OurKingdom https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/front en 'Regret' and 'delay': when will Britain end the exile of the Chagossian people? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/stefan-donnelly/regret-and-delay-when-will-britain-end-exile-of-chagossian-people <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If rhetoric about Britain "standing tall" is to mean anything at all, supporting Chagossians long-denied right to return home must be an absolute priority for whatever Government is formed after 7th&nbsp;May.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/qZM8KVbgyOT89obuX3AhIwREBRnYFcbetRVSxYHcF8c/mtime:1429263987/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/14963003600_a4459ecf57_z.jpg" alt="Image of a beach landing being conducted by the US pacific fleet" title="US Pacific Fleet beach landing" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Diego Garcia has become yet another US military base. Flickr/U.S. Pacific Command. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Britain, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains stubbornly centre-stage in the growing UK election campaign rhetoric. Announcing the budget, the Chancellor told us Britain could again “walk tall in the world.” Ed Miliband frequently suggests “Britain can do better.” The other parties have their own variations on pledges to make the nation fair, respected and honourable.</p> <p>And yet just before parliament concluded at the end of March, an opportunity to end decades of continuing human rights abuse, which mars Britain's reputation globally, was quietly missed. To put it more starkly, a choice was made to continue enforcing the exile of the Chagossian people.</p> <h2><strong>A lengthy, dark chapter</strong></h2> <p>Chagossians, UK citizens were <a href="http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21647767-coalition-quietly-avoids-dealing-properly-some-britains-most-remote-subjects-stranded">forced from their homeland in late sixties and early seventies</a> under UK orders. Deportation of the native population was a condition of a deal which gave the US military use of Diego Garcia, the largest Chagos Island, for a fifty year period.</p> <p>Various government ministers have expressed “regret” over the deportation, the deliberate attempt to mischaracterise native Chagossians as migrant workers and their appalling neglect in exile. Very little though has actually been done to address Chagossians' key demand: the right to return home.</p> <p>It has been argued that the US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia expressly forbade resettlement of the island. This deal, however, expires in 2016. There is no better time than right now to offer justice to Chagossians and end a lengthy, dark chapter in both nations' histories.</p> <p>Hope was offered when the government announced it would commission a feasibility study into Chagossian resettlement. When consultants KPMG <a href="http://www.chagossupport.org.uk/reaction-to-feasability-study-into-chagossian-return-2796">published their final report this January</a> hopes were raised further. The report demonstrated costs and environmental impact would be minimal, whilst no serious security or legal concerns were identified.</p> <p>In reaction to the report the government commissioned a “policy review.” Days prior Parliament's dissolution, however, a “delay” was announced in a <a href="http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-03-24/HCWS461/">three-sentence written statement</a>.</p> <p>No timescale was given for the delay. Two “uncertainties,” of cost and demand were held up as justification, but neither stand up to serious scrutiny. Parliament in any case had no opportunity to scrutinise, whilst the media by and large chose not do to so. But let's consider them now.</p> <h2><strong>Costs</strong></h2> <p>Infrastructure projects inevitably have “uncertainties” over costs, but the in-depth KPMG study found resettlement could be accomplished for as little as £60m over three years. A recent freedom of information request confirmed that, if anything, <a href="https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/correspondence_between_foreign_o#incoming-635237">KPMG regarded these estimates as made with “pessimism.”</a></p> <p>Even if the full amount was taken from the UK's International Development budget, the £20m per year to support return would only amount to less than 0.002% of overall spending, from a budget protected by law. In practice though, a range of other sources would contribute.</p> <p>If the US-UK agreement on using Diego Garcia as a military base is renewed, it seems obvious that support for Chagossian resettlement must be a fundamental condition. Adjusted for inflation, the £11 million discount the UK received on the Polaris Nuclear Weapon system as part of the original agreement would be worth almost £200 million today.</p> <p>The EU's European Development Fund is another likely source of funding, whilst private and third-sector investment would be a significant factor.</p> <h2><strong>Demand</strong></h2> <p>Claims on “uncertainty” over the numbers wishing to return seem even more bizarre. It is highly difficult for Chagossians to make an informed decision on return when the Government has given absolutely no indication of the type of resettlement they'd be willing to support.</p> <p>Despite this, however, at least<a href="http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21647767-coalition-quietly-avoids-dealing-properly-some-britains-most-remote-subjects-stranded"> 100 Chagossians have already volunteered</a> to return as part of a small-scale “pilot” resettlement project to Diego Garcia.&nbsp; This is the option favoured by <a href="http://www.chagossupport.org.uk/statement-on-23-march-2015-issued-by-the-chagos-islands-biot-appg-on-prospects-for-chagossian-resettlement-and-the-future-of-the-chagos-islands-3173">the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands</a> and is assessed favourably in the KPMG report.</p> <p>An even greater number of Chagossians, including those based in the UK, Mauritius and the Seychelles have indicated they would like to return if the initial resettlement programme proves successful.</p> <h2><strong>Political uncertainties, a real opportunity</strong></h2> <p>The only “uncertainties”, then, emanate from the political establishment. Does any political leader have the moral conviction and political courage to finally deliver a measure of justice for Chagossians? Will the new intake of parliamentarians be dogged enough to hold the government to account on an issue far too often neglected by administrations of all colours?</p> <p>Although the delay is most unwelcome, the election does provide an opportunity to ask these questions directly and meaningfully. UK Chagos Support Association is asking everyone standing for election <a href="http://www.chagossupport.org.uk/chagossian-justice-pledge-card-ask-want-to-be-mps-to-sign-3254">to sign a simple pledge card,</a> stating their commitment to ending almost half a century of human rights abuse which should shame the nation.</p> <p>It takes actions, not words, for Britain to “walk tall” or “do better.” There can be no more excuses. If rhetoric about British values is to mean anything at all, supporting Chagossians long-denied right to return home must be an absolute priority for whatever Government is formed after 7th May.</p><p><em><strong>On the 22nd&nbsp;May Chagossians and their supporters will be protesting in Westminster and handing in a petition to whoever is the new Prime Minister. You can add your&nbsp;<a href="https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Give_the_Chagos_islanders_the_right_to_return_home/?pv=24" target="_blank">signature here</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-chagossians-westminister-return-protest/x/10394770" target="_blank">support the protest here.</a></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/peter-harris/righting-wrong-how-to-restore-decency-to-british-indian-ocean-territory">Righting a wrong: how to restore decency to the British Indian Ocean Territory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/alex-morrison/diego-garcia-story-so-far">Diego Garcia - the story so far </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/peter-harris/problem-with-chagos-islands">The problem with the Chagos Islands</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Conflict Democracy and government International politics Human Rights Stefan Donnelly Mon, 20 Apr 2015 10:31:04 +0000 Stefan Donnelly 92047 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who benefits from benefit? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/deborah-padfield/who-benefits-from-benefit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The UK "benefit" system is about ensuring that people play the part alloted to them by economic and political elites.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/AI6mCt2tpfx8qjkJlBTLvKvGUgJk6uatkrM_7yPlJR8/mtime:1429279094/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/14615463851_cfe7056a44_z.jpg" alt="" title="Universal Credit" width="460" height="220" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Does UC really "make work pay"? Flickr/DWP. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>I've been moseying around the housing element of Universal Credit. What will it mean for people needing to claim for rent or mortgage interest? What does it say about government policy?</p> <p>Both are worth thought. The more that commentators concentrate on “benefit” claimants, the happier government and its Siamese-twin financial interests will be. (Owen Jones' <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Establishment-And-they-away/dp/1846147190">“The Establishment and how they get away with it”</a>, provides a useful background here).</p> <p>The “benefit” system isn't primarily about turning scroungers into strivers. It isn't even about being a safety-net; if it were, it would indeed be a failure. It's about the shape of our economy and the interests of those who run it. Not a “benefit” system, but an economic tool used in the interest of the few.</p> <h2><strong>The theory</strong></h2> <p>Coalition welfare reform, notably Universal Credit, aims to reduce benefit dependency, make work pay and simplify the benefit system. </p> <p>On the first, it depends what you mean. UC cannot help people escape the need of “benefit” top-ups. Even if the Work Programme were much more effective than it is, that would ask too much: only a wider reshaping of our economic/industrial/social policies can bring such employment, housing, health, education and access thereto. </p> <p>UC does eradicate much of the craziness of the old system that deters/prevents people from taking a job because it would cost more than it pays. But work by no means always pays under UC, as we'll see.</p> <p>In another sense it is more effective in reducing dependency. UC is part of a core policy: cut entitlements so that, whether or not earnings are enough to live on, people must depend less on state payments. </p> <p>The holy grail of “simplification” is hard to find in the UC maze. The basic calculations are indeed simpler, but few human lives stay basic. The regulations are as convoluted as ever they were, growing more so as <a href="http://www.turn2us.org.uk/about_us/media_centre/news_archive/universal_credit_changes.aspx">further tweaks</a> appear. </p> <h2><strong>Housing costs for rent: what's the policy?</strong></h2> <p>Universal Credit tends to be friendlier to people who don't need help with their rent than to those who do. I won't spell out how the calculations work; it has to do with how much of their earnings claimants can keep before UC starts to be reduced (at a uniform rate of 65p for every £1 earned). Households with children can keep more earnings before losing UC if they aren't claiming for rent or mortgage interest.</p> <p>For people on low earnings, there will be only a small incentive to increase their earnings since they will lose so much of them. A singleton with a child going from £20 per week to £300 gross (£260.72 net) will only be £110.70 better off if she's claiming for rent. She'll be £181.35 better off if she has no rent. </p> <p>So what's this all about? Partly, it saves money, shifting more of the financial burden on to claimants. They mustn't do too well from the state.</p> <p>More specifically, it reduces the housing part of the bill. Housing benefit is the costliest single “benefit”, second only to the runaway biggest, state retirement pension. Unsurprising then that government should aim to reduce it. In 2008 Labour restricted the amount payable to private tenants through the local housing allowance, a maximum that's been quietly reduced by a series of further cuts. The bedroom tax did a similar job for social tenants. The overall “benefit” cap restricts costs for larger households in high-rent areas, targeting housing benefit first. </p> <p>The “benefit” system is used to encourage more behavioural changes than just willingness to work. Low-income households wanting to increase their income should avoid setting up separate households until their incomes go beyond needing state support. A singleton or couple with a child will ideally live with parents or friends, forming joint households where they can minimise what they have to pay for their roof. For single, childless under-35-year-olds, the same incentive is provided by the local housing allowance cap restricting them to housing benefit calculated on a single room in a shared house. </p> <p>CAB advisers already see a gentle flow of clients from households under strain, financial and emotional, from such family arrangements. Financially, despite UC's intended simplicity, we are back to the world of complex better-off calculations. </p> <p>That's rent. What about people with mortgages?</p> <h2><strong>Time-limiting Support for Mortgage Interest</strong></h2> <p>Since the 1980s, governments have encouraged the “property-owning democracy”, the 1980 Housing Act introducing Right to Buy. From 1988, Income Support paid 50% of mortgage interest for the first 15 weeks and 100% thereafter. </p> <p>In 1993 state generosity went down, with upper limits on mortgage size. In 1995 came waiting periods before Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) could be paid: people with mortgages were expected to maintain enough savings to carry them through brief hard times. SMI can't be claimed by people who take out a mortgage when already on “benefits”. The crisis faced by homeowners following the credit crunch led to a 2009 reduction in the waiting time from 39 to 13 weeks and there it remains. </p> <p>Then, also in 2009, government introduced two other measures. First, it limited SMI for job-seekers to two years. This unwillingness to support the mortgages of long-term unemployed people reversed the original policy of increasing the proportion of mortgage interest covered as time passed. </p> <p>Secondly, it introduced the Flexible New Deal, a two-year work programme for jobseekers. Together, it's a package: if people haven't found full-time work in this time, they aren't in a position to maintain a mortgage. Two years of hope, then accept you've slipped down the ladder.</p> <p>With much fanfare, the Coalition introduced the Work Programme in 2011, giving people a longer period of “support”: up to a year with JobCentre Plus followed by two years on the Programme. The limit on SMI remained two years. If hope were thus extended by the Programme it would be logical to extend SMI likewise, but government seems to lack the courage of its convictions. Or it's more concerned to limit payments than to be consistent.</p> <p>Despite such hiccups, there is a tough logic. If people can't expect to repay their mortgage capital, they must acknowledge that grim truth. The system demands that they sell, release the equity and live on it rather than on the state. There can be a six-month window when their capital can be “disregarded” if they have a realistic hope of buying again. This allows them to claim means-tested benefits for that time. After that, they will receive no such benefits, under old system or UC, until they have used up all but a maximum of £16,000 of their capital. Barring major windfalls (inheritance? lottery?), it is goodbye to the housing ladder. These people are no longer part of <a href="http://www.conservativehome.com/thinktankcentral/2014/12/autumn-statement-think-tank-reactions.html">aspirational,</a> property-owning society.</p> <p>It is coherent. It also presupposes a great deal, going way beyond the welfare system. Why is our economy so structured that growing numbers of people have no hope of incomes that are high and secure enough to maintain mortgages? For the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/feb/25/owners-outstrip-mortgage-holders">first time since the 1980s</a> homeownership revolution, more households own outright than have mortgages. Numbers renting are also rising while mortgagees fall. </p> <p>It is a sheep-and-goat division quietly supported by “benefit” policy. </p> <h2><strong>Low pay and Support for Mortgage Interest</strong></h2> <p>Mortgage support is limited too for people caught in the trap of part-time, low-income work. The limits are tightening. </p> <p>Under the old legacy system, anyone on means-tested JobSeekers Allowance, Employment &amp; Support Allowance, Income Support or Pension Credit can get SMI (working-age people after the 13-week waiting period). These can only be claimed by people working under 16 hours. </p> <p>Claiming as a part-timer is complicated, particularly for JSA. It means combining work with job-search and/or other requirements at JCPlus or the Work Programme, and paying the travel to sign on fortnightly. For people not claiming SMI, in practice it generally doesn't pay. But the possibility is there: part-time workers are not ruled out from mortgage-interest help while they look for more or better-paid work.&nbsp; </p> <p>UC's “zero earnings rule” shifts the division between sheep and goats. </p> <p>This provides that when someone earns even for one hour at the minimum wage, no Support for Mortgage Interest is payable. This though UC aims to incentivise people to take micro-jobs as a way back into the workplace. </p> <p>The impact varies: loss of SMI makes the income of a single childless person plummet if s/he starts earning minimally – say £64pw; a childless couple starting to earn at this rate is also worse off, though not so dramatically; a singleton with a child would be about £8pw better off. As earnings rise, the loss is eroded until it disappears on higher incomes. </p> <h2><strong>What's the rationale?</strong></h2> <p>Government's <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/221715/uc-wpsc-response.pdf">position</a> is straightforward, given in DWP's response to a Commons Work &amp; Pensions Committee report and repeated in Commons Library Note SN06618. The argument doesn't make much sense alone, only in the context of wider goals. &nbsp;</p> <p>“Having a mortgage to pay provides a strong incentive for moving into full-time employment. Part time earnings cannot sustain mortgages in the long term, so those who would be worse off need to re-consider their position with regard to the amount of work they do or the level of their housing costs.” </p> <p>It isn't obvious why help with mortgage interest undermines an incentive to find full-time work more than help with rent. On the contrary, the need to pay off capital should remain an incentive. </p> <p>Nor indeed is it a choice between unaffordable mortgages and affordable rent. In December 2014, the <a href="https://nlauk.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/nla-launches-new-campaign-rent-risk-resolve-part-one-rent-arrears/">National Landlords Association</a> launched their “Rent Risk Resolve” campaign, highlighting “four of the biggest risks facing landlords”, the first of which was rent arrears: “Our research shows a third of landlords (32 per cent) say they have experienced rent arrears in the last 12 months.” </p> <p>Low-paid and part-time work often can't sustain either rents or mortgages. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, <a href="http://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/publications/bns/BN161.pdf">“On average</a>, real costs for owner-occupiers with a mortgage fell by 38% between 2007-2008 and 2012-13, taking the proportion of their income spent on housing costs from 16% to 10%. Of course, renters have not experienced the same scale of relief and the proportion of their income spent on housing costs rose from 25% to 27% over the same period.”</p> <p>Interest rates cannot remain at their current low rate indefinitely, with heavy implications for stretched mortgagees. Nevertheless, mortgages are not necessarily more unaffordable than rent.</p> <h2><strong>Sheep and goats</strong><strong></strong></h2> <p>Why then UC's policy on Support for Mortgage Interest? It links to a more fundamental division between the sheep and the goats. </p> <p>In this UC world, no-one without substantial savings and/or the capacity to get quickly back into well-paid work should remain a property-owner. Remember that we are not talking about new mortgagees, but about people who already had a mortgage when they lost their job for whatever reason. </p> <p>This includes people leaving work through sickness or caring responsibilities, whom the “benefit” system is supposed to help return to self-sufficiency. One imaginative element of the old Incapacity Benefit, retained by Employment &amp; Support Allowance and, in another shape, by UC, is “permitted work”. This allows sick or disabled people to work a few hours for up to a year without losing benefit. By returning gently to work, they can sustainably re-enter the workplace. Under UC, however, they will not meanwhile get help with their mortgages. Take a low-wage micro-job and payments plummet. The notion of easing back is destroyed. </p> <p>There are clear advantages for government in not paying SMI to working people. </p> <p>It saves money. Those at the bottom can never save more than minimally, in cash or bricks and mortar, while claiming “benefits”; they must instead use their savings. It shifts the risks of taking out a mortgage in an insecure employment market to those most vulnerable to its vagaries. </p> <p>And it “incentivises” such people to take work or increase their hours by rendering them so poor that the notion of choice or of control over their lives is stripped away. </p> <h2><strong>A flexible labour-force</strong></h2> <p>That is the point. DWP's <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/universal-credit-works-for-employers-and-claimants-quick-guide">“Universal Credit works for employers”</a> tells them that:</p> <blockquote><p>"Universal Credit will have a positive effect on your business as you will: </p><p>find it easier to fill any job as more jobseekers will be willing to consider short term or irregular work; be able to identify opportunities for flexible working using your existing part time employees for overtime and extra shifts at peak times, without the overheads associated with recruiting and training new staff; have access to a wider pool of applicants for your jobs, many of whom are registered on our Universal Jobmatch service, to help you fill your job vacancies more quickly." &nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p>UC is integral to the flexible workforce that is in turn integral to our economy as currently shaped. There are two basic categories of citizen. First, those for whom work is a safeguard from poverty and who have a right to aspire to homeownership and some measure of future security. Then there are those whose role is to provide cheap flexible labour. </p> <p>In 2014, the <a href="http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2014/01/increasing-minimum-wage-only-half-answer-poverty">Joseph Rowntree Foundation</a> suggested four measures necessary for tackling in-work poverty: “change the benefits and tax systems to make it more worthwhile for second earners to work more hours; reduce childcare and housing costs; improve the quality of part-time jobs; create better progression routes for low-paid workers to higher-paid and more stable jobs.” </p> <p>UC disincentivises <a href="http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/work-pay-second-earners-work-incentives-childcare-costs-universal-credit/">low-paid second earners</a>; it increases both childcare and housing costs for many. Work Programme providers are interested only in claimants getting and keeping jobs, not in their progress in hours or pay, while UC is sold to employers as helping provide further pools of workers able, willing (and obliged) to take low-paid flexible work. </p> <p>Universal Credit's housing policy is but one small straw in the wind, but it is a telling one. Its priority is to reduce the “benefit” bill and reduce welfare dependence, then to lift people out of poverty. Those aims are not the same.</p> <p>Those with the skills, confidence, health or family support can use it as a ladder. Those without reduce their dependency only by means of losing entitlements. They may be forced into work, but only in the shape of endless churn of part-time, temporary and/or self-employed jobs. They are the goats, with no right to stay on the property ladder. </p> <p>The “benefit” system is not about benefit. It's not about aspiration or hope. It's about making sure people play the part allotted to them, and minimising the cost. The cost, that is, to those who really benefit.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/deborah-padfield/universal-credit-fantasy-of-tidy-world">Universal Credit: the fantasy of a tidy world</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/deborah-padfield/is-dwp-even-fit-for-purpose">Is the DWP even fit for purpose?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/deborah-padfield/basic-income-basic-respect">Basic Income - basic respect</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Democracy and government Equality Institutions Conservative Party Benefits Deborah Padfield Mon, 20 Apr 2015 08:31:15 +0000 Deborah Padfield 92058 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Can we afford to ignore what Katie Hopkins says about migrants drowning in the Med? https://www.opendemocracy.net/des-freedman/can-we-afford-to-ignore-what-katie-hopkins-says-about-migrants-drowning-in-med <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The <em>Sun</em> columnist's violent words about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean are indefensible. They should be condemned as hate speech.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/2495544558_040220d635_z.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> Refugees in Lampedusa, Italy. Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/noborder/2495544558/in/photolist-e2xSgi-meLARw-e2yYcw-4WE2F4-4Ns7hM-4NwjsY-4Nwjsj-4Nwjwd-9BdopR-e2tp16-e2xTXp-e2tnYz-e2tmTR-e2tyxk-e2yZem-e2z9iQ-e2xP8r-e2z3LW-dmdPNZ-e2xNcT-9ARE5c-cATBqb-cCo1D1-cCnZTm-cCo1Nf-cCo1WW-cCo15y-cCnZHw-cCo1s7-cCo1id-cCo27o-cATBcY-cATBjG-4Ns7iz-4Nwju1-4NwjsC-4Nwjtm-9BdimT-9BgrPN-9BdmnZ-pxTeMH-pxB5RV-pvQTYG-doCUyX-e2zdJJ-9BdkzT-nc3XAg-nc683C-na1ucb-na1ukh" target="_blank">Flickr/NBN</a></em></p> <p><span>How do you react when some </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/19/700-migrants-feared-dead-mediterranean-shipwreck-worst-yet">1500 people are said to have drowned</a><span> in the Mediterranean this year alone in their desperate efforts to escape the poverty and conflicts that they face in Africa and Asia? Do you express your horror at such a terrible human disaster and demand that search-and-rescue operations are restored immediately? Do you condemn the actions of those European governments who called for rescue operations to be scaled down in the first place? Do you reflect on the causes of the circumstances that force people to embark on such hazardous journeys in the first place?&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Or do you, as Katie Hopkins did in her recent <em><a href="http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/suncolumnists/katiehopkins/6414865/Katie-Hopkins-I-would-use-gunships-to-stop-migrants.html">Sun column</a></em>, shrug it off and say that you don’t care. ‘Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.’ Having heard that 700 people may have lost their lives in one single incident, Hopkins was granted the opportunity to host a phone-in radio show on Sunday morning where she defended her position and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/04/19/katie-hopkins-petition_n_7095074.html">asked</a>: ‘Why do we take on everyone else’s problems? We can’t afford to take on these problems. We need to push these boats back.'&nbsp;</p> <p>Her comments have been met with outrage.&nbsp; Nearly 150,000 people have signed a <a href="https://www.change.org/p/the-sun-newspaper-remove-katie-hopkins-as-a-columnist?source_location=trending_petitions_home_page&amp;algorithm=curated_trending">petition</a> calling for the <em>Sun</em> to sack her as a columnist while campaigners have reported her to the police for incitement to racial hatred with columnist Owen Jones <a href="https://twitter.com/OwenJones84/status/589333561804742656">tweeting</a> that the <em>Sun</em> ‘published what looks like a neo-Nazi rant.'&nbsp;</p> <p>Others have taken a different line arguing that this is above all a question of press freedom, that Hopkins is entitled to her opinions (however abhorrent) and that the more people make a fuss, the more they simply fuel Hopkins’ desire to be noticed. As the <em>Guardian</em>’s Hadley Freeman <a href="https://twitter.com/HadleyFreeman/status/589399436243161089">put it</a>: ‘Ignore her, and she withers away.’&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course the most effective <em>immediate</em> response to the continuing tragedies of the attempted crossings has nothing to do with Hopkins’ rants. We need collective pressure to force European governments to restore comprehensive rescue operations and to make sure that this is not a burden that falls on the Italian government alone. When you think that Mare Nostrum, the Italian navy’s mission to search Mediterranean waters during the busiest months, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/31/italy-sea-mission-thousands-risk">was scaled back to a smaller mission</a> in order to save only €6 million a month, we should demand that wealthy European states underwrite this straight away.&nbsp;</p> <p>We should also point out the hypocrisy of a Conservative government in the UK that spent <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/jun/19/cost-british-taxpayers-bomb-libya">hundreds of millions of pounds</a> bombing Muammar Gaddafi’s regime back in 2011, an assault that led directly to the current instability in Libya that is forcing ordinary people to seek safer lives in Europe. If we could afford to send Apache helicopters to bomb Libyans in 2011, how can we not send Royal Navy frigates to rescue people today whose country we helped to destabilise? We have a situation in which neoliberal politicians are protecting freedom of movement for capital through initiatives like the<a href="http://www.waronwant.org/campaigns/trade-justice/ttip"> Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership</a> while barring people who are fleeing poverty and persecution and then refusing to help them when they vanish into the sea.&nbsp;</p> <p>But both the immediate and more long-term political response to the crisis does not at all make Hopkins’ statements any less disgusting or any less significant.</p> <p>It is true that Hopkins is only amplifying the established position of the Tories she so passionately loves (while also playing into the dangerous anti-immigrant rhetoric of Ukip). When she argued on the LBC phone-in that ‘if we rescue the boats we are perpetuating the problem’, she is using almost exactly the same words as the Conservative minister, Baroness Anelay, who <a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/141015w0001.htm">announced</a> the suspension of UK support for air-sea rescue operations in Parliament by insisting that such operations ‘create an unintended “pull factor”, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossings.’</p> <p>But it is also true that Hopkins’ comments will help to escalate punitive policies and to legitimise violence against migrants – either through inaction (as in leaving them to drown) or in more overt acts of aggression. When she writes in the <em>Sun</em> that ‘these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit like "Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984”, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb’, she is continuing a well-established practice of demonising foreigners (or Jews or Muslims or gays) in order to legimitise violence against them. As Simon Usborne <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/katie-hopkins-when-is-enough-enough-10186490.html">wrote</a> in the <em>Independent</em>: ‘When Hutu extremists used radio propaganda to invite violence against the Tutsis during the Rwandan Genocide, they called on people to “weed out the cockroaches”.' Actually Hopkins seems to have a thing about seeing the most oppressed groups as animals given <a href="https://twitter.com/kthopkins/status/531931627409387521">Twitter comments</a> allegedly made by her last year that Palestinians are ‘filthy rodents burrowing beneath Israel’ and that it is now ‘time to restart the bombing campaign.'&nbsp;</p> <p>Hopkins’ comments should not be defended on the basis of free speech but condemned as an example of hate speech. Given that we have rules against incitement to racial hatred, it is hard to see why a column in the country’s best-selling national newspaper that describes migrants as ‘feral’ and as a kind of ‘virus’ should be somehow exempted from these laws.&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps this is what press freedom has come to mean under corporate control: the freedom of powerful news organisations to attack the most vulnerable and to defend the most privileged. So when liberal commentators argue that freedom of speech is some kind of absolute right, this ignores the fact that some are more able to speak and others forced to bear the brunt of this speech – especially when words are used to argue that we should punish migrants and ‘burn the boats’. Given the approaches of most European governments, this is hardly empty rhetoric.&nbsp;</p> <p>Calls to ignore Hopkins in this context are neither brave nor tactically astute but simply naive. As a spokesperson for anti-immigrant views, Hopkins needs to be challenged precisely so that descriptions of migrants as vermin and cockroaches can never be seen as&nbsp; ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’.&nbsp;</p> <p>Arguing that rescue operations should be restarted immediately does not preclude demands that Hopkins should be sacked as a columnist and that <em>Sun</em> should be hauled before the authorities for providing a platform for explicitly racist speech. Of course Hopkins herself isn’t the real problem. She is merely a spectacular and bombastic cipher for more ‘official’ policy approaches to issues like migration, poverty and austerity. So while we ought noisily to challenge her incitement to hatred and violence against the most vulnerable groups in society and to condemn the fact that major media outlets are providing her with the microphone to do this, we also need to organise for a different kind of politics in which those escaping war and poverty are welcomed and not left to drown in the seas that surround us.</p><p><em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/MovementAgainstXenophobia/photos/gm.373582059509944/439056426261850/?type=1&amp;theater">Protest</a> at European Union London HQ, 1-2pm Saturday 25 April, 32 Smith Square, London SW1P 3EU.&nbsp; Called by Movement against Xenophobia.</em></p><p><span><strong><em><span>OurKingdom doesn’t have a billionaire proprietor telling us what to write - we rely on donations from readers like you. </span><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>Please support us</span></a><span> if you can.</span></em></strong></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/maria-giovanna-manieri-elisabeth-schmidthieber/migrants-in-mediterranean-mourning-death">Migrants in the Mediterranean: mourning deaths, not saving lives</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/jamie-mackay/children-of-augusta">The children of Augusta</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/des-freedman/break-big-media-monopolies-and-help-new-journalism-projects%E2%80%94poll">Break big media monopolies and help new journalism projects—poll</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurKingdom OurKingdom Des Freedman Mon, 20 Apr 2015 08:13:42 +0000 Des Freedman 92103 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Tory plans to deny patients the right to refuse treatment are an assault on human rights https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/peter-kinderman/tory-plans-to-deny-patients-right-to-refuse-treatment-are-assault-on-human-ri <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Conservative manifesto has announced that people on benefits who refuse treatment may have their benefits cut - but will professional ethics stop such a repellent policy?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The Conservative Party’s 2015 election manifesto contains an extraordinarily retrograde assault on the rights of people with mental and physical health problems in receipt of benefits. On page 28 of the </span><a href="https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/manifesto2015/ConservativeManifesto2015.pdf">manifesto</a><span>, under the euphemistic heading; "</span><em>We will help you back into work if you have a long-term yet treatable condition</em><span>”, they propose that; "</span><em>People who might benefit from treatment should get the medical help they need so they can return to work. If they refuse a recommended treatment, we will review whether their benefits should be reduced</em><span>.”</span></p><p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p><p class="MsoNormal">In other words, people with mental health problems, drug and alcohol problems, or who are overweight will no longer be able freely to choose to consent, or withhold their consent, to treatment. To decline a recommended treatment will result in benefits sanctions, and consequent misery and poverty. </p><p class="MsoNormal">This seems cruelly ironic, given that poverty and social inequality are significant contributory factors to many long term health and mental health difficulties in the first place.</p><p class="MsoNormal">This policy has been trialled <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/louise-mccudden/take-our-treatment-or-well-stop-your-benefits-tories-threaten-mentally-ill">before</a><span class="MsoHyperlink">. </span>Leading mental health professionals thought <span>that they had</span> successfully lobbied the Minister for Care Services, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, to reject the idea. Sadly it seems that Ian Duncan Smith has resurrected the spectre of the workhouses. Obey the rules, take the treatment and work for your dole, or suffer the consequences.</p><p class="MsoNormal">This policy is repellent. The suggestion that people should suffer financially if they choose to decline a healthcare intervention deemed to be in their best interests undermines a fundamental principle of medical and psychological healthcare, namely that of informed consent. A person who is capable of giving their consent has the right to refuse to receive care or services. It is wholly inappropriate to threaten the withdrawal of benefits in order to influence that decision. This is particularly true in mental health care, where therapy based on coercion simply will not work.</p><p class="MsoNormal">Leading professionals and academics have already united to oppose this proposal, in an <a href="http://news.liv.ac.uk/2015/04/15/viewpoint-the-conservative-partys-election-manifesto-and-mental-health-rights/">open letter to the Conservative Party</a>. <span>We might perhaps hope that no properly regulated medical professional would touch such a policy with a bargepole. Perhaps that’s right. But exactly who will be relied on to deliver the policy – who will recommend, and who will deliver, ‘treatment’ - and will they be regulated?</span><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p><p class="MsoNormal"><em>&nbsp;</em><em><span>An illness like any other</span></em></p><p class="MsoNormal">If we treat mental health problems, alcohol or substance use, and obesity as medical issues – as some do – then the issue is straightforward. Questions of coercion and professional conduct more generally clearly fall under the remit of medical ethics. </p><p class="MsoNormal">But I and many of my fellow psychologists and sociologists see such problems in a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Prescription-Psychiatry-Approach-Mental-Wellbeing/dp/1137408707/">social, rather than bio-medical context</a>. </p><p class="MsoNormal"><em>&nbsp;</em><em><span>Regulation and non-regulation</span></em></p><p class="MsoNormal">Crucially, clinical psychologists are statutorily regulated – so we are bound by our professional codes of ethics.&nbsp; Our professional code understands these subtle distinctions between the biomedical and social models - and still stresses the importance of consent.&nbsp; </p><p class="MsoNormal">The HCPC (which regulates psychologists) <a href="http://www.hcpc-uk.org/assets/documents/10003B6EStandardsofconduct,performanceandethics.pdf">insists</a> that; “<em>A person who is capable of giving their consent has the right to refuse to receive care or services. You must respect this right</em>”. </p><p class="MsoNormal"><em>&nbsp;</em><em><span>IAPT and other ‘cost-effective’ interventions</span></em></p><p class="MsoNormal">IAPT (the services established under The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme) is a good example of the social approach. They provide valuable services – as do other community services for people with drug and alcohol use problems, people who need to lose weight, etc. </p><p class="MsoNormal">Whilst some have criticised what they see as ‘cut-price’ services, I think on balance it is better to work with policy-makers to offer effective, and cost-effective, services to as many people as possible (surely a principle of public health and socialised healthcare). </p><p class="MsoNormal">But the possible challenges to the ethics of services delivery, including issues around coercion, may be sharper when our colleagues delivering the services are less well trained, and less regulated. Is it right that we should be ‘offering’ people interventions that are likely to bring people into benefits sanctions should they decline them, when the people delivering those interventions are not, in all cases, subject to statutory regulation?</p><p class="MsoNormal"><em>&nbsp;</em><em><span>Agents of the State</span></em></p><p class="MsoNormal">There can be benefits to moving services from the remit of expensive NHS professionals behind a referral wall and consequent waiting list, to a range of community settings, provided by NHS employees but also third-sector bodies, even commercial organisations contracted to the NHS, and also to other statutory agencies such as JobCentre+ and Probation, training their workforce in these kinds of interventions. </p><p class="MsoNormal">But along with the benefits there are also potential conflicts of interest. What happens where, for example, an employee of the Department for Work and Pensions (and therefore responsible for benefits sanctions) is also exploring, therapeutically, a person’s motivation for work?</p><p class="MsoNormal">These are complex issues. I believe in the wider and more cost-effective provision of services, and I believe in a psychosocial model. But I repudiate the Conservatives’ sanctions regime. </p><p class="MsoNormal">As well as, of course, arguing that any commissioning and service provision model should respect social justice, I also believe that we would all be better protected if all providers were subject to statutory regulation, such that there could be a sanction on any <span>professional</span> who did not respect the individual’s “<em>right to refuse to receive care or services”.</em><em>&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ournhs/louise-mccudden/take-our-treatment-or-well-stop-your-benefits-tories-threaten-mentally-ill">Take our &#039;treatment&#039; or we&#039;ll stop your benefits, Tories threaten mentally ill</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> ourNHS OurKingdom ourNHS Peter Kinderman Sat, 18 Apr 2015 10:00:23 +0000 Peter Kinderman 92072 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Tenants in danger: the rise of eviction watches https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/kirsteen-paton-vickie-cooper/tenants-in-danger-rise-of-eviction-watches <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Collective resistance to the erosion of housing rights is growing. We need to turn this into a national movement.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/16252167902_5f8b1f4461_z.jpg" alt="Image of Aylesbury Estate, South London" title="Aylesbury Estate" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Aylesbury Estate, where riot police recently derailed an anti-eviction protest. Flickr/Matt Brown. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Not since 1915 has private housing tenure been so dominant. The gradual rescinding of public housing over the 20th century sees us exposed to the raw edge of the market today. We are living in the darkest time of housing commodification as this project shifts from one of aspiration to coercion. With an unprecedented growth in evictions across the UK, tenants are increasingly being removed from their properties to release the value of the land.</p><p> This rise of evictions has resulted in a wave of resistance. Protection here, rather than statutory, comes in the form of "eviction watches" organised by community campaign groups and volunteers. Local campaign groups are mobilising to protect tenants facing eviction from bailiffs, gathering outside their homes to ward off any who might try. In this piece we are, firstly, casting light upon the prevalence of eviction watches today as housing privatisation and austerity take full grip. In so doing we are, secondly, raising critical questions about the state’s role and responsibility in evictions and the disparities in power between state-sponsored bailiffs and anti-eviction campaign groups who are providing short-term protection and intervention for tenants.</p> <h2><strong>Eviction watches: then and now</strong></h2> <p>100 years apart, the Rent Strike and New Era estate campaigns have discomfiting echoes and revealing differences which expose the degradation of housing regulation and increased privatisation over the course of the 20th century.</p> <p>In 1915, housing, provided in a deregulated market, was a source of conflict between the state and tenants. Profiteering private landlords increased working-class household rents in the hope of capitalising on the influx of munitions workers as part of the war effort. With tenants unable to pay these rising rents, eviction notices were filed by private landlords, enforced by the Sheriff Officer with police back-up. In response, thousands of tenants mobilised and went on rent strike. The victory of these strikes resulted in the Rent Restrictions Act 1915, which froze rents at pre-war levels and paved the way for the Housing and Town Planning Act 1919 and later, council housing development which long since protected tenants from the vagaries of the market.</p> <p>In current recessionary times, conflict between the state and tenants has been reignited and the might of the private rented sector, reinstated. In 2014, New Era housing tenants in London mobilised and campaigned against a <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/19/new-era-estate-scandal-london-families-international-speculators">large transnational corporate takeover by an $11bn asset management firm</a>, Westbrook Partners. When New Era tenants received a letter from Westbrook’s solicitors informing them that their current stable rents would be raised to “market rates”, members of the community campaigned hard and fast to stop the takeover – and won. A key difference between the rent strikers’ and&nbsp;New Era’s victory is that the latter’s win relates only to the estate. As such, New Era are facing new challenges as the current owners of the estate –&nbsp;Dolphin Square Foundation – <a href="http://hackneycitizen.co.uk/2015/03/02/new-era-estate-residents-consider-proposals-means-tested-rent/comment-page-1/">plan to means-test new tenants</a> in order to determine rents.</p> <p>What is also different is that, unlike the housing market of 1915, landlords are transnational; London is a goldmine for global property speculators and homeownership. Despite the role the housing boom played in the financial crash in 2008, property is a highly lucrative asset in austerity Britain. Private landlords, not rent strikers, are today’s unsung housing heroes, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/10/millionaire-tory-mp-tenants-estate-flats-richard-benyon">as claimed by former housing minister Grant Schapps</a>. Bailiffs are also having a renaissance, gathering to celebrate their success at the <a href="http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/clashes-between-protesters-and-police-at-gala-dinner-celebrating-the-work-of-bailiffs-10040479.html">£4,000 a head British Credit Awards in London</a> recently. How is business? <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/feb/12/evictions-rented-homes-record-levels-2014">With 42,000 repossessions a day and 115 evictions a day,</a> business is good, very good.</p> <p>We are exposed to the coercive side of housing commodification and the market as authorities across the UK, with an absence of any statutory protection against evictions. Rarely do evictions take place without police presence, including riot police, serving to criminalise tenants and anti-eviction protestors. And increasingly coercive tactics of violence and intimidation are being deployed against those resisting and protecting tenants against eviction. The power mobilised by the state in the eviction process is disproportionate compared to the support offered, resources and advocacy available for those facing eviction. This, we argue, is an act of state violence on tenants and mortgaged homeowners as police forces and private security firms are utilised to facilitate evictions, shut down protesters and aid private developers and landlords.</p> <p>As such, we highlight the rise of eviction watches across the UK, drawing from the frontline work of welfare campaign groups, <strong><em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/reclaimjuliet/">ReClaim</a>*</em></strong>&nbsp;in Liverpool and <strong><em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/602860129757343?fref=ts">E15 Focus Mothers</a>**</em></strong>, London. Like the function of food banks, eviction watches are local, voluntary support, providing a stopgap and temporary buffer for those facing a point of crisis.&nbsp;</p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/IMG_1881_0.JPG" alt="Poster stating the goals and objectives of ReClaim." title="ReClaim poster" width="240" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Poster at ReClaim's welfare advice clinic in Liverpool.</span></span></span>They have become a critical aspect of welfare support group’s activities given the unprecedented increase in arrears. What follows is the authors’ account and observations of these two front-line campaign groups, documenting some of their experiences of working with tenants facing eviction. This sheds light on the state’s role in evictions and the disparity in power between the state-sponsored bailiffs and the anti-evictions groups.</span></p> <h2>Tenants in Danger: Mobilising Housing Action</h2> <p><span>We visited ReClaim’s Friday afternoon welfare rights clinic, 12 days before Christmas, in 2014. A couple come in for advice on their mortgage arrears. Their house is to be repossessed in 5 days time. They are £70,000 in debt and unless they can pay £17,000 upfront they will be evicted.</span></p> <p>Juliet, one of the welfare rights volunteers, considers their options by process of elimination. She asks them why they couldn't make the initial arrears repayment agreed by the bank and whether they can raise £17,000. The main breadwinner is a bricklayer, who is self-employed but struggles to get by being paid “by the brick”. His partner works part-time as a dinner lady on a zero hours contract. Faced with degraded and insecure job quality, repossessions disproportionately affect working-class mortgage borrowers.</p> <p>Having exhausted their options with the bank’s repayment scheme, Juliet gives them two more options: one is to go down the homelessness route and live temporarily with friends and family until they find something else. The couple look disheartened; they want to be at home for Christmas. There is no statutory duty preventing repossessions which they can call upon. Although various “support for mortgage” schemes exist, people are often in denial about losing their home that many<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27393494"> do not seek help</a> until crisis point. The significance of this is echoed by Juliet who claims that, “quite often tenants don’t know why they’re facing eviction; they’re not informed by anybody, least of all by the social landlords. And it’s hard for anyone to come here and say ‘can you help me?’ because they’re ashamed of being of in debt and in needing help and support.”</p> <p>Juliet offers the second option: “…we call round and get some ‘bodies’ in front of your house, stand in front of your house and get them off your backs until after Christmas…?” The couple look at one another tentatively. The woman puts her hand over her mouth in disbelief that ReClaim could help stall their eviction. At this point for the family, Christmas is plenty. And yet the local authorities failed to negotiate such a reprieve with the debt collectors. As promised, the advisors got to work, summoning networks, liaising across social media and mobilising a strong crowd of 40 to 60 volunteers to hold a vigil outside the couple’s home. This peaceful anti-eviction support resulted in the bailiffs, with police, being turned away. The couple were subsequently informed that the eviction notice served for that day, had been dismissed and the family had that much needed reprieve until January.</p> <p>Juliet reports that they are busier than ever, due to rent arrear issues and changes in benefits. As a campaigning welfare rights collective and eviction watches form one of their many activities and caseloads are creaking. Of <a href="http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/evening-read-merseyside-activist-helping-8093648">50 “bedroom tax” appeals they have taken on, they have won 36 </a>– a 72% success rate.&nbsp; ReClaim are by no means alone in these activities. According to another campaigner in London, Jasmine Stone, from Focus E15 Mothers, mobilising anti-eviction support now plays a vital role in their day-to-day campaign activities.&nbsp; She claims that, “we’ve never been so busy, we go to housing meetings with families who are being evicted and rally round at their houses to prevent them from being evicted – we just stand with our hands tied together so they can’t get through.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/IMG_1888.JPG" alt="Image of residents at a ReClaim advice centre" title="ReClaim advice clinic" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Local residents at ReClaim's advice clinic.</span></span></span></p><p>In 2008, when the financial crisis unfolded, evictions amongst mortgage repossessions <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/374286/mortgage-landlord-possession-statistics-july-september-2014.pdf">peaked at 142,741</a> in England and Wales. This followed an era of housing aspiration underpinned by Right to Buy and the availability of 100% mortgages. We are seeing similar peaks in evictions in the rented housing sector: <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/374286/mortgage-landlord-possession-statistics-july-september-2014.pdf">170,451</a> evictions (including private and social housing) in England and Wales in 2013, a <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/374286/mortgage-landlord-possession-statistics-july-september-2014.pdf">26% increase since 2010</a>. In the 3rd quarter of 2014 (July-September), there were <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/374286/mortgage-landlord-possession-statistics-july-september-2014.pdf">11,100 landlord repossessions by county court bailiffs</a>. According to the <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/374286/mortgage-landlord-possession-statistics-july-september-2014.pdf">Ministry of Justice</a> this is the highest quarterly figure since records began in 2000.</p> <p>The labour power and might mobilised by the state in the eviction process is disproportionate compared to the support offered and the resources and advocacy available for those facing eviction. While previously, anti-social behaviour was the leading cause of eviction notices this has been superseded by rent arrears. Rather than working on behalf of their tenants who fall into arrears, statistics show that housing associations and local authorities – supported by housing legal experts – have resigned themselves to a very anti-social housing policy, regularly dispensing “notices seeking possession” to tenants. In 2012-2013, local authorities in England and Wales <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/266691/Local_authority_housing_statistics_2012_13.pdf">evicted 6,140 households</a>, 81% of which were due to arrears. In 2013-2014, social landlords issued <a href="http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/exclusive-extracts-of-inside-housing-magazines-featured-articles-rise-in-tenancy-terminations/7004306.article">239,381 notices seeking possession</a> for rent arrears alone – a 22% increase from previous annual figures. &nbsp;</p> <p>Authorities across the UK are deploying increasingly violent and intimidating tactics against those resisting eviction. In a bid to evict sitting tenants from Chartridge House on Aylesbury estate, Southwark Council called in the riot police to derail the anti-eviction protest, resulting in the arrest of six people. Jasmine Stone confirmed that authorities are escalating levels of violence and “getting really intimidating with us and there are kids present”. She recalls when campaign members attended a public meeting at the local council offices to support a woman, with child, who was scheduled to be rehoused in Liverpool (from London). Jasmine claims that “security were really aggressive, they punched one of the mums [a campaigner] in the face…” &nbsp;</p> <p>And what is to become of the evicted? As the above suggests with moves from London to Liverpool, it’s a displacement merry go-round. Plus, those evicted as a result of arrears are, according to homeless and housing law, intentionally homeless and therefore disqualified from meaningful housing support. Those lucky enough to pass the homelessness test are no longer given priority access to social housing: since the Localism Act 2011 they are offloaded to the private rented sector. At best, this smacks not only of a withdrawal of state level responsibility to rehouse tenants in affordable housing, but a redistribution of wealth from the state to private landlords. At worst, local authorities breach the law and refuse to follow their legal duty in accordance with the Housing Act 1996.</p><p><span>Southwark Council – who recently deployed the </span><a href="http://rt.com/uk/233443-social-cleansing-protest-southwark/">riot police to evict tenants from Aylsebury estate</a><span> and, in a separate event, were found </span><a href="http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/high-court-hands-out-damning-judgement-to-negligent-council/7006270.article">guilty of "civil conspiracy"</a><span> after unlawfully evicting a tenant, leaving them homeless –&nbsp;have been ordered by the High Court "</span><a href="http://www.solicitorsjournal.com/news/public/administrative-and-constitutional/southwark-council-found-have-unlawfully-turned-away-ho">to stop breaking the law by turning away homeless people who apply for housing in the borough"</a><span>. But let’s be clear, this foul play is not uncommon. Homeless and housing practitioners have, for years, avoided the local authority route for rehousing homeless clients due to various unlawful tactics. What is uncommon, but wholly welcomed, is that Southwark Council has been named and shamed.</span></p> <h2>From Eviction Watches to National Action</h2> <p>In 2015, we should expect to see a rise in tenant evictions inflicted by banks, private registered landlords and the state and more grim effects of the onslaught of welfare reforms. As such the work of welfare campaigners and advocates and their eviction watch activities become an essential local resource. Public spending cuts have negatively impacted on local support services at the same time when necessity and demand for them increases. <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/we-must-not-normalise-food-banks-their-proliferation-is-a-mark-of-shame-on-this-country-9013489.html">Similar to the discussions of food banks, eviction watches should not be normalised</a> nor be separated out as a discreet strand of inequality. The main drivers of housing inequality are welfare cuts, coupled with short term and zero hour jobs (increasing at a faster rate than permanent positions in the UK) and state regulation that promotes property development.</p><p>Today, we would do well to invoke the spirit of 1915, when rent-striking tenants recognised their exploitation and acted collectively across cities to lobby for housing equality. 100 years later we are at a similar frontier where communities and cities also recognise the erosion of housing rights. Eviction watches are not enough to assuage the harms of this deregulated housing market but these campaigns do mark the beginning, we hope, of a collective housing response of similar historical and radical significance.</p> <hr size="1" /> <p>* ReClaim is a welfare rights campaign group that provide advice to community members across Merseyside on welfare benefits, benefits sanctions and housing benefit advice, including bedroom tax appeals. They run a welfare rights clinic every Friday, providing face to face contact with community members on welfare benefits issues, including rent arrears and bedroom tax appeals </p> <p>** Focus E15 Mothers is a housing and homelessness activist campaign group that raise social awareness surrounding housing inequalities by occupying housing estates about to be demolished and holding a weekly stall on Stratford high street, London. They provide key support and critical intervention for families facing eviction and / or making homeless applications to their local authority.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/hannah-schling/eviction-brixton-creating-housing-insecurity-in-london">Eviction Brixton: creating housing insecurity in London</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/sweets-way-evictions-building-community-in-resistance">Sweets Way evictions: building community in resistance</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/kirsteen-paton/sporting-chance">A sporting chance?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/carlos-delcl%C3%B3s/victims-no-longer-spain%E2%80%99s-anti-eviction-movement">Victims no longer: Spain’s anti-eviction movement</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Civil society Culture Democracy and government Protest Inequality Kirsteen Paton Vickie Cooper Fri, 17 Apr 2015 10:59:26 +0000 Kirsteen Paton and Vickie Cooper 92054 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Against ad hocery: we need a more democratic approach to UK devolution https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/martin-smith-and-dave-richards/against-ad-hocery-uk-devolution-and-need-for-consultation- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We need a process for determining devolution&nbsp;that is more considered, democratic and which tackles devolution in the context of the wider failings of the UK state. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/14042275658_ae787b37af_z.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> Image: Flickr <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/762_photo/14042275658/in/photolist-noSkk1-nD5C9T-oCRbAT-4JkYtv-hi2JvK-dAKe6q-5GPS7R-8F1tAR-h2Ar6o-eDDEbH-8C1Z97-pgCRxT-6oFDfK-ncvzwc-h1B9k4-c4jJYh-a2jAAH-6hiyG2-frFka2-eeyztq-a6Yqpd-fwV24B-cRJ3TC-cGi53s-dM9oLd-bu8GrV-i6sDSv-9eg3Sg-6f2rW-bdPotK-pzKv4e-5B4Cq1-jV3FnL-eQJnkf-oNr5C4-nEzGHA-cRJ3DU-aQJFD-4uBCEJ-9EFTcA-7PBcZz-aFvb1e-efYdXR-8PUNze-axJPsQ-67BvmZ-o96odm-4xDfBW-6reBgz-bZJy6U" target="_blank">Captain Roger Fenton</a></em></p><div class="entry-content"><p>The newly published report on the <em><a href="http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/political-and-constitutional-reform-committee/news/future-of-devolution-after-scottish-referendum-report-to-be-published/"><span><span>Future of Devolution after the Scottish Referendum</span></span></a></em> is a worthy attempt to bring some order to an often confusing and conflicting debate concerning where devolution goes after the election.&nbsp;Strikingly, the Committee notes that since the September 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, rapid developments have been made in bilateral ways which pay little attention to the overall nature of the Union.</p><p>What the Committee has identified is the extent to which devolution is happening in the UK in an ostensibly ad hoc way. The sizeable <a href="http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/political-and-constitutional-reform-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/devolution-after-referendum/"><span><span>body of evidence</span></span></a> underpinning the Report highlights the extent to which the process so far has been piecemeal, rushed and segmented; all deterring from a reflexive and joined-up approach. Its recommendations include calling for a commission to review proposals for further devolution, a Convention for England to ensure representation of the public view and greater oversight of the intergovernmental machinery.</p><p>For historians of constitutional reform, such ad hocery comes as no surprise - it bears the hallmark of the British way of doing things.&nbsp; The absence of strategic thinking is explained away as a manifestation of the flexible British constitution, of whiggish-like adaption to new circumstances, seeking out pragmatic ways that take account of the different requirements of the four parts of the Union. We would suggest that this approach to devolution is highly problematic for three reasons:</p><p>The first is the elite nature of the process. The process of devolution that has occurred since the Scottish Referendum is one we would argue has ostensibly been a top down exercise based on political calculation. Here it should be remembered that in the September referendum, the majority voted against Scottish Independence and there was no devo-max option. In the days prior to the vote, devo-max was promised by the leaders of the three main Westminster parties, as a panicked attempt to shore-up the ‘No’ vote. It was tactical and not based on any democratic process – [further symbolized by the paucity of widespread, grass-roots consultation of the subsequent and brief <a href="https://www.smith-commission.scot/"><span><span>Smith Commission</span></span></a>] – and without proper debate. In many ways it could be argued that the process was highly unconstitutional with none of the pro-Union party leaders having any mandate or legitimacy for making the promises they did.</p><p>Since September, the devolution process in England has been even more elite-driven. Essentially, devolution packages have been agreed with cities on a case by case basis with the minimum of public discussion. Beyond those involved in negotiating devolution, there is considerable lack of clarity concerning the process or the powers that have been devolved to cities. It is essentially Whitehall devolving powers, where it believes cities have earned the rights to exercise certain responsibilities. It has the potential to create a patchwork system of devolution based on Whitehall concessions <span>and not democratic rights</span>. But the whole process and indeed the wider debate it has triggered, pays little heed to considering the rights of the citizen. The fundamental assumption is that power, in zero-sum terms, belongs to Whitehall and it may release some to a local elite if they are deemed to be responsible and can demonstrate they will behave well (i.e. not make too much fuss about the scale of cuts in local government spending).</p><p>The elite driven nature of the process speaks directly to the second problem: the lack of consideration of goals and objectives of devolution. What is the aim of devolution? Is it about accountability or efficiency? Is it to maintain the Union? Is it to increase democracy and the control over central government? Is it to improve economic efficiency? Is it about giving people control over their own lives and a response to political enchantment? As this Select Committee report reveals, these issues have not been properly debated. </p><p><span>Again, the process has been tactical and not strategic and no one knows what the end point is. How many powers are to be devolved from Whitehall? Is asymmetric devolution to be translated into infinite models in England, of variable, localised scales of civic participation and engagement? In the case of devolution to UK cities, the key focus seems to be on devolution as a mechanism of economic regeneration? Yet, this raises many questions that have not been discussed. What happens to Cities outside of the hub of a City/Region? What happens if devolution does not produce economic growth? In other words, we are on the way to some form of devolution, but none of the fundamental questions about what it is meant to achieve have been properly debated.</span></p><p>Third, the lack of clear goals is indicative of a much wider and fundamental issue: how do processes of devolution fit into the wider constitutional and political framework of the UK? What the debate has yet really to grapple with is that we are about to go through an election that is going to illustrate some major problems with the British political system. Hansard’s most recent <a href="http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/research/public-attitudes/audit-of-political-engagement/"><span><span>Audit of Political Engagement</span></span></a> reveals that only 49 per cent of the population are certain to vote in the May General Election, only 30 per cent of the population feel a strong attachment to a political party and only 20 per cent feel that they have any influence over local decisions. The 2015 election could well-produce situations where, for example, the SNP has a pivotal vote or one of English Votes for English Laws [EVEL] in which Labour supporters are disenfranchised in the way the Scottish electorate has been in the past.&nbsp; </p><p>It is a distinct possibility that the outcome of this General Election is going to see very little relationship between votes and seats and produce a new government elected by a very small proportion of the electorate. The outcome is likely to illustrate the inability of the electoral system to reflect the desires of the voters or produce a clear electoral outcome (in other words the main argument for FPTP seems to be going out the window). All of which creates the possibility of a further delegitimation of the system and more alienation of the voters. Hence, in the context of political disillusionment and the emergence of an age of anti-politics, it is hard to abstract the discussion of devolution from wider constitutional questions. The fundamental issue is how are people to be re-engaged in politics and what role do constitutional changes play in re-energizing the political process. Yet, this has not formed the centre-piece for the current discussions on devolution.</p><p>We have both long been <a href="http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/institutional-crisis-in-21st-century-britain-david-richards/?K=9781137334381"><span><span>staunch critics</span></span></a> of what <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Political-Argument-Routledge-Revivals-Brian/dp/0415610826"><span><span>Brian Barry</span></span></a> used to call Britain’s ‘power-hoarding’ model of governance, often euphemistically referred to as ‘the man in Whitehall knows best’. We advocate a more bottom-up, devolved and participatory democratic settlement. But any lasting settlement can only be secured through what can be referred to as the ‘3Cs’ – <strong>consultation, consensus and consideration</strong> - of the whole political framework. Discussion of the devolution process should come with a debate around the electoral systems, the role of the civil service, the power of Whitehall and Westminster and fundamentally what sort of democracy does Britain want to have in the twenty-first century. The scale of the potential political crisis looming is such that it is going to need more than a Westminster-led process of devolution to sort it out.</p><p>This article was first published at<strong><em><a href="http://blog.policy.manchester.ac.uk/featured/2015/04/against-ad-hocery-uk-devolution-and-the-need-for-consultation-consensus-and-consideration/"> Manchester Policy Blogs.