Tag Archives: David Cameron

vintage guns western

Britain’s Defence Industry: Decisive Dealers in Death

As Osborne plans to impose £11 billion of welfare cuts or tax rises, the arms industry in Britain in contrast is an ever increasing chief expenditure. In 2011, after the US Britain was found to be ‘the world’s biggest defence exporter’, and shamelessly remains the fourth-biggest military spender in the world. By shamelessly I mean proud, exemplified by Cameron last December as he admired the ‘outstanding performance‘ of the Typhoon fighter jet in Libya.

From an impartial British citizen’s perspective it is tempting to believe Cameron when he says:

Boosting exports is vital for economic growth, and that’s why I’m doing all I can to promote British business … so [it] can thrive in the global race. Every country in the world has a right to self-defence, and I’m determined to put Britain’s first-class defence industry at the forefront of this market, supporting 300,000 jobs across the country.

In actuality, the defence industry makes up a mere 1% of the workforce. More importantly, what does increasing your own nation’s GDP mean when it comes at such a barbaric cost elsewhere?

Within just four months in 2009, as the Sri Lankan civil war between the government and the Tamil Tiger’s culminated, up to an alleged  75,000 people were killed. A recent Independent article reveals how during a similar amount of time, over a mere three month period last year, the UK sold nearly £4 million worth of weapons to Sri Lanka – regardless of numerous reported human rights abuses.

The following article is about the recently revealed execution of the 12 year old son of the military leader of the Tamil Tigers, shot dead by the Sri Lankan army. If you can’t relate to the 75,000, perhaps you can relate to a young individual in order to realise that it is time to regulate the arms trade. It is time to stop profiting from deaths.

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Mali Islamist Militants

Mali: Intervention, Invasion, and Invention

Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.

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Mali Islamist Militants

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Ten years since the West’s intervention in Iraq and in the midst of a new French and British presence in Mali, it is right to emphasise that failing to appreciate the complexities of any international conflict is always costly. Deciding whether or not to commit to military intervention requires extensive deliberation and patience. Whatever one decides, there must be no doubt as to the seriousness of the implications, no question as to the responsibilities assumed as a consequence. Interventionists are often urged to keep these warnings in mind before they choose to support a foreign military conflict, but it should be remembered that this counsel must also apply to those opposed to intervention.

Not long after the French intervention in Mali, a number of voices on the left denounced what they saw as a provocative invitation to Islamist violence and a failure to learn from the West’s intervention in Iraq ten years ago. However, it is arguably these voices that appear to be repeating past mistakes. Opposition to the Iraq War, while vociferous, never received the scrutiny and interrogation it truly deserved, and since it so frequently characterised itself solely in terms of what it was against, it is crucial to keep in mind what the anti-war movement was for.

Broadly speaking, we can infer that many of those opposed to the Iraq war would have preferred the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s rule over Western intervention. There was little and remains little to suggest that his regime could have been toppled from within the country, and in any case, this was not a hope articulated by some within the anti-war movement at the time. In particular, we should note that George Galloway, one of the most prominent members of the Stop the War Coalition, openly praised the dictator and the operations of insurgent forces in Iraq. The Stop the War Coalition’s erroneous unease around efforts to thwart fascism in Iraq and elsewhere have been disappointing, but by failing to offer a credible approach to the tangible dangers of the Islamist influence in Mali, some are perpetuating the notion that to be anti-war is to abdicate responsibility for the consequences of non-intervention. The impact of intervention is important and deserves continuous scrutiny, because this impact is severe and often bloody, but the potentially destructive impact of inaction in the face of the dangers present in Mali are not receiving the attention they deserve.

It would be in error to say that alternatives to intervention do not exist. Here at The Risky Shift, Alex Clackson has identified a number of suggestions, including the provision of development aid and increased support for domestic governments. However, a deeper misunderstanding often characterises opposition to intervention. There is a tendency among many, particularly on the left to locate intervention by the West in general and, in the case of Mali, France and Britain in particular, in a neo-imperialistic/colonialist narrative. Journalist John Pilger has gone so far as to say that ‘A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way,’ which he compares to the Scramble for Africa of the nineteenth century. This is a limited and ultimately ahistorical view of the kind of Western intervention we have seen in the region.

The sovereignty of Mali is not under threat from ‘the West’ but from several Islamist groups including Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), both of which demand the imposition of Islamic law throughout the country. It is also worth noting that it was Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore who requested military aid from France in January of this year to counter these groups. Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.

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Photo Credit: Magharebia

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Euro-sceptic? Eur-so-silly

David Cameron’s speech is a mere publicity stunt instrumented to falsely ensure us of democratic legitimacy, through making it seem as though we all have a choice over our country’s future.

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Today Prime Minister David Cameron declared he is set to make negotiations with the EU in relevance to treaty changes and the euro. As you would expect from a politician (especially a Tory), Cameron is presenting us with a more tactical, underlying negotiation which is quite simply, “A vote for Conservatives in the next election is a vote for an in/out of the European Union referendum.

Last month, Anti-EU party UKIP increased its share of the vote from 6 per cent to 9 per cent. This rise in popularity massively reflects the British populaces increasing intolerance of the EU, and a prime reason for this is the general attitude towards immigration. Take for instance YouGov’s latest poll for the Sunday Times, which revealed, rather unsurprisingly, that 67% of people believe that immigration has been a ‘bad thing for Britain’ with the second majority, 18% believing it has been ‘neither good nor bad’.

