Tuesday, 25 August 2009
I grew up in a true blue Tory household, with a father who cast his aspirational vote for whoever wore the blue rosette. As a small business owner he felt that he had risen above the Labour vote that he had been brought up with, bettered himself and to vote Tory was proof of his success.
Politics was never a major part of our lives, Thatcher was elected when I was too young to understand or care much and all I knew was that it was good, because that is what I heard. My Dad was the worst kind of Tory snob, actually working class but in total denial. A well-practised 'Oxford accent' for when he met new people and upon first answering the telephone and he never went anywhere without a shirt and tie. He considered all Labour politicians to be "thick" (I think that was because they mostly spoke with regional accents) and the Tory's were the only ones who could be trusted to run the country. The miners were all rough troublemakers who the government had to crush and Scargill needed to be put in his place. So, you get it. I was brainwashed Tory from birth.
Politics passed me by and I didn't even rush out to vote when I turned 18. I eventually cast my first vote in a local election, probably in about 1993 and yes, I voted Conservative.
My transformation into a Labour voter began very gently, with John Smith. Even my Mom liked John Smith, I think almost everyone did. When he died so suddenly, Tony Blair picked up the reins and continued to guide me towards the left. I was full of the heady excitement that new romance brings, I loved Labour and what it stood for, I gladly shouted my love for the left and stood up to my parents in the face of their disapproval towards my new infatuation.
I joined the labour party shortly after the 1997 election. I was proud to be a card-carrying member and was proud of what Labour achieved once in power. I debated politics gladly, I enjoyed nothing more than a good discussion on the merits of the minimum wage, the advances in healthcare and particularly in trying to demonstrate to my parents that, as pensioners, they were so much better off under Labour.
My first major crisis of faith came in 2003. Yes, you know what I am going to say don't you? At the time, I was undecided about whether we should invade or not, which is unusual for me, being quite a strong, opinionated woman. I was however, certain that we should not go in without UN approval. Then, I discovered that, not only was the majority of the country against the invasion, the majority of the Labour party was against it too. The absolute lack of democracy shocked me; the constituencies had absolutely no voice.
My second crisis of faith, also in 2003, was student top up fees. I was a student at the time and knew just how much this would hurt normal working class families and affect the opportunities of some students when it came to higher education. There is no place for a market in education and this policy was turning the whole arena into just that.
There have been many more crises since then, particularly SOCPA and ID cards, I will never voluntarily apply for an identity card and to suggest that we will beat terrorism in this way is frankly ridiculous. I won't list everything that Labour has done to annoy me, that would take a long time and already this blog is longer than I wanted it to be!
There are many who say that we need to stick with the party, reclaim it and make it the socialist defender of the working people that it once was. But how are we to do this, if the hierarchy refuse to even engage with the consituencies. It is difficult to have a debate at party level, the branch meetings can debate and argue policy until they are blue in the face but who listens? At the 2004 conference, a campaign was begun that aimed to reinstate democratic processes within the party, ultimately it achieved very little, Blair had no interest in giving grassroots members more power and the conference again was little more than a glitzy PR show.
The argument for reclaiming the Labour Party at grassroots level is weak. The Labour government and Labour party has lost so many members now that there are only a fraction left to reclaim it. By defending the position of 'sticking it out' so we can build it back up, we are preventing the natural and necessary death of 'New Labour'. There is no genuine, widely appealing, socialist alternative. The electorate are often heard saying that politicians are "all the same", this is because they are all trying so hard to be popular, that they are filling the same ground with their bland, try-to-please-everyone policies, except New Labour are even getting that wrong.
While this continues, the parties who offer a genuine alternative will continue to grow. More seats will be won by parties at the fringes of acceptability and the Conservative party - who changes its message so often that everyone eventually hears something they agree with - will prosper. There is a void, an empty chair at the dinner table, it is where Labour used to sit.
I have come a long way from the naive girl who gazed adoringly at her new love. For this, I really owe a huge debt of gratitude to Blair, he was the main driving force behind my embarking on this journey and to my joining Labour. The problem was, he stopped driving to the left but I carried on. For this I feel enormous resentment towards him and to the party hierarchy who enjoyed power too much and allowed him to do it.
