Thursday, 31 March 2011

Little interest in Big Society

Most people in Britain are unwilling to get involved in their community despite wanting to engage more with local issues, research suggests. Only one in ten definitely intended to do voluntary work in the next two years, Hansard Society's post-election poll of 1,200 people found. While interest in politics was up, civic participation levels, key to the Big Society, were not. It said the Big Society must avoid "political associations" to succeed. 
David Cameron has described his flagship idea, which seeks to mobilise community-led initiatives in a range of areas, as his "mission" amid criticism that it is too vague and merely an attempt to paper over damaging cuts in public services. The Hansard Society's findings come from its annual Audit of Political Engagement, for which nearly 1,200 people in England, Scotland and Wales were interviewed.

The organisation, which seeks to encourage public involvement in politics, asked people how their attitudes to political involvement had changed since last May's election and what their future intentions were. It found that interest in politics and knowledge of political events had both increased since last May, with levels of interest hitting a record 58%. However, this was not matched by an equivalent increase in political engagement beyond voting.

While 69% of people said they were interested in how things worked in their local area and 51% felt getting involved could make a difference, only one in 10 said they were certain to do so in the next two years. Those most likely to put themselves forward were parents aged under 45 and from a high-income group. People were more likely to volunteer if they "felt strongly" about an issue, believed it was directly "relevant" to them and if it "affected" their street.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Wake Up Call

Wake Up Call Episode 1 play other version. from Health Emergency on Vimeo.

“In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man”

Who would come out with such a thing? A guest on Richard and Judy? A Lib Dem MP? Some desperate barrister on behalf of his defendant? No. In his traditional Christmas address to cardinals and officials working in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI also claimed that child pornography was increasingly considered “normal” by society. “In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” the Pope said. “It was maintained - even within the realm of Catholic theology - that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than' and a ‘worse than'. Nothing is good or bad in itself.”

The Pope said abuse revelations in 2010 reached “an unimaginable dimension” which brought “humiliation” on the Church. Asking how abuse exploded within the Church, the Pontiff called on senior clerics “to repair as much as possible the injustices that occurred” and to help victims heal through a better presentation of the Christian message. “We cannot remain silent about the context of these times in which these events have come to light,” he said, citing the growth of child pornography “that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society” he said.

Outraged Dublin victim Andrew Madden insisted that child abuse was not considered normal in the company he kept. Mr Madden accused the Pope of not knowing that child pornography was the viewing of images of children being sexually abused, and should be named as such. He said: “That is not normal. I don't know what company the Pope has been keeping for the past 50 years.”

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Thieves steal £700,000 of equipment from MoD

A plane fuselage, a clarinet, helicopter parts and dozens of night vision goggles have been stolen from the Ministry of Defence in the past 10 months. Peter Luff, a junior defence minister, revealed thieves had taken nearly £700,000 worth of cash and equipment since last May. 

The haul ranged from medals and ceremonial swords to a ship's anchor and Army-issue ration packs. Other loot included a bridge, a boat rudder, body armour, guns, marker lights and a flag. Night vision goggles worth £49,000 were stolen, as well as two batches of night sights, worth £88,000. The most expensive item stolen was a helicopter rotor tuner, worth £50,000, taken last November.

The figures, which only cover items reported stolen in the UK, were uncovered by Labour's Luciana Berger, who tabled a written Parliamentary question asking for a breakdown of items worth £100 stolen from the MoD since the Coalition took office. Ms Berger said: "I will be demanding assurances from ministers that these materials have not fallen into the hands of Britain's enemies. This is nothing short of a national disgrace."

Friday, 25 March 2011

Sarkozy gives celebrity philosopher unofficial foreign post

President Nicolas Sarkozy has given the waning influence of France's Left Bank intellectuals a huge boost by giving the country's best-known philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy the role of "unofficial foreign minister". BHL, as the celebrity open-shirted thinker is known in France, has been credited with playing an instrumental role in Mr Sarkozy's diplomatic offensive over Libya.

France was the first nation officially to recognise the opposition Libyan Transitional National Council as "the legitimate representative of the Libyan people", on March 10. And it transpires the man who brokered the meeting between the Council and Mr Sarkozy was Mr Lévy, a self-styled "militant philosopher".

BHL, who impresses and irritates in equal measure in France, met rebels while on a visit to Benghazi. He then returned and met Mr Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace, where he convinced the President the opposition were "good people". Mr Sarkozy's special adviser, Henri Guaino, who once dismissed the long-locked thinker as "a pretentious little ----- who doesn't love France", could only look on.

Alain Juppé, the new foreign minister, was widely reported to have been kept in the dark about Mr Sarkozy's decision to recognise the rebels, leading the press to dub Mr Lévy France's "joint" head of foreign affairs.

"This a great media stunt by Nicolas Sarkozy to rally a well-known, highly visible intellectual," said Rémy Rieffel, author of a book on intellectuals in France's Fifth republic.
Often mocked as a philistine, Mr Sarkozy has taken to inviting intellectuals, artists and writers to the Elysée for dinner to sound them out, according to Le Monde newspaper. One guest, Patrick Besson, a commentator and writer, said: "I got the impression I was his gym teacher without the gym."

Despite Mr Lévy's unprecedented political role, Mr Rieffel said that the influence of intellectuals in French public life cannot compare to their post-war heyday with the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre. "In France we are in a period of low tide in terms of intellectual debate. Over the past 15 to 20 years, intellectuals have lost a huge amount of power, which pales into comparison with the ideas bubbling twenty or thirty years ago."