</a></em></strong></p></div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/collections/great-charter-convention"><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/-8xrM8zJ-PI-idO0oxwLDVfX3tT9TQ-KiO4znX23lZo/mtime:1421864577/files/Great%20Charter%20Convention%20%281%29.jpg" alt="" width="140" /></a>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/arianna-giovannini/devolution-in-north-of-england-time-to-bring-people-into-debate">Devolution in the North of England: time to bring the people into the debate?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/francesca-gains/making-of-greater-manchester-mayor-what-next">The making of the Greater Manchester mayor - what next?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/rashid-mhar/democracy-exists-by-act-of-doing-it-meeting-with-podemos-in-manchester">Democracy exists by the act of doing it: a meeting with Podemos in Manchester</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/colin-talbot/mayor-for-all-seasons">A mayor for all seasons? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom A constitutional convention Great Charter Convention Power where? Nations, regions, cities Martin Smith and Dave Richards Fri, 17 Apr 2015 09:40:35 +0000 Martin Smith and Dave Richards 92039 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Servitude: the way we work now https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/geoffrey-heptonstall/servitude-way-we-work-now <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Exploitative work contracts have become the norm. Casual, ill-paid or unpaid work creates servitude. In such a climate actual slavery, though illegal, flourishes.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535628/slavery_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/535628/slavery_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Flickr/derpunk. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>A contingent of labourers climbed down from the lorry to begin work on some road repairs. The foremen hurried them up gruffly, contemptuously. I was surprised none of the men responded in kind. Why did they take it? And I looked again at the men. They were not used to labouring. They had the look of clerks. They were office workers who had lost their jobs in one of the repeated waves of recession. This one was the early Eighties when industry was vanishing. The effects on an industrial town were traumatic. I was discovering this reality teaching in a Midlands college. And what I saw was a group of proud men humiliated on some back-to-work scheme. Nobody should consider ordinary work beneath them. I certainly haven’t. But this was awful. Far from being sympathetic, the foreman was more like a gang master. The men were not in chains. The foreman had no whip. But emotionally that was how it looked.</p> <p>These men had rights, but they were limited. Refusal to work meant loss of benefits. So they accepted the taunts of a rough-tongued supervisor. I saw in that man how slavery works. Cultures that accept slavery have no difficulty finding overseers with whips. Regimes that use torture easily recruit torturers. There is no question that human nature (something we all share) contains its potential element of cruelty. In certain conditions we can all display selfishness and spite for their own sake. We can take pleasure in hurting others who have done us no harm.</p> <p>The justification is that it has to be done. We are dealing with lesser beings, beasts that respond only to the whip. We are taking savages from their barbarity and offering them the chance of civilisation. Or we are meting out punishment to those who deserve it. Or we are doing it from economic necessity, for the greater good of society. The great engine of civilisation needs its machines. There are those whose destiny is to be a machine.</p> <p>To justify the condition of the slave you must take away the slave’s humanity. I remember talking to some (supremacist) white West Indians who could not accept that some slaves in the Americas were white. It was to have been the fate of David Balfour in Robert Louis Stevenson’s <em>Kidnapped</em>. That was fiction with a basis in reality. But no, slaves were African. Most were, but the point is that some were European. That brings the condition of slavery closer to home. It becomes more imaginable. They are no longer the anonymous other, but people like ourselves. Not everyone can accept that.</p> <p>That slavery is beyond the moral boundary is now universally accepted. No legal system in the world accepts slavery. That is an advance. But a moral precept is not a description of reality. Slavery exists in the world. One does not need to travel to remoter parts of the world to find it. There are several thousand slaves in our country now. It is a fact well reported but not absorbed into the general feeling. People are aware of the incidence of forced labour on remote farms. Popular police dramas like <em>Scott and Bailey</em> do good work in this regard. But forced labour is not a rare occurrence in out of the way places. There are slaves in the cities. They are not chained, nor are they free.</p> <p>Perhaps you have passed them in the street. One sign of their servitude is the lack of English. They have no easy means of association with society at large. Some are here legally, but only to work for a particular employer. They cannot withdraw from their contracts. Others are here illegally. They have been trafficked across international borders. Without the correct documentation to reside and/or work in Britain their rights are limited or non-existent. They do not appear in official statistics. They do not exist. They work, often as prostitutes, but also in domestic drudgery and heavy labour for survival rations and basic shelter alone. There are an estimated 13,000 such people in Britain today.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>It occurs to me that some slaves may not understand their actual condition. ‘Rescued’ from dire poverty and squalor in their home country, in Britain they are fed and clothed. A cold attic is better than a hot tin shack. Some, of course, will be hopelessly demoralised. Prostitutes, punished for being pretty, punished for being poor, may be too ashamed to escape. They may be too frightened with a well-founded fear. Where do they go for help? How do they know they can trust uniformed officials in a foreign city whose language they barely speak, in a country where they have no right to be? I have seen passport control suspicious and contemptuous of ethnic minority fellow citizens, British-born. What trust can you place in uniforms, especially if you come not from a Western democracy but from chaos and violence?</p> <p>Fear is perhaps at the core of the problem. How many of us know what real fear is? The woman in hiding from a violent husband is fearful of all men, and petrified that her husband is going to find her. Fear distorts perceptions and magnifies problems. It isolates the individual. In your cell you wait for the interrogator. You are utterly alone. ‘They have abandoned you,’ is the interrogator’s taunt. The runaway slave, yes even in Britain 2015, is truly afraid, afraid that there is no refuge, no rescue.</p> <p>Slavery is more than a means of exploitation, of labour at minimal cost. It is a means of controlling human beings. Reducing a person to a machine is a crudely effective method of manipulating social relations. The slave in the modern world is outside of society, yet somewhere hidden within its web. The condition of slavery is informal, the presence of slavery invisible, yet it is acknowledged as undeniable without being legitimate. There is no slavery as an institution, though in practice there are slaves.</p> <p>This has been fully reported in prominent journalism (BBC News and <em>The</em> <em>Guardian</em>, for example). It has received government attention. Theresa May’s outrage and determination has been forthright and clearly sincere. Forced labour without remuneration has been outlawed in the United Kingdom since the 18th century.</p> <p>And yet in that same century the Chevalier Johnstone, a leading Jacobite, noted how the miners of Northumberland would have joined the Bonnie Prince had the Jacobite army taken an eastern route down. It was no great concern for the Stuart cause, but, the Chevalier observed, it was a means of “escaping their slavery”. That word. In theory they were free men, but in actuality they were bound by poverty and ignorance to a life of unremitting toil. Or, as a character in Lee Hall’s ‘The Pitmen Painters’ says, “Why, man, this is Siberia.”</p> <p>The slaves who move among us like ghosts are barely visible because the condition of many workers is unsatisfactory. People who in law are free are bound by economic necessity to work for less than the living wage (‘apprenticeships’), no pay (‘internships’), or in uncertain conditions (‘zero-hours’ contracts). They are free to leave if they wish. Like Okies in the Dust Bowl they can load up the truck. They at least had Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie. Who speaks for the zero people?<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>A few commentators, notably Polly Toynbee, speak up. But the problem has yet to enter the general consciousness. When popular dramas fully take note then we’ll be getting somewhere. But can people believe that smartly-dressed, well-qualified office workers are exploited? We think of sickly, half-starved wretches in rags, not middle-class graduates. </p> <p>I saw those unemployed clerks being roughly treated. It is less easy to see the office manager refusing sick leave, demanding unpaid overtime, exaggerating trivial errors, threatening by look and gesture, and reacting to legitimate challenges as ‘gross misconduct’. All this for little or no pay. Workers may not be slaves, but the difference between service and servitude is of decreasing interest and value in the labour market. Unemployment is permanently high, even after all the massaging of the figures. Unions have so little influence they are barely remembered. This is how things are. How could it be other? Helotry has returned, a word so rare now that my computer doesn’t recognise it. But it exists.</p> OurKingdom OurKingdom Geoffrey Heptonstall Thu, 16 Apr 2015 23:11:11 +0000 Geoffrey Heptonstall 91824 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why £8bn is a zombie figure that won't save the NHS https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/caroline-molloy/why-%C2%A38bn-is-zombie-figure-that-won%27t-save-nhs <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the former boss of the NHS slams politicians for not addressing the financial 'black hole', will the pledged £8bn merely be used to pump prime further privatisation and cuts? The introduction to a series examining the parties' NHS manifesto pledges.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The NHS electioneering has so far been dominated by arguments about whether the Tories 'unfunded' £8bn pledge is better than Labour's 'funded' £2.5bn pledge.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span></span><span>But this morning David Nicholson – the old boss of the NHS – weighed into the argument with a bombshell.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>He told the BBC that in any case </span><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32325490">£8bn won’t be nearly enough</a><span> to save the NHS from entering a period of “managed decline” with ever-lengthening waiting lists.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Nicholson is not alone – the Health Foundation said <a href="http://www.health.org.uk/blog/analysis-of-the-conservative-party-s-health-pledges-in-the-manifesto/">much the same</a> earlier this month. And the British Medical Association has just warned that unless the funding gap is filled, a <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/03/basic-nhs-services-could-be-charged-for-after-general-election-bma-chief-says">"pay NHS" could be on the way</a>.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Nicholson has now joined the fray, criticising politicians for making election pledges of a 24/7 NHS (Tories) and more staff (Labour) and “talking about extra services” but refusing to talk about the “financial hole”.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Nicholson calls for politicians to be more honest with the public about what “big decisions” might be in the pipeline (of which more in a moment). But he himself is only pointing out the basic arithmetic. Most experts – including the NHS’s new boss, Simon Stevens – have said the projected NHS funding shortfall is more like <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/23/stevens-report-challenge-to-all-politicians">£30bn a year by 2020</a>. So even £8bn of new money leaves £22bn a year still to be found from somewhere.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>There is considerable <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/caroline-molloy/billions-of-wasted-nhs-cash-noone-wants-to-mention">evidence to suggest </a>that getting the expensive market out of the NHS could save a large chunk - maybe even all - of this cash.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>But that's not on Simon Stevens' agenda.&nbsp;</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Stevens pledged last year that he could instead make <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/john-lister/nhs-leaders-promise-another-%C2%A322bn-of-savings-but-sums-don%27t-add-up">£22bn of “efficiency savings”</a> – a commitment hailed by politicians from all sides.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>It’s time to examine the Stevens’ £22bn savings pledge in a bit more detail. What kind of ‘tough decisions’ might the unelected heads of the NHS have up their sleeves ready for politicians to rubber stamp?</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Stevens - who </span><a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/is-simon-stevens-really-the-right-person-to-run-the-nhs-8902251.html">used to work for United Health</a><span>, has laid his ideas out in his ‘Five Year Plan’, though you need to dig deep behind the jargon, and listen closely to his other pronouncements, to identify what's really being put forward.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>For starters, the Five Year Plan talks about "unlocking assets". Stevens suggested to the Independent last month that possibly as much as £7.5bn will be “saved” by selling off many more hospitals and clinics to property developers, adding "<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/nhs-property-sale-could-raise-75bn-to-help-pay-off-its-growing-deficit-and-free-up-space-for-housing-10141506.html">this is obviously just the beginning</a>”. </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Quite how such a mass sell-off will solve waiting list crises, when we have <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=thekingsfund%20hospital%20beds&amp;src=typd&amp;mode=photos">already lost half our hospital beds</a> in the last 30 years, is unclear. We now have <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/john-lister/england-has-relatively-few-hospital-beds-so-why-are-there-calls-to-close-more">amongst the lowest level of beds in Europe.</a></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>But there are worrying signs that many more closures and sell-offs are planned for after the election, with a <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/news/infrastructure-bill-receives-royal-assent">law passed in the dying days of this parliament</a> that will help sell-offs of NHS buildings <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/deborah-harrington/going-going-gone-great-hospital-selloff">including those currently in use</a>. </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Stevens says this will lead to “fundamental changes” in how the NHS is delivered, though is always keen to tell us that these will be ‘local decisions’ – that favourite politician’s trick. </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Already, ‘local plans’ almost inevitably turn out to be written by the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/jenny-shepherd/are-plans-to-move-nhs-into-community-wolf-in-sheeps-clothing">same narrow cohort of management consultants</a> who have close working relationships with private healthcare, insurance, pharma and technology companies. </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>You’ve probably got at least one such plan in your area, though if it is explicit about bed, hospital and ward closures, you may, like the citizens of Staffordshire, <a href="http://www.paulfarrelly.com/news/westminster-news/news.aspx?p=102331">struggle to see it before the election</a>. </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>The public facing plans typically use Stevens’ language of “right care, right place, right time”, heavy on appealing talk of “care closer to home” and in particular more “self-care”, "integration", and “demand management”. </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>The respected Health Services Journal calls such talk “<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/jenny-shepherd/will-%27care-in-community%27-leave-elderly-wandering-in-streets">Messiah concepts</a>” and “magical thinking”. The &nbsp;Nuffield Trust says that to suggest we’ll get “</span><span>better services outside hospital that can either prevent the need for hospital admission or offer the same care but in different settings…is a common theme in initiatives…But there is little evidence that this can be achieved”. </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Local scrutiny of these re-organisation and closure plans has been blunted in many cases as councillors are tempted by the prospect of nabbing a bit of NHS cash to fill the gaping hole in their social care budgets, under the familiar rhetoric of ‘integration’. To see this prospect writ large, see Manchester’s ‘<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/david-wrigley/is-%27devomanc%27-beginning-of-end-of-national-health-service">DevoManc</a>’ plans, breezily waved through by George Osborne just before the start of election purdah, even as Manchester’s smaller hospitals <a href="http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/news-opinion/stringer-healthier-together-not-credible-7208530">face an uncertain future</a>.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>And there’s more up Stevens’ sleeve. He used his first speech as NHS boss to announce a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/john-lister/time-to-get-even-with-stevens">huge roll-out of personal healthcare budgets</a>, to cover the 5 million most sick people in the NHS over the next 3 years. The roll-out of the scheme is already underway, with people receiving a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/caroline-molloy/public-health-concerns-mount-as-%27personal-health-budgets%27-imposed-on-10000-ch">capped ‘entitlement’</a> for planned (though not emergency) healthcare. If your needs change and you need a bit more healthcare, NHS England have admitted patients will have to individually ‘negotiate’ that with bureaucrats. This is hardly a reassuring prospect – <em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/peter-beresford/social-care-from-personal-budgets-to-person-centred-policy-and-practice"><em>social</em><span><em> </em>care users with personal budgets</span></a></em> have already found they face delays of up to 6 months for such renegotiations, which are not always successful.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>The plan sounds suspiciously like the old <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/richard-blogger/personal-health-budgets-lead-to-individualism-and-isolation">Thatcherite ‘vouchers’ plan</a>. Effectively state subsidised insurance, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/shibley-rahman/shop-til-you-drop-0">topped up from your own pocket</a> if you want more than the bare minimum of healthcare – just as we already have in social care.&nbsp; </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Vouchers were favoured (but never delivered) by the Thatcherites as a key way of funnelling state subsidy (and increasingly, personal contribution) to private health firms.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>We should never forget that Stevens – in his <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/tamasin-cave/privatising-cabal-at-heart-of-our-nhs">pre-United Health role as health advisor to Tony Blair and Alan Milburn</a> – was described by the Financial Times as the “key architect…of the reforms that for the first time broke up the NHS monolith, introducing privately run treatment centres”.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>And he’s still at it. His Five Year Plan said we need more “new provider networks” from the private sector, though – as usual - this was disguised in lots of talk of partnership and ‘GP leadership’. </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>It’s another politician’s trick from the unelected head of the NHS. The Health &amp; Social Care Act was sold to us as ‘GP leadership’ too. But the reality has been a few entrepreneurial GPs providing political cover to service cuts, whilst the majority of GPs are left struggling to get on with the job – or leaving. Many areas now have <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/07/nhs-patients-wait-doctor-gp-shortage">fewer than half the GPs they need</a>, says the Royal College of GPs.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span><a href="http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/5yfv-web.pdf">Stevens’ 5 year plan</a> is vague on any commitment to patients being able to access sufficient skilled healthcare professionals in a timely fashion – surely the bedrock of what a health service should be about. Instead it is full of hints that in future an increasing number of services will be delivered, not by face to face contact with doctors and nurses, but by telephone and internet contact, mobile phone apps and “remote monitoring” gadgets. “I</span>nnovators from the UK and internationally will be able to bid to have their proposed discovery or innovation deployed and tested”, we are told. There will also be <span>“an </span>expanding set of NHS accredited health apps that patients will be able to use to organise and manage their own health and care and the development of partnerships with the voluntary sector and industry”. </p><p class="MsoNormal">Such 'apps' are dismissed in an article in <a href="http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h1887">this week's British Medical Journal</a> as "likely useless" and possibly worsening the anxiety of the "worried well". But there’ll be no shortage of bidders – PWC says the ‘mhealth’ (mobile health) market will be <a href="http://www.gsma.com/connectedliving/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/gsmapwctouchinglivesthroughmobilehealthreport.pdf">worth $23bn by 2017</a>, and whilst the UK is at the vanguard, the opportunities for roll out to expanding economies like India are huge. Ali Parsa - the man who <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/alex-nunns/hinchingbrooke-how-disastrous-privatisation-duped-political-class">duped the political class</a> into believing his private company could do a good job of running <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/caroline-molloy/hinchingbrooke-why-did-england%27s-privatised-hospital-deal-really-collapse">Hinchingbrooke hospital</a> - is now selling us just such an 'app' to replace doctors. Called 'Babylon', it is<a href="http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/472877/Babylon-UK-s-first-phone-app-which-allows-patients-to-have-virtual-consultation-with-GP"> accredited by the NHS</a> - and available for a monthly fee.&nbsp;</p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Noting that it takes a long time to train medical staff, Stevens also suggests greater reliance on privatised care home staff to provide ‘shared models’ of medical care, and lauds the increasing reliance on volunteers and <a href="http://vonne.org.uk/ways-wellness-frequently-asked-questions">non-medically qualified staff</a> nudging us towards more ‘self-care’ (whilst not, of course, addressing the structural issues of poverty that make poor lifestyle choices the easiest choice for many).</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Stevens also <a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2932b84e-904a-11df-ad26-00144feab49a.html#axzz3XOLnzd00">suggested</a>&nbsp;in 2010 that a good model for primary care might be ‘Michael Gove-style free schools’ (ie cheaper, unqualified teachers) – and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gponline.com/nhs-england-refuses-rule-free-school-style-gps/article/1292473">refused to rule this out</a> when challenged in 2014.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Staff make up over 70% of NHS costs – so fewer, cheaper, less skilled staff is the main way that the increasingly involved private sector <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/julius-marstrand/rushing-off-cliff-privatisation-of-patient-transport-services">cuts corners</a> to make their profits.&nbsp;&nbsp; </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>As both insurance companies and providers in America know, the really fat profits aren’t in providing health care, as much as in purchasing it – and somehow weeding out those people, and treatments, it isn’t profitable to provide for. The kind of thing that Kaiser Permanente does in the US – a model cited approvingly in Stevens report. </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Alarmingly, a subsidiary of Stevens' old employer United Health - Optum Health - has just won (alongside Capita) the <a href="http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/02/09/capita_lead_on_mega_5bn_nhs_commissioning_deal/">contract to control £5bn of NHS ‘purchasing decisions’</a>. Already we see attempts to weed out undesirable patients – whilst the ‘local decision’ in Devon to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/caroline-molloy/devon-canary-in-nhs-coalmine">refuse all routine surgery to smokers and obese people</a> was overturned after an outcry, there are currently no legal obstacles to cash strapped local health bosses taking the same decision elsewhere in future.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Stevens 5 Year Plan even hints at the plans announced this week by the Tories - to <a href="https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto">cut the benefits of those who don’t consent to unspecified ‘treatment’</a> by saying “</span>we will seek to test a win-win opportunity of improving access to NHS services for at-risk individuals while saving ‘downstream’ costs at the Department for Work and Pensions, if money can be reinvested across programmes”.<span></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>So that’s what the new boss – and the old boss – have up their sleeve.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>And where are the parties on these plans? Over the next week OurNHS will examine the extent to which the major parties have signed up to Stevens’ <a href="http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2013/06/hospital-closures-essential-for-better-nhs/">carefully crafted consensus</a> in favour of service cuts, hospital closures, self-care and conditionality – and whether any of them have committed to taking the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/caroline-molloy/new-law-proposed-to-stop-nhs-becoming-simply-memory">truly bold decision</a>, to get the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/caroline-molloy/billions-of-wasted-nhs-cash-noone-wants-to-mention">hugely expensive market</a> out of the NHS altogether, to plug the funding gap that we know still looms.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span><em><strong>Like this piece? Want OurNHS to continue bringing you the stories and analysis the rest of the media don't cover? Please donate whatever you can&nbsp;</strong></em><strong><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/donate" target="_blank">here&nbsp;</a>- <em>we rely on reader contributions</em></strong><em><strong>.&nbsp;Thank you.</strong></em></span></p> ourNHS OurKingdom ourNHS Caroline Molloy Thu, 16 Apr 2015 11:58:35 +0000 Caroline Molloy 92034 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Universal Credit: the fantasy of a tidy world https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/deborah-padfield/universal-credit-fantasy-of-tidy-world <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The coalition presents its benefit reforms as fair, rational and efficient. For many, however, the world is not as ordered as those in power seem to imagine. &nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/IDS07.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> ‘Army trained’ Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Image: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iain_Duncan_Smith,_June_2007.jpg" target="_blank">Steve Punter</a></em></p><p>Universal Credit is not reaching my area until later this year. So I've no practical knowledge yet, only what I've picked up from reading and calculating. On that basis, however, I've found three obvious health warnings to claimants. People with more experience may well have others to offer. All are welcome. </p> <p>Unfortunately, many people may find it hard to benefit from the warnings by 'tidying' their lives. UC was created for a better-controlled world than many of us inhabit. That is a difficulty. </p> <p>These, then, are my three health warnings. </p> <h2><strong>1. Make sure you have the right kind of partner.</strong></h2> <p>This is rather fundamental. The right partner may always be an important feature of life, but never more so than when making benefit claims. There are two obvious reasons.</p> <p><strong>a. Making a claim: now and under UC</strong></p> <p>Your partner will be involved in your claim. Just as in the 'legacy' system, couples must usually make joint claims and attend initial interviews at JobCentre Plus. </p> <p>The legacy system, though, allows reduced payments of JSA/ESA/IS if your partner doesn't attend the interview. Under UC, save in a very few cases you'll be paid nothing by way of means-tested benefits until you and your partner have been to JobCentre Plus and signed Claimant Commitments. </p> <p>This 'nothing', for once, almost means what it says. It involves much more than under the legacy system. </p> <p>Universal Credit includes not only the old JSA/ESA/IS income-replacements, but also housing costs for rented and mortgaged homes and the equivalents of the old Child and Working Tax Credits. Of the means-tested benefits only Council Tax Reduction remains (administered by Local Authorities). Child Benefit is sort-of-means-tested, and it too survives (run by HMRC). </p> <p>Apart from those two, all the eggs are in one basket. If your partner won't cooperate, your claim will not go live. </p> <p>This may seem reasonable, but it's also problematic. Recently we struggled at our Citizens Advice Bureau to find ways forward for a woman (call her Alice) whose 'self-employed' partner ('Rob') had done no work for a year. They have children aged eighteen months and seven. I'm fictionalising this, but the implications are accurate. </p> <p>Rob refuses to sign on for JobSeekers Allowance. Alice is working 8-12 hours per week (usually nearer 12) just above the minimum wage. They are getting all the benefits they can, but their Housing Benefit falls well short of their private sector rent. It almost never covers the full amount in our high-rent area. Nor does the Council Tax Reduction cover the full sum, being capped for everyone but pensioners, carers and disabled people. </p> <p>Alice and Rob have gas and electricity meters so they can't run into debt and risk being cut off, but that also means they're paying over the odds. They need a car to get Alice to work. Buses run, unlike many local villages, but not at times that help shift workers.</p> <p>Under the legacy system, since she's part-time, Alice can't claim Working Tax Credit but can theoretically sign on for JobSeekers Allowance. Depending on how much she earns each week, she might get a few pounds. But if, as is most likely, her entitlement were reduced because of Rob's non-cooperation, she wouldn't get anything. </p> <p>Anyway, the gain would be wiped out by petrol for the 21-mile round trip for fortnightly visits to the JobCentre Plus to sign on, as well as the time taken by daily online job-searches plus other meetings at JCPlus and the certainty of payments starting and stopping and muddles emerging. Mercifully, Alice and Rob are on broadband, otherwise they'd have to book a computer at the public library. At least they have a nearby library; that's a further cost for people without broadband who have to travel in from the villages. </p> <p>What Alice needs, of course, (apart from Rob's rebirth) is more work. But she's on a 'key time' contract giving her a guaranteed eight hours per week plus possible extra hours, on a rota including weekends and weekdays. It's hard to find work that fits around that. And it's hard to take on more anyway. She isn't entitled to help with childcare even if she could find some flexible enough to match the job, and she can't leave the children long with Rob. </p> <p>So Rob's non-cooperation creates difficulties. (Incidentally, the Office for National Statistics reports that <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/12/14-million-women-suffered-domestic-abuse-last-year-ons-figures-show">domestic abuse</a> is more than three times likelier in the poorest households than in wealthier ones.) Money is tight. The debts are mounting, and Alice is slipping into the perilous habit of prioritising heating, food, children's shoes and high-interest lenders over rent. The landlord can give them two months' notice any time. As assured shorthold tenants they'll have no defence against eviction. If they're in rent arrears, they'll probably be deemed 'intentionally homeless', so the Local Authority has no obligation to rehouse them. We can help Alice challenge that decision, but the LA won't be readily sympathetic if they haven't been claiming all possible benefits. </p> <p>It's not a particularly unusual situation. The man is refusing in this case, but that's not always so (though our CAB statistics show that far more women than men come in with benefit problems. Men tend to avoid involvement as far as possible.) </p> <p>It's tough. Our money adviser hasn't yet been able to help Alice balance her income and expenditure. On average, the overall <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11360819/Average-cost-of-raising-a-child-in-UK-230000.html">cost of raising a child</a> has risen by about 63% since 2003, by far the most expensive time being from first birthday to starting school. Costs are higher in London, the South East, Northern Ireland and the East of England, balanced (ideally) by higher wages. Alice's situation is not ideal. </p> <p>At least she is getting benefit help with her council tax and rent as well as Child Benefit, to eke out her wages. They are in debt but not starving. Under Universal Credit, crisis will come faster. Nothing for rent. Only Child Benefit for the children. Rob will have to accept that claimant commitment. Since the younger child is over one and under five, that means attending not only the initial interview but also satisfying whatever further 'work-focused interview requirement' is laid on him by JobCentre Plus. It's not clear how she'll persuade him.</p> <p>Our culture is alert to anything smacking of 'something for nothing' when it comes to people in poverty. In those terms, this requirement seems fair enough. A primary purpose of the welfare system is, after all, to reduce welfare dependency. </p> <p>Unfortunately, in Alice's case the system isn't helping her into work. She'd go there herself fast enough if she only could. It's pushing her and the children through the safety net and out the other side, becoming less benefit-dependent only because there's less benefit to depend on. It will do so faster under UC. </p> <p><strong>b. Access to benefit income</strong></p> <p>Another reason to choose your partner with care. Under the old system, benefits can be divided, some being paid to each partner. It arrives at intervals through the month depending on the claim dates and frequency of payment.</p> <p>It's a crazy system, error-prone, expensive, nightmarish to live with. Now advisers (and those claimants aware of what's impending) dread its departure, for the tidiness of Iain Duncan Smith's new system lands all the money in one bank account, monthly in arrears. People need to be sure that if it's paid to their partner, they can trust her/him to manage it responsibly. </p> <p>Monthly payments are meant to accustom people to the world of work where such frequency is, allegedly, the norm. Only it isn't the norm for people on hourly rates and paid weekly. Nor for people with several jobs, whose payments are dotted all over the place. And some are paid four-weekly. For many workers struggling near the bottom, monthly payments are alien.</p> <p>The obvious picture is of a partner spending the rent down the Offie. That's not the only peril, though. Alice finds it hard to avoid spending the rent money even though it is paid separately from Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. At least she has only a small trickle of money at any time; she can never splash out on two pairs of children's shoes or on paying off the whole payday loan, however tough the pressure on her. </p> <p>She will be able to under UC. </p> <p>And another point about these payments. When you first claim, there will be at least a month's wait before the first payment. If you can prove your household particularly vulnerable, you might be lent some money in advance, to be repaid in future months. Otherwise, as you head towards having to claim UC, make sure you squirrel away enough to survive on for the month. It might be difficult. &nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>2. Make sure you have the right employer.</strong></h2> <p>UC is calculated monthly in arrears using 'real-time information' (RTI) from employers to HMRC. According to the Department for Work &amp; Pension's (DWP's) glowing vision in the FAQs for employers, 'HMRC sends relevant data relating to Universal Credit claimants to DWP on a daily basis (four times a day). So the data employers send to HMRC will be with DWP on the same day or at the latest the next day.' Iain Duncan Smith was army-trained. I'm sure the Forces will perform with this degree of precision. But pubs, clubs and small corner shops? The <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/deborah-padfield/is-dwp-even-fit-for-purpose">computer system</a>, already in its second generation though it hasn't been seriously tested on claimants, </p> <p>In an almost endearing understatement, <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/404232/uc-works-for-employers.pdf">the UC guidance</a> to employers says: 'It is important that you report your employees’ PAYE information on time; that is on or before the time you pay them, so that we can make the correct Universal Credit payments.' One would like to think they mean 'important' to the claimant. I don't know if late information will mislead the computer into increasing UC as if there were no wages, with a knock-on reduction when two lots of pay appear the next month or, more probably, that the claim will stop. Time will tell. Such a reduction in payment must occasionally happen for four-weekly wage earners, since their payments will not align with monthly ones. Twelve times four is 48 not 52 weeks. </p> <p>So pick an employer able and willing to provide that real-time information, one with an efficient payroll system. Employers who haven't moved on to RTI can't do it. 'If your employer does not use this RTI system you will need to report your earnings to Universal Credit yourself every time you're paid. If you and/or your partner fail to report your work or earnings your Universal Credit may be suspended and your payment delayed' says the <a href="http://about.universalcredit.service.gov.uk/kms/Pages/Employment_and_earnings_overview.htm">UC website</a>. There is no mention of delays by JCPlus in processing this non-RTI information, but given the record of the old system, everyone confidently expected them. The experience of areas already under UC have <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/mar/11/coalition-britain-after-the-teething-problems-will-universal-credit-work">justified</a> our belief.</p> <p>If your employer is on RTI but you can't rely on him/her, I'm not sure what you do. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Much better to have the right kind of employer, the kind Iain Duncan Smith has in mind. </p> <h2><strong>3. If you have a mortgage, only take a well-paid job.</strong></h2> <p>This is a tricky suggestion since under UC, as for JobSeekers Allowance, if you refuse a reasonable offer of work you're likely to be sanctioned, losing a chunk of income for 13+ weeks. For the initial 13 weeks you can negotiate to apply only for jobs commensurate with your last rate of pay and seniority, but not thereafter. </p> <p>The problem is that UC has a 'zero earnings limit' for support for mortgage interest (SMI). If you have a mortgage, as soon as you earn even at the minimum wage for one hour per week, you lose all your SMI (payable after a waiting period of 13 weeks on the claim). I'll explore this further in another article; here I'll just give the health warning. </p> <p>How far, if at all, this reduces your UC depends on your wage level and household make-up. People with children are protected (a bit). If they don't get help with housing costs (rent or mortgage interest), they are allowed keep more of their wages before their UC payments start being 'tapered' away. If they're on higher incomes, this balances the loss of SMI. </p> <p>But if you have a very low wage that's little or no help. The only thing that hits you is the loss of SMI. I've played around with various scenarios. A singleton or couple getting help with SMI loses catastrophically if they take a micro-job of a few hours on minimum wage. Especially if they're childless, their earnings have to rise significantly before they exceed what UC without wages had been. </p> <p>So, if you have a mortgage: either avoid getting a job (magically avoiding a sanction meanwhile), or wave an alternative magic wand and find a well-paid one. </p> <h2><strong>The problem</strong></h2> <p>I've heard Iain Duncan Smith speak. Universal Credit in his words glows with rationality, promising greater fairness for taxpayers and opening prospects for claimants. </p> <p>If terms and conditions of work were designed to take account of human lives as well as employers' bottom lines, if the realities of daily life allowed people to organise themselves with military precision, if income bore some relationship to outgoings, and if benefit regulations were comprehensible to ordinary minds, his vision might be nearer truth. </p> <p>As it is, people carry on coping, somehow, because they have no choice. </p> <p>Universal Credit inhabits fantasy-land. But it's not just UC that needs rewriting, of course, it's the economic system of which it's part.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/deborah-padfield/is-dwp-even-fit-for-purpose">Is the DWP even fit for purpose?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/deborah-padfield/government-is-misleading-in-its-claims-for-universal-credit">The government is misleading in its claims for Universal Credit</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/deborah-padfield/basic-income-basic-respect">Basic Income - basic respect</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurKingdom OurKingdom Deborah Padfield Thu, 16 Apr 2015 09:47:42 +0000 Deborah Padfield 92032 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Foreign aid is not dispensable. It’s the condition for a fairer future https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/nick-dearden/foreign-aid-is-not-dispensable-it%E2%80%99s-condition-for-fairer-future <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>UKIP among others treat foreign aid as if it were inconsequential charity. Cutting this budget, however, effects us all - rendering the world a more unequal place.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/2495544596_f87dd50355_z.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> Refugees in the Mediterranean, Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/noborder/2495544596/in/photolist-4NwjsY-4Nwjsj-LQXFv-LQXHe-2zbYQL-5AUmr7-LQXuR-d9YMUZ-oCssCF-4Ns7iz-4Nwju1-ftC1z6-nVVL35-pvX9Mo-LQYbT-4NwjsC-32EGuD-nVWLXi-LQMC3-4Nwjtm-91gz7X-obnY9S-LTTa2-dX3Mhe-dc2sZj-nVVvRS-nVVQEH-eTWN5Y-fwbgYr-peuwY5-obnXyo-pxRRGD-odqfHM-od88fR-ofcjwF-obnYVm-f84vaB-nVVyUW-od88iM-fwquNh-nVVPhG-od88CV-9ksRYa-ivC8Ry-5wKzaZ-fwbfcP-odmsZL-odg94b-ofciCX-odmjJC" target="_blank">NBN</a></em></p><p class="image-right"><span>Yesterday UKIP announced as part of its manifesto pledge that it would radically reduce aid spending from the 0.7% that it currently is, to just 0.2% of Gross National Income. It’s true that too much aid money is spent on consultants and free market privatisation schemes, but UKIP’s solution – simply to cut it massively – is a recipe for a more unequal world.</span></p> <p>Last weekend I raised concerns about Britain’s <span><a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3035148/Bonfire-Britain-s-Foreign-Aid-Billions-Swanky-new-aid-offices-India-costing-442-000-just-one-example-disturbing-way-British-taxpayers-money-wasted.html" target="_blank">aid spending in the <em>Daily Mail</em></a></span>. <em>The Mail </em>is right to be scandalised that more than £1 billion of the aid budget ends up in British and American private consultancy firms, even more so when you realise that those consultants are often ideologically driven to put private interests ahead of public benefit. That politicians involved in making decisions on aid receive campaign donations from those same consultancies, only adds to the grubbiness.</p><p><span>But for </span><a href="http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/">Global Justice Now</a><span>, our solution is quite different from that put forward by <em>The Mail</em>. The problem is not an excess of generosity by successive British governments who have too much sympathy, but not enough intelligence to make our taxes work to reduce poverty. Nor can the problem be laid, as it so often is implicitly, purely at the feet of a corrupt African elite.&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Rather, the problem is that aid is administered in a very similar way to the rest of our economy, which puts the interests of big business and the market ahead of those of ordinary people, decent public services and human rights.</p> <p>UKIP believes the increase in the aid budget is at odds with austerity, asking why would the government spend so much on foreigners when people here are suffering? But even if you accept the need for cuts, a decent society would shelter the poorest and most vulnerable from those cuts. The whole purpose of foreign aid is that it <em>should</em> primarily benefit those at the bottom of the economic pecking order. It should therefore be the last thing we look to reduce.</p> <p><em>The Mail </em>and UKIP would prefer us to spend money on military spending, a strange choice given the chaos and poverty our foreign wars have left the world. But even a more genuinely difficult decision, say between a new school in Ghana or hospitals here in the UK, misses the point about austerity. The decimation of our public services in recent years isn’t driven by some abstract lack of money. We now have more private control of our society than at any time since the Second World War, and this has continued in boom times and bust times. Look at those examples of privatisation, from healthcare to the railways, and it becomes clear that the state is spending <em>more</em> money on those services today than it did before privatisation. The difference is that now a handful of contracts, free from any meaningful competition, are also making huge profits out of our taxes.</p> <p>We are dealing with a dogma so powerful that simple facts are unable to dislodge it from its throne. That’s because the dogma is making certain powerful people in our society very rich. No wonder, then, that it has also infected aid spending. No wonder that it is being spent on an ideologically-driven project to support private healthcare and education in some of the most impoverished countries in the world. No wonder the Department for International Development is working with the likes of Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Diageo and Monsanto, believing they can help Africa (<a href="http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/myth-6-africa-needs-our-help">which grows a good proportion of <em>our</em> food</a>) to develop a healthy and sustainable food system. No wonder they are <a href="http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/news/2015/mar/17/%C2%A3140-million-uk-aid-money-spent-projects-supporting-nigerian-energy-privatisation">helping Nigeria to privatise its electricity system</a>, even though anyone who has lived through privatisation here could have predicted higher prices and fewer jobs, both of which have happened there.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Aid has become a tool, then, for driving forward the interests of big business and the market. But it doesn’t need to be that way, and simply abolishing it, allowing people to turn inwards, will make society a worse, not a better place.</p> <p>So let’s instead imagine what it could look like.</p> <p>Many people in Britain believe the NHS is the crowning glory of our achievement – taking healthcare out of the hands of the market and big business and running it democratically. It is the lynchpin of a fair society, which encourages equality and democracy, as well as the idea that caring for others is important.</p> <p>Today we could build on that achievement, not only be turning back privatisation in the NHS before it’s too late. We could also help governments around the world to build decent health systems – not to mention sustainable energy that everyone has access too, good schooling for all and the rest. Spending our taxes building decent public services and democratic food systems should be something we are proud of.&nbsp;</p> <p>But if we’re ever to get to there, we also need to change the way we talk about aid. We need to stop thinking of aid as the government equivalent of ‘giving to charity’. It isn’t – or shouldn’t be – considered charity, any more than funding the NHS or our education system is charity. It’s about redistributing from those who have, to those who don’t. It’s about building a fair and decent global society where we don’t watch people starve through lack of resources. It’s about starting to put right the damage our governments have done to world over decades and centuries – through wars and unfair trading systems and outright plunder. And that can only be done when priorities aren’t driven by our own government, but by democratic decisions made in the countries which is receiving those funds.</p> <p>The current amount spent on aid is a pittance compared to what’s necessary for this task. Moreover, as long as people see aid in isolation from the wider struggle for social justice, or as a charitable donation, it won’t be possible for aid to become something bigger. Neither will it be possible as long as supporters of aid gloss over the fact that those currently in charge of the aid budget are committed to using it to fill the coffers of consultants and big business.</p> <p>If you’re concerned with making the world fairer, you support real redistribution of income from the richest to the poorest, you use this money to help build decent public services around the world. What you don’t do is pretend climate change isn’t happening, cut taxes on the richest, and bung the money into the military.&nbsp;</p><p><em>A version of this post was first published on <a href="http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/blog/2015/apr/13/why-daily-mail-right-aid-money-wasted-wrong-we-must-reduce-it" target="_blank">Global Justice Now&nbsp;</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay-oliver-huitson-others/ourkingdom-rolling-election-blog">OurKingdom rolling election blog</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/helen-tilley/politics-of-aid-pie-in-sky-or-feet-on-ground">The politics of aid: pie in the sky or feet on the ground?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/roger-c-riddell/is-aid-working-is-this-right-question-to-be-asking">Is aid working? Is this the right question to be asking?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurKingdom OurKingdom Nick Dearden Wed, 15 Apr 2015 23:11:11 +0000 Nick Dearden 92010 at https://www.opendemocracy.net NHS pledges - do even the politicians making them, believe them anymore? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/carl-walker/nhs-pledges-do-even-politicians-making-them-believe-them-anymore <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Recent history suggests NHS pledges are there to be broken - or subverted. Perhaps voters would prefer less manifesto, and more information on the financial interests driving policy making.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/2nv-QNWCjWJa-U_05w4JhxBJYDCimni6CPuMYgrKUdk/mtime:1429103232/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/Liverpool_Santa_Dash_2009.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/So1VJCl32tXfrAgfefd2IKAKzCWNf3C24oS2iHM4gYY/mtime:1429103139/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/Liverpool_Santa_Dash_2009.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Santa Dash through Liverpool, by Ben Kidlington / Flickr.</em></p><p><em><span>"Nick (Clegg) has made mental health a huge thing for our party - it's going to be one of the five key pledges on our manifesto." :&nbsp;</span></em><span>Danny Alexander.</span></p><p><span>You have to hand it to Danny Alexander. The Lib Dems time in coalition will be remembered above all for their </span><a href="http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/have-the-lib-dems-kept-their-promises/5980"><span>broken pledges</span></a><span> – not to mention their support for austerity which has damaged mental health and </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/12/mental-health-funding-changes-lives-risk"><span>cut mental health funding more sharply</span></a><span> than other healthcare.</span></p><p><span>So Alexander’s almost childlike capacity to still attach&nbsp;meaning to a Liberal Democrat political pledge is rather endearing; like a child still trying to find ways to believe in Santa. </span></p><p><span>There is an illness now endemic in Westminster. Pledgitis is a disease both savage and strange in its grip. The key symptom is an uncontrollable desire to make promises that everyone knows won’t be kept. Moreover, on hearing the pledges of other, opposing politicians, the illness compels you to react with a slew of yet more counter-pledges. </span></p><p><span>Pledgeitis seems to be particularly virulent when talking about the NHS. </span></p><p><span>The disease is thought to have its </span><a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/02/end-pledge-card-politics"><span>origins in the New Labour era, if not earlier</span></a><span>. </span></p><p><span>But David Cameron may have been the vector who brought in a virulent, mutated form, where even the person making the pledge knew it wouldn’t be kept.&nbsp; &nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Cameron had a particularly nasty bout of pledgeitis at a speech to the Royal College of Pathologists in 2009. He pledged never to tamper with the NHS with all the vigour of Nye Bevan reincarnate.&nbsp; &nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Once elected, from 2010-2012 he drove through an act of parliament to impose on the NHS the biggest change it has seen in 70 years. </span></p><p><span>But you see this is what pledgeitis does to you. </span></p><p><span>We knew that Nick Clegg had gone down with it when</span><span> he pledged to put treatment for mental health conditions on a level with physical health from 2015.</span><span> </span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Our politicians now swap NHS pledges on an almost daily basis. </span></p><p><span>Miliband pledges a profit cap on private healthcare companies, that is quickly criticised as ‘</span><a href="http://www.gponline.com/labour-nhs-profit-cap-unworkable-warns-gp-election-candidate/article/1340811"><span>unworkable’</span></a><span>.</span></p><p><span>Clegg pledges to invest </span><a href="http://www.libdemvoice.org/p37-what-are-the-liberal-democrats-talking-about-today-mental-health-and-the-manifesto-for-the-mind-45259.html"><span>£3.5bn in mental health</span></a><span> over the life of the next parliament.</span></p><p><span>Labour guarantees </span><a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/generalelection/general-election-2015-women-to-be-guaranteed-onetoone-midwife-care-during-birth-labour-promises-10168855.html"><span>one-to-one midwife care</span></a><span> during labour and birth. </span></p><p><span>Cameron hits back with a </span><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32260220"><span>pledge for £8bn </span></a><span>to meet Simon Stevens NHS funding target. Of course he already made an NHS spending pledge a few months ago (£2bn per year in his autumn statement), and he has </span><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/04/11/nhs-funding-jeremy-hunt-tories-general-election_n_7045436.html"><span>no idea how it can be funded</span></a><span> (or if it’s enough) but it doesn’t matter because he made a pledge.</span></p><p><span>You can almost feel the euphoric release of endorphins that accompanies the temporary relief from their illness. &nbsp;</span></p><p><span>Soon I expect one of these poor souls will pledge to personally cure everyone of every illness in the world and to do it within the space of a parliament. And then their opposing number will promise to do it in half the time. &nbsp;</span></p><p><span>The causes of this strange condition are manifold and complex. </span></p><p><span>We might recall how the 1997 New Labour pledge to ‘cut NHS waiting lists’ had the (unwanted?) side effect of a ‘</span><a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/world_at_one/programme_highlights/1000317.stm"><span>concordat</span></a><span>’, signed in 2000, for far greater NHS funding for the private health industry.</span></p><p><span>Now the Lib Dems pledge to reduce mental health waiting lists – despite having </span><a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2910370/NHS-DOUBLES-spending-private-beds-mental-health-patients-slashing-hundreds-beds-save-money.html"><span>closed &nbsp;1,500 mental health beds since 2010</span></a><span>, with </span><a href="http://www.alphahospitals.co.uk/"><span>private players like Alpha Healthcare</span></a><span>&nbsp; expanding fast into the gap. Alpha – whose private mental health facilities for young people in particular have been dogged by </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/02/sue-bailey-mental-health-staffs"><span>deeply worrying inspection</span></a><span> reports - is </span><a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/world_at_one/programme_highlights/1000317.stm"><span>owned by one of the Lib Dems largest donors</span></a><span>, the Choudhrie family, we might note. &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p><p><span>So - how can we cure the politicians of pledgitis and save an increasingly befuddled general public?</span></p><p><span>Perhaps we could forbid politicians from making any NHS pledges or in the lead up to general elections.</span></p><p><span>We could ask them instead to produce one, more meaningful public document in the lead up to future general elections. </span></p><p><span>This document would list all party funders and their health-related investments. All party candidates and advisors and their health related investments. And it would list all meetings between parties and private healthcare executives, the insurance industry, and their lobbyists and front groups. All nicely in date order, brought together for the first time one nice easy to read glossy document. No more, no less.</span></p><p><span>A confused public would finally have a clearer picture of exactly which way the parties are going to be leaning on the key issues of NHS privatisation and cuts. </span></p><p><span>So voters would be able to see at a glimpse whether </span><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12401049"><span>more than half of the donations to the Conservative Party came from the City of London</span></a><span> as they did in the last election year, 2010, and think about what that means. &nbsp;</span></p><p><span>We’d see who is in the Conservative Party’s &nbsp;‘Leader's Group’ (annual membership £50,000), Treasurers' Group (£25,000) and Renaissance Forum (£10,000). </span></p><p><span>We could reflect on an itemised list of the </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/03/healthcare-companies-links-tories-nhs-contracts"><span>private health care firms with Tory links</span></a><span> that have been awarded NHS contracts worth nearly £1.5billion since 2012. And that Care UK has won a string of huge contracts including much of the 111 service and prison healthcare. Its former chairman John Nash and his wife have </span><a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/fury-tory-party-donors-handed-3123469"><span>boosted Tory coffers by £247,250</span></a><span>. </span></p><p><span>Maybe it would be useful for people to think pre-election about how </span><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/jos-bell/tory-links-of-health-agencies-exposed-as-hunt-lines-up-next-nhs-selloff-in-england"><span>Circle Health landed £1.36billion worth of health service work</span></a><span> after several ­of its investors gifted £1.5million to the Conservatives. In fact Circle Health’s parent company Circle Holdings PLC is owned by a series of hedge funds, all of whom were founded by major Tory party donors. Maybe people really won’t care that Lansdowne Partners (29.2% stake), founded by Sir Paul Ruddock, donated £692,592&nbsp;to the Tories or that the owner of Odey Asset Management (14.8% stake), Robin Odey, donated £220,000. </span></p><p><span>Of course, we’re told that ‘it doesn’t matter who provides services, so long as standards remain high’. But Circle continues to win contracts, even as <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/caroline-molloy/hinchingbrooke-why-did-england%27s-privatised-hospital-deal-really-collapse">its flagship privatised hospital contract ran into the ground</a> on the back of an inspection report that highlighted severe patient neglect, short-staffing, and the worst rating for ‘caring’ of any hospital ever. </span></p><p><span>From the </span><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/jos-bell/tory-links-of-health-agencies-exposed-as-hunt-lines-up-next-nhs-selloff-in-england"><span>ongoing cash bonanza to Tory-linked recruitment agencies</span></a><span>, to the </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/18/nhs-privatising-gallops-on"><span>sale of our blood plasma service to Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital</span></a><span>, such a document may even prompt a rethink on the Westminster rules that currently allow MPs and Lords to vote on legislation </span><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/andrew-robertson/healthcare-coup-lords-didnt-save-us-first-time"><span>even if they have a financial interest</span></a><span> - a conflict banned at local council level.&nbsp; </span></p><p><span>But perhaps more importantly, it will put to an end to election period breakfasts of the British public being collectively ruined by front page news articles where crazed and party leaders promise to give every single family in Britain access to their GP 25 hours a day simply because the other guy promised 24.&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ournhs/carl-walker/four-reasons-nick-clegg-is-no-mental-health-saviour">Four reasons Nick Clegg is no mental health saviour</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ournhs/andrew-robertson/should-peers-be-able-to-vote-on-health-reforms-that-affect-their-financial-i">Should Peers be able to vote on health reforms that affect their financial interests?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ournhs/jos-bell/tory-links-of-health-agencies-exposed-as-hunt-lines-up-next-nhs-selloff-in-england">Tory links of health agencies exposed as Hunt lines up next NHS sell-off in England</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> ourNHS OurKingdom ourNHS Carl Walker Wed, 15 Apr 2015 13:06:42 +0000 Carl Walker 92008 at https://www.opendemocracy.net So much for free speech: Southampton University and the pro-Israel lobby https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/hilary-aked/so-much-for-free-speech-southampton-university-and-proisrael-lobby <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If our universities can’t stand up to the Israel lobby and uphold free speech, how will the international community ever stand up to the state of Israel and uphold international law?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/F3W_YKnIrJunB5pVbxDCbjvUFaI8tjnrBl8WHAq1uws/mtime:1428657957/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/3203997919_736aa2f8f5_z.jpg" alt="Microphone surrounded by crowd at Trafalgar Square." title="Voice your opinion" width="460" height="262" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Whose voices are we hearing? Flickr/Farrukh. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>An academic conference, <a href="http://www.southampton.ac.uk/israelpalestinelaw/index.page">International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism</a>, was due to start this Friday but the University of Southampton - citing spurious ‘health and safety’ concerns - <a href="http://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/statements.page">cancelled</a> it, following <a href="///D:\Documents\---%20Working%20PhD%20Folder%20-%20Bath%20University%20---\WRITING\Journalism\OpenDemocracy\electronicintifada.net\blogs\ali-abunimah\israel-lobby-uk-officials-attempt-shut-down-univ-southampton-conference">intense pressure from the pro-Israel lobby</a>. Despite many academics <a href="http://freespeechsouthampton.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/a-selection-of-lettersto-university-of.html">writing to the university</a> expressing their dismay and a <a href="https://www.change.org/p/the-university-of-southampton-uphold-free-speech-allow-the-conference-on-israel-and-international-law-to-proceed">petition</a> which garnered wide public support, an application at the High Court yesterday denied organisers a judicial review and the conference has now been <a href="http://freespeechsouthampton.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/conference-postponement.html">postponed indefinitely</a>. While an outrageous affront to freedom of speech, Southampton’s capitulation to external pressure is not hugely surprising. The Israel lobby has a long history of censorship, including in universities, which are no longer bastions of free speech.</p><p><span>In early March a UC Berkeley conference called </span><a href="http://crg.berkeley.edu/content/censoring-palestine">Censoring Palestine at the University: Free Speech and Academic Freedom at a Crossroads</a><span> was convened to discuss the apparent escalation in this repressive trend, in the US and beyond. It’s a phenomenon that has occurred in response to heightened criticism of Israel which in turn is a result of the moral outrage generated by three successive Gaza ‘wars’ in six years – wars, Richard Falk observed at Berkeley, better characterised as massacres, so one-sided was the slaughter.</span></p> <p>This article seeks to answer two key questions: why is it that universities can be bullied into silence by pro-Israel groups? And why is it that Israel can’t stand to be criticised? In the process it offers a critique not only of Israel and Zionism but also of the neoliberal university.</p> <h2>Palestine/Israel on campus: why universities matter</h2> <p><span>Universities have long been a </span><a href="http://israelcc.org/">key site of concern</a><span> for the pro-Israel lobby. The idea that the ‘</span><a href="http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/israel-international/israel--middle-east/Top-Ten-2013-Report.pdf">leaders of tomorrow</a><span>’ receive their education in environments hostile to Israel is compounded by the fear that attitudes acquired in this formative period often persist throughout life. On top of this, </span><a href="http://www.davidproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012524-ABurningCampus-RethinkingIsraelAdvocacyAmericasUniversitiesColleges.pdf">trends in the academy are seen as prescient</a><span> of the future direction of society as a whole. And, just as throughout history progressive movements have emanated from campuses, universities are witnessing a surge Palestine solidarity activism.</span></p> <p>Losing the argument at the grassroots, one relatively sophisticated response to this from Israel-advocates has been to facilitate the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/education/2011/apr/12/soas-israel-studies-posts">expansion of ‘Israel studies’</a>. As a means to influence the ideological environment it is a long term strategy and it would be wrong to suggest every academic or student in the field is a mere shill. However, both <a href="http://reut-blog.org/2009/11/22/fighting-delegitimacy-reut-israel-studies-david-newma/">Israeli think tank the Re’ut Institute</a> and prominent Zionist <a href="http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/64392/vital-new-chair-students">Lord Weidenfeld</a> have openly stated that supporting the expansion of Israel studies courses is, in their minds at least, one prong of a broader strategy to counter anti-Israel attitudes. Weidenfeld was one of the backers of <a href="http://sussexacademicintegrity.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/whos-behind-modern-israel-studies-chair.html">Israel studies at Sussex University</a> while the subject has been introduced at the universities of <a href="http://www.bricup.org.uk/documents/HasbaraStudiesBriefing.pdf">Manchester, Oxford and SOAS</a> with the financial support of Trevor Pears, a major donor to the Tory party and <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/peter-oborne-james-jones/pro-israel-lobby-in-britain-full-text">Conservative Friends of Israel</a>. In fact a whole institute – the <a href="http://icsr.info/">International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation</a> (ICSR) at King’s College London - a collaborative project between several universities including KCL and Israel’s Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya was <a href="http://thepenngazette.com/radical-threats-studied-solutions/">originally conceived as a project explicitly intended to challenge the academic boycott</a> by funder Henry Sweetbaum, who had first offered the money to the LSE.</p><p> However, much cruder ways of promoting Zionist perspectives – and silencing pro-Palestinian ones – are also vigorously being pursued. In <a href="http://www.versobooks.com/books/1117-the-idea-of-israel"><em>The Idea of Israel</em></a>, Ilan Pappe has described this phenomenon in Israel itself, where groups like <a href="http://mondoweiss.net/2013/05/protests-bullshit-university">Im Tirzu</a>, standard-bearer for the hard-right ‘neo-Zionism’ that increasingly dominates centres of power in the country, <a href="http://www.imti.org.il/Upload/IsraeliApartheidWeek.pdf">hound dissenting academics</a> like him out of universities. Scholars who have defended Palestinian rights have faced persecution in many other countries too. South African anti-apartheid and gender justice activist <a href="http://www.bdssouthafrica.com/2009/03/banning-of-professor-farid-esack-from.html">Farid Esask was recently banned from speaking at several French universities</a> about Palestinian rights, on the basis of false charges of anti-Semitism. For daring to back boycott as a legitimate tool to put pressure on Israel, Australian academic <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/10/israeli-legal-centre-abandons-lawsuit-against-sydney-academic">Jake Lynch faced a law suit waged by proxy by Shurat HaDin</a>, an Israeli law firm known to have enjoyed a <a href="http://www.spinwatch.org/index.php/blog/item/5550-bds-campaigner-targeted-by-law-firm-with-links-to-israeli-intelligence">close relationship</a> with Israeli intelligence. </p><p>In the United States Rabab Abdulhadi was the latest professor to be singled out for <a href="http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18202/public-statement_rabab-abdulhadi-responds-to-amcha">demonization by the AMCHA Initiative</a> but long lists of scholars have found themselves on the <a href="http://electronicintifada.net/content/campus-watch-middle-east-mccarthyism/4108">blacklists of Campus Watch</a>, a project of the <a href="///D:\Documents\---%20Working%20PhD%20Folder%20-%20Bath%20University%20---\WRITING\Journalism\OpenDemocracy\powerbase.info\index.php\Middle_East_Forum">Middle East Forum</a> (MEF). <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Student_Rights_-_Tackling_Extremism_on_Campus">Student Rights</a>, a similar campus monitoring body in the UK, has both <a href="http://electronicintifada.net/content/how-front-group-student-rights-undermines-palestine-solidarity/12991">undermined student activism</a> and <a href="http://www.studentrights.org.uk/cms/rc1/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/LSE-Middle-East-Centre.pdf">drawn up a dossier criticising LSE academics</a> who defend Palestinians’ rights. (Notably, Student Rights is a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/hilary-aked/student-rights-campus-extremism-study_b_3277503.html">front</a> for the <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Henry_Jackson_Society">Henry Jackson Society</a>, a neoconservative think tank which has <a href="http://conservativetransparency.org/recipient/american-friends-of-henry-jackson-society/">received funding</a> from the <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Abstraction_Fund">Abstraction Fund</a>. It is thus tied in to the same funding networks as Campus Watch, since <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/david-miller-tom-mills/misinformed-expert-or-misinformation-network">MEF also gets most of its money from Abstraction</a>, and both are good examples of what Dr. Deborah Gordon has called ‘the dove-tailing of professional Islamophobia and efforts to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement’). Given these McCarthyist witch-hunts, it is no surprise that Prof. Lisa Rofel, speaking at Berkeley, suggested that Palestine/Israel is today what critiquing capitalism was during the Cold War.