Saturday, 10 January 2009

Time for an association of political bloggers??

. Irfan Ahmed picks-up on a story about police being given the power to remotely access computers without a warrant. Obviously this is a disturbing development and one that needs to be resisted so, I thought it was worth turning to a question posed by Evan Price. Evan asks;

"Does anyone else think that we, as political bloggers, should form an association, where the priority will be to use the membership fees to purchase insurance for members to cover the costs of legal fees in circumstances where we are sued for defamation?"

I certainly do feel the time has come for the formation of an organisation like that especially given the high-profile of bloggers like Iain Dale, Guido Fawkes, Sunny Hundal and Mike Smithson. All are recognised figures within the mainstream media and as such would command respect and authority as voices for political bloggers.

Such an organisation would also to my mind necessarily have a slightly wider remit than insurance; taking up non-party political campaigns around the freedom of the internet and representing political bloggers as a distinct interest group within that sphere. Also, it would form a bridge between the political blogsphere and the mainstream media and politics as a whole so it could, for example facilitate the resolution of the infamous 'lobby pass' issue.

As it should be a cross-party and cross-ideological divide it may actually in the long run also enhance the quality of the political blogsphere in general as it brings people together and would facilitate more debate. So, all-in-all I think this is a good suggestion that should get off the ground but whether that happens is of course, dependent on what the wider blogsphere thinks...

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Musical chairs and the (shadow) Cabinet part 2; Will the Tories follow suit??

. So, Nick Clegg has announced his 'General Election team' and now the next question is logically will David Cameron follow suit?? Iain Dale gives us his thoughts on his blog; he thinks the speculation is damaging the Tories and he may well be right because if nothing else it conveys the impression of unease.

Of course, the big question is the will he/won't he speculation over the return of Kenneth Clarke. Here I have to agree with Iain's line that the exclusion from office on grounds of his stance over Europe is risible. One thing that will occur if they do continue to exclude Clarke on those is that more and more people will see the Conservatives as being unmodernised and still as being ideologically hidebound. Conversely, if Clarke does make a return it could well be seen (with some justification) as the elusive 'Clause IV' moment for Cameron. His mass appeal is also rightly noted and he has the unusual combination of being both an effective advocate of policy and a bit of a pugilist.

No doubt it is this that makes him so unattractive to the likes of Conservative Home; they obviously still feel threatened by having a big 'Pro' European so close to power. Falco helpfully illustrates this mentality;

"The problem is that he can be trusted absolutely. I have more respect for him than many EUrophiles because at least he is honest about it. That doesn't mean I would like to see him in any position to sell us down the river."

Iain goes onto say that he would offer Alan Duncan the transport brief (assuming Clarke gets business). He despairs at the attacks on Duncan on Conservative Home which incidentally, if the way George Osborne was treated wasn't evidence enough, is sound evidence that the Conservative Party is still something of a viperous nest when it comes to attempts at personal assassination. I don't think I would be as fulsome in my praise of Duncan as Iain is, he hasn't really shone out from under Osborne to me but there you go; he might flourish with a different brief.

The problem with bringing David Davis back is essentially finding somewhere to put him; if I was in David Cameron's boots what I might be tempted to do would be to create a special brief on civil liberties and give it to Davis. Obviously, this wouldn't carry over into government but it would be excusable for an opposition to do it and would harness Davis's (largely undeserved in my eyes) good reputation in this area. I don't expect Cameron to actually do this though since he won't want Davis's shadow cast over his own leadership.

As for party chairman I think Eric Pickles would be a virtual shoe-in but then again what do I know. Grayling got in a complete tis-was over Labour's benefits reform program; at first offering them support only to having to embarrassingly volte-face when it became clear that Cameron preferred inflicting a defeat on Labour too actually voting on the substantive policy. Over to you Mr Cameron....

Musical (shadow) Cabinet chairs part 1

. Nick Clegg has announced his reshuffle with details being on Liberal Democrat Voice and comment on Iain Dales Diary. I think Steve Webb did a creditable job in his position at Climate Change although his move across to the Work and Pensions brief is on-balance a good thing because this is going to be a key area in which we will have to hammer Labour.

