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About Tom Griffin

Tom Griffin is freelance journalist and researcher. He holds a Ph.D in social and policy sciences from the University of Bath, and is a former Executive Editor of the Irish World.

Articles by Tom Griffin

This week’s editor

Alex Sakalis, Editor

Alex Sakalis is associate editor of openDemocracy and co-edits the Can Europe Make It? page.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Justice devolved

OurKingdom on Lockerbie and the devolution of justice: see also Gerry Hassan on Lockerbie, justice and the price of devolution and Guy Aitchison on Tory reactions

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Spectator's Alex Massie argues that yesterday's decision on whether to free Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi would have been dealt with by a Scottish official even before devolution. The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg believes it would have been taken by a member of the UK Government.

The two views aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, and either way, Scottish Justice Minister Kenny McAskill's role in releasing the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing has shown that the power exercised by Scottish Ministers can have implications of not only UK-wide but international significance.

Splintered Sunrise suggests that the SNP might for once have been happy to defer to Westminster, but that won't have stopped some in the other devolved jurisdictions coveting similar powers.

Plaid Commons leader Elfyn Llwyd called on Tuesday for the Welsh Assembly to be given responsibility for justice. According to the Western Mail's Tomos Livingstone, some Welsh police chiefs would welcome the move.

It's in Northern Ireland that devolution of justice is highest on the agenda, but also most contentious. Nationalists want to see a justice ministry established as soon as possible, while unionists are more wary.

Calman's Catch-22

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Is there a fundamental flaw at the heart of the Calman Commission's  proposals for devolution of tax powers to Scotland?

Economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert believe the plans would have some perverse effects that could leave Scotland caught in a deflationary trap, as The Scotsman reports: 

the Cuthberts warn that under Calman – set up by Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – growth in Scotland's economy could also disproportionately benefit the Treasury, rather than the Scottish Government, because Holyrood would get to keep only 10p out of every tax band. 
For every 1p cut in income tax, Scotland would need to raise an extra 5 per cent income from the basic tax payer, an extra 7.5 per cent from those in the 40p bracket and an additional 8 per cent from those in the top 50p bracket, which will be brought in next year.

The Herald carries a Labour reaction:

"This is Alice in Wonderland economics. It is right that if the Scottish Parliament used tax-varying powers that would have consequences for the budget of the Scottish Government - that is the point. It's barmy to argue that the Treasury should make up the shortfall."

All the major parties in Scotland would agree that part of the point of devolving tax-raising powers is to strengthen the incentive for the Scottish Government to manage public spending responsibly and to grow the Scottish economy. If the Cuthberts are right, Calman may not achieve this. They foresee circumstances where tax cuts could boost the Scottish economy and swell UK Treasury receipts yet leave Scottish finances worse off. Conversely, they think Holyrood might well be forced to raise taxes at the expense of economic growth to maintain revenues.

The Cuthberts argue that these effects can be avoided if the Scottish Government receives a fixed percentage of all income tax in Scotland, on the model of a revenue-sharing system currently used in Canada.

That would mean that while decisions made at Westminster would continue to affect Holyrood's revenue,  Holyrood's decisions would also start to have an impact on Westminster's revenue from Scotland:

Successful operation of such a system would require that the UK and devolved governments are willing to operate in a collegiate manner – being appreciative of, and respecting, the impact that their own actions will have on the revenues of the other parties. The implication is that a successful tax sharing system would have to involve a more federal way of working than is the current practice in the UK. It would be very unfortunate if the Calman Commission had been forced towards its flawed proposals on tax sharing because it was unwilling to countenance the implication that a proper system of tax sharing would inevitably involve a more federal aspect to the operation of the UK constitution.
The Cuthbert's open letter to the Calman Commission is available as a word file, along with some other very interesting papers, from their website.

What our politicians really swear about

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Government this week published its response to an epetition from Republic's Challenge the Oath Campaign. It makes for an interesting commentary on our constitution:

No oath of allegiance is required of most public officials, including civil servants and local government officers.  In relation to those groups of whom an oath is required, the oath is constitutionally important because it is a declaration relating to the supremacy of the Sovereign, which is fundamental to our system of government by the Crown-in-Parliament.  Oaths of allegiance to the Crown, or affirmations for those who do not wish to swear to God, are sworn by members of certain professions on taking office, as well as by new British citizens. The Government believes the Monarchy is a vital element in our constitution, personifying both national and Commonwealth unity. The Government has no plans to change the wording of the oath.
It's clear that the Government regards the oath as no mere ornamental anachronism but of enduring significance. It is not simply a pledge of personal loyalty to the Queen, but neither is it a straightforward proxy for loyalty to the nation as a whole.