</p> <p>These are just a few recent examples. I’ve not mentioned high profile cases like those of <a href="http://electronicintifada.net/content/suppressing-critics-israel-campaign-against-norman-finkelstein/6909">Norman Finkelstein</a> or <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/priyamvada-gopal/when-%E2%80%98liberals%E2%80%99-fail-to-defend-academic-freedom">Steven Salaita</a>, or less well known but highly punitive cases in which student activists have been targeted, such as the <a href="http://electronicintifada.net/tags/irvine-11">Irvine 11</a>. Lower level administrative harassment, from creating extra layers of bureaucracy to monitoring and over-policing, is a common experience of student activists, especially Muslim students advocating for Palestine (Imperial for instance, told FOSIS at the last minute that its recent Palestine conference could not be a public event, forcing them to <a href="https://www.facebook.com/fosischannel/posts/812450945458814">change venue</a>.) Increasingly, attacks are made online anonymously, via websites like <a href="http://www.hamasoncampus.org/">HamasOnCampus.org</a> which seeks to demonises Students for Justice in Palestine in the U.S.</p><p> Mindful, however, that smears can sometimes backfire, some pro-Israel groups, such as <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/The_David_Project">The David Project</a>, an organisation dedicated to promoting Israel on U.S. campuses, has begun stressing softer, normalising, techniques: its <a href="http://www.davidproject.org/students/latte-initiative/">Latte Initiative</a>, for example, emphasised building relationships with key ‘influencers’ on campus, as <a href="https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/04/27/excerpt-battle-justice-palestine/">Ali Abunimah has noted</a>. When these strategies fail, though, pro-Israel groups are very willing to turn to so-called ‘lawfare’ initiatives. In the U.S. there has been at least one lawsuit and four complaints under <a href="http://electronicintifada.net/tags/title-vi-civil-rights-act">Title VI of the Civil Rights Act 1964</a>, an attempt to criminalise activism for Palestinian human rights. In the U.K., Ronnie Fraser notoriously took the lecturers union, UCU, to an employment tribunal, <a href="http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/tribunal-slams-academic-for-bringing-anti-semitism-case/2002841.article">alleging ‘harassment’</a>. Even when unsuccessful, as all these cases have been, they may still engender future self-censorship by exercising a chilling effect. </p> <h2><strong>The power structure shaping the boundaries of acceptable debate</strong></h2> <p>Any discussion of ‘free speech’ and ‘censorship’ without reference to questions of power is meaningless. The critical feature of the Southampton case was the extraordinary pressure the university came on from above. This included interventions by four Conservative politicians: a letter <a href="http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/mps-call-to-scrap-southampton-conference-on-legitimacy-israel/">from ex-treasury minister Mark Hoban MP</a> to university vice chancellor Don Nutbeam, critical comments from <a href="http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/southampton/">Lord Leigh</a> and <a href="http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/mps-call-to-scrap-southampton-conference-on-legitimacy-israel/">Caroline Nokes MP</a> and – most alarmingly – a statement from <a href="http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/pickles-to-southampton-uni-avoid-one-sided-diatribe/">Communities Minister Eric Pickles</a>. Besides the worrying precedent set for academic freedom by government interference in the affairs of an independent higher education institution, this illustrates the power structure shaping what can and cannot be said about Palestine/Israel. At the recent ‘We Believe in Israel’ conference <a href="http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/132412/tory-and-labour-frontbenchers-join-support-israel-we-believe-conference">both Michael Gove and Michael Dugher</a> spoke, proudly declaring themselves Zionists. Numerous other frontbenchers from both main parties count themselves active supporters of Israel while a wider pool of elites can be relied upon to line up as allies of the pro-Israel lobby in times of crisis. </p><p>So when <a href="http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/hilary-aked/legal-attack-student-democracy-after-kings-college-london-backs-bds">KCL students voted to back a boycott of Israel</a>, the country’s supporters, notably members of <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/StandWithUs_UK">StandWithUs</a>&nbsp;- a transnational body which has <a href="http://972mag.com/standwithus-to-take-cash-messaging-from-israeli-govt/101314/">received funding from the Israeli government</a> - were able to elicit a statement from London mayor Boris Johnson which they used to undermine the democratic will of the student body. In the US, political theorist Corey Robin noted the same phenomenon when a host of university presidents lined up to condemn the American Studies Association vote to boycott Israel, dubbing it ‘<a href="http://coreyrobin.com/2014/01/02/a-very-elite-backlash/">a very elite backlash’</a>. In the UK, before becoming head of the Charity Commission, <a href="http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/An-irrational-obscene-hatred">William Shawcross wrote regularly for the <em>Jerusalem Post</em></a>, which could have influenced the body’s willingness to advise student unions (which are registered charities) <a href="http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/hilary-aked/documents-reveal-pro-israel-lawfare-attack-university-college-london">against taking ‘partisan’ positions</a> on this global justice issue.</p> <p>This is not to say that the Palestinians do not have high profile supporters, for there are indeed some; Baroness Jenny Tongue is one prominent example. However, the majority of the political class are reflexively Zionist while the Palestinians draw most of their support in parliament from backbenchers. It’s also clear that ordinary people overwhelming reject Israel’s belligerence, for – as the chair of pro-Israel lobby group BICOM <a href="http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/opinion-how-wise-pro-israel-voices-can-silence-simplistic-bds-activists/">noted with dismay</a> – last summer around ten times as many letters to MPs were sent supporting the Palestinians than supporting Israel. Their voices, of course, count for less - which is why <a href="http://www.spinwatch.org">Spinwatch</a>’s <a href="http://www.academia.edu/5061190/The_Britain_Israel_Communications_and_Research_Centre_Giving_Peace_a_Chance">report on BICOM</a> argued that the PR body has concentrated on shoring up elite consensus. </p><p>Precisely because concepts like freedom of speech cannot be separated from questions of power, it is crucial to understand <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/tom-mills-hilary-aked-tom-griffin-david-miller/uk%E2%80%99s-pro-israel-lobby-in-context">the pro-Israel lobby in context</a>. Pro-Israel groups like <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Bicom">BICOM</a>, the <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Board_of_Deputies">Board of Deputies</a> (BOD) and the <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Jewish_Leadership_Council">Jewish Leadership Council</a> (JLC) enjoy access to elites that advocates of Palestinian rights cannot compete with. The same goes for resources: BICOM, for instance, is funded by billionaire <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Poju_Zabludowicz">Poju Zabludowicz</a>. This all translates into considerable political influence at the top. (Questions about whether the less than democratic JLC can be said to represent the Jewish community and whether it or the BOD should using its power to lobby for Israel when many Jews do not support Israel’s policies remain unanswered).</p> <p>One of the most astonishing facts about the Southampton case was a <a href="http://freespeechsouthampton.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/update-from-organisers-31-march-it-is.html#more">statement by the conference organisers</a> which revealed that the university vice chancellor had not agreed to meet with them, while it was widely reported he had at least one <a href="http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/131944/southampton-university-reviewing-position-over-israel-conference">meeting with external pro-Israel groups</a>, including the BOD and JLC, who were calling for the conference to be shut down. (Ben White has <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/03/israel-lobby-attack-academic-freedom-150322061358503.html">noted the hypocrisy</a> of this since the same groups cite ‘academic freedom’ to argue against boycotts, a neat illustration of the way concepts like free speech are deployed strategically rather than applied consistently). Perhaps we should not be surprised, given that Israeli government ministers have directly asked British government ministers <a href="http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/article3935443.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2013_11_29">to put pressure on universities</a> over support for Palestinians on campus – a fact which might also explain the presence, at a separate meeting about the Southampton conference that included the BOD and four vice-chancellors from Universities UK, of <a href="http://www.jpost.com/International/Southampton-University-defends-anti-Israel-conference-set-for-next-month-393546">Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould</a>.</p> <h2><strong>Neoliberalisation and the counter-extremism agenda</strong></h2> <p>As well as the huge clout of pro-Israel lobby groups, the reason conference organisers were correct to recognise that <a href="http://www.southampton.ac.uk/israelpalestinelaw/call_for_papers.page?">the topic they proposed to discuss had been marginalised</a> has much to do with the government and its agenda for universities – the twin pillars of neoliberalism and counter-extremism.</p> <p>As state-funding is being withdrawn the increased power of external donors allows the likes of Weidenfeld and Pears to shape the syllabus by offering universities pots of money to fund Israel Studies. The threats by <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/11487555/Universitys-anti-Semitic-Israel-conference-condemned.html">‘at least two major patrons’</a> of Southampton University, reported to be ‘considering withdrawing their financial support’ because of the conference may well have made up the vice chancellor’s mind. After all, the same formula worked, outside of the university context, <a href="http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/tricycle-theatre/">at the Tricycle theatre</a>. Meanwhile, the huge emphasis on employability means the university was no doubt alarmed by <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/11506045/Southampton-University-conference-questioning-right-of-Israel-to-exist-scrapped-after-protests.html">lawyer Mark Lewis’s threat to look ‘unfavourably’ at CVs</a> sent by Southampton graduates. More generally, the prospect of graduating with 50 grand debt after steady increases in fees likely also acts as a <a href="http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20130227.htm">disincentive for students to be politically active</a> - though many still are. </p> <p>But if neoliberal environments, as universities are fast becoming, are already conducive to depoliticisation, this is <em>especially so</em> where they meet ‘anti-extremism’ discourses of the war on terror. The government’s <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/jonathan-rosenhead/prevent-education">Prevent policy</a> includes universities in a range of civil society arenas in which it says ‘extremism’ need to be combatted. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/feb/02/counter-terrorism-security-bill-threat-freedom-of-speech-universities">academics warned was a threat to free speech</a> before it was passed in February 2015, made preventing the spread of extremism a statutory duty on universities. This came about in part because a clutch of right wing think tanks such as the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), aided by the right wing press, have inculcated the idea – despite a distinct lack of compelling evidence – that universities are ‘<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8478975/University-campuses-are-hotbeds-of-Islamic-extremism.html">hotbeds of extremism’</a>. <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Douglas_Murray">Douglas Murray</a> of the HJS put that very phrase to work <a href="http://www.express.co.uk/comment/expresscomment/563569/Cambridge-University-s-debates-over-Israel-State">in the <em>Daily Express</em></a> writing about the Southampton conference – also, ludicrously, linking it to the case of Mohammed Emwazi aka ‘Jihadi John’ who merely by virtue of having been to Westminster university, has been seized upon as evidence that universities are ‘<a href="http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150228/world/jihadi-john-university-hits-back.557961">breeding grounds for terrorists’</a>. A Prevent officer was present at a meeting with Birkbeck university officials just before <a href="http://www.ihrc.org.uk/activities/press-releases/11302-press-release-birkbeck-college-buckles-to-far-right-cancels-islamophobia-conference-booking">it pulled out of hosting a conference on Islamophobia</a> in December last year, citing – like Southampton University – concerns about potential protests. <br /> <br /> Given this enormous pressure on universities to restrict ‘extremist’ speech it is unsurprising that pro-Israel actors have increasingly tried to push pro-Palestinian speech into this category. They’re helped in this endeavour by the fact that the definition of extremism is extremely broad and vague. The chief constable of Greater Manchester Police has <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/dec/05/peter-fahy-police-state-warning">explicitly cited pro-Palestinian demonstrations</a> as an example of police uncertainty about how to operationalise the term, which requires them to decide on the spot what is and what is not ‘extremist’. Indeed the word has travelled so far from any connection to violence that Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor used it to refer to a peaceful protest against a speech by deputy Israeli ambassador Tayla Lador-Fresher at the University of Manchester in 2010. ‘Extremism is not just running through these places of education – it is galloping’, <a href="http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/31500/envoy-attack-sparks-fear-israelis-safety">Prosor declared</a>. This is not mere rhetoric but has consequences for how police apply the law. Greater Manchester Police - the same force whose head later admitted the concept of extremism was unclear - paid a visit to one of the young people involved in that demonstration, soon after the protest, and involuntarily placed him on the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/mar/26/hundreds-people-anti-radicalisation-support">Channel programme</a>, as Arun Kundnani documents in his book <a href="http://www.versobooks.com/books/1765-the-muslims-are-coming"><em>The Muslims are Coming!</em></a></p> <h2><strong>Red lines, Zionist hegemony and ‘delegitimisation’</strong></h2> <p>Supporters of Israel would rather not be seen as censorious. The fact that, at Southampton and elsewhere, they increasingly have to resort to these tactics, suggests a rupture. Despite the massive power imbalance and the structural factors mitigating against it, voices in defence of Palestinian rights are growing increasingly bold. If, as Douglas Murray suggested in the <em>Express</em>, these voices were only those of <a href="http://www.express.co.uk/comment/expresscomment/563569/Cambridge-University-s-debates-over-Israel-State">‘fringe weirdos’</a>, they could easily be ignored. However, what we are actually witnessing is a mood-shift in the mainstream: thus censorship,<strong> </strong><a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/03/israel-lobby-attack-academic-freedom-150322061358503.html">as Ben White has observed</a>, is a sign of weakness and insecurity,<strong> </strong>a desperate attempt to stop a sea change in opinion, not just among serious scholars but also the wider public. The enormous groundswell of popular condemnation of Israel is finally creating fractures in elite support - even in our attenuated British democracy, in which foreign policy in particular is rarely up for debate.</p> <p>Though Israel’s military might remains supreme – as we saw last summer when it killed more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza and destroyed or damaged around 96,000 homes - the <em>ideological aspect</em> of its hegemony is in unprecedented crisis. We are witnessing a slow but profound normative transformation. Because of the effects it has had on the Palestinians, Zionism as a political project has failed to win over hearts and minds. Israel has failed to even maintain the façade of a peace process, making the two state solution patently impossible and inevitably increasing calls for a one state solution, which would entail an end to the Zionist project. However, <a href="http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/the_death_of_a_class_warrior_margaret_thatcher_1925_2013">Colin Leys’ observation, applied to Thatcherism by Tom Mills</a>, equally holds here: ‘for an ideology to be hegemonic, it is not necessary that it be loved. It is merely necessary that it have no serious rival.’ In other words, neutralising the opposition by silencing dissent may yet be enough to ensure Zionist hegemony or at least delay its demise. This insight helps us understand the impulse to censor and <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-bravery-of-those-many-jews-who-fight-for-a-fairer-israel-10142296.html">Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is right</a>: ‘more of this will happen as public opinion shifts towards the Palestinians and their long struggle’. </p> <p>It is also true, as Richard Falk has pointed out, that censorship is a symptom of the increasing difficulty of defending Israel <em>substantively</em>. If the question were ‘<a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/against-pinkwashing-israel-201489104543430313.html">what about LGBT rights?</a>’ or ‘why hasn’t Israel made any <a href="http://unitedwithisrael.org/israeli-discoveries-impress-global-medical-community/">medical breakthroughs</a> or <a href="http://www.israel21c.org/technology/innovation/made-in-israel-the-top-64-innovations-developed-in-israel/">technical innovations lately?</a>’, the Israel lobby would have all the answers. But questions about why <a href="https://euobserver.com/opinion/125032">Israel controls the lives and movements of millions of Palestinians</a> without giving them a vote and has done for nearly fifty years; why <a href="http://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/7771">Israel has over twenty laws which discriminate against non-Jews</a>; or why <a href="http://electronicintifada.net/content/usaid-funding-israels-apartheid-road-construction/8827">Israel continues to build settlements and roads for Jews only</a> in occupied territory; these are harder to answer and pro-Israel forces seem to know that any answers they offer are unconvincing; their best bet is to try to stop the questions being asked. But this strategy is not sustainlable.</p> <p>Anxiety – <em>panic</em> - about Israel’s international standing intensifies censorship even within pro-Israel circles. A senior member of the&nbsp;Board of Deputies recently stepped down from his post due to what&nbsp;<em>Haaretz</em><em>&nbsp;</em>called a "<a href="http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/1.642908">ban"&nbsp;on criticising Israel</a>.&nbsp;A few weeks ago the&nbsp;<a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Zionist_Federation">Zionist Federation</a>&nbsp;held an event called "<a href="http://www.zionist.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Crossing-the-Line-ZF-Mar15-v7-LR-page-001.jpg">Crossing the line: is public criticism of Israel acceptable?</a>"&nbsp;(No prizes for guessing their answer.) <a href="http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/hilary-aked/jewish-activists-kicked-out-we-believe-israel-conference">Jewish activists were physically removed</a> from the ‘We Believe in Israel’ conference, testament to a truth <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/20/israel-silence-jewish-dissent-diaspora">Anthony Lerman learnt long ago</a>, that Jewish critics of Israel are often treated most harshly. In 2010 Israeli think tank the <a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Reut_Institute">Reut Institute</a>, in an influential report, came up with a more sophisticated strategy than outright censorship, namely to ‘<a href="http://www.reut-institute.org/en/Publication.aspx?PublicationId=3822">drive a wedge’</a> between ‘critics’ and what they called ‘catalysts of delegitimisation’. </p><p>The invented concept of ‘delegitimisation’ was at once intended to distinguish mild criticism of certain Israeli policies, which Reut said should be allowed, on the understanding that it has PR benefits, from types or levels of criticism it wanted to ring-fence outside of ‘acceptable’ debate. The exact location of these red lines is elusive and particularly the more fanatical wing of the pro-Israel lobby will often simply used the term in an attempt&nbsp; to discredit any criticism of Israel, shrilly accusing everyone from <a href="http://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/Tide-of-Delegitimization">Amnesty</a> to the <a href="http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/myths3/MFdelegitimization.html">United Nations</a> of ‘delegitimisation’. But where the University of Southampton conference over-stepped the line into ‘delegitimisation’ was by asking questions about the relationship between Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state to legal, moral, egalitarian and democratic principles. In other words, it dared to interrogate Zionism. The ‘<a href="http://powerbase.info/index.php/Fair_Play_Campaign_Group">Fair Play Campaign Group</a>’ (whose work is concerned with <a href="http://www.fairplaycg.org.uk/">‘opposing anti-Zionist activity</a>’) was <a href="http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/pickles-to-southampton-uni-avoid-one-sided-diatribe/">quick to condemn it</a>.</p> <p>Luke Akehurst, manager of We Believe in Israel, has claimed he is ‘<a href="http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/132468/jewish-student-was-ejected-we-believe-israel-conference-and-then-allowed-back">not in the business of telling people what to say</a>’. Strange then, that elsewhere he has declared that when criticism ‘<a href="http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-fightback-for-israel-in-the-uk-starts-on-sunday-22nd-march/">crosses red lines and becomes inappropriate</a>’ it must be stopped. We can all agree that anti-Semitic speech is unacceptable, which is why it is illegal. But why should questioning Zionism be taboo? This implication was the thrust of much of the lobbying against the Southampton conference: a letter sent at the end of last year said the event appeared to ‘<a href="http://www.jpost.com/International/Southampton-University-defends-anti-Israel-conference-set-for-next-month-393546">surpass the acceptable’</a>; Richard Falk’s contribution was deemed likely to be ‘<a href="http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/131523/former-minister-voices-concerns-over-southampton-conference-israel-legitimacy">beyond the limits of reasonable discussion’</a>. Less freedom of expression then, more compulsory Zionism.</p> <h2><strong>Legitimacy, international law and intellectual integrity</strong><strong></strong></h2> <p>While important, the discursive struggle overlooks the reality on the ground. Israel’s advocates focus on ‘<a href="http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/believe-israel-conference-focus-communications-battle/">winning the communication battle’</a> and ‘<a href="http://www.herzliyaconference.org/_Uploads/3051winning.pdf">winning the battle of narrative’</a> and rarely stray beyond the level of discourse. But Israel’s ongoing colonisation and human rights abuses are all too real. One side of the ‘battle’ is seeking to uphold the very concrete rights of human beings in international law. The other is concerned with insisting upon the abstract ‘rights’ of a nation state: Israel’s ‘<a href="http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/leo-mckinstry/503068/Leo-McKinstry-Why-Israel-has-an-absolute-right-to-defend-its-people">right to defend itself</a>’ and ‘<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/11468605/Southampton-University-wants-to-debate-Israels-right-to-exist.-But-that-right-is-sacred.html">right to exist’</a>. Not even the most ardent defenders of the union, in the last days leading up to the Scottish independence referendum, made the claim that the United Kingdom had a ‘right to exist’, regardless of the wishes of the people in it!</p> <p>Supporters of Israel are trying to win it legitimacy using illegitimate means, of which censorship is only one strand. Instead, it should be acknowledged that states derive their legitimacy from the extent to which they uphold people’s rights - and lose it when they cease to do so. A Southampton-style conference ‘<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/11487555/Universitys-anti-Semitic-Israel-conference-condemned.html">would not be permissible about another country’</a>, claimed Mark Lewis, while Simon Johnson of the JLC asked ‘What other state…is subjected to such critique?’ The claims echo the ‘<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-how-to-spot-a-lame-lame-argument-1667373.html">what-aboutery</a>’ of many defences of Israel but can be answered by history and international law. </p><p>Is Israel unique in facing criticism or practicing censorship? No. <a href="http://www.ipsnews.net/2000/01/east-timor-aseans-commitment-to-new-nation-tested/">Opponents of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor faced similar pressures</a> in countries that were allied to Indonesia: ‘In May 1994, then Philippine President Fidel Ramos, bowing to pressure from Jakarta, tried to ban an international conference on East Timor in Manila and blacklisted Ramos-Horta [the Nobel peace Laureate who would later become president of East Timor]. Later that year, Ramos-Horta was made persona non grata in Thailand and banned from entering Bangkok in 1995 to teach at a diplomacy training program at prestigious Thammasat University’ (I am grateful to Professor Stephen Zunes for pointing to this example). Israel is not special. Power always wants to censor its critics.</p> <p>The special significance of the Southampton conference was its attempt to restore the primacy of international law, and to judge Israel – and measure its legitimacy - by these universal standards, like any other state. But just as the pro-Israel lobby’s free-speech exceptionalism is eroding freedom of speech, Israel’s exceptionalism in its flouting of international law&nbsp; - (it’s impunity has gone on so long that the phrase ‘<a href="http://electronicintifada.net/content/bbc-publishes-list-key-terms-used-israel-palestinian-conflict/6463">illegal under international law, but Israel disputes this</a>’ has become a BBC institution) - is undermining the very laws themselves. The Southampton conference blurb observed that sometimes international law can be ‘the very instrument of rationalisation of violence and suffering.’ As if to prove this, Israeli law firm Shurat HaDin will soon hold a conference apparently geared towards <a href="http://israellawcenter.org/activities/law-of-war-conference-towards-a-new-law-of-war/">re-writing the Geneva Convention</a>, a novel way to bring Israel’s actions in line with international legal principles.</p> <p>Though the phrase ‘speaking truth to power’ has been overused, the Southampton University case and the wider litmus test of Palestine/Israel, illustrates the real importance of freedom of speech. But if our centres of so-called intellectualism can’t stand up to the Israel lobby and uphold free speech, how will the international community ever stand up to the state of Israel and uphold international law?</p> <p>Southampton university’s vice chancellor would do well to heed <a href="http://palestinetoday.tumblr.com/post/272235337/edward-said-on-intellectuals-and-the-question-of">Edward Said’s words</a>, on intellectual integrity and the question of Palestine: ‘Nothing in my mind is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position that you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political, you want to keep a reputation of being balanced, moderate, objective. Your hope is to remain within the responsible mainstream. For an intellectual, these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence.’</p> <p>Said noted that these behavioural traits are often encountered in connection with ‘one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it’ but concluded that ‘despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken.’</p><p><span><em><strong><span>Liked this piece? Please </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>chip in £3</span></a><span> here so OurKingdom can keep producing independent journalism.</span></strong></em></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ghassan-khatib/palestine-and-two-state-phantom">Palestine and the two-state phantom</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/michael-bailey/strange-death-of-liberal-university">The strange death of the liberal university</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/jonathan-rosenhead/prevent-education">Prevent Education?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Palestine </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom Arab Awakening OurKingdom Palestine Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Hilary Aked Mass or elite movements? Wed, 15 Apr 2015 12:25:40 +0000 Hilary Aked 91913 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Good Friday and the wait for a new politics in Northern Ireland https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/david-mitchell/good-friday-and-wait-for-new-politics-in-northern-ireland <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Northern Ireland's peace process may be upheld as an international "model", but it still has a long way to go in shifting identities away from tribalism and towards mutual recognition.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/C5BdtsgPmJUcXzNP8JVqyIJgwSlSnOxyJ7hUeuCRxuI/mtime:1429040081/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/8646554078_f544f692c0_z.jpg" alt="Image of Stormont House." title="Stormont" width="460" height="245" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Stormont Parliament Buildings, the home of the Northern Irish Assembly. Flickr/Amanda Slater. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On Saturday, 11 April, 1998, the <em>Irish Times</em> announced the multi-party agreement reached in Belfast the day before with the headline “Easter 1998”. It was, of course, a factual statement: the negotiators had missed the Holy Thursday midnight deadline and the document had been finalised on Good Friday. However, to those well versed in Irish history, the headline had a greater depth of meaning. </p> <p><span>The rebellion led by Patrick Pearse against the British in April 1916 is often referred to as “Easter 1916”. The </span><em>Irish Times</em><span>’ implication was that the 1998 Agreement could be as significant a turning point in the centuries-long conflict as Pearse’s Rising. Yet, at the same time, the </span><em>Irish Times</em><span> was drawing attention to the dramatic contrast between the natures and meanings of the two events.</span></p> <p>Pearse, a fervent Catholic, imagined himself as a Christ figure, shedding his (and others’) blood for the redemption of the Irish people during the very season in which Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. Eastertide 1998 had a different theological resonance. This time, the sacrifice was not of blood but of enmity and hatred, or at least of maximal political demands. It appeared to be an historic compromise that heralded new relationships, a society resurrected from the violent past and set free for the future. In sum, the headline captured the twin hopes that many people placed in the Agreement in its immediate aftermath: that it would be historic in significance and reconciliatory in effect.</p> <p>The historic nature of the Agreement, at least, is beyond doubt. Despite dramatic changes in the party-political landscape and some relatively minor reforms contained in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, Northern Ireland is governed as broadly set out on 10 April 1998. However, seventeen years on, the accord has not yet brought the kind of inter-communal reconciliation that many assumed was its ultimate purpose.</p> <h2><strong>Identity politics</strong></h2> <p>Sporadic street violence, paramilitary attacks, conflict over symbols, parades and “dealing with the past”,&nbsp; as well as residential and educational segregation, have all continued, despite the operation of the Good Friday institutions, while those institutions themselves have frequently been paralysed by Orange versus Green disputes.</p> <p>Whether anything fundamental about Northern Ireland politics has really changed since 1998 was in sharp focus yet again after the recent <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-31930496">Westminster election pact</a> between the Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party, the two largest pro-British parties. The deal, designed to avoid splitting the unionist vote in four marginal constituencies, was widely condemned as sectarian – evidence that unionists, hankering after the Protestant privilege of the past, will do anything to keep out the other side.</p> <p>For unionists, it was simply a pragmatic response to ensure that pro-Union voters did not lose out in the “winner takes all” Westminster system. (Sinn Féin, the main Irish nationalist party, incidentally, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-31941035%5d">was rebuffed by the SDLP</a><strong> </strong>in its attempts to form a rival pact on the grounds that the idea was sectarian). Sectarian or not, the pact at least demonstrated how the constitutional issue, allied to identity politics, continues to trump all other issues and cleavages.</p> <p>This is not what was meant to happen. The rationale of the Agreement was that the national question could be “parked” by the principle of consent i.e. everyone agrees that Northern Ireland remains in the UK for now and that this can change in the future if a majority wish. In the meantime, both sides get on with building a united and prosperous society. The Agreement allowed unionists and nationalists to retain their national aspirations but did not allow either side to realise those aspirations without taking account of the identity and fears of the other side.</p> <p>Unionists, in order to preserve the Union, would have to ensure that Northern Ireland was a place to which nationalists could feel belonging, while nationalists, to attain Irish unity, would have to convince unionists that they had something to gain, or at least nothing to fear, from a united Ireland. Parties would have to “compete for mutual assurance” rather than “compete in mutual attrition”, as the SDLP’s Mark Durkan, one of the Agreement’s chief architects, puts it.</p> <h2><strong>An international model?</strong></h2> <p>Yet instead of undertaking the self-examination and change that might win over those of a different political point of view, unionists and nationalists have, to a great extent, nursed their own wounded identities and defended their borders. The repeated detonation of disputes stemming from the Troubles (arms decommissioning, police reform, demilitarisation, controversial commemorations, “on-the-runs”, enquiries, including or excluding paramilitary-linked parties) has worked against the unwinding of conflict identities and stoked the suspicion that preferred constitutional futures are best guaranteed, not through generosity and rational arguments as the Agreement intended, but through communal solidarity and power. As a result, the growth of non-ethnic party politics has been stunted.</p> <p>Moreover, given the future constitutional uncertainty, many in Northern Ireland have calculated that “dealing with the past” really means dealing with the future, and that any ground given on the past is a zero-sum loss that only assists the other side in pursuing its constitutional ideal. The Agreement drew a moral equivalence between the two sides which was threatening to both. Now, victories on the past boost morale in the present and enhance the odds for the future. Or so it is thought.</p> <p>A pall of negativity has rested on the Northern Irish political scene at least since the <a href="http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/isctsj/filestore/Filetoupload,481119,en.pdf">Belfast City Hall flag protests</a> began in late 2012. There has been failure to make substantive progress on the three issues which are symptomatic of the underlying and ongoing identity conflict: flags, parades and the past. Logjam in Stormont is mirrored by logjam in a parading dispute in North Belfast. Question marks hang over Northern Ireland’s acquired status as an international model for conflict resolution. While the Executive has struggled with conflict legacy matters, many of the famous “bread-and-butter” issues have also flummoxed it, with impasses in relation to a raft of policy areas, a state of affairs not eased by worsening austerity. And the public has been paying attention. According to the <a href="http://www.ark.ac.uk/nilt/2013/Community_Relations/RLRELAGO.html%5d,">2013 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey</a><strong> </strong>the proportion of people who think relations between Protestants and Catholics are better now than five years ago has fallen from sixty-five percent in 2007 to forty-five percent in 2013.</p> <h2><strong>A long wait</strong></h2> <p><span>Yet the weight of evidence suggests that the political progress that has been made is irreversible. The Agreement was the outworking of twin processes: strengthening ties between the evolving British and Irish states, and learning on the part of the parties in Northern Ireland that the long-imagined, exclusivist utopias were precisely that – utopian. The difficulties of implementing the Agreement were not inevitable, but neither were they surprising after decades of violence which left few families untouched. &nbsp;That violence, so polarising during the “Troubles”, has been in continuous, if at times, faltering, decline since 1998.</span></p> <p><span>It follows that a sustained period of peace and political stability will further “de-escalate” identities away from tribalism in the direction of mutual recognition and trust. The wait, however, for a truly new politics in which the Orange-Green divide is obscured by new alliances and issues, may be a long one.</span></p><p><em>The piece is an edited extract from <strong>'Politics and Peace in Northern Ireland: Political Parties and the Implementation of the 1998 Agreement',</strong> by David Mitchell, to be published in September 2015 by Manchester University Press.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/chris-bambery/britain%27s-strange-silence-on-democratic-unionist-party">Britain&#039;s strange silence on the Democratic Unionist Party</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/blog/ourkingdom-theme/damian-oloan/2008/12/11/northern-ireland-bill-of-rights-meets-unionist-no">Northern Ireland Bill of Rights meets Unionist No</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Northern Ireland </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Northern Ireland Civil society Conflict Democracy and government David Mitchell Wed, 15 Apr 2015 08:56:26 +0000 David Mitchell 91993 at https://www.opendemocracy.net BMA backs principles of NHS Reinstatement Bill to save NHS from destruction by market forces https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/allyson-pollock/bma-backs-principles-of-nhs-reinstatement-bill-to-save-nhs-from-destruction-b <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As politicians squabble over NHS funding figures, the British Medical Association's Council has backed the principles of radical legislation which would get the costly 'market' out of the NHS.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="MsoNormal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/EUcTjmMk1E_6Ltk6gu1bywYtXYT3Y8HA_kWoJXNrxpg/mtime:1429011552/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/AllysonPollock2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/fQdJKAhFENGCrZzXQ_mcuYXk9JHpZ9y27cIR1Ctvt4g/mtime:1429011455/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/AllysonPollock2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="421" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Professor Allyson Pollock, member of the BMA Council and their working group examining neccessary legal changes.</em></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>The stated policies of the</span><span>&nbsp;</span><span>British Medical Association are to end the market in health care, oppose the purchaser provider split, and to reinstate the Secretary of State’s duty to provide universal health care throughout England.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The BMA has made its position clear - not only in its <a href="http://bma.org.uk/working-for-change/policy-and-lobbying/general-election-2015/read-the-election-briefings">general election briefings</a> but in full page advertisements where it has declared that its doctors support a “<a href="http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/news/political-news/bma-launches-major-campaign-against-point-scoring-in-run-up-to-the-election/20009210.article#.VSz3ifmJsSk">publicly funded, publicly provided</a>” NHS.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The BMA has now gone as far as setting out the principles of the legislation it would expect to see after the election.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>&nbsp;On 11th March 2015, the BMA’s Council completed its examination of two sets of legislative proposals on the NHS set out in Private Member’s Bills laid before the House of Commons.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The purpose of its examination was to analyse two bills - the NHS (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill, presented by Labour MP Clive Efford and supported by 11 Labour MPs; and the proposed NHS Reinstatement Bill subsequently presented – on 11th March 2015 –&nbsp;<strong>as the NHS Bill 2015</strong>&nbsp;by Green MP Caroline Lucas and supported by 11 Liberal Democrat, Labour, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The BMA Council established a large working group, of which I was a member, to identify which proposals in the Bills were in line with and would further BMA policies.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>In response to the reports of that working group the Council unanimously agreed to support legislation which furthers implementation of strong and clear policies of the Association concerning:</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>• restoration of the Secretary of State’s duty:</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>o to provide and secure provision of services in accordance with the National Health Service Act 2006 for the purpose of the comprehensive health service that it is his or her duty to promote, and</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>o to provide listed services throughout England under section 3 of that Act,</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>• limits on the Secretary of State’s powers over operational matters and day-to-day running of the health service,</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>• abolition of the purchaser-provider split, the internal and external market and competition,</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>• the ending of PFI in the NHS,</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>• the exemption of the NHS from TTIP, and</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>• the moral unacceptability of the Immigration Health Charge,</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>• ensuring public accountability</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span>• supporting national terms and conditions.</span></strong><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>BMA Council also unanimously insisted that where legislation to abolish the purchaser-provider split, the internal and external market and competition involves structural changes the legislation must be implemented in a flexible and devolved way in order to minimize concerns about potential disruption that might result from implementation of those policies.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>BMA policy is made by the annual representatives at its Annual Representative Meeting.&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal">The BMA is not alone. The King’s Fund has recognised the<span> ‘</span><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-31145600"><span>disastrous’</span></a><span> impact of the Health &amp; Social Care Act, reporting recently that s</span><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-32057948"><span>ervices are deteriorating faster</span></a><span> than at any time since the early 90s, with waiting lists at a record high, morale low, and GP and mental health services under severe strain. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Another Kings Fund report released in the last month has</span><span> also set out how </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/mar/18/key-labour-nhs-pledge-impossible-to-deliver-says-influential-thinktank"><span>without a re-organisation that scraps the autonomous nature of Foundation Trusts</span></a><span class="MsoHyperlink"><span>,</span></span><span> it will be impossible for the NHS to avoid EU competition law (even without TTIP).</span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>There is growing concern too over </span><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/david-wrigley/is-%27devomanc%27-beginning-of-end-of-national-health-service"><span>Osborne’s surprise announcement</span></a><span>&nbsp;which would shift £6bn of NHS and social care funding and decision making to the yet to be elected Manchester mayor. Responding to that announcement, Dr Mark Porter, Chair of the British Medical Association, said:</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>&nbsp;</span><span>“We need assurances on who is responsible if these changes go wrong.</span><span>&nbsp;Doctors believe the Secretary of State for health should have the duty to provide a universal and comprehensive health service.”</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Only legislation will do this. And the principles of what is needed is set out in the NHS&nbsp;Bill 2015, which is the product of over two years work by the Campaign for NHS Reinstatement.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>It is highly significant that the BMA has said it will support legislation to support its policies. Now it is up to voters to demand that their candidates support the NHS Bill 2015 and the legislation required to restore the duty to provide in the first Queen’s Speech of a new parliament. There is very little time left. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>To contact your parliamentary candidates please visit </span><a href="http://www.nhsbill2015.org/"><span>www.nhsbill2015.org</span></a><span> and TAKE ACTION.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ournhs/caroline-molloy/new-law-proposed-to-stop-nhs-becoming-simply-memory">New law proposed to &quot;stop the NHS becoming simply a memory&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ournhs/caroline-molloy/efford%27s-save-nhs-bill-does-it-do-what-it-says-on-tin">Efford&#039;s &quot;Save the NHS&quot; Bill - does it do what it says on the tin?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> ourNHS OurKingdom ourNHS Allyson Pollock Tue, 14 Apr 2015 11:30:01 +0000 Allyson Pollock 91983 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What Dave, Vince and Ed don’t tell you about zero-hours contracts https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/alex-j-wood-brendan-burchell/what-dave-vince-and-ed-don%E2%80%99t-tell-you-about-zerohours-contra <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Zero-hours contracts have existed for decades, so why are they suddenly a hot topic? Instead we need policies that tackle the wider problems of employer control and working-time insecurity.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/OQXYCObYoyxdod9UWgVRFqkp7Kc3yaBzKzQfgkRiOCI/mtime:1428580771/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/556729/14048745645_99d236099a_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/OPVi0GBZT3-coQcbyf827q2SKpeVfKVhIf9wxqz4080/mtime:1428579617/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/556729/14048745645_99d236099a_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>David Cameron visits Colchester Plus in Colchester. Flickr/The Prime Minister's Office. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><span>The election campaign has been dominated by the topic of zero-hours contracts. Yet, our political leaders have been a source of much confusion (sometimes deliberate, sometimes because they themselves are confused) with regards to understanding both this problem and its solution.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Zero-hours contracts are ‘employee contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours.’ Interestingly, such employment has existed for decades; in fact <a href="http://www.britishpoliticalspeech.org/speech-archive.htm?speech=201" target="_blank">20 years ago</a> Tony Blair promised to end zero-hours contracts. Strangely though they have only become the focus of major media and political interest in the last 18 months, following a July 2013, newspaper exposé on a major retailer which was found to be employing 90% of their 23,000-workers in this way.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Given the recent rise in prominence of zero-hours contracts, we might expect that the number of people employed on them to have rocketed in recent years. The <a href="http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/contracts-with-no-guaranteed-hours/zero-hour-contracts--2014/analysis-of-employee-contracts-that-do-not-guarantee-a-minimum-number-of-hours.html" target="_blank">Office for National Statistics</a> now estimates that around 6% of employment is through zero-hours contracts; this represents around 1.8 million people – around the same number as currently unemployed. The Labour Force Survey shows that their prevalence doubled between 2004 and 2012 (data after 2012 can't be accurately compared due to the much greater recognition of zero-hours contracts amongst respondents). However, there is evidence to suggest that this may not be much higher than in the late Nineties – let alone the early Nineties when there were similarly high levels of underemployment but for which there is no data.&nbsp;Therefore, why have they only become such a hot topic now? And why weren’t they central issues of previous elections held in recessions when zero-hours contracts were probably also at elevated levels?<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>The reality is that we have no accurate way to measure the number of people on zero-hours contracts. For example, if someone is employed on a zero-hours contract and they have not been given any hours for three weeks, should this still be counted as zero-hours employment, or should they instead be counted as unemployed?</p> <p>This is not to deny that we are dealing with a phenomenon that is causing misery to individuals and families on an industrial scale. The heart of the matter is that zero-hours contracts are emblematic of a much more general phenomenon. The discussion surrounding zero-hours employment has clearly touched upon something which many people can relate to.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>However, the definition of zero-hours contracts is too narrowly focussed. The key issue is not that they offer no hours, but that they offer no security of hours. This zero security causes people anxiety, stress and problems with life/work balance. How can you plan your childcare or social life if you do not know when and how often you will be working? And if paid hourly, how can you ever be sure of whether you will be able to pay your bills or provide food for your family? The crux of the problem is that these contracts are a form of employer-controlled flexible scheduling and a large body of research demonstrates that this plays havoc with employees’ well-being, health and work/life balance.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Yet, zero-hours contracts are only one specific form of this much wider employment practice used by employers and managers to keep a tight link between fluctuations in demand and labour costs by varying the number and timing of employees’ work hours. In fact analysis of the <a href="http://eurofound.europa.eu/surveys/ewcs/2005/european-working-conditions-survey-2005" target="_blank">2005</a> and <a href="http://eurofound.europa.eu/surveys/2010/fifth-european-working-conditions-survey-2010" target="_blank">2010</a> waves of the European Working Conditions Survey shows that employer-controlled flexible scheduling has increased in the UK by seven percentage points to 24%. This is the biggest increase in Western Europe and means that around 7 million people in the UK experience employer controlled alterations to their schedules! To make things worse, workers often have little notice of these changes.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Cameron argues that zero-hours contracts suit some people, such as students. And it is true that some people don’t mind being on a zero-hours contract, particularly if they or their household have other sources of income. But in-depth research into experiences of zero-hours contracts clearly shows that “enjoying the flexibility” of a zero-hours contract is a myth for many workers. This is especially true for those at bottom of the occupational ladder, who have little bargaining power. In reality, it is the employers who have all of the flexibility to offer or withhold work when it suits them. Employees are usually afraid to refuse work when it is offered to them because they fear that they will be punished by not having work offered to them in the forthcoming weeks and months.</p> <p>If this is the problem, then what is the solution? When David Cameron admitted to Jeremy Paxman that he<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9ae_dAi7tw" target="_blank"> ‘couldn’t live on an <em>exclusive </em>zero-hours contract’ </a>this was widely understood as an admission that he couldn’t live on a zero-hours contract. But an exclusive zero-hours contract is a specific form of zero-hours employment in which the employee is contractually forbidden from working for another employer.</p> <p>On the 26 March the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 became law and banned this practise. Therefore, Cameron was actually saying that he couldn’t live on a type of zero-hours contract which his government had already outlawed. His stated perspective is that zero-hours contracts no longer constitute a problem. With exclusivity banned, the flexibility they provide is presumed to be beneficial to both employers and employees and thus the Government’s job is done.</p> <p>Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Business Secretary, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/aug/25/vince-cable-rogue-employers-clampdown-zero-hours-contracts" target="_blank">publicly agrees with Cameron</a> (whilst in private he no doubt realises that this is nonsense). What makes this type of employment so insidious is not its contractual nature, but rather that workers feel blackmailed into working because they fear that refusing to work will cause their manager to retaliate by offering them reduced hours in the future. It might be illegal to contractually ban a zero-hours employee from having a second job but there is no way to stop a manager subtly punishing a worker by cutting their hours or increasing the unpredictability of their schedule.</p> <p>Moreover, it is not clear why Cameron and Cable identify exclusivity as being the major issue when research shows that the real problem is insecurity. The coalition Government essentially stifled debate by limiting their consultation to this one issue. With exclusivity banned, do they really think that all zero-hour workers will get second and third jobs, which will be able to provide them with greater income stability? Even if they do, they will still suffer the stress and anxiety of not being able to plan their family and social lives and will have the additional stress of trying to balance the unpredictable demands of zero-hours employment with a second job.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Cameron and Cable claim that the flexibility of zero-hours contracts works for both employers and employees. But research shows that this will only be true if employees have control over scheduling; low-paid workers are likely to have little control. Politicians should be seeking to protect the most vulnerable workers through policies which increase their control over scheduling, so that their lives are no longer at the whim of their employer’s demands.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband has made headlines by claiming that he wants to <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32147715" target="_blank">‘end the epidemic of zero-hours contracts.’</a> Although Miliband clearly recognises the damaging consequences of insecure scheduling on people’s lives, it is far less clear how his proposal would help. Actually, there is reason to believe that it would make the situation worse. Miliband proposes that all zero-hours workers who have worked regular hours for 12 weeks should then have a legal right to a contract which reflects these regular hours. But there are number of problems with this proposal:</p> <p>Firstly, as made clear by the Employment Appeals Tribunal <a href="http://www.employmentcasesupdate.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed12286" target="_blank">ruling</a> on Pulse Healthcare Ltd v Carewatch Care Services Ltd &amp; Ors (2012) it is already the case that, legally, contracts of employment must reflect the true agreement of employment. So if employees are expected to consistently work regular hours then their contract legally reflects this regardless of what the written contract states. So this proposal is only formalising the existing situation and bringing written contracts into line with the legal contract.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Secondly, an important reason why zero-hours contracts are used is that they enable employers to schedule workers irregularly, in order to match fluctuations in demand. Therefore, very few workers employed in this way are likely to work regular shift patterns over a twelve-week period. It has been widely reported that Miliband’s policy would end 90% of zero-hours contracts, but this is surely erroneous as Miliband himself claims that it is the unpredictability of these working arrangements which makes them a problem.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Thirdly, a simple way for employers to avoid these regulations would be to ensure that workers do not have a regular shift pattern and thus the policy would actually exacerbate the irregularity and unpredictability of zero-hours employment and thus increase the suffering of workers employed on them.</p> <p>Finally, employers could also avoid them through moving zero-hours workers on to contracts with such minimal regular hours that workers are forced to accept unpredictable overtime in order to make ends meet. This is already a major practice of one of the UK’s largest employers, where workers are frequently employed on contracts of just four and a half hours a week but also work large amounts of overtime – paid at the same rate.</p> <p>What is needed instead are policies which not only deal with the specific problems associated with zero-hours contracts, but which tackle the wider problems that stem from the much broader growth of employer-controlled flexible scheduling and working-time insecurity.&nbsp;</p><p> Unfortunately, Cameron’s and Cable’s unwillingness to introduce any regulation that will tie employers, and Miliband’s narrow understanding about the reality of employers’ unfettered control of hours and schedules in any job (not just zero-hours contracts) leaves all the main parties with flawed policies to deal with these forms of flexible employment which are a source of misery to millions of people in the UK today.</p><p><span><strong><em><span>Please donate to OurKingdom </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>here </span></a><span>to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you.</span></em></strong></span></p> OurKingdom OurKingdom Brendan Burchell Alex J Wood Tue, 14 Apr 2015 10:39:49 +0000 Brendan Burchell and Alex J Wood 91882 at https://www.opendemocracy.net OurKingdom rolling election blog https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay-oliver-huitson-others/ourkingdom-rolling-election-blog <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Asking the questions and covering the stories most media won't.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/polling-station-005.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/polling-station-005.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="276" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><em><em>It's election season. We'll be providing regular comment and analysis of events as they unfold, and monitoring Britain's biggest selling broadsheet and tabloid newspapers so that you don't have to. Check back for regular posts from across the openDemocracy team.</em><span>&nbsp;</span></em></p><p><em>Entries tagged OH are Olly Huitson, AR, Adam Ramsay, AB, Anthony Barnett. Others will get full names. Enjoy.</em></p><p><strong>April 21st</strong>: <strong>The Welsh Liberals</strong></p><p>Who was the last Prime Minister who was born in Wales?</p><p>It is, of course, a trick question. The answer is Julia Gillard, former Australian PM. But the last resident of 10 Downing Street born in the Principality was also the last Liberal Prime Minister, Lloyd George. I wrote below about the decline of the Scottish Liberals - about how a Scot had led the party for more than half of the 20th Century, about how 3/5 of the last Liberal MPs and 4/6 of the Lib Dem leaders ever are Scots. </p><p>Wales, though, given its size, has also played an important role in the party's past - and vice versa. One of the most controversial things that last Liberal government did before WW1 was disestablish the Church in Wales. Historian friends tell me there were riots in England at the time, this was such a shocking act.</p><p>Also shocking then, from a long term historica perspective, is that the excellent folks at Cardiff University's <a href="http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/electionsinwales/">Elections in Wales blog</a> are predicting, based on the latest polls, that the Liberals/Lib Dems will, for the first time since elections can really be called such, have no seats West of the border. </p><p>This raises another question. Currently, the coalition parties have a total of twelve seats in Scotland, and eleven in Wales. If current polls prove accurate, the Tory/Lib Dem partnership will have between them eight seats in Wales (out of forty) and two in Scotland (out of fifty nine). If, based on English votes, the Tories and Lib Dems managed to retain power at Westminster despite such low levels of representation in two of the UK's constituent parts, I think we would begin to see serious questions being asked about their right to govern.</p><p><strong>April 20th: no, Cameron isn't more popular than Miliband in Scotland</strong><em>&nbsp;</em></p><p>One of the "facts" everyone keeps repeating in this election is that Cameron is more popular than Miliband in Scotland. This was repeated in <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11548880/Westminster-doesnt-matter-all-the-SNP-cares-about-is-separation.html">James Kirkup's analysis today</a>. It isn't true.</p><p>The statistic is based on polling from a few months ago which usually asked questions along the lines of "who is doing a better job as leader of their party" or "as Prime Minister/leader of the opposition". In those polls, Cameron consistently beat Miliband, including in Scotland. But that's a very specific question. It's perfectly possible to think that the captain of the other team is doing a better job than the person leading your side. That doesn't mean you like them.</p><p>As the election approaches, pollsters have tended to try to find out which Prime Minister is preferred. Most recently, for example, the Survation poll after the debate asked "If the election was a straight contest between David Cameron and Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister who would you vote for?" among the Scots sub-sample of the poll, <a href="http://survation.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Post-Debate-Poll-Tables.pdf">Miliband led 48 points to 22</a>.</p><p>But don't let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh boys? (AR)</p><p><strong>April 20th: why Miliband will be PM in one tweet</strong></p><p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-20%20at%2016.07.34.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-20%20at%2016.07.34.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="250" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></strong></p><p>Scotland will send at least 56 MPs to London who will back Miliband. The best Cameron can realistically hope for from Northern Ireland is a net score of 5 (if the DUP back him, which I think they won't). This means he has to beat Labour by significantly more in England and Wales than he did in 2010. In fact, every poll for years has shown that the only Labour leader in my lifetime to have grown up in England is doing remarkably well in his home nation. This effect if disguised in the UK-wide polls because a 20% or so fall for Labour in Scotland knocks about 2% off their overal score. But because SNP MPs will back Miliband anyway, this doesn't take away from the final result. (AR)</p><p><strong>update</strong> in fact, <a href="http://www2.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2014/12/15/england-only-data-from-latest-comres-poll-shows-that-the-tories-have-massive-struggle-south-of-the-border/">Mike Smithson has also dug</a> out the England only figures (see below, compared to 2005). The Tories only lead Labour by 1% in England. It's worth remembering that the Tories beat Labour by 0.3% in England in 2005. Labour got 92 more English seats that year.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-20%20at%2016.21.28.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-20%20at%2016.21.28.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="448" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p><strong>April 20th: striking the right tone on immigration</strong></p><p>Today, something remarkable happened in the polls - something which hasn’t happened, as far as I know, in a long time. When <a href="http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/blow-to-conservatives-as-poll-puts-labour-ahead-on-immigration-and-three-more-of-the-six-main-issues-10189336.html">pollsters at Ipsos Mori</a> asked voters which party they trusted most on immigration, they answered not with UKIP, as they have done lately, nor with the Conservatives, as they have done traditionally, but with Labour. For me, this highlights an important point about politics: sometimes, tone matters more than content.<br /><br />Before Nigel Farage raised the issue of health tourism, he did some polling about it. He found that most people share his concern. Polls afterwards confirmed this trend. Despite this, since then, he’s lost his lead on the issue which is perhaps most associated with his party. Let me try and explain why I think this has happened.<br /><br />Over years of knocking on doors, I have spoken to hundreds of people who list immigration as their main concern. In perhaps 90% of those cases, the person has been pretty unhappy about saying it. Usually, the conversation includes something like the famous “I’m not racist, but…” or “I have lots of friends from other countries, but…”.<br /><br />The reaction of both the left and of UKIP types to those sorts of comments is, in effect, not to believe them. The left tends to say “well, you are racist”. In many cases, this may well be true - racism is much more prevalent in our society than most of us ever accept. But that doesn’t mean that the person isn’t at the very least reluctant about their beliefs. They don’t want to hold them. It’s a mistake to ignore that instinct.<br /><br />But UKIP make this mistake too - as, I think, today’s poll shows. Rather than accepting the discomfort, they encourage people to revel in it. It may be that most people think that Farage is right that the NHS shouldn’t treat patients from other countries who are HIV positive. In fact, polls show most people do think that, when asked. But that doesn’t mean that they glory in that belief, that they are proud of it, and it doesn’t mean they like the guy who cheers them on. In my experience, they are pretty uncomfortable about thinking it.<br /><br />I personally find Labour’s position on immigration in this election pretty distasteful. There is not a significant extent to which it drives down the wages of the lowest paid, and Labour shouldn’t, I don’t think, be encouraging people to believe that there is. But it seems that thier tone - critical of UKIP for revelling in it, but sounding like they are concerned, has struck a chord. <br /><br />This is another bad piece of news for the Tories, who are rapidly running out of time. (AR)</p><p><strong>April 19: You thought you had heard it all?&nbsp; How about "Deliverology"?</strong> More on <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/11547808/Revealed-how-Tony-Blair-makes-his-millions.html?WT.mc_id=e_DM12530&amp;WT.tsrc=email&amp;etype=Edi_FAM_New&amp;utm_source=email&amp;utm_medium=Edi_FAM_New_2015_04_19&amp;utm_campaign=DM12530">this</a> soon! (AB)</p><p><strong>&nbsp;</strong> <strong>April 19th: more on my predictions below</strong></p><p>I (Adam) published a few predictions below. I thought I'd just expand a little more on the ones people have asked about.</p><p>First, there has been some speculation about whether Farage will win Thanet South. The reason for my prediction that he will is simple: the cleverest person I know in Thanet (who is a very clever person) tells me that he thinks he will. The UKIP campaign is, apparently, much more active and much better plugged into local issues. I also think Carswell will hold on in Clacton. Reckless may get back in again in Rochester and Strood, but I suspect he won't. I didn't feel much enthusiasm for him when I was there during the by-election. Beyond that, I don't see what seats they are likely to win.</p><p>I think the SNP vote will hold because I see no reason it wouldn't. Apart from anything else, my experience in the referendum was that yes voters tended on average to be much more engaged in politics than no voters. To put it simply, this means that, if you convert the 45% of the 85% of people who voted in the referendum into the 65-70% likely to vote in the general election, then it seems many more of them will show up on the day. The consistent evidence is that these people will vote SNP. That should be enough support to deliver the landslide predicted in the polls.</p><p>On Northern Ireland, Fermanagh and South Tyrone is the most marginal seat in the UK, yet I don't count it as likely to change hands. A couple of people asked about this. The reason I don't think it won't swing is, simply, that everyone I've spoken to about it who knows the seat well tells me that they think it won't. I don't have any good reason to doubt them.</p><p>Finally, the big one. Here's why I think (and have thought for a while now) that Miliband will be PM:</p><p>a) The boundries work in Labour's favour. This is why Cameron was so keen to change them. A tie in the popular vote (as polls currently show) almost certainly means more Labour seats.