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Posts Tagged ‘politics

A big loss in today’s midterms may be a blessing in disguise

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Once upon a time there was a democratic President of the United States working with a democratic Senate and a democratic House of Representatives and he went in to his first midterm elections and was slaughtered – losing both houses of Congress and being written off as a one-term President.

That was a man called Bill Clinton who bounced back and out manoeuvred his opponents – so what fate awaits Barack Obama if , as today’s papers predict, his Democrat Party are going to crumble in the elections?

It seems fair to say that the losing of momentum that Obama was able to garner in 2008 has really began to show in Washington – whether it is people leaving his administration (Larry Summers, Jim Jones and others) or in this the general feeling/realisations of the public that ‘well this isn’t as rosey as we thought.’

But regardless of what today’s results come out like,  it’ll actually be quite good for the administration – allowing them to start focusing on actually governing the country and not running the elections. The White House seems to have been in paralysis of late. With Biden and Obama spending massive amounts of time flying around the country trying to convince people to continue supporting them, hugely important work has huge been left on the back-burner.

Besides, if these last two years have seen the best support Obama can get from a Democratic Congress it might actually prove better to work with a Republican House. At least he will have someone to blame.

The Vibe will be experimenting with various ‘live’ ways to cover today’s election results – do feel free to follow/join in/offer advice – http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=145805472132471&index=1

Written by Robert Dale

November 2, 2010 at 7:30 am

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interviewing the new MP’s with Catch21

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I spent a few days last month filming interviews with about 50 of the new batch of MP’s. Working
with Catch21, the idea behind ‘mpinions’ was to encourage political engagement by ‘humanising’ the new crop and asking them simple yet timely questions – such as ‘do you believe in proportional representation?’

All MP’s we’re asked the same 5 questions –

1) What is your main priority as a new MP?

2) What colour is the coalition government?

3) Are you in favour of electoral reform and if so which system?

4) What is your special talent and can you demonstrate it briefly to us on camera?

5) Where are you off to next?

Video’s are being posted here, on facebook and being linked to from all over the place. So far the interviews with Duncan Hames, John Glen, Liz Kendall, Ian Murray, Angie Bray, Kate Green, Simon Wright and Peter Aldous have been uploaded. MP’s still to come include Caroline Lucas, Zac Goldsmith and Julian Huppert.

The project was supported and promoted by the HansardSociety, Dod’s Parliamentary Communications (via e-politix)Operation Black Vote and The British Youth Council and of course the new MP’s themselves.

if you would like to follow for you can do so on@robandale or on Facebook

Written by Robert Dale

July 26, 2010 at 9:24 pm

The ‘Big Society’ or an atomised Britain?

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David Cameron ended the Parliamentary session by launching what he calls his ‘Big Society’ program and plans for a national citizen service to encourage volunteers. But what does ‘Big Society’ mean and does government backing for voluntary services really help?

The whole idea of empowering communities to do something for themselves was previously explored by Tony Blair after his huge victory in 1997. If it didn’t take off for an (at the time) popular leader during a time of economic prosperity then one must rightly be wary of its chances to succeed at a time of savage cuts in public spending.

The biggest problem with Cameron’s initiative isn’t the idea itself – it’s the vagueness with which it is being promoted (The Independent last Saturday described it as his ‘hazy vision of social regeneration’) and the lack of detail as to how these programs will work in reality.

It is understandable that most people are listening to these plans with a sense of caution. Society is very suspicious that this is really a plot to cover the government from its strong austerity measures – is the government trying to mask enforced redundancies behind a wall of newly-found volunteerism?

Perhaps the most striking thing however it the lack of realism in government thinking – the fact of the matter is that those who will volunteer are already doing so. Millions of people all around the world are already volunteering through richer and poorer so rather than spending time, effort and indeed money in building new voluntary structures, why not focus those resources on making life a bit easier for these already overstretched organisations?

Underneath the soundbite title the government is hoping to harvest a much more definitive ideology behind the ‘Big Society.’ Cameron and Clegg have bonded over desires to remake the way government functions and lift the dead-weight of bureaucracy that stagnates so much social innovation. And for these reductions in regulation and red-tape there appears to be a great deal of public sympathy.

But these subsidiary objectives aren’t necessarily the same as de-centralisation. Britain’s centrally-controlled political structure dates back to Thatcherism and her efforts to weaken local government. But despite wanting to cut bureaucracy the Prime Minister isn’t pushing any desire to re-empower these authorities – in fact the ‘Big Society’ is taking further power away from them in two big areas, education and planning controls.

