UNCUT: The Tories Don’t Understand Human Rights

08/10/2014, 10:33:42 AM

by Sam Fowles

Forced to abandon NHS bashing for the sake of the election, David Cameron needed to feed the right some red meat. He chose the European Convention on Human Rights, promising to repeal the Human Rights Act, which allows English judges to incorporate the dicta of the Strasbourg court into their rulings, and allow Parliament to ignore the European Court of Human Rights.  This is more than simply wrong; it shows a fundamental failure to understand of the role human rights play in international law and politics.

The international law of human rights is based on the premise that there is something fundamentally valuable about each individual human. In this light Cameron’s idea of a “British Bill of Rights” seems absurd. People are not inherently valuable because they are British or French or Afghan. We are valuable because we are human. For this reason that the ECHR applies to British troops fighting abroad. To suggest that people should lose value in our eyes because they are non-European is an attitude redolent of the 13th Century not the 21st.

The ECHR is itself based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It doesn’t invent “European Rights”. It allows citizens of European states direct access to universal rights. It’s worth noting that the UK would remain bound by a plethora of international human rights conventions even if it were to secede from the ECHR (as the Conservatives threaten). The government’s legal obligations wouldn’t fundamentally change; they would just get more complex.

In practice human rights law protects the vulnerable from the powerful. This is why a bill of rights decided purely by the parliamentary majority is so dangerous. Human rights act as a check on the majority. Courts should make decisions (such as giving prisoners the vote) with which most of us disagree. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be a check on the majority.

This is important because, in a democracy, the majority should be able to change. If the power of a majority is not checked then there is nothing to stop that majority taking steps to make itself permanent. Cameron is asking us to trust to powerful to set limits to their own power. For a man who supposedly venerates the Magna Carter he sounds suspiciously like Prince John.

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UNCUT: The Vietnam doctrine and the Powell doctrine

07/10/2014, 12:33:04 PM

by Pat McFadden 

As the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries struggle to put together a strategy to combat Isis the question arises, has the West lost the will to implement the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force and is it by default reverting to the Vietnam doctrine of escalation in steps, with the danger that the steps are not big enough or decisive enough?

The question matters because the decision to engage in military action In Iraq and (for the US) Syria has been characterised as much by what is ruled out as what is ruled in.  Haunted by recent long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both Britain and the US have emphasised at all times their unwillingness to put “boots on the ground”.

What does ruling out boots on the ground mean in practical terms?  There should be little doubt that the leaders of both the US and UK would sanction special forces operations to hunt down the Isis killing squad who are beheading innocent hostages if they knew where they were.  Those special forces would be wearing boots.  And, for a time at least, they would be on the ground.

By talking about no boots on the ground our leaders don’t actually therefore mean no boots on the ground.  They mean something that doesn’t look like an army as in the long and visible military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

But when we consider special forces, advisers and other means of co-ordinating military action from the air, and the imperative of stopping Isis establishing a caliphate, it is possible that these lines could become more blurred.

Philip Bobbit, the highly respected US author and academic wrote recently that ruling out boots on the ground was a necessary price for President Obama to pay to get approval for the action from the air that he sanctioned.

Perhaps, but two questions arise.  First, will the line between what is actually happening and what has become ruled out become more blurred as the action escalates?  And if it does, what questions will that raise about honesty and treating the public as adults?  Secondly, if the goal is to do serious damage to Isis and impair its ability to act, does the politics of ruling out boots on the ground conflict with the action necessary to make this goal more achievable?

In other words, is war weariness pushing the West back into an unwitting adoption of the Vietnam doctrine of escalation by degree rather than Powell doctrine of using overwhelming force which replaced it?

For our leaders haunted by the recent experience of Iraq and Afghanistan it is worth remembering, the past did not begin in 2003.

Pat McFadden is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East

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UNCUT: We must recover our capacity for shared sacrifice

06/10/2014, 10:08:03 AM

by Jonathan Todd

I’ve got taxis to Eccles. I stayed there for a Labour Party conference. In a B&B where a Christmas card signed by the Ron Atkinson era Manchester United squad was framed. This wasn’t vintage chic. It just hadn’t been decorated since 1984. Which was weird. But the Eccles streets weren’t. They were resolutely normal.

Morrissey’s autobiography begins with him describing his childhood as “streets upon streets upon streets”. The unexceptional Eccles streets were part of this youth’s tapestry. Streets like so many other streets. As a taxi driver from Eccles, Alan Henning undertook an unremarkable occupation on unremarkable streets. He died seeking to do something remarkable: relieving Syria’s stricken.

