Archive for April, 2011

Devaluation of the charge of Racism

April 9, 2011

In a critique of the American ‘Fiscal Conservative’ Right in the Guardian, Amanda Marcotte writes the following:

‘The image of the welfare slut has been carefully constructed by the right in recent months to be as racist as possible, as well. A nationwide billboard campaign linking black women and abortion invokes the Reagan-era stereotype of black women as neglectful mothers and over-sexed harridans, and reinforces the message to the base that the only way to put these women in their place is take away their reproductive healthcare.’

Click on the link (newsone.com) to see the picture. The only ‘racial’ element of the picture is that it has a picture of Barack Obama. However I don’t see how it’s racist because the central message, that abortions eliminate ‘potential leader[s]’, would be exactly the same if there was a picture of George Bush or Bill Clinton there. How the picture in of itself reinforces a stereotype of ‘black women as neglectful mothers and over-sexed harridans’ is a mystery to me.

The only potential racist issue with the picture that I can spot is not on Amanda Marcotte’s article but on the newsone.com page itself which implies the poster is specifically aimed at Black communities in Chicago. Thus implying that the producers of the poster assume Black Americans are somehow rabid abortionists.

However, that is just conjecture on my part. If Amanda Marcotte is going to suggest the poster is racist, she should clearly explain why.

The result of liberally spreading accusations of racism is that when racism is everywhere, it ends up being nowhere. The word starts to lose meaning and power. Then when others try to highlight real instances of racism they are not taken seriously because the Amanda Marcotte’s of this world have cried wolf so many times before.

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An Open Question on the EU membership: What is the Point?

April 9, 2011

Various voices on the political right, from the Express Newspaper to Eurosceptic Tory MP’s, have been asking for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

According to Sean O’Grady of the Independent, the net transfer of funds from Britain to the EU rose to £9.2bn in 2010 from £5.3bn in 2009. The almost £4bn increase was ‘Enough to avoid the recent rise in national insurance or the new 50p rate of tax ‘ and worth ‘£230 for every household in the country.’

The Economist* cites a British Chambers of Commerce study that put the cost of 144 new regulations over 1998 – 2010 to the British Economy at £88bn, of which two thirds of which was attributable to European Union Legislation.

Irrespective of whether these regulations are necessary or not, Eurosceptics point out they have not been implemented by our democratically elected parliament.

Arch Eurosceptic Tory MEP Daniel Hannan points out that the countries with the highest GDP per capita in Europe are non EU members Norway and Switzerland.

What is the other side of this debate? What is the benefit for Britain in being part of the European Union?

*Economist March 19th – 25th 2011 Edition. See pg 19 of ‘A special Report on the future of the State.’

It helps to be sceptical on the AV debate

April 9, 2011

The referendum on the alternative vote is an issue of high constitutional importance and passions run high one way or another among political commentators.

On the other hand, the technical differences between voting systems are often lost on members of the public who may not have time to research the subject in depth.

To give an anecdotal example, I asked my Mother, a Technical Director for a multi – national shipping firm, which way she would vote. She said she would support the Alternative Vote system (AV) because it allows for proportional representation (PR). It does not. That’s why before the election, the Liberal Democrats were in favour of a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, which is a PR system, instead of AV.

The general public confusion allows commentators to be somewhat economical with the truth. That’s why it helps to be sceptical when reading the claims of both sides.

Blogging in the Telegraph, journalist and Tory MEP Daniel Hannan lists the following as the third reason (of ten) not to support AV:

‘Supporters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted five or six times – and potentially decide the outcome of the election – while people who backed the mainstream candidates only get one vote.’

This claim is patently untrue as Andrew Rawnsley, Chief Political Commentator for the Observer explains, in any recount the supporters of the mainstream parties get their votes recounted too.

‘Mr Grey, Mrs Purple and Miss White stand for election. In the first round, if one of them attracts the support of more than half of the voters, that person is elected. Each voter has voted once. If none of the contenders can command majority backing first time around, the candidate with the least support drops out and there is a second round. Let us say that Mr Grey – not a popular chap – is the candidate eliminated. The second preferences of his supporters are now redistributed between Mrs Purple and Miss White.’

So ‘yes, you can say that Mr Grey’s supporters have voted again. But, crucially, so too have the original supporters of Mrs Purple and Miss White.’

That quote is from a pro AV piece by Mr Rawnsley, one which contains its own potentially misleading comment.

