Thursday, 28 July 2011

Enda Kenny, we salute you

In all the media frenzy which followed first Hackgate and then the tragic Oslo killings, one event has passed with perhaps less coverage than it should have had. A week ago, a speech by Enda Kenny, Taoiseach of Ireland, directly and firmly criticised the Vatican for its handling of the child abuse scandal which has done so much to damage the Church and especially in Ireland.

Before anyone starts feeling a jerk of the knee, this is not an anti-religious or anti-Catholic piece. Legitimate criticism of the Vatican is not the same as an attack on the Church. It is a recognition of what is essentially a management failure; and that is in the sense that, if the Catholic Church had been a business, its shareholders would have long ago insisted on a change of management. It being a religious institution, and accountability not really being its strong suit, that clearly has not happened. And the necessary changes arguably still do not go far enough: as the speech points out, we are talking about actions occurring
“as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.”

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

All who oppose quotas are not knuckle-scrapers

Sexism is undoubtedly alive and well in modern-day Britain. Wherever it is to be found, it is a blight on our society; it lowers people’s horizons and expectations. An indisputable social evil. Obviously not like it was a hundred, or even twenty, years ago: but there.

Arguably, its most persistent manifestation is in the workplace: things like the difficulty of women returning to work after children, pay inequality and prospects of reaching top management. The last Labour government helped somewhat in these areas by, for example, improving access to childcare and consolidating equality legislation. And perhaps it could, and should, have done more. Inequalities persist which, being about opportunity and not outcome, rightly concern all of us on the left.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The stitch-up in Berlin…and the shame in Spain

Further to my last post on the Euro-zone debt crisis, a couple of important developments for some of the protagonists:

First, in yesterday’s summit, “Eurozone leaders draw up radical plan to safeguard Euro” says the Guardian contentedly.

Really? Well, they must be talking about a different plan, because all I can see is a band-aid which does nothing to address the fundamentals, like the moral hazard inherent in the system (in other words, that we give countries no incentives to behave themselves and Portugal and Ireland will probably need another bailout soon as well). We have resolved nothing, and Europe's leaders are refusing to focus on the need for a long-term solution to the Euro’s problems.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Britain convulses, but Europe burns

"Los indignados" demonstrate in Madrid

We cannot ignore the weighty events going on around the Murdoch empire, which are at least starting to wobble, if not rock, the foundations of the British Establishment. But these are heady times. We – and it seems, even the European media, also obsessed with NewsCorp – have rather taken our eye off the ball regarding an even larger drama unfolding elsewhere, which affects the lives of many, many more millions of people. And which has far greater long-term implications, as Jon Snow observed yesterday.

The Euro crisis, as former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers put it on Monday, “has entered a new and far more dangerous phase”. For one thing, he notes, the sheer debt repayments already involved for Portugal, Greece and Ireland are approaching, if continued at market rates, World War I reparations levels. Well, you may remember what happened after that: the Weimar Republic and the rise of European fascism. Interestingly, he proposes a solution which does not involve the tax systems of the Euro countries to be joined up in any way, which many have stated to be a sine qua non. But the real problem, as Summers points out, is finding the political will.

Monday, 18 July 2011

A response to Richard Burden MP on racist extremism

Following up on my previous post about extremism in the Labour Party and the racist preacher Raed Salah…

On Friday 15 July, Harry’s Place ran an article on Richard Burden MP’s without-irony call for, at the same time, banning unpleasant Christian preacher John Hagee, while defending unpleasant Islamist preacher Raed Salah. When I retweeted this piece, highlighting what I thought a highly hypocritical stance, Richard responded to me with a comment that the article was "misleading" and a link to his website, where he has posted a defence of his position.

Although not entirely surprised by the arguments, it was Richard’s bizarre attempt to deflect criticism by turning the issue towards the deportation criteria of the Home Office, that finally led me to respond in the below letter:

Thursday, 14 July 2011

King Rupert Tudor: the power of Murdoch

Prompted by a discussion on the Labour Uncut version of my last post, and not really finding the information in the press, I thought I’d take a peek inside the NewsCorp annual report, to see exactly how much this “little local difficulty” bothers him financially.


