The worlds of politics and economics were rocked this week by the arrest and indictment of the head of the International Monetary Fund on sexual assault charges.
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• The worlds of politics and economics were rocked this week by the arrest and indictment of the head of the International Monetary Fund on sexual assault charges.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was in the running to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy before the story broke, will be released on $1 million bail, and a $5m bond. He denies all charges.
The race to succeed Strauss-Kahn, who stood down on Wednesday, is well under way. Today’s Guardian says the front runners are Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister; Axel Weber, former Bundesbank chair; Kemal Dervis, former Turkish finance minister; and Gordon Brown.
Among the outsiders, the paper says, are Stanley Fischer, governor of Israel’s central bank; Agustin Carstens, head of Mexico’s central bank; and former South African finance minister Trevor Manuel.
Yesterday on Left Foot Forward, the Fabian Society’s Natan Doron made the case for Brown:
“Brown has always seen eradicating poverty, creating jobs and solving the public health and environmental problems facing the world as a major priority. The 10 Downing Street website lists the 2005 Gleneagles agreement to deliver global cooperation on eradicating poverty and climate change as one of Brown’s greatest achievements…
“We on the left should be leading the defence of Gordon Brown today because to undermine Brown is to undermine Labour’s record in government too. Those in the Labour tribe have called upon the current leadership to do more to stand up for our record in government and not lay the blame for the deficit at the door of increased public spending but at the door of bailing out the banks (necessarily).
“Here is our chance to do just that and in the process remind people of Brown’s leadership and vision on the global stage that saw the kind of global economic cooperation the world now needs going forward into the 21st century.”
And today, Left Foot Forward reported the tireless work Brown is doing with the Global Campaign for Education, further highlighting his suitability for the job.
The GCE report (pdf), finds that a renewed global commitment to education will increase economic growth in the poorest countries by 2% per capita – creating the conditions for deep reductions in poverty and opening up new opportunities for investment – and lift 104 million people out of poverty and save the lives of some 1.8 million African children.
• Ken Clarke caused controversy this week with a spate of ill-judged remarks in a series of interviews defending the government’s plans to reduce prison sentences for those convicted of rape.
When told by BBC Radio Five Live’s Victoria Derbyshire “rape is rape”, he said “no it’s not”. The justice secretary also spoke about “serious rape”, “rape in the conversational sense”, “classic rape” and made various other insensitive remarks, also appearing to play down the severity of so-called “date rape”.
On the issue of Clarke’s overall record and policies, Daniel Elton wrote yesterday on Left Foot Forward:
“…to paint Clarke as a liberal justice secretary – or a conservative one for that matter – is not the issue in hand. The overiding factor in the coalition’s policy is the drive to cut costs. Under Clarke’s leadership, the Ministry of Justice plans to axe 14,000 jobs, including 9,940 who work in the National Offender Management Scheme, the executive agency in charge of reducing offending.
“The 23 per cent cuts in the Ministry of Justice’s budget which Clarke signed up to are the fourth steepest in Whitehall among major spending departments after Communities and Local Government; Business, Innovation and Skills; and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (See Table One of the Comprehensive Spending Review).
“It is at this time that Clarke wants to experiment with untried and untested rehabiliation tactics and strategies. They may fail due to a lack of support – putting back the cause of penal reform for a generation. The greater tragedy would be the resultant increase in crime.
“Rehabilitation costs money. A ‘prison works’ strategy costs money – as Clarke says it costs more to send a convict to jail than a schoolboy to Eton. The problem with Clarke is not that he’s soft or tough – it’s that he’s a cutter.”
• The Queen made a historic visit to the south of Ireland this week – her first ever and the first by a British Monarch for 100 years.
She spent the majority of her four-day visit in Dublin, also visiting Kildare (yesterday) and Cashel and Cork today, before flying home this evening. The BBC’s Mark Simpson described Her Majesty as “the emerald Queen”, and said “she came, she saw, she conquered… One small step for ma’am, one giant leap for British-Irish relations”.
While on Left Foot Forward, Hazel Nolan wrote about the buzz and emotion of being in Dublin the day the Queen came to town:
“I remember watching the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998; I was 11 years old. My father told me it was history in the making and it has been burned into my memory ever since. That was the day when Ireland, having been at a crossroads for so long, took its first step down the road of peace and reconciliation. That road has been a long one…
“There are two moments this week that I think will stand out in my mind, and the mind of most Irish people, forever. The first was watching the British Monarch being greeted by Mary McAleese, made all the more significant by the fact that Mary McAleese, Uachtarán na hÉireann, born in Belfast, is the first Irish President from Ulster.
