Shamik Das looks back at the week’s politics, including our progressive, regressive and evidence of the week.
To receive Look Left in your inbox before it appears on the website, sign up to the Left Foot Forward email service
• Ed Miliband yesterday unveiled the biggest voter registration drive for a generation, outlining plans to reverse the decline in turnout in elections since 1997.
At the recent local elections, turnout was at its lowest level for a decade – at around 30 per cent, it pales against the 80% turnout in the French Presidential elections, for example.
Addressing the Left Foot Forward media-partnered Progress Conference in central London, Miliband said that, with an estimated six million people already missing from the electoral register, Labour had “a very long way to go to build the deep trust we need, to build the allegiance we need, to build the enthusiasm we need”.
The Labour leader also said the party must show it was prepared to stand up for the interests of the many in the face of a Tory-led government representing only the powerful and privileged:
“We now have an opportunity and we must seize this moment. I want the British people to understand how the Labour Party is changing. To understand the character of our party, how it can reach out.
“Our work to make that happen is well under way but it now must intensify.”
• Anders Breivik is a man, not a monster – making him all the more terrifying Markus Göransson
• Nine measures for a ‘big L’ liberal Queen’s Speech Tom Frostick, CentreForum
• MPs accuse SNP of “biased” independence question Ed Jacobs
• On Wednesday, the government unveiled its Queen’s Speech.
Missing from the speech was a Bill to enshrine in law the commitment for the UK to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on international development, a pledge made in not only the Tory and Lib Dem manifestos but the coalition agreement.
There were, however, some terrible Bills – not least the Regulatory Reform Bill, which will reform the employment tribunal system “by providing more options for the early resolution of disputes” – i.e. make it easier for bosses to sack workers at will.
As Left Foot Forward has long pointed out, and noted again this week, the plans are not only wrong in principle but won’t actually reduce unemployment and kickstart the economy. The evidence is clear – but as it runs contrary to the Tory-led government’s laissez-faire ideology they’ll just ignore it, to the detriment of employees, employers, and the economy.
One of the few bright spots of the Speech, though, was the Defamation Bill, which free speech and libel reform campaigners hailed as a “major milestone”; and with Ed Miliband set to back the proposals, it is to be hoped the legislation makes it on to the statute book without delay, finally dragging our libel laws from the 19th century into the 21st.
Also on Left Foot Forward this week, we’ve had alternative Queen’s Speech propsals from CentreForum – nine measures for a “Big L” liberal Queen’s Speech – and Mike Morgan Giles on the need for an Economic Freedom Bill.
As Left Foot Forward reported this week, his youth as a London teenager could not have been further from his celebrity future.
The young Vidal took to the streets to fight Mosley’s blackshirts after the war, the then hairdresser’s apprentice described as “one of the bravest of them all, certainly one of the toughest”, an anti-Fascist street-fighter who “made his name by shaping heads was more interested in breaking them”…
Read our tribute in full – and it really is a must-read – here.
Progressive of the week:
Former Tory shadow home secretary David Davis MP, who this week led the charge against the government’s Draft Communications Bill, unveiled in the Queen’s Speech, a Bill he described as a “snooper’s charter”.
Regressive of the week:
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith MP, who disparaged sacked Remploy workers, accusing them of sitting around all day and “just making cups of coffee”, remarks and conduct described as “callous” and “ignorant” by Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews.
See here for more.
Evidence of the week:
The IPPR/Resolution Foundation report (pdf) on how much implementing a Living Wage policy would cost businesses by sector. As Left Foot Forward reported on Thursday, it is not as much as you would think, generally being no more than about five per cent increase in the wage bill for all sectors other than restaurants and bars.
See here for more.
The Week Outside Westminster by Ed Jacobs:
It was a bad week for the UK Government in Wales as it faced attacks from all sides.
Using an open letter to the South Wales Argus, the Tory MP for Monmouth and chair of the Welsh affairs select committee, David Davies, spoke of “incompetence of the highest levels of government”, and said even his mum had voted UKIP in last week’s local elections.
Former Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire Lembit Opik, meanwhile, in an interview with Radio Wales, argued Nick Clegg wasn’t doing a good job as the party’s leader, and called for him to de-couple his roles as deputy prime minister and party leader.
Elsewhere, it emerged UK work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had accused disabled staff working at Remploy factories of just sitting around drinking coffee all day, prompting calls for him to resign.
As David Cameron and Nick Clegg sought to relaunch the coalition at a factory down south, up north the children were squabbling as Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson declared the Lib Dems had “ceased to function as a viable party in Scotland”.
Responding in kind, a spokesman for the Scottish Lib Dems observed said:
“We all had a good chuckle at this. We don’t really know if Ruth Davidson really believes this nonsense.”
