25 November 2007

The European Arrest Warrant is being used in an unexpected way

An interesting story has been doing the rounds, picked up by several newspapers in Britain and abroad. It is also, I believe, exciting some interest in Poland for reasons I hope to discuss in what is likely to be a longish piece. I have a kind of a personal interest as I knew several of the players some years ago when I lived in Oxford.

First the facts as they are at present. The District Military Court in Warsaw has issued a European Arrest Warrant to extradite Helena Brus-Wolinska, the widow of a well-known Marxist economist Włodzimierz Brus, a professor, recently emeritus, at the University of Oxford on charges of falsifying evidence against General Fieldorf, one of the heroes of the Polish anti-Nazi resistance and a victim of the post-War Communist purges. Helena Wolinska was, at the time, a military prosecutor, allegedly responsible for the lengthy imprisonment, illegal by the supposed Polish code of laws of the period, of the general and a number of other fighters in the Armija Krajowa that is the Home Army, better known as the Polish Underground.

[The picture above is of Helena Wolinska in a major's uniform and of General Fieldorf's daughter in the early fifties.]

One of the victims was Władisław Bartoszewski, a survivor of Auschwitz, courageous anti-Nazi fighter in the Home Army, a man who helped Polish Jews to escape the Holocaust and sent messages to the West with information about the death camps, an honourable and highly regarded politician who held several important political positions in post-Communist Poland.

According to an article by Anne Applebaum, published when the story first emerged about ten years ago, Helena Brus, who claims that the continued attempts by the Polish government to put her on trial are politically motivated, which is probably true and anti-semitic, which is non-proven and irrelevant, could not recall who Bartoszewski might have been at the time.

Ms Applebaum’s article is very good but a quick summary of Mrs Brus’s life story here may well be helpful. The roots of the problem go back into that murky period during and after WWII that has left deep scars on East European psyche. As it happens, this is a subject that has been raised on the blog before.

Helena Danielak, as she was called in the first place, though she had already been married to Włodzimierz Brus, managed to escape from the Warsaw ghetto and, as she claims, from a train that was heading towards one of the death camps. She fled to the Soviet Union, became a member of the Communist Party and returned to join the Communist underground movement, whose aim, let us be clear, was to make sure that it would not be the nationalists who take power after the war.

It was inevitable that Jews in Eastern Europe (and even in Poland there were still some alive) should greet the Soviet army as their liberators, its non-role in the Warsaw uprising not being clearly perceived at the time.

In Budapest there is a plaque next to the central synagogue to commemorate the day in February 1945 when the Soviet tanks broke through the wall the Nazis (German but with help from the local ones) had built to create a ghetto.

This does not mean that all those Jews were Communists or even, necessarily, pro-Communists. Many East Europeans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, were hoping that a new democratic order would be created in their countries as they recovered from the horrors of the previous years.

In Poland this hope was quashed almost immediately, in other countries after a couple of years. Helena Wolinska, the name under which she went in the underground and the one she retained afterwards, remained a Communist and became a military prosecutor.

According to Anne Applebaum she was also the “mistress of Franciszek Jozwiak, head of the new People's Militia and eventually to be both deputy prime minister and a Politburo member”, though I suspect that was a result rather than cause of her own rise in the hierarchy.

As military prosecutor she signed arrest warrants and ensured that people whom the Communist government called bandits because they fought for an independent Poland stayed in prison and went to their various punishments. For General Fieldorf that meant death by hanging after a show trial that lasted exactly one day in February 1953 after prolonged imprisonment and maltreatment.

At the same time Helena Wolinska met quite accidentally Włodzimierz Brus, who, also, had spent much of the war in the Soviet Union. As soon as they extricated themselves from their respective partners, legal or otherwise, they remarried. Their marriage lasted until his death in August of this year.

Włodzimierz Brus may not have been involved in the destruction of heroic fighters who presented an alternative to the new Polish system but he, too, did his bit for the latter. Soon after the war there were debates between Marxist and “bourgeois” economists in Poland. There are written accounts of these debates and even some transcripts that were published in various journals in Britain in the seventies but do not seem to be available on the net.

As his obituary in the Guardian puts it:

After the war, Brus headed the propaganda effort of the Polish Workers' party, the wartime successor to the Polish Communist party, which allied with the Polish Socialist party to win constitutional referenda in 1946 and elections in 1947. The following year, he was active in the union of the two groups as the Polish United Workers' party, which ruled Poland for the next 40 years.

The Guardian, however, does not write about the sheer nastiness of the debates. In fact, the obituary does not even mention them. Led by the young Brus the group of Marxist economists attacked the “bourgeois” economists personally, bullied and threatened them, destroying them intellectually and spiritually before the secret police could do so physically.

