Archive for August, 2012

Thank you Julian Assange: you have shown your true colours and got George Galloway to show his

22/08/2012, 07:00:50 AM

by Rob Marchant

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks currently claiming asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy, is only the last in the long line of distinguished anti-Western campaigners, so adored by the liberal left.

Assange may or may not be guilty of rape, and you may or may not agree with the motivation of Wikileaks as a liberating force for the masses. That said, we might start to smell a rat if we scratch the surface, to find that Wikileaks also includes the rather unpleasant Israel Shamir, whose overt racism and sexism, not to mention connections to the odious regime of Belarus, the great Bob from Brockley exposes here.

But, leaving that on one side, the case is very simple: Assange is on the run from prosecution for a serious alleged crime, in Sweden a country which is hardly well-known either for its unfair legal system, or for its propensity to do what the US tells it to (as one wag commented on Twitter, if it were any less minded to do American bidding, it’d be China).

Along the way he has jumped bail and, at the very least, let down his friends who put up the money in good faith. And, within the Stockholm Syndrome world of those who support Assange, there is a strong desire to misinform about the case (if you want to know the real facts, a good place to start is to follow the excellent legal blogger David Allen Green. It is also deliciously ironic that he has sought asylum at the embassy of Ecuador, a country recently criticised for human rights abuses, and which is fast going the same way of the demagogic Hugo Chávez’ Venezuela.

The pattern is familiar: the person starts off seeming like a freedom fighter, sticking it to the man; the man in question being the establishment, the government or simply the west.

A short time later, the same person, puffed up by their loyal supporters, feels that ordinary rules and laws do not apply to them: feeding off their own ego, they gradually say or do more and more unacceptable things, until finally, the liberal left reaches its tipping point and switches to criticism. Only in rare cases, however, are they entirely disowned, because people have already invested much emotional energy in them, and no-one likes to be wrong. Instead they are benignly classified as “part of the broad church of left-wing thought”.

But such people are not benign, and they are not really “left”, either. The psychological profile is often that of someone at once intelligent, manipulative and with a worrying lack of empathy for humanity.

And so it is with some irony we find our old friend, Respect MP George Galloway, taking up the cause of a man with which he shares a number of such traits. And in the most bizarre, and stomach-churning way: Galloway yesterday decided not only that Assange should not stand trial for rape, but that the reason for this is that sex with a sleeping woman does not require her consent.


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George and Dave’s old curiosity shop

21/08/2012, 07:00:25 AM

by James Ruddick

Alistair’s Darlings imploring to George Osborne, delivered this past weekend, will not fall on deaf ears for the obvious reason.   It will do so instead because it makes a fundamental mistake in assuming that George Osborne is remotely interested in its subject matter of economic growth and prosperity.  He isn’t.  Osborne is the first chancellor in history who places social transformation before economic performance.  He is a kamikaze chancellor.  He knows his policies will ultimately wreck his career.  Yet he believes his self-immolation serves a higher calling.

Make no mistake, this recession now belongs to Osborne.  It is no longer the fault of the banks, of the Eurozone or the Royal wedding, the bad weather, the extra bank holiday, the last government, the global financial crisis or any of the other fake alibis conjured up by the government.  This recession is his and his alone.  It was manufactured in the treasury by his own hands.  It was made, one might even say sculptured, for a noble Tory purpose – to render the public sector unaffordable so that it can be closed down for good.

In that sense, it must not be subject to any amelioration of the kind urged by Alistair Darling until it has done its work.  It must just burn through the system.  When it has finished, in Margaret Thatcher’s words, “there will be no such thing as society.”  That is its purpose.

Conservatives have never made a secret of their longing to abolish the welfare state and the NHS and to outsource their services to Wall Street and the City.   It is the stuff of Tory wet dreams: creating a world that genuflects to Herbert Spencer, a world in which the impeccable sanatoriums of the privately insured sit next to the charity hospitals coping with everyone else, a world where big society volunteers dispense the only care the disabled can get; where those who suffer misfortune or dispossession are punished, made to wear orange suits and pick up litter, where only poor children are educated inside the state sector, in dilapidated halls miles from the chrome and smoked glass of the “free schools” fast-tracking middle class children to golden lives.

