Archive for April, 2012

Broadband of brothers: citizen soldiers and cyber warriors

23/04/2012, 07:30:37 AM

by Dan Fox

Dan Fox’s skills-focussed ‘Cyber Reserves’ proposal won the Pragmatic Radicalism Defence Top of The Policies, last month.

An active national security policy is an expensive business. So given how uncertain our world has become, in terms of both the economy and the threats we face, and how active our armed forces have been this last decade, it is not surprising that defence is permanently at the top of the political agenda. Last October’s Strategic Defence and Security Review has been followed by Labour’s own consultation.

But one of the most significant initiatives of recent times has received relatively little attention outside of military circles: Future Reserves 2020 (FR20).

With conscription and national service distant memories in the UK, the military reserve no longer occupies a place in the popular imagination similar to that in countries (such as America , Canada, Israel and some of our European partners) where citizen soldiering is more commonplace.

The citizen soldier is a complex concept, with a millennia-old tradition. It is grounded in the idea that the diversity, effort and volunteer commitment of all can be mobilised in defence of communities, societies and nations when required, or kept prepared in reserve.

To be sure, for many who have not chosen a regular military career in the first place, the commitment to training and then serving even part-time with the army, navy or air force to defend our land, sea and air, is problematic. There is, however, another environment where dealing with the dangers we face requires a range of experience and approaches.

Protecting cyberspace is not just a military responsibility, but a Cyber Reserve, based on the principles of civilian volunteers already entrenched in the current reserve forces, can have a crucial role to play.

Even the most diligent of military observers is unlikely to be familiar with the Special Works Teams of the Royal Engineers, covering railways, power, fuel, water, ports and construction. But, comprised of reservists with relevant civilian qualifications and careers, these units have, since the 1960s, contributed to the construction and protection of critical infrastructures.


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When does a protest vote stop being a protest?

20/04/2012, 01:33:11 PM

by Ben Mitchell

When it commands 9% of the vote and sits in third place in the polls, overtaking the Tory-led government’s junior partner.

That’s what happened this week when a YouGov poll put UKIP on 9%, one point ahead of the Lib Dems. The first time this phenomenon has occurred.

As is often the way when the smaller parties make inroads at the expense of the big three, a spot of panicking breaks out, the scratching and ruffling of hair, followed by the soul searching. At least two of these were probably true if you were a Conservative.

How much of a danger do parties like UKIP really pose? Surely, it’s typical to give the government a bashing two years into their term? Especially one feeling exposed, without a majority of its own to fall back on.

Nothing more than a bit of fun and games. When push comes to shove, supporters will flock back to their masters. When it really matters, on polling day, they’ll revert to type.

Or they won’t.

It’s right, as one commentator noted this week, that to treat UKIP as a political force is certainly over-doing it.

They don’t have a single MP, control only one small council, and saw their leader, Nigel Farage, humiliated at the last general election, beaten into third place by Flipper – a guy dressed as a dolphin in protest at the ‘flipping’ of homes scandal that beset MPs that year. Something that the speaker, John Bercow, whose seat he was challenging, got caught up in.

Whichever way you look at it, UKIP’s rise mirrors that of the fourth column: ‘Others.’


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The cure for lobbying scandals is simple: More politicians with backbone

20/04/2012, 07:30:40 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Come the nuclear holocaust, political lobbyists will work for the invertebrates, bartering for concessions from the reigning cockroaches.

What is certain is that the indestructible public affairs industry will get past the government’s wishy-washy consultation on reigning-in Westminster’s pin-striped influence-peddlers which closes today.

Spurred into action by a cavalcade of lobbying calamities, ministers propose a statutory register of public affairs professionals; once they’ve blown the cobwebs of it from the last time it was proposed. So back around the track we go.

Constitutional affairs minister Mark Harper is in charge of spinning this old record. The stated purpose of the register is “transparency” in a bid to “open up politics” and make it “more accessible to everyone.” A White Paper is promised in due course.

But a statutory register (replacing the voluntary one that’s already in place) is roughly the equivalent of one of those photographs of a house for sale in an estate agents window. It’s a superficial gesture that gives us a partial flavour, a rough idea, without telling us anything specific about the contents – and only a fool would draw a conclusion on that basis.


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So remind me again, why should Lord Ahmed should be a Labour peer?

19/04/2012, 01:18:36 PM

by Rob Marchant

Last weekend, the world was shocked to learn that a Labour peer was allegedly calling for a bounty on the heads of Bush, Blair and Obama. “Allegedly”, because there was seemingly no independent confirmation by UK media of the story, which Ahmed vehemently denied. The Labour party, for once, reacted almost immediately in suspending the whip “pending investigation”.

