Trading human rights for prosperity

indycoverWe probably shouldn’t be surprised at the news that the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office has declared that the ‘prosperity agenda’ is now more important than human rights in British foreign policy. We’re the country that hosts DSEI every year, after all, where it’s the weight of your wallet rather than your conscience that gets you attendance. Meanwhile, selling weapons to one of the world’s most repressive theocracies – a country actively encouraging wars in the Middle East – is worth more than a billion pounds a year, so we’re all somewhat aware that our supposedly ethical foreign policy is anything but.

It’s rare for someone – especially a higher-up in a department known for communicating through nuance – to be so blatant about admitting the truth, though. Our governments like to cling to the fig leaf that while we might be doing things that, when looked at from a certain angle, could appear to be somewhat bad, we’re doing them for entirely the right reasons and any negative side effects were regrettable but shouldn’t be allowed to distract from the useful process of engagement that these deals facilitated. The one restraint on the amorality of full-blown realpolitik was the need for it to be able to don a convincing human face afterwards to explain away its consequences.

But why should we be concerned with a little honesty about our foreign policy? It’s not as if Britain using military and diplomatic strength to secure dodgy trade deals is anything new, is it? Aren’t we just admitting the Augustinian nature – please make it ethical, just not yet – of our previous stances?

There are two problems with it. First, even if we never fulfilled our stated aims, I’d rather fail to reach a noble goal than not even attempt it and second, it shows just what contempt this government has for the concept of human rights. You can be sure that a civil servant wouldn’t be talking about their relative unimportance unless that was the signal being sent down from on high, but this government’s issue with human rights isn’t one of indifference, it’s active antipathy.

This is a government that’s talked about replacing international charters of rights with specifically British ones. The point of human rights is that they belong as of right to everyone, not just those who happen to be on a certain group of islands at a certain time, and replacing human rights with British rights abandons that, even before you consider that this is a government happy to strip people of citizenship and leave them stateless. Now, add to that the revelation that the Government considers the ‘prosperity agenda’ to be of much more importance than human rights, and you start to wonder just what their ‘British Bill of Rights’ might contain. If you can limit by geography and accident of birth, why not make everything conditional on not threatening anyone’s ‘prosperity’ too?

No, that would be entirely too ridiculous. It wouldn’t be anyone’s prosperity that would be protected, only those already doing well. After all, if trade is more important than human rights, maybe the only rights we’ll have will be the ones we can afford to buy? The quality of justice you receive is now determined by how much you’re able to pay for it, so the precedent’s there.

More and more, it feels like we’re living in the early days of a pariah nation. Worried yet?

(story and image via Barney Farmer on Twitter)

Mickey Bricks, Prime Minister

One of them won't con an honest man.
One of them won’t con an honest man.
They call it the long con. You find your mark, someone with lots of money and a desire for something they can’t get and a willingness to bend the rules to get it. Then you tell him you know exactly how he can get what he wants. It’ll take time and cost money, but he’s got plenty of both of those, and you’ve got plenty of reasons why it’s going to take a little bit longer and need just a little bit more cash.

He might get doubts after a while of you milking him, and you can cut and run then if you like, or you can double down. Throw him a convincer, something that makes him think you can really do what you say. Sure, it might cost you, but think of it as an investment in keeping the mark happy, and a happy mark is a generous mark so the return on that investment is almost as good as the one you promise your marks.

No con can go on forever. There’ll come a day of reckoning when your mark is going to expect to get what you’ve been promising him, and that’s when all your skills need to come out to play. You need to persuade him that everything’s gone wrong, forces outside your control have intervened and you can’t get him what he wants. The heat’s on you, you tell him, so you’ve got to flee but you promise he’ll hear from you again when it’s settled down. Before you go, remind him how many rules you and he have broken to get this far, just to stop him going to the police if he susses out that he’s been conned. But don’t worry, most of them don’t ever work it out, and you’re free to do what you want with their money now.

That’s all taken from Hustle, but it’s also what David Cameron and the Conservative Party did to Michael Ashcroft. They found their mark, reeled him in, promised him the power and influence he craved, chucked in a couple of convincers (‘Do you want to be Party Treasurer? It’s such an important role.’) but then when push came to shove and the election had been won, it was ‘sorry, I’d love to put you in the Cabinet, but Clegg’s blocked it’.

