Hands up then, is anyone going to do God?

Richard Robinson 

Christian Socialist Movement

Copyright Lincolnian Brian

After campaigning in Corby I am happy to report it is going well for Labour. Plenty of volunteers, lots of leaflet folding, good spirits, canvassing and of course rain.  I left with the impression that it is going to be gain for #onenation Labour.

On my journey home from Corby I mused about the next General Election on 7 May 2015 as Tory MP Chris Skidmore helpfully pointed out we are now on election count down with less than 940 days to go until then.  Yes, we can win Corby, but how do we really win the nation? My thoughts were interrupted by a Wayside Pulpit Message outside a rather bedraggled Methodist church I passed.  I stopped the car to read its simple message “he who smiles last longer”. This set me thinking.

Our Pulpit message is clear; One Nation Labour, which as Matthew d’Ancona recently alluded to means social cohesion, the shared obligations that bind us, and our collective mission.  In terms of our collective mission towards One nation a country for all, with everyone playing their part, the recent Labour Party conference gave certain policy nudges in this direction for example towards a cap on the fees charged by pension funds.  Add to this as Andrew Sparrow has written “the 2012 gathering in Manchester leaves us better informed about the party, its leader, its policies and its electability”.  Read more of this post

Beyond the Radical hour: The changing discourse on race and ethnicity in Britain

Professor Andrew Pilkington

Unity

Copyright my name is zach

The dominant discourse on race and ethnicity in Britain has undergone a significant shift in the last decade.  The advent of a New Labour government in 1997 signalled a renewed concern with egalitarianism and for a short period promised to inaugurate a new era whereby Britain was at last prepared to take serious steps to combat racism and promote race equality. In its first year of government, New Labour commissioned an official inquiry, chaired by a senior judge, Sir William Macpherson, into the police investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, by five white youths in 1993. Although the primary focus of the inquiry was on the police, the report suggested that all major organisations in British society were characterised by institutional racism. The Macpherson report (1999), and its charge that major organisations were infused by institutional racism, was at first widely accepted across the political spectrum and led, among other things, to a much more proactive approach to promoting race equality, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. The same year saw the publication of the Parekh Report, a major report of an independent commission on the future of multi-ethnic Britain chaired by Lord Parekh, a report which highlighted the importance of creating a multicultural society which struck a balance between the need to treat people equally, the need to respect differences and the need to maintain social cohesion, and which argued that this needed to be done within a human rights framework (Parekh, 2000).

While there were dissenting voices, throughout 1999 and much of 2000, the dominant discourse was a progressive one. There was an explicit commitment to egalitarianism, a genuine concern to combat racism, an espousal of multiculturalism and a concern to create a more inclusive representation of the nation. What I have called the radical hour did not, however, last long (Pilkington, 2008). Read more of this post

The Cuban Missile Crisis a miraculous 50 years

Nora Connolly

CND image

Image copyright history workshop online

According to Chris Mullin lying deep beneath the Ministry Of Defence is a nuclear bunker, containing the post apocalyptic residence of the Prime Minister and his family.  Entrance to this gruesome abode is accessed via a security pass embossed with a gold star, and Mullin further informs us that after touring the building, the Blair`s, seemingly unimpressed with the design on the wallpaper in their quarters instructed immediate redecoration. The Blair’s highly developed sense of the aesthetic appearing undiminished, despite the context of nuclear Armageddon. Reading the diaries reacquaints the reader with New Labour`s obsession with interior design but Labour`s previous wallpaper stories do not have the earth shattering significance of Chris Mullin`s grim bunker tale. It reminds us that Labour government`s have since 1945 held firm to a post-war consensus rooted in nuclear defence. It is true that Labour opted for unilateralism in opposition during the 1980s a stance dishonourably exploited by the Conservatives which encouraged Labour to ditch their nuclear free policy a politically astute if morally flawed Labour response.

Recently Professor Chomsky reviewed the inheritance that his generation was leaving to his grand-children. With “grim shadows that hover menacingly over thoughts about our legacy.” The Professor focussed on the threat to humanities survival from nuclear war.  Chomsky in a pessimistic analysis commented that the life span of a hundred and forty thousand years is the average for any species “which is rather ominously about how long it’s been that homosapians have been on earth.” Chomsky thinks it miraculous that a nuclear war has not occurred although the USA is the only country to have deployed such weapons in anger – against a non-nuclear combatant. Read more of this post

Has the Nobel Prize Committee Ignored the European Elephant in the Room?

