Politics Summary: Wednesday, January 27th

The Northern Ireland talks, the inequality gap, the crawl out of recession, the Iraq Inquiry and the Lancaster House conference on Afghanistan.

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Gordon Brown will remain in Northern Ireland for a third day, missing today’s Prime Minister’s Questions in a last-ditch attempt to resurrect the power sharing agreement, enlisting the support of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reports the Guardian. Mr Brown and the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, “presented Northern Ireland’s political parties with a position paper promising devolution of policing and justice powers by 4 May”, adds the report. The Independent says new regulatory powers to deal with loyalist marches have been proposed, with both main Northern Ireland parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, keen to avoid an election, and the Standard reports the Prime Minister’s spokesman saying this morning that they “continue to believe that there is scope for agreement on the elements that need to be in place to enable the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland”.

The gap between rich and poor is at its widest since the Second World War, report the Telegraph, Times, Guardian and Independent. The National Equality Panel, set up by ministers, found that, 13 years after the election of a Labour Government, social class, gender and race remained key factors in determining a child’s success – though the report also revealed that the poorest were 25 per cent better off than they would have been had Conservative policies been implemented in that time. Other findings include: Britain’s income inequality is among the highest in the developed world; women are paid 21 per cent less than the national average; more than half of all private school educated children go to the best universities; Pakistani and Bangladeshi men and Black African men have an income that is 13-21% lower than white males with similar qualifications; and the top 10% of the population are now 100 times better off than the poorest 10%.

Yesterday’s news that Britain has crawled out of recession receives widespread coverage, with many papers expressing real fears that the economy could slide back into a downturn when the next set of figures are published in three months time – on the eve of the General Election, described by The Independent as “Brown’s nightmare scenario”. Following the news of the lower than expected 0.1 per cent growth, The Times quotes KPMG’s chief economist, who warns that: “The first quarter of 2010 could be touch and go as VAT goes back up and consumers look to the coming election and fiscal squeeze. We risk a double-dip recession before the recovery has even got going.” The Financial Times, meanwhile, says the growth is welcome but that Britain remains in trouble, calling the “crawl out of recession” a “very small mercy”.

The Guardian reports that Lord Goldsmith received legal advice at taxpayer’s expense ahead of his appearance before the Iraq Inquiry today. The former Attorney-General appears the day after two Foreign Office lawyers had told Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry that without a UN mandate the war would be a “crime of aggression”. Lord Goldsmith, add the Times and Telegraph, will come under enormous pressure to explain his apparent u-turn on the legality of war, having changed his mind after being ordered by Tony Blair to “reflect further”.

And the Independent and Guardian report the growing doubts about Hamid Karzai, which emerged on the eve of today’s Lancaster House conference on Afghanistan. The Guardian says the Afghan President will be told he must tackle corruption head on if he is to remain credible, with donor nations rejecting his present anti-corruption plans as “half-hearted”, with the Independent publishing the leaked correspondence between the US Ambassador in Kabul and the White House, in which Karzai is described as an “inadequate partner”. Last night Left Foot Forward reported the need for the conference to seriously address the question of whether or not the Karzai Government was up to scratch.

• The Progressive London Conference takes place at the TUC this Saturday, with Ken Livingstone, Ed Miliband and Left Foot Forward’s Joss Garman among the speakers. Tickets can be purchased online.

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7 Responses to “Politics Summary: Wednesday, January 27th”

  1. George

    The Iraq inquiry is inspiring some activists to take unprecedented steps…in particular…anyone considering direct action, you could do worse that considering George Monbiot’s offer in The Guardian. He has set up a fund to reward the person who affects a citizen’s arrest on Tony Blair. A good idea, but he’s aiming at the wrong person.

    Gordon Brown is still the Prime Minister and is equally culpable for what happened and is happening in Iraq. Affecting a citizen’s arrest on Gordon Brown would send a more powerful message.

    The article gives clear instructions on how this can be done in a lawful manner.

  2. Robert

    Thank god the public know you cannot arrest somebody under a citizens arrest for war crimes, you need a warrant for this given by a court.

  3. arthur

    Interesting article in today’s Guardian, cut and pasted below. Speaks volumes about Will Straw’s PR exercise last Friday.

    No wonder Jack Straw wants to forget all about the cabinet discussion of the legality of the Iraq war that took place three days before it started.

    Documents disclosed by the Iraq inquiry today show that the attorney general thought he might tell the cabinet that “the legal issues were finely balanced”. Straw talked him out of it. Straw then tried to cover up the lack of discussion at that cabinet meeting.

    I’m not sure that Straw could have come out of today’s evidence much worse. Despite his evidence last week, he seems to have been gung-ho on the war from the outset and the Foreign Office’s chief legal adviser, Sir Michael Wood, kept having to pull him back. Straw eventually got fed up with this and rejected Wood’s advice outright.

