larry o'hara






(extract from Notes From the Borderland issue 11 pages 19-29)


Pantucci's book is a dense book full of facts, names, dates, dealing with a complex phenomenon.  This perhaps explains why to date there have been few reviews that we have noticed.  If your attention span is short, don't bother reading the book, or this review, until you have extended it.  For those of you still with us, reading both is worthwhile.  We welcome critical comments, and offer the author himself the right to reply.  If you like the review, visit our shop and buy the magazine: the more people that do, the more often we can come out!   Enjoy!

Jihadism is an enduring phenomenon of our times, and this important book covers many recent key moments, actors, and plots.  It should not, however, be taken at face value, even less treated as a sole reference source.  Read this detailed review/critique to find out exactly why that is the case.

UPDATE AS OF 4/3/17: the below review of Pantucci's book by myself on Amazon, along with the detailed content below, is hopefully self-explanatory. Pantucci struts about the media feted as an impartial 'expert', but cannot/will not answer the serious charges laid against him below.  You can reach your own conclusions as to why this is.

 Larry O’Hara


While not the comprehensive reference book for British Jihadism it might appear to be at first sight, and Pantucci believes it is, nonetheless this attempt to “stitch the whole narrative together….trying to tell the whole story”1 is worth reading by anyone interested in the subject matter: which should include all perusing this magazine for a start! Some serious questions are raised herein about Pantucci’s research, and academic integrity.  He is welcome to exercise a right to reply should he so wish.


This review falls into four sections.  First, I look at what is useful and interesting.  Next, I outline problems with the book, both factually and in interpreting the jihadist phenomenon.  Third, I flag up things not in the book but should be.  Before concluding I (fourthly) attempt some explanation based on what is known about Pantucci and the body he works for, the quintessentially establishment Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).  This last point is important due to ongoing blurring of the lines between genuinely independent academic research on the one hand, and tailored bespoke research which might appear academic but isn’t on the other.  All references in brackets are to the book itself: footnotes cover other sources.  To dispel any ambiguity: I am no parlour liberal, and do not deny his claim that “most of the most dangerous and ambiguous recent terrorist acts and plots in the UK are perpetrated by people professing an Islamist outlook” (p.4).  While there are certainly fascist bomb-plotters out there, they pale into insignificance in number and seriousness besides Islamist plots, even though, by the law of averages, one is again bound to get through to fruition sooner rather than later.  A word on terminology: like others in this field, Pantucci uses the term radicalisation to refer to individuals becoming Islamist Jihadists, and terrorism as a description of what they (seek to) get up to.  Neither terms am I comfortable with, nor the absurd oxymoron (which he does not affect thankfully) ‘Critical Terrorism Studies’ either.  Such deconstructive arguments are for another day...


Pantucci  has amazing sources: both human (if mostly anonymous) in the shape of police and security officials, and court transcripts, which as those outside the charmed circle who have tried to obtain such will know, are ruinously expensive or just not available.  The sheer number of transcripts, and the book’s general tenor, leads me to believe he got these from the prosecution (in its broadest sense) rather than defence. One familiar name graces the acknowledgements: Nigel Inkster, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Inkster (a former Director of Intelligence and Operations) was, it is widely believed, Richard Dearlove’s chosen successor as MI6 chief, elbowed out of the way by Blair lickspittle John Scarlett, infamous both for being complicit in the ‘dodgy dossier’ justifying war with Iraq, and knowing rather a lot about the suspicious death of WMD expert Dr David Kelly. I have no objection to Pantucci cultivating spook/ police sources: though the narrow spectrum limits the book’s depth if not range.  Accessing sources is one thing: using them well another.  Pantucci commendably crams much detail into the book.  He passably outlines 2004 Operation Crevice (p.160-77), the 7/7/05 (p.185-99), 21/7/05 bomb plots (p.207-14), 2006 Operation Overt (p.214-23), 2007 Doctor’s plot (p.232-8) and so on: the index at the back is functional and informative.  Allied to this he has interesting (if at times scathing) sketches of key individuals: Abu Hamza (p.110-15), Omar Bakri Mohammed (p.88-98), Abu Qatada (p.131-4), Abdullah El Faisal (p.134-40) and Dhiren Barrot (p.176-83) for example.  Some sketches are more value than others, but it is hard to disagree when he says of Hamza his “gift seems to have been an ability to reach out to troubled young men of any background, to provide them with leadership and guidance supplemented with real world support in the form of a roof over their heads and a role to play in his part of the global struggle to establish a Caliphate” (p.130).  At times the relentless detail can overwhelm: it reads like (and probably came from) many merged condensed police/intelligence reports emphasising links between Jihadists in general and specific plot personnel in particular.

Pantucci does not confine himself to reportage, worthy though that would have been.  He also (following his King’s College supervisor Peter Neumann) attempts to explain Jihadism by positing three important ‘drivers’ of such, ideology grievance and mobilisation.  How they “coalesce is dictated by random events and how they respond to a given situation, factors that are all difficult to forecast, much as a fruit machine, with three wheels spinning in tandem and occasionally lining up, is hard to predict” (p.7-8).  This fruit machine analogy he attributes, intriguingly, to Nigel Inkster,  Driver one, ideology, “in many ways the most important of the three drivers…[is] the philosophy that enables individuals to become involved in extremist Islamist terrorism, a supremacist Takfirist ideology that seeks to impose a global Caliphate” (p.8-9).  In the section on ideology, Pantucci includes something that while perhaps true is not really ideological: “the notion of becoming an international terrorist, a figure imbued with a sense of cool” (p.11).  This is more of a personal driver, reflecting the selfie-centredness of our times.  Where the IRA issued terse communiques signed by the eponymous P O’Neill, today’s bombers compose personal rambling narcissistic2 monologues designed for post-mortem dissemination on You-Tube.  

Next comes grievance, “a sense of not being able effectively to participate in society may indeed play a role in some cases; according to conclusions reached by MI5, the loose terms ‘blocked mobility’ apparently features as a running theme through the biographies of Britons who get involved in terrorist activity” (p.13).  Slightly undermining this, Pantucci stresses that “care must be taken not to over-interpret grievance to suggest that social deprivation is necessarily at the root of terrorism” citing Leon Trotsky as an authority (p.13).  Inasmuch as Trotsky (and his epigone Pantucci) are talking about one ‘root’, social deprivation, correct, but there are many roots, and this may be one.  Another ‘grievance’ is foreign policy: in some cases pre-dating 9/11 and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan (p.291). 

The third driver is mobilisation; which “enables this blend of ideology and grievance to mutate into action” (p.13).   In common parlance the word mobilisation is not just used militarily, but also politically, by various movements for change (or against it) therefore using the word here is troubling, especially as Pantucci cites the example of Omar Saeed Sheikh (who later went on to murder American journalist Daniel Pearl) engaging in relief support work for Bosnian Muslims as his first step: mobilisation (p.13).  This presages a constant in Pantucci: elision of essential distinctions between non-violent and violent political action.  Had Pantucci wanted to make the distinction, he could have (but did not) used an alternative word like ‘activation’ or ‘implementation’. 

These drivers (terminology apart) may be necessary but are not sufficient: as Dr Paul Stott has pointed out, such characteristics apply to many organised sub-cultures, for instance football hooligans.  Even more relevantly, the (international) Ploughshares movement of anti-nuclear activists are deeply committed (usually Christian), risk arrest or serious injury, and mobilise together as a group.  Thereby fulfilling Pantucci/ Neumann’s three ‘drivers’—and showing the limits of such in explaining ‘terrorism’. 

Pantucci well apprehends some key factors in ‘radicalisation’, such as the alienation of youth from imported Mullahs who barely speak English (p.64) and the concomitant development in the early 2000s of ‘alternative spaces’ in the form of Islamic bookshops as instanced by Moazzam Begg for example in Birmingham (p.72) and that in Beeston. 

It is hard to disagree with Pantucci’s insightful periodisation of four stages thus far in the development of British Islamism:

1) Large networks stirred up to go abroad and fight/train

2) Large networks redirected by Al Qaeda back to the UK to take action

3) Shadow networks developed in response to security service activity to replace the broader more public ones.

4) More recently the internet allowing recruits to experience a common narrative drawing them towards violence (p.290)

Regarding the internet, Pantucci is surely right (even if merely the messenger) when recounting that “by the mid-2000s the British security services began to note the increasing importance of the internet as a vehicle to supplant and even displace extremist forums in mosques, bookshops and community centres that until now had been the loci of radicalisation in the UK” (p.251).  After the book, he seemed to say something different, that “while the internet does play an accelerant role…I don’t think it plays a universal role, and I think most cases, when you look at it, that individuals who appear to be radicalised [by the internet alone] actually did have some contact with radical individuals.  There is usually some level of connection that you find”3.  I could be splitting hairs here—both statements are not necessarily inconsistent.  In any event, spooks ‘noting’ the internet’s role is not the same as negating it.  To be fair Pantucci does not deny this, concluding that while the security services understand the networks much better “there is still very little understanding of how to counter and de-radicalise” (p.292).  It might be, as with some other minority currents, political failure and old age could produce such an effect, individually at least.

Pantucci realistically argues the threat has “mutated into a variety of forms in different parts of the globe” (p.230), and even more strongly that (with reference to Syria) “the crest of the first wave of British jihadism may have been broken, but undercurrents of a new storm are building” (p.293).  Poetic license perhaps, but beats naïve triumphalism, and this was before the November 2015 Paris, March 2016 Brussels and Bastille Day 2016 Nice attacks showed the storm has truly arrived.

Finally, Pantucci is onto something when stating “jihadist ideas within the UK are becoming the default anti-establishment movement for an increasingly diverse community of individuals” (p.292).  That this might be so is not just an indictment of the Last Century Left in general, but the failure of specific currents (like the Socialist Workers Party for instance) to confront homophobia and misogyny within Islamism or indeed Islam itself.  A big issue, but worth noting nonetheless—the absence of a credible total vision forcibly argued for by the Left makes it difficult to counter Islamism’s allure

If the above was all there is to be said about Pantucci, we could end now, with qualified praise for a detailed and fascinating book.  That is the line taken in Prospect magazine by Sameer Rahim, whose brief review says “the writing is a touch dry but the detail fascinating”4.  Owen Bennett-Jones in the London Review of Books, has more to say about himself, and fingers the UK Deobandi community.  Of the book itself, rather less, his principal criticism being Pantucci underestimates the importance of “the underlying factor that helps explain radicalisation: identity”5.  On the contrary, Pantucci is attempting to explain the process by which jihadists assume/acquire their identity, it being one of many competing in the fragmented identity market-place that is modern life.  As Bennett-Jones is a veteran BBC journalist, it is no surprise that such complexities would elude him.



Pantucci is quick to deny the importance of racism: which “cannot be the sole cause; quite aside from the involvement of white converts, it is also possible to find anecdotal evidence of individuals who do not appear to have faced a constant onslaught of racism in their upbringing” (p.52).  This caricatures how racism can operate: it need not be a ‘constant onslaught’ or have been primarily faced in one’s ‘upbringing’.  It is also setting up a straw man argument in that on the contrary racism can be seen as one cause, but not necessarily the sole cause.  This lack of comprehension means Pantucci does not consider possible racism in two cases others might think constitutes such.   Speaking of those (many from Crawley) arrested in Operation Crevice (the 2004 fertiliser bomb plot), he writes “all of them can be easily characterised as well-assimilated individuals born to immigrant families…at the time of arrest, none of them was advancing far in his career” (p.166).  About the 7/7/05 (London) bomb plotters Pantucci notes that “many public accounts suggest that all the members of this cell suffered from a basic social immobility due to their roots in Beeston” (p.188).  It is not fanciful to suggest racism might have played a part in both cases and more (though not necessarily all), experienced individually as ‘frustrated mobility’.  Blocking can range from actual (direct discrimination) through to perceived—someone blaming their own lack of progress on discrimination as a means of avoiding self-scrutiny. 

Beneath a patina of pseudo-academic respectability, Pantucci harbours the petty prejudices of a low-grade cop.  Tel Aviv bomber Asif Hanif he waspishly remarks “appears to have done little to distinguish himself academically” (p.173).  Mohammed Atif Siddique, who helped establish numerous jihadist web-sites is described (paradoxically) as an “aimless and dim youth” (p.256).  A common theme is that many are portrayed as losers, implicitly due to personal deficiencies. Those implicated in the abortive 21/7/05 London plot are depicted as “for the most part relatively new migrants to Britain, none of these individuals held down particularly glamorous or steady jobs.  All had only recently become practising Muslims.  None had entered further education and a number had troubled pasts involving drugs or petty crime…an archetypal selection of individuals would be drawn to this group: former drug addicts, petty criminals, men who had encountered difficulties in life” (p.210). 

There are three problems with this negative stereotyping, which echoes the way far right activists are often described by critics (or the far left by the mainstream media):

First, it undermines understanding and can go hand in hand with underestimating capability. 

Second, it is incapable of coming to terms with, much less countering, the good work (in its own terms) performed by Islamism in giving the marginalised real self-worth. 

Third as Pantucci acknowledges elsewhere not all bombers fit such stereotypes, some such as Saeed Sheikh, and especially the two ‘Doctors Plot’ bombers in 2007 (Bilal Abdullah and Kafeel Ahmed) were men of an “integrated nature…they had strong roots in the country and were qualified medical doctors and research engineers” (p.232).  The Iraq War is mentioned as a driver here (as was Bosnia for Saeed Sheikh), so perhaps there is an implicit division, with the (further) educated granted higher order grievances about foreign policy as a driver in a way not afforded plebs.   

One important recruitment strand is believed (by Mark Rowley national police counter-terrorism lead) to be teenagers who would otherwise have been attracted to gangs, with 20% of terrorism arrests in the year ending March 2015 falling into that age category6.  That said, while there may well have been a sharp decrease in gang activity since 2008, this in itself wouldn’t prove the recruits would otherwise have been in gangs.  More evidence is needed here. 

On the other hand, and relevantly given Pantucci’s snobbery, the significant number of students/ex-students implicated in Islamist activity (liquid bomb plotter Waheed Zaman was a serving President of London Metropolitan University Islamic Society when arrested7 clearly demonstrates British Jihadism can recruit from the aspirant and successful, something corroborated by a 2014 London University study into 600 Muslim men and women8.


Pantucci sometimes abandons without acknowledgement his ostensible central argument, the primacy of ideology (then grievance) as drivers.   While he states all three drivers are necessary to drive an individual to action (p.15), and concludes that “wider foreign policy was a forceful driver in motivating established jihadist networks in Britain to turn against their host nation” (p.291), important sections of the book contradict this, most significantly his take on the ‘Lone Wolf’ phenomenon. 