Mr Lévy is often criticised – like Mr Sarkozy – for vanity and self-aggrandisement, and was once accused of making up an "on the ground" war zone report in Georgia.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Dame Vivien Duffield gives £8.2m to arts learning areas

Philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield has given a total of £8.2m to eleven galleries, theatres and museums to create learning areas for children and young people. Tate Britain and the National Theatre are among recipients as are regional venues like Bath's Holburne Museum. The "creative learning spaces" would help children benefit from the "transforming power of our world class cultural organisations", she said. The Museum of Liverpool and London's Donmar Warehouse will also benefit.

The National Theatre will receive £2.5m from Dame Vivien's Clore Duffield Foundation for a new learning centre to open in 2014, as part of the institution's major redevelopment by architectural firm Haworth Tompkins. Tate Britain will receive the same amount to go towards creating two new education spaces, due to open in 2013, as part of a £45m renovation project by architect Caruso St John.

Some £500,000 each will go to the Donmar in London's Covent Garden and to Kensington Palace. And the Kettle's Yard gallery in Cambridge will receive £250,000 for a learning space with the same amount funding studios at Margate's Turner Contemporary and Manchester's Whitworth Gallery.

Dame Vivien said she was delighted to support "such outstanding projects created by some of the best architects, in museums, galleries and theatres across the country - even in a royal palace. Now more than ever, I believe that culture should be at the heart of our children's learning."

Elsewhere, £200,000 will fund a "Little Liverpool" interactive area for under-fives at the Museum of Liverpool while £125,000 each will go to projects at Bath's Holburne Museum and the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum. A learning centre at the Royal Shakespeare Company, also funded by the grants to the tune of £500,000, has already opened. A further £500,000 is being used to fund a teaching programme which includes theatre workshops.

In the current climate of financial cuts, the government has said it hopes philanthropists can play their part in the arts in filling the funding gap. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt paid tribute to Dame Vivien's "stunningly generous package" hailing her as "a role model for philanthropists". "The focus on young people and learning and an emphasis on excellence in architecture and design is a thoughtful and enriching gift to present and future generations," he said.

‘God hates fags’ and Elizabeth Taylor

The Westboro Baptist Church, the fundamentalist movement that proclaims ‘God hates fags’, is to protest at the funeral of Elizabeth Taylor, writes James Park in Pink News.

The group, which is more accustomed to picketing the funerals of US service personnel killed abroad, blames the ills of the United States on the country’s decision to decriminalise homosexuality. Now the church says it will picket Elizabeth Taylor’s funeral because of her association with the struggle for LGBT rights.

One tweet from Margie Phelps, daughter of the church’s leader Fred Phelps, said: “She [Taylor] was a proud whore! Now she’s in Hell Version Final.0! #WBC will picket funeral!” Another said: “Her whoredoms enabled filthy fags! She now answers for her gr8 sin in hell! #WBC will picket funeral!” While a third said: “No peace for whore who taught proud sin! Too late for her to repent! #Westboro will picket funeral.” [not a fan then? – Ed].

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court, with a majority of eight to one, ruled that the church should be allowed to picket funerals by relying on their First Amendment rights to free speech.

The son of Fred Phelps has claimed that his father beat his family until they bled. Nate Phelps, who has been estranged from his family for more than thirty years, is writing a book about his experiences growing up in the Kansas church [send your suggestions of a title for the book to Norman Tebbit Publishing, Sewer Street, London W1 - Ed].

Wales lose Gareth Bale to injury ahead of European qualifier against England

Gareth Bale is out of Wales' Euro 2012 qualifier against England at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday after suffering a hamstring injury. The Football Association of Wales says in a statement the injury was suffered before Bale joined the Wales squad. The 21-year-old Tottenham Hotspur winger did not train on Wednesday. "Due to a hamstring problem, Gareth Bale has had to withdraw from the Wales squad to face England," a Football Association of Wales statement said.

"He felt tight last week during training with his club. After playing 90 minutes on Saturday he felt some muscle tightness. Initially, this was expected to be muscle soreness after playing his first game. On joining up with the Welsh squad he was kept off his feet in training for two days to recover. As he still felt tight in the warm-up on Tuesday, Gareth was pulled out of the session. He did not train at all on Wednesday and was sent for a scan. The scan revealed that Gareth Bale picked up his injury last week."

Athena poster's tennis player revealed

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Elizabeth Taylor


1932 - 2011

Save EMA Campaign drafts court action

A legal challenge offers fresh hope to 300,000 students who face being stripped of their education maintenance allowance (EMA), campaigners said yesterday. The Save EMA Campaign announced it was drafting a court action against Education Secretary Michael Gove, arguing that his decision to axe the vital grants breached a contract. The case will be on behalf of students who began two-year courses last autumn, with a "legitimate expectation" that they would receive EMA until they had completed their studies.

More than 300,000 teenagers are in that position - half the total number receiving EMA - including around 19,000 in the North-East and a further 3,500 in North Yorkshire. The government announced it was axing EMA - weekly payments of up to £30 to help sixth formers from poorer homes stay on in education - in October, having previously stated the allowance would survive.

Hopes of a legal challenge rose when Mr Gove lost in the High Court, earlier this month, over his decision to scrap the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. That move was condemned as an "abuse of power". Significantly, lawyers have suggested the new case could target Mr Gove over a "failure to consult" before axing EMA - the very reason he lost on BSF.

James Mills, head of the Save EMA campaign, said: "We're saying, 'a deal's a deal.' These young people have signed a contract and the government should honour it. Research, by the University and College Union (UCU), shows that almost 40 per cent of students wouldn't have started their course without EMA, so that's a large amount of people who will feel betrayed by this government."

Students sign an EMA contract, which commits them to rules on attendance, punctuality and achievement in return for the payments - imposing requirements on the government, campaigners say. The campaign is working closely with Unison, the public services union, to find case studies to take to court, in the same way as six local councils spearheaded the legal action against the BSF axe.

