Politics Summary: Monday, July 19th

The prime minister will finally launch his 'Big Society' in a speech in Liverpool today, announcing the "biggest redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street".

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The prime minister will finally launch his ‘Big Society’ in a speech in Liverpool today, announcing the “biggest redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street”. Local communities will get the power and money to run bus services, set up broadband internet networks and take over neighbourhood recycling schemes, David Cameron will say, adding that the “liberation” of volunteers and activists to help their own communities is the driving vision of his premiership. The Telegraph reports that he will attack the Labour government for turning state employees into “disillusioned, weary puppets” and communities into “dull, soulless clones” and announce that four areas have been chosen to form a “vanguard” in realising his dream of “people power” in which individuals rather than the state come together voluntarily to solve their problems; they are: the London borough of Sutton and Cheam; the Berkshire council of Windsor and Maidenhead; Eden Valley in Penrith, Cumbria; and Liverpool, all chosen after petitioning Downing Street to start their own projects.

Mr Cameron will say: “There are the things you do because it’s your duty… But there are the things you do because it’s your passion. The things that fire you up in the morning, that drive you, that you truly believe will make a real difference to the country you love. And my great passion is creating the Big Society.” And: “The Big Society is about a huge culture change, where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplace, don’t always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities. We need to create communities with oomph – neighbourhoods who are in charge of their own destiny, who feel if they club together and get involved they can shape the world around them.” In response, Labour’s Ed Miliband said: “Cameron’s government is cynically attempting to dignify its cuts agenda by dressing up the withdrawal of support with the language of reinvigorating civic society.”

Liam Fox has reiterated his committment that British troops will leave Afghanistan by 2014. Speaking on yesterday’s Andrew Marr show, the defence secretary said: “It has always been our aim to be successful in the mission and the mission has always said that the Afghan national security forces would be able to deal with their own security by 2014. We recognise that there will be further work to do in terms of training and improving the quality of those forces beyond that, which is why we have said training forces may be available after that date. But we have made it very clear that that will not be combat forces.” The Telegraph reports that his comments came “after a document was leaked to a Sunday newspaper mapping out a blueprint for the withdrawal of coalition forces within four years”, with President Karzai set to announce a timetable for a “conditions-based and phased transition” at the Kabul conference next week which will map out the future of the country. The Guardian, meanwhile, reports on the Afghanistan NGO Security Office’s warning that the US military build-up in Kandahar “will bolster the Taliban” and that NATO’s counterinsurgency tactics are showing “no signs of success”. The security monitor revealed that June marked a record for Taliban attacks – up 51 per cent on the previous year to 1,319 operations – while at the same time the number of civilians killed by both sides of the conflict rose by 23 per cent, despite the efforts of Nato forces to avoid killing innocent bystanders. The report warns: “We do not support the [counter-insurgency] perspective that this constitutes ‘things getting worse before they get better’, but rather see it as being consistent with the five-year trend of things just getting worse.”

Labour will today set out its opposition to the government’s academies bill – as thousands of protesters are expected to march on parliament for the ‘Save our Schools’ rally. Shadow education secretary Ed Balls will table an amendment to require councils to consult local communities on whether rebuilding an existing school should be a higher priority than one of the government’s favoured new ‘free’ schools. In an article in today’s Mirror, Balls explains why Labour will oppose Michael Gove’s cuts: “Today’s protest isn’t about botched lists full of errors. It’s about savage cuts which are unfair, unnecessary and will add to unemployment. They’re unfair – because they’ll condemn hundreds of thousands of children to second-class facilities. Labour rebuilt or refurbished 4,000 schools, but there was still more to do before our building programme was stopped in its tracks. They’ll add to unemployment – because tens of thousands of jobs will be put at risk, as work is taken away from builders, electricians and plumbers. When we need to support jobs to secure economic recovery this is madness. There is an alternative – a slower, steadier, fairer deficit reduction plan, which does not put jobs, growth or front line services at risk. This is more likely to succeed and have credibility with the markets too.” While in a column in today’s Guardian, he warns against repeating the “30s folly”, and that those rushing to cut the deficit “have not learned from the past”. The Guardian and Standard report on how Gove is attempting to “ram through” the academies bill before the summer recess, a bill that will “benefit well-off schools while the rest face building cuts”.

The European Union “must be bolder over the Middle East”, EU Commissioner Chris Patten has said. On a visit to Gaza, Mr Patten described the blockade of Gaza as a “terrible failure – immoral, illegal and ineffective”, one that had “deliberately triggered an economic and social crisis which has many humanitarian consequences”, reports The Guardian. He said: “The default European position should not be to wait to find out what the Americans are going to do, and if the Americans don’t do anything to wring our hands. We should be prepared to be more explicit in setting out Europe’s objectives and doing more to try to implement them.” Adding: “It’s difficult to understand what preventing exports has to do with security. It has everything to do with the view that Gaza should be collectively punished to discredit Hamas. Unfortunately there are some centuries, if not millennia, of history that show that does not work. Presumably the international community as well as Israel wants at some stage – sooner rather than later – to be able to persuade Gaza and its political leadership to take a course which will lead to reconciliation and peace and stability. It’s difficult to know how you accomplish that if you deny the people of Gaza any social or economic progress.” His visit coincides with that of Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, who called on Israel to open Gaza’s borders rather than merely allow in more consumer goods.

And The Independent reports on celebrations across South Africa yesterday to mark the 92nd birthday of Nelson Mandela. The Indy reports: “Mr Mandela, who is now largely retired from public life, spent the day with close family at his Johannesburg home. Earlier, schoolchildren from Eastern Cape province, where he grew up, had been flown to the city to sing him birthday songs. Leaders around the world paid tribute to Mr Mandela, who stepped down as South African president in 1999. US President Barack Obama praised his ‘extraordinary vision, leadership, and spirit’, and UN chief Ban Ki-Moon described him as “a towering figure” who “embodies the highest values of humanity”. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma visited Mvezo, the district where Mr Mandela was born, to plant trees and participate in painting a school building, while Mr Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, helped plant a vegetable garden at a Soweto orphanage.” Yesterday, to mark the first Mandela Day, Left Foot Forward looked at the positives to be drawn from one of Mr Mandela’s greatest legacies – the World Cup, which his successor Jacob Zuma described as “the beginning of a better future for South Africa and Africa”.

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