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And over in the UK… August 31, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, European Politics.
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Is this editorial from the Guardian on Tory defector Douglas Carswell just a little too gushing…

Unlike some Eurosceptic Tories, Mr Carswell is not a one-trick pony. He is an independent libertarian-minded MP who argues the need for radical political reform in the digital age and who has championed banking reform too. But it is his implacable Euroscepticism that made him switch to Ukip and which he highlighted in his resignation statement.

Well, libertarian-minded, yes, perhaps… he’s no end of enthusiasm for ‘direct democracy’, ‘recall of MPs’ and stuff like that.

And while it’s heartening to hear about his appetite for ‘radical political reform’ and indeed ‘action to clean up Westminster politics’… could it be that this paragon of virtue also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Carswell#Parliamentary_expenses_scandal Sure could!

Education and elitism… August 29, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Culture, Economy, The Left.

Useful research in the UK (headed up by Alan Milburn no less) from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission which notes some fairly astounding facts about how embedded elitism is in that state:

Looking at the background of more than 4,000 people filling jobs at the top of government, the civil service, the judiciary, the media, business and the creative industries, the commission investigated where they went to school, on the grounds that going to a private school is reasonably indicative of a wealthy background.

It sure is:

Only 7% of members of the public attended a private school. But 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior officers in the armed forces, 55% of permanent secretaries in Whitehall, 53% of senior diplomats, 50% of members of the House of Lords and 45% of public body chairs did so.

But it’s not just those areas that are overwhelmingly dominated by a certain social group (or class, let’s call them a class). For…

So too did 44% of people on the Sunday Times Rich List, 43% of newspaper columnists, 36% of cabinet ministers, 33% of MPs, 26% of BBC executives and 22% of shadow cabinet ministers.
It gets worse:

Oxbridge graduates also have a stranglehold on top jobs. They comprise less than 1% of the public as a whole, but 75% of senior judges, 59% of cabinet ministers, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 44% of public body chairs, 38% of members of the House of Lords, 33% of BBC executives, 33% of shadow cabinet ministers, 24% of MPs and 12% of those on the Sunday Times Rich List.
The report says the judiciary is the most privileged professional group. About 14% of judges attended one of just five independent schools (Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Paul’s Boys).

And what about this?

And senior armed forces officers are the second most exclusive group, the report says. Some 62% of them went to a private school, and only 7% attended a comprehensive.

The report makes the point that this was ‘so embedded in Britain that it could be called ‘social engineering’’. Could be? Only could be?

And before people become complacent on this side of the water it’s important to understand that these are the very outcomes that so many seek through private education, access (or continued access) to high status and high salaried positions as well as the broader support structures that they provide.

Lets also note that this is going to get worse. In a society where a former Taoiseach can lightly talk of removing social supports and provision such as pensions and welfare it is clear that the opportunities to those without recourse to financial supports are going to be much lesser. That’s most of us.

Owen Jones makes an excellent point here:

The flaw with the report is an implicit assumption that inequality is not the problem, but rather that our current inequality is not a fair distribution of talents. “If only a few bright sparks from humble backgrounds could be scraped into the higher echelons,” seems to be the plea.

As ever it requires a genuinely left wing approach to alter this situation. Though where that comes from…

By the way, I’m a little conflicted about the Scottish referendum, not because I’m against independence – because I’m not against it – so much as regards the effects on those left behind by a Scottish exit. But… when one sees, as here, even if we had a good idea it was bad, just how rotten the set-up is in Britain. Well, after so much time and effort and with clearly so little reward in terms of ameliorating this, perhaps it is indeed time for Scotland to go it alone (not that it too doesn’t have its own embedded internal elite. But… still).

Wage disparities… August 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Culture, Economy, Irish Politics.

The link to the Guardian below is no longer live, here’s more on the general topic.

The piece in the Guardian this week on high pay is very disturbing. Note that it makes the point that the bosses of the 100 biggest listed companies in the UK are making not, five, not ten, not twenty, not thirty, not forty, not fifty, not sixty, not seventy, not ninety times more than their workers, but on average 143 times as much. And the figures reveal not just a disparity in the UK but also globally that should be deeply thought-provoking – for example ‘The pay gap is widest at Rangold Resources, where boss Mark Bristow was paid £4.4m last year, nearly 1,500 times that of his average employee, many of whom work in the company’s African mines’.

