Seumas Milne

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Seumas Milne
Opposition Executive Director of Strategy and Communications
Assumed office
26 October 2015
Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Preceded by Bob Roberts (May 2015)
Personal details
Born 1958 (age 57–58)
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Parents Alasdair Milne (father)
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford
Birkbeck, University of London
Occupation Political aide, journalist and writer

Seumas Milne (born 1958) is a British journalist and political aide. In October 2015 he was appointed the Labour Party's Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, on leave from The Guardian.[1][2]

Milne joined the newspaper in 1984.[3] He was a columnist and associate editor at The Guardian at the time of his Labour Party appointment, and according to Peter Popham writing for The Independent in 1997, "is on the far left of the Labour Party".[4][5][6] He is the author of The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners, a book about the 1984–5 British miners' strike which focuses on the role of MI5 and Special Branch in the dispute.[7][8]

Milne's journalism and Labour Party appointment were the subject of much negative media comment in October 2015. Peter Preston, Milne's former editor at The Guardian, commented on the ethical challenges faced by journalists-turned-political advisers and concluded about Milne's change of career path: "Houston, we have a challenge: let's see if we have a problem."[9]

Early life[edit]

Milne is the younger son of former BBC Director General Alasdair Milne. He attended Winchester College, where he stood in a mock election in 1974 as a Maoist Party candidate,[10] and read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford, and Economics at Birkbeck College, London University. His sister Kirsty, who died in July 2013, was an academic and former journalist.[11]

After graduating from Oxford University, Milne became the business manager of Straight Left, a monthly publication produced from 1979 by a faction in the Communist Party of Great Britain. According to Standpoint magazine's Michael Mosbacher, the group wanted the CPGB to remain "on a solidly Stalinist path".[12] Its supporters were not exclusively communists: several left-wing Labour MPs with pro-Soviet bloc sympathies (all now deceased) sat on its editorial committee; Milne was not a Communist Party member.[13] Peter Popham wrote in a 1997 article for The Independent that "there is no mistaking that Seumas is on the far left of the Labour Party, of which he has been a member for 20 years".[4]



Milne worked as a staff journalist on The Economist magazine from 1981 before joining The Guardian newspaper in 1984 on the recommendation of Andrew Knight, the magazine's editor at the time.[3][9] Milne's early responsibilities on The Guardian included posts as news reporter, Labour Correspondent (by 1994),[14] and Labour Editor. In 1994, Milne's colleague Richard Gott resigned from The Guardian over his connections to the KGB, and Milne defending Gott against allegations which "seemed absurd", claimed the journalists who had written the expose of his friend for The Spectator magazine were connected to MI5.[14][15]

Milne was Comment Editor for six years from 2001 to 2007.[12] According to Peter Wilby in a New Statesman profile of Milne, his most controversial decision among Guardian staff, was a 2004 article by Osama bin Laden, assembled from recordings of one of his speeches. While almost all thought it should have been published, a small majority thought it should not have been run as a comment piece, although the readers' editor later defended this decision.[16]

Milne's period in this role was described by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine as having turned the Guardian's comment section into a "truly global debating forum".[17] Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan claimed that Milne's greatest achievement "was to take full advantage of the expansion of The Guardian’s comment pages ... making them the most thought-provoking opinion section in Britain".[5] Hannan also praised him as "a sincere, eloquent and uncomplicated Marxist".[5] Following changes in staff responsibilities, he was succeeded in this last role by Georgina Henry,[18] with Toby Manhire as her deputy.[19] Milne was moved to his role as associate editor in 2007, according to Peter Wilby because he was building up too many writers in his own image, and devoting too much space to Palestine.[16]

Milne has reported for The Guardian from the Middle East, Latin America, Russia, Eastern Europe and South Asia,[20] and has also written for Le Monde Diplomatique[21] and the London Review of Books.[22] Milne is reported to have lobbied within The Guardian in 2015 for new editor Katharine Viner to succeed Alan Rusbridger in the post.[23]