Meanwhile, speaking for many across Scotland at the sense of anti-climax that was felt about the Queen’s Speech, The Scotsman’s political editor Eddie Barnes wrote:
“As recent studies of the old Lab-Lib Scottish Executive have shown, one of the problems of running a coalition government is that the parties spend so much time facing inwards, exchanging Policy A for Compromise B, that the end result gets watered down and lacks definition.
“So focused much of the criticism on the Con-Lib Coalition’s legislative programme yesterday. “Tinkering”, “tweaking” and “hotch-potch” were just some of the phrases coming from the Left and the Right yesterday to describe the government’s proposals.”
Following the departure last month of Mary McArdle, the controversial Sinn Fein Adviser to the culture minister, the finance minister, Sammy Wilson, this week announced that McArdle’s successor, Jarlath Kearney, would not be paid as a result of Sinn Fein’s failure to comply with fresh security clearance regulations.
And finally this week, the Belfast Telegraph this week spoke of a “disturbing snub to Ulster by the coalition”, with its Editorial concluding:
“Of course the relationship with Westminster has changed following devolution, which we welcome as giving local politicians some power to tackle local problems at a local level.
“Yet for those of a unionist persuasion in Northern Ireland the growing distancing of the province from London must be a concern. We really are a place apart and this coalition Government does not appear to be in any distress at the gulf.
“Indeed, it seems quite content to let us go on our own merry way as much as possible with scarcely a trace of our name on their lips.”
The World Outside Westminster by Ben Phillips:
In the United States, after years of avoiding the issue, Barack Obama used an interview with ABC on Wednesday to explicitly declare his support for same-sex marriage – an audacious move in an election year.
The President said:
“At a certain point, I just concluded, for me personally, it is important to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
Obama’s move, as the Guardian noted, appeared at first to have been precipitated by VP Joe Biden voicing his support for gay rights at the weekend. Yet, according to the Huffington Post, Obama had already decided on the move – and, indeed, taped the ABC interview – before Biden’s remarks.
Speaking off the record, White House staff have been at pains to convey the impression his decision was a conscientious one, though many senior Democrats are known to be concerned about the timing of Obama’s announcement, fearing the Republicans’ tactics in the course of the coming presidential campaign.
The strength of conservative feeling on the subject was underlined on Tuesday, when 60% of voters in North Carolina backed a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman alone.
The state thus becomes the 30th across America to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in law. Nonetheless, the Democrats’ latest attack ad, which compares Romney’s position on gay rights unfavourably with that of George W. Bush, suggests they are prepared to fight on the issue.
Doing so could have some positive outcomes. Romney would be forced to actively campaign against same-sex marriage, aligning his campaign with socially conservative grassroots Republicans that almost certainly didn’t vote for him during the primaries. In so doing, he would relinquish the votes of various sub-demographics – in particular, young people – to whom he might otherwise appeal.
Yet the Republican nominee isn’t backed into a corner yet. His consistent line on same-sex marriage being a state issue appeals to another core Republican instinct, and stops him having to commit to legislating against it at the federal level should he win in November.
On Sunday, in France, Francois Hollande beat Nicolas Sarkozy in the second and final round of the presidential election, becoming France’s first socialist president since Francois Mitterand in the 1980s. The election attracted around 80% turnout nationwide, with Hollande taking 52% of the vote.
Hollande’s victory was the first of two major blows struck against austerity economics in Europe this week. In his victory speech, he proclaimed “austerity can no longer be the only option”, prompting one hysterical Forbes blogger to predict his presidency “may remind you of Soviet Union times”.
In general, right-wing reaction to the election’s outcome, if more measured, has nonetheless been part denial and part dismissiveness. One European banker told the Telegraph Hollande “won’t be able to convince [Angela] Merkel to soften her position on the need for austerity”, while George Osborne suggested Hollande “is not anti-austerity – he’s made it very clear that he wants to deal with the deficit”.
In Greece, voters also went to the polls on Sunday. The results were inconclusive: while anti-austerity parties did well, precipitating a collapse in support for pro-European parties – including Evangelos Venizelos’s PASOK – no party secured an overall majority, and none have yet managed to form a coalition.
In the short term, barring any progress on the Democratic Left party’s proposal for a national unity government, repeat elections seem the most likely outcome. In the longer term, a Greek exit from the eurozone now looks all but inevitable – Ladbrokes stopped taking bets on it on Thursday.
When the outcomes of these elections in France and Greece are seen alongside the weekend’s local election results across Britain, the impression of a Europe-wide rejection of austerity is impossible to ignore.
On Thursday in Syria, at least 55 people were killed and nearly four hundred injured in two bombings in Damascus, with violence in the country showing no sign of abating.
The target appears to have been a military intelligence building, suggesting it was an opposition attack; in the aftermath, enraged demonstrators openly accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar – the Free Syrian Army’s major regional supporters – of complicity in the slaughter; opposition supporters, unsurprisingly, blamed the government.