Government backs down over Common Travel Area

Tom Griffin (London, OK)Last week, Home Office ministers announced they were abandoning a clause in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill that would extended immigration controls to air and sea travel between Britain and Northern Ireland. The climbdown came in the face of opposition from the Lords, where it was confirmed on Monday that new immigration spot checks on the Irish border will also now be shelved.

Although the government remain committed to the planned changes in principle, it looks as if the Common Travel Area is safe for the moment. As Slugger's Brian Walker has noted, it's a pragmatic arrangement supported by all sides in Ireland, if not always for the same reasons:

The particular Irish (north and south) interest in the Bill was to avoid the unique status in Britain of Irish people becoming downgraded more or less by accident because of new restrictions on foreign immigration. “British Unionists” of course are Siamese twins with southern Irish passport holders because of the facts of geography. The Irish, note, are not regarded as foreign in the 1949 Act, passed when the Republic cut its last links with the Commonwealth. Since then , tightening up through the British Nationality Act and successive anti terrorism Acts have pulled away from British- Irish exceptionalism, while the GFA has pulled in the opposite direction, towards interchangeability of citizenship.  

 

 

Adams seeks Irish unity campaign in Britain

Tom Griffin (London, OK)Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams spoke at Westminster last night on the latest leg of an international tour intended to build support for a united Ireland. In the event, it was a remarkably open-ended occasion, one much more about canvassing ideas than about presenting a finished strategy.

That tone is also reflected in Adams' piece in Comment is Free today:

To achieve all of this requires those of us who share these goals to find ways in which we can work together. Is it possible to put in place a formal structured broad front approach to campaign for a united Ireland? Or would it be better to opt for an informal, organic and popular movement based on core principles?

One definite proposal is for a major conference in Britain next February: 

Of course this conversation, this dialogue, with people here in Britain or in the US or elsewhere will not in itself achieve a united Ireland. That is a matter for agreement between the people who live on the island of Ireland. But British policy toward Ireland is key to unlocking the potential for this change to occur. So, we need the active support of people in Britain.

We need to reach out to the widest possible public opinion, to the trade unions, the business sector, the community and voluntary sector, to the political class, as well as with those of other ethnic minorities who have experienced a similar history of colonisation and immigration. 

One interesting moment last night highlighted some of the dilemmas of building a broadbased campaign in Britain. Adams remarked that there may yet be an independent Scotland before there is an independent Ireland.

Conservatives 'comfortable' with Scottish independence?

Tom Griffin (London, OK): ConservativeHome has today published a survey of 144 Tory candidates in the 220 most winnable seats for the party at the next general election.

One particularly eye-catching detail: 54 per cent say "the Union should be defended at all costs", while 46 per cent would "not be uncomfortable about Scotland becoming independent."

On the face of it this is a remarkable result for a party whose unionism traditionally has been a core value. 

The devolution dilemma ten years on

Tom Griffin (London, OK)Will the Scots Ever Be Satisfied? Panorama asks at 8.30 pm on BBC One this evening in a retrospective on ten years of devolution by BBC Scotland editor Brian Taylor.

Labour's Tam Dalyell staunchly opposed a Scottish Parliament because he believed it would never be satisfied short of independence. At the weekend, he pointed to the Calman Report's recent recommendation of greater tax powers as vindication of this view.

Calman report calls for 'Scottish income tax'

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Calman Commission this week published its long-awaited report on the future of Scottish Devolution. Most attention is likely to focus on its recommendations for taxation, which could create a significant new divergence from the rest of the UK.

The Commission calls for income tax to be reduced by 10p in the pound in Scotland with a commensurate reduction in the block grant from Westminster. The Scottish Government would have the option to make up the difference by setting its own income tax. 

One limitation is that the Scottish variation would apply equally at all rates. Holyrood would not be able to raise the top rate while leaving the standard rate unchanged, or vice-versa. Such a power would threaten the UK's 'social union' according to the Commission.

This is one instance of a general theme in the report, the delicate balancing act between deeper and more accountable devolution, on the one hand, and the continued maintenance of the union on the other.

