Category Archives: Politics

Fears mount over TTIP trade treaty

EU trade standards and markets are threatened by a trade treaty with US

This is an extract from an article first published in Brighton’s Argus on October 7th.

The European Union is on the brink of signing a transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) with the US which risks giving more power to large transnational corporations.

A public meeting was held at Lewes Town Hall on Thursday 2nd October to discuss concerns with the TTI partnership organised by local campaigner, Ann Cross.

Linda Kaucher, researcher into international trade at the LSE, explained that the treaty could result in regulatory harmonisation, that is: “a boiling frog.”

The treaty could threaten standards of the food industry and increase the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies across the EU.

If health services are already in the commercial sector, it would be more difficult to exclude US companies.  The impact of TTIP on services that are not already privatised is not yet clear.

The purpose of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership is to open up the European Union markets to the US and stimulate economic growth.

It will also serve to simplify the large number of bilateral trade agreements between countries and could become a gold standard.

Dr Peter Holmes who attended the meeting said: “every trade agreement is not a neoliberal conspiracy.”

Follow this facebook page to express concern against TTIP, Sussex against TTIP.

The West Lothian Question Answered by a Scot

Our system of government is like a great tree, long in the making. Tinker with its roots and you imperil the entire structure.

The question: should Scottish MP’s be allowed to vote on English issues and vice versa has an answer. It is: Yes. Why?

The answer was given in 1871 by John Stuart Mill who, expected to vote reflecting the wishes of his constituents and said that he was not put in parliament to be a puppet but to exercise his discretion. He was elected to make judgements based on his intellect, education, honesty, decency, courage and insight.  These qualities we expect in our MPs, all of whom can be expected to vote on every issue for the good of the union as a whole.

If not, MPs should not be there.

In wartime they are invariably present (recalled to Parliament today to debate Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.)  MPs are less present in times of peace. The values we Britons possess assume this care for the Union as a whole.

If every decision on the interior, domestic issues of Scotland were to be taken only by Scots that would probably be a bad idea. The expensive fiascos of the Scottish Parliament building, the Edinburgh trams  that do so little for traffic chaos and the opera house that failed to get off the ground for 40 years should cast doubt on the idea that ‘We can look after our own interests best.’ What we need looking after our interests, are the best people in the Union, a different thing.

The House of Lords is one of the glories of our system. Why should the best brains be excluded because they have no experience or taste for electioneering? While the Commons is full of self-promoters, it is a good balance to have a chamber where the unelected, excellent can be influential. What great poet or scientist could be bothered to canvass his election? He has better things to do. A chamber full of brilliant folk whose first concern is not politics is a check on the other.

The current problem of the Union is not that it requires further devolved powers. That is probably a mistake. Devolution of powers should always be temporary to see if it works and should be taken away if it does not, or adversely affects other parts of it. The extent to which powers are devolved should be reviewed from time to time.

The root cause of the 45% vote for Scottish Independence is not lack of self-governing powers but lack of respect for the English and vice versa. A union without respect on both sides can be expected to divorce.

The very word ‘English’ is a hate word to many Scottish ears. They will support any country playing England at sport but never England.  The English supported Andy Murray in his historic win at Wimbledon.

That Scots have to cross the border with Bank of England notes (instead of our own) is an outrage every Scot is aware of. There ought to be one banknote for the Union, it should have the Queen’s head on it and best of all, if the very institution is changed to ‘The Bank of Britain’. That elementary move would do much to decrease the heat of rage in many Scottish hearts. There is a perception by Scots that the English are arrogant, patronising and selfish. That needs to change. The concept of ‘The Briton’ has to be put above that of the Scot or the Englishman. The Union must come first.

A decade ago racist language was outlawed. It worked, largely. Disrespect within the union between brother nations should likewise be outlawed. Snobbery, arrogance, have no place in our union. Excellence in every dimension is what we seek and what we should stand for. A proper respect for those well off or endowed is part of it.

What must not change is Westminster itself. That is one of the glories of this Union. It should remain preeminent, no matter that there are devolved parliaments. And every one of our 650 MPs should be expected to vote on every issue.

William Scott, Rothesay, Isle of Bute

“Walk through the open door and take your place at the negotiating table.” F W de Klerk

President F W de Klerk opened the gate, ending apartheid and paving the way for democratic elections, freedom and equality.  This is part 2 of the political situation in South Africa: a ‘white South African’ perspective which in no way undermines Mandela’s mighty achievement documented in my December blog post. 

