Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Layer 286 . . . Discovering France, Equality and Fraternity, Bankers Taking Serious Liberties, Competing on Radicalism, Over Confidence and Extremist Moods

On the radio this morning there was an item about a family that couldn't get back to Britain from Italy because of the no-fly zone, and had to hire a car. In the words of the 81 year old who was involved in the journey, "We got lost near the Alps and drove back along winding roads over the mountains. It was a great adventure!"

The guy who drove the car said, "France is a lot bigger than it looks on the map. It's a very beautiful country. Thanks to no planes and no trains we had a great time."

Well, yes. I just feel sorry for people who've never discovered the joys of unplanned journeys by road through France. Just think what it could do for the rural economy of France if more people chose a slow drive rather than a quick flight in order to get to the Mediterranean. France is a fabulous country with wonderful landscapes and a superb cuisine, and in my experience very civilised people. And they're still proud of their revolutionary slogan - Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.


And talking of revolutions, Polly Toynbee says this in today's paper:

Here's what Labour can do about the Lib Dem dilemma

This surge is about public rage at bankers and MPs. Brown should compete on radicalism, and leave Cameron to be nasty


History will record two mighty reasons for the Lib Dem surge: rage with the political system brought to the boil by MPs expenses; and rage with boardrooms and bankers who crashed the economy, cost jobs and homes, and yet kept their swelling pay and bonuses. Labour has failed to find the language or action to reflect popular outrage on either. Even under attack by business and the City, Labour replies weakly: "We're a pro-business party."

But 1996 Mandelson-speak is useless when business is kicking the hell out of Labour, and useless when people want the hell kicked out of bankers. Yesterday's report from the Centre for Economic Performance showed how bonanza bonuses in the finance sector cause risk-taking that contributed to the financial crisis. Why not use the report to announce that the bonus tax will continue until banks (and board rooms) control their offensively greedy pay? With the right language, that begins to match the Lib Dems.

Oxzen said this on cif:

The Lib Dems have already said they'll allow the Tories to form a government if they get the largest share of the vote. Why? If the Lib Dem surge continues and the bizarre outcome is a parliament in which Labour has the most seats with fewer votes than their main rivals, then the Lib Dems have a duty to make a deal with Labour to immediately push through electoral reform with proper proportional representation, and allow the country to have another election under the new system. The TV debates have thankfully made constitutional reform THE main issue, and the country will benefit from the policies that would follow from a more progressive parliament. Without a pledge to join with Labour in a government of constitutional change the Lib Dems will find much of their current popularity swiftly waning.


Nick Clegg's poll rise casts doubt on David Cameron's change claims

In Guardian/ICM poll, Conservative leader is seen as much less honest than the Lib Dem leader

by Julian Glover



George Monbiot had another good column in yesterday's paper:

Wales's unreported revolution

In the latest of a series of articles by Guardian writers on issues they care passionately about, George Monbiot asks how, when English politics is trapped in a neoliberal consensus, is green socialism able to flourish in Wales?


While radical rural politics are familiar in parts of France, Mexico and Brazil, those of us brought up in England associate the countryside with conservatism. Here in the remotest parts of Wales there's overwhelming support for policies well to the left of Labour's.

Why, when the three main parties in Westminster appear to be trapped in a neoliberal consensus, is a green socialist party sharing power in Cardiff? What has Wales got that England hasn't?

For the past few years a quiet but momentous revolution has been taking place. That this has passed largely unnoticed in England reflects the media's lack of interest in Wales. English progressives know more about the political transformation in Bolivia than the similar shift happening over the border. Perhaps this is just as well. The Welsh have been left to get on with it, and nobody in England cares enough to try to stop them.

It was Plaid Cymru that led the attempt to impeach Tony Blair over the invasion of Iraq. It opposed the conflict in Afghanistan from the outset. It wants to scrap Trident and cancel the aircraft carrier and Eurofighter contracts. It would break up the banks, ban short selling, tax foreign exchange transactions, raise capital gains tax, raise income tax for the rich while reducing it for the poor. It would set a maximum wage and give workers seats on corporate boards.

It seeks to renationalise the railways and curb the power of the supermarkets. It wants a living pension for everyone over 80, to raise benefits in line with average earnings and to scrap tuition fees. It would abandon ID cards, stop detaining asylum seekers and shift sentencing away from prison and towards restorative justice.

Such policies are widely held to make parties in England unelectable. But in Wales they are considered mainstream, and not just among Plaid supporters. The Labour party in Cardiff is a different beast from the Labour party in Westminster.

