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Saturday’s radio — two items December 29, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Bits and Pieces, Britain, Human Rights.
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I had the radio on this afternoon when the BBC broadcast a repeat of an interview with Cressida Dick, Assistant Commissioner with the Metropolitan Police in London. You can hear the 17-minute interview here.

She was the “Gold command” officer in charge of operations when Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by police on 22 July 2005. She has since been promoted, three times. As the BBC notes at the start of the intereview, she was cleared of all blame.

In the evening, I had switched station to Lyric FM, and had Blue of the Night on. Among the songs played was ‘Hollow Point’ by Chris Wood.

Strange days indeed… November 2, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Britain, British Politics.

Do you ever get the feeling you’ve slipped into a parallel universe? Perhaps that’s a function of age, that stuff just changes as the years go by. But then again, perhaps it’s not.

Take as an example an issue that recently exercised at least some of the headlines in the British media, the ‘threat’ from Scottish independence to the British nuclear weapons capability. Namely that an Independent Scotland would – understandably – require that the British nuclear infrastructure on the Clyde be moved… well, somewhere outside the borders of Scotland.

Straightforward enough one might think. But no. The problem being that the Scottish affairs select committee:

…claimed that the Royal Navy could be forced to disarm its Trident missiles “within days” of a vote for independence and withdraw Trident from its base on the Clyde within months – without any alternative base in the UK to take them.
Since the Scottish National party (SNP) had made removing Trident a “non-negotiable” issue following independence, the committee stated: “Scottish separation creates the prospect of unilateral nuclear disarmament being imposed upon the Royal Navy and UK government for an indeterminate period.”

Ah come on now. It’s not as if it’s beyond the wit and wisdom of the British military-industrial complex to establish an alternative base in the UK (whatever it might be by then). Hard not to see this as a bit of shadow-boxing. The UK for obvious reasons doesn’t want to construct an alternative for fear that it would be seen to add impetus to the pro-independence side. At the same time they can’t do nothing – at least nothing they would admit to.

But… what of this… another couple of alternatives…

The Labour-dominated committee said that made it imperative that the Scottish and UK governments reach an agreement before the referendum was held in late 2014 on how to ensure the Trident system remained operational.
That would either involve a deal between Edinburgh and London to allow Trident to operate from Scotland until a permanent alternative was found; the technically and politically challenging route of basing Trident in France or the US temporarily or an agreement to lease the Clyde base permanently to the rest of the UK.

What? France? Seriously?
This is too brilliant.

It reminds me of the following exchange from Yes Minister:

Sir Humphrey: [talking about nuclear fallout shelters] Well, you have the weapons; you must have the shelters.
Hacker: I sometimes wonder why we need the weapons.
Sir Humphrey: Minister! You’re not a unilateralist?
Hacker: I sometimes wonder, you know.
Sir Humphrey: Well, then, you must resign from the government!
Hacker: Ah, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’m not that unilateralist! Anyway, the Americans will always protect us from the Russians, won’t they?
Sir Humphrey: Russians? Who’s talking about the Russians?
Hacker: Well, the independent deterrent.
Sir Humphrey: It’s to protect us against the French!
Hacker: The French?! But that’s astounding!
Sir Humphrey: Why?
Hacker: Well they’re our allies, our partners.
Sir Humphrey: Well, they are now, but they’ve been our enemies for the most of the past 900 years. If they’ve got the bomb, we must have the bomb!
Hacker: If it’s for the French, of course, that’s different. Makes a lot of sense.

Though more realistically isn’t it interesting how these things have a life of their own? Once the notion of independence for all the weighty and pretty good tomes written by Tom Nairn and others was fairly fantastical. Now the nuts and bolts aspects of it are having to be engaged with and it ain’t pretty.

Meanwhile what of that other constituent element of the mostly United Kingdom?

Although the latest opinion polls show support for independence has fallen to about 30% in Scotland, the Welsh Labour leader, Carwyn Jones, has said Wales would welcome Trident being based there in future.

