Posts Tagged ‘James Watkins’

Will the right face its 1989 moment?

04/08/2011, 02:00:36 PM

by James Watkins

1989 was a bombshell for many people on the left. Any hopes that a communist utopia would flourish went up in a puff of smoke when the peoples of eastern Europe turned against their governments.

In Britain, the impact of 1989 was profound. The Communist party went into freefall, various factions split into further factions, Marxism Today went off the shelves and a further spur was given to the changes in the Labour party.

So why has there not been a “1989 moment” for the right? For in 2008, the confidence in laissez-faire markets should have gone up in a puff of smoke when the markets failed – and the only thing that held economies together was the intervention of the nation states.

The 2008 moment went against everything that Friedman, Hayek and other free market thinkers had been advocating. This was clear, conclusive evidence that rolling back the state and giving free rein to markets does not lead to a natural equilibrium in the economy. Former US federal reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, said he was “surprised” by this. One former Tory Parliamentary candidate told me at the time that if free markets led to the collapse of all the banks and the mess that this would lead to, then so be it. This was the confused and muddled state the right was in back in 2008. (more…)

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“Sorry” shouldn’t be the hardest word

02/05/2011, 02:00:32 PM

by James Watkins

Saying sorry can be annoying. Nobody like admitting their mistakes. But when it comes to international politics, apologising just makes common sense. When wrongs have been committed in the past, a line needs to be drawn so that the country can move on. This is a truth that David Cameron was grasping for when he rightly said, on a recent visit to Pakistan, “with so many of the world’s problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place”.

Yet, David Cameron’s Government is resisting saying sorry to four Kenyan senior citizens. Ndiku Mutua, Paulo Nzili, Wambugu Wa Nyung and Jane Muthoni Mara have begun legal action in the high court following the repressive actions of the British colonial authorities in Kenya between 1952 – 60. In response to the Mau Mau revolt, many Kenyans were herded into internment camps and only now are the true horrors coming out – after the high court ordered the foreign office to release documents on the use of torture by the colonial authorities in the 1950s.

Government barristers have owned up to the torture – but have said that the responsibility for these camps lay with the colonial authorities and any liability incurred for actions taken in the camps would now rest with the current Kenyan government. This Kafkaesque response has echoes of another controversy regarding the demand for an apology – that of the actions of the Japanese government after the second world war.


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Osborne’s fear of credit rating agencies is costing Britain jobs

04/04/2011, 04:00:53 PM

by James Watkins

Whether voiced by George Osborne at the dispatch box or by Andrew Neil on the This Week sofa, the message is the same: it is too late to change course on the massive deficit reduction plans, otherwise the markets would be spooked. This new line is a response to the growing success of the belated Labour campaign that the cuts go “too far, too fast”.

So how does Labour now move from the government’s line that the cuts are needed to tackle the “mess” of the Labour years to the fatalistic line that it is too late to change course. The heart of the counter attack is to expose the fallacy that the views of credit rating agencies should always be heeded.

Credit rating agencies are necessary. To oversee levels of debt and economic performance, independent and well run credit rating agencies have their place. The markets cannot function properly if risk is not independently checked. Otherwise business judgements would be made in the same way as playing poker in the dark.

But the credit rating agencies have not been as good at their job as they have at their PR. Between 2002 and 2007, an estimated $3.2 trillion in loans were made to US homeowners whose poor payment records were known. These loans were bundled up in securities – or investment packages – that were sold across the world. As the respected economist, Joseph Stiglitz, said

“I view the rating agencies as one of the key culprits. They were the party that performed the alchemy that converted the securities from F rated to A rated”. (more…)

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Sharia law for the City of London

16/02/2011, 03:30:59 PM

by James Watkins

When it comes to the banks, Labour often seems to tie itself in knots. Without the square mile, the finances of the country are seen to be on shaky ground. At the same time, governments around the world which took it easy on the bankers contributed to the financial morass we are in now.

For many in Labour, there seems to be no centre-left vision or school of thought other than to accept the model of banking we have now – while maybe taking another look at regulation. But as recent events demonstrate, even this seemingly pragmatic approach is a risk too far and is one which led Gordon Brown to call for “markets with morals”.

As for the government, with Vince Cable seemingly out of the picture in pushing for fairer bank terms to small businesses, all we now have left is a threadbare deal with the banks from chancellor George Osborne. This has the non-binding target of £190 billion for lending being a gross amount, not net. So it is very possible that, as businesses repay their loans and others have credit withdrawn, the gross target is met, but net lending declines. (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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Mind the pay-gap: Lib Dem chutzpah’s not enough

04/01/2011, 07:00:55 AM

by James Watkins

To be fair, it took some chutzpah. At the Lib Dem conference in September, the equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, declared that it was time for “a new politics which has equality at its heart”. She continued that there would be “an equality for the future which is driven by the liberal principles of the past”. And, in a particularly impassioned part of the speech, delegates were urged to watch the film Made in Dagenham. And while watching to reflect on “the women to whom equality in the workplace is still a pipe dream”.

