SamHarrisBlog

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and then applying the wrong remedies.” – Groucho Marx

The curtain falls on New Labour

 

David Miliband’s retirement from politics signals the departure yet another stalwart from the New Labour era, but will Ed Miliband and Ed Balls be able to successfully negotiate the curtain call.

Despite their attempts to re-re-brand the Labour party as ‘One Nation Labour’, both Balls and Miliband have found it difficult to shake their toxic ties with the New Labour era. Each week the coalition parties remind the two Ed’s of their accountability as part of Gordon Brown’s cabinet. Supporters of the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are happy to hear the broken record placing ultimate blame for the ongoing economic situation at the door of The Labour Party, however it appears the vital swing voters are less sure. This month saw Labour take the biggest ever recorded lead in YouGov polls at 15 points, whilst average poll ratings from UKPR (UK Polling Report) have Labour with a 10 point lead.

Although, when looking specifically at economic performance the polls return a rather bleak picture for Labour and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. Only 26% believe that George Osborne is doing a good job, but when asked who would do a better job with the economy, George Osborne wins with 31% to Ed Balls’ rather embarrassing 25%. The ‘none of the above’ option comfortably beat both candidates with a sizeable 44%. Ed Balls may have proved a great success for frustrating the coalition benches, but it appears his value as candidate for Chancellor of the Exchequer has diminished.

Whilst such polling data is helpful to gauge a generalised feeling from the nation, it is often misleading. Voting intention polls have Labour 10 points ahead, yet undoubtedly the key issue at the next election will be the economy. Therefore the prospective candidates for Chancellor, and the rate of growth in the economy may well be the difference between election victory and heartache. The mid-term local election results are equally misleading. Opposition parties are expected to make huge gains, and anything else is deemed a failure. For the more radical political parties, gains made at local elections are often lost at general elections. It is therefore unlikely that UKIP will achieve the 10% of votes that are currently predicted, and it is equally unlikely that Labour will win with a 110 seat majority.

At close fought elections, mistakes and slip ups are pounced upon and exploited, and can ultimately decide the overall outcome. Therefore David Miliband’s resignation today signals a good step forward for Labour. His announcement has removed all speculation of a return to frontline politics and has put an end to the circus surrounding him and his brother Ed. The Labour PR machine now has one less worry and links to the New Labour governments are slowly disintegrating – however whilst Ed Balls sits alongside Ed Miliband on the front bench, links will be made and aspersions cast. The remaining traces of Labour’s not so popular past may be the unravelling of their 2015 election campaign.

Steel View: Issue 3 editorial; Graffiti Crackdown

http://issuu.com/steel.view/docs/steelviewissue3 Read the full magazine, including an exclusive article for Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough.

