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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.

More on power and the media… July 4, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy.

Another excellent roundup of the phone hacking trial in the UK in the Guardian, this one by Tim Adam.
Here’s what it’s cost News International (now News UK).

News International’s efforts to manage the scandal had, you imagined, back in 2006, seemed like a costly undertaking. One that involved, among other things, paying for the continued employment and legal fees of Mulcaire and Goodman after they were charged. Over the years since, however, as something like the whole truth has slowly emerged, that failed damage-limitation exercise has resulted in the conviction of six senior journalists – including one editor and three news editors – with trials of 12 more journalists scheduled. It has seen News International – now News UK – pay millions of pounds of compensation to more than 700 victims of hacking, with several thousand more potentially able to sue. It has shut down the most popular Sunday newspaper in the world and prevented Rupert Murdoch’s companies taking a virtual monopoly of satellite broadcasting in Britain. And it has engendered one of the largest police investigations in Scotland Yard history at a cost of £32.7m so far, plus a trial that will cost £100m. As damage limitation goes it was about on a par with the burghers of Hamelin trying to short-change the pied piper.

And here’s where we are today.

As well as effectively ending the particular dark arts in question, the trial has, you trust, altered for ever the instinctive fear and favour that our political leaders and the police have demonstrated towards News Group. Still, both David Cameron and Ed Miliband remained happy enough on this day of all days to do Murdoch’s advertising for him, gurning with a front page. I don’t know for sure of course, but despite everything, you imagine New York allowed itself a little smile at those images, before trying to get back to business as usual.


Not quite the working right they say it is… July 2, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy.
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As someone noted in comments under this report here on the extension of the right to ask for flexible working hours in the UK, not – note – the right to have them, if even the Guardian which headlined their piece as follows ‘Flexible working extended to all employees in the UK’ has got it wrong, what hope for the story to be correctly reported elsewhere?

It’s fascinating reading the comments to see the enormous variation in working conditions from companies that are eager to allow flexibility through to those who dismiss the idea out of hand. In the latter instance it is difficult not get the sense that there’s almost a punitive attitude to working environments on the part of those who run them.

Also fascinating and depressing to see the negative attitudes to them and the continual misrepresentation of ‘flexible hours’ as being necessarily ‘reduced hours’ i the sense of job sharing, part-time working, etc, which it isn’t necessarily. By the by, one of the more pernicious aspects of the push-back against the public sector in the past five or so years was the antipathy to flexible working in it. Completely illogical.

Sovereignty June 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.

Useful review here by Euan Ferguson of a BBC Radio 4 programme by Peter Hitchens, yes, that Peter Hitchens, on the nature of the so-called and supposed Special Relationship between the US and the UK which you can hear until later today. Hitchens is not exactly the first name one might go to for such an exercise, but his very real conservatism is a curious thing which spins off in odd directions – much of it informed by enormous pessimism, from his very particular perspective, as regards the future across a range of areas whether economic, social and political.

For example here’s his take on what the future holds for the island of Ireland –

I wouldn’t have said this ten years ago, but I have since changed my mind. I am much less sure that Wales either wants or needs its own assembly, and I am completely against any sort of parliament for Northern Ireland which – if it is to have justice and law – would be much better off ruled directly from London. I think such a solution would also have been better by far for the Irish Republic, which is going to face many difficulties when it eventually absorbs Northern Ireland as a very anomalous and troublesome special autonomous zone.

Well, we’ll see.

Anyhow, it’s well worth listening to the programme which outlines how there are very strong links in diplomatic and military terms but how skewed this relationship actually is. And there’s this, which Ferguson notes:

Re-uncovered was the fact that America offered Polaris to France before Britain: De Gaulle rejected the offer, surmising correctly that he could then describe Britain as the US’s “vassal state”.

Taxing times in the UK June 18, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy.

Another useful piece in the Guardian this week undermined the apparently commonplace trope that the wealthiest pay the most proportionately in tax in the UK.

The British public dramatically underestimate what the poorest pay in tax and wrongly believe the richest face the biggest tax burden, according to new research that calls for a more progressive system.
The poorest 10% of households pay eight percentage points more of their income in all taxes than the richest – 43% compared to 35%, according to a report from the Equality Trust.

This trope is an interesting indicator of how the orthodoxy has, in a sense, colonised attitudes and in such a way as to shape public policy (whether directly or indirectly).

The thinktank highlights what it sees as a gulf between perceptions of the tax system and reality. Its poll, conducted with Ipsos Mori found that nearly seven in ten people believe that households in the highest 10% income group pay more of their income in tax than those in the lowest 10%.

Though on reflection this last point isn’t that surprising. Consider how the political narrative across the last three or four years has been quite deliberately positioned to berate those who have least, and this has been manifest in attitudes to benefit, lower pay and so on. Match this to an edifice of labour practices – zero hour contracts, and so forth and it is hardly surprising that pernicious (and incorrect) understandings of the overall context emerge.

