Look Left – Local elections 2012, mayoral referendums and Murdoch

Shamik Das looks back at the week’s politics, including our progressive, regressive and evidence of the week.

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• Labour won councils and councillors across the board in yesterday’s local elections, with the Tories performing badly and the Lib Dems terribly.

From results thus far, Labour is projected to win 38% of the national vote (up 3 points), the Conservatives 31% (down 4 points), and the Liberal Democrats 16% (unchanged) – though in absolute terms they have shrunk to below 3,000 councillors, the lowest since they were formed.

Overall, Labour have gained more than 700 seats, the Tories have lost nearly 400 seats, and the Lib Dems have lost more than 200 seats.

Reacting to the results, David Cameron said:

“These are difficult times and there aren’t easy answers. What we have to do is take the difficult decisions to deal with the debt, deficit and broken economy that we’ve inherited and we will go on making those decisions and we’ve got to do the right thing for our country.”

Ed Miliband said he was determined to show Labour could “deliver Britain the change it needs”, that:

“We are a party winning back people’s trust, regaining ground, but there is more work to do.”

And Nick Clegg, describing himself as “really sad” so many Lib Dem councillors lost their seats, commented:

“I am determined that we will continue to play our role in rescuing, repairing and reforming the British economy. It’s not an easy job and it can’t be done overnight but our duty is to boost jobs and investment and to restore a sense of hope and optimism to our country.”

Restrained joy for Miliband then – a lot done, a lot to do and all that – while for Clegg and Cameron, serious times, it seems, call for desperate measures: the PM and his deputy are planning a Rose Garden reprive, rather than a recession reversal, to resurrect their fortunes. Just what’ll detoxify the Lib Dems!

The best news of the night, though, comes from the BNP’s utter humiliation last night; as Hope Not Hate report, every BNP candidate who stood in yesterday’s elections has lost – including all BNP councillors up for re-election.

The BNP defeat means there is no BNP councillor in Burnley for the first time in ten years. Other previous BNP strongholds like Calderdale, Rotherham, Amber Valley, Nuneaton & Bedworth, Three Rivers and Epping Forest are also now BNP free zones. This leaves the BNP with just three councillors, down from a high of 57.

 


This week’s most read:

1. Under fire over hacking? How do you prove you’re fit and proper? By mocking Roy Hodgson Shamik Das

2. Author of new climate sceptic report was set to receive $1000 a month from oil lobby group Joss Garman

3. Vote 2012: How to vote in the London Assembly and Mayoral elections Malcolm Clark

4. Charity survey shows up shambolic work programme Ben Phillips

5. Wrong again: The Daily Mail claim wind farms change the weather Reuben Balfour-Brown, IPPR


 

• The mayoral referendum results, meanwhile, continue to come in – with the majority of cities voting “no” to an elected mayor.

Though Bristol has, it was announced this afternoon, voted “yes”, by 53.35%:46.65%, this morning it was revealed Bradford, Coventry, Manchester and Nottingham had all voted “no”, with Coventry the most emphatic – 63.58%:36.42%.

Counts in the remaining five cities to declare – Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield and Wakefield – are taking place this afternoon, with the results expected from around 5pm.

On Left Foot Forward over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the referendum debates taking place in all ten cities, exploring the arguments for and against elected mayors: Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield, and Wakefield.

Meanwhile in London, which has had an elected mayor for 12 years now, Boris Johnson is the favourite to defeat Ken Livingstone, though Labour are predicted to perform better in the Assembly elections. The results will be announced late tonight.

• Earlier this week, the Commons culture, media and sport select committee released its long-awaited report (pdf) into phone hacking – with explosive results.

By a majority, the cross-party committee concluded Rupert Murdoch “is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of major international company”, accusing him of “wilful blindness” to the criminality being conducted under his nose, in his company.

