Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Andrew Rawnsley discussed what he called the ‘omnishambles’ that is the government in his column for the Observer this week.

As he said, ‘it’s a great word which encapsulates the government’s serial misjudgements and misadventures, from granny taxes and petrol panics to the boomeranging budget and Theresa May’s lost day.’

Miliband managed to make use of the word during last week’s Question Time, and as Rawnsley pointed out it was a public space in which to get the word out there in the hope that it enters the British lexicon.

Rawnsley questions whether this current situation is a blip or something more significant for the coalition government, after all the Budget was over a month ago and that kicked off this period of omnishambolism which has yet to show signs of improvement.

Rawnsley suggests we are seeing something more significant than a blip. You can read his full article here.

Something of a shocking statistic was revealed over the weekend in the Sunday Times which suggested that some 100,000 women in Britain have undergone female genital mutilations (FGM) with medics in the UK offering to carry out the illegal procedure on girls as young as 10, the paper reported.

Investigators from the Sunday Times said they had secretly filmed a doctor, dentist and alternative medicine practitioner who were allegedly willing to perform FGM or arrange for the operation to be carried out. The doctor and dentist deny any wrongdoing.

The practice of, or arranging for, FGM to be carried out is illegal and can carry a sentence of up to 14 years.

That anyone would face this kind of barbaric treatment is incredible, that it is happening on our doorstep is shocking and indicates just how little we know about this terrible crime.

You can read more here.

The first round of the French Presidential elections is complete and François Hollande has moved a step closer to becoming the new President, the first socialist in a generation.

For President Sarkozy it is particularly humiliating because this is the first time an outgoing President has failed to win a first-round vote in the past 50 years. You can read more on the first round of the election here.

Cameron and Osborne caught out over “Dwarfgate”

Labour Party

David Cameron and George Osborne’s suitability for government must again be seriously in question after their their latest Sarkozy gaffe.

In case you missed the story, Cameron is said to have made a comment about “hidden dwarfs” when discussing a photograph taken with French President Sarkozy, who is 7 inches shorter than the Tory leader.  This follows comments in September by Osborne, who, while standing on stage at a conference hosted by Spectator magazine, removed a stool from the stage, joking that it was the “Sarkozy box”.  Sarkozy has apparently made a formal complaint to the UK government over Osborne’s childish “joke”.

Quite apart from the immaturity and inappropriateness of making fun of people for their size, stature, or appearance – although this is exactly the kind of juvenile humour deemed acceptable among those with the Tory leaderships’ Oxford Bullingdon club background – such mockery of the head of state of a leading nation on the world stage belies a worrying lack of statesmanship.

Cameron has already caused the French President regret by pulling his MEPs out of the EPP Group in the European Parliament.  Now he and his side-kick move on to personal jibes.  Diplomacy under a Cameron government?  More like putting both feet into a very large hole and continuing to dig, and most definitely not good for British interests.

Tory EU U-Turn?

Labour Party

I was, to say the least, surprised to read William Hague’s speech to the Royal United Services Institute this week which outlined the EU’s “enormous importance to the United Kingdom and its foreign policy”.  It was also interesting to note that William Hague went out of his way to wish Catherine Ashton well in her role as EU High Representative.  Perhaps he should have a word in the ear of some of his MEPs, who have been anything but supportive.

Hague’s speech demonstrates that, with a General Election approaching, Tory flip-flops on key policy areas know no bounds.  For the past two years Hague himself has been scrambling around Europe making alliances with unsavoury parties from the fringes of far-right politics in order to create the Tories’ new European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament.  In doing so, he seriously undermined the credibility of the Conservative Party in the eyes of key European leaders such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, both of whom made known their dismay that the Tory MEPs were being withdrawn from the mainstream centre-right EPP group to which their political parties belonged.

This policy, albeit entirely misguided, has won Cameron and Hague a lot of support from the Tory grassroots, with  ConservativeHome website reporting that 45 of the new Tory candidates for the forthcoming general election listed repatriation of powers from Europe as their top priority.  As regular readers will be aware, we all know how realistic that hope is.

Cameron and Hague are walking a tightrope here.  On the one hand, they have done very well out of EU-bashing with their grass-roots supporters over the past two years.  On the other hand, they have alienated important allies throughout Europe to the detriment of the British national interest. 

