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Monday, 31 May 2010

My initial thoughts on flotilla attack

“19 people killed as Israel storms flotilla delivering aid to Gaza.” Whatever your political stance, this does not read well for Israel and the peace process, and consequentially is a PR success for Hamas. At this moment in time Israel cannot afford to lose her friends, but many will be unable to not condemn these actions.

Mehdi Hasan of the New Statemans rightly points out here that Israel never misses an opportunity to score an own goal, and now risks losing her only real friend in the Middle East, Turkey. I concur with this; but I forget the last time that the New Statesman expressed their deep disapproval of Hamas' regime. 

Already there is talk of embargoes, sanctions and breaches of international law. These are merely reactionary comments and would be retrograde leaps for the peace process. I do not wish for the killings to be watered-down in any way and I accept that they must be deplored; however, those who call for international action against Israel must understand the potential corollary of their wishes – sympathy for the Hamas regime who perpetuate to call for the destruction of the state of Israel. Where is the international reproach of their totalitarian regime?


Monday, 17 May 2010

Indefensible Action

Not even the staunchest of Zionists can defend the decision of the Israeli Government to refuse the great thinker, Noam Chomsky, access into the West Bank. Since the first Lebanon war in 1982 Chomsky has been a critic of Israeli government policy. Nevertheless, he was never called for violence against Israel, nor does he pose any security threat. On the contrary, those who would take time to read his work would open their minds to the peace process.

Chomsky’s retort when asked the last time he was refused access was “Czechoslovakia in 1968, after the Russian invasion”. Is this the comparison that Israel seeks? Curtailing freedom of speech is not the actions of a true democracy. These actions are encouraging academic boycott. 

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Real Great Ignored: Campaign for prisoners' voting rights.

Today I wrote to the new Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke QC, to ask him to commence a consultation into a very important democratic issue: the disenfranchisement of prisoners.

The issue involves the most fundamental of democratic rights, the right of suffrage. Under the current law, Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, "a convicted person during the time that he is detained in a penal institution in pursuance of his sentence ... is legally incapable of voting at any parliamentary or local election.” This was ruled incompatible with Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of Hirst v. United Kingdom (no. 2). (http://www.bailii.org/eu/cases/ECHR/2005/681.html)

In their judgment, the Grand Chamber recognise that the right of suffrage is not absolute, and that Contracting States must be given a margin of appreciation. More importantly, the Court point to the r'aison d'etre for the provision - punishment. 

Prisoners, by reason of their status, have already received a sentence of imprisonment which is (meant to be) commensurate to their crime. Proscribing them from voting is an affront to democracy and serves no legitimate aim. It merely provides them with a secondary sentence.

The judgment of the ECHR was five years ago. Government must act now to ensure that the prison population are able to vote for the next election , whenever that may be.

I urge all readers to lobby your local Member of Parliament and / or write to the Lord Chancellor.

Monday, 10 May 2010

With dignity I shall go. Thank you Gordon.

Gordon Brown will resign as Labour leader later on this year, but will remain in place for the time being to facilitate the formal negotiations between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the hope of forming a "progressive coalition". For Brown, he has "no desire to stay in [his] position longer than is needed to ensure that the path to progress is assured". With dignity he shall resign.

This was, of course, a political decision. Whilst negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories are perpetuating, whisperings from within both camps have told of a number of "sticking points" and certain "red lines" not being crossed. The Tories have just announced that they have offered the Liberal Democrats a referendum on the Alternative Vote system. But this will be no panacea to their differences, and maybe not even the electoral reform the Liberal Democrats so wished for. And there still remains disagreements (ideological and political) over the EU, immigrations and defence.

Whilst David Miliband has somewhat prematurely declared that he will enter a leadership contest, we should all (whatever your political persuasion) stand and laud Gordon Brown. Lest we all forget his achievements as Chancellor, and also as Prime Minister too. As Chancellor he gave the Bank of England operational independence, sustained economic growth and reducing unemployment. As Prime Minister, he handled the banking crisis with calmness and skill. A true economic doyen.

I shall in the next few days be setting out my predictions and hopes for the future of the Labour Party. But for now out of deference and thanks, this is time to say 'thank you' to Gordon Brown.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Liberal Dilemma

Unsurprisingly, the Parliament is hung with the Conservatives as the largest party. A further twenty seats are needed for David Cameron's "modern, compassionate Conservatives" to achieve an overall majority, go to the Palace, and become the twelfth Prime Minister to kiss her Majesty's hand. 