Lucky old Wales – eh?

UK’s Richest Worth More Now Than in 2008 April 29, 2012

Posted by Garibaldy in Britain, Capitalism.

The BBC reports the news that the Sunday Times rich list of the 1,000 richest people in the UK reveals that they are worth more now than their predecessors in 2008. Their wealth has climbed 4.7% over the past year, and now stands at £414bn. I wonder how much tax they pay.

Remember, we’re all in this together. And trickle down economics works.

What a mess… May 7, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Britain, British Politics, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.

… what else can one say? I’ve been following it intermittently due to work commitments all day, and earlier I was half convinced that the Tories would breach 307 seats. But… they didn’t. Still, for an election that started out dull, well… The mould of British politics is surely broken, for a while at least before someone comes to patch it up. But it’s not a progressive century ahead, but perhaps something quite quite different. Most amazing is the manner in which Cameron has essentially delivered a bill of fare to the Liberal Democrats. Is it for a coalition or an agreement?

Of course he’s right, from his perspective. Yes, if a coalition deal… the Conservatives would lose seats at the Cabinet table, but… a Con-Lib pact (and doesn’t that have an unfortunate ring to it?) would be vastly more durable, one supposes than a Con-DUP pact. Not to mention the small problem that the numbers in the latter area simply don’t add up.

And will the Liberal Democrats bite – given that electoral reform would be parked in ‘an all party committee of inquiry’. We’ll see how much Clegg can resist or give in to the blandishments of power.

It will also be interesting to see if the Liberal Democrats as an entity can survive the pressures of this sort of negotiation and potential coalition. I’d have thought that they had a significant tranche of leftish, albeit not left, inclined members. We’ll know more about that soon enough.

Thing is is this an offer of coalition or is it one that is predicated on LD support? And would that be more or less acceptable to the Liberal Democrats than the possibility of sitting at Cabinet table in a coalition of all the talents and more with Labour?

This is remarkable stuff, and most remarkable is that it gives the lie to the notion that First Past the Post is somehow above such mucky politicking as PR. As can be seen, if the numbers fall a certain way then so be it. FPTP can be as perverse as PR, and truth is that only if a system can guarantee two dominant parties can those perversions – so to speak – be avoided.

Some thoughts. The Labour seat numbers are considerably higher than 1987 (229), or the disaster that was 1983 (209), though lower than 1992 (271). In fact, oddly, they’re close to the 269 they won in 1979. An omen perhaps for how things may pan out across the next few years?

The Conservatives are still some way below the 339 they won in 1979 and obviously far below the 397 seats they won in 1983.

The Liberal Democrats? Well Clegg can console himself that even on 50 something they are way ahead of the SDP-Liberal Alliance numbers of 23 in 1983. Or the pitiful 11 David Steel managed in 1979. Indeed truth is that the Liberal Democrats only started to poll significant double figures from 1997 onwards (46).

So, can anyone be happy with this outcome? Not really. From each it has taken proportionately. For Cameron so near and yet so far. All those years as the man who was destined to poll in the 40% plus range, and yet when it came to the crunch it all slumped. It’s not that the result was awful, but it underlined how he had simply failed to seal the deal with the electorate. His concern must now be that, even should he cobble together a coalition of the swish he will find himself in twelve or twenty four months seeing that unravel and on foot of whatever measures are necessitated by the economy being forced to hand back power to Labour.