Lone Wolves are defined as “individuals who attempt to carry out an act of random violence using a mask of political justification as his or her driving motivation” (p.261).  Nicholas Roddis, Nicky Reilly and Andrew ‘Isa’ Ibrahim are men who “claimed at some point to be converts to Islam, and all three attempted or appeared to be on the road to carrying out acts of public disorder in the name of their interpretation of violent Islamism” (p.261).  Pantucci is acting as thought-policeman, able to determine whether people really believe or not in ideas, or whether it is a pretext: “none of the men can be considered to have felt in a particular personal way the larger narrative that has been painted in this book.  None of them was anywhere near the large migratory communities where radical ideas had been incubated around the country; none of them was born into Muslim families, or even into the families of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin…none of them really had any contact with any of the extremist communities that have thus far been listed in the UK” (p.268).  In Ibrahim’s case, untrue: the concerned Bristol Muslim community reported him to the police before his plans took tangible form.  As for ideology, elsewhere the most important driver, these “unfortunate young men whose lives appeared to be going nowhere” (p.262) “chose the ideology to give their lives a sense of direction” (p.269).  While there may be grains of truth in all this, rather than situate it within the complexity of how ideology works, Pantucci’s stark and dismissive picture lacks subtlety and nuance.  Pantucci is saying that because ‘Lone Wolves’ don’t fit his pre-ordained explanatory schema, they cannot believe in ideas they claim to believe in.  This crass reductionism is misguided and dangerous: it ill behoves any serious researcher to dismiss the motivations or sincerity of people prepared to die for their beliefs.


In some ways Pantucci comes across as naïve, with little grasp of the real world beyond Spook Central and Think-Tank Towers.  No more so than when he says of Dhiren Barot—author of the ‘Army of Madinah in Kashmir’, associate of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, possibly involved in pre-9/11 reconnaissance—that his “remaining silent” in prison means he is “thus largely an enigma to investigators” (p.181).  Has it not occurred to Pantucci that Barot considers himself a prisoner of war, under no obligation to co-operate with ‘investigators’, a weasel synonym for cops and spooks?

More important than any Pantucci naivety is the way he routinely dissembles, or creates a snow-storm, when discussing Jihadists who may (or may not) be spook assets.  He does it so often, and predictably, it calls into sharp question his reliability as a historian of events, which as we have seen is perhaps the book’s strongest feature. 

First there is reference to James McClintock and Martin Abdullah McDaid, both white converts associated with the Iqra bookshop in Beeston (Leeds), seed-bed of the 7/7 bomb plot.  Not a hint that these two may have been spooks, which would mean incompetence at the very least (p.170/188).  As an aside, it is interesting that all this was going on in Leeds: readers of this magazine will be aware there has been a long history of suspected malign secret state activity in the area, so much that West Yorkshire could in some sense be seen as a laboratory for dirty tricks9.

Then there is Mohammed Junaid Babar, unquestionably an FBI informant from 2004, who provided much of the evidence against those jailed for Operation Crevice (2004).  Was he an asset even earlier?  A question not broached (p.167). 

Third, and just to show Pantucci can stir it when necessary (or directed?) consider this characterisation of Hassan Butt “later denounced as a fantasist after he told a reporter that he made up considerable portions of a story…this does not detract from the fact that he appears to have been operating quite openly on the periphery of a terrorist network” (p.156).  Maybe so, but for whom?  An answer (of sorts) came 70 pages later, with a bit more detail and the aside that despite being frequently questioned, Butt “appeared to have somehow avoided trouble or prosecution” (p.226-7).  Hardly a substantial answer: there are many other possibilities as to why a possible asset might not have been prosecuted, that maybe Agent Stake-Knife in the IRA (Frank Scappaticci) might also be aware of, or indeed Tim Hepple/Matthews, whom I have chronicled as extensively involved in agent provocateur activities, but who has never even been questioned by police10.

Fourth if Butt is unmistakeably put in the frame, however elliptically, others are deftly taken out.  Writing in 2008 about Abu Qatada, while pointedly declining to comment on the allegations, Pantucci at least reported that it was alleged “Qatada was an informant for Britain’s Security Service MI5”, referencing claims he met MI5 and his mysterious disappearance from MI5’s surveillance just before his proposed December 2001 arrest, reappearing 10 months later “a few minutes walk from MI5’s headquarters”11.  Tepid as this non-committal 2008 reference was, by the 2015 book despite 14 pages mentioning Abu Qatada, four being a profile (p.131-34) Pantucci makes no mention of even the possibility. Yet the facts of what happened in 2001-2 had not changed between then and Pantucci’s book.  The only things that had were his deportation to Jordan 7/7/13 and acquittal in subsequent trials 26/6/14 and 24/9/14 of the terrorist charges he was extradited to face.  These facts (not mentioned), and Qatada’s more recent criticism of Islamic State, might lead some to reasonably conclude he was an asset all along.  A hypothesis that would never occur to anybody relying on Pantucci’s book as their definitive source.

Fifth, consider also this reference to Abu Qatada’s erstwhile colleague Abu Hamza, whose son was notoriously involved in the Yemen kidnap of UK and US tourists12, with father’s knowledge and perhaps even instigation.  “It is also likely that Abu Hamza was feeding information to the security services dampening their view of him as a threat” (p.122).  Was not Hamza perhaps more, even a directed source to some extent, with spooks at least aware of the Yemeni kidnap in almost real time, but deliberately turning a blind eye to it for reasons of state?


Rashid Rauf was an important British-Pakistani Al Qaeda co-ordinator, reportedly in contact with the 7/7 and 21/7 bomb plotters, as well as those implicated in the 2006 ‘liquid bomb’ plot.  His arrest in Pakistan 7/8/06 was the trigger for those plotters being arrested in the UK.  A warrant was sought for his extradition on charges of murdering an uncle in Birmingham April 2002.  In December 2007 he managed to escape from police custody in Pakistan in bizarre and suspicious fashion, through a toilet window while all his guards were conveniently praying. 

Reported as having been killed by a US drone strike in November 200813, Rauf is important for two reasons. 

First, his lawyer, and family, believe he was not killed in that drone strike, but died in another strike years later.  To confuse matters, he still appears on the Interpol ‘Red List’ today as wanted (for the 2002 murder)14

Second, a supposed account of the 7/7, 21/7 and liquid bomb plots written by Rauf in two documents is extensively referred to by Pantucci as if fact, which of course it may (or may not) be (p.186). 

Despite its central importance to his narrative, we have to turn to a footnote (p.322) for Pantucci’s explanation of the documents provenance.  Supposedly a post-operation debrief, they were allegedly found on a memory stick in the possession of two militants (Maqsood Lodin/Yusuf Ocak) arrested in Germany April and May 2011 for Islamist activity.  Pantucci says “German, British and American authorities all believe the documents were written by Rashid Rauf, and biographical information within them seems to confirm this”, and shyly refers to “an assessment of the documents received by the author” (p.322).  Leaving aside for the moment these same ‘authorities’ fingered Libya for Lockerbie and Saddam Hussein for having Weapons of Mass Destruction, questions abound.  Did Rauf write the documents? Who exactly for? Was he working for British (or perhaps Pakistani?) intelligence when writing them, or indeed while liaising with the bomb plotters?  Depending on the answers in this case, not just a can of worms, but a seething cauldron of the same would be opened.  Raising this possibility is not mindless conspiracism, but to exhibit what Pantucci lacks: an open mind, especially where state assets may be involved. 

There is a fundamental methodological problem with Pantucci here.  The footnote refers to an “assessment of the documents received by the author.  From here on they are referred to as the ‘Rauf’ documents’” (p.322).  Any reasonable-minded person who hasn’t looked at and then deconstructed this footnote (let’s face it, few will look beyond the claim lots of spooks think them genuine) would think he is using them as a primary source.  Introducing the documents, the main text (p.186) refers to a document “purportedly written” by Rauf—and without saying more there, the documents are used as unquestioned primary texts very soon (p.189/196 for example) with no qualification whatsoever.  Yet that assessment from which Pantucci summarises is (if extant) actually only a secondary source, something he lacks the honesty to emphasise in the main text, or indeed anywhere.  No page numbers are given for any citation—so the possibility of differentiating between each document as regards reliability or even consistency is precluded a priori

Earlier reference (outside the book) to the same documents by Pantucci extensively quotes secondary (journalistic) sources missing by the time we reach the book, and enigmatically states “subsequent quotes attributed to Rauf are drawn from author read-outs”15.  This does not make even grammatical sense: an ‘author read-out’ is in common parlance a public reading from your own work, clearly not the meaning here.  Or is he saying he has had read only access without direct quotation rights, a common spook tactic to keep mouthpieces on side?  All gloriously opaque.  Pantucci compounds the error (casuistry) in the article by stating these journalistic sources are “referred to as the ‘Rauf documents’”.   Once we reach the book the assessment has now become those same Rauf documents.  If they ever came into the public domain, how would he refer to them—a third set of Rauf documents? 

Not understanding (or rather dissimulating about) the difference between primary and secondary sources would be no minor infringement, but the action of an academic charlatan.  If Pantucci eventually got read only access without direct quotation rights he owes readers such an admission.  Not wanting somebody to take the documents away raises questions about legitimacy to a new level.  If Pantucci has never seen the documents, but only a secondary (but undeniably important) spook assessment (and earlier journalistic reportage), he owes readers that admission too, not least disclosure which agency this assessment was written for.  Then we might judge its provenance ourselves, even if only in outline.  Does this matter?  Yes! Ask yourself how valid would any analysis of Nazism be without the author having read Mein Kampf, but instead relied on excerpts released by critics.  Especially given Rauf’s preposterous 2007 escape, no intelligence agencies are impartial observers, trusted to reveal all relevant facts (or quotes). 

Rather ironic then, that in speaking of confronting (or rather advising avoiding confronting) ‘conspiracy theorists’ he has recently claimed they “will pivot on a wisp of information into a spiral of obfuscation and confusion”16.  For is not Pantucci’s ostensible legerdemain over the Rauf documents a veritable spiral staircase of obfuscation and confusion?  As for conspiracy theorists, specifically the UK July 7th Campaign who think 7/7/05 was an ‘inside job’, in this very magazine I confronted them in 2009: they still haven’t dared respond17.  

The charitable view, putting to one side his snide comments about some jihadist’s lack of further education, is that maybe I am too harsh on Pantucci here.  As an English Literature graduate who spent time as a visiting scholar in the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (hardly an oasis of academic freedom and razor-sharp scholarship as opposed to material science research elsewhere in China I’d surmise) there is only his War Studies MA at King’s College where Pantucci might have reasonably picked up the basics of academically rigorous research.  Alas, even here Pantucci was never stretched, at the time he blogged his course was “three classes for a grand total of three and a half hours per week; the rest of the time I am off supposedly reading, I am not entirely sure I am getting my value for money”18.  I am inclined to agree: and a PhD has eluded him.  Easy to figure out why.

In fact, Pantucci understands very well the difference between primary and secondary sources, and the importance of such.  This can be gleaned from his post on the ICSR ‘Free Radical’ Blog 19/3/12 entitled ‘The British End of the Al Qaeda Documents’.  When put on his own blog it was prefaced by the admission that this article was “exploring in some depth documents I have not managed to see first-hand yet, hint, if anyone feels like sharing or has more information about them, please don’t hesitate to write.  An admittedly slightly premature piece consequently”.  The section in bold linked to his email address, so Pantucci was aware of their importance, but didn’t have them, hence begging.

The ICSR piece is also important because he links to two sites that reference the documents.  The first, by Abu Susu19, contains an analysis remarkably similar to that of Pantucci: that Rauf wrote two of the documents based on the biographical data and intimate description of plots (both of which may be true).  Even more interesting is another site he references, where Florian Flade is described as merely “providing a slightly different description of the same documents” which hardly does Flade justice.  Flade describes all five documents in some detail and clearly attributes views on their provenance to German Federal police20.   Why does Pantucci excise mention of these sources by the time we get to the book?  The suspicion is that not only did Pantucci never see the original documents (pretty well established as fact by now) but he never saw any assessment, just cribbed lines from Abu Susu and Flade’s blogs, and passed these off as an “assessment”, which they were, though not the covert spook one he implies.  I am not saying Pantucci did this, but he lays himself open to such a charge by evasiveness and inconsistency.  Why not use direct quotes from this claimed ‘assessment’? The uncharitable view has to be hasn’t seen any but is trying to con readers.  He can clear this all up by citing the exact source of the assessment, using direct quotes, and/or putting it online.


There was a long time-delay (a couple of years) between Pantucci’s book being announced and actual publication.  Given the importance of Rauf to his narrative of British Jihadism, might continued fruitless attempts to get the Rauf documents, then finally giving up on them, explain the wait?  There are good reasons why spooks would not release the Rauf documents even to a sycophant like Pantucci—the important operational information they contain might well be of great strategic use to autonomous self-mobilising jihadists, especially as Al Qaeda’s original structure fragments.  It is noteworthy that the (very well-informed) Daily Telegraph’s Duncan Gardham’s article on the supposed Rauf documents does not claim he had seen an assessment, but speaks of “a secret document prepared for al-Qaeda by the commander and disclosed to the Daily Telegraph by sources with knowledge of the contents” (patently spooks)21.  If Gardham didn’t get the written assessment, why would Pantucci: his maternal grandmother’s connections wouldn’t be sufficient surely22?


Pantucci’s evasiveness regarding truth when spook interests are at stake (although elsewhere he has criticised the FBI for entrapment23) is chronic.  He dismissively states that for Rauf’s lawyer “the entire story of his escape and death are part of an elaborate conspiracy” (p.224-5), a ‘conspiracy’ Pantucci does not discuss, despite the centrality of Rauf for his narrative.  In the 2015 news media, Pantucci baldly stated Rauf was killed in 200824.  Yet in early 2014, Pantucci was more ambiguous, stating that his death has “never been officially confirmed, presumably as the corpse and DNA were never identified.  Given the fact that plots connected to him continued to be uncovered almost two years after his reported death, confusion continues to dominate his narrative”25.  Squirrelled away in a footnote, where few will see it (like the Rauf documents provenance) Pantucci concedes that while “senior official sources in both the US and UK seem quite convinced he is dead…the lack of any DNA evidence and the seeming complexity of his story cast some doubt on this” (p.327).  ‘Senior official sources’—this neutral phrase actually means spooks, but for Pantucci their position in the hierarchy is what counts, not transparency as to function.  As for Rauf, his family now think he is dead, announcing in 2012 they planned to sue the British government for providing the US with intelligence on his whereabouts26.   If alive Rauf may not be keen on family reunions: especially bumping into cousins with fond memories of his late uncle.  The official Brit spook line certainly seems to be that he was picked up as a result of GCHQ intercepts, though the 2015 review by David Anderson did not mention his actual death27. Whatever the truth of anything concerning Rauf, one thing we can be sure of: Pantucci won’t break it first.