The only problem is that the Prime Minister can’t close up the shop, throw away all the phones and disappear to a nice hot beach until it’s safe to show your face again. And when you and other teams of grifters have pulled the same con on multiple occasions to the extent that actually giving the mark his prize is almost accepted practice, there’s no way you can stop him telling everyone what you did.

Con men are lucky creatures, though. Sure, you’ll face pig jokes wherever you go for the rest of your life, but maybe that’s better than being remembered as the con man who actually managed to sell democracy to the highest bidder.

Conservatives for Britain: Who’s in the secret group for freedom and openness?

I’m pleased to announce the formation of my new group, People Who Agree Nick Is Right About Everything. This group has been formed to campaign for the principle that I am right about everything, and as that’s the mainstream view, you won’t be surprised to learn that it has millions and millions of members. Of course, you can’t see the mailing list and only I and a select few people (none of whom are me in disguise) will speak to the media about PWANIRAE and its aims, but rest assured that if you choose to sign up, you will be part of a rapidly growing movement. Indeed, I firmly expect that between now and the moment you join, membership of PWANIRAE will double.

Naturally, such a large movement needs to be covered by the press, and so I expect I will be busy appearing on all the big political talk shows and several people who definitely aren’t me working under a pseudonym will be writing comment pieces for newspapers and websites. Luckily, the naturally trusting nature of the British press means that I don’t need to prove the number of supporters I have behind me, they’ll take it on trust.

I know I don’t have to provide any proof of numbers behind me because I’ve been watching how the media have covered the launch of Conservatives For Britain, the nascent form of the Tory No campaign for the EU referendum. When it was launched last week, we were told it had 50 MPs signed up to it, and now they claim the support of 110 MPs, 12 MEPs and 13 members of the Lords for their cause. The problem is that despite all the gushing press coverage they’re getting from their friends on the right, there’s no way to verify this level of support, as there’s very little officially published by the group. There’s a Twitter feed and a Facebook page for the group, but no website, and definitely no published list of supporters.

It seems quite odd to me that when one of the frequent Eurosceptic complaints is that the EU is secretive, unaccountable and cannot be properly scrutinised, that a group campaigning against it is being even more secretive. Let’s remember that this isn’t a group of private citizens but a large group of legislators, most of whom were democratically elected, trying to exert influence on the Government’s foreign policy. Surely we have a right to know who these people are, not just a few of their chosen spokesmen while the vast majority of their membership lurks in the shadows? They’re elected by us, they’re accountable to us, and they should have the courage to announce their principles in public and tell us whether they’re a member of Conservatives for Britain or not. Until they do go properly public, the media should treat them with the scepticism they would treat any other group with unverified claims of vast support, though I won’t hold my breath expecting it.

More Tory negative campaigning in Colchester

One thing that’s interested me this election is that the Tories appear to not be bothering in the local election in my ward. We haven’t received a single leaflet from them mentioning their local election candidate, but that’s not too much of a surprise when the large majority of Tory propaganda we’ve received hasn’t even bothered to name their Parliamentary candidate.

However, after spending the weekend arsing around with a cardboard cutout of Nick Clegg, I finally spotted our local Tory candidate for Castle Ward on my street last night, and he was actually delivering something. Unfortunately, it yet again failed to mention him or their Parliamentary candidate, and was instead a rather nasty smear leaflet trying to claim that Bob Russell is responsible for all crime in Colchester. Indeed, if you didn’t notice the rather blurry imprint in very small writing, you might think it was something independent and not actually a Tory campaign leaflet. I’m sure that wasn’t intentional on their part, as was the fact it omitted to mention that one of the leading local anti-knife crime campaigners backs Bob’s re-election.

I think it shows the contempt the Tories hold the electorate in by not running on their own record and policies, but instead spreading lies and fear amongst the electorate. Whether it’s fear of crime, or fear of the people of Scotland daring to vote how they want to, the Tory campaign has been a spectacularly unedifying spectacle, seeking to do nothing more than whip up divisions within the country.

Locally and nationally, Tory policies are dangerous, and coupled with a mentality that’s happy to divide society and whip up fear for short-term electoral gain, they don’t deserve to be in power. We all have the power to ensure that they’re not.

Hopefully for the last time: Eric Pickles fails to understand localism

picklesbiscuitsOver the past few years Eric Pickles and his strange contradictory definition of localism – where councils get to locally decide whether they agree with him totally or wholeheartedly – have provided many posts for this blog and I may feel momentarily sad on Friday if he’s no longer around to provide me with such easy pickings in the future.

