Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The good news this week was that Obama has won a second term in office.  The election was predicted as being too close to call right up until Tuesday, but in the end Obama won the electoral vote comfortably.

The tone of this election was bleak, with both sides engaging in some rather underhand tactics, but the thought of a Romney presidency was just too much for most Americans in the end.  Looking at the coverage over here of American politics, you could easily believe that a large proportion of Americans are right-wing religious zealots, but, though they do have their fair share of such people, it would seem that America is actually quite a liberal place.

Three states, Maine, Maryland and Washington, have all voted to legalise same sex marriages.  This brings the total up to nine now in the U.S.

But all the pundits are saying that women, and in particular single women, were the deciding factor in this election.  The finding might seem unsurprising after a campaign season punctuated by offensive and biologically illiterate statements from Republican candidates about rape and pregnancy.

But pollsters said the newly identified electoral bloc of unmarried women voted for Obama for bringing the country through the recession – with the Democrats’ support for healthcare and equal pay.  Obama obliterated Romney when it came to the battle for the votes of unmarried women, beating him by 36 points.

It’s not difficult to see why this is happening, especially when Romney made his now infamous “47%” speech, where he said it was not his job to worry about people who made need help from the government.  I think the republicans need to think very carefully about how they come across to female voters.  This election has shown that telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies and denying them access to much needed welfare is a sure fire way to lose their support.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The week saw several high profile meetings between heads of state, starting with François Hollande’s first encounter with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then building up to the G8, held at Camp David.

In the Observer Andrew Rawnsley asked us to stop “being beastly to Germans”, as Noel Coward put it.  I can’t say I have much sympathy for Merkel, despite having to watch David Cameron celebrate as Chelsea beat her team Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on Saturday.  It is true though that, with Hollande as France’s new president, Merkel is looking very low on allies among her fellow heads of state.

As Rawnsley says in his article; ‘The American Democrat, British Conservative and French Socialist may not agree on much else, but on this, at least, they are together. It is one second to midnight in the eurozone because a recalcitrant and miserly Germany has refused to step up to its historic responsibility to do what is necessary to save the single currency. If the eurozone implodes, and carries away the global economy with it, the buck will stop in Berlin.’

I think it’s fair to say that that Germany does deserve a big helping of blame for the current state of the eurozone.  Germanyhas repeatedly failed to offer leadership that rises to the scale of the present crisis. When Germanyhas led, it has not always been in a well-judged direction. The austerity programme imposed on the Greeks as the price for continued membership of the euro was too draconian to be implemented in a democracy. The have duly revolted.

So now Obama, Hollande and Cameron get to lay the blame for the current situation at Merkel’s feet.  I can see their point but the idea that Cameron gets to lecture another European leader about a growth agenda is very galling.  Merkel has overseen a German economy that had remained very healthy through out the crisis, whilst Cameron’s government has led us in to further recession.

With all this going on, apart from the Champions League Final, you can’t imagine that Cameron did much relaxing at Camp David, though he has been accused of “chillaxing” too much of weekend, and playing games on his iPad.  He has reacted by saying that he is driven, like Lady Thatcher, to achieve “massive radical and structural reforms”.  I think I prefer the idea of Cameron “chillaxing” than bringing about reforms similar to Tatcher.  I hear that a new version of Angry Birds has just come out, can someone please buy it for him?

Stop the Use of Combat Drones Now

Labour Party

This week I signed a written declaration on the use of drones in combat situations.

It has been estimated by the Pakistan Body Count that the use of combat drones in Pakistan has resulted in the deaths of 2179 civilians by September 2011.  President Obama made the frankly disgraceful decision when he assumed power in 2009 to increase the use of drones, believing them to be favourable to other methods.

The United Nations have made it clear that the use of drones is, at the very least problematic.  On 28 October 2009, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, presented a report to the Third Committee (social, humanitarian and cultural) of the General Assembly arguing that the use of unmanned combat air vehicles for targeted killings should be regarded as a breach of international law unless the United States can demonstrate appropriate precautions and accountability mechanisms are in place.

On 2 June 2010 Alston’s team released a report on its investigation into the drone strikes, criticizing the United States for being, “the most prolific user of targeted killings” in the world. In a statement about America’s use of drones, he said: “…you have the really problematic bottom line, which is that the Central Intelligence Agency is running a programme that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability in terms of the relevant international laws.”  Alston, however, acknowledged that the drone attacks may be justified under the right to self-defence, but still called on the US to be more open about the programme.

Unfortunately the United States has not been forthcoming about the methods it uses in the selection of targets, nor have they been clear about the number of civilian deaths.  The CIA has gone as far as to say that of the people killed during drone attacks, none have been ‘non-combatants’, a claim that was seen as entirely unrealistic Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal among others.

