Shamik Das looks back at the week’s politics, including our progressive, regressive and evidence of the week.
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• The European Championships have begun, action aplenty on the pitch, but against fears of racism off it.
As Left Foot Forward reported, there are worries racism, anti-Semitism and violence could blight the three-and-a-half week football fest in Poland and Ukraine. On Wednesday, racism marred Holland’s training session in Krakow, with black players subjected to monkey chants, and on Friday, the bigotry appears to have spread to the stands.
Here’s the latest from Paul Hayward in today’s Sunday Telegraph:
While Uefa and journalists were trying to ascertain the precise nature of the racist abuse heard while Holland were performing their warm-up laps at Wisla Krakow’s stadium, Euro 2012 was turning increasingly ugly with attacks by Russian fans on stewards in Wroclaw and monkey chanting aimed at the Czech Republic’s only black player, Theodor Gebre Selassie…
The vilification of Selassie was reported by monitors from The Fare (Football Against Racism in Europe) network. They described it as “fleeting” racist abuse.
“Russian Empire” flags were also on display. Meanwhile some local experts claimed the vile chanting was actually a local Wisla staccato chant of “Jew, Jew” aimed at fans of Cracovia, their local rivals. Plainly anti-semitic abuse is no more tolerable than skin-based hostility but there is an obligation to be sure of the facts.
Overall there was a sense by the time Saturday’s games kicked off of a tournament landing like a spaceship on countries where football grounds are often a stage for extremism and xenophobia. Political tensions also bubble…
Yesterday footage of attacks on stewards in Wroclaw was widely circulated on media outlets. Particularly chilling was the sight of one steward curled up on the floor after taking a flurry of punches.
Eastern Europeans with no emotional stake in Uefa’s showcase championship have been given an opportunity to advertise their sociopathic urges to the world while challenging a governing body with a poor record of responding to racist behaviour to join them in a political battle.
Chilling indeed. Racism, anti-Semitism and violence, as forewarned.
And it’s not just racism that should worry visitors – the record on gay rights of Poland and Ukraine is, as described by the Times this week, “shameful”, as is perceived inaction on behalf of the police against bigots – see our report for more.
• Prepare for “no austerity without growth” Cormac Hollingsworth
• Back home, Britain has just about recovered from the revelry of the Diamond Jubilee, pausing for breath ahead of the aforementioned Euros and the Olympics – now less than 50 days away.
The nation, with a few exceptions, came together to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession, young and old, left and right, diehard royalists and royal-sceptics, toffs and immigrants… as Daniel Hannan, a man we seldom quote, blogged, it was a party “for everyone, not just for monarchists”.
Research from British Future showed refugees proud to “get the bunting out”, that those born outside the UK felt a higher level of strong belonging to Britain (70%) than those born in the UK (66%), with polling data (pdf) showing refugees voting the Queen top of their list of people they most admired.
Even the Guardian’s pessimist nonpareil, Simon Jenkins, said the country “needed” the Jubilee, which provided us “with a collective buzz”, while Ed Miliband described the Queen’s reign as “a golden thread that links people across the country and across the generations: united in the respect and genuine affection for Her Majesty”.
As we reported on Left Foot Forward, the celebrations brought praise from first minister Alex Salmond, who said there’s “no conflict” between having a strong Scottish identity and “having respect for Her Majesty”, and in Northern Ireland, past divisions were swept away as unity reigned.
The Belfast Telegraph reported:
“Protestants and Catholics at a Belfast interface take part in a joint Jubilee party. That is a sentence many of us who lived through the recent troubled past of Northern Ireland can scarcely believe…
“Congratulations to those who organised the party and to those who took part. They could be creating a legacy of hope.”
Though there are questions about the size and cost of the Monarchy, and more immediately about the stewarding of the pageant, the Queen’s popularity remains undimmed: 40 per cent feel Britain has improved during her reign, 86 per cent think she has been a good monarch, and only 16 per cent want a republic.
Prime ministers come and go, as Tony Blair told Leveson, starting at their most popular and least capable, ending at their least popular and most capable; the Queen remains, ever capable and forever popular.
• From one great British woman to another, less well known but perhaps more inspirational, Margaret Bondfield.
Friday marked the 83rd anniversary of Bondfield’s appointment to the cabinet, the first female cabinet minister, appointed Minister of Labour by Ramsay MacDonald on June 8th 1929.
She was formerly assistant general secretary for the Shop Workers’ Union and also formed the first all-female trade union (the National Federation of Women Workers). She was the first woman member of the TUC executive and went on to become the first female president of the TUC general council.
