Tag Archives: Conservatives

houses-of-parliament-by-robert-sharp

What if it’s all just cyclical?

More banter from the political past today as John Prescott criticised Tony Blair’s “get a transplant” jibe.

Meanwhile, Margaret Beckett has somehow branded herself a ‘moron’ because she was one of Jeremy Corbyn’s sponsors, nominating-but-not supporting him so the Labour Party could have a debate.

Well, a debate is being had.  A wider range of policies are being debated and the other candidates have found they are unable to triangulate their way to a victory on points. The contest is going to be far more interesting than any that has gone before and—here’s a radical thought—it could be that this moment of public disunity and ill-tempered argument could end up strengthening the eventual winner. Survival Of The Fittest, Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger, &cetera.
Continue reading What if it’s all just cyclical?

A Grim Future for our Unions and our Rights

Crikey. I’m dismayed by the result of the general election.

First, I should note just how wrong my own perception of the election campaign turned out to be!  After the leaders debates I said I expected Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister in May. That is clearly not going to happen.  And earlier this week I said I perceived a decline in the influence of the mainstream media on election campaigns.  After the apparent last minute shift in voters’ intentions, that appears to be incorrect.

However, my dismay comes not from the injury to my pride which results from making poor predictions.  Rather, it’s the prospect of what comes next for our unions (yes, unions plural) and our rights as citizens.

First, the fact that David Cameron will attempt to govern alone with a minority government, or a slender majority, will mean that the more Euroskeptic elements to the the right of the Conservative party will be able to hold him to ransom—just as the SNP would have apparently held a Labour government hostage.  The Conservatives have already promised that we will have a referendum on our membership of the European Union.  We now face the prospect of leaving the EU, sundering and cauterising our cultural and economic links with the continent.  This isolation will not be good for the UK.

A ‘Brexit’ will further strengthen the already jubilant Scottish National Party.  Despite the slightly skewed results that our ‘first past the post’ system delivers I just do not see how another referendum on Scottish Independence can still be ‘off the table’. For goodness sake—all but three MPs in Scotland are from the SNP!   If the UK leaves the EU, and with the other parties’ reduced political presence, another plebiscite on Independence would probably yield a ‘Yes’ vote.  Bye bye Scotland.

Finally, the Conservatives have also promised to scrap the Human Rights Act, a pledge that lawyers think is ‘legally illiterate’.  The so-called ‘British Bill of Rights’ will water down the rights that we currently enjoy.  And since the Tories gutted legal aid provision and squeezed the judicial review process, it will be harder than ever for citizens to hold the government to account when it deploys discriminatory policies against us.  

So by the time of the next general election in 2020, there is a very good chance that those of us living in rUK will have lost the political protections of the EU, will have lost the guarantee that out human rights will be protected, and will have lost a progressive political counter-weight to the Tories that may be found in Scotland. And the right-wing media will cheer it all.

Grim, grim grim.

doge-debate

Why not do an extra leaders’ debate via #Meerkat?

There’s a new app in town, called Meerkat.  It allows you to stream live video direct from your mobile phone or tablet, with the link appearing in your Twitter stream.

Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to Barack Obama, writes:

If 2004 was about Meetup, 2008 was about Facebook, and 2012 was about Twitter, 2016 is going to be about Meerkat (or something just like it).

(He is of course talking about US politics).  I wonder whether that’s true though: I fancy there may be a premium on asynchronicity—sending messages to people to read when they have time, rather than in the moment.  How much value is there in This Is Happening Literally Right Now over the Twitter news model of This Just Happened? Meerkat does not seem to have any catch-up functionality—if you click on a  link to a stream that has ended, there’s no way to view it back.  Other services like Ustream and Google Hangouts do offer that functionality and I bet the Meerkat devs are beavering away (or whatever it is a meerkat does) to get this feature into the app. Continue reading Why not do an extra leaders’ debate via #Meerkat?