In December of last year I joined journalists and commentators from around the globe in paying tribute to Nelson Mandela.  Through his suffering, he was transformed from a passionate and happy go lucky civil rights campaigner and freedom fighter to a giant who pioneered freedom from apartheid for black South Africans.  The cost was 27 years of incarceration, solitary confinement and hard labour on Robben Island.  The prize: equality between black and white South Africans.

Nelson Mandela is the name we know who achieved international acclaim but he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with President F W de Klerk.  The white South African Leader encouraged the emancipation of black South Africans and sprung the end of apartheid upon white South Africa.  This followed protracted negotiations with Mandela and the other leaders of the ANC.  White South Africans held the power, including the Police force and the military might of the country as well as forming the Government.

President F W de Klerk ended apartheid in 1990 in one historic speech and explained why he was given the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Nelson Mandela.  F W de Klerk invited all political parties of every colour and race to, “Walk through the open door and take your place at the negotiating table.”

In 30 minutes on 2nd February 1990, ‘President F W de Klerk had dismantled apartheid.  He ‘unbanned’ 30 other political parties unconditionally, released political parties’ prisoners with immediate effect, lifted the state of emergency and suspended the death penalty.’

Most significantly of all, De Klerk ‘opened the way for South Africa’s first fully democratic election in 300 years by promising “a totally new and just constitutional dispensation in which every inhabitant will enjoy equal rights, treatment and opportunity.” De Klerk announced an independent judiciary and a commitment to equal justice for all enshrined in a new human rights manifesto.’  (Independent 02/02/10)

F W de Klerk wanted to seize his moment in history and protect his legacy.  He didn’t mention Nelson Mandela until late in the speech and only then named Mandela as a key player in negotiations, affirming Mandela’s willingness to participate in peaceful discussions.  A little known fact is that Mandela had refused unequivocally, when offered his release five years before, on condition he renounce violence.  De Klerk now confirmed Mandela’s unconditional release and promised an end to persecution.  Only then could Mandela trust F W de Klerk.

The comparison is when Gerry Adams, a former terrorist, was allowed to appear on television, write in the newspapers and eventually stand for election to the British Parliament in Westminster.

Why does this matter and what is happening now, twenty years later?

There is violence on the streets and in the townships from time to time, as before.  There is great wealth inequality but now the Black South Africans wield the power.  The giant who was Nelson Mandela has passed away in the natural cycle of life.  White South Africans hesitate to travel around South Africa for fear of reprisals and anecdotally the younger generations feel more kinship to the Germans after the Second World War than any other race or nation.

Confused, some consumed by guilt, white South African men unable to protect their women and families.  The result: they live in gated compounds with swimming pools, seeking to shelter themselves from violence on the streets, hatred and incomprehension.  The ruling White South Africans were oppressors, F W de Klerk dismantled the oppressive structures.  Mandela willed black South Africa to celebrate their freedom and forgive which is the only way that peace and true democracy will flourish in a united South Africa.

The father of a White South African friend of mine suffered the far lesser torment of relentless insomnia for 10 years before being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This disorder is not incarceration and hard labour for 27 years but is indicative of significant trauma.  The failure to diagnose the condition underlines the complexity and everyday tragedies witnessed by Doctors working in South Africa.  My friend’s wife, who was her husband’s carer for more than 10 years, needs a garden and has moved to Britain because her husband requires the security of a flat with an armed guard and concierge.  White South Africans are afraid that the disorder in Zimbabwe may befall South Africa.

In the Western World, a house in a safe neighbourhood with a garden is the norm for a middle aged couple.  Some households cannot afford a garden but the safety of civilians including women and children is protected and enshrined in most constitutions and any racial incidents rightly herald a public outcry.  The family of Stephen Lawrence has served Britain well, in confronting institutional racism head on.

My hope is that Black South Africa will continue to be able to forgive, not seeking retribution nor reprisals but peace and understanding.  There will be corruption, anger, resentment, incomprehension and belligerence but unity must triumph.  As Desmond Tutu aptly immortalised the words in his book, ‘there is no future without forgiveness.’  The intransigence, foresight and willpower of Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk must live on and the new nation of South Africa, now 20 years old, must become a mature democracy.

