The top story this week has been the events in Libya, with a defiant Colonel Gaddafi this evening vowing to "fight those who are against us", saying he wouldn't be taken alive.
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• The top story this week has been the events in Libya, with a defiant Colonel Gaddafi this evening vowing to “fight those who are against us”, saying he wouldn’t be taken alive.
Today, Tripoli witnessed fierce fighting between government forces and anti-government protesters. The UN Security Council is meeting right now to discuss what action to take, with Ban Ki-Moon saying:
“If the Security Council doesn’t take action, lives will be lost.”
He said the violence must stop and that fundamental human rights must be protected, that it was time for the Security Council to consider “concrete action” and that “the hours and days ahead will be crucial”.
The Security Council will meet tonight in closed session to consider the draft text of the UK/France resolution calling for arms embargoes, asset seizures, a travel ban, and the possible prosecution of Gaddafi for crimes against humanity, while on Monday William Hague and Hillary Clinton will be among those attending the Human Rights council – with a No Fly Zone (which Left Foot Forward called for on Tuesday) up for discussion, to protect civilians, set up a humanitarian corridor, and allow medical supplies to be airdropped/flown in.
And in an extraordinary press conference tonight, Libyan Ambassador to the UN Mohammed Shalgham turned on the regime, talking of the horror of “the cadavers of the people everywhere”, asking of Gaddafi:
“Why you killing your people just for saying ‘we want to be free’?”
He claimed 95 per cent of Libyan missions across the world were against Gaddafi, and called for Sanctions against the despot and his family, adding:
“No king, no president, no ruler can rule by killing people who want to be free.”
Sentiments with which surely everyone can agree.
• Further evidence emerged of the impact of the coalition’s cuts this week.
On Wednesday, the False Economy website revealed more than 50,000 NHS jobs faced the axe:
“The total confirmed, planned and potential NHS staff cuts across the country currently stands at just over 53,150 posts – and that’s before a host of trusts are expected to announce staff cuts over the next four months, including all Wales’ health boards.
“The national total is already twice the previous estimate of 27,000 job cuts, published by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) last November. The cuts in mental health trusts are particularly acute, with cuts of over 15 per cent at the following NHS Trusts: Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership; Derbyshire Mental Health Services; Mersey Care; and Kent and Medway and Social Care Partnership Trust.”
While on Left Foot Forward today, we reported the latest on cuts to hospital beds and school building programmes:
“New figures from the Department of Health show there are now fewer than 140,000 overnight beds. In 2009-10 there were 158,461 beds – but new quarterly figures for Q4 2010 suggest the number is now falling sharply…
“On schools, new research by the House of Commons Library has revealed the average secondary school will see its budget for building work, repairs and computers slashed by £86,000 next year; in addition to the headline figures, education faces a far greater cut in its capital spending settlement – 60 per cent – than the average across all departments of 28 per cent…
“Two weeks ago, education secretary Michael Gove was ordered to reconsider his decision to take an axe to the Building Schools for the Future programme, which a High Court Judge described as: ‘…so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power.’ With the full impact of the decision to axe BSF now unravelling, and Labour describing it as ‘a return to the bad old days of the 1980s when children tried to learn in crumbling classrooms with equipment not up to the job’, Mr Gove may do well to heed Mr Justice Holman’s remarks.”
• With the clock ticking down to May 5th, the increasingly desperate No2AV campaign came under fire for their advertising campaign.
On Tuesday, Will Straw reported on Left Foot Forward:
“Judging by the reaction on twitter, the Tory-led NO to AV campaign have over-stepped the mark with their latest advert against the alternative vote. Yesterday’s Birmingham Post carried this picture bearing the legend ‘She needs a new cardiac facility NOT an alternative voting system’.
