Tag Archives: Guardian

Violence against Women

First it was feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez facing appalling abuse on Twitter. Her dreadful experiences were later followed by a 13 per cent drop in police domestic violence referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service. Although these two matters are separate, both sadly reflect the attitudes to women prevalent in this country.

Violence against women is still rife and all too often the perpetrators do not receive what they deserve and their crimes are viewed almost as second class and not worthy of too much attention.

I am extremely concerned that Caroline Criado-Perez claims the police have lost evidence relating to the death and rape threats made against her on Twitter. Having been on the receiving end of some pretty vile and disgusting online abuse (though admittedly not as bad as Caroline’s), I do at least have some idea of what she’s going through.

In one tweet quoted in the Guardian Caroline said, “I can just about cope with threats. What I can’t cope with after this is the victim-blaming, the patronising, and the police record-keeping.”

Neither should Caroline ignore the “tolls” as some have suggested. There seems to be a culture on the internet that since trolls are anonymous it doesn’t matter what they do. It does matter and must be dealt with.

The debate about online abuse reminds me of the comment made by a (male) police officer when I was a young councillor. When I drew attention to the need to ensure women were safe walking around the large council estate in my ward, I received the response that women shouldn’t go out at night and that at other times they should be careful. Caroline’s experience suggests we haven’t made much progress in the intervening years.

It seems that progress is also very limited when it comes to prosecuting domestic violence attacks. It is quite shocking that the number of attacks referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution service went down by 13 per cent over the last three years, as reported in the Guardian. The fact that the number of cases referred by the police to the CPS went up by 23per cent between 2007 and 2010 shows just how significant the 13 per cent drop actually is.

It is, of course, good news that the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, is to meet police chiefs to discuss whether the police are doing enough to bring domestic violence cases to court. However, it will almost certainly be the case that further action will be needed.  

This government and the agencies which should be protecting us are badly failing women. I just hope we are not going back to the bad old days when domestic violence and abuse towards women, including rape, were not taken seriously and not seen as crimes which really mattered. We need to be vigilant and do all that we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.         

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Shocking figures reveal lack of women aged 50+ on TV

Just one in five presenters at major broadcasters over the age of 50 are women

Although a shocking figure in one sense, it really should not be a complete surprise. I’d probably struggle to count on one hand the number of women presenters over the age of 50 who regularly appear on TV or who have their own shows. Yes there are some well-known faces, but they are an exception.

As soon as you hit 50 your days are numbered, as Miriam O’Reilly knows only too well. It was her brave decision to fight her employer, the BBC, over this discrimination which forced  the industry to recognise it has a problem.  O’Reilly was interviewed in the Guardian just last week and reveals how she has spoken to other women who were as badly bullied and/or side-lined in the same way she was. Veteran presenter Anna Ford who is sadly no longer on our screens lamented the lack of older women television presenters again in the Guardian last Saturday.

Harriet Harman’s figures, published recently show ‘just one in five presenters at major broadcasters over the age of 50 are women’, is terrible. It shows that women have to fight harder than men to achieve the same roles and do so throughout their careers.

We are familiar with the difficulties women face when going back to work following a period of maternity leave, and we know how hard it is for women to reach the board and executive level in many companies because we have the stats to prove it from recent research studies.  And now women are faced with their working lives being cut short because they are not considered ‘the right fit’? Whatever the reason executives must stop discriminating against capable and experienced women who are 50+. This is a period which should be one of the highlights of women’s careers. After all women in their 50s are experienced, knowledgeable, and should, therefore, be sought after not (as unfortunately they are) side-lined.

Harriet Harman rightly said: “It really is a black hole … Broadcasters behave as though the viewing public have to be protected from the sight of an older woman and that’s just rude. There is nothing wrong with being an older woman….We’ve got to fight back against this sense that older women are less valuable, whereas men accumulate wisdom, authority and experience as they age.”

