Our government’s lunge for censorship suggests a fear among both officialdom and elected representatives that our society cannot defend itself against bad ideas
No sooner had US journalist James Foley been killed by British jihadists and footage of his brutal murder uploaded to social media than there were calls to increase censorship of the internet. “We must give ourselves all the legal powers we need to prevail,” the Home Secretary wrote in the Telegraph, adding that 28,000 pieces of ‘terrorist material’ had been removed from the internet so far this year.
Twitter meanwhile acted to block tweets of Foley’s killing and to ban users who suspend or ban users who shared stills or footage, no doubt partly at the behest of the UK and US government.
This is part of a growing trend. In March, James Brokenshire, the Conservative Minister for Immigration and Security, said the government was looking to control online material “that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive”. Likewise, in late June, a Downing Street spokesman said that since December 2013, the UK government had removed 15,000 items of ‘jihadist propaganda’ from the internet.
If we assume the nation’s spies work a five-day week, this equates to around 40 items being consigned to, presumably permanent, oblivion every single working day; a staggering amount of material.
The rift in the French government speaks more broadly to what the left-wing narrative should sound like on the austerity obsessions of Germany and the European Union
From afar the actions of President Hollande of France seemed to happen in a split second. First we hear there’s a left flank in the ruling party that is causing a ruck, then the whole government is dissolved. Enjoying my bank holiday, I wondered whether Hollande wasn’t just throwing his toys out of his pram?
Turns out he was. Arnaud Montebourg, the now former economy minister, has always been a thorn in the side of Hollande, but by that we mean to say he has always reminded Hollande of where he went wrong on the economy, or in other words how he defied the French public by going back on his promises.
Hollande is the most unpopular French president in living memory, this is his second government revamp since the end of March; should he not have been asking himself just how bad that will look? To slightly modify an old truism, if a government is re-jigged twice in a six month period then it makes Hollande himself look unfit to govern, not his party.
But what is so controversial about what Montebourg is saying? He has called the austerity measures in France and wider Europe a “financial absurdity”, has accused Hollande of undermining purchasing power in favour of cutting budgets, and of taking the wrong course of action on the economy, as opposed to what Montebourg himself has previously called a “moderate and balanced” alternative.
While Salmond landed some blows in the debate about Scottish independence last night he was still unable to answer the crucial questions
In some ways it is rather heartening that there is an audience left for the utopia Alex Salmond is trying to sell Scotland. One in which the cuts agenda will not give way to the bedroom tax, nor draw money away from the National Health Service. This is the kind of society I want to live in.
And clearly the way Salmond sells it is working. After his lacklustre performance last time round he has, according to a snap poll of 505 voters in Scotland for the Guardian by ICM, the backing of some 71% of viewers compared with 29% who backed Darling.
But as Darling said last night in the debate, a good line is not always the good answer.
Indeed Darling, the more critical and analytical of the two, was correct to pursue answers to questions that had not been previously answered. Is Scotland safe in Salmond’s hands given the estimates of oil barrels in Scotland? Has the currency question been sufficiently settled yet?
Darling was right to say that in the 670 page white paper, Scotland’s Future : Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, there was just one page of numbers for just one year, and as it turns out estimates were lower than originally thought. Without the right data it is fair enough to accuse the Yes campaign of “gambling children’s future.”
Disaffection is a perennial problem for politics; the way democracy is understood contributes to that problem
The OECD reports that voting rates are falling in member nations and shows that turnout for the last UK general election, at only 61%, was well below the OECD average of 70%.
A House of Commons Library note describes ‘a large decrease in reported membership of UK political parties over the post-war period’ and how, since 1983, the proportion of the population who are members of political parties has fallen from 3.8% to 1%.
Trust in governments is low: a Guardian/ICM poll found that ‘European citizens do not trust their governments’ and, according to Democratic Audit, only 55% in the UK feel that ‘people like them’ could ‘change the way the UK is run’ if they were to get involved in politics.
Yet, as formal participation in politics falls and a sense of disempowerment becomes rife, political leaders talk up democracy and their own democratic credentials. The gap between what people hear from politicians and what people feel about politicians is a problem. It is a problem for government, and all centre-ground political parties, but is a particular problem for the centre-left: it leaves a gap for a populism that is not progressive.
Today is the ‘International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition’. In this piece Thomas Hauschildt reminds us that we should remember slavery wherever it is
This week the international society remembers the slave trade and its abolition. However, with an estimated 20-30 million victims subject to modern-slavery, this crime is still all too present in our societies.
Whether it is men forced into labour to build the stadiums for the 2022 football world cup in Qatar, child labourers on cocoa farms in West Africa, child soldiers in Central Africa, women enslaved in US households, men and women subject to bondaged labour in India, victims enforced to work on fishing boats in Thailand, or wome forced into marriage and a life of servitude in Europe and elsewhere, modern slavery is a global problem still prevelant in many parts of our society.