“That she greeted her as a guest, and for the first time a visitor, is all the more important. Watching the British Monarch sign the guestbook at the Aras was watching history. The last time a British Monarch came to visit Ireland it was to visit their subjects. This time the Queen is an invited guest, duly signing the guestbook at the Aras – one simple act, that holds a significant symbolism…
“The second memorable moment came when, after laying a wreath at the memorial statue, the Queen of Britain bowed down in respect. I can’t explain what the significance of that means to me as an Irish person. It’s an emotive moment for an Irish person, one that penetrates into the core of our national identity, one even I never thought I would see…
“Our island of Ireland is based on two peoples. Two peoples that have a shared complex and painful history. Today I watched as the head of states representing both communities on this island walked beside each other as equals. It gives me hope that our two communities can share a future too, one built on respect and reconciliation.
“I have never felt freer as an Irish person, than I have today.”
Also on Left Foot Forward this week, Patrick Bury wrote about the security, symbolism and history of the Queen’s visit, and Kevin Meagher wrote of the visit being as much about Britain’s past as Ireland’s. There is more on the Queen’s visit, including political reaction to the momentous occasion, in the Week Outside Westminster below.
Progressive of the week:
President Obama, who delivered a key note speech on Israel/Palestine and the Arab Spring last night, his first major speech on the Middle East since a speech in Cairo in June 2009. He said the status quo “is not defensible”, and described the winds of change in the region as “an historic opportunity… after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be”.
In one of the most moving passages, he said:
“I recognise how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past.
“We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organisation that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. He said: ‘I gradually realised that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.’
“And we see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. ‘I have the right to feel angry,’ he said. ‘So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate… Let us hope,’ he said, ‘for tomorrow’.
“That is the choice that must be made – not simply in this conflict, but across the entire region – a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past, and the promise of the future.
“It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.”
“It will not be easy. There is no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope. But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves.
“Now, we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.”
Regressive of the week:
Defence secretary Liam Fox, who in a leaked letter (£) to the prime minister in the Times this week sought to undo the Tory manifesto and coalition agreement pledge to enshrine in law the 0.7 per cent GNI target for overseas development spending.
“Playing politics with people’s lives is simply unacceptable… It is shocking that Fox would prefer a situation where the aid budget is cut up in back room deals owing more to Conservative party machinations than to the most effective ways to allocate British taxpayers’ money.
“Fox also creates a false choice between development spending and defence. It is not a decision between aircraft carriers and schools and hospitals, as he insinuates. By making smart investments in poor countries the UK can help prevent future conflicts and extremism…
“This is one of the most fundamental elements of a smart power strategy in the 21st century – and it is extraordinary that the defence secretary has chosen to play cheap politics rather than recognise this.”
Evidence of the week:
New stats (pdf) from the Office for National Statistics this week that show income inequality, measured by the gini coefficient, fell in Labour’s final year in office.
The ONS says:
“The Gini coefficient for disposable income in 2009/10 was 33 per cent, a fall of one percentage point on its 2008/09 value, therefore indicating a fall in inequality of income. The fall in inequality was driven mainly by retired households, for whom inequality fell by two percentage points in the latest period, and by three percentage points between 2007/08 and 2009/10.”
While Will Straw wrote on Left Foot Forward:
“The final set of data show that income inequality was flat over Labour’s time in office although inequality in retired households closed considerably over the period… While the reduction of child and pensioner poverty was a key aim of Labour’s time in office, the party never made income inequaltiy an explicit goal.”
Ed Jacobs’s Week Outside Westminster:
The Independent reported a memo from the Labour party which told councillors:
“If Liberal Democrat groups/councillors, who are committed to standing up to the unfair policies imposed by the government, wish to join Labour in running the council then we should look to form locally progressive coalitions.”
It was an historic week for Ireland as the Queen undertook a four day state visit; an opportunity not just to remember the past but crucially to look forward to a better future, a fairer future, a more peaceful future.