It was Gordon Brown who coined the term ‘British jobs for British workers’. In 2011, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) produced a report that made the headlines; take for instance the Daily Mails’ choice, ‘Migration is killing off jobs: 160, 000 Britons have missed out on employment because work was taken my foreigners’ – not quite the snappy title I was hoping for. Alongside Brown’s pledge, this outbreak of outrage in the media was symbolic of the increasing mass hostility towards immigration. One could even argue not only did it encourage public opinion towards the topic, but created it too. Nonetheless, the subject of supposed scandal here is as shallow as scandal gets. Firstly, a job is a job – I’m not quite sure what makes it British. (According to Chris Bryant, this is ‘hospitality construction and agriculture’) . More importantly, the allegation that immigrants ‘fill the limited vacancies which exist in the fragile UK economy’ is pure fiction. This is the lump of labour fallacy; the notion that there is no such thing as limited jobs.

Then again, these are the type of people complaining about “no jobs”.

The article goes on to manipulatively inform its readers that immigration is ‘full of loopholes, such as an exemption for so-called “intra-company transfers”, which allow firms to bring in thousands of their existing staff from abroad’. It is absolutely absurd to undermine the act of bringing competently skilled workers into the British labour force a “loophole” in immigration policy, considering that is a chief beneficiary of immigration.

Cameron believes the best way to create a democratically accountable Europe is for the British population to vote on whether they want to be a part of it or not. He says, “It is time for the British people to have their say. This will be your country… a choice about your country’s destiny.” Other than sounding like Uncle Sam encouraging young American boys to sacrifice themselves in the name of war, it is utter rubbish. Whilst Nigel Farage has successfully infiltrated popular opinion through highlighting the costs of the UK’s EU membership, the government has failed to educate the British people on the benefits.

The only source the British people of this “democracy” have to base their views on, are newspapers – the most popular being subliminally fascist tabloids such as the Daily Mail. Cameron’s speech is a mere publicity stunt instrumented to falsely ensure us of democratic legitimacy, through making it seem as though we all have a choice over our country’s future . Well, democracy doesn’t mean shit when the people don’t know shit.

It is time for UKIP, the Tory’s and the like, to realise that leaving the EU may cover the odor of the turd that this situation is, but it certainly won’t stop the UK from being in a faecal matter.

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Photo Credit: dimnikolov

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The Algerian Hostage Dead: NATO Is Responsible

While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade.

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What do Libya, Mali and Algeria have in common? The three nations have played a pivotal role in the political domino effect culminating over the last week. At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant. In response to the Algerian hostage situation Mr Cameron said his government will continue to focus on fighting terrorism: “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way”.

These are typical words attributed to a politician speaking in the generic foreign policy language. However David Cameron has failed to mention that NATO also played its part in the Algerian hostage crisis. Algerian crisis is a direct consequence of the current Mali conflict and the Mali conflict is the direct result of the Libyan conflict in 2011 as those who supported Gaddafi were thrown out from the country for being black and had nowhere else to go except to join the Mali terrorist groups.

And since it was Cameron and his “peace-seeking” NATO states who encouraged the violence in Libya and helped to carry out a regime change operation, it seems NATO are at least partially responsible for the Algerian hostage crisis. Politics works in funny ways.

Let us examine each claim individually starting with Libya.

The mission to oust Gaddafi and kick start a new dawn for Libya has been claimed by the West to be a success. Yet an uncomfortable truth rarely mentioned in the Western media remains- hundreds of African migrant workers in Libya accused of being mercenaries for Col Muammar Gaddafi were imprisoned and tortured by fighters allied to the new interim authorities.

Indeed it is heavily documented how the victorious rebels were hunting after African mercenaries and the latter had no choice but to escape from the destruction-stricken country. These mercenaries found a new home- Mali. Additionally there are irrefutable claims that homes have been looted, and women and girls beaten and raped. Perhaps removing Gaddafi was a success for the Western nations, but the country is currently in turmoil and is still mostly run by heavily armed mercenaries.

It is clear that the West had a lot of interest in removing Gaddafi. While the UN gave the authorisation to protect the Libyan civilians, this objective turned into a regime change operation. It is not surprising that Russia and China continue to veto any resolutions in regards to Syria as they understand that another aim to protect the Syrian civilians would simply mean regime change in Syria.

We can only speculate what interests the West has in the region. A number of theories have been put forward: oil, a step towards eventually attacking Iran, protecting Israel, all of the above. While impossible to know the truth, it is clear that the West has a grand strategy for the Middle East and Africa.

And so we arrive at the second stage of the domino effect. The current conflict in Mali seems in many ways to mirror the conflict that took place in Libya. Rebels are trying to take over the country and overthrow the government. There is however one difference. The current Mali government is a friend of France whilst Gaddafi refused to get on his knees for the Western powers.

A popular argument used by the politicians is the claim that Libya was a dictatorship while Mali is a democracy and therefore the West has a responsibility to protect Mali from radical extremists. However if this claim was true then the West would have already intervened in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However these authoritarian states have good relations with the West and are therefore safe from NATO interventions.

Indeed those who claim that the Mali government are not executing their own civilians like Gaddafi did may be shocked to find that there are growing reports by Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in Mali, as troops battle Islamist militants in the West African country.

Residents of Mopti, in the centre of the country, told the Observer of arrests, interrogations and the torture of innocents by the Malian army. Amnesty International says that it has documented evidence of abuse by the Malian army, including extrajudicial killings. It says that in September, a group of 16 Muslim preachers composed of Malian and Mauritanian nationals were arrested then executed by the Malian military in Diabaly. It seems like the French government is trying to protect those that are carrying out human rights abuses.

Undoubtedly the rebels are not saints either. Nevertheless there has to be some consistency from the West. Claiming to be against Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein as they killed own citizens, while at the same time supporting the regimes in Mali, Bahrain and Jordan, who also treat their citizens with cruelty is simply hypocritical.

Of course this is not the first time a Western power has supported brutality. It is also imperative to mention the case of Syria here. Mr Hollande has claimed that the reason why his country is supporting the Mali government against the rebels is because the rebels are Islamic extremists whilst the rebels in Syria are secular.