More than eight decades on, however, Parliament remains male-dominated, as statistics from the Labour Women’s Network (LWN) show: Since 1715, there has still only ever been one woman prime minister, compared to 42 men; only five of the current 23 cabinet members are women; currently there are 505 male MPs in parliament and 145 women; 81 of those 145 women are Labour.
Progress for women in politics has been minimal and slow. Time and time again, research suggests a gender balance is more efficient in areas like business, so why, in 2012, are these rules not applied in politics?
For more on the fight for representation, read our report here, and for more on Margaret Bondfield, read our profile here – and for more information on the Labour Women’s Network, set up in 1988 to train, mentor and advise Labour women wanting to be selected for parliament, see here.
Progressives of the week:
The EEF, the UK’s largest sectoral employers’ organisation, who this week laid into the Beecroft report – the report by a big bucks Tory donor that calls for workers’ rights to be stripped away – suggesting the measures have “little support from industry” and the benefits “would be limited”, with EEF chief exec Terry Scuoler saying they’d seen “no evidence” it would increase recruitment.
See here for more.
Regressive of the week:
Spectator Editor Fraser Nelson, who pompously proclaimed that “our benefits are some of the most generous in Europe” – however, as Left Foot Forward pointed out this week, the UK has “one of the least generous benefits systems in Europe” and “the lack of generosity of the UK system in the initial period of unemployment is by far its most striking feature”.
See here for more.
Evidence of the week:
The UCU/IPPR report, “Further Higher? Tertiary education and growth in the UK’s new economy”, which shows that putting an individual through A-levels and university generates a £227,000 net gain for the economy: for an investment of £5,000, the net return to the Exchequer from someone who gains A-Levels is £47,000 – a degree is worth an additional £180,000 to the Treasury from just a £19,000 state investment.
See here for more.
The Week Outside Westminster by Ed Jacobs:
In a powerful tribute to the Queen, first minister Peter Robinson praised her ability to unite as well as her “steadying influence” on the peace process in Northern Ireland, telling the Newsletter:
“I don’t think people realise how significant a role it is that the Queen plays in the life of the nation. In society there will always be people who want to look at areas where they want to cause division or be offended.
“But I think that most sensible and reasonable people will recognise that the Queen has performed her task in a way that unites people rather than divides them. That was certainly the space that she moved into in Dublin and in the south more generally last year.”
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s political parties united again in condemning dissident protests which saw the Olympic flame having to be re-routed through Londonderry, Sinn Fein’s Raymond McCartney MLA arguing:
“We have to continue to isolate these people. They have to be seen for what they are, divorced from reality and don’t listen to the popular will of the people.”
While the DUP’s Gregory Campbell MP raised concerns about the impact the protests might have on Derry’s status as the UK City of Culture next year:
“It is clear they are not going to be reasoned with, therefore the response from within their own community must now be swift and unequivocal and the security response to dealing with their efforts will need to be reviewed.”
“It is about shining a light on what we do, and saying to those people who do have power and influence and make decisions over the lives of older people: ‘We have got to start getting it right for more people.’
“We talk a lot about listening to older people, but actually, as important as listening is, we need to move on from that. We need to move on to action that makes a real difference to the lives of older people.”
First minister Carwyn Jones, meanwhile, paid tribute to the Queen’s “steadfast support for Wales”, saying:
“The Diamond Jubilee is an opportunity for us to congratulate Her Majesty and pay tribute to her steadfast support for Wales over the last 60 years. It is right to say that this is a truly historic occasion, and I get a real sense that across Wales it is being embraced by people from all walks of life and different communities.
“A Diamond Jubilee is an extremely unusual event. It is more than 100 years since the last one took place. There are many in Wales who will want to offer their congratulations for the service that Her Majesty the Queen has given during her reign.”
In Scotland, the Jubilee celebrations offered Alex Salmond the opportunity to outline the role he sees the Queen playing in an independent Scotland, telling the BBC:
“Clearly for people, Scottish identity is becoming more and more powerful; there’s no conflict between that and having respect for Her Majesty, because Her Majesty will be Queen of Scots after independence and there’s no difficulty in that.”
However, polling expert Professor Jon Curtice of the University of Strathclyde, put a bit of a dampener on the celebrations by arguing Scotland was indifferent to the monarchy:
“Ambivalence is the right word. We know that Scotland feels predominantly Scottish, although most people have some sense of British identity, but for most people that is secondary, and they don’t respond to it to the same degree as people south of the border.
“The monarchy isn’t regarded as a particularly Scottish institution, it’s a British institution.”