On Monday, thinking it strange that no-one had seemingly bothered to dig deeper into the clip from Pakistani TV, Uncut did a little more research and was advised, by a friendly Urdu-speaking journalist, that, although the clip appears to contain footage from the relevant speech, it was voiced over and did not confirm his exact words. Alarm bells sounded.

On Tuesday it was confirmed that his exact words were different, that he “only” called for George Bush and Tony Blair to be brought to trial for war crimes, a proposal he boasted that he would personally fund. Oh, and name-checked the leader of the Mumbai bombers in a statement of brotherly solidarity.

So, the Pakistani press misreported. And the British press were lazy.

And you know what? He should go anyway and the whip should stay withdrawn. Here’s why.

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A question of competence

19/04/2012, 10:00:21 AM

by Pat Mcfadden

For most of the period since the election, the government has been pretty successful at setting the agenda, particularly around the central question of tax and spend.

The spending cuts they have put through, they argue, are done more in sorrow than in anger and although these are tough decisions it’s really all Labour’s fault for letting things get out of hand.  This has been the dominant narrative.  Labour’s counter argument that the growth of the deficit was a necessary (and internationally replicated) step to stop recession turning into depression has struggled to be heard.

That was the framework of UK politics until recently.  But something has changed.  I don’t believe this is the politics of specific measures like the granny tax or the pasty tax.  There have been plenty other individual measures people have disliked in the past two years but they have been largely accepted because of the acceptance of the dominant political narrative.

What has changed is the public’s judgement about the government’s competence.  In other words, the key change is no single measure but rather the different lens through which the government is now seen.  Put bluntly, people will forgive a government a lot of unpopular measures if they think the government knows’ what it’s doing.  They will be a lot less forgiving if they think they don’t.

The key break point was petrol.

Whatever the outcome of the current negotiations in the drivers’ dispute, the queues outside filling stations a couple of weeks ago were unnecessary and dangerous.  I don’t know if the government whipped this up because they wanted a strike story or because of “genuine” incompetence but it doesn’t really matter.  The public know that the government screwed up.

There was no need to tell people to rush to the filling station, and certainly no need for the stuff about jerry cans.  No strike had been called and seven days’ notice is required anyway.  Petrol delivery and use is a very delicate just-in-time process.  We are highly dependent on it and essentially, the nation’s fuel stock is in the tanks of our cars.  Any unnecessary upset in that system is irresponsible and dangerous.  Better and safer advice would have been to store stamps in jerry cans.

This petrol screw up has changed the way the public are looking at other decisions.  The government is losing the benefit of the doubt on the budget issues around pensioners’ taxes and VAT on hot food.  Suddenly they look more vulnerable.  For the first time in two years, Labour has an opening.  Of course it remains to be seen whether we can take advantage of it, but the opening is there.

The importance of this competence question should not be underestimated.  People are less ideological than most politicians think.  They will often believe in some things advocated traditionally by one party and some other things advocated traditionally by another.  Of course in the end it’s a choice on a package of these.  But whatever the ideology of a government, the voting public expects them to know what they’re doing.  For the first time since the election, that is now in doubt.

Pat McFadden is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East.

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When I die: Lessons from the death zone

19/04/2012, 09:30:56 AM

In November 2011 Philip Gould, Labour peer and strategist, died from oesophageal cancer.   In the final two weeks of his life Philip completed a book and his quest to find purpose and meaning in what he called the “death zone” was also documented by Adrian Steirn in a short film, “When I Die”. This is the film; the book “When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone” is published today and all proceeds from the book will go to the National Oesophago-Gastric Cancer Fund.

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What on earth is going on with politics at the moment?

19/04/2012, 07:00:53 AM

by Peter Watt

Does anyone know what is going on out there?  Really?  Until a month ago it was all so much simpler.

The Tories didn’t really have a coherent tale to tell but then nor did anyone else so it didn’t really matter all that much.  They bumbled along making mistakes and generally looking incompetent.  But crucially voters had been persuaded that they were dealing with an out of control deficit that Labour had caused.

And that was the end of the discussion.

Anyway, they had David Cameron and he looked and sounded prime ministerial, made tough decisions and even diplomatically bashed the Germans and French.  No matter how bad it got, he was their trump card.  And Labour, not to put too fine a point on it, had its own problems:  perceptions of economic incompetence and a leader who was still finding his feet as far as voters were concerned.

But then came the budget and suddenly the Tories and David Cameron are wobbling.

All that bravado and self-confidence appear shaken to its core.  Instead of charting a route to sunnier times the budget looked elitist, favouring the rich.  And worse it looked muddled as its measures unravelled and established more and more losers.