By 1956 Włodzimierz Brus had changed his opinions a little and started arguing for social market structures. Presumably he saw that pure socialism had been a disaster everywhere in Eastern Europe. Helena, on the other hand, was mildly criticized by a government commission for acting illegally during the Stalinist purge trials of the early fifties.

He became involved with some of the dissidents though he never abandoned Marxism fully, unlike his great friend, the philosopher Leszek Kołakowski. In 1968 there was another intra-party battle and this became a serious anti-Semitic attack on the Jewish members and officials.

Those who could, left the country and the Bruses together with their son came to Britain, first to Glasgow, then to Oxford in 1972. I met them there some years later and we became friends despite the age difference (it does not count for much in post-graduate Oxford colleges) though the story of Helena’s past was reasonably well known. One knows all sorts of people in life.

The Bruses fitted in well. His ardent Marxism had long ago transmogrified into a mild form of it that verged on social-democracy. His views fitted in with most of Oxford academia quite well. He and Lena, as she was known, full of Polish charm and hospitality, became well known and well liked.

Włodzimierz continued to be interested in Polish and other politics, supporting Solidarnosč and other Polish opposition groups, as long as they and their Western supporters were on the Left. Lena, on the other hand, tended to retreat with a headache if the discussions became too boisterous. It seems that she had already decided that she hated Poland as the country of ineradicable anti-semitism.

By the time Communism collapsed I had lost touch with them and so I do not know what their reaction was but I suspect it would have been mixed. Sadly, the third way of neither Communism nor capitalism had no place in Eastern Europe and neither politics nor economics went the way the Włodzimierz I knew would have liked.

Furthermore, they could not go back, as in the nineties the Polish authorities began their attempts to bring Lena back to stand trial. As Wikipedia puts it (she has a longer entry than he does, which is a rum turn up for the books):

The official charges against her were initiated by the Commission for Investigating Crimes against the Polish Nation. Wolińska is accused of being an "accessory to a court murder," classified as a Stalinist crime and a crime of genocide, and is punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Then and now Lena Brus has maintained that the motivating factor is anti-semitism and I was sorry to see at least one newspaper falling for that line. Quoting Jonathan Webber, whom I also knew at the time in Oxford, on matters of recent East European history is never wise and to go along with his analysis that this is all to do with the anti-semitism of many members of the Home Army is fatuous.

Undeniably there were people in the Home Army who were anti-Semitic and the stories of Jews helping the Soviet authorities to round up Poles were at least partly based on truth as were the stories of Poles helping the Nazis to round up Jews. It is also true that the Home Army helped Jews to escape before and after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and sent urgent messages to the West about the death camps from 1942 onwards.

In any case, the crimes Helena Brus is being accused of were real and are not merely a figment of some anti-Semitic Pole’s imagination.

Two attempts to extradite her failed. The British authorities refused on humanitarian grounds, citing her age. All of which is very admirable but not very logical in the light of the shenanigans around the War Crimes Act of 1991 and the subsequent trial of the former Nazi criminal Anthony Sawoniuk.

The Bill was fraught with difficulties as it was creating retrospectively crimes to be tried in Britain though they were not committed in Britain. There was a great deal of opposition, much of which was dismissed as being anti-semitic, though it had more to do with worries about the undermining of certain basic precepts in English law. Those media organs like the Guardian, the Independent and the BBC who have been weeping crocodile tears over revenge being visited on an elderly lady in Oxford had completely different views on elderly gentlemen in various other places.

There was strong suspicion that behind the pressure that was being put on the government to pass the legislation lurked the KGB who were anxious to drive a wedge between anti-Soviet nationalist and anti-Soviet Jewish groups.

In the end it took so long to pass the Bill that the Soviet Union itself was well-nigh finished by the time Margaret Thatcher used the Parliament Act to over-rule the recalcitrant House of Lords.

Suspicions of KGB involvement strengthened when English lawyers travelled to Byelorussia (as it was then), Ukraine and the Baltic States to be presented with witnesses of miraculous memory and recognition powers and found that they could not bring their own interpreters or cross-examine those witnesses.

There was only one trial in Britain, that of Sawoniuk, allegedly because no other person on the list of war criminals had come to this country. He was tried and convicted in 1999 and died in Norwich prison in 2005 at the age of 84. No humanitarian grounds for him.