The function of the government is to mediate between competing interest groups in society, but by fragmenting and removing this local authority function of mediation Cameron is potentially leading Britain towards a very atomised society. The result may well be a rise in problematic local antagonism with very little accountability to anyone if or when it all goes wrong.

Written by Robert Dale

July 25, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Interview with… Co-operative Party General Secretary Michael Stephenson

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The Co-operative Party is all about giving power back to the people. They are the second largest centre-left party in the UK and are in a ‘sister’ relationship with Labour. There were 28 Co-operative MP’s in the last Parliament including Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.  The co-operative and mutual mentality operates in all sectors of our economy and society, from food to retail, banking, housing, care provision and even supporter ownership of football clubs.

There is a definite ‘sea of change’ happening between society and state, and a wave of enthusiasm for sustainable, long-term planning – so I believe it was the perfect time to interview the Co-operative Party General Secretary Michael Stephenson with the aim of  learning more about the politics of the co-operative movement.

The vast majority of people who replied to my Facebook note said that they hadn’t actually ever heard of the Co-operative Party. Naturally then ‘what are the Co-operative Party?’ became my first question to Michael.

Michael said that the Co-operative Party is basically the political arm of the whole co-operative movement. The ‘sister-party’ relationship with Labour means that in certain constituencies, candidates contest the seat as both a Co-operative and Labour representative.

There appeared some confusion on Facebook about what the term co-operative could actually apply to, so next I asked Michael to define the co-operative ideology.

According to Michael, the movement was conceived in Rochdale in the 19th century when ordinary working people grew tired of being ripped off by shop owners. Rather than be at the whim of the markets, these people came together and formed their own organisations which were based on the principles of democracy, sharing rewards and self-help .

In other words, ‘co-operative’ means giving everyone  a say in how a organisation is run. Giving greater autonomy and control to local communities has been a key theme in the current election campaign, and the reaction on Facebook was greatly in favour of devolving power from the state. So are co-operatives now highly fashionable?

Michael agreed that they are and said that the irony of the Co-operative Party model is that ‘its new-ness is its old-ness’. He says its founding values are as,if not more relavant today than they were in the 19th century. Especially in this ‘post-credit crunch world’ society is looking for long-term sustainability and for people to be put before profit.

So what are some Co-operative Party initiatives. One that most people picked up on (and interestingly hasn’t really been covered by the mainstream media) is that of providing support for first-time buyers.

Michael explained that the Co-operative Party has a radical approach on home ownership, with a new idea of  co-operative housing. In this approach, people wouldn’t take out a mortgage with a bank instead they would get equity in certain housing co-operatives owned by investment organisations.

Another idea that resonated well on Facebook was for ‘Co-operative Trust Schools’.

There are about 30 such schools now in the UK according to Michael. The idea here is that with the help of the local co-op organisation, parents, teachers and students can get involved by being elected to a body that has a say in how the school is being run.

The other issue that attracted a lot of debate (particularly among males) was of allowing football supporters to own football clubs.

This is a initiative that will hopefully prevent situations like what is currently happening at Portsmouth Football Club. As Michael explains, the idea is to allow fans to set up bodies in their football clubs that gives them a say in the running of the club.

And finally… most people on Facebook pointed out that the Co-operative Party sound more like the Green Party rather than Labout. I asked Michael if he believed that Labour has politically moved away from the Co-operative Party and if they would considered an alliance with the Greens.

Michael said this was ‘nonsense’. For eight decades, ‘whenever Labour has been in power they have done the right thing for the Co-operative Party… you don’t just junk eight decades of history and shared values’.

What do you think to the Co-operative Party? Did my questions serve the public interest? What issues would you like me to cover?

Please do get in touch – robdaleworks@googlemail.com or facebook.com/robdaleworks


Written by Robert Dale

July 16, 2010 at 3:29 pm

HELP ME INVESTIGATE: How many destitute asylum seekers are there in the UK? Should destitution be a part of the asylum seeking process at all?

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www.helpmeinvestigate.com

I’m currently taking part in this investigation as I have deep concerns over the political tactics that currently enforce destitute upon thousands of people. Over the past year I have made several enquiries to the Home Office about this issue and each time they told me that the people I am speaking about do not as exist. As far as public-facing politics is concerned then there is no problem at all, however beneath the rhetoric there is quite clearly a huge population living in abject poverty in our backyard.