“The ad, which is due to be rolled out to national publications in the coming days, goes on to remake the discredited claim that £250 million would be spent on AV. As Left Foot Forward and Next Left showed last week the £250m includes £130m for electronic vote counting machines which are unnecessary and the £82m cost of the referendum which gets paid regardless of the result…
“Without a hint of irony, the frontpage of the No to AV website today even asked whether the money could be better spent on the Sheffield Forgemasters loan which was scrapped by George Osborne. But they were found out by the Financial Times’ Christoper Cook who reported that the Department for Business said it was untrue that the loan would be reinstated if there was a ‘No’ vote in May.”
And on Forgemasters, I wrote yesterday:
“Alongside the posters of an ill baby – now downgraded to merely a crying baby – and a frontline soldier, the No2AV campaign have also been claiming the Sheffield Forgemasters loan would be reinstated if there were a no vote in May. Not only is this yet another false claim from the no camp – to go alongside their fictitious £250 million price tag for AV and ‘facts’ about Australia’s AV experience – but completely at odds with the views of No2AV campaign director Matthew Elliott.
“At the time of the coalition’s axing of the £80m loan to Forgemasters, part of a £2 billion cull of projects announced by Danny Alexander in June, Elliott ‘welcomed the cuts‘, saying: ‘This announcement may be controversial but large-scale spending cuts must be made as soon as possible.'”
John Kampfner, writing in the Standard, said of the no campaign:
“…with no positives to fall back on, the ‘no’ camp resorts to scare tactics. One irony is that the baby in the picture is imperilled by public service cuts thirstily sought by Right-wing Conservatives.”
Echoing what Guy Aitchison had written on Left Foot Forward in November:
“This, then, is how the No campaign will be playing it. With easy populist slogans, designed to spread confusion and exploit popular anger at the cuts. The irony, of course, is that the message comes from a mixture of Tories and TPA luminaries, people who have done more than anyone else to further the government’s cuts agenda.”
The AV referendum takes place in exactly ten weeks’ time, Thursday, May 5th; if you aren’t already registered to vote, you can do so via the Electoral Commission website here.
Progressive of the week:
Jim Dobbin MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia (APPGGAACP), who recently visited Kenya to attend the global roll-out of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) in Nairobi. Mr Dobbin wrote about his experience on Left Foot Forward this week; here are some excerpts:
“This was a momentous occasion. For ten years the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation (GAVI) and their funding partners which include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a number of countries including the UK have worked to provide affordable vaccines to the developing world. Kenya marked the first country in Africa to receive the lifesaving vaccine. The vaccine will help to reduce the burden of pneumonia, which is the leading killer of children globally and in Kenya alone claims an average of 30,000 lives among children under five every year.
“But as I found in Kenya, statistics are only one element. The true tragedy comes with the human stories you encounter in countries like Kenya. Although the ceremony to mark the roll out of the vaccine launched by the President was an upbeat and colourful occasion, full of local singing and dancing, I was brought back to reality when I visited a local district hospital and a local health centre and saw for myself the logistics of this serious problem.
“In both centres I saw hundreds of babies suffering with diseases and conditions like meningitis, Aids, malnutrition, blood sepsis and pneumonia packed with their mothers into tiny wards. In Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi I saw one incubator with three babies in it and one oxygen cylinder linked up to six babies. Outside one ward was an open bin piled up with dirty equipment. This hospital has a catchment area of roughly 380,000 people and 5,000 people receive treatment at any time…
“I have come back even more certain that the UK must meet its target of spending 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on aid from 2013. If we can achieve this more quickly then it will mean hospitals like Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi can develop the infrastructure they need to support the local population effectively.”
Regressive of the week:
Tory peer Lord Tebbitt of Chingford, who, in between ranting that the Arab world “do not ‘do’ democracy”, defending the poll tax, criticising the government for backing down over its plans to sell off forests and describing Ken Clarke and Nick Clegg as “Euro-collaboraters” [sic], had an extraordinary dig at David Cameron over the Big Society and gay marriage, writing in the Telegraph:
“Of course the prime minister’s ambition to restore our national finances, to improve the NHS, deal with the cancer of welfare dependency and restore education to our schools are plainly right and deserve support. But every prime minister has set out to do that. I still do not know where, apart from to a Big Society gay wedding in Westminster Abbey, the prime minister really wants to go…”
“Tebbit’s views on gay lifestyles are so uncompromising that one wonders quite what in his past life – a bleak upbringing by his ‘on yer bike’ father, Len, a former pawnbroker; a stint in the RAF; a career as a civilian pilot – might have installed such a rigid mindset.
