Since the beginning of the year we have been witnessing increasing number of Russian military flights across Europe. These activities might be explained with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the tension between Russia and the West.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence reported that on Wednesday (28/01/2015) two Russian long-range bombers were detected and intercepted by Royal Air Force typhoons flying over the English Channel. The typhoons escorted the Russian military planes until they left the UK Flight Information Region. According to NATO, the alliance forces have intercepted more than 100 flights of Russian military aircrafts in 2014, three times more than in 2013.
The Russian military forces claim that all of the similar operations are legal and in compliance with international law as the Russian military planes do not cross into the foreign airspaces, which in fact is true. They also argue that their actions are in response to the NATO’s expansion eastwards and the military exercises launched by the Alliance.
However, the biggest issue is that the transponders of the Russian planes are switched off. That causes a significant danger for the civilian aircrafts. There were two cases, where civilian planes have been diverted in order to prevent collusion with Russian fighter jets. The military planes must indicate their presence to the nearby civilian aircrafts, because they are not visible for the civil aviation controllers. Furthermore there was another case of Russian military plane that nearly collided with Norwegian military jet. In the case that occurred over the English Channel, the transponders of the Russian bombers also have been switched off.
Maintaining the balance of power is of crucial importance in the international relations. Russia is definitely recovered from transition period during the 90’s, but is still far from its performance during the Cold War years. President Putin aims to demonstrate that the Western states should comply with Russia. While Russia’s actions might be justifiable in the region of its immediate neighbourhood, such as the Baltic and Black Sea, the two Russian bombers flying close to the UK border and the military flights over the North Sea are clear acts of provocation. In fact NATO’s military exercises were launched close to the Russian border, but were carried out around the border areas of the member states countries and were announced in advance.
Despite the fact that the relations between Russia and the West are experiencing difficulties at the moment, it needs to be emphasized that to put at risk innocent civilian lives due to unexpected military flights far away from the Russian territory in the XXI century is absolutely unacceptable. We all know the faith of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and we should not let such a tragedy to be repeated.
This week it emerged that the long awaited Chilcot Review into the Iraq War would finally be published in June or July 2016. The review has taken considerably longer than initially expected and has caused great frustration across the political sphere. The Iraq War remains one of the most hotly contested foreign policy decisions of recent times and its spectre still hangs over Parliament, explaining the frustration with the delay in publishing and the desire for some closure.
When we remember the Iraq War and the build-up to it, we tend to remember the marches on the street in Britain and the widely perceived opposition that existed. In February 2003, a month before the invasion it was believed that nearly 2 million people marched on the streets pleading with the government not to invade Iraq. This would indicate a wide-scale opposition to the War existed and that Blair was firmly in a minority when he decided to take Britain into the War. However this is not what the polls from the time suggest.
Britain first invaded Iraq in March 2003. From this period up until the end of 2003 support for the War continued to rise. During this period YouGov conducted 21 polls and on average found that 54% supported the War. ICM and Populus polls also reported similar findings and for the initial period of the invasion support was on the rise and not on the decline. So although we cannot doubt the strong opposition there was to the War, there was also a clear time period when the majority of the population in this country supported the War.
Support for the War has fallen dramatically ever since. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the belief that the country was led into a War based on false intelligence has angered much of the general public. Questions of legality also still hang in the air. Tony Blair has been heavily criticised for his part in this and a high proportion of the general public will never forgive him for his actions and his legacy will forever be tarnished.
As we look back at the Iraq War now and the anger which exists towards Blair and those who made the decisions it would be easy to think it was always like this. This simply wouldn’t be true. For whatever reasons for most of 2003 the public supported the War. It may be easy to airbrush this part out, but in reality it provides an important context to what will remain one of Britain’s most controversial foreign policy decisions in recent times.