Dale says that this is a 'missed opportunity' for Lynne Featherstone though I do note from the Liberal Democrat site that her brief will include overseeing the online campaigning that the party does. Given her enthusiastic response on her blog and her clear aptitude towards directing online campaigning I am going to have to be boring and again agree with this move.

My main disappointment is that Charles Kennedy was not returned to the team. Writing on Liberal Democrat Voice 'Letterman' made a persuasive case for his return. Also, I think the possible return of Kenneth Clarke to the Tory team (something that I am going to lay myself on the line and predict will happen) will mean that once again we will go ignored in the media.

'Letterman' rightly says that;

"What Gordon Brown was missing when he first took power was a John Prescott figure; the political attack dog that can rally the party’s base and energise its activists. He has now found an unlikely person to take up that mantle in Mandelson and is reaping the benefits. In turn, Cameron has Eric Pickles who is able to fire up the right whilst Cameron is free to ignore him.

Nick doesn’t have anyone like that and Charles is perfect for the role. Giving him the Innovation, Universities and Skills brief would suit Charles skills as a communicator perfectly."

All-in-all a rather mixed-bag.

Labour in Leeds throw their toys out of the pram

. Today's Yorkshire Evening Post carries a story of the most remarkable display of petty party-political foot-stamping by the Labour group. It concerns the nomination of the next Lord Mayor who in this case is a Councilor Judith Elliot; traditionally the main parties take it in turns to fill the post however, Elliot is a non-party independent and it was due this time to be Labour's 'turn'.

Cllr Keith Wakefield, leader of the City Council's Labour Group, summed up the pettiness of Labour's position;

"I have no problem with with Judith Elliot wanting to be Lord Mayor. But I do take exception to the fact it's at our expense."

Replying the leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Cllr Richard Brett, pointed out that Labour have provided 15 of the last 28 Lord Mayor's since 1980 and that the Liberal Democrats had to wait 20 years to provide their first one;

"It was a source of deep unhappiness that we were kept waiting. Perhaps because of our background we have sympathy with smaller parties".

Brett confirmed that Labour will have a chance to hold the post for 2010/11. A motion to allow smaller parties to hold the post was passed at full council. Elliot is a member of Morley Borough Independents which Labour claims wants to separate Morley from Leeds (though it is worth noting that this group took seats off Labour so you can perhaps see where the bitterness comes from). Commenting on the row she said it is "absolutely not true" that the group wants to separate from Leeds;

"We are doing our utmost both for our own wards and for the whole of Leeds so that is complete nonsense".

Having cast my eye over their website I can't see anything which suggests they are above and beyond a residents group; there is the usual focus in extremis on local issues but that is to be expected.

Israel/Palestine - not a 'holy war'

. I like reading Irfan Ahmed's blog however, I have to disagree with his current stance on the Israel/Palestine question very vigorously. Yesterday, he posted actually taking pride in Iain Dale's characterisation of the Liberal Democrats as an 'anti-Israel' party; an issue which I took-up with Iain in his comments section and there is also another excellent reply by Mark Valladares on his blog.

Irfan is however intent on pressing his case; having already caused some uproar in his comments section by referring to the 'disgusting' behaviour by 'the Jews' he carries on;

"The war between Palestine and Israel is a holy war and people need to remember that otherwise a solution will never take place."

Irfan goes onto say;

"When the Jews were attacked by Hitler because of their religion and looks they fled to Palestine and now the Muslim and Jews of Palestine are fighting holy wars."

This is wrong on so many levels it is untrue; it rather shows a hook-line-and-sinker swallowing of Hamas propaganda. While it is true that the majority of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are Sunni Muslim there are also 2-3,000 Christians who live in the Strip. Are they not under attack too?? If you hop over to the West Bank the figure becomes around 8% of the population.