Another legal action would further damage Mr Gove, who has also come under fire because of embarrassing U-turns over the funding of school sport and the Bookstart scheme, to encourage children to read. The Education Secretary insisted EMA had to go because its £500m cost is too high, but has yet to explain how a different scheme will operate.

One in six homeless hostel beds under threat

Supporting People cuts could lead to one in six of England’s homeless hostel beds becoming unavailable from April, Homeless Link has warned. A survey conducted by the homeless charity umbrella group suggests that of the 84 councils who have announced their reductions to Supporting People funding, 41 per cent are cutting a greater percentage than the overall cut they received from central government for 2011/12.

The report Counting the Cost of Cuts, released last night, made up of information from 500 homelessness services (30 per cent of all homelessness services) predicted this will mean a reduction of 16 per cent (1,807) hostel beds being lost across the country. Homeless Link claimed homeless service providers are facing an average total funding cut of 25 per cent and the cuts councils plan to make to their Supporting People budgets ranges between 1 per cent to 45 per cent.

Based on its findings, the report estimated:

22 per cent of accommodation services would close

46 per cent of floating support services would reduce frontline staff

36 per cent of projects would reduce their support services

The greatest discrepancies between the cut to Supporting People budgets and what councils will receive from the government are in Rochdale, Kingston upon Hull, Kensington and Chelsea, Lewisham, and Nottinghamshire and Nottingham. Homeless Link said it is likely the most beds will be lost in these areas.

Jenny Edwards, chief executive of Homeless Link, said: ‘Councils that have taken action to protect services that support homeless people recognise [their] value. But others are making cuts that make no long-term sense, are disproportionate, hit some of their most vulnerable residents and cannot be justified.

‘The evidence is clear, if you cut homeless services today, communities are highly likely to pay tomorrow - seeing higher rates of addiction, ill health and anti-social behaviour.’ She called on people to campaign for their local services that support homeless people and contact their councillors about the issue.

Mark Oaten: rough trade to fur trade

Former Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten, who quit parliament after cheating on his wife with a rent boy, has taken a job promoting the fur trade. Mr Oaten, 47, is now the chief executive of the Surrey based International Fur Trade Federation that promotes the industry and gives it a "factual image". The move was today branded a "disgrace" by anti-fur pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta).

37 Let’s face it, the middle-aged, gay scally look was never going to work

In 2006 Mr Oaten, the father of two daughters, who is married to Belinda, was embroiled in a sex scandal involving a rent boy that forced him to quit as his party's home affairs spokesman. He stood down before the 2010 general election and his Winchester seat was won by the Conservatives.

Mr Oaten was considered to be on the right wing of the Liberal Democrats and he made a failed bid for the party leadership shortly before the News of the World published the scandal, which he blamed at the time on his hair loss and a mid-life crisis.

In a statement, Mr Oaten, who voted against the 2004 fox hunting ban, said: "I am very proud to be joining such a successful and historic trade. Although we are growing from strength to strength, there are plenty of issues throughout the world that I will need to focus on. It is also important that we do more to promote fur internationally. I served for thirteen years as a member of parliament in the UK and for four years on the Council of Europe, so I know how important effective lobbying can be."

Mr Oaten will travel extensively in the role, meeting and lobbying on behalf of the federation which has links to 35 countries. A spokeswoman for Peta was highly critical of the former politician's new job and claimed the fur trade continues to abuse animals.

The group said in a statement: "(Mr) Oaten, who has identified his hair loss as the trigger for his mid-life crisis and ensuing sex scandal, is now attempting to overcompensate for his baldness by promoting an industry that violently skins fur-bearing animals, often while they're still fully conscious. Fur is a disgrace and so is this former MP, so it's a fitting choice to appoint him the new "face" of the International Fur Trade Federation."

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

French local elections leave Sarkozy's party in disarray

Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party is in disarray after the extreme-right Front National (FN) made historic gains in the first round of local elections in France. The FN capitalised on the surge in popularity for its new leader, Marine Le Pen, by taking 15% of the vote. The party, which until now had no local councillors, will see around 400 candidates go through to the second-round vote on 27 March. 

More than 30 FN candidates topped the poll in areas including parts of Nice, Marseille and the Cote d'Azur. Many will face a run-off against Socialist party figures, leaving the right-wing UMP stumped as to whom to tell its support base to vote for. In the past, the right and left have grouped together in an unofficial republican alliance to block the far right. But the official party line, led by the UMP leader, Jean-Francois Copé, is not to direct its supporters how to vote. Copé said the party refused any alliance with the FN, but it could not recommend a "republican front" because that meant voting for the Socialist party.

Critics said the UMP was vacillating, not wanting to offend the far-right electorate, which it would like to win over in the 2012 presidential elections. But some ministers broke ranks. Valérie Pécresse, the higher education minister, said she would rather vote for the left in the case of a run-off against the FN. The first-round election result was seen as a warning to Sarkozy, who recently recorded his lowest ever approval ratings of 29%. Around 2,000 local councillor seats are up for grabs. With abstention at more than 55% in the first round, on 20 March, the Socialist party won 26% of the vote and the UMP 19% – a bruising in the last electoral test before Sarkozy's battle for presidential re-election.

In a long interview with the Guardian, Le Pen said there was discontent and "a desire for revolution in France" similar to the revolts in the Arab world.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Gilbert and George: Cottage industry

While describing the great changes in Spitalfields during the forty years that they had lived there, Gilbert and George recently noted that the Jewish off-licence was turned into a Hindu music centre and the gentlemen's toilet became an Indian restaurant. Of the latter, George notes: "They said 'It's eat in or takeaway.' I said 'It always was.'"