I felt the most powerful words in Ed Miliband’s conference speech concerned “someone from just down the road from here”. Henning was an everyman figure, in circumstances beyond comprehension. I’d have liked Miliband to move from this strong opening to a detailed account of how ISIL should be countered and an appraisal of Britain’s place in the world. How the man who would be King sees us amid ISIL, Putin and China. Instead he concluded a brief section on ISIL by deferring to UN, effectively granting Russia and China a veto over us even as they refuse to be checked by the UN.

Little is easy about defeating ISIL. Or bringing wider Middle East peace. Or order to a world showing signs not so much of a liberal happy ever after, as anticipated by Francis Fukuyama in 1992’s The End of History, but political decay, as he rightly worries about in his newly published tome. In this context, only a fool would deny the wisdom of J. K. Galbraith’s dictum that politics consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. But Miliband should at least communicate how he discerns them.

Miliband invariably seems to be saying that he’d identify the little man and the big man and line up behind the little man. Except he wouldn’t be so boorish as to cast the choice in such gender loaded terms. On occasion, like when defending the victims of phone hacking, this posture has worked. But it risks absurdity when overdone.

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GRASSROOTS: The Fabians are wrong. Labour’s policy on immigration must be about principle, not just doorstep tactics

05/10/2014, 04:58:57 PM

by Ranjit Sidhu

The Fabian society recently released Revolt on the Left, a document that professionally and exhaustively went through the reason why UKIP was a threat to Labour and what the practical responses should be.

That the Fabian Society, home once to the thinkers that shaped modern society, would create a document on “saleable doorstep policy” to reassure voters that Labour, like UKIP, would be hard on immigration and immigrants getting housing, instead of ideologically battling with the frankly racist lies that UKIP pedal to demonise a disenfranchised groups in society,  is a sad bellwether of how Labour has changed: Labour’s very soul, it’s very DNA, since the nineteenth century was to stand up for these demonised and voiceless groups.

The facts on immigration show clearly that it has an overall positive effect on our economy. However, we know it is the perception of immigration being out of control that needs to be combated and that by its nature is a battle of ideas. As the Fabian report so clearly illustrates it is a battle Labour seems prepared to lose when faced with the anti-immigrant populism that currently pervades our country.

That immigration is an issue of perception was again proven in the recent EU elections, where UKIP gains were highest where immigration was low and lowest in areas of high immigration.  This further proved the point made by an Migration Observation study  when it asked if people thought the UK had a “very big problem” with immigration and whether they thought their own community had a “very big problem” with immigration. Over five times as many people (38 per cent to 7 per cent) thought the UK generally had a problem but not their own community. By accepting the narrative of UKIP, our country loses Labour as the bulwark against the politics of fear –  the bogyman of immigration is allowed to grow unchallenged.

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UNCUT: If Labour were credible on the deficit, Cameron’s speech would have been a disaster

02/10/2014, 11:53:39 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Lucky David Cameron.

Lucky, because the global economic upturn has dealt him a kind hand on the economy, just as the crash dealt Labour a dud.

Lucky, because the lack of serious alternatives within the parliamentary Conservative party has assured his tenure as leader, no matter how jittery or demented his backbenchers have become (imagine how different the situation would have been had there been a Heseltine or Portillo lurking in the Commons’ corridors instead of Adam Afriye.)

And, most of all, lucky because David Cameron faces Ed Miliband’s Labour party.

A party so denuded of economic credibility that the Tories can increase the deficit by £75bn, miss all of their fiscal targets, and still maintain a double digit poll lead over Labour, on who is most trusted to manage the economy.

It’s why David Cameron could make the speech he did yesterday. A speech offering an unfunded £7bn+ tax cut just 48 hours after George Osborne talked up the need for an extra £25bn in cuts.

We have passed through the looking glass and entered a world of Wonderland economics: where tax cuts are all self-funding and public spending cuts have no consequence.

If Labour had done what it needed to four years ago; demonstrated that it understood the public’s anxieties over spending with the last Labour government, and moved to win back public trust, then David Cameron would now be in serious trouble.

The public would be listening as Labour spokespeople point out the political hypocrisy and economic insanity at the heart of David Cameron’s speech.

Years of Tory message discipline on the need for fiscal rectitude would be lying in ruins. Mistrust of the Tories on public spending would be taking off in the polls.

But none of that is happening.

