Britain and France, at the forefront of the campaign to defend the people of Libya, took the lead again this week, calling on the UN to take action against Syria.
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• Britain and France, at the forefront of the campaign to defend the people of Libya, took the lead again this week, calling on the UN to take action against Syria.
The diplomatic moves come as the regime launches a series of brutal crackdowns on demonstrators, the latest clashes leaving at least 28 people dead.
The BBC reports:
“The violence came as government forces moved on the nearby town of Jisr al-Shughour where the government said 120 security personnel had been killed. Hundreds of civilians have fled north into Turkey to escape the assault.
“Opposition activists told the BBC that the army was adopting a ‘scorched earth policy’ around Jisr al-Shughour, with helicopter gunships and tanks firing into the town as advancing troops bulldozed homes and torched crops and fields…
“Anti-government activists said about 15 people died in the northern province of Idlib, most of them in in Maarat al-Numan where tanks – and some reports said helicopters – fired on protesters…
“Elsewhere in Syria, two people were reported killed by security forces in southern Deraa province and another four in the Qaboun district of the capital, Damascus…
“Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously been reluctant to criticise Syria, but in an interview quoted by Anatolia news agency, he said the Assad regime was committing ‘atrocities’ against anti-government demonstrators.
“‘They are not acting in a humane manner. This is savagery,’ he said in a TV interview on Thursday.”
Meanwhile in Libya, further evidence of the sheer evil of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime emerged. According to the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, the Libyan despot “directly ordered mass rapes and gave sex drugs to troops to encourage them to attack women”.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo said:
“It never was the pattern he used to control the population. The rape is a new aspect of the repression. But now we are confirming there was a policy to rape in Libya.
“Apparently, he decided to punish using rapes.”
• Domestically, it was revealed that the government’s entire argument for abolishing Education Maintenance Allowance was flawed.
Appearing before the Education Select Committee, Thomas Spielhofer of the National Foundation for Educational Research, said the research, his research, on which the government based its decision to abolish EMA, had been “misrepresented in many ways”.
The research, for the report ‘Barriers to Participation in Education and Training’ (pdf) was the cornerstone of the government’s whole “deadweight” argument. Spielhofer never thought his report would lead to the abolition of EMA, and was not happy that it did – especially without them even asking for his opinion.
“It happened without any discussion with us.”
“Mr Spielhofer slammed the government replacement for EMA, the Discretionary Support Fund, by saying that, as it was discretionary, many students ‘would think that they wouldn’t qualify and wouldn’t apply’.
“Rather worryingly he added it was ‘the most vulnerable who will be the hardest hit’ and it may push many of them into trying to enter the workplace in unskilled jobs without training, which will be hard at a time when there are no jobs.
“The government’s response to all this on the BBC has been to say there is a ‘range of evidence’ for scrapping EMA, but as the prime minister and Michael Gove have used this ‘deadweight’ figure continuously one has to wonder where is this additional research?
“This is very damaging to the government and the education secretary as it destroys their entire augment for scrapping EMA – and comes only a few months before colleges and students start their courses.”
• On the economy, the big news was the IMF’s green-lighting of the coalition’s deficit reduction plans.
The International Monetary Fund’s verdict will have come as a relief to George Osborne – though it wasn’t all good news for the chancellor. Recent weak data forced the IMF to revise down its forecast for UK real GDP growth in 2011 to 1.5 per cent.
Left Foot Forward’s Tony Dolphin wrote of the report:
“It also highlighted the role of low interest rates in supporting investment spending and exports. This has been seized upon by the chancellor as further evidence his approach has the support of international economic agencies (although the backing of the chief economist at the OECD now seems less strong than in the past).
“Not that these agencies have a monopoly of wisdom. The IMF has already cut its forecast for UK growth in 2011 from 2.5% last April to 2% in November, 1.7% in April and now to 1.5%.
“The IMF did, however, highlight the significant risks to growth and unemployment, and said that if they materialise, the policy response will depend on the nature of the shock. This could include temporary tax cuts and an increase in the scale of quantitative easing if growth was weak and inflation pressures eased.
“The IMF’s latest report on the UK economy will have been put together before last week’s data showing a sharp fall in business confidence in May – data which brought a fresh round of calls for an immediate switch to Plan B, including from some previous supporters of the chancellor’s approach.
“But neither the IMF nor the chancellor is going to change its mind as a result of one set of data releases.