In the end, I renewed my membership. I continue to vote Labour because I can't in my heart put that 'X' anywhere else. I genuinely believe that in my local area, Labour is the best option - probably because they are all 'Old Labour'. Still, it's July and in a few short weeks, September will be upon us and that renewal notice will again drop onto the mat. Who knows what will happen this time.
Sunday, 23 August 2009
In 2007, BP in conjunction with it's 'Libyan partner' the Libyan Investment Corporation (LIC), signed an agreement with the National Oil Company (NOC) of Libya. According to their Chief Executive Tony Hayward, it was BP's "single biggest exploration commitment". Mr Hayward and NOC Chairman Shokri Ghanem, sealed the deal in the presence of then British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The benefits of the agreement were explained by BP in their press release at the time:
BP and the LIC will explore around 54,000 square kilometres (km2) of the onshore Ghadames and offshore frontier Sirt basins, equivalent to more than ten of BP's operated deepwater blocks in Angola. Successful exploration could lead to the drilling of around 20 appraisal wells.
During this exploration and appraisal phase, BP will acquire 5,500km of 2D seismic and 30,000km2 of 3D seismic and will drill 17 exploration wells.
"We are delighted to be working with the National Oil Company of Libya to develop their natural resources for domestic and international markets. Our agreement is the start of an enduring, long-term and mutually beneficial partnership with Libya,"
A big commitment indeed, with BP having being absent from the Libyan Oil Industry for over 30 years. There had been much negotiation and the promise of BP spending $50 million on education and training projects for Libyan professionals during exploration and appraisal and a further $50 million when production began.
It is fair to assume that there was fierce competition, as Libya was not only opening the doors of its lucrative oil industry to BP, but to other international oil companies, having seen international relations warming since sanctions were lifted in 2004. However, since the deals were forged, there have been numerous logistical problems preventing BP (and others) from bringing in the necessary equipment to fulfil the contracts. Libyan Bureaucracy has delayed permits and prevented completion of the required official paperwork.
Back in July, Gordon Brown held talks with Colonel Gaddafi during the G8 conference. They are known to have discussed the fate of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Gaddafi apparently 'urged' Brown to allow his sentence to be served out in Libya, due to his terminal illness. Brown called Libya a "critical partner" due to its role as an oil producer and the two leaders agreed on the need for better consumer and producer dialogue over oil. As an aside, Downing Street also confirmed that:
Nuclear proliferation, rising oil prices and better representation for Africa on international institutions like the IMF or World Bank were also covered in the 45-minute meeting.
It has been suggested that the release of al-Megrahi would demonstrate the UK's commitment to Libya and help to eliminate the red-tape being used to delay the current BP deal. As the deal is worth around $900 million and has the potential for knock-on effects across the energy industry in the UK and Europe, the motivation to comply with Gaddafi's request is clear.
In recent months, Tripoli has been holding negotiations for not only oil and gas but also arms deals and with not only the UK but also with Russia. (Given the history, it might be surprising to discover that Libya is not on the list of countries that British Arms Companies are banned from exporting to.) Then consider that Libya holds the largest stock of oil reserves in Africa, at 42 billion barrels and has enormous potential for large resources of gas. With the current position regarding Russian gas exports and the reliance on imports for 40% of the UK's gas; an alternative source would prove very useful and add vital security to the UK energy market.
In 2008, Vladimir Putin travelled to Tripoli. He is keen to obtain access to Libyan gas and further compound his country's position as the world's largest producer of gas. He also wishes to forge long-term arms deals and site a Russian Naval base on Libyan soil. This causes concern in Europe, given the additional leverage this would allow Russia to have over gas supplies across the continent. The US would also be unhappy should such a partnership be achieved.
Suddenly Libya is a very willing player, being courted by several suitors and knowing exactly how to play this game of international tease.
Despite Mandelson's affront and denials, is it really a surprise that al-Megrahi was released, when the competition between Libya's courtiers is considered. It would be naive to believe that with Blair being present for the birth of the BP/NOC deal, that Brown would not be playing a God-fatherly role and doing what he could to preserve it. So while the anti-Brown/Labour bandwagon fires up with their outrage at the release, I have to say that I doubt any Prime Minister in this position would do any different.