Writing on Libel Reform on Liberal Democrat Voice

Over the weekend, I wrote a short piece about the Defamation Bill for Liberal Democrat Voice, urging activists to lobby their party leadership.  The Defamation Bill is to be debated in the House of Commons today, so it is worth cross-posting this now, before the crucial votes render it obsolete!  This morning, Stephen Tall wrote a follow up post: ‘Lib Dems Libel Reform retreat points to a wider coalition problem‘.


There is a new threat to the Defamation Bill.

No sooner had the proposed law been liberated, after being taken hostage by Leveson negotiations, than Conservative MPs have begun messing with crucial free speech provisions.

Former libel lawyer Sir Edward Garnier MP has tabled an amendment seeking to remove a crucial clause from the Defamation Bill. The clause places some limits on corporations’ use of the libel laws. It does not bar them from suing entirely – just asks that they show financial loss before they do so. It’s an objective and measurable test for companies, who after all do not have feelings.

Such a law would have discouraged the crippling libel cases brought by Big Pharma against Dr Peter Wilmshurst and Dr Ben Goldacre. It would have helped Simon Singh. It would stop the costly ‘lawfare’ waged by the extractive industries around the world against human rights groups like Global Witness. It would stop scientists and doctors from having to decide whether to speak out for their patients and risk selling their house in order to pay legal fees… Or keep their mouths shut. Continue reading Writing on Libel Reform on Liberal Democrat Voice

I assumed the word 'Prime Minister' meant a woman

https://twitter.com/alexsmith1982/status/321228706301480962

Margaret Thatcher has died aged 87.

https://twitter.com/bbcnickrobinson/status/321231467118227457

There will be many analyses of her legacy in the next few days.  My sense is that not only the inequalities, but how we deal with the inequalities, is down to the actions of her Government.

Here’s an immediate thought, not related to her policies:  I grew up assuming that the word ‘Prime Minister’ necessarily meant a woman.  Just as maleness is a ‘necessary characteristic’ of James Bond, for me, femaleness was a necessary characteristic of a Prime Minister.

There’s some dialogue near the start of Mary Poppins, where Mrs Banks (the suffragette) says that they planned to picket the Prime Minister, and refers to him. As a kid, watching that film a lot, I always found that weird.  Likewise, when John Major took over in 1991, and the news reporters called the Prime Minister ‘he’, I experienced real cognitive dissonance.

Update

According to the data published by the Guardian, the gender pay gap actually increased during Thatcher’s premiership.  However, woman’s full time pay, as a percentage of men’s, did increase.

Please stop calling George Osborne 'Gideon'

The Chancellor’s terrible parking gives me a chance to say something I’ve been meaning to get off my chest for a while.

I get so irritated with those on the Left who insist on calling George Osborne by his middle name, ‘Gideon’. 

In doing so, they seek to emphasise his upper-class background, which they believe will discredit him.

This is both a dog-whistle and an ad hominem and a piss-poor political tactic.

In the USA, Barack Obama is regularly called ‘Hussein’ (his middle-name) by his opponents.  This is a similarly immature attempt to discredit him.  The Left condemns that practice… and I don’t see how deploying the ‘Gideon’ moniker is any different.

Worse: the class card can be used in reverse. If the Left legitimises ad hominem attacks on the upper-class, it gives people like down-to-earth, working class Eric Pickles a sheen of credibility as they propose awful policies that hurt the poor.

Margaret “Grocer’s Daughter” Thatcher, and John “Son of a Music Hall performer” Major derived similar political cover from their backgrounds – a piece of political armour gifted to them by the class warriors of the left.

George Osborne’s callous and growth throttling policies would be no more or less harmful if his middle name was Robert, not Gideon. A moratorium on this pettiness, please.