Dave Scotford 

Image © Horia Varlan

The European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after they were credited with six decades of work in advancing peace and stability across the region. While announcing the decision, the Norwegian prize jury praised the union’s “advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights.”

Senior leaders within the EU are overjoyed with the decision and avid supporters of the union are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief. Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, said the award recognized the EU’s work as “the biggest peacemaker in history,” and Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso said that it was “a tremendous honour.”

Though there’s a problem. To speak frankly, to suggest the last sixty years across Europe have been decades of peace and harmony is simply wrong. Did the awarding committee forget about the violent breaking up of the former Yugoslavia or about the decades of violence which threatened to bring Northern Ireland to its knees? How about the stand off between Greece and Turkey on the island of Cyprus or the vast social unrest which marches through European capitals in the modern day?

Even if the committee acknowledged these conflicts, surely they understood that it was not the EU who played any major role in bringing, or attempting to bring, them back under control. Since the creation of NATO in 1945, it is they who have been tasked with keeping the peace when trouble has flared. We should also remember NATO was built up under the control of American generals in response to the Cold War, and not the EU.

The advancement of human rights is based solely on the European Convention of Human Rights which was first introduced in 1950, 43 years before the EU was founded. Strictly speaking, the EU has only been in existence since 1993 and its predecessor, the European Economic Community was set up twelve years after the end of World War II as a trading organisation.  Read more of this post

Housing Benefit Reform: A Further Squeeze on Britain’s Young People

Stephen Donnan 

Image © Kymberly Janisch

As a man of 24 who has experienced homelessness first hand, you will forgive me if I find George Osborne’s sustained and prolonged attack on the young and vulnerable insufferably despicable. I had decided not to watch the Tory Party conference, as my blood pressure is rather high enough without the added smug grin of Osborne and his Conservative party cronies adding to my systolic pressure. However I was unfortunate enough to learn, as had been rumoured, that the current Government is planning to axe housing benefit for those under the age of 25, because in Cameron’s World, everyone gets along great with their non-deceased, wealthy parents who live just round the corner in a five bedroom house.

Wrong.
For me, and I suspect for many others my age, this is one of the many issues that has proven to me over and over again that the Conservative Party are out of touch to the point of delusional malice. A cut to the housing benefit for under 25’s flies directly in the face of the previous Labour Government’s National Youth Homelessness scheme to provide temporary housing to homeless young people in England, a move that was welcomed by charities such as YMCA England and Centrepoint back in 2007. The statistics back then demonstrated that around a third of people who had been declared homeless were under the age of 25, and around a quarter of those young people were homeless because their parents were no longer able or willing to accommodate them.

Five years on and the current administration is planning to push those same people to the brink by removing the one safety net that many young people feel stands between them and living on the streets. When I was homeless for a short time it was not because I wanted ‘more independence’ as Cameron and his Eaton chums would try to depict, nor was it because I fancied the student life or more freedom from my parents.

I was voluntarily homeless because I had no choice, the relationship between my parents and I had broken down so irrevocably due to my sexuality that I felt that running away at the age of 20 was my only option. I was lucky enough to have a few friends that had taken me in for a time, but there were nights that I spent in the January cold in Belfast thinking that my life was over. Eventually, and painfully, I managed to repair the broken relationship with my family and I am grateful that I now have a roof over my head.   Read more of this post

The Moral Conundrum behind the Student Loan Process

Patricia Garza 

Image © ajschwegler

The question of what to do about college student loans in the US has long been debated, even before things started getting really ugly for college grads. There’s more urgency in the debate since the US reached the sad milestone of accruing over $1 trillion dollars in debt from student loans—surpassing the among of collective credit card debt held by people in country.

Some analysts say that potential college students need to be more educated about the brass tacks of the lending process. The idea is that students might make smarter financial choices if they’re better informed about types of loans, interest rates, payment plans, private vs. federal funding, and so forth. A smart college freshman might avoid repaying a $60,000 loan if they knew more about what’s at stake, right?