It’s also worth noting how this distortion of progressively appears:

The report said the higher percentage paid by the poor at the moment was down to a number of taxes. “While income tax and national insurance are broadly progressive, the bottom 10% of households pay roughly 23% of their gross household income in indirect taxes on consumption and more than four times as much of their income in council tax as the top 10%,” it said.

And, of course, we see much the same emerging in this state. But then the trick of concentrating on income tax as the only tax (something again apparent in this state) has been of enormous utility to the right and centre right.

By the way, what of this?

The recommendations follow calls from the European Commission earlier this month for the UK government to reform the “regressive” council tax system, as taxes are relatively higher on low-value homes than high-value ones.

Would, say, the Labour Party attempt to rebuff these misconceptions? Difficult to be optimistic, and all the while those misconceptions take deeper root, with all the implications that that has for how matters proceed from here.

The parameters of ‘normal’ politics June 17, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.

Telling, is it not, the following story in the Guardian?

Two Green party politicians, including its candidate for mayor of London at the last election, have criticised police chiefs who recorded their political activities on a secret database that was set up to track campaigners deemed to be “domestic extremists”. Neither politician has a criminal record.

And the last here is particularly notable:

Official files show that the police kept a log of the political movements of Jenny Jones, a London assembly member and peer, over an 11-year period while she sat on the official committee scrutinising the Metropolitan police and stood to be London’s mayor.

It demonstrates a number of dynamics – an intolerance of even mild dissent from the orthodoxy (as regards politics), a lack of knowledge or understanding of political activity, and most importantly a sense that this was perfectly legitimate on the part of the police.
Indeed that last is important because it underlines that policing is far from politically neutral, and obviously never more so than in the UK.
The politicians are supporting a lawsuit over the issue and one would have to wish them well in that endeavour.
And what of this?

The domestic extremism unit, run by Scotland Yard, has been monitoring thousands of political activists in order, it says, to identify the hardcore minority who have broken, or are about to break, the law during protests.

Yet far from democratic office providing the two politicians with some sort of legitimacy (in the sense of being underpinned by democratic votes)…

Police started recording the political activities of Jones and Driver after they had been elected to office. The files refer repeatedly to the elected positions the pair have occupied.

Perhaps the explanation can be found in the following:

The file on Jones, who has been a consistent critic of police misconduct and the use of undercover officers to spy on political groups, discloses how the police recorded her activities between 2001 and August 2012.
This covered a period that included her attempt to become London’s mayor in May 2012.

Which, if anything, makes this worse.

Of course there’s a broader point. These behaviours on the part of the police suggest a malaise (to put it at its mildest) but they also undermine any argument that somehow policing is ‘neutral’ and that has an importance in regard to this island too – in both parts of it.

Another review June 15, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Culture, Uncategorized.
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Last week it was Rod Liddle being taken to task by Will Self. And from the Observer last Sunday here’s Catherine Bennett writing about Richard Littlejohn.

But in a memoir aimed squarely at his sympathisers, it is understandable if Littlejohn’s account makes no sense to peers who have not regretted and may even have welcomed some of the social changes which coincided with the decline of – to mention a fraction of his complaints – crisps, prime ministers, saving, park-keeping, uniforms, Cornwall, shops, competitive sport, newspaper deliveries, gypsies, pasties, schools, peas, family doctors, teachers, the work ethic, military souvenirs, bread, conker-playing, coinage, public health and, for some reason, Caledonian Road, near ever-more-swank King’s Cross, which is here demoted (should any historian be tempted to trust Littlejohn’s jottings), from his Florida residence, to a “scruffy inner-city slum”.

He is more accurate on the decline of stoicism, once a vital quality since, as Littlejohn says, “married couples tended to stay together regardless” and – equally approvingly – “nobody worried about drinking and driving”. And yet, as his students will appreciate, any hint of stoicism could have decimated this memoir. Interminable complaining, along with the arrival of the “sewer”, as Littlejohn styles modern Ilford, has made him what he is today.

Miliband, Merseyside and the Sun June 13, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Media and Journalism.

Genuinely bizarre to read that Ed Miliband agreed to have himself photographed by the Sun promoting a World Cup edition. Not least because as reported earlier in the week the boycott on Merseyside of the Sun in the wake of the tragic events at Hillsborough in 1989 and its reporting of that event continues to this day.As the Guardian notes:

Despite several apologies down the years, the Merseyside boycott of the Sun has held firm for the past 25 years.

And it retains its power to the extent that postal workers on Merseyside are refusing to deliver a promotional issue. The postal workers are recorded as saying that they will face any possible consequences, though the Royal Mail appears to be taking a fairly measured approach to this.

What possessed Miliband? Perhaps, as some suggest, a wish to cosy up to the Sun. But given that the response was entirely predictable one would wonder what good it did, for anyone, and not least of all for those Labour supporters in Merseyside.


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