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Here we gung-ho again

I had read, sickeningly, nothing but praise for Cameron's war speech in the House of Commons on Friday. I was surprised therefore to read two separate articles, in the Telegraph of all places, doubting the wisdom of sending British troops to man the no-fly zone over Libya.

In his regular Saturday piece, in which he usually condemns anything that wriggles to the left of far right, Simon Heffer starts with an enormously satisfying attack on Lady Warsi's appearance on Question Time:

"Supplementing her inadequate grasp of a bad Central Office brief with globules of sentiment, emotion and downright pig ignorance, Lady Warsi was taken apart by Kelvin Mackenzie, the former tabloid editor, in a manner that stunned even me."

He goes on to question why we are getting involved in the Libyan conflict, and at what expense:

"As I wrote last Wednesday, there is one exigency that should compel us to intervene in the Middle East: the threat to our economy and way of life that would be posed by a severe depletion of the supply of oil [!]. Unless that happens we are on the sidelines, our withdrawal from the world signalled by running down our Armed Forces and by deciding, instead, to be a lavishly funded welfare state. However, even if we do have an oil crisis, the defence review has denuded us of the capacity to do anything.

If we wish to protect our interests in that eventuality, we must reopen the defence review without delay. If that means scrapping the overseas aid budget, cutting the self-indulgence of local government or closing a few more quangos, so be it. If it embarrasses a Prime Minister whose poor judgment is ruthlessly exposed by such an about-turn, so be that too. At the moment, we are just making fools of ourselves: but one day, our very ability to survive as a serious country could be at stake."

Meanwhile, the editorial is similarly grumpy:

"He [Cameron] believes that we cannot afford to have a failed state threatening the stability of North Africa. Mr Hague goes even further, arguing that Britain has a moral obligation to assist those who seek the democratic privileges that we enjoy in this country.

It is for this reason that the Government has now ordered the RAF to draw on its depleted reserves to send Tornado and Typhoon fighters to enforce the no-fly zone. Like the other Services, it has been badly hit by the savage defence cuts the Government implemented last year when it said it wanted to avoid foreign entanglements. The lesson should be obvious: if Mr Cameron now wants to adopt a higher profile in world affairs, then he should reopen the defence review and give the Armed Forces the resources to back up his ambitious agenda."

Neither of them, however, mention the incongruities of taking the country into war at a time when benefits for the poor and disabled are being cut, centres for rape victims are being closed and legal aid is being withdrawn for millions of people nationwide. Why are we going to protect the citizens of another country when we can’t even look after our own?

Friday, 18 March 2011

Libya 'to halt military action'

Libya's government is declaring an immediate ceasefire, hours after a UN Security Council resolution backed a no-fly zone over the country. Libyan Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa said the ceasefire was intended "to protect civilians". The UN resolution supported "all necessary measures" to protect civilians, short of an occupation.

Western powers had been discussing how to enforce the no-fly zone. Before the announcement of the ceasefire, fighting between troops loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi and rebel forces was reported to be continuing.

Cameron calls in cabinet as UN votes for no-fly zone over Libya

David Cameron called a cabinet meeting this morning and will make a statement to the House later on Libya, a spokeswoman said on Thursday. Earlier, the United Nations Security Council voted to authorise a no-fly zone over Libya and "all necessary measures" - code for military action - to protect civilians against leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces. The spokeswoman added: "We have obviously been contingency planning to be ready to support a resolution. We are a permanent member of the Security Council and will play a role (in enforcing it)."

The main details of UN Resolution 1973, authorising action to protect Libyan civilians from Muammar Gaddafi, are as follows:

• The resolution expresses the UN's "grave concern at the deteriorating situation, the escalation of violence, and the heavy civilian casualties", condemns "the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions" and says the attacks against civilians "may amount to crimes against humanity" and pose a "threat to international peace and security".

• A no-fly zone is "an important element for the protection of civilians as well as the safety of the delivery of humanitarian assistance and a decisive step for the cessation of hostilities in Libya".

• It "demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians" and "that the Libyan authorities comply with their obligations under international law ... and take all measures to protect civilians and meet their basic needs, and to ensure the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance".

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Begging to differ in Westminster

As far back as 1530 the Vagabonds Act introduced the concept of licensing begging, writes Liz Davies in the Morning Star. Only the elderly and the disabled were entitled to a licence - anyone begging without a licence committed a crime.

Local authorities - from medieval parishes to modern borough councils - have always tried to move the poor away from their own bailiwicks, to distinguish between the so-called deserving and undeserving poor and to criminalise those thought to be undeserving. The famous Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 set up almshouses for those unable to work and houses of industry or workhouses for the able-bodied poor. 

The so-called idle poor would be sent to a house of correction, or prison. The system was funded by local parishes. Naturally each parish was anxious to minimise its own responsibilities. Beggars could be prevented from entering a parish in the first place, so as to avoid a potential responsibility towards them. Although the Poor Law was abolished in 1948, we still criminalise begging and homelessness.

The Vagrancy Acts deem certain "idle and disorderly" persons to be "rogues and vagabonds" if they commit criminal offences. Once they are deemed "rogues and vagabonds," upon further conviction they may be deemed "incorrigible rogues" and face the risk of imprisonment. The first piece of legislation requiring local authorities to help homeless people, including homeless children, was only passed in 1977.

Nowadays people sleeping rough are those who aren't entitled to housing from the state. They might be childless able-bodied adults, adults who do have children or vulnerabilities but are deemed to have "become homeless intentionally" by local authorities, or migrants who aren't entitled to public assistance.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Housing benefit cut for 450,000 disabled people

Government figures show about 450,000 disabled people will see their incomes cut under one of the changes planned to housing benefit. Campaigners fear thousands will be forced from their homes. From April 2013, housing benefit for working age people in social rented homes will be linked to the size of property councils believe they need. Ministers say they want housing benefit claimants to choose to rent properties they can afford when in work.