Editorial: Graffiti Crackdown

2012 has been widely accepted as a brilliant year for the UK. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Sir Bradley Wiggins becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France, Andy Murray becoming the first male Grand Slam winner from the UK since Fred Perry in 1936, and the successes of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
However scratching the surface reveals a desperately sad year for many urban subcultures – none more so than the graffiti scene. Following on from 2011 and the high profile imprisonment of Tox, graffiti writers such as Dotcom, Noir, Hoover KC, SMT crew and Zerx have been handed custodial sentences ranging from 12 months to Tox’s mammoth 27 month stint.
At the same time as these sentences are being handed out, Banksy’s stock is ever rising – which raises the question of the difference between the two groups. Admittedly Banksy has a much larger public following and the backing of several high profile and wealthy men and women, however this does not make his use of stencilled street art more legally legitimate than the all-city tagging of Tox. If the police were to plough as many resources into finding and jailing Banksy as they have in the pursuit of a number graffiti writers this year, then it would be an open-and-shut case.
Unfortunately it is not that simple. Perceived artistic ability seems to go a long way to deciding a street artist/graffiti writer’s fate. If Tox had mirrored the huge mainstream success of Banksy, would he currently be sitting inside a prison cell and would the prosecutor in his case have said “he is no Banksy. He doesn’t have the artistic skills”? The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) should stop selectively jailing graffiti writers and decide whether or not to pursue all acts of street art and graffiti and give equitable punishments. To pick and choose prosecutions based on a subjective preference such as ‘artistic ability’ is ludicrous.
In graffiti based cases the cost of repairing the damage is cited to influence the length of the sentence. They include labour, paint, cleaning chemicals, paint brushes, rollers, protective suits etc, and are often grossly exaggerated. However if we take this cost in the case of Zerx, convicted of causing £80,000 worth of criminal damage, and then add the cost of keeping him in prison for 12 months – around £40,000, that’s a total cost of £120,000 to the tax payer. Community orders for cleaning graffiti appear to be a more cost effective and all round better solution. This would completely remove the £40,000 prison cost, and significantly reduce the labour cost for removing the graffiti.
During the ongoing economic slump, politicians are constantly looking to cut costs where possible and in his first full year in the job, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling will be sure to want a reduction in the prison population. Ending jail time for graffiti artists would be a big step towards achieving both goals. Currently we have people like Noir ATS sitting in a prison cell, a man who created the backdrop for Tinie Tempah’s performance at the London Olympic opening ceremony, and who has been involved in many community projects. Use electronic tagging if necessary, but keep these people in the community and utilise their abilities.

Equal pay, a necessity

Figures released by the Chartered Management Institute claim that 57% of company executives are now female, leading undoubtedly to many thinking that gender based equality in the workplace is a problem solved. However these figures are not as straightforward as they appear. The same research by the CMI concludes that only 40% are departmental heads, with less than 1 in 4 holding the position of chief executive. Research produced by The Guardian condemns big business further, claiming that executive committees of the top 50 FTSE companies have a lowly 14% female representation.

For the select few women in these top positions, it would be understandable to expect that salaries would directly mirror that of a male counterpart, however that is not the case. The CMI figures show that on average, male company executives earn £400,000 more in basic salary over the course of a career than females doing the same job, with larger bonuses to boot.

It seems absurd that in November 2012 we are still debating how to tackle pay equality in the United Kingdom. Over forty years since the Equal Pay Act of 1970, a bill put in place to protect and support the victims of discriminatory pay, we find ourselves in a position where being born male still appears to give us the divine right to earn more money. Continued research into salaries will help to redress the balance and apply pressure to employers. But action from the government is a necessity, starting with the implementation of a more stringent procedure to check and sanction companies who breach the Equal Pay Act.

Trying to pinpoint the reasons for the continued pay inequality brings up some worrying trends. Among the most common is a belief that all female workers will want maternity leave, and will ultimately cost businesses thousands in maternity pay. This coupled with the outdated view that women want to, and should, stay at home and raise the child once born creates a stigma unfairly attached to all prospective female employees.

The announcement from Nick Clegg re maternity leave changes is undoubtedly a positive step. From 2015 parents will decide how to divide up the 12 month parental leave allocation, but to change the views of society there has to be enforced regulations. Simply allowing for men to take more time off will not necessarily result in paternity allowances being used. In Norway, such a system has been in place for the past 35 years and still only around 17% of men take more than their 10 week ‘use or lose’ allowance. However over 90% of men do use their 10 week ‘use or lose’ allowance.

To enforce real change, both parents should receive 4 months paid leave each, with the final set of 4 months to be divided between them as they see fit. The 4 months allocated to each parent should not be transferrable, and if they decide not to take that time off, it is lost.

Our economy loses out year after year due to talented and innovative women being overlooked for top jobs. By strictly enforcing the Equal Pay Act, and enacting equal maternity and paternity paid leave, we can make a huge difference in a relatively short space of time.

Steel View: Issue 1 October 2012

Click expand to view in full screen!