Mr Hollande’s remarks are are simply wrong as it is well known that a large section of the Syrian rebels are also radical Islamists. The radical rebels who have connections to Al Qaeda seem to be having more influence on the Syrian population than the Free Syrian Army who claim to be secular.

And so thanks to the continuous hypocritical interventions by the Western nations we have arrived at a situation where a BP gas site has been assaulted by terrorists. Whilst undoubtedly investigations will be carried out, it seems more than likely that the terrorists who have carried out the hostage mission are in some way linked to the rebels in Mali.

It is well known that in life, a particular action always leads to a particular consequence. This is called the butterfly effect. International politics is not immune from this phenomenon, as something that began as a mission by the West to oust Gaddafi in 2011 has ended with Western citizens being taken hostage in Algeria. I say “ended” yet it is probable that this is just the beginning of more violence and conflict which will spread to other parts of Africa.

This is rather useful for the NATO states as America and other Western nations have been itching to find an excuse to send more military to the continent now that the Middle East has been “conquered” and squeezed completely dry. And while the resource-plenty and flourishing Africa will now be the new victim of Western interventions, our media and politicians will continue to tell us that our governments are fighting to make the world a safer place by annihilating the terrorists – the same terrorists that arise through Western interventions in the first place.

Just yesterday David Cameron has announced that the war on terrorists will go on for decades and NATO interventions will switch from Afghanistan to North Africa.

Interventions are a destructive cycle. The West intervenes in other regions as a police state under a pretext of supporting democracy, but end up opening a can of worms. Extremism spreads to nearby regions and the locals are angered by the continuous meddling of the West in their affairs and therefore join the terrorist groups which encourages the West to intervene more.

It becomes a permanent circle, or better known as a perpetual war. Alternative solutions to intervention do exist. Empowering regional bodies and governments through international development programs, foreign aid and cooperation are viable alternatives to militarism. While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade. Due to the development of unmanned drones and other rocket-type weaponry, NATO is likely to continue to intrude in the Middle East and Africa. It seems the West never learns.

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Photo credit: US Army Africa

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What Noughties Labour Left Behind

Ed Miliband sometimes sounds like he’s running against Tony Blair for the leadership rather than against David Cameron for the premiership; Miliband’s speeches should emphasise the persistent values at the heart of his party and the principles on which it was founded.

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One of the key defences used by both Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg is that obstacles such as the deficit have been left behind by the Labour Party and must be ‘cleaned up’ by the Government. Cameron used his first House of Commons speech as Prime Minister to emphasise this argument, and it has remained a frequent response to criticism from the opposition during Prime Minister’s Questions. However repetitive this argument might be, the coalition’s desire to emphasise the inherited failings of its predecessor is politically understandable. What is more curious is Labour leader Ed Miliband’s apparent enthusiasm for doing the same thing.

Upon assuming the role, a new party leader might be expected to give a speech or two in which, by criticising old policies or established members of the party, they attempt to create a sense of renewal and innovation. But Miliband has repeatedly introduced Labour’s record – and, in his view, its failings – into the discourse on numerous issues over the course of his leadership. There have been frequent admissions by the Labour leader regarding the mistakes he believes were made by his party’s government. According to Miliband, Labour was wrong on issues such as the economy, immigration and Iraq. Leaving aside what one may thinking about Labour’s previous approaches to these and any other issues, it seems reasonable to wonder why Miliband is so keen, insistent even, on reminding everybody about his party’s failures, real or perceived.

It has been suggested that Miliband’s recent remarks to the Fabian Society, which took a similarly apologetic approach, are part of an ‘attempt to distance himself from elements of the last government’s record considered toxic by many strategists.’ While it is important for Miliband to be honest and self-critical about his party’s shortcomings, there is something self-defeating about his constant referral back to New Labour’s record if his aim is to disassociate himself from it. These kinds of apologies can be useful in the first year or so of opposition as a way to rebrand, but after three years out of power, Labour needs to focus on establishing its new approach and produced a clear pitch to the electorate about its policies. Labour’s Policy Review should eventually shed more light on the tangible elements of the party’s approach, but Miliband should nevertheless emphasise the future rather than dwell on the past in the meantime.

Of course, Labour has already made policy suggestions on various issues, but these often focus on ‘learning lessons’ and accepting hard truths about Labour’s past efforts. For example, on immigration, Miliband told the Fabian Society that during the premierships of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown ‘high levels of migration were having huge effects on the lives of people in Britain – and too often those in power seemed not to accept this. The fact that they didn’t explains partly why people turned against us in the last general election.’ And on the economy: ‘One Nation Labour has learnt the lessons of the financial crisis. It begins from the truth that New Labour did not do enough to bring about structural change in our economy to make it work for the many, not just the few. It did not do enough to change the rules of the game that were holding our economy back.’ In these remarks, Miliband is trying to demonstrate the heightened self-awareness and self-improvement of ‘One Nation Labour’ in contrast to the old and often mistaken ‘New Labour’. Yet this ploy, along with the attempt to play down Labour’s record by giving it extra attention in speeches, treats the electorate with little respect. Voters remember New Labour, favourably or not, and they will not be convinced that there are no similarities at all between the brands ‘New’ and ‘One Nation’ any more than they will forget the successes and limitations of Blair and Brown.

Perhaps most disappointing, however, is that Miliband and his strategists seem to have assumed that the argument over New Labour’s record was lost along with the 2010 election. Indeed, Miliband’s tone contains none of the positivity exhibited by his predecessor in the last days of the 2010 campaign, during which antipathy towards the party was exceedingly high. Despite Labour’s damaged image at the end of thirteen years in power, Gordon Brown retained a sense of pride in his party’s accomplishments in this speech, without any of the obligatory qualifiers and ‘howevers’ that seem to accompany the current leader’s reminiscing monologues. Both the content and the delivery of Brown’s speech demonstrate that celebrating New Labour’s record is politically credible and potentially convincing. Even if Miliband feels morally or politically obliged to remind everybody of how poor he believes Labour’s performance has been in the past, he should also feel more confident about celebrating such political events as the minimum wage, the renovation of thousands of schools or the cancellation of developing world debt.