The International Labour Organizination reported that forced labour generates a profit of US $150 billion in the private sector alone. Although the underlying factors might vary from region to region, slaves worldwide are often subject to the same egregious treatment, including forced labour, physical and mental abuse, the threat of violence and restrictions on the freedom of movement.
Many are subject to human trafficking and are treated as “commodities” that can be bought or sold.
Food will be one of the major challenges of the 21st century – and one on which the UK Labour party can lead on
Even with the economy getting back on track the cost of living crisis has not disappeared. Higher energy bills, rising housing costs, falling real-terms wages are part of the political story of the recovery. The public get that the benefits of a return to growth are not yet being shared fairly.
Food is part of both the cost of living crisis and the longer-term challenge of sustainable production. Labour has developed a strong political story around the rapid growth in demand for food banks; there is also an opportunity for Labour to seize the initiative on a much broader food agenda.
Globally, it is estimated that we will need to feed eight billion people by 2025, making food one of the major challenges of the 21st Century. In the UK, food security, a changing climate and food prices will be a growing concern for future governments. Emerging demand in new markets, lack of access to land and water, and the changing weather, are putting pressure on the global food system.
Food prices are rising faster than both wages and overall prices. The horsemeat scandal sparked a public debate about how food is produced, traced and regulated. Yet, 18 months on the government still have not published the Elliot review into the scandal or acknowledged the damage their fragmentation of the Food Standards Agency caused.
While the aims of many pro-Palestinian campaigners are admirable, the left must look at the wider context of Israel and Palestine today
Peace negotiations have failed and violence on the Gaza strip has resumed once again. As this happens the left and the wider pro-Palestinian movement needs to think hard about how the next intensification of campaigning can avoid contributing to a rise in anti-semitic sentiment.
Many will read that paragraph and immediately react with hostility. A recurrent feature of the last few weeks has been the forceful claims by the pro-Palestinian left that it is not anti-semitic to criticise Israel’s actions in Gaza. Some commentators have also been conscientious in combining their critique of Israel with strong condemnations of those who have used the situation to make overtly anti-semitic attacks.
However, to believe that such arguments and qualifications means the left is now excused of any culpability is to engage in a denial for which the left itself regularly criticises others.
Left-leaning thinkers and movements have argued for many years that racism and sexism need not be overt to exist. Racist and sexist values are so deeply ingrained into much of our thinking and behaviour that it is quite possible for someone to unintentionally exclude or denigrate black people or women even while actively proclaiming themselves an anti-racist or feminist.
Unfortunately the left is at risk of becoming the bastion of unintentional anti-semitism just as individuals and organisations across the political spectrum purvey unintentional racism and sexism. Read More
At the moment the four-day week is a mere pipe dream: but it should be secured as part of a wider package of progressive ideas
As long as low-income earners work five or more days a week and are still not paid enough to get by without tax credits and housing benefit, a four day week is a distant ambition. The immediate priority should be ensuring that full-time work as it stands guarantees a fair living wage.
Nevertheless, a shorter working week is a radical goal that would work as part of a broad long-term package of progressive ideas. It would bring overwhelming benefits to health, productivity, employment, family life, the environment and civic society.
Organisations such as the New Economics Foundation support an ambitious 21 hour working week, but as a leading doctor recently argued, the initial goal should be around a 32 hour working week.
Much of the criticism of the four day week comes from looking in isolation at the impact of working fewer hours. A blunt four day week introduced immediately, as a standalone policy, would simply mean a 20% pay cut. Only the wealthiest would be able to take advantage.
A four day week looks much more feasible, however, when considered as part of a broader package of progressive reforms to bring down living costs and raise wages.
Today is the anniversary of the Battle of the Standard, where the Scots under King David battled Norman English forces. Fast forward to 2014 and Alex Salmond claims to lead the Scots. They could do better.
Perhaps it says more about the company I keep, but I would bet a great British pound coin on it that I’m not unique in having a conversation about the ‘leadership qualities’ in Alastair Darling recently.
Speaking to a friend recently, who had just returned from Scotland recently (“the banners saying “no” far outnumber the ones saying “yes””), I pointed out that perhaps this side of Darling was missing in the years he was chancellor. “Perhaps, but being behind Gordon Brown would soon see that disappear”.
Though the more I think of it, the more convinced I am that whatever the merits of Darling’s qualities as a cool and convincing leader, he has been dealt a pretty good hand going head to head with Alex Salmond, who it must be said looks less like a leader in the past weeks and months he’s been doing battle over independence.
With Salmond you get the impression that this is all a vanity show; independence is what it says on his card but really the television appearances, the knee-jerk commitments to things that are later found rather more complicated like the issue of currencies, these are all just things to get us listening to him.
Take the recent issue around the National Health Service. Salmond has stated that he will focus the final month of the independence campaign telling Scots how their health service is in jeopardy with cuts and privatisation threatening to do irreparable damage.