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David Cameron should listen to his voters

Yesterday’s blog showed how out of touch those Tories obsessed with withdrawal from the European Union are compared with the majority of British voters.

Today I came across this piece on Guardian Comment is Free. Talking about support for the EU among young people, the article’s author Selina Nwulu could have read my mind.

Selina tells us that a recent report from the Fabian Society shows that the majority of the 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed claimed they would vote yes to EU membership in a referendum. The report revealed that  most young people, despite economic instability and the burgeoning Eurozone crisis, still feel positive about the UK’s involvement within the EU.

I totally agree with Selina’s conclusion that there is a discrepancy between UKIP’s and the Tories’ anti-Europe rhetoric and the views of the pro-European majority among the younger UK generation. As politicians we should never dismiss young people’s views simply because they are less likely to vote than the older members of our society. Their voice is valuable and deserves to be both heard and acted on.

Selina also make a very good point when she asks that given the fact that many young people in the UK are currently facing limited opportunities, why is shrinking them further by UK withdrawal being discussed?

She goes on to say, “As youth unemployment rises and hideous terms like, “benefit scrounger” and “Neet” bounce around current day vernacular, youth engagement within the EU presents a mass of opportunity. EU schemes such as the Leonardo Da Vinci programme and the European Voluntary Service allow young people to work and live abroad as well as encouraging young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply. It’s crucial that the chances for young people are widened, not limited.”

Selina ends her article by saying it’s time the David Cameron and his Tory MPs listened. While there are those who feel overburdened by EU regulation, there are also many people who have benefitted from the EU in various ways – the educational programmes Selina mentions, the EU structural funds, grants to creative industries, equalities legislation and environmental protection, to name but a few.

 

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DWP ruling slams practice which is little short of slavery

Government work schemes were dealt a big blow yesterday following a ruling that the Department for Work and Pensions had exceeded its powers in its use of unpaid work schemes. The ruling found that this was legally flawed and means there is now the opportunity for thousands of others who had been on the scheme to also seek compensation.

The Guardian gives full coverage of the case, which had initially been brought by a 24-year old, Cait Reilly, a geology graduate, who was made to work in Poundland, while on a scheme.

She argued that working in Poundland had not had not helped her find a full time position, that she was unable to carry out valuable voluntary work and that the only ones to benefit from the scheme was Poundland itself.

The panel of Lord Justice Pill, Lady Justice Black and Sir Stanley Burnton ruled unanimously that Duncan Smith had exceeded his powers as secretary of state. In the ruling, Burnton said: “I emphasise that this case is not about the social, economic, political or other merits.”

Burnton said parliament was “entitled to encourage participation in such schemes by imposing sanctions”. “However,” he said, “any scheme must be such as has been authorised by parliament.”

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “This blows a big hole through the government’s workfare policies. Of course voluntary work experience can help the jobless, and it is right to expect the unemployed to seek work. But it is pointless to force people to work for no pay in jobs that do nothing to help them while putting others at risk of unemployment. “This policy is about blaming the jobless, not helping them.”

The PCS union said that its members who staff jobcentres and advice centres would “offer guidance and support to all those affected by the ruling, including those who have been unjustly sanctioned.”

Matthew Oakley, head of economics and social policy at Policy Exchange, said the ruling “should not be seen as some sort of body blow to the government’s welfare plans.

“The main problem in this particular instance was miscommunication of the requirements and penalties for not complying, rather than the policy itself.”

Having worked in the voluntary sector for many years before becoming an MEP, including holding the chief executive position in two national organisations, I have had first-hand experience of the value of work carried out on a voluntary basis. I have, indeed, done this myself on occasion. However, what the DWP attempted to do is not acceptable voluntary work; it is little short of slavery.

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Cameron’s shilly-shallying on Europe is not good for the country

The Tories are well and truly getting themselves in a twist on the EU.Europe, as we all know, was always their Achilles heels, a fault line which is getting deeper by the day.

