Our lovely Prime Minister, who had the temerity to suggest the summer’s riots had nothing whatsoever to do with poverty, is now going to tell the poor it’s time to pay their debts:
In a delicate balancing act, he will try in his closing speech to the Conservative party conference on Wednesday to re-energise the country by insisting that despite the pessimism over the economy, politics and society, “the country’s best days are not behind us”. “Let’s bring on the can-do optimism,” he will say before claiming that his “leadership is about unleashing your leadership”.
But despite the efforts to lift the mood of the country, Cameron will also provide a frank admission that the economy is not going to be fixed quickly. His aides openly admit that the country’s finances are in worse state than they had expected – a fact underlined by repeated downgrading of official growth forecasts.
At one point he will even urge households to clear their debts: “The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households – all of us – paying off the credit card and store card bills.”
What an utter, insensitive moron. What the country needs is jobs and investment, not a contraction in public spending (entirely on ideological grounds) as a way out of a financial crisis caused by his banker friends, coupled with an (ideological) assault on the benefits system. Where’s a Robin Hood tax? Nowhere. Where’s reform of the banking system? Nowhere. What about forcing corporate Britain to pay the massive amounts of tax it owes? I don’t think so. Instead we get Cameron blaming the poor for their poverty – an act of spin the likes of which even Blair would haven’t stooped to. George Eaton points out:
If we are to avoid an economic death spiral, we need people to spend, not save. Keynes’s paradox of thrift explains why. The more people save, the more they reduce aggregate demand, thus further reducing (and eventually destroying) economic growth. They will be individually wise but collectively foolish. If no one spends (because they’re paying off their debts) then businesses can’t grow and unemployment willl soar. The paradox is that if everyone saves then savings eventually become worthless.
This is the reason why the comparison I repeatedly hear that household finances can be compared to a country’s is so utterly wrong. Tory supporters please read this and learn. John Prescott summarises it best on Twitter:
So millionaires with inherited wealth order working families to pay off their debts whilst freezing pay & cutting benefits
I’m quite torn on this one. David Allen Green (formerly ‘Jack of Kent’) asks in the New Statesman whether it’s correct that Tony Blair’s PR events supporting his book launch are being cancelled:
A retired politician is promoting a publication to those who may wish to purchase it.
This is not some extremist politician, but a former mainstream democratic politician.
And this is not just any former mainstream democratic politician, but the only UK party leader to have won a decisive general election with a sustainable majority since 1987.
But that politician cannot do any events. The events are being cancelled. Is this a cause for concern?
I don’t think it’s an immediate cause for concern because noone is forcing Blair to cancel the promotional events. Stop the War promised to conduct non-violent protests against him at the book signings and the (now-cancelled) event at the Tate Modern, but it was his choice to cancel them. Was he worried about the cost of policing or about the damage to his already destroyed reputation? And should people not be able to protest against a former Prime Minister who many believe to be a war criminal? Green continues:
[Padraig ] Reidy is the news editor for Index on Censorship and is establishing himself as one of the most thoughtful and intellectually-consistent commentators on free expression issues. Reidy says that this raises censorship concerns, even though the politician in question is Tony Blair.
This surely must be correct, if the situation is approached from a principle-based approach. The defence of free expression is often most important when the beneficiary is unpopular.
So, if this is this a case where free expression is threatened, should all people of goodwill now shout out: For Tony Blair and Free Speech?
As comments under the article point out it’s seriously ironic that we should be discussing the protection of free speech of a man who’s done so much to undermine it in this country. And it’s also not true that his free speech is being curtailed – tried to read a single newspaper or look anywhere on the television without him putting his story forward, still with barely any critical evaluation of what he’s saying? The article reeks of bias against Stop the War. Just because Padraig Reidy is a thoughtful commentator on free expression issues doesn’t mean he’s right in this instance.
I hate to say it but I think Andrew Rawnsley is largely right:
There are many things to regret about Tony Blair’s record and he uses his memoir as a confessional in which he owns up to at least some of his mistakes. I don’t share all of his analysis about the rise and fall of New Labour. He goes too far – didn’t he always? – in suggesting that concepts of “left” and “right” have become entirely redundant in the 21st century. His retirement into the world of the super-rich seems to have hardened his more reactionary arteries.
