The past week brought a reminder of just how unpalatable some elements of David Cameron’s Conservative party still are; Shamik Das rounds up the week’s news.
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• The past week brought a reminder of just how unpalatable some elements of David Cameron’s Conservative party still are.
Tory upon Tory upon Tory crawled out from the woodwork to variously insist ‘there’s no such thing as hunger’, poor families should be prevented from “bringing another child into the world”, and the way to resurrect the recovery is to slash employment protection and workers’ rights.
Where to begin…?
Let’s start with an A-lister – hand-picked by the Tory leader no less – that you probably won’t have heard of and wouldn’t want to hear from: Harriett Baldwin. In an interview on Radio Five, and a blog on Conservative Home, she said poor people should be denied child benefit and child tax credits if they have more than she deems acceptable, citing examples from the States.
Yet, as Left Foot Forward reported on Friday, not only has the policy in the 22 states that have implemented a “family cap” failed in its goals, it merely increases the poverty suffered by the poorest families and worsens the children’s mental and physical health:
“Social science research indicates that welfare recipients do not base their child-bearing decisions on receipt of welfare benefits, thus rendering questionable the effectiveness of family caps in deterring welfare recipients from having more children…
“By reducing the benefits families receive to satisfy basic necessities, family caps are also likely to exacerbate the many mental and physical health problems that children in poverty are already at increased risk of developing.”
Not that some of her Tory sisters believe anyone lives in poverty anyway, with former Tory health minister Edwina Currie this week repeating her remarks that people in Britain don’t go hungry. She maintained her stance despite being presented to her face with plenty of evidence poor people are struggling to get by, literally starving, not knowing where the next meal is coming from, at a BBC debate at a food bank in Birmingham.
As we reported on Monday:
“The public-and-panel event was largely three hours of Currie, famous for destroying the British egg market, sleeping with John Major, and saying that “good Christians” wouldn’t get aids, arguing with people in poverty about whether they were in poverty…
“One highlight, however, was blogger and author Owen Jones, who took Currie to task throughout the night; Jones’s opening comments can be heard here, and are well worth listening to.”
Onto Nasty Tory No. 3, who believes the best way to drag us out of a crisis caused by the greedy rich is to punish the working non-rich, slashing their employment protections and rights – beating up on the 99% while enriching the 1%.
“He may find that this does not go down well with the electorate in 2015. These protections are not just in place for the benefit of the workers, important thought that is, but to protect the public from exposure to lorry drivers falling asleep at the wheel after a non-stop 15 hour shift, ensuring that children can see more of their parents and preventing a full scale reversion to Victorian ways.
“His next proposal will no doubt be to have children working in factories and the removal of railway signals, which do, after all, impede the free running of trains.”
With Declan Gaffney adding:
“The notion of a simple trade-off between employment levels and employment protection is increasingly unrealistic.
“Some, but not all, of the employment growth in Europe reflects selective deregulation over recent years, but this was from levels of protection which were far higher than those in the UK – and still are today, albeit with some convergence.
“Deregulation of labour markets is not an open-ended route to increased employment, it is a strategy with diminishing returns. When protection is as low as it is in the UK, we should expect those returns to be minimal. The assumption that there are big employment gains from reducing employment protection in the UK from its current low levels belongs to the last century.”
It’s almost as if they were trying to impress the nastiest of them all…
• The unemployment figures, released Wednesday, were, once again terrible – with youth unemployment topping one million.
It is the first time since records began in 1992 that under-25 unemployment has hit seven digits, highlighting the enormity of the situation hitting Britain’s youth, as Rory Weal explained on Left Foot Forward:
“The government’s inability to address spiralling youth unemployment and failure to take robust and decisive action demonstrates either total incompetence, shocking complacency, or, most worryingly, a complete lack of interest in the issue.
“The situation needs bold and decisive action to tackle what is set to blight an entire generation of young people.
“A substantial investment in jobs for young people, similar to the Future Jobs Fund (which was scrapped last May), as well as a halt to the drastic and devastating public sector job cuts would go some of the way to tackle escalating youth unemployment…
“To address the narrowing of access to education, which is having a serious effect on youth unemployment rates, the government should think again about the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance and take action to bring under control spiralling public transport costs – such as the 8% average rail fare rise next year – to ensure that young people can afford to stay on in education.