Gideon
Gideon, Class Warrior

Only Poor People Pay Taxes

In the week that more Government cuts hit the poorest in society, as George Osborne argues with his critics and Iain Duncan Smith says that he can live on £53 a week, I thought I would share this letter to The Guardian from Michael Meacher MP, which is still extremely powerful and pertinent:

The annual Sunday Times Rich List yields four very important conclusions for the governance of Britain (Report, Weekend, 28 April). It shows that the richest 1,000 persons, just 0.003% of the adult population, increased their wealth over the last three years by £155bn. That is enough for themselves alone to pay off the entire current UK budget deficit and still leave them with £30bn to spare.

Second, this mega-rich elite, containing many of the bankers and hedge fund and private equity operators who caused the financial crash in the first place, have not been made subject to any tax payback whatever commensurate to their gains. Some 77% of the budget deficit is being recouped by public expenditure cuts and benefit cuts, and only 23% is being repaid by tax increases. More than half of the tax increases is accounted for by the VAT rise which hits the poorest hardest. None of the tax increases is specifically aimed at the super-rich.

Third, despite the biggest slump for nearly a century, these 1,000 richest are now sitting on wealth greater even than at the height of the boom just before the crash. Their wealth now amounts to £414bn, equivalent to more than a third of Britain’s entire GDP. They include 77 billionaires and 23 others, each possessing more than £750m.

The increase in wealth of this richest 1,000 has been £315bn over the last 15 years. If they were charged capital gains tax on this at the current 28% rate, it would yield £88bn, enough to pay off 70% of the entire deficit. It seems however that Osborne takes the notorious view of the New York heiress, Leonora Helmsley: “Only the little people pay taxes.”

Related to that last point, here’s a graph that illustrates the extent of tax dodging and tax avoidance in the UK.

https://twitter.com/callum_shannon/status/312337191034572801

Update

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on a massive leak of computer data that shows how much anonymous wealth is held in off-shore accounts

 

Three thoughts on the Human Rights Act

I hear that over the weekend, Teresa May reaffirmed her pledge to abolish the Human Rights Act if her party wins the next General Election.

When Mrs May and Chris Grayling made similar remarks about the Human Rights Act and the ECHR earlier this month, I recorded a few thoughts to YouTube. The Home Secretary’s doubling-down on Saturday is enough of a reason to post my video here:

David Cameron makes a statement on the Leveson Report

Cameron and #Leveson: My Dilemma

The extraordinary political drama surrounding the publication of the Leveson Report yesterday leaves me with something of a dilemma.

On the one hand, I want to commend David Cameron for making a principled stand for free expression in Parliament yesterday.  This Prime Minister seems hostile to the Human Rights Act, so his words on the importance of free speech are noteworthy:

The issue of principle is that, for the first time, we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very, very carefully before crossing that line.

Cameron also said he was “instinctively concerned” about changing the rules on Data Protection and journalistic sources (Hansard link ), which, from a free expression point of view, is also a welcome attitude.  Some might argue that these are platitudes, but they are on record in Parliament and there is no reason why free speech campaigners should not trumpet these comments.

However, these statements are tempered by the concern that, in appearing to reject Lord Justice Leveson’s key recommendation, it seems as if the Prime Minister is undermining the Inquiry he himself set up.  This is likely to further alienate people from parliamentary politics.  Labour and the Liberal Democrats are right to ask what the point of the Inquiry actually was, if the central conclusion is summarily dismissed.  In taking an early position against ‘statutory underpinning’, Cameron has aligned himself with the newspapers, rightly or wrongly symbolised by the hated Murdochs.

https://twitter.com/stephenfry/status/274179392127762432

The Prime Minister has also placed himself in opposition to the McCanns, the Dowlers, and Hugh Grant, which politically speaking seems an incredibly risky manoevre.  It is so counter-intuitive to the project of re-election that I am persuaded that he has indeed taken the position on a matter of principle.

I am no fan of David Cameron’s policies, and usually enjoy watching his poll numbers fall.  But I worry about a situation in which a Prime Minister loses public support because he makes statements in favour of free expression.

Pædos, Prisoners, and Cameron's Attack on Human Rights

First they came for the prisoners.