Why should there be, one might argue. What has age to do with the beastly crimes the man had committed? Still, there is a certain lack of consistency here. The Poles do not even want Britain to pass difficult legislation or undermine the English legal structure. They merely want to try Helena Brus as they have tried various others who had behaved in what most of us would call criminal manner during Poland’s Stalinist period.

Now the Polish authorities or, at least the District Military Court in Warsaw have decided on a different strategy and has invoked the European Arrest Warrant. The problem as I see it, having written about the EAW, is that it is a little unclear under which of the 32 categories Helena Wolinska’s alleged crimes are to be put. Here they are:

- participation in a criminal organisation,
- terrorism,
- trafficking in human beings,
- sexual exploitation of children and child pornography,
- illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances,
- illicit trafficking in weapons, munitions and explosives,
- corruption,
- fraud, including that affecting the
financial interests of the European Communities within the meaning of the Convention of 26 July 1995 on the protection of the European Communities' financial interests,
- laundering of the proceeds of crime,
- counterfeiting currency, including of the euro,
- computer-related crime,
- environmental crime, including illicit trafficking in endangered animal species and in endangered plant species and varieties,
- facilitation of unauthorised entry and residence,
- murder, grievous bodily injury,
- illicit trade in human organs and tissue,
- kidnapping, illegal restraint and hostage-taking,
- racism and xenophobia,
- organised or armed robbery,
- illicit trafficking in cultural goods, including antiques and works of art,
- swindling,
- racketeering and extortion,
- counterfeiting and piracy of products,
- forgery of administrative documents and trafficking therein,
- forgery of means of payment,
- illicit trafficking in hormonal substances and other growth promoters,
- illicit trafficking in nuclear or radioactive materials,
- trafficking in stolen vehicles,
- rape,
- arson,
- crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,
- unlawful seizure of aircraft/ships,
- sabotage

Of course, one could argue that the Communist military prosecutor’s office was a criminal organization but I can’t quite see the British authorities falling for that one. Conspiracy to murder? It’s possible. Does Helena Brus’s activity in the late forties and early fifties constitute crimes under the International Criminal Court, given that the ICC did not exist at the time?

This could be an interesting little problem, though I suspect that the British government will, once again, go for the humanitarian argument, for which there is provision in the European Arrest Warrant, to avoid all these discussions.

The question, I suppose, is whether this is quite what the European Arrest Warrant was intended for. Then again, what we are always told it was intended for – to make the fight against terrorism easier – is somewhat at variance with the crimes listed in it.

Another question is whether this is the best way for the East Europeans to confront the past. It’s all very well for people to sniff about political motivation and sneer at vengefulness among those ungrateful East Europeans who did not like the Communist system but as even Adam LeBor points out in this article if elderly Nazis are pursued why not elderly Communists.

It is true that the case against Helena Wolinska is being pushed by General Fieldorf’s daughter and her family but one can understand the desire to see justice being meted out to those who had destroyed her father, the great war hero. Not many of them are alive.

Besides, the years after the war when the Communists were accumulating power, in preparation for a final coup and the destruction of the anti-Nazi non-Communist resistance remains troublesome in other countries as well as Poland. Not only were they physically destroyed but their role was completely re-written in textbooks. A real investigation of what happened is essential if these countries are to face the future with any real confidence.

But would that investigation be best served by the trial of an old woman, however bad the crimes are of which she is being accused? Gerald Warner of The Scotsman thinks so. I am not sure I agree with him though I think he is certainly right in finding Helena Wolinska’s use of her Jewishness to try to escape punishment distasteful. He, however, sees it as a test case for Britain to abandon the West’s double standards over Nazism and Communism.

For too long, a double standard has rightly demonised Nazism, but wrongly humanised Communism. The nauseating cult of 'Uncle' Joe Stalin was part of it; so were the Cambridge traitors. On any festive occasion in pre-1989 Moscow, the podium at Lenin's tomb was creaking beneath the weight of British trades unionists and fellow travellers. Even today, students who would never dream of wearing Nazi insignia will cheerfully sport red stars, hammers and sickles and other Stalinist kitsch. The Nazis murdered 20 million souls, the Reds 100 million. Does a nine-figure score for genocide transport an ideology beyond the gravitational pull of moral censure?

Can one argue with that? The trouble is that I do not think the case of Helena Brus-Wolinska will change much as far as the double standard is concerned especially if she is made out to be a victim of political forces and anti-semitism. The fight for that will continue for a while longer.

17 November 2007

One ring to rule them all...

One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

For "ring" read "treaty" and that is where it looks like game, set and match.

For more than 80 years, visionaries have been dreaming of the settting up of a supra-national government over Europe, one which would take over the power of nation states to rule themselves and replace them with a new form of government to rule them all.