Ed Miliband sometimes sounds like he’s running against Tony Blair for the leadership rather than against David Cameron for the premiership. To correct this, Miliband’s speeches should emphasise the persistent values at the heart of his party and the principles on which it was founded. Crucially, he should not be afraid ask David Cameron what the coalition is doing to maintain and build on the progress in healthcare and education left behind by the Labour government.

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Photo credit: Policy Network

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#VoxPopShambles: Nick Clegg on LBC Radio Weekly Call-In

 Nick Clegg has signed himself up for a weekly half-hour phone-in bollocking.

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You might already have heard that Nick Clegg, the fatigable, self-titled Deputy Prime Minister*, has decided to go on LBC Radio every Thursday morning to answer questions by members of the public, because he needs to be more in touch with the people. Yes, that’s right, he’s signed himself up for a weekly half-hour phone-in bollocking. I wasn’t the only one to receive this bit of PR news with some level of incredulity, bemusement and your basic expression of WTF.

This is an attempt to make amends for harsh criticisms that the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster are full of ‘professional politician’ with plastic smiles and insincere eyes, or the old classic of the Etonian boys club and the collective ignorance of the price of milk. But how good an attempt is this really? Yes, he’s engaging directly with anyone with enough time on their hands to listen to LBC, write to them, or wait on their phone-line listening to a tinny section of the Overture from Bizet’s Carmen on repeat (I’m guessing, I haven’t actually called them.) But with mild controversies from the get-go, such as the green onesie affair, in which ‘Harry from Sheffield’, who asked the DPM the only question to make him seem slightly less lizard-like, turned out to be a fairly active young Lib-Dem member, you’ve got to wonder what the real rationale is.

Granted, he has increasingly appeared to be the coalition government’s whipping boy, but this (brave?) decision does cause concerns about his credibility and standing within the coalition. Whilst Clegg goes in for a weekly ear-bashing from armchair generals and curtain-twitchers** from all over the country, Cameron appears on carefully selected discussion shows such as Daybreak on ITV1 (presumably because the BBC is probably too high-brow or too tainted now) to repeat his carefully rehearsed announcements and offer his carefully assembled smile-of-the-people. Perhaps some SpAd or spin guru suggested that Nick has the perfect face for radio (a cheap shot, I know).

Whether they were trying to boost public confidence in elected officials, increase the Lib Dem popularity ratings, or trying to slowly put Clegg out to pasture, audience reactions were as vociferous  as one might expect from a rage-brewing radio station such as ‘London’s Biggest Conversation’. It remains to be seen if this can repair damage to his personal and party reputation, damage which even the hilarious ‘apology’ video couldn’t undo.

 

*I haven’t got a huge problem with him, but I do wish he would retrieve his backbone from the back of the coalition sofa.

** Credit to www.ifyoulikeitsomuchwhydontyougolivethere.com – no, really, click it.

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Photo Credit: Chatham House, London

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Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Has It All Wrong

Today the Guardian published an open letter by Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, urging UK Prime Minister David Cameron to recommence talks for the handover of the Falkland Islands, which she refers to as Las Malvinas. This brief correspondence, timed to appear as an advertisement in the Guardian’s print edition (p. 25) on the 180-year anniversary of the re-establishment of British rule on the islands, rehashes tired accusations of continued colonialism but fails to mention either sovereignty or self-determination.

She props her claim upon 48-year old UN Resolution 2065, waving it as a flag of transnational support for Argentina’s claim. However, this rather old but well-meant resolution, like most UN edicts, doesn’t say much at all except to promote talks in the hope of calming the waters. Being seen to say something, whilst not saying anything of great import. The letter even copies in Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general of the UN. On the sovereignty question, the UN Resolution that Kirchner is clinging to like a deflating buoy explicitly states that these discussion and both governments must take into consideration “the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)”. It seems the UK is alone in this particular concern.

This 212-word piece of showmanship highlights that Kirchner is clearly not insensible to the impending referendum on March 10th-11th 2013 in which the 3000-strong population of the Falklands will decide their own fate, despite Argentina’s unwillingness to recognise its validity. In between spiky remarks on the geographic distance between the Falklands and the UK (8700 miles), Kirchner fails to recognise a point made by many others in the past including myself, its not so much geographic distance as cultural difference that often matters most, and in that regard, Argentina couldn’t be further away from the islanders.

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Photo credit: Expectativa Online

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Marriage Equality & The Government’s ‘Legislative Boot’

By proposing to implement this restriction on the Church of England and Wales, the government risks alienating those religious people in favour of equal marriage and provides further ammunition for its opponents, many of whom now claim that legislative developments on the issue have appeared muddled and erratic.

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Responding to government proposals on the implementation of marriage equality earlier this week, Conservative MP Richard Drax stated in the House of Commons, ‘I would like to ask the Secretary of State and the government what right have they got, other than arrogance and intolerance, to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?’ It is in an attempt to safeguard religious institutions from legislative intolerance that the government made its announcement this week that the Church of England will be prohibited from performing same-sex marriages should they be introduced.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, explained the policy in Parliament, stating, ‘European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional “quadruple legal lock”. But it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt in should be able to do so.’ Despite this mention of the opt-in, one of the four parts of the ‘quadruple legal lock’ includes legislation explicitly preventing the Church of England from carrying out same-sex marriages. This threatens to inhibit rather than ensure religious freedom for religious institutions wishing to marry same-sex couples and risks alienating religious individuals in favour of equal marriage.

It would seem that the government has failed to distinguish the many shades of difference of opinion within the Church of England and in Wales on the issue of equal marriage. The assumption that same-sex marriage is necessarily oppressive to religious groups as though they are a monolithic whole can be dispelled by looking at both the Church of England and the Church in Wales, prominent members of which have expressed disappointment in the last week over the government’s announcement.

The Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, as well as a spokesperson for the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, have both criticised the apparent lack of consultation regarding the ‘quadruple legal lock’. But in her address to Parliament, Maria Miller said, ‘Because the Church of England and Wales have explicitly stated that they do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, the legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples.’

Even if prominent figures within either Church had indeed articulated this ‘explicit’ opposition to equal marriage during the consultation period, Miller’s reasoning for the plans seems too simplistic, not only in light of the variety of views on equal marriage among religious individuals but also given its many proponents within the Conservative Party itself. Just last week, the Telegraph reported on a group organised by key Conservatives including London Mayor Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Michael Gove in support of same-sex marriage within religious institutions. Prime Minister David Cameron has also announced that he favoured equal marriage within the Church.

These complications are making it easier for outright opponents of marriage equality, such as those within the Catholic Church, to more easily undermine the government’s progress on the issue. In response to Miller’s announcement, a statement released by the the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said that the government’s approach ‘can only be described as shambolic’ and went on to complain that, ‘There was no electoral mandate in any manifesto; no mention in the Queen’s speech; no serious or thorough consultation through a Green or White paper, and a constant shifting of policy before even the government response to the consultation was published today.’ Arguably, the response among outright opponents of equal marriage was always going to be negative, but confusion over the legal impact on religious institutions widens the scope for further criticism and doubt over the government’s competence over the issue.

By proposing to implement this restriction on the Church of England and Wales, the government risks alienating those religious people in favour of equal marriage and provides further ammunition for its opponents, many of whom now claim that legislative developments on the issue have appeared muddled and erratic. In an attempt to prevent equal marriage from being forced upon religious institutions, the government now suggests that the Church should be forced to turn same-sex couples away. Religious believers who support equal marriage may now be inclined to ask of their government, ‘What right have they got to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?’

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Photo credit: renaissancechambara

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What Did The Leveson Report Achieve?

So what did Leveson achieve? A wounded tabloid industry will be even more likely to push the boundaries of responsibility to keep its head above water. The Leveson Report was another warning that we have a free press but not a responsible press.

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After the publishing of a damning 2000 page report and the testimonials of over 600 witnesses, the press begin their eighth attempt in sixty years at self-regulation as part of a self-serving collective the public cannot trust. It is, therefore, worth asking what contribution the Leveson Report will make to the future of the press.

What is currently ongoing could become one of the greatest collective deceptions from the tabloid press in their entire chequered history. The Leveson Inquiry, greater in its scope, mandate and impact, should produce a radical outcome in comparison to the Calcutt report and the three Royal Commissions.

The creation of a new body is likely to be overseen by individuals the public just cannot trust. Even if those in the press can get everybody as part of the same regulatory body, it is unclear how or why they should influence future behaviour. Who passes judgement on these judges, scares these scaremongers, or limits the limitless? With some cross-party and cross-industry discussion it is possible to achieve the necessary enforcement and freedom balance. This is exactly what Lord Leveson proposed – a new regulatory body that is truly independent of industry leaders and of government and politicians. That is why he proposed a statute to enshrine the freedom of the press and protect their independence from government, something rarely discussed in the wider argument. Yet, the principles are being defaced by a political campaign on certain front pages which makes the prospect of objective and balanced news reporting farcical.

Nobody claims Denmark and Ireland (both of whom have statute backed regulation) are at the centre of a despotic plot to overturn cherished press freedom. Nick Clegg made it clear that “The Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Star, The Sun, The Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror are all members of the Irish Press Council -they all publish Irish editions. I have not yet heard those papers complain of a deeply illiberal press environment across the Irish Sea.”

Nor is it the case that the press’ action should have been covered by law. The treatment of Christopher Jefferies, subjected to a vicious caricature relating to the murder of his tenant Joanna Yeates, did not break any laws. Sienna Miller (although apparently an acceptable target because she seeks fame?) was not protected by law when she was chased down alleys at midnight by groups of men because they were carrying cameras. Kate McCann was not protected by law when she was “mentally raped”, having her most private thoughts stolen and published. Minorities have no voice in law when they are the victim of “discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting”.

It is also unsurprising that David Cameron has adopted the tactic of delay and the language of the long grass. With one swift decision he puts himself in a prime position for favourable reporting come the next election. The support may not be as fawning (he upset many proprietors and journalists by agreeing to the Inquiry in the first place) and because of their tarnished reputation papers may not matter as much in 2015 as in previous elections. Yet it will certainly give a boost to the Conservative campaign and disrupt Labour and the Lib Dems as they attempt to fire fight trivial and often malicious stories. The sensible approach for Ed Miliband would have been to analyse the findings of the 2000 page document and make his own amendments. However, Miliband had to draw all the political capital he could from the issue and that meant drawing definite dividing lines immediately whilst it was still in the public mind. It was even more misguided for Cameron to admit the implementation of any recommendations as long as they are not “bonkers,” knowing that Leveson was looking at the Irish model of regulation and that statutory underpinning was a possibility.

And to those that say all this doesn’t matter anyway. Yes Leveson was one bloated historical exercise when it was receiving witnesses, raking over past misdeeds in order to make recommendations for the future. And yes, in years to come it will be probably become even more historic as the struggling industry limps at the feet of its greatest rival, the monolithic internet, bound to be almost insignificant and poorly read in dead tree format in a few decades time.

That does not mean it did not matter or nothing needs to be done. It has been said by some commentators that the process is finished and that every witness was exploited and wasted their time. However people’s opinion of the press has changed forever, their despicable actions vividly displayed in full public flogging. If anyone ever trusted the press before, less will do so now. And if Labour wins the next election the principles could well be back on the table.

