north. Whether Aleppo falls or not, the jihadists will endure.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a member of the war studies department at King’s College London

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood