Scottish Independence plenty of questions but few answers…

Image © The Laird of Oldham

James Withnail-Woolf

The progressive case for and against Scottish Independence was made on May 13 by Gordon Brown and Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Both speeches encapsulate the divisions on the left over the future of the Union.

According to Gordon Brown the British Isles are stronger when resources are combined; economic strength allows equitable distribution and social justice for all. Brown has explored these issues recently which explains why his ad lib lines are well rehearsed. He paid deference to the Scottish Parliament, and then placed his case against independence firmly within Labours hinterland. Although, Tony Blair could not have made such a speech, one doubts if he is aware of John Wheatley or James Maxton. Brown has been acknowledging the heroes of the Scottish left since the 1970s when he edited the Red Paper on Scotland. Read more of this post

What if Jim Callaghan had won the 1979 election?

Image © brizzle born and bred

Mike Guilfoyle 

In a fascinating debate recorded in 1983 in Hansard Lord Wells -Pestell drawing on his former role as a Probation Officer opined in response to what many in the Probation Service and beyond considered at the time an overly prescriptive approach from the Home Office on the future direction of the Probation Service that : ‘we feel that the Home Office has failed to provide a positive programme for the future development of the probation service. There is in the statement a narrow preoccupation with cost cutting which is unrealistic having regard to the importance of the service to the community’ From the middle of the 1970′s the probation service had been faced with a growing range of external pressures relating to resources, professionalism , greater accountability and a debilitating sense that its traditional faith in the case-work informed rehabilitative ideal, predicated on the almost mystical status of the Officer/Client relationship as the core task of the probation service, whose efficacy was being called into question and was facing ever newer challenges to its performance that needed to be measured and quantified. Such moves became enmeshed in the introduction of what became known by the label of  the New Public Management ( NPM) into the public sector, whose profound influence , albeit in a more attenuated form melded with the modernising strategies that later characterised New Labour’s approach to public sector reform. Read more of this post

Thatcher and Thatcherism – by Eric J. Evans

LeftCentral Book Review 

© Image rahuldlucca`s photostream

This is a bantamweight text, which packs a super-heavyweight punch. And Evans, whose first edition was published fifteen-years ago, has revised his view; granting Mrs Thatcher more significance than he initially credited her with. Thatcherism is not considered a coherent ideology; Evans along with others believes it was (is) an amalgam of neo-liberalism and authoritarian conservatism. He charts Thatcher`s rise and fall, while placing her leadership within a political and historical framework (Peel and Disraeli). He includes a more contemporary analysis of Major`s administration, as John Major suffered from her back seat driving, as the Tories ripped themselves apart over Europe. Margaret Thatcher, who in 1986 signed the Single European Act, paradoxically became the standard bearer of European sceptics, illustrating what a funny world British politics is. As Evans points out the “Single European Act accelerated the process towards wider European integration, ultimately leading to the Maastricht Treaty in 1991 and the establishment of a single European currency in 1991”.

The New Labour project was not immune from Thatcherism and comparisons between Blair/Brown and Thatcher are made. Evans gives credence to a quote from the Spectator that “Margaret Thatcher begat Tony Blair”. Ireland is ignored by Evans and an interesting policy contrast between Blair and Thatcher was lost. Thatcher was viewed by many as a strident Unionist but she did sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and without this later initiatives by Major and Blair would have been impossible.  Read more of this post

Question Time – Democracy Lite?

Lincoln Green 

BBC Question Time

Copyright UK Parliaments photostream

I was an audience member in the BBC Question Time broadcast from Lincoln on 17 January 2013, when David Dimbleby chaired a panel which included Mary Beard (Professor of Classics, Cambridge University), Nigel Farage MEP (Leader of UKIP), Caroline Flint MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), Roland Rudd (Chairman, Business for New Europe) and Grant Shapps MP (Conservative Party Chairman).

Whilst the aim of the programme is to entertain and to provoke, attendance prompted thoughts about broader issues and about the underscoring attitudes which inform opinion and which programmes such as Question Time by their very nature fail to address.

Perhaps the most well debated issue was not actually broadcast but took place earlier, chaired by the floor manager to warm up the audience and to check the broadcasting systems.  The theme of responsibility for diet was discussed for almost an hour, raising issues such as personal responsibility, education for change, busy working parents and child care, and most pertinently the nature of the food industry.  Even with the luxury of extra time allotted only hints of the real issue were addressed – that the function of the food industry is to make a profit, and the easiest way to do this is to create something on which people will spend plenty of money (junk food) which is very cheap to produce and highly addictive (fat, sugar and salt).  Read more of this post

Pensions for all and solidarity forever…

Legal Eagle

copyright Professor Megan`s photostream

I am aware that my recent comments concerning social democracy and the golden generation may have been slightly misconstrued. My intention was not to critique those now retired I was actually commending this generation for placing themselves on the right side of the poverty line, a position they and previous generations earned through struggle. I simply wished to highlight the obvious, that future generations who manage to reach the ever distant pensionable age, are going to find themselves in poverty. And we must reflect upon this as social democratic institutions wither on the vine both here and abroad. Quentin Crisp once said that in Britain the “people are cruel but the system kind; while in America the opposite was true”. If we accept this notion, then we need to ask, what happens to the poor in Britain when the system also becomes cruel? Because, I for one am tired of hearing privileged Tories bemoaning the fact that people are simply living too long in this country. We should be rejoicing in this and congratulating some of the social democratic institutions that have made this possible, such as the National Health Service, which is looking increasingly susceptible to privatisation in the future. One thing is for sure; once this privatisation kicks in we will undoubtedly see a drop in longevity levels in the UK, thus allowing the rich to make huge profits while resolving the tiresome problem of the demographic time-bomb. Read more of this post

Book Review: A Life of Dissent by Christopher J. Walker

Tom McGuire

Copyright The National Archives UK`s photostream

A biography of Oliver Baldwin, 2nd Earl Baldwin and the elder son of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin; a socialist Labour MP, and Governer General of the Leeward Islands. His was a complicated and full life of contradictions and colour, told in full for the first time by Christopher Walker.

Born into the traditional British establishment Oliver Baldwin went to Eton before the First World War broke out when he joined up and fought with great distinction at the age of eighteen. Following the war he was sent to Armenia as a military advisor, captured and imprisoned by the Soviets and then the Turks: by the age of twenty-one he had seen more from life than many Brits back then saw in a lifetime. At this point Baldwin takes a very different path to that of his upper class peers. He left Britain to travel the world, supplementing his jaunts with work as a travel writer; he returned to Britain the gay (at a time when homosexuality remained illegal in Britain) and Marxist son of the Prime Minister. In the years that followed Baldwin continued his journalism and became a Labour MP (sitting opposite his father in the Commons), a playwright, novelist, and eventually returned to military duty when the Second World War came calling.

After the war the Labour government (that he had been part of until the death of his father meant he had to move to the Lords) sent him to the Caribbean as Governor General of the Leeward Islands where he caused trouble by supporting the natives in calls for greater economic freedom from the British businessmen who owned the sugar plantations and was eventually recalled. Read more of this post

The State of School Dinners

Osmi Anannya 

Image © USDAgov

Jamie Oliver has renewed his series of attacks on Michael Gove, after the Education Secretary appointed Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, the dynamic twosome from the healthy fast-food chain, Leon, to examine school dinners in Britain. Oliver, who has been relentlessly campaigning for bringing about healthier alternatives in school meals for many years now, toxically remarked that another expensive review of the situation is really not required and more should be invested in getting involved in the matter and bringing about a positive change. Oliver has also criticised Gove’s decision to not include academies and free schools in the legal requirement framework, which states that school meals must adhere to certain basic nutritional standards, because he trusts the professionals in such institutions to act in the best interest of the pupils.

It seems an odd decision to pick the men from Leon to carry out the examination, even though they do admirably have a good record of producing healthy, tasty food with a commercial perspective, because so do many other restaurateurs around the country. The co-founders of Leon are to chart up an “action plan” to ensure improvements in the standards of school food, as well as determine, more broadly, what role food plays in school life, in an attempt to make more nutritious and tasty food available to school children.

Labour set minimum nutritional standards for school food in England in 2008 – 2009 and spent millions of pounds transforming menus to include healthier options, following Jamie’s School Dinners (2005) show on television. The show had revealed how unhealthy much of the school food in England was. In fact, a survey carried out by the School Food Trust, just a few days before Gove’s recent decision regarding the situation, found that only about 22.5 % of schools provided pupils with the standard requirement of at least one portion of fruit and vegetables a day. Around a half of secondary schools, the survey also found, served up pizza and starchy food, cooked mostly in unhealthy oils.

Michael Gove’s intentions to re-examine the situation is perhaps commendable in the sense that getting a different point of view about the situation will help to deliver a better plan than simply listening to everything that Jamie Oliver has to say about the issue. The point remains though, that in order to improve standards in school food, Gove should not delay the work to be undertaken to deal with the crisis.