On Sunday we commemorate Remembrance Day. This is the day where we remember soldiers who have died in the line of service fighting for this country. One of the ways that we do this is through the wearing of a poppy. Poppies have been used since 1921 and are distributed by the British Legion with the proceeds raised going to current and former British military personnel. They serve as a visual reminder of the sacrifices of our armed forces and are an important reminder of all that we owe them. For this reason it is very rare to see any figure within the public spotlight without a poppy at this time of the year.
However support for the poppy and what it represents is by no means universal. In Northern Ireland especially amongst Catholics the poppy is hugely controversial. They remember the past actions of the British army and are keen to show their opposition. The footballer James McClean is one prominent figure who takes this stance. Other opponents believe the poppy is a symbol which is used to justify and glorify current wars, and that this is not acceptable.
The British Army throughout recent history have not always acted honourably and there are prominent examples of misbehaviour and bad conduct. However this behaviour has largely been the exception rather than the rule and public apologies have been made for this misconduct. To those who have been particularly close to these events, this behaviour may seem unforgiveable and therefore their refusal to wear a poppy is perfectly acceptable.
The wearing of a poppy still remains an individual choice and this must always be the case. I like many will choose to wear a poppy, but there will be some who don’t. At this time of year in particular we should fully appreciate the importance of having this freedom. The wars our soldiers have fought throughout history have been specifically for freedom of this sort. The society that we now live in where people are free to air their opinions and show their opposition is down in no small part to what our soldiers have previously achieved. This freedom is beneficial to all and should be remembered before we castigate too loudly those who choose not to wear a poppy.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the new chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) panel, despite the fact that the Kingdom holds terrifying human rights records. For many individuals that choice was absolutely unexpected. The Kingdom will be chairing the group of 5 ambassador members, which is also called- the Consultative group. The group is responsible for the appointment of more than 77 experts worldwide. These experts monitor and assess the human rights records in various countries around the world. These positions are considered to be from crucial importance for the UN Human Rights Council.
By appointing fundamentalist theocracy that is constantly violating the human rights of its own citizens, as well as these of the neighbouring countries places their legitimacy under question. Saudi Arabia has beheaded more than a hundred people only this year. That amount is even higher than that of the Islamic State. Moreover free speech is still a dream in Saudi Arabia. The number of people like the blogger Saif Badawi, jailed for pledging about democracy and criticising the government is unknown. Another activist Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, just 17 years is sentenced to death by crusification. The reason is that he took participation of the anti- government protests. The rights of the women are another issue, which deserves significant attention. In addition to the varieties of restrictions imposed on women, they are not allowed even to drive.
For some the fact that the Saudis are presiding that panel might seem insignificant. Unfortunately the facts are different. The last couple of weeks have demonstrated the opposite. The Netherlands has made a proposal the war crimes in the Yemeni war to be investigated by an independent commission. The proposal included investigation on Saudis and the opposition Houthi rebels. Also the Dutch proposed the Yemeni ports, which are occupied from the Saudi army to be opened in order to facilitate deliveries of humanitarian aid for Yemeni citizens. Riyadh, the Yemeni government in exile and their allies in the UNHRC (the UAE, Qatar and Morocco) strongly resisted the Dutch proposal. The reason for that is that the Saudi government is aiming to conceal its own war crimes. On 7-th of September the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report which concluded that both parties in the Yemeni conflict committed violations. According to the report- the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for 62% of civilian casualties. Furthermore on 28-th of September 130 civilians were killed by a single Saudi air strike.
However the proposal was rejected and instead was passed an alternative resolution. The resolution supports the decree of the Saudi backed Yemeni government in exile. It proposes appointing of a national commission of inquiry and requires only technical assistance from the UN. The absence of an independent Yemeni inquiry will result to predictable outcome of the investigation. It also gives us an example of how the UN commissions might be used to protect the national interests. In the case with Saudi Arabia that might be just the beginning. As the UN watch executive director- Hillel Neuer states: “This UN appointment is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief, and underscores the credibility deficit of a human rights council that already counts Russia, Cuba, China, Qatar and Venezuela among its elected members.”
