- oD 50.50
About Clare Coatman
Clare Coatman is Campaigns and Ideas Organiser for Compass. She is an experienced campaigner, having worked on issues including democracy, the environment and intergenerational justice.
Articles by Clare Coatman
This week's editor
En Liang Khong is openDemocracy’s assistant editor.
No to TTIP
I never thought I would ever set foot in a Conservative party conference, but there I was Monday morning in central Manchester registering for three days with the Tories as part of our effort to spread the word about Power2010.
It follows my inaugural party conference last week, at Labour, and continues the themes of over indulgence of food, alcohol and political discussion. It has been especially surreal to be among so many people with who I disagree so fundamentally!
The only fringe meeting where I felt I was on vaguely familiar territory was this evening's event hosted by Liberty. It was much more popular than I had assumed and was soon standing room only.
Shami Chakrabarti chaired and was relatively good about sticking to the role. She commented that unlike certain new arrivals, Liberty has had a consistent organisational presence at the Conservative Party Conference, and would be there for years to come.
Peter Oborne spoke about Churchill's Legacy: The Conservative Case for the Human Rights Act, a pamphlet he co-authored along with fellow-panellist Tory PPC and Policy Exchange Fellow Jesse Norman.
Their argument goes that despite being introduced by a Labour government, the HRA is both conservative and Conservative. It was directly drawn from the European Convention on Human Rights which was largely created by Lord Kilmuir and Sir Winston Churchill with the help of British lawyers following World War Two.
Chris Grayling MP, the shadow Home Secretay, gave a promising talk, albeit one which was light on specifics. He pledged to end “mission creep” (the phenomenon of laws written for one purpose e.g terrorism, being extended to others); roll back the database state and limit state intrusion to what is “absolutely necessary”. He also committed to speak at next year’s Liberty fringe to be scrutinised on how well he has fulfilled his promises.
David Davis MP seems to have had a revival in popularity and was extremely well received by the Tory activists, many of whom left after he had spoken. However, Davis made an ignorant remark hypothesising that, “If we had relied on Guardian-reading vegetarians to defend liberty, we’d all be speaking German” which Sunny Hundal has picked him up on. But he also said some “admirably convincing” things about freedom, as John Harris notes.
I felt the event was typical of the Conference as a whole which lacks the air of excitement I expected, and sticks rather too rigidly to the party line afraid of making any slips or going “off message” with power so close to their grasp.
While the panel (barring Chris Grayling) were broadly coming out in favour of the HRA, oddly no-one mentioned the leadership’s attitude towards it, or how it could be changed.
Yesterday the Daily Mail revealed that they have cloned a UK identity card. It took Adam Laurie (a hacker who has been used by government departments to guard against terrorism) a mere 12 minutes to successfully clone the card and falsify the information on the duplicate (using only a Nokia and a laptop – hardly criminal mastermind fare). He changed every item of information, from address to fingerprints and entitlement to benefits. He then added a message that would be seen by anyone who scanned the card: 'I am a terrorist - shoot on sight.'
The Constitution Unit published a report on Friday by leading Tories Sir George Young and Andrew Tyrie calling for all new members of the House of Lords to be ‘term peers’, serving a single term limited to three parliaments. The report sets out a series of reforms which they say should be implemented immediately with the ultimate goal of an elected second chamber.
The reforms for immediate implementation include: new additions to the Lords should be exclusively on a term peerage basis and should be there to do a clearly-defined job for a clearly-defined period; standards and sanctions in the Lords should be brought into line with the “tougher regime” in the Commons, starting with the power to expel members and a review of Lords' expenses; a truly independent Appointments Commission should be put on a statutory basis; until comprehensive reform is accomplished, Appointments Commission undertaking the appointment of all peers, and not just “non-political” appointees, to break the link between political patronage and donations.
The long term reforms aimed at an elected second chamber include: a PR voting system using the EU election boundaries (although not the pure list system); shrinking the chamber from 740 to 400 – 450; and a final balance of 80% elected members with a minority appointed element of independent experts.
At Saturday’s Compass conference Real Change: the open politics network held the first of what we hope will be 1,000 meetings over the next three months, culminating in a People's Convention in October.