However, being a generous man he’s given me one last thing to have a shot at it before he (hopefully) goes and it’s yet again him failing to understand anything about localism while showing that his time at DCLG has been about maintaining Whitehall’s central control over everything. Indeed, it’s worth noting that while city regions have their flaws, they are an attempt at some kind of devolution and Pickles and the DCLG have been kept well away from them in case they mess that up as badly as they’ve messed up localism.

But back to the subject at hand, and it seems that Pickles spent Thursday evening going on a bit of a Twitter rant at Nick Clegg talking about ideas for local government that he and the Conservatives had blocked. As ever, these were ideas about how Councils could take more control over their areas and widen their tax base so they didn’t have to rely solely on the blunt instrument of council tax or the rapidly shrinking grants from DCLG. Pickles, unsurprisingly, gloated about how he’d said no to all of these just as you’d expect from someone who sees his job as interfering with councils and keeping them from running services in the way they choose.

Pickles isn’t unique in this approach – though he has a boorish way of expressing it that makes him so much more annoying than previous holders of his job – and if there’s one thing I’d love to see from the next government, regardless of which party or parties make it up, it’s a commitment to real localism and devolution. That includes giving councils a wide range of tools – including a variety of tax raising powers – to choose from themselves and decide which works best for their areas.

The problem with Pickles through out his five years at DCLG has been that he doesn’t see local government as something that should be allowed to get on and do its job according to the wishes of local people. Instead for him it’s just another arm of the centralised state, there to carry out whatever diktats he sends down from Whitehall, the only power it needs being to choose just how much it agrees with him. Real localism needs central government to understand that it has to get out of the way and let local government do what it wants to do, and Pickles has demonstrated consistently over the last five years that he’s a roadblock to achieving that.

Is 290 the key number to watch for on Thursday night?

Less than 100 hours until the polling stations open, and thoughts are naturally turning more and more to just what the result of this election will be. Like everyone else, I’ve been pondering the various post-election deals that are possible and it feels to me that the key number of MPs either Labour or the Conservatives need to win to have a chance at forming a stable Government is around 290.

My thinking’s based on the current numbers for MPs from the other parties being suggested by the various forecasts: an SNP total of 40-50+, Liberal Democrats winning somewhere between 25-30 seats, Northern Irish seats remaining roughly the same, UKIP winning around 3 or 4 and Greens holding their one seat. What I assume is that neither Labour nor the Tories would make a deal with the SNP, but either would make one with the Liberal Democrats. What we can also do is assume that even in the absence of a deal, the other parties are likely to vote in a certain way, especially on issues of confidence.

The reason 290 is key is that it’s the point at which either main party in agreement with the Lib Dems would have enough support to be able to expect to win votes in Parliament regularly. For example, a Labour-Lib Dem government would expect the regular support of the SDLP and (Northern Ireland independent) Sylvia Hermon, and could probably count on Plaid Cymru and the Green’s Caroline Lucas (as well as Alliance’s Naomi Long if she’s re-elected) giving support as well in exchange for some concessions. So, 290 Labour MPs, plus 25-30 Lib Dem MPs and 10-12 others gives a Parliamentary majority without needing any deals with the SNP. Indeed, such an agreement would create a headache for the SNP (and George Galloway): vote against it and they’re voting with the Tories, abstain and they’re doing nothing in Parliament.

On the other side, the same applies but with fewer parties involved. With the support of the DUP, 290 Tories allied with the Lib Dems would have enough seats for a majority in Parliament without the need for any formal deal with UKIP (who’d face the same ‘vote with Labour or do nothing’ dilemma as the SNP in the other scenario) though getting Lib Dems to agree to a deal that formally involved the DUP might be tricky. Indeed, assuming that getting Lib Dems to agree to any deal is a simple matter of getting Clegg on board with it fails to account for the role of the wider party in agreeing it, as Jennie explains here.

They key point here, though, is that for both Labour and the Tories, 290 looks like being the key number of seats to win on Thursday (though that can go up or down depending on how many Lib Dem seats there are – the key figure is having around 315-320 for the two parties combined). If one of them (and the maths suggest it will be only one of them, unless the Scottish polls are way off) can make it there then they will very likely form the core of the next Government, but if neither of them can, then we can expect a long period of coalition negotiation and deal-making before we get a new Government and the shape of it won’t be clear for much longer.

