A British ‘Grand Coalition’ would be destined for failure

23/01/2015, 04:46:01 PM

by Callum Anderson

The 2015 general election campaign is now slowly in full swing. With four months to go, many of the electorate are already beginning to tire of the petty point-scoring between the party leaders about the leadership debates.

Yet, the answer to the question former prime minister Ted Heath famously asked: ‘Who governs Britain?’ could be rather inconclusive come 8th May.

The opinion polls suggest that this election will be too close to call, with some suggesting we are entering an era of four, five or maybe even six party politics – though Labour Uncut’s editor Atul Hatwal’s makes a set of very plausible predictions.

But whatever happens, the implications for our democracy could be enormous.

It is highly unlikely that either Labour or the Conservatives will gain quite enough seats to gain a majority in Parliament. Parliamentary arithmetic will determine whether either party is best placed to seek to form a minority administration or enter a coalition, or confidence-and-supply arrangement with someone such as the Liberal Democrats or Scottish.

Yet there are some such as Ian Birrell and Mary Dejevsky who claim that a UK Grand Coalition – that is a coalition between Labour and the Conservatives – should not be fled out. They argue that the fact that both parties are currently marooned in the low 30s in terms of share of the vote, the two main parties would put their differences aside to govern in the national interest.

Does such an arrangement have a post-war precedent elsewhere? Yes.

Will it happen in Britain in 2015. No.

In Germany, a so-called ‘Grand Coalition’ (or, colloquially, GroKo) has been the principal form of government in the twenty-first century. Between 2005 and 2009, followed by the current administration since 2013, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have shared power alongside the Social Democrats (SDP).

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The West needs to act on Boko Haram

23/01/2015, 01:24:53 PM

by Renie Anjeh

Over the last fortnight, the international community has shown tremendous solidarity with the people of France after the horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris. Millions from across the world, from all faiths and none, took the streets in defiance of vile terrorists, in order to defend values that we hold dear – freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law. In our country, it has sparked a national debate about freedom of speech, liberty and security and the role of religion. If anything is clear from the last week or so, it is that the perpetrators of this disgusting attack on freedom have failed.

However, while the eyes of the world has been focused on France, little attention has been paid to atrocities that are taking place in Nigeria.

But first, let’s go back to last April. 276 schoolgirls, studying at a school in Borno State in north Nigeria, were kidnapped by Boko Haram, and as news of the abduction spread, awareness of this terrorist group grew. The Twitterati took to their smartphones to calling on Boko Haram to #BringBackOurGirls.

Celebrities with melancholic faces held placards calling on Boko Haram to do just that. Our Prime Minister David Cameron and the First Lady Michelle Obama also joined in, demonstrating their anger at the terrorist group. Goodluck Jonathan, the criminally ineffective President of Nigeria, called Boko Haram to release the girls but blamed the parents of the girls who were kidnapped. But did Boko Haram ‘bring back our girls’? No. And the world forgot.

Now in January 2015, Boko Haram have killed 2,000 people in one single attack.  Sixteen towns and villages in northeast Nigeria have been burnt to the ground. Almost 4,000 homes have been destroyed. Girls as young as 10, have been used by Boko Haram as ‘suicide bombers’, killing at least 23 people. 20,000 have fled their homes, with the majority seeking refuge in neighbouring Chad. As a result, Boko Haram now control 70% of Borno State, in northern Nigeria.

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Laugh if you can, but be afraid

22/01/2015, 09:58:26 PM

by Ian McKenzie

I like Dan Hannan. I rarely agree with him, many of his views are politically toxic, but I respect him. He’s a right-wing Conservative, self-described as coming from the Whig tradition, and he’s an MEP. He was a high profile supporter of the People’s Pledge, the campaign for an In-Out referendum on the EU, and I was its Director. We used to do a little double act banter at fund-raising dinners: he would do the highbrow politics and the Euroscepticism; I would do the lowbrow campaigning and the Europhilia. He wants the UK to leave the EU; I want us to stay a member.

