Last Friday evening at Canary Wharf I attended a large hustings meeting for the Labour leadership. All candidates were present and answered questions from the floor. There was very little disagreement between them. Just a few cases of personal sniping.
I’m trending toward one of Miliband brothers. If I had to pick one it would be Ed. Why? Simply because he seems less tainted by Labour’s Blair/Brown past. He’s also outspoken on the environment and was impressive as Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change. But I think David Miliband would be also ok; however, he’s got some form with Labour’s negative past. This “form” may be minimal, however. Either of the Milibands is acceptable to me.
I’m least impressed with Ed Balls. My hunch is that he’s, well, let’s just say, difficult. Difficult people are important to have but they often lack leadership abilities. Their personalities are often divisive. I think Andy Burnham is impressive. He’s particularly strong on the National Health Service. I’m not sure he’s ready to be the party’s leader, however. I would like to see him run the Department of Health again. He proposed a National Care Service to complement the National Health Service when he ran the NHS. I like this idea a lot and would love to see it happen. It’s a good idea of what a “Big Society” should be but any “Big Society” proposed by the ConDems, as they are, is going to be a return to a Victorian society when charity was a major force. Simply, I can’t trust anything the ConDems propose or do which is in principle a good idea because the way they will implement it will stay resonate with old Tory and conservative values.
Diane Abbot spoke well at the hustings meeting. I liked how she blanked the BBC Radio 4 interviewer yesterday when asked yet again about sending her son to a private school. At the hustings she identified this as the most difficult decision she ever had to make. She’s a leader on the back benches helping to make sure the Labour Party and future Labour governments stay on track. In fact, I’d like to see her even more outspoken She’s capable of having a considerable influence as a progressive, independent voice for socialism.
One fundamentally important factor about making this decision is determining which of the candidates is best qualified to be able to lead Labour back into power as the national government. Of the candidates standing I think only one of the Milibands is capable of achieving this challenge. So, to conclude, I’m trending toward Ed but David would do.
Guardian columnist Felicity Lawrence got to the heart of the matter in her recent column when she concluded, “In their Big Society [ConDem coalition] – which casts everything as personal responsibility – social injustice, like obesity, is indeed a moral failure, but only on the part of those who suffer it.” So, this morning’s news that the Food Standards Agency is to be abolished and folded into the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not surprising. Under the cover of the need to cut the country’s debt, which they claim is the responsibility of the previous Labour government while conveniently forgetting about the financial crisis caused by the “casino bankers,” the ConDems pursue an ideological agenda to privatise state programs like consumer protection and health care. What’s next? Slogans such as Your National Health Service is brought to you by Pepsi, BP and McDonalds.
UK Coalition Government Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, as reported in The Guardian on July 7.
It’s perfectly possible to eat a bag of crisps, to eat a Mars bar, to drink a carbonated soft drink, but do it in moderation, understanding your overall diet and lifestyle. Then you can begin to take responsibility for it.”
Published in The Guardian on June 19 I have only recently been able to catch up with reading this persuassvive criticism by Naomi Klein which frames the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill in the context of a larger criticism of capitalism.
In the arc of human history, the notion that nature is a machine for us to re-engineer at will is a relatively recent conceit. In her ground-breaking 1980 book The Death of Nature, the environmental historian Carolyn Merchant reminded readers that up until the 1600s, the Earth was alive, usually taking the form of a mother. Europeans – like indigenous people the world over – believed the planet to be a living organism, full of life-giving powers but also wrathful tempers. There were, for this reason, strong taboos against actions that would deform and desecrate “the mother”, including mining. The metaphor changed with the unlocking of some (but by no means all) of nature’s mysteries during the scientific revolution of the 1600s. With nature now cast as a machine, devoid of mystery or divinity, its component parts could be dammed, extracted and remade with impunity. Nature still sometimes appeared as a woman, but one easily dominated and subdued. Sir Francis Bacon best encapsulated the new ethos when he wrote in the 1623 De dignitate et augmentis scientiarumthat nature is to be “put in constraint, moulded, and made as it were new by art and the hand of man”. Those words may as well have been BP’s corporate mission statement. Boldly inhabiting what the company called “the energy frontier”, it dabbled in synthesising methane-producing microbes and announced that “a new area of investigation” would be geoengineering. And of course it bragged that, at its Tiber prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, it now had “the deepest well ever drilled by the oil and gas industry” – as deep under the ocean floor as jets fly overhead.