Next time Tories complain about negative campaigning, show them this

As in the rest of the country, our local Tories are never averse to screaming ‘dirty Lib Dem negative campaigning’ when anyone says something that’s less-than-positive about them (and those sort of comments are frequent in Colchester when they propose silly ideas like this). Of course, what’s sauce for the goose is never allowed to be sauce for the gander, and the Tories are always keen to point out that their own campaigns are as pure as the driven snow, never negative or personal. Which makes this hard to describe.

lockerclegg(The original Tweet is here, that’s a screengrab in case wiser Tory heads have it removed) Ben Locker (the person on the left in the picture) is the Tory candidate for Mile End Ward in the local elections and also a friend and regular campaigner for Will Quince, the local Tory candidate. Judging from the pictures here and here, it appears that Castle Ward Tory candidate Darius Laws, another close associate of Quince, is also involved in this little stunt, which in absolutely no way surprises me.

This is what our local Tory campaign has been reduced to – wandering around with a carboard cutout of Nick Clegg, encouraging people to believe it’s all his fault. Whatever ‘it’ is and how ‘it’ can all be Nick Clegg’s fault is a question that Ben Locker refuses to answer. It does seem an odd message to be spreading, given that the Conservatives have been the larger party in the coalition, but maybe he’s just following the logic of their attacks on the SNP to their logical conclusion? If he genuinely believes his party’s idiotic propaganda that a Labour government would have to do whatever the SNP says, maybe he thinks that’s how the last Government was run too? It’s quite clear from their local proposals that Colchester Tories have no idea how local government works, so perhaps it’s fair to assume that understanding national government is a project that’s way too complicated for them.

If the Tories want to spend their time on silly personalised negative campaign, that’s entirely up to them, but they shouldn’t expect other people to forget it, and they certainly shouldn’t start complaining when people criticise them.

If Tories want to dump Cameron for Johnson, Boris’s own words will count against him

Don't worry David, I've never gone back on my word.
Don’t worry David, I’ve never gone back on my word.
I think we might be in the election silly season, as today we’re getting swamped by odd stories and speculation. This includes the idea that if the Tories don’t get a majority, David Cameron will step down and allow Boris Johnson to be appointed Tory leader without an election so he can try and form a minority administration.

So far, so silly, but if they do try it, they might want to take heed of the words of a Daily Telegraph columnist writing at the time of Gordon Brown replacing Tony Blair:

The British public sucked its teeth, squinted at him closely, sighed and, with extreme reluctance, decided to elect him Prime Minister for another five years. Let me repeat that. They voted for Anthony Charles Lynton Blair to serve as their leader. They were at no stage invited to vote on whether Gordon Brown should be PM.
I must have knocked on hundreds of doors during that campaign, and heard all sorts of opinions of Mr Blair, not all of them favourable. But I do not recall a single member of the public saying that he or she was yearning for Gordon Brown to take over. Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t remember any Labour spokesman revealing that they planned to do a big switcheroo after only two years.
It is a sad but undeniable truth that there are huge numbers of voters (including many Tory types) who have rather liked the cut of Tony’s jib. They have tended to admire his easy manner, and his air of sincerity, and his glistering-toothed rhetoric. They may have had a sneaking feeling – in spite of Iraq – that he has not wholly disgraced Britain on the international stage; and though you or I may think they were wrong, they unquestionably existed.
In 2005, there was a large number who voted Labour on the strength of a dwindling but still significant respect for the Prime Minister. They voted for Tony, and yet they now get Gordon, and a transition about as democratically proper as the transition from Claudius to Nero. It is a scandal.

The same columnist was equally scathing about the idea of the new Prime Minister relying on other parties to support him:

in revelations that yesterday rocked Westminster, it emerged that Sir Menzies Campbell has been engaged in talks with Gordon, about a “government of all the talents”, which must be faintly mystifying to all those Labour candidates, activists and voters who have been engaged in fighting the Liberal Democrats. They thought they were campaigning for Tony Blair – and it now turns out there was a secret plan to bring in Gordon Brown and assorted Liberal Democrats, including good old Paddy Pantsdown.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t remember the electorate being asked their views of a Gord-Ming Lib-Lab coalition. It is fraud and double-fraud.

It was ‘a scandal’ and trying to build some form of coalition in that situation was ‘fraud and double fraud’.