So what did Leveson achieve? A wounded tabloid industry will be even more likely to push the boundaries of responsibility to keep its head above water. Leveson was another warning that we have a free press but not a responsible press. Without the latter we can not have free people, free from the possibility of having their personal lives turned inside out on a whim. And we also need to use it to learn about ourselves as individuals. What knowledge we consume, where it comes from, its prerogatives and how morally abhorrent some of the people are that feed us.

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Photo credit: Gwydion M. Williams

keith haring crack is wack graffiti

The Collapse Of The War On Drugs

Trillions spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost. For what?
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keith haring crack is wack graffiti
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Oil prices are recorded and analysed on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Food prices ignite riots and drive revolutions. However what of the world’s third largest valued industry: drugs? There is no place to look up the average price of a gram of methamphetamine (the best indicator of supply and demand) nor the analysis which characterises the oil industry and makes it such a good indicator of world economic health and regional stability. Drugs may be the most important topic to ever be abandoned by world analysts and the war in drugs the most expensive conflict ever to go unquestioned by the populations who pay dearly for it.
This may, finally, be changing. On December 10th the British House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, one of the most influential groups in the UK, revealed a damning verdict on the world War on Drugs’ failure and the cost of that failure. Just like the several reports such committees have produced for years, criminalisation of drug users and the campaigns to shut down the world’s third most valuable industry was savaged by the use of a real look into these policies.
This is not the first time British drug policy has been questioned. Opposition to present policies have been growing for over two decades. Tension between the British government and the swelling numbers of scientists, advisers and select committees grew to a head in 2009 with the David Nutt controversy.
Nutt is and was a respected expert in drug policy who served for British drug committees for years before the 2009 clash. In 2008 he was appointed as Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. In 2009 he created a double controversy which resulted in his being sacked later in the year. In the first instance he compared the dangers of taking ecstasy to horse riding, finding horse riding thirty times more dangerous. His attempt to underline the almost arbitrary attack on drugs as a dangerous form of recreational activity caused uproar almost the British establishment and the ire of the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. Nutt followed this up with the publication of a lecture re-classifying drugs according to scientific classification of physical dependence, physical harm and social harm. The results embarrassed the British government, showing their policies to be completely undefendable, especially when driven home with statements like “the obscenity of hunting down low-level cannabis users to protect them is beyond absurd”.

The result? Not policy overhaul, but the sacking and public mauling of Nutt as a man who had overstepped his remit as a drug policy adviser who dared question government policy whilst in office. The entire episode ruined the British government’s reputation on drug policy and began the push towards deregulation. This year the controversy emerged again in the form of the first television investigation of ecstasy in Channel 4’s Drugs Trial. The mauling of pro-government Andy Parrott in the show underlined how dramatically the tide is swinging away from the government prohibition-style policies.

The main obstacle is the developed world’s most powerful voting demographic, the over-55s. In the last few decades the only remaining group to have grown up before the huge liberalisation of the 1960s has grown disproportionately large, hoarded huge amounts of the national wealth and completely dominated the electoral polls. Despite the over-65s making up only 15% of the population they take up 25% of the votes in Britain and the over-55s seize almost half the votes alone. This disproportionately rich and influential group also leads the opposition to gay rights, voting and constitutional reform, and medical policy changes such as abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. However it is also a shrinking demographic, one which halves every two decades to be replaced by generations who grew up in a more liberal period than their predecessors.

This demographic swing is emboldening reform-minded politicians who will always require support from the over-55s to enter office. British PM David Cameron spoke out against government drug policy in his first year in office and the Liberal Democrats have drug policy reform as one of their top priorities. Nor is this a British-centric shift. The War on Drugs is a world issue and one which is facing collapse in many countries. This week the US state of Washington became the first to decriminalise cannabis and Colorado will soon follow, flouting federal laws in doing so. Amsterdam in the Netherlands struck down a new law which would have closed its own drug freedoms to visitors from other countries. Portugal continues to report the huge successes of its own blanket decriminalisation and other countries are beginning to notice.

Many underestimate just how huge the cost this collapsing war has levied on its participants. Thousands of criminalised youths and trillions spent by demand countries, with over one million incarcerated in the US for a cost of $1 trillion in that country alone. The US could save or make up to $80 billion from decriminalising and taxing presently illegal drugs. Thousands dead in distribution countries, with up to 100,000 dead in Mexico alone since the beginning of the US-backed drug cartel crackdown and no signs of success, a figure equal to that of the entire Iraq conflict and significantly higher than Afghanistan. Civil war and devastation in countries of supply such as Afghanistan and Columbia where the drugs fuel militant movements and finance the even more dangerous trade of guns.

Trillions spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost. For what? Drug policies which over the last decade have been mauled by dozens of experts from science and politics, levying a price voting populations have no idea they are paying. The taboo of taking a critical look at the world’s third most valuable industry and its most expensive conflict is finally being broken to reveal policy based more on ignorant hardheadedness and fear of the tabloid press than any true grasp of the war they are even trying to fight. The momentum is swinging away from prohibition and towards David Nutt, and he may yet get to have the last laugh in the collapse of the War on Drugs.

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Photo Credit: NYC-Metro Card

Prison convict trapped society

Prisoners Should Be Allowed To Vote. No Question.

The answer to preventing criminal re-offenses lies in ensuring that criminals serve their sentences, but never lose their perception that they are still citizens of a nation, and should act like one when they come out of prison.

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Prison convict trapped society

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A brawl is brewing between the European Court and the Coalition government in Britain. The former wants to implement a law which allows the prisoners to have a vote during elections, while David Cameron has defiantly said during Prime Minister’s Questions that the prisoners will never get the vote under his government.