Earlier this year Michael Foster, who was the Labour MP for Hastings and Rye before his defeat by Conservative candidate Amber Rudd at the general election in May, presented a petition of 4,000 names to Parliament in support of the Hunting Act 2004. Michael recently forwarded to me the official response from the now Tory run Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which states:
Observations from the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: The Hunting Act was passed by Parliament in 2004. It has not been demonstrable success and is difficult to enforce. Only three hunts have been successfully prosecuted for illegal hunting. There are many more pressing issues for parliamentary time at the moment, but the Government wish to give Parliament the opportunity to review the Hunting Act and, if it wishes, repeal this legislation. The Government will, therefore, put a motion before the House of Commons on whether the Hunting Act should be repealed and, if the motion is carried, it will bring forward legislation in due course.
The claim that the Act “has not been demonstrable success” is, of course, a matter of subjective opinion. To say that it is “difficult to enforce” should not necessarily make it irredeemable. Should we, then, only pass laws that are only easy to enforce? Of course, more to the point is that not enough law enforcement resources are deployed or it is not considered to be a priority. There is, of course, the socio-economic and cultural context of law enforcement having to ensure a law is obeyed by those who generally are members of the ruling elite who still have disproportionate influence over this country notwithstanding their relatively trivial number.
A briefing on the Hunting Act published by the RSPCA showed prosecutions under the Hunting Act compared favorably with other wildlife legislation, including the Badgers Act 1991, Deer Act 1991 and Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. Further, IFAW identifies more than 100 prosecutions under the Hunting Act. So, we have to wonder why DEFRA chooses only to identify three.
Yes, of course, there are many more pressing issues. So, why are the ConDems making such a fuss over the repeal of the Hunting Act? What’s next: the return of bear baiting and dog fighting? Back street abortions anyone? Repeal of the right for women to vote? Push the homosexuals back into the closet?
In a recent study of health care in seven countries (Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States) the Netherlands ranks first, followed closely by the UK and Australia. The US ranks last overall, as it had in earlier studies.
Important columnist Johann Hari ask this vital question — In 1980, the average CEO in America and the UK took 42 times the average worker’s wage. By 2000, it was 531 times. Did CEOs become 12 times more effective? Or was this another trick of the boom-light? — in a discussion of a new book by David Bolchover, Pay Check: Are Top Earners Really Worth It?, Hari concludes,
Bolchover suggests when a company has narrowed its CEO selection down to six good candidates, it should ask everyone on the shortlist to name the lowest wage and bonus package they are prepared to work for. The one who comes in with the lowest bid should get the job. (There would be a reasonable floor to make sure independently rich people didn’t fill them all by offering to work for £1.) Plenty of extremely able people would be happy to run a major corporation for a fraction of the current pay: the prime minister earns £130,000 a year, and there’s no shortage of candidates. Government regulation should make this standard practice. Suddenly, instead of the endless puffing up of CEO pay, it would start to fall to reasonable levels. It would be hugely popular: a poll for the Financial Times found 80 per cent of us think business leaders are overpaid. It would be a sign – at last – of a return to sobriety after the crazed, confected amphetamine rush of the boom-dream.
It would be interesting to see this idea put into practice by, perhaps, starting with the salaries of CEOs in the not-for-profit sector.
Caroline Lucas’s election as the Green Party Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion is a significant accomplishment and a beacon of hope in an otherwise dismal election. Listening to her on BBC Radio 4’s “Any Questions” reinforces my view of her as an articulate and capable politician. She’s more than proved herself to be an able leader in a country which is in dire need of truly visionary thinking.