Last week’s elections in Turkey demonstrated that the voters yielded on the feelings of insecurity that the Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdoğan managed to create during the past five months. After the elections in June, the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party could not secure a majority in the Turkish Parliament. For the first time since 2002 the AK Party needed a coalition partner in order to form a government.
However that was not something that the Turkish President and founder of the AK Party seemed to approve. Despite the fact that the Turkish President should be uniting figure and not interfere in the country’s parliamentary affairs, Erdoğan put his efforts to prevent establishment of coalition government. He began a risky gamble and favoured the option for new elections over the possibility of creating a coalition government. In that game Mr Erdoğan aimed to impose fear and uncertainty in the Turkish voters in order to strengthen his power.
After many years of stating that he will be looking for a peaceful resolution of the conflict with the Kurds, he suddenly changed his course and began to seek confrontation with PKK- the Kurdish Workers Party, which the government considers as a terrorist organisation. The conflict with the Kurds has been frozen for years, but thanks to Erdoğan, it started again. AK Party also attempted actions to arrest some of the members of the opposition Kurdish party- HDP, blaming them in relations to the PKK. In addition to that HDP rally was attacked by suicide-bombers. Since then the party did not have the opportunity to run free election campaign due to a fear of more bombings.
Press freedom is another issue that deserves our attention. According to the report issued by the mission the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s that monitored the Turkish elections: “Criminal investigations of journalists and media outlets for support of terrorism and defamation of the president, the blocking of websites … and the effective seizure of some prominent media outlets reduced voters’ access to a plurality of views and information”. These measures taken by the ruling AK party seriously influenced the opposition party’s campaigns. The head of the PACE’s observing mission Andreas Gross stated: “This campaign was unfair and characterised by too much violence and fear”.
Moreover in a report presented in June 2015, the US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the ruling party reassigned prosecutors, investigating a corruption scandals in the government. These investigations were suspended and the evidence destroyed. The government then accused the prosecutors of attempting to overthrow the government.
Erdoğan’s efforts to impose a fear of uncertainty in the Turkish voters in order to strengthen his power were partially successful. AK Party regained its majority in parliament, but could not win 2/3 of the seats, which will allow them to make the constitution changes that will give more power to the president. Despite the violence used against his opponents the President Erdoğan will need to put on hold his aspirations for increasing of his power for the next 4 years unless he decides to call another snap elections soon.
Earlier this week, the government saw off a motion from Labour attacking their plans to cut tax credits. This however may not be the end of the story. There are rumours that the House of Lords where the government does not have a majority may seek to kill the policy through a so-called ‘fatal motion’. This sort of motion if successful would halt the cuts to tax credits and could spark a constitutional crisis.
The government has chosen to introduce these measures through a Statutory Instrument rather than include them in the Finance Bill. There are 2 different types of Statutory Instruments; Affirmative Instruments and Negative Instruments. An affirmative instrument must be agreed by both Houses of Parliament. A Negative Instrument becomes law without a debate or vote but may be annulled by a resolution of either House of Parliament. This particular measure falls into the latter category and therefore can be annulled by the House of Lords through a ‘fatal motion’.
A ‘fatal motion’ works like this. Peers may table a ‘prayer’ (a motion or amendment in real terms) against the Statutory Instrument. The Statutory Instrument is then annulled if the prayer motion is agreed by the House of Lords within 40 days of the Statutory Instrument being laid. These moves are very rare in modern British politics and were only proposed successfully three times in the last parliament.
The government has warned the Lords about blocking these plans. During Prime Minister Questions David Cameron made it clear that he believed it was for the House of Commons to make financial decisions. Tory veteran Ken Clarke has also said that the House of Lords must not abuse its position and that peers would be overstepping their role if they voted down the proposal.
