Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Israel, Hamas, there is another way

Israel has the right to exist. Israel has the right to defend itself.

And yet, there is no defence for its brutal attack on Gaza over the last few days which has left hundreds dead and thousands mutilated. Both Hamas and the Israeli Government are engaged in a hectic and callously self-serving conflict with Gazan Palestinians and border Israelis as cannon fodder and pawns. The notion though that Israel's attacks are likely to achieve its security and crush extremism is not only dangerous but highly flawed.

As Tom Segev (author of the excellent 1967) argues in Haaretz, there is a historical continuum to Israel's actions and the result is a progressively less secure and more hostile environment for Israel itself. And thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese and others lose their lives as a consequence of this myopic reflex. Israel continues to play up the threat- both to its security and its existence- and inevitably lurches toward further militarism. Whether the impulse is the election, a need to re-assert its authority following the disastrous 2006 Lebanese conflict, or it is a nation that is now purely driven by impulse, the result is the same: more tragic loss of life and the destruction of lives.

Don't think that this is in any way about exonerating Hamas. It is not. But to compare Israel's military might with that of Hamas is, I'm afraid, laughable. The same can be said of the continual argument that Israel's existence, bound as it is in a region with a number of hostile powers, is somehow under threat. Israel is by far the most powerful military presence in the region and the only nuclear power. Its de facto alliance with the United States provides an emergency protective canopy should it be needed. There is no realistic threat to its existence, not external anyhow. Rather like the outrage at Channel 4 broadcasting President Ahmadinejad's alternative Christmas message, it has a bogus feel about it (as did the message itself.)

Muscular militarism Israel style has resulted in over forty years of mutual fear and periodic, bloody conflict. And Israel, far from an oasis of freedom in an authoritarian region, has become a security state. It is frightened for its own safety, security, and well-being and in such a state people are never really free. Surely there has to be another way?

So now is the time to draw a line and show real leadership. While Israel bombs its neighbours and treats Arabs as if they are somehow inferior there will never be the trust that is needed to engender real progress. And Israel's friends, including the UK and, yes, the United States should be firmer. They should stop taking Israel's own assessment of its self-interest at face value because look where that has got Israel and the Middle East. We should condemn Israel's actions more forcibly because that is in the interests of the Israeli people, who have suffered so much. Israel is a vital nation that is let down continually by its leaders; just as the poor wretched residents of the Gaza Strip have been woefully let down by Hamas in whom they placed their trust.

The 1982 war (see Waltz with Bashir for a revisionist and potent Israeli viewpoint) with Lebanon defeated the PLO and saw its replacement with the clerically austere and aggressive Hezbollah. Israel's failure to deal constructively with Fatah begot Hamas. Even if Hamas is defeated what will replace them? If history is a guide, and it is in this context, then Pyrrhic victory is stacked upon human misery. In the end, there is always something worse around the corner.

So for the sake your people Israel, for the sake of yours Hamas, there has to be another way. For while Israelis rage at Hamas, Palestinians rage at Israel. That outrage is the most powerful weapon of all. It is weapon that will be used to kill any hope of peace.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Making Britain the inspiration nation

An article I have in Tribune this week (yes, on Barack Obama.....) is available on the Compass website:

http://www.compassonline.org.uk/news/item.asp?n=3561

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Desperate times call for desperate measures?

This is precisely the question that David Cameron must be pondering as his poll lead has significantly evaporated. It has not disintegrated by chance. The strategic decision taken to adopt economic orthodoxy rather than pursue a more aggressive economic approach would be exceedingly damaging economically. People realise this so support for the Conservatives is eroding slowly but very surely.

There is a lot of hardship ahead so the political outlook may change and change quickly. For now, Labour is winning the economic argument and so people are taking a look at the party again.