What is more; as we well know many Jews oppose the state policy of Israel vigorously. The existence of organisations like Peace Now blows a giant hole in the argument that this is a 'holy war' and speaks ill of blanket condemnations of 'the Jews'. Does Irfan really think that members of Peace Now consider the Israeli Defence Force to be 'freedom fighters'?? Other Jewish organisations exist to oppose Israel's policy and call for peace; Brit Tzedek v'Shalom is an American grassroots Jewish organisation lobbying for peace.

Simplistic statements simply will not do when considering such complicated realities. How does Irfan's schema explain the existence of the above which is undeniable?? The reality of the Israel
/Palestinian conflict is that it is a national conflict which the demagogues of Hamas want to make a religious issue but it simply isn't; if Palestinians had a viable state which Israel allowed to flourish by it's side then the rocketeers, the 'destroy Israel' crowd would have no place in Palestinian society. Strengthened and emboldened moderates would soon gain ground and Hamas would be forced to adapt or would be quickly marginalised.

Israel may well self-define itself as a 'Jewish' state but the notion that this means it acts on behalf of or even with the consent of all Jews is complete and utter nonsense and is totally disproved by the facts. Anger at the actions of the Israeli state in Gaza is understandable and too a large degree justified however we must not allow that to be misdirected into a simplistic 'holy' hostility or else we are dangerously close to bigotry.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Government drags it's heels over Ghurkas

. A government review into the cases of Ghurkas who wish to settle in the UK has been delayed by three months the BBC reports. It says that despite the High Court's ruling that the governments immigration rules excluding UK Ghurkas who retired before 1997 was unlawful the government has yet to produce a new policy.

David Enright, a solicitor for the Ghurkas, says that the governments, which was expected to reach a decision before the end of 2008 now 'did not know' when one would be forthcoming. He threatened to return to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and ask it to enforce it's original ruling if the government did not come forward.

The Home Office said;

"The revised guidance is currently under consideration and will be issued as soon as possible. Once we have published the guidance all cases will be reviewed

"We are determined to get the guidance right to ensure that it is fair to all Gurkhas. This has involved consultation across government."

How not to criticise Israel...

. As regular readers will know I am a frequent critic of the policies of the state of Israel (and a few other states as it happens). However, when I saw Irfan Ahmed's highlighting of a comment by 'Pendle Truth' on Iain Dales Diary I felt the need to take exception. Pendle says;

"Firstly this is the first time I am commenting on this blog as I feel I can no longer breathe the dirty Zionist air that bloggers such as Dale have created or supported. It is a well known fact that Hamas has launched rockets into Israel, killing innocent people, yet I still do not support the action taken by Hamas, and Islam does condemn the taking of innocent lives."

I object strongly to the pejorative use of the term 'Zionist' to describe Israel's supporters mainly because it is a historically loaded-term. Critics of Israel have to do everything possible to distance themselves from anti-semitism; which is undoubtedly the hallmark of some of critiques of the Israeli state. Pendle's remarks are half-hearted in their condemnation of Hamas because they appear to concede the ground that Israel is not a legitimate nation-state while I, along with most of Israel's critics feel it is (regardless of the rights and wrongs of how it was formed).

Similarly, Charlotte Gore highlights the case of Old Holborn who has been forced to shut down his blog. Giving out bloggers details and making them the targets of death threats is deplorable and will be rightly seen as such however, Charlotte is rather 'soft-soaping' when she says Holborn was targeted for "expressing strong anti-Israel opinions". Holborn's comments on Iain Dales blog similarly came close to crossing the line;

"Israel is a supremacist society. It is a country founded on a religion. If you are not of that religion, you are not welcome."

Now, it is absolutely true that Israel is hardly a flower of virtue or the perfectly formed democracy that it is portrayed to be (partially due to the fact that ultra-religious parties hold so much sway in the Israeli political system). However, it still has the right to exist as a nation-state and the problem with that is that it will self-define as a majority want it too; is it acceptable for that state to then discriminate against minorities?? In my mind it is not and were I an Israeli I would be saying that part of winning peace is to change the culture of the nation as it is; however, how that criticism is made matters.