Caine’s Arcade

re-blogged from seanthomasdesign.wordpress.com

www.cainesarcade.com

The curious case of Julian Assange – Inside Story Americas – Al Jazeera English

The curious case of Julian Assange – Inside Story Americas – Al Jazeera English. (watch video via this link)

via Al Jazeera English:

Ecuador has granted asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, and said that the UK must grant him safe passage out of the country in accordance with international convention.

It has been nearly two months since Julian Assange entered Ecuador’s embassy in London in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden. And on Thursday, Ricardo Patino, the South American nation’s foreign minister, announced that it was granting him asylum.

“[The Ecuadorean government] – loyal to its tradition to protect those who seek protection in its territory or in its diplomatic buildings – has decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Julian Assange,” Patino announced.

“We believe that there are indications that allow us to presume a risk of political persecution, or that this persecution could occur if opportune and necessary measures aren’t taken to avoid them.”

Forty-one-year-old Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning regarding allegations of sexual assault. But he says he fears Sweden would extradite him to the US, where authorities are keen to prosecute him on charges related to the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables on his website, Wikileaks.

His supporters doubt he will be treated fairly, and fear he could face the death penalty.

The US state department had this to say: “We were in a situation where he was not headed to the US, he was headed elsewhere. So I’m not going to get into all the legal ins and outs about what may or may not have been in his future before he chose to take refuge in the Ecuadoran mission. With regard to the charge that the US was intent on persecuting him, I reject that completely.”

Assange has repeatedly offered to be questioned by Swedish authorities in London but that option has been declined.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency, the lawyer representing the two Swedish women who made the sexual assault allegations against Assange called Ecuador’s move an “abuse of the asylum instrument”.

William Hague, the British foreign minister, has also weighed in with a response on how the UK views the matter, saying: “We will continue to work with them [Ecuador] to find a diplomatic solution. But they need to be aware of our laws, in particular our extradition law, in particular that we will not grant safe passage to someone granted asylum under these circumstances, and in particular the full legal context in this country – all the tools available to a government of the United Kingdom. It’s important that they make their decisions fully aware of the full legal context.”

So what happens to Assange now? What was behind Ecuador’s decision to grant him asylum and will he be allowed to leave the UK?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, speaks to guests: Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Charles Rose, a specialist in international law and a professor at Stetson University College of Law.

 

The truth behind Barack Obama’s foreign policy

Since Barack Obama took office in January 2009, there have been over 250 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, 4 times more than under George W. Bush with further strikes in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Every Tuesday President Obama chairs a meeting to compile ‘kill lists’ of terror suspects throughout the world, including American citizens. The targets include people as young as 17, and collateral damage does not seem to be an issue. The Obama administration doctor the figures of innocent civilians killed in the drone missile attacks by defining any male of military age within the strike zone at the time of the attack as a militant. Barack Obama’s official 2012 re-election campaign website states “The number of our troops in harm’s way has been cut in half”. His achievements in removing US soldiers from ‘harms way’ are documented heavily, but the 250+ drone attacks endangering the lives of civilians throughout the middle-east are not mentioned.

Needless to say, the ordered killing of Osama bin Laden features on the website. However the illegal nature of the mission is not mentioned. To enter Pakistani air space without permission is a failure to acknowledge the sovereign state of Pakistan, to then land and kill an unarmed suspect is in violation of international law, and is a summary execution. There is no doubt that Osama bin Laden should have been brought to justice for the actions of 9/11 and subsequent terrorist activity, but justice would have been to extradite bin Laden and place him on trial.

When Obama was elected in November ’08, he was the liberal minded President that would end the wars in the middle-east and promote peace between Israel and Palestine.

However for his 2012 campaign, Obama stated that he has “refocused the United States’ efforts on defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. It is somewhat hypocritical to claim that you are ending ongoing wars, at the same time as implementing new battle tactics. The US troops are safe, but the Pakistani, Yemeni, Somali and Afghan citizens are forced to live in fear of missile strikes.

