Saturday, October 21, 2006

Falling Short

So, Clare Short decided to resign the Labour whip yesterday. Here is her 2005 general election campaign leaflet. I notice that there is no mention of electoral reform. However, she does ask people to "vote for me so that we can work together to build on the good things and correct the mistakes." What a difference 18 months can make.

In Short's letter, that you can read in full here, she argues that "after a lifetime of service to the Labour Party and 23 years in the House of Commons I think I am entitled to discuss what has gone wrong with the government and our political system in my remaining years as an MP." I heartily disagree. I am no fan of our political system and the way in which the party whip is abused, but Clare should have thought about this in 2005. Her electorate voted for her based, at least in part, on the leaflet above and the official Labour manifesto. If she wanted to stand on her own platform then she should have run as an "Independent Labour" candidate. She didn't because she knew she'd lose.

Her resignation of the Labour whip is the last publicity stunt of a tired and shameless politician. The electorate in her constituency should be calling for her resignation and a by-election. If she truly believes she is supported by the people who voted for her then she'll be happy to oblige.

Conservatives Should Be In Favour Of Scottish Independence

It doesn't take a genius to look at the electoral map of the UK to realise that the only party that shouldn't be pro Scottish independece is Labour. For the Conservatives, the debate is a little more complicated and has to balance traditional Unionist instincts with electoral reality.

There is now a distinct possibility that the next election will deliver a hung parliament. These have a chequered history in the UK and have typically been short-lived. The 1929 hung parliament survived until the election in 1931 and the 1974 hung parliament didn't even last a year. A key issue for the Tories will, once again, be the lack of seats in Scotland and Wales.

In the 2005 election, the number of Scottish seats at Westminster was reduced from 72 to 59 in order to rebalance the system following the formation of the Scottish Parliament. The results were Labour 41, Liberal Democrats 11, the SNP 6 and the Conservatives 1 (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale). While this wouldn't have meant a Conservative government in 2005 (the overall results were Labour 356 seats, Conservatives 198 seats), it would give the Tories a better chance of winning at the next election.

The constitutional jumble that has been created by a meddling Labour government has already created a two tier system of MPs, with Scottish members able to vote on issues that do not impact Scotland. It is difficult to see how this "West Lothian question" can be resolved in the near term and there seems little likelihood of the costly Scottish Parliament being aboloished, so where do the Tories go?

The Unionist instinct would say "keep the Union intact at any cost". However, the alternative may not be that bad. The divide between England and Scotland has grown wider and wider over recent years and this was highlighted earlier this year when a number of high profile Scots refused to support the England football team in the World Cup, reflecting broader public opinion. They've never really wanted to be governed from London and the resentment continues to deepen.

Today, a strong European framework exists for Scotland and England to be close political and economic partners. Indeed, an independent Scotland might stimulate economic growth on both sides of the border. There would be no barriers to people or trade and Scots could continue their roles in all aspects of the English economy. If there is an EU dividend then perhaps this would be it. National borders are no longer as meaningful as they used to be.

The argument that this would lead to a break up of the rest of the UK doesn't hold water. Northern Ireland continues its drift further and further away from Westminster control anyway and Wales has no economic option other than to stick with England.

Edmund Burke said "You can never plan the future by the past." It is time to look to a future without Scotland.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Can A Woman Make a Full Contribution In a Veil?

This question was asked on Question Time tonight and the audience contained a suspiciously large number of veiled women. This suspicion was proved when Salma Yaqoob, one of the panelists and a muslim woman, claimed that only 1% of muslim women in Britain wore a full veil. Hmmm...

The full veil is ridiculous. You only have to look at the pairs of eyes gazing out from the Question Time audience to realise that. A man wearing such a garment would be presumed to be a bank robber or worse. The face plays a vital role in human communication and hiding behind a piece of fabric does nothing for integration or interaction.

The hand wringing and complaining from segments of the muslim community is equally ridiculous. There are very few countries in the world that have the number of liberties that are available to all sections of society in the UK. Certainly there are no majority ruled muslim countries that offer these freedoms. Nobody is talking about legislating against veils, but part of living in a free society is the ability to discuss these hot topics.

Oh and on the specific question, my girlfriend made a good point that wasn't made by the panel. Women in a veil cannot participate fully with deaf lipreaders. Which minority should we protecting here?

Experience Required

So, the line-up for tonight's Question Time panel includes Hilary Armstrong, the Cabinet Minister for Social Exclusion. It got me thinking about what sort of experience you need to have in order to get that job.

It's a ridiculous Cabinet position and smacks of classic New Labour speak. I wonder if Cameron will have a Cabinet Minister for Social Responsibility. Can we please stop this nonsense.

Maybe The Next President Of The United States Should Be A Student Of History

President Bush gave an interview last night to George Stephanopoulos on ABC. In this interview he finally admitted that he saw some parallels between Vietnam and Iraq.

I think the world needs a US President that "has that deja vu feeling all over again". Perhaps if George W. had read history books in his youth rather than running failed businesses he would have spotted the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam a long time ago, possibly before the US went in. He might also have spotted the similarities between the client state put in place in Iran under the Shah and the client state put in place in Iraq. Is it the 60s or the 70s revisited? Maybe a little of both.