The meeting discussed 'Radical democracy and imagination: people and power after the meltdown'. It was chaired by OK’s Guy Aitchison, director of Real Change. The panel was a good balance of activists and thinkers with OK’s Anthony Barnett, Oxford philosopher Stuart White, David Babbs (Executive Director, 38 degrees) and Liam Taylor (Climate Camp) on the panel. Sadly, the gender balance wasn't quite there, but this was due to the Mail on Sunday’s Suzanne Moore unfortunately having to pull out, and not from a lack principle!
There was an exciting and intimate atmosphere in the packed room on the 7th floor of the Institute of Education in Bloomsbury.
Mark Thompson, supported by Andy Hinton, has performed a statistical analysis linking the MPs exposed by the Daily Telegraph for excessive expenses to the size of their majorities. Very interestingly there is a clear positive correlation between the likelihood an MP has been implicated in the scandal and the safeness of their seat (i.e. as one goes up, so does the other).
You can see this correlation in the graph below where MPs have been listed in order of the size of their majority and divided into four quartiles (the largest majorities are in the top quartile). The numbers in the box refer to how many of the MPs featured in the Telegraph fit into each quartile. You can see a clear progression.
Unfortunately, demonstrating the link between size of majority and implication in this scandal is very different from showing a link between majority and propensity to cheat: the use of the Daily Telegraph's list is biased – they had their own reasons for choosing which MPs to expose whereas a fair test would either take the entire group, or a random sample; the group from the Telegraph share characteristics such as prominence which could skew the results; and the analysis can only show correlation – not causation.
It's looking like the financial crisis and government's burgeoning deficit could prove to be a progressives blessing in disguise: first Trident falls into question, and yesterday the Independent reported the ID card scheme could be the latest casualty.
“My sense is that ID cards will not go ahead,” a senior Cabinet Minister said. We have to find savings somewhere, and it would be better to shelve schemes like this that aren't popular.”
As the government struggles to to cut costs in the face of an unwieldy budget, multi-billion pound schemes such as these become ever more untenable.
Sunder Katwala, General Secretary of the Fabians, regards scrapping the plans as inevitable and suspects the MP's calling for it will soon be in the majority. Although he also highlights that this would not be the end of the fight, as biometric records would likely be incorporated into passports.
However, just today Jacqui Smith wrote a letter strongly denying the claim. She emphasised the government's commitment to the scheme and defended ID cards as “protecting the community against crime, illegal immigration, and terrorism.” She claims ID cards will pay for themselves through the fee income it generates – in other words we will pay for them directly, rather than through taxation.
There's an interesting post by Tory MP David Davies (not to be confused with the former Shadow Home Secretary) in Conservative Home giving the police's perspective on the G20 protest and the practice of “kettling” (or in Davies’ fluffier and much less intimidating phrase “bubbling”). Davies is a special constable, although he was not present at the protest.
He urges caution in condemning the police over Ian Tomlinson's death before a full inquiry has been had, reminding us of the case of PC Mulhall who was wrongly accused of excessive force based on CCTV footage. Of course a full inquiry is needed before we can reach any conclusions, but while the full answer to the question, “Did a member of the police cause or contribute to Tomlinson’s death?” must await investigation by the IPCC, the question, “Were the police heavy handed?” is much clearer.
There have been numerous articles on police tactics in the last two weeks. Most of them come down too hard on one side or the other: either the protesters were there to provoke violence and burn the banks or the police were there to start a fight with entirely peaceful protesters.Davies points out that the police are human too and I completely agree – they are a diverse group like any other and among them was a section who were pumped up on adrenaline, psyched up by weeks of aggressive rhetoric and only too happy to lash out when the opportunity arose. There were also those who didn't want to be there, who just wanted to do their job and go home. There were all manner of attitudes in between.
Clare Coatman (London, oD): I went along to Clare Short's Political Studies Association/Hansard Society lecture (full text here) on 'making politics fit for purpose'. I have never warmed to Clare Short, but found myself laughing along with the rest of the audience several times and the lecture was well thought out if perhaps a little 'school-marmish' in places.
Her main aim was to spell out in a definitive way two things: first, that there really is Presidential governance, and second that this creates ineffective decision making. I found particularly disturbing her claim that, "there was never a full discussion of any policy issue with all options considered and a consensus reached in my six years as a member of the Cabinet".