Until recently (what with Syriza, the 2015 SNP land-slide and the Corbyn phenomenon, not to forget the rise of UKIP to third-party status votes wise) the arena of legitimate political discourse has been getting smaller and smaller in recent years, so it is no surprise that, like many others in this field, Pantucci shows an alarming ignorance of extra-parliamentary politics, seeing it as merely low-level proto-terrorism.  That is not, unfortunately, a misrepresentation of Pantucci’s perspective, would that it were.  Speaking of the 1995 Manningham and 2001 broader Bradford riots, he tells us “many of the social drivers are similar to those that underlie the alienation we see in evidence on those who are drawn to terrorist activity. This is not to say that public affray and rioting are equal to self-immolating mass murder, but there are parallels in the motivations” (p.55).  Too late—he has already made the linkage, something repeated when talking of the Beeston Mullah Boys self-defence activities against racism “while this may not be a causal link, such rationalisation is similar to that espoused by extremists who involve themselves in terrorism, claiming that their actions are an attempt to protect the global Ummah of believers” (p.68).   At best, sloppy, at worst, sinister, equating political activity of a sort many (like me) would approve of with ‘terrorism’.  In any event, it isn’t even clear Pantucci is right about the Mullah Crew: Kenan Malik describes them as “little more than a street gang with pretensions”28, something echoed by another report which hints at inter-racial street violence29.  Though to be fair all agree the Crew had a direct ‘cold turkey’ approach to victims of hard drug dealers and little time for the dealers themselves.


Just to show his linking street activity with terrorism was no flash in the pan, Pantucci recently penned a tendentious article for aspirant spook magazine Hope Not Hate on ‘Reciprocal Extremism’30, whereby “extremisms feed off one another…a narrative that has remained fairly constant over time”31  He includes here the Southall Asian Youth Movement as a counter-reaction to fascists, and again references the 2001 Bradford riots, before looking at Al Muhijaroun and the English Defence League.  The Bradford Black United Youth League are cited for “apparently preparing a series of petrol bombs to use against the fascist groups they saw as threatening their communities”32.  There was no ‘apparently’ about it, the Bradford 12 did not deny making the petrol bombs, but a jury unanimously acquitted them because they accepted this as legitimate33.  I am proud that my organisation, Big Flame, fully supported their defence efforts34.


Blurring boundaries between political groups by categorising them as reciprocally related, and then further equating politics with terrorism, is disturbing in many ways.


First, it equates unlike with unlike, thereby closing down discussion of the content of politics by making it a security matter, which ironically is more likely than not to drive people in a violent direction.  


Second, it falsifies history for propaganda capital, and so impoverishes political discourse generally.   A crucial difference between political activists engaging in self-defence like this and Islamists is that while the former wanted integration into society on non-racist terms, Islamists reject that society.  If Pantucci cannot see this there is little hope for him.


Third, it disempowers citizens, leading them to rely on spooks/the state generally to counter a mythical extremism to keep us all in the fabled centre ground. Especially pernicious in that (like in Pantucci’s book) an alibi is thereby given to possible state assets. 


Fourth, it fails to comprehend the real dynamics of social and political change, exemplified by Pantucci’s caricature of the Bradford Asian Youth Movement as a group that “attempted to unite all minority communities not simply Pakistanis.  It was, however, a short-lived experience.  Different community interests tore it in different directions” (p.62).   The ‘tearing in different directions’ was no chance happening but a matter of deliberate policy, whereby both the police (via prosecutions) and the local state (via funding strategies favouring separatism) actively intervened to bring about this state of affairs, a thesis substantiated (separately) by Kenan Malik and Anandi Ramamurthy35.




That Pantucci derived much material from police/spook sources is illustrated by copious footnotes and unsubstantiated insinuations regarding individuals and court cases.  Of Zeeshan Siddiqui, one of the Crevice accused, Pantucci states diaries found in his possession by Pakistani authorities appear to confirm an interest in suicide, commenting “Siddiqui has disputed the authenticity of the documents” (p.200). And?  Any proper researcher owes their readers an opinion—not so Pantucci, who allows the state version to prevail by default, concluding with the snide comment this “remains one of the most cryptic pieces of the British Jihad still at large” (p.201). 


After mentioning a pre-7/7/05 trip to London by Mohammed Shakil and Waheed Ali, Pantucci states that the Crown Prosecution Service believe this was a reconnaissance trip linked to 7/7, “a conclusion that two successive juries disagreed with, the second clearing the men of any involvement in the 7th July attack, though Ali and Shakil were both convicted of attempting to attend a terrorist training camp in Pakistan” (p.196).  In other words, using cop logic, guilty of the latter so probably the former too. 


At times, Pantucci’s craven acceptance of the police/spook line is laughable, for instance he states of the liquid bomb plot “aside from those who were found guilty, it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions about many of those believed to be involved in this plot” (p.223).  Happily, juries can still definitively conclude some accused may be innocent, this being simply the wrong definitive conclusion for Pantucci’s sources.  It is worth noting here Pantucci simply ignores the July 2005 execution of Jean Charles De Menezes shot by police on the mistaken assumption he was a 21/7 bomb plotter.  Over and above the rights and wrongs, this event was for some drawn to jihadism (and many not!) a significant milestone—not for Pantucci though, which matters if this book purports to be a journal of record.


It is difficult to tell whether some Pantucci errors are sloppiness or deep prejudice, as when he states (p.219) citing a public police source “Rashid Rauf’s family had worked hand in hand with Al Qaeda and been ‘flagged red for months”.  Not Al Qaeda as such, but Kashmiri Jihadists Jaish E Muhammad. Yet by p.223 an “investigation into a charity established by his father led to nothing”.  Actually not quite the exoneration it might seem; the Charity Commission Inquiry (not referenced by Pantucci) concluded that while there was “no evidence that the trustees had diverted charitable funds for unlawful or non-charitable purposes…the trustees were unable to verify satisfactorily the end use of funds in both Indonesia and Pakistan”36.  Evidence the charity was evasive can be found in the fact they did not tell the Commission they even had a bank account in Pakistan, despite the UK accounts being frozen in 200637, and various supposed trustees denied they were such38.  All in all, the Charity Commission Inquiry did not draw a blank, but blatantly downplayed evidence any impartial observer would think might result in closure.  This phenomenon, whereby highly suspect charities are given carte blanche, will not surprise readers of this magazine39.   That Rashid Rauf married into jihadi royalty (the daughter of Ghulam Mustafi a famous Deobandi madrasa) is perhaps relevant here, as too that Pantucci elsewhere merely describes Rauf’s family as coming from “a long line of distinguished religious leadership”40.




(i) Londonistan


No proper consideration of British jihadism can take place without mentioning the Covenant of Security: “the long-standing British habit of providing refuge and welfare to Islamic extremists on the unspoken assumption that if we give them a safe haven here they will not attack on these shores.  French intelligence call this policy—with contempt—‘Londonistan’”41.  Yet, amazingly, Pantucci manages to do just that, merely mentioning that for many Arab dissidents “the priority was to instigate action in the Muslim world” (p.47).  The nearest he gets to Londonistan is the admission that “while the freedom that London afforded meant that it flourished as a centre for Arab media, this fact also attracted the wrath of Arab governments, who regarded London as a home for radical publishing and a haven for dissidents who continued to instigate trouble at home” (p.31).  It is not that this is untrue: it is the fact Pantucci does not mention political and spook complicity in this that grates.  It was also not just Arab governments who complained: Abu Hamza’s presence alone attracted the ire of Algeria, Belgium, Egypt, France, Germany, Netherlands and Spain for example42.  Which makes all the more galling his specious comment with reference to Finsbury Park Mosque attenders Germaine Lindsey Mohammed Siddique Khan (of 7/7 infamy) that “missing the importance of Reid and the others, British intelligence focussed on the apparent danger that was emerging from the mosque and its community of North African radicals” (p.148).  Inasmuch as most convicted in the UK post 9/11 were Algerians, this danger was not just ‘apparent’.  He compounds this glib dismissal by saying investigations into the ricin plot “missed a crucial element in the story of the Islamist radicalisation in Britain, happening both within the mosque but more prominently in cities just outside London and among Britain’s Muslim South Asian Community” (p.151).  The Covenant of Security impinges on both cases because it (falsely) led British spooks to think there was little of UK domestic (threat) interest going on in these circles, because if there had been assets like Abu Hamza (or Abu Qatada) would have told them of such.  More fool them!  As for Pantucci, he really is too wise by half, as befits many with no real life experience outside academe, or in his case pseudo-academe.




Another signal absence in the book is any examination of Saudi Arabian links to, and early encouragement of/funding for, jihadism in Britain or elsewhere.  That 15 of 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi is an inconvenient fact Pantucci would rather we forgot.   The censored passages from the US 9/11 Commission Report now finally released are certainly bad news for Saudi apologists43.  Even earlier the Wikileaks-released 30/12/09 cable from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to US Embassies world-wide stated that despite some co-operation with the US, “while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority…donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide…Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, [Lashkar e-Tayyiba], and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during Hajj and Ramadan”44.  Questioned at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in March 2013 about this cable, Pantucci’s boss, Dr Jonathan Eyal, RUSI Director of International Security Studies, admitted “there is absolutely no doubt that a lot of the funding that came for various terrorist organisations came from various Saudi sources”.  He immediately qualified this by stating (without evidence) “I don’t think it was ever government-sanctioned money and I believe that the Saudis have realised that this whole activity is a cancer to themselves”45.  Eyal is no impartial witness but a UK government mouthpiece, illustrated by his response to another question about UK: Saudi co-operation that “far from aiding and abetting a dictatorship using repressive measures, we have paradoxically, given the media coverage of Saudi Arabia, engaged with a Government who have tried to be very innovative on the subject of counter-terrorism”46a.  Yet Saudi Arabia, a dictatorship, finds little difficulty in cracking down on other religions or even drinking alcohol—one might think ‘terrorist funding’ not beyond them if the will existed.  Saudi ‘innovation’ has included sending 1,500 troops to Bahrain to suppress pro-democracy protests in March 2011, and more recently adapting British police training to identify future torture victims46b. 


Staying on Saudi Arabia, but moving onto the Sunni group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), ex MI6 head Richard Dearlove spoke at the RUSI itself in July 2014 citing funding and encouragement from Saudi Arabia and Qatar as central to ISIS growth.  While the Saudi Embassy vigorously denied supporting ISIS “financially morally or through any other means”, and urged the media to “take an in-depth look into the financial backing and organisational structure” of ISIS47, one can surmise they did not mean this.  Dearlove’s speech, and this exhortation, sunk like a stone in the British media48.  It does nonetheless seem plausible that until the abrupt dismissal of Saudi Head of Intelligence Prince Bandar bin Sultan in March 2014, from 2012 while he was in post Saudis pursued a pro-ISIS line.  Which puts in perspective Eyal’s apologetics of March 2013…The key point is that (as Craig Unger has put it) “the complex, impenetrable, and unregulated system of Islamic charities actually enabled Saudis to have it both ways.  Through their generous charitable donations they could both establish their bona fides as good Muslims and even buy ‘protection’ from militants.  And thanks to the unregulated nature of the charities, they could do so in a way that gave them plausible deniability to the West”49.


Aside from funding specific groups, difficult to prove beyond a shadow of doubt in many cases, the more general influence of Saudi-funded religious intolerance creating a pool within which jihadists swim is easier to substantiate.  As far back as 2007 the detailed influence of Wahabbism in the UK was chronicled by scholar of Islam Dennis Maceoin, replete with misogyny, homophobia and religious sectarianism of the most visceral kind50.  Yet Wahabbism barely features in Pantucci’s book; the founder gets a couple of name-checks (p.9/10) and then a final reference to a 1990s recruitment drive of fighters to go overseas (p.96).  You would be forgiven, reading Pantucci, for thinking Wahabbism, ideology of the Saudi ruling house and propagated abroad through massive funding programmes51, is of little current significance.  Yet, as Pantucci states in his conclusion “with events in Syria it appears that the threat may be growing once again” (p.292). 


The ‘threat’ is radical Islamism, and in any dispassionate treatment the fact ISIS and the Saudi rulers have Wahabbism in common would be considered significant.  There are two versions of this argument; the simplistic neo-con equation of Saudi Arabia and ISIS, underestimating antagonism between the two52, and the more sophisticated take, as provided by, for example, Abdel Bari Atwan, who after tracing connections (and pointing to reports the Saudis have spent $5 billion arming Syrian rebels), ends with the salutary warning that “the Saudi regime, rightly, feels that the declaration of the caliphate, and the overt criticism levelled at the House of Saud by the extremists, constitute a very real threat to its existence.  That the challenge is mounted within the unique framework of the House of Saud’s own construct—Wahabbism—makes it all the more potent”53. 


If Pantucci can perhaps be forgiven for not mentioning (even if critically) the allegation Saudis sponsored ISIS in the book for reasons of timing (going to press deadlines), later articles have no excuse.  In neither August 201454 nor an October 2014 paper Pantucci co-authored mention such.  This RUSI ‘Threat Assessment’ inelegantly titled ‘The Threat of ISIS to the UK’ mentions ISIS splitting from Al Qaida, but not Wahabbism (or Saudi Arabia).  Their ‘narrative’ is described in geographical terms—“protection, consolidation and further expansion of its declared caliphate’s borders”55 and social terms—“providing social services, law and some semblance of state order”56.  Wahabbist theology is conspicuously absent.  Here Pantucci is mirroring the British state, anxious to downplay any religious element in Islamism…






I have already mentioned Pantucci’s RUSI tenure, and his boss Jonathan Eyal’s unimpressive response regarding Saudi Arabia before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. In case it be thought the two are not parroting a common (evasive) line, consider other RUSI contributions on the Kingdom, which follow an obsequious pattern. A January 2014 RUSI analysis of Iran’s nuclear programme is explicitly couched in terms of considering the Kingdom’s military (and other) options; no such coverage of Israel’s nuclear programme.  While this can be excused on the grounds the paper’s author is a Saudi academic57, another contribution cannot.  This is the (unintentionally) amusing piece on a promotion (fittingly 1/4/14) by Michael Stephens with an opening paragraph “even though he may be 68 years old, the appointment of Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al-Saud to Deputy Crown Prince suggests that Saudi Arabia is paving the way for a careful transition of power to a younger generation of princes”58.  As if more proof of RUSI toadying to repressive regimes were needed, how about this gem from ‘Research Associate’ Matthew Willis in the RUSI Journal (that I suspect the late Ian Tomlinson’s family disagree with) “training courses for Bahrain defence personnel…from the UK is more likely to promote a measured and discriminating approach to crowd control—something in line with British policing standards—than training received from Saudi Arabia or any number of other providers”.  Warming to his theme, Willis opined that “suppressing dissent is not something most countries have problems with; it is doing so in an acceptable manner that poses the challenge, and that is where the UK’s efforts in Bahrain can help”59.  Indeed so: the paradoxically-named (government-backed) ‘Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’ put the number of dead protesters at 30, opposition forces claim 88.  While Michael Gove baulked (in October 2015) at a £5.9 million contract for training Saudi prison warders60, the Conservative government still sees Saudi Arabia as a ‘priority market’61. 