Tom Paine on the House of Commons

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Monday was the 200th anniversary anniversary of the death of Tom Paine, the man who, in Mike Marqusee's words, "inspired and guided revolutions in north America and France, and equally important, the revolution that did not happen in Britain."

As both Brendan O'Neill and Edward Vallance note, Paine's writings retain remarkable relevance to today's political crisis, not least because on his own terms, the British revolution he sought remains unfinished business.

Here is Paine's verdict on the House of Commons in The Rights of Man

With respect to the house of commons, it is elected but by a small part of the nation; but were the the election as universal as taxation, which it ought to be, it would still be only the organ of the nation, and cannot possess inherent rights. When the national assembly of France resolves a matter, the resolve is made in right of the nation; but Mr. Pitt on all national questions, so far as they refer to the house of commons, absorbs the right of the nation into the organ, and makes the organ into a nation, and the nation itself into a cipher.

 So Paine would not have been surprised by the expenses saga. He understood that even a parliament elected by universal suffrage would remain a gentlemen's club without constitutional reform.

His view of parliamentary sovereignty remains as applicable today as it was in 1791:

Constitution is now the cant word of parliament, turning itself to the ear of the nation. Formerly it was the universal supremacy and the omnipotence of parliament. But since the progress of liberty in France, those phrases have a despotic harshness in their note; and the English parliament has caught the fashion from the National Assembly, but without the substance, of speaking of a constitution

 Two centuries after his death, Paine's demand in The Rights of Man for a written constitution enshrining the sovereignty of the people remains the yardstick for any serious measure of democratic reform.

Parliament must clean up lobbying as well as expenses

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The ongoing debacle in the House of Commons last week overshadowed an equally significant scandal in the House of Lords. A day after Michael Martin became the first Speaker of the Commons to be forced out since 1695, Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn became the first peers to face suspension from the Lords since 1642.

The latter landmark is in some ways more troubling. The Sub-Committee on Lords Interests looked at the conduct of the peers involved in the cash for amendments affair. It found that Truscott "was advertising his power and willingness to influence Parliament in return for a substantial financial inducement"and that Taylor displayed "his clear willingness to breach the Code of Conduct by engaging in paid advocacy, and by failing to act on his personal honour." This is a degree of corruption beyond fiddling expenses.

There is now a danger that a crackdown on expenses will leave some MPs and peers more susceptible to financial inducements from lobbyists. It is essential therefore that reform of Parliament includes measures to regulate lobbying.

Tories undeterred by bumpy start in Northern Ireland

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Conservatives took another step in their nascent alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party today, with a visit to Northern Ireland by David Cameron in support of UUP European election candidate Jim Nicholson.

The previous evening, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson explained the thinking behind the alliance in a talk at West London's Hammersmith Irish Centre.

This is the first time in decades there is someone representing a national party as well as a local party in an election in Northern Ireland. And we intend to go on. We intend to choose joint candidates over the next few months for the general election. The way things are going we might have to accelerate that, and we will see how we we get on.

This is a long term project. There may be bumps on the way. We've seen a few this week  with Lady Sylvia's comments. It will not go smoothly, but I think it is a really worthwhile thing to try and do. If we could move Northern Ireland politics away from the age-old stale debate about the great dividing trench, just park that and concentrate on things that really matter to people on a daily basis, I think we would bring in people who've not been involved in politics before.

Will the age of austerity kill off Trident?

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Monday's Guardian carried an alarming report about safety at the Trident submarine base in Faslane: 

The worst breaches include three leaks of radioactive coolant from nuclear submarines in 2004, 2007 and 2008 into the Firth of Clyde, while last year a radioactive waste plant manager was replaced. It emerged he had no qualifications in radioactive waste management.

The repeated safety breaches, which have been revealed in documents released to Channel 4 News, are so serious that the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) has warned that it would consider closing the base down if it had the legal powers to do so. 

This revelation comes at an obviously sensitive time, with the longstanding opposition to Trident renewal in the Scottish Parliament being compounded by growing questions about its affordability at Westminster.

An Irish lesson for the Middle East?

Tom Griffin (London, OK):Does the Irish peace process have lessons for the Middle East? Many of the key players in the Good Friday Agreement seem to think so. Tony Blair has cited the precedent as cause for optimism in his role as Quartet Envoy, while Gerry Adams called for inclusive negotiations during his visit to Gaza last week. The analogy isn't universally welcome, however.