President Obama was praised when he announced in a speech in Cairo, 2009 “America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own”. Three years on, and Obama has failed to make real progress. Israel and Palestine are still at war and peace talks have once again broken down without agreement.

In September 2011, Mahmoud Abbas announced Palestine’s intention to become a full member of the United Nations. They required 9 positive votes out of the 15 members of the UN security council. However the application was blown apart when Barack Obama threatened to use the US power of veto. This cowardly move ended Palestinian hopes to challenge Israel’s illegal occupation of Gaza at the International Criminal Court.

In a speech in May 2011 Obama had said, “the Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state”. After supporting the creation of a sovereign state of Palestine, threatening to veto the decision seemed bizarre. President Obama appeared more concerned with US public opinion and being re-elected than he was with bringing peace to the region.

The continued human rights abuses and disregard for international law make Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 fraudulent. The Nobel committee said he won the award for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”, a statement that is incomprehensible given the actions carried out by the Obama administration since. The achievements and sufferings of Morgan Tsvangirai, the Zimbabwean Prime Minister, and Hu Jia, a Chinese dissident, were overlooked in favour of Barack Obama. The committee added, “we would like to support what he [Obama] is trying to achieve”. The unlawful killing of civilians in the middle-east probably wasn’t what the committee had in mind when they supported Obama’s policies.

Unfortunately in the 2012 US Presidential race Barack Obama is still the best candidate. As Cornel West so brilliantly said, “Mitt Romney is a catastrophic response to a catastrophe, whereas Obama is a disastrous response to a catastrophe. Is disaster better than catastrophe? Yes it is. I wish we had a third candidate who could actually do something, but we don’t at the moment”.

Top 5 gaffes London 2012

5. On a visit to the UK, Republican Candidate for the US Presidency, Mitt Romney held a press conference with Ed Miliband. Although I accept that Ed may not be a household name in the US as of yet, he should be a familiar figure to any senior politician. For Mitt Romney to conduct the press conference and refer to Ed Miliband as “Mr Leader”, was unprofessional, hilarious and slightly worrying. His advisors may find themselves out of a job very soon…

4. As the North Korean women’s football players took to the pitch at Hampden Park, their pictures and names were displayed on the big screens alongside the flags of their native country. Well, they should have been. What they got instead was their pictures and names, alongside the flag of arch-enemies South Korea. Needless to say, the North Korean delegation were not impressed.

3. Welcome back, Mitt Romney. This time for the comments suggesting that London may not be capable of staging a successful Olympics. “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out”. This comment came after he had described the staffing for the games as “disconcerting”. For a guy who openly and continuously attacks President Obama’s foreign policy record, he’s not exactly forging the greatest of relationships around the world.

2. David Cameron is desperate to try and gain some credibility and support in the wake of the Olympics. Little did he know, tweeting a photo of yourself in a Team GB polo shirt, whilst sat in a high backed arm chair, grinning conveniently for the camera, and watching the boxing was completely the wrong way to go about it. Cue a barrage of tweets mocking the hopelessly staged photograph. Oh Dave, when will you learn.

1. The top gaffe over the Olympic games is without a doubt Boris Johnson and his zip wire malfunction. Whether you like Boris or not, seeing him hang in what appears to be a rather uncomfortable harness 30 feet in the air, with multiple opportunists taking photographs was hilarious. To think that he is being touted as the next leader of the Conservatives and potential PM is terrifying.

Riot review – one year on

There have been over £300 million worth of compensation claims in London alone and 1,500 convictions for riot-related offences nationwide, as the clean up from the summer 2011 riots continue. The root cause of the rioting and looting has been the source of much speculation, but the Government’s position has been clear for some time.

David Cameron stated, “You will feel the full force of the law. And if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment.”