Instead, as far as the public is concerned, Labour remains on mute. Whatever the party says on the economy is tuned out because of the deeply held belief that however bad the Tories are – and there’s lots of evidence that the public have little faith or confidence in Cameron and Osborne’s economic judgement – Labour will be worse.

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UNCUT: Labour’s strategy for dealing with The Sun is ludicrous

29/09/2014, 12:15:05 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Last week, The Sun newspaper ran a feature inviting each party leader to wear a wristband showing their support for the Help for Heroes charity. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage featured. Ed Miliband did not.

There are conflicting accounts about exactly what happened, with the paper maintaining it made several attempts to secure the Labour Leader’s buy-in; while party sources claim they weren’t given enough time to comply with the request. In the event, the paper ran its front page piece, with a blank space reserved for Miliband, blaming his no-show on a “fear of offending Labour lefties.”

Amid the accusations and counter-accusations, what is clear is that the party’s explanation for not co-operating – citing Ed Miliband’s prior diary commitments – was disingenuous nonsense. It would have taken a press officer five seconds to grab a quick photo. But worse than being disingenuous, it was stupid, too, given the paper would inevitably “empty chair” Miliband for refusing to participate.

In fact, it was so obvious how things would turn out that there must have been a deeper motive. Indeed, there remain many voices in the party that want to boycott the paper as punishment for its coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy as well as the illegal phone-hacking scandal; and the party’s strategy is clearly driven by these considerations.

But boycotting The Sun is a disastrous tactic, the worst form of gesture politics. What’s the desired result? To make a principled stand against the quality of its journalism? To hurt Rupert Murdoch commercially? Of course, if anyone’s serious about punishing Murdoch or boycotting The Sun, then why not its News UK stablemate, The Times, as well? Or, better still, cancel your Sky subscription.

Worse, Labour’s approach is unevenly implemented. Ed Miliband was content to pose with a World Cup edition of the paper back in June before u-turning and apologising for doing so after ruffling the feathers of some within the party.

Disgusting though The Sun’s coverage of Hillsborough was, many other papers at the time published similar slurs against Liverpool football fans, egged on by media briefings given by South Yorkshire Police. And now the Mirror Group has conceded that some if its staff were also eavesdropping on private voicemails, so will Labour figures shun The Mirror, too?

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UNCUT: After Reckless, Labour must understand the real message of UKIP

29/09/2014, 07:00:51 AM

by Jonathan Todd

When Douglas Carswell joined UKIP, James Kirkup asked, “what is UKIP?” It’s worth revisiting this question now that Mark Reckless has made the same journey. That Carswell and Reckless were both Conservatives seems to support the dominant answer. That UKIP is a dissident Tory faction.

“But there is another explanation for Ukip,” Kirkup wrote, “one that extends the party’s significance beyond the boundaries of the Conservative movement and into the way British politics is done.” He went on:

“In this view, Ukip isn’t about Europe, or immigration, or any other policy. It’s about trust, and its absence. It’s about a political system dominated by politicians who look and sound the same regardless of party, who go to the same universities and follow the same career path to Westminster, where they implement policies that are fundamentally the same.”

If UKIP are a Conservative problem, there must be a Conservative solution. David Cameron’s commitment to an EU referendum was intended to be this. But didn’t stop UKIP winning the European elections and the defection of two Tory MPs to UKIP. It is striking that both Carswell and Reckless put as much focus on issues that they feel undermine trust in domestic politics – the lack of a recall mechanism for MPs, for example – as the EU.

This might suggest that Cameron has been looking for the Conservative solution in the wrong place. If this is the case, if he were to fully deliver on, say, the Zac Goldsmith line on political reform, this would stem the seepage of support from his party. And certainly, in an attempt to limit UKIP mileage and isolate Labour, we will get a strong line from Cameron on one matter of political reform: EVEL.

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UNCUT: Why is it right to carry out actions against ISIS in Iraq, but not in Syria?

28/09/2014, 05:26:50 PM

On Friday 26/09/14, the House of Commons debated military action against ISIS. The vote was in favour, but only in Iraq. In a particularly pointed parliamentary contribution , Pat McFadden eloquently articulated the challenges in stopping anti-ISIS operations at the Syrian border and the wider issues in how the debate has been framed. At Uncut, we felt this speech deserved a broader readership, so here it is – Atul Hatwal (editor)

by Pat McFadden

“The immediate decision before us in this debate is about military action, but behind that, this is about values. This is not a war against Islam. Islam is one of the great world religions, which is practised freely, without any harm to anyone, by millions of people in this country and around the world. This is not about Islam, but about co-existence.

