Shamik Das looks back at the week’s politics, including our progressive, regressive and evidence of the week.
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• Lords reform is back on the backburner following a backbench rebellion by nearly a hundred Tory MPs – a rebellion that threatens to bring down the coalition.
The Liberal Democrats are understandably furious at what they see as a Tory betrayal of the coalition agreement, having delivered the votes on tuition fees, health reform and other policies many in their party loathe.
David Cameron has pledged to get his party back onside by the autumn, though there are real fears he will fail, with some Conservatives, like Peter Bone MP, openly advocating for minority government, feeling they’ve nothing to lose, with no desire to please Nick Clegg.
In all, following the government’s abandonment of a vote on the Procedural Motion, 91 Tory and 26 Labour MPs voted against the Second Reading of the Lords Reform Bill – in contradiction of their 2010 election manifestos.
This week’s most read:
• With the House of Commons rising this Tuesday, Wednesday saw the last Prime Minister’s Questions before recess.
He sought to paint the Tory leader as the millionaire-loving, anti-pensioner PM, ending his six:
“Things are getting worse not better, and every time he gets up with that list of statistics, he just shows how out of touch he is.
“Tax cuts for millionaires, double-dip recession, u-turn after u-turn after u-turn, isn’t the truth, he didn’t just lose the confidence of his party last night, he’s losing the confidence of the country.”
• Wednesday also saw the long-awaited return to frontline domestic UK politics of Tony Blair.
The former prime minister and undefeated three-time election winner made his comeback at the Labour Sports Dinner at the Emirates, a glitzy pre-Olympics fundraiser celebrating “an incredible summer of sport and the sporting legacy the Party left the country”.
“There is a rulebook in politics that goes something like this: Labour governs. Labour loses. Tories take over. Labour goes crazy. Tories carry on governing. Time to re-write that script.
“Actually it is being re-written by them and by us. They’re on their way down. We’re on our way up.”
Also on the night, Alastair Campbell read out a letter from Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, in which he said he hoped David Cameron would be a “one-term prime minister” and Manchester City would be “one-season champions”.
As Nick Watt wrote in the Guardian, the return of “the king” bodes well for Miliband, Labour, and the Left:
“If the evening represented a coming together of the Labour tribe, it also highlighted a growing personal warmth between Miliband and Blair, who are both mellowing. Miliband is cooling his rhetoric about the death of New Labour, just as Blair is making clear in private that he accepts that the world has moved on.
“The former prime minister was therefore able to applaud Miliband as he paid homage to the past while looking firmly to the future, as he highlighted three lessons provided by Blair. These were, he said, the importance of unity, the importance of adopting new approaches for new times, as Blair did in 1994 and Miliband is now, and the importance of winning to ensure that Labour can help vulnerable people abandoned by the Tories.
“As some in the Labour party find difficult to acknowledge, Blair knows a thing or two about winning. He did, after all, do it three times in a row.”
For those who doubt his power, consider the thoughts of uber-centrist Daniel Knowles, formerly of the Telegraph and now the Economist, who tweeted a malcontent:
“Does it help if I said that the support of Blair could actually convince me to vote Labour?”
As David Skelton blogged:
“One fact is simple. Blair was by some distance the most successful political leader in Labour’s history and is the most successful political leader electorally since the war. He created the template for how a Leader of the Opposition can set the policy agenda and how Labour could appeal to aspirational voters needed to win a majority. He is the only leader in Labour’s history not to have lost an election.
“To ignore his advice looks like extreme folly.”
Progressive of the week:
Tommie Smith, legend of Mexico City ’68, in London this week on the eve of our Olympics, 44 years on, still fighting the good fight, standing up for human rights and against injustice, every bit as much as when he stood atop the podium all those years ago. “Salute”, setting the actions of Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman in their historical context and commemorating the actions of that night, goes on general release today.
See here for more.
Regressive of the week:
Health secretary Andrew Lansley, architect of the despised Health and Social Care Act, who this week launched his social care white paper, described variously as a “damp squib”, “in danger of appearing meaningless”, “hugely disappointing”, and leaving “far too much unconfirmed”.
Evidence of the week:
The “A Minimum Income Standard for the UK in 2012: Keeping up in Hard Times” report (pdf) by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), which shows what the public think we all need for an acceptable minimum standard of living.
It reveals the net weekly budget for a family of four, with children aged 3 and 7, has risen from £370 to £455 since the recession in 2008, with childcare and transport costs, and the cuts to tax credits hitting families especially hard.
