Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Obama and Merkel can still make history, not be its victims

10/08/2011, 08:00:04 AM

by Jonathan Todd

People make their own history, as Karl Marx knew and Angela Merkel and Barack Obama cannot deny, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. Over hundreds of years America has evolved to a fiercely divided, uncompromising polis wedded to a system demanding compromise. Over decades Europe has achieved monetary union. Thousands of years of history hang over its fiscal consummation, which is required to avoid collapse and further calamity. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
One of the ironies of Marx is that communism was supposedly inevitable, but his tombstone declares that the point is to change the world, not interpret it. What’s to change if history’s terminus is already determined? What was the point of agitating publications like the Communist Manifesto if we were all, in spite of ourselves, destined for communism?

Such publications imply that Marx himself may not have seen communism as quite the iron certainty that rigid interpretations of his writing suggest. But one of the divisions between Marxism and much of the rest of the left concerns the extent to which we are prisoners of history. Parties such Labour predicate themselves on an assumption that the institutions of advanced capitalist democracies can be moulded to serve socially just ends. Ed Miliband’s father, of course, like other Marxists, thought this naive.

Recent economic events seem to vindicate Ralph Miliband. Political leadership seems oxymoronic when our nominal leaders appear only witnesses to events that they can barely fathom, let alone command. (In the non-economic sphere, our Tuscan prime minister is similarly bemused by the revenge of the lumpenproletariat). Nothing has happened to undermine James Carville’s famous wish to come back as the bond market and intimidate everybody. It’s these markets that are in the box seat and our political leaders that are cowered.

What they demand are credible plans from governments to repay their creditors. This isn’t unreasonable. I expect you’d want to see credible repayment plans before you leant non-trivial amounts of money. The governments of the third and fourth largest economies in the eurozone, Italy and Spain, seem increasingly unable to produce such plans. The downgrade of the USA, though unjustified, speaks to a similar lack of confidence in America’s ability to manage its debts.

While events seem to lead towards the largest country in the world that still professes to be communist, China, being an ever more dominant geo-political force, the Marxists should not be too triumphant. The markets are, of course, as powerful as James Carville’s wildest dream and Ralph Miliband’s bleakest nightmare. But they do not remain beyond the capacity of political leaders to have them becalmed. That is if political leaders do what it says on their tin; lead.
This doesn’t mean interpreting opinion polls as immovable. Germany, for example, could swing behind the full steps required to save the euro if Merkel articulated them well enough. It means seeing your electorate as intelligent beings capable of being won over by the force of your argument and your actions. Merkel and Obama can still do this. But only if they stop being intimidated not only by the bond markets but also by opinion polls, their political opponents and their own inevitable failure to hold in their minds every relevant fact and figure. (more…)

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USA: checks and balances in the age of chaos

03/08/2011, 09:47:33 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“I don’t want to talk to anyone about anything right now,” she exploded. With tears in her eyes, she retreated to a back room.

This was how the Democratic congresswoman Barbara Jordan, an eloquent contributor to the committee that voted to impeach President Nixon, reacted to a request for comment immediately after the vote. This request came from Michael Sandel, later a distinguished philosopher, then a newspaper intern.

Sandel recalled this encounter when the House began impeachment proceedings against President Clinton in 1998. While Barbara Jordan’s explosion demonstrated that even Democrats opposed to Nixon recognised the magnitude of impeachment, partisan passions against Clinton overrode any such recognition on the part of many Republicans 24 years later. 13 years hence, and the trends evidenced by the contrasting attitudes of Democrats to Nixon and Republicans to Clinton have hardly dissipated.