Ed Miliband gave one of his finest performances in the Commons after Osborne’s budget speech.  The discomfort on the faces of David and George was there for all to see, and on the benches behind them you could see doubt.

Over 4 weeks later the budget is still the issue of the moment, and at issue is the Government’s credibility.  George Osborne appears to have disappeared and no one on the Government side seems overly keen to defend the finance bill.  Certainly not David Cameron; he seems intent on avoiding answering any of Ed Miliband’s questions at successive PMQ’s.

Ed’s victories at the despatch box have rattled Cameron.  And the more rattled David Cameron gets the less prime ministerial he looks and sounds.  His attacks become more and more sneering, dismissive and personal and his lack of attention to detail becomes ever more obvious.  It’s not attractive.


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Break out the nose pegs and vote for Livingstone

18/04/2012, 03:12:48 PM

by David Talbot

You would be forgiven for thinking that the only segment of the United Kingdom that is to vote this May is London. But on May 3rd elections will take place in 180 councils across the country, with 5000 seats up for grabs. Over the Easter break I duly volunteered to distribute leaflets in my home CLP back in rural Warwickshire. Amidst the endless open countryside, hamlets and villages I could not have been more removed from the hectic London political scene.

Until, that is, I stopped in the hamlet of Ardens Grafton and frequented the sole shop. A picture of Ken Livingstone weeping greeted me as I picked up the front page of the Guardian. Much has been said about the authenticity, or not, of the performance since. But with accompanying prose underneath the picture spilling over to page two, and a double-page spread adjoining pages seven and eight, it confirmed, if nothing else, just quite how London-centric our media is. It also focused the mind on the London mayoral election ahead – and what those with serious doubts about Livingstone should do come that Thursday in early May.

I am seemingly in a large rump of Labour voters who do not view Ken Livingstone favourably. YouGov put the figure at 31%, ComRes 17%. In a tight election these numbers are more than enough to secure significant defeat for the Labour candidate.

The charge sheet against Ken Livingstone has been heavily trailed in recent weeks. Commentators ranging from Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian, Philip Collins in the Times, Nick Cohen in the Observer and, more troublingly, the Jewish Chronicle have voiced serious concerns about our candidate. Coupled with the usual antagonists; Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph is his usual obsessed self, and the Evening Standard, who have effortlessly slipped back to where they left off in 2008; vast swathes of the media, and ordinary Labour members, are, to put it politely, at best lukewarm about Livingstone.

Ken Livingstone is the problem of this campaign. To pretend otherwise is to, wilfully, miss the point. At a time when Labour has opened up the biggest lead over the Tories since the aftermath of the general election, Livingstone is trailing the London Labour vote by 6%, whilst Boris Johnson is outperforming the Tories in the capital by 10%.


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Cameron’s Olympic fail: Over 1 in 3 no longer back the games as the numbers of young taking part in sport fall

18/04/2012, 07:05:17 AM

by Atul Hatwal

With 100 days to go until the Olympics, new figures uncovered by Labour Uncut reveal how public support for the games is slipping while participation in sport amongst 16-24 year olds is falling.

In 2011, the numbers who were either opposed or indifferent to the games rose from 33% to 36% compared to 2010/11, while the numbers backing the Olympics dropped from 66% to 63%.

The fall in public support is the first to be registered since 2008/9 and means that more than a third of the country no longer backs the games.

Any drop in public support will worry the government which has committed hundreds of millions of pounds in officials’ time and marketing resources to promoting the games to the public.

Public support  was critical to London winning the games when it topped 70% and the government will be vulnerable to charges that their stewardship of the Olympics since 2010 has seen support steadily leach away.

Among those who back the games, one of the main reasons given is the anticipated benefit for the country’s health. 26% of those who are strongly supportive of the games cite either the positive impact on promoting fitness or the benefit of the games for children as the reason for their backing.

However, the latest survey figures also reveal that participation in sport among 16-24 year olds has fallen by 4% since 2009/10. The period of decline coincides almost exactly with the arrival of David Cameron’s government in May 2010.


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Powell’s victory on first ballot in Manchester Central selection

17/04/2012, 03:14:57 PM

Labour Uncut understands that Lucy Powell’s victory in the race to become Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Manchester Central was won on the first ballot.

Powell topped the poll on the first round of voting with 93 votes.

Local councillor Mike Amesbury came second with 55. Fellow Manchester councillor Rosa Battle was third with 24 while London charity chief Patrick Vernon came fourth with 11.

The party’s refusal to allow postal voting was threatened by legal challenge last week, forcing party officials to relent and allow proxy voting instead.

However turnout appears to have suffered with just half the membership voting.

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