“Put simply, the government needs to act, and it needs to act now.”
While on the wider labour market picture, Richard Exell wrote:
“The other message that the employment figures illuminate is that, as far as the labour market is concerned, this country might as well be back in recession…
“Employment was 197,000 lower in July to September than it had been in April to June, the biggest quarter on quarter fall since July 2009; this was the second month running when the quarter-on-quarter fall was over 100,000, the first time this has happened since July 2009.
“Unemployment was 129,000 higher on the quarter, the biggest increase since July 2009; this was the second month running when the quarter-on-quarter increase was more than 100,000, the first time this has happened since (you guessed it) July 2009.
“The claimant count rose by 5,300, to 1,598,400, the highest level since January 2010. In July – September, there were 5.7 unemployed people for every job vacancy, up from 5.4 in April – June; the latest figure is the highest since October 2009…
“We can argue about whether a double-dip recession is in the offing, but as far as the world of work is concerned, it has already happened.”
And throwing inflation into the mix, Tony Dolphin wrote of the “Misery Index”:
“Combining the inflation and unemployment rates gives a misery index of 13.3 per cent for the data published in November – the highest since August 1992, just before sterling dropped out the European exchange rate mechanism…
“Although the Misery Index has leapt in 2011 to its highest level in almost 20 years, it has been steadily deteriorating since 2005. Following a ‘golden era’ from 2000 to 2004, when inflation and unemployment were both low, first higher inflation and then higher unemployment together with higher inflation have pushed the index steadily upwards.
“Latest forecasts suggest 2012 will bring some relief. Although economic growth is widely expected to remain weak, leading to a further rise in unemployment, inflation should fall sharply as this year’s rise in VAT and large increases in food and energy prices drop out of the calculation.
“This will be welcome, but it is likely to be many years before the UK returns to the desired combination of low inflation and low unemployment. Things are going to be pretty miserable for some time to come.”
We’ve got more on the equally grim Scottish unemployment figures in the Week Outside Westminster below.
• Internationally, the Arab Spring sprung back to prominence this weekend.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of deposed despot Colonel Gaddafi, has been captured in southern Libya, while attempting to cross the border into Niger; in Egypt, there have been deadly clashes between protesters and security forces in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; and pressure is being ramped up on Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad, who said today he will not “bow down” and resign
David Cameron said Saif’s arrest “shows we are near the end of the final chapter of the Gaddafi regime”, adding:
“It is a great achievement for the Libyan people and must now become a victory for international justice too. He could have contributed to a more open and decent future for his country, but instead chose to lead a bloody and barbaric campaign against his own people.
“The fate of the Gaddafis should act as a warning to brutal dictators everywhere.
“Britain will offer every assistance to the Libyan government and the International Criminal Court to bring him to face full accountability and justice for what he has done. The Libyan government has told us again today that he will receive a trial in line with international standards, and it is important that this happens.”
So what next for Libya, as we enter the end game following the capture of Saif? The Guardian’s Ian Black notes:
“Legal questions apart, Saif’s detention is a big boost for the anti-Gaddafi camp at a time of mounting concern about the slow progress of post-liberation politics. An interim government has yet to be formed, while the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) has been having serious trouble imposing its authority on the rebel brigades…
“Until Saif’s capture, the recent news from Libya has not been positive. The initial optimism of the post-uprising era has faded in the face of slow progress and high expectations. Foreign critics of the Nato intervention almost seem to be hoping for things to fall apart, perhaps to vindicate their argument that Gaddafi senior provided a stability that may be seen in a more positive light if Somali-type disintegration now ensues…
“It is worth remembering that until the uprising in February, some saw Saif as the face of the country’s future: but his reputation as a reformer died at home and abroad when he rallied, apparently without hesitation, to the family standard. Old friends, in Libya, Britain and elsewhere, will be watching closely what happens to him next.”
To Egypt, and the BBC’s Yolande Knell reports from Cairo:
“Some of today’s newspapers are describing this protest as “the second revolution” and you can see why. Once again Tahrir Square resembles the makeshift camp that toppled the president during Egypt’s 18-day uprising. There are makeshift field hospitals treating the injured. The “KFC clinic” has reopened outside the fast food restaurant.