Many Republicans today would throw a tea party on the White House lawn, rather than discretely sob, if president Obama were impeached. This is in spite of the fact that impeachment should only properly occur when the constitutional system is seriously threatened. No matter that such a threat is inherently a matter of national tribulation; glee could be expected from those who seem consumed only by tribalism. The “Nazi Socialist Communist Muslim” would have got his comeuppance. (more…)

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Wednesday News Review

25/05/2011, 06:40:16 AM

The pomp and ceremony is over, now the politics begins

Barack Obama will today express hope that the Atlantic alliance may now be “turning a corner” towards a more peaceful existence after a decade of continuous warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. At a speech this afternoon at the Palace of Westminster to address both houses of parliament, Obama will point to the withdrawal of US and Britain troops from Iraq, the expected drawdown from Afghanistan beginning this summer, the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the weakening of al-Qaida as signs that the worst might be over for the transatlantic alliance. According to the White House, the president will stress that the stabilisation of north Africa and the consolidation of the Arab spring will be critical. Although, the Americans have been adamant on this visit that they will not retake the lead in the Nato offensive against the Gaddafi regime, they argue they are already doing a lot behind the scenes and plan to do a lot more in the coming days to give greater legitimacy to the Benghazi-based rebels. – the Guardian

President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will discuss ways to sustain pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi when they meet tomorrow in London before Obama’s address to Parliament. The NATO campaign against Qaddafi and measures to support the opposition in Libya will be “one of the lead agenda items” for the meeting at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s office, Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said today. “It’s essential that the U.S. and Europe continue to serve as that catalyst for global action” in Libya and countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are in a state of upheaval, Rhodes said. Today, in addition to meeting with Cameron, Obama also will address members of Parliament. He will be the first U.S. president to do so in Westminster Hall. – San Francisco Chronicle

The second day of the politician’s state visit to Britain will begin at Downing Street where he will hold talks with David Cameron on issues ranging from Libya and Afghanistan, to terrorism and the global economy. The highlight of today is likely to be the President’s keynote speech to both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. According to the White House, Mr Obama is expected to tell MPs and peers that even though the world has changed significantly since World War Two, the UK-US relationship and the broader transatlantic alliance is still the “cornerstone of global security”. The president will also strike an optimistic note by claiming that the world is “turning a corner” following a “difficult decade”. Mr Obama follows Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan to become the third US president to address Parliament. – Sky News

Huhne and ex-wife questioned by police

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was quizzed by police yesterday over allegations he pressured his wife to take his speeding penalty points. The Cabinet minister spoke to officers after they launched an inquiry into the 2003 incident. Another person – thought to be his estranged wife Vicky Pryce – was also questioned yesterday. Essex police said: “We can confirm two individuals have been interviewed at stations in Essex and London over allegations regarding a speeding offence.” The force would not confirm if the interviews were carried out under caution but stressed no arrests were made. Mr Huhne is said to have asked Ms Pryce to take the three penalty points on her licence after allegedly being caught speeding on the M11 in Essex eight years ago. – Daily Mirror

The Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was interviewed by police yesterday over allegations he tried to evade punishment for speeding. Mr Huhne’s ex-wife, Vicky Pryce, was also questioned over claims he asked her to accept penalty points on his behalf in March 2003. Essex Police confirmed that two individuals had been interviewed in relation to allegations of a speeding offence. A spokeswoman for Mr Huhne said: “Chris Huhne helped the Essex Police with their inquiries today and looks forward to an early resolution of this issue.” Ms Pryce’s solicitor said in a statement: “Vicky Pryce met with Essex Police today as part of their inquiry. She continues to do what is necessary in respect of the inquiry but in view of the fact that it is on going it is not appropriate for her or anyone on her behalf to comment further.” – the Independent

Another blow to the big society

The Prime Minister’s cherished Big Society project suffered a severe blow last night after the man appointed to implement it dramatically resigned. Lord Nat Wei stepped down just months after saying he could not devote as much time to the project as he thought. The former management consultant was taken on last year as Big Society tsar, with a remit of enthusing the public into carrying out unpaid community work. But he was reportedly shocked to find that he himself would have to work for nothing. At the time he was reported as saying he wanted to cut back his Government work so he could earn money and have ‘more of a life’. The resignation is a blow to Mr Cameron, who has described the Big Society as his ‘mission in politics’. Labour accused the Premier of expecting the public to carry out voluntary work, when he could not even count on his own Big Society tsar to do it. – Daily Mail