William Hague’s speech dripped with hypocrisy and was surely a belated attempt to undo the damage their anti-EU stance has done. 

I doubt that leaders throughout Europe will have such short memories.  And I can only imagine what the new breed of anti-EU Tory candidate makes of this U-turn.

Tax on Financial Transactions

Labour Party

Given the recent publicity about the “Robin Hood” tax, it’s perhaps not surprising that it was given an honourable mention at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week.  An amendment to a resolution on the Conference on Climate Change held in Copenhagen in December suggested a tax on financial transactions, the Tobin tax named after the economist James Tobin who first mooted the idea, to support international climate action.

Although the amendment was defeated due to lack of support from the centre-right and right wing groupings in the European Parliament, I was pleased that many, though sadly not a majority, of MEPs joined with those campaigning to make the Tobin tax a reality. 

We know that Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all been strong advocates of  what is becoming known as the “Robin Hood” tax.  You couldn’t find a much better line up than that.  Gordon Brown, in fact, started to lobby for support for the Tobin tax in the City of London in the autumn of last year and I understand the International Monetary Fund is looking at such a plan, despite opposition from the United States.

It is, of course, the international nature of the Tobin tax which it such an ideal tool for raising money for matters which require action in more than one country.  The recently launched campaign in Britain by comedy writer Richard Curtis and popular actor Bill Nighy for such a a “Robin Hood” tax to be levied on banks is rare indeed in that it is popular for its own sake and targeted at an unpopular group – the banks.  Richard Curtis’s proposal to impose a 0.5% tax on international bankers’ transactions could raise up to £250 billion per year, a huge sum half of which would be retained by the country where the deal took place and the other half split between tackling climate change and reducing global poverty.  The plan targets institutions not ordinary people and is set at a level which should not hurt the banks.

You may have thought that even bankers would be hard pushed to oppose a tax which could do so much good at little cost to themselves.  Sadly, this does not appear to be the case as Goldman Sachs apparently orchestrated moves to vote against the “Robin Hood” tax on the campaign’s website.  Fortunately the Goldman Sachs ruse, which showed both the utmost arrogance and disregard for the plight of so many people on our planet, was rumbled.  However, the fact that they tried it on in such a way shows that bankers still have a long way to go before they think the same way as the majority.  

Back in the European Parliament, you will, of course, not be surprised to know that the Tories voted against the Tobin tax amendment.  Although the resolution in question was not legislative and hence only a recommendation to EU member states, European Parliament support for a Tobin tax to fund climate change work would have sent a strong signal.  It would also have put us on the same side as Oxfam, Save the Children, Action Aid, many trade unions, most mainstream churches and celebrities such as Bono who are known for the humanitarian work.  It’s a real tragedy that the right wing in Europe prefers to peddle its reactionary ideology rather than supporting moves to combat climate change and reducing world poverty.


Labour Party

Conservative MEP Christopher Beazley yesterday made a devastating attack on David Cameron. Beazley, a moderate Tory who does not share his Party’s unthinking Euroscepticism, is not seeking re-election to the European Parliament in part because he has found himself continually at odds with the Conservative hierarchy.

Beazley used his speech in the Strasbourg chamber to make his farewells, and they were not fond ones towards his Political Party. This was the highlight:

The leader of my party, Mr David Cameron, has made a serious mistake. He is in error: he thinks that by becoming anti‑European in the House of Commons this will secure him the premiership of my country. I, as a British Conservative, reserve the right to object – that is my final word. There are British Tories, Socialists, Liberals. We are Europeans. We will stand with our partners and our allies and, if my party leader seeks to rip up 30 years of work by British Tory pro‑Europeans, he is wrong!

The House, not surprisingly, accorded Christpher Beazley a standing ovation.

Christopher Beazley’s heartfelt plea that the Tories are profoundly wrong to leave the European People’s Party, the centre-right and largest group in the European Parlaiment, is shared by most political leaders in Europe. President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel have both condemned the move. There is a real danger that the Tories will be isolated across the whole of Europe and nor just in the European Parliament.

In order to form a functioning political group in the Parliament, Conservative MEPs will have to make an alliance with other political parties. Since reasonable and significant centre-right parties are in the EPP, there isn’t much left. At the last count the Tories were considering the ultra right Polish Law and Justice Party as a possibility. As we approach European polling day, let’s keep this in mind.