Archive for March, 2011

18
Mar
11

Finally, the UN steps in- but is it too little, too late?

I was, yesterday, poised to construct an article pointing out the absence of US intervention, or at least appetite for intervention, regarding the current crisis in Libya. This time last night however, the Security Council of the United Nations passed a resolution that created a no fly zone over the embattled nation. Does this change anything however? Is it enough? Upon closer analysis of the international decision, would an article such as the one I came close to creating have retained meaning and accuracy?
Stolen in a shameless fashion from leftfootforward

Now is not really the time for musing over the precise effectiveness of such measures- and it’s probably for the best that I give you the short answers to these questions first; yes, the measures do change everything. Yes, the sanctions placed on the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya regime to protect the burgeoning democratic Libyan Republic are, for the moment and for the foreseeable future, enough. Ultimately then, no, my commentary that came ever so close to existence would have been outdated and inaccurate. For the most part.

What, you didn’t think I would admit to being completely presumptuous about an issue this important, did you? Guilty of exaggerated snap judgements I may be; unwarrantedly or impertinently bold I am not.

As for the question regarding any actual change in the situation, an altering in what had become a grim status quo, involving revolutionaries being slaughtered and pushed back by brutal Gaddafi offences, has already occurred- a ceasefire order has recently been issued to all pro-regime forces. For a decision alone to be so instantly respected without initial immediate enforcement is intriguing, and if this is the kind of reaction what is essentially ‘tough talking’ can illicit, sans any supporting foreign exertion, then the UN’s will physically being acted out will be sure to have the desired effect.

You won’t often find me extolling the virtues of our current Prime Minister’s statements, but in this instance, he is quite right- Gaddafi should indeed be judged by ‘his actions, not his words’. At time of writing, the ceasefire is in essence just that, an order. It remains to be seen whether or not regime forces obey it, and whether or not, truthfully, such an order has actually been communicated. As a matter of fact, presently, despite the command, violence appears to be resuming in some areas of the region regardless.

Second question- does the content of the resolution go far enough? When combined with the fact that Gaddafi would lose many of his international funders and supporters if he violates any sort of UN directive (many of which are vital to his continued reign) the knee-jerk instruction to his forces indicates that yes, the Mad Dog of Libya himself considers it to be ‘enough’. The question itself is somewhat redundant now however. US president Barack Obama has delivered an ultimatum to Gaddafi, that, while rather ominous in some regards, blatantly threatens the dictator with force if he does not comply with the UN. The sanction package is rather  nicely both supplemented and exceeded by the president’s wise choice of words.

So the final question I posed- is criticism of the level of US willingness to protect innocents (and my nipped-in-the-bud article) still valid, has partly been answered by this. Obama’s strong declarations represent a reinforcement of American authority and dedication to defending people. Here, though, comes the justification for the aforementioned ‘for the most part’ remark. Irrespective of support for UN demands and powerful warnings made by the head of state, America has yet to properly, passionately, spiritually and materially commit. Numerous unofficial sources out there mention a lack of both public and governmental ‘keenness’ for full scale involvement in the matter on any level. While this may have something to do with the cost of maintaining what the UN plans detail, such reports are disturbing to say the least. They are backed up by a distinct missing USAF element in the collection of international aircraft en route to Libya at time of writing. While the British and French airforces make preparations, despite the Americans maintaining a significant presence at the NATO base of operations on nearby Sicily, no action appears to be in motion. It is a simple fact that without the military might of the USA behind it, a no fly zone or any measure like it is nothing more than a dream. Hopefully this will change in the coming hours.

While the situation is still in a state of flux, it is safe to remain optimistic for the time being, and to put faith in the UN resolution. As long as America, to be blunt, ‘gets its act together’ in supporting the international effort, there is apparently a glimmer of hope for the rebels of Benghazi, and of course, of the entire of the Libyan nation.

I leave you with the official line of our party regarding events as of 18 March 2011 16:54:56 GMT, conveyed by Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander MP.

MH

“As you will have no doubt have seen, last night the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on Libya.

I wanted to write to you at the earliest opportunity to let you know Labour’s position as Ed Miliband set out in the House of Commons this morning.

Any decision to commit British armed forces is a grave and serious one and must be based on a clear and compelling case.

In this instance it is based on the clear evidence of Colonel Gaddafi brutalising his own people in response to their demand for democratic change.

It is action backed in the region, most importantly in the clear resolution of the Arab League. And it is backed now by a legal mandate from the United Nations.

The resolution aims to prevent the slaughter of the people of Benghazi.