I’m sure we all eagerly await the same columnist – one Boris Johnson – denouncing this proposed move in the same terms.

Bringing American sports to Britain: another unfunded Tory pledge?

Here’s something interesting I noticed in the Tory manifesto over the weekend. In a section headlined ‘We will build on our Olympic and Paralympic legacy’ on page 42, tbere;s a commitment to support elite sports funding along with a list of big events happening in Britain over the next few years and then this:

We will support new sports in the UK, in particular through greater links with the US National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, with the ultimate ambition of new franchises being based here.

It’s curious that this turns up in a section headlined Olympic and Paralympic sport, as only one of those (basketball) is an Olympic sport. They’re also the only new sports mentioned in that section, with no mention of developing any of the other Olympic and Paralympic sports. It feels an odd priority to identify helping major American sports leagues into the UK when talking about ‘new sports’ – not least because there are already long established British leagues in American football, basketball and baseball.

There’s also a question of cost associated with bringing the NFL, NBA or MLB anywhere. While everyone likes to gasp about the huge amounts of money in American sports, a lot of that is supported by government spending, especially on stadiums. The NFL especially is infamous for demanding that cities contribute or pay entirely for new stadiums and new facilities, using the threat of moving teams to cities that are willing to pay to make them cough up. It’s a model where every team is encouraged to demand as much as it can get from its host city, or they’ll decamp and find someone willing to be fleeced, and London’s just the latest city to be waved at others in an effort to make them open their wallets.

Planning to bring an American franchise here is committing to take part in a bidding war with American cities seeking the same thing, with the one willing to give the sweetest deal the victor. It’s another unfunded pledge from the Tories, looking to throw hundreds of millions into attracting already wealthy sports to come here, when that same money could have a revolutionary effect on sports already in Britain. Imagine what it could do for developing women’s sport or para-sport instead of being sunk into enticing someone else?

And I thought Tories didn’t believe in Government picking winners…

If Cameron accepts the Sun’s endorsement, he’s endorsing Katie Hopkins’ hate

Prime Minister meets with controversial hate preacher
Prime Minister meets with controversial hate preacher
I’m not a Sun reader. You’re not shocked to discover that if you’ve ever had any dealings with me before, of course. Usually, I’m happy to let it carry on doing whatever it wants to do and let us coexist in our separate spheres, but sometimes it crosses a line. This time, though, it’s published something that even by its normal standards is absolutely horrific:


Katie Hopkins’ job is, like so many tabloid columnists, to be offensive and get people’s backs up so she and the paper can feed off their indignation. This, though, isn’t just the usual outrage-for-clicks that characterises a Sun column, this is pure hate speech: ‘spreading like norovirus’, ‘plague of feral humans’, ‘cockroaches’. It’s calling for the death of people she regards as somehow less than human, and then revelling in the prospect of death and suffering.

What’s important here, though, is that the reason we’re seeing these words isn’t just because of Hopkins. She’s been commissioned and paid for them by the Sun. At least one editor would have looked over that column and approved it for publishing, a sub would have checked it over, designers would have put that page together and printers would have produced the final version. This isn’t some random troll shouting on the internet, desperate for attention, this is the considered and published view of one of Britain’s best-selling newspapers.

In a couple of weeks time that same newspaper – and some of the same people who worked on the Hopkins column will be involved – will tell its readers how to vote in the election, and given what they’ve published recently about Ed Miliband, we can expect they’ll advise a vote for David Cameron and the Conservatives.

Norovirus. Feral. Cockroaches. A paper that used those words to describe human beings and wish for their death will endorse the Conservative Party, and the leader of the Conservative Party – the Prime Minister of this country – will welcome that endorsement. If David Cameron – if anyone in the Tory Party – had a shred of decency or dignity, he’d reject that endorsement and refuse to accept it. Do you think he will?

When The Sun makes its endorsement, other journalists – those who work for outlets that don’t brand other humans as norovirus, feral or cockroaches – should ask David Cameron if he’s happy to accept that. And not just him – there are hundreds of Tory candidates all over the country, standing for Parliament and in the local elections, who’ll benefit from that endorsement. They’ll happily accept the backing of a newspaper that regards some people as less than human and deserving to die, expecting that no one will challenge them on it. So let’s make sure they’re asked about it and let us know what their position is on being backed by a paper that’s fuelled by such hate.

(And if you want to do something constructive, go sign Save The Children’s Restart The Rescue petition)