Look Left – The evil of Assad, u-turns galore and the failure of austerity

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

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• The world continues to watch in horror as Syria suffers massacre after massacre after massacre – at the hands of its own rulers.

Following last week’s barbaric slaughter of 49 children and 59 adults by Assad’s militiamen in Houla, 13 corpses were discovered in Deir el-Zour on Thursday, and yesterday we learned 12 factory workers were executed in al-Buweida al-Sharqiya.

The BBC’s Jim Muir describes the latest atrocity:

“They went on to the bus, stole everything they could and then ordered these workers off the bus – they were from a nearby fertiliser factory – and gunned them down having first made them chant slogans in praise of the regime.”

Robbed, beaten, humiliated – made to chant pro-regime slogans – then slain execution-style.

And here’s The Times’s Martin Fletcher on the massacre of the innocents:

“The children of Houla were not killed by random shelling. They were murdered one by one. The militia came in the night armed with knives and guns, and the young victims were executed with a bullet to the head or a knife to the throat.”

Fletcher’s report describes, in graphic detail, children’s skulls “hacked or blown away”, backs of heads “loped off”, how a brain “lies on the blanket”, “a large, bloody bullet hole surrounded by a mess of flesh and bone” above a child’s eye, a baby “wearing nothing but a nappy, seemingly untouched except that it lacks an arm”, a girl who has “had her jaw shot away”, a child “with only half a head remaining”, another one who has “had her nose and cheek sliced off”, children in blood-drenched clothing “with their eyes gouged out, with their faces slashed by knives or with neat bullet holes in their torsos”.

This is Assad. This is what his forces are doing. This is what they will continue to do unless we act.

The longer we wait, the more will die.


This week’s most read:

We can’t sit back and allow more massacres: It’s time for military action in Syria Ed Jacobs

Lower gilt yields are a sign of panic not coalition credibility Cormac Hollingsworth

Plan B: “Class war is perpetuated in the media, and we all fall into the trap” Ben Phillips

“They were murdered one by one… executed with a bullet to the head or a knife to the throat” Shamik Das

Austerity Isn’t Working • Sparpolitik ist keine Lösung • L’austérité ne marche pas Carlos Mulas, Fundacion IDEAS


• Domestically, the government made a series of U-turns this week, as the post-budget omnishambles showed no signs of abating.

The reverses were on the ill thought out ‘pasty tax’, ‘caravan tax’, ‘church tax’ and ‘charity tax’, and on the Justice and Security Bill’s proposals for “secret justice”, taking the total number of government u-turns since the coalition came to office two years ago to 34.

However the ‘granny tax’, which will sting 4.4 million pensioners to the tune of £84 a year, remains – for now, as does George Osborne’s failing Plan Austerity, despite growing public opposition. Following last week’s YouGov survey showing the consensus behind austerity is shattering, a ComRes poll for the Indy revealed 72% of the public back a Plan B for the economy, including 64% of 2010 Tory voters and 68% of 2010 Lib Dem voters.

For more on the pasty tax u-turn see here, and for more on the charity tax u-turn see here; and on the regressiveness of the secret justice proposals, read our report on the coalition’s “North Korean approach to justice” here, and watch former Tory shadow home secretary David Davis lift the lid on Britain’s “secret courts” here.

• The flip-flopping chancellor also came under renewed attack over the failing economy, as the eurozone outlook remained bleak.

Following recent rebuffs from the IMF and OECD, it was the turn of the EC to weigh on the state of the UK economy. The European Commission warned the deficit is “projected to fall more slowly” due to weak growth and said fiscal consolidation “remains a pressing challenge” for the country.

There were also fears this week that the UK’s success in tackling child poverty was threatened by the austerity programme, following the publication of Unicef’s “Measuring Child Poverty” report. Read shadow equalities minister Kate Green’s thoughts here, and read our article on absolute and relative poverty here.

