Showing posts from January, 2015

Labour's election nightmare

You might have thought that the Syriza victory in Greece would have given Labour a bit of a lift.  After all, here was electoral proof that anti-austerity campaigning worked.  In one of the hardest hit countries of them all too.  Instead, it provoked a debate about Labour's political caution that then lapped over into their heartland topic of the NHS.

The Guardian's Zoe Williams used the syriza victory to ask why Labour wasn't taking a leaf out of their Greek counterparts' playbook and pursuing a more radical line in "standing up to the moneymen".  Must have been music to Ed Miliband's ears.  Or not, perhaps, for as the New Statesman's Anoosh Chakeelian noted, Mr. Miliband was slow and cautious in his own response to the triumph of the Greek left.

Then the NHS reared its head.  Labour have been playing this as a key election winner for them for ages.  Alas, when shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham appeared on Newsnight on Tuesday, it was  to give a …

Stephen Fry's Acolytes

Stephen Fry is an eloquent, sometimes amusing, and entertaining man.  He undoubtedly has a brain which can move effortlessly amongst a range of topics, but he's neither philosopher nor theologian.  I'm not sure he's ever claimed to be, in fairness.  So his emotional response to a question on an Irish television show about what he would say to God was just that - an emotional response from an atheist who hates the whole construct of God.  It was nothing new, nothing deep and nothing surprising, and it was said for the most part in a remarkably good-humoured fashion.

So what on earth do we make of the vast army of Fry acolytes who have taken to twitter and online media to proclaim his "outburst" the most eloquent thing ever!  The Huffington Post headlined their report "Atheist Stephen Fry Delivers Incredible Answer....", and that was mild compared to some of the facebook comments which proclaimed Fry the most brilliant responder ever to such a question.…

Tory Leadership Jostling - Again

They are far from having the next election in the bag, even with Ed Milliband as Labour leader, but that isn't stopping senior Tories spending more time on their possible leadership beauty contest.  Someone should remind them that leadership is a lot more satisfying in government, and they might like to keep half an eye on staying there.

It looks as if one over-exposed potential candidate - Boris of course - and one already over-exposed Cabinet minister - Sajid Javid - are both jostling for the all-important Euro-sceptic vote.  Javid's back story has already made him the darling of  Conservative MPs and the right-wing commentariat, and he's been beefing it up with reminders that he's basically a good Thatcherite ever since he hit the headlines. His 'House' magazine interview also ensures we all know - as if we hadn't already figured it out - that yes, he's a euro-sceptic too.  Boris is consistently all over the place, but he never intentionally misses …

How ignoring human rights has moulded today's world crises

There are times when I box "human rights" into a little, separate compartment of my overall fascination with global politics, seeing it as the well-meaning pursuit of a handful of liberals who are banging their noble heads against the brick wall of political realism.  Yes, it would be nice if everyone's rights were respected, but no they can hardly be expected to get in the way of the often unpleasant and dirty business of keeping afloat in the mucky world of international relations.  If I keep failing to make the link between an increasingly volatile, war-strewn world and a general western disinterest in human rights, then yes, go ahead and condemn my superficiality and short-sightedness.  But then reflect on the unhappy fact that it is shared - sometimes cynically so - by most of the western public and its duly elected leaders.

This keynote post by Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth on their World Report 2015 has been a real wake-up call, not least because he has so…

Sullydish Bows Out

One of my favourite blogs has been Andrew Sullivan's "Daily Dish".  It's been running for years, mainly under the auspices of the different publications that Andrew Sullivan has written for - the Atlantic, the Daily Beast - and whichever publication has sponsored it it has always maintained a very individual approach.  And it was exhaustive.  Sullivan updated his thing many times a day; it was pretty exhausting keeping up if you wanted to be a regular reader, but he so often unearthed good stuff elsewhere on the web, or provided his own eloquent arguments and counter-arguments that he was a must-read, whether several times daily, daily, weekly, occasionally - never less than fascinating.

One of the early political bloggers to make a splash, he's finishing up now.  He's been running the Dish as an independent company for the past two years, and while the revenue's been healthy his "note to my readers" talks about the exhausting nature of bloggin…

Greece's Left Turn

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It looks as if the Greek left party Syriza is heading for a big win in today's General Election, even if it is not yet clear whether the party headed by putative Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cna yet gain a majority.  What is clear is that Greek voters have decided to see if they can bluff the EU into easing up on their austerity conditions for the huge bail-out received in the wake of their economic crisis.

