Category Archives: politics

The public kicks back

Currently I’m reading The Assault on Truth by Peter Oborne about the destruction Boris Johnson is wreaking on British democracy and public life by his disregard for truth and integrity.

He quotes this from the political philosopher David Marquand

“The private domain has always been with us; and Adam Smith was probably right in thinking that the ‘truck, barter and exchange’ of the market domain are natural to human beings. But there is nothing natural about the public domain. It is a gift of history, and of fairly recent history at that. It is literally a priceless gift. The goods of the public domain cannot be valued by market criteria, but they are no less precious for that. They include fair trials, welcoming public spaces, free public libraries, subsidised opera, mutual building societies, safe food, the broadcasts of the BBC World Service, the lobbying of Amnesty International, clean water, impartial public administration, disinterested scholarship, blood donors, magistrates, the minimum wage, the Pennine Way and the rulings of the Health and Safety Executive. Less obviously, they also include liberty – not in the familiar sense of freedom to pursue private interests, but in the classical republican sense of freedom from domination. In the public domain, market power is over-ridden; citizens bow the knee to nobody.” (The Decline of the Public, 2004)

Yesterday the news was dominated by the story of the collapse of a proposed European football superleague in the face of general outcry against it by the public and politicians alike, including Boris Johnson. It strikes me here was an example of citizens refusing to bow the knee to billionaires. That doesn’t mean I think Johnson has changed his ways. He knows a moment of opportunity to garner voter support when he needs it, especially a couple of weeks ahead of local elections.

The US needs political love that puts its money where its mouth is | openDemocracy

Scott Renee on why the social pain of exclusion and marginalisation can be deadly for social democracy and how states need a social security net to alleviate that pain and show that their people matter.

The debate about whether immigration has benefitted UK residents as a whole

There is debate today following publication of a House of Lords report which apparently concludes that immigration has had little or no impact on the economic well-being of Britons. Whilst this fatally undermines Government arguments  for immigration on the grounds that it’s good for the UK’s economy; it doesn’t seem to me to offer very much support to those who would want to argue against immigration  on grounds that it is economically bad for Britain. It appears to me that the objective message of this report is that immigration is neither particularly positive nor particularly negative in economic terms. Not that this is how it is being interpreted of course. The Tory Opposition Home Secretary David Davis said, according to the BBC, that the report had shown “unequivocally that the benefits of the current immigration policy to ordinary UK citizens are largely non-existent”. But what he means I think is economic benefit; which is not the whole story.

The debate needs to go wider than that. Firstly, even on the economic front: what about the benefit to the migrants themselves? If there is no significant detriment or benefit economically to Britons, then surely the benefit to the migrants is huge and so the overall benefit has to be positive? And what about the benefit to the wider world economy upon which at the end of the day the future  health of the UK economy is dependent? It’s been said that financial remittals from migrant workers to impoverished economies overseas far outweigh the amounts of foreign aid the government gives; and this is money going directly into the pockets of poorer families rather than politicians and officials.

 But the economic pros and cons of immigration are not the only ones and this report, by showing that on balance these almost cancel each other out, then places the focus of debate on the other pros and cons of immigration; social; cultural; diplomatic. Inquiry chariman Lord Wakeham presented a possibly negative spin on this aspect, according to a BBC quote, when he said: “Looking to the future, if you have got that increase in numbers and you haven’t got any economic benefit from it, you have got to ask yourself, is that a wise thing to do? …That is why we want the government to look at it.”

But at least one “elephant in the room” here is surely poverty and  inequality; both at the international level, but also within the British economy. An IFS report on Poverty and Inequality in Britain in 2007 concluded that the incomes of the rich have been rising faster than the incomes of the poor despite Government efforts to counteract poverty amongst the low-paid. It’s not clear to me whether migration is the cause of the recent failure to reverse the trend towards greater income inequality; the report implies it might play a part because it claims low-paid British workers are disadvantaged by the immigration of foreign workers, both in terms of job and also training opportunities. On the other hand, there is a danger that the other factors causing growth in income inequality (such as the evisceration of local government and the lack of a coherent regional strategy but mostly a lack of will in any of our current political parties for a sustained attack on inequality) will be ignored and the blame laid on migrants. Which leads us to the other “elephant in the room” of course which is racism. This is subliminal – see the photograph of migrant workers on the Daily Mail website today on this issue.

Church interventions in moral debates

Usually I don’t agree with Polly Toynbee, journalist and commentator on social affairs, because she is deeply secularist and generally disparaging of the religious vision of life; but for once I agree with her when she writes in The Guardian recently:

“On the great questions of war, climate and social justice, the cardinals and bishops never muster their heaviest artillery. They keep their powder dry for their own bizarre morality, focused as ever on sex and fertility – but why should those issues be sacrosanct for MPs’ free votes?” Full article here

Gordon’s Brown’s letter to MPs allowing them a free vote in the forthcoming embryology debate (on the three ethical issues relating to assisted reproduction and stem cell research not previously considered for legislation) doesn’t carry with it any compelling reason why these issues should be made the subject of a free vote rather than, as Toynbee points out, issues to do with war, climate change and poverty. Except that the Catholic Church has issued a clarion call to its members to fight against the Bill about these matters and there are Cabinet ministers who are Catholics.

Where I agree particularly however with Toynbee’s quote is how it points out that when it comes to Iraq, the environment or inequality in society the British bishops are never as vocal as they are on matters of human sexuality.

Maybe this observation is not quite as true of Anglican bishops as it is of Catholic ones. I think of the (Anglican) Bishop of London’s linking of Lenten discipline with cutting carbon; and the clear opposition of Rowan Williams to the war on Iraq. Nevertheless, the Church of England has allowed itself more clearly to be identified  as a body which opposes homosexual relations than as a body which opposes unjust invasions and poverty – though this is not necessarily the fault of the English bishops. 

However, note this comment from a letter by Bruce Kent, vice-president of Pax Christi:

“Polly Toynbee (Comment, March 25) says that on issues of war and social justice “the cardinals and bishops never muster their heaviest artillery”. In 2006 the Pope said that relying on nuclear weapons for security is “baneful and completely fallacious”. In the same year the Scottish bishops called on the government not to replace Trident. What does Polly want? The Angel Gabriel and trumpet?” See letters to The Guardian