Milne served on the executive committee of the National Union of Journalists for ten years,[4][20] and is a former chairman of the joint Guardian-Observer NUJ chapter. In the 1980s, he chaired the Hammersmith Constituency Labour Party when Clive Soley (now Lord Soley) was the constituency's MP.[24] "Resistance and the unity of the working class is what will progress our movement", Milne told a 2015 May Day rally in Glasgow.[24] Kate Godfrey, who has worked as an aid worker in conflict zones such as Libya and Syria,[25] wrote in The Daily Telegraph in October 2015: "I think Milne is an apologist for terror, and will always be an apologist for terror. I think that he never met a truth he didn’t dismiss as an orthodoxy and that nowhere in his far-Left polemic are actual people represented".[26]

Labour's Director of Communications[edit]


It was announced on 20 October 2015 that Milne would become part of the team behind Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour Party's Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. Reportedly on a one-year contract,[27] he is "on leave" from his post at The Guardian and assumed his new role on 26 October.[2][28] "Just what the doctor ordered", Milne's friend George Galloway tweeted in response to the news.[29][30] Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore, after expressing her dislike of leftists from Milne's background, speculated (in a soon deleted tweet[14]) that his appointment meant "Bye bye Labour".[31]

According to Tom Harris, a former Scottish Labour MP writing in The Daily Telegraph, Corbyn could have chosen for the Comms post "someone whose skills in media management were better known than his personal political views. Instead he chose Seumas Milne, a hate figure for the right of the Labour Party and pretty much everyone else to the right of that."[32] The former New Labour cabinet minister, Lord Mandelson, told the BBC that Corbyn had shown a lack of professionalism in appointing Milne, "whom I happen to know and like as it happens. But he's completely unsuited to such a job, he has little connection with mainstream politics or mainstream media in this country."[33][34]

John Jewell, an academic at Cardiff University's School of Journalism, criticised the articles by Harris and others which mention Milne's response to the murder of Lee Rigby. Jewell observes that "the article in which Milne wrote of Rigby not being a victim of terrorism 'in the normal sense' began with these words: 'The videoed butchery of Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich barracks last May was a horrific act and his killers’ murder conviction a foregone conclusion.'"[35]

Patrick Wintour, the political Editor of The Guardian, wrote that Corbyn "has been struggling to ensure he receives an effective press since he became party leader, and Milne will be charged with ensuring there is an improvement ahead of the large round of local government elections in Scotland, Wales, London and England due in May next year".[1] Peter Preston, Milne's first Guardian editor, asserted shortly after Milne's appointment: "The 'on leave' tag appears to make Seumas a once and continuing Guardian man, which won’t help relations with journalists from elsewhere and could hogtie former colleagues who aren’t on leave if they want to criticise Labour's communications policies."[9] In July 2016, Owen Jones in his Guardian column defended Milne as "a deeply insightful and thoroughly decent man who has been wronged by his media portrayal as a soulless Stalinist apparatchik".[36]

January 2016 shadow cabinet reshuffle[edit]

In early October 2015, a few weeks before his appointment was announced, Milne was interviewed by the RT television network, formerly known as Russia Today, while the Labour Party conference was in progress.[37] Milne said that Corbyn's initial front bench constituted a "stabilisation shadow cabinet" and was of the opinion that current Labour MPs were "not only far to the right of most Labour party members, but actually it's to the right of public opinion."[38] Milne commented that reselection in this parliament, because of a reduction in the number of members of parliament necessitating constituency boundary changes, could be used for a "recalibration" of the parliamentary party.[37][38] Corbyn's spokesman said in response that the Labour leader "has been crystal clear he does not support changes to Labour's rules to make it easier to deselect sitting Labour MPs".[38]