Two recent articles reflect the parameters of the debate. In the New Statesman, Blair's former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, argues that the British government's engagement with Irish republicans provides a model for an Israeli approach to Hamas. In Standpoint, Douglas Murray reiterates a longstanding neoconservative critique of such suggestions, arguing that "the claims of the peace process in Northern Ireland itself are unproven - but they are also unhelpful to the point of uselessness."

This dispute is significant given the identity of some of the key actors now emerging on the Middle East stage. US envoy George Mitchell was a key mediator in the Good Friday Agreement, while Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is arguably more closely aligned with American and British neoconservatives than any other major figure in Israeli politics.

Is a unionist republicanism possible?

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The debate about reforming the Act of Settlement has prompted some interesting musings over at the Slugger O'Toole website:

I have known a number of unionist republicans: most would be fairly liberal, though still clearly unionists. However, there are also unionists, albeit fewer, from a more hardline view point who support what has recently been suggested as the United Republic rather than the United Kingdom. Others who hold sometimes surprisingly ambivalent views on the monarchy include some fundamentalists.

That might seem a unexpected admission from Turgon, a supporter of Northern Ireland's most hardline unionist party, the TUV, but as he points out such views are not without their historical roots:

It must be remembered that the idea of monarchy was not considered the ideal in The Bible (1 Samuel 8:7). In addition across Oliver Cromwell’s tomb it is said the inscription read “Christ, not man, is king.” Many fundamentalists may well owe significant allegiance to the UK and indeed its head of state; there is, however, another country to which they vow true fealty, as indeed is clear in the third verse of that hymn. (Best tune ever to my mind).

One 'unionist republican' from the more liberal end of the spectrum is the Ulster Unionist Director of Communications, Alex Kane. He wrote in January:

I have absolutely no objection to Her Majesty on a personal level. Indeed, I think she does a remarkable job. But as someone who regards himself as a democratic purist I have said that my personal preference---and it is only my personal preference---would be that we have an elected Head of State. Putting it bluntly, everyone in authority, from the humblest parish councillor to the Head of State should be both elected and removable. But that State would remain the United Kingdom...

...Believing in an elected Head of State doesn't make me an Irish Republican and it certainly doesn't diminish or undermine my sense of unionism or my British identity.

The struggle for the soul of Irish republicanism

Tom Griffin (London, OK):The agenda behind the dissident republican attacks of the past few days was acutely summed up yesterday by Irish News commentator Brian Feeney:

The killings were designed to accomplish a number of objectives – to embarrass Sinn Fein; to provoke a disproportionate response from the British; to cause division between Sinn Fein and the DUP and make it less likely that policing and justice will be devolved to northern politicians.

All of these aims add up to a larger purpose of undermining support for the peace process in the North's republican communities.

Modern Liberty: The Levellers' republican legacy

Tom Griffin (London, OK): There has been a lot said in recent months about democratic republicanism as a neglected tradition in British politics. If Saturday's Convention on Modern Liberty is anything to go by, it is a debate which has struck a chord.

It was standing room only for the afternoon session entitled Liberty, Sovereignty and Republicanism: Can the Leveller Tradition Be Revived In The 21st Century? sponsored by History Today and OurKingdom.

The audience were not to be disappointed, with what proved to be a lively and rigorous debate about Britain's republican past and its relevance today.

There were shades of David Davis as historian Quentin Skinner explained the role of Magna Carta in seventeenth century debates about liberty:

There's a great moment in the Leveller tradition when John Lilburne, who emerges from the historical record as a petitioner for his rights, and has been falsely imprisoned on the order of the House of Lords, writes a tract about his right under Magna Carta to be released, and is sharply told by Richard Overton, in the Remonstrance of Many Thousand Citizens, July 1646. 'Magna Carta is a beggarly thing.' You have not got onto what really matters about freedom.

Sinn Féin seek new alliance of the Irish left

Tom Griffin (Dublin, OK): Gerry Adams called for a new alignment in Irish politics at the weekend, in a move which underlined how the impact of the credit crisis is changing the political landscape in the Republic.

Speaking at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (party conference), Adams urged left parties to unite, and end the dominance of Ireland's two major centre-right parties.

In my view the Labour Party has a duty not to prop up either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Instead Labour should explore with us and others the potential for co-operation in the future.

I invite all these potential allies to come together to forge a stronger, more united progressive and democratic movement for our country - one that aims to meet the needs of all citizens.

