Shamik Das looks back at the week’s politics, including our progressive, regressive and evidence of the week.
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• Two key events take place next week, examining the future of the UK economy, and addressing the state of the online progressivesphere.
On Tuesday, the After Austerity conference, looking at “Where next for the UK economy”, takes place at Congress House.
Amongst the questions the conference will look at are: Where will growth come from; how can we create more as well as better jobs; what can we do about the gap between rich and poor; and can a low carbon economy be part of the solution to the economic morass.
Meanwhile, the Left Foot Forward-partnered Netroots 2012, which aims to further build the progressive grassroots online, takes place next Saturday, also at Congress House.
The event seeks to help network and inspire activists across the country using the internet through a mixture of debates, strategy sessions and training workshops, with a special focus on continuing NHS campaigning, activism against the cuts, and mapping the impact of the NHS bill.
For more on Netroots 2012, see the draft programme and workshops listing, and register for the event here. And we’ll have more on Netroots and the After Austerity conference next week on Left Foot Forward.
This week’s most read:
2. The Left, “Englishness” and voting conservative Ben Mitchell
4. Football’s gesture of respect on the anniversary of a massacre Kevin Meagher
• The stench of tax avoidance wafted up from the gutter again this week, with Jimmy Carr and Gary Barlow amongst those named and shamed as tax dodgers.
David Cameron, seeing the passing bandwagon, leapt in two-footed and assailed Carr for his sins, describing the (left-leaning, non-Tory) comedian’s actions as “morally wrong”. All well and good. He then, however, failed to condemn (right-wing, celeb Tory) Barlow for doing exactly the same as Carr. Anyone spot the difference between the two?
As with the varying sanctions applied to Baroness Warsi and Jeremy Hunt, it seems if you’re a member of Team Dave, if you’re one of his mates, you’ll escape his wrath. Hypocrite Cameron sure does know how to look after his own.
And it’s not just over Barlow the double standards are evident – will Cameron now denounce the all his rich Tory chums who’ve been accused of tax dodging – George Osborne, Andrew Mitchell, Philip Hammond, Lord Ashcroft, Sir Philip Green…
Under Cameron, it’s one rule for his selfish few, another for the honest many.
• Also this week, a new transparency website was launched – revealing right-wing think tanks are much more secretive than left-wing ones.
As Left Foot Forward reported yesterday, of the 20 leading UK-based think tanks and political campaigns the “Who Funds You?” website investigated, the seven most opaque are all right-wing organisations – with the Adam Smith Institute, ResPublica and the TaxPayers’ Alliance all scoring nul points for transparency.
At the other end of the scale, meanwhile, Compass, the Institute for Public Policy Research, the New Economics Foundation, Progress, the Resolution Foundation and the Social Market Foundation all received ‘A’ grades for transparency.
Progressive of the week:
Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews, who this week vowed Wales would not follow Michael Gove’s plans to scrap GCSEs and bring back O-Levels. He said Wales “certainly won’t be bringing back O-Levels”, and lambasted the leaking of Gove’s ideas to the Daily Mail as a “bonkers way of proceeding”.
See here for more.
Regressive of the week:
Ed Miliband, who, in his IPPR speech on immigration today, repeated the myth about immigrants’ impacts on wages. He claimed that, as a result of immigration “combined with weak labour standards in some sectors”, there was a “direct effect on wages, especially in lower skilled jobs”.
The evidence, however – article, chart, pdf, pdf – suggests otherwise. Mr Miliband would do well to read it all and try not to let unsupported myths about immigration cloud his thinking on the issue in future. It’s high time he led on immigration, not followed; challenged myths, not repeated them.
See here for more.
Evidence of the week:
Left Foot Forward’s list of MPs in the public sector regional pay danger zone. Our table (pdf) ranks coalition MPs by a vulnerability factor, calculated by dividing the number of public sector workers in their constituencies by their majority. It shows that, amongst Tories, those at particular risk are Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin and publicity-hungry backbencher Louise Mensch.
See here for more.