The Welsh Assembly government, where Labour is the senior coalition partner, has stopped Sats in schools, scrapped the private finance initiative, is abandoning the internal market in the NHS, has imposed tough social housing policies, helped set up a network of credit unions and – belatedly – more or less killed new opencast mining.

The manifesto Labour has just published for the Westminster vote would be a lengthy suicide note for the assembly elections. What explains the difference?

When I asked why a radical party could succeed in Wales, Llwyd replied instantly, as if the answer were obvious. Proportional representation had created space for a politics inhibited by Middle England. "Not the actual people of Middle England but the idea of it. First-past-the-post politics means that you are always chasing those swing votes in marginal constituencies."

But, I argued, while this might explain why Plaid does well in Cardiff, it doesn't explain its success in Westminster elections.

"Traditionally Welsh people belong to the left. There's a deep and ingrained sense of fair play. They want to see people being looked after. The University of Bangor was built on donations from quarrymen, earning a pittance because they wanted a better future for their children."

There's no question that, as Llwyd claims, devolution and electoral reform have been decisive factors. They have created a culture of political responsiveness that's mostly lacking in England. Politics in Wales is closer to the people; politicians are forced to listen. Perhaps in England too there is a peaceful revolution waiting to be unleashed, but with a parliament in which Welsh, Scottish and Irish MPs can be drilled through the lobbies to vote on purely English matters, where grassroots politics are continually thwarted by dodgy voting systems, ruthless party machines and antediluvian powers, the box in which it lurks remains firmly nailed down.

The English like to think of themselves as a modern and sophisticated nation . . . but as far as democracy is concerned, the English are light years behind.


Comedian Mark Thomas wins £1,200 over police search

'Over-confident' comic was unlawfully stopped and had his bag checked as he left arms protest


Police have paid compensation and apologised to the comedian and activist Mark Thomas after they admitted unlawfully searching him for looking "over-confident" at a demonstration.

The Metropolitan police stopped and searched Thomas after he gave a speech at a rally against the arms trade in 2007.

The police searched his shoulder bag and wallet for weapons, which they said could be used to cause criminal damage.

A police officer recorded on an official form that Thomas may have been carrying weapons as he had an "over-confident attitude". Nothing was found.

In January the European court of human rights ruled it was unlawful for police to use arbitrary stop-and-search powers against peace protesters and photographers under terrorism legislation. Kent police admitted conducting unlawful searches on 11-year-old twins and other activists at an environmental demonstration.

The officer said his shoulder bag "may contain such items due to the over-confident attitude of Mr Thomas". He is also said to have told Thomas he "appeared to know what you were talking about" at the rally. The officer added: "If we only stopped and searched people who looked nervous and shifty and didn't stop the ones who looked over-confident you would be able to get one past us," according to legal papers lodged by Thomas, which were not disputed by the police.

The officer noted on the official document recording the reasons for the stop-and-search that Thomas was "believed to be an influential individual".

The comedian's photograph had been on a secret "spotter card" issued to officers to identify people considered to be potential troublemakers at a demonstration against the arms fair two years earlier.

The Met paid £1,200 for "falsely imprisoning" Thomas for 12 minutes. He said: "£100 a minute is slightly more than my usual rate. If over-confidence is a reason for a stop-and-search Jonathan Ross should never leave his house."

Thomas said he would donate some of the money to the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation. He will also use it to fund his next standup tour, saying advertising posters would contain a line thanking the police for their financial support.


Nick Clegg's rise could lock Murdoch and the media elite out of UK politics

At the Sun, we deliberately ignored the Lib Dems. The cosy pro-Cameron press may now be left floundering

by David Yelland



Bill Clinton's warning on extremist mood in US

Growing concern in White house about anti-government mood
Trust in US government at its lowest point for half a century



The UK isn't so different from Greece: a financial crisis could happen here too

The markets fear a hung parliament but the real risk for the UK's grotesquely unbalanced economy lies further ahead

by Larry Elliott



Goldman Sachs prosecution threatens to open the floodgates on Wall Street

Pressure grows for stricter controls on derivatives
Timothy Geithner says banks will be made to pay

by Andrew Clark



Some excellent columns from Ruth Sunderland:

Labour and the Tories are just too scared to take on the bankers
Both the UK's main parties seem terrified of crossing an unelected – and unaccountable – financial elite


The crisis is no American invention – the City was in it, up to its neck

Look at how many of the characters in the credit crunch were operating out of London


Goldman Sachs finds $5bn for pay and bonuses amid fraud investigation


Unemployment across UK is back to 1999 levels

Decade of job growth effectively wiped out by financial crisis
Don't cut spending after election, business leaders urge



If the Conservatives cut the deficit it's all downhill from here

by William Keegan


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