Peter Davidson (Alderley Edge): Groups implacably opposed to any notion of English Regional devolution repeatedly focus on the overwhelming rejection of an elected assembly for North East England during the November 2004 referendum. This result has assumed iconic significance amongst English Parliament supporters, but it overlooks a body of compelling objective polling data concerning this contentious and emotional topic.
Rupert Read (Norwich, The Green Party): I wrote previously in Our Kingdom of the need for the Green Party to embrace Leadership, under the pressure of the climate emergency. Last week, the Party did indeed come out overwhelmingly in favour of adopting a formal leadership model, for the first time ever. By 73% to 27%, the Green Party members instituted a new system, whereby we will elect next Autumn a Leader and Deputy (or Co-Leaders). This means, thank goodness, that when it comes to the next General Election and the '09 European Elections, we will be able to compete on an equal footing with the other Parties. Our Leader will be able to take on the LibDem Leader or the UKIP Leader in debate. When the media cover what the Leaders of the political parties are doing on Polling Day, it won't only be Nick Griffin, Gordon Brown and David Cameron who get a look-in: our Green Party Leader will be up there on the airwaves and in the headlines too.
Jan Shaw (London, Amnesty International UK): There's a moment in Amnesty's new film, Still Human, Still Here: The Destitution of Refused Asylum Seekers, when a Zimbabwean woman picks up a photo of her son, whom she left behind five years ago, and starts to weep. "When I left Zimbabwe he was nine years old," she says, "Now he's 14."
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Four points on the scandal of Labour funding. A fifth on what the implications for the New Labour project will be a post on its own.
1. While it is tremendously revealing and could even bring Brown down if it continues, it is not as important as the threat of the database state. That is not just a passing story about missing discs. It is important that the corruption of party politics does not become a diversion from the more looming danger. More on this soon.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Thanks to a post by Tom Griffin on the Green Ribbon I have understood the approach Wendy Alexander is taking as part of the larger Brown strategy that now seems mortally ruined by the funding scandals in London and Edinburgh. On Friday she gave a lecture titled A New Agenda for Scotland. It was her attempt to lay down an alternative strategy to the SNP. Tom discusses the SNP response. The point I want to emphasize is that it needs to be read as part of Brown's overall approach.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Thanks to Ben Brogan I learnt that Lord 'Citizen' Goldsmith who is preparing a definition of Britishness for the Prime Minister while pocketing around £1million a year for his legal services told Sky TV that the National Anthem needed a bit of re-branding: "There's some problem with part of it absolutely," the peer said. "Part of it is not actually that inclusive, but that's if you go onto the later verses". It's the "absolutely" that gets me. There is more than a whiff of fin de regime in the air at the moment but somehow I don't think it is Elizabeth's.
Philip Hosking (Cornwall, The Cornish Democrat): Over the last 3 centuries Cornwall has gone from being on the leading edge of the industrial revolution to being one of the poorest regions of Europe, receiving objective one funding from the EU as a result. In the October 2001 Business Age Magazine Kevin Cahill, an author and investigative journalist for the Sunday Times, wrote the "The Killing of Cornwall". He notes that the London Treasury extracts £1.95 billion in taxes out of Cornwall's GDP of £3.6 billion. The Treasury returns less than £1.65 billion - a net loss to Cornwall of 300 million pounds - to an area where total earnings are 24% below the national average. Is this some form of negative Barnett Formula? Low wages, unskilled McJobs, poverty, social problems and rocketing housing prices are the often hidden face of the optimistically named "English Riviera". Coupled with this we have seen the centralisation of services, institutions and government (followed by the skilled jobs they entail) out of the Duchy, much to the benefit of various undemocratic and faceless ‘South West of England' quangos.
Moderator: Sue Stirling's previous article provoked some heated discussion and debate - this her a response.