I fully except there is a reasoned non-'Zionist' case for supporting Israel's actions; I think that is the wrong case and I think Israel's supporters need to do Israel's critics the favour of admitting the same about the case against Israel; that it is not always motivated by prejudice.

Clegg calls for end to arms to Israel

. First, according to Facebook it is Nick Cleggs birthday so happy birthday and all the best wishes. Writing in the Guardian this morning it was heartening to see Clegg being forthright in his criticism of Israel and to make several important policy points. His indictment of the international community is telling and rings true; although it appears Barack Obama might be edging towards breaking his silence, saying he is "deeply concerned" by civilian casualties on both sides.

He is of course right to say that;

"Israel's approach is self-defeating: the overwhelming use of force, the unacceptable loss of civilian lives, is radicalising moderate opinion among Palestinians and throughout the Arab world."

Only this morning on Radio 4 I heard the comments of a Palestinian activist who had spoken to his Fatah-supporting brother in Gaza who said 'everyone was united against Israel as a common enemy'. Other issues exist that cohere people around Hamas like perceived Fatah corruption would also have to be addressed for Hamas to be undermined. However, Israel's attacks and blockade are two things that Israel can change if it really is serious about wanting to undermine Hamas.

Clegg calls on Brown to do two things; condemn 'unambiguously' Israel's tactics just like he 'has rightly Hamas's rocket attacks' and stop arms exports to Israel and apply pressure to other European Union countries to do the same. Frankly, this action is long overdue; the international community cannot criticise Iran for arming Hamas while at the same time continuing to arm Israel. It is hard to see how this is not one-sided and how it would be perceived (with a degree of justification) as a clear 'taking of sides'. This is damaging for a community that has a key role to play in brokering peace in the region.

Again correctly Clegg recognises that;

"the world's leaders must accept that their response to the election of Hamas has been a strategic failure."

He calls for;

"An EU mission with a serious mandate and backing from Egypt and Israel"

to police the Egypt-Gaza border. I would go further and say there needs to be an international presence on the Israel-Gaza border to ensure Israel is ceasing it's blockading activities. Of course, Clegg wouldn't go that far but the logic of a mission on one border makes it all the more sensible on the other; again it is a question of balance. Finally, Clegg rightly says that Hamas must turn it's back on terrorism but the way it will do that is when Israel recognises that it has to diplomatically engage with Hamas on some level. All-in-all a welcome policy statement from Clegg on this crisis which strikes the balance needed.

A motion worthy of note....

. As we all know Spring Conference is fast coming-up; below is a motion from ALTER which I find very worthy of support as it reaffirms some basic values to my mind;


TOWARDS A NEW “PEOPLE’S BUDGET”

Conference

celebrates 2009 as the centenary of the last great reforming Liberal Government’s “People’s Budget”, Parliamentary rejection of which helped entrench poverty and exacerbate wealth inequality in Britain to the detriment of subsequent generations;

maintains that a free, fair and sustainable society can only arise when tax is switched from wealth creation to wealth appropriation and from value added to value removed;

notes that the Party's current tax policy was agreed prior to the present UK recession.


Accordingly, Conference

reaffirms the progressive legacy of the “People’s Budget” through Liberal Democrat commitments to switch the fiscal burden from productivity to pollution and privilege;

endorses Liberal Democrat plans to cut the basic rate of income tax by 4%, targeting waste and inefficiency and closing tax avoidance loopholes for those most able to pay;

asserts the need for subsidiarity and choice in tax raising powers, so redistributive and sustainable fiscal best practice can emerge locally and regionally as well as nationally.