A key criticism of AV (that Hannan hints at) is that it benefits small extremist parties such as the BNP. Rawnsley retorts ‘Yet if AV really would be such a boost to fascists you’d expect the BNP to be enthusiasts for it. They are actually campaigning on the No side’

Rawnsley fails to mention that the BNP are not supporters of the current system First Past the Post (FPTP). Quite the contrary, they oppose AV because they would much prefer a ‘party List proportional Representation (PLPR)’ system. So it could well be that AV is a boost to the fascists but that they prefer an even bigger boost from greater proportional representation.

*To be fair to Rawnsley, the BNP do describe the AV method as ‘even more unfair [to smaller parties]’ then FPTP in that article but they give no clear reason why apart from saying ‘[our] votes will be redistributed to other parties’ in case of a recount. It is unclear how that is ‘worse’ than such votes being ignored as under FPTP or why anyone would expect a logically coherent article on their website.

So what do we need to cut?

April 4, 2011

There are voices on the Left that apparently refuse to acknowledge the need for any substantial spending cuts to deal with the deficit. This is disingenuous because it does not acknowledge the true extent of the UK’s economic predicament. As a result, any critique of George Osborne’s economic policy from the Left is less likely to be taken seriously.

It is worth recalling the economic situation the UK found itself in last year.

At the beginning of 2010, the European commission predicted that the 2010/2011 UK budget deficit would be the biggest in the European Union when they predicted it to be 11.6% of GDP, exceeding even Greece and Ireland. Source: Guardian

The EU recommends that budget deficits do not exceed 3% of GDP.

The European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said of the then impending new Government:

“The first thing for the new government to do is to agree on a convincing, ambitious programme of fiscal consolidation in order to start to reduce the very high deficit and stabilise the high debt level of the UK.”

There was a broad consensus on the need for substantial cuts among both political parties. The then Chancellor Alastair Darling committed the Labour party to halving the deficit by the end of the parliament; a policy he described as ‘more radical than Thatcher’. This policy has been maintained by the Labour party since the election of ‘Red Ed’ Miliband. The debate to be had is on the pace and depth of cuts with the Tories aiming to eliminate the deficit in one term.

This is not the debate being argued in the liberal comment pieces. While no liberal commentator openly states there should be no cuts, there are few suggestions as to where the cuts should actually fall.

Writing in the Guardian, The author Phillip Pullman decries the proposed closure of 20 public libraries by his local Oxfordshire council. At a time of cost cutting, it is reasonable to assume that libraries would be a more appropriate target for cuts than other front line services. You may assume that Mr Pullman would argue why libraries should be saved over other services. However he absolves himself of making any such hard choices, instead offering blanket objections to his council leader: 

“The leader of the county council says cuts are inevitable, and invites us to suggest what we would do instead. Would we sacrifice care for the elderly? Or would youth services feel the axe? I don’t think we should accept his invitation. It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them.”

If Mr Pullman doesn’t want to answer difficult questions, maybe he shouldn’t enter the debate.

In a piece entitled ‘David Cameron’s assault on the homeless is Dickensian’ Johann Hari of the Independent criticises the government for slashing funding for the ‘Rough Sleepers Unit’, a scheme that has reduced homeless numbers by ’75 percent’. He also refers to ‘some 90,000 single tenants and 82,000 families [who] are facing eviction from their homes because of Housing Benefit cuts.’ Hari argues that ‘all’ such cuts could be avoided if the £1bn in taxpayers money paid to the RBS bankers had been ring fenced for the homeless.

This may well be the case. However, £1bn is a small portion of the cuts to be made over the 4 years. Not all the savings can simply be made from taxing bankers. There will be cuts that affect the middle and working classes – where are these going to come from? Which of these services should be cut? Johann Hari doesn’t address any of these questions in his article.

‘A week today the cuts start to bite’ is the first sentence of Amelia Gentleman’s Guardian article ‘Public Sector cuts – the Truth’. The article lists various services across the country affected by cuts from careers centres in deprived neighbourhoods to music lessons for children with learning disabilities. The conclusion criticises the ‘government mantra’ that ‘we should … do more for less’ by pointing out ‘The imminent disappearance of the jobs and services profiled here suggests we will simply end up with less’

Perhaps so, but it is worth remembering that Labour’s planned cuts in the first year (£14bn) were close to the coalition’s level (£16bn). Amelia Gentleman should be arguing why these services should be prioritised over say, Health or Education spending. She does suggest that they ‘may be easy to ignore’ not being as ‘dramatic as maternity awards [closures]’ but that is not the same as positively arguing why these services should be saved. Her article does paint a moving picture of the human cost of spending cuts but offers little in terms of policy proposals.

Voices on the Left are reluctant to deal with the hard questions of where substantial cuts should fall. Until they do, the government can simply dismiss their arguments as naïve.