The Hound

Press conference by European Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom Exiting the European Union Michel Barnier in Brussels, Belgium on May 25, 2018.

Quelle surprise: Barnier confirms presidential bid

Well, well. How times change. Only a few months ago Michel Barnier, the silver-haired fox who ran rings around Theresa May during Brexit negotiations, was portraying Britain as a xenophobic, anti-immigrant and insular nation. Now it is Barnier who is waving the immigration flag as he enters the race to topple Emmanuel Macron for the presidency in next year’s elections.

Now, the 70-year-old self-proclaimed federalist is pledging to “limit and have control over immigration” in the face of globalism and Islamist extremism. He wants to “restore the authority of the state” and “reform the EU” of its opaque bureaucracy. It’s the sort of language which would not have sounded out of place coming from the far right’s Marine Le Pen. 

After months of teasing about whether he would or would not have a run for the presidency, Barnier finally came out on French TV yesterday to confirm his candidacy for Les Republicains. The smoothy-chops former Brexit negotiator had all the right words: he said Afghan refugees would be welcome, but not too many. He said that France needed healing, that he wanted to lead a “reconciled France.” He went on: “The world around us is dangerous, unstable and fragile. Our country is doing badly and we need a change-over.” He means him. 

Like his Jupiterian president, this is not a man who has any compunction about his own capabilities, or indeed ambition. Earlier this year, he published The Grand Illusion, telling his side of the Brexit negotiation table. For over 500 pages, Barnier waxes lyrical about his love for Brussels, and how it was he who was regularly trying to “control our nerves” in the face of irresponsible British politicians and diplomats.

Barnier is going to need all those negotiating skills: he is the fourth candidate to throw his hat into the ring for the Republicains nomination. The others are Valérie Pécresse, the head of the Paris regional council who is seen as his main party challenger, Philippe Juvin, a mayor from the Paris suburbs, and MP Éric Ciotti.

There is in one section of his memoir which may come back to haunt him – his admiration for the man he voted for in 2017. Someone that had a “positive and pro-European vision” to the “populist discourse” of far-right nationalists. That’s right: Macron.


Private donor to fund flying dogs and cats out of Kabul

You may have heard of Paul Farthing – otherwise crudely referred to as a “shi*t Noah” by an undisclosed government official – from his recent efforts in trying to airlift animals out of Afghanistan to escape the Taliban. But instead of sending Cocker Spaniels and Bengal Cats in teams of two by two, Farthing is hoping to evacuate an assorted cast of 200 rescue animals from his animal shelter Nowzad in Kabul. But who exactly is this uncrowned son of Noah, and why has he caused so much uproar?

Paul “Pen” Farthing or “Penny-Farthing” for the keen cyclists amongst you, has been rescuing dogs, cats, and donkeys after serving with the British Army in Afghanistan in the mid-2000s. Ever since the Taliban took control of the country last week, Farthing has been campaigning to have all his staff and their families, as well as 140 dogs and 60 cats, evacuated from the country in a plan he has coined “Operation Ark.” – it seems the Donkeys have been left to hee-haw for themselves. 

The former Royal Marine turned animal welfare charity boss has found himself ruffling feathers on all fronts, but this has not deterred him. He has pleaded with the Taliban directly to allow himself and his animals’ safe passage. In a message to Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen on Twitter, he wrote: 

“Dear Sir; my team & animals are stuck at airport circle. We have a flight waiting. Can you please facilitate safe passage into the airport for our convoy? @sushailshaheen1 We are an NGO who will come back to Afghanistan but right now I want to get everyone out safely.” 

Keep your eyes peeled to see if his pint-sized kittens will curtail Taliban and ISIS-K violence with cuteness.

Back on home turf, Penny-Farthing’s accusations of “abandonment” have wheeled their way into the cabinet, prompting frustration amongst members on cabinet benches. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace insisted that he was “prioritising people over pets” and that Farthing was talking “bollocks” after he suggested the Ministry of Defence had left him to fend for himself in Kabul. It’s only a matter of time before Wallace will go on air to remind Farthing that the ‘D’ in MoD stands for “defence” and not for “dogs.” 

Wallace has said that a charter flight was no “magic wand” saying: “The magic wand is whether people can get through Kabul through the Taliban checkpoints and then through the 3,000 – plus people, some of whom are waiting in front of the queue because they are under real threat, direct threat from the Taliban right now.” 

He added: ‘I’m not prepared to prioritise pets over people. I want people to come through that flow.”

Dr Doolittle responded: “I served my country for 22 years and the MoD has cancelled my emergency line that I had so that I can get updates on the situation, He has abandoned me here in Afghanistan and wants me to go quietly. Not going to happen Mr Wallace, not on my watch. You’re dealing with the wrong person.”  

As of this afternoon, the pied piper of pets has found his happy ending. A private aircraft is now expected to leave Luton Airport to evacuate the staff and animals from Nowzad. According to sources, a supporter of Operation Ark has privately funded the plane.

God by any chance? 


Workers’ rights are back in fashion

Expect fun and games between Unite’s new leader –  Sharon Graham – and the Labour party.

Graham, who won a fiercely contested battle to become president of Unite, did so with the promise of distancing the union from the Labour party and focussing instead on workers’ rights. 

Rather than seeking political power, Graham hails a return to delivering “what it says on the trade union tin – a relentless fight for jobs, pay and conditions.” Her manifesto pledge was simple, promising to put “members and our workplaces first.”

Under her leadership, it is expected that the UK’s biggest union – which is also the biggest financial backer of the party – will distance itself from Labour. As she put it,  “we have tried our political project within Labour – it has failed.” 

The left-wing outsider who has been described as an “unknown quantity” was born in 1968 in Hammersmith, London, where she still lives. She began work as a silver-service waitress aged 16 and led her first walkout at 17; she and other waitresses were not being paid on time. Graham initially wanted to be a journalist, and worked as secretary for an estate agents. She joined the Transport and General Worker’s Union, and became its National Youth and Development Officer when she was 31 after a period of training at the Trade Union Congress’s academy. She became Unite’s director of organising in 2016, and managed the union’s response to British Airway’s decision to fire and rehire staff in 2020. She also led a campaign to unionise Amazon workers.

Graham was tipped for the leadership in 2017, but was a surprise win in this election: she did not run with the support of any particular union group or faction. After Howard Beckett dropped out of the race to support Steve Turner – the assistant general secretary under Len McCluskey – pressure mounted on Graham to do the same. The left-wing faction of Unite wanted to prevent moderate Gerard Coyne from gaining power. But Graham refused, receiving much vile and misogynistic abuse on social media for her decision. 

Yet she was elected to the post on Wednesday, winning with 37.7% of the vote in a closely contested three-way competition. Steve Turner won just under 5000 votes fewer than Graham, and Gerard Coyne was just over 10,000 behind Graham. As well as mounting her own highly successful media campaign on social media, Graham was backed by many of Unite’s female members – it now has 290,000 women members who are emerging as a growing force in the labour movement. 

While Graham has no plans to disaffiliate Unite from Labour, Sir Keir Starmer has been warned that the union will not be shelling out money for political campaigning without careful thought. One to watch. 

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