Elsewhere, Ed Miliband used a speech in London to attack the SNP’s “false choice” between being Scottish or being British. His words came as polling by ComRes for the Independent found 57% of those questioned in England and Wales objected to the idea of Scotland becoming an independent nation with 28% agreeing and 15% not knowing.
Finally this week, it was announced on Friday that Alex Salmond will appear before the Leveson Inquiry on Wednesday. Tomorrow on Left Foot Forward, we will have more on the questions facing the first minister over his links to the Murdoch empire.
The World Outside Westminster by Ben Phillips:
In Wisconsin, the victory of the incumbent Republican governor, Scott Walker, in Tuesday’s gubernatorial recall election has led to calls from the Republican right for more strident right-wing positioning from the Romney campaign.
His views are shared by a number of influential Republicans – for example, the well-known neoconservative Bill Kristol. However, exit polls in Wisconsin suggest a fifth of those who backed Walker would nonetheless vote for Obama come November, raising questions about how much the recall election really says about the state of play across the nation as a whole.
Morever, at the moment, Mitt Romney’s campaign isn’t exactly in crisis. He appears to have the support of around 90% of registered Republicans, with grassroots conservatives willing to put their misgivings to one side for the duration of the campaign.
Most importantly for the GOP, the Presidential race now appears neck-and-neck. Across ten different polls between May 22nd and earlier this week, Obama’s numbers average 46% and Romney’s 45%. Some have gone so far as to suggest it’s now Romney’s to lose.
Certainly, the Republicans are poised to outspend the Democrats by some margin over the course of the campaign, in spite of Obama’s recent Clinton-assisted fundraising push. There is, however, some good news for him: he is leading in Florida, Ohio and Virginia, three crucial swing states, and in each case his lead – 48% to 44% in Florida and Virginia, and 48% to 42% in Ohio – is outside the 3% margin of error.
He will find the feedback on the economy encouraging: in each state, more than 50% of voters believe he inherited the current crisis, and a majority say the worst of the downturn is now behind them – though it is worth noting that, three months ago, he commanded far greater leads in all three states, with 12-point and 17-point leads over Romney in Ohio and Virginia respectively.
In other words, the polls are every bit as encouraging for Romney as they are for Obama, and perhaps more so.
In Syria, another massacre made headlines around the world. This time, the target appears to have Hama; 100 people, including women and children, were reportedly killed at close range by pro-Assad Shabiha militiamen.
The challenge for the international community, it is now broadly accepted, is how to broker a solution that has the full backing of the Russian Federation: with the latter widely regarded as Syria’s closest ally, the supposition is that Assad will go when Moscow tells him to. The gap between Russia and the other major players looks insurmountable.
For more on the Hama massacre, including the exasperation of Syrians at the UN’s inaction, read our report here.
In the eurozone crisis, the credit ratings agency Fitch this week downgraded Spain from A to BBB, leaving the country two positions above junk status. They also assigned the country a negative outlook, suggesting further downgrades may follow in due course.
According to the Guardian, Fitch “blamed the cost of recapitalising [Spain’s] bank, its rising national debt, the likelihood of a deep recession this year, and the danger of contagion from Greece”. Fitch’s statement is online here, and our latest reports on “eurogeddon” can be found here and here.
If you needed reminding that fascists are deeply unpleasant, check out this video of Ilias Kasidiaris, an MP for Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and – according to Sky News – an “ex-special forces weightlifting enthusiast”, assaulting a woman live on television.
All involved were participating in a heated talk-show discussion on the soon-to-be-repeated Greek elections when one guest – Syriza MP Rena Dorou – referenced a criminal prosecution pending against Kasidiaris (he’s alleged to have been involved with an armed robbery earlier in the year). The latter proceeded to empty a glass of water over Dorou before venting his anger on Communist MP Liana Kanelli.
Although he was restrained and locked in a room at the television studio, he subsequently broke down a door and escaped. Given Golden Dawn’s dislike of free and impartial media, we shouldn’t be surprised.
And finally, this week, we head to Talinn, where Nobel Prize-winning economist and fearless scourge of austerity hawks Paul Krugman – off the back of his European tour – has come under fire from Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the President of Estonia.
The minor controversy originated with a short blogpost of Krugman’s, in which he criticised economists fawning over Estonia as a eurozone success story by drawing attention to the country’s essentially unimpressive recovery in GDP from Q4 2009 onwards. Read Ilves’s outrage here.
Ironically, following his online outburst, Ilves advised his followers to “chill”. Krugman has yet to respond in public. Watch this space…