For Clegg not even the satisfaction of a pyrrhic victory, more like a pyrrhic campaign. Tantalised by polls whose very variability was a clue to their deceptiveness he made the classic error of talking up his chances based on them. That’s all come crashing down now. Add to that his ridiculous hostage to fortune about ‘the party with the largest number of votes’ and one can see how threadbare the supposed ‘Europeanism’ of the Liberal Democrats – in party political terms, actually is. If he were German FDP or whatever continental smaller party you might choose, he’d be out there wheeling and dealing with the best of them. But Clegg, for all that, is stifled constrained and restricted, in part by his own unwillingness, in part by a media probably still not quite able to believe that Cameron didn’t despite the boosterism actually make it, in part by the simple fact that the LDs lost seats rather than gaining them although curiously, for proponents of PR they seem curiously coy about pointing to a small matter that they’ve increased their vote share by a percentage or two. Granted not a massive endorsement, but…

For Labour, opposition seems likely. For Brown a defeat. No doubt about it. And yet, and yet. Surely, surely given the supposed unpopularity of the government, a dreadful legacy in policy terms and a media that has been on occasion near rabid in its treatment of Brown and co. isn’t it remarkably that they only lost about 5-6% on their 2005 outing? And as noted above that they aren’t close to 1983 meltdown territory. Who can say how Brown’s mind works, but he can derive some comfort from the fact that this was far from disaster although also far from good.

So, what next? What indeed?

Re Northern Ireland. Gildernew won Fermanagh South Tyrone. Yes, the campaign has been marked by sectarian issues of one sort or another, but agin a ‘united Unionist’ candidate it seems to me to have a certain justice about it. Such a slim margin. Good too to see TUV if not dismissed at least demonstrably weaker than they had thought. And I had never prior today thought of a DUP seat being lost with a sense of… ‘hmmm… that may not be so good’.

Changing times. And more thoughts as time presents itself.

Some quotes from the British Election campaign trail… May 7, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Britain, British Labour Party, British Politics.
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Let’s start with the BNP…

However, the BNP’s campaign has been beset by problems, and it appears to be floundering in the polls. Internal criticism over Nick Griffin’s leadership came to a head earlier this month when publicity director Mark Collett was arrested on suspicion of threatening to kill him.


British Election – what to watch for… May 6, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Britain, British Labour Party, British Politics, Uncategorized.

EamonnCork posted this comment earlier, and in the shameless tradition of the CLR I’m reposting it as a post proper!

For anyone who’s watching tonight, there are some early declaring constituencies which will give a good idea as to what’s happening (though, more than any other time since 1974, this time we’ll probably have to stay up through it all to see how it pans out, and it may actually be a bit like an Irish election where the swing is not completely uniform and is affected by local factors in some cases).

11.30pm: Sunderland Central: Last time out Labour 47%, Tory 25%, Libdem 21%, should stay Labour but will give an indication of the kind of swing against the government and who is benefiting. Slim Tory chance, if they get this they’ll win a majority and it’s time to go to bed already.

12.45: Birmingham Edgbaston: last time out Labour 43%, Tory 39%, Libdem13%. An almost cast iron Tory gain, if Labour hold this one then Brown will be the next PM.

12.45: Birmingham Ladywood: last time out Labour 51%, Libdem 31%, Tory 9%. Labour should hold on but if there was to be a significant Libdem breakthrough this is one they’d take. Labour since 1945 except for 1969 when the Libs won the seat in a by-election and lost it the following year.

1.00: Leeds North East: last time out Labour 45%, Tory 30%, Libdem 22%. Will be close and if the Tories take it they’ll get a majority.

1.00: Telford: last time out labour 48 Tory 34 libdem 14. predicted Tory gain, if they don’t take this they’ll be at least 40 short of a majority.

1.00: Tooting: last time out Labour 43%, Tory 30%, Libdem 19%. A nailbiter that could go either way, again a good indicator of whether the wind is at Cameron’s back or whether he’ll fall short. Slight fancy for the tories here. Labour have won every time since the constituency was founded in 1974.

Vale of Clwyd: last time out Labour 42%, Tory 29%, Libdem 12%. Same as above, very close and a must gain for the Tories.

Happy viewing.

New Scientist predicts the outcome of the British General Election May 4, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Britain, British Labour Party, British Politics, Uncategorized.