The Labour MP Ian Austin said while the January 2016 reshuffle of Labour's frontbench was in progress that over the last few weeks, Milne's actions had been "an absolute disgrace." According to Austin, "people in the leader's office, I'm told by journalists, Seumas Milne, telling us that Hilary Benn was going to be sacked, that Michael Dugher was going to be sacked, a whole long list of people, not for questions of competence or loyalty but because they voted a different way on a free vote."[39][40] However Isabel Hardman, assistant editor of The Spectator, speaking on This Week cast doubt on this interpretation, giving credence to a view that it was other people who claim to be close to Corbyn who were briefing journalists.[41] While Dugher was sacked by Corbyn from his post as shadow culture secretary, Benn survived as shadow foreign secretary.[42]

Milne made an official complaint to the BBC about the 6 January on-air announcement on the Daily Politics programme by Stephen Doughty that he had resigned as a shadow foreign office minister. In a letter to Robbie Gibb, the BBC's head of live political programmes, Milne objected to the BBC following a "particular political narrative". Gibb responded that the programme had merely observed the convention of the BBC, and other media outlets, in breaking news stories.[43] Milne was reported, by Andrew Grice of The Independent on 21 January 2016, to be aligned with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in a power struggle between two factions in Corbyn's team.[44]

June 2016 Vice News documentary[edit]

A fly on the wall documentary about the Corbyn-led Labour Party, produced by Vice News, became available online at the beginning of June 2016. Milne was featured asserting that Corbyn's line of attack as Leader of the Opposition for Prime Minister's Questions are leaked to the Conservative government. In a recorded aside, Milne said that it happens "a third of the time" giving then prime minister David Cameron "an advantage".[45][46]

Labour's General Secretary Iain McNicol emailed party staff to acknowledge that they might be "upset" by Milne's comments and to reassure them that their work was appreciated.[47]

Brexit campaign and the Labour leadership crisis[edit]

After the unexpected victory of the "Leave" camp in the June 2016 referendum on UK membership in the European Union, Milne's role as Labour strategist came under scrutiny within the party. Internal emails passed to BBC News were alleged by Labour "Remainers" to show Milne minimizing the public campaign by party leader Corbyn to promote the Remain camp.[48] After more than sixty front-bench resignations and a vote of no confidence with 80% of Labour MPs supporting the motion against Corbyn, Milne was accused by the Labour Party's former strategist John McTernan in the London Evening Standard of talking Corbyn out of resigning.[49] Other sources, according to Robert Peston, have disputed this claim.[50]

Nick Cohen wrote in July 2016 that "Milne could not do a better job of keeping the Tories in power if rogue MI5 agents had groomed him at Winchester College, signed him up at Oxford University and instructed him to infiltrate and destroy the Labour party. He says he is principled, but what is striking about Milne and the rest of the Corbyn 'insurgency' is their vacuity. For what is the far left now? What does it want? It will tell you at length what it is against, but what is it for?"[51] "The terrifying thing" about Labour's possible extinction, thought the novelist Robert Harris, "is that for people like Milne this represents a victory for socialism because this will start the break-up of the system".[52] "For people like Seumas losing elections are of little consequence", wrote the former minister David Watts in August 2016,[53][54]


On British politics[edit]

Milne was a strong critic of New Labour, in particular over its support for foreign wars, privatisation and low taxes on the wealthy.[55] He has argued that David Cameron's "makeover" of the Conservative Party is "skin deep"[56] and attacked the party for its links with "rightwing fringe" parties in eastern Europe[57] and support for "small state" public spending cuts.[58] In May 2009, following the parliamentary expenses scandal, he objected to a House of Commons with a large number of "New Labour clones" and advocated that "putting all but the most blameless [Labour] MPs through a process of reselection would offer the chance both to revive local democracy and replace some Tweedledum career politicians with more independent, rooted and working-class candidates."[59][60]

On capitalism, communism and democracy[edit]

Capitalism and democracy[edit]

Writing for The Guardian in September 2015, Milne put forward his view that it's the establishment that has a problem with democracy:

Milne has argued that the financial and economic crisis of 2007–9 has discredited the neoliberal model of capitalism.[62] He has argued for full public ownership of banks in Britain to support economic recovery and overcome the credit crisis.[63] The rejection of a search for an alternative to capitalism, wrote Milne in 2006 "reflects a determination to prove there is no alternative to the new global capitalist order – and that any attempt to find one is bound to lead to suffering and bloodshed". Meanwhile, "[amid] international demands for social justice and ever greater doubts about whether the environmental crisis can be solved within the existing economic system, the pressure for political and social alternatives will increase."[64]