Traditionally the House of Lords will not oppose any government legislation brought to the House which was included in a government’s election manifesto. This is known as the ‘Salisbury Convention’. However many have argued that this convention does not apply here as the measures were not included in the Conservative election manifesto.
The House of Commons is our democratically elected chamber and I think this has to be respected. The House of Lords has an important role in scrutinising and amending laws, but I don’t believe they should have the power to override the government. This may not have specifically been in the Conservative manifesto, but it is clear the financial direction the government have wanted to travel in, and the mandate they were elected on. Therefore in my opinion it would be wrong for the House of Lords to vote down these plans.
The Conservative Party conference in Manchester was overshadowed by large-scale protests that took place outside the hall and in the streets. The protests were aimed at the Conservative government and the policies they were pursuing. The scenes were often very ugly and many elected and prominent Tory MPs were targeted and heckled when they were seen trying to make their way to the conference. These images and the language used towards anyone attending the conference made me feel deeply uncomfortable.
No-one in the political mainstream has any problem with peaceful protests. They form an integral part of a free, democratic and liberal society. They are part of our history and have helped achieve many notable outcomes. The problem is when these protests go from a peaceful nature to a more hostile nature.
These protests fell into the latter category. The behaviour of a number of the protesters was unacceptable. The willingness to personally insult, spit at and hurl missiles at those going to the conference cannot be defended and looked grotesque to many watching. The intimidation that ordinary members of the public faced when going to the conference was disturbing as well. This conduct will only alienate those observing who may previously have expressed sympathy or support for the principles behind these protests and are therefore counter-productive as well.
Debate is better conducted civilly and not when it is done on a personal level. Personal attacks and the use of derogatory language to insult your opponents should be seen as a sign of weakness and a lack of ability to win the argument. Simply calling someone ‘Tory Scum’ adds nothing to any argument. A level of respect should always be afforded to your political opponents even if you disagree with them passionately. This level of behaviour followed by coherent arguments are normally the best ways to impact governments and challenge their policies.
Peaceful political protests are perfectly valid and highlight a healthy political engagement in a country, but these protests overstepped the line. The Conservative Party are the democratically elected government of this government. Anyone linked to this party should not be intimidated or made to feel uncomfortable simply for just trying to attend their conference. By all means disagree with their policies but do it respectfully and courteously. That is the way we conduct debate in this country and that is the way it should be.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the new chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) panel, despite the fact that the Kingdom holds terrifying human rights records. For many individuals that choice was absolutely unexpected. The Kingdom will be chairing the group of 5 ambassador members, which is also called- the Consultative group. The group is responsible for the appointment of more than 77 experts worldwide. These experts monitor and assess the human rights records in the various countries around the world. These positions are considered to be from crucial importance for the UN Human Rights Council.
By appointing fundamentalist theocracy that is constantly violating the human rights of its own citizens, as well as these of the neighbouring countries places their legitimacy under question. Saudi Arabia has beheaded more than a hundred people only this year. That amount is even higher than that of the Islamic State. Moreover free speech is still a dream in Saudi Arabia. The number of people like the blogger Saif Badawi, jailed for pledging about democracy and criticising the government is unknown. Another activist Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, just 17 years is sentenced to death by crusification. The reason is that he took participation of the anti- government protests. The rights of the women are another issue, which deserves significant attention. In addition to the varieties of restrictions imposed on women, they are they are not allowed to drive a car. (Neuer statement)
For some the fact that the Saudis are presiding that panel might seem insignificant. Unfortunately the facts are different. The last couple of weeks have demonstrated the opposite. The Netherlands has made a proposal the war crimes in the Yemen’s war to be investigated by an independent commission. The proposal included investigation on Saudis and the opposition Houthi rebels. Also the Dutch proposed the Yemeni ports, which are occupied from the Saudi army to be opened in order to facilitate deliveries of humanitarian aid for Yemeni citizens. Riyadh, the Yemeni government in exile and their allies in the UNHRC (the UAE, Qatar and Morocco) strongly resisted the Dutch proposal. The reason for that is that the Saudi government aims to conceal its own war crimes.