See here for more.
The Week Outside Westminster by Ed Jacobs:
It was a bad week for Alex Salmond as “allies” in the campaign for independence rejected his calls for ‘devo-max’ to be included on the referendum ballot paper.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Margo MacDonald told Salmond to “ditch the second question” before saying of the yes to independence campaign “it’s got no shape, no boundaries, no premise”.
Likewise, Scottish Green co-convenor, Patrick Harvie, said:
“The Greens currently do support a multi-option referendum to give the people the maximum choice. But I suspect we’ll debate that and possibly change it later in the year when we come to party conference.”
Meanwhile, polling by TNS-BMRB suggests support for Scottish independence has dropped to 30%, while those who would vote against it has risen to 50%. This compares with findings a year ago which had those in favour of independence 1 point ahead, prompting the Daily Record concluded to tell Salmond to “stop playing games and start campaigning on the issues”.
It was not only the SNP coming under fire as Parliament’s Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy expressed concern the National Security Council has not yet considered the potential impact of Scottish independence, prompting JCNS member and Lib Dem MP Malcolm Bruce to say of Whitehall:
“They have clearly not considered what the possibilities are, what the implications are, for independence… There are very substantial implications for both Scotland but specifically for the UK government if the UK were to break up.”
And on Friday, it was announed that Glasgow Rangers have been demoted to Scottish League Division Three in the wake of their financial meltdown. We will have reaction and analysis of the latest in the Rangers saga on Left Foot Forward on Monday.
Carwyn Jones was a busy bunny, pressing his case for a constitutional convention and outlining concerns England is losing its voice within the UK.
Addressing the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee at a special session in Cardiff, the first minister argued:
“We have got to the point where England doesn’t have its own voice, there’s no question about that. I think it’s perfectly plausible, certainly from my point of view, for people to understand that on some issues the prime minister speaks for England. We understand that.
“But we can’t carry on, to my mind, with a constitution where there’s a complete lack of clarity. My greatest fear is that we will see the UK start to lose some members.”
“Devolution is now the settled will of the Welsh people. In common with the vast majority of the people of Wales, I have no interest in independence for Wales.”
Meanwhile, a new working party has called on Wales to be given responsibility for raising all income tax.
Publishing evidence being provided to the Silk Commission into the future of Welsh devolution, the group’s chair, former finance minister Andrew Davies said of the findings for the Wales Governance Centre, the Institute of Welsh Affairs, and Tomorrow’s Wales:
“The absence of taxation powers from the current devolution settlement in Wales is an aberration from international and British norms. It is probably unique, internationally, to have a body with the power to make primary legislation as well as to spend money, and yet not have any power or responsibility for taxation. Even the smallest units of local government in Britain can raise some revenue…
“Devolution of taxation powers will encourage debate within and outside the Welsh government about the true value and returns of programmes, force a better debate about means as well as ends, and encourage a more mature approach by civil society to questions of public policy in Wales.”
As Mike Nesbitt reached his first hundred days as leader of the Ulster Unionists, in the Newsletter, Alex Kane had a somewhat disparaging review of his time at the helm of the party so far.
In his column, he concluded:
“Is it too late for the UUP: is it now on the wrong side of the tipping point? My view is that most people really don’t care any more.
“Nesbitt suggested that he be ‘judged’ after his first hundred days but, to be blunt, there isn’t much to judge. He has mentioned internal reforms, but that sort of thing doesn’t matter to voters.
“If the UUP is to survive then it is up to Nesbitt to give it leadership. He has wasted 100 days and he can now write off July and August. He needs to sit down in front of a mirror and ask himself the sort of questions he would have asked the UUP leader had he still been a journalist.
“And the most important questions are these: what is the purpose of the UUP and why has he, personally, made so little impact?
“That said, I still can’t shake off the verdict (and it’s one I have never had before) that the decline of the UUP is irreversible. The point of no return is now in the rear view mirror.”
Finally this week, Thursday, the twelfth of July, saw scuffles break out in Belfast, with politicians coming under fire for failing to provide the support needed to the Parades Commission – see our report here for more.
The World Outside Westminster by Ben Phillips:
This week, Mitt Romney’s campaign offered American audiences the remarkable sight of a Republican TV spot citing Hillary Clinton approvingly.