“A volunteer medic told me that many people have injuries from rubber bullets and buck shot, particularly to the eyes Clouds of stinging tear gas again fill the air. Police are using it on nearby streets to drive back demonstrators trying to advance on the interior ministry.
“Much of central Cairo is again closed off. Traffic is blocked and stores are shuttered up in what would usually be a busy shopping area.Some locals expressed anger at the disruption but a woman activist says the people must reoccupy the streets until there is a complete handover by the military to civilian rule.”
And in Syria, in an interview with today’s Sunday Times (£), warned any western intervention to topple his murderous regime and free the Syrian people would “shake the entire Middle East”.
Amidst the bluster, he even feigned concern at the innocent civilians killed on his orders:
“Like any other Syrian, when I see my country’s sons bleeding, of course I feel pain and sorrow. Each spilt drop of blood concerns me personally.”
“We, as a state, do not have a policy to be cruel with citizens.”
If it weren’t so deadly serious it would be laughable.
Progressives of the week:
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), whose ‘Dundee to Nablus Project’ recently delivered humanitarian aid to the Nablus Municipality Fire Department, showing the progress that can be made, the good that can come out of UK trade unions maintaining and building links with their Israeli colleagues – rather than breaking those links and boycotting them, a policy some on the left have argued for.
“Leaving Dundee, the firefighters travelled from Scotland to Palestine, passing through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece and Israel. Along the way they strengthened links with firefighters in Austria, Greece, Israel and Palestine…
“When the Histadrut discovered the Israeli authorities were delaying the progress of the humanitarian aid from Haifa to Nablus, it offered its full support. Avital Shapira, head of Histadrut international relations, mobilised the union’s resources and liaised directly with the port authorities. And this week the humanitarian equipment was released…
“This is what solidarity could look like if we would only dump the talk of ‘derecognition’ and boycott. What is good for the Palestinian workers is the critical but constructive use of the historic links between the Israeli and UK unions, not their destruction for the sake of making a gesture.
“The episode suggests a question at any rate. If the TUC and the STUC follow the guidance of the PSA and break links with the Histadrut, who will help the Palestinian firefighters next time?
“We could say with the FBU’s Jim Malone that “the workers of Greece, Israel and Palestine share with UK trade unionists a desire for peace and prosperity for all and through solidarity we will continue to fight injustice and intolerance wherever we see it”.
“Let’s build on the links we have and use them to bring workers together.”
Unity not division; building links not breaking them.
Regressive of the week:
FIFA President Sepp Blatter who this week said footballers who had been racially abused should just “shake hands” with their abusers, and even claimed “there is no racism in football”. After initially digging in his heels and deepening the hole he was in, Blatter eventually apologised on Friday morning.
As I wrote on Wednesday night, his comments are but the latest in a long line of embarrassing gaffes – yet, as with all his previous faux pas, and as has been proved yet again, he remains, FIFA lacking the balls to fire him:
“We’ve had the corruption, the sexism, and now the defence of racism; as Piers Morgan said, he “just gave every racist in football a licence to abuse”. In any other sporting organisation – any credible organisation in any field – not only would he have not survived this long, he surely wouldn’t be able to survive this.
“But this is no ordinary organisation – this is FIFA, byword for corruption, incompetence and mismanagement.
“He will likely remain, and there’s seemingly nothing, nothing at all that Rio, the FA or anyone can do about it. Blatter is untouchable, football’s absolute monarch with all the power and no one to check him – least of all the members of the FIFA executive, themselves mired in scandal, loath to remove their protector.
“Blatter’s attitudes belong in the dustbin of football history – and so does he.”
Evidence of the week:
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDD) annual report, “The state of the drugs problem in Europe”, which revealed, among the headline findings, that deaths caused by drug misuse are now three times higher in the UK than the EU average – up 20 per cent from 49 deaths per million in 2006 to 59 deaths per million in 2009.
However, as Mike Morgan-Giles wrote on Left Foot Forward yesterday, rather than adopting an evidence-based drugs policy to deal with the problem of the UK becoming “the drug capital of Europe”, however, senior politicians continue with an approach towards drug use “that is completely at odds with the reality of the situation”.