An assessment from the Department for Work and Pensions shows the change will leave 450,000 disabled people an average of £13 a week worse off. Ministers want to encourage housing benefit claimants to move out of council and housing association properties that are too big for their needs, and to make savings in a housing benefit bill that has almost doubled to £21.5bn in a decade.

But Labour's work and pensions spokeswoman Karen Buck said the changes would unfairly affect disabled people. She said: "If you are going to try and force them out with really proportionately swingeing cuts to their weekly income but you can't even guarantee that you're going to be able to offer them an alternative, then we are looking at a recipe for chaos."

The government has already delayed a proposal to remove money designed to fund travel for disabled people in residential care from the existing Disability Living Allowance. The DLA is to be replaced with a new benefit under plans set out in the Welfare Reform Bill. One disability campaigner said some had told his organisation they were left suicidal about changes to their benefits.

Braga 1 - 0 Liverpool


Thursday, 10 March 2011

Labour MPs launch left-wing rebellion over welfare reform bill

Twelve Labour MPs, including the leading left-winger Jon Cruddas, rebelled against their own whip last night and voted against giving the welfare reform bill a second reading in a display of anger at the party's leadership. The rebels have been angered by the frontbench's unwillingness to do more to oppose changes to housing benefit and disability living allowance. The frontbench had tabled a reasoned amendment opposing many aspects of the bill, but once this was defeated they abstained on second reading.

Labour's leadership argued the party cannot be seen to be opposing welfare reform and that the central proposal of introducing universal credit – a merger of tax credits and benefits – deserves to be given a chance. The main goals of the reform are to make work pay and remove disincentives in the system to work. Liam Byrne (pictured), the shadow work and pensions secretary, has said he is willing to oppose the bill at third reading if the government does not make concessions during the detailed line-by-line scrutiny of the bill in committee.

Labour has become increasingly alarmed at what it regards as massive gaps in the bill, but the government is still negotiating internally on what are very complex proposals. On Wednesday Labour was disturbed to hear the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, announce that childcare credits, paid to 460,000 people, will be included in the universal credit.

Duncan Smith said: "Support for childcare costs will be provided by an additional element paid as part of the universal credit award. We will invest at least the same amount of money in childcare as in the current system, and we will aim to provide some support for those making their first moves into work, so that the support available is not restricted to those working more than 16 hours."

Welfare Reform Bill clears first hurdle

Proposals to radically overhaul the benefits system have moved a step closer after the Welfare Reform Bill cleared its first hurdle in the House of Commons. The Bill received its second reading after MPs voted by 308 to 20, a Government majority of 288. A Labour motion which had criticised much of the Bill and called for fuller consultation was defeated by 317 votes to 244, a Government majority of 73.

78 Kaliya Franklin was snapped on the freezing Mersey sands, with her wheelchair
next to her, as part of the Left Out In The Cold campaign, organised
by disability rights group The Broken of Britain

Under the Government's plans most existing benefits will be replaced with a universal credit as part of efforts to ensure "work will always and must always be made to pay", Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told the Commons. Other proposals would see the the loophole closed which has led to some couples receive more for living apart.

Those who refuse to take up job offers face losing their benefits for up to three years, and there will be tougher sanctions for fraud. But there have been fears that the reforms could push some cancer sufferers into poverty and debt. An alliance of thirty cancer charities warned that changes to disability benefits would mean "that a significant number of people with cancer will be left without vital financial support at a time when they need it the most."

They claim thousands of patients undergoing oral chemotherapy will be hit by plans to withdraw employment support allowance (ESA) after a year, as many will still not be well enough to go back to work. Mr Duncan Smith moved to allay the fears, telling MPs he would listen to advice from charities and the medical profession.

He said: "We are not in the business of trying to harm or affect cancer patients, quite the contrary, I think we have made some very serious changes to what we inherited from the previous government and that is what we will continue to do."

UPDATE – Thursday 10th March 2011 at 15:30

The Labour frontbench abstained on tonight’s vote on the Welfare Reform Bill. John McDonnell MP, LRC Chair, was among just 22 MPs who voted against the Bill. John tweeted: “Ed Miliband decided PLP should only vote for amendment to Tories Welfare cuts Bill & then abstain. It is so appalling I am voting against”. The LRC previously wrote to all Labour MPs urging them to vote against the Bill.

The 22 MPs who voted against the Bill were:
Ronnie Campbell (Lab), Katy Clark (Lab), Michael Connarty (Lab), Jeremy Corbyn (Lab), Jon Cruddas (Lab), Mark Durkan (SDLP), Jonathan Edwards (PC), Dai Havard (Lab), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab), Stewart Hosie (SNP), Sian James (Lab), Elfyn Llwyd (PC), Naomi Long (Alliance), Caroline Lucas (Green), Angus MacNeil (SNP), John McDonnell (Lab), Angus Robertson (SNP), Jim Sheridan (Lab), Dennis Skinner (Lab), Eilidh Whiteford (SNP), Hywel Williams (PC) and Mike Wood (Lab).

(Source: LRC)

Dalai Lama to retire from political life

The Dalai Lama  has announced he will retire from political life within days. In a speech posted on the internet and delivered in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamasala, the veteran Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader said that he would ask the Tibetan parliament in exile to make the necessary constitutional changes to relieve him of his "formal authority" as head of the Tibetan community outside China.

76Dolly is considering ways of averting any succession crisis, possibly through the unprecedented step of seeking her own reincarnation. Possibly.

