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With the Pope visiting Britain, amidst a sea of controversy, last night seemed an apt time for the Young Fabians to stage a debate on religion and democracy, in this case a debate on Islam and democracy, at the Embassy of the most populous Muslim democracy in the world – Indonesia.
A fascinating country, with a rich and diverse history, Indonesia has made the transition from Dutch colonoy, post-war independence, the regimes of Sukarno and Soeharto to modern democracy – in some respects more modern, some may contend, than ourselves. Just over a decade since emerging from dictatorship, the proportion of women elected to Indonsia’s parliament is 27.3 per cent; in Britain, the figure is only 21 per cent.
“… 47% of Swedish Members of Parliament are female … in Rwanda … 56 per cent of legislators are women.
“Britain’s measly 21 per cent ranks 41st out of 184 lower chambers, in terms of representation of women.”
So that’s one myth about a Muslim nation and democracy knocked down. Another, that of Islam subsuming all other religions and driving them out, is neatly dispelled by the map below, which shows the breadth and spread of religions in Indonesia:
For the record, the figures are 86.1 per cent Muslim, 8.7 per cent Christian, 3 per cent Hindu, 1.8 per cent Buddhist or other.
In the debate, the speakers were Dr Hargey, chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre in Oxford and trustee of the board of British Muslims for secular democracy and Dr Sukma, a leading Indonesian academic in this field who is visiting the UK, with Dr Hargey quoting chapters from the Qur’an to make the case for why Islam is perfectly compatible both with other religions and democracy, hitting out at extremist Wahhabi preachers in east London.
As we were reminded by a question from the floor, the effect of these preachers can be corrosive, a primary school teacher from Newham telling the story of a Muslim boy in his class who’d been told it was irreligious to bow to non-believers – this, coming from a British-born child in London 2010.
We are determined to start the summer properly with our annual Young Fabian Boat Party in London. After months of hard campaigning, we think our members deserve a night off on the Miyuki Maru.
With a great DJ, and special guests to be annouced, the evening will be a party to remember. Plus we’ve booked fantastic weather as well. So dust off your best summer outfit, and get out your dancing shoes.
Tickets are limited, and cost £15 for members and £20 for non-members. Book yours using the form below or on the Young Fabians website – www.youngfabians.org.uk:
Alternatively, send a cheque and covering letter to Shamik Das, c/o The Young Fabians, 11 Dartmouth Street, London SW1H 9BN.
We look forward to seeing you there!
With it looking more and more likely with each passing hour that the Liberal Democrats will do a deal with the Conservatives, huge opportunities have opened up for the Labour Party – opportunities which if seized could propel us back into power in a matter of months.
The Fabian Society has today published a briefing paper outlining the potential for a revitalised Labour party to take full advantage of the discord, disillusionment and downright anger amongt Liberal Democrat voters – many of them Labour supporters who switched tactically – and win a second election within the year, in the event of a highly unstable Lib-Con alliance falling.
The reasearch shows that 18 of the Lib Dems’ 57 seats are prey to a Labour surge were just one in four Lib Dem voters to switch. If one in ten switch, the most achievable aim, eight seats will fall – Norwich South, Bradford East, Brent Central, Manchester Withington, Dumbartonshire East, Birmingham Yardley and Edinburgh West.
The Liberal Democrats are also vulnerable in Lib-Con marginals. In the south west of England, where 13 of the Lib Dems’ 57 MPs were returned, the Tories finished second in all but one of those contests. A swing of only 2.5 per cent from the Lib Dems to Labour would see the Tories take six of those seats, with a swing of 5 per cent resulting in the Lib Dems losing all but two of their seats in the region.
As I argued on these pages two weeks ago, it just doesn’t make sense for the Liberal Democrats to join forces with the Conservatives. On a whole range of policy issues, from Europe to equality, from climate change to the economy, in opposition to fox hunting and the Tories’ regressive inheritance and marriage tax plans, the Lib Dems are much much closer to Labour than they are Tory, their activists and those who voted tactically even more so.
But it is on electoral reform that they are most at odds with the Conservatives. As the graph below illustrates, the Liberals were even more screwed by the first-past-the-post system this time than in each of the past three elections, losing five seats in return for an increase in their vote of nearly 850,000:
The ball now firmly in his court, wooed by everyone, the world at his feet, it’s the moment he’s waited his whole life for, but in his haste for power, and his desire to “do the right thing” – even though he’d be doing nothing of the sort – could Nick Clegg be opening his side up for attack from left and right, and from within, and in so doing signing his own political death warrant and consigning his party to another 90 years in the wilderness.
It’s high stakes poker with the dice loaded in his favour; the question is, will he roll ’em or be rolled?