“There are seemingly endless problems with the current approach. Clearly a change of stance is politically challenging, but it needs to be communicated that the current approach only makes the situation worse. Whilst the path from the current situation to the goal of Kofi Annan and Bob Ainsworth is long and arduous, smaller steps can be taken.
“An important one, which Portugal and Russia have already made, is the decriminalisation of drug use, with a shift instead to harm reduction with the Department of Health leading the way. In Portugal, this approach has led to drug misuse halving in the past ten years.
“Treatment is effective and wouldn’t cost a penny – indeed it would lead to huge savings in probation, prison, courts and police time, in addition to a reduction in acquisitive crime, prostitution, homelessness and further benefits to society.”
“Now is the time to start tackling drug misuse by focusing on the health issues rather than criminalising yet another generation of people.”
The World Outside Westminster by The Grapevine’s Tom Rouse:
Herman Cain wins the gaffe of the week award for his brain freeze when asked whether he supported the policies President Obama had pursued in Libya, as the Republican Primary race increasingly becomes the story of the candidates who aren’t Mitt Romney.
Following Cain and Rick Perry’s recent gaffes, focus has turned to Newt Gingrich, who is currently enjoying a surge in the polls. Over the last week he has come close to being neck-and-neck with Romney. Gingrich’s current appeal is largely based on the perception of him being a safe pair of hands with a proven track record in government.
It’s doubtful that the Romney campaign will be too worried yet, having already seen off Cain and Perry. What is more interesting is what Mark Gettleson has termed ‘the importance of not being Mitt Romney’. The GOP hierarchy, and in particular Fox News, appear more opposed than ever to Romney and willing to throw their weight behind any candidate who may appeal to the electorate.
After a brief bump in the polls, the Gallup tracker has reflected a downwards turn for Obama in the last week, with his approval rating dropping to 40% and his disapprovals rising above 50%. This decline matches the rise in unemployment levels, with a 0.2 percentage point rise to 8.5%.
This is still significantly down on last Novemeber, a year-on-year trend which Obama will hope will be mirrored this time next year.
President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on Syria looks increasingly shaky after the King of Jordan called for him to step down and start talks to ensure an orderly transition. Violence has gripped the country since the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership, with Russia warning the country is on the edge of civil war.
After a historic week which saw the resignation of Silvio Burlesconi, Italy’s new cabinet, led by Mario Monti, is beginning to face up to the enormity of the task facing them. Experts are warning unpopular decisions must be taken quickly if Italy’s economy is to be rescued.
The cabinet, comprised of non-partisan academics and administrators, will be expected to introduce a programme of job cuts, tax rises and pension reforms to begin to address Italy’s ballooning deficit.
Recent reforms in Burma have paved the way for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy to enter candidates in the country’s upcoming by-elections. New freedoms granted to political parties, trade unions and media organisations have encouraged reformists in the country and the movement is expected to end their boycott of elections.
The Week Outside Westminster:
On Wednesday on Left Foot Forward, Matthew Pitt reported how the unemployment figures in Scotland are no better than those for Britain as a whole:
“The short-lasting honeymoon period for youth unemployment figures in Scotland is over and there is now a real danger of a generation being abandoned by an overzealous government in Westminster and a single-minded SNP government in Holyrood that is following the wrong priorities.
“The Scottish unemployment rate now stands at eight per cent, an increase of 0.3 percent from last month. Although the rate remains below that of the UK, it is important not to be lured into a false sense of security concerning the robustness of the Scottish economy and its ability to withstand the austerity cuts that are still to come.”
“With a lack of full-time employment jobs, it is important to help squeezed households and businesses at a time of increased hardship. For this reason, Labour is demanding that the government reverse its damaging VAT rise for a temporary period and cut VAT on home improvements, repairs and maintenance to five per cent for one year in order to help struggling families, businesses and pensioners.
“Instead of avoiding the problems plaguing the Scottish economy, both governments need to tackle the issues undermining the prospects for growth and focus on implementing Labour’s five-point plan in order to get the economy moving and full-time jobs growing.”
While on Friday, Kevin Meagher reported on the rise in religious hate crime in Scotland, with anti-Catholic bigotry in particular on the rise:
“Religious hate crimes in Scotland have surged 10 per cent in the last year, according to research released today by the Scottish government. The report (pdf), ‘Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland 2010/11’, found there were 693 charges aggravated by religious prejudice last year – the highest in four years.