I make no secret of my support of the Labour Party because I see from its history, including from the last government, that it’s a progressive social force which has championed virtually every positive change in the UK. In order for me to consider any support for the Green Party I’ve also got to see similar — and I don’t mean exactly the same — track record of real political accomplishments.
But there’s been a nagging thought in the back of my mind about the strategy of becoming an MP rather than persevering as an MEP, as she was until her election to the British Parliament.
Yes, the UK Parliament is the heart of democracy in this country but increasingly we live in an international world and in particular we live in the European Union. So, why give up a power base in the EU for an albeit different one in the UK? I’m mindful that animal welfare represent in some way many other issues in that there is simultaneously UK and EU legislation with the latter in certain circumstances trumping the former. When I look to the future I see a UK which is increasingly integrated into the EU. Clearly, what happens in Parliament as well as the Assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, will influence what happens in the EU.
But if Caroline wants to be at the forefront of an international stage providing truly transnational leadership that matters, why give up the EU for the UK when her leadership could take more than just the UK but also the rest of the EU to new horizons?
By asking this question I’m not impugning Caroline’s character or motives in any way. As I say, it’s just a nagging thought.
20 Steps to a Conservative Dictatorship (It was The Sun Wot Did It!)
- Stitch up the opposition (LibDems)
- Make Parliament impossible to dissolve by requiring a 55% majority of MPs
- Institute fixed-term Parliaments
- Reduce the number of constituencies
- Redraw constituency boundaries to favour Tories
- Virtual control of the print media (Murdoch)
- Increasing influence in TV (Murdoch, again)
- Undermine the BBC (Murdoch, yet again)
- Non-dom funding of Tory Party machine to ensure re-election (Ashcroft)
- Non-dom funded Foreign Policy via Hague (Ashcroft, again)
- Keep the people stupid and powerless with the big society propaganda
- Impose draconian measures to quell civil unrest
- Floating prisons to house the poor and disenfranchised
- Scottish succession thwarted by military invasion
- Economically successful parts of the BBC privatised thereby leaving what’s left increasingly underfunded, including the news division
- Military rule in inner cities
- Parliament adopts emergency measures (read: autocratic)
- National funds restricted to local authorities who provide services on fee-paid basis only
- Parliament suspended
- Dictatorship declared
Without explaining the eccentricities of our political system and how and when general elections are called, we are, as each day passes into the next, slowly but surely, sinking into the national bun fight that’s called here a General Election. Look for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to announce it on Tuesday, April 6 and for it to take place on Thursday, May 6. This will be my first British general election in about 25 years. I’m looking forward to it. Of course, I want to see Labour re-elected, warts ‘n all. Indeed, I will volunteer as much time as I can. My constituency, Hastings and Rye, is very fortunate to have a Labour MP, Michael Foster, who is much admired as an untarnished, hard-working representative by many people regardless of their political affiliation. He deserves to be re-elected because he has worked very hard for this constituency.
Anyway, general elections are a lot of fun. Emotions run deep and high. There’s also a lot of silliness, unintended and otherwise. One such example is this piece of rubbish by Simon Jenkins published (where else!) but in The Guardian.
Should animals get the vote? If they are said to have rights, surely they should have representation; and if representation, then the vote. In Switzerland, they have lawyers and fight cases. Their lobbyists cite chapter, verse and precedent for their moral status. We are thinking of widening the franchise to under-18s and prisoners. How long before we embrace animals? Country Life magazine this week goes a step further. If animals did vote, it asks, which party would they support? Using random sampling (a “fox pop”) and presumably assessing closeness to a polling station, the magazine lists voting intention by species, based on predictable responses to recent laws.
The trouble with drivel like this is that it puts back the cause to advance animal rights as a serious political issue. No one in their right mind suggests animals should have the vote. And asking Country Life magazine to say anything serious about the moral and legal status of animals is absurd. Its pages are full of articles, reports and recommendations every imaginable and inconceivable way to raise, kill and otherwise use animals.