Greece's economic crisis was deeper than most other western countries because Greece's feather-bedding of its public servants was so much more generous.  Greek voters, it seems, have had enough of their dalliance with austerity, although in giving their support to Syriza it's difficult to see what they think the party is now going to be able to offer.  Greece remains in hoc to EU bail-out funds, backed by a Germany which is less bothered by the prospect of Greece leaving the eurozone than she once was.

Greek voters have sent a mes…

The separation of "British Values" from Christian ethos

Is Ofsted trying to wage a campaign against Christian schools, perhaps seeing them as distant cousins to the Islamic schools that have been causing controversy?  It certainly seems like it, if the decisions in the north-east are anything to go by.  One Christian free school has already had to close, while another - Grindon Hall - has been placed in special measures.  I know a little about Grindon Hall, having met teachers and pupils from there and hearing very positive reports from other friends who have visited the school.  It was doing well enough for parents to pay for their children to go there when it was independent, and not unreasonably the head took the opportunity of the free schools programme to offer his clearly popular education brand to a wider range of parents, free of charge.  Enter Ofsted.  With the new "British values" criteria grasped firmly in hand, they have graded the school inadequate, despite its apparent success in public exams.  The key thing about …

Sarah Palin's speech would be comic relief, only she wants to run for president

Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey used to do a great job spoofing Sarah Palin, although she realised that the best way of doing it was simply to use Palin's own words, unaltered and undoctored.

Well Sarah Palin, the extraordinary choice of John McCain as his running mate in 2008, is at it again.  She has hinted that she might be interested in running for president in 2016, so here she is at a Republican conference in Iowa setting out her stall as one of the star speakers. Apparently her teleprompter froze, so she had to talk from memory and her own intuitive political grasp.  It's a gem, particularly the bit about "a man can only ride you if your back is bent".  Wise words for everyone there I think. *

Oh, and the Democratic National Committee Chairman has issued a one word statement - "Thanks".

* - a kind tweeter brought to my attention the fact that Palin's phrase is actually taken from a Martin Luther King speech.  In her expert hands it has simply …

King Salman's Rapid Succession Declarations

King Salman bin Abdulaziz may have only just become king of  Saudi Arabia, but the new - and seventh of his line - monarch is moving fast to ensure the succession is assured into the next generation.  Taking over from his half-brother, King Abdullah, who died yesterday, the 79 year old King Salman inherits a bulging inbox of problems, but it is clear that the continued smooth rule of the House of Saud is a top priority.  As the kingdom runs out of eligible sons of its founder, King Abdulaziz, to take the throne, there have been questions raised as to how Saudi Arabia might transition its ruling elite into the next generation.  There are something like 7,000 princes directly descended from King Abdulaziz, and it is little wonder that faction struggles feature highly on the list of likely problems to beset the crucial kingdom.

King Salman's crown prince was already known, as predecessor King Abdullah had unprecedentedly appointed a deputy crown prince a few years ago - another half…

The Lord Chancellor's Worldview

As we live in a parliamentary system, it strikes me as being important that we judge a party, or a government, not just on the merits and de-merits of its leader but also of its various ministers and shadow ministers.  After all, these men and women will be making and executing policy over a wide range of areas, and have a potentially huge impact.  If you consider the present administration, its Conservative character has certainly been partly formed by the attitudes of Michael Gove, Theresa May, Iain Duncan Smith, George Osborne.  And Chris Grayling.  Grayling has been a controversial figure at the helm of the Justice Department, the first non-lawyer in 400 years to hold the supreme legal post of Lord Chancellor.  His legal reforms have been widely execrated within the legal profession, and his prisoner book ban was held up as barbarous.  His comments on social issues too form part of the whole character of the Conservative element of the government.

Conservative Home's Andrew Gi…

Obama's State of the Union - Quick Round-Up

More on President Obama's State of the Union later, but a quick round-up here of views from the more supportive commentators of what looks like a reinvigorated president, determined not to go out with a whimper, but to make sure everyone knows he's a liberal and wants to secure a liberal legacy.

British ex-pat Andrew Sullivan has always been a supporter, and his live-blogging of the State of the Union on his blog the Dish is well worth a read through; in particular his early comment here and his round up of other blog reaction here.  On is the view from Jamelle Bouie that Obama is a "liberated Liberal", while John Dickerson on the same site describes the speech as one that was designed to steamroller the Republicans - a thoroughly partisan effort.  Fred Caplan applauds Obama's "wise" foreign policy aims but suggests his execution hasn't been quite so in tune with his aims.

The BBC at last has, in Jon Sopel, a North America editor who see…

Cameron - The Leader and his Party

Conventional wisdom is that David Cameron is more popular with the public than his party, but that he is a largely disliked figure amongst his own MPs.  Read the different blogs and comments and you find reasons ranging from the personal - they think he's haughty and condescending towards them, when he bothers noticing them at all - to the political - most think he has no principles, and those that do think he steers too much towards the left.