 

The Legacy of Michael Gove

Why did the teaching community celebrate when Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, lost the education brief?

Michael Gove will now be Chief Whip which is clearly a demotion.  David Cameron protests too much because he needs Michael Gove to be a close ally, strategist and ultimately the Rottweiler tasked with maintaining Party discipline.  Keeping order among MPs is no easy task.  It is also not glamorous.  Michael Gove’s reach will now be limited to working within the Conservative Party.  It is unwise to let a Rottweiler off the lead.

Teachers, teaching unions, and the community of the Pressare rejoicing.  Will anyone be sad to see Gove leave the frontbench?  What is Michael Gove’s legacy?

Michael Gove was right to try to drive up educational standards.  Under the Labour administration, the average child was expected to attain 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C.  The Coalition would like to see the average child attain their best 8 rather than best 5 GCSEs.

The Coalition Government has introduced the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) as the performance measure for students to reach by the age of 16 at Key Stage 4.  A student’s performance, when they take their GCSEs, will be measured across 8 subjects, not 5.

‘Expected progress’ measures a student’s progress based on prior attainment.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) consists of three baskets.  Basket 1 contains compulsory core subjects which are English and Maths.  Basket 2 contains a choice of three other academic EBacc subjects from a menu of Sciences, Humanities and Languages.  Basket 3 contains the last 3 options which include approved vocational qualifications, further EBacc subjects and other GCSE subjects.

The Coalition Government are right to insist on numeracy and literacy and embed this strand of learning into all GCSE subjects and post 16 provision.

ICT should include some computer programming but not at the expense of learning how to use software, cloud and social media.  Both development and understanding of software and expertise in its use matter.

It is very dangerous for Free Schools and Academies to opt out of the national curriculum.  The double standards, which are a consequence of the plethora of exam boards, demonstrates the problem.  This lack of consistency will only increase if the national curriculum applies exclusively to maintained schools.  The conservatives believe in small government.  The Liberal Democrats believe in minimum standards and a fair opportunity for all to attain their personal best.  The beauty of the Scottish system is that there is only one exam board so everyone meets this single standard.  As the educational landscape fragments, chaos will intensify until a new Government re-introduces the national curriculum.

Learning needs to be contextualised, practical and vocational to give young people skills for life as well as rigorous academic training.  Children need to learn employability skills and to keep pace with technology, as well as to think independently.

Michael Gove was wrong to take world history off the curriculum: the civil rights movement in America; the impact of communism in Russia, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Yugoslavia and China are vital in current understanding of the world today and in recognising the possible flash-points.

The previous Labour Government were right to consult teachers because teachers are highly intelligent, optimistic and humane role models in an increasingly frantic and fragmented world.

Students must learn about wealth inequalities both in Britain and abroad: the difference between the often frenetic pace of life in the West, compared with the extreme, heart rending poverty of developing countries.  Countries which are devoid of the basic necessities, enshrined in British law after the Second World War.

Beveridge was an economist and social reformer, a Liberal Advisor to Lloyd George in the landslide Liberal Government in 1906 that changed Britain forever for the better.  He was tasked with rebuilding Britain after World War II.  Beveridge identified 5 Giant Evils: Squalor, Ignorance, Idleness, Want and Disease in 1942.  He introduced the welfare state that protects the most marginalised, while encouraging individual enterprise and innovation and condemning idleness in every event.  Beveridge was fundamentally a humanitarian who understood the importance of dignity: ‘man is the measure of all things.’

Britain is one of the most civilised nations in the world with a rich democratic heritage.

The challenge for Nicky Morgan, the incoming Education Secretary is to ‘listen and learn.’  (Tony Blair, upon being re-elected in May 2005.)

Education needs to evolve and keep pace with changes in society, particularly the digital revolution, while tackling global wealth inequalities.  Only time will tell whether Nicky Morgan succeeds in her mighty endeavour.

Europe: left or right?

May 2014, local and European elections: the demise of the Liberal Democrats, the rise of UKIP?  Did voters choose UKIP out of ideological commitment?  Some chose UKIP because of their tough stance on immigration.  The majority, however, let us hope chose UKIP to give the main ‘established and establishment’ parties a bloody nose.