I commend my colleagues Sabine Lösing, Sonia Alfano, Ana Gomes and Rui Tavares for helping to raise awareness of this important issue.  If your MEP hasn’t signed then you should write to them, urging them to do so.  We must put an end to the use of combat drones.

Disgusted by Forbes’ Methodology for Determining the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women

Labour Party

World's fourth most powerful woman (right) and seventh most powerful woman (left). Apparently.

This morning, I read the newly published Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. As it loads up I wonder to myself, will Merkel be ahead of Hilary Clinton? Where will Catherine Ashton come? I wonder which female CEOs have been judged as the most powerful?

To my horror, Lady Gaga is number 7. Oprah Winfrey is number 3 – ahead of both Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel. Ellen Degenres beats Nancy Pelosi to the last spot in the top ten. The most powerful woman in the world is listed as Michelle Obama, undoubtedly an influential woman, and very able in her own right, but there because she is the wife of a powerful man. Catherine Ashton is not mentioned at all. Lower down the list Madonna, a singer who (I checked) last released an album 3 years ago, is 2 places above Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a Supreme Justice in what could be argued to be the most powerful court in the world (numbers 29 and 31 respectively).  Whilst Lady Gaga, Madonna and Beyonce have the very highest level of influence within the world of fashion and music, I am unsure as to how that possibly entails they are more powerful than Catherine Ashton, who co-ordinates the foreign policy of the world’s largest economic area, or Dilma Rousseff, the President of a G12 country (Brazil).

Perplexed, I turn to  Forbes’ list of the 68 most powerful “people” in the world. Since there are only 4 women I don’t feel it’s entirely unreasonable to refer to this list as the list of the 68 most powerful men in the world. Funnily enough, there are no singers or actors in sight. Indeed, it seems a far more reasonable list; being topped by Hu Jintao, Barack Obama, the King of Saudi Arabia and Vladimir Putin. Men who without a shadow of a doubt wield large amounts of tangible power.

So why the difference in the two lists?  It turns out the lists are compiled using different methodologies.  In considering the men the factors taken into account are the size of populations they hold power over, their financial resources, the extent of their sphere of influence and the active use of their power. When it comes to the women however, they have instead been split into 4 categories; business, politics, media and lifestyle. So, half dedicated to women who influence real things and half dedicated to women who influence media and “lifestyles”.

Why the difference in approach? Well, I guess it can only be because women are still judged to be successful on different gounds than men are. A female singer (Beyonce) can be considered more successful than a female politician (Rousseff) because fundamentally that’s what women should be doing isn’t it? The idea that (for example) Usher or Kanye West could be considered as successful or powerful as a male head of state is of course ludicrous. Sadly, the same attitude still does not apply to women. It is also highly apparent that Forbes still considers women as defined by their husbands but not vice versa. Michelle Obama is, according to them, the world’s most powerful woman, by virtue of being the First Lady, of being someone’s wife. Melinda Gates is number 27, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is number 35, Maria Schriver (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s soon to be ex-wife) is number 53 and the wife of the Emir of Qatar is number 74.  Shockingly Angela Merkel’s husband is not on the men’s list however. Well, I guess that’s because he’s a man; and is evaluated on the basis of his own achievements rather than those of his spouse. Forbes’ list is a depressing indictment of how our society still views and judges the female half of the world’s population. So women if you want to be powerful don’t bother trying to become a head of state or a business CEO! Instead, either try and marry someone powerful, or just make sure you have a good hairstyle, can carry a tune and are willing to wear skimpy clothes. Because clearly that’s still (nearly) all that matters.

About the Speakers at my Fringe Meeting – Alex Smith

Labour Party

Today’s featured speaker at my fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference is Alex Smith, Editor of top Labour blog LabourList. I am very pleased indeed that Alex agreed to speak at my meeting.  As the editor of a blog which takes a wide range of contributions he will have a different perspective from those of us who produce solo efforts.

Alex has written on politics and web campaigning in both Britain and the United States for Progress, Compass, the Fabians and Total Politics magazine Progressive London, the Government Gazette and House Magazine. He has, in addition, spoken at events for organisations including Progressive London, Compass, Progress, Republic, the Fabians and the BBC College of Journalism.

Alex also has international experience, having spent 2007-2008 in the United States, working in New York and volunteering on the Obama campaign in Brooklyn. He later devised and directed the independent, grassroots organisation Drive for Obama.

At home in London Alex is a co-founder of the Latimer Project and a governor at Holloway School.

Alex is currently on sabbatical from LabourList, and is working as Director of Online Communications and Campaigns for Ed Miliband’s campaign for the Labour leadership.

My fringe meeting is on Monday 27 September at 6.00pm at Manchester Central, Charter 1 in the secure zone.  The other speakers are Tom Harris MP, Jessica Asato and Councillor John Gray from the London Borough of Newham.