In a television interview with the BBC before the last General Election, David Cameron stated that he would not seek a third term as Prime Minister. Since then there has been much speculation about who will follow him, with many candidates appearing to start their leadership bids at the Conservative Party conference this week.
George Osborne, the Chancellor and Cameron’s ally is the early frontrunner and is the clear favourite to take the crown. He has received a lot of credit for his handling of the economy and is seen as the best political strategist within the Conservative Party. He is a man who at this stage would appear hard to beat.
A brief look at recent political history will show though that the front-runner rarely wins. In past Conservative leadership races the likes of Michael Portillo and David Davis have been defeated despite being big favourites. This is true in Labour leadership races as well where both David Miliband and Andy Burnham have been defeated in recent times. Politics is all about momentum and the danger of being a front-runner is that you gain momentum at the wrong time and burnout before the end of the race.
As of yet David Cameron has not indicated when he will step down. Therefore there is currently no clear time frame for his succession. This could be in a couple of years or could be 4 years away. In this period, a number of events could change the whole political environment. There is an upcoming European referendum, where Britain could vote to leave the EU and also there is the ongoing drama within the Labour Party. These things may change everything.
Osborne will face many competitors as well. Boris Johnson has desired the role of leader and potential Prime Minister for a long time and delivered a well-received speech at the conference. Theresa May also has a large support base in the party and is positioning herself as the darling of the Right. Jeremy Hunt and Nicky Morgan have also indicated they may stand. This is going to be far from a coronation.
If the race was held today, then George Osborne would win. However it isn’t. There is a long way to go in this race and there are many things which could yet happen. Osborne rightly deserves his front-runner status, but his win is far from guaranteed. Nothing is decided yet and this is only the beginning of what could be one of the longest leadership races in recent history.
The snap elections in Greece on 20-th of September have demonstrated that the apathy among the Greeks is on the rise. Despite the fact that according to the legislation in Greece, voting is compulsory, just 56 % of the population have decided to implement their right to vote, compared with the 63 % on the January elections. That is a new record low of the voter turnout in Greece. Greeks are usually keen to vote, not because the voting is mandatory, as the law is rarely imposed on people who choose to abstinence from voting. However it seems that Greeks loosed their faith in politicians.
That trend might be explained with a number of reasons. The first reason is that these elections were the 5-th over the last 6 years and the third since the beginning of the year, including the referendum on the bailout plan held on June. People are simply tired from going to the polls. The elections even became a national sports discipline in Greece. The second reason is that, despite that ‘OXI’ (NO) on the July referendum all of the major parties have announced that will implement the humiliated conditions of the creditors in order to receive the bailout funds. Another important reason is that significant part of the individuals feels disappointed from the failed promises of Mr Tsipras that will tackle the austerity measures. Instead, they preferred to stay passive and did not choose to vote for another alternative party.
The Greeks option to boycott the vote is reasonable, as the new old Prime Minister Mr Tsipras has continued with its demagogue statements. At one of the first interviews after the elections, Mr Tsipras stated that will demand a debt relief from the creditors the same creditors which he accused of ‘pillaging’ Greece just a couple of months ago. Rather than that he was forced to implement even tougher deal with the creditors, as he declined the previous bailout plan. Also he publicly criticized his ministers, not to spend time on the TV shows, but to ‘govern and solve the people’s problems’.
The opposition MP Niki Kerameus stated: “Now is not the time to discuss why Syriza went from promising 12 billion euros in grants to proposing 12 billion euros in austerity measures?” The low voter turnout in Greece is logic answer to the leaders in the country, which remain to give false promises. Unfortunately someone has to pay the price and that will be the ordinary Greek population, rather than politicians like Mr Tsipras, looking for a short-term glory.