Why? Because many voters feel disenfranchised and unrepresented.  Alienated from the political process.  The Liberal Democrats used to be the party of protest.  Now it is UKIP, dubbed dangerously as the ‘governing party’ (read majority UK party here) in the European Union whose raison d’etre ironically, is to bring Britain out of Europe and disrupt European proceedings on every possible occasion.

The picture in Britain was replicated in parts of Europe.  In France the National Front Party won 24 seats and came top in 70% of the country’s regions.  The Golden Dawn Party under criminal investigation as a criminal organisation with several members in prison in Greece won three seats, (there is better news below: read on!)    Only Angela Merkel, it appeared, retained her moderate, pre-eminence in Germany.

The first piece of good news is that the pro integrationist parties in the European Union still hold a majority.  It is interesting that Nigel Farage decided not to join Marine Le Pen’s far right block.  It may be that the nationalists within Europe will achieve smaller government or rather mitigate the compulsion to regulate and legislate.

Secondly and significantly, there is another story less reported in this European election which merits attention.

In Greece, Syriza, the left wing opposition, won the majority of seats, following a successful campaign against the austerity policies of the Government.

In Italy, Matteo Renzi and his centre left party won 40% of the vote.  Forza Italia, Berlusconi’s party came a poor third.  The massive endorsement of Renzi is controversial:  ‘He was the elected mayor of Florence and holds no seat in parliament; he became prime minister in February at the invitation of Italian president Giorgio Napolitano. The result gives him the mandate he lacked’… perhaps.  (Guardian Shortcuts Blog.)

In Portugal, the country’s opposition Socialist party topped the poll with around 31.5% of the vote. The reason was an electorate registering its objection to austerity measures and leaving the country’s euro bailout programme earlier this month.

A new protest party Podemos (“We can”) took nearly 8% of the vote and five seats in Spain.  Coalition group United Left gained an additional four seats bringing to 9 the number of left wing representatives elected.

If there is a unifying rationale of the left-wing electorate, it seems to be opposition to austerity measures.  In Britain however, the economy is beginning to boom again, quite possibly thanks to austerity policies, but this is not reflected in the nation’s pay packet.   Disgruntled earners from every income bracket are looking for someone to blame.

Let us therefore look beyond our island and France to southern Europe and know that, “we can” make Britain great because it is in its very essence, multicultural and tolerant.  Innovation and enterprise thrive where difference is embraced and Britain is greatly enriched and enlightened by the cultural exchange.

It may be that Spain has part of the answer to the disenfranchised electorate as Errejon from Podemos explains: “We don’t just want to be part of a political system that is decomposing. Spain isn’t lacking political parties. But what’s missing is citizens engaging in politics. And we want be a tool for that.”  (Guardian, 27.05.14)  Let us hope Podemos does not become like Occupy: history will be the decider.

The March for England was a ‘damp squib’

27.04.14

I love living in Brighton because it is one of the most vibrant, liberal and progressive cities in the country.  With a population of less than 300,000, it boasts night life that rivals the biggest cities in England.  Since the Prince Regent came to Brighton in 1786, he developed Brighton as a party town: permissive? Yes, but racist?  Profoundly not.

Brighton has been known historically as, ‘London by the Sea.’  Creative industries are among the fastest growing industries in the city.  There are five theatres, four of them, amateur.  It protects and celebrates its LGBT community, hosting a gay club to match every straight one.  Innovation and art are everywhere, immortalised by Banksy’s Policemen.  The gig scene is exciting and modern because every musician starting out wants their tour to include Brighton.  The Brighton Festival rivals Edinburgh’s festival and needs no further introduction.

However, today was a sad day for the city of Brighton & Hove.  The good news is that most of the English Defence League (EDL) agitators and supporters came to march in Brighton from elsewhere.  The Police, drafted in from Devon, maintained the peace, kettling the EDL protestors to prevent any local extremists from joining their number.  The rain kept many dissenters at home and after they had left, the rain cleared.

It is an outrage that the British Taxpayer should spend £500,000 policing a March for England and protecting those peaceful protestors marching against them.  If people want ‘little England’ with its insular mentality, they should join UKIP.  This is not general advice.  It is advice for the xenophobic who, for a few hours only, may unsettle our liberal, progressive, bohemian city that celebrates difference and rejects prejudice.

Those who feel threatened by the other, by terrorism, by the unknown, should not succumb to prejudice, bigotry and at worst, violence.  They could read Jonathan Sacks, ‘Dignity of Difference’ or similar secular works.

