Archive for January, 2011

AV – who cares? The whole debate’s a waste of time and money.

31/01/2011, 12:00:18 PM

by Michael Dugher

In September 2009 I was asked to conduct the traditional pre-briefing for broadcasters of the leader’s speech to the party conference. I remember reporting back to Gordon Brown’s other advisers that I had just “had my balls fried” by journalists about a line in the speech committing Labour to hold a referendum on the alternative vote. There was much confusion. The journalists wanted to know why having a referendum on AV had anything to do with the need for political reform after the MPs expenses scandal. They also wanted to know whether Labour would be campaigning for a “yes” vote, or whether we were simply committing to giving people the choice to move to AV or not. “Oh we’re definitely in favour of AV”, said one policy wonk. “No we’re bloody not,” said a political adviser, “large parts of the PLP are against and it hasn’t gone through the NEC yet”.

18 months later, the tedious irrelevancy that is the debate about whether or not to change to the alternative vote system continues. It is striking that the only party to have had a commitment to having a referendum on AV was Labour, the party that definitely lost the election. The Tories were opposed, as were the Lib Dems, who, as longstanding supporters of proportional representation, dismissed AV as “a miserable little compromise”. And yet we are having a referendum nonetheless, whether the public wants one or not. (more…)

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The unholy alliance destroying the country (no, not that one)

31/01/2011, 07:45:12 AM

by David Seymour

It is the last resort of a desperate politician to fall back on denouncing judges as unelected. Michael Howard was at it the other day, complaining that the courts should not be asked to decide whether it was lawful for the government to snatch away million of pounds promised to councils as part of the “building schools for the future” programme. (Yes, that’s the same Michael Howard who was overturned 27 times by the courts when he was home secretary).

If the only people who could decide anything had gone through an electoral process, we would be in a situation in which an administration supported by less than a quarter of the electorate (as most governments in the past decade have been) could do what it liked.

What really gets me agitated, though, aren’t the attacks on judges by politicians and right-wing journalists (can’t recall many of them being elected), but their acceptance at the same time of certain unelected and self-appointed individuals and bodies who exert an overwhelming influence on decision-making.

Take Sir Andrew Green and migration watch. Where did they come from? He was a retired diplomat who founded a body which has been at the forefront of terrifying the British people into thinking we are being over-run by foreigners. (more…)

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Monday News Review

31/01/2011, 07:31:11 AM

Ed doesn’t repeat Nick’s mistake

Ed Miliband has hit upon the easiest and most obvious way to avoid what might be called the Clegg-over Trap: you do not have to answer certain questions, and any answer you give will make you look a twit, so pass. He was put to the test soon after becoming Labour leader when he was interviewed by Piers Morgan for an article in a men’s magazine. Morgan put the predictable questions – “How many women have you slept with?” and “When did you lose your virginity?” – both of which Mr Miliband brushed away, somewhat immodestly, by saying he “would not boast about his sexual prowess”. His reply contained a hidden dig at the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who once told the same magazine, GQ, that he had slept with “no more than 30” women, to the horror of his advisers who were sitting in on the interview. The reply was meant as a joke, but landed the Liberal Democrat leader with the embarrassing nickname “Clegg-over”. – the Independent

The Labour leader insisted he would not be bullied into marrying Ms Thornton, the mother of his two young sons, before quipping: “Thank God for that, probably”. Mr Miliband, who is the first leader of a major political party to live with his family out of wedlock, has been criticised for not marrying Ms Thornton, a 40-year-old Cambridge- educated barrister. Traditionalists have also attacked Mr Miliband for not putting his name on the birth certificate of his eldest son, Daniel. He claimed he was so busy he forgot. During an interview for GQ magazine, which is out on Thursday, Morgan teased the Labour leader by continually referring to Ms Thornton as his “wife”. Asked for his views on marriage during the interview, which took place on the day he returned from paternity leave last November, Mr Miliband explained his decision. “It’s a good institution and part of having stable families, but there are also people in unmarried relationships with stable families. I don’t think politicians should order people to get married,” he said. He insisted he would eventually tie the knot. “But the more people who challenge me on it from a political standpoint, the more resistant I will become,” he added. Mr Miliband said he never took drugs at university, claiming he was a “bit square” in his youth. – the Scotsman (more…)