That call represents a major shift since the 2007 election, when many observers saw a coalition with Fianna Fáil as the ultimate aim of Sinn Féin's own strategy. The party's poor performance at the polls put paid to that notion, and the credit crisis looks to have undermined it further. Adams' speech came on the same day that 120,000 people took to the streets of Dublin to protest against Government austerity measures.

Lib Dems to the rescue?

Tom Griffin (London, OK): It seems that Tom Nairn, Peter Oborne and our own Anthony Barnett were on to something with their suspicions that Gordon Brown would seek to shore up his authority with some kind of cross-party pact.

The Fabian Society's Sunder Katwala offers just such a proposal in this week's New Statesman:

A Lab-Lib deal is possible - but only if a pre-emptive progressive coalition is formed soon. By the time Barack Obama leaves these shores in April, Gordon Brown should invite Nick Clegg to be deputy prime minister with Vince Cable as chancellor. The coalition would govern for a year - announcing the date of the next election, and legislating for fixed-election dates, too. This year it would focus on the response to the recession, while agreeing on core progressive priorities for the next four-year parliament in both party manifestos.

Carnival on Modern Liberty No. 2

Carnival on Modern LibertyThis was originally posted on the 29th of January, at the end of OurKingdom's week hosting the Carnival

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Welcome to the second edition of the Carnival on Modern Liberty, chronicling the online debate in the run up to the Convention on Modern Liberty at the end of the month.

It's been a week that has highlighted the state's interest in diverse areas of our private lives, especially our online activities. There's good news for file-sharers though, as long as they're not dowloading comics...

Scottish budget voted down

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Breaking news from Holyrood:

The SNP's £33bn plans fell on the casting vote of the presiding officer after being tied at 64 votes to 64.

The government won the support of the Tories but the two Green MSPs withdrew their backing shortly before the vote.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said he would bring the Budget Bill back to parliament "within days".

Labour and the Liberal Democrats voted against the spending plans, saying they were inadequate to see Scotland through the economic downturn.

The Tories, who won a £60m concession for their town centre regeneration scheme initiative, backed the budget - and blamed Labour for its rejection.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald also voted against the budget.

High drama, but given the close margin the Scottish Government will surely be able to get an extra vote from somewhere in the coming days.

The way forward on lobbying

Tom Griffin (London, OK): With Labour peers facing growing scrutiny over cash for laws revelations, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency couldn't have hoped for a more propitious backdrop for its meeting at Westminster this morning.

Among the speakers were MPs Kelvin Hopkins and Gordon Prentice of the Public Administration Select Committee, which has made the case for a register of lobbyists in its report Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall.

"I think we have a big chance now because of the things that are happening in the House of Lords, and the new revelations in the newspapers today involving Martin O'Neill," Prentice said. "Now is the moment to insist that we get these changes and at a minimum, I would say, a mandatory register."

Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics suggested Britain could learn from the experience of the US, where such a register has long existed."The UK has the opportunity to create the world's most transparent system for tracking lobbying of the government, starting basically from scratch, which is a huge advantage," she said.

Gaza, Israel and the BBC

Tom Griffin (London, OK): In The Times today, Liberal Conspiracy's Sunny Hundal lays into the BBC over its refusal to broadcast the Disaster Emergency Committee's humanitarian appeal for Gaza:

The truth is that the BBC has become afraid of its own shadow. It has become so cowed by accusations of anti-Israeli bias that it has become unsure of what impartiality even means. It has become so cowed by sniping from the Right that it has lost conviction in the integrity of its own journalism. The anti-BBC brigade in the press and politics will use any excuse to undermine the corporation. And to assauge those critics, the corporation has sacrificed its own understanding of impartiality. 

A number of bloggers have recalled an episode from 2005 as evidence of spinelessness in the BBC's recent coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Carnival on Modern Liberty No.1

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The first edition of the Carnival on Modern Liberty, compiled, by James Graham, is now up at Liberal Conspiracy. It covers a very busy week which includes the Obama inauguration, the Government's u-turn over Freedom of Information and the launch of the Guardian's Liberty Central.

Next week's blog carnival will be hosted here on OurKingdom. If you would like your article to get a mention, you can submit it via this page.

 

A progressive coalition for London

Tom Griffin (London, OK): There was something of a government in exile feel about yesterday's Progressive London conference, a Ken Livingstone-led attempt to rebuild the left in London in the wake of his defeat by Boris Johnson.