It authorises force to protect the civilian population in Libya and establish a no-fly zone, while at the same time making clear there is no mandate and no appetite for a “foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.

Of course the responsibility for this crisis rests squarely with the Gaddafi Regime, but by this Resolution the United Nations has now placed a responsibility on its members to act to protect the Libyan people.

Next week, the House of Commons will vote on the deployment of British military force as our contribution to this international effort.

Labour will support that decision by the Government. No one – not Ed Miliband, Jim Murphy, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, myself as Shadow Foreign Secretary, or the Shadow Cabinet – takes this decision lightly.

We have been ready to criticise the Government when they have been slow off the mark evacuating British nationals from Libya and I have asked tough questions of the Foreign Secretary about the unsuccessful mission to contact opposition forces in Benghazi.

But on the question of military action, Labour has been clear from the outset that all options should be on the table, given the record of the Gaddafi regime.

And today, Ed Miliband said in a debate in the House of Commons “it would be quite wrong given what is happening in Libya for us to stand by and do nothing”.

Already, today the Gaddafi regime have suggested they will implement an immediate ceasefire, but this regime must be judged on its deeds and not simply its words.

Tomorrow in Paris leaders from Europe and across the Arab world will discuss the way ahead in light of the Security Council Resolution.

The situation remains fluid. I will endeavour to provide more information to Labour members who I know will have deep concerns not only for the people of Libya, but for our own armed forces personnel and the future of the wider region. If you would like to read the UN Security Council Resolution, it is available here.

As Ed said in the Commons, in the days ahead, as befits the Official Opposition, we will support this mission to protect civilian lives, while asking the questions of the Government that the British public would expect us to, and making clear our support for the Armed Forces in the difficult days ahead.”

18
Mar
11

Trapped in Debt

The understandable anger felt by students over the rise in tuition fees will now have been aroused again with yesterdays news that many graduates will be paying over double the amount they borrowed back throughout their life. Shamefully Nick Clegg has tried to present these reforms as being ‘fair’ for students, however no one is in doubt that there cannot be anything fair in the tripling of fees. The news yesterday concerned research that had been carried which revealed the true extent of what students can be expecting to pay back during their life. It appears from this research that a whole generation of young people will be submerged and trapped in a lifetime of debt and repayment.

The research has been carried out by leading accountants and their findings are truly shocking. With the £9,000 a year tuition fee a student who graduates and finds a job earning the average first salary of £25,000 will pay back in their lifetime over £80,000 in loan repayments. This is a worrying find in that it appears, through the interest rates, that a graduate will be paying back double than what they borrowed to study at university. Clearly this indicates that any young person who wishes to go to university to pursue and develop their skills and to continue their learning will be expected to carry with them a debt for life, this could be seen as a punishment for young people who wish to study further. Surely the idea that young people should pursue a degree at university to enhance their skills and to better their lives is now a false prophecy as instead all they will be doing is leaving themselves a mountain of debt to climb later in their life.

Young people from richer backgrounds will have the ability for their fees to paid of for them by the financial backing at home. Similarly some students will have no need for a maintenance loan due to the fact they have the money at home to use to cover all the daily costs from studying at university. However a student from a poor background who wishes to go to university will have no option but to take out a loan and spend a life-time paying this debt back. This is incredibly unfair as the deterrence to go to university will be immense for a poorer student who will clearly not wish to submerge their heads in such high levels of debt. Clearly it can be argued the choice to go university is being slowly eroded away for young people from working-class backgrounds, this cannot be right in any democratic country as the right to education should be based on your ability to learn and not your ability to pay.

Yesterday on the BBC Breakfast show David Willets, the Minister for Universities, defended his policy claiming it was still fair for students. His argument rested on the fact that students will be paying less a month in their repayments and so the burden will of course be lower each payment; this for him is fair despite the fact he acknowledged that students will paying back the debt over a longer period of time. Although it may sound well that payments each month will be lower it has to be remembered that students will be paying back more overall due to the fact fees are higher. Similarly if payment each month is lower thus extending the length of time in which the debt has to be paid of the interest paid on this debt will of course be high as graduates will be taking longer to pay it off. There again appears to be nothing fair about this at all.

David Willets - Minister for Universities and Science

It is also worrying that students are facing this debt with not much prospect of finding a job when finishing their degree. There is a real struggle for graduates in trying to find work after completing their studies which will obviously hinder any chance of beginning to pay of any student debt as early as possible. Not only this but graduates who do find a job will also have the struggle of trying to gain a loan to pay for a house or a car. Along with the debt to pay from studying at university it is clear to see this generation will spend the majority of their wages in debt and loans.