But even his most severe critics surely have to grant him this: he understood how to communicate with the public; he grasped that parties must constantly renew themselves to keep up with events, the world and the voters; and he knew how to win elections.
I think he’s wrong in basing his praise of Blair on his ability to communicate with the public (in his early stages only, surely?) and win elections (he was fighting John Major, William Hague & Michael Howard – not exactly rocket science to beat them at their most reactionary), but he instinctively understood what his successor did not: in order to win elections in the early 21st century a pact needed to be sealed between politicians and the middle classes (who determine the victors). As John Kampfner in ‘Freedom for Sale’ quite rightly points out Blair bribed the middle classes with the promises of extreme wealth, utterly deregulated financial markets and no interest whatsoever in tackling tax evasion. Kampfner’s ‘pact’ depended on the middle classes leaving the public realm entirely alone, and look what New Labour then did with it: ID cards, Independent Safeguarding Authority, super databases, Digital Economy Act, torture, extraordinary rendition, attempting 42 days detention without charge – monstrous authoritarian abuses benefiting them and their corporate buddies. And barely any of it affected the middle classes, but the ‘pact’ in its various incarnations worldwide also depended (and still does) on government not going too far. And Blair, in his disastrous alliance with Bush, went far too far. More than two million people, many of them middle class, went out on the streets, to warn him off from attacking Iraq. His defiance of those whose goodwill he depended on caused his downfall.
Blair’s pact was not a good thing for society as a whole. New Labour’s delight in creating unimaginable wealth (which Blair still advocates) undid most of the good their attempts at poverty alleviation brought about. Their obsession with statist control led to a demented belief that they and not individuals always knew the right answers, and their crazed databases were the result, trying to arbitrate all risk throughout society. But if he hadn’t so misjudged history in 2003 Blair might (heart problems aside) still be Prime Minister now. Sure there was an increasing groundswell against the ‘nanny state’ – a slow-burn opposition to the party’s authoritarian agenda was underway, but it was nowhere near significant enough to destabilise New Labour in and of itself. The Brown administration imploded through incompetence and almost no other reason.
Blair was largely responsible for the drift away from Labour as soon as it became electable (Bernie Ecclestone anyone?), and the myth that he was an instinctive election winner who realised how conservative the former Left needed to be remains just that – a myth. The country voted for him in large measure because he promised social democratic solutions to problems the Conservatives had no interest (or ability) in tackling. David Miliband seems to realise that his route to power depends on correcting Blair’s mistakes – not repudiating New Labour (which he doesn’t). He has to promise crazed wealth creation, imply a continuing exclusive interest in the public sphere and decry the working classes almost as much as David Cameron (expect diatribes against benefits cheats & no promises whatsoever about the Robin Hood tax his brother has suddenly talked up). He knows this, and so does Blair – it’s why he’s tacitly endorsing him instead of Ed. It won’t result in a progressive leader truly keen on improving the social and economic ills in this country, but it’s likely to return Labour to power – sooner rather than later. And in the early 21st century that is all political parties are interested in (that, and the wealth that it brings).
Ken Clarke is now the Justice Secretary, a role which had been expected to steer the repeal of the Human Rights Act if David Cameron became PM. But take a look at Clarke’s views on that idea, as recently as 2006:
Mr Clarke, a former home secretary and failed Tory leadership contender, has become the latest critic of the proposal.
He said he was not saying Mr Cameron hated foreigners.
Mr Clarke told BBC 2′s Daily Politics programme the European convention had itself been drawn up by a British lawyer.
The Tory leader is appointing a group of lawyers and experts to work out what should be in the new British Bill of Rights.
But Mr Clarke said: “He’s gone out there to try and find some lawyers who agree with him, which I think will be a struggle myself.”
The Human Rights Act has come under fire in some newspapers, who believe it has put the rights of criminals above those of victims of crime.
But Mr Clarke said: “In these home affairs things I think occasionally it’s the duty of politicians on both sides to turn round to the tabloids and right-wing newspapers and say ‘you have your facts wrong and you’re whipping up facts which are inaccurate’.”