It is more than 60 years since one of those visionaries dreamed of the day when, after this new edifice was more or less complete, they could unveil a Constitution for Europe which would be its "crowning glory".

It is more than 50 years since some of those visionaries realised that the only way to build that edifice was stealthily, piece by piece, over many decades, without letting on where it was intended to end up.

But in 2001 the successors of those visionaries, now comprising the European Council, thought they had reached the point where they could finally come out into the open about it, and could summon a convention to draft the Constitution for Europe which was to be the crowning glory of the whole project.

The original idea, as dreamed of by Spinelli in his prison cell in 1941, was that, when the Constitution was unveiled, the peoples of Europe would greet it with acclamation as just what they all wanted.

But in reality, as we know, at least some of the peoples of Europe did nothing of the kind. And, as we remember, in that summer of 2005, this threw the gaggle of nonentities making up the European Council into a state of shocked bewilderment. It was simply not in the script that their Constitution should be rejected.

The whole point of the Constitution, as they had solemnly agreed at Laeken in 2001, was that it was being presented to the people of Europe as what they the people wanted". It was there to redress what even Europe's leaders called the "democratic deficit". And the one thing the democratic deficit was not meant to do was to turn round and bite them, with the message that the peoples of Europe would prefer to hang onto what remained of their existing democracies, thank you very much.

So Europe's political leaders, those nonentities making up the European Council, went off into a huddle, indeed a whole succession of huddles, trying to work out what to do. They knew they had to have that Constitution which had been so unceremoniously rejected. They knew they could not possibly allow the peoples of Europe the chance to reject it again. So sometime last winter they came up with their brilliant plan.

They would bring back their Constitution almost exactly as before, but rearranged in a new way, to make it much less easy for an outsider to understand. And they would change its name to something different, less provocative.

Then they would simply come out with it again, saying there was no longer any need to consult the people. They would rush it through their parliaments and there they would be, happy as fleas, with the Constitution they had wanted all along.

There was just one little snag to their plan. They knew they would have to call it a treaty, and they knew that, under the rules, before you can have a treaty you have to have something called an intergovernmental conference, where all the sovereign national governments get round a table and negotiate the terms of that treaty.

But if they allowed that, then different governments might want to argue all over again about the contents of the treaty, and that they couldn't possibly allow, since the whole point was to get that new version of the Constitution exactly as it had already been agreed by the European Council.

So, in for a penny, in for a pound, they came up with another brilliant idea. To satisfy the rules, they would put up a show of holding an intergovernmental conference. But they would then doing something quite unprecedented and certainly against the rules. The IGC would be strictly mandated by the European Council to come up with exactly the text the Council had already approved.

At this point, many of the heads of government making up the Council, realising that they had stitched the whole thing up so neatly that they were virtually home and dry, came out in the open and admitted that the old Constitution and the new treaty were pretty well identical. 90 percent the same? 96 percent? 98 percent? 99 percent? Who cares?

Only one prime minister, as we know, in his brooding, devious way, didn't think he could dare admit that the two documents were in effect the same. He knew he was committed to grant a referendum on the Constitution, and that this was the solemn promise on which his party had been elected.

So if he admitted like the others that the new treaty was just the Constitution under another name, he would have great difficulty in explaining why he was going to break that promise, by refusing to hold a referendum he knew he would every chance of losing.

So he decided not only to break his promise but to tell a blatant lie into the bargain – perhaps the most brazen and shameless lie that any prime minister of this country has ever uttered.

His calculation was, and clearly remains, that the people of Britain didn't ultimately care enough about this issue, or understand sufficiently what was at stake, for them to do anything but make a kind of token, half-hearted fuss about it. Some of the press would jump up and down. The Tories might make half-angry noises. But ultimately Mr Brown thought he could rely on his majority in Parliament, and that within a few months the whole thing would be done and dusted. Britain would have ratified the treaty, just like everyone else, and Europe would have its Constitution by any other name.

Now I don't have to explain to you in this hall what the new treaty does for the way we are governed. It certainly doesn't mark the absolute end of the road the European project has been travelling these past 50 years or more. But it is equally a further giant step towards the creation of that supra-national government for Europe which the project’s original handful of visionaries were dreaming of as long as the 1920s.

The one thing they hated, despised and feared more than anything else was the nation state, and the right of each national people to have a government of their own choice, ruling through national institutions as they had evolved in many cases over centuries. What they wanted was a wholly new form of government that was above all the nation states, with the power to rule them all.

And perhaps the cleverest thing they did was not to sweep the nation states and all their institutions away, but to leave them all standing – while gradually sucking away all their power to the new supra-national government that was being constructed above them.