RUSI were so concerned Richard Dearlove used their manor to criticise Saudi Arabia in July 2014 that ‘Senior Research Fellow’ Shashank Joshi sprang to the Saudi’s defence, not refuting Dearlove but warning that he was likely to “irritate his former colleagues in the intelligence services and the Government itself…these are exceptionally strong words for a former intelligence chief”62.  It is important here to distinguish between Dearlove’s forward threat assessment minimising the Syrian jihadi phenomenon (wrong) and his take on how ISIS grew in the first place: another matter.  Joshi absurdly states Dearlove recalling Prince Bandar, head of Saudi intelligence, telling him before 9/11 “the time is not far off in the Middle East when it will be ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them” is an “extraordinary anecdote”.  Most memorable anecdotes usually are: a fatuous thing to say, unless Joshi is implying Dearlove was lying?  What vexes Joshi, and no doubt the RUSI generally, is the PR fall-out from Dearlove’s speech: “for someone of Dearlove’s status to cast Saudi Arabia in such a critical light is therefore highly unusual”.  That may be so, but is hardly the point: what matters is Saudi actions, something RUSI want to avoid proper discussion of. Not just RUSI: we are again indebted to Wikileaks for revealing the British government traded votes with the Saudis in 2013 to ensure the UK and Saudi Arabia were both elected to the UN Human Rights Commission63.  They certainly have experience: Saudi Arabia executed 423 people between 2007-2012, 79 in that last year alone64.


There are three key problems for any attempts to close down discussion about Saudi support for ISIS: the November 2015 slaughter in Paris, that of March 2016 in Brussels and July 2016 in Nice.  While it is to be expected Douglas Murray of the Henry Jackson Society attacked the Saudis65, he was not alone: Saudi funding of mosques in Belgium has also been criticised66, and one provocative New York Times piece described Saudi Arabia as ‘An ISIS That Has Made It’67.  More tellingly, German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has publicly denounced Saudi Arabia for funding Wahabbi mosques because “many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany”.  In this he was echoing a BND (German intelligence service) assessment that Saudi Arabia is at risk of becoming a destabilising force in the Arab world68. 


These arguments Saudi apologists like RUSI cannot sweep under the carpet indefinitely.  Which is not to say they aren’t trying.  In response to a January 2016 announcement the British government was going to examine foreign funding and support for UK jihadist groups, Shashank Joshi (as featured above) tried to muddy the waters, stating the UK didn’t have the power to investigate financial flows alone and such an inquiry would be “a little bit of navel gazing”69.  How convenient.  Yet even the UN is critical of the UK supplying arms to Saudi Arabia70 used to brutal effect in the Yemen, where airstrikes have systematically targeted civilians71.  Needless to say, such actions barely feature on the BBC, yet equivalent strikes by Russia in Syria do, in great detail.  What matters, it seems, is not so much the fact of carpet-bombing, but whether those doing it are allies or not.  Quite straightforward once you get the hang of it.  And RUSI certainly have, it would appear.




Having established, I trust, that Pantucci’s blind spots, including deference to powerful sources and interests, apply to the RUSI generally, all still needs explanation.  Quite rightly, Spinwatch has drawn attention to the lack of transparency shown by the Henry Jackson Society, especially regarding their funding sources72.  Yet Spinwatch’s allied ‘powerbase wiki’ (following the form of that fool’s encyclopaedia Wikipedia) lets the RUSI massively off the hook—entry last updated in August 2013 with no criticism whatsoever, or questions about finances. 


Asking questions does not guarantee answers, even to the most obvious one, how much does the RUSI rely on Saudi (and Qatari) money to function?  In this respect, their accounts are virtually useless.  The latest published73 show business is booming, with a jump in research income from £2,303,089 to £3,104,260 in 2014-15, and of subscriptions from £507,434 to £520,952 in the same period (p.8).  Things are going so well that in 2015 RUSI purchased the freehold of their 61 Whitehall premises.  As to who exactly is providing RUSI with this research/subscription income, the accounts say not a word.  The 2014-15 Annual Report gives away little concerning the Middle East either, though the fact RUSI now has a Qatar office is indicative.  RUSI has contributed to recent UK Defence Reviews, and developing counter-extremist ‘resilience’ measures shows which side of the tracks they are on. 


A roll-call of RUSI luminaries past and present reads like a spook/military bean-feast.  Senior Vice-President is General David Petraeus (always available for female reporters), the Chair (until his replacement 1/9/15 by William Hague former Foreign Secretary74) was Lord Hutton, whose report whitewashed David Kelly’s death.  John Scarlett ex-MI6 is an international adviser, Jonathan Evans (ex-MI5 DG) is a Senior RUSI Associate, and even Richard Norton-Taylor of the Guardian gets in on the act, as Council member and journal contributor75.  Norton-Taylor fits the bill as RUSI ‘useful idiot’—-he persistently and uncritically uses the Guardian to plug RUSI material and quotes personnel with no hint he is in their orbit.  Yet if he wants to say something ‘radical’ Norton-Taylor uses CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade) instead!76.  Perhaps the deferential old duffer was in the audience on 15/6/15 when Petraeus presented Henry Kissinger with the 35th RUSI Chesney Gold Medal for being (in the former’s words) a “statesman of extraordinary accomplishment”.  Whereas for me, and others aware of the history well-marshalled by the late Christopher Hitchens, Kissinger was (and remains) a war criminal like George Bush and Tony Blair, albeit with more gravitas77, not difficult I concede.




That the RUSI, established by Wellington in 1829, is an establishment fiefdom is unremarkable, but a disturbing closeness to government and spooks allows RUSI to imperceptibly (and corrosively) influence public discourse on security matters in a way unhealthy for democracy.  RUSI uses its establishment legitimacy, and proximity, to steer debates in spook-friendly directions, along the way incorporating sections of the liberal intelligentsia.  A good example is their July 2015 Panel Report ‘A Democratic License to Operate’ which essentially called (in the post-Snowden era) for mass state surveillance to be accepted, but merely put on a legislative basis.  The likes of Heather Brooke and Martha Lane-Fox were overwhelmed by input from Jonathan Evans, Sir David Omand, John Scarlett and John Grieve, himself well-known to NFB readers78. 


RUSI’s corrosive role is further illustrated by a crucial article on in June 2015 by David Wearing of CAAT. Citing specific cases, he amply shows how RUSI is certainly not the impartial think-tank it is presented as, not least on the BBC (and as we have seen in the Guardian).  A BBC article by Michael Stephens, Director of RUSI Qatar, on Qatar and Islamic State, “describes Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s goals in Syria in broadly uncritical terms, with questions only raised over the competence of how policy was executed”.  Another Stephens article for the BBC “followed a similar pattern, explaining the Saudi point of view, accepting its priorities essentially uncritically, and merely commenting (in this case approvingly) on the policy’s effectiveness”.  Wearing goes on to say that “research for this article did not identify any RUSI pieces for the BBC News website that took a similar approach to the Iranian regime, Hamas, Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, or any other opponent of the West and its regional allies, explaining their point of view, accepting their priorities essentially uncritically, and merely commenting on questions of competence and policy effectiveness”79.  This captures accurately RUSI methodology, on the BBC and elsewhere.  If this review spurs those who have hitherto ignored RUSI to put it on the investigative radar, I will be satisfied.


RUSI have positive and negative reasons for circumspection regarding Saudi Arabia/Qatar.  Positively, lucrative revenue streams accrue in this key market from such judicious evasion.  Negatively, the threat of being sued, as happened80 to Rachel Ehrenfeld after her book ‘Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed—and How to Stop it’.  She reported (including his denial) the allegation that the “former chairman of the National Commercial Bank (NCB) in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz, for example, is alleged to have deposited tens of millions of dollars in London and New York directly into terrorist accounts—the accounts of the same terrorists who were implicated in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in which 224 people were killed, including 12 Americans”81.   For that, the (late) Bin Mahfouz prosecuted Ehrenfeld in the British libel courts, on the pretext 23 books were sold to the UK, but did not (as far as I know) go after the author of the article she cited82.  Mahfouz himself is the subject of a fascinating chapter in neglected classic ‘Forbidden Truth’ by Brisard and Dasquie83.  As for the Ehrenfeld libel case, a British court awarded large costs which she doughtily refused to pay, resulting in the August 2010 US ‘Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act’ designed to protect US authors and publishers from the British libel courts.  Then there was the 2006 book by J Millard Burr and Robert O Collins ‘Alms for Jihad’ pulped by the Cambridge University Press.  Little danger of that fate befalling Pantucci on the Saudi account.




The book, as we have seen, has good points, but major flaws also.  I would welcome clarification from Pantucci regarding the ‘Rauf papers’ and his access to them (or not).  Far from the free-wheeling dashing (Raffles?) figure ‘Raff’ Pantucci might imagine himself to be (especially when strutting his stuff as meritocratically-appointed ‘Consultant At Large’ for literary agents Artellus his father co-founded84a), he is a mundane inhabitant of Grub Street. Pantucci’s LinkedIn profile is explicit—“my career has mostly been in the think-tank industry, but I have done freelance journalism and tailored research for the private sector.  I am open to commissions on both”.


Pantucci is not genuinely open-minded, he simply takes the side of the most powerful in any situation.  Graphically illustrated by his defending MI5 when criticised by SO15 insiders in August 2016 for repeatedly preventing them arresting radical Islamist Anjem Choudhury.  He commented “I would be very surprised if you found a directive somewhere in [MI5] or somewhere else that said ‘Don’t touch him because he’s more useful out there than he is inside”84b.  No way does he know that: but he just wants to appease MI5.


He is only really ‘Open’ to whoever pays the most, hence his recently branching out beyond UK ‘terrorism’.  Pantucci was well on-message with the ‘Osborne Doctrine’, whereby Britain sought to repair the PR damage wrought by David Cameron meeting the Dalai Llama in May 2012 by abasing itself towards the Chinese regime of President Xi Jinping.  As a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences while Xi was Shanghai Communist Party boss (Xi Jinping 2007-12, Pantucci 2009-13)85, Pantucci is ideally placed to participate: his laudatory empathetic articles on the Chinese regime’s problems (re-posted on the site he runs with RUSI research fellow Sarah Lain and former HSBC China executive Sue Anne Tay are puke-inducing.


Using Wearing’s methodology critiquing the RUSI subservience to British state interests (deference/competence and effectivity analysis only), Pantucci achieves the same result with China as the beneficiary.  Sample rhetoric “China and India are two rising Asian giants…the time is right to strike and lay out a joint agenda for Afghanistan’s future post-2014”86.  A January 2014 article in line with the Osborne Doctrine suggested the UK “address” the “human rights component” of China’s counter-terrorism policy by exporting the UK’s CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy, as “engaging now offers a moment to influence the situation positively”87.  Yet in the book Pantucci admits that the security services have “still very little understanding of how to counter and de-radicalise” (p.292).  Hope Chinese spooks with cheque-books missed that.


Pantucci might also hope Chinese observers have forgotten his robust article co-authored in 2007 calling for NATO to be used as a “forum for engaging Europe in Asia in a way that enhances transatlantic cooperation and creates a countervailing force to Chinese dominated regional organizations”.  Rather confrontational, urging the EU to “draw up a list of items, with American consultation, of what items should be prohibited from export to China…and rephrase the stipulation of the [arms] embargo that prohibits members from selling ‘whole’ weapons and weapons systems to include some reference to weapons parts that are sold”.  As the article put it “this last requirement is increasingly crucial, especially in the light of reports coming out of the UK that strategic export licenses (which are needed to sell arms abroad) worth $131 million (£70 million) were granted to China in the period between July 2005 and June 2006”88.


Another article Pantucci co-wrote in 2011 stated the “crackdown that has followed the Arab revolutions puts in doubt China’s commitment to political reform…China …is likely to continue to suppress demands for democracy at home…the EU will have to remain vocal and consistent on China’s human rights and internal reform processes, even if it incites Chinese anger and results in a reaction in other fields”89.  These pieces pre-dated the Osborne doctrine, Pantucci’s tune has changed since.


Consider Pantucci’s January 2014 aside about “particular violence” in Tibet in 2008, the clear implication (as it is bracketed with 2009 Xinjiang violence central to his subsequent advice on CONTEST) being that the UK has no problem with China’s illegal occupation of Tibet.  As for advising the Chinese government on ‘counter-terrorism’, a suggestion both grotesque and laughable. 


Not so funny was the Met Police raiding the homes of three anti-Xi Jinping demonstrators during his 2015 visit to Britain90. Even less amusing is China cracking down on dissidents including anybody printing or selling books the regime does not like.  This includes abducting booksellers from Hong Kong91, a conscious strategy, spelt out in the leaked ‘Guangdong Action Plan’ circulating in the middle of January 201692.


The chronology is relevant here.  In late December 2015 the Chinese regime announced ‘anti-terror’ legislation creating a new counter-terror agency, response forces, and extended censorship93.   Days after the legislation, Pantucci weighed in, deferentially, his most substantive criticism being that there is “seemingly no discussion about how to tackle the underlying causes of radicalisation”94.  Given this was early January, Pantucci could be forgiven for not mentioning the ‘Guangdong Action Plan’.  However by the 1st March 2016, when he asked ‘Can the EU and China work together on violent extremism?’95 Pantucci had no such excuse.  While accepting that the EU and China disagree on whether the World Uyghur Congress are terrorists Pantucci claims “discussion around these questions in Beijing is in fact a fairly sophisticated one, with some advocating for a more nuanced response than others”96.  The 2011 emphasis on human rights (see above) has vanished, instead Pantucci concludes by suggesting the “EU and China can cooperate…dealing with a problem that menaces nationals from both countries in an increasingly equal manner”97.  To not mention what China is actually doing to dissent within and without is unpardonable.  As one commentator put it “the party’s investigators have sweeping powers of detention, interrogation and asset seizure.  They operate above and beyond China’s façade of a legal system.  Some old men die awaiting due process, targets of all ages have jumped from buildings, taken overdoses or hanged themselves”98. 


Pantucci’s mentor Nigel Inkster (and he is not alone99) has criticised “a propensity on the part of some areas of the UK government to see China as little more than a giant hypermarket…it does not represent an adequate assessment of what it is we’re dealing with…if the UK demonstrates any vulnerabilities, these will likely be taken advantage of”100.  Hardly a ringing endorsement of the Cameron government’s plan to have China help run Hinkley Point nuclear power plant, initially delayed by his Sino-sceptic successor Theresa May.  Though the deal eventually went ahead, May replacing Cameron as PM (and Osborne’s departure to the dustbin of history) in July 2016 creates problems for Pantucci’s pro-China apologetics, definitely not flavour of the month101.


A symbolically fitting end; might I suggest for Pantucci’s ‘tailored research’ dictatorships with money form an orderly queue (behind the Saudis and Chinese), taking care not to speak to any ‘Free Tibet’ activists demonstrating outside, or bump into mules delivering court transcripts and spooks slithering back into the shadows.  The rest of us should approach this book with due caution, reading between the lines.  But do buy it.






1) Raffaello Pantucci speaking at Henry Jackson Society event to publicise his book 20/4/15 transcript at henryjacksonsociety. org

2) Kenan Malik is particularly cutting in this respect regarding 7/7 bomber Mohammad Siddique Khan’s video in ‘From Fatwa to Jihad’ Atlantic Books 2009 p.117-19

3) Raffaello Pantucci speaking at Henry Jackson Society op. cit.