As the Liberal Democrats maintain their rating in the polls, with Nick Clegg flying high having lived up to heightened expectations in the second leaders’ debate on Thursday night, attention has inevitably, even more so than last weekend, turned to the question of who the Lib Dems would join forces with in the event of a hung parliament.
So what is new, what have we learnt in the past seven days that we didn’t know before, and where does this leave Nick Clegg and his party, whose approval he must gain were he to enter into government – 75 per cent of Lib Dem MPs AND 75 per cent of the federal executive OR two thirds of delegates to a special conference OR 50 per cent of the entire membership – the so-called “triple lock” which could take months to pick.
But I digress; assuming the general election results in a hung parliament, who should the Liberal Democrats join forces with? Well, of course you’d expect me to say Labour, and so I will – Labour makes sense not just for us (obviously), but for the Liberals themselves. On some of the key dividing lines, they are much closer to Labour than they ever will be to the Conservatives: on Europe, climate change, equality, the Tory flagship marriage and inheritance tax plans and on the biggest issue of all – the economy.
Ken Clarke, in an interview with the Telegraph, has today revealed for the first time that the Conservative Party was drawing up plans for a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The shadow business secretary said:
“Our starting point would be to say to the other two parties ‘you know you have got to control the deficit and debt’, and have a plan our creditors believe for getting rid of the structural deficit over the next parliament. If they just sit there and say ‘that’s just your party platform’, my own view is that the economic consequences of abandoning that would be catastrophic.
“The core problem is the debt and the deficit, and the Conservatives have been the most consistently sensible on that. I don’t think it would be in the national interest to resile from that… You’ve got to ask yourself, would either of the other parties be prepared to do that?”
Well, there you have it, leaving aside the Tory leadership’s – and even more so the Tory membership’s – regressive hostility toward Europe, tackling climate change and gay, gender and race equality, on the economy, their plans to withdraw £6 billion from the economy and start slashing public sector jobs (see last night’s Jeremy Paxman interview with David Cameron for more), there will be no compromise.
On the Liberals’ other key platform, their raison d’être in many people’s eyes, constitutional reform and a change to the voting system, it would be utterly incomprehensible for them to do a deal with the Conservatives. The Tories, though, have been panicked into announcing some reform measures – but there are no plans to change the way MPs are elected. The BBC website has more:
“The Tories would not allow an unelected prime minister to hold office for longer than six months, David Cameron is to announce in a speech [today]. Their policy would force a new prime minister without a mandate to hold a general election.
“Mr Cameron will say that three of the last five prime ministers, including Mr Brown, have been unelected, but that Tory John Major won his own mandate after taking up the position. He will also outline plans to select parliamentary candidates through postal primaries.”
The plan for primaries is indeed progressive, the presidentialisation of the office of prime minister less so – we elect parties not prime ministers in Britain, and it is for the party most able to form an administration to decide who the prime minister should be. The party’s mandate is already there; Gordon Brown’s mandate came from the 2005 general election, which Labour won, by 66 seats.
As the graphs below show, since the war, the Liberals have suffered the most from the current first past the post system, Labour and the Conservatives benefitting greatly:
This is more starkly illustrated in looking at the difference between the percentage of the popular vote each party has received and the proportion of seats in the House of Commons they win:
As Jeremy Vine explained on last night’s Ten O’Clock News on BBC One, under the current system, it is possible for a party to finish second in every seat across the land, win more votes than all the other parties combined, get over 50 per cent of the vote, and still end up with no MPs. Fair? I think not.
Under the Tories, with a majority or in coalition, there will be no referendum on electoral reform, no chance for the Liberals to secure a fairer voting system and exert the power their polling figures warrant. Only with Labour can they achieve that fairer future, and realign the left after a centruy in which the right has dominated; better together than apart, for the many, not the few.
The increasingly desperate, deeply personal attack on Gordon Brown launched by the Conservatives is a stark reminder, if ever it were needed, that the old-style nasties never went away, they just kept quiet, hoping to con the public into believing they had changed. They’re back, and as unpleasant as ever.
The new poster campaign, derided as a “waste of money” for being old-hat, ineffective and simply “bad” by Paul Richards on Labour List (and already parodied on the excellent mydavidcameron.com website), may please the salivating hordes of Brown-hating nihilists on the Tory blogosphere, but will do little to appeal to ordinary voters, the kind of people in swing seats who the Tories need to win round to gain a majority.
Taken aback by the collapse of their poll lead, it seems more to do with pacifying their base – a worrying trend of late.