In the 1950s after the partition of India, many Indians and others from Commonwealth countries travelled at their peril to Britain.  Britain offered them refuge and work.  Once settled, the Government then wrote to these immigrants and invited them to apply for citizenship.

I do not advocate a return to this open door policy but let us hold fast to the philosophy that racism and fascism can only fracture the vibrant, multi-cultural tapestry of people in Brighton, Hove and throughout Britain.  Some of these people run the NHS; some are humble cleaners doing jobs that many Brits believe are beneath them.  Their economic contribution is significant.  Many are totally assimilated into our culture, while retaining their ethnic heritage.

All of these people, whether European or from further afield are welcome; and there are policies in place to ensure that they work and pay for the public services that they consume.  Britain can only become a richer place if we embrace those from other cultures, learn from them and their experiences and open our minds in search of a broader point of view.   The choice is simple: we can hide behind conformity, reacting out of fear or even worse, greed that breeds resentment and inter generational prejudice.  Or we can value colour, difference and diversity with open hearts and enlightened minds.

The threat of Nigel Farage: Foe not friend

10.04.14

Nigel Farage has replaced Nick Clegg as the promising outsider tipped to have a bright future.  Local and European elections are weeks away.  He is certainly attracting significant media attention.  Channel 4 curtailed their news programme to fit in an hour long documentary about Nigel Farage which painted a rosy picture of a self-made man prepared to stand up for Britain.

For those who missed it, Channel 4 took viewers on a journey which began in the City of London where Farage made his money as a trader, initially in commodities.  They then obtained what livery companies describe as a stirrup to speed them on the way (a generous wine glass measure of port, although from a pub on this occasion.)

The correspondent accompanied Farage to the European Parliament where Farage proceeded to smuggle the cameras into the Parliament chamber, smoke inside the estate and generally display his disregard for the rules.  These examples may appear trivial but they are evidence of a man who is fundamentally irresponsible and isolationist.

Farage’s speeches in the chamber confirmed this tendency towards dissent, even anarchy, which would be very dangerous in Government and destroy democratic decision-making.  Would Farage tow the party line and obey the whips in a bigger party?  Would he make decisions based on the maximum possible benefit for the majority and represent his constituents?  Is this one reason that it is much easier for him to found UKIP than win the arguments within the Tory Party?  Easier to become a big fish in a small pond, easier to protest and attack than develop rational and practical policies.

Then there was the Dimbleby debate.  Nigel Farage wants Britain to get up off its knees and govern itself.  This sounds reasonable enough.  However, successive Governments, Labour and Coalition have sought to remain in the EU.

Why?

The Conservatives are divided but David Cameron wants to reform rather than leave the EU.  The UK’s budget rebate saves the British taxpayer £3 billion per year.  Britain is the only Member State to negotiate a rebate.  TheCityUK has forecast that the UK’s trade surplus in financial services now stands at a record £61bn, up 10% on 2012.  More than £20bn of this trade is with other European member states making the EU Britain’s largest single trading partner.  Leaders of the business community in the city of London wrote to the Independent last year including the current and next presidents of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) as well as the chairmen of BT, Deloitte, Lloyds and Centrica, in the first co-ordinated response to increasing anti-European political rhetoric.’  (20.05.13)  Economically, it is in the national interest to remain in the EU where the City of London is ‘Europe’s global, financial centre.’

Trade treaties in the 1970s were acceptable to Farage but surrendering economic power and government to the EU is not.  Farage left the Conservative party when Britain signed the Maastricht Treaty.  The treaty established the three pillars of the European Union: the European Communitypillar which set up the common institutions of government and extended the powers of the European Economic Community (EC), the Common Foreign and Security Policy(CFSP) pillar, and the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) pillar.  Farage is appealing to any Euro sceptics of whatever persuasion, including the working classes from the North, with emotive arguments that touch the heart.

Nick Clegg’s task was onerous because he tried to win the argument with logic.  Nick Clegg did make some good points:Farage praises Putin as ‘brilliant’ and names Putin as ‘the world leader he most admires as an operator, not as a human being.’  Nick’s point is that Putin has resolutely refused to pressurise President Assad in a manner that only he can, to bring to an end the civil war and death of 200 civilians every day in Syria.  Assad has the largest stock pile of chemical weapons in the world.  This is a cause of great concern to the international community within and beyond the EU.  The Guardian reported in February: ‘Less than 5% of Syria’s chemical arsenal… has been shipped out for destruction supervised by the UN.’  The target in February was 90%.  In addition, Nick Clegg states that only an EU Superpower can attain some parity with the economic might of the US.  However, these arguments are subtle and cerebral.