“He believes, for instance, that no gay minister should be Home Secretary. (‘The Home Office is responsible for laws affecting society – the adoption of children and the strengthening of the family. It is better not in the care of someone who doesn’t feel for those issues.’) Equally preposterously, he grumbles about the number of gay people in government. ‘If you accept that the male homosexual population is 2 per cent, it does seem to be a bit over quota.'”
Evidence of the week:
New research by ippr north, which shows the gap between rich and poor is narrower in the North but that inequality is rising across the board. The full research can be downloaded here, and you can read Left Foot Forward’s summary of the main findings here; ippr researcher Jenni Viitanen wrote of the figures:
“These findings highlight the policy challenges facing the government when planning a return to future economic growth. Traditional measures of economic performance do not take account of how the proceeds of growth are being shared and whether inequality is rising.”
Ed Jacobs’s Week outside Westminster:
Scotland: The Sunday Herald reported on the WikiLeaks documents which suggested first minister Alex Salmond was prepared to contemplate a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future without an option of full independence. In a note from the US Embassy to Washington last year, the embassy wrote:
“The SNP tell us privately that they would also support a referendum if the vote was only about further devolved powers, as long as the question was written in a politically neutral manner.”
Labour’s Iain Gray responded
“It is deeply embarrassing for the first minister to be caught out saying one thing to people at home and another thing to American diplomats. That duplicity will haunt him because the SNP have spent far too much time worrying about independence and not enough time focusing on the things that really matter, like jobs.”
Meanwhile, as accusations were made by the former Libyan justice minister that Colonel Gaddafi had given the order for the Lockerbie bombing, a statement from the Scottish government explained that ministers had “never doubted the safety of the conviction” of Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, the man whom Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill released on compassionate grounds.
Northern Ireland: Left Foot Forward reported the remarkable spat over the health budget, with Ulster Unionist Party health minister Michael McGimpsey telling the Newsletter he would continue in his post despite finance minister Sammy Wilson not providing sufficient resources for the NHS, with SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie describing the budget as “lazy and unimaginative”.
The Financial Times, meanwhile, carried a warning that the financial and economic problems being faced in both Northern Ireland and the Republic are acting as a recruiting sergeant for dissident republican groups. The paper quoted one senior police officer as saying:
“What the government needs to think about very carefully are the consequences of disinvesting too early. It’s all very well saying the private sector has got to create more jobs – it’s a statement of the obvious – but just talking about it won’t stop these buggers.”
Wales: In the week that Save the Children identified Wales as having the highest proportion of child poverty anywhere in the UK, in an article for Left Foot Forward, the minister responsible, Huw Lewis, explained:
“While Labour’s commitment to eradicating child poverty by 2020 was both ground breaking and historic, I’m deeply saddened that we were not able to do more over the last decade to get those figures down – despite the hard won progress in the early part of the last decade and the fact that annual child poverty statistics have always either fallen or stood still.
“But failures of the past are no excuse for inaction today. The very worst thing we could do right now is throw in the towel, consign another generation to the scrapheap and give up on those precious targets.”
“After a decade of devolution, the status quo in Scotland as well as in Wales is not tenable. There have already been significant changes to the original 1999 ‘settlement’ in both countries, and further change is inevitable. In one way or another, both Wales and Scotland are on the move.”
The Save EMA campaign will protest outside the Tory party London conference in Hammersmith tomorrow, at Hammersmith Town Hall, from 9:30 tomorrow morning, as part of their campaign to save the education maintenance allowance (EMA), working alongside other anti-cuts groups such as UK Uncut. For more details see here and the Facebook event here.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.