In the documentary ‘Sicko’ by Michael Moore, Tony Benn said that one way in which a government can control it’s people is through the use of debt. This is because in debt people become miserable and down-trodden and through this they will not, for example, go out to vote or voice their opinion because of the fact there are demoralised and disinterested. It appears with this recent research that a whole generation of young people will be gripped with the chains of debt throughout their life, paying back almost double than what they borrowed in their student loan. Along with insurance and mortgages a whole generation will now spend the majority of their lives living in debt. What kind of society do we have in which this is now the prospect for so many young people?

A Mountain of Debt

JW

09
Mar
11

tory twit of the ….fortnight

Personally, this blogger has not had too much against our most recent twit. In fact, his yorkshire accent and relatively down-to-earth nature has always made him seem one of the few real humans in the cabinet, if not the only one in the government.

However he has recently had a much increased workload due to the problems in Libya and this has shown us all that whilst his darlek-like monotonous tones may have earned him over £1million on the lecture circuit, his work behind the scenes running the Foreign Office has perhaps turned the rolls royce diplomacy of the past into something more akin to a reliant robin (as Andrew Neil put it on last thursday’s “this week”).

First there was the botched rescuing of British nationals from the war-torn state last week, with Britain being a lot slower than many other countries, partly due to a civilian plane with problems before take off (well all the army planes have been scrapped), and more recently there was the very strange ‘diplomatic’ mission to Libya which involved multiple passports and some strong links to the NHS.

Throughout all this, this tory twit has been giving out confused information on Gaddafi’s whereabouts and strength, showing a complete lack of coherent knowledge in the international situation as well as an inability to take positive steps that will achieve anything substantial.

For Services to Stupidity: William Hague MP

 

HB

 

07
Mar
11

Say what!? to AV

The debate over the alternative vote (AV) once again arose last week during the Conservative Party Spring Conference. Speeches made by Cameron, Osborne and Clarke all took time to criticize the upcoming referendum which is of course inevitable as this is something the Tories clearly do no want. In their favour however this is possibly the one compromise, of any, they had to make to gain power when compared to the compromises the Liberal Democrats have had to make. Despite this the Tories, along with the No to AV campaign, will have to fight against the Yes to AV campaign, the Liberals and Clegg who of course will have nothing to carry on governing for if this referendum is lost. Not only have the recent speeches brought the debate over AV back to the public spotlight it has also shown a glimpse of how little the leading Tories value Nick Clegg for: which is of course very little indeed.

Kenneth Clarke told conference in his speech that they should vote for AV if they wish to see ‘odder politics’. This was said due to the fact the Clarke believes AV will bring about more extreme politics, a change in the voting system is in his view is likely to give a platform for the smaller but more dangerous parties in our country. We cannot be sure of how true this is but it is of course a line of argument we will hear again and again from the Tories who clearly want to sway people against AV because the chance of them ever being elected again will be highly demolished if AV comes to be our new system.

George Osborne also took time in his speech to talk about AV, he began by saying that ‘on AV I agree with Nick’. For a second you would have been fooled into thinking he was about to support the Yes campaign but he then followed this up by stating that ‘it is, as he says, a miserable little compromise’. This was of course met with laughter and applause at the conference and again it is obvious as to why he is against this possible change. However this little joke could possibly indicate the true lack of respect that the leading Tories have for Nick Clegg. To use him as a but of a joke on a matter of policy that the Liberal Democrats have fought for over many years clearly shows the contempt they have for their Coalition partners.

This clearly begs the question of what is Nick Clegg getting out of being in this Coalition? If his parties long fought for reforms are not even taken seriously then why should he continue to allow the parties reputation to be ruined to help prop up the Conservatives? For all the comprises that have been made it has to be asked whether or not it has been worth it. The recent result in the Barnsley by-election demonstrates just how much anger is felt towards them and as such would seem to indicate that all their comprises have come at a huge cost.

With the referendum fast approaching in May the debate over AV temporarily rose again during the Tory spring conference. The Conservative position is of course an obvious one; a change in our voting system will seriously harm their chances of ever coming into power again and if AV was to come to be then this would be a major blow for them. However the recent reflection over AV also demonstrated how Nick Clegg is clearly not very much valued in this Coalition, to be the butt of the Chancellor’s jokes is deffiantley not a good sign of value or respect. After breaking their promises on the cuts, the VAT rise, trident and tuition fees this referendum represents the only possible advantage of being in this Coalition for the Liberal Democrats. If this referendum is lost then what cause will there be for the Liberal Democrats to continue on in this government?