Intriguing piece in New Scientist last week which noted that psychologists Rob Jenkins and Tony McCarthy from the University of Glasgow and Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, have run a subliminal on-line experiment (whatever that may mean 🙂 ) with New Scientist in a bid to predict the UK election results.

Their findings?

Conservatives 290

Labour 247

Liberal Democrats 70

They’ll explain their methodology in the May 15th issue. I don’t know, I have no feel for this election at all. I’d think the Tories might shade it, but then… the polls have stayed stubbornly stuck – if that’s the right term – within a given band that has seen both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives seemingly having reasonable levels of support, and of course, Labour plugging away in the background. I’d be very interested in what others think about what the likely outcome might be.

One thing that has struck me has been the level of bile directed at Gordon Brown. Now, who wouldn’t argue that he has been the architect of his own downfall in large part – and yet, some of the comment on sites such as the Guardian, various blogs and even in the mainstream media has been so corrosive that it has at times appeared unhinged. I mean, I’d be far from his biggest fan – take an illuminating article in the Observer at the weekend which forensically dissected the poverty level benefits available in the UK, a shocking indictment after three Labour terms – but it seems to me that he has become the focus of a near uniquely antagonistic discourse.

I’m curious about that as well.

BNP Feud? April 5, 2010

Posted by Garibaldy in Britain.

Interesting report in the Times, reporting the arrest of a senior member of the BNP for threatening to kill Nick Griffin amid reports of an attempted coup. We can hope.

Two cheers for Brian Lenihan: Campaigners force movement on trafficking January 17, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Britain, Crime, Feminism, Sex.

Last year saw some celebrations and historical commentary on the fact that 2007 marks the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery. To be more accurate, it marked two centuries since the Slave Trade Act of 1807 outlawed trade in slavery, not the possession of slaves, which would not finally come to an end until 1838, and even at that the trade was only outlawed within the British Empire, leaving vast swathes of the world to continue the practice.

But laws and collections of commemorative essays fail to conceal that slavery is alive and well. According to Europol, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal business in the world, ranking only behind the trades in illegal drugs and arms. Make no mistake. Slaves are currently held in Ireland. They are, for the most part, women though they include children and occasionally men.

In Britain Operation Pentameter last year rescued more than 80 women and children, including ones as young as 14, from sex slavery and made 200 arrests. In July 2007, a BBC undercover team exposed a Bulgarian child trafficking ring, which habitually used Cherbourg to Rosslare and then over the border into the North as a way of getting children into Britain. An unnamed Garda officer quoted in the report told the BBC, “You’d have to be naive to think children had not been trafficked through Ireland.”

In August 2007, the Welsh Assembly published a report on trafficking, which referred to, “an increasing trend for children to arrive via smaller airports or in Wales by ferry from Ireland.” In October a study carried out at NUI Galway claimed to have identified 76 women trafficked into the sex trade in Ireland from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Ruhama, which provide supports to women involved in prostitution, has estimated a more accurate figure to be around 200.

One of the defences of slavery in the 19th century was that as the slaves were considered valuable property, they were likely to be treated well by their owners lest the investment be lost. No such defence can be made around the modern day slave trade. British police have identified numerous cases of women trafficked into Britain in the belief they would be working in legitimate jobs only to end up, in one case, being forcibly raped by between 30 and 40 strangers a day. The British Crown Prosecution Service has identified a case where a trafficking victim was the subject of a slave auction in the coffee shop in the arrivals hall of Glasgow International Airport while brothel keepers bidded on her. Trafficked women who resist are likely to be beaten or their families in their home countries threatened.

And if the women are rescued, they are often liable to be deported as illegals without any consideration of the risks facing them when they return. A New Internationalist investigation into trafficking a couple of months ago identified cases where women arriving off flights in their home countries following deportation were met on arrival by the same criminal gang that had trafficked them in the first place.