On Tuesday, David Cameron floundered badly in an interview with Gay Times, broadcast on Channel Four News. In it, he failed to commit to supporting the Alli amendment in the Lords which would allow civil partnership ceremonies to be performed on religious premises. He also, as Sunder Katwala blogged on Next Left, defended the Tories’ far-Right allies in the European parliament. Watch it:
Last week also saw Cameron’s European parliament front bench spokesman on international development speak out against the Tobin tax, the tax on bankers that would give billions to tackle poverty and climate change, in Britain and abroad, raising hundreds of billions each year, saying:
“What did we go and do just now, we voted for a Tobin tax to hammer already weakener financial institutions in the west and give money to a whole bunch of people who will probably steal it.”
And today, The Independent revealed details of a highly secretive, kept-under-wraps underhand campaign by bloodthirsty hunters to target anti-hunt Labour MPs and candidates, spurred into action by Cameron’s promise of a vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act. The Indy reports that:
“Hundreds of hunt supporters are under orders to ride into action in key marginal seats within hours of a general election being called, in the knowledge that David Cameron will allow a return to hunting with dogs if he gets to Downing Street. Documents seen by The Independent show that hunt masters have been rounding up supporters and sending them to the most fiercely contested seats, ahead of a big push planned for the first 72 hours of campaigning…
“Members of the Heythrop Hunt, which operates in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, have been organised to help Richard Graham, a businessman who recently gave up his job to be a full-time Conservative candidate in Gloucester, where the Labour MP Parmjit Dhanda is defending a 4,271 majority… The East Kent Hunt, operating south of Canterbury, urged its supporters to “do everything in their power” to help the Conservative candidate in Dover, Charlie Elphicke, unseat the Labour MP, Gwyn Prosser, who has a 4,941 majority to defend.
“Nicky Sadler, of Vote-OK… said: ‘We are helping some Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru candidates, but no Labour. The majority are Conservatives, because the Conservatives are the only party that has repeatedly said they will repeal the Hunting Act.’”
In many ways, these events serve only to remind us of what we already knew, and hopefully act as a warning sign to those conned by Cameron into thinking the Tories had changed. The most damning indictment is that, despite calling for an election ever since Brown took office, they still have nothing to say on the big issues, no plan for the economy, no eye-catching policies, save for the proposals to give 3,000 of the richest estates an inheritance tax cut while the rest of us endure “austerity”…
They’re running scared. Cameron and Osborne know that if it’s a straight fight over policy, fairness and the future, they’ll lose hands down, so they’ve dragged the campaign into the gutter, just as they did in 1992 and 97, it’s where they feel at home, it’s the only place they feel they can win. I mean, who needs policies when you’ve got bugles, bloodthirsty hounds and posters on your side?! Tally ho!
Though much has been made of the lack of female MPs – which, despite being significantly higher now (126) than when Labour took office (60) is still 200 short of 50 per cent of the Commons – the lack of ethnic minority MPs and candidates has often been overlooked.
There are currently only 15 ethnic minority MPs, 13 Labour and two Conservative; 13 male and only two female; no female Asian MPs; and no Liberal Democrat non-white MPs.
That number is expected to rise following the election, albeit slightly. After polling day, a report on Tuesday’s Daily Politics revealed, there could be double the current figure.
If the result is the same as in 2005, the DP calculated there would be 30 ethnic minority MPs – 21 Labour, eight Conservative and one Respect.
However, if there was a 6.9 per cent swing to the Conservatives – the swing required for a bare majority – there would be 23 ethnic minority MPs, 13 Labour, nine Tory, one Respect and once again no Lib Dems.
Watch the clip on YouTube:
So keep an eye out for the likes of Rushanara Ali, PPC for Bethnal Green and Bow, and Streatham candidate Chuka Umunna, two of Insight PA’s “Parliamentary Candidates to Watch”, two of a slightly-less-small number of non-white MPs, and in the case of Rushanara, potentially Britain’s first female Asian MP.
• Social background of MPs, House of Commons Library, November 2005
• Ethnic Minorities in Politics, Government and Public Life, House of Commons Library, November 2008
• Frequently Asked Questions: MPs, House of Commons, February 2010
An OECD study, published today to mark International Women’s Day, reveals that, globally, women are paid almost a fifth less than men, with the gender pay gap varying greatly, from a 30 per cent gap in Japan and Korea to a a 10 per cent gap in Belgium and New Zealand; in Britain, the figure is closer to the 20 per cent average.
Today’s OECD report also reveals 62 per cent of women in paid work, with a quarter of all women working part time compared to just 6 per cent for men. Women spend more time doing unpaid work and “spend at least twice as much time on caring than men”, adds the report, with the number of children in a household one of the biggest determining factors.
Another point of note was that public spending on childcare and pre-school services in OECD countries was on average only 0.6% of GDP, the amounts again varying sharply, from 0.1% in Greece to 1.3% in Denmark, with Britain once more in line with the average.
Earlier today, the prime minister described the absence of women from the boards of some of Britain’s top companies as “completely unacceptable”, saying it was “wrong” that only a tenth of directors in the UK’s top 100 companies are women.