By wading into these turbulent waters, big beast Eurosceptic Dr Liam Fox has heightened their problems and shown us an even more divided party. But it’s not just the Conservative Party in the frame. Since they are the leading part of the Con-Dem Coalition Government, this is something which affects the British people as a whole.

In a speech given tellingly to the right-wing think tank, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Dr Fox, according to ConservativeHome defied “the wisdom of the Conservative leadership by arguing that if we are not able to renegotiate significant powers back for Britain, we should leave the European Union”.   

It is, of course, bad enough that a former Cabinet Minister should attack his Party’s leadership in this way. It’s made even worse by David Cameron’s utter ineptness. Does he support a referendum or doesn’t her?  Liam Fox and 100 other Tory MPs think he doesn’t while others believe he might.

If it weren’t so serious, I would say that brewery and a lot to drink come to mind. Britain’s relationship with the European Union matters very much to our country. I can do no better than quote Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander writing in the Guardian on Saturday: “My fear is that the shambles over the last few days reveals more about the prime minister’s weakness in the party than the strength of his convictions about Europe. Whatever your view on Britain’s relationship with the EU, we all want the government’s approach to an issue this significant to start from only one place: consideration of what is best for Britain. I regret that this prime minister seems to be more concerned with managing party interests than governing in the national interest when it comes to Europe.”

Our national interest is at the very minimum to have a clear and well thought out strategy for Europe. It does no harm to repeat that the EU single market is the UK’s largest trading bloc taking 40 per cent of our exports. This involves more than simply getting goods there. As Douglas Alexander said in the same article: “…the single market is not just about “free trade” as the Eurosceptics misleadingly imply. It’s about far more than that: removing barriers behind the borders – and that requires common rules with a commission and court to enforce them. And where we have shared goals – from tackling climate change to cross-border crime and human trafficking – in an era of billion-person countries and trillion-pound economies – we cannot afford to give up on ways that help amplify our voice and protect our interests.”

It beggars belief that the Prime Minister is playing party politics with such an important matter. The real problem is that Cameron has not really “detoxified” the Tory brand. He hasn’t had the courage to do what Neil Kinnock achieved for the Labour Party in the 1980s. The British Conservative Party now has more extremists than before the 2010 general election.

Cameron seems to think appeasing the Eurosceptics will get him off the hook. Such misplaced judgment defies all historical precedents. Cameron has isolated the UK by pulling out of the European People’s Party, the centre-right group which also happens to be the largest political group in the European Parliament. Having annoyed his natural allies, Cameron now thinks he can renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU. Total and utter pie in the sky for reasons explained in some detail in other posts on this blog, and rather pleasingly put forward by Andrew Neill on the BBC Sunday Politics programme.

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The BBC World Service is important and should be properly funded

There appears to be no end to our economic woes. Britain’s economy slipped into its second recession since the start of the financial crisis around the turn of the year, and fears of a longer slump have been rising as companies hold back investment. What is more, there has been a sharp deterioration in the outlook for the global economy over the last six weeks.

All this has apparently caused Bank of England governor Mervyn King to back an extra £50bn of quantative easing,

Explaining his position to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, King said, “What has particularly concerned me in the last several months – why I have voted for more easing policy – was my concern about the worsening I see in the position in Asia and other emerging markets, adding “…my colleagues in the United States are more concerned than they were at the beginning of the year about what is happening to the American economy”.

According to the Guardian, Mervyn King went on to say, “We are in the middle of a deep crisis, with enormous challenges to put our own banking system right and challenges for the rest of the world that they are struggling with.”

It is now quite clear  that Britain has not recovered from the 2008/2009 slump that has left many Britons worse off, and fears are rising that another prolonged recession would do lasting damage to the economy.

You would have thought that the Tory-led Coalition Government would realise that it needs all the help it can get to make sure Britain’s interests are recognised in other countries and that the damage caused by the economic crisis is minimised across the world. One way of achieving this aim is through the soft power wielded by the BBC World Service.

