Dominic Grieve interview continued..

On young people & terror, rehabilitation: We don’t entirely know, we have some idea why some young people turn to terror. It doesn’t happen by accident. It has a foundation. My best opinion, from many years engaging with the Muslim community in this country is that we cannot exclude the fact that within some sections of the Muslim community there is a lot of anger about quite a lot of things. I’m not suggesting by that that the anger is directed towards advocating terrorism but a sense of injustice to the Muslim world, concern that the Muslim world doesn’t match the high moral framework they would like and in reality it is in many cases, a place in which many people are trying to leave and escape because it doesn’t have basic human rights and the societies are in a very difficult position, often being dominated by tyrants and a sense that historical forces may be to blame, some of those historical forces in some cases are a result of western intervention in the Muslim world in past decades. All those things may be legitimate factors in the debate but they don’t get us away from the reality that if people get angry and manifest long term anger I don’t think we should be entirely surprised that some elements in those communities start to resort to violence. I do happen to think that the foundation of the terrorism which is manifesting itself with young people going off to Syria and Iraq to join terrorist groups and perpetrating in many cases appalling acts is at least in part rooted in their disaffection and anger which they share with other people who don’t do it and so I do think that requires us all, and I should emphasise that it’s not about the Muslim community, but I do think we need to address this underlying issue of anger. Western society has a lot to offer, that’s why many Muslims have come to live here and particularly in this country. There needs to be a better articulation of the advantages of living in a pluralist society rather than at times a denunciation of what it has to offer. That’s one way in which we need to address it. I think that involves as much non-Muslims taking a lead in this because unless you have dialogue, you don’t get people moderating each other’s behaviour which is what flows from dialogue. If in fact there is little engagement and people are leading compartmentalised lives then that will act as a fuel to people becoming estranged and from estrangement can flow the violence. Now when it comes to rehabilitating people I always have the slight sense that it’s almost as if somebody’s got an illness and you’re saying well there must be a cure. If you pay some money you can cure people when they have got this disease. I’m not sure that’s entirely right, I accept that we do need to make effort with people who return from Syria. We can’t coerce them but if they wish and there are issues to be addressed we should be making provision and indeed the government’s prevent strategy is designed to try to do that but in a sense the solution lies in their dialogue. Of course people need to be rehabilitated and actually the legal system is quite sensitive about the motives that people may have had initially about going out to Syria but equally we need to make quite clear that going out to Syria and joining a terrorist  group is almost clearly the commission of a very serious criminal offence, we can’t escape that. So I don’t think there are easy solutions to this but I think that just saying the government’s got to throw money at having people who can rehabilitate individuals coming back form Syria may slightly miss the point. the question is do people who come back from Syria wish to reintegrate into society; what is it that they want and how can others in society help them.

And do you think that the government’s current prevent strategy is working?

Government is doing it’s best in what I think is not an easy environment to find ways to prevent people from turning to radicalisation and if they have been radicalised to try to find programs which persuade them through engagement that in fact their radicalisation is an error and there is a good future for Muslims in the UK, as integrated members of British society yet at the same time able to maintain their own faith which I’m quite confident exists. Most other faiths groups in this country seem to have very little difficulty in combining the two. So of course we need to concentrate on that but I’m rather loathe to criticise; it’s far too early to say whether its succeeding or not, its clearly something we need to pay attention to, and I’m confident the government’s going to continue to do so.

Dominic Grieve comments on Paris attacks

On Paris: “The Paris shootings were a murderous outrage. There can be no justification for such behaviour. And it strikes at the very root of democratic and free society. We can’t be equivocal about it and that’s why so many people poured out onto the streets in France and also elsewhere in response to it. A pluralist society can’t survive in the long term if every time we’re going to resort to violence, every time we disagree with other people’s opinions. It’s also right that in our daily lives we shouldn’t go around gratuitously insulting each other which is a rather separate issue and that applies not just to Muslims but to anybody. The difficulty I perceive in the context of what’s happening with sections of the Muslim community is that we seem to be getting into a cycle where because they express great injury at what they perceive to be insults, it almost prompts other people to say, “well you shouldn’t be insulted this is a free society and therefore we’re going to insult you to show you that you can’t coerce us into not doing so”. And so we’re getting into a cycle pattern of people mutually expressing hostility to each other which isn’t satisfactory either. Fortunately in this country we have tended to avoid this. In a pluralist society we have to accept that we are going to be offended by what other people may think or believe. But as we know with our own legal framework, there is a limit that the law will proscribe beyond which it will in fact be regarded as criminal, to incite hatred for example and some of these dividing lines can be quite grey. So I do think we have to show restraint in the way we deal with each other. It’s very important there should be an understanding of western society and its freedoms will not survive if people try to restrict expressions of opinion. But expressions of opinion should usually, only very exceptionally may not be of a very moderate character and if we keep those two things in mind, then we will find a long term solution to this type of problem. But I fully accept that in the immediate aftermath of such a terrorist outrage, it’s inevitable that people will express themselves in forceful terms, that they’re not going to have their own values being bullied and coerced out of existence when one of the fundamental values of the western world is the right to freedom of expression”

