Why ‘No Thanks’ Is Getting No Joy

The debate in the political commentariat about the weekend’s YouGov poll of Scottish voters, which found a slender majority in favour of independence for the first time, has largely missed the point. It doesn’t actually matter if the ‘Yes’ campaign’s two point lead is within the margin of error. What matters is that the referendum campaign has become so close that margins of error are even relevant.

How has the ‘Better Together’ (latterly ‘No Thanks’) campaign managed to squander a 20 point-plus lead in a matter of weeks, and allowed Scottish independence to become a serious prospect.

Regular readers will know that I am firmly neutral on the referendum: I would not mind Scotland concluding that its distinctive culture and politics demand full nationhood. Whilst I acknowledge concerns that, as Scotland provides a large number of Labour MPs and just 1 Tory MP, independence would make it harder to elect progressive governments in the residual UK (rUK) dominated by a Tory-leaning England, I think rUK politics would quickly re-align. Also, as a democrat, I find the lack of a solution to the West Lothian question difficult to stomach. This is a problem that would only get worse with the guaranteed further devolution that will occur even in a ‘No’ vote. It cannot be right that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elect devolved legislatures with extensive powers, particularly over public spending in their own nations, and elect MPs who influence those decisions in England too, despite it lacking its own assembly. That unaccountability has allowed Scottish MPs to swing the votes which have inflicted tuition fees on English students. Thus independence would mitigate that anomaly, albeit in a rather drastic way.

Incidentally, I’m puzzled that the three main Westminster parties have all sung so heavily behind the ‘No’ campaign with any discussion or debate. I want to know why Labour activists like me are being pestered, using official party machinery, to donate time, money and energy to persuade Scots to vote ‘No’, when we have not been consulted on whether that should be Labour’s position. I don’t think the unionists running our parties have really thought through the case for independence and ‘staying together’.

My theory is evident when you look at the ‘No Thanks’ campaign. It’s headed by Alastair Darling. His role in saving the global financial system from collapse in 2008 is under-rated, and he strikes me as a decent and reasonable man. However, he is a technocrat, not a dreamer. In common with many former teenaged communists, he has grown into a middle-aged man with a very bland view of the world and the possibilities it offers. Is it any wonder that Darling’s constant prophesies that if Scotland votes Yes, the sky will fall in, the banks will fold and the good people of Scotland will be forced to return to the land… etc, have turned off potential supporters?

Then look at who is supporting ‘No Thanks’. Big business, particularly Big Oil. David Cameron. Tony Abbott. UKIP. If such a formidable coalition of the ‘forces of darkness’ has a common position, the natural instinct is to oppose it.

And my goodness, does the ‘No Thanks’ campaign know how to repel supporters. Like the patronising ‘Better Together’ mum…

This criticism of ‘No Thanks’ doesn’t mean I’m any keener on the Yes campaign. The difference is, the Yes campaign has had a degree of success.

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Thanks: the Very Inspiring Blogger Award

I’m very pleased to accept a nomination for the ‘Very Inspiring Blogger Award’ from the talented author and blogger Stephen Liddell. Stephen, who has contributed to this blog on several occasions, always writes engaging and informative articles on an eclectic range of topics spanning the spheres of history, current affairs and literature. It is little wonder his blog is such a success (rare is the post which does not have at least 20 ‘Likes’).

The rules of the Very Inspiring Blogger award are as follows:

  • Thank and link the amazing person who nominated you.https://hannamar.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/image6.jpg?w=255&h=167
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  • Optional: Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Fact 1: this blog is read all over the world

Visitors from 119 countries have visited this blog since it was founded. 60% of these came from the UK, 21% the US, 3% each from Canada and Australia, and 2% from New Zealand, India and Brazil. It seems that people who read English have the greatest interest in an English language blog. I wonder why! It is always fun to look at which far-flung corner of the globe your work is being read from, but it makes you keen to write something relevant to each country- which would be tricky for 119 nations. To date Look Left has had no visitors from China, no doubt because this blog has ended up on a government blacklist.