HMI: A place where you can collaborate with other people to investigate things

HELP ME INVESTIGATE: How many destitute asylum seekers are there in the UK? Should destitution be a part of asylum seeking process at all?
The Home Office refuse to put a figure on the number of destitute asylum seekers living ‘underground lives’ in Britain. Estimations from Amnesty and the Refugee Council put the number somewhere between 200,000 – 500,000.
In 2007 the House of Lords deemed that by ‘refusing permission for asylum seekers to work and operating a system of support which results in widespread destitution, the Governments treatment of asylum seekers in a number of cases reaches Article 3 ECHP threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment’.
According to the Refugee Council, half of all recorded destitution cases come from only four countries, Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe and Eritrea – all places of conflict or that have human rights records. Many destitute asylum seekers are in poor health, both physically and mentally. Seventy-five percent of those who use the PAFRAS centre in Leeds have been diagnosed with clinical depression.
Around 95% of destitute asylum seekers are from affluent professional backgrounds including lawyers, teachers and television presenters. So the question must be asked, has Britain created a humanitarian disaster in our own backyard with its policies on asylum seekers.
DEFINITELY WORTH A WATCHDocumentary maker Nick Broomfield has made a short film for Amnesty International to highlight the issue of destitute refused asylum seekers in the UK.

Key findings from research done in Leeds during 2008/9 are;

– the overwhelming majority of the interviewees came from wealthy and/ or professional backgrounds in their home countries;
– their fears of return appear well-founded, as over two-thirds of those interviewed had experienced torture in their home countries, and over half had been imprisoned;
– the average period of time living destitute among those interviewed was two years and five months; one interviewee has lived destitute for seven years;
– almost three-quarters are sleeping outside or have done so. Over a third of these have been physically attacked by English people and over a third of women sleeping out have been sexually attacked, including rape. All are terrified of the police;
– most of them are surviving on less than £5 per week.
‘Underground Lives’ points out that the government’s emphasis on tough enforcement, trumpeted in press releases such as that put out in November 2008, ‘Third quarter removals at a six year high’, which boasted that ‘last year someone was removed every eight minutes’, involves starving refused asylum seekers into accepting voluntary removal, because forced removals are so expensive and can attract bad publicity when force is used. Three weeks after appeals are rejected, asylum support is cut off for those without children.
They are prohibited from working, access to health care is restricted, and they are obliged to leave asylum accommodation. Only by agreeing to return voluntarily, or by showing that it is impossible for them to return to their country of origin, can they access basic, cashless sub-subsistence level support. Refused asylum seekers don’t appear in homelessness statistics since they are ineligible for homeless persons’ accommodation; they are invisible. At least 26,000 live off Red Cross food parcels.
At the same time, asylum claims are at a 14-year low, less than a quarter of the over 100,000 claims made in the ‘peak’ year of 2002, and they represented only four per cent of total immigration applications made in 2007.

Written by Robert Dale

June 30, 2010 at 11:16 am

THE POWER OF TRANSPARENCY

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This article original appeared in Don’t Panic magazine.

In contemporary politics it is important that you are seen to be doing something. The leaders of the world’s top-twenty countries met this weekend to discuss their collective fiscals deficits and what to do with the global banking system. The substance that comes from this meeting may be negligible but the style of such a showcase will suffice. It is enough that something visual happened.

The narrative that the world’s economic system will soon be better than ever before is now being applied over the images by PR gurus. Why will it be better? Because, we are told, banks and financial institutes, will be more transparent in their dealings. As the Spanish prime minister preached ”There is nothing better than transparency to demonstrate solvency.”

But why stop at the finance industry – if this ‘there is nothing better than transparency’ principle were to be applied across the whole political system it would surely make for a more pleasant society. Being visible makes people accountable to their actions. In ‘The Silent State’ Heather Brooke, the ‘unsung political hero’ in bringing the expenses scandal to light, illustrates that the more information available to the public, the less the chance of corruption by those in power. A simple comparison of current MP’s receipts with ones from five years ago provides ample evidence of this.

In true democracies information belongs to the public. But in the UK – the ‘mother of democracies’ – power remains largely anonymous, unattributed and protected within bureaucratic red-tape and hierarchical cliques.

However, as understanding of the Internet grows and skills in using the Freedom of Information Act develop, citizens of such democratised states are beginning to empower themselves and challenge the constricted flow of public information.

TheyWork4You is a brilliant example of interested and innovative citizens working for the public in order correct a systematic democratic deficit. Costing the tax-payer absolutely nothing, these developers have given society direct access to the contact details and voting history in Parliament of all MP’s. Five years ago this information was obscured to the average voter. Even though what happens in the Commons is done for the people, at public cost, those who make the laws of the land traditionally been strangely inaccessible to the people. A quick read of John Pilger or some of the excellent work done by MediaLens will explain why this is so.

To put it briefly, this all illustrates two things. The first is that politics is dirtier than we can ever imagine. The second is that more often than not the only remedies to these democratic defects comes from determined citizens taking the initiative to do something that serves the public interest.