The man in charge of the Big Society project quit yesterday – to take up a paid job. Lord Wei’s departure is a further blow to David Cameron’s pet scheme, which he tried to relaunch this week for the fourth time. The peer had already cut the hours given to the voluntary role, claiming he needed other work to pay the bills. Yesterday he said he was going to work for a charity. The PM said Lord Wei had worked “incredibly hard” to help develop policies that support the Big Society. But Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell said: “Yet again the Big Society is descending into farce. Only a day after Cameron told us all to take more responsibility, it appears there will be nobody responsible for bringing the Big Society into reality.” – Daily Mirror

Clegg sidelined over Ashcroft appointment

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister, is understood to have urged David Cameron not to make the appointment, to head a review of British military bases in Cyprus, but was overruled. The move was described as “deeply offensive” by a Liberal Democrat peer who campaigned to force Lord Ashcroft to disclose his non-domicile status. Mr Cameron’s decision to defy his deputy is a clear signal that the multi-millionaire, who is one of the Conservatives’ biggest donors, is back in favour with senior Tories. However, on forming the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats, who had long detested Lord Ashcroft for targeting their candidates in marginal seats, vetoed any appointment. It is a sign of Mr Clegg’s waning power within the Coalition that his personal objection to the appointment fell on deaf years. – Daily Telegraph

With the help of his old friend, William Hague, Lord Ashcroft is to return to politics, acting as a lead adviser to the government on its review of the UK’s military bases in Cyprus. It’s nearly a year since Ashcroft gave up his non-dom tax status in order to keep his seat in the House of Lords but we can still expect this appointment to raise some eyebrows. How does Nick Clegg feel about the return of the man he once denounced as the “baron of Belize”? The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg tweets that the Deputy PM made his objections to the appointment clear but that Cameron went ahead anyway. A Lib Dem source tells her that “you can’t go the wall on every issue”. Expect Labour to use this apparent division at the top of the government to its advantage. I’d be surprised if Ed Miliband doesn’t make at least one Ashcroft-related gag at PMQs tomorrow. – New Statesman

“A day to bury bad news,” where have I heard that before

Tory strategists were last night accused of using the visit of Barack Obama to bury “bad news”. The news in question is David Cameron having handed a Government post to controversial Tory donor Lord Ashcroft, provoking a bitter coalition row with the Liberal Democrats. Within hours, Lord Wei announced his resignation as Mr Cameron’s Big Society “czar”, just a day after the PM’s fourth try at relaunching his pet project. Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott said: “It’s silly to think you can bury really bad news just because Obama is visiting.” – the Independent

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Tuesday News Review

24/05/2011, 06:42:02 AM

The World’s Commander in Chief

It comes as the President of the United States arrives in London for a three-day state visit. He and his wife Michelle will stay at Buckingham Palace as guests of the Queen. This afternoon the Prime Minister and his wife Samantha will host a barbecue in the Downing Street garden for the President and First Lady. In a joint newspaper article today the two leaders point to the close relationship between the two countries, and say it is vital not just for Britain and America, but also the rest of the world. The two men say: “When the United States and Britain stand together, our people and people around the world can become more secure and more prosperous. “And that is the key to our relationship. Yes, it is founded on a deep emotional connection, by sentiment and ties of people and culture. But the reason it thrives, the reason why this is such a natural partnership, is because it advances our common interests and shared values.  “It is a perfect alignment of what we both need and what we both believe. And the reason it remains strong is because it delivers time and again. Ours is not just a special relationship, it is an essential relationship – for us and for the world. Mr Obama last night addressed an adoring audience in Dublin. He had earlier visited Moneygall, a small village in County Offaly, the home of one of the President’s ancestors who emigrated to America in 1850. – Daily Telegraph