Even within the UK the figures are stunning in terms of pointing to the disparities…

WPP founder, Sir Martin Sorrell, received nearly £30m last year, 780 times the £38,000 earned by his average worker. At Next, Lord Wolfson received £4.6m, while his staff, most of whom work on the shop floor, typically took home £10,000 – about 459 times less than their boss. The disparity at Next would have been greater had Wolfson not chosen to waive a £3.8m bonus and share the sum among the company’s 20,000 staff.

780 times? 459 times? This is quite insane. And to what purpose? Here is the emergence not of the super rich, but the hyper rich. As always the dangers of untrammelled wealth and power and their distorting effect upon polities are all too evident (and in a sense that Bruton speech in NYC last year pointed that up – how glibly dismissive about the lives of others those there were, both explicitly and implicitly). Though even in the context of reformism something can be done.

…campaigners are demanding more radical measures to tackle the widening gap between the UK’s select group of well rewarded executives and its 30 million-strong labour force.
Wilson called for worker representation on company boards and remuneration committees, a legally binding target for a reduction in inequality, and the introduction of a maximum pay ratio. At the retailer John Lewis, the ratio is capped at 75:1. At TSB bank, it is 65:1.

Even those ratio’s are madness. 75 times the average? 65 times? And worth reading the article for the evasive response from the British government. Though all that said, at least it appears to be an issue in Britain. What about here?

The Tories and the NHS… August 18, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, The Left.
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…this piece in the Guardian is of interest, written by a Tory MP professing to wish to ‘save’ the NHS, not least because of the responses. Let me select a couple that give a sense of both the piece and the response:

The person writing this article doesn’t care. She wants to end by finding ways of blaming people, and getting them to blame one another, so she and other, more privileged people don’t have to take responsibility for them.

It’s a gradual process, and the end point is that her chums own the private health services we will all pay double for as individuals.

The question we are all frantically evading is how on Earth we continue to fund an NHS that was devised for a much smaller population

The population of the UK in 1948 was over 50 million, only slightly smaller than it is now. The fact that you have started this piece by getting an easily checked fact wrong does not inspire confidence.

And speaking of polls, what of the UK? August 17, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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Seems like the ILP isn’t the only party to see a sudden spike in their support…the Observer reports the following:

Ukip have taken a shock six-percentage-point leap in the polls following confirmation that Nigel Farage is intending to stand in a Tory seat in Kent. An Opinium/Observer poll has Farage’s party on 21%. It appears that Ukip has taken support from both the Tories and Labour.

Ed Miliband’s party is down three points, leaving it on 32%, and the Conservatives are down four points to 28%. The Liberal Democrats have enjoyed a small rise of three points to 10%.

Is Farage’s announcement really that earth-shaking? All this seems very super-heated, all very silly season, as indeed do a lot of British polls run in the media at the moment.

Perhaps tellingly the very grounded UK Polling Report suggests on current polls of polls an LP majority, down a bit from a couple of weeks ago, to 32 but still solid enough.

Meanwhile it points to a continuing No majority in the Scottish referendum. It’s an odd one, win or lose Scotland will gain yet greater devolution, but how this affects the SNP’s project in the medium term is open to question. Still, entertaining to see the musings also continue over what would happen to Trident in the event of a Yes vote. Plymouth is apparently ‘the obvious alternative’ to Faslane, though the Royal United Services Institute think tank does mention this rather inconvenient point (which no doubt might exercise more than a few in Faslane too)…

The study acknowledges there would be safety concerns: “Introducing nuclear-armed [submarines] to Devonport will unavoidably introduce a new risk that an accidental ignition of one or all of a submarine’s Trident D5 missiles could spread radioactive material over some of Plymouth’s 260,000 inhabitants.


Meanwhile in the UK August 12, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.

There’s Labour soaring, in an ICM poll to a 7% lead over the Tories at…

38%, a share it last recorded in March. The Tories see their support fall by three points to 31% – last recorded in June – giving Labour a seven-point lead. In last month’s Guardian / ICM poll the Tories had a one-point lead over Labour – 34% to 33%.

The Liberal Democrats are unchanged on 12%, while Ukip sees a one-point increase in its support to 10%.

I’ve no great hopes for the BLP, but I’m always happy at a bad result for the Tories and their mini-me, the LDs. But it’s interesting to see the reasons put forward for the leap (which is clearly more than simply margin of error, though it could be a passing blip, and more than likely will be).

The poll, carried out between Friday and Sunday, followed a difficult week for the prime minister after Warsi resigned from the government after criticising the prime minister for his “morally indefensible” decision not to criticise Israel for disproportionate action in Gaza. On Wednesday Boris Johnson signalled his intention to return to parliament at next year’s general election, placing him in a strong position to replace the prime minister.