A morning session on the lessons from the London elections perhaps explained the thinking behind the initiative. Julia Clarke of IPSOS-MORI highlighted evidence of an inner London-outer London split between Johnson and Livingstone voters. She also reported findings that voting patterns showed a stronger correlation with ethnicity than with class.

This led to some discussion of the role of the "white working class." However, former GLA Transport Director Redmond O'Neill suggested that Livingstone's problem had been more with middle class voters. In particular, he pointed to increased Liberal Democrat transfers to the Tories and suggested that the Lib Dems' orientation in the campaign had damaged both themselves and Labour.

An analysis of the need for a broad coalition if the left is to retake power in the capital clearly underlay the conference as a whole. Many of the panels featured Liberal Democrats, Greens and independents alongside Labour speakers. The session on civil liberties and justice was a case in point featuring Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik alongside Labour peer Helena Kennedy, who issued a heartfelt appeal for all present to attend next month's Convention on Modern Liberty.

A new portal for Liberty

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Guardian's new Liberty Central website looks likely to become an invaluable resource for those concerned about the erosion of civil liberties. It features a very useful events page, as well as a powerful aggregator of related content from across the Guardian's output. Here's a sampling of today's stories:

90 years of Irish Parliaments

Tom Griffin (London, OK): It is perhaps a fitting coincidence that, in the week when Barack Obama invoked the republicanism of Tom Paine, Ireland observed the 90th anniversary of its own 'Yes We Can' moment.

On 21st January 1919, the majority of Irish MPs met in Dublin's Mansion House to ratify Ireland's declaration of independence. Taoiseach Brian Cowen marked the event with a speech in the same building on Tuesday:

As of 21 January 1919, foreign rule in Ireland was relieved of any claim to democratic legitimacy. The Declaration of Independence adopted by the First Dáil ordained "that the elected representatives of the Irish people alone have the power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which the Irish people will give its allegiance". From that day on, there has been an Irish parliament and Irish governments which have governed in the interests of the Irish people.

When the First Dáil met, partition was a fear rather than a reality and civil war unimaginable. Partition disfigured our island and scarred the psyche of Irish people. It has sapped the energy and resources of our island and its people over generations. Only in the recent past have political leaders on the island been able to find the will and imagination to identify a path through the barriers to reconciliation.

There was one small relic of civil war divisions in the fact that Cowen was speaking a day before the actual anniversary. The Irish Government had been unable to reach an agreement with Sinn Féin, which had a prior booking in the Mansion House on the 21st.

Can the London left bounce back?

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Ken Livingstone's defeat by Boris Johnson last year was an early sign of what looks like being a tough electoral cycle for Labour. So tomorrow's Progressive London conference at Congress House may also be an early indicator of the potential for renewal on the left.

One hopeful sign is the emergence of a strong crop of left-of-centre bloggers focused on London politics. Martin Hoscik of MayorWatch, Adam Bienkov of ToryTroll and Tom Barry of Boriswatch are among those speaking in a session on new media at the event.

Over at Comment is Free, another London blogger, Dave Hill, offers a sober assessment of what Progressive London has to achieve:

Modern Liberty and the politics of hope

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Convention on Modern Liberty could play a key role in  bringing a sense of Obama-style optimism to Britain, Mary Riddell suggests in the Telegraph today. (Anthony Barnett is particularly pleased to find the Convention compared to the abolition of Trident!).

On freedoms, politicians across all parties are backing the Convention on Modern Liberty, an initiative launched last week in protest at an invasive state. On justice, Lord Phillips, who will head our new Supreme Court, complains that a "ceaseless torrent of new legislation" has failed to cut crime, while swamping the courts.

On defence, three former generals have denounced Britain's nuclear submarines as "completely useless". On the constitution, there is still no sign of a long-overdue green paper outlining a British bill of rights. Nor has there been any action (bar a new private member's bill introduced by the Lib-Dems' Evan Harris) to limit religious discrimination and end male primogeniture in our arcane monarchy.

On all of these, Brown could take rapid action. He would save money (£20 billion at least, in the case of Trident), reinforce values, give Britain back a sense of pride in its past and help quash a growing sense of anger, fear and impotence.

Riddell is one of a number of writers arguing that the Convention could help bring about a renewal of hope in what politics can achieve. Over at Comment is Free, Peter Facey argues that  the Government's climbdown over MPs' expenses shows what can be done:

New bid to reform monarchy

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris has announced that he is to table a  Commons motion to reform the Act of Settlement. Evans proposals would allow the sovereign to marry a Catholic and let women to take equal precedence in the line of succession.