The global impact of the World Service was, in fact, graphically illustrated last week when Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi toured the organisation’s offices, meeting many of the broadcasters she listened to while under house arrest  in Rangoon.

Unbelievably, at the end of 2010 the Foreign Office under William Hague decided to slash the World Service budget by around 20%, or £46m a year, by 2014. As a result the BBC in January 2011 confirmed plans to close five of its 32 World Service language services, estimating that audiences will fall by more than 30 million, from 180 million to 150 million a week.

As if this wasn’t enough, the BBC executive who runs the World Service, Peter Horrocks, has recently asked his journalists to come up with schemes to raise money.

This is surely no way to treat the World Service which truly justifies the over used soubriquet “national treasure”. The cut to its funding by the current Tory-led Government was a major misjudgement which totally underestimated importance of the World Service in boosting Britain’s standing abroad, a vital requirement in these perilous economic times.

I recently had an inkling of how the BBC is perceived when a Swedish MEP told me just how honoured and overjoyed he was to be invited on to the BBC “The Record Europe” programme. David Cameron, William Hague and the other luminaries in the Coalition Cabinet would do well to take such views on board. The BBC is the face and voice of the UK across the world and it benefits Britain enormously. It would be a real tragedy if political dogma were allowed to prejudice this huge asset.

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Eurozone banking union could challenge the City of London

Monday’s extract from the latest tranche of Alastair Campbell’s diaries, The Burden of Power: Countdown to Iraq, published in the “Guardian” is very telling on the Euro question.

According to Campbell, Blair was well and truly thwarted by Brown. What is more, Tony Blair feared “we were making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons”.

While the bickering, not to say in-fighting, between Blair and Brown as told by Alastair Campbell makes depressing reading, there is no doubt in my mind that Tony Blair’s instincts on the Euro were right, even in the light of the current crisis in the Eurozone.

When British commentators talk about the Euro they all, almost without exception, take a congratulatory, not to say patronising, tone. The UK is deemed to have done the right thing by staying outside the Euro. We are not, after all, embroiled in the current economic problems.

Except of course, we are. The recession is deeper here than elsewhere in the EU. Britain’s double dip recession matches the economic problems of almost any save the most deficient Eurozone country. Unemployment in the UK stands at 8.4%. This is higher than Germany at 5.4% and Holland and Luxembourg (5.2%). True, there are also very high unemployment in the Eurozone, especially in the member states facing huge problems such as Greece and Spain where the rates are in the low twenties. Overall, the Eurozone total in 11.2%, more than Britain, but not much more given that the peripheral countries are in such difficulties.

As readers of this blog know, I very much support what was the Tony Blair position on the Euro in 2003, the year Campbell features. In a world where economies are intertwined, it would have made a lot of political sense for the UK to join the Euro at that time.

The UK has once again failed to join the European project at the right time. Former Permanent Representative to the EU Sir Stephen Wall is quite clear in his excellent book “A Stranger in Europe” that Britain would have not faced many of the issues it found itself dealing with regarding the European Union if we had been there at the beginning rather than leaving it until 1973 to join.

The same, I fear, will happen in relation to the Euro. If a country is not there at the start they stand to miss out on crucial decisions, finding that the architecture has been put in place without their input. This is, of course, why the UK is uncomfortable with some aspects of the European Union, especially when it comes to agriculture.

The Eurozone seems to be going in the direction of some kind of banking union. This will obviously have an effect on the City of London. Being outside whatever kind of union emerges may well prove problematic for our financial services industry. We in Britain should ask ourselves whether we really want a powerful neighbour with a unified banking system which will be able to challenge, not to say get the better of, our most important industry.

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The cost of the Euro breaking up is too high to contemplate

If Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain were to leave the Euro it would have a massive effect on the UK. Credit Suisse has recently estimated that were the peripheral countries to exit, Barclays would face losses of €37 billion and Royal Bank of Scotland €26 billion.