To Europe, and figures yesterday showed unemployment in the European Union rose nearly two million in the year to April 2012, up to 24.667m (10.38%), with eurozone unemployment up 1.8m to 17.405m (11%). The problem is most acute in Spain, where nearly one in four, 24.3%, are unemployed.

For more on how austerity is failing Britain and Europe, read about the “Austerity Isn’t Working” campaign here, and watch Nobel laureate Paul Krugman destroy the arguments of the austerians here.

Progressive of the week:

Plan B, the rapper (and now film director) also known as Ben Drew, whose film iLL Manors hits cinema screens next week. Drew’s been touring the studios and appearing in the papers to discuss the film this week, talking about the true stories behind the film, and observing that class war “is perpetuated in the media, and we all fall into the trap”.

See here for more on Plan B’s thoughts and read our review of iLL Manors on Left Foot Forward on Tuesday, the eve of the film’s general release.

Regressive of the week:

Home secretary Theresa May, who this week said the UK would not support European Union quotas for women on company boards – despite a government report that said male-dominated companies would fall behind their rivals. Ms May is also the minister for women and equalities.

See here for more.

Evidence of the week:

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’sReforming Council Tax Benefitreport (pdf), co-researched by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which revealed the coalition’s council tax benefit reforms will cut the original amounts available by 10 per cent – leaving working age adults worse off.

See here for more.

The Week Outside Westminster by Ed Jacobs:


As cabinet ministers were questioned at the Leveson Inquiry, David Cameron’s former communications chief, Andy Coulson, found himself charged with perjury in the case of Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan – whilst he was still working in Downing Street. The announcement was made by Strathclyde Police as part of Operation Rubicon looking into phone hacking and perjury.

Commenting on the development, Ivor Gaber, professor of political journalism at City University, explained:

“This simply reinforces the questions that are hanging over the prime minister about his judgment in appointing Andy Coulson in the first place.”

With The Independent warning:

“The Scottish courts have a reputation for taking a particularly dim view of perjury.”

Elsewhere, there was embarrassment in the “Yes to Independence” campaign as it emerged they had treated all followers of the “YesScotland” twitter feed as supporters of independence, going on to post their details on the campaign’s website, while SNP leader Alex Salmond was savaged by Johann Lamont and the Treasury over his plans for an independent Scotland to retain the pound.


A stormy First Minister’s Questions got personal and nasty as the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R T Davis, used a question on the funding of cancer drugs to accuse Labour first minister Carwyn Jones of being an “enemy of cancer patients.

Whilst admitting he was an advocate of robust debate, Jones, whose wife has battled cancer, told the Assembly:

“I do think that there are boundaries which should not be crossed, and I refer to an exchange earlier on this afternoon between myself and the Leader of the Opposition, where, in response to a point that I was making he said:

“First minister, is it not the case that you are the friend of millionaires on paracetamol and Bonjela, but you are the enemy on cancer patients in Wales.”

“Now there are many in this chamber who will know the experience of many areas of my family with cancer, and, whilst I normally make no complaint at all about what is said in this chamber – I can take it as well as any – I think on this one occasion the boundary has been crossed and I would invite the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the comment.”

Mr Davies withdrew the remarks, telling the Assembly:

“I too, and many members of this chamber, have suffered incidences of cancer, losing my mother at the age of 15, and I know the tragedy that occurs.”

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood found herself doing something unnatural in celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Having described Her Majesty as “Mrs Windsor” in 2004 and more recently declaring the monarchy “perpetuates inequality”, she used a debate on the Diamond Jubilee to soften her stance, saying it could be an opportunity to “rekindle hope”.

Northern Ireland

Martin McGuinness used his address to Sinn Fein’s annual conference in Co. Kerry to attack those dissidents still hell bent on murder.

Speaking of the impact of the dissident murder of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr, he told delegates:

“Those involved in these violent acts don’t believe for one minute that they further the cause of Irish reunification, what’s more they also know the agreements we have negotiated are solid and secure.”