One of the last great acts of the Labour government was to require businesses employing 250 or more people to undertake gender pay audits from 2013. However, the minister has said, “We want to move away from the arrogant notion of government knowing best to one where government empowers individuals, businesses and communities to make change happen”.

With this strange policy contortion – of condemning the gender pay-gap but not wanting to get the facts – the “equality of the future” seems to have slipped away to a parallel universe. (more…)

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Five tests for Cameron in Russia

15/12/2010, 05:23:07 PM

by James Watkins

We missed a trick in 1991 – and David Cameron will know this when he visits Moscow in the New Year.

Back in the early 90s the then US president, George H W Bush and John Major,  hunkered down in Downing Street, may not have publicly crowed at the collapse of the Soviet Union, but their actions spoke louder than their words. Though Russia joined the G8 group of wealthy nations, the lack of assistance fully to buttress the Russian economy led to a dive in living standards – rubbing salt into Russia’s already wounded pride.

This chain of events has led to the nationalism we see today, with Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, saying that Stalin was not all bad and that the Soviet collapse was a “catastrophe” while Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, deliberately made a show of visiting islands that are a bone of contention between Russia and Japan.

All of this is not the best backdrop to the British prime minister’s visit, but there have been some developments that have recently boosted Russian confidence.

NATO and Russia agreed this autumn to work together on anti ballistic missile defence. In April, the United States and Russia agreed on a major nuclear arms reduction treaty. The Russian government was able to extend its lease for its Black Sea naval port – thanks to a pro-Moscow Ukrainian government. Russian troops still occupy parts of northern Georgia which – superficially – gives Russia the upper hand in the region. And, as we all know to England’s cost, Russia will host the World Cup. (more…)

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Let’s not play politics with drugs

25/11/2010, 12:00:42 PM

by James Watkins

Drug addiction is too often the background noise in communities up and down the country. Even if your own family has not been affected, it is very likely you will know someone who, in some form, has been damaged by this trade.

The financial costs of the drugs trade also demonstrates in stark terms the harm that is being caused. For instance, in the West Midlands police area, as of January 2009, crime linked to 1125 class A drug users had an estimated impact of £108 million on the economy. The charity, Addaction, claim that between 1998 and 2008, drug-related ill health and crime cost the UK economy £110 billion.

The last government had made progress in tackling this problem. The 2009/10 British crime survey found that 8.6% of 16 – 59 year olds in England and Wales used illicit drugs. That figure in 2008/09 had been 10.1%. The number of 16 – 24 year olds using illicit drugs in England and Wales dropped to 20% – compared to 22.6% in 2008/09.

But these statistics also show the shockingly high numbers of people whose lives are being steadily destroyed by drugs. The government will shortly publish its public health and drugs strategies – which will have implications for every single family. This will also be a test of Labour’s commitment to constructive opposition. (more…)

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Labour can help with Chinese democracy

07/11/2010, 10:30:41 AM

by James Watkins

THE FEAR of China continues to dominate debate in Britain – from its portrayal as a fire-breathing dragon on the cover of this week’s Spectator to David Cameron’s bizarre claim during the election campaign that Britain may need nuclear weapons because of China. This is not the ideal backdrop for the prime minister’s forthcoming visit to Beijing.

The list of worries laid at China’s door is manifold: from human rights abuses to currency manipulation and from poor working conditions to obstructing climate change talks. At the heart of them all is the fear that a lack of political reform in China will make things even worse.

But if the British government were to take a new approach to China, the prime minister’s visit could be the start of a new direction for Chinese democracy.
At first glance, such a view may seem overly rosy. Since the dissident, Lin Xioabo, won the Nobel peace prize in October, a crackdown on dissidents has been reported. But there are also signs that the Chinese political elite now recognise that political reform is needed. In early October, prime minister Wen Jiabao told CNN that “the people’s will for, and need for, democracy and freedom is irresistible”. (more…)

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The housing crisis could be this government’s poll tax, says James Watkins

24/10/2010, 12:00:16 PM

It was a shocking but everyday story. A young mum forced to sleep on the sofa year in and year out in a cramped council flat while her children were crammed into a single room. Appeals to local government officials and councillors had gone nowhere. So, there was only one thing to do – to tell her story to the prime minister.

On a bright Birmingham day in August, this mother asked the PM what he would do to help her get out of this problem. It said everything any of us would need to know about this government that David Cameron used this agony to declare that council tenants’ security of tenure – being secure in your own home – should end.

This and the 60% cut in social housing combined with construction workers wondering when the next job will come from could become this Tory-Lib Dem government’s poll tax. For if ministers persist in this cruel and economically illiterate policy, the time these cuts will be felt will be in 2014 – the eve of the next general election. (more…)

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