Conference therefore calls on the Party’s Treasury Team to

i. begin the work identified in our 2006 policy paper Fairer Simpler Greener, to enlarge the tax base through land taxation and lift National Minimum Wage earners out of tax;

ii. demand infrastructure investment and associated job creation by government spending money into circulation, rather than by inflationary debt-based borrowing from banks;

iii. explore the feasibility of a charge (post-recession) on the untaxed monopoly privilege of private banks to create, from nothing, interest-bearing deposits of British sterling;

iv. develop various tax options for local and devolved government during 2009, consistent with our enduring vision and values – and worthy of a 21st Century “People’s Budget”.


***UPDATE*** ALTER can be found here...

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Cable 'worried' by lift of short-selling ban...

. When blame finally does become an issue for the current economic mess then regulators will be scrutinised heavily. I can't help but feel the Financial Services Authority decision to lift the ban on short-selling UK shares will not be looked upon kindly in that light.

Short-selling is when investors borrow shares in a company which they then sell in the hope of buying them back later at a lower price. So, surely Cable is right to say banks will now be able to 'gamble against the tax payer' who has just lashed a considerable amount on trying to save the financial sector.

Cable said;

“I’m worried about the fact they’re lifting the ban and don’t see the necessity for it. This wasn’t just a British ban. It was recognised to be dangerous…when it got out of hand. I believe it has a role to play, but we’re talking about one part of stock here, we’re talking about banks."

Summing it up rather neatly he carried on;

“When you have a fire raging you don’t start throwing more paraffin around and making it worse.”

Will the Tory tax plans have appeal??

. Just in case people are in doubt this is the one with text unlike the one Blogger kindly published without. The first thing of note to my mind is that we would be wrong to underestimate their appeal to a certain constituency. I have seen numerous 'Cost of living' surveys expressing concern about the issues facing savers and abolishing tax on savings for basic rate payers will appeal to those voters who express those concerns.

Demographically, they are likely to appeal to what is a core Conservative constituency; ie, older voters who actually have savings to worry about and who may or may not be dependant on those savings. However, the obvious problem is that there is no guarantee that this money will be spent; furthermore, low interest rates which are going to exist until the cash starts flowing round the system again, are likely to offset any 'gains' that people make. Let's look at the figures the Tories are claiming. The party estimates someone earning £800 a year from savings would be £160 a year better off. However, if this was placed in an account with a 3% interest rate they would have to have already saved around £26,000.

In cutting it for basic rate payers, ie, those on the low incomes they are actually targeted at the people least likely to be able to save and who have not been saving up until now. Another fatal flaw exists; lowest income brackets are obviously those most likely to be adversely affected by cuts in public spending (which admittedly could in turn lead to them spending more and saving less). However, the spend will be on areas of provision where the state used to provide so in terms of stimulating growth again we are left with a minimal impact. Similarly, raising the savings allowance for pensioners sounds good but if it is offset by a cut in the state pension are in effect robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In short, these measures have all the appearance of being amazingly muddled and are to a large extent counter intuitive to economic thinking. Politically, they seem to make some sense to me however, the question has to be asked what they actually bring to supporting people outside a key Conservative demographic.

Even the Daily Telegraph points out;

"Faced with a mountain of debt and the prospect of deflation, government policies should be aimed at either encouraging people to go out and spend or to pay back debt – and preferably both."

To my mind David Cameron's proposals are unlikely to help with either; as is pointed out logically speaking they lack all sense of timing. It is yet another example of how they are struggling to get to grips with the changed agenda following the economic crash. Encouraging saving may have made sense some years ago when levels of credit were still running high and could have cut against a debt culture but the reality is that the horse has already bolted.

If this isn't a humanitarian crisis then what is??

. Alot of Israeli propaganda in the conflict has been focused around trying to convince the international community that it is doing it best for Gaza's civilians. The reality of Israel's position is however it is doing just enough so it can say it is doing something; but the evidence is stacking up that it is doing nowhere near enough. The International Herald Tribune carries a report on the comments of Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the head of operations for the International Red Cross.

Since the Red Cross is clearly a neutral party it is hard for those who deny the damage Israel is doing to paint it as some kind of apologist. Kraehenbuehl says that the situation of Palestinian civilians is "extreme and traumatic as a result of 10 days of uninterrupted fighting." He goes onto warn that power supplies could collapse at any moment leaving 500,000 people without clean water and vulnerable to disease.