Hurried along by the Icelandic ash cloud, President Obama arrived early in the UK, where he will meet with David Cameron to rechristen the special relationship between Britain and the U.S. as the ‘essential relationship’. With the Grimsvotn volcano eruption threatening UK airspace Mr Obama cut short his visit to Ireland by a night and touched down at 10.15pm yesterday at Stansted Airport on Air Force One for his first state visit. But despite the hasty change to their planned schedule, the couple were still given the formal welcome expected of a state visit. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall were originally due to meet the Obamas tomorrow, but instead the couple were greeted by the Lord in Waiting Viscount Brookeborough, who met them on behalf of the Queen. And instead of a traditional red carpet they left the plane on special red-carpeted stairs because of windy conditions at the airport. Among the party was also Alison MacMillan, deputy director of protocol from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) who greeted the president on behalf of the foreign secretary. An RAF Ceremonial Squadron was on hand, saluting as the couple walked the red carpet to their motorcade. Also present was US ambassador to the UK Louis Susman and his wife Margaret, Chief Constable of Essex Police Jim Barker-McCardle, and Nick Barton, managing director of London Stansted Airport. – Daily Mail

I thought Hannan was bad enough

A Tory MEP has claimed some rape victims are partly to blame for their assault. Former party spokesman Roger Helmer made the comments in defence of Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s claim last week that the crime had less serious forms. Contrasting date-rape to “classic stranger rape” on his blog, Mr Helmer said a woman who “voluntarily undresses and gets into bed … surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing expectations”. “Most right-thinking people would expect a much lighter sentence. Rape is always wrong, but not always equally culpable.” Labour frontbencher ­Caroline Flint branded the comments “outrageous”. – Daily Mirror

Writing on his blog, Roger Helmer weighed in behind the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, who last week suggested some forms of rape were more serious than others. Helmer’s comments were criticised by a party spokesman and by Tory MP Louise Bagshawe, who said his remarks were “appalling”. Helmer described a “classic stranger rape” scenario, where a “masked individual emerges from the bushes, hits his victim over the head with a blunt instrument, drags her into the undergrowth and rapes her, and then leaves her unconscious, careless whether she lives or dies”. He then described “date rape” as being when a woman “voluntarily goes to her boyfriend’s apartment, voluntarily goes into the bedroom, voluntarily undresses and gets into bed, perhaps anticipating sex, or naively expecting merely a cuddle. But at the last minute she gets cold feet and says ‘Stop!’ The young man, in the heat of the moment, is unable to restrain himself and carries on. In both cases an offence has been committed, and the perpetrators deserve to be convicted and punished. But whereas in the first case, I’d again be quite happy to hang the guy, I think that most right-thinking people would expect a much lighter sentence in the second case. Rape is always wrong, but not always equally culpable.” – the Guardian

Just go for it lads

A controversial new industry earmarked for the edge of Liverpool is backed by MPs today – despite being linked to polluted tap water and fears of gas explosions in the USA. The Government is urged to give the go-ahead to “shale” gas drilling, with a prediction it could be worth £28bn and cut Britain’s dependence on imported gas. The recommendation comes just months after a company revealed huge untapped reserves are trapped in rocks beneath Wirral, North Cheshire and North Wales. IGas said it hoped to exploit a string of licence areas around Liverpool, including exploration blocks beneath John Lennon Airport, Widnes and Warrington. – Liverpool Daily Post

There should be no moratorium on prospecting for shale gas in the UK despite concerns about its negative environmental impacts, a report from an influential group of MPs has advised. The UK could have “considerable” shale gas resources, particularly offshore, said the energy and climate change select committee, and should exploit these to reduce reliance on energy imports. But the MPs acknowledged that exploiting shale gas could be environmentally damaging and could spell severe problems for the renewables industry, which is facing a lobbying onslaught from gas industry representatives seeking to position their fuel as “green” because it produces less carbon than coal. Tim Yeo, the Tory MP and former minister who chairs the committee, said: “Shale gas could encourage more countries to switch from coal to gas, which in some cases could halve power station emissions. But if it has a downward effect on gas prices it could divert much needed investment away from lower carbon technologies like solar, wind, wave or tidal power.” – the Guardian

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Obama should pretend there’s a Republican Clinton

03/05/2011, 02:00:49 PM

by Jonathan Todd

I recently saw a TV pundit – admittedly on Fox News, which I watch for perverse laughs – assert that Barack Obama will not win the next presidential election. Another pundit came back that he would, because the Republicans don’t have anyone to beat him. This is the prevailing establishment view. Andrew Neil recently tweeted: “A prediction you can hold me to: Obama will serve a second term”.