Fear and Loathing on the General Election Trail

Last year the Labour party joined with the Lib Dems and the Conservatives in a unholy trinity to frighten the people of Scotland out of voting YES in the referendum. It was a campaign based solely upon the politics of fear and was pursued as last resort when the political parties possessed few genuine reasons to sway the opinion of the electorate to their cause.
With the general election fast approaching the fear machine has already been plugged in and is dutifully churning out apocalyptic political propaganda. The target this time is not only Scotland and the SNP, but every other small party.  Campaigners and spokespeople from both sides gleefully trot out the meaningless and empty line ‘a vote for X is a vote for the Conservatives/labour.’ Only by voting for Ed Milliband will you be able to keep David Cameron from returning to 10 Downing Street again. Meanwhile on the other end of the spectrum the Tories claim that voting for Nigel Farage and UKIP will bring Red Ed to power.
It is the same leaden tactics that were resorted to in the Scottish Referendum as without a policy set to sway voters to their message the party must strike a chord with the electorate who are threatening to defect from the party en masse come May. And what strikes fear in to the heart of those with centrist or leftist sympathies more than the thought of a Tory majority government, or a coalition propped up by UKIP? And the thought of another Labour government turns the stomach of any respectable Conservative voter.  Fear is the clarion call to those who are wavering, return to the flock where you will be safe from uncertainty and change.
Resorting to such base politics not only shows a lack of inspiration and genuine innovation within the party,  it also indicates a lack of understanding of why people are turning to fringe parties. As Labour is just as guilty of being part of the Westminster elite as the Conservatives they are perhaps too distant to truly grasp the notion, either due to ignorance or a deep seeded unwillingness, that a large number of the electorate has had enough of austerity, false promises and the status quo. As Election Day looms ever closer we will see more of the same old promises being bandied about the media airwaves. But we will also see the fear machine set in to overdrive as the siphoning off of more  traditional Conservative and Labour voters towards the SNP, Greens and UKIP.
Sadly with our current system, which is wholly unsuited to a multi-party democracy, the principle will hold true that voting for your party of choice may only profit the opposition. Yet, whatever they may say a vote for a smaller party is not a vote for the Conservatives or Labour. Counter-factual as this may seem it remains that such a vote is a vote for changing the current system and bringing an end to a two party duopoly which has corroded Westminster for too long. Fear is the tactic which they resort to as they themselves are riddled with it. The possibility of a string of coalition governments fills the established parties with dread as the safety which they have been previously assured is withering away in the face of hope and change. Faced with the erosion of their own influence they are fighting back tooth and nail.
The lies and deception during the Scottish Referendum stand as a reminder to what such fear can achieve – it is a lesson that must be remembered come May. To vote for another party is a rejection of the politics of fear and an expression of your own democratic freedom, no party should claim otherwise.

Can the Green Party be Taken Seriously Under Bennett’s Leadership?

If you had asked me for two things that I felt I could guarantee yesterday (24 February 2015), I would have told you that Manchester City would lose to Barcelona, and that Natalie Bennett would once more demonstrate that both she and her party cannot be taken seriously.

It began at 7:09 in the morning, when Natalie Bennett took to the Today programme on Radio 4, apparently to launch the Green Party’s election campaign.  It started positively, we were politely informed that the Party’s membership has grown to over 54,500, larger than both the Liberal Democrats and UKIP.

First on the agenda, the ‘citizen’s income’.  Apparently a flagship policy of the Greens, it was brutally ripped apart on Sunday Politics by Andrew Neil  a month ago.  Unable to disclose where the £280 billion funding for the plan would come from, Ms Bennett had said it would all be spelt out in a fully costed manifesto to be released in March.  She then quickly went on the offensive to attack multinational companies, dodging the question entirely.

This time around when pressed on where funding would come from, the Green leader responded that details would be revealed ‘before the election’.  The costings would no longer be a part of the manifesto.