Monday, 17 August 2009
We travelled to the countryside in our own mini-convoy of two cars. As we entered the lane to the farm, we were handed leaflets by a group of people standing in the road and were directed to the entrance by an army of uniforms with their high-visibility jackets marking the road ahead. We were directed to the field, set our pitch and took a moment to take in the spectacle of the flags, flying proudly above various camper-vans, motor-homes and tents.
Most of the people there were in groups - families and friends, everyone pitching in and helping out, very friendly and welcoming of us first-timers. I admit, that I had been a bit worried about going to the festival with the children, but I didn't need to be, we were among peaceful people, who only wanted to spend a weekend celebrating something synonymous with their cultural heritage.
We were in the small village of Cropredy, in Oxfordshire, specifically at Fairport Convention's Cropredy Convention, a folk festival that has been held there for the past 42 years. We and over twenty-thousand others, were listening to comedy & wit from Phil Cool and Richard Digance, wonderful music from the likes of the Buzzcocks, Nik Kershaw, Ade Edmondson & the Bad Shepherds, the Dodge Brothers, Seth Lakeman, Steve Winwood, Dreadzone, Fairport Convention and the legend that is Yusuf, (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens). It really was a reflection of the wonderful British culture, with people from every walk of life, families, retired couples, groups of young people, ageing-hippies, rockers, bikers, punks, students, stereotypical Scots (the McBastards, we salute you!) the middle-classes, gay, straight, wizards too, according to our five-year-old. Hey, there were even people from other lands, who had travelled from overseas and every single one of these people were allowed to be themselves, without judgement or disparagement and were welcomed equally and warmly by all, whatever clothes or novelty-style hat they were wearing - and boy, there were a few crackers!
Meanwhile, and by contrast, a racist rally, masquerading as a festival was being held in the small village of Codnor, Derbyshire. Here the BNP was holding its annual event for the third year running. The crowd (it is difficult to find an estimate of numbers, I have seen 'hundreds' mentioned, although the BNP did say they were expecting up to six-thousand) were "treated" to a rogues gallery of speakers, from around the UK, with arrests and convictions for a range of offences, including public order, distribution of racist material and even murder. The list of organisations that the VIP speakers had or still hold membership of ranged from the National Front, National Democrats, to the American White Supremacy group the National Alliance and the German NDP.
In the middle of the fascists' fun was a mock graveyard, for families to enjoy, a coconut shy, featuring the face of Sir Trevor Phillips, a raffle and other fairground stalls. Information was provided on handling hostile media interviews, tracing your ancestors (and hiding any evidence of non-white heritage, no doubt) and there was a morning service (I assume non-denominational) by their very own counterfeit cleric Robert West. Their specially-invited VIP guest speaker, the US White Supremacist Preston Wiginton, had to send his apologies from Heathrow, where he was barred from entering the country and returned to New York, as the UK Border Agency had intelligence that led them to believe he would promote extremism, hatred and violent messages.
In Cropredy, the leaflets being handed out were from the village primary school, welcoming festival goers and offering them a free cup of tea or coffee if they came to the school for a Cropredy Breakfast-in-a-Bun; the uniforms were Scouts and St John Ambulance members from around the country volunteering their time. The village pubs had their own fringe events and the village hall offered afternoon tea. They are used to the festival and the good-natured guests it brings. There were a few PCSO around but with not one reported theft in 2008 and no trouble, there was no requirement for a heavy Police presence.
Again, in contrast, in Codnor, the people lining the streets were protesters, angry at the celebration of hate that was going on in the field beyond the English country hedgerow and the uniforms belonged to the 500+ Police Officers protecting the fascists. Although the BNP official line is that the residents of Codnor fully support the festival, it is hard to believe that when it is reported that the local pub has a sign reading "No BNP", locals are quoted as saying the BNP are "racist and divisive" and there are reports from the villagers that they witnessed BNP festival goers goose-stepping and shouting "Heil Hitler" during last years jamboree!