</p><p>b) In the years before the 2010 election, Lord Ashcroft poured huge amounts of money behind Tory candidates in key marginals. They took seats ahead of the national swing, arguably because of this. When Ashcroft withdrew this funding, the Tories lost a lot of their edge - as the Lord's <a href="http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2015/04/more-conservative-labour-marginals/#more-11278">own polls</a> show, Labour is succeeding in contacting voters in key marginals much more than Tories are.</p><p>c) Add to that Labour's bigger and much younger membership, and their work on organising them, and it's not surprising they are doing better on the ground.</p><p>d) It would have been almost impossible for Miliband to be as bad as most people had been persuaded that he is. Most, as polls have shown, have been pleasantly surprised as the campaign has unfolded. I see no particular reason that this won't continue. Cameron, on the other hand, is having a pretty poor few weeks. Which isn't surprising, as he's hardly a great charismatic figure.</p><p>e) The Tory campaign has included a bunch of announcements which have turned out to be pretty unpopular (right to buy) or which have failed to stick within their frame. Why on earth they have spent so much time dragging the NHS into the debate, I'll never understand. </p><p>f) People in Britain are basically on the centre left. The Tories only got in last time because lots of people voted Lib Dem in the hope of keeping them out, but the Lib Dems did a deal with them.</p><p>f) The SNP will get more seats than the Lib Dems. This is as important as whether Labour will get more seats than the Tories - and we can't even be sure that the Lib Dems will vote against Miliband in the way we can be sure the SNP will vote to sack Cameron.</p><p>g) More generally, Miliband will be able to work with almost every other party in the next Parliament. I'm even coming to the conclusion that the DUP will be more likely to do a deal with Labour - they care more about cash than their bigotry. But half of the parties won't work with Cameron. That gives the Ed much more of a chance to form a government than Dave.</p><p>To put it another way, as I went through in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/left-collection-or-right-cluster-ed-miliband%27s-bumpy-road-to-downing-street">my piece back in February</a>, "The left collection or the right cluster: Ed Miliband's bumpy road to Downing Street", the best way to look at this election is through potential pacts. Unless things change dramatically, the Tories will need the Lib Dems. But the Lib Dems can expect to lose a huge number of their seats, particularly in Scotland and Wales, to parties who will never collaborate with Tories. To make up for this the Conservatives need to win England by significantly more than they did in 2010 (11.5%). In fact, the England only polls show the parties neck and neck. And that means it's curtains for Cameron.</p><p><strong>April 19: prediction time</strong></p><p>Two weeks ago, I emailed my colleagues the below nine predictions. I meant to share them before, but hadn't got round to it. So, here goes: </p><p>- there will be a scandal as lots of people who thought they were regisered to vote will turn out not to be. </p><p>- the SNP vote will hold. They will get at least 45 seat and become the third largest party.<br /> <br /> - both Douglas and Danny Alexander will lose their seats, as will Anas Sarwar, Margaret Curran and many, many more.<br /> <br /> - at least one newspaper will run a headline on Friday the 8th or Saturday the 9th saying explicitly or insinuating that Cameron has won, whether or not he has. </p><p>- Caroline Lucas will be re-elected and be the only Green MP. Greens will, though, come second in a further 5 seats.<br /> <br /> - Plaid Cymru will win 4 seats - adding Ceredigion to their total.<br /> <br /> - UKIP will win 2 seats.</p><p> - Only 1 seat in Northern Ireland will change hands, with the DUP winning Belfast East (though I’m not sure about this).</p><p>- Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister.</p><p>I might come back with a few more over the next couple of days. (AR)</p><p><strong>April 19: Cliché Alert! Danger - chestnuts old and new!! </strong>An entertaining website has been launched, Hamish Thompson writes, called <a href="http://polifiller.com/">Polifiller</a>. It is designed to be an automated political cliché identifier. It encurages you to cut and paste into their magic box and extract of a speech or article and it will put a line through the worst clichés and emptiest lines. </p><div id="stcpDiv">Welcome to Polifiller – a new online tool designed to cut the drivel and clichés out of political speeches.&nbsp; Simply cut and paste a speech or statement into the box below and the “groundbreaking technology” that powers this site (aka, two bits of coconut connected by a string) will put a line through the worst clichés and emptiest lines.&nbsp; - See more at: http://polifiller.com/#sthash.CEJ25u8f.dpuf</div><p> They claim to given the major manifestos a once-over to check for the presence of chestnuts and buzzwords. This is the result so far (the SNPO have yet to publish):</p><ul><li>Conservatives: 200 clichés </li><li>Labour: 58 clichés</li><li>UKIP: 51 clichés</li><li>Greens: 49 clichés</li><li>Plaid Cymru: 48 clichés</li><li>Liberal Democrats: 44 clichés</li></ul><p>They add: The Conservative manifesto features ‘long term economic plan’ and there’s a return for the ‘Big Society’. ‘Balance the books’ and ‘those at the top’ feature prominently in the Labour manifesto. ‘Real change’, ‘the people’, ‘foreign criminals’ and ‘metropolitan elite’ appear frequently in the UKIP manifesto. The Greens’ clichés of choice are ‘long term plan’, ‘Westminster bubble’, ‘bottom up’ and ‘vested interests’. Plaid Cymru favour ‘the people’, ‘our people’ and ‘stand on their own two feet’. The Liberal Democrats include ‘package of measures’, ‘those who need it’, ‘there is more to do’, and ‘a return to boom and bust’.&nbsp; (AB)</p><div id="stcpDiv">Cliché Cliché</div><div id="stcpDiv">Cliché </div><p><strong>April 19th: Labour/Tory pacts<br /></strong></p><p>On Marr this morning, Sturgeon was asked, in effect, if she had no cards to play. She can't allow a Tory government in, so Miliband can just propose a Queens' Speech and dare the SNP to vote it down. She replied that, with the fixed-term parliament act, it's perfectly possible for the SNP to vote down Labour proposals without bringing down the government.</p><p>This does, though, highlight another possibility that it's important to remember. Once the SNP hav helped make Miliband PM, he can talk to everyone, including the Tories. A minority Labour government wouldn't relp just on the SNP for support - it would be able to go, case by case, for support, to every other party in the chamber. Including the Tories. Of course, there would be some awkward negotiations around budgets and Queens' Speeches. But there is no reason to believe that Miliband would rely just on the SNP. Once he's installed, he would be perfectly able to chat to the Tories too. And on things like Trident, that's exactly what I imagine he'll do. (AR)</p><p><strong>April 18th: where are the SDLP?</strong></p><p>Plaid Cymru have been a more significant part of the UK-wide story of this election than they have been in any in the past. So have the Green Party. But there is another party likely to help block Cameron's return to Downing Street. It won as many seats in 2010 as the former and three times more than the latter: the SDLP.</p><p>The Social Democratic and Labour Party are, of course, Labour's sister party in Northern Ireland. On the Nationalist side of the divide, like the SNP, they want to break up the UK. But while this is enough reason for Labour to rule out a coalition with the SNP, Miliband has kept quiet - and hasn't yet been asked, I don't think - about whether this principle applies to a party which his has worked with for years.</p><p>In that context, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05qgcsj">this interview on Radio Ulster with</a> their party leader, Alasdair McDonnell, is worth a listen. (AR)</p><p><strong>April 18th: Scotland polls: this didn't just happen overnight<br /></strong></p><p>In September 2013, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/westminster-2015-will-snp-shake-things-up">I wrote this piece</a> about the liklihood of the SNP winning a significantly increased number of seats in this election. As Ashcroft's polls today show the SNP taking a whole new chunk of seats - including Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy's <a href="http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2015/04/latest-scottish-constituency-polling/">East Renfrewshire</a> by a 9% margin - I thought I'd return to the reasons I gave then for why I thought some big changes might be afoot.</p><p>Specifically, I listed six: </p><p>- The SNP now having many more footholds across Scotland because of winning lots of Holyrood constituencies in 2011, </p><p>- Ed Miliband being significantly less popular in Scotland than Brown was in 2010, </p><p>- More reason for the SNP to invest in this Westminster election than there has been in previous years,</p><p>- More SNP members (which was already true when I wrote the piece),</p><p>- Scotland featuring in the debate and people's memories due to the proximity of the referendum,</p><p>- the collapsing Lib Dems.</p><p>The reason I think it's worth coming back to this is that there is a very simple story emerging about the rise of the SNP in this election. It largely says that the referendum unleashed a huge democratic wave in Scotland, and this has churned everything up. Of course, that story is also true. That did happen, and it's why the polls we're looking at are quite so extraordinary. But this misses the fact that there were already quite a number of the jigsaw pieces in place for this surge long before the referendum got exciting.</p><p>Or, to put it another way, this didn't just happen overnight. Things rarely do. (AR)</p><p><strong>April 17th: re-writing the constitution in the headlines of the Sun</strong></p><p>Last week, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/newspapers-are-preparing-for-coup-and-labour-is-doing-nothing-to-stop-them">I wrote about</a> how the newspapers were attempting to re-write the British constitution to make out that being the person who leads the biggest single political party is who ought to get to be Prime Minister, rather than the person who can command a majority in the Commons. Today's Sun had perhaps the most explicit example I've seen of this yet.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-17%20at%2023.44.19.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-17%20at%2023.44.19.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="404" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>Welcome to the wacky world of a country where the powerful get to make up the rules of our democracy as they go along... (AR)</p><p><strong>April 17th: collapsing centrists</strong></p><p>In the Novara show today (link below) I mentioned a point which my friend Peter McColl has made to me before, that it's not just the Lib Dems who are struggling - their sister paries across the world are in real trouble, most dramatically summed up by the fact that the Progressive Democrats in Ireland literally disbanded a couple of years ago.</p><p>It turns out that it's not just them. The Lib Dem equivilents in Australia have also had trouble in recent years and, it transpires, also dispanded, <a href="http://www.aec.gov.au/Parties_and_Representatives/Party_Registration/Deregistered_parties/democrats.htm">only yesterday</a>, after failing to register 500 members. I wrote below about how they are likely to be wiped out of their historic base in Scotland. Is it possible, though, that, over the next decade, they will follow the fate of their Irish and Antipodean sisters?</p><p><strong>April 17th: Novara</strong></p><p>I was on Novara FM today, chatting about the debate with James Meadway of the New Economics Foundation, journalist Dawn Foster and host Aaron Bastani. You can <a href="http://novaramedia.com/2015/04/challengers-arise-the-end-of-3-party-politics-in-the-uk/">catch the show here</a>. (AR)</p><p><strong>April 17th:</strong> the Campaign for Freedom of Information have published their report on the manifestos <a href="https://www.cfoi.org.uk/2015/04/foi-manifesto-commitments/">here</a>. (OH)</p><p><strong>April 17th: debate reaction</strong></p><p>"It'll hugely damage Miliband", "he'll be framing himself with all the smaller parties", "he'll be attacked from all sides". This was conventional wisdom going into the debates - i.e. this is what the media insisted was the plain truth. Though they might have been right on the third point, the second didn't matter, and the first simply didn't happen. The electoral math and the momentum are key here. </p> <p>Miliband has got increasingly confident as the campaign has gone on, starting with the Paxman interview in which though he may still be a "geek", he at least came across like one who wants to make a few things happen and, importantly, has a rare gift of laughing at the media circus rituals and attacks in a way that few others manage convincingly. That matters in the current climate; voters are entirely disenchanted with the political class, the slick PR men like Blair and Cameron, and a vicious and self serving media. That the media hate Miliband, and that he doesn't seem to care, will actually play in his favour with many.</p><p> Post-Paxman, what has he seen: improving Labour polling, increasing venom and desperation from the press, a final acknowledgment from the press that there's a good chance he may be Prime Minister, and finally, positive polling from the public on his core policies (discussed below). The only person to have had a better campaign than Miliband is Sturgeon, a first class performer who has a gift for making all the London men look like shifty schoolboys.</p> <p>So going into last night's debate Miliband was clearly brimming with confidence, and it showed, he was more polished and comfortable than in the Paxman interview and the first debate. Was he attacked from all sides - of course. Did it hurt him? A little, there were some good blows on the NHS and austerity but he largely held firm and adopted an "above the fray" approach that seemed to work well, and the audience responded approvingly. </p><p>The media have insisted he won't be PM, that it would be a "chaotic" "diaster", or "catastrophe". These words, straight from CCHQ, every day. They are still talking about how Cameron will build his coalition, what he'll need to do to "get his Queen's speech through", and so on. The game is to make the idea of Miliband as PM unthinkable, unmentionable, it just couldn't happen. So what did Ed do? Repeatedly talked about "what I will do as Prime Minister...", "when I'm Prime Minister..." Why? To make sure this is an image and an idea the public are familiar with, to make it credible, to make it normal, to cement it in the public brain. It came across arrogant at times, but I don't think they'll mind that. It was effective.</p> <p>As to the final charge, that taking part would frame Labour as one of the "smaller parties", this didn't pan out and was never likely to. People know Labour are anything but a small party, the public aren't quite that suggestible, there will have been no "who's this lot then?" when the camera panned to Miliband. Secondly the momentum matters: Labour are polling high, neck and neck with the Conservatives, it is clearly more likely EM will be Prime Minister - the first-past-the-post dice are very much in his favour. And Miliband is now riding a wave of confidence. The end result? He performed well, he performed comfortably, and critically, he and every other panellist attacked Cameron for "failing to turn up to defend his record". It wasn't just the left - Farage joined in too, reaching parts of the electorate that would have been unmoved by the same words from the other four candidates. Ed cemented the "cowardice" theme with his last words - challenging Cameron to a 1-2-1 debate.</p> <p>Ultimately, the big loser of the debate, all considered, was Cameron.</p><p> How did Farage do: fairly well, aside from his bizarre decision to attack the audience. As Adam writes below, polling on who wone the debate showed "35% say Ed Miliband, 31% say Nicola Sturgeon, and only 27% say Nigel Farage". Only 27%, for a party with 2 MPs and up against a surging Labour and the always flawless Sturgeon? I think he'll be happy with that.</p><p> And there was an instructive lesson in UKIP's appeal: a persistent failure from the left to accept the most rudimentary basics of supply and demand. Of course Britain's housing and public services are not a dreadful state "because of immigrants", but does adding 300,000 people a year represent a very significant addition to demand? Of course it does, it couldn't possibly do otherwise and it's disingenuous to pretend otherwise. It's a big chunk of the equation, and a broad equation it is - house building policy, buy to let taxation, empty investment homes, people living longer, more people living alone, right to buy, the failure to replace social housing stock, and so on.</p><p> Ultimately, however big the shortfall is from that equation, you need to be building perhaps 90,000 homes a year just to cover the demand from new arrivals (assuming the spare capacity that exists will continue to be 'spare', which it will, short of major changes in policy - which is another debate worth having). The line from Wood, Sturgeon and Bennett was essentially "no, it's not part of the equation, shame on you". That's fantasy economics. And in the real world, where the UKIP vote lives, it plays entirely into Farage's hands. Why have the lessons of the last ten years suddenly been forgotten? (OH)</p><p><strong>April 16th: quick debate reaction</strong></p><p>There's some instant polling out <a href="http://survation.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Post-Debate-Poll-Tables.pdf">from Survation</a> on who won the debates. First, a few headline figures. </p><p>Perhaps the most significant change is that in the "favourite Prime Minister" question, among a weighted sample of viewers, Miliband is now on 45%, ahead of Cameron on 40%. Interestingly, in the straight choice between the two of them, the parts of the UK where he's most popular are Scotland and Wales (with 48% to Cameron's 21% and 60% to Cameron's 34% respectively).</p><p>In general in this election, the more people have seen Miliband, the more they've liked him. Given how much of the Tory strategy has been focussed on making him toxic, this is a real problem for them.</p><p>Next, the figures on who 'won' are interesting. 35% say Ed Miliband, 31% say Nicola Sturgeon, and only 27% say Nigel Farage (with 5% stumping for Natalie Bennett and 3% for Leanne Wood). It's worth remembering that there is a very crowded field on the left here, and a lot of open space on the right. I think, given he had all of the Tory viewers to potentially appeal to, those are quite poor results for Farage, and, as with the last debate, clearly excellent scores for Nicola Sturgeon. Given there was a more clear dynamic encouraging people to vote for the group of parties to Labour's left - led by Sturgeon - it'll be interesting to see if this has increased support for Greens in England at all. With "who performed the best" Sturgeon does even better - topping the poll with 35%, followed by Miliband on 29% and Farage on 26%.</p><p>Finally, there are a series of questions on who did best in each of the policy areas discussed. I won't go through the detail, but <a href="http://survation.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Post-Debate-Poll-Tables.pdf">it's worth skimming</a>. And remember, it includes Tory and Lib Dem voters as well as the parties represented there. For example, 30% in total say that the three leaders arguing against austerity were best, 30% say that Farage (defending it) was best, and 40% say that Miliband's position (a sort of middle ground, I suppose) is best. That shows a consensus among the public that's a long way to the left of British political debate. </p><p>In general, I think this debate will have been good for everyone involved - Farage consolidating his base, a stronger performance from Natalie Bennett and even more of a sense of collaboration with Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood which may have given voters on the left a reason to vote Green, Sturgeon will return home as conquoring hero again, another good showing from Leanne Wood will boost her party (the only Welsh poll since the last debate showed Plaid up from 9% to 12%) and, perhaps most significantly, an Ed Miliband who came out of it looking, for all I don't agree with his support for austerity, like a viable Prime Minister.</p><p>Finally though, I'm skeptical about how much these things make a difference. One TV show rarely changes someone's mind about how to vote. But if people don't change their minds in the next three weeks, Cameron is out of a job. </p><p><strong>April 16: the image of the election?</strong></p><p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-16%20at%2022.45.59.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-16%20at%2022.45.59.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="231" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></strong>As shared by @BBCPolitics, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood congratulate each other at the end of the debate, Ed Miliband looks on. (AR)</p><p><strong>April 16: debate predictions</strong></p><p>Tonight it's the "challengers' debate" on the BBC - Miliband, Sturgeon, Wood, Bennett and Farage. </p><p>First, I suspect that the tone adopted by the SNP, Greens and Plaid against Labour will be “in sorrow more than anger”. Attacking a party in too full-throated a way isn’t a great way to win people who have previously been loyal to it over to your cause. Much better to show Miliband up by providing a more consistent and comprehensive criticism of the Tories than he has done than to go too hard against him.<br /><br />Second, I’d guess we’ll see more mention of policy detail here and there - this is a debate after the manifestos are out. Have your copies at the ready to check for dodgy claims…<br /><br />Third, it’ll be interesting to see the interaction between the Farage and the other four - I imagine they'll largely ignore him, apart from the odd quick attack - it's important not to let him define the debate.<br /><br />Fourth, apart from Farage, we’ll be looking at the collection of parties who, between them, are likely to end up running the country for the next five years (with Labour formally in government, supported by the rest). It’ll be interesting to see whether they come across as having a coherent programme and able to collaborate to deliver it, or as a squabbling mess. <br /><br />Fifth, Miliband will be in trouble with Scottish Labour if he doesn’t attack the SNP (as he largely didn’t last time). However, it’s important for him that he softens the English electorate up to a Labour/SNP pact. This is a bit of a tightrope, and it’ll be interesting to see if he walks it. Maybe expect an attack on something 'bad' about the SNP which only impacts on Scotland, like full fiscal autonomy.<br /><br />Sixth, I suspect Natalie Bennett won’t be attacked much - it’s dangerous for Miliband to go after her and be seen to criticise left leaning policies (which is why Labour thus far have largely ignored Greens). It’s possible that Nigel Farage will go after her - UKIPers hate Greens more than almost anyone. It’ll be interesting to see how she copes.<br /><br />Seventh, I’d expect Farage, as last time, to give a performance which pleases his base - baiting lefties, as they’d see it, but which fails to win over a broader vote.<br /><br />Eighth, so far, the more the public has seen Miliband directly, the more they have warmed to him. There has been a lot of criticism of his decision to take part in tonight’s show. I suspect it will turn out to have been a wise decision.</p><p>So, in general, I wouldn't imagine there will be much of a rammy. Or, at least, if I were advising the leaders (apart from Farage), I'd encourage them to avoid one. We'll see though. (AR)</p><p><strong>April 16: The Mail at its finest</strong><em>&nbsp;</em></p><p>For those readers unaccustomed to reading the <em>Mail</em>, in full, every day, it is hard to describe how much venom it packs into each edition. But this short editorial is both hilarious and a good insight. It's only about 130 words long, it's tiny, on Nick Clegg ("Madame Fifi"), but its just bristles with rage in its trademark, preposterous, moralising, League of Gentlemen absurdity. Headline: "<strong>Send the shameless Madame Fifi packing</strong>". And in those 130 words, it squeezes in: "breathtaking arrogance", "his self obsessed world", "all he cares about is... keeping his job", "his shameless manifesto", "bereft of any glimmer of principle" and "sanctimonious opportunist". The article is roughly the same length as this blog post: it's just a stream of insults. (OH)</p><p><strong>April 16: The <em>Mail </em>on Miliband's children</strong></p><p>In a lengthy assault on Miliband's kitchens and bacon sandwiches (ongoing concerns of the <em>Mail's</em> and, no doubt, the voters) the paper summons the audacity to criticise Miliband for exploiting his children for electoral gain while the Cameron's have "allowed much more limited access to their children". Mr Cameron regularly <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDfCidAaZxE">exploits even his late son</a>, Ivan, to protect himself from criticism of his disastrous policies on the NHS and provision for the disabled, let alone his other children which he has wheeled out for the press regularly - including the <em>Mail</em>. The paper has lapped it up. In the last 10 days the <em>Mail</em> has referenced Cameron's children, including Ivan, five times. The amount of times Miliband's children have been mentioned? Once - the story in question. (OH)</p><p><strong>April 16: Mail on housing</strong></p><p>Somehow, according to the <em>Mail </em>today, a mansion tax will actually make homes more expensive and could "price out" first time buyers "as people fail to sell cheaper homes and move to more expensive ones". I can't follow the sentence, let alone the economics, but something just doesn't seem quite right... (OH)</p><p><strong>April 16: public opinion</strong></p><p>The right wing press, unsurprisingly, have been championing Tory policies as game changers and major vote winners while slamming Labour policies for being poorly thought through and generally rubbish. Interestingly, the <em>Times</em> today publishes polling showing that the public don't quite agree. On core policies Labour are winning. The Tories' right to buy and free schools policies have gone down badly with voters, while Labour's mansion tax, the £8 minimum wage, price freezes for gas and electric have all gone down well. The most popular Tory policy, backed by 80%, is taking anyone on minimum wage out of income tax altogether.</p> <p>It's quite rare to see polling like this, at least so far in this campaign, so well done to the <em>Times</em> for speaking to actual voters about policy instead of pointless quotes from vested interests. For instance, in today's <em>Times</em>, we are informed that potential Labour mansion taxes and threats to Help to Buy "could have negative impacts on the UK housing market" - which is precisely the point of the policies, surely, to dampen prices and draw some tax in the process. And who does this grave warning come from? Zoopla, a company that makes its money from... property sales. </p> <p>Not that we should expect policy polling to become too common. On plenty of big issues (nationalisation for instance) the public are far to the left of Labour, let alone the Conservatives. (OH)</p><p><strong>April 16: NHS</strong></p><p>The old NHS boss David Nicholson today poured cold water on the idea that £8bn – or any other sum pledged so far by Tories, Labour or Lib Dems – would in itself save the NHS.</p><p>Nicholson said that the politicians were ignoring the ‘financial hole’ the NHS is currently in, even as they pledged 24/7 services (Tories) or more doctors and nurses (Labour) or better mental health treatment (Lib Dems).</p><p>He pointed out that that even if the Tories could fund their £8bn pledge, the current NHS boss Simon Stevens had pointed out there was still a £22bn funding gap.</p><p>Nicholson said that meeting this gap through ‘efficiency savings’ – as Stevens has obligingly promised to do - was a “big ask” that would require “big decisions” and more honesty with the public.</p><p><em> </em></p><p>Exactly what might those “big decisions” be, if the politicians stay close to Stevens plans? A closer examination of the evidence to date reveals a worrying cocktail of plans including hospital closures, capped ‘entitlements’, service cuts and conditionality. Read more <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/caroline-molloy/why-%C2%A38bn-is-zombie-figure-that-won%27t-save-nhs">here</a>. (Caroline Molloy)</p><p><strong>April 16: Macroeconomics</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/apr/15/imf-forecast-uk-george-osborne-deficit-reduction-growth-fuel-tax" target="_blank">This </a>is interesting. We know that Osborne only managed to halve the deficit in the first Conservative-dominated term, when he promised to abolish it. The IMF is now basically warning that this remains an ever-receding horizon for any second term, because of the depressive effects of austerity on tax revenues and its expansive effects on benefits expenditures (never mind the reduction of the GDP denominator of the deficit/GDP ratio from what it would otherwise be).</p><div>The problem remains, of course, that this Keynesian 'paradox of thrift' remains much more counter-intuitive than the 'household' economics to which Thatcher famously appealed, and to which Osborne returned with his 'nation maxed out on the credit card' narrative. We have to find a way of putting across in a popular fashion that it is precisely when households, and the rest of the private sector, deleverage that the public purse must be loosened to avoid a self-defeating depression.</div><div>Miliband being macho about Labour's fiscal responsibility isn't entirely wrong (Keynes never believed in sustained budget deficits, as against behaving counter-cyclically) but it doesn't really address the challenge either. He needs to push how Nordic countries achieve fiscal balance much better through the progressive taxation Thatcher destroyed and how it is crazy <em>not</em>&nbsp;to borrow to invest in even vaguely productive capital projects when interest rates are almost zero. (Robin Wilson)</div><p><strong>April 16: Lib Dem/SNP co-operation?</strong></p><p>Andy Myles is former Chief Executive of the Scottish Lib Dems and held various senior positions in the party. Here he is on Facebook this morning.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-16%20at%2011.39.32.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-16%20at%2011.39.32.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>I (Adam) was speaking at a Fabians event last night about potential collaborations between progressive parties after the election. The otherwise very interesting Lib Dem on the panel exhibited a behaviour I'm noticing more and more of down here - bitter and seriously distored nonsense about the SNP.</p><p>From the perspective of anyone who might want some sort of Labour led collaboration of parties to run Britain after the election, this is really dangerous stuff - falling into exactly the trap that the Conservatives and the papers which support them are setting. Of course, in Scotland, every other party is fighting an election against the SNP and it's only fair that they run full throated campaigns. But spreading silly fears about the SNP among the English electorate, who don't have as much direct experience of them, is just playing a tune set by the distorted orchestra of the right wing press. In that context, Andy's intervention is an important one. (AR)</p><p><strong>April 16: The, and I mean 'the', Question for the Lib Dems: </strong>As the Lib Dems published <a href="https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/8907/attachments/original/1429028133/Liberal_Democrat_General_Election_Manifesto_2015.pdf?1429028133">their Manifesto</a> they made it clear that it is a document for entering into coalition negotiations without 'red lines'. Background information, I understand, is that Nick Clegg, David Laws his chief Manifesto drafter, and Danny Alexander, who was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, are all working for a coalition with the Tories. But why, if they want to position themselves <em>between</em> the two main parties should this be the case? The question I have not yet heard them asked by interviewers is this: if on 8 May Conservatives and Labour have exactly the same number of MPs, with whom would the Lib Dems feel they should offer coalition? Such a result would mean that the Tories had lost and Labour gained relative to 2010. It would on balance be a rejection of the Tory dominated coalition by the electorate. Should the Lib Dems cast their face against this? If they really are equally 'between' the two main parties as they claim in public should not their<em> first</em> duty with such an outcome be to to seek a coalition with Labour? Ed Miliband may not want this, of course, which is not my point which is: what do the Lib Dems want? Voters have a right to know. (Anthony Barnett)<br /><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>April 15:</strong> The <em>Mail </em>has come out guns blazing in favour of the Tories' shameless new right to buy proposal. Cutting through the waffle over figures, statistics and all that fluff, it gets right down to business: one of the people who opposes the scheme, a vicar, has a "seedy past" - which they explore in a full article on page 4. The vicar was apparently a fan of "dogging" and "taking drugs" in his youth. "He eventually conquered his shyness with other men when he discovered a lay-by where he could meet strangers and have sex..."</p><p>If that doesn't convince you that flogging off more of our social housing is a great idea, I just don't know what will. </p><p>Only the <em>Mail </em>can turn a story about social housing policy into a grubby hatchet job on gays and drug taking...(OH)</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535628/vicar.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/535628/vicar.JPG" alt="" title="" width="240" height="180" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>April 15: down is up<br /></strong></p><p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-15%20at%2014.11.24.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-15%20at%2014.11.24.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="131" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></strong></p><p>That's the top story on page 2 of today's Sun, making the somewhat controversial case that deflation is an example of economic success. You've got to give it to them - they never stop fighting their party's corner... (AR)</p><p><strong>April 15</strong>: Even the <em>Times </em>is unimpressed with the Tories cheap and utterly short termist pledge to open right to buy to housing associations, claiming it is underfunded and the numbers don't stack up. When right to buy was introduced in the 80s it was in a very different climate with regards the housing market. And yet still it has caused severe long term shortages in housing supply. Many houses that were formerly public assets, used to house those in need, were bought out at knock down rates and subsequently let out as private rents - at the exhorbitant market rates we see today. A third of properties sold under RTB in the 80s are <a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/right-to-buy-housing-shame-third-ex-council-1743338">now rented out privately</a>. This is a huge net loss in social welfare for a large, unearned gained in the private wealth of those taking advantage of the system. Exactly the same thing will happen with the proposed extension - social housing stock plummets, homelessness increases, all for a small number of HA tenants to make massive windfalls. This is a shameful policy, bribing one chunk of the electorate for short term gain at the expense of long term housing capacity. </p><p> So much for the Tories' "long term economy plan"... (OH)</p><p><strong>April 15: another note on Liberal party history</strong></p><p>While I'm on the subject of Liberal Party history (see below) another quick thought. In <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_election,_1892">the 1892 election</a>, the Conservative and Liberal Unionist Parties (who were allied) came first between them, but Gladstone's Liberals teamed up with the Irish Parliamentary Party to sack the Tory PM Lord Salisbury and install Gladstone as Prime Minister. </p><p>Swap the Irish Parliamentary Party for the SNP and Liberals for Labour, and, well, it all sounds a little too familiar... (AR)</p><p><strong>April 15: the quiet death of the Scottish Liberals</strong></p><p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/BBB1884276.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/BBB1884276.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="647" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gladstone's Second Midlothian campaign (http://www.old-print.com/)</span></span></span><br /><br /></strong>The Liberal Democrats have had six leaders ever. The first two served together - David Steel as the former Liberal Leader and Bob MacLennan as the former Social Democrat leader. Both represented Scottish constituencies. So did two of their four successors: Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell.<br /><br />Or we could look at the six deputy leaders the party has ever had, three of whom, Russell Johnston, Menzies Campbell and Malcolm Bruce, have also been Scottish MPs. Going deeper into history, the party was led by a Scot for the majority of the 20th century.<br /><br />We can go back a little further. Three out of the last five Liberal Prime Ministers represented Scottish constituencies: William Ewert Gladstone was MP for Midlothian, Henry Campbell-Bannerman’ seat was Stirling Burghs, and Herbert Asquith stood in East Fife and, later, Paisley. The series of speeches on foreign policy made by Gladstone in 1879 and 1880 are often thought of as the first modern election campaign. They are known as "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midlothian_campaign">the Midlothian Campaign</a>" after his Scottish constituency.<br /><br />The connection between the Liberal Party and Scotland can be traced back for as long as Britain can really claim to resemble a democracy in any sense at all. From the 1832 Reform Act until the election of Lloyd George’s coalition government in 1918, the Liberal Party got the most votes in every single election in Scotland. If you add together the votes for the two factions in the Liberal Party split in 1918 and 1922, then you can go all the way from 1832 to 1924 before you come to an election in Scotland which Liberals didn’t win most votes.<br /><br />There are moments in this history when the dominant Liberals laid nest-eggs for their successors. In 1885, after another extension of the right to vote, the Highlands and Islands elected four MPs from the Crofters Party and an Independent Liberal ally. Over the previous years there had been a wave of civil disobedience, where tenant farmers occupied their farms (crofts) after a century of Highland Clearances. In response, Gladstone’s government passed the Crofting Act, giving some security of tenure. There has been a strand of the Highland electorate who have voted Liberal to this day as a result.<br /><br />Despite this, the Scottish Liberals in the mid-20th century were reduced to one MP in the years after the war: Joe Grimmond, the representative of Orkney and Shetland: a seat which has elected a Liberal MP of one sort or another at every opportunity since parties first ran there, apart from 1835 and 1935.<br /><br />Since this mid-20th Century blip, though, Scotland has once more become a stronghold for the Lib Dems. 11 out of their 57 MPs, or 19.2%, come from North of the border. The Labour party only depends on the country for 41 out the 258 seats it won in 2010, or 15.9%.<br /><br />It seems almost inevitable that, of the eleven Scottish Lib Dem MPs, they are unlikely to keep more than two: Charles Kennedy may marshal enough of a personal vote (though I wouldn’t bet on it), and Alastair Carmichael in Orkney and Shetland seems unlikely to lose the unique seat. When, in the 2011 Scottish elections, people made such predictions, there were many reasonably convincing claims that popular local Lib Dem MSPs would buck the polls. They didn’t. The party now holds no Holyrood constituencies on the Scottish mainland (though it did retain both Orkney and Shetland, which are separated at Holyrood, with significantly reduced majorities). Every constituency they lost was taken by the SNP.<br /><br />To put it another way, most of the coverage of the rise of the SNP has focussed on how it will damage the Labour party. This misses another story: the devastation of the Scottish Liberals. It took them many decades, but they have managed to climb out of a similar hole once before. Will they manage again?<strong> </strong>(AR)<strong><br /></strong></p><p><strong>April 14: </strong>The CBI regularly emails out its views on developments, including through the election.&nbsp; Today, its press office sent out its Director-General, John Cridland's response to the Conservative Party manifesto. It is not yet on its website. On behalf of the CBI Cridland supported raising the threshold on strike action and expressed concern at the prospect of leaving the EU, much else was similarly predictable. But on housing he said:</p><blockquote><p><span><span>“We desperately need bold action to get on with building 240,000 homes a year by 2025 to meet demand. We should aim to build new garden cities to provide the communities our country needs, led by a new independent infrastructure commission. </span></span></p><p><span><span>“Extending the Right to Buy scheme doesn’t solve the problem of boosting the supply of affordable homes.”</span></span></p></blockquote><p>Well, well. Imagine if the CBI had issued such a direct rebuke to Labour's defining committments. Will we see the front page of tomorrow's Times or the Daily Mail or the Telegraph shout out, "Business leaders squash key Tory pledge as irrelevant"? I suspect not. The press distorts as much by what it does not emphasise as by what it does.(Anthony Barnett)</p> <p><strong>April 14th: </strong>Weighty analysis continues at the <em>Mail </em>where Ed Miliband's past relationships continue to generate much hilarity and column inches. They haven't quite settled on a new name for him yet but top of the running is 'Raunchy Ed' and 'Randy Ed'. The highlight of last week though was surely the reaction of Jan Moir to Miliband's antics, branding him "an easy liar, a man of low honour, a chancer".</p><p>Both the <em>Times </em>and the <em>Mail </em>have been quite frequently citing the Tax Payers' Alliance. I wasn't even aware this dubious, T-Party'esque lobbyist was still running, let alone still being cited by papers as some sort of authority. (OH)<strong><br /></strong></p><p><strong>April 14th:</strong> Labour's feeble plan to merely allow the state to compete for contracts with the private rail operators is to the <em>Mail</em> another "huge victory for the left wing unions". Considering the national disgrace that is the private rail heist (most expensive trains in the world acording to <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/british-train-fares-are-highest-in-world-but-london-slips-down-priciest-cities-list-1774544.html">USB</a>), you might think the first moves towards renationalisation would be primarily a victory for Britain's rail users - the people who support renationalisation by a margin of 60% in favour compared to only 20% against. The public are far to the left of Labour on the trains, and yet to read the <em>Mail </em>you'd think this is just another rotten stitch up between "Red Ed" and the dastardly unions. </p><p>Public monopolies - Stalinist. Private monopolies - must be protected. (OH)</p><p><strong>April 14th: On violence, class, repetition, and forgetting Ed Miliband was punched<br /></strong></p><p><strong> </strong>One of the notable things about reading the Telegraph and Sun every day is that they repeat particular events endlessly until they are 'things'. At the same time, they quietly ignore other events, so as to ensure they don't become 'things'. One example of this is the Miliband bacon sandwich incident, which is still repreatedly referred to. Another is Miliband forgetting to mention the deficit in his confernece speech.</p><p>The thing that's remarkable, though, is the opposite. The stories which are brushed under the carpet, ignored. Let me just piece a few bits and pieces together.</p><p>Yesterday, at the Labour manifesto launch, there were Tory party activists outside, with Salmond and Sturgeon masks. Michael Gove was with them. The Telegraph has a sketch by Michael Deacon, <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11533898/Election-2015-sketch-Theyre-making-the-Greens-look-credible-Ed-Miliband-launches-the-Labour-manifesto.html">where he discusses this</a>. The piece itself is perfectly reasonable, surprisingly nice about Miliband.</p><p> But now, remember this. On the evening after the not-quite leaders' debate, Ed Miliband was assaulted by a group of people who were, strangely enough, also wearing Alex Salmond masks. According to the Daily Mirror, <a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ed-miliband-punched-shoved-protesters-5409428">they punched and shoved him</a>. These are masks often used by the Tories for stunts.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-14%20at%2013.20.56.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-14%20at%2013.20.56.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="450" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>Were the people who assaulted the leader of the opposition Tory party activists? I don't know. But I do know this. The Telegraph ran a long article a few days ago about how SNP supporters in the East End of Glasgow <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11529177/The-bullying-behind-the-SNPs-smiles.html">can sometimes be rough</a>. The article includes allegations of some genuinely nasty behaviour. But unlike the mysterious Salmond-masked man who punched Ed Miliband, there is no allegation of violence.</p><p>Here's my question. If Cameron had been assaulted by someone wearing a hard-to-get prop often used in Labour stunts, or SNP stunts, and if those props showed up again outside a Labour event, would the Telegraph simply ignore the previous assault in its sketch? Or would this incident be dragged out and hinted at at every possible opportunity, to imply that Labour activists, or SNP activists, are violent, rough.</p><p>Of course, the idea that Tory activists might be the only ones to have actually commited an act of vilolence against a prominent opponent is something the media is much less likely to believe or report or repeat. Not only does that damage the Tories, it doesn't fit with their understanding of the world. </p><p>The week before Scotland's referendum, I was stood outside the Scottish Parliament, by chance next to a prominent British broadcaster and a journalist for a major broadsheet. Britain First, the largest fascist party in the UK, were passing as a part of the much larger Orange march calling for a no vote. The broadcaster lent over to the journalist and, overheard by the friend I was with, said something along the lines of the following "I get the impression that the yes campaign is getting increasingly rough, you know, working class, violent". </p><p>If that's an attitude seen as acceptable by any major journalist, it's no wonder the Telegraph treats Glaswegians being nasty as thugs, while possible-Tories being actually violent are largely ignored.</p><p><br /><strong>April 14th: On bumping into (and singing for) the Prime Minister<br /></strong></p><p>OK, I (Adam) have a bit of a late night exclusive for you. My friend Robin Grey ran into David Cameron today. Being an enterprising sort of chap, he pulled out a musical instrument and sang a rude song at the Prime Minister, suggesting he return to his old school. The footage made it onto <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05p5hb9/look-north-north-east-and-cumbria-13042015">the BBC</a> and <a href="http://t.co/rqVQi5mFIZ">ITV</a>.</p><p>Here's what Robin has to say for himself.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-14%20at%2001.35.03.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-14%20at%2001.35.03.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Robin, covered on the BBC</span></span></span></p><blockquote><p>It is way past my bed time; I am wired on adrenaline right now. The day did not turn out quite as planned when I sat down to eat my oats at a friends mum's house near Thropton, mid Northumberland this morning...<br /><br />I love cycling and had strapped all my things onto the back of my trusty old bicycle with the goal of getting to my Nana's place for late afternoon tea. It is her 90th birthday soon and I was looking forward to seeing her as it had been ages since I'd been up this way. <br /><br />The computer said Seahouses was 36 miles and involved a 840ft peak... Hmmmm...<br /><br />I realised that I need to work out where to eat lunch and Alnwick looked like a nice quiet half way place to get refuelled.<br /><br />The route peaked a few miles before Alnwick and it was a welcome downward decent into the town when I was rudely cut up by a big blue bus. I wondered what sort of bus would drive like that, whilst at the same time noticing a big green tree and.... Oh, the Tories... Ha.<br /><br />Immediately after pulling out of a side road infront of me (it was clearly my right of way as I was on the main road), the bus pulled over to the side of the road and parked up. There was a flash of blue balloons and suddenly a media circus descended upon a rather 2D looking David Cameron.<br /><br />It was staggering how staged the whole thing was. Literally there were people dotted around who had obviously been hand picked to 'bump' into him. There was also so few of them... If you got rid of the press and people who came off the bus you could probably count the supporters on your hands and feet.<br /><br />I stood in utter disbelief as he walked by me. You can see me in one of the ITN videos taking a photo of him just after he got off the bus. I retired to the other side of the road to consider my options.<br /><br />Pre first thought... I really want to make Adam Ramsay's election hero of the day tweet... #confession #inspiration<br /><br />First thought... The egg... Pros... He gets egged... Cons... I have no eggs and don't want to get arrested as I will be late for my Nana.<br /><br />Second thought... Shouting loudly... Pros... Few... Cons... Boring<br /><br />Third thought... Ah, I have been touring/performing the show 'Three Acres And A Cow, A History Of Land Rights And Protest In Folk Song And Story' this week... That means I have my guitar and my UKULELE #awesome #plantastic<br /><br />Right... What song to sing... <br /><br />So even as I started to improv the refrain 'f@&amp;k off back to Eton', I thought... Could do much better... but it was from the heart and they didn't give me much time to work on my lyrical content...<br /><br />But before I knew it... He is crossing the road and walking towards me! WTF?<br /><br />To be clear, I had stood on the opposite side of the road and was merely intending a medium distance heckle song... Perhaps a safe bit of middle class protest... But when they crossed the road... Well there were lots of cameras and that nice security man who asked me to change the lyrics as there were children present, which seemed a good point and I did. The lyrics relaxed to a more polite 'please go back to Eton' which luckily enabled the BBC to broadcast a little.<br /><br />I decided I had had more than enough fun and sought peace sat a few mins walk away at an outside table belonging to a lovely little cafe in the cute cobbled town square near a lovely bunch of pensioners. After ordering soup and a cheese toasty I was bemused to see Tory party organisers apologise to the pensioners that David was not coming to talk with them now as he had a change of plan #whoops #mybad #sorry #ruiningthedaybyaccident<br /><br />Then other things happened but I am sure that is enough from me for today. Thanks for reading and you might like this video of the song with extra verses and my Nana doing dance moves(ish) for your viewing entertainment... http://youtu.be/iNDAbjU5UCs</p></blockquote><p>You can here the full song (which he wrote in retrospect) <a href="https://t.co/vwq4lnHtbL">here</a> and find out more about Robin's escapades singing about British political history at: http://threeacresandacow.co.uk/ and http://pedalfolk.co.uk/</p><p><strong>April 13th</strong><strong>: Who are the conservatives now?</strong></p><p>I have just read the <a href="http://www.labour.org.uk/page/-/BritainCanBeBetter-TheLabourPartyManifesto2015.pdf">Labour Party’s Manifesto</a> and <a href="http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2015/04/13/ed-miliband-manifesto-speech-in-full">Ed Miliband’s speech</a> launching the same. Picking up from <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/old-order-is-dying-but-refuses-to-go-quietly">Adam’s terrific article</a> on how the UK is not a naturally neo-liberal, right-wing assortment of nations, but rather our media is dominated by a neo-liberal, right-wing assortment of newspapers, I am struck by the conservative nature of Labour’s offering. Not Tory, but one-nation conservatism: fiscal responsibility, belief in the natural greatness of the country, desire to reach out and include all working people, determination to be better with no profound sense of anything fundamental being wrong that needs correction. </p> <p>It’s well and professionally done. And if Cameron really is the caring, Macmillan style conservative he originally positioned himself to be then he’ll be eating the carpet with jealousy! </p> <blockquote><p>An inclusive wealth-creating economy works when there is a shared sense of responsibility, so we will be a government that is both pro business and pro-worker (p17)</p></blockquote> <blockquote><p>Opportunity must belong to everyone and not just a few. We will lend a helping hand to all those who need it, but we will also ask more of individuals and communities. We can only rebuild our country if everyone plays their part and feels they have a stake in society. (p 12) </p></blockquote> <p>There is a neat analysis by the Independent’s<a href="mailto:http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/6-labour-manifesto-policies-that-arent-quite-what-they-seem-10173019.html"> Jon Stone</a> on how Labour’s Manifesto pledges may not mean what they seem. But let's leave playing with the Devil to later blog entries. It's not the details but the approach, the body language and the type of confidence the Manifesto communicates, that is now the opposition’s strategy for power. </p> <p>As we are discussing how distorting media coverage is, please note that Labour’s approach is rooted in its past, stretching back to the end of the last century. </p> <p>In the first Labour <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/first-labour-hustings">leadership husting</a> sponsored by the New Statesman, there was a telling exchange between Ed Balls and Ed Miliband. With five candidates having to answer all the questions, each was given two minutes per question. When Stagger’s Editor Jason Cowley put the economic one he started with Balls, who went over time. Only after multiple requests did he stop, Cowley then went to Ed who, looking down on his former and senior colleague, joked, “It’s like being back at the Treasury”. Balls shook with indignation the lèse-majesté of having his leg pulled by a former intern!&nbsp; </p><p>What was striking was that it was the kind of joke you’d once have expected only Tories to have made, with all the presumption and familiarity of office that went with their being the one-time 'natural party of government'. </p> <p>The Labour slogan is for a better country, but what they are really saying is that they will better at running the country. If only because this is a pretty low hurdle we can confidently say they they would be. Provided nothing untoward happens. But if Adam is right about England being on the centre-left, then could Cameron and Osborne emerge as the winners as they throw an extra £8 billion at the NHS. (Anthony Barnett)</p><p><strong>April 13th</strong>: You'd never guess the country was facing a prolonged housing crisis from reading the <em>Mail</em>. On page 28 it runs a piece overflowing with excitement that buy to let has created "2m private landlords" with returns on investment since 1996 of "1,400%". There is only a fleeting mention of the recent news that many young people have now entirely given up hope of ever owning a home - something the buy to let boom has been a primary driver of. But for the <em>Mail</em>, landlords, estate agents and the banks, it's trebles all round.(OH)</p><p><strong>April 9th:</strong> The right wing press have struggled with Labour's non-dom policy. Aware that it plays well with the public and keen to avoid the appearance of sticking up for the ultra wealthy in the era of food banks, the right wing press have adopted a tone of 'it's not so much the policy that's wrong, it's the way they've done it'. Though warnings of 'wealth creators'/tax avoiders 'fleeing the country' are of course commonplace, most absurdly expressed in the <em>Mail </em>on the 9th: Labour's non-dom plans "<strong>would devastate the broader economy</strong>". Ironically, the very same sentence brands the plans 'financially illiterate'. And which sources has the <em>Mail</em> spoken to for these pearls? "Business leaders". For more "ultra wealthy oppose higher taxes" scoops, pick up your copy of the <em>Mail </em>today. And tomorrow. And the next day. (OH )</p><p><strong>April 9&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>The Daily Telegraph and the accurate naming of women</strong></p><p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Leanne_Wood_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Leanne_Wood_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="460" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leanne Wood, one of many women wrongly called "Mrs" by the Daily Telegraph</span></span></span><br /></strong></p><p>Over the weekend, I wrote about how the right wing press <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/old-order-is-dying-but-refuses-to-go-quietly">is stuck in the past</a>. One obvious detail of this is how they fail in one really basic detail of election coverage: getting people's names right. Specifically, getting women's names right.</p><p>On the 2nd of April, under the headline "<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/SNP/11509628/Nicola-Sturgeon-the-most-dangerous-woman-in-politics.html">the most dangerous woman in British politics</a>", the Telegraph ran a comment piece by a fellow Scot-in-England Graeme Archer. It attempted to inform the English electorate of the terror they ought to feel at the prospect of a certain female politician having influence over the election. Her name? Mrs Sturgeon. I would suggest to the Telegraph that if they are going to pay someone to tell their readers about a person, then they at least get that person's name right. Nicola Sturgeon is famously married to prominent SNP organiser Peter Murrell. She is Ms Sturgeon.</p><p>On the front page of the same paper the following day, Michael Deacon wrote a sketch about the election debate. He managed in the paper version to get the Scottish First Minister's name right (though <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11512949/Election-debate-2015-sketch-Two-hours-of-stress-strife-and-sweat.html">not in the online version</a>). He did, however, succeed in Mrs-ing both Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett, both of whom are "Ms".&nbsp;</p><p>To cap it all, yesterday, in the paper version of the Telegraph (strangely I can't find it online) they ran a piece about the wives of the leaders of Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories. In two cases, though, they fell at the first hurdle. Ed Miliband's wife is called Justine Thornton. Nick Clegg's wife is called Miriam González Durántez. In each case, for some bizarre reason, they insisted on giving each their husband's surnames. You would have thought that if you were going to profile someone, you would at least get their name right.</p><p>Of course, the paper doesn't seem to have any similar problems with the accurate naming of men. (AR)</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/newspapers-are-preparing-for-coup-and-labour-is-doing-nothing-to-stop-them">The newspapers are preparing for a coup, and Labour is doing nothing to stop them</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/old-order-is-dying-but-refuses-to-go-quietly">The old order is dying, but refuses to go quietly</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/bernard-goyder/five-things-you-should-know-about-foreign-policy-this-election">Five things you should know about foreign policy this election</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurKingdom OurKingdom others Oliver Huitson Adam Ramsay Tue, 14 Apr 2015 08:35:33 +0000 others, Oliver Huitson and Adam Ramsay 91960 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Scrutinising the Scrutineers: part 2 https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/julian-petley/scrutinising-scrutineers-part-2 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Infuriated by the BBC’s lack of coverage of its work, The European Scrutiny committee is at the centre of a discussion about the ‘limits’ of the corporation's independence.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/8281934298_f08e26a8f1_z.jpg " alt="" width="100%" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> Committee member Jacob Rees-Mogg is known for his antipathy towards the EU. Flickr/Richard. Some rights reserved.</em></p><p><span><strong>‘A serious mistake’</strong></span></p> <p>As part of its follow-up to the original 2013 Scrutiny inquiry, the Committee requested BBC Trustee Richard Ayre, and Trust Chairman, Rona Fairhead, <a href="http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/european-scrutiny-committee/scrutiny-inquiry-follow-up/oral/17499.html#http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/european-scru">to come before it on 14 January 2015</a>. Lord Hall, the BBC Director-General, and James Harding, its Director of News and Current Affairs, <a href="http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/european-scrutiny-committee/scrutiny-inquiry-follow-up/oral/18554.pdf#http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/european-scrut">appeared before it on 11 March</a>. Once again, the same concerns as above were raised, although this time, on occasion, in a more aggressive fashion. </p><p>Thus at the 14 January hearing, Michael Connarty refers to “the BBC’s apparent refusal to cover in depth this Committee’s November 2013 scrutiny report” (Q29), asks: “Why was our report, in which we did a very thorough piece of investigation and evidence-taking as to how the process might be improved, practically ignored?” (Q30), and suggests that “maybe that is why the Government has completely refused to implement it. They can do things almost in secrecy because the media do not cover it” (Q31).&nbsp; Later in the same hearing, the Chairman complains that:</p><blockquote><p>If the European Scrutiny Committee produces a report of that importance in November last year and it receives no coverage at all - I do not pay the slightest attention, if I may say so, to the question of whether other people looked at it; the question is whether the BBC looked at it, and that is what you are here to answer. They did not, and I find that very puzzling, because, as Michael&nbsp;Connarty&nbsp;indicated, it was the most radical review of the manner in which the European scrutiny system, which relates to the Government of the&nbsp;United Kingdom&nbsp;in relation to the European issue, was examined by the Committee with responsibility for that issue. It was not done, and therefore the question is not whether there was a breadth of opinion and voices; it is a question of whether or not the actual issue of the impartiality with regard to&nbsp;the subject matter was being properly presented by the BBC. The answer is emphatically that it was not. (Q57)</p></blockquote><p>Ayre responds that “the decision over whether or not to report the findings of this Committee or any Committee is a matter entirely for programme makers in the BBC, for editors acting within the BBC’s editorial guidelines” and adds that the Trust was complying with the BBC Charter, “in the sense that the charter says that editorial decisions are for the BBC executive, and the Trust is explicitly excluded from involvement in editorial decisions” (Q57-8). </p><p>He then suggests to the Chairman that “I am sure you would recognise that the author of any report is arguably not best placed to determine whether that report should be featured in BBC news programmes, because everyone who writes a report thinks it is worth reporting”, which receives the tart response: “This is a Committee, not just of one person. This is a self-evident fact. It was a radical report. It was not reported. That is the point” (Q58). A point which he repeats, forcefully, at Q66 in the same session, asserting that for the BBC to “ignore” the report was a “serious mistake” and a “serious challenge to most of the evidence given today.”&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Suffused with suspicion</strong></p> <p>Both hearings are, once again, suffused with suspicion that the BBC is institutionally biased towards the EU, and that this colours its coverage of the institution. Thus at Q45 in the 11 March hearing the Chairman observes of the <em>Today</em> programme:&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><em>Some of us know a little bit about what goes on in the European context, and we find it rather difficult to listen to a stream of people who are constantly being asked, ‘But isn’t this going to mean that if the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union, you’—for example, the vice-president of Ford—‘would regard it as a complete disaster area for the United Kingdom?’ Or, for example, someone such as Martin Sorrell is brought on, who is well known to have views of the kind that he tends to express very volubly. There is a clear indication to those of us who listen to it that there is some kind of a system and/or an accident that leads to those sort of people being asked on, whereas people who have a completely contrary view seem to get less of a bite of the cherry.</em></p></blockquote><p>More specifically, at Q41 in the 14 January hearing, Clappison brings up the fact that Fairhead is not only Chairman of the BBC Trust but also a member of the HSBC board, whose Chairman is a member of Business for New Europe, which is campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU. In response to a question about whether this might be a problem in terms of her perceived impartiality as a Trust member on matters to do with BBC coverage of the EU, Fairhead responds that the Chairman had signed up on a personal basis, although Clappison begs to differ. </p><p>At Q41 in the 11 March hearing, Chris Kelly notes of the BBC’s new Europe Editor (Katya Adler) that “there has been some comment in the media regarding her previous roles as a moderator for a number of events organised by institutions of the EU”, and at Q57-8 the Chairman brings up the fact that Bill Bush, who used to be head of Analysis and Research at the BBC, went on to become Tony Blair’s head of research, and that a former “regular for <em>Newsnight</em>” (actually <em>The Politics Show</em> and <em>On the Record</em>), Paola&nbsp;Buonadonna, is now “the head of British Influence” (actually its media director).&nbsp;</p><p>With the argument being conducted on this kind of level it was absolutely inevitable that the College of Journalism would once again be dragged in, and sure enough, at Q52, the Chairman avers:&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><em>I am interested very much in who does the training: the ‘quis&nbsp;custos question. If a trainer comes from a background where their education and training have drilled into them that moving towards integration is a good&nbsp;idea, that&nbsp;will be transmitted to the journalists in the training sessions you are referring to. Of course, that can lead to ignorance, because the complexity of the European issue is such that it requires some serious training and education.</em></p></blockquote><p>He then goes on to explain that:&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><em>The important point that I am trying to&nbsp;make is about the impression that can be gained from people who seem to move seamlessly into arenas where they have a lot of influence but, at the same time, clearly do not come from the kind of background that some others feel represents the Euro-realist view. They might give a particular impression or perception … When people who were employed by the BBC appear to have attitudes that carry them into areas of the kind that I have described, perhaps there is an indication, a consciousness, that there is a form of … institutional&nbsp;mindset … which will cause some concern. (Q58)</em></p></blockquote><p>At Q26 in the 11 March hearing, Rees-Mogg notes that the BBC has received €30 million funding from the EU in recent years. He goes on to point out that: &nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><em>Article 9.2 of the regulations regarding the structural funds, from which the BBC has received money, states: ‘The Commission and the&nbsp;Member&nbsp;States&nbsp;shall ensure that assistance from the Funds is consistent with the activities, policies and priorities of the Community’. Further, the money received in 2009 and 2011 under an international heading was received on the basis of support for media capacity in the area of EU integration.&nbsp;</em></p></blockquote><p>He then asks Hall and Harding whether this “undermines your reputation if you accept money from the European Union that comes with a clear requirement that you support, in the way I have outlined, the institutions of the European Union … It seems to me that it undermines the absolute guarantee of independence that the BBC ought to have, and it is rather tainted money.” Hall and Harding were obviously not prepared for such a question, and provided a written response a few days later. </p><p>This reveals not a fiendish EU plot to smuggle pro-EU propaganda into the UK via the BBC but that the funds were received not by the BBC but by BBC Media Action (BBC World Service Trust until December 2011). It was not used to support the creation of content on the BBC's UK public services but was a legitimate source of funding for work in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe by BBC Media Action, a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity set up by the BBC and reporting to a Board of Trustees the majority of whom are independent of the BBC. It has its own constitution, which is separate from the BBC public service Charter. (Further details may be found <a href="http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/european-scrutiny-committee/scrutiny-inquiry-follow-up/written/18619.html#http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/european-s">here</a>).&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Declarations of independence</strong></p> <p>Even from the limited examples given above, it should be abundantly clear that the Committee felt entitled to deliver strictures, and in no uncertain terms, on matters of BBC editorial judgement – and not simply on the BBC’s alleged ‘refusal’ to cover the 2013 scrutiny report. This raises the very serious issue of threats to the BBC’s independence, and, thankfully, brought forth from the BBC a number of ringing declarations of that independence. Thus at Q23 in the 14 January session, James Harding stated:&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><em>The reason why we prize that independence so dearly is that if the public are going to trust the BBC to be independent and to cover politicians impartially, it has got to be clear that journalists, editors and the people who run a news organisation as important as the BBC are not asked by politicians to come and account for what they do and, in effect, do the bidding of those politicians. There is a danger here that you misread what the issue is for us. It is felt very strongly, and it is about a reluctance to come and account for editorial news judgments.&nbsp;</em></p></blockquote><p>The Chairman retorts at Q24 that the BBC wouldn’t have any money if Parliament didn’t authorise it, which provokes the stinging response from Harding that “you wouldn’t have anything worth paying for if it weren’t independent.” And in a written response following his appearance, Harding states: “I do not think it would <em>be </em>at all right for our approach to the coverage of controversial issues, domestic or international, to be open to formal challenge by politicians, either individually or as a Committee other than through the processes laid down under the BBC Charter and Agreement for any individual complainant. As mentioned in the oral evidence session, that independence is guaranteed under Article 6 (1).”&nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p>In the 14 January session, apropos Lord Hall’s initial refusals to appear before the Committee, Ayre remarks:</p> <blockquote><p><em>Long before I became a trustee, I used to work at the BBC 15 years ago. I was a BBC journalist. At one stage, 20 years ago, I was the controller of editorial policy for the BBC. If I had been asked for my advice by the DG of the day, Lord Birt, on whether he should appear before a Select Committee four months before a general election in which the subject area of that Committee was likely to be a matter of extreme contention, I would have advised him that it was a real threat to the BBC’s independence. At a time when freedom of expression, the press, the media and speech has much occupied this nation and our neighbour nations in recent days, I can entirely understand why he might have reached that view. I would be astonished were the director-general to take a different view, had he been summoned before the Treasury Committee to talk about the BBC’s editorial coverage of the economy or the Home Affairs Committee to talk about the BBC’s coverage of immigration or crime. All of those are key issues in an election campaign. I submit that audiences would not be pleased to think that the editor-in-chief of the BBC was subjected to questioning by MPs on these editorial issues in the run-up to one of the most contentious elections we have lived through. (Q17)</em></p></blockquote><p>Hall’s initial refusals to appear before the Committee led to another lengthy correspondence, consisting of ten letters sent between 29 January 2014 and 28 January 2015. Hall’s reluctance also had to do with safeguarding not simply the BBC’s independence but also public perceptions of that independence. Thus <a href="http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Hall-to-Cash-3-March-2014.pdf#http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Hall-to-Cash-3-March-2014.pdf">in a letter of 3 March 2014</a>, he stated:</p><blockquote><p><em>I hope you will understand that the BBC’s editorial independence as guaranteed by the BBC Charter is something very highly valued by the British public. The fact that Parliament does not, through any of its formal structures, seek to question the BBC on its editorial approach to issues, I am sure reinforces the confidence of the public that the BBC is genuinely independent from political pressure. As Editor-in-Chief of the BBC, I believe that an appearance to be questioned on our coverage of highly contested political issues by way of a formal Select Committee hearing could undermine that critical perception, and for that reason, I am afraid I must decline to offer to appear.&nbsp;</em></p></blockquote><p>In <a href="http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Hall-BBC-20-January-2015.pdf#http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Hall-BBC-20-January-2015.pdf">a later letter</a>, of 20 January 2015, he actually cited the questioning of Ayre and Fairhead, discussed earlier, as illustrating the reason for his unwillingness to be questioned by the Committee, namely “the risk that we are seen by the British public and overseas to be being questioned by politicians on editorial judgements made by our journalists in our coverage of Europe and the European Scrutiny process”, and noted that the Committee&nbsp; “did on occasion seek to question the decisions made by programme editors in their coverage of individual stories”, citing as one particular example Connarty’s remarks, quoted above, about the BBC’s non-coverage of the 2013 scrutiny report.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Accountability to Parliament</strong></p> <p>Altogether unsurprisingly, the<strong> </strong><em>Scrutiny Reform Follow-Up and Legacy Report</em>, <a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmeuleg/918/918.pdf#http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmeuleg/918/918.pdf">which was published on 25 March 2015</a>, was extremely critical of the BBC. In particular it claimed that Lord Hall did not seem to “appreciate fully the limitations on the BBC editorial independence imposed by Article 6 of the Charter, the Framework Agreement and the general law”, and that James Harding’s defence of the BBC’s independence, quoted above, was of concern to the Committee “because such editorial judgements are constrained by the limitations of the Charter, the Framework Agreement and the general law.” Once more, the Committee was piqued by lack of BBC coverage of its own affairs, mentioning yet again “our seminal report” of 2013, and complaining of the hearing involving Hall and Harding that “apart from a broadcast on BBC Parliament after the session and a short summary of the proceedings on the BBC website, there was to our knowledge no news commentary, analysis or interviews on any of the mainstream programmes of the BBC of the proceedings.” </p><p>They continued: “We regard these failures as inexplicable, and in our view they could be construed as a breach of the BBC’s duties under its Charter and Framework Agreement, and particularly in respect of its public purposes.”&nbsp; More generally, they expressed themselves “deeply concerned about the manner in which the BBC treats EU issues” and complained that “our witnesses seemed to be more intent on defending and asserting their own opinions, mindset and interpretation of the obligations under the Charter and Framework Agreement than in whether they had in fact discharged them.”&nbsp; The Committee concluded that:</p><blockquote><p><em>In the light of the evidence we have taken over the past two years from the BBC, and given the statements made by the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Rona Fairhead, indicating that even she, as Chairman of the Trust, wishes to see reform of governance, that our criticisms of the way the BBC treats EU issues, and the approach by its leaders to the Committee, particularly the initial refusal to give oral evidence, shows that accountability to Parliament must be a key factor to be considered as part of the review of the BBC Charter in 2016, as should be strict adherence to the aims set out by the BBC in its response to the Wilson Review.</em></p></blockquote><p><strong>What did Lord Wilson say?</strong></p> <p>This refers to the review of BBC news coverage of the EU undertaken for the Corporation by Lord Wilson of Dinton <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/our_work/governors_archive/european_union.html#http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/our_work/governors_archive/european_union.html">and published in 2005</a>. Its criticisms are frequently cited by the Committee as a means of pointing up what it regards as the BBC’s current failures and shortcomings in this area. Had all of Wilson’s recommendations been acted upon, it seems to be saying, the Committee would have been satisfied. But, as I have suggested, what the Committee appears to desire above all else is more voices critical of the EU on the BBC. The only problem is that it is extremely hard to find that particular prescription in the Wilson report.</p><p>In the next part of this article I will examine what the report actually said, and use that as the basis for a critique of current BBC coverage of the EU – one that is different from that of the European Scrutiny Committee in many respects. But not in all. In its less self-regarding and ‘Euro-realist’ (to use the Chairman’s terms) moments, the Committee does actually make a number of useful points which are not dissimilar to certain of Wilson’s, as I will attempt to demonstrate. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><em><strong><span>If you want to keep OurBeeb debating the BBC, </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>please chip in</span></a><span> what you can afford.</span></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/julian-petley/scrutinising-scrutineers-part-1">Scrutinising the Scrutineers: part 1</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/jamie-mackay/beyond-our-shores-europhobia-and-bbc">Beyond our shores: Europhobia and the BBC </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb Can Europe make it? OurBeeb OurKingdom Civil society Culture Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics Julian Petley Tue, 14 Apr 2015 08:05:22 +0000 Julian Petley 91964 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Scrutinising the Scrutineers: part 1 https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/julian-petley/scrutinising-scrutineers-part-1 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The European Scrutiny Committee has locked horns with the BBC, repeatedly accusing it of a pro-EU bias. Is the corporation’s editorial independence under threat?&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/4085927117_d9e3f9332b_z.jpg" alt="Image of EU headquarters in Brussels" title="EU headquarters" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>What are they actually scrutinising? Flickr/Shelley Bernstein. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><span>In 2013 the European Scrutiny Committee </span><a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/109.pdf#http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/109.pdf">produced a report</a><span> in which it argued that “given the possibility of some form of EU referendum - either on membership or following treaty change - over the next ten years, the media, particularly (given its role) the BBC, needs to ask itself difficult questions about how it deals with EU issues.” &nbsp;It returned to this topic </span><a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmeuleg/918/918.pdf#http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmeuleg/918/918.pdf">last month in a follow-up report</a><span>, noting that “given the possibility of a referendum on the UK’s EU membership before the end of the decade, and potentially a renegotiation of the Treaties, the issue of how the media in general, and the BBC in particular, covers the EU is of paramount importance.”</span></p> <p class="Default">Indeed. Given that informed debate about the EU has been made largely impossible by raucous withdrawalist newspapers in which all pan-European institutions are ignorantly lumped together as a Britain-threatening ‘Brussels’, one most certainly needs to raise the question of whether it is even possible, let alone desirable, to hold a referendum in such circumstances. As for the BBC, <a href="http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/our_work/breadth_opinion/content_analysis.pdf#http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/our_work/breadth_opinion/content_analysis.pdf">research carried out by Cardiff University for the BBC itself</a>, published in 2013, found that there were distinct problems with its coverage of the EU in the two years which it studied, namely 2007 and 2012. According to this research:</p><blockquote><p class="Default">Both years see a sharp focus on Europe as a problem for the UK, particularly in terms of national sovereignty. Both years also see Westminster voices and in particular the views of the Conservative and Labour parties, dominating coverage … UKIP barely merits a mention whilst the positive case for Europe tends to be framed solely in terms of economic benefits and political influence. There is very little room for sources presenting a broader range of views, and for substantive information about what the EU actually does and how much it actually costs … This is a topic area which does not generally encourage a broader representation of opinion because the reporting – and the views of the sources interviewed – largely focuses on political infighting. The reliance on Westminster sources means that the relationship of the UK with the EU is usually covered within a framework where the EU is seen as a threat.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p class="Default"><strong>The European Scrutiny Committee</strong></p><p class="Default">These were not the lines of enquiry pursued by the Scrutiny Committee, however. The press, specifically, is never mentioned. It is piqued to the point of obsession by lack of media, and particularly BBC, coverage of its own affairs. It takes entirely at face value ‘research’ carried out by an anti-BBC, anti-EU pressure group, Newswatch (if you think my characterisation unfair, take a look <a href="http://news-watch.co.uk/#http://news-watch.co.uk/">here</a>). It clearly wants more voices critical of the EU to be heard on the BBC. And it appears to believe that it has the right to try to exert pressure on BBC editorial decision-making.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p class="Default">So, what exactly does this Committee do?<strong> </strong><a href="http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/european-scrutiny-committee/role/#http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/european-scrutiny-committee/role/">According to its webpages</a><strong> </strong>it assesses the legal and/or political importance of draft EU legislation deposited in Parliament by the Government, deciding whether to clear the document from scrutiny or withhold clearance and ask questions of the Government. It can also recommend documents for debate, either in a European Committee or on the Floor of the House. Additionally it can question Ministers in person and conduct general inquiries into legal, procedural or institutional developments in the EU. Its Chairman is Sir William Cash, and its members include several other MPs who are highly critical of the EU, to put it mildly, namely James Clappison, Kelvin Hopkins (who is openly in favour of withdrawal), Chris Kelly, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Henry Smith.&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="Default">What originally piqued the Committee was the lack of media, and especially BBC, coverage given to <a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/109.pdf#http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/109.pdf">its 2013 report</a>, <em>Reforming the European Scrutiny System in the House</em> of <em>Commons. </em>This argued that “the depth and pace of EU integration, now accelerating with demands for fiscal and political union and economic governance, has demonstrated the need for effective democratic parliamentary scrutiny and accountability of Government at Westminster - all of which affects the UK electorate<span>." The report alludes frequently to the “fundamental role of national Parliaments”, in line with recent speeches given by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe, and argues that:</span></p><blockquote><p>It is time to translate this shared view into concrete proposals, and we do so in this Report. Not only do we recommend a strengthening of the scrutiny reserve, we conclude that now is the time to propose the introduction of a form of national veto over EU legislative proposals, and then to explore the mechanics of disapplication of parts of existing EU obligations, notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972.&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p>This would require “an Act of Parliament to disapply the European Communities Act 1972 in relation to specific EU legislation”, an action which, with truly remarkable understatement, the Report admits “would be legally complex and controversial.”&nbsp;</p><p>‘<strong>The bowels of the BBC’</strong></p> <p>In order to understand the Committee’s critique of the BBC it would be helpful to start off by looking at <a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/130206.htm#http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/130206.htm">the evidence session on 6 February 2013</a> with Ric Bailey, Chief Adviser, Politics, BBC; Mary Hockaday, Head of Newsroom, BBC; and Peter Knowles, Controller, BBC Parliament.</p> <p>Questions concerning BBC coverage, or lack of coverage, of the Committee’s work crop up on at least eight occasions (Q191, Q193, Q200, Q201, Q203, Q208, Q210, Q242) and the Chairman mentions not being asked onto <em>Question Time</em> “or any of the other programmes” (Q238). Two examples of alleged BBC bias are given, and both, unsurprisingly, concern alleged pro-EU bias, one involving a <em>Today</em> item (Q214) and the other general coverage of the Lisbon Treaty (Q221-2).&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>The Chairman also takes a particular interest in those contributing to the BBC College of Journalism, asking:</p><blockquote><p><em>What are the qualifications? You get people who have degrees in various subjects giving the lectures, all that sort of thing. As somebody who takes an interest in the extent to which people have looked at these questions in detail and in the broad landscape, what sort of qualifications do they have? Do they come from academic institutions? … It is the old business of who guards the guardians? The question is, who are the people who are providing the basic information? Where are they coming from? When the researchers sit down in the middle of the night, for example for the&nbsp;</em><em>Today</em><em>&nbsp;</em><em>programme – I cannot believe John Humphrys and the others invent all the questions off the cuff; they are sitting there and being fed certain lines of inquiry – it is not unnatural that we would be interested in the base of the research that goes into that. (Q231-3)</em></p></blockquote><p>The distinct suspicion that he may be thinking that he may have found the source of the pro-EU ‘institutional culture’ that those critical of both the BBC and the EU are convinced lurks at the heart of the Corporation is only intensified by a question which he posed to David Keighley of News-watch <a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/130313.htm#http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/130313.htm">in an evidence session on 13 March 2013</a>:</p><blockquote><p><em>Do you think that there is any possibility that this [institutional bias by omission in EU matters] is derived from the nature of the research that takes place within the bowels of the BBC, in terms of the attitudes of the people who are asked to go through the output for news and current affairs and whose job it is to do the research-not just on the Today programme but on anything else? Do you think that … the question of the College of Journalism is an area where some further analysis needs to be done in order to establish why it is that you have this silo attitude when actually there should not be one at all? (Q133)</em></p></blockquote><p><strong>An ‘inappropriate’ request</strong></p> <p>The Committee also asked Lord Patten, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, to appear before it, which for some time he refused to do, giving rise to a correspondence (increasingly testy and threatening on the Chairman’s part) consisting of ten letters sent between 11 September 2013 and 13 March 2014. Patten eventually agreed to appear, but then retired from the Trust and so was unable to do so. <a href="http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Patten-BBC-25-09-13.pdf#http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Patten-BBC-25-09-13.pdf">In his letter of 25 September</a> he explained that “I do not think my appearance at an evidence session would add materially to the Committee’s work” on the grounds that “the Trust has no role in day-to-day operational or editorial decisions, such as the level of coverage to afford to any particular area”, and that “while the Trust has a general duty to do all it can to ensure the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC it is not and should not be involved in decisions such as which programmes to broadcast.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>As the correspondence wore on, however, Patten made it clear that his unwillingness to appear stemmed additionally from his, and the Trust’s, concern that to do so might be perceived as undermining the BBC’s independence. As he pointed out <a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/109vw31.htm#http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmeuleg/109/109vw31.htm">on 14 November</a>:&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><em>It is incumbent upon the Trust under the terms of the Royal Charter to stand up for the independence of the BBC and in particular its editorial independence. We are bound to weigh this as of paramount importance when viewed against a request to appear before your Committee which we believe to be inappropriate. Accordingly I must decline your request.&nbsp;</em></p></blockquote><p>He noted that <a href="http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Patten-BBC-14-November-2013.pdf#http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Patten-BBC-14-November-2013.pdf">he has appeared before the Culture, Media and Sport and Public Accounts Committees six times</a>, “and neither attempt[ed] to engage with us – as you are proposing to do – on the editorial decisions of the BBC." He continued:&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><em>We wonder if you have considered that the result of you asserting your right to call me before your committee on this issue is that BBC Trustees could in future be required to appear before any select committee to discuss the coverage of the BBC in its particular area of responsibility … We can’t believe that is what was intended when the Royal Charter was drafted and we do not believe that it is consistent with the idea of an independent Trust protecting the BBC from undue political interference.</em></p></blockquote><p>When, on 3 March, he did finally agree to appear <a href="http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Patten-to-Cash-3-March-2014.pdf#http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/european-scrutiny/Patten-to-Cash-3-March-2014.pdf">he pointed out that</a>, “in line with the Trust’s Charter role, I will not be in a position to engage with your Committee on the detail of BBC operations or editorial decisions.” The Report itself tartly notes that “we reject the assertion in Lord Patten’s letter that our invitation to him to give oral evidence was “inappropriate”. We fully respect the editorial independence of the BBC. But that does not mean that the BBC Trust is above Parliament, and should pick and choose its interlocutors here.”</p><p><em>Part two of this article is available <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/julian-petley/scrutinising-scrutineers-part-2" target="_blank">here</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em><span>If you want to keep OurBeeb debating the BBC, </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>please chip in</span></a><span> what you can afford.</span></em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/julian-petley/scrutinising-scrutineers-part-2">Scrutinising the Scrutineers: part 2</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/jamie-mackay/beyond-our-shores-europhobia-and-bbc">Beyond our shores: Europhobia and the BBC </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb Can Europe make it? OurBeeb OurKingdom Civil society Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Media Institutions Government Europe euro EU Julian Petley Tue, 14 Apr 2015 08:04:43 +0000 Julian Petley 91961 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Democracy exists by the act of doing it: a meeting with Podemos in Manchester https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/rashid-mhar/democracy-exists-by-act-of-doing-it-meeting-with-podemos-in-manchester <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A meeting with Podemos in Manchester provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of democracy and the need to challenge the undemocratic politics of 'DevoManc'.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/16234259297_2e56997690_z.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> Podemos’ Marcha del cambio January 2015. Image: Flickr/<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/vicentenadal/16234259297/in/photolist-qDtMW9-pZ4ddQ-r1ZDZt-nn9o1R-qJyQJT-qJpUtA-qYGAth-qJyQzz-r1ZESa-qJxeig-qJrcrJ-qJxefv-qJyQt2-q4ZeQq-q4ZeR7-qJxebc-qJyQpe-r1QCKP-q5cLhn-qJyQkX-qJxe5R-r1QCEi-r1URYL-qYGA7f-qJrcby-qJxdZv-r1ZErR-qYGzXh-qYGzZG-q4Zeuf-q4ZerE-r1ZEkZ-qYGzRq-r1URJN-qJxdGB-r1QCoB-q5cKN6-r1ZEeg-q5cKKF-qJpTEG-r1QCgT-q5cKGV-q4Ze8U-qJyPPg-qJpTzb-qYGzzd-r1QCaF-qJyPJM-r1URpj-qJyPGn" target="_blank">Vicente Nadal</a></em></p><p>On a Monday evening I visited the meeting of the Circulo Podemos Manchester as a representative of&nbsp;<a href="http://assembliesfordemocracy.org/"><span>Assemblies for Democracy</span></a>. I had been given an invite after being introduced to a member of the group, a kind gentle mannered young man called Albert. We had exchanged a few emails where we shared briefly the experiences of a first generation immigrant and a second generation immigrant. Something in those communications told me that the people I was going to meet weren't as painted in the media. I didn't know exactly what to expect but was expectant of something like political energy and desire for change.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The last message from Albert told me that he was working late and wouldn't be at the meeting but he gave me the contact name Alex. As a second generation immigrant I was familiar with shortening names to an Anglicised form. I arrived at the meeting in a popular Spanish restaurant called La Tasca. Not knowing the faces of the people I was there to meet, I could only clumsily ask a waitress for the Podemos meeting. Luckily that was enough and she showed me to Alex. We briefly introduced ourselves and I went downstairs to wait whilst he finished his discussion with a new member of the Circulo.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Presently Alex joined me downstairs in the meeting room where he had to arrange tables for the meeting before that evening's Assembly. The fact that I was not Spanish but interested in them was enough for him to be pleased to see me there. He was slightly curious if I wanted to join Podemos. Young people of Spanish descent had joined, but so far no others from the United Kingdom. I explained my immigrant heritage. I told him the story of Manchester being the city where my parents met, relating some of their experiences and some of my own. We soon found we shared plenty of common ground. The feeling of loss of footing on arrival at a new place that came with the feeling of discovery and the sanguine desires for new opportunity. We both recognised that challenges emerge and difficulties rain down as new modes of life open up. I told Alex that I wasn't there to join Podemos, I represented a non party political group and I was there to meet them. His response was one of delight and utter warmth, I was soon seated and surrounded by the energy of vibrant young people.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>They had come to Manchester after Spain had lost all capacity to offer them even the meagrest future. They had done everything their parents and societal patriarchs had asked of them, studied hard, earned higher education awards, took every chance to build experience and readied themselves to build a better future for a nation within the&nbsp;&nbsp;dream of Europe. Yet now they were here to forge a future taking whatever work they could, mostly in the service and retail sector within the bustling day to night lifestyle of Manchester City Centre.</p><p>Strangely enough these were the stories shared, not of rampant political dreams or new emergence of radical left wing thinking. As a volunteer campaigning on the issues with 38 Degrees I know a lot of the local activists, parties, unions and groups and I know how deeply embedded a person's political beliefs can be. There was none of that in these young people, they simply wanted to work hard to create a free, equal and democratic future for themselves and everyone else. I told them about the Assemblies for Democracy. They immediately found the name appealing, visibly pleased and delighted that in Britain such a clear statement of intent had emerged. We talked about how the word had spread about Syriza, the news of its (then) imminent victory and the success at the polls. Alex shared with me that often he'd been asked 'What is the secret of Podemos's success?' He found that question a hard one to answer for the enquirers that had posed it to him, but found my question very simple to answer. 'Would you like to join us at our Assembly? Tell people of your experiences, help us, as part of the local community, explore and discover for ourselves a way for Britain to achieve a new and better democracy?'<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Alex was delighted to accept. I'd imagined that everyone must be asking Podemos to join their political events, but that assumption was false. Alex told me we were the first to come to them and invite them to join in, to contribute to the democratic future of their new home. I was doubly struck with surprise but it dawned on me that we are living in a media dominated world. Here connections between people are swamped out by the sound-bite fiction that fills the limited spaces media culture allows. Here a community of immigrants that offers film shows, talks and lively events open to all, can be excitedly talked about, and yet despite the warmth they offer, be forgotten in the return of the favour.</p><p>On the ground level we unite as people, warm hands that can clasp a hand of a person that has come in from the cold street. That simple thing is the universal feeling of acceptance and invitation. More strongly than ever I felt the philosophy of the Assemblies for Democracy was right, because it was a simple one based on a plain and solid fact. People build the future.</p><p>The energy of the conversation was palpable; the eloquence, insight and intelligence of these young people enthusing. The subject of the Greater Manchester Devolution Agreement arose, though not from me. They had heard about it, recognised something was democratically amiss with its implementation and were curious about what it meant for the people of the region. I was delighted to share what little I knew. Just a few days earlier I had been walking around the Crumpsall area, attempting to leaflet, petition and complete questionnaires about this package that has been inappropriately named 'DevoManc'. In Crumpsall, the council ward of agreement signatory Richard Leese, the effect of the democratic deficit was at 'in your face' proportions. There is an unnerving absence of public awareness and engagement in an agreement that will fundamentally shift, and could even damage beyond repair, the remaining aspects of democratic representation in the region. Walking around Crumpsall as a clipboard wielding pariah had been a harsh eye opener and deflating experience. Yet sat here with this Spanish community of Manchester once again I could feel the energy of democratic engagement.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>I could explain the role of Howard Bernstein, his tête a tête meetings in the corridors of power with George Osborne. I could enjoy the expressions of people who fully understood the description of him as a home grown unelected local technocrat. We talked about the power wielders in the formation of an agreement that had been made in the modern fashion typified by the Trans Atlantic Trade &amp; Investment Partnership, the Comprehensive Economic &amp; Trade Agreement and the Trade in Services Agreement - that is made with the people&nbsp;in absentia. George Osborne could be argued to hold real democratic mandate from the people of Tatton constituency to represent them. Tatton however is a hotchpotch invented political boundary that bears no relationship to the geographical connections or municipal boundaries of the place. It is an area that could be better described as a safe Tory barony that had a brief tryst with democracy in the 1997 General Election when a coalition of co-operation formed to support Martin Bell and end Neil Hamilton's tenure. That time the system was exposed as needing Real Recall after the Conservatives and Commons proved incapable of resolving Hamilton's 'Cash for Questions' scandalous débâcle.</p><p>The question about legitimacy is further challenged by the typical safe seat story, that is George Osborne's political careerist reward. Osborne is heir apparent to the Baronetcy of Ballentaylor &amp; Ballylemon, a lineage of power brokers that clog up British democracy with arcane and meaningless titles. Yet in the harsh light of day we can see that it means access to the highest levels to enforce your plans upon society, without our scrutiny, oversight or consent. We have to pose this question. Does the fact that he has support from the Conservative party to populate one of their safest seats grant him authority over the 2.7 million people of Greater Manchester? Does it give him the right to destroy the opportunity to generate excitement and involvement in political life for the 7 million people of the North West - something that would be the primary result of a debate about North West devolution in the context of a Constitutional Convention?<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>We talked about the other major players Richard Leese who holds political power on a measly 2499 votes in a ward of Manchester that suffers desperate lack of investment and utter neglect. 77% of the people of Crumpsall didn't regard him as worthy of power. Yet now he is signing over their rights to a future unelected mayor. Lord Peter Smith with just 2005 votes from Leigh West ward in Wigan, a power monger that is 82% unwanted by the people. He will be a bookies’favourite when he puts himself forward to be the chieftain of Greater Manchester. Would he then wield the power given to him to further the aspirations of those of who care about our Merseyside, Cumbria, Lancashire and Cheshire neighbours, or would he ruthlessly pursue economic centralisation of power, replicating dark agreements in Manchester Town Hall in the same manner that would have spawned his power base from Westminster?<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>How different can you get from the dreams of young people, who feel the energy and excitement of Assembly. Simply allowing the process of what they wish to do achieves the growth in maturity and responsibility that we keep asking our education system to achieve in the classroom by abstract means. If as a society we are serious about dealing with the inequities that remain unaddressed because of the democratic deficit then we need to grant people a real say in their futures. A place to consider their decisions, explore the options including the implications each option has for themselves and how it impacts on others.</p><p>As we gather the people in Assembly we will be looking at these issues, not merely our local concerns but a stark look at how the national impacts on the local. We will be creative, inventive, exploratory, scientific, communal, focused and even that old bastion of aspirational consumerism - we will be ambitious. Three Assemblies have been announced, London, Glasgow and Manchester. Grass-roots movements will be following the age old process of 'learn it by doing it' and 'make do with what you have'. It's a simple story of people coming together locally within a modern setting of crossing distance virtually. Coming together not for the purposes of a cathartic release of frustrations, but as a growing network of problem solvers creating the first steps to forging 21st Century democracy with utter faith that a very large part of the nation is doing likewise.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>We know it's a long hard route. We know that it involves economic restructuring, electoral reform, and devolution into regional entities. We face the challenge of balancing practical requirements of the diverse expressions of the people with a reborn regional identity forged from heritage and culture. We know that the legal articles of state will need to be addressed through a process of Constitutional Conventions.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>We know that consensus is hard to achieve, but before anyone chooses to dismiss the notion that the people coming together can achieve these ambitious goals,&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/peter-evans/assembling-for-democracy-part-1-learning-from-blanketeers"><span>please do take a look at the history</span></a>. We've done it before, we will do it again. As long as the task remains undone there is no reason not to set about doing it. You can disempower the people with poverty and press them further down with austerity. You can keep them fearful that their lifeline, the NHS, will be cut off if they don't accept its privatisation. But you can't stop the conversation that is already under way. We are starting the process to discover the future we wish to forge. We are entering into discussion with the only people who really matter in a democracy, the people so aptly identified by Occupy's resounding claim 'we are the 99%'. Regardless of what the decision makers and power holders of what will become the recent past want, this decision will be ours. A lesson the arcane machinators of power will learn too late is that democracy isn't a forgotten ideal, it can't be granted and taken away. Democracy is given existence by the act of doing it.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/collections/great-charter-convention"><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/-8xrM8zJ-PI-idO0oxwLDVfX3tT9TQ-KiO4znX23lZo/mtime:1421864577/files/Great%20Charter%20Convention%20%281%29.jpg" alt="" width="140" /></a> </p><p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/collections/great-charter-convention">The Great Charter Convention</a> – an open, public debate on where arbitrary power lies in the UK today and how we should contest and contain it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/rashid-mhar/visions-of-democratic-reality">Visions of a democratic reality</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/arianna-giovannini/devolution-in-north-of-england-time-to-bring-people-into-debate">Devolution in the North of England: time to bring the people into the debate?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/mancunianspring/devonorth-and-devomanc">#DevoNorth and #DevoManc</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/antonio-estella/political-tsunami-called-%E2%80%98podemos%E2%80%99">A political tsunami called ‘Podemos’</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom Can Europe make it? OurKingdom A constitutional convention Great Charter Convention Power where? Nations, regions, cities Building it: campaigns and movements Rashid Mhar Mon, 13 Apr 2015 14:44:16 +0000 Rashid Mhar 91888 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Internet journalism and the rise of a new satire https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/dan-o%27hara/internet-journalism-and-rise-of-new-satire <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>With a general election just round the corner, we should be wary of those who try to silence British satirists.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/s2mYjf5ARvaODsDbuNeA0Jo0RcBxtR2B_2eQ89aX62k/mtime:1428915658/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/spitting%20image.jpg" alt="Picture of royal family on "Spitting Image"" title="Spitting image" width="460" height="222" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Satire has changed since the days of "Spitting Image". Flickr/Paul Townsend. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The rise of internet journalism has brought with it a new wave of satire. At the same time, it has created a new wave of denunciators of satire. Just as more people than ever can mock and be mocked, so more people than ever can declare that they are shocked by such mockery, leaving journalists to adjudicate, and in some cases to manufacture and manipulate a grey area between derision and defamation.&nbsp;</p> <p>One such British pop-outrage journalist is Jon Ronson, whose new book <em>So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed </em>was recently excerpted in the <a title="http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/21/internet-shaming-lindsey-stone-jon-ronson" href="http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/21/internet-shaming-lindsey-stone-jon-ronson">Guardian</a>. It purports to be an account of "a trio of academics who stole Jon Ronson’s online identity". At first, it sounds like a great story: evil professors doing criminal things! One reads on in expectation of the inevitable involvement of the police, sackings of said professors, and an ensuing court drama.</p> <p>But none of that happens. Instead, Ronson describes meeting three people, some of whom seem exceedingly annoyed with him, who criticize his manipulativeness and try to talk to him about <a title="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/mar/30/how-bots-are-taking-over-the-world" href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/mar/30/how-bots-are-taking-over-the-world">high-frequency trading algorithms</a>. The police never arrive; no-one is arraigned on a charge of identity theft; and we’re completely deprived of the satisfying scene where the evil professors are handcuffed and humiliated and led off to jail.</p> <p>At this point the reader might start to smell a rat. Identity theft is, after all, an extremely serious matter, and generally a criminal offence. Surely there would have been legal consequences of some kind? It all starts to seem a bit unlikely.&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, it's so unlikely that one suspects Ronson has made it up. And of course, that's exactly what he has done. In actual fact, there were no academics who stole Ronson’s identity. That’s a story he’s invented to cover up the fact that a satirist made a parody of him, and that he couldn’t stand being parodied. How do I know? Well, I’m one of the alleged evil professors Ronson talks about.&nbsp;</p><h2>A fan of satire except...</h2> <p>In 2012 David Bausola, CEO and sole employee of his own social media company, made a satirical Twitter bot of Ronson. I knew of Bausola from seeing a presentation he gave at a conference the previous year. <em>The Guardian</em> had got in touch with Bausola, asking him to use his algorithms with their database to make a satirical TV show. His idea was that he would create a parody political party, composed of robot candidates for Parliament, which would tweet remixed versions of real MPs’ speeches. After all, Bausola said, the way politicians talk nowadays, you can’t tell the difference between them or their messages anyway. Like all satire, it was aimed at keeping the most prominent members of public life honest.&nbsp;</p> <p>Bausola’s parody of Ronson was called @jon_ronson, close to Ronson's own name, like many Twitter parodies of better-known personages such as Elizabeth Windsor (@Queen_UK), Richard H Dawkins (@RichardDawkins), and Iain Duncan Smith MP (@IDS_MP). Unlike those parodies, it signalled its character as a fake rather more clearly: it had a digitally-generated caricature of his photo as its avatar, and its bio ran "made in response to the real Jon Ronson".</p> <p>I was on sabbatical from my post at the University of Cologne, editing a book on J. G. Ballard, when Bausola asked me to come and meet Ronson with him, and explain my own research on computer algorithms and the evolution of technology. I liked Bausola’s and <em>The Guardian’s</em> idea of using social media to make a new, technologically-savvy <em>Spitting Image</em>, so I agreed to come along. I’d never heard of Ronson - he’s not exactly a household name in Germany – and I’d only met Bausola twice, but I liked what he was doing and thought it was culturally valuable. So I looked Ronson up online briefly, and saw that he was a <em>Guardian</em> journalist with an interest in bots. When we met, however, Ronson turned out not to be interested in bots at all. He was only interested in his own parody. Ronson really didn't like being parodied.&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of having a conversation about modern technology, I found myself pinned on a sofa between a satirist I barely knew (the very unacademic Bausola) and a freelance researcher (Luke Robert Mason) who seemed as surprised as I was. The whole conversation turned into a defence of parody. A fan of satire except when it’s satire of him, Ronson subsequently published&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPUjvP-4Xaw">a YouTube video of the meeting</a><span>, heavily edited down from two hours to twelve minutes, and manipulated to make it look as though all three people he met were one team who had made a bot that stole his identity. There ensued a campaign of trolling, in which Ronson laughed as his online followers bombarded both the satirist and those who defended the satire with death-threats, and gave public lectures in which he talked about stabbing them in the face.</span></p> <p>A few months after Ronson published the video of the meeting Bausola, the guy who made the parody, killed it, and disappeared. He hasn't been seen since then, online or off. No-one who knew him seems to know where he is now, and his social media accounts on Twitter and elsewhere have remained silent.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ronson doesn't mention any of this. And one feels for his predicament. He can hardly tell the truth. <em>How I Hounded A Satirist Into Hiding</em> might have made for a more accurate title, but it wouldn’t reflect particularly well upon the author.&nbsp;</p> <p>Nor does he quote much from the caricature of him. It’s a pity he doesn’t. Despite the disadvantage of being merely a bit of computer code, and hence presumably not as intelligent as Ronson, the parody managed to be funnier. Obsessed with tweeting absurdly hipsterish recipes involving wasabi croissants and lemongrass cocoa, the bot perfectly punctured the moral posturing of the real Ronson. Perhaps this is why he avoids quoting it, jealous of his own parody being more amusing than him.&nbsp;</p><h2>"I miss the fun a little"</h2> <p>Even for the reader unaware of the true story, Ronson's own unconscious inconsistencies and self-contradictions make it clear that his account is unreliable to say the least. Once you’ve spotted the cuts in his videos, you all the more easily see the equivalent cracks and seams in his written accounts, and knowing that so much is being omitted rather spoils the trick. His narrative principally meanders from one anecdotal account to another, of people who have been attacked by Twitter and YouTube vigilantes. Certain figures recur, most prominently Jonah Lehrer - <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/us-news-blog/2012/jul/30/jonah-lehrer-quits-new-yorker#http://www.theguardian.com/media/us-news-blog/2012/jul/30/jonah-lehrer-quits-new-yorker">the <em>New Yorker</em> columnist who apparently invented some quotes from Bob Dylan</a>. As we read Ronson writing about Lehrer, the whole experience of reading the book becomes one of nausea. We queasily suspect that we're reading a book about journalists with a weakness for making things up, written by a journalist with, er, a weakness for making things up.</p> <p>Ronson concludes with page after page of acknowledgements, in which he describes what he calls his research, and it’s here that his disingenuousness comes into open view. He reveals that after one solitary telephone conversation, Lehrer asked Ronson not to write about him, for the sake of his wife and family - but Ronson decides that "his experience was too vital to leave out". Leaving aside the fact that one telephone conversation doesn’t exactly constitute research, Ronson seems to feel no shame in treating Lehrer in this way.&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, the true subject of Ronson's investigation isn't mob justice, or public shaming, or social media. Like all accounts of witch-hunts written by those who lead them, it's about the author. Cotton Mather's <em>Wonders of the Invisible World</em>, published in 1693, presented just such an apparently even-handed account of the Salem witch-trials, with Mather painting a picture of himself as a distant, impartial observer. In actual fact Mather was the driving force behind the trials and, following the publication of his account, attempted to set up more witch-trials in Boston. His book was an act of false piety, a self-serving attempt to whitewash his own wickedness so that he could continue it.&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, this book is really about how Jon Ronson’s opinion of Jon Ronson is that Jon Ronson is too famous and important to be parodied. It’s about how Jon Ronson would like to appoint himself the Witchfinder General of the 21st century, but fears that adopting such a role might backfire on him. The appalling thing is that, even by the end, he still hasn’t entirely decided that mob justice is vile, nor does he really reject his role in leading it. "I, personally, no longer take part in the ecstatic public condemnation of anybody", he writes, then immediately reverses, "unless they’ve committed a transgression that has an actual victim, and even then not as much as I probably should. I miss the fun a little." It’s interesting, just not in the way Ronson means it to be. As an investigation of public shaming it fails, primarily because Ronson fails to understand that it’s impossible to feel shame for something one didn’t do in the first place. But as an unintentional self-portrait of the psychopathology of a professional troll, it’s a roaring success.&nbsp;</p><h2>Satire, parody, and mockery: our most valuable tools</h2> <p>Much more important than anything Ronson has to say is the fact that he can say it without fear. But free speech isn’t worth having if those who are have a privileged platform abuse their position in order to manipulate their readership. We have plenty of laws in the UK that restrict free speech, and which in theory prevent journalists from making false allegations about others or promoting hatred. At the same time we have plenty of newspapers that, currently free from all regulation, simply ignore free speech and the right of reply, publishing whatever calumnies they want. The consequence is that democratic debate and discussion is closed down, leaving the private citizen only one option: to become the very creature they abhor by resorting to the bullying of a libel action. <em>The Guardian</em>, a newspaper that makes much of its commitment to a right of reply, did in fact refuse the right of reply to the present author.&nbsp;</p> <p>At present and in the eyes of the UK press, press freedom is very much not the same thing as free speech. Satire, parody, and mockery are our best public tools against the media’s manipulation of our democracy. With a general election just round the corner, we should be wary of those who try to silence our own British satirists.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/tony-curzon-price/six-possibly-civilising-uses-of-incivility">Six (possibly) civilising uses of incivility</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/gemma-blythe/superheroes-alert-uk-voters-to-attack-on-legal-aid">Superheroes alert UK voters to attack on legal aid</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-blog/mary-fitzgerald/charlie-hebdo-insert-%27offence%27-here">Charlie Hebdo [insert &#039;offence&#039; here]</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Internet </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Civil society Culture Internet Internet and democracy Dan O'Hara Mon, 13 Apr 2015 13:48:24 +0000 Dan O'Hara 91925 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Public and the Public Interest https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/dan-hind/public-and-public-interest <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A journalism fund, financed by levying the profits of incumbent media companies, could&nbsp;transform local and investigative journalism in Britain. Such a move has the support of the public.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/556729/6277208304_ab6988a99f_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/556729/6277208304_ab6988a99f_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="277" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Flickr/NS Newsflash. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><span>A </span><a href="http://www.mediareform.org.uk/get-involved/poll-shows-strong-support-for-action-on-media-ownership">YouGov poll</a><span> for the Media Reform Coalition in the UK has found that there is majority support for a fund to support investigative and local journalism, raised from “a levy on the UK profits of the largest media companies (including search engines, social media and Pay TV companies).”</span></p> <p>A full 25% of those polled were neutral about the idea. Another 15% said that they didn’t know. Nevertheless, 51% either strongly supported or tended to support it. Only 9% opposed it.</p> <p>There is something remarkable about this. Politicians, to the extent that they have spoken about the media and its power post-Leveson, have tended to focus on the issue of newspaper regulation. Journalists and broadcasters have also been noticeably reluctant to discuss the full range of possibilities for media reform. </p> <p>But even in the absence of a serious debate in the mainstream, the public already support the idea of a journalism fund. Let me suggest why this is the case.</p> <p>Firstly, there are glaring problems with the current communications system. The scandals that began with the invasion of Iraq are also failures by the major media to identify and describe threats to the public interest in a timely manner.</p> <p>Secondly, internet publishing and social media allow critics of existing media institutions to reach the public without having to rely on those same media institutions. To take one example, when Peter Oborne resigned from the <em>Telegraph</em> he was able to write about his decision on this website. We believe that something is wrong with journalism, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/peter-oborne/why-i-have-resigned-from-telegraph">and good grounds for that belief are durably available online</a>.</p> <p>Thirdly, we are beginning to realise that investigative journalism costs money. If we are to have knowledge that powerful interests want to keep from us, we will have to pay people to do the work. In the past the economics of investigative journalism was kept obscure. Large media companies treated investigations as carefully managed exceptions to the business-friendly rule. Now sites like <a href="http://www.uncoverage.com/">uncoverage.com</a> and <a href="https://www.contributoria.com/">contributoria.com</a> connect a paying public to journalists and projects. Individuals who pay for investigative journalism can more easily grasp the extent to which the distribution of effective (ie funded) curiosity shapes the content of the public sphere.</p> <p>Although the idea of a journalism fund is popular, it is important to distinguish between different ways of administering it. In one of the rare moments when a mainstream journalist has said something about funding journalism in the digital age, David Leigh <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/sep/23/broadband-levy-save-newspapers">proposed adding £2 a month to broadband bills</a>. </p> <p>The money raised, said Leigh, “could be collected by a freestanding agency … and redistributed automatically to ‘news providers’ according to their share of UK online readership.” In this model Leigh estimated that “the Telegraph group, the Associated Newspapers’ stable and the Guardian Media Group would each receive in the region of 20% of the cash – £100m a year.” How they spent this windfall would be up to them, of course.</p> <p>We don’t have to strain too hard to think of a better way of financing a journalism fund. We could levy the profits of large media companies, as proposed above. Or we could pay for it via a reformed licence fee, which also funds access to an integrated digital public space and guaranteed broadband access <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/tony-ageh/bbc-licence-fee-and-digital-public-space">along the lines proposed by Tony Ageh</a>. </p> <p>What really matters is how the fund is distributed. If the incumbent media companies have their way, it will be shared between … incumbent media companies. A hundred million here, a hundred million there – you can see why the idea appealed to Leigh. If the BBC’s executives have their way they will control the money. These guardians of the public-service ethos can then continue to enjoy their lavishly paid tussles with politicians behind closed doors.</p> <p>Neither option is acceptable. If a journalism fund is to address deficiencies in existing coverage it must be democratic in structure. That is, each citizen must have an equal voice in the distribution of funds, in a process that is organised according to defensible and comprehensible principles that are themselves subject to public review. A general fund on these lines will have a transformative effect on public speech. Injustice and the fictions that sustain it will finally face sustained scrutiny. </p> <p>Reliable and relevant information is a public good, perhaps the preeminent public good. Without it a nominally sovereign public is reduced to the condition of an audience. As we move from broadcast to digital we have an opportunity to create news and current affairs media that serve the democratic polity by a process of steady but relentless demystification. Our opponents will work to ensure that pervasive and persuasive advertorial continues to cover the field of publicity with misleading dichotomies, life-threatening reassurances and outright fabrications.</p> <p>Changes to the structure of communications are already bringing constitutional change. The constitution is a matter of lively concern for the Scots and is beginning to prey on the minds even of the English. Sophisticated conservatives will want to make the new technology safe for oligarchy. But if we establish a democratically controlled media fund then we have an opportunity to break the effective domination of public speech by unaccountable interests. </p> <p>We can take heart from the fact that our fellow citizens want to understand the world we have in common.</p><p><span><strong><em><span>OurKingdom doesn’t have a billionaire proprietor telling us what to write - we rely on donations from readers like you. </span><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>Please support us</span></a><span> if you can.</span></em></strong></span></p> OurKingdom OurBeeb OurKingdom Dan Hind Mon, 13 Apr 2015 07:45:20 +0000 Dan Hind 91855 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Rule Britannia https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/david-beetham-stuart-weir/rule-britannia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Today’s parallel with feudal 1215 is the absolute dominance of a “collective monarchy”, combining the power not merely of the Westminster state but also of the corporate and financial institutions and their elites.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <blockquote><p><em>This is a critical moment for democracy in this country. We are in the midst of a structural, political and moral crisis - and an election campaign conducted under an obsolete and dysfunctional electoral system, unable to reflect the results of the multi-party country we have become, now expressed differently in the four parts of the United Kingdom.</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p><em><a href="http://unlockdemocracy.org.uk">Unlock Democracy </a>is facilitating a debate, appropriately during the anniversary year of the Magna Carta,</em><em> launched by the following statement which measures the quality of governance, the subjection of the executive to the rule of law and the protection of human rights against three key principles deriving from Magna Carta.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><p><em>The authors hope this will help to lay the groundwork for a reformed state under a written constitution fit for the new digital era. Unlock Democracy welcomes further contributions to that debate to shape our thinking as we draw up a post-election declaration of intent.</em></p></blockquote> <p><span>Celebration of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta is under way in this country. The Prime Minister wishes to use the anniversary of the Great Charter, the short-lived constitutional settlement that the English barons imposed on King John in 1215, as an opportunity for every child to learn about “the foundation of all our laws and values”.</span></p> <p>Magna Carta was and remains important because the barons forced King John to acknowledge that his rule was limited by the principles of the Charter, making him subject to the rule of law and guaranteeing rights to both the barons and his free subjects.&nbsp;</p> <p>Among these rights were the right to freedom of the person and security of possessions, subject to trial by a jury of peers (i.e., equals) according to the law and without interference from the monarch. The Charter also guaranteed the ancient liberties of the City of London and other cities, boroughs and towns. Most controversially, the Charter spelled out the penalties to be applied if the monarch infringed these limits.&nbsp; Early in its life, in 1217, the Magna Carta was complemented by the <em>Charter of the Forest</em> which re-established the principle that the ever-expanding lands appropriated as royal forest could not serve the exclusive use of the monarch, but remained available to all freemen for foraging and animal grazing, thus ensuring their economic livelihoods.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>We must approach the idea of “celebrating” the Magna Carta with caution.&nbsp; The Charter has given rise to much bad history; and there is a danger that the substantial principles to which it has given rise will be swamped by a celebration that encourages a complacent belief in the uniquely British, or English, aptitude for democracy and freedom and their centuries’ old continuity and progress through our history.&nbsp; We are assured that the rule of law has run almost continuously since 1215. The recent Conservative Party document that seeks to justify a breach with the European Court of Human Rights hymns Britain’s,</p> <blockquote><p>‘long history of protecting human rights at home and standing up for those values abroad. From Magna Carta in 1215 to the Bill of Rights and the Claim of Right in 1689 and over centuries through our Common Law tradition . . .’&nbsp; </p></blockquote> <p>Magna Carta was of course written by barons for barons:&nbsp; that is, by rich and influential feudal land-owners in their own interests. &nbsp;However, it was a settlement that has subsequently been elevated and built on to inspire a never-ending struggle to bring king or government to account and establish the rule of law and human rights. Far from being a continuous process, this struggle has been half won and lost and half won again several times over, and has cost much bloodshed and injustice along the way.&nbsp; The Magna Carta has been a significant moral and legal foundation for a struggle that is far from over.&nbsp; </p> <p><a href="http://unlockdemocracy.org.uk">Unlock Democracy</a> believes that we should reject self-congratulatory celebration this year and use the old charter to hold our democracy up for inspection.&nbsp; The anniversary should be the occasion for deliberative and informed public debate on the principles that have built on the Charter and the earlier tradition that inspired it; on close examination of our constitutional and political framework in 2015; and on how far this framework falls short of achieving the basic principles that derive from the barons’ revolt.&nbsp; Let us then&nbsp; not “celebrate” Magna Carta – let’s take the opportunity of the occasion to issue a rallying call for constitutional and political&nbsp; renewal and the advance of laws and values that give us, as citizens not subjects, freedom under the law and democratic governance.</p> <p>There are three key principles embodied by the Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest which are still valid today:</p> <ol><li>The principle that the executive should be subject to the rule of law, and accountable to Parliament and the people;</li><li>The principle that there should be basic rights for all, protected from government intrusion and erosion and limited only by due legal process; and</li><li>The principle that there is a public realm of common citizenship and essential public goods and space which ought not to be appropriated for private benefit.</li></ol> <p>In our view, each of these principles has been put under threat by successive governments and external forces, as we shall show.&nbsp; Like the barons, we list a number of concerns and “grievances” which could provide the basis for a new Charter of Modern Democracy, fit for people in the twenty-first century.</p> <h2><strong>Part one: concerns and grievances</strong></h2> <p>First, a summary.&nbsp; Politics in Britain retains a traditionally democratic form, and may even seem to be reassuringly improved. Politics is considerably more transparent than a generation ago. Proceedings in Parliament follow familiar patterns. Reinvigorated select committees reach out to the public. Our judiciary remains robustly independent of government. Freedom of information laws open up government and the public sector to scrutiny. The public and private activities of the political elite are subject to relentless media scrutiny.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>But we are in the midst of a structural and political crisis of the British state. Last year’s Scottish referendum struck the exhausted fabric of the United Kingdom like a wrecking ball and has provoked damaging divisions whose impact on the forthcoming general election may be profound; and which may lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. </p> <p>It has prompted divisive and unworkable proposals for “English votes for English laws” and has exposed the weakness of a political system which cannot prevent major constitutional issues from being determined by a governing party’s sectional interests. It has inspired demands across the country for devolution and freedom from the oppressive weight of the Union’s over-centralised state. </p> <p>The contrast between the intense political engagement of the Scottish public in the referendum debate and stale “politics as usual” has shown that the crisis of the state is also a crisis of our politics: distrust and discontent with the political class and parties is deep and widespread. There is however the paradox that weak though their connect with the people is, the political parties in government still wield disproportionately strong executive power.&nbsp; </p> <p>We, the people, have no trust in politics and politicians. We find that the Westminster culture is introverted, opaque, self-seeking, corrupt and remote. We are badly governed by a party political elite, split into three clubs but sharing significant social characteristics.&nbsp; This is an elite that seems to be driven more by self-seeking party advantage than by the public interest. That is unwilling to engage in open and deliberative debate. That is hostile to judicial oversight and resists the rule of law. That is too arrogant to respond to the wishes of the people and informed advice from civil society organisations, charities and even its own agencies.</p> <p>Two out of three us agree that the governing system itself is in need of significant improvement. Surveys reveal that we feel powerless between elections and want more power. The revelations of MPs fiddling their expenses - a feeble parody of practice in the private sector – were an unforgettable shock. They showed just how far the corruption of the public realm had gone. Never mind that the majority of MPs are decent and hard-working people; lobbying and other scandals continually reinforce the impression of a venal political system that is socially and economically remote from the majority of the public.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>This dislocation is made deeper by a cleavage between government policy and people’s everyday lives. Whereas the governments that the political elite controls seek above all to maintain the economy through the state’s complicity with corporate and City power, people in their everyday lives experience the uncertain consequences of the policies that ensue. </p> <p>The established political parties, the sinews of representative democracy, are widely held in contempt. But paradoxically, the two main parties are as strong as they are weak; the electoral system and custom sustain them as cartel parties in and near political power, even while they are dying on their feet. Less than one in a hundred people are members of a political party. The elites that command them are as remote from their grassroots members as they are from the general public.&nbsp; </p> <p>For all the emphasis on “strong government” that is deployed to justify majoritarian party rule, they fudge politically awkward decisions and retreat from necessary long-term policies. They do not engage with the public directly, but instead channel their activities and messages towards particular audiences. Their main source of contact is mediated through the broadcast and print media in circular dialogue with media professionals, the party politicians observing the evasive discipline of cleaving to a pre-determined message; their interrogators seeking to expose deceit, real or assumed, and trying to trick them into “gaffes”. The dictum wrongly attributed to Jeremy Paxman, ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’, seems to dominate these exchanges. The solution might be to give straight answers to questions. </p> <p>Despite continual evidence that we as a society have an abiding interest in politics, and in a wide variety of political issues, a democratic deficit exists between most of us and party politics. Causes arise and overflow on the social media where the unrepresented vote-less young are especially active. Some causes inspire both traditional and new modes of protest. Ultimately, the resentment about the democratic deficit stems from the refusal of governments of all shapes and colours and the political parties to observe the obligations of representative democracy. Representative democracy doesn’t mean that we govern ourselves, but that governments which we elect are responsible to us and act in our interests. A main task of representative government is to hold a balance between the private interests of the rich and powerful and the general interest of the population at large – the public interest. </p> <p>Archaic constitutional institutions and unreformed practices intensify the dislocation between rulers and the ruled: they confirm both the exalted insider status of the political class and reinforce the outsiders’ sense of being powerless and unheard.&nbsp; For all the tours that MPs lead around the building, even Parliament itself constitutes an institutional and political barrier to the people.&nbsp; </p> <p><strong>Two major concerns</strong></p> <p>We have two major concerns about the way in which recent governments make use of the power of Britain’s highly centralised state. First, they put their virtually unrestrained power at the service of global corporate and financial institutions that wield considerable economic and political power over Britain and across the world rather than employing the power of the nation state to moderate their conduct for the public good and to curb their infiltration of our politics and governance. But our governments act in the interests of these institutions at the expense of the people and encourage and assist them to invade and take over public services and the public realm. We are experiencing a modern enclosure movement. As we shall show, the higher echelons of the state, politics and business share a common sense of purpose - the dominion of government over us is symbiotically related to the greater dominion of the global corporate elite.&nbsp; </p> <p>Secondly, the state maintains through GCHQ what is reputedly the most invasive system of mass surveillance in the world, intercepting everyone’s telephone calls, emails, texts, etc., and plotting their personal internet histories, outwith effective legal oversight.&nbsp; GCHQ shares surveillance information with the United States. Our security agencies collaborate intimately with US agencies in counter terrorism activity, even to the point of complicity in illegal rendition and torture of prisoners, which is unlawful under British law. The rule of law does not operate in this secret realm which subverts the balance of power between the state and the citizen. A senior chief constable has warned that police officers in the UK are being turned into “thought police” under drastic anti-terrorism legislation. He was particularly alarmed that the “fine line” between free speech and extremism is being decided not in Parliament and civil society but by “securocrats”, including the security services, government and senior police officers. Instead of being ruled under the first principle of representative government – that is, that the people control the state through the ballot and representative institutions – the state is taking control of our lives as citizens. The surveillance structure is already mis-used: it extends to spying on legitimate grassroots protesters and even to the privileged communications of lawyers with clients and of journalists. Such conduct has a chilling effect on free association, free speech and public protest and has the potential to be an oppressive instrument of authoritarian rule in the wrong hands.