Fact 2: the dull articles are the most popular

The most popular posts on the blog seem to be ones about ‘medium sized’ political parties and essays about democracy. The latter have presumably proved popular with A Level Politics students looking for ideas for their own essays, as I’ve never known people to actively seek out essays to read for their own entertainment. On the other hand, there may be even nerdier politicos out there than me. In order of popularity, the top posts are:

Fact 3: Four different writers have featured on this blog

While I write most of the posts on the blog, Stephen Liddell contributes occassionally, most recently with Is WordPress Ripping You Off? (Answer: yes). ‘Celtic Catwoman‘ and Lily Summers (recently featured on LabourList) have also contributing in the past. I try to feature guest writers on Look Left as often as possible as alternative perspective are always welcome, and I think a little diversity makes the blog more interesting.

Fact 4: Most of this blog is written on the move

I try to use my time efficiently, and I see blogging as a great way to extract some use out of time spent travelling. Unfortunately, this means that I have to use the WordPress app for Android, which is the flimsiest and most crash-prone programme I have ever used. However, it adds a bit of drama to a very dull commute: I feel a sense of victory and good fortune if I manage to complete a post without the app crashing and wiping out 30 minutes’ work.

Fact 5: Look Left is the new name for The Political Idealist

In the summer, I went through the painfully tedious process of renaming this blog. I did so because ‘The Political Idealist’ was a bit of a mouthful and a somewhat cumbersome title: my writing did not always live up to the idealism it promised, and is idealism not an intrinsically political notion? By contrast, Look Left is a little snappier and accurately summaries the outlook of this blog.

It also helped that LookLeft.co.uk was available for less than half the cost of renewing ThePoliticalIdealist.com.

Fact 6: this is the first GIF ever published on Look Left

reaction animated GIF

…and it might be the last, as I can’t decide if they’re mildly annoying or somewhat amusing.

Fact 7: Look Left is worth an amazing $17.39 according to Blog Calculator.

I’m glad all my hard work was worth it….

I would like to nominate….

  1. Robert Neilsen, an award-winning economist from Ireland whose ‘out of the box’ thinking on current affairs and religion is always a pleasure to read.
  2. Dear Kitty, Some Blog, a website with such a broad remit it is impossible to categorise. It offers opinions (always the ‘right’ ones!) on every issue under the sun.
  3. Kris Baker, an American blogger whose unwaveringly reasonable views and friendly tone are always a delight to read.
  4. A Communist At Large. Its New Zealand resident author offers a valuable perspective on the crisis in capitalist society.
  5. Rodney Willett, a British ‘liberal conservative’ with a refreshingly constructive approach to discussing politics, even with those like me of a radically different political orientation.
  6. GibberLog. One of a family of blogs covering everything from business to science fiction, its author is also from a right-of-centre political background.
  7. Girl for Animal Liberation. A much-needed ‘voice of the voiceless’.
  8. Red Ink. Newly set-up, it describes itself as ‘idealistic college kids blogging about news, culture and Socialism’. Need I say more?
  9. Jayne Linney, a British campaigner who is a huge asset to the campaign against the Coalition’s welfare cuts. Her blog is essential reading for all with an interest in the War on Welfare.
  10. Thoughts of an Optimistic Realist. A social democrat who is in the business of discussing ‘what’s right’ not ‘what’s easy’.
  11. Daily Racist. An edgy satirist and tenatious anti-racism blogger.
  12. Deconstructing Myths. ‘This blog is for the dreamers and the critical thinkers. Peace and solidarity to every reader.’
  13. Jo Chamberlain. A northerner with a commendable track record in fighting poverty.
  14. Thinking and Dreaming, a Canadian blogger whose personal anecdotes and considered reflections on news or life in general defy one-sentence summaries.
  15. Playful Meanderings, a Freshly Pressed US blog charting, amongst other things, the writer’s ’75 books in a year’ challenge.

Is Electoral Reform Really Dead?

Three years ago, 68% of British voters rejected one of one of the most limited electoral reforms that could have been proposed: the introduction of the Alternative (or Instant Runoff) Vote. They rejected it, not because of the actual merits or drawbacks of the system proposed (though the ‘No2AV’ campaign were successful in convincing many voters that they could not be expected to count to three competently) but because they wanted to give Nick Clegg a kicking. They succeeded, but in doing so they were said to eliminate any prospect of electoral reform ‘for a generation’.

I don’t think that’s strictly true. From today’s perspective, it could be concluded that the First Past the Post electoral system about to create greater discontent than ever, and pressure for a fairer replacement will mount. To see why, you only have to look at the possible outcomes of the next general election.