In the UK, around 27% of children are overweight, which at the present moment is the highest in Europe. The Government’s Foresight report suggests that this is expected to get worse with 40% of Britons expected to be obese by 2025. An obesity epidemic seems to be just looming over the horizon for Britain, and appropriate measures should really be taken to curb the situation before it becomes truly problematic. Apart from the health problems-aspect, an obesity epidemic also has an adverse effect on the emotional make-up of children.  Read more of this post

The Strange Death of Liberal Europe

John Curran

Image © BrotherMagneto

The Greek electorate have spoken and, borrowing a phrase from former US President Clinton, it is not clear what they have said. Although we have a decision, can it be described as a mandate? New Democracy winning by a mere 3% ahead of anti austerity socialist party Syriza, the majority party automatically gaining fifty extra seats thus placing them in the driving seat of a coalition government.

 As in the UK after the 2010 election, conservative politicians in open necked shirts make electoral agreements with minority parties with phoney liberal credentials. The political horse-trading in Athens was conducted in the Greek language but the narrative is one shaped by London, Berlin, and Brussels.

There has always been a liberal dilemma at the core of the European project. This is evident in the decision making process which is undemocratic and dominated by the Council of Ministers and the Commission. However, since 1979 the Parliament has grown in authority via the ballot box and the Single European Act. Despite this there is a problem in the governance of the EU, a quandary now thought key to understanding the crisis.  A predictable debate has begun with calls to abandon the EU project or establish a Federalist system.

The unprecedented interference from external influences in the Greek election is a worrying intrusion into the democratic workings of a sovereign state, justified by the ‘memorandum of understanding’ made on the cusp of the first Greek election this year. A document that binds future administrations to adhere to cuts of billions of Euros.

The interference in the Greek election are numerous, springing from comments made by European leaders such as Angela Merkel in Germany and George Osborne in the UK. Larry Elliott in the Guardian on 16 of June reported on comments made by Jean-Claude Juncker:

If the radical left wins [in Greece] – which cannot be ruled out – the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable.

Read more of this post

Greece and the euro

Osmi Anannya

Image © Yiannis Baboulias

Greece has been entangled with large-scale debt, for many months now. Off late, prominent voices in the European Union have stated that it’s looking increasingly likely that Greece will leave the Euro zone. Some have added that it’s probably in the best interest of the country to in fact do so. This is because all those in favour of the exit believe there is a possibility Greece could reach a time when long-term of interdependency on foreign nations and banks is widely active; significant shares of the nation’s finances and economy are already under the reign of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Commission, and the European Central Bank [3].

If Greece does choose to exit the Euro zone, it could then start the journey of recovery by having its own currency, the drachma, once more. The currency could then be devalued to make way for cheap exports and high rates favouring imports [1]. It is quite difficult to grasp, however, how expensive imports are going to be beneficial for the country, because an increase in the rate of import stands to most likely increase the prices of goods, merchandise or commodities available in the country.

In an economic crisis it would be an unwelcome request to ask people in Greece to spend more on their daily purchases. Widespread problems in the Greek political system have already left the nation’s people frustrated about daily life, about the lack of jobs available tailored to their skills, about the inefficiency of many public services, for months on end now. This has given rise to a growing lack of faith in the government, cumulating to the recent riots and revolts and protests in Greece, one after another in a locomotive fashion.

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The Far-Right Rise!

Kaiesha Page

Image © David Hayward

Last year thousands watched across the world with a mix of uneasiness and anticipation as the face of the monster behind the Norwegian mass-murder was revealed. The revelation of the attack in what is normally a peaceful and quiet country was greeted with a gasp of shock by the world. How someone could do such a terrible thing? However, this shock was to be outweighed by the shock that was expressed when his face was to finally grace our screens sometime later. The man behind killing of many innocent teenagers looked so ordinary, so human. Perhaps, in many ways, Breivik is the perfect image to represent the far-right movement: a normal looking person who has radical and dangerous beliefs. The biggest threat of the far-right’s is how far they are willing to go and how unnoticeable they often are.

Although his actions were unprecedented and his murders unique, his beliefs are far from new and are part of a growing movement that’s arms are spreading far and wide. Breivik is the epitome of this growing movement, a warning of exactly what radical hatred can cause a person to do. Across Europe over recent months we have witnessed the far-right parties exceeding expectations and polling a significant number of votes. In Greece, the Golden Dawn Party (discussed in detail later) received almost 7% of the vote, securing themselves 21 seats in the parliament. Just two years previous in the 2010 election they achieved just over 5%. In the recent French presidential election the National Front party achieved a staggering 18.5% of the vote. Why are these parties on the rise?

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