Meanwhile, extracts from Gazan blogs confirm the direness of the situation. A Canadian human rights activist in Gaza writes;

How to explain this feeling? I am physically numb to the explosions, not that i am in any way brave, but just physically unaffected. This is useful, it allows me to continue to write, to photograph, to speak. But my rational side which is continuing these things.

Tellingly, she says " any home is a target, any place is a target, the whole of Gaza is a target".

Meanwhile, 'Exiled' says;

"I am still alive, but not OK.And at any moment I may be within sight of death, and will be OK.Only the dead are safe in Gaza.I left my flat and my wife and I went to the family home, but not searching for a safe place from the bombing.I want to be next to my mother in such circumstances.I am not a hero; like my young nephew I am trembling from the explosive metal sound in the air nearby.But I hold back my trembling in embarrassment; I am not a hero."

From Gaza with Love carries a message from Gaza which says;

"I want to write about suffering of my people and my family in these days In my house we can't get basic needs such as, No foods, No bread ,and Natural gasYesterday , my father went to bakery from 5 AM he waited 5 hours even get one Abundle of bread."

It is quite right that Nick Clegg has called for European Union trade arrangements with Israel to be suspended. Meanwhile, the demonstrations will doubtless continue...

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Orange Book online??

. I thought I would throw this one open to the blogsphere....any idea where I can find the Orange Book in PDF??

Crime and Punishment...

. This is a hard blog for me to write; I pride myself on trying to keep the personal and the political separate but on this occasion feel I can't, besides there is an element of catharsis. I hope the reader will indulge me just this once. I was mugged yesterday; my assailant asked me for a cigarette and lighter which I provided and then I was told not to move or be beaten while he frisked the rest of my pockets. I lost about £50 cash and my mobile phone and it seems somewhere along the line a bit of self-esteem too.

By far the worse feeling is a feeling of responsibility; I attempted to shout for help and was passed by (understandably) and gave momentary chase but I do feel I could have done more and that I 'asked for it' in a way. Rationally, I know neither of those things is true but that doesn't stop me feeling that way; and nothing will. Successful prosecution is unlikely because he had his face mostly concealed and even if it happened I know it would not change how I am feeling right now.

Words cannot begin to describe the whirl of fear and anger I felt as the event happened. It is all very much a blur and I have kept it that in a rather lame attempt at emotional suppression. I can walk out of my door and intend to keep doing so; I don't intend to let this make me a prisoner though right now I am in intermittent floods of tears and I know its going to be a few days before I am back to normal.

Politically, I don't intend to change any of my positions though I now know first-hand how tempting it is to want vengeance. Since it was an opportunist crime and the offender clearly was desperate I cant help but feel that confronted with the consequences of his actions he might change. I see no harm in bringing an offender face-to-face with their victim if it is possible in controlled circumstances; it might even show some people the damage they do and change their ways.

Looking at the debate on Liberal Conspiracy I can't help wanting the police to concentrate on catching criminals. Anti-social behaviour is something the community has to deal with within legal terms. Also, incidentally I know I am in no fit emotional state to determine a just punishment so cannot see how Labour's proposals to give people a say over punishments would be just; and as for putting the victim first as the Conservatives want to do, well, as I said restorative justice is simply an alien concept to my mind. Nothing can compensate me for how I feel now; nor can it compensate my poor partner for having to watch me go through this. The crucial thing is that victims have the support they need to work through their emotions; something which I now am trying to do.

Luckily, I am blessed in the support offered me. My partner deserves thanks for her above-and-beyond supportiveness. I would also like to publicly thank Leeds North West Liberal Democrats who have been very supportive and understanding (I was coming back from a leaflet drop at the time). Finally, I want to thank West Yorkshire Police who I know are doing everything they can and responded swiftly and efficiently.