The Week Outside Westminster by Ed Jacobs:
Sinn Fein looked to be edging further towards making history as the hints grew louder that Martin McGuinness will be meeting the Queen when she visits Northern Ireland next week.
With McGuinness himself having pledged that whatever the decision it would ensure the peace process is “enhanced and not in any way damaged”, an unnamed Sinn Fein official went further, telling The Sun:
“There is a strong suggestion that he might address her in Irish, as follow-on from her remarks in Irish in Dublin last year – and that has support. If it happened then he would shake hands with the Queen but he would not be tipping his head or calling her ‘Your Majesty’.”
Meanwhile, the UUP once again found themselves tearing each other apart, following party leader Mike Nesbitt’s decision to withdraw the whip from Lord Maginnis for calling gay marriage “unnatural and deviant behaviour” that would be “a rung on the ladder” towards bestiality.
The move led former UUP grandee Lord Kilclooney, now a crossbench peer, to accuse Nesbitt of deploying “Hitler-like tactics” for wanting all contact between any UUP politician and the media cleared with his office first, while in an editorial in the Belfast Telegraph, Steven Alexander said the issue risks seeing the UUP “involve itself in yet more public self-flagellation”.
It was a bad week for the nationalists – or separatists if that’s what they prefer.
With their Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, having claimed the SNP weren’t nationalists after all, polling by Ipsos Mori for the Times and Sun newspapers found support for independence on the slide.
Asked the SNP’s preferred question for a referendum, 35% said they supported independence (down 4% from January), whilst the proportion disagreeing with independence increased over the same period by 5% to 55%.
The poll also showed a decline in the popularity of the first minister. Whilst remaining the most popular party leader in Scotland (53% satisfaction rating) this is down 5 points from January 2012 and 9 points from August 2011 when his approval rating reached 62%. And further polling by Ipsos Mori for Reform Scotland showed “Devo-Plus” was by far the most popular option for Scots.
Meanwhile, as he prepared to launch the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK on Monday, Alistair Darling used a conference to attack the SNP’s proposals to retain sterling in an independence Scotland, concluding:
“It makes no sense – that’s not freedom, it’s serfdom.”
As the SNP used the news the UK government had agreed a contract to replace the reactors of the country’s nuclear submarines to reiterate their outright objection to nuclear weapons, Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, caused heads to turn on the issue.
During First Minister’s Questions, he told AMs:
“I did notice the Scottish government no longer wishes to have the nuclear submarine base at Faslane, it no longer wishes to house the UK naval nuclear fleet. There will be more than a welcome for that fleet and those jobs in Milford Haven.”
Amidst strong protests and anger on the Plaid Cymru benches, a spokesman for the first minister explained:
“The first minister recognises the substantial economic benefits of relocating Britain’s nuclear submarine to West Wales. There would be more than a welcome in Wales for this kind of economic boost, which would bring thousands of high-quality and well paid jobs to the area.
“The first minister is of the view that he would be neglecting his duty to do what he can to boost the Welsh economy if he were to dismiss the possibility of bringing these jobs to Wales.”
Finally this week, Plaid published research undertaken by the party’s chief economic adviser, Eurfyl ap Gwilym, revealing in 2010/11 Wales missed out on up to £540 million due to the Barnett Formula, more than the £400m estimate contained within the Holtham Commission report, prompting leader Leanne Wood to declare:
“It’s now time to overhaul this inadequate formula and deliver fairness.”
The World Outside Westminster by Ben Phillips:
Last Friday, Barack Obama announced he was suspending the deportations of 800,000 young (and mostly Latino) migrants, instead granting them two-year work permits.
Since then, Latino activists have piled pressure on Mitt Romney to back the move. As a bid for Hispanic votes in the south, Obama’s manoeuvre is especially astute, simultaneously undermining a similar – if more modest – reform package Florida senator and Republican heavyweight Marco Rubio had been working on.
A few days subsequently, Rubio admitted in an interview with the Wall Street Journal his proposals were all but dead:
“People are going to say to me: ‘Why are we going to need to do anything on this now? It has been dealt with. We can wait until after the election.’ And it is going to be hard to argue against that.”