Earlier today David Cameron made a "big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats" to either form a formal coalition or come to an agreement on a Queen's speech. The Liberal Democrats leader was unequivocal that, following another inequitable votes-to-seats ratio, electoral reform was a necessity. 

The question now: will the Liberal Democrats coalesce? I for one hope not. This is not merely nuance. There is a plethora of key ideological differences between not only the two leaders, but the two parties. Europe, immigration, constitutional reform, schools, inheritance tax, Trident etc. Of course, the scent of power may be too strong for Clegg to turn down. But I would hope that he can see beyond the sycophancy. Cameron and his team are profoundly Euro-sceptic, opportunistic and anti-civil liberties. Lest we forget, Cameron is no success story otherwise I would not be writing this post now. 

Refusing electoral reform is incontrovertible, and it seems as if the Conservatives may have to back-down in order to conciliate. But these two parties coming together is more than just one policy. They are antithetical. In my opinion, any agreement by Clegg would be an affront to liberalism. 


Sunday, 2 May 2010

Future of the Human Rights Act

Even before the 2010 manifesto, the Conservative Party under David Cameron have spoken of their commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, and replace it with a second British Bill of Rights. But look deeper to right-wing opposition to the Act and unearthed is a noticeable "ism" - Euroscepticism. 

The Act, which came into force on 2nd October 2000, incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, thereby ensuring that those who believe a public authority has in infringed their rights do not have to travel to Strasbourg, but can lodge their case in the British Courts. Moreover, it provides our judiciary with power to declare legislation incompatible with the Convention. One last, important provision is that the British Courts must "take into account" any jurisprudence from the Strasbourg court. Here lies the scepticism.

The right-wing press enjoy nothing more than a "breach of human rights" story, only to then pour scorn on the member of the judiciary for applying the law. The Act is often abused; nevertheless, the primary cause of the antipathy towards it is that somewhere in the equation lies the word "Europe". 

However, the chief Tory who has been asked to address the "HRA problem", Dominic Grieve, has expressed his intention to remain a party to the European Convention, and further that the text of the British Bill of Rights will mirror the text of the Convention. So I ask, why the rigmarole? Unless, as was suggested by eminent human rights practitioners in yesterdays's Guardian, some rights will be discarded. 

The Act has received intense opposition: undemocratic, un-British, a criminal’s charter, to name just a few of the epithets of the Act. However, which of the following rights are “unnecessary”, or “un-British”? The right to life. The right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. The right not to be enslaved. The right to liberty and security. The right to a fair trial. The right not to be retrospectively penalised. The right to respect for private and family life. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Freedom of expression. Freedom of assembly. The right to marry. The right to free elections. 

Which of these rights would the Conservative party wish to discard? 

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Britain needs a cathartic election. A vote for the Lib Dems will go some way to ensure this.

The Guardian have today announced their endorsement of the Liberal Democrats for the upcoming General Election. However, the endorsement does not appear to be limited to the 6th May - it is an endorsement for the future, and a damning indictment on the New Labour Party. 

Labour has lost its moral compass, from as early as 2003 to the present day. The commission of a crime of aggression in Iraq, control orders, complicity in torture, savage cuts to legal aid, detention centres. I could and should go on. Embarrassingly, the party which introduced the Human Rights Act is sat third on the list of the three parties who seek to promote these basic and fundamental rights.

The Liberal Democrats stand against all of the above and more. They are the only genuine progressive party. I do not wish to pour hot water over the entire period of the past thirteen years. The minimum wage, civil partnerships, gender recognition, and SureStart are laudable achievements, but alas not enough. 

Our system needs radical reform. Labour have pledged change, but their pledges seem weak and disingenuous. It is deplorable that constitutional reform, promised since 1997, has not been achieved. The issue of House of Lords reform has been subordinated for too long. We sing with pride about our democracy, yet we have an unelected upper chamber, obstructionist Lords Spiritual, disenfranchised prisoners and an inequitable electoral system.

Britain needs a cathartic election. A vote for the Liberal Democrats will go some way to ensure this.