Information about trafficking is hard to come by. There are no Health and Safety Inspections. The victims are often too scared to co-operate or are scared of the very authorities they would normally report to. Some might even decide that being a slave in Britain or France is better than being free and starving in Moldova or Ukraine. Language and cultural difficulties, shame, fear of being imprisoned and the closed nature of criminal activity in general makes hard and fast statistics hard to come by.

The official government position is that there is no evidence of a significant human trafficking problem in Ireland, though in recent months this has shifted ever so slightly to an acknowledgement that that it could become one of it is not addressed. Curiously, despite the fact that there is no ‘substantial human trafficking problem’ since his appointment as Justice Minister Brian Lenihan has moved pretty swiftly.

In October, he published the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007, which for the first time would make the trafficking of people aged over the age of 16 a crime with a maximum sentence of life. As well as making trafficking an actual offence it provides anonymity for trafficking victims and the power to exclude the members of the public from court proceedings where publicity might place the victims of trafficking, or their families, at risk. As well as making it illegal to traffic someone for sexual or labour exploitation, it makes it illegal to do so for the harvesting of vital organs. A pleasant reminder of the world we live in.

But Minister Lenihan was not done yet and announced a number of other measures with the legislation. A High Level Group to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings was set up, tieing in government departments, the Gardaí, immigration and various NGOs. The Group will put together a National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings.

It’s all good, and a tribute to groups like Ruhama, the ICCL, IRC, Migrant Rights and Amnesty who have campaigned on this for the last couple of years that the government feels forced to take these initiatives for something it claims to believe it not a significant problem. So, why only two cheers for the Dublin West TD?

The major weakness of the Bill is the lack of supports and protections for the victims of trafficking. The Bill is designed entirely from a law enforcement point of view. The needs of the people, predominantly women and children, that are being trafficked are notable by their absence despite the physical and psychological abuses they will have suffered. There is no legally mandated time to recover from their traumatic experience. Immediately deporting trafficking victims makes it all the harder to convict traffickers, and all the more likely the victims will end up either back in Ireland, or trafficked elsewhere. It also means there is little advantage for trafficking victims to come forward to the authorities if they know the ‘reward’ is a one-way trip home to meet the criminal associates of the people they just put in prison in Ireland.

While he acknowledges the gap, Lenihan argues this will be dealt with in the government’s forthcoming Immigration, Resident and Protection Bill. Three problems with this. Firstly, the Bill hasn’t been published and likely won’t have been published by the time the trafficking legislation goes through the Oireachtas, so even if it does deal with the issue, how do we know it deals with it adequately? Secondly, he chances of the Bill getting through all stages between the start of February and the long summer recess aren’t great. At the rate the Oireachtas is currently going the likelihood of the Bill being passed in 2008 wouldn’t be great, so what happens between the passing of the trafficking legislation and the new immigration bill.

Finally, the debate on the new immigration legislation is going to be a big one. It’s going to be heated, on both sides of the fence, and the victims of trafficking could easily get lost in the maelstrom. On Dáil Committee Stage of the Bill, Labour’s Pat Rabbitte and Fine Gael’s Denis Naughten both movement amendments designed to deal with this and though Lenihan refused to take them, he did seem open to the possibility of an ‘administrative arrangement’ being contained in the trafficking bill to deal with the gap between the trafficking bill and the immigration legislation. It’s something worth keeping an eye on.

The Garda Policing Plan 2008 is also a disappointment. There is only one reference to trafficking in the entire document, where a commitment is made to a 5% increase in intelligence-led operations against drugs, guns and human trafficking organisations. Elsewhere in the same section, the phenomenon is referred to as illegal trafficking in immigrants, which is something substantially and clearly different to the trafficking of slaves. There is also no reference in the plan to Operation Pentameter II, the sequel to the British plan mentioned above which is to include the Gardaí.

Still, as serious as these problems and gaps are, and the difficulties should not be underestimated, the government has moved substantially in the last few months on the issue, largely because of the work of activists in various NGOs, especially migrant and women’s groups. The fight’s not done, and there’s been a lot of progress, but two centuries after William Wilberforce ‘abolished’ slavery, they’re still smuggling, trading and abusing women and children all across Europe tonight.