It may perhaps seem like common sense that prisoners should lose their right to vote. After all, they have lost their right to freedom due to committing a crime which has in some way disadvantaged the society, thus they should have no say in the shaping of the society. Nevertheless such a judgment is not truly thought through properly. The purpose of putting criminals into prison is twofold: to protect the community and to hopefully punish the criminals so that they will not re-offend again once they are out. However, Britain has an appalling record of criminals who commit crimes repeatedly. 1 in 3 people who appear before a judge have committed on average 15 crimes before. It is obvious that the search for the holy grail of turning criminals into lawful citizens is still lost. I believe that one of the reasons for this is the fact that prisoners become completely alienated from society once in prison. One may argue that this is the whole point of imprisonment, however is it not essential, and more important to ensure that criminals do not re-offend. One way of preventing re-offenses is to ensure that prisoners do not feel segregated from the rest of the country. Unfortunately, preventing prisoners from voting is doing just that. By taking away the prisoner’s freedom to play a role in who governs the country, society is sending a message to prisoners that he or she is no longer part of that society. This undoubtedly will lead to the feeling of isolation and, in due course, re-offending. After all, following the convict’s freedom from prison, why should he or she feel the need to abide by the law when he or she feels psychologically distanced from the society which made these laws?

If the British government wants to see the figures for re-offending diminished, then the country as a whole should not treat prisoners like sub-class citizens or animals, but instead treat them as citizens who deserve to serve their punishment, but still have a vital role in shaping society. If Britain allows prisoners to vote, it will at least psychologically ensure that the prisoner feels welcomed and senses some compassion which hopefully will ensure he will not re-offend again once the freedom is given back to him.

The debate on whether criminals should be punished or rehabilitated has been discussed for many years now. I believe the real answer does not lie in whether the government disciplines them harshly or treats them as “sick” people who just need to be cured with care just like one is cured from a common cold. The answer lies in ensuring the criminals serve their sentence but never lose their perception that they are still citizens of a nation, and should act like one when they come out of prison.

Whether this method will be effective is undoubtedly debatable. However as the government is yet to find away to curb re-offending, perhaps this method should at least be given a thought.

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Photo Credit: Alakhai85

Edinburgh, Scotland

Scottish Independence: Battle Lines Drawn

London has many other pressing issues on its agenda whereas the SNP can devote the entirety of their resources and political capital to the independence campaign – a luxury which they would do well to enjoy while they can.

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The respective governments of Scotland and the United Kingdom have formally agreed upon the terms and the technicalities of the referendum on Scotland’s independence. In so doing, they have drawn the lines of the battle that will take place between them until the referendum in the autumn of 2014.

The ‘Edinburgh Agreement‘ was signed on 15 October by Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, and David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and is the result of months of negotiations between the two governments, essentially centred on two main points.

The first of these was to determine through which mechanism the referendum would be rendered legal. Through Article 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 (which established devolution), London will confer legal authority for the referendum to Edinburgh and, consequently, the result will be legally binding.

London arguably had little room for manoeuvre when negotiating this point as the slightest indication of obstinacy would have been exploited by the Scottish nationalists to maximum political effect. The trade-off comes in the shape of the very question to be posed by the referendum and this was the second sticking point of the negotiations.

The British government made clear that they would only devolve legal authority for the referendum if Scottish voters were presented with one single, and very simple, question: independence, yes or no? The Scottish government argued that a second question should be included on the ballot paper, the so-called ‘devo max’ option. This would have allowed Scottish voters to vote against full independence but in favour of maximum devolution of powers to Edinburgh while remaining within the United Kingdom (basically full autonomy over everything except defence and foreign policy).

Unionists claim this demonstrates that Scottish nationalists don’t believe they can secure a majority in favour of full independence. As things stand, it is likely true that ‘devo max’ would have been the most attractive option to many Scottish voters but much can still happen between now and late 2014.

A third important point of the Edinburgh Agreement is that 16 and 17 year olds will be entitled to vote in the referendum, even though normally the minimum voting age in Scottish and British elections is eighteen. The theory, or so nationalists believe, is that the younger generation are especially likely to vote in favour of independence. While that has yet to be definitively proven, the inclusion of this point in the agreement represents a tactical victory for the SNP and means that Scottish residents currently aged 14 and upwards will be entitled to vote in 2014. We can therefore expect Scottish nationalists to devote considerable attention to these young people for the next two years.

There are still some important aspects of the referendum to be finalised, not least the exact wording of the question on the ballot paper. However, the agreement between Salmond and Cameron is a highly important milestone in the process and essentially marks the real beginning of the political battle between nationalists and unionists.

It could be argued that the agreement itself represents an important political triumph for Salmond as he heads into the SNP party conference in Perth from 18 to 21 October. With the (arguable) exception of the ‘devo max’ option, Salmond and the nationalists have obtained almost everything they wanted from the agreement. At the very least, that’s how they will present it in public.

The timing of the agreement could hardly be better for Salmond. It allows him to re-energise the campaign for independence still further and, at least temporarily, side-step problematic areas of disagreement within the party. For example, the ongoing debate about dropping the SNP’s traditional opposition to NATO could potentially have caused problems at the party conference but, while the issue has not disappeared altogether, Salmond must now be more confident of presenting a united front in Perth.

The SNP have an important strategic advantage over their unionist opponents in Scotland, who are simply not of the same calibre as Salmond (widely regarded as one of the most capable, or at least canniest, political operators in Britain) and who have been consistently outplayed by the SNP during the latter’s two terms in office.

As for the British government, the unpopularity in Scotland of the Conservative-led coalition and the legacy of the Thatcher era will seriously hamper the anti-independence campaign – and are therefore key elements of the SNP’s political calculation. Moreover, London has many other pressing issues on its agenda whereas the SNP can devote the entirety of their resources and political capital to the independence campaign – a luxury which they would do well to enjoy while they can, for it will disappear overnight if they actually win the referendum.

However, absolutely none of the above helps predict the result of the referendum, which remains simply too close to call. Ultimately the real question is how independence would materially and financially affect Scottish voters in their daily lives. If it is true that the current margin between Yes and No is as little as the price of an iPad then all parties still have everything to play for.