So, one weekend, two festivals, they couldn't be more different in their aim, ambience, inclusiveness but most importantly, their Britishness. One thing is certain, the villagers of Cropredy are proud to be the home of Fairport's wonderful Cropredy Convention and its tradition and heritage will probably live on for at least another forty years - I am sure the same cannot be said for the festival of hate that the villagers of Codnor unwittingly find themselves associated with.
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
To illustrate the difference between a good public health care system (the NHS) and a poor one, I will relay the story of a friend of mine, who returned from overseas last week, after extending her holiday with a stay in two hospitals. She is a responsible traveller, had travel insurance and was familiar with the country she was in, having travelled there several times before.
Three days into her week-long holiday, Kate went on a boat trip with her husband John. While on the boat, she slipped, fell and broke several ribs. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital in the main town on the island. She arrived in A & E in excruciating pain, to discover that there was no triage, no reception desk, just a room, full to bursting with people waiting to see one of the two Doctors sitting at tables at one end. There were a few locals, quite a gathering of Brits, (that had mostly been involved in scooter or quad-bike accidents) and a few other Europeans, all involved in a free-for-all, trying to obtain medical attention.
Eventually, still in intense pain, Kate was taken into a treatment room. It was small, with four gurneys, three with patients already occupying them, male and female. Kate was told to lie on the vacant gurney and wait for the Doctor. There were no curtains, screens or gowns. Kate was stripped to waist for an ECG with no consideration for her privacy or dignity and while this was done, the door was constantly being opened for everyone in the waiting room to see. The room was filthy, there was plaster and blood on the floor, and while the ECG was being done, the cleaner came in and mopped around Kate's gurney!
After a chest x-ray, Kate was advised she had to be admitted for observation for 24-hours, as she had definitely broken her ribs but had not punctured her lung. (Remember that, it is important later, she had not punctured her lung). She was taken to the ward and given a bed in a side room; there were just two beds and the other was empty. The paint was peeling off the window sills and the room was dirty. The nurses didn't seem to mind Kate's husband staying with her, until that is, the Doctor came round, when he was rudely ordered to wait outside for the duration of the consultation. He stayed with Kate all evening and eventually lay down on the empty bed and slept.
Kate was thankful that John was with her because it very soon became apparent that the nurses in the hospital gave medicines and tests but absolutely no care whatsoever. A carer had to stay with the patient in order to get them drinks, go to the shop to buy their food and to help them to the toilet. None of this was part of the nurses job. The nurses made no eye-contact and did not even change gloves between patients. The thermometers were mercury and used without covers, the same one being used from patient to patient. This was a hospital that was at least 40-years out of date!
The following morning, a German woman was put into the empty bed - no fresh bedding, just used, exactly as it was left after John had got out of it. The German patient's husband left her at 8 pm that evening and returned the following morning at 11 am. As he hadn't been there to take her to the toilet, she had wet the bed.
Kate was sent to a private clinic for an abdominal scan as the hospital did not have an ultrasound machine. Upon her return to the hospital, the Doctor checked the results and was happy with what he saw. He discharged her, telling her to return in two days for another x-ray to make sure she could fly home. Two days later, the Doctor was happy to issue Kate with a 'Fit-to-Fly' certificate and allowed her to leave.
Luckily, the insurance company were a little more cautious and contacted Kate to ask her to go to another clinic for a final x-ray and ultrasound before they would let her travel home. When the Doctor at this clinic (6 days after she had been originally taken to hospital) saw the films, he immediately ordered an ambulance to return Kate to the hospital as she had a Pneumothorax and a Haemothorax, or collapsed lung due to it being punctured and a build-up of blood in the lung. John asked if there was an alternative, as he wasn't happy with Kate going back to the same hospital. The Doctor said that unfortunately it would be too dangerous to fly Kate to the mainland, even at low altitude as it was a medical emergency and she needed a chest drain urgently.
So, it was back to the dirty, ill-equipped hospital. The chest drain was done - again John was not allowed into the treatment room and Kate had to endure the pain and discomfort with no explanation or care. This time, Kate shared a room with another patient, who had been in alone for two days and had eaten nothing because no one had been there to fetch her something until John, kindly did so. The following day the Doctor from the clinic arrived and said that he wasn't happy that the hospital had the facilities to deal with Kate's injury. He ordered an air ambulance for that low-altitude flight to the mainland and the country's foremost medical centre, based in the Capital.