“However, if economic growth remains anaemic in the middle part of the year – and, crucially, if unemployment starts to increase again – calls for a new strategy will become louder. By the time the IMF next passes judgement on the UK in October, it might feel the need to join in.”
Progressive of the week:
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, who this week spoke out against the coalition, saying “no one voted” for their policies, and that the “anger and anxiety” felt by voters results from the government’s failure to expose its “radical, long-term policies” to “proper public argument”.
Some, indeed many on the left, though agreeing with him, have said the Archbishop has no right to speak out – an argument challenged by Left Foot Forward’s Ed Jacobs yesterday.
“Even Alistair Campbell, who was so famously associated with the tag line “we don’t do God”, writing on his blog today argues: ‘Rowan Williams is right to speak out, and right on the substance…’
“While the debate around the wisdom, or otherwise of the Archbishop involving himself in the political sphere in this way will continue to be a source of controversy, the fact remains that he has a right to be able to say what he has.
“History is littered with examples of how those of faith have proved invaluable to social and political changes and developments. It was William Wilberforce for example who led the campaign within parliament to end the slave trade, spurred on at the time by his conversion to Christianity.
“And more recently Christian charities played a key role in leading the successful ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign and the decision by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, in 2007 to cut up his dog collar live on the Andrew Marr programme in protest against the continued reign of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe met with little objection from politicians in the UK, despite the intensely political nature of what he had done.
“It can only be concluded therefore that what those within the coalition are concerned about is not the principle of Rowan Williams speaking out, but the fact that the content of his remarks make for uncomfortable reading.”
Regressive of the week:
Business secretary Vince Cable, for his anti-union speech to the GMB conference on Monday. He warned unions may face tougher strike laws “to protect the country’s economic interests”, and said employment laws may be changed.
“His half bluff, half veiled threat to tighten the UK’s already strict labour laws highlighted the coalition government’s focus on conflict instead of consensus. Mr Cable’s coalition is salami slicing workers’ rights – reducing access to tribunals, cutting compensation for discrimination, diluting weak TUPE undertakings further, even an online poll for employers to nominate their least favourite health and safety law.
“The ‘Do Nothing’ minister, who watched from the sidelines as over 2,000 high-tech jobs went at Pfizer in Sandwich, suddenly decided to ‘Do Something’; dangle the spectre of more restrictions to the UK’s choking labour laws in front of the very people to whom saving UK jobs matters most – working people…
“Instead of restricting workers’ rights Cable should be looking at the real problems that face this country; how do we breathe life back into our high streets, our local shops, our local businesses and our local communities?
“The UK’s workers are already the easiest and the quickest to sack in Europe; they are not this country’s problem. If Cable spoke up for the workers he could do something positive for this country’s economy and his party’s (tarnished) liberal credentials along the way.”
Evidence of the week:
Left Foot Forward contributor Michael Burke’s analysis of the role of private versus the public sector in health care, using OECD data to demonstrate the inherently more efficient nature of the public sector in the provision of public goods like healthcare.
The countries with greater public health spending (Britain, Sweden and Denmark) on average achieve 11 years’ more healthy life per person than the lower public spending group (Austria, Germany, Finland) – even though the latter group spend more money in total; i.e. the private expenditure is wasted.
“It is well known that the US healthcare system is almost entirely private. As SEB has previously pointed out, the US system is much more inefficient than the NHS – with the same life expectancy and proportionally the same number of health care professionals, while devoting almost twice as much of GDP to healthcare spending.
“A recent explanation for part of this discrepancy comes from The Economist magazine, which has great relevance for the current attack on the NHS from the Tory-led government. It argues that the centralisation of drug approval and purchasing by public bodies is vastly more efficient.
“The alternative US system means private sector drug producers are spending enormous sums marketing their products to a decentralised multitude of purchasers, equivalent to local GP consortia in this country. These costs are of course passed on, and the drug purchased is frequently the one with the largest marketing budget, not the most effective one.
“This inefficiency is replicated at every level of input for the private US healthcare system.
“The principles of public sector relative efficiency apply to the delivery of virtually all public goods, not just health, but also education, housing, transport, infrastructure and services such as post and banking.
“Marketising and privatising the NHS is not only a threat to the quality of healthcare for millions of people, but a hugely inefficient step backwards.”
Ed Jacobs’s Week Outside Westminster:
It was a week of meetings as members of the devolved administrations and the UK Government met formally for the first time since May’s elections, followed by a trip to Northern Ireland by David Cameron and one to Scotland by Nick Clegg.