</p> <p>Yes, the vote remains. But our elections are losing legitimacy for two reasons. First, because the electoral register - the very foundation of electoral democracy - is incomplete and biased in its composition. Secondly, because the “first past the post” (FPTP) electoral system, as is well known, produces disproportionate outcomes and is too clumsy to reflect the societal changes that are rapidly reducing previous loyalties to the major political parties. General elections are no longer “general”. Five to six parties are being crammed into a two-party electoral system in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with unpredictable results for the whole country. We are entering into an era of electoral lottery.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/VPZ7Ksewdb9vBE7ekoPi2ow9rU9gVQ7XXqTbn5BRKhk/mtime:1428878061/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/16477885072_1942b30001_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/5VQxnExcmTie1woGMOKicburC-Nx__KIjyGATpwemlI/mtime:1428868110/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/16477885072_1942b30001_z.jpg" alt="King John Adds a Digital Signature to the Magna Carta." title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>King John Adds a Digital Signature to the Magna Carta. Flickr/Mike Licht. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <p><strong>Principle 1: the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty</strong></p><p>The first key principle that has been built on the 1215 settlement is that government and the executive should be subject to the law of the land; and secondly, that government should rule in accordance with “the common counsel of the realm” – that is nowadays, with and through a Parliament freely elected by the people.&nbsp; </p> <p>It is important to note that the barons’ rebellion was inspired not only by the immediate oppressions and taxes of an unscrupulous king, but also by traditional understanding of the rules of monarchical rule by consent, expressed on occasion in coronation oaths.&nbsp; Thus Magna Carta is generally regarded as a forerunner of the written constitutions in democracies around the world, but not yet in the very country where it was sealed. In drawing upon 1215, we should recognise the need for a written constitution which sets out the rights and obligations of inhabitants in this country, defines and limits the powers of the state and establishes an independent judiciary to interpret and enforce both. 1215&nbsp; also has symbolic importance as an example of the value of acting collectively in a common cause. We should bear in mind the importance of the popular understanding of democracy and personal freedom in modern Britain, where collective action to secure democracy and human rights ultimately lies.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>The doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty is misleadingly presented to the public as the expression through the House of Commons of the popular will. In fact, it is a device that makes subjects of us, not citizens of a popular rights-based democracy under the rule of law. Parliamentary Sovereignty is actually the sovereignty of “the Crown in Parliament”, in other words, sovereign power is invested in the Prime Minister and his or her government in a Parliament they control. The constitution also sets this hybrid Parliament above the courts as the supreme law-making court.&nbsp; </p> <p>It has long been recognised by constitutional authorities that Parliamentary Sovereignty confers almost unbounded power on the executive and thus the state. In the nineteenth century it was assumed that the self-discipline of premiers and ministers and their respect for unwritten rules of conduct provided sufficient protection against “elective dictatorship”. In the modern era, governments of whatever colour do not do constitutional restraint. The authors of Charter 88 wrote a generation ago, “our political, human and social rights are being curtailed, while the powers of the executive have increased, are increasing and ought to be diminished”. This judgment remains true today. Prime Ministers and ministers rule the House of Commons and consequently the country. Behind them, under the doctrine, government departments and countless civil servants, the security services, agencies, quangos and other bodies rule largely unobserved.&nbsp; Alarmingly, the power to make crucial decisions can be reduced to the Prime Minister and his or her coterie, as under Tony Blair’s sofa government in the “den” of Number 10.&nbsp; As Lord Butler observed in his 2004 report on the Iraq invasion, the “informality and circumscribed character of the government’s procedures” put at risk the scope for informed collective political judgment. A risk we still run.</p> <p><strong>The executive writ</strong></p> <p>The executive writ runs throughout society. The executive commands the whole apparatus of our highly centralised state against which there are few countermanding institutions. In Parliament itself, the dominant rule is that the executive’s business must get through. The government controls the House’s agenda. The governing party, or coalition, for the most part relies on party loyalty to rule, but also exercises powers of discipline and patronage over its members (though recently, rumps of dissident party MPs have shown that they can sometimes impose their own agendas on government, and splits within the coalitional government have disrupted its business).</p> <p>Recent reforms have reinvigorated the work of the normally bipartisan select committees, but the results are fitful and they are woefully under-resourced; meanwhile the standing committees which examine legislative proposals have a government majority and subject new laws to only formal scrutiny. The appointed House of Lords exercises a recognised role as a revising chamber, but its scrutiny is non-democratic. Governments use the chamber as a receptacle for amendments revising their legislative proposals. Most independent amendments are generally rejected by the Commons, except where on occasion it is able to negotiate a deal using its delaying powers. The executive can at any time change the Upper House’s composition.&nbsp; </p> <p>Lower down, there is an absence of elected authorities at regional level, except in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London where a devolved parliament and assemblies exercise limited powers. Subdued local authorities are deprived of their autonomy, starved of funding to the point at which they can scarcely exercise their statutory duties (for example, to protect vulnerable children; to provide social care for the old and vulnerable; to make available services to people with disabilities), and have lost many significant functions and decision-making powers.&nbsp; Under the false rubric of “localism”, they are obliged to obey central governments’ orders.</p> <p>Governments are thus virtually all-powerful as they bestride both the political and legislative arenas. They combine executive powers of two kinds: continuing royal prerogative powers inherited from absolute monarchy that are independent of Parliament; and those that they take upon themselves through Acts of Parliament. Their supremacy in Parliament combines legislative and executive powers, allowing them to make statute law and empower themselves through largely unexamined delegated legislative processes, thus adding to their political mastery. There are no legal limitations on their power to legislate through Parliament, except when they seek to make measures that restrain judicial review. They may in constitutional theory make or unmake any law whatever, even if their action is absurd or utterly repugnant.&nbsp; </p> <p>As we have observed above, Parliamentary Sovereignty raises Parliament above the courts. We may demonstrate the weakness of Parliament and the irrelevance of courts on key issues at key moments by reference ( to take just two examples)&nbsp; to their inability to prevent the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and to deal with the vast invasion of people’s privacy revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013 - and then by government’s decision to drive legislation through the Commons in a single day last July, legitimising its powers to demand data retention by communications companies.&nbsp; This power was found by the European Court of Justice to be an invasion of privacy and a breach of fundamental human rights.&nbsp; That Act had cross-party backing.&nbsp; </p> <p>These two examples are illustrative of a dangerous recent development in the use by ministers of the state’s executive powers.&nbsp; Since the Thatcher era, governments, ministers and many senior politicians, on both left and right, have wrongly taken electoral success as a “democratic mandate” to act as they see fit (see ‘The claim to a Democratic Mandate’, below).&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Towards executive plutocracy</strong></p> <p>It is time to move beyond the familiar analysis of the damaging effects of the over-powerful state on our democracy, human rights and governance. We live in a new global era with new masters. Power lives only in part with elected governments round the world, much more so with huge global corporations, banks too big to fail, financial industries, and media conglomerates. Today’s parallel with feudal 1215 is the absolute dominance of a “collective monarchy”, combining the power not merely of the Westminster state but also of the corporate and financial institutions and their elites. These corporate bodies are more powerful and resourceful than many nation states and exercise additional power over any one national government through their capacity to move their operations to another nation if they object to its policies.&nbsp; Yet their powers are circumscribed by their market needs and governments are not powerless to protect their peoples. Our governments however put the overweening power of Britain’s centralised state at the service of these private giants; fusing the dominion of the state with that of the market. They act in the interests of these institutions at the expense of the interests of the people whom they represent. There is also a dominant ethos and rhetoric that legitimises this imbalance -&nbsp; that the market and private enterprise is good, government and public endeavour is bad. The higher echelons of the state, politics and business share a common sense of&nbsp; purpose; the dominion of government over us is symbiotically related to the greater dominion of the global corporate elite.&nbsp; </p> <p>A Labour minister once described Britain as an “executive democracy”. We are on the verge of becoming an ‘”executive plutocracy”. Globalisation is tearing our society apart, driving inequalities upwards to stratospheric heights while driving down waged incomes in a labour market made “flexible” in the interests of business. Class and the attendant advantages of high social and professional status are choking social mobility and reinforcing deprivation. Inequality on today’s scale is a profoundly democratic issue since common citizenship is the lifeblood of democracy itself.</p> <p>Three sets of interlocking and destructive changes since the 1980s have altered the balance between the common weal and private power. First, the ideological triumph of neo-liberal theory, or “market fundamentalism”, has become the common sense across the world of governments, politicians, most of the mass media, central banks, business and global organisations such as the IMF and World Bank. It has become axiomatic that private enterprise is efficient and economically beneficial while the state is incompetent and wasteful. This thinking permeates the mindset of most of Britain’s media organisations which, being owned by media moguls, are part of the corporate world; the public BBC is also influenced by this new “common sense”.&nbsp; </p> <p>Secondly, transnational corporations and businesses dominate global trade, investment and finance processes and exercise their power to influence and dictate national economic and social policies, for example to demand in the UK the “flexible” labour policies that drive low wages and insecure employment. In the UK, the City of London is the pre-eminent global player as financial trading and services have become central to the UK economy. The City has been described as “a state within the state” which has penetrated the body politic. </p> <p>Thirdly, these businesses (as well as the rich) are able to avoid paying tax while taking advantage of the infrastructure that makes their wealth and profits possible and gives them their place in the British consumer market. Of 60 tax havens in the world, half are part of the City’s “hub and spoke array” network. In denying Britain the revenues that should pay for public goods and services, they damage our democracy and shift the burden of taxes onto ordinary people.</p> <p><strong>The power of lobbying</strong></p> <p>Quite apart from the direct influence over government policies that the financial and corporate sector and individual companies apply, they maintain a huge lobbying industry, enjoying in the words of a Commons Public Administration Select Committee report&nbsp; “privileged access and disproportionate influence…..which is related to the amount of money they are able to bring to bear on the political process”. Their money funds political parties, think tanks (some enjoying charitable status) and politicians’ private offices, and can effectively purchase seats in the second chamber of parliament. There is also the significant “revolving door” phenomenon: that is, the interchange of high status individuals between public office and private business. These channels of influence overlap. We will consider these modes of influence in turn, bearing in mind the high degree of overlap:<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><em><strong>- Revolving doors</strong></em></p> <p>The “revolving doors” practice is a phenomenon which allows the private sector to penetrate government and secure access to the expertise and networks of the public service. On the one hand, corporate sector personnel “revolve in” to posts in government departments, advisory and executive quangos, departmental boards, and so on; on the other hand, former ministers, top civil servants and other civil service employees “revolve out” into private sector directorships, advisory posts and jobs. </p> <p>The risks this practice runs are obvious. The state’s task is to pursue the interests of the whole society – i.e., the public interest which is far greater than the sum of private interests. Plainly, the practice can increase access to professional skills and fresh perspectives for government and arguably improve the quality of governance through competition; however, it also diminishes the ethic of public service, contributes to the “hollowing out” of government and reinforces the close linkage between the private sector and government.</p> <p>The scale of “revolving in” is striking. A parliamentary report in 2010 found that a third of recruits to the senior civil service came mostly from the private sector, and half at the highest level. Private appointees to departmental boards providing strategic and operational direction in government have the opportunity to bring to bear external interests. Government-private sector partnerships exist to open up the public sector to private business and to promote UK business overseas.</p> <p>“Revolving out” is the cause for special alarm. The transition to lucrative posts in private industry can now be said to be the normal expectation for a minister or top-level official, especially in the health, defence, finance and banking sectors. The practice is too lightly regulated. Tony Blair led seven former ministers into financial services, taking posts with J P Morgan and Zurich. In 2010, Channel Four’s <em>Dispatches</em> and the <em>Sunday Times</em> propositioned 20 former ministers and MPs with offers for paid consultancy; 15 agreed to meet.The pitches for employment from some former ministers are egregious examples of greed - one said he wanted to make “some real money”, another described himself as “a cab for hire”. Very recently two highly-respected senior politicians also succumbed to a media honey-trap. The prevalence of “revolving out”, and the ease with which it is done, is corrupting public life.&nbsp; </p> <p><em><strong>- Political funding&nbsp; </strong></em></p> <p>Party politics has become an increasingly costly business since the 1970s. The main parties all depend on wealthy donors, typically from the business and financial community, to fund their activities. This is as true of the Labour Party as of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, though Labour also gets substantial funding from trade unions.&nbsp; Several studies have shown that a significant number of donations to the parties emanate from donor groups in trade, finance and industry. In the period running up to the 2010 general election, their donations to the Conservatives rose from a quarter to a half of all Conservative donations; and in the run-up to the 2015 election, are being supplemented by a surge of contributions from property businesses, worried by the prospect of a “mansion tax” under a Labour government. It is reasonable to infer that these donations “buy” influence over party and government policies, while they “buy” knighthoods and peerages (and thus a place in Parliament), demeaning our politics. Party fund-raising stoops to expensive dinners with ministers and leading politicians of the parties, and even the auction of a tennis match with the Prime Minister and Mayor of London, a snip at £160,000.&nbsp; A formal meeting with a minister has to be disclosed in the interests of open government; paid-for access is kept quiet in the private domain. </p> <p>Political parties are legally obliged to disclose donations worth more than £7,500 &nbsp;to the Electoral Commission. The purpose of the rule is to ensure that the processes of political donations are transparent and above board. However, the Conservative donors are funnelling hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of donations to the party through secretive dining clubs that allow donors to keep their identity hidden as long as they contribute less than £7,500. Over the last decade as much as £800,000, for example, has been passed from the United and Cecil Club to Conservative marginal seats. Ministers habitually address club dinners, a matter of concern since the dinners give members unofficial and unrecorded access. </p> <p><strong>- <em>Lobbying</em><em>&nbsp;</em></strong></p> <p>Lobbying is as old as politics. It is an essential element in democratic governance. It is a means to inform government and public authorities of a broad range of interests, benefits and consequences that an existing or proposed public policy might affect; and to provide them with information about a possible new initiative. <em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p>But it must be an equal, open and transparent process.&nbsp; The very term “lobbying” is misleading in modern Britain when it is applied to the activities of global corporations, domestic companies and lobbying firms. They are no longer confined to the “lobby”.&nbsp; They are an indispensable part of the political community and government. As the shrinking state is hollowed out, the vast lobbying industry – worth some £2 billion – is willing and able to fill the gaps, offering skills and expertise in, for example, establishing regulatory systems, setting standards and fixing tax rates, drafting legislative amendments, acting as consultants, hijacking public sector reforms, recruiting and talking endlessly to MPs and peers (and actually exploiting peers’ passes to get lobbyists into Parliament). Food and drink, energy, petroleum, pharmaceutical, nuclear and other companies are highly successful in influencing government policies. The City of London Corporation even has its own official parliamentary lobbyist, the Remembrancer. Numerous individual cases raise the suspicion of improper influence, which by their nature are unprovable, but diminish popular trust. <em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p>The government’s Lobbying Act, designed to regulate commercial lobbying, was watered down after substantial input from the industry, while tighter controls were imposed on trade unions and civil society organisations. The Prime Minister, denouncing Britain’s “broken politics” and “crony capitalism” while in opposition, famously said that the lobbying was the next big scandal waiting to happen. In fact, it<em> is</em> happening.<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p><strong>- <em>Funding think tanks</em></strong></p> <p>Providing funds for think tanks offers business a means to influence policy and to frame the terms of public debate without being logged by the Electoral Commission. Think tanks provide a public impression of impartiality and academic rigour, even though they may be devoted to the promotion of a particular ideology and may be closely linked to a particular political party. Unlike with political parties, the names of donors do not have to be identified in the accounts; if the think tanks are charities, donations are tax-deductible.&nbsp; </p> <p><em><strong>- The claim to a democratic mandate</strong></em></p> <p>Modern ministers have been degrading the conduct of government by asserting the primacy of what they call their “democratic mandate” and indulging in a bullying resentment of the role of the courts in applying and asserting the rule of law over government policies. Judicial rulings, whether under the common law or the Human Rights Act and the European Convention have provoked government rage over numerous issues. Ministers complain bitterly that “unelected judges” have overturned executive policies, defined as “parliamentary” and thus democratic by inference.&nbsp; </p> <p>The issue in most cases arises from governments’ anger over rulings in the European Court and domestic court and tribunals, asserting due process or protecting minority rights, including those of&nbsp; “terrorist suspects”, against majority opinion; rulings which amount to one of the main strands of the rule of law.&nbsp; </p> <p>Ministers summon up populist backing, or “decent common sense”, as justification for policies that the courts obstruct. But their argument goes wider. They commonly assert that the resistance of the courts is illegitimate because they are defying the will of elected government. Thus they argue that the executive, wearing the clothes of a Parliament that it dominates, possesses unchallengeable political and legislative power because it enjoys electoral endorsement. A dubious proposal, as we shall see. It is an intrinsic feature of mature democracy that neither executive nor legislative authority is absolute. If &nbsp;governments are to operate under the rule of law, then government actions and laws must be subject to review by the courts.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>In most modern democracies, a written constitution governs the relationship between the respective powers of the executive, legislature and the courts.&nbsp; But the historic, un-codified British constitution provides no outright constitutional brake upon misuse of executive powers. Recent governments have been increasingly unwilling to respect not only the independent authority and judgment of the judiciary, but of the civil service, the House of Lords, local government and Parliament itself. Their willingness to press ahead with policies and actions without full deliberation and genuine consultation clearly reveals the dangers inherent in the growing imbalance of power between the institutions.&nbsp; Ministers have been increasingly ready to usurp and override the traditional role of the senior civil service to act as an impartial body, “speaking truth to power”. It is hardly surprising that two eminent political scientists were able recently to review the decisions of successive recent governments, taken without due deliberation and consultation, and to conclude with evidence that they are prone to substantial “blunders” in policy-making.&nbsp; Especially, since 1997, governments have introduced fundamental constitutional changes without due consultation, often for reasons of partisan advantage.&nbsp; </p> <p>The new insistence upon the “democratic mandate” is profoundly unconstitutional, and would be so even if the party of those who brandish this demand actually had a genuine majority of the popular vote. But the claims of ministers, both in the coalition government and its Labour predecessor, that they possess a “democratic mandate” when justifying their actions and repudiating judicial challenge, don’t even have the weight of a genuine mandate to justify them. No recent government has come close to a 50 per cent majority of the popular vote. Our “first past the post” electoral system is notoriously disproportionate in the way the parties are represented in Parliament.&nbsp; </p> <p>Take the last two general elections. In the 2005 general election, Labour secured a majority of 70 parliamentary seats over all other parties on only 35.2 per cent of those voting. In 2010, the two parties that formed the coalition government secured 59 per cent of the popular vote and 56 per cent of seats in the Commons. (The higher return per vote for the Conservatives was offset by the low return for the Liberal Democrats.)&nbsp; </p> <p>On the face of it, the 2005 result was outrageous and the construction of the 2010 coalition fair. But the “democratic mandates” of 2005 and 2010 were both fundamentally flawed in two respects. First, the turnout in 2005 was very low, at 61.4 per cent of registered voters, which equates to the endorsement of just under 22 per cent of registered voters. The turnout in 2015 was 65 per cent, which means that the coalition parties received the support of only 39 per cent of those eligible to vote.</p> <p>Secondly, these figures exclude the substantial number of people who were not registered to vote. If we add registered and unregistered but eligible citizens together, the governing parties in the coalition government won just over a third – 34.1 per cent – of the votes of the eligible population. Conservative MPs have most vociferously asserted their “democratic mandate”;&nbsp; yet their party mustered just over a fifth of potential votes in 2010. Of course, the coalition parties have not always voted in concert, but they have combined to pursue vigorous policies to bring down the financial deficit; and it can by no means be said that voters for either party anticipated them going into coalition. Many coalition policies were foreshadowed in the election manifesto of only one of the coalition partners; some policies were in neither and some notoriously contradicted explicit pledges. The Coalition Agreement negotiated by the party leaders after the 2010 election was not endorsed by the electorate. If democratic legitimacy implies substantial popular endorsement, then the “democratic mandate” of recent British governments rests on weak foundations. </p> <p>The implications of these figures go wider and throw into question the very foundations of our democratic process. Its legitimacy rests on the principle of equality between citizens, but the electoral register is deficient and deteriorating – one in seven eligible people are not registered. It manifestly doesn’t deliver the measure of equality required, and worse still, is very unequal between different types and classes of citizens. Voter registration rates are particularly low among certain groups: the young, people renting from social and private landlords, urban dwellers, people sharing houses, certain ethnic groups and students; whereas registration is high among home-owners, older people and in the suburbs and rural areas. Just 70 per cent of young people aged from 20 to 24; 63 per cent of private sector tenants; and 62 per cent of Commonwealth citizens who are eligible to vote are registered.&nbsp; </p> <p>There are implications for the rule of law here, since unregistered people are not eligible for jury service. As absence from the electoral register is more common among groups who are subject to discrimination in the justice system, the lack of representation of these groups on juries hinders equal access to justice. The weakness and social bias of the register also throws into question the legitimacy of UK referendums.</p> <p>Further, constituency boundaries are calculated on the basis of the incomplete and biased electoral roll rather than on the actual population size, an alternative which is both manifestly a more accurate and fairer system for determining constituencies and more common internationally. </p> <p>This has meant that areas of low registration, mostly urban areas, will over time be downgraded at successive boundary reviews, thus compounding the inequalities that derive from our&nbsp; “first past the post” electoral system. But the way we register to vote is changing. A new system of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) is being introduced.&nbsp; While being a modernising reform, this is also a momentous change which will very likely reduce the electoral roll still further and which threatens to contribute to an immediate and heavily biased re-structuring of our parliamentary constituencies. When Northern Ireland introduced IER in 2002, the number of registered voters shrank by 10 per cent. Ten years later, the Electoral Commission reported a significant decline in registration; 29 per cent of the eligible population there were not registered.</p> <p>An estimated 7.5 million potential voters in England and Wales are already missing from the register. Thus the prospect of further decline is a major challenge to a vision of the UK as a modern inclusive and participatory democracy, especially if as seems likely the same disenfranchised groups systematically fall off the register. Whole sections of society will be privileged while others may be deprived of their right to decide how Britain should be governed.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Politicians naturally privilege those sections of the community who are registered while neglecting the unregistered; and there are significant political implications, as Conservative and UKIP support is concentrated among easy-to-register groups and Labour and Liberal Democrat support tends to be higher among groups who will disappear from the register.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>The new system has gone live for new entries, but the people already registered under the old system will be carried over until the 2015 general election. The next government however may then decide to implement the coalition government’s intention to purge the register in late 2015 and subsequent elections would very likely be held on a seriously incomplete and biased register. The introduction of this new register would have malign consequences for parliamentary elections thereafter. </p> <p>Clauses under the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, which were delayed in the Conservative row with their Liberal Democrat coalition partners in 2013, insist that a boundary review takes place in 2018 and that the new constituency boundaries will in future be based strictly on registered voters to equalise the size of constituencies. The combination of IER and new boundary rules, stricter than those of the past, will mean that the bias among registered voters will be incorporated at a stroke into the structure of the electoral system.</p> <p><em><strong>- Modes of representation</strong></em></p> <p>Fundamental questions about the unrepresentative nature of our Parliament remain. There are three ways in which the House of Commons could be made representative:</p> <ul><li><strong>according to geographical distribution;</strong></li><li><strong><br /></strong></li><li><strong>according to each party’s share of the votes cast; and</strong></li><li><strong><br /></strong></li><li><strong>according to its social composition</strong></li></ul> <p>These three modes of representation are all important for democracy. The first, because people should not be privileged or disadvantaged just because they live in the country rather than a city, or in the north-west or south-east; nor should Parliament be weighted towards any particular set of geographical interests.&nbsp; </p> <p>The second, because modern elections are primarily about choosing a party or parties to form a government: seats in Parliament should therefore reflect the vote shares of the parties, and people’s votes should not be more or less effective according to where they vote or which party they vote for.&nbsp; </p> <p>The third, because a Parliament heavily biased towards one social group, or set of groups, or which excludes certain groups, will be limited in experience and more narrowly based.&nbsp; These three dimensions of representation are inter-related; and in the case of this and recent Parliaments the dominance of members of the professional and managerial class has subverted the ideal of a socially balanced chamber; and has also submerged the idea of geographical representation, since the major parties choose candidates with this background in preference to “local” candidates, and often parachute chosen figures into safe seats. </p> <p>There is also an increasingly significant strand of MPs and candidates who have pursued an exclusively party political career, or in related occupations such as lobbying, PR and journalism.&nbsp; This phenomenon has contributed to Parliament’s distinct loss in esteem, trust and legitimacy, and alienation from politics, especially among people who are excluded.&nbsp; <strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>Elections under first past the post have notoriously produced utterly disproportionate results throughout the postwar period, normally swelling the seat count for the leading party - and thus contributing to the hubris of governing parties. The way in which first past the post has secured established parties in power with only minority support at the expense of rival parties and creates “electoral deserts” is well known. Less attention has been paid to its unfair numbing effect. More and more parliamentary constituencies are safe seats while the number of marginal constituencies – those which can change hands on a 5 per cent or less swing of the vote - has halved from 166 in 1955 to 83 today. The decisions of a few hundred thousand swing voters in so few constituencies are overwhelmingly important in determining the policies of the parties and the outcomes of general elections. </p> <p>We have however reached a Rubicon. The traditional “two-party” system has fragmented as class structures and political attitudes have changed over time. In the 1951 general election, 97 per cent of the electorate voted either Conservative or Labour. In 2010, only 65 per cent of voters – and given the low turnout, 42 per cent of the electorate and 34.1 per cent of the eligible population – chose one or other of the two dominant parties. In 2015 the turnout may well be lower while the number of rival parties will he higher: five in England, six in Scotland, five in Wales and Northern Ireland. Our obsolete electoral system will not be able to cope with this diversity. </p> <p>The 2015 election may descend into farce. Unfair and anomalous results will multiply – and the overall result will be entirely unrepresentative at a time when our politics require a governing party or coalition with the legitimacy, trust and humility to meet major constitutional, social and economic challenges.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/z7SNbp-TntyE1PSnLAQn6E6yBI62BpHrh9EGr1nqsCY/mtime:1428878060/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/John%2C_Magna_Carta.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/YfGNlv19Choe6PrS31In0pjlZ2UlLvi2OeX2y6TxYVk/mtime:1428868749/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/John%2C_Magna_Carta.jpg" alt="9th century coloured wood engraving of King John of England signing Magna Carta. " title="" width="277" height="411" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>19th century coloured wood engraving of King John of England signing Magna Carta. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <p><strong>Principle 2: basic rights for all</strong></p> <p>Human rights are essential to democracy which is far wider than just what happens at elections and in Parliament. For example, the freedoms of association, assembly and expression are fundamental to a healthy working democracy in which citizens are free to participate and make their views and demands known. So is equality of citizenship and therefore equality before the law. So is protection from oppressive and arbitrary government and from torture. It is politically illiterate to argue as some do that human rights benefit only criminals and scroungers; or to accuse the courts of being “undemocratic” when they act to protect human rights – that is, protecting the foundations of democracy.&nbsp; </p> <p>Further, there is an unfortunate tendency to discuss human rights only in the context of the freedoms and protections of individual citizens and groups. Human rights instruments place a duty on governments to maintain a universal system of freedoms and protections, not just the duty to secure “the right to life” which tends to be the only one that official discourse acknowledges.&nbsp; </p> <p>The Human Rights Act 1998 wrote the European Convention on Human Rights into British law and gave our citizens the right to remedies in the British courts for breaches of Convention rights (rather than embarking on the long and costly legal journey to the European Court of Human Rights).&nbsp; </p> <p>In this way the Act increased the “sovereignty” of our judiciary by enabling our judges to apply the Convention directly in the British courts. The Convention sets standards of human rights that a country with our traditions would wish to uphold for its inhabitants: absolute rights, such as the right to life and freedom from torture; and qualified rights, such as the right to family and private life, where a balance is to be held between an applicant’s rights and the rights of others. </p> <p>However, the 1998 Act “fudged” the issue of parliamentary sovereignty by denying the domestic courts the authority to strike down legislation that breached human rights, instead giving them a power only to issue a certificate of non-compliance which Parliament, subject to executive writ, could ignore or resolve as ministers and MPs in Parliament saw fit. Thus the Act does not fully protect people “from government intrusion and erosion” of their rights. Yet it has transformed the opportunities for ordinary citizens to assert their rights and, where necessary, to enforce them more swiftly in the European Court and domestic courts.</p> <p>It is heartening that the Prime Minister wishes to celebrate the exemplary importance of Magna Carta. What remains difficult to understand is how at the same time his government (like Labour previously) can pursue policies which are diametrically opposed to its precepts. Restrictions on legal aid, charges on access to the employment tribunal, attempts to curb access to judicial review, and other practices, such as the common abuse of stop and search powers, are entirely inconsistent with the Convention’s clear words.&nbsp;&nbsp; Erosions of civil and political rights are inconsistent with the word and spirit of Magna Carta – the huge and systemic invasion of privacy, secret courts, house arrest, reductions in trade union rights, restrictions on the ability of civil society organisations and charities to speak out freely, and other curbs on freedom of assembly and free speech and association.&nbsp; The Prime Minister leads a party whose leaders repudiate the values of Magna Carta and are currently seeking to withdraw from the terms of the European Convention, its modern equivalent.&nbsp; The Convention embodies the principles of Magna Carta and even reflects its wording. </p> <p>Access to justice is vital to the rule of law. Legal aid underpins our justice system, providing financial assistance to people who cannot otherwise afford legal representation and access to the courts. It is in this way the cornerstone of the right to a fair trial and can help to give equal access to justice for all, as provided for by the European Convention. Criminal legal aid is central to making a reality of Chapter 39 of Magna Carta that protects individuals from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Civil legal aid was designed to put citizens on an equal footing in cases involving family law and civil disputes. But legal aid has a further important function – funding access to the High Court for cases of judicial review, the process by which the courts scrutinise the lawfulness of decisions made by the government and public bodies.&nbsp; </p> <p>The coalition government has imposed severe cuts on criminal and civil legal aid, and thus on people’s equal access to justice and the resolution of personal and financial issues. Changes to eligibility for legal aid for victims of domestic abuse put increasing numbers of women and children at unnecessary risks of catastrophic harm or damage to their emotional and physical well-being. The government recently sought to drive through cuts to criminal legal aid that the High Court ruled were so unfair as to be unlawful. Taken with the imposition of charges on workers going to the employment tribunal on cases of unfair dismissal, discrimination and other practices - charges in the interests of business to deter workers from seeking justice – it is clear the coalition government has strayed far from Chapter 40 of Magna Carta:</p> <blockquote><p>‘To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice’.</p></blockquote> <p>The government has also been diligently restricting access to the High Court for proceedings for judicial review in an attempt to choke off cases. An attempt to introduce a discriminatory residency test for access to civil legal aid, including judicial review, thus undermining the principle of equality under the law, was blocked by a judicial review challenge. But other measures to restrict access have succeeded. Legal aid no longer covers the costs of making a judicial review application, except (retrospectively) where permission to go ahead has been granted by the court. </p> <p>This means that most of the costly pre-permission work in judicial review cases is at solicitors’ own risk. The test for the court to grant permission for a judicial review application to go ahead has been made more restrictive. Organisations which make legal submissions, or “interventions”, to assist the court in judicial review hearings could be deterred from doing so by making them liable to pay the costs to other parties of their intervention. This clause could for example make it harder for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to make its considerable contributions to hearings on behalf of people with disabilities, asylum seekers, vulnerable witnesses. Chris Grayling, Lord Chancellor &amp; Justice Secretary, justifies these efforts to restrict judicial review on the grounds that it is being used by undesirable bodies that “seek to disrupt the process of government”, a statement that demeans his office. What he is doing is to undermine the vital role of the courts in ensuring that government is behaving lawfully. He has also taken powers to further revise the rules.</p> <p><em><strong>- Rejecting the Human Rights Act</strong></em></p> <p>The incorporation of the Convention into British law and the requirement on public authorities to comply with its terms have widened the scale and scope of human rights protection throughout everyday life in the United Kingdom. </p> <p>From manifold examples of the profound impact and individual dignity that the Act has brought about, we choose to highlight the following: protecting the rights of soldiers in Iraq seriously wounded by “friendly fire”; granting anonymity to a victim of libellous paedophile allegations; recognising the rights of women violated by undercover police officers who entered into sexual relationships with them; bringing to an end a council’s improper surveillance of a family over a school catchment area;&nbsp; prohibiting the use of nocturnal CCTV filming in the bedroom of a couple in residential care with learning difficulties; obliging a local authority to provide school transport to a young learning-disabled girl who lived 2.8 miles from the special school she attended, just inside the three miles criterion of council policy; re-uniting an elderly couple, who had&nbsp; lived together for over 65 years, who were about to be separated when the husband was moved into a residential care home. He was unable to walk unaided and relied on his wife to help him move around. She was blind and used her husband as her eyes. </p> <p>Nevertheless, the protection of basic rights under the Act and the direct link with the European Convention is in a precarious position. The outraged comments of government ministers and certain MPs, and biased coverage in the press, have between them created an uninformed hostility among many people to the very idea of human rights.&nbsp; </p> <p>Ministers in both Labour and Conservative governments have chafed at being overruled on human rights grounds by the European Court (ECHR) and our domestic courts. In 2007, Labour’s Home Secretary, threatened to take the “nuclear option” of opting out or derogating from Article 5 of the European Convention which guarantees the right to liberty. The Conservatives are now preparing their own nuclear option. They are pledged to carry out proposals from Chris Grayling to cut the UK’s link with the European Court of Human Rights, established by the Human Rights Act, even at the risk of being forced to withdraw from the Convention altogether.&nbsp; </p> <p>The party proposes to replace the 1998 Act with a new “<em>British </em>Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”. This measure would uphold parliamentary sovereignty against the Strasbourg court which Grayling would reduce to an advisory role only. It would incorporate the European Convention into British law again, but would&nbsp; “clarify” how the government considers its clauses should be applied in the British courts: in other words, it would curtail some of the Convention rights in order to draw power back to government and the state. A “triviality test” would prevent human rights laws “being used for minor matters”: meaning that government would decide <em>a priori</em> which human rights would be deemed lawful. His Bill is being presented as a continuation of Britain’s noble tradition of respect for human rights, shorn of foreign interference. But it would be a singular breach of the minimal purpose of any human rights act&nbsp; – which is to hold the executive<em> and</em> legislature to account through the courts. The Bill would subject the protection of human rights to interference from both government and whipped majorities in Parliament.&nbsp; </p> <p><strong>- <em>Economic and social rights</em></strong></p> <p>The democratic principle of equal political citizenship requires that no-one should be allowed to fall below a minimum acceptable level of economic and social existence.&nbsp; Economic and social well-being help create self-confident citizens who are able and willing to play a part in the democratic life of their society. Paid work at fair rates of pay, safe and secure housing, education, health-care, benefits, pensions and services for people who are outside the labour market – in brief, economic and social rights – are vital to political equality and social inclusion.&nbsp; </p> <p>Unlock Democracy upholds the basic principle of international human rights law that civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights, are indivisible; and considers therefore that socio-economic rights should be introduced in the United Kingdom. The Foreign Office expressed our position succinctly in 2003, insisting that “the choice between economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights is a false one . . . unless people have adequate access to food, shelter and health care, they will never be able to enjoy the full range of civil and political rights”.&nbsp; </p> <p>What has become most striking in recent years on this question is the stark divergence of view between that of the political and judicial establishment and that of popular opinion and of specialist human rights lawyers and civil society organisations. Both Labour and the Conservatives in government have blocked the recognition of economic and social rights, as have the loyalist parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly who condemned the recommendations of the NI Human Rights Commission to introduce a NI Bill of Rights containing basic rights to work, health, “adequate” housing and “an adequate standard of living”. Public opinion is strongly in favour of social and economic rights, as shown by opinion polls, like those of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust series, which found consistent majority support for their inclusion in a Bill of Rights. Opinion polls conducted on behalf of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission as part of the extensive consultation process on the adoption of a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights found consensus-level support across both communities for the four basic economic and social rights.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/tvC1moiquQCC8W1TobOKV0inuK9fmb8LkHQTqAKFWlk/mtime:1428878061/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/611px-Link_John_Magna_Charta_by_Ernest_Normand.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/sX3FDxXwqZUJdYa3E06AV8SyXwbP8f6JXzhVZfWFT4k/mtime:1428869016/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/611px-Link_John_Magna_Charta_by_Ernest_Normand.jpg" alt="King John Granting Magna Carta from the fresco in the Royal Exchange (1900)." title="" width="460" height="678" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>King John Granting Magna Carta from the fresco in the Royal Exchange (1900). Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <p><strong>Principle 3: protecting public goods from appropriation</strong></p> <p>The most damaging consequence of the collusion between business and political power has been the systematic market invasion of the “public realm” through privatisation and marketisation policies over the past 30 years. &nbsp;</p> <p>As we have stated above, it is the modern equivalent of King John’s seizures of land as royal forest and the enclosure movement from about 1750 onwards in which swathes of common land, pastures and waste lands, were expropriated by Acts of Parliament and removed from common use into private ownership by the well-connected rich.</p> <p>The public realm has been a significant part of our democracy, and especially so since 1945.&nbsp; It has consisted first of all of the range of public assets, services, institutions,&nbsp; agencies, laws and regulations, offices and their occupants that belong (or belonged) to national and local government.&nbsp; </p> <p>But the public realm is more than the public sector or the sum of its parts. It represents a social-cum-political dimension of democracy where people are equal citizens in the common life of society; and the idea prevails that the activities of government and the public sector serve a general or public interest. The sense of a common good is seen at its best in an ethos of public service with its own distinctive set of values. The tradition of an impartial civil service, recruited on merit and able and willing to advise ministers in governments of different political persuasions without fear, has been a significant expression of this ethic in practice. That tradition has been grievously “hollowed out” by governments since the 1990s.</p> <p>It is unfortunate that political debate on the role of the state fails to recognise the importance of the public realm – even of its existence beyond public services and key public functions. Yet at a time when the idea of the minimal state is being pursued with great vigour, it is essential that debate is balanced by a strong and principled argument asserting the role of the public realm and its importance to equal and common citizenship.&nbsp; Debate so far has been confined narrowly to a political class that takes it as axiomatic that the private sector is invariably superior to the public sector. It is a debate from which the public has been excluded, though in the case of the NHS, it is true, the people’s attachment to the anachronistic idea of a universal public service has so far slowed down privatisation or the introduction of insurance-based alternatives.&nbsp; </p> <p>Thanks to a loyal public, the BBC and its non-market funding regime survives against fierce market-led outrage and the inclination of one major party to clip its wings. There is also evidence that most of the electorate stubbornly regards transport and some public utilities as belonging in the public domain. It is certainly more than time to engage the wider public in debate about the boundaries of the public realm, and to apply a “public interest” test to determine what public institutions, services and functions properly belong within it, and which belong in the private sphere; and to ensure that privatised institutions also have a legal duty to openness and a defined public interest.</p> <p>Yet the wholesale privatisation of assets, services and functions continues to fragment and replace the idea of a public realm with a series of private interest aims and practices. It makes money a major determinant of public policy. Any assumption that decisions on whether or not to privatise are made on pragmatic grounds is mistaken. They are driven by the neo-liberal dogma that the market is always superior to the public sector.&nbsp; Privatisations are largely justified on cost-saving grounds. This is not the place for a full review of the experience of privatisation in practice. But it is fair to say that where privatisation has brought higher costs for users and lower wages for workers, worsening employment conditions and lower quality care and personal services, the costs in social misery and insecurity ought to be entered onto the balance sheet.&nbsp; </p> <p>Governments themselves should be under a duty to protect and enhance the services and functions that remain public and to establish public interest rules for those that have been privatised but retain obligations to the common good. Beyond the direct impact of privatisation in the public sector, the process serves to undermine the capacity and integrity of government itself and of the services that remain public. There government mimics private enterprise by cost-cutting drives, sacking staff and reducing the quality of performance. Central government’s cuts programme in local government forces local authorities to outsource vital personal services, such as social care, to private companies at ever lower rates of return, damaging the quality of care while making the provision of care financially precarious.&nbsp; </p> <p>The public realm, with its separate ethos and values, is becoming a mere colony of the private market, with quite different values. Negotiations between the EU and US on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are being conducted in secret and ought to be made transparent. There are fears that the protagonists will conclude a deal that would subject decisions of democratic governments to adjudication by non-elected tribunals, and open up the public realm, including the NHS, ever more widely to US and foreign, alongside British, private companies. &nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Part Two:&nbsp; a charter of modern democracy</strong></h2> <p>Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest were a linked stab at a written constitution for England. It is high time to finish the job with a written constitution for the United Kingdom that secures a modern rights-based democracy fit for the digital age, with the rule of law, representative and newly devolved government and an active citizenship enjoying the full range of human rights.&nbsp; </p> <p>Only a written constitution can give stable and democratic form to the interlocking changes necessary for reform. There is a series of general objectives that such a constitution should seek to bring about:-</p><li>introduce for the first time popular democracy in this country;&nbsp;</li><li>take this democracy into the digital era;</li><li>establish the rule of law over the executive and Parliament;&nbsp;</li><li>remove executive dominion in Parliament;&nbsp;</li><li>introduce elections by a proportional electoral system;&nbsp;</li><li>devolve powers from central government to national,&nbsp; regional and local authorities;&nbsp;</li><li>replace the House of Lords with an elected Senate;</li><li>restore and protect the impartial role of the civil service;</li><li>regulate and diminish the role of money in British politics;</li><li>bring the secret state under independent legal control;</li><li>define and protect the boundaries of the public realm; and&nbsp;</li><li>entrench human rights and legal access to them.</li><p>Two related essential points must be made.&nbsp; A written constitution is a vital cornerstone for establishing the rule of law.&nbsp; If Britain is to give the judiciary the ultimate domestic responsibility for holding the state to account and protecting basic human rights, they will require a constitutional framework within which to come to their judgments.&nbsp; </p> <p>Without this framework, there is some justification for politicians who resist decision-making by “unelected judges”. Secondly, it is not the place of this or the next government, a political class, “experts” of whatever persuasion, or a putative “great and good”, to determine the shape and detail of a constitution for a modern participatory democracy. It&nbsp; requires the informed endorsement of the people. </p> <p>Therefore we propose that a nationwide deliberative Constitutional Convention, or Assembly, with popular representation involving ordinary citizens and country-wide consultation, is the only legitimate means for considering and approving a new written constitution and recommending a new scheme of devolution for the United Kingdom. &nbsp;&nbsp;Reform institutions, including ordinary citizens, have lain at the heart of constitutional renewal processes in Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland and Iceland. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s meticulous processes of education and consultation provide an example of good practice from within the UK. </p> <p>In order to take forward the general objectives outlined above, we set out a series of more detailed recommendations that should form part of a new settlement: </p> <p><em>1. Adopt a written constitution which replaces the pre-democratic principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty with sovereignty of the people; and which makes the courts the guardians of its provisions.&nbsp; </em></p> <p>This course is vital to securing acceptance of the rule of law. In our view, the constitutional protections of the independence of the judiciary are sufficient to preserve its impartiality, but a written constitution is vital to provide a democratic framework within which they should administer the rule of law. This provision would also secure their legitimacy. The processes of making its members more representative should be pursued vigorously, to ensure that class, the male gender and high social status are no longer predominant in the law.&nbsp; </p> <p><em>2.&nbsp; Introduce a nationwide scheme for devolution independent of the government of the day.</em></p> <p>The first stage of a Constitutional Convention’s work must be to introduce a devolution settlement based on the broadest possible consensus. The present structure of governance across the UK is unbalanced and unsustainable, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland enjoying substantial though differing powers to decide their priorities while the Westminster Parliament exercises nearly unrestrained power over decisions affecting England, with more than 80 per cent of the UK population, and of course over reserved issues affecting the whole of the United Kingdom.</p> <p>The Scottish referendum narrowly affirmed the unity of the United Kingdom, but by no means securely. It has also inspired widespread demands to strip out centralised rule from Westminster and Whitehall, to extend devolution in England beyond London and to enhance devolution where it already exists. </p> <p>It is vitally important that this process should not be confined to the issue of “English votes for English laws”, a proposition that exaggerates the social and economic homogeneity of England. The north of England has more in common with Scotland than with London and the south east, while certain regions (e.g., Cornwall) and large counties (e.g., Kent) have their own distinct identities. </p> <p>The devolution process should also reject the framework of the English administrative regions which have no community identity; and should establish the constitutional integrity of local government, its funding, functions and powers. </p> <p><em>3.&nbsp; Make Parliament more representative by introducing elections by proportional representation. </em></p> <p>At the very least, the composition of the House of Commons should reflect the share of votes for the rival parties at general elections.&nbsp; First-past-the-post elections gravely reduce the electorate’s free choice of parties, candidates and policies and should be replaced by a proportional election system that expands people’s choices and represents them more accurately. Elections at all other levels of government should also be proportional. There is evidence that suggests that proportional representation elections facilitate the election of women and ethnic minority candidates.&nbsp; If the parties do not broaden their selection processes to women, the ethnic minorities and working people, then the state should consider positive measures to right the balance.</p> <p><em>4.&nbsp; Act swiftly to prevent the bias in the electoral register seeping into the electoral system.</em></p> <p>Meanwhile, the potential crisis of a biased electoral system posed by the combination of the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration, a more incomplete electoral roll and the statutory commitment to a parliamentary boundary review by 2018 should be averted by the government elected in 2015, by reviewing the state of the electoral register before proceeding with the boundary review. The existing pro-Labour bias in the current boundary system also requires reform.</p> <p><em>5.&nbsp; Replace the appointed House of Lords with an elected Senate.</em></p> <p>If ever an issue signified the slothful responsiveness of a so-called flexible unwritten constitution, it is the continued anomaly of the wholly unrepresentative second chamber over more than a century since it was formally designated for reform. An appointed assembly, biased in terms of its social composition and the areas of the country from which its members are recruited, and augmented by a fraction of hereditary peers, has no place in a modern democracy. The House of Lords must be reformed as a smaller wholly or largely elected Senate, divorced from the honours system and with provisions to prevent it being a less powerful reflection of the Commons.</p> <p><em>&nbsp;6.&nbsp;&nbsp; Create an active House of Commons free from executive domination. </em></p> <p>The purest way to free Parliament from the executive would be to enforce the doctrine of the separation of powers: that is, to eject the executive entirely from both the House of Commons and a new Senate. </p> <p>However a less drastic alternative exists. The coalition agreement pledge to establish a business committee in the Commons within three years has been broken. MPs ought not to be vassals in their own House. We recommend that a business committee, elected by members, should be established to take control of the Commons agenda with an obligation to hold the executive accountable and to consider its business in a timely way, allowing time for deliberative debate and effective scrutiny of legislation and government policies. </p> <p>Draft legislation should be published in advance for early examination in and outside Parliament, using social media and traditional means to reach the public. Parliamentary committees should be given the resources they need to strengthen their ability to hold the executive to account.&nbsp; </p> <p><em>7.&nbsp; Place governments under a constitutional duty to maintain a full electoral register.</em></p> <p><em>8.&nbsp; Introduce a broader Civil Service Act to protect the political neutrality of the civil service.</em></p> <p>An Act is necessary to protect the neutral role of the civil service and recruitment by merit, its governance and values against political interference by ministers and their special advisers and to strengthen measures to prevent corruption and the erosion of its public duties and ethos by private sector interests. While ministers should continue to determine government policies and legislative proposals, they should also be required to respect the advice of senior civil servants. Special advisers should be confined to giving advice, with no executive or media role. The service’s constitutional position should be placed under oversight by Parliament as well as by the government of the day.&nbsp; Whistleblowers should be given stronger protection against victimisation.</p> <p><em>9.&nbsp; Introduce a new Bill of Rights ‘owned’ by society as a whole.</em></p> <p>An entrenched Bill of Rights must be at the centre of a new constitutional settlement.&nbsp; The Bill of Rights should draw upon the European Convention as a bedrock and the European Court of Human Rights should remain the final arbiter on ECHR-protected&nbsp; human rights. The constitutional commission that we advocate should undertake an inclusive and informed process that asks not only whether a Bill of Rights is necessary or desirable, but also what rights and freedoms it should contain.&nbsp; </p> <p>Informed public debate is vitally important to ensure “ownership” by society as a whole of a statute that must reflect public values and aspirations. The Bill could contain other rights, among them the a right to trial by jury;&nbsp; a right to administrative action that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair;&nbsp; a right to legal aid; and stronger children’s rights incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into UK law.</p> <p><em>10.&nbsp; Incorporate social and economic rights in the new Bill of Rights.</em></p> <p>The Bill must also begin the process of remedying the social and economic ills catalogued over years in the series of reports on the UK by the UN International Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.&nbsp; </p> <p>A new Bill of Rights should uphold the basic principle of international human rights law that the civil and political rights protected under the European Convention, and economic, social and cultural rights, are indivisible. Polls suggest that public opinion is strongly in favour of including social and economic rights to adequate education, health, housing and a decent standard of living.&nbsp; </p> <p>Governments would have the duty of “progressive realisation” of the four rights over reasonable periods of time. The Bill should also remove the excessive curbs on collective action by workers and trade unions taken in defence of their interests. Social citizenship in western Europe and Scandinavia has led to a more rights-based stance, and in a number of Scandinavian and eastern European countries, socio-economic rights are protected as legally enforceable rights in their constitutions. </p> <p>We could follow them and South Africa’s example. The Bill of Rights in South Africa protects socio-economic rights to housing, health-care, food, water and social security; and provides that “the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation” of these rights. Albie Sachs, the former South African judge, has countered arguments that he and other judges may not understand complex social and economic issues, responding that they “do understand human dignity”.</p> <p><em>11.&nbsp;&nbsp; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be empowered to draw up their own Bills of Rights.</em></p> <p>The Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland has already made the case for a Bill of Rights that reflects local needs in the province. There is a case for diversity in the provisions between the different parts of the United Kingdom, so long as they all incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights at their core and respect the universal nature of human rights.</p> <p><em>12.&nbsp; Place the activities of GCHQ and other state security agencies under effective legal control independent of the state.</em></p> <p>There is no question that jihadist terrorists pose a threat in the UK. We need proportionate laws and security agencies to help protect the nation and people. At the same time, it is vital that the country holds a balance between the measures that it takes to protect us and the preservation of the values and rights that distinguish our society.&nbsp; </p> <p>It is unconscionable however that that there is no effective oversight of the activities of the security agencies, including the police; that the Snowden revelations of the mass surveillance by GCHQ of the British public and the use of US surveillance material have gone unexamined; and that the inquiry into allegations of UK complicity in the CIA torture regime and unlawful rendition will be relegated to a committee of establishment worthies.&nbsp; </p> <p>At the very least we should ensure that state surveillance is confined to targeted individuals identified by intelligence. The outdated Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act urgently requires to be brought up to date. There is also a need for calm consideration of the risks of terrorism attacks; of the effectiveness of the measures taken to prevent them; and of positive initiatives to heal dangerous divisions in our society. </p> <p><em>13. Regulate lobbying and party funding.</em></p> <p>Unlock Democracy has campaigned vigorously to reform the unregulated and secretive nature of lobbying. The coalition government’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non-part Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, colloquially known as the “lobbying act”, set up an inadequate register for lobbyists and at the same time severely restricted the public statements and activities of civil society organisations and charities in election year.&nbsp; </p> <p>A comprehensive statutory register, open to the public, should replace the current imposter to provide information regularly on the names of lobbyists – whether companies, trade unions, lobbying agencies, law firms, larger charities and civil society organisations – their individual lobbyists and their spend on lobbying. The register should also detail any government body that is being lobbied, a summary of the cause being prosecuted, and the name of the minister or senior civil servant being lobbied.&nbsp; </p> <p>Political parties are essential to our democracy, giving the public choices of policies and leadership at elections and carrying out the business of government and opposition between them. To fulfil these roles they need funding; but they now increasingly rely on large private donations, raising issues of undue influence and involving demeaning practices and evasion of the rules. </p> <p>We now risk entering an era in which private and corporate interests, hedge funds and the like will be in a position to “buy” a general election by the sheer weight of their investments in the party of their choice. The system is broken and the secret negotiations between the main parties cannot agree on how to fix it. Meanwhile increased transparency since 2000 has only made public suspicions worse rather than fostering public confidence. The negotiations founder because the parties all fear that the obvious solution – state funding, which is common in west Europe – would be electorally damaging; and because they are intent on gaining competitive advantage.&nbsp; </p> <p>We propose, first, that it is wrong that the negotiations should be confined to several political parties; and that the reform process should be removed from the cauldron of inter-party decision to a commission on which the parties are in a minority. Secondly, it is important to curb the influence of rich corporations and individuals, and to make the position of all parties more equal and to reduce the cost of elections. Therefore, a donation cap should be set at £1,000 to reduce the impact of big money and means should be found to encourage the parties to seek small donations from the general public. Thirdly, the limits on party spending during election campaigns should be set by the independent Electoral Commission.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Old Corruption</strong></h2> <p>The executive and political class will employ all their powers to prevent the popular adoption of a written constitution, the loss of their central authority, and electoral and other reforms that imperil their hegemony.&nbsp; </p> <p>They have at their disposal not only executive power and the ability to delay and obstruct change, but a considerable capacity for persuasion. Government, especially a Conservative or Conservative-led government, would have most of the press as allies.&nbsp; There would be legal challenges, big business would deride the attempt and economists would rally to pronounce the diktats of neo-liberal orthodoxy.&nbsp; </p> <p>Any Constitutional Convention would have to establish deep roots in our society to withstand a major counter-revolution by our political class and the kind of delaying strategy with which, for example, the establishment in Iceland took the impetus out of a popular demand for change.