The Hospital in the large city was much better than the small-town infirmary, but still there were obvious and disturbing differences in the standard of care and medical facilities in comparison with what Kate, as a nurse herself, was used to in the NHS hospital she works in.
Putting this dreadful experience into context: the hospitals Kate experienced were not in the developing world. They were in Greece, an EU member state.
Meanwhile in the US, Euro-MP Mr Hannan is happy to reinforce the blatantly untrue claims of his Republican chums, such as Senator Chuck Grassley, who recently claimed that NHS care is so bad that Ted Kennedy would "be left to die untreated from a brain tumour" because he is 77 and at that age "your life is considered less valuable" under the NHS. Try telling that to the 80-something lady who sat opposite me in the chemotherapy suite at my local NHS hospital, having her breast cancer treatment.
Maybe Daniel Hannan has an evil "today Europe, tomorrow the World!" megalomaniacal plan and that is why he seems to be spending more time on American TV than in Brussels recently. Whatever his long-term career goals, what he is actually doing is spreading propaganda and deliberate misinformation, in an attempt to sabotage reforms that will benefit the poorest Americans. His denigration of the NHS and its staff serves David Cameron's Conservative Agenda to undermine the most significant Socialist achievement of modern times.
Friday, 7 August 2009
As US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton uses her position to push for political reform in Zimbabwe, a year after I travelled there, I wonder how many of us remember the situation and crises the innocent people face.
Just over a year ago, Zimbabwe was on every news broadcast, in every newspaper and all over the Internet. It was election time and the popularity of Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had fanned the flames of progress and democracy. There were high hopes in Zimbabwe and around the world, that finally, Robert Mugabe would be forced to relinquish the power he had wielded with an iron-grip for 28 years.
There were accusations of genocidal killings, of attempts to fix the election and stories of danger and violence across the country. Nonetheless, people across Zimbabwe were determined to use their democratic vote, even if the legitimacy of previous election results had been called into question. The world watched. Maybe it was because of this that it was harder for a contrived outcome to be achieved. On 29th March 2008, the electorate dealt a fatal blow to the controlling Zimbabwe National African Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and for the first time, since his election in 1980, Mugabe lost.
Mugabe's response was to withhold the results and refuse to concede defeat. It was finally acknowledged that the MDC had won a significant number of seats and a run-off election was announced. In the following weeks, a country-wide clampdown was launched against opposition supporters, violence flared and there were many deaths. This lead Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the June 27 presidential run-off, allowing Mugabe to claim an uncontested victory.
On that very day, along with my 9-year-old son and a Dutch friend, I walked across the border into Zimbabwe. After a slight delay at immigration, when I was questioned to make sure I was not a member of the media, we were allowed in.
The people welcomed us warmly, in fact, they were delighted to see us. The sanctions and International Foreign Office warnings had meant that most visitors and tourists were keeping well away. We were told that tourist money is the only way that the people can make a living as it is the only income that is not controlled by the state. Yes, the shelves in the supermarkets were almost empty, the cafés and bars were empty and there were many people on the streets trying to sell their wares. The poverty was in evidence everywhere but there was no begging. Help was needed so desperately, but money was only accepted as part of a transaction. I bought a few things and spent only a few US$. Haggling felt wrong, the vendors were so desperate that they would lower their prices to just $1 for something that would usually sell for ten-times that.