It appears that nobody is able to win the next general election outright. Polling data shows that, regrettably, Labour has very low levels of public trust in its ability to manage the economy, or in the competence of its leader. No Opposition in history has managed to defeat a Government, when the former has such limited public confidence less than a year before polling day. On the other hand, the Conservatives face immense public anger and have the factors of a split right-wing vote and a shrunken, demoralised activist base working against them. Governments that win re-election are generally gaining in opinion polls at this stage in the electoral cycle: the Tories have languished in the low thirties since 2011. Moreover, there is the simple fact that David Cameron is too tarnished by his most unpopular actions in government to restore his support to 2010 levels. The Conservatives can only lose seats next year.

Therefore, it would seem probable that a second hung parliament will be elected in 2015.The questions that then arise are:

  • Who will be the largest party? The largest party is almost certain to form the Government, as a ‘coalition of losers’ (e.g. the second and third placed parties) would lack a clear mandate.
  • How will the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens fare? These ‘medium sized’ parties are the probable junior coalition partners and their influence will be determined by the popularity of their leaders and the number of seats they secure. Also, it would be unwise to conclude that Labour and the Lib Dems would automatically choose to work with each other.
  • What kind of coalition would be formed? David Cameron has ‘ruled out’ a full coalition post-2015, pledging to lead a minority government backed by a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement. Such a pledge will be quietly dropped if there is a Lib Dem choice of coalition partner, for example, as smaller parties are unlikely to accept such a deal.

The next election will produce a hung parliament in which the vote shares of the three medium sized parties bear no resemblance to their representation in the House of Commons. Pollsters project that UKIP and the Lib Dems will both win about 10-12% of the vote, but the former could win fewer than 10 seats whilst the latter hang on to over 30. Also the Green Party could win 5% of the vote and just 1 or 2 seats. In short, these parties will enter coalition negotiations whilst seething about the injustices of the electoral system. And, at least in the case of UKIP, there will also be public anger if a large protest vote translates into a handful of seats. It would be possible, even likely, that the electoral reform debate is reopened.

Image source: the Electoral Reform Society

While reforming the electoral system to the House of Commons remains a distant possibility, coalition negotiations might force the introduction of proportional representation in local councils, or even as part of House of Lords reform. There are huge advantages to both. I think electoral reform is a necessity in local government, where there are entrenched one-party strongholds covering most of the country, and on some authorities there are is no opposition whatsoever. In one London borough, a 40% vote for the Labour Party translated into 100% of the seats. The problems of one-party domination are self-evident, and contribute to the sense of powerlessness many citizens feel about local government. Given the contrast with local authorities in Scotland, where the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) has radically shifted power back into the hands of the electorate, there are positive precedents for such a reform.

One strength of FPTP is that it creates small, community-sized constituencies which allow for the decentralisation of selections by political candidates (which prevents party leaders eliminating dissenters from their backbenches) and community-sized politics. Advocates of reform should seek to maintain this link, perhaps pushing for STV or the Additional Member System, as used in the devolved nations. AMS sees a majority (60-80%) of MPs elected in single member constituencies, and the rest elected on a top-up basis which compensates under-represented parties, ultimately producing a proportional result. It would be possible to ‘have your cake and eat it’, having 400 constituency MPs and 200 extra list members ensuring fair representation of smaller parties. And better still, voting is as simple as putting a single cross on two ballot papers: voters don’t even have to count to three.

Socialist Government Dissolved Following Calls For Socialism

The whole world is begging us to put an end to these absurd austerity policies which are burying the Eurozone deeper and deeper in recession and which will soon end up with deflation. We must have the intellectual and political courage to acknowledge that austerity policies are making deficits worse instead of narrowing them.

Former French economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg

French President Francois Hollande has accepted his Prime Minister’s invitation to dissolve the Parti Socialiste government. The French government, led by arch-centrist Manuel Valls, was thrown into crisis after its Economy minister gave an explosive interview to Le Monde in which he attacked the leadership’s commitment to the Eurozone-wide austerity policy. Thus far, the government’s attempt to reduce its budget deficit to the Eurozone target level of 3% of GDP has only succeeded in suppressing economic growth and propelling the unemployment rate to 11%. In these harsh conditions, it is little wonder that the far-right National Front and the Left Front (signature policy: 100% top rate of Income Tax) are going from strength to strength whilst the President’s approval ratings have sunk to a jaw-dropping low of 17%.