And that’s just what will happen here. If the Euro crisis results in the single currency breaking apart few large Eurozone banks would be left standing and the banking sector could face a €370 billion loss. Reported in the Guardian yesterday, Credit Suisse has conducted one of the first in-depth analyses if the Eurozone disintegrates.

The Credit Suisse report makes grim reading indeed, more so in the light of Spain’s debt rising to seven per cent and the election in Greece over the weekend.

Just to add a further layer of gloom, Credit Suisse also considered what would happen if three of the worst case scenarios – Greek exit, exit of the peripheral countries and a situation where banks retrench domestically – all happen at once. The upshot would be that the banking sector would need capital injections of up to €470 billion.

As has been said many times on this blog, the UK is deeply involved in these dire predictions. We are an island only geographically, not in any other sense. The only thing on which I have ever agreed with David Cameron is that what happens in the Eurozone will deeply affect us in Britain.

The Credit Suisse analysis of the consequences of the Eurozone breaking up follows closely on the heels of a report from the right-wing think tank Open Europe warning of the consequences of Britain leaving the European Union. The Open Europe paper says: “While acknowledging that the cost of EU membership remains far too high, the EU continues, on a purely trade basis, to be the most beneficial arrangement for Britain. The alternatives often suggested – the Norwegian, Swiss and Turkish models – would all come with major economic drawbacks, not least for key UK industries such as car manufacturing and financial services, with the Norwegian model being particularly ill-suited for Britain.”

There is, of course, only one overarching conclusion to be drawn from the Credit Suisse and the Open Europe research, neither of which can be charged with being either left-wing or Euro-fanatic. It is that Britain is profoundly affected by what happens in the Eurozone and is so completely tied up with the European Union that coming out is not a realistic option.

Meanwhile, back to the banks. It was banks rather than sovereign countries which precipitated the current economic crisis. Fanny May and Freddie Mac started it all with toxic mortgages to people who could not repay their debts. This was, however, just the tip of the iceberg. Banks were deemed too big to fail. Tragically, though, people were thought fair game, hence the austerity measures which are causing so much suffering across Europe.

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The Conservative Party remains deeply divided on Europe

The Conservatives are all over the place on Europe. Yesterday’s Guardian was a veritable treasure trove of Tory tangle.

Writing about the views expressed over the weekend by Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne, the excellent Jackie Ashley saw through their carefully crafted comments. Cameron has said on a number of occasions that the Eurozone needs a deeper structure with further political integration. Meanwhile Osborne pointed out in the Sunday Telegraph that Britain is heavily dependent on what goes on in the Eurozone.

This much is true. However, every time David Cameron has demanded, in his very own imperious style, that the Eurozone sorts itself out, he has also made it abundantly clear that the UK could not be part of the arrangements he espouses for others. Jackie Ashley is absolutely right when she says that David Cameron is effectively advocating a super-state which leaves Britain in grave danger of being overshadowed with little control over our political, as well as our economic, affairs.

Meanwhile the über-Eurosceptic think tank Open Europe has just come out saying that Britain’s exit from the European Union would pose “unpredictable political and economic risks”. This is certainly a turn up for the books and will, I hope, be taken seriously by those who support Open Europe’s general point of view.

So we have the Prime Minister and the Chancellor advocating a European super-state without Britain which, by virtue of its size and clout, will inevitably overshadow its much smaller neighbour, the UK. At the same time an influential strand of anti-EU thought is warning that Britain would be better not leaving the Union.

As if this weren’t enough, in the same edition of the Guardian George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle and former press secretary to David Cameron, is still fighting the repatriation of powers corner. He maintains. “We can do better that just leave the EU. With the right approach, we could change it.”

Although superficially appealing, I find the Eustice line deeply hypocritical. As I have said many times on this blog, changing the EU, in other words repatriating powers from Brussels to London, is not a runner. Such a change would need the agreement of all 26 other member states – a huge task. The scale of what Eustice thinks possible can be seen if the question is put the other way; why indeed should the rest of the EU allow Britain to cherry pick?