Crime and punishment is a highly emotive political issue for precisely the reasons I am now feeling. This blog has been an attempt to offer a perspective....normal service will soon be resumed and I will be back to my usual, abrasive, self. :)

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Cameron and 'ethical capitalism'

. Blogging is going to be light over the next couple of days while I venture out into the real world of leaflet delivering etc and spend some quality time with my partner.

Conservative Home brings us news of David Cameron's call for a more 'ethical capitalism'. He explains this as meaning a capitalism where business is 'not just about making money'. Business should recognise that it has 'real responsibilities'. Of course, this sounds very nice and wholesome but as we should realise is the case with Cameron in just about everything he says concrete detail of what the fluffy words actually mean is a little thin on the ground.

Let's try and fill in the gaps for good ol' honest Dave (who, yes, does remind me of a dodgy used car salesman). Business taking 'real responsibility' is presumably code for 'let business do it instead of the state regulating'. What else can it actually mean?? It's a well established fact that businesses can and do make donations to charity and some are active in their local community. This is a good thing but does nothing to change the underlying rationale of business, the market or anything else you care to mention. However, it could, on one level be said to be representative of an 'ethical dimension' to capitalism.

People will look at things like the success of Fairtrade and say this proves capitalism can operate in a humane way. However, it proves nothing of the kind; such things are successful because the movement of consumptive behaviour and pressure makes such things actually profitable and worth-while. In other words far from proving the inherent virtue of the market it actually proves the reverse case; that the market operates in an ethical way as a result of outside pressure.

Now, you may argue; fine, so leave it to consumers to regulate the market and all will be well. However, there are cases where this is simply not possible due to a number of factors. For example, the size of a market, necessity or scarcity and monopoly can leave companies practically immune to consumer pressure. So, there are cases where practically the state is the only body capable of providing the controls necessary and state regulation is the only 'ethical' route to take. All is well and good when there is no conflict between the rationale of the market and a certain amount of philantrophy and/or ethical behaviour. However, once that changes and the two things come into conflict then which way does the market jump?? I think we all know the answer to this one.

I have to admire the honesty of the first contributor to the debate on Conservative Home. James Maskell says;

"Theres a difference between ethical capitalism and capitalism where no one loses out. Ethical capitalism exists to a certain point already. In capitalism people do lose out but thats the way this economic system works... There are always losers in recessions and recessions are a natural part of the business cycle."

So, the question to the delightful Mr Cameron has to be inevitably what does his party propose to do about the 'losers' James rightly talks about?? No amount of 'ethics' will persuade a business to keep people on at a loss. Social responsibility is not the same thing as social welfare; and Cameron's rather Victorian reliance of charities is so utopian as to defy belief, the notion that charities are in a better position than the state to help Cameron's 'deserving' poor than the state is rather shot to pieces by the current hemorrhaging of cash charities are experiencing.

In reality, what David Cameron is showing us is that the Conservative Party has become almost stupidly desperate to find a narrative within this crisis. He is showing us that the right is experiencing a similar crisis to the one that the left endured post the collapse of the Soviet Union. Suddenly, it's system is looking weak and vulnerable and a loss for words has occurred; this should present the left with an opportunity to re-articulate core values and establish itself some political credibility. However, only time will tell if this is what will happen....

Friday, 2 January 2009

Right and Left - the 'Diaspora' turns against Israel

. Interesting article in Haaretz by Anshel Pfeffer which seeks to document the attitudes of non-Israeli Jews. One of the most frequent charges laid at the door of critics of Israel, often used to stymie debate, is that it is somehow 'anti-Semitic' to criticise Israel's actions. However, while this is the case in a minority of instances it is far from the majority viewpoint.

According to Pfeffer many simply are 'not interested' busy as they are over the holiday season. Amoung the concerned Pfeffer identifies three strands of opinion; those who see only the trauma of innocent Israelis in Sderot, Ashkelon etc, the critical radical-left and those who;

"have more complex and uncomfortable feelings on the matter. They care deeply for Israel and understand even why its government felt compelled to launch the devastating Operation Cast Lead, but they are extremely disturbed and hurt by the level of civilian deaths and destruction that almost seems part and parcel of the action".

