Shamik Das looks back at the week’s politics, including our progressive, regressive and evidence of the week.
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• Seven years after Britain was awarded the Games, the Olympics finally arrive in London tonight with a spectacular opening ceremony.
The three-hour showpiece in Stratford will be viewed by a global TV audience of a billion. Details of the ceremony remain a closely-guarded secret, as does the identity of the person who will light the flame in the Olympic Stadium.
More on the Olympics below, but first, a look back at the week of the man who swept in from the States and united the nation in support of the Games with his ill-judged attacks on Britain on the eve of the Games, Mr Willard Mitt Romney.
His team began the week with a thinly-veiled dog-whistle attack on Barack Obama by claiming he does not understand the “special relationship” between the UK and US, due to not appreciating the “Anglo-Saxon heritage”.
It was just the latest in a string of attacks on Obama’s heritage – see more on those here. As Political Scrapbook noted, it was an “appeal to base racial prejudices”, while LabourList’s Mark Ferguson called the remarks “race baiting politics”.
Romney himself then decided the best way to please his British hosts would be to question our readiness for the Games, asking if we are willing to “celebrate” the event. Not the wisest choice of words for a ‘statesman’ on an official visit – unwiser still for the former boss of the Salk Lake City Winter Games 10 years ago – an Olympics won through grand corruption.
And then, just to ram home how much he understands us, it was revealed that he had described Britain as ‘just a small island that doesn’t make things people want to buy.
Along with our colleagues in the left blogosphere, Left Foot Forward has long highlighted just how big a liability the Republican is, from the Primaries at the start of the year right through to the weeks leading up to his visit – everything from his links to Barclays lobbyists and $75,000-a-head London fundraisers to his scandalous use of tax havens.
We’ll leave the final word on Romney to nine-time Olympic gold medal winner Carl Lewis, who said simply:
“Every Olympics is ready, I don’t care whatever he said. I swear, sometimes I think some Americans shouldn’t leave the country. Are you kidding me, stay home if you don’t know what to say.”
2. ‘Best and brightest’ migrants forced out of the UK Calynn Dowler, Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum
• So, then, to the Greatest Show on Earth.
The action began on Wednesday, as Great Britain’s women beat New Zealand 1-0 in the football, with the men’s football starting last night, GB drawing 1-1 with Senegal, and the archery preliminaries taking place at Lord’s today.
The week got off to the best possible start with Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France in Paris on Sunday, the first ever British win in the race’s history – an incredible victory hailed by David Cameron, Hugh Robertson and Boris Johnson.
The prime minister declared himself “absolutely delighted”, the sports minister called it “one of the great achievements in British sporting history”, and the Mayor of London described it as “orgiastic” – yet, as reported this week on Left Foot Forward, the Tories have given no indication of reversing their cuts and investing in cycling safety and competitive school cycling.
Under the last government there was a big increase in the number of schools offering cycling, from 21% in 2003/04 to 55% in 2009/10, with an equally impressive rise in the number of schools with links to cycling clubs, from 4% in 2003/04 to 15% in 2009/10 – time, surely, for this coalition government to show their commitment to sport is for life and not just the Olympics.
Time, also, for the media to increase their coverage of women’s sport – at all times not just for the Games. As mentioned earlier, the action began on Wednesday with extensive coverage of the women’s football – let the Games set a precedent for more equal coverage in the future and herald the start of something better.
• Sticking with the subject of the Olympic legacy, what does the future hold for London and the whole country post-Games?
Put simply, the legacy will be immense; as Katie Stanton explained on Left Foot Forward tonight, here are some examples of how we will benefit after the Games:
“The International Inspiration programme has already helped children across the globe get involved in sport in a number of different countries. Sports participation leads to a healthier lifestyle, improved educational performance and the opportunity to develop leadership and teamwork skills.
“The programme also aims for more inclusion in sport, especially for girls and disabled people – something that is in dire need of encouragement as Left Foot Forward reported yesterday…
“It is hoped that the Park itself will be an asset to London long after the athletes have left. Half of the Olympic and Paralympic Villages will be transformed into affordable housing, with the rest being available for sale or rent.
“A number of the venues will stay for the use of the community and green spaces will be transformed into parks for the locals…
“The Games has also been a big benefit to UK businesses with tens of thousands of jobs created and £7 billion worth of contracts generated by the Games. These contracts also demanded good business practice, so many companies have improved their health and safety, inclusion and equality policies.
“Any critics of the £9 billion budget for the Games will struggle in the face of this evidence. As of today, we are officially the luckiest country in the world, as the world’s biggest sporting event is about to take off and its positive effects will be felt for years to come.”