&nbsp; </p> <p>Our political class has had centuries of practice in blocking and blunting reform, muddling on, making concessions to change here and there, but ensuring that change doesn’t subvert their power. It is up to our own organisation and our allies to prepare a modern Constitutional Convention, making full use of social media to reach out into society; to build popular demand for it; and to defend and sustain it.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/collections/great-charter-convention"><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/-8xrM8zJ-PI-idO0oxwLDVfX3tT9TQ-KiO4znX23lZo/mtime:1421864577/files/Great%20Charter%20Convention%20%281%29.jpg" alt="" width="140" /></a> </p><p><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/collections/great-charter-convention">The Great Charter Convention</a> – an open, public debate on where arbitrary power lies in the UK today and how we should contest and contain it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/ken-worpole/law-of-forest-and-freedom-of-streets">The law of the forest and the freedom of the streets</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/peter-linebaugh/homo-liber-homo-idioticus">Homo liber, homo idioticus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/guy-aitchison/digital-rights-and-freedoms-part-1">Digital rights and freedoms: Part 1</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/guy-aitchison/digital-rights-and-freedoms-part-2">Digital rights and freedoms: Part 2</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom UK Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Ideas A written constitution? A constitutional convention Great Charter Convention Rights and liberties today Rethinking representation Stuart Weir David Beetham Sun, 12 Apr 2015 22:28:50 +0000 Stuart Weir and David Beetham 91952 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The old order is dying, but refuses to go quietly https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/old-order-is-dying-but-refuses-to-go-quietly <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the election approaches, the Tory press is becoming increasingly delusional.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>&nbsp;<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/cq19-9lRfPe-cxVYpiFTS0zToEy61f_9Wt3Tj9hWNpM/mtime:1428769167/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/101120_fujis2000_336.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/kD5_KwvWG868ZjOq1Z70-jKZtDCa_GF9ECbcAsUZvWg/mtime:1428768908/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/101120_fujis2000_336.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anti-cuts demo, 2011: most people in 2010 voted against austerity</span></span></span><br /></span></p> <p>In 2010, 56.7% of people voted for parties who, at the time, were arguing against austerity. Back then, both Labour and the Lib Dems said they were opposed to spending cuts for at least a year. As Nick Clegg put it in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8565722.stm">his 2010 Spring Conference speech</a>, little over a month before the election:</p> <p><span>“We think that merrily slashing now is an act of economic masochism. If anyone had to rely on our support, and we were involved in government, of course we would say no.”</span></p> <p>101 days after making that speech, Clegg broke his promise to the British people. He led his party through the lobbies in support of George Osborne’s emergency budget: committing the very act of economic masochism he had warned against.</p> <p>The consequences of his decision were brutal. The fledgling economic recovery was stifled at birth, <a href="http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/12745/economics/impact-deflationary-fiscal-policy-uk/">setting it back by years</a> and, according to one study, costing the average person in the UK £1,500. It triggered a 36% increase in <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/25/homelessness-crisis-england-perfect-storm">the number of people sleeping rough</a>. The <a href="http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/research/Samaritans%20Suicide%20Statistics%20Report%202014.pdf">suicide rate shot up</a>. In 2012 alone, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/dec/10/uk-lost-200-libraries-2012">more than 200 libraries were shut</a>, and tens of thousands of young people had the confidence knocked out of them at the start of their careers.&nbsp;</p> <p>As Clegg had predicted, this plan failed utterly on its own terms. The government is tens of billions away from its own targets, and only achieved the meagre deficit reduction it now claims by including vast asset sales like the Royal Mail and 4G spectrum <a href="http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n01/john-lanchester/lets-call-it-failure">in its revenue account</a>: an act of dodgy accounting I wouldn’t put up with in the small charities I’m a trustee of, never mind the national balance sheet. Perhaps most damning of all, given their rhetoric about borrowing, is the OBR prediction that household debt in Britain will increase <a href="http://www.apple.com">back to 170% of disposable income</a> by 2020. Unsecured personal borrowing has already <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/jan/03/new-consumer-debt-reaches-7-year-high">reached its 2008 peak</a>. It’s not so much that we’re less in the red as a country, just that the state has shifted the debt onto individuals.</p> <p>The fact that Nick Clegg predicted all of this isn’t really the point though. What’s important is that British voters did. In 2010, we overwhelmingly backed parties who said that cutting public spending that year would be the act of economic butchery it turned out to be: like trying to reduce the amount of weight we’re carrying in a marathon by amputating a leg. Perhaps even more extraordinary is that we never talk about this simple fact: a significant majority of us voted for one approach to the biggest question at that election. We got the opposite.</p> <p>The astounding democratic deficit displayed in that fact is partly explained by the Lib Dems' capitulation. They traded away things they had implied were red lines in exchange for details of their manifesto that few had noticed because, deep down, their leader was always an Orange Book neoliberal at the helm of a ship which up till then had mostly shown the public its port rather than starboard side. But another reason that this has been allowed is the utter failure of the press to hold anyone to account over this vast change of position.</p> <p>The uselessness of British reporting on this matter is so astonishing that it’s been noticed on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. New York Times columnist and Nobel winning economist Paul Krugman <a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/20/why-is-british-economic-discourse-so-bad/?_r=0">recently asked</a> “why is British economic discourse so bad?”. I’d like to tie that question to one I’ve been asking people for a while now: almost every opinion poll for the last 4 years has shown that Ed Miliband is by far the most likely next Prime Minister. Whatever might happen in the next few weeks, the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/left-collection-or-right-cluster-ed-miliband&#039;s-bumpy-road-to-downing-street">collection of parties</a> likely to help the Labour leader into Downing Street has so far had a consistent majority when attitude surveys are translated into hypothetical seats. In recent polls, that majority has grown: a fact which, again, was barely reported <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2015/apr/10/tory-press-ignores-or-underplays-polls-putting-labour-ahead">in the Tory press</a>. Why not?</p> <p>Likewise, I don’t see any particular reason that a swing to the Tories is any more plausible than a shift to Labour. There is a credible case that either will happen, but we are only ever told about the likelihood of the former. Will the revelation that Ed Miliband isn’t as bad as the media caricature (how could he be?) make people more likely to vote for him? Will a closer examination of the Conservatives remind people that they have breached almost all of their major promises and missed most of their major targets? Or will people move towards the status quo as the big day approaches? There’s a debate to be had, but we’ve only really heard one half of it in most of the press. It’s worth noting that, so far, where pundits largely told us that polls would shift away from Labour in England and the SNP in Scotland, in that far off land called reality, if anything, <a href="http://ukpollingreport.co.uk">the opposite has happened</a> (though only a little).&nbsp;</p> <p><span>Despite all this, almost none of the newspapers or broadcasters has told anyone that simple fact: polls have always shown the collection of left leaning parties ahead. This media blackout was only broken this week, when the FT produced the below graphic, calculating that on current polls, there's a higher chance of the Green Party having some role in government than the Conservatives. It’s notable that this is also the paper who have been most vocal in criticising George Osborne and Danny Alexander’s austerity. As Chomsky has said, the Financial Times is telling, because when the elite is talking to itself, it’s more likely to tell the truth.</span></p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/4zbGG9pnJhjNHVKK5I-tlsCd63zpIhhGGJb_7xsEar4/mtime:1428769429/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-10%20at%2015.00.17.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/J_yuhsb8I7_UBrPkLUjh2kb2dzcbWgk7nXGAiG5zaTk/mtime:1428767962/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen%20Shot%202015-04-10%20at%2015.00.17.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>From the FT: http://t.co/2sWRnCq57q</span></span></span></p><p>With these things in mind, I think its worth considering three more facts.&nbsp;</p> <p><span>First, during the Scottish referendum, it was widely reported that Scotland is in fact </span><a href="http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/scots-only-slightly-more-left-wing-and-pro-eu-than-english-study-reveals.121574735">not much more left wing than England</a><span>. Whether or not this is true </span><a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/03/22/scotland-are-left-rest-uk-almost-every-issue/">is disputable</a><span>, but leave that aside for a moment. Every article </span><a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/03/social-democratic-scotland-country-doesnt-exist">I saw about this</a><span> assumed that this meant that Scotland was really a conservative country, more right wing than its politicians will let on. I never saw anyone in a mainstream paper make the case for a position which I think is much more justifiable if you look at polling on attitudes towards anything from whether the government </span><a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/02/02/voters-believe-government-should-do-more-not-less/">should ‘do more’ or ‘do less’</a><span> to the nationalisation of everything </span><a href="http://www.cityam.com/211541/british-public-ideologically-committed-nationalisation">from energy companies to banks</a><span>; from </span><a href="http://www.cityam.com/211541/british-public-ideologically-committed-nationalisation">price controls</a><span> </span><a href="http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/category/economy">to austerity</a><span> to </span><a href="https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3134/Public-attitudes-to-drugs-policy.aspx">decriminalisation of drugs</a><span> to </span><a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/01/28/majority-support-50p-tax/">increasing taxes on the rich</a><span> to </span><a href="http://www.renewableuk.com/en/news/press-releases.cfm/2013-10-27-opinion-poll-shows-70-in-favour-of-wind-farms-near-them">wind farms</a><span>: it’s not that Scotland isn’t as left wing as people make out, it’s that on a huge range of issues, England is a lot more socialist, socially liberal and environmentalist than its political class. And voters know it - most </span><a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/03/11/voters-place-themselves-left-centre-lib-dems/">see themselves as centre-left</a><span>.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Second, consider this. You have to be in your forties to have voted in a general election in the UK in which the Conservatives got a majority. There is significant evidence that most who backed the Lib Dems in 2010 did so in the hope of a Lib/Lab pact. Certainly, that’s <a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/02/19/coalition-lib-dem-delicate-position/">what 54% of them want now, vs 34%</a> who prefer a deal with the Tories. In other words, it seems likely that in every election since the first children of the baby boomers came of age, most people in the UK have voted against having a Tory government.&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, polls of young people consistently <a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/01/13/greens-tied-conservatives-among-young-people/">show Labour far ahead</a>, with the Tories and Greens scrabbling for second place. The average age of <a href="http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/09/not-even-conservative-mps-want-to-attend-their-own-party-conference/">the 150,000</a> Tory members <a href="http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/09/not-even-conservative-mps-want-to-attend-their-own-party-conference/">is said to be 68</a>. Greens across the UK will likely pass 70,000 members next week. Of those, around 17,000 are under the age of 30. This means it’s extremely likely that there are significantly more under-30s signed up to the Green Party than the traditional party of government in the UK - and possibly more under-40s.</p> <p>I say all of this because for the last week, my co-editor Olly Huitson and I have been reading and monitoring the quartet of powerful right-wing papers: the Telegraph, the Times, the Daily Mail and the Sun. One of the things which I find utterly extraordinary is the extent to which they are delusional about public attitudes. In one column (behind a paywall), the Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh says that he simply doesn’t believe opinion polls showing Labour neck-and-neck with the Tories: an extraordinary claim for a major political commentator to make unless he’s willing to back it up with some evidence (which he doesn’t). All of them screamed blue murder about Labour’s position on non-doms: a policy which, it turns out, <a href="http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2015/04/09/non-doms-public-overwhelmingly-back-labour-policy">77% of the public back</a>. His paper has declared itself the voice of the nation, and they struggle to come to terms with the idea that most people disagree with them on most major issues.</p> <p><span>There is, I suppose, another word for this delusion: entitlement. Despite all of the evidence, the people who are accustomed to governing this country just assume that everyone else thinks they should be in charge too. It’s an attitude that’s written across almost everything they say: when the slightly more left Ed ran as well as his more Blairite brother David, it was Ed who ‘stabbed David in the back’: the right wing sibling apparently had a divine right to rule. When the right make announcements of policies, they give little evidence that they will work: their assertion is usually sufficient. For the left to get traction, it is required to produce vast piles of data (think “The Spirit Level”, or “Capital in the 21st Century”). Again and again, the government utterly misses any of its own targets, does the opposite of what they promise the electorate, or declares black to be white. Again and again, this is dismissed as though it is nothing. They aren’t in power to deliver a programme as agreed with the people. They are in power because that is their right and proper place.</span></p> <p><span>It seems to me that there are are a number of simple reasons that no paper but the FT and to an extent the Guardian has reported that Ed Miliband has long been the most likely Prime Minister according to opinion polls. First, they are trying to create a false sense of momentum behind the Tories. Second, as I wrote about <a href="http://t.co/2sWRnCq57q">a few days ago</a>, they will do everything they can to avoid legitimising Miliband as the democratic choice for Prime Minister. Third, it's easier for old journalists to report a Labour/Tory horse-race than the new-ish complexities of multiparty politics. Fourth, they haven’t come to terms with a simple fact. Britain’s politics now matches its geology: it leans more to the left than most of us quite realise. The South and East aren’t a barometer of public opinion. They are the fringe on the right, with Clacton at its tip.&nbsp;</span></p> <p>The old order is staring death in the face, and refusing to go gracefully. It is, of course, possible that its screams of disbelief will frighten voters into delaying its departure for a further half decade; that polls will tip back to the Tories. But this will only be a postponement of the inevitable: no matter how much they claim to be the voices of the people, the Tories and the right wing press don’t speak for us anymore. They are yesterday’s men.</p> <p><span><strong><em><span>Please donate to OurKingdom </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>here </span></a><span>to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you.</span></em></strong></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/left-collection-or-right-cluster-ed-miliband%27s-bumpy-road-to-downing-street">The left collection or the right cluster: Ed Miliband&#039;s bumpy road to Downing Street</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/newspapers-are-preparing-for-coup-and-labour-is-doing-nothing-to-stop-them">The newspapers are preparing for a coup, and Labour is doing nothing to stop them</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurKingdom OurKingdom Adam Ramsay Sat, 11 Apr 2015 16:17:46 +0000 Adam Ramsay 91940 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Just how anti-war is Ed Miliband? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/ian-sinclair/just-how-antiwar-is-ed-miliband <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>His supporters see in him an alternative to the Conservatives’ aggressive foreign policy, but Ed Miliband has repeatedly backed wars of choice to further his own career.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/6841226444_c7db656b26_z.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> Ed Miliband. Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/riotspanel/6841226444/in/photolist-bqx59f-bqx5bd-bqx57A-bDrXUR-bDrYUB-bqx5h5-bDrZBR-bDrXWH-bqx569-bDrZxD-bqx3U9-bDrYPg-bqx4CS-bqx3QA-bqx3YY-bDrYKn-bqx42q-bqx3J7-bDrYHV-bDrYRV-bqx5BG-bqx3X1-bqx3Gd-bqx4vs-bDrXLK-bDrYc4-bDrZE8-ppeuCf-9bMiLs-p7M1oo-pnejSQ-bqx3y7-bDrY46-bDrYGM-bDrXHn-bqx4JU-bqx3Cs-bqx461-bqx3wG-p7KAQe-p7Lvzb-ppfMFe-pndReo-p7LQcS-bqx3uY-bDrXy8-bqx3qw-bDrYCt-f5XLDP-cjWbnG" target="_blank">Flickr</a></em></p> <p><span>Challenged by Jeremy Paxman on whether he was “tough enough” to be Prime Minister on the Sky News/Channel 4 programme ‘Cameron &amp; Miliband Live’, Labour leader Ed Miliband&nbsp;</span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAoMFz7qaR0">replied</a><span>:</span></p> <blockquote><p>“In the summer of 2013 this government proposed [military] action in Syria, the bombing of Syria, right? I was called into a room by David Cameron and Nick Clegg because President Obama had been on the phone, The Leader of the Free World, right? I listened to what they said and over those days I made up my mind and we said ‘No’, right?”<em>&nbsp;</em></p></blockquote> <p>Miliband has also repeatedly pointed out that he opposed the 2003 Iraq War. Desperate to shore up the Labour vote, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee has been only too happy to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/09/labour-tories-vote-osborne">confirm</a>&nbsp;Miliband “rejected the Iraq war”.</p> <p>However, before everyone starts labelling ‘Red Ed’ as anti-war, it’s worth taking some time to consider his positions on recent British foreign policy.</p> <p><strong>2014: The bombing of ISIS in Iraq</strong></p> <p>After he had unironically referred to Barack Obama as “The Leader of the Free World” on the Sky News/Channel Four programme, Miliband went on to explain he did not want to “repeat the mistakes of the 2003 Iraq War when Labour was in power, which was a rush to war without knowing what your strategy is and without being clear about what the consequences would be.”</p> <p>Given these – apparently sincerely held – concerns, one would presume Miliband would be opposed to, or at least very sceptical of, the on-going US-led airstrikes on Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq. However, he fully supported the airstrikes in the House of Commons in September 2014 – and continues to do so as far as I am aware.</p> <p>He supported the war for a number of reasons. “Iraq is a democratic state. It is a government that we would want to support”, he said. As I’ve argued&nbsp;<a href="http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-9a66-Propaganda-and-the-new-Iraq-war#.VRvi9CJwbGg">elsewhere</a> this statement conceals the deeply authoritarian and undemocratic nature of the present Iraqi government, and the West’s role in helping to create it.</p> <p>Miliband also referred positively to the regional support the proposed airstrikes had from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Side-stepping the question of whether being in a coalition with the most fundamentalist nation on earth is a good thing, it is important to remember Saudi Arabia and Qatar have played an&nbsp;<a href="http://peacenews.info/blog/7760/8-facts-everyone-should-know-about-iraq-crisis">important role</a>&nbsp;in the rise of ISIS.</p> <p>In September 2014 the Director of the FBI&nbsp;<a href="http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/09/17/ISIS-wins-new-recruits-after-Obama-s-speech.html">told</a>&nbsp;Congress the US-led airstrikes were increasing support for ISIS. Similarly, the former head of counterterrorism at MI6 has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/08/18/richard-barrett_n_5688484.html">warned</a>&nbsp;the airstrikes could “increase the risk” of terrorist attacks in the West. In terms of the military action itself, President Obama recently said the war against ISIS is likely to take up to three years, with the US Defence Secretary<a href="http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/03/04/defense-secretary-takes-issue-with-3-year-timeline-in-obamas-isis-plan/">suggesting</a>&nbsp;this was probably an underestimate. And what of the democratic Iraqi Government Miliband was so keen to protect? </p> <p>In February 2015 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/15/iraq-militias-escalate-abuses-possibly-war-crimes">arguing</a>&nbsp;the widespread abuses perpetrated by the government-enabled Shia militias could well be war crimes, while an October 2014 HRW commentary&nbsp;<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/for-iraqs-sunnis-sectarian-militias-pose-an-extra-threat/2014/10/24/ed53540e-5b75-11e4-b812-38518ae74c67_story.html">noted</a>&nbsp;the "relentless arson and pillaging" carried out by Shia militias in Iraq have displaced over 7,000 families in recent months.</p><p><span>After recently visiting Iraq, award-winning US journalist Matthieu Aikins&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/inside-baghdads-brutal-battle-against-isis-20150313">explained</a><span> that “Iraq has become a militia state”. With US arms sent to the Iraqi government ending up in the hands of Shia militias the “US risks helping to perpetrate the same violence and state corruption that led to ISIS's stunning rise last year”, he noted.</span></p> <p><strong>2013: The proposed US-led bombing of Syria</strong></p> <p>Miliband told Paxman he had stood up to the Prime Minister and “The Leader of the Free World” over Syria in September 2013. The normally questioning Labour backbencher Michael Meacher MP&nbsp;<a href="http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2013/08/ed-milibands-decision-to-oppose-military-action-against-syria-is-an-action-of-statesmanship-of-which-britons-will-be-proud/">declared</a>&nbsp;Miliband’s actions on Syria will be “recognised as an act of courage and statesmanship that shows his mettle as a leader.”</p> <p>The reality is a little less heroic than Miliband and Meacher would have us believe.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>A read of the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm130829/debtext/130829-0001.htm">parliamentary debate</a>&nbsp;about the proposed military action shows the Labour motion was very similar to the defeated Government motion, a fact not lost on some of the more experienced foreign affairs experts in the House of Commons. “I can find no difference of substance or principle anywhere in the two offerings”, said Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Foreign Affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. Likewise, former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind noted “virtually all” of Labour’s list of requirements for supporting military action “appear in the Government’s own motion.”</p> <p>Moreover, in the parliamentary debate Miliband explained he would support military action against Syria without a United Nations Security Council Resolution – essentially agreeing with the Government again. As Jonathan Steele, the Guardian’s former Chief Correspondent,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/01/us-public-doubts-attacking-syria">noted</a>&nbsp;“Cameron and Miliband used dubious legal grounds to try to justify bypassing a veto in the UN Security Council by saying western military strikes were needed to protect Syrians.” Does Miliband’s self-serving position on the UN remind you of any other Labour leader?</p> <p><strong>2011: The NATO intervention in Libya</strong></p> <p>Along with the vast majority of British newspapers and 557 MPs, Miliband supported the NATO intervention in Libya, supposedly carried out to stop a massacre of civilians in Benghazi. Accepting the government’s –&nbsp;<a href="http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-146e-Another-nail-in-the-coffin-of-the-case-for-Libyan-intervention#.VR0Ybz8tHIU">highly questionable</a>&nbsp;– narrative of the crisis, Miliband cited his parents’ experience of the Holocaust in the House of Commons debate.</p> <p>The NATO intervention arguably escalated the violence and elongated the conflict, plunging the country into a militia-dominated Hobbesian nightmare. Fast-forward four years and, as I have&nbsp;<a href="http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-146e-Another-nail-in-the-coffin-of-the-case-for-Libyan-intervention#.VR0Ybz8tHIU">argued</a>&nbsp;elsewhere, Libya is a chaotic mess:</p> <blockquote><p><em>“In November 2014 Amnesty International warned that ‘lawless militias and armed groups on all sides of the conflict in western Libya are carrying out rampant human rights abuses, including war crimes.’ The same month the UN refugee agency reported that nearly 400,000 Libyans had been displaced by the ongoing violence, while the Associated Press noted the Libyan city of Darna had become the first city outside of Syria and Iraq to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group.”</em></p></blockquote> <p>With this reality in mind, again it is worth reminding ourselves of Ed Miliband’s supposedly sincere concerns about Iraq in 2003: “a rush to war without knowing what your strategy is and without being clear about what the consequences would be.”</p> <p><strong>2003: The US-UK invasion of Iraq</strong></p> <p>In attempt to disassociate himself with New Labour’s 2003 illegal, aggressive attack on Iraq, Miliband has repeatedly boasted he was opposed to the invasion. Miliband was in the US in the run-up to the war, teaching at Harvard. However, he has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2921680/The-truth-Miliband-s-anti-war-boast-brother-Ed-Balls-said-ridiculous-claim-did-not-Iraq-invasion.html">said</a>&nbsp;“I did tell people at the time that asked me that I was against the war.” Ed Miliband’s biographer Mehdi Hasan&nbsp;<a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2010/09/david-miliband-preferences">claims</a>&nbsp;that Miliband Jr rang Gordon Brown from the United States to try and persuade the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to resist the push to war.</p> <p>Speaking at the Labour leader hustings in 2010 Ed Balls labelled Miliband’s claim to be anti-war as “ridiculous” noting that Miiband “did not tell people” he was against the war. Speaking at the same hustings, Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband made a rare honest statement: “Diane Abbott [who was also standing to be Labour leader] is the only candidate that can say she was against the war at the time, and if that is the sole criterion, she is in a different position to every other candidate. She did not just think she was against it, she said she was against it, and she marched against it.”</p> <p>And this is the key point. There were numerous opportunities for Miliband to make a public stand against the impending war – which arguably would have had a far greater impact than his supposed behind the scenes advice – including speaking at the biggest protest in British history. That Miliband, at best, opposed the war in private strongly suggests to me that he was thinking more about his future political career than the welfare of Iraqis or the British soldiers being sent to fight in Iraq.</p> <p>And we should not forget that Miliband&nbsp;<a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2921680/The-truth-Miliband-s-anti-war-boast-brother-Ed-Balls-said-ridiculous-claim-did-not-Iraq-invasion.html">voted</a>&nbsp;against an official inquiry into the Iraq War being set up on four occasions.</p><p><strong>2001-14: The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan</strong></p> <p>Though it’s difficult to find out Miliband’s position on Afghanistan prior to him becoming Labour leader in 2010, his record of support for the bloody and&nbsp;<a href="https://zcomm.org/zblogs/email-exchange-with-an-embedded-british-journalist-in-afghanistan-by-ian-sinclair/">deeply unpopular</a>&nbsp;British occupation since then has been clear. “I want you to know that our mission in Afghanistan is not a matter of party politics”, he&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/jan/29/ed-miliband-visits-afghanistan">told</a>&nbsp;British troops when he visited Afghanistan in 2011. “It is about what is right for our country. A more stable Afghanistan will lead to a more safe Britain… above all I want you to know you have our support, our respect and our admiration for what you are doing for our country.”</p> <p>Compare this pro-military guff to the brutal reality of the British occupation. “In practice, we ended up killing a lot of people, destroying lots of bazaars and mosques. We absolutely knew it was not what we were there to do, and would not be helpful”,&nbsp;<a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Qb23aL0zfkEC&amp;pg=PA235&amp;lpg=PA235&amp;dq=%E2%80%9C%E2%80%A6in+practice%2c+we+ended+up+killing+a+lot+of+people%2c+destroying+lots+of+bazaars+and+mosques.+We+absolutely+knew+it+was+not+what+we+were+there+to+do%2c+and+would+not+be+helpful&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=CtOcBeYgOK&amp;sig=awPVa5ae2wIybyZgkRx-dPaE0Sw&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=xx0dVZmiG43ZaqnAgbAE&amp;ved=0CCMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&amp;q=%E2%80%9C%E2%80%A6in%20practice%2c%20we%20ended%20up%20killing%20a%20lot%20of%20people%2c%20destroying%20lots%20of%20bazaars%20and%20mosques.%20We%20absolutely%20knew%20it%20was%20not%20what%20we%20were%20there%20to%20do%2c%20and%20would%20not">explained</a>&nbsp;&nbsp;General David Richards, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, about what went wrong in Afghanistan. Mike Martin, a former British Army Officer,&nbsp;<a href="https://ianjsinclair.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/book-review-an-intimate-war-an-oral-history-of-the-helmand-conflict-by-mike-martin/">notes</a>&nbsp;that in summer 2006 British forces dropped 18,000 pounds of explosives on the town of Now Zad alone, “flattening the bazaar” and killing civilians. This “injudicious use of firepower was reminiscent of Soviet military operations” and “made funding and recruitment non-issues” for the Afghan insurgency, Martin explains.</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, these actions have not led to stability. Far from it. Former British military intelligence officer&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/ian-sinclair/bbc-whitewashing-our-failures-in-afghanistan">Frank Ledwidge</a>: “Britain’s efforts have resulted in the ‘stabilization’ (i.e. the temporary pacification) of 3 of the 14 districts that make up the province of Helmand – just one of 34 provinces in a country with a population that is half that of the UK. In terms of overall political significance, this might be the equivalent of three large market towns in rural Lincolnshire. Before the British burst onto the scene, Helmand was ‘stable’, in the sense there was almost no Taliban presence and little prospect of any.”</p><p><span>As for the British occupation of Afghanistan making “a more safe Britain”, it is likely the opposite is true. In the words of&nbsp;</span><a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YLY4XtM01hwC&amp;pg=PT105&amp;lpg=PT105&amp;dq=%E2%80%98What+we+can+surely+say+is+that+UK+policy+has+been+an+absolute+disaster+in+the+perception+of+the+Muslim+population+and+has+produced+a+significantly+increased+terror+threat.&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=13DHb002yg&amp;sig=fhCGGVhZi21m4nnvafDQM9SDCKg&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=vBwdVaGRBM-tabzIgfAC&amp;ved=0CC0Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&amp;q=%E2%80%98What%20we%20can%20surely%20say%20is%20that%20UK%20policy%20has%20been%20an%20absolute%20disaster%20in%20the%20perception%20of%20the%20Muslim%20population%20and%20has%20produced%20a%20significantly%20increased%20terror%20threat.&amp;f=fals">Anatol Lieven</a><span>, a professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London: “What we can surely say is that UK policy has been an absolute disaster in the perception of the Muslim population and has produced a significantly increased terror threat.” The&nbsp;</span><a href="https://ianjsinclair.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/why-do-they-hate-us-nothing-to-do-with-western-foreign-policy-apparently/">justification given</a><span>&nbsp;for the murderous attack on British soldier Lee Rigby suggest Lieven’s analysis is correct.</span></p> <p><strong>Trident</strong></p> <p>Miliband supports the renewal of Trident, which is estimated to cost the UK over 80 billion over the next 100 years, with a lower-cost deterrent. “I’m not in favour of unilateral disarmament”, he&nbsp;<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/ed-miliband/11325940/Ed-Miliband-hints-he-may-back-replacing-Trident-with-cheaper-system.html">explained</a>&nbsp;in January 2015.</p> <p><strong>And the rest</strong></p> <p>In addition to the big set piece interventions set out above, it is important to note Miliband’s lack of criticism of other parts of British foreign policy that either has already had, or will likely have, serious, deleterious consequences: the UK training of Syrian rebels; the UK training of Ukrainian Government forces; the UK support for the Saudi Arabian attack on Yemen; the UK’s support for the Bahrain Government’s deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests; the on-going diplomatic and military support the UK gives to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies; Obama’s drone wars.</p> <p><strong>Conclusion</strong></p> <p>What all these examples show is that far from being anti-war Miliband has repeatedly supported wars of choice, often with dubious legal and moral justifications (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq 2014), most of which have turned out to be a disaster for the country he claimed to be protecting and the wider world (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq 2014). Like the deeply unpopular Tony Blair, Miliband has publicly stated he would support military action without a UN Security Council resolution. When he did oppose military action this was either done in private, thus minimising the danger to his future political career (Iraq 2003), or has been presented as a clear, moral stand, when in actual fact his position was difficult to distinguish from the government’s own position – and based on ignoring the will of the United Nations (Syria).</p> <p>If this is how Miliband acts in opposition, what can we expect from him as Prime Minister when he is likely to be under intense American and domestic pressure (from a combination of the armed forces, the intelligence services, the press, his own cabinet, his own party, the opposition party) and is keen to show he is “tough enough”?</p> <p>It is clear the fight against the UK’s aggressive foreign policy will have to continue after the election, whether it is David Cameron or Ed Miliband sitting in 10 Downing Street.</p><p><span><strong><em><span>Liked this piece? Please </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>chip in £3</span></a><span> here so OurKingdom can keep producing independent journalism.</span></em></strong></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/newspapers-are-preparing-for-coup-and-labour-is-doing-nothing-to-stop-them">The newspapers are preparing for a coup, and Labour is doing nothing to stop them</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/david-wearing/michael-fallon-and-ed-miliband-are-both-wrong-about-trident">Michael Fallon and Ed Miliband are both wrong about Trident</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/bernard-goyder/five-things-you-should-know-about-foreign-policy-this-election">Five things you should know about foreign policy this election</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics Ian Sinclair Fri, 10 Apr 2015 12:43:50 +0000 Ian Sinclair 91920 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Five things you should know about foreign policy this election https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/bernard-goyder/five-things-you-should-know-about-foreign-policy-this-election <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Half a century ago, the US Secretary of State Dean Acheson said that Britain “has lost its empire, but has yet to find a role”. The same is true today.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/dmcESCZ4Va-s7QZd8R_PUEhLZ_7Xhl5Xlk0nACnhWUI/mtime:1428662539/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555395/2710800068_c0cecfe4ea_z.jpg" alt="Map of the British Empire, 1886." title="Map of the British empire" width="460" height="344" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Are we still stuck in the imperial mindset? Flickr/Boston Public Library. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>1) Labour really like Trident</strong></h2> <p>Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, is <a href="http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/douglas-alexander-not-ruling-out-labour-coalition-with-snp-but-no-deal-on.1422790200">desperate to demonstrate</a> that Labour is as tough on defence as the Tories. The Conservatives allege that Labour is prepared to dump Trident to get a deal with the SNP. Trident is a Scottish based submarine fleet of armed with thermonuclear warheads that float ever-ready to avenge an attack on Britain or its allies.&nbsp;</p> <p>Alexander’s stance shows the extent to which memories of the 1983 election defeat still haunt the party leadership. The then Labour leader Michael Foot proposed in a manifesto one backbencher called "The Longest Suicide Note in History" to get rid of all nuclear weapons, and Margaret Thatcher won a landslide victory.</p> <p>Trident is a symbol of the UK's relationship with the US. There are 28 submarines that carry Trident missiles, 24 of which are US Navy vessels. Backtracking on cooperation treaties with America would likely strain bilateral ties between the Pentagon and Whitehall.</p> <p>Diane Abbot's point about the missile system is pertinent: "How exactly does a submarine system designed for Cold War combat meet the threats of international terrorism? It's surprising that no-one is talking about the tactical arguments against renewing Trident".&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>2) The Tories are tight with Saudi Arabia</strong></h2> <p>Despite an amicable deal with Iran over its civilian nuclear capacity, the close links between the British government and Iran's sworn enemy Saudi Arabia show no sign of flagging. As Saudi jets were taking off to bomb Yemen, a Conservative foreign secretary had no qualms at the end of last month taking sides in the conflict. "The Saudis are flying British built aircraft in the campaign over Yemen"... <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/yemen/11500518/UK-will-support-Saudi-led-assault-on-Yemeni-rebels-but-not-engaging-in-combat.html">said Philip Hammond</a> in remarks made in Washington on March 27th. "We have a significant infrastructure supporting Saudi Air Force generally and if we are requested to provide them with increased logistical support, spare parts, technical advice resupply we will seek to do so. We will support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat with them.”</p> <p>Britain's ties with a country that is the fountainhead of Salafi ideology espoused by ISIL are as strong as ever. Like the Labour government under Tony Blair, Cameron's Tories are happy to flog fighter jets to a government that flogs bloggers.</p> <p>Nonetheless, the foreign office has a view on the conflict in Yemen that goes beyond the Sunni vs Shia paradigm (the Houthi rebels are Shia militants). Asked if the UK's support for the Abd Rabbah Mansour Hadi government put them on the same side as Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, a source at the foreign office said "the enemy of our enemy isn't always our friend".</p> <h2><strong>3) UKIP have a point about foreign aid</strong></h2> <p>The UKIP stance on foreign aid comes from a xenophobic corner of the English political psyche that drips with hatred for those outside its own rainy island. But when it comes to the matter of how the Department for International Development's spends its £12bn budget, the idea that it should be a “protected department” starts to look a little odd, when it means that areas like local government and welfare take massive cuts. Government spending isn't really a zero sum game. But the cash could be better spent elsewhere. &nbsp;</p> <p>In 2013, 58% of <a href="http://www.ukan.org.uk/aid-quantity/uk-aid-breakdown/">the DFID budget</a> was spent on bilateral aid, much of which goes directly to governments. The three main recipients of direct aid are Pakistan, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. Does giving money straight to these governments help the people in these countries, or does it help line the pockets of corrupt political elites? The answer is both, but it is a shame only UKIP are talking about it.</p> <h2><strong>4) The Green Party's foreign affairs spokesman has hung out with Bashir al-Assad&nbsp;</strong></h2> <p>Tony Clarke, the Greens’ foreign policy spokesperson, is a former Labour MP. Back in 2000, he joined a parliamentary delegation that visited the newly appointed&nbsp;Syrian president. What did the Green Party's candidate for Northampton make of the Syrian ruler? "At that point he seemed in over his head" says Clarke, who thinks reform minded Assad was "struggling" with the Baath party apparatus that really ran the country. Clarke says the Greens’ current view on Syria is to "support those that resist totalitarianism in all its forms", but he <a href="http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2013/10/09/comment-we-can-help-syria-if-we-stop-being-so-macho">isn't keen on military intervention</a>. He says the Greens have decided armed incursion by foreign powers does more harm than good and wants a philosophy of non-violence, human rights and cooperation to lead policy.</p> <h2><strong>5) No one in UK politics really has a clue about what Britain's place in a 21st century world looks like</strong></h2> <p>Half a century ago, the US Secretary of State Dean Acheson said that Britain “has lost its empire, but has yet to find a role”. The same is true today. Labour policy on Trident indicates an Ed Miliband leadership is prepared to take hawkish foreign policy positions for reasons of electoral pragmatism and real-politic. The Coalition approach to the Middle East has been to muddle through, Blair-lite style, on Libya and now Iraq with an air campaign. The Lib Dems, despite garnering millions of Labour votes in post 2003 elections for the party's opposition to the Iraq War, have been quiet on foreign policy, muscled out of decision making, with one Lib Dem peer to nine Tory ministers in the FCO and DFID offices.</p> <p>The SNP and the Greens are clearer about where they see the UK in the modern world: in the EU and less up for evil stuff. UKIP is clear it doesn’t want to be in the modern world at all. British politics is set for an inward looking era, with the existential crisis of the union taking centre stage. But as long as conflicts in former British colonies displace people, from Palestine and Iraq to Sudan and Yemen, civilians escaping violence will be looking to the nation that made much of the mess for refuge. &nbsp;</p><p><span><strong><em><span>Please donate to OurKingdom </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>here </span></a><span>to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you.</span></em></strong></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/arab-awakening/hani-mahmoud/foreign-aid-development-or-dedevelopment">Foreign aid: development or &#039;de-development&#039;? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/paul-ingram/trident-weak-defence">Trident: weak defence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/david-wearing/michael-fallon-and-ed-miliband-are-both-wrong-about-trident">Michael Fallon and Ed Miliband are both wrong about Trident</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/ian-sinclair/just-how-antiwar-is-ed-miliband">Just how anti-war is Ed Miliband?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Foreign Policy Empire Bernard Goyder Fri, 10 Apr 2015 12:43:20 +0000 Bernard Goyder 91921 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Even on its own terms Westminster journalism makes increasingly little sense https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/john-smith/even-on-its-own-terms-westminster-journalism-makes-increasingly-little-sense <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The elite world of Westminster journalism used to be irrelevant to people's lives. Now, as an election approaches, it can barely comprehend itself.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 16.27.50.png" alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> The BBC’s 2015 “poll of polls”</em></p> <p><span>Watching or reading most commentary of the general election, you could be forgiven for thinking that the political mainstream was suffering a moment of terrible confusion. By and large, however, the confusion of politics </span><em>is </em><span>the confusion of political commentary, and when pundits and hacks talk about the incomprehensibility of politics, they are really talking about their own inability to comprehend how politics is changing.</span></p> <p>The world of Westminster journalism used to resemble the elite talking about the elite – irrelevant to most people’s lives by virtue of its privileged social perspective. This is of course still true: political journalists are overwhelmingly posh white men. But the dramatic twist of 2015 has been the transformation of the Westminster lobby from a privileged bubble into a circle of increasingly desperate soothsayers – irrelevant on its own terms, incapable of giving insight into who will win, why they will win, or even, beyond a set of geographical areas, what the key battlegrounds are.</p> <p>Most political commentary revolves around trying to link “events” on the campaign trail – usually created or hosted by the media – to polling results, thereby delivering content resembling analysis. But at this election, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/feb/11/hsbc-files-show-tories-raised-over-5m-from-hsbc-swiss-account-holders">Tory banker scandals</a>, press letters <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/11507586/General-Election-2015-Labour-threatens-Britains-recovery-say-100-business-chiefs.html">denouncing Labour</a> and piece-by-piece policy announcements have had a minimal impact on polling figures. </p> <p>Other pundits (especially those in the right wing press who have most to gain from it) have concerned themselves with obsessively tracking the <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2823476/Ed-Miliband-s-poll-ratings-worse-Callaghan-Kinnock-Major-Hague-Howard-Brown-marched-parties-defeat.html">approval ratings</a> of party leaders, when in fact these have not mirrored voting intention in months. The leaders’ debates, too, have had almost no impact – nor have major media blunders and <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-31612525">“brain-fades”</a> (the Greens were haemorrhaging votes long before it). Even the polls taken on their own seem to offer no insight into the dynamics of the election: Labour and the Tories have been neck and neck for years, and will go neck and neck into polling day. </p> <p>To an extent, the inadequacy of mainstream political journalism stems from dynamics internal to the political bubble, such as the new multi-party reality (at least for the moment) of the SNP, UKIP and the Greens. For now, most political journalists do not engage with the real meaning of the end of two-party politics, instead expressing everything in terms of parliamentary arithmetic about “Labour’s losses in Scotland” or even vaguer notions that electoral calculus is now “complicated” –but they will in time recalibrate. </p> <p>After all, it is simply not true that multi-party politics and political complexity necessarily reflect or cause each other. Britain has had at least as many political tendencies before; they found expression, by and large, through a much <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Organiser">broader</a> <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militant_tendency">Labour party</a>. For all the mystification, the superficial complexity of polling data and voting is easily comprehensible. </p> <p>What it masks is a deeper crisis. When it is acknowledged by journalists, the inexplicable nature of people’s voting intentions is usually ascribed to <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/mar/11/generation-self-what-young-care-about">voter atomisation</a> or a lack of engagement. In fact, the opposite is the case: people’s concerns, as well as the political reality of the election, are increasingly polarised and ideological.&nbsp; Party hacks – especially in the Labour Party – are still obsessed with searching for a <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/11256078/Tony-Blair-Miliband-must-occupy-centre-ground-to-win.html">“centre ground”</a> which no longer contains any voters. Most people want bold policies, albeit not all of them progressive. There are now overwhelming majorities for traditionally left wing economic policies such as <a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2013/11/04/nationalise-energy-and-rail-companies-say-public/">renationalisation of rail and utilities</a>, and for more authoritarian policies on <a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2013/11/25/what-we-believe-about-immigration/">immigration</a> and <a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/08/13/capital-punishment-50-years-favoured/">crime</a>. </p> <p>Victory in the medium term will go to whichever side can grasp one half of this vision, and fight to convince the public on the other; and whichever side wins, the “centre ground” (read: the acceptance of neoliberal economics by most European social democratic parties) will be redundant. The loss of this point of reference, along with the geographical and social splits in the electorate caused by the financialisation of the economy (which have been explored <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/29/three-new-tribes-of-voters-will-dominate-this-election">well by Paul Mason</a>) and the consequent constitutional questions, represent a major crisis for the political elite. Broadly speaking, the social products of Thatcherism are now eating away at its political base. </p> <p>The commentariat is part of this elite in more ways than one. It’s not just that there is a revolving door between the BBC, the big papers, and advisory roles at major political parties, or even that everyone went to the same school. It’s that the whole concept of our “professional” political journalism – its idea of balance, neutrality and exclusion of radical voices – is tied to the idea of a sovereign centre ground. It cannot acknowledge that this positioning is vanishing and irrelevant, even if that means that it cannot properly analyse what is happening politically. As a result, organisations such as the BBC have developed entire work streams dedicated to mystifying electoral politics and producing hours of rolling coverage. </p> <p>Eventually, this version of political commentary will collapse, just as the political earthquake currently underway will generate new constitutional arrangements and policy consensuses (although just how original or how progressive these are remain to be seen). Already, a large proportion of the population are seeking their election coverage directly from political parties and campaigns, aided by social media and the ability to bypass professional journalists who increasingly say nothing at length. If we really want to develop the tools to reverse it, we must see the struggle against the legacy of Thatcherism is a battle to understand, as well as to fight, the status quo. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/john-smith/could-students-swing-general-election-no-obviously-they-can%E2%80%99t-%E2%80%93-and-neither-ca">Could students swing the general election? No, obviously they can’t – and neither can badgers. </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/john-smith/labour%27s-lackluster-tuition-fee-pledge-is-tip-of-iceberg-mainstream-politics-i">Labour&#039;s lackluster tuition fee pledge is the tip of the iceberg: mainstream politics is melting away</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/newspapers-are-preparing-for-coup-and-labour-is-doing-nothing-to-stop-them">The newspapers are preparing for a coup, and Labour is doing nothing to stop them</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurBeeb OurBeeb OurKingdom John Smith Fri, 10 Apr 2015 09:13:00 +0000 John Smith 91825 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Michael Fallon and Ed Miliband are both wrong about Trident https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/david-wearing/michael-fallon-and-ed-miliband-are-both-wrong-about-trident <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Westminster's pro-nuclear consensus is held together by irrational speculation about future threats. Trident must be decommissioned for the sake of life on our planet.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/8950656444_0a212665ea_z.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><em>Trident Nuclear Submarine, HMS Victorious. Image:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/defenceimages/8950656444/in/photolist-eCWsjQ-a7Amu5-rcuNZ-9MeTse-a7mJSi-9aWxRg-9eA46e-9aZFR7-9aZG8Q-a7mJYp-9cPkSF-rUXif-9eD9U7-fvnE9D-9oNtW6-9eA4JH-nP6hTs-7YvvxZ-k4t6M1-hMfwc-9mSHEh-34UZfu-7sJAwt-4mGP5h-dEr1Qb-nJ6v5c-eK1K2S-eeGrDM-6kGnyH-dEkMHx-cySsbW-7RaPou-e7dKsb-6UipAH-5tTBts-9eD9FL-a89U3o-6qR3p8-o8vzAo-a7pALC-rUSFx-8FTyzt-gSJXr2-Cpnvc-a7Bnom-7Gi5Zt-5ot79N-6qVerY-a6YTZ5-o6yrC9" target="_blank">Flickr</a>/Some rights reserved </em></p> <p><span>Tory Defence Secretary Michael Fallon didn’t really want to talk about Trident <a href="http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/thunderer/article4405666.ece" target="_blank">in his </a></span><em><a href="http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/thunderer/article4405666.ece" target="_blank">Times</a></em><span><a href="http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/thunderer/article4405666.ece" target="_blank"> article</a> and <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32231115" target="_blank">Radio Four appearance</a> yesterday. He wanted to talk about Ed Miliband. The jarringly shrill claim that the Leader of the Opposition would “stab the United Kingdom in the back” by failing to renew Trident, just as he had “stabbed his own brother in the back” by contesting the Labour leadership, is part of a long-standing and increasingly desperate effort to portray Miliband as an </span><a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2013/10/mail-miliband-what-does-it-mean-call-jewish-person-un-british">untrustworthy</a><span> and dangerous “</span><a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/the-othering-of-red-ed-or-how-the-daily-mail-framed-the-british-labour-leader/">other</a><span>”. As well as being distasteful in its own right, Fallon’s outburst has also precluded more mature debate over a rather important question; namely whether or not the British government should retain its ability to exterminate millions of innocent people.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Since the demise of the USSR, Trident’s defenders have invented an ingenious new excuse to retain the system: the fact that we live in an “uncertain world”. As <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2015/apr/09/election-2015-live-blog-conservatives-challenge-ed-miliband-trident-nuclear-labour#block-55262951e4b0cc5838d128f7">Fallon told the Today programme</a>, “the main argument is very simple….You can’t be clear what the threats are to this country that might emerge in the 2030s, the 2040s and the 2050s…. Therefore it would be foolhardy to abandon our nuclear submarines”. Miliband used the same argument in an interview last weekend, saying that Trident needed to be renewed “<a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ed-milibands-trident-plan-leaves-5460502">in an uncertain and unstable world</a>”. The fact that the political class speaks in unison on this says everything you need to know about the artificial nature of yesterday’s row.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>What is disingenuous about the official line is that the future, by definition, can never be anything other than uncertain. To refuse to abandon nuclear weapons as long as the future remains uncertain amounts to saying that there are no realistic circumstances under which Britain will ever decommission Trident. The problem is that Britain, like practically every other nation on Earth, is obliged under the nuclear <a href="https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/publications/documents/infcircs/1970/infcirc140.pdf">Non-Proliferation Treaty</a> to make good faith efforts toward complete global disarmament. The Tories and Labour can either honour that commitment or stick to a line that effectively pledges Britain to be a nuclear armed state forever. They cannot do both. If the latter path is chosen, the message then goes out to the whole world that a top five nuclear power regards the NPT as a dead document. Needless to say, this is a recipe for greater instability and insecurity, not less.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>This is why the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board recently pushed its famous “Doomsday Clock”, illustrating the world’s proximity to disaster, from five to <a href="http://thebulletin.org/press-release/press-release-it-now-3-minutes-midnight7950">three minutes to midnight</a>. The accompanying statement, drawn up in consultation with 17 Nobel Prize laureates, said that together with climate change, “global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>When I was a child during the final years of the Cold War, there was a palpable sense that we were living in the shadow of the bomb. Expressions of that anxiety continually appeared in the popular culture, from <a href="http://lyrics.wikia.com/Prince:1999">song lyrics</a> to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WarGames#Critical_response">movie plots</a> to off-hand remarks in conversation. Those signs have since disappeared, but there is nothing to justify our new complacency. A sharp escalation of tensions over Ukraine, for example, could result in a series of miscalculations or misunderstandings with unthinkable consequences, as former Soviet leader <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/11338393/Crisis-in-Ukraine-could-trigger-nuclear-war-warns-Gorbachev.html">Mikhail Gorbachev</a> recently warned. On the <a href="http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/5-cold-war-close-calls">previous occasions</a> that we now know of when the world dodged the nuclear bullet, sometimes by a hair’s breadth, sober calculation has had very little to do with it. Don’t let <a href="http://ic.ucsc.edu/~rlipsch/pol179/Cohn.pdf">men in suits</a> convince you that “nuclear defence” is a rational, controlled business. It’s nothing of the sort.</p> <p>Security means dealing with risk. The Westminster pro-nuclear consensus will directly increase serious risks to national and global security. Anti-Trident campaigners are not wrong to emphasise the system’s <a href="http://www.cnduk.org/campaigns/no-to-trident">exorbitant cost</a>, but the far bigger reason to oppose renewal remains the terrible threat nuclear weapons pose to continued life on this planet.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/paul-ingram/trident-weak-defence">Trident: weak defence</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/paul-ingram/trident-liability-uk-can-ill-afford-to-keep">Trident: a liability the UK can ill afford to keep</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/paul-ingram/why-does-britain-need-to-feel-special">Why does Britain need to feel special? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Science </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics Science Nuclear Weapons Globalisation Defence spending Community action Arms David Wearing Fri, 10 Apr 2015 08:44:22 +0000 David Wearing 91912 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Radical, that dirty word https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/fraser-stewart/radical-that-dirty-word <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Last night’s election debate in Scotland saw Patrick Harvie snubbed for being “too radical”. It is this kind of hubris that sustains our dystopian status quo.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/15808279231_f4fe856896_z.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Greens. Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottishpoliticalarchive/15808279231/in/photolist-q5VyEt-rJkBLu-de1hoM-rGzQMR-r4UEWj-frFvw6-9owkSR-9BZVQd-pKJYYL-ptdP6w-ptbdun-Et6hr-Et6gK-Et6gz-Et6iH-Et6hx-Et6gF-Et7ZX-jASZcd-bpLujD-bpLux8-bpLu7g-bpLtGa-bpLuJv-bpLtha-bpLsSa-bpLt6T-bpLtUD-bpLtu2-bpLuWT-bpLsDZ-bpLv8k-a1Vb5z-a1Y2Py-a1V9ja-a1Vaft-6hjv6W-p6adtX-oqX9ZK-oqXa8R-o9JJ8Q-oNVGV9-oNWeY8-6hfmeg-22y6D4-22y6Gi-22y6E8-9QQ8cD-9QQ8en-9QQ87K" target="_blank">Ken Jack</a></em></p><p class="image-right"><em></em><span>The Scottish </span><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ge2015" target="_blank">#GE2015</a><span> debates were telling in many ways. Firstly, as Adam Ramsay so aptly pointed out, </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/ruth-davidson-glaswegian-kickboxer-who-should-be-next-leader-of-uk-conservati" target="_blank">Ruth Davidson is a much better Tory than David Cameron.</a><span> Jim Murphy is a bit shouty; Willie Rennie is, well, Willie Rennie; and Nicola Sturgeon is human after all.&nbsp;</span></p> <p>The star performer in Aberdeen, I thought, was Patrick Harvie. Ardently and succinctly, Harvie argued for a high tax/high wage system with a reworked approach to sustainability of both the economy and the environment: a ‘Scandinavian model’ of politics – that old socio-democratic romanticist.</p> <p>Cheers rang out as Harvie dared to sing of a thriving renewables industry and a country free of "immoral" nuclear weapons – and rightly so – as he strummed away at the progressive chord that may or may not dominate the Scottish political consciousness. Eyebrows were raised, then, when James Cook collared Harvie for asserting that propping up any government espousing a "tired economic system that has already failed us" was not in his coalition plans.&nbsp;</p> <p>Cook’s observational awareness here is not in question – Harvie was indeed hinting at an alternative to capitalism, and no, he did not rule it out as a red line for the Green party. The troubling aspect was in the reaction, and how Harvie was subsequently guffawed at like a man who had just confused David Coburn with Lionel Messi.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Thing is Patrick, we don’t really <em>do</em> alternatives to capitalism.”</p> <p>“You obviously don’t <em>get</em> economics, Patrick.”&nbsp;</p> <p>“You’re too <em>radical</em>, Patrick.”</p> <p>Radical – that dirty word.&nbsp;</p> <p>Condescension towards ‘radical’ thinkers has become a lot more fervent in recent times. While realists reheat the same old insipid archaisms and push them at us like prison meals, radical policies are sneered at as socialist daydreams, their architects as socialist daydreamers.</p> <p>It is the most obvious and tired critique levelled at the progressive left: the idea that radical thinkers are nothing more than a gaggle of Bohemian liberals with no concept of how the world works (despite any amount of research or evidence provided to the contrary).&nbsp;</p> <p>Policies typically described as radical, however, tend to already work in other places – a rather fortunate oversight that many ‘realists’ are all-too-happy to make. Decentralised banking policies already function in both Germany and Japan, for example; the ‘green roofs’ project recently launched in France has been mandatory in Canada since 2009; the Nordic countries have flourished for decades in their high tax and wage approach. If a policy is described as ‘radical’ we can safely assume two things: it probably works somewhere else, and it directly threatens the status quo.&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s not to say that progressive or radical policy has to completely mutilate the current system, but rather evolve from it. There is a common mistaking of ‘radical’ to meaning policy so far from the existing paradigm that to make it relevant would be to render modern society unrecognisable to the point of disrepair. That simply isn’t true.</p> <p>Progressiveness, then, is entirely relative to the state in question: where a policy may seem ‘radical’ or progressive in some countries, it is humdrum in others. One only has to look across the Atlantic for evidence: Obamacare sent America into ideological disarray, but a National Health Service is pretty standard stuff this side of the pond.&nbsp;</p> <p>It is thus important to adopt a similar standpoint when exploring our own attitudes. A high tax, high wage economy is commonplace in Norway, for example, but taboo in the UK and we should be demanding why. Is such a model really that farfetched, or as ‘radical’ an upheaval as an America adopting a national health service? Can it even be described as flying anywhere close to radical, given that it a) barely deviates from what we have and b) is demonstrably successful in exemplar states?&nbsp;</p> <p>No, probably not. That most basic of proposals can be described as ‘radical’ only in the context of how unerringly unambitious the current dialogue is.</p> <p>We have an issue in this country, in that our political alternatives are too often given cult status regardless of how derelict mainstream realism becomes. We need more people like Patrick Harvie: coherent and convincing deviants who can push the <em>true</em> thread of progression that is so deficient and frowned upon in our current system. People to tell the world that it’s not about socialist utopianism – it’s about real, evidence-based evolution from dysfunctional and dystopian politics.</p><p><span><em><strong><span>Please donate to OurKingdom </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>here </span></a><span>to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you.</span></strong></em></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/ruth-davidson-glaswegian-kickboxer-who-should-be-next-leader-of-uk-conservati">This Glaswegian kickboxer should be next UK Tory leader</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/disunited-kingdom-and-confusion-in-britain%E2%80%99s-political-elites">The disunited Kingdom and the confusion in Britain’s political elites</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/election-debates-winners-and-losers">The election debates: winners and losers?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurKingdom OurKingdom Fraser Stewart Thu, 09 Apr 2015 15:11:36 +0000 Fraser Stewart 91887 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Coming to a university near you: casualisation through internal outsourcing https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/craig-mcvegas/coming-to-university-near-you-casualisation-through-internal-outsourcing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Warwick University’s new ‘Teach Higher’ initiative aims to centralise ‘casual’ academic work. This move will only exacerbate the problem of precarious labour in the university.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/unihouse.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> Warwick’s University House, Image: ‘<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Warwick_University_House.jpg" target="_blank">Necrothesp</a>’ </em></p> <p><span>There are many notable things about the University of Warwick. Its commitment to linking the academy with industry has attracted strong criticism, most famously in E.P. Thompson’s </span><em>Warwick University Limited</em><span>, but it is undeniable the approach paved the way for a different sort of university compared to its redbrick predecessors. Remarkably for a university founded just 50 years ago, Warwick has consistently featured in the top 10 in yearly nationwide university rankings. This year, Warwick has hit its stride by being declared ‘University of the Year’ in </span><em>The Times</em><span> and </span><em>Sunday Times</em><span> ‘Good University Guide’, lauded for its “business-focussed research.”</span></p> <p>In a university <a href="http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/university_of_warwick_declared_university_of_the_year_by_the_times_and_sunday_times1/">press statement</a>, Warwick’s vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Nigel Thrift, outlined the central components of Warwick’s ‘genetic code’, foremost of which is its “commitment to outstanding teaching.” What he neglected to mention is that an increasing proportion of this teaching is carried out by casual, ‘non-permanent’ staff – often postgraduate research students or early career academics on hourly rates. This scenario is common across the university sector, and an investigation by the <em>Times Higher Education</em> found wages fail to reflect the hours worked by graduate teaching assistants.</p> <p>This is the backdrop to Warwick’s latest path-breaking initiative: <a href="https://www.teachhigher.com/">Teach Higher</a>. A trading name for a national company called Warwick Employment Group (WEG), itself wholly owned by the university, which is being piloted in six departments with the aim of becoming the sole method of hiring non-permanent staff. The scheme’s <a href="https://warwick4freeducation.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/teach-higher-terms-and-conditions/">terms and conditions</a> – which have now been taken down from the Teach Higher website- state that rather than having a contract of employment, workers will receive a ‘contract of service’ for each ‘assignment’. Think of it as piece-work for academics.</p> <p>Quite reasonably, there have been <a href="https://faceducation.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/warwick-uni-to-outsource-hourly-paid-academics-to-subsidiary/">agitated responses</a> at what sounds a lot like outsourcing. These claims have been <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/the-university-of-warwick-launches-new-department-to-employ-all-temporary-or-fixedterm-teaching-staff-10160384.html">dismissed as ‘nonsense’</a> by the university’s management, who yesterday released a <a href="http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/insite/news/intnews2/teachhigher/">statement</a> saying Teach Higher will be an academic services department like any other, and that “hourly teaching and research at Warwick will never be outsourced.”</p> <p>This is a disingenuous claim, predicated on the misleading idea that if a tutor is being paid by a company owned by the university, then they are still an in-house employee of the university. In reality, the use of a university-owned private company as a staffing agency constitutes a process of ‘<em>internal outsourcing</em>’, using a shared services model to serve the dual purpose of centralising the hiring of casual staff while being able to terminate employees’ ‘assignments’ at any time.