Shamik Das looks back at the week’s politics, including our progressive, regressive and evidence of the week.
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• The pressure on the government over their links to Rupert Murdoch continues to grow, with David Cameron forced onto the defensive today over the Tories’ closeness to Murdoch amidst reports culture secretary Jeremy Hunt had misled Parliament.
Hunt, aka “JH”, dubbed a “cheerleader” for the Murdochs, faces the sack if found to have breached the ministerial code, with many commentators suggesting the only reason he’s still in his post is to act as a ‘firewall’ for Cameron and George Osborne; if Hunt goes, who knows whose head’ll next roll…
The story’s dominated the media – well, that is to say all networks and papers except for one – while SNP leader Alex Salmond, as well as Hunt and Cameron, is in the firing line for his cosiness to Rupert and James Murdoch, of which we’ll have more on Left Foot Forward tomorrow.
1. Guess which front page fails to lead on Leveson? Shamik Das
2. It’s all about turnout – if the many vote, together we can Sack Boris Gary Dunion, Common People
4. London 2012: Rio Tinto and the ethics of corporate sponsorship Tony Burke, Unite
• The Leveson revelations came on top of the latest disastrous news on the economy, that the UK is now officially back in recession. Thanks to George Osborne’s never-ending austerity story Britain has double-dipped.
The economy shrank 0.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2012, following a 0.3 per cent contraction in the fourth quarter of 2011. Since Osborne’s spending review in 2010, national output has declined by 0.2 per cent. It is the first UK double-dip since 1975.
Nobel laureate Paul Krugman said of the figures “Keynesians have been completely right, Austerians utterly wrong”, with one look at the US economy showing exactly why: Obama’s stimulus has seen 2.2% annualised growth in Q1 2012, a 0.55% quarter-on-quarter rise, in stark contrast to the Osbornian double-dip.
Since the Tories took the reins of our economy, it has shrunk 0.2%; over the same period, the US economy has grown 2.8%. Furthermore, the US economy is now 1.3% above its pre-crisis peak; the UK economy is 4.3% below.
As Cormac Hollingsworth wrote on Left Foot Forward this week, Osborne’s ideologically-driven austerity economics have utterly failed, and “we’re all paying the price”, with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) once again getting their growth projection wrong. The chancellor’s expansionary fiscal contraction has tanked.
• On Thursday voters go to the polls across Britain in local and mayoral elections and referendums, with the biggest battle taking place in the capital for the Mayor of London.
As Left Foot Forward reported, turnout will be key to determining whether Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone wins. As this map shows, in 2008, the more a ward supported Boris, the greater the turnout; he won by being better at getting his voters to the polls.
As the Sack Boris campaign wrote on Left Foot Forward this week:
“Keep in mind that Boris won by just 150,000 votes [in 2008] – if we get even a fraction more voters to the polls in Hackney or Harrow, Whitechapel or Walthamstow, Tottenham or Tulse Hill, he’s done for…
Progressive of the week:
Welsh health minister Lesley Griffiths, who this week stood up to George Osborne over his plans for regional pay, which she described as “Tory code” for slashing the pay of the poorest NHS workers. Griffiths called it “ideologically-driven” and a “negative step for health services and nurses in Wales”, adding “I suspect Wales would suffer badly”.
Read more here and in the Week Outside Westminster below.
Regressive of the week:
International development secretary Andrew Mitchell, who has once again caved in to right-wing Tory backbenchers and failed to push through the 0.7% target of GDP on foreign aid onto the statute book. The legislation committing Britain to the target by 2013 has disappeared from the forthcoming order of parliamentary business and looks set to be absent from the Queen’s Speech.
Read more here.
Evidence of the week:
Cancer Research UK’s report on “The packaging of tobacco products”, making the case for plain packaging. Currently 157,000 UK 11- to 15-year-olds start smoking every year, enough to fill 5,200 classrooms, attracted in part by glitzy packaging and branding, and an image Big Tobacco wants to project to the world, cool, mature, popular. A quarter of deaths from cancer are caused by tobacco.
Read more on the report and the campaign, including shocking video footage of 6- to 11-year-olds talking about cigarette packets, here.
The Week Outside Westminster by Ed Jacobs:
A device more powerful than that which devastated Omagh in 1998 was discovered and defused by security forces in Newry on Friday night. The 600lb bomb was “fully primed”, and twice as big as the bomb that exploded outside Newry courthouse two years ago.
PSNI Ch. Supt. Alasdair Robinson said:
“If this had exploded it would have caused devastation. To put it in perspective, anyone within 50m of this device would have been killed and anyone within 100m, seriously injured…
“Many police services would struggle to get an international border road closed in this time frame There was some residual traffic following the closures and, while we made the public aware of the road closures and advised them to avoid the area, a few cars ignored our advice.
“We do everything in our power to protect human life.”
While Ulster Unionist MLA for Newry and Armagh, Danny Kennedy, said if the bomb had exploded it would have caused serious destruction:
“It had the potential to cause lethal damage. A 600-pound device at the road side waiting for a police patrol. It is just unthinkable.”
Elsewhere, a preliminary hearing took place in Belfast over the case being brought by Northern Ireland’s Attorney General against Peter Hain for allegedly undermining the justice system in his memoirs, with an editorial in the Guardian declaring “inappropriate prosecutions… do not come sillier” than this.
As Left Foot Forward reported on the ever closer links that emails released by the Leveson Inquiry showed between Alex Salmond and the Murdoch empire, under the headline “Bad smell at Bute House”, an editorial in the Daily Record on Wednesday argued:
“At face value, Labour’s Johann Lamont is right – this just stinks, Mr Salmond…
“This flimsy defence will not clean off any mud and does nothing to answer the big question – why would the first minister want to co-operate with Tory politicians to assist a right-wing tycoon whose papers despise the progressive, left-of-centre politics Salmond claims to represent.”
Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont also launched a strongly-worded attack on the SNP over independence, accusing it of “deceit”, calling on Scotland to reject the nationalists’ “student politics”.
Speaking to the Scottish TUC’s annual conference in Inverness she told delegates:
“My Scottish Labour Party is a crusade – to fight poverty, inequality and injustice… [The SNP] are a government who tell us they are radical about childcare but we must wait seven years before – maybe, perhaps – it will be delivered.
“They trumpet new investment for four months after they have been told it has been withdrawn. They accuse others of lying when we expose the obscenity of NHS patients sleeping without blankets.”
Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, spent the week trying to woo Welsh Labour into forming a new progressive alliance with Plaid.
Writing for the Bevan Foundation’s website she argued:
“In Wales, the Conservatives could have responded differently, but instead their leader in the Assembly has fully endorsed the UK Coalition’s programme and has taken the Welsh wing of the party further to the right. Tory values are incompatible with Plaid Cymru values.
“The success of the One Wales government was largely based on the fact that both Plaid and Labour could agree on a set of core principles and values which formed the basis of our coalition government.
“Some say that Plaid suffered as a result of its decision to go into coalition with Labour but ultimately Wales won, because it was governed by a strong, progressive government which further extended Wales’s ability to protect itself.”
Health minister Lesley Griffiths, meanwhile, criticised Westminster’s plans for regional pay as “Tory code for cutting the pay of NHS workers in Wales”, as the Welsh government launched a new campaign to recruit and retain doctors in Wales.
There was one by-election this week:
• Waterside Ward, North Norfolk District Council: LD hold.
– LD 494 (32.2%, -2.7%); Con 420 (27.4%, -8.5%); Lab 246 (16%, +1.6%); UKIP 233 (15.2%, +0.4%); Green 73 (4.8%, +4.8%); Ind 69 (4.5%, +4.5%). Swing of 2.9% from Con to LD since 2011.
The World Outside Westminster by Ben Phillips:
In the United States, the final stages of the Republican primaries saw Mitt Romney sweep a further five states in the American northeast on Tuesday, thus all but confirming him as the Republican nominee for the presidency. He can now count on the votes of 900-odd convention delegates.
Newt Gingrich, the last remaining major player in the race, effectively conceded on Wednesday. Speaking in Cramerton, NC, he admitted it was “pretty clear” Romney is “ultimately going to be the nominee”.
Gingrich’s last hurrah was an attempt to cause an upset in the Delaware primary, with his cash-strapped campaign focusing all its efforts on the state. Romney won it regardless, taking 56% of the vote against Gingrich’s paltry 27%. The former Speaker of the House is now expected to endorse Romney sometime next week, as is Rick Santorum; his campaign says the transitional details are being worked out.
This just leaves Ron Paul in the field alongside Romney. The Guardian have an interactive map of the GOP primaries here.
Presumably seeking to capitalise on the presumptive Republican nominee’s slightly dour reputation, President Obama stepped up by appearing on Jimmy Fallon’s show, receiving a rapturous reception as he slow-jammed the news.
Obama proved his musical credentials back in February at a White House function, taking a star turn on the blues standard ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ alongside B.B. King and others. Given his latest move elicited this response from Romney, we can safely assume the presidential race has found a fresh battleground, and dread whatever light entertainment the ensuing campaigns bring forth.
A new book by Roger Draper sheds light on the origins of much of the political and legislative deadlock that has characterised Obama’s first term in office.
“Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives” includes details of a meeting held by senior Republicans in the days surrounding Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, which yielded a resolution to take back the House in the 2010 midterms and subsequently hobble Obama’s presidency by blocking legislation.
“We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign,” Draper quotes Californian Congressman Kevin McCarthy as insisting, stubbornly oblivious to the basics of democracy. “If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority.”
In France, the first round of the presidential election has passed off, with the far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen eliminated. The two places for the second round run-off will be occupied by the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Socialist challenger Francois Hollande. The two scored 27.08% and 28.63% of the vote respectively.
Yet the knowledge that nearly one in five French electors voted for the far-right (Le Pen took 18% of the vote), combined with the exceedingly narrow margin by which Hollande beat Sarkozy in this round, has provoked anxiety and doubt about what the run-off will produce.
In Spain, figures released on Friday show the country as having the worst unemployment figures in Europe: 5.6 million people – a staggering 25% of the population – are out of work; 1.5 million of those have now been unemployed for the past two years.
The foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, said:
“The figures are terrible for everyone and terrible for the government. Spain is in a crisis of huge proportions.”
In Norway, as the Anders Behring Breivik trial continues, around 40,000 Norwegians gathered near the Oslo court building for a massed rendition of “Children of the Rainbow”, a Norwegian translation of Pete Seeger’s “My Rainbow Race” – a song referred to by Breivik as Marxist propaganda.
As The Guardian notes, while Breivik’s testimony has seen him use “chillingly graphic language to describe his killing spree”, it is his comments on Seeger’s 1971 protest song that appear to have” touched a nerve in a country that prides itself on a tradition of tolerance and justice”.
And in Syria, a suicide bombing in Damascus has killed at least ten people amidst continuing violence across the country. With Kofi Annan’s peace mission ongoing, the French foreign ministry, seeking a tougher stance, has suggested it will wait no later than May 5th before pushing for a punitive Security Council resolution against the Assad regime.