Post Lisbon Blues

Labour Party

Reading the Guardian today you may be forgiven for thinking we are all suffering from a massive dose of gloom at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week.  To say nothing could be further from the truth would be an exaggeration; it’s more like business as usual with a bit extra doom thrown in for good measure.

Things are quite obviously not going to well on the big issues.  The economy across Europe is  in the doldrums with the current crisis in Greece making everyone very jittery.

To add insult to injury, the much vaunted Copenhagen summit on climate change held in December was little short of a farce.  Badly organised and lacking any sort of focus, it failed to produce any binding agreement.  Since the environment in general and climate issues in particular do not respect national borders and therefore require international action, this whole policy area is almost universally seen as Europe’s strongest card.  To come so unstuck at Copenhagen was therefore extremely bad news.

What is more, Europe’s internal, what EU jargon call “inter-institutional”, organisation is in a state of flux following the Lisbon Treaty.  There are now no less than four presidents:  Jose-Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, current holder of the six month rotating presidency.

You may recall that one of my reasons for supporting Tony Blair for as President of the European Council was to have one strong leader who would be above all the inter-institutional rivalry and cut down on the chaos.  Alas this wasn’t to be, to Europe’s immediate and, I believe, long term detriment.

President Obama recently cancelled his attendance at an EU summit due to be held in Madrid in May, allegedly because he doesn’t know who is in charge in the EU.  It looks suspiciously as if Obama is  following in the apocryphal footsteps of Henry Kissinger who apparently felt the same way.  Since this snub follows hard on the heels of the United States President’s failure to take much account of the EU at Copenhagen, Europe has much to think about.

The underlying and very real danger is that the world revolves once again around two super powers – this time the Unites States and China.  Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall we may be back to the same old alignment, capitalist and communist, west and east with the same potential for an aggressive arms build up.

The EU was perhaps never going to be strong enough to be the force countering these two massive countries with their huge landmass, natural resources and, perhaps more important, their overwhelming sense of national identity.  Yet we in Europe are in real danger of missing out on any meaningful influence.  While the EU remains riven with internal jealousies, unable to move forward, the chance of acting as a player on the world stage and being the counterweight to the USA and China lessens by the day.  Strength lies in unity not fragmentation.

I support Tony Blair for President (even though I was against the Iraq War)

Labour Party

Blair at the European Parliament

Now is the time, I believe, for all good men and women to stand up and be counted.  I believe Tony Blair is not only the right person to be the new President of the European Council, but the only possible choice.

 It all comes down to how we see the EU and where we want Europe to go in the future.  While I am not a European integrationist as far as domestic policy is concerned, I do believe the EU’s presence on the world stage needs to be strengthened.  The EU should be able to rise to what we may now call the “Obama challenge”, an idea first articulated by Henry Kissinger when he asked, “If I want to talk to Europe, who do I ring?” 

 The two new posts (a President of the European Council and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs, both to serve a minimum of two and a half years), to be created under the Lisbon Treaty will go some way towards answering this question.  Answering this question becomes ever more crucial as the years go by and both Europe and the world change.  Indeed, the environment in which Kissinger operated over thirty years ago is almost unrecognisable today.

 One of the ways to deal with the Kissinger question is, I believe, to have a strong and experienced President of the European Council, a charismatic leader who will be President Obama’s equal, a real player on the international stage.  In short, the EU needs a credible leader to execute its external relations policy. 

 Foreign affairs and defence have moved beyond the realm of individual nation states.  The EU itself now has a developed common security policy and speaks as one voice on very many external matters.  The only time in the recent past when this did not happen was the Iraq War when Britain went out on a limb with the United States.  I opposed the Iraq War all the way through, spoke against it in public and voted for the resolutions in the European Parliament condemning the war.

 I am not, therefore, a blind Blair loyalist.  But I do believe he is the man to be President of Europe.  He is also an ex-Labour Prime Minister, and hence our, the Labour, candidate.  I have never had much time for those Labour Party members who were against Blair because they viewed him as not “old Labour” and not left wing enough.  Tony Blair is Labour. End of story.

 Tony Blair’s record as Labour Prime Minister speaks for itself – the national minimum wage, Sure Start, extended maternity leave, paternity leave, a massive reduction in NHS waiting lists, a huge hospital building programme, a reduction in class sizes, peace in Northern Ireland, tripling overseas aid, establishing devolved government in Scotland and Wales and setting up the London Assembly, to name but a few.  You will all, I am sure, be able to add to this list.     

 Given that it is now almost certain that Czech Republic President Klaus will sign the Lisbon Treaty, it will probably come into force towards the end of November.  The EU therefore has less than two months to shape its future.  Let’s hope it takes the bold decision and appoints the man who once affirmed that “We are at our best when we are at our boldest”.