Dan is extremely good company and the most dangerous sort of political opponent there is: he understands your position better than you do and he respects it. He is well read, well prepared and unfailingly polite. If the Trots had done their Trotskyism Dan Hannan style, they’d be running the Labour Party by now.

Because I take Dan seriously, it was with some sadness that I read his reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders, and I scribble this blog post with considerable trepidation.

He introduces several dichotomies: we are asked to believe that the Charlie massacre was not as an act of holy war but merely a crime; the perpetrators concerned not soldiers, but common criminals, not religious zealots but pathetic figures. And then, rather strangely, he suggests the public policy response to Islamism should be to ignore its stated rationale as mere self-description, and subject it to ridicule. Seriousness or ridicule are his choices.

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It’s time for Labour to stop hating Rupert Murdoch

22/01/2015, 01:02:27 PM

by Samuel Dale

Labour MPs were cock-a-hoop at the start of the week about the Sun’s decision to quietly stop publishing photographs of topless women on Page 3.

Page 3 is a rather vulgar intrusion on the editorial of a best-selling national newspaper but part of me feels it is free to publish what it likes. However, there is a legitimate debate to be had around the image it projects and campaigners fought and clearly convinced Sun readers, advertisers and editors that it is outdated. Well done.

But then it went wrong as the Sun cheekily re-introduced topless women to its third page today to the dismay of campaigners. Don’t be fooled, this is merely the twitching corpse of a dying and outdated feature. It’s days are numbered.

For many in Labour though Page 3 is a figleaf. The real target of the campaign is the old enemy, Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation, for whom a special hatred is reserved.

Labour has no major campaign against bare breasted women in the Daily Star, for example, it is Murdoch who drives the passion.

The hatred can be irrational such as attacks on Ed Miliband for supporting a Help for Heroes campaign in the Sun for wounded soldiers. Ridiculously, he apologised for it.

After all these years, why does Labour still hate Murdoch and News Corp with such a passion?

Supporting Thatcher. The printworkers’ strike. Buying the Times. Attacking Tony Benn in the 1980s. Media dominance. Billionaire. Hillsborough. Tabloid slurs against LBGTs and mental health issues. Kinnock in 1992. Faustian pact with New Labour. Fox News. Brown in 2009. Phone Hacking.

Yes, there are many reasons for Labour to hate Murdoch but notice one thing about all these events: they are over.

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After Charlie Hebdo, we need confident social democrats

21/01/2015, 10:34:20 AM

by Jonathan Todd

It is over 170 years since Karl Marx published On the Jewish Question, which rebutted the argument of fellow Young Hegelian Bruno Bauer that Jews could only achieve political emancipation by relinquishing their particular religious consciousness. While individuals can be spiritually and politically free in the secular state, Marx prefigured his later critiques of capitalism by arguing that economic inequality would constrain freedom in such a state.

Jews are again questioning their place in European society, as are UK Muslim leaders, outraged after Eric Pickles asked followers of Islam to “prove their identity”. Whether or not that makes a Charlie of Pickles is debatable. But the Pope seems not to be. “One cannot provoke,” he claimed last week, “one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”

The ancient questions are back. About the relationship between faith and citizenship that the young Marx addressed in On the Jewish Question. But a concept – alienation – that Marx later developed also seems relevant. I’m not a Marxist but I’ve found myself thinking about alienation after the killings at Charlie Hebdo and in the kosher supermarket. Nor am I a massive fan of Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP, but since the atrocity, I’ve also been impressed by his reaction.

In my fusion of Hannan and Marx, I like to feel that I’ve done better than Jamie Bartlett’s characterisation of much of the Charlie Hebdo reaction, as, conveniently, meaning precisely whatever we were thinking already. But in a sense, I am only revisiting the point I made on Uncut after the London riots of 2011: Can we really only look deep enough into our hearts as to bleat about the same old hobby horses?