Next up, the wealth tax.  Another subject Ms Bennett struggled with when challenged by Andrew Neil.  We were told then that the Green Party wanted to implement a wealth tax of 1-2% on everybody with total wealth of over £3million, something that would raise as much as £45billion.  Then, as now, Ms Bennett went off on a tangent about inequality and tax havens, instead of addressing the question of where the figure of £45billion came from or how unrealistic the proposal is.

Last on the Today agenda, the new ‘Cold War’ and how the UK should respond to Russian aircraft movements in and around our airspace.  The Green solution; appeasing President Putin by allowing him to walk away from any future talks with something is the best course of action.  Presumably in this case, the something Mr Putin would walk away with would be the eastern Ukrainian oblasts.

After listening to the Today programme, I came away thinking that it was a more polished performance than we were given on Sunday Politics.  I won’t lie, I was a bit disappointed.  I felt that by the time the TV debates are broadcast, there was a possibility that Ms Bennett might look like a credible politician.

Fortunately, normal service resumed when she appeared on LBC later in the day.

Whether it was the five questions that went unanswered, the cringeworthy pauses and hesitations when pushed about how the Party planned to build 500,000 homes for £2.7billion, or the regular use of the word ‘basically’, it was uncomfortable listening.

The appalling showing on LBC was put down to a “mind blank”.  The performance made the hapless candidates from the Apprentice and contestants on Dragon’s Den look like professionally coached experts, and herein is my great concern.  Far from encouraging the participation of the Greens in the television debates, David Cameron should have fought hard to have them omitted.  Natalie Bennett makes Ed Miliband appear like a competent party leader, while the Green Party policies make Labour’s spending of the same pot of money seem acceptable.

Ms Bennett told us that a profound change was taking place in British politics and that the old way of doing things was falling apart, but on this evidence, the only change will be the leadership of the Green Party and the only thing falling apart is the ill-conceived Green manifesto.

Have the Tories given up on Rochester and Strood?

A leaked document has shown that Rochester and Strood is no longer considered a target seat for the Conservatives. On the face of it, there is nothing too shocking about this. This is just one seat out of 650 seats and the Conservatives cannot be expected to win every seat. However, this is a seat with special significance. This seat was won by Mark Reckless in a by election in November after his defection from the Conservatives to UKIP, thus making it different to most other seats.

The by-election campaign fought earlier this year had a very personal nature. Tories angered at the Reckless defection sought to publicly attack and undermine him in a very negative campaign. David Cameron famously promised ‘to throw the kitchen sink at it’ and the Tories were confident of holding onto the seat in the by-election. However they failed and Reckless won pretty comfortably.  After this loss, the Tories then claimed they would do all they could to win the seat in May and believed they could regain it in the General Election. It now appears the Tory Party may be having a re-think.

There are 101 constituencies on this leaked list of “non-target” seats. Normally these are either seats which are considered traditionally as a safe hold for the Conservatives or a safe hold for one of their opponents, places where the Tories will not be putting in a lot of time, effort or resources. Rochester and Strood was previously seen as a relatively safe Conservative seat before it went to UKIP, not a traditional no-win seat and therefore it is puzzling as to why it appears on the list.

The reaction from Tory HQ to this list coming into the public domain has been surprisingly calm. They claim the conclusions that are being drawn are wide of the mark. However if the commentators and pundits are right then it does pose some interesting questions. Rochester and Strood is the type of seat the Tories would need to win if they want to gain an outright majority. If they have given up on this seat, then does this signal that they have given up on a majority? Not for the first time the public pronouncement of a political party may be very different from what it is truly thinking in private, in this case suggesting  ambitions  are somewhat lower than they might like to admit.

Is there any point to PMQs?

With the election only a few months away there is now a greater focus on parliament and in particular the weekly edition of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). This is the flagship event of the week in parliament and is poured over and dissected by the media. This greater focus and scrutiny has led to renewed criticism in recent months though, with many aspects of PMQs being criticized.

The criticisms, although wide ranging, have focused on specific aspects. The chamber is very loud and ill-disciplined with MPs struggling to be heard, and the Speaker regularly having to intervene to bring order. The questions between Miliband and Cameron normally descend into public insults with both being heckled loudly whenever they attempt to speak. The majority of questions are pre-planted and are designed either to attack the Prime Minister or to give him the chance to show off his record.  PMQs is no longer the place where important constituency matters can be raised, but is now simply an occasion for parties to try and score political points and trot out their pre-election slogans.

We all enjoy the passion and theatre of the Commons, but to remain relevant there does need to be a level of control. Our parliament should be robust and passionate but this passion should be directed at the issues. This is an opportunity where the Prime Minister is supposed to be being held to account; an opportunity currently missed.