    Both Wood and his deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, have today strongly disagreed with the view that the then attorney general Lord Goldsmith eventually came to, after being parked for months at a time for fear that he would come up with the wrong answer. On 7 March 2003, Goldsmith gave advice that was still too equivocal for the chief of the defence staff to commit British troops to war, but by 13 March had come up with a “better view” that the war would be legal. Four days later, the cabinet was given an unequivocal statement of Goldsmith’s view that persuaded them to back the war. That statement was drawn up to be as strong as possible, for public consumption.

    Last year, the information tribunal ordered the government to release the minutes of the cabinet meetings of 13 and 17 March but Straw – for the first time ever – used the veto that he had himself put in the freedom of act to block publication. It had emerged during the tribunal hearing that there was considered to be insufficient discussion of the legal issues at the second meeting. It has since been admitted during the inquiry that all that happened at that meeting was that Goldsmith’s very short legal advice was tabled and that a request by Clare Short for a discussion was rejected by the majority of the cabinet.

    This lack of discussion is one of the key political and constitutional issues around the war. Should the cabinet have discussed the legality of a decision for which they were constitutionally collectively responsible?

    Former defence secretary Geoff Hoon doesn’t think so, as he told the inquiry last week. For him, a view from the attorney general one way or another was all that the cabinet needed. Former cabinet secretary Lord Turnbull took a similar line. It is now clear that Goldsmith thought the cabinet should perhaps be fully informed but he was talked out of it.

    We know this because the inquiry has for once published actual documents that back up what the witnesses are saying. There is a letter from Wood to Straw’s private office in March 2002, a year before the invasion, warning Straw not to be so sure that a war would be legal. There is correspondence from before and after the passage of UN security council resolution 1441 and – as most papers are reporting – correspondence between Straw and Wood in which the former explicitly rejects his legal adviser’s legal advice. There is also documentary evidence that supports the government’s claim that Goldsmith changed his mind on 13 March before a meeting with Blair allies Sally Morgan and Charles Falconer, in spite of what the Cabinet Office told me.

    Wilmshurst today described as “lamentable” the process by which Goldsmith had moved from an initial view that a second UN resolution would be needed, to a different but still equivocal view on 7 March, and then to a definite view ten days later. She made clear her view that Goldsmith should have been asked earlier to give a formal view and that by the time he was asked, he had little choice but to back the war because the alternative was to give Saddam Hussein a massive propaganda victory.

    But what happened after Goldsmith finally made up his mind to back the war on 13 March is also crucial. The events of that day can be deduced from Goldsmith’s diary, and a note by his legal secretary David Brummell, published by the inquiry. Goldsmith appears to have told Brummell in the morning that he would back the war long before a meeting that evening. Indeed, at 6pm that afternoon, Goldsmith held a meeting with Straw where he told Straw that he would back the war; and as Brummell told the inquiry today, Straw was “duly grateful”.

    According to the Foreign Office’s note of that meeting, Goldsmith told Straw that “in public he needed to explain his case as strongly and unambiguously as possible”, but that “he thought he might need to tell the cabinet when it met on 17 March that the legal issues were finely balanced.”

    Straw warned him of the danger of leaks and advised him that it would be better to present the cabinet with a draft letter to the Commons foreign affairs committee as the basic standard text of his position, and then make a few comments. “The attorney general agreed.”

    It is noticeable that Straw did not try to persuade Goldsmith of the line that the government has used since – that the Cabinet should only ever get an unequivocal view of the attorney general’s view. He merely argued that they could not be trusted with the truth.

    As it happened, the cabinet got an even shorter statement of Goldsmith’s view – the written parliamentary answer that was clearly designed to be as strong and unambiguous as possible, and Goldsmith said virtually nothing at the meeting. Short has said that she wanted to ask him both why he had taken so long to come to a decision – which we now know – and whether he had any doubts.

    When Straw blocked the release of the cabinet minutes, I wrote here of the problem of using arguments about cabinet confidentiality and collective cabinet responsibility to obscure an apparent failure of cabinet collective decision-making. It now appears that Straw himself engineered that failure. The cabinet backed the war unaware that the legal issues were finely balanced. That is a scandal that can be firmly laid at Straw’s door.

  4. Anon E Mouse

    Arthur – I take it you’re not busy today! ; – )

  5. Politics Summary: Wednesday, January 26th | Left Foot Forward | Today Headlines

    […] post: Politics Summary: Wednesday, January 26th | Left Foot Forward Share […]

  6. Anon E Mouse

    Shamik – Where’s today’s (Thursday) Politics Summary fella?

    Looking forward to sharing my views on the UEA and the climate change lies they’ve been rumbled over…

  7. Anon E Mouse

    Cheers dude…

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