That’s as may be, but I wonder if another aspect of this is the Tories supposedly ‘stronger’ Eurosceptic language, so strong indeed that the new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, mused on the idea of Britexit, which he personally is in favour of. Now, having spent a week or two in the UK there’s no question that the dominant narrative in the media is one of utter aversion to all things European, but it would be interesting to see just how far that sentiment spreads, and how deep it is when push comes to shove. One thing to have the EU to let steam off, perhaps another to actually be standing at the exit door. I’m not, by the way, trying to address the issue of the value or otherwise of the EU, just to say that it’s one thing to complain, another to act.

None of this is to deny that Gaza, rightly, has inflicted damage on the Tories, and let’s not forget Clegg who has been attempting to criticise from the sidelines on that issue – a fairly hollow exercise given his centrality to the government. Johnson is a different and rather more cosmetic matter.

And as to the eventual outcome? Labour remains stubbornly ahead in polls in general.

Pushing back unions in the UK… August 5, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy.

This is fascinating, a reverse (of sorts) for the Tories in regard to union law, but reading the article further there is this:

But the plans also suggested that a future Tory government would introduce a criminal offence to stop picketing and would strengthen the code of practice on picketing by giving it statutory force. Carr told ministers that this announcement cut right across the review, it is understood.

Is that accurate, or am I missing something, in relation to stopping picketing? Don’t they mean in some instances (which isn’t satisfactory either)? or is it yet another broadening of the attack on workers rights?

Appeasing the unappeasable..? July 17, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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There’s an interesting contradiction, or near contradiction, in part of the analysis in this article here from a few weeks back on the threat UKIP poses to the British Labour Party by Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo. They note that a tranche of LP support has gone to UKIP, mostly ‘older, poorly educated white pensioners who hold a very different outlook from Labour MPs or thinktankers.’

And they suggest that:

While Labour took too long to acknowledge Ukip’s potential, it is now failing to understand its appeal. Most think they can halt Ukip by talking about the cost of living, protecting public services like the NHS, defending the economic interests of blue-collar Britons and talking in vague and abstract ways about devolving power or rebuilding institutions.

And they continue:

Such a response is not surprising; it is rooted in the old Marxist belief that support for nationalist parties is driven by economic insecurity, and encouraged by capitalists who would prefer ethnic over class conflict. But this is not a long-term strategy and nor is it supported by actual evidence.

I think that’s a bit of an overstatement (and of the supposed ‘old Marxist belief’ too), but we can let it pass.
They continue:

First, by the time Ukip arrives in Doncaster for its conference in September its policy review will most likely have neutralised these lines of attack by modifying its stance on issues such as the NHS. Moreover, targeting the healthcare policies of a party that spends all its time talking about migration and Europe just appears odd. Second, this economically focused narrative does not hold up when we look at the Labour voters who actually left Labour for Ukip last month, and who are thinking of doing so again in 2015.

It’s difficult too to evaluate the threat this suppose voting bloc presents. The authors suggest that:

The good news for Labour is that only a small number of its 2010 voters actually switched to Ukip in 2014 (about one in 10). But focusing only on this misses a fundamental longer term trend. There are now lots of angry, old white voters in Britain and Ed Miliband’s Labour is no longer their preferred destination. Between 2005 and 2013 Labour support among white working-class pensioners slumped from 45% to just 26%. In the same period, Ukip support among this group surged almost tenfold, from 3% to 28%.

I hesitate to say this, but surely longer term demographic changes may come into effect in relation to this ameliorating this problem, should it even be a problem?
But then they say:

But as the chart below shows, [older, poorly educated white pensioners ] were not driven to Ukip by the NHS or cost of living. Foremost, it is immigration and European integration that dominate the minds of voters who switched from Labour to Ukip at the European elections (yellow), and especially those who intend to now stay with Ukip (black). These Labour deserters are also more likely to think that important social changes such as giving equal opportunities to ethnic minorities and same-sex couples have gone too far. In short, those who have left or who are thinking of leaving Labour for Ukip don’t like modern Britain for social and cultural reasons – not economic.