His remarks come in the wake of recent evidence from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) showing the movement of women into positions of power and influence had reversed or stalled, reports today’s Guardian:
“It [the EHRC] likened women’s progress to a snail’s pace and said it would take a snail 73 years to crawl from Land’s End to John O’Groats and halfway back again before the numbers of women becoming directors of FTSE 100 companies was the same as men.
“The snail would have to cross the length of the Great Wall of China in 212 years before women would be equally represented in parliament.”
This article was originally published on Left Foot Forward
With all the talk in the media being of the “expenses 3″ – David Chaytor, Jim Devine and Elliot Morley – being able to avoid a criminal trial by asserting parliamentary privilege under the 17th-century English Bill of Rights, the importance of the more recent Contempt of Court Act appears to have been overlooked.
In their rush to judgement, several politicians and journalists have failed to heed the advice of Keir Starmer when the Director of Public Prosecutions announced the charges against the three Labour MPs and Tory peer Lord Hanningfield:
“Can I remind all concerned that the four individuals now stand charged of criminal offences and they each have the right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that nothing should be reported which could prejudice any of these trials.”
Put simply, it means that nothing that is published once a case is active, from the point at which a suspect is charged, should in any way be seen to prejudice a future trial.
The Act states that:
“conduct may be treated as a contempt of court as tending to interfere with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so”
And applies to any publication
“which creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously impeded or prejudiced”
“He’s got to be very careful what he says or his comments might actually jeopardise the trial and nobody wants to see that happen.”
If, for all the arguments about privilege, the case does make it to court only to be thrown out because the defendants could not be assured a fair trial, those like Mr Cameron who seek easy headlines today will only have themselves to blame tomorrow.
At half-time in Tony Blair’s testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, let us recall the horror of Saddam’s regime, and the threat he posed to his own people, the region and the wider world. One need only cast minds back to this Monday, and the execution of Ali Hassan al-Majid – aka Chemical Ali.
Here’s a reminder of the evil perpetrated by Chemical Ali:
“He was known for his ruthlessness, ordering the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas, sarin, tabun and VX against Kurdish targets. The first such attacks occurred as early as April 1987 and continued into 1988, culminating in the notorious attack on Halabja in which over 5,000 people were killed.
“With Kurdish resistance continuing, al-Majid decided to cripple the rebellion by eradicating the civilian population of the Kurdish regions. His forces embarked on a systematic campaign of mass killings, property destruction and forced population transfer (called “Arabization”) in which thousands of Kurdish villages were razed and their inhabitants either killed or deported to the south of Iraq.
“He signed a decree in June 1987 stating that “Within their jurisdiction, the armed forces must kill any human being or animal present in these areas”. By 1988, some 4,000 villages had been destroyed, an estimated 180,000 Kurds had been killed and some 1.5 million had been deported.”
Fast forward to the eve of war and today’s protests, and the debates about the legality of the war. Leaving aside the need for a second UN Resolution or an “urgent need for self-defence” – the apparent lack of either cited as grounds for illegality by opponents – let us look at a third factor pertaining to the legality of war, a “humanitarian crisis”.
This is what the undisputed chapter in the 2002 Iraq Dossier, titled “Iraq under Saddam”, says:
“Human rights abuses continue within Iraq. People continue to be arrested and detained on suspicion of political or religious activities, or often because they are related to members of the opposition. Executions are carried out without due process of law. Relatives are often prevented from burying the victims in accordance with Islamic practice. Thousands of prisoners have been executed.
“Saddam has issued a series of decrees establishing severe penalties for criminal offences. These include amputation, branding, cutting off ears, and other forms of mutilation. Anyone found guilty of slandering the President has their tongue removed.”
These facts are just part of what we know; the true nature of Iraq under Saddam, the real figure for casualties under Saddam, may never be known. What’s certain is that the figure is less than that of the past seven years.
Finally, to the opponents of the war, I ask this:
• Had WMDs been discovered, would that have made the war legal, despite the lack of a second resolution?
• Had they been discovered, would the aftermath have been any less bloody?
• If the UN had passed a second resolution, would that have made the aftermath any less bloody?
• Had the aftermath not been as bloody, would the question of legality had been so important?
• If Britain had not joined the war, would America have gone ahead regardless, and would the resulting aftermath have been any different?
And imagine, for one second, that there had been no war, that Saddam had developed WMDs, that he’d used them, on the Iraqi people, neighbouring countries or even us. An emboldened, strengthened, nuclear-armed Saddam. Untouchable. Torturing, raping and murdering innocent men, women and children forever more…
As internationalists, liberals and democrats, whatever the reasoning, justification or legality for the war, we should all be proud that it was a Labour leader, a Labour Prime Minister, who removed this evil regime and freed the Iraqi people.