Parliaments, monarchies, presidencies, courts, all were still left in place, just as if nothing really had happened. But gradually they had been hollowed out from within. And by gradually drawing national politicians and civil servants into the great task of constructing the project behind the scenes, they could create their shadowy new supranational government without most people really having a clue what was going on.

I have often observed over the years that the people who enthusiastically support the European Union either don't really know very much about it or are in some way making money out of it. To those I think we have to add all those politicians and officials who see it as in some way adding to their own sense of self-importance, as being part of the big show.

The point about this new treaty is that it really does formalise that new supranational form of government much more obviously and completely than ever before.

It is very important that, instead of that shambolic rotating presidency which gives each country in turn the semblance of being in temporary charge of things, Europe should now have a single President who can be in office for as long as five years, and who can pose as "President of Europe" on the world stage, as a counterpart to the President of the United States or any other country.

It is important that, sitting next to him, should be Europe's own foreign minister, even if for the moment he still has to be called the "High Representative".

But there is one other very important change in this Constitution the significance of which few people seem to have appreciated, even though my friend Richard North and I have been rather forlornly banging on about it for months. This is the change which is taking place in the status of that body known as the European Council.

Most people, even most politicians, let alone most of the media, are still amazingly hazy about the European Council, precisely what is its purpose, its status, its role. It is of course made up of all the EU's heads of government. It meets three or four times a year, and those meetings are still usually referred to by uncomprehending hacks as "summits".

But even though it has come to play an extremely important and central role in the workings of the EU, the European Council is still not formally part of the EU's structures. Although Mr Blair used to think that it was set up by the original Treaty of Rome in 1957, it only came into being in the 1970s, when it was first suggested, like almost everything else in the great project, by Jean Monnet.

Monnet's idea was that the heads of government should hold regular, informal meetings to discuss how best the great task of Europe's political integration could be moved forward. He himself called it "the provisional government of Europe". It was on that basis that the European Council was set up in 1974, and it was on that basis that it has come to play an ever more important part in steering Europe towards its eventual destination as in effect a single country ruled by a single government.

But only now in the Reform Treaty is the Council finally admitted as a fully-fledged "Institution of the Union", alongside the Commission, the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (a wholly different institution with which it is often confused). And this brings with it a significant change, not just in the Council's status but in its nature and the role it is expected to play.

As members of a "Union institution", those who make it up will be bound by a wholly new obligation. No longer will they attend meetings of the Council as heads of supposedly sovereign governments, representing the interests of their own people.

Their primary duty, as set out in Article 9, will now be to promote the values, the objectives and the interests of the Union. And if you read through Article 3 of the treaty, setting out just what are those objectives of the Union, you will see that they are pretty well all-embracing, covering just about every aspect of government you could imagine. But these are the objectives of the Union which members of the Council will now be legally obliged to place ahead of any of the interests of their own peoples.

What this means is that when, say, Gordon Brown, goes off to Brussels for a meeting of the Council, he will no longer be doing so primarily to represent the interests of Great Britain, but as one of the 28 members of a body which is above all committed to putting the interests of the Union first.

By this change, the new government of Europe will not only have its own permanent president and foreign minister, it will in effect be given its own Cabinet. The prime ministers of Latvia and Greece and Malta and Finland will sit alongside our own prime minister as the Cabinet which decides the policies which are to rule our lives here in Britain and everywhere else.

We shall thus have a government which not only is not even nominally obliged to consider Britain's interests, but one which we cannot in any way call to account and which we will no longer have any power or right to dismiss. We shall never be able to change it through a democratic election. We shall in effect be just a small part of a giant one-party state.

One ring to rule them all, one ring to bind them. In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. Not quite what we all had in mind when Edward Heath assured us that going into the Common Market would in no essential way effect our sovereignty.

So what hope is there? Is there any glimmering of a chance that we can halt this final step into a one-party state which has already shown itself to be stupendously incompetent, corrupt, dishonest and quasi-totalitarian in everything it does?

There is perhaps just one very faint glimmer of hope and in the short term it is really the only one open to us. Mr Brown may be right in thinking that he can railroad this treaty through Parliament. But even Mr Brown, as the events of recent weeks have made obvious, is not going to be our prime minister forever. And however much many of us may have been dismayed by the performance of Mr Cameron and his party since he and his friends took it over, we are picking up indications that there may just be a stiffening of the Tory position on this treaty: a readiness at least to discuss behind the scenes the possibility of going to the country at the next election on a promise of some form of renegotiation of our relationship with the European Union.