As Michelle Obama told US athletes this morning:
“Every few years, these games bring pride, excitement and wonder to millions of people around the world. And that must mean so much to all of you.”
Progressives of the week:
The Irish government, which this week passed a Bill through parliament that will historically change the way women will be represented in the Dáil.
The Electoral Amendment (Political Funding) Bill 2011 rules that state funding of political parties will be halved unless 30% of parliamentary candidates at the next election are female. The Bill was proposed as a result of only 15.1% of Irish parliamentarians being women – a proportion even less than our own paltry figure of 22% of female MPs the House of Commons.
See here for more.
Regressive of the week:
George Osborne, sticking his head in the sand and his fingers in his ears, refusing to countenance any deviation from his failed Plan A – this despite the news this week that the UK economy contracted 0.7 per cent in the second quarter of this year – plunging us into the deepest double-dip for 50 years and threatening to put a dampener on the Games festivities.
The latest data shows the economy is smaller today than it was in in the first quarter of 2010, and fully 4.5 per cent below the previous peak in the first quarter of 2008; in the two years since the general election the economy has fallen by 0.3 per cent. We now need growth of 1.3 per cent in the second half of the year to avoid being in recession for the whole of 2012.
See here for more on the GDP figures, and see here for our report on how Osborne’s £3bn tax credit cuts “may have deepened the recession”, here for Friends of the Earth’s article for us on how Osborne’s ideological politics are threatening Cameron’s ‘greenest government ever’, here for a look at how Osborne reneged on his promise of growth by discouraging wind farms, and here for the latest polling news which shows a majority of people wand a new chancellor.
Evidence of the week:
The research showed pupils in Newham and Durham made between 4 and 8 weeks more progress over a two-year period than similar pupils in other areas – that universal entitlement to free school meals significantly increased attainment in the pilot areas: relative to a carefully chosen group of similar pupils in non-pilot areas, pupils in Newham and Durham made between four and eight weeks more progress over the two year pilot period than pupils in other areas at Key Stages 1 and 2 (ages 7 and 11).
See here for more.
The Week Outside Westminster by Ed Jacobs:
The Scottish government formally announced its intention to legislate for same-sex marriages although religious bodies will not be forced to conduct them.
Outlining the scope of the planned legislation, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon concluded:
“Scotland is by no means the first and will not be the last country to legalise same sex marriage.
“However, as we proceed towards legislation, our overriding concern will be to respect the variety of views that exist on this issue and do whatever we can to address those concerns that have been expressed, while ensuring that Scotland lives up to its aspiration to be an equal and tolerant society.”
Responding, however, the Church of Scotland was not so sure – reiterating its opposition, the Rev Alan Hamilton, convener of the Church of Scotland legal questions committee, explained:
“We are acutely aware that opinions differ among our own members and that many people are anxious and hurt in the current situation. We believe homophobia to be sinful and we reaffirm our strong pastoral commitment to all people in Scotland, regardless of sexual orientation or beliefs.
“The Church is taking time to carefully consider the important issues of same-sex relationships, civil partnerships and marriage. Our Theological Commission will report in May 2013. However, we are concerned that the Scottish Government is rushing ahead on something that affects all the people of Scotland without adequate debate and reflection.”
Meanwhile, the Tories came in for criticism from one of their former candidates for Holyrood.
Following news of an out of court settlement over his dumping as a candidate at last year’s elections to the Scottish Parliament, Malcolm Macaskill said the Tory party machine in Edinburgh central office is “rotten to the core”, adding:
“I no longer wish to remain a member of such an inept and morally corrupt organisation.”
In the week in which the double-dip deepened, Welsh Labour declared the coalition to be “too timid and too tame”.
As Danny Alexander and George Osborne used a joint article for the Western Mail to insist they were “committed to working together to 2015 to put our economy, and Wales’s economy, back on track”, writing exclusively for Left Foot Forward, shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith concluded:
“Ultimately, politics and economics are all about priorities and choice. At Westminster, the coalition’s choices have been deeply flawed and are exacting a generational price in lost jobs and opportunities.
“Their priorities have been equally clear and equally misguided, as testified to by their decision to cut allowances for pensioners and fund instead tax breaks for millionaires…
“The ‘one size fits all’, adapt-your-own article might tick a box in Whitehall, but it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to communities here in Wales. The next time the George and Danny show rolls into town, they would do well to bear that in mind.”
Wales, meanwhile, became the centre of attention as it literally kicked off the sporting bonanza that is the Olympics with Great Britain’s women’s football team beating New Zealand 1-0 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Declaring that “the Olympics starts here”, Lord Coe, chairman of the Games’ organising committee told the Western Mail:
“It seems barely credible that it was seven years ago where we snuck across the line in Singapore and started off this extraordinary journey. It’s been a long journey and an exhilarating one, now a few hours away from the start and it’s fantastic.