Luckily, David Cameron has no shortage of advice. Take Michael Portillo in the Sunday Times this morning who alerts Cameron to his secret weapon: Kenneth Clarke. It is indicative of the wretched state of the modern Conservative party that this is not an option that he is likely to pursue. Why? Two reasons: Kenneth Clarke is pro-European and false loyalty for his friend, George Osborne.

The most revealing line in the piece is: "Nobody has changed the Conservative party as much and as fast as he [Cameron] has, yet he will seek office on much the same economic ground as William Hague and Michael Howard." The quote kind of contradicts itself. Nonetheless, the conclusion is devastating. David Cameron has followed the trajectory of all recent Conservative leaders. He will fight the next election on a Thatcherite platform.

Maybe the same trick will work eventually but it is most definitely not the direction that David Cameron wanted to take his party in. He has lost a grip on his political strategy and is now prey to, admittedly highly unpredictable, events.

Post script: Sunder Katwala has also written on this today though he discusses Chris Patten alongside Kenneth Clarke.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Labour and sterling

What a ridiculous argument by James Bartholomew in the Daily Express today about Labour governments and the pound. He conveniently ignores that the last major devaluation, following the pound's ejection from the ERM, was under a Conservative government. Technically, the 1931 devaluation was under the National Government but who is splitting hairs? Why let the facts get in the way of a neat and partisan-laden account of the history of sterling?

The notion that the pound could have avoided devaluation throughout the twentieth century is preposterous given that Britain lost an empire, there were massive shifts in economic and political power, there were two costly and devastating world wars that Britain paid an enormous cost for, and a collective failure to maintain Britain's position as a manufacturing force.

So devaluations had to happen despite the desperate attempts of successive governments to avoid them. Unsurprisingly, despite trying to avoid a devaluation of sterling in 1947, it inevitably happened given a war ravaged economy and onerous debt repayments (thank you America.) The post-war economic model was unravelling by the end of the 1960s and would continue to do so until the IMF stepped in and monetarism was adopted in 1976.

There were 'devaluations' in the 1980s under Thatcher too but the reality is that they are not noticed when currency is free floating as opposed to when a currency is linked to gold, the dollar, or a basket of currencies as in the ERM. It makes for dramatic television when sterling is ejected from a pegged or managed exchange rate system as David Cameron discovered when he was stood behind Norman Lamont as the then Chancellor announced the pound's removal from the ERM in 1992. But it only happens under Labour Governments remember......

Where there were economic failures, and there were, by and large they were shared by both parties. The recent decline in sterling is completely to be expected given that our economy is exposed to the type of financial crisis that we are facing- a legacy of the economic structure of the last thirty years not just the last ten. Differential interest rates- lower in the UK than the euro-zone- and the movement of the euro towards reserve currency status further fuel the change in the exchange rate.

Interestingly, the movement of sterling did not commence at the time of the Chancellor's statement when the level of borrowing was announced- in fact sterling rose in value for a few days. It was certainly impacted, however, by the change in interest rates on December 4th as would be expected. That is not to argue against that reduction of interest rates; it just explains much of the recent movement of the currency. Public borrowing impacts the exchange rate if it is seen as inflationary. That is not the overriding concern with the UK economy currently.

James Bartholomew's argument that currency falls are because 'Labour Governments spend too much' comes nowhere near explaining the historical movements of sterling. Any cursory and non-tendentious reading of economic history shows that.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The real Chicago and Obama

Take a look at a piece I had on Comment is Free yesterday which delves a little deeper into Chicago's politics as opposed to the same brush tarring exercise that is going on in some quarters:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2008/dec/11/politics-chicago-obama-rod-blagojevich

Peter Tatchell's article on the recent newsletter on homosexuality from the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales is worth a glance too.

Monday, 8 December 2008

A global New Deal

It is striking in watching the Brown, Barroso, Sarkozy press conference today that a number of similarities are emerging with the new US Administration. It has the feel of a global New Deal that will not just help respond to the current economic downturn but build the infrastructure on which future growth will rely.