4) Prospect Magazine 23/4/15

5) London Review of Books Vol. 37 No. 16 27/8/15 p.10

6) Cited in The Times 15/5/15 (Fiona Hamilton: who else!)

7) Crown Prosecution Service Press Release 8/7/10

8) The Independent 25/9/14 (Emily Dugan)

9) See for example my articles ‘Again Plucking The White Rose: Yorkshire Revisited’ Notes From the Borderland issue 2 1998 p.34-43, Notes From the Borderland issue 4 2000 p.54, Notes From the Borderland issue 8 on the revived ‘Redwatch Revisited especially pages 10-19

10) see ‘At War With the Truth’ (1993) and ‘At War With the Universe’ (1999) on Age0nt Hepple/Matthews. Both NFB pamphlets

11) Quote from Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory ‘The Suicide Factory’ Harper Collins 2006 p.108 (see also p.151) and earlier ‘Abu Qatada’s Comfortable British Jihad’ (Jamestown) Terrorism Monitor Vol.6 issue 14

12) On this see Sean O’Neill and Daniel  op. cit. p.155-71

13) Daily Telegraph 23/11/08 (Andrew Alderson)

14) accessed 9/11/15

15) Counter-Terrorism Command’s CTC Sentinel Vol.5 issue 74 ‘A Biography of Rashid Rauf’ (Raffaello Pantucci) footnote 34

16) ‘Extremism: Focus on the Positive’ Prospect Magazine blog 8/10/15 (Raffaello Pantucci)

17) Notes From the Borderland issue 9 (2009) p.17-24 has the (uncensored) J7 Campaign critique and my (unanswered) reply.

18) ‘British Students Struggle With Rising Tuitions’ Field Report (Raffaello Pantucci) 10/4/07

19)  ‘(Alleged) Qaida-Documents Surface in German Trial’ 12/3/12


21) Daily Telegraph (no by-line)1/5/12

22) Madeleine Gardner was a US Women’s Army Corps Major during World War 2, she died in 1983

23) Raffaello Pantucci ‘Counter-Productive counter-terror’, The Guardian Comment is free 30/11/10.  Some FBI cases are so poorly constructed, entrapment seems a logical explanation, not least the original World Trade Centre bomb plot in 1993.

24) ‘The fuse lit by the 7/7 bombers’ Sunday Telegraph 5/7/15 (Raffaello Pantucci)

25) Birmingham Mail 17/2/14 quote (Amardeep Bassey)

26) Sunday Mercury 27/10/12

27) ‘A Question of Trust: Report of the Investigatory Powers Review’ David Anderson QC June 2015 p.339 (Case Study 1) states “bulk data enabled GCHQ to trigger a manhunt for a known terrorist linked to previous attacks on UK citizens…GCHQ was able to pick up the trail by identifying patterns of activity online believed to be unique to the suspect…a network was successfully disrupted before any attack could take place”.  Rauf was not named, but Sean O’Neill in The Times 13/6/15 identifies Rauf and the 2006 liquid bomb plot.

28) Kenan Malik ‘From Fatwa to Jihad’ Atlantic Books 2009 p.99 (98-104 covers the Mullah Boys)

29) Ian Herbert The Independent 2/4/09

30) Hope Not Hate July-August 2015 p.27-9

31) Hope Not Hate July-August 2015 p.27

32) Hope Not Hate July-August 2015 p.28

33) See the excellent ‘Black Star: Britain’s Asian Youth Movements’ (Anandi RamaMurthy) p.120-47 Pluto 2013 on all this.

34) ‘Black Star’ (op. cit.) p.79/118/134 references Big Flame’s involvement, see also for example ‘Bradford 12: The Resistance Continues’ Big Flame 100 November 1981 p.16, and for the underlying approach ‘The Past Against Our Future’ (Big Flame) 1980

35) ‘Black Star’ p.148-70 traces this process, as does ‘From Fatwa to Jihad’ p.36-79, both in Bradford and nationally.

36) Inquiry Report (Crescent Relief) Charity No. 1087724 29/9/11 p.3

37) ibid. p.9

38) ibid. p.11

39) See the article on the (fascist) International Third Position by Matthew Kalman & Larry O’Hara Notes From the Borderland issue 1 1997 p.3-6.  ‘Adopting The Position’ Notes From the Borderland issue 4 2001 p.3-4 covers the Charity Commission’s pathetic response. Also the ongoing Hope Not Hate charity scam, covered this issue and last.

40) ‘A biography of Rashid Rauf’ (Raffaello Pantucci) Combatting Terrorism Center (USA) 24/7/12

41) Crispin Black ‘7-7 The London Bombs—What Went Wrong?’ Gibson Square 2005 p.31

42) See Paul Stott UEA PhD Thesis ‘British Jihadism: The Detail and the Denial’ 2014 p.159

43) Before the event: ‘9/11 Secrets could turn Saudis into pariahs’ (Michael Burleigh) The Times 23/4/16.  The documents themselves were reased 15/7/16.  They are on-line at, see also

44) On-line at [last accessed 13/9/15]

45) Jonathan Eyal answer to Question 186 Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee 5/3/13

46a) Jonathan Eyal answer to Question 184 Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee 5/3/13

46b) ‘British Police sccused of helping Saudi torturers’ The Times 8/6/16 (Catherine Philp/Michael Savage)

47) Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia (London) Press Statement 8/7/14

48) The exception was Patrick Cockburn in The Independent 12/7/14, see also his ‘The Rise of Islamic State’ Verso 2015 p.105-110

49) Craig Unger ‘House of Bush House Of Saud’ Gibson Square 2005 p.181 (see p.177-83/272-4 on Al Qaeda funding), see also Jean-Charles Brisard & Guillaume Dasquie ‘Forbidden Truth’ Thunders Mouth (New York) 2002 p.79-93

50) Reported in The Independent 1/11/07 (Paul Vallely)

51) ‘Saudi Arabia funding fuels jihadist terror’ Vancouver Sun (on-line) 28/5/13 (Jonathan Manthorpe)

52) See the occasionally polemical, but nonetheless fascinating, overview by Salim Mansur ‘ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the West’ 14/6/15 [last accessed 7/10/15].  James Woolsey (ex-CIA) is on the Advisory Board, and ex-Bush UN Ambassador John Bolton prominent.

53) Abdel Bari Atwan ‘The Digital Caliphate’ Saqi 2015 quotes from p.94 and p.215 (see p.200-215 on the Saudi-Wahabbi relationship), also ‘Saudis fund Sunni army to curb Iran and topple Assad’ The Times 13/5/15 (Tom Coghlan/Hugh Tomlinson/Michael Evans/Ahmad Dawood)

54) ‘Is ISIS a Threat to the UK?’ RUSI Analysis 21/8/14

55) Raffaello Pantucci and Clare Ellis ‘The Threat of ISIS to the UK’ RUSI Threat Assessment October 2014 p.4

56) Pantucci and Ellis  op. cit. p.5

57) ‘Iran’s Nuclear Diplomacy: A Response from Saudi Arabia’ Dr Saud Mousaed Al Tamamy (King Saud University) RUSI 26/1/14

58) ‘Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince: A Sign of Real Transition Ahead?’ Michael Stephens, RUSI Analysis 1/4/14

59) ‘Britain and Bahrain in 2011’ RUSI Journal Vol. 157 No.5 October 2012 Point 8 (Matthew Willis)

60) In The Guardian 14/10/15 Alan Travis takes issue with Gove and ends with sentiments favouring the contract.  As usual, Guardian liberalism is not even skin-deep.

61) The Observer 18/10/15 (Jamie Doward)

62) ‘Islamist Terror is little threat to the West. And Saudis are backing Iraqi jihad’: is this former spy chief right? Daily Telegraph blog 8/7/14 (Shashank Joshi).

63) ‘UK & Saudi Arabia in secret deal over human rights council place’ The Guardian 30/9/15 (Owen Bowcott)

64) International Business Times 18/2/14 (Ludivica Iaccino)

65) ‘Why are the Gulf States bankrolling IS barbarians?’ The Sun 18/11/15 (Douglas Murray)

66) ‘How the influence of Saudi Arabia sowed the seeds of radicalism’ The Independent 24/11/15 (Leo Cendrowicz)

67) New York Times 20/11/15 (Kamel Daoud)

68) Quoted in Daily Telegraph 7/6/15 (Justin Huggler)

69) The Observer 17/1/16 (Mark Townsend)

70) Ban Ki-moon speech reported in The Guardian 6/2/16 (Patrick Wintour)

71) See summary of report in The Independent 28/1/16 (Charlie Cooper) and in the same paper a critique of Foreign Office apologetics for the Saudis (Chris Green)

72) ‘The Henry Jackson Society and the degeneration of British neo-conservatism : liberal interventionism, Islamophobia and the ‘war on terror’’ 11/6/15 available on  (thankfully no sub-title)

73) Charity No. 210639 signed off 25/6/15, covering period ending 31/3/15

74) ‘William Hague to be next Chairman of RUSI’ RUSI News 28/7/15

75) See for instance ‘Spy Fiction & Intelligence in the Post-War World’ RUSI Journal Vol. 159 No. 5 October 2014

76) See (all on-line at The Guardian) ‘RUSI Report on extremism’ 15/2/08, ‘The Lessons of Costly Conflicts’ 23/4/14, ‘Who needs Trident’ 28/9/15, and using CAAT (but not RUSI when surely relevant) ‘UK-Saudi Arabia: the new special relationship’ Guardian defence and security blog 7/10/15.

77) Christopher Hitchens ‘The Trial of Henry Kissinger’ Atlantic Books 2012 [originally 2001]

78) See ‘The Thieving Magpie, A Peacock & One Lesser-Spotted Grieve’ Notes From the Borderland issue 4 2001 p.25

79) ‘Why is the BBC presenting RUSI as objective analysts of the Middle East?’ David Wearing 12/6/15

80) Published by Bonus Books Chicago 2005

81) Rachel Ehrenfeld ‘Funding Evil’ p.22

82) Kevin Dowling ‘The Ties that bind: Barclays, A Bin Laden Relative, the Carlyle and the BCCI boys’ Online journal 3/11/01, Rachel Ehrenfeld ‘The chill of libel tourism’ The Guardian Comment is Free 9/6/09, and ‘Funding Evil’ p.xi-xv

83) Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie ‘Forbidden Truth: US-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for Bin Laden’ Thunders Mouth (New York) 2002 p.115-39.  That the book may have extensive French intelligence input does not invalidate the content.

84a) See

84b) quoted in ‘MI5 stopped Scotland Yard taking Choudary down, sources claim’ Daily Telegraph 22/8/16 (Martin Evans/Ben Farmer)

85) Information from LinkedIn profile

86) ‘China and India: Time to Cooperate on Afghanistan’ 23/10/13  chinaincentral 

87) ‘The Route to Better Relationships with China Lies Along the Silk Road’ 10/1/14

88) Quotes from Christopher Griffin and Raffaello Pantucci ‘A Treacherous Triangle?: China and the Transatlantic Alliance’ SAIS Review (John Hopkins University) Vol. XXVII No. 1 Winter-Spring 2007

89) European Council on Foreign Relations Policy Memo ‘China’s Janus-Faced Response To the Arab Revolutions’ June 2011 p.4/5 (Jonas Parello-Plesner and Raffaello Pantucci)

90) ‘Demands for Met to be investigated for raid on Chinese dissident’s home’ The Independent 27/10/15 (David Connett/Nigel Morris/Jamie Merrill)

91) ‘Thousands protest in Hong Kong over publishers; booksellers worried’ Reuters 10/1/16 (Donny Kwok/Kalum Chen)

92) ‘China Plan to hit rebels overseas’ Sunday Times 24/1/16 (Michael Sheridan), also see his article in the Sunday Times magazine 15/5/16 p.12-19

93) ‘China passes controversial new anti-terror laws’ BBC on line 28/12/15 (Steven Evans)

94) ‘Will China’s new law tackle terror?’ (Raffaello Pantucci) BBC on line 2/1/16

95) 1/3/16 (Raffaello Pantucci)

96) ibid.

97) ibid.

98) Sunday Times magazine 15/5/16 p.15/17 (Michael Sheridan)

99) ‘Supping With the Devil’ Daily Mail 24/10/15 (Dominic Sandbrook)

100) Quoted in ‘China and the Osborne Doctrine’ (Carrie Gracie) BBC on-line 19/10/15

101) ‘How To Avoid Nuclear Fall-out’ Telegraph online 4/8/16


INTRODUCTION (Larry O'Hara 13/11/16) 

Four months before the 23/6/16 Referendum on EU membership I wrote the article below, developing my views on the case against EU membership. There is clearly lots more that can be said, about the referendum itself (see the article the EU Referendum and after for a few pointers).  I hoped, but did not expect the Leave campaign to win, but they did.

The article below is worth circulation now for a number of reasons

1) It hopefully confounds the idiotic view that there is no Left-Green case for leaving the EU.

2) After the Referendum, rather than seize opportunities the vote offers, the Green Party leadership (and many in the Labour Party too) have learnt nothing from the mass rejection of the EU, and instead want to do everything possible to actually prevent us exiting the EU, so out of touch are they.

3) The detailed analysis of Green Party policy below hopefully substantiates my point that in supporting pro-EU forces and vacating the political fray (eg at the Richmond by-election) a strategic and tactical error of massive importance has been made.  And should be reversed.  For example, rather than simply accusing Leave campaigners of being liars over the £350 million per week promised the NHS (which did happen) where are the unions and Leftists demanding this money be produced? Nowhere, instead wallowing in self-pity about the evils of Brexit.

4) I did not join the Green Party 26 years or so ago in order to stand aside for reactionary toads like the Liberal Democrats, their twitching political corpse still writhing from supporting the Tories in coalition, for which they were rightly punished. Quislings like Tim Farron calling for a second referendum deserve studied contempt, at the very least.

A final point: while I disagree with their perspectives, one can but admire the relentlessness with which those who support the EU are straining every sinew to overturn the Referendum result, aided by the mainstream broadcasters (Sky/ITV/Channel 4/BBC), numerous supporters in parliament, and the legions of lawyers and the like (including judges) who are doing what they can to assist.  Indeed the very terms 'hard Brexit' and 'soft Brexit' are patent ideological/propaganda constructs, which the media will not of course point out.  Those like myself who support an exit from the EU in order to advance a Left-Green agenda should take note and show equal if not greater determination.  We are but few, but that should be no deterrent.  More on all this later...



(Green Party member since 1988/Editor Notes From the Borderland magazine)


The virtual ink has dried on the terms agreed between PM David Cameron and his allies in the semi-elaborate charade that was the ‘negotiation process’ between the UK and EU Heads of government, and we know the deadline date for a decision; 23rd June this year. It is now time for all interested in the future of radical politics in the UK, indeed the UK itself, to take a stand. Whatever happens, the EU issue will not go away: but the terrain of struggle will be clarified. What follows below is a contribution to debate aimed primarily at those in the Green Party and/or the Left, though hopefully of interest to a broader audience. I readily concede political arguments are rarely decided by rational discourse alone. Which is why although throughout this piece I challenge some more obvious (and outrageous) pro-EU mantras, I fully accept minds will largely be made up on the basis of more intangible feelings and emotions, including the way EU opponents are perceived, rightly or wrongly. In that respect, outlining my own trajectory is as valid way as any other to introduce the issues.  I make no apology for referring in passing to esoteric Leftist texts: even if obscure, still relevant.