A few weeks ago, MPs voted to ignore the European Court of Human Rights. The court in Strasbourg had said that a blanket ban on prisoners voting was incompatible with human rights law, and that the British government should rectify this. Following a debate in the House of Commons, Parliament thumbed its nose at the Court, as MPs voted 234 to 22 to keep a full ban on prisoners. Our Prime Minister put blatant populism above politics, declaring that “giving prisoners the vote makes me sick” (even if that means paying £143 million in compensation from the barren public purse).

Then they came for the paedophiles.

This week, we heard that those convicted of sex offences might not have to stay on the sex-offenders register for life. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that those included on the register should be able to appeal against permanent inclusion on the list, and on Tuesday it rejected a Home Office appeal against the ruling. The Government now has to formulate a policy based on this decision. At PMQs, David Cameron called the situation “appalling”.

There are clear similarities between these two stories. Both present issues where what might be considered the popular and common-sense approach is over-ruled by judges, forcing the Government to do something counter-intuitive. Both stories will inspire tabloid frothing at judge-made law. And in both cases, there are actually good and sober reasons why the judges ruled as they did, and why we should support their decisions. In the case of prisoners voting, such a change could catalyze the reform of prisons into places that offer better rehabilitation for convicts. Moreover, if a person will be released within the lifetime of a parliament, why shouldn’t they have a say on who will be representing them once they’re out? Similar arguments exist for sex offenders: In cases where a prisoner has been rehabilitated, coming off the sex offenders register might help reintegration.

It is crucial to remember that in both cases, all the courts did was rule against an absolutist approach: No ‘blanket’ ban on prisoners’ votes; and sex offenders have the right to appeal, not an absolute right to come off the register. The best comparisons for these issues are with parole or bail – you have the right to apply for it, but you might not get it. It is left to magistrates and judges to decide, depending on the actual circumstances.

So there may well be good reasons why extending the rights of some pretty unpleasant people might improve the whole of society… but it is for the penal reform groups to advance that argument. My concern is with how both these stories have been discussed by politicians – The Prime Minister in particular. With his bully-pupit, he has set a terrible example, placing the blame with the judiciary. His comments are clearly designed to undermine the European Court, the Convention on Human Rights and its manifestation in British law, the Human Rights Act (HRA). David Cameron and his allies have never been comfortable with that document, and these outbursts are designed to soften MPs and the public into agreeing to a watered-down Bill of Rights that will make our standing as citizens more tenuous.

Everyone remembers Pastor Martin Neimöller’s famous poem, which begins “First they came for the Communists” and ends with the narrator alone, with no-one left to speak in his defence. The moral should be clear: If you don’t stand up for the human rights of others, then eventually you will lose your own rights; stand up for the rights of others, and you protect yourself. But while we remember the poem, I think we fail to relate it to the present day. Neimöller’s victims, the Jews, the Trade Unionists, and the Communists, are all inoffensive and mainstream today, so we assume we are far away from the oppression described. But what we forget is that during Neimöller’s lifetime, all these groups were among the most vilified: the rhetorical equivalent of paedophiles and prisoners today.

What the Prime Minister seems to forget, is that Human Rights laws are designed to protect the most hated in our society, not least because these people are always amongst the most vulnerable too. They are supposed to frustrate our gut reaction. They are meant to be inconvenient. That the Courts’ rulings have caused outrage is actually a feature of our democracy, and not a bug. Kudos to the 22 MPs who recognised that, and shame on the Prime Minister. By undermining the principle of human rights, he undermines us all.

Update

This was crossposted over at LiberalConspiracy.org in a more succint form.  It got a fairly good response in the comments, although Tyler makes a good point:

Voting is not a human right. As is so often confused by so many on the liberal left, it is a CIVIL right. It is thus conferred on people by the laws of the land. It is granted to an individual by citizenship, and is not unalienable or transferrable, unlike free speech etc.

If it were a human right there would be no real reason why children shouldn’t have the vote, for example…

As such, this argument that voting is some form of human right is simply the wrong one.

Mea culpa, but the central points remain intact.