Sue Stirling (Newcastle, ippr north): It's always nice to see a blog piece inspire so much debate and while I can't possibly answer all questions I would like to focus on a few key points, especially the economic conditions within England. There is an unacceptably wide gap in wealth between the North and the rest of the country, broadly speaking.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): According to a YouGov poll in today's Telegraph for the first time a majority oppose ID cards by 48 per cent to 43. Given the decision to impliment them is already law, there is a long way to go, not least to prevent the creation of the multi-use national database registry. But what struck me most about the story apart from the cheering news that on liberty as on Iraq the majority is proving wiser than the apparatus, is that when the question was last asked in July 2005 after the London bombings only 45 per cent were in favour and 42 per cent were opposed. But in 2003 when the idea began YouGov found 78 per cent supported it and just 15 per cent were opposed. So the greatest collapse in support was between then and 7/7 - and the terrorist attacks did very little to turn around the growing opposition. Cool.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Our Scottish coverage has been set back since Gavin Yates took the vacancy as the Head of Communications for the Labour Party at Holyrood, and then got bashed about for the qualities of his journalism. OK will miss him and his contributions. We will continue to feature unionists, nationalist, left-wingers and right-wingers, not forgetting well fashioned liberals, and, of course, libertarians (thanks Sarah), joined by concern for Britain's democratic and constitutional future and integrity of debate and argument - despite intense disagreements on everything else. We wish Gavin well in his new role and an extra layer of skin! Meanwhile, we are on the lookout for reports and argument from the land of the Saltire.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): As well as starting websites Sunny Hundal of the Liberal Conspiracy and Pickled Politics is going to set us on course for a written constitution. He starts to spell out the case in a new article in CiF. He takes up the issue from the point of view of the integration of immigrants and the forging of a shared identity,
Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): There is a great irony in the position that the government and Conservatives adopt on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. One of Gordon Brown's specious red lines is designed to prevent the Charter from taking effect in the UK and to keep the European Court of Justice's nose out of the UK's affairs. William Hague has denounced the Charter as an intrusion. And now the chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee seems to have implicitly joined them in fearing that the ECJ might exercise some additional jurisdiction in the UK. Of course, parliamentary sovereignty was lost ages ago, under the Tories, and the ECJ already rules here on matters of EU law.
Debbie Moss (London, UCL): The Constitution Unit hosted a seminar yesterday to launch JUSTICE’s report (pdf) on the proposed British Bill of Rights. Director of Justice, Roger Smith, gave us the political context. Whilst all three parties are committed in principle to a Bill, confusion and incoherence characterise much of the debate. Cameron's proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act is, we were told, "intellectually unsustainable" and aimed primarily at currying favour with the Europhobes. Since the ECHR draws extensively on principles of English common law, it is hard to see what Cameron envisages as a more "British" alternative.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The Guardian has just run a long G2 cover story by John Harris on Scotland. It asks, Has Scotland woken up? The answer seems to be yes. He quotes Stuart Cosgrove to provide his conclusion, "The truth of the matter is, apart from some key institutions, maybe it's already happened. That's the thing: Scotland already is independent, isn't it?" (His italics) This idea, that it has already happened, has been surprisingly reinforced by Christopher Harvie today in openDemocracy. In a classic, wide-ranging knock-about with a lot of powerful economic claims that undermine assertions of Gordon Brown's financial competence, Harvie concludes that autonomy is now becoming achieved whether or not a referendum on independence is won. In an interesting and honest passage he describes how he feared the White Paper on independence published by the SNP government in August (for links and OK's coverage to date see here) would be premature (he was one of its authors). But Alex Salmond's decision to be clear about what he wants for his country has worked. In the sense that he is retaining the initiative despite the practical problems.
Kanishk Tharoor (London, toD): As an unfortunately-named Sudanese teddy bear hogs the headlines, you'd be forgiven for missing another controversial - but decidedly less tidy - story this week. Yesterday, with the blessings of the huggable, teddy bear-like "Communities" Secretary Hazel Blears, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) came into being.
Jon Bright (London, OK): How do you set about changing a culture? A lot of debate in the feminist movement at the moment seems to be touching on this. Women have achieved a type of legal, theoretical equality in the UK that has yet to be fully realised in practice. Rape conviction is a case in point - despite legal precedent for convictions of marital rape and increases in the number of rapes reported, conviction stands at a lowly 5.7%. It's not much of a surprise that there is frustration with what can be achieved through legislation. Julie Bindel was in the Guardian yesterday arguing for massive public information campaigns - first change the culture, she says.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): One of the most pathetic things about the current decomposition of Gordon Brown's government is that he was warned about the need to clean up the political system, he listened, he said he understood, he made some of the right noises in his speeches, but he didn't take decisive action. The Power Inquiry, chaired by Helena Kennedy, run by Pam Giddy, saw it coming, spelt out the problem, and made 30 all too reasonable reasonable proposals for reform. This is what it suggested on party funding - a disaster which it was not alone in seeing coming but about which it made some clear and original suggestions:
Tony Curzon Price (London, openDemocracy): Will Hutton was interviewed on Today - the jolly slot at 08.57 - about whether the 30,000 UK resident super-rich are good for the country. He talked about incentives, Scandinavia, giving back, Quaker business, Robert Owen ... but I think he missed a real trick - the one Martin Wolf points out in a recent column: the banking super-rich are there thanks to taxpayer subsidy. In a profoundly radical column in the FT, Martin Wolf asks why the City is so rich and why banks have such a high return on their invested capital - most of the time. For the past 10 years, UK banks have returned an average of 20% on equity, year in, year out. This is huge. The usual defense is that bankers take big risks: hard cash is put up for the mere promise of more later. This is the essence of capitlalistic risk-taking. Of course it earns! - you have to compensate everyone for the roller-coaster ride.