"Liberal democracy, Mr Milne, is not a swindle", wrote Philip Collins of The Times in October 2015. "It's the good life. Not the perfect life and not yet the good life for everyone, by any means, but a better life than any you find in the history books you so wish you could rewrite."[65] Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor for The Guardian asserted in October 2015 that Milne

Oliver Bullough in the New Statesman observed in October 2015: "For Milne, geopolitics is more important than people. Whatever crisis strikes the world, the West's to blame" which leads him in to "rampant victim blaming".[67]


Milne has attacked what he calls "the creeping historical revisionism that tries to equate Nazism and communism",[68] which he argues has tended to "relativise the unique crimes of Nazism, bury those of colonialism and feed the idea that any attempt at radical social change will always lead to suffering, killing and failure".[69] He has written that communism's "crimes are now so well rehearsed that they are in danger of obliterating any understanding of its achievements, both of which have lessons for the future of progressive politics and the search for a social alternative to globalised capitalism".[70] Stephen Pollard in The Times mocked Milne's sympathies: "The point is, you see, Uncle Joe was engaged in an honourable project, offering 'socialist political alternatives'. So it was just a pity, one supposes, that millions had to die. Never mind; all in a good cause."[71] James Bloodworth, writing about Milne, commented that "if you find yourself vying for the moral high ground with Adolf Hitler, I would suggest your political ideology is in trouble".[72]

Milne argued in 2006:

In the same 2006 article Milne criticised the Council of Europe and others for adopting "as fact the wildest estimates of those 'killed by communist regimes'".[64] He has argued that, while the "number of victims of Stalin's terror" "remain[s] a focus of huge academic controversy",[69] "the real records of repression now available from the Soviet archives are horrific enough (799,455 people were recorded as executed between 1921 and 1953 and the labour camp population reached 2.5 million at its peak) without engaging in an ideologically-fuelled inflation game".[64] Oliver Bullough has written that Milne in "focussing only on the USSR's executions ignores the millions it starved to death in Ukraine, or in the mass deportations from the Caucasus and Crimea, [in addition to] the way it used rape as a weapon."[67]

Milne himself, in an October 2012 interview with The Quietus online magazine, commented: "Whatever people thought about the Soviet Union and its allies and what was going on in those countries, there was a sense throughout the twentieth century that there were alternatives – socialist political alternatives".[73][74] For Alex Massie, writing for The Spectator in October 2015: "Milne's concern for those labouring in imperial captivity never extends to those held hostage by the Soviets."[75]

Al-Qaeda attacks and the response[edit]

11 September attacks[edit]

Milne argued that the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington were the product of "longstanding grievances" over US intervention in the Middle East: "not only western indulgence of Israeli military occupation, but decades of oil-lubricated support for despots from Iran to Oman, Egypt to Saudi Arabia and routine military interventions to maintain US control".[76] On 13 September 2001 he wrote[77] that "most Americans simply don't get.. why the United States is hated with such bitterness, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but across the developing world". Milne argued that in the aftermath of "such atrocities", only a minority were likely to "make the connection between what has been visited upon them and what their government has visited upon large parts of the world. But make that connection they must, if such tragedies are not to be repeated."[77] He wrote that the US was "reaping a dragon's teeth harvest" it had itself sowed in Afghanistan in the 1980s.[77]

Afghanistan and Iraq wars[edit]

Milne has been a vocal critic of the "war on terror"[78] and the wars in Afghanistan[79] and Iraq.[80] He argued in 2001 that war in Afghanistan would fail to "stamp out anti-western terrorism" and if the US invaded Iraq, "it risks a catastrophe".[81] Milne was singled out by Tony Blair in a December 2001 dossier as one of ten media critics of the war in Afghanistan and the US-British response to the 9/11 attacks whose views he claimed had "proved to be wrong".[82]