Is Clarke going to completely undermine himself or does his appointment signal Cameron accepts he won’t be able to repeal the Human Rights Act with the Liberal Democrats as coalition partners?
David Cronin has tried to arrest former Prime Minister Tony Blair for war crimes:
As the former prime minister made his way into a packed committee room in the European Parliament, I stepped up to him and laid my hand on his arm. “Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest,” I said.
For a split second, he looked directly at me, treating me to an expression that seemed both blank and quizzical. Then I was pushed away firmly, though not too aggressively, by one of the phalanx of body guards surrounding him. “You are guilty of war crimes,” I shouted after him, adrenaline giving me the kind of high I haven’t experienced in years.
I had prepared a more lengthy speech about how I believed Blair should be prosecuted for authorising the war against Iraq as this involved crimes against peace and the crime of aggression. I had also intended to invite him to accompany me to the nearest police station so that I could file a criminal charge against him.
Yet to no surprise, I did not get a chance to recite these arguments and to test out my hastily acquired knowledge of the Nuremberg principles that were set down following the Second World War and the more recent Rome statute (the agreement under which the International Criminal Court was founded).
The real crime of course is that an arrest for war crimes will never happen, even though it should. Having taken Britain to war based on lies, in order to appease an American president hell-bent on an illegal war based entirely on mad ideological principles, will never likely have anyone held accountable. Where would the process end? Putin? Bush? Thatcher? Blair would likely argue his behaviour was nothing abnormal for someone in his position, indeed that it was to Britain’s advantage. Yet look at the hatred the war has engendered, look at the hundreds of thousands dead, look at the country we supposedly went to ‘liberate’ totter under a regime as disinterested in human rights as Saddam Hussein was. And don’t forget Saddam was once our friend too.
Friday 29th January will be a big day. Tony Blair gives evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry:
The timetable for the protest is as follows:
8.00: PROTEST STARTS AS BLAIR ARRIVES
A delegation including Iraqi citizens and grieving military families take the People’s Dossier of questions for Tony Blair to Sir John Chilcot.
9.00-10.00: NAMING OF THE DEAD CEREMONY
When Blair’s testimony begins, names of Iraqis killed in the war will be read by novelist A.L Kennedy, Musician Brian Eno, actor and director Sam West, actor and director Simon McBurney, playwright David Edgar, Lancet editor Richard Horton, former UK ambassador Craig Murray, Iraqi author Haifa Zangana, comedian and author Alexei Sayle, actor Miriam Margolyes, and more.
10.00-11.00: SPEECHES, READINGS AND PERFORMANCES
Including by many of those participating in the Naming the Dead ceremony.
Lowkey, King Blues and other Musicians.
13.00-14.00: MILITARY FAMILIES NAMING OF THE DEAD
Members of military families who lost loved ones in the Iraq war will read the names of all 179 British soldiers who died.
16.00: PROTEST AS TONY BLAIR LEAVES THE INQUIRY
Be there, hold this war criminal to account, and expect the Met’s fine words after G20 to fall by the wayside.
Gordon Brown wrote this morning for the Guardian. He might as well not have bothered:
I am proud of Labour’s record in reducing poverty, improving public services and limiting inequality – in the last 13 years we have done more than any government to tackle poverty, and raised 500,000 children and 900,000 pensioners out of poverty.
Erm withdrawing the 10p tax band? Allowing the extraordinarily rich to get even more rich, at a much faster rate than anyone has been taken out of poverty? He seems to have forgotten his own raid on pensions early in his reign as Chancellor too. Quite appalling.
As we address climate change, we will see a wave of low-carbon industrialisation in the UK as well as the rise of new professional service-sector jobs.
As you address climate change? Third runway at Heathrow? The Vestas fiasco on the Isle-of-Wight? How is that addressing climate change? Where is the low-carbon industrialisation?
We will rapidly make Britain a leading world power in digital industries, introducing the fastest possible broadband system in every part of the country to benefit every business and household.
And in the same bill Peter Mandelson is trying to enshrine the right of government to block any website it chooses, at any time, in secret and without needing a reason. Is that really taking a lead? It’s despotism.