Within a matter of hours, the Education and Culture ministers expressed their support for Montebourg, prompting Valls to offer the government’s resignation- a move aimed at settling the crisis before it forced a dissolution of the entire parliament. Hollande has said he will use the opportunity to exclude all left-wingers from the new cabinet  appoint a government “consistent with the direction set for the country”.

This marks the completion of Hollande’s selling out.

Back in the 2012 presidential election campaign, Hollande promised the French people an alternative to the austerity and the dictatorship of financiers that the previous government had tolerated. France was asked to elect a man with clear radical leanings. The Socialist candidate promised progressive taxation, increased education spending, and professed his dislike of “the rich”. Hollande even said:

My real adversary will never be a candidate, even though it governs. It is the world of finance.

It took just a few months in government for the new President to betray his people and surrender to demands for premature spending cuts and tax rises. As the economy reeled from these blows, the President’s political self-confidence visibly evaporated. He revised his ideology, stating that he was now a ‘social liberal’ (the French equivalent of a neoliberal or New Democrat). He backed a €30,000,000,000 tax cut for corporations whilst raising the tax burden on ordinary workers. Of course, Hollande follows in a fine Parti Socialiste tradition in promising radical change in opposition and then moving sharply rightwards in power (ahem- Mitterrand!) Unfortunately, this time such backtracking has failed to revive the French economy, with the consequence that the President is now distrusted by the Left and the Establishment that he has embraced.

It is difficult not to feel sorry for the French President. His premiership has been marred by adverse economic conditions that he inherited and can only partly control. His poor decisions following his ascent to the Presidency were made with good intentions, even if they are the wrong way to achieve economic growth. It is also true that he has invested so much political capital in enacting the Eurozone’s fiscal pact that he cannot retreat on the policy now.

Yet it is also clear that France must adopt a fiscal stimulus package- consisting primarily of tax cuts aimed at increasing consumer spending- as the Socialist left have been calling for. If France’s national interest is at odds with Hollande’s remaining in authority, it is obvious which must give. It is also a false choice, given that Hollande will be forced out of office if he cannot halt France’s economic stagnation. There appears to be no realistic scenario in which the President’s political career survives beyond the 2017 election.

Hollande is free to lock out the left from his new cabinet, knowing that the same group will not dare to vote against a right-dominated ‘Socialist’ executive in parliament for fear of provoking an election in which the party will be routed. However, clinging even more firmly to invalid monetarist economics will not get to the root of the political problem.

 

Momentum Gathers Behind Citizen’s Income Policy

When Governments across the world are broke, and public hatred of the unemployed remains high, it seems like an odd time to float the idea of a Citizen’s Income. Yet the policy of the state paying a basic income to every citizen has become more popular than ever. Switzerland will hold a referendum on the policy this year; a citizens’ initiative is being held to force the EU to consider it; and the resurgent Green Party of England and Wales has adopted the idea as its flagship manifesto offering. The latter is particularly exciting, as the Greens are poised to eclipse the Liberal Democrats as the fourth most popular party in Britain.

But isn’t “paying for people just for being alive” (as critics brand the policy) an economic impossibility? How could the state afford to dish out £3,600 per year, the current level of Income Support benefit, to every citizen? Is a citizen’s income just a far-left daydream?

In Switzerland, economists and politicians agree that that a Citizen’s Income is viable. They only argue as to whether it is desirable, often on the grounds that people should not ‘get something for nothing’. I think that drawing profits from speculation in property, currency and shares might also be described as getting something for nothing, but that doesn’t seem to concern these people. And in any case, a Citizen’s Income is also useful in that it can drastically reduce the size of the welfare state: unemployment benefit, child benefit, the basic state pension, child benefit, student loans, and income support can all be reduced or abolished altogether, something many right-wingers have been dreaming about since the welfare state came into existence. Overall, a Citizen’s Income would render £171 billion worth of benefits and administration unnecessary, reducing the welfare state to as little as 30% of its current size.

In order to calculate the costs of a Citizen’s Income, its UK supporters have proposed the following rates:

  • £56.25 per week for under 18s. This would be paid to parents instead of Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit.
  • £56.25 per week for 18-24 year olds. This is equivalent to the ‘youth rates’ of key benefits like JSA.
  • £71.00 per week for 25-65 year olds, equivalent to standard rates of JSA and Income Support.
  • £142.00 per week for the over 65s, identical to the flat rate state pension that is being introduced anyway.