Until George’s recession, this always proved to be a doggedly elusive world.  It was the hinterland that Margaret Thatcher and her cronies spent their days marching towards – her voice crashed through the octaves whenever she thought it was in sight.   But Thatcher never got there.  She made the mistake of generating too much cash through looting the public utilities – gas, electricity, water, telecoms – to ever plausibly close the public services on financial grounds.

She couldn’t abolish hospitals en masse when the treasury was awash with so much stolen money it could barely launder it.  For decades the Tory party found itself caught between its two most fundamental instincts – its idolatry of greed and its hatred of the human instinct for community.  And greed always won.

But then came Rupert Murdoch’s new generation of lieutenants – Cameron, Osborne, Duncan-Smith.  If anything, they were even more enthusiastic about the destruction of public services than Margaret Thatcher.  She at least had lived through the war.  They had lived through fights over the pâte levée feuilletée in stately homes.  And they were never going to repeat her mistakes.

If the public services were to be dismantled it could not be done during a boom.   Full blooded recovery was an enemy of opportunity.  A slump, by contrast, provided an irresistible decoy.  Public services become too expensive. Wall Street comes to tea.  Barely settled into the treasury, George Osborne set to with the kind of financial terrorism that had every leading economist scratching their heads.

It was not an easy achievement, reversing Labour’s recovery.  George had to work long and hard to undo the strong, steady growth he inherited. Obama and Brown had both employed what was universally recognised as the only strategy for ending a recession and repaying debt: adrenalise the economy with investment, then withdraw support as it improved and begin gradual deficit reduction using the rising tax receipts.


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US campaign diary: the O-team is playing at a different level to the Romney campaign

20/08/2012, 07:00:10 AM

by Nikhil Dyundi

Want to see some smart politics?

On Friday, Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager wrote to his Romney counterpart, Matt Rhoades, with an offer:  a pledge not to pressure Romney to release more than five years of tax returns if the Republican nominee would disclose that much information.

Romney had previously stated that one of the reasons he was not releasing further returns is that Democrats will always call on him to put out more than he has (if he releases three years, they’ll want six, etc.)

Naturally, Romney refused. In the grand scheme of things it was a minor skirmish, but the thought process behind the Obama offer shows how Chicago are playing this game at a wholly different level to Romney’s team.

Turn the clock back to Thursday morning, and run through the O-team logic.

First, the audience: it sure as hell wasn’t Matt Rhoades and the Romney campaign. The main audience wasn’t even the voters. No, the primary target was the presidential media pack.

That reliable bell-whether of the conventional press wisdom, Politico, recently ran a piece on media whining about the tone of the race. Setting aside the short memories of these delicate reporters who seem to think the swift-boating of John Kerry to be a high point in campaign history, this type of background chatter provides the prism through which all reporting is projected.

Messina’s offer was designed to demonstrate bi-partisanship: a gentlemanly proposal raising the tone and seeming to give an opportunity to draw a line under the tax return issue.

For the grumbling press pack, the act of making the offer did two things: created a new campaign event about Romney’s returns to report and re-positioned the Obama campaign on the moral high ground.

The response to the offer, whatever it was going to be, would then open up new opportunities for the Obama campaign.


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The Sunday review: Paul Ryan

19/08/2012, 07:00:56 AM

by Anthony Painter

What must it be like to be a guy who can only feel he’s succeeded in life if he becomes US President? It is difficult to look at Mitt Romney without posing this question. It is this basic fact that is making his campaign always feel edgy, nervy, gaffe-prone and slightly desperate. It was in sore need of a bit relaxation and that is what the choice of Paul Ryan constitutes – a therapeutic massage. It is a luxury that is unaffordable even for a man as well-heeled as Mitt Romney.

Scanning Mitt Romney’s biography, it is impossible not to be impressed unless one applies some perversely high standard. He was a successful – and moderate – governor of Massachusetts. His business career was, on its own terms, highly successful. He rescued the Salt Lake Olympics. Regardless of his undoubted advantages in life, this is a very impressive curriculum vitae. It earns him the right to considerable respect. For himself, it is nowhere near enough.