Co-existence is absolutely fundamental to our society—the ability to elect Governments who are freely chosen by the people, equality of rights between men and women, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are fundamental—but ISIS rejects every tenet of it. That is why ISIS kills, with impunity, fellow Muslims, Christians and Yazidis; engages in sexual exploitation of, and the trade in, women; and cares nothing for anyone who does not sign up to its single truth. This is not about Islam, but about co-existence.

The shadow of past decisions—particularly the 2003 decision to invade Iraq—is a long one in debates such as this one. That is because there is a live debate about the degree to which we are responsible for creating or fomenting violent jihadism. It is important to be clear about that. I accept that past decisions have angered jihadists and perhaps encouraged some people to join them, but it is a fundamental mistake to think that we are responsible for violent jihadism. Let us not forget that the bombing of the World Trade Centre on 11 September took place two years before the invasion of Iraq. Syria, until recent days, has been a byword for non-intervention by the west; yet it is now the headquarters of the global jihad.

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UNCUT: Labour shouldn’t stand a candidate against Mark Reckless

28/09/2014, 08:30:51 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Everything about politics is relative and after a stinker of a week for Labour, it’s clear the Tories’ conference this week is going to be even worse after the shock defection of Rochester and Strood MP, Mark Reckless, to Ukip.

All those sneering gags about Ed Miliband that David Cameron had planned for this week will fall flat as the edges of the Prime Minister’s authority over his own party continue to fray and his future now firmly lies in the hands of Ukip’s “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.

In saying that, it is only fair to concede that by resigning his seat as part of his defection, Reckless is allowing the electorate to determine what they make of his decision. It takes bravado, and, frankly, some measure of integrity to do so. Defecting Labour and Tory MPs have never taken the risk of triggering a by-election in such circumstances.

So this is a high-wire act for Ukip and if they fail to win Clacton in two weeks’ time and now Rochester and Strood, then they will land hard. But if they win, the political pay-off will be enormous, and their insurgency will quicken.

How should Labour react? Party chiefs need to make a quick calculation about whether they can benefit from a Conservative-Ukip dog-fight and sneak through the middle. Conversely, the risk is that failing to win this by-election will serve to dampen expectations about Labour’s ability to win southern English seats more generally.

In 2010, Labour came second in Rochester and Strood with 28.5 per cent of the vote. This belies the fact that the seat (or most of it before boundary changes) was represented between 1997 and 2010 by maverick Labour MP, Bob Marshall-Andrews.

But if not now deemed winnable, Labour should move quickly to rule out standing a candidate. Ukip didn’t field anyone against Reckless in 2010 because of his strong Eurosceptic credentials. Labour should recycle the tactic for its own benefit.

This has two effects. First, it guarantees the race turns into a slugfest between Reckless and the Tories and, just as importantly, it insulates Labour from the charge that it isn’t making headway in seats it once used to hold. (A stark reminder is Newark, which Labour held between 1997 and 2001, yet could only manage a dismal third place in last June’s by-election).

In fact, putting up token resistance could see Labour aid the Tories in holding the seat, with Anthony Wells from UK Polling Report cautioning that it won’t be a “walk in the park” for Ukip. Better to give Cameron a few more of those sleepness nights about Ukip that Ed Miliband joked about last week.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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UNCUT: Let us build our way to growth and well-being

26/09/2014, 06:02:30 PM

by Kieran Quinn

Many of us have direct experience of friends and family that aspire to own their own home but fail at the first hurdle due to the spiraling cost.

According to the latest census information, meeting housing demand will require the building of 245,000 new homes each year. This is 145,000 more than is currently being built per year. House building levels are now only slowly rising from the lowest level of activity since the 1920s.

This housing shortage has led to a massive increase in the price of housing, excluding many young first time buyers from getting their first foot on the property ladders

In 1997 it took an average family 3 years to save up for a proper deposit on a home, today this can take 22 years. Ed Miliband announced plans that go someway towards addressing this. The pledge to commit the Labour Party to increase the level of house building in the UK to 200,000 homes per year is a welcome step.

A key part of stimulating new house building will be to unlock capacity in small house builders.

25 years ago 2/3 of new homes were built by small builders, this has fallen to less than 1/3 today. The number of firms building between 1-500 units has also fallen from 12,000 to less than 3,000 over the same period. Labour’s “Help to Build” scheme will attempt to address this through improving access to finance by guaranteeing a proportion of bank loans to small house builders.

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