Hold on though. Even if correct it is difficult to see how the LP could address those ‘social and cultural – not economic’ reasons, though frankly ‘equal opportunities’ in and of itself contains myriad economic aspects, as indeed does immigration and integration. It seems unlikely that the LP could, or would, resile from equal opportunities from ethnic minorities or same-sex couples. And it’s worth noting that it was the Tory-led Coalition that finally legalised same-sex marriage (though, granted, with LP support). Are those measures to be abolished? Wrong to do so, obviously, and hardly likely, and that would merely come into conflict with those voters, a much larger number (according to the stats below), who either agree or have little enough problem with those approaches.

So what exactly would the authors recommend? They don’t say.

Simply talking about economic issues will not win these angry old white voters back, in the same way that social democrats across Europe talking only about the economic benefits of migration or European integration have not neutralised the radical right. While Labour has now finally recognised the challenge that Ukip represents, it must now devote serious effort to making sense of the underlying causes.

That’s not entirely helpful, now is it? There are genuine and real concerns about the changing nature of society – that’s an inevitable aspect of change, but, at the same time, change is inevitable in any case. There is a necessity to explain and bring people with progressive projects. But there’s also a point, I think where, when it’s clear that people aren’t coming along that excessive energy isn’t expended on attempting to persuade them further. I’m curious as to what others think about ways forward on this.

By the way whether this poses an existential threat to the LP further down the line is interesting, but I’m unconvinced. The article talks of UKIP members thinking about the election after next and that all sounds great until one attempts to see where UKIP can win seats at the next election, and truth is there aren’t many places. I’m reminded of something Michael White of the Guardian said on a recent Guardian politics podcast which was that UKIP isn’t so much a party as a campaign. That’s a very useful insight into the true nature of that organisation and it tells us much about its strengths and its weaknesses as well as its potential and actual appeal.

Abuse allegations in British politics… July 16, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Society.

The allegations relating to child abuse and politicians in the UK is a further reminder of a culture of something close to impunity that surrounds such matters in almost every context in which they manifest themselves. We have seen the same in relation to the Catholic Church, other religions, television entertainers and so on. What appear to be men who either individually or with others act with no check, and no sense that they can be checked.

It’s notable how cautious the UK media coverage of the latest child abuse scandal in that state, one that centres on the political area. Andrew Rawnsley was particularly so at the weekend in the Observer. But only to an extent. I was struck by the following:

Well, I like to think I am always on my guard against hysteria. But we can’t put it all down to over-fevered imaginations. There is now too much evidence of sexual predators getting away with it in that era airily to dismiss the idea that it was also happening in the precincts of parliament. We already know – the case of the late Sir Cyril Smith – of one vile perpetrator. I’d be surprised to discover that there was a vast paedophile gang with tentacles gripping every nook and cranny of Westminster, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it is shown that there were cases of offenders among MPs whose criminal depredations were hushed up by whips and other party managers for the usual self-serving reasons.

Rawnsley suggests that the institutions of state and society have been hammered by one sort of scandal or another across decades – interestingly the answer one LP politician gave to the question as to whether there were any that still had ‘public faith’ was the Queen. Not an optimal situation of state cohesiveness.
But this circles closer and closer to the actual politics of the day. This piece in the Guardian doesn’t name the person allegedly involved, but it makes it clear that there appears to be a significant issue.

And the Mirror at the weekend pointed to another problem, that the response to allegations was very likely characteristic of dynamics we’ve seen closer to home. Though I need hardly spell out one massive possible aspect of political fallout if the allegations of abuse and cover-up hold up.

I don’t often quote Norman Tebbit approvingly, but he’s spot on here:

Tebbit said: “At that time I think most people would have thought that the establishment, the system, was to be protected, and if a few things had gone wrong here and there that it was more important to protect the system.”

And there it is – despite the gravity of the crimes committed when word seeped out – as it almost inevitably did in whatever given context whether clerical abuse, television or political, not least because of the scale of that abuse, the immediate response was to say and do nothing for fear of ‘damaging the system’. That the fact this could happen within the system and that it would – inevitably – come to light appears to have escaped those who grossly compounded the original crimes. Though, perhaps given the historical record and the time it has taken for many many of those who were abused to get some measure of justice one could make the argument that sense of impunity was near enough based on a cold and callous appraisal of the reality of the time and long after. These men simply weren’t going to be caught then.

That they have is a testament to incredible courage on the part of those who were abused and were willing to put themselves through genuinely appalling processes to see justice. And it only takes a small trip across the internet to see how some simply refuse to accept that these men were guilty.