All this may seem very far-fetched, but even at the top of the Tory Party there has recently been a shocked realisation of just how much of our power to govern ourselves we have already given away: not least on the issue of deciding who has the right to enter and live and work in our country.

We have certainly given away far more of the power to decide how Britain is run than most people realise, but with this new treaty it really is game, set and match. There may be little to stop us having the treaty imposed on us by a prime minister who is prepared both to break his word and to lie to us to get what he wants. So our hopes, fragile though they are, must now centre on the possibility that one day, perhaps not all that far off, we might just have a government for which this treaty was the wake-up call that it was the bridge too far.

If that is not the case, however, then let us be in no doubt as to the reality of the situation we shall be faced with. Like all the other peoples of Europe, we shall have become the victims of an immense, slow-motion coup d'etat. A coup d'etat brought off by a political class which holds both the idea of democracy and us, the peoples of Europe, in total contempt.

We have rarely seen this more clearly expressed than in the reported comment this week of Nicolas Sarkozy, the new President of France, that there is no way in which the peoples of Europe should be allowed to give their views on the treaty through the ballot box. Such matters are simply not for the people to decide.

But if that observation reflects the contempt in which our new rulers hold us the people, then we must remember that contempt very often works both ways, If there is one thing about our contemporary Europe which is as obvious as the contempt in which we are now held by those who govern us, it is that the contempt is reciprocal.

Never in history can the politicians and officials who make up the political class have commanded more universal distrust and scorn than today, as we see reflected in the ever dwindling turnout at elections and in the comments one hears on every side from people for whom politics and politicians have become words as dirty as any in the language. Even our ruling class in Brussels have long noticed what they call in their lofty way "the democratic deficit", even if they have not the slightest idea how to do anything to remedy it.

But if the rulers and the ruled in any society get that far apart, as history shows, if both sides to a broken contract hold each other in equal contempt, if one side possesses the power and is only too ready to use it, while the other feels increasingly powerless to effect any change, then we have something building up which is potentially very dangerous.

The pressure in the vessel is steadily increasing, while its lid is being screwed down tighter and tighter. The only way such a story can eventually end is in a very nasty and messy explosion.

Take away from people any right to control their own destiny, and eventually they will take their destiny back into their own hands. That is the stark reality of what we are confronted by today. Unless something gives, there will eventually be no alternative but a very nasty disintegration. And so long as Britain remains part of this crazed, self-deceiving enterprise, we shall be caught up in that mess just as surely as everyone else.


04 November 2007

Scared to Death

Remember two years ago when a senior official of the World Health Association told us that soon "150 million people" might be dead from bird 'flu?

Remember Edwina Currie and the great panic over eggs?

From "mad cow disease" to the Millennium Bug, from DDT to passive smoking, from leaded petrol to asbestos, one of the most conspicuous and damaging features of our modern world has become the "scare".

This week a new book is to be published, Scared To Death, co-authored by Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker and Dr Richard North, telling for the first time the inside story of all the major scares of recent decades, showing how they have followed a remarkably consistent pattern.

Even though a scare often begins with some genuine problem, such as BSE, the book analyses the crucial role played in each case by supposed scientific experts who eventually turn out to have misread or manipulated the evidence; then by those sections of the media who eagerly promote the scare without regard to the facts.

The "tipping point" of any scare, the authors show, comes when it is taken up by the politicians who, with their officials, come up with an absurdly disproportionate response. This leaves us all to pay a colossal price, often running into billions or even hundreds of billions of pounds.

The book shows, for instance, how Mrs Currie set the great salmonella scare on its way in 1988 by falling for what turned out to be a wholly mistaken theory that the rise in food poisoning was due to salmonella getting into eggs.

In 1996, panicked by the media, the Government's chief scientific adviser on BSE claimed that by 2005 half a million people might have died of CJD. Only a year later, he had revised his forecast of deaths down to just 200 – leaving Britain with the consequences of a scare that cost £7 billion.

In the late 1990s top industrialists and governments, led by Tony Blair, predicted that to "fix the Millennium Bug" would cost $300 billion. Yet minutes after midnight on January 1, 2000, it became clear that the threat had been grotesquely exaggerated.

By removing our most effective protection against malaria, the ban on DDT, thanks to the scare that it not only harmed wildlife but caused cancer, may have cost up to 50 million lives across the Third World.

Perhaps the most chilling scare of all was the hysteria which swept through many social services departments in the late 80s and 90s based on the belief that huge numbers of children were being subjected to "Satanic" or ritual abuse by groups of adults. The terrifying scar this left on hundreds of families persists to this day.