One thing I am convinced of; if, as at time of writing, opposing the EU and envisaging life beyond is seen as largely the prerogative of right-wing Tories, UKIP and the Daily Mail/Express, the campaign is doomed. I certainly have no problem with the likes of Michael Gove (or David Davies) joining the fray, and welcome the way Gove’s opposition is couched in constructive non-racist terms. Nonetheless, if discussions about the EU are framed in even subliminally racist terms such as obsessing about immigration, and benefits available to ‘foreigners’, that campaign will remain in the slow lane, rightly heading towards a dead end, whatever polls might say.


Let me start by saying I unequivocally favour a ‘No’ vote in the referendum, a position long held, though not where I started from. In 1975, as a Leftist Labour Party member, I was agnostic on the EU, indeed though too young to vote (17) I might well have abstained. This is because while having little love for the EEC (as it was then known) I nonetheless felt, as an internationalist, that there was something a little chauvinist about opposing the EEC, and felt uncomfortable with that. I noticed with distaste Enoch Powell’s presence in the ‘No Campaign’, though should have paid more heed to the fact Tony Benn, Barbara Castle and Peter Shore were there too.  As too the fact that the International Socialists (who later became the Socialist Workers Party: SWP) also supported a No vote.

After the 1975 Referendum, Europe was off the immediate political agenda, but after a few years in the Socialist Workers Party (hereafter SWP) which I left not because they were too radical, but not radical enough, I began to take a greater interest. I realized that leaving the EU (as I term it from now on) was integral to the policy platforms of not just the Labour Left (with their Alternative Economic Strategy) but also Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party (in particular the SNP 79 Group, including one Alex Salmond), for broadly similar reasons. The key reason, which still guides me today as a Left-leaning Green Party member, was this. To implement radical social economic and political change, various forces and interests will have to be confronted, including the EU. Measures to nationalise (I prefer the term socialise) industry, pull out of trade treaties, restrict the market and introduce popular planning from below into the economy will come up against multinationals and their agents, the EU institutions and treaties, all designed to facilitate the free flow of labour and capital.

As the 1980s progressed, while losing no Leftist fervor (I was proud to be in Big Flame until its end in 1985) I realized ever more acutely the limitations of what I term the ‘Last Century Left’, encompassing extra-parliamentary groups such as the SWP and the Labour Left. On the one hand the SWP wanted a re-run of what they imagine happened in the 1917 Russian Revolution. The SWP’s take on this was wide of the mark: they have never understood Gramsci’s differentiation between Russia (where civil society was nothing) and Western Europe (where it is everything). The Labour Left for their part did not appreciate the policy initiative they possessed in 1973 and even 1979 (Alternative Economic Strategy:AES) was being eroded and then destroyed by first Neil Kinnock and then the whole New Labour Project. I was certainly sympathetic to the AES for the potential political space it opened up for groups to the Left, and wrote a series of articles for Big Flame newspaper on this very topic. Yet rather than develop new realistic policies in tune with the modern world the Labour Left have ever since confined themselves to repeating policy demands (slogans) like mantras, believing that adding up the demands of various progressive causes and interest groups is a strategy, it isn’t. A shopping list is exactly that, a recipe for eternal opposition, not government.


I was inspired by the German Greens, especially their 1983 programme ‘Purpose In Work, Solidarity in Life’, and the visionary early writings of East German dissident Rudolf Bahro. To me, German Greens at this time combined old Left anti-capitalism with a sensitivity to the modern world and a collection of fundamental principles that I take to be bedrock Green tenets. These include internationalism, a belief in genuine decentralization of power, democracy, sustainability, construction of genuinely viable local economies (and currencies), a sceptical attitude towards unreflective economic growth, anti-capitalism, an aversion to free market forces and distrust of large-scale institutions not amenable to democratic control. Allied to this was my own sustained opposition to institutions like the EU, NATO and the spectacle that is the UN. I am fully aware what a disaster the German Greens later became; my perspective is their failure to learn from the Left’s history, especially regarding how to be both in and against the state, fatally compromised them.  It is also the case that (even aside from Stalin and the purges etc.) the Russian Revolution didn’t end up too well either—if it had, the current situation of oligarchical state capitalism wouldn’t have arisen, would it? For the record, I fully support the October Revolution: but my political sympathies lie with the Left Social Revolutionaries, not Bolsheviks. Regarding German Greens, aside from their excellent early policy of rotating those in elected office (which we adopted in Big Flame around that time) even a basic understanding of Lenin would have helped them (both positively and negatively), but even more so would consulting the forgotten masterwork by Georg Lukacs ‘Tactics and Ethics’[1], anticipating by 70 years (even if not resolving) all the tensions between principle and parliamentary careerism that have effectively destroyed the German Greens as a radical force.

In the late 1980s, along with friends in the Green Party and outside, through the organization Green Flame we briefly sought to sketch out what such politics might mean in programmatic practice, even speaking for motions critical of EU membership at one conference. There was clearly more to Green Party politics than the EU, and I was in the Association of Socialist Greens until it (sadly) dissolved. Nonetheless, the importance of Green principles on the one hand, and presence within the Green Party of a figure like Derek Wall on the other, convinced me this was the place to be, and I have remained, while profoundly disagreeing with the increasing capitulation to the EU that passes for party policy.

Disillusioned with the closing down of political space in the 1990’s, as the Left of all varieties shrank into stasis and oblivion, myself and others decided to ‘keep the faith’ by launching an occasional magazine devoted to fighting the (Gramscian) ‘war of position’ from the Left, Notes From the Borderland, which I am happy to say is still going. In this magazine[2] can be found the most extensive article I had written till now on the EU, assisted by colleague David Pegg, ‘This Cursed Plot: How the Secret State and Fascists Disrupt the Anti-EU Movement’. Its scope is broad: UKIP (including Nigel Farage), the British National Party, and even a precursor to the Hope Not Hate campaign, the Searchlight organization, on whom more later.


The onward march of ever greater EU centralization and the growing (if covert) influence of shadowy pressure groups like the European Round Table of Industrialists (hereafter ERT) has been watched by me with ever growing concern, even if viewed with indifference by many in the Green Party. In recent years, the disgraceful treatment of Greece’s Syriza government by the EU seemed to momentarily lift scales from some eyes, for here was a genuine radical government being totally crushed by the EU, who were (and are) dictating to a democratically elected government, empowered by a popular referendum even, that they had to tear up their radical programme, privatize industries, dismantle welfare provisions, annihilate pensions, all in order to appease the loan shark parasites of the international banking community. Surely, one might have thought, the fate of this government tells us something about the nature of the EU? That has not altered since a defeated Greece is now out of the headlines.

At its minimum, the EU is about market ‘harmonization’: code for driving down workers living conditions worldwide. This is what Tory supporters (and even opponents like Boris Johnson) of the EU mean when they concede it has been good for trade. One instrument for harmonization is ‘bench marking’, whereby the most disadvantageous (to workers) practices are made the norm. Another aspect is introducing ever more competition in the provision of services hitherto provided by the public sector. It is this that provides the backdrop to welfare state privatization, Royal Mail sell-off and the unmitigated disaster that has been the PFI initiative in the NHS, mortgaging the future for generations to come while saddling citizens with ever mounting debt. The Campaign Against Euro-Federalism have bravely, and indefatigably drawn attention to these matters in great detail. What a pity Europhiliacs in the Labour Party and elsewhere blithely ignore this evidence; as too have most Greens to date. TTIP and the related Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada, which will provide a back-door for US corporations to sue elected governments as in TTIP, are both dangerous and blatantly contradict Green principles, as can be seen by perusing the excellent Leave.EU pamphlet on these subjects[3]. Yet both are imminently set to become EU reality.

A paradox needs explaining: the mismatch between fundamental Green principles and the EU itself, a gap so wide that the fact many Greens (and Leftists generally) do not realise it demands serious explanation. The gap can be summarized thus:

  1. Internationalism should always be voluntary to be genuine (e.g. the 1930s International Brigades) and should never be confused with the creation of supranational institutions with imperial ambitions: which the EU has been ever since Jean Monnet’s vision took shape in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, explicit aim, ever-closer union. Like a ratchet, every single EU development has travelled that path, whether it be majority voting, Maastricht Lisbon and the rest. EU centralization operates like a ratchet, that only goes one way. I fully support Europe as an idea, and co-operation between European peoples, but no way should this be confused with the EU (on this at least I agree with Boris Johnson). This very article was started in Hamburg, indeed. One mendacious act of many is the deliberate sleight of hand by which proponents of Empire (the EU) seek to conflate Europe as an idea with the EU as an institution.
  2. Every accretion of power to EU institutions (of whatever stripe) is a diminution of power available locally. If any referendum produces the ‘wrong’ (i.e. anti-centralist) result, it is re-run until the right answer ensues. Furthermore, the whole notion of ‘subsidiarity’ is a pathetic fig-leaf: the centre decides what powers to give away, and it is the centre that can rescind any concessions.
  3. It is not just beyond belief, but even comprehension, that anybody could really think that a political entity with 503 million inhabitants like the EU could be democratic. Institutions to be democratic have to be on a scale that people can understand, meaningfully relate to, and control. Those numbers mean that is just not possible: but is conversely why the ERT favours the EU. How much easier to negotiate with one government than 28. Just when did some Greens think the slogan ‘Think Global, Act Local’ became redundant? As Tony Benn never tired of pointing out, if you don’t elect people (European Court/Commission) and you can’t remove them, they’re not accountable to you. This is the definition of undemocratic. It is fascinating, therefore, to hear Benn’s thoughts echoed in Michael Gove’s 20/2/16 statement on the EU “My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time. But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT, cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country. I believe that needs to change“. If this applies to even a Tory government, why would it apply less to a Green government or even a Corbyn-led one?
  4. As for the European Parliament, giving it even more power, which I do not favour, would inevitably (and unavoidably) be at the expense of national governments, who whatever their faults can at least in principle be removed: on this Tony Benn Michael Gove and George Galloway are all right. Even if every single MEP (and MP) elected from the UK (or even England) favoured withdrawal from the EU or any other policy, MEPs elsewhere, if we give them power, would be able to prevent such a policy happening. Anybody thinking that situation democratic is beyond reason, or even hope. As too the current European Council of Ministers where the UK has voted against 72 measures, and been defeated 72 times.
  5. Sustainability is not merely an argument for more recycling bins and altering fridges: it should be at the heart of Green policies aimed at breaking the capitalist market cycle of planned obsolescence which will ineluctably mean taking on the multinational corporations who are so keen, with EU acquiescence, to push through the devastating TTIP (Transatlantic Trade Treaty). In proper context, developing a genuinely sustainable economy is a dagger to the heart of capitalism, and the illusory religion of economic growth.

I could certainly say more, and maybe will elsewhere, but have hopefully said enough to substantiate my claim that, as I see it, there is a gap between genuine Green principles and the EU. The paradox therefore which needs explaining is this; if these things are so axiomatic and obvious to me and the few Greens who share such views (like Jenny Jones and a minority of Green Left members) why is this the case? This, I would suggest, requires an exploration of the political journeys undertaken by those who have arrived at a different destination to me. In the real world, the Green project cannot advance without support from others including elements in the unions and the Labour Party. Uncomfortable but true, which means making sense of current Labour/union policy on the EU: any progressive anti-EU coalition needs to build bridges, if not with most of the leadership, certainly the members. This includes those who flocked to join Labour in the belief Jeremy Corbyn and his allies in Momentum intend, and are capable of, bringing about radical change. I do not look at all tendencies within Labour, just the most important in relation to the current EU debate.


Tracing why a political stance is taken can go a long way towards ascertaining how (or whether) it might change. In the case of the Labour Party and many unions we should not beat about the bush: in both situations the reason was weakness, or, put more strongly, cowardice. While Labour in 1981 formally confirmed a policy of withdrawal from the EEC (EU), they had been demoralized by three electoral defeats on the trot: 1979, 1983 and 1987. This led the Party to accept EEC membership as a ‘fact’ in May 1988. Of course it was a fact: the real question: was it a ‘fact’ to be accepted?   After all, China annexed Tibet in 1959: is that now to be ‘accepted’? If something is wrong, it’s wrong. End of.

By 1988 the trade unions were in an even more difficult place: union membership had declined from a 1970s peak of 13 million to between 7 and 8 million. Unions were systematically excluded from the political process, the miners had been defeated (the 1984-5 strike) and a series of Tory anti-union laws were enacted, culminating in the 1988 Employment Act. At this point both Labour and the unions were uniquely vulnerable: the stage was set. At this point Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, came to the 1988 TUC Congress and praised the unions to the skies. He basically invited them to give up on the national route to advancing workers rights, and use the EU instead. Ron Todd, that year’s TUC President, reputedly said “there is now only one card game in town, and that town is Brussels”. Not all union leaders capitulated of course; the late Bob Crow was a tireless opponent of the EU till his untimely death in 2015.

Nonetheless, political weakness, and a belief they could not win their battles alone, lay behind most unions capitulating to the EU. Understandable, certainly, but a gross abdication of advancing their members interests. If unions in the UK are not strong enough themselves, no way will they be genuinely strengthened by giving power and initiative up to a third party (in this case EU institutions) irrespective of who they are or how progressive they appear. The issue that needs addressing is how can unions build up that strength and self-reliance, in which matter only one thing is guaranteed: the EU will be no help at all. For the very EU that has in the past proposed working hours reductions and other apparently pro-worker initiatives is now seeking to uniformly reduce workers rights and extend privatization into ever more areas. Only this time, there will be no miraculous escape by appeal to an external third party like Delors. It was ever the way: from the Diggers and Levellers to the Tolpuddle Martyrs to the Chartists to the Suffragettes, it is struggle from below that has secured rights, not benevolence from above.

In the Labour Party case, abandoning their anti-EU policy was understandable. Having junked the Left-leaning programme that was the Alternative Economic Strategy and its diluted successor, the 1983 Election manifesto, the next priority for the Labour Right was to eliminate the Left, which the Kinnock leadership did not least by expelling supporters of Militant. There was a subterranean dynamic in play here: having ditched any attempt at socialism Labour (and most unions), were desperate to do something, anything to win an election. The late 1980s move by Margaret Thatcher to rhetorically resist further EU integration gave Labour an opportunity to present themselves to the City, US, and big business as a sane pro-EU (and pro-capitalist) alternative. This was what the John Smith ‘Prawn Cocktail Offensive’ was all about[4]. The salient point is both Labour and the unions changed policies not on the basis of principle, but weakness.