JW

05
Mar
11

Round Up of the week #2.

Despite the Parliamentary recess this has been a busy week for some politicians even if this doesn’t include Nick Clegg.

Jeremy Hunt gave the Rupert Murdoch BskyB deal the green light, to the horror of many, whether this will lead to a disturbingly right-wing FOXNEWS channel in the UK in the future remains to be seen; but one thing that is for sure is that it demonstrates his control over our current government.

Steve Bell- the Guardian.

The Violent Battles between Col. Gaddafi’s forces and those seeking to oust him continue, with more bloodshed. Will there be Military intervention from the west? Do these leaderless revolts signal the end of charismatic leaders such as Ghandi to be replaced with Facebook?

One VERY good result this week was however in the Barnsley Bi-election where Labour won with the largest increase in vote since 1997, with the Libdems coming 6th behind Labour, UKIP, the Conservatives, the BNP and an Independent.

There was also a YES vote in the Welsh referendum to give the Assembly more powers. The Turnout was, however disappointing at around 35%

The week’s best links:

Polly Toynbee’s amazing column on the public sector job cuts

Ed Balls’ article on the personal issue of Stammers and The King’s Speech

David Miliband comments on Cameron’s ‘muscular liberalism’ concerning the far-right and the politics of hate

HB

04
Mar
11

The death of the charismatic leader figure

Regarding the recent wave of protests across the Middle East, in addition to the obvious alterations in the way various countries in the region will be run in the future, another change has occurred as a result of these movements that few seem to have noticed or at least voiced opinion on. That is the apparently complete absence of traditional leader figures- men and women who that in days gone by used to spur on action and inspire the people, leading them in revolution- indeed, the kind of individual that Colonel Gaddafi may once have been classified as; the coup d’état he led was bloodless and swift in huge part due to the fact that, at the time, he was seen by the populace as an entity very akin to what his current title proclaims him to be: a ‘Brotherly Leader and Guide’.

Gone are the times of ‘revolutionary drivers’ such as George Washington above. In a bizarre way then, one could construe events in Libya as part of a larger rejection of ‘big personalities’ by the masses- a rebellion against a man who has for most of recent history stood as a lone representative of that nation and its people. That is not the primary point here though. The true way in which these ‘chiefs of change’, regardless of whether or not they maintain an altruistic purpose after the initial seizing of power, or develop into evil dictators, are being made obsolete is not through what the protests (or more accurately, uprisings) are seeking to achieve, but in the way they are being instigated and conducted- in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya, they are displays proving that the force of the people alone can achieve transformation, and that there is no need for the majority to have one individual form their voice or outlet of opinion and/or emotion, evidenced by the fact that in all of these instances, there simply hasn’t been a singular character that claims to (or actually does) epitomise the outcry.

It’s an interesting development for sure. Are people as a whole more intelligent and capable of expressing themselves? Is it the the ‘Facebook Revolution‘ aspect of these mobilisations, with groups able to more effectively plan, as well as coordinate strategies and techniques independently, that has allowed for the revolts to remain pure and populist, without them being taken by the reigns by a sole person, for better or for worse? Let me emphasise that while men such as Gaddafi and even Hitler have, in being the personal heads of their respective national shifts in administration and power, taken advantage of legitimate unrest and discontent for evil ends, revolutionary leaders need not be an exclusively negative aspect of change. As seen here, Ghandi captured the spirit of the people, conveyed their wishes in a way that the British understood, and made his leadership a story of personal sacrifice that further inspired the masses- quite a difference to the aforementioned familiar stories of exploitation, rising dictatorship and deprivation of freedom that other men of charisma have perpetrated.

Above is a man who freed a part of the world in chains, that was in a very similar position to areas of the Middle East, previous to this slow ascent to freedom that is now progressing. Lech Walesa of Poland was a trade union activist who, together with his own group, ‘Solidarity‘, lead much of Eastern Europe (Poland mainly, inspiring people of other areas in the region) in a form of revolution, out of the darkness of Soviet oppression towards an independent, free rule removed from communism. This situation forms a direct contrast to all of the separate contemporary movements, that are related in no way to any dominant personality, and serves to show how much times have changed. While Mr Walesa, who went on to become President of Poland and continue that country’s conversion into a non-communist state, is to be commended for his actions, the message coming from arab states today is clearly ‘we don’t need people like you anymore’.