“And it’s great that start is in Cardiff too because one of the commitments we made from the start – and I have strong feelings on this as someone who was not brought up in London – was that it had to be about the UK.
“Being here is a really strong signal of our commitment to the concept that, although the Games are in London, it is not uniquely a London story.”
Justice minister David Ford used a speech this week to call for greater use of community sentencing.
Outlining plans to legislate to increase their use, Ford told a gathering in Derry:
“The statistics underline the success rate of community sentences in breaking the cycle of crime. Some 75% of adult offenders who receive a community sentence do not go on to commit further crime over the next 12 months.
“Compare this with the statistics on re-offending rates for those who serve short prison sentences, and the figures speak for themselves.”
Meanwhile, a senior member of the shadow cabinet called on Labour to contest council and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, starting in 2014.
Speaking after a fact finding mission to the province, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham explained:
“I want to build Labour in Northern Ireland and contest elections, let’s be clear about that. It is the same issue as organising in northern England. Both areas need a party to speak up for ordinary working people in the way that Labour has traditionally done.”
The World Outside Westminster by Katie Stanton:
You’ve read all about the Romneyshambles at the top of this email – but what impact has it had back in the States?
The latest Real Clear Politics poll of polls has Obama on 46.4%, with Romney on 45.3% – a 1.1-point lead for the President. Obama, however, has a negative net job approval rating, of -0.5: 47.3% approve; 47.8% disapprove. Worse still for the Democrats, on the question of which direction the country is travelling in, 61.2% say the wrong track, with just 32.2% saying the right direction.
All to play for, then, as the race enters its final three months.
In Syria, the conflict between government troops and the Syria Free Army is heading towards the large commercial and industrial city of Aleppo.
The US said intervention is still not a possibility.
The Telegraph reports:
Opposition sources say Syrian troops and armour are amassing around the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s main commercial and industrial hub, to crush armed resistance to Assad that has been gathering momentum following a military crackdown on street demonstrations against his rule.
As foreign secretary Willaim Hague said:
“This utterly unacceptable escalation of the conflict could lead to a devastating loss of civilian life and a humanitarian disaster. It will add to the misery being endured by the Syrian people, and plunge the country further into catastrophic civil war.
“The Assad regime must call off this assault. I call on all countries around the world, including the Permanent Members of the Security Council, to join us in condemning these latest actions and to insist on a political process to end the violence in Syria.
“All those with influence on the Syrian regime should bring it to bear now. No nation should stand silent while people in Aleppo are threatened with a potential massacre.”
Mexico’s biggest TV network, Televisia, has been accused of biased coverage and accepting payments during recent elections.
The network strongly supported the eventual winner, Enrique Peña Nieto. Protestors are camped outside the television studios.
The Guardian reports:
Thousands of protesters have blockaded the studios of Televisa, Mexico’s most popular TV network, accusing it of biased coverage of the 1 July presidential election.
Shouting “Tell the truth,” the demonstrators, including students and union workers, stopped employees entering the offices of the Televisa studios in Mexico City although they allowed others to leave.
The protesters have pledged to continue the blockade for 24 hours.
In Liberia, gay rights activists are calling for the country’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to lose her Nobel Peace Prize if she refuses to veto a bill attempting to criminalise same-sex marriage.
According to the Guardian:
Liberia’s Senate passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on Monday.
Coenie Kukkuk of Mr Gay South Africa said on Wednesday that the group wants to hold Johnson Sirleaf to a promise she made to veto any bill on homosexuality, be it legalising it or toughening laws against it…
While Sirleaf’s position on the bill was not immediately clear, she has defended another Liberian law making homosexual sex a crime, as it is across most of Africa.
Finally this week, we go back once again to the eurozone crisis, with Latvia, a non EZ country, joining the growing list of nations wanting Greece out.
The Latvian finance minister has said “the sooner [Greece leaves] the better”, The Times reporting (£):
Greece should leave the eurozone “as soon as possible” to avoid further damaging the currency bloc that Latvia hopes to join by 2014, Latvian finance minister Andris Vilks said. “A way must be found to pull Greece out of the eurozone as soon as possible, with as little pain as possible. My personal opinion is the sooner the better,” he said.
Although not yet a member of the eurozone, Latvia hopes to be the next country to adopt the European single currency and is working hard to meet its Maastricht Treaty criteria by the end of this year.
Latvia, which joined the European Union in 2004, has been unfazed by the eurozone debt crisis and insists that it makes more sense to be anchored inside the currency bloc alongside its key trade partners.