Speaking to RTE ahead of the visit, Irish President Mary McAleese said:
“I think it is an extraordinary moment in Irish history, a phenomenal sign and signal of the success of the peace process and absolutely the right moment for us to welcome onto Irish soil.
“Her Majesty, the Queen, the Head of State of our immediate next door neighbours, the people with whom we are forging a new future, a future very, very different from the past, on very different terms from the past and I think that visit will send the message that we are, both jurisdictions, determined to make the future a much, much better place.”
For her part, during her speech to a state dinner at Dublin Castle, the Queen expressed her “deep sympathy” to “all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past”.
“What were once only hopes for the future have now come to pass; it is almost exactly 13 years since the overwhelming majority of people in Ireland and Northern Ireland voted in favour of the agreement signed on Good Friday 1998, paving the way for Northern Ireland to become the exciting and inspirational place that it is today.
“I applaud the work of all those involved in the peace process and of all those who support and nurture peace, including members of the police, the Garda and the other emergency services, and those who work in the communities, the Churches and charitable bodies like Co-operation Ireland.
“Taken together, their work not only serves as the basis for reconciliation between our peoples and communities, but it gives hope to other peacemakers across the world that through sustained effort, peace can and will prevail.”
Responding to the Queen’s speech, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said:
“I believe that her expression of sincere sympathy for those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past is genuine. Many victims of the conflict will expect her government to act on that as quickly as possible, and to deal with legacy issues in a forthright manner.”
Responding to the news, David Cameron said:
“He always struck me as someone who was a statesman, as well as a politician, someone who was in politics for all the right reasons and someone who made a huge contribution to the peace process and bringing reconciliation for all that had happened in the past. I hope today of all days, with the state visit and the warm relationship between Britain and Ireland that he can see, that some of his work has been completed.”
Alex Salmond was formally re-elected as first minister by the Scottish Parliament, with a call for Holyrood to gain extra powers over tax, broadcasting and European Union policy.
On his flagship policy of independence he explained that whatever the result of a referendum on Scotland’s Constitutional future:
“We will continue to share a landmass, a language and a wealth of experience and history with the other peoples of these islands. My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals.”
“It is evident from the polls, and the anecdotal evidence that the standard model of independence, and the ‘break-up’ factor in relation to our neighbours are a cause of apprehension to many Scots voters.”
Meanwhile, opponents of independence began calling for an early vote to avoid the uncertainty that a protracted campaign could cause.
Ahead of giving the annual Hume lecture in Edinburgh, the Scotsman reported former chancellor Alistair Darling as set to say:
“Now we are going to have a referendum on independence, I am not sure why – except for the Nationalists’ fear about the result – we have to wait until the second half of the parliament. Why not hold it now? Let’s find out what the settled will of the people is. The question has been asked, so let us answer it. I fear, however, the plan is to spend the next two and a half years deliberately provoking trouble with Westminster, stoking up a sense of grievance.”
Meanwhile, following his party’s dreadful performance in the elections, the Lib Dems selected Willie Rennie as their leader north of the border.
Following his elevation, Rennie said of the Westminster coalition:
“I’ll be making sure that we tell people what we’re doing in the coalition and what we’re stopping the Tories doing. This, to me, is not about propping up the Tories – this about stopping them doing their worst.”
As Carwyn Jones’s new cabinet got down to work, the new health minister, Lesley Griffiths outlined the “massive challenges” which awaited her in the job. She used a visit to University Hospital of Wales Cardiff to outline her priorities for this vital area of policy.
“My priorities have to be those that were set out before the people of Wales – better access to GPs at weekends and in the evenings and introducing health checks. We have a shrinking budget from Westminster so we will have to look at priorities and where we can save money but we are not going to go the way of the UK Government – we don’t want to see privatisation.
“I also want to look at ambulance response times, which is something I’ve picked up from my own advice surgeries and I need to look at waiting times. We have met these targets but I don’t want to see them slip. Priorities have to include taking forward things like an organ donation bill and in terms of access to GPs, I need to look at the GP contract to make sure we can negotiate these issues.”
Elsewhere, two Lib Dem Assembly Members remain suspended pending an investigation into how and why they found themselves as members of public bodies that the law prohibits AMs from being part of.
Former Chief Legal Adviser to the Assembly, Winston Roddick QC, warned:
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“The law is quite plain. It simply states the election by which they became AMs was void and it’s as if the election had not taken place and they had not been elected.”