He went on to reject the idea that the riots had anything to do with Government cuts or the economic conditions, “No, this was about behaviour. People showing indifference to right and wrong, people with a twisted moral code, people with a complete absence of self-restraint.”

Not only is there an aggressive undertone in the threats of punishment, but there is a blatant disregard for social factors that undoubtedly played a significant part in the events of last summer.

In response to the Conservative/Liberal review of the riots Slavoj Zizek wrote, “What’s wrong with this account is not only that it ignores the desperate social situation pushing young people towards violent outbursts but, perhaps more important, that it ignores the way these outbursts echo the hidden premises of conservative ideology itself.”

There were many people involved in the riots citing multiple reasons for their involvement, including pure opportunistic greed, desperation, and to send a political message to those in power. To many in London the riots did not come as much of a surprise.

In a video for the Guardian a week before the trouble began, Chavez Campbell said, “The streets in London are rough, you got a lot of knife crime and all that. When you shut down youth centres it cuts kids roots off, their links so they don’t really have anywhere to go. When school holidays start I think it’s going to be swarming, I think people are going to be trying to find stuff to do, people are going to want to get jobs and that’s gonna be tough. You know there’s gonna be riots, there will be riots, they’ll be riots.”

Whether it is said that the riots were due to social exclusion, opportunism, spending cuts, consumerism or racism, all arguments point back to the capitalist structure of our economic system.

Social exclusion suggests that the riots occurred due to deprivation within society during the economic slump, caused by high unemployment amongst low income families. The rise in unemployment in such areas was affected hugely by an over reliance on private sector jobs at a time when the public sector is subjected to dramatic cuts and pay freezes.

Economic instability means companies start to cut costs, and that unfortunately means the loss of many part-time jobs. The reliance on a self-regulated private sector is a fundamental cog in the capitalist machine.

Another strong belief of the capitalist system is that free markets will regulate themselves. This was applied by Margaret Thatcher to the banking and financial sector, which in turn had a significant part to play in the economic crash of 2008.

The spending cuts that are currently being implemented by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition are a result of the inadequacies of self-regulation and the failure of the capitalist system.

Racism and capitalism have gone hand in hand since the days of slavery. Much has changed over the past 200 years, yet it took the self regulated markets until 2009 to appoint a black chief executive in the FTSE 100. Just three years ago a report compiled by the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Dr Richard Stone and former West Yorkshire police chief Tom Cook stated that the police were still institutionally racist.

When Mark Duggan was shot dead by police in Tottenham on the eve of the unrest last summer, claims of institutional racism were made. The perceived racism in the police force is unfortunately not a new phenomenon. Since the murder of David Owluwale in Leeds in 1969, and Stephen Lawrence in London 1993 there have been ever increasing claims of race related prejudice within the police service.

In reference to continued and extensive use of stop-and-search powers and a failure to promote and retain black police officers, Dr Stone went on to conclude, “There’s been a lot of effort, but no significant change. To me that bears out the definition of institutional racism. It’s very worrying.”

The report concludes, “Research examining why officers left the service has indicated that those from black and minority ethnic groups are more likely to have been dismissed or required to resign compared with their white counterparts (8.5% and 1.7% respectively) or to have left following voluntary resignation (46.6% of leavers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and 25.9% of all leavers from white backgrounds.)”. According to the 2001 census 8% of the UK population were categorised as BME (black and minority ethnic groups), yet such groups only form 4% of the police force.

These independent reports only go to further the claim that positions of power in the the UK are often reserved for white men.

David Cameron claimed many of the rioters were simply ‘opportunistic’. When placed in a situation where luxury items were on offer, many submitted to temptation and greed and looted shops up and down the country. What was it that made these items so desirable that it became acceptable to commit crimes in that situation?

Quite possibly the extensive advertising campaigns from multi-national corporations. These adverts depict role models, and celebrities endorsing luxury products. Being subjected to multiple adverts a day, whether on TV, radio, billboards or in magazines, will ultimately dictate the desirability of a product.