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Photo Credit: James Sheehan / theriskyshift.com

the welfare state is proof of god

George Osborne’s Welfare Cuts: A Necessary Step

There are plenty of opportunities out there to get some form of qualifications and work your way up towards an average salary which is able to support a small family. Not only is having a job beneficial to the economy, but it also creates a positive atmosphere in a particular community and in the nation as a whole.

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the welfare state is proof of god

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During his Party Conference speech on the 8th of October George Osborne has proclaimed that the Government will press ahead with plans to cut £10 billion from the welfare budget by 2016-17 on top of the £18 billion cuts already under way. Osborne has secured the agreement of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, something he said would be necessary in order to avoid additional cuts in other Whitehall departments. The announcement, made in Osborne’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, will set the Tories on collision with their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

Nick Clegg told his party’s conference last month that he would not allow “wild suggestions” of a £10 billion cut in welfare, while Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said, “We simply will not allow the books to be balanced in a way that hits the poorest hardest.”

The rhetoric by George Osborne will undoubtedly create new tensions between the political right and left, between the supporters of cuts and the supporters of spending to kick start the economy. It is perhaps too easy to claim that George Osborne is taking a typical Conservative means to end the deficit – cut the funding to the poorest while the rich are left unscathed. I am going to lay down all my cards on the table and truthfully say that I am personally not a fan of the Conservatives. In fact I am a member of the Green Party therefore in theory I should despise any policies put forward by the Tories. However, George Osborne and his team are onto something with their idea on cutting the welfare budget and in this article I will explain why.

When I immigrated to Britain in 2001 from Russia, I was surprised to learn that thousands of people in this country are able to be unemployed yet still live fairly comfortably. In Russia, if a citizen does not have a job, chances are he may end up on the streets. Even as a young child back then I was proud that a country like Britain looks after their citizens who were unlucky enough to be jobless. But as I grew older I realised an uncomfortable truth, that many of these jobless citizens chose to be unemployed and made the jobseekers benefits their life choice. As I studied the whole purpose of the welfare system, I learned that benefits were meant to be a safety net for the society rather than something people jump on in order to escape employment and watch Jeremy Kyle instead. It angered me that some people choose to live their whole life on welfare benefits and I began supporting the Conservative Party for a number of years.

Yet even now, as a centre-left individual, I believe that there should be cuts to the welfare budget. Having watched a programme recently on a council estate in Blackburn and having heard some young people on the programme claim that they are on benefits “because it’s just easier than getting up early every morning” I thought it was time for the government to take some measures.

George Osborne put forward an idea that families who have children for the sake of receiving child benefits will also feel the full wrath of the welfare cuts. Once again, I have to agree that this is a necessary action to take.  In my short lifetime, I have lived in some poor areas and I was saddened to see poor families having children for the sake of having more cash rather than because they genuinely wanted to create a family. Not only am I a believer that it is wrong to bring children into this world if you are not able to financially support them, but I am also a believer that bringing up children without fully understanding the responsibilities it will entail to bring these children up properly will create a nasty vicious circle. This circle goes round as follows: a financially poor mother has a child, the father of the child is long gone, the mother is unable (or does not want to) bring her child up properly, the child grows up with no respect towards society and his country and thus also takes the life of a benefit scrounger and/or a criminal.

Ultimately it is important to change the culture of Britain. Irrespective of my leftward-leaning ideology, I am happy to announce my belief that some citizens of this country must stop relying on Jobseeker’s Allowance and child benefit to get through life. There are plenty of opportunities out there to get some form of qualifications and work your way up towards an average salary which is able to support a small family. Not only is having a job beneficial to the economy, but it also creates a positive atmosphere in a particular community and in the nation as a whole.

Having said all of that, I undoubtedly understand that the current economic situation in Britain is dire and the rate of unemployment is high. Of course citizens who genuinely cannot find a job must receive benefits in order to support themselves while they search for employment. Nevertheless, there are far too many people who see benefits as “free money” rather than a safety net, and against all odds, I am therefore supporting the policies by George Osborne to cut the welfare budget.

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Photo credit: Bettysnake

#10: What Do You Think Of David Cameron?

A few months ago we ran a piece asking for contributions to a piece of artwork from Annemarie Wright based on public opinion of David Cameron…. and here it is! Those of you in Birmingham will be able to see it in the flesh at the Number Nine Gallery throughout the Conservative Party Conference and if you are interested you can download an ebook of the comments here. You can download a (much) larger version here to view the individual comments that make up the piece. Share away!

#10: What do you think of David Cameron?
Credit: Annemarie Wright

Amy Winehouse and close up text

What Do You Think Of David Cameron?

Artist Annemarie Wright is creating a unique piece of artwork based on public opinion and she needs you to contribute your opinion of David Cameron to make it happen!

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Amy Winehouse and close up text

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nnemarie Wright is a text based artist specialising in the production of handwritten artwork. She is most well known for a piece of Tony Blair – “Their families have been told” – created using the handwritten names of fallen British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She has now turned her eye to our current Prime Minister and is calling for the thoughts and opinions of the public to create a life-sized image of David Cameron. This piece is to remain objective and we are encouraging contributors to be constructive with their comments.

Comments will be collected until the 10th August 2012 to allow Annemarie sufficient time to finish the piece before the Conservative Party Conference in October. There are several ways to contribute, the preferred being Twitter, though if your opinion needs more than 140 characters then you can get in touch via Facebook, email or the comments section below.

I am going to create a piece of work that will bring people together and allow them to get involved in something. This will not only make it more special for me, but will allow people to actually voice their opinions in an illustrative way.”

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Web: WhatDoYouThinkOfDavidCameron.com // Twitter: @WDYTODC

Email: [email protected] // Facebook: facebook.com/WDYTODC