Together with £3 billion a year for running costs and administration, the total costs would be £261 billion- a net cost of just £90 billion per year.

OK, there’s no ‘just’ about £90 billion, but it is a surprisingly low figure given how ambitious the scheme is. That money could then be found with surprising ease: by abolishing the Personal Allowance and 0% National Insurance bands altogether, meaning that workers would pay normal tax rates from the very first pound they earned. Ordinarily, that would be a hugely regressive move: the Personal Allowance exists to mitigate the benefits trap. As means-tested benefits are withdrawn quite sharply as one’s earnings increase, it has been known for some people to be better off on benefits than working with a low income and benefits ‘top up’. By removing taxes on very low wages, and now with the ‘Universal Credit’ policymakers have aimed to make it worthwhile to work on very low wages. They have had very limited success.

https://i2.wp.com/static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2013/7/3/1372850773508/unicreditgraph1.jpg

Source: the Guardian

However, Citizen’s Income would immediately solve the benefits trap by ensuring that every extra pound earned through work would translate into 68p (after Income Tax and NI) in a worker’s pocket, as Citizen’s Income is not means tested. This also means that part-time work becomes a viable option for those who want it. Thus the Citizen’s Income empowers people to shape their careers around their needs, not those of a complex and often self-contradictory benefits system.

It has been argued that this financial freedom could be abused. Why would people work if they could live off the Citizen’s Income, which won’t be withdrawn for failure to find work? Won’t it be a magnet for immigrants? To the first, I would answer that it would be tough to survive on £71 per week in the long-run, as any JSA claimant could testify. True, there would be some who decide not to work, but they would not have a comfortable existence. And as previously explained, it would always be worthwhile to work: in a region of rural India where a Citizen’s Income was trialed: the employment rate actually rose. Also, a top-up unemployment benefit could be introduced to reward the unemployed who are seeking work. To the second, it should be noted that those supposed ‘benefits tourists’ with the determination to milk the system can do so already. All these tabloid reports of benefits tourists aren’t describing migrants sleeping on the street and being denied access to existing benefits! In any case, payment of the Citizen’s Income could, as the name suggests, be made conditional on British citizenship.

The Citizen’s Income is a revenue-neutral idea that could provide a substantial boost to low earners and sure up support for a welfare system based on solidarity and universality. The only barriers to its introduction are political, and not necessarily from right-wing opposition. Alaska, hardly a beacon of socialism, already operates a limited Citizen’s Dividend of around $1,000 per person per year from its sovereign wealth fund. All that would actually be needed to make the policy a reality is the opening of people’s minds.

For further reading, please see the Citizen’s Income Trust 2013 report. American readers may be interested in the Basic Income Guarantee Network.

Who will save the NHS?

Next year, the National Health Service is projected to spend £2 billion more than it has. After inflation, “efficiency savings” and transfers are accounted for, the NHS budget has been static for five years. In that time, demand for its services has grown to a surprising extent, unfortunately at the same time the Health and Social Care Act fragmented and commericialised it, draining more of its scarce resources at the same time. So, with the same resources at its disposal, the NHS has to:

  • Provide healthcare for 2.5 million more people, mainly children and pensioners (who account for the majority of GP and A&E (ER) visits
  • Meet PFI repayments that have risen by over £1 billion per year
  • Meet the costs of a £1.4 billion shake up
  • Treat growing numbers of diabetics (who account for 10% of the NHS budget)
  • Contribute more to spending on social care

Is it any wonder that the NHS is under visible strain? Whilst the Government boasts that it has ‘protected’ the NHS budget by protecting it from actual cuts, it has neglected to provide for a large expansion of the population and long-running demographic trends that demand an expansion of the service. The Coalition might point out that, despite this, patients are still being treated, surgeries still being performed… In short, the NHS is still functioning, and is more efficient to boot. But that overlooks the very real decline in the quality of healthcare it offers. It is now harder than ever to secure non-emergency medical treatment; waiting lists for surgery have once more become an issue; and there is a growing sense that care is being ‘rationed’.