“Of these, a staggering 58 per cent were against Catholics while 37 per cent were against Protestants; 2.3 per cent related to Judaism and 2.1 per cent to Islam…
“Worryingly, 544 of the 693 charges – 78.5 per cent – were from people under 40, with just 17 cases – 2.5 per cent – from the over 60 age group. Rather than dying out, religious hatred in Scotland is something generally practiced by younger people. A fifth of offences concerned the 16-20 age group.”
On Monday, it was announced that Ian Paisley was retiring from his ministry in the Free Presbyterian Church – in order to write his autobiography.
The Guardian reports:
“For most of its six decades in existence Paisley was moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church. Despite being a relatively small denomination it wielded enormous political influence on rightwing unionist politics. During the years of the Troubles the Free Presbyterian Church became the Democratic Unionist party-at prayer.
“Almost all the leading figures of the party, which Paisley founded in the early 1970s, were members of the church. The exception was his closest aide and confidant Peter Robinson, the current first minister, who was a member of the Independent Methodist church.
“During his long tenure as head of the Free Presbyterians, Paisley embarked on several high-profile moral crusades, including an unsuccessful battle to oppose the legalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland. In response to Paisley’s Save Ulster From Sodomy campaign the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Movement depicted the DUP leader as an “ayatollah” who was the enemy of individual freedom in Northern Ireland.”
Elsewhere, the row between the Irish and UK governments over David Cameron’s refusal to hold a full judicial inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane intensified, as Kevin Meagher reported on Left Foot Forward on Friday:
“Irish state broadcaster RTE reported last night the growing diplomatic row between Britain and Ireland over David Cameron’s refusal to establish a judicial inquiry into the notorious murder of Belfast solicitor, Patrick Finucane, in 1989. The Irish government is unhappy at the prime minister’s decision to backtrack on the British government’s previous commitment to a judicial inquiry, first made in 2006 by Tony Blair…
“Pat Finucane’s murder was one of the most infamous of the Troubles for two reasons.
“Firstly, he was a solicitor targeted because he represented republican suspects. And secondly because two investigations into his murder have concluded collusion took place between elements of the British security forces and the loyalist terrorists who broke into his family home and shot him 14 times at close range in front of his wife and children.
“He was targeted because some of his work involved representing Irish republican suspects, (although his practice had represented loyalists too). Yet this fact alone was enough, in the warped thinking of his murderers, to justify his killing.”
And in Wales, there was deadlock in Cardiff Bay as the Welsh Assembly failed to pass the Welsh government’s budget this week.
BBC Wales’s Toby Mason explains:
“Here, then, is our best understanding of the current position. There are currently three sets of talks taking place. They are between Labour and the Liberal Democrats; Labour and Plaid Cymru; and the Conservatives, Plaid and the Lib Dems.
“The focus of the Labour-Plaid discussions is an increase to the enterprise budget and more capital spending. Plaid wants to see the department’s budget rise substantially – but it has not yet spelt out publicly where it would take the money from elsewhere to pay for it.
“It would inevitably mean unpicking the draft budget proposals as they stand – something Labour is said to be unwilling to do.”
“Where might a solution come from? The Welsh government has already had one unexpected £38.9m windfall from Westminster this year.
“It is possible any stimulus package announced by the chancellor in his autumn statement on November 29th might also bring with it some extra cash for Wales, which first minister Carwyn Jones would presumably welcome as an additional negotiating measure.
“But if the government is to pass its final budget as planned on 6 December, according to assembly procedure it will need to formally table it for debate on 29 November – the same day – and it cannot be changed after this date.
“So the future of the government’s budget, it seems, rests on the talks in the next fortnight.”
This week’s most read:
1. Currie v Jones: Do people go hungry in Britain? – Alex Hern
2. Rhythmix: social rights, corporate wrongs, and the X-Factor trademark battle – Mark Davyd, Rhythmix
3. Boris is turning back the clock for women in London – Shelly Asquith
4. Raab’s attacks on workers’ rights are – surprise – based on no evidence – Sarah Veale, TUC
5. Osborne set to borrow billions more than Darling was projected to – Daniel Elton