The assembly, which meets early next week, is expected to approve his request. Though long-anticipated, the move away from the limelight by one of the world's best known political figures signals a dramatic change. Analysts and supporters have described the decision of the Dalai Lama, whose office traditionally combines spiritual and temporal roles, as "historic".

Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet, said that the decision meant that "at a perilous moment in the history of Tibet" the Dalai Lama was "expressing his faith in the Tibetan people." The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has progressively distanced himself from a direct political role and expressed a desire to live as a simple monk.

"As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect," the 76-year-old told an audience at his traditional appearance to mark the anniversary of the Tibetan people's uprising of 1959 against Communist Chinese authorities in the Tibetan capital Lhasa and his own escape to India.

Gaddafi forces detain and beat three BBC journalists

Colonel Gaddafi's security forces detained and beat up a BBC news team who were trying to reach the strife-torn western city of Zawiya. The three were beaten with fists, knees and rifles, hooded and subjected to mock executions by members of Libya's army and secret police. The men were detained on Monday and held for 21 hours, but have now flown out of Libya. 

The BBC team showed their identification when they were detained at an army roadblock on Monday. They had been seeking, like many journalists, to get around government restrictions by reaching besieged Zawiya. The three of them were taken to a huge military barracks in Tripoli, where they were blindfolded, handcuffed and beaten.

One of the three, Chris Cobb-Smith, said: "We were lined up against the wall. I was the last in line - facing the wall. I looked and I saw a plain-clothes guy with a small sub-machine gun. He put it to everyone's neck. I saw him and he screamed at me. Then he walked up to me, put the gun to my neck and pulled the trigger twice. The bullets whisked past my ear. The soldiers just laughed."

A second member of the team - Feras Killani, a correspondent of Palestinian descent - is said to have been singled out for repeated beatings. Their captors told him they did not like his reporting of the Libyan popular uprising and accused him of being a spy. Killani said: "Four of them [detainees] were in a very bad situation. There was evidence of torture on their faces and bodies. One of them said he had at least two broken ribs. I spent at least six hours helping them drink, sleep, urinate and move from one side to another."

The third member of the team, cameraman Goktay Koraltan, said they were all convinced they were going to die. During their detention, the BBC team saw evidence of torture against Libyan detainees, many of whom were from Zawiya. Koraltan said: "I cannot describe how bad it was. Most of them [other detainees] were hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all with swollen hands and broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming." A senior Libyan government official later apologised for the BBC team's ordeal.

However, the BBC said in a statement that it "strongly condemns this abusive treatment". "The safety of our staff is our primary concern especially when they are working in such difficult circumstances and it is essential that journalists working for the BBC, or any media organisation, are allowed to report on the situation in Libya without fear of attack," said the statement from Liliane Landor, languages controller of BBC Global News. "Despite these attacks, the BBC will continue to cover the evolving story in Libya for our audiences both inside and outside the country."

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Arsenal players not bitter at last night's result - much

Robin van Persie
Thanks all AFC fans 4 tonight played vs a great team and a even better ref. He had a absolute shocker tonight think we all agree on this 1

Jack Wilshere
Arsenal fans great as always! Sorry about the result,good luck to Barca,great team! Oh yeah and the ref was good aswell....

Cesc Fàbregas Soler
Great support from the arsenal fans. I take full blame for the result tonight. One of the worst moments of my life. I apologise.

UPDATE: 17:00 Wed 9th March
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and winger Samir Nasri have been charged by Uefa over comments made to the referee after their defeat by Barcelona. The duo were charged with improper conduct for "inappropriate language".

Sunday, 6 March 2011

No faith in Richmond's schools

A coalition of religious groups has joined calls for the council to ditch its plans to give one of two new secondary schools to the Catholic Church. Accord, which includes British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Hindu Academy and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches among its members, has spoken out on the subject. The South West London Humanists group expressed concerns after Richmond Council approved the plans in December, saying they were about “exclusivity and privilege” and went against its policies on choice and diversity.

Paul Pettinger, spokesman for Accord, said: “We are pleased to give our support to this campaign. “It is only right to insist both of the two new secondary schools proposed by Richmond Council are high quality inclusive schools, suitable for children from all backgrounds in the borough, rather than one of them becoming a faith school that will be able to discriminate on the grounds of religion and belief in its admissions and employment policies, and only provide a narrow education about the beliefs of others.” Richmond is due to get two new schools by 2015.

Mr Pettinger said Accord’s campaign was not “anti-religious” but opposed discrimination against pupils. He said: “The long-term interests of our society are not best served if we use the school system to segregate our children on narrow religious lines.” Richmond Council leader Lord True said many Catholic people lived in the borough and paid council tax but were forced to send their children to secondary schools outside Richmond. He said: “The borough is losing those pupils from the local education economy, and that’s not good for the way we look overall.

Saturday, 5 March 2011


Adams, the Telegraph

Friday, 4 March 2011

Libya: "British Army ready to deploy at 24 hours' notice"

Tattoo inspires Olympic slogan

Barnsley Central by-election sounds death knell for Lib Dems

Labour has won the Barnsley Central by-election, while the Lib Dems slipped to sixth in the South Yorkshire seat. UKIP, the Conservatives, the BNP and an independent all finished ahead of the Lib Dems, who had finished second in the seat in 2010's general election. Lib Dem candidate Dominic Carman said his party had been given "a kicking", while Labour's victorious Dan Jarvis said it was a message to the coalition. The contest followed the former Labour MP's resignation over his expenses.

At the general election Eric Illsley had held Barnsley Central with a majority of just over 11,000 and 47% of the vote, with the Liberal Democrats in second place. But the MP resigned his seat after pleading guilty to falsely claiming £14,000 in parliamentary expenses. He was later jailed for a year. The turnout in the by-election was 36.5%, compared with 56.4% at the last general election.