Obama’s position now is probably about as ascendant as that of George H W Bush at the same stage in 1991. Then Bill Clinton fatefully emerged. Few today deny that Obama has vulnerabilities. The existence of a Republican Clinton is more uncertain, however.

Mitt Romney has the kind of business background that helps in sustaining a claim to economic competence. This matters, particularly in the present economic climate. He may be the strongest Republican candidate and Obama may fear that further economic turbulence, as well as carrying its own risk, will lead Republicans to put aside their reservations about Romney-care and his religion to select him.

Romney is hardly Clintonesque, but Obama hasn’t always been so either. Can you imagine, for instance, Clinton being as remote as Obama seemed during the Gulf oil slick? James Carville blasted him for this. He has done better with recent tornados and, of course, the capture of Osama Bin Laden.


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Friday News Review

15/04/2011, 06:53:20 AM

A modern triple entente

President Obama today signals the return of America to the forefront of the international effort in Libya, writing a joint article with David Cameronand Nicolas Sarkozy in which the three leaders commit their countries to pursue military action until Colonel Gaddafi has been removed. In the joint article, Obama reverses America’s earlier cautious approach to the conflict – which saw the US hand control to Nato and withdraw fighter planes just days after the intervention began – and signs up his country to the more muscular intervention of his European colleagues. Obama’s new interest could transform the efforts of the international community after three days of talks in the Gulf state of Qatar in effect came to nothing. – the Guardian

Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have stated their determination to keep bombing Libya until Muammar Gaddafi steps down or is deposed. The leaders of the United States, Britain and France said, in a jointly written article, it would be an “unconscionable betrayal” of the populations of rebel towns to cease operations with Colonel Gaddafi still in place. It was “unthinkable” that a leader who has “tried to massacre his own people” could be allowed to continue in government, they said. “So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds.” – the Independent

Immigration policy chaos

The Lib Dem Business Secretary, was speaking in Manchester following the Prime Minister’s speech on mass immigration which Mr Cable had said was “very unwise” suggesting they could fuel extremism over immigration. “The reference to the tens of thousands of immigrants rather than hundreds of thousands is not part of the coalition agreement, it is Tory party policy only,” Mr Cable had told the BBC before Mr Cameron’s speech. Questioned about his comments to the BBC Mr Cable said: “I don’t want to develop that, and I think I have said what I wanted to say. – the Telegraph

Vince Cable insisted the government was ‘completely united’ on immigration after earlier claiming David Cameron’s comments on the subject were ‘unwise’. The Lib Dem business secretary was greeted by angry protesters as he arrived for a visit in Greater Manchester at the centre of a political storm. The protesters – complaining about government cuts – disrupted a campaign visit to Levenshulme by Mr Cable. One was arrested. Mr Cable had appeared to criticise Mr Cameron’s keynote speech on immigration – in which the prime minister said the numbers coming into Britain were ‘too high’ and were dividing communities. The business secretary said the speech risked ‘inflaming extremism’ and was ‘unwise’. But Mr Cable, who was touring businesses in the north west, said later there was ‘no division’ between him and the prime minister on the issue. – Manchester Evening News

More people waiting longer for treatment

David Cameron’s pledge to protect the NHS was in tatters last night after official figures revealed a shock increase in hospital waiting times. The devastating blow, in a week where Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was ¬humiliated by nurses, ¬undermines the Premier’s -promises to patients. Less than 90% get their treatment within 18 weeks – the worst performance in almost three years, said the Department of Health. And some patients are even being made to wait for more than 39 weeks. Shadow Health Secretary John Healey said: “Cameron should say sorry to patients for breaking his promise. “He said he wanted waiting times to come down but these figures will further add to people’s concerns the NHS is starting to go backwards.” – the Mirror