The Stop the War Coalition was founded seven years ago in response to the invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent attack on Iraq, gathering immense popular support as it brought over one million people into the streets of London on 15 February 2003. These heights have not been reached since; even as the war has dragged on, the anti-war left in the UK (as well as its counterpart in the US) has somewhat dropped off the radar. The recent financial crisis further crowds out the anti-war agenda in the public arena. But as I discovered last night at a meeting on the subject "the US election, the economic crisis and the war", the group is still going strong and working hard towards peace, naturally maintaining its own interests in the outcome of today's election.
There was an assumption running throughout most of the discussion that Barack Obama will win, however Moazzam Begg (ex-Guantanamo detainee) said, "surely, whether it's Obama or McCain, things can only get better".
Despite flashes of high praise for Barack Obama ("Let's recognise that Obama will be far and away the most intelligent President in thirty, maybe forty, years") there was an air of scepticism, both generally ("I don't think problems are solved by leaders no matter how good they are") and specifically - regarding his foreign policy.
Jonathan Steele summed it up, saying, "Barack Obama made a principled objection to the war - it's true that he has made concessions on that stance since becoming a candidate but I think that he does want to get out of Iraq with some kind of dignity." He then went on to criticise Obama's pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq within sixteen months of attaining office as only referring to combat troops. A large number of troops would remain to train Iraqi troops (Steele points out that UK forces are doing this already, and that it doesn't have to be undertaken within the country) and defend the embassy (one of the largest in the world). There is also the problem that all of the troops taken out of Iraq would be sent to Afghanistan, and that Obama could send some into Pakistan. There was further criticism that "he still seems to be talking about a military solution not a political one."
The general consensus was unremarkable in concluding that an Obama victory would be the best thing for Iran, herald some change in Iraq, while raising major concerns about the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Clare Coatman (London, oD): Halloween saw the public launch of the Taking Liberties exhibition (Wednesday's private viewing was blogged by Anthony Barnett). Before the opening of the gallery was an opportunity to see Joan Bakewell in conversation with Shami Chakrabarti - a formidable sight! Conversation spanned 9/11, the treatment of refugees, Winston Churchill, the state of the Home Office and Eleanor Roosevelt, among many others.
Shami kicked proceedings off by dramatically holding her fist aloft and proclaiming, "the British Library has done to me what the British Government did not manage," (referring to the barcoded wrist band provided to all entrants of the exhibition). Shami was engaging and witty, referring to her current post as head of Liberty as penance for her time as a Home Office lawyer, while still covering a plethora of important issues.
Clare Coatman (London, oD): In an attempt to engage young people with the formal political process, the Youth Citizenship Commission (YCC) - a body set up this summer as part of the Governance of Britain agenda to "examine ways of developing young people's understanding of citizenship and increase their participation in politics" - is beginning a three month consultation on lowering the voting age to sixteen - the first of a range of proposals. The consultation paper (pdf) includes information on where we fit in internationally, the current legal picture (what rights and responsibilities come into effect at what ages) and the implications of both leaving the law untouched and reforming it.
Sixteen-year-olds can get married, have children and join the army. They are among those who will feel the long term impact of global warming, our foreign policy and the recent financial crisis. They will face major challenges from rising unemployment and will feel the full effects of our education policy.
Clare Coatman (London, oD): Jacqui Smith's speech on counter-terrorism, which she gave to the ippr on Wednesday, has attracted a fiercely critical response from both the media and the opposition parties (you can read the speech in full here). Chris Huhne described the plans for a central database of all mobile phone and internet traffic as "Orwellian" and Dominic Grieve made a strong case that there is no justification for "such an exponential increase in the powers of the state."
Along with OK's Guy Aitchison, I sat in the audience for the speech which was held in the luxurious offices of the law firm Clifford Chance high up in Canary Wharf. Smith started off with a brief history of terrorism in the UK which she described as having two phases. "Phase one" terrorism purportedly spanned the 70's and 80's and was characterised by clearly focused objectives in specific geographical locations; attacks by non-nationals and the lack of a public narrative or use of religious language. "Phase two" terrorism, or 'new terrorism,' is characterised by domestic recruitment; a public narrative; a well defined ideology often expressed in religious language; the willingness to use WMDs to inflict mass casualties and the use of sophisticated technologies.