2010 figures:
Annual gross revenues NewsCorp                  £      20,592m*
Annual profits NewsCorp                                    £        1,595m*
Annual profits Times Newspapers                  £              -45m
Annual profits News Group (Sun, NOTW)    £                40m

*$32,776m and $2,539m, using a rate of $10.628259

So, a couple of observations:

One. NewsCorp is the world’s 284th largest company. If NewsCorp were a country, it would be the world’s 85th largest in terms of GDP, between Kenya and Costa Rica. Or about half the size of that of Wales. Except that, unlike Wales, as leader he is not elected. He really is the feudal king of all he surveys, as long as the shareholders are kept happy. So think of it more as, if you like, King Rupert of half-of-Wales. A latter-day absolute Tudor monarch.

Even before we look at the disproportionate influence a media company has compared with ordinary companies, that’s quite a lot of medieval-style power. We’re quite lucky he’s not allowed to raise a private army.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Two kinds of brave

The Indie’s Steve Richards, it seems like an age ago but in reality only last Thursday, defended yesterday’s Labour politicians from the easy criticism that they should have acted against Murdoch (as my business friends would say: Harry Hindsight – the greatest trader of them all). Oh how Blair and Brown bowed and scraped, some are saying. Rubbish. They saw the world as it was, and they prioritised getting and maintaining a Labour government over dealing with a longer-term and mostly intractable problem, the risible regulatory framework which exists around the British media. As had all the other governments before them. Perhaps they shouldn’t have: but it is equally plausible to say that the opportunity to take on the empire just didn’t present itself. It has now.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Blair on Labour’s debate: and the Darwinism of ideas

Sitting listening to yesterday’s Blair speech at Church House, what was notable was not the robust defence of his government, which has already given rise to a few headlines (although, frankly, it contained very little that has not already been said in A Journey)

No, it was, as is sometimes the case with the polished performer, the little nuggets that come out in the Q&A. It’s there that you get to see how someone’s mind really works, and the answers are often both more revealing and more useful.

(For the record, I did try quite hard to get in a question myself on Islamist extremism, but in the end dear old Steven Twigg, in the chair, was having none of it and I ended up sitting there impotently with my hand up, feeling all a bit “please, sir, please, sir”.)

It was also easy to forget, in what was obviously a very sympathetic audience, that the party as a whole does not always share the good opinion of much of the country – and, for that matter, quite a bit of the rest of the world, too – of the former PM. Or, at least, that there are vocal elements of the party in which Blair is rather vilified.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Lazy List, part I

Now as regular readers will know, I like to debate (I like to argue, some would say. It's a fair cop).

But my strong preference, heaven help me, is to debate on the issues. Yes, I'm afraid so, rather than using certain stock words or phrases in a kind of game of Top Trumps, thinking – wrongly – that they instantly win the argument. In recent months I have taken part in a lot of online debating on leftie websites, and have been wanting for some time to try, in a public-spirited sort of way, to improve our debating for everyone’s benefit.

So, with acknowledgements to the diligent work in the field of cleaning up left-wing debate already undertaken by Julie’s Think Tank and also where John Rentoul’s iconic Banned List doing the same for lazy journalism (although “iconic” itself is banned: I’m afraid I did that on purpose), I should like to offer up the following exaggerations, misuses and misappropriations for the consideration of the Left-wing Debating Correctional Committee:

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Our tolerance of extremism will do for us

Let me tell you about Raed Salah. Or, rather, let him tell you about himself in the following quote: 
“You Jews are criminal bombers of mosques,
Slaughterers of pregnant women and babies.
Robbers and germs in all times,
The Creator sentenced you to be loser monkeys,
Victory belongs to Muslims, from the Nile to the Euphrates.”
Yes, he is a racist, hate preacher and, as the BBC reports, leading 9/11 conspiracy theorist. He is a leader of the Islamic Movement, closely aligned to the terrorist group Hamas and recently notorious for mourning the death of Osama Bin Laden. If you need any further examples of his being a thoroughly nasty piece of work, you need go no further than this piece.
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