Mitt Romney, as is well established, is in the shadow of his father. George Romney, who was certainly seen as a possible contender for a presidential run himself, was a Rockefeller Republican. He walked out of the 1964 Republican Convention in protest at the Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater, who stood opposed to the Civil Rights Act.

This was the last election before the politics of race swiveled the geography of American electoral politics. Goldwater wanted to hold the south, governor Romney of Michigan, wanted to retain the moderate Republican presence in the industrial north. Goldwater Republicans won the party while being trounced in the election – in part, as a consequence of the division precipitated by Romney’s objection to Goldwater’s approach.

His father’s biography is a lot to live up to. The paradox, however, is that this enormous pressure seems to be taking its toll. In his quest to out-achieve an over-achieving father he seems to be making mistakes. The appointment of Paul Ryan as his running mate falls into this category.

Ryan is no Sarah Palin – far too bright and sophisticated a politician for that – but it is a Sarah Palin-esque decision. Seeking to “game change” more often than not backfires. The point of John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s book Game Change, however, is that when it comes to vice-presidential picks, the “game changing” option is more often in your opponent’s favour.


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Towards a real housing revolution: reforming tenure in the private rented sector

17/08/2012, 06:08:47 PM

In May, Romin Sutherland was one of the winners in the” Top of the Policies” vote at Pragmatic Radicalism’s event on housing, with a proposal to reform assured shorthold tenancies

At a time of economic recession, when social house building is at an all-time low and cheap credit is no longer available for most first time buyers, those groups who in better days would have accessed social housing or benefited from more equitable house price to income ratios will increasingly find themselves locked into a cycle of private renting.  In order to ensure that the private rented sector (PRS) is up to the task of housing a growing and ageing population, I am advocating a reform of the current assured shorthold tenancy (AST), which would increase security of tenure beyond the present 6 month minimum, towards one where most private tenants who pay their rent on time and play by the rules are rewarded with long term sustainable tenancies.

If we were to ensure that the PRS was both an affordable and long term option, there would be fewer reasons for households to hold out for social housing.  This would lower waiting times and allow local authorities to focus their energies on the neediest without the resentment that often comes from those who feel excluded.

Anyone working within the advice or local government sectors will be aware of the dangers inherent within complaining about disrepair and maintenance issues.  Not only is this likely to receive little or no attention from the local environmental health authority, it is also likely to see an unscrupulous landlord claiming possession of the property; the so-called “retaliatory eviction”.

If tenants had increased security of tenure, they could enforce their rights without the fear of being evicted.  As time passed and the worst offenders would realise that they could no longer shirk their responsibilities; they may become more proactive about maintenance and emergency repairs, thus reducing the need for enforcement at all.

As tenants are provided with more of a stake in where they live, I would expect to see an increase in tenants’ rights groups acting as advocates and brokers, and taking the lead on community issues.  As tenant groups grow more powerful, this would increase their collective bargaining power and allow them an opportunity to inform decision making in a democratic way.

It would then be up to the tenants and landlords to decide amongst themselves what they most desired; new windows or cheaper rents.


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Time to clean up the banking sector in London, New York style

17/08/2012, 07:00:48 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Ben Lawsky. Remember that name. This week he changed how banks and financial institutions across the world will be regulated.

While the UK relies on esteemed commissions like Vickers or waits for its parliamentarians to stroll through detail of the the Libor scandal, the state of New York has re-defined how to regulate.

Lawsky runs the department for financial services.  If a financial institution wants to do business in New York, they need a licence from Lawsky.

This week the superintendent – for that is Lawsky’s title – humbled Britain’s mighty Standard Chartered Bank (SCB).

Eleven days ago he issued an order against SCB on its failure to stop money laundering for Iranian organisations. The order was scathing, stating Standard Chartered was “rogue” and was engaged in “dealings that indisputably helped sustain a global threat to peace and stability.”