It is increasingly clear that the Conservatives want to remove the security and protection of guaranteed, strong, universal services on which all can rely and in which each has a stake.
I don’t think he wants to see the City Academies’ track records scrutinised too closely. I don’t think he wants to talk about Foundation Hospitals either. And he clearly doesn’t want to talk about universities, whose budgets he’s about to slash, and whose standards have been dumbed down by his and Blair’s insane belief that setting a target of 50% of all school leavers to attend university would lead to increased social mobility. Why bother having universal services if they’re simply crap? Let’s not talk about PFIs either – we’d rather keep that invisible too.
Brown has got to be joking if he expects to win in May on his record (and notice how civil liberties aren’t even obliquely mentioned). And it would have to be on his record, given the complete absence of new ideas in this piece. Fairness? Tell that to asylum seekers and their children. Tell it to people barred from work when the ISA thinks they’re undesirable to work with ‘vulnerable people’ (which is pretty much anyone if you think about it). Tell it to the working class people who can’t get (or keep) jobs because the neoliberal economic system and EU deregulation is allowing foreign workers to get paid even less than them and take their jobs. No, the Tories won’t be better – David Cameron would be much worse, for all sorts of reasons (some of which I’ll mention in a blog post later today), but this man’s record is a disgrace. Do we really want more of the same?
David Mitchell discusses the furore about the Islamist march ‘planned’ by Islam4UK in Wootton Bassett. Considering the group hasn’t even made the necessary initial representation to the police in order for the march to take place, I’ve found myself astonished at the level of invective raised, particularly the calls for it to be banned. Firstly it obviously was never going to take place anyway, so why make such a fuss, but doesn’t freedom of speech also bring with it the freedom to be offensive or to cause offence? Mitchell is thoroughly right in his support for the freedom to offend for all:
The thing about freedom of speech is that people are allowed to say offensive, indefensible things; that we needn’t fear that because we’re sure that wiser counsels are more likely to convince. “Let the idiots and bullies speak openly and they will be revealed for what they are!” is the idea. It’s a brilliant one and, in confident, educated societies, it almost always works – certainly much more often than any of the alternatives. Why has Alan Johnson lost confidence in this principle? Why have the 700,000 signatories of a Facebook petition calling for the event to be banned?
I know there are circumstances in which freedom of speech is rightly limited – I’m not arguing for a repeal of all libel or incitement to hatred laws. But it’s difficult to see how this demonstration would incite hatred of anyone other than the demonstrators. Public safety can also be an issue. I understand that the police couldn’t let the protest go ahead without a reasonable expectation that it wouldn’t become violent. But if it is banned, let us be 100% sure, let our consciences be absolutely clear, that public safety was the reason, not the excuse.
Entirely right. Of course it’ll never even get that far, because Islam4UK never intended for it to get that far; they merely wanted (as Mitchell says) the free, anti-Muslim invective to prove their case against the establishment. Alan Johnson has said he’d be prepared to ban the march on public order grounds, but contained as that was in the language of having himself felt offended by the march, it’s unclear on what grounds he was really prepared to do so. Let’s be clear: although it was never intended to take place, that march should have had the nominal right to take place in the same way that reprinting the Danish cartoons of Mohammed remains something we all have the nominal right to do. It may cause offence, but being offended is part and parcel for all of us of living in this society. Islam4UK’s Anjem Choudary articulates his own position:
Watch how he deftly blurs the lines between religion and race for his own, self-serving intent. What a bastard, right? He’s then followed by Gordon Brown:
And I couldn’t agree less with Brown’s reasons for wanting the march stopped – being ‘disgusting’, ‘not having public support’ and an ‘abuse of goodwill’ along with being (you guessed it) ‘offensive’ aren’t anywhere near good enough reasons for limiting anyone’s freedom of speech. I agree with his sentiments, and I suspect David Mitchell is right when he says Choudary and Islam4UK’s real intent is merely to ‘defile our holy places’, but is our offense at this really something we need protection from? At what point did our we lose our ability to cope with being offended, when there are so many straightforward strategies available to deal with speech we just don’t like, such as ignoring it?
