Saturday, 21 June 2014

Obama, chickens, roost

As if neatly to point up the serial failures of Obama's foreign policy, yesterday the UN announced the highest-ever refugee count of the postwar period.

I know. I am just a lowly blogger and not even one of Obama's electors. But these things matter to all of us. The reality is, we all still depend on the US. It still has a special place and responsibility in the world, and will do for a long time yet.

Now, I am not one of those Labourites who gets into a nerdy lather over US politics (full disclosure: I did make the now-traditional pilgrimage to meet the Democrats in 2000 and learned a lot from that trip). In fact, I am not much given to writing about it at all.

But, as a European leftist on the right of his party, I should surely be one of Obama's natural supporters. We believe in many similar things to the Democrats (equality, public services, importance of business, trade unions and so on). I was a big supporter of Bill Clinton and by no means find much common ground with the Republicans.

So why am I left with the inescapable feeling that he is the least capable president since Carter?

Because my foreign policy is that of the Labour Party of yore, of Ernie Bevin: "to be able to take a ticket at Victoria station and go anywhere I damn well please". It is of solidarity, it is not standing by and watching as the world burns. And I share this with others, similarly disappointed, across the political spectrum, often in a quite non-partisan sense. It is not the policy of Obama.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

A decade has passed and the world is in chaos. For all our sakes, can we all move on from 2003, please?

If recent events in Ukraine were not disturbing enough for those who might occasionally worry about the future for their children and grandchildren, one need only now look towards the Middle East, and a little further.

The aftermath of the Arab Spring. Egypt. Syria. An isolated Israel that seems to have lost all hope of establishing a meaningful alliance against a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran, and has now ended up forming
stranger ones. A pernicious and persistent strain of Islamism remaining in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan and Nigeria, to name but a few.

And finally, the coup de grâce: the overspill of ISIS Islamists from Syria into large parts of Iraq, threatening, in a symbolic poke in the eye for the West, to realise a long-held goal. A fanatical and oppressive religious autocracy; a Caliphate.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Trojan Horse: politicians from both sides to blame for mismanaging extremism in schools

The row between Michael Gove and Theresa May has - in Westminster, at least - somewhat overshadowed the immeasurably more important news that extremists are operating in our schools. A report out today is expected to put six schools into special measures

With a weary predictability, an idiot writer for - guess who? - the Guardian tried yesterday to pretend it was all a "witch-hunt". It is so clearly not a witch-hunt that one honestly wonders where they find these people.

The most frustrating thing is that the potential for this has been obvious for some time and yet both Labour and Tory politicians have not only ignored it; they have actively encouraged it.

It is true that these are not faith schools (thanks to Greg Pope for making this point). But the faith schools agenda has legitimised and encouraged a relaxed attitude to cultural segregation. And many of our universities have had the same relaxed attitude to on-campus extremism. Extremism in schools has therefore really been only a matter of time.

Gove himself was responsible, as the Centre Left warned three years ago, for leaving schools vulnerable to extremism by allowing them to recruit all teachers from a particular faith, so that there could be no question of balance across a range of worldviews and religions, in the event that a head teacher wanted it so.

But the politician who may well, I'm afraid to say, bear the most responsibility is Tony Blair (yes, you heard me correctly), as I said in that piece. There are very good reasons not to "do God" in politics and, on one of the few occasions when he did, the heavy encouragement of faith schools was the result. It was then, frankly, exacerbated by a more general tolerance towards extremism under Brown.

We can now see where this has all led. It is not a good place.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Newark. Not good.

If you work for a political party at some point in your life, you soon learn that the results of by-elections, as a rule, should not have too much attention paid to them. They are often special cases, with protest voting, or whatever other topical factor. However, every now and then they can throw up something significant, even if it is merely highlighting a risk.

The Newark result last Thursday, where Labour came third after the Tories and UKIP, on a vote-share nearly 5% lower than in 2010, was one such. At this point in the parliamentary cycle, it is clear that a serious challenger needs to be, at minimum, increasing their vote from the last election.

You can't really blame a politician for spinning a result in the best possible way, but the defence from those unfortunate MPs whose job it was to take to the airwaves on Friday, that this decline was down to "the UKIP effect", was weak in two ways. The argument was that there was a tactical vote from UKIP to Tory, to keep out UKIP, which hurt the Labour vote*.

It was a weak argument, first, because we are defining our result with regard to another party as if "the UKIP effect" were an act of God that we can do nothing about. This is the politics of losing. Whatever effect there is now may well be there in twelve months' time and we need to have a way of beating it, if indeed it is the reason.

Second, that the logic is self-defeating. If there is some kind of effect which transfers votes from UKIP to Tory in a parliamentary by-election, tactical or otherwise, we should be pretty worried. And that is because an alternative explanation to tactical voting is simply that Eurosceptic voters decline to waste their vote in a parliamentary election (as opposed to a Euro or council election, which they do not care about), hold their noses and vote Tory. 

Which highlights the risk of a last-minute swing to the Tories at the end of this parliament, which would also fit historical trend, as we have mentioned here before.

Not good. Not good at all.

*for the record, I also heard on Twitter the argument that it was the other way around, that people wanting to hurt the Tories voted tactically for UKIP instead of Labour. The conclusion being that it was rather a convenient excuse, down to [insert reason I just made up]. The apparent complacency of some of Labour's rank and file at this result is in many ways more worrying than politicians defending it, which is, after all, their job.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A No for Scotland may not be as positive for Labour as we might think

The local and Euro-elections are done. As always happens in the unfailingly cyclical business of politics, we take a breather and start thinking about the next one.

This year, of course, our normal annual cycle is disrupted by that pesky little referendum. Yes, the one that could conceivably break apart the United Kingdom and throw politics-as-we-know it into convulsions, whose aftershock would last for decades, if not centuries.

Conceivably, of course, does not mean probably. While not impossible, it seems pretty unlikely that the Yes campaign will win (and if it does, all bets are clearly off).

Assuming it doesn’t, the scenario we might project is that Labour, which has largely spearheaded the campaign (in view of the little love the Scottish electorate at large has for the Conservative Party), comes off as the proxy winner and that that winning momentum rolls us through the following half-year until a close-run, but ultimately successful, general election result.

That, at least, is how we would like to see things. However, although we might have a pleasant moment in the sun as we enjoy having led the charge which defeated Salmond, it may also be neutralised by an effect few have even considered.

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