Bombs in Syria: Cold War Part II
This September, Russians flew their first bombing runs in Syria, escalating the conflict, but also making them arch-frenemies of the US-lead alliance. Instead of merely attacking ISIS with the West, Russia is wholly supporting the Assad regime by bombing Kurdish fighters and members of the rebel Free Syrian Army. These are the same rebels supported by the West supposedly fighting for democracy, both against Assad and ISIS. We may well be looking at an East-West proxy war, and a return of Cold War politics.
Tensions between the West and Russia have been rising on a tide of nationalist, populist rhetoric for some time. Russia’s annexing of Crimea and openly backing the despotic regime of Bashar al-Assad has put Vladimir Putin’s leadership increasingly at odds with nation-members of NATO and the EU. Syria is a melting pot of conflict and foreign policy interests. Russia seeks to defend the principle of absolute national sovereignty so it may continue its own human rights abuses, as well as having military trade and arrangements with Syria. America and the West may be looking to remove Assad as he is a political and religious opponent of the regional allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia – this writer is sceptical they just want to bring democracy. Most of the world wishes to dissolve ISIS, and focusing on this similarity distracts from what is so important about military developments in Syria.
By bombing different targets, while providing training, and selling or supplying arms to opposing factions, Russia and the West are in military competition. This may only escalate further, putting greater strain on international relations and derailing peace efforts such as the United Nations and the Paris Climate Conference. This is an indirect, cold, form of war, but after Turkey recently shot down a Russian jet, the first time a NATO member has done so in decades, we can only hope the temperature here doesn’t turn from cold to hot.
The Rise and Rise of Jeremy Corbyn
The phrase, “he’s only gone and done it” doesn’t even begin to encapsulate the feeling of shock which swept the nation when it was announced that Jeremy Corbyn had won the Labour Party leadership contest in September this year.
Corbyn’s campaign began as a last-minute addition to widen the debate with his far-left ideas and relatively unknown status. An intense media circus, some terrible pleas from old Labour powerhouses, a plethora of dodgy headlines later and Corbyn had done the unthinkable.
Quite literally out of nowhere, Jezza found himself with a nomination: he ran with it, promptly set it alight, and then danced around the burning flames as he was announced as the champion.
Chaos ensued. If you listened carefully enough on that fateful day, you could almost hear the sea of champagne bottles being popped by David Cameron and his cabinet at Number 10. A sound which was intertwined with the collective screams of terror and confusion in the corridors of Whitehall, from the Labour Party, as the media proclaimed that they would now be resigned to an era in the shadows.
There has never really been such a bizarre outcome in a mainstream election, although Jezza’s win might just be outdone by Donald Trump’s potential victory in the Republican presidential contest.
Still, it’s undeniable that Corbyn got people talking. Whether it was a pledge of allegiance from one of his loyal fans, or criticism of his new style in PMQs, people from up and down the country have voiced their opinion on the new opposition leader.
For once, (*heavy tones of sarcasm*) the big names in Westminster aren’t really sure of what to do. We’ll have to wait and see whether Labour’s new look can be written in the history books as a dismal disaster or a radical revolution.
Burma Gets Vote
Perhaps one of the most significant yet under-reported events of 2015 was the November elections in Burma – also known as Myanmar. Little is known of this small nation nestled between Thailand and Bangladesh. Well let me tell you, Burma has seen 53 of years of a brutal military dictatorship in one form or another. A regime accused of human rights abuses including ethnic cleansing and torture among other crimes. After 53 years, finally Burma has its first democratically elected government.
After 27 years of hard work political activist Aung San Suu Kyi and her party the National League for Democracy won a landslide victory of 80% of the Parliament seats available. This is a major stepping stone towards democracy and peace for Burma, a country where freedom of speech was crushed violently and where conflict has resulted in a refugee crisis for the last 53 years. A fantastic victory, however much of a stepping stone it remains.
The military continues to hold 25% of all parliament seats which were not elected positions, they retain power over the police, justice system, home affairs, border affairs and defense ministries, and finally they hold veto power on constitutional change to the flawed constitution in place which was written specifically in 2008 to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president. Congratulations Burma, and let’s hope for more positive steps in 2016.
By Isobel Thompson
Change at the Top
It’s hard to determine when Ed Miliband’s car crash of an election campaign derailed into the realms of political comic legend. Perhaps it was the face-meltingly cringe assertion of “hell yes, I’m tough enough”, or maybe the equally baffling “Moses moment”. Yet at some point along one of the most delusional electoral campaigns in recent years the Labour leadership and Ed Miliband realised that he was simply unelectable. Changes had to be made, and the change to Labour leadership was a gargantuan one.
Labour ushered in Jeremy Corbyn with a huge level of support – 60% of the vote – replacing one unelectable with another. Corbyn, isn’t a clown as Miliband was so often, nor is he a dislikeable character. His stance, however, on so many issues, his lack of control and unpopularity within his own party, and the ease with which the media seem to be able to pick him off means that any observer can see that he will never be Prime Minister. Nor should he be. For matters of state security, a pacifist like Corbyn can never be allowed to take control of foreign affairs, for, as implausible as it might seem, there is always the chance that we will have to go to war to protect our own national security. The election of Corbyn also gave the remit for the Conservative party to go in whatever political direction they fancied. As a result we have seen the Tories shift left, welcoming in the “Conservative Worker’s Party” – taking in Labour’s lost central ground.
Whether for better or worse, the election of Jeremy Corbyn to Leader of the Opposition is without doubt the most pivotal political moment in the past year. What this means for the future of Labour as a united force, or the Conservatives currently enjoying a free political ride, we have yet to fully see. What is for certain is that there will be plenty more grumblings within the Labour party, and Corbyn would do very well to still be in power when his chance to tell us just how tough he is rolls around.
By Robin Richards
Rumours have been circulating about corruption in FIFA for years. Three Panorama documentaries between 2006 and 2010 highlighted the allegations, and British newspapers have been digging into world football’s governing body for over a decade. But after years of denials and unpublished reports, these allegations were quickly becoming hopeless cries lost amid the lies and dodgy deals that dominate international sport.
So the arrests of many senior FIFA officials and the start of a fraud investigation have made 2015 the most significant year in FIFA’s 111-year history. We are nowhere near finding out the truth – we never will – but at last the mask has slipped from the beautiful game, and the world can see just how broken international football now is.
The fact that the 1998 and 2010 World Cups may not have been awarded fairly doesn’t detract from the football that took place – it’s what happened, not where, that gets remembered. But when the deaths and human rights abuses that surround Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, not to mention the disruption that a winter tournament will cause, are revealed to be a result not of a bad decision but of bribery and corruption, that’s when FIFA’s latest scandal starts to take on a more sinister appearance.
Was this the most important event of 2015? Sadly, no – terrorism, the climate conference in Paris and the refugee crisis can all vie for that title. Will this mean the end of corruption in international sport? Sadly, no – the IOC went through a similar scandal in 1998, and the sheer amount of money now involved in sport makes corruption almost compulsory. But the sight of obscenely-rich officials hiding behind bedsheets while being arrested provides a small degree of justice in today’s very unjust world.
By Mark Sleightolm
Last modified: 14th December 2015