Maybe so, but many people aren’t convinced. While a crash course in student loans could certainly benefit many college kids, it doesn’t seem like improper education is what’s to blame for the mess that millions of college grads find themselves in. Student loans are an inevitability for millions of students who lack the financial resources to pay their way through an institution whose tuition costs the equivalent of a luxury car every semester, not to mention living expenses. The logic behind the loan education argument seems to be that no one in their right mind would agree to build up so much debt for a college education, especially if they enter a field that offers not much in the way of salary.

But the fact of the matter is that millions of college students are taking out their loans knowing full well about the repercussions and what’s at stake. Students who take out student loans essentially sign away their financial freedoms, understanding that repaying the loans will be a top financial priority for many, many years after graduation.  Read more of this post

Corby Bi-Election: Nowhere is home to me.

Nora Connolly 

Image © knowhimonline

Corby, the Scottish enclave on the M1, is currently the centre of UK political activity after the announcement by Conservative MP, Louise Mensch to resign her seat with a majority of 1,951. A poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft in August suggests that Labour are currently in a commanding position with 52% of the vote, the Conservatives on 37% and the Lib/Dems flat lining on 7%.

The actual result in 2010 is illuminating, particularly as the BNP collected 2,525 votes. Labour lost on a 69% turnout. Given that the November by-election may depend on the resilience of the BNP vote if it holds then it could be close.

The anticipated decline of the Lib Dem vote alters the framework; disgruntled Lib Dems are hardly about to vote Tory, so at least 7,834 votes are going begging. But there is a racial dynamic to this by-election due to demographic changes in Corby which have been stoked up by the tabloid press.

Corby, the main urban area in the constituency nestles in countryside reminiscent of the Cotswolds. A former centre for steel production which dominated the local landscape, in the 1930s many thousands of Scottish migrants came to the town to work in the steel industry and to set up home – a sleepy hamlet morphed into `Little Scotland`. Corby has profound cultural and emotional links to Scotland such as the local dialect, a testament to this heritage.

Among the Scottish migrants was an immigrant population from the Irish Republic, many laboured in the steel works and in the 1950s they dominated the construction industry building the council houses which now populate the town. Some of those Irish immigrants remained among a strongly identifiably working class Scottish/Irish Celtic community that was often stereotyped and belittled in the locale. Perpetrating myths linked to ethnicity and class, a subtle form of racism.  Read more of this post

No Bar On Roseanne`s Presidential Campaign…

 John Curran 

Image © monterey media

Mitt Romney`s acceptance speech at the Republican Convention illustrates how far American politics has descended into pastiche as an excitable audience intermittently bellowed “USA”, as if spectators at a sports event urged on by a candidate inanely smiling like a second rate chat show host. This was pantomime politics; the audience occasionally hissing in unison, an organised response in this era of stage managed politics. Given the circumstances it seems natural to send in the clowns, or at least a comedian, so enter Roseanne Barr, who is campaigning to become President of the United States on a socialist and anti-war policy plank predicated on the notion that a woman`s place is in the White House.

Barr, the most serious comedian in this Presidential race resurrected her political challenge after failing to win the Green Party nomination; she is now running for the Peace and Freedom Party on a Barr/Sheehan ticket. `Roseanne for President` is no joke and she is no court jester, refusing to apologise for proposing a radical agenda. Socialism, she reminds us, is not an agenda to merely help out Wall Street, it is time she argues that public money found its way into the pocket of Joe/Joan `six-pack` on Main Street.

Much of the attention concerning the Barr/Sheehan campaign has focussed on their proposal to legalise marijuana, but the platform covers an array of issues concerning domestic and foreign policy and constitutional change. For example the party is calling for Ballot Access in all 50 states.

Barr employs her energy and intelligence to good effect and her considerable wit is less rapier and more akin to a weapon of mass destruction. Highly articulate and quick on her feet she surely would be a match for anyone in debate. She is running a shrewd campaign, the Peace and Freedom party are appealing to national sentiment urging prospective voters to be an American and not an American`t. The campaign website is sophisticated, Roseanne knows how to communicate to the masses and she gets her message across clearly, concisely and of course, with humour.