Passing over the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown years, characterized by acquiescence to the EU in everything but monetary union, most notably in the continued destruction of the UK’s industrial base, the Ed Miliband (remember him?) era showed how few were Labour MPs opposed to the EU: a mere 11 (including Jeremy Corbyn) voted in favour of a May 2013 amendment to the Queen’s Speech expressing regret that a referendum on the EU wasn’t in it.  Miliband himself saw the issue as low down his priority list: as one commentator put it “even the possibility of Brexit…would be enough to spook the markets and damage the economy—something that, as a potential government, they wanted to avoid at all costs”[5].

Which brings us to Jeremy Corbyn, who voted against membership in the 1975 Referendum and has opposed EU integration in many votes since including the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties. At the last Labour leadership hustings before he was elected (25/7/15) Corbyn refused to rule out campaigning for a No vote. However, his problem, to which I am sympathetic, is that he and his co-thinkers (despite great support in the party as a whole) are vastly outnumbered among Labour MPs, so in that respect he and the likes of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell are captives of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). The figures are frightening: the pro-EU ‘Britain in Europe’ headed by Alan Johnson, has 213 of 231 Labour MPs as members. This is a fight that Corbyn early on decided he could not win, but more fundamentally thought was not important enough. In his first major interview after election he firmly nailed his colours to the EU mast “we want to see a more social Europe...this can only be achieved by staying within Europe”[6]. After Cameron’s deal Corbyn articulated his approach, showing just how little he grasps the issues. Corbyn declared Cameron “should have been talking to other European leaders about action to save our steel industry”[7]. What would be the point, given EU rules against state aid? He goes on to claim Cameron “could have been using Britain’s leverage to stop the threat to our services and rights in the secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”[8]. What leverage? TTIP is being covertly negotiated by the European Commission and when a deal is reached will be presented as a fait accompli. As it happens, it may well be the case that Corbyn is also supporting EU membership because of a Tory promise that in his negotiations Cameron would not attempt to explicitly water down EU policy on workers rights and so forth. The loser here is of course Labour: once the UK is ‘locked into’ the EU, these policies can be changed at leisure. So retaining them for the moment is a hollow victory, and no victory at all when measured against what the EU has planned via TTIP and so forth.

Sadly, it seems Corbyn is doomed to irrelevance on the EU. If the Labour Party lacks a transformative programme (and it does), and most Labour MPs are on the right, the only thing that can alter the situation is extensive deselection of MPs and candidates between now and the next General Election by Momentum and sympathisers. Not my war.

The Labour Party, indeed Left generally is (thankfully) more than Corbyn’s circle, and, rightly or wrongly, the Guardian newspaper is an arena where many reach out to others. For this reason only, and certainly not coherence, the output of columnist Owen Jones is worth a mention. On 15/7/15 he wrote an opinion piece entitled ‘the left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda’. Barely six months later he announced he had changed his mind (7/1/16). I have no problem with somebody changing their views, agreeing with Keynes’ reputed dictum that ‘when the facts change so does my opinion’. The points at issue here are simple: did any facts change between July and January, and does the latter article adequately dispose of anti-EU arguments within the former? The best way of answering both questions is comparing each article point by point:

  • “Britain’s left is turning against the EU, and fast”: Jones then cites examples and comments “there are senior Labour figures in Westminster and Holyrood privately moving to an ‘out’ position too”

--points not mentioned (or refuted) in January article

  • “the more left-wing opponents of the EU come out, the more momentum will gather pace and gain critical mass. For those of us on the left who have always been critical of the EU it has felt like a lonely crusade”

--by January, the crusader had sheathed his sword, the ‘momentum‘ had vanished.

  • the EU “would threaten the ability of left-wing governments to implement policies, people like my parents thought, and would forbid the sort of activism needed to protect domestic industries“

--leaving aside the peculiarity of Jones hiding behind his parent’s views here, points again not mentioned (or refuted) in the January article

  • “the destruction of Greece’s national sovereignty was achieved by economic strangulation...the EU has driven elected governments...from office. The 2011 treaty effectively banned Keynesian economics in the eurozone“

--again points not mentioned (or refuted) in the January article

  • TTIP “typically negotiated by the EU in secret with corporate interests…would give large corporations the power to sue elected governments…would clear the way to not only expand the privatization of our NHS, but make it irreversible too”

--mentioned, but merely to say “a vote to leave would not be seen as a rejection of TTIP (try asking people on the street if they know what it is), but rather more to do with, say, opposition to immigration”

--an utterly evasive statement: whether people have heard of TTIP is irrelevant, it is as harmful now as last July, as too is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada

6)   We need an independent Left exit campaign focusing on “building a new Britain, one of worker’s rights, a genuine living wage, public ownership, industrial activism and tax justice”

--no mention, this campaign has just melted away into the ether.

  • “without a prominent Left Out campaign, UKIP could displace Labour right across Northern England”

--you’ve guessed it, by January this fear has evaporated, no mention.

  • “Lexit may be seen as a betrayal of solidarity with the left in the EU: Syriza and Podemos in Spain are trying to change the institution, not leave it. Syriza’s experience shows just how forlorn that cause is”

--by January based on electoral gains for the Left in Portugal and Spain “there is a glimmer of hope for change in Europe”.   Though this doesn’t really refute the earlier sentiments, does it?.


Whatever the validity of Jones’ arguments in July, the fact that by January he doesn’t return to, never mind rebut them, speaks volumes. If important enough to mention in July, why not January? If they weren’t, why mention them in the first place? He does, however, have new arguments in January that merit examination. Firstly, half the article is devoted to how Labour, by supporting the ‘In’ campaign, can take advantage of Tory divisions. Even if true, a tawdry unprincipled argument of little interest, to me anyway. I have no dog in that fight. Second, he talks of the Labour left needing to engage with two initiatives, one being the ‘Democracy In Europe Movement 2025’ (DiEM25) headed by Yanis Varoufakis, formerly Greece’s Finance Minister. Alignment with Varoufakis was reiterated in two recent Jones Tweets calling for an ‘In Vote’ and creating “a democratic Europe”[9]. It is irrelevant whether Jones’ about-turn on the EU was a considered ploy or just indicates his literary diarrhoea and tendency to make it up as he goes along. I suspect the latter: he is nowhere near clever enough for the former to be likely. The substance of Varoufakis’ movement does need analysing, however, which I do below before looking at Green policy.



Launched in Berlin 9/2/16, this initiative is so ambitious it puts Trotsky’s plans for the Fourth International into the shade. Despite talk of democratization, this is a top-down movement: the purpose of a Pan-European “conversation, that DiEM will make possible and promote, is to develop a Pan-European consensus on how to address serious problems and crises afflicting Europe as a whole. Once this consensus emerges, through the medium of DiEM, we have no doubt that it will seek ways to express itself, including electorally…we consider the model of national parties which form flimsy alliances at the level of the European Parliament to be obsolete…European democrats must come together first, forge a common agenda, and then find ways of connecting it with local communities and at the regional and national level”[10]. In other words, creating an (elite) intellectual vanguard first, and then a new party. Were I uncharitable, I would say Varoufakis’ experience of being undermined by Syriza colleagues has led him to abandon political parties altogether, prematurely

Despite the fact there is no consensus, few troops and a conversation has barely had time to begin, in February 2016 DiEM25 released its apocalyptically toned Manifesto: ‘The EU will be democratized. Or it will disintegrate!’. Various ‘Immediate’ demands include calls for EU Council Meetings to be ‘live-streamed’ and “all documents pertinent to crucial negotiations e.g. trade-TTIP….to be uploaded on the web”. If these demands are not met, what? No answer. How can DiEM25 enforce them? No answer either. Leaving that to one side, DiEM25 have another set of demands: concerning five realms: public debt, banking, inadequate investment, migration and rising poverty. “All five realms are currently left in the hands of national governments powerless to act upon them”. There is a solution: within twelve months “DiEM25 will present detailed policy proposals to Europeanise all five while limiting Brussels discretionary powers and returning powers to national Parliaments, to regional councils, to city halls and to communities”. Even at face value preposterous: central powers are to be expanded while simultaneously given back to national parliaments? In the five realms they are powerless on? Or other areas? And how does this fit with ‘Europeanising’ them? That phrase can only mean the EU centre taking control of those realms.

While you’re pondering that, within two years a ‘Constitutional Assembly’ is to begin the process (ended by 2025) of transforming Europe “into a full-fledged democracy with a sovereign Parliament respecting national self-determination and sharing power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils”.  And if conflict ensues? A sovereign body does not share power with others, and Varoufakis either knows this and is being disingenuous (a common trait among EU supporters) or doesn’t, therefore is merely politically illiterate. Neither option appealing. So, is Varoufakis aware the sovereignty of one parliament might conflict with another? Former co-thinker Thomas Fazi has convincingly argued he is, and has provided a lucid analysis, drawing on the work of Lorenzo Del Savio and Matteo Mameli[11]. The national level, whether it be parliaments or parties, is irrelevant for Varoufakis. Yet as Fazi comments, due to linguistic barriers, geographical distance and cultural differences, a genuine Europe-wide representative democracy via the European Parliament will not decrease popular alienation but will enhance the possibility of ‘oligarchic capture’ of those institutions. The consequence would be a ‘depoliticised’ democracy, hardly comforting. By ignoring politics at the existing level of national parliaments and parties Varoufakis renders his movement an irrelevant pipe-dream at best, a diversion at worst.

While I admired Varoufakis’ style in telling EU Finance Ministers where to get off, he is no model of consistency, but stumbles from one panacea to another: most recently his great hope was the “United States…which must provide, perhaps for the last time, the missing agency” (a Global Surplus Recycling Mechanism to stabilize capitalism)[12].   Speaking of Trotsky, as I did earlier, at least his ‘Transitional Programme’ (1938) showed some understanding of the need to bridge the gap realistically between here and now and the ultimate goal. Varoufakis does not seem to understand this kind of thing in the slightest: hence making unrealistic demands of institutions they have no incentive to comply with.

Varoufakis and his creature DiEM25 are not important in themselves, but as the best case ‘ideal type’ representative of the democratization argument. Yet as we have seen most Labour/union supporters of the EU merely pay lip service to democratization, their basic line is to ignore worrying policies like TTIP and centralization generally, cherry-picking EU policies they like as though these will persist. Not so much naïve as reflecting deep pessimism about the possibilities of getting support within the UK for radical policies.



In 1990 a motion to withdraw from the EU was narrowly defeated at the Green Party (hereafter GP) conference, which I thought then was a great mistake. Had Greens the nerve to advocate EU withdrawal, that may well have helped create the political space to make a breakthrough, conjoining radical politics with an anti-EU stance. Instead, Greens vacated that space, some of which was later colonized by UKIP. Since then Green policy has been contradictory: practically accommodating to the EU in many areas, contrasting party policies with others, while remaining within. All encapsulated in the ‘Three Yeses’ policy adopted in 2013: Yes to a referendum, Yes to the EU and Yes to major change within the EU. My contention is the first two are inconsistent with the third. The rationale for such a policy is various. Firstly, Greens were actually getting elected to the European Parliament, and joined a Europe-wide Federation of Green Parties (formalized 2004). It also has to be said that the lavish wages allowances and such available in the European Parliament are inevitably corroding. It was this de-radicalising effect that initially led German Greens to propose rotation in elected positions after all. Dropping that policy was one more nail in the German Green’s coffin, and sadly rotation has never even been tried in the UK. I have never agreed with Green MEPs (or any others) having the right themselves to allocate such funds, this should always be a party matter: but it never has been. Secondly, on a more positive note, having elected MEPs allowed Greens to influence (however minutely) policy in a way denied the Greens until Caroline Lucas (a former MEP) was elected to Westminster in 2010. The third reason is similar to that affecting Labour and the unions: a basic pessimism about getting change in the UK alone means the EU offers a better prospect. As we shall see, this motivation still applies today.

At this point, a mea culpa on my part: while perturbed at the general pro-EU drift of GP policy, concentrating on other areas, and the fact that even in Green Left (of which I am a member) anti-EU positions are held by only a minority, I did not pay attention to the nuts and bolts of that policy. I probably should have, but in any event rectify that now. Before looking at pro-EU arguments by some Greens, I review GP policy as a whole, not least to substantiate my outline summary above. The Europe policy (part of the ongoing ‘Policies For a Sustainable Society’) can be found on the Party web-site at  Numbering refers to policy sections therein.

Early on they sort of grasp the subsidiarity nettle, saying “many issues currently decided at the EU level should be dealt with at a more appropriate level for effective action, which might be local, national or global” (EU120). Which begs the question: who decides which is which, and how is this to happen? There is no unequivocally clear answer, in that the areas they outline are ambiguous and open to interpretation and contestation. It is not as if the GP does not know the reality of “subsidiarity in the European Union at present, a top down distribution of a fraction of power accumulated at the centre” (EU390). They state the ‘European level’ should “safeguard basic human social and political rights” (EU121), indeed “high standards of human and civil and social rights” (EU212) and “cooperation to regionalize the industrial base, services and resources” (EU212). All these beg definition because not only is there no universal agreement about rights, in the real world, rights often conflict. Who, exactly, is to decide what ‘high standards’ are? There is the unproven assertion that air pollution “can best be resolved at the European level” (EU121), but this is not obvious, and a basic confusion of Europe-wide with European, which in this case means imposed. The European level is supposed to “promote sustainable, non-exploitative, self-reliant local and regional economies” (EU121). Yet this does not happen currently, indeed as we shall see such economies will be resisted at the ‘European level’. This is the reality which confounds the GP recognition that “subsidies are sometimes necessary to protect local, regional and national economies and the environment, and we will support them in these instances” (EU413). The contrast between what the GP supports and EU reality is at times staggering: try telling Greece that “each member state government should be entirely free to set its own levels and methods of taxation, public spending and public borrowing” (EU425). Conversely, do the GP really believe that EU members will “initiate programmes to support local economies against market centralization” (EU426)? I don’t, but if they did, they’d get the Greek treatment.

I find many GP policy aims appealing (just as well given I’ve been a member for 28 years!), the problem is that they have no realistic transitional strategy to get there other than the implicit mirage of a Green majority in the EP. In parallel with this, exhorting current national governments to do things they have no intention of doing, or, if they did, would be stamped on. In this context, GP policy is inappropriately abstract and unrealistic while appearing otherwise. I agree wholeheartedly that “tariff barriers and quotas should be gradually introduced on a national and/or regional bloc level, with the aim of allowing localities and countries to produce as much of their goods and services as they can themselves” (EU443). My objection is simple: this will not and cannot happen within the EU. I have no problem up to a point with “a democratically accountable and controlled European Confederation of Regions, based on Green principles” (EU302). Though the problem is that confederations by definition are voluntary, so where does this word ‘controlled’ come from? Unless you mean control by the regions, but as we shall see this is not consistent with other aspects of GP policy. It is naïve to imagine any of this can arise if you “reconstitute the EU” (EU302). How, exactly, does the GP imagine the EU will ‘reconstitute’ itself, liquidating its own power? We are told “regions should also have the right to define themselves, where appropriate across national frontiers…through referenda” (EU393). Dependent on the approval of who? For example is Spain really going to accept Basque independence, or France Corsican?