Proud to be ‘immature’ November 20, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Britain, British Politics, Culture, History, Ireland, Irish History, Irish Politics, media, Media and Journalism.

I had thought from time to time of putting something together about the wearing of poppies and Remembrance Day this year and had put it from my mind until I came across this little gem by a Sunday Independent ‘journalist’ Andrea Byrne in last week’s edition. Regular blog reads might remember Andrea as the ‘journalist’ exposed by Twenty Major last year of plagarising articles from the internet for her Sunday Independent pieces.

Byrne’s thesis is simple. The decision by Louis Walsh to wear a poppy while on the X-Factor is a symbol of our growing ‘maturity’ among the Irish people. We have dumped our unreasoning ‘deep seated bitterness’ towards the English, moved beyond our anglophobia and have finally opted to let ‘bygones be bygones’. She uses a number of examples from sport and Paisley in the North to back up her thesis.

Before I get onto this, because it really infuriates me, the point I had been thinking of making was the difference in images on British television during the poppy wearing season. Studio guests, people being interviewed, panellists, interviewers and so on all wore poppies with as close to hundred percent unanimity as possible. Yet whenever crowd shots were shown of people during a news report for whatever reason, perhaps a crowd of people in a queue or on their way into a football match, it was very rare to notice a poppy among ordinary members of the public. Interesting that the symbol needs to be pushed officially on people rather than being popularly owned. I suspect as a result of younger people not seeing the point of it.

Anyway, my own position on the poppy has always been fairly straight-forward. Wear it if you like, as one of my colleagues in work does, but don’t lecture me on how open-minded and mature it makes you. Or how close-minded those of us who choose not to wear one are.

My opposition to the poppy is not simply a product of unthinking anglophobia, it is based in on two basic points. Firstly, the poppy does not simply commemorate the men who died during WW1, but glories in it. An article by Vincent Browne in the Sunday Business Post neatly summed it up on Remembrance Day. World War One was an imperialist war, an epic murderous waste of human life in a battle between various imperial powers. This is no slight on the courage of the people who fought in it, or the genuineness of their beliefs, but a simple statement that the fact that tens of thousands of Irish men were butchered in Flanders and the Somme for no reason beyond that of capital and monarchs is not something to be celebrated. It is not something to be retrospectively endorsed. Frankly, for encouraging and pressuring young Irishmen to go fight in another man’s war, John Redmond ended up with a lot more blood on his hands than the ‘men of violence’ he was opposing.

Secondly, the poppy does not remember just those British servicemen and women who died in WW1 or WW2 but those who died in their various conflicts against democracy and liberation movements around the world. It is a telling statement of the strength of the colonial mindset in Ireland that people who would wear a poppy would balk at remembering the men and women who fought for Irish independence, or acknowledging their sacrifice. The people who argued against the Government recommencing state commemorations of 1916 are the same people who are annoyed by the decision of our political class not to wear poppies. As Steven Biko rightly observed, “The greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

The problem with the poppy is that it does not simply remember the dead, but do so with an implied approval for the causes they fought. Interestingly my colleague who wears a poppy does so to remember a family member who fought in World War One and, thankfully, came home, but does accept that it implies justification for that most pointless of conflicts. That is not a position she supports but accepts that this is how the symbol is perceived. To her, it is remembering a family member and nothing more.

Wearing a poppy is not a sign of Ireland maturing as a people. It is something I disagree with profoundly for what are valid and widely held political and moral principles and do so with many more Irish people. Those of our citizens who want to wear a poppy are entitled to do so. But those of us who do not accept that it is ‘mature’ to celebrate and applaud the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of dead and injured, largely working class and often conscripted, men on the altar of imperialism and capitalism are equally entitled to do so.

It’s about time some people stopped tugging their forelocks.

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