The book shows how scares wildly exaggerating the dangers of lead, passive smoking and asbestos were promoted through wholesale manipulation of the scientific evidence.

A deliberately fostered confusion between different types of asbestos created in the US one of the greatest swindles in legal history, what was termed "the $200 Billion Miscarriage of Justice", bringing Lloyd's of London to its knees. This was followed by a further multi-billion pound scandal on both sides of the Atlantic when new laws allowed specialist contractors to charge almost any sums they liked to businesses and homeowners panicked by the scare.

But Booker and North's narrative culminates in a long, meticulously sourced account of the story behind what they suggest has become the greatest scare of them all: the belief that the world faces catastrophe through man-made global warming. It is on this that our preview of the book focuses.


No one can deny that in recent years the need to "save the planet" from global warming has become one of the most all-pervasive political issues of our time. As Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, claimed in 2004, it poses "a far greater threat to the world than international terrorism", warning that by the end of this century the only habitable continent left in the world will be Antarctica.

Inevitably many people have been left bemused by this somewhat one-sided debate, imagining that if so many experts are agreed then there must be something in it. But if we set the story of how this fear was promoted in the context of the pattern followed by other scares before it, the parallels which emerge might leave any honest believer in global warming feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

The story of how the panic over climate change was pushed to the top of the international political agenda falls into five main stages.

Stage one, as an overture, came in the 1970s, when many scientists, followed by the media, expressed alarm over what they saw as a disastrous change in the earth's climate. Their fear was not of warming but global cooling, heralding the approach of "a new Ice Age".

The reason for this was that for three decades, after a sharp rise in the interwar years up to 1940, global temperatures had been falling. The one thing certain about climate is that it is always changing. Since we began to emerge from the last Ice Age glaciation 20,000 years ago, temperatures have several times been through significant swings.

The hottest period since man appeared on the earth, around 8,000 years ago, was followed by a long cooling. Then came what is known as the "Roman Warming", coinciding with the Roman Empire. Three more centuries of cooling in the Dark Ages were followed by the "Mediaeval Warming", when Greenland was inhabited and all the evidence agrees the world was hotter than it is today.

Around 1300 began "the Little Age", when glaciers advanced, the Thames froze over, Greenland had to be abandoned, and this did not end until, 200 years ago, we entered on what is known as the "Modern Warming". But even this has been chequered by colder periods, such those years between 1940 and 1975 known as the "Little Cooling", when scientific and media sages predicted that return to the Ice Age.

Then, in the late 1970s, evidence showed that the world was warming up again. As we see from many other examples, a scare is often set off when two things are observed together and scientists suggest that one must have been caused by the other.

In this case, thanks to readings commissioned by Dr Roger Revelle, a distinguished American oceanographer, it was observed that since the late 1950s levels of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere had been sharply rising. Perhaps it was this increase in greenhouse gases which was causing the new warming in the 1980s?

Stage two of the story began in 1988, when with remarkable speed global warming story was elevated into the ruling orthodoxy of the time, partly due to publicity given to hearings in Washington chaired by a comparatively new young Senator, Al Gore, who had studied under Dr Revelle in the 60s.

This helped make fighting climate change the fashionable cause of the moment, taken up by leading environmentalist groups, such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and by an array of Hollywood celebrities, from Robert Redford to Barbra Streisand,

But more importantly global warming hit centre stage because the UN in 1988 set up its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, which from now on was to play the leading role in the whole debate.

Through a series of reports, the IPCC was to advance its cause in a rather unusual fashion. First it would commission as many as 1,500 experts from all over the world to produce a huge scientific report, which might include all sorts of doubts and reservations. But this was then prefaced by a Summary for Policymakers, drafted in consultation with governments and officials, which was essentially a political document, in which most of the caveats contained in the experts' report disappeared.

This contradiction was already obvious in the first report in 1991, which led to the Rio conference on climate change in 1992. The second report in 1996 gave particular prominence to a study by an obscure US government scientist claiming the evidence for a connection between global warming and rising CO2 levels was now firmly established.

This study came under heavy fire from various leading climate experts for the way it manipulated the evidence by what became known as "the fingerprinting fraud". But this was not allowed to stand in the way of the claim that there was now complete scientific consensus behind the CO2 thesis, and the Summary for Policymakers, heavily influenced from behind the scenes by Al Gore, now US vice-president, paved the way in 1997 for the famous Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto initiated stage three of the story, by formally committing the governments of the developed world to making drastic reductions in their CO2 emissions. But the treaty still had to be ratified and this seemed a good way off, not least thanks to its unanimous rejection in 1997 by the US Senate, despite the best efforts of Vice-President Gore.