One other telling aspect to the Savile, Harris and Clifford revelations, reading the responses on the Guardian and elsewhere in comments, on the news of their predation, is a sense that Savile is seen as ‘creepy’ while there’s a sense of disappointment at Harris. I don’t for a second want to suggest people are attempting to exonerate the latter’s actions, more it seems that they find it harder to integrate the information about him with their previous perceptions of him. And so in a single comment we read about people ‘saddened by his downfall’ and how ‘Savile was a different business’.

And yet, the distinction between the two is minimal in functional terms. Both were sexual predators who abused again and again. That the scale of Savile’s crimes is so great doesn’t for a second alter the fact that any one of his crimes was a crime, just as any one of those committed by Harris was a crime. Both left a trail of destruction in regard to the lives of their victims.

But to me Savile and Harris actually seem quite similar, both had external personalities that appear largely to have been shells, or perhaps constructs is a better term. And those were, despite Savile’s propensity for hinting at his nature, taken at face value by the media and those who interacted with them on the public level.

On a human level it is natural not to want to believe that abuse has taken place, but we see a similar dynamic in way in relation to attitudes – if not quite disbelief – a sort of unwillingness to face up to the simple fact that most abuse is carried out by those who are close or related to those being abused (the Liam Adams case most obviously comes to mind in that regard – and that is another case with political implications). And that disbelief has been extant both within families and with those who interact with families.

Either way the allegations from the UK point to depressingly familiar attitudes at the time and afterwards. I’d like to think that this couldn’t happen today, and perhaps it is less likely… but…

A Britexit and Northern Ireland… July 15, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, Uncategorized.

Thoughtful piece in the SBP the week before last (that Croke Park thing has pushed a lot aside this last week or so) by Jim Fitzpatrick on the dangers to the current dispensation on the island by the shape-throwing in Britain over the European Union and an exit by them from it. Fitzpatrick notes that in some respects the border hardly exists, but he worries that in the event of such an exit it might reappear. Let’s not get too starry eyed, the border remains, the island consists of different political entities – but it is true that in certain respects it is invisible. Fitzpatrick suggests that:

…as Britain heads for the door, is it really likely that Europe will suddenly put in place the kind of free trade deal with no strings that the eurosceptics dream of? Hardly.
So, prepare to see customs posts back on the border. Prepare to see north-south trade become a whole lot trickier. Prepare for restrictions on freedom of movement and working.

I’m not certain that any such exit would necessitate those sort of measures. One of the most obvious differences north and south is that different currencies circulate, but the prevalence of Euro, or rather the acceptance of it, in the North is striking (by the way John A Murphy, that self-appointed scourge of SF and most unlikely policeman of nomenclature had a strange article last week in the Irish Times, did he not?). And the institutions established under the GFA (such as they are, and note the messing around by Unionists in regard to them this last month or so) will continue to exist. So, while I suppose it is possible the EU might play a sort of cosmetic (and not entirely innocuous) hardball, more local interests in Dublin and Belfast, and indeed London, would prevail. And he acknowledges same:

At least the Anglo-Irish apparatus and warm relations between the two countries provides the basis for bilateral deals that may go some way towards mitigating the economic damage. But the culture shock that will accompany this greater wedge being driven between north and south will spell trouble for the wider political process.

That said, that last might be correct. A Britain on the outside of the EU would be in a distinctly different position and the knock-on effects within that polity might be problematic – and all this before we consider what Scottish independence might bring to the feast (and by the way, I don’t know, but has continued EU membership been linked in any way to that issue, perhaps as a means of assisting the NO camp?). Fitzpatrick, interestingly, argues that a YES vote would…

…probably [be] the one thing that would kill any move towards EU exit by the diminished UK. In the midst of its own existential crisis, the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be less inclined to walk a lonely road.

Hard to disagree.

I also wonder how Britain would adapt to being outside the EU. It’s one thing to rail against it, quite another to wind up in a sort of EFTA position, at best. And while we’re all aware of the problems of globalisation, they cut many ways, not least in locking nation-states together. Slicing through the EU links could be mightily injurious to certain British interests.

Just on the topic of the campaign for Scottish independence (of sorts), Fitzpatrick has a most interesting snippet in his most recent SBP article, a piece on the 12th in NI, when he notes that:

Ulster unionism appears strangely at odds with the very concept of Britishness, as understood and practised by most people in Britain. Despite unconvincing talk in the past of attracting Catholic voters, unionist leaders have now made it clear that achieving a Protestant march past a Catholic area is the zenith of their ambition, and that they are prepared to destroy all else in pursuit of this goal.

And most notably…

No wonder that Scottish unionists have begged the Orange Order to stay out of the debate on Scottish independence.


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