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Oi journalists! Stop complaining about MPs tweeting campaign pics. It’s called democracy and its great

20/01/2015, 05:11:28 PM

by Ian McKenzie

There is currently a deep and widening fracture between the British people and their political parties, apparently. The chasm is so big that the political party as a concept is in terminal decline. The main two parties are in particular danger because their joint share of the national vote has fallen dramatically in the last 6 decades: it’s all over now, baby blue and baby red.

These assertions have become truths all but universally acknowledged; it’s all a bit boring really.

People do not join parties in large numbers any more. The electorate has slammed its doors on the main parties after saying “you are all the same”. People feel alienated and disenfranchised, believing that politicians are only in it for themselves and only come round at election times when they want votes and are nowhere to be seen during the rest of the electoral cycle. Yada yada yada.

I know all this because I’ve read it, and endlessly repeated variations of it, in newspapers and on Twitter.

It’s pervasive: explicit in opinion columns and covert in the news. The articles are written by political journalists and others and then tweeted and re-tweeted by them and their colleagues. These reports of widespread disconnection from the political process usually include expressions of regret; the demise of the parties is often celebrated. The theme is usually the same “you politicians had it coming, you’ve taken the electorate for granted for decades, the system’s broken and it’s your fault, you feckless, lazy reprobates.”

But the last couple of years have seen a little twist: Twitter has gone mainstream and not just in Westminster either. Hundreds of MPs and thousands of activists, in most constituencies, have continued doing what they have been doing for decades, knocking on doors and staying in touch with electors, only now they are doing it on Twitter.

In fact, Twitter has helped motivate and mobilise activism. Any Labour organiser will tell you there’s nothing like a bit of peer pressure and leading by manifest example to get people off their sofas and onto doorsteps. These days, hundreds of MPs, even those who once swore they would never stoop so low, and their campaign teams post thousands of tweets from, say, Acacia Avenue. We know it’s Acacia Avenue because the team is usually snapped in front of the road sign.

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Why Dapper Laughs is not the same as Charlie Hebdo

20/01/2015, 09:41:21 AM

by Sam Fowles

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre everybody wants to remind us that they support free speech.

But the new vogue for Article 10 has its drawbacks. Mehdi Hasan calls them “free speech fundamentalists”. I’d call them apologists for racism, sexism and homophobia, but I lack Mehdi’s pith. These people equate the denial of a platform (often for the most extreme and offensive views) with the denial of the right to free expression. Brendan O’Neill of Spiked.com argues that the attack on Charlie Hebdo was a more violent symptom of a general intolerance for free speech which stretches across Europe. Mr O’Neill was one of those scheduled to speak at the Oxford University abortion event blackballed for not including a single woman on its panel. He cites social media campaigns against Dapper Laughs and Page Three of The Sun as evidence for his theory. Spiked has even starting its own campaign, “Free Speech Now”. In the Times Education Supplement Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas, argues that policies like NUS’s “No Platform”, which bans individuals who are racist, misogynist, or homophobic from speaking at member institutions, represent an attack on freedom of speech.

Mehdi is astute to point out that the right to freedom of speech does not create a duty to be offensive. But there is a more important distinction to be drawn: “Expression” (which is a right) is not the same as “platform” (which is a privilege). Having a right to free speech means that one cannot be punished for one’s expression or coerced into changing that which one chooses to express. The obvious caveat is the prohibition against using one’s expression to incite violence against others (In much the same way that one can’t use one’s freedom of movement to commit violent acts). This is different from having a platform. While freedom of expression requires protecting all individuals equally against coercion, the issue of platform revolves around questions of who gets to use their freedom of expression from a more privileged position than others.

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The fightback starts now: Pro-business Labour is starting to make its voice heard

19/01/2015, 10:29:01 AM

by Samuel Dale

It was an absolute delight to read the Fabian Society’s new research on paper on Labour’s woeful relationship with the private sector. It can be summed up in one damaging quote: “Business doesn’t trust Labour”.

As I have argued on this site, Labour has a horrific relationship with British business that could cost the party dearly this May.