Going on to list victims of dissident violence he continued with a message directly to dissidents:

“I want to send a message directly to them, I am offering them an opportunity to meet and talk, come and tell us what you hope to gain by deluding yourselves and the gullible that your actions will succeed in what is certainly a pathetic and futile attempt to turn back the clock…

“I never want to be attend another funeral of a police officer or any other member of our society who lost their lives due to violence, so I appeal to you for dialogue but I also say to you that the process of building a new future will continue with or without you – it is your call.”

For more on the Sinn Féin conference read Kevin Meagher’s article for Left Foot Forward here.

Finally this week, environment minister Alex Attwood unveiled radical plans to shake up the driving system in Northern Ireland – including proposals to lower the provisional licence age to 16½. For more, see the Belfast Telegraph’s Editorial.

The World Outside Westminster by Tom Rouse:

As noted above, international news has been dominated this week by the atrocities occurring in Syria. The discovery of 13 corpses, all with their hands bound and clearly executed, sparked international outrage and is a clear violation of the truce, leading the Syrian rebels to declare they would resume hostilities on Friday unless the Syrian government agreed to end violence.

There is growing international pressure for the UN to act, but the Security Council’s options are limited with the continued refusal of Russia to support any kind of intervention; Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said:

“We have always said that we are categorically against any outside interference in the Syrian conflict because this will only exacerbate the situation for both Syria and the region as a whole.”


Ireland voted yes to the new eurozone fiscal pact which will lead to tighter central controls on eurozone countries’ economies. The country will not have been able to apply for more emergency bailout money unless they signed up to the fiscal pact, which they did, by 60%:40% in Thursday’s referendum.


Polls continue to suggest the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be a lot closer than many expected. Obama’s approval ratings continue to hover around the 50% mark, with the latest Gallup poll placing him at 47%. Head-to-head polls between the two men still have Obama ahead, but his lead has dropped significantly since Santorum dropped out of the race, with the latest Real Clear Politics average suggesting he enjoys a two-point lead.

The economy continues to dominate the race, with most indicators showing below-average growth. Yesterday’s jobless figures, issued by the Labor Debartment, added to the gloom, showing a rise in the unemployment rate to 8.2% from 8.2% in April, described as “a kick in the teeth for President Obama’s re-election campaign” by the BBC’s Jonny Dymond.

Many pundits have compared Obama’s situation to Jimmy Carter’s in 1980, but this comparison has been comprehensively demolished by Nate Silver of the New York Times. He argues that, although the economy is underperforming, it is at least on the mend now, whereas Carter was struck by a full-blown recession and a nose-diving economy.


Former Senator, 2004 Vice-Presidential nominee and 2008 Primary candidate John Edwards – a man who could have been President – is a free man, after his fraud case was ruled a mistrial, with the jury failing to reach a verdict.

He had been prosecuted for campaign fraud, with the DA alleging Edwards used money solicited for his 2008 Presidential campaign to hide the existence of his pregnant mistress. Edwards has admitted lying to his wife and the American people about his affair, but has argued he did not know he was breaking the law.


Michael Bloomberg has generated controversy after proposing to ban large sodas. The New York Mayor wants to ban drinks larger than 16 ounces in an attempt to tackle the growing obesity crisis.

His campaign against junk food has been a feature of his time in office, having already forced restaurants to display calorie information about the food they serve and banning the sale of sugary drinks in school vending machines.

Speaking to the New York Times, Mr Bloomberg said:

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the US, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible’. New York City is not about wringing your hands. It’s about doing something. I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”


And finally this week, a man, described as a ‘growling cannibal’, was shot dead by Miami police after he was found biting the face off another naked man.

Rudy Eugene, 31, reportedly growled at a police officer after he was warned to back away. A witness said he continued to eat the victim, before the officer opened fire several times, killing him. The attack next to a busy road last Saturday afternoon has been linked to a potent drug known as “bath salts”. About 75% of the victim’s face was reportedly missing.

One of the cops involved said:

“It was not only grotesque, it was just very sad, the amount of blood.”


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