While we can be almost certain from recent activity that revolutions themselves have evolved in a way that tells us ‘leaders’ that at least initiate mutiny are, to put it mildly, less important, what we can not be sure of is why. What has in fact changed how people think? What has caused the oppressed to begin defying the human instinct to look to a leader and simply, collectively, ‘do it themselves’? Blanquism is well and truly dead as we bear witness to more frequent and successful revolutions of the style we see today; the Middle East has proved this ‘style’ of fundamental change is possible. Is it necessarily better though? Without a revolutionary leader, we have seen the Egyptian protests conclude with a military junta coming to power- while I won’t condemn the military council that is now running the nation as liars when they say their rule is temporary, while a transition to democracy takes place, one cannot help but feel uneasy when an army in any country has complete control. Perhaps some form of uniting figure would have prevented this ultimate outcome. These questions, those of ‘is it beneficial?’, and ‘why?’ pertaining to the calibre ‘leaderless revolt’ we have seen have not yet been asked, but when the crisis in Libya is resolved, as the dust across the region settles, and there is time for reflection, they will be- and maybe we will get some fascinating answers, explaining a fascinating phenomenon.

MH

01
Mar
11

Military Intervention in Libya

Today David Cameron stated that ‘we have to plan for every eventuality’ in the growing debate over whether Western countries should become involved in the violent clashes currently taking place in Libya. It is true that the demonstrators whom are justified in their cause need our help and support; so far in their heroic revolution they have been met in their demonstrations with brutal oppression at the hands Colonel Gaddafi. The scenes we have witnessed on our TV screens and in our newspapers of the Libyan people being violently oppressed has been utterly shocking as it has been done at the will of Gaddafi: how can a leader wish for such violence to take place? Although our support would be completely justifiable in aiding the people it has to be asked whether the West should get involved in this fight. Could it be perceived as the West sticking their nose in?

The main possible intervention being drawn up in Britain is the introduction of a no-fly zone over Libya in an attempt to isolate and topple Gaddafi. If this plan were to become a reality it would be carried out by fighter planes, most likely US one, flying over Libya in a continuous flight plan. A no-fly zone has be voiced due to the fact there have been numerous accounts of Libyan fighter planes being used by the army on the demonstrators, clearly controlling the skies would prevent the army from attacking it’s own people with military aircraft. This would of course be a great thing because it is so wrong for a government to use such immense force against their own people to the extent were fighter planes are being used to suppress the people. This plan could be a positive step in aiding the people of Libya to remove Gaddafi from power however there are some issues that have to be raised.

It was only recently that David Cameron was visiting the Middle East with a group of arm dealers and military based business leaders. This was a sure fire attempt to sell arms in an unstable area of the world. It goes against all decency to be selling arms at a time when some Middle Eastern leaders are using weapons against their own people; Caroline Lucas MP of the Green Party quite rightly described this parade of arm dealers as ‘morally obscene’. The apparent optimism of making arms trades at a time like this completely unjustifiable. A point also has to be made on the fact that before andduring this Coalition Government the UK has sold millions of pounds worth of arms to Libya, described as ‘crowd control’ equipment. Although some will defend this by saying they were sold with restrictions on their use it is reasonable to see that the arms we have been selling are now being used against the Libyan people in the fight for justice and democracy.

The wider point that has to be discussed is whether or not the West should become involved in the fight in Libya and the Middle East as a whole. For a long time the West, spear headed by the US, have had a great deal of influence in this area of the world mainly for the selling and control of oil. This has come at a cost for the people in these areas as they have had to suffer under authoritarian regimes. If the West becomes involved in these uprisings which are being carried out to break their current oppression it could come across as us trying to stick our noses in to maintain our influence.

Despite this we do need to give our support to the Libyan and Middle Eastern people; in previous blogs it has already been described how here in Britain our demoncracy has come about through collective struggles too and therefore because of this we should support their uprisings. It is necessary for us to show solidarity with all the people around the world who seek democracy as we have done too. The recent scenes of popular uprisings in the Middle East have been totally inspiring, nothing looks as great as watching people out on the streets demanding justifiable change and reform in their countries.

Gaddafi appears to be defiant in maintaining power and this is of course demonstrated in the horrendous brutality carried out on the people of Libya. When Gaddafi has been toppled it is fair to believe that democracy will follow. Currently the demonstrators have control of the East of the country and today the rebel groups are making ground on reaching the capital Tripoli. In order to prevent any more of the violence we have witnessed it is key for Gaddafi to be toppled now, however it is a delicate line to cross if military intervention is to be carried out as we do not want to cause further tension in the area. We can hope that Gaddafi will stand down but with him saying in a BBC interview that the Libyan people ‘love me’ this hope is eroded ever so greatly.

JW