Labour took 60.8% of the vote, UKIP's Jane Collins 12.19%, the Conservatives' James Hockney 8.25%, the BNP's Enis Dalton 6.04%, Independent Tony Devoy 5.23% and the Liberal Democrats' Dominic Carman 4.18%. Mr Carman lost his deposit. He said: "The voters here in Barnsley have given me and the Liberal Democrats a kicking. We can take it."

Also speaking at the count, Lib Dem president Tim Farron said: "It was a poor result for us. It was a poor result for the Tories. The coalition parties didn't do very well here. Surprise, surprise. Dan Jarvis will be a good MP, I'm sure, and it would be churlish not to congratulate him. But perhaps the biggest story is that 70% of people didn't think it was worth bothering," he added.

Mr Jarvis, a 38-year-old former soldier, said the people of Barnsley Central were sending the "strongest possible message" to David Cameron and Nick Clegg. "Your reckless policies, your broken promises and unfair cuts are letting our country down," he said. "I grew up in Margaret Thatcher's Britain. I remember how angry it made me feel. Whole communities abandoned to unemployment, public services run down, talents wasted, opportunities taken away. Thatcher was wrong then and Cameron is wrong now." UKIP leader Nigel Farage said on Twitter: "Brilliant result! We are the voice of the opposition."

The by-election is only the second since the coalition government took power last May, the other being January's contest for Oldham East and Saddleworth which Labour also won comfortably. BBC political reporter Robin Brant said the Barnsley Central result was humiliating for Nick Clegg who would see it as a first sign of the battering his party could expect in some parts of the country as the Coalition's cuts start to bite.

Dan Jarvis (Lab) 14,724
Jane Collins (UKIP) 2,953
James Hockney (C) 1,999
Enis Dalton (BNP) 1,463
Tony Devoy (Ind) 1,266
Dominic Carman (LD) 1,012
Kevin Riddiough (Eng Dem) 544
Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 198
Michael Val Davies (Ind) 60
Lab maj 11,771: Turnout 37%

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Welfare ‘reform’: Coalition scraps crisis loans

A fund that helps low-income families with living costs that are not covered by weekly benefits is set to be scrapped under the government's benefit reforms, it has emerged. The discretionary Social Fund is made up of grants and some repayable "crisis loans". It is given to local authorities to disburse in their area to families and individuals most in need. But in an open ministerial letter and a call for evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions, it is proposed that the crisis loans and grants offered through the Social Fund be scrapped and replaced with locally-based provision, funded by central government.

The call for evidence states: "We firmly believe that the abolition of the discretionary elements of the Social Fund and their replacement with a combination of modernised national service and new locally-based and designed discretionary provision will deliver a more responsive, better targeted and relevant service. Individual local authorities will be given the funding and flexibility to redesign the emergency provision for vulnerable groups according to local circumstances, in order to meet severe hardship in the way they think best." But charity Family Action, which provides grants to families in need who are unable to access the Social Fund, has warned that the move will push some families to use high interest lenders and loan sharks. The charity also fears that if the money is not ring-fenced the reforms could lead to a postcode lottery of different entitlements in different areas.

Family Action chief executive Helen Dent said: "The Social Fund is being portrayed as a sticking plaster when it is a smart intervention. Community care grants prevent places in hospitals, refuges and hostels being blocked, funding cookers means families do not resort to takeaways or handouts from food banks. The government needs to think again. Vulnerable families turn to the Social Fund in times of crisis. And when the Social Fund turns them away, often because they have run out of money or people cannot afford to repay the loan, they have to turn to charities like Family Action. Many do not have access to bank accounts or credit apart from at a very high rate. This is why applications to the Social Fund are not a feckless or irresponsible act but rational consumer choices. The reform of the social fund that is proposed could lead to many households seeking credit from high-interest lenders."

In the ministerial open letter, pensions minister Steve Webb and junior minister Andrew Stunnell said at present the Social Fund is poorly targeted. "The Social Fund has been an important part of welfare provision for more than 20 years, providing financial support to some of the most vulnerable individuals and families in Great Britain. However, as we develop our plans to modernise the benefits system and introduce universal credit, it is increasingly clear that some of the support offered through the Social Fund is poorly targeted and expensive to administer," the letter states. "We believe that as we move forward with our plans to reform welfare, local government in England has a role to play in delivering the most discretionary elements of the scheme. Local knowledge, professional expertise and links with existing services will all contribute to better informed decision-making, which in turn will result in the improved targeting of resources."

Janaki Mahadevan
Children & Young People Now

Murdoch rides roughshod over government

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has been given government approval for its controversial takeover of BSkyB. The green light follows News Corp's offer to spin-off Sky News as an independent company. The decision follows concerns about the concentration of media outlets in the hands of one organisation. News Corp, which owns the Sun, the News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times, is looking to take over the 61% of BSkyB that it does not own.

96 Rupert Murdoch: used to getting his way

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he intended to accept News Corp's offer rather than refer the takeover to the Competition Commission. Ofcom, the UK media regulator, had said the deal should be referred to the commission. The European Commission has already ruled there is no reason to oppose the takeover on competition grounds. News Corp said it welcomed Mr Hunt's decision. It said it noted Ofcom's opinion to the culture secretary that it considered that "the revised proposed undertakings would address [its] plurality concerns".

Opponents will have until 21 March to lodge any complaints. A number of media groups have opposed the takeover, including the Guardian, Associated Newspapers, Trinity Mirror and the Telegraph. "We shall be vigorously contesting this whitewash of a proposal during the consultation period, as well examining all legal options," they said in a joint statement.