In relation to Iraq, Milne argued in March 2008:

According to Milne in July 2004, "the anti-occupation guerrillas" were "a classic resistance movement with widespread support waging an increasingly successful guerrilla war against the occupying armies".[83][84] According to Michael Weiss, for Milne's approved "resistance", "read: mosque bombers and head-loppers"[85] He argued in October 2009 for a "negotiated withdrawal" from Afghanistan based on a "political settlement, including the Taliban and regional powers".[79] In a speech at a Stop the War rally on 4 October 2014, the day after Alan Henning is thought to have been beheaded, Milne said that "the horrific killing of the hostage Alan Henning in revenge for the British decision to bomb Iraq is a reminder, if any were needed, that another war in Iraq or Syria won't stop terror".[86] He also said that "The group that calls itself Islamic State is the ultimate blowback from the invasion of Iraq",[40] calling it "the Frankenstein product of the War on Terror".[86]

Motivations of al-Qaeda[edit]

Milne argued after the London bombings that it was "an insult to the dead" and a "piece of disinformation long peddled by champions of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan" to claim that al-Qaeda and its followers were motivated by "a hatred of western freedoms and way of life" and "that their Islamist ideology aims at global domination", rather than "the withdrawal of US and other western forces from the Arab and Muslim world" and an end to support for Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and despotic regimes in the region.[87] Victor J. Seidler, a Professor of Social Theory from the University of London, argued in relation to Milne's article that we have to be careful "not to dismiss an Islamist rejection of the freedoms of Western urban cultures, in relation to consumerism and sexualities".[88] Seidler argued that, contrary to Milne's claims, they were at least partly motivated by "Islamist religious doctrine".[89] Mohammad Sidique Khan, one of the London bombers, stated that they launched the attack because "Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible."[90]

Andrew Anthony, writing about the columnist's articles on Muslim extremism, asserted that "whereas Milne can instantly detect the relationship between far right rhetoric and the recent murder of Ahmed Hassan, a Muslim teenager in Dewsbury, he dismisses the idea that such hatred as was captured in" the Dispatches programme "Undercover Mosque" (2007) "might contribute to the kind of mentality that resulted in the carnage of the July 2005 bombs and the many terror plots that the authorities have successfully prevented."[91]

On Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran[edit]

Milne has stated that since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, "Iran and its allies offer the only effective challenge to US domination of the Middle East and its resources".[92] After the 2009 presidential election in Iran, Milne argued that the evidence suggested Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had in fact won the elections, despite allegations of fraud.[93] Milne wrote that "it's hard to believe that rigging alone could account for the 11 million-vote gap between the main contenders".[93] He has described Ahmadinejad's "toying with Holocaust denial" as "morally repugnant and factually absurd".[94] But he argued that, while for the western media Ahmadinejad is "nothing but a Holocaust-denying fanatic... the other Ahmadinejad, who is seen to stand up for the country's independence, expose elite corruption on TV and use Iran's oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority is largely invisible".[93]

Israeli–Palestinian conflict[edit]

In the Middle East, Milne has argued that "commitment to Palestinian rights should first of all be a question of justice. But, given the toxicity this conflict brings to the entire relationship with the Muslim world, it is also a matter of obvious western self-interest".[95] He has written that "far from supporting the Palestinian national unity necessary to make any peace agreement stick", the US and its allies "are doing everything possible to deepen the split between Hamas and Abbas's Fatah movement".[96]

Gaza Wars[edit]

In the aftermath of the Gaza War (27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009), also known as Operation Cast Lead, Milne cited allegations of Israeli war crimes to argue: "With such powerful evidence of violations of the rules of war now emerging from the rubble of Gaza, the test must be this: is the developing system of international accountability for war crimes only going to apply to the west's enemies – or can the western powers and their closest allies also be brought to book?"[97]

Columnist Melanie Phillips termed Milne a "Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas mouthpiece" in 2009.[98] At the end of her article, rejecting The Guardian and Milne's claims of Israeli war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, Phillips criticised Milne's commentary as a:

In an August 2014 speech at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstration for Gaza[99][100] he said that "Israel has no right to defend itself from territory it illegally occupies" and, referring to the actions of Hamas against Israel, "It isn't terrorism to fight back. The terrorism is the killing of citizens by Israel on an industrial scale".[28][101]

On Libya[edit]

Milne alleged NATO to be indirectly responsible for the killing of many civilians in the Libyan civil war of 2011 and wrote that global justice would demand a trial against NATO because of its support of the Libyan rebels.[102] In an earlier article by Milne in late October 2011, according to Daniel Knowles in his Daily Telegraph blog, an assertion from Milne about the number of deaths in Libya was "ridiculous. Nato has only multiplied deaths if you assume, as Milne clearly does, that these rebels have no legitimate fight with Colonel Gaddafi – they are just pawns of Nato", and in making such claims "slips into apology for Gaddafi".[103]

On Latin America[edit]

Milne has written in support of what he calls "the wave of progressive change in Latin America",[104] which he has described as "the most hopeful development in global politics in the past two decades".[105]

Milne has also argued that Hugo Chávez's presidency was the target of "unfounded accusations of dictatorship" in the western media.[104] He asserted that Chávez's proposed referendum to eliminate term limits (which passed on 15 February 2009 after previously being rejected on August 2007)[citation needed] would "bring the country into line with the rules in France and Britain".[104]

On Putin and Russia[edit]

Along with the journalist John Pilger and Andrew Murray of Stop the War, Milne has been accused by Michael Mosbacher, writing for Standpoint magazine, of being one of the "leftist apologists" for Vladimir Putin's government in Russia.[106] In the words of Nick Cohen, Milne "doffs the cap to Putin’s capitalist kleptocracy".[51] Cohen wrote in September 2016 that "Western leftists", such as Milne, in allying themselves with Putin "are not just making the West’s enemy their friend. Western leftists are allying with the West’s own far right" because Putin's government "funds the French National Front and far right nationalist movements in Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria".[107]

It has been alleged that Milne was remunerated by the Kremlin[23][60][108] to conduct a discussion in 2014 with Putin and former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin at Sochi, the Black Sea resort, opening a session there entitled "New Rules or No Rules in the Global Order".[108] Ben Judah wrote in The Sunday Times in late October 2015 that Milne had "respectfully asking softball questions" of Putin. According to Judah:

On the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Milne wrote that "western aggression and lawless killing is on another scale entirely from anything Russia appears to have contemplated, let alone carried out – removing any credible basis for the US and its allies to rail against Russian transgressions",[109] and has described the annexation as "clearly defensive",[110] asserting that "the crisis in Ukraine is a product of the disastrous Versailles-style break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s".[109] Oliver Bullough, in his New Statesman article about Milne, disagreed with this view asserting that "the destruction of the USSR was not some Versailles-style treaty imposed from outside. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus did it themselves".[67] Ben Judah concluded in his article about Milne: "The most dangerous fools are the ones who sound clever".[60]

Private life[edit]

Milne married Cristina Montanari, an Italian-born director of an advertising firm, in 1992. The couple have two now-adult children, a son and daughter, who were educated at selective grammar schools in Kingston upon Thames at Montanari's insistence.[23][31] Milne had a lung tumour removed around 2013.[23]



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  6. ^ "In the air", Evening Standard, 16 August 2006
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  20. ^ a b Guardian profile
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  88. ^ Victor J. Seidler, Urban Fears and Global Terrors, 2007. p. 116
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  92. ^ Seumas Milne "The fallout from an attack on Iran would be devastating", The Guardian, 5 October 2007
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  94. ^ Seumas Milne "What credibility is there in Geneva's all-white boycott?", The Guardian, 23 April 2009
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  100. ^ The Fourteen Films video recording of Milne's speech, delivered on 9 August 2014, is on their YouTube feed here.
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  105. ^ Seumas Milne "The Honduras coup is a sign: the radical tide can be turned", The Guardian, 12 August 2009
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External links[edit]