Such is the antipathy towards Cameron that there have not been wanting stories over the past weeks and months detailing how, if he fails to secure a majority for the Tories come May, he's toast.  One of the reasons behind the high-energy undeclared leadership campaign is just this - that the mountain for Cameron to climb to retain his position as leader is simply too high.  After all, plenty of Tory backbenchers still charge him with a failure to properly win last time, and with having rushed into a hated coalition with the Lib Dems.  …

Chuka Umunna's Walk-Out

Chuka Umunna is one of Labour's Great Hopes for the future, so his actions as a mere Shadow Business Secretary are subject to just a little bit more scrutiny than others.  Mind you, even a low profile shadow minister would probably make waves by walking out of a live television interview, and that's what Chuka has done today.  Annoyed at Sky News' Dermot Murnaghan questioning about a letter Eric Pickles has sent to British mosques, Umunna said he hadn't read the letter and wouldn't comment.  Murnaghan pushed the issue, certainly seeming to have some disbelief about whether Umunna had indeed read the letter or not, and as the interview wrapped up, with an admittedly snarky comment from Murnaghan, Mr. Umunna upped and offed.  Angrily.

I guess one of the qualities of a front-line politician is to deal with such fire with equanimity, and humour if possible. Watch the interview and judge for yourselves, but I thought while Murnaghan was edging beyond the merely persist…

Western News Priorities

Of course western news media are going to focus on their own backyard first and foremost, but in an age when many speak grandiosely of a globalized community and an equally globalized media, there is still a serious dichotomy between the way news in the West is presented against the "news from elsewhere".

There has of course been acres of coverage about the Charlie Hebdo killings and subsequent "three days of terror" in Paris that left 17 dead at the hands of five terrorists, three of whom have now been killed, one of whom is in custody and one on the run.  Yes, it's shocking in a peace-accustomed west that men and women going to work, or going shopping, may be gunned down in the middle of their mundane tasks.

But compare this with the reaction to Boko Haram's latest atrocity in Nigeria.  Battling for control of the town of Baga, 2,000 civilians are feared killed in the latest Boko Haram massacre.  2,000.  2,000 people trying to live normal lives, massacr…

The Defenders of the Free Press in Paris today, and their records in office

Daniel Wickham (ex-SGS-er and now LSE student) has been doing an excellent job on twitter today of examining the less than reputable records of many of the world leaders currently portraying their commitment to free speech in Paris.

It's a great list, wonderful evidence of the artifice which many of these leaders are showing, and while there's a sample below, you'll find the fuller twitter exchange, replete with helpful further additions from other tweeters, here.

I thought surviving Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Bernard Holtrop was a little harsh when he commented that "we vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends", but as we witness the long line of crocodile tear pouring leaders, taking a break from imprisoning or censoring their own journalists, you can sort of see where he's coming from!

NB: There's an interesting comment here from David Brooks in the New York Times as to why he - and probably most of us - is NOT "Charlie Hebd…

Do we need another round of leaders' TV debates?

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David Cameron is clear that he won't attend any television debates between the party leaders if the Green Party is not invited; Ed Miliband is clear that such debates should go ahead with or without the Prime Minister (and presumably the Greens).  Both, of course, are thoroughly cynical positions.  Cameron has no great interest in ensuring proper representation of all political views and parties; he is using the Greens' exclusion as a possible bargaining chip for avoiding the debates altogether.  He didn't perform notably well last time (despite apparently thinking he would ace them), knows that they benefit opposition leaders more than prime ministers, and is in particular keen, I would imagine, to deny Nigel Farage any sort of television platform at all.

Ed Miliband, meanwhile, is keen to see the debates go ahead because he knows that it has a chance of offering him a better profile than if they don't; his stance on the 'empty chair&…

Islam versus Satire = Murder

“Allahu Akbar” was the cry being heard from the gunmen who slaughtered 12 people in their attack on a newspaper’s offices in Paris this morning.  There is something seriously poverty-stricken and sickening about any religion whose adherents respond to the printed word, or image, with a murderous attack.  Their God reveals his smallness, meanness and brutality in the actions of such apostles, but perhaps after all “Allahu Akbar” is the empty slogan of already spiritually dispossessed people. 
I write this as news is still developing about the attack on the Paris offices of satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo”, and much is still unknown about it.   Given that the magazine has lampooned the Prophet Muhammed and radical Islam (along with nearly every other religion as well) it currently seems a fair bet that the attackers were indeed Islamic adherents.  They represent a brand of Islam incapable of rational operation in the modern world.  My own knowledge of the Koran is too limited to all…