Official figures show that some people have endured gaps of more than five months between being seen by their GP and being admitted to hospital, with the average wait lengthening by a full week over the past year alone. Waiting lists lengthened over the winter as NHS trusts cancelled planned operations to care for critically ill flu patients, but are likely to increase still further as health authorities begin in earnest to make savings of £20billion over the next four years. It represents the latest in a series of figures that have called into question ministers’ claims that the health budget and front-line services are being protected. Waiting times in A&E have increased by 63 per cent over the past year while more than half of 10,000 planned job cuts are said to be hitting doctors, nurses and midwives. Labour, which introduced the targets for treatment within 18 weeks, highlighted David Cameron’s claim at a recent Prime Minister’s Questions that the Government wanted “to see waiting times and waiting lists come down”. – the Telegraph

First class cover up

Labour leader Ed Miliband has been caught out trying to cover up his first-class train journey to the regions to reconnect with voters. Aides of Mr Miliband’s were spotted taking away the ‘First Class’ seat covers just as the leader arrived on the London to Coventry train with cameras in tow. The leader, who elbowed older brother David out of the way to seize the top Labour job, has repeatedly tried to launch a class war with the Tories, emphasising Prime Minister David Cameron’s privileged upbringing. But yesterday his class-war tactics backfired when Mr Miliband was filmed in the first class compartment of a Virgin train on his way to a local election campaign visit in Lancashire. Asked why he thought he should travel first class when he was trying to pitch himself as a man of the people, he said: ‘We travel standard class and we travel first class at different times… I don’t think any politician should claim that they are leading an ordinary life. – Daily Mail

So it was with mild surprise that I watched Ed Miliband step into a first class carriage on his way to Preston at the outset of a day of pre-local election events to which I and my Sky News crew had been invited. His team is evidently aware of the potential pitfalls of being seen to travel apart from the hoi polloi, as the first thing they did was to remove the “First Class” head covers from all the surrounding seats. When I questioned the Labour leader, he said: “We travel standard class and first class at different times.”I don’t think any politician should claim that they are leading a normal life because talking to you, being in the public eye is not a normal life.” The important thing, he said was to be able to “put yourself in other people’s shoes”. – Sky News

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Tuesday News Review

05/04/2011, 06:15:18 AM

Clegg to cut his own school tie

Nick Clegg will call for sweeping changes to internships today to try to break the ‘sharp elbowed’ middle-class stranglehold on the professions. Firms that fail to provide ‘financial support’ to interns could face investigation by HM Revenue and Customs over their compliance with the minimum wage laws. Launching the Coalition’s social  mobility strategy, the Deputy Prime Minister will also warn that the ‘well-connected’ middle classes enjoy an unfair advantage in getting work  experience for their children. He will argue that internships have become a closed shop in many professions. Mr Clegg will also criticise the practice of expecting interns to work for nothing, which he believes discriminates against youngsters from poorer backgrounds. – Daily Mail

The government is aiming to reverse the growing culture of unpaid internships, which favour the wealthy and well-connected, as part of asocial mobility strategy to be launched by Nick Clegg. The national internship scheme will ask firms to pay young people doing work experience and warn they could otherwise risk a legal challenge under the national minimum wage legislation. The deputy prime minister will say that the aim is to make career progression less dependent on “who your father’s friends are”. The Conservative party chair, Lady Warsi, will announce on Tuesday that the civil service will end informal internships before 2012. They will all then be advertised on the government’s website. As one part of a many-pronged effort to narrow differences in achievement between social groups, a number of firms have been enlisted to give people without family connections experience in competitive fields of work. The government will encourage firms to use name-blank and school-blank applications. – the Guardian