It really is not acceptable for Israel's defenders to cast doubt about the intent of it's critics nor determine their stance by the feelings a minority who do criticise it from that standpoint. Cheapening the debate in that way suggests to me that some people know they have a weak case. Only seeing one side of the suffering of the people in both countries really does nobody any favours. I will leave the last words to a friend of Pfeffer's who puts it rather well;

"I just couldn't understand how the other people in the office were just incapable of acknowledging there was any real suffering on the Palestinian side, and that Israel has a significant portion of the responsibility for that," said to me a friend working in one of those organizations in London. "I feel so alone because no one seems to understand how torn I feel about this. I understand Israel's position very well and to a degree identify with the reasons for launching the operation, but why are none of them saddened by children dying? They don't even seem to see these reports."

Thursday, 1 January 2009

New Years resolutions 'make people feel worse'

. Slight detour from politics here to a seasonal story. The mental health charity, Mind, has warned people not to make New Years resolutions that focus on 'physical imperfections' because they can lead to a negative self-image.

Paul Farmer, Mind Chief Executive, said;

"New Year's resolutions can sometimes focus on our problems or insecurities such as being overweight, feeling unhappy in our jobs or feeling guilty about not devoting enough time to friends and family throughout the year."

We chastise ourselves for our perceived shortcomings and set unrealistic goals to change our behaviour, so it's not surprising that when we fail to keep resolutions, we end up feeling worse than when we started."

I have to confess to not having made any this year. I wonder out loud if any of my readers have...

Independent - Voters 'warm to Clegg' when they see him in action

. Seems the New Year has started with a couple of interesting Lib Dem stories appearing in the media. This one is from The Independent. It says that although Clegg is 'invisible' and 'unknown' that private polling for the Liberal Democrats has found that voters warm to Clegg when they are actually aware who he is; which may hint that our main problem is recognition. It says;

"Mr Clegg's biggest problem is that voters simply do not know him and "cannot put a face to his name". However, they liked him when they were shown photographs of him and a DVD of him being interviewed on television. The research also suggests that there is a "gap in the market" for the Liberal Democrat leader, because he is seen as more trustworthy and less remote than Gordon Brown and David Cameron."

It also points to the fact that voters are unconvinced by Gordon Brown 'feeling their pain'; something I can understand given his public 'clunking fist' nature. However, this doesn't reflect on views of his competency so may not be as damaging as it first sounds. Apparently, David Cameron is 'too posh' to be considered 'one of us'. Perhaps surprisingly, the data concludes that Clegg is still better known than Vince Cable.

***For More See**** Irfan Ahmed

Lib Dems to consult with senior civil servants

. Interesting piece in The Guardian this morning; it reports that senior members of Nick Clegg's frontbench team will meet with Whithall officials to discuss the Liberal Democrat manifesto. The prospect of a hung-parliament is taken that seriously that it reports officials are 'dusting down the tomes' from February 1974 when Ted Heath stubbornly clung onto power despite having four seats less than Harold Wilson.

A Whitehall source is quoted as saying;

"You take the Liberal manifesto seriously not because you think it is going to be the government's programme. But there could be a hung parliament and deals around constitutional change or proportional representation [electoral reform.]"

Charles Kennedy turned down an offer to be involved in a similar process in 2005. However, Nick Clegg has accepted the invitation saying it shows 'how seriously' we take the policy making process. The Conservatives will also be involved in the process and Clegg will not be involved until Gordon Brown has kickstarted the process with David Cameron. Surely, this is highly interesting as an indicator of election timing?? If Brown had no intention of calling an election for another year then the whole exercise seems pointless to me this early on...

***For More See*** Irfan Ahmed and Liberal Democrat Voice

Happy New Year to all...

. The sky is alight across Leeds...Happy New Year to all my readers and all the best for 2009 :)