To fit in with today’s society certain standards are expected, standards that are well beyond our means. As a nation we cannot afford to keep living the lifestyle we currently have, and the riots were a perfect example of this. Many people of varying ages and social classes – not just ‘youths from working class backgrounds’, as was widely reported – took part in the rioting and looting. Members in all sections of society are struggling, and it is vital that there is one unified voice speaking for them.

One voice for all those affected would be the most powerful social movement in the UK for decades, but to achieve this everyone must understand the root cause of the 2011 summer riots – capitalism.

Ed Miliband should take pointers from Hollande on staying young

The French presidential elections in May saw Francois Hollande beat Nicolas Sarkozy in close fought race. The winning margin just 3.4% in the second round. Recent polls and analysis suggest the 2015 UK election may be strikingly similar, so just what lessons can be leant from the Parti Socialiste and their successful election campaign?

As the party in Opposition, Labour stand to benefit most from implementing the tactics of the Parti Socialiste. The main lesson to be taken is to target the voters disaffected with politics.

The tactics used by team Hollande were simple; meet a diverse range of the electorate, listen to concerns/points of view, enlist a good marketing team, and don’t try too hard!

Hollande travelled to some of the poorer regions of France and spoke with a diverse range of the local population. At a time when these poorer regions are feeling abandoned and forgotten, and politicians are seen as the enemy, campaign trips proved hugely successful. Hollande didn’t just turn up and give a carefully constructed speech, he took the opportunity to listen to the concerns of a nation.

Like Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron is often criticised for being out of touch with the population. Sarkozy was disliked in France for who he was, the expensive lifestyle he maintained and his unashamed arrogance. Similarly David Cameron is disliked for who he is, the tax breaks for the rich, granny/pasty taxes, and the blatant disregard for the working class. Ed Miliband has a chance to come to the fore and give members of society a voice. As shown by Hollande in France, being a man of the people would allow him to finally be taken seriously by the public as a strong candidate for PM.

Another key area of success for Hollande was his advertising campaign . Although the advert is in French (understandably), the choice of song, the way in which it is edited, the diverse range of people who feature, and the focus on voting cards is clear for all to see.

Kanye West may not be to everyones taste, however it will resonate with a large proportion of the youth vote. The editing style is very current and popular, and it works to engage the watching audience. Once engaged, it is clear that there is an emphasis on the voting cards, and that no matter who you are, where you come from, what ethnic background you may have, Francois Hollande is the man of the moment and the man who should receive your vote.

Despite the choice of music and style of edit, Mr Hollande does not pretend to be something he is not. There is nothing worse than someone trying to be ‘down with the kids’, and to see someone who wants to be president, or in our case prime minister, try to be ‘cool’ would destroy any chance of victory. Although it would be very British for Ed Miliband to don a William-Hague-style baseball cap and embarrass himself hugely, it is ill-advised. Enlisting the help of a good marketing team to create an advert similar to Hollande’s would go a long way to engaging a generation that currently feel alienated from politics.

The current government are constantly chastised for a series of mistakes; Jeremy Hunt and his News International friends, Nick Clegg and his broken promises, Liam Fox’s resignation, Theresa May’s catalogue of errors, Vince Cable’s inability to keep his thoughts to himself, Michael Gove’s love of 1960’s education, Andrew Lansley’s dismantling of the NHS, and of course Gideon’s questionable economic pedigree. While the media have a feeding frenzy over the haphazard members of the coalition, Labour have a chance to retake their position as the party of the people.

If Ed Miliband can break the view that ‘all politicians are the same, they are all as bad as each other’, and engage the youth vote then he will race to victory come 2015. There doesn’t need to be a pledge signed, or any unattainable policies drawn up, just a concerted effort to make the 18-24 year olds understand that they have a place in politics and that their voices and opinions are being heard.

The message is clear, stand with us Ed, and we will stand with you.

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