It described James Murdoch as exhibiting a “lack of curiosity… wilful ignorance even” at the time of the negotiations surrounding the 2008 Gordon Taylor phone-hacking settlement, and concluded it was “simply astonishing” he did not realise the “one ‘rogue reporter’ line was untrue” until late 2010; and of Rebekah Brooks, it said she must take responsibility for “the culture which permitted” unethical newsgathering methods over Dowler in 2002.

Brooks and Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s former director of communications, will appear before the Leveson Inquiry next week, it was revealed (pdf) yesterday. Coulson will take the stand on Thursday from 10am, Brooks on Friday from 10am.

For more on this week’s report, see our article here, read Cormac Hollingsworth on the need to change corporate law following the “wilful blindness” verdict, and read our piece on The Sun’s descent back into the gutter with their coverage of Roy Hodgson’s appointment as England boss.

Progressive of the week:

President Obama, who this week marked the anniversary of killing of Osama Bin Laden with a surprise visit to Afghanistan. He signed a new pact with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, heralding “a future in which war ends, and a new chapter begins” and saying “this time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end”.

For more on Obama’s visit read our report here and see the World Outside Westminster below.

Regressive of the week:

The author of a new climate sceptic report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Indur Goklany, which claimed climate change “might be bad for your health” and “global warming does not currently rank among the top public health threats”. As Left Foot Forward reported this week, Goklany is linked to a number of oil industry funded US lobby groups.

It emerged earlier this year he was set to receive a payment (see pdf) of $1,000 per month from the Heartland Institute – which in turn received millions of dollars to promote climate change denial from some of the most polluting companies in the world. He has previously been caught peddling misinformation about malaria.

For more on Goklany read our report here, and read our rebuttal of the Daily Mail’s crazy claims wind farms change the weather.

Evidence of the week:

NIESR’s latest Economic Review, published this morning, which concluded persistently weak demand is maintaining high unemployment, and may lead to a permanently higher rate of joblessness, and that by 2016, the equilibrium unemployment rate will “gradually decline to 6.4 per cent” – still a whole percentage point above the pre-crisis level.

For more on the NIESR report, read our article here.

The Week Outside Westminster by Ed Jacobs:

Scotland

As Alex Salmond spent the week defending his links to News International, the Murdoch stench continued to linger. At the start of the week, Salmond used an interview on the Today programme to outline how he wanted to have a “good professional relationship” with Rupert Murdoch. On Monday he took to the airwaves again, declaring there was “no quid pro quo” in his relationship with Murdoch.

Despite this, however, it emerged the SNP leader began trying to discuss News Corp’s bid for BSkyB with UK culture secretary Jeremy Hunt just a day after it was confirmed the Scottish Sun would support his party in last year’s Holyrood elections.

Meanwhile, it emerged former first minister Jack (now Lord) McConnell and his children had had their phones hacked by the News of the World. It was later reported Salmond’s own parliamentary aide, Joan McAlpine had also been hacked.

And during a lively First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Salmond himself refused to say if his phone had been hacked; it later emerged he would be appearing before the Leveson Inquiry on June 13th. Salmond is refusing to launch a full Scottish Parliamentary Inquiry into the allegations, as urged by Tom Watson and Scottish opposition leaders.

Following the publication of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report into the affair, Labour’s Tom Watson called on Salmond to launch a full Scottish Parliamentary Inquiry into the allegations a point  echoed by Scotland’s opposition leaders.

Northern Ireland

Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness used a lecture  at the LSE to call for a severance of the links between Northern Ireland and Westminster. Citing as an example the 1916 Easter Rising – which effectively drew a curtain on the British Empire – McGuinness argued the 1998 Good Friday Agreement marked the end of the British Union.

He also used his conference speech to outline how Sinn Fein sought to cut UUP leader David Trimble loose in negotiations over the peace process in 1997, and said of Tony Blair’s belief DUP leader Ian Paisley would not be prepared to share power with Sinn Fein:

“I challenged him directly on that. I told him that his plan to revitalise the UUP was going nowhere. I told him that I believed that we could reach an agreement with the DUP and that was what the British Government needed to focus on.

“I also told him I thought agreement with the DUP would be possible – difficult, yes – impossible, no.”