One of the less familiar aspects of Gore's career is how he had already by now become somewhat notorious among America's leading climate scientists for the ruthless way in which he used his influence to try to suppress any evidence they came up with to contradict the approved global warming thesis.

Not least of his efforts to rewrite the historical record was his bid to suppress an article co-authored just before his death by Dr Revelle. Gore didn't want to be known that his guru had expressed serious doubts about the supposed consensus, urging that the global warming thesis should be viewed with much more caution.

click to enlargeOne of the greatest problems Gore and his allies faced at this time was the mass of evidence showing that in past times, such as the Mediaeval Warming, global temperature had been even higher than they were in the late 20th century, long before CO2 levels had started to rise. Even the first two IPCC reports had included a graph conceding this point, But In 1998 came the answer they were looking for – a completely new temperature chart, devised by another obscure young American physicist, Michael Mann. This became known as the "hockey stick" (pictured) because it showed historic temperatures running in an almost flat line over the past 1,000 years, only suddenly flicking up at the end to temperatures never recorded before.

Mann's hockey stick was just what the IPCC wanted. When its 2001 report came out it was given pride of place at the top of page 1, and prominently repeated four more times. The Mediaeval Warming, the Little Ice Age, the 20th century Little Cooling when CO2 had already been rising, all had simply been wiped from the record.

click to enlargeBut then a growing number of academics began to raise very fundamental doubts about how Mann had arrived at his graph. This culminated in 2003 with a devastating study by two Canadian computer analysts, showing how Mann had not only ignored most of the evidence before him but had used an algorithm which would produce a hockey stick shaped graph whatever evidence was fed into the computer. When this was removed, the graph re-emerged (pictured) just as it had looked before. The Mediaeval Warming was back in place, again showing the early Middle Ages as even hotter than today.

It is hard to recall any scientific thesis ever being so comprehensively discredited as the "hockey stick". Yet the great global warming juggernaut rolled on regardless, now led politically by the European Union.

In 2004, thanks to a highly dubious deal between the EU and President Putin's Russia, stage four of the story began when the Kyoto treaty was finally ratified. Climate change had at last hit the top of the Western world's political agenda and the ratifying governments now had to act.

In the past three years, we have seen the EU in particular announcing every kind of measure geared to fighting climate change, from building ever more highly-subsidised wind turbines to produce derisory amounts of absurdly expensive electricity to a commitment that by 2050 it will have reduced its carbon emissions by 60 percent.

This is a pledge which could only be met by such a massive reduction in Europe's standard of living that it is impossible to see the peoples of Europe accepting it.
All this frenzy of political activity and propaganda has rested on the assumption that global temperatures will continue to rise in tandem with levels of CO2 and that, unless mankind takes the most drastic action, our planet is faced with the kind of apocalypse so vividly portrayed by Al Gore in his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth.

Yet in the past year or two, stage five of the story has seen all sorts of huge new question marks beginning to be raised over Gore's alleged consensus. It was not just that every single assertion in his film was dismissed by experts who knew their subject very much better than he did. For instance, Gore claimed that by the end of this century world sea levels will have risen by 20 feet when even the IPCC itself, in its latest report, only predicts a rise of between 4 and 17 inches.

There is also of course the harsh reality that, wholly unaffected by Kyoto, the economies of China and India are now expanding at nearly 10 percent a year, with China alone building a new coal-fired power station every four days, and likely within two years to be emitting more CO2 than the United States.

More serious than either of these points, however, has been all the evidence recently accumulating to show that, despite the continuing rise in CO2 levels, global temperatures in the years since 1998 have no longer been rising and may soon even be falling.

It was a telling moment when, in August, Gore's closest scientific ally James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies was forced to revise his long-influential record of US surface temperatures, showing that the past decade has seen the hottest years on record. His graph now concedes that the hottest year of the 20th century was not 1998 but 1934, and that four of the ten warmest years in the past 100 were not in the present decade but in the 1930s.

Furthermore scientists and academics have recently been queuing up to point out that fluctuations in global temperatures correlate much more consistently with the patterns of radiation from the sun than with any rise in CO2 levels, and that after a century of abnormally high solar activity the sun's effect is now weakening again, presaging a likely drop in temperatures.

If global warming does turn out to have been a scare like all the others, it will certainly represent as great a collective flight from reality by our politicians as history has ever recorded. The evidence of the next ten years will be very interesting.

Scared To Death: From BSE to Global Warming, How Scares Are Costing Us The Earth by Christopher Booker and Richard North is to be published by Continuum on November 8.