HM Revenue & Customs will launch a crackdown in professions such as law and journalism where work experience is commonplace, to ensure that people are paid the national minimum wage or receive out of pocket expenses. Ministers say that many young people miss out because they lack the personal contacts or cannot afford to take an unpaid internship. They believe this is hindering efforts to close the “life chances gap” between the poor and better off. Mr Clegg will announce his moves when he issues the Government’s plans to improve social mobility and tackle child poverty. He will say: “For too long, internships have been the almost exclusive preserve of the sharp-elbowed and the well-connected. Unfair, informal internships can rig the market in favour of those who already have opportunities. We want a fair job market based on merit not networks. It should be about what you know, not who you know.” – the Independent (more…)

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Movement for change: the man who coined the phrase questions its embrace by Labour

04/02/2011, 11:47:10 AM

by Anthony Painter

It is rum that community organising has risen to such prominence as a result of the election of Barack Obama. Because, of course, he would never have been president had he not turned his back on community organising. By the time he went to Harvard to study law, he had lost faith in the ability of organising to achieve significant change.

One of his leading activists turned around one day and said to the young Barack, “Ain’t nothing gonna change, Mr Obama. We just gonna concentrate on saving our money so we can move outta here as fast as we can”.

David Mendell, Obama’s biographer, also chronicles his loss of faith in organising by his third year on the south side of Chicago. He had come to the conclusion that without hard political power, his time was wasted. Upon the untimely death of his political hero, Harold Washington, Obama “felt shackled by the limited power of a small nonprofit group to create expansive change”, writes Mendell.

His campaign certainly adopted some of the insights of the community organising tradition: focus on organisation building, networked through kith and kin, focus on the ultra-local. Equally, it concentrated ruthlessly on hard political power, was centrally directed and had intense message discipline. In other words, its core narrative came from the top, while its organisation reached into community grassroots. It was focused on the hard power of community campaigning rather than the soft power of community organising.

When the Birmingham Edgbaston campaign looked to learn from the success of Obama ’08, it sought to understand it as a community-based hard political campaign, as opposed to looking back at Obama’s community organising years. Obama ’08 – the movement for change – was a political movement. Its plan was to mirror the “new (political) organiser” model described by Zack Exley, and then develop ever more sophisticated means of issue-based community engagement once victory had been secured. And that is what it is now doing. (more…)

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The Sunday Review: Obama’s Arizona speech

16/01/2011, 02:30:01 PM

by Anthony Painter

On a chilly April night in 1968, America’s second greatest poet-warrior in modern times climbed onto the back of a truck and gave a speech of transcendent power in the aftermath of the assassination of its greatest poet-warrior. Largely ad-libbed, Robert F Kennedy defined the moment, eschewing violence and outrage in favour of hope and healing.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black”.

The words could almost have been uttered by Martin Luther King himself. Perhaps in a strange way they were channeled through King – at a conceptual level at least. The theatre of modern politics is less chaotic, more stage-managed, and more crafted. Even in the context of higher production values, words can retain their moral force. President Obama’s challenge in the University of Arizona on Wednesday was to comfort a moment of national tragedy and set a new course. He did so and reminded the US of his poet warrior status at the same time. (more…)

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In Florida, as in the rest of the country, Democrats “took a shellacking”

06/11/2010, 02:00:57 PM

by Dave Roberts

Now that I’m back home in cold, damp Wiltshire, the heat and humidity of Florida seem along way off, as do the frenetic last days of the US midterm elections.  My endeavour to help rescue the Democratic congressional seat of Ron Klein failed spectacularly, and the Republicans have taken firm control of Floridian politics.

Republican candidates won all the marginal congressional districts, took the governor’s mansion, the Senate seat and the top three positions in the state legislature – attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner.  The Democrats, as President Obama said “took a shellacking”.

Last Tuesday was a horrible night to be a Democrat.  I was in the Ron Klein campaign “boiler room” as results began to come in from across the country.  There were a few bright moments when extreme Tea party candidates Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware failed to win, but on the whole the mood was down beat.  Our own campaign in Florida district 22 had failed and the Tea party and Fox News favourite Republican Allen West won the seat.  The race for the Florida Senate seat was always going to be a shoe-in for the Republican favourite Marco Rubio, and Rick Scott narrowly beat Democrat Alex Sink to take the keys to the governor’s mansion. (more…)

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