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Showing posts from March, 2014

News of the Screws - is the traditional Sunday scoop returning?

It was as if a time-shift had occurred yesterday, with several tabloids leading their Sunday morning coverage with a classic kiss-and-tell sex scandal concerning one of the Great and the Good - in this instance, a Tory MP who was, perhaps, not so very great or so very good, but tabloids can't be choosers.

One of the great pressure group successes of recent years has been the Hacked Off campaign's targeting of the tabloid press, which some argue has led to a 'fear factor' amongst the papers that has denuded them of the classic sex scandal story.  Alex Wickham on Breitbart suggests that the climate of fear is gradually disappearing, and that the Sundays in particular may be resorting to type.  He also suggests, more tantalisingly, that there are more sex scandals still to come, although that these should concern primarily gay MPs could be an issue of concern.  Are they scandals because of the sexual orientation of the MP, or because there is a legitimate public interest…

UnBanning Books and Labour Party Faultlines - AS update on pressure groups and parties

The Howard League for Prison Reform has once again managed to raise the profile of a key issue in the conduct of our prisons management, and this time it's a reaction to a recent change proposed by the seemingly besieged Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling.

Mr. Grayling signed off on a policy last November to stop prisoners receiving, amongst other restriction, books.  His intention was to provide a more rigorous incentives policy within prisons to encourage good behaviour, and at first the policy passed with little notice.  Then, the Howard League for Prison Reform's director, Frances Crook, wrote a piece for online site politics.co.uk criticising the policy, and a storm ensued.  Change.org raised a petition about it, and a range of prominent authors joined in the chorus of opprobrium towards the policy.  The Guardian's Lindsay Mackie goes through the events and their possible consequences here.  As yet, Mr. Grayling has not offered to make any changes, but with a far hig…

Pressure Groups Update for AS Students

38 Degrees – A very modern pressure group
One of the most active pressure groups in Britain at the moment is 38 Degrees, who are not limited to a single issue, and are thus a multi-cause group.  Their over-riding principle could probably be described as “people power”, and the desire to allow ordinary people the right to influence policy over a range of issues.  They have thus taken up a range of such issues.  Recent campaigns have included lobbying against the so-called Gagging Bill (more officially, the Lobbying Bill, designed to limit groups’ spending in elections by regulating such expenditure); gathering thousands of signatures to support MP Paul Burstow’s Commons amendment on hospital closures (which he then withdrew, to much criticism); action on flooding in the UK and data protection.  Success is varied – on the Lobbying Bill, for instance, they did not in the end gain the demise of the bill that they wanted. 
The 38 Degrees website is a comprehensive one, describing campaigns, …

Mourning Bob Crow

It is always difficult to know how to treat the death of a controversial public figure, especially when it is someone who provoked strong reactions, and often adverse ones.  This was not a difficulty that particularly afflicted Bob Crow on Margaret Thatcher's death.  He hoped, he mused publicly, that she would rot in hell for what she had done to Britain.  No humbug in death there then.

So although Mr. Crow's death has come rather more unexpectedly, and thus rather shockingly, than the late Prime Minister's, it would be good to think we might apply the same principles to him that he so happily applied to Thatcher.  There is, in fact, rather less to say about Mr. Crow as it happens.  That he is a far less significant figure than Mrs. Thatcher is beyond question, and much of the prominence of his obituaries and tributes stems from the fact that he was a current union leader, very much in the driving seat of tube drivers' militancy in London at the moment.  Had he died, …

Persian Fire Reduces Athens in 300, Rise of an Empire

Went to see the new '300' film, this time showing the Athenian fight against the Persians' gay friendly emperor, Xerxes.  Great spectacle - especially on the IMAX screen - but disappointing in terms of story.  The BBC's Mark Kermode commented that despite so much going on on the screen, it remained an uninteresting film (his eviscerating review in the Observer is here).  The history is nonetheless fascinating, and I'd recommend anyone to go and read Tom Holland's superlative book "Persian Fire", which gets your fascination with the ancient world racing through this grippingly told tale. 

I have reviewed the film here.

Republicans' Hate For Obama Turns To Love For Putin

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If he was running for the Republican nomination for president Vladimir Putin would probably win with room to spare.  They love him, those warmongering old neo-cons, especially when compared with weak, vacillating Barack Obama.  Sarah Palin's in a swoon because Putin "wrestles bears and drills for oil", while former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani admires his decisiveness.  The Republican onslaught on President Obama seems to have admiration for the man they want to war against at its heart.  We have to go to war with Putin, they seem to be saying, but (sigh) what a man to admire nonetheless.

This nonsense tell us everything we need to know about the fatuousness of the Republican foreign policy outlook.  Two Republican presidents failed to come to terms with a post-Soviet world (or in the case of a third, Reagan, a transformational Soviet world) and certainly weren't willing to risk confrontations with Russian leaders if it meant direct action.  The most any of them man…