In his modern equivalent of Franklin D Roosevelt's fire-side chats, Barack Obama announced the shape of his economic stimulus package in his YouTube weekly address on Saturday. It includes investment to make public buildings more energy efficient, investment in roads and bridges, modernisation of schools, upgrading of the nation's digital infrastructure, and investment in IT for healthcare. The address can be seen below:



Then today, from Barroso, Sarkozy, and the Prime Minister we had a commitment to invest in digital technology, training and skills, and green industries. There are many similarities between the two approaches and it is a very positive response to both short and medium term challenges. It will create jobs, boost investment, and impact carbon emissions.

EU coordination (assuming Germany comes on board which may be an assumption too far....) and Obama's stimulus package mark a clear path to future growth. FDR and Keynes would afford themselves a wry and self-satisfied smile.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

David Cameron's movement for change?

All is not well at CCHQ. The Guardian reported the other day that financial pressures will result in the closure of the Tories' Coleshill campaign factory. Today, ConservativeHome outlines a party gleefully burning cash but on the basis of rapidly deteriorating finances. If party membership and fundraising are any test of the strength and depth of a party's support then David Cameron is in deep trouble. His fate is dependent on the swing of the electoral pendulum and his project is simply failing to take root.

Of course, David Cameron has modeled himself on Tony Blair's New Labour project. If that project had one weakness it was that it failed to create an enduring movement for change. This Tory party's weaknesses are being exposed before it is even in office. Blair's personal charisma allied with a desperate desire for change massively boosted Labour's membership. There is no sign of a similar effect with Cameron's Tories.

It is salutary to consider that the Obama campaign, having raising around three-quarters of a billion dollars is now considering what to do with the $30million he has remaining. Also, Obama is already trying to develop his movement for change into a civic activist network. See the emailbelow that the campaign sent out a couple of days ago.

Cameron is falling way short.

Anthony --

Sign up for a house meeting Exactly one month ago, you made history by giving all Americans a real opportunity for change.

Now it's time to start preparing and working for change in our communities.

On December 13th and 14th, supporters are coming together in every part of the country to reflect on what we've accomplished and plan the future of this movement. Your ideas and feedback will be collected and used to guide this movement in the months and years ahead.

Join your friends and neighbors -- sign up to host or attend a Change is Coming house meeting near you.

Since the election, the challenges we face -- and our responsibility to take action -- have only gotten more urgent.

You can connect with fellow supporters, make progress on the issues you care about, and help shape the future of your community and our country.

Learn what you can do now to support President-elect Obama's agenda for change and continue to make a difference in your community.

Take the first important step by hosting or attending a Change is Coming house meeting. Sign up right now:

http://my.barackobama.com/changeiscoming

To get our country back on track, it will take all of us working together.

Barack and Joe have a clear agenda and an unprecedented opportunity for change. But they can't do it alone.

Will you join us at a house meeting and help plan the next steps for this movement?

Thanks,

David

David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Bush on ABC

I have always said it and I'll say it again, there is something remarkably endearing about President George W Bush. This came across in 'W', a film that has had a lukewarm reception from the critics but I thought painted a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the President's personality. In Europe, we have grown so used to dismissing him as an ignoramus and raging against his foreign policy that we overlook what it was that appealed to the American people. This comes through in his interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC News.

There is just something engaging about his childlike way of referring to Marine One, the presidential helicopter, as the 'magic carpet.' Or the thought of Laura Bush reprimanding him for putting his feet on the Jefferson table. His ability to remain 'joyful' in spite of it all has a boyish quality also. His comments about President-elect Obama's campaign are remarkably and genuinely admiring and magnanimous.

What is President Bush going to do with himself once he has left office? Well, you get the distinct impression that he is just going to have the time of his life. There is something refreshingly unegotistical about that. Pity about the mess both domestically and internationally that he leaves behind.