British jobs for British people, British law for British people, staying out of foreign wars, will indeed result in Little England.  UKIP argues that Westminster alone should make UK law and UKIP do not support EU foreign policy.  Our influence in Europe is already diminishing as the referendum approaches and Britain is seen as an isolated and divided, dissenter without common European priorities.

The countries of the European Union will watch the elections in May and the Tory in-fighting ahead of the referendum closely.  This will damage the European Project, whatever the outcome.  All parties need to be vigilant and beware the popular appeal and increasing influence of Nigel Farage and UKIP.  Nigel Farage should stay in the pub with his pint.  This protest party must be kept far away from Government.

Postscript from Michael White in the Guardian yesterday: ‘Nigel Farage cheerfully admits to his participation in the Great Euro-Gravy Train robbery to the tune of £2m of expenses since 1999 – far more than Ronnie Biggs managed from his 1963 caper. Some fellow-Kipper MEPs do even better, and all this on top of their £79k salaries in a job they all despise, especially the work bit. One (UKIP MEP) was jailed for fraud (£36k diverted to cars and wine), another for benefit fiddling (£65k). That’s an even higher proportion than Labour considering Ukip currently has seven MEPs, after losing six to pub sulks and defections since 2009.’ (09.04.14)

Should Britain renew Trident?

Trident is the nuclear missile and commonly describes the arsenal of nuclear weapons carried by a submarine that Britain holds as a deterrent.  Nuclear technology is different and has many purposes.  Nuclear technology produces nuclear powernuclear medicine such as radiotherapy and nuclear weapons.  Nuclear technology is here to stay.

The atomic bomb, developed as a deterrent by the US, was detonated in Hiroshima, Japan.  Approximately 74,000 people were killed instantly and a similar number injured by the atomic bomb.  The final estimate is that 140,000 people out of a population of 350,000 lost their lives or were severely disabled due to radiation poisoning, including those involved in the rescue effort.  Another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki killing and maiming even more people.  However, the two bombs brought to an end the Second World War.

Those individuals who died instantly were the fortunate ones, others lived with disfigurement, acute pain and destruction of all that they held dear: their bodies, their loved ones, their homes and communities.  The aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki shook the world, the towns became a wasteland, ghost towns in need of evacuation.  Google of aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to see the level of unprecedented destruction.  Does Britain want this level of mass destruction on its conscience?

What kind of future do we want?  Multilateralism or unilateralism?  Cooperation or conflict?  Peace or another world war?  As Brits, we are very fortunate to have democracy enshrined in law, a robust and independent legal system, a prosperous economy and a vibrant, multicultural heritage where both negative freedom and positive freedom are protected.  There are many nations in the world where this is not the case.  One problem is the sovereignty of nations.

The Liberal Democrats are committed to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in accordance with international treaties.  In Coalition, the Liberal Democrats are achieving staged rather than absolute decommissioning of Trident.  In my opinion, absolute decommissioning of Trident without a successor should remain Liberal Democrat policy.  However, there is an argument for retaining a deterrent.  It is possible to patrol less and buy fewer submarines.  This is to close the door on the Cold War in order to release funds for investment in current and future threats.  Is the cost of one submarine carrying a nuclear missile almost the same as the cost of four?

The Liberal Democrats are the only party that have maintained principled opposition to Trident, Britain’s nuclear deterrent, over a sustained period of time.  The purpose of a deterrent is to stop others using their nuclear weapons.  After an atomic bomb was detonated causing massive loss of life, the demilitarisation of Japan began.  This is similar to the current negotiations with Iran.  I am a conscientious objector and I believe war is the greatest evil known to mankind.  To me, retaining a nuclear deterrent smacks of hypocrisy if we are forcing other nations to decommission.  However, it may be that if we had no nuclear deterrent, we could not prevent nuclear proliferation.  If I had voted according to my conscience, I would have voted in favour of decommissioning of all nuclear weapons with immediate effect.  Instead, I voted for a staged decommissioning at Federal Conference because I followed the whip and listened to Danny Alexander who conducted the review of Trident.