PMQs is shown all over the world and for a lot of people who live outside the UK it is the only glimpse of the British Parliament that they see. The raucous scenes of PMQs are therefore often the only example of what our Parliament is like and given the childish and petty behaviour of many MPs at PMQs this is not something which should sit well with any of us who care about our parliament.

PMQs is not working in its current format. It is failing to achieve what it was intended to do and major reform is needed if it is to again be worthwhile. As the face of parliament PMQs does not present a good image and does little for democracy. The behaviour of the MPs is childish, the questions are pre-planned, the answers are scripted and most of the time you can barely hear yourself think. Our parliament and our democracy must be better than this.

Selling democracy one paper at a time

The resignation of The Telegraph’s chief political commentator Peter Oborne has raised serious questions about the practices of the media in the UK.

In an extensive explanation of his actions, written for OpenDemocracy, Oborne gave as his primary motive the newspaper’s highly tempered treatment of it’s key advertiser HSBC. He stated  that the newspaper’s coverage  on the recent Swiss tax avoidance scandal was ‘a fraud on its readers.’  It was a culmination of many events that had withered his trust in the organisation. Throughout his tenure as political writer Oborne claims that he witnessed several headline making stories being buried within the depths of The Telegraph or sparsely covered in order to protect the relationship with the ‘advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend’, as one Telegraph executive described the bank.

Oborne’s resignation has allowed an insight into the shadowy world of newspaper funding and how this translates on to the pages of print. By pumping funds into The Telegraph it is clear that HSBC bought an ally in the media, one which was prepared to bury potentially toxic news stories in order to satisfy its main benefactor. The case must prompt a necessary questioning of how much influence advertisers hold in a era of declining circulation for the  industry as a whole, as the internet increases  its prominence as a cheaper and more convenient source of information.  We have been allowed a glimpse into the inner workings of this influence in action. Others newspapers are just as guilty of this practice but we are rarely given such a vivid account of the extent of media bias.

It raises further concerns of the state of health of the media in the UK. It is somewhat of a truism that the freedom of the press is an essential pillar of a free democracy but in the current climate it is far from certain that this pillar is stable within the UK. By sacrificing editorial independence for the sake of advertising income media organisations risk much as they will face losing the trust of their own readers and the decline in circulation may only continue leaving a further funding void to be filled. They not only erode the foundation of their own readership but also the base of the free press. As we have seen from the case of Peter Oborne the writers themselves are at risk of becoming disenchanted by their superiors subservience to major donors.

The power that major corporations such as HSBC can wield is a threat to our political system as already it has purchased a not insignificant mouthpiece in The Telegraph. This may become a barrier to reform as the act of spreading a highly doctored viewpoint can sway the opinion’s of many without full recourse to the facts. In the future in order to maintain a healthy newspaper industry capable of applying scrutiny where it is need we may need more Peter Oborne’s to take a stand against this pernicious practice of buying media influence.

Greek demands for reparations to be paid from Germany- desperate acts of populism

Last week the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced that the country will demand reparations for the damages made by the Nazy’s Germany during the WWII. In a statement to the Greek parliament he stated that the reparations will be:“A moral obligation to our people, to history, to all Europeans who fought and gave their blood against Nazism“. The German Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel has responded to Mr Tsipras that Germany has paid 115 million Deutsche Marks war reparations to Greece in 1960 and the 1990 agreement between the two countries excludes any possibility for future claims.
The Greek Prime Minister is continuing to oppose the austerity measures. During his statement to the Greek parliament he also said: “The bailout failed. We want to make clear in every direction what we are not negotiating. We are not negotiating our national sovereignty.” At the same time the Greek Finance Minister warned that a recession in the country recession could lead to increasing radicalisation of the population giving the example of Germany in 1930.
Mr Tsipras still believes that its populist statements can lead to positive results for Greece, but it should be emphasized that the EU leaders are not the Greece electorate. Despite the austerity measures he has announced his plan to employ 12 000 people for its administration and will increase the national minimum salary from € 590 to the levels before the crisis- € 750 . Greece has always been benefiting from its partnership with the West by receiving significant amounts of money through the EU development programmes. But the EU membership includes benefits as well as responsibility. The internal issues such as corruption and large public spending from the previous governments which led to the Greece debts should not be paid by the German taxpayers.
Unfortunately the Nazy’s occupation has caused significant damages to Greece, but 70 years after the end of the World War II such a politically motivated demand to an allied country is unacceptable. Also Mr Tsipras does not take into account the fact that its actions might lead to the so called domino effect, inspiring other countries to claim reparations from conflicts that ended long time ago. That might have negative effect even on Greece, sparking demands for reparations from other neighbouring countries for past conflicts.