Watch it here at thinkprogress.org

Full transcript:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Tom Friedman wrote in the New York Times this morning that what we might be seeing now is the Iraqi equivalent of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968. Tony Snow this morning said, “He may be right.” Do you agree?

BUSH: He could be right. There’s certainly a stepped up level of violence, and we’re heading into an election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what’s your gut tell you?

BUSH: George, my gut tells me that they have all along been trying to inflict enough damage that we’d leave. And the leaders of al Qaeda have made that very clear. Look, here’s how I view it. First of all, al Qaeda is still very active in Iraq. They are dangerous. They are lethal. They are trying to not only kill American troops, but they’re trying to foment sectarian violence. They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause government to withdraw

I'm Feeling Taxed

So it seems that the Conservative tax commission has identified £21 billion of tax cuts and it's thrown the Tories into a bit of a spin.

What's irritated me most is Osborne's ridiculous point about shifting taxes from families to green items. My first problem with this is that we, the consumer, will always end up paying wherever the burden of tax falls. The point shouldn't be to move taxes around it should be to reduce the overall burden. The second point is that if the taxes are successful, i.e. they reduce the damage to the environment, then the government will collect less overall. Where will this new shortfall be made up if there aren't commensurate cuts? Oh that's right, the original taxpayer.

Osborne also bangs on about sharing the benefits of growth. That sounds terrific except that this means public expenditure could continue to grow in real terms.

Where is the choice in this country? I know that Cameron wants everyone to be saying he's just another Blair - that's how he wins. The problem is that it leaves such limited choice for the electorate. Let me make a prediction: turnout at the next election will be lower than the last. The electorate will continue to stay away from the ballot box while the ultimate outcome has no bearing on their vote, either through "wasted" votes in safe constituencies or votes for parties that you can't fit a razor blade between.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tony Blair - Should I Stay Or Should I Go

An excellent and very funny video from You Tube. Brilliant.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Are Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strikes The Only Answer To Rogue Religious Regimes?

North Korea's nuclear test last week has highlighted the lack of options available to democratic states in managing rogue states. The failure of the international community to prevent nuclear proliferation, both in the Indian sub-continent and now North Korea, means that the potential for other states to develop their own weapons has increased. Iran may be next, but the march of nuclear power is likely to be stalled rather than halted.

The prospect of long-range nuclear weapons in the hands of the mad man, Kim Jong Il, is bad enough, but the idea that a fundamentalist islamic regime gains nuclear capabilities raises a whole host of other issues.

In the Cold War world there was a balance of power between the two rival superpowers. Mutually assured distruction worked as a doctrine between the US and the USSR because of the rationality of the actors. Game theory was the planet's true saviour.

Dealing with mad men is an entirely different proposotion and while we can dress it up as religion, it is really a misplaced view of what's rational. Let us assume for a moment that Pakistan removes Musharraf as President and that a religious government is installed in his place. What would prevent them from launching a nuclear strike against the US or the UK, particularly if they felt their interests were being threatened in Afghanistan.

Cold war theory would suggest that mutually assured destruction will prevail and that a rational Pakistan would not launch strikes. However, let us take a different perspective, one in which this life is not the end, but the beginning. A rabidly islamic state might decide that Jannah is preferable to this life. If they further believe that defense of the Islamic way of life is dependent upon attacking the west (witness 9/11) then a nuclear bomb will only hasten their entry into paradise. If you are a true believer, then this is certainly not mutually assured destruction.

Sam Harris in his excellent book "The End of Faith" states:
"In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime - as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day - but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception fould plunge us into a state of hot war of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world's population would be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher's stone, and unicorns. That it would be horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely."

Beware Of Generals Offering Their Views

I have been meaning to blog on this topic for some time, so apologies if this feels a little out of sync with the news cycle.

I was very disappointed by the public comments made by General Sir Richard Dannatt the Chief of the General Staff. On the BBC's Today Show he declared his concerns about the current conflict in Iraq. This, in my view, sets a bad precedent, which is not helped by both tabloid and broadsheet agreement with his views.

In a democracy, Generals play a very important role. They translate the will of our elecetd representatives into action, both locally in the case of fire brigade strikes and natural disasters and globally in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. The danger of outspoken generals is that they move from the military sphere into the overtly political realm. They stop acting on our behalf and begin to represent their own interests. We may agree with Sir Richard's comments that the presence of British soldiers in Iraq was exacerbating the violence there and that a prolonged stay in the country could "break" the armed forces, but that is not the point.

The military plays a vital role in a free society, but part of that freedom rests on power being held by the people's elected representatives. How big a step is it from "I just want to comment on the suitability of war" to "I want to utilise the power that I hold to control the nation"? I think Pakistan's unelected President Musharraf would say that the step is sometimes not that far.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Stylist Required

The latest controversy around Sion Simon has brought to light one of the real outrages of modern politics. Very rarely discussed, we are in a definite period of political bad hair. Here are just two examples.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) and Sion Simon (Birmingham Erdington)
Which haircut is worse?
Rob Marris
Sion Simon
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