The Fabian report, In it Together, authored by Ed Wallis and Robert Tinker and published on Friday, seeks to redefine Labour’s relationship with business.

It wants the party to make a “big, open and comprehensive offer “ and create a Charter for Business.

“Profit and social purpose are not only compatible objectives but the conditions of a flourishing economy and a healthy society,” says the Charter’s proposed vision. “Public health, environmental sustainability and strong local communities are integral to long-term business success, and cannot be delivered by government alone but by using partnerships between business and government.”

The Charter contains ideas such as not creating punitive and shock-value regulation, setting long-term targets beyond electoral cycles (something business cries out for again and again because how can you expect business to think long-term when politicians don’t?) and offering tax breaks to companies who contribute positive environmental and social change.

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There is a debate going on about the future of British Islam. Labour needs to join it

14/01/2015, 01:00:45 PM

by Rob Marchant

Following last week’s fatal shootings in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Monday night’s superbly-timed Panorama: The Battle for British Islam gave an insight into Islamic radicalism and the narratives which feed it.

The most notable thing, as a number commented on Twitter during the programme, was not so much that it was telling a few home truths about radicalism on prime-time television; but that it was being broadcast on the BBC, the heart of the liberal media establishment. (It is also a great tribute, incidentally, to why we still need public-service broadcasting, the Beeb being practically alone, among its not-so-brave British mainstream media competition, in showing the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons.)

It was also possibly the first mainstream documentary which has homed in, correctly, on the poisonous “grievance narrative” – that Muslims are oppressed in Britain, singled out and victimised for their beliefs – which, as the program points out, is helping drive young Muslims away from their families and towards jihad. Racism exists, yes: but it also exists in non-Muslim ethnic communities, where the results are undeniably less extreme.

Finally, it seems, rational debate on what all this means is starting to reach ordinary people, and there is a glimmer of hope for resolving the deep problems currently faced by Muslim communities in Britain; in turning impressionable youth towards British culture and away from radicalism.

In short, there is a sensible position which neither mollycoddles Islamist extremists nor attacks moderate Muslims, and the lines of it were gently sketched out in the programme: promoting a positive vision from within, of an Islam which embraces Britain, rather than recoils from it.

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Our rights are protected. It’s time for Labour to emphasise our responsibilities

14/01/2015, 09:22:21 AM

by John Slinger

In a 2002 Observer article Tony Blair set out the theme of “rights and responsibilities”. He sought to expose the inadequacies of what he termed the left’s “1945 ‘big state’ that wrongly believed it could solve every social problem” and the right’s “narrow, selfish individualism of the 1980s”. For Blair, responsibilities were concomitant with rights. Admirable people and organisations, from MPs to QCs, Amnesty to Liberty, the CAB to the EU, have ensured that rights are now well-defined and defended. We must remain vigilant about rights, but now it’s time to foster a “responsibilities culture.”

The culture of rights, fought for by philosophers, politicians and ordinary people throughout history has advanced human happiness, security and economic prosperity. It achieved this by imbuing individuals with rights by virtue of being human, not as gifts of God or the state.

Responsibilities should be given this irreducible, non-negotiable status. “I know my rights” is the unacceptable face of rightsism. The responsibilities agenda has historically been directed at the poor rather than the better-off, when in fact it is a universal imperative. In the future, it would be good to hear more of, “I know my responsibilities”, from citizens, companies and organisations throughout society and the economy.

Here are a few areas where the responsibilities revolution could take effect:

Crime

We are required to by the law to obey its strictures. However, we each have a moral responsibility to avoid illegal behaviour. Our criminal justice system would be much less necessary if people accepted the not unreasonable responsibility to desist from harming others. We should spend less time trying to understand the “causes” of crime and more on instilling a sense of respect for others and ensuring that violators fear the law and wider community. The challenge is huge: despite crime apparently falling, the Met reported last week that violent crime in London is up 25 per on last year.

Health
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