The bank pushed back strongly, other regulators briefed financial journalists that Lawsky was over playing his hand and even the governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King weighed in, rebuking Lawsky for his precipitate action.

The clue as to what would happen next was in Mervyn King’s intervention. Given his track record on effective banking sector regulation, there was only going to be one outcome.

Earlier this week Standard Chartered settled to the tune of $340m.

It is an enormous win for Lawsky and re-writes the rules for financial regulation in a way that will have major political ramifications in the UK.


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The obituaries are premature. Cameron’s not finished yet

16/08/2012, 02:44:12 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Received opinion, that fluttering butterfly, often dazzles and deceives.

Two bits of conventional wisdom are doing the rounds at the moment; both are hopelessly wrong. The first is a feeling that this government will fall before 2015. The second is a prediction of David Cameron’s early demise.

First the government. A poll in the Guardian the other day shows only 16 per cent of voters expect the coalition to last until May 2015 – just half the 33 per cent who had said the same thing to pollsters ICM two weeks before.

With coalition rows about House of Lords reform and parliamentary boundary changes dominating the airwaves before the summer recess it’s hardly surprising that onlookers question its longevity.

But soundings off from within the government are just that, exuberant rows. No terminal schism is in the offing. There is nowhere for either partner to go. This remains the immutable truth of British politics. Any early collapse of the government would precipitate a general election where both parties would suffer.

The Lib Dems flirt with electoral annihilation and struggle these days to sustain a clear lead over UKIP. They are in no shape to go to the country and need to play for time. What is more, most of the politically painful aspects of the coalition’s programme are now in the past. For Nick Clegg’s troops, things can only get better.

The second fallacy is that David Cameron might not see out his term of office, shaded out by the golden lustre of his Eton contemporary Boris Johnson or knifed by his right wing critics who see his hybrid government as insufficiently Conservative.

A YouGov poll from last weekend shows Labour’s lead at 12 per cent. But when party labels were replaced by party leaders’ names the gap shrunk to six per cent. As John Rentoul at the Independent notes, the most interesting thing about the poll “was how much of an asset David Cameron still is to his party”.


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As party conference season approaches, have these political menageries ever been less relevant?

16/08/2012, 07:00:39 AM

by Peter Watt

So the Olympics are over and the Premier League is about to start (apologies to Scots readers, I know that the SPL has already started).  We have the fantastic Paralympics to look forward to and possibly even a little bit of late summer sun.

But, for the political world the next few weeks are the calm before the conference season madness begins.  Already political obsessives will be beginning to think about their conference itineraries.

The odd invite or two for receptions will have arrived in advance of the tsunami that will hit from early September.  Labour colleagues will be secretly smiling at the excitement of the priorities ballot; they will be wondering about this year’s conference slogan and keeping their fingers crossed about the leader’s speech.  For what it’s worth I predict that the words “fair” and “future” will feature large.

For activists, attending conference is a mix between a holiday and a religious vocation.  Party democracy is revered, the rule book studied, senior politicians are scrutinised and friends socialised with.

Anyone who is anyone makes sure that if they possibly can be there then they are.  People who would never normally willingly forego their middle class comforts are suddenly prepared to sleep on floors and worse if it means that they can attend.  If you can’t be there then you find yourself guiltily justifying yourself by saying “no, but I will definitely be there next year”.

It costs a fortune in travel, accommodation, food and of course booze.  But for a whole week of your life you feel at the centre of the world as the stories that emerge from the conference dominate the news and it’s worth every penny.  And you hungrily devour the news morning, noon and night while you’re there to make sure that the hugely important events that you are witnessing are covered fairly.

Which of course they never are; as while the conference that you are attending is always united friendly and optimistic, those rats from the press insist on reporting splits and rancour.


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State schools need alumni networks every bit as much as private schools

15/08/2012, 02:55:01 PM

In January, Jake Hayman – Director of Future First – won the” Top of the Policies” vote at Pragmatic Radicalism’s event on skills chaired by Michael White of the Guardian, with the idea of creating an alumni network for every state school in the country.

Future First’s vision is that every state school should be supported by a thriving, engaged alumni community that helps each school to do more for its students.