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The Sunday Review: How the West was lost, by Dambisa Moyo

30/01/2011, 03:00:39 PM

by Anthony Painter

On their way to discuss “shared norms in the new reality” in Davos this week, many of the world’s leading politicians, businesspeople and media figures will pick up a copy of Dambisa Moyo’s How the West was lost. Those coming from “the West” will turn the pages nervously. Those from emerging nations will smile contentedly. The future is China’s. The US will not only lose its number one spot but will decline precipitously and end up as a bloated socialist state. How the tables have turned.

We have been here before. In the 1960s, it was the USSR that was going to overtake the US. Sputnik focused minds. NASA landed a man on the moon and all was fine again. By the 1980s it was Japan, when a spate of books detailing Japan’s onward march to global domination filled those same bookshelves that now hold Moyo’s book. Now, it is China. Surely, this time it’s different?

Actually, this time it probably is different. China will end up as the largest global economy. It’s huge, its population is four times that of the US and it’s growing fast. The surprise will be if China does not replace the US as number one in the next couple of decades. Japan has already slipped into third place as a result of China’s rise. (more…)

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What are Tory ministers up to in Sudan?

30/01/2011, 12:31:33 PM

by James Watkins

The arid, sun drenched lands of southern Sudan may seem a long way from the corridors of Whitehall. But the actions of British ministers are raising eyebrows – and have led to real differences in the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain.

Right now, the count in a key referendum is taking place that is likely to lead to the world’s newest nation in southern Sudan being created this summer. Interim results are already out that shows there is, to date, 99% support for a new state. The referendum is going forward largely peacefully – with the exception of deadly violence in a key border area between northern and southern Sudan. The African Union is playing a critical role in this largely peaceful process with these efforts being hailed by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, as a step forward for the continent.

But this referendum is taking place against a background where horrific violence between Sudanese forces and southern Sudanese militias had led to the deaths of 2 million people. Sudan is already scarred by the tragedy in the eastern Sudanese province of Darfur where the actions of the Sudanese government-backed militias have, according to the united nations, played a major role in the deaths of 300,000 people. As a consequence, the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted by the international criminal court on charges of genocide. (more…)

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Sunday News review

30/01/2011, 06:59:24 AM

Ed meets the troops

Ed Miliband vowed yesterday he would not play “party politics” with British troops as he made his first visit to ­Afghanistan as Labour leader. Speaking in Helmand province, Mr Miliband backed PM David ­Cameron’s timetable to end combat operations there by 2015. He told troops: “Our mission is not a matter of party politics. It is about ­doing what is right for our country. A more stable Afghanistan will lead to a more safe Britain. You have our support, our respect and our admiration.” Mr Miliband toured Camp Bastion base, meeting the ­injured. He then went to Shawqat, scene of fierce f­ighting, with defence ­spokesman Jim ­Murphy and Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas ­Alexander. – Sunday Mirror

Ed Miliband pledged yesterday not to play ‘party politics’ with the military campaign in Afghanistan after making his first visit to the war-torn country. Addressing British troops in the volatile Helmand province, the Labour leader insisted that Britain was ‘united’ behind the military effort. But he also backed the Coalition’s plans to end UK combat operations by 2015, saying: ‘It is right that this is not a war without end.’ Mr Miliband said: ‘I want you to know that our mission in Afghanistan is not a matter of party politics. It is about doing what is right for our country. A more stable Afghanistan will lead to a more safe Britain. ‘Above all, I want you to know that you have our support, our respect and our admiration for what you are doing for our country.’ Accompanied by Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, the Labour leader toured the British forces’ main base at Camp Bastion and met injured soldiers. He then travelled to Shawqat, which has seen some of the fiercest recent fighting. Mr Miliband also met General David Petraeus, the American commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, and later held talks with Afghan president Hamid Karzai in Kabul. – Mail on Sunday (more…)

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The week Uncut

29/01/2011, 04:00:48 PM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Uncut introduced the league table of shadow cabinet “work rate”

Atul Hatwal says opposition is the world of the opportunist

Now you see it, now you don’t – Richard Drax MP works his magic

Tom Watson asks: Why didn’t police investigate all the phone hacking leads?