The only way this country is going to get on the right track once more is by changing the way we elect our MPs. First-past-the-post worked in an age where adversarial politics led to a certain degree of perceived stability, when class politics determined the electoral cycle and was the main determinant of how people voted. Those days are long gone, and we now live in a diverse country where the wishes of the majority are ignored in the quest for the floating voter in marginal seats. Apathy in ‘safe’ seats has become endemic, as the electorate realises there’s no point in voting, because their votes really don’t make a difference. We can change that by changing the system to reflect the wishes of the majority – oh you keep hearing the nonsensical attack stories, complaining the BNP would make it into Westminster, that we’d end up with coalition government. But look at Germany – absorbing an entire Communist east into a PR system in only a generation. Is Germany any less stable now than it was 20 years ago? They were run by monsters half a century ago – there isn’t even a hint of that now.
It’s great news that Vote for a Change’s Willie Sullivan has met with Gordon Brown and Jack Straw. Nothing may come from it right now, but the fact that the meeting has even taken place suggests the government is oh-so-slowly realising that the solution to the expenses scandal might very well rest with a referendum on the voting system. Brown may be finished come what may next summer, but he could well enable a system which could also make the Tories’ return far briefer than they would wish, at least governing alone; I think he knows this too. Will the timidest of Prime Ministers make a bold, last move? We can only hope. The future success of our democracy and our civil liberties could rest on it.
It’s almost like John Major’s government never left. Gordon Brown, in what might be his last Labour party conference speech as Prime Minister has repackaged ‘family values’:
Teenage parents on benefits will be forced to live in “supervised homes” instead of being given council houses, Gordon Brown declared today in a bid to cut the number of pregnancies.
The Prime Minister said it was not right that a 16-year-old girl could “get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own”.
Instead, he told the Labour Party’s annual conference in Brighton, groups of young mothers and fathers would be taught responsibility and how to raise their children “properly”.
“It’s time to address a problem that for too long has gone unspoken: the number of children having children,” he declared.
“For it cannot be right for a girl of 16 to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own.
“From now on all 16- and 17-year-old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes.
“These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly.
“That’s better for them, better for their babies and better for us all in the long run.”
He told delegates: “We won’t ever shy away from taking difficult decisions on tough social questions.”
A difficult decision or a lame decision? Yes there is a problem, yes the rate of teenage pregnancies in the UK has gone up again, but to suggest it’s because girls just want a council flat isn’t just ignorant, it’s stupid; I mean anyone would think there was an election under a year away. The reasons are complicated and interconnected, from British attitudes towards sex, to mixed messages about sex education provision in schools, through to various governments’ disinterest or inability to tackle child poverty. I’m sure there are many other reasons too, not to mention answers to the problem, but a ‘network of supervised homes’ is just insane. What exactly is likely to change the mentality of teenage parents by being in care? Will boys be put into ‘supervised homes’ as well as girls, or is this a staggeringly mysoginistic policy? For that matter where will the extra money which social services will need to enforce this policy come from? I can’t be the only one thinking these very simple thoughts, surely?
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has suggested that ID cards will be abandoned:
Only another 20 minutes to go. The hall is almost full now. The latest reports are that Brown is going to announce plans to allow voters to “recall” MPs found guilty of misconduct (an idea first floated this year by Nick Clegg).
And I’ve just heard that he’s also going to announce the suspension of the ID cards programme.
Alan Johnson has already said he was opposed to making them compulsory, and so it’s not clear what practical impact this new move will have. But it’s bound to go down well with ID-sceptics – a fairly large proportion of the Labour party.
Clearly though, as DigitalID points out:
The identity cards will be compulsory if you want to get a job and to travel in Europe. The Criminal Records Bureau and the Home Office wants to make the livelihood of the people dependent on this system. Lastly, these ID cards would be directly linked to the police stations and this scoring system will decide the suitability of their jobs.
What a colossal fraud. The Home Office has a whole identity strategy which is entirely dependent on ID cards; they won’t abandon the scheme. They are indeed manoevering to make getting a job dependent on having an ID card. They have already made your addition on the National Identity Register immediate, upon renewing your passport. And of course skilled migrants coming to the UK with a job offer will be forced to carry ID cards from the beginning of next year. Not compulsory? Great rhetoric, but it’s yet another lie.