Mr Hunt, responsible for deciding whether to allow the takeover, said he believed News Corp's offer to hive off Sky News would "address concerns about media plurality". "The undertakings offered would ensure that shareholdings in Sky News would remain unchanged, and indeed offer it more independence from New Corporation than it currently has," he said.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Jane Russell

1921 - 2011

Jane Russell in 'The French Line'

The King's Speech (US version)

Some SDP thinking might strengthen Labour's nerve

Confused by third-way boxing clever, stricken with taboos about its core values, the party needs a dose of social democracy, writes Polly Toynbee in today's Guardian

March marks thirty years since the birth of the Social Democratic party. For those too young to remember, this 1981 Labour schism may seem an obscure footnote in history. Those of us who were part of it tend to rewrite the history to suit whatever we did next. The handful who later joined the Tories – Andrew Lansley, Danny Finkelstein, Chris Grayling and Andrew Cooper now joining No 10 – see it quite differently from those of us who rejoined Labour. The spectacle of SDP founders such as Shirley Williams and Vince Cable appearing on Newsnight to champion George Osborne's economic policies leaves many dumbfounded, political compasses spinning.

The SDP launch as seen through Polly's rose-coloured spectacles

In 1981 Michael Foot was leading Labour to certain destruction: his 700-page 1983 manifesto was for pulling out of Europe and nationalising a swath of industries – including the banks (rather more credible now). Local parties were under hostile takeover by Militant tendency and Trotskyite impossibilists, on instruction to move into bedsits in vulnerable seats and pass late-night motions beyond the patience and bedtimes of ordinary members of parliament. All this was supported by Tony Benn, a ruthless destroyer now curiously regarded as a charming national treasure. My own Lambeth Labour party was a wreckage of extremism, running the council into disrepute.

In power, Margaret Thatcher was wielding an axe more bloody than any since the war, although she seems positively pragmatic compared with this government's revolutionary dynamiting of the state. She was the most unpopular PM since polls began, with riots in Brixton, Bristol and Toxteth. Between the Scylla and Charybdis of these two unpalatables there was no voice for a European-style social democratic party of a kind that brought prosperity and social progress to Scandinavia and Germany. In alliance with the Liberals, the SDP nearly broke the two-party grip, coming just 2% behind Labour in 1983. But the first-past-the-post mincer saw 25% of the vote deliver a tiny handful of seats. Roy Hattersley said on Radio 4's Archive on 4 documentary, Breaking the Mould : "Had we come third the SDP would have taken off, and it would have been all over for Labour." But it didn't happen. Thatcher's Falklands victory made her triumphant. Within Labour, late at night, embers of old arguments rekindle: did the SDP let her win by splitting the vote – or did the SDP help bring Labour back to electability?

What-ifs are an idle pastime, but history needs constant rewriting in the light of following events. Political ground shifts. Now the far left has vanished from effective politics, those of us who fought them often find ourselves called "the left" without having changed our views. What matters is where the people are, and where they have moved in the last decades. From the polling, they stand pretty much where they always did – and a majority was always pragmatic social democrat.

Tony Blair was wrong to think this an essentially conservative country. The voting system gifted conservative rule for most of the last century: no wonder they fight to the last against voting reform. Two-thirds of the Lib Dem vote identifies itself as left, rather than right, of centre: under proportional voting with a horseshoe Commons reflecting more shades of opinion, this coalition would not be so extreme. Blair would have been denied the hegemony that led to such hubris. The alternative vote may be a poor apology, but it's a first step towards governments that better reflect the national view.

Talking to David Owen, the former SDP leader, I was looking for clues as to where his old party would be now on a political spectrum that the coalition has sent haywire. He warns Ed Miliband in private meetings as well as in public to cast off Blairism and go back to Labour values.

That might strike some as ironic, but this Labour deserter still declares undying love for the party that he sees standing at a new crossroads. He vigorously disavows Blair as any heir of the SDP, with withering scorn for his corrupting fascination with wealth and his lack of ideological moorings. Blair, he says, opened the door to much that Cameron now espouses. He sees the "any willing provider" explosive opening-up of the NHS and all public services to any private company as a toxic Blair legacy: "The NHS is poised to be destroyed." The SDP first advocated an internal market as a way to define prices within a public service – but never to open them to private markets.

Is any SDP history remotely relevant to Labour now? Miliband and his team are struggling under the Conservative assault on all things public, branded as statist, centralising supporters of fat-cat public employees. MPs' expenses, and BBC and local authority executive pay are used to rouse popular indignation and distract the public's attention from the savagery of the cuts.

Owen points Miliband towards the social market model of the SDP, based on European social democracy, acknowledging the necessity for markets, but that markets exist for social purposes – and capitalism can only thrive when well-regulated. He urges Miliband not to be afraid to stand up for public service and the public good. Don't shun trade unions, as Blair did. A social market needs unions – markets working together with unions and government, as in northern Europe.

Owen's great regret is the SDP's failure to bring unions with it. Labour's electoral college with the unions needs urgent reform – but build on union roots or risk being as un-anchored as the party was under Blair. All these seem wise words from one who can hardly be called old Labour.

Miliband needs a clean break with the recent past. But he was only 12 when the SDP had its brief firefly moment, so why bother with it now? Because Labour has lost a clear idea of itself, confused by years of third-way boxing clever, stricken with taboos about its core values. The Tories' unexpected plunge rightwards helps give Labour back its identity and purpose. Some SDP thinking – reformist, redistributionist – might strengthen Labour's nerve to espouse the public good against the anti-government anarchy Cameron has let loose. But no doubt old SDP politicians now so strangely inside the coalition will draw quite different historical lessons.

The Guardian