Privately, politicians are beginning to acknowledge that the present situation is unsustainable. Not only is the NHS is now faced with the prospect of running out of money at the end of the financial year, but that £2 billion shortfall is projected to grow to as much as £30 billion by 2020. That figure may be slightly alarmist, but the shortfall will be at least half of that. There is a consensus that “something must be done” but nobody is prepared to discuss the grim implications in an election year.

https://thepoliticalidealist.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/9e975-nhs.jpg

Image source: scirocco2morocco.blogspot.co.uk

Actually, that’s not quite right. Andy Burnham privately floated the ideas of increases in National Insurance (NI) and later Inheritance Tax to bolster the NHS, but on both occasions was hastily slapped down by the Shadow Chancellor, who categorically ruled out both measures, for fear of being painted as a ‘tax and spend’ party. No, Labour’s official position is that the NHS deficit can be met by savings from the integration of social care services into the NHS. Tellingly, this was announced last week by junior Labour spokesperson Liz Kendall, and not Mr Burnham.

Possibly because the policy is nonsensical.

Supposing that administrative savings could be made, it’s doubtful that they would plug the deficit. The most optimistic estimate of savings is £8 billion a year- some 40% of the social care budget! It’s unlikely that administration consumes nearly half of social care spending, to say the least. It follows that all Labour would achieve is the postponement of the funding crisis by one or two years. Administrative savings cannot pay for the new hospitals, the thousands of extra hospital beds, the new doctors and nurses and the millions of extra prescriptions that Britain needs.

If Labour lacks answers, the Conservatives do not. They are pondering whether to adopt the NI-rise policy so foolishly discarded by Labour, or to accept the proposals made by Reform, the right-wing think tank. It seems Reform’s preferred method of sustaining Britain’s universal health service is not to sustain it. They propose a £120 per-year NHS ‘membership fee’, charges for overnight hospital visits and the means testing of continuing care. This is supplemented by ominous rumours of the next Conservative government imposing a £10 ‘administration fee’ for GP visits or charging patients for ‘self-inflicted’ health issues. These measures would certainly prevent the system becoming bankrupt, but it would be the end of the NHS as a ‘free’, collective public service.

The NHS will be on a sustainable footing- that is, will have the expanded resources it needs- within the next few years. The only question is if that will be achieved through higher public spending or the imposition of fees. Regardless of the calculations made by the evangelical Tory right, the public will not tolerate the latter. (Ultimately, I trust Labour to keep the service intact, even if it is currently in denial about what that will entail.) The extra NHS funding will come from higher taxation, which parties are choosing to reject, or even deeper spending cuts made elsewhere. But with the next Government inheriting a budget deficit of £70 billion and the Department for Work and Pensions, local authorities, schools and the student finance system all straining just to meet their legal obligations on the lowest possible budget, I can’t see any spare money lying around.

To Translate or Not to Translate?

The news that state subsidised translation services are being withdrawn for passport and driving license applicants has been largely ignored. Despite the significant implications of the move, the media have no doubt failed to pay attention because it was announced by Nick Clegg. He probably sought to gain the ‘credit’ for a popular policy in a bid to toughen the Liberal Democrats’ stance on immigration. The Deputy Prime Minister said:

Obtaining a passport and drivers’ licence is a privilege and ‘rite of passage’ in this country.

It is only right that someone gaining such rights should be able to speak English to an appropriate standard and I certainly don’t think everyone else should pay for them to use an interpreter or translation service if they can’t.

Withdrawing translation services has become something of a trend in recent years. They are a soft target for spending cuts, as they are both expensive and unpopular. It is completely fair to expect that those seeking the public services provided by our society should undertake to learn our language. What is not fair is to cut the translation services that a number of first generation immigrants depend on, and to cut the free English language classes that could give them independence. Statistics show that, if a migrant or asylum seeker does not already speak English upon entering the UK, they are likely to be poor and therefore unable to afford language classes. And yes, there are questions to be asked about an immigration policy that has created hundreds of thousands of British residents who can’t speak English. But creating policy that puts these people between a rock and a hard place won’t actually solve the problem. Moreover, some politicians have suggested compulsory language classes for all immigrants. That is a total waste of time and money given that many immigrants do speak English to a high standard.