New polling by TNS-BMRB put the proportion of Scots in favour of independence up six points over the past year and a half, with 37% of people expressing support against 45% who said they would prefer to remain part of the union (down one point); the figures are likely to be played up for all they are worth by the SNP.
Chris Eynon of TNS-BMRB said of the findings:
“Overall, then, the findings and longer-term trend data suggest that the success of the SNP in the recent election does not herald any significant increase in support for independence generally at this stage and their decision not to rush into an early referendum is well-founded.”
The polling comes as Left Foot Forward argued for a an early referendum to be introduced by Westminster and the Liberal Democrat Scottish secretary Michael Moore suggested that two votes would be required before Scotland could possibly become an independent nation.
Meanwhile, following the sad death of Labour MP David Carins it was announced the Inverclyde by-election would be held on the June 30th.
As the campaign got under way, Labour’s candidate, former council leader Iain McKenzie, said:
“I have been out knocking on doors, speaking to people, and the biggest issue is jobs. So my first priority is to bang heads together to bring new employers and high-quality jobs to this area.
“But the government is threatening the economic recovery, threatening jobs, and hurting families who are working hard.”
The SNP’s candidate, former MSP Anne McLaughlin, argued it was Alex Salmond that was best placed to support growth and create jobs:
“It is only by sending an SNP representative to Westminster that Inverclyde can build on the progress of the last four years and win a more powerful voice for people across the constituency.”
As the Queen formally opened the fourth Welsh Assembly, she told Assembly Members that it had an “impressive record of achievements”.
Speaking ahead of the opening, Labour first minister Carwyn Jones’s message was simple:
“The big challenge for us is to make sure people know what we’re doing and can measure what we’re doing – perhaps we haven’t been as good at doing that in the past.
“It’s important that you don’t just do things for the betterment of society in government but (that) you actually make sure people understand what you’re doing and can measure what you’re doing.”
David Cameron, meanwhile, was rebuked by health minister Lesley Griffiths after using Prime Minister’s Questions to argue that Labour in Wales were cutting health spending whilst seeing waiting lists rise.
Ms Griffiths responded:
“David Cameron is simply wrong about the NHS in Wales. When it comes to Welsh waiting lists – if orthopaedic performance was excluded – we would have achieved our target every month since October 2009.
“In England, waiting lists across a range of specialities are increasing because of the mess the Tories are making of the NHS. That fact is, only a few weeks ago the people of Wales voted for an NHS that holds true to its founding principles – providing care free at point of delivery.
“Those same voters overwhelmingly rejected Tory plans for marketisation and more competition and backed Labour’s vision instead. In light of that election result, what David Cameron thinks is, quite frankly, irrelevant.”
As David Cameron visited Northern Ireland, the economy was left, right and centre in discussions both in Belfast and London.
Following a meeting at the Treasury together with colleagues from the Stormont Executive, first minister Peter Robinson argued:
“There is an urgent need for our economy to produce self-sustaining private sector growth which will allow us to rebalance away from dependency on the public sector. We need to develop the capacity for the local economy to grow using its own resources and capacity.”
In an article for the Belfast Telegraph, David Cameron wrote:
“All parties here agree that Northern Ireland is too dependent on the public sector. We need a dynamic private sector to generate the wealth that pays for top quality public services and which here in Northern Ireland will help to underpin peace.
“We are doing everything we can do to help drive a private sector recovery: boosting trade, cutting unnecessary regulation and key business taxes – and, of course, looking at issues specifically in Northern Ireland such as the case for devolving corporation tax.
“I believe that Northern Ireland’s best days lie ahead. We have a real chance to build a peaceful, stable and prosperous society in which everybody has a genuinely shared future. In the coming months and years this government will continue to work with people and parties from right across the community here to help make that a reality.”
Meanwhile, a DUP MP became the first member of his party to formally call for the resignation of Mary McArdle, special adviser to the Sinn Fein culture minister and who was previously convicted of the murder in 1984 of 22-year-old Mary Travers and her father, Tom.
Calling for her to go, Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, argued:
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“Sinn Fein is now in a position whereby they can listen to the views of their own community and prove to the rest of Northern Ireland that they are committed to peaceful and not harmful ways by appointing a different adviser who is not so controversial.
“I can understand the pain of the family and the fact that their grief has been dug up and enhanced by the comments made by Sinn Fein and Ms McArdle in relation to the murder, and I support their call for her resignation.”