State school alumni are no less likely to want to “give back” than private school alumni. It’s just that state schools haven’t traditionally been so good at asking. Future First is changing that.

Future First’s own research shows that 39% of 16 to 19 year olds who went to a state school do not know anyone in a job they’d like to do. Yet, there’s an untapped pool of over 10 million UK adults who would be willing to return to their old schools to talk about work or higher education. Future First was founded in 2009 to help reconnect former students with their old school’s community as role models for current students.  Successful alumni return to school to raise awareness of the huge range of possibilities for success in the world of work and the key skills needed to achieve it.

We know it works. 75% of students at our in-school alumni events say that hearing from alumni in jobs made them want to work harder in their lessons.


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How we beat the BNP in Cumbria

15/08/2012, 07:00:26 AM

by Rachel Stalker

The church warden of a remote Anglican parish on the west Cumbrian coast was sorting out the church loft when he happened upon an England flag. It was in the run-up to St. George’s day so he decided to fly the flag from the church tower.

Because the church is an iconic coastal landmark, the flag could be seen for miles around – from both land and sea. The church was so overwhelmed by the positive feedback from the local community that a decision was taken to keep the flag flying. It was still flying a few months later when, on 2nd June 2010, Derrick Bird tore through West Cumbria leaving 12 dead, many more injured and a community in complete shellshock. In response, the flag flew at half-mast and it provided a potent symbol of community grief and solidarity.

The church celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee this year – the congregation like to find any excuse for a party, especially if it involves the Queen. There would likely have been a “bring and share” meal with dancing and some games for the children. There are precious few republicans in these parts notwithstanding the rock solid Labour vote which saw the local Labour county councillor comfortably returned, even in Labour’s 2009 nadir.

Here, deep in Labour’s heartlands, there is a strong sense of national identity and pride – yet it was precisely these qualities that made it fertile territory for the BNP whose toxic ideology ripped through West Cumbria with just as much ferocity as Derrick Bird.

In December 2008 the BNP came within 16 votes of taking the Kells & Sandwith county council division – Labour’s safest seat in the county, almost overturning a majority of 1,000 on a swing of 32%.

Kells had been the location of the Haig colliery which, when it closed in 1987, ended 390 years of coalmining in the county. Folk have long memories in these parts and its economic history had forged a deep political identity. Or so it was thought.

Emboldened by their results in Kells & Sandwith, the BNP decided to field a full slate of county council candidates in Copeland for the 2009 elections. Expectations were high: if they could almost take Kells & Sandwith – of all places – then they could take any seat in the constituency.

They confidently expected to take six of the twelve seats – and this confidence went right to the top of the national party. On the day of the count, Nick Griffin travelled from his home in rural Wales all the way to Whitehaven.

He did so because he expected a news story – shock BNP wins in rural Cumbria. On his way into the Civic Hall, he stumbled into leading anti-BNP activist, Gillian Troughton, completely oblivious to her part in his downfall.

Despite the BNP’s brutal campaign tactics, Nick Griffin was to be disappointed. They had a strong showing in four divisions but failed to take a single seat. As I look back on my part in kicking Nick Griffin out of Cumbria, I am reminded how much he helped forge my political ideology.

I approached the BNP’s arrival as a naïve cosmopolitan. I’d moved from Birmingham in 2004. I had deep family roots in West Cumbria, but I was basically a young professional from the leafy south Birmingham suburbs. It was obvious to me that racism was wrong and that multiculturalism is “a very good thing”.

This was backed up by a strong Christian faith that looked forward to the New Jerusalem where people of “every tribe, tongue and nation” would bow before the Lamb. It horrified me that people I liked and respected seriously considered voting BNP. Some of them even went to church with me.

An encounter with three little boys whilst out leafleting in Frizington forced me to look at the world from different perspective. These little boys had such a narrow view of the world that they genuinely thought I was foreign. (I’m obviously white British). I was a stranger bringing strange ideas about racism being wrong. They shouted racist abuse at me that they could only have been learnt from the adults around them. These little boys saw the world very differently from me and I wanted to understand it.


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