Maybe our leaders should learn from the example set by Newham Council. The east London borough, according to the last Census, has a population that is just 16.7% White British. It is a centre for first generation migrants, and accordingly translation services were a huge expense. Newham directed the translation budget towards language classes, and it is expected to reap these benefits:

  • Better community cohesion. How can people relate to each other if they have no culture or language in common? Breaking down linguistic barriers is helping to end the virtual ghettoisation suffered by non-English speakers.
  • Safety for migrants. Non-English speakers are hugely vulnerable. We’re all familiar with horrific cases in which people have been unable to escape abuse or exploitation because they are unable to seek help.
  • Long-term savings. It is the equivalent of teaching somebody to fish rather than giving them a fish whenever they need one. Government bodies can save millions in the long term, as it is cheaper to provide someone, say, 100 hours of language classes than 15 hours of interpreter’s services for every year of their lives.

This represents a constructive approach that benefits all parties, rather than the draconian (and ultimately ineffective) approach adopted by central government in a futile attempt to enhance the each party’s ‘tough’ credentials.

Coalition Rocked by Warsi’s Resignation

 

The resignation of a Cabinet-rank minister at the Foreign Office over a controversial aspect of foreign policy was always going to hurt the Government. But when it comes nine months before a general election, and from one of the few a) women b) Muslims c) northerners d) non-Etonians in the Cabinet, the political costs are inflated further. The Coalition has come under increasing public pressure over its complicity, along with other Western governments, in the continued sale of weapons to Israel despite ubiquitous hand-wringing and condemnation by the same governments of the killing of 2,000 Palestinians by the Israeli Defence Force.

It is therefore unfortunate that some, like Tory backbencher Michael Fabricant, are interpreting Lady Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation as a stand on a ‘Muslim’ issue. The problems with the crude interpretation of the Israel/Palestine conflict as a religious issue must be obvious. Whilst it is true that the majority of Muslims tend to be more sympathetic to the Palestinians than the Israelis and vice versa, a large minority of Jews condemn the actions of the Israeli government. No, the conflict is, as far as its observers are concerned, more of an ethical matter than a religious one.

Let’s try to disregard the historical background to events in the Middle East. What would have seen before the present ceasefire is two nations, Nation A and Nation B. Nation A is flourishing and expanding into the fragmented territory of the other. It is well-defended and strong, but not enough to guarantee its civilians total security from the rockets that are fired from Nation B. Nation B, impoverished and overcrowded, has turned to a group of fanatics to lead it. The fanatics have dragged the nation into war in a desperate but violent bid to end the stranglehold Nation A has over it, through a blockade and the creeping annexation of its remaining territory (in defiance of international law). So the fanatics fired the rockets, in full knowledge that they could not defend their people from the torrent of bombs, bullets and missiles that Nation A would retaliate with. As hospitals, schools and power stations were destroyed, 2,000 died as the result of a futile gesture of hostility.

Would you give either side more weapons or ammunition with which to try to kill the other? Would arming either party not mean complying in the perpetuation of this violence?

Our governments appear to either not to agree, or not to care. The US is to allow its arms manufacturers to sell Israel the bullets it needs to replenish stocks used up this month. The UK government has opted to ‘review’ the export licenses local arms manufacturers have been awarded to ship weapons to Israel.

Baroness Warsi, a number of backbench Conservative MPs and the Liberal Democrats have all said that an immediate arms embargo should be enacted, at least until a permanent peace agreement is reached. Labour is doing an excellent job of sounding angry but not taking a decisive position. That is a shame, as if the Opposition, Lib Dems and Tory backbenches united, they could easily bend the Government to their will. If the UK led the way with an embargo, it could shame the US and other powers into following, increasing pressure on Israel to seek a sustainable peace settlement.

Iraq war refugees in Britain, new theatre play

Dear Kitty. Some blog

This video from Britain says about itself:

Nabil Elouahabi and Rashid Razaq discuss their new play, The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes, with Juliette Foster on Arise News, 17 July 2014.

By Joe Gill in Britain:

The power of nightmares

Tuesday 5th August 2014

Nabil Elouahabi tells JOE GILL how he came to produce and star in a new play about an Iraqi refugee in Britain

Nabil Elouahabi took the opening night bow at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston last week to loud applause for a play that he not only stars in but nurtured from an idea to its realisation.

Written by Evening Standard journalist Rashid Razaq and directed by Nicholas Kent, The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes tells the story of an Iraqi refugee who comes to Britain and changes his name to that of the famous Mexican writer in a semi-comical attempt to disguise his Arab origins and…

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