At Liberal Democrat Party Conference in September 2013, Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the to the Treasury announced: ‘A different approach would allow the UK to contribute meaningfully to the new multilateral drive for disarmament, initiated by President Obama, while maintaining our national security and our ultimate insurance policy against future threats.  Let me be clear, this does not change current Government policy to maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent and prepare for a successor system.  The option of non-continuous deterrence does not threaten current security.  As a recognised Nuclear Weapons State under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we have an obligation to move towards a world in which nuclear weapons are no longer part of states’ security and defence postures.’    Liberal Democrat policy remains to move towards staged decommissioning and this policy sets the Liberal Democrats apart from current Conservative Party Policy.

The key question is: does Britain need to retain the nuclear weapons as a deterrent, in the interests of national security? Or should the United Kingdom lead by example and decommission the arsenal because no nation can prosper without peace.  National sovereignty only exists within a global context.  There is a great deal of conflict in the world.  How do we find the best solution?  The conservatives are unlikely to agree to total decommissioning and the Labour party may well change their minds and steal Liberal Democrat thunder.  Let us follow the lead of President Obama.  It is tough being a liberal.  This argument will rumble on and history will be the decider.  Let us pray against any further decimation of the landscape and loss of human, animal and plant life and invest the money in new threats such as biological warfare, chemical warfare and cyber threats.

Reflections upon the passing of Nelson Mandela

07.12.13

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

 (by William Henley)

These words ‘Invictus’ (Unconquered, Undefeated) by William Henley illustrate the late Nelson Mandela’s invincibility in the face of unjust oppression.  Nelson Mandela made no apologies for being an idealist with justice on his side.  He used every means possible to fight for freedom from apartheid for everyone in South Africa, including his oppressors.  He engaged in the political process by joining the ANC, he demonstrated peacefully, he lobbied; eventually he engaged in acts of sabotage and became a freedom fighter after the Sharpeville massacre in which 69 died because the Afrikaners met peaceful protest with violence and refused to enter into a political dialogue.  When Mandela defended himself in Court at his own trial he said: ‘I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’

Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island with many other political prisoners for 27 years.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment.  He set out at his trial the process that the Afrikaners would have to engage in to dismantle apartheid.  No one thought it would take 27 years for Mandela and his colleagues to walk to freedom.  The poem, Invictus, graphically, outlines the strength of the human spirit to endure hardship, solitary confinement, relentless, back breaking labour in the name of freedom.  Mandela may well have been transformed by his incarceration, holding fast to his identity, his ideals and his commitment to forgive.  He practised reconciliation with the Afrikaner guards, disarming them with dignified authority that they could not contradict. The Editor of the Guardian writes: ‘He understood that the Afrikaners were a frightened and vulnerable tribe, that their laager would crumble.  Through the lens of this own people’s tragedy he was able to perceive theirs.’  (06.12.13)  Mandela lost his freedom for 27 years but he refused to negotiate with F W de Clerk and to liberate South Africa until he himself was free.  He was uncompromising in his pursuit of justice and equality, ‘the master of his fate, the captain of his soul.’

Nelson Mandela was adamant that the Springboks (South Africa’s national rugby team) should retain their name and through an act of will he insisted to the ANC and all of black South Africa that they would support the Afrikaner team in the dramatic film ‘Invictus’.  The Springboks was a primary example of apartheid but Mandela used the sport to unite the nation and befriend the enemy.  In the tributes, there is rightly mention of Mandela’s obstinacy and fortitude, as well as his commitment to freedom and equality which healed his nation.

Among the many tributes that have been flooding in from around the globe are the words of Bill Clinton: ‘History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation.  We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life… He proved that there is freedom in forgiving, that a big heart is better than a closed mind, and that life’s real victories must be shared.’

 

Yes Minister? No Minister!

01.11.13

 A politician is a public servant: that is, an elected law maker who holds public office in order to represent constituents living within a defined geographical area.  The media holds politicians to account.  On 30th October the press and politicians were at loggerheads because the press do not accept that their work should be regulated and scrutinised.