Romney this week addressed a conference of Latino public officials in Orlando, “caught between a need to win over Latino voters and keep onside the Republican base, which tends to favour tough anti-immigrant laws”, as the Guardian puts it.
It’s probably the suspicion that, thanks to Obama, he’s on the verge of losing the former that has seen him u-turn on Rubio as a possible vice presidential candidate. Previously, it was widely reported Rubio wasn’t on the shortlist. On Tuesday, however, Romney publicly affirmed he was: an unusual move which breaks with the traditional secrecy surrounding the selection process and, in the Telegraph’s words, “speaks to Rubio’s political influence among the Republican base and Hispanic voters”.
If Rubio does ultimately join Romney on the ticket, the thinking will surely be that he’s the Republican Party’s only effective counterweight to Obama’s divide-and-rule strategy.
A second piece of good news for Obama, after a turbulent few weeks, comes on the fundraising front.
“Priorities USA Action”, his super PAC, raised $4 million during May, making it Obama’s most successful month in this respect since his campaign began. Founded by two former Obama aides, it has thus far raised $16.4m for his campaign.
However, these sums still pale with the $61m raised thus far by “Restore Our Future”, Romney’s super PAC. Their fortunes are consistent with each campaign’s overall fundraising: Romney garnered $78m last month, compared to Obama’s $60m.
For the moment, the campaigns are spending similar amounts, but assuming present trends continue, Romney remains poised to dramatically outspend Obama over the course of the campaign.
At long last, Greece has a new government.
Sunday’s elections saw the centre-right New Democracy party come out on top, with 29% of the popular vote as opposed to the left-wing SYRIZA bloc’s 27%. The result left New Democracy with 129 of the Greek parliament’s 300 seats (under Greece’s electoral law, the party with the greatest percentage of the vote wins an extra 50 seats) and thus a little way short of an overall majority.
New Democracy, under their leader Antonis Samaras, are now the senior party in a three-party coalition. With their junior partners – the pro-bailout socialists Pasok, and the Democratic Left party – having agreed to support the government yet not participate in it, New Democracy have filled all 38 cabinet positions themselves.
The outcome appears, for the time being, to secure Greece’s future within the eurozone. However, in the days since the election, Samaras – mindful of his small margin of victory – has pledged to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s bailout.
As Reuters reports:
Despite a barrage of warnings from European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, the winning parties obviously feel they cannot ignore the uncompromising message from angry Greek voters.
In Norway, prosecutors in the Anders Behring Breivik trial have closed their case by calling for the defendant to be considered clinically insane and placed in psychiatric care.
Svein Holden, the chief prosecuting lawyer, opined that while doubts about Breivik’s mental state persisted, it was better to put a sane person in psychiatric care than to put an insane person in prison.
Over the course of the trial, two psychiatrists’ reports have been commissioned by the court, one concluding Breivik was insane and the other suggesting that, while sociopathic and narcissistic, he nonetheless bore criminal responsibility.
The court’s dilemma is not simply that of determining Breivik’s state of mind. While there is a clear popular demand in Norway that he should pay for his crimes, there is also a tacit recognition that to send him to prison confers on him, in the eyes of Europe’s far right, the status of a political prisoner – a prospect possibly more offensive to many in Norway than that of him being denied criminal responsibility for the Oslo bombings and the Utoeya massacre.
And finally this week, to Ecuador, or more specifically the Ecaudorian Embassy in London, to where Julian Assange is holed up.
The Wikileaks founder, wanted for questioning by Swedish prosecutors on sexual assault allegations, has taken refuge in the South American country’s mission in Knightsbridge, seeking political asylum in fear of being extradited first to Sweden and then to the United States.
The latest word is that his application for asylum looks set to fail, with the fugitive facing arrest if he leaves the embassy, even in the unlikely event of him being granted asylum – as The Guardian explains, he isn’t exempt from UK law and Ecuador may be legally obliged to surrender him.
Only last month, Assange spoke to Left Foot Forward about the Leveson Inquiry, warning it will “crack down” on investigative journalism; it doesn’t look like he’ll be making any more public appearances anytime soon.
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