A further contradictory policy is belief the European Council of Ministers “should seek to make decisions by consensus” (EU320), immediately followed by support for non-consensual Qualified Majority Voting (EU321). While the European Commission’s powers are to be reduced (EU310) potential conflict between the European Parliament and Council of Ministers is made more likely by supporting “the extension of ordinary legislative procedure with the European Parliament…to all issues where the Council decides by Qualified Majority Voting” (EU326), indeed the “powers of the European Parliament should be extended to give its members greater oversight of the work of the EU” (EU333). Oversight and more voting will inevitably be at the expense of national parliaments and governments, how could it be otherwise?

The fact national parliaments get no positive mention in this policy is telling.  The European Parliament itself is to decide on the wording for referenda on a future European Constitution defining “the values, objectives powers, decision-making procedures and institutions of the EU” (EU356/352). The only area where the policy wholeheartedly (if transiently) accepts national level democracy is in the area of having referenda on Monetary Union (EU423) and a new European Constitution (EU354). But given the European Parliament decides the rules, question, and even date, of any referendum we can see where power lies (EU356). Ironically, not only does this undermine national parliaments, being serious about decentralization would mean regions being the voting basis, surely? Yet they are not.

Looking at all this in the round, leaving aside pressure/interest groups, there are six potential competing centres of power within the EU: the European Parliament, European Commission, European Council of Ministers, the Regions, national Parliaments and finally the European Court of Justice (ECJ). While adding the meaningless qualification that “care should be taken not to duplicate the roles of existing courts in member countries”, the nub is this: “the role of the CJEU should extend as appropriate within the competencies of the EU” (EU342). Not only can these judges not be removed by nation states, the policy states that judicial “candidates should be nominated by the Committee of Regions…Appointments shall be made by the European Parliament” (EU346). The blatant intent is to undermine nation states, not really to give real power to the regions (else power would be genuinely decentralized elsewhere) but undermine the nation state in favour of supranational EU institutions. Technically, decentralization as a function of centralization.

Above I have concentrated on areas where I either disagree with the principle, or am sceptical about the practice. Opposition to NATO for example, or a European Army, and European Monetary Union, I fully support. If the GP was arguing for decentralization and self-sufficiency as part of an anti-EU programme aimed at seeking mass support across Europe for undermining/bypassing the EU, I would not demur. Yet the simultaneous support for EU institutions, particularly the EP, is intended to give the EU legitimacy it does not deserve. Internationalism does not mean the liquidation of nations, but voluntary cooperation between them and also groups within those nations. A simple point, but one that seems to have eluded those writing GP policy.

I am equally unimpressed by the absence of explicit anti-capitalism, for me such is integral to Green politics. Despite this important absence, policies like genuine decentralization and self-sufficiency would genuinely undermine the EU if implemented, but the fact the GP don’t either realise or accept this is unfortunate. Though hardly accidental: one reason I define myself as Left/Green rather than just Green is the traditional far left understood only too well the necessity of confronting powerful interests, and mobilizing support to do so, within a strategic context that does not see the state (any state,including the EU) as a neutral instrument. Which is where Lukacs and Lenin (or indeed Henri Weber’s famous interview with Nicos Poulantzas[13]) come in. The point is not to disavow GP policy on the EU, but to keep the attractive bits and help them become reality. Which will mean leaving the EU, using the momentum of that departure to galvanise sympathisers within the EU to make genuine decentralisation and confederation come about.

Given the above policy framework, it is little surprise that GP luminaries have lined up to support the EU. Caroline Lucas makes the point that the Tory “government are the loudest cheerleaders for TTIP, and ministers would happily create an equally dangerous bilateral deal with the US if we left the EU”[14]. I agree: but of course if/when we leave the EU we can tear up this treaty with a change of UK government, something we cannot do while staying in the EU. She also makes the same point many Labour supporters do “exit would leave many of the things we hold dear—be it maternity pay, the right to join a trade union or providing refuge to those seeking sanctuary—in peril”. Quite possibly: but only if you think a progressive government could never be elected in the UK, which is again unbridled pessimism. A draft letter circulated by Caroline Lucas’ office to be sent to papers (19/2/16) is even more vacuous. It says that “in a fast-changing world we need international rules to control big business and finance”. Indeed: yet TTIP which the EU is covertly negotiating is all about big business and finance controlling governments. Then there is the non-sequitur that “only by working with our European neighbours can we tackle climate change, protect wildlife and reduce pollution”. Really? What would stop an independent UK doing all this? Nothing at all. Then we have the canard that EU countries have agreed to “share sovereignty”—yet not only is such not possible, the GP policy above as we have seen involves ceding such. How being in the EU helps the UK to meet the challenge of “international terrorism” is asserted, not explored. After all, the US cooperates with the EU while not formally joined, and while indelicate, it has to be mentioned porous EU borders both externally and internally made it easy for ISIS murderers to travel to Paris from Belgium (and back in one case).   Is that not why France moved to suspend Schengen border arrangements? Or are we supposed to forget this? The letter concludes by saying a “better EU is possible: where corporate influence is curtailed, where more power is held locally, and citizens have a real say”. Yet this is not the content, or thrust, of GP policy: Lucas evidently hopes voters do not know this. Understandable, but dishonest.

Amelia Womack, Green Deputy Leader, heading the Green Yes campaign, is equally unimpressive. Claiming that “just as Caroline Lucas has been working to shake up and democratize parliament, the Green MEPs have been doing the same at the EU level”[15]. If the EP is democratized, how does that affect national parliaments? No answer. There is also the claim that as an internationalist party the GP believes in working with like-minded people. Indeed, but why restrict this to the EU? Then pessimism kicks in: “by exiting, we’d be facing a whole new raft of deregulation and slashing of…workers’ and environmental rights”. Maybe: but this could be resisted locally, whereas very real proposals/policies to undermine those rights at the EU level cannot. Speaking of TTIP, Womack is at her most dishonest, saying this “deal is signed at both European and state level—it’s down to our own Parliament to accept it, or not”. The idea this would be voluntary is incredible: no way would the UK be allowed to ‘opt out’, Qualified Majority Voting would ineluctably apply.

Rather more honest is Green Left’s Mike Shaughnessy, who admitted that “probably the vast majority of the political left will campaign to remain in the EU…with the vague idea promoted by the more radical elements of changing the system from within. It is not clear to me how this will be achieved, and I doubt it is really possible anyway, given the anti-democratic nature of the EU beast. ‘A People’s Europe’ is the slogan, but this is just a pipe dream at best, dishonest at worst”. Couldn’t have put it better myself! Shaughnessy will vote to stay because the No campaign is dominated by the Little England/nationalistic/racist tendency. Which need not necessarily be the case. He concludes by saying “in the end I’m going to go with my emotions….I am going to vote to remain, although I have to say, with not much enthusiasm for the EU of the corporates”[16]. These sentiments should, logically, lead him to vote no, but as he says, it’s an emotion thing.

What Lucas and Womack have to say on the other hand hardly convinces, interestingly neither spell out the full centralist thrust of GP policy, preferring instead to emphasise a supposed correspondence with some Green principles. I prefer to stick with those principles, in their entirety, and follow Green/decentralist aspects of GP policy to their logical conclusion. Exiting the EU.


There is a historic opportunity, indeed responsibility, for those opposing the EU from a Left Green standpoint to articulate our views, however unlikely that such a standpoint will ever be reflected in output from the BBC (Brussels Broadcasting Corporation) and other mainstream media. On the positive side, exit from the EU opens up political possibilities not seen since the 1970s, a tantalizing prospect.   I am glad to say the SWP has again come out for a No vote, arguing “our role in the referendum is to try to carve out space for an internationalist No campaign”[17]. Some unions and other Leftists have too, though using the blunt instrument (preaching to a deaf choir) of a letter to the Guardian. After criticizing EU pro-capitalist policies, including TTIP, they posit an alternative “positive vision of a future Europe based on democracy, social justice and ecological sustainability, not the profit-making interests of a tiny elite”[18]. Par for the course, a rejoinder ‘Founding Statement’ from the pro-EU ‘Another Europe is Possible’ group does not mention TTIP or pro-capitalist policies, instead claiming “an exit at the current time would boost rightwing movements and parties and hurt ordinary people in the UK”. They talk of an “alternative economic model” (what?) and “far-reaching democratic reforms of the European institutions”[19]. They are correct in one thing: if the Left/Green case against the EU does not get made, any referendum victory for the No side will be pyrrhic: to get a hearing for our broader agenda, Left/Green opponents need to get involved now.

As the history of European referenda show, there is no trick too low for EU supporters, whose main trump card is, as we see daily ‘Project Fear’, warning of the dire consequences of democracy. Some who seek to present themselves as honest brokers in this campaign are anything but: Hope Not Hate director Nick Lowles is a long-time pro-EU propagandist, exposed in Notes For the Borderland as author of an infamous document offering to drip-feed stories to the press[20]. More controversially, were I advising the pro-EU camp, I would suggest planting supporters inside the ‘No’ ranks, so if the electorate votes to leave Plan B can be put into operation. I am deeply troubled by Boris Johnson, who I wouldn’t trust to tell the time of day. He is indeed a passionate and eloquent speaker, with firmly-held beliefs: but the only thing he really believes in is Boris Johnson. It is as well to raise the BJ issue now, rather than later, as the words he has used so far allay no suspicions. On 21/2/16 he stated to camera that “I want to be in a reformed EU”—I certainly don’t. In the Daily Telegraph (22/2/16) he wrote it is “time to seek a new relationship in which we manage to extricate ourselves from most of the supranational elements”. Careful words, indicating to me his main aim is not leaving the EU, but becoming Prime Minister. The way this would work is almost simplicity itself: a victory for the Leave side in a referendum would surely lead to David Cameron resigning. The way would be clear for Johnson, who has already elevated himself above sharing a platform with EU opponents, to seize control of the Tories and after another ‘negotiation’ process use a second referendum to cancel out the first. That David Cameron doesn’t like the idea is irrelevant: he would by then be a discarded toff chillaxing in the dustbin of history. Alternatively, or in tandem, BJ’s EU dancing partners could spin out negotiations for so long that a new General Election would be imminent, after which on current form the leadership of Labour, Tories, Lib Dems (and Caroline Lucas if re-elected) would all be pro-EU.

The two referendum policy, like much Johnson spouts, wasn’t his idea, but that of somebody else, in this instance Dominic Cummings, Director of Vote Leave. This man has unaccountably [or perhaps not?] alienated Labour MPs Kate Hoey and Kelvin Hopkins so much they have left, and are now involved in the newer Grassroots Out campaign[21]. At the very least it can be conjectured that Cummings puts Tory Party unity (and interests) before the anti-EU cause. Unacceptable if so, just as Owen Jones seeking to play Labour Party politics with the issue was. That a second referendum is in Cumming’s mind is indicated by his tweet of 22/2/16 that invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon (i.e. seceding) “after Britain votes to leave would be madness and won’t happen”. Yet why should leaving after a vote be madness: unless you really think we shouldn’t leave. My observations may be wide of the mark: but I don’t think they are. In the Times (27/2/16) Johnson stated “what I want is to get out and then negotiate a series of trade arrangements around the world”. Asked about a second referendum he said “I don’t think it would be necessary”. This could be interpreted as dropping the idea: I’m not so sure. Former Tory leader Michael Howard hasn’t ruled a second referendum out, and in these changed circumstances (i.e. a No vote) I can easily foresee Johnson changing his stance again, supported as he would be in this by virtually all MPs bar a minority of Tories (I say minority as some voting No would probably change their position too). A vote to leave should be followed by actually trying to do so. Anything less would be treachery, perhaps worthy of the very European fate that befell Benito Mussolini?

The two referendum problem is but a pot-hole in the road: it is high time Leftists/Greens who oppose the EU stood up to be counted. The bottom line: this is not a battle about this policy, or that, safety or security, jobs or unemployment, it is about whether we believe people should have the right to self-government or not. In the EU or out. The stark choice was obliquely spelled out by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in dismissing a challenge by Syriza: "to suggest that everything is going to change because there's a new government in Athens is to mistake dreams for reality… There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties"[22]. Substitute London (or Cardiff/Edinburgh) for Athens and there you have it.


Mine is not a Brit Left perspective, I favour both Scottish and Welsh independence. The inconsistency is how some Scots and Welsh Nationalists, who (rightly) want to uncouple from one state, the British, are prepared to sell that down the river to become subjects of another, the EU. If, after the referendum, England votes to leave the EU and Scotland and/or Wales doesn’t, let them stay (which might require another referendum!). Should Scotland and/or Wales (or any other EU country like the Czech Republic or even Greece) need help in future to exit the EU, let them have that too. True internationalism in action, not the ersatz proto-imperialist version the EU has to offer. I am supportive of democracy, not the current British nation state as such or the emerging EU one.


The major matter to be settled is now is not the shape of the post-EU referendum British state, but whether we are submerged within the EU or not. However the vote goes on 23rd June, our EU problem will not immediately disappear: but fresh battle-lines will be drawn. Step up to the plate, there’s a continent to play for!


[1] Georg Lukacs ‘Political Writings 1919-29’ Verso 2014 is latest reprint

[2] Notes From the Borderland issue 4 2001-2 p.7-29

[3] See the excellent ‘Stop TTIP’ published by Leave.EU February 2016

[4] On all this see Robin Ramsay ‘Prawn Cocktail Party‘ Vision 1998

[5] Tim Bale ‘Five Year Mission’ Oxford University Press 2015 p.215

[6] Channel Four News (Jon Snow interview of Corbyn) 16/9/15

[7] Observer 21/2/15

[8] Observer 21/2/15

[9] Owen Jones Tweets 20/2/16

[10] ‘DiEM25 is in the air—a preliminary Q&A 31/1/16

[11] ‘A Critique of Yanis Varoufakis’ Democracy in Europe Movement’ (DiEM25)

[12] Yanis Varoufakis ‘The Global Minotaur’ Zed Books 2015 p.256

[13] Socialist Review (US) April-May 1978

[14] Guardian Comment is Free 16/7/15

[15] Green World Winter 2016: no page number, now on-line only.

[16] ‘EU Referendum: I’ve Finally Decided Which Way to Vote’ 20/2/16

[17] Socialist Review 404 (UK) July-August 2015 p.15 (Joseph Choonara), see also the dissenting view in Socialist Review 405 September 2015 p.16-17 (James Anderson).

[18] ‘EU is now a profoundly anti-democratic institution’ Guardian letter on-line 17/2/16.

[19] ‘The Progressive case for staying in the EU’ Guardian letter on-line 18/2/16

[20] Memorandum reproduced in full and analysed, Notes From the Borderland 5 2003 p.54-55

[21] See her interview in Sunday Telegraph 7/2/16 (Tim Ross)

[22] Cited in ‘Stop TTIP’ published by Leave.EU February 2016 p.13

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About NFB Magazine

Welcome to Britain's premier parapolitical investigative magazine Notes from the Borderland (NFB). We have been producing the magazine since 1997 but some published material before then.

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