Eustice’s plan is quite simply not feasible. If it were tried in any serious fashion, it would surely lead to Britain leaving the EU, probably slowly and probably without a referendum. The Eustice idea that powers can be repatriated is really the worst of all worlds presented as reasonable and desirable.

Cameron, Osborne, Open Europe and George Eustice do not, of course, represent the views hard-line Tories who want nothing less that immediate withdrawal from the EU. Daniel Hannan MEP has recently repeated his mad idea that Britain should transform itself into Norway or Switzerland, while Douglas Carswell and Bill Cash rarely let up on their hatred of all things EU.

All in all, there are at least four Conservative positions on the EU represented in this short blog post. The Tories are well and truly divided on what is fast becoming one of the current defining issues. It is becoming ever clearer that the Conservative Party has not resolved its internal divisions, and there has always been general agreement that a split party is not good for the health of the government.

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The “immediate plan” for the Euro from David Cameron and President Obama is an illusion

As David Cameron met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on one level it is reassuring to know that the Prime Minister thinks decisive action needs to be taken in order to underpin the Eurozone, as reported in the Guardian yesterday. The quote from the Prime Minister’s spokeswomen goes on to say that confidence in the markets is essential, and in order to regain that confidence decisive action needs to be taken.

The unfortunate aspect of the story is that Messrs Cameron and Osborne are in no position to take any kind of decisive action. By waltzing out of the last December’s European summit which established the fiscal pact, David Cameron threw away any hope the UK may have had of a voice in the future of the single currency. Although this may not be a bad thing at the present time since another voice supporting austerity would not be helpful for the Eurozone, it leaves the UK powerless when it comes to the Euro. If Cameron leaves any lasting legacy, he will go almost certainly go down in history as the Prime Minister who sold Britain down the river.

Mr Cameron’s is now following a long tradition of British Prime Ministers turning to the United States of America. Apparently in a telephone conversation the night before last reported in the Daily Telegraph, Cameron agreed with President Obama that there is a need for “an immediate plan” to resolve the Eurozone crisis. Mr Cameron seems to view this weasely statement as significant, strong enough to make sure the British media knew about it.

Of course the problems in the Eurozone need resolving; no-one would disagree with that. The UK’s economic woes also need sorting out. Even the United States itself could do with a bit of economic firepower. There are two points to be considered. One is that the world is now a very small place and economic difficulties can never be confined to one country or region.

The second point is more specific. Neither President Barack Obama nor Prime Minister David Cameron has competence to deal with the Eurozone’s affairs. The G20 summit in Mexico later this month will discuss the Euro and many other economic issues and will more than likely seek to find an acceptable way forward.

However, the power to make decisions on the future of the Euro, how the Eurozone is governed and what will be done to improve the current situation, such as introducing Eurobonds, will be for the members of the fiscal pact to decide. Britain is not there. Lecturing Eurozone leaders about what they should or should not do makes no difference as the power has already been conceded. Cameron’s hectoring only further alienates other EU leaders and is therefore not a wise long-term policy.

President Obama has, of course, been much too sensible and rational to lecture the Europeans. He no doubt views talking to the British Prime Minister as a courtesy and probably keeps close to Britain as much for old time’s sake as anything else.

That really sums up the UK’s current standing with the United States. We are, of course, still strong allies, share a common language and go back a long way. Nevertheless, the relationship these days is all one way, the way of the USA. Britain has little real power in relation to its transatlantic ally, and now very little power in the Eurozone which is bound to lead to an erosion of influence in the European Union.

David Cameron could not have done better if he had wilfully set out to reduce Britain’s standing. Much of his anti-EU shenanigans has been to placate his feral Eurosceptic backbenchers. On Wednesday’s Newsnight Tory MEP Daniel Hannan sang the praises of Norway and Switzerland telling us how they thrived outside the European Union. With the greatest respect to both of these countries, they are happy to be isolated and have never sought any position on the world stage. Britain, I believe, still wants to be a leading international power. The only way to do this is to play a full and leading role in the European Union.

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