The attack ad accuses Barack Obama of lying over the Republican candidate’s outsourcing record. “When a president doesn’t tell the truth, how can we trust him to lead?” the narrator asks, possibly confusing leadership with honesty. Clinton, the former first lady, Democratic presidential candidate and current Secretary of State, is seen to cry “shame on you, Barack Obama” a few seconds in.
Obama’s claims about Romney outsourcing jobs hinged on a Washington Post story from last month which suggested Romney’s old private equity firm, Bain Capital, “invested in a series of firms that specialised in relocating jobs done by American workers to new facilities in low-wage countries like China and India”.
Several days after the Obama campaign bought the claims to bear against Romney, FactCheck.org criticised the tactic, noting some claims in the ads are “untrue”, and others “thinly supported”.
Republican congressmen once again voted to abolish Obama’s flagship healthcare reforms this week.
It comes just a fortnight after the Supreme Court dismissed a legal challenge to the legislation, ruling it was indeed constitutional. The vote on Wednesday followed two days of debate in the House of Representatives, which, according to the Guardian, “has now voted more than 30 times to abolish or undermine the healthcare law”.
This latest move is, of course, destined to be just as futile as all the others, since the Senate, with its Democrat majority, will now proceed to kill the legislation. Nonetheless, the Republicans’ opposition to what they term ‘Obamacare’ shows no signs of dissipating; “this is a law that the American people did not want when it was passed,” House majority leader Eric Cantor said, “and it remains a law that the American people do not want now.”
Certainly, grassroots conservatives don’t want it, but the Republican leadership should perhaps be wary of overgeneralising: speaking to an otherwise receptive NAACP audience on Wednesday, Mitt Romney was booed when he pledged to repeal Obamacare.
And one final Romney line this week: As Left Foot Forward reported on Wednesday, the Republican candidate is to hold a $75,000 a head private fundraiser in London on the eve of the Olympics – hosted by a lobbyist for Barclays.
As Left Foot Forward reported earlier this week, the eurozone crisis continues to deepen.
Spanish bond yields soared over the critical 7 per cent mark on Monday morning as the tentative agreements between European finance ministers on bank recapitalisation and fiscal oversight unravelled.
On June 28th, the Spanish and Italian governments secured a series of concessions from Germany: failing banks would henceforth have direct access to European rescue funds, eurozone member states would shoulder the debt burden collectively, and Italy would be spared a Greek-style austerity programme in the event of a bailout becoming necessary.
Yet the ensuing days of uncertainty on how these measures were to be implemented, and whether Germany had agreed to them at all, undermined the deal. Spain now appears on course for a full-blown bailout, with the recently-agreed €100bn bank recapitalisation package looking increasingly inadequate.
In other Spanish developments, tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Madrid on Wednesday to greet striking coalminers protesting against austerity measures and a 60% cut in government mining subsidies.
Several hundred of them had undertaken a symbolic three-week, 250-mile march through the provinces to reach the capital.
Upon the miners’ arrival, reports the Guardian:
“A tense standoff saw occasional police charges, rubber bullets, and demonstrators hurling objects at police, with more than 70 people injured.”
As the miners fought for their livelihoods, the pro-austerity prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, devoted the morning to announcing another sweeping package of austerity measures intended to save Spain €65bn over the coming years.
In Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s regime suffered its second major defection on Thursday when Nawaf al-Fares, the ambassador to Iraq, announced he was joining the opposition.
In a video statement posted on Facebook and broadcast on al-Jazeera, al-Fares called on other members of the government and military to do likewise. Unsurprisingly, the foreign ministry proceeded to fire him. Yesterday evening, he said Assad must be ousted, dismissing the peace plan and calling for the regime to be removed – by force.
Last week, Manaf Tlas, a senior Republican Guard commander and childhood friend of Assad, defected and fled to Paris.
Finally, this week, back once again to the WikiLeaks saga.
The whistleblower website has claimed a “significant victory” in its struggles with the US government after an Icelandic court ruled that blocking Visa Debit donations to the website was illegal.
In a statement, the site’s founder Julian Assange said:
“We will not be silenced. Economic censorship is censorship. It is wrong. When it’s done outside of the rule of law, it’s doubly wrong.”
However, Visa pointed out the ruling had no application beyond Iceland and did not affect the current situation, in which Visa and other US-owned credit cards cannot be used to pay WikiLeaks.
US financial institutions stopped handling the website’s transactions in December 2010, after Assange began making public large numbers of sensitive State Department cables.