Writing in his Telegraph blog, Holy Smoke, Catholic Herald editor Damian Thompson is not impressed:

Dr Evan Harris, the Lib Dem MP nicknamed "Dr Death" for his creepy determination to make late-term abortions and euthanasia more widely available, now has a new cause: he wants to remove the ban on the heir to the throne marrying a Catholic.

You know something? Catholics don't want to be liberated from this constitutional discrimination by a politician who advocates an end to the requirement that any abortion requires the consent of two doctors, arguing that the "procedure" can carried out by a nurse or even in the home.

Perhaps the alternative conclusion is that Dr Harris's obvious differences with the Catholic Church make his opposition to discrimination all the more principled.

Brown backs down over MPs expenses

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Government has today abandoned plans to hold a Commons vote on exempting MP's expenses from the Freedom of Information Act.

Earlier, Mr Brown blamed the Conservatives for what he said was a breakdown of a consensus over the way forward.

"We thought we had agreement on the FOI Act as part of this wider package," he told MPs.

"Recently that support that we believed we had from the main opposition party was withdrawn.

"So on this particular matter, I believe all-party support is important and we will continue to consult on that matter."

mySociety suggests the u-turn is a victory for the internet generation:

Paine's crisis and Obama's

Tom Griffin (London, OK): In his inaugural address, America's new president turns to England's greatest republican:

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have travelled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

The reference is to Tom Paine's Crisis No 1, which George Washington ordered read to his men in December 1776 before crossing the Delaware to attack George III's Hessian mercenaries, in a crucial turning point in the American revolutionary war.

Obama to send George Mitchell to Middle East

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Washington Post reports that Barack Obama is set to appoint George Mitchell as his envoy to the Middle East on his first full day in the job today.

Mitchell previously chaired the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement, so perhaps Obama is taking the much discussed analogy with Northern Ireland seriously.

Among those who have suggested that there are lessons for the Middle East from the north is George Bush's former peace process envoy Richard Haass.

The Carnival on Modern Liberty

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Over at Liberal Conspiracy, James Graham announces the launch of a new blog carnival in support of the Convention on Modern Liberty.

As an online companion to the Convention, it is intended to help promote debate on civil liberties on the blogosphere over the next few weeks. Fundamentally however, it is also intended to spur both bloggers and their readers into action.

I will be producing the first edition this Friday on Liberal Conspiracy. Over the next couple of weeks it will move to OurKingdom and Unlock Democracy and then we’ll be looking for volunteers to host future editions - what about you? (email offers to modernliberty *at* quaequamblog *dot* net).

If you have an article you would like to be included in the first edition you can submit it either by following this link or emailing modernliberty *at* quaequamblog *dot* net. The deadline is 4pm on Thursday 22 January (if you miss this it is no problem as it will simply carry over to the next week’s edition). We are particularly looking for articles on the following sub-topics:

SF don't believe Cameron 'attached to the union'

Tom Griffin (London, OK): A leading member of Sinn Féin dismissed the Conservative Party's latest foray into Northern Ireland politics during a visit to London at the weekend. Seanna Walsh, the head of the Sinn Féin Culture Department, said his party were not worried about the emerging alliance between the Conservatives and the Ulster Unionists.

"We do not believe that David Cameron is any way emotionally or realistically attached to the union between the North of Ireland and Britain," Walsh said. "The UUP vote collapsed in the last election, and they are not the entity which they once were. They used to have 10 or 12 MPs in Britain. They now have one. So it's not a concern that we would have, who David Cameron hitches his wagon to. We would see it as being totally opportunistic."

Walsh, the former leader of IRA prisoners in the H-blocks, was speaking at a special screening of Hunger, the British film which portrays the death of his predecessor Bobby Sands in the 1981 hunger strikes.

The politics of Hunger

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Steve McQueen's award-winning film about the 1981 hunger strike prompted mixed opinions on OurKingdom. Both Michael Calderbank and Arthur Aughey noted an absence of wider political context in the film. Calderbank nevertheless found much to be admired in Hunger, while Aughey was more critical of a lack of Protestant perspectives.

 The politics of the hunger strikes will be very much up for debate on Saturday, when the Rio Cinema in Hackney hosts a special screening of the film, followed by a discussion with Seanna Walsh, who succeeded Bobby Sands as leader of the republican prisoners in the H-blocks.

 

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