Pat McFadden says the slow-down is more to do with confidence than snow

Dan Hodges wants to know if Ed Cojones is the man in the mask

John Woodcock thinks Alan should come back, but Ed will excel

Peter Watt presents the rhyme and reason for early intervention

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Forget Keys and Gray – Giles Coren and Katie Hopkins are the real calamity duo

29/01/2011, 10:30:10 AM

by David Hodges

Richard Keys and Andy Gray deserved to be sacked. Their idiotic claims judged a professional on the basis of gender instead of aptitude and ability. There is no place for that in the pub, let alone within a national television studio. Apologies accepted by Sian Massey, it is now time for their vilification to end. They have rightly paid a heavy price.

Since then, two loosely-termed political commentaries have proven that idiocy on this issue is not confined to either gender. This began with the bigoted man’s response in a quite superb article in yesterday’s Daily Mail by Giles Coren. He articulated that Keys and Gray were in the wrong, not because their comments were sexist, but merely as “You shouldn’t pass unflattering remarks about women behind their backs because it is not a well brought-up thing to do”. What a quaint upbringing Mr Coren must have endured.

He then purported to follow in the footsteps of Tory MP, Dominic Raab, in proclaiming that men are the real victims of oppression. That argument is bereft of evidence and highlights the intellectual malaise behind the defenders of the status quo. For instance, in 2008 average women’s hourly pay (excluding overtime) was 17.1 per cent less than men’s. (more…)

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Friday News Review

29/01/2011, 07:28:47 AM

The ‘net’ goes wider

Nick Brown, the former chief whip and key political ally of former prime minister Gordon Brown, became the latest public figure yesterday to say that he believes his private calls and messages were eavesdropped. The Newcastle MP revealed that he believes his landline was the subject of an “amateurish” bugging operation around the time his homosexuality was made public in 1998. Five years later, he was also approached by police investigating voicemail hacking claims and warned that his mobile phone may have been illegally accessed. The former Cabinet minister is the latest senior Labour figure to come forward with claims that his phone calls and messages were hacked. Tessa Jowell, the former culture secretary, revealed that her phone may have been accessed as recently as this week and she has hired lawyers to discover who hacked into her messages on 29 separate occasions in 2006. Although it is not known in both cases who was responsible for the hacking, the claims will further fuel the phone hacking scandal engulfing the News of the World (NOTW), which is now the subject of a new police investigation following the decision of the Sunday paper to sack its head of news, Ian Edmondson. – the Independent (more…)

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Only direct action can save us from Cameron’s Machiavellian Prince

28/01/2011, 03:00:42 PM

by Robin Thorpe

Machiavelli advises any aspiring Prince (or ruler; royal blood not necessary, although being related to the Queen can’t harm) to be ruthless from the day that he seizes power and “to determine all the injuries that he needs to inflict. He must inflict them once and for all, and not have to renew them every day, and in that way he will set men’s minds at rest and win them over when he confers benefits”.

The ruler should do this while his people are still getting used to his rule so that they start off fearful and learn to love him as he becomes more lenient. The lesson is that people do not mind being afraid if they are looked after and that things improve. If they improve, then it does not matter if they are not as good as before, as long as there is tangible improvement on the immediately preceding time. Machiavelli advises not to be timid or delay any acts of violence, but to inflict them once and for all so that “people will then forget what it tastes like and so be less resentful”. (more…)

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