Channel 4’s Attempted Political Assassination a Shameful Piece of Propaganda.

Last night (16 February 2015) I witnessed a ghastly piece of programming. It was broadcast by Channel 4, so it may surprise you to hear that it wasn’t ‘Made in Chelsea’, but ‘UKIP: the First 100 Days’. I will admit, I was once a member of UKIP, but in the last year I became increasingly concerned by their anti-immigration rhetoric and pro-NHS position, and so I renounced my membership.

Regardless, with an election 11 weeks away, I couldn’t believe that Channel 4 were able to produce such a biased, uninformed and error strewn show. At least, I wouldn’t have believed it if it had been directed at any other political party, but I can believe that it was aimed at UKIP. The bogeymen of British politics have been targeted by all sides of the media; their policy U-turns, gaffes and post-election pledges have all been scrutinised, and rightly so. But last night was a new low.

For those who didn’t see it, or weren’t able to see it, we were told that UKIP had won the election, and that Nigel Farage would become Prime Minister. Within weeks, ‘Brexit’ was called, and the UK was to leave the European Union. Companies decided to up and leave, in line with the oft-derided ‘3 million UK jobs will be lost’ line that Nick Clegg is so fond of. Next came the rounding up of immigrants by a paramilitary force of ex-military personnel. Then, as the government sought to deflect attention, ‘Festival of Britain’ day was announced to give patriotic Brits a day of celebration, but tensions were high and violence on the streets looked likely. The programme then ended rather weakly.

Channel 4 has a long history of satire. It was the home of the great Bremner, Bird and Fortune, as well as Brass Eye, Babylon and Da Ali G Show and many others. These were often very well informed, intelligently written and well performed programmes, albeit shows that sometimes pushed the boundaries, but they were real satire. What we saw last night was little more than a failed assassination of a political party.

It should be said that this mockumentary was produced by RAW Productions. This production company is funded by Creative Europe, an arm of the European Commission, so it’s hard not to see this as a thinly veiled attempt to push a pro-Europe and anti-Brexit agenda. I must express my own concern that these sorts of programmes will become more common, especially in light of EU plans to produce their own audio-visual broadcasts to counter the threat of ‘Russian propaganda’.

In the interests of fairness, no doubt we will soon see a similar documentary about the damage of a Green government, where in the first 100 days they implement an economy forever in recession (policy point EC201), remove the UK from the European Union (EC904), removal of tax-free allowances (EC730) and hikes in Income Tax that drive the wealthy from the country (EC711).

Of course I jest, the British media would never really portray the left negatively!

Will Clegg suffer a Portillo moment?

In 1997 Michael Portillo lost his seemingly safe of Enfield Southgate to Labour. Labour were widely expected to win the 1997 General Election but no one believed they would be competitive in seats such as Portillo’s. The moment has gone down in political folklore for two reasons. Firstly, because of its subsequent impact as Portillo was widely expected to become the Conservative leader after the election and secondly, because of how big a political scalp Portillo was. If current polling is to be believed deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg could be about to suffer the same fate.

In 2010, riding on the back of the televised debates Nick Clegg won over 50% of the vote and had a majority of 15,000. Since he has entered government Clegg’s popularity and that of the Liberal Democrats has fallen through the floor. Clegg’s seat of Sheffield Hallam has a high proportion of students who are angry with Clegg for breaking his promise on tuition fees and are eager to punish him. Even with the existing large majority his seat could be under threat.

Two recent polls have suggested that Clegg is currently behind and could lose his seat in 2015. One poll carried out by Survation and Unite has Clegg ten points behind and another poll carried out by Lord Ashcroft has Clegg three points behind. The usual pinch of salt must be taken with polls, but it does appear Clegg is in for a real battle.

Labour believe their best chance of forming a coalition with the Lib Dems is if Clegg is removed and a new leader is elected and therefore are quite open about how they are targeting the Sheffield Hallam seat. Clegg however is believed to favour a deal with the Tories rather than with Labour but without a seat he would be relegated to the position of interested onlooker.

Clegg still has that large majority and could yet receive the backing of tactical Conservative voting to stop Labour. However there is a real chance he could lose his seat and no doubt much of the media will be eagerly awaiting another Portillo moment. It was always going to be unlikely Clegg could carry on as leader after this election, but a poor result could be the final nail in his coffin. This is certainly one result to look out for on election night.