Perhaps the greatest examples of unethical behaviour being revealed to the public has come through whistle-blowers. Subverting from within, these ‘rebels’ have gone behind their masters back and publicised the reality that lies behind the rhetoric.

A hugely important (and disturbing) example of the importance of whistleblowers comes from the publicising of a video revealing a US air crew shooting down 12 Iraqi civilians via the website Wikileaks. Initially the US military claimed all the dead were insurgents and they were reacting to active firefight. The video seems to confirm that this as a irrefutable lie.

Wikileaks says there are more videos to come that challenge America’s narrative of the ‘War on Terror’ including another US military video showing one of its most deadliest air strikes in Afghanistan. An act the Afghan government reported killed 140 civilians including 92 children.

To confirm the seriousness of protecting the ‘manufactured reality’ of events in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bradley Manning, the US intelligence specialist who is believed to have leaked this data, is currently being detained in Kuwait. As this material ‘could do serious damage to national security’, the ‘co-operation’ of Wikileaks creator, Julian Assange is also being sought by the US.

Wikileaks was also behind the distribution of the list of BNP members, and the leaking of emails from climate scientists from University of East Anglia that showed manipulation of information – information that was being used in Parliament to decide environmental policy.

But Wikileaks symbolises more than just the distorted narrative we are delivered through political speeches and mainstream news. It, along with the work of Heather Brooke and the guys behind TheyWork4You, helpmeinvestigate.com and countless other projects, serves as a realisation that things are changing. Information is gradually becoming transparent and no career politician can resist it – the PR would be just too bad.

This may seem all rather utopian and romantic but the steps being taken in Iceland show there is real substance in this. The aim behind the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative is to internationalise media law and bring it up to speed with the information age. In other words, Iceland wants to become to journalists what Belize and the Bahamas is to billionaires.

Some critics argue this is a PR stunt by the Icelandic government to recover it’s image following Ashgate and the collapse of the countries banking system. However with Julian Assange, the mind behind Wikileaks, being flown into Iceland to advise its politicians on how to implement such a law, journalists fighting for freedom of expression may find Iceland a true ally. Wikileaks currently avoids legal implications by routing all it’s activity through Sweden, where investigation into an anonymous source is illegal. Under the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative could journalists, whistleblowers, and ‘leakers’ would console themselves with a degree of legal protection.

Why all this doesn’t exist already makes you wonder what such democratic countries have to hide, and what remains to be unearthed in the murky depths of State secrecy.


Written by Robert Dale

June 29, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Britain ideological obsession to a morally bankrupt economic policy

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The 2008 financial crisis

The emergency budget this coming week is expected to bring in significant tax rises; but how serious are Britain’s economic problems and is cutting now the right way to go about tackling them?

It is quite amazing how quickly the discourse has changed, not just in Britain but across the European Union as a whole. From ‘we need to spend, we need a fiscal stimulus to keep our economies out of recession (or even depression)’, to the assertions from Nick Clegg that we must cut back on everything we’ve done in the last two years or ‘face ruin’ and run the risk of strangling any growth that has been gained.

In fact so deep are the planned cuts across Europe that President Obama last week wrote to all nations warning them to watch just how far they go with their austerity plans. However certain countries, and Britain is definately one of them, appear ideologically committed to cuts in order to maintain an economic policy that proved itself bankrupt during the financial crisis of 2008.

Yes the deficit must be addressed. We in Britain in particular have the worst budget deficit in all of Europe, but why stifle the growth we so desperately need, why enforce so much social pain and so much economic suffering to the vast majority of the public?

The argument about cuts and increases in tax will continue to be fought about for a long while yet and be done by much more able people than myself. However, underneath this front-facing battle for agreement I consistently find that there are some very murky realities that continue to be overlooked.

The first is that for all the banging on about cuts being made by the politicians they personally appear to be largely immune from any wielding of the axe. Secondly, the big areas aren’t being discussed. More money is scheduled to be spent on defence and there has been no public scrutiny of the costs of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thirdly, the role that the Liberal Democrats are playing in all this shows just how easily the goalposts can be adjusted when personal and party political ambitions for power come into play.

Independent columnist Yasmn Alibah-Brown described this coalition as ‘like a big-blue whale and a little goldfish’. True to life, the goldfish is keeping as quiet as goldfish do and it seems somewhat wrong that any party can so clearly go against many of there manifesto promises to the country. The European-wide commitment to austerity plans demonstrates the deafness of the political classes to the reality of what is happening on the streets across the continent.

Unsurprisingly then, it will once again be left to the ‘small people’ to take the brunt of a problem caused by the so-called ‘big people’ in our society.

Written by Robert Dale

June 21, 2010 at 7:42 am

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