The most compelling reason for regulation is to avoid abuses, primarily the hacking of Milly Dowler’s mobile phone.  One may argue that politicians and celebrities (the architects of ‘hacked off’) can afford libel battles.  Milly Dowler had no public life, she no longer has a life at all.  The humble, ordinary victims of crimes and their families cannot afford their day in Court.  Above all, the unknown victims of crime must be allowed privacy as they grieve.  Something the media often fails to honour.  A teenager’s telephone should be private.  A politician’s phone should also be private.

The Leveson Inquiry has demonstrated that in this case politicians have the upper hand.  The significance of the media, including the press must not however, be underestimated.  Their finest hour in the last decade may be the relentless examination of the circumstances surrounding the allied British invasion of Iraq.  The result is a chastened, cross-party, political class in Britain: horrified by the innocent civilian casualties, the loss of British military lives but above all by the deception surrounding WMD and the death of David Kelly.

Tony Blair took a decision to go to war in Iraq and fabricated intelligence to support his cause.  He sought a UN mandate but when obstructed, believing himself invincible, became a global policeman with no authority.   This undermined the might of the UN when Britain failed to negotiate support.  The media tried to hold Tony Blair to account and warned him relentlessly about playing God because of economic interests.  For this, they must be commended.  I am not anti the press or anti media.

However knee-jerk, David Cameron’s response to the debate about military action in Syria shows his commitment to Parliamentary democracy.  For this, he should be applauded because he listened to politicians from across the spectrum.  The nation witnessed democracy in action and on this occasion, the majority agreed and prevailed.

The Coalition Government’s response to the expenses scandal has been fundamentally to involve the Police whenever necessary; publish diary commitments to bring greater transparency and avoid unreported, cosy chats with media moghuls; reform the register of interests to give it teeth.  This year the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has published the full database of MPs’ expense claims for the financial year 2012/13 and has asked many MPs from across the political spectrum to pay back claims wherever there has been an abuse of the system.

Rightly, Parliament has retained allowances for MPs who choose to employ family members.  MPs should be repaying their debt and are struggling to justify a pay rise recommended by IPSA in light of the abuses. Family aside, surely a higher salary and fewer expenses must be more transparent and less bureaucratic?  The majority of MPs are rightly (or should be) examining themselves because they understand the cost of public life which is accountability and the proper, read ethical, use of the public purse for the common good.

Let us compare the Government response in coalition with the response of the press: the press want their day in court.

David Cameron and his Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, negotiated a Royal Charter to ensure effective self-regulation of the press while honouring its freedom.  This freedom of expression and freedom to debate, is the cornerstone of democracy, the very essence of Britishness.  Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Hacked Off have profound misgivings about a Royal Charter.

Many favoured statute but David Cameron wanted to protect the power to scrutinise, question, and hold to account politicians and other public figures, while prohibiting the exploitation of the innocent.  David Cameron is giving the press the opportunity to regulate themselves.  It is already a compromise and the press are in the ‘last chance saloon’ with all parties aggrieved.

Regulation is the proper enforcement of the industry’s own code of practice.  The suggestion is that independent arbitration will avoid costly legal battles and protect the public.  It is significant that in the Observer on 27th October, David Mitchell did not dispute that the press is self-interested and materialistic.  David Mitchell’s point is that the Royal Charter puts power in the hands of the politicians.

The cost of the Iraq war at the whim of a Presidential Prime Minister once again rises: the spectre of a Phoenix to haunt both Blair and the nation, rising from the oil-rich Gulf sands.  David Mitchell writes in the Observer: ‘I think that the unprecedented involvement of politicians in the regulation of the press has, in the long term, the potential to be catastrophic, and is too big a risk to take, in an attempt to redress the obvious wrongs in the culture and conduct of newspapers.  You think that there is either no risk, or a small risk to set against the bigger picture of injustices committed by the press. I don’t think you’re insane to think that – I just don’t agree.’  However, the Privy Council chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister will only set up and advise the regulator which will be independent like the Information Commissioner with more teeth.

The problem at the heart of this debate, is that politicians desperately need good publicity, although most survive the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (Hamlet) and we elect them for this purpose.

Perhaps it is time the press came up with a robust solution to their own malpractice and acknowledged their own fallibility.  As a start, the editorial defendants and their accomplices from the News of the World could plead guilty: “mea culpa” and beg for mercy.  The press should examine themselves and clean up their own house before throwing stones.  If they refuse, they may feel the full force of the law as never before.  The press need to heed the warning of the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller: sign or be damned.