Change was so desperately needed but the people could not see when it would come or from where. They felt let down by the more-powerful African nations and prayed for intervention. Talks began in late July 2008, with South African President Thabo Mbeki acting as mediator. Finally, an agreement for power-sharing was reached in September 2008, keeping Mugabe in post as President and appointing Tsvangirai as Prime Minister. There were many problems in ironing out the details of the agreement and allocation of ministerial posts, which meant that the agreement was not formally approved and implemented until shortly after Tsvangirai was sworn in, in February 2009
Whilst all the political to-ing and fro-ing was going on, the people of Zimbabwe continued to suffer. A major crisis in standards of living emerged, with a major outbreak of cholera and malnutrition was again affecting large numbers of the population
Fast forward a year and consider the current situation. Has anything changed? Well, according to the World Health Organisation, life expectancy at birth for males in Zimbabwe is just 37 years, for females, it is just 34. Infant mortality is reported as being 129 deaths per 1,000 live births Although the rates of infection are falling, there are still more than 1.6 million adults affected by HIV
The people of Zimbabwe still need our help. Despite improvement, many still suffer and live in appalling conditions, with shortages in food, medicines and health care. Today, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, meets with South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Clinton has called for South Africa to again use its influence to accelerate Zimbabwean political reform and enable the release of much-needed aid. With South Africa currently having more than 3 million Zimbabwean refugees, it is in their interest to pressure the government to act, as Clinton says "...every one of those refugees represents a failure of the Zimbabwean government to care for its own people and a burden that South Africa has to bear."
She will meet with South African President Jacob Zuma tomorrow (Saturday), lets hope she continues her strong words to ensure his support. Particularly as she has also emphasised that the US will not offer any programme of major aid nor will it lift sanctions until reform is evident.
Zimbabwe may not be in the news, but we must not forget. The people of Zimbabwe cannot wait, they suffer now.
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
What I cannot agree with however, is how she felt it necessary to have a 'bit of a go' at men, in order to strengthen her argument. It did not strengthen her argument, it did the opposite. Now the message has been totally lost in the analysis and dissection of her alleged misandry.
So let's analyse some of the phrases she used.
“In a country where women regard themselves as equal, they are not prepared to see men just running the show themselves. I think a balanced team of men and women makes better decisions.”I quite agree! This would be a wonderful and strong call on behalf of women, to demonstrate that they are quite capable of achieving a position in the upper echelons. She would have demonstrated that she really is committed to her equality brief... had it not been preceded by the short phrase:
“Men cannot be left to run things on their own. I think it’s a thoroughly bad thing to have a men-only leadership.”Imagine for a moment, John Prescott uttering the phrase, "Women cannot be left to run things on their own." Now imagine the absolute outcry this would elicit from the press and from women everywhere, (not just those from the feminist lobby). I would certainly be calling for his head on a stick - whatever the context might have been! This one phrase over-shadowed any good she may have done by making Harman, not her message, the news story.
John Prescott responded to these comments on his Go Fourth website, (http://www.gofourth.co.uk/dear-harriet) he said:
Now, this brings me onto another of my bug-bears with the Labour Party and how the national party hierarchy operate to a completely separate agenda to that which they impose at local level. Prescott says that in theory Harriet Harman was elected based upon merit, not her gender and that this system works and should be retained. Many local constituency branches are, at this point scratching their heads, as they have seen the best, most-likely-to-win-over-the-public, impressive and able candidates being refused the opportunity to stand for election based purely on their gender!
"Why take away from the party the right to choose its leaders on the basis of ability? You can't dictate equality in leadership elections. You must let the party decide.
"I was beaten fair and square in the 1992 deputy leadership election by Margaret Beckett."
"You yourself beat four men to become deputy leader in 2007."
"In theory you were elected on merit, not your gender. The system works and I think we should keep it that way."
The equality laws actually excluded political parties, just so the gender balance could be addressed and all-women shortlists could be imposed. So, the first thing to be assessed on whether someone is fit for public office is not their ability, it is their gender. There could be a woman, living more than 10 miles away from the ward in question, who would love to be a Local Councillor but lacks every quality necessary and a man, who lives in the ward and would be the best representative the electorate could have. Under current party rules, she would be short-listed and he would not.
A poorly achieving woman in a public role does the women's movement no favours at all, never mind short-changing the electorate and the party.
Harriet Harman does say something else in the Times interview that I agree with, regarding female role-models in politics, she said:
"Margaret Thatcher used to be the only role model, but she’s not a role model for today’s generation of female leaders,” she says. “Thatcher was like: I can do it as well as men, I can do it on men’s terms. Now it is about women doing it because they are women, not despite it.”Very true, but it is also about women doing it because they have the ability, because they are the best candidates and because they really are equal, not because some men have told us it's OK or have given us permission. That is patronising and insulting, it demeans the achievements of all the women who have attained high office and to all the women who can and will do it without any 'favours' from the lads.