Category Archives: Politics

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.