Wales

Plaid Cymru’s leader at Westminster had egg on his face as he confidently predicted an independent Wales would be achieved in his lifetime.

Speaking alongside Alfred Bosch, a leading figure in the Republican Left of Catalonia, Elfyn Llwyd, 60, argued:

“Yes, I do believe in my lifetime I will see a Wales that is independent. And I believe that the game-changer will be the Scottish referendum when there will be a [re-thinking] of where all the nations in Britain [interact] with each other, how they fit in with each other, and so on.”

His views, however, came after polling for the Welsh Governance Centre by YouGov found 62% of respondents disagreed with the idea that if Scotland were to become an independent country so should Wales.

The Welsh government, meanwhile, hailed the coming into force of a new duty on Welsh ministers to have due regard to the requirements of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in all the decisions they make about new legislation, policies and changes to existing policy.

The World Outside Westminster by Tom Rouse:

An end to the presence of US troops in Afghanistan looks to be in sight. President Obama made a surprise visit to the country on Tuesday and staged talks with President Karzai, which resulted in the two men signing a partnership agreement, outlining the future security of the country.

In a speech made during his visit, Obama pledged to finish the job and told US troops they would not be in the country for more than a single day longer than the US’s national security required, that “by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country”.

***

Marco Rubio has forced immigration back onto the agenda, launching his own proposed version of the DREAM Act. Rubio, who is considered by many as one of Mitt Romney’s most credible options for VP, has proposed allowing children of illegal immigrants the chance of a legal right to be in the country, providing they meet certain criteria.

His proposals are far more limited than those supported by Democrats, but represent a considerable softening of the Republican position and that of Rubio himself, who has previously been accused of taking extreme stances over immigration.

***

Polling continues to suggest the November elections are going to be a close-run race. Although Obama continues to enjoy on average a 3-point lead over Romney when the two are compared head-to-head, Democrats look set to struggle in both the Senate and the House, where generic ballots routinely give Republican candidates a 1-3 point lead.

Obama’s approval ratings continue to impress. Having consistently seen his disapproval rating outrank his approval for much of last year, Obama has seen the trend reverse this year, with the latest data from Gallup showing his approval rating has settled above the 50% mark.

More importantly for the President’s chances, US job creation is now at a 4 year high and with getting people into work a key battleground, this is only likely to further strengthen Obama’s ratings.

***

Documents discovered in Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan have given a compelling insight into the inner workings of al-Qa’eda. A summary of the documents (pdf) has been released by the US military and reveals how concerned the organisation were to retain the sympathy of moderate Muslims.

A letter from Bin Laden to his subordinates in the Arab Gulf warned them off from attacks on Yemen’s citizens and forces, instead urging the cell to focus their efforts on US security forces.

The documents also reveal the terrorist organisation’s fascination with the US media and whether they could use it to build narratives. Fox News is dismissed as “it falls into the Abyss” but ABC’s was considered to be their best potential channel.

***

Relations between China and the US have come under strain after the flight of noted dissident and activist Chen Guangcheng from his home, where he was kept under house arrest, to the US embassy. Chen has since left the Embassy, after expressing fears his wife would be killed if he did not.

His flight came at a politically sensitive time, and it has been suggested the US did not to do more to aid Chen’s flight from the country due to the forthcoming visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The US have rebuffed these suggestions and pledged to ensure Chen and his family remain safe from harm.

Mark Toner, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said:

“We are going to continue to monitor his case very closely. We’re going to continue to seek assurances that the commitments that were made in this case become reality or are followed through on. And going forward, we are going to make sure that we keep a very close eye on it.”

***

While all eyes at home have been distracted by the appointment of Roy Hodgson, Europe’s preparations for this year’s European Championships have been distracted by the Ukraine’s treatment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko is currently on hunger strike in Jail after being sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for “abuse of office”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has threatened to boycott the tournament and other European countries are expected to follow suit.

All three of England’s group games will be played in the Ukraine and ministers have yet to decide whether or not they will attend the matches.

 


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