There is a strand of isolationism running through the ticket, natural given the anti-war stance this party takes. But the Peace and Freedom Party has an international outlook, the campaign website gives pride of place to the terrible incident recently in Marikana, South Africa, “Where forty- five mineworkers were killed in what the South African press called a bloodbath that recalls the worst massacres of the apartheid epoch.”  Lest we forget, these workers were killed campaigning for improvements in wages and conditions in a British owned enterprise. It is unlikely that any of the leading Presidential candidates will give prominence in their campaign literature as Barr/Sheehan have to the massacre on the 16 of August.  Read more of this post

First US Presidential Debate Review: A Worrying Night for Obama

Daniel Crump 

Image © yeimaya

Last night saw the first of a series of US Presidential debates between Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. Deciding who the winner is in any political debate is not exactly straightforward, but speaking objectively, Romney certainly put in the most convincing performance by generally coming across as more enthusiastic and prepared. What was clear about this debate, particularly for the neutrals and swinging voters among us, was that Americans are genuinely being presented with a clear choice in November. That popular observation that US politics is becoming so centralised that one cannot tell the difference between Democrat and Republican anymore, just isn’t ringing true this time around.

This was clear from the very start. Round one of the debates focused on Domestic issues, with questions on jobs, the deficit, healthcare and the role of government on the table. Unsurprisingly, the two men differed in their opinions about what is causing America’s slow recovery from one of the deepest recessions this side of the Second World War. Obama was keen to point out that the problems were started by the Bush administration, although he was careful not to use his predecessor’s name directly. There was one occasion where the Governor did acknowledge the role that Bush had played in building the US deficit, but decided to focus more on the fact that Obama has had four years in which to bring it down, and has failed.

The candidates genuinely disagree about the methods with which to eliminate the federal debt, and this is where we got our first good old fashioned Left/Right mini-debate. Obama prefers a mixture of tax increases and spending cuts, asking the top earners in America to pay a little more in order to protect the programs that ordinary Americans depend upon. Governor Romney would bring down the deficit predominantly through spending cuts. In a debate that focused so heavily on sticking up for the middle class, one would assume that Obama’s plan would have come across as the most sensible. In fact, Romney did an excellent job of explaining why raising taxes on the top 3% of business in America actually punishes the firms that hire the majority of Americans, thus threatening jobs at a time of weak economic recovery. Obama clearly wanted to use this section of the debate to portray Romney as a President for the very wealthy, and the incumbent seemed a tad shaken when his plan didn’t appear to follow through. It was always going to be crucial for Romney to come across as the more ‘pro-business’ candidate in this debate, and on the point of tax revenue, he seemed to do this with ease.  Read more of this post

Hitting New Lows: Blair’s response to Archbishop Tutu

Nicholas Pentney 

Image © Skoll World Forum

In response to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s call for him to stand trial in The Hague over the Iraq War, the former Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of the “morality of removing him [Saddam]” and reminded us that: “we have just had the memorials both of the Halabja massacre, where thousands of people were murdered in one day by Saddam’s use of chemical weapons.” He contrasted the horror of that massacre with present-day Iraq’s improved economic situation and reduced child mortality rates. Make no mistake; Blair was once again trying to argue that the Iraq War was actually a humanitarian intervention.

Attempting to justify the Iraq War on humanitarian grounds is nothing new. The principal architects of the invasion – Bush, Cheney, Straw and of course Blair – have been playing that particular card ever since  the official rationale for war (you know, the security threat that Saddam’s possession of WMDs and terrorist links posed) were found to be completely lacking in foundation. The humanitarian argument swayed many critics of the war especially after they struggled to answer the questions typically posed by the pro-war camp: didn’t Saddam Hussein deserve everything he got? Wasn’t he wicked? Didn’t the Iraqi people deserve to be free from him?

No one can doubt that Saddam was a monster, a tyrant and a criminal who needed to be brought to justice, but the full scale invasion of Iraq was no police action to capture a criminal. No police action involves endless bombings, the targeting of residential areas, the tolerance of looting and the deaths of thousands of civilians. There is no moral code under which such bloodshed and destruction could be acceptable in the pursuit of bringing a single criminal to justice.  Read more of this post

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