</p> <p>Beyond the confines of the University of Warwick campus, it is hoped that Teach Higher can <a href="http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/gov/committees/bgs/minutes/bgs_minutes_october_2014.pdf">operate as a commercial franchise</a> across the rest of the sector. This would be to follow the path of Unitemps, another Warwick initiative. Unitemps was set up by the University of Warwick in 1997 under the WEG banner, and is now franchised to 13 academic institutions nationwide. The ostensible rationale is to provide a one-stop shop for non-academic university employment, aimed at helping out students who want to earn some extra cash. In reality, it has meant universities can employ the bulk of their cleaning, catering and security staff on precarious contracts with few of the entitlements or benefits that would come from a proper contract with the university.</p> <p>The move towards a Unitemps for academics will come as little surprise to most of those who are taking note of the creeping tide of casualisation engulfing higher education, with zero-hours contracts becoming <a href="http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/negative-creep-of-casualised-labour-threatens-to-engulf-all-delegates-warn/420272.article">increasingly popular</a> in recent years. Speaking to <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/the-university-of-warwick-launches-new-department-to-employ-all-temporary-or-fixedterm-teaching-staff-10160384.html"><em>The Independent</em></a>, a spokesperson for the University of Warwick allayed fears that there would be any erosion of employment rights, before stating: “We do not foresee a growth in the number of casual staff.”</p> <p>These assertions point to two key problems facing proponents of Teach Higher. The first relates to the fact universities utilise a fairly two-tier system already. There are academics: prestigious, esteemed, fellows of the academy. And there are non-academics: the ‘auxiliary’ staff who fill in the gaps and generally go underappreciated but without whom a university would cease to function. There’s something about the casualisation of the latter group that sits a little easier; lesser jobs can be filled ad hoc, as long as <em>someone</em> is doing them. Whereas the idea of casualising academics, <em>intellectuals</em>, feels more unpalatable. This, I suspect, is the cynical rationale behind the rebranded Unitemps model that we now know as Teach Higher.</p> <p>The second problem is that the idea of a university not foreseeing a growth in the number of casual staff simply flies in the face of all evidence to the contrary. As of 2013, over a third of the academic workforce was employed on a non-permanent basis, with <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/feb/04/academic-casual-contracts-higher-education">temporary contracts rising by a third</a> between 2010 and 2012. When this is kept in mind, it’s hard not to see Teach Higher as much more than a commercial vehicle aiming to reproduce and capitalise on an epidemic through farming its franchise out to other universities.</p> <p>Meanwhile, research students and early career academics are losing out. Whereas with Unitemps the hackneyed trope of students carrying out a shift a week for beer money might <em>just</em> carry the ‘providing flexible jobs’ argument for some people, the same cannot be applied to those targeted by Teach Higher. Casual staff tend to be those who are trying to find a foothold at the beginning of an academic career, usually having racked up tens of thousands of pounds of debt. They are often in their late-20s or 30s, and so also struggling with spiralling rent and sometimes young children. The real-life result of casualisation is that they are forced to live hand-to-mouth, month-to-month. Teach Higher is trying to sweeten the pill by offering ‘professional training’, but this belies the fact that such schemes are going to extend and institutionalise casualisation with very human consequences.</p> <p>Teach Higher says it is setting out to rectify the ‘haphazard’ system by which casual staff are currently employed through a patchwork of procedures across departments. This is a very real problem that groups such as <a href="https://faceducation.wordpress.com/">Fighting Against Casualisation in Education</a> are organising around. But the answer is not to force junior academics into a patchwork of temporary jobs. Rather, the answer is to end casualised contracts altogether and give temporary staff the same rights as permanent staff.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong><em><span>The Economist requires you to pay a pound a week to use its website. We’ll never charge for our content, but that doesn’t mean it’s free to produce. If you can chip in a pound a week, </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>please do</span></a><span>.</span></em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/tasers-cs-gas-and-screams-how-west-midlands-police-evicted-students-from-buil">Tasers, CS gas and screams: how West Midlands Police evicted students from a building on their own campus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/anne-cato/fair-pay-at-universities-as-long-as-youre-full-time">&#039;Fair pay&#039; at universities, as long as you&#039;re full time</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/jim-sleeper/globe-trotting-universities-serve-diplomacy-and-markets-not-democracy">Globe-trotting universities serve diplomacy and markets, not democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/jamie-mackay/violent-education-dizzee-rascal-and-fears-of-british-neoliberalism">A violent education: Dizzee Rascal and the fears of British neoliberalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/michael-bailey/strange-death-of-liberal-university">The strange death of the liberal university</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom Civil society Equality Labour policy Education Craig McVegas Thu, 09 Apr 2015 14:25:00 +0000 Craig McVegas 91894 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What would a world without the BBC look like? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/jean-seaton/what-would-world-without-bbc-look-like <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The author of the recent BBC history <em>Pinkoes and Traitors</em> responds to her critics, arguing for the book’s contemporary relevance.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/4401663369_a0c0642dff_z.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> BBC Archive, Windmill Road. Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/andyarmstrong/4401663369/in/set-72157623418191015" target="_blank">Andy Armstrong</a></em></p><p>When the BBC sacked Jeremy Clarkson, a dedicated social worker I know in south London found it a useful topical example to explain to her young offenders how workplaces had different rules. At the same time the director general got death threats. The BBC winds itself into our national consciousness in very odd ways.&nbsp;</p><p>Arguing about how the BBC is paid for is a permanent fixture in British public life. But how it is held accountable and to whom, how politicians exercise power, and the apparently abstract structures of rules and habits and boards and relationships, does not bother the British public much. Like the rain, Auntie, it seems, is always there. That the BBC has commercial opponents who have a direct interest in it being smaller may not occur to the public either. And the BBC’s competition has grown immeasurably in the world of Facebook, Google, Amazon – mighty media monopolies which users think of as utilities that provide the conveniences they need, without perhaps understanding their potential stranglehold on differing opinions.</p><p>The wonderful thing about <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/david-elstein/%27pinkoes-and-traitors%27-tunnel-vision-of-broadcasting-history" target="_blank">David Elstein’s ferocious review of <em>Pinkoes and Traitors</em></a> is that his agenda, pursued single-mindedly for over 30 years, is so transparent. He wants the BBC to be smaller or broken up or reorganised. He is in favour of anything that damages the BBC and crushes its universality. Above all he wants it financed by individual subscription for specific services. This would be the end of the BBC. His urge to say ITV was always better, first, superior, pristine in the past, is in his hands another aspect of the same argument. </p><p>ITV has certainly been a tremendous force, often knocking the BBC out of the water. And Elstein was part of that success. A distinguished and daring programme-maker, he started at the BBC, but worked for most of his career in commercial television, rising to become a top executive. Yet his account of the record of ITV is also self-serving. All broadcasters in that period were part of a public service ecology, competing to make programmes as well as attract audiences. Elstein never mentions this shared framework of public service values, because he is not in favour of it.</p><p>But while Elstein has an agenda he does not have a vision. He does not tell us what a world without the BBC would look like. There is one glimpse of it in his denial of my claim that Reagan’s abolition of the Fairness Doctrine ‘wrecked’ US networks. But they are a shadow of their former selves, smaller and dumber at home and abroad. Even on stories in the US, the BBC frequently fields larger reporting teams than they do. The best illustration of this is to compare the two news networks owned by Murdoch companies. Sky News is a trusted and valued part of a British system that demands fairness and impartiality in news; but its US counterpart Fox News is full of ignorant and rather dangerous distortions, as it pursues its deeply biased worldview. &nbsp;</p><p>Elstein has a particular blind spot on Rupert Murdoch. He accuses me of sharing a 'misapprehension' with many other media academics that ‘Sky had legislation written later to help it launch its service’. Murdoch took a major gamble at the start in investing in satellite broadcasting in the UK – but there is no doubt that the law subsequently helped him. Perhaps on this occasion ‘many other media academics’, and respected industry analysts, are right. Murdoch’s influence at the centre was exposed in the revelation made in <em>Pinkoes and Traitors</em> that he was consulted by Mrs Thatcher before she appointed a new Chairman of the Governors for the BBC – and that everybody at the time who knew about it just accepted it. Elstein does not mention this.&nbsp;</p><p>The contempt in his review begins early, comparing how long my work took with that of Lord Briggs. Briggs’s last volume took 11 years from commission to completion; mine took not much more. I had some compelling personal and professional reasons for delay. But when the BBC asked me to write the book it was less clear how I was to do it. In the end I put together a new model supporting the research through research council funding. Applying for this funding took considerable time. And the funding produced another kind of team from Briggs’, as each member had to develop their own academic careers, not just write a draft of history for my use (the Briggs model). The research projects associated with my book produced three PhDs, two books, numerous articles in journals and scholarly books and four full-time academic post holders – all of whom continue to carry out research on the BBC. This is clearly the new model of work on broadcasting.&nbsp;</p><p>Elstein does point to a number of inaccuracies in my book; they are my responsibility, and deeply regretted. A programme made by ITV was wrongly attributed to the BBC, another ITV programme to Channel 4, and there are too many spelling mistakes of names. &nbsp;Independently, I owe Stewart Purvis an apology. Just after Lady Diana’s engagement, tabloid papers were blazoned with pictures of her in a low-cut dress which they said exposed a nipple. ITN, edited by him, ran a story showing that it was the shadow of her bouquet falling on her chest – not a nipple. In the last edit of the book I garbled the story and the key word ‘not’ was cut. I welcome the opportunity to correct these errors, and others, in a revised edition of the book this autumn.&nbsp;</p><p>The errors arose in the context of a complex history, in a process involving interviewing 300 people, using BBC oral histories, natural history film archives, conducting ‘witness seminars’ and searching archives well beyond the immediate period, in a large organisation that employed more people directly in 1987 than it does now – covering many thousands of hours of broadcasting. And I attempted to match the BBC’s view against that of politicians and civil servants by analysing government papers.&nbsp;</p><p>Of course I leave things out. But Elstein’s differences with the book are a product of his agenda. He ignores the criticisms of the BBC that the book contains – but then it is interested in understanding how bad (and good) decisions are made in difficult times. As many of the players are still alive, and I am an outsider, it is hard not to infuriate some of them. Each chapter could easily have become a book in itself. The book is of course selective in being a history of what mattered, rather than a plodding trudge through the years. And I have ranged well beyond my period on occasions - for example telling the story of MI5’s relationship to the BBC - and the controversial issue of security vetting for the first time, and why the BBC wanted more vetting, not less. I also show how badly people like Isabel Hilton were treated after an improper ‘failed’ vetting resulted in them being excluded from jobs (Hilton never received an apology from anyone at the BBC until this year, at a party).&nbsp;</p><p>Security concerns extended to commercial television, as I demonstrate with the revelation that a member of the Annan Committee, Phillip Whitehead, recommended that the new Chair of Channel 4 should be a privy councillor in order to be able to deal with security. I do not say, as Elstein alleges, that Whitehead then ‘secured this demand in the appointment of Edmund Dell’. Security also played a role in the state’s relationship with ITV over Northern Ireland, as I show below.</p><p>The book attempts to explain the sinews and guts of broadcasting to people beyond a narrow circle of ex-broadcasters, old warhorses still battling over yesterday’s slights and grudges. It explores the forging of programmes out of money, competition, rows, intelligence, politics and structures in a period that could be especially bitter. I try and show why these battles matter. The book is fair to the larger picture and scrupulously attempts to see how power is exercised. It does show both sides of political negotiation. Quite often it shows that politicians and broadcasters are both trying quite hard to get a grip on difficult problems, where compromise appears impossible. The book makes clear why you only get content you like or loathe out of something larger than any one programme, and why understanding that can be fascinating.</p><p>Elstein accuses me of being ‘biased’ in favour of the BBC. I never disguise my belief that the BBC is a vital national institution, and the most valuable tool abroad in the British soft power locker. As a consequence of my ‘bias’ he says that I fail to notice the world ‘outside’ the BBC. But he never acknowledges his bias against the BBC. His definition of ‘outside’ is not the world of politics, the unions, the economy, customs, international affairs, what was happening to children, Northern Ireland or the Falklands, Ethiopia or Poland, let alone the thinking of civil servants and politicians and prime ministers, who often came into conflict with broadcasters in a period when most broadcasters felt pressured. Elstein’s definition of ‘outside’ is ITV.</p><p>By contrast I try and put broadcasting in the context of national politics, everyday lives, celebrations, international affairs, and global events - famines, wars, revolutions.&nbsp;</p><p>He wrongly accuses me of ignoring ITV’s coverage of the wedding of Charles and Diana, when I report BBC soul-searching at how ITV ate into the BBC audience on the big day. This was my account of the debate from BBC papers:&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p>But the event had been treated as if it were a feature programme when in reality the faster, less reverential approach of News would have been better – ITV’s version had been ‘livelier’. Some BBC insiders thought that Alastair Burnet’s ‘capable and intelligent commentary’ on ITV had been sharper and more newsy than the BBC’s. Unease was expressed at the way in which ‘ITN was moving in on important public events’, and using them to win the new-technology arms race against the Corporation.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p>Elstein even claims that there were no Trots in ITV. This is risible. There were Trots everywhere in broadcasting then, and some of them grew up into distinguished broadcasters. I show that the government considered applying commercial pressure on ITV over its reporting of Northern Ireland. This seemed interesting. Elstein contests it, but it is in the archives. He may not have known about the pressure that he could not see. Incidentally he then accuses me of saying that Peter Taylor was sacked. This is not in the book. Like several accusations in Elstein’s review, this was his version of a private conversation.&nbsp;</p><p>In attacking my account of the reporting on Northern Ireland, Elstein once again emphasises ITV material, in this case about torture – citing the time in 1978 when the Thames TV programme <em>This Week</em> was banned from using footage uncovering torture, and promptly handed it over to the BBC to show it instead. He challenges my account of ‘the BBC’s persistent reporting of official use of force in interrogations’ before this time. But for example, in 1977 Chris Capron’s <em>BBC Tonight</em> carried an interview with Bernard O’ Conner who claimed to have been roughed up over seven days of interrogation by the RUC. It was a complex case, and the DG ordered a ‘balancing’ programme on the casualties suffered by the RUC. Sam Silkin, the Labour Attorney General, was aghast at the programme’s evidence – he had genuinely believed that he had stopped the roughing up of suspects, and felt that the RUC had made a fool of him; he virtually dictated the case O’Conner might make against the RUC.</p><p>Elstein complains that I do not mention Carrickmore, where BBC journalists allegedly filmed an IRA roadblock. This is not a mistake, although it is perhaps an omission, given the impact that even an unbroadcast event had on relations between the BBC and government. But even today, it is hard to get to the truth of what happened, although it has been written about extensively. The archives on Carrickmore are venomous, and many of those involved will still not talk about it.&nbsp;</p><p>Elstein is also oblivious to the particular constraints on the BBC in Northern Ireland at the time. Northern Ireland was different from the rest of the United Kingdom, and this affected its journalism. When I describe this, he accuses me of ‘a curious formulation for its inadequacies’. As Rex Cathcart’s book <em>The Most Contrary Region, the BBC in Northern Ireland 1924–1984</em> shows, the BBC in Northern Ireland had a different relationship to the state from the start, and even to this day the BBC in Belfast necessarily has exemptions from some local constitutional requirements.&nbsp;</p><p>He accuses me of making inaccurate claims for the unprecedented scale of <em>Life on Earth</em>, since it followed ITV’s mammoth <em>World at War</em>. Outstanding though that was, its innovative use of archive footage was very different to <em>Life on Earth</em>. I precisely explain that Kenneth Clark’s great series <em>Civilisation</em> was the precedent, but organising the filming and collection of data about animals for <em>Life on Earth</em> was a different task from sending film crews to get great pictures of museums. Things in museums sat still. Indeed, Natural History filming was closer to actual scientific work. It was not just Attenborough’s achievement; the chapter shows how dependent the programmes were on a team, on a regional bit of the BBC, on technological developments, and on scientific understanding. That is to say I deconstruct what is needed to make an Attenborough programme, and how an Attenborough gets made.</p><p>The book does repeatedly say how good ITV was, providing a battle for audiences and ideas in several ways, from the early superiority of the commercial Belfast station over its regional BBC opposition, to ITN as a great news machine competing head-to-head with the BBC and often winning. There was also the fear inspired by Granada in BBC drama; and throughout there was fierce competition for popular programmes, where ITV felt naturally at ease. I write that the lowest point in a dismal period for the BBC was ITV fielding a ‘public service’ quality drama – <em>The Jewel in the Crown</em> – against the BBC’s less defensible <em>Thorn Birds</em> (although the latter had more viewers). This competition was often ruthless, so the book also looks at the way in which ITV and the BBC related very differently to the trades unions in a period of agitation: being flush with money, ITV had a different attitude towards manning disputes, often buying them off. It is, however, a book about the BBC.</p><p>Elstein complains <em>Yesterday’s Men</em> is mentioned only in passing. This is rubbish. It is mentioned with the political weight needed. It was before my volume starts. And, as it happens, I wrote the key academic article on <em>Yesterday’s Men</em> that became part of the process that got it disinterred from its BBC vault for another airing, after it had been buried following the controversy when it was first shown.&nbsp;I am at a loss to see Elstein’s problem with my account of the BBC’s failed satellite venture in the 1980s. I say the venture was misconceived, and there was no plan for how it would be financed or programmed. I would add that it ended in a nasty legal case, the papers for which have mysteriously gone missing. For the first time I also reveal an Afghan connection in this. He says I ignore Stuart Young’s desire to fund the BBC by subscription, but, while it is true that the new Chairman arrived in 1983 with this and other non-licence fee schemes in his briefcase, he quickly changed his mind.</p><p>Elstein’s principal criticism is over the treatment in the book of two broadcasting inquiries, by Annan and Peacock, at the beginning and end of the period I cover. I made a factual error about the make-up of the Peacock Committee, which I regret. But his remaining comments about these inquiries are a matter of disputed interpretation. Again, Elstein’s argument is driven by his agenda of proposing subscription or advertising to fund all or part of the BBC. He accused me of ignoring the ‘seventeen stone of evidence’ considered by Annan before he concluded his report. I do not ignore the report, but give proper weight to its impact, not to the material that had no effect.&nbsp;</p><p>There have been 11 public inquiries into broadcasting in Britain since 1923, and, like many public inquiries, Annan’s generated more heat than light, and much of its work made no difference. But it did result in the emergence of Channel 4, to which I give due weight. Labour did not act on the recommendation for a new channel when the report came out in 1977: in the chaotic and doom-laden atmosphere of the late 1970s, this is not surprising. And they were heeding Annan’s get-out clause that ‘the channel should not be allocated until the nation’s economy would permit the kind of service envisaged.’&nbsp;</p><p>But, as I make clear in the book, when the Tories came in, Whitelaw did act, fulfilling a long ambition by the visionary broadcaster Tony Smith (and others) to create Channel 4. I have no idea what Elstein is talking about when he claims that the new channel ‘closely followed a structure actually submitted to Annan, but explicitly rejected by him’. Annan’s recommendations (command paper 6753) were for an Open Broadcasting Authority, and included the following:</p><p>- The new channel should not be allowed to develop into another competitive channel or one that was predominantly ITV2.</p> <p>- The channel should encourage programmes which say something new in new ways. It should include educational programmes…; programmes made by individual ITV companies including ITN; and programmes from a variety of independent producers.</p> <p>- The authority should, unlike the BBC and IBA, operate more as a publisher of programme material provided by others than as a broadcasting authority.</p><p>All of these features are identifiable in the channel that emerged, and were recommended by Annan, not ‘explicitly rejected by him’. Later the relationship to advertising funding changed.</p><p>It is in Elstein’s treatment of Peacock where his bias against the BBC is most transparent. You can still hear the anger he must have felt in 1986, when the report came out and recommended against advertising on the BBC. He derides my contention that the BBC had ‘convinced the Committee’, citing an interview by Peacock, in which he said that a paper prepared by two economists as part of the BBC’s evidence was ‘interesting, but seemed to us not to be getting to the central issue’. If you read this interview in context (p. 347 of Paul Bonner’s official history of ITV), it is clear that this was all about process, not content: Peacock preferred the presentation style of ITV, ‘They were onto this much more quickly than the BBC.’ And I write at length about how concerned the BBC were that they had not convinced the committee, as in the following:</p><blockquote><p>The Peacock Committee found Milne offhand, unconvincing and arrogant when he appeared before them. He was resistant to practising in advance, stumbled in the rehearsal, and when asked how much of the BBC’s output could be described as public service broadcasting gave what may have appeared to him the satisfyingly succinct answer: ‘All of it’. It was probably the worst answer he could have given. His colleagues were in despair. The first on a list of 27 questions the Committee wished the BBC to consider was an equally terse invitation for him to expand on this.</p></blockquote><p>But as in Annan, the important detail is in the report itself and its effect, which was to see off the threat to the licence fee for many years. The economic arguments were what mattered to economists, not how quick people were in committee hearings.&nbsp;</p><p><span>I am not an uncritical devotee of the licence fee and status quo for the BBC: on the contrary my book shows how disastrous it is when the BBC fails to think strategically about change. The period after the May 2015 election will be one of the most contested in the Corporation’s history as it negotiates a new way of funding and the renewal of the Royal Charter that gives it life, amid fluidity in its regulatory structures and an unpredictable digital environment. It is vital that there is proper open and informed debate on all this, and not a repeat of the mid-week mugging by the then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who forced the last licence fee settlement on the BBC. But in navigating these stormy waters, a proper understanding of the BBC’s relationship with power is essential, which is why history matters – and, why for all its flaws, <em>Pinkoes and Traitors</em> has a contemporary and significant relevance.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/%27pinkoes-and-traitors%27-tunnel-vision-of-broadcasting-history">&#039;Pinkoes and Traitors&#039;: a tunnel vision of broadcasting history</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/brian-winston/writing-bbc-perils-of-historiography">Writing the BBC: the perils of historiography</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/media-publicservice/article_68.jsp">Public broadcasting: imperfect but essential</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurBeeb OurBeeb OurKingdom Jean Seaton Thu, 09 Apr 2015 07:00:41 +0000 Jean Seaton 91856 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Writing the BBC: the perils of historiography https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/brian-winston/writing-bbc-perils-of-historiography <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Jean Seaton’s book on BBC in the 70s and 80s has been widely faulted. But is there some intrinsic reason why writing histories of the BBC is so difficult?&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="https://opendemocracy.net/files/pinkoes and traitors_0.jpg " alt="" width="120" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> Pinkoes and Traitors – the BBC and the nation 1974-1987 by Jean Seaton, Profile Books, 326pp, £30 </span><em> </em></p> <p><span>For those who find it all too easy to resist the attractions of Caversham - and the BBC paper archives there situated - Asa Briggs is a savior. He has been there and has the t-shirt. </span><em>A History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom</em><span>: five volumes published between 1961 and 1995, covering the period from 1897 to 1974, 4094 pages, lots of pix, pounds of figs. And it’s all yours for a mere £660.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>And now we also have Jean Seaton’s <em>Pinkoes and Traitors: The BBC and the nation 1974-1987,</em> dedicated to Lord Briggs and explicitly announcing that its start date is dictated by the 1974 end-point of his history. It is hard not to see this book as a continuation of Brigg’s masterwork and therefore judge it, ultimately unfairly, to be deficient by comparison. This is because it does not really compare: it is not 1000+ pages long (as are the later Briggs volumes); its scholarly apparatus is not comprehensive; its style is, largely, more journalistic than magisterial. It does not pretend to Briggs’ level of comprehensiveness nor to the chronological regularity of his narrative.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Neither is it published, as was Briggs, by the OUP. Instead, the BBC’s history in these years is presented in a series of rather impressionistic essays, many with cutesy titles and cross heads: ‘The Royal Wedding: British Shintoism at Work’; ‘The Natural History of the Attenboroughs’; ‘Women in the BBC: The triumph of the Trouser Suit’. But the context of <em>A History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom</em> is unavoidable and I am afraid the verdict has to be that Seaton too has been to Caversham and has not brought back a t-shirt: at least, I must note with much regret, not a t-shirt that I can see being a <em>vade mecum </em>for all who are concerned with the BBC and its history.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>It is no mark of distinction to say I rely on Briggs. All must. It is indispensable, even to those who wish to rewrite him as a consequence of their own investigations and thinking. Any discussion of the BBC has to be, in my view, grounded in an understanding of its history and without Briggs (or long days in Caversham) this cannot be easily gained<em>.</em>&nbsp; But in one crucial regard Seaton echoes Briggs. Leave aside the kneejerk antipathy of much of the press to the BBC and all its works, most of what is otherwise published, both journalistic and scholarly, is grounded in an assumption that the BBC, despite its faults, is a jolly good thing. But when historians - Seaton as well as Briggs - address the detail, anomalies are thrown up. The BBC is not always such a good thing. It can’t be, of course. Contrary evidence, though, cannot be easily suppressed in a scholarly context if any legitimacy is to be maintained; and Seaton, like Briggs, does not do so. The result is that the books are suffused with cognitive dissonance. The facts reveal negatives but the conclusions - on balance as it were - are inevitably positive. The BBC survives as a good thing. The history proves it.</p> <p>The last time I had occasion to use <em>The History of Broadcasting </em>was in writing a piece about Suez. The received account, much pushed by the BBC itself, is that a significant resistance was mounted against Anthony Eden and his attempts to manage the news. Briggs devotes some 63 pages to detailing this episode (and the Hungarian uprising which as happening at the same time), concluding that: “there is much the British public did not know about the origins and course of both crises. It would have known less, however, without the BBC” (1995d: 102).&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Briggs claims that “the BBC had reported crisis events and crisis talk during every phase” (1995d: 102), but knows full well that it did not really do this. And he knows (and documents) why. He knows why, for example, a large fleet moving men and materiél to Cyprus could do so in virtual secrecy. An hysterical prime-minister, Eden, a thin <em>causus belli</em>, and an hostile opposition had occasioned a blizzard of restrictive “D Notices”.&nbsp; These were not challenged and no history of the British press would claim the Suez coverage as its finest hour. But not so the BBC.&nbsp; Suez is inscribed in the BBC’s corporate memory as a moment when, to quote the sometime DG Charles Curran: “Against formidable arguments about the national interest, the duty to provide an impartial service was held by the BBC to be paramount, and the pressures were successfully resisted” (Burton: 39).&nbsp;</p> <p>Briggs provides the wherewithal to challenge this claim, but he does not do so himself. He is content merely to say the public were as well informed as could be expected. In fact, the claim of successful resistance, not heroic examples of the exercise of free expression in the face of censoring authority, lies at the heart of the BBC’s oft repeated case for its 'independence' of its paymasters in Westminster. Eden threatened to take it over - just as Churchill had done during the General Strike in 1926; and, if not takeover, then curtailing or cutting the money will do (see: Grant Shapps, passim). The BBC claims success because its temporizing has thus far better enabled the sometimes overtly threatening, and always lurking potential, political take-over from occurring. Success in the face of this is self-preservation.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Using Briggs, it is possible to write a querulous (as it were) history of the BBC highlighting its pusillanimity in the face of political hostility The squaring of the circle between the hard-won right of free expression and the reality of state funding begins, in Briggs' detailed account, at the moment of birth in 1926 with Churchill’s threat. As the Broadcasting Company was metamorphosing from commercial chrysalis to statutory corporation butterfly, the General Strike presented it with a choice: and it chose to support the government’s position and deny the strikers a hearing. As Briggs points out - only to more or less ignore its implication over the next several thousand pages: “The Company existed on 8th May [a week into the strike] by sufferance” yet this preserved “a precarious measure of independence throughout the strike” and this, not for the last time, reflects what that measure really came to mean (1995a: 347). The die was cast -- Churchill did not move because he did not have to. The BBC gave the Government no occasion for disquiet. Just as Dunkirk becomes a victory, so pusillanimity becomes defiance.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Over Brigg’s many pages persistent incidents of political pressure and interference are reported: e.g. in the 1930s, the closing of the radical talks department under Hilda Matheson, a major pioneer of non-fiction broadcasting forms in the name of charter renewal. In the 1940s, Beveridge was kept off the air because his report was controversial. The anti-nuclear drama documentary<em>, The War Games </em>was, in effect, banned by the Home Office, in the 1960s.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>A major exception to this - one that proves the rule - we know of, of course, via Briggs. Lord Hill, when chair of the governors at the outset of the Ulster Troubles, defied Reggie Maudling, the Home Secretary, who was seeking to curtail reporting. Hill threatened to disclose the pressure and the Government backed down. He got the right of the BBC to announce that it had been censored - if that were to occur - written into the Charter and Agreement<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>But this success did not secure Hill’s position. Far from it: he was replaced by Prime Minster Heath, at Mrs Thatcher’s suggestion, with Sir Michael Swan, because he, Hill, “caused too many problems”. This last is Seaton’s assessment because, like Briggs, she is not loath to detail counter-evidence of interference and control: e.g. Keith Kyle’s censored language reporting Bloody Sunday; the lying about the “unique” process by the secret service which was, by the 1970s, vetting 1400 people a year “much of it conducted on people who did not know they were being checked”; Kenith Trodd: “Yet another creative talent made by the BBC was lost to it, rather than managed”; Michael Grade’s opinion that “intellectual snobbery runs through the BBC like a fault line”; the roster of inveterate gropers and sexists -&nbsp; George Howard, the Chair of the Governors, Alan Wicker, Hugh Weldon, Malcome Muggeridge, Billy Cotton Jnr.; the lack of experience of the reporters covering the Falklands; the forced resignation of Alistair Milne. And on and on.</p> <p>The alternative history is in effect swamped by a grounded position that, overall, the positive value of the BBC is not to be questioned. Much, from the fact of Matheson’s defenestration to the immediate cause of Hill’s removal, is glossed or omitted. Contradictions, implicit and explicit, proliferate. In consequence, the BBC is held to have been great at “holding things to account”, “describing decencies”. The license fee itself is, in Seaton’s view, no mere hypothecated tax; it is nothing less than “a gift to citizenship”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>But cognitive dissonance is also a consequence. “Being popular was fundamental to the BBC”, but how that squares with the fault line of intellectual snobbery is not properly explored. Seaton anyway takes till page 232 to begin to consider it. She knows that: “The BBC was traditionally queasy about “the popular”’. “How”, though, “was the BBC to build audience taste?” is a question whose legitimacy she does not question. Despite the denting BBC elitism received during Hugh Carleton Greene’s tenure as DG in the ’60s, John Reith’s long shadow lingered: “Few know what they need,” he had pronounced in 1924, “and very few what they want”. The weekly Programme Review Board was where the programming barons - elitist and populist - fought bloody battles for scheduling advantage. At least that is how it could seem. In Seaton’s view, however, it “was a magnificent weekly mechanism for self-reflection”. How the funding model makes popularity such an ambiguous good is not examined.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Neither are the shibboleths of managerialism. The accountant Michael Checkland “built a parallel separate universe within the BBC, but although very close to programme makers, it did not make programmes. It was a parallel universe, a more humane orderly place where decent efficiency ruled”. In fact, Checkland’s BBC could have been paradise were it not for the programmes – costing endless money, causing public rows, encouraging people with open-necked shirts and (as Seaton does note) the wearing of trouser suits. (In fact, her best point in the entire book is when she notes, in a good chapter about the arrival - or rather reappearance - of senior women, the paucity of women’s toilets on the BBC’s executive floors.) Otherwise, of course, Checkland’s daleks were “very close"; who knows what horrors would have ensued had they not been - Jimmy Saville might have been at large!<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>In the parallel universe, all appointments tended to be of “brilliant” chaps. For example: “The BBC was well led. Charles Curran…”. With Swann, he was part of “the most effective double act for a decade”, yet “Curran and the governors” immediately “get the calculation of paying staff more and appealing for an increase[d] [license] fee so wrong”. The initial brilliance is more than once revealed as not preventing less than stellar managerial performance.<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Exculpation is the order of the day - and, to stick with pay, so is blaming others. It is for instance, “ the madness of the unions” with endless “exotic rows” that is the source of the BBC’s pay problems and inefficiencies - not the fundamental strategic error of arguing for colour (before the commercial competition did so) and a second channel and local radio at exactly the point when penetration was reaching saturation and no further automatic license revenue increases could be expected. Never-mind the ‘mad unions,’ government pay-policy, the supposed profligacy of commercial TV’s pay scales - that the BBC management was lying on a bed not a little of its own making is not examined.</p> <p>The book is called <em>Pinkoes and Traitors </em>but one begins to wonder how much irony - if any - is thereby intended. A certain political tendency begins to intrude, something one could never accuse Briggs of so obviously deploying. The management’s case is endlessly purveyed. Its failings are glossed. Even Mrs. Thatcher’s root and branch hostility to the Corperation is not much allowed to colour Seaton’s view of her “splendidly particular self”, “her peculiarly focused intelligence”. Antipathy to her, Dennis Potter’s for example, “demonstrated something of the misogynistic hostility she encountered”. Yet the importance of her hostility to the BBC reflects the fundamental difficulty of how an organ of opinion can be state-funded and yet “independent”, as a mature democracy demands. Charter renewal approaches with a debate debilitatingly conducted in a vacuum separated from all other media issues. We are getting the usual angels of governance and funding endlessly dancing on the pin’s head of renewal. These official and quasi-official histories ought to be playing a role in resolving these perennial debates. Instead their cognitive dissonance merely reflects apparently in-built historiographic fault lines.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>References</strong></p><p>Briggs, Asa (1995a),&nbsp;<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/280152.History_of_Broadcasting_in_the_United_Kingdom"><em>History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom:&nbsp;</em><em>The Birth</em></a>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/280152.History_of_Broadcasting_in_the_United_Kingdom">of Broadcasting 1896–1927, </a>vol 1,&nbsp;</em><span>Oxford: Oxford University Press&nbsp;</span></p><p>Briggs, Asa (1995d),&nbsp;<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/280152.History_of_Broadcasting_in_the_United_Kingdom">History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom:&nbsp;Competition,&nbsp;</a><em>vol 4</em>, Oxford: Oxford University Press</p><p>Paulu,Burton (1981)&nbsp;<em>Radio and Television in the United Kingdom.&nbsp;</em>Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Reith, John (1924),&nbsp;<em>Broadcast over Britain</em>. London: Hodder &amp; Stoughton&nbsp;</p><p></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/%27pinkoes-and-traitors%27-tunnel-vision-of-broadcasting-history">&#039;Pinkoes and Traitors&#039;: a tunnel vision of broadcasting history</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/media-publicservice/article_68.jsp">Public broadcasting: imperfect but essential</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/jean-seaton/what-would-world-without-bbc-look-like">What would a world without the BBC look like? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> OurBeeb OurBeeb OurKingdom Brian Winston Thu, 09 Apr 2015 07:00:01 +0000 Brian Winston 91852 at https://www.opendemocracy.net This Glaswegian kickboxer should be next UK Tory leader https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/ruth-davidson-glaswegian-kickboxer-who-should-be-next-leader-of-uk-conservati <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>She's one of the few people who could take the Conservatives out of their terminal decline - and save the union.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/1-gjPE4Kjxm5zaxETE2K3IfjPXdBlVzimWGDaUVWmbY/mtime:1428569299/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/ruth.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/UCTEELSZkRgfJ8FmuVU2omPuOYBX7EGV58gc7_3Uamg/mtime:1428569039/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/ruth.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>One of the ways you can tell that the media really does know that Miliband is the most likely next prime minister is that there is much more speculation about Cameron’s successor as Tory leader than about who the next Labour leader will be. The papers just don’t want to say it. The idea of Miliband as front-runner will legitimise him. And their <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/newspapers-are-preparing-for-coup-and-labour-is-doing-nothing-to-stop-them">whole strategy</a> is about delegitimising him.</p> <p><span>I always find it fascinating, though, to look at those speculations. What they reveal is a huge amount about who the media thinks is ‘good’. And that tells us much more about the papers than it does about the politicians they (we, I suppose) are judging. In this context, I have often asked a question: why is Boris Johnson seen as a likely next Tory leader, but Carwyn Jones never mentioned as a viable future Labour leader?&nbsp;</span></p> <p>The only difference between the two men is that one has significant powers and has used them, and the other doesn’t and hasn’t; one is the person in their party with by far the most executive power, the other isn’t. Of the two, it’s the First Minister of Wales who is the more impressive and serious politician by almost any sensible measure. Boris is little more than a glorified local council leader with silly hair.&nbsp;</p> <p>This principle extends further though. This summer, there’s a very good chance that the Conservative party will be back in opposition and looking for a new leader. It will have failed to have won a majority in a UK General Election for 23 years. By the likely next election, that will be 28 years. If the Tories had any sense at all, they would think very carefully about what that means. The last time a party previously accustomed to government could have said that is the Liberal party in 1932.&nbsp;</p> <p>In this context, for them to choose another old Etonian Oxford graduate from the South East of England would be an astonishing act of self harm for the party in the long term. Of course, it’s possible that Mr Johnson would keep the show on the road for a few fleeting years. But it would be by clinging to a disappearing past, not by laying claim to the future.</p> <p><span>No. If the Tories wish to survive (which, as someone who has never voted for them, is perhaps none of my business) then they need to look further afield. And for them, there is another consideration too. Where I grew up, what it says on the ballot papers is “Conservative and Unionist Party”. And if they really believe in that (as someone who voted yes, perhaps that's not my buisiness either), then the reasonable likelihood that they will have no MPs from the second biggest nation in the union after the election should trigger in them some serious soul searching.&nbsp;</span></p> <p>In that context, if I were a Tory party member, then I would have been watching tonight’s Scottish leaders’ debate with some interest. Because it seemed clear to me, as someone who would never come close to voting Tory, that Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, put in a much better performance than David Cameron did the other night. And this wasn’t because it was an easier contest – I think every party but UKIP and the Lib Dems was better represented in tonight’s Scottish debate than in the UK leaders’ debate.</p> <p><span>Ruth Davidson, for those who don’t know her, is not the stereotype of a Tory leader. She is a 36 year old kick-boxing lesbian from Glasgow. She’s admired across the political spectrum by people who can’t stand her party as well as those who love it. She’s articulate, intelligent and holds her own in one of the toughest political contexts for her party in the UK. Being a Tory in Oxfordshire is easy. Being a Tory in Glasgow takes some doing.</span></p> <p><span>There are practical questions. She is an MSP, not an MP, and there isn’t exactly a Tory safe seat in Scotland she could just win in a by-election. On the other hand though, it would send a pretty powerful signal about how serious the Tories are about the union if they were led for a period from Holyrood and represented in Westminster by their deputy leader. As Salmond ran for First Minister from outside the Scottish Parliament in 2007, Davidson could run for PM in 2020 (or, as some speculated about Mandelson in 2010, she could lead from the Lords until 2020, then resign her peerage and run as an MP).</span></p> <p><span>The second obstacle is that anyone sensible in the Scottish Tories understands that they only ever came close to winning elections in Scotland when they had their own independent Scottish party, the Scottish Unionist party. In a sense, though, this provides another (and perhaps more viable) potential solution to the previous question. The Tories across the UK could split (as they already have in effect, with the Unionists in Northern Ireland). They could chose a leader in England and Wales as well as Scotland, but they could run in 2020 being clear that their candidate for Prime Minister is Ruth Davidson, not the English leader – just as the CSU leader has on occasion been candidate for German Chancellor rather than the CDU leader.</span></p> <p>The third obstacle is that I suspect, post-referendum, the Conservatives will never accept a Scottish leader. They are retreating fast into English nationalism. Even Polly Toynbee has suggested that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQBZq4wZk4M#t=25">a Scottish Prime Minister or party leader</a> is now impossible. This is probably true, and it’s the surest sign that the union wasn’t saved on 18th September last year, but put on life support.</p><p><span><strong><em><span>Please donate to OurKingdom </span><a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donate"><span>here </span></a><span>to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you.</span></em></strong></span></p> OurKingdom OurKingdom Adam Ramsay Wed, 08 Apr 2015 23:06:41 +0000 Adam Ramsay 91877 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The BBC and the arms trade: a silent scandal https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/harry-blain/bbc-and-arms-trade-silent-scandal <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In its recent appointments to the BBC Trust, the government has deeply associated our public broadcaster with the arms trade. Why aren’t we talking about this?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-right"><img src="//opendemocracy.net/files/7002855435_9127511649_z.jpg " alt="" width="460" /><br /><span class="image-caption"> </span><em> Sir Roger Carr, chairman of BAE systems and new vice-chair of the BBC Trust. Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/the-cbi/7002855435/in/photolist-bZwqjs-dnVUgw-dnVNLR-dnVNGX-dnVUdL-dnVUd1-dnVNFX-dnVU9w-dnVU8m-hXXoDf-hLB1Fy-j6eppP-ifXqaC-hYcuBE-bZwqjo-duVKKh-duTANd-bZwqio-eEvYxm-doRrcU-bEPh2V-bEPsWP-brUccJ" target="_blank">The CBI</a></em></p> <p><span>“Sometimes you have to make hard sacrifices”, said Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the BBC Trust, after the Corporation’s </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/mar/26/bbc-jeremy-clarkson-sir-michael-lyons">decision not to renew Jeremy Clarkson’s contract</a><span> on March 25. Clarkson’s apparent status as “too valuable to sack”, despite </span><a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/11462829/Jeremy-Clarkson-too-valuable-to-sack.html">a long list of indiscretions</a><span>, was displaced by the insistence that, in the words of the BBC’s director of television, “it’s like football clubs: no one is bigger than the club.”</span></p> <p>The Clarkson fiasco – complete with “derogatory and abusive language”, a “physical attack” lasting around thirty seconds, and <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-32103665">allegations of death threats</a> made to the BBC Director-General by Clarkson fans – has, unsurprisingly, received its share of media coverage. Owen Jones <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/20/jeremy-clarkson-be-sacked-top-gear-bbc">saw the saga as a “test”</a> of whether the “well-connected” and “highly paid” are held to the same standards as everyone else, while the BBC news website provided <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/entertainment-arts-31841621">an almost comically wide spectrum of public reaction</a> to Clarkson’s departure, ranging from the views of Star Trek actor William Shatner to the original “Stig”, Perry McCarthy. </p> <p>Although the coverage was, at times, excessive, this was still an important story, raising vital questions about privilege, bullying and the integrity of the BBC. But more troubling, if less sensational stories – going right to the heart of our public broadcaster – have been largely overlooked.</p> <h2><strong>“Surely you should go?”</strong></h2> <p><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/">The BBC Trust</a> is “the governing body of the BBC”, with the responsibility to ensure that the Corporation delivers on its mission “to inform, educate and entertain.” The Trust describes itself as “the guardian of license fee revenue”, aiming to make the Corporation “simpler, more efficient and more open.” It also sets editorial standards, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/managementstructure/seniormanagement/">appoints the Director-General</a> and serves as “the final arbiter on complaints.” Established through the 2006 BBC Royal Charter, the Trust, along with the separate executive board, plays a central role in the governance and regulation of the BBC.</p> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/dan-hind/corporation-run-by-bankers-not-journalists-who-are-bbc-trust">As Dan Hind has written</a> for ourBeeb, the Trust’s members are not, to say the least, chosen democratically. There are twelve trustees – four of whom are charged with representing Britain’s Home Nations, one an International Trustee – all formally appointed by the Queen, on the recommendation of government ministers. Hind also illustrates how experience in journalism has not exactly been a prerequisite for trustees, with CVs instead distinguished by “strong links with the financial sector”, and roles on the boards of energy companies.</p> <p>The current chair of the Trust is Rona Fairhead, who was CEO of the Financial Times Group from 2006-2013. Her <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/who_we_are/trustees/rona_fairhead.html">biography</a> on the BBC website notes that she sits on the Board of HSBC Holdings, but makes no mention of the fact that <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/mar/09/rona-fairhead-should-lose-bbc-job-over-hsbc-role-says-influential-mp">she became the chair of HSBC’s audit and risk committee in 2007</a>, with “responsibility for governance and compliance across the global bank.”</p> <p>Inevitably, Fairhead has had to face some serious questions. <a href="http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/a960faa6-db40-4b38-8fd4-707e4ed3d3a5">When pressed by the Public Accounts Committee</a> on the HSBC tax evasion scandal, she protested “I could only respond to the information that I had”, mainly blaming the management of the bank’s Swiss branch, “because they should have created a controlled environment.” Conservative MP Stephen Philips was not satisfied, asking “How can you stay in place as a non-executive of this bank? Surely you should go?” Labour's Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Committee, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/mar/09/rona-fairhead-should-lose-bbc-job-over-hsbc-role-says-influential-mp">put it more bluntly:</a> “The performance you have shown here as a guardian of HSBC does not give me confidence as a licence fee-payer in your ability as a guardian of the licence fee-payers’ money and I think you should consider your position and resign.”</p> <p>Fairhead’s power over BBC decision-making should not be overstated, and her <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/tv-radio/bbc-trust-should-be-abolished--and-i-should-be-abolished-as-well-says-rona-fairhead-10085362.html">recent call</a> for largely replacing the Trust with an external regulator demonstrates a grasp of public concerns with accountability and oversight. However, there is definitely something concerning about this core public institution being governed by people whose career backgrounds could hardly be further from the mission of “inform, educate and entertain.” </p> <h2><strong>“More trustees with business and financial backgrounds”</strong></h2> <p>Maybe we shouldn’t find this surprising. We’re now at the point where we expect most of our public institutions to be linked, in some way, to banking. Careers in British public service are often <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/tamasin-cave/more-than-lobby-finance-in-uk">stepping stones to careers in finance, and vice versa.</a> </p> <p>A similar “revolving door” exists with weapons companies, who also have many friends in important places: <a href="https://www.caat.org.uk/issues/influence">from the Ministry of Defence, to the Department of Trade and Investment</a>, and even <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/harry-blain/will-prince-charles%27-heartfelt-interventions-extend-to-arms-sales">the House of Windsor.</a> Now, it seems, the arms industry will have a representative at the top of the BBC. </p> <p><a href="http://www.baesystems.com/our-company-rzz/our-people/board-of-directors/sir-roger-carr?_afrLoop=1992090806954000&amp;_afrWindowMode=0&amp;_afrWindowId=null#!%40%40%3F_afrWindowId%3Dnull%26_afrLoop%3D1992090806954000%26_afrWindowMode%3D0%26_adf.ctrl-state%3D1brehzy">Sir Roger Carr</a>, the chairman of Europe’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems, has recently added “Vice-Chair of the BBC Trust” to his CV. Carr has been chairman of BAE since February 2014, and “is also a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group and a senior advisor to KKR – the world’s largest private equity company.” Appointed as a trustee on March 20 along with former Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer and former Tory donor and banker Mark Florman, Carr apparently fits with the government’s keenness to <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/mar/20/bbc-trust-names-ex-radio-4-controller-and-banker-as-new-trustees">“introduce more trustees with business and financial backgrounds.”</a></p> <h2><strong>BAE’s record</strong></h2> <p>What does “business experience” with BAE look like? This is a company perhaps best-known for its role in <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/baefiles/page/0,,2095831,00.html">the 1985 <em>Al-Yamamah </em>arms deal</a>, making £43bn selling warplanes to the Saudi monarchy – with an estimated £6bn “distributed in corrupt commissions, via an array of agents and middlemen.” The Serious Fraud Office began an investigation into the <em>Al-Yamamah</em> deal in 2004, only for its probe to be shut down in December 2006, after <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/defence/8216172/BAE-Systems-timeline-of-bribery-allegations.html">alleged Saudi blackmail</a>. </p> <p>More broadly, BAE’s business model is about selling as many weapons as possible. It has had military customers in over one hundred countries, including but not limited to <a href="https://www.caat.org.uk/resources/companies/bae-systems/countries/bae-egypt">Hosni Mubarak</a>, the <a href="https://www.caat.org.uk/resources/companies/bae-systems/countries/bae-bahrain">Bahraini royal family</a> and the <a href="https://www.caat.org.uk/resources/companies/bae-systems/countries/bae-uae">United Arab Emirates.</a> As the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) <a href="https://www.caat.org.uk/get-involved/act-now/petition/bbc">puts it</a>, BAE “has armed dictatorships and human rights abuses around the world… Its chair should not be paid £70,610 a year to ‘represent license fee payers’ views.’”</p> <p>With the exception of CAAT, there has been virtually no media discussion of Carr’s appointment (there is also <a href="http://rt.com/uk/245841-bbc-arms-firms-carr/">this piece</a> from RT). Clearly, our journalists are so used to the submersion of our public institutions in corporate influence that they no longer seem to notice. </p> <h2><strong>The real scandal</strong></h2> <p>And this, unfortunately, is not the first time we’ve had to ask questions about the BBC and the arms trade. CAAT <a href="http://blog.caat.org.uk/2014/01/23/nick-robinson-at-an-arms-dealers-dinner/">has previously campaigned</a> (successfully) against plans for BBC political editor, Nick Robinson, and security correspondent, Frank Gardner, to wine and dine with representatives of the arms industry. It has also, in the past, <a href="https://www.caat.org.uk/media/press-releases/2008-10-30">expressed concern</a> over Top Gear’s links with Clarion Events, a company with a history of purchasing and promoting arms fairs. </p> <p>When we discuss events at the BBC, we will no doubt continue, for some time, to talk about <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/mar/15/jeremy-clarkson-to-give-first-full-account-of-fracas-during-bbc-investigation">a self-described</a> “not very interesting fat man” being sacked from “his not very important job.” But by bringing BAE’s chairman into such a senior position with the BBC Trust, the government has deeply associated our public broadcaster with an industry known mainly for corruption, bribery and contempt for human rights. This is the real scandal we should be talking about – and fighting.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/lis-howell/less-velvet-glove-more-iron-fist">Less velvet glove, more iron fist</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/nicholas-gilby/risky-business-uk-arms-trade-in-spotlight">Risky business: UK arms trade in the spotlight</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/lose-licence-fee-abolish-trust">Lose the licence fee, abolish the Trust </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb OurKingdom Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Harry Blain Wed, 08 Apr 2015 09:27:21 +0000 Harry Blain 91821 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Great Charter of Liberties https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/malcolm-chase/great-charter-of-liberties <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Looking at the distance between the Westminster parliamentary system and those to whom elected representatives are ultimately accountable, the Chartists had a point – in fact, at least six points.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy</em>. The coincidence of the British Library’s <a href="http://www.bl.uk/events/magna-carta--law-liberty-legacy">magnificent exhibition</a> with a general election campaign is bound to tempt political parties to claim a particular affinity with Magna Carta, or more precisely with what they believe it embodies. As David Carpenter’s new <em>Penguin Classics </em>edition demonstrates (together with the <a href="http://politicsinspires.org/does-the-new-penguin-edition-of-magna-carta-miss-the-point/">review</a> of it that Peter Linebaugh contributed to this series) - this is a subject still wide-open to contest. </p> <p>Yet this in no way diminishes the significance of previous interpretations, especially those that helped shape past political movements. That great popular movement of the early Victorian period, Chartism, naturally springs to my mind as someone who has devoted much time to its history. This was a movement that explicitly took Magna Carta as a foundational text. (See also the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/peter-evans/assembling-for-democracy-part-1-learning-from-blanketeers">contributions</a> to this series by Peter Evans.)</p> <h2><strong>Magna Charta</strong></h2> <p>There was nothing new about the <em><a href="http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/21cc/struggle/chartists1/historicalsources/source4/peoplescharter.html">People’s Charter</a></em>, published in 1838, except, crucially, its title. Its six points for parliamentary reform (universal male suffrage; no property qualification to become an MP; payment of MPs; equal sized constituencies; voting in secret; and annual parliaments) had first been proposed as a package in the 1770s by John Cartwright. However, <em>The People’s Charter </em>did more than merely reassert established radical demands. The punchy title was massively significant. The allusion to <em>Magna Charta</em> (Chartists always inserted the ‘h’, subtly emphasising the affinity between the two documents) was one which almost all would have understood. Indeed, interest in ‘the Great Charter of Liberties’ of 1215 had grown over the previous quarter of a century, fuelled by an explosion of radical reform publishing during the Regency years. </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/_cjRpS2mcbKcDyo8_A0BCwaJmD0uO_kuaiXZP-KTH08/mtime:1428473446/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/709459.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="https://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/1Wvaz8ie36N7jcfaON4DvUjWKTpoTR-2jmejQlevUN8/mtime:1428473123/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/709459.jpg" alt=" King John (1167-1216) Signing Magna Carta by Staffordshire Pottery." title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'> King John (1167-1216) Signing Magna Carta by Staffordshire Pottery. © National Trust / Catriona Hughes. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Many an early Victorian mantle piece boasted an earthenware figurine of King John, pen in hand, signing Magna Carta. The clothing and the tent in which John was depicted were no less anachronistic than the concept of him having signed the document: but such anachronism only reinforced the contemporary resonance of Magna Carta. At the French Revolution of 1830, France’s new Declaration of Rights was widely referred to in England as ‘the new Charter’. The 1832 parliamentary reform act itself was referred to as ‘The Great Charter’. More typically radicals called for a ‘New Charter’ as a substitute for the bill enacted in 1832. Chartism was born out of popular frustration at the socially restricted franchise it imposed. Magna Carta alone was the great charter: it constituted the foundation stone of English liberties and the People’s Charter would complete the edifice. </p> <h2><strong>Your opinion</strong></h2> <p>To understand why the Chartists were so abundantly confident that the People’s Charter would remedy much more than just the yawning democratic deficit left after the 1832 Reform Act, we need to appreciate that annual parliaments were just as integral to their demands as universal male suffrage. Annual general elections were envisaged as offering a genuinely representative democracy in which MPs would be the mandated delegates of their constituents, rather than unaccountable and subject to re-election as infrequently as every seven years.&nbsp; </p> <p>Cartwright’s insistence upon annual parliaments was a riposte to the celebrated declaration made by Edmund Burke to his Bristol electorate in 1774, that a Member of Parliament’s ‘unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you … Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion’. </p> <p>Burke’s conception of an MP’s relationship with his constituents may have worked within a parliamentary system that respected the independence of MPs, that lacked hard demarcations between parties and where the function of whips was to nurture rather than discipline supporters. However, radical reformers’ adherence to the principle of annual parliaments swelled against the background of hardening party lines, ever more apparent after 1832. </p> <p>For the Chartists in particular there was the additional conviction that a working-class electorate would increasingly be an educated one – not necessarily schooled in a formal sense but able to refine its political judgment through access to a free press and the increasing prominence of the public platform in daily political life. Our image of nineteenth-century political debate is one dominated by a handful of extraordinary public speakers – Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor, Disraeli, Gladstone. We too-easily overlook how routinized public debate was in the culture of even small communities.</p> <p>Annual parliaments are no-less incompatible with the maximum span of parliaments set at five years, than they were with the Septennial Act in force until 1911. At issue was not only a fundamentally contrasting concept of democratic procedure, but also the extent to which electors could <em>trust</em> the members that they sent to Westminster. The Chartists certainly did not valorise the barons who forced John to seal Magna Carta. They believed that Parliament had grown to be dominated by aristocratic families, its members incapable of passing any measure that was not in their direct interests. The Reform Act had changed nothing. </p> <p>Annual parliaments were about creating a democratically elected assembly that could be trusted to govern in accordance with the popular will, just as Magna Carta sought to subjugate &nbsp;monarchical will to parliamentary authority (as the Chartists confidently believed). </p> <h2><strong>The professionalization of politics</strong></h2> <p>For us, as for the Chartists, Magna Carta can still be a powerful tool to think with. And similarly the 1838 People’s Charter should not be shelved as purely a historical document. It is tempting to do so when the suffrage for which it argued was so uncompromisingly male. Those who drew up the 1838 document explained that the decision to exclude women was a tactical one, made to maximise its chances of acceptance. It was not a matter of principle and, indeed, women supported Chartism in large numbers. However, wherever in the movement one looks, women’s involvement was thinner – both numerically and in intellectual substance – towards the end of the 1840s, than it had been in the late 1830s. </p> <p>There’s an important lesson here for those who care about democracy. Chartism was at its most potent as a political force when it was socially most inclusive. Even in the brief compass of the two decades in which there was formally a Chartist movement, the professionalization of politics can be observed, raising walls between ‘grassroots’ supporters and leaders, just it has in modern times between the electorate and the elected. Reflecting on these times in the light of Chartism, one ventures to suggest that there are processes at work within political organizations that are leading to the same end. </p> <p>In this connection it is important to reiterate that the sixth point of the Charter, annual parliaments, was central to the Chartist vision of what democracy should be. It was never realized and very few – especially with media coverage of a general election ringing in their ears – would wish it otherwise. </p> <h2><strong>The sixth point</strong></h2> <p>However, it is worth recalling the honest intentions behind the sixth point as we ponder declining election turnouts, the diminishing base of unpaid party activists, and the distance that remains between the Westminster parliamentary system and those to whom elected representatives are ultimately accountable. A new Magna Carta should concern itself not just with a new constitutional settlement for Britain but with building a culture and processes to ensure that such a settlement was not something played out before a largely passive audience.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/peter-linebaugh/homo-liber-homo-idioticus">Homo liber, homo idioticus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/peter-evans/assembling-for-democracy-part-1-learning-from-blanketeers">Assembling for democracy: part 1, learning from the Blanketeers</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/peter-evans/assembling-for-democracy-part-2-chartists-and-us">Assembling for democracy: part 2, the Chartists and us</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> OurKingdom OurKingdom UK Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas Great Charter Convention History Building it: campaigns and movements Rethinking representation Malcolm Chase Wed, 08 Apr 2015 05:49:29 +0000 Malcolm Chase 91846 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Video debate: the housing crisis - a very British disease. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/institute-of-art-and-ideas/video-debate-housing-crisis-very-british-disease <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Would we be more innovative and prosperous if property was not a national obsession?</p> </div> </div> </div> <iframe src="https://iai.tv/VideoController/EmbeddedVideo/633?width=460&height=259&startTime=00%3A00" width="460" height="259" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="display:block; padding:0px; margin:0px; border:0px;"></iframe> <div style="padding:4px 0px; width:460px; margin:0px; display:block; border:0px;"><a title="Watch more videos on iaitv" href="http://iai.tv/" target="_blank" style="font-weight:bold; font-size:12px; color:#25aae1; font-family:Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; text-decoration:none">Watch more videos on <em>iai.tv</em></a></div> OurKingdom OurKingdom The Institute of Art and Ideas Housing in Crisis The Institute of Art and Ideas Tue, 07 Apr 2015 00:11:11 +0000 The Institute of Art and Ideas 91707 at https://www.opendemocracy.net